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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 14, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 160
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Costa Ricans get training for narcoterrorism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Most Costa Ricans quickly dismiss the possibility that terrorism ever will strike at the Switzerland of Central America.

Police officials are not so sure, and some think that Costa Rica faces more danger from narcoterrorists than from the Middle Eastern variety.

Costa Rica has long been identified as a transit point for drugs and a money-laundering center. The most recent assessment came last May in a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration which said it has put the country on its list of primary concerns.

No country is safe from the intrigues of the Middle East. Even Argentina was the site of a terrorist bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center on July 18, 1994, that killed at least 85 people.
 

Related stories

Suicide terrorism is the most 
effective form

Families will lead this 
Sept. 11 anniversary

New U.S. envoy to Bogota 
promises dialogue

All HERE!

But the odds here favor responses from narcoterrorists to crackdowns on narcotics and money laundering. Already the nation has seen the planned murders of at least four Colombians. These killings are believed to be continuations of Colombian disputes transported here.

And Costa Rica is cracking down on drug shipments on land and on the sea in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard. Shipping drugs north is a lot harder now than it was two years ago.

Narcotrafficking and terrorism were topics when police officials met for three days this week with members of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in Puntarenas.

The gist of the meeting was outlined by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública: Narcotrafficking has caused Costa Rican authorities to find out what other countries are doing and to modernize the forces here to guarantee citizens, visitors and investors that Costa Rica continues to be characterized by its climate of stability, security and pacifism.

Fuerza Pública officers and members of the Judicial Investigating Organization attended the sessions that were basically an exchange of techniques and preventative procedures that have gone into force in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The United States has identified rebel forces in Latin America as terrorist organizations involved with the sale of drugs.

Costa Rica has trained members of the Policía Aeroportuaria at both international airports, private security guards and members of other 

Ministerio de Seguridad Pública photo
More confiscated drugs. These packages under the rear seat of a car were found by trained dogs early Wednesday. Story is HERE!

institutions in measures recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

In fact, some of these security measures are why police at Juan Santamaría Airport  are routinely capturing drug mules who are taking cocaine and heroin to Europe, usually through connecting flights in Caracas, Venezuela.

The current drug crackdown is not received universally with cheers. Uncertainty and discontent emerge as opposition to continued partnerships with the United States.

Soon to come to a vote in the Asamblea Nacional is a proposal for Costa Rica to host an international police training facility. This facility would provide exactly the type of training officers got this week in Puntarenas. But there is opposition inside and outside the legislature.  Some of the opposition comes from those who prefer that drugs be decriminalized. 

A  legislative measure that would regulate more strictly private security guards also has run into criticism, including from the Arias Foundation, which suggested private armies would disrupt the country.

Then there is the continued criticism every time permission is sought for a U.S. patrol boat to dock for supplies in a Costa Rican port. By law the assembly has to approve each docking.

Many Costa Ricans even balked when President Able Pacheco declared the country in general philosophical support of the Iraqi war, although he said he was simply coming out against international terrorism.

Costa Rica shares many of the attributes that Lebanon had until the early 1970s when that Middle Eastern country was torn apart by civil war and outside incursions. Lebanon was known as a multinational banking and business center. Colombia to the south is another example of political disaster.

As a terrorist target, officials agree that Costa Rica is easy. Only recently did guards at the Asamblea Nacional install metal detectors on all entries. Fragile infrastructure, like pipes and electric lines, experience repeated failures even without outside action. Even juvenile robbers carry AK-47 assault rifles.

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Campaign scandal plagued with faulty memories
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The political concept of plausible denial comes to full flower when the subject turns to financing Abel Pacheco’s presidential bid in 2002.

On one hand, Fernán Guardia, treasurer of the ruling Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, told legislators investigating the matter that that party had no relationship with a parallel campaign organization that collected vast sums of campaign cash.

