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These stories were published Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 194
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Orosi shakes off
disaster for fiesta

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Despite tragedy, the town of Orosi pulled together Sunday for the third annual colonial fair.

Orosi is in the mid of Costa Rica’s renowned Orosi Valley. The town was shaken Aug. 31 when hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of mud and debris descended on a cluster of homes. Seven neighbors still are buried beneath the earth.

The mud poured 800 meters, nearly a half mile, down a gorge, engulfed homes and buried them under more than 100 

Photo by Ken Beedle
Residents and visitors congregate in front of the historic church of Orosi.
feet of shifting soil. Continual rain turned parts of the town into a mud pool. But there was a respite from the rain Sunday.

Orosi is known for its beautiful colonial church that is the oldest still in service throughout the whole country. 

Situated next to the plaza and with a small religious museum close to it, the Iglesia de Orosi was the perfect background for a fiesta to remind of and to celebrate its colonial history. 

Over 800 people and visitors came out and enjoyed the fair.


 
Trip to ATM by tourist draws four bandits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Wisconsin tourist had a double dose of bad luck late Sunday: He lost all of his cash at a local casino and he became a robbery and beating victim when he later took money out of a nearby automatic teller machine.

The man is Gerald Gene Fritz, a 66-year-old retiree who came to Costa Rica for a two-week vacation.

"It’s just a disappointment," he said Monday from his place in front of a slot machine in a downtown casino.

Fritz said he left the Royal Dutch Casino on Avenida 2 about midnight because he had lost his gambling money. He walked along that street to an automatic teller machine opposite Parque Central. As he left the small room that contained the machine, the assault took place.

Fritz said three men and a woman jumped him and began to hit him. He suffered wounds to the head and legs.

Two plainclothes policemen nearby managed to arrest two of the assailants, he said. There 

was no report of the arrest available from the Ministerio Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública Monday night.

Fritz said he was impressed because one of the plainclothes officers spoke good English. The police managed to send Fritz to a hospital where he received injections for stress and pain.

As many visitors do, Fritz had made a copy of his passport, which the robbers got. But the original was safe in his hotel room. Later he managed to call a friend in the United States who advanced him money.

Fritz said he has several more days of gambling here before he goes home.

Earlier Sunday near the Plaza Cuatro Reinas in Tibás, a gunman stuck up a bus and shot the driver in the back.

Police identified the driver as José Guillermo Mora Castro, 40. Minutes later motorcycle police arrested a man with the last names of Churta Castro who was carrying a pistol and about 38,000 colons ($103) in cash, police said. The shooting took place about 2 p.m.

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Police academy still generates opposition here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Organized opposition is developing to a proposed International law enforcement academy even as the proposal moves forward in the Asemblea Nacional, according to a speaker who addressed U.S. Democrats Monday.

The opposition so far mainly comes from students at the University of Costa Rica, according to  Francisco Cordero, a consultant to the Partido Liberación Nacional. He made no secret of his own opposition to the proposal.

Opposition also exists within the ranks of the national deputies, he said.

The root of his opposition seemed to be that the United States would be involved in setting up a school to train law enforcement officers on Costa Rica soil. He said he was opposed to the philosophy of President George Bush that the United States has to be the world’s policeman.

Cordero said he would welcome such a school if some international organizations set it up. Cordero, who spoke flawless English, generally received an approving welcome from the members of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica. 

"We don’t want to be taught by the F.B.I., the Secret Services . . . if it means a double standard of loyalty," he told Democrats. He said Costa Ricans fear that Tico police officers who go through the training programs at the academy would develop loyalty to the United States at the expense of loyalty to their own country.

He said he envisioned a scenario where the United States would be able to prosecute a Costa Rican government minister on drug charges due to information generated by the Costa Rican agents with dual loyalties.

He said the U.S. influence would extend further than just police officers as those who attend the academy grow in their careers to be judges and the local equivalent of district attorneys.

