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(506) 2223-1327      Published Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 24       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Measure includes restrictions on guns
Victim protection bill gets first OK in legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday passed on first reading the initial citizen security bill, part of a package that contains revisions to the immigration law.

The bill that was passed received strong support among lawmakers.

This is No. 16.973, which has been changed in parts since its submission last March but still seeks to provide protection to victims and witnesses. The text creates what could be called a protection program and authorizes housing victims and witnesses in a safe place.

However, the bill, some 26,400 words, also creates what is called a police information platform that will contain all the data bases of all the state agencies, autonomous institutions and municipalities. These data bases will be open to police officers, with some restrictions established by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The bill also authorizes tapping communications with the approval of a judge. This includes telephone, Internet satellite and other current means of communication.

The bill also contains 3,446 words of a section that restricts the use of firearms by citizens.  Among the provisions is one that says a person may only have one firearm for self-protection and it may not be an automatic weapon.

The proposal also seeks to address the phenomenon of killings for hire, receiving stolen goods and the way the government handles confiscated things of value.

The bill, which probably will receive final passage late in the week, also specifies measures to strengthen the municipal police forces.

Passage came after a strong campaign by the fiscal general, Francisco Dall'Anese. In the last month court officials have revealed that in many jurisdictions only half the persons charged with a crime are convicted. The court release blamed intimidation of witnesses. Dall'Anese Tuesday was talking to reporters about the likely presence here of the notorious Zeta faction, paramilitaries who carry out the commands of the Mexican drug gangs.

Financing is a major obstacle for witness and victim protection. Details were not available on how the lawmakers handled that problem. The exact text of the revised measure probably will not be available to the public until it is passed and published in the La Gaceta official newspaper. Lawmakers themselves might not know fully what they have approved.

The other proposals in the security package include No. 16.429, a reform of the arms and explosives law; N. 16.594, the controversial immigration law; No. 16.830, a law specifically against organized crime, and No. 16.831, reforms
'. . . the battle of a disorganized state against organized crime'
— Title II of bill

of the drug and money laundering laws.

The series of bills was the product of a task force headed by Laura Chinchilla Miranda. She then was minister of Justicia y Gracia and the nation's vice president. She has since quit to run for president.

The bill allows closing a courtroom to conduct private sessions and also keeping the name of witnesses and victims secret to protect them. Testimony by video conferencing also is allowed to protect witnesses. Now such technology is used mainly to receive testimony from long distances.

The bill also established a four-year prison term for anyone who attempts to threaten or otherwise affect the testimony of a victim or witness.

The measure continues Costa Rican tradition of treating a crime as an affair between a suspect and a victim. The bill calls for conciliation. It appears that conciliation can be ordered unless the crime is of a sexual nature or involves domestic violence.

Organized crime is defined as three or more persons associated to commit serious acts that carry penalties of four years in prison or more.

The bill specifically includes, torture, all forms of sexual exploitation, money laundering, hostage taking, terrorism, trafficking in persons, trafficking of arms or drugs, murder, injury or threats to a member of the branches of government or foreign diplomats, and murder, injury or threats against police, victims, witnesses, judicial experts, judges and others working in the law enforcement agencies of the country.

The immigration bill, which is part of the security package, is controversial because it would raise the financial requirements for foreigners who seek residency here. That bill has been passed out of a committee to the full legislature. Assembly leaders hoped to have the bills approved before Christmas, but a squabble over the members of a new telecom regulatory agency prevented that.

Then the legislature met to handle emergency funding for victims of the Jan. 8 earthquake. Lengthy discussions followed on the exact text of the citizen security bill.

The immigration bill also contains wording that would seem to impose the same financial requirements on expats who renew residencies. The current wording calls for an income of $2,000 a month for persons who seek pensionado status and $5,000 a month for those who seek the status of rentista. Some expats are working to have these numbers reduced. The current requirements are $600 a month for pensionado and $1,000 a month for a single rentista.

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Romance of the pulpería
is theme of museum show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pulpería del barrio is the Costa Rican equivalent of the country store replete with the same kind of romance that North Americans ascribe to the pot-belly stove and old folks telling tales.

