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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 253          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Flood of illegal fireworks hard to prevent
By Selleny Sanabria Soto
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican love affair with fireworks reaches a peak at Christmas, even though many of the more powerful explosives are illegal.

Yet the fireworks — legal and illegal — are sold in bulk all over the country.

Meanwhile, police at the borders work to prevent importation of fireworks.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said earlier this week that Fuerza Pública officers seized 45,291 illegal fireworks since the beginning of the season. Then Wednesday, the ministry said that 45,000 more units of fireworks were grabbed at Sixaola near the Panamá border.

Importing fireworks of any kind without a permit is illegal. Selling certain explosive fireworks is illegal. And selling any type of fireworks to youngsters under 18 is illegal. But all of this goes on in most parts of the country, evidenced by the repeated explosions from these products.

A reporter had little trouble purchasing fireworks, illegal and legal, at a temporary stand set up in the Pasoca commercial center in Tres Rios de la Unión.

Curiously, even a bottle rocket that the ministry considers illegal and other dubious fireworks bore labels from the company Fuegos Artificiales Internacionales Custodio Calvo, S.A. of Quircot de Cartago. And the individual pieces also bore a permit number from the same ministry.

A spokeswoman for the company said by telephone that only legal fireworks are manufactured at the factory. And she bemoaned the competition by unlicensed manufacturers. But she hung up when pressed on the legality of specific types of fireworks.

Most appear to have been manufactured in China, where the idea originated 2,000 years ago, but many have labels in Spanish that are applied here. The load of illegal fireworks confiscated at Sixaola came from Japan, the ministry said.

The sale of the prohibited items has reached an art form here. One store in Curridabat does not sell the more explosive varieties until evening when municipal inspectors are not working. Other vendors set up shop on a street corner and sell the prohibited wares — like giant firecrackers called  dinamita — out of suitcases.

Personal safety is the main reason why the Municipalidad de San José, has prohibited since the beginning of December the sale of explosives.

National law 8221 of guns and explosives punishes with three to seven years of prison any vendor who sells, acquires or keeps

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Hands full of fireworks — some illegal
explosives without permission or sells them to minors.

To the east in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, neighbors asked the municipality to regulate the illegal sale of explosives. “We need to reduce the explosives sale to avoid a tragedy as always happens", said resident Ana Maria Diniz.  "People can not continue selling these products.”

For that reason members from the municipal council decided not to give any temporary permissions to retail shops.

Fabricio Ulate, the municipal inspector, said up to now he has not found any shops that sell explosives. He said he is suspicious that some shops are hiding the explosives when he is around.

In nearby Curridabat, within walking distance from San Pedro, fireworks are sold openly.

Those most affected by incorrect use of these explosives are the children. Andre Guerrero, coordinator of the Fundación Pro-Ayuda al Niño Quemado of the Hospital Nacional de Niños, said that the institution had receive just one case this year, that of a boy, 12, who was burned on his leg by the explosion of an illegal  bombeta, a traditional firecracker.

Health officials have campaigned hard in recent years to cut down the injury to children.

The basic rule is that if the device explodes, it is illegal. In this categories are what in Spanish are called morteros (like a little rocket), all types of bombetas (triquitraques and dinamita, traditional firecrackers of various sizes),  cohetes explosivos (bottle rockets) and  cebollinos (explosive sparklers.)

Legal but not for sale to minors are luces de bengala (sparklers), volcanes, candelas romanas (Roman candles), pistola de colores (kind of a cardboard party favor that throws confetti and looks like a pistol) and a long list of items that burn and give off lights but do not explode violently.

One of the more obvious illegal fireworks is the bottle rockets that sometimes can be used in an aggressive fashion. One expat said Wednesday that he has had these fly into buildings and then explode. They sell on the black fireworks market for 700 colons, some $1.41 U.S.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 253

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U.S. Department of Justice Photo
Booking photos of James A. Colwell

Sexual predator worked
real estate in Flamingo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A convicted sexual predator fleeing a 30-year prison sentence has been working in Flamingo as a real estate salesman, according to agents who arrested him Wednesday.

