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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 34       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Costa Rica prepares to confront complex crimes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Time was when Colombian drug lords and leaders of the paramilitary forces traveled to a recreational area near Santa Ana for vacation. They felt safe and far removed from the daily struggle in their home country.

Those were the days when drug smuggling and others ills were well organized, and Costa Rica was more or less off limits for armed activity.

An analysis of the news

The legendary cartel bosses are dead or locked up now, and the cocaine smuggling trade has fragmented. The leftists guerrillas in Colombia are under more pressure, and Central America appears a better place to practice extortion and kidnapping.

The country continues to be an attractive hub for cocaine trafficking, but there are many more players. And the question is can the government and law enforcement here meet the challenge.

On top of the organized criminal activities is a veneer of violent street crime. Two persons died on the central Pacific coast Monday in separate crimes that appeared to be contract killings. A young man died Tuesday and a companion escaped after they were kidnapped in Desamparados and taken to Acosta for execution.

Even Epsy Campbell, who announced for president Monday, was the victims of two bandits in San Pedro Saturday. A 15-year-old girl suffered a bullet wound in the back from a taxi driver Tuesday.

All is not well in the law enforcement field. The  Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad is the pawn in a power play to put it under the Judicial Investigating Organization and remove it from control of Casa Presidencial. Compounding the problem is that the second in command of what is supposed to be the Costa Rican F.B.I. stands accused of using his position to benefit a check fraud ring. Inteligencia y Seguridad also houses the nation's arm of the International Police Agency known as INTERPOL.

The criminality is generally not of the type to affect savvy tourists, who travel under a security umbrella provided by transport companies, hotels and restaurants. But the trend is a concern for expats and those in business here.

The information in this article is based on facts gathered over the last two months by reporters, mostly in anecdotal form from readers and others in the know.

Of concern to expats in the Provincia de Limón is the presence of a gang that seems dedicated to kidnapping business people and extorting money. These are not the usual express kidnappers or the practitioners of the paseo millionario who grab people in San José and elsewhere and force them to empty their bank accounts at an automatic teller. These criminals appear from their accents to be Colombians and appear to be well trained and organized. They want lots of money.

Police officials in Limón centro and at the Judicial Investigating Organization in San José say they know nothing about such crimes. That probably is true because the victims are told to keep their mouths shut and never report the criminal acts. Reporters learned about these events from readers in the area who know the individuals who were abducted and made to pay. Readers said they suspected the criminals were refugees from the Colombian civil war.

For awhile, some of the contract killings were blamed on Jamaican drug gangs battling for control among themselves. That wave appears to have passed.

It is true that many of the killings even today have a relationship with drugs. Adrián Castro Velásquez, president of the Puntarenas Fútbol Club, who was gunned down Monday evening by motorcycled hit men, ran extensive sea food exporting businesses. Investigators certainly will be looking into the details of his exports as they try to solve that crime.

When the Policía de Control de las Drogas apprehended two Guatemalan truck drivers in  Peñas Blancas last week they cited Mexican
hatillo arrest
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Fuerza Pública officers are fairly competent when it comes to street crime, as in this Hatillo arrest of a robbery suspect Monday.

infiltration because it appeared the many kilos of cocaine had been warehoused in the Central Valley.

On yet another level is the geopolitical situation in Costa Rica, which makes the country a good base for information-gathering operations.

The new Chinese Embassy in Rohrmoser is not without its intelligence gathering component.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress last month about Iranian influences in Central America. Iran is forging close ties with Nicaraguan officials and South American leaders.

Where radical Islamists set up shop, the Israeli secret service is not far away.

The political wing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia has had a presence here over and above the logistical operatives involved in drug smuggling, organizing the Costa Rican fishing fleet and weapons shipments.

Even Venezuela President Hugo Chávez has been courting some Costa Ricans of like mind.

