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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, April 1, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 64            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Florida fugitive is back in custody for deportation
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen who was a fugitive for years in Playa Garza and then walked away from house arrest in Florida has been recaptured after sneaking into Costa Rica.

The man is Tom Noel Mastin, and officers arrested him in Playa Garza for the second time Sunday, said Francisco Castaing, the chief of immigration police. Mastin was scheduled to be deported at 5:30 p.m. Monday and arrive in Florida about three hours later, said Castaing. 

Mastin Feb. 21 entered into a Florida plea agreement involving allegations that he molested children.

Mastin was supposed to be under house arrest in his Florida home, but was spotted at the beach by an A.M. Costa Rica reader Feb. 28. According to court records, Mastin admitted to molesting two children and was sentenced to two years house arrest and 13 years of probation for sexual 
offenders, said Julia Lynch, a deputy state attorney or prosecutor, at the time.

Mastin, who is more than 70 years old, was working as a bartender in Playa Garza for years even though he was sought by Brevard County, Florida. He had been in the country since 1999. Officials deported him in 2007 into the custody of Florida law enforcement.

An acquaintance said that Mastin was even getting a Social Security check each month, and, at least for a time, the check was forwarded through the U.S. Embassy here.

Ms. Lynch said in February that Mastin could be regarded as a probation violator if he is in Costa Rica and has not made the mandatory visit to the probation department there. In that case he could face 15 years in prison for each count that he admitted, she said.

Immigration police began to seek Mastin in February when A.M. Costa Rica confirmed he was back in the country. 

Berrocal's dismissal ignited political firestorm
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fired security minister reaffirmed his belief Monday that Colombian terrorists have been acting since 2000 to turn Costa Rica into a security zone for themselves.

And the minster, Fernando Berrocal Soto, said that he would be happy to appear as a citizen before a legislative commission investigating Costa Rican ties to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. But he is going on vacation first.

The legislature Monday afternoon created such a commission to investigate the penetration of the Colombian terrorists for three months. The action has some opponents, including Marvin Rojas of Partido Acción Ciudadana, who said the narcotrafficking committee he heads should handle the matter.

Berrocal made his statements about terrorist infiltration March 15, and his abrupt dismissal Sunday created the political firestorm that the Óscar Arias administration sought to avoid.

Berrocal's attitude about his dismissal changed radically when he became a private citizen. He now admits Arias asked for his resignation, and then he managed to hit all major television news shows.

At Casa Presidencial, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother and minister of the Presidencia, issued a statement saying that the administration was not trying to hide anything. He also said that there was no list that existed of Costa Rican politicians who support the terrorists. He said the administration did not share the beliefs that Berrocal voices.

He also said the Laura Chinchilla, the first vice president and current minister of Justicia y Gracia, would be temporary minister of Gobernación, Policia y Seguridad Pública. She held that job in the José María Figueres Olsen administration (1994-1998).

Ms. Chinchilla will head a special administration commission to visit Colombia to obtain information from officials there about possible terrorist infiltration here.
Berrocal had been in close touch with Colombiapolice officials who were following up on information found in the computers of slain Fuerzas Armadas chief Raúl Reyes, who died in a Colombian military raid March 1 just over the border in Ecuador.

Berrocal also was involved in the March 14 confiscation of some $480,000 that e-mails in the computers correctly said would be found in a Santa Bárbara de Heredia home.

Berrocal never really said there was a list of politicians here linked to the terrorists. His statement was more general. But he minced no words in television interviews Monday evening. He noted the massive amounts of cocaine and other drugs his officers had confiscated in the last two years. He lashed out at Rogelio Ramos, the prior security minister, and former high officials in his ministry under President Abel Pacheco. He noted that a notorious Colombian terrorist had been apprehended living in Puntarenas during his watch.

The nation's chief prosecutor,  Francisco Dall’Anese, weighed in Monday and said his Ministerio Público does not yet have enough information to determine if fiscals  will start a criminal case against the Heredia couple who were keeping the money in a home safe for the terrorists

However, Dall'Anese said that his agency and the anti-terrorism prosecutors were upset that they did not get vital information about terrorists in the country from the  de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional and that his agency only become involved when certain persons were detained. He also said that Berrocal only had discussion with  Mario Iguarán, the Colombia chief prosecutor, on the specific case of the money in Heredia.

