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Published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Vol. 17, No. 39
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Hidden horrors of household rapes come to light
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The hidden horror of household rapes came to light again this week with an allegation that a 12-year old had become pregnant after relations with her father.

Coincidentally, the Poder Judicial also reported actions in similar cases involving minors being violated by those in the same household.

The case of the 12-year old is certain to generate calls for legalized abortion in Costa Rica. Casa Presidencial weighed in on the case Wednesday afternoon urging criminal action in such cases and respect for the dignity of victims.

Wednesday the Poder Judicial reported that the Heredia criminal court gave a 32-year prison sentence to Ricardo Aburto García in a case involving the rape and repeated sexual abuse of a niece, who was between 8 and 10 at the times. The Santa Bárbara de Heredia case took place at the home of the child's aunt where the man was left alone with the girl.

The Poder Judicial also reported that the criminal court in Pavas had ordered three months of preventative detention against a man with the last names of Solera Matamoros, who faces an allegation of rape involving a stepdaughter. The judiciary said the case stems from 2009 in Santa Ana when the man lived in the same home with the girl, who also was described as being disabled.

The allegation is that the rapes lasted for seven years until the girl's mother learned of the situation.

There is a steady stream of such cases, but most do not make the newspapers or television news. An exception is when the child ends up pregnant at an early age. A 9-year-old Nicaraguan child made the news when her pregnancy became known in 2003. Investigators detained a neighbor who was later cleared.

The girl continued in the news because her parents took her to their home country of Nicaragua where she received a legal abortion.

Statistics show that more than 1,000 teens between 14 and 16 were listed as rape victims in the last 10 years. Not all of them were victims of relatives or the boyfriends of their mother. Many more cases probably were not reported.

Early pregnancy can have a life-long impact on a woman's health, medical experts point out.

Local television disclosed the case of the pregnant 12-year old.

Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, the second vice president, responded Wednesday with her call to treat the case with rigor and not to allow impunity.

Her statement was joined by those from the
A.M. Costa Rica graphic 
There are many implications of early pregnancy

Patronato Nacional de la Infancia and the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres.

Alejandra Mora Mora of the latter agency praised the valor of the girl's mother for reporting the case and breaking the silence that characterizes violence against women.

The statement did not mention abortion, but a lawyer from a human rights organization did. The lawyer, Larissa Arroyo Navarrete, issued a statement on behalf of the Acción Estratégica por los Derechos Humanos and said that abortion would be legal in this case. She based her argument on Costa Rican law that allows abortion when there is danger to the life or health of the woman and no other methods are available.

Others many not agree with the lawyer's interpretation. The U.N. Human Rights Committee has recommended that Costa Rica permit abortion when the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or when the unborn child suffers some fatal malformation.

Changing the current law would be highly controversial with the Catholic Church, among other entities, in strong opposition.

The problem of incest is not just a Costa Rican phenomenon, but the many incidents are not mentioned frequently and there are cultural implications. The Poder Judicial maintains an interview room for children in the building occupied by the Judicial Investigating Organization. The room contains shelves full of stuffed animals and plush toys to make a child feel comfortable.

Investigators and social workers are well aware of the extent of the problem. But staffers at the U.S. Embassy appear not to be.

The U.S. government invests substantial sums to fight the specter of underage sex tourism even though there is little proof of that, based on the government's own statistics.

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Public security ministry strikes back

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public security ministry is biting back against allegations that certain officers of the Fuerza Pública are calling for a coup against the government on social media. The police union is now getting involved in the fray.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública issued what could be described as a terse warning to certain disgruntled comments by some members of the police force. Ministry officials reiterated their position on the value of the police for preserving the welfare of the State and security of the public.

“The police are a priority in this institution. They always have been and it is sought that they work and grow in a healthy and balanced environment,” a Wednesday statement from the ministry said.

The conflict stems from a change enacted Monday that affected the work schedules for the police forces under the direction of the public security ministry. Other police agencies, such as prison guards, traffic police and municipal police officers are under the jurisdiction of other entities. The Judicial Investigating Organization is part of the judiciary.

The new work schedule, colloquially known as 4x2, calls for police officers to work 12-hour shifts for four days out of the week and then have two full days off work. Some members opposed to this new rule have been pressing for a schedule that would allow officers to work six 12-hour days and then have six days off.

A study conducted by the Departamento de Salud Ocupacional concluded that the policy decreased the amount of available officers on duty. The study also claimed that there was an increase in crime. There were also no negative health consequences.

