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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 16, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 162
Jo Stuart
About us
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Despite the cloudy days and rains, the sky opened up earlier this week to flood the angelic statue atop the Teatro Nacional with late afternoon brilliance.

Rain hits Caribbean,
rivers jump banks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains again hit the Caribbean slope Wednesday and Thursday. Rivers pushed out of their banks, and some homes were flooded.

There were reports of minor road damage and some mudslides, but main highways all were still open Thursday night.

Unstable weather conditions will continue through today and perhaps into the weekend, increasing the possibility that more serious flooding might develop.

A heavy storm was off the south Pacific coast Thursday afternoon, and it was moving north and east towards Costa Rica. Part of this weather system wrapped around from the south and hit the Caribbean slope during the last two days.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that four rivers, the Bananito, the Chirripo, the Reventazón  and the San Juan had overflowed their banks by evening Thursday.

About 40 homes in the town of Matina were waist-deep in water, which is a common event there.

Turrialba, plastered by strong rains and a raging river in early May and again in early June, was experiencing some river bank erosion, but no major problems.

Costa Rica’s northern zone also was experiencing the heavy rain, but there were no reports of serious flooding.

About a third of an inch of rain fell in the Central Valley since about 7 a.m. Wednesday, the meteorology institute reported. Some thunderstorms and light rain continued through Thursday night.

The Caribbean slope and Turrialba took a beating starting May 7 when abnormally heavy rains caused rivers to flood and erode their banks. Homes in the center of Turrialba were undermined and swept away, making dozens of families homeless.

The downpours also cause considerable damage to the Talamanca area. Many roads and bridges were heavily damaged.

Just like in Britain

Some local British subjects are joking that the rainy weather was ordered up for the Queen’s Jubilee Charity Party to create the appropriate atmosphere.

The event to raise money for the Salvation Army and the Cruz Roja, goes on rain or shine starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the British ambassador’s residence in Escazú. Tickets are available at the door. Details were published Thursday.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Gail's kids have a chance for a future

There is a popular refrain that begins, "The greatness of a country is measured by how it treats ___"   then you can fill in the group of the moment: "its children", "its sick,"  "its old people." Almost any group is used except "its millionaire CEO’s."

One of the sad realities of Costa Rica, and especially San Jose, is the number of children who have had to make their home on the streets.  Most are there because they come from what we now call dysfunctional families: because their parents were abusive or because they were too much for their parents. (Usually these two conditions go together). 

Most of the kids living on the streets are drug users, usually of glue, which helps them get through the days of boredom and the long nights of hunger and the lack of any of the necessities that most of us take for granted.  It is encouraging that President Pacheco is taking note of their condition and the fact that the police are not their friends.  Fortunately for some of them, they have another friend. 

Sunday I was at a fund-raising brunch for these children — or rather for the children who have been rescued by Gail Nystrom, founder and hands-on director of the Fundación Humanitaria Costarricense.  Thirteen of the 15 young people who have found a home thanks to Gail were at the fund-raiser. They call her "la Gringa loca."   Gringos call her the "Saint of San Jose." What she has taken on does require the vision and heart of a Mother Teresa, but instead of easing people to their death, Gail is leading these youths to a new life. 

When Gail talks about how scared she was when she picked up the first children, I remember with painful shame the night I was coming home in a taxi and saw a child who couldn't be more than 5, sleeping in a doorway. I hesitated and asked the cab driver to slow down. But what went through my mind was "What do I do with him tomorrow?" "What if he is full of lice or worse?"  "What if he wakes up and bops me one and robs me?"  The voice inside me that said "He is only 5 years old, for heaven sake" did not get heard over my fears.  So I drove on.

Gail didn’t drive on, and she had just as many, if not more fears, than I.  The kids she picked up were in their teens.  They were like feral animals, distrustful and fearful, without adult friends, certainly not the police.  The early months were not easy.  They smashed things, they were rebellious, they challenged Gail at every turn, daring and expecting her to throw them out.  Instead, she gave them more love and worked harder with them. 

