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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002, in Vol. 2, Nov. 240
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Two visitors check out the nativity scene with rain forest motif

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
School children on a stage in front of the Teatro Nacional kick off the Christmas season that will feature nightly shows.
Christmas arrives
officially downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas season came to downtown San José last night with the official inauguration of the portal at the Teatro Nacional and the start of nightly festivities.

The portal or nativity scene is done in a rain forest motif this year with heavy vegetation and large tree trunks on the front steps of the theater. Each year the theater tries to come up with a new idea, frequently one far different from the traditional Bethlehem stable setting

A series of school choral groups entertained the crowds last night. Each night the offering will be different types of music, starting at 6 p.m.

Bacterial disease outbreak hits Quepos area
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 10 confirmed cases of a deadly bacterial disease have been reported in Quepos.

A staff doctor at Max Teran Valls Hospital said there are more than 10 confirmed cases of leptospirosis, and the hospital is testing more patients for the infection.

Leptospirosis, also known as mud fever among other common names, is transmitted to people either through direct contact with urine of infected mammals or indirect exposure with water and soil contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria is transmitted through open wounds, nostrils, eyes and the mouth.

Contaminated ecosystems can host the volatile bacteria for up to six months. Flooding, like the kind the Limón area experienced Saturday and Sunday, is known to help raise the bacteria from the soil and distribute it over large areas.

In 1996 a physician notified the Illinois Public Department of Health that five patients contracted the bacterial illness during a white water rafting trip in Costa Rica. A further investigation found that at least nine of the 26 rafters, most from the United States, suffered symptoms. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site at www.cdc.gov: The symptoms are similar to dengue, a mosquito-transmitted disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, anemia, and sometimes a rash. If not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases, death occurs. 

A doctor at the Clínica Médica Dr. Vargas Guillén said there have been about five cases reported in Limón this year and one resulted in death. Limón is on the Caribbean coast, and Quepos is on the Pacific coast.

An investigation by the Centers for Disease Control cited leptospirosis as the likely cause of 300 severe illnesses and 13 deaths in 

Nicaragua in 1995. The illness affecting that area came during particularly heavy rainfall and flooding.

If contaminated sources are not rooted out infection rates can mount.

A particularly disturbing aspect of the illness is that it is known to infect dogs, which become infected through contact with urine of other carrying species like cows, pigs or rats. A dog out in the field can carry the illness to the home.

Elena Ross, an organizer for the Samantha Foundation, which helps provide healthcare for dogs, is concerned with the possibility of an outbreak around the Quepos area. She is taking the precaution of isolating her unvaccinated dogs.

Dogs can be vaccinated from the bacteria at 8 weeks old and then a booster shot is necessary yearly to keep the protection.

Mrs. Ross is helping to organize a vaccination clinic today at the Community Salon in Londres. With the help of local veterinarians the Samantha Foundation will spay and neuter dogs and vaccinate them from leptospirosis and other hazards.

It takes three weeks for the vaccination to be effective so dogs should still be isolated for that time. Also the vaccination is not 100 percent effective because there are different strains of the bacteria that the vaccination does not cover.

General precautions to take when traveling in the tropics are to avoid contaminated waterways, wear trousers and do not expose sores, according to health officials.

When dealing with an infected animal avoid contact with its urine and disinfect soiled areas, they say.

If a person becomes infected, the bacteria is treatable with antibiotics, but if time is wasted in combating the illness an intravenous antibiotic may be necessary.

It is possible for people to protect themselves by taking a regiment of antibiotics before venturing into potentially contaminated areas.

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Coast Guard nets another coke bust
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter went on an unusual fishing trip Nov. 21 and caught five suspected drug smugglers with 1,800 pounds of cocaine.

Before the men and cargo were pulled from the eastern Pacific Ocean they were traveling on a fast boat en route to the U.S. off the western coast of Nicaragua. The fast boat had the name Nazareno.

