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Published Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, inVol. 17, No. 15
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A divided U.S. is reflected in expats living here
By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats in Costa Rica are at least as divided and hesitant as those back home. On the day before Donald Trump is inaugurated president, few here wanted to voice an opinion.

Even the United Nation’s University for Peace in Ciudad Colón was reluctant to become involved as an official there rejected a proposal for a woman’s march that was perceived as anti-Trump.

Nearly every expat contacted Thursday for views on their expectations of the Trump administration was hesitant to do so. Kathy Rothschild was one who was not. She is a resident in Heredia and chairwoman for the Costa Rica chapter of Democrats Abroad.

More on inaugural HERE!

Ms. Rothschild is trying to be hopeful, but quickly said that the fear of the unknown and worry in many people from minorities to friends and family has her concerned. She said the rector of the University for Peace, Francisco Rojas Aravena, rejected a request to march on university grounds for what was described as being a non-partisan march for women’s rights.

Democrats Abroad also is a divided group because many members supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

Several watch parties and marches are expected Saturday in places like Playa Guiones, San José, Monteverde, Cahuita, and Grecia. The majority claim to be non-partisan and welcome all to participate. The one in the capital will begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. in front of the main Correos de Costa Rica building. The Amigos de la Paz are participating. Their attendees are being asked to dress in white with the march to the Plaza de la Cultura. Organizers said they will be distributing leaflets and be out in a non-partisan, peaceful manner.

Amigos para la Paz said the march was about world peace, and a statement said the event was not against a misogynist president, meaning one who has contempt for women.

There are many such marches in the United States planned for Saturday, and although announcements are critical of Trump, organizers say the purpose is for something else.

One woman who is helping to organize a march said she had been pounded on social media by Trump supporters.

One reader responded to a Thursday story and asked jokingly where the Costa Rican march for Trump would be held.

Another reader who identified himself as Michael Staryk said by email that on “Nov. 8 the U.S. elected a new president. They voted against socialism, affirmative action racists and shrill feminist screamers.”

Staryk then urged this newspaper to ignore “these extremist losers rather than encouraging their pathetic wailings.”

Ms. Rothschild said that she and others were planning on doing a public activity since November and were gathering permits and support. No one would provide a permit.

Voice of America/Carolyn Presutti 
 The U.S. Capitol and the Capitol Reflecting
 Pool are shown ahead of today's presidential

“They all thought this was an anti-Trump march despite our insistence that there would be no signs displaying party affiliation or anti-Trump slogans,” she said.

A staffer at the University for Peace would not assist obtaining a comment from the rector.

Some Latin Americans were not shy in expressing their opinions regarding the upcoming Trump years.

“The decision made by voters in the United States to elect their new president has a far-reaching impact for many parts of the planet,” said Shirley Victoria López, a Costa Rican and resident in Coronado.

She is unsure of how or why Trump was elected, but supposes that perhaps it was because of an element of fear among citizens of the United States of losing jobs or a fear of immigrants entering the U.S., the mother of two said while watering her bouquet of flowers to give to her daughter.

María Laura Ocontrillo, a Costa Rican resident of Moravía in San José, described her disbelief that Trump was elected despite the shortcomings of Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton. She was visiting relatives in Los Angeles, California, around the time of the election and blamed the apathy of voting in the United States.

Klaus Bengochea is a Venezuelan national living in Costa Rica. He compares Trump to Venezuela’s own former strongman Hugo Chávez. “You can take a speech from Chávez back in 1999 and it is the same words that Trump is using now,” he said.

Bengochea noted the effect of the United States’ commercial power in Latin America by listing off various products to pointing at the Holiday Inn building in San José. “They are all American companies,” he said, “He wants to bring businesses back to the United States, but why are they all here? Because it’s cheaper. This doesn’t affect just the people of the United States, but all of Latin America.” 

Meanwhile, Casa Presidencial is trying to ignore the inauguration.

Those who do not have cable will be able to watch inauguration activities and Trump’s first speech as president via live streaming at several sites on the internet.

Arrests made in four cases of property fraud
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained five persons Thursday in an investigation over fake property documents inserted in the Registro Nacional.

Agents said that the individuals were seeking others to pretend to be owners to sell the property to unaware buyers. The men involved are  39, 47, 52 and 54. Also detained was a 31-year-old woman.

