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(506) 2223-1327       Published Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 30       E-mail us
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The pitfalls are many in the search for a loving gift
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With St. Valentine's Day two days away, men are looking for ways to express their love. Most will give the tried and true: candy, flowers, a fancy dinner.

Others will try to be more creative. Now creativity is to be encouraged, but in matters of the heart, there probably are a few gifts that will backfire.

For starters, a gift membership in a gym probably is to be avoided as much as discount coupons for Weight Watchers.

And what are the long-term disadvantages of giving the gal a blond wig? That's a gift that will be remembered for centuries. (If she's a blonde, a red wig will generate negative vibes for decades, too.)

Forget about anything for the kitchen. Women say they would not mind a new set of silverware or a microwave as a gift, but that is just a test for the men.

Another no-no, despite what women say, are hot fabrics from Sluts-are-us or another store with daring garments. If a woman wanted to look like a hooker, she would have visited that shop already.
And if the girlfriend is a hooker, as is the case sometimes in Costa Rica, she probably has a closet full anyway.

Anything intellectual is also out on St. Valentine's Day. No Scrabble set. Ditto that updated bookkeeping software or a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the creative lover can get away with a portrait photo. But the path is fraught with danger. ("It shows all my wrinkles!" "Why did you pick that one? I was 15 years younger!")

Pets are a long-shot, too. That cute puppy will grow up to be a fanged giant who always takes her side in an argument. And she may end up loving the doggie or the kitten far more than the lover.

What is a never-fail gift? As Carol Channing says: "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." Emeralds and sports cars are not bad either. Costa Rica is too hot for furs, and the animal rights people are down on those gifts anyway. A nice La Sabana condo would be, well, nice. And under Costa Rican law she probably will end up with it anyway.

But men are cheapskates and generally uncreative, so it's probably flowers, candy and dinner. Oh my!
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Top appeals court upholds process of rapid justice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III high criminal court has thrown out a challenge to the flagrancia process for criminals caught in the act or nearly so. The challenge came from a man with the last names of Cerdas Chavarría, who was convicted of attempted aggravated robbery Nov. 6.

Cerdas was among the first defendants to go before the court when the pilot program of rapid justice was instituted. He is the first to have his case go all the way to the Sala III.

The robbery took place Oct. 19 at a bus stop in Desamparados. Cerdas was detained a short distance from the scene by the Fuerza Pública and passers-by. The victim was a man with the last name of Piedra. He was confronted by a man holding a small saw and surrendered his cell phone and 3,000 colons, some $5.50 at the time.
Police said they recovered the cell phone when they arrested Cerdas.

The Tribunal de Flagrancia gave Cerdas three years in prison but suspended the sentence and gave him five years of conditional release.

Still, his defense lawyers brought the case to the  appeals court in January.

"This case shows the expedited response that is being given to the flagrancia cases where we are guaranteeing the most expeditious time of resolution in accord with the existing legislation and constitutional principles, said José Manuel Arroyo Gutiérrez, president of the Sala III court. The hearing was Wednesday morning.

The flagrancia pilot project is expected to be enlarged, and some legal changes are being sought to install the process all over the country.

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U.S. actor pays Arias a call

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Action movie actor Steven Seagal paid a call on President Óscar Arias Sánchez Wednesday and suggested that Costa Rica would be a good place to make movies.

Arias has heard it all before, and in a public forum said that Mel Gibson, who also visited, was long on plans but short on action.

Seagal, who really is a martial arts champ, said that a movie industry could help Costa Rica during trying economic times.

Among those who will be out of a job is Arias. He has less than 15 months left in his presidential term, but there was no suggestion Wednesday that Arias would like to be a professional actor.

Drunk driving law survives
first constitution appeal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected an appeal by a motorist of the penalties in the new traffic law for drunk driving.

However, the court still appears to be considering a criticism of the law sent to it by a San José judge who is handling such a case.

The motorist's appeal said that the new, stricter regulations against drunk driving were lacking in proportionality and harmful to the public. The court disagreed. The law, which went into effect in the last days of 2008 call for jail in cases of drunk driving, drag racing or reckless driving.