As in the north, the pulpería has given way to the minisuper or larger establishments. Originally they were envisioned as a place where locals could find just about anything that they would need. Visitors would find time for a quick drink, perhaps a card game and chats with friends, called tertulias.

Students of the national art school, the Casa del Artista are paying tribute to the pulpería with an exhibition of paintings that opens Friday at the Museo Nacional in the Sala de Exhibiciones Temporales.

According to the museum, the concept of the pulpería began in southern Latin America in the 17th century and spread to Costa Rica by the early 20th century. Students went to distant points of the country to capture the image and the tradition of the pulpería, including Guanacaste, Limón and Sarapiquí. They worked under the direction of  Ricardo Jiménez, their teacher. The exhibition consists of 30 paintings.

Nine persons detained
in probe of robbery band

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four minors and five adults face allegations that they were behind a wave of robberies and one murder in Llano Grande de Cartago and in La Unión. Judicial police made arrests during 10 raids Tuesday that targeted the homes of the suspects.

The investigation began in November when there was a wave of robberies of small stores, bars and delivery trucks in the area. It was in Llano Grande that the owner of a small food store died in a robbery at the beginning of the year.

Raids were mostly in the Cartago and Tres Rios areas, but two persons were detained as far away as Palmares, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Court stops road work
near Parque Tortuguero

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has stopped road construction near Parque Nacional Tortuguero because the local municipality did not have permission from the environmental ministry to do the work. The decision was announced Tuesday.

According to the decision, the Municipalidad de Pococí is doing work on the Cariari-Tortuguero road between Palacios and Laguna de Caño Chiquero.

A resident filed the appeal and said that the work permits access to the national park in a way that has not been approved by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones and that appropriate impact studies have not been done.

Terrorism financing on agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Terrorism experts from all over Central America, the United States and some South American nations are meeting through Friday in San José in an effort to create alliances at what now is clearly a regional problem.

The meetings also will consider terrorism financing, extortion and other crimes closely linked to international criminals, said Casa Presidencial.

Our reader's opinion
Homeopathic medicine gets
praise as possible option

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In A.M. Costa Rica's article Tuesday entitled "High court lets two men open homeopathic medical offices," the author finishes off an otherwise factual article with the statement, "However, there are some who oppose this course because of the unscientific basis of natural medicine."

That's a pretty sweeping claim, especially considering the breadth and depth of natural treatment modalities. The fact is that a day doesn't go by without a study confirming the efficacy of some aspect of naturopathic medicine. Of course, that doesn't mean that every naturally-based treatment is effective, but the same is true of allopathic (standard) medicine.  Regardless of the treatment type, patients should always inform themselves and seek second opinions wherever possible.

There's no reason why naturopathic and allopathic methods can't be used together in a holistic and complementary manner. A sick patient doesn't care about turf wars or unfounded prejudices. They care about getting better.

Heidi Allen
Spicewood, Texas

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 24

Exeucutive branch tries to block plan for massive taxi strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers, informal taxi drivers and those who drive tourist buses are threatening a work stoppage for today all over the county, but Casa Presidencial is trying to short-circuit the protests.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, and Karla González, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, met with the various factions Tuesday at Casa Presidencial. The outcome was an agreement for an 11 a.m. meeting today with representatives of the taxi drivers, the Cámara Nacional de Transportes, certain lawmakers and the drivers known as porteadores.

This is a long-running battle between the licensed taxi drivers and the porteadores, who cite a portion of the Codigo Comercial as upholding their right to carry passengers on contract. Taxi drivers say the porteadores take away business.
There is a measure in the legislature that would change the commercial code to outlaw porteadores. There have been many protests over the last two years by both sides.

Casa Presidencial said the executive branch had issued a call to drivers not to block passage of thousands of citizens with their protests.

Initial plans were to use taxis to block main roads. This has been done in the past effectively.

Government officials hope that the 11 a.m. meeting will result in an agreement that will resolve the problem.

Taxi drivers may modify their protest to block access to just Casa Presidencial in Zapote and the legislative complex on Avenida Central in the downtown.

They have threatened to block every major road into San José and more blockades have been planned elsewhere. 

Immigration police say that helpful man sold fake stamps
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police arrested a 42-year-old man Tuesday and said he was pretending to help foreigners obtain work permits and other permissions.

