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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 1     Email us
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A bottle rocket and the tank killer
Did they say that exploding fireworks are illegal?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A quick glance at the sky Saturday around midnight clearly showed that Costa Rica is a long way from controlling the sale of explosive fireworks.

The Central Valley and other populated areas were alight with thousands of rockets. Such fireworks are strictly forbidden by Costa Rican law, but no one seemed to have had trouble purchasing them.

A man known to A.M. Costa Rica reporters brought three large rockets and a handful of bottle rockets to show what he had purchased for around 25,000 colons, about $50, in Goicoechea Friday. The purchase was made at a stand displaying legal fireworks. The illegal merchandise was under the counter.

The big rockets, about three inches in diameter bore the name of a sociedad anónima or S.A., but the company could not be located in Costa Rica. Other fireworks were marked as products of China.

The visitor joked that the large rockets could be useful to disable tanks or other war machines.

Clearly a small plane would have had problems if it flew at low levels Saturday night over the central Valley.

Each year the Hospital Nacional de Niños embarks on a campaign supported by police agencies to prevent injury to youngsters from seasonal fireworks. New Year's is just one holiday that features fireworks.
A 5 year old from Guachipelín de Escazú was the season's first fireworks victim, the Hospital de Niños reported Dec. 16. At least one adult suffered serious burns of the face in a fireworks explosion just before Christmas. There were no immediate reports of injuries from fireworks over the holidays, but some reports may become available today.

Costa Rica manufactures fireworks, but many of the confiscated loads are smuggled from Nicaragua. In a curious case Oct. 18, robbers raided a fireworks factory in Ochomogo de Cartago and made off with goods valued at 100 million colons, perhaps $200,000. Investigators made arrests in that case and recovered much of the fireworks.

A Cartago fireworks factory blew up last June and injured the owner.

Last Sept. 24, the Fuerza Pública intercepted a load of 62,704 explosive devices hidden in fertilizer. The truck came from Nicaragua, and the driver was detained.

Nov. 13 Fuerza Pública officers intercepted another load in Guanacaste. This one contained 570 explosive devices. The fireworks were being transported on a bus on the Upala-San José route. The devices were called double thunder, and police said they were highly explosive. No arrest was made in this case because no one on the bus claimed the suitcase that contained the fireworks, said police at the time.

The night skies Saturday suggest that the efforts to intercept illegal fireworks were ineffective.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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earthquakes
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica graphic
Graphic shows the location (red dot) of felt earthquakes in 2001 in the Orosí de Cartago, Patarrá, Frailes and San Marcos de Tarrazú area. Blue stars are quakes since Nov. 1. Click HERE for a larger version.

Country's geology produced
3,900 earthquakes in 2011

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country sustained 3,900 earthquakes in 2011, but most were not felt by the population. The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica has released a report that also focuses on the flurry of quakes in the mountains south of San José. There were at least 200 quakes there in 2011.

There were three new quakes there New Year's Eve, but the magnitudes were between 2.4 and 2.8. The quakes took place between 1:46 and 2:11 a.m.

An earlier quake at 1:16 a.m. took place in the mountains northwest of San Ramón.

The observatory said that some 92 quakes in 2011 could be classified as felt earthquakes. The month with the most felt quakes was July with 14.

The quake with the greatest magnitude, 5.9, was May 13 at 4:47 p.m. That took place six kilometers north of Santiago de Puriscal. The quake was felt all over the Central Valley. A quake July 12 registered a magnitude of 5.3. It was near Guacalito de Upala. It caused some slides in the vicinity of Volcán Miravalles.

Emergency officials have moved to increase their monitoring of the area bounded by Orosí de Cartago, Patarrá, Frailes and San Marcos de Tarrazú area. This is where several quakes are taking place each day.


Home invasion hits
family in Paso Ancho


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The holidays usually are the time for home burglaries, and some Central Valley residents returned home over the weekend to find their home pillaged.

But home invasions continue. Thursday six armed and masked men broke into a home in Paso Ancho about 8:30 p.m. and tied up family members there.  The Judicial Investigating Organization said the intruders took electronic equipment and four cell telephones.


