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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 6, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 197
Jo Stuart
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Taylor bragged he slowed probe into drug death
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators looking into The Vault Holding Co. may have information that owner Roy Taylor used investor funds to delay and misdirect a criminal probe of a former vice president of the firm.

This was suggested over the weekend by a source close to the investigation. Former associates of Taylor, who now is dead, also confirmed that Taylor had bragged of having misdirected the investigation.

A.M. Costa Rica has learned that Taylor claimed he bribed unidentified judicial employees so that Joseph King, a former employee of the firm, could leave the country. The source did not say if King had been aware of the plan.

King, a former radio personality whose real name is Joseph Azzara, hosted a party on a yacht at the Los Sueños marina in August 2002.

A 17-year-old Nicaraguan dancer, Ivelca Concepción Chavarría Moncada, died of what investigators said at the time was a possible cocaine-alcohol overdose.

King has been sought for questioning because providing drugs to an underage individual is a serious crime. However, the investigation languished, and King eventually went to Nicaragua where he set up a parallel Vault operation there. That later was closed.

A spokesman for the Poder Judicial has confirmed that an order of capture now has been issued for King, and he has been seen in the San José area.

The death took place on a boat that was moored at the marina. Taylor was one of the four owners of the boat, which is in a timeshare setup. He told a reporter that he was upset with

King because the former employee was not supposed to invite guests on board the boat.

Investigators said that the girl went with three coworkers from a Jacó nightspot Aug. 11. There is no determination that King was involved in cocaine use, and the capture order or arrest warrant is only the start of a judicial process that would seek to determine his role, if any.

Taylor told some of his associates more details than he told a reporter. He told them that he had to deflect the investigation of King by sending money to unspecified judicial employees. One former associate said the amount was $5,000. But another insisted the figure was $26,000 in cash. The idea was to let King leave the country instead of facing criminal investigation. An associate said that Taylor feared King might tell investigators about The Vault.

King continued to receive money wired from the Vault for a time while he was in Nicaragua. The Vault’s Nicaragua operation put up a Web page  last Oct. 30, about a month and a half after the girl died. The administrative listing available on the Internet still shows Joseph King as the principal contact. The listing has a Managua address.

The Vault was the lead corporation in a vast network of firms spawned by Taylor with the goal of attracting money from investors. He paid investors up to 4 percent a month interest on their money. Judicial agents raided his headquarters and associated holdings June 24. 

Evidence that may confirm the payoff was not found in the Vault offices on the downtown San José boulevard but at Taylor’s Barrio Amon apartment building, a source said. 

Taylor fatally shot himself while in police custody June 24.

Hell hath no fury as that of a woman robbed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although police do not recommend it, one young Costa Rican woman would not let herself be robbed.

She drove her car after the two men who had taken her purse and money, smashed into their motorcycle and then chased down one suspect while barefoot.

The bandits held up the woman after she left the Banco de Costa Rica branch in the Centro Comercial Los Colegios about 1 p.m. Friday, said the Fuerza Pública. She had 130,000 colons she had just withdrawn from the bank. 

That’s about $318. The scene was in Moravia.

The woman chased the pair on their Yamaha motorcycle several miles to Tibás where she rammed the vehicle and threw the two men to the asphalt.

One man got away, perhaps by taxi. But the woman chase a second suspect, grabbed him by the collar and allowed passers-by to assist her in holding him for police. Police later identified him by the last names León Solórzano.

She also had brought police into the chase by calling them on her cellular telephone.

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U.S. trade official praises new Costa Rican initiative
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Most Western Hemisphere nations favor a comprehensive and ambitious free trade area of the Americas over the more narrow approach preferred by Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, says U.S. chief negotiator Ross Wilson.

He said the United States strongly supports a new Costa Rican initiative. 

The core issue of a week-long Trade Negotiations Committee meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, was the definition of the scope and comprehensiveness that hemispheric trade officials will strive for in creating the free trade area, Wilson said. 

While participating in a conference call Friday, he said that it was clear that most of the hemisphere prefers to continue to pursue the ambitious and comprehensive trade accord envisioned at the Summit of the Americas in 1994 and in subsequent summits and trade ministerial meetings.

Wilson noted that a paper outlining the importance of a comprehensive free trade area that was introduced by Costa Rica at the meeting received the support of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, 

Canada, Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. The paper also received qualified support from Ecuador and Caribbean nations, he said.

Wilson said the United States strongly supports the Costa Rican initiative as well as a comprehensive free trade area. He argued that the many endorsements of the Costa Rican paper clearly demonstrate that the vision of a more limited free trade agreement advocated by Brazil does not have significant support in the region.

