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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, March 16, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 54          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Poder Judicial photo
The magistrates of the Sala IV constitutional court have a little light reading. The judiciary released this photo Wednesday showing the documents associated with the new tax plan that is being evaluated for constitutionality by the court. The legal documents not only include the proposed law but also transcripts and the history of the measure as it made its way through the Asamblea Legislativa for preliminary approval. In all, 40 volumes, a judicial spokesperson said. The bill would raise an estimated $500 million in new taxes.

Bandits having field day at airport, U.S. embassy report shows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen have been terrorizing new arrivals to the country by stopping and pillaging their vehicles near Juan Santamaría airport.

The U.S. Embassy in San Jose has counted 11 such attacks on U.S. citizens since December, according to a paragraph deep within a consular report released in Washington Wednesday. Most attacks happened between 10 and 11 p.m., the report said.

There have been no local warnings issued by the embassy staff.

Said the report:

"Although not all of these incidents were identical, a consistent theme is a group of masked and armed men (some of whom speak English) either convince or force the driver of a vehicle to pull over. Once the vehicle pulls over, the armed men quickly and methodically rob the occupants of their luggage and other valuables. As of this date, the people committing these armed robberies have not been caught by the Judicial Police."

What the embassy report does not say is that in some cases, the bandits shot out the tires of the rental vehicles.

Reporters have heard of such attacks but have been unable to obtain confirmation from police sources. There was no indication until the consular report arrived via e-mail that the attacks were so numerous.

These stickups probably number more than
11 because the U.S. Embassy only counted attacks on U.S. nationals and only attacks where the victims came to the embassy.

These violent crimes are not to be confused with the continuing practice of thieves puncturing the tires of rental cars and then offering assistance to drivers down the road when the tire goes flat. These cases usually involve theft of luggage, although some have been armed robberies. The embassy report notes these case, too.

From time to time A.M. Costa Rica receives mostly second-hand reports of banditry near the airport. Only some of the victims have made police reports and those who go to their embassy usually do so because robbers took passports.

The U.S. Embassy here maintains a Web site and a page for special safety and security information for U.S. citizens. But there are no recent postings and no mention of the highway robberies.

The report may not be completely correct when it says bandits have not been caught by police. Gunmen using vehicles is a typical technique here, and Fuerza Pública and agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization have rounded up a number of suspects in different cases since December.

However, those cases involved robberies other than on the highway near the airport. Still, some of those caught might have committed crimes of the type reported by the embassy. The robberies are believed generated by one or more organized criminal gangs from Pavas. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 54

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
María de los Ángeles Antillón Guerrero meets press

Otttón Solís welcome to try
to change treaty, Arias says

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ottón Solís is welcome to go to Washington and try to get the free trade treaty with the United States renegotiated, president-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez has told him.

In fact, Arias will even send his two future vice presidents with Solís, the unsuccessful candidate of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Arias said. They are Laura Chinchilla and Kevin Casas.

Arias and most politicians here and in the United States doubt that the treaty could be renegotiated.  Solís has maintained that it could be. The treaty passed the U.S. House of Representatives by just one vote.

Arias made the offer to Solís in a letter he wrote Tuesday. He released a copy of the letter Wednesday when he met with future legislators from his party, Liberación Nacional. They met at the Hotel Corobici.

During the session, future deputies in the Asamblea Legislativa elected María de los Ángeles Antillón Guerrero, 44, as the leader of the party group or fracción.  She was elected in the Provincia de San José.

Arais bested Solís by just 18,000 votes of the 1.6 million cast.

Union leader ducks visit
and wants neutral spot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big meeting of opposing political forces in the country will not take place today.

Albino Vargas Barrantes, head of the powerful public employees union, said he would not meet with president-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez if the session were to be held at the Arias home in Rohrmoser.

Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, said he preferred a neutral location and suggested the offices of the Defensoría de los Habitantes in Barrio México.

Arias said he preferred to hold the session in his own home.

And that is where the matter stands.

