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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, Jan. 7, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 5           E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Escuela Metalica
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Early evening lighting illuminates the Escuela Metalica at Parque Morazán in San José. More and more public buildings are getting exterior lights as part of a municipal program. The building is correctly called the Escuela Buenaventura Corrales, but metalica refers to the material of its construction. Tradition says
the metal for the school came in the 1880s from the same French firm that fabricated the Statue of Liberty. The location used to be a small lake where oxcart drivers watered their animals after hauling sugar to the Fábrica Nacional de Licores, which is now the culture ministry to the east. The school just got a $1 million makeover.

Spike in robbery-murders worries law enforcement
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wave of murders that began the year is linked to gang members and other young men who punctuate robberies with additional violence.

The latest case was Thursday when a 27-year-old mother on her way to work suffered a fatal stab wound near the heart in a botched robbery attempt at 5:30 a.m.

The crime happened on the south side of Plaza Víquez. The victim, Alice Fallas Rivera, had just gotten off a public bus from her home in San Miguel de Desamparados, She was walking the half mile or so to the Hospital de Mujeres where she was a guard.

A taxi driver witnessed the crime and tried to stop it. He told investigators that a man approached the woman and tried to rob her. As the taxi driver tried to intervene, the robber plunged something sharp into the women's chest.

Investigators speculate that the weapon ruptured a major artery in the area of the heart. She was dead within minutes. The robber did not stay to get her purse.

In Siquirries Melvin Badilla González, 44, died Monday when two men broke into his home to rob him. He suffered two bullet wounds in the head. An ex-convict, 24, is a principal suspect.

In Limón a robber at a Maxi Bodega supermarket
Monday killed José Luis Vargas Hernández, a guard who was carrying the weekend receipts to an armored car. Agents think a 16 year old pulled the trigger.

A 24-year-old man, Christopher McLean, died on the public street in Jacó Sunday about 3 p.m. while he walked with family members. Agents are uncertain of the motive for the murder of McLean. It may not have been robbery.

There were other killings since the first of the year, either in family disputes, for vengeance or for reasons other than robberies. In addition there were several cases where robbery victims survived knife wounds or gunshots.

Judicial officials are expressing concern about the increased violence in street robberies. Law enforcement officials thought that they had the situation handled. A flagrancy court has been instituted at which those caught in the act or nearly so are quickly sentenced. Many petty crooks and robbers have been brought to this tribunal.

Fuerza Publica officers have been sweeping areas where vagrants live to assert control.

They also have spent several years doing early morning sweeps of low-income rooming houses and other places where criminals motivated by drugs might stay.

Usually minors who murder face juvenile sentences with a maximum of eight years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 5

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Professional Directory
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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If I Can Learn To Speak Spanish, Anybody Can!
It is very important that as residents of Costa Rica, we at
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least learn to speak basic Spanish.  We at Epifania Spanish School want to help you.  Our teachers are all courteous professionals and all want to help you.

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Real estate agents and services

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The registration of Burke Fiduciary S.A., corporate ID 3-101-501917 with the  General Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF) is not an authorization  to operate. The supervision of SUGEF refers to compliance with the capital legitimization requirements of Law No. 8204. SUGEF does not supervise the
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Attorneys & Notaries
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misiing family
The McStay family
Missing California family
could be here, father says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A California family of four vanished in February, and the husband's father said Thursday that he thinks the family may be in Costa Rica.

"My son Joseph is an avid surfer and would never be able to not surf,' said Patrick McStay via e-mail. "I say this because I'm aware that Costa Rica has an avid amount of American Surfers that live and travel there to surf."

In addition to his son, the family includes the mother, Summer McStay, and the couple's boys, Gianni, 4, and Joey Jr., 3.

The disappearances have been national news in the United States. The family lived in Fallbrook, near San Diego.

There is no apparent reason why the family would just leave. Their home did not show signs of disruption and their dog was left behind. Perishables were left on a counter.