Instead, Wilson said, Brazil's efforts to move current free trade discussions of services, investment and government procurement issues to the World Trade Organization do not even enjoy the full-throated support of its partners within the South American Common Market. 

Despite disagreement on the eventual shape of the free trade area, there was universal agreement among trade officials on the necessity of taking into account the different sizes and levels of development among hemispheric nations when negotiators hammer out the accord, according to Wilson.

Finally, Wilson said he remains optimistic that free trade negotiations will be concluded by the January 2005 target deadline.

Dead U.S. duo lived
on notorious street

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The two young U.S. citizens found dead Friday morning lived on Calle La Amargura in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, a street renowned for drug-dealing and a perpetual party atmosphere.

The pair were further identified over the weekend as Clayton Alexander Ecke, 24, formerly of Cincinnati, Ohio, and a businessman here at the time of his death, and Caldwell Cushman, 23  of New York, a tourist just eight days in the country.

The landlord of the building where the pair were staying contacted police after checking the apartment about 8 a.m. Friday. A.M. Costa Rica published an updated story Friday.

Investigators said the drug overdose theory was supported by the presence of a box of white powder in the apartment and a syringe filled with an unidentified liquid.

Autopsies will provide investigators with a probable cause of death. Investigators said that if the deaths were due to a drug that had been subject to tampering, a criminal investigation will be launched.

The apartment showed no signs of a struggle or anything else to suggest a violent death.

Drug police find
big pot supply

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police raided an alleged radio shop in San Sebastian Saturday and then stopped two vehicles they said were distributing marijuana.

In all, 240 kilos (528 pounds) of top quality Colombian marijuana was confiscated according to the Policía de Control de Drogas.

The shop raided was Audio Sistemas Millenium, but inside police said they found no tools that could be used to install auto radios. The shop was a front, they said. Arrested there was a man with the last names of Yantén Lucio. He is 27 and from Colombia.

Police then arrested a Colombian man with the last names of Miranda Murillo and a Costa Rican women with the last names of Thomas Mills. Both had been at the shop and had packages of marijuana in the trunk of their car. He is 34 and she is 27, police said. Police stopped their car several blocks away.

Earlier police arrested a man with the last names of Peña Salas while he was driving a car in the Y-Griega area. He is Costa Rican and 38 years of age. They said his vehicle contained packages of marijuana. Peña Salas is free on conditional liberty while facing a narcotrafficking charge, police said.

Costa Rican bowler
takes third place

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Marie Ramírez of Costa Rica has to settle for third place in the 2003 AMF Bowling World Cup competitions here last weekend. The San José lawyer lost to Canadian Kerrie Ryan-Ciach.

Ms. Ryan-Ciach, a 32-year-old from Ontario, later upset defending women’s champion Shannon Pluhowsky of the USA 2 games to 0 to win the women’s title.

C.J. Suarez of the Philippines downed Marcel van den Bosch by the same margin in the men’s  division.

Martin trial set
for Oct. 27

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men and a woman will go to trial Oct. 27 in the Shannon Martin murder case. The U.S. citizen, a University of Kansas senior, died May 13, 2001, when she was stabbed while walking home from a bar. The trial will be in the Tribunal de Juicio de Golfito and will involve 29 witnesses, said a spokesman for the Poder Judicial.

The trio are the woman who has the last names of Cruz Murillo and the two men with the names of Castro Carrillo and Zumbado Quirós. The charge is premeditated murder.

Ailing pope makes
three new saints

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II proclaimed three new saints Sunday during a canonization Mass in Saint Peter's Square. The pope has now elevated to sainthood 476 people during his nearly 25-year papacy. A tired and ailing pope presided over a long ceremony in Saint Peter's Square this morning to give the Roman Catholic Church three more role models. 

Despite his evident illness, the pope's voice sounded clearer than in recent days. His presence was an indication that his doctors feel the pontiff is still capable of leading such long services.  Concern about the pope's health resurfaced last month when he traveled to Slovakia and was unable to complete his speeches without the assistance of his aides. 

Sunday's canonization, the 50th since John Paul became pope in 1978, starts a new round of ceremonies that are certain to test the pope's stamina for the rest of this month. 

The pope has proclaimed a huge number of saints during his papacy, more than all of his predecessors put together. Sunday's new saints are all missionaries — from Italy, Germany and Austria.  Their existence, the pope said, highlights that announcing the gospel represents the first service of the church to each individual and the whole of humanity. 

Thousands turned out for the ceremony despite the uncertain weather. Many cheered when the pope appeared.  His frail health is of major concern to the faithful just as he prepares to face ceremonies to mark his 25th anniversary as pope later this month - and that will again test his fading strength.

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Pacheco wins one with reversal by Harken Energy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There have been no poll results yet, but President Abel Pacheco seems to feel he got a boost in popularity because Harken Energy has backed down.

