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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 53          E-mail us
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Chinese criminal gangs quietly build their empires
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chinese criminals have infiltrated Costa Rica and are setting up their networks quietly and without much notice from police agencies. The presence of Taiwanese and mainland criminals is not new, but until now most of the illegalities remained within the growing Chinese communities in San José and Puntarenas.

Investigators have been more concerned with Colombian and Mexican cartel operations here, although occasionally the ransom kidnapping of a Chinese businessman made the news.

A case this week exposed a complex web of illegality that allowed crooks to hijack a container full of name-brand alcohol from inside the secure docks in Limón. Agents recovered some of the loot Tuesday in Santa Ana and said the property had a Chinese owner.

Chinese gangs here usually are involved in extortion, kidnappings and human trafficking, so they do not compete with the drug cartels who are more interested in moving cocaine.

The main interest of the United States is in human trafficking because the Chinese gangs have a long history of moving illegal immigrants north from temporary locations in Latin America.

In the late 1990s, Interpol identified 18 local Chinese gangs that were linked in Central America under the Fa Yen Triad, according to a 2003 report by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Much of the information came from the Central Intelligence Agency. Taiwanese nationals in Guatemala established a people-trafficking route connecting Taiwan with Southern California, where other Taiwanese nationals had established a destination point, the research division said.

Panamá also is considered a major trafficking point.

Mario Zamora, the then-immigration chief, reported that he was approached in 2006 with a $2.5 million bribe offer to allow 500 Chinese to get visas. He turned down the offer, but there has been no reports of prosecution in the case.

In fact, local law enforcement seem to be unaware of the growing Chinese gang influence.  Raids like the one Tuesday are exceptions. A $1.5 million wiretapping setup that is being constructed would seem to be of little use against Chinese gangs if no police officers spoke Chinese.

The diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks illuminate efforts by Costa Rican officials to stop an attempt by a Chinese criminal gang to send 300 youngsters from that country to here. The embassy said the children were to be indentured servants here for 10 years.

Then-ambassador Peter Cianchette wrote the cable. He attributed much of the information to Zamora.

According to the then-ambassador, Chinese gang members sought out Costa Ricans with Chinese surnames and offered them money to use their name. Then a visa was sought for a Chinese immigrant on the grounds of family reunification.

The case was covered heavily in newspapers at the time, but the ambassador reported that Chinese police also reportedly uncovered a how-to manual for Chinese clients applying for Costa Rican visas.  He also noted that a foreign ministry
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Much of the counterfeit CDs and DVDs on sale along San Jose's streets come from Hong Kong criminal gangs.

official had been fired on the allegation that he tried to bribe consular officials at the Costa Rican embassy in China. The fired official had Chinese ancestors.

"Two other non-official Costa Ricans of Asian origin are also under investigation, though the lack of a judicial cooperation agreement between Costa Rica and China might limit the information that could be used in court if charges are brought against the individuals," said Cianchette. The case has not yet come up in court.

But the method does point out the ability of Chinese gangs to target innocent Chinese and suck them into the illegalities.

A legislative committee sought to investigate the Chinese human trafficking in 2009, but that idea seems to have vanished with the change in lawmakers the next May.

Chinese culture seems to provide openings for criminality. Many Chinese love to gamble, and gang members frequently are enlisted to collect debts. Some of the kidnappings of Chinese residents have been linked to such collection methods. Some successful ransom kidnappings are not reported.

Like most immigrant groups in a strange land, newly arrived Chinese seem to have their own gambling parlors and places to socialize, many unknown to police officers. There is a settlement of Chinese along Paseo de los Estudiantes in San José, and the municipality has plans to convert the area into a Chinatown for tourism. The arrival of the first Chinese to Costa Rica was in the middle of the 19th century, and there are many divisions among the Chineses and Chinese-Tico populations. Costa Rica's national hero, Franklin Chang Díaz, enjoys Chinese heritage.

