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(506) 223-1327         San José, Costa Rica, Friday Feb. 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 43            E-mail us
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Cruz Roja employees  demonstrated Thursday with  ambulances and other emergency vehicles in  the downtown. The idea is to pressure the legislature to provide a surcharge on every water bill. Now the  organization is holding yard sales and selling tamales to survive.
cruz roja on the move
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Admitted pedophile may be back on Nicoya coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Florida prosecutor and law officers are astounded that a man who admitted molesting two children just last Friday may be enjoying the beaches of the
Tom Noel Mastin
Tom Noel Mastin
Nicoya Peninsula.

The man is Tom Noel Mastin, who was a bartender in Playa Garza for years even though he was sought by Brevard County, Florida, officials to answer two charges of lewd and lascivious or indecent acts on a child.

A reader contacted A.M. Costa Rica to report
that he was 100 percent sure he encountered Mastin Wednesday night in the peninsula beach town.

That was news to officials at the state attorney's office and the Brevard County Sheriff's Department. They thought Mastin was beginning a sentence of two years house arrest there.

Julia Lynch, a deputy state attorney or prosecutor, said Thursday that her records show that Mastin entered into a plea agreement and admitted the two charges in a court appearance Friday in her county. He was sentenced to two years house arrest and 13 years of probation for sexual offenders.

"He's supposed to be on house arrest here," said Ms. Lynch when told of the sighting. She said Mastin failed to make a mandatory visit to the local probation office. That was a condition of his sentence agreement

Workers in the warrants section of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office were more vocal.

"You don't know what we went through to bring this guy back," said a clerk. She broke off her conversation to give the news to coworkers that Mastin may be back in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican officials finally detained Mastin, then 70, Jan. 31. 2007, for violating visa regulations, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Brevard County Officials had  known for more than a year that Mastin was in Costa Rica, but paperwork delays kept him a free man.
At the time Brevard County Police Sgt. David Fitch said he had been working on Mastin's case
since a warrant was issued June 8, 1999. 

Investigators searching Melbourne and Key West, Florida, had contacted Mastin's daughter but developed no solid leads, said Fitch.  Mastin had been living in Costa Rica since some time in 1999, said immigration officials.

An acquaintance said that Mastin was even getting a Social Security check each month, and, at least for a time, the check was forwarded through the U.S. Embassy here.

In July 2005, Fitch said he received a tip from a Brevard County resident who had recently spotted Mastin while vacationing on the Pacific beaches of Costa Rica.  In November 2005, Costa Rican law officers entered a bar that the accused was managing in Playa Garza and confirmed the man was Mastin. But it still took more than a year for the formal paperwork to make its way to Costa Rica.

Luis Arce, deputy chief of the Policía de  Migración, also was surprised at the new development in the case. He said Thursday that someone who is deported usually cannot return for five years.

If Mastin is in Costa Rica, and there is a high probability that he is, that's news to the immigration department. Airline passengers and those crossing by established land routes usually are checked via the agency's computer system. However, air conditioning problems Wednesday put down the main computer system and caused officials to close the agency's headquarters in La Uruca for a time.

Ms. Lynch said that Mastin could be regarded as a probation violator if he is in Costa Rica and has not made the mandatory visit to the probation department there. In that case he could face 15 years in prison for each count that he admitted Friday, she said.

Mastin is believed to have remained free so long in the Pacific beach towns because he had friends there from Florida who declined to turn him in to officials even though the crimes to which he admitted involved young boys. Garza is near the Pacific community of Nosara.


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Continental passenger jet returns after smoke reported

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A passenger jet flying from San José to New York made an emergency landing at Juan Santamaría airport Thursday morning, after crew reported smoke in the cabin.

The one runway at Costa Rica's main airport was closed for 20 minutes between 10:10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to make way for the return of Continental Airlines flight number 1797.

The Boeing 737-800 took off from San Jose at 9:12 a.m., only a few minutes off its scheduled departure time, and was due to arrive in Newark airport in the U.S. state of New Jersey at 3.05 p.m.

Instead, the plane landed back in Costa Rica at 10:23 a.m. None of the 144 passengers aboard the plane was harmed.

