A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327      Published Wednesday, March 22, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 58          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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$3,000 glich corrected at Banco Nacional
Skimming of bank accounts leads to an arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have grabbed a downtown Banco de Costa Rica worker to face allegations she was skimming money from customer accounts via the Internet.

In Tibás, a North American expat said a Banco Nacional teller inexplicably removed $3,000 from an account there. The bank returned the money two weeks later.

The arrest of the Banco de Costa Rica customer service worker took place Monday morning. She was identified as Geovani Delgado Velasquez by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A report said that the woman would gain the confidence of customers and obtain the personal identification number for their account. Later, they alleged, the woman would use her association with other workers who had access to the bank's data bases to find out other information about the customers.

Using this information, agents say the woman would transfer money from the customer accounts to the account of a third party, a downtown store worker. He, too, was detained.

Agents reported they followed the woman from the bank to the store where the recipient of funds worked. Raids followed of the woman's working area at the bank and of her home, agents said.
Agents said that they determined that the woman was not a direct employee of the bank but an employee of a private company that provided temporary workers.

The situation in Tibás was confusing. The North American account holder said he became aware that $3,000 had been removed from his account when he checked a list of account activity Monday. The withdrawal happened two weeks earlier.

He said he was exhausted trying to get the bank to solve the problem. Finally, Tuesday Banco Nacional made a $3,000 deposit back into his account.

The North American said the bank claimed a teller had made an input error and simply deducted the funds from his, the incorrect account.

That explanation does not square with the account activity list because the teller's telephone number appears in the location where the bank office number would be. And the withdrawal was made with what would be called in English a counter check, basically a piece of paper asking for money.

The bank used an internal detective instead of contacting police investigators.

The North American account holder said that the problem emphasizes the need for customers to keep a close watch on activity at banks.

Queen's Birthday charity event will be April 22 this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The social event of the year, the Queen's Birthday Party, will be April 22 at the residence of the British ambassador in Escazú.

The fundraiser this year will have a theme taken from the Chronicles of Narnia, a children's story made popular by a current movie.

The event will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Schools in Need program will be the principal
beneficiaries. Entrance is 2,000 colons (about $4) and 1,000 colons for children. Those under 5 enter free, organizers said.

The magical theme of the Chronicles of Narnia will be reflected in the games and costumes planned for the event.

The sprawling residence features a large front yard where most of the activities take place. Ambassador Georgina Butler, who is soon leaving for another diplomatic post, will be the hostess.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 58

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
President-elect Arias with his European visitors

European Union head
among Arias visitors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The courtesy callers keep arriving at the home of president-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez in Rohrmoser.

Tuesday Tomás Abadía Vicente, head of European Commission Delegation in Costa Rica came to discuss projects in Costa Rica supported by the EU.

Among those are efforts to support sustainable development in Tortugero in northeastern Costa Rica with the goal of protecting the green turtles that nest there. He and Arias discussed a whole agenda of projects, including agricultural cooperation.

Thursday Arias will meet with Franklin Chang Diaz, the U.S. astronaut who has plans for a science center with his Fundación CR-USA. Friday will see a visit to the Corte Suprema de Justicia at 9 a.m. and then a Mass of thanksgiving at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, the patroness of Costa Rica, at 11 a.m.

Saturday Arias will meet with new congressional deputies of his Partido Liberación Nacional in Escazú.

Man in pickup demands
computer and shoots

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen walking in Sabana Norte suffered a bullet wound to his foot when he was held up by men in a vehicle Monday night. The stickup came about three blocks north of Parque la Sabana about 8:30 p.m., said investigators.

The man was Hans Henrik Smith, 39, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was carrying a laptop computer that seemed to have attracted the attention of the men in a pickup.

Investigators said a man got out of the pickup, asked in English for the laptop and when Smith offered resistance, shot him in the foot. The victim was hospitalized.

Our reader's opinion
Free trade treaty has
both good and the bad

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am glad that Milt Farrow considers himself a “former thinking” expat.  I would rather hope he meant he was a thinking former expat. English aside, I would like to address CAFTA from another perspective.  The arguments over CAFTA seem to be driven solely by ideological views rather than informed understanding.

Most of the negative viewpoints on this page as well as the many Web sites I have visited all seem to have their basis in a major lack of trust in anything the U.S. government does.  This probably extends to their own governments as well.  The fight seems more to be big government and big business verses the poor rural farmer and the uneducated than the best and worst of the treaty itself.  This is very understandable, given history, but it is also black and white thinking which means it is all bad or all good.  This is never the case.

I believe there are good and bad points to all the arguments that I have read, and I am sure the treaty itself. Foreign agricultural imports kill the little farmer.  Millions get cheaper and more abundant food.  Take your pick is this good or bad? Insurance monopolies face competition creating cheaper prices and better products. Workers are laid off at the monopolies and take better jobs at more efficient providers.  Take your pick.

