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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 199
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A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Who put
that there?

The accident wasn’t a big deal, although traffic in La Uruca was tied up Wednesday afternoon.

Driver Eric Wong Gonzalez, 34, said heavy rain caused him to misjudge his turn, and the Nissan Pathfinder ended with the right wheel in the gutter. Some gutter!

Such are the challenges in Costa Rica where surprise is the motorist’s constant companion.


 
Math whiz found his challenge on the Internet
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 20-year-old Costa Rican student from San Ramón de Tres Rios has won second place in a worldwide Internet tournament that puts forward 200 math problems to be solved within a time limit of two months.

He is David Krumm Cabezas, who is studying mathematics at the University of Costa Rica and hopes to graduate next year. Krumm wants to travel to the United States were he says that he will continue his studies in mathematics. "I know that there are many possible avenues that I can take."

"I hope to go to MIT, but first I need to pass the entrance tests," he said of the prestigious 

A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Krumm does a problem in his class at the University de Costa Rica.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Krumm found out about the contest Web site a year ago but realized that it was too late for him to enter. He waited a year to enter the competition. "I found out I was in the top two about three weeks ago. I was very surprised as I was just aiming to be in the top 50. Some problems are much longer than others, I have spent over an hour solving some of the problems, and all in all so far I have solved 160 of the 200."

Krumm’s mother, Margarita Cabezas, is originally from Pennsylvania in the United States and emigrated to Costa Rica when she met and married Fransisco Krumm whose roots lie in both Chile and Germany. David Krumm comes from a family that has a strong background in medicine, but he has opted to take a different route that is related to mathematical research.

Krumm recently went to Venezuela to take courses in cryptography. He focused on learning about the methods and formulas that computer hackers use to break encryptions in order to collect credit card details and private information. 

After he’s finished solving mathematical problems Krumm enjoys practicing his guitar skills. "I love playing the guitar" He says " But at the moment I am having a few problems finding the time." 

The contest Web site is here.  Local Internet fans were so excited about Krumm’s accomplishment that Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. sent out a press release praising him.

 
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Pacheco gives time off
to public employees

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public employees will get off Tuesday morning to participate in a march against corruption. President Abel Pacheco signed a decree to that effect Wednesday.

In addition, the Movimiento Cívico Nacional now says it will join the march and cancel one it had planned for Monday. However, the movement said it would begin its mobilization plan Wednesday if the government does not resolve issues involving revisión tecnica of vehicles and live up to the promises made to end the last nationwide highway blockade Aug. 31.

Tuesday is Oct. 12, the Día de la Raza and a celebration of Hispanic solidarity. The holiday is Monday, Oct. 11, in the United States, so the U.S. Embassy here will be closed that day.

The anti-corruption march is a response to twin scandals. Officials of the Corporación Fischel received some $9 million in a commission on medical supplies purchased with a loan by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The French telecommunications firm Alcatel appears to have paid out significant gifts to officials after it got a $260 million loan to upgrade cellular telephone service.

The scandals continued touching more individuals Wednesday. Former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez was in Haiti in his role as secretary general of the Organization of American States.
He is a key figure, it appears, in both scandals.

President Pacheco signed a bill Wednesday that seeks to boost the penalties for official corruption. He called the law "a tiger with teeth and sharp claws."

Among other things, officials, when they took office,  would have to file a sworn declaration of their personal property with the Contraloría General de la Republica.

Influence peddling is penalized in the naming of officials, in the awarding of contracts and in the awarding of concessions for public services.

In cases of public corruption, a judge can order an offender to stay out of politics or out of public office for up to 10 years.

In addition, Pacheco, during the signing ceremony, symbolically handed over to Gerardo González 10 proposed laws that he said would strengthen the Poder Judicial and make it able to deal with corruption cases. González is president of the Asamblea Nacional.

Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, also attended to add his weight to the request for more laws.

Pacheco’s decree gives permission for 114,158 public employees in the ministries and some 113,659 workers in other public institutes and agencies to leave their jobs to join the Tuesday march.

Pacheco stipulated that vital public services should continue.
 

Three held in case
involving child abuse

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents have detained three men, including a mathematics professor, as presumed members of an organization set up to sexually abuse and exploit minors, they explained Wednesday.

