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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 23          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Paul Cháves, head of the specialized unit gives background on U.S. donations for Ambassador Mark Langdale and Minister Rogelio Ramos.

Tech gift helps effort
fighting exploitation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A modest $23,000 donation of equipment Tuesday was the latest in a massive effort by the U.S. and Costa Rican governments to attack the sexual exploitation of minors.

The latest gift, some 13 computers, a projector and video cameras and other equipment, will be distributed to 10 police delegations throughout the country.

An embassy spokesperson said that the computers and equipment were purchased locally with U.S. funds.

The Dirección de Investigación Especializada within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is the recipient. This is the group that has been cracking down on sex crimes fugitives. Members of the force have grabbed 43 persons in 2005 and 10 already this year, the ministry said.

The investigative unit has a broad mandate, including stolen cars. But all types of sex crimes involving children are the main concern. A growing area is computerized crimes, and that area of investigation will get a boost from the new computers.

Although the bulk of the sex crimes involve Costa Ricans, the United States, which sends thousands of sex tourists here each year, has supported the crackdown. U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale said the gift was from the American people.
Election official goes
long way to get votes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An election official is going a long way to give 33 persons the chance to vote.

A patrol boat of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas left Golfito Tuesday to carry a single election official, ballots and other materials for the Sunday election to the Isla del Coco some 480 kilometers (260 nautical miles) to the west.

This is the first time that residents of the island will get a chance to vote in national elections.

A spokesman for the Ministerio de Gobernación,  Policía y Seguridad Pública estimated that the trip would take from 30 to 36 hours depending on what other activity the boat, the  Pancha Carrasco, might encounter. The vessel is on a regular patrol in the Pacific.

Coast guardsmen are on the lookout for drug smugglers, human traffickers, illegal fishermen, accidents and other water-related developments.

The island is a national park of some 2,400 hectares (5,930 acres) of land and four times that area in protected ocean. The voters are coastguard personnel, park officials and adult family members.

Immigrations files
scattered by mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees at the immigration department frequently talk about a cascade of files.

Well, they had a real cascade there two weeks ago — one that halted a lot of officials actions relating to expat rentistas and pensionados, according to workers.

The problem was more physical than something obscure like a computer error: a shelf arrangement in the archives sections of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería gave way. By one account more than 12,000 files were dumped on the floor. Another source discounted the numbers but said a significant amount of files are involved.

Consequently rentistas and pensionados are being asked to reschedule appointments to renew their residency documents. Those who show up are being told that immigration officials cannot find their files.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 23

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Host of creative citizens
receive culture awards

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A number of other artists, scientists and writers have received awards in the annual round of cultural prizes.

Dúo Vargas a chamber music group made up of Patricia Valverde and Jorge Carmona, won the Premio Nacional de Música Mejor Grupo de Cámara, “for their high artistic quality and contribution to the spread of Costa Rican music through different regions of the country,” the award committee said. 

A number of the awards are named after Aquileo J. Echeverría, a famous Costa Rican writer.  The award in theater was shared between Sergio Masís and Ana Istarú.  The same prize for novelists went to Uriel Quesada for his book, “El gato de sí mismo.” 

Vernor Muñoz won the award in storytelling for his work, "Infinita razón de los sueños."  The poetry award went to Vivian Cruz for “Vientre de Ocarina.”  The award for uncategorized books went to Juan Ernesto Quesada López and Juan Rafael Camacho Vargas for their work, “Época de oro de la música escolar costarricense.” 

Essayist María Lourdes Cortés won the award in the discipline for her work, “La Pantalla Rota.”  Patricia Alvarenga Venutolo won the history award  for her work, “De vecinos a ciudadanos.”  Composer  Beny Siles Loaiza received the award in music and two awards were given in the artés plasticas categories.  Engraver Marcia Salas Vargas won for her exhibition, "Pecados virtules," and painter Florencia Urbina Crespo won for her exhibition, “Bestiario.”

Julio Rodríguez Bolaños, a columnist at La Nación, won the Premio Pío Víquez for “the vigorous engagement of his ideas, outside of any ideological label, that have enriched national debate,” the awards committee said. 
The Premio Joaquín García Monge went to Manuel Delgado for his reports on the program "7 Días." 
The Premio Nacional de Danza was split between three winners.  Hazel González won the choreography award for her work, “Amores difíciles,” CONDANZA won the best group award, and Wendy Chinchilla took home the best interpretor award. 

