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Broad trafficking bill includes censorship, new tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative committee has approved unanimously and sent to the full Asamblea a wide-ranging measure to penalize trafficking in persons.

Although the measure does not define the term, a strict interpretation would seem to assess criminal penalties against airline pilots who fly planes carrying prostitutes into Costa Rica and even taxi drivers who may drop off a prostitute for a working visit.

The measure also creates several levels of extensive bureaucracies, including an institute against trafficking in persons within the security ministry, and then would assess an additional $1 on those leaving the country by air to pay for this.

The measure also cloaks in secrecy all judicial and administrative activities connected with trafficking in persons cases and even prohibits the news media and social networks from writing about the presumed victims, their families and other identifying details. Despite what appears to be secret trials, those convicted of trafficking crimes face stiff prison terms. A change within the bill of the existing penal code, would seem to make those who violate this censorship open to four to eight years in prison.

The measure also requires the news media, both print and electronic, to provide free space or air time to what is called the Coalición Nacional Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes y Trata de Personas.

In addition, anyone who produces programs, campaigns or advertising in any type of media to label the country as a sex tourism destination would face a four- to eight-year prison term. Also penalized is renting facilities where prostitution would be practiced.

Nowhere in the measure is a distinction drawn between forced prostitution and voluntary prostitution, which is not illegal in Costa Rica. Consequently, the measure would penalize persons who provide transport for someone involved in an activity that is not illegal.

Lawmakers have had plenty of time to consider the measure, No. 17.594. The bill was presented originally in November 2009. A new draft was presented March 1 and a final vote came Thursday. The committee was Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico. The bill is in the legislature now with support from the executive branch because the president controls the legislative agenda until May 1, according to the Costa Rican Constitution.

The broad measure also increases the penalties for
table dancer
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Whoever brought her here is liable for prison.

coyotes who move illegal immigrants across the border and penalized those who would become involved in the illegal extraction of human organs.

The measure clearly is an effort to appease the United States, whose State Department usually lists Costa Rica as below par in fighting human trafficking. The last State Department report last June cited lack of convictions in trafficking cases, but the embassy staff who put the detailed document together never mentioned that prostitution was not illegal here.

A victim of human trafficking is defined broadly as anyone, male or female, who is a person who has suffered damage, including physical or mental harm, emotional suffering, financial loss or substantial undermining of their fundamental rights as a consequence of the crime of trafficking in persons and related activities be they Costa Ricans or foreigners.

The proposed law provides many benefits for trafficking victims, including living quarters, temporary residency, immunity from prosecution for any crimes they may have committed and even travel home for foreigners who wish it.

The proposed law also would allow such victims to send a representative instead of appearing at judicial or administrative hearings.

The anti-trafficking commission would be within the  Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and be in charge of drawing up and monitoring what is called a national plan against trafficking.

The commission would contain representatives from 22 government agencies from the executive, judicial and legislative branches.

The measure also has stiffer penalties for crimes involving minors and the disabled. The measure also treats forced pregnancies, abductions and crimes by professionals.

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Ms. Chinchilla going to U.N.
for conference on happiness

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla is going to New York Saturday for a meeting at the United Nations and to help define a role for the international agency in fostering citizen security in Central America, according to Casa Presidencial. She also will discuss climate change and seek international cooperation to redefine new ways to evaluate development, the Presidencia said.

The United Nations is sponsoring a climate change conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, June 20 to 22.

Ms. Chinchilla and Ban Ki-Moon, secretary general of the United Nations, will have a private meeting Tuesday. She also will meet that day with Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, who now holds a post as head of U.N. Women, which promotes gender equity.

Ms. Chinchilla will give a key address Monday at the meeting on “Happiness and Well Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.”  The meeting is the result of a U.N. General Assembly motion last year that was called ‘Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development.”