Cordero said that the unhappiness with the academy is tied up with Costa Rican concerns over 

other international programs supported by the United States. These include Plan Puebla a Panamá, an extensive development proposal throughout the whole isthmus promoted by Mexican President Vincente Fox. Also included is Plan Colombia, the U.S. effort to provide extensive aid to the government of that country to fight rebel movements.
 
Also bothering opponents, he noted, is the U.S. proposal for a Central American free trade treaty.

Each of these plans might compromise Costa Rican territorial integrity, he said. Cordero said that the Popular Front against the Academy has a membership that includes mostly university and secondary students. He also said that U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich has been 

Francisco Cordero
talking to deputies stressing the U.S. point of view.

The United States signed an agreement with Costa Rica in June to base the academy here. The Spanish name is Academia Internacional para el Cumplimiento de la Ley. Similar schools already exist in Thailand, New Mexico, Botswana and Hungary.

The director here would be a U.S. citizen, as would be one of the program directors. Other personnel would come from Latin America.

The school would have training in international crimes, such as trafficking in drugs and human beings, child prostitution, international auto theft, drug laboratories, and money laundering.

Cordero said if deputies did not approve the school for Costa Rica, El Salvador likely would be the site.

Democrats are seeking someone for their Oct. 28 meeting to speak in favor of the proposal.


 
Guatemala-Belize settlement sets example
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of State, says final resolution of a long-standing territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize would be good for the people of the entire Western Hemisphere.

Powell said it would set an example to the rest of the region on reaching peaceful settlements about disputed territory and other types of disagreements.

Speaking at a ceremony Monday on culmination of a process for ending the dispute, Powell said a final agreement would be “another sign that our hemisphere has come of age in a common commitment to peace, prosperity, and freedom.”

Powell said the Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved in September 2001, committed the hemisphere's 34 democratic countries to democracy as the "guiding principle in our dealings ... with each other."

Powell said that with the negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, "we have committed ourselves to breaking down trade barriers and knitting our hemisphere into a region-wide zone of economic opportunity for all."

Powell said some 16 disputes throughout the region, including at least five in Central America alone, have "bedeviled our hemisphere for far too long."

Gen. Cesar Gaviria, from the Organization of American States, says a final agreement between Guatemala and Belize is significant not only for the people of the two countries but "also for the people of the Americas who will recognize the tremendous benefit to be derived from mediation and negotiation processes."

Robert Tovar, Costa Rican minister of foreign relations, applauded the agreement between the neighboring countries. 

“It’s good news and a clear expression of high compromise by both nations,” said Tovar.

The diplomacy chief said this agreement, as well as the recent headway between the land conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, demonstrates a positive movement in Central America to a place of peace and developement.

Tovar also cited a free trade treaty with the United States, the Puebla-Panama and the agreement with the European Union as prosperous investments.

Food shortage result
of natural disasters

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The World Food Program warns that millions of people in Central America are short of food after years of drought and other natural disasters. 

The program, in collaboration with other United Nations and international aid agencies, has issued an in-depth study of the situation in four countries in the region.

The study says 8.6 million people in rural areas of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala live in a so-called drought corridor. This corridor, which runs along the Pacific coast, is subject to more than six months of dry weather a year. In addition, the study says people in all four countries have been victims of hurricanes, flooding, landslides and earthquakes over the last 10 years. 

The study says that every time a disaster strikes, inhabitants in these Central American countries lose their harvest and no longer have sufficient means to start again.

The study also says almost half the population in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition and that high levels of malnutrition exist in the other three countries. 

Christiane Berthiaume, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program, said more than 80 percent of those interviewed for the study say they have reduced their food consumption, and 71percent have cut out one meal a day.

Science group focuses
on sustainability

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — An international science organization plans to expand into developing nations and focus on balancing economic development with the environment. The action comes in the wake of the recent Johannesburg sustainable development summit. 

The International Council for Science plans to pass several resolutions at the conclusion of its meeting Saturday, including one focusing the organization's energies on sustainability. 

