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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug.17, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 162
Jo Stuart
About us

Honest, they really fix roads here as motorists along Avenida 1 can verify. The stretch between calles 5 and 7 was closed Tuesday as city crews redid the roadbed.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

High court steps into license plate dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As promised, members of the Movimiento Libertario carried the issue of license plate bingo to the Sala IV constitutional court. And the court has stepped in and suspended the collection of fines.

At issue is the government plan to bar 20 percent of the vehicles each day from the center of the city. The reason is to increase traffic flow, save fuel and reduce the country's reliance on petroleum, officials have said. Each day vehicles with two of eight final digits on the license plants may not enter the downtown area between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. For example, today, the forbidden numbers are 5 and 6.

If motorists ignore the rule, they face a 5,000-colon fine, a bit more than $10. It is this fine that a preliminary judicial decision
announced Tuesday suspends. However, if the court decides against the appeal, all the tickets issued by transit police will be valid and subject to collection.

The success of the government's plan is unclear. Tuesday city workmen had closed off Avenida 1 between Calle 7 and Calle 5. This created a massive jam as vehicles had to detour south to continue going west.

Also one of the traffic policemen assigned to control the flow parked his motorcycle at the corner of Calle 9 in a way that prevented  buses and large vehicles from making turns.

The appeal by the LIbertarians said the decree authorizing the banning of vehicles violated a smorgasbord of constitutional sections. Among these are guarantees of personal liberty, the liberty of transit, the principal of equality and private property rights.

Health officials struggle to end dengue wave
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health officials are embarking on another publicity campaign to get residents to eliminate the standing water where mosquitoes breed.

Officials have blamed increases in the disease on inattention of the public to the breeding spots of the Aedes aegypti mosquito carrier.

María del Rocío Saénz, minister of Salud, said Tuesday that 13,352 dengue cases had been reported in the country. Some 18 of these are the hemorrhagic, life-threatening variety, although no deaths have been reported.

There also are signs that the disease is finding its way into the Central Valley where the bulk of the nation's population lives. Most cases now are on the Caribbean coast and the central and north Pacific.

The mosquito that carries the disease lives in the Central Valley. All that is needed are
individuals with infections to inadvertently transmit the virus to the insects. Two years ago cases were reported in many of the suburbs of the metropolitan area.

Dengue has been making a comeback since the early 1990s when efforts to control the mosquito were relaxed. The disease is now considered a major public health problem all over Latin America. A few cases have been reported as far north as the U.S. state of Texas over the years.

The day-biting mosquito needs standing water in which to lay its eggs. The insect also prefers to feed on humans.

Officials have said that a major public health campaign a year ago reduced the number of cases, but there was no campaign this year until those hospitalized began to mount. The disease usually causes flu-like symptoms. One bout with the virus causes immunity, but there are four strains of viruses, and immunity from one does not protect against the others.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 162

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Three in family drown
in fishing expedition

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in the small town of Los Chiles recovered the bodies of three siblings Tuesday.  They had been missing since Monday morning and had apparently drowned while fishing in the Río Frío, police said. 

The bodies of the two sisters and a brother were identified as 24-year-old Juana Vargas Molina, 23-year-old Rosa Vargas Molina and 12-year-old David Alvarado Molina, police reported.

The three left their home at approximately 9 a.m. according to their mother, María Molina Sandoval.  By 7:25 p.m. she was worried enough to call the police, they said.

Officers said that they immediately started looking for the missing siblings and found their bodies on the banks of the river near Las Ventanas sometime between 11 p.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday.

The area where they were found is notorious for disappearing under heavy rains, police said.  Monday's downpour may have led to their drowning. 

The bodies were removed at approximately 5 a.m., police said. 
New arrival takes
helm of U.S. Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Department of State has named Russell L. Frisbie to serve as the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy here until Mark Langdale can be confirmed as the ambassador to Costa Rica by the U.S. Senate.

Frisbie is a career diplomat, having worked for the U.S. Department of State for the past 22 years.  Most recently, he served at the U.S. Embassy in Chile but he has held posts in Germany and Mexico as well. 

As chargé, Frisbie basically will be the senior person at the embassy. He fills in for Douglas Barnes who was transferred to Washington, D.C. After an ambassador arrives, Frisbie will assume duties as a counselor.

Frisbie served as part of the U.S. delegation to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and led the U.S. delegation to a recent meeting of the Paris Club.  The Paris Club's Web site describes it as an informal group of official creditors who work with debtor nations to find methods of payment.  Usually, this involves rescheduling or postponement, the Web site said. 

In addition, Frisbie worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development which works to extend aid to struggling nations.  He was also director of the regional economic policy and summit coordination office of the Department of State’s Western Hemisphere affairs bureau. 

Frisbie and his wife served as Peace Corps volunteers in Lesotho in southern Africa.  He earned his masters degree from the Fletcher School Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. and is fluent in German, French and Spanish.    

U.S. President George Bush said June 30 that he was planning to name Texas resident Langdale as ambassador here. However, the U.S. Congress is in recess until Sept. 6, so hearings on his confirmation will have to wait until after that date.
Suspect in Tárcoles killing
gets pretrial detention

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The man arrested most recently for the murder of 16-year-old Luz Elena Guzmán Pérez in Tárcoles was placed in pretrial detention Monday, said police.

The suspect, identified by the last name López, will be held for up to a year before he is tried for planned homicide, violation, aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping, said investigators.

López is suspected of attacking Miss Guzmán and her 14-year-old sister as they walked home from school through a wooded area Aug. 5.  A gunman wearing a ski mask surprised the girls and after tying the younger sister to a tree, took the older girl out of sight where he shot her.  The younger sister freed herself and ran for help, police said. 