The meeting is cosponsored by the Government of Butan, which is seeking an indicator that integrates economic, social, and environmental objectives. Butan seeks to build a global movement and action networks to promote implementation of the new economy, it said. The proposal also will be presented at Rio.

The meeting also seeks to establish an independent task force to elaborate the details of the new economic paradigm, the government of Butan said.

Supporters of the new paradigm has said they want to transform global institutions to reduce consumption and level growth. They also say that the world supply of petroleum is diminishing and that climate change also is causing the need for a new paradigm, which is likely to involve some forms of central planning. She is being accompanied on the trip by Roberto Gallardo Núñez, minister Planificación Nacional y Política Económica.

New earthquake assessment
puts San José in middle

From the Bulletin of the Seismological Society
of America

A new study evaluates the seismic hazards for the entire Central America, including specific assessments for six capital cities, with the greatest hazard expected for Guatemala City and San Salvador, followed by Managua and San José, and notably lower in Tegucigalpa and Panamá City.

The study, published in the April issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, included input from seismic hazard experts from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Norway and Spain. All seismic experts from Central American countries, except Belize, agree with the study’s assessments.
The paper outlines the work carried out as part of the cooperation project named RESIS II, under the auspices of the Norway Cooperation Agency with a contribution of the Technical University of Madrid. A new regional seismic catalog and a strong motion database updated up to December 2010 have been developed.

This is the first study developed in Central America at a regional scale this century and the first done in terms of peak ground acceleration and different acceleration values for the entire region. The study provides new information that is being considered in the revision of national seismic codes and it is also supported by the Coordination Centre for Natural Disasters Prevention in Central America.

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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Parrita mayor says he's mystified by Villa las Flores court case
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawsuit placed by the homeowners of Villas las Flores against the Municipality of Parrita has blindsided the mayor, Freddy Garro Arias.

He said Thursday he has no knowledge of the issue. And he said he doesn't understand why the property owners are suing the municipality, when municipal officials do not recognize Palo Seco as an island. That is a key point in the court case because the central government says the location on the central Pacific coast is an island and an inappropriate spot for construction.

Tuesday lawyer Luis Ramírez Ramírez presented documents to the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo citing the Costa Rican state, the Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo, the Tribunal Registral Administrativo, the Municipality of Parrita, and Roger Mainville, the developer of Villas las Flores. Ramírez is representing the property owners of the villas who are facing eviction because, according to the Registro Nacional the land is on an island. According to Costa Rican law no person can own land on an island in the country, it says.

Mainville has also placed a lawsuit against the same entities, not including himself. He bought the property in 1991 and began development in 1993. Prior to the construction, he had to follow a process and have permits and other such documentation approved by the government beforehand. He had the legal approval to move forward with his development.

“They gave me all the permits in 1992 to construct with a seal and a signature,” said Mainville by telephone Thursday. “But
in 2008 no more. That's the government of Costa Rica.”

The developer said the only warning he received about the land was in 2008 when he tried to register new homes with the Registro Nacional. He said he hasn't formally received a letter or email with an eviction notice. He just can't sell or have any marketing activity on the property. He is in the same situation as the rest of the plaintiffs.

Mainville didn't give the reason why he didn't notify the property owners about the situation in 2008. They recently found out about their endangered property status. Instead, Mainville said the story was too long and he doesn't like to discuss it by phone.

Some 20 foreigners, all property owners at Villas las Flores, are involved in the suit. Many are retired.

All land owners taking part in the suit against the state have already paid for their homes in full, and have continued to pay for the maintenance, including the required taxes, bills, and Villa las Flores employees since they became a member of the community. The state had no problem charging them, said Ramírez at the Tuesday session.

The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo evaluated the actions of state entities.

The case has resonated with A.M. Costa Rica readers. One woman said via email Thursday that she has driven her car to the location and that the car would now be under water if the location was an island. Unclear is why the government is targeting this location when many other islands are occupied.

