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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, April 19, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 77             E-mail us
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Security group discounts idea French pair drowned
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A community crime prevention group has concluded that a missing French couple probably did not drown in the Río Naranjo.

The group is the Dominical-based CAP on Crime, which stands for Crime Awareness and Prevention.

The French couple vanished March 31 under mysterious circumstances, and their rented vehicle was found pilfered and vandalized alongside the Río Naranjo south of Quepos. The couple had said they were on the way to Dominical.

Although the couple's passports were found in a trash can in Jacó, the favorite theory of investigators was that they drowned in the Río Naranjo.

That is almost impossible, CAP on Crime said on its Web site. A summary said that members of the group visited the river site and found the depth to be no more than 50 centimeters. That is just short of 20 inches.

The missing couple are tourists, Gerard and Claude Dubois.

Many of the members of CAP on Crime are involved in the tourism business, so they are sensitive to the effects such cases have on potential visitors. The group said that it is seeking donations to support its offer of a 1 million-colon reward for information leading to locating the couple and arresting those who abducted them. The amount is about $2,000.

The group went public with its offer Monday night on local television stations. It said that the Judicial Investigating Organization was prepared to field calls that might come in in response to the
missing French tourists
Gerard and Claude Dubois

reward offer. It said that investigators now are convinced the case is one of foul play.

CAP on Crime posted more information on the reward on its Web site. The group said that if no reward is paid in this case, the money will be kept for future cases.

Agents have been slow to react to this case. An early explanation advanced by some investigators was that the couple drowned in the river and then light-fingered passersby vandalized the car and took the passports and credit cards. A municipal worker found the passports in the trash can a few days later.

Agents report that credit cards belonging to the couple have been used since the disappearance. However, they have not said where. Most crooks can count on accomplices at various retail outlets to run credit card charges in exchange for cash. Reputable store clerks probably would not complete a credit card sale without adequate identification, and most Costa Rican crooks could not pass for Gerard and Claude Dubois from France.

A number of retail outlets also have security cameras. Still judicial investigators say they have few leads.

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Lawmakers face showdown
as they select new officers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Barack Obama faces a Republican controlled House of Representatives in the United States. Soon President Laura Chinchilla may face a legislature controlled by opposition parties.

A coalition of five opposition parties has emerged. If the 31 legislators stay united, they have the votes to name a new president of the Asamblea Legislativa and other leaders.

The parties are the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Unidad Social Cristiana, Movimiento Libertario, Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión and the single legislator of Frente Amplio. The fragile coalition ranges from the far left (Frente Amplio) to the right (Movimiento Libertario), but they seem unified in their opposition to the Chinchilla tax plan and other administration initiatives.

The current legislative president is Luis Gerardo Villanueva, a member of Ms. Chinchilla's Partido Liberación Nacional. He is seeking reelection and can count on the 24 votes of his party. Two lawmakers, one from Partido Restauración Nacional and the other from Partido Renovación Costarricense, are likely to side with Liberación. The victor needs 29 votes or just over half of the 57-member chamber

Control of the legislature means control of the assignments of bills to committees and the makeup of those committees, among other powers. May 1 is the traditional date each year when the legislature elects its leadership.

The opposition lawmakers met Monday to sketch out the three-year pact. Liberación leaders as sure to focus in on one or more of the opposition parties in an effort to create their own winning coalition.

A year ago Liberación supported the government slate.

Former sports bar owner
Frank Phelps dies in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Frank Phelps, known as Tiny, died Thursday in Michigan. He was the original sports bar owner in San José and was about 80 years old.

The bar, Tiny’s Tropical Sports Bar, was on the north side of
Avenida 2 between calles 9 and 11. Tiny's was sold in February 2002, and a Chinese restaurant now stands on the site.

Phelps opened the bar in 1988, and long-time expats remember it as the place to go for years. Gradually the neighborhood changed and there was competition. But expats knew that this was the place for a real U.S.- style hamburger and other foods not easily available here.

