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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, April 4, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 67            E-mail us
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Two lawmakers say Bogotá paper backs Berrocal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana is challenging the account by the Presidencia over terrorist infiltration in Costa Rica.

The political party said Thursday that a newspaper in Colombia said that Colombian intelligence officers have from five to seven names of persons in Costa Rica who have collaborated with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. The newspaper el Tiempo de Colombian printed that report Monday but did not give any names.

Fernando Berrocal, the former security minister, made a more general allegation March 15, and suggested that some politicians have terrorist links.

His statements cost him his job. Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, minister of the Presidencia, said Berrocal was relieved of his job because he made statements for which he had no backing.

However, the Partido Acción Ciudadana disagrees. Deputies Marvin Rojas and Olivier Pérez said the newspaper reports are accurate, despite what the governments of Costa Rica and Colombia say.
They are calling for a full legislative investigation. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe wrote a carefully worded letter this week that seems to support the Presidencia.

El Tiempo also said that the intelligence agents in Colombia have obtained the names of seven persons linked to the terrorists in the Dominican Republic and have leads on terrorist cells in Honduras.
Laura Chinchilla, the vice president and acting security minister since Monday, will be in Bogotá today to meet with officials there. The fiscal general or chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese, is going but said Thursday that his office should always act independently. He reports to the courts and not to the security ministry.

The legislative pair from the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that they had contacted journalistic sources in Colombia to verify the information and that they learned that agents there have detailed intelligence on the persons here. They said that the allies of the Fuerzas Armadas were using foundations as facades to hide their illegal activities. They did not explain further.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his brother fired the security minister Sunday,  just a day before he was to testify before the legislature. Because he was no longer security minister, he did not testify Monday, but said he would like to do so in the future. The legislature has voted to set up the special commission to investigate terrorism.

The Arias brothers would suffer great political embarrassment if Berrocal turns out to have been correct.

Óscar Arias Thursday appointed a long-time supporter to take Berrocal's job at the ministry. The 62-year-old woman, a math education professor, has no obvious police or security background, but she is an Arias loyalist. The president said one of the main reasons for appointing her was to get more women in his administration.


Long-time Arias friend is new security minister
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative deputy will leave her job to become the nation's new security minister, President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Thursday.

The news comes after former security minister Fernando Berrocal Soto left his position amid rumors that he had evidence of secret connections between politicians here and Colombian terrorists.

The new minister will be Janina Del Vecchio Ugalde, 62, a Partido Liberación Nacional stalwart from Alajuela and a mathematics professor. She will assume the position of minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública April 25, said Arias.

The new minister has had extensive experience in education and in training teachers for math classes, but she has had no apparent experience in security or in police work.

She has been a professor at Universidad Nacional in Heredia and the Universidad de Costa Rica.

Ms. Del Vecchio previously served as chief of cabinet for Arias and has been an ambassador in Madrid, Spain, Rome, Italy, the Vatican, and Switzerland. She has worked on various educational, trade, and development projects.

Arias said he chose Ms. Del Vecchio because he has known her for years and she is respectable, hard working, honest, has integrity, and knows how to make decisions.

“Anyone can teach politics, but not just anybody can teach math,” said Arias.

When asked what were her goals for the security ministry, Ms. Del Vecchio said, “I am not yet in the position, so I cannot give a clear diagnoses. I only see the ministry externally as of now.”

She added, however that she planned to fight against narcotrafficking in the country and robberies and that everyone needed to work together in making the nation a peaceful place.

“Security is something more than simply putting police on the streets,” she said numerous times. She said communities and schools must work to better security in the country. “Each and every Costa Rican must work together,” she said.
new security minister
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Janina Del Vecchio is congratulated by Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, minister of the Presidencia.

In another interview she said that she would do more than focus on stemming the drug trade and robberies. She said she would seek to prevent such crimes. Berrocal made stopping the drug trade a central focus of his management.

Ms. Del Vecchio praised Vice President Laura Chinchilla for her work as the temporary security minister and said Ms. Chinchilla's work would make for a smooth transition. Ms. Chinchilla has been acting security minister since Monday.

Ms. Chinchilla will be in Colombia today to meet with the director of the Colombian police and the fiscal general of that country. 

“I feel content and proud,” said Arias about his choice. He said he wanted a woman in the position since there are so few women ministers in Costa Rica.
 
