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(506) 2223-1327         San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 11, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 72            E-mail us
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Health and social concerns cited
Arias government acts to restrict casino operations

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration took steps Thursday to discourage the casino business in Costa Rica. Various ministries unveiled a total of five decrees that, among other things:

• emphasize the unenforced restriction that casinos must be within hotels rated at three stars or higher by the Instituto Costarricence de Turismo;

• created a special health permit for casinos that will cost $5,000 a year;

• forbids free alcoholic drinks in casinos;

• sets casino hours at 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.;

• suggests that casino owners and others will have to donate for psychological help for addicted gamblers;

• appears to put the operation of slot machines under the consumer protection laws and demands a payback of 85 percent by the casino to players;

• requires the casino owner to be the same as the owner of the hotel;

• brands casinos as places that can encourage prostitution, drug addiction and insecurity.

The decrees, that will have the force of law when published in the la Gazeta official newspaper, did not establish any other special taxes for casinos. The measures set a six-month window for compliances except some of the major rules, like the one that says a casino must be part of a hotel, go into force immediately.

The decrees also did not address the flourishing business of online casinos that are run without any supervision whatsoever in Costa Rica.

At a press conference to announce the decrees Thursday afternoon there was little said about casinos, such as the Horseshoe at Avenida 1 and Calle 9 that are not part of a hotel. The officials said there were 48 existing casinos that are associated with hotels in the country.

There was no mention of the plans by an international/Russian casino company to set up shop in Costa Rica. The company is remodeling the Hotel Bulevar just off the Avenida Central pedestrian mall. Local officials have vowed to try to keep the company out of Costa Rica.

The rules for having a casino in a hotel say that only 15 percent of the space of the hotel can be dedicated to gambling. This is similar to the contents of a casino proposal that is languishing in the Asamblea Legislativa. A series of casino proposals has been awaiting action for years.

The decrees, on the other hand, are done deals, signed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez and relevant ministers. Some casino operators are certain to appeal the measures to the Sala IV constitutional court. One ground might be the ex post facto nature of some of the rules that are being imposed on existing operations.

One decree is dedicated to the addicted gambler. The decree seeks to cast the condition as a mental infirmity. It cites a 1980 declaration by the World Health Organization.

There were other health concerns. The health minister, María Luisa Ávila Agüero, said that another danger exists when gamblers win a lot or lose a lot and run the risk of having a heart attack. Members of the audience laughed and acted as if the health minister had told a joke, but she quickly said that such events were serious problems.

Another decree spells out the need for a casino to be an adjunct to a hotel and not the other way around. The idea originally was to use casinos to 
Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of Turismo, said that Costa Rica is not Las Vegas and that he does not think people come here to gamble.
not las vegas

stimulate tourism in Costa Rica. However, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of Turismo, said that Costa Rica is not Las Vegas and that he does not think people come here to gamble.

The clientèle of most casinos now appear to be residents rather than tourists, although that might not be the case in geographically isolated hotels.
Some casinos in the metropolitan area are 24-hour a day operations and employee armies of dealers and support personnel. The decrees would seem to put people out of work if the time allocated for gambling is eight instead of 24 hours.

The hotel rules say that a casino must be in a hotel with at least 60 rooms. The well-known downtown hotels seem to meet this requirement. The Hotel Del Rey has 104 rooms, employees said. The Sleep Inn, the hotel associated with the Casino Colonial, has 86 rooms. A casino can have 10 gaming tables for the first 60 rooms. There are increments after that.

One problem for the Casino Colonial will be the fact that the management maintains two casinos on the premises. A smaller one is a non-smoking casino. The decrees forbids more than one casino per hotel.

The casino also can have one slot machine for each hotel room, said the decrees. Until now there did not seem to be any oversight on the payback of slot machine money as winnings. The decrees say that payback must be at least 85 percent, and there is a complicated certifying process involving the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Some Las Vegas casinos promise a 97 percent payback. The decree also prohibits slot machines anywhere but in casinos.

The decrees were constructed by an executive branch commission that was set up just last March 26. Also deeply involved in the drafting was Laura Chinchilla Miranda, vice president and minister of Justicia y Gracia. She also is the acting security minister until April 25.