But then Roberto Tovar Faja, the current foreign minister, told legislators Tuesday that the organization Comité Cívico was provided for in the party bylaws and that a lot of its meetings were held in Guardia’s office. In fact, said Tovar, Guardia attended a lot of the meetings.

The president of the special commission investigating the campaign donations, Deputy Luis Gerado Villanueva Monge, said Wednesday that what Tovar said is basically what investigators are finding out on their own. Villanueva is a member of the opposition Partido Liberación Nacional.

Legislators will hear from Rina Contreras, the former minister to the Presidencia who was party chairwoman during the campaign.

Ms. Contreras not only was party chairwoman during the campaign, she was a member of the parallel organization, Villanueva observed, 

wondering how then did the party not know about the Comité Cívico.

Meanwhile, the current party president, Lorena Vázquez, agrees with Guardia, saying that party members did not know of the parallel structure.

Party Treasurer Guardia will get his chance to respond because legislators have asked him to appear again before the committee next Tuesday.

About the only fact everyone seems to agree on is that Pacheco did not know much about the campaign financial structure.

Who knew what is important to the investigation because the election code prohibits foreign donations in campaigns and a private donation cannot exceed $35,000. All donations should have been reported to the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

The existence of a parallel organization and the use of bank accounts in Panamá served to hide the identities of those who were making large donations to Pacheco’s campaign.

"At the end no one is going to be responsible for anything," predicted Deputy Luis Ramírez, another member of the investigatory commission.

However, two prosecutors are looking into the matter, and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana officials delivered minutes and other party papers to them.

Checkpoint dog search turns up suspected drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug officials snagged another car containing suspicious packages early Wednesday at a checkpoint in Cruce de Chacarita de Osa in southwest Costa Rica.

Officials said they found five packages, each one kilo (2.2 pounds), under the rear seat of a passenger car. They suspect the packages contain cocaine.

Investigators said that since Saturday a series of checkpoints have been set up on principal roads in the area to find people who have outstanding warrants or to detect contraband of drugs.

The car stopped Wednesday showed up at the checkpoint about 6 a.m., said officials. During a 

routine check, dogs trained to find drugs showed an interest in the vehicle’s rear seat where the five packages were found, agents said.

The checkpoints are being operated jointly by the Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Control de Drogas, the Policía Fiscal, the dog unit of the Judicial Investigating Organization and members of the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas.

This is the same operation that resulted in the arrest of two men and the confiscation of suspected cocaine and heroin at a checkpoint in Cruce de Barú last Sunday.

Other checkpoints have been set up at Paso Real, and Coto Brus, said police. They also reported they had confiscated what they called a great quantity of firearms from motorists.


 
Autonomy of ICE
discussed tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The autonomy of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad will be the subject of discussion tonight at one of a series on the future of the telecommunications monopoly.

The 7 p.m. session will be in the Asamblea Nacional where lawmakers are considering a law to modernize and strengthen the national company. Grupo ICE also includes the Compañia Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the electrical monopoly, and  Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet monopoly.

The company, of course, wants total autonomy so it can continue to provide quality, opportunity, universality, solidarity and service to its customers, it said.

Water is cut off
with little notice

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Water service was cut for more than seven hours Wednesday by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantrarillados S.A., the water company, which decided to disinfect a storage tank in La Uruca.

The water went out to much of the western and northern suburbs of San José about 8 a.m. The company generally gives little notice of its planned outages, and this was the case Wednesday. In most cases, the notification probably was not in time to allow customers to take steps to stockpile water.

The monopoly notified La Nación in time for the Spanish-language daily to place a small story in the Wednesday morning edition. However, the company steadfastly refuses to provide such notices to this English-language news source.

Workers in Chile
hold limited strike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — Workers in Chile have begun the country's first nationwide strike in nearly two decades, but in the early hours, the turn out was limited.

Hundreds of students, transportation workers and members of Chile's Central Workers Union  blockaded some streets and marched through this, the capital, Wednesday as part of the work stoppage. The workers are demanding better pay and work conditions. 