Neighbor held in murder
of 79-year-old Guácimo man


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two armed men assassinated a 79 year old Thursday night in his home in El Bosque in Guácimo. Just three hours later, judicial agents detained a 21-year-old neighbor as a suspect in the crime.

The victim, identified by the last name of Elizondo, was at home with his wife when the men appeared. They wounded him fatally but took nothing from the home. The victim died a short time later in the Hospital de Guápiles, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary













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Mafia gambling figure extradited to stand trial in New Jersey
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another clue to Mafia influence in Costa Rica came to light last week with the extradition of Frank Cetta, a trusted member of the New Jersey wing of the Lucchese crime family.

Cetta was the Costa Rican manager of a 20-person wire room
Frank Cetta
Frank Cetta
that handled as much as $2.2 billion a year for the U.S. Mafia. The so-called New Jersey Gang of the New York-based Lucchese crime family is heavily involved in illegal gambling, extortion, money laundering and loan- sharking.

The Costa Rica connection first became known in 2007 when arrest warrants were issued in Morris County, New Jersey, for 25 Mafia members or associates.

Cetta was named in a May
14, 2010, state grand jury indictment obtained by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice that charged two ruling members of the Lucchese crime family in New York, Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna, as well as 32 other alleged members and associates of the crime family, said the New Jersey Office of The Attorney General. All of the defendants were indicted on first-degree charges of racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering. The indictment stemmed from Operation Heat, an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.

Cetta, now 73, had a first appearance in court Wednesday morning where bail was set at $350,000. Judge Philip J. Maenza ordered that if Cetta posts bail, he must surrender his U.S. passport, submit to a bail source hearing, and execute a waiver of extradition. Cetta is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday at 9 a.m. before Morris Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan.

Lucchese crime family links to Costa Rica have been known since at least December of 2002 when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York announced the arrests of 27 alleged mobsters, and said that the investigation has turned up a gambling link to Costa Rica in which employees in the United States were channeling bets to Costa Rica via telephones.

The alleged Mafia members arrested then in New York mostly were members of the Lucchese crime family. Earlier the same
year in May the personal bookmaker of the Gambino family crime boss John Gotti, Dominick Curra, was arrested here, and he was believed to have maintained some kind of betting operation in the La Sabana Oficentro where he was arrested.

Cetta's operation focused mainly on sports bettors. But it was not the place where U.S. bettors would call to put money on their favorite team.

Instead it was a wire room, a place where the administrative operations were handled for the U.S.-based bookmakers. Cetta had a low profile in the Mafia administration, but his son, Michael A. Cetta, was a major figure. The younger Cetta is a Bonnano crime family associate but has close ties to the Lucchese family through marriage, according to prosecutors. The Bonnano crime family also is one of the five Mafia gangs in New York.

Frank Cetta appeared in a 2007 affidavit of some 195 pages. Some wiretap transcripts quoted him giving the results of the daily action to Joseph M. Perna, one of the mob's leaders in New Jersey. The discussion was with code words. Bookmakers who used the Costa Rica wire room were recruited by Perna and others, and each bookmaker had daily bets of at least $50,000 to $60,000. In one telephone exchange, Pern introduces a new bookmaker to Cetta in a three-way conversation.

Cetta was arrested in Costa Rica Dec. 5, but that was not made public then. He fought his extradition on health grounds but was not successful. He had been a fugitive for more than a year.

The Division of Criminal Justice noted that in May 2010 agents arrested and charged another fugitive in the case, Brian Ronald Cohen, 63, of Buffalo, N.Y., who allegedly ran the gambling operation’s Web site and the technical aspects of the Costa Rican wire room.

“Organized crime cannot evade our determined efforts, not even by hiding in Central America,” said New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow. “Frank Cetta is charged with crimes that reached from Costa Rica to New Jersey. We’ve demonstrated that the reach of justice is equally long. We are grateful to the U.S. Marshals Service for their efforts in apprehending this fugitive.”

“Frank Cetta allegedly was responsible for minding the store in Costa Rica for the Lucchese crime family, making sure things ran smoothly at the offshore hub of their multi-billion dollar gambling operation,” said Director Taylor. “With the aid of the U.S. Marshals Service and Costa Rican authorities, we have brought him to New Jersey to face prosecution.”


