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(506) 2223-1327          Published Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 5     Email us
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A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela
Saffron skies Thursday evening delighted Central Valley residents who have been facing chilly weather and intermittent rains. The northern zone and the Caribbean got up to 111 millimeters, nearly 4.5 inches, over the previous
24 hours. In Guanacaste, the Central Valley and the northern zone, winds reached 80 kph or about 50 mph. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said these conditions will persist through Friday.


DEA payment to tax police here prompted probes
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy admitted Thursday that a payment from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to members of Costa Rica's tax police triggered investigations.

The embassy, in a written statement, also revealed that the money went to a new Costa Rican law enforcement unit that tracks suspicious container shipments. This was the first public revelation that Costa Rica's tax police or policía fiscal had been enlisted in the hemispheric drug war.

Embassy press spokesperson Evelyn M. Ardon declined to answer questions directly and requested that reporters questions about the previously unknown payment be put in writing. However, hours later the embassy statement came as a reply, signed “United States Embassy, San José, Costa Rica.“ and did not touch on the key questions a reporter had furnished.  The embassy statement also did not address the claim that the amount involved was some $20,000.

The original story broke in El Diario Extra Thursday morning. The Spanish-language newspaper said that the Costa Rican officials who received the money in spring 2011 “had a party” with $20,000 donated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, using it to remodel a “safe house” for secret meetings and make purchases such as a computers, cameras, and  electronics without oversight or protocol. The policia fiscal is a law enforcement branch of the Ministerio de Hacienda and specializes in monitoring fiscal, tax as well as import discrepancies.

Said the statement emailed by Ms. Ardon: “We understand the allegations made in the complaint were fully investigated in 2011 by both the Ministry of Public Security and Hacienda.  All United States Government funds used in this project are accounted for and all protocols followed for the DEA financial assistance, which was requested by Costa Rican authorities.”

“All funds went to purchase official equipment that is being used in a public facility by a unit of Costa Rican law enforcement officers to track suspicious container shipments in Costa Rica.  This unit has
 the support of UNODC and has received assistance from the United States and other donor nations.  Since it began operations in June 2011, this unit has assisted in the identification and seizure of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from shipping containers, including the discovery in November in Moín of 153 kilograms in a container from Colombia.

“As the allegations in today's article in Diario Extra relate to an internal matter of the Government of Costa Rica, we refer any further inquiries to the Ministry of Hacienda.”

UNODC is the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

The article in Diario Extra stemmed from a complaint filed by a whistleblower within the Ministerio de Hacienda who claimed the money was spent secretly and without the knowledge of the minister or a vice minister.

At first, the complaint was handled internally at the Ministerio de Haciendo but later brought before the Contraloría General de la República, the article said.

The Contraloría is the nation's budget watchdog.

According to Ms. Ardon, Ambassador Anne S. Andrew is outside of Costa Rica and could not be reached for comment. She probably was not involved in the payment by the drug enforcement agency which exercises autonomy here.

Drug investigations usually are handled by the Policía de Control de Drogas of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and a special section in the Judicial Investigating Organization. For example the Policía de Control de Drogas confiscated about 360 kilograms of cocaine during a truck inspection at the Peñas Blancas border crossing Wednesday afternoon.

The confiscation mentioned in the statement released by Ms. Ardon took place at the end of November. At the time, the discovery and arrest were attributed to the Policía de Control de Drogas, not the policía fiscal. A trucker had picked up an empty container at the Moín docks and agents discovered that it had a false wall inside which were packages of cocaine. The security ministry credited the arrest to workers who noticed some packages and gave an alert.

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Officials scurry to stifle
impact of quake prediction


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A flurry of small earthquakes south of San José has generated concern among residents. And that concern was amplified because a Twitter account that claims to be from a Brazilian earthquake forecasting team suggested a more powerful quake was on the way.

Geologists and quake scientists dismissed the claim, and the Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica noted that there were about 3,500 quakes a day in the world.

Still, the forecasters who put the prediction on the Internet noted later that a quake did take place in the El Salvador-Guatemala coastal area. The Red said that was too far away to validate the initial prediction of a quake between Nicaragua and Panamá.

The forecasting group calls itself the Brazilian Earthquake Forecast Studies Team and uses Twitter to publish its predictions. The organization says it uses a powerful triangulation-based algorithm for seismic forecasting.  However, the team's Web page was suspended Thursday. It said via Twitter that there were problems with the site.