The only clues are that one of the family's vehicles was found parked near the Mexican border. There also is a grainy video that shows individuals similar to the family crossing the border. Joseph McStay is believed to own property in Beliez

Local police searched the abandoned home, took some computers for inspection and brought dogs into the back yard. There were no additional clues. A Web site has been set up at

"There is a possibility that they may have left the States on their own under a cloud of misunderstanding (no violence, no crime, no problem with police), or may have been mislead in order to get them to leave." said Patrick McStay without further explanation.

"There is a possibility that they are in Costa Rica, but where is unknown," he added. The Discovery Network's Channel known as Investigation Discovery aired a one-hour segment called "Mystery At The Border" on the program "Disappeared" Monday, he said. The network will re-air the segment Sunday at 6 p.m.

There have been a number of leads that did not pan out.

"I don’t wish this situation on my worst enemy," said Patrick McStay on his Web site.

Latin America in 2010
presented in U.N. statistics

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

"The Statistical yearbook for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010," which features the main economic, social and environmental indicators for the region's countries, became available Thursday on the Web site of the Economic Commission for Latin America.

This annual report is the result of one of the main activities of this regional commission of the United Nations, namely to process, compile, classify and disseminate basic information on the statistics and social, economic and environmental indicators of Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as compiling and disseminating international recommendations on statistical matters, the organization said.

As in previous editions, the statistical yearbook is divided into four chapters, that the organization described as:

* Demographic and social aspects, such as population, employment, gender, education and health.

* Economic statistics, such as prices, international trade, balance of payments and national accounts.

* Information on the environment and natural resources, under headings such as biota, water, forests, energy and environmental management.

* Methodological aspects relating to data, sources, definitions and coverage.

Most of the information comes directly from National Statistical Offices, central banks and other official institutions, the organization said. In some cases, such as the chapter on environmental statistics, data obtained from international sources are also included, as they have the advantage of greater geographical coverage, which facilitates the expansion of time series and improved comparability, it added. The yearbook is available HERE.

U.S. boat that visited Golfito
made a big haul in Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Costa Rican lawmakers visited a U.S. Navy ship in Golfito last month, the crew had just confiscated more than 600 kilos of cocaine off the coast of Panamá.

U.S. Ambassador Anne Andrew hosted a group of 18 Costa Rican legislators at USS Doyle when the boat was docked at Golfito Dec. 9. Three days earlier a U.S. Coast Guard boarding team and Navy crew members intercepted the 60-foot long fishing vessel Rio Tuira in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Fourth Fleet announced this week.

The interception took place about 180 miles off the coast of Panama. A Navy-Coast Guard boarding team recovered 22 bales of cocaine, weighing approximately 499 kilos (1,100 pounds) worth an estimated $15.4 million wholesale value, the Fourth Fleet said.

The drugs were seized by a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment from Tactical Law Enforcement Team South, it added. Five suspected smugglers were taken into custody. Criminal prosecution of this case will be shared between the United States and Panama, the Fourth Fleet said.

After the visit, the Costa Rican lawmakers specifically excluded U.S. Navy ships from docking at Costa Rican ports for shore leave and resupply as of Jan. 1. The legislature did give permission to a list of U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

Lawmakers are expected to reconsider the rejection of the Navy ships when they return from Christmas vacation.

According to the Costa Rican Constitution, lawmakers have to approve the arrival of foreign warships. Since 1999, the U.S. Embassy has supplied a list of possible arrivals, and lawmakers routinely approved them. Most of the ships on the list never make Costa Rican port.

The arrival of the boats are an economic boost for coastal towns like Golfito and Puntarenas.

Six months ago, a Cuban new outlet claimed that the United States was sending 7,000 marines and 46 boats to Costa Rica. That made a splash in the international media and may have been a warm up for propaganda surrounding the Nicaraguan invasion of a part of northern Costa Rica.

Some lawmakers objected in November when a new list for the period Jan. 1 to June 30 was submitted by the security ministry. Costa Rica shares drug partols with U.S. forces.

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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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 5
Latigo K-9

Héctor Vega Zuñiga, an eight-year employee of the New York Bar, is helping owner Richard Arthur sell the fixtures. He is well-known to expats as a bouncer, guard and a sometimes nursemaid to inebriated customers. He would often get a taxi for those under the weather.
New York interior
A.M. Costa Rica staff

New York Bar, an expat watering hole, passes into history
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats are mourning the death of the New York Bar, an institution in downtown San José for 36 years.

