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These stories were published Friday, Aug. 20, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 165
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Electronic lottery is experiencing hard times
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s faltering finances are not getting any help from the electronic lottery set up in 2001 by the Junta de Protección Social.

The junta’s internal auditor told a legislative committee Thursday that this type of lottery had lost 50 million colons, some $114,000, and has brought in just half a percent of the amount officials budgeted.

This is the lottery that the junta announced in November 2001 that is being done in conjunction with Banco Nacional. Bank customers see banners for the "Pega6" lottery in bank branches but few ever buy their lottery tickets from the teller.

The lottery is called electronic because players can also call in on the telephone to Banco Nacional to wager a minimum of 200 colons (45 U.S. cents) or use their electronic banking on 

the Internet. The idea is for bettors to pick four five or six numbers between 01 and 36 that turn up to be winners.

The competition are those many versions of the lottery that vendors are hawking on the street. These, too, are run by the junta.

Floris Chan is the auditor. She reports to the junta’s board of directors. She was appearing Thursday before the Comisión Permanente Especial de Control del Gasto Público.

The junta, a government agency, distributes lottery money to many social welfare agencies, including homes for the elderly, the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social, the University of Costa Rica and others.  Nearly all the money distributed comes from lotteries.

At the time it was announced, street vendors said they did not see the electronic lottery as a threat to their business.


 
The Greeks had a name for it, and we do, too
The other night the taxi driver pointed out an attractive young woman in her colorful, if skimpy dress, and said, "Prostituta." We were going past a notorious downtown hotel.

I have to smile when a taxi driver, who normally does not perform any other guide services, points out a lady of the night. It has happened before and is hardly necessary. Their dress alone often distinguishes the working girls from other women. Which is as it should be and was decreed back in the Golden Age of Greece when the wise statesman Solon himself designed the short diaphanous toga that pornai (street walkers) were supposed to wear so that they could be distinguished from wives and other off-limit women. (I have noted over the years that what streetwalkers are wearing one year, ‘respectable’ women begin to wear about two years later.)

Prostitutes of all classes (There were several with hetaera being the equivalent of call girl today and porne, the streetwalkers) were supposed to dye their hair blonde as well. And these newly dyed blondes, at least the high class ones, did seem to have more fun. They had greater freedom than married women, were well-educated, attended the theater and were indispensable at symposium, the dining and drinking parties that were so much a part of male Greek social life. Intellectual discussion was a major part of these dinners, along with skits, music and dancing performed by auletrides, or "flute girls" who did double duty as entertainers and sexual partners. Hetaera originally meant simply "companion," because that often is what they were. There were names for different classes of prostitutes, just as there are today.

Female prostitution was legal back then, just as it is today in Costa Rica. Being a believer in the right of a woman to control her own body, I have no problem with prostitution as a profession — especially if it is not a career choice made from desperation or by the very young. But I know there also are women working long hours at some mind-numbing jobs out of desperation. 

Pimping is not legal here. Pimps existed in Ancient Greece, but were a despised group. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Although both sexes engaged in prostitution in Greece, the first laws prohibiting it were against male prostitution. One historian says it was because it was felt that mentor/youth relationship was degraded when the young men expected money or gifts for their sexual services. 

One would not suspect this if one checked a dictionary published as late as the 1950’s. Mine defined prostitute, as a woman who sells her body for money, or a man who sells his artistic endeavors for less than they are worth or for an unworthy cause. The dictionary definitions have since changed. 

But they do make me think about the reality that over the millennia the world has accepted that a woman can earn a living working long hours at mind-numbing back- breaking drudgery that makes every demand upon her body, except sexual. Not only was and is prostitution condemned in most societies, it puts the woman who engages in sex for money in danger of being exploited, and even harmed to the point of murder, often by the very men who use her services. I can only think that there must be a lot of guilt in the world.

But now I am on my soapbox. I don’t know much about the lives of either the call girls or streetwalkers here in Costa Rica. I know that many of them are very beautiful, that there are a number from other countries who have come here to work, and that many are supporting children. Others, like a couple of young women I knew in the States, may be paying their way through graduate school by being hookers. 