Said the research arm of the Library of Congress:

Chinese groups have been extremely efficient in creating loose, flexible multinational structures that often are linked with legitimate business enterprises; in exploiting weaknesses in the law enforcement systems of individual countries; and in coercing otherwise law-abiding members of the Chinese communities of many countries to carry out specific tasks such as supporting illegal migrants.

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President signs measure
for $2 billion in borrowing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla signed two bills Tuesday, including one that would allows the executive branch to borrow $2 billion on the international market. A second bill would increase the penalties for tax evasion and also contains a clause that allows tax authorities to take a percentage of electronic sales automatically.

Casa Presidencial said that the $2 billion would be used to buy back existing debt at a reduced interest rate and will not increase the public indebtedness. Both measures now go to the legislature for consideration.

The measure that increases penalties had been predicted. It doubles fines for incorrect and false reporting. The measure also increases penalties for customs fraud, for example when an importer produces a false bill of lading with a lower value of the goods.

The measure also would authorize the tax collecting administration to set up a method to tax percentages from electronic transactions as sales tax.  Under the current system, a merchant collects the sale price and taxes and pays the tax and makes a report on the 15th of each month.

New, larger ferry coming
to make gulf of Nicoya run

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The gulf of Nicoya will be getting a new ferry. It is the Tambor 3, which joins two other ferries of the same name. The new vessel, built by the Peruvian firm Astillero y Varadero A. Maggiolo S.A., is larger and can carry 160 vehicles and 850 passengers. It is expected to arrive this month.

Peruvian newspapers said the boat is 82.4 meters long, some 270 feet, and cost $7 million.

The crossing of the gulf from Puntarenas to Paquera is mainly to provide a link to the southern part of the peninsula. The Amistad bridge over the Río Tempísque provides a quicker route to the city of Nicoya and vicinity. The ferries are operated by Naviera Tambor S.A., which is associated with the Hotel Tambor which is south of Paquera.

Turrialba and Siquirres
plan festival starting Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival Nacional de las Artes will take place in both Turrialba and Siquirres, starting Friday through March 27. This is another of the large Costa Rican art festivals, and many who participated in the weekend Trasitarte in San José said they were heading to Turrialba.

There will be more than 2,000 participants, and the festival will be enhanced by its proximity to Limón Centro and the music and dance groups located there.

Injured workers can get
credit card payments

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

MasterCard and Banco Nacional are working with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros to provide those suffering from a work injury with a prepaid credit card to cover their expenses. Until now many individuals were reimbursed in cash, which caused delays, the firms said.

The insurance institute makes about 800 payments each day to workers covered by the riesgo de trabajo insurance or workman's comp. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros also can make payments to individual bank accounts via the Internet but some injured workers are not Internet savvy.

Cruz Roja lists accounts
for Japanese quake relief

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cruz Roja has announced account numbers for those who wish to make donations to victims of the Japanese earthquake.
The accounts are in Banco Nacional de Costa Rica in colons  100-01-000-100100-7 and dollars  100-02-000-068666-7. Interbank transfers may be made in colons to 15100010011001007 and in dollars to 15100010020686665. The cédula number of the Asociación Cruz Roja de Costa Rica is required for interbank transfers. It is 3-002-045433.

The Banco de Costa Rica account number for colons is  001-176003-3 with interbank transfers to the extended account number 15201001017600333. The dollar account at this bank is  001-204-6 and from other banks 15201001000020465

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
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Contested communication tower finally coming down
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen began dismantling a radio communication tower in Residencial La Jolla, Asuncion de Belén, Tuesday, thus ending a prolonged legal fight.

The tower is operated by Montagne De La Vallee Doree Ltda., represented by Andreas Roman Leimer Seiring, who fought to keep the tower up.

Neighbor Rafael Stumbo Tarasco was one of those who opposed the 30-meter (98-foot) tower.

