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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 170
Jo Stuart
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Judges set Roger Crouse free 
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and Jay Brodell
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Roger Crouse, the Canadian bar owner who languished in prison for more than a year, went free Tuesday when judges found he was not guilty of murder.

This was the news telephoned to San José by his lawyers, Frank Paniagua and Marilyn Jiménez, minutes after the 1 p.m. decision in the Tribunals in Liberia.

In addition to being freed on the murder charge, Crouse also does not have to pay an indemnification to the family of the victim, Miguel Antonio Villegas Salguera, 36. Crouse said he shot the man Aug. 19, 2001, because the man came at him with a knife in Crouse´s Gaby´s Bar in Playas del Coco.

The three judges found that sufficient doubt existed that Crouse had done what the prosecution tried to show:  kill the man in cold blood due to a falling out among crooks. A  series of three public prosecutors believed in the murder theory enough to keep the case going and keep Crouse in jail in Liberia in what is know as "prisión preventiva."

The case began when the victim acted disorderly in Crouse´s bar.  Crouse called police, and police took the man away. But officers of the Fuerza Pública inexplicably released the man two hours later, and the man, still drunk and affected by drugs, returned to the bar and confronted the Canadian.

Police told reporters they released the man because Crouse failed to file a formal complaint because he was still working at the bar. Others in Coco suggested that police were deferential to the man because he was a well-known local troublemaker and police feared him and his extended family.

Crouse also has reason to fear friends and relatives of the dead man. He has received death threats, and his waitress, who witnessed  the crime, also said she had been threatened. The lawyers said that Crouse probably would not return to the Pacific beach town.

In addition to the bar, Crouse owned a limo 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Municipal employees are spiffing up the downtown boulevard in time for Christmas. Juan Carlos Pérez sands an ornate street lamp that eventually will be painted gold.
service. The bar has been burglarized multiple times, and the two vehicles he used have been vandalized. One was towed away.

Acting in Crouse´s favor, the lawyers said, was the testimony of two persons from Coco who attested to his standing in the community and also the fact that he had a clean police record.

The key element that kept the public prosecutors interested in the case was that the dead man´s hand gripped the knife in death. Crouse said the man used the knife to threaten him. The prosecutors thought that the knife was placed in the hand by Crouse after the shooting, even though the man fell face forward and the knife was under the body.

However, Aug. 15 a pathologist for the Judicial Investigating Organization testified in what observers considered a favorable development for Crouse. The man said that body spasms due to violent death sometimes  cause a person to grip and hold an object in the hand even though their body falls to the floor. The judges presumably agreed.

The pathologist was Jorge Aguilar Peréz of the Heredia forensic lab.

The Crouse case was watched closely by other foreign residents of Costa Rica because neither in Canada nor in the United States would he have been incarcerated, much less threatened with 8 to 12 years in prison upon conviction.

The waitress and two Canadian tourists were present when the shooting took place. They supported Crouse´s account. In addition, the victim told police when he was let go that he was going to return and kill Crouse. An autopsy showed that the man was drunk and had ingested drugs. The man also has a record of violence.

Crouse had bad luck choosing lawyers, which may have contributed to his continual imprisonment. He went through about five advocates before finding Paniagua and Ms. Jiménez.

As is allowed under Costa Rica law, the family of the dead man was seeking compensation in the six-figure range. At one time Crouse was offered bail for about $60,000, but he did not accept the offer that probably would have allowed him to flee the country.

Crouse returned to the Liberia jail to pick up his possessions after the decision, then he and his lawyers traveled to their office where they toasted the successful outcome of the case, said an aide.

Crouse was believed to be staying with friends but not in Coco for the night.

Did he get a bum deal?

Was Roger Crouse treated badly because he was a North American?

Yes and no, Costa Rican judicial observers say.

Because he was a foreigner, judges did not want him to go free on bail because he might flee, said these observers. But they would have done the same to any foreigner, they contended.