As the citizen security initiative moved through the Asamblea Legislativa, Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, supports the bill by validating that organized crime is growing in Costa Rica. He thinks that monitoring communication will give investigators an advantage. Stronger wiretap provisions and official access to suspect bank accounts are part of the initiative.

Dall'Anese also suggests that the militarized Mexican organizations like the Zeta has a presence here. Certainly the Hell's Angles do. Immigration stops members of that organization from entering the country periodically.

Elements of the Central American youth gangs or maras also appear to have a few associates here.

A close look at the citizen security initiative raised the question if Costa Rica will be be to live up to what the law says. Protection of witnesses and victims is a major component. So is the creation of a computerized platform that contains all the details of investigations. The Fuerza Pública has seen members arrested for helping drug gangs. So has the New York City Police Department. It is unlikely that witnesses and victims can be protected 100 percent or that computerized data is totally secure.

The major international drug gangs and other bad guys have telecommunication capabilities far beyond what Costa Rica addresses in these bills. Dall'Anese seems to be unaware of encrypting for e-mails or of hiding information within otherwise innocent Web pages. And serious criminals have been known to use throwaway cell phones.

Then there is the question if the courts can handle organized crime suspects. When officials said that Colombian assassins were in the country to murder the security minister and the brother of President Óscar Arias Sánchez early last year, Costa Rican law enforcement did not even bring the suspects to a hearing. They just deported them to Colombia. That was an unusual precedent.

Phrased another way: Is Costa Rica organized enough to handle organized crime?

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Election tribunal sends
media cases to prosecutor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has referred three electronic outlets to the Ministerio Público for possible criminal action because they would not turn over records of advertising about the free trade treaty.

The outlets are Sinart, Canal 13, which happens to be a government channel, Cable Plus and the Radio Rica station.

Each entity was a case before the tribunal, which considered the actions prior to the Oct. 1, 2007, referendum on the free trade.

According to tribunal rules, the outlets should have provided records of who placed advertising and who paid for it.

The law closely controls advertising before elections. Opponents of the free trade treaty tried to extend this prohibition to news coverage when U.S. officials said that Costa Rica might experience negative consequences if voters defeated the treaty.  That took place within the three-day quiet period.

In the three current cases the Ministerio Público will consider the evidence and perhaps file a criminal action. Similar laws in the United States require candidates or persons placing an ad for a candidate to be identified either on the printed ad on within the space of the electronic ad.

Gunman take pedestrians
to Acosta for execution

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen kidnapped two young men in Desamparados and took them to Acosta where they executed one of the victims. The second person escaped by throwing himself down a hill, officials said.

The dead man was identified as Vladimir Villalobos Castro, 16. He suffered a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Villalobos and a 20-year-old companion were confronted by four men in a vehicle as they walked in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados early Tuesday, the companion told investigators.

They were taken to San Ignacio de Acosta where the shooting took place. Investigators found a pistol near the site where the youth's body was located.

Facelift for Limón moves
forward in legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers on a legislative committee approved and sent to the full Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday a proposal to borrow $72.5 million to give Limón Centro a facelifting.

The money would come from the Banco Internacional de Reconstrucción y Fomento. Costa Rica has to add $7 million.

The project is called Limón Cuidad Puerto by members of the administration.

There was no opposition in the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios over sending the measure forward. Most lawmakers agree that Limón needs a facelift.

The problem is in the central government's plan to award a concession to a private contractor to run and improve the docks there. The docks at Limón and Moín are key to the country's exports, but they are well behind the times. Instead of containers of bananas, workers load boxes.

However, most of the money for the loan will not involve work on the docks. A sewage system makeover is a priority.

Opposition to the dock concession is expected to be carried out by the laborers union there.

Arias again urges firms
to cut hours not workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez once again Tuesday called on companies to cut the salaries of their executives and shorten the work day of employees before firing anyone.

He made the comments in Barreal de Heredia where he helped inaugurate a new plant for the Oregon firm Precision Wire Components.

The firm, which employees 20 persons, makes fine wire devices for medical use, such as treatment of aneurysms or blood clots.