There was a fresh, confident president who took to the television over the weekend to praise the results of the mandatory vehicle testing program. He also urged Costa Ricans to use their seatbelts.

Analysis of the news

Pacheco had the pleasure of announcing Friday night that Harken Energy has agreed to drop its request for international arbitration of the cancellation of its Limón oil drilling contract. (earlier story HERE)

Pacheco made the announcement at the Teatro Melico Salazar where he was speaking at an unrelated event. Just the night before he was talking to The Nature Conservancy urging their international support to fight the oil giant.

Costa Rica is now expected to enter into negotiations with Harken.

Legal experts said the Harken arbitration request before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes was premature because the Houston, Texas,-based company had not exhausted all its options under Costa Rican law. If negotiations fails, Harken is expected to seek a local court action, although the company may be prepared to renew its international arbitration request if its Costa Rican options do not bear fruit.

The energy company has spent about $15 million here. However, it sought an arbitration award of $57 billion, a number that drew instant reaction from Costa Rica.

Pacheco’s staff already has scheduled a public relations and advertising blitz to boost his sagging image. The campaign immediately ran into trouble 

from legislative deputies who wanted to know from where the money was coming.

Pacheco also ordered an elimination of executive branch advertising when he took office 17 months ago. Not only will the new advertising provide a direct link from the president to the people, but there is a long tradition of politicians currying favor with news outlets by placing expensive advertising.

In his television talk Sunday night Pacheco said that brake problems had been found in from 25 to 40 percent of cars, buses and heavy trucks. A small but still significant percentage of vehicles had problems with lights, he said.

The vehicle inspection program, called revisión technica, generated a lot of negative public reaction including parades by taxi drivers to the Casa Presidencial. The figures provided to Pacheco by Riteve Syc show a vehicle fleet strongly in need of inspection. However, there was no indication of the gravity of the faults uncovered. The seatbelt campaign is one that is unlikely to attract many critics.

There was strong opposition to Harken when it proposed to drill offshore in the Caribbean. When it became known a week ago that the company would seek international arbitration at an astronomical figure, the same assembly of environmental and anti-corporate protestors began getting ready for a public relations battle.

Some have suggested that Harken backed down because the U.S. government asked it to in order to protect a proposed Central American free trade treaty. However, more likely the company recognized that its arbitration attempt would fail until it exhausted remedies in Costa Rica.

The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía also is believed to have expressed a willingness to negotiate some aspects of the canceled contract with the oil firm, at least as to a possible buyout of the company’s claims.

Noriega says Bush would veto Cuba travel bill
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — A senior State Department official says President Bush will veto any attempt to ease travel restrictions for Americans who want to visit Cuba. The official also says the United States will continue to support Cuban dissidents seeking democratic reform in Cuba.

Roger Noriega, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs, told Cuban exiles President Bush will not hesitate to veto any bill that crosses his desk, which would ease travel restrictions on U.S. citizens who wish to visit Cuba.

The U.S. Senate will vote this month on a proposal passed by the House of Representatives to ease the travel ban. The measure is expected to pass in the Senate, where several prominent lawmakers have also recently called for scrapping the 43-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

Meeting with reporters after speaking to a gathering of Cuban exiles opposed to any easing of the travel ban and trade embargo, Noriega said about 200,000 U.S. citizens already travel to Cuba on U.S. government-approved visits, designed to have a positive impact on the island. He says the Bush administration will not approve any measure that would foster mass tourism.

"We are committed to the current policy that has the effect of denying the Castro regime a $1 billion windfall that would come from tourism — the most base and exploitive forms of tourism that we would see in Cuba," said Noriega. "When we look back, when Cuba is free, we will be glad that the American people were not among those going to Cuba to exploit the island."

Noriega also says the Bush administration will continue to support dissidents in Cuba. 

Earlier this year, in a crackdown, Cuban authorities sentenced 75 dissidents, journalists and human rights activists to long prison terms. Speaking in Miami, Noriega said the Bush administration fully supports the latest efforts by Cuban dissidents.

"It is very impressive to me, and I hope that all the American people recognize that, in spite of the blows by the regime - the efforts of the regime to silence the opposition and dissident community in Cuba - that there are people who are carrying out the work to defend and demand and to claim the basic freedoms to which they are entitled," said Noriega.

At a separate forum held at the same hotel in Miami, where Noriega spoke, hundreds of other Cuban exiles and their supporters called for an end to both the embargo and travel restrictions. Recent polls show Cuban exiles are increasingly divided on whether to maintain the U.S. trade embargo, with a slim majority supporting maintaining the embargo. 

Cuban dissident
delivers petitions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has again challenged the country's one-party communist government by delivering more than 14,000 new signatures demanding a referendum on political change.

