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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 38                            Email us
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Good morning

This was the sunrise Tuesday morning over the gulf of Nicoya from a beach at Montezuma.
It was the beginning of a clear, hot day.

Sunrise at Montezuma
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

The professional beggars appear to have returned
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Small-time con artists are alive and well despite hard economic times.

To scam money from tourists it helps to sound like you came from New Yuork or Chaagago. Plus you need a sad story.

One fellow who patrols the streets near Hospital Calderón Guardia sounds like a U.S. citizen. He says he is. He said he is from New York and came to Costa Rica to buy property in Tamarindo. It just so happened his friend lives in San José and on his way from the friend's house to his hotel his taxi driver stole all his belongings, including suitcase and passport. He is left penniless and has to get to the American Embassy to report his unfortunate dilemma. He needs just a little cash.

This poor man had his luggage stolen twice in three days, if encounters with reporters are any guide. First he approached a woman after dark with the sad story. Two days later he approached a Costa Rican woman with the same tale. He showed bilingual skills. He also is creative. He approached a male reporter with the claim that he had a bad leg and needed bus fare. After being refused, he strode away quickly.

There was a wave of such scams several years ago, but the scamsters vanished for some time. Now they are back. Police said that there is a group, and the members live out of town and just patrol the streets during the day and evening.

When one of these scammers is rejected in his
begging  hand

quest for cash, he asks why nobody wants to help him. He then cites his “ugliness” as  a reason why no one want's to give him a moment of their time. Then he asks if he is ugly. He deserves an honorary degree in psychology.

Depending on the circumstances, a little intimidation is applied. A defenseless woman after dark on an ill-lighted street is a good target for a handout and perhaps something more. Some encounters with beggars have ended up as robberies in the past.

A local television station once featured a poor crippled man who sought money at a busy intersection. When rush hour passed, the man was cured miraculously, got in his nearby car, stopped at the liquor store and went to his middle-class home. And there is no income tax.

There is something refreshing about a beggar who is not a scammer. One approached two reporters near a downtown bar and said “If you give me money, I am going to spend it on booze.”

Now that is a great line.

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Our reader' s opinion
Cigarette law will encourage
habit by ending single sales

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

While several provisions in Costa Rica’s proposed new anti-tobacco law can be debated, there should be no debate over the folly of prohibiting the sale of cigarettes individually.

All the evidence shows that for most people quitting smoking a long-term process, fraught with many relapses.  Every former smoker also knows how the relapses start.  Wanting to “cheat” and have just one or two, former smokers buy a pack.  The pack then remains in their possession, which encourages them to continue smoking until they finish it.  By then, though, the habit has returned.

Experience also shows that there are very few true non-smokers.  Many so-called non-smokers, including some rabidly opposed to tobacco, smoke occasionally, usually at a bar or a party.  Neither is there any evidence that occasional smoking harms anyone’s health.  All the evidence of the ill-effects of smoking is drawn from the pack- or half-pack-a-day long-term smokers (or those who spend hours everyday in smoke-filled rooms).  Yet the proposed law will coax some of these occasional smokers into a life-threatening addiction by compelling them to buy cigarettes by the pack.

It is far better to allow relapsing former smokers and occasional smokers to buy cigarettes individually. Indeed, Costa Rica’s consumers show by their behavior that they are willing to pay a premium far in excess of the proposed tax for this privilege. The markup on cigarettes sold individually is in the neighborhood of 250 percent. (Typically cigarettes sold for 100 colons each can be purchased in a pack of 20 for 800 colons.)  Yet the proposed law assumes that adding a mere 25 percent tax to cigarettes only sold by the addicting pack will discourage smoking.

Far too much attention has been focused on the physiology of nicotine addiction, and far too little on the insidious marketing practices that create and maintain that addiction.  Marketing cigarettes in packages of 20 was intended to foster addiction, and packages of 10 will do the same thing.  Instead of recognizing this fact and discouraging it with smart legislation, Costa Rica’s proposed law will encourage it.

