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(506) 2223-1327              Published Monday, April 19, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 75        E-mail us
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There's no truce in fight against burglars, intruders
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Each day at least three home robberies or burglaries take place in which the crooks are able to foil the property's security system, according to statistics of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The majority of the cases take place when no one is home.

According to Fernando Solís, the figure of three crimes a day only relates to cases where homeowners file police complaints. He said there are many others that never are reported officially. He is the man in charge of the Sección de Robos of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

"The crooks are continually changing their techniques to get into houses and to defeat the security systems," said Solís. "Some are specialists in deactivating alarms, destroying the portones and locks as well as entering with force with weapons and threatening the people to steal everything."

The Judicial Investigating Organization data shows that there are three principal ways the crooks attack homes:

• They come in during the day when the owner is not there. They frequently pretend to be workers for a moving company.

• They break into a home at night fully armed and beat up those inside.

• They disconnect the alarm system, break through the portones or make their entry via the roof during the night.

The prime time for criminal activity is between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., according to investigators. This makes police response difficult, and the crooks can speed away when the streets have little traffic.

Sergio Villegas is chief of operations of the private security firm Comandos Delta. He explained that where his company operates there are luxury homes, mostly in urban areas, and the burglaries are few. But the company has seen isolated cases.

He said that among the robberies that gained a lot of attention was one in Residencial Torres de Palermo in San Pablo de Heredia. There four men were dressed as employees of the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia, the local utility company. They sacked a home and then returned for a second visit, he said.

The security firm of ADT specializes in alarms. Carlos Monge, director of security, said that although such companies try to provide the latest technology in security, the crooks also have the latest techniques to deactivate the system and enter the homes.

"In the case of security with alarms, we respond to at least two cases a night in which the crooks tried to get in the home and fled when they heard the alarm," said Monge. "We have responded
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many times where we find the crook still inside the property when none of the occupants is home."

Last month in Residencial Bosques de Lindora in Santa Ana, three men broke through the security of a condominium and breeched the porton or metal gate of a home occupied by a former Cuban soldier with combat experience. The 45-year-old man confronted the crooks. One of the crooks died later from a head wound delivered accidentally by one of his companions.

In that case, the crooks ripped through the built-in lock on the porton of the home and were able to get in.

The general opinion of the investigator and the security employees is that homes with alarms, electric portones and big locks are targeted the least by thieves. But there is no guarantee.

Some expats have begun to install safe rooms or panic rooms in their homes. Many times these are specially fortified bedrooms that give homeowners a measure of security while they sleep. One private investigator said that he has helped in the planning of several such rooms for expats who want more security than portones or locks on their doors.

Many of the crimes, particularly those involving expats, suggest that the crooks had detained information on the home, perhaps from a domestic employee or from observation. In one high-profile case involving a former presidential candidate crooks got into the Rohrmoser home when the wife returned home and opened the gate on the parking area. The intruders killed a domestic worker inside the home, killed a neighbor watching from across the street and roughed up the wife.

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Our reader's opinion
No trouble in Tamarindo
during 11 years living there

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As I read Mr. Wilkinson's letter regarding his family's experience in Guanacaste, I asked myself "where are they living?"  The article led me to believe that it's beachfront or near the beach in the Tamarindo area. If that is the case, his experience has been so different from ours that we seem to be talking about two different worlds.

In the almost 11 years that my husband and I have owned a home two blocks from a beach about 15 minutes from Tamarindo, we've NEVER had a break-in or been victims of a crime of any kind. We've also never had an alarm system (unless you count the 10-pound dachshund noise-maker we added to the household last year), and certainly not an armed response service. Nothing other than a chain-link fence covered with hibiscus, an electric driveway gate and a buzzer. The latter two items are purely for convenience. Ours is a nice community where our neighbors are primarily U.S., Canadian, Swiss and other expats, as well as part-time residents from those and other countries.  I know of NO neighbors who have moved due to security problems. Most of our neighbors had their homes built two to 10 years ago and continue to live in them.

On the other hand, we bought a nice second home in an upscale San José suburb last year, which we foolishly let sit empty for three months.  We arrived at the house on a Saturday, left the next morning to buy razor wire in San José for the top of a wall and had driven no more than half an hour when a policeman called my cell phone.  He asked us to come home because he thought the belongings the police had found were ours.

