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These srticles were published Monday, March 7, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 46
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Superfast Internet in limbo for weeks
The one problem with ADSL is it doesn't work!
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The phrase "Internet Hell" is a slogan to give fair warning to users of the Internet in Costa Rica.

The phrase also offers consolation to all who experience difficulties with the Internet here. Most expats in this country could write this piece themselves, each with his or her own twist.

High technology is wonderful. The Internet is wonderful. But there is a dark side. Computers and the Internet play with basic physiological buttons in everyone. They are very similar to nasty additive drugs.

Costa Rica delivers Internet to users via three basic means: Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., Costa Rica’s Internet monopoly, known to many as Dante’s assistant on earth, ISDN, the local phone company’s version of Internet access, also known to the few who have it as the devil’s assistant on earth, and a more sinister ADSL, worst than the Satan himself. ADSL is slowly going to creep into every ones life. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, has promised to launch the ADSL service countrywide this year, thereby becoming a major competitor to its RACSA subsidary.

ADSL is wonderful. That is the problem. When one gets use to instant gratification, instant communication, online movies, no barriers of any kind on the Internet there is no hope for sanity ever again.

The problem is that without warning ADSL stops working. All of a sudden, with no explication from the powers that be. Now more frequently there is just a void. No Internet, no communications, nothing is left but a dumb computer screen to stare at. The need to make contact with someone again using the computer starts building in the psyche. Complete insanity is a certainty.

Where does one find a virgin to sacrifice to one of Costa Rica’s volcanoes to fix the problem? This solution is hard to realize in this country, but as impossible as calling someone who should knows what is going on, someone who knows how to fix a problem with the service.

Ads are all over the media in Costa Rica that ADSL will soon be available without a prescription to all that want this powerful drug. There is no antidote to this euphoria producing technological advance.

However, for the past two weeks, all those in Costa Rica’s pilot program of advanced internet, ADSL, have had serious problems. The country is installing systems, relays, server clusters and infrastructure everywhere to give access to the service to everyone who wants it. 

However, basic DNS resolution is not working. DNS means Domain Name System (or Service). DNS translates alphabetic domain names into numeric IP addresses. For example, the domain http://www.amcostarica.comtranslates to 

65.98.37.176. Computers do not talk to each 
other with words or letters but with numbers. DNS is like an address book that a computer needs to go to in order to find another computer. If DNS is not working, computers are lost.

The BIG problem is the bosses at ICE installing ADSL care nothing about the poor subscribers and tell them nothing about what is going on. Costa Rica is basing the whole implementation of advanced Internet in Costa Rica on putting out fires. However, when you call to report a fire, no one really wants to know about it. The latest trick is changing support numbers frequently so no one can report problems. 

To those with perseverance, it is possible to fish out the support people in hiding. Now the best part, when you find one, they have absolutely no clue on how the system should work.

Hundreds of thousands of emails to and from people in Costa Rica have been lost to cyberspace. More importantly, many have not even been able to send e-mail or connect to Web sites. Hotmail, MSN and other important services had just not worked for periods of up to days.

If ICE is going to hook the country on Internet, super fast Internet, offering spontaneous communications, and instant gratification, it needs to work!
 

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community. He has been part of the ADSL pilot program for Advanced Internet in Costa Rica for four years. Reach him at info@crexpertise.com. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Copyright 2005, use without permission prohibited.

 

 
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 7, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 46

 
Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-9393

 

 
Casino owner says zealots
jeopardize gaming jobs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Slot machines at casinos are being closed down by cheap politics and zealots with prohibition mentalities, said the owner-operator of one of the affected casinos.

The person is Jamie Ligator, who operated the Horseshoe Casino on Avenida 1 at Calle 9.

Some 24 machines in his casino and a simlar amount at the nearby Hotel Del Rey were shut down by municipal officials Feb. 25. The machines, perhaps 60 percent of those available at the Horseshoe, were still dark Sunday.

Ligator reponded because A.M. Costa Rica reported municipal officials said the two casinos had licensing problems. 

Not so, said Ligator in an e-mail mesage. "We have provided to the San Jose Municipality ample proof that we did indeed have all the permits necessary to operate all of our slot machines," he said, adding:

"The San Jose municipality has embarked on a policy of harassment against all casinos in its jurisdiction, this policy being fueled by: 

"1. Cheap politics — some people think that if they get at the forefront of closing casinos, they will add popularity to their future campaigns." 