These were the teenagers at the brunch, and they were pretty impressive, social and gracious in dealing with grownups. Their art, their candles and the little grass grasshoppers they had made were on display.  I bought a drawing done by 18-year-old Daniel.  I really like it and expect one day he will be a well-known artist. 

16-year old Marianella told us about her life. When she talked about living on the streets, she had to keep remembering not to hang her head.  Then, beginning with a radiant smile, she talked about her life today.  These kids look after their home, do their own cooking, take classes (some are even learning English), and are planning some cottage industries to help support themselves.

If you are interested in helping them with their dream of becoming all they are capable of, you can write to Gail at gnystrom@racsa.co.cr, or call her at (506) 390-4192.  One of the things other young people are doing is serving as interns with Gail.  These young people are from other countries, often recent college graduates who are between graduation and knowing what they want to do with their lives.  I am sure this experience has affected their decision. 

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Help sought to eliminate 'express kidnappings'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica police officials are seeking help from Colombia to stem expansion of so-called "express kidnappings" here.

That agreement grew out of the discussions on security that Costa Rican officials held with their Colombian counterparts when Vice President Lineth Saborío and Chancellor Roberto Tovar visited Bogota for the inauguration of Alvaro Uribe.

Police officials have been troubled by the express kidnappings, in part because they do not know how many there are. The term comes from Colombia and describes a kidnapping where the ransom is paid and the victim released sometimes within a few hours.

Typically, the victim and his or her family do not report the incident to authorities, who may remain in the dark unless the case accidentally comes to light.

That happened June 27 when an Escazú physican became a victim and was released in three hours after his family came up with $22,000 in cash and jewelry.

On July 3 police officials announced that they had captured six members of the band of kidnappers.  Five were Panamanian, and the sixth was from El 

Salvador. They also were implicated as enforcers for drug dealers, according to police.

But then three weeks ago a gang snatched a teenager off the street and held him until his mother paid a substantial ransom. About the same time, men tried to force their way into the Escazú home of an Iranian man.

That led police officials to suspect that other gangs were in the same business or that they may have overestimated the activities of the group that was arrested.

Police also might have some inside information that has caused Costa Rican officials to contact the Colombian police.  Such kidnappings for small amounts of ransom are an epidemic in Colombia.

Colombian officials also are expected to share some criminal record information with police here in an attempt to identify known Colombian gangsters who may have immigrated to Costa Rica.

The bare details of the meeting of Costa Rican officials with top Colombian police officials was released last week by foreign ministry aides here.

So far the express kidnappings have not targeted the North American community here, although kidnapping has been used in the last several years on expats to settle gambling and drug debts.

Pacheco restructuring seen as anti-corruption move
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco seems to be reinventing Costa Rican government as he creates new commissions to handle jobs traditionally done by existing ministries.

Wednesday Pacheco announced that he would create an Authoridad Social or social authority to manage his war against poverty. The high-level agency would coordinate the work of ministries and set priorities.

On Aug. 5 he empanelled an independent anti-corruption squad to look into public spending and to investigate the books of ministries and independent agencies like the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The traditional government chain of command would have the president presiding over a cabinet that is made up of the heads of the various ministries. Pacheco has this setup, and he uses the ministers as advisors, too. For example, the bulk of his antipoverty plan, announced Wednesday, was drawn up by experts in a wide range of ministries.

But outside the traditional chain of command, Pacheco is creating these special task forces that report to him bypassing the various ministries.

When he announced the Authoridad Social, Pacheco noted that legislation would be needed to make the entity legal under Costa Rican constitutional law. 

He said he would seek that approval from the Asemblea Nacional.

But because the keystone of the entire Pacheco presidency is his fight against corruption, his special task forces suggest that he may not have faith in the traditional bureaucracies.

Analysis on the news

There are established Costa Rican agencies in charge of keeping track of spending. One is the Contraloría, which gives a binding opinion on each governmental contract. The traditional antipoverty agency is the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social. But Pacheco said Wednesday that poverty was just too big for just the social institute to handle.