The bar, operated by Richard Arthur, held a final night party Wednesday. The fixtures were up for sale Thursday.

Arthur, like many downtown business people, has experienced financial pressures lately. There are fewer tourists and expats roaming the downtown streets. And there is strong competition from places like Belén that hardly counted a few years ago

The New York, in its latest location since 2002, featured a small balcony with a clear view of Calle 9 from Avenida 1 on the north and the downtown pedestrian mall on the south. For years, the New York was on Avenida 1, but the Del Rey hotel took over that location in 2002, forcing the bar to move.

For five years at the previous location the New York Bar was operated by businessman Pat Dunn and his associate Michael Yafarano. That location was as wide as a rail car but gained legendary status particularly during the years that the Villalobos Brothers were fueling Gringo excesses with their 3 percent-a-month borrowing operation. That ended in 2002. Many tourists or expats still cherish the memories.

The new location was about four times as large as the old New York Bar but some say it lacked the cozy feeling.

The New York, like most of the downtown Gringo bars was a place where tourists and expats met professional women. Lately even that occupational category seems to have moved in the direction of the Pacific beaches.

The bar business is labor intensive, and operators have to
New York exterior
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Sign announces final party and swinging doors are stilled

pay a number of government fees. There is the social security charges levied on employee salaries each month and comprehensive insurance. In December most business people had to pay the annual aguinaldo, an extra month's pay to employees as a Christmas bonus. Bar operators also are targets of predatory government inspectors who frequently find real or imaginary violations.

The price of beer has gone up, exerting more pressure on bars that deal with expats on fixed incomes.

Longtime residents remember a litany of defunct nightspots in what is known as Gringo Gulch. There is the Nashville, the Piano Bar, The Beatle Bar, and Sharkey's (both operated where the New York last stood), the more distant Park Hotel, and an assortment of strip clubs and watering holes.

The area still is perking with four casinos and their associated bars and restaurants. But the go-go days when overly generous Villalobos customers would drop $2,000 to $3,000 a night on wine women and song have passed into history along with the New York Bar.

Accelerating change is having subtle and unknown effects
Lately there has been a lot of mail on the Internet about the comical problems social networking is causing older adults (when I say “older adults,” my friend Steve always asks, “Older than what?” and I used to try to explain, now I answer, “Shut up.”)  However, I receive a lot of this stuff.  I’m also the recipient of funny and not so funny items about getting old.   And I wonder how many books will follow Nora Ephron’s "I Remember Nothing." At least talking about aging is becoming popular.

I am not saying that I don’t belong on this list. I do.  But there are some serious problems underlying change, technological or otherwise.  We all know that once change happens, the frequency of change increases, witness the Internet.  And we know that there are unintended consequences with change.

I recently saw a program about a charitable organization working to improve the lives of the people in a tiny Ethiopian village.  It showed men and women at work. The men mind the cattle and share in tending gardens and occasionally kill a male member of the tribe across the river.  The women work from dawn until sundown doing all the other work involved in subsistence living, including walking several miles carrying three 10-gallon containers to collect water from a river. They make three round trips daily. When asked what they do, the men laugh and say “Eat and sleep.”  Asked if they ever fetch water, they reply, “All of that is women’s work.” The women obviously get some satisfaction knowing they are vital to the survival of the village, and the voiceover says, more than once that the people are a happy, hardy lot.

The charity wants to help by making clean water and medical services available, educating the women and establishing a school for the children.  They don’t want to change them as a people because they ARE happy.  Hmm, free the women from the long trudge to get water, educate them and the children, but otherwise leave everything the same?  That is sort of like saying, “I’ll just knock over this first little domino.”

By the same token, social networking outlets “just want” to make it easier for people to keep in touch with one another and make new friends.  However, there are other consequences.  Recently researchers studied a group of college students who agreed to turn off all their electronic
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

connections to the world for 24 hours.  Some declared   they felt isolated, alienated, and depressed.  In contrast, another group of young people, an entire high school class, agreed to turn off their cell phones and TVs for a week.  They discovered the pleasures of playing board games together in person, talking, and getting to know their fellow classmates.