Some Spanish-language newspapers speculated in the last weeks that Berrocal might be asked to leave because of rising crime, which is an embarrassment to the Arias government. That was before the money turned up in the safe.

Some reporters speculated that Berrocal was working too closely with the United States in stopping international drug shipments when Costa Rica street crime was growing rapidly.

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Thieves target owners
of Tamarindo boats

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of Tamarindo residents woke up Sunday morning to see that boat motors and two entire boats were missing from the harbor.

Someone stole motors from three ponga boats and took two boats out of the harbor only to sink them, said Brian King, a victim of the theft. One of the stolen boats was recovered offshore without its motor the next day, said King. The thieves pulled the plug on the boat and tried to sink it, he said. The second boat is probably already at the bottom of the ocean, he added.

The watchman in the Tamarindo harbor was unable to stop the thieves, said residents. Some report that the watchman was tied up and even held at gunpoint, but the facts are still unclear. “The truth is no one really knows what happened,” said King. The boat owner said it must have taken at least an hour for each motor to be removed. “I would've liked to have been a fly on the wall to see how they were pulling it off. It couldn't have been easy,” he said.

This time thieves took King's new 50 horsepower, 4-stoke motor. Last time they took the whole boat he said. King's boat was stolen about 10 years ago and thieves attempted to sink it after they removed the motor. It used to happen all the time, but when the community hired a guard the thefts stopped, said King.  “No one has ever been caught stealing these outboard motors, never,” he said.

A Fuerza Pública spokeswoman in Tamarindo reported Monday that the case had been passed on to the Judicial Investigation Organization in Santa Cruz for further work.

As for King, he said he was officially done with having boats in Tamarindo. He will sell what's left of his boat. The ponga will only sell for about half of it's value since the $6,000 motor is gone, he said.

Pavas man held as suspect
in Escazú  bus stop rapes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained a man accused of raping at least four girls near a bus stop in Escazú, said a judicial spokeswoman Monday.

In February a student reported that while she was waiting for the bus, a man approached her and threatened her with a knife. He then took the girl to an abandoned lot, raped her and stole her money and cell phone, said a judicial spokeswoman.

The next month a minor reported she was attacked at the same bus stop at the same time, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization. The second young girl told a similar story except that her attacker tied her to a tree when he finished raping her, said the judicial spokeswoman.

The covered bus stop is on the Autopista Próspero Fernández in an area with no homes or businesses.

Judicial agents arrested a 24-year-old man with the last names of Calvo Alvarados in his home in Villa Esperanza de Pavas. Calvo was carrying a knife at the time of his arrest and agents found the cédulas of the two girls in his house, according to the judicial spokeswoman.

The Judicial Investigation Organization said that there could be more victims in the case and encouraged anyone with information to call their offices.

Woman, 76, hospitalized
after rape in Golfito area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Golfito courts are investigating a 26-year-old man accused of raping a 76-year-old woman, said a spokeswoman from the Ministerio Público Monday.

Police detained the suspect in his home where he was transferred to the Fiscalía de Golfito, said the spokeswoman. The Juzgado Penal sentenced the man to three months of preventative prison while police investigate the case. The 76-year-old woman was taken to the local hospital, said the spokeswoman.

In another case, police officials detained a man in Limón accused of raping a 2-year-old girl Sunday, said a security ministry spokesperson.

The man accused of the crime has the last names of Alvarado Torres. Neighbors of Alvarado, who lived in Guácimo, Limón, were suspicious that he abused the girl, said the spokeswoman. The neighbors tied him up in his home and called 911, according to the security ministry. 

The little girl's mother said her daughter had been in the house of Alvarado. and when she arrived home she was hurt and crying. A clinical exam later showed that the girl had been sexually abused, said the security spokeswoman.

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Car guard wins right to get dismissal payoff as an employee
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cuidacarro or car guard has won a cash dismissal settlement from a Santa Ana restaurant in a case that is sure to generate reflection among retail merchants.

Cuidacarros are those persons, frequently with reflective vests, who seek tips from motorist for supposedly watching their parked vehicles.

In this case, the car guard, Denis Cerdas Durán, convinced a court that he should be treated like an employee. He received a judgment of 1.4 million colons (about $2,850) from the operators of Chicharronera Memé Pajarito.