Agents said that the case involves four Guanacaste properties that were sold illegally.
Arrests were made at homes in San José and

Heredia, as well as on the public street in Santa Ana and San Francisco de Dos Ríos, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

In order to place fake documents in the Registro Nacional the services of a notary is needed. The judicial agency did not say if any of those arrested were notaries, a type of lawyer.

Stealing properties with paperwork is profitable because Costa Rican law protects those who are assumed to be innocent third parties who purchase stolen properties and who may not be so innocent. That leaves the real owner with little recourse.

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Photo from the Facebook page of Joseph Briones Solís shows him and his girlfriend, Stephanie Hernández. Both were murdered.

Teen is the key to solving five murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An injured 14-year-old girl is the key to solving the murder of three women and two men Thursday morning in Liberia. The girl survived, and investigators are seeking at least one person based on what was overheard from her cell telephone.

The girl, visiting her cousin from Upala, mentioned a man. It was this audio message that caused a neighbor to respond to the scene about 6 a.m.

Four of the five dead are students at the Liberia branch of the Universidad de Costa Rica. They are Dayanna Martínez, 24, Joseph Briones Solís, 25, Stephanie Hernández, 23, Ingrid Serrano, 24, all students. Also dead is Ariel Antonio Vargas, 24, who was a salesman for a local firm. He is believed to be the teen’s cousin.

Four of the bodies were bound hands and feet and gagged. All five had their throats cut. Some may have shown brief signs of life when Cruz Roja rescue workers arrived.  The students did not seem to have been involved in any activities that might bring retribution. Some are from the Upala area.

A report from Hospital Enrique Baltodano in Liberia said that the 14 year old survived her operation.

The absence of a clear motive seems to have hampered the investigation and generated a lot of speculation in the country.

Walter Espinoza, the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said that the work of agents was methodical. He said that once the victims were determined to be dead, the murder scene was cleared and investigation concentrated on the exterior. Only later did forensic investigators enter the scene in search of clues.

He said three of the bodies were on the floor and two were on a bed. All were in the same room of the three-bedroom rented dwelling.

king air
Ministerio de Seguridad Pública photo
This Beechcraft King Air is part of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública fleet.

U.S. will help keep King Air flying

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública’s anti-drug police confiscated a King Air turboprop in 2013 in Valle de la Estrella on the Caribbean coast, and officials put it into service the next year.  Just like yachts, sports cars and even horses, such devices require constant maintenance. Not doing so is probably more catastrophic with aircraft.

So the U.S. government has dug down and come up with $1 million in special equipment, tools, repair parts and maintenance needs for the aircraft.

The aircraft is probably the most luxurious that the ministry has, and it can reach Island del Coco in 90 minutes, officials said. A boat trip to the distant Costa Rican island is 36 hours.

Improper relations ban is now the law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican law enforcement now has a lot more work to do. A law regulating sexual relationships between minor teens and those older went into effect Thursday.

Officials said there were 4,700 complaints filed in 2015 alleging improper relations between youngsters and adults.

The law, No.  9406, provides three years in prison for adults who have relations with persons 15 and younger if the difference in age is five years or more. The same penalty applies for persons seven years older who have relations with teens between 15 and 18.

The law mainly applies to young women, although there have been some scandals recently involving older female public school teachers having relations with students.

The law also prohibits the inscription of marriages of minors in the Registro Civil. The law received approval last October.

Although three years in prison might be intimidating, judges almost always give conditional release to those facing a sentence of three years or less if there are no prior convictions.

News from the Spanish-language press
Translated into English

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Thirteen passengers set sail that day,  for a three hour tour,  a three hour tour . . . .
It's time for exercise when the motor quits in the middle of the Pacific
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists on a six-hour Pacific dophin-watching trip got much more than they bargained for when the motor of their boat failed and they overnighted on the ocean.

Sierra Goodman, the well-known dophin and whale expert who lives in Drake's Bay on the Osa Peninsula, set up the tour. She reported Wednesday night that the problem started Tuesday morning. The boat engine had been tuned up recently, so its failure was a surprise, particularly because the craft was about 30 miles off the Costa Rican coast within an endless pod of bottlenose dolphin.

When the boat did not return Tuesday afternoon, those on land began making emergency preparations, but by then night was falling.

Ms. Goodman said there was an up side in being stranded in the calm ocean at night.