The Red  Sismológica Nacional noted that there is nothing in the scientific literature to support the team's claim that it can predict earthquakes. The alert was issued around 5 p.m. Wednesday, and the 16-hour window for the quake to take place expired at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Other organizations also joined the effort to dismiss the prediction. However the national emergency commission said that individuals should be prepared for quakes anyway.

Enid Gamboa, president of the Colegio de Geólogos de Costa Rica published a lengthy history of efforts to predict quakes on the organization's Web page. She noted that such predictions can have a large impact on individuals.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias convened a meeting of some 100 persons in a church hall in Tobosi to discuss quakes. This is in the area where at least 27 moderate quakes have taken place since Dec. 22.

The area is generally bounded by San Miguel and San Antonio de Desamparados as well as Tobosi on the border between the provinces of San José and Cartago. The area is in the mountains south of the Central Valley.

Emergency officials have beefed up their monitoring of the area since Christmas due to the large number of smaller quakes, which ranged from a magnitude of 2.7 to 3.7. Some were felt in the Central Valley.

The latest quake in Costa Rica was at 11:38 p.m. Wednesday in the ocean west of Jacó. It had a magnitude of 3.0.

The meeting of affected residents was supported also by the  Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico of the Universidad Nacional and the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica of the Universidad de Costa Rica, as well as the Red Sismológica Nacional.

Officials noted that Costa Rica is on the so-called ring of fire and is very active geologically.

Although it has not been mentioned in the latest case, officials have said that the Nicoya area is a like spot for a major quake. There is a fault that runs through the Gulf of Nicoya into Nicaragua.

 
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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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 6, 2011, Vol. 12, No. 5
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This is 12th year for Have a Heart Charity Golf Tournament
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A yearly charity golf tournament that benefits education in youths in the province of Guanacaste takes place this incoming Valentines Day at the Hacienda Pinilla Golf Course.

The 12th annual Have a Heart Charity Golf Tournament tees off Feb. 12 with a welcome cocktail party, followed by a complimentary nine-hole golf game at the course on Feb. 13, and ends with the tournament and a luncheon awards ceremony on Feb.14.

The event was put together by Amigos de la Educación, a non-profit organization with the focus to help further education of youth within a 20 mile radius of Tamarindo, Guanacaste. The reason for the geographical cap is economics, said Suzye Lawson, co-director of Amigos de la Educación.

Last year the tournament raised $22,000 which was divided among 11 schools and 14 scholarships. Three college women received a scholarship, nine high school students received a scholarship and two very intelligent grade school students benefited from a scholarship, said Ms. Lawson.

With the help and support of her husband, Barry Lawson, the couple were able to start Amigos de la Educación in 2000. She said the organization came along after she volunteered to teach English once a week in Villarreal. She had noticed the disarray and lack of schools for students to have a place to learn. She went back home and with her husband decided that they were going to make a difference by helping the children,
amigos de la educacion

“since they are our future,” she said. And ever since then the expat couple have put together the golf tournament to aid their new community.

“This is our big fundraiser. This is what pays for everything,” Ms. Lawson said.

With the money raised at this year's tournament, the organization already plans to finish putting a roof for a school building, install stairs at another school, hire a psychologist to teach sex education and a drug-prevention class, and help build a skate park. The skate park is in need of $9,000 for ground completion, and last year Amigos de la Educación raised that amount alone during the silent auction.

Golfers pay $150 to participate if they pay before Feb. 2 and $175 after the date. The price includes the cocktail party, green fees, breakfast, awards luncheon, open bar on the green and several sponsor giveaways on the green. Non-golfers can participate by going to the luncheon Feb. 14 for $10.


When in doubt, it's time to head for the kitchen and onions
First you chop onions.  That is usually how you start the preparation for cooking anything.  It also, as food writer Alan Gopnik implies, puts you in a Buddha state of mind.  That is you are in the here and now when you chop onions. That is probably why I retreat to my kitchen and start cooking with whatever I have the ingredients for at the damnedest times.

This has probably been the busiest week I will have all year.  And so often I find that when I get home, I head for the kitchen and start chopping onions, even when I am not hungry.  I am sure others have their time out of mind rituals that bring them back to their center – without overloading their refrigerators.

