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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 24     Email us
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Crooks can't hide
from the computer

There's a lot of unseen criminal justice work. And some of it is accomplished by fine arts graduates who are using computers and psychology to help victims visualize the faces of criminals.

These are experts the average expat does not want to meet. Each day they turn out finished sketches for investigators and for distribution around crime scenes.

They have had some spectacular successes.

Now with the help of computer software a face like the one at left can be filled out, changed, aged and otherwise manipulated.

See the story HERE!

Narcos and bad guys venerate a saint called Death
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a lot more to one of those fantasy statutes that are on sale in the malls and in specialty shops.

One type is generating some concern.

Wedged in among the dragons and skulls one frequently finds a statue that represents death. It's all there, the scythe, the black or crimson robe and sometimes a rosary or a crystal ball.

The figure could have been sent up from central casting for a role in “The Seventh Seal.”  Despite the representation of death popularized by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, the concept goes back further. Way back.

Academics trace what now seems to be a growing cult in Costa Rica to pre-Columbian religions in the Valley of México. The butchery and blood letting of the Aztecs and the self mutilation of the Mayan are well known. These religious traits submerged into Catholicism after the arrival of the conquistadors. They have resurfaced as part of an officially recognized institution in México, the Iglesia Católica Tradicional de México. There are about 2 million followers there, some experts estimate. There are at least enough to have put on a major demonstration in 2005 when leaders thought the Mexican government was going to cancel its official status.

But this is not your garden variety religious cult. This is where the drug traffickers go to church. The cult appears to have spread into Costa Rica along with other artifacts of the Mexican drug trade.

The death statutes are really those of a saint, according to this tradition. This saint, however, has not been declared by the papacy in Rome.

It is Santa Muerte, sometimes called Santísima Muerte or Niña Blanca.

Unlike traditional saints, Santa Muerte operates on the barter system. For a favor received or a curse removed or a love granted, a member of the faithful has to do something in return. Hired killers can easily work this requirement into their jobs. The next hit might be dedicated to Santa Muerte.

Some bad guys might honor their saint by having the figure tattooed on the back or chest. The saint also attracts those young Latin gang members from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who already are tattoo fans.

There have been some unsubstantiated hints of human sacrifice, but not in Costa Rica.

Several religious publications have said that the cult is moving into Costa Rica. There is a Facebook page, Santa Muerte Costa Rica, based in Heredia.
Santa Muerte
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Sometimes Santa Muerte holds an hourglass.

And there is a Web site where various curses can be found and copied. Another site simply contains a prayer for a painless death.

Clearly this Grim Reaper has many other dimensions. Drug traffickers and other bad guys like the saint because they pray for protection. Santa Muerte's physical representation may be draped in a black, white or crimson cloak.  Red is for love. White is from luck and black is for protection. And the protection might be while committing a bloody crime.

Every statue has a scythe or guadaña, in Spanish. The crystal ball is there because Santa Muerte is said to predict the future for the faithful. Other representations have a model of the earth in her hand. This is to show death's dominance.

Santa Muerte, although grammatically a woman, is known to accept gifts of tequila, cigars and even marijuana from the faithful. There are shrines in Mexico where anthropologists link Santa Muerte to the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli, who filled roughly the same role. There also is a similarity to the Greek Pluto who ruled the underworld.

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International arts festival
changes its location

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thousands of artists and artisans will take over the streets, parks, and cultural centers in San José for a 10-day arts festival from March 15 to 25.

This year the Festival Internacional de las Artes 2012 has changed it's main location to Parque Metropolitano La Libertad in between Desamparados and La Únion, southeast of San José.

That part of the province isn't much of a tourist spot like the former location in La Sabana. According to organizers of the event, a change in park was made for the locals to feel more comfortable in attending the festival. The festival is free.

The activities will run everyday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Activities include workshops, music, dance, vendors, food, theater, and art. Children can also enjoy their time there by participating in some of the kid-oriented courses and activities.

Either way a learning experience awaits everyone as Korea is the honored country at the international fair. There will be artisans, food, music and dance from the Asian country to celebrate their invitation.

In the past countries from Europe, Asia and the Americas have participated and this year there is no exception.

Extreme sports festival
will last for three days

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Extreme sports have made their way to Costa Rica for their first ever three-day festival that will run from today until Sunday at La Guácima, Alajuela. At the end of every day there will be musical performances and clubs dedicated to the after party.

The Festival International Sport Extreme is the first of its kind to come to Latin America with professional and amateur participants from all over the world. The festival organizers have also brought in some of the biggest names in reggae, electronica, house, and drum and bass for one night. Artists will perform for their designated night for their genre of music. All musical acts start at 6 p.m.

