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(506) 2223-1327     Published Friday, Feb. 20, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 36       E-mail us
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Organizers of the Esterillos Oeste Mardi Gras celebration are making masks for the benefit.

They are Martha Overton, Susan Lieb, Sandy Fuller, Margo Chance and Pat Chidester
marti gras
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Carnival debuts in Esterillos Oeste this Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the more creative expat endeavors takes place Saturday as Esterillos Oeste hosts the first central Pacific coast carnival. The parade begins at 2 p.m. under the sponsorship of the Krewe Sirena.

The new organization is named after a statue found on the local beach. The event is a benefit for the local schools, but it also is a way for locals to join
in the carnival spirit. Ash Wednesday and the start of the Christian season of Lent is next week, and in many parts of the world, carnival is being held as a celebration before the solemn period of Lent.

Organizers said they will be selling hot dogs, masks and beads. There is paid parking, and if anyone would like to be in the parade, there is no charge but organizers said they ask that participants have items to throw to the children and spectators.


Government puts its weight behind medical tourism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has put its support behind health tourism. A decree published Wednesday pledges the executive branch to simplify and speed up the process of giving approval to firms involved in this type of tourism.

The executive branch also agreed to support and stimulate organizations that would promote and regulate medical tourism.

The publication of the presidential decree comes nearly four months after it was signed by Óscar Arias Sánchez. That happened Oct. 27. The decree was not in force until its publication.

The decree noted that medical tourism brings in worldwide about $60 billion a year, a number that is expected to grow to $100 billion a year by 2012, thanks to the high cost of health care in developed countries.

The decree also noted that citizens in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are getting older and some 220 million will need major medical care by 2015.
Costa Rica already has positioned itself as a location for the manufacture of medical equipment and the production of pharmaceuticals. In fact, one small medical equipment company was inaugurated just this week.

Although other countries in Asia and Latin America are taking advantage of medical tourism by means of promotion campaigns and by attracting investments,

Costa Rica has the competitive advantage of geography, a stable economic and political system and an international reputation for the quality of its health care system, said the decree.

The decree also praised the pioneers in the field here, mainly plastic surgeons who with vision began offering medical services principally to U.S. citizens more than 10 years ago. The decree also cites dental care, esthetics, wellness and thermal cures.

In order to stimulate the medical tourism sector, the decree declares such businesses to be in the national public interest, a stipulation that might assist those who would seek to develop medical tourism here.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 36

Costa Rica Expertise
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Server outage in L.A.
puts newspaper offline


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The A.M. Costa Rica Web pages and mail system were not available from about 2:40 p.m. Thursday until about 1 a.m. today because of hardware problems with the server in Los Angeles, California.

A.M. Costa Rica is hosted by Bluewho.com, and company officials said that the delay was caused by a file checking program that ran into a customer with 600,000 files. Files had to be checked after the server was repaired.

The A.M. Costa Rica Web pages reappeared in Los Angeles about midnight but additional work was needed to get them to display themselves in Costa Rica.

This is the first time in four years that Bluewho.com has experienced a serious outage. The company recently moved into a state-of-the-art server complex in the California city.

Celebration in Sarchí
to benefit the Cruz Roja


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sarchí, the town famous for furniture, is having its first civic celebration starting today, and the beneficiary will be the Cruz Roja. The event runs through March 3. The festivities start today at noon with mascaradas, those giant heads with youngsters underneath. At 7 p.m. there is the first Costa Rican bull fight.

Saturday there is the tope or gathering of horses that will go through the streets of the town. There also are the usual fireworks scheduled.

The funds collected will go to refurbish a structure used by the Cruz Roja in the community and to fix up the local ambualnce.

Two face allegations
of flat tire thievery


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested a 30-year-old man in Hatillo during a raid Wednesday night and alleged that he was the leader of a gang involved in stealing from tourists by causing flat tires.
A 48-year-old Tibás man also was detained earlier Wednesday in that community.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said its agents were trying to solve crimes in which thieves would puncture a tire and then follow a vehicle until the operator got out to fix a flat. Then they would pull up, offer help and in the confusion steal items.

