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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 3, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 196
Jo Stuart
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Raids offered as proof of guns-drug link here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators say they have established the first clear link of weapons being shipped through Costa Rica in exchange for cocaine from Colombia.

Culminating an investigation that began in March, agents arrested seven persons Tuesday, including a San José businessman who lives in Tibás. Two of those arrested were wanted for other crimes — drug trafficking and murder — said agents.

Agents also seized 32 AK-47 semi-automatic rifles and handguns.

The weapons were being shipped from Nicaragua, through Costa Rica, and into Panamá for delivery to Colombia and to one of the terrorist rebel groups operating there.

Agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization support the weapons-cocaine link because they found guns and cocaine in raids conducted Tuesday. Agents have also been keeping members of the group under surveillance since March.

The businessman was identified by the last name of Gazal. Investigators said he was 60. Surveillance teams spotted Gazal in a 6 a.m. meeting in Santo Domingo de Heredia, agents said. Non-police sources say that he owns one or more clothing stores in San José.

The man was with a Costa Rican, later identified by the last name of Montero, who has been sought for four years after a drug-related murder in Alajuelita, agents said. Also at the restaurant meeting was a Nicaraguan who had just driven a vehicle from the Southern Zone.

That was enough to cause investigators to plan the arrests because they suspected that the car from the south contained cocaine. When the men left the restaurant and separated, investigators followed. One of the men went to Gazal’s Tibás home and was detained when he left there about 10 a.m. Agents confiscated 6 kilos (13.2 pounds) of cocaine, they said.

Gazal, under police surveillance, left his home about a half hour later unaware of the first arrest. He drove around and eventually met a man who sells lottery tickets. When the lottery vendor got in Gazal’s car, both were arrested, and agents said they confiscated a kilo (2.2 pounds) of cocaine wrapped in the same distinctive plastic and tape as the cocaine confiscated earlier.

The arrests were the signal for the detention of the third man from the restaurant, the Costa Rican Montero. He was detained as he drove in Calle Blancos.

The raids followed. In a house on Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro agents said they arrested Montero’s mother, identified by the last name of Amado, 66, who had been sought for an unrelated drug trafficking charge.

Agents said they found the guns in an apartment used by Gazal in Santo Tomás de Santo Domingo de Heredia. They also raided Gazal’s home near the Tibás stadium.

In all, agents arrested the Nicaraguan, one Panamanian and five Costa Ricans Tuesday, they reported.

The case began March 31 when the police in Nicaragua and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration provided information that two Belgians had been arrested earlier that month on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. The two suspects faced charges that they were transporting a kilo of marijuana and five kilos of cocaine and 23,000 ecstasy pills, according to police.

The two Belgians told investigators that Costa Ricans were involved in the drug-shipment ring.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Weapons, drugs and false passports conficated by investigators at two homes and an apartment.

As a result of this information, Costa Rican investigators began looking for the drug ring. On May 31, agents were able to intercept a car containing a 24-year-old Panamanian and a 33-year-old Nicaraguan in the southern zone of Costa Rica. The vehicle had guns hidden beneath the carpets and in plastic bags. In all, there were 39 weapons, including 32 AK-47s, bulletproof vests, cartridges and 740,000 colons (about $2,000).

That arrest triggered the seven months of surveillance.

Although police said they believe that the guns were coming from Nicaragua, only some of the weapons looked used. Three 9 mm. pistols still were in their plastic presentation cases when they were displayed by police to reporters Wednesday. A sniper-type rifle with a heavy duty targeting scope was among the weapons seized Tuesday. Police also confiscated five vehicles during the arrests and raids.

The raid also turned up false Costa Rican and Salvadorian passports.

Colombia is involved in a nearly 40-year civil war between the government and several guerrilla groups. The groups include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, established in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party, the Marxist National Liberation Army of Colombia  and the United Colombian Self-Defense militia that is considered right-wing and allied with the nation’s army.

All have been labeled terrorist organizations by U.S. President George Bush because they finance much of their activities by marketing cocaine.

The guns confiscated here are few when compared to the 7,000 AK-47 assault rifles, and $5 million in bullets that were smuggled into Colombia for the United Self Defense militia last Nov. 10. Those guns came from Nicaragua, too, but the paperwork said they were supposed to go to Panamá, The guns moved by ship, the Otterloo, and did not come through Costa Rica.

The Organization of American States is investigating the massive gun shipment.

Two Italians detained
as cocaine smugglers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Policia de Control de Drogas arrested two Italians Tuesday when they tried to leave the country with what police said was 4.6 kilos (about 10 pounds) of cocaine.

