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(506) 223-1327           Published Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 201        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Some 7,000 pounds of suspected cocaine arrives under guard in Puntarenas.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

Coke smugglers changing strategy to fishing vessels
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials think that more and more Costa Rican fishing boats and their crews are being used in the international drug trade.

This represents a change in tactics from the high-speed fast boats that were nothing more than a hull filled with cocaine and a couple of high horsepower engines.

Another group of fishermen returned home in handcuffs to Puntarenas Monday. They were grabbed by a U.S. patrol boat crew off the Guatemalan coast Wednesday. The boat is the Coopepes VI, which carried a Costa Rican flag.

The four men came ashore from a Servicio de Guardacoasta cutter that also carried the 3.5 tons of cocaine taken from the fishing boat.

Under a 1998 agreement, Costa Rica has first rights on prosecution of its citizens captured in the Pacific during drug patrols.

The detained fishermen were identified by the last names of Vílchez Badilla, Campos Campos, Arias Fallas and Sánchez Ara, who is the captain.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública noted that the use of fishing boats in place of fast boats is on the rise.

Sept. 20 the Servicio Marítimo Nacional de Panamá stopped the Costa Rican-registered Navegante I in Panamanian waters in the Pacific.
Aboard officials said they found 621 kilos of cocaine and 34 kilos of heroin.  The boat is owned
by Sixto Zapata Pizarro, 49, of Quepos. He is the brother of Lenín Zapata Pizarro, 39, who was gunned down in a local bar by hitmen Aug. 29.

Two days later Guatemalan air force planes intercepted the Orca II, also registered in Quepos, and detained the three fishermen aboard. Found was about 126 kilos of suspected cocaine, all that was left of the cargo of an estimated ton that the crew had thrown into the sea during a chase, said officials.

The amount of cocaine seized this week is the biggest haul since December 2000 when 3.9 tons were confiscated.

Fast boats are obvious when tracked by military equipment aboard U.S. navy and Coast Guard boats. Officials think that the Colombian drug smugglers are turning to fishing boats because there are plenty of them on the seas and a drug ship would not stand out as much as a speedboat.

Smugglers long have had contact with Costa Rican fishermen. Frequently Costa Rican boats provide fuel to smugglers. Some of the fuel is subsidized by the government for fishermen, and this raises tempers in government circles.

Costa Rica has long been known as a major money-laundering center for the drug trade. And countless air travelers have been grabbed at the international airports. The increase in the fishermen in the smuggling business is, in part, economic and also because the Gulf of Nicoya is closed periodically to fishing so that the marine life can survive. That means some fishermen are out of work periodically.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 201

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Kidnap victims freed,
but motive still unclear

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mother and 7-year-old daughter held as hostages for six days are free, but there is little information as to why the crime took place.

The daughter, Mónica Ugalde, was set free late Monday in a police raid. The mother, Sonia Cordero Delgado, was liberated either earlier Monday or perhaps Sunday. Investigators have kept her under wraps. She has had a kidney transplant and was in need of medication.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, took personal control of the case Monday when he arrived at Río Jiménez de Guácimo, from where the pair were abducted.

Several miles away tactical police late Monday night raided a home and found the girl. They also arrested an undetermined number of men who had held the women hostages.

Ms. Cordero and her daughter were in her parents home Wednesday when three hooded men entered, went directly to her room and took her and the daughter.

For the whole time the pair were missing, agents released little information and at one time stepped away from the case so that the family could conduct their own negotiations with the kidnappers.

Rains close major highway
and cause woes in Upala

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains have caused an emergency in Upala and cut the main highway from San José to Limón.

The national emergency commission said Monday that it was sending staffers to Upala where heavy rains had caused problems. The location is near the country's northern border. 

The road blockages were on Route 32, which goes from San José to Guápiles and then to Limón. Traffic was backed up because of three separate landslides. The most serious engulfed a tanker, but the two men in the vehicle were not hurt.

The highway passes through the Zurquí Tunnel and across the spine of the country. It frequently is blocked by landslides and other problems.

There was no indication that the road would be cleared until later today. Longer, alternate routes were suggested.

Two women murdered
in separate instances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two women died in what appears to be separate murders.

Elda Quintero Gómez, 41, appears to have died when she was shot in her car, a gray  Renault Samsun. Her body was found in a rural section of Escazú Sunday by a farmer.

