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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 224
Jo Stuart
About us
Pedestrians and vehicles the most vulnerable
Gangs are targeting upscale sections of capital
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An increase in street crime in the metropolitan area seems to be linked with an increase in youth gangs in the lower-income areas.

Street crime seems to be spilling over into upscale residential neighborhoods that have not had serious problems in the past. Typically, the criminals travel in one or more cars and stage lightning raids frequently in areas where private guards patrol.

Even in daylight the targets are individuals walking alone or with one other person. The car-born bandits simply drive up, produce a gun and take whatever possessions are available.

The more technically able crooks tend toward car theft. A vehicle left unattended and parked outside a locked area is a sure target.

No firm statistics are available for this type of crime by area because many victims do not make reports. But the sense among police officers is that this type of crime is on the increase, perhaps in part due to the greater number of youngsters arriving at their teen years in conditions of poverty.

Some sections of Pavas, Los Cuadros, Leon XIII, Los Guidos de Desamparados, Barrio Cuba, Hatillo and similar areas are home to a number of teen gangs, Most do not have the formality of the Crips and the Bloods in the United States. In addition, better organized gangs from Honduras 

and El Salvador are know to be colonizing sections of Costa Rica.

Some would-be gang members have not reached the age where they can get a driver’s license. Three youngsters on bicycles tried to stick up a man in the southwestern suburb of Hatillo 6 about 6: 55 p.m. Monday. The would-be victim had a gun and shot several of his attackers, including one who had to be hospitalized.

A more typical attack took place about 2 p.m.  Monday when three men in a car with polarized windows stuck up, beat and took a cellular telephone from a woman in upscale Barrio Dent between Avenidas 9 and 11 on Calle 37. Fuerza Pública officers stopped suspects in nearby Zapote a few minutes later.

A section of La Sabana near a private medical college has become a prime target for auto thefts and lightning robberies, despite private guards. One medical student who lives nearby parked his car on a street for just a few minutes only to have bandits stick a gun to the head of a relative and take off with the vehicle.

Once the gang members have made a haul, they return to the relative safety of their own neighborhoods.

Police have been coordinating efforts to track cars, principally expensive vehicles with polarized windows as they leave the lower-income neighborhoods, but so far they are just targeting specific suspects. 

Official start of the Christmas season
Oxcart parade is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 30
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
You can bet he'll be there
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The seventh annual Entry of the Saints and Boyeros to the City of San José will be Sunday, Nov. 30, and more than 250 participants will come from all over the country. Each year this event dominated by oxcarts opens the Christmas season in the capital.

The participants will arrive in San José the afternoon before, Nov. 29, according to a report from the Municipalidad de San José. They will have their animals and their carts on display  on the west and south sides of the Estadio Nacional in Parque la Sabana west of the downtown.

That night at 8 p.m. some 35 members of the group Alma LLanera will perform until 4 a.m. The concert of boyero music is free, but food will be served and a collection taken by the Ancianos de San Sebastian to support a home of older adults.

The following morning about 9 a.m. the parade of oxcarts and their owners will take place from La Sabana along Paseo Colón to Parque Central on Avenida 2 where more festivities and religious ceremonies will be held.

Awards will be given in a number of categories, including the most beautifully decorated oxcart. Oxcarts from different areas will carry statues of the particular patron saint of their region and statues of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

The oxcart was the mainstay of rural Costa Rica, and the giant animals can haul their small cargo vehicle through mud and country lanes. These were the carts that carried bags of Central Valley coffee up mountain roads and down to Pacific ports.

The elaborate paintings of the carts and the wooden wheels are an early 20th century innovate that has come to symbolize the country.

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Fireworks delivery
sidetracked by cops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The holiday season will be a little quieter now that Fuerza Pública officers have confiscated 40.560 firecrackers that were en route to San José.

Officers had been watching Fernando Carrión Fuente, a resident of the Los Chiles area on the Nicaraguan border. They stopped him just a few miles from the Nicaraguan line. He came into suspicion, said police, because he had sold a small amount of prohibited pyrotechnics in the area.

This time he had 40 boxes in his vehicle, said police. Such fireworks are prohibited under a 2002 law. Devices that produce just white light or colors are permitted. But anything with explosive powder is not.

This is the first arrest involving the seasonal fireworks, but probably not the last.

Rogelio Ramos, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, added his weight to the fight against fireworks Tuesday.

He said that last year for the first time in many years no child was injured with fireworks. He pledged to try to equal that record this year.

"We don’t need sad and mutilated children in hospital beds," he said.