They were identified by their last name. They both are named Campaccio. One is 43 and the other is 52 years old. They were bound for Italy by way of Caracas and Paris, police said. The men were due to return to Costa Rica Oct. 11, police said.

Less than a pound of cocaine was found taped to the body of one man. The bulk of the cocaine was in the luggage, police said.

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U.S. House approves Internet gambling ban
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House has voted to mandate five-year prison terms for Internet gambling operators who accept bets from U.S. citizens. The proposed law also forbids credit card companies from paying Internet gambling bills.

Costa Rica hosts a large number of Internet gaming establishments. Technically it is illegal under U.S. law to accept bets from U.S. citizens. But the U.S. law does not extend overseas.

Several states already have moved against credit card companies to prevent the use of such credit in Internet operations.

The states are anxious to protect their own state lotteries and, in the case of New York, off-track betting where they receive a tax. New York moved against one credit card company based there. 

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer there announced in June that Citibank has agreed to block online gambling transactions with its credit cards. The move by Citibank, the nation’s largest credit card issuer, is expected to significantly reduce illegal Internet gambling, according to a release from the Attorney General’s Office.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is using international agreements to look over credit card spending by U.S. citizens.

The vote Tuesday in the U.S. House was done by voice. The measure would now have to be passed by the U.S. Senate but observers doubt that the Senate will have time to consider the bill before adjournment.

Internet gambling is a $3.5 to $4 billion annual pastime.  The U.S. share is about 60 percent.

Pacheco miffed by challenges to his tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco Wednesday ripped into deputies from the Movimiento Libertario who have blocked an interim tax plan proposal until at least Oct. 10.

They oppose that we put taxes on liquor, cigarettes, the motels and the casinos, said Pacheco, saying that some deputies don’t understand that the money the government seeks is to save the country and not for officials to rob or to invest on absurd items.

Libertario deputies on a special mixed commission to propose an interim tax plan presented nearly 70 amendments and forced the committee to miss its deadline of Tuesday. Instead, the committee sought more time from the Asemblea Nacional and decided to reconvene Oct. 10.

The measures would still have to go through the whole assembly.

Pacheco pulled no punches. The Libertario deputies prefer to favor the owners of motels and casinos and let the people starve, he said. Some people like to play politics, he said and they oppose taxes being placed on the vices, he added.

Pacheco made his comments at the weekly meeting of deputies from the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana in Casa Presidencial. That’s the president’s political party. His press aides circulated his comments widely.

Three of the four principal political parties are ready to go along with Pacheco. His plan probably would pass if it got to the full assembly. But Libertario is using tactics to keep that from happening.

Mario Redondo, head of the Social Cristiana. faction, said that many of Libertario’s amendments were unpopular and unlikely to be approved.

Singing in the rain

By A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday was the Dia Interamericano del Agua with the slogan: “Every drop counts; use it with wisdom.”

To celebrate Costa Rican health and water officials gathered together with school children at the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología to praise water.

Awards also were handed out to youngsters who participated in a poster contest. Several groups presented dance performances.

Principal speakers were Everardo Rodriguez Bastos of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, and Dr. María del Rocio Sáenz, minister of Salud.


A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A drop of water also dances

Time for the chicks to leave the nest
By Gail Dianne Nystrom
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It was a (pretty) good day yesterday.

The kids are getting ready to leave the house. They all have their steady jobs, their salaries which provides them enough to rent a place, pay for food, get to work and have something left over to buy an article of clothing or perhaps have some entertainment.

When I went into the supermarket yesterday, I thought, wow, soon, for the first time in 12 months, I won’t have to worry about feeding fifteen hungry teenagers three meals a day.

And I started to cry.  It was about relief, and sadness and joy and hope and longing.  It was about anger and about loss and about new opportunities.

Then, I went to the Clinica Biblica and met the most wonderful gynecologist, Dr. Arraya who promised that he would attend Nela and her birth for free. And the clinic is going to help with their costs. So now, Nela will be able to have her baby in a healthy, comfortable, therapeutic environment.

The kids got paid yesterday.  They all made their plans for their money and they all were able to tell what they are going to do. Three went into town to party, the others stayed home. Only one of the partiers didn’t come home last night and he called this morning to ask to be picked up at the corner to get to work.

And I thought about what we’ve done this year.  I’ve thought about the victory this is against this darkness that created the street kid syndrome in the first place.

I realized that I had been doing the whole year, the mirror image of what the kids were used to.