Her car was found in Sabana Norte and contained bloodstains, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Monday another farmer found the body of a woman. It had been placed in a black, plastic bag and thrown down a slope in Atenas. The woman has not yet been identified.

Also Sunday in Playa Lagarto in Santa Cruz, a 54-year-old man with the last name of Gutiérrez died during an argument when his assailant shot him in both legs. One bullet severed an artery and the vicim died on the spot.  A 34-year-old suspect surrendered himself.

Government seeks ruling
job slowdown is illegal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even though the government said Monday that the Caribbean ports are working fine, Marco Vargas. minister of  Coordinación Interinstitucional, said that efforts will be made to have the type of slowdown practiced by union members there declared illegal.

But Vargas credited a visit to Limón over the weekend by Francisco Morales,, minister of Trabajo, as one reason the situation has become less of a crisis. Morales allowed union members and residents to see that the government was open to dialog, said Vargas.

Vargas also noted that the number of police placed on the two docks at Limón and Moín had been reduced. Nevertheless, the government wants to establish for all times that slowdowns are an illegal activity, he said, suggesting future court action.

The Fuerza Pública took over both ports early Sept. 28 when shipping became congested to the point of stalling.

The entry of the police ended the slowdown in Moín, although there still are job actions in Limón. Workers are seeking a pledge from the government not to privatize the port operations.
Indian youth at museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday morning, the Día de la Culturas, will see BriBri Indian children from Talamanca and Huetares youngsters from  Quitirrisí de Mora exploring their own ancient cultures at the Museos del Banco Central. There will be demonstrations of carfts, too. The day iteself is not a holiday this year. It will be celebrated Monday.

Our reader's opinion

Bush can't be trusted,
so free trade is error

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In English TLC means tender loving care, and I can guarantee you that is NOT what will happen to Costa Ricans if TLC is pushed through. WHY would any country right now seeing what the Bush regime is all about want to
trust anything said or promised by that country?

It will mean yet more poverty to the Ticos and total loss of their sovereignty as well. Once signed the Costa Ricans will be at the "mercy" of any whim of the U.S. This should NOT be allowed to happen to such a proud, hard working people
anywhere in the world.
Pat Schmit
Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 201

Violent convicts still on the loose after deadly prison break
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eight convicts still are on the loose today after extensive police searches failed to locate them Monday.

The men who fled the La Reforma prison in Alajuela early Monday killed a guard in their bid for freedom.

The men broke out of their cells. One had a gun and used it to overpower unarmed guards that the group of prisoners met on their way out of the prison. At the main entrance, the gunman shot a guard there twice. He later died.

The prison break was well coordinated. A getaway vehicle was waiting, and it took escapees and hostages away from the prison. The hostages were let go later with minor injuries. Investigators suspect that the prisoners used cell phones to coordinate the break.

Police and workers from the prison system, Adaptación Social, spent the day running down leads phoned in by
citizens and in searching rural areas. Several citizens said they saw the escapees.

The La Reforma prison has been the scene of many escapes, including one where prisoners shot and overpowered a bus driver and smashed the vehicle through fences.

Some escapes have been solitary like the one made by  Manuel Tata Rodríguez, a Cuban wanted in the United States, who just vanished June 5, 2005. He was serving an 11-year sentence for murder.

For years the Pacheco administration tried to build a secure prison in the Northern Zone, but political foes blocked the plan because the prison would be operated by a private U.S. contractor. Eventually the Sala IV ruled against the idea, and the Abel Pacheco administration dropped the idea.

The man killed early Monday was Marco Prado, and the prisoners face anywhere from four to 145 years for serious crimes, including murder, robbery and rape.

Man born here will endure monastery life in TV show
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man born in Costa Rica is one of five persons who will live for 40 days with Benedictine monks as part of a new television feature on The Learning Channel.

The man is William Morales, who now lives in Boston. According to a publicity release from the show, he was a gang member there in the late 1980s and was serving six years in prison for trafficking cocaine.

After his younger brother was in a gang and was shot and killed, Morales became a practicing Catholic, bent on redeeming himself, said the release, adding that the man  now runs a youth outreach program for his neighborhood, working 90-95  hours per week. One of his goals for participating in the program is that he wants to find a better balance between being a leader in his community and a leader for his family, the release said.

Morales, 35, was married with two children but is currently going through a divorce, said the release, adding that now he is involved in a second family with a new baby daughter.

The series premiers Oct. 22 at 10 p.m. and is called, simply, "The Monastery."