Look at it this way:  Would it make sense for a law intended to reduce alcoholism to forbid the sale of individual drinks and force consumers to buy only 12-packs beer or liters of booze instead?

Opinions differ about anti-smoking legislation from the standpoint of balancing individual liberties with public health concerns. It would seem that some other prohibitions of the proposed anti-smoking law, like the banning of smoking at open-air bus stops or even in bars with doors wide open and a strong cross breeze, go overboard.  (No one needs to worry about second-hand smoke at a bus stop, since the exhaust fumes from the buses and cars will kill you first.)  These are unnecessary to protect the public and merely legislate taste preferences.

Nevertheless, reasonable legislation intended to reduce the ill-effects of smoking and to preserve the rights of non-smokers
should be welcomed. The problem is that the proposed legislation won’t achieve this, but will achieve exactly the opposite.  By banning the single sale of cigarettes, Costa Rica will invite greater nicotine addiction, and all the problems that come with that.
Ken Morris
San Pedro

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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Remote places are also remote from swift medical treatment
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian tourist who died after becoming ill on a snorkeling trip to Isla del Caño Monday marks the second fatality in four days caused by a health event while snorkeling near the island. An English tourist suffered a heart attack there Feb. 17.

Judicial police identified the dead Canadian as Hugh Heywood. He was 59 years old and visiting the area with a partner. He was on a snorkeling trip to the island when he began to feel bad, judicial agents said. He was taken by boat from the island to nearby Drake Bay on the mainland about 12 miles away. He was admitted to the small clinic there, but the medical staff was unable to help him.

Judicial Police have not released the exact cause of Heywood's death, but local residents of Drake Bay say he suffered a heart attack.

The other dead man was 74-year-old Jonathan Fields. He was snorkeling near the island Friday when he had a heart attack, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was taken by boat from the secluded island to a different clinic in the town of Sierpe where he too was unable to be saved.

The Cruz Roja, Costa Rica's emergency medical response agency, reports that Isla del Caño, a remote national preserve, is not a good place to be in need of emergency medical attention. Its substantial distance from health centers can make any heart attack fatal.

Even to arrive at the closest clinics, in Sierpe or Drake Bay, can take a substantial length of time. And, both of the clinics have limited hours, staff and resources, said one Cruz Roja worker stationed in Ciudad Cortés, He said estimated travel time to arrive in Ciudad Cortés, which has the nearest 24-hour hospital to the island, is about one and a half hours if everything goes well. That journey requires nearly a one-hour leg by boat from the island northeast to Sierpe and then a 25-minute trip by vehicle to the hospital.

Rick Lane, who operates Caño Divers, a local company that conducts dive and snorkel tours for the hotel Pirate Cove in Drake Bay, said the two deaths are no reason to panic but should also act as reminders why it is important to follow all safety protocols before taking visitors to places such as Isla del Caño, where its pristine remoteness can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Isla de Caño
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Isla de Caño is north and west of the peninsula

He said during 10 years as a daily tour operator his company has had no serious accidents. He said with every trip to the island he has his boats staffed with qualified personnel and stocked with a functioning radio, first-aid equipment and an oxygen supply in case a diver suffers from the bends and needs to be taken to a treatment facility. The nearest hyperbaric chamber, used to alleviate the depth-related malady, is also in Ciudad Cortés

Lane said in an effort to prevent someone from dying from a heart attack on one of his tours, if it should ever occur, he is planning on spending more than $5,000 to buy a portable defibrillator for his dive boat. He would be the first tour guide in the bay to have one.

“When someone has a heart attack, and the heart stops, CPR will keep that person alive for five minutes,” Lane said. “That's designed for the United States when the ambulance comes in five minutes. Here the ambulance never comes.”

He said a portable defibrillator on the boat would give some who suffered a heart attack a chance to survive. But he added that even with all the precautions, death is sometimes unavoidable.

“Isla del Caño is not a dangerous place to dive,” Lane said. “But you can die in a swimming pool.”

