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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Feb. 7, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 26           E-mail us
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How about some ideas to cut down on crime here?
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Laura Chinchilla Miranda has been president for nine months but the expected security plan has turned out to be a call for more taxes. Absent has been any proposed legislation that would have an impact on crime, criminals or the penal code.

The administration's plan is to flood the streets with many more policemen. But that plan has a downside, too. The more police that are added in the metro areas, the more criminals go elsewhere.

Robbers are more active in San Pedro, where one died from a police bullet late Friday night. There were no police around to save Fernando Alfaro Argüello when he stepped out of his tractor trailer Friday night near the Zurquí tunnel on Ruta 32 to urinate. Four robbers stuck him up and one shot him in the heart.

Clearly more police on the streets means more crime in the suburbs.

However, there may be some changes that the government can do cheaply. The purpose of this article it to outline some proposals and ask readers to come up with their ideas. Please send them for publication to editor@amcostarica.com

Expats and others have shown they can make a difference. There are Web sites and community organizations that keep track of local crime and criminals. But more can be done.

A.M. Costa Rica suggestions:

1. Policemen leave their weapons at work when they go home. Other jurisdictions require policemen to carry weapons when they are off-duty. Would be criminals might think otherwise if there was a chance that the man buying ice cream at the pulpería was carrying a gun.

2. Court files are now closed to all but the parties and the lawyers involved, despite the country's claim to transparency. If court files were open to the public, anyone could see how justice is being delivered. Newspapers can only do so much, but many great revelations have come from the interested citizen with an eye on a special case.

3. Obviously stiffer penalties are needed for robbery convictions. Even those few who are  
caught frequently get off with a sentence of eight years, which becomes about three years under the Costa Rican system. A recent robbery arrest was of a man who had been given conditional freedom after being convicted of an earlier robbery.

The president could submit proposals to the legislature to beef up the sentences.

4. Although Costa Rica would never enact the death sentence, there are some horrible crimes that warrant life without possibility of parol. Now the maximum sentence is 50 years. But no one does the full sentence. Some 30 or 40 years in prison is not long enough for some rape murderers.

5. How about random drug testing of legislators, judicial officials, including judges, and members of the executive branch? Private industry subscribes to random drug testing of employees, and these public officials work for the public.

6. Costa Rica suffers from a shortage of prisons. And a lot of prisoners hang around all day with nothing to do. Prisons need not be fancy. The country missed out on a chance for a U.S. firm to build a maximum security prison on a concession basis. Current prisoners could build minimum security lockups in rural areas where land is cheap and lumber is available.

7. Every year officials make a big scene in Plaza de la Cultura when they cut up firearms that have been confiscated from crooks and others. Meanwhile, policemen all over the country complain that the bad guys have better weaponry. The confiscated weapons should be turned over to the security ministry armory. Ditto with confiscated vehicles and motorcycles.

8. Law enforcement officials want the public to report crime and have set up special phone numbers to do so. For example, 1176 is to report drug crimes. But what is in it for the poor citizen? A rewards program fairly administered has proved to be successful elsewhere. The U.S. government has a Rewards for Justice program that mainly targets terrorists and big time drug dealers. Some cartel leaders have been snagged through such programs.  And even street patrolmen could be cut in for some cash based on the quality of their tips.

So do readers have opinions?   We would love to publish serious ideas that would help the country turn the corner on crime.

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Canadian's victim's friends
are impatient for arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Neighbors and friends of the Canadian woman who died on the Osa Peninsula last week are hoping for quick action and are venting their impatience to Canadian newspapers.

The story is getting heavy play in the Canadian newspapers and on news Web sites there.

The dead woman is Kimberley Blackwell. 53. She was from the Yukon.

The Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed Thursday that the woman, Kimberley Blackwell, 53, showed signs of violence. Specifically the woman appeared to have been hit at various parts of her body. She was found in the patio of her home in San Miguel de Cañaza near Puerto Jiménez.

Ms. Blackwell was known in the area as the operator of Samaritan Xocolata, which produced high-end chocolate items from Costa Rican cocao. One expat Thursday said the chocolate was the best she had tasted.

Investigators have said little, and any information on the case is via the Judicial Investigating Organization in San José.

More information is expected to be available today after the preliminary report from an autopsy is completed. Residents of the area are generally unfamiliar with police cases and they have urged those interested in the case to pressure officials.

