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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001

The portal, what the nativity scene is called here, anchors a giant display of Christmas lights at Avenida 2 and Calle 40, just a block east of La Sabana Park at the offices of 
Division Medica Capris.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Crooks cloned credit cards at fancy restaurant
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diners who ate in an upscale Rohrmoser restaurant were among the victims of a sophisticated ring of credit card thieves who used computers and electronic devices to pillage accounts, according to investigators.

The case came to a head Wednesday morning when police arrested three persons and raided four locations looking for clues. They are seeking two more persons, both Colombians, who are now considered fugitives, they said. As many as 50 persons were victims of the ring, according to investigators.

Police first raided the Coronado home of a man named Maravillas, whom they identified as a Cuban who had been associated with a defunct chain of casinos. They said they found there credit cards and vouchers for credit transactions.

In the second raid at the home of a man named Avellán in El Carmen de Guadalupe police said they found computer equipment and a device used for 
the falsification of credit vouchers and other documents.

In the third raid at the Paso Ancho home of a man named Avaloj and at his office in Sabanilla, agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization said they found a dataphone device used to give authorizations for credit cards and a device used to read the credit limits on cards, along with other articles of evidence.

Investigators said that the men would clone credit cards, in some cases using the cards presented for payment at El Farolito Restaurant in Rohrmoser where one of the men worked as administrator. 

These duplicate credit cards were then used to make purchases in Costa Rica, Colombia, Panamá, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to investigators.

Miravalles, the former owner of a defunct casino chain, continued to operate the credit card devices used by the casinos, according to police.

The total loss to credit card users and banks may exceed 180 million colons ($530,000), police said. They added that the ring may have had as many as 10 members, so they are looking for five other persons in addition to the two persons in flight.

More arrests


in cases of

check fraud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said Wednesday that they may arrest three more employees of banks and at least two more telephone company employees as they get more information about a complex web of check frauds.

They said that as they were studying the evidence seized in raids Tuesday there was a possibility that four more persons also would be arrested.

Tuesday investigators arrested three employees of the Escazú branch of Banco Nacional and also an employee of the Costa Rican Electrical Institute, which also is the telephone company.

The four were among 12 arrested as police said they busted up a gang that stole as much as 500 million colons ($1.6 million) from state and private banks and companies. The gang spent a year infiltrating some of their members into the firm that prints checks for Banco Nacional. There the men learned private information and were able to duplicate checks printed for account holders, said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The bank employees told people who called that the checks were good, and the telephone worker redirected calls from merchants seeking verification that the checks were good to confederates who pretended to be bank empoloyees, police said Tuesday.

National road official admits Nosara route is bad
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The problems with the rough roads in the vicinity of Nosara is a paperwork problem and not one of construction, according to the man in charge of the major roads there.

The man, Juan José Mesén, said that he agrees that

Earthquake Information Center graphic
Star shows the likely location of the quake that hit along the Panama border early Wednesday. Yellow lines are known faults.

Quake hits border area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake of 4.8 magnitude hit early Wednesday about 15 miles (40 kms.) west of David, Panama, along the Panama-Costa Rican border.

The quake had a depth of out 20 miles (33 kms.) according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center. the quake was registered at about 4:45 a.m. Costa Rican time.

 a number of roads in the area are in bad shape but that he already has submitted paperwork to the main offices of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in San José. And there they sit awaiting signatures, he said.

Mesén said that the whole of Route 160 that runs along the Pacific coast from south of Sámara to north of Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula are in a very bad state. He also said that part of several other routes need to be fixed.

A.M. Costa Rica reported Monday that the route from Playa Guiones just south of Nosara to the hard-surface road east of Sámara, some 15 miles (25 kms.), was nearly impassable. Residents of Nosara, a highly visible tourist destination, said they were embarrassed that the roads were in such bad shape considering that many persons had come there to see the solar eclipse Friday.

Mesén said that inspectors for the ministry already took a look at the roads and agreed that a lot of work was needed. The local approval for the work was obtained and then the paperwork went to ministry offices in San José a little awhile ago, he said. 

The project will involve spreading gravel and leveling the road. Some in Nosara have been hearing rumors that the ministry will install a hard-surface, all-weather road for years. But others there do not want such a road fearing that increased traffic will destroy the seclusion of the beach area.