Storm International is the company that said in late February that it would invest $5 million to refurbish a downtown hotel. The casino rules seem to be directed at this newcomer. The proposal would just meet the decreed requirements. The project will include a 60-room hotel, said the company at the time.

Storm International said it is diversifying and opening casinos overseas because of restrictive laws being passed in the Russian Republic that require the firm to put casinos in geographic zones. Costa Rican officials are nervous because Russian gambling operations and many other businesses are influenced by ex-KGB officials who are ruthless in business and related criminal activities.


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Tica murder suspect
finally found in U.S.


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. police captured a Costa Rican woman who they suspect murdered a business associate 10 years ago after she tricked him into meeting and hit him over the head.

The International Police Agency (INTERPOL) had been tracking the suspect, Magdalena Bolañas Pacheco, for nearly 10 years, and found her in Long Island, New York, they said.

Police suspect Ms. Bolañas worked with her husband, Laureano Montero, to commit the murder, said a spokesperson from the International Police Agency.

The couple arranged to meet with the victim, José Andrés Borrase Taylor, to discuss a property dispute, according to a police spokesperson. Investigators suspect that one of them whacked Borrase over the head. The couple then allegedly drove to a farm in San Diego de Tres Rios, where one of them shot Borrase three times with a rifle, according to the allegation. 

The criminal court in Cartago sentenced Montero to 25 years in prison, but Ms. Bolañas escaped to Panamá, according to police.

The international police agency found Ms. Bolaños with a boyfriend, three children and a gardening business worth at least $1.5 million, they said. Ms. Bolaños, had a new passport and visa from Guatemala with the name, Veronica Giron Solar, they said.

Police who surveyed the house found that Ms. Bolaños stayed home all the time tending to the garden and only left at night or to bring her children to school. The couple had numerous cars including a Mercedes Benz four-wheel-drive, said the spokesperson.
 
Agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Ms. Bolaños when she was leaving her home, said the police spokesperson. Authorities from Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica worked on the case, said the spokesperson.

A lawyer's response
Story on Principal Financial
contained major inaccuracies


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article on Mr. Michael James Forrest's recent acquittal of every single charge he was hitherto facing (A.M. Costa Rica, No. 70) contains gross misrepresentations, both from a factual and a legal standpoint.

Contrary to what the sole "Court spokeswoman" you claim to have interviewed informed you, Mr. Forrest was found not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing by virtue of ruling N° 477-2008, and, consequently, neither Mr. Forrest nor any of his companies were ordered to pay any "restitution" whatsoever to anybody.  

Rather, Principal Services S.A. — a company unrelated to him — was found by the tribunal to be the sole obligee as per said ruling, in spite of the fact that no Principal Services representative has been on trial as they remain at large, due to the inability of the Costa Rican prosecution to extradite them from the United States since 2004. 

It could be argued that, as per Costa Rican law, it is illegal for a court of law to order civil restitution from a criminal action if the accused is not duly served and present for trial. However, the restitution ordered is an incontestable indication from the tribunal on exactly where they perceive that the liabilities — if any — actually reside.

Worse yet, you further state that "Forrest was a main representative of the company [Principal Services] which later became known as Montefiore."  Firstly, Principal Services S.A. and Montefiore S.A. were proved to be unrelated companies, and one did not become the other, as your article inaccurately suggests. 

Secondly, Principal Services never moved their offices from Torre Mercedes to Edificio Colón [sic]. The reporter again confuses both entities.  Lastly, it was proved during the trial that Forrest was not a "representative" of Principal Services at any point — hence his acquittal.

A.M. Costa Rica's journalists — as well as any other journalist in a free society — have an inescapable responsibility to employ ethic methods of verification in order to inform its public as correctly as possible.  By quoting a sole source — who interestingly prefers to remain anonymous — you can expect the accuracy of the information you receive and eventually publish to suffer greatly.

Mauricio Brenes
Defense lawyer for Mr. Forrest

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The bulk of the story was based on the written decision by the panel of judges rather than the verbal information provided by the court spokeswoman. So any inaccuracies are the work of A.M. Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 11, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 72


Arias goes on the air to deny rumors he played drug politics
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez defended his choice of a teacher to be minister of security Thursday and also denied that he had entered into a political deal to keep secret the names of Costa Rican politicians linked to Colombian drug terrorists.

