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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 11     Email us
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Despite new systems, lines and crowds continue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Registro Nacional is flooded with customers, in part because the agency has suspended part of its online service.

Meanwhile, there are crowds in the street at the offices of the foreign ministry where overseas documents are certified.

The Registro Nacional halted its online sale of documents after the Sala IV constitutional court accepted an appeal from the Colegio de Abogados and ordered the Registro to stop charging for the documents.  In a press release Friday the Sala IV pointed out that it never said the Registro Nacional should stop dispensing documents. The order was just not to charge a fee. The shutdown was the decision of Registro officials.

The Colegio de Abogados raises the question of whether a public agency should charge for documents that are public record. This has been the case in Costa Rica. When someone needed a personaría juridica showing that they had the right to act on behalf of a registered company, they had two options. A lawyer could be hired to draw up the document for the equivalent of about $20. Or the person or a messenger could stand in line at the various Registro offices and get the same document for a few dollars.

What most people did not know is that for a long time lawyers have had online access to the Registro files. The fancy $20 document printed out by the lawyer was simply boiler plate from the Registro files.

The Registro cut into lawyers' income in two ways 
when the site was set up.

First, any citizen could get a copy of a personaría juridica and other Registro documents quickly and during 24 hours of the day seven days a week. Rapid and efficient, the Registro bragged. A.M. Costa Rica reported on this new development HERE in May. That meant less work for lawyers.

Secondly, the Registro expected the lawyers to pay 2,500 colons plus tax for each document just like any other citizen. That is when the Colegio de Abogados filed the constitutional appeal. And that is when the Registro suspended the service Aug. 1.

The case still is being weighed by the Sala IV magistrates.

The crowds at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto stem from another recent development. Costa Rica adopted an international treaty on the exchange of documents in February. The treaty just went into effect here.

Under the new system offices in each of the 100 countries that have adopted the treaty affix a certificate that validates the document. Most secretaries of state in the United States have this power. In Costa Rica, the foreign ministry has to validate the incoming document.

This means that foreign documents no longer have to be validated by the Costa Rican consulate in the appropriate country. And the foreign ministry is closing its area for reception of documents at noon despite disgruntled individuals. What was supposed to expedite the use of foreign documents is causing the jam.

Today's editorial on property fraud is HERE!

Geologists have their eyes on three trouble spots
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police have set up a roadblock at the community of La Central to prevent visitors to the area around the Turrialba volcano and the national park of the same name. But all geologists can do is wait and speculate on what the mountain may do.

An alert continues for the immediate area, and municipal and central government officials have met to outline plans for any major eruption.

Experts from the Red Sismológica Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico of the Universidad Nacional and from the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias have visited the area to evaluate and monitor the mountain.

The volcano gave a large burp of ash Wednesday afternoon followed by an expulsion of vapor Thursday. Since then, quiet has prevailed.

Scientists really do not know what is going on deep underground. Their best guess is that the twin columns of material were not signals of a larger eruption to come.

They face the same problem underground in the Nicoya peninsula. Two earthquakes took place
there late last week. One was offshore in the gulf of Nicoya, and one was just north of Naranjo on the east shore of the peninsula. That was 26 minutes before midnight Thursday, and the magnitude was estimated at 3.1, according to the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica. An earlier quake also of about 3.1 magnitude took place Thursday at 2:34 a.m. The epicenter was in the gulf east of the tip of the peninsula along a recognized fault there.

Scientists say that a major earthquake in or near the gulf is just a matter of time. They even have held local meetings to brief residents.

Meanwhile, in Turrialba, the Parque Nacional Volcán Turrialba will remain closed.

The other hotspot is south of San José near the border between the central canton and the province of Cartago. This is the area around Tobosí, San Cristóbal and Tarbaca in the southern mountains.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica has logged a number of quakes in that area in the last three weeks. The latest, one of 2.1 magnitude, took place right at San Cristóbal at 3:20 p.m. Sunday.

The laboratory released a mathematically study of the estimated effects of a 6.0 quake in that area based on similar quakes elsewhere.

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Limón court will handle
its cases electronically

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bill collecting cases and other small scale civil cases are being handled in Limón electronically.