"2. Zealots —  still the prohibition mentality that you have to forbid whatever you don´t approve of or don’t like."

Although he did not mention him by name, Johnny Araya, the mayor of the municipalidad, has higher political aspirations.

The slot machine situation is clouded because a law passed in 2002 levied a one-year tax on the devices. That measure expired Dec. 31, 2003, but municipal inspectors have attributed their actions to enforcing other laws.

"It is a shame that a few individuals have the power to influence the municipality in supporting such backward thinking and do not show any concern for the thousands of families that earn their living from the casino industry in Costa Rica," said Ligator.

The municipaliity shut down the sport book at the Casino Colonial  on Super Bowl Sunday last year.The sports book remains closed and other casinos have eliminated their sport betting operation.

Typically casino owners do not speak publicly about the actions by the muncipality, so Ligator’s comments are unusual.

Drive starts to collect
medical equipment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several locals are set to launch a new medical equipment project in Ciudad Colón this month.

The "Our Neighborhood Medical Equipment" project is designed to collect new and used durable medical equipment from the community for redistribution to needy individuals.

Tom Mead, the director of the project, has gathered a small group of dedicated volunteers who have helped to plan out the logistics of the venture. 

Volunteers will be on the look out for new or used, electric scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, toilet chairs, shower chairs, portable 'johnny' chairs, and hospital beds.

For more information, visit the project Web site at http://helpcostarica.com.

Response from readers

U.S. freedoms less
now after Bush years

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What surprises one day can bring. It would seem to stand to reason that anyone who had the good sense to get out of the U.S.S.A especially since the outrages of the last five years, would possess sufficient clarity of insight to see right thru the current American political theatre. 

But then I guess people come down here for all kinds of different reasons. Take me for instance, I came for the great waves. Sounds silly heh? But not nearly as silly as the letters from both Mike Hanks and Jim Edwards concerning their misplaced pride in the once great nation from whence many of us come. They both write rather articulately. I wonder why it is they cannot see Bush and Assoc. for what they are and who they represent. Do they both really believe that the same freedoms we used to have and took for granted still exist today. 

Did they not pay attention to the huge anti-globalization protests that were harnessed and compressed into a small concentration camp-style lot surrounded by barbed wire and armed sentries. Maybe they were sleeping when Daddy Bush sent las tropas into Panama in ´89 and took out a whole barrio with naplam and then herded hordes of innocent folks into guarded concentration camps where they could not leave at will. 

I believe there was a single or battered womens shelter that was hit by that piece of target practice. I heard stories of women on fire running screaming down the streets clutching their bloody babies to their bosom. 

All this to get one guy who Daddy Bush put there. I can go on an on about American inspired atrocities of war. Come on guys. It’s really necessary to watch something besides Fox news network and read something besides your local paper probably owned and operated by that same nationwide Reepublican conglomerate that controls most of the media theze daze. 

If you will believe theze nutcases Ive got a bridge I would like to sell you down on the Coastanera by Dominical. Buena suerte, cuz were all gonna need it.

Alan Bollinger
Panama
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Getting sacked

Youngsters give it their all in an old fashion sack race Sunday. The event for youngsters was  part of the II Festival de Verano Transitarte staged at Parque España and part of Parque Morazán over the weekend.

The event was topped off with evening fireworks that were seen throughout the city.

 

 
A Spanish phrase similar to 'Better safe than sorry"
Es mejor prevenir que lamentar

 "It’s better to prevent than to lament." This dicho conveys a similar meaning as does the English expression: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." A simple application of this caveat would be the act of setting the car alarm when we leave our vehicle parked on the street or locking the front door of the house at night before going to bed. Sometimes accidents and events that happen in our lives might well have been avoided by some simple act of prevention, but sometimes a providential hand also seems to be at work.

Many years ago, when living in Ecuador, we were scheduled to fly to Cuenca from Guayaquil to celebrate the Christmas holidays with friends in the mountains where it was cold and often snowy. As usual, my mother insisted that we arrive at the airport much earlier than we kids wished to go. But, she managed to coax us from our beds at some ungodly hour de la pura madrugada and we arrived at the airport well ahead of the morning rush. 