Phelps returned frequently to
Frank Phelps
Frank 'Tiny' Phelps
Costa Rica and kept up his friendships.

Friends said he was a former professional football player, human sports encyclopedia and general bon vivant.

Said his brother, William Phelps and friends Robert Hodel and Christopher Howard:

"Tiny was widely known for his brutal honesty and steadfast disdain for hypocrisy.  Tiny’s bar stools attracted drinkers of all kinds from around the world. Although his business was a haven for everyone, Tiny did not suffer fools or con men. His tendency to 'call it the way he saw it' often intimidated first-time customers and always entertained his regulars."

Tiny opened his business in Costa Rica after years of bar tending in Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Detroit, his friends said.  Health problems sent Tiny back to the States. 

Said his brother and the two friends:

"It was widely recognized that Tiny’s most recent visit was his opportunity to say good-bye.  He was a man of principal and a loyal friend. Tiny was the last of a dying breed.  Godspeed Tiny Phelps, we are lucky to have had the chance to know you."

Argentine diplomat visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alberto Pedro D’Aloto, vice minister of foreign relations in Argentina, was in Costa Rica Monday to discuss the relationship between the two countries. Among other subjects, he is seeking a review of the rules for importing meat from his country and the process of validating academic degrees issued by Argentine institutions.  Carlos Roverssi, Costa Rican vice minister, agreed to discuss the topics with the ministries involved.

Costa Rica also seeks to discuss a proposed extradition treaty, said the foreign ministry here.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 77
Latigo K-9

water patrol on Rio Frio
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos
Officers are on patrol in boats at Río Frío and the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro
Pacific vacationers are facing extraordinary ocean waves
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vacationers on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula are being greeted by unusually high waves through the end of the week.

Rescue agencies worry about the possibility of rip tides carrying off swimmers. The danger is greater in the morning when the tide is going out, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said.

The sea also was reported to be choppy. There also was a small boat warning for what the weather institute termed extraordinary seas.

There are few lifeguards in that area. Two water deaths already have been reported for the holidays. Neither were on the Pacific coast.

In the rest of the country and particularly in tourism sites, more than 300 Fuerza Pública officers are on duty.

Already police said Monday that they stopped and checked out 420 persons and arrested 51 on various charges, including drug violations. Confiscated were 41 crack rocks and marijuana, they said

The major part of the police activity were in the cantons of San Carlos, Los Chiles, Upala, Zarcero and Guatuso.

Allan Obando, regional director in the northern zone, said that police were patrolling the tourist sites of la Fortuna, Río Celeste and Río Frio in Los Chiles. He said the efforts were coordinated with immigration agents, the Policía de Tránsito, the Cruz Roja, and the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

Immigration agents said they detained 45 undocumented Nicaraguans at the border and returned them to their home country.

The central immigration office reported that there were 15,000 exits from Costa Rica over the weekend through Monday. The majority were Nicaraguans going home for the holidays.
road patrol
Traffic stops and checkpoints have been set up all over the country.

Kathya Rodríguez Araica. director general de Migración y Extranjería, said that the staff was beefed up at Peñas Blancas and that agents were handling travelers in times ranging from 15 seconds to one minute each.

Last year more than 17,000 persons entered the country there at the end of the Easter holiday.

In most of the country the weather was cooperating. San José got an afternoon sprinkling of just one millimeter at 4 p.m.

That is just four one-hundreds of an inch.

The weather service's automatic station in La Lucha, Desamparados registered 10.4 millimeters or about four tenths of an inch at the same time.  Not typical was the Universidad para la Paz near Ciudad Colon that registered 29.7 millimeters between 2 and 5 p.m. That's 1.2 inches.

Elsewhere there seemed to be little rainfall, and temperatures were seasonably hot.

Nicaragua border dispute likely to drag on for some time
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua may well last longer than the presidency of Laura Chinchilla.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, has set Dec. 5 as a deadline for Costa Rica to present its written allegations and evidence. Costa Rica goes first because it is the plaintiff.

