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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Jan. 4, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 1           E-mail us
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Family posts $10,000 reward for tourist's return
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The family of a missing British tourist has established a $10,000 reward for information leading to his safe return.

The missing man is Michael George Dixon, 33, who vanished in Playa Tamarindo. He vanished in the Pacific beach town in mid-October. His family has been aggressive in trying to locate him without success. His brother, David, spent a month in the area.

The Dixon case is one of several in which tourists or expats simply vanish. The best guess is that Dixon was last seen Oct. 19 as he left the Villas Macondo Hotel in Tamarindo for a swim. However, the family said without further explanation that a water accident is ruled out.

Michael Dixon was traveling alone.  Also missing is David Gimelfarb, 28, an Illinois resident, who vanished Aug. 11 after he went hiking alone in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, and Ostional expat Greg Snell, who vanished there Feb. 18.

In the Dixon case there is no evidence of robbery. Most of his possessions were found in his hotel room. His brother went so far as to have trained search dogs brought in from the United States.

Information may be provided to +44 7541-161-093 and +44 7737-143-191. In addition, there is a UK missing abroad hotline at +44 800-098-8485 or an e-mail address dixon.infoconfidencial@gmail.com.

The Dixon case resembles that of Australian  Brendan Dobbins who vanished after being last seen walking the beach in Tamardino March 4, 2005. Skeletal remains of Dobbins were found three months later in a wooded area far from the beach.  Dobbins was an exchange student at a Florida university and came to Costa Rica during spring break. Investigators noted early on that the
Michael Dixon
Additional photo of Michael Dixon

man was not carrying a passport or much money when he vanished. Agents have never been able to explain what happened to Dobbins. It was clear he was not a victim of accidental drowning from the location where the remains were found.

The park where others last saw Gimelfarb is further east but still in the province of Guanacaste.


Traffic mishaps major cause of 2009 violent deaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic accidents were the biggest cause of violent deaths in 2009 with 33.7 percent of such deaths attributed to that cause by the Cruz Roja. Injury with knives or firearms resulted in 22.9 percent of the 995 deaths logged by the agency.

The statistics, which were released Jan. 1, are not complete because some holiday deaths may not be included in the toll. In addition, the Cruz Roja is called to most but not all crime or accident scenes. The agency also may not be aware of cases where victims died after a prolonged hospital stay.

The agency said the 278 persons were victims of aggression with firearms or knives. That also would include the machete attacks typical of rural areas.

The agency said that 124 persons died after being hit by vehicles. That is a testament to the lack of sidewalks and pedestrian walkways in most sections of the country. There were 143 deaths logged as a
result of vehicle collisions and 68 in a separate category of vehicles that overturned. The Cruz Roja said that it responded to 103 fatal water accidents in 2009.

Some 16 persons died by electrocution or electrical burns. Some of these were thieves trying to steal copper electrical cable for resale.

Death by aggression, most of which can be called murders, were fairly steady during the months of 2009. They ranged from a low of 16 in June to a high of 30 in April. Most months saw the number of such deaths in the mid-20s, according to the Cruz Roja statistics.

The violent deaths in 2009 were exceeded in the last 10 years by only 2008 when 1,090 persons died violently, according to the Cruz Roja.

The Judicial Investigating Organization soon will release its own statistics for 2009, which likely will be more complete than the Cruz Roja tally.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1

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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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Arias decree establishes
property rights commission


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Facing conflicting demands over intellectual property rights, the Arias administration has set up a commission of ministers to advise the executive branch. The commission was the topic of an executive decree signed by the president, Óscar Arias Sánchez, and a number of ministers.

The decree outlines a commission that is mostly advisory. The main jobs are to suggest alternatives to the copyright piracy that goes on in Costa Rica and to recommend mechanisms to protect intellectual rights.

Costa Rica has agreed to two international treaties on copyright protection as well as the free trade treaty with the United States. Still the concept of ownership of an intangible right does not sit well with some Costa Ricans. Radio and television stations, for example, want to be able to play popular music and use it in commercials without paying for the right. Arias quietly adjusted the country's treaty obligations so they could do this.

