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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 193
Jo Stuart
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The tents are just plastic sheets strung up on a fence at the Régistro Nacional
They get no respect
despite their tent city

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Suppose you staged a big protest and no one seemed to care. That is the situation confronting gold panners who have set up a tent city across the street from Casa Presidencial.

The so called mineros are seeking compensation for being cut off from their source of gold, which is in the Parque Nacional Corcovado. The Río Rincón contains placer deposits of gold from the nearby mountains. The park is in southwestern Costa Rica.

The gold panners have been camped on the highway shoulder in front of the Régistro Nacional for 17 days. During that time, President Abel Pacheco has not visited. In fact, the only sign of official notice is a police trailer stocked with riot gear parked discretely around the corner.

There was no word on how long the protest wiill last.

Saray Ramírez Vindas/A.M. Costa Rica
Albino Jiménez Campos, a gold panner, and son Steve Ransel Herrera Porras share a pensive moment at the protest.

The time has come for more stories of spooks and banshees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the local political and financial news is not scary enough for you, we invite you again  this year to submit your efforts to our annual Halloween short story contest.

Once again the prize will be $25 and worldwide recognition though the pages of A.M. Costa Rica. After all, we are read in 89 countries each day.

The stories must have a theme that is 

consistent with Halloween: Spooks, witches, goblins, ghosts. You know.

By submitting a story to us, you are certifying that the story was written by you, that it is original and unpublished and that we may publish it. We will. Graphics are welcomed but will not be part of the evaluation. Deadline is Oct. 25 at midnight, of course.

Judging will be by the strange figure that inhabits the A.M. Costa Rica offices after hours. We’ll just leave the computer on.


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From our readers

Poisoning of dog
understandable to him

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Sadly there is probably a very specific reason for the poisoning of dogs in Saray's neighborhood. Ticos' fondness of dogs and general compassion towards them is why so many dogs run loose in the streets. I can name three obvious problems with this behavoir (or perhaps it is more correct to define it as lack of behavoir).

First, when the trash is put out at night, neatly packed in garbage bags waiting for morning pickup, the neighborhood dogs tear into the bags looking for food. The resulting mess is eventually cleaned up by the municipality (depending on where you live) only to have the whole process repeated the next trash day. This is why neighborhoods have that perpetual third world look (of trash strewn everywhere) even though the Ticos are quite tidy in general. The stray cats also are guilty of this.

Second, anyone who knows dogs knows that when strange dogs come into the residential community, the dogs in the residential community go nuts barking. If you have Scottish terriers living nearby you can attest to how maddening this noise can be.

Third, stray dogs walking in the street are a life threatening hazard to motorcyclists and bicyclists. Hitting one of these at speed can cause a deadly accident. Also, being chased by the occassional "bad dog" while riding uphill on a bicycle is a less than pleasant experience.

As long as Costa Rica makes no effort to control stray dogs these problems will exist. I could never condone poisoning them, but if you really love dogs then you should do something to get them off the street.

John McLaughlin 
San Jose, Costa Rica
EDITOR’S NOTE; Perhaps the original story was unclear, but the dog was at all times confined to the family compound of several houses and driveways.

Keep the dog inside

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was so saddened to think of poor Peggy's fate, and I hope that everything is done to apprehend this monster who could perpetrate such cruelty. However, Saray Ramírez Vindas states that this has happened to NINE of her family's dogs. 

I would think that after the first dog, the lesson would have been learned to protect the next dog/s from similar killing. If Peggy had been kept inside, rather than being out in the middle of the night, she would be alive and nursing her pups today.


Vicky H.

They have sympathy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Dogs are my favorite people. I feel sad and angry when I read about man's inhumanity to man, but when I read about someone hurting a dog, it rips my heart out. The story about Peggy getting poisoned was so sad. My heartfelt condolences to her family and especially to her puppies.

Steve Rayboy 
Brooklyn & Cahuita
Campaign to target
use of gasoline

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government will embark on a publicity campaign to encourage Costa Ricans to save fuel, according to Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister of Ambiente y Energía.

The goal will be to save $5 million a month in imported fuel costs.

The initiative is backed by the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the electric company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the Refinadora Costarricense Petróleo.

