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(506) 223-1327         Published Thursday, March 13, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 52            E-mail us
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Valley begins to slow down for Holy Week holiday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pulse of the city is beginning to slow as thoughts turn to the Semana Santa or Holy Week holiday that technically begins Monday.

 But any Central Valley resident who is skillful in the art of combining vacation times with holidays already is packing the car for the trip to the beach or the mountains.

The entire fourth branch of the government, the Tribunal Supreme de Elecciones, has declared Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to be employee vacation days. Combined with the legal holidays March 20 and 21, the employees are off at least nine days. But some are tacking a few vacation days in front and after the recognized holiday. Most government offices are closed at least from next Wednesday until Monday, March 24.

In response to the early birds, even the ferries between Puntarenas the southern Nicoya Peninsula are adding extra trips starting at 4 a.m. Friday. Naviera Tambor, the concession holder, and the transport ministry have come up with an enhanced schedule to handle vacationers. The ferries will make 10 trips a day from Puntarenas to Paquera on the peninsula through March 21, starting at 4 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m.

The enhanced schedule going the other way begins at 4 a.m. March 22 through March 24. Usually 
there are just six or seven trips a day across the Gulf of Nicoya.
 
A whole host of police and rescue agencies will be working despite the holiday. The  Policía de Tránsito, the Cruz Roja Costarricense, the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias, the Cuerpo de Bomberos, and the Fuerza Pública will be at fullstrength. The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía will have agents in the field looking for violations of environmental laws, like persons who wish to bring wild animals or plants home.

Fuerza Pública officers also will be on duty during the waning hours of Wednesday when they enforce the Holy Week dry law. They will seal liquor cabinets and beer coolers in restaurants, shut bars and put black plastic over store displays of alcohol. The ban lasts until early Saturday. Some unprepared expats have been seen waiting for the first minutes of Saturday morning at those few bars with 24-hour licenses. Smarter ones shop ahead.

Of course religious Costa Ricans and the clergy will have their own work to do. Easter is a time of multiple processions which are unique photo opportunities for tourists. A major procession is Friday afternoon at the Catedral Metropolitana in downtown San José. Each Christian church maintains its own full schedule of events, and it is not unusual for motorists to face delays in rural communities while the local church procession passes by. Some even are at night.


Agents raid supposed beauty parlor in prostitution crackdown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents raided an operation which offered sexual services but was disguised as a beauty salon, said a spokeswoman Wednesday.

The “beauty salon” was in downtown San José, on Avenida 12 between calles 13 and 15 and was called Esteticá Lucy, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization. It was a massage parlor that employed numerous women who are suspected of offering their sexual services to clients, said a judicial spokeswoman. Customers would simply drive up in vehicles and ring the doorbell, said the spokeswoman.

Prostitution is not a crime in Costa Rica but pimping and running a brothel are crimes.

Agents from the Judicial Investigation Organization arrested a woman who they suspect is the administrator of the operation. The suspect, Grace Vargas Mora, 34, lived in the adjoined house with her brother, said a spokeswoman.
No one answered the doorbell Wednesday afternoon however. A young man with a bag of groceries was seen sneaking quickly into the house and shutting the door.

Most neighbors refused to comment on the house. Workers at a store across the street said they had never noticed any strange activity nor had they ever seen a sign marking the place as a beauty salon. The only signs on the place now say, “closed by the Municipal Police of San José.”

Agents also detained two more women, a 22-year-old named Cháves from Nicaragua and a woman from Colombia, they said.

Both women were handed over to immigration officials, said judicial investigators.

There are a number of such massage parlors in the downtown area. Some more luxurious ones cater to expats and tourists. They are infrequently closed, but sometimes near major religious holidays police target one or a few such operations.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 52

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Dutch agricultural experts
coming here April 3 and 4


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of some 35 Dutch agricultural firms will be in the country April 3 and 4 attempting to forge relationships with producers here.

The visit is under the supervision of the Dutch Embassy here and a local agricultural consulting company with Dutch roots, Ideavelop.

The goal is to follow up on a study financed by the Dutch government on ways the agricultural sector of the country can maintain its competitiveness in international markets.

The embassy is encouraging producers to meet with the visiting business people at the Hotel Ramada Herradura. The study on the ideavelop.biz Web site is a comprehensive summary of each Central American country, its politics and also its agricultural policies. The report also rates the competitiveness of each country's agricultural sector. For Costa Rica, the report says bureaucracy here is fierce and imports of goods can be a long and difficult process. The report says that exporting is easier.