Ah, hooker is yet another designation. Isn’t it amazing how many names we have for prostitute? It makes me think about how many words the Eskimos are said to have for the word snow and why.

 

 
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Forged mortgage leads
to raids by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three owners of a finca in Pozos de Santa Ana found out recently that their property had been mortgaged without their consent.

The revelation and investigation set up a series of police raids Thursday in Puriscal, Ciudad Colón, Guápiles and also Pozos.

A 43-year-old man was detained at his home in Ciudad Colón. But others either were not detained or were out of the country.

Investigators said the finca was mortgaged using false signatures on a power of attorney that gave the Ciudad Colón man the authority to borrow the money. The mortgage was in favor of another man, a Desamparados resident who has been identified, agents said.

To complete the mortgage, the individuals used a false escritura or deed executive in an office in Puriscal that also was raided.

Two women, one from Puriscal and the other from Guápiles also are under investigation because they presented the forged documents to the Registro Pública. Their offices and homes were raided Thursday, too.

The amount involved in the false mortgage was 5 million colons, some $11,300 at the current rate of exchange.

The owners of the property found out about the false mortgage through the Registro and brought the matter to the attention of the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Gunmen grab car,
cops grab suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men pulled a gun on the driver of a luxury car Wednesday night in  Pozos de Santa Ana, fired at the driver and then drove off with the vehicle. 

At midnight agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fuerza Pública found the car and two suspects, 30 and 35 years of age, in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados. The vehicle was a 2004 Mercedes Benz.

Realizing that officers were nearby, the two men jumped in the car and tried to get away. But police captured them after a short chase, they said.

Several U.S. citizens have complained lately of being held up and their cars stolen. A U.S. woman tourist was confronted by a man with a gun Aug. 10 in Curridabat and lost her rental car to the gunman. The vehicle also was recovered later being disassembled.

Blind man wins
on meters, money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court agrees with a blind man that he should be able to tell the denomination of money and that he should have a way of knowing the amount of money he owes for a taxi ride.

The court decided Tuesday that the appeal of the man, Carlos Eduardo Moraga Gatgens, should be sustained. The decision was announced Thursday.

Moraga sued the Consejo de Transportes Públicos and the Banco Central. The court ordered the Banco Central to begin a study within a month to determine how to solve the problem so that blind people will be able to know the denominations of future issues of coins and bills.

Similarly the Consejo de Transporte was ordered to study technical ways to solve the problem of blind people and taxi meters. The court said that the director of the council, who now is Victor Renan Murillo Pizarro, should have a solution in taxis within a year. The court suggests some kind of auditory device that the blind could hear. 

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Latin American vulnerabilities
Drug lords and Islamic terrorists: a likely marriage
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, said the old political saying.

That’s why linkups are almost certain between drug lords and Mideast extremists.

The United States has actually suggested this, in a way, by branding rebel groups in Colombia and Peru as terrorists. Officials did that as a justification of the war on drugs, but the strategy may come back to haunt them.

Oscar Alvarez, the minister of security in Honduras, suggested Thursday on a radio show there that al Qaeda might be recruiting locals to act as terrorists. A man identified with the Muslim extremist group is believed to have been in the area.

It is unlikely that al Qaeda or other similar groups have overlooked the existence of fully armed and operational militias working against the governments of México, Colombia and Perú. Such organizations provide a ready source of trained operatives.

The Irish Republican Army, another U.S.-designated terror organization, has been flirting with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Three IRA officials were arrested there in 2002 on allegations they had been providing training in explosives. AT least 15 other Irish revolutionaries have been providing training, according to U.S. congressional testimony at the time.

The possibility of a linkup between Mideastern and Latin terrorists might also explain the sudden cooling of support for the drug war in the Asamblea Nacional. Enough members of minority parties refused to permit landings by U.S. planes that the proposal was hamstrung.

The legislators, principally from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, have shown anti-American tendencies in the past, but fear of involvement as terror targets provides another good excuse.

The Costa Rican Constitution requires legislative approval for the visits of foreign military craft.

From the perspective of the drug lords, an alliance with Mideastern terrorists makes sense because any terrorist activities here will take resources and pressure off the drug war. Right now the bulk of the U.S. Southern Command presence here is dedicated to stopping the northern flow of drugs.

