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These articles were published Monday, Dec. 24, 2001
Yahaira Morena
. . . culture consultant
Joe Stuart
. . . Costa Rica's top columnist
Saray Ramírez Vindas
. . . promotions pro

 
Happy Holidays 
from A.M. Costa Rica!
Patricia Martin
. . . expert travel writer
Sharon Brodell
. . . long-suffering wife
Jay Brodell
. . . editor

 
The staff, writers, consultants and other team players for A.M. Costa Rica wish you a very happy holiday season, a properous New Year and all that is good. If you are not in Costa Rica, we hope you can join us here next year.

 
Paper will not 
be published
Christmas Day
A.M. Costa Rica will not be published tomorrow, Christmas Day. But we will be back early Wednesday morning keeping you informed of all the relevant news and information from Costa Rica and Latin America on a daily basis.

Look for extensive photo coverage of the Zapote Festival throughout the week, Wednesday’s horse parade in the Thursday edition and the Thursday Christmas carnival parade in the Friday edition.
 

There's magic in that red suit, particularly today
By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica editor

Today’s the day when portly, graying oldsters get a little bit of special respect from the younger set. You never can tell who Santa might be.

The name still carries magic. Even better, the uniform: the red suit, red hat and boots. Such dress is not unknown in Costa Rica.

Bob Wagner, a Web designer, recalled that several years ago he agreed to play Santa at a party in San José. The idea was that as youngsters jingled a bell, Wagner, A/K/A/ Santa, would appear walking down the street.

Wagner had brought a Santa suit with him when he moved from the United States.

The arrival did not go according to plan. Wagner recalls that as he walked up the street to the waiting children, dozens of other children poured out of nearby houses to scamper around Santa. Such is the power of Santa.

Several years ago, I was drafted to be Santa at an English-language school affiliated with Regis University in Denver. A special problem at the school were the many young Japanese ladies who were reticent in class and had difficulty learning English because they were to shy to speak. This is a continuing problem for second-language English teachers.

At the party, the Arab men were dancing, the Latins and Europeans were laughing and joking. The Japanese ladies, huddled in groups, looked like they were at a funeral.

That is until Santa arrived.

I first knew that the tenor changed when I, as Santa, saw a shy, demure Japanese university 
student race at full speed across the room and leap into my unprepared arms. From there on in it was 

like Burt Reynolds at a Costa Rican singles party.

The girls all had to be photographed with Santa: Hugging, kissing, lounging in his arms. We must have burned $1,000 in photographic film. And I didn’t even know Japanese knew about Santa.

Two years later I became aware of the intercultural impact. I was with my family eating at a Japanese restaurant in another city. Suddenly I noticed a Japanese man at a back booth. He raised his hand and pointed to me, smiled and in limited English, uttered: "Santa Claus." Indeed, in hundreds of Japanese homes and certainly in the hearts of at least 50 Japanese ladies, I am Santa Claus.

But the Santa mystique is not total. A young U.S. student at the San Pedro mall last week walked up to the Santa booth and plunked down 1,000 colons (nearly $3). That was the price for having your photo taken with the bearded old gentleman.

But the student, about 19-years-old and no fool, wasn’t interested in being photographed with Santa. He had his photo taken with Santa’s two lovely, long-legged assistants, two beautiful Ticas. And that’s a whole other mystique.


 
Playas del Coco bar owner greets Christmas in jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There’s no place like jail for the holidays. That’s the theme song for Roger Crouse, who, despite all efforts, is still in a Liberia prison.

But things are looking up. Crouse has been critical of the overcrowding and lawlessness during his four months there. Now he reported, he has been moved to a new prison nearby with better toilet facilities and fewer inmates.

Crouse said there are mostly older men in the prison. But "no old girls or old whiskey," he said with a sigh.

He was hoping Friday that he could get out by Christmas, and toward that end his lawyer was in San José Friday seeking some legal help. Crouse frequently calls friends and reporters on the jail telephone. But calling into the prison is nearly impossible. So Crouse agreed to call if he managed to get out of jail.

So far, no call.

Crouse, 50, a Canadian, shot and killed a man in his Gaby's Bar in Playas del Coco the evening of Aug. 19. The man came at him with a knife, Crouse told investigators. The man had been in the bar earlier creating a disturbance, and police took him away only to free him and let him return to the bar two hours later.

Having spent nearly four months in a crowded jail 
 

where he was a frequent victim of petty theft and robbery, Crouse said he is happy with his new environment. About 20 persons are lodged in each of two rooms. There are three showers, three toilets and a urinal, he said, a significant improvement over a single toilet.

The company is not bad either. Crouse said that at least two U.S. citizens are in the jail with him. Both are held on drug charges.

The major concern Crouse has is for his 72-year-old mother, Alice Frances Crouse, who has been under a lot of stress because of his confinement. Crouse is originally from Nova Scotia where his mother and other members of his family live. They, too, have been in contact with people in Costa Rica in an effort to help Crouse.

Crouse has not been convicted. He is being held for investigation. The three-month period under Costa Rica law, the time judicial officials can hold someone suspected of a crime, has been extended.  Crouse’s situation is made more complex because he does not speak Spanish well and frequently does not know what is going on. He has gone through several lawyers.

Crouse’s case has raised concern among a number of foreigners in Costa Rica because the evidence suggests that the shooting was a clear-cut case of self-defense, yet judicial officials are prosecuting the case as if it were premeditated murder. The family of the dead man also has joined in the action seeking a financial settlement.


