A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 40          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Two at immigration face charge of faking data
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two immigration employees ended up in the hands of investigators Thursday. They face allegations that they falsified entry and exit dates for persons who paid them money.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said the case had been under review for three months.  A spokesperson for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería identified the employees by the last name of Magón and Piedra.

One of the arrested individuals was a computer operator at the immigration facilities in La Uruca. The second person was a secretary, the Judicial Investigating Organization spokesman said. It was not clear which person had what name.

The arrests came about 10:30 a.m. The immigration office keeps track of when individuals leave and arrive in the country. This information is computerized and can be provided for various legal reasons as a printout.

Some foreigners have a requirement to spend a certain number of days each year in the
country as a condition of their residency permission. In addition, many foreigners are here on tourist visas when, in fact, they are residents.

Immigration has had a long history of corruption involving entry and exit permits, so much so that officials began asking foreign residents to provide airline ticket stubs and other documentation as proof in addition to the agency's own computer reports.

Many so-called perpetual tourists here make use of persons who can provide fake exit and arrival stamps in their passports to simulate the legal requirement to leave the country every 90 days. This procedure also would require falsification of the immigration department computers to avoid discovery.

Some individuals remain perpetual tourists because they have criminal records elsewhere that would keep them from gaining residency here.

The case was handled by the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.  More information is expected next week, and it is likely that agents have records of those who might have been the beneficiaries of immigration fraud.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
The size of the new, consolidated Registro building is clear in this overview of the inauguration ceremony Thursday.

New Registro wing unifies delivery of the nation's paperwork
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you want to take your car to Nicaragua or Panamá or get any number of officials papers and permissions, the Registro Nacional has a new facility for you.

The registry, the central location for property deeds, mortgages, corporate filings and vehicle registrations inaugurated its new, consolidated areas where documents will be dispensed. All the documents are digitized, and any one of the 30 windows can provide any type of document. In the past, visitors had to go to different places for different types of documents.

The project cost 180 million colons or $360,000. As a result, citizens no longer face
"corruption, prolonged loss of time, missing documents and requests and errors in the satisfaction of the demands of users," according to President Abel Pacheco.

Documents that are filed at the Registro, such as deeds and property surveys, still go to the former locations. But to obtain a document, a visitor can go to any new window, and an employee with a computer and printer there can generate copies of whatever is in the Registro files. 

Many of the documents are available online, but the new system provides certified copies.

The new operation will be open sometime in the first 15 days of March. Normal working hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 40

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Government of Costa Rica photo
Russell Earl Winstead climbs the stairway to his American Airlines flight.

Kentucky man returned
home for murder trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Russell Earl Winstead, the Madison, Kentucky, man who faces a charge of murdering his aunt, returned home Thursday in the custody of U.S. marshals. He had been in jail here since May 3, when he was arrested leaving a San José casino.

Winstead left on Flight 1700 of American Airline for Miami where he was to be transfered to a flight to Kentucky.

Winstead entered Costa Rica June 5, 2003 and his arrival prompted the start of diplomatic efforts to arrest him here. He was apprehended by Fuerza Pública officers in conjunction with local representatives of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

Winstead is believed to be a compulsive gambler who lost $1 million the last year he was in the United States. His 86-year-old aunt, Anne Mae Branson, died from 80 knife wounds in the face and chest.

Winstead was a prime suspect but left the country before an indictment could be leveled. Police theorize that he asked his aunt for money and she refused.

He also faces a charge of first-degree robbery.
Central bank makes plans
to transfer its big debt

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Hacienda and the Banco Central announced a $2.6 billion deal that officials hope will reduce inflation in the country. 

Usually the bank deals with national debt by simply firing up the printing presses and creating more money.  The problem is, this generates enormous inflation. Costa Rica's inflation rate was 14 percent last year.