The man is James A. Colwell, 65, who entered Costa Rica in January 2004, according to a summary provided by the International Police agency (INTERPOL).

Colwell was afiliated while in Flamingo with Emerald Shores real estate firm, the agents said. The man was located there in October but the paperwork permitting his arrest did not come through until Tuesday, they said. He was arrested in Flamingo.

Colwell is well known on the Internet, and his mug shot is easily available, including on the Web site of the U.S. Marshal's Service of the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. authorities considered Colwell a continuing danger to children, agents said. Also taking part in the arrest were the Sección Aérea of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization. Colwell was brought to San José by a government airplane where he will face extradiction in the Tribunal Penal de San José.

Colwell was convicted of two counts of having sexual contact with a minor under the age of 13 May 12, 2000, in Walworth County, Wisconsin. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison but a judge suspended the sentence and gave him conditional liberty, a form of probation, said agents. Among other things, he had to register as a sex offender.

In 2003 his parole was transferred to the State of Georgia at his request, agents said. There authorities found in early 2004 that he had had contact with other minors, and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections ordered him to return to that state to face the allegation of parole violation, agents said.

In a separate case relating to a U.S. fugitive, Brett K. Lurie, was sent on a commercial flight to New York, via Newark, New Jersey. He has been convicted there of skimming $1.8 million while he administered residential buildings.

Lurie was finally detained in Tilarán Nov. 10 ater spending more than five years here.

Three winners named
in text message lottery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Air Mail Costa Rica has awarded 1.5 million colons in a new type of lottery that uses text messages to enter.

First place winner was Carmen Fallas Arguedas of San Antonio de Belén, who won 1 million colons, about $2,016. Second place went to Patricia Elena Ramírez Alva of Alajuela, who won 350,000 colones, some $705. Third place was Gabriel Pérez Salguera of Santa Ana, who won 150,000 colons, some $302 at the current rate of exchange.

The promotion was run in conjunction with 107.5, a radio station. The prizes were awarded Monday.

Text messages mainly come from cellular telephones although computers can generate the message. The caller was charged 500 colons for making the call and had to send a specific word to a specific phone number.

Air Mail Costa Rica is a mail box service that provides pacakage delivery to a physical address in Miami for Costa Ricans.

Robbers got victims
to deliver the loot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers who pretended they worked for a sportsbook had their loot delivered to them in a bold plan that preyed on distributors of computer equipment, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents said that the robbers would call up a computer distributor and claim that they had electronic problems with their online betting operation and ask for a number of computers to be delivered. They provided a telephone number and an e-mail address.

The robbers also asked for the make and license plate number of the delivery vehicle, ostensibly so the deliveryman could easily pass through company security.

When the vehicle arrived at the designated place, the men would rob the driver of the requested computers.

Organic agriculture bill advances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative committee has reported out a bill designed to develop and promote the market for organic agriculture.  The Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios sent the measure to the full Asamblea Legislative, which might tackle the issue when it returns from a Christmas vacation that started Thursday.

The commission estimated that there are about 4,000 persons directly involved in organic agriculture and some 20,000 indirectly involved. Under the proposal the  Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadara will administer the law.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 253

Bull barrier
for brave Ticos

Vayron Vargas Herrera works on the barrier behind which participants will climb when a bull gets too close. Workmen are confident they will finish in time, despite official delays.

Sometimes a bull jumps the barrier and clears out a host of auxilary personnel.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablos Ramírez Vindas

Zapote bull ring suffers another official setback
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Salud has red tagged the new bull ring at Zapote, although workmen there do not know the reason.

This is the second time that inspectors found something amiss at the site of the new ring. Earlier municipal inspectors said that the company doing the job, Multi Servicio Alvarado, did not comply with all the paperwork to get permits.

Unless the problem or problems cited by the health ministry inspectors are remedied, the ring cannot be used for the traditional Tico-style bull fights.

The ring is about 75 percent finished, said workmen Wednesday. Much of the work Wednesday was in constructing the barrier that stands between the bull and the seating for spectators. Typically, workmen are able to eventually comply with official requirements.