How did the police have our cell number in a town where we knew no one and had lived less than 24 hours?  They had called the previous owners in the U.S., who gave them our contact info.  They had detained a man who set off a silent alarm in the house across the street before falling asleep drunk on a sofa, having left a trail of luggage and clothes from that house back to ours. He had jumped our wall, broken a window, repacked all of our suitcases, thrown them over the wall, and entered the house where he found a liquor cabinet. He had $5K+ of our belongings in his possession, had clearly broken into two homes, and had a police record. They held him in jail for four months until his trial.  We cooperated, provided an inventory, receipts, signed the paperwork charging him, and agreed to give a deposition or testify at trial.  At least twice in four months, the prosecutor called to follow up with my husband, who was prepared to give a deposition, but the defendant pleaded guilty before trial and was sentenced to 6 years, 8 months prison time.

We've never experienced any type of crime at the beach in 10+ years, but one day after moving into a house in a San José suburb, we had a break-in, However, who could have asked for police officers and a justice system anywhere to have done more? Catch the guy, track us down, hold our belongings at the house until we arrive, return everything to us the next day, hold the criminal, charge him, build a case, eventually get a confession without costing Costa Rica for a trial, and sentence him to more than six years in prison.

When I lived in the U.S., my home there was robbed and vandalized three times during an eight-month period before the thieves were finally caught, though no thanks to the police.  Every time I cleaned up the mess, had the carpets cleaned or replaced, the walls repainted, and purchased new TV's, appliances, and electronics, the same group of young adults came back to shop at my house for brand new things to sell, pawn or trade for drugs, as it turned out.  After the second robbery, when the police were unsuccessful in obtaining any leads, I had someone watch the house when I was out of town, which was when the thieves had previously struck. After only a few nights, they were spotted in the house, the police called and their crime spree at my house ended.  But, only one of the five thieves went to jail. The other four were either minors, didn't have a sufficiently serious police record, or for whatever reason received probation or suspended sentences.  I lost so many things that had sentimental value and were irreplaceable, but more importantly I lost peace of mind; I never felt safe living there afterward and soon sold the house.

We bought a house here in 1999 because we loved to vacation here and thought we might someday retire to this country, where the weather and lifestyle, the friendly people all made us smile when we visited a couple of months a year.  We saw potential here for a simpler happy, less stressful life, never dreaming that Costa Rica would blossom the way it has.  We made Costa Rica our full-time home, however, because issues in the U.S. with safety, security and the economy reached a tipping point, and outweighed the positives.  It was the right move and we've never looked back.
Shirley Osman

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 75

Sala IV decision on gold mine energizes environmentalists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Sala IV constitutional court decision finding only a minor fault with the Crucitas open pit mining project has sparked a strong response from opponents.

The Sala IV, in a decision released Friday afternoon, rejected the majority of claims opponents of the project presented. The court said that the only flaw was that the environmental impact study for the project was approved without input from the Servicio Nacional de Aguas Subterráneas, Riego y Avenamiento.

Opponents argued that the mining project would destroy protected almendro amarillo trees, endanger protected birds and affect the ground water. The mine location is near the Río San Juan and the Nicaraguan border. Environmentalists fear a disaster if the cyanide used to leach gold from the rock finds its way into the river five kilometers away..

Environmental organizations were critical of the decision. Preserve the Planet said the court committed a big error. Other opponents seem to have obtained a temporary restraining order from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo in San José. Opponents of the project, the state and the company, Industrias Infinito S.A.,
have three days to assemble arguments supporting their positions. The order, signed by Judge Marianella Álvarez Molina suspends several decrees that would facilitate the development of the mining project.

The case was filed by a group called Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna Silvestre, and it is specifically against the central government.

The mining company is a Costa Rican subsidiary of Vannessa Ventures Ltd., a Canadian firm. It received a concession Dec. 17, 2001, and has been fighting in court every since to win the right to mine the gold. The company expected to mine about 1 million ounces of gold over 10 years.

Some of the opposition is anti-foreign. The leftist Grupo Costa Rica en Acción called the company foreign fraudsters. It also called the Sala IV accomplices of the Óscar Arias administration.

Opponents say they are planning a protest march Thursday, which is International Earth Day, in San José. Many of the opponents are Central Valley residents. A number of residents in the vicinity of the mine want the project to begin because they see a local economic benefit.

Two stone spheres confiscated after they were stolen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional said that police have recovered two pre-Columbian stone spheres that were taken from the home of a man near Sierpe.

The museum experts, a prosecutor in Ciudad Cortés and the Judicial Investigating Organization acted on the man's complaint that also said the spheres could be located in a garden in Palmar Sur.

Agents confiscated the spheres and then determined that they had been unearthed on private property but not reported to the museum. Marlin Calvo, chief of the  Departamento de Protección del Patrimonio Cultural of the Museo Nacional, said that Costa Rican law requires that finds be reported.