The bank has decided to fix this problem by transferring the debt to the Ministerio de Hacienda.  The ministry can float bonds, a capability the bank doesn't have.  The plan is that the finance ministry will issue bonds to cover the debts and, as the bonds are paid back, the inflation rate will diminish. 

“Transferring the liabilities of the Banco Central to the Ministerio de Hacienda permits us to reduce the rate of inflation in three years.  This will make the economy of the country less vulnerable and more attractive for investors,” said David Fuentes Montero, the minister of Hacienda.

The problem is, the two institutions are banking on the new tax plan passing to generate the revenue needed to pay off the bonds. 

“We think that now is the opportunity to do this project.  The tax plan was approved on first debate in the Asemblea Legislativa and according to calculations, it will generate new resources equal to 2 percent of the Gross National Product.  This will allow us to reduce the inflation that affects all Costa Rica," Fuentes said. 

In order to become law, the tax plan must be approved by the Asemblea Legislativa in a second vote, but if the tax plan doesn't pass, there is no plan B. 

The money makes up 1.4 percent of Costa Rica's gross national product.  Roy González, manager of the Banco Central, Francisco de Paula Gutiérrez, president of the Banco Central and David Fuentes Montero, the housing minister outlined the deal at a press conference Thursday. The transfer will require that a law be passed. 
Illustration course called
first step to animation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An upcoming art course could land the best students a spot in Italy. 

Noted Brazilian artist Gian Calvi is teaming up with Costa Rican illustrator Vicky Ramos to teach an art course that starts Monday and lasts through March 10, organizers said. 

The class, “Veo las cosas de otra manera: Creatividad, Diseño, Ilustración y Mercadeo,” is at the Escuela de Diseño Publicitario at the Universidad VERITAS. 

Those who do well will have the opportunity to participate in “Convergencia,” the fourth Encuentro de Diseño Publicitario de la Universidad VERITAS in June; as well as the 47th Annual Juried Illustration Competition from the magazine “Communication Arts” and in the Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. 

Illustration is an important form of design and acts as a stepping stone to other more tecnically advance fields such as digital animation and scientific illustration, said Gabriela Villalobos, director of the Escuela de Diseño Publicitario at the Universidad VERITAS.

Gian Calvi is the director for the international Niños Creativos program.  This program seeks to stimulate creativity in children throughout the world.  He has worked in design for public relations agencies, toy and furniture companies and in animation. 

Those who are interested can contact Adriana Álvarez at 283-4747 ext. 258 or at aalvarez@uveritas.ac.cr.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 40

City dwellers have a lot of options even here
Like Cy, many people who are planning to move to Costa Rica are wondering where the best place to live would be.  Some think, ah, a villa by the sea, that is for me.  That is what we wanted and found when we moved to Majorca, but the sea was the Mediterranean and the weather was mild to hot except for winter.  During the winter we huddled in front of the fireplace or around our Camilla table (a round table with a pan of burning olive pits under it).  Here, a seaside villa, on either Pacific or Atlantic, means a warm-to-tropical and generally humid climate, so it is for those who like it hot. 

Then there are those who yearn for small town life and getting to know the "real" people.  You can do that here.  It helps if you come down as a member of the Peace Corps or other organization that is here to help the people and if you have a good command of the language. You must also have patience with the vagaries of conveniences like indoor plumbing, potable water, electricity, etc.  Many people come with the idea of buying or building a home and look forward to all the work involved in that project. (Having something to do so they won’t get bored).

And then there are those who want to enjoy the temperate climate of the Mesa Central – the plateau in the center of the country where San José, the capital, and other smaller cities are located.  They are not ready to accept too much of a challenge of a new country and a drastically altered lifestyle.  Single people are often among this group. 

Builders in and around San José are getting ready (and hoping) for a grand migration back to the city and more urban areas.  City officials are hoping along with them because the traffic is getting so bad business and lives are being adversely affected.  The measures being taken to alleviate the gridlock are limited simply because streets cannot be widened.  A better solution seems to be cut back on the traffic and commuting.  Turn drivers into pedestrians. 