Leimer, himself, is one of the last unconvicted associates in what the U.S. government says is a lottery scam that defrauded hundreds of U.S. citizens. The scam is one of a handful that have been operated out of Costa Rica over the past five years. There have been a number of arrests here and extraditions to the United States. However, Leimer has Costa Rican citizenship and cannot be extradited.

In its most recent ruling in late February, the Sala IV constitutional court ordered both Leimer and the Municipalidad de Belén to remove the tower. The legal fight has been going on for more than two years.

Leimer was in the news in October when Brian Ross of the ABC television network visited to videotape and interview him as a U.S. fugitive. U.S. Embassy officials have been working to try to get Leimer to show up in U.S. district court in North Carolina where the fraud case is being heard.

The U.S. Justice Department said that the individuals who pleaded guilty or were convicted in the case were part of a massive scheme that defrauded unsuspecting United States citizens, many over the age of 55, out of millions
data tower
Photo by Rafael Stumbo Tarasco
Workmen begin taking down the tower

of dollars by deceiving them into believing that each had won a large monetary prize in a sweepstakes contest. Calls to victims were made from Costa Rica using voice over Internet protocol, which utilized computers to make telephone calls over the Internet, disguising the originating location of the calls, the department said. Victims were informed that the callers were purportedly from the Sweepstakes Security Commission and that to receive their prize, they were to wire to Costa Rica, thousands of dollars for a purported refundable insurance fee, it added.

Some of the scammers were sentenced to decades of prison and ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines and restitution.

adujlt liionfish
Photos by James Morris, Jr. of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Adult lionfish uses its fins to herd smaller fish into compact areas where they are eaten.

Lionfish spreading in a way no other species ever has
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The rapid spread of lionfish along the U.S. eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean is the first documented case of a non-native marine fish establishing a self-sustaining population in the region, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey studies.

“Nothing like this has been seen before in these waters,” said Pam Schofield, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, Florida.  “We’ve observed sightings of numerous non-native species, but the extent and speed with which lionfish have spread has been unprecedented. lionfishes pretty much blanketed the Caribbean in three short years.”

The fish are common along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

More than 30 species of non-native marine fish have been sighted off the coast of Florida alone, but until now none of these have demonstrated the ability to survive, reproduce, and spread successfully. Although lionfish originally came from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, there are now self-sustaining populations spreading along the western Atlantic coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.

It is not yet clear exactly how the new invasive species will affect reefs in this part of the world. Foremost on the minds of scientists is the lionfish predatory behavior, which may negatively impact native species in the newly invaded ecosystems. They have already been observed preying on and competing with a wide range of native species.

Invasive lionfish were first reported off Florida’s Atlantic coast in the mid-1980s, but did not become numerous in the region until 2000.  Since then, the lionfish population has rapidly spread north through the Atlantic Ocean and south  throughout most of the Caribbean. The spreading population is now working its way around the Gulf of Mexico.
young lionfish
A group of juvenile lionfish

Dr. Schofield spent years compiling and verifying sightings of lionfish, reaching out to local experts such as biologists, museum curators, natural resource managers, divemasters and citizens groups to collect detailed records of specimen collections and sightings throughout the region. 

No one knows for sure exactly how the predecessors of the current population first made it into the Atlantic and Caribbean, but Dr. Schofield believes the invasion serves as a warning of the dangers posed by introductions of non-native fish into an ecosystem.

“This invasion may constitute a harbinger of the emerging threat of non-native marine fishes to coastal systems,” Schofield said.

Eradication of lionfish is probably not possible, admits Dr. Schofield. Yet, local control efforts may be able to keep the population tamped down, releasing pressure on the native ecosystem. 

Many Caribbean countries such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands have begun lionfish control programs.

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British study confirms two languages change the speakers

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Learning a foreign language literally changes the way humans see the world, according to new research.

Panos Athanasopoulos of Newcastle University has found that bilingual speakers think differently to those who only use one language.

And one doesn't need to be fluent in the language to feel the effects. His research showed that it is language use, not proficiency, which makes the difference.

