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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Feb. 14, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 31           E-mail us
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Ms. Chinchilla's plan for crusade to last 10 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 1:30 p.m. Monday

President Laura Chinchilla Monday outlined an abstract, 10-year plan she called a "crusade for the most fundamental rights with respect to life, physical integrity and peace." However, there were no concrete calls for new laws and just a brief mention of new prisons.

The president presented the proposal in conjunction with the Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, which conducted months of extensive interviews and meetings with many types of citizen groups.

A quick outline, according to Casa Presidencial, would be the urgent professionalization of the Fuerza Pública, involvement of local governments in stopping crime and violence, mechanisms for control of corruption, effective intervention against violence toward women as well as immediate actions to return youngsters permanently to the educational system.

The proposal is called the Política Integral y Sostenible de Seguridad Ciudadana y Promoción de
la Paz Social, which translated to an integrated  and sustainable policy of citizen security and promotion of the social peace.

Also proposed was the creation of a national system of prevention, attention and recuperation for addicts, the application of specialized technology to control high-risk zones and assigning more resources to investigate and control organized crime.

Ms. Chinchilla said she was forming a working group to determine the actions suggested by the plan, which would endure long after her administration ends.

Ms. Chinchilla also said that many of the suggestions of the proposal already are underway and included in the national development plan. These include putting 1,000 new police officers on the streets, identification of 32 hectares for a new police academy, the dismemberment of 120 criminal drug organizations and the creation of a frontier police which will be ready in March.

A more complete article will appear in the Tuesday newspaper. An earlier story is below.

Ms. Chinchilla to unveil her security plan today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla is expected to outline her plan for citizen security today at an open meeting in the auditorium of the Museo de los Niños.

A brief invitation from Casa Presidencial said that it was being extended also by the Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, which the president asked to do a qualitative survey of the Costa Rican public.

The plan is called the Política Integral y Sostenible de Seguridad Ciudadana y Promoción de la Paz Social, which translated to an integrated and sustainable policy of citizen security and promotion of the social peace. The session today is at 10 a.m.

The Chinchilla administration has been criticized for foot dragging on the issue of citizen security as the incidents of crime increased. Crime fighting was a major part of her presidential campaign.

Perhaps in anticipation of the proposal, Ms. Chinchilla named Roberto Gallardo to be the minister of Comunicaciones y Enlace Institucional Friday. That is a new position in the Chinchilla administration, and Gallardo, an experienced political operative, was in charge of the Ministro de Planificación y Política Económica in the last two years of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

Casa Presidencial described a sort of "Wag the Dog" position. His functions contemplate aspects of political strategy and communication, coordinating of the components of the press, production and social networks and links with different public institutions for the management of information, said an announcement.

Ms. Chinchilla is promoting a series of new taxes to pay for more police. A cornerstone of the plan is a 14 percent value-added tax. The plan met with a chilly reception in the legislature, and Gallardo presumably will seek to salvage the bills.

Ms. Chinchilla has been facing challenges on two fronts. First there is the Nicaraguan invasion onto the Isla Calero in the northern frontier along the Río San Juan. The country is banking on strong support from the International Court of Justice in the Hague to have the Nicaraguan soldiers barred from the territory.

The purpose of the invasion was to clear a path for a new mouth for the Río San Juan that would circumvent the silted-up initial miles of the waterway. The canal appears to be in place, and locals expect rain and flooding over the next year to widen the stretch.
homemade weapon
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This homemade shotgun, constructed of a couple of pieces of pipe, is one of five weapons confiscated over the weekend in Limón, said the Fuerza Pública.

Meanwhile, the security situation has been deteriorating. Several bands of police or gunmen pretending to be police have been robbing, and in one case, in Puntarenas, killing. There gunmen dressed as law officers killed a man and kidnapped his wife. She was found dead two days later.

In Limón police are seeking a serial killer who is murdering indigent women. Three deaths have been reported. The security ministry beefed up the Fuerza Pública in Limón in January with 27 more officers. Now it appears more officers will be sent there.