The professor, 40, an engineer, 42, and a businessman, 19, are being linked to a group that may have committed various acts of abuse on some 45 boys and youths between 12 and 17 years in San José, Alajuela, Heredia and Puntarenas.

The investigation has been going on for a year and began with neighbor complaints about the presence of minors at the home of the engineer in Barrio El Carmen in Guadalupe. The engineer was detained Sept. 8 when agents raided his home.

Friday investigators raided the home of the professor in Costa de Pajaros, Puntarenas. The minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, Rogelio Ramos, said the man was director of the Instituto Profesional de Educación.

Tuesday afternoon agents raided the home of the 19-year-old in Hatillo 3. The ministry said that this man was in charge of recruiting minors for other members of the group.

Officials said the names of the suspects are being withheld.

The ministry also reported that in the last five years, some 74 suspects have been detained in similar cases. Of that number there are 18 foreigners.

In this year so far, 14 suspects have been detained. Two are U.S. citizens, one is from Nicaragua and 10 are Costa Rican. The crimes alleged include sexual abuse, making pornography and pimping.
 

Two held in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators in Limón arrested two men in El Barrio Espiritu Santo on allegations of abuse of children. The two are Carlos Luis Soto Porras, 44,  a civil servant at a public institution, and Jesus Enrique Porras, 32 , a baker. Both were arrested when they were leaving work. 

A spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that a mother of one of the children said that the accused had been inviting boys to where they lived and had been grooming them with the offer of food, alcohol and money. 

 Both men were jailed for investigation.

RACSA chief denies
letting Ericsson pay

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Isidro Serrano Rodríguez, fired from his job as general manager of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., says he is contemplating legal action to get his job back.

Serrano was let go by the board of directors of the Internet provider. He was accused of accepting money from the telecommunication firm Ericsson to pay for his stay in Geneva last October at a convention.

Serrano denied that Ericsson paid his tab. He said the company that arranged his trip paid the bill and that he has been trying to pay them back.
 

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Analysis of the news up close and personal
Let’s have just one standard about terrorism 
By Eric Jackson
editor of The Panama News

On the morning of Aug. 26 I was at my sister’s farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 70 miles west of Panama City when I started to get these congratulatory phone calls and e-mails. 

It seems that I — along with about 70 other journalists, a bunch of people under investigation or prosecution for political corruption ranging from vote buying to embezzling funds from the National Bank of Panama, a garden variety murderer, and others — was the beneficiary of a presidential pardon. The sordid Mireya Moscoso, whose administration was not nearly so brutal but was every bit as corrupt as that of one Manuel Antonio Noriega, had let me off the hook from a criminal defamation charge that should never have been brought but which would have been costly to fight.

Firing up the computer to read the reports, the coverage of Mireya’s lame duck pardons was in the news around the world, but not because of the worthier elements of the Panamanian press corps who had stood up against intimidation. 

No, it wasn’t about the end of a legal nightmare for Julio Briceño and Víctor Ramos, La Prensa cartoonists facing two-year prison terms for caricatures unflattering to a former vice-president and former president. Nor did the world press mention the pardons of El Panama America reporters Jean Marcel Chéry and Gustavo Aparicio, who were appealing their sentences for "injuria." 

They reported an admittedly true story about how government funds were used to build a road that goes past the farms of the then-minister of Government and Justice (now a Supreme Court magistrate) and the nation’s comptroller general and serves almost nobody else. Nor did news media abroad mention the pardon of Ubaldo Davis, sentenced to prison for a montage in his satirical tabloid, a sentence upheld in a court decision that criminalized virtually all satire in Panama.

In a most proper exercise of news judgment, our colleagues abroad focused their attention on the cases of four men whose names appeared on the same list with all the journalists and crooks: Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo, Pedro Remón and Gaspar Jiménez. When I saw that part of the story I no longer felt much like celebrating.

These four men, all of Cuban origin, had entered Panama in November of 2000, using false documents. They had in their possession a duffel bag full of the most advanced plastic explosives, with enough power to level two city blocks. They had intended to bomb an auditorium at the University of Panama, when Fidel Castro spoke there while in Panama for an Ibero-American summit.

