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(506) 2223-1327               Published Thursday, April 15, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 73        E-mail us
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
An herbal store, a clothing outlet and a well-ordered fruit and vegetable stand are on the malls
Pedestrian malls prove to be a boon to merchants
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The life of a downtown merchant is not always easy.

Parking for customers is a continual problem, the area sometimes attracts trouble and then aggressive young men come by and demand that you close your store.

That is what happened Wednesday when street venders launched a protest directed at the established merchants.

There are favorable aspects. Johnny Araya, San Jose's mayor, took a big chance over the last three years when he engineered the closing of main streets and turned them into pedestrian malls similar to the one that has been part of Avenida Central for years.

A spot check of merchants along the new malls Wednesday showed a strong belief that the pedestrian routes are good for business. Business owners and managers interviewed Wednesday said that their sales along the new pedestrian malls had increased from 35 to 100 percent.

The project not only closes the streets to traffic, but there is the placement of art works and other efforts to enhance the experience. Plus downtown employees use the vehicle-free routes in droves.

Araya and the municipal council closed off Avenida 4 from the La Soledad church on Calle 9 to Calle 12, almost to the La Merced church. Because of the way San José numbers its streets, the distance is 12 blocks. The municipality also continued the existing Avenida Central mall from the Mercado Central west to the start of Paseo Colón.

The status of the economic climate along the pedestrian malls came up in the Sala IV constitutional court because a businessman along Calle 9 with the last name of Carlutti presented the appeal to the court. The man said that a new mall project would damage his business on Calle 9 at Avenida 14. The municipality has plans to develop the area during the middle of this year into a Barrio Chino to attract Chinese businesses.

Carlutti is correct.

Grettle Marchena, a saleslady and administrator at the El Registro clothing store said that while the mall in front of her business was in construction sales dropped. But now, she said, sales have increased significantly.

Ángel Marchena Alvarado said that his store is new but sales have been good since the beginning. At the variety store La Favorita, the story was the same. Bluisa Gamez said that sales have increased 35 percent in comparison with the last six years.

Butcher Carlos Víquez runs the Carniceria Chanchito and has done so for more than 30 years on Avenida 4. He said sales are up 100 percent.

The face of Avenida 4 has changed and many older stores and newer ones have changed with it and made significant private improvements.

The variety of stores has increased, too. There are fruit stores, book sellers, food, of course, appliance stores, and some are in places where there were rundown structures.

The merchants still complain about the tramps.  
Pedestrian mall
The malls are wide and well drained


alcoholics and drug users who sometimes catch a nap on the public street. But with the reconstruction has come an improvement in public safety. The new malls do not have cramped sidewalks that can harbor and help thieves and other criminals. These conditions still exist in other parts of the city. The wide brick walkways of the malls do not force pedestrians into compromising situations.

Some problems continue. The municipality has been waging a low-keyed battle with the street vendors who pay no taxes and compete with the established firms that do.

This has been a long-standing problem in the city even after the municipality forced street vendors and their shacks off Avenida 8 and away from the vicinity of the Mercado Central. The vendors have taken over parts of the mall even to the extent of chalking in reserved spaces. The Policía Municipal frequently chases the vendors away. Many are not native Costa Ricans. Others use their presence on the street to sell drugs or counterfeit CDs and clothing.

The situation came to a head Wednesday when the vendors chose to show their muscle. Young men purporting to be vendors and their assistants roamed in packs along the malls and forced merchants to close their front metal shutters. The street vendors said that if they cannot sell in the city, they would not permit the established store to do so either.

Threatened with a crowd of surly young men at the door, nearly all the downtown retail businesses closed up. Sometimes the young men pulled down steel security shutters without any agreement from the merchants. The roving crowd blocked traffic on Avenida 2. Both the Fuerza Pública and the Policía Municipal did little more than stop the small confrontations that developed. The takeover of the main shopping streets was well organized and directed by men with whistles. The situation continued form 4:30 to about 6:30 p.m.