In one case the gang followed a family of tourists from Paseo Colon to Barrio California where they managed to steal passports and a portable computer.

This is the technique known in Spanish as pinchonazo, and it has been used for a long time on tourists or those who look like tourists. In the case of the Barrio California theft, the participants were identified, said investigators.

Ministry says ATM robberies
have decreased due to closings


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry is taking credit for a decrease in forced bank withdrawals from October to December.

It was Nov. 25 when the security minister, Janina del Vecchio, asked banks to shut down their automatic teller machines from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The purpose was to prevent what police call the Paseo Millionario whereby bandits force a victim to withdraw funds from an ATM.

In October there were 10 such robberies reported to authorities, said the security ministry. In December only four were reported, the ministry said. No figures were given for January or for November.

From March to December there were 31 such robberies in San José alone, the ministry said. December also was the month that many more police were put on the streets because of the distribution of the Christmas bonuses and the crush of Yule shoppers.

Drugs stopped at both borders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A load of cocaine and one of cocaine and heroine have been intercepted, one at Peñas Blancas at the Nicaraguan frontier and one near Paso Canoas across the border with Panamá. Both cases developed Wednesday.

The detainee in the incident at the Nicaragua border was a Guatemalan trucker. Police said he had 190 kilos of cocaine in his truck. That's about 418 pounds. This is the fourth trucker detained in the last two weeks, police said. The vehicle was headed to Guatemala.

The Panamá arrest involved two Costa Rican bus drivers. The Policía de Control de Drogas said the man driving a passenger bus backed up into Panamá when he was told to pull over for a detailed inspection.  Police in Panamá detained the bus and said they found three kilos of cocaine and 20 small packets of heroine, said police here.

Bus driver murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bandit pretended to be a passenger and then fired two shots, killing the driver of a San José-Heredia bus in Heredia Wednesday night.  The victim, Sigifredo Maroto, 42, died a short time later at the local hospital.  The assailant fled. The shooting happened about 8:30 p.m. The buses have been a frequent target of bandits. In this case, the driver is believed to have struggled with the gunman.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 36


These are the men you cannot do without if you have a septic tank. But they were unhappy this week.
septic tank cleaners
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

These drivers have tanks full of complaints, so they protest
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The men who do some of society's dirty work were out in force at Casa Presidencial Thursday demanding action and not words.

These are the men who clean the septic tanks in the metro area. They also are targets of barbs and allegations of dumping their trucks' loads into rivers and creeks.

Their problem is bigger than that. The sewage plant where they used to take their liquid loads has closed and the tank cleaners have no approved place to dump the tens of thousands of gallons that they collect each working day.
They had a meeting with the minister of Salud, María  Luisa Ávila Agüero, but Thursday when they hung their signs on the fence in front of Casa Presidencial they complained that all they got was words and not actions.

The men are doing the best they can, but they are subject to fines if they are caught dumping the waste into the existing metro sewer system. That system simply flows into the Central Valley's rivers and then to the Gulf of Nicoya via the Río Grande de Tarcoles.

The men are seeking to have the private treatment plant reopened or some other solution found. Meanwhile, Casa Presidencial employees are happy the men left their trucks at home.


Thoughts of a clever friend who cannot be here now
The beautiful weather that it is rightfully famous for has finally returned to Costa Rica.  At least to my part of the world.  And the season is changing so that my balcony is now bathed in the early morning sun. Soon it will once again be there the whole morning. 

And sunshine is free – at least at the moment.  I love the sunshine, but not everyone does. Some people — like those who are allergic to the sun and those who are vampires — don’t like the sun at all, and no matter how much I try to convince them, they never will.

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen talked about the philosophical differences between U.S. Democrats and Republicans. Cohen said that these differences will probably never be reconciled because their basic beliefs are not only different but often diametrically opposed. 

Cohen points out that the same irreconcilable differences exist between countries and cultures (not to mention religions).

On the news also, over and over, has been the story of the attack by the pet Chimp, Travis, against a friend of the family. 