The arrest took place outside the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería in La Uruca.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública identified the man by the last names of Castillo Barquero.

The ministry said the man told foreigners that he could help them get the appropriate permissions but that the stamps he put in their passports were false.

The man is well known to immigration officials because he works daily outside the gates of the La Uruca complex.  They said he has been detained in the past for the same reasons and also for promising to help Costa Ricans obtain passports.

Two Nicaraguans filed complaints against the man. They said that the man collected 35,000 colons (about $63) from each to provide a work permit for six months. Francisco Castaing, director of the Policía de Migración, said that such permits are not available now.

Fake immigration stamps are not new. The current administration changed all the stamps in use by immigration agents and made them easy to trace.

The area outside the immigration offices is full of persons ready to help foreigners for a fee. The immigration system is so overwhelmed with applications that hiring someone to cut through the red tape is attractive.

Elsewhere, expats here on tourist visas have been known to hire taxi drivers and others to carry their passports to
Immigration suspect
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Immigration police take the man identified by the last names of Castillo Barquero into custody.

the border so the stamps applied simulate a 72-hour trip outside the country. In many cases, the stamps applied are forgeries, although expats do not know that until they are challenged by immigration police.

Domino's Pizza closing leaves a bad taste in mouths of business leaders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Business leaders expressed dismay Tuesday at the way the  Domino’s Pizza franchise holder shut down the company and failed to make financial arrangements with employees.

The nine pizza outlets are now closed until the U.S. headquarters of the firm finds another entity to run the franchise in Costa Rica.

Some 130 pizza employees are involved, and many have filed claims with the Ministerio de Trabajo. Under the law an employee should receive at least two weeks notice or the equivalent in cash. An employee also should receive a
 month's pay for each year worked in the company, plus vacation pay and prorated aguinaldos or Christmas bonus.

These payments are called obligaciones patronales.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado deplored the actions of the Mexico franchise holder and urged other firms to look for ways to avoid firing employees.

Some legislative leaders said they were thinking of proposing a law that would force foreign firms to put up a bond or cash to assure their compliance with the national labor laws when outlets here are closed.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 24

U.S. citizens seem to be on a post-election gun buying spree
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms, and roughly one third of all Americans are exercising that right. The FBI estimates there are more than 200 million privately owned guns in the United States, and that number is rising.

Gun sales have been booming ever since Barack Obama's appearance on the presidential campaign trail. Government officials charged with reviewing civilian applications for the purchase of firearms report there was a 50 percent increase in requests for reviews between November 2007 and November 2008.  
Obama's record of supporting gun-control measures gave gun sales another boost after his election Nov. 4, and sales have continued to rise in the early days of his presidency.

Each year across the United States, there are 5,000 gun shows like the one held the weekend after Christmas in Kansas City.
Although there are no official statistics to tell us how many firearms are actually sold at these gun-trade expositions, a typical gun show will draw anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 persons.

So for small-town gun retailers like Barry and Madonna Walker, these events are a gold mine of potential customers. With the current surge in sales, the Walkers are attending three gun shows a week, and lately they can't seem to bring enough merchandise with them.

"We have two cases of handguns. The cases are kind of empty right now," Mrs. Walker said.
"We sold out of small handguns yesterday," Walker added. "Since the election, several models of guns are six months to a year back-ordered."

Speculation about assault weapon ban may be driving purchases, some say.

The models Walker is referring to — the ones that gun makers can't make enough of — are military-style weapons. During the Clinton administration, Congress passed a ban on these so-called assault weapons, making it illegal for civilians to own them. The Bush administration allowed this ban to expire in 2004. For the past five years, assault weapons have been flooding the market.

One table over from the Walkers at a Kansas City gun show, Bill Choate straightens his handgun display. He says gun advocates worry that President Obama will reinstate the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons. He explains that a renewed ban would add confusion and uncertainty to his business.

"Under the Clinton plan, any semiautomatic handgun with more than a 10-round capacity was banned. This gun, outlawed — 18 shots. This gun, OK — 10 shots," Choate explains. "Now that's under the Clinton plan. Under the Obama plan, nobody knows. Everyone's kind of in turmoil right now. No one knows where it's gonna go. But it's good for business."

