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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 41            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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knocked down house
Dylan Ferguson/Dylsey News Service
A municipal police officer removes fence posts around the remains of a house destroyed by its
owner while Charles Berghammer displays the notice to evacuate he received Monday.
Owners burn and gut their own houses in Mata Palo
By Dylan Ferguson
Dylsey News Service

Sleepy Mato Palo is not quite as tranquil as it was a week ago. Dump trucks full of cement, branches, and posts rumble by, rattling noisily and kicking up great clouds of dust that slowly settle in the sunlight.

The methodical thwacking of nearby machetes pierces the shimmering, heavy air. And the townspeople are distraught and abuzz with the one and only topic on everyone’s lips: the municipality’s systematic decimation of property. And the threat of more to come.

As reported earlier this week, the Municipalidad de Aguirre began serving residents of this southern Pacific community with notices to evacuate last Thursday. That same day, members of the municipal police began to take down fences and trees in front of residents’ homes, and they have continued to do so each day since.

The situation worsened Monday as more notices were served, and many native Costa Ricans in the community fled their homes under pressure from municipal police. Several homes were gutted by their owners, and at least one resident set his own house on fire after the police insisted it must be removed.

The municipality claims to be removing the property in accordance with the 1977 maritime zone law, which forbids residency within 200 meters of the ocean without a government concession. However, many of the area homes predate  that law. Don Alejandro, a Costa Rican who has lived in his house since 1949, saw his fences demolished and was also told to leave by the police.

An area of approximately 19 properties in the center of Playa Matapalo is covered by a plan regulador and has so far been spared serious interference. But the stretches of town along the beach on either side of the protected area has seen virtually all of its fences removed over the past five days. Dogs and horses wander the streets uninhibited, and some residents have raised concerns over the community’s safety without barriers. Tuesday, police also began to remove the remains of gutted and burnt property left from Monday’s evacuees.
burned down house
Dylan Ferguson/Dylsey News Service
Owner deliberately burned down his own house before he evacuated Monday.

Aguirre municipal officials said they were “cleaning up.” They declined further comment.

The notices served to several expats in the area stipulate that the recipients have five days for their own defense and request that they dismantle their property.

However, it appears that the native Costa Ricans were given no written notice whatsoever, simply a verbal warning to remove their home or have it removed.

Community figure Charles Berghammer, who was among those served a notice on Monday, expressed dismay that the municipality seemed unwilling to cooperate with the contested residents in the past. “We were willing to pay or do whatever we had to do,” for a concession, he said.

Many of the residents receive electricity from Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and claim to have paid taxes in the past, despite their lack of a concession.

A request for an injunction has been filed by Gustavo Alvarez on behalf of several area residents to the Sala IV constitutional court. He asks that the demolition be suspended.

While the expats await the result of the injunction, the abandoned and desecrated houses in the Costa Rican area near Quepos serve as a harbinger of the threat hanging over Mata Palo and other beach communities.

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Street dedicated to partying
will get a refuge for students

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the Central Valley's most infamous streets is getting religion.

The street is the  Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro not far from the main campus of the Universidad de Costa Rica. The word amargura means bitterness in English but it also means sorrow or grief. The street has been at least those things for municipal leaders.

This is where young people go to drink and party. It is the traditional college town experience times 10. People have been gunned down there, the sewers do not work well and rats seem to have the right-of-way. Alcohol and drugs rule.

The street has so many problems that the local Municipalidad of Montes de Oca called it a social emergency. The problems have persisted for at least 15 years.

Now the Asociación de Estudiantes Cristianos Unidos will inaugurate Saturday a refuge for those sick of the antics on the street and in the many bars there. The place will be called ".e" as in espacio or space. It will be in the former Seminario Teológico Bautista de Costa Rica, which is adjacent to the Liberia Bautista.

