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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 28           E-mail us
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Florida case illuminates judicial weaknesses here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who ran a business in Costa Rica lacked confidence in the court system here so he filed a case in Florida and haled a number of Costa Ricans into civil court there.

The man is Craig A. Brand, who is a Florida-licensed lawyer. But he also operated Farmacia Express Rx Ltda,, a chain of at least 15 outlets in the Central Valley.

Brand alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company.

His case also raises some critical issues in Costa Rican jurisprudence. For example, Brand said that he was unaware that a criminal case existed against him and that a judge had issued an impedimento de salida, a prohibition to leaving the country, until he was at Juan Santamaría airport prepared to leave on a honeymoon.

Costa Rica procedures are such that individuals hardly ever are told that a judge has restricted their movement. Foreigners are particularly vulnerable to this practice.

Brand also alleged in his Miami-Dade County Court filing that he was the victim of malicious and false criminal cases brought simply to extort money from him and his new wife. A number of expats have complained that they were victims of false criminal cases brought for strategic reasons.

A.M. Costa Rica was one victim in an unrelated case.

In a footnote to his filing, Brand writes about how hard it is to get a dismissal of a criminal cases that does not have a basis in fact:

"There is very little motion practice and oral hearings and not much in the way of early resolution or case management," he said in the filing. "There is little chance or opportunity for a defendant to have procedurally heard a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment or a motion to strike a frivolous action . . . ."

"In fact," he adds, there is no classification for frivolous complaints and no way for a defendant to procedurally respond to them as such."

This means that a tricky lawyer can tie up individuals for years with baseless allegations because even the most hollow case usually goes to trial.

Brand filed his case against Federico Torrealba Navas and Gianna Cersosimo, who he identified in his filing as the two lawyers who conspired against him. But then he also sued partners of the prestigious Facio and Cañas law firm because Ms. Cersosimo works there as an associate.

Neither the law firm or Ms. Cersosimo commented on the situation, although Ernesto Hütt Crespo, managing partner for the law firm, said Monday such a comment was forthcoming. He was not named as an individual in the suit. Torrealba could not be contacted.

Facio & Cañas replied in the Feb. 11 edition

The Florida case that was begun in November said that some limited partner investors in the pharmacy business wanted their money back when they got in trouble with their personal finances, according to the initial court filing.

Essentially Brand alleges that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo recruited investors to plot against him and the pharmacy firm and then filed a string of false theft and fraud criminal cases here involving the business. The plan was to extort money so that
court document
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The Florida filing

the investors and the lawyers would withdraw the cases, said the filing.

It was Jan. 3, 2007, when Brand and his new Costa Rican wife tried to leave the country and found out about the criminal actions.

According to the filing, Tico prosecutors dismissed a case against him and his wife and a forensic accountant reviewed the financial books of Farmacia and found them to be accurate. He said that the lawyers then filed private criminal actions that eventually were rejected after multiple appeals.

Brand also said in the filing that a false labor case also was filed and that unsuccessful complaints were lodged against his Florida law license twice.

Brand is suing for loss of income, loss of assets, loss of business, public embarrassment and humiliations, among others. The reason he is in Florida court is because some of the investors live there, and he said in his filing that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo traveled to Florida to continue what he called a pattern of criminal activity.

Florida law provides for triple damages and punitive damages. Brand said he has served summonses on the defendants here.

Florida court files are open, of course, but those in Costa Rica are not. So it is hard to tell if similar cases have been filed here. Still some expat investors report that they have been the target of false criminal cases, which have the effect of freezing civil trials.

Brand's filing is one-sided because there were no responses from the defendants. By telephone Brand did say that the Costa Rican defendants have filed a reply but it was mostly to dispute jurisdiction in Florida.

Brand does have some ammunition. A man identified as Yosvani Alfonso, a Miami businessman, has filed a notarized affidavit to support Brand. Alfonso admits to being part of a conspiracy to extort money and said that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo had him file a fictitious labor lawsuit against Brand.

Alfonso also said in his affidavit that the two lawyers instructed him to file a fictitious Florida Bar complaint.