Based off these results, the ministry remains adamant that this new work schedule does not negatively affect the health and well-being of officers. An announcement came Wednesday that some female officers of the Fuerza Pública stood in solidarity with the ministry’s position. This may come in response to opposition arguments that the new schedule will negatively impact mothers and fathers. The ministry has rejected this argument.

Meanwhile, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos that represents the police announced it would be holding a demonstration Friday morning in front of the ministry. The announcement Tuesday signals a potential intervention of the union into this issue as union representatives called for off-duty police officers to attend.

The union said that the demonstration is a call for the ministry to comply with the recommendations of the Departamento de Salud Ocupacional regarding work roles and to regulate what it sees as an ambiguity in regulations regarding disabilities. The union also is protesting the lack of application on the upper echelons of the public security ministry of the zero-tolerance policy in investigations of wrongdoing.

Uber ride service legality still ambiguous

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The constitutional court declined to throw out the nation's law that governs taxis and other public transportation. The issue had been raised by lawmakers in defense of the Uber ride service.

The summary from the Sala IV made very clear that the decision in this case is not a judgment on the constitutionality of the Uber service. The decision was seen as favoring taxi drivers who are licensed under the law in question.

The request to annul the law claimed it created what was tantamount to a monopoly, which is forbidden by the Costa Rican Constitution. The law also was characterized as being contrary to the Central American Free Trade Treaty. The court rejected these arguments, although a few magistrates did not.

Uber has quickly become a major means of transportation using private drivers in their own private vehicles. One estimate has 15,000 persons working as drivers. Casa Presidencial has declined to move forcefully for or against the ride service.

Free internet to be available in San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Frente Amplio municipal lawmaker is taking credit for a decision to put free internet in seven San José parks and 22 other areas.

The municipal council approved doing that Tuesday. The lawmaker who proposed the idea is  Diego Miranda. The internet will be provided in parques Nacional, Central, Morazán, La Merced, La Democracia, Garantías Sociales and La Soledad, Miranda said in an annoucement.

Then two locations will be chosen in each of the canton's 11 districts for additional free access, he said.

Festejos Peninsulares Graphic      

2017 Cóbano fiestas continues on coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a fiesta again this weekend in Cóbano on the Nicoya peninsula and an arts and crafts fair starting in Santa Ana. The fiesta in Cóbano is aptly called the Festejos Penínsulares Cóbano 2017.

The fiesta runs through Monday with bull fights and bull riding as well as a dance tonight. There are activities for seniors Friday morning, a cattle auction at 1 p.m. with even more bulls Friday night and another dance. There also are dances Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights with a fireworks show Monday at 9 p.m.  There is a tope horse parade Saturday at 2 p.m.

Festival Internacional de Artesanías in Santa Ana is in its 16th year. The location is north of the Catholic church. Most of the exhibits are available for viewing today, but the official inauguration is Friday at 2 p.m. The event attracts craft workers from all over Latin America. A major sponsor is the  Municipalidad de Santa Ana.

The festival runs through March 5 with a number of folkloric and cultural presentations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 39
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New exhibit at Museo Nacional makes visitor more than a spectator
By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Museums can be a hit or miss in terms of the exhibits, in the style of presentations, and the attention span of the visitors. The opening of a new exhibit at Museo Nacional seeks to bring history to the present and give visitors a more interactive experience.

The “Historia de Costa Rica, siglos XVI-XXI” exhibit’s architect and designer, Ronald Quesada, seeks to go beyond the traditional artifacts behind glass panes and lack of depth in the experience. English-speakers need not worry. The museum provides bilingual descriptions of the items on display.

This exhibit has at least seven three-dimensional, life-size statues portraying daily life through the centuries of conquest to the modern day. These statues were modeled from the same persons whose activity those statues represent in the exhibit.

The displays combine a traditional catalogue of facts and information about the titans of Costa Rican history and the grand events that shaped the culture as much as the country with the daily life of ordinary people during those times. It is interactive, too with plenty of opportunities for visitors to take selfies or actively engage within the exhibit.

Visitors can sit down in a recreated living room set during the time of the early 1960s complete with reruns of black-and-white Teletica sitcoms playing. Visitors can pose at a park bench with a photographic blowup of the Parque Nacional at the turn of the 19th century. That section even includes contemporary music from the time period.