Reports say some strikers covered streets with nails to prevent cars from passing. A bus was set on fire and burned, but enough workers stayed on the job to avoid nationwide paralysis. 

The Central Workers Union, which organized the country's first nationwide strike since the mid 1980s, is Chile's largest union with about 640,000 members.

Immigration suspects
rounded up in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Police have arrested 12 people in connection with the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants abandoned in a sweltering truck in Texas last May. 

Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel said Tuesday that federal police made the arrests following recent sweeps in northeastern and central Mexico.  Officials also say 37 other people suspected of involvement in the immigrant smuggling case are being sought. 

Authorities say the victims were among 70 people who were crammed into the back of a hot, airtight tractor trailer headed toward Houston from south Texas in mid-May.  The crowded trailer was later abandoned at a truck stop in Victoria, southwest of Houston. Seventeen people were declared dead at the scene, while two others died later. 

The truck driver, Tyrone Williams, was captured shortly after the incident, which has been described as the deadliest smuggling operation in the United States.  The suspected leader of the smuggling operation, Karla Patricia Chavez Joya, was arrested in June.

Panamá rattled
by early quake 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PANAMA CITY, Panamá — A moderate earthquake shook residents out of bed Wednesday, but no injuries have been reported. 

The Institute of Earth Science at the University of Panamá says the tremor, which measured 5.3 on the Richter scale, was centered near Colón, about 70 kms. (about 43 miles) north of the capital, and was felt all over the country. 

When the earthquake hit at about 3:30 a.m. local time, residents piled out of their homes, but no one was hurt. The quake shattered glass and caused some damage to buildings.

Friday is Mother’s Day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friday is Mother’s Day in Costa Rica, a legal holiday. Government offices, including the U.S. Embassy, will be closed.
 
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New U.S. envoy to Bogota promises dialogue
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The new U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, has reiterated the Bush administration's "continuous commitment" to helping the Andean nation achieve political stability and the eradication of narco-terrorism.

In remarks Wednesday to the press in Bogota, after presenting his credentials as the new envoy, Wood said U.S. aid to Colombia in fiscal year 2003 totaled about $750 million. The money is designed to assist economic, social, and human rights development in Colombia, to train and equip the Colombian military and the police in fighting anti-government forces, and to aid in the effort to eradicate illegal drugs, he said.

Speaking in Spanish, Wood said U.S. aid is helping to achieve progress in eliminating illicit drugs in Colombia, which the U.S. State Department says is the world's largest producer of cocaine, and also a significant supplier of heroin to the United States. Illegal narcotics, Wood said, cause a "great deal of suffering" both in Colombia and in the United States. In addition, illegal drugs serve as the financial base for terrorism and the subversion by armed anti-government groups "at the margin" of Colombian society, he said.

The United States, Wood said, admires the dedication and the democratic values shown by Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, and other Colombian government ministers. Wood said that as ambassador, he will work to retain the mutual respect, effective cooperation, and the "reciprocal dialogue" in the U.S.-Colombian bilateral relationship.

During his June confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be 

Washington's new envoy to Bogota, Wood said the United States and Colombia agree that the "narcotrafficker and subversive terrorist threats are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. They each take strength from the violence, destruction, and despair wrought by the other."

Wood said he would do "everything in my power" as ambassador to ensure that the determination of the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to fight simultaneously the narcotics traffickers and illegal armed groups in Colombia "is translated into operational success."

Before taking the post in Colombia, Wood served as the State Department's principal deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. He also served as director of the Washington Office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. During his diplomatic career of more than 25 years, Wood has served at U.S. embassies in Uruguay, Argentina, El Salvador, and Italy.

Meanwhile, Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Tuesday press conference in Bogota that Colombia is a "staunch" U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and for that he wanted to thank the Colombian government and its people.

Terrorism of any kind, said Myers, affects the stability of not only Colombia, but also the entire Western Hemisphere.

Myers, who was in Colombia to confer with Colombian President Uribe and leaders of the country's armed forces, said the United States remains committed to helping rid Colombia of "narco-terrorists, drugs, and terrorism." The United States, he pledged, will be a "full partner." 