The decision came from the Sala II of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, which reinstated a labor court decision in favor of the man. The decision was Feb. 6, but a summary was just released by the Poder Judicial Monday.

The chicharronera is operated by  Carlos Rodríguez Bermúdez under the corporate name of Río Nevado S.A.. Also a defendant was  Misael Rodríguez Bermúdez, a family member who rented an adjacent lot for restaurant parking, according to the court file.

Cerdas said in his court filing that he worked 72 hours a week watching cars in the private lot and got tips from those who parked their vehicles there.

The court awarded him nearly 20 days of salary, 12 days of vacation, the Christmas bonus, the aguinaldo, and pay for some 900 extra hours. Cerdas said he was averaging about 31,000 colons a week when he was let go. That was a bit more than $60.

Labor courts here usually side with the employees, so the operators of the chicharronera tried to show that Cerdas was not an employee but an independent contractor.
The Sala II said there were three factors that allowed the justices to determine that the man was entitle to the payoff. One was because he lent his services. Then he was paid by the management. The third point was the he worked a regular shift under supervision.

The decision was unclear if Cerdas really was paid. One witness said the man simply exchanged the coins he got as tips for bills at the chicharronera.

The justices also seemed to be influenced by the fact that the parking area was rented by a family member of the restaurant operator and that Cerdas was permitted just a single day off a week.

Had the court found that Cerdas was an independent contractor, he would not have been entitled to his severance pay.

The case is instructive to expats running businesses in Costa Rica because it shows how someone working informally nearby can be elevated to the status of an employee. Under certain conditions, the employer might face a demand for expensive payments to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social on behalf of the worker. Typical employer payments are about 24 percent of an employee salary.

Generally Costa Rican law follows the definition of an independent contractor that is current in the United States. The business operator should have a signed contract outlining the contractual relationship. The business owner cannot fix hours of work, provide a place to work or the tools, such as a computer, to work with. The contractor is only responsible for results, such as making sales.

Many businesses here trick workers into accepting a contractual relationship to avoid paying Caja health and social security charges and the annual aguinaldo that amounts to one twelfth of the worker's income for the year.

Nation's first professionally trained archaeologist dies at 90
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's first professionally trained archaeologist died Monday. He was  Carlos Aguilar Piedra, 90, who continued
Carlos Aguilar
Carlos Aguilar Piedra
his research into the pre-Columbian cultures of Costa Rica until his death.

Aguilar crowned his career with his latest book, "El jade and el chamán," which seeks to categorize stone objects by their form and function. The book came out in 2003. He was awarded the prestigious Premio Magon in 2005, the only archaeologist to receive one. It is the nation's highest cultural award.

Aguilar was a native of Cartago and studied in the local schools and then in the  Escuela Normal de Heredia.
He attended the  Escuela de Antropología e Historia de México from 1941until 1946 and then studied for a year in anthropology and paleontology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

He first major archaeological studies were between 1935 and 1949 in the communities of Duan de Tucurrique, La Gloria de Juan Viñas, Llano Grande de Cartago and Tejar del Guarco. Aguilar worked at the Museo Nacional in 1940 and 1941 in the zoology section and from 1947 to 1949 in archeology.

He was inspector of Indian schools from 1947 to 1948 and worked at the  Colegio San Luis Gonzaga, the Escuela Complementaria de Turrialba and the Colegio Vocacional de Artes from 1954 to 1962. He also joined the faculty of the Universidad de Costa Rica in 1962.

Aguilar worked with the Central Banks collection of gold pre-Columbian objects from 1964 to 1968 and then at the Guayabo archaeological site in 1968. He also was involved in restoration of the church ruins in Cartago as well as the colonial convent in Ujarrás. He was considered instrumental in having the Guayabo  site listed as a world heritage location by the United Nations.
In his book "El jade y el chamán," which appeared in 2003, Aguilar argues that jade was the unifying substance in Indian cultures. The jade was carved to represent the many manifestations of a shaman, he said.

Aguilar had a problem because most of the objects that are called jade here have not been found where the ancient cultures left them. Instead, they are provided by pot hunters and others who do not take scientific precautions to log their finds. They also jealously guard the source of the objects.