Judge orders British murder suspect to prison for six months
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents still are trying to figure out a motive of why a British tourist brutally murdered a Czech female in her tent at a research site.

The woman arrived in Costa Rica Dec. 10 and began her stay at Finca La Libertad in Aguas Claras de Upala. She was identified by the Poder Judicial as Alexandra Drbohlavova, 22.

The finca specializes in biodiversity tourists and the Fuerza Pública characterized it as an experimental farm.

The prime suspect, was identified by the last names of Mill  Saunders, 20. He arrived in Costa Rica Tuesday. British newspapers said his name was Alfred and that he was the son of a university professor and that his mother was a psychoanalyst.
Ms. Drbohlavova is believe to have been a student.

The Spanish-language media has painted this as a sex crime, but the suspect is accused of murdering the woman viciously and then lingering at the location awaiting arrest.

The crime took place about 10 a.m.. The two individuals had tents some 20 meters apart. Agents interrogated the British tourist Thursday, but the results of that session are not available. A judge ordered him to be confined for six months while the investigation progresses. A judge also issued a search warrant for his tent. Investigators want to know if the couple knew each other before coming to Costa Rica.

The finca owner discovered the body after he heard a scream and went to investigate, said the Poder Judicial. He then detained the British tourist. Agents said they confiscated a knife.

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Jaguar
Wildlife Conservation Society photo










Adult jaguar, nicknamed Kaaiyana, is seen with her cubs.

Jaguar mom and cubs cited as proof of park foundation success
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Wildlife Conservation Society has released a dramatic photo of a female jaguar and her two cubs near the Isoso Station of the Santa Cruz-Puerto Suarez Gas Pipeline in Kaa Iya National Park in Bolivia. The adult jaguar, nicknamed Kaaiyana, has been seen with her cubs in the area for over a month; though conservationists have confirmed she has been a resident in the vicinity for at least six years.

“Kaaiyana’s tolerance of observers is a testimony to the absence of hunters in this area, and her success as a mother means there is plenty of food for her and her cubs to eat,” said John Polisar, coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Jaguar Conservation Program.

At more than 13,200 square miles (34,400 square kilometers), Kaa Iya national park is the largest protected area in Bolivia and safeguards the most expansive and best-conserved dry forest in the world. It is found in a transition zone between Chacoan and Chiquitano dry forest ecosystems and includes unique vegetation and rare wildlife such as giant armadillos, Chacoan titi monkeys, and Chacoan peccaries. The creation of Kaa Iya in 1995 marked the first time in South America that a protected area was established through the initiative of an indigenous group, the Guaraní-Isoceño people.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has conducted extensive research in the area and estimates that at least 1,000 jaguars live in the Gran Chaco Jaguar Conservation Unit, a 47,000  square-mile (124,000 square kilometer) area spanning southern
 Bolivia and northern Paraguay. With support from the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society is promoting conservation action across the Gran Chaco.

The construction of the 1,900-mile (3,100 kilometer) Bolivia-Brazil gas pipeline that cuts across Kaa Iya national ark and the Isoso indigenous land required developing institutional alliances to minimize environmental impacts, said the society. With the participation of private energy companies, which make up Gas TransBoliviano (GTB), as well as the Isoso indigenous organization, and an independent member, the Kaa Iya Foundation was created in 2003 as a mechanism to deliver a match with Wildlife Conservation Society funds to conduct wildlife research and environmental education in the park, which is funded and managed by the Bolivian government.

Among the research efforts first supported by the foundation were jaguar surveys. Kaayiana was first detected by researcher Andrew Noss at the Isoso site in 2005 with male jaguars, and again in 2006 with a cub. The Kaa Iya park guards work with gas company personnel to prevent illegal hunting and settlements along the right-of-way to the gas pipeline and ensure the protection of wildlife, including jaguar prey, in the park.

“The photographic histories of jaguars in the area by Wildlife Conservation Society and the reproductive success of this female are testimony that conservation efforts have been effective,” said Julie Kunen, the society's director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs.


