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(506) 223-1327         Published Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 20            E-mail us
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Another treaty-related measure gets initial approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa passed another free trade-related measure Monday. This one is the ratification of the Treaty of Budapest.

The measure passed on first reading, 35-17. In order to become effective, the treaty will have to undergo another legislative vote. However any second vote will have to be delayed. The measure was referred immediately to the Sala IV constitutional court for a ruling on its constitutionality.

The treaty, technically the Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms, provides for international depositories for microorganisms for the purpose of patents. The treaty dovetails with passage of another measure that provides for patent protection for those who create new species of plants.

Both measures faced strong opposition from those who oppose the free trade treaty with the United States. Opponents of the so-called veggie law are circulating petitions in order to get a national referendum. They are hoping to stall approval until after Feb. 29 when Costa Rica must approve a total of 13 legal changes to bring the free trade treaty into force.

Both measures appear to be straight forward efforts to create patent protection for engineered microorganisms or plants, but opponents launched emotional campaigns against the measure.

Even the  Conferencia Episcopal of the Catholic Church has expressed reservations because the term "microorganism" was not fully defined in the legislation. Even the Budapest Treaty does not
define the word and allows the deposit of a wide variety of life forms.
yo firmo
'I'm signing' says this flier put out by opponents of the Ley para la Protección de las Obtenciones Vegatales. They seek a national referendum.

Proponents of the veggie bill and the ratification of the treaty called them great opportunities for Costa Rican scientists.

Although the Costa Rican constitutional provides for protection for those who create innovations, the two measures specify the manner and duration.
A third measure, still in committee, also address intellectual property.

In part some of the controversy around the bills relates to cultural aspects of Costa Rican life in which personal property and capitalistic motives are not priorities.

For example, opponents of the veggie bill argued that small farmers would not be able to save legally some of their harvest for planting the next year. Proponents noted that the small farmers would not be forced to use patented seeds in the first place.

Costa Rica signed the Budapest Treaty 10 years ago, although ratification did not become critical until the United States proposed the free trade treaty.


Security ministry seeking to develop a new school for police officers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is creating a new national police school with the help of the United States and representatives of police from Puerto Rico.

A conference to consider the new Escuela Nacional de Policía starts today at the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Among those scheduled to be present is Mark Langdale, who is serving out his last few days as U.S. ambassador.

Costa Rican officials have been traveling to the United States and held a number of meetings with U.S. police and security officials. Last November Berrocal met with with directors of police academies in the State of Georgia. The visit was
controversial because the security minister also visited the  Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. That institution used to be called the School of the Americas and lists among its alumni some Latin military officers with less than a full understanding of human rights.

The United States sought to put in an advanced police academy in Costa Rica and signed an agreement to do so in 2002. But opposition developed and the Asamblea Legislativa let the plan die. A prime force against the idea was the Partido Liberación Nacional, which is the party of President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Berrocal. At the time, those opposed to the plan said they were afraid that U.S. law enforcement agencies would recruit Costa Ricans who attended the regional academy and gain inside information.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 20

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3437-4/1/08
Vital highway still shut
due to overhanging rocks


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite hopes to the contrary, the transport ministry has decided to keep the vital Route 32  closed for another day because of a mud slide and menacing boulders.

The slide closed the road late Sunday. This is the Braulio Carrillo highway that connects San José with the Caribbean.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said earlier Monday that the route would be reopened between noon and 1 p.m. But that was before the danger of the boulders became apparent.

The slide was at kilometer 27 of the highway, and heavy rains are getting the blame. The area is mountainous, and slides are common.

An alternate route is being promoted by the ministry. That route is via Vara Blanca in northern Heredia to the Río Frio. An additional route is via Turrialba to reach  Siquirres.

The work is being done by the  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad of the ministry. A spokesperson for the consejo said that the slide dumped nearly six feet of mud, dirt and rocks atop both lanes of the highway.

Escazú man faces count
of fake lottery promotion


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents have arrested an Escazú businessman and said he was part of an advance fee lottery scam that already has resulted in dozens of arrests.

He was identified as Severin Marcel Stone, 28 and a U.S. citizen. He is believed to be involved in the same case as
former casino owner Jaime Ligator, who was arrested in May.

The International Police Agency said that the man was detained in  San Rafael de Escazú where he operated a food outlet in a shopping mall.

Agents estimated that the fraud
Severin Marcel Stone
Severin Marcel Stone
took up to $40 million from gullible U.S. citizens.

