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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 208
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Pacheco's energy plan designed to save millions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government officials have announced a plan to save an estimated $5 to $10 million in oil and gasoline monthly over the next six months.

The approach is a top-down one in which officials will try to cut down on highway congestion by changing work hours in the greater metropolitan area.

The plan is voluntary but could be made obligatory if the price of oil rises much higher.

The three-part plan involves a complex publicity campaign coupled with changes in work hours and efforts to reduce road congestion.

The government would have its work force on the job longer each day in exchange for a four-day week. The theory is that employees who commute will use more precious petroleum fuel than employees who are on their day off one of five work days a week.

Changes in the work hours would have to be approved by the Ministerio de Trabajo and the various unions involved.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the minister of Ambiente y Energía, outlined the final plan at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno or presidential cabinet meeting Tuesday.

In addition to television and radio spots, the plan calls for distributing nearly $1 million in printed flyers at places like gas stations. The publicity campaign would be carried to the Internet at a cost of nearly $200,000.

The government also has called for a $15 million road plan next year to ease traffic jams.

Also involved in the plan is an undefined effort to use rail transport to replace motor vehicles. This would be an interim stopgap plan introduced well before the proposed 2008 completion of a comprehensive lightrail system for the San José corridor.

For motorists the short-term effect will be minor. However officials are discussing keeping a percentage of the nation’s vehicles out of the metropolitan area every day. This would be done by banning vehicles each day based on the digits of their license plate. A presidential decree on this topic may come as soon as Oct. 29.

Other proposals that will be studied are the use of hydrogen as a fuel, the use of ethanol produced from vegetation and also the use of diesel fuel from the same plant sources.

The government plan does not include imposing short-term taxes on fuel sales or any efforts to exploit possible petroleum deposits off the Caribbean coast.


 
U.S. language student faces child abuse counts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 26-year-old language student from the United States is facing allegations that he abused at least eight minors.

The student has the last name of Gavlas, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Fuerza Pública officers detained him Monday night at his apartment in the Parque de Los Mangos section of Zapote.

The complaint was filed by neighborhood youngsters from 7 to 13 and their parents. Police said that Gavlas used to meet youngsters at a nearby park and attracted their attention with balloons and drinks of soda.

The ministry stopped short of saying that Gavlas was involved in sexual contact. The 

report of the arrest said that Gavlas had his young guests look at photos of nude men on his computer via the Internet and that he took photographs of the youngsters with a digital camera.

The report did not say the youngsters were asked to remove clothing.

Officials said they confiscated the computer, the digital camera and underwear.

Gavlas had visited Costa Rica on another occasion. On this trip he has been here several months and was enrolled in the Spanish program of a private university, officials said.

Gavlas becomes the third U.S. citizen to be arrested this year on allegations of abuse of youngsters. Some 17 persons, including 12 Costa Ricans, also were arrested this year.

 
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
It takes a lot of rain to drive a frog inside, but this little guy (gal?) was found perched atop a telephone antenna in Desamparados.

Home for unwanted
celebrates fifth year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is the fifth anniversary of the Tom and Norman Home in Guápiles.

The home is for unwanted adults, and financial support has been significant from the English-speaking community. The home is operated by the Angel of Love Foundation.

This year the event will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a pageant of golden agers. There will be entertainment and a golden age queen will be selected. The local grandmother who has been able to sell the most votes to benefit the home wins.

Later lunch will be served and bingo games will be played.

As in past years, transportation will be provided from San José. A donation of 500 colons ($1.10) is requested. Visitors are encouraged to bring donations of food or cleaning products. The bus will leave from in front of the Catedral Metropolitana in front of Parque Central.

Reservations may be made at 763-2121 or 763-4611.

Organizers are quick to point out that the home receives no support from the Costa Rican government. Residents typically are elderly who have no pension or homes. Many were found on the streets.
 

Victim of robbery
dies at his hotel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen died Sunday or Monday perhaps as a result of what investigators assume was a robbery or a beating.

The man, identified as Willard Eugene Dickens, died in his bed at a small hotel in north San José. Investigators believe he was brought there by a guard or an attendant at some other hotel or dance club Sunday night.

The man who brought him to the Hotel El Crucero said that Dickens had been beaten up and robbed.