Working with both Japanese and English speakers, he looked at their language use and proficiency, along with the length of time they had been in the country, and matched this against how they perceived the color blue.

Color perception is an ideal way of testing bilingual concepts because there is a huge variation between where different languages place boundaries on the color spectrum.

In Japanese, for example, there are additional basic terms for light blue (mizuiro) and dark blue (ao) which are not found in English.

Previous research has shown that people are more likely to rate two colors to be more similar if they belong to the same linguistic category.
“We found that people who only speak Japanese distinguished more between light and dark blue than English speakers,” said Athanasopoulos, whose research is published in the current edition of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. “The degree to which Japanese-English

bilinguals resembled either norm depended on which of their two languages they used more frequently.”

Most people tend to focus on how to do things such as order food or use public transport when they learn another language to help them get by, but this research has shown that there is a much deeper connection going on.

“As well as learning vocabulary and grammar you’re also unconsciously learning a whole new way of seeing the world,” said Athanasopoulos. “There’s an inextricable link between language, culture and cognition.

“If you’re learning language in a classroom you are trying to achieve something specific, but when you’re immersed in the culture and speaking it, you’re thinking in a completely different way.”

He added that learning a second language gives businesses a unique insight into the people they are trading with, suggesting that European Union relations could be dramatically improved if citizens took the time to learn a little of the other language rather than relying on English as the lingua-franca.

“If anyone needs to be motivated to learn a new language, they should consider the international factor,” he said. “The benefits you gain are not just being able to converse in their language. It also gives you a valuable insight into their culture and how they think, which gives you a distinct business advantage.

“It can also enable you to understand your own language better and gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own culture," added Athanasopoulos, who speaks both Greek and English.

New page contains important links and information

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper is publishing a page of important links and services. It is HERE!

Over the next week the page will be expanded and improved. However, the page still will contain embassy listings and emergency numbers, flight information for both international airports, immigration contacts, links for movie listings, traffic information and weather and disaster links.

There also is a link for activities at the Teatro Nacional.
Listing for services could use improvement. We ask readers to recommend to us tradesmen and women who can be trusted to do the job assigned.

Employees will contact these individuals to see if they would like to be listed.  We will charge a reasonable fee for this service, but the main goal is to assemble a team of craftsmen, from plumbers to auto mechanics, who come recommended by fellow expats.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to find good craftsmen and repair personnel. Please send names of those you recommend to

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Obama will head to Brazil
to start Latin triple visit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive Saturday in Brazil to start a five-day Latin America trip also taking him to Chile and El Salvador.  Obama wants to send the message the United States intends to step up its engagement, while respecting the political, economic and social agendas governments are pursuing in the region.

The president announced his Latin America trip during his State of the Union Address to Congress in January. “This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas,"

It will be his first visit to South and Central America, a region of broad political and economic diversity, and the focus of fierce global competition for investment, exports, and influence.

Preparations have been under way for months.  In February, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited economic powerhouse Brazil, the largest country on the continent and the world's 7th-largest economy.

After talks in Washington with Brazil's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previewed some of the Obama agenda.

"We are cooperating closely and our bilateral work on issues and global challenges, including food security and human rights, and clean energy and global inequality, is key to both of us and we will explore even additional ways to pursue our common interests and our common values,”she said.

Themes in all three countries include the consolidation of democracy, open and accountable government, civil rights, gender equality, and social inclusion.

In Rio de Janeiro, President Obama will address the people of Brazil.  He is also expected to visit a favela, one of the squatter slums Brazil's government has been trying to wrest from the control of criminal and drug gangs.

School of International Service Dean Louis Goodman, of the The American University in Washington says the first African-American president of the United States should be able to deliver an effective message to Latin American countries still struggling with a past marked by social inequalities.

Obama's discussions with President Dilma Rousseff and American and Brazilian business executives will focus on areas of opportunity in renewable and sustainable energy, science and technology, education and innovation, also key priorities for Mr. Obama in the U.S. economic recovery.

