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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 26            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Boy peers through wall
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Cabécar youngster peers through the wall of the 'best house in the village.'
One long hike
out of the
21st century

In one of the most remote villages in Costa Rica even the toothbrush is an innovation. Children cough themselves to sleep because the house has no chimney, just an open fire pit.

Despite the high literacy rate in Costa Rica, many of these Cabécar Indians cannot read nor write. Spanish is a foreign language. To get there you need to hike five hours and brave an uninspected zip line over a raging river.

Reporter Helen Thompson made the grueling hike to the small community in the company of volunteers who are trying to improve living conditions.

See here story HERE!

Trade treaty protesters, police clash at legislature
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Violence broke out at the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday between anti-free trade treaty protesters and police.

Two police officials and at least one protester went to the hospital for injuries received during the altercation, which took place at around 11.30 a.m. according to police sources.

Protesters, including lawyers and members of organizations such as the Comité Patriotica de Catedral, went to the legislative assembly building in downtown San José Tuesday morning to deliver an accusation. The group accused the magistrates of the Tribunal Supremo de elecciones of lying and being complicit in a fraudulent referendum Oct. 7 when the free trade treaty was passed. They also object to the bills being considered in the legislature that would implement the free trade treaty in Costa Rica.

The fight began when protesters tried to make their way through metal barriers set up by police.

“When the police tried to stop protesters destroying the barriers, the protesters turned violent against officials,” said Jesus Ureña, a spokesman for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

A release from the protesters claimed that police were the first to start the violence and that a man was attacked for taking photos outside the Edificio Sión, east of the Asamblea Legislativa building. It also said that three protesters were injured. In addition they said they prevented
shrine to democracy
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Protesters quckly erected this shrine to what they said waas the death of democracy.

police from arrested one protester by blocking the street so the truck carrying the man could not pass.

The two police officials were taken to Hospital Calderón Guardia and Hospital San Juan de Dios. One suffered an injury to the right knee, the other to the nose and mouth, said the ministry.

Protesters said that their companion Fernando Traña was being treated in Hospital Mexico.

Ureña said that police were not sure of the extent of injuries to protesters, but had heard that one citizen had been hit during the altercation.

The demonstration continued into the afternoon, with a memorial set up outside Edificio Sión reading: “Here died the democracy of this country today.”

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Michael Forrest in court
in Principal Financial case

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of a man accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scam investment operation is under way in a San José court.

The man, Michael James Forrest, was involved with Principal Services S.A., also known as Principal Financial, a firm that promised to give a high monthly interest to investors.

One man, who is scheduled to be a witness in the trial today said he lost a total of $80,000 to the hands of Principal Financial.

The man, Ram Rajpal, of Ottawa, Canada, said he first heard about the investment company from a friend at the Costa Rican Tennis Club. Rajpal said he was skeptical at first, but after hearing that other prominent expats in the area supported the company, he decided to take a chance.

 Upon meeting Forrest, Rajpal said he was convinced. “He was a great talker, he knows how to sell,” said Rajpal.

Employees of Principal Financial, later known as Montefiore, said they were investing in venture capital projects and would give a 4 percent monthly interest to clients, according to Rajpal.  The firm was one of several similar operations in the Central Valley in 2000 to 2002. Investors were mainly North Americans.

Principal closed its doors in March 2003. A year later local arrest warrants were issued.

Forrest was detained while he walked near his Heredia home May 16, 2006, and he has been in jail since. He is Canadian.

But two other key players in the operation are still at large in the United States, said Rajpal.

There is an international request for extradition for Gerald Joseph Latulippe, who is believed to be in Arizona, and for Elwyn Ralph Jacobs, identified as president of Principal Financial.

At least eight cases have been filed against Latulippe and Jacobs, according to the First Judicial District Criminal Court of San José. One man said he lost over $1 million to the company, according to court documents.

The trial is expected to last the entire month and will include many witnesses and victims of Principal Financial, said Rajpal.