The competitions are in FMX, BMX, skateboarding, wake boarding and mountain biking. FMX is freestyle motocross with motorcycles. BMX is racing on bicycle in motocross style. Eliminations begin early Thursday and the finals are on Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony.

The Tuasa bus to Alajuela will offer trips to La Guácima for 1,000 colons one-way. The buses to the event will run until late so attendees can enjoy the musical portion of the festival. The Tuasa bus stop is the same one as the airport stop, located right across from Parque La Merced on the north side of Avenida 2.

Ticket prices vary from one-day passes to all access passes, including entrance to concerts and clubs.

Those interested can visit the Web site at 

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Sketch artist
Omar Valenzuela showing old sketch artist tools.
Sketch artist two
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Marvin Calderón Badilla shows a hand sketch in progress
There's a lot of art involved in catching some unknown criminals
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The victim trembled with fear as she recalled the face of the man who raped her. And as the police sketch artist gave form to the face of the criminal, beginning with his hair, then his eyes, then his mouth and chin, the victim began to cry as she found herself again staring with terror at the face of her assailant.

When Omar Valenzuela graduated from University of Costa Rica with a degree in fine arts he never thought he would be part of this scene he described. He said he prefers to draw cartoons. But after taking a job as a sketch artist with the Judicial Investigating Organization 14 years ago he finds himself talking with crime victims on a daily basis and prompting them to recall with intricate detail the perpetrator, usually the very person the victim would prefer to forget.

With his skills as an artist, he said he was qualified to draw detailed portraits. But his newfound profession is as much about psychology as it is about re-creating a face. He said learning to work with witnesses is as important as his abilities as an artist. A typical police sketch takes about 90 minutes to two hours using the computer animated software the Poder Judicial purchases from the United States. But a sketch with a traumatized person can last the better half of the day and requires a substantial amount of coaxing, he said.

He said he has also learned to identify when someone is lying or is creating an image with their imagination rather than with memory. He said from time to time a witness who is lying or doesn't have a clear recollection of the criminal will begin describing his or herself and the finished product will be a self-portrait.

Valenzuela said in other cases witnesses will simply describe what they see in the room and the sketch will be of Valenzuela or the other artist who works next to him at the Judicial Investigating Organization's headquarters in San José. He said in these cases sometimes he can't help but laugh at the finished product because he knows the sketch is more a glimpse into the witnesses mind than a useful description.

Valenzuela said sketches are used in public broadcasts for wanted suspects but also by investigators to give to informants. He said his goal as an artist is to create a guide for the people working on the case rather than an exact depiction of the suspect.

Across the office from Valenzuela sits Marvin Calderón Badilla. He and Valenzuela comprise, in totality, the extent of the investigative organization's sketch department. They each do about four sketches a day and alternate two-week stints traveling around the country doing work for the regional offices spread about the seven Costa Rican provinces.

Needless to say, Valenzuela believes he and Calderón are understaffed and could use some help.

Calderón is regarded as the grandfather of the organization's criminal portrait department after he proposed an internal sketch position more than 25 years ago. Calderón was also trained in the fine arts and specializes in oil painting and personal sketches. He started the work at a time when there was no computer assistance and everything was done by hand. Only about eight years ago did the department go digital, he said

Although Calderón has nostalgia for the old way and believes the digital sketches are boring, he said the new computer-assisted program has its advantages for police work. For example an artist doesn't have to erase an entire sketch if the witness decides after it is completed that the eyes are too close together. Facial characteristics and details such as hats, hair and
rape suspect
This is the famous sketch that caught a serial rapist.

different skin color are easily interchangeable and manipulated on a digital picture.

Apart from criminal sketches the pair work on age projections for missing persons or cases that have been opened for a long time and change easily altered features of suspects, such as hair, to create a series of portraits that can be used to identify criminals. They also digitally touch up morgue photos for
publication in cases where a body needs to be identified, and they create digital portraits from low-resolutions security cameras.

But with a quarter century in the business, Calderón has plenty of stories based on the old methods of sketching. The shelves and storage cupboards in the two-man office are filled with old sketches of old criminals, probably long since sentenced, or forgotten.

Calderón said one of his most famous sketches, which led to the capture of a serial rapist, was done by hand.

He took the accounts of various women who had been abducted from bus stops along the highway between Heredia and Alajuela. The women were taken to a secluded location and raped. He said he made a portrait and that it was posted at all the stops where the rapist was targeting victims. Eventually a witness recognized the man by one of the drawings and informed police who apprehended the rapist in La Uruca. The sketch when compared to a photograph of the apprehended criminal was strikingly similar.

Calderón acknowledged cases do not always result in a capture but said a detailed identification always helps a case. He urged, as a piece of advice, that people who find themselves victims of crime should try their best to remain calm and observe the best they can. He said remaining calm is one of the key factors in preventing a robbery from becoming a homicide and creating later a detailed description of the assailant.

