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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 193
Jo Stuart
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All he wants you to do is trust him a little bit
By Wendy Bishop Strebe
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Imagine for a moment, that you have recently moved from the U.S. and purchased a lodge on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.  In making this move, you sold virtually all of your personal possessions, allowing each family member two suitcases apiece. 

You did, however, decide to ship your very nice, almost new, sport utility vehicle, thinking it would be essential.  But, within a few months you have found that, in this part of Costa Rica, it sits in the driveway while you walk, ride a bicycle and utilize inexpensive public transportation.  And, sitting in your driveway, it presents the misleading appearance of rico Americanos.

So, thinking realistically about your financial position, you decide to sell this creampuff and invest in your bright, sunny Costa Rican future. One is desirous of receiving a good price for a 4 X 4 in excellent condition that cost through the nose to import from the U.S. 

So, this 'reverend' does 
not even ask 
how many miles 
are on the vehicle?? 

One would want to advertise in places that people who might be able to afford such a vehicle would see the listing.  A.M. Costa Rica is such a place.  With a substantial readership and predominantly "Gringo" audience, it is a great place for an American to advertise a newly nationalized vehicle.

However, the advertiser must be prepared for the onslaught.  A "man of God" e-mails about the vehicle.  "Consider your vehicle sold to me 
and you will receive a check drawn on an 

American bank for $2,000 over your asking price.  All I ask is that you provide the balance of the funds to me via Western Union." 
Are this many people 
in other countries 
desperate for 
Suzuki XL-7 vehicles? 

So, this "reverend" does not even ask how many miles are on the vehicle??  He does not require a photograph. Wow, this is so easy.  This wonderful SUV is sold the first day, at the asking price.  Yeah sure.  Once the potential buyer is informed that the seller requires the payment to clear before taking possession and requires a wire transfer directly into a bank account, the good reverend vanishes. He must be praying about it.

The next few days are full of e-mails from foreign countries.  "I wish to purchase your very nice vehicle and arrange shipping to Holland, Amsterdam, Iran, etc.  A check will be sent to you as soon as you provide your mailing address."  Are these people sober?

Now, why would someone want to pay for a fully nationalized Costa Rican vehicle (where the price includes the cost of shipping to Costa Rica) and then ship the vehicle to another country? This does not sound particularly intelligent to this seller. 

Are this many people in other countries desperate for Suzuki XL-7 vehicles?  Or are these e-mails somehow coming from the same individual who originally wrote, still hoping to bamboozle someone gullible?  I guess it is a good thing that these conscientious vehicle-selling Gringos are neither desperate or estupido.

Mrs. Strebe is from Puerto Viejo de Limón

face count
of extortion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two transit officers are facing a charge that they tried to extort money from a motorist. 

The Judicial Investigating Organization grabbed the pair Friday. The story is this, according to agents: The two policias de Transito stopped a motorist in La Uruca Sept. 19 and found that the man was driving with expired documents. 

Agents said that the two policemen made the driver an offer: He could avoid legal entanglements if he paid 15,000 colons. That’s about $37. The officers kept the documents as security.

The motorist filed a complaint with police, and officials arranged a sting. Friday the man agreed to hand over the money and met one of the officers in Hatillo 8 and got back his documents. Agents quickly made the arrest.

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Sex tourism will be a target
U.S. vows crackdown worldwide on child predators
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Two female Mexican nationals and a native of Haiti are among those who have been arrested in a sweeping U.S. government crackdown worldwide against child predators and sex offenders, says the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that since the July 9 launch of "Operation Predator," more than 1,000 of these criminals have been arrested in the effort to protect children worldwide.

The agency said in a statement Friday that the international arrests were made by coordinating with its overseas offices and with law enforcement agencies of other countries. Immigration said that international arrests of child predators and sex offenders will continue to increase as the agency focuses on the sex tourism industry.

Immigration and Customs Director Michael Garcia pointed to President George Bush's remarks last Tuesday before the United Nations that human smuggling and trafficking represents a new humanitarian crisis spreading across the world.

In those remarks, Bush said that "there's a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. Governments that tolerate this [sex] trade are tolerating a form of slavery." The president called for all nations to enact laws making it a crime to abuse children sexually, and noted the U.S. contribution of $50 million to organizations "that are rescuing women and children from exploitation."

Garcia said that "more and more children, boys and girls not even old enough to read, are falling victim to the increasingly organized and profitable trade of human trafficking." He said that in the United 

States, "certain individuals pay significant sums of money to travel to other countries and engage in prostitution with children."