We were two hours early for our scheduled flight, and the young woman at the check-in counter offered us seats on an earlier flight that would be leaving in just a few minutes. Since traveling was preferable to sitting around an airline terminal for two hours, we decided to take it. But, even though we arrived in Cuenca one hour ahead of schedule, my mother decided not to bother our friends by calling and asking them to pick us up early, meaning, of course, that we simply exchanged one tedious airport wait for another. 

When our friends arrived to collect us they were very agitated and upset. It seemed that they had just heard on the car radio that our flight had crashed high in the mountains while making its approach to Cuenca. There was much emotional embracing — as you may well imagine — when they saw that we were safe. I think I truly learned the meaning of being born a second time that day. 

My mother, of course, did not miss the opportunity to reiterate her belief that it’s better to arrive early at the airport by invoking es mejor prevenir que lamentar, though it now seems to me that something about early birds and capturing worms would have been slightly more appropriate

When I think of Ecuador, a lot of wonderful memories come to mind. Many times we made the trip to Cuenca by bus, and also to Quito. I always loved in particular 

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

to go to Quito because we would stop in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, a midway town where we had many friends. 

One of those friends owned a restaurant. He and his family had lived in Costa Rica many years before. Another friend owned a hotel where we often spent the night. Back in those days, some 30 years ago, Santo Domingo de los Colorados was a dusty little town, full of wonderful and interesting folks. The name of the place comes from the indigenous people who live there because they color their hair red, and sometimes also their skin, to prevent the sun from bothering them. Interestingly, in the process they are also helping to prevent skin cancer. So, even though they may look odd to western eyes, their use of cosmetics, as it were, is actually a way of adapting to their sunny environment. 

My favorite story from Santo Domingo de los Colorados is of one of the chiefs of the indigenous people, whom I happened to befriend. On one of my visits he told he was going to buy a pick-up truck. I said, "Oh! That’s a good idea, but have you already learned to drive?"  He laughed and replied that of course he hadn’t learned to drive. How could he learn to drive until he got the truck? I insisted that he must learn before purchasing the truck. But he told me that no Spanish man (indigenous people often refer to the rest of us as "Spanish") would teach him to drive. 

I said I thought someone might be willing to do so if he offered to pay them a little something. As it turned out, he decided to take my advice. So, he knew how to drive his new truck before getting out on the road with it. I felt I’d done my duty then, mejor prevenir que lamentar, as the "Spanish" would say.


 
Trade minister in Finland admits Caja deal was suspect
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister for foreign trade of Finland said that equipment sent to Costa Rica was not "100 percent to the point" and that purchase prices were high.

The minister, Paula Lehtomäki, told the Finnish News Agency Friday that the deal had been examined by a third-party investigative agency, the Société Generale de Surveillance S.A. She based her comments on the agency’s report.

Her comments later were reported on the Web site of Newsroom Finland, which is produced for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

The minister’s comments were interpreted in Costa Rica to mean that the Caja Costarricense de Meguro Social overpaid for the medical equipment and that unnecessary pieces of equipment were purchased.

The $39 million deal with the Finnish company is the 

centerpiece of a scandal involving Corporación Fischel and a former head of the Caja, Eliseo Vargas García.

Early on Costa Ricans learned in April that Corporación Fischel, through Panama companies, purchased a luxury home and rented it to Vargas. Then news reports revealed that a $9 million commission was paid by the Finnish firm Instrumentarium and shared, among others by Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the former president.

The statement from Finland is the firm to confirm that Instrumentarium sold the equipment at inflated prices. The deal was approved in the Asamblea Legislativa in December 2001. General Electric Co. completed its purchase of Instrumentarium in October 2003.

La Nación, the leading Spanish-language daily, editorialized Sunday that the plan to purchase the medical equipment and skim contract price required not only a team placed inside and outside the Caja but also "a superior authority, powerful and experienced."


 
Initial confusion at Bocelli concert gives way to standing ovations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Long lines met people entering the Andrea Bocelli Concert at the Ricardo Saprisa Sadium Saturday night.  Once in the door the reason why was clear.  The municipal police were checking for tax stamps on all tickets.  Many did not have them, much like the problem with the Luciano Pavarotti concert Jan. 31, 2004.

