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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 253
Jo Stuart
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Motorist gunned down by hitmen in Curridabat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another male from Colombia has died in what appears to have been a planned assasination.

The man, Lineth Barrera Narváez, died when gunmen in a red Honda pulled alongside his vehicle and pumped three bullets into his head.

The murder happened about 11 p.m. Sunday in the Autopista Florencio del Castillo in Curridabat. The Fuerza Pública reported that the victim was found dead inside his car. The location is near the Villas de Ayarco.

Agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization have little to go on except the testimony of witnesses. 

The drive-by killing is similar to the murder of two Colombians April 5, 2002. That took place in La Paulina de Sabanilla, Montes de Oca, near the University of Costa Rica as the victims’ vehicle was tied up in heavy rush-hour traffic. 

Dead were Jorge Avendaño Aragón, 20, and Juan Diego Muñoz  Zapata, 40. Two men on a motorcycle drove by and killed both men.

A similar motorcycle driveby took place in the month before in Paso Ancho when another, Colombian, Jorge Angulo Caidedo, was shot down by a man who came to see him at his home in the evening. Police at that time 
attributed the shooting to a private dispute perhaps related to an extortion charge that had been pressed against Angulo. 

Florida fugitive captured here in Palmar Norte
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Florida man, charged with attacking a former boss with a machete there, came in to police hands about noon Monday in Palmar Norte in the Canton of Osa in southwestern Costa Rica.

He is Landy Viera, identified here also by his maternal surname of Martínez. Viera, now 36, has lived in several areas in Costa Rica, including La Uruca, Pavas and Bajo de Los Ledezma. Investigators said they could not find evidence that he had entered the country legally.

Viera faces a charge of attempted murder and one of aggravated battery in Monroe County, Florida, according to the Web site of the county sheriff there. The county encompasses the Florida Keys.

Viera attacked two victims at their place of employment, Car Keys Auto, at Cross Street and U.S. 1 on Stock Island, according to Deputy Cynthia Garcia, who reported he was angry because one of the victims fired him from his job a week earlier. That was Oct. 22, 2001.

Viera got out of his car and began swinging a machete at Phillip Bethel, then 40, hitting him several times on the head, back and arms with the blunt edge of the weapon, according to the sheriff’s office, which added:

As he was swinging the machete, he was reportedly yelling, "I’m going to kill you!" The victim ran away, but fell as he was running. Viera approached him as he lay on the ground, and he raised the machete up as if to strike him again, but the second victim, Chad Braschos, then 17, hit Viera with a paint scraper to stop him from striking Bethel.

Monroe County, Fla., photo

At that point, Viera swung the machete at Braschos, striking him with the sharp edge of the blade in the forearm. Viera then fled, jumped into a car and drove away. Four witnesses who saw the entire incident assisted the two victims, and called the sheriff’s office for help. Braschos suffered a deep cut on his arm and was taken to the hospital for treatment.

A few minutes later, Viera gave himself up to a nearby sheriff’s deputy. Eventually he was let out on bail but did not show up for a court hearing.

Here Viera was apprehended on an order from the Juzgado Penal of the Tribunal Penal de Primer Circuito de San José.

The arrest Monday was made by the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) and the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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Tourism minister sees
8 percent annual jump

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism minister is predicting an 8 percent increase in tourists this year over 2002.

In 2002, the country hosted 1.1 million tourists and about 509,000 were from North America, according to official figures.

The most recent report for which numbers exist shows that tourist arrivals in 2003 are up about 6.1 percent over 2002. However, 2002 was a year affected by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The data covers January to May.

The minister, Rodrigo A. Castro Fonseca, bemoaned the lack of data. He blamed the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería for not being up to date with the numbers. However, he said that the U.S. tourism here has increased 10 percent and the European visitors are up 17 to 18 percent.

Castro said the increase could be credited to the intense work that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is doing in international promotion and in attracting new air flights.

The minister credited the new Web page,  which allows tourists to make online reservations. The Web page is controversial because officials contracted for $834,000 in Web and call center work over two years.

Castro called the airline flights the bottleneck to tourism. For that reason, he said, he and his associates have worked to increase weekly flights by 65, some million more airline seats every year.

Castro also said that the country expected a total of 173 cruise ships to visit Limón and some 93 to stop at Puntarenas. That would bring 400,000 tourists, he noted.

