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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, March 18, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 54      E-mail us
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'If your pants are on fire, please push 2'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's 911 emergency telephone service has an automatic answering system.

That revelation came Tuesday as the flames from a field fire climbed up the wall of a neighbor's home and shot 45 feet into the air.

The automatic female voice was pleasant and instructed callers to just hang on because all of the telephone operators were busy. This was about 5:30 p.m.

Although 911 eventually responded 10 minutes into the second call, firemen already were en route because a newspaper staffer had placed a direct call to the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

More response problems might be in the works.   Francisco Morales Hernández, the minister of Trabajo y Seguridad Social considers the workday for firemen to be abusive, according to a report from the Asamblea Legislativa.

Firemen now work 24 hours on and 24 hours off.

Under Costa Rican law, the legal work day is eight hours, unless the shift includes part of the
evening. In that case, the legal working hours are seven. Night shifts are supposed to be six hours. Extra hours results in extra pay.

The minister received a request for an opinion from Carlos Gutiérrez Gómez, the Cartago lawmaker. Gutiérrez noted that the current schedule requires firemen to work 72 hours one week and 96 hours the next. The legislator called this historic exploitation of firemen.

Work hours for firemen here and elsewhere frequently include sleep. The unusual hours stem from the fact no one knows when a fire will break out.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos used to be a dependency of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly. But as part of the free trade treaty legislation, the firemen are now their own free-standing agency.  Gutiérrez said he considered the current situation shortchanged firemen by some $80 million a year.

If Gutiérrez and Morales prevail, available firemen will be cut to a third of the current number.

Then it may be the 911 service that is put on hold when an operator seeks to call out the fire trucks.



Southern Command chief concerned about Iran's Latin influences
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America says the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is involved in drug trafficking in Colombia. The admiral is worried about increased Iranian and Hezbollah activities throughout the region.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, the commander, Admiral James Stavridis, accused Hezbollah of involvement in the drug trade.

"We have seen in Colombia a direct connection between Hezbollah activity and the narco-trafficking activity," he said.

The admiral's comment came in response to a question from a senator seeking more information about concerns first raised by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates before the same committee in January. The secretary accused Iran of engaging in what he called subversive activity in several places in Latin America. He called newly opened Iranian offices in Central and South America "fronts" for interfering in local affairs.

Admiral Stavridis, who heads U.S. Southern Command, noted what he called "an increase in a
wide level of activity by the Iranian government," including the opening of six new embassies in Latin America during the last five years, and what he called "proselytizing and working with Islamic activities throughout the region."

"That is of concern principally because of the connections between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah," he said. "We see a great deal of Hezbollah activity throughout South America, in particular. "

Stavridis said the United States has good cooperation with the tri-border countries of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and that policymakers receive what he called a reasonable level of information about what goes on there. But, he said, there are no U.S. military personnel in the area.

The admiral also spoke about Venezuela during his testimony. He said the United States does not have a good understanding of what the government of President Hugo Chávez intends to do with his growing military and strong relationship with Russia. But Stavridis said reduced revenues from the fall in the price of oil will affect Venezuela's ability to continue its high level of arms purchases from Russia and to maintain and operate its new, expensive weapons systems. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 54

Costa Rica Expertise
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Ph/Fax: 2221-9462, 8841-0007
Punta Leona told to demolish
structures, other facilities


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental police have ordered the Hotel Punta Leona resort to destroy buildings and facilities in the public area of the maritime zone.

Involved is a restaurant, bathrooms, some tables and benches made out of cement and a drainage system. There also is concern about a landfill in which palms are to be planted.

The order came from the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo of the environmental ministry.

The order concerns facilities at Playa Mantas as well as Playa Blanca.

The Muncipalidad de Garabito is in charge of executing the order.

The Punta Leona case has dragged on since 2003. The membership organization has been in trouble before for attempting to keep locals from the beaches within the limits of the sprawling community. Many influential Costa Ricans are members of Punta Leona and own properties there.

There already has been an appeal to the Sala IV constitutional court on this case. In 2006 the court found in favor of the Tribunal.

Earlier this month tribunal judges and others in government visited the location, which is north of Jacó on the Gulf of Nicoya.

Murder suspect was leaving
for States, officials report


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Cuban-American who is a suspect in the hammer murder of a Turrialba woman was on his way to the United States when police detained him at a bus stop, said the Poder Judicial.

