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(506) 223-1327          Published Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 212        E-mail us    
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A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Students occupy center ground between two flimsy barricades
Strikers blamed in death and students for blockade
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration continued to maintain the moral high ground against anti-free trade protesters Tuesday.

An administration spokesman blamed strikers who blocked a highway in Siquirres for causing the death Monday of a 14-year-old drowning victim, a passenger in an ambulance tied up in traffic for 20 minutes.

In Limón, violence by protesters, including the torching of a cargo truck, caused a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers to skip a visit today to the Caribbean port, another official reported.

And just west of the Universidad de Costa Rica campus in San Pedro self-styled anarchists, their faces masked and carrying bottles of what appeared to be flammable liquid, set up a roadblock to stall traffic since about midday.

Tuesday was the second day of what was supposed to be a general strike designed to shut down the country. By that measure, the strike was a failure because fewer persons showed up to march than on Monday and state offices were not affected.

There was little effect elsewhere in the country, except for Limón and in Heredia where there was a gathering that approached a fiesta.

The Universidad de Costa Rica students had blocked all lanes of a four-lane highway that is between the Fuente de Hispanidad near San Pedro Mall and Sabanilla. The location is just west of the Escuela de Drechos, the university law school.  Rafael Angel Gutiérrez Gómez, vice ministers of Seguridad Pública, said in the afternoon that some reports said that the students were armed and carried Molotov cocktails.

Vehicle tires, tree branches and associated pieces of wood were used to construct a barrier about two feet high.

Tránsito and Fuerza Pública officers did not approach them and detoured traffic.

Gutiérrez noted that President Óscar Arias Sánchez had ordered police not to carry weapons during the marches and protests.

About 4:30 p.m. one of the students burned a U.S. flag. Officials were expecting that the students would go home after dark, but rush hour traffic was slowed.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, brother to the president and minister of the Presidencia, said in an afternoon press conference that losses to those not involved in the protests were significant. He said that delays of up to five hours were reported on one main highway Monday.

Casa Presidencial said that the loss was not just material. Employees identified the girl in Siquirres

Masked youngster works over Old Glory

as Daniela Méndez who died on the way to a clinic. The ambulance was delayed 20 minutes by protesters, and an ambulance coming in the other direction could not get through either. She had suffered an accident in the Río El Silencio

It was Marco Vargas, minister of Coordinación Interinstitucional, who reported that a cruise ship  would avoid Limón today for fear of unrest. Consequently, small business operators, taxi drivers and others would lose considerable money when the estimated 3,000 day tourists did not arrive, said Vargas. The Carnival Victory was due to dock today.

Protesters Tuesday set fire to the cab of a truck on a main highway, and the vehicle was gutted.

Vargas also reported that negotiations would resume between the government and its Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica and the dock workers union.

A judge has declared the slowdown by dock workers to be illegal under the labor laws. Vargas said he hoped the job action on the Alemán dock in Limón would end shortly.

The protests Monday and Tuesday were mainly by union members of state monopolies that would face competition under the free trade treaty, if it is ratified by the Asamblea Legislativa.

Although the Arias administration, which backs the treaty, seems to have won this round in the court of public opinion, the real issue remains in the assembly where lawmakers from the Partido Acción Ciudadana are leading the battle against the agreement. The treaty still is being considered in committee although it is expected to be voted out to the full assembly for debate shortly.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 212

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Early morning gunfight
ends flight for four

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special tactical unit burst in on sleeping fugitives in Guácima early Tuesday and engaged them in a shootout. One fugitive died. A second suffered 10 bullet wounds. Another also was wounded and a fourth ended up in shackles.

The scene was a private dwelling where the four probably have been living since shortly after breaking out of the La Reforma prison early Oct. 9. During the break, the prisoners killed a guard.

Agents said the men were sleeping when the raid took place but that they were in their clothes and had on their shoes. They were heavily armed and even had two fragmentation grenades, agents said.

Dead was Freddy García Jarquín, who was serving a 25-year term for murder. Wounded were Jovel Guillermo Araya Ramírez and Alberto Martínez Hernández.  Johnny Rodríguez Moya, the fourth man, surrendered quickly and was not hurt.

