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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 193
Jo Stuart
About us

He's probably
not a prince

This little guy could easily stand on a 50-colon coin.

He is one of the many little creatures that just happen to show up in and around homes in Costa Rica.

This little fellow spent a couple of days in the shower before a sharp-eyed photographer placed him on a window for a better view.

He's lucky it's the rainy season.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Bandits prepared rocky path for their victims
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers would roll big rocks down onto one of the Central Valley's busiest highways to force cars to stop so occupants could become easy targets.

The highway was the Autopista General Cañas, the principal route from San José to Juan Santamaría Airport.

Judicial Investigating Organization agents arrested a suspected gang leader and announced the development Wednesday.

The 23-year-old suspect and his accomplices have 20 complaints against them on file, but agents suspect there are many more.  The complaints describe a method of robbery in which the gang would place large rocks on the Autopista General Cañas, which is popular with tourists. 

When the rocks popped the vehicle tires, the victims had to pull over.  Then the bandits
would beat the unsuspecting victims or rob them at gunpoint of their watches, cell phones, jewelry, wallets and anything of value in their cars, the agents said.  In all, the bandits stole more than 2 million colons, agents said.  That's about $4,100.  

The arrest comes on the heels of two other persons who agents said were in the same band.  Those two were arrested Sept. 14.   

This mode of operation is more vicious than the one traditionally used on tourists.  Normally, someone pokes a small hole in the tire of a car that is ready to leave a rental agency, a hotel or a restaurant.  When the tire goes flat a few miles down the road, the gang pulls over to “help” the unsuspecting tourist. 

Then, the gang robs the victim at gunpoint or just steal belongings when the victim is occupied elsewhere.

The men arrested in the General Cañas crimes also preyed on the people in the pedestrian walkway, agents said. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 193

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Río San Juan dispute
to international court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government said Wednesday that it would present its case for free transit on the Río San Juan to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Roberto Tovar, foreign minister, said that the country wanted to put an end to the continual disagreement with neighbor Nicaragua. Although Costa Rica says the international court is an appropriate venue for settling the long-standing disagreement, Nicaraguan legislators have threatened to slap a 35 percent tax on Costa Rican products, and Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños has ordered the national army to keep a close eye on the disputed river.

The river is in Nicaragua territory, but Costa Rica, citing an 1858 treaty, says its citizens have free transit. But Nicaragua is levying fees on visitors who use the river.

The river is the most efficient way for Costa Ricans to get from points in the northern zone to others.

Costa Rican Ambassador Edgar Ugalde is expected to present the case to the court today in Holland.

The Costa Rican decision ends a two-year truce between the two countries.

Nicaragua also opposes armed Costa Rican officials, such as police, from traveling on the river, which is very close to the Costa Rican northern border. The police and others say they need weapons for protection and to do their job.

Big stolen car ring
leads to nine arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car ring that preyed on owners in the United States and throughout Central America forged documents and replaced vehicle identification numbers to make the vehicles look like they were imported through Peñas Blancas, was busted up Wednesday, said Jorge Rojas, head of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents detained nine persons including a lawyer who faces allegations that he forged documents, Rojas said. 

In all, 150 cars were stolen from Costa Rica, Guatemala and the United States, said Rojas, but the majority were taken here.  Most were taken at gunpoint from their owners.

Cars that were stolen in Costa Rica, were brought to a workshop where the crooks took off the vehicle identification numbers and replaced them with phony ones.  Then, a lawyer would change the registration documents and the national registry listing to show that the car had been imported through Peñas Blancas, Rojas said. 

Cars stolen outside of Costa Rica had their documents formed to look legitimate, then, once through customs in Peñas Blancas, they basically were. 

The thieves then sold the cars over the Internet, through word of mouth and to car lots here in Costa Rica, Rojas said.  So far the Judicial Investigating Organization has confiscated 54 vehicles and is looking for about 100 more.

Those who bought cars from the gang seem to have done so in good faith because the vehicles were registered and even passed revisión tecnica, the safety inspection system where papers are checked against numbers on the vehicles.