Major oil and natural gas finds in Brazil are also of interest to the United States, something Obama mentioned in a recent news conference about rising energy prices.

Brazil's ambassador in Washington, Mauricio Vieira, says his government seeks more balance in bilateral trade, and mentions differences on global-trade issues.  But he says the important thing is that both sides continue talking.

“We discuss all issues, those which we agree, and even those in which we do not agree completely, but the important thing is not agreeing always, the important thing is to discuss, to have an open dialogue and to find ways to have a consensus on a very wide agenda,”he said.

Obama's visit to Chile is aimed at spotlighting that country as a model for economic reform and political stability.

After a meeting with President Sebastian Pinera, Chile's first conservative leader since the end of the Pinochet era in 1990, Obama will deliver what the White House calls a broad policy speech about the U.S. relationship with Latin America. 

In El Salvador, Obama will meet with President Mauricio Funes, who heads a center-left government, and is seen as a strong partner, especially in regional counter-narcotics efforts.  They will also discuss immigration issues.

President Obama's trip comes as critics assert the U.S. is losing out on opportunities for economic influence to China, which has emerged as the lead trading partner for Brazil, and in this hemisphere, to Canada.

Council of the Americas Vice President Eric Farnsworth says Latin America has other opportunities, and the United States needs to be fully engaged in a region that is now an engine of global economic recovery.

Back home, Obama faces intensified pressure from the U.S. Congress to finalize free-trade agreements with Panama and with Colombia, which were left off his Latin America itinerary.
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U.N. treaty members seek
to safeguard plant diversity

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The governing body of a United Nations-backed treaty considered vital for the preservation and use of the world’s threatened plant genetic resources met in Bali, Indonesia, this week to map out a future course in the face of food insecurity and climate change.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, adopted at the Conference of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in 2001 and backed by 127 members, creates a system through which member countries share the genetic material of 64 of the most important crops for food security – crops that account for more than 80 per cent of plant-sourced human food.

No country is self-sufficient in plant genetic resources, and international cooperation and exchange of genetic resources are thus pivotal for food security, said the U.N.. Through the treaty, countries have agreed to establish a system to allow access to key plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share the benefits derived from that access in a fair and equitable way.

“The more efficiently crops are protected under the Treaty, the better humankind will be able to conserve and share crop genetic resources to meet the enormous food security challenges of the present and future generations,” Treaty Secretary Shakeel Bhatti said.

The five-day meeting is considering the full spectrum of plant genetic diversity and the role it can play in providing or cross-breeding varieties that can meet ever changing environmental conditions to provide food for the world’s surging multi-billion population.

Today, the system forms a gene pool of over 1.3 million unique crop samples. The treaty also has a benefit sharing fund by which farmers are supported in the conservation and use of genetic diversity on their own farms.

The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 75 per cent of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000. A recent study predicted that as much as 22 per cent of the wild relatives of important food crops such as peanut, potato and beans could disappear by 2055 because of a changing climate.

The Treaty recognizes the enormous contribution that farmers and their communities have made and continue to make to the conservation and development of plant genetic resources. This is the basis for farmers’ rights, which include the protection of traditional knowledge, and the right to participate equitably in benefit-sharing and in national decision-making about plant genetic resources. It gives governments the responsibility for implementing these rights.

Agriculture ministers and senior officials from more than 100 countries gathered in Bali last week in preparation for this week’s meeting and urged those nations who have not yet signed the treaty to do so as soon as possible.

They recognized that climate change poses a serious risk to plant genetic resources that are essential as a raw material for crop genetic improvement, whether by farmer selection, classical plant breeding or modern biotechnologies, as well as in adapting to unpredictable environmental changes.

Most of the world’s food comes from four main crops – rice, wheat, maize and potatoes, but local crops, not among these, are a major food source for hundreds of millions of people and have potential to provide nutrition to countless others. The Treaty helps maximize the use and breeding of all crops and promotes development and maintenance of diverse farming systems.

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