Ms. Del Vecchio said that there could be a change in Costa Rica with a cooperative security plan. “There are still ideals that exist in this country, and we can take the nation forward. We can return a sense of security to Costa Ricans in their communities, so they can live with a feeling of peace,” said Ms. Del Vecchio.


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U.S. will finance new site
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U. S. government will finance a $1.25 million new headquarters for the Costa Rican Guardacostas near the Caldera docks in Puntarenas.

Kirsten D. Madison, a visiting U.S. undersecretary of State, visited the site Thursday along with Martín Arias, the director of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.

The new structure will be 8,500 square meters, about 91,493 square feet, and will contain the repair shop for the coast guard.  The building will accommodate 120 persons and will include the academy where coastguard personnel are trained.

Also anticipated is additional dock space and a dry dock.

The Costa Rican agency, part of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, is in daily contact with U.S. Navy and Coast Guard patrol boats that are sweeping the Pacific for illegal shipments of drugs. The two nations have a formal agreement, and many times fastboards from Colombia or even a home-made submarine have been turned over to Costa Rica as a result of actions on the high seas.


Telephone tip is credited
for arrest of two Mexicans


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials are crediting a neighbor for drawing attention to two Mexican men who now face investigation for international trafficking of drugs.

The Policía de Control de Drogas raided the home where the men were staying Thursday and said they found 299 kilos of cocaine in packages in a closet. The home is in Tejar de El Guarco in the Provincia de Cartago.

Detained were a 39-year-old man identified by the last names of Amezquita Beltrán and a 37-year-old man with the last names of Sánchez Moreno.

Investigators said that the men were arrested just five days after a citizen called the anti-drug phone number, 176.


Main highway to Limón
to be closed to paint lines


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The highway agency will be closing the main road between San José to Limón for six hours both Saturday and Sunday. The reason is that work crews are painting lines on the road.

The highway is Route 32 that runs from north San José to Limón. The route will be closed Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., said the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad. From 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. the traffic will be regulated by workers, according to the schedule.

Workers painted lines on Route 2, from San Isidro to Paso Canoas, Route 142, Cañas to El Tanque, and Route 702, San Ramón to Chachagua to La Fortuna this week, they said. But no delays were announced on these roads.  

Curridabat gives outline
for recycling program there


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Curridabat will begin a recycling program by having special trucks make runs during the evening.

The truck crews will be expecting to see recyclable waste in clear plastic bags so they can see what is inside. The crews will be seeking plastic, aluminum, glass, newsprint and cartons.

The municipality said Thursday that residents of neighborhoods who wish to become involved in this new program should organize themselves and contact officials for more information and to establish collection days.

Police frustrate bank job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone broke into a bank branch Wednesday night in the center of Coronado, but the Fuerza Pública responded and managed to detain a suspect a short distance away.

Officials credited the bank alarm for alerting them to the break-in at the bank.

Detained was a man identified by the last names of  Castillo Cambronero. He was detained by police near the local Catholic Church, and he was firing a gun in the public street, they said. Confiscated was a handgun, they said.

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Moms' contract on Burger King raises a few eyebrows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Burger King, known for wacky advertising, is attracting official attention with its new segment featuring a hit man.

The ad segment is a follow up to the one where mothers try to run down the Burger King with an automobile. They miss, so presumably now they are drawn to the alley where they are negotiating with a bad guy.

The women are angry in the scenarios because the Burger King sandwiches are attracting the youngsters at the expense of the home-cooked meals.

In a country like Costa Rica where real hit men are available for less than $600 a job, the advertising sequence has made people nervous.

The hit man in this case is not the stereotypical Colombian shooter but a lean-faced U.S. bad guy.

The series of television ads are the work of  Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami and are dubbed in Spanish for use by the Burger King franchise here. The King is an actor wearing an oversize plastic head that carries an idiotic smile. He is a resurrection of the company's character in the 1970s and 1980s.
Burger king

Some officials suggested that the use of hit men (or "Hit Moms" as the sequence is called) is no laughing matter. Burger King, which turns 50 this year, also has joined the ranks of Costa Rican spammers with a flood of unwanted e-mails promoting "The Crown," a new whopper-type sandwich.



Agreement to move agricultural fair in Heredia to La Palma
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heredia residents will continue to have a Saturday agricultural fair or feria, according to an agreement announced Thursday.

The fair or assembly of producers has been held traditionally on Avenida 14 in Heredia central, but officials are concerned by the traffic that is being blocked by the Saturday activities.

