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These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 234
Jo Stuart
About us
For Gringos, it is a day of giving thanks
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tracy Floyd is extremely thankful for her Chihuahua, Max. Another Max, Max  Goldman, is thankful for his family and his friends. Cindy Maxim is grateful for her new grandson Stuart. 

Throughout San José U.S. citizens are preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. For some people that means inviting friends over for dinner. Others visit restaurants. Some head for the beach. Others go to the States to spend the holiday with their families. 

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon their good fate and address the different things they are grateful for. 

The expats and travelers in San José reflect America’s diversity, and during the holiday season, their feelings are varied. Some thoughtfully ponder over their year while others seemed to know instinctively what they are grateful for. Many remember special events from the last year, while others are grateful for the simple pleasure of wearing shorts in November.

Many expats are overjoyed to finally rid themselves of a lingering cold that has hung on since late October. Bill Wagner, a retired lawyer from Texas said "I’m just happy to be able to breath without coughing again."

Many are incredibly appreciative of the climate in San José. For Phil Housey, it will be his first Thanksgiving without snow in a long while. "Up
in North Dakota, it always seems to snow on Thanksgiving. If it snows here on Thursday, figure that it’s my fault," he joked.

Americans still have the election on their minds. Some are overjoyed that President George Bush has been re-elected. Others are 

thrilled that he only has four years left. 

Jim Dempsey from Boston is very thankful for the Red Sox, and plans to stay that way for a long time. His team finally won the Series.

Bill and Cynthia Adams are glad to be in Costa Rica on their honeymoon for another two weeks. The couple arrived last week from their home in Maryland and haven’t stopped being thankful yet.

Chris Belmont, a weary traveler from Minnesota, is overjoyed to have a hotel room with cable TV and hopes to catch several of the big parades in the States this morning. Kathy Benson is happy that she can return to her home in New York for the holiday. Today she planned to head down to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with her family.

Many Americans in Costa Rica are thrilled to have long distance phone lines so that they can talk to their faraway families. Almost everyone has someone on their minds that they wish they could see over the holiday. 

The common thread throughout the community, however, was that people are genuinely thankful to have people around who are caring and trustworthy. 

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Vehicle inspection fees are going up 24 percent Jan. 1
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Riteve SyC, the vehicle inspection company, said Wednesday it is increasing the fee about 24 percent for passenger car owners.

The new charge will be 10,894 colons, about $24, as of Jan. 1. The current fee is 8,805, about $19.50.

Trucks, taxis and other vehicles will see similar 

increases. The increase in the fee will also affect the charge for reinspection for vehicles that do not pass the procedure the first time around. The reinspection fee is half the initial one.

The controversial company maintains a government- approved monopoly for vehicle inspections. The company collects about $17 million in fees each year. The new rate hike is subject to approval by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

Body of kidnap victim
believed to be found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

On the evening of Jan. 10, 2002, José Fabio Garnier, 36, left work at Hertz, the car rental agency on Paseo Colón, and headed home. For nearly three years, his family and investigators have been trying to find out what happened to him then and where he was.

Some of the questions appear to have been answered Wednesday when a mixed team of investigators and mine-clearing experts located an informal tomb that contained a body believed to be Garnier.

The site was in Ciudad Colón west of San José. The body was in a tomb with a concrete lid.

Telephone calls after Garnier vanished convinced police the case was a kidnapping. His father is the former director of the country’s football league. When the calls stopped, investigators were left with very little.

Agents took four men into custody Nov. 2 for investigation of the crime.  Then they embarked on an extensive effort to find the body, directed either by a suspect’s testimony or information from a third party.

The mine-clearing personnel from the Fuerza Pública have special training in locating spent ammunition, anti-personnel mines and other items in the soil. Their training includes clearing anti-personnel devices along the Nicaraguan border, a product of the 1980s war there.

Finally after searching at least a half-dozen locations, agents found the tomb Wednesday. The site was about 20 feet from a road that leads to the University para la Paz west of Ciudad Colón.

Some victims of quake
may be relocated 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of the 94 homes destroyed by the Saturday earthquake may be relocated depending on a report of geologists who are studying land in the Quepos-Parrita area on the Pacific coast.

Government agencies would help with the relocation.

Emergency workers found out this week that two of the 30 homes listed as damaged on Isla Damas off the coast of Parrita were abandoned before the earthquake, they said.

In all some 1,535 families are affected by the 6.2 magnitude quake. A few are living in a shelter at Pocares de Paritta.

The Ministerio de Educación Pública said that 105 schools have suffered some sort of damage. School resumed today in the Quepos-Parrita area while structural analyses continue.

A group of psychologists from the University of Costa Rica will be working in the area starting today to provide counseling for those traumatized by the event.

Garbage will be collected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although most Municipalidad de Desamparados employees go on Christmas vacation midday Dec. 24, garbage will be collected each day except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, officials said. Extra collections will take place Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 to cover those locations where collections did not take place Christmas Day and New Years, they said.

Our readers write

Two more big concerns
about living with quakes

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In the emergency information you mentioned regarding earthquakes, there were a few obvious omissions on the part of the agency within the Costa Rican government that also might be helpful.

One thing I noticed that is sad indeed. While many aftershocks were occuring, the local news was inside and near and around buildings that were severely damaged. In fact, during several news reports on Repretel they were experiencing aftershocks when doing reports inside or next to damaged buildings.

When an earthquake has happened and there are aftershocks, which is virtually always, people need to stay out of severely damaged structures and also maintain some distance away from buildings that have fallen. Serious injuries result when an aftershock hits an already severely damaged building. Honestly, it is a miracle that no onlookers were injured during the many aftershocks.

