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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 169
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Here's comes a really, really big helping of gallo pinto
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you are in the vicinity of the Parque de la Paz on the south side of San José Sunday morning, you better bring your appetite. Organizers are threatening the largest gallo pinto in the world.

The dish, of course, is the traditional rice and beans of Costa Rica, and no day is complete for a Tico without gallo pinto. They will have plenty Sunday.

Some 264 kilos (583 pounds) of rice are being prepared, and there will be 180 kilos (nearly 400 pounds) of black beans.

The main pan will be more than nine feet in circumference with a depth of 40 centimeters, some 16 inches. In a smaller pan, some of the 11 chefs will cook a gigantic omelet.

The rice and beans will be started a couple of days early. The world’s largest gallo pinto is a fundraiser for the Hogar de Esperanza, a hospice for patients with AIDS. 

Each plate of the world’s largest gallo pinto will be sold for 500 colons, about $1.25, and other donations will be happily accepted.

The cooking starts at 9 a.m. There is a chance of the world’s largest belly ache by noon!

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30-year sentences upheld in murder of U.S. citizen Roy Karsh
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III appeals court has confirmed a sentence of 30 years each against two men convicted in the murder of Roy William Karsh, who was 61 when he died Aug. 29, 2001.

Karsh, a retiree here, lived in Barrio Los Faroles in Curridabat. He was found dead in his home by a maid. His assailants made off with his car, a BMW.

The two convicted men, identified by their last names of Mora Garita and Chacón Chacón, were tried in the Tribunales de Juicio de Goicoechea on a charge of premeditated murder. They were said to be frequent visitors to the Karsh home.

Investigators were able to trace the car and eventually to three persons who were arrested. Only two persons were the subject of the appeal that reached the higher court.

The Karsh murder was believed to be just a robbery of a man the criminals knew. Karsh suffered severe injuries to the head and chest. In addition to the car, the thieves took a number of household appliances, jewels, money and other items.

Karsh was a well-known figure in the North American community and he was one of those men who could be seen drinking coffee in the center of town several days a week. He was originally from Texas.

Judges uphold sexual harassment complaint by female worker
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala II has upheld an award of 2.2 million colons in favor of a female employee who said she was sexually harassed.

The original sentence was handed down by the Juzgado de Trabajo in Limón which found that an administrator of the business sexually harassed the woman. A release from the court did not identify the firm or the woman.

The woman told the court that the administrator continually made sexual 
insinuations, grabbed her by the belt and also 

hugged her. In addition, the administrator arranged schedules so that the young woman would remain alone with him at closing time, said the court release.

The woman reported the actions to the owner of the business who demoted her and then fired her without benefits. The court award includes a sum for moral damage and also vacations and other amounts that must be paid when a company fires an employee. The amount involved is about $5,500.

The firm had appealed the decision of the labor court.

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Public opinion is something a real leader creates
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

In politics, perception is the same as reality. And President Abel Pacheco is taking hits on a number of fronts because he has been unable to manage public opinion.

Several opinion polls show Pacheco with less than resounding support, although not as bad as Peru’s president, Alejandro Toledo whose backing has fallen to 12 percent in that country.


An essay on public relations


The ailment that troubles Pacheco seems to be epidemic in Costa Rica.

The U.S. plan for an advanced police training facility here is in trouble because it has not been marketed well to Costa Ricans. Ditto a free trade treaty.

Investors in the Villalobos Brothers investment scheme find little sympathy among the general population because they have not been successful in creating and presenting a unified message.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. probably are not as bad as their image suggests. They couldn’t be.

What of the coffee farmer? Has anyone given a good reason why anyone should care about the disastrous condition of the industry?

For some reason, in Costa Rica the concept of anticipating trouble and taking steps to sugarcoat the problem seems to elude the decision makers.

A minor example: When the Compañia de Fuerza y Luz begins tearing up city streets and creating massive traffic jams, should there not be a few signs telling the world they will benefit from the work? That makes the wait a little more bearable.

A serious example is the total neglect that the U.S. and Canadian embassy officials have shown the Villalobos creditors who are their citizens. When a nation has citizens in a foreign land on the brink of starvation and suicide, a little activity would be appreciated. Instead, the embassy officials treat the creditors as nuisances.