“The control tower staff said that the pilots reported smoke in the cabin, but no fire, and made the emergency landing in respect of safety,” said Fernando Lara, corporate affairs manager at Alterra Partners Costa Rica. “The reaction of the firemen, ambulance, police and traffic police was excellent — everyone followed the set procedures perfectly.”

Maintenance and repairs were being carried out on the airplane during the hours after its return to Juan Santamaría, and the Continental Airlines staff said that it was likely that the plane would be ready to travel again the same day.

Several hours after the flight returned to the airport, firemen reported that the problem had been with the plane's smoke detector, which allegedly gave a false alarm.

Continental airlines staff said that there was not enough space on flights to the same destination to redistribute passengers, and the majority waited at Juan Santamaría airport for an airplane to be secured to make their original flight.

The passengers were finally aboard a plane taxiing to the runway at around 5 p.m. The flight's estimated time of arrival was then 10:24 p.m., 7 hours and 20 minutes late.

“The runway was closed during low traffic times,” continued Lara. “This means that the emergency landing did not result in large delays for other flights.”

The longest delay to a flight other than Continental 1797 recorded on the website www.flightstats.com, was 38 minutes, for a flight scheduled to depart for Quito, Ecuador, at 10:25 a.m.

Medical specialists to help
poor communities for free

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Free medical attention will be brought to poor communities in Costa Rica by a group of 30 international specialists during a four-day tour in March.

Infections, skin diseases and ear problems afflicting the communities of Pococí and the Reserva Indigena Cabécar Chirripó in Turrialba will be treated. Orthodontists and opticians will also be on site between March 15 and 19.

The volunteers are the medical group from Fundación AMAR, a Colombian organization that has carried out many similar tours before, and the majority of them will come from Puerto Rico.  Four of them are surgeons who will be stationed at the Hospital de Guápiles, to carry out procedures and reduce waiting times.

Extra medical supplies bought with funds raised by the foundation will be donated to the same communities.

Organizers hope that 1,000 residents of Pococi and around 1,200 Cabécar Native Costa Ricans will benefit from the services offered by the group, as these people often live in very isolated communities and find it difficult to reach medical services.

Animals will also be attended to, as domestic animals such as horses often represent an essential part of Native Costa Rican  family life.

The Registro Civil will be joining the group, in order to distribute cédulas to people who have not yet obtained their own documentation, or who need a renewal.

Support for this activity has been given by the deputies Ovidio Agüero, and Acuña and Carlos Manuel Gutiérrez Gómez, and also by the organizations Fundación Somos un Solo Pueblo, and Grupo Pro Indígena Quircó.

Cell phones to go silent
at midnight Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When readers are thrown out of bars early Sunday, they will not be able to make cell phone calls to get a ride home.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, said Thursday it would be conducting tests for the changeover March 20 from seven digit phone numbers to eight digit phone numbers.

The state phone company seemed to have good reasons why it has to shut down the entire network to conduct the tests, but the explanations were very technical and beyond the capacity of most mortals. The phones will not be operational from midnight to 6 a.m.

The company announced a year ago that telephones would be given an extra digit to allow the company to sell more than the mathematically possible 10 million lines with the current seven digits.

Every mobile phone will have a numeral 8 as a prefix and every land line will have a prefix of 2.

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Jewish community not happy about recognition of Palestine
By Bryan Kay
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Costa Rican government’s decision to prematurely recognise Palestine as a state was not only a slap in the face for Israel but also for the local Jewish and Israeli community, according to a community leader.

The Central American nation took the step earlier this month leading to suggestions that it had broken normal diplomatic procedure by acting ahead of an international agreement over a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

But Moises Fachler, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Costa Rica and a member of the same political party as President Oscar Arias Sánchez, said the decision was taken at the wrong time: “I am very angry at this position,” he said. “It is not good for me, not good for the Jewish people. Like me, the community is very angry.

“People don’t want to speak because they are very scared. This man (President Arias) has a Nobel Peace Prize, but when he speaks, it’s like he has a machine gun on his tongue. He speaks against the Jewish people.”

Apparently furious by the step, Israel postponed a meeting between an Israeli diplomat and President Arias which had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Costa Rica’s decision appears to have been motivated, at least in part, in the hope of spurring peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
Alberto Taliansky, president of the B’nei Israel congregation in San José, reckons the Arias government may have been mindful of commercial interests in the wider Arab world when it reached the decision.