Even in the action over the judge's critique, the court specifically said that it was not going to consider further the article that penalized driving with more than .75 grams of alcohol in a liter of blood.

However, it appears the magistrates will look at other sections of the law.

The summary of the Sala IV action was in a brief press releaase from the Poder Judicial, a release that left many questions unanswered.

Health works plan meeting
to plan possible job actions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's health and social services workers are meeting at noon today to discuss possible actions. Some 400 persons are expected in front of Clinica Carlos Durán in Zapote.

The union is the Unión Nacional de Empleadoes de la Caja. The union has been negotiating over salaries, job descriptions, work conditions and other issues for more than a year and said its negotiators have not come to a successful resolution.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social runs the clinics and the hospitals. The union said it would consider actions that would affect the normal service of these institutions.

Our reader's opinion
Lawmakers focus on molehill
in grilling of housing minister

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This political firestorm caused by feigned outrage by certain diputados over the amount of money spent on work session lunch by top officials in public housing agencies and their important guests is best described as “picayune politics” in all its splendor.

The diputados’ self-righteous ranting and railing over spending a little over a thousand dollars on lunch at a posh restaurant for more than a dozen people seems to be more important than the tens of millions of dollars being well spent on solving housing problems, which this administration was doing under the capable guidance of the president of the national housing bank and the newly appointed minister of housing.

The myopic diputados were successful with their outcry, for the executive president has resigned. Reimbursing the restaurant tab out of his own pocket was not enough of a small mistake being acknowledged; they wanted his head, and got it.

Picayune politics requires putting important officials on the political rack at the slightest justification, so Madam Minister of Housing was dragged before the full assembly, and tortured until she confessed that she had committed an “error in judgment.” Her “confession” allowed her to keep her ministerial post, which shows the concept of leniency is not totally absent in warped minds.

When looking for the answer as to why the general Costa Rican public holds their diputados in such low esteem for failing to promptly pass the many needed new, well written good laws, you need do nothing more than lift the lid on the box labeled, “Picayune Politics.” Therein lies the answer.

Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon  

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 30

Researchers report Central American salamanders threatened
By the University of California, Berkeley,
Media Relations

The decline of amphibian populations worldwide has been documented primarily in frogs, but salamander populations also appear to have plummeted, according to a new study in Central America.

By comparing tropical salamander populations in Central America today with results of surveys conducted between 1969 and 1978, University of California, Berkeley, researchers have found that populations of many of the commonest salamanders have steeply declined.

On the flanks of the Tajumulco volcano on the west coast of Guatemala, for example, two of the three commonest species 40 years ago have disappeared, while the third was nearly impossible to find.

"There have been hints before — people went places and couldn't find salamanders. But this is the first time we've really had, with a very solid, large database, this kind of evidence," said study leader David Wake, professor of integrative biology at Berkeley and curator of herpetology in the campus's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Frog declines have been attributed to a variety of causes, ranging from habitat destruction, pesticide use and introduced fish predators to the chytrid fungus, which causes an often fatal disease, chytridiomycosis.

These do not appear to be responsible for the decline of Central American salamanders, Wake said. Instead, because the missing salamanders tend to be those living in narrow altitude bands, Wake believes that global warming is pushing these salamanders to higher and less hospitable elevations.

"We are losing some of these treasures of high-elevation and mid-elevation cloud forests in Central America," he said. "It is very worrying because it implies there are severe environmental problems."

Because several of the sampled salamander populations were in protected reserves, one message is that threatened species cannot be protected merely by putting a fence around their habitat. Global warming is affecting species even in protected areas — a phenomenon also documented among small mammals in Yosemite National Park by Museum of Vertebrate Zoology scientists, the researchers said.

The findings are reported this week in the Online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Missing frogs are easy to spot, Wake said, because they gather in ponds to breed, or they can be caught in the glare of a flashlight at night. Many salamanders, however, in particular the Plethodontid salamanders, which comprise two-thirds of all species worldwide, are secretive, living under logs and rocks, and easily missed. Nevertheless, anecdotal accounts have pointed to a salamander decline and a general amphibian decline.