The Poder Judicial said that the Juzgado de Cobro y Civil de Menor Cuantía de Limón will have files available for litigants and their lawyers on the Internet. When a case is filed, participants will get a password, said the Poder Judicial, adding that resolution of the cases is expected rapidly.

Court files in Costa Rica are not open to the public. The  Juzgado de Cobro y Civil de Menor Cuantía is taking over a number of cases from other courts in the Limón province as of Jan. 9, said the Poder Judicial.

Lawyers also can file a case form any place without actually showing up at the Limón court facility. Costa Rica recently upgraded its collection procedures to make them faster. The process in Limón is part of a process instituted by the Consejo Superior of the Poder Judicial in September. The courts are moving toward electronic filings and oral arguments.

Litigants also can present their cases in writing at any judicial office, and the documents will be scanned and sent to Limón. However, officials said they preferred direct electronic filings.

Our reader's opinion
Nostalgia for old terminal
at airport in Liberia

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is nice that the new terminal is open at Liberia. But, I will miss the old terminal. It made landing in Liberia
unique. So many places have the standard large concrete, glass and steel terminals. When you got off the plane and walked down the stairs into the fresh warm air after hours on a plane, it was refreshing. Your first look at the terminal was, an eye opener, and while you waited in line to enter, you found your self looking around a structure you don't normally see.

The giant fans, the high ceilings and the birds who called the place home.  Even during a departure, you knew that you were getting your last few minutes of Costa Rica. Coming from a cold climate, the lack of exterior walls is different for us, I call living inside outside. The giant open-air structure with few walls gave you the last warm winds as you walked up the stairs to your flight, and you had a chance to glance back to the countryside as you got on the plane. It will always be a fond memory.
Patti Fraser
Alberta. Canada

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
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Young vounteeer comes to help build a home in Heredia
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The hardest job James Getz has ever had has been washing the dishes. That was until this month. He has been helping build a house in Costa Rica since last Monday. The 10 year old said he decided to join his dad and volunteer for one week and come down south with the Central American Mission Projects and build a house for a family under Habitat for Humanity.

“I like this a lot. I have never done anything like this, so I wanted to come down and help and see what it’s like,” said young Getz.

The fourth grade humanitarian has followed in the footsteps of his father, who has volunteered with the organization in the past. He had been asking for years to join his dad in the trip but he was too young and had never flown, said his father, Scott. This year Scott, his wife and two children flew to the Dominican Republic to celebrate their wedding anniversary. James Getz flew for his first time.

“When we landed on our first connector, he said ‘Dad, I did pretty good didn’t I?’ and I said ‘Yeah, son I know where you’re getting at.’ With that, it occurred to me that he was ready to come down,” said Scott Getz.

The older Getz had been coming to Costa Rica with the organization for five years. And this is his first year sharing his experience with his son. This has made the father emotional about his experience with James.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m very emotional about it. The other night he said what it meant to him seeing me come down and do this. It made him really want to do it. And that hit me in my heart” said Scott Getz as he touched his chest where his heart is.

James followed by placing his hand over his fathers hand on his chest.

Scott Getz continued: “To share this with him is very important to me. There’s an impact and effort that he has, that means a lot. . . .  I want him to see that you don’t take for granted what you have in the States. There are less fortunate people, and there are good people that appreciate this.”

James Getz had the financial obligation to raise $1,000 on his own to pay for his trip to Costa Rica, where he joined 15 others in Heredia.

He wrote support letters and delivered them among his parents coworkers and increased his chores around the house to make extra cash. Within months he had reached his goal.

He is part of the first group that is here to establish the
Young volunteer
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela
James Getz on the job in Heredia

foundation and the framework of the house. He is also the youngest volunteer this year for the group. James Getz’s responsibility is to fill up buckets with rocks for the cement mixer, as well as maintain the wheelbarrows. He was also digging for the septic tank, but the hole got too deep, said his father.

“It got too deep and too dangerous for him to get in and out. It’s three feet over his head and I didn’t want that,” said the father.

But it’s not all work and no play. James Getz gets to enjoy his breaks by playing soccer with the local children from the neighborhood, San Pedro de Heredia, where they are building the house. The field on which they play is an empty lot fenced off by barbed wire. James scratched his leg playing, but thought it was the “coolest” said the dad.