Since taking power, the government has established diplomatic relations with a string of countries in the Middle East and Africa, among them Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Libya.

The American Jewish Committee issued a statement saying it was dismayed by the stance taken by Costa Rica. "The timing of this decision is both odd and painful," said David Harris, the organization's executive director.

"Odd because there is not yet a Palestinian state. Painful because this action comes less than two years after President Arias moved his country's embassy out of Jerusalem, ending Costa Rica's long-standing and courageous example of maintaining its embassy in Israel's capital city."

The American Jewish Committee said it supports efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but claimed that “premature recognition of a Palestinian state is not normal diplomatic practice, nor is it helpful to the process”.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said a new date was being sought for the meeting between Arias and the Israeli diplomat, according to reports.

However, the Israeli embassy in San Jose was unable to say when a fresh date for the meeting would be pencilled in.


Third treaty measure, the veggie bill, gets final approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The measure that would provide for patents for innovative plant species received its second and final approval from lawmakers Thursday. The vote was 30 to 9 on the bill that is the third free trade treaty-related measure to win full legislative approval.

The approval came even as Native Costa Ricans from Talamanca were protesting the bill. Leaders had met with legislative leaders just minutes before the vote.

This also is the bill that opponents of the free trade treaty are trying to put before a public referendum. Some opponents confuse the measure with approving genetically modified plants. Although such plants are covered by the legislative measure, any other kind of innovative plant species would be, too.

The bill provides that anyone who develops a new variety of plant has the rights to market it exclusively for 20 years. The term is 25 years if the plant is a perennial. There are some exceptions for others doing research and small and mid-size farms. The penalty for infringement is a jail term.

Friday the Sala IV high court voted that the measure did not have constitutional faults. The second round of voting had been delayed until the court issued an opinion. The measure was brought before the courts by the opponents of the proposal.

Among other changes, the bill creates an Oficina Nacional de Semillas or national seed office to accept specimens of new species.

José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio took issue with the constitutional court decision in debate before the second
vote. He said that one of the magistrates who voted on the constitutional issues should not have done so because he is a known supporter of the free trade treaty with the United States. He said the man should have abstained.

There are nine more measures in various stages of legislative action that are designed to implement the free trade treaty with the United States. The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has said that the effort to get enough signatures by opponents to put the so-called veggie law on the ballot was not enough to delay legislative action.

The last referendum was Oct. 7 when Costa Ricans voted by a narrow margin to approve the free trade treaty. However, the treaty will not go into effect until the implementing measures are approved. Costa Rica now has until October.

The Native Costa Ricans are expected to make an appeal to international courts because they claim that they should have been consulted formally before the legislature acted on international treaties. They are worried about researchers taking traditional medicinal plants and using them to create new pharmaceuticals without payment to the tribes.

Meanwhile, Costa Ricans who operate labs that are designed to create new species are pleased with the vote by the Asamblea Legislativa. They are hoping for legal protection for the new varieties of plants that they create.

A lot of the opposition to the veggie law comes from those opposed to the activities of multi-national corporations, like Monsanto, who are developing genetically modified varieties. For example, Monsanto has a whole series of plants that are immune to the company's Roundup weed killer. The company has replaced a gene in crops like canoa that allow farmers to spray their fields with the weed killer without affecting the principal crop.



Guatemala: where you still have to worry about dehydration
Why do I forget that sometimes I give good advice?  And why is it easier to write a column when nothing much seems to have happened and so difficult when life is swirling about me and I am caught up and carried away by so much to do and see?

There is little similarity between the Guatemala I am seeing and the Costa Rica I know.  There is the weather — sunshine in the morning, gathering clouds in the afternoon and cool evenings.  Here, I would call the evenings and nights cold.

I would call Guatemala city an urban sprawl with far more transportation polution that San José. (But as you all know, I am partial to San José.) Antigua is a colonial town with some impressive ruins, both Catholic and Mayan, courtesy of several earthquakes. It is well worth visiting.

This year the International Women´s Studies Institute group is comprised of 17 women, ages between 44 and 82.  We took a bus and then a boat to San Marcos, our destination.  The highway we took through the mountains is still under construction in some places, but would be the envy of any driver in Costa Rica.

No one fell overboard from the small launch that took us along Lake Atitlan to San Marcos, but we all got splashed and chilled.