Wake and associates used good records they had acquired in the 1970s, which document salamander abundance up the southern slope of Volcán Tajumulco, to make a comparison with current populations, which they resurveyed in 2005 and 2006. In addition, they compared
salamander photo
Sean M. Rovito/UC Berkeley photo
The salamander Bolitoglossa lincolni, which lives in a variety of habitats in the cloud forest above 2,400 meters (7,874 feet), is as abundant today as it was 40 years ago.

salamander populations today at six sites in Mexico to data that Wake and Theodore J. Papenfuss, a herpetologist in the museum, have collected since the mid-1970s.

In Guatemala, those salamanders with narrow elevational niches and living exclusively under logs were most affected, while salamander generalists able to live in a variety of habitats, from leaf axils and bromeliads to moss mats, bark and burrows in the soil, were in about the same abundance as before. There was little evidence of chytrid fungus, and habitat quality is generally similar to what it was in the 1970s, they reported. A nearby volcano with several of the same affected species is a nature reserve, and surprisingly, only a single salamander was discovered on two trips.

"We think global warming is a factor, pushing organisms up to higher elevations where the habitat is wrong for them," Wake said. "The ones that were already high up have taken the hit."

In Mexico, the decline was most evident in Cerro San Felipe, a reserve in Oaxaca, among species living around 2,800 to 3,000 meters (9,186 to 9,842), which is the maximum height of mountains in the range. There, Papenfuss said, the commonest species, Pseudoeurycea smithi, has virtually disappeared. Where he had formerly uncovered hundreds in a single morning, he has found only one or two in the last 10 years.

"It may be that those species are being pushed right off the tops of the mountains," Wake said.

The problem extends all the way to Mexico City. North of the capital, in the Parque Nacional El Chico in Hidalgo, formerly "a paradise for salamanders," populations are radically reduced.

Wake noted that species that depend on salamanders, such as a salamander-eating snake, have also declined significantly.

"The problem is, salamanders used to be a very important element of mid- and high-elevation communities," he said. "They probably were the commonest vertebrates. In North American forests, it has been documented that salamanders are not only the commonest vertebrate, but by biomass have the greatest weight in the ecosystem. You can't remove something like that without a profound effect on the ecosystem."

Arias seals deal for $65 million in emergency relief
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government assumed more debt Wednesday with executive approval of a $65 million loan from the Banco Internacional de Reconstrucción y Fomento.

Although the funds were supposed to be used to eliminate potential problems that might arise during natural disasters, most of the money will go to earthquake relief and flood relief on the Caribbean coast.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez approved the resolution that went through the Asamblea Legislativa and noted that all that is required now is publication in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The load provides a line of credit good for 15 years, and once money is released, the loan will be paid back over 30 years with a five-year grace period. Officials are expected to seek an immediate release of the funds.

The action came as officials declared a state of emergency for areas hit by heavy rain and flooding from Feb. 3 to 9.

In the Provincia de Limón, these cantons are covered:  Limón, Siquirres, Matina, Pococí, Guácimo and Talamanca. Also included is the Heredia canton of
Sarapiquí.  The emergency declaration allows the central government to collect and spend funds easier

The national emergency commission already announced plans for a dike in the Cantón de Matina in the Provincia de Limón. This work will protect four frequently flooded communities.

Daniel Gallardo, president of the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias, said that all alerts have been lifted in the country. Nearly all who were in shelters have returned to their homes.

The commission will  be evaluating damage in the affected communities. Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, brother of the president and minister of the Presidencia, said that the Contraloría General will be asked to investigate the distribution of food in Santa Bárbara de Heredia. This is a growing scandal in which residents say that local politicians distributed earthquake relief food supplies to individuals who were not earthquake victims.

Meanwhile, Óscar Arias had another visitor Wednesday who came to talk about money. She was Pamela Cox, a vice president of the World Bank. Officials said that the World Bank was extending a $500 million line of credit to Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 30

Five convicted in U.S. for sex trafficking Guatemalan girls
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Five defendants, all members or associates of an extended family, face potential life prison sentences after being found guilty Wednesday of international sex trafficking for participating in a scheme that lured young Central American women and girls into the Los Angeles area and forced them into prostitution.