Despite the surprise raid, agents of the Servicio Policial de Intervención Inmediata of the Judicial Investigating Organization were met with a rain of bullets when they crashed through the front door.  At least three officers were spared injury because their protective vests stopped a bullet.  They also carried shields.

Two persons in the home also were detained for questioning. Investigators suspect that the four were planning some kind of kidnapping or other crime to generate money to sustain them when they were on the run.

The first fugitive arrested was Robert Clark, who was enjoying the Limón carnival Sunday when police caught up with him. Although police have not said it officially, Clark may have been the person who told investigators where to look for his associates.

Three fugitives still are on the loose.

The guard the men killed was Marco Prado. Prison officials blamed human error for the lapses that allowed the men to escape. Three officials have been removed from their posts.

Dead suspect's wife
links priest to killing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The wife of a man who was a suspect in the Parmenio Medina Pérez murder case told a three-judge panel Tuesday that she heard those accused of his murder discussing the crime in her house. Medina was a well-known radio commentator.

She also implicated the Rev. Minor Calvo, a Catholic priest, and said that he paid one of the suspects 10 million colons for the job. That was about $30,000 at the time of the murder, July 7, 2001. She said the priest delivered the money to the man while sitting in the confessional.

The woman, identified by the last name Bello, was married to a suspect named Murillo who has since died. She was the last prosecution witness in the case, which is under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal de Juicio de Heredia but the trial is being held in San José. The defense is planning to call at least 25 witnesses.

In addition to Calvo, a well-known radio minister, businessman Omar Chávez is considered the intellectual author of the crime. Calvo and Chávez directed the operations of Radio María, a religious radio station that was heavily criticized by Medina in his own radio show on another station.

Radio María was ordered off the air May 30, 2001, by the conference of bishops. Parmenio Medina died a short time later. He had exposed irregularities in the operation of the station and had meetings on the topic with church officials.

Regulators think diesel
subsidized by gasoline

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bad news for people with diesel-powered vehicles. The agency that sets fuel prices said Tuesday that it thinks diesel fuel, jet fuel and bunker oil are being subsidized by the sale of gasoline.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, proposed raising the price of diesel to eliminate an estimated 33-colon-per-liter subsidy. At the same time the agency said that users of super gasoline were paying 83 colons per liter too much.

The agency proposes raising the price of diesel some 9.65 percent and the price of jet fuel 10.68 percent. The good news is that the agency proposes cutting the price of super gasoline some 11.8 percent and regular gas 9.8 percent. Liquid gas would go down about 11.8 percent, too.

The agency will hold a public hearing on the issue Dec. 7 at 9 a.m. in its facilities in Sabana Sur.

Main highway in south
to close for two days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamerica Sur highway will be closed Thursday and Friday while workmen fix a collapsed storm drain that runs under the road.

The Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes said the site was some 700 meters before the entrance to Veracruz de Corredores. The Interamerican is the chief north-south highway in the country.

Officials said that motorists should use an alternate route from Coloradito to La Palma passing through La Cuesta to Paso Canoas. But that route is only for passenger vehicles and light trucks, they said. Tractor trailers are just out of luck, according to the ministry announcement, which asked for patience.

Bus fares take a jump

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Passengers on 493 of the the nation's bus routes will see higher fares today.

A rate hike was published Tuesday in the La Gaceta official newspaper, thereby putting the new rates into effect. The increases are about 6 percent. They range from a 10- to 15-colon increase on Sabana routes to increases of 300 colons or more on intercity routes. There are about 520 colons to the U.S. dollar.

The routes involved represent about 60 percent of the total in the country.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 212

Photos courtesy of the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias
Damage to bridge at Río Mala Noche en Sámara Emergency workers try to reach Portalón  
Repair work already cost ¢100 million from weekend storm
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An emergency commission report said that the agency already has spent about 100 million colons or about $192,000 to repair or mitigate damage inflicted by a storm along the Pacific coast last weekend.

Much of the money is going to keep machinery operating clearing streams and ditches of blockages. Some work is being planned for a bridge at Río Blanco de Quepos to repair damage. A bridge knocked out between Sámara and Carrillo on the Río Mala Noche is getting a detour.