Principal Financial, located in what was called then the Torre Mercedes on Avenida Colón and later in Edificio Colón, was thought to have had about 150 clients and required a $25,000 minimum investment. 

Two employees held in probe
of refinery gasoline thefts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After eight months of investigating, two men were arrested for stealing hundreds of gallons of gasoline from the Costa Rican petroleum refinery, said officials.

Agents of the Judicial Investigation Organization arrested Verson Vargas Castro, 44, and Mauricio Rodríguez Vargas, two employees of Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, Monday night. Officials also seized about 400 liters (105 gallons) of gasoline that was being extracted at the time, they said. 

Officials learned from a tip last year, that someone was stealing gasoline from the government petroleum refinery, said the Judicial Investigation Organization. The crooks would bring the gasoline by truck and sell it to “hidden gas station” operations, according to officials. These illegal gas stations were located in Turrialba and Batán.

Vargas was a guard for the petroleum company and Rodríguez was a pipeline operator, said officials.

It is unknown how much petroleum in total was stolen or exactly how long the operation continued, said officials.

Palestine and Costa Rica
agree to diplomatic ties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has recognized Palestine as a state and agreed on establishing diplomatic relations and to an exchange of ambassadors, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

The diplomatic activities took place at the United Nations, but Costa Rica began its approach to Middle Eastern states Aug. 16, 2006, when the central government said it would move the country's embassy in Israel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The Arab states objected to the location.

Since then Costa Rica has made 16 diplomatic agreements to as many countries, many with strong Islamic traditions.

About 100 countries recognize Palestine as a state.

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Cabecar children and hand puppet
Hand puppet helps visitors relate to Cabécar youngsters.

cabecar zip line
 A.M. Costa Rica photos byHelen Thompson
Daniel Montoya on the obligatory zip line.

The village is so remote that brushing teeth is an innovation
Standing next to her family’s water pipe, 4-year-old Sandra winces at her first encounter with the fresh, strong taste of toothpaste.

Living in her remote home in the jungle-covered Chirripó Indian reserve, she is a seven-hour hike away from the nearest shop that sells such things as a toothbrush and a tube of Colgate.

Her unevenly spaced and slightly browned teeth are experiencing this today thanks to a Christmas donation of toothbrushes and small toothpaste tubes from a Western well-wisher.

The art of toothbrushing has just been demonstrated to her and 15 other squatting children by Daniel Montoya, who puts as much energy into the lesson as if it were a revolutionary new invention.

“Brush forward, back, forward, back. How do you say teeth in Cabécar?” Montoya asks through a mouth of foam.
Cabecar child with flashlight
Flashlight facinates Sandra
Alelujah, his pet sock monkey, sits in front of two bowls of water, wearing a pair of pink dungarees, and grinning a wide red smile.

“Alelujah helped me to get close to the children when we first started coming here,” Montoya explains after he has given his master-class in dental hygiene, the crowd laughing at his attempts to pronounce Cabécar words.

Montoya and his colleague Hector Soto started coming to the reserve after they received an unexpected knock on the door of their Christian mission, Voz Que Clama in Tuis, Turrialba. A Cabécar chief was standing outside, asking them to help his community.

There are few people who will spend the energy to visit the
remote community, and the villagers often feel forgotten by the rest of the country.

Indeed, in a recent United Nations survey, 77 percent of Costa Rica’s inhabitants admitted that they did not know that 22 indigenous territories exist within the borders of their country. 73 percent of the very few indigenous people left in Costa Rica live within or close to these territories, keeping them largely separated from the Tico majority.
cabecar toilet seat
Infamous outdoor toilet

For Soto, Monotya and their 12 volunteers, the journey here started the day before with a three-hour drive in the back of a truck, up a dirt road to the village of Quetzal.

From there it is a two-hour downhill hike to the valley bottom on trails just wide enough for a horse to pass between the banana palms.