The man, has the last names of Lamas Arias. He was ordered to five months of preventative detention Tuesday. The murder appears to have happened early Monday when the victim, Ana Lucía Pérez Sanabria, 44, died in her own bed when someone smashed her skull with a hammer, said investigators.

The murder happened in la Suiza de la Selva de Tuis de Turrialba. The Poder Judicial said there had not been any reports of violence between the two individuals and there were no restrictive orders in place.

However, the Poder Judicial said that the woman victim had purchased the ticket that Lamas was going to use to go to the United States.

Coordination urged to stop
illicit Internet sale of drugs


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Online dealers of illicit drugs are the target of new guidelines launched Tuesday by the independent body which monitors the implementation of United Nations drug control conventions.

The guidelines were developed because of the rapid growth of Internet pharmacies and their global reach, which requires that governments worldwide cooperate with each other to tackle the problem, the International Narcotics Control Board said.

“Internet pharmacies can be accessed by anyone, anywhere who happens to be online. While efforts have been made at the national level, it is concerted, supportive international action that will make the difference,” according to Hamid Ghodse, control board president.

The problem, according to the board, extends beyond illicitly manufactured natural and synthetic drugs such as heroin or amphetamines, and also includes the sale of controlled pharmaceutical preparations without a prescription.

In 2008, a study in the United States identified 365 sites offering internationally controlled substances for sale and found that only two of them had been certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy as legitimate Internet pharmacy sites.

“The online sale of such pharmaceuticals by unscrupulous racketeers is no different from the trafficking in illicit drugs, as it endangers lives just as much as street sales do,” Ghodse said.

The new Guidelines recommend that governments take a wide range of actions to curb the illicit sale of internationally controlled substances, including administrative, legislative and regulatory provisions.

To develop them, the board worked with national experts and relevant international organizations including INTERPOL, the Universal Postal Union, Internet service providers, financial services and pharmaceutical associations, the board said.


Our reader's opinion
One way to handle spammers
who respond to classifieds


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I posted an ad in A.M. Costa Rica looking for a Golden Retriever pup (female).  Here is what I got (and my reply below):

From: Grace Yormie [mailto:grace.yormie@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:00 AM
To: haymohenry@gmail.com
Subject: Good Day.


Hello,
How are you and how is your work hope all is moving fine. I was where I seek for honest partner and I meet your profile it was interesting and attractive then I drop by to know who this was, I will like to know more about you. if you wouldn't mind you can email me at   (
www.amcostarica.com
) (peaceyormie@yahoo.co.uk)   I will be very glad to read your mail with all pleasure. it will be nice to meet you and also read from you. please  do honor my invitation so that we can exchange our pictures and maybe become partner.
Remember the distance does not matter what matters is the love we share with each other.
I wait to hear from you soon. Kiss
regards
Miss Peace


----------------------------

Hi “Miss Peace”,

 I don’t know what you are up to, or what you pretend by contacting me, and quoting “my profile” (which I haven’t posted!). But, if you fulfill the following conditions, then you are most welcome to send me more details:

    1. Must be from 3 months to 1 ½ years old.
    2.
Must be housebroken.
    3.
Must have lots of fur on your front paws.
    4.
Must be loving and caring with my granddaughter.
    5.
Must walk on the street on a leash.

If you think you really read my “profile” then it must have dawned upon you that I am looking for a bitch, not a woman. Otherwise you are MFT (as we say here in Costa Rica: “meando fuera del tarro”.
Cheers
Hy

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 54


Elderly lottery vendor loses chance to get pension for work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who worked 60 years selling lottery tickets to earn a living has been rebuffed by an element of the Corte Suprema de Justicia when he demanded vacation or a Christmas bonus from the government lottery agency.

The legal decision was handed down by the Sala II of the court. This chamber deals in labor matters.

The lottery vendor, identified by the last names of  Chaves Carrillo, sought some kind of compensation from the Junta de Protección Social after he retired at age 70.

The court basically reaffirmed that a contractual relationship exists between the Junta and the vendors. But there were some twists.  For example, the court said that the goal of the Junta in providing vendors with lottery tickets was a social one to provide them with a way to have a dignified job and not a straightforward for-profit relationship.

Lottery vendors make 12 percent from what they sell. Some work for other vendors and receive a reduced percentage. Of that amount 1 percent goes to the Fondo Mutual de Vendedores de Lotería, a savings and welfare plan.