“As a dual strategy and script, there are experiential bridges between past and present, where people can feel not only as a spectator, but also a protagonist of history,” said Gabriela Villalobos, the historian and curator in charge of the exhibit, “For this reason, the recreation of domestic spaces is fundamental. The museographic and thematic objective is to convert certain spaces or experiences of daily life into passable bridges between yesterday and today for the public.”

The items on display throughout the respective eras of history are a mix of common and extraordinary. A traditional oxen cart used for the boyero parade is found at one spot, while at another includes Costa Rica’s first Olympic medal won by Silvia Poll in 1988.

There is also an emphasis on the native culture of Costa Rica
A.M. Costa Rica photo/Conor Golden
Statues in the "Auge y crisis del Estado" section of new exhibit

particularly during the early days of the Costa Rican republic and in the modern day as well.

Since the museum is housed in the site of the old Bellavista barracks famous for tourists because of  the pockmarks from bullets lining the bastions and walls, museum workers actually pulled out some of those bullets encased in the walls and set it up in the section “Auge y crisis del Estado.”

The exhibit completes the visitors’ tour with a mirror engraved with the phrase: “Who builds history today?”

It is a new strategy symbolized in the design of a new exhibit.

The “Historia de Costa Rica, siglos XVI-XXI,” opens as a permanent exhibit today at 9 a.m.

Over 650 items are included in its arsenal. The exhibit itself is divided into five sections: “De la Colonia a la República,” “El país del café,” “Liberalismo y modernidad,” “Conflicto y reforma,” and “Auge y crisis del Estado.”

Total investment in the construction and preparation for it was around $720,000, according to museum officials.

Limón band uses Caribbean rhythm and sound to celebrate diversity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The diversity exemplified in Limón will be performed in the rhythm and sound of Limón’s Banda de Conciertos this Sunday evening under the direction of a Costa Rican student.

“The main idea of the concert is to interpret Costa Rican music that is truly related to the Caribbean,” said Alberto Portugués, the deputy director for the Banda de Limón.

“Inspiraciones del Caribe,” as the series of performances is called, will be presented this Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Casa de la Cultura in Limón before coming to Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro next Tuesday.

That performance will also begin at 7 p.m. at the Escuelas de Artes Musicales, organizers said.

Coincidentally, Pablo Zamora, the director for the band, is a music major attending Universidad de Costa Rica. The student musician has a focus on traditional Costa Rican music mixed with more contemporary music.

The result of Zamora’s interests is an experiment to try and mix more academic-oriented music with pop, according to the Banda de Limón.

“The purpose of the concert is to highlight the diversity that is in Limón through its music, culture and even gastronomy,” Zamora said, “It is a very beautiful symbol that Costa Rica is a completely diversified land and all this beauty is what one has to learn in order to celebrate.”

Organizers said that both concerts will be free of charge and all are welcome to attend.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 39
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Social structure in fire ants evolved in a single event, research says
By the Queen Mary University of London news staff

Scientists have discovered that the chromosome responsible for the social organization of colonies of the highly invasive fire ant is likely to have evolved via a single event rather than over time.

Red fire ants are found in two different types of colonies: some colonies have a single queen while other colonies contain dozens of queens.

The team had previously discovered that colony type is determined by a chromosome that carries one of two variants of a supergene region containing more than 500 genes.

In a new research paper, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, a team from Queen Mary University of London sequenced the DNA and compared the genomes of two types of individuals: those carrying the supergene version responsible for colonies with a single queen and those carrying the supergene variant responsible for colonies with multiple queens.

The study found that the two versions of the chromosome differ homogeneously over the entire length of the supergene.

"This suggests that a single event, such as a large chromosomal rearrangement, was responsible for the origin of this remarkable system for determining social organisation,” said lead author Yannick Wurm from the university's  School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

The team also discovered a large number of unfavorable mutations in the version of the supergene responsible for colonies with multiple queens.

Wurm added: “It is likely that only a few genes among the hundreds present in the supergene region are responsible for differences in social organization."

Our finding indicates that the advantages of having several queens in the colony outweigh the costs of the unfavorable mutations in the supergene region.”

  Romain Libbrecht and Yannick Wurm photo
Queen and other fire ants are on their DNA printout

This finding can help scientists understand how chromosomes evolve over time.

The red fire ant, which is a native species in South America, is infamous for its painful sting, and is known in many other parts of the world where its aggressiveness and high population density have made it an invasive pest.