Internet scamsters used vehicle Web sites to trap their victims
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted six foreign nationals on charges related to an Internet sales scheme that allegedly defrauded Americans who attempted to purchase automobiles and other vehicles on the Internet through Web sites that included eBay Motors, Auto Trader, Yahoo Auto, Edmunds.com and Craigslist.

The 24-count indictment, which was returned Thursday afternoon, alleges a scheme in which vehicles were offered for sale on various legitimate Web sites. Money was subsequently collected from victims across the United States and supposedly put into escrow accounts with PayPal and eBay Motors. The money was then siphoned from the accounts with millions of dollars being sent to Europe. Not one vehicle was delivered to the hundreds of victims who lost more than $4 million during the three and a half years the scheme operated, according to the indictment.

The charges are the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service 's Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service.

The indictment alleges conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, eight counts of bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of money laundering. Additionally, the indictment seeks the forfeiture of property and money illegally obtained through the scheme, including more than $4.2 million in U.S. currency. If they are convicted of the charges in the indictment, the defendants would each face sentences that could total hundreds of years in federal prison.

“As more people use the Internet to conduct everyday transactions, we are increasing our efforts to protect consumers from fraud artists committed to taking hard-earned money from consumers who are increasingly comfortable doing business in cyberspace,” said U. S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. “This case demonstrates our ability to track down even the most sophisticated fraud artist who attempted to hide behind false identities and the perceived anonymity of the Internet.”

The indictment alleges a scheme in which members of the conspiracy offered vehicles, including automobiles,  motorcycles, motor homes and boats, for sale on various Web sites. After the purchase price was negotiated through
telephone and email communications, co-conspirators emailed fraudulent  invoices to the purchasers. The fake invoices appeared to be from eBay, Edmunds.com, PayPal, and Google Checkout, and the documents often bore the names and logos of these legitimate companies. The victims were instructed to wire the agreed-upon purchase price into bank accounts they thought were related to the escrow companies, but had in fact been set up by members of the conspiracy who often used false identification to open the accounts.

The fraudulent invoices falsely represented that the funds would not be released to the purported sellers until the purchasers had received and approved the purchased vehicles, and victims were further told that they had the option of returning the vehicles at the seller’s expense within a week of receiving and inspecting the vehicle.

Despite receiving the purchaser’s funds for the vehicles, the indictment alleges, the defendants did not provide any vehicles to the victims, said prosecutors..

At least 110 bank accounts were opened to fraudulently receive proceeds derived from the Internet sales scam, according to the indictment. From Sept. 4, 2007 until Oct. 5, 2010, victims deposited at least $4 million into the fraudulent bank accounts.

The fraud charges alleged in the indictment each carry a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison. The money laundering charges alleged in the indictment each carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Those charged in the indictment are:

• Corneliu Stefan Weikum, 37, a Romanian national who lives in Berlin and is currently in federal custody in Nevada;

• Yulia Mishina-Heffron, 23, a native of Yekaterinburg, Russia, who is in federal custody in Nevada;

• Sergej Bugaev, 38, a Russian national and resident of Berlin, who is currently in state custody in Orange County;

• Alexander Brem, 34, a native of Kazakhstan who lives in Berlin;

• Marina Talashkova, 24, of Yekaterinburg, Russia; and

• Rihards Avotins, 21, a Latvian resident.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Exxon Mobil wins case
against Venezuelan takeover


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international arbitration panel has ordered Venezuela to pay oil giant Exxon Mobil $908 million in a contractual dispute - less than 10 percent of what the company sought for the country nationalizing its assets.

Exxon Mobil had sought $7 billion in its arbitration claim filed four years ago for the Cerro Negro project in the Orinoco oil belt that President Hugo Chávez nationalized.

He also ordered the state-run Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. oil company to take over three other oil venture projects in the same area run by foreign companies.  Those arbitration claims are pending.

Chávez has been criticized for waging government control over Venezuela's oil industry because his efforts have made some investors reluctant to do business there.


Opposition party wins
Jamaican legislative vote


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Jamaica's opposition leader, Portia Simpson Miller, is promising to lead an open government following preliminary election results that show a large victory for her party.

Ms. Simpson Miller told supporters after Thursday's general election that she wants a partnership with the Jamaican people, the private sector and the media.