Jane Lubchenco, council president, said her organization was asked by the United Nations to take a lead role in providing scientific input into the issue of balancing economic development with environmental preservation. 

"We've had the benefit at this meeting of having an entire half day session devoted to hearing much of the new information that has been gleaned over the last 10 years," Lubchenco said.

"And it's now time to transition from talk to action, from generalities to specifics. So the proposal that will come before the general assembly will be to establish a science plan, and a specific research agenda for science for sustainability," she said.

During this meeting delegates will decide to establish offices in four regions of the developing world: Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The offices would act as clearinghouses for scientific information and also promote scientific capacity in those regions.

Solar contest illuminates
future of energy

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spencer Abraham, the U.S. secretary of energy, officially opened the first Solar Decathlon Thursday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Standing in front of the nation's capitol building and a Solar Village composed of 14 solar-powered highly energy efficient homes, Abraham congratulated the students for their creative labor and attended the ribbon cutting to begin a 10-day competition among university teams from around the country.

"The U.S. Department of Energy is proud to sponsor the first-ever Solar Decathlon, a university competition that brings together our nation's brightest minds to demonstrate practical ways of producing and using energy efficiently in the home," said Abraham. 

"Student teams will compete to capture, convert, store, and use enough solar energy to power our modern lifestyle."

The Solar Decathlon runs from Sept. 26 to Oct. 5. To win, a team must blend aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and efficiency. 

In appearance, the homes are a mix of traditional and modern, but all are powered entirely by the sun and incorporate state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies. The short-term objective of the Solar Decathlon is to build a completely solar-powered house, but a key long-term objective of the competition is education.

Pollution killing off
coral reefs, says report

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released the first comprehensive assessment of U.S. coral reefs, offering the best accounting ever made for these ocean resources, the largest biological structures on Earth.

Pollution, over development and water runoff are causing some of the most serious damage to reef structures, especially in Florida where live coral cover has declined 37 percent over the past five years. Coral disease is a major damaging factor in the Caribbean where certain species have declined by as much as 90 percent.

Globally, estimates indicate that 66 percent of global reefs are severely degraded, and 27 percent may be beyond recovery.

The survey includes the waters around Florida, the Caribbean, the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, Nassau, the Hawaiian Archipelago, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Pacific Freely Associated States.

The report is the product of new mapping techniques that allow scientists to identify the threats to reefs and the state of resources.
 

Cuba signs $90 million
in U.S. food contracts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba says it has signed nearly $90 million in food contracts with U.S. companies at an agricultural trade fair aimed at pressuring Washington to ease or lift its four-decade trade and travel embargo on the island. 

Officials here made the comment Monday as the five-day event featuring more than 280 exhibitors from 33 U.S. states drew to a close. Officials told international news sources that deals for as much as an additional $13 million in sales are still being discussed. 

The show was the largest Cuban trade fair for American firms since the 1959 revolution brought President Fidel Castro to power. The fair featured American livestock, pastries, wines, cheese, butter and margarine, raisins and even chewing gum. 

Jesse Ventura, the governor of the U.S. state of Minnesota, was among those attending the event in the Cuban capital. Minnesota is a key U.S. farm state. 

A U.S. exception to the trade embargo allows sales of food and other agricultural products to Cuba as long as the goods are paid for in cash. Cuba started taking advantage of the law late last year, purchasing $140 million in U.S. grains, cereals, poultry and other goods. 

U.S. President George Bush has said he will not support any easing of the embargo until Cuba embraces democratic and economic reforms.

Rains hit hillsides
and damage homes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Afternoon and evening rains continued to soak the Central Valley and other points in Costa Rica Monday, and the dry season still is more than two months away.

Homes of some low-income Costa Ricans have suffered damage in the last round of heavy rains. Hardest hit is the Los Guidos de Desamparados section south of San José. But problems exist anywhere else where home construction has been placed on a steep slope without appropriate engineering.

Both Sunday and Monday registered about a quarter inch of rain, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense. But the continual rain has soaked the ground and most new rain becomes runoff. 