For the Islamic terrorists, the problem with conducting business in Latin America is one of being easily identified. Some countries like Venezuela have substantial Middle Eastern minorities, but most do not. 

And many Mideasterners can pass for Latins if they do not try to talk. But by enlisting locals, the Islamic terrorists are able to remain in the shadows and not play active roles.

The drug lords also are awash in money and they have the experience to move large sums around the globe. Al Qaeda was crippled after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because the United States responded vigorously in eliminating channels that brought money to the organization.

From a strategic point of view, Central and Latin America represents the soft underbelly of the United States. Borders may have been tightened, but the U.S.-Mexican frontier is Grand Central Station in the world of smuggling and illegal human transport.

Plus most Americans do not realize that a threat exists here. Targets containing many Americans are much less protected in México and Latin America. Local police protection in many countries is not as aggressive as, perhaps, in Saudi Arabia.

Central American police and intelligence officials met last week in San José, and terrorism was on the agenda. But few of these agencies have the resources needed to keep close tabs on suspicious Mideasterners. Although immigration procedures have been tightened, illegal entries and exits from all Central American countries are easy.

In fact, the intelligence agents showed their amateur status after their final Friday session by gathering to drink beer in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica street-level cafe and engaging street performers to sing. They made a fat target.


 
Diplomacy cited as important to stemming threat
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is facing a global terrorist threat that calls for a comprehensive diplomatic strategy and a global response, says the State Department's chief counterterrorism official.

Ambassador Cofer Black, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, testified before the House International Relations Committee Thursday that the United States is safer from potential terrorist attack now than before Sept. 11, 2001, but not absolutely safe, and argued that much more needs to be done.

The International Relations Committee, which has oversight responsibility for foreign policy issues, met in a rare August hearing to examine the role of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the struggle against global terrorism. The committee heard testimony from two staff members of the 9/11 Commission and from nine senior officials within the State Department.

Hearing Committee Chairman Chris Smith said that at issue is the strategy used by the State Department, which is the lead cabinet-level agency for making foreign policy.

"Today, we are focused on how the State Department plans to prosecute this war, and how things have changed in the State Department since 9/11," Smith said in opening remarks. "Its role stretches far beyond the rarified ceremony of high diplomacy; in fact, it may well be that State represents our very first line of defense."

The hearing was called in response to the 9/11 Commission report, released July 22, that recommends changes be made by the president and the Congress to protect the United States more effectively from future terrorist attacks.

Black also said that one of the major issues facing the United States is the need to prevent the growth of future terrorist safe havens.

He said the department is working with allies to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in six regions identified in the 9/11 Commission report. Those regions include potential safe havens in areas of Africa and Southeast Asia, he said. 

Smith said the commission's report called on the State Department to develop aggressive efforts to battle misinformation, gross distortion and demonization of the United States by its enemies.


 
Colombian held in U.S. as alleged arms supplier of narcoterrorists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a six-count indictment of a Colombian citizen charged with trying to provide illegal weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group the U.S. State Department has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

In a statement  Wednesday, Ashcroft said the U.S. indictment that day of Carlos Enrique Gamarra-Murillo alleges that the Colombian attempted to "provide the fuel to feed a dangerous foreign terrorist organization," adding: "Those who seek to supply narco-terrorists with weapons and ammunition must be brought to justice for their actions. [These] charges are an important step in that process."

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said the indictment against Gamarra-Murillo
includes charges that he attempted to distribute 

 2,000 kilograms of cocaine and conspired to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of a crime of violence and drug-trafficking crimes. Gamarra-Murillo, who was arrested April 1, served as a broker for the terrorist organization in an attempt to export the machine guns and other weapons out of the United States and into the hands of the FARC in Colombia, the agency said.

More specifically, the indictment charged the Colombian with a plot to help obtain for the FARC 4,000 grenades, 1,800 assault rifles, 60 grenade launchers and 150 handguns. The weapons have an estimated total value of almost $4 million, said the agency.

The U.S. State Department has called the FARC the most dangerous international terrorist organization based in the Western Hemisphere, and says it is responsible for much of the violence stemming from Colombia's civil war, which has continued for more than 40 years.