Last year I would have been talking about these subjects with my friend Mavis. We talked almost daily on the phone.  She would draw upon her background in sociology and anthropology, her wisdom, her sense of humor and her realistic outlook.  She would probably laugh at some of my opinions and comments, but concede that I might have a point. 

We would discuss whether or not the differences between Republicans and Democrats are as great as between Shiites and Sunni, or on par with the differences between U.S. and Costa Rican cultures. 

She might pretend to be shocked when I said that the description of Travis the chimp (“normally he was charming, funny and loving”) is the same description of a husband or a child who turns into a killer.  Or that  perhaps the friend's new haircut, which made her look like a man, posed a threat to Travis.  Or, maybe it was the medication.  I think we both would question the simplistic “instinct” explanation.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com



But I can only think about talking to Mavis because she died a year ago this month.   

The Book Club met this past Wednesday.  Mavis was a driving force in the Club for many years, and two of the three books I checked out had comments from her in them.  She has read more books than anyone else I know.

Marguerite, a member, said, “I miss Mavis, don’t you?  I miss her subtle sense of humor.”  I agreed and said I missed her subtle sense of reality.  No one else mentioned Mavis, but we don’t seem to talk about those of us who have passed on to wherever it is we go. 

After the meeting I had lunch with another member, Linda and our far-reaching conversation reminded me of my telephone conversations with Mavis. Linda used to be a social worker so she has a pretty broad view of the world and the people in it.  We shared our ideas amicably – usually agreeing.

However, from time to time I offend, shock, or irritate (even infuriate) some readers who so totally disagree with me.  That is when I re-read a poem that Mavis sent to her daughter Katja and me after, as she said, “hurting someone’s feelings …hitting a sore spot.”  This was her apology.  

THE TRIAL
I see me sitting in the witness box,
Myself the accused, myself the grim accuser;
And I the counsel for both sides, for guilt or innocence.
Holding a gavel in the judge's seat
I bang it down, declare me innocent
And finally
Fall asleep.

Mavis, the eternal realist, I miss you. 



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 36


Stanford turns up in Virginia as Latin Americans tremble
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Havoc and panic stemming from fraud charges against U.S. billionaire Allen Stanford have spread to Latin America, prompting several governments to swing into action. The man at the center of the banking and investment scandal turned up in Virginia Thursday and promptly was served with legal papers showing his assests have been frozen.

Latin America is bearing much of the brunt of fallout from alleged fraud schemes perpetrated by banks and other financial firms owned by Stanford. At least five nations have launched investigations, suspended bank operations, or, in the case of Venezuela, seized control of local Stanford banking affiliates.

Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodríguez says the government was forced to act after panicked depositors withdrew tens of millions of dollars from more than a dozen bank branches in the country.

Rodríguez says massive withdrawals have brought about a highly precarious situation, which made it necessary for authorities to intervene and put the bank up for sale.

The finance minister said that, in the interim, the government would back remaining deposits.

Other nations to take action include Mexico, Panamá, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. British and European investigators are also reported to be probing Stanford's dealings.

The panic ensued after U.S. officials filed fraud charges and froze the assets of three companies controlled by Stanford, the flamboyant Texas billionaire who has 
donated vast sums to U.S. politicians and sponsored sporting events from the Caribbean to Britain. The banker had been knighted in Antigua, where Stanford International Bank is headquartered.

Tuesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Stanford and several associates of orchestrating what officials termed a multi-billion dollar fraudulent investment scheme of "shocking magnitude" based on "false promises and fabricated historical return data."

The SEC posted an automated call-in message for Stanford investors detailing the assets seized and what will become of them, as mandated by a federal court.

"The receiver will take control of and operate the assets, and take steps to preserve the value of assets in order to prevent loss. The court further issued a temporary restraining order freezing all assets of the defendants and requiring preservation of documents. The SEC's investigation of this matter is ongoing," he said.

Federal authorities were under no immediate orders to arrest the banking magnate.

Since the SEC's announcement, several high-ranking former employees and business associates have come forward to state that they were aware of fraudulent or improper business dealings by Stanford.

The Stanford case is the second major alleged fraud scheme to be uncovered by U.S. authorities in recent months. Late last year, FBI agents arrested Wall Street businessman Bernie Madoff, who stands accused of swindling investors out of approximately $50 billion through what is known as a ponzi scheme.