To receive complains and tips on fireworks sales or importation, the ministry has set up a special 24-hour telephone line 800-POLVORA (765-86-72).

Oswaldo Villalobos
under house arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oswaldo Villalobo, a key figure in the failure of an unlicensed investment operation last year, has been permitted to return home under house arrest, according to John Manners, a Villalobos creditor.

Villalobos had been in Clinica Catolica for months awaiting the end of an investigation that involves him and his brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos, who is an international fugitive.

Manners supports the Villalobos brothers and is involved with the United Concerned Citizens and Residents of Costa Rica which seeks to have the judicial authorities end their investigation of the pair. Manners and others hope that when the investigation ends, Luis Enrique Villalobos will return and pay off the estimated $1 billion in creditor money he has on his books.

The two brothers ran the best known high interest operation in Costa Rica. They paid up to 3 per cent a month, but never said what they did to earn that return. Investigators raided the offices July 4, 2002, and Luis Enrique announced he was closing up shop Oct. 14, 2002. For some reason Oswaldo, who was supposed to be running an independent money exchange house, also closed up the same day.

Creditors who have talked to Oswaldo by telephone while he was at the clinic have said he will not say anything about the failed operations.

Meanwhile, there is little chance the investigation will end soon. Prosecutors are awaiting boxes of material gathered by U.S. officials in that country. A third Villalobos brother, Freddy, lives in Florida, and the high-interest operation maintained a number of bank accounts there.

Luis Enrique Villalobos is being sought on allegations of fraud and money laundering, according to the International Police Agency Web site. Of the estimated 6,600 creditors, some 600 have filed complaints with the prosecutors. However so far no one has sought to file civil actions against the Villalobos in an attempt to tie up property  to insure repayment.

Two more minister
resign in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Two more Colombian officials have resigned in an apparent government shakeup that began with last week's resignation of the interior minister. 

The government says the housing and environment minister, Cecilia Rodríguez, abruptly resigned Tuesday in a brief letter to President Alvaro Uribe. 

The minister gave no reason for her departure, but was quoted as saying she is proud to have served in the Uribe government. Ms. Rodríguez was replaced by Sandra Suarez, the president's key anti-drug war strategist. 

Hours later, the head of the national police, Gen. Teodoro Campo, resigned and was quickly replaced by Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, a police official based in Bogota. The national police force has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals. 

The latest resignations follow the departures of Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramírez and Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londono. 

Ms. Ramírez had been feuding with the country's senior military officials and abruptly stepped down Sunday. Londono left his job after creating a political storm by saying President Uribe might quit and call early elections if his fiscal reform package does not get congressional support. 

The president's office denied that Uribe had any such intention. Uribe is struggling to build support in congress for sweeping reforms which he says are vital to spur economic growth and defeat terrorism. 

Last month, voters rejected a referendum containing proposals that would have capped government spending and salaries for two years, reduced the number of congressional seats and freed up money to fight drug trafficking and guerrillas. 

Man held in rape of girl

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública reported that in Sardinal de Sarapiquí a man with the last names of Sequeira Urbana has been arrested to face a charge that he raped a 13-year-old niece in her own home where the man was staying.

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A review
Bocaracá will give you something to think about
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Art should challenge a viewer, and the current exposition Bocaracá at the Museos de Banco Central de Costa Rica does just that. In fact, some of the art grates.

How about the three patriotic symbols of Costa Rica: Cacique guaro, a soccer ball and a representation of the Black Virgin de los Angles all in a row. For the uninitiated, guaro is the powerful sugar cane liquor. Cacique is the brand. The original Virgin is in a Cartago basilica and the object of a massive pilgrimage each Aug. 2.

That work by Pedro Arrieta is one of the first a view sees when entering the gallery at the museum, which is below the Plaza de la Cultura.

There are traditional paintings and tapestries. But it is the assembled art that seems to carry the most force. An old door and corrugated sheet metal put together by Fabio Herrera causes a view to ask: Is this art. But then one realizes that half the homes of Costa Rica look a lot like this work.

Sangre por petróleo or Blood for Oil is no more than 15 55-gallon drums with some dried roses sprinkled on top.  That’s by Rafael Ottón Solís.

Another Ottón Solís work is titled Maria al pie de la cruz or Mary at the Foot of the Cross. There is no Mary, and the cross is represented by an old Atlantic railroad tie and two rail spikes. Construction rebar holds up the wooden tie. The floor is assembled from bricks.