General plans for the campaign, which starts Sunday, were outlined at a press conference Tuesday.

"The challenge for the country is to be able to generate a cultural change," said Rodríguez.

Fuel prices have soared, and the world price of a barrel of oil exceeded $50 Tuesday, so few Costa Ricans have to be reminded of the need to save fuel.

However, Rodríguez hinted at some other actions that might be taken in the future. One would be banning the importation of used cars, requiring the use of car pools and making improvements in the public transportation system.

New ambassador to OAS

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rina Contreras will be the nation’s new ambassador to the Organization of American States, President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday. She was the former minister of the Presidencia.

Sala III to get Web page

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III of the Corte Suprema de Justicia will be getting a new Web page.  This is the high court that hears criminal appeals. The page is supposed to go online today.
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Amount was $100,000
Pacheco brushes off questions on Alcatel donation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reporters for the Spanish-language media pressed President Abel Pacheco Tuesday to explain why he and his political campaign accepted $100,000 from Alcatel, the French telecommunications firm.

The donation was revealed earlier Tuesday by the newspaper La Nación as part of a larger exposé of some $9 million paid by the French firm. The company won a series of contracts worth $260 million to provide upgraded cellular telephone service in Costa Rica.

Reporters wanted to know how come the donation came illegally from a foreign entity,  why it was not reported to the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, as the law provides, and why the campaign accepted a donation in an amount greater than the law allows.

Pacheco did not answer the questions directly. He was in the middle of explaining how his government was mobilizing to fight corruption.

Pacheco gave the impression he knew little about the donation and told reporters at the weekly presidential press conference that such things have been done for years here. He also said that he has supported a campaign reform measure now in the legislature,

La Nación interviewed Luis Fishman, the second vice president who is in exile from the Pacheco government. Fishman, who managed Pacheco's presidential campaign, confirmed that he had received the money in his personal account and said that all of it went to the campaign.

He also said that Pacheco attended the meeting where Édgar Valverde, manager of Alcatel, agreed to support the campaign. Also there was Roberto Tovar, said Fishman.  Tovar, who now is the foreign minister, handled campaign financing.

La Nación identified the big winner in the Alcatel giveaway as Jean Philip Gallup, wife of José Antonio Lobo, who was a director of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, the company that hired Alcatel. She got $1.2 million, said the newspaper.

Alcatel was deeply involved in supporting the new generation of GSM cell phones. However, some claim the system does not work as well as it should.

The money coming to Pacheco and others appears to have a connection with an earlier continuing scandal. An engineer at ICE appears to have accepted $77,000 from the French firm, and that money came through Marchwood Holdings Inc. Marchwood is a Panamanian company headed by Walter Reiche Fischel, the former head of the pharmaceutical company that bears his second surname.

Reiche Fischel is in jail under investigation in the payment of some $8 million in loan commissions to various politicians connected with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The Caja purchased medical supplies from Finland with a $38 million loan.

La Nación did not say where it got its information for the latest news stories, but some probably came from sources close to Francisco Dall’Annese, the nation’s chief prosecutor.

ICE said Tuesday that the engineer, Rodrígo Méndez Soto, resigned his job there when he found out the company was moving to fire him.

Also Tuesday Carmen Valverde, secretary general of the Partido Liberación Nacional, resigned that post. She is a sister to Édgar Valverde, the Alcatel manager.

This latest scandal follows several weeks of raids and legal proceedings connected with the $8 million commission paid to Reiche Fischel. Involved in that case is former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, who has been ordered not to leave the country.

So far untouched is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the former president who is now secretary general of the  Organization of American States. He was president when the loan deal was approved in December 2002.

Pacheco has been dogged by reports of irregularities in financing his campaign.

Top leaders seeking more investigative resources
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government will beef up its anti-corruption personnel. That was decided at a summit of political leaders at Casa Presidencial Tuesday afternoon.

President Abel Pacheco called the meeting of top law enforcement officials and politicians. The announced result will be the creation of 20 more jobs for fiscals or prosecutors, seven jobs in the Judicial Investigating Organization, three jobs for accountants, two new judgeships and appropriate support staff, according to an announcement after the session.