The road has been a victim of the rainy season, and the 15 miles to the hard-surface road are pitted with large holes and water-soaked soft spots that are prone to large ruts. There even are gullies where pools of water, some two feet deep, sit waiting for hapless cars. Still the road is used every day by buses, residents and visitors, many of whom use four-wheel drive vehicles.

Still an automobile service center located where the gravel road joins the hard surfaced highway does a steady business in damaged vehicles and tires.

Year 2001 is ending as second warmest in history
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The World Meteorological Organization reports that 2001 is expected to end as the second warmest year on record and that this year's high temperatures were accompanied by record floods and droughts around the globe.

According to a statement released Wednesday, preliminary figures from weather stations, ships and buoys located around the world show the global average surface temperature this year was above the 30-year average temperature between 1961 and 1990 by 0.42 degrees Celsius.

The organization said the end of the La Nina weather pattern brought a return of warmer surface temperatures to the central and eastern equatorial Pacific in 2001 and was a contributing factor to the higher annual average this year.

The warmest year since records began in 1860 occurred in 1998, and nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990, according to the association. These conditions are part of a continuing trend to warmer global temperatures 

that have resulted in a rise of more than 0.6 degrees Celsius during the past 100 years. Since 
1976, the global average has risen at a rate approximately three times faster than the trend over the past 100 years.

The World Meteorological Organization also reported that many areas of the world were inundated with record rainfall during 2001, while severe droughts hit other areas. For example, Tropical Storm Allison moved slowly across the southern and eastern United States in June, resulting in the most extensive flooding ever associated with a tropical storm.

A devastating drought in Central and Southern Asia that began in 1998 continued in 2001 over a broad region centered in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rainfall since 1998, during the wet season from November to April, has been less than 55 percent of average. The lack of adequate rainfall has stressed water supplies and agriculture and has affected more than 60 million people.

More information on the WMO report can be found at http://www.wmo.ch

Search for missing U.S. citizen in inactive stage awaiting leads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The active search for an elderly U.S. citizen missing for more than a month, has been called off, but investigators still are seeking clues. A reward of $3,000 still exists. 

In a new development, Orlando Chavez M. of the Fuerza Publica in La Fortuna said Wednesday that the missing man,  Leo Widicker of North Dakota, U.S.A., had about $300 on him went he walked away from Tabacón Lodge near there Nov. 18.  Until now it had been thought that the man had but $4.

Chavez said that the police had received telephone calls from residents who saw someone like Widicker walking toward the Arenal Vocano about three weeks ago. La Fortuna is the largest town in the volcano area.

Cruz Roja, the Costa Rican Red Cross, has stepped down from the investigation because there was not much the group could do. At one time there were eight Red Cross searchers in the field looking for the man. They  were headed by Felipe Ruíz Hernández. They only conducted an active search for three days.

However, Chavez said that as far as the Fuerza Publica was concerned clues still are being sought to find out what happened to the man. However, he said that the Christmas holidays would slow down any investigative work.

Residents did report buzzards flying in an area near where the man was believed to be, but police located the body of a large snake on which the birds were feeding.

Some persons have said that they saw a man who looked like Widicker in several locations in the San José area, but there have been no such sightings that have panned out.

Widicker was left on a bus when his wife and others went to Tabacon Lodge, and it is believed that he wandered away from the bus and left the resort grounds. Tabacon is about 10 miles (16.5 kms.) west of La Fortuna. There is not much in the area except a few other resorts, a river, farm fields and rougher land on the slope of the volcano.

The man was said to be ailing and suffering from some mental lapses.

Brazil's foreign minister
rips fast track loopholes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO Brazil says U.S. restrictions included in the so-called Fast Track trade authority endanger the prospects for a hemisphere-wide free-trade area. Brazil's foreign minister made the warning at a news conference with foreign journalists here. 

South American countries have wanted the United States to approve the so-called fast-track-trade authority. But Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer says his country objects to various provisions included in the Trade Promotion Authority legislation approved by the House of Representatives earlier this month.

That bill, which has yet to be approved by the Senate, gives President Bush expanded authority to negotiate trade accords. Under fast track, once these accords are negotiated they are submitted to the Congress for an up or down vote without amendments. But the House version of the legislation includes restrictions on what U.S. trade officials can negotiate, including barring any deals on products like sugar and citrus.

