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(506) 2223-1327           Published April 18, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 76             E-mail us
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Moín port project gets a green light from court
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government officials are applauding the decision by a court not to delay the Caribbean container terminal project.

The decision came from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, which officials said gives a green light to the $1 billion project. The central government also ready has designated the Dutch firm APM Terminals, as the concession holder for the project. The firm will build a state-of-the-art terminal which will compete with the government- owned docks that are considered highly inefficient. Casa Presidencial has said the project would bring 2,000 jobs to the poverty-ridden Caribbean coast.

The project is considered the key development to bring progress to the province of Limón.

However, in Costa Rica there always is another t to be crossed or an i to be dotted, so projects frequently are delayed or halted by the tribunal. Its role is to make sure that the government has followed its own rules.

In this case, the port project at Moín was challenged by the Cámara Nacional de Bananeros, which sought to delay the project because of alleged lack of financial and technical studies.

Francisco Jiménez Reyes, who is president of the  Consejo Nacional de Concesiones as well as minister of Obras Públicas y Trasnportes, said that the concession agreement has gone the correct route and has been approved by the Contraloría General de la República, the budget watchdog agency. He said the project would make Costa Rica more competitive. About 75 percent of the country's exports go through the Caribbean port.

Allan Hidalgo said that the new dock would bring
benefits to the region. He is president of the Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica, which runs the current docks. He said that the money raised from the port project would be converted into schools. high schools, roads and cultural projects.

APM Terminals operates an integrated global network of ports, terminals and inland services. This network has 53 ports in 32 countries, 121 inland facilities in 48 countries, with a total of 22,000 employees in 62 countries, the company said when it received the concession March 1.

The terminal will undergo phased expansion in accordance with provisions of the concession agreement. Upon the completion of the final phase, the terminal will have an area of 80 hectares, with 1,500 meters of pier, five berths, a 2.2-kilometer (1.4-mile) breakwater and an access channel 18 meters (59 feet) deep.

The company added that the dredging will permit the entry of larger ships with greater container capacity, creating economies of scale and that construction of the breakwater will counteract weather conditions that prevent normal functioning at the port of Moín and enable the terminal to operate 365 days a year.

Casa Presidencial said that the waiting time for ships to be loaded or unloaded would be reduced from sometimes five days to a day. The government said that the premises envisioned by the company would be one and a half times the size of Parque La Sabana.

Despite the upbeat response from public officials, more litigation is likely, including some kind of action by the current dockworkers union, which opposes the concession because its leaders believe it will reduce or eliminate the public docks.
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Rescue and police agencies
urging holiday precautions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police, fire officials and rescue agencies are united in encouraging vacationers to be safe over the Semana Santa holiday which began for some this weekend.

Although fires were down 8 percent during the Holy Week last year, there were some unusual increases, according to the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

Calls to the leakage of petroleum gas increased from 38 to 54 and rescues involving bee attacks went from an average of 202 to 223, said Bomberos. The fire department also urged those who use gas for cooking to perform safety checks on the connections and the cylinders. And it urged the obvious precaution of staying away from feral bee colonies.

Fire officials also said that holy week is a time for brush fires with more than 500 usually reported during the week.

In 2010 the department registered 1,156 calls during Semana Santa. Of these 660 were actual fires.

The Cruz Roja said last week that it handled five traffic deaths of the 23 deaths reported during the week.

The agency and the Policía de Tránsito spent Friday afternoon handing out explanatory literature to vacationers leaving the Central Valley.

Meanwhile, the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the highway agency, said that toll collections will be suspended on the autopistas at noon Thursday until 6 a.m. Saturday. The purpose is to increase the traffic flow for vacationers leaving the central city.

The Cruz Roja ambulances and rescue units converged at 6:30 p.m. at Parque Central where they sounded their sirens for a full minute as a reminder for holiday precautions.

Local and long-distance bus service is expected to stop at noon Thursday to resume at normal hours Saturday morning. Both Thursday and Friday are legal holidays.

Plans presented to four lane
San Carlos highway

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry has presented a new proposal that would expand the San Carlos highway from two to four lanes.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said it wanted to correct problems with the original design of the highway.

The changes are presented to the Contraloría General de la República, which is the budget watchdog.

Among the changes will be a connection of the new highway to the Bernardo Soto highway. The roadway is expected to cut in half the time of traveling from San José to San Carlos, which is the gateway to the northern zone.

The new road is expected to boot tourism to La Fortuna, the town near the Volcán Arenal. The ministry also said that 50 percent of the milk and 60 percent of the pineapple crop travel between the two points.

The ministry is planning to do the work with a $140 million allocated from the Asamblea Legislativa. The entire project, which is about 40 percent completed, has a price tag of $205 million.

The ministry said it was expecting a quick approval to the updates by the Contraloría.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 18, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 76
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Agents say pair tricked and preyed on high school girls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 46-year-old Tres Ríos man and a 22-year-old woman from Moravia have been detained on the allegation that they forced underage women into prostitution.