The structure, known in Spanish as a redondel, takes on almost mystical meanings during the festival in Zapote at Christmastime. This year Channel 13 will be airing the bullfights. They start Christmas Day.

This is not the scripted Spanish version of the bullfight
that ends in the death of the bull. Here the bull ends up exhausted and totally confused.  Hundreds of young Costa Ricans invade the ring and await the release of a 1,500-pound fighting bull.

The idea is not to get trampled, gored or otherwise maimed, although that happens with regularity. Members of the crowd show their courage by slapping the confused bull on its hind end.

Most bulls do not have a long attention span, so while a frothing bull might pursue one tormentor, he can be distracted easily by another.

By the law of averages, some bull is going to get someone. The idea is not to be the one a muscular bull casts 75 feet into the bleachers or be the owner of the head on which a bull does a Texas two-step. Meanwhile, the Cruz Roja maintains a small emergency ward nearby.

Channel 13 was the surprise bidder for the rights to televise the week-long event. Channel 6 has gone afield to Guápiles where a similar event is held to compete with its rival.

Meanwhile, entry to run around with the bulls is open to all-comers. Spectators, however, have to pay.

Confiscated drugs make a big fire as agents destroy them in Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The anti-drug agents are having a banner year in intercepting shipments, mostly those bound for the United States. But where to put it?

That's why the Judicial Investigating Organization burned up confiscated drugs Wednesday in Cartago.
Up in smoke went two tons and 121 kilos of cocaine, 293 kilos of marijuana, 800 kilos of heroin more than a kilo and a half of crack and assorted other illegal products.

The bulk of the marijuana destroyed were plants brought in to San José as evidence. The drugs came from all parts of the country, said agents.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 253

Labels in U.S. will have to specify sources of allergies
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Beginning Jan. 1, labeling on certain domestic and imported foods sold in the United States will have to state clearly in English if a food product contains an ingredient considered a food allergen.

Under the new requirement, issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, labels must identify the presence of ingredients that contain protein derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans or to say "contains" followed by the name of the source of the food allergen after or adjacent to the list of ingredients.
Although more than 160 foods have been identified as causing food allergies in sensitive individuals, the eight major food allergens covered by the new requirement account for 90 percent of documented food allergic reactions in the United States, according to a release from the agency Wednesday.

Food allergens affect approximately 2 percent of adults and 5 percent of infants in the United States, the agency said.

The new rule applies only to food labeled after Jan. 1. Food labeled before that date can remain available for sale and does not need to be re-labeled.

Canadian peacekeeper in Haiti killed in shooting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A Canadian police officer with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been killed by unknown assailants on the outskirts of this  capital.

Officials in Port-au-Prince Tuesday said Marc Bourque was shot near a checkpoint close to Cite Soleil, the capital's largest slum and a focal point of violence following the February 2004 ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Bourque was one of 25 police officers sent by Canada to reinforce the nearly 9,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping force providing security ahead of general elections slated for January.

The incident happened as Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of State, visited Haiti on a one-day trip to meet with top Haitian and U.N. officials. A State Department spokesman said the trip was aimed at underscoring Washington's support for timely democratic elections and solidarity with Haiti's continuing process of political transition.

Brazil released boxes of documents from the military dictatorship era
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

BRASILIA, Brazil — The Brazilian government has released secret intelligence files compiled on dissidents during the country's 1964 to 1985 military dictatorship.

Some 220,000 microfilm files and 1,259 boxes full of photos, and pamphlets were among the documents transferred Wednesday from the Brazilian Intelligence Agency to the National Archive here.

Presidential Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff — a former
guerrilla fighter held prisoner during the dictatorship — attended Wednesday's handover ceremony and said the release of the files would allow society to reflect on the values of democracy.

But one human rights campaigner, Cecilia Coimbra, said the files say nothing about torture, killings, disappearances, or burials. She accused the government of knowing the whereabouts of other secret documents and not handing them out.

At least 450 people are thought to have been killed for political reasons during the 21-year dictatorship.

Jo Stuart
About us

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