The Premio Nacional de Teatro was also split into several categories.  The best protagonist actress award went to Haydeè de Lev, and Melvin Méndez won in the same category for actors.  María Chávez won best supporting actress, and Andrés de la Ossa won best supporting actor.  Best director went to Fernando Vinocour, and David Vargas won best stage design.  The best theater group was Teatro Universitario, the awards committee said.         

Lía Bonilla Chavarría won the Premio Nacional de Cultura Popular Tradicional for her protection of Costa Rica traditions through dance.
Researcher Álvaro Mata Chavarría won the nation's technology award, the Premio Nacional de Tecnología Clodomiro Picado, for his work in the stimulation of mother cells to generate bone. 

Dr. Wilbert Phillips Mora won the Premio Nacional de Ciencia Clodomiro Picado for his molecular biology work with the fungus, Monioliophthora roreri.

The Premio Magón award to Eugenio Rodríguez Vega was announced last week. That is the nation's top cultural award.

Mar y Sombra receives
another judicial reprieve

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mar y Sombra, the popular beach-side restaurant in Manuel Antonio won't be demolished this week after all.  Rodolfo Arias Alvarado, a judge at the II Circuito Judicial in San José has ordered that the slated demolition of Mar y Sombra be suspended, said Alonso Chávez, the restaurant's lawyer.

The judge found that an order from 2003 that said that the restaurant need not be demolished takes precedence over a later one that called for the destruction of the building, Chávez said. 

So while owner Federico Ramírez's criminal case is sorted out, and while the restaurant's tax problems are rehashed, the building will remain standing.

Ramírez's criminal case revolves around whether he built the structure and encroached upon the maritime zone, whether he purchased the structure and whether he occupied the restaurant before the law creating the zone was passed in the mid-1970s.

In addition, the municipality is not letting the restaurant renew its patente or business license because as long as the legality of the restaurant is in dispute, the municipality cannot accept the business tax.  While this is all being hashed out, the restaurant can remain standing. 

Two held after crashes
during chase by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two bandits may have been able to escape from police if they hadn't crashed into five cars as they tried to speed away from their heist, Monday night.

Officers with the Fuerza Pública in San Pedro León XIII residents identified the suspects by the last names Gutiérrez Granados and Morales Viales in connection with robberies in Zapote and Desamparados, police said. 
Witnesses said the two bandits fled in a black Honda Civic after they had robbed a restaurant in Desamparados, police said.  A short time later, officers found a car matching the description and gave chase.  The driver of the Civic tried to speed away through San Pedro but crashed into five different cars, police said. 
When police arrested the two men, they were carrying various cellular telephones, wrist watches and clothes, officers said. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 23

Development bank assesses the danger
Risk of avian flu outbreak here considered to be low

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Influenza experts consider the risk of an avian flu virus outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean to be relatively low, reports the Inter-American Development Bank.

The bank said the calculation was made because birds flying south from the United States to the Latin American region are not believed to intermingle with birds heading to America from Siberia, where one of the latest outbreaks of the flu virus occurred among birds.

More than 150 people worldwide have been afflicted with the contagious animal disease caused by a virus that most commonly infects birds. To date, 83 people have died from avian flu and more than 150 million birds have died from the disease or from culling operations intended to contain the disease.

The United States is making final details of a national bird-surveillance and testing program that the Bush administration hopes will help guard the country from the spread of a potential outbreak of bird flu. 

The bank said the current perception of low risk of avian flu in Latin America and the Caribbean could change, however, given the presence of the H5N1 strain of the virus in Canadian waterfowl, according to a report by a working group on the avian flu.  H5N1 is the designation for the strain of influenza virus
that is being transmitted from birds to humans.

The development bank said many countries in the Latin America/Caribbean region are vulnerable to global pandemics, such as avian flu, because the countries’ "epidemiological surveillance systems are weak, especially for animal surveillance."

The development bank said its health experts have been working with the Pan American Health Organization and several other organizations on monitoring the avian flu risk to the region, implementing preventative measures and planning for a possible pandemic in the region.

The bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations are working with the countries in the Latin America/Caribbean region to develop National Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plans.  The plans include measures for emergency preparedness, surveillance, case investigation and treatment, and preventing the spread of disease, said the IDB.

To date, eight countries in the region -- Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico -- either have completed such plans or have drafted them.  Eleven other countries are currently developing their plans -- Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, the bank said.

Those who like fútbol need some cash for World Cup
By Jesse Froehling and José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although $1,870 may sound a bit stiff just to fly to Germany to see the Costa Rican national team play, it's actually quite competitive to what it would cost to make the same journey without a travel agent. 

That's the cheapest price the Agencia de Viajes Colón offers to go to the World Cup.  It only includes the three-first round games and a plane ticket.  The agency's most expensive package costs $6,099 and includes 16 days and 14 nights in a hotel, said Marianela  Fuentes with the agency.  The firm has sold 100 packages, Ms. Fuentes said. 