The firm invested nearly $1 million in the new plant, and Arias praised the company's courage during difficult economic times.

Haiti will not accept
its citizens from States

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haiti is blocking the deportation of Haitians from the United States.

U.S. immigration authorities have ordered 30,000 Haitians to leave the country, but Haitian officials are refusing to issue the travel documents needed for the deportations.

They say the Caribbean nation needs time to recover from last year's devastating hurricanes and cannot handle the return of its citizens. 

The action has been clogging U.S. immigration detention centers. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says about 600 Haitian deportees are in detention centers and another 240 are under house arrest.

The U.S. government halted deportations to Haiti for three months last year, starting in September, after back-to-back storms killed nearly 500 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

Soon after resuming flights in December, the administration of then president George W. Bush denied Haiti's request for temporary protected status.

The designation would have allowed Haitians living in the United States illegally to stay and work temporarily.

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Vegetarians will have their big day downtown Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don't look for Cow Parade at the Plaza de la Cultura Sunday. It's the vegetarians' and vegans' turn.

The plaza, ironically just south of McDonald's and just west of Burger King, will host a spectacular to demonstrate the link between eating meat and global warming.

The event is called "Two minutes for the change," and it is supposed to be done in concert with similarly minded persons in many other countries.

The Costa Rican edition will begin at 11 a.m. with moderator César Meléndez (El Nica), the television personality. He is said to be a vegetarian, too.

Organizers promise a stage with music and artists such as
Edín from Editus, the Heredia Canta chorus and an orchestra.

During the three-hour event there will be presentations and videos about what organizers say is the urgency to raise public awareness to slow global warming. Many who are opposed to eating meat point out that cattle produce methane emissions that can affect the atmosphere. Cattle also cause the soil to wear out and consume excessive water, according to organizers here.

Also attending are persons who will offer vegetarian and vegan recipes and medical personnel who will try to counter any myths visitors might have.

Cow Parade was the artistic presentation that placed decorated life-size fiberglass animals through the downtown. But nearly all have been placed elsewhere.

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Some scenes from the International Ballet Theatre production of 'The Dream'
Creative U.S. ballet company schedules single performance here Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Ballet Theatre will present “The Dream” Thursday, the only production in Costa Rica.

The program will feature a medley including classical ballet, contemporary dance, aerial dance and visual art. The presentation will be at 7 p.m in the Teatro Nacional, with the Amaretto Orchestra from El Salvador. The company promises different styles of music. including opera and pop.

Included are dances from "Swan Lake," “Don Quijote,” “Romeo y Juliet,” “Phantom of the Opera" and original dances created by the company.

There are nine different dancers, ranging from classical ballet, modern dancers and what is being called aerial dancer. Tickets are from 5,000 to 15,000 colons (from about $9 to $28).
The dancers are from the United States and Australian. They are Hala Shah, Liz Gahl, Nathan Braumbaugh, Maggie Strawley, Raquel Dileo, Nami Hall, Kaleb Hawkins, Jocelynn Rudig, and Tyler Ayres.

They will be accompanied by the Salvadoran soprano Lucia Sandoval.

The 5-year-old International Ballet Theatre is a American dance company. The show draws heavily on American culture, said the press release.

A founder and director of The International Ballet Theatre, Álvaro Maldonado, started when he was 8 years old in his native El Salvador.  Maldonado has been in 30 countries with the show.

The dancers also have a workshop for youngsters before the show Thursday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 34

Workmen are putting steel up at the new Panduit addition.
Panduit addition

Grecia firm will add more space to expand its sales staff
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Panduit Corp in La Argentina de Grecia says it is adding 14,000 square meters (151,000 square feet) of space as part of a multi-million dollar investment. The new space should be available in July, said a news release.

The additional operations will require the employment of 120 more persons, said the firm.
The plant opened in that location in 1996 and has since made three additions. Some 900 persons work there now. 