"Until recently, I was a client of the defendant lawyers and law firms and was used by them as a means of creating undue and unjust pressure against the plaintiff, as stated in the complaint, so that the plaintiff would pay us to go away," said Alfonso in his affidavit.

"I do not agree with the tactics taken by the defendants against the plaintiff as these tactics are all rooted in fraud, bolstered by fictitious Costa Rican legal actions and deceit," he added

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Our readers' opinions

We continue today publishing some of the ideas readers have to reduce crime. There are many more letters.

Send some cops undercover
to provide examples

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I believe I've suggested some of these before, but here they are again:

1.  House-arrest ankle-bracelets.  This is a lot cheaper than building new prisons.

2.  Undercover crime-traps.  Get some under cover cops to pose as typical victims in known crime-ridden areas.  Arrest the thieves (and make a good example in the process) and their cohorts will take note next time they consider repeating the act in the same area.  Keep doing this everywhere and you've solved your crime problem.

3.  Want to divert the drug business away from CR?  Confiscate some drugs, poison them, then put them back in the stream.  Once the users get sick, word will get back your country is a bad place to depot illegal drugs.  And no, I have no sympathy for illegal users when it comes to the effect the drug industry has on innocent victims.
Jon Kahn
Spring, Texas
current Cost Rican land owner/future resident

Police should get commissions
for every ticket they write

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

One of the highest crime rates in Costa Rica is drivers who use their vehicles (cars, motor bikes and quadrados) as lethal weapons. The police can reduce these criminal acts by strictly enforcing traffic laws. If the police were given 5 to 10 percent commission for every ticket they wrote, I am certain that violations of traffic laws would be drastically reduced.

Howard French
Deport foreign criminals
to clear out courts, jails

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My suggestion, which would make a large dent in the number of robberies, violent crimes, etc. is to confiscate the non-citizen criminals' possessions and deport them, regardless of whether it's only a first offense, and record the names, information and photos of each person in case they attempt to re-enter the country. If they are Nicaraguan or Panamanian, simply load up the bus and drive them to the border of their home country. If further, then drive them to the airport and provide them with a one-way plane ticket.

I'm sure the government can get large discounts on these plane fares if not gratis. Once rid of these criminals, not only would it be a deterrent for other foreigners to commit crimes, but the courts could deal with a much smaller number of cases, largely involving just Tico criminals. There would be more room in the prisons also.                             
Barry Schwartz

Publish names of judges
who let crooks off hook

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
• There should not be a minimum value on stealing, it is wrong and you will spend some time in jail or community service regardless of the amount.

• Why do we allow criminals to cover their heads when being filmed? Stand them up. Let's get a good look at them so we know who they are. If they are embarrassed, they should not have done the crime in the first place.

• Do a crime, get caught, and then be home for dinner? This must stop. It only promotes crime and frustrates the police.

• Why don’t we publish the names of the judges who release criminals after they have been caught? Who is that judge and what is his record? How many other criminals has he released onto our streets? Oh, and where did that new car come from?

• Response time: police should pride them selves on responding quickly to a crime, not wait until they are sure the criminals are gone.

• Special task forces: Kids throwing rocks at cars on the new highway. Let’s assign some officers to find out who they are and make their parents pay for the damages. People taking manhole covers, endangering lives. Let’s assign some officers to find them, and where they are going to sell the metal.

• Bonuses for officer’s performance when catching criminals. This will work better than hiring more officers to stand around.

Many of the items above can be implemented quickly, and without spending additional money.
Tom Roucek

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.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 28
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Fire officials warn of those dry season weed and brush fires
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire officials have issued a warning about grass fires and said that the higher temperatures and lack of rain in the dry season increase the risk.

Already the year the Cuerpo de Bomberos turned out for 592 weed and brush fires, firemen said. The province of San José had the most, 203, but Guanacaste with 107 and Alajuela province with 106 kept firemen there busy.

For expats in rural areas, the problems are the blazes when firemen fail to appear or appear late. In such cases, rural residents are on their own.