The pair were detained in separate arrests Friday.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that they recruited underage girls with the promise of modeling careers. In one case, the pair went to the home of one 16 year old and discussed the job opportunity with parents. Then they took the woman to a purported job interview where she was raped at gunpoint by the man and then told she had to return to the location in Guadalupe to service other men or be murdered, investigators alleged.

A 17-year-old high school student in Coronado was given the same treatment after she met the pair when she left classes, the agency said.

Agents said they have uncovered five additional cases with the same method of operation.

Agents said that the man, identified by the last names of Quesada Cubillo is a cost accountant by trade. He lived in a luxury home in Tres Ríos and that it appeared that the woman's sole relationship was to recruit victims. She was identified by the last names of Mondragón Granados.

Agents said that they confiscated two luxury vehicles, various portable computers, weapons and other evidence.

The arrests follow by two days a similar arrest of a 61-year-old central Pacific man, who has been detained on allegations that he was luring foreign women to Costa Rica and forcing them into prostitution.
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Agents escort Tres Río man on way to interrogation

The arrest took place Wednesday night when judicial agents raided and searched a location in Palmar Norte in the province of Puntarenas. Agents said they confiscated evidence including clothing.

The raid also confirmed the existence of 12 foreign women, including Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Colombians and Dominicans.

Agents said that the women were offered at a night club in the same community, but it was unclear if that is where the raid took place.

There were many more police officers than persons to stop and question about 10:30 p.m. Friday.
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Police put on a show of force in the heart of the tourism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For years the standard joke about downtown San José is that the police vanish with the setting sun.

That may not be totally accurate, but the intersection of Avenida 1 and Calle 9 did not usually have the police presence that provided the security North American tourists needed. The intersection is the center of nocturnal activity in San José and has three casinos, five bars and a dance club within a half block.

There was no shortage of police Friday night. They were there by the carload to conduct what they call an operation on the sidewalks. This is where tourists are confronted by
individuals purported selling cigars. But some sell much stronger products, and there always is the threat of a street crime.

All the police were Fuerza Pública, and they slowed traffic down and questioned and searched passersby.

The notorious street venders had vanished.

It did not appear that police entered any of the establishments or did they seem interested in persons leaving them.

A full account of the weekend activities probably will be announced today.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 18, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 76

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Poker Web sites rebound from seizures by U.S. government

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The three largest poker operations frozen Friday by the U.S. federal government wasted little time in getting back into business. The online operations are all offshore and all three have returned with .eu domain names.

The Costa Rican operation involved is Absolute Poker, based in Plaza Mayor, Rohrmoser. The primary Web site is now The online gambling business is operated by Blanca Games Inc., which says it is incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda. Blanca says it is licensed by the gaming commission of the  Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada.

Our opinion . . . HERE!

The two other firms are Full Tilt Poker, licensed by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission in the Channel Islands and PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhatten, New York, announced the unsealing of indictments Friday charging 11 defendants, including the founders of the three poker companies with bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses. The United States also filed a civil money laundering and forfeiture complaint against the companies, their assets, and the assets of several payment processors. In addition, restraining orders were issued against more than 75 bank accounts used by the poker companies and their payment processors, and five .com Internet domain names used by the companies to host their games were seized, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Scott Tom and Brent Beckley, both 31 and founders of Absolute Poker, were two of the 11 person indicted in the same action. Two other persons with Costa Rican ties, Bradley Franzen, 41, and Ira Rubin, 52, also were indicted. All are U.S. citizens. Federal authorities described Franzen and Rubin as highly compensated payment processors who helped the poker companies get around money transfer prohibitions in a 2006 U.S. law.

“These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck," said Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a release. "They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

The federal government was able to take over the domain names of the companies because the .com designations are administered in the United States

Full Tilt posted a message on its .eu Web site saying that it is "unable to accept 'real money' play from U.S. players; however, we continue to conduct business as usual in the rest of the world. Please be assured that your funds remain safe and secure."

The federal government posted a notice on the Absolute Poker site saying that the domain name had been seized by the FBI.
Absolute POker message
Federal message on former Absolute Poker Web site.

The Sidney, Australia, Morning Herald said the indictments were the result of inside information given by Daniel Tzvetkoff, who was arrested when he visited the United States a year ago. The newspaper said that the poker operators tipped FBI agents to Tzvetkoff's whereabouts because they had been feuding with his handling of their funds. Tzvetkoff, in turn, told federal agents all that he knew about the elaborate routes money was taking to get from the United States to the poker companies, the newspaper said.

Only three of the indicted individuals have been arrested. Eight were reported to be outside the United States. Frantzen was expected to appear in U.S. court in New York Tuesday.

Among those arrested is John Campos, vice chairman and part owner of SunFirst Bank in Saint George, Utah. Federal officials said that he processed payments for the poker sites in exchange for a $10 million investment in the struggling bank. He was arrested in his hometown. In Las Vegas, Nevada, FBI agents detained Chad Elie, who is accused of setting up the SunFirst deal for the poker firms. He, like Rubin, was identified as a funds processor.

Money received from U.S. gamblers was disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls, federal officials said. Of the billions of dollars in payment transactions that the poker companies tricked U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of the funds went directly to the poker companies as revenue through the rake charged to players on almost every poker hand played online, the officials said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said it is working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to secure the arrest of the other defendants and the seizure of criminal proceeds located abroad.