A U.S. Customs aircraft crew sighted the Nazareno Nov. 20 and a helicopter tactical squadron out of Jacksonville, Fla. was immediately deployed to intercept them.

After arriving on the scene, the helicopter crew repeatedly ordered the suspects in the go-fast vessel to stop. The suspected smugglers ignored the Coast Guard’s orders and continued to flee. The chase ended when the helicopter crew shot out the vessel’s engines. The smugglers then set fire to the go-fast boat and dove overboard.

That’s when the Coast Guard team aboard the
378-foot cutter, Hamilton, captured the floating 

suspects. The law enforcement agents also found the motivation for their flight: 36 bales of cocaine with an estimated wholesale street value of $16 million.

The five suspected smugglers were then transferred to Tampa, Fla. for prosecution. A U.S. attorney announced Wednesday that the men have been charged in a two-count indictment with possessing with intent to distribute in excess of five kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel and conspiring to possess with intent to distribute in excess of five kilograms of cocaine.

The men are Fernando Taborda, Jorge Tabordo, Angel Benite, Marino Porto Carrero, and Juan Carlos Quiroga-Rosero.

Marine patrols of both Costa Rica and the United States made a similar catch Nov. 18 when marine patrols nabbed the five-man crew of a fast boat near Punta La Chancha on the Osa Peninsula. Officials said that the boat’s trip had originated in Colombia.

They estimated that the boat contained about 1,200 kilos (about 2,640 pounds) of suspected cocaine.

Carara first Latin park with disabled access path
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Carara National Park near Orotina will become the first in Latin America to have a disabled person’s access path, thanks to the work of Raleigh International volunteers.

The British organization announced Monday that it has completed work on the path and will open it officially Dec. 13 at 10.30 a.m. Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, will unveil the path to public.

Volunteers from around the world created the wheelchair access path. The path was constructed from stones and coated with concrete. An existing bridge in the park was fitted with ramps on either side to link it to the path. The bridge was re-painted. In addition, a regular path was upgraded as part of the project. 

Forty-five volunteers, including youngsters from Australia, Belize, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and of course Costa Rica and Great Britain, spent two expeditions and 6 months carrying out the work, said Julliette England, Raleigh’s press officer. Volunteers are aged between 17 and 24 years old.

The fruit of their labors was commended by Gavin Barker, leader of Raleigh International’s current expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “These young people have worked very hard. We are all so proud of what they have achieved,” he said.

The park has three types of forest. Disabled people will now be able to enjoy it in its entirety.
Created in 1978, the park covers 5000 hectares— 

Photo courtesy of Raleigh International
Raleigh’s Gavin Barker, perhaps under attack by a lobster, displays the reef plaque with Ambassador Butler.

the path measures 1 km of this area. The Carara project was a collaboration with the Ministerio de Ambiante y Energía. A representative of the ministry is expected to attend the opening.

Raleigh recently opened an artificial reef in Curú Bay on the Nicoya Peninsula. Ambassador Butler inaugurated that one also, diving into the ocean to affix a plaque to the reef. 

The organization currently has nine active projects in their portfolio across Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Government employees set for holiday vacation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both the executive branch and the judicial branch of government have declared the time around Christmas and New Year’s as official holidays.

Casa Presidencial announced Tuesday that employees in the executive branch will be on vacation from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. That decision was made by the Consejo de Gobierno, President Abel Pacheco’s cabinet.

But the court vacation will be longer, from Dec. 23 until Jan. 10, according to a decision made Oct. 8 by the Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial. The judicial branch saved some 1.5 billlion colons ($4 million) in salaries when some 5,267 workers had an enforced vacation. Last year was the first time that the judicial branch did this. A release from the courts said that some 15 million colons ($40,000) was saved in power, water and other utility charges, too.

This year there are 5,600 employees who will take a break, said a release from the judicial branch.

But residents here should not worry, said the courts. The shutdown will not alter services in key areas, the release said. Someone will be available at the Judicial Investigating Organization, the Ministerio Público and the Defensa Pública, and even the Sala IV constitutional court will be ready to meet if an emergency arises. Magistrates at lower levels will take turns keeping the work moving, the court release said.