There are advantages to being a woman alone in the city
“Going Solo,” a new book by sociologist Eric Klineberg, would make a nice companion piece to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart,” which I mentioned in a recent column.  Murray
woman alone
lamented the demise among the white working class of the traditional values of the educated elite, i.e., staying married, attending church, and industriousness.  Klineberg’s book is about the rise in the number of people choosing to live alone since the 1950s.  In those halcyon days (halcyon, according to Murray), only 9 percent of the population in the United States lived alone.  Today 28 percent of U.S. households contain one person.  The majority are women who are better at living alone than are men.  No explanation as to why is necessary there.  But Klineberg found that many older divorced or widowed women would rather live alone than
marry again and taking on wifely domestic or care taking chores.

Marriage is not the only respectable option for women.

More and more women are choosing to travel alone and live alone abroad, too.  At least that seems so among the expat population in Costa Rica.  I have been a long-time champion of this choice for women, along with the option of choosing a cooperative household. I have also been a champion of living in the city of San José . . . or any city, for that matter. Cities offer more freedom for a woman living alone, and there are more options, including more places a woman can easily go alone, whether it is the movies, the symphony, a restaurant, or a casino. The options include finding more than one supermarket and feria, hospital or clinic.

There is the University of Costa Rica where one can take classes geared to expats, and the Centro Cultural with its bilingual library, all of which are convenient and accessed by bus or taxi if you live in the city. 

I say this as a woman who has chosen not to own either a home or a car and, therefore, avoid the extra expense or red tape involved in either.  It is also easier to lock the door and leave
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

your apartment if you wish to travel than it is to secure your home while you are away.

The increased options include more clubs and organized activities to choose from, to belong to.  In short, as Klineberg says, cities are better equipped to enable people to live alone without being alone, and they have more social places for singles to meet.

In praising cities, I do not mean to criticize or exclude the virtues of small towns or the beach or sitting in isolated splendor near the top of a mountain.  It is important to check out the different environments and weather conditions in the country, and Costa Rica has a variety of them, all within a relatively short distance of each other.

Many visitors and would-be visitors to Costa Rica talk about the crime in the city and their fears.  Even Ticos who live outside of the city feel this way.  San José is like any big city the world over, with the exception that, as my friend Jorge and I commented one day when he gave me a lift downtown (it is always nice if you are a woman alone to have a friend with a car) what a pleasure it is to look at the faces of the pedestrians.  If they are not smiling, their faces are noncommittal and even pleasant.  It still is, as I noted when I first moved here, very much like New York City without the hostility and stress one saw on people’s faces. In all fairness that was years ago in New York, and that city has changed.

I am still waiting for hotels and B&B’s, even cruise ships, to offer inviting rates to singles, not just a few dollars less than the price of a room for two.  It is time to actually build rooms that accommodate one person. Hotels and B&B’s would be wise to begin aggressively to advertise single accommodations, especially if their location or accommodations, or sailing schedules make them especially attractive to women.

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Anti-drug agent at airport accused of helping cocaine smugglers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police and judicial agents took into custody Thursday a 25-year-long security ministry employee at Juan Santamaría airport. They said the man was helping a local drug kingpin move cocaine through the airport and overseas.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the investigation began last June when an informant told agents about the airport situation. The informant said that an organized smuggling group made up of Costa Ricans and Colombians were being assisted by a security employee to defeat the anti-drug controls. The informant said that the group had its headquarters in San Sebastián, the ministry said.

The man was identified by the last names of Sánchez Espinoza. The Poder Judicial said that he was the head of a shift of workers at the airport.

Raids were conducted Thursday in Heredia at the home of the anti-drug officer and in San Sebastián, the home of a man identified by the last names of Pennant Riti. He was the suspected kingpin and is 51 years old, said the ministry.