Pacheco may believe that corruption is so ingrained in the ministries that he cannot use traditional methods and approaches to attack it. So he sets up high-level groups made up of persons he trusts to carry out his instructions.

Or he is trying to solidify his power by dividing the responsibilities of his ministries so that no one or combination can challenge his goals.

However, if Pacheco’s anti-corruption and antipoverty fights are to have long-term results, his mechanisms must be built on something more solid than personal friendships and fallible humans.

Condors are returning to the skies over Mexico
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — "Sixty years have passed without condors in Mexico, and today we will see these birds open their wings where their ancestors once did," says Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra, president of Mexico's National Institute of Ecology, commenting on the arrival of California condors that scientists will eventually release into the wilderness in Mexico.

As part of the California Condor Recovery Program, six endangered California condors arrived in Mexico Monday, marking the first time the species has been documented in the country since late 1930s, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said in a formal statement.

During the Pleistocene Epoch, which ended about 11,000 years ago, the California condor thrived in North America, with a range extending from British Colombia down to Central Mexico and throughout much of the United States, according to the May/June 2000 edition of "Endangered Species Bulletin." 

The scavenger initially fed on the carcasses of mastodons, giant sloths and other mega fauna. As these species became extinct, the condor consumed the remains of bison, deer and elk, the Bulletin said. However, as the human population increased, the number of condors dropped precipitously. The Bulletin estimates that 600 condors existed in 1890, but that their numbers plunged to 22 by the early 1980s.

The California Condor Recovery Program was established in 1975 to reverse the species' decline and prevent the possible extinction of the bird. The condor program was established as a cooperative multi-agency effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the cooperation of the U.S. Forrest Service, the Zoological Society of San Diego, the Los Angeles Zoo, the California Fish and Game Department, and the Ventana Wilderness Society.

The goal of the program is to establish two separate wild populations of 150 birds, with at least 15 breeding pairs each, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained.

The captive rearing of condors began in 1982 with the removal of a chick from the wild. However, when six wild condors — including four members of the last five known breeding pairs — disappeared in 1985, the service made the controversial decision to capture all remaining wild condors for their own safety and for captive breeding, the Bulletin said.

There are now 76 condors living in the wild in California and Arizona, 16 in field pens awaiting release and an additional 116 in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey, the service said.

The success of the California Condor Recovery Program has led to U.S. partnerships with Mexican institutions — including the National Ecology Institute, the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas, and the Ensenada Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education — and allowed for the expansion of the recovery program to include the release of the condors in Mexico. 

"This is a very important step for the recovery program," said Steve Thompson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California-Nevada Operations Office. He added that the California Condor Recovery Program has evolved into "a truly binational endangered species program." 

Thompson said that with the combined efforts of U.S. and Mexican partners, "we may have the chance of seeing California condors flying the mountains from Baja [Mexico] into California sometime in the not-too-distant future."

The Service anticipates that the condors, once reintroduced in Mexico, will reunite with condors in California to form one population. Of the six condors shipped to Mexico Monday, five are juveniles and scheduled to be released in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in northern Baja California, Mexico, this fall. 

The sixth condor is an adult female that will serve as a "mentor" bird and be returned to the Los Angeles Zoo once the juveniles are released, the Service said.

Argentina seeking
to stem rising crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A rise in violent crime has the government on alert. President Eduardo Duhalde is mulling options for fighting the upsurge in kidnappings and murder. One option could be calling out the military. 

In Argentina this week, the economic crisis is taking a back seat to the security crisis, and the government is desperately searching for ways to fight the violence. 

Thursday, after a series of news-making murders and kidnappings, Duhalde held an emergency meeting with Felipe Solá, the governor of the Buenos Aires province. That is where a 17-year-old boy was found murdered, floating face down in a pond. 

And on the same day he was found, another man was shot to death in his car, sitting next to his 3-year-old son. 