Garcia said that through Operation Predator and a piece of legislation recently signed by President Bush called the Protect Act, "the Department of Homeland Security is working around the clock to identify and remove these people not only from American streets, but also to hold them accountable wherever they commit these heinous crimes."

Among those arrested in Operator Predator were two female Mexican nationals, who were sentenced to 210 months imprisonment for luring four teenaged Mexican girls to the United States and holding them captive as prostitutes in a brothel in Plainfield, New Jersey.

The sentences handed down against these women were among the first under the U.S. Trafficking and Victims Protection Act, which was enacted in 2000.

Also arrested was a citizen of Haiti, who pleaded guilty for fondling his own 12-year-old daughter. The agency said that Fritz Laguerre had originally been arrested by the Palm Beach, Florida sheriff's office for raping the daughter and had evaded Immigration’s efforts to deport him from the United States.

The operation also produced the arrests of 27 child predators in Miami, Florida. Included in this group was the arrest of Bayardo Rafael Chamarro, a Nicaraguan national, who had evaded U.S. law enforcement efforts to deport him from the country. Chamarro was caught on a surveillance camera groping a 12-year-old girl in a department store in Miami. He was subsequently charged with lewd and lascivious molestation on a child under the age of 16.

Manauga will host
big tourism show

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Nicaraguan Tourism Institute has announced that Nicaragua will be host of TREX Central America 2004, which will be held next April 26, 27 and 28 at the Managua Inter-Continental Convention Center. 

TREX Central America has been organized by William Coleman, Inc., a travel industry’s event management firm, organizer of Travel Mart Latin America, Spotlight Canada, Cancun Travel Mart, American Airlines Travel Exchange, among other events. 

This year TREX Central America took place in Belize, and more than 150 tour operator buyers and retail travel agents were there for the occasion. The buyers are highly qualified and some of them are interested in the region as a multi destination. At the same time the suppliers offer a wide variety of products and services found in Central America, and every country of the region is taking part in the  event. For TREX 2004 taking place in Managua, the estimated number of assistant buyers and suppliers is 300. 

Travel Exchange Central America is an event supported by all airlines serving the region, such as Grupo TACA, Copa Airlines, American, and Sol Air among others. 

For further information please contact the tourism offices at e-mail: promocion@intur.gob.ni and for registration contact William Coleman’s offices at the following e-mail address:   sales@whcoleman.com

Smaller rebel group
says it took tourists

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's second-largest rebel group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping earlier this month of eight foreign backpackers in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. 

The National Liberation Army, or ELN, said Monday that it seized the tourists Sept. 12 near an archeological site. 

The ELN did not specify demands for the release of the four Israelis, one Briton, one Spaniard and a German still being held. But the guerrillas said they wanted a peaceful solution to the kidnapping. 

The eighth hostage, 19-year-old Matthew Scott of Britain, escaped his captors last week and spent two days walking through rugged terrain until local Indians found him and contacted the army. He has since been reunited with his family in Britain. 

Some 2,000 Colombian soldiers have been searching for the missing foreigners in the mountains. The tourists were sleeping near the ruins of the centuries-old "Lost City" when armed men dressed in camouflage woke them up and marched them into the jungle. 

The United States has maintained a travel warning for Colombia, saying foreigners continue to be victims of kidnappings, threats and murder. 

Costa Rican bowler
continues to lead

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Marie Ramírez of Costa Rica and Chris Van Damme of Belgium lead the women and men’s divisions after 10 games at the 2003 AMF Bowling World Cup, under way at Planeta Sipango bowling center. 

Ramírez is averaging 225.6 with 2,256 pins, 17 pins more than Hiroko Shimizu of Japan. 

"I bowled well tonight but I felt I was unlucky," Ramírez said. "I left a lot of 10-pins on some very good pocket hits. I was also feeling stiff today, because I had to throw the ball very strongly the last couple of days." 

Tere Piccini Healey of Mexico, who finished tied for fifth at last year’s AMF World Cup in Latvia, is third with 2,227 pins and a 222.7 average. Defending women’s champion Shannon Pluhowsky of the United States is fourth with 2,208 pins and a 220.8 average. 

Shalin Zulkifli of Malaysia posted the high game for the women thus far with a 288 effort. She is in seventh place, averaging 211.0. 

In the men’s division, Van Damme has a 10-game total of 2,291 pins, and a 229.1 average. His high game thus far, a 279, came Monday morning. Van Damme leads Mohammed Al-Qubaisi of the United Arab Emirates, the 1988 men’s champion, by five pins. Al-Qubaisi is averaging 228.6 after 10 games. 