In the process of his charity work and playing soccer, he has learned a few Spanish words and how to communicate without speaking the language. Monolingual James Getz and his new Tico soccer friends figured out a way to communicate with each other.

“My buddies, they speak Spanish, and I speak English, and we figured out how to communicate. If you want to be goalie you point to yourself and point to a spot at the goal. It took a while to figure out,” said young Getz, a Tremont, Ilinois, native.

First round of negotiations with vehicle inspection firm ends
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport minister said that the first round of negotiations with the company that inspects vehicles here has concluded.

The central government and the Spanish firm Sociedad  Española Supervisión y Control are trying to reach an agreement over how much Costa Rica will pay. The firm is the major partner in the Riteve SyC operation that has some 13 inspection stations in Costa Rica. The firm's concession ran out in July, but it is continuing to do the job until a new concession agreement is reached. If negotiations fail, the company probably will go to international arbitration under current investment treaties.

The firm says the government owes it money because increases in the amount charged vehicle operators for inspection have not been raised sufficiently.
Negotiations were in Florida, according to Francisco Jiménez, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes. Negotiations ended Friday.

Although no specific amounts are being made public, the Spanish firm is understood to be seeking millions of dollars. The company has a substantial investment in the high-tech inspection stations that it constructed.

Periodically lawmakers, under pressure from private auto shop owners, say they will open up the inspection to more companies.  Riteve SyC got the job because the quality of inspection varied depending on what shop did the job. The pre-Riteve SyC inspections were mostly for exhaust emissions.

Jiménez blamed prior adminstrations for the problems with the vehicle inspection company.

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New Guatemalan president seeks U.S. help in drug fight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
with wire service reports

The new Guatemalan president asked the United States to help him and the country fight against drug trafficking on Saturday. He was sworn into office that day.

During his inaugural speech as president, Otto Pérez Molina, 61, vowed to reduce violence and malnutrition in the country within his first six months as president. In 2011, Guatemala had a rate of 75 homicides per 100,000 habitants according to a study done by the Mexican Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal A.C., 2012.

His platform was based on safety for the people of the country. He won the November presidential election with 55 percent of the votes.

The retired military general also asked for national reconciliation of the country, where he wants all to be one and fight as one against organized crime in Guatemala.

Both Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have promised to help Pérez fight drug trafficking. They were also at the swearing in. Other presidents who attended were Mauricio Funes, El Salvador, Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Costa Rica's Laura Chinchilla Miranda.

Pérez, during the armed conflict from 1960-1996, was a military boss for the El Quiché department, where there were violations against human rights. He was known for his strong hand against those he deemed enemies of the state.

Drug cartels from neighboring Mexico have occupied large sections of Guatemala, bringing with them a surge of violence that has pushed the country's murder rate to one of the highest in the world.

Pérez told the crowd Saturday change has begun and said that he and his administration "are committed to peace and integral security."  He succeeds Alvaro Colom and inherits a government in tough financial straits.

Pérez is the first military officer to lead the Central American
Ms. chinchilla in Guatemala
Casa Presidencial photo
President Chinchilla greets Otto Pérez Molina

country since the military turned the government over to civilians 25 years ago.

Pérez was reminded of the challenges ahead when a prospective member of his administration, a congressman, Valentin Leal Caal, was gunned down outside the campaign headquarters of the ruling party Friday. Police have not announced an arrest in the murder.

Ms. Chinchilla met with Pérez for about 20 minutes before the inauguration Saturday. With her was her foreign minister,  Enrique Castillo, and Mario Zamora, the security minister.

Casa Presidencial said they discussed climate change, criminality and the exchange of information on criminals and gangs operating in Central America.

Police do a land office business at the fiestas de Palmares
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police continue to rack up the arrests at the Fiestas de Palmares.

The number now is at 138 persons, most of them on drug and theft. There also were arrests for putting their hands on women.

The Fuerza Pública has 400 officers on duty at the fiesta at any one time. They even had mounted officers in the horse parade or tope Friday. Officers on foot detained a number of pickpockets.

Outside the fiesta grounds, traffic police are continuing to
 round up drunk drivers. Beer gardens are a big feature at Palmares, and the logical results are drunks on the road. Some drinkers avail themselves of the public and private transportation that services the fiesta from many parts of the country. Drinkers who drive are almost certain to be caught because some of the traffic police checkpoints question every driver. Traffic police reported eight such arrests by Sunday.