Fernando Montero, secretary general of the religious organization said that Fernando Trejos, mayor of Montes de Oca, and Carlos Villalobos, vice rector of student life at the Universidad de Costa Rica, have been invited for the 2 p.m. ceremony.

The idea is to create a place in which high school and university students can rest, eat, study and share their abilities and discoveries in a safe environment, said Montero.

He said the building will have a book store a library, psychological and medical services, an employment service, and artistic workshops among other facilities.

The idea is to change amargura to esperanza, hope, the group said in a news release.

Protesters target measure
protecting new plant species

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group opposed to the free trade treaty with the United States plans protests today and Thursday around the building housing the Corte Suprema de Justicia, the Asamblea Legislativa and the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

Members are protesting one of the legislative measures that would implement the trade treaty by providing patent protection for a time to those who create new plant species.

The protesters say that the measure is a blow against their rights and a threat to food security.

The groups involved also oppose the Treaty of Budapest that makes such discovery rights international and other laws tightening intellectual property rights.

The group, called Voces Nuestras or "Our Voices," plans to pass out leaflets and collect signatures for a proposed referendum on the so-called veggie bill.

Opponents have said incorrectly that the veggie law would prevent farmers from saving and using last year's seeds for this year's crop. In fact, the measure only covers seeds that have been newly developed. It has been passed once by lawmakers and is headed for a final vote.

The group said it would protest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday. The protests are likely to slow or block traffic on Avenida Central near the legislative complex.

Construction firm is target
of judicial investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigative agents seized documents from a construction company accused of building faulty homes, said a spokesperson from the Judicial Investigation Organization Tuesday.

The development agency, RCO Construcciones, built 27 homes in a housing project in 2002, according to the judicial spokesperson. The company worked with municipal entities in San José and Aserrí, said the spokesperson. Agents from the fraud unit sized documents from both locations Tuesday, according to reports.

Since the project went up, many people have complained of cracked walls and floors, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization. Some families have even filed claims with the Ministerio de Salud that the houses are uninhabitable, said the spokesperson.

Busted marriages were record

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Last year a record number of Costa Rican marriages ended in divorce.

While the Oficina de Inscripciones del Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones counted only seven divorces in 1960, 2007 brought the dissolution of 10,926 marriages.  That is the highest number of separations in the last 47 years, the office said.

The percentage of divorces rose 20 percent from 2006, a report said.  There were 9,887 divorces in 2005.

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Long lost aircraft turns up near Cerro de la Muerte
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A long-standing Costa Rican aircraft mystery has been solved.

Officials Tuesday came upon the wreckage of a single- engine aircraft that vanished in 1943. The aircraft was owned by the military forces of Chile and was en route from the United States to that country along with other similar aircraft when it vanished. 

Douglas Valverde of the Fuerza Pública station in El Guarco confirmed the location of the wreck. It was near kilometer 60 of the Interamerican highway, said Valverde. The local Fuerza Pública director, Carlos Alvarado, was at the scene. The location is near Cerro de la Muerte, the highest peak in Costa Rica.

Those who arrived at the scene could see that the wrecked wings carried the emblem of the Chilean air force.

The plane, a military trainer with the designation AT-6, was made by North American Aviation.  The factory was believed to be in Dallas, Texas.  The aircraft carried two persons one behind the other. There was no information
Tuesday night about whether human remains were found at the site. The plane was piloted by a Chilean lieutenant with a sergeant as mechanic in the second seat, according to information at the time.

A Chilean diplomat also was at the scene. The  Dirección de Aviación Civil is in charge of the site.

Some officials believe that the crash site was well-known to some neighbors who harvested metal parts for resale. Some pieces of the aircraft were found at the homes of neighbors.  The site is wooded and the aircraft could not be seen from the air.