"Also with all that was going on, it was also incredibly beautiful out there. The ocean stayed calm and clear, and once the sun went down, we could see millions of stars, and I even saw several shooting stars. The bio-luminescence in the water was incredible, and with every stroke in the water that we made, glowing, glittering neon blue trails appeared. The whole back of the boat was lit up with sparkling, blue light. The half moon came up over the distant hills, and it was super big and orange even in its half state. Under different circumstances, it would have been divine."

Early on, Ms. Goodman and her boat captain,  Marcos David

Pérez Morales, realized that their biggest danger was in letting
the sea carry them away. They were unable to raise anyone on the boat radio, so they decided to paddle and push the boat toward an island off the Costa Rican coast in the Pacific. The destination was Cano Island.

She and the tourists swam alongside the boat propelling it towards the coast until dark. Then some used plastic tops of lunch boxes as paddles. She coined the term the Tupperware Gang. She had fins, and there was one paddle.

"Once it got dark, we used the compass to stay on track towards the island, and once the moon came out and we got closer to the island and it got bigger, it got easier to navigate towards it without using our compass and cell phones," she said.

"The guests were wonderful and stayed positive and upbeat for the most part, even laughing and joking around and most of all, they really all pitched in and helped. It was a true team effort," she added.

By dawn and just two miles for the island, Ms. Goodman said her boat was spotted by a commercial fishing craft that towed it the rest of the way. That was when she found that the antena of the radio base at the island ranger station had been damaged and reception was poor.

From the island, she said she was able to make a cell telephone call and learned that a major rescue effort including aircraft had been mounted. Later she punctuated her email with stanzas from the  "Gilligan's Island" theme song. That was a 1960s television comedy about castaways who had signed up for a brief boat tour.

Finance minister says he warned of possible cut in debt rating
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The finance minister is blaming the legislature for not passing more taxes after the Fitch rating firm cut the ranking on the government’s debt from junk bond to even junkier bond.

The rating went from BB+ to BB. The company considers that bonds in both categories are speculative for investors.

Helio Fallas, the minister of Hacienda, was quick to issue a statement in which he said he had reminded government officials of such a development if the various tax bills were not approved.

He also is the first vice president of the country.

Despite some improvement in 2016, Fitch, one of the world’s three top rating agencies, said the fiscal deficit is expected to rise over the next two years as a result of a higher interest burden and spending rigidities. The government's tax reform proposals to rein in the fiscal deficits have made little progress in the legislature given its fragmented structure and the

cumbersome legislative process, it added.

The result of the rating cut is that Costa Rica will have to pay higher interest when it floats more bonds. Nearly half of the national budget is financed with borrowed money.

The government has been seeking a value-added tax and increases in income tax rates, among other revenue proposals. Some lawmakers were unhappy when President Luis Guillermo Solís presented a national budget proposal 12 percent higher than the previous year instead of making steep cuts.

Fitch said that the outlook for passage of a crucial value-added and income tax proposals, estimated to provide close to 2 percent of gross domestic product in additional revenues, has significantly diminished as the February 2018 congressional and presidential elections approach. Fitch's new baseline scenario does not incorporate passage of any meaningful tax reform measures in the forecast period through 2018, it said, adding that as a result of the large fiscal imbalances, Costa Rica's debt burden has risen rapidly over the last decade.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 15
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Western Union agrees to massive fine for laundering, helping fraudsters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. federal government has taken action against Western Union that has been the source for years of money stolen from U.S. and Canadian citizens by Costa Rican telemarketer scammers.

The Western Union Co. has agreed to forfeit $586 million as it admitted to criminal violations, including willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud.

Western Union has been a principal conduit for the legions of telemarketer scammers who operated and are operating from Costa Rica as well as some sportsbooks and gambling enterprises.

A local gambling operator noted that a U.S. attorney in Florida a year ago issued a subpoena requesting company documents regarding suspected online gambling transactions with Western Union agents in multiple countries, including Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The deferred prosecution agreement by the Englewood, Colorado, company is with the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and several U. S. attorney’s offices.

In one case, a company agent in California sent $310 million to China in what are called structured payments, amounts small enough to avoid official oversight. The agreement says that between 2004 and 2012, Western Union violated the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-fraud statutes by processing hundreds of thousands of transactions for Western Union agents and others involved in an international consumer fraud scheme.