The response was swift from the organizations that represent foreign music and videotape interests. Costa Rican artists, members of the Asociacion de Interpretes y Ejecutantes Musicales de Costa Rica, aware that their rights to their own music and performances were in jeopardy, protested Dec. 16 at Casa Presidencial.

Of particular concern is a decree by Arias published Oct. 19 in which specified what government agency has the right to collect fees from those who play music commercially. The artists believe that this right belongs to the associations of artists and musicians in Costa Rica. The exceptions specified to a long-running treaty, the so-called Convention of Rome, seems to remove protection for artists and musicians.

In addition a bill is working its way through the Asamblea Legislativa that would allow the television and radio stations to play copyrighted material without making payments. The bill is believed to have reached the floor.

The Arias administration has said that the purpose of the changes in the treaty and the proposed legislation is to enhance the cultural atmosphere by allowing the free playing of music.

At the same time municipal police and the Fuerza Pública conduct raids every day to confiscate pirated music disks that frequently are sold on the street. Internet theft of photos and articles is rampant.

In addition, by specifying exceptions to the Convention of Rome, Costa Rican literary and musical products lose their protection elsewhere in the world.

Presumably the role of the new commission will be to consider these issues and suggest changes. Most of the country's ministries will be represented on the commission.

Defensora protest resumes
today in Barrio México


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Look for a resumption today of the protests against the naming of Ofelia Taitelbaum as defensora de los habitantes.  The protest today is supposed to be non-partisan, and participants have been asked not to wear or carry political party signs and insignias. However, the protests are very much political in that the new defensora was named while she was a sitting legislative deputy, and the protestors are agitating as much against her Partido Liberación Nacional as against her as an individual.

The protest will be at the Defensoría do los Habitantes in Barrio México starting at 7 a.m. Opponents to Ms. Taitelbaum took a break over Christmas, but now they promise an indefinite protest.

The appointment is complete with a vote of the full legislature, so it is uncertain what the protestors expect to accomplish.

Tennis tourney starting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Copa de Café, begins today with some 128 tennis players seeking titles at the Costa Rica Country Club. This is a major event for young tennis players from much of the world, and many famous players have participated here over the years. This is the 46th year. The matches run until Saturday.

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A.M. Costa Rica
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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1

Traffic police out hunting scoflaws without road tax stickers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As vacationers poured back into the Central Valley Sunday, traffic police were out in force seeking those motorists who had not yet paid their marchamo or circulation tax.

Members of the Policía de Tránsito stood in the middle of the eastbound lanes of the Autopista General Cañas to check every passing vehicle. Those who did not have the 2010 sticker on the upper right of their windshield were pulled over. The fine is 10,000 colons or about $18 today.

Some checkpoints were set up in the heart of the city, and Tránsito tow trucks were standing buy to cart away the vehicles of possible drunk drivers. Those motorists without marchamo stickers risked having the plates taken from their vehicle.

A few expats were able to avoid that in the downtown Sunday by speaking bad Spanish and expressing ignorance of the law.

They also could have pointed out that the computers of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros was not operating effectively Friday or Saturday, the last two days to pay the road tax. Saturday all banks were closed, as were most other places to pay the tax. The deadline was 4 p.m. Saturday. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros offices also were closed. Long lines developed at supermarkets where private payment outlets were accepting road tax fees. In downtown San José, the line at a Más x Menos extended from inside the store into the street and down the block.
The Instituto Nacional de Seguros collects the tax countrywide and also underwrites the obligatory vehicle insurance that is included in the mandatory payment.

The problem with alcohol was highlighted New Year's Day when a Colombian drove his four-wheeled vehicle into a line of men awaiting food at a charity soup line on Avenida 9. The driver later tested at 2.34 milliliters of alcohol. Several of the men were hospitalized with injuries to their legs.