The case got a boost Jan. 28 when authorities snagged a man with cocaine at the airport. He was on his way to Guatemala and had a suitcase with a false bottom. In it was more than a kilo of cocaine, agents said.  Prosecutors and the Policía de Control de Drogas managed to determine that Sánchez knew the smuggler was carrying cocaine.
drug agent
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Detained anti-drug agent is led to a vehicle

The Ministerio de Hacienda reported on another corruption case involving the airport. The ministry said that a customs official was ordered detained recently due to irregularities in granting temporary permits to allow the importation of vehicles.

Home invasions continue with a fatal result in Guácimo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Home invasions continue to plague the country. A home occupant died Wednesday night when eight masked gunmen invaded his dwelling.

There also were home invasions in Sabana. But in Las Lomas in San Francisco de Dos Rios judicial agents managed to capture two men as they appeared to be in the process of invading a home, said the Poder Judicial.

The murder was in Guácimo where the 44-year-old man died in his home. He was the guard of a ranch there and shared a home with a woman and two young children. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that a man showed up at the door about 8 a.m. and said he was looking for work. Told that there was none, the man left.

But a short time later seven or eight men entered and
 confronted the man, identified by the last name of Monge. He was shot in the stomach and left to die.

The woman was tied up and did not manage to free herself until the morning. The men took various household items, agents said.

In Sabana Sur four men overpowered a guard at a small subdivision and then took him with them as they searched for a home to rob the occupants. They entered a home, threatened those there with firearms and then took computers, flat-screen televisions, jewelry and other items

Four men with the last names of Aguilar Campos, Ramírez Montero, Mayorga Navarro and Valverde Cerdas were before the Tribunal de Flagrancia Thursday because agents captured them in San Francisco de Dos Rios at what appeared to be the beginning of a home robbery. The case was continued for a medical report on one of the suspects.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

University of Michigan/Jeanette Johnson
This is the oak cone, Conus quercinus, one of the species examined in the study.

Tropical snails can evolve
to fine tune their venom

By the University of Michigan News Service

When tropical marine cone snails sink their harpoon-like teeth into their prey, they inject paralyzing venoms made from a potent mix of more than 100 different neurotoxins.

Biologists have known for more than a decade that the genes which provide the recipes for cone snail toxins are among the fastest-evolving genes in the animal kingdom, enabling these predatory gastropods to constantly refine their venoms to more precisely target the neuromuscular systems of their prey.

But scientists had been unable to explain the molecular mechanisms behind the impressive diversity and the speedy evolution of cone-snail toxins, which are known as conotoxins.

Now, two University of Michigan evolutionary biologists report that their reconstruction of the evolutionary history of these genes has revealed rapid and continuous gene duplication over the last 11 million years that is coupled with the accelerated rates of conotoxin evolution.

The rate of gene duplication in cone snails is at least two times higher than the rates observed in other gene families renowned for their extensive gene duplication, such as the genes for snake and scorpion venoms and olfactory genes. In addition, the continuous gene duplication pattern displayed by the cone snails has not been observed in other organisms, according to researchers Dan Chang and Thomas Duda.

"The high rates of gene duplication may actually facilitate the rapid evolution of gene-family members by increasing the number of opportunities for beneficial mutations to occur through increases in the gene copy number," said Chang, a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The final version of a paper about the conotoxin study was published online Thursday in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Cone snails make up the genus Conus, which contains more than 600 species of predatory sea snails, most of them tropical in distribution. The study by Chang and Duda looked at conotoxin gene sequences from the genomic DNA of four closely related Conus species. Originally collected in Hawaii, Panama and American Samoa, the specimens were stored in the collections of the university's Museum of Zoology.

Rapid evolution allowed Conus to diversify and fine tune its toxins, changes that may have been compelled by dietary shifts among the snails or the development of toxin resistance in prey species. Cone snails feed on marine worms, fish and other snails.

Cherry Blossom Festival
honors Japan in Washington

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The centennial celebration of Washington’s cherry trees is in full bloom this week with Cherry Blossom Festival events well underway.