Pepe Aguilar was the main attraction at the ranchero festival Saturday. Sunday reggae performers Don Omar and Grupo Plan B were the headliners. So traffic police will be announcing more arrests Monday.

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Guyana Muslim gets life
for role in New York plot

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A United States judge has sentenced a Guyana man to life in prison for his role in an unsuccessful plot to set off a bomb at a New York airport.

Prosecutors say Kareem Ibrahim provided operational support for the plot to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy airport in 2007.

Ibrahim was found guilty of conspiracy last year after a four-week trial.

Two other co-defendants also got life sentences. They include a former Guyana parliamentarian Abdul Kadir, and a U.S. citizen, Russell Defreitas, who used to work as a cargo handler at the airport. 

Prosecutors say the former airport worker initiated the plan. Authorities say the attack was aimed at avenging what they considered the mistreatment of Muslims worldwide.

The fourth co-defendant, Abdel Nur, a Guyana militant, was given 15 years for providing material support.

The case against the men based on informant information and surveillance of the former airport cargo handler in which they boasted about their plan.

Figure in Holloway case
gets 28 years in Perú

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Dutchman suspected in the disappearance of an American woman has received a 28-year prison sentence from a Lima court for the killing of a 21-year-old Peruvian woman.

The court sentenced Joran van der Sloot Friday, two days after he pleaded guilty to killing business student Stephany Flores in May 2010.  The 24-year-old Dutch citizen was also ordered to pay about $74,000 in civil damages.

Flores died exactly five years after 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared after spending time with van der Sloot on the Caribbean island of Aruba.

Van der Sloot Wednesday told a panel of three judges that he was sorry for Flores' death and felt very bad.  He earlier told police he became angry and strangled Flores in his Lima hotel room after he caught her looking up information about him on his laptop computer when the case of the missing American woman came up.

Van der Sloot's lawyers argued he was suffering from post-traumatic stress caused by inquiries into his possible ties to Holloway's disappearance.

Friday's sentencing comes one day after a judge in Alabama declared Holloway dead.

Van der Sloot was taken into custody in 2005 and later released following the Alabama teenager's disappearance during a high school graduation trip.  He has never taken responsibility for Holloway's disappearance and her body has never been found. 

Non-official media track
diseases faster than official

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Public health systems may be losing their monopoly on data about outbreaks of disease.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston found that news reports and social media can also collect accurate data, and deliver those results faster than government agencies.

When the cholera epidemic began in Haiti in late 2010, clinics and hospitals began sending reports to the Ministry of Public Health, which tracked the spread of the disease.

But at the same time, cholera stories began appearing in news reports, and social media users started talking about cholera in their Internet and mobile phone messages.  

Rumi Chunara, who published her research in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, found that those so-called informal media did a good job of tracking the official reports.

"So we found that there were similar patterns, like when the number of cases went up, so did the amount of this informal media, and as well when the number of cases was coming down, this pattern continued in the informal media," she says.

For their study, Ms. Chunara and her colleagues looked at news reports and other online information aggregated on the 4-year-old website, plus Twitter messages that mentioned cholera using the search platform.

Ms. Chunara says official public health reports and information from informal media both have their uses.

Official statistics are carefully validated but can take time to be processed and released. In contrast, news and social media reports can be much quicker, "but it doesn't go through a rigorous evaluation process. So it would be a good kind of indicator that something's about to happen or maybe a way to calculate epidemiological patterns in real time to just get an assessment of what's going on and to be able to deploy control measures a lot quicker."

As social media and other new information sources expand, Ms. Chunara says, their usefulness in the field of public health is also likely to grow.
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Caribbean volcanic vents
yield new marine species

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A team of British scientists has published new details of the world’s deepest volcanic vents, discovered in 2010 in a canyon on the Caribbean sea floor. Although the vents are gushing liquid minerals estimated to be hotter than 450 degrees C, they are surrounded by a remarkable abundance of marine life, including species of shrimp and snails never seen before.

The volcanic vents were discovered five kilometers down near the bottom of Cayman Trough, an undersea trench south of the Cayman Islands. Expedition co-leader is Jon Copley, a marine biologist of the University of Southampton in England.