As part of the scheme, fraudsters contacted victims in the United States and falsely posed as family members in need or promised prizes or job opportunities, said the Justice Department. The fraudsters directed the victims to send money through Western Union to help their relative or claim their prize. Various Western Union agents were complicit in these fraud schemes, often processing the fraud payments for the fraudsters in return for a cut of the fraud proceeds, the department added.

The government said that Western Union knew of, but failed to take corrective action against, their own agents involved in or facilitating fraud-related transactions. The company also ignored suggestions by its own security department.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions, including money services businesses such as Western Union, to file currency transaction reports for transactions in currency greater than $10,000 in a single day, the Justice Department noted. To evade the filing of a transaction report and identification requirements, criminals will often structure their

Western Union

currency transactions so that no single transaction exceeds the $10,000 threshold, it said.

"This action today will ensure that Western Union effectively controls its agents and prevents the use of its money transfer system for illegal purposes,” said Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. attorney in the California Central District.

In a related case, Western Union agreed to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission in a complaint filed in Pennsylvania, alleging that for many years, fraudsters around the world have used Western Union’s money transfer system even though the company has long been aware of the problem, and that some Western Union agents have been complicit in fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission complaint alleges that Western Union declined to put in place effective anti-fraud policies and procedures and has failed to act promptly against problem agents. Western Union has identified many of the problem agents but has profited from their actions by not promptly suspending and terminating them, it said.

Western Union promises to implement and maintain a comprehensive anti-fraud program with training for its agents and their front line associates, monitor to detect and prevent fraud-induced money transfers, due diligence on all new and renewing company agents and suspension or termination of noncompliant agents, said the Federal Trade Commission.

The order prohibits Western Union from transmitting a money transfer that it knows or reasonably should know is fraud-induced.

In addition, consistent with the telemarketing sales rule, Western Union must not process a money transfer that it knows or should know is payment for a telemarketing transaction, said the Justice Department. The company’s compliance with the order will be monitored for three years by an independent compliance auditor, it added.

Costa Rica with its many English-speaking citizens has been a hotbed of telemarketing fraud, frequently engineered by expats. Crooks have sold business franchises, non-existent computers and even stocks with prices pumped up to unrealistic levels. They also have operated lottery and sweepstakes scams. Most of the victims have been in the United States and Canada.  Frequently payment has been made by victims via Western Union.

Vacation, travel and hospitality

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Georgre Lundquist header

The Relocation/Retirement tour with the

 (as reported by the moving companies)
Visit many rental options to actually experience the price/amenity options available in more of the areas chosen by Expats for security, comfort, and quality of life.

Meet many Expats who are willing to share their experiences and how the tour has value long after the “lust” wears off.
See how to choose a Retirement tour video by past guest!

Ask the others what you get for your money, and then compare the quality of accommodations, quality, quantity and variety of food and drink to measure the best value for your money. 

Learn how others “talk the talk” and learn who really can “walk the walk”

Please visit my Web site  to contact my references.
George Lundquist, retirement, relocation columnist, Guide & Developer/Builder.

George Lundquist

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Dial toll FREE from USA or Canada:  1.800.901.0114
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Cells:  +506-8380-5919  and +506-8302-5877

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
Salsa Lizano
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 15
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On eve of inauguration,
Trump readies for new job

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President-elect Donald Trump is promising to work hard, unify the country and make America great for everybody.

On the eve of his Inauguration Day, Trump predicted the nation would see something that is so amazing when he is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

After an inaugural concert Thursday night on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Trump said he did not care whether the weather was going to be beautiful or if it rains like crazy, telling thousands that the entire world was watching what's happening in the United States.

Light rain and chilly temperatures are forecast for today, inauguration day.

Sean Spicer, who will be Trump's White House press secretary, said the president-elect was continuing to make changes in the inaugural address he will deliver from the steps of the U.S. Capitol at midday Friday.

Spicer said the speech would be very personal, his vision for America.

Trump intends to outline the challenges we face in the speech, Spicer added. He described the message as a philosophical statement about where Trump wants to take the national government, but not a legislative agenda.

Beginning Friday afternoon and over the next few days, the spokesman said, Trump will sign executive orders enacting an agenda of real change. The president-elect is still working through on which areas he wants to do and in what order, Spicer added.

Trump could immediately overturn some of outgoing President Barack Obama's edicts by such actions.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence said he and Trump would be ready to serve the American people on Day One.