And the natural conservatism of Costa Rican society is why the judicial process dragged on for a year, these same observers said. Murder is a serious crime and the legal process had to run its course, they said.

Curiously, the Crouse case was not followed by any other news outlet, Spanish or English. However, A.M. Costa Rica closely followed events, and directed the attention of judicial officials in San José to the case to insure Crouse would not be lost in the shuffle.

It takes more than training to make a cop
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s legislators have to decide if the country will accept a new international police academy promoted by the United States.

U.S. officials are providing the technical help and most of the money. The theory is that more training will improve the quality of police protection all over Latin America.

Some Costa Ricans and U.S. expats here worry that the school is a cover for the U.S. Army School of the Americas that critics say trained foreign soldiers to violate human rights. That is a naive view because troops in authoritarian regimes need no instructions on how to violate human rights.

The police academy should be approved for Costa Rica because police training is a valuable commodity. 

Yet the theory that such training will enhance police work may be faulty. 

Being a policeman is a state of mind. All the training in the world cannot compensate for the lack of the creative, investigative spark.

Consider the well-trained and highly compensated Boulder, Colo., Police Department which so messed up the investigation of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case that only a contrite murderer with a typed full confession and videotapes of the crime can bring the case to a close.

The Boulder police was involved in community policing, which basically means lots of public relations and not a lot of law enforcement. Officials fumbled the ball in the first minutes of investigation into the death of the little beauty queen on or just after Christmas Day, 1996. They did so because they treated the wealthy, connected parents with deference.

Where was Colombo or Dirty Harry when we needed him?

The Boulder police are among the best-trained
cops in the world, when measured by hours 

in a classroom. But the force could only muster a single detective for hours after the crime was reported. And the investigation went downhill from there.

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial

Police work in Latin America has been a cover for smuggling, extortion and crime for centuries. The United States isn’t so pure, either. How do those drugs get from the border to the consumer, anyway?

Even the highly trained U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has its Russian moles.

Simply putting the academy in Costa Rica will not stop Fuerza Pública members from extroting 5,000 colons (almost $14) from Gingos who walk across Parque Morazán. But the academy is a step in the correct direction.
U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich has agreed that "The Academy and its installations are not intended to provide any military training or training for military-related activities." He did so in an exchange of diplomatic notes with Costa Rica.

Yet many of the same techniques police use also are used by soldiers in investigating, inflitrating and interrogating. In some Latin countries the police ARE the military.

But the technical aspects taught by any school can be misused. The excesses of alumni from the U.S. School of the Americas were the excesses of decades of misdirected U.S. foreign policy. What was taught at the school was trivial compared to what was decided in Washington.

The bulk of the courses at the proposed police academy are from two to six weeks. This is hardly enough time to brainwash visiting police. And most instructors will not be from the United States.

The Asemblea Nacional should quit politicking and quickly approve the plan. But they should be prepared to revisit the academy in two to three years when a track record is available.

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Anti-mine clearance in north almost finished
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is nearly mine-free, thanks to international cooperation and local workers, according to Vice Chancellor Elayne Whyte, who will travel to Managua to attend a two-day conference on the subject.

Ms. Whyte thanked the Organization of American States and local technicians who managed to clear the northern frontier of the country of the deadly anti-personnel devices.

The workers are within a few kilometers of their goal and should be finished by Sept. 15, said Whyte.  More than 338 mines and other explosives have been located and neutralized along a distance of some 172 kms. of the frontier between Costa 

Rica and Nicaragua. Included are the areas around El Infiernillo de Cutris de San Carlos, los Chiles and Upala to Conventillos de Guanacaste, according to the foreign ministry.

Mines were put down along the frontier by various groups during the war between the Sandinistas and the contras in the 1980s. In 1992 Costa Rica sought the aid of the Organization of American States, which has a program to demine Central America.

The bulk of the mines were abandoned and there was no record of where they were placed.