It was accidentally introduced to the southern United States in the 1930s and has since spread to many warm parts of the world including in China and Australia.  Efforts at controlling the spread of this species have largely been unsuccessful, as indicated by its Latin name, Solenopsis invicta, meaning “the invincible”.

Rodrigo Pracana added: “Our discoveries could help to develop novel pest control strategies. For example, a pesticide that disrupts the social organization in this species without affecting other species would be beneficial.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
Salsa Lizano
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 39
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New immigration guidelines
seek to end catch and release

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has outlined policies that could result in the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly released the guidelines Tuesday specifying how his department will carry out a pair of executive orders President Donald Trump issued last month.

Under the previous administration of President Barack Obama the focus on deporting people who entered the country illegally was on those who committed serious crimes.

Kelly rescinded those policies, saying now priorities for deportation are people who are convicted or charged with any crime, have committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense, abused a program to get public aid, or in the judgment of an immigration officer pose a public safety or national security threat.

The new guidelines do not roll back Obama's executive orders deferring action against people who came into the country illegally when they were children, or undocumented parents of people who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The new guidelines also call for regular reports from Homeland Security about undocumented immigrants who are apprehended. The information will include their country of citizenship, nature of crimes, custody status, and if they are released, the reason and location of that release.

Kelly called for ending so-called catch-and-release policies, with a surge in immigration judges and asylum officers to more quickly deal with cases and expanded detention facilities to handle keeping more people in custody during the process. He said anyone caught crossing a border should be sent back to the country they crossed from, not their country of origin.

The Department of Homeland Security will also establish an office aimed at providing victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants with information about offenders, including their immigration and custody status.

"The Department will no long afford Privacy Act rights and protections to persons who are neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents," Kelly said.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the new policies, saying it is ready to fight.

Top administration officials
visiting México to see Peña

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two key members of U.S. President Donald Trump's cabinet are hoping to soothe concern and anger about the new U.S. administration's policies toward México.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly meet today with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and members of his cabinet, in what is expected to be the first in a series of high-level meetings focusing on drug trafficking, trade and immigration.

"It's significant that the president is sending the secretaries to México so early in his administration," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. "It's symbolic of the meaningful relationship our two nations have."

Spicer also referred to relations between the two countries as healthy and robust.

The trip comes at what is seen as a low point in relations between the two countries. Trump has repeatedly insisted that México, one way or another, must pay for a border wall, which lawmakers in Washington estimate would cost at least $12 billion.

And just this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security outlined policies that could result in the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

U.S. officials said Tillerson, a former oil-and-gas corporation chief executive, and Kelly would discuss border security, law enforcement cooperation and trade, among other issues.

México's richest businessman, Carlos Slim, whom some want to run for president next year, during a recent rare news conference called for people in his country to buy domestic products and not surrender to Trump's demands.

The United States is México's largest trading partner. The two countries plus Canada have their economies intertwined as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump wants to make changes to the agreement, which went into force 23 years ago. "We're going to review all the trade deals that are out there," spokesman Spicer told reporters Tuesday.

Any attempt to introduce quotas or tariffs would be disastrous for the treaty, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Tuesday at a conference in Toronto about the future of North America.

Current and former Canadian government officials are pledging to not sacrifice trade ties with México to cut a better bilateral deal with Washington should the trade treaty be renegotiated.

Old emails link EPA chief
to fossil fuel companies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office has released more than 7,500 emails between former state attorney general Scott Pruitt, now head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and members of the fossil fuel industry.

The emails were released under a court order sought by the Center for Media and Democracy activist group, which is among critics who say Pruitt is too closely tied to fossil fuel companies to make a suitable head of the agency.

In a news release Wednesday, the activist group said, "Despite repeated attempts by Pruitt and the Oklahoma AG's office to stonewall . . . the public, we've won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt's emails with polluters and their proxies."

Pruitt was confirmed as the agency chief Friday in a 52-46 vote by the Republican-dominated Senate.

Among the emails are exchanges between Pruitt's office and Devon Energy, a major oil and gas company in Oklahoma, in which the two sides discuss and draft letters for Pruitt to send to federal officials to hold off new federal regulations that would complicate business for Devon.

The correspondence also shows that Pruitt was in high demand as a speaker for groups that work with corporations and state legislators to shape important pieces of legislation.