Vendors, of course, sometimes get bonuses and tips when the tickets they sell win big prizes.

Chavez argued that the situation of vendors was discriminatory because those who sell the tickets never get the usual labor rights like vacations, sick days or old age pensions. They also do not get other labor guarantees like
lotteries available
The Junta has a number of gambling options

aguinaldos, the annual Christmas bonuses.

Lower courts had made the same decision, but the vendor carried the case to the highest possible court.

The magistrates pointed out that lottery vendors purchase the tickets from the Junta with their own money and delegate those who sell them or who fills in when they are sick. If the situation were an employee-employer one, it would be the Junta that picked who would fill in, the court said.

The Junta basically is a social agency because the money collected in excess of lottery prizes goes to various welfare agencies.

The court also said that just because vendors carry a Junta-issued ID card does not make them employees. The ID is just a way to keep track of the vendors in case of complaints, magistrates said. The court also noted that the vendors set their own hours.

Had the court decided other than it did, the Junta would have faced massive money demands from other vendors.


International Baptist Church in Escazú seeks new locations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Baptist Church in Guachipelin de Escazú has been so successful that it wants to offer services elsewhere in the Central Valley or in other locations in Costa Rica.

Ron Tucker, board president, said that the church's Five Year Planning Committee recommended the expansion.  Additional activities could be small group studies midweek, or regular weekend services as need would indicate, he said.

The church holds services in English. Several hundred
worshipers attend each Sunday, and they represent over 50 countries, said Tucker, adding that the church is truly international.  They also represent many different religious backgrounds, and Baptists are actually outnumbered by others, he said. 

So many Costa Ricans attend that the church is planning to introduce simultaneous translation to make it easier for them to integrate, Tucker said.

Tucker said that individuals who would like to learn more about possible expansion of the church can contact him at his e-mail address: rontucker2001@yahoo.ca.



Priest involved in murder case heads for release from prison
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge in the Poder Judicial is studying a request by the Rev. Minor de Jésus Calvo Aguilar to be released from prison.

The court press office confirmed this Tuesday. Calvo seeks conditional liberty after serving less than six years of an eight-year sentence for fraud.

The Juzgado de Ejecución de la Pena de San José is studying the file and will determine if all the required documents are there, said the press office, estimating that no action will come before May.

Calvo was the Catholic priest who faced a murder charge in the death of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez who was gunned down by hitmen in 2001. Calvo was not convicted of murder, but an associate was. Also convicted was a man believed to have fired the fatal bullets.
Medina's radio show, La Patada or "the kick," was popular, and comments on Calvo and his Radio María were frequent. It was Medina who revealed that Calvo had been stopped by a police officer in his car after dark in Parque la Sabana in the company of a young man. Calvo's explanation that provoked mirth throughout the country was that he was giving the young man driving lessons.

Calvo was convicted of fraud in the use of money collected from faithful listeners of his Radio María station.

Calvo spend four years in preventative detention, in part because the trial took two years. Under the Costa Rica system preventative detention time counts double.

For a time the priest tried to broadcast via a pay phone in his prison section. Officials clamped down on him.

He is expected to obtain an administrative job with the local bishop's office upon release.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 54


More concern voiced in Congress over Mexican drug cartels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
 
Members of the U.S. Congress are concerned that Mexican drug cartels pose a significant threat to the United States. They are considering new steps to help U.S. and Mexican officials crack down on drug traffickers. 

At a joint hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Mexican drug cartels pose a direct threat to the United States.

Durbin quoted a recent Department of Justice report that found that Mexican cartels control most of the U.S. drug market and pose the greatest organized crime threat to the United States today. He said the cartels have a presence in at least 230 U.S. cities, compared to 50 cities in 2006.
Durbin said some of the blame lies here in the United States.

"The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," he said.

The senator also said about 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexican raids are traced back to the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Republican lawmakers also expressed their concern about the drug-related violence in Mexico, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives since the beginning of this year.

"The facts about what is going on in Mexico are staggering, imposing an enormous threat to the United States," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

But U.S. officials who testified at the hearing did not appear as concerned.

Anthony Placido, chief of intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, argued that the  
increased violence represents what he called a desperate attempt by drug traffickers to resist the Mexican government's sustained counter-narcotics campaign.