The boulder-covered valley is easier to navigate in the current dry season, but the group still wades through eight streams, some up to their knees.

Three hours of negotiating rivers brings them to the “zip-line.” A high wire attached to tree roots on either side of the riverbank is the only way to make the final crossing of the fast-running Chirripó.

It is a rudimentary little brother to the canopy tours that dot Costa Rica’s eco-lodges, and safety regulations certainly do not apply. A metal runner made of two wheels and two hooks is balanced on top of the wire, while the passenger slings a loop of rope around himself to make a seat.
The rope is looped onto the hooks, and the passenger holds on for dear life as their body swings out over the river.

Carrying the gear across this is the hardest part, and frequently rucksacks, sleeping bags, and work tools fall to their doom in the swift current.

Everything that makes it successfully across the river is carried another 40 minutes to the chief’s house, the end of the journey.

Despite the fact that it is something of an eco-adventure in itself, tramping through some of Costa Rica’s finest mountain scenery with not a house or a car in sight, this is certainly not a tourist destination.

The four or five other people encountered on the long hike are all Indians, leaving the reserve to sell bananas or beans, to find farm work or make an emergency trip to the doctor.

Coming straight from the smog, office blocks and supermarkets of San José, visiting this community is like stepping over the border between two completely estranged worlds.

This is pretty much as remote as it gets. There are no incongruous satellite dishes threatening to topple the precarious huts, no televisions, no cars, no newspapers, no radio.

“Welcome to the Hotel Presidential,” Soto jokes as he shows his volunteers into a hut made of thin wooden poles of caña brava — the “best hut in the village.” Light streams through the gaps between the canes, but a raised platform of caña brava across most of the room provides for a sizable group of people to sleep.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” asks Tico volunteer Samya, as she is led towards the bathing area, in a chilly stream just uphill from the huts.

Within her own country, not so far away from her hometown of Tuis, people are living with lavatory facilities that consist of an open-air toilet placed over a deep hole dug into the field. To shelter the bathroom-users modesty, a single piece of corrugated iron leans over the toilet at an angle.

The smell of wood smoke suffuses the small clearing around the collection of three huts. In the three-room house where a family of some 25 people lives, women cook on an open fire in the chimneyless kitchen. The smoke drifts through the house and into the children’s’ lungs, provoking a high incidence of asthma.

Asthma attacks in a place where there are no inhalers are serious enough to call the government’s hospital helicopter, which will also fly out for difficult births. It will airlift emergency cases out of the reserve, but calling it involves a radio, something this community doesn’t have. They must walk an hour to Colonia, the biggest town on the reserve, before they can call for help.

Unlike in other Latin American countries, Indian people here are an almost invisible minority. Around half of Guatemala’s population is indigenous, while Costa Rica’s share represent only 1.7 percent of the population, and for
Text and photos by
Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

child brushing teeth
Young volunteer agrees to try brushing his teeth.

Chief of the Cabecar village
Chief Arnoldo Segura Cespedes prepares to mount the zipline access to his village.

too long the government ignored their needs.

Indians only became official citizens of Costa Rica in 1991, when they were given permission to have a cédula (identification number) with the free social security that implies.

Three years later, the Departmento de Educación Indigena was created by the Ministerio de Educación Publica, in an attempt to provide the same access to education to the Indian populations as those in the rest of the country receive.

Most of the 100 or so children in Chief Arnoldo Segura Cespedes’ dispersed community of 180 do go to school, but the difference in the quality of education is obvious in the Spanish levels of some of the children. 11-year-old Daniel could not answer when asked if he had eaten breakfast yet, and Sandra’s vocabulary extends only to words such as arroz and naranja.

Cabécar is very much the mother tongue. Other Indian languages such as Boruca are dying out in Costa Rica, but 50 percent of this reserve’s residents do not understand any other language than their own.