Friday José María Tijerino Pacheco, the security minister, Jorge Chavarría, the fiscal general or
chief prosecutor, and Jorge Rojas, head of the Judicial Investigating Organization, outlined in Limón a series of steps they were taking to recapture the public spaces from criminals.  They said that a combined force of 320 officers will conduct selected actions in Limón. These are in addition to the 200 Fuerza Pública officers now stationed there.

Perhaps presaging Ms. Chinchilla's security plan, Tijerino lamented the prevalence of weapons in private hands and said that this was one of the principal problems. He said that officials were doing a complete review of the arms laws with the goal of providing more controls over those who obtain weapons permits.

In addition to home-grown violence, Limón is a pathway for the transportation of cocaine from the south. It also has high unemployment, youth gangs and all the social situations related to poverty.

Tijerino has been a major architect of the Chinchilla security plan. His initial efforts put more police officers on the streets on the central canton of San José. This has had the effect of forcing criminals to operate outside the downtown area and increasing the incidents of robberies and similar violent crimes in the outlying areas.

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Our readers' opinions
Despite idea about crime,
nothing will happen here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:    

It has been interesting reading the responses last week to your great piece on Monday. But I think they are all for fun and amusement only. Who are we all fooling? Deep down we all know that probably almost nothing will change for the better when it comes to crime in Costa Rica. It is only going to get worse.

I think that the ideas and suggestions would work. So far I agree with all of them, except for the finger chopping. None of them are that far out in left field for something as serious as the crime is here.

I especially like the island prison camp idea. Instead of expensive tents, let the prisoners build round eight-man huts with dirt filled sand bags and thatched roofs. Free dirt, free thatch, free labor. These buildings will last for years, for almost nothing. Talk about cheap. Let the sharks keep them there. Since Costa Rica loves and coddles their "pobrecito" criminals, how harsh could that be? Living on a tropical island for a few years?

There are at least three good things that will come from all of this:

It lets the responders, including me, let off some steam.

It gives all of us a great laugh just thinking about how slim the chances are that the government would take any of this advice. Laughter helps relieve our stress from living here.

It gets a good warning out to people who may be considering Costa Rica as a place to live. They'll learn about what they are in for if they do make the choice to come. This is good. If they still want to live here, and some day something happens to them and they have been robbed blind, or are hurt or maimed in some way, or if someone they know and love is dead because of the way the government coddles its criminals, then your publication can say “we all tried to warn you.”

Thank you and your newspaper for doing these three things for us.
J. Bruno

Houseman was 100 percent
with article on lawyers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I know David Houseman personally and highly recommend him to anyone that needs a competent CPA in Costa Rica.  Regarding his article on Friday, he is 100 percent accurate.  As a 15-year resident of this beautiful country, I can say with certainty that the Costa Rica legal system is completely worthless.  I was the victim of a $250k scam between my building contractor and the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, and spent a small fortune trying to get justice.  You name it, criminal fraud, civil suit, arbitration, negotiation, countless attorneys, I tried it ALL.

To quote Mr. Houseman, "I hope in the years to come the competent conscientious attorneys will improve the system and prove me wrong." Sorry, David.  Not going to happen.
Jim Baldi

Perhaps country needs
to adopt law for caning

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In reading the several comments about crime and punishment today, 11 February, all of the letters reverberate an old and ongoing  problem.  It seems that crimes against individuals, whether citizens or tourists, continues and for the most part those responsible receive light sentences.  In reading the comments by Robert Nahrgang S., I initially think that chopping off the finger of the perpetrators is a bit excessive, yet, I also recall conversations I had with residents of Singapore and Malaysia. 