The president gave his recorded talk on the cadena nacional, a hookup that included national television and radio stations.

Arias was responding to published and private criticisms of his choice of Janina del Vecchio to be security minister. She has no experience in law enforcement but is an Arias loyalist.

Arias also rejected the idea that he had played politics with information over local individuals linked to the terrorists to get approval for the enabling legislation for the free trade treaty with the United States.

A recurring rumor is that Arias muzzled Fernando Berrocal Soto, the former security minister, in exchange for agreement from the opposing Partido Acción Ciudadana to stop delaying the legislation.

Arias said he always has been sincere and transparent with the country. "Neither Don Fernando Berrocal nor any minister in my government manages information that suggest illegal links between Costa Rican political figures and the FARC," he said, using the initials of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarais de Colombia.

Any information the government has or received from Colombia sources has been turned over to the Asamblea Legislativa, said Arias."I never have hidden anything from the Costa Ricans, and I am not going to start now," he said.

Of the rumor that he used inside information for political advantage, Arias said such allegations were completely false. "I will not be a circus dancer who today uses security to raise suspicions without foundation because tomorrow they will use health and the next day education and next week tourism."

Arias promised not to lower the country's guard against narcotraffickers or criminals. And he characterized Ms. del Vecchio as a capable person who can make decisions with unquestioned integrity.
In the past, university professors, lawyers and diplomats without any law enforcement experience were named security minister, he said.  Nobody questioned these appointments, perhaps because those being named were men, he said.

The various news media have questioned the appointment by Arias because Ms. del Vecchio, who now serves in the assembly, is a math professor by education. One of the most chilling comments came on a national television channel an hour before Arias spoke. A woman who had just lost a son to armed robbers told the camera that the country needed a strong hand in security but that Arias had given the nation a maestra, a teacher.

Earlier in the day Rogelio Ramos, the security minister in the previous Abel Pacheco government testified before the Comisión Permanente Especial de Narcotráfico. He tore into Berrocal and questioned the math that had been used to calculate that large quantities of cocaine had been confiscated. Some 42 percent of the amount actually had been confiscated by the U.S. Coast Guard on the high seas, Ramos said.

Berrocal was proud that during his two years in the ministry more drugs had been confiscated than under the previous administration. Ramos disputed that idea. In fact he was so critical of Berrocal that Sandra Quesada, a member of the committee, said that she would have preferred if Ramos left his personal gripes with Berrocal outside the hearing room.

The controversy all stems from the March 1 raid just inside Ecuador where Colombian soldiers killed terrorists and confiscated three laptops used by a top Fuerzas Armadas leader. The computers and the e-mails within led police to some $480,000 in terrorist money hidden in a Santa Bárbara de Heredia home March 14. The next day Berrocal suggested that some politicians were linked to the terrorists. That comment eventually got him fired.

Since then published reports have noted that Ramos, himself, met with a Fuerzas Armadas leader in his capacity as security minister. The reports also linked a member of the José María Figueres administration (1994-1998) and a current deputy, José Merino del Río with efforts to negotiate between the terrorists and the Colombian government. But published reports also say that there is a network of Colombians in Costa Rica who are working on behalf of the terrorists.


police sworn in
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
New police officers stand to remember victims of recent violent crimes. The class includes new members of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.

New class of peace officers sworn in with call to become close to communities
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Before new police recruits raised their hands to swear their loyalty to the country Thursday, the soon-to-be security minister Janina del Vecchio gave them some advice.

“As police officers, I invite you to visit your communities with affection and great hope,” she said.

Ms. del Vecchio, who will be sworn in as the new security minister on April 25, has encouraged a more integral security program called “recover the peace.”

Not everyone has supported the new plan, but Laura Chinchilla, vice president and temporary security minister, announced that she would invite one of the major critics to to join the security ministry in the fight on crime.

The critic, Juan Diego Castro Fernández, a former security minister and a lawyer has been particularly skeptical of the
new administration and the “recover the peace” plan. Castro
studies current policies and crime statistics. In November he released a report at his law firm that claimed to show that most crimes were not punished.