There also have been more reported "express kidnappings" which usually last a few hours, until kidnappers collect ransom from the victim's relatives. 

Duhalde and Solá said they discussed every possible crime fighting option. 

There is talk of calling out the national guard or using armed military troops to patrol the streets. But government chief Alfredo Atanasof says taking the "correct" action is more important than simply taking action. 

"I don't think it's a matter of being tough or soft, he said, it's important to be efficient when we fight these crimes," Atanasof said. 

Critics have suggested the best way to begin the fight would be a battle against corruption. In some cases, police officers themselves have been named as suspects.  A recent poll conducted by this country's justice department said 88 percent of Argentines fear they could become victims of crime. 

It is a problem that gets worse as Argentina slides deeper into its record-breaking economic crisis. Some 50 percent of this country lives below the poverty line. And the jobless rate has reached an unprecedented 21.3 percent. 

Oil sales to Cuba
probed in Caracas

By the A.M. Costas Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Venezuelan Supreme Court is investigating a preferential oil sales agreement with Cuba that has been widely criticized by political opponents of President Hugo Chavez.

President Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro signed the agreement in October 2000. Chavez's opponents contend the pact is illegal because it was not approved by Congress. 

The agreement calls for Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, to sell 53,000 barrels of crude oil to Cuba daily at below market rates. Shipments were suspended during April's failed coup against President Chavez because Cuba owed more than $140 million. 

Government officials here now say they have reached an agreement with Havana to repay the debt so oil shipments can resume. They also said Cuba is a good market for Venezuela and has been a stable customer for the crude oil for years.

Severe flooding
reported in Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has declared a state of emergency in two central states, where two dams burst Thursday following heavy rains, triggering floods that have left 13 people dead. Several people are also reported missing. More rain is expected.

Officials say the dams in San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas gave way, sending water rushing through villages in the normally dry states. 

Authorities say more than 1,500 people in San Luis Potosi were forced from their homes and are expected to spend the night in emergency shelters. Twice as many people were reported to have been affected in neighboring Zacatecas state. 

Lawyers push to free
convicted Cuban spies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. lawyers group has launched a campaign to free five men convicted of spying for Cuba in June of 2001. 

The New York-based National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Tuesday announced it intends to gather support within the United States for the five men, who are now appealing their sentences.  The men were convicted last year for attempting to infiltrate and spy on American military bases and Cuban exile groups for Cuban intelligence. 

Attorneys working for the NLG, though not denying the charges, say the five Cuban and Cuban-American men do not belong in prison and should have a chance for a second trial. 
Professional Directory

A.M. Costa Rica debuts its professional and service directory where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may provide a description of what they do.

If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


United States Dentist in Costa Rica: Dr. Peter S Aborn, Prosthodontics and general dentistry private practice. 25 years in New York City. 5 years in Costa Rica. Professor and director of postgraduate prosthodontics Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Former chief of prosthodontics Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City. Education: N.Y.U College of Dentistry; Westchester County Medical Center; Eastman Dental Center; University of Rochester Graduate School of Medicine and Dentistry. Location: 300 meters from the U.S. Embassy. Telephone: 232-9225. Cellular 379-2963. E-mail: jopetar@amnet.co.cr


American/Costa Rican attorney located in Costa Rica. Specializing in business law, commercial law, real estate sales, immigration law. 
Lic. Gregory Kearney Lawson
KEARNEY LAWSON & Asoc. Tel/Fax: (506) 221-9462

Legal and Consulting Specialists
Foreign Residents and Business Owners
• Reliable and Responsive •  Excellent References
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Apdo. 11846-1000, San Jose, Costa Rica
Tel: (506) 253-9655   Fax: (506) 280-4576 
Cel: (506) 386-9324
Email: ulimar@costarica.net

Real estate agents

Coldwell Banker Coastal Properties Escazu
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289-5790 office
387-6820 cell
Located in the new Plaza Itskazu, next to the Court Yard Marriott Escazu #203

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(506) 232-5016 home   (506) 233-8057 office  (506)382-7399 cell 

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