"What could we have done," asked one U.S. Embassy employee a few months ago. The list is endless, but a few seminars telling residents about getting income tax refunds from prior years is one possibility. How about a food drive for the citizens 

who have nothing? How about a blood drive for the man who needed a triple bypass. How about showing people you at least care?

Instead, the embassies distinguished and continue to distinguish themselves by avoiding the situation. It is true that some foreigners are stretched tight and wouldn’t mind U.S. air raids on Casa Presidencial. But what would have been the harm of sending an embassy official to some of the many meetings creditors held on the situation?

When it comes to the Villalobos affair, there is plenty of blame to pass around. Costa Rican prosecutors and investigators have failed to convince the world that real evidence of wrongdoing exists. If there is such evidence, a leak here or there would go a long way in giving the creditors direction and a bit of closure, something that now is lacking.

No one should allow either Fuerza y Luz or public prosecutors to work in the dark for years without some kind of interim report. And the arrest last week of Dr. Michael Shirzad for allegedly threatening a judge is contrived and not good politics.

Speaking of public relations, who told Pacheco to equate Villalobos creditors to fools when he was talking to a Wall Street Journal reporter?

But the president’s problems are greater than his relationship with the foreigners here. He came to office as a reformer, presented a host of uncertain programs and then got caught in a campaign funding scandal.

If this were not Costa Rica, it would be time for him to declare war on someone to generate public support.

"Wag the Dog" was a dark comedy, a 1997 movie about a U.S. president involved in a sex scandal calling in an amoral public relations expert. The solution to the president’s woes was to send the country to war against Albania. The idea was ridiculous at the time. That was before the United States sent troops into Albania.

Pacheco has been unable to wag the dog. He has reacted. The idea of the tail wagging the dog means in a political sense that the president or other high officials must marshal and lead public opinion. If they do not, someone else will. One does not have to be sly or sneaky to lead public opinion. One simply must have a vision of how things should be.

Maybe that is the problem.


 
Boy, 12, is missing,
and police worried

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A country still reeling from a series of murders of young people now has yet another case to worry about.

A 12-year-old boy is missing under suspicious circumstances. He is Luis Montoya Serrano, a student at the Escuela Estadosunidos in San Joaquín de Flores in Heredia.

The boy had been missing since 10 a.m. but this was not reported to police until about 5 p.m. the boy was believed to have set out on foot in search of his mother.

Meanwhile, family, friends and schoolmates of Muriel Tatiana Camacho Cantillano, 11, buried her Tuesday morning. She died in the lower-class area of El Carmen de Guadalupe about 7:30 a.m. Monday, and police have arrested a 54-year-old neighbor.

In yet another case, a 13-year-old girl has died from bullet wounds inflicted by a jilted boyfriend twice her age.

She is 13-year-old Mariluz de los Angeles Peraza. A man described as a former boyfriend, Daniel Alberto Salazar Adamis, 26, ambushed her the night of Aug. 20 as she walked with a relative near her home. He then shot himself, an action that proved fatal a day later.

The girl was in Hospital México for a week with three bullets in her chest and died Tuesday.

U.S. citizen faces
new murder trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lamarck Lewis, identified as a U.S. citizen, will again go to trial on the allegation that he shot a bar owner the day after Christmas, 1995, in San Vito de Coto Brus.

A summary from the courts said that the man was in a bar with some friends and tried to leave without paying. The victim, the owner of the bar, Ulises Ureña Solís, then 35, tried to stop him and was shot in the chest.

The trial will be Thursday in the Tribunales de Juicio de Corredores, said a court spokesman.

Lewis was convicted of the crime before, but the Sala III appeals court annulled the sentence and ordered a new trial, said the court.

British give schools
results of fundraiser

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British community is distributing nearly 3.5 million colons raised for three Costa Rican schools during the Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday celebration May 11.

The three schools are Soledad, Escuela San Jerónimo and Centro Educativa Sabanillas, said an announcement from the embassy. The amount in dollars is about $8,700.

The fund-raising party was under the direction of Mrs. Georgina Butler, the British ambassador, at whose residence the event was held.

Five policemen found
guilty of an illegal raid

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five policemen have been convicted of staging an illegal raid on a bar Sept. 15, 2001.