Secondly, in doing repairs to damaged buildings, it is common that another earthquake happens in the zone within a month of the first. So, when repairing roofs, ceilings and other damage that may put someone on a ladder or on a roof, the work needs to be done with a safety line and also in the most safety conscious way.

On a personal note, I would like to see ICE and INS, who spend a lot of money on very generic advertising (when honestly we have no CHOICE but to use their services anyway) use the same monies to make an earthquake awareness and preparedness campaign. When most of the deaths are due to heart attacks from fear, it is highly recomendable that there be a major preparedness campaign on tv and radio to equip the population not to panic when an earthquake hits the area. Also to be conscious and prepared to deal with the aftermath.

Robbie Felix 
Quepos-Manuel Antonio
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Ex-miners switch their protest strategy to legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gold panners have moved their protest from the Casa Presidencial to the Asamblea Legislativa. A group of about 40, some holding banners, rallied around the entrance of legislature Wednesday.

"We have been fighting our case since 1986," said Ronald Espinoza Moreno. He held a banner.

The so-called mineros are seeking compensation for being cut off from their source of gold, which is in the Parque Nacional Corcovado. The government stopped gold panning in the area after officials decided the area should be protected. The Río Rincón contains placer deposits of gold from the nearby mountains. The park is in southwestern Costa Rica. 

Francisco Rodríguez Mora, another gold panner, said that he remembers the government removing some of the workers by force 18 years ago. "They owe each of us $6,500 in lost earnings."  Rodriguez said he feels that the Costa Rican government has cheated the workers out of their money. 

"We will stay here until someone listens to us. We had 

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Former placer miners try to gain sympathy at the legislature.

the right to work, and they took that away from us," said Espinoza. 

The former gold panners have been camped out in Zapote across the street from Casa Presidencial for two months, living under sheets of plastic.

Asylum seekers will just get one shot at proving case
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and Canada are about to set up a system that will affect asylum seekers at the U.S.-Canada border, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has announced.

Agency Director Eduardo Aguirre said the U.S.-Canada agreement ensures that all asylum-seekers will be heard and that individuals will not be removed until Canada or the United States has made a determination of their status. It also means that asylum seekers cannot shop between the two countries to get the best deal.

Among other nationalities, Costa Ricans have been seeking political asylum in Canada, so much so that Canada has tightened its visa policies.

The new agreement permits the United States to return to Canada certain asylum-seekers who either are attempting to enter the United States from Canada at a U.S.-Canada land border port-of-entry or who are being removed from Canada in transit through the United States. 

Similarly, it permits Canada to return to the United States certain asylum-seekers attempting to enter Canada from the United States at a U.S.-Canada land border port-of entry and certain aliens being removed from the United States through Canada. 

In either case, the agreement provides that the asylum-seeker be returned to Canada, if coming to the U.S. from Canada, or returned to the U.S., if going to Canada from the U.S., for consideration of any request for protection based on fear of persecution or torture.

Chile looking to house more Pinochet era military human rights abusers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — The country plans to open a new prison to house military personnel convicted of human rights crimes committed during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

A Chilean government spokesman says the prison will be created inside a military building and be run by regular prison guards. Chile already operates a similar 

prison in Punta Peuco, located about 40 kms. north of here.

The spokesman did not say why a new prison was being built, but the announcement comes one week after Chile's top court denied amnesty to the former head of Chile's secret police in connection to the 1975 disappearance of a dissident. More than 3,000 people died or disappeared for political reasons during Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

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Wednesday was a day to remember jailed journalists
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A leading media advocacy group says more than 100 journalists are being held in prisons worldwide, simply for doing their jobs. The group Reporters Without Borders set aside Wednesday as Jailed Journalists' Support Day, to call attention to the issue. 

Among the 128 jailed journalists is Cuba's Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso. The editor of a magazine called De Cuba, Gonzalez Alfonso was arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, as part of a crackdown on dissidents.

Reporters Without Borders says he is in a Cuban prison alongside dangerous criminals for publishing stories highlighting racism and calling for peaceful democratic reforms. 

The media group's Washington representative, Lucie Morillon, says Gonzalez Alfonso firmly believes his role as a journalist is to break the government's monopoly on the news, not to perpetuate it. 

"We are kind of worried for him," she said. "He staged a hunger strike in December 2003 to protest against being put among common law prisoners hostile to him, and the problem of prison harassment has continued since." 

Reporters Without Borders is dedicated to ending harassment of the press. 

As it has for the past 15 years, the international organization encourages media outlets worldwide to observe Jailed Journalists' Support Day to highlight the

 plight of a particular imprisoned journalist through news stories, programs or special events. 

Ms. Morillon says the goal is to remind oppressive governments that imprisoned journalists are not forgotten. 

She says some journalists have been freed after their cases received international attention, such as Burmese journalist San San Nweh, released in 2001, after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence. 

"She had been released after a lot of media, a lot of news organizations decided to voice their concern for her," she added. "In Russia, also, Gregory Pasko has been released after he received a lot of publicity. It's hard to tell that we are responsible for them being released, but we know it helps." 

Ms. Morillon adds that in the past month, a few Cuban journalists have also been released, but she warns that it is not a sign of widespread improvements.

"Two or three journalists have been released this last month in Cuba," she noted. "But it's not proof that the situation is getting better. We have to go on letting them know what is going on and know that sometimes the campaign for the release of a journalist can lead to better conditions of detention because the regime holding them knows they are not forgotten and that the international community's attention is focused on the journalist." 

Reporters Without Borders says in addition to the 128 jailed journalists, 70 cyber-dissidents are in prison for publishing reports critical of their governments.

Jo Stuart
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