An autopsy will attempt to determine if the man died of injuries or from some medical condition, perhaps induced by the beating.
 

Liberación candidate
starts own party

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s official. Antonio Alvarez Desanti is leaving the Partido Liberación Nacional to run for president as a candidate of a new party.

Alvarez went on television last night to explain his motives. Liberación is poised to nominate Oscar Arias, the former president and Nobel Prize winner.

Alvarez, who was a candidate in 2001, is expected to capitalize on the wave of corruption investigations that involve a number of officials at government agencies and independent institutes.

His departure from Liberación resembles that of Ottón Solís who founded his Partido Acción Ciudadana and finished as a close third for president in 2002.  Solís got so many votes that he forced Rolando Araya of Liberación and current President Abel Pacheco of Unidad Social Cristiana into a runoff.

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Costa Rica involved in U.S. money-laundering case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and special reports

A U.S. grand jury has indicted 24 persons for their alleged roles in a Colombian-based money-laundering conspiracy that used Costa Rica as a key location for exchanging currency.

The ring smuggled cocaine and heroin from Colombia and Venezuela to the continental United States, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles and Europe.  The ring also used a complex system known as the Black Market Peso Exchange to launder their illicit drug proceeds.

Drug money delivered to operatives in Miami, Fla., and Puerto Rico was introduced into the U.S. banking system and eventually ended up in specified bank accounts throughout the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and China for ultimate payment to the Colombian owners of the money, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The customs enforcement agency coordinated the investigation. The agency gave no further information on the specifics of the ring’s operation in Costa Rica.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the leaders of the drug organization were Juan Isidro Toloza-Pena and his brother Juan Andres Toloza-Pena. There are 21 co-conspirators. To date, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of roughly 250 kilograms of cocaine, 22 kilograms of heroin, 12 domestic and international bank accounts, at least $900,000 in currency, and an assortment of weapons and vehicles used by the members of the ring.

An agency release said the Black Market Peso  Exchange is a decades-old money-laundering scheme that is estimated to handle billions of dollars' worth of illicit funds annually. It is among the primary means by which Colombian drug cartels convert their U.S.-based drug dollars into "clean" pesos that they can use in Colombia.

As part of the conspiracy, the suspects also created and invested in allegedly legitimate businesses to conceal the nature and course of the money, Immigration and Custom Enforcement said.

In connection with the money-laundering charges, the agency said the U.S. government is seeking forfeiture of 14 properties in Colombia and 16 domestic and international bank accounts for a total of more than $4 million.

Penalties for the alleged narcotics offenses range from 10 years' to life imprisonment and fines of up to $4 million. Penalties for the money-laundering offense range from a fine of not more than $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater. The penalty also can include imprisonment for 20 years, ICE said.

Roberto G. Median, ICE Special Agent-in-Charge for Puerto Rico, said the agency's operation against the drug dealers "combined the best investigative techniques of U.S. and foreign law enforcement to dismantle a money-laundering organization whose reach spanned the globe."

The multi-agency undercover investigation resulted in 14 arrests Friday morning in Puerto Rico, Colombia, and St. Maarten, N.A. Five other individuals already had been arrested.


 
Puriscal pair's exploits become a new book
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Martin P. Rice, a retired professor living in Puriscal, has produced "At Home In Costa Rica (Adventures in Living the Good Life)." The book discusses the four years Rice and his wife, Robin, have spent here.

The book is organized into a series of letters that Rice sent home to friends and family. These letters described the difficulties he and his wife encountered from their first few days in San José and the joy they eventually found living in Costa Rica. 

Rice said that during his career he was "constitutionally unable to be late" for anything. A typical Type-A personality, he thrived on order and punctuality. Heading towards retirement, however, he said he knew that he needed a change.

Hoping to stave off post retirement depression, Rice said he and his wife and their dog, Jessie moved down to Costa Rica. The Rices were determined to work their way into Costa Rican culture.  The plan was to keep their minds focused on local custom and culture, he said.

Hopefully, this attention would keep their minds off of depression, they hoped. Four successful years later, Rice published his letters to share his experience. 

