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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 254
Jo Stuart
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a very merry
Gold prices are a good sign for open pit mine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rising price of gold is putting more and more pressure on Costa Rica and the environmental officials who must decide if permits will be issued to mine the precious metal.

The most visible of these is the Cerro Crucita project just south of the Río San Juan that markets the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Vannessa Ventures Ltd. announced Monday that the Costa Rican agency in charge of environmental protection has finished reviewing the impact study submitted by the company.

Vannessa and its subsidiary here Industrias Infinito S.A. started the project with an estimated market value of gold at about $270 an ounce. But the price of gold Monday was about $344 on the U.S. commodity markets thereby making the open pit gold mining project more economically sound.

The company plans to leach out from 80,000 to 100,000 ounces of gold a year from the ore-bearing rock, it said. The company hopes to do this for about $180 per ounce, so any increase in the price of gold is profit to the company.

The agency that reviewed the impact study is the Secretaria Tecnica Nacional Ambiental. This is the environmental arm of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia. The results of that review are now before the permit review board that will determine whether 

Vannessa's study should be accepted as filed or if deficiencies exist, said Vannessa. In the event that deficiencies exist, Vannessa will  have an opportunity to amend its study, the company said.

"The increase in the gold price of between US$60-US$70 per ounce should substantially increase the economic return both for the  company and the communities because of the extended life expectancy of the project," said Vannessa.

There is no secret that the Costa Rican government is not happy with Vannessa’s plans. President Abel Pacheco and Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi, minister of Ambiente y Energia, tried to stifle the project in May when they announced a moratorium on open pit gold mining.

They were responding to concerns from the area north of San Carlos where residents feared the impact of Vannessa’s leaching process that uses cyanide, a poisonous chemical.

The Sala IV constitutional court in October reversed a ban as it applies to Vannessa Ventures Ltd. The firm had received preliminary permits before the ban was announced, and the court said that the government must recognize the permits.

Vannessa says that the gold project will provide much-needed jobs in the rural north of the country. The company, based in Vancouver, B.C., also has interests in Venezuela and in Guyana. The Venezuelan project is now in a complex legal battle.

a winner
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You knew it wasn’t going to be a white Christmas. But the Instituto Costarricense Meteorológico said Monday that the holidays still were going to be pretty good, thanks to a stable weather system in place over Costa Rica.

The winds will continue in moderate intensity, and only light showers may fall in the mountains and in portions of the Caribbean slope, the weather experts said.

Some of those taking advantage of the weather will be the staff at the U.S. Embassy. They get off at midday today and are closed Wednesday, Christmas Day.

A.M. Costa Rica will not be published Christmas Day, although subscribers to the daily digest will be alerted to any spectacular news developments. This newspaper also will not publish New Year’s Day, but regular publication is scheduled for the rest of the holiday season.

Arrested Colombian linked to Parmenio case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested a Colombian citizen in Zapote Monday afternoon and said they were holding him for investigation into the murder of radio host Parmenio Medina Pérez.

They were very cautious about releasing information about the man, who was in the company of two other persons when police detained him. They forced television crews to blur his face and even his reflection.

The man was identified by the last name of Gutiérrez. The arrest was believed to be at the direction of the fiscal or prosecutor in charge of the Medina case. About the same time the arrest was taking place, agents were searching the Heredia home of Gutiérrez. 

Investigators always said that Medina, murdered near his Heredia home July 7, 2001, was the target of a killing-for-hire. They have been less forthcoming on the motive, although speculation immediately 

began that Medina was going to air something on his weekly radio show, La Patada or The Kick. He was killed by two shots while he drove in the direction of his home. 

Investigators have been under intense pressure to break the case. Last week officials decided that they would not seek unspecified help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Agents suggested Monday night that Gutiérrez might be a candidate to be the role of intermediate between the actual gunmen and whoever sought the death of Parmenio. Gutiérrez was supposed to be the subject of a lineup today, but no one has said who would be making the identification.

Reporters have been subjected to continual leaks from investigators suggesting that some criminal gang carried out the murder for 10 million colons (about $27,000 then). They also have been told that some of the gang members are in custody for other crimes.

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Her trip to New York
delayed by discovery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police arrested a 55-year-old Costa Rican woman  Sunday when she was boarding an airline flight to New York. Police said she had more than 2.2 kilos ((4.7 pounds) in a suitcase that had double bottoms.

They identified the woman by the surnames of Calwell Calwell and said she lived in Limón. The Policía de Control de Drogas has been having good luck at the airport. Agents have been making arrests every week.

Although they will not say how they made the arrests, they have praised the public participation they have been receiving through their 24-hour hotline 800 DROGA NO (800?376-4266).

From some of the arrests and the way the drugs have been well hidden, it is clear that agents have been tipped to particular individuals. Tighter U.S. borders after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in a flood of cocaine in Costa Rica and higher financial incentives for those who would bring the drugs north. 