The charge involves alleged participation in an advanced fee lottery scam in which U.S. citizens were contacted by telephone and told that they had won a lottery, agents said. To collect their prize the victims were told to send substantial sums of money to Costa Rica via Western Union.

Ligator, when he was arrested, was the president of World Wide Land Investments which had offices on the third floor of Mall San Pedro. This is a firm that specializes in selling lots to North Americans.

The man arrested Monday will face extradition. Ligator is facing local charges that must be cleared up first, the Poder Judicial said last week.

Argentine money case
results in guilty plea

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Moises Maionica, 36, one of five foreign nationals accused of acting and conspiring to act as an agent of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela within the United States without registering, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Miami, Florida. Sentencing has been set for April 4.

The case is linked to an election scandal that involved Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who won the Argentine presidency in October.

The case against co-defendants Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, Rodolfo Wanseele Paciello, 40, Franklin Duran, 40, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35, still is pending, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to the Indictment, the defendants coordinated and participated in a series of meetings, beginning in August in south Florida with Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson to procure Antonini's help in a cover-up of the facts surrounding $800,000 in cash that was seized in Argentina after being transported from Venezuela.

Unbeknownst to the conspirators, Antonini was wearing recording equipment provided by the FBI. Special agents of the FBI also conducted surveillance of the meeting. The last meeting took place Dec. 11 when defendants Maionica, Duran, and another individual met with Antonini to discuss the creation of false documents.

According to documents filed in the case, the events began Aug. 4 when Antonini flew by by private plane from Venezuela to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Upon arrival at Buenos Aires, Argentine Customs Service inspected the luggage offloaded from the plane and found approximately $800,000 in U.S. currency in luggage. The Argentine authorities seized the money and Antonini returned to his south Florida home.

The currency was believed to be secret campaign donation from Venezuelan officials to Ms. Fernández de  Kirchner. She has denied any knowledge of the money and claims the United States is trying to defame her.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday,  Jan. 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 20

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Serial rapist prowled Curridabat for at least two years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A serial rapist has been stalking women in Curridabat since the middle of 2005, but investigators did not make this fact public until they had detained a suspect last week.

Investigators say they know about at least 12 cases. Some of the sexual assaults happened on the pedestrian bridge that joins  Curridabat  with Tirrases  Parque  de la Amistad.

Although Judicial Investigating Organization agents maintained watch over the area, they did not get a break in the case until early January. That is when a man attacked a woman at a Curridabat bus stop near the Italian Embassy about 5 a.m.

As was the custom of the rapist, he hid his face and sometimes covered the eyes of his victims. But the woman told agents she thought she recognized the man as a guard at a local store.
Agents made a close inspection of the scene of the attack and found a fragment of a pistol butt, they said. The rapist frequently beat his victims, and when he did so this time a piece of the pistol butt fell off. It still had specimens of the woman's blood, they said.

Agents were able to obtain the man's firearm when he was not at work and matched up the fragment, they said. They also were able to obtain a surveillance video that showed the man and the woman but did not show the attack.

Based on that information, agents said they made the arrest. A judge imposed five months of preventative detention on the 33-year-old man.

Agents said the man already was on their list of suspects because he already had been in court on a rape charge.

Three other women have come forward to make an identification of the man, agents said.


Readers address the issue of citizen safety in Costa Rica
He hopes Costa Ricans
win benefits of U.S. life


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
The letter by Alan Harold summarizes many of the problems even though he seems to be saying that living in Costa Rica can be good.
 
My personal experience from living in Costa Rica is that it is a disaster if you don't speak Spanish.  Marrying a Costa Rican woman, even your own age, can be disappointing and expensive. There is constant anxiety wondering if you have been robbed while away from your home.

Ticos say what they think you want to hear, not what they mean. The smiles and friendly demeanor are very nice, but can be misleading. Thieves are seldom punished, so it becomes a profession.

Waiting in lines due to government bureaucracy is frustrating. A simple visit can require a wait for a transaction followed by a requirement to obtain "stamps" (at another location), followed by a need for a "copy" at still another location before returning to the first place. 

I suppose that it may not be necessary to mention the condition of the roads in Costa Rica. How about the trash and garbage at the scenic overlooks and the waterfalls.
 
For those many, many writers who bash the U.S.A., I can say that I've lived 13 cities and five states.  There was but one location in south Florida that I felt it necessary to lock my doors. In the U.S.A., you know where the crime is located, and it is such a very large country that you can always be miles from crime.
 