The Pacific beach communities like Tamarindo and Flamingo in Guanacaste and some in Nicoya are
 particularly vulnerable because of their distance from fire stations.

Every year firemen handle about 5,000 such blazes. Last year there were 5,058, the Cuerpo de Bomberos said. In one the man who started the fire to burn weeds perished, firemen said.

They issued a warning about burning weeds and garbage and noted such activities are against the law. They suggested recycling and keeping lots adjacent to home clear of weeds and brush.

Firemen are trying to get a small tax enacted on electricity so that they can expand the number of stations in rural areas. Some expats who have seen brush fires up close and personal are supporting the measure.

Judge in shark-finning case defends her decision on docks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judge who set aside an agreement about the public docks in Puntarenas went public Tuesday to explain the situation. The case involves shark finning.

The judge, Rosa Maria Cortes Morales, said that no one ever mentioned anything about illegal fishing during the hearing when she issued an order temporarily suspending the agreement.

A.M. Costa Rica published a news article Monday noting the decision.

The judge is of the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo that regulates government activities.

She said in a statement that she issued the order because fishing companies said that there were insufficient refrigeration on the public docks. The public dock is the  Terminal de Multiservicios Pesqueros in Barrio el Carmen, Puntarenas.

The judge said that fishing companies received approval as long ago as 2004 from the local customs officials to use a private dock. In October the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura entered into an agreement and forbade the use of private docks after Dec. 1. The institute supervises the public docks.
That is when the litigants, Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes El Pescador S.A., went to court to protect the change.  Mariscos Wang operates the private dock.

The use of the public docks allow the institute to supervise what is being loaded and unloaded. Costa Rica has a law that says sharks must be landed with fins still attached. Fishermen prefer to cut off the fins and dump the disabled shark back in the water. This save space and effort.

Environmentalists fear that permission to use private docks supports the illegal practice of bringing just the fins to port.

The fins are highly valued in Asia for use in soup. Presumably the private docks are supervised by the customs agency.

The judge also noted that her ruling was temporary and that the institute was alerted to the decision Friday. The institute's lawyers have until tomorrow to register an objection and file for a full hearing. Even then, the judge noted, a decision can be appealed further up the judicial network.

The controversial nature of the decision and the whole issue of shark finning was highlighted by the judge's public statements. Usually judges do not comment on their decisions. In this case, the statement was relayed through the Poder Judicial.

Some city youngsters get free backpacks for new school year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José has handed out 250 backpacks to children in low-income areas in the central canton. School starts Thursday.

The backpacks conform to requirements of the Ministerio de Educación Pública. The investment was 5 million colons or about 20,000 colons per child, about $40 per backpack, said the municipality in a release.

The schools involved are Mauro Fernández Acuña, La  Peregrina, Finca la Caja, República Dominicana, Miguel de Cervantes, Juan Rafael Mora Porras, Rafael Francisco
Osejo, República de Haití and República de México.

This is the third year that the municipality has done this.

Even though education is supposed to be free, families sometimes struggle to come up with the required school supplies and uniforms for their children. These include backpacks.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio estimated from a survey that a family would spend from about 40,000 to 100,000 colons on each child depending on the grade level. That is from $80 to $200. Informally parents report that they are spending much more this year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 28

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Homeowner murdered in mountains north of capital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 54-year-old man who collected guns, clocks and watches died late Monday when someone shot him in the head.

Investigators said the scene was the man's house north of San José off Ruta 32, the San José-Limón highway. The property is in Heredia.

The man was identified as Konrad Swarzweger. Despite
the European sounding name, agents were uncertain of the man's nationality. He is believed to have been a long-time resident of the area and lived in a home that once belonged to his father. Acquaintances said he was Dutch and the owner of a restaurtant

The man lived alone in the home, and early speculation suggests that he knew his killer or killers because he was security conscious with many guns available around the home. Investigators speculate that robbery was the motive.

Nicaraguan study shows language vital for math concepts

By the National Science Foundation

New research conducted with deaf people in Nicaragua shows that language may play an important role in learning the meanings of numbers.

