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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Monday, Dec. 31, 2001
Happy New Year from Us!

The staff of A.M. Costa Rica wishes you, our readers, a Happy New Year. We also wish that during the coming year you will take advantage of some of the wonderful experiences Costa Rica offers.

As we enter our second calendar year as an English-language daily news source, we renew our promise to keep you well informed on important and interesting aspects of life in Costa Rica. However. we will not publish tomorrow, one of our three holidays.

Please drive safely tonight and in the coming year. The Costa Rican roads are unforgiving. 

Unseasonable rains put damper on holiday plans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unseasonable rain has hit Costa Rica, and chances are the rain will stick around for a couple of days, perhaps through Thursday. The National Meteorological Institute blames instability over the Caribbean for contributing to the cloudiness over much of the country.

The forecast for today calls for more cloudiness and possible rains in the Central Valley, the central and south Pacific and the northern zone and the Caribbean slope.

Only in the Pacific north in the Guanacaste area did the forecast suggest that light rains would only fall in the mountain areas.  Tourism operations in the Pacific north are running at top capacity because of the traditional Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Heavy rains soaked San José and the Central Valley Sunday night. Heavy rains have been experienced during the last week in what is supposed to be the dry season. Beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula reported rain as much as 2 inches last week.

It's an awesome beach!

Photo by Rick Little
Planning a trip to or around Costa Rica in the new year? Today we highlight the Manuel Antonio and Quepos regions in a personalized report by ace travel writer Patricia Martin.

To start the tour, CLICK HERE

Zapote just like county fair if you don't count citizen bullfighters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Zapote Festival is where you will find the people over the holidays, in case you were wondering why the streets and sidewalks are so deserted.

Admission is free unless you want to see the bulls, and the streets and byways were packed Saturday by a mostly friendly crowd of young couples and families with youngsters. The evening crush made walking slow, but there were no indications of lawlessness. Police have a strong presence.

Beer gardens reported a steady business, as did operators of the carnival rides that were spectacular and body shaking. 

The idea was to visit the beer gardens AFTER the rides. The most popular drinking holes have loud recorded or live music and dancing to bring in the customers. 

The food stands were elaborate, and many so called "chinamos" are well-organized, clean and ready to be moved to the next fiesta, probably Palmares, when the Zapote event ends Wednesday.

The food booths had piles of traditional dishes under heat lamps. the scent of cooking chicken, rice and sizzling meat filled the air.

The meat on the hoof also was sizzling, as the evening brought out the "impromptu" bullfighters, that is any man or woman who wishes to demonstrate his or her valor. The lines were long for spectators to enter the bull ring to view these tests of will between young men and 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) bulls.

A new development this year was the visit to the bull ring by a female La Nación reporter who told all in the Sunday edition. She said that she was among 12 women who entered the bull ring to face the bulls Thursday night. The woman, Montserrat Solano C., said that at her 5-foot, 1-inch height she worried about being able to leap over 

the fence surround the ring when the bull approached.

She said that the majority of the women in the ring were girlfriends and wives of the men who were there, too, and the men made an effort to protect the women from the bulls. Typically, the crowd of from 100 to 150 persons faces three bulls in a row each evening. One woman was run down by a bull but only suffered scratches, said the reporter, who added that she would not be back next year.

No serious injuries have been reported yet this year, although some participants have gone sailing 20 to 30 feet through the air at the flick of a bull’s neck. One young man who fell had his T-shirt nicely sliced in half by a bull’s horn. The evening events are televised. At least 20 persons have been treated by the Red Cross.

Letting large groups of untrained citizens into the ring to face bulls seems to be a custom unique to Costa Rica. During the afternoon traditional trained bullfighters from Mexico or Spain demonstrate the bullfighting art, and one man Friday suffered a puncture wound to the upper leg. Yet he applied a bandage and completed the encounter with the bull.

Bulls here are not killed as they are in other Latin countries, although the bullfighters take the bull right up to the point where they would be dispatched with a sword. The bull does not suffer serious wounds to the neck from picadors and their lances either. 

The festival covers about 100 acres (about 40 hectares) not counting associated parking areas and crowded streets  in Zapote, which is a southeastern district of San Jose a short taxi ride from the downtown. The bull ring is a large, permanent structure but most other facilities are erected just for the festival.

Not counting the bull fights, the event resembles a county or state fair midway in just about any section of the United States.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos

Family of five dies
in holiday crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A San José family of five died about 7 a.m. Friday when their car collided with a bus near Esparza on the Pan-American Highway.

The crash was the worst of the holiday season. The five were residents of Dos Cercas de Desamparados, a section of San José, and had just purchased a home there. They are presumed to have been on their way to the Guanacaste beaches for the New Year’s Holiday.

Dead are Jorge Ramón Fernández, 46, a machine repairman; his wife, Juana María Juárez, 44, an employee with the National Training Institute; two sons, Jorge, 15, and José Ricardo, 13, and a daughter, María Gabriela, 4. 

The car, a Hyundai Excel collided with an eastbound Liberia-San José bus about two miles east of the main turnoff to Esparza, which is a fairly level and straight section of the two-lane road. The route much traveled by vacationers who seek to take the Puntarenas ferry to points on the Nicoya Peninsula or to travel to more northern peninsula destinations through Liberia.

Investigators advanced the theory that a tire on the vehicle might have blown. Others suggested that the driver may have fallen asleep after having left San José about 5 a.m. The bus driver told investigators that the car came at a high speed and moved into his lane. The vehicle was wedged under the bus.

