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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, Feb. 27, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 41      E-mail us
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Decision hinged on maritime zone law
Sala IV strips Cahuita and Puerto Viejo of city status

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has stripped Cahuita and Puerto Viejo of their status as cities and reaffirmed the principle that no one there could acquire rights in the maritime zone after 1977.

The case is a complex one that has been moving slowly through the courts. The court decision Wednesday throws out a 2005 law that was designed to make the two communities cities and allow residents to obtain title to properties on which some of their families have lived for nearly 100 years.

The maritime zone law declares all land countrywide within 50 meters of high tide to be for public use and all land 150 meters further inland to be government property which can be leased as a concession from the government.

City status is a way to sidestep the maritime zone law because cities are exempt from its provisions.

Although many Cahuita families have lived on, farmed and made their living from these same properties for nearly 100 years, the land was never titled in the Registro Nacional.

In 1977, with the enactment of the maritime zone law and because residents had no legal titles, it appeared the original Cahuita families and others owning land within the zone might lose their property altogether. 

Many properties in the two communities in the Cantón de Talamanca are close to the beach and well within the maritime zone. Some structures also are within the 50-meter zone.

After the law was passed residents had a year to obtain a title. The Sala IV action would seem to void those titles since the decision is retroactive.

The case was pushed by two former legislators, Luis Ángel Ramírez Ramírez of the Partido Liberación Nacional and Quírico Jiménez Madrigal, a former member of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. Ramírez is a lawyer, and Jiménez is a biologist and a college professor.
Cahuita national park
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Monkeys at the Parque Nacional Cahuita are a major attraction. These are howler monkeys, also known as congo.

In addition to finding that the law declaring the two communities cities violated the maritime zone principle, the court also said that it violated another constitutional principle by creating a special privilege for one segment of the population. The court meant those persons who were given the right to title their property.

It is not constitutionally possible to have acquired any valid rights in the maritime zone of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo after 1977, the year in which the maritime zone law went into effect, the court said. Many inhabitants of the area came later than 1977, and many who were there earlier will have trouble proving that.

In human terms, the court decision, released Thursday, takes away valuable ownership of prime Caribbean seacoast property from the many residents and sets the stage for concession requests from large tourism operators.

Both Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are known as laid back, alternative lifestyle communities whose residents are mainly from the black Caribbean population in the Provincia de Limón. The area is a magnet for surfers and also for those drawn by the local national park.

Rx for that pesky croc: Take two magnets . . . .
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Having problems with homesick crocodiles? The creatures have a strong homing instinct, and even if transported elsewhere, they will try hard to return to the home pool.

But now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using magnets to break that domestic bond.

The target is the endangered American crocodiles that officials want to keep from returning to situations where they are not welcome, primarily in neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In an effort to break the homing cycle, biologists have initiated a new study.  Crocodile agents have
been instructed to attach magnets to both sides of the crocodile's head at the capture site. The magnets are expected to disorient the crocodiles and disrupt their navigation so they can't find their way back to the capture site.  The magnets are removed from the crocodile's head upon release, the commission said.

Male crocodiles in Costa Rica's rivers travel widely, according to genetic studies conducted by the Universidad de Costa Rica. The crocs are presumed to return home to their former river home after paying calls on the females in the adjacent watersheds.

Some homeowners, mainly on the Río Grande de Tarcoles, would like to have a few less crocs around their front yard. The problem may be in attaching the magnets.

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Forced vacation, cut in hours
part of employers' response

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The chamber representing the business community, as expected, brought a revision of the Código de Trabajo or work code to the legislature Thursday.

The measure, called a temporary method to preserve jobs, would go into effect if the monthly index of economic activity dipped for three months in a row. The proposal would require a decree from the country's president and would be supervised by the Ministerio de Trabajo.

A key measure is that employers would be able to cut work hours by a third and make shift changes for their employees. Employers also would be able to send their workers on vacations.

The Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado said Wednesday that it was going to present this proposal. The goal is to preserve jobs instead of firing workers during hard economic times.

In addition, the employers would be able to cut the salaries of anyone who earned more than twice the amount that requires the worker to file an income tax return.  That amount now is a bit less than $2,100 a month

At the same time the business representatives were at the legislature, teachers were marching downtown for higher salaries.

