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These stories first were published Thursday, Nov. 1, 2001
Long-time resident makes news the hard way
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Louis Charles, a long-time resident of Costa Rica, made the front page of Diario Extra and lived to tell about it.

The retired U.S. citizen was a principal player in the story the blood-and-guts popular newspaper featured Tuesday. He also made at least one of the major television stations.

He won this distinction because a man and a woman held him up at his Uruca townhouse Monday.

The newspaper headline captured the general sense of the event: "Nicaraguan stops Tica who was going to assault a gringo."

The account by Charles, who will be 65 in a few days, is a bit more detailed. Here’s what he said happened:

He was walking around in slippers and shorts about 2:30 or 3 p.m. Monday when a woman came to the security door of his home.  The same woman had showed up at the door Saturday, and Charles sent her away.

This time she seemed agitated, and he opened the door. She jumped in and from the corner of his eye Charles saw a man with a gun. He tried to close the door, but the man forced his way in.

Charles thought the gun was a fake, so he grabbed the man’s right gun hand with both his hands and began to wrestle. But because the man’s arm was slippery he went to the floor and received a blow to the head. His head seemed to be moist with blood, and Charles pretended to be unconscious. The man pointed the gun directly at his head.

The woman forgot to close the security door, so the neighborhood guard, Rogelio Orozco Mendoza promptly gave the alarm, showed up and pointed a gun at the robber.

The two men were at a standoff for a few seconds until hordes of police arrived, and the fight drained from the robber.

Police identified the man with the last name of Ramírez and the woman with the names Bustos Valerin. They were arrested but not before Charles said he called the police attention to the woman to keep her from getting away.

Then the woman told police that she and the man had been coming to the house for years to buy drugs, said Charles. That prompted a police request to search the premises and increased his frustration, Charles said. After he agreed to a search, police declined, but then Charles said he would not travel some distance to sign a complaint because police already had all they needed, he said.

The famous red page of Diario Extra

"You have all the evidence you need right here," he said he told police. 

Later he found out that the automatic pistol indeed was real, and it had two bullets in the magazine.  Minutes later police located the presumed getaway car and three other men nearby. 

The newspaper article suggested that the woman was coming to Charles’ house at his request, possibly as a prostitute. "I didn’t like her. She’s ugly, and I was not interested in her," he said Wednesday.  He said he thinks, instead, that robbers target single U.S. citizens and use women to open up the doors. He is divorced.

Charles came here in 1983 and said he probably will be returning to the United States soon, something he planned on even before the attack at his home.

The property is several blocks north of the Hotel San José Palacio.

Charles still is surprised that the robber failed to take notice of the armed security guard standing near the house when the pair tried to force their entry.

In all, Charles did much better than the man who showed up on the front page of Diario Extra the next day, Wednesday. 

The man pictured there amid a bloody scene in Alajuela was a murder victim who died from 28 stab wounds

by rains,
high seas
by the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The surf is really up along the north Pacific coast, thanks to Tropical Storm Octave, and the whole area is getting drenched.

Michael Mills, a captain of a sailboat moored in Playa Hermosa said that all boats from there and some from Playa del Coco have moved to Playa Panama for shelter as heavy rains continue to hit the area.

"I have heard some residents in Hermosa say they haven't seen swells or waves this size in10 years.  The exception was two years ago when it rained like this for two weeks straight," said Mills.

Earlier in the day he reported 12-foot waves.

Mills said his boat, Spanish Dancer, a catamaran sailboard, broke off its mooring during the storm and started to drift out to sea. Another sailboat from El Velero Hotel was heading to Playa Panama and towed it there, he said.

He said there was major flooding in some low residential areas. Other towns, including officials in Santa Cruz, which is inland, were getting nervous with the extent of the flooding.

Meanwhile, the storm has winds of 40 to 50 knots and is north and west of Costa Rica off the shore of Mexico in the Pacific. However, the circular winds around the storm center are bringing heavy moisture into the country.

Sex traffickers use marriage gimmick to legalize child prostitutes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sex traffickers are bringing young girls into Costa Rica and then arranging marriages so as married women they can work legally as prostitutes.

That’s what Bruce Harris of Casa Alianza, a child advocacy group, was to tell the International Bar Association today at its world meeting in Cancun, Mexico, according to a prepared text of his talk.

Harris was going to ask the group to issue a strong statement in favor of children.

"Young girls from the Philippines have been trafficked into Costa Rica under the guise of high school ecology students. They are then put to ‘work’ in some of the most exclusive night clubs in San Jose," Harris told the lawyers.

The traffickers arrange marriages for the Philippine children to Costa Rican men so the new wives will be able to get a cedula or identification document, said the Harris text.