The circumference of one is 2.66 meters (8.7 feet) and the
other is 2.96 meters (9.7 feet). Those involved had to borrow equipment from the Municipalidad de Osa to move the stones. The spheres ended up on Finca 6, museum property in Palmar Sur.

The spheres were constructed by pre-Hispanic residents of the area. Archeologists still do not know the use to which the makers put the spheres, although speculation is that they were placed by important buildings and dwellings.

Many spheres have been removed from the area in which they were made. Even the Corte Suprema de Justicia has a sphere on its lawn as an ornament. So do many Costa Rican homes. Museum officials hope to repatriate as many spheres as possible, and there is a new museum being developed to tell their story.

The United Nations is considering the spheres for inclusion on a list of world heritage artifacts.

14th heritage architectural contest opened for proposals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry has set July 16 as the deadline for entries in the 14th heritage architectural contest. This is the program that awards substantial sums to owners who want to restore their historic structures.

The contest is called "Salvemos nuestro Patrimonio Arquitectónico." The proposals must be made by a licensed architect, who will oversee completion if an award is made.
The ministry's Centro de Patrimonio will make an award of 100 million colons or about $196,000 to complete the project. The architect will be awarded 10 million colons, about $19,600,

Not just private homes are eligible. Both the Teatro Nacional and the Correos de Costa Rica received money from the ministry.

The awards will be announced Aug. 12.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 75

U.N. uses video in effort to change opinions of refugees

By the  U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN refugee agency took part in a biennial video festival as part of its effort to tackle xenophobia and the widespread negative perceptions in Costa Rica about refugees, especially among young people, the agency said.

Jozef Merkx said the agency decided to try this new approach after the results of a recent survey showed that 57 per cent of those who knew what a refugee was had an unfavorable opinion of them. The study, which was commissioned by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, also revealed that refugees were most likely to be seen in a bad light by those aged between 18 and 35.  Merkx is the agency's representative in Costa Rica.

"It was at that time that we decided to target young people in our efforts to combat xenophobia. We knew that this population could be more open-minded and act as a multiplying agent and contribute to change," Merkx explained.

The agency sponsored an initiative called "The Pressure Cooker," under which seven young film makers were brought together for a week and asked to produce a short documentary on refugee issues to be shown at "La 240," a
week-long audio-visual festival for young people from around Central America.

The festival opened last week in San José with the screening of their work, "Primera Plana," a seven-minute documentary about a persecuted journalist forced to flee his home and seek shelter overseas. Sergio Pucci, one of the seven people behind the short feature, said he had learned much more about refugee issues while doing research for the documentary. "I knew that refugees were people fleeing home, but I would confuse the term with other concepts. That must happen to many young people," he said.

"Primera Plana," (Front Page in English) received a good reception from the audience, which included some refugees such as 18-year-old Camilo Saldarriaga from Colombia. Most of the more than 12,000 refugees living in Costa Rica originate from Colombia, where years of conflict have left hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

"I think it's a great idea to create awareness among La 240 spectators because many of them are audio-visual producers who will join the media," Saldarriaga commented. "Primera Plana" was shown throughout the festival and will be shown at other events in the future.

Two women die in separate incidents over weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman with two pistols paid a call on a former boyfriend Sunday morning. She ended up dying, the apparent victim of one of the weapons, said the Fuerza Pública.

Meanwhile, in Acosta a man was being held for the strangulation death of his female companion.

The pistol packing woman was identified as Tamara Brooks Hemmings, 30. The shooting took place in Santa Eduviges de Higuito, San Miguel de Desamparados shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday.

Being held is the woman's former boyfriend, identified by the last names of Jiménez Hernández. He is 37 and makes private loans as a business.
The Fuerza Pública said that Ms. Brooks tried to enter the man's home and that they struggled. One of the weapon's discharged during the struggle, and the woman suffered a wound in the left side of the chest. Police confiscated two pistols.

Also detained was a man who arrived with the woman, reported to be a club dancer. The man was identified by the last names of Campos Rivera. He is 29, the Fuerza Pública said.

The woman who died in Acosta was 34 Saturday, said the Fuerza Pública. Police got the call about 10 p.m. Saturday. Dead is Alestina del Socorro Calderón Ortega. The crime took place in Bajo Cerdas de Palmichal de Acosta. Police detained the companion and the father of the women's two children, 12 and 17. He was identified by the last names of Monge Azofeifa. He is 43, they said.

