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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 200
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Nation gears for another dose of heavy rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A low pressure area along the Pacific coast has disaster officials on the alert, but so far the country has avoided serious damage.

Some 100 persons are in temporary shelters from heavy rain Monday, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. The commission held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of more heavy rain.

A section of Petregal in Cartago suffered a heavy windstorm at midday Wednesday along with some hail, and seven homes lost their roofs. But no injuries were reported. Locals called the wind a tornado.

Despite the dire predictions, there was little rain reported Wednesday and only 2.02 cms. (about eight-tenths of an inch) reported for the 24 hours ending 7 a.m. Wednesday, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The weather report said that the most rain was predicted for the Central Valley.

There was damage reported from the rain in Goicoechea and Moravia Tuesday. These areas are north and slightly east of San José. About 30 families were forced from their homes there 

and several families in nearby Coronado. A bridge at Parasite de Moravia was damaged by high water.

In Los Guidos de Desamparados some 17 persons were forced from drenched homes and sought shelter, according to an e-mail from the emergency commission.

The commission sent an engineering team to El Burío in the Río Cañas watershed to evaluate the potential for a major landslide there.

The Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social said it would be investing more than 6 million colons (about $1.5 million) for some 60 families who suffered damage from the storms. The institute said specifically help would go to Aserrí, San Juan de Dios de Desamparados, Coronado, Moravia and Goicoechea. That was the first announcement of the newly appointed executive president, Fernando Trejos in his first day on the job.

The institute also said that it was about to deliver money to fishermen on the Pacific coast who have been subjected to a moratorium on practicing their trade. The monthly payment will be something less than $200 for each family. The idea is to allow the fishing grounds to recover from overfishing.

Vault office being cleansed of Taylor's leavings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To some extent, the day marked the end of an era, perhaps an era many people would like to forget.

With judicial permission, the landlords of the Los Arcados building took possession of an office of The Vault Holding Co. A locksmith drilled to get access and later changed the keys. Judicial officials will soon move the contents into storage, allowing someone else to rent the location on the mezzanine of the building just west of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. 

Until he opened his "international headquarters" on the pedestrian mall several hundred feet east, this office and another across the hall was where Roy Taylor charmed investors out of more than $30 to $100 million.

The office used to display outside a model of the catamaran Calypso, which carries tourists from Puntarenas to several tropical islands in the Pacific. Taylor used a photo of the boat in his advertisements seeking money from investors.

Of course, all that Taylor owned was the scale model, although readers of the advertisements and visitors could be forgiven for thinking he also owned the $1 million boat.

One artifact left in the former Vault offices is a one-armed bandit, a slot machine. This is a nostalgic momento of an earlier Taylor scam, the Don Corp., in which he accepted money from investors on the pretext that the cash would go into slot machines. The business also folded with loss of investor funds.

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the office still are covered with listings of Vault corporations, some real others Taylor fantasies.

Photo by G.M. Baker
Locksmith drills out the cylinder of door lock at the former Vault offices.

Taylor killed himself while in police custody June 24 at his new headquarters he had occupied for a few months. But his presence is felt stronger in the back corner office where for years the tenants have been a disproportionate number of companies selling high-interest securities, fast-growing teak trees and dreams of quick wealth for North Americans.

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Pacheco OKs stiffer penalties for child abductions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco signed a law Wednesday that beefs up the penalties against persons who abduct or kill minors or the disabled.

The president did this at a ceremony witnessed by some of the parents of abducted and missing children.

Pacheco listed four related measures that he said he wanted to see past. And he called for international laws against using communications to offer children for sexual purposes, to offer children for illegal adoptions and to traffic children for sexual purposes or for harvesting their body organs.

Pacheco asked lawmakers to pass a law that would include the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia in every international adoption. Such a measure has been criticized in the Asamblea Nacional for giving the Patronato a monopoly on such adoptions. Now many adoptions are completed as a family court action involving the biological parents and the adoptive parents.

Pacheco also asked lawmakers to create a registry of persons who have committed crimes against minors, the so-called Katia y Osvaldo law. Katia Vanesa González Juárez, 8,  died in a neighbor’s house July 4 in Quesada Durán neighborhood of southeast San José. Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, then 3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados, was abducted June 4, 2002, and found slain a week later. Mothers of both children were in the audience Wednesday.

Pacheco also asked lawmakers to expedite a law that would allow authorities to confiscate goods and money obtained through sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

In his speech Pacheco also urged judges to make use of the new tools to fight crime. Actually, in the Osvaldo case, a judge found a way around the law that sets a penalty of from six months to two years in prison for child abduction. The judge sentenced the neighborhood watchman who was accused of abducting the child to 10 years in prison by applying another charge in sequence. That sentence is now under appeal.

The new penalty for abducting a child or handicapped person is from five to 10 years in prison. In cases of aggravated abduction in which a child is held for more than three days, the penalties become from 12 years to 20 years in prison.

