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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, March 3, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 44          E-mail us
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Scaly patient had a metalic stomach ache
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A female crocodile went for the bait hook, line and maybe sinker. The result was two fish hooks stuck in the stomach.

The animal survived because a veterinarian and a surgical team removed the hooks and closed the perforation one had made in the crocodile's stomach.

The report comes from the clinic of the Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar in San José. The zoo officials said that a biologist, Juan Bolaños, brought in the creature from the Pacific coast where fishermen saw the croc with a line hanging from its mouth.

They supposed the animal had ingested a hook.

Subsequent x-rays showed that there were two hooks, instead of one, and that one hook had perforated the stomach wall.

That is when Randall Arguedas, a veterinarian,
crocodile
Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico
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Open wide! A vet checks the toothy interior of the wounded croc.

decided to operate, the zoo said.

The operation was conventional, and the vet entered the crocodile Feb. 11 in a procedure the zoo has documented on a Web site.

The animal has recovered fully and will be liberated, said the zoo.



Another delay in Milanes case irks former investors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former investors with Savings Unlimited and its owner Luis Milanes Tamayo are more than unhappy because a preliminary hearing has been suspended for a third time.

That happened Monday when the hearing, planned for the entire month of March, was cut short after just a few hours.

This is the case that pits some 500 investors, mostly North Americans, against the casino owner who was a fugitive for six years. The case was postponed until May, in part at the request of a lawyer for some of the investors, Ewald Acuña, who objected to the way investors were listed in two groups.

Milanes is believed to have sought a delay, too, because he is in the process of changing lawyers.

Some of the investors had come long distances to be present at the hearing. The main purpose of the court session was to see if investors and Milanes could negotiate a deal that would result in a
payout. Milanes has offered property that an appraiser said is worth about $10.5 million. However, the property would have to be sold. Among the properties is the Hotel Europa downtown.

Some investors were seen expressing their displeasure to judicial officials Wednesday. Many believe that Milanes is receiving special handling from the judicial system. Part of their evidence is that he served a single day in jail when he returned after trying to use a false passport in El Salvador.
Milanes also was allowed to show up at the hearing Tuesday with a bodyguard, and he was housed in a separate courtroom.

Even in his prolonged absence Milanes continued to operate prosperous casinos in the Central Valley. He also has other lucrative business interests. He is a Cuban-American.

When he shut down Saving Unlimited in November 2002, investors lost an estimated $200 million. Milanes has blamed an associate who is now in Europe for keeping the money.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 44

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Chinchilla administration
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla is meeting this morning with representatives of political parties to discuss the stand Costa Rica will take when the International Court of Justice hands down its ruling on the Río San Juan Tuesday.

No one knows what the decision will be, but Costa Rica is expecting one that is favorable to its point of view.

The president already has said that she seeks to have Costa Rican ambassadors outside the country carry the news of the decision to the international community with the hopes that they will guarantee that the court decision is upheld. The decision involves the invasion by Nicaraguan troops into Costa Rican territory in order to create a new mouth of the Río San Juan, which is the border between the two countries.

Ms. Chinchilla has said she wants ministers involved in commerce to be prepared if the flow of traffic is impeded by Nicaragua. She addressed this request to Comercio Exterior, Hacienda, Gobernación and Economía y Industría.

Ms. Chinchilla also said that the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública would reinforce the northern border to protect the national territory and the residents there.

She also charged the minister of Comunicaciones and the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud with reaching out to various sectors of the population to reaffirm civic values, peace and respect for law.

The meeting with the political parties, both lawmakers and administrative leaders of the groups, is planned for 9 a.m.

Even if Costa Rica obtains a favorable ruling from the international court, there is no guarantee that the Nicaraguan Regime with honor it. A request by the Organization of American States that both countries withdraw troops was ignored by Managua.

Costa Rica at least expects a restraining order to keep Nicaragua from completing the river dredging that will create a mouth that will provide much quicker access into the Río San Juan. The first 30 kilometers or so of the river meanders and is heavily silted.

Traffic expected to be opened
both ways at Cambronero


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamericana Norte at Cambronero is expected to be back in full service this morning because transport officials say they have fully installed a second temporary bridge.