The sentence was handed down by the Tribunal de Juicio de San Carlos. The five are members of the civil guard, and they approached a bar that was closed that evening. The five were charged with breaking into the bar and demanding the identification papers of those within.

One person there got in a dispute and suffered multiple injuries, a court release said. The specific charges were illegal entry and abuse of authority.

The penalties were six months of prison on the first count and a year on the second count. However, three of the five received condition execution of the sentence in which they will not have to actually serve the time if they stay out of trouble.

The five also cannot work as public officials, the court ordered.

Two suspects held
in Coronado murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in Barrio la Trinidad de Pocora in Guápiles arrested two persons late Monday as suspects in the murder of a man Sunday.

A 24-year-old Cartago man was stabbed in the chest in Coronado by a young woman and died at the scene that day. The man, identified as Juan Carlos Masis Rojas, was visiting a brother in a neighborhood there.

The woman and a male companion fled and are being sought. But police said they arrested a man and woman. The man has the last names of Sibaja Brade. He is 20, police said. The woman has the last names of Mejía Fernández. She is 19, the said.

Acosta man held
for improper contact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in Acosta arrested a 62-year-old man Monday on allegations that he had improper contact with five minors.

The man was identified by the last names Fernández Durán. The alleged crime took place in Esperanza de Acosta where the man is accused of touching the five members of the same family, two girls and three boys, ages 10, 11, 14, 16 and 17.

The suspect is believed to be a friend of the adults of the family.

U.S. Embassy closed Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy has announced that it will be closed Monday, Labor Day in the United States.

Blaze levels three homes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An afternoon blaze leveled three homes in Barrio Cuba on the west end of San José. There were no reported injuries.
 

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U.S. indicts Cuban pilots, their boss in 1996 attack
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three members of the Cuban air force have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, for the 1996 shooting down of U.S. civilian planes over international waters.

The indictment returned by the grand jury charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, two counts of destruction of aircraft, and four counts of murder. The maximum penalty for these charges is life imprisonment or the death penalty.

The planes were being flown by four members of Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami-based organization whose stated purpose is to rescue rafters fleeing from Cuba. All four members of this group were killed in the Feb. 24, 1996, shoot-down.

In announcing the indictment in Miami, Marcos Jimenez, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said the grand jury found that the defendants "deliberately set out to and did kill" the four American civilians. Jimenez said the civilians were on a "peaceful mission over international waters."

As alleged in the indictment, said Jimenez, "this improper and unlawful shoot-down was one part of a conspiracy undertaken on American soil through the activities of a Cuban espionage ring that infiltrated the United States."

Jimenez said the larger conspiracy involved Cuban intelligence agents infiltrating the Brothers to the Rescue organization and reporting back to Cuban intelligence officials about the group's activities, and about American military personnel and preparedness at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida.

Because the defendants are still in Cuba, "this indictment is the next step in ensuring that those responsible for the premeditated murder of defenseless U.S. nationals are brought to justice," Jimenez said. 

"There is simply no justification, legal or otherwise, for their actions, and as such, they must face the consequences."

"We will take whatever steps we can take legally to secure the presence of these defendants," Jimenez said.

Charged in the indictment were Ruben Martinez Puente, who was the head of the Cuban Air Force at the time of the shoot-down, and Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez, who were Cuban air force pilots during that time.

The indictment said that on Feb. 24, 1996, three unarmed U.S. civilian Cessna airplanes left Miami with the stated purpose of rescuing rafters fleeing from Cuba. Before their airplanes were destroyed, the Brothers to the Rescue pilots were flying away from Cuba over open ocean in international airspace. 

However, the indictment charges that the Brothers to the Rescue pilots received no warning that the shooting down of their airplanes was imminent and that no efforts were made to request that the airplanes alter their course or land.

"The orders to destroy their aircraft were unreasonable and patently improper," said Jimenez.

Killed in the shoot-down were pilots Carlos Costa and his passenger, Pablo Morales, and pilot Mario de la Pena and his passenger, Armando Alejandre.


 
Brazil's president stops short of endorsing anti-Chavez measure
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Brazil's president has urged respect for the rule of law during a visit to Venezuela, where opposition political parties have been pressing for a national referendum on the continued rule of President Hugo Chavez. 