Agencia de Viajes 2000, a competitor, offers a better deal, $5,150 for a plane ticket, game tickets and 18 nights in a hotel, said Gustavo López with the agency.  Agencia de Viajes 2000 has sold 350 packages, López said. 

According to the official World Cup Web site, the most expensive tickets to first round games cost 100 euros or $121.48.  The cheap seats go for 35 euros or $42.52.  However, the Ticos play the opening game of the tournament against host Germany in Munich.  Ticket prices for that game are inflated.  The most expensive ticket goes for 300 euros, $364.44 and the cheap seats cost only 65 euros, $79.97.  Therefore, to see Costa Rica play all three first round games can cost as much as $607.40 or as little as $165.01.

That covers the games but to get there, a plane ticket is necessary.  A quick search of airline ticket Web sites shows that Delta has a ticket that leaves San José June 7  and arrives in Munich the following day. It costs $1,712.  The return date is June 22.  That assumes
that Cost Rica gets knocked out in the first round and more days in Germany won't be necessary. 

So, to buy just a plane ticket and game tickets without the aid of a travel agency for the cheapest possible amount costs $1,877.01 or $6.99 more than Agencia de Viajes Colón offers. 

Once in Germany, it will be necessary to pay for a place to stay if family or friends aren't available.  There is always the hostel option, but those prices fluctuate and are hard to predict for an event as big as the World Cup.  To see the Costa Rican team play, it will be necessary to travel around the country a bit.  Costa Rica plays Germany first in Munich, then Ecuador in Hamburg and finally Poland in Hanover, but to get an idea of what hotels will cost, several in Munich were searched.

With the ticket that Delta offers, it will be necessary to stay 15 nights in Germany.  The cheapest available hotel in Munich in a quick Web search shows a place called the Hotel Senator.  It goes for $65.22 per night or $978.30 for 15 nights.  That cost added to the game tickets plus plane tickets cost equals $2,855.31.  This assumes that one doesn't eat while in Germany and goes alone. 

However, for those with money, the Mercure Muenchen in the Munich city center costs a mere $553.77 per night, or $8,306 for 15 nights.  That added to the plane and game tickets adds to a total of $10,625. 

The bad news is that both travel agencies are out of packages and the World Cup Web site says that 70 percent of the tickets to all matches have been sold out.   

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 23

Pilot product has goal of  finding use for ag waste
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What do you do with 3 million tons of plant material? A new program is targeting this waste from pineapple, banana, palm and coffee processing to turn it into ethanol, cellulose, lactic acid and specialized enzymes.

Finding productive uses for agricultural waste is one of the chores facing the Centro Nacional de Innovaciones Biotecnolgicas, a project being supported to the tune of 10.9 million euros by the European Union. That's about $13.2 million.

Fernando Gutiérrez outlined the $18 million project Tuesday at the regular presidential press conference. He signed the grant agreement with the European Union Dec. 6.

The main goal of the five-year project is to create ways to increase the productivity of the nation's agricultural industries in the face of competition spawned by the Free Trade Treaty with the United States, even though Costa Rica has not signed the document yet.

The center for innovations will be at the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología, also called the Centro Nacional de la Alta Tecnología.

The scientists involved will create a bioprocessing plant to demonstrate its feasibility and economic viability.

The plant will product microorganisms, and the goal will be to find agroindustrial uses for the products that are beneficial to the environment. The microorganisms have value to the agricultural, pharmaceutical and agroindustrial sectors, said Gutiérrez.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Fernando Gutiérrez outlines project goals

Project organizers said they hope to cause a 10 percent increase in agricultural productivity and the development of at least 60 projects related to biotechnology.

Lactic acid is used in the fabrication of biodegradable plastics while certain enzymes can be used to regenerate cartilage and as an anti-inflammatory.

Stock promoter who fled here will face sentencing next month
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Larry Stockett, convicted of multiple counts of wire and securities fraud, will face sentencing next month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Stockett was the "pump-and-dump" stock manipulator who was extradited from Costa Rica last February after fleeing here from Las Vegas. The man promoted stock shares in two companies via the Internet, misleading press releases and infomercials.

Stockett, 58, was arrested here last Feb. 8 at his home in the Los Arcos subdivision west of San José. He was convicted by a jury in Las Vegas.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine on the securities fraud charge, and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each wire fraud charge, the agency said.