Foreign Minister Lafer says these restrictions will create problems in reaching agreement on a hemisphere-wide free trade accord. "I do not diminish the difficulties we will have, considering the limitations to the negotiating process that the Trade Promotion Authority, as it stands, contemplates especially in the area of products that are of great interest to Brazil," said Lafer. "Products in the agricultural area, of agribusiness in general, and products in the textile area." 

The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, known as FTAA, would create a Western Hemisphere free-trade area in 2005. Brazil is among the 34-nations that have agreed to work toward this goal.

The Brazilian press has been filled with articles in recent days predicting the FTAA is dead because of the restrictions imposed by U.S. lawmakers. Lafer refused to describe the FTAA process as moribund but said Brazil will continue to insist on reciprocity from the United States. 

Sex charge against Ortega
dismissed because it's old

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA A Nicaraguan judge has thrown out sexual abuse charges against former President Daniel Ortega, saying too much time has passed since the alleged incidents occurred. 

Wednesday, Judge Juana Mendez dismissed the case brought by Ortega's stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez. The 33-year-old daughter of Ortega's wife, Rosario Murillo, accused the former president of raping her repeatedly over a period of several years, beginning when she was 11 years old. 

The Sandinista Party leader consistently denied the allegations but congressional immunity allowed him to avoid criminal charges for several years. The case was reopened last week, after he renounced his immunity, saying the time has come to set the record straight. 

The Ortega family said in a statement it was relieved at the decision. Ms. Narvaez's lawyer says her client will appeal. 

Mexican volcano erupts
and spews tower of ash

By the A.M.  Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY Popocatepetl volcano has erupted again, sending smoke and a towering cloud of ash nearly three kilometers ( about 2 miles) above the crater's base.  Mexican officials say the volcano erupted Tuesday and that residents in Mexico City, 65 kilometers away, could see the smoke.  Popocatepetl has erupted periodically since December 1994.

 State of emergency
 declared in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES Argentina's president has declared a 30-day state of emergency to deal with mounting public unrest over his economic austerity measures. President Fernando de la Rua acted Wednesday in response to a wave of looting and rioting that has swept the capital and other cities in recent days. The violence has left at least five people dead. 

In an address to the nation, the president blamed the rioting on what he called enemies of the republic. The Argentine congress is debating whether to repeal the president's emergency economic powers. 

On Wednesday, riot police here fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse looters. Many responded by hurling stones and explosives at police. Argentine television also broadcast scenes of entire families ransacking supermarkets and small retail shops. Some of the looters say hunger is driving them to steal. 

Argentina is trying to cope with an 18 percent unemployment rate. It is in the midst of a four-year recession and trying to avoid a default on its $132 billion public debt. Reports say nearly 15 million Argentines live at or below the poverty line. 

Last week, thousands of Argentines staged a one-day general strike to protest the austerity measures aimed at keeping the economy solvent. The last time Argentina saw such widespread looting was in 1989 when the nation endured an economic crisis and hyperinflation. The problems forced then-President Raul Alfonsin to leave office. 

Meanwhile, Argentina's largest producer of steel rods, Acindar, said Wednesday it cannot meet its $5.6 million debt payment, becoming the third Argentine company to default in nine days. 

Acindar has been hit by Argentina's four year recession, which has sent borrowing rates above 30 percent and has caused a sharp decline in the demand for steel. Record low steel prices in world markets have exacerbated Acindar's financial problems. 

The company has reduced production 36 percent over the past year and cut administrative costs and workers' salaries by 20 percent to meet its debt obligations. After defaulting on Wednesday, Acindar said it would discuss with creditors alternative solutions to repay its debt. 

Mexico's attorney general
will probe appeals verdict

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY Mexico's attorney general says he will request an investigation into an appeals court verdict that overturned the drug trafficking conviction of Rafael Fonseca Carrillo, the alleged "grandfather" of Mexican drug lords. 

Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha says he will ask a judicial review council to investigate Monday's verdict, which would return to Fonseca more than $3 million, houses and other properties seized during the drug investigation. 

The appeals verdict will not allow Fonseca to leave the maximum security prison where he has spent most of the last 17 years while he awaits trial on other charges. 

Fonseca allegedly founded a marijuana and opium ring in the Pacific state of Sinaloa in the 1970s. He allegedly brought relatives into his organization, who then went on to head Mexico's biggest drug cartels. 

New baby checks in at ARCR

Ryan Piercy and wife Eugenia are the parents of a new baby, Adrian, born Dec. 5. He is the executive director of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica. 

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