As one arrived at the seating area, ushers told everyone that the row numbers on the tickets did not mean anything.  Only the numbers for the seats, which meant they were all duplicated so one had to dig in where ever there was a place.

When the total confusion died down, it was obvious 

only about a fourth of the expected crowd had arrived and everyone advanced on the higher price areas (ranging up to $295 per person).

All was forgotten when Andrea Bocelli started the concert which consisted of mostly opera selections for an obvious opera-loving crowd.  Bocelli, recognized for his youthful adaptation of opera and the classics, brought down the house.

The concert ended with four standing ovations.  Each ovation brought Bocelli back with another piece of outstanding music.  "Granada" by A. Lara was the particular hit of the evening performed shortly after intermission. and again ending the cool breezy evening.
 

— Garland Baker

 
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Wall marred with grafitti
gets mural by volunteers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cement wall on Calle 17 near Hospital Calderón Guardia received a face-lift Sunday afternoon. 
Volunteers from the cultural association Nueva Acropolis spent the afternoon painting over the old graffiti, creating a mural of Latin American faces. 

Nueva Acropolis is an international organization with representatives in more than 40 countries. The group’s goals are to educate people around the world about the value of their inherent culture and to promote the exploration of foreign cultures. 

Mauricio Castro, a group leader in Costa Rica, said that the association works throughout Costa Rica and throughout the world to promote better living.  "This is one of our many volunteer projects during the year," he said Sunday afternoon. 

Castro said that the group had volunteers from around Costa Rica that vary in age from 14 to 30. "I have been with the group for 10 years, but some people have been around much longer," he said.

More than 20 volunteers gathered on Calle 17 to help repaint the wall. They began working early in the morning and hoped that they would be able to finish before nightfall. For more information about the association check the Web site. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Volunteers from the Nueva Acropolis association work to paint a mural over the graffiti on Calle 17, near Hospital Calderón Guardia. 

 
U.S. says Costa Rica vulnerable to financial crimes
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The latest international narcotics report from the U.S. State Department says that Costa Rica remains vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes.

The 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report says that Costa Rica’s susceptibility to financial crimes stems from the presence of narcotics trafficking as well as Internet gaming companies.

According to the report, Costa Rica’s money laundering laws have several loopholes. These loopholes allow businesses such as casinos, jewelry dealers or Internet gambling operations, whose primary business is not the transfer of funds, to avoid intricate documentation of their transfers.

New legislation is being drafted to close this loophole and may be enacted in 2005, the report said.

The report also says that offshore banking is still a concern in the country. The formal banking industry is tightly regulated, according to the report, but foreign "offshore" banks are not adequately supervised. Costa Rica did implement new regulations for offshore banks in 2004 and authorities were able to intercept several 

illegal cash flows. Costa Rica, however, still does not have sufficient control over these entities, according to the department’s report.

The State Department report also said that the Costa Rican legal system needed help coping with the illegal activity. The report says that Costa Ricas financial intelligence unit is understaffed and that the authorities are not able to take action quickly enough. 

The report says that Costa Rica’s policies that require a judge’s permission to seize funds and detain suspects seriously neutralizes the country’s ability to prevent fiscal crimes.

The reports final recommendations for Costa Rica are to strengthen the country’s money laundering laws, to increase control over foreign banking and to continue to build upon the steps that the country has made in the past few years. 

The report said that overall, significant progress had been made against narcotics trafficking. The report highlighted Latin America and Southeast Asia as two areas that were much more vigilant against the illegal trafficking. 

The report is an annual one mandated by an act of Congress.


 
What State Department report said about Costa Rica
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report has this to say about Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is not a major financial center, but it remains vulnerable to money laundering and other financial crimes, due in part to narcotics-trafficking in the region and the presence in Costa Rica of Internet gaming companies. Reforms to the Costa Rican counternarcotics law in 2002, which expand the scope of anti-money laundering regulations, also create a loophole by eliminating the government’s licensing and supervision of casinos, jewelers, realtors, attorneys, and other non-bank financial institutions. 

Gambling is legal in Costa Rica, and there is no requirement that the currency used in Internet gaming operations be transferred to Costa Rica. Currently, over 200 sports book companies have registered to operate in Costa Rica. Many of these registered firms have the same owners and addresses.

