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These stories were published Monday, Sept. 9, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 178
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The folk dance troupe from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad performs for the Association of Residents of Costa Rica in an Independence Day celebration Sunday.

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Lewis case demostrates long arm of the law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Michael W. Lewis, who is a lawyer and a banker, figured he had all the bases covered when he decided to flee the United States with his two young daughters.

But it didn’t take the Federal Bureau of Investigation long to find him in a condo in Moravia.

Now he is awaiting in San Sebastian Prison the outcome of an appeal of an extradition order that would allow U.S. officials to take him back to face charges of parental child abduction.

The United States case against Lewis is contained in the decision of Judge Gabriela Jara Murillo, who ordered the extradition. It paints a picture of a man carefully arranging his escape from a place where his estranged wife had full custody of the girls and he only had visitation rights.

The judge’s decision also is a rebuke to the United States, which many observers believe engaged in overkill when they brought 15 charges, including racketeering, against Lewis. The judge upheld only two of the 15 charges, the two charges directly related to taking the girls to Costa Rica without the mother’s permission.

U.S. officials have declined to discuss the Lewis case. 

The judge’s order also makes clear that parental abduction is against the law in Costa Rica. Some parents have argued that Costa Rica does not recognize that a parent can abduct a minor child. But the judge clearly specified that Section 184 of the Costa Rica penal code covers this type of action.

The judge’s decision is important because Costa Rica only will permit extradition if the crime alleged has a counterpart crime here.

Lewis had been an employee of the Town and Country Bank in Springfield, in the U.S. state of Illinois. According to the case presented by the U.S. government to Judge Jara, he moved nearly $300,000 from stock brokerage accounts into about 54 accounts in Illinois banks in the towns of O’Fallon, Belleville, and Collinsville.

Lewis even opened accounts in Australia and the Republic of Vanautu, a tax haven in the Pacific, said the government.

He also created false identities and forged a notarized statement that said his wife consented to his taking the two girls, Claire, 8, and Ann, 6, on a purported vacation trip to Cancun, said the government. Lewis left behind a book titled "How to hide your assets and disappear" and the notary seal, said the government filing, according to the judge.

Lewis left the United States with the girls Oct. 20. From Cancun, he somehow managed to 
arrive in Costa Rica. But by Dec. 19, local 

police and two F.B.I. agents were knocking at the door to his condo, and the girls were quickly reunited with their mother.

Lewis had left behind a trusted friend, and it was his contact with the friend that allowed F.B.I. agents to track him, said the judge’s decision. MCI World Com traced telephone calls to the friend to a public telephone near where Lewis was living in Moravia, a northern San José suburb.

Costa Rica police quickly put him under surveillance, and they were watching Dec. 12 when the government said Lewis spoke on the telephone and then spoke with his two daughters. 

Police speculated that he told the girls that their mother had died, according to the judge’s decision. Police said the girls became very emotional, and the father and two daughters were hugging.

Lewis created many bank accounts so that his movement of money would not be subject to U.S. reporting rules, said the U.S. government. His employer said he was well-versed in such rules. 

For his alleged interstate transportation of money, the U.S. government claimed he was engaging in an organized criminal enterprise, said the judge’s ruling. The U.S. specified three criminal charges.

For the help he sought from his friend in Illinois, the U.S. government alleged that he was guilty of interfering with a witness, victim or a confidential informant. This was a fourth charge.

For setting up the multiple bank accounts, the government alleged that he had structured transactions to evade reporting requirements. This generated seven charges.

For the 15th charge levied against Lewis, the government sought to have him surrender all the money he had moved about.

The judge said that the alleged criminal enterprise" was not a crime in Costa Rica because Lewis had not obtained his money illicitly but from his own brokerage account.

The judge also found that Lewis had not intimidated a witness. The friend had acted to help Lewis voluntarily, the judge said.

And the judge found that allegations seven to 14 levied against Lewis were not crimes in Costa Rica. That is Lewis could not be extradited for having structured his banking to evade federal reporting rules.

The judge threw out the final 15th charge because it was not a charge at all, simply a rule that allowed a judge to order a convicted person’s property to be confiscated.

Lewis is appealing the two parental kidnapping charges to a higher Costa Rica court mostly on technical grounds.