I’m left with the question of whether the computer and Internet engendered a fast-lane, multi-tasking life style or simply facilitated society in a direction it was already headed.  I don’t know, but what’s clear is that it is having a massive, if subtle, impact on all our relationships.  

I have a file folder full of the carbon copies of the letters I wrote in the first four or five years after I arrived in Costa Rica.  Most are long with detailed descriptions of my life here.  Somewhere in my computer are copies of my later e-mails.  They are much shorter, some telegram short, and are about the here and now or in response to similarly short e-mails to me.  Now Twitter has shortened information-sharing and radically reduced the attention span needed to comprehend these messages, even more.  Texting has changed our spelling.  Costa Rica already has all of these wonderful new inventions (and more are coming down the pike, or should I say over the wireless?). New addictions have emerged. Everything is changing here except the potholes.

I think that many of us who use the cell phone only as an on-the-road convenience, our computers, and Skype, because it is free, do not text or tweet or friend or whatever else is new in networking because we don’t want to get caught up in the swift waters of too much change.  I saw an interview with two 10-year-olds who are in an upcoming movie that is set in the 1980’s.  The girl said she was looking forward to taking part in “a period piece.”

Maybe some of us are happy being period pieces, holding remembrances of things past.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 5

Three quarters of police vehicles reported to be road worthy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública said that 75 percent of its 1,097 cars and pickups have passed the obligatory inspection and have received permission to operate on the nation's roads for this year.

The police agency said that through a glitch, many of its
vehicles were not licensed or otherwise up to standards when the year ended. The agency said that local auto dealers helped in making the vehicle road worth.

The agency had to spend 750 million colons or about $1.5 million for repairs and repair parts. The other 25 percent are still in the process of being repaired and being inspected, the agency said.

Jail time sought for man who was in standoff with police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Desamparados man who held his own son hostage for about 90 minutes Wednesday is in police hands as he recovers from a self-inflicted bullet wound.

The man, who has the last name of Chacón, was reported to be depressed. He lives in Lomas de Salitral.
Wednesday he withdrew to his home and kept his son with him. Eventually he let the 17-year-old boy leave.

But he kept police at bay for 19 hours.

Prosecutors are asking that he be held in jail for three months preventative detention when he gets out of the hospital.

Vermont school children get a taste of real Cuban music

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Fifty years ago this month, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba, after Fidel Castro nationalized property and businesses owned by U.S. citizens. Eisenhower's successor, President John Kennedy, imposed a trade embargo on the island nation the following year.

Since then, most Americans have had little interaction with Cuba and most know little about the Caribbean country or its culture. But a group of seven Cuban musicians is trying to change that — one New England school at a time.

The band, Septeto Tipico Tivoli, is named after the Tivoli district in their home city, Santiago de Cuba. It's a Cuban neighborhood that's heavily influenced by Haiti and, according to bandmates, a place known for having fun and getting together with friends.

Several years ago, while performing at a music festival in Cuba, members of a Vermont-based women's chorus, the
Feminine Tone, met the band. Maricel Lucero the founder of the women's chorus, grew up in Cuba, and says the two groups quickly became friends. Last spring the band e-mailed her about their plans to tour Canada. Since they'd be just across the border, Lucero saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring them to Vermont.

"I was thinking about what a great gift it would be for our kids in the schools to come in contact with these musicians because where else are they going to hear Cuban music in Vermont or New Hampshire or this whole New England area," says Ms. Lucero.

Nina Salvatore, a member of the Feminine Tone chorus who teaches art at Woodstock Union High School, says the band spent three days working with their students.

"When they came to Woodstock we had an opening ceremony in the gym. And by the time it was done, almost every kid was off the bleachers down on the floor dancing around and I still have kids at the school asking how they are and if they're going to come back."

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For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba      News of Venezuela
News of Colombia    
News of Panamá
News of El Salvador

News of Honduras
News of the Dominican Republic
News of Bolivia     News of Ecuador
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 5

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Muslims say U.S. agents
ask religious questions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If any U.S. citizen knows his legal rights, Hassan Shibly does. A law student at the University of Buffalo in New York, he has also clerked for a judge at a New York's State supreme court.