The Centro Nacional de Congresos y Convenciones y Ferial remain a top priority, he said. That is a convention center officials want to build west of the airport. Groundbreaking is scheduled for next year.

Other priorities include fixing up the ports where the cruise ships arrive and attracting even more air flights to Costa Rica.

A survey of tourism operators shows that some 1,400 persons are directly working in tourism, which is about a $1.2 billion industry.

Cold front leaving
nice weather behind

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There may be a break in the weather. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional reports that the cold front that has brought rain and low temperature is dissipating due to changes in the atmosphere.

Consequently less rain is expected in the northern zone and on the Caribbean slope. There may be rain in these areas, but it will be light, the weather institute said.

The Central Valley can expect more sunny weather and higher temperatures during the day, according to the forecast.

The cold front hit Costa Rica last Wednesday and brought rains and subsequent flooding. Then the weather system hung around keeping temperatures in the Central Valley below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F.) but with strong winds.

Border crossing
flooded by travelers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police and immigration officials had a big weekend 
at Peñas Blancas, the border crossing with Nicaragua.

A report Monday said that 17,000 persons, most of them Nicaraguan, crossed the border legally. Some 12,000 persons entered Costa Rica and 5,000 left.

Nearly 1,300 Nicaraguans who tried to cross illegally or without correct paperwork were stopped, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The heavy flow in human traffic is a result of the holiday season.
We now accept
other currencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica.

However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system.

The U.S.-based company does all the math and either converts payment to U.S. dollars at the current rate of exchange or places the money in the newspaper accounts denominated in the correct currency.

The exchange is invisible to advertising customers who simply make payments in their own national currency.

Pay Pal is a handy, secure system that allows customers to send or receive money with a few strokes on the computer keyboard once an account has been established.

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At least two die in 6.5 magnitude California quake
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PASO ROBLES, Calif, - At least two people died here when an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 struck the region Monday. The quake was felt as far south as Los Angeles and as far north as San Francisco.

The quake struck at 11:16 a.m. (1:16 p.m. Costa Rican time) and was centered near San Simeon, 300 kms (180 miles) northwest of Los Angeles. The deaths occurred in this nearby town where part of a 19th century building in the town square collapsed. 

Sgt. Bob Adams, a local police official, said "our initial reports include a couple of downtown buildings that have collapsed, and possibly having people trapped inside the structures, along with some gas leaks and some water line breakage."

Hearst Castle, a tourist attraction once owned by publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, also suffered some damage and was evacuated.

From San Francisco to Los Angeles, residents described feeling a rolling motion. 

A series of aftershocks followed the quake. But resident Joyce Hamley said most damage came from the first jolt. She works in a wine shop in Cambria, 16 kms. (about 10 miles) north of the epicenter. "Here in our little store, everything in a glass bottle is on the floor, and we kind of smell like a distillery, I think, with all the wine," she said.

The largest populated area to suffer the brunt of quake was the city of San Luis Obispo. "We felt a major jolt, to the point that there were plenty of items falling on the walls, people screaming," said one resident.

Sgt. Pete Hodgkins, with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Department, said "we felt it here. It was pretty solid. We have damage. We have roadway damage on the highway, we have one hospital that's reporting damage. However, they are up and running and accepting people at the emergency room."

Scientists say this was a major earthquake, but luckily it occurred in a lightly populated region. A nearby nuclear power plant reported no damage.

U.S. will add $200 million to fight against human trafficking
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has renewed its commitment to combating the crime of human trafficking worldwide with new funding of $200 million, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.

President George Bush signed funding legislation for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 Friday.

In a statement Monday, Tommy G. Thompson, 

secretary of Health and Human Services, said the new funding will help to provide assistance in particular to the 18,000-20,000 victims who are trafficked into the United States each year. New legal and public awareness tools will be employed in this campaign in the near future, said Thompson.

His department is launching a major public awareness campaign, targeted at local officials and service providers most likely to encounter victims, to find, rescue and restore victims to a humane condition of life, said Thompson.

Colombian rebels release six tourists who were held as hostages
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Rebels have released five foreign hostages held for months in the northern jungle-covered mountains.  The captives, four Israelis and a Briton, were handed over in northern Colombia to a humanitarian group Monday. 

The five were among eight people who the National Liberation Army, or ELN, abducted in the Sierra Nevada mountains Sept. 12. 