The executive branch said it would save money not by withholding salaries but because employees

will be taking vacation days that they will not be able to take at other times. Savings are expected in paper, utilities and fuel, said the release from Casa Presidencial. However, the government council emphasized that basic services will not be affected.

The government council also told independent agencies that members of the boards of directors should not be paid the traditional Christmas bonus, the alguinaldo. The Defensor de los Habitantes went to court this year to get members of boards of directors to pay back Christmas bonuses they had received from the organization they supervise.

The council of government made it clear that such persons serve on a daily basis and are not entitled to be paid the bonus.

Ovidio Pacheco, minister of Trabajo, said that he would soon send to the Asemblea Nacional a restructured law that the president had requested. The new law spells out specifically exactly who of those working in public institutions is entitled to the alguinaldo or so-called 13th month of pay.

Public institutions, such as the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, can still pay the directors the alguinaldo because there exists a legal basis for doing so. But the council of government request was more like a strong request rather than a command.

Private employees in Costa Rica also have to pay an alguinaldo to their workers. The payment usually represents a full month’s pay. In the case of employees who have not worked for a year, the payment is a proportional share of a full month’s pay.

Villalobos’ Contra aid
outlined by newspaper

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho was a key financial figure for the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, according to an exclusive story in the daily Al Dia Tuesday.

The newspaper interviewed Edén Pastora, one-time leader of the southern Contra movement, by telephone in Nicaragua and Karol Prado, a Pastora lieutenant who lives in San José.

Both said that Villalobos was closely tied to the Contra effort. Prado called Villalobos the "changer of the dollars." However, Villalobos always denied that he was an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said Prado.

Villalobos, a Costa Rican, was running a helicopter agricultural spraying business when the Sandinistas took over the country, said the newspaper.

Pastora described Villalobos as a non-drinker but a joker and also a Christian who always used terms typical of Christians. Pastora also said that he defaulted on an $80,000 loan that eventually was settled when he turned over an airplane to Villalobos.

There were no real surprises in the interviews, which outlined details that generally were known to investors of the Villalobos high-interest investment business. There was no clue in the twin interviews how Villalobos later managed to earn enough money to pay his investors.

The Contra movement was financed heavily by U.S. covert forces, and resulted in the so-called Iran-Contra scandal that rocked the administration of Ronald Reagan. Many investors believed that Villalobos still had ties to U.S. covert agencies, and that is why some invested with him.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Villalobos, who may be in Nicaragua. The Al Dia story pointed out that some of the southern Contra leaders now hold high positions in the government of President Enrique Bolaños.

Villalobos closed his investment business Oct. 14. He paid up to 3 percent a month. His brother, Oswaldo, who operated the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house, now is in jail under investigation for fraud and several technical charges having to do with finances. He may hold up to $1 billion in investor assets.

Call for help issued
for Caribbean effort

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cruz Roja is issuing a call for aid for flooding victims in the southern part of the Caribbean coast in the vicinity of Sixaola.

Officials described the situation as critical with scarce resources and many areas still cut off. The area was hard hit by heavy rains over the weekend that drove as many as 6,000 people from their homes on the whole Caribbean slope.

In Talamanca the body of Jennifer Rivera Solís, 1,  showed up. She was swept from her mother’s arms Sunday near the Río Telire in Gavilán Canta. She is one of four victims known so far.

Officials still are searching for a U.S. citizen and a Swiss citizen who were dumped into a canal when their boat overturned Monday. Two other foreigners survived.

The Cruz Roja has list bank accounts where donations may be made:

100100-7 Banco Nacional (colons)

176003-3 Banco de Costa Rica (colons)

204-6 Banco de Costa Rica (dollars)

Among those donating was the U.S. Department of State that gave $50,000 to the Comisión
Nacional de Emergencia Tuesday.