Last summer he took his wife and son on a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and to visit his family in Syria. Upon return, he says, he was taken aside for questioning at New York's John F. Kennedy airport.

Shibly says an agent asked him how many gods and prophets he believes in and whether he studies his religion full time.

"And I think one of the most offensive things was in the end," Shibly recalled, "when he was trying to wrap things up, he said: 'I hope you're not annoyed. It's just that we want to protect this country from bombs and terrorism.'"

Lawrence Ho is also a U.S. citizen and a Muslim convert. He was stopped at a border crossing with Canada.

Ho says he was held for four hours and asked religious questions interrogation-style — in a closed room, by a special agent, with armed guards watching.

"They're treating me like a suspect," he says. "Like while I was in there, I just felt like I was a criminal. At a certain point they almost make you feel like you did something wrong."

Civil liberties groups say U.S. border officials are violating the constitutional rights of American Muslims by asking about their religious beliefs and practices on their return from trips abroad.

Ho and Shibly's testimony form part of a complaint to the government by two groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Muslim Advocates.

It alleges that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has been questioning Muslims or people that appear to be Muslim about their religious and political beliefs, associations and activities.

Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU's National Security Project:

"Of course we all recognize that it is the government's job to keep the country safe and secure, and we want it to do that," she said. "But questioning innocent American Muslims about their religious and political beliefs does nothing to make us safer."

She says it also violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees religious liberty.

Shamsi says U.S. citizens and residents may only be questioned in this way if there is a reasonable suspicion, based on credible evidence, that a person has engaged in criminal activity. And the faith-related questions have to be relevant, she says.

"It cannot be a dragnet set of questions," she added. "That is simply impermissible and unconstitutional."

In response to questions about the allegations, Customs and Border Protection says in a statement that it does not select travelers for questioning on the basis of faith or race.

Although the statement does not address the issue of religious questions, it does maintain that a reasonable suspicion is not required for travelers to be stopped and investigated with regard to their citizenship, identity and admissibility into the country.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, there has been a fierce debate in America over how to defend against terrorism carried out in the name of Islam without violating the rights of this country's Muslim minority.

Shibly immigrated to America with his family at the age of 4. He says his experience at the airport makes him worry about the future for his 1-year-old boy.

"I want him to grow up in the America that I grew up in, where people respect despite religious and political and ideological differences, and we're all - at the end of the day - Americans, and we love each other and we can all work together toward the common good," said Shibly.
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Blaze in Aserrí levels
home and furniture store

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire destroyed a furniture store and a connected dwelling in Aserrí Thursday morning. There were no injuries, but the blaze put a family of six out on the street and destroyed their business.

The site was in the center of the community only a few yards from the local Catholic church.

There was heavy damage to the contents of the furniture store. Firemen speculated that the blaze was caused by a problem in a motor that ran a band saw. In addition to selling furniture brought in from manufacturers, the family produced their own.

The total damage may have been reduced, except that firemen were restricted to using water from a pumper because the hydrant in front of the property did not work, they said.

Amnesty cites sex violence
in Haitian tent communities

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Amnesty International says sexual violence against women in Haiti is increasing one year after a deadly earthquake forced hundreds of thousands of people into makeshift shelters with little or no security.

Amnesty said in a report Thursday the offenses are primarily committed by armed men roaming tent camps at night.

The rights group says more than 250 rapes occurred in camps in the first 150 days after last January's earthquake.

Amnesty is urging the newly elected government to include the topic of sexual violence in its plan to address the humanitarian crisis.  The group says women should have input in developing an action plan.

The rights group says immediate assistance should include security in the camps and help for police investigating cases.

Mudslide in Brazil kills
four from same family

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in Brazil say four people from the same family have died in a mudslide in Sao Paulo state.

Officials say the four, including two girls, died when a mudslide triggered by heavy rains caused their house to collapse.

The incident occurred in the city of Jundiai.

The neighboring state of Minas Gerais has been hit hard by heavy flooding and mudslides. More than 13,000 people there have been forced to leave their homes.

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