The location is 87 kilometers west of San José. The route is critical because the San José-Caldera highway is closed at Atenas to Orotina for repairs.

The highway at Cambronero slid downhill, and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the highway agency, installed a single bailey bridge that allowed one-way traffic. There were massive tie ups.

Now the second bridge is in place, and it is wide enough for heavy truck traffic the agency said. So traffic will be able to move in two directions at the same time.

The washout happened Sept. 8, and workmen installed a larger pipe under the road. The new bridge is 39 meters (128 feet) long.

They were so arrogant
they robbed a neighbor


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sometimes crooks are so arrogant, that they do stupid things.

That seems to be the case in Cebadilla de Turrucares, Alajuela. Monday at 1:30 a.m. two men broke into a home and threatened a 63-year-old woman and her 10-year-old son. They took household appliances, a portable computer and 500,000 colons or more than $1,000 in cash.

Wednesday judicial agents arrested two men, 23 and 24, who lived nearby. They said the men were identified by the victims.

Badly burned infant
airlifted from Talamancas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pilots from the Dirección del Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea carried a badly burned 2-month old from the high Talamanca mountains to Pavas Wednesday so the child could be treated at the Hospital Nacional de Niños.

Security officials said that the child was badly burned when a pot of boiling water overturned. The location, Guayabal, is difficult to reach on the ground, so an ambulance flight was arranged.

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary



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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 44
Latigo K-9

Environmentalist record first violation of shark finning rule
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmentalists said that Tuesday a fishing boat unloaded shark fins at the public dock in Puntarenas. That is an illegal act because Costa Rican law said that shark fins must remain attached to the shark carcass when they are brought ashore, environmentalists added.

This is the newest chapter in the battle between environmentalists and the highly lucrative shark finning trade based in Puntarenas.

The Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas identified the boat involved as the Hung Chi Fu XII and said the violation was a blatant one.

The rule involved is the one shark finning interests appealed before the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo. The firms are Marisco Wang, S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. Although a judge issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the rule in mid-February, the measure was upheld in a final hearing last week.

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura entered into an agreement with the Ministerio de Obras Públicas in October that by Dec. 1 all fishing cargo would be unloaded
at public docks. Basically the agencies agreed to follow Costa Rican law. The institute operates the docks.

Shark finning is controversial because usually the rest of the carcass is just dumped back into the sea. By requiring that the shark also be unloaded, the law hampers the killing of sharks.

"The system is working", said Randall Arauz, president of the environmental organization that calls itself Pretoma, in an organization news release.  "Clearly, the international fleet needs the privacy of its private docks to hide its shark finning activities, but now it must respect our laws," added Arauz.

"We have presented the case to the corresponding legal entities and Pretoma is hopeful that the guilty parties will be duly sanctioned", said Jorge Ballestero, also of Pretoma, in the same release.  "It seems like this is the beginning of the end for the international shark finning fleet here in Costa Rica."

There was no mention of what kind of penalty the fishing boat captain faces, if any.

Shark fins are in high demand in Asia mainly for use in a ceremonial soup.


Prosecutors say they had a drug spy within their midst
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police said they have uncovered a criminal spy network that reached into the heart of the organized crime prosecutor's office.

The agency, the Policia de Control de Drogas, the Ministerio Público and even the nation's chief prosecutor, staged raids Wednesday to detain a judicial employee and a Colombian associate.

The arrests stemmed from a January drug case. During the investigation police learned that criminal gangs had penetrated the organized crime prosecutor's office and had established an intelligence network that was headquartered in México but stretched as far as France and Colombia.

The judicial employee was identified by the last names of Valverde Fernández. He worked in the Pavas prosecutor's office until July 2005 when he was assigned to the narcotics trafficking prosecutor's office. In January the name of the office became the organized crime prosecutor.

Drug control police said that Valverde is accused of sending e-mails containing information about the names of suspects, vehicle license plate numbers, telephone taps and addresses of those being investigated. They also said he was in direct contact with principals of the drug trafficking organization and that he received money for the information.

Agents raided the man's Aserrí home and his office on the second floor of the judicial courts building. He was detained at his office.