The itinerary for Tuesday's visit to Caracas by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva highlighted a meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, as well as the signing of bilateral accords on petroleum ventures and other matters.

But much of the media attention surrounding the visit focussed on whether Lula da Silva would publicly endorse a national referendum long-sought by Venezuelan opposition groups. Venezuela's constitution provides for such a referendum, but the exercise, if carried out, could force the removal of the leftist Chavez, a man President Lula da Silva regards as a friend and ideological ally in the region.

In the end, the Brazilian leader sidestepped the 

thorny referendum issue by making a generalized statement in favor of constitutional rule in South America. 

"It seems to me that the cycle of coups has ended in South America," he said during a joint news conference in Caracas. "Today, we embrace dialogue, respect for pluralism, and the constitutions and laws of our countries."

Late Monday, Venezuela's Supreme Court appointed a national electoral council charged with organizing the referendum and setting a polling date. President Chavez has accused the justices of being coerced by opposition groups, and described the entire referendum initiative as a de facto coup attempt. Opponents of Chavez say the president has abused his position and wrecked the economy.

President Lula da Silva's stop in Venezuela was the second of a two-nation trip. Monday, the Brazilian leader was in Peru, where he signed accords with his Peruvian counterpart, Alejandro Toledo, that provide for Peru's partial integration into the Mercosur trading bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.


 
Fabio Ochoa gets more than 30 years in U.S. prison in cocaine case
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Colombian drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa has been sentenced to more than 30 years in U.S. federal prison for plotting to ship tons of cocaine into the United States in the late 1990s. 

U.S. District judge Michael Moore ruled Tuesday that Ochoa must spend 30 years and five months in prison.  The judge was quoted as saying the sentence was based on "the enormity" of the defendant's involvement in drug smuggling. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the sentence. 

Ochoa is being jailed for conspiring to ship 30 tons 

of cocaine per month into the United States from 1997 to 1999. Prosecutors say he returned to the illegal drug trade soon after his 1996 release from prison in Colombia, where he spent more than five years for his involvement in the now-defunct Medellin drug cartel. 

Authorities also say Ochoa, who was convicted in May, developed a waterproof box which kept cocaine dry when it was dropped from planes into the ocean for pick-up by drug boats. 

Colombia extradited Ochoa to the United States in 2001. He is one of the most prominent drug traffickers to be brought to justice on U.S. soil since Colombia resumed extraditions in 1997. 

Survey says Latin journalism faces many obstacles
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An unprecedented study conducted by the International Center for Journalists confirms that journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean face enormous obstacles in carrying out their work, especially when it comes to investigating government activity. 

The study also indicates high levels of repression against freedom of the press, including physical threats, criminal prosecution of defamation, imprisonment, economic reprisals and censorship by the journalists' own editors and supervisors. Indeed, nearly half of those surveyed admitted resorting to self-censorship in order to avoid reprisals. 

Survey participants came from 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The country with the highest number of participants was Brazil, with 40, and the lowest number came from the Dominican Republic, with five. There were an average of 28 respondents from each country, and they represented print media, radio, television and the Internet. Some 150 of those surveyed were from the interior regions of their countries, precisely those areas where the risks are the highest. 

An overwhelming majority of the 368 journalists surveyed agree that their most difficult task is obtaining information from public authorities in the region. 

An average of 84 percent of those polled, all of them participants in seminars of the Freedom of Expression in the Americas project, agreed that it is difficult or very difficult to obtain information or documents from public officials in their countries. 

Most startling are the responses of journalists from Peru, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, with 100 percent agreeing with that statement. Mexico (96 percent) and Uruguay (94 percent) are not far behind. Three more countries surpassed 90 percent in this category: Brazil (92 percent), Nicaragua (92 percent) and Ecuador (91 percent). 

Only 41.1 percent of those surveyed responded that laws guaranteeing access to information on the activities of politicians exist in their countries. It is interesting to note that all of the 23 participants from Mexico revealed that laws guaranteeing access do not exist, and only 6 percent of the 35 Uruguayans and Nicaraguans said that these laws exist in their country. 

It was only after the completion of this three-year study that Mexico passed the historic Federal Law of Access to Public Government Information June 12. 