"DEA assesses that the current surge in violence is driven in large measure by the government of Mexico's offensive against these traffickers who, in turn, perceive themselves as fighting for a larger share of a shrinking market," he said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon's efforts to combat drug trafficking were noted by several senators, including Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California.

"I think he has put his entire political career in this effort to fight drugs, and I think he needs every single bit of our support," she said.

Feinstein criticized delays in providing helicopters and surveillance equipment to the Mexican government under a program launched by the Bush administration last year. Mexico is not expected to receive the aircraft and equipment until 2011. 

Also testifying at the hearing was Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who said his border state has become a gateway for illegal drugs from Mexico.

He urged Congress to continue funding efforts to help U.S. and Mexican law enforcement fight the drug cartels. Goddard also called on money transfer companies to do more to help authorities track funds paid to drug smugglers.

"Western Union, by far the largest provider of electronic funds transfer services, and other wire transmitters could be providing valuable information about illegal money transmissions and help us put the illegal transmitters out of business," he said. "But instead of cooperation, Western Union has made every effort to prevent data disclosure and identification of criminal activity, which we would be able to make by that disclosure."

Goddard said Arizona has made some progress in intercepting wire transfer payments to drug smugglers, seizing some $17 million between 2003 and 2007.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 54



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 week day.

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.



Native Colombians fleeing
waring armed invaders


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations refugee agency voiced concern Tuesday over the displacement of native communities in Colombia and called for investigations into credible reports of abuses.

In the latest incident, some 2,000 Embera people have been displaced this month from their collective territories in different areas along the Baudó River in the Colombian department of Chocó as a result of threats and conflict between two illegal armed groups, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

In addition, more than 1,000 Embera have been displaced this month in the Upper Baudó region in southern Choco, along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

“They fled from 15 communities after some 200 members of an illegal armed group entered their territory in the first week of March, threatened the Embera and tried to force them to collaborate in attacks against a rival illegal force,” refugee commission spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

In the Lower Baudó, nine communities of some 1,000 Embera are now empty due to fighting between the same two illegal armed groups. A total of 86 people arrived in the town of Pizarro, and the situation of the rest of them remains unknown, said the refugee commission.

The groups include elements of the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia and private militia groups that sometimes work in concert with the Colombian military.

In the Middle Baudó, 35 Embera from the community of Indicina on the Ancozó River are now displaced in the town of Puerto Meluk, fleeing from what they say are various illegal armed groups operating in their territory.

While local and national authorities, as well as international organizations, have responded by providing assistance to these communities, the refugee agency said it remains concerned about their protection.

“There were three mass displacements in the Upper Baudó, two in the Middle Baudó and five in the Lower Baudó in 2008 alone,” said Redmond. “There are credible reports of abuses that must be investigated, including the reported murder of an indigenous woman and the rape of another two in the community of La Vaca in the Lower Baudó.”

He added that native people throughout the region are under constant pressure from illegal armed groups and are facing increasing restrictions on their ability to hunt or fish in their traditional homelands.

According to the refugee agency, at least 27 different native groups are considered to be at risk of extinction in Colombia, largely as a result of armed conflict and forced displacement. Their survival depends greatly on being able to remain on their traditional lands.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 54


Latin American news digest
Program for mine tourism
proposed at legislature


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An official from the Municipalidad de Abangares was promoting a national program for mine tourism at the legislature Tuesday.

The official, Gerardo Alfredo Cascante, comes from an area where there have been many gold mines. There even is a museum on the subject there.

The municipal council of the community has proposed that the national program be set up in the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

In the single canton in Guanacaste there are a number of mines, including the Tres Hermanos, the Boston and the Gongolona. But the proposal would cover mines elsewhere. Nearly all are not being worked now but represent a time when they were a major industry.


Tourist bus crash in México
leaves 11 persons dead


By the A.M. Costa Rice wire services

Officials in northern México say a tractor-trailer has collided with a bus carrying Canadian and American tourists, killing at least 11 passengers and the bus driver.

Eight U.S. citizens are among the dead and 11 other Americans are believed to be injured or hospitalized. Reports also say three Canadians were killed.

Authorities say the tourists were traveling south from the Texas border town of McAllen through the Mexican state of Coahuila when the accident happened Monday. It was not clear how many people were aboard the bus.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood Tuesday said local officials have confirmed the identities of four of the Americans killed but that their identities are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
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