When they lied, I told the unfailing truth, over and over again. When they needed to steal, I gave them what they needed without strings attached. When they were secretive, I was totally transparent. When they used foul language, I spoke in the most courteous and calm way possible. When they did obscene gestures, I gave them hugs. When they hit each other, I held them.

For story on street kids report,
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When they used knives, I gave them pencils and books.  When they didn’t understand a situation, I explained it to them over and over and over again until it was clear.  When they dirtied their clothes, I cleaned them. When they knocked out the doors and windows in the house, I put them back with their help. When they pushed the limits, I provided the borders. When they were cruel, I modeled kindness.

And thanks to the support and kindness of so many people, we are almost ready to celebrate a victory. I’m counting on these kids to take what they have gotten during this year and to fly with it. I’m praying for victory.

I’m praying for victory over darkness, illness, uncleanliness, and just plain evil.  I’m praying that the kids will hold strong and will be able to keep all I’ve been and done this year inside themselves and to manifest their own best selves.  Somewhere in this crazy world of today something has to be victorious.  Somehow, we have to find something to celebrate.

Gail Dianne Nystrom is the president of the Fundación Humanitaria and lives in Cuidad Colon.

Working class leftist
front-runner in Brazil

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — One issue in Brazil's upcoming presidential election is whether the front-runner and his left-wing Workers' Party have moved toward the political center as they claim, or are still caught up in their socialist past.

Opinion polls show many more Brazilians are supporting Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva instead of his rivals. But questions still remain over where he will lead Brazil if he is elected. 

Da Silva, a former metalworker and union leader, is making his fourth run for the presidency. But this time his chances appear better than ever, in large part because he now appears more moderate, and his rhetoric less confrontational. Gone are speeches from past campaigns in which he openly espoused socialism, called for a debt moratorium, and was clearly anti-private sector.

Now he speaks of fostering foreign investment, and promoting business, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. Da Silva, commonly known by his nickname Lula, also has pledged to respect the terms of the $30 billion received from the International Monetary Fund. 

The terms call for, among other things, maintaining a primary budget surplus which will curtail government spending. As for Brazil's $260-billion debt, he no longer advocates a payment moratorium. 

Da Silva, who is 56, says he and his Workers' Party, known as the P.T., have changed over the years since the party was founded in 1980.

"I don't like being labeled. For me, there's no advantage in saying that I'm center-left, or leftist," he said. "I'm just a Brazilian citizen who is a member of a party that has come up with a democratic and popular plan, which will be carried out point by point. That's our idea." 

His program calls for among other things, raising the minimum wage, improving public health care, and diverting more resources to social programs. His party platform talks about the need for a new "social contract" that will foster more social and economic justice. 

Brazil, which is the ninth largest economy in the world, suffers from widespread poverty. About one third of its population, or 53 million people, live below the poverty line.

His campaign promises, along with a desire for change by the Brazilian electorate, have made Da Silva a front-runner for the Oct. 6 election. 

But some analysts say doubts remain about Da Silva and his party's conversion. University of Brasilia political scientist Luis Pedone says despite Da Silva's campaign ads stressing moderation, there is still uncertainty.

"There is uncertainty about not him himself, but how his government could be if he wins the election," he said. "How his government will act, what are the real policies of the future P.T. government winning the election.

Are they going to be similar to those shown on election campaign [ads] or are they going to be different policies, but like those which were proposed in the election campaigns in 1998 and 1994."

This uncertainty is widespread in the financial markets. The Brazilian currency, the real, has lost about 40 percent its value this year, in large part because of market nervousness over a Lula da Silva victory. 

IMF to come up with
debt-prevention plan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund's policy-making panel of 24 finance ministers Saturday ordered the organization to produce a tangible plan for controlling financial crises of the kind that has recently afflicted Argentina. 

The panel called on the IMF and private sector banks to work out a method for faster and more complete debt restructuring for countries that get into trouble.

The ministers want to prevent the problem Argentina got into last December when it refused to pay its foreign debt and then actually defaulted on some of those credits. Some commentators refer to the proposed debt remedy as a kind of bankruptcy process for countries. 

Gordon Brown, the British finance minister who chaired the meeting, called attention to what he called this time of testing for the global economy. He said 20 countries, accounting for half the world's output, have been at some point in the last year in recession. But Brown said it is clear that a global recovery is underway and that it will gather momentum in 2003.

The policy-making committee includes 12 industrial and 12 developing countries. Members include such disparate economies as Algeria, South Africa, India, Belgium, Angola, Switzerland, China, Russia, Chile, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. 