Lane said about one death every other year is typical near the island but the two deaths in a row were a shock. He said it's the worst situation the area has seen since a woman drowned several years ago and it was discovered that the tour guide didn't have first aid equipment or a radio onboard the boat to call for help.

Judicial workers conduct mock trial to bone up on laundering
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial is conducting a mock money laundering trial through Thursday to train its employees on how to handle such cases. The U. N. Office on Drugs and Crime is cooperating.

The Poder Judicial said that in the last 10 years, there have been 1,136 money laundering complaints. In 2010 the Poder Judicial said that there were 72 cases investigated.

Some 35 judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors are taking part in the training. The sessions are in the Radisson Europa Hotel in north San José.

The Poder Judicial said that the United Nations agency was called in because there are different methods used to launder money in different countries.

In Costa Rica the typical crime is reported with the confiscation of drugs. If someone is carrying drugs and cash, investigators assume that the case is related to drug sales.

Sometimes larger quantities of cash are found in false walls or
other hidden parts of tractor trailers that are coming south.
Officials in El Salvador have documented the continual flow of young men carrying about $9,000 each trip as they fly to Caracas, Venezuela, or some other South American airport. These trips are legal, and the money does not have to be declared if it is less than the equivalent of $10,000.

As police gain more experience, drug smugglers become more creative. The owners of a stuffed toy manufacturing company in California have been convicted of money laundering $80 million for drug gangs. They did so by exporting toys which were then cashed in at the destination.

Frequently a commodity transaction is a disguised money laundering. Instead of shipping cash south, drug dealers can purchase a boat load of rice or beans in the United States and ship it south without too many concerns. Some downtown San José business operators say they have been approached by individuals who offered them the chance to launder money through false sales and refunds.

The bulk of the laundered money comes from the drug trade, according to the United Nations.

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Student field studies help recover the prehistory of the country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican culture before the arrival of the Spanish was complex and not fully understood.

Field schools to train future archaeologists are adding to the knowledge that researchers have of the country before Columbus.  The task is daunting, like trying to learn all about the neighbors by poring over their garbage.

Since 2005 field schools at the Las Mercedes site on the property of Universidad Earth near Guacimo have helped to define that former metropolis.

Researchers like field schools because the motivated students are a source of cheap labor. Universities like Costa Rica because it is safe and affordable, plus students pay up to $2,900 to participate. Students like fields schools because they get otherwise unavailable training.

Ricardo Vásquez, an archaeologist with the Museo Nacional, has provided the impetus for work at Las Mercedes. In 2005 he collaborated with the University of Montréal, Canada, in running a field school at the Las Mecedes site. The effort resulted in mapping of 12 acres in the site's central area.

In 2009 Vázquez began to collaborate with Robert M. Rosenswig of the State University of New York at Albany to bring students from there to the site north and east of the Volcán Turrialba. Vázquez is a doctoral candidate at Albany.

The latest field school was scheduled this year from Jan. 15 until the beginning of next week. Las Mercedes is one of the largest monumental sites in the country and the political center of an important chiefdom, the university said. It is not far from the better-known Guayabo. Both appear to have been constructed with causeways and raised platforms as a way to handle the heavy Costa Rican rains.

Said the university:

“Radiocarbon dates suggest that the major phase of
sculptures from Las Merecedes
State University of New York at Albany photo
A reclining Chac Mool figure and two other sculptures are part of the artifacts recovered in past years at Las Mercedes. One appears to be wearing a crocodile mask.

architectural construction at the site’s center began circa A.D. 1000 and that occupation continued through to the colonial period. Two paved causeways link the central monumental compound to outlying settlements 1.5 km away. Numerous stone sculptures such as the 4.5-foot-high example of a chief wearing a crocodile mask and holding a trophy head . . .  have been recovered from the site. Furthermore,there are at least five secondary centers around Las Mercedes that were the seats of smaller secondary chiefs that likely paid tribute to the rulers of Las Mercedes.”