To this end sky-scraping condominiums, apartment buildings and new urbanization neighborhoods are springing up like mushrooms.  In my neighborhood, in Sabana Sur, a large apartment complex is rising a floor a day, it seems.  The plan is to have shops on the ground floor, offices for the next two or three floors and then apartments.  An idea whose time came long ago.  I wanted to suggest this to Mayor John Lindsey when I lived in New York and he asked people for ideas to solve the congestion problem. I also said to all who would listen, that a city must stay awake all night so deliveries could be made at night when traffic was light.  I regret that thought every time I hear the truck work its way, at four o’clock in the morning, into the narrow garage to unload its cargo at the business across the street.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The next decision the prospective new city resident must make is whether to move into an apartment complex, a condominium, or a house in a special development complex.  Each has its own obvious advantages and disadvantages.  Apartments don’t belong to you, of course.  But you have few responsibilities except to be a good tenant.  The variety of apartments from spacious with high ceilings to compact and modern is almost endless, as are the rents. The neighborhoods vary, too.  And you have the freedom to change locations without too much trouble. 

New condo complexes are rising in San José, Escazú and surrounding towns.  Owning a condo is something like owning a house except that you share some of the common areas – amenities like perhaps a gym, a pool, a rancho for parties, and the grounds and you don’t have to personally take care of these amenities.  But you have to pay for the privilege of sharing them, and you have to agree to certain communal rules. 

“Urbas” (or designed neighborhoods in urban settings) offer a bit more freedom than condo living.  Houses are usually separate and usually more spacious, and there are a number of different designs.  They are built near basic services like schools, hospitals, and a mall of some sort or another. 

As yet it seems to be a buyer's market with a wide variety to choose from.

But people who live in a city in another country – in Montreal or St. Louis, or Berlin, for example– may wonder what is the point of moving from one city to another.  The same point I say as for instance, moving from San Francisco to Paris.  Both are wonderful cities, but the experience is entirely different.

A city by any other name does not smell, feel or look the same. The food shopping experience (a basic activity of us all) is different in every city.

A small town in this country will be pretty homogenous, but this city has a wonderful variety of people, including a lot of foreigners from many different countries who stop off for a day or two on their way to the vacation spots in other parts.

I will welcome the influx if it happens. Pedestrians make great cities. Drivers and cars don’t.                   

A Latin jazz band from Boston, Massachusetts???
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cambridge, Massachusetts, seems an odd place to find Latin jazz, especially in the winter.  The rolling rhythm and screaming trumpets accompanied by undulating couples dancing sweaty salsa and meringue looks natural at beach bars.  New England seems too cold to be a proper environment for such music, but it is.  It's also where Hector Cuevas calls home. 

He and his band, Hector Cuevas and the Boston Latin Band, have modernized a sound from a generation before with recently composed music.  The result is a hit in Latin America and farther north, with snow-dwelling North Americans.

Cuevas honed his sound in his native Dominican Republic, where as a kid he either played baseball or made music, he said.  His first musical instrument was a cow bell given to him by the mother of Johnny Ventura, a meringue star in the country.  He began hanging out with Ventura and his percussionist Victor D'Carlos at the time.  D'Carlos was late to a scheduled performance in Santo Domingo one night and Ventura tapped Cuevas to fill the spot.  In 1971, his father got him a visa to the United States to work and study accounting, but the young Cuevas was much more interested in the Big Apple's music scene.  Once in the States, he wandered between New York, Miami, New Orleans and eventually to Cambridge, he said. 

Cuevas and his partner, manager and executive producer, Janet Miller-Wiseman, attended a performance by the Grammy Award-winning Cuban band, the Buena Vista Social Club.  The concert was good, Cuevas said, but he felt he could put together a better band.  He resolved to search everywhere until he found the perfect musicians.  His current vocalist, Kelvin Carbuccia, was performing in the subway system.  He was just what Cuevas was

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Hector Cuevas relaxes at a local hotel

looking for so Cuevas recruited him, he said.