Costa Rica will be one of the first countries in Central America to have eliminated mines along the frontier, said Vice Chancellor Whyte.

Negotiations sought on offshore oil drilling plans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has proposed international negotiations to establish firm borders in the sea in anticipation of off-shore oil drilling in Nicaragua.

The international accord would seek to clarify what is now a blurred line between the offshore holdings of both countries.

Chancellor Roberto Tovar sent a note to Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Norman Caldera, suggesting the talks, according to Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry.

The action is prompted by Nicaragua’s decision to seek bids for off-shore drilling. Some of the area 

specified in the bidding process belongs to Costa Rica, politicians here believe.

Tovar referred in his note to a current official Nicaraguan map that says the lines on the map are not necessarily the correct boundaries. The message was presented for delivery to Nicaraguan officials in San José.

Tovar referred to the current cordial relationship between the two countries as a reason for solving the problem diplomatically.

Costa Rica has rejected plans for off-shore drilling near Limón, so it would be particularly galling if Nicaragua permitted oil drilling on land claimed by Costa Rica in the Pacific.

Big business hijacked
summit, activists say

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JOHANNESBURG, Africa — Environmental activists at the Earth Summit here have accused big business of hijacking the conference from its goal of reducing poverty without hurting the environment. 

Anuradha Mittal of the Indian group Food First, said "the resources of Mother Earth are being sold off." She told reporters that the environmental and poverty agenda of the summit has been taken over by trade issues which are the concerns of businesses in the United States and the European Union. 

The World Development Movement, a British based anti-poverty group, accused rich nations of "kowtowing to the powerful corporate lobbies." Other activists complained that they were being kept away from the center where officials are negotiating a non-binding document that aims to alleviate poverty worldwide while protecting the environment.

About 200 corporations are represented at the summit by the lobby group Business Action for Sustainable Development. The group’s leaders insist they have no more influence than the environmentalist. 

Earlier, delegates at the Earth Summit called on the United States and European nations to trim heavy farm subsidies so developing nations can compete in world agricultural markets. 

Representatives from the developing countries complained that the same western nations that champion the free market system elsewhere in the world unfairly protect farmers in their own countries. 

About 16,000 people, including politicians, activists and environmentalists are expected to attend the 10-day summit that opened Monday. It is the first meeting on sustainable development since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit 10 years ago.

Bush aide outlines U.S.
support for Colombia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States "supports Colombian efforts to defend Colombian democracy," supports "the efforts of the new government to bring more resources to security" and will continue to support the comprehensive reform strategy known as Plan Colombia, says Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs.

Grossman, who recently returned from an official visit to Colombia, discussed his trip at a roundtable here Wednesday. In Colombia, Grossman met with newly inaugurated Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, members of Uribe’s cabinet, Colombian business executives and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

During his trip to Colombia, Grossman said, he stressed that "Colombia would never be successful in defending its democracy unless part and parcel of this effort was a real focus on human rights and democracy and rule of law." He said he was glad that Uribe also emphasized these issues in sharing his vision for the nation.

Grossman also addressed the issues of narco-terrorism and narco-trafficking with Colombian leaders, and explained that one of the ways the United States will assist the Colombian government in asserting its authority throughout Colombia is by training Colombian troops.

He said that U.S. training of Colombian troops enjoys the support of human rights and democracy groups in Colombia because the training places emphasis on respect for human rights. This is underlined by the fact that that there has not been a single credible allegation of a human rights violation against the U.S.-trained brigade in Colombia, according to Grossman.

Besides training of new troops, the United States is contributing to the Colombian government's efforts to extend its authority in other ways, including assisting 330,000 internally displaced people in the country and opening 20 "houses of justice" in order to increase the government's ability to dispense justice and provide dispute resolution, Grossman said. The United States is also providing different degrees of assistance to labor leaders, politicians and journalists threatened by terrorism in Colombia.