According to the center study, there remain numerous other obstacles to freedom of the press, even when journalists do have access to information. Some 73 percent of those surveyed said that they have had to convince their editors to publish or broadcast a news item while facing political or other pressure. 

All of the 20 Paraguayan journalists admitted this to be the case, followed by El Salvador (90 percent) and Uruguay (82 percent). Also surpassing the 80 percent mark were the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. 
 

But writing the news or preparing it to be broadcast does not necessarily mean it will reach the public. Some 51 percent of those interviewed said that they have been censored, criticized or forced to withdraw a piece due to pressure from their supervisors. 

Salvadoran journalism appears to be the most affected by internal censorship, with 95 percent of participants saying they were subject to it. Also facing great difficulties in this regard were the Paraguayans (72 percent), Uruguayans (71 percent), Nicaraguans (62 percent), Dominicans (60 percent) and Brazilians (59 percent). 

The survey also indicated that levels of self-censorship are extremely high, at 47 percent. Once again, El Salvador had the highest numbers, with 75 percent of participants acknowledging that they avoided reporting on a certain topic because 

they knew that their editor or supervisor would not publish it. Following closely were Paraguay (72 percent), Uruguay (68 percent), and Guatemala and Nicaragua (64 percent). 

Costa Rican journalists had the lowest levels of self-censorship, with 17 percent. 

The survey revealed that physical threats also act as a gag for Latin American journalism. Of those polled, 34 percent said that they had received physical threats as a result of their journalistic activity. 

Nevertheless, this section displayed some of the largest disparities of the study. On one hand, the Paraguayan representatives were the worst off, with 83 percent of them having received these types of threats, followed by 62 percent of Bolivians, 58 percent of Peruvians, and 57 percent of Nicaraguans. On the other hand, the lowest incidence was found among particpants from Chile (6 percent), Brazil (13 percent), and Costa Rica and Panama (17 percent). 

In any case, the fact that 34 percent of such a varied and large group of journalists admitted that they had received physical threats should be cause for alarm, and also shame, for the countries of the region, said the center.

Repressive laws are another powerful and intimidating weapon used to fight freedom of the press in the region. Representatives from all but two of the countries indicated that they had been victims of legal actions as a result of their reporting, for a total of 21 percent. Paraguay, the dubious victor in many of the study's categories, was also the leader in this question, with 42 percent of its journalists having been subject to judicial proceedings due to their professional activities. 

Also prominent were Ecuador (41 percent), Nicaragua, (36 percent), Colombia (34 percent) and Brazil (33 percent). Much more fortunate were the Dominicans and Chileans (0 percent) and the Mexicans (5 percent). 

And then there is Panama, the country holding the Latin American record for the highest number of legal cases against journalists due to insult or criminal defamation, with a total of 90 such cases. Nevertheless, only 17 percent of the 25 Panamanian participants had been taken to court. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and particularly the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, both agencies of the Organizatiion of American States, have repeatedly condemned the existence of desacato and defamation laws in Latin America and have recommended their elimination and decriminalization.

The survey shows this trend very clearly. An exorbitant 12 percent of those surveyed responded that they or their colleagues had been sentenced to prison due to their reporting. Again, Paraguay takes the lead (33 percent), followed by Brazil (26 percent), Nicaragua (25 percent), Venezuela (21 percent), Costa Rica (17 percent) and Uruguay (16 percent). 

In five countries — Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and the Domincan Republic — none of the participants or their colleagues has been incarcerated. 

Latin American censors have two more resources: threats of economic reprisals and fines. 

Out of those surveyed, 58 percent responded that they had received threats of economic reprisals due to their professional activities. Again, Paraguayan journalists were the worst off, with 94 percent revealing that they had received such threats. Closely behind were the Venezuelans (93 percent), followed by the Salvadorans and Uruguayans (72 percent), the Chileans (70 percent), and the Argentines and Guatemalans (64 percent). 

Fines have been imposed on 9 percent of those surveyed, but the percentages vary widely by country. The most punished were Brazilian journalists (32 percent), followed by the Paraguayans and Nicaraguans (18 percent), Uruguayans (17 percent) and Argentines (14 percent). In contrast, none of the journalists from seven of the countries -Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic- had received any fines. 

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