Security officials, knowing that President Óscar Arias Sánchez leaves office in three weeks are trying to avoid any bloodletting to mar his exit. That also is the reason they have been gentle with rampaging Universidad de Costa Rica students.

Still, the lack of police action in the face of a mob Wednesday generated strong criticism among the merchants who had to close their stores and from the Spanish-language news media.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 73

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University students, staff
to meet court president

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Universidad de Costa Rica students, upset that police entered campus Monday in pursuit of a suspect, will be marching to the Corte Suprema de Justicia today.

Afterwards, student leaders and university officials will meet with Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Supreme de Justicia, the Poder Judicial said Wednesday.

More met privately Wednesday with Yamileth González, the rector of the university.  It was then that she asked the court president to receive the delegation, the Poder Judicial said.

The supreme court has said that it does not recognize the type of autonomy that university officials say covers the San Pedro campus. Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, likened the university claim to the type of autonomy that the Vatican maintains with the nation of Italy.

The students engaged in a brawl with Fuerza Pública officers and Judicial agents Monday after the police chased a university traffic officer on the campus after they tried to trap him in a bribe attempt. Police were blocked by some student leaders, and the brawl ensued. Five persons, including two professors, were detained briefly.

The march today is certain to slow downtown traffic. Officials hope that the student effort will not degenerate into the firebombing and burning blockade that took place Tuesday night near the university. Most at the university have distanced themselves from that protest.

Queen's birthday Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British and freinds will be celebrating the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II Saturday at the ambassador's residences in Los Lareles, Escazú.

The theme this year is rock and roll. The event begins at 9 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m. The birthday celebration is a charity event where the money raised from food and other sales goes to Costa Rican schools in need.  Tickets are available at the entrance.


Our reader's opinion
Does someone have agenda
in egging on young protesters


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
On university campuses are where are found hot blooded youth, charged with emotions, like gatherings where energies can be released, rebellious by nature, long on intelligence, short on understanding the world, believers in myths. These seem to the ingredients that sparked the confrontation this past Monday when investigative police, judicial agents, entered the campus of the University of Costa Rica in hot pursuit of a criminal.

“Get out here. This is our territory. We are autonomous, says so in the Constitution.” These were some of the phrases shouted by the angry students at the cops as they moved in to make the arrest. Pushing, shoving, wrestling to ground, and into the paddy wagon went some of the rebellious students.  No head cracking; cops were without clubs. Nearby streets, including a principle artery, the ring road, were blocked for several hours, an inconvenience for hundreds of motorists and buses.

Into the fray come professors, university workers, and finally the administration; the dean appears. All say this is our turf. If you want to catch a criminal on the university grounds, you have to coordinate with US.

That’s where the myths come in. The Constitution does say that is that state universities are autonomous . . . in the administration, but not sovereign, as in territory, so the cops can enter, and they did.

Still believers in myths, or now simply wanting to continue to express mindless youthful exuberance, or maybe something else, the following day, another protest is formed. This time demanding the resignation of the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization. OK, whatever. Maybe, beer allowed on campus, or an exam-free semester.

However, this Tuesday protest is different. Masked protesters, people not part of the university, burning tires, and looking for a fight. Could it be that now someone is has an agenda to forward, like giving the outgoing President Arias a smear his international peace reputation when some protester does get his head bloodied by the riot control police, who came armed with helmet, shields, and clubs.
Robert Nahrgang S.
Escazí

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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.

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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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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.

Advertising information
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 73

Our reader's opinion
Lack of security threatens Costa Rica's expat economy

By Eric Wilkinson*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

My wife I have lived on the beach in Guanacaste for almost four years now. We planned our move for six years and after retiring, we purchased our dream home near the beach and came down to spend the rest of our days in the sun and surf.