Ransom of documents
leads to extortion probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators conducted two raids in Atenas Thursday and arrested two persons to face allegations of extortion.

The raids were at a hamburger restaurant in a public building there and at the home of one of the suspects. Involved are two foreigners, a 20-year-old U.S. woman and a 29-year-old Dominican man, said agents.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that victims were a North American couple. The organization said that the victims lost a bag that contains personal documents. They were offered the possibility of buying back the bag for 30,000 colons, some $54. But after they paid the money, the persons keeping their documents raised the price to $600. That is when they contacted investigators, said the agency.

Agents reported that they recovered the documents in the raid, which took place after the larger sum of money changed hands.

Water company workers
facing fraud allegations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators executed a search warrant Thursday at the main offices of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados where they detained two men, 45 and 30.

The men, employees in the communications and public relations department of the agency face allegations of fraud, conspiracy and falsification of documents.

Agents said they were investigating a string of crimes that might go back six years. They alleged that the case involved fictitious purchases and payments.

Investigators said they did not know how much money was involved.

The water company headquarters is on the Pavas Boulevard.

Colombian war victims
need more U.N. aide says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Although progress has been made in addressing the humanitarian suffering in Colombia, particularly high levels of displacement due to conflict and natural disasters, the top United Nations relief official said that more needs to be done.

“I had an honest and constructive dialogue with the government on the humanitarian situation in Colombia,” said John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. He spoke at the end of this three-day visit to the South American nation.

“There has been good progress on laws about internally displaced persons, and resources are being made available to address their needs,” Holmes noted on his return to Bogotá after visiting members of native and Afro-Colombian communities impacted by floods, displacement and violence in the northwest Chocó region of the country.

He stressed that “more is still needed,” adding that he hoped that the budget of La Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y la Cooperación Internacional would be maintained, if not increased, despite the current financial crisis, according to a press release issued by the United Nations.

Speaking about the Afro-Colombian and native peoples caught up in the conflict in their territories, Holmes said, “These communities face many risks, including forced recruitment, particularly of children, and many of them are being displaced or confined to their villages. 

“We also need to work together more not only on responding to but also preventing displacement,” added Holmes.

The difficulties of native communities were illustrated by the recent massacre of members of the Awá community, in which at least 17 people were killed. Holmes condemned the massacre and appealed for the return of the bodies of those killed to the communities.

Colombia has recently experienced its harshest, most destructive rainy season on record, affecting one million people and destroying 44,000 hectares (about 120,000 acres) of crops.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 41

Presidencia goes to court to stop hearing on slush fund
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, perhaps the second most powerful man in the country, has appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court to stop an administrative hearing by the Contraloría de la República.

Arias is the brother to the president and minister to the Presidencia, which is equivalent to being chief of the president's staff.

The hearing revolves around the money that the Arias brothers got from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The money, more than $2 million, was spread around in various small contracts to 82 friends and political foes.

The Contraloría is supposed to oversee government spending, but the money distributed by the Arias administration was outside any budget. In fact the Arias administration claims the funds were not government funds at all.

When it was notified that the Contraloría wanted to open an administrative hearing on the slush fund, Casa Presidencial
moved quickly. The lengthy appeal to the Sala IV claims that the decision to hold a hearing lacked due process.

The hearing is scheduled for March 10, said Casa Presidencial. Rodrigo Arias held a hurry-up 6 p.m. press conference Thursday to present the version of the executive branch. He noted that there have been several investigations by the Contraloría into the matter. In fact, Rocío Aguilar, the contralora general de la República, and one of her department chiefs, Wálter Ramírez, met with Arias in July on the subject.

Casa Presidencial spent about $342,000 of the funds. In addition to paying people who had technical expertise, some contracts went to vehicle drivers and similar.

Epsy Campbell, president of the opposition Partido Acción Ciudadana and now a presidential candidate, got a contract said to have been based on her legislative skills. She ended up canceling the arrangement when it was made public by La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper.

The Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica gets its money as grants from the Central American nations and First World countries.

Contract math error cost nation millions, Contraloría says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The administrator of the nation's roads paid an amount six times more than it should have for private contractors to clean highway gutters, said the Contraloría de la República Thursday.