Aguilar’s work sought to sidestep this problem by categorizing the jade objects by their form and use. The book, which is in Spanish, is illustrated by the author and painstakingly treats the various artistic traditions that enable the researcher to group them. For example, jade objects that contain a ring are grouped together, as are those that appear to be a figure of a bat.

Jade, of course, may not be the technically correct term because real jade was scare and came from Guatemala. Other types of hard stones were substituted by the Indian artisans, and these are known collectively as "jade."

The bulk of what Aguilar studied came from Guanacaste, which he called the province of jade. That area was in closer contact with the Valley of Mexico and the advanced cultures there.

Many of the jade pieces represent shamen, the Indian priest, according to Aguilar, and he sees them in their many shapes because in ancient tradition a shaman could transform himself into other creatures.

 So be the pieces bats, birds or human-like figures, they were to Aguilar’s eyes important religious objects used to relate the Indians to their gods via the shaman intermediary.

Aguilar has some strong technical evidence to support this view, such as certain markings on the head of figurines. Of one spectacular piece there can be little doubt  A shaman figure is seem chanting in a cave seeking to bring rain, and clouds outside oblige him.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 64

Two judges fired for grave faults in their official duties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de Justicia has fired two judges. One was in the Cantón de Osa. The other worked in Nicoya. Magistrates suspended a third judge for a month.

The decision came Monday afternoon in a private session of the court. Magistrates called the actions of the two fired judges grave faults.

The criminal judge in Osa ordered the release of five suspects in an international  drug smuggling case. The judge ordered what are known as  medidas cautelares, that is personal recognizance with certain obligations to sign in with prosecutors. The judge rejected the requests of prosecutors to put the suspects in preventative detention.
The court summary did not say so, but the five are believed to have fled.

The Nicoya case stemmed from the failure of a judge to appear at the scene of a violent death. Typically a judge of the first stage of an investigation must supervise the removal of a body, even in the case of a traffic death.

The Nicoya judge ignored requests in both 2006 and 2007 to appear as such scenes of violent death even when requested by the prosecutors, thereby hampering investigations.

The judge who was suspended also failed to appear at the scene of a death, said the Poder Judicial. There were no names of judges released.

Two suspects in robbery and shootout with police released by Nicoya judge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A criminal judge in Nicoya has set free two men who are accused of robbery and engaging in a subsequent shootout with police.

Two men were surprised by police when they were robbing a passer-by near the offices of the Policía del Tránsito on the highway to Sámara Tuesday. The robbers fled and police followed.
When police caught up with the robbers, the men got out of their car and fired repeatedly at their pursuers. But police a short time later were able to apprehend two suspects, identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of  Sojo Núñez and Vallejos Loaiza.

The criminal court judge, who was not identified, ordered that the two men could be freed as long as they promise not to approach the robbery victim, and as long as they sign in with the prosecutor every 15 days.

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Assembly entertainment tab
is $295,000, lawmaker says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican lawmakers have spent 145 million colons on entertainment since May 2006 when the current Asamblea Legislativa took office, according to the Partido Acción Cuidadana. That's about $295,000.

A news release in the name of Alberto Salom Echeverría accused other political parties of wasting public money. It said that some of the expenditures were on champagne, wine, costly snacks, dinners and other products and services, according to an accounting from the assembly staff sought by Acción Ciudadana.

The money could have been put to better use as scholarships or other public efforts, said the lawmaker.

Export tax on food sparks
farm protests in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Argentina's government offered small farmers a package of benefits Monday in an effort to end a 19-day strike triggered by new, higher taxes.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's administration said it would give the farmers a rebate on the new export taxes on soy beans, sunflower seeds, and other grains.

The government also offered to subsidize the cost of transporting grain from farm to market.

President Fernández has asked the farmers to lift the roadblocks they have constructed during the strike. The roadblocks have caused food shortages and blocked the export of agricultural products.

Farm leaders rejected the president's appeal and said the strike would continue at least through mid-week.

The strike began on March 13, two days after the government raised the agricultural export taxes in an effort to redistribute wealth to the poor and control domestic food prices.

Young Chileans clash with police

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police and protesters clashed Friday in the Chilean capital of Santiago, on the eve of a day commemorating two brothers who were killed during the country's military dictatorship.

Some 300 protesters, mainly students, blocked traffic on Santiago's main avenue.  Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters, who threw rocks back.
At least 150 people were arrested.  News reports say many of those detained are minors.

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