 
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Art exposition is a giant plateau for ex-street kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is an unusual art opening Saturday at the Museo Nacional de Niños. The artists are youngsters who have come off the streets of San José.

The location will be the Galeria de Arte of the museum, and the time is 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The art works will be for sale.

The event is organized by the Fundación Humanitaria, directed by Gail Nystrom. She has become well known for her rescues of street children in the Central Valley.

The name of the exhibition is "Saliendo del Laberinto," which Ms. Nystrom has translated as "Out of the Labyrinth." She also had provided a detailed summary of her work with these youngsters, which follows:

Only three years ago, a group of young people was sleeping on the streets of San José in cardboard boxes. They spent their days smoking marijuana and crack cocaine, sniffing glue and robbing passerbys at knifepoint. Their food consisted of what people would give them or what they could get out of the trash cans in front of the restaurants around them. They were dirty, shoeless, did not bathe and wore filthy clothes. Their friendships were based on who had the most force and could gain the most resepct by robbing and using the knife most proficiently. 

Their dreams were nonexistent. None dared dream of a different life. Survival occupied all their time. They were youth surrounded by darkness, hatred, disrespect and violence. 

They spent their days on the streets or locked up in cells of the municipal police, sleeping on concrete 

floors, with no food, water, bathing facilities or toilets. The police regularly beat them. 

They lived in fear, terror, horror and violence. And they gave what they received. They received what they got. They were minor age children. However, the institutions charged with caring for them had abandoned them. It was said, "They are going to die anyway, so there is nothing we can do for them."

After three years of difficult, painful and lesson- filled experiences with us, the youth have now overcome their old problems. They are beginning to climb out of this labyrinth that has been their life. For them, it is very important to be able to share with you, one of the most important supports they have had, this journey of change, this night of victory, this celebration of a new life.  They want to show they are capable of creating, participating, being part of society and giving many lessons. 

I am personally grateful to you for all you have done to support these youth, and I am grateful for your presence with us on the 21 of Aug. at 7 p.m. in the Children’s Museum. Please come and share our common victory. 


 
Ballot sampling audit begins in Venezuela despite fraud claims
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Election officials have begun auditing votes from Sunday's recall referendum, in an attempt to dispel opposition charges the balloting was fraudulent.

The random audit of 150 voting stations began Thursday under the supervision of international observers. It is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Venezuela's opposition refused to participate in the audit, saying it does not address the allegation that ballot machines were programmed to limit the number of votes cast in favor of recalling President Hugo Chavez. 

But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led an observer mission to Venezuela, says he has seen no credible evidence of fraud.

The U.S. State Department said Thursday officials 

are holding to their view that Venezuelan President
Chavez won last Sunday's recall referendum. But it says a thorough probe of continuing claims of election fraud is important to settling the country's political crisis. 

Officials in Washington, D.C., say that continuing charges from the Venezuelan opposition of voting-machine tampering and other fraud allegations have not shaken the U.S. view that Chavez won the recall election.

But at the same time, they are stressing the importance of the audit being conducted by staff members of the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center as a way helping bring about national reconciliation. 

Preliminary election returns, upheld by the international monitors, show that the controversial Venezuelan president handily turned back the challenge to his continued rule by collecting about 58 percent of the vote.


 
Panamá gets debt relief in exchange for national park protection
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PANAMA CITY, Panamá — The United States and Panamá have signed an agreement reducing Panama's debt to Washington in exchange for the Central American country's promise to invest in a nature conservation program. 

Norberto Delgado, Panamanian finance and economy minister, and U.S. Ambassador Linda Watt signed the agreement Thursday here along with George Hanily, the Panama director for Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization. 

Under the "debt-for-nature" swap, Panama will contribute almost $11 million towards protecting the country's biologically rich Darien National Park over the next 12 years. 

In return, the U.S. government will pay $6.5 million and Nature Conservancy $1.3 million dollars of Panama's debt to the United States. 

The U.S. government may sign such agreements under a 1998 law aimed at helping certain countries preserve their tropical forests.  The Darien is in southern Panamá near the Colombia border.


 
 
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