Most parts of the Central Valley are well fixed for drainage, but there has been some flooding in some sections of the city, in Barrio Cuba, for example.

The weather bureau said that the current rain was a product of Hurricane Lili, which is heading through the Gulf of México on course toward the United States after a visit to Cuba sometime today. The weather predictors expect the effects of Lili will disappear by later today.

The Central Valley, the north Pacific and central Pacific will have cloudy afternoons with probable downpours.

Blair outlines Iraqi plans,
U.N. say inspectors ready

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England  — Tony Blair, British prime minister, told British television he is confident the U.N. Security Council will adopt a new resolution demanding Iraq cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors.

The United States and Britain are proposing a new draft resolutions document to the U.N. Security Council outlining their objectives for Iraq.

He also refused to rule out joining a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq, if international pressure on Baghdad fails, and even if the United Nations does not sanction military action.

This comes as top United Nations officials meeting with Iraqi authorities in Vienna say weapons inspectors are gearing up to return to Iraq in the next two weeks. 

U.N. officials said Monday that the inspectors could leave for Baghdad as early as mid-October, unless the U.N. Security Council fails to give its final approval. 

Hans Blix, chief U.N. arms inspector, said many issues were clarified during the first day of talks Monday on the return of weapons inspectors to Baghdad. He said he hopes more progress will be made by the time the meeting concludes on Tuesday. 

Mohammed El-Baradei, International Atomic Energy Agency director general, says there are many more details to discuss before inspections can resume after a four-year hiatus. 

Inspectors left Iraq in 1998 after Baghdad blocked their access to some facilities. 

He says the goal of the talks is to get inspectors back into Iraq with unfettered access to any location at any time. 

Earlier, Blix said the talks are aimed at ensuring that if and when inspections resume, there will be no disputes. 

The latest discussions are seen as the first test of Iraq's cooperation since Baghdad agreed earlier this month to the unconditional return of inspectors. 

The talks come as the U.N. Security Council considers a tough draft resolution sponsored by the United States calling for new operating rules for inspectors, and threatening military action if Iraq fails to cooperate. 

The United States and Britain will present their new draft resolution to the Security Council on Wednesday. 

‘Lili’ about to pound 
western Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Florida — Hurricane Lili is expected to make a direct hit on western Cuba early Tuesday, becoming the second hurricane to strike the Caribbean island in less than two weeks. 

The National Hurricane Center here said Lili is expected to first make landfall on Cuba's Isle of Youth, which was battered by the recent onslaught of Hurricane Isidore. 

At last report, the fourth hurricane of this year's Atlantic season was centered 280 kilometers (173 miles) southeast of the Isle of Youth, moving west-northwest at 17 kilometers an hour (10 mph). 

Lili was packing maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph). Thousands of Cubans have evacuated low-lying homes in preparation for Lili's arrival. 

The hurricane was upgraded from a tropical storm earlier Monday as it drenched the Cayman Islands with torrential rains and high winds that tore roofs off buildings. 

The severe weather also forced tens of thousands of people in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac to flee their homes. 

Lili pelted Jamaica on Sunday. Flooding from the storm killed at least four people there.
 

Real estate fraud
linked to jailed pair

By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

Two men now in jail for passing bogus 10,000-colon notes are facing a new charge that they falsely sold real estate that they did not own.

Investigators said they used police photos to identify the men as the pair who sold some land in Alajuela for 10 million colons, about $27,000.

Police said that two men contacted a real estate broker and presented the broker with paperwork and forged cédulas that showed they were the owners of the land. In fact, they were not.

The real owner of the property found out about the fraud when he visited his property one day, said agents.

The detained men have the last names of Gómez and Arce, said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Investigators used the case as a way to tell citizens in general to be wary of big bargains in the real estate industry. 

Those who deal in property already have been notified of the scam, said agents. That includes brokers, bank officers, employees of loan companies and others.