This is not the only aircraft mystery in Costa Rica. In 1965 an Argentine aircraft with 69 officers and cadets on board vanished somewhere in southeast Costa Rica.  Clarin, an Argentine newspaper, last reported on that crash in July 2002 when the discovery of a wrecked aircraft in Costa Rica renewed interest. The craft that was discovered was a smaller plane and not the DC-4 of the Argentine air force. The plane was on its way from Panamá to California where the cadets were to participate in a military ceremony.

The pilot radioed that an engine had caught fire.

Immigration chief says he can't block returning criminals
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the immigration police said Tuesday that with all the problems in the legal system, he expects accused foreign criminals to return to Costa Rica after they are deported.

Sunday police detained a U.S. woman and two Colombian men, said immigration officials. At least one was related to a group accused in July of wanting to assassinate high ranking Costa Rican officials, said Francisco Castaing, the chief of the Policía de Migración.

The group planned to assassinate Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia and the president's brother, and Fernando Berrocal, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, officials said at the time. At least seven people were arrested last year. Five were from Colombia and two from Costa Rica, according to reports then. Officials deported the Colombians the same month.
One man, named in July as a suspected assassin, returned to Costa Rica soon after he was deported, said Castaing. The man, Franklin Viveros, returned to Costa Rica even though he was forbidden to enter the country. He was one of the trio arrested Sunday, said Castaing. The two with him were Carlos Andrés Naranjo Tascon of Colombia and Karla Llonas, 20, of the United States.

Although the three were detained Sunday, immigration officials only verified today that the passport of Ms. Llonas is authentic and not forged as they had originally said. The Llonas passport says that she is from Illinois, but she entered the country by way of Colombia, as did Viveros and Naranjo, said officials.

Castaing says the three will probably be deported by the end of the week and that he won't be surprised if they return.

“We can't do anything against them,” said Castaing, referring to criminals who enter the country and are later deported without being processed in the court system. He said the previous group of suspected assassins were not processed through the court system because people cannot be tried in Costa Rica purely on intentions. “They didn't commit any crime,” he said. Two of the men who were deported later died in a gunfight in Colombia.

In July, the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration, through unidentified sources, said that Colombian drug lords sent the men to avenge the confiscation of shipments involving some 400 tons of cocaine since last August. The bulk of these drug shipments were snagged by the U.S. Coast Guard operating with Costa Rican coast guardsmen.

Castaing said he prefers that possible criminals are deported fast before they get married or find a way to become permanent residents. He admitted, however, that he would like to see harsher penalties against non-resident criminals. He added that he would like to see deported criminals banned from the country for 10 years as opposed to the current five years.

Castaing cited a group of Colombians who were detained 
immigration police chief
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Francisco Castaing, chief of the Policía de Migración

in Jacó Monday after tourists were robbed. “They will be deported because the tourists left and did not file charges,” said Castaing. This is just one of many similar cases immigration has to deal with all the time, he said.

Police found Álvaro Castiblanco Hernández in Costa Rica last week, said officials. He was deported in 2007 for slashing tourists' car tires and robbing them near Volcan Irazú.

Castiblanco bragged to Castaing and other officials last week that he returned illegally to Costa Rica to rob more tourists and that he would enter a third time with no problems. Castiblanco said he had traveled the world robbing people. “Out of all the countries he had been, he said Costa Rica was the easiest,” said Castaing. Later the police chief added, “one feels impotent in situations like these.”

“We need a method to penalize these people who make fun of the law,” said Castaing. He said the penalty system for criminals was the biggest problem facing immigration officials. He also added that loopholes like lawyers performing marriages between foreign criminals and local indigent Costa Ricans were extremely troublesome. The Sala IV constitutional court has validated such unions.

When asked which places were most accessible to illegal immigrants, Castaing listed Sixaola, Rio Serano, Pasoa Canoas “Almost all the borders are easy to cross,” he said.

There are only 50 immigration police officers in the nation, he added. Castaing said the terrain of Costa Rica made borders difficult to patrol. He also said Costa Rica needs more support from other governments.