Our first year here we were robbed twice, once while we slept in our home. Our car has also been broken into numerous times. To date we have had jewelry, televisions, computers, a car, and many other items stolen. Everyone we know, not only in Tamarindo, but in other parts of Costa Rica as well, have been robbed, most more than once. We installed an expensive alarm system and hired armed response in our second year — that worked for a while but they still try.

My problem is not the crime rate per se, but the lack of Costa Rican laws and actions against home invasions and robbery or theft. If anyone out there does not know it, if you catch a thief inside of your house (and don't get killed in the process) the laws in Costa Rica only allow for that person to be held for up to six hours by the police. After that they must be released. The police have told me that they are also scared if they arrest some of these criminals, as they and their families lives are being threatened. I have personally been threatened that if I filed a denuncia, they would kill me and my family. That was in front of police, who did nothing about it.
    
Last month my wife was sitting in the living room watching TV when she saw a man climb over our 10-foot wall into our yard. Calling for me upstairs, she opened the door to yell at him. By the time I got downstairs he had attacked her and was fleeing. I called the local police, then chased the car down, which had the man and two getaway drivers in it. We caught them, and the police arrested them. The car had three Columbian men in it, who, I found out later were awaiting trial for numerous other burglaries and assaults, had no tags on their car, and had expired visas. Guess what? The police had to let two of the three go because it is "not a crime" to drive the getaway car.
    
Because of this situation, we along with many of our neighbors have had our houses alarmed and hired an armed response provider. The security company was operating 
effectively until Tuesday when the municipality of Santa Cruz shut down their office for not properly displaying their business permit in the window. No warning, no fine, just locked the doors, leaving us all vulnerable. Needless to say, there was a lot of nervousness last night, and anger. Seems the municipality is concerned that we are finally protected.
    
My question: Why does Costa Rica insist on protecting the criminals when it should be protecting the innocent people who are being victimized daily by runaway crime? Instead of releasing criminals three hours after they are caught in the act, driving a stolen car with no tags, and not carrying identification, why not make it a crime to break and enter and hold them for prosecution? Why not make it a crime to hold and sell stolen property? Why not punish violent criminals, instead of letting them go in an hour or two.

It is a crime punishable with prison time to injure someone driving DUI, but will they get prison time if they injure someone during an assault or a home invasion? I have seen how the system works, and, unfortunately, the answer is probably not. As a matter of fact, if I harm someone while protecting my home, I stand as good a chance of going to prison as they do, according to the police.
    
In our Guanacaste neighborhood, many expats either have moved away or are moving, some back to the U.S. or Europe, some to Panamá and other countries. I estimate that we alone have contributed well over $1.5 million to the economy here, as had our neighbors. Costa Rica had enjoyed a boom for a few years. Now they are risking my family and many others simply leaving, 100 percent because of the lack of security or law. That is a far worse blow to this economy than the temporary lack of tourists. A single family like mine probably contributed as much to the economy here as about 1,000 tourist families (by ICT's estimates of tourist spending).  I personally know at least 20 families who have moved recently, citing lack of security in Costa Rica as one of the reasons.

We all love Costa Rica, that is why we moved here. But security for your family is a basic human right in any country.
 
*Mr. Wilkinson Initially did not want his opinions published, but he changed his mind when the municipality shut down the local private guard service.


High criminal court upholds sentences for casino killers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Criminal appeals court magistrates have confirmed the five-decade prison sentences handed out to two men who kidnapped three casino employees, killed one and raped and tried to kill the other two.

The Tribunal de Juicio de Pavas sentenced Carlos Mena Jiménez to 193 years and Christian Mora Cantillano to 179 years. They were convicted Oct. 13 of the horrific robbery, abduction, murder and rapes of the three employees of the Jazz Casino in the White House Hotel in San Antonio de Escazú. As with most prison sentences, the case had to be reviewed and confirmed by the Sala Tercera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

Despite the long sentences, Costa Rica law limits the prison term to 50 years each.