Paya walked into the National Assembly headquarters here Friday to deliver the petitions. As Paya did so, he was quoted as saying, "Change in Cuba has begun."

This was the second year in a row that Paya has delivered petitions to President Fidel Castro's government as part of the Varela Project — a grass roots reform movement.

The petitions propose a referendum asking voters if they favor civil liberties like freedom of speech and assembly, and amnesty for political prisoners. 

Last year, the government responded with its own petition drive. Officials mobilized millions of people to sign a government petition in support of a constitutional amendment to make the country's one-party system "irrevocable." The National Assembly approved the measure.

Paya turned in the latest petitions six months after authorities sentenced 75 dissidents to lengthy prison terms for treason and subversion. 

Also Friday, the wife of jailed dissident Oscar Elias Biscet asked for international help in cutting short his 25-year sentence. Elsa Morejon says her husband is imprisoned under deplorable conditions. 

Ms. Morejon says her husband is in solitary confinement and lacks adequate ventilation and light. She also says he has no running water and sleeps on cement with a worn mattress.

Dwarf plant gene use may boost food production
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —  A research team at Purdue University here has uncovered the genetic mechanism that prevents certain crop plants from growing tall — a finding that could improve food production in certain regions of the world.

The scientists, whose findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, identified the process that generates dwarfed corn and sorghum plants, which grow to roughly half the height of their normal counterparts. The study also revealed the genetic process behind an unstable variety of sorghum frequently used in commercial production.

"Dwarf plants put more of their energy into producing grains, instead of growing tall," said Guri Johal, assistant professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue. That means farmers can apply fertilizers to crops with the intent of increasing yield without the worry that plants will grow so tall they topple over from wind, rain or even their own weight.

Dwarf varieties of rice and wheat, introduced during the 1960s throughout the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, were largely responsible for thwarting famine in those regions.

Johal and his colleagues found that loss of a gene product called a p-glycoprotein generates these dwarf corn and sorghum plants by interfering with the movement of auxin, an essential hormone in plant growth and development.

A dwarf form of corn called brachytic2 was recognized in 1951, but until now scientists have not understood the genetic mechanism underlying the plant's mutation. Unlike dwarf sorghum, however, dwarf corn has not been put into commercial use partly because corn hybrids grown in the United States are not excessively tall.

However, Johal said the discovery of the dwarfing mechanism may renew interest in developing a dwarf corn with improved yield, which could be of particular interest in developing countries. Johal also said that sorghum may be crucial to the future impact of the "green revolution."

"The next round of the green revolution must impact Africa. Sorghum, which is a staple in many parts of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, could play a key role there," he said.

Other cereal crops, including teff, a grain grown primarily in Ethiopia, and basmati rice, grown in India, which both grow unusually tall, also may benefit from the discovery reported in this study.

U.S. grant aimed at humane, sustainable agriculture here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The United States will make a $500,000 contribution to the Humane Society to support environmentally sustainable and humane agriculture as well as the protection of wildlife and habitat,

The money will be spent in the Central American nations, including Costa Rica, currently negotiating a U.S.-Central America free trade agreement, said Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative.

Zoellick said Thursday that the contribution would be made to the Humane Society of the United States' CAFTA Alliance Fund via the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Humane Society and the agency will work together to assist small producers in the five nations to sell organic products to markets in the United States and elsewhere.

Zoellick made the announcement at Shuchil, a small Salvadoran company that produces organic soaps, including a line of natural shampoos and soaps for pets. The Humane Society will work with Shuchil to have its products sold as "Certified Humane" in the United States and Europe.

"We appreciate the leadership and creativity of the Humane Society in working to support sustainable trade with Central America," Zoellick said. This 

grant shows that the U.S. government, 
environmental groups and the private sector can work together to find win-win solutions that help everyone benefit from the proposed trade agreement, he added.

Shuchil is operated out of the home of Ms. Matilde Carillo de Palomo in San Salvador. The company produces organic soaps and shampoos, many of which are made from traditional Mayan formulas and ingredients. Most of the company's employees are women from rural areas outside of San Salvador. Shuchil is seeking to expand its exports of a line of natural pet products, such as shampoos and soaps for pets. 

Zoellick Visited Central America to discuss the ongoing U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement  negotiations with the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, Central American trade ministers; legislators; and members of the private sector and civil society.

The $500,000 contribution from the U.S. Agency for International Development will help support humane slaughter of animals, in addition to improving customs regulations to control illicit trade in animals, Zoellick’s office said. A sustainable agriculture component of the program will support the export of organic products such as Shuchil's shampoos and soaps, the export of organic cacao, and the promotion of high quality organic coffee. 

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