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(506) 223-1327             Published  Thursday, April 12, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 72            E-mail us    
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Nation's criminals will be going online with consolidated data base
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials will inaugurate today a consolidated data base that will provide detailed information about people involved in the justice system.

Several agencies, including the Judicial Investigating Organization, have computer systems, but until now there has not been a uniform set up. Eventually officials hope to expand the data base throughout the country.

Luis Paulino Mora, the president of the  Corte Suprema de Justicia, will be among those at the inaugural ceremony. In Costa Rica, the criminal investigations are handled by functionaries of the court, principally the Judicial Investigating Organization in conjunction with the Ministerio Público, the prosecutorial agency.

Under the new system, police, prosecutors and judges will be able to learn the criminal record of an individual and pending cases. They will be able 
to generate a report, including identifying information and photographs, according to the Poder Judicial. With luck, a law enforcement worker will be able to tap into the entire criminal archives.

Also involved in the system will be the various agencies that are part o f the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. these include the Fuerza Públicas, the drug police, tourism police and immigration agents.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has had an internal system that tracks open cases for years. But the use of computers by law enforcement is far behind the standards in many other countries.

Only in the last five years did modern computers with Internet access reach the prosecutors and the investigators.  And such tools are not normally found outside of San José.

Some computer systems have been donated by the United States and Great Britain.

snow is san jose
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Almost like snow!

Except for a few flakes every couple of years at the highest points in the country, Costa Rica never sees snow.

The next best thing is the rain of blossoms from various trees, in this case the pink flowering roble de sabana, an ornamental tree  that can be found all over the nation. The scene here is Parque Morazán with its distinctive and historic band structure on San José north side.

The blossoms may be a pain for municipal workers who have to pick them up, but this is about the closest a Costa Rican can get to walking in a winter wonderland.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 72

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Castro girl on new leg
Ericka Castro, 7, beams at Juan Santamaría airport where she returned after getting a new left leg at Shriners Orthopedic Hospital for Children in Shreveport, Louisiana. The girl, who suffered from a birth defect, traveled under the auspices of the  Shriners Club de Costa Rica. With her is  Frank Siaca, who accompanied the girl and her mother. Her story appeared HERE.

Law to protect women faces
another Sala IV legal review

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed law that is supposed to protect women from their mates probably will go to the Sala IV constitutional court again.

Members of the Movimiento Libertario are collecting signatures from legislators to do exactly that.

The law passed 43-7 Monday, but some lawmakers have having second thoughts. The measure sets a penalty of 35 years in prison for a man who kills his mate. In addition there are criminal penalties for insulting a wife. The law only applies to crimes against wives or common law wives.

Some lawyers consider the law discriminatory. Arcelio Hernandez Mussio, a lawyer with offices in Jacó, said in a letter to A.M. Costa Rica that is is an insult to say that the murder of a woman is a social problem but the murder of a man is not.

He said he considered the law anti-Christian and the product of radical feminism.

The law languished in the legislature for six years until the Arias administration elevated it to No. 1 position for the first of two votes. During times when the executive branch calls the legislature to meet, the president can determine the measures that will be considered.

Costa Rican law provides for advisory opinions by the constitutional court on proposed laws. Libertarians will have to get 10 signatures. The proposed law already has been to the high court six times. In each case, the court asked for changes.

Some legislative deputies who have concerns about the law still voted for it and have refrained from making comments because they hope the Sala IV will find the measure to be discriminatory. But the deputies do not want to anger the feminist lobby group.

The Arias administration moved the measure into first place after a flurry of murders in which men killed their companions.  Some 30 women died as a result of domestic violence in 2006, officials said.

The legislature was planning to take a final vote on the proposal today, but that vote probably will be put off to await the Sala IV decision, if the Libertarians get enough signatures.

European Union demanding
tests of shrimp and tilapia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is working to meet the requirements of the European Union, which has cut off shipments of cultivated shrimp and tilapia.

The Ministerio de Producción (formerly Agricultura) said that one holdup is that the laboratory facilities needed to meet EU requirements do not exist in this Central Americas. The Europeans want analyses of hormones, heavy metals and antibiotics, said the ministry. There also needs to be a revamping of processing facilities and more controls on quality, said the ministry.

Officials are trying to find an international lab that would do the analyses of residues or lack of residues in the food products that the EU requires.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 72

Whales won

Whale lovers were at the Embassy of Nicaragua Wednesday to urge officials to vote against Japan in the International Whaling Commission. Japan wants to hunt 1,000 more whales, supposedly for scientific reasons.