Photo courtesy of the Ministerio 
de Seguridad Pública
Anti-drug agents had to dismantle the suitcase to get at the double bottom and what they said was more than two kilos of cocaine.
Cop wounded while chasing downtown robbers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A three-person gang that had been robbing people waiting at bus stops and walking along the streets shot down a police officer Sunday night to make their escape in San José.

The police officer, José Alberto Blanco, took a bullet in his right ear and the right side of his head but was saved from serious or fatal injury by the helmet he was wearing, said agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The officer was a member of the Fuerza Pública and on motorcycle patrol near Avenida 10 and Calle 12. The assailants are believed to be members of a gang that has been stalking pedestrians throughout the city.

A spokesman for the Ministerio de Seguridad 

Pública said that the officer was nearby when the robbers stole a purse from a woman and fled in a vehicle. This took place in the vicinity of the Restaurante La Chavelona, the spokesman said.

The robbers shot at the police officer as he tried to follow them.

Police later found a .380-caliber handgun that they presume the robbers threw from their car two blocks away. Police were unable to recover the purse of the woman or make any arrests.

The wounded officer was treated at a hospital and released several hours later.

Investigators said that the trio parks near a bus stop and waits for someone who looks like they will not put up much resistance. They drive a white Hyundai.

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Push comes to shove
for dry Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — A 22-day national strike is causing severe shortages of fuel, food and countless other goods and represents a blow to the oil trade.

Gasoline stations have run dry here. Even so, lines of automobiles snake for blocks from many stations, as desperate motorists wait hoping against hope that a shipment of fuel will be forthcoming. Among them is Magda, who sits on the hood of her car.

"I have been waiting since yesterday morning, but there has been no gasoline," said Magda. "Every couple of hours, the attendants announce that gasoline is on the way, but nothing ever comes. What can I do? I need fuel for my car."

Inside the station, manager Ricardo Freitas looks frustrated and tired.

"We have gone three days without a gasoline shipment." He said, "today we are waiting again, but I doubt it will arrive," Freitas said. 

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, motorists try their best to keep their spirits up. Magda said she has played cards with other stranded drivers to pass the time. "Look, if we are going to get desperate or anguished or aggressive, we are not going to get anywhere," she said. "We have to have faith and optimism, or else." 

Magda's voice trails off as she chokes up with emotion.

Opponents of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, called the strike at the beginning of the month to press for the leftist leader's ouster. At first, some people welcomed a few extra days off from work. But now the true effects of the strike are becoming apparent. 

Above all, the work stoppage has crippled Venezuela's oil production. As the country runs out of gasoline, transit and commerce are on the verge of collapse.

With strike still on,
U.S. feels the pinch

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior U.S. lawmaker is urging the White House to tap into strategic oil reserves as the Venezuelan crisis pushes oil prices to a two-year high amid Iraq war fears. 

Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says two refineries in his home state of Louisiana will run out of oil before the end of the month. 

The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve holds almost 600 million barrels of crude oil. Tauzin says the Venezuela shortfall is starting to have an "acute" affect on the U.S. economy. 

Venezuela supplies about 9 percent of U.S. gasoline and 13 percent of crude oil supplies. 

There was no immediate response to the Tauzin letter from the Energy Department, but officials there have previously said they do not plan to lend stockpiled oil to firms having problems with supply. 

On the New York Mercantile exchange crude oil futures for February delivery increased to a high of $31.45 a barrel, up almost a $1.50. 

Oil prices have risen by 25 percent since mid-November amid concerns over a war with Iraq. 

U.S. agency reports 
less greenhouse gases 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Energy Information Administration reports that U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fell by 1.2 percent in 2001, the largest annual decline in more than a decade.

A Friday press release says the study, entitled "Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2001," reports the 2001 decline of 1.2 percent is in contrast to an average annual growth rate of 1.3 percent during the decade of 1990—2000. 

Estimated U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, which account for more than 80 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, decreased by 1.1 percent in 2001, the largest annual decline of the 1990 to 2001period. Carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels, is believed to be one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

According to the report, the decline in carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to a combination of several factors, including a reduction in U.S. economic growth, a reduction in manufacturing, and warmer winter weather in 2001-2002, which cut demand and combustion of coal, oil and gas.

Christmas blessing sent 
from Russia to Rome

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MOSCOW, Russia — Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has sent a Christmas message to Pope John Paul II suggesting they resume "brotherly contacts." 

According to the Interfax news agency, the Russian patriarch promised to offer a special prayer during Orthodox Christmas, celebrated Jan. 7, for God to grant the pope a life of peace and numerous gifts during the coming year. 

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been strained over allegations the Roman Catholic Church is trying to convert the orthodox population of Russia. Relations worsened after the Roman Catholic Church upgraded its four administrative areas in Russia to full-fledged dioceses. 

Tensions with the Vatican were further inflamed when Russian authorities refused entry to several Roman Catholic priests trying to return to their parishes in Russia after visits to Poland and Italy. 
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