Caribbean Tsunami alert
topic of Panamá talks


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An independent tsunami early warning system for the Caribbean region, in place by 2010 at the latest, is likely to be a major step closer when a coordination group decides whether to give the go-ahead for a regional data-sharing system. 

The creation of the real-time sharing system for existing seismic monitoring networks is being discussed at the third session of an Intergovernmental coordination group taking place in Panamá through Friday. The new system would replace the temporary service being provided by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The Caribbean region, with its population of nearly 40 million, is by no means spared the risk of tsunamis, the agency said. The most recent catastrophes occurred in the San Blas Islands of Panamá in 1882, Puerto Rico in 1918 and the Dominican Republic in 1946.
 
U.N. and Nikon seek shots
for potato year photo contest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cartago farmers, take note. You have a photogenic crop. The area is known for its potatoes, and the politically powerful spud lobby was able to keep potatoes out of the free trade treaty, thereby protecting Costa Rican consumers from potatoes less than 50 cents a pound.

Now comes the United Nation and Nikon, the camera and lens manufacturer. In conjunction with the U.N.  Food and Agricultural Organization Nikon is announcing a world photography contest to highlight the role of the potato, the planet’s fourth largest food source, in the fight against hunger and poverty, the U.N. said.

“It is grown in more than 100 countries, from the Andes and China's Yunnan plateau to the subtropical lowlands of India, on the plains of northern Europe and the steppes of the Ukraine,” said NeBambi Lutaladio, coordination of the International Year of the Potato, which also is being initiated.
The potato tuber seems to have originated in the Peruvian highlands of South America.

The contest has separate categories for professional and amateur photographers, and will accept single digital images or photo stories of four to eight related images, in either black-and-white or color, the U.N. said. Sought are images that illustrate potato biodiversity, cultivation, processing, trade, marketing, consumption and utilization, said the U.N.

The announcement may only be coincidental in that St Patrick's Day is coming Monday, and no nation is better associated with the potato than Ireland. A potato blight swept the country between 1846 and 1849, and more than a million starving Irish emigrated to the United States and elsewhere.

The contest also lends itself to endless bad jokes, such as the headline on the U.N. announcement: "All eyes on potatoes."

Our reader's opinion
U.S. human rights report
is considered hypocrisy


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Concerning your March 12 article entitled "Costa Rica gets good marks but others don't in rights report"  and considering the following partial list of U.S. human rights abuses as documented by Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report, it is hard to believe any thinking person would take the U.S. State Department report seriously.  Then again, I doubt many in the world other than hardcore Bush administration supporters would.

1.  Denial of habeas corpus to hundreds of Guantanamo detainees who have never been charged with a crime for over six years.

2.  Release of detainees without verification of torture risk upon repatriation.

3.  Failure of the revised military commissions system (2006) to meet due process standards, including the admissibility of evidence obtained through torture.

4.  CIA refusal to disavow torture in its interrogations, legalized by executive order in July 2007.

5.  The use of secret prisons for an unknown number of detainees confirmed in custody by the Bush administration and listed as "disappeared" under international law despite the illegality of incommunicado detention.

6.  Failure to vigorously prosecute abuse charges against U.S. military personnel and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7.  Denial of refugee protection, without proof, to anyone authorities believe is associated or supports any armed group.

8.  Increasing incarceration rates (the world's highest in both total and per capita) disproportionately skewed to members of racial and ethnic minorities.

9.  Confinement of almost 300 times as many offenders sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed as juveniles as in the rest of the world combined, and

10.  Recent court restrictions to unequal pay challenges by women.
Steve Roman
San Antonio de Belén

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the five presidents
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
President Óscar Arias Sánchez shakes hands with Manuel Zelaya of Honduras while Antonio Saca of El
Salvador,  Álvaro Colom of Guatemala and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua await their turns.
Five presidents meet to outline strategy for pact with Europe
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica hosted an unusual meeting of five presidents from Central America Wednesday. The heads of state were here to outline strategy in negotiations for a trade agreement with the European Union.