However, Choate says he believes that many of his first-time customers are buying guns for reasons that have nothing to do with the future of the assault weapon ban.

"The economy's bad. People are losing their jobs. Most first-time gun buyers are scared. People are scared of armed robbery. That's why they're buying guns. That
reaches deeper than the Clinton or Obama plan. That's a social issue."

Brian Feeble is senior attorney for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The group was founded by the wife of James Brady, press secretary to former president Ronald Reagan, who was shot and critically injured in the attempted assassination of the president. Feeble doesn't think the current social or political situation is driving non-gun-owners to suddenly go out and purchase guns.

"It's people adding weapons to the weapons they already have," Feeble said. "That's the direction I believe this is going. But it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will be able to reinstate the assault weapons ban." 

The ban identifies 14 features that qualify a gun as an assault weapon. Some simply make it easier to use. For example, a barrel shroud makes a gun cool down faster after firing. A pistol grip makes it easier to hold, and a threaded barrel helps make it quieter. Like most gun control advocates, Feeble argues that assault features are neither necessary nor purely cosmetic.

"Those features aren't just bells and whistles. Each of those features, a pistol grip, a threaded barrel, a barrel shroud, has a purpose for actually helping shoot a human being," Feeble says.

The Brady Campaign is dedicated to keeping dangerous guns out the hands of dangerous people. Despite laws put in place to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, Feeble says if the guns are out there, criminals will find them.

"We have no problem with law-abiding citizens selling and buying guns for hunting or self-defense. But law-abiding citizens don't need assault features. No one needs a weapon with assault features to hunt or to protect one's home."

That argument rankles gun advocates such as John Hartman, of Denny's Guns in Kansas City.

"I don't understand why someone else gets to determine what I do or do not need," Hartman says. "I don't need a car that goes 150 miles an hour, but I've got one. You don't need high heels, but if you like them, you can have them. Where did 'need' become part of the equation?"

Feeble says need has always been part of the equation. 

"You know, law-abiding citizens aren't always allowed to have everything they want. You may be able to have a Lamborghini, but you certainly can't drive it 100 miles per hour on a city street," he says. "We should learn from that and realize that gun laws work and save lives and can be totally reconciled with gun ownership and legitimate use of firearms."

Gun control advocates see the assault weapon ban as a reasonable compromise, a gray area in a pretty black-and-white issue. But speaking for pro-gun Americans, Hartman disagrees.

"People on either side don't have any gray areas. You're either for or against, and it's pretty strongly held opinions. And I don't think either side is going to change the other's mind very readily."

While the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to bear arms, the fundamental disagreement remains what kind of arms Americans may bear and what the government's role should be in maintaining public safety.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 24

A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

It's long underwear time,
tropics or no tropics!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another cold front is moving through the country from the north, and temperatures in Cartago and San José are anything but tropical.

The weather forecast also called for clouds and light rain on the Caribbean coast and in the northern zone as well as in the mountains. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional warned of high wind gusts and a gradual decrease in temperature.

For San José, the high for today is expected to be around 19 C (66 F). The low is a teeth-chattering 15 C (59 F). In Cartago, the country's refrigerator, the high and the low are expected to be one degree lower.

At 1 a.m. San José was getting gusts of up to 40 kph (25 mph) from the northeast. Gusts were up to 50 kph (31 mph) at Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas, according to the automatic weather station there.

Latin leftist leaders meet
with Chávez in Caracas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hosted leftist allies in Caracas Monday for a summit of the Boliviarian Alternative for the Americas, a Latin American trade alliance.

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Honduras' Manuel Zelaya, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega took part in the meeting, along with Cuba's first vice president, José Ramon Machado, and the prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit.

Leaders signed two agreements on food security, pledging to contribute a total of $49 million to boost food production. They also discussed ways to confront the global economic crisis.

Venezuela and Communist-led Cuba created the ALBA alliance in 2004 to counter U.S. influence in the region. The ALBA also aims to advance regional integration to confront the U.S.-backed free trade deal.

The summit coincided with the 10th anniversary of Chavez's first day in power.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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