The fact for me is that without a treaty poverty, high prices, entrenched bureaucracies and business as usual will rule the day.  With the treaty, change will give a chance for more and better jobs, cheaper prices and most likely a profound change in the underlying society.  Some good and some bad.

Please keep in mind that without giving the treaty a chance nothing changes. If for some reason the treaty is a bad thing, change it or drop out and you are back to where you are now in a few years.

So look at the treaty this way those who have monopolies to lose such as trade unions, plantation owners, government bureaucracies and various big businesses all seem to be against the treaty.  It does not matter which country they are in.

The opponents here in the U.S., which are the same as noted above, all have the same arguments.  The union here says 200,000 jobs will be lost in the first year.  Where did they go?  The unions in Central America say they will lose jobs.  Where did they go?  Everyone seems to lose.  What they lose is the old way of doing business.  Things will change.  Entrenched powers never like that.

So lets rephrase the CAFTA argument.  Do you want your life and everyone else’s in your country (U.S. included) to be the same going forward.  Or are you willing to move forward and see if the good things can outweigh the potential bad things.

In countries with up to 70 percent poverty rates and little or no bargaining power in the current situation I would take the latter.
T. Harrison
Chicago and Tamarindo
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 58


It's not what
you think!

Artist Emilia Caballero H. of Escazú used pastels, watercolors and ink to create art that appears to be real butterflies. Her technique, 15 years in the making, was motivated by her desire to conserve the insects.

She is one of the exhibitors at the Festival Internacional de las Artes 2006.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Premier of underwater spectacular will be Friday
By Ambika Chawla
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The lake in San José Parque la Sabana will be the setting for the premiere performance of Costa Rican musician Manuel Obregon´s new multimedia spectacle: "Submarine Trance."

The performance will take place on a floating stage in the lake at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and Saturday as part of the Festival Internacional de las Artes 2006.

Obregon, famous for his synthesis of sounds from nature with piano compositions, will draw upon the previous success of his internationally acclaimed DVD production "Simbiosis," where he played piano in the midst of the forest in order to combine piano and rain forest sounds.  Now he has moved from the rain forest to an entirely new terrain, the ocean.

"Submarine Trance" is a collaborative music/film project produced by Manuel Obregon and Basque film artist Símon Bolivar who portray the depth and beauty of life under the sea. This innovative live music/media performance will include Obrego's most recent piano compositions accompanied by a 40-minute visual journey, divided into five episodes, of the mysterious underwater world.  

Filmmaker Bolivar spent 15 months filming underwater scenes in diverse locations such as the Bay Islands in Honduras, Isla del Coco in Costa Rica, and the Palau Islands in Micronesia.

The film concludes with images of the killing of sharks in the Pacific Ocean which were produced by the Program for the Restoration of Sea Turtles, a Costa Rican environmental organization which works towards the protection of marine turtles.

According to Melissa Williams, press officer for Papaya Music, the record label which sponsored the

Papaya Music photo
Manuel Obregon in his prior 'Simbiosis'
project,  “It shows the beauty of nature and has a political stand: it takes you through the beautiful parts of sea life and ends by trying to shock you into doing something about the killing of marine life.” 

"Submarine Trance" is yet another achievement for the Costa Rican musician who has developed a career giving concerts in Europe and in the Americas, contributing to music groups such as Malpais and the Papaya Orchestra, and directing the record label Papaya Music, which supports the work of musicians in Central America.

Said Obregon: “In 'Submarine Trance,' the images are the most important, and we have to aim for the public to see and appreciate them in all of their dimension, color, and depth.”

For more information on cultural events as part of this week's international arts festival see HERE!

Mangos are having a challenging year with disease and windy weather
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mangos and mango producers are having a bad year with heavy winds, wet conditions and an increase in diseases that affect the fruit, according to agricultural sources.

About 25 percent of the nation's mangos have fallen prematurely from trees and the amount is 40 percent in some windy sections of the country, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Mango trees blossom in November and December. The fruit is harvested from February to May, and dry
conditions are the best for developing fruit, said the ministry.

This year unseasonable rains caused dampness that translated to a big increase in the fungus that attacks the fruit of the mango. This could be mildew or other forms of fungus that leaves black dead patches on the fruit lessening their quality, said the ministry.

Producers also are fighting fruit flies that lay their eggs in the fruit. The eggs produce larva that eats parts of the mango.

Producers hang traps to capture the adult flies.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 58

Hemispheric press freedom trouble spots highlighted
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — Independent journalists in many countries throughout the hemisphere continued to face violence, government harassment and an array of legal attacks that have constrained their abilities to exercise fully their rights to free expression, according to conclusions of the Inter American Press Association.

The group reviewed the press freedom situation during the last six months at its midyear meeting held in Ecuador that ended Monday.

During the meeting in Quito, more than 400 representatives from media outlets in the region for four days reviewed the situation of the press in the Americas.