"I have some motivation, because I wasn’t invited to be on the Belgian national team that participated in the World Championships this year," Van Damme said. "I could not have competed because of work obligations, but I thought I deserved the invitation. So you could say I have something to prove in this tournament." 

The USA’s Bill Hoffman moved into third with 2,276 pins for a 227.60 average. 

The women return for another five games of qualifying this morning, followed by the men at 3:30 p.m. Both the men and women’s fields will be cut to the top 24 following completion of play Wednesday night. 

Girl touches metal
and dies of shock

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 28-month-old girl in Playas de Coco collapsed and later died when she came in contact with metal that was conducting an electric current, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. 

The girl, Valeriei Zapata, died under hospital care Sunday morning, agents said. She lives in Barrio Palomas in the Pacific coast tourist town. They said the metal the girl touched was in contact with electrical wires.

Two bandits shoot
hardware store owner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Popular hardware store operator Jaime Aguilar suffered a bullet wound to the leg about 1 p.m. Monday when two gunmen on a motorcycle confronted him in front of his store.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that Aguilar was carryings a briefcase with about 15 million colons, some $36,700. The store, Ferreloza, is in San Juan de Tibás.

Aguilar sells floor tiles, bathroom appliances and other household articles useful in construction, so he is well-known to a number of expats who are involved in household construction.

Husband kills himself

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In what police are calling a case of domestic violence, a 44-year-old Guadalupe man stabbed his wife, Adelaida Mora Rodríguez, 35, who then fled about 50 feet from the couple’s home where she fell to the ground as if dead. The man, identified as Alfonso Bolandi, thinking the woman was dead, stabbed himself fatally in the neck. This happened about 1 a.m. in Vista del Mar in Guadalupe, said investigators.

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In petroleum poker, Harken opens for $57 billion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a kickoff meeting to his administration 16 months ago, President Abel Pacheco and his environment minister made clear that there would be no oil drilling or open pit gold mines in Costa Rica.

They said this even though the subsidiary of a Canadian company was prepared to mine the gold and a Houston, Texas, firm still was hoping to drill offshore from Limón. 

Analysis on the news

Both projects attracted vocal opponents, but both companies had made agreements with prior governments.

It was clear from the comments of President Pacheco and Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi, minister of Ambiente y Energia, were not based on technicalities. Their goal was a status quo protection of the environment regardless of legalisms.

So there should be no surprise that Harken Energy of Houston and Industrias Infinito S.A. and its parent firm, Vannessa Ventures of Canada, are a little miffed at the Costa Rican government.

Harken began studies in 1997 with the hopes of some day tapping an estimated 300,000-barrel a day petroleum resource offshore. The contract it had actually was cancelled by a Sala IV decision two months before Pacheco took office. The court found procedural difficulties in the contract, and the Pacheco administration has not hurried to iron out these problems.

Now comes word from Costa Rican sources that Harken wants to hail the government into international arbitration to the tune of $57 billion. Neither Harken nor the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes could confirm the status of the case — if there was a case — Monday.

Vannessa Ventures Ltd. already is on record saying that its cancelled Crucitas open pit gold mine is worth about $620 million. That project is located near the San Juan River in northern Costa Rica. That firm is likely to seek relief through international arbitration.

The concept is well-known to creditors of the failed Villalobos Brothers high-interest borrowing operation. Some creditors are trying to build an international arbitration case against Costa Rica for failing to protect international investors.

The International Centre, an autonomous unit of the World Bank, is where companies and individuals go when they believe they have been treated in a high-handed fashion by foreign governments.

There is some concern that Costa Rica may not have fully agreed to compulsory arbitration, but $57 billion would seem to be a number that would get the attention of Costa Rican officials. 

That amount is about 15 times the country’s external debt or about $14,000 for every man woman and child in Costa Rica.

Pacheco said Monday that he rejected the contention of the Houston petroleum firm that Costa Rica owed it anything. Rodríguez had said earlier in the day that Harken was not entitled to any money because the firm did not live up to requirements.

The Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental had rejected the environmental impact study submitted by Harken. But after Pacheco announced the moratorium on open pit gold mining Rodríguez said that the moratorium, which is indefinite, was established because his agency and Costa Rica do not have the technicians to evaluate such projects. And he said the same thing about the oil project.

These might be words that will come back to haunt Costa Rica if a full-blown arbitration panel is set up.