Prostitution raid failed to capture the woman owner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The woman who is listed as the owner of two locations involved in a prostitution raid Thursday night is out of the country, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. However, five persons associated with the two operations have been detained.

The raids Thursday night were at a so-called esthetic center in Pavas, which was not far from the office of prosecutors there. Agents say that the business served as a front for prostitution. In San José in the La Castellana section a business that was supposed to be a bar really was a location for prostitution, said investigators.

Detained were two men, Weifan Zhen Fena and Ping Lin
Wong, and a woman, Xiu Ling Zhen Xiao. All three came to Costa Rica from China, investigators said.

A 34-year-old Costa Rican man with the last names of  Montoya Castro and a woman, 38, originally from Nicaragua with the last names of Herrera Lozano also were detained. The woman worked as a receptionist at the Pavas location, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Montoya was the manager of the San José bar, they said.

The five face allegations of aggravated prostitution, which means that some of the prostitutes were under 18 years or there were other special circumstances.

The absent owner is said to be a naturalized Costa Rican who came here from Asia.

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Gates promises more aid
for Caribbean drug fight

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told leaders from the eastern Caribbean that the United States is prepared to do more to help them fight the drug trade and tackle other regional security challenges.

Gates stopped in Bridgetown, Barbados, Friday for a meeting of the seven-nation Regional Security System, an organization that tries to coordinate the security efforts of the region's small island-states, particularly in fighting illegal drug trafficking.

Gates acknowledged that the region is under more pressure from traffickers, in part due to Mexico's counter-narcotics effort, being made with U.S. assistance.

"Wherever you put pressure, the traffickers will go where there is less pressure and where there is less capability," said the U.S. defense secretary.

Gates said he would like to see closer links between the regional security system and U.S. anti-drug efforts, and those of other countries, such as Perú and Colombia, which the secretary visited earlier in the week.

The secretary also noted that the United States is giving the Caribbean region $45 million in security-related assistance this year through the new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and hopes to raise that to $70 million next year. The money is used to help local military and police forces, but also to help create educational and employment opportunities on the islands in order to address what Gates called the "root causes" of many of the region's problems.

The host for the meeting, Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson, acknowledged the link between crime and the poverty on many of the islands.

"We consider it to be a threat to our individual national and regional well-being, in every sense of the word, because every dollar that we have to divert to security expenditure is a dollar less that we can spend on social programs, on programs that deal with the real challenges that our people face on a daily basis," he said..

Thompson also said the powerful drug cartels can have disproportionate influence in small countries like those of the eastern Caribbean.

But Roger Noriega, former U.S. assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs who is now at the American Enterprise Institute research organization, says even relatively small amounts of well-targeted U.S. aid can also have a disproportionate effect.

"We need to look at the economies of scale, where we can make a big impact with a large part of the hemisphere that is vulnerable to drug trafficking and migration trafficking," said Noriega.  "We can make contributions with few inputs," he added.

Gates said he heard from the Caribbean security officials at Friday's meeting that they feel the United States reduced its presence in the region after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, as it focused on global terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he said the security initiative and his visit here are evidence the Obama Administration is changing that.
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ICE workers threatening
general strike for today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Messages being circulated on the Internet say that the  Frente Interno de Trabajadores of the national telecom company is planning a strike for today. The employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad are upset over a government proposal to open the market for generating power.

The government presented a proposed law to the Asamblea Legislativa last week which is designed to create economic incentives for companies that want to generate electricity. Most of the country's power now is generated by the firm known as ICE.

The reasoning of the telecom company's employees is much the same as that used to oppose the free trade treaty with the United States. The employees say that concessions in the new bill would put their firm at a disadvantage. The Frente is an umbrella organization that includes most of the unions at ICE.

The Frente has support from the political party Frente Amplio, which has opposed previous measures for private generation of electricity.

The Frente Interno said that the bulk of its demonstrations today would be centered on the La Sabana headquarters of the company.

Nosara man murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Nosara man sustained a fatal wound early Sunday just a few feet from the local Cruz Roja office in that Nicoya community.

The dead man was identified by the Fuerza Pública as Adrián Ruiz Chavarría, 26. He suffered a knife wound to the chest and died before he reached the Nicoya hospital.

Police detained a 33-year-old suspect, identified by the last names of Villarreal Sanabria.

Quepos gets music school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Quepos now has a music school associated with the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical.

Classes usually started in January, but officials visited the site, in the Escuela María Luisa de Castro, over the weekend for an official inauguration.

The school will train children for the music system's orchestra program. Some 76 students are getting training in the flute.

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