Police originally arrested another suspect, but he was released after authorities couldn't muster enough evidence to detain him. 

Scammers try to steal
from property owners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Internet scammers are beginning to target people who advertise rental units.

Several readers reported they have received e-mails from afar offering to rent units they have advertised in A.M. Costa Rica and elsewhere. The scam is similar for the one that has been worked for years targeting vehicles for sale.

The scammer readily agrees to rent the property and offers an excessive down payment to seal the deal. The hook is that the payment is made with a certified check far greater than the agreed upon price. The scammer expects the property owner to refund the difference immediately via Western Union or another speedy service. Of course, the original check is bogus.

The rental scam is more believable than the automobile scam. Who would pay top dollar for a Costa Rican vehicle that has its value inflated substantially by taxes?

However, many people rent properties before they actually arrive in Costa Rica. Legitimate renters pay the agreed-upon price and nothing more. They do not expect an instant refund.  

Scammers usually have a good reason for sending a fat check. Sometimes they say the money is the proceeds of some deal in the United States. They also use automatic devices to harvest the e-mail addresses of persons advertising in online publications.

Savvy advertisers frequently create free e-mail accounts that they use for a short time in order to avoid scammers and spammers from filing up their computer inboxes.

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Never a policeman
when you need one

A badly parked motorcycle can tie up downtown traffic even as officials try to make the flow smoother.

In this case, the motorcycle preventing the bus from turning into Calle 9 is a Tránsito vehicle. Whoooops. No officer to be seen.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Handling the mean streets
A different kind of guide for tourists who come here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Their names are not in any fancy flier put out by the tourism board — although other agencies might have full files on them.

They work the night shift. Or the morning shift. Or any shift where they can make a buck in about any way.

They are the street hustlers who make their living by getting tourists what they want. Most are found at night in areas around hotels where visitors stay in the center of the city. Sometimes they concern or frighten tourists who worry about being robbed. But in the world in which these people live, they are the most likely victims of robberies, assaults and other crimes perpetrated by their peers.

One individual has spent 11 years in the center of San José and knows the term "mean streets' up close and personal. Like his associates, he is not a vagrant or a beggar. He prefers the term street guide to hustler, which he says has bad connotations.

Like many such individuals in the center of the city or at some of the beach towns, this man, now in his 40s, speaks perfect English, but frequent bouts with crack cocaine, alcohol and other substances have kept him from capitalizing on his talent and his obvious intellect. He had a brief and unhappy experience with the U.S. military.

He was back on the street Tuesday after recovering from a botched robbery. He was the victim, and some of his street acquaintances were the robbers.

The way he tells it, he was returning to his living quarters in north San José about 4 a.m. after
showing a North American tourist where to find drugs and companionship. He had in his shoe a $20 tip. Two men tried to mug him near his home, and he fought back. He smashed his hand into the teeth of one man and put him on the sidewalk. The second man came at him with some form of blackjack.

He put up his left arm for protection, and the blackjack broke one of the bones in the forearm. Blood flowed from the compound fracture. The street guide ran and the man with the blackjack followed.

As the assailant came closer, the bleeding man pulled off his leather 

belt and swung the heavy metal buckle as a weapon.  A group of taxi drivers came on the scene, and the assailant fled.

A stint in the hospital followed.

As a street guide, the former serviceman said he tries to follow certain rules. He is not a pimp nor does he sell drugs. He just accepts money for showing people how to make connections with those who might provide these substances or services.

As he talked, an older beggar stumbled by. The former serviceman hailed him and gave him a half-smoked cigarette for which the older man was grateful.

As the evening wears on, he will become more talkative, more accommodating as the effects of alcohol and other substances take their toll. But he never loses sight of the job: "Can I help you find something?"


OAS chief warns of urgent problem with gangs here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Violent attacks and riots that took place Monday in several Guatemalan prisons underscore the need for the countries of the region to address the increasing problems related to organized crime and gangs, according to José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Insulza expressed condolences to the families of the 31 inmates who lost their lives in the violence and said the incidents should serve as a wake-up call about the seriousness and geographical scope of the problem.

“For the countries of Central America, in particular, gang-related violence has become an urgent security problem with deep social and economic consequences,” he said. “The member states have
placed this high on the security agenda of the OAS and are examining how they can work together more closely to address this difficult issue.”

At the recent session of the organization's General Assembly, held in June, the region’s foreign ministers called for hemispheric cooperation, including greater information exchange, to deal with gang-related problems.

Officials said the inmates died after what appears to have been coordinated riots in several Guatemalan prisons. The prisoners, reported to be members of rival street gangs, attacked each other with knives, guns and grenades. Police intervened to stop the fighting which left more than 60 people injured. The riots broke out in at least three prisons, including Pavon, El Hoyon and Canada.

Flight data recorder of doomed West Caribbean Airways jet located
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MARACAIBO, Venezuela — Authorities have found one of the flight data recorders from a Colombian airliner that crashed in western Venezuela Tuesday, killing all 160 passengers and crew.

The West Caribbean Airways charter plane was headed to Martinique from Panamá when the pilot reported trouble with both engines and requested permission to land at the airport there.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 crashed shortly after
 Machiques, a remote area near the Venezuela - Colombia border.

All 152 passengers were French citizens from Martinique. The crew was Colombian. Earlier, French President Jacques Chirac expressed his condolences to victims' families. French officials are setting up a crisis center in Martinique.

This was the second crash involving West Caribbean Airways this year. In March, one of its planes crashed during take-off from Providencia, Colombia, killing eight people and injuring six others.

Jo Stuart
About us
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