Our hotels (and I use that word in its loosest sense) are downhill from the Casa Azul Ecoresort and retreat center where we attend our workshops and take two meals a day in their vegetarian restaurant. Three of us are in the Posada Bosque Encantada, halfway up the hill, and there are three-wheeled, three-seater motors called tuk tuks to carry us uphill if we feel daunted by the climb.

By the time of the first meeting of my memoir workshop that I am taking with Joyce Maynard, I had been so cold the night before I was determined not to stay that way. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Alexis, who came with me from Costa Rica, seemed always to have exactly the right clothing to wear.  All of my "right" clothing was still in my closet back home. I wore what I had – a long sleeved black T-shirt of man-made fabric and a shirt and jacket.

Joyce is a tall, attractive, slender and very tanned woman who obviously loves the sun.  Our workshop was being held in an empty rock pool — in the sun — and lasted all morning.  The drinking water comes from Lake Atitlan, and although it is purified by the various hotels, it still tastes like lake water, so I was sipping it sparingly,

Joyce is a compelling and interesting speaker, so I was only vaguely aware of how warm I was becoming, gradually removing my tops one by one.  At the end of the workshop I felt miserable and could barely climb out of the rock pool.

I left with Judy and Ellen to look at another hotel that might be less cold and damp.  On the way I collapsed.  I immediately knew my problem — I was dehydrated.  I felt like such a fool becaue in my last column I wrote about the women of the first IWSI on a Greek Island where I advised the women who were feeling just as I had been, to drink two glasses of water.  Now Ellen and Judy were telling me the same.

Lesson learned, I have been having a wonderful time and wish you all were here. I am, however, looking forward to, not a gourmet dinner, not even a plate of pasta, but a simple hamburger from Burger King when I get back.



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Cuba once against pitches at U.N. for end of embargo
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba has once again used the United Nations as a forum to call for the lifting of the U.S. economic and trade embargo, imposed on the Castro government in 1962.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque told reporters Thursday that his country has always been ready for normal relations with the United States, and that Cuba is not a threat to U.S. national security.

He said the U.S. embargo has cost Cuba nearly $90 billion over the past 50 years, and he called once again for it to be lifted. "Last November, 184 members of United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of lifting the blockade against Cuba. And really, the decision has to be taken here
  by the U.S. government. The U.S. embargo against Cuba has to be lifted. There is no reason to maintain this policy. That is today the most important violation of the human rights of all of our people. It has to be decided without any condition whatsoever," he said.

Cuban President Fidel Castro announced earlier this week that he was stepping down due to poor health, officially handing the reigns of power to his younger brother, Raúl. The George Bush administration greeted the announcement with disappointment, saying there would be no change in policy toward Cuba and the embargo would remain in effect.

The Cuban foreign minister was at the United Nations to sign two international human rights agreements.


Bush rejects idea of sitting at negotiation table with Raúl
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush said Thursday that he has no plan to meet with Cuba's new president, Raúl Castro, because he represents nothing more than an extension of the policies of his brother, Fidel Castro.

Bush says it would send the wrong signal to people around the world if the president of the United States meets with tyrants.

Bush said he has tried to stay out of this year's presidential campaign, vowing to wait until his Republican Party has chosen its nominee.

But at a White House news conference Thursday, the president was asked what he thinks about one of the opposition candidates saying America, would be better off if the president met with some of the nation's biggest adversaries — in particular, Iran and Cuba.

Bush said the United States must never embrace tyrants because that would sow confusion about U.S. foreign policy. "It'll send the wrong message. It'll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It'll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity," he said.

Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama said the United  
States should play a more direct role in seeking talks with leaders in countries such as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.

Obama has said he would meet with all of those leaders without preconditions during his first year in office.

On Cuba, Bush said it would be wrong for an American president to meet with Raúl Castro after he and his brother Fidel have ruined an island and imprisoned people because of their beliefs.

"Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raúl Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, 'Look at me. I am now recognized by the President of the United States,'" Bush said.

In a Democratic debate last July, Obama likened his willingness to meet with foreign enemies to the dialogue that Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic President John Kennedy had with the then Soviet Union. "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous," he said.

Obama is leading the race to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee heading into important contests Tuesday in Ohio and Texas against the previous frontrunner, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.


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