Agents also said that property owners should periodically check their ownership in the Registro Público de la Propiedad to make sure they still are listed as the owner.
 

Rally to oppose Iraq war

Opponents of a U.S. military strike against Iraq will bring their case to the U.S. Embassy in Pavas this morning. Organizers said that the “Rally for Peace” will be held from 10 a.m. to noon.
 
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Improved security reduces human smuggling
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tougher security measures in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have further decreased Chinese human smuggling by sea, says Commander Chris Carter, head of the Coast Guard Migrant Interdiction Division here.

"The Coast Guard is requiring 96 hours advance notice of crew and cargo manifests, which we didn't use to do," Carter said in a recent interview. "And those are all run through the various intelligence shops to determine which cargo and passenger vessels we're going to board and inspect."

Demands on fishing vessels have gotten more stringent as well, Carter said.

"It used to be a fishing vessel could provide what was called a 'crew manifest' — in other words, the crew did not have to be individually documented," Carter said. But under this system, he explained, a few illegal immigrants could be mixed in with the legitimate fishermen and could escape detection.

"INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) is no longer permitting that," Carter said. "And everybody arriving must be individually documented. So that's another tightening up in an attempt to locate illegal migrants and miscreants."

Smuggling Chinese illegal immigrants via dangerously decrepit fishing vessels seems to have subsided, but the U.S. Coast Guard is now seeing new methods being used to make the trip to the United States by sea.

In previous years, human smugglers bought aging fishing boats in China and Taiwan and packed them with as many illegal immigrants as possible. 

But as Coast Guard interdictions went up and more would-be migrants became aware of the risks involved in smuggling by sea, new techniques evolved.

One method the Coast Guard still sees involves fishing boats registered with Taiwan, which take on crews from mainland China, Carter said.

In the case of a human-smuggling operation, the crew "mutinies" as the boat reaches Guam, the U.S. West Coast, or Canada. "The master is forced to bring them close to shore so they can get off the vessel," Carter said.

In this situation, the master of the vessel finds himself an unwitting accomplice, but it is possible that in some "mutinies" he may be a willing participant, Carter said.

Another technique is for the illegal immigrants — who hold stolen documents or very good fakes — to fly through Europe to places in South America such as Panama, Peru and Surinam, where legitimate Chinese companies operate construction projects using contract labor.

"We believe that these are totally legitimate enterprises," Carter said, "but they probably provide a framework and an infrastructure a 
parasitic illegal network can adhere to and take advantage of."

Surinam is especially attractive for human smuggling, since the country has no laws to prohibit it, Carter explained. Once there, the illegal aliens reach the U.S. Virgin Islands using one of hundreds of wooden freighters or fishing boats that sail the coasts.

A major obstacle to controlling illegal human smuggling is that many countries have no laws to prohibit it, Carter said. "We need to educate governments, get them to criminalize it, and then see what we can do from there," he said.

But Commander Carter says there is also evidence that the ever growing fees Chinese illegal immigrants pay to their smugglers are making it more cost effective to buy stolen travel documents or top-quality forgeries.

The smugglers change with the times, Carter acknowledged. "They've gone to a more individually oriented system. They're not trying to evade us, they're trying to fool us."
 
A.M.'s readership
keeps climbing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper continued its growth in September. Total Internet hits were up 18 percent from 272,361 in August to 321,997 in September.

Page views were up 7.9 percent from 98,535 to 106,321. Total sessions were up 9.4 percent from 25,426 to 27, 816.

All the data is from an independent statistical monitoring program operated by the Internet Service provider. 

The statistics mean that up to several thousand persons look at at least one page each day the newspaper is published and that about 1,200 persons read a series of pages in detail each day.

The statistics are even more impressive because A.M. Costa Rica is designed to minimize the number of clicks a reader must make to read a series of news stories or ads.

A.M. Costa Rica, which is now more than a year old, has dramatically increased readership in every month but one since August 2001.

The statistical report is posted on the Web site, and can be accessed HERE!


 
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