The men intercepted a car containing the three women as they left work early Oct. 28, 2008. Murdered was Yerlyn
Marín Salazar, then-24 and the mother of a 6 year old.

The three women were abducted, and then Ms. Marín was forced to kneel in a roadside ditch where she was shot in the head. That took place near San Antonio de Belén. The two other women, the victim's older sister, Arelis, then-28, and work companion Angie Peraza Fernández, then-25, were taken to automatic tellers and then to a motel where they were assaulted and then individually ordered out of a car for execution.

The sister had suffered a bullet wound in the neck at a site near the Autopista Próspero Fernández. Ms. Peraza lost an eye from a bullet wound to her head.

Both men were said to be high on drugs and under the influence of alcohol when they intercepted a car. After their arrest just three days later, mostly based on the testimony of the two survivors, agents found the cell phone of a robbery victim who had been gunned down in another crime. Agents also found the car used in the crime.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 73

Escazú Christian Fellowship
xx
Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church


Another Escazú fraudster gets a lengthy stay in Club Fed

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Dilraj "Rosh" Mathauda was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard in Miami to a term of 115 months in prison and five years of supervised release for illegally operating a series of Costa Rica-based business opportunity fraud ventures, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced. A hearing to determine the amount of restitution owed by Mathauda will be scheduled within 90 days.

Mathauda, a British citizen, pleaded guilty Jan. 13 in Miami federal court to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He was arrested last July 30 following his indictment by a Miami federal grand jury on June 9. The indictment charged that Mathauda and his co-conspirators sold beverage and greeting card business opportunities, including assistance in establishing, maintaining, and operating such businesses.

The charges form part of the government’s continued nationwide crackdown on business opportunity fraud.

Mathauda worked for USA Beverages Inc. and Omega Business Systems Inc. Beginning in 2005, USA Beverages sold business opportunities to own and operate coffee beverage display racks. USA Beverages rented office space in Las Cruces, N.M., to make it appear to potential purchasers that USA Beverages’ operations were fully within the United States. However, USA Beverages actually operated from Escazú and La Sabana.

Mathauda also worked for Omega, a Wisconsin and Florida corporation, that in 2007 and early 2008 sold business opportunities to own and operate greeting card display
racks. Omega rented office space in Madison, Wis., to make it appear to potential purchasers that Omega’s operations were fully within the United States. However, Omega actually also operated from Costa Rica as well.

To fraudulently induce others to purchase the business opportunities, Mathauda and his co-conspirators made, and caused others to make, numerous false statements to potential buyers. Potential purchasers were falsely told that the companies were established years earlier, had a significant number of distributors across the country, and had a track record of success. Potential purchasers were referred to references who told false tales of their success as business opportunity owners. Through these and other misrepresentations, purchasers of the business opportunities were led to believe that they would likely earn substantial profits.

Many of the victims were retirees

"As the prison sentence the court ordered in this case demonstrates, business opportunity fraud is a serious crime," said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "This sort of scheme can and does cause major financial hardship for consumers who are trying to start a business and earn a living."

"This sentence illuminates our zeal to bring justice to those who threaten American consumers," said the U.S. postal inspector in charge, Henry Gutierrez, based in Miami. "The U. S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Justice and all their law enforcement partners are dedicated to ensuring tough and appropriate consequences for those who opt to engage in these criminal scams."


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 73

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Whale meat in Seoul, L.A.
linked to Japan's catches


By the University of Oregon news service

An international team of Oregon State University scientists, documentary filmmakers and environmental advocates has uncovered an apparent illegal trade in whalemeat, linking whales killed in Japan’s controversial scientific whaling program to sushi restaurants in Seoul, South Korea, and Los Angeles, California.

Genetic analysis of sashimi served at a prominent Los Angeles sushi restaurant in October of 2009 has confirmed that the strips of raw meat purchased by filmmakers of the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Cove,” came from a sei whale, most likely from Japanese “scientific whaling.”