Also indicted were those associated with the poker firms located elsewhere: Isai Scheinberg, a Canadian and Israeli citizen whose address was listed as the Isle of Man; Raymond Bitar, who lives in California and Ireland; Nelson Burtnick, a Canadian; Paul Tate, resident of the Isle of Man, and Ryan Lang, a Canadian.

Most of the charges stem from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act that makes it a federal crime for gambling businesses to knowingly accept most forms of payment in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.

Federal officials might have difficulty in extraditing Tom, Beckley and Rubin if they still are in Costa Rica. This country only accepts extradition requests if the activities alleged represent crimes here. Online gambling is legal here. In addition Costa Rica does not extradite Costa Rican citizens, and one or more of the suspects may have acquired dual citizenship.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 18, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 76

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Mexican navy reports
capture of Zeta leader

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Mexican navy says it has captured the suspected leader of the Zetas drug cartel believed to be the mastermind behind the killings discovered recently in a group of mass graves in northeastern Mexico.

The navy said Saturday it has taken Martin Omar Estrada Luna into custody in San Fernando in Tamaulipas state where the remains of at least 145 people were found in graves last week. Five other people were arrested with him.

Mexican officials say Estrada Luna, also known as "El Kilo," is also believed to be involved in the massacre of 72 Central American migrants found shot to death last year in San Fernando.  The victims died because they were not prepared to serve as drug mules for the gang.

The Zetas began as a Mexican military unit that defected and began working with the Gulf cartel, based in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. The Zetas split from the Gulf cartel last year. The two groups are now fierce rivals. 

Raúl Castro proposes
term limits in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Raúl Castro has proposed term limits for Cuban politicians serving on the island nation that has been ruled for 52 years by him and his brother, Fidel.

In his opening address Saturday at the Congress for Cuba's ruling Communist Party, Raúl Castro said politicians should be limited to two five-year terms.  He gave few details of the restrictions.

The 1,000 delegates at the gathering, the party's first Congress in nearly 14 years, are expected to approve economic reforms proposed by Raúl Castro.

The four-day gathering also could serve to introduce a new generation of Cuban officials to replace the country's rulers for the last half-century, 79-year-old Raul and the ailing Fidel Castro, now 84.

Earlier Saturday, thousands of Cuban military personnel and civilians staged a parade to salute the 50th anniversary of Cuba's victory over the United States at the Bay of Pigs, and the nation's declaration of socialism.

As Raúl Castro waved and saluted from a reviewing stand, troops high-stepped through Havana's sprawling Revolution Plaza.  Many flag-waving civilians followed them, and fighter jets roared through sunny skies.

It was a celebration of key events in the country's past that served as a prelude to the congress for the ruling Communist Party.

The Bay of Pigs triumph is celebrated in Cuba as a landmark achievement over its powerful neighbor 145 kilometers to the north.  In April 1961, a force of 1,500 CIA-trained Cuban exiles supported by U.S. ships and planes came ashore at the Bay of Pigs in an effort to spark a counter-revolution against Fidel Castro's 1959 revolt that overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

But Fidel Castro rallied thousands of troops and citizens and routed the Bay of Pigs invaders within three days.  It was an embarrassing defeat for the new administration of then-U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

There was no sign of Fidel Castro at Saturday's celebration.

World Bank will focus
on food security, hunger

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Global food prices have risen by 36 percent in the past year, according to figures released this week by the World Bank. The Bank hosted its spring meetings in Washington this week, where it called on policymakers to focus on food security. Experts say that for many developing countries, that means supporting the interests of small farmers.

Outside the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C., a giant electronic display is tallying the number of chronically hungry people in the world today. As the digits tick up toward one billion, the World Bank is calling on policymakers to put food first.
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Free Internet jeopardized,
Freedom House study says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Cyberattacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over Internet infrastructure are among the diverse and growing threats to internet freedom, according to "Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media," a new study released today by Freedom House.

These encroachments on Internet freedom come at a time of explosive growth in the number of Internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past five years. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users, the study said.

“These detailed findings clearly show that Internet freedom cannot be taken for granted,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “Nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.”

"Freedom on the Net 2011," which identifies key trends in internet freedom in 37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009. "Freedom on the Net" evaluates each country based on barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of users’ rights.

The study found that Estonia had the greatest degree of Internet freedom among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran received the lowest score in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a ranking of Not Free, including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. A total of 9 of the 15 countries in the original pilot study registered declines over the past two years. Conditions in at least half of the newly added countries similarly indicated a negative trajectory. Crackdowns on bloggers, increased censorship, and targeted cyberattacks often coincided with broader political turmoil, including controversial elections.

Countries at Risk:As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

In response to the growing popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on these services or their equivalents.

Access to the internet in the United States remains open and free compared with the rest of the world, the study said. Users face very few restrictions on their ability to access and publish content online, and courts have consistently held that prohibitions against government regulation of speech apply to material published on the Internet. However, the United States lags behind many major industrialized countries in terms of broadband penetration and connection speeds, and the government’s surveillance powers are cause for some concern.

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