Castaing said the three arrested Sunday are expected to be deported to their own countries by the end of this week. When asked whether they would return to Costa Rica, Castaing said “Yes,” he paused, “Probably yes. If not, give them my greetings.”

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One of the rail cars at the Estación al Atlantico, the old rail station, that has been converted into a place for museum functions. But most of the visitors are school children.
rail car museum
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson

Museum designed for the disabled will not be re-opened
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A museum dedicated mainly to disabled people will never re-open its doors, Gabriela Saenz, director of the Museo de Arte Costarricense, has announced.

With exhibits that people can touch and hear as well as see, the Museo de Formas, Espacios y Sonidos, located in San José, was oriented towards those who have difficulty appreciating traditional museums due to a disability.

The museum was first closed to the public in October, but at the time Ms. Saenz said that the closure would not be permanent.  Now the museum, which was situated in the old Estación al Atlantico with many of its exhibits inside wooden railway cars, will give way to an alternative use of the space.

Set up in 2002, the museum was intended to help fulfill Costa Rica's law of equal opportunities for disabled people. Opponents to the closure of the museum include Ana Helena Chacón, deputy of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, who said the museum has played an important part in fulfilling the requirements of this law.

“It is inconceivable that this museum will be closed without an alternative project at least being set in motion to ensure all that sensory experience for the Costa Rican population, with or without a disability,” said Ms. Chacón.

A specialist report made in the past few months showed, however, that under 3 percent of the museum's visitors were actually disabled, with the vast majority of visitors made up of primary school groups who visit the museum every year.
The report added that a major obstacle to the museum's continuation was lack of money. Funding fell from 10 million colons a year in 2002 to 6 million in 2006, despite claims that visitation went up from 4,000 to 11,000 people in the same time period.

Around 35 million colons ($70,000) were spent in the  creation of the museum, but since then, lack of investment has led to the deterioration of the exhibits, and the original goal of making each rail car into a different artistic space was never completed.

Flaws in administration, lack of personnel, the lack of a permanent concept within the exhibits, and philosophical disagreements were all criticized as reasons for the closure.

“The program had lost its original vision with the passing of time,” said Ms. Saenz. “The  new line the museum will take is one of accessibility for all. I don't agree with a place made only for those with accessibility problems. I think we need to be inclusive rather than exclusive.”

However, the ex-director of the museum, Ana Carboni, expressed conviction that the country needs a museum dedicated to disabled people, as their needs are increasingly taken into account on a global scale.

Some of the tactile exhibits have been moved to the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and the Ministerio de Cultura has said that measures are being taken to ensure that all of its museums fulfill the equal opportunities law.

Ms. Saenz added that whatever happens to the Atlantic railway station, investment into the national heritage site will continue.

Skyrocketing commodity prices in Central America worry U.N. food experts 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations World Food Programme is warning of a potential nutritional crisis in Central America, where the prices of wheat and corn have nearly doubled in the past year. Bad weather has pushed the price of beans to unprecedented levels.

The agency notes that the surge has meant that the actual calorie intake of an average meal in rural El Salvador, for example, is today roughly 60 per cent of what it was in May 2006.

“At this stage it is still premature to provide figures, but we fear a deepening nutritional crisis among the poorest segments of the population, those already food and nutritionally insecure,” says Carlo Scaramella country director for the food program in El Salvador. He is
 coordinating a study of the impact of recent rising prices in the region.
“At the same time, what we are seeing is the emergence of a new group of nutritionally and food-insecure people among the poorest strata of the population,” he added.

In response to the growing crisis, the food program has increased local purchases and is urgently asking international donors for more contributions, to make up for its sharp decline in purchasing power. The agency has also set up an internal task force at its Rome headquarters and is reviewing ways to better target its assistance.

At the global level, the food program plans to launch a series of consultations with leading experts in the field of hunger and food security, and has called for a special meeting with key non-governmental organization partners.

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