Yes, the men had a cover story, their lawyers put up ferocious resistance, evidence went missing and, if the truth is to be told, a prosecutor was either grossly incompetent or took a dive. But still, these men were convicted of entering the country with false documents and endangering public safety and sentenced to seven or eight years in prison.

Endangering public safety? Well, not just plotting to kill Fidel Castro, in a way that would have also killed hundreds of people who came to hear him speak. Not just that — the auditorium in question is just across the street from the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital Complex. These four men would have killed patients and health care workers there, too.

The leader of this group, Mr. Posada Carriles, is wanted in Venezuela. He escaped from prison there some time ago, while he was awaiting a retrial in a lengthy and complicated series of legal proceedings arising from his alleged role in the placement of an explosive charge on a Cuban civilian airliner back in 1976. The plane blew up in the sky over Barbadian territorial waters, killing all 73 people aboard. The Miami Cuban exile movement issued a communique bragging about it — they had taken out the Cuban national fencing team.

Posada Carriles went underground after his escape, but subsequently obtained employment with one Lt. Col. Oliver North, as a special consultant in the death squad terror that North and others organized across Central America in the 1980s.

But both Cuba and Venezuela wanted Mr. Posada Carriles, and as she issued her pardon Ms. Moscoso said that had she left him in prison, the incoming administration would extradite him to Venezuela or Cuba, where he would be killed. Venezuela, of course, has no capital punishment, and its ambassador to Panama was recalled in protest. Cuba more formally and completely broke off its diplomatic relations with Panama.

Although I was glad to put an expensive and unjust 

White House photo
President Geroge Bush early in his adminstration talks with Panama's President Mireya Moscoso and Argentina's then-
President Fernando de la Rua. Photo was taken during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada.

legal problem behind me, the whole pardon list left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

A few days later the new president of Panama, Martín Torrijos, took office. In his inaugural address, he said:

"Rank-and-file Panamanians were astonished last week when the government of Panama decided to grant presidential pardons to four people of Cuban origin, condemned by the courts, and whose sentences were under appeal. 

"Such unfortunate reprieves ended criminal proceedings and blanketed those charged with an impunity most repugnant to the very notion of justice, and to all consciences that reject the threats of terrorism.  I would never have used that presidential prerogative to avoid the judicial branch's definitive finding in such a landmark case.

"To my view, there aren't two types of terrorism: one that is condemned and another that is forgivable. Terrorism must always be fought, no matter what its source. There are no excuses, no way of justifying this deed with statements offensive to other countries."

Amen, Your Excellency.

But Torrijos is president of a small and vulnerable country, and there are things he really can’t say.

I am a dual U.S. and Panamanian citizen, one without diplomatic responsibilities or all that much to lose. So in the same spirit that got me in trouble under Panama’s criminal defamation laws, and as someone with an American legal education, let me add something.

After their release from custody in Panama, the four men flew away on a private plane, stopping in Honduras, where Posada Carriles dropped out of sight. Novo, Remón and Jiménez proceeded to Miami, where they got a heroes’ reception.

Now if the United States government had a "zero tolerance" policy about terrorism, somebody in the current administration might have noticed that it is a crime for U.S. citizens — as the three who went to Miami are — to enter another country with a duffel bag full of explosives and the intent to kill hundreds of people in the course of an assassination of a foreign head of state. It’s a crime under the more modern terrorism laws, and also under the long established Neutrality Act.

So why did these men come home to champagne instead of handcuffs?

Because George W. Bush needs their supporters’ votes on Nov. 2.

As an American, I appreciate how badly my country needs international support in order to bring Osama bin Laden and his followers to justice. As a Panamanian, I feel spat upon by the Bush administration’s welcome of these Cuban-American terrorists, who were trying to commit mass murder in my country.

So as an American, I conclude that the United States needs a new president, one who can unite the world against the enemies of all humanity. We need a better president, and a single standard on the subject of terrorism.
 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Jackson is the editor and publisher of The Panama News, Panama’s online English-language newspaper. He can be reached by email at editor@thepanamanews.com. Mr. Jackson said he was unsuccessful in getting this column published in the United States.