In addition to Devon Energy, another notable correspondent was Stuart Solomon, president of the Public Service Company of Oklahoma. Solomon sent an email thanking Pruitt for suing the EPA over a federal plan for compliance with Oklahoma's regional haze rule, which seeks to control air pollution.

Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times in the eight years previous to Trump taking office. His lawsuits challenged the EPA's authority to regulate mercury pollution, smog, carbon emissions, and the quality of wetlands and other waters.

Drumbeat against vaccines
worries U.S. medical expert

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization hopes to inoculate 5 million children in Yemen against polio this year, while in the United States a movement opposed to the use of vaccines in the very young is gaining momentum, prompting warnings from many doctors that this trend could result in dangerous outbreaks of diseases once under control.

Dr. Peter J. Hotez, an expert in infectious diseases and pediatric care, is among those physicians arguing strenuously against those who oppose vaccines, based on their beliefs that American vaccination practices are putting their children at risk.

Pitted against Hotez are groups such as Texans for Vaccine Choice, whose members generally believe that vaccines administered to children may be linked to the developmental disorder autism. The scientific establishment has repeatedly discredited such theories, but parents who oppose vaccines say they should be able to disregard their government’s advice and choose for themselves whether to vaccinate their children.

Texans for Vaccine Choice is a very effective organization, Hotez said.

Another group called Revolution for Truth plans a march on Washington in late March. On Facebook the group says its purpose is “to protest the . . . media’s biased coverage and demonization of anyone who advocates for safer vaccines or defends the legal right to make informed, voluntary vaccine choices.”

The vaccine skeptics’ beliefs fly in the face of voluminous statistical evidence compiled by the U.S. government’s health agencies, the World Health Organization and many other groups. This year, however, their movement has been energized by some anti-vaccine comments President Donald Trump made years ago, and by his perceived opposition to vaccines during the political campaign that put him in the White House.

Vaccinations against childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella are compulsory in most of the U.S., but Texas is one of the states that will hear appeals from parents who oppose the practice, and, in many cases, will exempt their children from vaccination requirements.

Emboldened by their successes in the appeals process, an estimated 50,000 Texas schoolchildren are no longer being inoculated. Vaccine choice groups are now shifting their operations into politics, social media and other arenas to appeal to a broader sector of the public.

The Texas Health Services department reports that measles vaccination coverage in certain counties is close to dropping below 95 percent, the rate necessary to ensure widespread immunity and prevent measles outbreaks.

Hotez says he is greatly concerned by the implications of what is happening in Texas. He is a professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor University in Texas, among other appointments, and also directs a center for vaccine development at Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston. This gives him a broad overview of many issues involving the growth and development in young children.

In a Skype interview this week, Hotez said the increase in parental opposition to children’s vaccinations could lead to a deadly resurgence of measles in Texas and other parts of the country.

Trump downplays protests
against loss of Obmamacare

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Donald Trump is dismissing protests that have broken out against his plan to dismantle national health care reforms that marked former president Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.

Trump, in a comment on his Twitter account late Tuesday, said, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

The White House said Wednesday that Trump would propose a new health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, in the next couple weeks.

During the current week-long congressional recess, numerous Republican lawmakers facing voters at town hall gatherings in their home state districts have been greeted with vocal protests against their years-long effort to scuttle the law.

Some, as Trump said, have organized efforts against Republican lawmakers looking to repeal the law, while others at the town halls appear to be individual voters who are saying that they will lose their insurance, leaving them unable to pay their medical bills while facing severe health problems, if Congress doesn't approve a similar replacement measure.

Many say they want Obamacare kept much the same as it is now, with national polls showing the law is now more popular than it was when its existence was not seriously threatened in recent years.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer acknowledged that some of the protesters are upset at the possible loss of their health insurance, but that others are part of manufactured protests and said they do not reflect broad-based support in the lawmakers' congressional districts for Obamacare.

With a Republican in the White House who often called the law a disaster during his presidential campaign, a big majority of Republican lawmakers had felt they would have a clear path to repealing the law. They have assailed it since its 2010 approval by a Democratic-controlled Congress without a single Republican vote.

Republicans have repeatedly attacked one of the law's key provisions, what many conservatives have long considered an intrusive requirement that all Americans buy health care insurance, or pay a penalty to the government if they don't. Obama vetoed one repeal measure when he was in office, while Democratic lawmakers blocked dozens of other Republican repeal attempts from even reaching his White House desk for his necessary signature.