The most newsworthy aspect took place when President Óscar Arias Sánchez accused the European Union of hypocrisy because of the advantages it gives its small politically powerful population of farmers at the expense of agricultural producers overseas.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, said that his country wanted something fair and just, not like the free trade treaty recently approved with the United States. He said the United States was blocking Honduran products.

He also said he did not want Europeans meddling in Nicaraguan affairs. He said the country already had two internals wars, one against the dictatorship of the Somoza family and the other against Yankee imperialism.
The presidents issued a 14-point summary at the end of their private session at Casa Presidencial. Among other points, the chief executives want a fund set up to aid in the reduction of poverty in Central America.

In addition to Arias and Ortega, the presidents were Antonio Saca of El Salvador, Álvaro Colom of Guatemala and  Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.

Casa Presidencial also noted that the next series of negotiations with the European Union is from April 14 to 18 in San Salvador. This will be the third meeting. The purpose of the negotiations is to try to get the greatest advantage possible for five small economies compared to the Europeans, said Arias. The agreement is being called an association instead of a free trade agreement.

The presidents said in their summary of the meeting that they hoped the agreement would be finalized by the end of 2009.

Costa Rica exports bananas to Europe, but there have been disputes over import duties as European countries gave preference to bananas produced in their former colonies.


Sala IV says birth certificates should not list fact that a child is abandoned
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Youngsters who are disowned or otherwise abandoned by their parents when they are born will no longer have that fact noted on the public version of their birth certificate.

The decision came from the Sala IV constitutional court that ordered the Dirección General de Registro Civil to make the change, said the Poder Judicial.

The case was brought to the court by the organization Aldea S.O.S. which operates a shelter for youngsters in  Santa Ana.
Until now the birth certificates contained a margin note that said if the child had been abandoned or if the parents had lost their rights. Such situations are common among very young mothers, drug addicts and others without fixed residencies.

Aldea S.O.S. argued that the note in the margin stigmatized the child.

The Santa Ana location of the organization is specialized in caring for children when their parents are involved in a separation or possible adoption. About 46 children are living here, said the organization.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 52

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L.A. indictments allege massive Latin human smuggling ring
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted 12 defendants Wednesday for their roles in an alien smuggling ring that brought illegal aliens to the Los Angeles area and, for hefty fees, arranged to move those people around the country. Paperwork recently collected in the investigation indicates that the organization transported at least 5,400 illegal Latins since mid-2004.

The indictment follows the arrest of six of the defendants nearly two weeks ago. Wednesday’s indictment charges all 12 defendants with conspiracy to harbor, conceal, and transport illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain.

The investigation into the operation — dubbed the “three Franciscos” smuggling ring because the three lead defendants are named Francisco — began in May 2005 when the Los Angeles Police Department discovered two smuggling drop houses in a 24-hour period in south Los Angeles. More than 140 illegal aliens were packed into those houses.
While a group of illegal aliens was being transported from Arizona into the Los Angeles area last year, a driver for the organization had an accident, which caused the minivan he was driving to careen into a highway median near Barstow, California, according to the indictment. The driver and 10 illegal aliens were ejected from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries.

According to the indictment and a criminal complaint previously filed in the case, an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uncovered an organization run by Guatemalan nationals who provided housing and transportation to illegal aliens who had previously been smuggled into the United States from Mexico, Central American and South America. The smuggled aliens were brought to drop houses in Los Angeles and Lancaster, where they were housed until they or family members paid up to $5,600 each for the domestic portion of their journey.

The majority of those indicted Wednesday are Guatemalan nationals. If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in federal prison.


Bush urges OK of Colombia trade pact as support for Uribe
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush says Congress should approve a free-trade agreement with Colombia in recognition of President Alvaro Uribe's fight against violence and drug trafficking. Bush said failing to approve that agreement this year would embolden U.S. adversaries, including Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

Bush said time is running out for a free-trade agreement with Colombia. If the deal is not approved, Bush told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that it would send a signal to Latin America that the United States can not be trusted to stand by its allies.

"The Colombia agreement is pivotal to America's national security and economic interests right now," he said. "And it is too important to be held up by politics."

If approved, the deal would eliminate tariffs on more than 80 percent of U.S. exports of industrial and consumer goods and make permanent Colombia's preferential access to the U.S. market.

Bush said Colombia is one of America's closest allies in the hemisphere and President Uribe has proven to be a strong and capable partner in fighting drugs, crime and terror.