The error is being called a mathematical one, but math also was faulty when the agency, the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, tried to determine the area of the gutters to be cleaned. The conversion from square meters to lineal measurement also was faulty and costly, the Contraloría said. The higher incorrect costs involved 22 projects, the Contraloría said.
The Consejo used a complex formula to determine the cost per linear meter for cleaning the gutters. Some of these in rural areas are covered with mud slides and packed with debris. So some of the cost involves machinery.

The Consejo estimated that the value of the work was 418.55 colons per linear meter. That's about 75 U.S. cents. Instead, contractors were paid 2,790.34 colons or about $4.98 per meter, according to the Contraloría report.

The total value of all the contracts was about $10 million.

Officials said that there was not a good chance of having any of the money refunded.

Costa Rica makes a great place to start an interesting trip
My social life has been somewhat on hold this month, but things are changing.  My friend Fitz made a visit from Washington and invited me for brunch at the Marriott Hotel in San Antonio de Belén.  I’m going to make brunch there an every-six-months’ pleasure. (It’s quite pricey, I think about $38.00. But it is a great gustatory experience.) The variety and choice of dishes is more than any one person can possibly sample, although I tried.

Heaven knows, I tried.  Among the things I enjoyed were eggs benedict, two ceviches, sushi and roast pork. 

Fitz was his usual entertaining self and brought me some great gifts from an inaugural party he attended. He said that interest in buying real estate has picked up in Washington, at least.

My friend Jorge is recovering from a serious cold probably contracted on the plane from Japan.  So many people I know get sick after a plane trip, it looks like the only way to fly is with a surgical mask.  But Jorge will be well enough for "Madam Butterfly" next Saturday (not me, the opera). We can now enjoy the Metropolitan Opera locally at the Centro Cultural while it is being performed in New York City.

Sandy is returning from eight days in the States nursing her daughter through an operation. On a happier note, James and Alexis are returning from a cruise vacation out of Panamá, looking tanned and rested.  Costa Rica is certainly a jumping off place to visit the rest of the world — at least for others. 

The only trip that was inadvertent and not pleasurable was the one my friend Doug took when his heel caught on a raised piece of sidewalk (not an unusual condition here), and he went flying, landing face first.  He ended up with a huge lump on his forehead, two black eyes, and a number of bleeding wounds.  I learned that as a nurse I am a major liability.

Perhaps now is a good time for me to take a trip.  It looks as if the building of the stadium in the Sabana Park will soon be under way. Huge platform trucks have been     
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

unloading tons of wire and metal and other building materials. 

Even though the building site is about six blocks from my apartment, I am sure I will experience the side effects of the construction.  I wonder about the wisdom of building a sports stadium in these financial times, but I suppose one person’s pork is another person’s culture. Art, sports, music and dance are important to the growth and psyche of a nation. 

However, not travelling, I have been watching the news here as well as abroad.  While new President Obama was explaining the depths of the financial problems the U.S. faced and the plans he had for fixing the situation, the news media criticized him for being so negative and at the same time, it kept bringing on “experts” to explain how what he planned to do wouldn’t work.  If he had put on a happy face, they would have called him “Bush Two.”

What also seems apparent is that Obama is trying to convince a reluctant audience (the Congress) that the U.S. will not be patching up today’s problems and then go back to business as usual.  The country – and the world – is facing a sea change in how it operates and lives.  The process of a paradigm shift is not easy for some people because it requires a change in assumptions about how the world works.

When the price of things like real estate and stocks go up, we think the sky’s the limit — and the sky is limitless.  And when they start going down, we keep expecting there will soon be a bottom.  After all, the earth is right there.  And perhaps happiness and success cannot be measured in money and possessions.  Whatever, the coming years are going to be very interesting.  As Bette Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!”

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 41

Crime-ravaged México considers reinstating death penalty
By the A.M. Costas Rica wire services

Violent murders linked to organized crime are soaring in México with nearly 6,000 people killed last year, double the number for 2007. As a result, Mexico's tiny Green Party has decided to campaign for the reintroduction of the death penalty. 

The Green Party is pressing for the death penalty for kidnappers who torture, mutilate or murder their victims. If this measure is adopted by the country's legislators, it would reverse a 2005 decision to formally scrap capital punishment. It has been almost 50 years since anyone was executed in México.