 
U.S. tourist slips, dies
at Montezuma falls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 21-year-old U.S. tourist fell and died while climbing at the Montezuma waterfall Thursday, according to police.

They identified the man as David Henry Hotman of Pennsylvania. He was climbing on rocks at the waterfall Thursday afternoon when he slipped, fell, hit his head and ended up in the pool at the base of the falls, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Montezuma is at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, and the waterfall is a major tourist attraction there.

The cause of death was reported as either drowning or as a result of blows to the head from the fall.
 

U.S. prisoner in Peru
sent to northern jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA — American Lori Berenson, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Peru on terrorism charges, has been transferred to a prison in the northern part of the country.

A spokesman for Peru's prison system says Berenson and another female prisoner were transferred Friday from a high security jail in the capital here for what were called disciplinary reasons. 

Berenson was convicted in June of collaborating with leftist guerrillas in a failed plot to attack Peru's legislature. The conviction came in a civilian retrial after Peru's government dismissed a life sentence handed down by a military tribunal nearly five years ago. 

She denied throughout her trials she was a member of Peru's leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement or knew of the plot to attack Congress. 

Berenson, a New York native, is a former student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 

Colombian restarts talks
with leftist guerrillas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Colombian government says it is reopening formal peace talks with the nation's second-largest leftist guerrilla group while restoring its political status at the same time. 

Authorities issued a statement Friday, saying the government also planned to suspend arrest warrants for leaders of the National Liberation Army, the ELN. 

The development comes just days after the ELN announced a unilateral holiday truce it said would run through Jan. 6. The army, however, accused the rebel force of violating the ceasefire by kidnapping six people and attacking a village. The ELN has not commented on the alleged violations. 

The government of Colombian President Andres Pastrana resumed contacts with the ELN last month after preliminary talks broke down last August. 

Informal talks have already taken place this month in Havana, with more meetings tentatively scheduled for January in the Cuban capital. 

The ELN and Colombia's largest rebel force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, are involved in a 37-year civil war that pits them against the government and right-wing paramilitary forces. The war has claimed 40,000 lives in the last decade. 
 

New Argentine leader
suspends debt payments

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina's new interim president, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, says he is suspending payments on the country's huge foreign debt and has vowed to use the money to create a million new jobs.

Rodriguez Saa, who served for 18 years as governor of the central province of San Luis, was sworn in as president Sunday, after an all-night debate in Congress on the length of his term. Lawmakers decided he would serve until after elections in March, with the new president scheduled to take office on April 5 next year.

In his inaugural address, Rodriguez Saa promised to address the social ills that triggered looting, rioting and protests across Argentina last week, and brought down the government of former President Fernando de la Rua.

He said he would start work immediately on a jobs-creation program and implement a food plan. A four-year recession in Argentina has pushed unemployment to above 18 percent.

The new president said he is suspending payments on his country's $132 billion public debt. He said this was not a permanent default on Argentina's obligations, but "the first move by a rational government to deal with the foreign debt correctly".

The popular Peronist leader said he would keep the country's currency, the peso, tied to the U.S. dollar, but also suggested he would introduce an extra, parallel currency.

His appointment restores Argentina's largest party, the Peronists, as the country's dominant political forces after its worst unrest since the late 1980s. Massive street protests, rioting and looting last week left 28 people dead nationwide.

World leaders are expressing optimism and concern for Argentina. Friday, President George Bush urged the South American nation to implement austerity measures to protect its creditors and qualify for additional aid from the International Monetary Fund. 

Bush, along with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, also issued a joint statement saying they hoped Argentina can find a solution that leads the country back to sustainable growth and prosperity. 

The leaders reiterated confidence in Argentina, describing it as one of the Western Hemisphere's leading democracies. 

Meanwhile, South American leaders of the Mercosur trading bloc called for urgent international support to aid Argentina. 

Priest who helped Cubans
dies at 71 in Florida

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Roman Catholic priest who led an effort to bring 14,000 children out of Fidel Castro's Cuba 40 years ago has died. 

Msgr. Bryan Walsh, 71, died Thursday in Miami of complications from recent heart surgery. 

The program he founded, known as Pedro Pan (Peter Pan), brought unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami. The local Catholic archdiocese sent them to camps, relatives' homes and orphanages until their parents could join them.

Among those children were U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez and outgoing Miami Mayor Joe Carollo. 

 During a half century as a priest, Walsh was the pastor of several churches and active in interfaith and interracial dialogues as well as Catholic Charities in South Florida. 

Another arrest made in insider check-fraud case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police have arrested another telephone company employee as a suspect in a complex series of check frauds.

Agents took the man into custody Thursday at the Sabana office of the Costa Rican Electrical Institute, which also is the telephone company. At the same time police said they were investigating a bank employee in Puntarenas for also having been involved in the complicated series of thefts.

Police added that there may be even more arrests. 

The arrested telephone company employee joins in jail three Banco Nacional employees, another employee of the telephone company, a former police investigator and nine other persons arrested last week. The name of the arrested man was not available over the weekend.

Agents said all were part of 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, said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization. There the men learned private information and were able to duplicate checks printed for legitimate account holders. 

The bank employees include two from the Escazú branch. They are alleged to have provided additional information to the gang. 

The bank employees also were instrumental in telling merchants and others that phony checks were good when they called to verify the validity of the checks. Based on the telephone information obtained from the clerks, the callers would then accept the false checks.

The telephone company was involved because gang members were able to misdirected telephone calls to themselves from persons seeking to verify the validity of checks. The gang members pretended that the phone calls were going to various bank offices when, in fact, the calls were going to phones set up and manned by the gang.


 
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