The driver may have been the first drunk driver detained in 2010. Each month about 350 motorists run afoul of the new traffic law that provides for jail time and a suspension of the license.

The Colombian does not have to worry about the latter penalty. Police said he had no license.

There were a flurry of traffic deaths over the New Year's holiday, including a motorcycle driver in Orotina and a motorist on the Caribbean coast.

The predictable carnage was at the Zapote fairgrounds where would-be bullfighters challenged these creatures every day since Christmas.  The Cruz Roja reported that it had treated 181 such individuals through Saturday. The Sunday totals still were pending. They were part of the 397 persons who received aid at the Fiestas de San José from midday Christmas.

Of these some 43 went to a hospital, although the Cruz Roja did not report how many bull fighters were hospitalized.


Union proposal would seek to help those who are in debt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most vocal labor organization blames the concentration and unequal possession of wealth for violence, insecurity and corruption. The answer is structural modification,  including a more progressive system of taxation, upward adjustments in the minimum salary and a special program for those hopelessly in debt.

These are proposals from Albino Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados. He published on the association's Web site "10 labor challenges that are a priority for a new decade." He said Costa Rica is marred by an abusive concentration of wealth and a growing inequality and social exclusion.

The proposals are significant because they reflect the electoral platform of at least three political parties which are certain to have at least some members in the legislative assembly that is elected Feb. 7.
Vargas blames what he sees as a problem on the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration that he says favored the private bank cartels.

For those suffering under debt he proposes a rescue plan including the restructuring of what they owe, a recuperation of their self-esteem and a limit on credit card interest of 10 percent. He also proposed a new way to calculate the minimum salaries and said that the idea was accepted by the Consejo Nacional de Salarios, which actually sets the minimum wages by occupation.

He said he also opposes any flexibility in the current labor laws. Some firms have been trying to establish four-day weeks and other innovate methods that have been accepted elsewhere. But the left-leaning Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados has opposed them. During the current economic crisis some employers have been urging a way to provide shorter work hours to keep most of the employees. His organization opposes that, too.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1

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New year drugs
Ministerio de Gobernacíon, Policía y Seguirdad Pública/Guillermo Solano
Woman suspect is in handcuffs while a policeman examines drug find

Domestic violence call leads to a major cocaine case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You should always be nice to your wife or girlfriend when you have 240 kilos of cocaine in the house.

That's the lesson that a Costa Rican in San Pedro de San Ramón failed to learn, according to the Fuerza Pública. Officers arrived at the house Saturday in response to a domestic violence complaint involving a 34-year-old Dominican woman with the last names of Pérez Castillo.

Police said that when they arrived they were greeted at the door by a man, later identified by the last names of Jiménez Araya, who threatened them with a machete. They said they disarmed him quickly and entered the home to find the woman crying.

As is standard in such situations, police checked other
rooms of the home for any other persons or, in this case, anyone who may have been a victim of domestic violence. They found no one else but they did find packages of suspected drugs neatly stacked against the walls.

Police also confiscated ammunition but no firearms.

Drug investigators believe that the cocaine was due to be smuggled north and eventually end up in the United States. They suspect that the cargo was the property of the Sinaloa cartel, the Mexican criminal organization which seems to control the Costa Rican drug routes.

The operation seemed well-organized. Each one-kilo pack of the suspected drug carried a label and a bar code.

Both the man and woman were placed under arrest, officers said. The drug find is the first of the new year.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1

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Bombing attack kills
22 rebels in Colombia


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian officials say a New Year's Day aerial bombing killed 22 rebels from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. The death toll reported Saturday is higher than earlier reports.

Authorities say the early Friday morning attack took place in the province of Meta. Military officials now say ground troops captured eight rebels in the area, including five who were wounded.  Initial reports said 13 fighters had been captured.

Meta is a lucrative cocaine-producing region for the rebels.

The rebels has been fighting the Colombian government for four-and-a-half decades and has been designated as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.