The Judicial Investigating Organization will continue studying the crash. The funeral was Saturday, as mandated by a Costa Rican health law of a quick burial.

At least 10 persons have died in traffic accidents during the New Year's holiday so far.

Youngster killed by knife
on central pedestrian mall

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A heated argument turned fatal on the Avenida Central pedestrian mall in the center of downtown San José Friday night.

A man, 28, pulled a knife and fatally stabbed a 15 year old in full view of many passersby, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

They identified the victim as Darrell Buchanan Carbeth, who died in nearby San Juan de Dios Hospital less than a hour later.

Arrested was Ulises Hill. Investigators described both individuals as being among the group of persons who typically hang around the Plaza de la Cultura area in the downtown.

Investigators said that the two individuals were arguing, and the younger began to hit the older man who then pulled the knife.

Colombian government says
anti-rebel actions increased

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The government says it has significantly increased its military operations this year against the country's leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups. 

In its annual report on the country's 37-year-old civil war, the army says 1,000 rebels were killed fighting government forces this year, almost 10 percent more than 2000. It also says about 100 paramilitary fighters were killed battling the army during the same period. 

The army says increased actions against the paramilitaries show it is serious about stopping the death squads from operating. 

The Colombian government has been in preliminary peace talks with the country's two largest rebels groups for the last few years, but no significant progress has been made. 

Colombia's Marxist rebels and right wing paramilitary have battled for control of the country's lucrative coca fields. Both groups use proceeds from kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance their military operations. Coca is the main ingredient in the drug cocaine. Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine. 

Some Cuban officials irked
by plan to put terrorist there

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Senior Cuban officials have spoken out against plans by the United States to bring Taleban and al Qaida prisoners captured in Afghanistan to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. 

Several top officials told reporters in Havana that Washington has no right to hold prisoners at Guantanamo because the 49 square kilometer base is Cuba's sovereign territory. Cuba's Communist government officially has not announced its position on the subject. 

The United States established the base at Guantanamo Bay in 1898 and leased the property in 1903. 

Escazú store held up

Four men held up the La Rosa jewelry store in Escazú center Saturday morning and escaped with 15 million colons (about $44,000) in goods.

Fireworks death toll in Peru
nears 300 in downtown rubble

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Firefighters have retrieved more than 270 bodies from the rubble of a fire sparked by a fireworks explosion in the city's historic shopping district Saturday.

Rescue workers say there is little hope of finding any survivors and they fear as many as 300 people may have been killed. Most of the victims burned to death or died from smoke inhalation. Nearly 200 other people are being treated for injuries.

Exploding fireworks at dozens of sidewalk stands on Saturday created a fire that raced across four blocks of stores and old apartment buildings, trapping holiday shoppers and street vendors.

President Alejandro Toledo declared today a second national day of mourning. He also announced an immediate ban on the production, import and sale of fireworks leading up to New Year's festivities. Officials also seized huge boxes of rockets, crackers and other pyrotechnics from stores near the scene of the fire.

Britain and Spain sent their condolences. The Vatican issued a statement saying Pope John Paul II prays for the eternal rest of those who have been killed.

Meanwhile, in Venezuela at least 400 people - many of them children - have been burned by fireworks in several incidents leading up to New Year's festivities.

One witness told local TV that the fire was ignited when a vendor was demonstrating fireworks for a possible buyer. 

The fire quickly spread, engulfing at least three commercial buildings and two houses, and advanced on Lima's historic center, according to residents. Most of the people killed were trapped in the buildings by the fire. One merchant screamed that people had fled to the roof of his store. 

Lima's fire chief called the fire "horrible." He said some 440 firemen were on the scene. Many were hampered getting to the site by traffic jams. Volunteer firemen also experienced the chronic problem in Lima of lack of water and pressure. Frantic residents and police stepped in to haul hoses, and in their desperation, even tried to fill buckets with water.

Burn victims were taken to area hospitals, which have been on alert for such a disaster in Lima, where fireworks are common during Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Lima's city center has been declared a Historic District by UNESCO, but has long suffered fireworks blazes in its old colonial buildings.

Five Cuban spies in U.S.
named national heroes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The Cuban parliament has named five spies convicted in the United States as "heroes of the Republic of Cuba." 

The National Assembly voted unanimously Saturday to bestow the honor on the men convicted of being part of a south Florida-based spy ring known as the "Wasp Network." Cuban President Fidel Castro called for the special session. 

The men were recently sentenced in Miami on charges of conspiracy to penetrate U.S. military bases and Cuban exile groups in Florida. Several members of the group received life in prison. 

Cuban officials hailed the men as heroes while denouncing the verdicts as unjust and vengeful. 

Argentina’s president quits
post after just one week

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa abruptly resigned Sunday just one week after taking power amid a nationwide economic and political crisis.

In a speech on national television late Sunday from his hometown of San Luis, Rodriguez Saa said he was leaving power immediately because of insufficient support from leaders in his Peronist party.

Rodriguez Saa said his accomplishments during seven days in power included suspending payments on the country's foreign debt and announcing new austerity measures.

The surprise resignation announcement came hours after a meeting of regional governors from the Peronist party was postponed when too few of them showed up. It also followed Saturday's street protests by thousands of angry demonstrators in the capital here.

The provisional chairman of the Argentine Senate, Ramon Puerta, has also quit his post. He was expected to take over executive power until Argentina's Congress meets and decides the country's political future.

 Puerta served as acting president for the first 48 hours after former President Fernando de la Rua resigned earlier this month, following a wave of deadly riots protesting the government's handling of the country's rapidly worsening economic crisis. De la Rua's resignation came halfway into his four-year term.

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