Rice, his wife and a pack of dogs, bats and other animals now live on a farm in Puriscal. They have named their house "Aqui me quedo" or "Here I stand" and plan on spending the rest of their days in Costa Rica, he said. 

The bats, too, occupy an important part of the book. Mrs. Rice saved two injured bats which have now produced a familiy.

The Rices at home
Click to see more

"At Home In Costa Rica (Adventure in Living the Good Life)" is available at Xlibris.com and will soon be available at Amazon.com and Borders online.  The book is 295 pages and carries an $18.69 pricetag.

Rice earned a doctorate in Russian literature at Vanderbilt University after attending linguistic classes in Berlin and Moscow. He spent 25 years teaching linguistics at the University of Tennessee. 

He wrote one other book, an academic effort, "Valery Briusov and the rise of Russian symbolism." After his academic career, Rice began developing educational software, founding HyperGlot Software and globalenglish.com. Both companies are involved in language education.

Despite living in an area well west of San José, Rice is well-known to English-speakers because he maintains an online presence with various Internet groups. He set up a Web site especially for the book where some excerpts are available as well as additional information.


 
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Pacheco says he got death threat from U.S. caller
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The developing corruption investigation in Costa Rica has prompted a death threat against the president.

Abel Pacheco said Tuesday that someone with a Costa Rican accent placed a call to the 911 emergency service from the United States. The caller said that he would kill Pacheco if former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría went to jail.

Pacheco dismissed the threat in an informal chat with reporters Tuesday. He said the Judicial Investigating Organization and police agencies in the United States were looking into the threat. He said he would take not additional security measures, and added that this is not the first threat he has received.

Rodríguez, who returned to Costa Rica Friday remains under house arrest.

In other developments Tuesday, Eliseo Vargas, a key figure in the inquiry held a marathon session with prosecutors, and he was believed to be telling all in exchange for a reduction of charges.

Vargas, a former party leader in the Asamblea Nacional, was the executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the nation’s social welfare, medical and pension agency. 

He is involved in a $9 million commission paid on a loan from the government of Finland for the purpose of buying medical equipment and supplies from that country. Also involved are former officials of Corporación 

Fischel, the pharmaceutical and medical supplies firm.

Meanwhile, the government of Taiwan said that it had paid $400,000 to a foundation in Costa Rica to promote civil liberties and human development. That was reported from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. The ministry asked the ambassador of Taiwan to explain payments, and that nation’s government answered Tuesday.

The $400,000 is believed to have found its way into a corporation in Panamá controlled by former president Rodríguez.

Taiwan said it had no knowledge of a $1 million payment reported made by a private company. The government said that bank secrecy prevents it from tracking down the money.

Vargas would not be the first former official to provide detailed information to prosecutors. He is a member of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, as is Rodríguez. The former president appears to be under investigation for possible involvement in a series of kickbacks, including one generated by a contract to improve the nation’s cellular telephone service and another deal to bury utilities lines in San José.

In another corruption investigation, a judge has prohibited eight persons associated with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros from leaving the country, included is the former executive president Cristóbal Zawadzki. The investigation involves some $2 million that was sent overseas in 2001. The institute is the nation’s insurance monopoly. The judge’s action took place last week but was reported Tuesday.


 
Investigative raids turn up a large quantity of household goods
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents raided five locations and arrested four persons Tuesday. They said the individuals were suspects in a series of home robberies that have taken place in San José and the metropolitan area over the last six months.

Gangs would force their way into homes, tie up the residents there and then pillage the residence for 

electronic devices and other marketable items.

During the raids agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization discovered a large quantity of household goods they think was part of the proceeds of the crimes. 

The raids took place in Desamparados, San Juan de Dios and Aserrí. Anyone who thinks he or she was  a victim can call 295-3305 to view the goods.


 
Train kills woman who was prone on the tracks near Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Such mishaps do not happen here often, but Monday night a train ran over a woman between Batán and Limón.

Just before midnight a train crew said it saw a woman prone on the tracks but could not stop in time. Officials do not know if the death was a 

suicide, a murder or an accident. They are investigating. 

The death took place in an area know as 26 Millas. The name of the woman was not known.

Costa Rica has limited train service for cargo on the Caribbean coast and a cargo line between Caldera on the Pacific and San José.


 
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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