Another interesting observation from my life in Costa Rica is the attitude that when you hire someone for $1 an hour that you are helping them. I suppose that this might be true since so many in Costa Rica need that help, but it is also a feeling of great superiority that makes expats and Ticos with limited resources enjoy the experience.
 
I love my country and wish that all those deserving people in Costa Rica could enjoy all the benefits that I have been afforded here.

I grew up in the Depression without money.  However, I finished school, served in the military, graduated from college and achieved a good and successful life. The free enterprise system coupled with a society based on fair justice has made our country the envy of the world. I hope this never changes.
Ken Holdeman
DeBary, Florida
Spanish dailies or television
would show major issues


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

First, I like the idea of publishing more reader opinions. As Winston Churchill once said, "There is nothing better after a good meal than my cigar, aged cognac and a good argument."
 
Secondly, I want to point out that A.M Costa Rica publishes news and events of interest to English speaking expats, visitors and the Costa Rica curious. It is not a "bad news" publisher nor does it incorporate typical Costa Rica news and editorials. If A.M. readers would also read the Spanish language dailies or watch the Spanish language telecasts, they would be impressed by our overwhelming health issues, the crime, the corruption and inefficiencies of our country.
 
However, we are trying to effect change and more than putting on rose colored glasses, so to speak, and basking with the birds, expats and tourists need to do their part. Purchase with care, report ALL crimes, and, most of all, write to your local newspapers. Trust me, the ICT, the ministry of tourism, will read them and get the idea.
 
To those who think this is Costa Rica bashing, name me what other country in the world markets ecology while 97 percent of its waste water is dumped into rivers that empty into the ocean where tourists pay top bucks to swim, surf and sun? Tourists, it is appropriate to make sure your hotel or cabin does treat its wastewater and that it was built with construction permits. (45 percent were not) You are the customer and without you we have very little.
 
Crime? Well, this administration has repeatedly used the word "epidemic" and is now in the process of revamping law enforcement as well as the court system. At least we are trying and that will be good for our future. Right now, we have a serious problem of which no person, regardless of national origin or wealth goes unscathed. (Day workers such as maids, gardeners and laborers are organizing "bus stop watches" to protect themselves on the way home in late afternoon.)

We do not reduce crime by being in denial. We reduce it by helping each other, by assisting law enforcement, by being aware, by demanding safety and if it does not come, neither should the tourists.
 
One more thing. Before someone declares expertise because she/he has lived here two or more years or has visited us three times, I came in 1979 and my entire family lives in Costa Rica. This hardly makes me an expert, but I'm not a novice either.
John Holtz
Santa Ana
She has managed to cope with life here despite burglars and other problems
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

OK, all you letter writers who don't live here and criticize A.M. Costa Rica for reporting on a "few" crimes. You're living in a delusion if you think Costa Rica is a SAFE place to live. The reason the stories are getting published is because it's a rampant problem.

You want the truth? Can you handle the truth? Well, here it is. I wouldn't live in or anywhere around San José because of the crime. If you lived here you would know that. It isn't safe to walk the streets after dark for sure, but the amount of crime is something that would never be tolerated in the U.S.

The biggest problem is the police who do nothing to catch the criminals. Yes, they'll waste your time and theirs filling out paperwork but that's it. The criminals know this, and so there is no deterrent, and the authorities don't have the infrastructure to prosecute the offenders. Did you know if what is stolen is worth less than $500, they do nothing?

It's common knowledge here that huge numbers of crimes are not even reported because everyone here knows it's a waste of time. Break-ins are commonplace wherever there are tourists and Gringos. I live in a small town and have had a robbery of a laptop, money and more, while I was asleep. Did I mention I am a single woman?

After the first one I had bars installed in my windows (and believe me if you don't want to live behind bars, walls or gates, don't live here).  Then I had an attempted robbery and the thief brought a ratchet wrench to unbolt the bars in my windows. I heard the noise and scarred him off.
I sleep with a machete next to my bed. I also have extra locks on my doors, alarms on the windows, and I have put
epoxy on the bolts so they can't be unscrewed. I've lived here full time for a year and a half, also having the dream of retirement in Costa Rica. I sold my house and here I am.

I'm still here because I believe this is the best option for me right now — but understand this from one who has learned first-hand that this is the wild west.

You can't go to the government or it's agencies because they don't have the means or will to do anything. They don't even have a database here for fingerprints, so when my thief left a fingerprint they had no way of taking it in my small town. At least, that's what they told me.