The agreement is with the Junta Nacional de Ferias del Agricultor, which took over operation of the agricultural market a few weeks ago.
Other parties include representatives of the the municipality, including José Manuel Ulate, mayor.

Under terms of the agreement, the farmers' market can continue to function in the same location for the rest of the month.

But May 3 and afterwards, the operations will take place in la Palma de Heredia, 600 meters west of Hipermás on the road to San Joaquín de Flores.

According to the  Junta Nacional de Ferias each week some 550 vendors, mostly farmers gather for the market, which attracts 25,000 buyers.



Some unique complaints from the golden years crowd
This is going to be a protest column.  Codgers and Crones Unite!  And before someone chides me for calling old women crones, let me assure you that my fellow feminists have convinced me that crone means “wise old woman,” no matter what the dictionaries say.

Before I start my list of complaints, let me also assure you, we all get older — even the rich and famous and talented.  The Sundance Kid is 70, and his friend Butch, is a still handsome 82.  Maya Angelou is approaching 80 and even Madonna will soon be 50, which on her, unless the air brush has been at work, looks like the new 20-something. 

Having made my point, there are a number of things I would like changed to better accommodate those of us who have not figured out how to stay young forever.  First off, of course, is the tiny and ever tinier print on medications of any kind.  Drug companies, we are your best customers, so make the instructions simple and print them big.

Then there are steps.  Buses in San Jose and probably throughout Costa Rica have a healthy population of older riders.  We have a better chance of remaining healthy if those damn steps for getting on and off the bus were not so high off the street.  And if we have to step into a gutter, not only our health but our lives are in danger. Regardless, there are still those of us who really like taking buses — and more people should.

And lastly, walking is supposed to be a very good exercise, and as we get older, it seems the most feasible of exercises.  To paraphrase Descartes, we walk, therefore we are pedestrians.  We need a little help to remain upright pedestrians.  Fewer broken sidewalks and longer traffic lights would be probably too much to expect but would be nice.

Actually, that is just about the extent of my complaints.  And most of them pertain to where I live right now. 

I once wrote about the joys of living alone (and as we get older, many of us do).  I am not exactly going to write about the joys of getting old.  But there are some benefits. 

First of all, some of us really do get wiser.  Even our children acknowledge it, along with finally putting into practice some advice we gave them years ago — advice we have forgotten we ever gave them. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Then there are the goodies that different communities give to their aging ciudadanos.  San José offers free bus tickets.  I think other communities do the same.  And there are special windows in banks that give priority to older customers.  In Costa Rica there is always the kindness of strangers.  That terrible attack in Golfito of the 76 year-old woman is extremely rare.  Usually, younger people anticipate our need for help (like crossing the street or getting on a bus) before we even are aware of it, or when we don’t think we need help, thank you very much.

I also think, that as we grow older, we are able to look back and see the mixed blessings of progress  — the damage it has done to our planet along with the all the new stuff and conveniences it has brought. 

For example, I wanted to look up a quote I used, just to make sure I had it right.  First I found my Bartlett’s, then I had to look in the index, then find the page. It took, perhaps six minutes.  Then I googled the words and got them within seconds.  That’s good progress. But I still like books. I find them more fun to browse.

We are one of the generations that remember the movie "The Graduate" and the famous line, “Think plastics.”  A lot of us have had time to think about plastics and other aspects of our throwaway societies.  It may be up to the younger generation to figure out a solution to the used plastics that are filling our oceans, our parks, our homes, our streets and killing the flora and fauna (including us) that keep our planet going.  But we have the time and the experience to start a movement, plant an idea, get others to think about the problem, and remind everyone to recycle whenever possible.

I will end with another quote, which I found when I took time out to browse through my Bartlett’s.  This is from historian/philosopher and a very wise Will Durant:  “The health of nations is more important than the wealth of nations.” 



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 67


Our readers' opinions: terrorism, fishing and the super rich
Infiltration by terrorists
is no surprise to him

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was not at all surprised to read in A.M. Costa Rica that so few tourists and expat businesspeople living in the country had heard of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
 
I was also not surprised to read that strong evidence exists to suggest the FARC has significant support in certain quarters within Costa Rica.
 
Anyone who's spent any time at all in Costa Rica, all the pura vida malarkey aside, knows that the crime problems the country is experiencing are, more often than not, tied to the growing influence of the international drug trade and narcotraffickers.
 