The success of Cuevas' band can be characterized by an example provided by Ms. Miller-Wiseman.  Latin jazz is popular at weddings right now, and the demand for such festivities on Long Island in New York is high.  There are tons of Latin bands in New York, but Cuevas' band in Cambridge gets called regularly to perform.  His band also appears at the Rigatta Bar.  All this has happened in only four years.

Now, Cuevas is looking to expand.  He and Ms. Miller-Wiseman are here in Costa Rica visiting but also promoting.  He's been talking with Papaya Records in San José and would like to perform a show here.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 40

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
art show
Edgar Cubillo Brisuela weaves another basket at an art festival sponsored by the Municipalidad de San José. The event, hosting 60 artists, runs through Sunday at Parque España in north San José in front of the towering Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. Glass-blowing, masks, metal working and other forms of art are represented.

NASA remote sensing used to seek out Mayan sites
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Space agency and university scientists are using remote-sensing technology to uncover Mayan ruins in Guatemala using the chemical signature of the civilization’s ancient building materials, the Marshall Space Flight Center said.

A chemical signature refers to the unique collection of chemicals that makes up a specific substance. Like a fingerprint, a chemical signature differentiates one material from another.

Remains of the ancient Maya culture, mysteriously destroyed at the height of its reign in the ninth century, have been hidden in the rain forests of Central America for more than 1,000 years.

Archaeologist Tom Sever and scientist Dan Irwin, both from Marshall Space Flight Center of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration in Alabama, are teaming with William Saturno, an archaeologist at the University of New Hampshire, to find the ruins of the ancient culture.

Under a NASA Space Act Agreement with the University of New Hampshire, a science team will visit Guatemala every year through 2009, with the support of the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History and the Department of Pre-Hispanic Monuments.

The team will verify its research and continue refining their remote sensing tools to help lead explorers to other ancient ruins and conduct Earth science research in the region.

“From the air, everything but the tops of very few surviving pyramids are hidden by the tree canopy,” said Sever, a pioneer in the use of aerospace remote sensing for archaeology.

“On the ground,” he added, “the 60- to 100-foot [18- to 30.5-meter] trees and dense undergrowth can obscure objects as close as 10 feet [3 meters] away. Explorers can stumble right through an ancient city that once housed thousands and never even realize it.”

Sever has explored the capacity of remote sensing
technology and the science of collecting information about the Earth’s surface using aerial or space-based photography to serve archeology.

He and Irwin gave Saturno high-resolution commercial satellite images of the rain forest, and collected data from NASA’s Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar, an instrument flown aboard a high-altitude weather plane that can penetrate clouds, snow and forest canopies.

The resulting Earth observations have helped the team survey an uncharted region around San Bartolo, Guatemala. They discovered a link between the color and reflectivity of the vegetation in the images — their signature — and the location of known archaeological sites.

The Mayan civilization once extended to parts of what is now Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and most of Guatemala and Belize.

From the third century to the ninth century, Maya civilization produced temples and pyramids, highly accurate calendars, mathematics and hieroglyphic writing and a complex social and political order.

But mounting archeological evidence indicates that the once-vast Mayan civilization, with 10 million citizens throughout Mesoamerica a thousand years ago, might have collapsed due to colossal environmental problems.

"The Maya had totally destroyed their forests," Irwin explains. "That deforestation and local climatic conditions, we believe, led to such a severe drought that ... the entire Maya culture disappeared in just a few years."

The more we know about the plight of the Maya, he added, “the better our chances of avoiding something similar.”

Another aspect of the research involved using climate models to determine the effects of Maya-driven deforestation on ancient Mesoamerican climate.

The goal was to determine whether deforestation can lead to droughts and if the activities of the ancient Maya drove the environmental changes that undermined their civilization.

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