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A.M. Costa Rica photos
The band of the Colegio María Immaculada of Moravia, left, and the  Coral Oratorio Don Bosco, above, were two of the musical groups that entertained the Association of Residents of Costa Rica Sunday at Pueblo Antiguo in San José. The Independence Day fete was the second for the association of mostly foreign residents.

U.S. Congress holds historic session in New York
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The direct impact of what will always be known simply as "September 11th" was limited to New York City, the Washington, D.C. area, and a farm field in the Pennsylvania countryside.

But the broader result of the assault last year that took more than 3,000 lives in leveling the World Trade Center towers and crumbling part of the Pentagon was to join all Americans in shock, in grief — and then in determination and solidarity — as they reacted to an unprecedented terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

The same situation recurs as the nation prepares to observe the first anniversary of the day etched in America's — and the world's — collective memory. (Costa Rica's agenda HERE!)

Once again the focus will be on events in New York and Washington, but observances planned by cities and towns across the country, as well as nationwide organizations and specially created groups, will bring reality to the Pledge of Allegiance assertion of America as "one nation, indivisible."

In the words of Mayor Keno Hawker of Mesa, Ariz., "There is a real need for people everywhere to feel involved no matter where you are, no matter how far away. The pain is still there."

Commemorations in New York got off to an early and dramatic start Sunday as hundreds of U.S. senators and representatives gathered for the first official meeting of Congress in the city in more than 200 years, presided over by Vice President Dick Cheney.

They met at Federal Hall, just a few blocks from where the Trade Center's twin towers had stood, to express the nation's unity in the face of terrorism, and the determination that such an attack will not be permitted to recur.

The occasion was rife with historical significance: New York was the original capital of the United States, and the First Congress met on the very site where Federal Hall now stands. It was there that the Bill of Rights was written, and there that George Washington took the oath of office as the nation's first president on April 30, 1789. The capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, then to Washington, D.C.

A joint resolution passed by Congress earlier this year had authorized the extraordinary meeting to be held in "remembrance of the victims and the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001" and in recognition of "the courage and spirit of the City of New York."

Literally hundreds of other commemorative events will be held in and around the New York area.

The day of tributes is to begin with bagpipe and drum processions originating in each of the city's five boroughs and converging on the World Trade Center site. Their arrival will signal the start of ceremonies that will include a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first of two airliners struck the World Trade Center, and a tolling of bells at religious and academic institutions at 10:29 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will begin a public reading of the names of the 2,823 people from 90 countries who died at the site, Gov. George Patacki will read President Abraham Lincoln's historic Gettysburg Address, and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey will read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. Family members of the victims are to leave roses at the twin towers site.

And President Bush will attend commemorative activities in New York, as well as those at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

As one of many organizations sponsoring events, a group called "Sail for America,"  a consortium of yacht clubs, sailing organizations and business and government entities, has called on "all patriotic American sailors to bring their boats to New York Harbor" on Saturday, Sept. 14. Achieving the goal of having "the greatest gathering of sailboats ever in the history of the harbor" would serve as a memorial to those who died in the attacks, symbolize the rebirth of the city of New York, and be "a tribute to the soaring spirit of America," the sponsors said.

Central to observances in the Washington area will be a one-hour Pentagon ceremony Wednesday morning at the so-called Phoenix Project site, the precise area where a hijacked jetliner crashed into the Defense Department headquarters last year.

President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are to speak at that ceremony, addressing family members and colleagues of those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building at 9:37 a.m. that bright September morning. The ceremony will be closed to the public but televised.

Reconstruction of the demolished portions of the mammoth building already is well along, ahead of the most optimistic schedules, and some Defense employees actually have returned to their desks in the affected area of the building's "E-ring," or outer corridor.

Elsewhere in Arlington County, Virginia, where the Pentagon is located, rescue workers and leaders of emergency operations at the crash site last year will host two commemorative events:

Across the river in Washington, a week of commemorative activities will include a candlelight vigil and commemoration at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, just down the street from the White House.

And the Library of Congress has developed a program of exhibits and public programs to mark the occasion. They include an outdoor concert by folksinger Tom Paxton and a concert of American band music, book-ending the anniversary on September 10 and September 12 respectively.

In Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where a fourth hijacked airliner crashed on the way to an unknown target, perhaps the White House or another Washington location, residents are marking the occasion with a $5-a-person community prayer breakfast.

Human rights chief
warns of big losses

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, about to step down as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, warns that the war against terrorism is eroding human rights around the world. Ms. Robinson has given a generally bleak assessment of the current state of human rights in an interview.

During the past year, Ms. Robinson says she has seen human rights standards decline throughout the world. Ms. Robinson said countries around the world are using the war on terrorism as an excuse to crush civil and political freedoms.

"Suddenly the 'T' word, the terrorism word, is used all the time, and that is the problem," she said. "So many politicians are using the 'T' word and it is very blunt and it does erode standards of civil rights and civil liberties if we are not careful." 

The U.N. human rights chief said human rights have tended to slip since Sept. 11. She says she is afraid that some states are clamping down on legitimate political opposition and curtailing freedom of expression by branding dissidents as terrorists.

"And even in developed countries, we have seen an erosion of the international standards," Ms. Robinson said. "People have been held for long periods. The way in which prisoners have been held in Guantanamo Bay with the great uncertainty about their status despite the requirements of the Geneva Convention and so on." 

Ms. Robinson is critical of the Bush administration for holding hundreds of Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners in the military base in Cuba without being charged. She says this has set the tone for the deterioration of human rights standards around the world.

She accuses other countries of muzzling freedom in the name of fighting terrorism. She singles out Russia's military operation in Chechnya and China's repressive policies against Tibet and Muslim Uigurs in China.

Ms. Robinson says the world needs leadership in human rights and she says that leadership should be coming from the United States. Unfortunately, she says, it is not.

Ms. Robinson's outspoken criticisms have won her many friends among human rights activists around the world. They also have made her some powerful enemies. Her mandate as High Commissioner ends Wednesday. Her supporters say it was not renewed because of opposition from the United States and other countries. 

Jews mark start
of High Holy Days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jewish residents marked the religious holiday of Rosh Hashanah starting at sundown Friday, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown Sept. 15.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, but it also is a day of remembrance and a day to examine one’s life and seek forgiveness for sins.

The day also is commemorated by the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn that marks the beginning of the 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.

President George Bush sent greetings Friday "to the Jewish community in the United States and around the world as you observe Rosh Hashanah. 

"As we face the challenges of a new era," he said, "America remains committed to freedom, justice, and opportunity for all people. During this time of examination and remembrance, I join you in looking forward to a future of tolerance and peace." 

Yom Kippur happens to fall on Costa Rica Independence Day this year. For Jews, it is a day of fasting, reflection and prayers, the most solemn day of the religious calendar.

You don’t eat
the skins anyway!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s OK to eat bananas, despite what you might have read on the Internet.

A reader forwarded an Internet message that issued a bogus warning about Costa Rican bananas being infected with "necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating bacteria."

The Internet warning has been making the rounds since 1999. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a statement Jan. 28, 2000, saying "The bacteria which most commonly cause necrotizing fasciitis frequently live in the human body. The usual route of transmission for these bacteria is from person to person. 

"Sometimes, they can be transmitted in foods, but this would be an unlikely cause for necrotizing fasciitis. FDA and CDC agree that the bacteria cannot survive long on the surface of a banana."

Periodically the bogus warning surfaces on the Internet and well-meaning but uninformed readers forward the message. 

Bad bill turns up
in hands of reader

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One reader has been stung by a false 10,000 colon note. The bill, worth about $27 has been duplicated by crooks.

A story Friday said that four persons have been arrested for passing the bill in an outlying area.

Now a reader said the bill showed up in San José. The reader gave this description:

- serial number A10271109. (one of four numbers that may appear on the bills).

- it looked like it had been washed a lot, so the bill was very faded.

- it is also a quarter inch smaller and your eye can readily see the difference.

- the metal silver security stripe is only blue colored.

- the watermark is very simple and not the picture you would see on a real note.

- a true bill has blue strips along the bottom of both sides and contains hundreds of tiny words. They are not readable at all in the false bill.