More than 5,600 people were killed by drug traffickers in México last year and analysts say Mexico is now the most dangerous country in the world for kidnapping. But 97 percent of the country's kidnapping cases go unsolved by police, one of the reasons many critics of the death penalty question its effectiveness in deterring crime.

But public anger is fueling the debate. A poll conducted last year found that more than 70 percent of those asked supported the death penalty.

The Green Party has launched a hot line to inform the public on the issue. It has received thousands of calls supporting the death penalty for kidnappers who brutalize their victims. 

Green Party leader Jorge Emilio Gonzalez says voters are demanding a fitting deterrent to counteract these vicious crimes.

"It is not the answer," said Jorge Emilio González. "But it is part of the answer. It is a message that we are going strong. They are going to think twice. They know that if they get caught — in six, eight months — one year, they are going to get the death penalty."

Diego Cobo, Green Party vice coordinator, explained the legislative proposal is specifically designed to protect the kidnapping victims.

"The purpose of our proposal is not to kill criminals," said
Cobo. "The first purpose of our proposal is to protect the victim, to tell the criminal that if he kills his victim, he is going to be killed also. So the first effect of our proposal is the protection of the victim. The life of the victim."

Lorenzo Meyer, a College of Mexico International Studies Department professor, is a specialist in the history of Mexico's political development. He said Mexico's police forces are too corrupt, and its legal system way too fragile, to consider using the death penalty.

"In Mexico, the only people that are in jail  . . . well not only, but basically 95 percent, are poor," said Meyer. "And nobody, really nobody trusts the judicial system. So introduce the death penalty here, and you would have a lot of executions that are unfair. In the case of México, it could be really criminal to introduce the death penalty with this sort of judicial system."

Lawyer Alonso Aguilar Zinser agrees with Meyer. He said the death penalty is not the way for Mexico's legal system to progress.

"Criminals are a product of the society," said Aguilar Zinser. "And something is failing in society if you have criminals. You do not have the right to have a revenge, if you have problems in society. You have to resolve the problems. Not revenge, because an eye for an eye is not the position of a modern state."

Outrage over kidnapping in México surged last year after the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Fernando Martí. After his wealthy family paid a substantial ransom, the boy was murdered. Those subsequently arrested included the commander of a police detective unit based at Mexico's international airport.

In the aftermath of the crime, the murdered boy's father demanded politicians do more to curb kidnapping or quit their well-paid jobs. 

Thousands of people dressed in white marched through Mexico City last year as they had during the previous administration of President Vicente Fox, but the rampant level of kidnappings has not decreased. The death penalty issue is due to be debated in Mexico's congress.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 41

A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

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

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Contacting us

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

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

Boat inspections shifting
to the Caribbean coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry will be conducting inspections and issuing or renewing seaworthiness certificates in the Provincia de Limón starting March 3.

The inspections will be conducted at the same time in Manzanillo and in Barra del Colorado. The inspections will conclude March 12 in Barra de Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cahuita and Barra de Parismina.

Inspectors will be checking paperwork and also safety equipment. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the boats need to be painted and bear the name on both sides of the vessel.

Donating body to science
is topic for Legion Post 10

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

America Legion Post 10 in Escazú is inviting all U.S. military veterans to a meeting Wednesday where a physician and a lawyer will talk about the donation of a body to medical science.

The presenters are José Resenterra Cecilliano, director of the anatomy department at UCIMED in Sabana Oeste, and Ana I. Borbon Muñoz of the medical school's legal department.

The meeting is at noon at the Bello Horizonte Country Club. Post officers said that lunch will be available after the meeting. More information is available at 2228-6014, 2288-0454, 2232-7876 and 2231-6105

Two teens held in cases
of extreme violence

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained two teens, 16 and 17, Thursday and said they were part of a criminal gang who used extreme violence against its victims.

The pair were arrested in the La Capri section of Desamparados. They join in prison two other person, both adults, who are accused of being members of the same band.The armed gang stuck up passer-by, delivery truck drivers and businesses in their home community.

The investigation has been going on since janaury, and so far agents said they have four complaints. They expect more.

Palmares gets new ICE agency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is opening a new agency in Palmares today next to the  Banco Popular, the telcom agency said. Electrical and telephone transactions can be made there.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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