With the nomination of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary, Spicer said, Trump has filled all 21 posts in his cabinet. He also noted that 536 officials were now positioned in government agencies throughout Washington to join in the transition of power when the full government resumes business Monday.

Spicer said 50 officials who handled behind-the-scenes work in the U.S. government for Obama had agreed to stay on in the new administration.

The vice president-elect said Trump had mapped out plans for what policies the new administration hopes to enact. Interest in working for the new administration has grown daily, Pence added, with 86,000 people applying for jobs.

Trump and Pence, victors in one of the most contentious U.S. national elections ever, took part in several events in the capital Thursday.

Trump praised several of his Cabinet selections during a luncheon at his Trump International Hotel, not far from the White House. He mentioned in passing that he intended to nominate Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets professional football team, as the U.S. ambassador to Britain.

Later, accompanied by Pence, Trump laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 400,000 military veterans and family members are buried.

In the evening, Trump and Pence, plus other key officials in the new administration, were expected at a candlelight dinner with campaign donors at Washington's Union Station train depot.

Trump was spending his last night as a private citizen at Blair House, the government's residence for dignitaries, directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Even as officials prepare for the inauguration, with all the pomp and solemnity linked to the transfer of power in the United States as Obama leaves office after eight years as the American leader, two more of Trump's cabinet selections were facing confirmation hearings before Senate panels.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry, picked as Trump's energy secretary, said he regretted his past comment, during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential bid, calling for abolition of the Energy Department that he is now likely to head.

"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," Perry said in prepared remarks. "In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

Treasury secretary-designate Steve Mnuchin faced tough questions about his oversight of a bank that foreclosed on home loans, costing people their houses, at the height of the U.S. recession in 2009.

Spokesman Spicer criticized Sen. Chuck Schumer, leader of the minority Democrats in the Senate, for delaying Republican plans to quickly confirm Trump's cabinet picks.

Even consensus candidates for cabinet positions have yet to be confirmed, Spicer said. "There's no excuse for the delay tactics."

Several of Trump's cabinet selections have faced rocky confirmation hearings, with Democrats raising questions about their personal financial dealings, their adversarial connections to the agencies they have been appointed to lead, and their lack of knowledge about some laws and policies in place at their departments.

U.S. and Cuba sign treaty
on maritime boundaries

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States and Cuba have signed a treaty on maritime boundaries in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

A State Department statement said the pact covers the only water boundary not under a previous deal between the two countries.

The treaty will have to be approved by the U.S. Senate before it can take effect. Cuba also signed a similar treaty with Mexico to sort out claims in the same part of the Gulf of Mexico. The three countries had discussed the boundaries since the middle of last year.

The U.S.-Cuba treaty comes days before Republican Donald Trump becomes president. He has threatened to reverse moves by President Barack Obama to thaw relations between the countries, which included reestablishing diplomatic relations and easing a travel ban.

Obama concedes defeat
in closing
Guantanamo Bay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama conceded defeat in his efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but he blamed Congress for his failure.

In a letter to Congress Thursday, he condemned lawmakers for placing politics above the ongoing cost to taxpayers.

The facility "never should have been opened in the first place," Obama said in the two-page letter sent on his last full day as president.

"There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress' insistence on keeping the facility open," he added.

Obama pledged when he became president eight years ago to close the facility in his first year, but lawmakers in both political parties blocked that effort.

He said the population there stood at 41 as of Thursday. A senior administration official confirmed that an additional four inmates had been transferred out of the prison.

President-elect Donald Trump has vowed not just to keep Guantanamo open, but to boost the number of terror suspects housed there, even raising the prospect of U.S. citizens being sent to the facility.

Voice of America photo 
Bikers on the streets of Washington

Bikers cruising Washington
as a new political force

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of motorcycle-riding supporters of president-elect Donald Trump arrived Thursday in Washington in anticipation of the inauguration.

The group, Bikers for Trump, secured an area along the inauguration parade route where they will gather to hold the "58th inauguration halftime show" between the swearing-in ceremony at noon and the start of the parade in the afternoon.

Chris Cox, the founder of Bikers for Trump, told Fox & Friends the group was laughed at when around 100 people showed up to its first rally in October 2015, but since then membership has ballooned to around 200,000 people.

"Bikers for Trump started as a result of the outspoken nature of Donald Trump and the bikers' frustration with the direction this country was going. … We're a force to be reckoned with. We're a political phenomenon," he said.