Murder of a minor under 12 years or a disabled person is included in a list of the most serious 

forms of murder with a penalty of from 20 to 35 years in prison. The measure signed by Pacheco becomes law once it is published in the official Gaceta, either this week or next.

The discovery of the body of Katia González last July 11 set off a national wave of concern about the plight of children. More than a million Costa Ricans signed a vague petition that was later termed in support of the Katia and Osvaldo law.

Law enforcement officials quickly followed up with a 911 telephone setup to encourage residents to report child abuse. Quickly it became clear that sexual abuse of children was a local problem and not one brought here exclusively by foreign tourists. A flurry of complaints followed of relatives abusing youngsters in their care. Patronato officials hit the sidewalks and met fathers pimping their underaged daughters in San José.

Meanwhile, the killer or killers of Osvaldo still is free. The neighborhood watchman who was convicted of abducting him says he delivered the child to persons unknown a short time later. An autopsy showed that the boy died after the original abductor was in police custody.

Although the boy’s father is a drug agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization, officials have sometimes claimed that the child was taken by a ring established to sell children for international adoptions. Several other cases over the last five years involve young children who still are missing.

This is one reason Pacheco tied in the subject of international adoption to his message Wednesday.

Child porn measure
defined as crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative committee has voted to include possession of child pornography as a crime.

The action came in the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Jurídicos which is studying a series of changes to criminal law. Emilia María Rodríguez, who presented the motion, said that such a clause has been suggested for the criminal code of all countries.

However, the committee included a protect clause for those who might possess such pornography for the purpose of fighting it. This would include members of organizations and individuals.  The committee restricted the law’s penalty of six months to two years in jail only to those who possess such material "for their own use."


 
Former judge gets
five years in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former criminal judge, Andrés Arnoldo Pérez González, got five years in prison Wednesday in Pérez Zeledón, becoming the first Costa Rican jurist to be convicted for misconduct in office.

A former prosecutor, Minor Enrique González González, got three years.

Both were accused of collusion in reducing the criminal sentence of two convicted Mexican drug traffickers from 18 to six years.

Two other accused individuals, both ex-judges, were found not guilty. They are Miguel Ángel Larios Ugalde and José Antonio Madrigal Soto.

Hugo Navas Vargas was found guilty of attempting to bribe a judge and received five years in prison. His case involved the same imprisoned cocaine traffickers but was not related to the Pérez case. He was accused of trying to bribe another judge with $3 million.

Pérez and González were found guilty of exceeding their judicial authority in 1999 by reducing the sentence handed down earlier to the two narcotics traffickers.

The case will be appealed. The conviction and sentences were handed down by a three-judge panel, as is typical in Costa Rican criminal trials.

Tovar backs Rodríguez
as leader of the OAS

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican foreign minister says that Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former president, is the only announced candidate to be secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The minister, Roberto Tovar, said Wednesday that the United States has sent a note in which Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of State, expressed his highest appreciation for Rodríguez.

Tovar also characterized Rodríguez as a strong candidate for the hemispheric post.

Tovar made his statements to rebut local press reports that the United States was leaning toward another candidate for the post, perhaps another former Latin American president.

Costa Rican coffee
promoted to Russia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A delegation from Costa Rican coffee producers were in Moscow last week promoting their product to the tea-drinking Russians.

However, coffee drinking seems to be catching on there. The Russian Republic’s Ministry of Economic Development estimated that two coffee houses a day open in the country.

That’s why the Asociación  de Cafés Finos de Costa Rica expressed an interest. The delegation and the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica estimate that Russians consume 100,000 tons of coffee a year with an annual increase of 18 percent.

Bomb blast shatters
Bogota shopping area

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Authorities here say two police officers and two civilians have been killed in a car bomb blast. The blast shattered windows in the busy commercial district of San Andresito, which is filled with electronic shops and retailers. 

Officials say the explosives were in a parked car and detonated when police approached the vehicle. It is unclear who was responsible for Wednesday's blast, which also left at least 10 people injured.

Colombian authorities have blamed scores of other bombings and attacks on the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Officials say the leftist group, known as FARC, was responsible for a bombing at a social club in Bogota in February that killed at least 33 people.  Colombian authorities also say the insurgents were behind a blast in September that killed 12 people outside a nightclub in the southern city of Florencia.

Caracas explosion
called terrorist act

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The defense minister says explosions at a military airfield and an army base in Caracas Sunday were "terrorist acts."  The minister, Jose Luis Prieto, said the blasts were meant to provoke fear in the South American country. 

Two gasoline tanker trucks exploded at a military air base Sunday, while a smaller blast damaged a restaurant at an army base. No casualties were reported.  The blasts have raised fears of further unrest in Venezuela as opponents of President Hugo Chavez demand a recall vote against him.

U.S. senator meets
with Cuban dissident

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh has met with leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya during a visit to the Communist-run island. The Indiana Democrat said Paya was, "a man of courage" who he admired. 