The agency recounted the case this way:

From about October 1999 to March 2004, Stockett devised the pump-and-dump scheme to defraud individuals of money and property by inducing them to invest in a company called Hightec and its wholly-owned subsidiary U.S. Cement, both controlled solely by Stockett.

The false and misleading advertisements and statements via the Internet and in e-mails stated that U.S. Cement had an established cement distribution network, access to millions of dollars in financing, and prominent retail customers.

As a part of the scheme, Stockett and another individual induced a Canadian couple to loan
Stockett approximately $700,000 to purchase cement and a warehouse for U.S. Cement. They loaned the money based on the false misrepresentations and omissions made about U.S. Cement's ability and capability to purchase, import and distribute cement  products.

Within weeks of receiving the monies in 2000 from the Canadian couple, Stockett had purchased a $750,000 residence in Henderson, Nevada, a Jaguar automobile, and other items of luxury, and paid monies toward the purchase of a boat in the Virgin Islands.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against Stockett in April 2002 alleging that he orchestrated a fraudulent scheme regarding Hightec and The S.I.N.C.L.A.R.E. Group, Inc., a second former publicly traded company he controlled, in which Stockett, among other things, issued numerous false press releases and other public statements concerning the companies. He also unlawfully sold his restricted shares of Hightec stock in unregistered transactions.

A final judgment in the commission's litigation was entered against Stockett March 4, 2004, permanently enjoining him from violating numerous provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, prohibiting him from acting as an officer or director of a public company, ordering disgorgement and prejudgment interest totaling $1,836,181.56, and ordering a civil penalty of $120,000.

After Stockett's scheme to defraud was uncovered, he fled from the United States to St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, and later to Costa Rica. Stockett was indicted on the criminal charges in August 2003, and extradited from Costa Rica to Las Vegas a short time after his arrest.

The 2005 death toll for journalists put at 58 by newspaper group
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PARIS, France — Some 58 journalists and other media workers were killed worldwide because of their professional activities in 2005, with 22 of them killed in Iraq, by far the most dangerous place for journalists on the planet, the World Association of Newspapers reports

The Philippines was the second most deadly place for journalists with seven journalists killed in retaliation for their reporting on crime and corruption. Twenty-five journalists have been gunned down in the Philippines in the last three years, making it the deadliest non-combat country for journalists.

The 22 journalists killed in Iraq in 2005 compares with 23 killed in 2004 and 15 deaths in the country in 2003.

“Covering war and terrorism continues to be a highly dangerous assignment for journalists, in constant risk of their lives,” said Timothy Balding, chief executive officer of the World Association of Newspapers. “Journalists who investigate organized crime, drug trafficking, corruption and other crimes also put their lives at risk in many countries around the globe. In most cases, nobody is brought to justice for their murders.”

The 2005 death toll compares with 71 killed in 2004, 53 killed in 2003, 46 killed in 2002, 60 killed in 2001 and 53 killed in 2000. Seventy journalists died in 1999 and 28 in 1998.
Journalists and other media workers were killed in 21 countries in 2005: Azerbaijan (1); Bangladesh (2); Brazil (2); Colombia (1); Democratic Republic of Congo (1); Ecuador (1); Haiti (2); Indonesia (1); Iraq (22); Lebanon (2); Libya (1); Mexico (2); Nepal (1); Pakistan (2); Philippines (7); Russia (2); Serbia & Montenegro (1); Sierra Leone (1); Somalia (2); Sri Lanka (2);  and Thailand (2).

Among those killed in 2005 was Gebran Tueni, 48, publisher of An-Nahar in Lebanon and a board member of the World Association of Newspapers for 10 years, who was killed by a car bomb Dec. 12. The newspaper organization will soon be creating an award in his honor to commemorate courageous journalists.

Several press freedom organisations track the number of journalists killed each year. The numbers vary based on the criteria used by different associations.

The World Association of Newspapers' figures include all media workers killed in the line of duty or targeted because of their work. It also includes cases where the motive for the killings is unsure or where investigations have not been completed.

The Paris-based association, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom worldwide. It represents 18,000 newspapers.

Its membership includes 73 national newspaper associations, newspapers and newspaper executives in 102 countries, 11 news agencies and nine regional and worldwide press groups.

U.S. tourist from Hawaii dies in surf at Playa Esterillos on the Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dennis Tooru Saski, a 61-year-old tourist from the State of Hawaii drowned Sunday while swimming at Playa Esterillos on the Central Pacific Coast, said Johnee López of the Fuerza Pública in Parrita. 
Saski was walking on the beach and decided to go for a swim to cool off.  He dove under the waves and never came back up, López said.  A search crew from his hotel was organized and a resident in a panga or small boat found Saski's body and brought it in to shore, López said.

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