The Colombian man has the last name of Vallejo, anti-drug police said. Despite his nationality, he was associated with a Mexican trafficking organization, police said. He was detained at his home in Aserrí.

Prosecutors were seeking preventative detention for the two men in a hearing Wednesday afternoon before a judge.

"We had indications that there existed a flow of information to criminal organizations in exchange for money with the result that these organizations were not discovered and had impunity," said Jorge Chavarría, the nation's chief prosecutor.

Informants for organized crime are nothing new. Even the New York City Police Department has had problems
Aserrí arrest
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Segruidad Pública/Paul Gamboa
The suspect identified by the name of Vallejo is led to a vehicle in Aserrí.

with detectives selling out to criminals.

In fact, a United Nations agency addressed the same point Wednesday.

Corruption is a major impediment in combating illicit drug trafficking, said the independent United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide in its annual report, while also warning that the production of synthetic stimulants is growing.

The vast profits generated in the drug markets often exceed the financial resources of state institutions, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board said in its report, adding that the criminal organizations with drug trafficking empires have in some cases become political forces with the power and authority of legitimate institutions.

The report also notes that cocaine abuse is spreading in Europe, possibly replacing amphetamines and ecstasy as the drug of choice in countries such as Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom. Costa Rican police have seen an increase in the arrests of drug mules who were headed to Europe.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 44


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Human rights court here weighs a Venezuelan prohibition

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is meeting to hear arguments regarding a 2008 decision by the Venezuelan government that has blocked hundreds of people from running for office.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza was expected to testify Tuesday in front of the court in Costa Rica as it began its two-day hearing examining the order that affects 575 people, including Lopez.

According to the court's Web site, it will hear statements by Lopez, a witness and four expert witnesses for his defense, as well as representatives for the Venezuelan government.

The ban on running for office remains in effect while the pro-Chavez state comptroller-general investigates the politicians on corruption charges.  It expires in 2017.

Lopez says that if the court rules in the opposition's favor, he plans to run for president in 2012.

The Human Rights Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief with the court. According to the organization, the decision of the court could make this a landmark case against the arbitrary deprivation of political rights.

“The court’s decision in this case could lead to the restitution of the human rights of thousands of people in
 the Americas who are at this time arbitrarily banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of Human Rights Foundation. “For the first time, the highest court of justice in the Western Hemisphere is being called upon to ratify the standard set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, according to which a person may be deprived of his political rights only after being sentenced as a result of a judicial process that meets all due process safeguards,” said El-Hage.

According to the foundation brief, the court must examine, based on this standard, the case of the disqualification of López, former mayor of the Chacao municipality, in Caracas. In 2008, this prohibition was imposed on López by the federal prosecutor of Venezeula.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, has also requested the court to declare that Venezuela violated the political rights of López, and, to order the Venezuelan state to reinstate them.

The Washington, D.C.,-based foundation said it considers this case an excellent opportunity for the court to determine that individuals who are incarcerated, but not yet sentenced, should never be deprived of their political rights. The court should also determine that in cases where the suspension or deprivation of political rights is an ancillary penalty to a criminal conviction, the prisoners should not also be deprived of their rights to vote as they serve their sentence, the foundation said.

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For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 44

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Reducing Mexican violence
appears to be the critical job


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More drug violence in Mexico in recent weeks is focusing new attention on that nation's anti-drug efforts, and U.S. cooperation in the fight.  Mexican officials say soldiers uncovered a mass grave Tuesday containing at least 17 bodies in Guerrero. A recent attack on two U.S. immigration agents, killing one of them, is adding to concerns on both sides of the border. Some experts say progress will depend on bolstering Mexico's law enforcement and its courts.

A chilling reminder of the ever-present danger in the war on drugs unfolded in northern Mexico Feb. 15, when two U.S. immigration and customs agents were shot by gunmen while driving through northern Mexico. One agent died. The other was wounded.

That attack came during a recent surge in the violence among Mexico's rival drug gangs and is the latest incident adding to tensions between U.S. and Mexican officials.

In a recent interview in the Mexican newspaper El Universal, Mexican President Felipe Calderón again blamed the United States for not doing more to reduce the demand for drugs, or the flow of guns into Mexico.