The five men who are being profiled came from varied backgrounds and faiths and volunteered to join the monastery.  For the duration of their stay, they agree to the monastery’s strict rules and the regimen of prayer, study, reflection and manual labor set out by St. Benedict 1,500 years ago – a regimen that the monks believe, followed correctly, can transform lives, said the publicity release. 

Beside Morales, the men include a recovering alcoholic, a veteran of the war in Iraq, a cynic and an aspiring Episcopal priest. Each hopes that this journey will put their lives back on track. 

The series is being filmed at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico. Each of the five,

Tico-born William Morales and his four costars.

hour-long episodes follows the men as they struggle with the rigors of monastic life.  The group is guided by Abbot Philip Lawrence, who pairs each participant with a monk as a mentor to share their experiences and daily struggles.  Participants are also furnished with private video cameras to record their thoughts and reactions throughout the process.  

Neither Amnet nor Cable Tica carry the Learning Channel, although it might be available in some of the packages of satellite television. Discovery Channel is carried by both cable systems, and that station has common ownership with The Learning Channel, so the show might show up there at some point.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 201

Logo of Web page put up to find Americans who vanished into México
Families of missing Americans seek support along border
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

At a home in a quiet neighborhood in Laredo, Texas, a group of desperate and distraught people sit down together to share information and seek mutual support. They are family members of people who went over the nearby border, into the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, and never returned.

Out of the 40-some cases in which U.S. citizens vanished without a trace in the area, one of the most publicized is that of two young, attractive women who went to a late-night concert on the Mexican side and have not been seen since. Two years ago, Brenda Cisneros and her friend Yvette Martínez went over the border to celebrate Brenda's 23rd birthday. A few hours later, they spoke to a friend on a cell phone and said they were close to the international bridge and would be home soon. But they never returned.

Brenda's father, Pablo Cisneros, says his heart aches for his daughter and that he wants to see her again before his days on earth are over.

Cisneros says he and the stepfather of Yvette Martinez found her car in a Nuevo Laredo police yard, even though police officials had told him that they had no information about the two young women.

Brenda's mother, Priscilla Cisneros, says she does not care who took her daughter or why, she has no interest in reprisal, she only wants her only daughter back.

Most of the people in the family support group are Mexican-Americans who speak fluent Spanish and, in many cases, have relatives in Mexico or other ties across the border. But they say neither the U.S. nor Mexican governments have helped much.
The families of the disappeared have gotten moral support from Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, a former FBI agent. But he says there is little he can do. "We don't have any authority, you know, in Mexico. We can go over there as visitors and we can ask and try to get their cooperation, but it is a different country. We have to abide by their laws. I cannot go tramping into Mexico and start conducting investigations," he explained.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has sent hundreds of federal agents and even army troops to Nuevo Laredo to quell violence and crime there, but they have not found the missing U.S. citizens.

At a recent meeting of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials held in Laredo, both sides pledged increased cooperation in the fight against criminal gangs. But the families of the disappeared remain distraught.

Danielle Ortiz, whose husband is among the missing, notes that much attention is focused on identifying the bodies of Mexican immigrants who die trying to cross illegally into the United States so that the remains can be returned to the families. She says she would like to see a similar effort to identify bodies authorities have found in Mexico.

The families of Laredo's disappeared have banded together to seek public help. They operate a Web site on the Internet called Laredo's Missing-dot-com, through which they provide photos and information about their lost loved ones.

They are not alone in their misery, however. They say they know of around 400 cases of Mexicans who have disappeared in recent years and their families feel the same pain, not knowing if their sons, daughters or spouses are alive or dead or if they will ever be found.

Caribbean cruise ship season opens with sales pitch to increase numbers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday was the first day of the cruise season in Limón on the Caribbean, and President Óscar Arias Sánchez met with three representatives of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association in an effort to increase the number of tourist boats that come to port in Costa Rica.

The association represents 12 of the most important cruise lines in the worlds, including Carnival, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean, said Casa Presidencial.
There was no announcement of any kind of agreement, but Arias has been active since his inauguration in meeting with all sorts of executives to raise the share of their business that is conducted in Costa Rica. With cruise ship companies, Arias not only wants to increase the number but the amount of time they stay in port, said Casa Presidencial.

In Limón, the Silver Shuttle pulled into port, the first of an expected 139 boats and 241,000 passengers due this season. Cruise activity in the Pacific began last week with the arrival of the first boat of the season.

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