The committee also discussed trade and called for a new deal between developed and developing countries so that all can share in the benefits of globalization. It called on rich countries to make good on their commitment to cancel the debt of the poorest countries, most of which are in Africa.

There was considerable discussion of Japan, the world's second biggest economy. A statement calls on the Japanese to move faster to recapitalize their debt-laden banking system so that Japan's economy can emerge from a decade-long recession.

The meeting was impacted but not disrupted by the anti-globalization protests on the streets of Washington. Participants were bussed into IMF headquarters, which was surrounded by police lines and barricades. The financial meetings continue through Sunday evening. 

U.S. food exhibition
in Cuba meets skepticism

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Representatives of more than 280 U.S. food producers and agricultural interests are here for a five-day trade fair, the first such event in four decades.

Organizers of the event hope to boost U.S. food exports to Cuba, and add pressure for an end to the long-standing U.S. economic embargo.

Ralph Kaeler, a rancher from the U.S. state of Minnesota, showed off cattle and other livestock to Cuban President Fidel Castro, who shed his customary military uniform for a business suit on Thursday.

Kaeler said he was struck by the Cuban leader's knowledge of farm animals and enjoyed the exchange. "As a former livestock man, he [Castro] asked a lot of questions about production, how old they [the cattle] were - telling us how his [Cuba's] animals compare. And so [there was] a lot of old cowboy talk," he said.

Two years ago, the United States eased its decades-old trade embargo to allow food sales to Cuba, so long as the Castro government pays with cash for the goods. To date, Cuba has bought approximately $140 million worth of U.S. agricultural goods — a figure that is expected to swell to a $250 million next year.

At the trade fair, exhibitors range from large U.S. agricultural conglomerates to individual companies selling everything from pastries to chewing gum.

But where U.S. agricultural producers see an opportunity to increase their business, others, particularly Cuban exiles in Miami, see pitfalls. Mariela Ferretti, a spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation, said, "The whole thing smacks of [sounds like] a major hoax. Fidel Castro is perpetrating a fraud on American businessmen, and American businessmen are allowing themselves to be pulled into this fraud."

Ferretti says Fidel Castro is, at best, an unreliable trading partner. She says Cuba has defaulted on billions of dollars owed to other nations and that it is only a matter of time before the Castro government seeks credit arrangements from U.S. firms.

President Castro has said he would "guarantee payment" if U.S. credits were ever extended. But Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who traveled to Havana for the trade show, shook his head when asked if Cuba should get U.S. loans for food purchases. "Not right now. Credit is like anything else: you have to earn it," he said.

Ventura does support expanding food sales to Cuba and says he hopes the U.S. economic embargo will one day be scrapped. He says American sanctions have failed to bring democratic change to the island, and that outside pressure is counterproductive. "At my age of 51, I like friends better than enemies. You are not going to reform a country [from the outside]; they have to reform themselves," said Jesse Ventura.

Not so, according to the Cuban American National Foundation. Spokeswoman Mariela Ferretti says trade with Cuba only serves to enrich Fidel Castro, since foreign goods are typically sold in government-operated "dollar-only" stores for a profit. 

Ferretti says such stores cater to tourists and a small cadre of Cubans who have access to U.S. dollars. She says the average Cuban will never see American-style food in their cupboards — and that it would do them little good even if they did. 

"I have never heard that bubble gum brought democracy to anyone," added Ferretti. "The Cuban people do not need to chew gum. What they need is freedom and democracy. What this [food sales] is going to do in the long run is put money in Fidel Castro's coffers — money that goes to fund a state security apparatus. And all the bubble gum in the world is not going to change that."

But trade fair participants say they are hopeful that increased U.S. food sales to Cuba will bring beneficial results — including profits.

U.S. Gulf Coast braces
for Hurricane Lili

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Miami, Florida — An estimated half a million people in Louisiana and Texas have been urged to move to safer ground as Hurricane Lili, a dangerous Category Four storm, approaches the U.S. Gulf coast. 

The storm is expected to make landfall Thursday. The hurricane was reclassified Wednesday as its wind speeds increased to 233-kilometers-per hour. 

Forecasters say the storm could become stronger as it moves over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 

The storm is blamed for seven deaths in Jamaica and Saint Vincent.

Slim pickings at
U.S. Embassy auction

By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were no forklifts or Ford vans like there have been in previous U.S. embassy auctions. There was no James Bond-like spy technology up for bid. If someone wanted a Pentium II, windows 95- operating Micron Millennia XRU, they were available.