Cox said he expected upward of 5,000 bikers to attend the rally, which could make it the largest pro-Trump event run by a private organization on Inauguration Day.

Cox told The Washington Post he hoped the rally and his group would morph into something bigger, eventually turning bikers into a voting bloc similar to evangelical Christians or organized labor.

"Bikers are strongly organized locally," he told the paper. "They just haven't been organized nationally before."

In a video posted to the group's Facebook page on Wednesday, Cox said the halftime event would feature various speakers, a ceremony to honor veterans, and a band called The Fryed Brothers, which Cox described as the world's best biker band.

"We've had hiccups along the way, but we've managed to pull this off," he said.

About 200 members of the group participated in the organized ride on Thursday, which began about 30 minutes outside Washington, in Dale City, Virginia. The bikers crossed the Potomac River and rode through the crowded Georgetown neighborhood of Washington before turning around and heading back out the way they came in.

Cox said he expected Friday's halftime event to go peacefully, although he told Fox & Friends his group would step in to help police should any of the large number of expected anti-Trump protesters become violent or attempt to breach police barricades.

"In the event that we are needed, we certainly will form a wall of meat," he said. "We'll be shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and we'll be toe-to-toe with anyone that is going to break through any police barriers, that's going to be assaulting women, spitting on them, throwing things at them. We are anticipating a peaceful transition of power."

Kerry leaves State Department
and creates power vacuum

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday afternoon told gathered staff that it is a time of great transition and some upheaval.

In his final remarks at the State Department, however, Kerry added, "I am optimistic because this country has shown again and again how strong we are internally."

He waved goodbye in the C Street lobby, one day ahead of ending his tenure of just under four years as America's top diplomat.

Earlier Thursday, Kerry told State Department correspondents that he has traveled, as secretary of State, about 2,250,000 kilometers to 91 countries and spent 3,700 hours on the phone with world leaders.

He leaves behind a temporary vacuum of power. Rex Tillerson, who spent his entire career at oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and rose to chairman and chief executive officer, has been nominated to succeed Kerry, but has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, president-elect Donald Trump has named only 28 people so far. There are thousands more positions the new administration needs to fill.

"We're ready to go at 12:01 tomorrow," incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer assured reporters on Thursday morning, little more than 24 hours before Trump is to take the oath of office.

The president-elect has asked two top key State Department officials to stay on a bit longer, Under Secretary Tom Shannon and Brett McGuirk, who was appointed by President Barack Obama as his special envoy for the global coalition to counter the so-called Islamic State group.

Shannon, who is well known in Costa Rica and Latin America, becomes acting secretary Friday afternoon.

"Certainly some policy agenda items will change," acknowledged State Department spokesman John Kirby Thursday. "But the work at U.S. embassies around the world will go on."

Erin Walsh, a former senior adviser in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs who left government to become a Goldman Sachs executive, is to be the White House official in charge of filling all the vacancies at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Additionally, 536 beach head team members will descend on the State Department and other agencies for up to 120 days to assist those designated as secretaries.

"In some cases they stay on," according to Spicer, who said that all the cabinet nominees have been selected. "You'll see a lot more activity at that lower level" to fill undersecretary, deputy secretary and ambassadorial posts.

No appointee below the secretary has been named for the State Department. The same is true for the departments of defense and treasury.

Talk therapy helps those
with mental ills, study says

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For the first time, researchers have shown that talk therapy improves symptoms in people with mental disorders. They say it strengthens connections in the brain, with long-lasting improvements.

Talk therapy has tended to get short shrift in the treatment of people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Usually, medications are the first treatment doctors reach for to lessen symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

This is especially true in the case of people who suffer from psychosis marked by abnormal thoughts. Psychosis is common in schizophrenia and some severe forms of depression.

But researchers at King's College London have shown that a combination of medications along a kind of talk therapy, known as cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, not only improves symptoms in people who suffer from false beliefs, but the changes can last a long time.

Liam Mason is a clinical psychologist at King’s College who led the study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Using brain imaging, Mason and colleagues saw connections between two brain regions strengthen in patients following a six month course of CBT. The improvements occurred between the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear and emotion, and the frontal lobes, which are involved in thinking and reasoning.

“And what we are really excited about here is that these stronger connections appear to be linked to long term improvement in people’s symptoms and recovery, even as much as eight years later,” said Mason.