Illiteracy rates in the indigenous territories are still at a third-world 30.2    percent of the population, while the country-wide average outside the territories is a very respectable 4.5 percent, according to U.N. Statistics.

Cespedes cites the intense remoteness from the outside world as the biggest obstacle to the community’s development. He only leaves the reserve every two to three months himself, and some may never leave.

It is simply too difficult to make journeys out of the reserve carrying crops to sell or to return with building materials. This makes Soto and Montoya’s input crucial. Their approach, talking with the chief to decide the best way to move forward, makes a more personal, hands-on difference than central government programs.

Small steps, such as bringing toothbrushes, gradually help to make life easier. The model house, being built with wooden boards next to the caña brava hut, will soon show how houses can be made with chimneys, providing a smokeless room for cooking.

Volunteers from EARTH University will also be reviewing the land, to suggest crops that the fertile land would easily produce, varying the diet of bananas, maize, beans and rice.

While the United Nations Children’s Fund survey demonstrated how little ordinary Costa Ricans know about the Indian communities, it also showed that they are open to finding out more. Nine out of 10 agreed that modern Costa Rica could learn something from Indian culture, with traditions such as respect for elders and natural medicinal techniques.

Small ventures such as the mission provide a cultural exchange from which both populations can benefit.

volunteers build a house
Volunteers make a start on a model house being created for community.

Cabécar children have lunch inside one of the village huts. Notably absent are any spoons of forks.
Cabecar children at lunch

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Intelligence chief raps Chávez for pushing anti-U.S., radical leftist agenda
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. director of national intelligence said Tuesday that the Venezuelan government continues to push an anti-U.S., radical leftist agenda among its Latin American neighbors.

In his annual report to the U.S. Congress, intelligence director Mike McConnell said the gradual consolidation of democracy continued to be the dominant trend in Latin America over the last year.

But he said that leaders in Bolivia, Nicaragua and more tentatively, Ecuador, have engaged in sharply anti-U.S.
rhetoric inspired and supported by Venezuela and Cuba.
McConnell also said Venezuela has increasingly become a major departure point for South American drugs such as cocaine bound for the U.S.

He said President Hugo Chavez's lack of cooperation with international anti-narcotics programs has undermined efforts by neighboring nations by providing traffickers alternative routes.

McConnnell also said recent actions by Cuba's Provisional President Raul Castro indicate he is looking to make modest reforms to Cuba's Communist economy.

U.S. and Nicaragua reach accord on working against Latin drug smugglers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Nicaragua and the U.S. have pledged to work more closely in the fight against drug gangs who smuggle narcotics through South and Central America.

President Daniel Ortega met with a U.S. delegation headed by officials with the State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration in the capital city, Managua, Monday.
A statement by the U.S. Embassy said officials are evaluating Nicaragua's anti-narcotics efforts. The statement also said the U.S. and Nicaragua hope to bolster joint efforts to combat drug trafficking.

Ortega said more help is needed for social programs in the country's poorest regions where drug crime is bad.

U.S. officials are also studying El Salvador's fight against drug gangs.

Paraguay confirms that yellow fever has returned after a lapse of 33 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Public health officials in Paraguay have confirmed that yellow fever has reappeared after 34 years and that steps are being taken to avoid the spread of the disease.

Authorities said Tuesday that one case involving an adult male turned up in the state of San Pedro and that people have begun receiving vaccinations to protect themselves against the mosquito-borne disease.

Yellow fever was last seen in Paraguay in 1974 after Brazilian immigrants suffering from the disease entered the
 country. Last month, authorities in neighboring Brazil confirmed that five people, including a Spaniard, have died of yellow fever and that some 20 other suspected cases are under investigation.

One of the deaths was reported in the capital, Brasilia. No cases of yellow fever had been reported in Brazilian urban areas since the 1940s.

The World Health Organization says the recent yellow fever cases in Brazil are in keeping with the disease's cyclical recurrence in the wild, and do not indicate a return of the ailment in force.

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