 
Suicide terrorism said to be the most effective form
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MOSCOW, Russia — Suicide terrorism has become a major tool of warfare used by international terrorist groups to advance their political agendas, and recent attacks have proven to be very effective, says a RAND Corp. terrorism expert.

According to Bruce Hoffman, vice president for external affairs at RAND in Washington and an expert on international terrorism and terrorist groups, the current global war on terrorism is unlike any war the United States has fought in the past. And the war is likely to last for years if not decades. Hoffman offered his assessment during a recent digital video conference with journalists gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

"[T]errorist groups have consciously embraced suicide terrorism as a weapon of warfare, as an instrument of warfare. And the reasons, I think, are simple," Hoffman said. "It's very effective. It kills lots of people. As you may know, RAND has maintained a chronology of international terrorism that goes back to 1968 that has over 15,000 incidents in it. And I think it's extraordinary, when you look at that, what one finds is that suicide terrorism, on average, tends to be four times more lethal than other forms of terrorism."

Hoffman also said it is "fascinating" that "of all the international terrorist suicide attacks that have occurred since 1968, 70 percent, or more than two-thirds of them, have occurred within the past three years."

Hoffman said the kind of war the United States and its allies are engaged in to halt the spread of terrorism is not a conventional war where there is a definitive beginning.

"Many people see Sept. 11, 2001, as the beginning, but obviously it started long before that," he said. "I think the biggest challenge for the United States is that in the past decade we've gotten used to fighting wars that last months, if not weeks. Certainly the [Persian] Gulf War in 1991, a more recent invasion of Iraq, as opposed to our presence in Iraq. It was in a matter of weeks that essentially we defeated the enemy and declared the conflict over."

On the contrary, Hoffman said, this "is a war that's going to last years, if not decades, if only because our adversaries have declared this to be an epic 

struggle. They may see this fundamentally as a war of attrition."

Hoffman said he thinks that what al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden deliberately created throughout the 1990s was a movement that can, both independently and by following his direct orders, "simultaneously challenge and confront the enemies of Islam wherever" they are. 

"[O]ne of the key long-term gains we can have," he said, "is ... opening up communications," since "the radical Islamists or the radical Jihadists have almost a monopoly of the information sources that they are propagating to segments of populations in the affected countries."

Families will lead
this anniversary

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY, New York — The city is preparing to mark the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with ceremonies led by the families of victims rather than by politicians.

Unlike last year, when former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other officials recited the names of the dead, planners say children will take center stage next month at the site of the World Trade Center. This year's ceremonies are slated to last less than four hours. 

More than 100 pairs of children will begin reading the names of nearly 2,800 victims after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first of two hijacked airliners slammed into the twin skyscrapers. Other ceremonies are slated to honor those who died at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania, where the other two hijacked airliners hit.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the ceremonies at Ground Zero will pause four times — twice to mark the times each airliner struck the Twin Towers, and twice to mark the moment each building collapsed. Churches across the city and elsewhere are being asked to toll their bells at precisely 8:46, as well.

The mayor also said the powerful arc lights which pointed skyward from the site last year will be lit for one night.

We still are counting on some funny stories
Today is deadline of our humor contest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is a land of contradictions, and contradiction is one of the chief concepts of humor.

So now is a time to gently explore our foibles in the mid-winter humor contest sponsored by A.M. Costa Rica marking the second birthday of our Internet daily newspaper.  (Yes, it is "winter’ in Costa Rica.)

Send your humorous writings for publication to:

editor@amcostarica.com

Make your fellow readers laugh and win great prizes, such as:

• water skiing at Lake Poas.

• annual subscriptions to A.M. Costa Rica

• sunbathing expeditions to the sand dunes of Quepos

• Whale-watching expeditions at the patio of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica

• A night of guaro excess with the A.M. Costa Rica editor (your treat).

Any money prizes will be paid in post-dated checks.