Until their respective governments took a strong stance about dealing with these very same problems, everyone in places, tourists and citizens alike, lived in fear of becoming victims of the increasing numbers of crimes.  Then, those governments introduced caning as a deterrent.  Almost instantaneously, the number of crimes dropped dramatically.  Even those who took a chance on not being caught, found themselves the recipient of six strikes of the cane, changed their ways when the were told the second offense would find them getting twenty strikes of the cane.
Americans reacted with horror when Michael Fay was sentenced to six strokes of the cane in 1994, in Singapore.  Due to intervention by President Clinton, the number of stokes was reduced to four, and, from what I was told, those four strokes were not administered as intensely as they could have been.  Our society condemns such punishment, but, it appears to have worked in those nations where it is implemented.
So, either the government of Costa Rica must simply acknowledge this is a country where crimes will go unpunished, or, with very light punishment, at best, or, realize that radical reform is necessary and take strong and effective action, immediately.
Bruce Jacobs
Ciudad Cariari

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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

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

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

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 31
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IRS gives overseas citizens another chance to come clean
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with staff additions

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service announced last week a new initiative to crack down on citizens who are hiding money offshore.

The crackdown extends to those U.S. citizens who have control of overseas corporations, what the IRS calls an entity. Many expats in Costa Rica fall into that category if the total amount in bank accounts is $10,000 or more at any time in the year.

Professionals who have studied the IRS proposal call it scary. An example on the IRS Web site outlines the tax and penalties facing someone who put $1 million in an overseas bank account in 2003 and did not report the interest or the fact that they had the account. By now, the government calculated, the account might be worth $1.4 million.

If the taxpayer voluntarily complies with the new initiative, he or she would pay $518,000 plus interest in taxes and penalties. The calculation assumes the taxpayer is in the 35 percent bracket.

If the taxpayer does not come forward, he or she would face $4.5 million in penalties if the IRS found out about the account. There also is interest and possible criminal prosecution, the IRS said. There also is the possibility of the 75 percent fraud penalty applied, the IRS added. Additionally, the evasion allows the IRS to check tax returns far earlier than 2003, which is the usually cutoff.

The new voluntary disclosure initiative will be available through Aug. 31, the IRS said, adding that the disclosure initiative is designed to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system and help people with undisclosed income from hidden offshore accounts get current with their taxes.

“As we continue to amass more information and pursue more people internationally, the risk to individuals hiding assets offshore is increasing,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This new effort gives those hiding money in foreign accounts a tough, fair way to resolve their tax problems once and for all. And it gives people a chance to come in before we find them.”

The IRS decision to open a second special disclosure initiative follows continuing interest from taxpayers with foreign accounts, it said. The first special voluntary disclosure program closed with 15,000 voluntary disclosures on Oct. 15, 2009. Since that time, more than 3,000 taxpayers have come forward to the IRS with bank accounts from around the world. These taxpayers will also be eligible to take advantage of the special provisions of the new initiative. The 2009 disclosure initiative allowed U.S. citizens to pay what they owed with weak penalties, interest and the taxes. The new initiative is tougher.

“Combating international tax evasion is a top priority for the IRS," said Shulman. "We have additional cases and banks under review. The situation will just get worse in the months ahead for those hiding assets and income offshore. This new disclosure initiative is the last, best chance for people to get back into the system.”

The new initiative – called the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative — includes several changes from the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The overall penalty structure for 2011 is higher, meaning that people who did not come in through the 2009 voluntary disclosure program will not be rewarded for  
waiting. However, the 2011 initiative does add new features, according to the IRS:

For the 2011 initiative, there is a new penalty framework that requires individuals to pay a penalty of 25 percent of the amount in the foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account balance covering the 2003 to 2010 time period. Some taxpayers will be eligible for 5 or 12.5 percent penalties. Participants also must pay back-taxes and interest for up to eight years as well as paying accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties.

Taxpayers participating in the new initiative must file all original and amended tax returns and include payment for taxes, interest and accuracy-related penalties by the Aug. 31 deadline.

The IRS is also making other modifications to the 2011 disclosure initiative:

Participants face a 25 percent penalty, but taxpayers in limited situations can qualify for a 5 percent penalty.

The IRS also created a new penalty category of 12.5 percent for treating smaller offshore accounts. People whose offshore accounts or assets did not surpass $75,000 in any calendar year covered by the 2011 initiative will qualify for this lower rate.

The 2011 initiative offers clear benefits to encourage taxpayers to come in now rather than risk IRS detection, the agency said. Taxpayers hiding assets offshore who do not come forward will face far higher penalty scenarios as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution, it added.