The defendants, four Guatemalan nationals and one Mexican national, were convicted of conspiracy; sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; and importation of aliens for purposes of prostitution. The jury in the case was unable to reach unanimous verdicts on additional charges.

During a six-week trial, the government presented evidence that the defendants targeted young, uneducated, impoverished undocumented women and girls from Guatemala, and conspired to lure and smuggle them into the United States, where they were put to work as prostitutes. All but one of the victims were enticed with bogus promises of legitimate jobs. 

But after arranging for the victims to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border, the defendants used a combination of threats — deception, rape, physical violence and witchcraft — to compel the victims to perform acts of prostitution, said officials.

The defendants intimidated and controlled their victims by threatening to beat them and kill their loved ones in Guatemala if they tried to escape, according to testimony. Some defendants also used witch doctors to threaten the girls that a curse would be placed on them and their families if they tried to escape, the government said. At least two of the defendants further restrained the victims by locking them in at night and blocking windows and doors to prevent their escape.
The defendants also used manipulation of debts, verbal abuse and psychological manipulation and control to reinforce their control over the victims, according to the charges.

The scheme also included strict controls over the victims’ work schedules and ominous comments about consequences that befell the families of other victims who attempted to escape.

The defendants collected the profits generated by the acts of prostitution the victims were compelled to perform and maintained control over the prostitution proceeds, earning tens of thousands of dollars while the victims received next to nothing.

The defendants found guilty are Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela; Mirna Jeanneth Vasquez Valenzuela, also known as Miriam, 27; Gabriel Mendez, the Mexican national, 34; Maria de los Angeles Vicente, also known as Angela, 29; and Maribel Rodriquez Vasquez, 29.

All of the defendants face statutory maximum penalties of life in federal prison. Everyone with the exception of Maribel Rodriguez Vasquez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

U. S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow, who presided over the trial, will sentence the defendants later this year.

Four additional defendants previously pleaded guilty to various offenses in connection with the defendants’ scheme.

“The defendants in this case trafficked in human beings, using these victims' desire for a better life to lure them into a situation where they were deprived of their basic human rights,” said U. S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “No one should be victimized in this way.”

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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.


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Limón improvement loan
fault cited by lawmaker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With 12 different government institutions in charge of funds to develop the city and port of Limón, one lawmaker wants to assert more fiscal controls.

That topic came up Wednesday in the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios where a bill that would allow Costa Rica to accept a $72.5 million loan was under discussion. The lawmaker, Luis Antonio Barrantes of Movimiento Libertario, said he was sick of seeing financial controls contained in laws being evaded by executive decrees.

The loan is from the Banco Internacional de Reconstrucción y Fomento. The goal is to bring development to Limón and the city's ports. The government will have to put up $7 million, too. The project has a high priority with Óscar Arias.

Another member of the committee, Yalile Esna, said that Limón is struggling. Two persons were murdered there Tuesday within a brief period, there is garbage everywhere and parts of the city flood often, she said.

The committee action came as a subcommittee produced a proposed text for the law. Discussion will continue with some lawmakers proposing amendments to the measure.

Dutch quartet to play in Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dick de Graaf quartet from Holland will be giving two concerts in Escazú Feb. 18 and 19, the Dutch Embassy said. The quartet is in the hemisphere because it was invited to the 25 Festival Internacional Jazz Plaza in Havana, Cuba. It also will play in Honduras after the Costa Rican dates.

Jazz Review International said that "Dick de Graaf is one of the finest contemporary jazz composers and musicians performing today, " the embassy said. Members of the quartet also will be giving master classes to local musicians. More information is available on the group's Web site.

Hospital told to clean up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ordered Hospital Calderón Guardia in northeast San José to clean up its cancer and chemotherapy treatment areas.

The appeal came from two women who said that there was no place for medical waste and human waste generated by patients using the hospital services. The two women, breast cancer patients, said that for three years there has been no clean areas for them and that the wards are contaminated by the waste. They also questioned the infrastructure, which the Sala IV ordered improved in 2008.

Jo Stuart
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