Powell urges straight talk
on AIDS crisis

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell at a State Department event Tuesday marking World AIDS Day, urged government leaders around the world to speak frankly about the disease and to avoid stigmatizing those infected. 

Powell says countries which are having the most success against the AIDS pandemic are the ones whose leaders have been the most forthcoming about the disease, and in making sure that lifesaving information reaches all of their people. 

At a reception for the Washington diplomatic corps marking World AIDS Day, which was observed globally on Sunday, the secretary of state said there should be "no taboos or sensitivities" in confronting the crisis, and that consigning the disease to silence means condemning more and more people to their deaths.

He also said that leadership on the AIDS crisis means not marginalizing those in society who have the disease or carry the HIV virus. 

"All of us have a responsibility to send the message that the virus is the enemy, not the men, not the women, and above all not the innocent children who contract it," he said. "We have the responsibility to send the message that people living with AIDS should not be treated with cruelty and discrimination, but with dignity and compassion."

NASA: Arctic ice may melt by century’s end

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says that perennial sea ice — the floating ice that remains year round near the Arctic Circle — is melting faster than previously thought and could disappear entirely within this century.

A Nov. 27 press release on the satellite study says the sea ice is now melting at a rate of 9 percent per decade, and if these melting rates continue for a few more decades, the sea ice may be completely melted by the end of the century due to rising temperatures and interactions between the ice, ocean and the atmosphere that accelerate the melting process.

The melting sea ice would not affect sea levels, but it could profoundly impact summer shipping lanes, plankton blooms, ocean circulation systems and global climate, according to the study.

"If the perennial ice cover, which consists mainly of thick multi-year ice floes, disappears, the entire Arctic Ocean climate and ecology would become very different," said Josefino Comiso, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The study appears in the late October issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

Troops fire at oil
strikers in Caracas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Soldiers have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a protest by state oil workers who joined an escalating general strike to force President Hugo Chavez to call early elections.

The military action came Tuesday here as demonstrators massed outside the headquarters of the state-owned oil monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela.

Several people, including a local television photographer, were hurt by shotgun pellets as the troops cleared the area of demonstrators. The area was later decreed an off-limits "security zone" by President Chavez.

The protest has raised fears of oil disruptions in Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and a key supplier to the United States. As tension mounted, nervous motorists rushed to gas stations around Venezuela to fill up their gas tanks.

It was the second day of a general strike that opposition labor and business groups organized in a bid to loosen Chavez's hold on power. The president's opponents say he is trying to model the oil-rich country on communist-run Cuba and leading Venezuela toward economic ruin.

Powell in Colombia
discusses drugs, terror

Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, traveled to Colombia on Sunday to demonstrate U.S. solidarity with Alvaro Uribe, Colombian president. 

"I want to show the United States' support for President Uribe, his administration, for the new national security strategy and for our joint efforts to find narco-trafficking and narco-terrorism and those terrorist elements within Colombian society who are trying to destroy the dream of the Colombian people to have a democracy," Powell said in a Saturday interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

Within that context, Powell said the recent announcement of a cease-fire by the Colombian paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia and its stated intention to negotiate with the Colombian government is "encouraging." 

However, he cautioned that, "It remains to be seen whether it is a true cease-fire and whether it leads to a process that will end the difficulties that have existed with the AUC."

"The AUC will remain a terrorist organization until it demonstrates that it is no longer a terrorist organization," Powell said.

The Secretary said that during his two-day trip to Colombia, he hopes to gain a better understanding of that country's situation in order to advise the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress on the difficulties faced by Colombian authorities. Powell also said his trip will help him defend U.S. funding for Plan Colombia and other regional initiatives in the year ahead.

Among U.S.-supported initiatives in the region are aerial narcotics interdiction programs in Colombia and Peru, suspended in 2001 due to safety concerns. Powell indicated that he is anxious to re-start the suspended program and will submit the initiatives for President Bush's certification once retraining is complete and necessary safety procedures are in place.
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