Field studies by University of Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow and a team of researchers found deaf people in Nicaragua, who had not learned formal sign language, do not have a complete understanding of numbers greater than three.

Researchers surmised the lack of large number comprehension was because the deaf Nicaraguans were not being taught numbers or number words.  Instead they learned to communicate using self-developed gestures called "homesigns," a language developed in the absence of formal education and exposure to formal sign language.

"The research doesn't determine which aspects of language are doing the work, but it does suggest that language is an important player in number acquisition," said Betty Tuller, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the research.

"The finding may help narrow down the range of experiences that play a role in learning number concepts," she said.

Research results are reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in a paper titled "Number Without a Language Model."

While the homesigners do have gestures for numbers, those gestures are accurately used for only small numbers, numbers less than three, and not for large ones.

By contrast, deaf people who acquire conventional sign languages learn the values of large numbers because they learn a counting routine early in childhood, just as children who acquire spoken languages do.

"It's not just the vocabulary words that matter, but understanding the relationships that underlie the words, the fact that eight is one more than seven and one less than nine," said Ms. Goldin-Meadow. "Without having a set of number words to guide them, the deaf homesigners in the study failed to understand that numbers build on each other in value."

"What's most striking is that the homesigners can see that seven fingers are more than six fingers and less than eight fingers, but they are unable to order six, seven and eight fingers," added Tuller. "In other words, they don't seem to understand the successor function that underlies numbers."

The complexity for homesigners learning seemingly simple concepts such as seven may help researchers learn more about the important role language plays in how all children learn early mathematical concepts,  especially
sign language and numbers
American sign language for three, seven and eight.

children who are having trouble learning number concepts in their preschool years.

Scholars previously found that in isolated cultures where the local language does not have large number words, people do not learn the value of large numbers. Two groups of people studied in the Amazon, for instance, do not have words for numbers greater than five. But their culture does not require the use of exact large numbers, which could explain the Amazonians' difficulty with these numbers.

In Nicaraguan society, however, exact numbers are an important part of everyday life, as Nicaraguans use money for their transactions. Although the deaf homesigners in the University of Chicago study understand the relative value of their money, their understanding is incomplete because they have never been taught number words, said Elizabet Spaepen, the study's lead author.

For the study, the scholars gave the homesigners a series of tasks to determine how well they could recognize money. They were shown a 10-unit bill and a 20-unit bill and asked which had more value. They were also asked if nine 10-unit coins had more or less value than a 100-unit bill. Each of the homesigners was able to determine the relative value of the money.

"The coins and bills used in Nicaraguan currency vary in size and color according to value, which give clues to their value even if the user has no knowledge of numbers," Ms. Spaepen said. The deaf homesigners could be learning rote information about the currency based on the color and shape of the currency without fully understanding numerical value.

"The findings show that simply living in a numerate culture isn't enough to develop an understanding of large numbers," said Ms. Tuller. "This conclusion comes from the observation that the homesigners are surrounded by hearing individuals who deal with large numbers all of the time.

"The findings point toward language since that's what the homesigners lack," she said. "In all other respects they are fully functioning members of their community. But that doesn't mean that there might not be other, nonlinguistic ways of teaching them, or others, the idea of an exact large number."

The research team is currently working on developing a training procedure to do exactly that — train deaf homesigners the meaning of numbers using nonlinguistic means.

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Visits by two presidents
shows Africa-America links

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Visits to Senegal this week by Bolivian President Evo Morales and Brazil's ex-President Luiz Inácio da Silva, highlight what analysts say is Latin America's growing geopolitical interest in Africa.

The cries of "Olé" that pierced the Senegalese air before a rally Monday are an exotic noise to this continent that boasts only one Spanish-speaking country, and but a handful of countries that use the Portuguese colonial tongue shared by ex-Brazilian president da Silva.

But when the former Brazilian president came for a speech in Senegal, hundreds of Spanish-speaking well-wishers came with him, from activists draped in South American flags, to Guatemala Mayan women, and even Morales the first native president of Bolivia.

Their arrival comes at a time when analysts say Latin America is increasing ties with the continent to the east.