The graduation welcomed 347 new police officers. New police recruits, 35 national guard officers and some police officers who had been serving without diplomas, graduated in an outdoors ceremony at the security ministry.

Officials stood in solidarity with the parents of the victims of violence in recent days.

One of those remembered was Graciela Tioli, 11, who died when a robber shot into the window of her home.

Ms. Vecchio told the new officers that she wants to see police on the streets, serving the community and not locked up in police stations. She also said that she has asked Gerardo Láscarez, vice minister of security, to remain in office and organize a fight against car highjacking and house robberies.  He had resigned as of May 1.


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art festival shots
A Chinese acrobat juggles plates while the French group 'Retouramont' flies through the air.
International art fair opens today in Parque la Sabana
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A world of cultures and colors opens in Parque La Sabana today. The “art boulevard” will be complete with train, a Chinese pavilion, a Russian pavilion, 140 artists from around the globe, and a street of children's games.

The transformation of Parque La Sabana is only a small piece of Costa Rica's sixth annual Festival Internacional de las Artes. The international art festival will host activities in San José, Alajuela, Puntarenas. Events will be held in seven theaters around San José as well as the major museums and main plaza.

French dancers will glide through the air on sky high type ropes, Chinese acrobats will balance precariously on top of each other, and martial artists will demonstrate fast paced Brazilian capoeira.
A main theme of this year's art boulevard is focused on the conservation of environment and water resources, several Costa Rican artists have created projects based on this issue.  Artists from at least 21 countries will perform and participate in the events which last until April 20.

This year's guest of honor is China. The Beijing youth opera will perform at Teatro Nacional Saturday and Sunday.

Other highlights are Spanish singer Rosario Flores, the Puerto Rican Cheo Feliciano and the Argentine group "Urban Shock," a multidisciplinary group that mixes drama, dance and unconventional percussion instruments. Antonio El Pipa and his flamenco group will perform at Teatro Nacional April 19 and 20.

The schedule for hundreds of other performances can be viewed at www.festivaldelasartescostarica.com


Frontier Airlines' parent company files for Chapter 11 reorgranization
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Frontier Airlines Holdings, Inc. reported early Friday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in New York.

The company said its principal credit card processor unexpectedly increased a hold back of customer receipts. Frontier Airlines Holdings, Inc. is the parent company of Frontier Airlines.

The airline operates a direct flight six days a week from San José to Denver, Colorado. The airline said that a full flight schedule will continue and that it will honor
reservations, and provide refunds and exchanges according to its normal policy.

"By filing for Chapter 11, we will now have the time and legal protection necessary to obtain additional financing and enhance our liquidity," said Sean Menke, Frontier president and CEO. "Fortunately, we believe that we currently have adequate cash on hand to meet our operating needs while we take steps to further strengthen our company."

Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States allows a company to reorganize. A company that chooses to liquidate files Chapter 13. Liquidation always is an option if the reorganization is not successful.


Sometimes a quick bus trip requires some originality
Normally, when I take a city bus to an appointment, a meeting or a date, I get there right on the dot.  Whoever is arriving by car, or with a different cultural attitude, may be late, but not me.  Saving money is important to me, so I travel by bus a lot. 

I have figured out how long it will take me to walk the four blocks to the bus stop (and which bus stop to walk to) and how long different buses will take me where I want to go.  And I have arrived on time without paying a cent, because I have bus passes.

Not so on Sunday.  I had plans and a ticket to attend the Sunday morning concert at the Teatro Nacional. On Sundays concerts start at 10:30 in the morning.  A very nice way to start a Sunday, in my opinion.

I had figured that if I left at 9:15, I would be there in more than enough time.  If I left at 9:30, I would make it comfortably.  I left at 9:30 because I couldn’t find my current bus book.  A bus book is a one I reserve for reading on buses and waiting in lines.  It must be small enough to fit in my purse and not add too much weight. 

My last two bus books, interestingly, were by two friends, “A Year with Carmen” by Mavis Biesanz and “Nona” by Ellen Boneparth.  Mavis’ book contains short stories about Costa Rica in both Spanish and English. “Nona” is the story of a childless woman who takes on the responsibility of being surrogate mother to and sponsoring the education of her goddaughter who happens to be a lively 15-year-old from a Greek Island.  I recommend both.