Miami security consultants pick Heredia man to head operations in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. security consultancy firm has expanded into Costa Rica and named Hamid Kaber of Heredia president of the organization here.

The firm is Security Warriors Group Inc. of Miami, Florida, which says it is the world’s largest distributor of security technology in Latin America.

Until now, there was no client-side support available to security buyers in Costa Rica, leaving only the choice of a local alarm vendor — often with less that perfect results, said the firm.

Security Warriors of Costa Rica is not designed to compete with local alarm companies, but to bring professionalism to the field, said Kaber, adding "and, when your life, livelihood and possessions depend upon it, you may have only one chance to get it right."

"Having spent the past 37 years in this field as a consultant/ engineer, I have gained an in-depth understanding of security problems and how to deal with them," he said.
"In my professional career I have worked on projects
ranging from Fortune 100 companies like Gillette and Xerox to high rise office complexes and executive residences, including work for the company that designed systems for Bill Gates' home.

According to Kaber there is much more to security systems than knowing how to install cables or cameras.  It is a discipline that takes many years to master, he said. It involves an understanding of security risks and threats, client operations and lifestyle, changing technology, quality standards and project management, and until this moment, that combination of skills simply did not exist in Costa Rica, Kaber added.

Kaber said that he and his firm will work with a client at every stage of a project to review specifications, to review vendors' qualifications and to make sure that the job is done correctly at every critical stage. "This really isn't a new concept. Consultant/engineers have been used for years in the building trades. It's just taken a while for this to impact the way security systems are designed in Costa Rica," he said.

The local firm can be reached via e-mail through the Miami firm's Web site.


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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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.

Searching

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.

Newspages

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.

Classifieds

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.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

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

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.



U.S. role in police selection
basis of Ecuador's complaint


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The State Department said Thursday that Ecuador's expulsion this month of two U.S. diplomats "raises serious concerns" about that country's interest in a productive relationship with the United States. The two diplomats were helping administer a U.S. law-enforcement training program. 

An employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security working at the American embassy in Quito was ordered to leave the country last week. On Wednesday, a second embassy staffer,  First Secretary Mark Sullivan, was given 48 hours to leave the country.

Ecuador has accused both Americans of meddling in the country's internal affairs with regard to selection of Ecuadoran police officers for U.S.-sponsored training. Officials here have said Ecuadoran officials objected to embassy efforts, mandated by the U.S. Congress, to exclude from the program police thought to be corrupt or otherwise undesirable.

At a news briefing, Gordon Duguid, State Department deputy spokesman, said the U.S. embassy had tried to deal with Ecuadoran concerns amicably, and that the U.S. ambassador had been scheduled to meet government officials Wednesday and present a proposal that could have resolved the issue.

Duguid said the Ecuadorans rejected the effort to settle the matter through diplomatic channels and instead held a news conference to announce Sullivan's expulsion.

"The decision by the government of Ecuador to expel a second American diplomat is very troubling and raises serious concerns about Ecuador's desire to maintain a productive relationship," said Duguid. "The United States rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing by embassy staff. Our embassy personnel have acted with the utmost respect for Ecuador's sovereignty. Our programs have been administered in a transparent and accountable fashion with the full cooperation of Ecuador's senior officials."

Duguid said Sullivan is in the process of leaving Ecuador and that the United States intends to respond to the two expulsions in an "appropriate way" - language suggesting that retaliatory action might be forthcoming.

U.S. officials say the law enforcement training program was suspended after the first expulsion, and that some Ecuadoran officials objected when the U.S. Embassy insisted on the return of computers and other equipment associated with the project.

Duguid said U.S.-Ecuadoran cooperation over the years against drug smuggling, terrorism and trafficking in persons has paid dividends for both countries, and he said he hopes the Quito government will reconsider its actions and return to a cooperative dialogue.

The former Bush administration had a difficult relationship with Ecuador's left-leaning President Rafael Correa, who is campaigning for re-election in April on a platform of standing up to foreign influence.

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