Bush says the Colombian leader has spoken-out against anti-Americanism, making hard choices that the president says deserve U.S. admiration and gratitude.
Bush is backing President Uribe in his stand-off with Ecuador and Venezuela after Colombian troops attacked rebels based across the border in Ecuador earlier this month. Bogota apologized for the raid, but said it is a necessary part of its struggle against the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias rebels.

Colombian officials said documents found during the fighting show that Venezuelan President Chávez paid $300 million to support those rebels. Venezuelan officials reject that claim.

Bush said Colombia is waging an aggressive campaign against terrorists who do not respect national sovereignty or borders. He says praise by Chávez for the rebels and his decision to send Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border is the latest step in what Bush calls a disturbing pattern of provocative behavior.

"As it tries to expand its influence in Latin America, the regime claims to promote social justice," said Bush. "In truth, its agenda amounts to little more than empty promises and a thirst for power. It has squandered its oil wealth in an effort to promote its hostile, anti-American vision."

Bush said one of the most important ways the United States can demonstrate its support for Colombia is approving the free-trade agreement to support security in the Western Hemisphere and ensure a level playing field for U.S. products.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 13, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 52

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International agencies trying to help flood victims in Ecuador
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

United Nations agencies are rushing food, medicines and other assistance to Ecuador to assist tens of thousands of people in need after heavy rains have inundated much of the South American country. 

Some 3,000 families, or around 13,000 people, have been forced from their homes by the two weeks of flooding, some of the country’s worst in two decades, and are living in more than 300 shelters.

Heavy rains have impacted 13 of the country’s 24 provinces, with approximately 60,000 people being affected by the rains in total. As of late last month, nearly two dozen people have lost their lives, including several children, and some $82 million worth of crops have been lost.
The UN World Food Programme has distributed 135 metric tons of high-energy biscuits and 10,000 food rations. Additionally the agency is launching a food-for-work program in May for a three-month period.

For its part, the UN Development Programme is continuing efforts to bolster early recovery efforts and is also organizing a three-day training event on risk identification and emergency management.

The UN Children’s Fund through 500 young volunteers, is distributing some 10,000 information leaflets from the U.N. Development Fund for Women on the prevention of sexual violence and HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is helping the national health ministry with the provision of vaccinations in Ecuador’s coastal region.


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 weekday.

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.

Searching

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.

Newspages

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.

Classifieds

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.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

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

Visiting us

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

Press freedom group stages
unusual protest on
Internet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services


The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders is organizing an online protest to denounce Internet censorship in 15 countries around the world. The protest aims to raise attention to at least 62 people jailed as cyber-dissidents.

Reporters Without Borders is holding the online protest to raise pressure on governments that it lists as Internet enemies, including China, Cuba and Eritrea. The Paris-based group said this year it added Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to the list of countries that tightly restrict Internet use and monitor Web traffic for dissident activity.

The protest at the Web site of Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org) allows people around the world to take part in a virtual demonstration which the group says would not be possible in many of the targeted countries.

Clothilde Le Coz, director of the group's Internet freedom desk, says users at the site can join with others around the world to send a message to the targeted governments.
"Pick a slogan, for example 'Free all the cyber-dissidents' or 'Free our Internet' and you will be virtually demonstrating with other demonstrators," she said.

The watchdog group says at least 62 people are in jail around the world because of online dissident activity, and more than 2,600 Web sites were shut down or blocked in the past year.

Ms. Le Coz says Reporters Without Borders also publishes a guide to help bloggers and dissidents avoid Internet censorship and publish their information online. But she says security officials, especially in some Asian countries, are increasing their efforts to track banned activity.

"The Chinese government for example knows how people are circumventing the censorship and is trying to find new ways to censor," said Ms. Le Coz.

Despite the dangers, many journalists and informal online reporters continue to use the Internet to distribute information. Ms. Le Coz points to August protests in Burma, where dissidents and others were able to upload pictures and videos of a police crackdown for use by news organizations abroad.

In Cuba, Internet access is restricted to Web sites on the island, while the use of computers that connect to other countries is limited to foreign tourists.

The restrictions make it very difficult for reporters and dissidents to communicate with rights groups off the island, such as the Cuban Democratic Directorate in Miami. Janisset Rivero-Gutierrez, the group's national secretary, says reporters and activists still use the Internet despite the dangers, including laws that impose 20-year prison terms on people who report on certain events in the country.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 52



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