"If anybody wants this case solved, please pressure everyone you can to push hard," said one friend in an Internet posting in Canada. "Unfortunately, Costa Rica is often lackadaisical when it comes to prosecuting crime (probably because it is such a peaceful, wonderful country). Please help push to get the authorities moving, and hold those responsible for the brutal murder accountable."

Judicial investigators have said they were hampered because the finca where the death happened is some distance from Puerto Jiménez, the local commercial center.  Investigators did not reach the scene until 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day the body was discovered.

Chili cookoff next Sunday
as benefit in Atenas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fourth Annual Chili Cookoff will be Sunday. This is a local benefit in Atenas put on by Kay's Gringo Postres.

The beneficiary will be Hogar de Vida home for abandoned, abused and orphaned children in the community.

Chili cooks are being invited to make three gallons of the product at home and bring it to the event where it will be judged. A small amount of the chili will be judged and the rest will be distributed to those who attend. There are detailed instructions on the contest Web site, including the warning that cooks may have to taste their own chili.

Presumably judges will require that if they suspect that the chili is of the thermonuclear variety.

The event this year will be at Quinta Romavista in Barrio Mercedes, Atenas. The event begins at 11 a.m.

Judges will not know which cook made the chili they are rating. Three prizes will be awarded by judges, and a fourth prize will be determined by the public.

The admission is 1,500 colons or about $3. This year there also is entertainment and foods other than chili.

Newspaper reports officials
are blocking its supplies


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Nicaragua's customs agency is blocking the importation of supplies for newspaper production, an action taken in response to press exposure of corruption.

The newspaper El Nuevo Diario reported that the order not to allow entry of newsprint came from the finance and public credit ministry and its two dependencies, the customs office and revenue office. The paper called the action political vengeance, as a clear reprisal for a series of published investigations into alleged wrongdoing and nepotism in the current administration.

The newspaper said that it has been facing constant obstacles set by the tax authorities, which range from causing documents to go astray to a suspicious delay in granting import permits and delivery of supplies.

Newsprint is among the products that must be imported to Central America.

The Inter American Press Association accused Nicaragua of using government actions to impede media production and the flow of information.

Magistrate is theft victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thieves broke into the home of a Corte Suprema de Justicia magistrate in Sabana Sur Saturday evening and took a computer and other personal belongings.

The home is occupied by Fernando Cruz Castro and his family. No one was home at the time.

 
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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 26
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Jaco condos



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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Unusual ornamental plant
has been around a long time


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many streets and gardens in the Central Valley host living fossils. They are the so-called sago palms that are distinctive this time of year with giant cones protruding from the male plants.

The ornamental plants usually found in the city come from Japan. They are Cycas revoluta, which are painfully slow growing plants and perfect for ornamental use. There are many other native varieties and some are endangered.

Their ancestors developed about 300 million years ago and were among the first plants to produce seeds. They were well known to the dinosaurs. Of course, the history is based on fossils and not as clear as scientists would like.

Eventually flowering plants became dominant.

The plant produces a neurotoxin that can be deadly. The highest concentration is in the seeds, although some native tribes soak out the toxins and eat the seed. The stalk can be eaten, too, although it won't be found at the supermarket.

There is no mistaking these squat plants with the broad leaves, which also are poisonous and very attractive to animals.  The literature says that humans have been affected by eating meat from animals that feasted on the seeds.


Phone regulator says it is checking quality of connections
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones said it is checking on the quality of telephone service in every province of the country.

The agency made the announcement after several weeks of complaints by cell telephone customers. However, the agency said it has been checking on the quality of Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad service since the beginning of the year.

Lately customers have been facing dropped calls, the failure to get a dial tone and problems with the quality of the lines.

Regulations contain quality requirements, and the agency is seeing if the Instituto de Electricidad, still the only phone company, is living up to the requirements. The quality surveys include all three types of cell phones, TDMA,
 GSM and 3G, even though the TDMA will soon go out of service.

Telephone customers can make reports to the company and then make a report to the Superintendencia if there is no effort in 10 days to remedy the problem.

Many of the GSM lines were those installed by Alcatel, a company whose executives here admitting paying $14 million in bribes to Costa Rican officials to get the contract.

The trial of former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and others is in the final stages. Prosecutors allege that he was among the bribe recipients.