Our reader's opinion

Vision of future here
is at least pessimistic

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Obviously the dialogue regarding CAFTA and free trade in general is a “lightning rod” among foreigners and locals alike. It also seems that foreign readers of this publication have more conviction in their opinions than Ticos. Everyone who I hear voice an opinion in my path . . . I always ask “have you read the CAFTA agreement? 98% say no. How can people have an educated opinion without reading the agreement...readily downloadable here?
I doubt most of the students and syndicates blocking the streets of Costa Rica in protest have read the deal either. Yet, a dark subtle anti-American movement is rising in Costa Rica that has me quite concerned. It gives me Ayn Randian shivers when as in “Atlas Shrugged,” reason and rationale went out the window in favor of protectionism and redistribution of wealth you see in Socialist and Communist models.

The money and the brains “disappeared” and left the inept, irrational masses behind to suffer for their incompetence. You are already seeing this capital and braintrust flight to Panama and back to the U.S.A. Sure, tourists and mercenaries will continue to come use this country as they can, but true growth and prosperity for the masses will be a long way off . . . if they ever come to this fair land.
Another question that should be raised is . . . where is the true power in Costa Rica? Where is the leadership with teeth? Are the masses truly expected to agree on every complicated factor of international trade, domestic law and fair taxes, ecological protection and land use, or boundaries of freedoms and personal rights?

What power does a president have if he has no armed forces or even national guard to enforce legal decisions or protect the “national welfare,” let alone for disaster
relief at the currently devastated Pacific communities from floods and landslides? If he is dependent on external forces like the U.S.A. to support in case of an emergency, doesn't that make him an obvious “puppet” of that support base?
I hate to say it, but if this country continues on its current course, I see it falling far behind the rest of the region as an emerging economy, and it could easily fall into the hands of anarchy and/or manipulated by any external influence that would come in to “save the day”. I hope it doesn't come to this.
Edward Thurston
San José, Costa Rica

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A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Going with the flow

Water agency workers were on the march Wednesday in a protest of a type that is becoming routine in downtown San José

Although the march was in San José, the work stoppage was all over the country, and the union representing workers says the strike will continue until demands are met. The union, the  Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, says it wants raises for most workers because they have fallen behind the required minimum salaries.

There are about 3,000 workers at the Instituto Costarricense de  Acueductos y Alcantarillados. In addition to drinking water, the agency is in charge of sewers.

Monday workers from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad were in the streets protesting.

Rains return but evaluation of disaster continues
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain came back to the Pacific Coast Wednesday but didn't stop rescue workers still struggling to neutralize the damage from the weekend, said the nation's emergency commission.

The most damage is on the central Pacific south of Quepos, in the Nicoya Peninsula near Filadelfia and in the northern zone near Sarapiquí.

Updated statistics provided by the commission said that 1,662 persons were still in 26 shelters spread throughout the Santa Cruz, Nicoya, Hojancha, Carrillo, Abangares, Garabito, Esparza, Osa, Buenos Aires, Pérez Zeledón, Tarrazú and Aguirre.  In all, 259 towns, 198 routes and 64 bridges are damaged. 

Rescue workers with the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias carried blankets, water, food, soap and other supplies to people in Londres, Sábalo, Dos Bocas de Hatillo, Portalón and San Cristóbal in the central Pacific.  Wednesday morning, rescue workers in San Cristóbal brought two large tents to groups of families that lost their homes in the flood, the commission said.

Meanwhile, engineers worked to fulfill Randall Quirós' statement Tuesday that major roads should be open within 10 days.  Quirós is the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes.  The engineers from a variety of government and local agencies are considering the possibility of building an alternate route over the Río Portalón to reconnect the town of Portalón to the Costanera Sur highway.
Cruz Roja workers, firemen and Fuerza Pública officers joined workers with the emergency commission to evaluate the damage in San Cristóbal and Portalón.  Those two towns, isolated from help until Tuesday, have many people who need medical attention, the commission said.

To guard against the catastrophe renewing itself, workers brought 10,000 liters of water to the areas hardest hit.  And in case of more rain isolating the recovering communities again, workers also brought food, the commission said.  By Wednesday night, the rain had started again.

The emergency commission also hired geologists to evaluate the damage to the affected towns and also the risk residents in those town run by staying there. 