Field schools combine the academic with the practical. Students learn excavating techniques, data recording, mapping and the use of modern instruments to explore a site.

Las Mercedes probably was inhabited for at least 3,000 years. Researchers think it was a thriving community when the Spanish arrived because some European artifacts have been found during excavation of graves. The site has been excavated since Costa Rica's 19th-century colonial period, and numerous stone sculptures and objects have been recovered, the State University at Albany said.

Case of conspiracy to take 320 kilos of coke now in final stage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The embarrassing drug case is playing out to its conclusions in the southern part of the country.

This is the case based on the theft of 320 kilos of cocaine from the Golfito court building where it was under guard. The cocaine was confiscated from smugglers.

Prosecutors allege that nine men, some of them court building guards and others policemen, conspired to steal the drugs and turn the cocaine over to the smugglers.

That happened the night of March 26, 2009. The cocaine was  taken from an open boat of Ecuadorian registry that the Servicio Nacional de Guardacoastas captured the previous weekend in Parque Nacional Corcovado.
Since the theft, cocaine that is confiscated in quantities is airlifted to San José immediately.

The suspects include one guard who worked at the Golfito judicial offices, two Fuerza Pública officers and one former officer.

The trial started in September.

Prosecutors Alejandro Araya and Henry Meza asked for a total of 352 years in prison for the nine men. They also are seeking confiscation of money and vehicles.

They allege that some of the men were involved in aggravated robbery, but because the guard conspired with the other men, the judicial tribunal might not agree on robbery. The defense is expected to begin its arguments today.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Venezuela's Chávez faces
new operation for cancer

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's president says he is once again facing surgery for cancer and that the operation will take place in the coming days.

The president, Hugo Chávez, announced on state television Tuesday that doctors in Cuba had detected a two-centimeter lesion in his pelvis, where a tumor was removed last year.

"In the medical examination conducted in Havana, a lesion was detected in the same place where the tumor was removed almost a year ago," he said. "It is a small lesion, about 2 centimeters in diameter, clearly visible.  This lesion must be extracted, which means I must undergo another operation which is supposed to be less complicated than the last one.  I am in good physical shape to confront this new battle."

Rumors that Chávez was seriously ill began circulating after he took an unannounced trip to Havana Saturday.

The Venezuelan leader said his body shows no signs the cancer has spread, and he said doctors do not yet know if the new lesion is malignant.

Last year, the 57-year-old Chávez had two operations and underwent chemotherapy in Caracas and Havana, though he has never specified exactly what kind of cancer he has.  Since his treatments ended, the Venezuelan leader had been saying he was cancer free.

The president remains popular and is seeking a third six-year term in October elections.

He was first elected in 1998 and then won elections in 2000 and 2006. 

Chávez is a vehement critic of the United States and an ally of Communist-ruled Cuba.

Press rights group reports
46 journalists died in 2011

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international media rights group says at least 46 journalists were killed worldwide last year, with Pakistan the deadliest country for the second year in a row.

In its annual "Attacks on the Press" report, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said deaths during dangerous assignments, such as covering street protests, reached a record level in 2011, as political unrest swept the Arab world.

The report says 17 journalists died on dangerous assignments. Country-by-country, Pakistan had the most deaths with seven, while Libya and Iraq followed with five each, and Mexico had three.

Photographers and camera operators made up about 40 percent of the overall death toll. The group noted an increase in the deaths of Internet journalists, who it says rarely appeared in the death toll before 2008. Nine online journalists were killed last year.

The death toll for 2011 was two fatalities more than in 2010. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists also says it is investigating another 35 deaths from last year to determine if they were related to the person's media work.

Meanwhile, the report says 179 journalists were imprisoned last year, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Iran had the most in jail, with 42, while Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s top jailers.

Mrs. Clinton urges firms
to get foreign business

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration is trying to attract more foreign investors to boost the U.S. economy. Washington is encouraging U.S. firms to get out and compete for a larger share of the international market.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the reason behind this push for greater foreign investment is clear: Americans need jobs.

