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these stories were published Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 169
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One tiny mistake can ruin the whole evening
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

NOTE TO CROOKS: When you herd people in the bathroom to ransack their home, it might be helpful to make sure someone does not have a cell telephone hidden away.

That’s what happened Tuesday night at what investigators say was a luxury home in San Antonio de Escazú.

Four masked and armed men managed to force their way into the home about 8 p.m. and confronted a mother, her two children and a domestic employee. They herded the four victims to a bathroom where they locked them inside.

Then the robbers began to collect valuable 

articles from the home and load them in their two vehicles. Inside the bathroom, someone was calling 911.

When police arrived a short time later, the startled robbers fled in the two vehicles, but one driver smashed his getaway car into a taxi. He and his passenger were arrested.

The second car was found abandoned in a vacant lot a short time later. Both cars carried loot from the robbery. The two suspects, identified by the last names of González Quesada and Saborio Méndez, went to jail.

Although the Judicial Investigating Organization did not identify the owner of the luxury home, agents said that one of the Costa Rican occupants had held political office in Escazú.


 
Photo by Garland M. Baker
Public employees, including hospital workers, strut their stuff Wednesday.
Pacheco makes vehicle inspection concessions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration will send the contract with a vehicle inspection firm back to the Contraloría de la República to make sure it is legal.


More photos, story BELOW!


At the same time, officials are ready to work with the firm, Riteve S y C. to reduce rates and to reduce the emphasis to just brakes and lights of vehicles being inspected.

These were two developments announced Wednesday in an attempt to stem the growing national strike. The actions were announced after a day of police actions that left 64 strikers facing criminal charges.

Javier Chaves, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, announced Wednesday afternoon that the Contraloría would be asked to take another look at the contract. Strikers claim the vehicle inspection monopoly violates the Costa Rican Constitution.

President Abel Pacheco ratified this decision in his second evening television talk in as many days. He also said that officials are ready to discuss all aspects of the vehicle inspection program except lights and brakes, which he said were matters of life and death.

Wednesday was a day that the strike grew, joined by public employees who left their jobs, including workers at Hospital San Juan de Dios where 40 medical operations were canceled Wednesday because employees walked out.

The day also saw students at the Universidad de Costa Rica join the strike. Demonstrators promised more workers from other hospitals would duck work today to demonstrate.

The motives of the strikers are mixed. Some, like truckers and taxi drivers, are concerned by the vehicle inspection process. Public employees are unhappy with a 4.5 percent salary raise decreed by Pacheco. Students are among those most upset by a proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

The police action began about 3:40 a.m. at Ochomogo between San José and Cartago where truckers had blocked the multi-lane autopista for two days. Police smashed windows and even threw a tear gas grenade inside one truck cab to force drivers outside and into arrest.

Similar actions took place near Limón, Grecia, Puntarenas, Alajuela, San Ramon, and San José.

Police detained 19 persons and confiscated as many tractor-trailers in Limón where strikers blocked access to docks and froze the country’s imports and exports for two days.

Some 23 truckers were detained when Fuerza Pública officers broke up the blockade in Ochomogo. In all, police confiscated 40 trucks, most of them 18-wheeler tractor trailers.

Police also broke up a 14 km. roadblock at Grecia about 3 p.m., but truck drivers simply moved nearer to San Carlos and blocked the highway to the northern zone again.

Meanwhile negotiations fizzled, resulting in Pacheco’s call for them to resume.

 

 
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Photo by Garland M. Bakers
City employees strip the ailing roof of the Los Arcades opposite the Teatro Nacional.

Arcade walkway getting
facelift from city

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After years of putting up with the leaky and failing roof of Los Arcades, a downtown landmark, merchants nearby have reason to be happy.

The municipality of San José is refurbishing the structure, which has been lately known as a gathering place for the homeless or nearly so.

Merchants have complained that interior sections of the roof have been falling, perhaps endangering customers. Now there is no roof because city workers have removed it.

Merchants hope that the upgrading will carry over to the people who use it. Even though the structure connects a major hotel to Avenida 2, guests who are mostly tourists decline to use the walkway due to people who gather there and an odor typical of a New York City subway station.

RACSA warns users
of Internet attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet provider, says attacks of hackers may endanger the Internet today.

The announcement by the government agency known as RACSA appears to be related to some off-hand comments made by computer security expert Eugene Kaspersky at a press conference this week. 