Look, for example, at the success a FARC leader has had in converting the Tico Pacific fishing fleet into a drug trafficking enterprise.
 
Last year I wrote about the links between Costa Rica's crime problems and the drug trade and, after my essay was printed, was advised by a friend in Puerto Viejo not to  write such things anymore.
 
"Write about deforestation, pollution, or greedy real estate developers," he said, "But leave the drug trade alone."
 
He may have been being a little melodramatic, but I took the advice to heart.
 
But back to so few tourists or expats even knowing who or what the FARC is. To me, it is just further evidence of the ignorance and arrogance many expats and tourists, note I did not say "travelers," exhibit when they move to or visit a foreign land.
 
How is it possible that foreigners would want to invest in a place like Costa Rica while being so ignorant of the national and regional political history that surrounds them?
 
The FARC has been around for more than 40 years. One of its original founders was a former top executive for the Nestle Corp. who grew disgusted with the corporate exploitation of  his country.
 
Sadly, what once may have been justifiable and legitimate grievances got lost in the corruption of the drug and arms trafficking trades that often insert themselves into grassroots political movements throughout the developing world, be they of the left or right wing ideological variety.
 
A.M. Costa Rica has focused on the drug trafficking and narco-terrorism of the FARC, I suspect because it is a "leftist" organization, but A.M. Costa Rica has largely neglected to mention that right wing paramilitary squads in Colombia, with ties to President Álvaro Uribe, are also involved in such activities.
 
My hunch is, just as the "leftist" FARC has sympathizers in Costa Rica, Colombia's right wing paramilitaries do as well.
 
What's been exposed so far is, no doubt, just the tip of the iceberg.
 
It might behoove all those expat business people and tourists, who had no clue as to who and what the FARC was before this story broke, to bone up on some regional political history because it is becoming increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that the region is becoming increasingly volatile and, unlike in the 1980s, Costa Rica is unlikely to be able to keep that volatility from reverberating inside her borders.
 
Michael Cook
Newburyport and North Truro, MA
and Puerto Viejo


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Actions by administration
cause citizen to ponder


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This latest revelation, that the security minister, Senior Berrocal, apparently a dedicated public servant, a brave man, and a patriot, was fired, by the Arias administration, for exposing what seems to be at the heart of the country's crime problems — the drug underground, and its apparent Colombian connection, infiltrating high levels of government here, adds to a growing string of moves by the brothers Arias that leads one to ponder the state of affairs here.

Arias whose previous term in office — in a much simpler day and age — garnered much prestige from brokering peace in the region, earning him a Nobel prize,  20 years later comes in capitalizing on the chaotic state of affairs left over from the previous administration, and brings in with him the seemingly overwhelmingly opposed CAFTA, passing in the same fashion that G. W. Bush was elected twice in the U.S. — by a questionable tally, at best .

Costa Rica, long having been a poor third world country, and arguably a satellite state of the U.S. (most of it's economy, dependent upon the tidbits tossed out by the corporate giants: fruit, chemical, pharmaceuticals, Coca Cola, et. all, based in the States) now finds itself in the position to be in healthier financial shape than its once omnipotent patron.

But when the brothers Arias summarily sent the Taiwanese packing after so many recent lavish gifts were bestowed here by the Taiwanese government,  it left many scratching their heads.

The heretofore lush offshore Costa Rica fishery is a prize coveted by all the Asians, be it the Japanese, Koreans, White, or Red Chinese.

The Taiwanese, who were high bidders for the lucrative Costa Rican fishing rights under the previous administration, were exposed for their practice of shark "finning" where huge boats raked in all manner of undersea life, including sharks by the ton, and stripped the fins off the sharks for the lucrative shark fin soup cravings of the nouveau wealthy Chinese palate,

The replacing Red Chinese boats by a consensus of many here in Mal Pais/Santa Teresa are going about raking the undersea breeding grounds clean, on a scale that dwarfs what the Taiwanese were doing. At the rate these huge boats are going at it, how much longer will there be a sport fishing industry — a major component in the largest segment of the economy, tourism?

As with this recent move in firing Berrocal, the Arias brothers seem to be displaying the same pattern of business as usual here while the solutions to the countries mounting problems remain out of reach.