Rice farmers seeking to reduce importation of foreign grain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national rice organization is seeking legal barriers to decrease the importation of milled rice. The organization, the  Corporación Arrocera Nacional, said that such actions were legal under World Trade Organization rules to protect local agriculture.

The organization said that much of the rice is coming from South America.

The rice growers in Costa Rica are subsidized by prices paid for the products, and foreign rice is competitive in the marketplace.

Rice farmers unhappy with government efforts to store and purchase rice staged a blockade Monday on the Interamericana Norte and halted traffic for hours. That was in Limonal de Abangares.

The farmers fear that no all of their rice will be purchased. Some of the crop is in storage without firm deals with private wholesalers.
The rice growers have sought for months an increase in custom duty on foreign rice and a reduction in the tonnage of rice that can be imported from the United States under the Free Trade Treaty. Rice farmers were strongly opposed to the treaty.

The rice corporation also is seeking to obtain ownership of processing plants in  Liberia, Térraba and La Rita de Guápiles.

The plants are operated now by the  Consejo Nacional de Producción and there have been problems last years with lack of space for the rice harvest.

After harvesting rice, like many grains, must be dried artificially so that the moisture in the grains is reduced to prevent spoiling.

The central government signed an agreement Monday that would give the plants to the rice corporation by the end of April, the rice farmers noted at a general assembly this week.

The corporation also is making an investment in storage facilities.

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cocaine confiscated
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Ministry officials inspect the confiscated cocaine at its arrival at Juan Santamaría airport Wednesday.
Cocaine haul in the Gulfo Dulce turns out to be much larger
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican security forces are now calling the apprehension of nearly two tons of cocaine along the Pacific Coast early Tuesday morning the largest bust in five years.

Initially the security ministry said the capture was of about one ton, found on one of the three fastboats law officers captured.

The other two boats were carrying fuel. But the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública reported that another 815 packets of cocaine were stored on the sand, bringing the total confiscation to over 1,900 kilograms, about 4,200 pounds.

Security forces, working in conjunction with air support from a U. S. Coast Guard plane, were also able to detain two suspects
who fled into the hills after authorities approached the boats.

Five suspects, three Colombians and two Costa Ricans, were arrested in the incident. The Costa Ricans were identified by security officials by the last names Chavarría Porras and Valverde Navarro. Officials identified the Colombians as having the last names Valencia Moreno, Ortiz Barreiro and Arazugo.

Costa Rican officials say the operation was initiated with information exchanged with the U.S. Coast Guard and with use of one of the boats the United States government donated to Costa Rica last year. The boats were forced ashore at Punta Tigre on the west shore of the Golfo Dulce south of Puerto Jiménez.  The cocaine was brought by plane to a Costa Rican airbase at Juan Santamaría airport Wednesday.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

'Soul Train' host mourned
after apparent suicide

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. television host and music promoter Don Cornelius has died. For more than 20 years, his iconic show “Soul Train” helped introduce African-American music stars to mainstream America.

Police say the 75-year-old Cornelius was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his Los Angeles home. Officials say the wound apparently was self-inflicted.

It is not clear why Cornelius would have ended his life, although there have been reports in recent years that his health was failing.

Tributes quickly poured in to honor the man who brought soul music to a mainstream TV audience from 1971 to 1993. Cornelius, a Chicago native, created the show in his hometown, then brought it to Los Angeles. It went on the air nationally a decade before the MTV network.

Singing legend Aretha Franklin, who appeared on “Soul Train,” called Cornelius' death “sad, stunning and downright shocking.” She called it a huge and momentous loss.

Composer-producer Quincy Jones said he was deeply saddened by the loss of his friend and business partner.

Four in Britain admit
their role in bomb plot

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Four men in Britain have pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange and other targets.

The men were among nine defendants arrested in December 2010 and set to stand trial on charges of plotting to send a series of mail bombs.

All had initially entered pleas of not guilty, but on Wednesday four pleaded guilty to the stock exchange plot. The remaining five admitted to lesser charges.

Prosecutors say the defendants were not members of al-Qaida, but were inspired by the terror network, particularly Yemen-based U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was killed last year in a U.S. drone strike.

They said the nine were implementing the published strategy of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

A handwritten target list found at one of the defendant's homes listed the names and addresses of the London mayor, two rabbis, the American embassy and the stock exchange.

The defendants will be sentenced next week.

More meat production seen
as key to feeding world

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The world will need to double food production within the next three decades in order to feed a rapidly growing and increasingly affluent population, said the United Nations.  A U.N. report says reaching that goal will require major increases in intensive, high-efficiency livestock operations for both meat and dairy production.