In 2002, the Government of Costa Rica (GOCR) expanded the scope of Law 7786 via Law 8204. This expansion criminalizes the laundering of proceeds from all serious crimes. Law 8204 also obligates financial institutions and other businesses (such as money exchangers) to identify their clients, report currency transactions over $10,000, report suspicious transactions, keep financial records for at least five years, and identify the beneficial owners of accounts and funds involved in transactions. 

While Law 8204, in theory, covers the movement of all capital, current regulations based on 8204, Chapter IV, Article 14, apply a restrictive interpretation that covers only those entities which are involved in the transfer of funds as a primary business purpose. As stated earlier, the 2002 law does not cover casinos, jewelry dealers, or Internet gambling operations whose primary business is not the transfer of funds. New legislation/regulations are being drafted to close this loophole and may be enacted in 2005. 

The formal banking industry in Costa Rica is tightly regulated. However, the offshore banking sector that offers banking, corporate, and trust formation services remains open and is an area of concern. Foreign-domiciled "offshore" banks can only conduct transactions under a service contract with a domestic bank, and they do not engage directly in financial operations in Costa Rica. 

In 2004, Costa Rican authorities implemented several measures to enhance supervision of offshore banks, but acknowledge that they are still unable to adequately assess risk. Due in part to the new controls, two offshore banks ceased operations in Costa Rica in 2004 and another is expected to close in 2005. Currently, six offshore banks maintain correspondent operations in Costa Rica, three from the Bahamas and three from Panama. The GOCR has supervision agreements with its counterparts in Panama and the Bahamas, permitting the review of correspondent banking operations. 

Unfortunately, these counterpart regulatory authorities occasionally interpret the agreements in ways that limit review by Costa Rican officials. Despite inadequate supervision of the offshore sector, Costa Rican authorities were able to rapidly and effectively trace money in the wake of high-level corruption scandals. 

During 2004, the incidents of cash couriers depositing large sums of declared currency at private banks in Costa Rica virtually disappeared. Couriers appear to have reverted to smuggling cash, and the only four convictions in 2004 on money laundering charges involve undeclared currency (over $1.2 million) detected at airports or along the border. All four convictions have been appealed. 

Costa Rica’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Centro de Inteligencia Conjunto Antidrogas/Unidad de Analisis Financiero (CICAD/UAF), became operational in 1998 and was admitted into the Egmont Group in 1999. Despite its committed and professional staff, the unit remains ill equipped and under-funded to handle its current caseload (over 200 cases) and to provide the information needed by investigators. 

Nevertheless, the unit developed evidence it considers formidable in four high-profile cases of money laundering during 2004. The cases have been referred for prosecution to the special prosecutor for financial crimes. 

 Costa Rican authorities cannot block, seize, or freeze property without prior judicial approval. Thus, Costa Rica lacks the ability to expeditiously freeze assets connected to terrorism. An interagency effort is underway to reduce the time required to obtain judicial approval. 

The GOCR has ratified the major UN counterterrorism conventions. Additionally, a government task force drafted a comprehensive counterterrorism law with specific terrorist financing provisions in 2002. The draft law would expand existing conspiracy laws to include the financing of terrorism. It would also enhance existing narcotics laws by incorporating the prevention of terrorist financing into the mandate of the Costa Rican Drug Institute. 

In 2004, the Legislative Assembly also considered a separate draft terrorism law. GOCR officials are currently working to combine the two proposals in a way that will meet all of Costa Rica’s international obligations, and they are hopeful the law will be enacted in early 2005. 

Costa Rica is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the UN International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The GOCR has signed, but not yet ratified, the UN Convention against Corruption. The GOCR has also signed the OAS Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, and is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the aforementioned Egmont Group.  The Government of Costa Rica should improve the supervision of its offshore banking sector and should extend its anti-money laundering regime to cover the Internet gaming sector, exchange houses, gem dealers, casinos and other non-bank financial institutions. 

Costa Rica also should pass counterterrorism and terrorist financing legislation. Greater attention should be given to the concerns of the FIU, so that it is able to adequately support the needs of law enforcement. Costa Rican authorities are aware of these deficiencies in Costa Rica’s anti-money laundering regime, and should continue to address them in 2005, if the country is to build on the progress it has made in this area.


 
 
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