Calderón also expressed anger about U.S. cables — leaked by the Wikileaks Web site — in which U.S. diplomats gave unflattering assessments of the Mexican government's security efforts. He accused the diplomats of exaggerating their concerns to impress their bosses. 

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. office of National Drug Control Policy, said the United States has two key goals in the cross-border war on drugs.

"That goal of reducing violence is actually critical. The other goal that I would see as a marked measure of success would be to move away from the military doing policing and to have civilian policing that is not only able to handle the job, but civilian policing that is seen as trusted, professional and competent."

The Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute director Andrew Selee said the lack of credibility of police with the Mexican public is just one of several problems.

"Secondly, prosecutions — prosecutors tend not to take most of the cases to court. There is limited ability to gather evidence in a way that allows credible prosecutions and there is a lot of corruption within prosecutors' offices and people get off pretty easily. And finally there is the judicial system itself. The court system itself is not terribly credible. There is huge weight given to the prosecutors when they do bring a case in.  Judges rarely see the defendants and it is very easy in many cases to buy off the clerks of the court," said Selee.

Selee said Mexico has undertaken what he calls good constitutional reforms to bolster the rule of law. He added that the United States can provide assistance in key areas, including police forensics and advice from American judges and prosecutors.

"I mean, a chance to have a dialogue with people to really help Mexican counterparts innovate in their job and develop the kind of pride in the work that they do — by working with their U.S. counterparts. And that is the kind of thing that is beyond what the U.S. federal government does.  This is being done in many cases by local jurisdictions, by state prosecutors, by local prosecutors, by judges on their own initiative and it is a fabulous way for the two countries to work together on rule of law."

That emphasis on rule of law cannot come quickly enough in Mexico. Since Felipe Calderón became president in 2006 and began his crackdown on drug cartels, more than 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico.

Calderón and Obama
have a meeting today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mexican President Felipe Calderón Thursday visits Washington, where he is expected to talk with President Barack Obama about the drug war, economic issues and immigration.  The two presidents will meet after recent strains in U.S.-Mexican relations.

Presidents Obama and Calderón will talk in the Oval Office, weeks after a U.S. immigration and customs agent was killed in Mexico, and after U.S. diplomats’ criticism of Mexico’s fight against drugs was sent to the Web site Wikileaks.

Recently-leaked cables from U.S. embassy personnel said that Mexico’s armed forces are ineffective and corrupt.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 44

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Latin American news
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High U.S. court defends
even hurtful free speech


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued an important ruling on the issue of free speech, deciding in favor of a controversial church group that likes to protest at military funerals.

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, to hold anti-gay protests at the funerals of soldiers and Marines killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The court upheld what is known as First Amendment rights for the protesters, who believe that the military deaths in combat are God’s punishment for tolerance of homosexuality in the United States.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of peaceable assembly.

The high court’s majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts who said speech is powerful and can stir people to action and also inflict great pain.  Roberts said the nation had long decided to protect even hurtful speech on public issues so that public debate is not stifled.

The decision follows oral arguments before the high court last October when church member Margie Phelps argued the case before the nine justices and later spoke to reporters.

"The rule of law is that the mere fact that you take offense at words or call yourself having your feelings hurt over words is not enough to shut up the speech," said Ms. Phelps.

Ms. Phelps is the daughter of the Rev. Fred Phelps, the leader of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church who organizes the protests that often feature signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers”"

Only one justice, Samuel Alito, dissented in the case.  Alito said a national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for vicious verbal assault.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide the case after a lower federal court sided with the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.

Church members protested at Snyder’s funeral in Maryland, and his family sued the church group for emotional distress.  A lower court sided with the Snyder family, but a federal appeals court threw out that verdict, setting the stage for a showdown at the Supreme Court.

Matthew Snyder’s father, Albert, spoke to reporters after last October’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

"All we wanted to do was bury Matt with dignity and respect," said Snyder. "There is a civilized way to express an opinion in America, but it does not involve intentionally inflicting emotional distress on others and intentionally harming a private citizen at a private funeral."

Legal analysts say the ruling is one of the most significant free-speech cases to come before the Supreme Court in the past several years.




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