I started the week at a champagne brunch, invited by my longtime friend Darrylle and have come to the conclusion that champagne brunches are my favorite socials.  First, I like champagne more than any other drink, and, second, by definition the brunch has to take place before noon, giving everyone a day to recover, and third, I run out of steam by afternoon and don’t like going out at night.  Great idea: Champagne brunches for those of us in the third act of life who still want to eat, drink and meet new people or gather with old friends.  Besides, a form of breakfast is my favorite meal and doctors are finally admitting that eggs are good for you. 

On another day I had the pleasure of talking to members of the Newcomers Club.  My subject was the culture of Costa Ricans (or why Ticos are not just like us). Since many of the members have been here at least two years, there was audience participation, so I learned something, and had the opportunity to know some of the women a little better than had I just lectured.  This made the experience much more enjoyable for me, especially since I found them an exceptional group of women.  Many of them have started their own businesses here. 

I am aware more and more that women who come to Costa Rica are able to find their own power to follow a dream and create something or get involved in work they love because there is the opportunity to “do your thing.” (As we used to say).  It also may be because the pond is small and tranquil, and, if you fail, probrecita, it’s no big thing.  You just move on.
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart

Speaking of women starting new ventures.  The meeting of the Newcomers was held at Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano, which was my way station and safety haven in the first months after my arrival in Costa Rica. 

I spent hours in the Mark Twain Library reading newspapers in English and going through the stacks, checking out books.  Over the years I taught English there and once acted in a play in the Eugene O’Neill Theater honoring the 50th anniversary of The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica.

Whatever my connection, I would go into the small café next to the library for lunch or a cup of coffee and one of the great desserts. The café was run by a North American, who, I think, came here as a young bride and who managed the café and was chief chef and baker. 

The other day I couldn’t believe it but after 20 years, there was Pat Miranda overseeing the coffee and cinnamon buns for us, and she hasn’t changed a bit. One can work hard and find the fountain of youth in Costa Rica.

This week I also had lunch with a young man who is involved in a unique venture just emerging.  It may turn out to be a new way to connect the world of people interested in learning what it is like to live abroad by getting first-hand information.  That is all I feel qualified to say right now.  But check with me in the future for more details.

Meanwhile, I have learned that you should let chopped onions (and garlic) sit for at least 10 minutes before cooking in order to get the full benefit from the healthy nutrients they both contain.  I knew there was a good reason why I chopped onions.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 6, 2011, Vol. 12, No. 5
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Caja will give implant recipients option of removing them
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social confirmed in a press release Thursday that it will begin to take measures to assess the status of all the patients to whom it gave faulty breast implants and give the patients the option of removing them.

The Caja confirmed that the implants manufactured by the French firm Poly Implant Prothèse or PIP, are more likely to rupture and many were manufactured with potentially dangerous industrial grade silicone that can cause inflammation and infection.

Earlier health official statements had calculated that the PIPs were imported and distributed within Costa Rica between 2008 and 2011 by a company called Biocare Medical. But now the Caja officials claim its doctors began using the implants in 2006 until discontinuing their use in 2010 when health officials deemed them a potential danger.

According to Adolfo Ortiz, a vice minister of Salud, the health license for the product was not revoked until last April.

The Caja calculated its surgeons placed implants in roughly 400 women, predominantly in hospitals México and San Juan de Dios. Many other women could have been given the implants in private clinics in the country, but a large majority of the women given the implant through the Caja were given them for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy because of breast cancer.

Fabiola Ross, an advisor for the Anna Gabriela Ross anti-cancer foundation, said the situation points to flaws in the protocol the Caja uses to address breast cancer. She said
no national policy exists in public hospitals and diagnosis treatment is often left to individual doctors, meaning the reconstructive surgeries administered to the women now with PIPs was not standard policy.

“It's usually up to the doctor as to whether you will get a mastectomy and usually up to the doctor to decide about the reconstruction,” Ms. Ross said. “In Costa Rica, there is no standard policy for screening, treatment or policy for survivors. So there's not a list of things doctors must do.”

Ms. Ross said one of the factors that may contribute to the choice a doctor will make to conduct a mastectomy is the stage at which the breast cancer is discovered. She said early detection is the most effective tool in treatment, allowing doctors to act before drastic more serious medical measures must be taken. She said she hopes officials will take steps towards developing a national policy on treatment protocol.