Ms. Simpson Miller is set to again become the country's prime minister following a win by her opposition People's National Party.  Election officials say preliminary results show the party won 41 seats in the House of Representatives, two thirds of the total seats.

A final vote count is expected in the coming days.

The campaign director of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party conceded defeat Thursday on a national television broadcast.  Karl Samuda said "We have not won. The people have spoken."

Ms. Simpson Miller became Jamaica's first female prime minister in 2006 but narrowly lost re-election the following year.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness from the center-right Jamaica Labor Party had fought to retain his position just two months after he was sworn in.  The 39-year-old took power when his predecessor, Bruce Golding, resigned in a scandal over his handling of a U.S. extradition request for a notorious drug gang leader.

Now, Ms. Simpson Miller faces the task of leading her party in lowering Jamaica's 13 percent unemployment rate and tackling the country's debt-ridden and stagnant economy.

Observers said the voting was mainly smooth and peaceful, a change from previous elections marred by violence.


2012 predictions muddled
as was the 2011 economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After a tough year in which the global economy faced one headwind after another, U.S. economists are weighing in on what is in store for 2012. When it comes to the U.S. budget, unemployment and the crisis in Europe, many believe 2012 will bring more of the same.

From the U.S. budget showdown to fears of a double-dip recession, 2011 was a year when the economy muddled from one crisis to the next.

Economist Mark Vitner at Wells Fargo Bank said that in many ways, 2012 will probably look a lot like 2011.

"The first half of the year, growth is likely to come in below expectations. We're likely to see fears of recession crop up, particularly if things in Europe get a little dicey, but by mid-year or certainly by late summer, the data should turn a little bit more positive," said Vitner.

By then, the campaign to choose the next U.S. president will be in full swing. Jobs are expected to be on people's minds. And with an economy projected to grow too slowly to reduce the unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, economist Beth Ann Bovino at Standard and Poor's said jobs are likely to remain scarce.

"I'm expecting the unemployment rate to go up a little bit more, stay at 9 percent through the year, and then start to come down as the recovery gets a little bit more momentum," said Ms. Bovino.

Economist George Perry at the Brookings Institution takes a more optimistic view. 

"Unless the Europe situation blows up, or if I'm wrong on the China situation and China doesn't speed up, I think the U.S. unemployment rate will be lower at the end of the year than it is now," said Perry.

Nigel Gault at IHS Global Insight said the bigger threat comes from economic stagnation in the 17 countries that use the euro.

"The eurozone is the single biggest threat, not just from a eurozone recession. It's from the risk of recession combined with a eurozone financial crisis that develops into a major global financial crisis. In the worst case, it could be as bad as we saw in 2008, 2009," said Gault.

Most economists say all bets are off if struggling nations such as Greece decide to abandon the euro. Adding to worries is the intense focus on national debt, both in the U.S. and abroad. While necessary, many economists say in the short term, spending cuts and austerity measures can only weaken an already sluggish global recovery.




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Latin America news
Ministry goes to Colombia
to buy drug-type fastboats


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas is getting four Colombian-manufactured fastboats to patrol the Caribbean, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

In addition, the ministry will be investing $1 million in a new coast guard station in Limón, it announced Friday.

The ministry said that each of the new boats will cost $200,000. Typically drug smugglers use open boats with four 100-horsepower outboards attached.

The Fuerza Pública also will be getting five Toyota Landcruisers for use in the province of Limón, the ministry said.

 
President takes vacation
to Mexican location

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has left the country to enjoy a vacation with her family in México, said Casa Presidencial.

She is expected to return Friday. Casa Presidencial did not say where in México the president would be vacationing.

In her absence, Alfio Piva, the first vice president, is acting president.


Latin America leads list
of Catholic workers killed


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Vatican's news agency says more than two dozen priests, nuns and lay Catholics were killed worldwide in 2011.

The Fides news agency announced Friday at least 26 people were killed in violence this year.

Latin America recorded the highest murder rate for pastoral workers for a third straight year, with 13 priests and two others killed in 2011.

Six church workers were killed in Africa, four in Asia and one priest was murdered in Europe this year.

The news agency says 25 church workers were killed worldwide in 2010 compared to 37 in 2009.







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