Alcatel was awarded the mobile telephone contract in August 2001, which was valued at $149 million. The institute has migrated some customers from the Alcatel system.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 26


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Judge overturns measure controlling shark finning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An administrative judge has frozen temporarily the agreement that requires fishing boats to unload their catch at a public dock in Puntarenas. The rule had been put in place to oversee shark finning.

The action came from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, the court that oversees government actions.

Our editorial . . . HERE!

The ruling came at the request of three firms that deal in shark fins: Marisco Wang,S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A.

Shark finning is controversial because the rest of the carcass usually is just dumped back into the sea.

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura entered into an agreement with the Ministerio de Obras Públicas in October that by Dec. 1 all fishing cargo would be unloaded at public docks. The agreement was praised by environmentalists.

The report of the court action came from Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, which opposes shark finning.

The environmental group was highly critical.

"We have no way to explain how Judge Rosa Cortes Morales has decided to ignore Articles 211 and 212 of the custom's law, the resolution of the constitutional court, the
order of the comptrollership and the recommendation of the defender of the inhabitants, all of which mandate the use of public docks by foreign fleets, the only way to defend the public interest," said Randall Arauz, of the Costa Rican organization Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas.  "It looks like we will keep on being a well known shark finning nation to the eyes of the rest of the world for a long time to come", denounced Arauz.

The judge issued what are called medidas cautelares, basically an injunction. The case will be argued further, but in this case, citing the extreme urgency, the court decision came without informing the institute, according to the decision.

Officials also want to have compete oversight of the docks to suppress drug smuggling.

In the case of shark finning, Costa Rican laws require that the shark be landed with fin attached. In most cases, only the fin is brought to shore, and that cannot be determined if the catch is landed at a private dock.

The decision came Jan. 24, but there was no notification until Feb. 1, according to the paperwork.

A.M. Costa Rica reported in 2006 that the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their valuable fins estimates that as few as 26 million and as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, according to a study published in Ecology Letters.

Shark finning is removing the dorsal and other fins from sharks for use in the Asian markets.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 26

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Canada, U.S. to tighten
security along joint border


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have announced a new joint effort to streamline cross-border trade they say will help both economies and enhance security. 

The new initiative is aimed at strengthening security along the border, increasing coordination and sharing of intelligence, and harmonizing regulations on the flow of food and manufactured goods.

Referred to as the North American security perimeter, it involves use of advanced biometric technology to track travelers, and steps to eliminate burdensome regulatory barriers that Obama said can stifle trade and job creation.

Saying the goal is smarter border management, Obama said it's aimed at creating jobs and increasing economic growth on both sides of a border that sees more than $1 billion worth of trade crossing it each day.

"Working more closely to improve border security with better screening, new technologies and information sharing among law enforcement, as well as identifying threats early. It also means finding new ways to improve the free flow of goods and people," Obama said.

Joint border efforts have been controversial in Canada where Harper's government has faced criticism from the political opposition that Canadian sovereignty and privacy would be sacrificed.

The U.S. - Canada declaration includes a goal of an integrated entry-exit system, and enhanced cooperation to identify, prevent and counter violent extremism. It also pledges to create "joint privacy protection principles" and efforts to "promote principles of human rights, privacy and civil liberties."

Saying Canada and the U.S. share fundamental interests and values, and common challenges and threats, Harper said it is in both countries' interest to ensure that the border remains open and efficient, but also secure.

Harper responded this way to a Canadian reporter asking about criticism of the agreement in Canada.

"We are sovereign countries who have the capacity to act as we choose to act. The question that faces us is to make sure we act in a sovereign way that serves Canada's interest. It is in Canada's interest to work with our partners in the United States to ensure that our borders are secure, and ensure that we can trade and travel across them as safely and as openly as possible within the context of our different laws and that is what we are trying to achieve here," he said.

The U.S. and Canada signed a free trade agreement in 1988 aimed at removing barriers to free trade.  Since then, Harper noted, both countries have become each other's largest export market, with eight million U.S. jobs supported by trade with Canada.

Meanwhile, the White House on Friday put a positive spin on the latest U.S. government report on unemployment, which had good news with the jobless figure falling to 9 percent in the month of January.  

But overall the economy created only 36,000 jobs, far fewer than needed for sustained reductions in unemployment, and less than a quarter of what is required to keep pace with population growth.

Gene Sperling, who heads the president's National Economic Council, said that private sector payrolls increased by 50,000 and he pointed to "strong progress" in job creation in the manufacturing sector, which he attributed to President Obama's policies. "We do see in the manufacturing area and the places the president will be traveling, some good news and I think with some significant relation to the policies the president has implemented and proposed," he said.