We expect to have some famous judges. At least we will have judges.

 

Consider the possibilities:

• The Escazú Witch Project
• Fear and Loathing in Santa Ana
• Waiting for Enrique
• How Would You like to be President for a Day?
• The Attack of the 100-foot-tall ICE
• The Return of the Arias.
• The Taxista Always Rings Twice
• Mr. Smith Goes to Arbitration

But you can do better than that. The important thing is to be funny. You can use satire or straight humor. But you must write about Costa Rica. (George Bush is out. We can’t make this too easy.)

Your stories can be true, but exaggeration is a tool of humor. We will publish the good ones as fiction.

Some people say our readers cannot possibly top what really has been happening in Costa Rica. But we have faith.

Our second birthday is Aug. 15, and that’s the deadline.

Now some folks will be upset with us, thinking that we are picking on them. These are the folks who are humorously challenged. Why should we take the credit for them being so funny? Nevertheless, if you wish to send us hate mail or death threats, please do not clog up the editor’s mailbox like before. Send your hate mail or death threats to:

threats@amcostarica.com

Let the contest begin.

 Sorry, nothing side-spliting today


 
Argentinas's lower house dumps amnesty laws
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — One body of Congress has voted to stop legal protections for members of the former military regime accused of human rights abuses.

The Argentine Congress is debating the constitutionality of amnesty laws that have protected former military leaders from facing trial for abuses during the country's military dictatorship. Thousands of protesters marched for an end to the amnesty Tuesday. 

Legislators from the lower house of Congress were debating whether to wipe out the amnesty laws that have allowed former military officers to avoid facing charges stemming from the country's so-called Dirty War.

After eight hours of debate, the lower house unanimously approved the decree.  Human rights activists throughout Argentina praised the decision, but some say they are still waiting for a real change in Argentina's stance on human rights. 

Juanita Pargament's son, Alberto, was abducted by police in November 1976 and never seen again. Ms. Pargament says that 26 years of disappointment have taught her to view these kind of decisions with some skepticism. 

"We hope with time struggling that we did for 26 years, for our children, let us hope that we'll arrive in that point that all the militaries, the police, their friends at last remain in jail," she said. "With the judges, it will be difficult because many of them that were in the epoch of the military."

Many military leaders are behind bars following a judge's decision last month that ordered several dozen high-ranking officers to be apprehended. A judge in Spain is trying to get these officers extradited there to face charges for crimes against Spanish citizens.

Argentine journalist Hector Timerman thinks that the ruling by the legislature was a purely political one and says that Argentina's judicial system still has many problems that must be addressed before real changes can be made. 

"What happens in Argentina is if you kill one person, you go to jail," he said. "If you kill 20 persons you go to an insane asylum but if you kill more than a thousand persons you get an amnesty law for yourself."

The Argentine Senate will debate this issue next. If it agrees to abolish the amnesty laws, the Supreme Court will then rule to determine whether the former military leaders will face trial at home.


 
Castro turns 77, but all is not well for his Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuban President Fidel Castro turned 77 Wednesday, and shows no sign of giving up his hold on power.

The bearded revolutionary is the world's longest-serving head of government, having seized power in 1959. Although there have been rumors about his health, the Cuban leader has been quoted as saying he will stay on as president until nature decides otherwise. 

President Castro is head of state, head of government and first secretary of Cuba's ruling Communist Party. He also serves as supreme commander of the Cuban armed forces.

The Cuban leader, however, faces international isolation and a deepening economic crisis.  Castro has fallen out with the European Union over Cuba's human rights record, following the mass arrests and jailings of 75 dissidents in March. The EU is Cuba's largest trading partner and foreign investor. 

Additionally, a long-standing U.S. trade and travel embargo, along with less tourism and sliding international prices for products such as sugar, have slowed the Cuban economy. 

However, the Cuban leader has shown no willingness to change the country's communist system. In a recent speech, Castro said Cuba is, and will remain, a socialist country.


 
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