Daniel Gallardo, president of the commission, made the estimate Tuesday after he had returned from a trip around
the regions. They are mainly the Pacific coast of the Nicoya
 Peninsula and the central Pacific coast around Quepos.

There was more flooding in the Quepos area Monday night.

The commission reported that the Río Portalón south of Quepos ran out of its banks again and caused light damage to about 10 homes in the community of the same name. The homes still are standing.

In Matapalo the rain and the tides combined to flood some homes, although the waters receded quickly.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias is still maintaining a weather alert because the ground is saturated. An alert also is in force for the Central Valley.

Procter & Gamble praised for its work with handicapped kids
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Procter & Gamble, the U.S. company which makes household products, has become a poster boy of firms that are making major contributions to Latin American free enterprise and social development for its work in Costa Rica.

The company has built a school for visually impaired children here and has started an "Eliminating Barriers" program that gives physically challenged children equal access to education.

Other companies singled out in a U.S. Department of commerce program were 3M and Microsoft.

In Ecuador, 3M, a U.S.-based technology and chemicals company, has provided field training to a combined total of more than 30,000 health care technicians in the safe handling of infectious materials, in industrial health topics such as respiration and hearing, and in dentistry.

In Chile, U.S. computer software company Microsoft has opened 12 centers that have trained more than 120,000 people in the use of information and communication technologies.
By investing in communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. companies are making major contributions to boosting free enterprise and social development in the region, according to the U.S.
Department of Commerce.

These private-sector contributions are being highlighted through a new effort of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America.

"We have a good message to deliver," said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in announcing the joint promotional effort in Washington.

In early 2005, the Association of American Chambers began to gather data on companies' investments in Latin America. It then submitted the information to the Commerce Department.

The Association of American Chambers reports that through donations of money, materials, training and employee time, U.S. companies are working with the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and communities in 14 Latin American countries to improve infrastructure, provide education and health care, and create good jobs.

Legislature approves getting loan from Japan to improve area sewer system
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The full plenario of the Asamblea Legislativa approved accepting a $127 million loan from Japan Tuesday. The money will be used to replace the aging metropolitan area sewer system and to build a treatment plant.

The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation offered the loan, but Costa Rican lawmakers stalled, and there was fear the offer would be withdrawn. A deadline was set for next Tuesday.

Of all the waste generated in the Central Valley, only about 4 percent receives any type of treatment and all of it ends up
in the Gulf of Nicoya via various streams and the Río Grande de Tárcoles.
In addition, many of the underground lines are rusted away or otherwise breached. There has been no extensive work on the Central Valley sewer system since 1981, and since 1991 at least 100 new subdivisions or projects have been added to the network.

In addition the sanitary sewer system is so perforated that extensive exchanges of water take place between it and the storm sewer system, mainly when rains come.

Costa Rica will have to come up with about $400 million to complete the project, but approval of the loan agreement is evidence that the whole project would find favor in the legislature.

There was no obstacle except the assembly calendar.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 212

Free press report on countries contains some surprises
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The organization Reporters Without Borders says North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Eritrea remain the most repressive countries for journalists.  The annual ranking sees a worsening of press freedom in three major democracies — the United States, Japan and France.

The annual survey says North Korea remains the world's worst violator of free expression, ranking last in the list of 168 countries.  The report's authors say Turkmenistan, at number 167, and Eritrea, at 166, have also clamped down further on press freedoms.  They add that journalists in Cuba, Burma and China are risking their lives or their freedom to keep people informed.

The report puts northern European countries at the top of the index, as it did last year, finding no instances of censorship, violence, intimidation or reprisals against journalists in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands.  All share first place in the ranking.

But Denmark dropped from a shared first-place last year to number 19 this year, because of threats against journalists who published controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

Curiously, the country with which Denmark shared that spot was Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The United States fell nine places since last year's index and now ranks in 53rd place.  The report was critical of restrictions on civil liberties under what it calls the "pretext" of national security.

The authors cite the jailing of San Francisco journalist Josh Wolf, who operates an internet weblog, for refusing to give the courts material from his video archive.  They also cite the cases of Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for the Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera who has been detained for five years at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi being held by U.S. authorities in Iraq.  U.S. officials have called al-Haj an enemy combatant and say Hussein is suspected of having ties to insurgents, and say he is being held in accord with United Nations resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.  Reporters Without Borders notes that neither has been charged with any crime.