The White House announced that Obama will travel next week, to Marquette, Michigan, to underscore the importance of an initiative mentioned in his State of the Union Address, an effort to make broadband wireless available to 80 percent of Americans in coming years.

The administration also formally rolled out what it calls "A Strategy for American Innovation," tied to Obama's goal of making the United States competitive with other countries and creating jobs.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 26

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Our reader's opinion
Does country want expats?
Then why the annoyances?


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Are expats welcome in costa rica?
We have been visiting Costa Rica for over 10 years, and we are building our third house. We stay for four months each winter and spend the other eight months in Canada.

I feel that recent measures by the government are making me feel less welcome. Could some organization representing expats, maybe the Assocaition of Residents of Costa Rica, ask the president for a clear statement on whether it is government policy to welcome expats or not?

Expats must bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the country, and employ hundreds of Ticos. Is the president aware that other countries, especially Panamá, put out a big welcome mat, and have policies to encourage more expats?

I accept the increases in taxes, but would find fault with:

Immigration Policy. Why 90 days ? Don’t they want me to remain longer and spend more money. Does leaving for three days and then returning help the economy? It seems now that the length of stay depends on the whim of the customs agent  you happen to see.

Petty regulations regarding autos. Is carrying a packet of Band-Aids going to help in a major traffic accident? If you want to improve road safety, what about requiring bicycles to have lights or at least reflectors ?

My latest pet peeve was renewing car insurance required a certificate from a chartered accountant, estimated cost $50, stating where I got the money for the car. This is a 2003 model I bought three years ago.
I think crooks drive better cars.

Legal system. The small sentences for crimes against Gringos, and the bias in favor of locals. Not to mention the difficulties in hiring someone to work.

We are staying here, we like it here and are prepared to put up with the annoyances, but newcomers might be looking at other countries where they might be more appreciated.

John Cocker
Ojochal

Power outages planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Part of La Guacima will be without power today from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. while workmen for the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz replace a transformer, the company said.

There also will be an outage for most of the day in the vicinity of the Medalla Milagrosa church in Barrio Cuba, the company said.





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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 26

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Time has come to end disgusting practice of shark finning

Costa Rica needs to live up to its environmentalist reputation by banning the practice of shark finning in its waters and to forbid the shipment of shark fins.

So far the country has bobbed and weaved but failed to take decisive steps to crack down on this despicable practice.

A lower-court judge once again has stifled efforts to bring some kind of oversight to this practice. The judge, Rosa Cortes Morales, acted at the request of Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. to annul an agreement that would make shark finners dump their cargo at a public dock in Puntarenas.

For obvious reasons, these ravagers of the seas prefer to hide their cargo by unloading at friendly private docks.

The court decision was reported by the Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group that has been fighting shark finning for years.

The agreement was between the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes. The effect of the agreement was to require shark fishermen to obey the law.

Judge Cortez took the unusual step of throwing out the agreement without hearing from the other side because the shark finners and their wholesalers claimed irreparable damage, according to the decision. They would be damaged by abiding by the law.

There is more to come in this legal process, but Round One goes to the shark finners.

They say that people cannot comprehend large numbers. To say that 200,000 persons died in the Haitian earthquake does not have the emotional impact of seeing the damaged body of a single Haitian baby.

That may be true with shark finning. In 2006 the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their fins estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, said the study.
shark fins
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop

That number is hard to fathom. But the adjacent photo shows a number of shark fins, and each represents an animal dumped back in the ocean to die. The photo came from the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, which reported that the photo shows a Puntarenas rooftop being used to dry shark fins. The photographer had to flee.

From time to time government officials take note of shark finning. When the film "Sharkwater" played in San José, then-legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, said she would introduce a bill to ban the practice. Nothing ever came of it.

Ms. Taitelbaum is now the defensora de los habitantes and would seem to be in a position to follow through if she were not just posturing in 2007.

The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking, although nutritionally they are less adequate than many other meals. Perhaps the new stadium, a gift from China, should be called the Arena of Dead Sharks.              
 — Feb. 7, 2011


An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."

Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.

Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth.  José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.

Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.

Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
President Luis Alberto Monge declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.

Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.

But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for.  After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.

But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?

President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.

Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one  be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.

At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.


Readers' opinions
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For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Panamá
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