A sprawling mural by José Miguel Rojas, called Festin macabro or Macabre Feast, dominates an entire wall. The mural features sinister men (and 

one woman) who control power with the head of Christ pictured twice as being in a bowl. One tries in vain to identify some of the faces with current political and business figures.

Bocaracá is a 15-year-old association of artists, some of the most successful in Costa Rica. The current exposition contains 74 works, including ceramics and other media. The group has had a strong influence on the art here in the last decade of the 20th century. This is the third exposition presented by the bank. Others were in 1991 and 1992. Some booklets allow a visitor to evaluate the works displayed then against what is shown now.

The exposition also marks the publication of a book about the group written by Ilean Alvarado and sponsored by the Fundación Museos del Banco Central.

The exposition opened last Thursday runs until Feb. 29. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is 1,000 colons for residents and $5 for tourists.

The price is a bargain because admission also allows a visitor to see the permanent Pre-Colombian Gold Museum and the Numismatic Museum plus two temporary exhibitions. The first is about the Costa Rican mint that closed its doors in 1949. The mint struck the bulk of the coinage until then and also medals and commemorative plaques. The mint exhibit dovetails nicely with the permanent numismatic display.

Then there is an additional display of Pre-Colombian ceramics that is a warmup for the 1,600-piece gold museum, perhaps the best north of Bogotá.

— Jay Brodell

Powell says transparency is needed in Panamá
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Increased transparency in Panamá would improve the nation's business and investment climate, according to Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of State.

Powell also praised the Panamanian government's operation of the Panama Canal and supported a U.S.-Panama free-trade agreement in a television interview Sunday.

The interview with TVN Panamá had been done a week earlier.

In the television interview, Powell said he has been impressed with Panama's administration of the canal over the past three years or so. Powell noted that any doubts that existed 25 years ago over Panamanians' ability to run the canal have proven unfounded.

"Not only are Panamanians able to do it," he said, "they are doing it even better than we did when we were here before, so I'm impressed by what I've learned about the operation of the canal."

Powell said the United States is encouraged by other developments in Panamá as well, including 

the state of negotiations between the two countrieson pursuing a free-trade agreement. He said that an announcement with respect to negotiating a U.S. free-trade agreement with Panamá could follow the November Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial meeting in Miami.

Powell was in Panamá to help celebrate the nation's 100th anniversary. He said he has been watching Panamá for many years and that he is proud of the Panamanian people's efforts to restore democracy.

He noted that the United States and Panamá agree on many things, and that Panamá has supported the United States in the global war on terrorism. It was in this spirit of friendship, he said, that the U.S. ambassador to Panamá recently talked of the problem of corruption in Panama.

The ambassador "was saying to our good friends, the Panamanians, and especially the leaders of the Panamanian government, that corruption is a problem in this country and it should be dealt with," Powell explained.

Despite the efforts of Panamanians lobbying in Washington, Powell said he knows of no plans for restoring the U.S. military presence in Panama.

Hemispheric charter of indigenous rights planned
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Organization of American States is working to create a set of rights for indigenous people throughout the hemisphere. Diplomats have been joined here by indigenous leaders from throughout the Americas to discuss and debate the proposed document. 

It is a sight not often seen in the conservatively-styled halls of the Organization of American States building: scores of people in colorful traditional native outfits, many with ponytails and a few with feather headdresses, all mingling with diplomats clad in gray suits that looked positively drab by comparison. 

Peruvian Ambassador Eduardo Ferrero Costa heads the working group for the proposed "American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." He said indigenous populations existed in the Americas before colonization and have been subjected to some of the worst treatment in the history of the hemisphere. The ambassador said indigenous people need and deserve a set of rights that recognize the past, while looking toward a better future. 

Ferrero Costa said these are people with their own characteristics and who maintain their traditions and customs within the countries in which they live. The ambassador said that the indigenous peoples legitimately want their rights to be recognized in a special way, with regard to preserving their languages, customs and beliefs. Ferrero Costa said there is an international effort being made to protect the rights of indigenous people, just as other initiatives have focused on the rights of children, women and other groups. 

The organizationis considering a set of rights for indigenous people originally proposed in 1997 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The draft calls for an ambitious set of goals, including eradicating poverty, preserving indigenous languages and cultures, protecting spiritual freedom, and establishing mechanisms of self-governance. 

For Tomás Alarcon, a member of the Aymara indigenous ethnic group of the Andes, economic concerns are paramount. Alarcon said "we demand a solution to the problem of poverty," adding that indigenous people are the poorest of the poor in the Americas. He said one way to overcome this would be to ensure indigenous people are given rights over natural resources found in the regions where they live. 