Except for Guatemala (90th), Central America as a whole has good rankings despite the gap between countries such as Costa Rica (29th), Panama (39th) and El Salvador (41st), and Honduras (64th) and Nicaragua (69th). The few physical attacks on journalists also shows that
self-censorship is at work, the organization said.

In the 2005 survey Costa Rica was 41st with 8.50. A lower score is better. But there was no explanation of the change.

Reporters Without Borders compiled a questionnaire with 50 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each
country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).

France slipped five places in the survey to number 35, because of searches of the offices and homes of reporters, and attacks and threats on journalists who covered the violent demonstrations in French suburbs last November.  Japan fell 14 places to 51st place, the report's authors citing the rise of Japanese nationalism and the country's exclusive system of press clubs as threats to media freedom.

The survey from Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group, is one of several annual reports that address freedom of expression.  The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issues its own investigative findings.

The committee's Abi Wright says journalists are under threat in many parts of the world.  She adds that three are murdered every month.

"It is no surprise that Iraq came out at the deadliest country for journalists," she said.  "It is actually the most dangerous conflict that we have ever covered at the Committee to Protect Journalists in our 25-year history."

Other dangerous countries include Russia, where a prominent journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was killed earlier this month. Russia fell nine places to number 147 in the survey from Reporters Without Borders.  The authors accuse Russian authorities of steadily dismantling the free media.

The report says changes of regime have brought welcome improvements in press freedom in Haiti, Togo and Mauritania. And two countries moved into the top 20 for the first time: 16th place Bolivia and 19th place Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Ms. Wright said there is a strong relationship between a free press and transparency in government and business, and so there are practical benefits from a free media.  She says open societies are generally good places to invest in.

Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, says press freedom is also a basic democratic right.

"It allows expression of grievances," he said.  "It allows for the unveiling of corruption.  It allows democratic participation.  Without a free press, many of the other human rights that we take for granted and that we cherish would probably not exist."

Brody says despite some setbacks, press freedom is on the rise around the world.  He says the growth of the Internet makes it easier for people to spread and share information and harder for governments to muzzle them.  At the same time, he says that courageous reporting under totalitarian governments and in conflict-ridden regions remains very dangerous.

Escazú modeling agency operator is back before a judge on additional counts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Escazú man accused of defrauding aspiring models was back in custody Tuesday.

The man, who has the last name of Tabora, was last arrested Oct. 2, but a judge let him free on personal recognizance.

But Tuesday he was detained on additional charges. The  Fiscalia de Fraudes said that he faces more than 20 new complaints, and prosecutors asked a judge to put him in jail for six months preventative detention.

A judge in San José is studying the request, and the man's lawyer is opposing the idea.

The man had been detained repeatedly on the same sort of allegations. On Oct. 3 there were 15 new allegations and
two complaints of sexual misconduct, the agency said. Investigators asked for any other victims to come forward.

Agents said the man would convince young people, male and female, that they could compete in the modeling business and earn good salaries. He then sought a payment up to 1 million colons (some $1,925) for clothes, cosmetics and other accessories, they said.

In many cases the young people had to borrow the money, and they did not get the clothes or other promised items, officials claim.

Young men and women worked as salespeople encountering likely candidates on the street and in public places.

Tabora said he is not doing anything wrong but that the modeling field is a very competitive occupation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 212

Heredia shuts out Santos in soccer with a score of 3 to 0
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Club Sport Herediano shut out the Santos de Guápiles Fútbol Club in first division play Tuesday night.

Forward Gerald Drummond put in two of the team's three goals. The first came at 14 minutes into the game on a pass from Marvin Angulo. Drummond's second score came at minute 60.
Adding insurance, Cristian Blanco put in the third goal 15 minutes later.

Heredia has a date Saturday at Puntarenas at 10 a.m. at Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero.

In other first division play, the Asociacion Deportiva Santacruzeña defeated Municipal Liberia 2-0.  Gilberto Armando Artavia scored, as did Milton Cortés.

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