“This is a fair offer for people with offshore accounts who want to get right with the nation’s taxpayers,” Shulman said. “This initiative offers them the chance to get certainty about how their case will be handled. Just as importantly, those who truly come in voluntarily can avoid criminal prosecution as well.”

The IRS has launched a new section on that includes the full terms and conditions on the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, including an extensive set of questions and answers to help taxpayers and tax professionals. The Web site also includes details on how people can make a voluntary disclosure.

In the first voluntary disclosure program in 2009, taxpayers faced up to a 20 percent penalty covering up to a six-year period. Taxpayers came forward with about 15,000 voluntary disclosures in that effort covering banks in more than 60 countries.

Shulman said IRS efforts in the international arena will only increase as time goes on.

“Tax secrecy continues to erode,” Shulman said. “We are not letting up on international tax issues, and more is in the works. For those hiding cash or assets offshore, the time to come in is now. The risk of being caught will only increase.”

U.S. citizens face complex tax requirements overseas. For example a citizen has to file a report with the IRS if they transfer personal property, like a home, into a foreign corporation.

Nevertheless, the IRS is less than aggressive in trying to inform or help U.S. citizens. The U.S. Embassy in San José does not have a full-time IRS agent in residence.

Milanes investors will be offered a deal in March hearing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former investors with Savings Unlimited have been allocated the month of March for a hearing in court here in an effort to reach a deal with Luis Milanes, who operated the high interest scheme.

The case is a pariah for the judiciary. Milanes fled the country in November 2002 after destroying any evidence that could have been found in his Edificio Colón offices.

Most of the investors are foreigners, and the prosecutors that have been involved in the case have changed frequently. Milanes returned to Costa Rica in June 2009, and investors continue to be unhappy that he served just a day in jail before he posted property to make bail.

Since then he has been in nightly attendance at his casinos, further irking investors.

Now Milanes has come up with a repayment plan that involved turning over the buildings that he has posted for bail to Banco de Costa Rica. The bank would be empowered to sell the properties and refund the money to investors after reasonable fees and fees to the lawyers.

The properties are estimated to be worth about $10 million,
so the return to investors would be about five cents on a dollar, based on the $200 million that was lost when Milanes closed up his business.

Prosecutors also have learned that a former associate, Costa Rican lawyer José Adolfo Somarribas Arias, has been released from prison in Europe where he was fighting extradition. Local officials were told that the man is seeking refugee status to avoid returning to Costa Rica where he could face charges.

Milanes said that Somarribas has the bulk of the money.

Judicial officials are anxious that the investors make a settlement with Milanes to avoid a trial, which may be several years in the future. Under Costa Rica law, victims can forgive someone who commits a crime and the case will be shelved.

Also there is only a percentage of victims who are actively involved in the case. Many have simply written off their losses. Others do not speak Spanish, live in the United States or elsewhere and have no idea on how to press their case.

Like other high-interest operations at the time, Milanes offered returns of some 3 to 4 percent a month. He said he was investing in his casinos.

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Youngsters beam after having received school supplies in the Central Valley.
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Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública

It's not Christmas but Fuerza Pública officers play Santa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some youngsters live in communities that Costa Ricans generously describe as vulnerable. For the most part these are areas that have not become communities because many of the residents are new arrivals or because there is the constant turnover of criminals and drug addicts that keep the honest member of the area on alert.

The Fuerza Pública tried to do something last week to generate a feeling of community. In some 18 such locations, officers put on shows for youngsters and handed out much-needed school supplies.

The areas are the districts of Catedral, Hospital, Merced, El Carmen, San Juan de Dios in San José, Los Guido in Desamparados, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, Tirrases in Curridabat, Los Cuadros in Goicoechea, Rincón Grande in Pavas, León XIII in Tibás, La Carpio in La Uruca, Los Sitios in Moravia, 25 de Julio en Hatillo and Los Pinos, Tejarcillos, Juan Rafael Mora and Juan Pablo II in Alajuelita.
These are the areas most frequently seen in videos of police raids or when a body is dumped on the street.