Vargas said he probably would wait to meet with Arias until after May 8 when the new president is sworn in. Then the meeting can be at Casa Presidencial in Zapote.
Arias invited Vargas to a meeting Tuesday with the goal of searching for common ground.

The big difference between the two men is that Arias supports the free trade treaty with the United States and many members of the public employee unions think that the treaty will endanger their jobs.

Vargas was a continual threat to President Abel Pacheco, who delayed sending the signed treaty to the Asamblea Legislativa for ratification for fear Vargas and other like minded individuals and organizations would stage blockades and street demonstrations.

Vargas also has characterized Arias as an illegal president because he was able to run for election a second time.

Wal-Mart says it will create
6,000 jobs in two years

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart has announced it is increasing its presence in Central America, creating 6,000 new jobs in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The company announced Wednesday, it has now acquired 51 percent of Central America's biggest retailer, Central American Retail Holding Co., or CARHCO. Wal-Mart said it will replace the name CARHCO with Wal-Mart Central America, but otherwise will make no major changes in the stores.

Wal-Mart acquired 33 percent of CARHCO in September. Financial terms for the latest acquisition were not released. Wal-Mart says its expansion will create more than 6,000 jobs over the next two years, as well as stimulate export of local products.
Big sweep by police
nets 23 wanted suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judical police and the Policia Municipal arrested three women and 20 men in a valley-side sweep that began in San José.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the sweep began under the supervision of the Sección de Capturas Tuesday morning in Avenida Central and then moved into barrios Cuba, Cristo Rey Sagrada Familia.
Wednesday officers and agents traveled to Turrialba, Escazú and again to San José centro.

The majority of those detained were the subject of warrants alleging robbery, fraud, assault and burglary, officials said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 54


Security minister and OIJ defend professionalism
Police officials reject allegations by Ayre over raid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both the security minister and the Judicial Investigating Organization deny that police and agents acted unprofessionally when they raided the mansion of gambling tycoon Calvin Ayre Friday night.

Ayre said police and agents ate food that had been set out on a buffet for guests and that three officers swam in his pool.

Rogelio Ramos, the security minister, said Wednesday that he categorically rejects the allegations of Ayre dealing with the eating of the food and the swimming and said the events reported by Ayre did not happen and that the raid was conducted according to the book.

He characterized published comments earlier in the week by Ayre as an insult to the country. He said he had met with those involved in the raid.

The Judicial Investigating Organization, which is an agency of the courts and not of the security ministry, put out its own statement.

The statement said that the raid was under the supervision of a criminal court judge at all times and that the incidents cited by Ayre did not happen. In addition three fiscals or prosecutors were present as well as Fuerza Pública officers and Policía de Migración, the statement said.
"The judicial police always has acted with professionalism, respect for the law and the rights of persons," the statement said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization also challenged Ayre to produce videos he said were taken of the activities of the police. They said he should do so when he files a formal complaint. Ayre said his rights were violated by the raid.

The raid Friday at Ayre's home in Santa Ana came because agents expected to find gambling on the premises. Ayre, CEO of and other gambling Web sites, is involved in a six-part poker tournament, and the party Friday was supposed to be the wrapup of the final part. The series, which will be aired by Fox Sports, has a lot to do with the rich lifestyle of Ayre. Officials acknowledge that there were at least 100 persons at the mansion when the raid took place.

Ayre said that those who participated in the tournament did not have to put up their own money and were simply competing for the top $500,000 prize. He said the poker sequences were shot at the studios of Canal 7 in Sabana Oeste in a deal between the station and Fox Sports.

The Fuerza Pública is part of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública that Ramos heads. The immigration police are also under his ministry.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 54

Monetary Fund sees flu causing economic disruption
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The potential effect of an avian influenza pandemic on the global economy and financial systems could be severe but brief, the International Monetary Fund  says.

In a report released Wednesday, the fund says disruptions as a result of an avian influenza (bird flu) pandemic could occur in transportation and tourism, trade and utilities, and that already financially vulnerable businesses may face bankruptcy.

Countries that already are financially stable and have strong plans to continue basic business operations would be less vulnerable, it says.