Argentines unhappy
with U.S. documents

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -  There is a great deal of ambivalence here about documents released recently by the U.S. State Department. Last month, the U.S. declassified 4,677 pages of testimony and communications shedding light on military atrocities committed during Argentina's Dirty War. 

Officially, 9,000 people disappeared between 1976 and 1983, though human rights groups put the number as high as 30,000. And few in Argentina believe these documents will help bring the alleged war criminals to justice.

Every Thursday in the heart of Buenos Aires, a group of aging and angry ladies marches into battle. Flanked by loudspeakers and armed with pictures of their children who were kidnapped, tortured and killed, the women, known as the mothers and grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, come ready to fight. 

On this Thursday, they're taking on the United States.

"Your papers are stained with our blood," the speaker says. "We don't want them, and we don't need them!"

Two days earlier, the U.S. State Department declassified nearly 5,000 pages of evidence documenting violent crimes committed during Argentina's military dictatorship. The release was supposed to shine light on the darkest period of Argentina's history.

But the mothers and grandmothers, whose children disappeared during the campaign aimed at wiping out left-wing insurgents, say the 5,000 pages of details are too little and 25 years too late.

"They don't serve us at all," says 77-year-old Mercedes Meroño. Her daughter Alicia is one of the disappeared. 

"The Americans had these papers all this time," she says, "and now they're telling us things we already know."

The release of the pile of papers raised expectations the documents will help prosecutors who have been struggling to bring military leaders to justice to establish their case. At the very least, they raised hope the information would help families in the search for their loved ones.

"Perhaps the document might help shed some light on specific cases," says Argentine political analyst Felipe Noguera. He says in the end, the documents may not do much more than confirm the history most Argentines already believed to be true. 

The military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 waged what is now called a "dirty war" against political enemies.


More families leave
their homes in Orosi

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The problems in Orosi continue, and police had to relocate 57 families from their homes near the Quebrada Los Tanques de Orosi. All but one found housing with relatives.

One family was being housed in the local school. Police and rescue workers said they did this Saturday because there was a high probability of landslides that might affect the homes. About 250 persons were involved in the evacuation, said a spokesman for the Fuerza Pública in a special announcement Saturday.

Orosi de Cartago is the place where a slide a week ago buried a number of homes and seven residents. The seven bodies have not yet been found although workers have been moving by hand quantities of mud, rock and dirt in an attempt to find them.

The 800-meter slide, nearly a half mile, poured down a natural depression in the hillside after days of heavy rain. The rain has not let up appreciably.

And some rain has been accompanied by high winds that have damaged power lines. That wasn’t the case Friday night in the Sabana area. A power outage there happened because a car struck a utility pole and took out a transformer. Power was off during the peak commuter hours causing enormous jams.

Starbucks enters
Mexican coffee arena

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The popular U.S. coffee shop chain Starbucks has begun an ambitious push into the Latin American market, opening its first shop in the region this week here.

They are steaming up the milk for the lattes, cappuccinos and other special coffee drinks offered at Starbucks. Judging by the long lines, the operation is already a success. Mexico City Starbucks manager Ivan Alvarado says customers are trying the full range of Starbucks offerings.

He says they are drinking cappuccinos, lattes and other drinks as well as sampling some of the store's pastries. He says the featured coffee of the day is Mexican Shade-grown coffee, which comes from the southern state of Chiapas. To get off to a good start, the Mexico Starbucks is offering free samples of many products to all customers.

For its first coffee shop in Mexico and in all of Latin America, Starbucks chose an ideal location, right across from the U.S. embassy in the ground floor of a hotel frequented by both business people and tourists.

Although Mexico is the fifth largest coffee producing nation, it is not known as a big coffee consumer country. Per capita coffee consumption in Mexico is around half a kilogram a year, while in the United States it is more than five kilograms a year. 

The high cost of Starbucks coffee could also be a problem in a nation where the annual average salary is around $6,000. A regular coffee at Starbucks costs nearly $3. The price at most Mexican coffee shops is half that, but the quality of the product varies.

The Starbucks franchise in Mexico is the result of a partnership between Seattle-based Starbucks and the Mexican firm SC de Mexico. The partners plan to open another 10 stores in Mexico in the coming year or so. Starbucks also has plans to expand into South America and the Caribbean in the years ahead. 
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