The RACSA alert suggests that a hidden virus program in Microsoft Explorer can cause a computer to send a cascade of e-mail messages without the knowledge of the computer owner.

Kaspersky made reference to rumors of an electronic jihad directed against Israel, and said such a flood of e-mail messages for political purposes is possible.

RACSA seems to be taking the concept seriously. More information is available HERE!

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A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The first police car descends on striking truckers at Ochomogo

 
As strike grows, emphasis changes to other gripes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As soon as police cleared a roadblock Wednesday, strikers made plans to set up another.

Taxi drivers blocked the Circumvalación bypass south of San José about midmorning to show their solidarity with the truck drivers. Taxi cabs moved very slowly in the same manner that truckers the day before cut their speed down to a crawl to bottle up traffic.

Wednesday morning students who had not participated in the demonstrations set up a roadblock at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro. Their emphasis was more in opposition to the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

In the downtown public employees marched. Among them were workers for the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social, which operates the public hospitals. Only Hospital San Juan de Dios was 

represented, but marchers promised participation by employees at other hospitals today.

So despite police action against truckers early Wednesday, the strike continues to grow and gain supporters. As more participants join the ranks, the emphasis shifts from being directed entirely at Riteve S y C, the vehicle inspection monopoly.

Public employees are after a raise bigger than the 4.5 percent decreed by President Abel Pacheco. They include teachers, public bank workers, employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and others.

The perceived weakness of the Pacheco administration gives the strikers hope that they may bring down the government. Several Wednesday lamented the fact that Costa Rica’s Constitution does not allow a presidential recall as the Venezuelan constitution does. The addition of more groups today is clear indication that the strike is not over.


 
Taxis leave downtown San José for Ochomogo at word of possible police action

 
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Chinese herbal remedy key to new malaria drug
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BALTIMORE, Md. — Using an ancient Chinese folk remedy as a model, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University here have designed several new compounds that in early testing promise to be safer and more effective in fighting malaria and some forms of cancer than current treatments, the university announced Tuesday.

Malaria afflicts between 300 million and 500 million people a year, killing between 1.5 million and 3 million, mostly children. Spread by female mosquitoes feeding on human blood, the most commonly fatal strain of the malaria parasite began showing formidable resistance to current treatments decades ago, making the development of new and more effective drugs a worldwide priority.

"Preliminary data show that our laboratory-

synthesized compounds have a therapeutic index — the measure of a drug's safety and efficacy — that is better, in some cases, many times better, in rodents than the drugs currently considered the gold standard for chemotherapy of both malaria and prostate cancer," said Gary Posner, professor of chemistry at Johns Hopkins.

With support from the National Institutes of Health since 1994, the research team designed a series of compounds called trioxanes. The compounds mimic the mechanism of action of artemisinin, the active agent in the Artemisia annua plant, which has been used in China for thousands of years as an herbal remedy for malaria and other fevers.

Posner's research and that of other laboratories revealed that the peroxide unit within artemisinin and within other antimalarial trioxane drugs causes the malaria parasites to self-destruct.


 
Shroud of Evita, now owned by nation, put on display in Argentina 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The blue and white shroud that once covered the remains of former Argentine First Lady Eva Peron was unveiled for public display Tuesday in Argentina.

The shroud was sold at auction in Rome earlier this year for $158,000 to the chairman of airline carrier 

Aerolineas Argentinas. He donated the item to the Argentine government. The shroud was part of a collection of items that belonged to the country's famous first lady, known as "Evita" and her husband Juan Domingo Peron. 

Juan Peron commissioned the shroud in 1971 to cover Evita's remains, which were moved frequently after her death in 1952 from cancer. 


 
Hearing continues today on Pinochet's effort to retain immunity
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — The Chilean Supreme Court is considering whether former dictator Augusto Pinochet should continue to have immunity from prosecution. A second day of Supreme Court hearings on the issue is expected today.

The retired general faces legal challenges over the killings of political activists during his rule from 1973 to 1990.

Authorities contend the killings were part of a plan known as "Operation Condor," in which several South American dictatorships sought to suppress political opponents.

A lower court has ruled that Pinochet should lose the immunity granted him as a former president. His lawyers argue he is mentally and physically unfit to stand trial. An estimated 3,000 people died or disappeared after Pinochet, a general, seized power in 1973. 


 
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