The fund will issue more information on the expected effect of a pandemic in its April 11 Global Financial Stability Report and April 19 World Economic Outlook report, a fund representative said during a briefing.

At the briefing, fund official Sandy MacKenzie said the most likely global economic effect of a pandemic would be high worker absenteeism as employees stay home to care for sick household members and avoid exposure to the disease in the workplace.

As ill workers recover from a flu outbreak, supplies of products and services would rebound, MacKenzie said.

The pace of recovery, however, would depend on business and consumer confidence, the fund said.
Financial systems' information technology and communication infrastructure might be affected
during a pandemic as absenteeism slows transactions, according to the report.

The Federal Reserve Board and three other U.S. federal financial and thrift institution regulatory agencies March 15 advised financial institutions and their technology service providers to become more aware of the threat of a pandemic influenza outbreak and its potential effect on the delivery of critical financial services.

Major financial centers — such as Tokyo, London and New York — especially need to consider how they would continue functioning without disruption to basic operations due to temporary high absenteeism, Charles Blitzer, another fund official, said at the briefing.

A pandemic likely would affect fiscal balances as countries increase their spending on health care, public safety, social services and subsidies to businesses, the fund says.

Blitzer said all countries might want to consider how to meet increased requests from individuals and businesses for cash and low-risk assets.

The demand for cash could lead to temporary declines in asset prices that may stress financial institutions' balance sheets presenting "challenges in meeting regulatory norms," the fund says. Countries around the world — especially those affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2005 — already are thinking of how to adjust their plans to continue basic business operations, said fund official David Hoelscher.

Child porno ring featured live molestations via Internet, AG says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Investigators from the United States and three other countries have broken up an international child pornography ring that featured live transmissions of sexual molestation streamed on the Internet.

A total of 27 people from four countries have been charged in connection with the child pornography investigation. Thirteen of those charged are in the United States while the other 14 face charges in Canada, Australia or Britain.

All but one of those implicated in the case have been arrested. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the indictments at a news conference in Chicago.

"Over the past few months, undercover investigators infiltrated an international Internet chat room that was being used to facilitate the trading of graphic images of child pornography, including live streaming video of adults sexually molesting children and infants," he said.

Investigators have identified seven victims of child molestation in connection with the pornography case.
Investigators say one of the men allegedly involved used four minors under the age of 12 to engage in sexual acts that were then transmitted live over the Internet to other members of a special private chat room.

In another case, a man allegedly sexually molested an infant while the images were streamed live over the Internet.

"The behavior in these chat rooms and the images many of these defendants sent around the world through peer to peer file sharing programs and private instant messaging services are the worst imaginable forms of child pornography," said the U.S. attorney general.

The specific charges include possession, receipt, distribution and manufacture of child pornography.

A conviction on the manufacturing charge carries a minimum 15-year prison sentence in the United States, while the other charges bring minimum sentences of at least five years.

Those charged in the case will be allowed to enter pleas at a later court appearance.

Farm workers in Brazil claim raid is to end illegal crop research
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of farm workers have camped out at a Swiss-owned research farm in southern Brazil, alleging the company is illegally experimenting with research into genetically modified crops.

The protest began Tuesday when the demonstrators in the State of Parana broke down the gate to the property. The company that owns the farm — Syngenta — denies breaking any laws and says it is talking with authorities about legal action to end the sit-in.

The incident marks the second time in a week that protesters have targeted agribusiness in Brazil. Last  week, about 2,000 people marched on a plantation in
southern Brazil that harvests a crucial plant used in the production of paper.

The demonstrators say the invasion at the plantation, owned by Aracruz, was staged to denounce the mass cultivation of eucalyptus and other trees. The pulp from these plants produces cellulose, the main ingredient in paper.

Environmentalists and small farmers say the pulp ruins the soil, dries up the rivers and causes pollution. Aracruz said the raid cost $400,000 in damages and the loss of years of genetic plant research, which could lead to the loss of millions of dollars.

The raids were organized by the international farm workers rights group, Via Campesina.

Jo Stuart
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