This year’s cherry blossoms provided a spectacular display.  Aarti Kabade is enjoying her first Cherry Blossom Festival with friends. “We're really enjoying it. We are loving it. And these are beautiful colors to see," she said.

This year's festival marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of the first trees by the mayor of Tokyo, as a token of friendship between Japan and the United States.  A few more than 100 of the original 3,000 trees survive. The rest have been replaced by the Japanese government or grown from the original trees’ genetic line.

Anne Ullberg came to the U.S. from France six years ago.  She says she is happy to see more Japanese tourists in Washington, one year after an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's coast. “So I think this year is going to be more beautiful than ever, because some of them are able to come back now," she said.

The festival includes a wide range of events, many celebrating the culture of Japan.

At the National Building Museum in Washington, the Shizumi Kodomo Dance Troupe is performing.  The multicultural children’s group, based in Maryland, promotes dance as an international language.  It was started by dancer Shizumi Shigeto Manale, who combines Japanese movements with different types of American dance.  "Being in America, I want to be Americanized, and then I developed this fusion American-Japanese side," he said.

Other activities at the Building Museum include the opportunity to try on traditional Japanese clothing that came from the National Children’s Museum in Washington.  Spokesperson Lisa Marie Ryder says the museum hopes children will get interested in Japanese culture. “One way to do that is to feel and touch those traditional items, we hope will get them excited to learn about Japan and the world around them," she said.

The Cherry Blossom Festival also provides activities for children to learn crafts that reflect Japanese culture.  Filipina Judytte Purdy is helping her daughter create a clothespin doll. "And this is actually my first time to make something like this," she said.

Katelyn Hinkel is also having fun with a different project. "While you’re gluing the popcorn on, it makes it look like a cherry blossom tree with real popcorn on it," she said.

The festival continues through April, emphasizing the enduring relationship between the United States and Japan.

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Robbers caught by top cops
quickly admit their guilt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two armed robbers accepted what amounts to a plea deal and ended up tried, convicted and sentenced in less than 24 hours.

These are the two men who the director general and deputy director general of the Fuerza Pública apprehended Wednesday around noon when the two men appeared to be driving recklessly with a motorcycle on the Circunvalación.

Investigators have now linked them to the robbery of a bank customer Wednesday morning in San Pedro.

The Poder Judicial said that the two men, both Colombians, accepted an abbreviated judicial process. One who has the last names of Ayala Ortega got four years and eight months in prison. His associate, identified by the last names of  Palacio Berrios, got three years and eight months.

Ayala got more time because he offered Juan José Andrade Morales, director general of the Fuerza Pública, $1,000 to let him and his associate go. He also was charged with carrying a firearm.

Another holiday April 11
marking Battle of Rivas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not only are Thursday and next Friday legal holidays, but the following Wednesday, April 11, is one, too. It is the anniversary of the Battle of Rivas, Nicaragua, in which the Costa Rican army emerged victorious over the force loyal to William Walker, the U.S. filibusterer.

Public school students will mark the day April 10 because the following day is a holiday. However, many students will be marching in parades. The big one is in Alajuela because that was the hometown of Juan Santamaría, the hero of the battle, who died igniting an enemy stronghold.

Suspected pot vendor
detained in Puerto Viejo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents in southeastern Costa Rica have detained a 39-year-old man as a suspected purveyor of marijuana. He was detained in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the well-known tourist beach town. Agents said they confiscated five kilos of marijuana and a firearm. Despite large areas under cultivation, many marijuana plants grow wild in the Talamanca mountains.

Bank workers to clean
trashed national stadium

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees of Banco National will spend three weekends cleaning the new Estadio Nacional. They start April 15. About 400 persons are expected to participate. The stadium was a wreck after a recent event, and only recently was a board put in place to manage the facility, which was a gift from the People's Republic.

The bank also happens to be the administrator of the financial setup for the stadium.

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