Search continues for victims
of mudslides in Brazil


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
   
Rescue crews in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state are continuing to search for survivors of mudslides that have killed at least 53 people in the southeastern coastal region.

Rescue teams were out in force Saturday after the mudslides and flooding triggered by heavy rains struck several coastal resort towns Thursday and Friday.

Mounds of mud destroyed a hotel and buried homes in the beach town of Angra dos Reis.  A similar slide was reported on the island of Ilha Grande.

The coastal region is marked by steep coastal hillsides that gave way in many areas after at least three days of rain earlier in the week

Officials say hundreds of tourists were at the resorts to celebrate the New Year's holiday.

Rains had subsided Saturday but, officials fear heavy rains forecast for the next few days could trigger more mudslides. Thursday, mudslides and floods killed 19 people across the state. Most of the deaths occurred as shacks in poor areas collapsed under mud and rain.


Brother of drug kingpin
detained by Mexican police


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican authorities say they have arrested the brother of a powerful drug boss who was killed two weeks ago.

The public safety office said in a statement Saturday that Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested Wednesday in the northern state of Sinaloa.  He was carrying false identification documents.  It is not clear why there has been a delay in the announcement of his detention.

Two weeks ago, his brother Arturo, a wanted drug gang kingpin, was killed in a shootout with the navy's security forces in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City.

The Beltran Leyva drug cartel, run by five brothers, is one of Mexico's most powerful illegal drug organizations.  It is known for its grisly killings and for moving big shipments of marijuana and cocaine into the United States.

The arrest of Carlos and the death of Arturo are a victory for Mexican President Felipe Calderon's drug offensive as gang-related violence climbs in Mexico.  Despite deploying nearly 50,000 troops against the cartels in Mexico since taking office in 2006, more than 14,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1


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Property ownership program
aims to restore Lima centro


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As part of a United Nations-backed plan to restore historical architectural gems that have deteriorated into slums, residents of Rimac, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Peru’s capital, Lima, will start registering property titles as of 2010 in an effort to restore the priceless landmarks.

“This is the first program, both in scope and magnitude, tackling the dangerous problems that low income urban families face,” said Jorge Chediek, the local U.N. representative.  “For the first time in history, the precarious conditions in which people live are being addressed.”

Located in downtown Lima, a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization heritage site and once capital of Spain’s lavish viceroyalty, Rimac has suffered from centuries of precarious housing conditions although it has the oldest bullfight arena in the Americas and other colonial architectural jewels.

Seeking to improve the situation and diminish disaster risks, the U.N. Development Programme has been working with the Peruvian government since 2004 to revitalize landmarks and poor urban communities. The program Rimac Renace (in English "Rimac Reborn") aims to grant dignified living conditions to nearly 200,000 people.

It has produced an assessment of the risks incurred by the population and, in 2010, it will begin registering property titles and working with Rimac’s municipality to restore the historical landmarks.

The coast of Peru, where Lima lies, experiences frequent earthquakes. Living in collapsing historical landmarks leaves the poor community even more vulnerable to natural disasters. Founded in 1532, Lima was almost fully rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1746. To respond to mid-18th century natural disasters, masonry construction with bricks and stones bound by mortar was forbidden and replaced by native techniques that used mud and straw.

The mud houses, though resistant to earthquakes, decay easily if not properly renovated. Rimac is almost entirely built with such rapidly degenerating materials. During the 20th century, Lima’s downtown was progressively abandoned by affluent landlords. Houses were left to poor migrants paying very low rent, but receiving no infrastructure maintenance nor formal contract. Sanitation facilities and pipes are rotten beyond repair, and water access is limited. To further exacerbate the situation, despite rapid urbanization, Rimac lacked a development plan.

This October, the Peruvian Congress passed a new law enabling property rights claims. Rimac tenants now will be legally entitled to their properties – and some may even receive bank loans to buy the houses. This is crucial because legal ownership will be an incentive for tenants to maintain and restore historical houses.





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