 
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Powell seeks $50 million more for ravaged Grenada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell is back in Washington after a three-day Hemispheric trip capped by a visit Wednesday to the storm-ravaged Caribbean island of Grenada. He pledged further U.S. assistance to Caribbean states recovering from last month's hurricanes. 

Grenada was, proportionally the Caribbean state hardest-hit by the storms, and Powell was given an aerial tour of the damage as his aircraft arrived from Brazil.

Hurricane Ivan swept across Grenada a month ago, killing about 40 people, damaging or destroying 90 per cent of the island's homes, and wrecking tourist resorts and nutmeg groves that are the island's economic livelihood.

Powell met with Grenada's Prime Minister Keith Richards, and told a news conference the Bush administration is asking Congress for another $50 million in Caribbean relief aid, tied to a larger supplemental request for U.S. domestic hurricane assistance.

That will raise the total amount of aid sought or already allocated to the Caribbean for the storms to more than $110 million. The largest-single portion is to go to Haiti, but nearly $5 million is earmarked for Grenada. Powell said the damage in Grenada will take years to repair.

"What makes this situation so difficult for Grenada is that not only was their infrastructure hit, schools, housing, roads, power systems, but their means of production and the economic base of the country, the agricultural sector, the tourist sector, the medical college, all of them were severely damaged and hurt by this hurricane. So there is an urgent need to reconstruct the economy, as well as rebuilding houses and rebuilding schools," he said.

Powell said he had a special association with Grenada, having visited the island with the then-President Ronald Reagan in 1984, a year after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled a military-installed Marxist government.

Prime Minister Richards, the current chairman of the CARICOM regional grouping, stood arm-in-arm with Powell during their press appearance. 

He said the visit provided a badly-needed morale "uplift" for Grenadians - many of whom are still in temporary shelter and lacking electricity and other services four weeks after the hurricane.

Caribbean recovery efforts had been a major issue in Mr. Powell's talks Tuesday in Brazil, which commands U.N. peacekeeping forces in Haiti. 

The largely Latin American troops have been doing double duty as relief workers following the disastrous hurricane-related floods that struck the country in mid-September.


 
International help is said to be crucial to anticorruption effort
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Political support from the international community can be crucial to fighting corruption, say officials from four countries that have entered into anti-corruption compacts with the Group of Eight (G8) economic and military powers.

Fighting corruption requires going "to the roots of the problem, and we could not foresee doing this without the help of the international community," said Salvador Stadthagen, Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States.

Stadthagen spoke during a news conference Tuesday following two days of talks among G8 representatives and senior officials of Nicaragua, Georgia, Peru and Nigeria — the first four countries to enter into anti-corruption compacts with the G8. The G8 countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

The compacts, announced at the June G8 summit hosted by the United States, seek to advance the 

developing countries' anti-corruption campaigns by fashioning partnerships to improve transparency in public budgets, government procurement, public concessions and licenses. 

"What's important about this initiative is that these countries recognize that fighting corruption is something that's fundamentally in the interests of their countries and fundamentally related to their democracies and their development programs," U.S. Under Secretary of State Alan Larson told reporters at the briefing.

The G8 initiative, still in its early stages, already has helped Peruvian officials "identify gaps in terms of the promotion of transparency and how to combat corruption," said Ana Rosa Valdivieso, adviser to Peruvian Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero.

Peru's decision to join the G8 initiative was motivated by its desire for international political support and its need for technical assistance as it reforms public institutions and makes government procedures more transparent to citizens, Valdivieso said.


 
The time has come for more stories of spooks and banshees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the local political and financial news are not scary enough for you, we invite you again this year to submit your efforts to our annual Halloween short story contest.

Once again the prize will be $25 and worldwide recognition though the pages of A.M. Costa Rica. After all, we are read in 89 countries each day.

The stories must have a theme that is consistent with Halloween: Spooks, witches, goblins, ghosts. 

By submitting a story to editor@amcostarica.com you are certifying that the story was written by you, that it is original and unpublished and that we may publish it. We will. Graphics are welcomed but will not be part of the evaluation. Deadline is Oct. 25 at midnight, of course.

Judging will be by the strange figure that inhabits the A.M. Costa Rica offices after hours. We’ll just leave the computer on for its decision.

Try to keep the stories around, 1,000 words or less and make sure that there is a connection with Costa Rica.


 
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