The protest was carried on at other embassies, and seemed to have an effect in that Nicaragua said later in the day that it would vote against lethal scientific research.

The Nicaraguan government noted the value of whales to tourism.

whale protest
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

TV show on immigrants points out demographic divisions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A television news series this week was designed to show the availability of sex and drugs among San José immigrant community.

But the series went a long way to showing the sections of the city immigration groups have staked out.

The Channel 6 Repretel report was thin on anything new, but a reporter used a hidden camera to explore those areas where most North Americans probably should avoid.

The report showed that competition and antagonisms exist among these groups. In one strip club a dancer pointed out that only Costa Rican women and Nicaraguan women work there to the exclusion of Dominicans and Colombians.

The report overlooked the growing Haitian population that is displacing Dominicans in the northwest Paseo de la Vaca area.

Also included was a segment on North Americans and their access to drugs and sex in the Avenida 1 and Calle 9 tourist zone. But most of the three-day report was on
illegal immigration and immigrants from countries with Spanish-speaking populations.

Colombians were said to dominate in the area north and west of Parque Morazán North and west of that was the area around the Mercado Borbón where the Dominicans and Haitians have settled.

The distribution of the populations may not be by choice but simple a refection of apartment rents in the various areas. Venezuelans and North Americans usually have more money and live in residential areas west of the city.

Despite the concerns voiced by the television series, the downtown areas are lower in serious crime than Avenida 2 and the Avenida 4-Calle 2 red zone.

A feature Wednesday in the television series was a hidden camera discussion with an immigration lawyer, who said that he could fix up an immigrant with a Costa Rican wife for $600. Fake marriages represent one technique immigrants use to obtain legal status here. The television station hid the face of this lawyer.

Immigration officials are not known to use hidden cameras and undercover efforts to root out crooked lawyers.

Arias admininstration puts weight behind Alajuela university
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez gave a push to a proposed  Universidad Técnica de Alajuela Wednesday when he and his cabinet met in that province.

The nation's public higher education institutions oppose the creation of a new university, but they also have taken strong stands against the proposed free trade treaty with the United States, which Arias supports.

So Arias no only came out in favor of the new university, his finance minister said that there is land available and money for the proposed institution.

The meeting was in the Teatro Municipal de Alajuela. The
meeting there is a traditional even each year because Wednesday was Juan Santamaría day, a celebration of the heroic action of the Alajuela native in 1856 at the Battle of
 Rivas in which he sacrificed his life. There was the
 traditional parade and even another protest against the trade treaty.

Guillermo Zúñiga, minister of Hacienda, said that some 2 billion colons (about $3.8 million) would be earmarked for the new university and that the land would be ready whenever the university was ready to accept it.

The creation of a new public university requires a vote of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Costa Rica has the Universidad de Costa Rica, which is in San Pedro but maintains a branch in Alajuela, among others. There is the Universidad Nacional in Heredia and the Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica in Cartago. Also in the public arena is the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, a correspondence institution.

An agricultural technical school in Atenas is seeking university status, and there are about 30 private universities.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 72

Emphasis on ethanol changes agricultural fundamentals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela are criticizing President Geroge Bush's call to increase biofuel production, because of what they say is the potential impact on food supplies beyond U.S. borders. The drive for biofuels is changing agriculture in several countries that have embraced the trend, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

In a pair of editorials in the Cuban state-run newspaper, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro lashed out at the United States for threatening global food supplies. The writings were his first since he withdrew from his leadership duties in July, as he underwent surgery, and they suggest he may be returning to his political duties.  In the editorial, Castro complained that U.S. policies are driving up the price of food staples like corn.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, also has criticized U.S. plans to increase ethanol production, saying it will take away food from the poor to, in his words, fuel "rich people's cars." His country is a major petroleum suppier.

U.S. officials have not responded to the claims from Chavez or Castro, who are frequent critics of U.S. policy.

But Jorge Pinon, the former president of Amoco Oil's Latin American operations, says the attacks are entirely political.

"I think people are just making more of this issue than there really is," he explained.  "It's politically motivated, because in no way is it going to take food out of the mouths of the world's poor."

Instead, Pinon says sugar-producing countries like Cuba should embrace the trend, and begin producing more sugar for the regional ethanol market. In Brazil, ethanol made from sugar cane is now widely available for automobiles, while corn is the basis of the U.S. program.