Yes, of course there are wonderful Tico people and the life and experiences here can be a positive thing, but you can't disregard the crime problem here and the discrimination that goes on. Gringos are a target here.

One more thing that I'm not going to get into too deeply, but if you want to live here you better be ready for inefficiency in the government and its agencies and waiting for everything. I had to wait nine months to get DLS Internet in my apartment and it's in my landlord's name. You can't get a phone (or cell phone) unless you have your residency card. 

I suggest for those of you who think Costa Rica is the place to retire, to come here and really spend some time here first because many return not able to handle the frustrations that come along with it. Moving to a foreign country is a big deal and not everyone will be happy here. Fortunately, I am.

Lynne Van der Kar
La Fortuna de San Carlos


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday,  Jan. 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 20

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President plugs Latin trade treaties in State of Union address
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

With war and violence in other parts of the world, there was not much about Latin America in the State of the Union address by George Bush Monday night, and what was there seemed to be a late addition.

Bush called on lawmakers to ratify free trade treaties with Panamá and Colombia. His statements were not in the official text released before the talk by the White House.

Both treaties are in jeopardy. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of State, was in the audience just back from leading a congressional delegation to Colombia to study the proposed trade deal.

Bush said that Colombia was facing a threat from violence by drug producers and terrorists. He did not mention the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia by name.

He also did not mention Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, by name either, but he did say that if the trade treaty did not win approval the defeat "will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere." Chávez has been trying to strengthen his influence with the Colombian rebels.

Democratic lawmakers who accompanied Ms. Rice met with President Álvaro Uribe, trade officials, union leaders and former guerrilla fighters during their two-day trip to the northern city of Medellin.

U.S. officials said they organized the trip to allow legislators to see the reality of Colombia and help them make a decision on the pending bilateral trade deal.

The Panamá treaty is threatened because Pedro Miguel González, wanted as murder suspect in the killing of a U.S. soldier, was elected head of the national Assembly.

But Bush still supports the pact that Panamá already has ratified.

For the seventh and final time, Bush walked to the podium of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver the annual State of the Union address. Members of Congress lined the aisles to welcome him, as television cameras captured images sent around the globe.

He did not reflect on the past. But he did talk at length about the issues that will shape his legacy — starting with the war in Iraq and his decision to send in an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

Of interest to U.S. expats here, Bush did challenge lawmakers to come up with their own legislation to strengthen Social Security. He noted that he had presented a plan.
Bush at State of Union
White House photo
George Bush stands at the podium at start of speech while Vice President Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House applaud.

The president also urged that the Congress extent the international wiretapping legislation that is designed as an anti-terrorism measure.

Legislation to expand and renew the wiretapping law that expires Friday stalled on the floor of the U.S. Senate Monday amid partisan wrangling.

The White House wants to grant permanent wiretap authority to intelligence agencies, and said President Bush would veto a temporary proposal to extend the law by only 30 days.

Majority Democrats oppose a provision in the bill that would grant legal immunity to telephone companies that have helped the government monitor communications between Americans and suspected terrorists overseas. They also take issue with a provision that would give intelligence agencies greater powers to wiretap without court approval.

Bush also urged "a serious, civil, and conclusive debate, so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law."


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 20



Organizers cancel jungle marathon planned for Puerto Viejo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The organizers of a marathon and half-marathon along the Caribbean coast have canceled the event for this year. The race was supposed to take place around Puerto Viejo de Limón Feb. 23.

In an e-mail sent to news outlets shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, the organizers, Exploraciones Verde y Azul S.A., said that the events leading to the cancellation of the race were totally out of their control. The e-mail spoke of lack of support from sponsors and the government.

The e-mail, which later was verified by a call to the organizer's offices, said that those who already had registered would have their money returned. Registration was modest, starting at $50 with additional amounts for housing and transportation from San José.
The organization is the same one that runs the Ruta de los Cconquistadores bike race coast to coast. However, there was no mention of the bike race.

The organization's Web page continues to publish a countdown to the 2008 race that will be Nov. 12 to 15.

The Jungleman race has been run for four years. Some of the route is within Parque Nacional Cahuita and much of it is on the beach.

News of the cancellation has not been posted yet on the race Web site, although the e-mail from organizers said that the registration page had been disabled.

The e-mail also said that canceling the race is a shame for what the event meant to sports tourism in Costa Rica and the southern Caribbean in particular.

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