Because of a quirk in Costa Rica’s civil code, the underage children are able to work as prostitutes because they have the cedula, Harris said.

He noted that prostitution is legal in Costa Rica but prostitution of persons under 18 years is not. That’s the age when most residents acquire a cedula.

In his speech, Harris paints a picture of child prostitution in Costa Rica far more widespread than officially acknowledged. 

He said in his text that at least one of the traffickers in children is a Canadian. The text, posted on the Casa Alianza Web site, also said that girls from Panama are trafficked to brothels and expensive clubs in Costa Rica, as are "Nicaraguan girls desperate to escape the ubiquitous poverty in that country."

Perhaps coincidentally, Costa Rican investigators are looking into the cases of 40 underaged women who were allowed to marry during the last two years. However, initial responses from government officials is that the children married with the permission of their parents.

Harris was to give his talk today at 9:30 a.m. The presentation to lawyers was grim at best. Harris’s text recounts a staff member’s encounter with a 14-year-old Honduran girl who had been tricked, overcharged to travel to Mexico, beaten and thrown into sexual slavery to pay the bill at $5 a customer.

Harris’ organization, Casa Alianza, is the Latin American branch of Covenant House, a Catholic charity in New York. He was to tell the lawyers that the 9,000 street children the organization helps in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been thrown away by society.

The children as representative of the 40 million such children in Latin America, a group big enough to have representation in the United Nations is they were a country, said his text.

For the past three years, Casa Alianza has been tracing the trafficking of thousands of Central American children — mostly girls between 12 and 16 or 17 — in the growing international trade of child sex., said the text.

He was to tell the lawyers that before a recent crackdown, even the city of Cancun in which they were meeting was a hotbed of child sex and pedophilia groups.

Harris’s text also said that Casa Alianza was responsible along with Costa Rica’s new special sex crimes prosecutor in busting a child pornography ring. The suspects, arrested in July, were using equipment at the University of Costa Rica to make their products. He said the group, including one lawyer, was responsible for abusing children in front of a camera in order to make the pornography.

"They could safely keep the child pornography in their homes and offices as their country’s congress refused to typify the possession of child pornography as a crime," Harris’ text said. "I imagine the congressmen and women would have felt differently if it had been their own children in the photos. But these are poor children. Possession of child pornography in the United States will get you ten years in jail."

Harris noted that he had been convicted of defamation in Guatemala and faces a possible five years in prison "together with dozens of policemen we have put there for having murdered street children."

The case developed because Casa Alianza has presented criminal accusations against a former first lady of Honduras, the wife of the former president of the Guatemalan Supreme Court and a juvenile judge, said the text.

"After the Guatemalan attorney general and I announced 18 criminal accusations against lawyers in Guatemala, the wife of the former president of the Supreme Court — and one of the investigated — sued me for defamation," a crime for which truth is not a defense, said Harris’ text.

The allegations in Honduras and Guatemala involved the illegal adoption of babies. Because the conviction was upheld by the highest court in Guatemala, the case is not pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"This congress of lawyers here in Cancun could make an important statement about this issue in an effort to stop the trafficking of babies as if simply a mercantile operation," said Harris’ text.

The speech also raised the specter of children being used to provide organ donations. "As the technology of organ transplants becomes available in more countries and as the demand for organs rises as the level of donations drop, the genuine fear of an increase in the illegal trafficking of organs is a real one and needs to be monitored internationally," said the text.

Harris also said that Casa Alianza now is involved in trying to reunite families that were torn apart by the Guatemalan war when soldiers kidnapped, trafficked and took children as a military policy.

Harris was going to ask the group to pass a resolution by the full body in which the International Bar Association, what he called "the global voice of the legal profession," raises its important and influential voice in favor of voiceless children.






By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

International observers are beginning to descend on Nicaragua to try to insure the honesty of presidential elections there Sunday.  Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter are among those who will be monitoring the vote counting.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Managua, the capital, issued a warning to U.S. citizens there.

"The elections are expected to be close, and the populace is polarized behind their respective candidates.  There is a potential for election-related violence," said the embassy statement. U.S. citizens in the country should "exercise caution in this tense transitional period," the embassy added.

The U.S. has been accused of siding with Enrique Bolaños Geyer, candidate of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party.  That allegation was made by the other leading candidate, Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is the candidate for the Sandinista Front of National Liberation.

A third candidate is Alberto Savorío of the Conservative Party, but he has not kept pace with the other two candidates in opinion polls.

Ortega was the Sandinista leader that the United States fought a war to unseat as Nicaragua’s leader. U.S.-supported armies, the contras, were invovled in the war in which upwards of 30,000 Nicaraguans were killed.

The Supreme Electoral Council has the following Web site http://www.cse.gob.ni/

Slain tourist kidnapped
the evening before death

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian investigators say they have resolved the mystery surrounding a slain British tourist. Authorities say he was abducted by leftist rebels the night before his death. 