Others who journeyed to the Washington meeting say cultural affairs matter most. Kelly Curry belongs to the Iroquois Confederacy, comprised of six Indian tribes in the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Ms. Curry said native people are not looking for special treatment. 

She said they just want to preserve a traditional way of life. "I would not say [this is] about setting [indigenous people] apart. I think this is a recognition that there are still people that prefer not to live in the 'fast lane.' So, it is not that they want to be treated 'special' or differently, but they want to be left alone to practice the ways that feel right to them. And we need space in order to do that," she said. 

Debate on the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is scheduled to continue through today.

Agricultural producers unhappy with Cuba policy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Since the United States cracked open the trade embargo on Cuba two years ago to allow farmers to sell agricultural and food products there, American exports to the island nation have been on the rise. 

Cuba is now the United States' 35th largest agricultural export market, up from 208th just two years ago. However some farmers are concerned that heightened U.S.-Cuba political tensions will affect their exports. 

Minnesota farmer Ralph Kaehler says doing business with Cuba is a lesson in working with paranoid, controlling bureaucrats who require loads of unnecessary paperwork at frequent stages of the deal. And he's not talking about the Communist government in Havana. 

"The difficult part has been, for the most part, working with our government: getting visas for Cuban livestock inspectors and veterinarians to come up and inspect the animals like every other country does. That took forever. It's just fighting the politics side of doing business," he says. 

Four thirsty black heifers eagerly line up at a trough as Kaehler turns on the water. "Their offspring will be the ones that go to Cuba in the next couple of years," he says.

Kaehler and his young sons Seth and Cliff became celebrities for a day last year during Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's trade mission to Cuba. That's when Cuban President Fidel Castro posed for pictures with them and their bull, and the photos made the front page of newspapers around the world. 

Since then, Kaehler has returned to Cuba twice to sell cattle and a high-protein animal feed. Castro has hosted him both times. Their relationship is amicable enough that the Kaehler family is now on the Cuban leader's holiday greeting list. A New Year's card signed 'Fidel Castro' is proudly displayed in the farmer's kitchen. 

Up until this year, this chummy relationship has exemplified U.S. trade with Cuba, a partnership that has brought American farmers and agribusiness as much as half a billion dollars since 2001. Last year, the United States provided over 20 percent of Cuba's agricultural products. 

This year, according to experts like John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, that could double. "In 2002, the relationship from a commercial standpoint was leaping from one peak to the next. Every month there were new purchases. U.S. companies were sending representatives down. Members of the House and Senate were going down. Governors 

were going down. There was a lot of euphoria," he said.

This euphoria peaked at last year's U.S. Food and Agribusiness exhibition in Havana. It produced over $92 million in sales for U.S. businesses. A second exhibition was planned for this coming January. But that was before the Castro government imprisoned more than 70 political dissidents and executed three Cubans caught trying to escape the country last spring. 

The crackdown has spurred the Bush Administration to further restrict travel to Cuba. As a result, next year's trade fair has been cancelled because exhibitors can not get the necessary travel documents. The Bush Administration is also restricting non-business visits by U.S. schools and non-profit groups. 

Economic Council president John Kavulich says the success of last year's exhibition should serve as an example to the president of why further restrictions on Cuba are a bad idea. "Harming lawful business activity isn't the way to harm the Cuban government," he says. "What you're doing is harming the business community. And is that really your target?" 

But the Bush Administration isn't alone. Since the arrests and executions, many members of Congress who supported easing trade and travel barriers are re-thinking their position. Minnesota’s freshman senator, Norm Coleman, is among those who have had a change of heart. During his campaign last year, he favored lifting trade and travel barriers on Cuba. After visiting the country this fall, Sen. Coleman adopted the Bush Administration's stance.

Back on his farm, Minnesota farmer Kaehler says his senator is playing party politics at the expense of Minnesota producers. 

Kaehler says he wonders why members of Congress aren't applying equal pressure on countries like China or Saudi Arabia. Both are U.S. trading partners whose governments have also been criticized for their human rights records. 

According to Cuba trade expert Kavulich, these countries are too important to American business interests for the U.S. government to apply the same principles. "The government of China made it very clear to U.S. companies: you support us, or we may have difficulty dealing with you. And that resonates with U.S. company executives. In the case of Cuba, it simply isn't as important economically, yet," he says. 

Kavulich says Cuba's proximity to the United States and its enthusiasm for American products give the country the potential to be an important trading partner. That is, he says, if politics would just get out of the way. 

Jo Stuart
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