The plant produces electronic cables. Headquarters are in Tinley Park, Illinois.

The firm said that the new space was needed because of additional operations in Panamá and plans to add more space for a sales staff.

Oscar event Sunday is supposed to have interesting twist
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 81st annual Academy Awards, or Oscars, will be presented in Hollywood Sunday, and organizers say a new format should create to a livelier show this year.

Despite entertaining moments, the Oscar telecast is often a staid affair as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distributes its annual honors to moviemakers, actors and key workers behind the camera. This year, the Australian actor, singer and dancer Hugh Jackman will host the ceremony and academy officials hope he will add some flair.

The Oscars will be given out in all the usual categories, from acting and sound to makeup, and a special Oscar will go to comedian Jerry Lewis for his humanitarian work, but academy President Sid Ganis promises added excitement and surprises. "We're still going to give out our 24 awards, and we're still going to give out our special award to Jerry Lewis for the work that he has done over the years, many years, but it's all going to be done in a new and interesting way, all of it," he said.

Leading films this year include the romantic fantasy "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which earned 13 Oscar nominations. Filmmaker David Fincher is a nominee for best director and Brad Pitt for best actor in the tale about a man who ages backwards.

"Frost/Nixon" is also a nominee for best picture. Filmmaker Ron Howard is up for best director and Frank Langella for
best actor. Langella plays former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who resigned as he faced impeachment in 1974 over the Watergate scandal. The film recounts the historic on-air conversations between Nixon and television commentator David Frost, played by Michael Sheen.

The film "Milk," based on the true story of murdered San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk, is another nominee for best picture and filmmaker Gus Van Sant for best director. Josh Brolin is nominated for his supporting role in the film as troubled San Francisco politician Dan White. Sean Penn is a nominee for his leading role as White's gay colleague.

The Holocaust tale "The Reader" also is a nominee for best picture and filmmaker Stephen Daldry will compete for best director. Kate Winslet is nominated for her leading role in the film as a former death camp guard, opposite Ralph Fiennes.

"Slumdog Millionaire," an Oscar nominee in 10 categories, is a rags-to-riches tale set in India, and it rounds out this year's nominees for best picture. British filmmaker Danny Boyle is up for best director for this story of an impoverished young man who hopes to win a fortune on a quiz show.

Leading competitors for acting awards include the late Heath Ledger, a posthumous Oscar nominee as best supporting actor for his role as The Joker in the Batman film "The Dark Knight." Mickey Rourke is considered a top contender for best actor for his comeback tale "The Wrestler."

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. says Venezuelan vote
was fully democratic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States says Sunday's Venezuelan referendum ending term limits for elected officials took place in a "fully democratic" process.

A U.S. State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, told reporters Tuesday there were some troubling reports of intimidation of opponents, but that for the most part, the electoral process was fully consistent with democratic practice.

The spokesman said the U.S. will continue to seek a positive relationship with Venezuela and looks to the government to use its democratic results in a positive manner.

The referendum allows Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to seek re-election for a third term in 2012. It was his second bid to remove presidential term limits after voters rejected a similar proposal in 2007.

Chávez says he needs more time to transform Venezuela into a socialist state. Critics say he is becoming a dictator.

More than 16 million people were eligible to cast ballots in Sunday's referendum. Election officials say the turnout was 67 percent, or 11 million.

Official results show that 54 percent supported the measure, while some 46 percent rejected it. The opposition says the president's use of state funds made the campaign unfair.

Chavez's mentor, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, says the Venezuelan president's victory was "immeasurable." Chavez was first elected in 1998.

Chamber likes tourism bill

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Cámara Nacional de Turismo has expressed its satisfaction that two major bills have been put on the fast track by the executive branch.

The tourism chamber said that a general law of tourism was necessary to establish a modern policy for the country. The second bill promotes rural tourism.

The measure also would declare tourism in the public interest as a principal soruce of income for the country.
It also creats a registry of tourism providers and specifies ways businesses can be suspended or ejected from the list.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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