The executive branch will have to present a supplementary budget to the Asamblea Nacional to cover some of the new positions. Changes will be made to the 2005 budget already presented to lawmakers. Proposed is a budget  increase of 18.5 percent for the Ministerio de Justicia alone.

Expats who have been involved in investigations of the Villalobos Brothers, Savings Unlimited, Venir S.A., the Vault and others quickly recognized the inadequacies of the existing judicial system to handle large cases.

Pacheco is acting now because the country is seeing a wave of high-profile corruption allegations.

In addition to the president, at the meeting Tuesday were Francisco Dall’Anesse, fiscal general; Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization; Ana Lorena Barrantes, procuradura general; Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia; Gerardo González, president of the legislature; Federico Carrillo, minister of Hacienda, and Lineth Saborío, vice president.

When Pacheco announced the meeting earlier in the day, he said that the country will spend and do whatever it takes to root out corruption.

School shooting in Argentina leaves four students dead, five hurt
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARMEN DE PATAGONES, Argentina — A 15-year-old student has shot and killed four of his high school classmates and wounded at least five others. 

Police say the youth began his shooting spree early Tuesday at the Islas Malvinas public high school in this southern town, as the students awaited the 

arrival of their teacher.  Authorities say the boy used a 9 mm. handgun that apparently belonged to his father. 

Three of the victims died at the scene, while the fourth died after being hospitalized.  The suspect has been taken into custody and is being held in the city of Bahia Blanca.

No motive has been given for the shootings. 

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Costa Rica one of three countries
Project seeks to give small coffee growers a boost
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s small coffee producers will be the benficiaries of a new $2.7 million project.

Seeking to improve the livelihoods of small-scale coffee farmers and conserve the environment, the U.S. Agency for International Development has joined forces with Conservation International and Starbucks Coffee to create the Conservation Coffee Alliance, the organizations said.

With a focus on Central America and Mexico, the alliance promotes private-sector industry approaches that are environmentally sensitive, socially responsible and economically viable. The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, hosted the official signing of the memorandum of understanding in México City launching the alliance.

"USAID began its environmental activities in Mexico in 1989 and was the first bilateral donor to support the Mexican government and conservation community's efforts towards sustainable development," said Adolfo Franco, agency administrator for Latin America.

Building on the six-year partnership between Starbucks and Conservation International, the 

alliance uses a field-to-cup approach to community-level conservation that includes all aspects of producing, processing and marketing specialty coffee.

The work will provide economic incentives and technical assistance to help small-scale farmers adopt conservation practices while producing high-quality coffee. Activities will focus on Conservation International’s projects in México, Costa Rica and Panamá. Alliance efforts have been funded by three-year commitments from the U.S. Agency for International Development for $1.2 million and Starbucks for $1.5 million.

Goals include increasing the number of coffee producers participating in the Conservation Coffee program, expanding the area of coffee fields that are being farmed using best practices, and making more high-quality sustainable green coffee available to roasters.

Last year Starbucks purchased 1.8 million pounds of Conservation Coffee at price premiums ranging from 60 to 200 percent higher than local prices in Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

Information about the project is available at

Bandits attack and kill Israeli tourist hiking in Peru 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — A 27-year-old Israeli tourist has been shot dead and three others wounded in an assault in the Peruvian Andes. 

Officials said Tuesday that Nir Mordechai and his traveling companions were hiking in the Huayhuash Mountains when they were attacked by bandits. 
Authorities also say Mordechai died from a bullet wound to the chest. The other Israelis were evacuated to Lima for treatment. 

In another incident, police in the Peruvian city of Cusco have freed a group of mostly French tourists held hostage in an ancient Incan temple by university students and coca farmers. 

Officials say the crowd of at least 200 students and farmers forcibly seized and occupied the Koricancha temple earlier Tuesday, before police with teargas stormed the site and released the hostages. 

According to Peru's Radioprogramas radio, the group's leader, Miguel Rivero, said he and his associates intended to hold the 17 French and two German tourists until someone in the Peruvian government agreed to discuss the farmers' concerns. 

News reports indicate those concerns were related to an ongoing coca farmers' strike in the southern Andes protesting the government's attempts to wean the farmers away from growing their mostly illegal crop.

Jo Stuart
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