“The sequences were identical to sei whale products that had previously been purchased in Japan in 2007 and 2008, which means they not only came from the same area of the ocean – but possibly from the same distinct population,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, who conducted the analysis.

“And since the international moratorium on commercial hunting, there has been no other known source of sei whales available commercially other than in Japan,” Baker added. “This underscores the very real problem of the illegal international trade of whalemeat products.” The moratorium began in 1986.

Results of the study were published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“The Cove” director Louie Psihoyos and assistant director Charles Hambleton gained the attention of international news media recently by covertly filming the serving of whale products at The Hump restaurant. Following initial identification of the samples taken from the restaurant, the products were turned over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement division and in March, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against the restaurant, which since has closed.

Baker said the samples taken from The Hump cannot conclusively be linked to an individual whale because genetic identity records of animals killed through Japan’s scientific whaling are not released by the Japanese government. In their paper in Biology Letters, Baker and 10 co-authors – including “The Cove” filmmakers – call for Japan to share its DNA register of whales taken from that country’s scientific whaling program.

“Our ability to use genetics as a tool to monitor whale populations around the world has advanced significantly over the past few years,” Baker said, “but unless we have access to all of the data – including those whales killed under Japan’s scientific whaling – we cannot provide resource managers with the best possible science.

“This is not just about better control of whaling itself,” Baker added, “but getting a better handle on the international trade of whale products.”

In their paper published in Biology Letters, lead author Baker and colleagues from the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements also report on 13 whale products purchased at a sushi restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, during two 2009 visits. The sushi was part of a mixed plate of “whale sashimi,” and genetic testing by Baker and OSU’s Debbie Steel determined that four of the products were from an Antarctic minke whale, four were from a sei whale, three were from a North Pacific minke whale, one was from a fin whale, and one was from a Risso’s dolphin.

Further testing by collaborators from Seoul National University confirmed the individual identity of the whale products by DNA profiling.

The DNA profile of the fin whale meat from the Seoul restaurant genetically matched products purchased by Baker’s colleague, Naoko Funahashi, in Japanese markets in 2007 – strongly suggesting it came from the same whale.

“Since the international moratorium, it has been assumed that there is no international trade in whale products,” Baker said. “But when products from the same whale are sold in Japan in 2007 and in Korea in 2009, it suggests that international trade, though illegal, is still an issue. Likewise, the Antarctic minke whale is not found in Korean waters, but it is hunted by Japan’s controversial scientific whaling program in the Antarctic.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 73


Latin American news
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Gates visiting Perú denies
he seeks a U.S. base there


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Peruvian counterpart, Defense Minister Rafael Rey, say they did not discuss the controversial possibility of establishing an American military base in Perú during talks in Lima Wednesday.  But they did discuss other ways to expand military cooperation, particularly in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.

Minister Rey said they discussed increasing all kinds of cooperation, but not the establishment of a U.S. base.

There has been speculation that the United States might seek a new base in South America, after it lost its base at Manta in Ecuador last year.  But Rey said the goal is to deepen the defense relationship, not to station U.S. troops in Perú.

Secretary Gates said the United States is prepared to increase efforts to interdict boats and aircraft that carry illegal drugs in the region, and potentially to provide other help as well.  But he said the U.S. military is not looking to establish a permanent presence in Peru. "I think the key here, as we look to the future, is how can we  best work together, along with Colombia, in the counter-narcotics arena.  We clearly want to do that in a way that is comfortable and politically acceptable for our partners," he said.

Gates also stressed that his visits this week to Peru and Colombia, and his participation in a Caribbean security summit in Barbados, are not aimed at any other country, an apparent reference to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez is highly critical of the United States and is moving to improve his relationship with another country critical of the United States, Iran.

Peru's defense minister criticized Chavez, saying that his policies have led to Venezuela's economic problems, and calling on him to respect Peru's rights, including its right to expand its relationship with the United States.

Gates called the relationship robust and vitally important to both countries.


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