About half of Americans get their health insurance through their employer and often would not be directly impacted by the fate of Obamacare. About a third of Americans are senior citizens and impoverished people covered by government health care programs. The remainder are either uninsured or have bought individual policies for themselves and their families through Obamacare and could be significantly affected if the law is repealed without an adequate replacement.

Infamous Dachau iron gate
found and going to museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The iron gate with the grim slogan "Work Will Set You Free" has been returned to the Dachau Nazi concentration camp in Germany, where it was stolen more than two years ago.

The gate was found hidden in a parking lot north of Bergen, Norway, in December.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned its theft as an appalling crime. Others called it a desecration to the memories of the more than 200,000 Holocaust victims imprisoned and murdered there.

The investigation into the gate's theft continues.

Officials replaced it with a replica after it was stolen. The original will now be put inside a museum and hooked up to an alarm.

Dachau was the first concentration camp the Nazis set up after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. Its victims included Jews, Gypsies, gays and those who opposed the Nazis.

More than 41,000 people were murdered in Dachau before U.S. troops liberated the camp in the closing days of World War II.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Dachau during his trip to Europe earlier this week.

Another iron gate with the "Work Will Set You Free" slogan was stolen from the notorious Auschwitz death camp in Poland in 2009. It was later recovered after having been cut into pieces. A Swedish neo-Nazi was arrested and jailed in connection with that theft.

Google is planning to add
ride sharing to its Waze app

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ride-sharing giant Uber is getting some stiff competition from a former ally, Google.

The search giant is reportedly adding a ride-sharing component to its popular Waze navigation application, according to The Wall Street Journal.

However, unlike Uber and Lyft, Google "wants to persuade regular drivers using its navigation app to pick up people who are heading in the same direction," according to the report.

According to the report, the new service will be rolled out in several U.S. and Latin American cities in the coming months. The company reportedly had successful trial runs of the service in San Francisco and Israel.

Waze rides are going to reportedly cost less than Uber and Lyft, the Journal reports, saying a ride from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco would be $4.50. That compares to $10.57 for UberPool and $12.40 for Lyft Line.

Cat-mental illness ties said
to lack any clear evidence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

There is some good news for cat lovers. Turns out those reports that people who grew up with cats have a higher risk of mental illness are not true.

Writing in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers from University College London say a common parasite associated with cats, Toxoplasma Gondii, which is associated with mental health issues, does not cause mental issues in people who grew up around cats.

Lead author Francesca Solmi said, "The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health."

She said, "Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations."

Researchers say their study of those who grew up around cats is significantly more reliable than studies that suggested a link between cat ownership and mental disorders because the subjects were monitored for nearly 20 years, rather than asking people with mental illness to remember details from their childhood, as was the case with studies suggesting a link.

Furthermore, they say those studies were relatively small with gaps in the data.

For this study, researchers investigated 5,000 people born in 1991 or 1992 who were part of an 18-year ongoing health study. Data from the study showed whether cats were in the house when the mother was pregnant or had cats while the children were growing up.

California auctioneer faces
rhino horn trafficking count

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A federal court has charged a Beverly Hills, California, auctioneer with trafficking in endangered rhinoceros horn.

The man, Jacob Chait, was indicted last week in a federal court in New York City, the U.S. Attorney's office said Wednesday.

"Rhinoceros have no known predators other than humans, and yet, driven by the illegal trade in their horns, literally worth more than their weight in gold on the black market, rhinoceros are on their way to extinction," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Prosecutors say that between 2009 and 2012, Chait and his co-conspirators allegedly bought rhino horns and tried to sell them to foreign buyers in eight separate deals worth about $2.4 million.

They say he personally smuggled two black rhino horns into China.

If found guilty, Chait could face as much as five years in prison. International treaties heavily restrict the global trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory.

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news page

San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 39
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News from the BBC up to the minute

BBC news feeds are disabled on archived pages.

Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
Canadian man dead after water mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 33-year old Canadian man drowned as a result from a riptide Monday morning.

The Judicial Investigation Organization confirmed the death of Peter Scouras Wednesday after the Canadian tourist drowned at Playa Hermosa. The body was transferred to the Morgue Judicial where an autopsy confirmed the cause of death. Judicial agents said that they have contacted the Canadian embassy for the transfer of the body.

The body remains at the morgue awaiting a family member or spouse to retrieve it.