In the original study, a group of participants suffering from psychotic symptoms took medication. Some also received cognitive therapy, while the others did not.

Researchers saw an improvement in brain connectivity in those who had talk therapy that was not seen in the non-CBT group.

Investigators then followed 15 of the 22 CBT patients for eight years, using medical records and questionnaires. They found the participants’ level of recovery and well-being was still improved, without additional therapy.

Mason says the finding shows an association between talk therapy and long-term recovery in patients who had been haunted by paranoid beliefs.

“Traditionally, the only interventions or treatments that have been offered are medication and even surgery in the past as well,” said Mason. "So I think, and the whole research team are really excited about, these findings that show that actually it's possible to have these brain changes from psychological therapies as well.”

Investigators will now try to confirm their findings in a larger study of patients with mental illness.

Researchers hope the results could lead to more refined and improved treatments for people who suffer from psychiatric illness.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 15
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News from the BBC up to the minute

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Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
Survey shows a conservative country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The survey is in and it does not look good for those wanting a more liberal society.

The Centro de Investigación y Estadios Políticos of the Universidad de Costa Rica along with the Seminario Universidad released the results of a November 2016 poll. The poll discussed national policy issues of unemployment, political candidates, marriage rights, and other social issues currently debated within Costa Rica. The results seem to portray a society that remains mostly conservative on issues such as same-sex marriage, marijuana usage, and abortion.

Of the 774 participants aged 18 and above sampled in the survey, 59 percent said they disagreed with legalizing same-sex marriage while 60 percent would not allow abortion even in cases involving rape. The largest number in the study found that 80 percent of all participants were not in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.

The survey change when considering age. About 50.9 percent of participants aged 18 to 24 were in favor of abortion. The results also become less conservative in views on punishments for crimes as 80 percent agreed that, in the case of non-violent crimes, alternative punishments aside from detention should be used.

What is also notable is the decline in party affiliation among Costa Ricans. Despite a favorable view on freedom of expression, around 72 percent of the participants said they did not favor any political party. That number jumps to 82 percent among young people aged 18 to 24.

Of political candidates, the people considered most qualified by participants for the presidency is ex-president Óscar Arias Sánchez, Vice President Ana Helena Chacón, and Monserrat Solano, the defensora de los habitantes. Presidential candidates considered the worst of the bunch were Otto Guevara and ex-president José María Figueres.

Out of the most favored public institutions the university remains the best rated of them all, according to the survey. Unemployment is still considered the largest problem of the country, which has retained its ranking since November 2014.

The surveys for this study were conducted between Oct. 31 and Nov. 23 of last year.

Caja leaders asked to void rate hike

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A public employee union that includes health workers has presented a bid for reconsideration of a 1 percent increase in disability insurance.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said this week that the monthly fee charged workers would increase by 1 percent for the disability, old age and death protection. This is part of what employees and employers pay each month.

The Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense said it presented the request for reconsideration to Caja officials and cited what it claimed were lapses in the way the decision was reached.

This has become a hot-button political issue, in part because the old age pension aspects of the program seem to be badly underfunded.

Among other lapses, the union coalition said that there was no public consultation before the rate was raised from 2.9 percent. The increase is supposed to go into effect in June, although the central government has called on the Caja to suspend the hike.

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From Page 7:

Bus company’s windfall may be thwarted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The operators of the Alajuela-San José bus concession, Transportes Unidos Alajuelenses S. A., must have figured Christmas has come a bit late when the government announced it was restricting travel on the Río Virilla bridge.

The bus company quickly announced that it would rise to the challenge of more passengers except that the fare would be 1,200 colons, a bit more than $2, instead of 520 colons, the normal fare that is just shy of $1.

The company seems to have won support from some government officials for its patriotism during a time of troubles, but the nation’s price setting agency said Thursday that there is no justification to raise the price.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Público, said it has not received a request from the bus company, and even if it had, the rules for the  concession is that holders should accommodate higher demand.

The agency threatened an 8.5 million-colon fine for each violation. That’s about $15,500.

The government is reducing travel on the Interamericana bridge to one lane in each direction for at least six weeks, starting Saturday. Buses and emergency vehicles will receive preference during rush hours.

The bus company is likely to appeal the Autoridad Reguladora’s position today. Already it announced that it would throw in free parking.