Government doctors are now calling on each woman who knowingly has the implant to schedule an appointment with the hospital where they received the surgery. Those patients who are unsure of the brand name of their implant can contact the appropriate hospital to review the records and determine if it is a PIP. The Caja press release said the appointment will entail an exhaustive physical evaluation to determine a proper course, whose decision will ultimately be the patient's.

Assisting in the preventative removal of the implants puts Costa Rica more in line with other countries such as Venezuela , France and Colombia which have committed to assisting patients in the removing of them before problems arise. Only days ago Ministerio de Salud officials had said Costa Rica's public policy would be regular monitoring.


World's police agencies tight-lipped on murder suspect's life
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Details about why an international warning was issued for Alfred Saunders, 20, remain unclear as law enforcement agencies in Costa Rica and England decline to explain.

Saunders, an British native, is being held in Costa Rica following the brutal stabbing murder of 22-year-old tourist Alexandra Drbohlavova in a region near the Nicaraguan border Dec. 27. Saunders was allowed into Costa Rican by border officials in Peñas Blancas only one day before the murder despite him having an International Police Organization, INTERPOL, alert declaring him dangerous.

The report characterized Saunders as dangerous with a propensity toward suicide and sexual abuse, especially with minors. The report indicated he was a possible culprit wanted for homicide, sexual crimes and arms and possession of firearms and explosives. He was considered to be mentally unstable as well, possibly due to schizophrenia. All this information was available to border officials, according to Costa Rican immigration and law enforcement agencies.

But what prompted the green notice is yet to be determined. The world INTERPOL headquarters in Lyon, France, called the General Secretariat, would also not elaborate on the alert, claiming in a statement that the information about Saunders, even if they had it, did not belong to them.

“If or when police in any of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries share information with the General Secretariat in Lyon in relation to investigations and fugitives, this information remains under the ownership of that member country,” the statement reads. “INTERPOL does not therefore comment on specific cases or individuals except in special circumstances and with approval of the member country concerned.”

INTERPOL agents stationed in San José and INTERPOL agents headquartered in London, who should be privy to the
information, would not provide further explanation as to the basis for such an alert.

The Crown Prosecution Service in England provided what could be a slight glimpse into the young man's past. They responded to an inquiry about his criminal record by stating that a database search in London revealed a record for an Alfred Saunders of the same age who had been involved in a case with the local police regarding indecent images.

“In this case,” the statement reads, “CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) London was asked by police to advise in relation to possession of a very small number of allegedly indecent images of adults. These images were found to not be indecent, and therefore the CPS advised in October 2011 that the police take no further action with regards to this case.”

But the agency would provide no further details and claimed it could not even confirm if it was the same Saunders.

The London Metropolitan Police, who have jurisdiction in the area where Saunders lived with his mother before leaving England, also refused a request for the criminal history or background insight into the murder suspect.

A press agent with the London Metropolitan Police said Thursday the agency would not comment at all about Saunders and had been asked by INTERPOL not to do so. A different press agent for the same law enforcement agency had said the day before that communication between the two agencies was extremely rare.

Phone calls and emails to the office at King's College in London where Saunders' father, Harvard educated Max Saunders, works as a English professor were not answered. Phone calls to the house where Saunders is listed in the phone book as a resident with his mother, Catia Galatariotou, a psychoanalyst, were not answered either. An inquiry was pending Thursday into the English court record history of Saunders.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

New Swedish church holds
copyright theft to be sacred


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Swedish government has recognized as a church a group that openly opposes copyright protection.

The group, called Kopimism, considers itself a religious organization. It says on its Web site that it believes information is holy, copying is a sacrament, and file-sharing is a form of religious service.

Kopimism's self-appointed spiritual leader, 20-year-old philosophy student Isak Gerson, says Swedish government recognition was a large step toward the day when the group can live without fear of persecution. The group has applied for official recognition three times.

Gerson says the group opposes any form of copyright and encourages piracy of all types of media.

Critics say government recognition of the group could hamper a crackdown on piracy, but others have dismissed the significance of the move.


Mexican prison battle
leaves at least 31 dead


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A fight among inmates at a prison holding alleged members of drug cartels has left at least 31 people dead authorities in México say.