Women spiking drinks for theft arrested

 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some long-time expats might remember the Viper Lady. She was the individual who used to lure men into her trap in San Jose's downtown. She would strike up a conversation on some pretext and then invite the victim to a nearby bar where she would engineer a spiked drink.

Sometimes the victims would become so compliant under the effects of a drug that they would provide PIN numbers and credit cards. Other times they just woke up in a strange place with most or all of their clothes missing.

The Viper Lady has not been seen for awhile. Some claim she was a guy in drag. But her technique lives on.

Judicial investigators say they managed to obtain preventative detention against two women who were doing the same thing.

The pair targeted older individuals in Heredia parks and sought domestic employment or some other legitimate reason to go to the victim's home. There a refreshing drink would put the victim out and at the mercy of robbers.

A third woman was detained briefly and set free because prosecutors could not develop evidence linking her to the crimes. The two women who remain detained face at least three accusations of these mickey finn robberies.

Trio detained for stealing from women

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two minors and one adult were detained by police Tuesday night under suspicions that they were targeting women for theft.

The group of three, all males, were identified by a victim as being the individuals who stole her belongings after she bought stuff from a supermarket in the Granadilla district, according to police. The woman made the 911 call and denounced the three.

Police found the three suspects in a vacant lot. They were found with the items stolen from the victim, police said, and she identified those three as the ones who stole from her.

Police believe these three may be the perpetrators in a string of thefts similar to the one they were arrested for. According to some complaints that were filed, a group of three men approached women who were traveling alone, threatened them and stole their belongings before fleeing, according to police.

It is not clear yet if this group is the same group of thieves for the other cases. The adult suspect was transferred to the prosecutor’s office while the minors were given to the juvenile prosecutor.

Worker dies after utility pole falls down

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 33-year-old Cable Vision worker died Wednesday when the utility pole on which he was working fell. Grupo ICE, which operates the cable sevice, identified the man as Luis Diego Alfaro Morales of Vásquez de Coronado. The accident happened while the man was on the job in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, said the telecom firm.

Attendants pronounced the man dead at Hospital San Juan de Dios about 3 p.m.

The accident affected electricity and telecommunications in the area for a time.

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From Page 7:

U.S. interest rate hike will impact Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
with wire service reports

U.S. Federal Reserve governors believe that an interest rate hike may come fairly soon, according to notes from the most recent meeting of top officials of the central bank.

A rate increase would have multiple impacts on Costa Rica. The U.S. dollar would become stronger, and local interest rates would follow. In addition, the interest rates paid by the central government to finance its massive deficit would creep higher.

The government already has been hit by two downgrades from credit rating agencies, and these adjustments would be combined with the rate reflecting U.S. interest rates. International borrowing is denominated in U.S. dollars.

Of course, a stronger dollar would be reflected in greater sales and income for exporters, and there would be an advantage for U.S. tourists who visit here.

The assessment by Federal Reserve leaders on interest rates assumes that data on the job market and inflation continues strengthening at its current pace or faster. The Fed information was published Wednesday after the customary delay of several weeks. The next scheduled meeting of the Fed leadership is in mid-March.

Some Fed officials expressed concern that unemployment might fall so low that it would spark inflation as employers are forced to offer higher wages to attract workers in a tight labor market.

Officials raise interest rates to cool the economy to keep prices from soaring. They worry that an inflationary spike could hurt economic growth.

The U.S. dollar already has gained about 1.5 percent against the Costa Rican colon this month. Banco Nacional reported Wednesday that it would sell dollars for 568.50 colons and would exchange dollars for colons at a 556.50 rate. Official rates at the Banco Central were slightly different, and the central bank said that $5.1 million had been exchanged Wednesday at its Mercado de Monedas Extranjeras.

The Central Bank spent nearly 18 percent of its dollar holdings last year in defending the price of the colon. Some observers are predicting that the dollar will soar to 600 colons by the end of the year. A month ago the rate was 560.01 colons to buy dollars and 548.03 to sell one.

Earlier on Wednesday, a separate report said U.S. home resales surged to a nearly 10-year high in January. Home sales are a major economic indicator.

The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales jumped 3.3 percent to an annual rate of 5.69 million homes.

The report says sales are being hampered by the smaller-than-usual number of homes available for sale. The real estate industry group also says sales were up 3.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

Sales growth was stronger than many experts predicted, perhaps because they thought rising prices and interest rates might cool the market a bit.