Paya said the talks here focused primarily on human rights conditions in Cuban jails, where hundreds of political prisoners are believed held. The talks come a few days after Paya challenged Cuba's one-party Communist government by presenting a petition demanding a referendum on political change to Cuba's National Assembly.

Jimmy Carter plans
work in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says he will spend five days next year helping to build hundreds of homes in México. He made the announcement during a visit to México Tuesday.

The Jimmy Carter Work Project, part of Habitat for Humanity International, plans to build 150 homes in México in October 2004. Carter is to join more than 4,000 Méxican and international volunteers to build the homes. Habitat for Humanity, a Christian ministry that works to eliminate substandard housing worldwide, has built more than 13,000 homes in México since 1987. 

Chile OKs trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — The lower house of Chile's parliament has ratified a free trade agreement with the United States.  The accord, signed by both nations in June, was ratified by U.S. lawmakers in July. Chilean lawmakers ratified the agreement Tuesday by a wide margin.  The measure now goes to Chile's upper house of parliament, the Senate, for consideration.

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U.S. Supreme Court embarks on an historic term
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court, which opened its 2003-2004 term Tuesday, has scheduled hearings through April 2004 and during this seven-month period will hear several cases that could affect the lives of all Americans. This year, the court has agreed to hear 38 cases encompassing issues such as campaign finance, church and state relations, rights of the accused and many other legal areas.

Court observers believe that McConnell, et. al. v. Federal Election Commission, et. al., a campaign finance reform case, could produce one of the most important decisions that the justices have ever made regarding the relationship between politics and money.

The case arises out of campaign finance reform legislation that was sponsored by Senators John McCain (Republican of Arizona) and Russ Feingold (Democrat of Wisconsin) and took effect in November 2002. The law seeks to reform the way political campaigns are funded and will certainly affect the 2004 presidential election. Supporters of the law argue that it reduces the influence of money in an election while opponents claim that it violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment rights of free speech. The court heard oral arguments for McConnell, et. al. v. Federal Election Commission, et. al Sept. 8.

In the area of church-state relations, the court has agreed to hear Locke v. Davey, in which the issue is whether states may withhold grants from students who are studying religion or who have chosen to attend religious schools. The court may also hear U.S. v. Meadow, in which the issue is whether the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to the nation's flag is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as another case brought by a suspended state Supreme Court justice from Alabama who refused to remove a sculptural depiction of the ten commandments from a court building in that state.

In the area of criminal law, Maryland v. Joseph Jermaine Pringle and State of Arizona v. Rodney J. Gant will deal with questions about vehicle searches and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids illegal searches and seizures by police officers.

In police-related cases United States v. Samuel F. Patane and John J. Fellers v. United States, the court will revisit and explore its 1966 Miranda decision, which requires police officers to read arrestees their rights upon arrest.

In the area of environmental law, the case of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), et. al. concerns whether the EPA, under current 

environmental protection law, has the authority to overrule a state's decision that a company within that state is using the "best available controlling technology" to prevent pollution.

In Virginia v. Maryland, a case dealing with a dispute between two states over the control of the Potomac River, the court will consider if the state of Maryland has the authority to regulate construction on an area extending from Virginia's shoreline.

In an opinion handed down Tuesday in the case Phillip Morris v. Williams, the Court overturned a $79.5 million judgment against the tobacco company Phillip Morris. The court ordered the lower courts in the state of Oregon to reconsider the case while applying the Supreme Court decision from last April that limits punitive damages that can be awarded in civil cases.

At its inception in the 1790s, the Supreme Court played a rather small role in the government of the United States. Without a permanent location or long-term justices, the court wielded little power. But that all changed in 1803 when Marbury v. Madison established the doctrine of "judicial review." Judicial review is the right of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional. In the Marbury case, Chief Justice John Marshall stated that the Supreme Court has the authority to review the laws of the government and to make certain that they are not in conflict with the Constitution. Over time, this doctrine has helped define the Supreme Court as the primary interpreter of the Constitution.

As the highest court in the United States, with authority over all federal courts, the justices and their staff must divide their time among a variety of tasks. The court will not accept all of the petitions that are brought before it. The justices' law clerks prepare memorandums regarding the merits of each case, but the justices ultimately decide which cases they will hear. During the 2003-2004 term, of the more than 7,000 petitions that have been filed with the court, the justices will choose to hear less than one percent.

Once the justices agree to hear a case, they instruct the lower courts to send the records of the case to the Supreme Court for review. After that, the nine justices hear cases and deliver opinions during periods of "sittings," and write opinions and consider new petitions during "recesses." The sittings and recesses alternate at two-week intervals.

A decision by the Supreme Court can affect all levels of government and the way in which they govern. Court observers agree that the 2003-2004 term will most likely result in several landmark cases that will have a dramatic, far-reaching effect on U.S. society.

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