The report concedes that intensive livestock operations can pose serious ecological risks.  And that's why environmental critics are calling instead for reductions in global livestock production, and urging people to consume less, not more, meat in their diets.

Feeding today’s population is a challenge for an already-stressed environment.   Experts project that the world's population will grow from 7 billion people today to 9 billion over the next 30 years.  

Nancy Morgan is the Food and Agriculture Organization's liaison to the World Bank.

“Basically, meat production and consumption will both need to double by the year 2050,” said Ms. Morgan.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says there are currently 1.5 billion head of cattle, 1 billion pigs and 6 billion chickens in the world. 

In the U.S. alone, millions of these and other animals are killed every year for food. 

Ms. Morgan says over the past decade, worldwide consumption and production of meat grew faster than any other commodity. 

“The challenge is how you ensure food without increasing animal numbers and having an impact on fragile lands and our resource base?” Ms. Morgan asked.  

More than half of the agricultural land in the world is used to raise and feed livestock.  Those farm animals are also responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere every year, methane emissions that scientists say are warming the earth's climate.

The World Preservation Foundation, a private environmental group, recently published a report on ways to slow that climate change. It focuses on reducing livestock populations.  

The group says it is especially concerned about widespread forest-burning to clear land for cattle operations, as seen in these fires in Brazil's Amazon forest region.

“Fire for pasture maintenance and fire for deforestation are our targets," said Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop, the foundation's executive director.  "For methane, by far the greatest source is livestock agriculture.” 

The foundation wants governments to stop subsidizing meat and dairy production.      

“Meat and dairy consumption has helped to push global warming to tipping points," added Wedderburn-Bisshop.  "It is driving massive environmental destruction and pollution and is killing us with diabetes, heart disease and cancers.”

But in many rural areas, people depend on animals for food and income.

A reduction in global livestock production is improbable, says Jerry Hatfield, director of Agriculture and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

He says research centers are looking at ways to make food animal operations more efficient while also protecting the environment.
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Latin America news
Press group seeks closure
in murder of journalist

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

On the 10th anniversary Wednesday of the death of Colombian journalist Orlando Sierra Hernández the Inter American Press Association called on the authorities of the South American nation to finally solve his case so as to bring about the prosecution of those accused of having masterminded his murder and so prevent them from going unpunished.

Sierra Hernández, managing editor of the Manizales, Caldas, newspaper La Patria, was wounded at 1:50 p.m. Jan. 30, 2002 in the center of the city. He was holding the hand of his daughter Beatriz, with whom he was returning from lunch, when a hitman, who had been waiting for him in hiding for several hours, shot him. He died two days later, on Feb. 1.

“This crime and the legal proceedings have become a symbol of lack of punishment having no deadline and that it is possible to move ahead in the quest for justice,” said the chairman of the organization’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme.

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La Repúbica, added, “We trust that the Colombian justice system will finally bring to court and examine as soon as possible the evidence against all suspected masterminds and perpetrators of this homicide so as to solve the case and put an end to the impunity surrounding it.”

Sierra Hernández’ death shocked the local community, as he enjoyed prestige and respect among his fellow citizens for his Sunday column titled Punto de encuentro, “Point of Encounter,” in which he exposed political corruption in Caldas province.

In 2011, nine years after the fatal attack, the Bogotá public prosecutor specializing in human rights cases, Luis Alberto Reyes, ordered the arrest of Caldas provincial Liberal politicians Ferney Tapasco González and his son, Dixon Tapasco Triviño, as suspected masterminds of the crime.

Tapasco González, the father, is currently in jail serving a sentence for his links to paramilitaries and is awaiting trial on a charge of having masterminded the killing of Sierra Hernández. Another two persons in custody, Henry Calle and Oscar Alonso López Escobar, have also been cited as possible intermediaries in the case. Tapasco Triviño, the son, is no longer part of the investigation.

Sentenced in 2002 to 19 years in prison for having carried out the murder was Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, a hired gunman who was found to have shot Sierra Hernández. He was held in jail for only five years, being granted parole and released in 2007, but he died shortly afterwards in a clash with police. Also convicted, as co-perpetrators, to 28 years in prison were Luis Tabares Hernández and Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco.

The Sierra Hernández case represents for the Inter American Press Association a symbol of the anti-impunity battle in Colombia, the organization said. The hemisphere organization investigated the incident through its Rapid Response Unit in Colombia and produced a documentary titled La Batalla del Silencio, “The Battle of Silence,” that denounced the crime.

Quake hits near border

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake with a 4.1 magnitude took place Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. The location was just 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) north of the Panamá border and about 14 kilometers (about 9 miles southwest of Ciudad Neilly, according to the Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the same university said the quake was just six kilometers deep, less than four miles. However there was just one report from a sensing station, and that report classified the quake as weak.

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