But there was none of that over the weekend, as officers stressed recreation and produced clowns to help.

Some of the gifts included school uniforms, which is a major expense for poor families.

Meanwhile along the Río San Juan in northern Costa Rica, other officers were slogging through high humidity and hot weather to bring similar gifts of school supplies to isolated areas there. They could not use boats due to the current tension between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which owns the waterway.

The communities are Pereira, El Jobo, Delta Costa Rica, Puerto Lindo and Barra del Colorado Norte and Sur. In addition to school supplies officers handed out balloons, candy and toys. Some 25 officers took part and spent 10 hours visiting the locations where most residents live on what they can grow or catch.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 31

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Tuesday is the last day
for vintage TDMA service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The last day for the TDMA cell telephones will be Tuesday, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

There are about 8,000 customers still using the service, the company said.  The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it has contacted each customer to tell them the service would be terminated.

Each customers also can receive a free GSM cell telephone when they switch their service. The company said some free phones are left. With the end of the TDMA service, the institute will operate GSM and 3G lines. Both have been having trouble lately, and some TDMA customers bemoan the loss of what they consider to be a more stable service.

The TDMA service is 16 years old.

Two dissidents are evicted
from their prison in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba has released two prominent political prisoners, despite the men's insistence that they wanted to remain in jail until other opposition leaders were freed.

Hector Maseda and Angel Moya said jail officials told them Saturday they could no longer stay in prison.

Maseda was released first.  Moya was freed later in the day.

The men are two of the 52 political prisoners Cuban President Raúl Castro has agreed to release as part of an agreement with Cuba's Roman Catholic Church. Most already have been set free and sent into exile in Spain. If all 52 dissidents are freed, it would be Cuba's largest mass liberation of political prisoners in recent years.

The wives of Maseda and Moya are leaders of the Ladies in White, a group that marches every Sunday in Havana to demand the release of political prisoners.

Cuba has long maintained that it does not hold political prisoners, only mercenaries who were working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism.

Guadalajara nightclub hit
with bullets and grenade

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Six people were killed and at least 37 wounded in northern Mexico when armed men opened fire on a crowded nightclub in an attack officials say is linked to drug cartels.

Officials said gunmen drove up to the the nightclub in Guadalajara in the early hours of Saturday and started shooting.  They said one of the attackers also threw a grenade into the entrance of the bar.

The dead included a Venezuelan and a Colombian as well as four Mexicans.

Guadalajara has seen an increase in drug-related violence in recent weeks.

Mexican military forces have been engaged in a brutal struggle against the country's violent drug cartels.  At least 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006 and began cracking down on the cartels.

Child returned to mother

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Trina Atwell Chavarría has been reunited with her daughter Emily following a Sala IV order that required the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia to return the child.

The Poder Judicial confirmed and clarified the ruling Friday, and Ms. Atwell was reunited with the 2-and-a-half-year-old girl over the weekend.

The mother is seeking refugee status for heself and the girl to avoid returning to the United States where Ms. Atwell could face child abduction charges and the girl would be placed in the care of her father, Roy Koyama, who has full custody.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 31

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Prison sought for Canadian
who is hit-and-run suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial has identified the Canadian sought in a hit-and-run by the last name of Wallington.

This is the man who was brought back to Costa Rica late Thursday.

The accident happened Wednesday night near the bridge over the Río Virilla that is being reconstructed.  The man who was killed and the man who was injured both are employees of the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes.

The man was questioned by prosecutors in the Ministerio Público Friday. In addition the Unidad de Trámite Rápido of the Ministerio Público sought in an oral audience that the man be held for preventative detention. The request was before the Juzgado Penal de San José, but no decision was announced.

Investigators located the vehicle they suspected was involved in the mishap at an Heredia hotel and tracked the driver. They found that Wallington left the country by air for Atlanta Thursday. The man was denied entrance to the United States and was returned to Costa Rica.

Man involved in shootout
near Arenal is jailed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Nicaraguan man with the last names of López Castillo has been jailed for two months preventative detention after a shootout involving police in El Tanque de Fortuna de San Carlos.