“Deep sea vents are hot springs on the ocean floor. They are a little bit like the geysers you may know from Yellowstone Park in the U.S., except they are underwater.. . . .they are not erupting steam. They are erupting really hot fluid, still liquid, loaded with dissolved minerals that form particles that looked like smoke and that’s why we nicknamed them 'black smokers',” said Copley.

Although they didn’t measure the vent temperatures directly, the scientists estimate that the dark material spewing out, mostly copper and other dissolved minerals, is hotter than 450 degrees C. That is about 840 F.

“That’s the temperature you get right at the very throat of the vent, where the hot fluid is gushing out from the earth’s crust. But the animals don’t live there. They live a little bit further away. A few meters away the temperature is down to 20 to 40 degrees,” said Copley. That's 68 to 104 degrees F.
In those cooler waters around the vents’ six-meter tall mineral spires, the scientists found teeming populations of marine animals, including a new species of shrimp. Copley said the tiny white creatures exist in near-total darkness and feed mostly on bacteria.

“Instead of two eyes on stalks like shrimp normally have as an adult, these shrimp have a light-sensing organ on their back,” said Copley.

They also found hundreds of white-tentacled anemones, but they could not collect specimens.

Copley said that by studying the deep-sea vents and their animal colonies, scientists can better understand how marine life disperses and evolves in the deep ocean. He noted that in the coming years, the ecosystem will see an increasing human presence, in the form of deep-sea fishing, oil and gas extraction and mining operations.

“”If we are going to make responsible decisions about how we manage those ocean resources, we need to understand what determines the patterns of life in the deep ocean,” said Copley.

Copley and his team are now analyzing samples and data from black smoker vents recently found at four other sea floor sites around the world.

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Urgent changes can help protect expats and their properties
A news story Friday shined the spotlight again on the complexities of property ownership here.

The uncertainties of keeping a property represent a drag on the expat real estate market. An investment in Costa Rica can lead to years of court battles.

We suggest the following legislative change: Costa Rica must respect the chain of title and eliminate the concept of the innocent third party.

Under current law, a land crook can submit the paperwork drawn up by a crooked notary, gain title and then sell the property to an unsuspecting third party. The law respects the rights of the third party and not that of the real owner.

The former owner just has the option of suing the crook.

This is wrong, and many times the so-called innocent third party is a member of a conspiracy.

The lawyer's union, the Colegio de Abogados, must do a better job of policing its members.

The whole concept of professionalization of an industry requires strong internal oversight. In Costa Rica there are lawyers still practicing who have been convicted or accused of a crime. The colegio should shred the cédula of a member if convicted of a felony or a delito. If the lawyer is accused of a crime, the colegio should investigate and suspend the membership if it appears by a preponderance of evidence that the lawyer is guilty when the crime involves legal skullduggery. 

If the lawyer is acquitted, the license should be reinstated.

Lawmakers should eliminate laws that allow a criminal to buy 
his way out of a crime. There are lawyers and scammers in preventative detention now who never will be convicted because they will pay off their accusers for pennies on the dollar. We see this in other crimes, too, and such a concept is a license to steal.

Lawmakers and the Colegio de Abogados should combine to enact stronger penalties for fake cases. Many times, as part of a civil case strategy, a lawyer will file a criminal case that causes the civil case to come to a halt. Frequently the criminal case has no merit. But it may be several years before the criminal case is adjudicated and the civil case allowed to continue.

We have said in the past that judges should have the power to throw out a case very early in the criminal process when there really is no evidence of wrongdoing. And lawyers who file such cases should either be suspended or thrown out of the colegio.

Finally, judicial police must pay stronger attention to deaths when someone appears shortly thereafter claiming ownership of the deceased's property. Many crooks at this moment have inserted their name on property records in anticipation of the death of an elderly owner. The crooks suddenly appear with the forged paperwork sometimes even as the funeral is taking place.

Expats need to realize that for every foreigner who is the victim of property fraud, there are dozens of Costa Rican victims, and many do not have the knowledge or the funds to fight the scammers.

Garland Baker, A.M. Costa Rica's contributor, has urged property owners to create mortgage certificates as a surefire way to protect their holdings. We refer readers to that news story HERE!
— Jan. 16, 2012