They reported that 90 percent of Portalón had been damaged as well as the local dike.  Also, landslides in Aguirre moved 200,000 cubic meters of ground, the geologists reported. 

The towns of San Cristóbal, Portalón, El Silencio and El Guabo will have to be completely or partially relocated, said geologist Joana Méndez. 

In Guanacaste, 15 more families near the Río Bebedero had to be evacuated as that river swelled Wednesday, the commission said.  Those families were relocated, the commission reported.

Meanwhile, residents reported that the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Matapalo de Aguirre is ready to accept donations at its Banco de Costa Rica account No.  2800002450-3.

Postal service renewal plan is returned to sender
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers made short work of the proposed revitalization of the nation's postal service.

The Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Económicos rejected the law outlining the renewal and archived the measure Wednesday.

The proposal was introduced as a necessity Sept. 13 at a press conference with President Abel Pacheco.

But lawmakers decided Wednesday that the proposal
diminishes budgetary controls.  Bernal Jiménez Monge, president of the legislative commission, said that the law would open the door for other government corporations to seek the same deal.

Representatives of Correos de Costa Rica faces fewer customers, deteriorating infrastructure, reduction in services and the inability to modernize. Among other changes, the postal service planned to improve package delivery and to provide a service of transmitting money across national boundaries. The postal service is facing increased competition from private companies.

U.S. planning to release newly designed $10 bills
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States unveiled a new, more secure design for the $10 bill Wednesday. The bill is expected to enter circulation in early 2006.

The $10 note redesign is part of a U.S. effort to stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters, according to a news release issued jointly by the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Secret Service.

“We expect to update currency every seven to 10 years, so that we may continue to stay ahead of counterfeiters,” Treasury Secretary John Snow said in remarks during an unveiling ceremony in New York.  “The enhanced security features built into this new $10 note design – and into the $20 and $50 note designs that preceded it in the new series – will help maintain global confidence in our currency going forward,” he said.

Security overseas is difficult. Costa Rica and much of Latin America has just endured a wave of fear when some near perfect Colombian conterfeit U.S. $100 bills entered circulation here. Banks refused to take bills with certain serial numbers even though most of the bills were genuine.

According to the news release, the new $10 note incorporates easy-to-use security features for people to check their money and subtle background colors in shades of orange, yellow and red.

All existing $10 bills will remain legal tender for as long as they are held, officials said.  “You can use both the newly designed $10 note and all other designs in everyday transactions,” Roger Ferguson, Federal Reserve vice chairman, said.  Every U.S. currency note issued since 1861 is still redeemable today at full face value, he said.

The new note incorporates state-of-the-art security features to combat counterfeiting, including use of color-shifting ink, a watermark and security thread

-- features easy to use by cash handlers and consumers alike, the release said.

As much as two-thirds of U.S. currency is held overseas.  In preparation for putting the notes into circulation, the U.S. government is conducting a broad, worldwide public education program to ensure that people all over the world are aware of the new design and can use its security features.  Training materials are available in 24 languages on the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing Web site.

The government estimates that fewer than one in 10,000 $10 notes is a counterfeit, and that counterfeiting has been kept at low levels through a combination of improvements in security features, aggressive law enforcement and education efforts.

Newly designed $20 and $50 notes were introduced in 2003 and 2004 respectively, and the $100 note is slated for redesign next.  At this time, the U.S. government has no plans to redesign the $5 note.  The $1 and $2 notes will not be redesigned.

Venezuela won't get Posada, Immigration judge rules
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

EL PASO, Texas — A U.S. immigration judge has ruled that Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges, cannot be deported to Cuba or Venezuela.

In his ruling, Judge William Abbott cited international conventions barring U.S. officials from extraditing people to countries where they may face torture.

He did not rule out the possibility of sending Posada
Carriles, a former CIA operative, to another country.

Lawyers for Posada Carriles argued he would be tortured if sent to Venezuela, which accuses him of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner. He denies involvement in the attack that killed 73 people.

Venezuela has said there is no evidence it would use torture, and has accused the United States of wrongfully protecting Posada Carriles, who was arrested earlier this year for illegally entering the United States.

Jo Stuart
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