The following conclusions outline the main violations to press freedom between October 2005 and March 2006:

— The anti-media attacks were most violent in the northern states of Mexico, where in recent weeks drug-trafficking gangs brazenly assaulted the office of El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo with machinegun fire and a grenade explosion that left one reporter crippled. In a separate attack, Jaime Arturo Olvera Brava, a police reporter for La Voz in La Piedad, was shot to death while walking to a bus station with his young son.

Such assaults have forced journalists in the region to stop reporting on the criminal gangs, a spreading self-censorship that has become an increasing concern along the Mexican-United States border.  A program, called Project Phoenix, is being inaugurated to assist news media there in combating the organized crime rings. The program is backed by the Inter American Press Association.

— Elsewhere in the Hemisphere, three journalists have been murdered within the past six months and another is missing and presumed dead as a direct result of their work.

— In Venezuela, the government of President Hugo Chávez has been increasingly effective in harassing and punishing the independent news media through the use of arbitrary taxation, mob intimidation and implementation of a so-called Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television that characterizes dissent as tantamount to criminal conduct.

Under that law, the country’s four broadcast networks and 200 radio stations operated “in service to the state,” according to the president, who also appears on average about 40 hours each week on television.

Venezuela’s judiciary, for the most part, has been brought under the control of the executive, making it impossible for the independent news media to find redress for its concerns through legal steps. Several Venezuelan journalists´ associations, as well as such
international organizations as Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Oraanization of American States, have issued formal declarations of concern about the erosion of free expression in Venezuela.

— Cuba remains the hemisphere’s most repressive nation with little prospect for change under the regime of Fidel Castro.  Currently, 25 independent journalists are imprisoned, typically in such deplorable conditions that some have undertaken hunger strikes in the hope of gaining attention. Another, lawyer-journalist Mario Enrique Mayo, was released to house arrest only after he used a homemade knife to mutilate himself in an attempt to get medical attention.

The ranks of Cuban journalists in prison now include the first female, Lamasiel Gutiérrez Romero, 37, a mother, who was taken to Manto Negro Prison in Havana when she refused to discontinue working as an independent journalist.

— Although the news media continue to carry out their public-service missions robustly in other countries, individual newspapers and journalists have faced a variety of direct and indirect efforts by government, politicians and powerful interests to constrain them.

In Argentina, President Nelson Kirchner has stepped up his hostility to independent media employing verbal denunciations and governmental power — raising taxes on and withholding government advertising from newspapers and media companies — to punish critics. 

Similar attacks have occurred in Paraguay, Uruguay and, in only a slightly more subtle way, in the United States, where the Bush Administration has challenged media efforts to obtain public information and reporters have been asked by federal prosecutors to divulge sources.

— The Inter American Press Association continues to be concerned about the inability or unwillingness of some governments to investigate, prosecute and punish those who have perpetrated crimes against journalists, including kidnapping and murder. In Brazil, among other cases, a police investigation into the murder of a television host, Edgar Lópes de Faria, was closed because police said they lacked leads.

— Again, the so-called impunity problem appears most severe in northern Mexico where drug gangs have killed, kidnapped and assaulted journalists — and police without check. Haitian journalists also have endured in a climate of insecurity as the result of a limited or non-existent criminal-justice system.

— On a positive note, however, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos announced Feb. 9 creation of a special federal unit for the purpose of streamlining investigations into threats and attacks against journalists. There has been an increase in such actions in recent months, he said.

U.N. refugee agency concerned about asylum Colombian scams
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

People pretending to work for or to be associated with the United Nations refugee agency are running an illegal migration scheme for Colombians wishing to leave the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned Tuesday.

“These unscrupulous individuals, who offer their services as immigration lawyers and appear to be operating mainly from the city of Cali in the southwest of Colombia, charge high fees in exchange for fraudulent advice on how to get refugee status abroad, mostly in Europe,” said spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis in Geneva.

“They promise to provide their clients with documents and advice, which, they say, will guarantee the success of their asylum claims. In some cases, they also make
travel arrangements. . . . Their promises are a scam.
“We are also worried that people who fall for such scams and may have lost all their money in the venture, could become vulnerable to other forms of illegal activities, particularly human trafficking,” she added.

Ms. Pagonis noted that governments in Europe as elsewhere in the world investigate all asylum claims in depth, and bogus asylum seekers are sent back to their country of origin.

These fraudulent organizations can even undermine the cases of people who may otherwise have genuine grounds for claiming asylum, she said, adding that under the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers must be able to demonstrate a credible and well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland.

Their credibility may be jeopardized if they are found to be lying or associated with bogus organizations.

Four suspects held after bandits stick up La Fortuna supermarket
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men stuck up a supermarket in the tourist town of La Fortuna and police detained four suspects a short time later.

The bandits wore masks and waved a .38 caliber pistol at the supermarket and then fled in a waiting taxi
Fuerza Pública officers set up roadblocks and began a serach and found the four suspects and a similar car near San Carlos in the district of Florencia. The suspects included a 16-year-old and three men known to officers.

Police said they confiscated masks. La Fortuna is near the Volcan Arenal, a major tourist stop.

Jo Stuart
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