Most of the furniture up for grabs was not fit for curbside pick-up.  A lot of the chairs looked worn, torn and soiled like they had survived a flood. In one lot, the table was missing a leg, in another a standing lamp was bent and in another a chair was missing a place to sit. 

A U.S. Embassy official admitted that it was a matter of luck whether or not an individual got a good deal because among a few nice items there were mostly poor quality ones.

Mostly Ticos showed for Wednesday’s auction to browse through the used appliances and furniture in search of a bargain.

Ronald Hidalgo, the supply supervisor, said the computers were not among the more popular items. If embassy employees were allowed to place offers, which they are not to do due to a conflict of interest, he would have liked a new kitchen or dining room set. 

He said furniture is the best deal. Furniture lots started the bidding at 25,000 colons  (almost $70) for a couple of bookshelves and small tables. Some lots began at 150,000 colons (near $400) for dinner-tables, chairs, china hutches and more.

Hidalgo said individuals could go to Sarchi in Alajuella for brand new Costa Rican-made furniture, but a lot of people appreciate the American-made goods the embassy offers.

There were some lots that offered well-polished furniture and nice glass cabinets.

One Costa Rican was there to bid on a refrigerator, which had a minimum offer of 60,000 colons (about $160).  Appliances like dishwashers, ovens, clothes washers and dryers seemed in good condition, but the embassy guarantees nothing about the working quality.

It might have been worth the risk for these American quality goods, considering that on Avenida 2 a new washing machine goes for around 160,000 colons, or approximately $430. At the embassy sale you could have placed a bid for one as little as 40,000 colons, or about $100.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, one embassy employee estimated that throughout the two-day viewing 120 people showed, though only several were U.S. citizens. The woman accepting bids said that around 80 people placed offers for items.

There was a 25,000 colons deposit (almost $70) to place a bid.  If someone’s bid is not accepted, the money will be returned by Oct. 5. If the bid is accepted their deposit will go toward the item they bought, and they will have to pick up the goods by Oct. 5. 

The embassy offers two or three auctions like this a year.

Canadian Club sells
goodies for charity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian Club raised 1.1 million colons, almost $3,000 U.S. dollars, for charity Saturday by hawking pastries, electronics, toys, lunches, and other random goodies. It was the group’s fourth annual Outreach Sale, and most successful, said Moe Laframboise, president.

The club has yet to decide where to send the proceeds, but the group promises that 100 percent will go toward a charity of the board’s choosing. 

The group usually donates to organizations that help children get educations, orphanage homes, and elderly assisted-living facilities.

This year’s sale raised 62 percent more funds than last year’s sale, which amounted to 680,000 colons, or almost $1,840. The club’s members, who ran the sale, donated their items and time for the event. 

Quake rocks coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake took place Wednesday just off the Nicaraguan coast about 6:27 a.m., according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center.

The location was offshore about 55 miles (90 kms.) southwest of Managua, the center said. The depth was 33 kms. or 20.5 miles.

RACSA crashes
at work peak

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the nation’s Internet monopoly, crashed about 1 p.m. Wednesday, just when officer workers were returning to their desks and computers after lunch. 

A report from the company said that trouble developed in a cable. However, the company has been experiencing slow and irregular service for several weeks.

In one case, e-mails sent from San José Sunday arrived Wednesday night after the Internet company was back on line.

The Costa Rican system has been inundated by e-mail viruses, and these messages replicate themselves and send themselves randomly to whatever e-mail addresses might be in the host computer. This puts a strain on the system.

Costa Rica also has been targeted by computer programs that harvest e-mail addresses and then send junk mail to these addresses. A.M. Costa Rica gets 25 or so unwanted messages a day from mailers who obviously obtained the addresses automatically.

Some customers here also have had trouble with vanishing e-mail messages that are correctly addressed but somehow never arrive at their destination.

RACSA has a new Web page design (www.racsa.co.cr) but there is no information there about the Internet problems.

End of Belize-Guatemala
land dispute anticipated

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The international community has strongly supported a series of proposals aimed at resolving the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute. The proposals, which were submitted to the minister of foreign affairs of both countries this past Sept. 16, seek to provide an equitable, permanent, and honorable settlement to the centuries-old dispute.

During a ceremony held in the Hall of the Americas of the Organization of American States (OAS), Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's minister of foreign affairs, and María Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, El Salvador's foreign minister, along with Denis MacShane, Britain's parliamentary under-secretary of state for Latin America, all expressed their support for the Facilitators' proposals and urged the people of Belize and Guatemala to approve them.
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