Hari Singh Khalsa
Santa Teresa


Super rich also are generous
with their many billions


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

RE:  Very poor and very rich show failure of capitalism by Andre Bruneau in Escazú

I must assume that someone has paid Mr. Bruneau to post this article to start a dialog. I can not believe that anyone who takes the time to watch the Forbes Magazine segment on CNN is so uninformed to not know that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are the most generous men in the world.  They have both pledged the majority of their fortunes to ‘good works’ in the world. 

Their billions will be delivered to the needy of the world in a much more effective and efficient manner than any government could ever accomplish. We each do the best we can with what we have.  My wife and I will soon retire to Costa Rica and except for a couple of trips to Europe, we plan to spend all of our wealth in Costa Rica. Surely, Mr. Bruneau does not expect us to write a check directly to him!

John Clark
Centennial, Colorado


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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

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World's economy seen slowing by at least 1 percent

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Because of the global impact of the credit contraction that started in the United States last August, world economic growth is likely to have slowed to no more than a 4 percent pace for this year. The deceleration cuts growth by nearly 1 percent from last year.

Washington's Peterson Institute believes world economic growth has slowed to a 3.8 percent pace, its slowest pace for five years. The International Monetary Fund will release its forecast  Wednesday, but it, too, is likely to be significantly marked down.

Growth remains strongest in Asia, with China still growing at a 10 percent pace and India 8 percent. Europe is likely growing at a 1.6 percent rate while United States growth is currently flat and may be negative. Peterson Institute forecaster Michael Mussa says if the U.S. economy is in recession, it will likely be shallow and short. U.S. growth, he says, will pick up later this year.

"It is reasonable to expect a rebound to moderate growth in the 2 to 3 percent range in the second half," said Mussa. "With real GDP falling moderately in the first half and rebounding moderately in the second half, fourth quarter to fourth quarter growth should be a meager one half of 1 percent."

Mussa, who for 10 years was the chief economist at the monetary fund, said the U.S. economy needs a mild recession to cool the inflationary pressures of sharp increases in food and fuel costs. He applauds what he regards as bold, preemptive measures by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the weakening US economy.

"The easing of U.S. monetary policy in the present possible recession has far outstripped the pace of easing in previous actual recessions," he said.

The Federal Reserve has cut short-term interest rates by 3 percentage points in the past year.

Simon Johnson, chief economist at the monetary fund, says global policy makers are confronting the puzzle of simultaneous slowing of growth and rising inflationary pressure.

"In fact, I can not recall a time when there has been such a striking dichotomy between global credit and commodity markets, both sending conflicting signals regarding the global outlook," he said.

Both the Peterson Institute and the International Monetary Fund are more optimistic about global economic prospects than some private forecasters who argue that the credit squeeze and growth slowdown are precursors of global recession.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 67



U.S. women's soccer team in Mexico seeking Olympic berth
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is in Juárez, Mexico for the region's Olympic qualifying tournament. New head coach Pia Sundhage is preparing the 2004 Olympic champions for today's first round match against Jamaica.

The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team must earn a spot at the Beijing Olympics despite winning the gold medal in Athens four years ago. After the Americans finished a disappointing third at last year's Women's World Cup in China, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided there should be a coaching change.

Pia Sundhage was hired last November to coach the team, but only through the 2008 Summer Games, presuming the Americans would qualify. The 48-year-old native of Sweden is the first foreigner, and only the second woman, to coach the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. She previously was an assistant coach for China's national team during the 2007 Women's World Cup.

With a number of star players from the last Olympics now retired, Sundhage has been aiming to get this group to play to its strengths.

"I think the biggest thing is to find the style we want to
play, so it is more about us to prepare for the qualification," said Ms. Sundhage. "We talk a lot about the attacking style. We talk about the rhythm of the game, to keep possession more, to find the right moment to penetrate. And I think we have done a great job so far, but there is still a lot of work to do before we can take this attacking game to the next level."

But new captain Christie Rampone believes the U.S. team is adapting to the new style of play.

"You know, we have been preparing hard, and the team is looking better each day," said Ms. Rampone. "I think we are prepared, but we are definitely not over confident."

Six teams from the North, Central American and Caribbean region are separated into two groups for the Olympic qualifying tournament. The United States, Jamaica and Mexico play in Group A. Canada, Costa Rica, and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago comprise Group B.

The United States opens its campaign today against Jamaica and then plays host Mexico Sunday. Costa Rica meets Trinidad & Tobago today, too.

The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals next Wednesday. The two semifinal winners qualify for the Beijing Olympics in August.

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