Back to my problems with getting to the theater on time.  By the time I found my book it was 9:30, and off I hurried.  I arrived at the bus stop to learn from the one waiting person that the Sabana Estadio had just left.

I waited for the next, counting the minutes.  Just as I was going to break down and get a taxi, the next one came.  We got to Sabana Oeste, about five blocks on the route,
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


when the bus driver stopped and told us all to get out. He was having engine problems.  By now it was 12 minutes to ten.  I waited five more minutes for the bus the driver said he had called.  Then I hailed a taxi.  But I took it only to Yamuni’s on Avenida 10 where my plan was to get the Sabana Cementerio bus across town, the one that was pulling away.

But wait!  Another bus was just pulling up.  I got on.  Unfortunately, we sat for four minutes waiting for more passengers.  Two stops later 40 people came running towards the bus.  I rang to get off, waiting for him to open the back door, but the bus driver ignored me.  I fought my way through the now standing overflow of passengers and told the driver I had to get off, then worked my way back to the rear exit.  I got off and began to walk and wave at every taxi.  Two blocks later a taxista stopped to pick me up.  It was 10 after 10.  “Teatro Nacional,” I said.  “Y estoy tarde.”

It was as if I had said, “Follow that get-away car!” We weaved and careened and honked and wiggled our way as we sped across town.  I loved his enthusiasm.  He dropped me at the Teatro at 10:20, the worse for wear, but once again, on time.   Well, ahead of me was a climb of three flights of stairs.  I save money even at the theater.  Today I did not save on transportation. 

 I sat in my second row seat in the gallery and opened my program.  The pianist that day was Maria Asteriadou from Greece.  I had a feeling she had an easier time getting to the theater than I did.  But, it’s all in a day’s living in Costa Rica.



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

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

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A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Three-day vacation quickly
becomes a four-day one


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those sounds you hear are the family cars headed to the beach again. Or maybe to Alajuela. Today is the unofficial start of a four-day weekend. Today is Juan Santamaría Day, and the commemoration of the Battle of Riva, Nicaragua, and the so-called Campaña Nacional, will be at 9 a.m. in Parque Juan Santamaría.

The Provincia de Alajuela, Santamaría's birthplace, will hold a fiesta at the Autódromo La Guácima. Included is a tope or horse gathering Saturday. There also will be rides, bulls and food.

Monday, which is a legal holiday, will see a rodeo at the fair grounds. This is one of those weekends where the holiday is celebrated on a Monday regardless of the actual date. Recognizing that many workers will take off Friday, too, the fair began Thursday at 4 p.m.

Santamaría is the national hero credited with setting fire to a strong point during the Battle of Rivas in 1856. The act cost him his life. Costa Rican soldiers were fighting the Nicaraguan forces of William Walker, the U.S. filibusterer who wanted to make himself ruler of Central America or at least bring some of the countries into the United States as slave territories.

Those who stay in town have the gallo pinto festival Sunday in Paseo Colón where the national breakfast dish will be produced by an army of professional chefs.

The three-day weekend play became law to help tourism, and this weekend is probably the last one where vacationers might be able to avoid afternoon rains.

Burn victim donations
reported up to $3,322


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Donations for Olga Efimenko and her mother, who was burned in a Santa Ana house fire, were up to $3,322, said Joanne Loewen, the donations coordinator.  The money will go to renting a house for Ms. Efimenko, until a new home can be constructed, said Ms. Loewen. It is uncertain whether the insurance policy will cover any of the burned house, which was bought under the name of Maria Tchereneva, Ms. Efimenko's mother.

The hospital is accepting donations for Ms. Tchereneva. Donations can be given at any hospital's blood bank, under the name Maria Tchereneva, said Ms. Loewen.

Ms. Efimenko, originally from Russia, had been working at the popular Santa Ana Rock & Roll Pollo restaurant for about two years, said coworkers. Ms. Loewen, a friend of Ms. Efimenko has been collecting donations with the help of local restaurants like Rock & Roll Pollo. Ms. Tchereneva, 86, was left severely burned after she tried to fight the fire, said a friend.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 11, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 72



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