Multi-national data base will track bomb incidents
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has begun sharing a new database on arson and explosives with officials in Britain, Colombia and Mexico.

The database is restricted to law enforcement agencies and provides for the exchange of information on explosives incidents including the groups or individuals involved, vehicles used, power source, and initiation system.

The bureau says the project, known as XBase, will serve as a potent tool in the international war on terrorism, and welcomes participation by other countries.

"In an age when bombs and other explosives are the terrorist weapons of choice, XBase has already proven itself to be an invaluable resource," said 

Kathleen L. Kiernan, the bureau’s assistant director for strategic intelligence and information. "By allowing ATF and law enforcement agencies around the world to share and compare information securely and electronically, XBase permits those agencies to marshal their collective expertise against terrorist bombings and other explosives threats."

XBase represents a breakthrough in technology and information sharing because it is cost-effective for developed and developing countries alike, the software it employs is user-friendly and does not require extensive new training to utilize, and all types of law enforcement can use its applications, the bureau said.

The project now allows arson and explosives experts to gather information on incidents worldwide, and provides all four countries participating so far with "one-stop shopping" for explosives-related incidents.

U.S. National Archives has dramatic new displays
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some of the most important documents of American history are back on display in the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., in an exhibit called "A New World At Hand." 

The exhibit showcases the so-called Charters of Freedom, including the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It also shows off some dramatic changes to the building's Rotunda, just reopened this month after a two-year renovation. The changes bring the nation's most treasured archives into new light and promise to enhance what has always been an inspirational experience for museum visitors. 

Around the curved walls of the newly re-opened Archives Rotunda are two huge murals: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. They were painted 65 years ago by artist Barry Faulkner and restored to that pristine condition as part of the renovation of the National Archives. They tower over the original documents they celebrate — no less than the legal and philosophical building blocks of the United States.

"First of all, the founders created a nation founded on a set of ideas and ideals that people, in spite of other human flaws, could govern themselves," said National Archives senior curator Stacey Bredhoff. "They believed that if their experiment was successful it would change the world, not just for themselves, but for all mankind all over the world." 

Ms. Bredhoff points to one document that reveals the risk the founding fathers took as they plotted a revolution. "One of the documents that I'd like to highlight is an oath of secrecy that delegates to the Continental Congress took in 1775. It was on this very slow, gradual road to independence, which was a very dangerous thing to contemplate," she said. 

"Discussing independence was tantamount to treason, which was punishable by death. So the delegates signed this oath of secrecy. And on the page in this case you'll be able to see the signature of John Hancock, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others of the great founding figures."

The historic documents in "A New World At Hand" also include George Washington's draft of the Constitution; the sales contract for the Louisiana Purchase; the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the southern states during the Civil War; and the deed for the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France to the people of the United States. 

Seeing these famous documents up close for the first time had a powerful impact on students who toured the new exhibit. "The documents are very important because [they] shape our lives, they help us understand our own history and live out how they think we should live," said one student. Another one said, "I definitely think it's important to keep our history and our documents alive and have people be able to read them, because a lot of them played a major role in the shaping of America."

The Charters of Freedom have been the focus of a major restoration effort over the past two years. The Archives' director of preservation, Doris Hamburg, said it was a painstaking process. "Each document was looked at, its condition was assessed and the conservation treatment was undertaken. After that, they were put into these encasements," she said. "They have no oxygen in them. They have argon, and that will also be an important part in minimizing deterioration over time." 

Improvements to the National Archives building will be continuing, with the Rotunda just the first of several areas to be renovated. Next year, the Public Vaults will be open. According to Tom Wheeler, president of the Foundation for The National Archives, this new interactive exhibit will help more people understand the National Archives' complex mission.

"The public vaults open a window on all the other documents at the National Archives, and really allow people to go beyond the walls of the Rotunda to explore for themselves how the American Archives works," he explained. "We're going to have an audio tour segment that allows us to be multilingual in our approach to the Charters of Freedom, and that of course is a major breakthrough."

Wheeler points out that interactive computer devices will allow visitors to see the documents in a way they never could before. "A document like the Zimmermann telegram, which is a coded document that was a communication between Germany and Mexico that led to American involvement in World War I," he explained. "If we simply put this document in display, all you'll see is code; but with the electronic document reader, you can read through the code and see the message that was being sent and why it was so important in evolution of that history." 

The documents are now displayed in new cases, positioned so that young children and people on wheelchairs can see them easily. Archivist of the United States John Carlin says the historic documents are preserved not just because they represent America's past, but because they remain the foundation for its future. 

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