The two land masses share cash crops, and a history of 15th through 19th century colonial exploitation followed by 20th-century military rule.

But in the 21st century, da Silva says, they share new opportunities due to tremendous economic growth.

He says in the 29 countries he visited as president, he has been struck by the vitality with which Africa is affirming itself as the master of its destiny.

The continent, he said, is more relevant than ever to developing nations like Brazil.  And while the former Portuguese colony is by far Latin America's most active player on the continent, it is setting an example that other regional leaders are following.

For Morales, Africa is a place where Latin Americans can find like-minded people who have been oppressed by many of the same global forces.

He says that "you here in Africa, my brothers sisters, at a certain point, you were beaten, colonized, forced to work by forces coming from Europe.  But you should know that we too were conquered and humiliated by European forces."

Eurasia Group's Africa analyst Anne Frauhauf says countries like Bolivia have not yet found a way to leverage the history they share with Africa into an overall strategy for boosting South Atlantic ties.

But that will change, she says, as economic growth on both continents inspire trade, travel, and political cooperation between and across the ocean.

Already, she says, Brazil is "leading the charge" with a focus on boosting agriculture and health services on the continent.

During president da Silva's eight-year term, she says Brazil doubled the number of embassies in Africa and increased trade with the continent five-fold.  She adds the country also is pushing its commercial banks to lend to African infrastructure projects.

Haiti issues a passport
to ex-president Aristide

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Haitian government has issued a diplomatic passport for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who went into exile seven years ago this month following his ouster by armed rebels.

Haitian officials Tuesday said the passport has been handed over to Aristide's Miami-based attorney, Ira Kurzban.  The government recently said that if Aristide wanted a passport to return home from exile in South Africa, his request for one would be honored. 

Aristide, who is a former priest, has said he is ready to return to his homeland, and that he hopes the governments of Haiti and South Africa will make that possible.  It is not clear when Aristide might make the trip home from South Africa.  A U.S. State Department spokesman recently said the last thing Haiti needs is the return of former rulers and the revival of past controversies.

In 1990, Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president, but he was soon ousted in a military coup.  He returned to power in 1994 through U.S. military intervention and served until 1996.  He was re-elected in 2000.  His political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was not allowed to participate in the disputed presidential elections last Nov. 28.

In January, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier made an unexpected appearance in Haiti after 25 years in exile.

Authorities have since confiscated Duvalier's expired passport.  Since his return to Haiti, he has been charged with corruption, embezzlement and other abuses of power from his brutal, 15-year rule that ended in 1986.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 28

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Emergency agency evicts
itself from headquarters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission is kicking itself out of its headquarters because the structure is not safe if an earthquake takes place.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said Tuesday that the Ministerio de Salud recommended abandoning the administrative building a year ago.

A study already showed weaknesses in the structure of the headquarters building near the Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas. The commission took steps to relocate persons working on the second floor of the building. Now the entire structure will be evacuated.

The headquarters would be crucial in a major earthquake.

A commission release said the agency would be setting a good example because it has contracted for a study of major buildings in the country to determine earthquake risk.

Toxic candies contain
excessive lead, FDA says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They had great names for kids, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that the candies contained too much lead for human consumption.

So the Ministerio de Salud has issued a warning for Pakistani-made candies called Toxic Waste and Nuclear Sludge. The ministry said that the candy had not been approved for sale in Costa Rica but that it could be available by mail.

The Food and Drug Administration said that technicians found as much as three times the permitted level of lead in the candies. The importer is Candy Dynamics of Indianapolis, Indiana, which is pulling the product from sales outlets.

Lead can cause a number of health problems, including convulsions and coma.

St. Valentine's Day concert
Sunday at Paseo Colón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

St. Valentine's Day will come a day early Sunday on Paseo Colón when the San José concert band and the musical group Gaviota present a concert.

This is part of the program where municipal officials block off the major roadway Sundays. The concert of romantic songs this week begins at 2 p.m. But from 10 a.m. on there will be humorous story-telling and classes of bolero near the Hotel Parque de Lago, just off Paseo Colón, said officials.

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