Around the region, farmers are hoping to take advantage of the increasing demand for crops used to make ethanol, and they are starting to see higher prices for their goods, says Sarah Ladislaw, a fellow in the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"Is ethanol demand in the United States right now putting an upward pressure on corn prices? I think it is," he said.  "But what you're seeing in turn, is that corn farmers are planning on producing a lot more corn in the next few years to keep up with that demand."

This year, U.S. farmers are expected to increase land used to raise corn by 15 percent, says Ford Runge, director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Minnesota. The result is that vegetable sellers are beginning to have trouble finding farmers to grow sweet corn, beans and other foods.

"They can't get anybody to grow those things this year, because everyone wants to grow corn for ethanol," he noted.  "So, that's going to drive the prices of those products up, as well."

Runge says the rising prices of corn and other foods will hurt American consumers, but the impact on global prices will be even more serious for people in poor nations. Already, higher prices of corn for the corn-based staple, tortillas, have sparked protests in Mexico.

U.S. officials say crop-based ethanol is only one part of the current plan to expand alternative energy sources aimed at lowering the nation's dependence on imported oil. President Bush has also called for more research into producing cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and other products that are not part of the food supply.

Ford Runge says the technology behind cellulosic ethanol is still a few years away.

"Although cellulosic alternatives are important, and potentially feasible in the next five, or more likely 10 years, they really don't respond to the immediate crisis being created by the corn and soybean-based craze," he explained.

Runge and other experts say one important way to reduce pressure on crop prices is to cut government subsidies to millions of U.S. farmers. The Bush administration is backing a current bill in Congress that would end payments to some farmers. But lawmakers are expected to resist any efforts to make broad cuts to farm subsidy programs. 

Some movement reported in efforts to restart world trade discussions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Senior trade officials from the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India met Wednesday in New Delhi, India, to break the deadlock over global trade talks.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters that the differences are slowly narrowing.

The Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks is stalled over demands for rich nations to cut agricultural subsidies that make it difficult for farm products from poor nations to compete.  Rich nations want poor nations to
 boost access to their markets for goods from developed nations.

The talks include some of the largest developed nations and some of the largest developing countries.  Getting an agreement among these trading powers is a key step toward crafting an agreement acceptable to the rest of the World Trade Organization's 150 members.

Today officials will meet for the first talks between all four key members of the World Trade Organization since negotiations broke down last July over differences on farm subsidies.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 72

Game of baseball continues to make inroads around world
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The American major league baseball season is in full swing in North America.  But the game some call America's pastime is also growing in popularity around the world. 

While many see baseball as a uniquely American sport, baseball has its roots in the English game cricket, which also involves a pitcher, batter and running bases to score.  To some, baseball can be a slow-paced game.  Between pitches, fielders stand around and catchers hold conferences with the pitcher on the mound.   Exciting plays are few and infrequent.

Yet baseball remains a popular sport.  The game's fans say its seemingly slow pace is part of its charm, allowing spectators to relax and enjoy the day.  Mike Allen is head coach of a high school baseball team in Virginia, the Yorktown Patriots.  Allen says baseball will always appeal to some sports fans.

"It's not just a physical game.  It takes the mental and physical.  Anybody likes that, this is the game for them," he says.

The Patriots also recently played their opening day game.  Not as many fans or as much fanfare as in the big leagues, but enthusiasm for the game is there.

At all levels of baseball, ethnic diversity has become commonplace.  Since Jackie Robinson broke the color
barrier in 1947 to become the first black player in the U.S. major leagues, black and Hispanic players have become an integral part of the game.  In recent years, more Asians are playing in the majors too, further increasing the game's popularity in that part of the world.

Washington Nationals' starting pitcher Shawn Hill has played baseball in the U.S. and abroad.  He says the sport can flourish wherever the climate will permit.

"You could go anywhere in the world that's got some warm weather, a nice climate,” Hill says.  “You can start building, you know, from the ground up, start going with the young kids.   It will take years, obviously, but the Middle East, anywhere in Africa."

And baseball is even making inroads in Iran.  Mehrdad Hajian, head coach of Iran's national baseball team, says despite limited resources and equipment, provincial Iranian teams play summer and winter tournaments, often on converted cricket or soccer fields.

Florida Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez says major league baseball is trying to become a truly global sport.  "I think the world's open.  I think major league baseball is trying to do that, captivate all the talent, all around the world," he says.

In Costa Rica baseball is not as popular as in other Latin countries. But teams can be seenin action Sundays at Parque La Sabana and elsewhere in the Central Valley.

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