Officials say prisoners attacked each other using makeshift knives and other weapons at the prison in the northern city of Altamira on Wednesday. Some 13 more prisoners were wounded in the brawl.

Police and soldiers surrounded the prison and eventually regained control, according to officials.

Many of the inmates are serving sentences on drug-related charges.

The prison lies in Tamaulipas state, where the rival Gulf and Zetas drug cartels are fighting a bloody turf war. The violence from the drug war often spreads into prisons.


Online food game gets
a million registered users


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Freerice.com, the online game that allows players to improve their vocabulary while fighting global hunger by making donations to the U. N. World Food Programme, crossed another milestone Thursday as it reached one million registered players.

“When one million people each do their small part, the collective effect is beyond impressive – it’s extraordinary,” said Nancy Roman, director of communications for the program.

On Freerice.com, players face increasingly difficult vocabulary questions and for every correct answer, they earn 10 grains of rice, which is donated to the program and paid for by sponsored banners on the site.

The online game also allows players to choose from 45,000 questions in various subjects, including flags of the world and literature, and in six languages – English, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

“Beyond the remarkable benefits for those most in need, this is a significant milestone for WFP in our mission to engage millions of people online in the fight against hunger,” Ms. Roman added. 

The game reaches an estimated 1.3 million players per month and has raised almost 100 billion grains of rice, enough to feed five million people for a day in countries in need of food aid.

“One of the most exciting things about Freerice is its global appeal,” Ms. Roman continued. “Players from all over the world and from all walks of life are coming together to play for a cause.”

Originally launched in English in 2007, Freerice.com had within a month raised enough rice to feed over 50,000 people for a day. It was also named one of the best charity sites of 2011 by Netted, the online publication of the Webbys, an international award honoring excellence on the Internet.


U.S. gives Haiti equipment
to respond to disasters

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Haiti's Civil Protection network received a substantial boost with the presentation of SUVs, trucks, boats, canoes, 11,000 solar radios, tents and other disaster-response equipment presented as gifts to the government of Haiti by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In a ceremony held Thursday at the Directorate of Civil Protection in Haiti in Port Au Prince, Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador, signed over the equipment to Thierry Mayard-Paul, Haiti's minister of the interior.

The timing of this event coincides with the second anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed much of the nation's infrastructure.  The equipment provided by the U.S. will help reinforce his ministry's comprehensive disaster preparedness strategy, which includes building a network of emergency operations centers, warehouses, disaster and fire stations throughout Haiti in order to help make all parts of the country safer.

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Latin America news
Four men with guns halted
outside U.S. Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car of gun-toting men was temporarily detained on a side street near the U. S. Embassy in Pavas Thursday, the Judicial Investigating Organization reported.

One of the four men, identified by the last names of Abarca Fernández, was apprehended with a silencer for his firearm, agents said. That type of gun accessory is prohibited in Costa Rica, according to the Judicial investigators. Along with the other three individuals in the car agents said they found other firearms but the owners had their corresponding use permits. The other three men were released.

The disruption which closed the street where the arrest took place could be seen from the windows of offices within the embassy, but a spokesperson there said there was no connection and no direct threat posed to the embassy or its premises.


New burger firm plans
first Latin outlet here

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Smashburger, another entry into the local burger market, says it will open its first Costa Rican outlet.

The company, recently ranked as Forbes Magazine #1 Most Promising Company in America, also said that it will seek to create unique locally inspired burgers developed specifically for area residents.  Costa Rica’s regional burger will be unveiled at the time of the opening, a spokesperson said.

Some 18 Smashburger locations in Latin America will open over the course of the next several years.  This marks the third international market for Smashburger, following recent expansion announcements for Canada and the Middle East, the company said.

Each Smashburger starts with 100-percent certified angus beef that is smashed on a 400-degree flat grill to sear in the flavor, the company said.  The menu also will include other foods.


Truckload of scrap metal
yields 360 kilos of cocaine


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police said they discovered 360 kilograms of cocaine, each in a one-kilogram package, inside a metal box that was being hauled in a bed surrounded by scrap metal.

The discovery was at the Peñas Blancas. Border crossing Wednesday afternoon. Detained was the 28-year-old trucker, identified by the last names of Fallas Alfaro. He was bound to Guatemala.

The Policía de Control de Drogas was quick to point out that this is the first major drug confiscation of the new year.



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