One captive, a British teenager, escaped shortly after being kidnapped, and two others were released in November. 

The ELN said it seized the tourists to bring awareness to the plight of the indigenous community in the area. 

Colombia has the highest kidnapping rate in the world, with rebels and other insurgents holding scores of civilians, politicians, and police and military officials. 

Year's weather was one of sharp contrasts
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sharp U.S. weather contrasts and hotter global temperatures are the hallmarks of 2003 weather, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Drawing upon the world's largest storehouse of climatic data, scientists say that 2003 will turn out to be Earth's third warmest year on record.

In reports providing an overview on U.S. and international weather conditions for the year, the administration said that 2003 was an above average year for hurricanes. Seven tropical storms grew up to be hurricanes in the 2003 season, contrasted with an annual average of five to six killer storms.

The data from 2003 place the year in the top ranks of record warmth years, behind 1998, the hottest year on record, and 2002. The historical data show a steadily rising temperature pattern over the last century, a trend that has accelerated since 1976. Examining data collected through November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that temperatures for the year were as much as 1.7 degrees  Celsius above average across large parts of Asia, Europe and the western United States. That’s about 3 degrees F.

Warmer-than-average temperatures also covered much of South America, Australia, Canada and parts of Africa, while widespread areas of cooler-than-average temperatures occurred in the eastern United States, western Asia, and coastal areas of Australia.

Conversely, extremely cold winter temperatures occurred across Asia in January. Temperatures in northwestern Russia were as low as minus 50 degrees F (minus 45 degrees C), and thousands of deaths were attributed to extremely cold conditions in India and Bangladesh during the month, according to published reports. Moscow received snowfall in June for the first time since 1963. In the Peruvian highlands, temperatures 

dropped below minus 5 degrees F (minus 20 degrees C) during the Southern Hemisphere winter month of July, which led to the reported deaths of more than 200 people.

In Argentina, Santa Fe was reportedly hit by its worst flooding in centuries due to several days of heavy rainfall in April and May, which caused major rivers to overflow their banks. Heavy rains associated with Typhoon Maemi in September triggered landslides and flooding that were responsible for more than 130 deaths and the evacuation of more than 25,000 people from their homes in South Korea. Normal-to-above-normal rainfall in the Sahel led to ideal growing conditions in much of this region of Africa. Rainfall in Zimbabwe and Mozambique brought some drought relief during the austral spring (September-November), but drought persisted in parts of those countries as well as South Africa and Botswana near years-end.

In the Atlantic 16 named storms formed in the Atlantic basin during 2003, including Hurricane Isabel, which was the first hurricane to make landfall along the East Coast since 1999. Tropical Storms Odette and Peter formed after the traditional end of the hurricane season. Odette was the first tropical storm to have developed in the Caribbean during December. Of the 16 named storms, seven became hurricanes and three were classified as major hurricanes. The annual average is five to six hurricanes.

According to the administration’s  National Hurricane Center, several factors contributed to the very active season including the absence of El Niño conditions in the Pacific and the persistence of conditions associated with the continuation of a multi-decadal period of enhanced activity that began in 1995. With the exception of 2002 and 1997, years that were both affected by El Niño, at least three major hurricanes have developed in every season since 1995. However, no significant long-term trend in hurricane strength or frequency has been observed in the Atlantic Basin.

An estimated 83 newspeople killed during the year
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A leading international organization defending the rights of journalists says 83 members of the profession have been killed worldwide over the past year, 13 more than in 2002. 

The International Federation of Journalists, based here, blamed the increase on war and indifference by officials. 

The organization, which serves as an umbrella group for news media trade unions worldwide, cited the war in Iraq, as well as continuing insurgencies in Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere, as principal causes of media casualties. The group also cited organized crime as a contributing factor. 

Speaking here Monday, federation general secretary Aidan White said the failure of officials to properly investigate killings of media staff remains a persistent obstacle to justice.

White also called for changes in international law to make targeting of journalists and failure to protect them war crimes. 

The group then announced it will observe April 8 as an international day of protest, to mark the first anniversary of a U.S. tank shell attack on a Baghdad hotel housing members of the press. Two cameramen were killed in the incident. 

The organization has since called for an independent investigation into the event, as well as into the killing of British television journalist Terry Lloyd near Basra last March.

Jo Stuart
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