She says free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panamá have helped put the United States on track to double U.S. exports over five years as Washington moves to keep pace with emerging economies.

"Our power in the 21st century depends not just on the size of our military but also on what we grow, how well we innovate, what we make, and how effectively we sell.  Rising powers like China, India, and Brazil understand this as well, and we cannot sit on the sidelines while they put economics at the center of their foreign policies,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Secretary Clinton spoke at a global business conference that joined U.S. business support groups from more than 100 countries with private sector leaders and government officials from the departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Energy.

She says jobs diplomacy means bringing more foreign investors to the U.S., selling more domestic goods abroad, and ensuring that companies compete fairly across borders.

Part of leveling that playing field is fighting corruption, forced technology transfers, the piracy of intellectual property, and preferential treatment for state-owned firms to ensure that the global economic system is transparent and fair.

She says the United States will not stand by when its competitors do not play by the rules.

This administration has already brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate of our predecessors.  And now a special new Trade Enforcement Unit is being established to go after unfair trading practices.  Last Friday, the president announced that when other nations provide unfair financing for their exports, the United States will offer matching support to competing U.S. firms, Mrs. Clinton said.

For all the changes she says the Obama administration is making to better help U.S. businesses compete abroad, Mrs. Clinton says it is up to the private sector to take advantage.

"Foreign leaders often say to me, “Where are the American businesses?  How come they are not here competing for this construction contract or that mining deal?  What are they waiting for?”  As I have described today, this administration is doing everything we can to help American companies, large and small, compete and succeed.  But ultimately, we know it is up to you.  We can not help you if you are not hungry enough to get out there and compete for the business that is going to be available,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The global business conference continues Wednesday with regional sessions targeting specific opportunities for private sector investors in individual markets.
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Flu shots are on the way
for subscribers to Caja

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who are legal residents and obligatory members of the Caja have a chance to cash in on their monthly subscription costs. The Caja said Tuesday that the first shipmen of flu vaccines have arrived in Costa Rica and are being processed. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social has invested more than $1.5 million for 313,000 doses against influenza A and B, it said.

The Caja expects to have distributed about 80 percent of the vaccine doses by the middle of next week. First to get the shots will be the Central Valley. Toward the end of the week the shots will be distributed to the Caribbean and the Pacific coast, the agency said.

The targeted groups are those over 65 and persons who are at risk because of other diseases they may have, including heart problems, diabetes, HIV, and women in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Health officials said that although the vaccines are effective, the best prevention against flu is hand washing and protection from sneezes and coughs.

Meanwhile, Caja health officials said that respiratory infections have decreased considerably throughout the country.

Some 578 persons have been hospitalized due to such infections, and 15 were in intensive care, said Guiselle Guzmán Saborío, a Caja physician. Hand washing also was cited as a practical approach for these ills, too.

Police chop down thousands
of high-grade pot plants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry said that its Policía de Control de Drogas and other policemen have destroyed 64,131 mairjuana plants at Palmar Norte on the Pacific coast. The mission started Feb. 10 and ended Sunday, they said. The plants were identified from the air by pilots of the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the ministry, officials said.

Police said that the marijuana encountered was not the typical low-grade plants that grow in the mountains. These were high-grade, cultivated species, they said.

Two more earthquakes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Earthquakes did not take the day off Tuesday. A 4.2 quake took place at the site where there has been a flurry since Feb. 13. The epicenter was estimated to be 52.7 kilometers (about 33 miles) southwest of Dominical on the central Pacific. A bit more than an hour later at 9:08 p.m. a 3.2 magnitude quake was reported 20.8 kilometers (about 13 miles) southeast of Santa María de Dota. There was a quake in roughly the same spot earlier this week.

Credit card thefts alleged

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who is a suspect in credit card thefts has been jailed for three months investigation. She was identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of  Calderón Umaña. The judiciary said she was detained early Friday in San Sebastián. The credit card thefts were reported to have taken place in Pinares de Curridabat and San Pedro de Montes de Oca.

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