Agents said they were investigating the man Wednesday after a wave of burglaries and robberies in the area near Arenal volcano. The 20-year-old man is accused to pulling a gun and firing on a Fuerza Pública officer and a Judicial agent.

Suspect in murder case
is victim of an ambush

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents planned to conduct a raid and make an arrest Friday morning in the section known as 25 de Julio in Hatillo. They sought to capture a suspect in a Jan. 10 murder.

But gunmen got there first. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that three men fired on the suspect as he drove near his home about 5 a.m., about an hour before agents planned to visit. He was shot three times and hospitalized in critical condition.

The murder was of a man who owned a shop that sold car parts in the same area. He died from seven bullet wounds, police said at the time.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 31

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Apparently, international treaties are just suggestions, too

How do Costa Rican officials justify ignoring the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?

Time after time runaway moms from the United States come here with a child and try to get the courts here to block U.S. arrest warrants and judicial orders to return the child.

The latest case is that of Trina Atwell and her 2-plus-year-old daughter Emily. Ms. Atwell is wanted for child abduction, and a court in Green County, Missouri, has awarded the biological father full custody. She claims she fled violence and drug abuse. He denies that.

A.M. Costa Rica is in no position to determine who is telling the truth. But neither are Costa Rican officials. The international treaty says that jurisdiction rests with the Green County judge. There the evidence exists to adjudicate the case and confirm or award custody. A complicating factor is that Ms. Atwell was married to a Costa Rican when she had the child.

One would think that Ms. Atwell would want to go back there and reopen the case, at least to be with the other daughter she left behind.
One would think that Costa Rican judicial officials would want to take immediate and decisive action to comply with the Hague Convention if only to avoid another long court case in an overwhelmed judicial system.

Ms. Atwell is seeking refugee status for herself and her child.

Of course, this is a strategic play because no right-minded individual would compare the lumbering, flawed judicial system here to the one in the United States.

But we also wonder if she does not have legal custody how can she apply for refugee status on behalf of her daughter?

Of course, in Costa Rica mothers are sacred. Whenever there is an international custody dispute, women gather at the judicial complex to support uncritically the mother of the hour.

Some supporters of Roy Koyama, Emily's father, have suggested that the United States freeze international aid from Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica will not go that far, but the lack of response and action by the U.S. Embassy make one wonder.

— Feb. 14, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Two judicial flaws create grossly unfair situations

Wednesday a news story about a Florida court case illustrated some deficiencies in Costa Rican law.

We have no way of knowing who will prevail in the Florida case. A former businessman here 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 he ran here.

However, in bringing the case, the lawyer, Craig A. Brand, pointed out some serious problems with Costa Rican law.

Anyone is vulnerable to private court cases because any lawyer can file such a case, including criminal cases. Frequently lawyers will file a private criminal case even while they know the case is a tissue of lies. The purpose is strategic.

Brand said lawyers did so to him in an effort to extort money. Perhaps they did. But we know of other situations when such cases have been filed to stop civil cases when it appears one side would lose.

This is a typical and reprehensible technique used here. The real problem is that there is no mechanism in place for judges
 to throw out weak or fake cases at an early stage. Such actions usually have to go to a full trial, causing great expense to the victimized individuals and frequently delaying justice.

The second aspect illustrated by the Brand case is that a judge can issue a prohibition against someone leaving the country and the subject of the order does not find out until he or she is at the airport. No one should be the subject of a secret judicial order. Each person should have the right to contest the order quickly before a judge. That means the the judiciary should notify the person who is the subject of the impedimento de salida order.  Such orders should not languish in secret in the immigration computer system for months or years until someone has invested money in air tickets and travel.

Again, these orders can be used strategically to bring pressure on an individual whether for legal or private reasons. The orders frequently are placed against foreign expats because opposing lawyers can argue that the individual might flee.

Both of these issues are grossly unfair. The sad part is that everyone in the judiciary and in government knows it and they do nothing to remedy the unfairness.
— Feb. 10, 2011

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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.

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