In addition, he noted that the U.S. Agency for International Development is working with 11,000 families in Colombia to voluntarily eradicate poppy or coca from their land. To date, 5,000 acres have been voluntarily eradicated, said Grossman. 

He estimated that the number of Colombians who participate in the eradication program will increase as aerial spraying of coca crops intensifies and as it becomes clear that "they have to get out of the drug business." Grossman observed that 84,000 hectares (207,480 acres) of coca cultivation were sprayed in 2001 — and 70,000 acres so far in 2002, with a target of 150,000 hectares (370,500 acres).

Grossman indicated that the aerial narcotics interdiction program that was suspended after the tragic downing of a missionary plane in Peru in 2001 should resume in the fall, but said that anti-drug programs will not be successful without alternative development.

12 killed in clashes
with Colombian rebels

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Military officials here say at least 12 people have been killed in scattered fighting between the military and leftist rebels around the country.

Officials say the most intense fighting took place Tuesday in the northern Antioquia department or state, where soldiers killed eight members of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Authorities also say guerrillas from Colombia's smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army killed four soldiers in the northern department of Choco on Monday. 

The latest fighting follows last week’s call by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for the arming of some 20,000 peasants to support the army in its fight against the rebel groups.

Colombia has been mired in civil war for the past 38 years. The conflict involving leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and the government leaves more than 3,000 people dead each year.

Chavez says foes are
sabotaging economy

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez says the coup plotters who briefly removed him from power in April are again trying to oust him, this time by ruining the country’s economy. 

In his weekly radio address Sunday, Chavez accused his enemies of trying to sabotage the economy by calling strikes, closing businesses, firing workers and investing outside the country. He also predicted the country's economy will recover in the last half of this year despite shrinking by nearly 10 percent in the first two quarters. 

The president’s opponents have said they want to remove Chavez from power by constitutional means before his term runs out in 2007. Many have accused him of using his office to gather power for himself and install a Cuban-style communist regime. 

Chavez is a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro and has often expressed admiration for the man and his government policies. 

The Venezuelan leader, who led a failed military coup in 1992, has accused his opponents of plotting to destroy his left-leaning government since his election in 1998. 

Chavez is wildly popular with Venezuela's poorest citizens. He came to power after promising to enact sweeping reforms aimed at wiping out poverty, unemployment and corruption. His opponents say he has failed to deliver on these promises. 

Members of Venezuela's armed forces removed Chavez for two days in April after snipers shot and killed 19 demonstrators taking part in an anti-government march. 

Soldiers loyal to the president reinstated him after thousands of his supporters took to the streets to demand his return. Some 60 people were killed and scores were injured during the upheaval and rioting that followed. 

Visa processing slowed
by heightened scrutiny

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The State Department said  that new security concerns arising since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will slow visa processing in some cases.

Closer scrutiny is being applied to visa applications because of security and legal responsibilities, and this may cause processing to take longer than in the past, the announcement said. 

While acknowledging that the new requirements may cause hardship and inconvenience to some travelers, the announcement said consular officers’ "primary responsibility is to carry out U.S. law and to ensure that applicants to whom they issue visas will not pose a threat to the safety and security of the United States and its inhabitants."

Argentina delays
presidential primaries

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — This country’s presidential primaries will be delayed by three weeks to Dec. 15, after a major legal and political dispute forced it to rewrite voting rules.

It was announced last week that balloting to choose candidates for the country's March 23 election was being suspended, after a federal judge ruled that a new voting system decreed by President Eduardo Duhalde was unconstitutional.

Analysts say the delay represents a blow to the embattled president, who had sought to rewrite voting rules to give all voters a chance to participate in primaries instead of only party members.  Months of disputes over how to conduct the primaries has created a huge rift in Duhalde's Peronist Party and angered the International Monetary Fund. 

General elections had originally been scheduled for November 2003, but riots this year over a deep recession led the president to bring the vote forward by six months.
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