Jeremy Parks, 28, had been backpacking in Colombia for six weeks when his body was found on a roadside in the jungles of Choco. He was dressed in civilian clothes, and his passport identified him as a British national. At his side was another corpse, wearing fatigues — a rebel fighter from the National Liberation Army, or ELN. 

The finding confounded investigators. The army said Parks died in combat, but they could not immediately explain what he was doing with the guerrilla band. Some even suspected he had been fighting alongside the rebel army. 

Now, it appears he was kidnapped. According to witnesses, ELN rebels snatched Parks from a bus as he traveled to Medellin Saturday night. Before the kidnapping was even reported, he had died from a severe head wound, apparently from a grenade. 

The ELN relies heavily on kidnappings to build its war chest. In the past, the group has abducted athletes, foreign oil executives and, on one occasion, an entire church congregation. 

With 10 kidnappings a day in Colombia, the British Foreign Office has issued a travel warning. In particular, it advises tourists to avoid remote, war-torn provinces like Choco at all costs.

Four Latin Grammys
go to singer Sanz

The Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz has earned four Latin Grammys. Winners of the music industry honors were announced Tuesday in Los Angeles. The award show had been scheduled for Sept. 11, but was cancelled in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. 

Winners instead were announced in a low-key presentation in a Los Angeles nightclub. The Latin Grammy awards show, now in its second year, had been moved from Miami to Los Angeles out of fear that Cuban exiles would disrupt the production. They were angry about the involvement of artists from Communist Cuba. In the wake of the terror attacks, the show was finally canceled and replaced by a small-scale presentation.

Sanz received the Latin Grammys for record, song and album of the year, as well as best vocalist for the song and album "El Alma al Aire."

The comedian Paul Rodriguez was one of the two presenters, along with actor Jimmy Smits, who recalled the attacks of Sept. 11. "So much has changed because of that. But in the best possible way, I think what's happened is that it has galvanized us in a new way of patriotism," said Mr. Smits. "And for entertainers, we have a saying that the show must go on, the music must go on. The music will go on."

Other winners of Latin Grammys include Christina Aguilera, honored for her pop vocal album "Mi Reflejo," and newcomer Juanes. The Colombian-born rocker won Latin Grammys for his song and album "Fijate Bien," and was also named best new artist. 

Nestor Torres received the Latin Grammy for best pop instrumental album for "This Side of Paradise." 

U.S. will bar members
of 46 ‘terrorist’ groups

 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says members and supporters of 46 designated terrorist groups will not be allowed in the United States.

Speaking at a briefing in Washington Wednesday, Ashcroft said a new U.S. terrorist task force will also track down, detain and deport any immigrant suspected of terrorism. He said this will help keep the country safe from those who wish harm to Americans. The attorney general named FBI official Steve McCraw as the head of the new task force.

In another security matter, the U.S. House of Representatives is to vote today on an aviation security bill. At issue is whether airport baggage screeners should become federal workers.

The Senate has unanimously passed a bill making airport screening a federal function similar to customs or immigration work. President Bush, who met with congressional leaders Wednesday, opposes the move. But he has said he does not want to veto the final version of the bill.

White House criticizes
Venezuela’s Chavez

The White House is criticizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for comparing unintended civilian casualties in Afghanistan with the deaths of thousands in the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the United States.

In Washington Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Chavez's comments run counter to Venezuela's own position in the United Nations and other international bodies. Fleischer said President Bush took military action in Afghanistan with the support of most, if not all, of the world.

 The remarks come two days after President Chavez appeared on Venezuelan television and said the deaths of Afghan children have no justification. Chavez also displayed photographs of dead Afghan children, while saying the United States should not respond to terror with terror.

Wednesday Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila told U.S. Ambassador Donna Hrinak in Caracas his government cannot and does not have to keep quiet about what he called the death of innocents. He did say, however, that Venezuela stands with the United States in the war against terrorism.

Ship discovered off Panama
could be that of Columbus

Researchers in Panama are trying to determine if a sunken ship discovered off the country's Caribbean coast could have been used by Christopher Columbus during his fourth and final voyage of exploration. 

The director of Panama's National Institute of Culture, Rafael Ruiloba, said a vessel recently found may be the Vizcaina, one of the four ships that sailed with Columbus from Spain in 1502. Ruiloba says the cannon and ammunition found on the ship were similar to those that would have been used during Columbus's time. 

After embarking on the journey, Columbus's fleet traveled westward, reaching what are now Caribbean and Central American nations. A year later, Columbus was forced to abandon two of his ships after they began to leak. The Spanish explorer eventually returned home in 1504. He died two years later.

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