Nicaragua then has until Aug. 6, 2012, to present its counter arguments. Costa Rica wanted to give Nicaragua six months to do so. Nicaragua wanted a year, and the court said eight months.

The court may order a second round of written responses over a period that the magistrates there determine, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, which is handling the Costa Rican case.
After the written rounds, each country will have a chance to present its case in oral arguments. Then the court will take time to determine its verdict.

March 8 the court heard preliminary arguments as Costa Rica sought a restraining order against Nicaragua. The court basically granted that and ordered both countries to remove military and police from the disputed Isla Calero. Costa Rican officials considered this a victory because they did not have anyone in the disputed area.

Costa Rica also had the right to make an environmental inspection, but when officials did they were confronted by young Sandinista protesters.

Ms. Chinchilla leaves office May 8, 2014.

Such disputes usually are non-partisan and spill over from one presidential term to another.

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Head of Stone excavation

Southern Methodist University/
Melvin Rodrigo Guzman Piedrasanta
New 3-D topographical survey date confirms more than 100 buildings buried beneath centuries of foliage.
Southern Methodist University/
 Michael G. Callaghan
Brigitte Kovacevich checks out a tunnel made by looters at a Head of Stone pyramid.

Mayan excavacion seeks to learn about origin of kings

By the Southern Methodist University news staff

Archaeologists have made the first three-dimensional topographical map of ancient monumental buildings long buried under centuries of jungle at the Maya site Head of Stone in Guatemala.

The map puts into 3-D perspective the location and size of Head of Stone's many buildings and architectural patterns, which are typical of Maya sites: 70-foot-tall triadic pyramid, an astronomical observatory, a ritual ball court, numerous plazas and also residential mounds that would have been the homes of elites and commoners, according to archaeologist Brigitte Kovacevich of Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.

The map situates the primary buildings relative to one another and also places them within the context of the site's hills and valleys in the Central Lakes agricultural region of north-central Guatemala.

The buildings date from 800 B.C. to 900 A.D., says Ms. Kovacevich, an expert in Meso-American cultures and co-leader of an international scientific team that has been granted permission by the Guatemalan government to work the site, which has never before been excavated.

Known for its far-reaching state-level government, Maya civilization during the Classic Period from 200 A.D. to 900 A.D. consisted of huge monumental cities with tens of thousands of people ruled by powerful kings, palaces, pyramidal temples and complex political and economic alliances, Ms. Kovacevich says.

The ancient culture at its peak during the Classic Period has been well-documented by archaeologists studying the civilization's large urban centers, such as Tikal, which was one of the most powerful and long-lasting of the Maya kingdoms.

In contrast, Head of Stone, called Holtun in Maya, is a modest site from the Pre-Classic Period, 600 B.C. to 250 A.D., she says. The small city had no more than 2,000 people at its peak. Situated about 35 kilometers south of Tikal, Head of Stone in its heyday preceded the celebrated vast city-states and kingship culture for which the Maya are known.

By excavating a small city, Ms. Kovacevich said, the archaeologists hope to understand early Maya trade routes and alliances, the importance of ritual for developing political power, how political power emerged, and how kingship lines evolved and solidified.

"There is a movement toward a greater understanding of these early periods, with smaller sites and common people," says Ms. Kovacevich, an assistant professor in the university's Anthropology Department. "Little is known about how kingship developed, how individuals grabbed political power within the society, how the state-level society evolved and why it then was followed by a mini-collapse between 100 A.D. and 250 A.D."

Ms. Kovacevich presented "Head of Stone: Archaeological Investigation at the Maya Site of Holtun, Guatemala" during the 76th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Sacramento, Calif., this month.

Besides Ms. Kovacevich, archaeologists on the team and co-authors of the paper are Michael G. Callaghan, University of Texas at Arlington; Patricia R. Castillo, Universidad San Carlos, Guatemala; and Rodrigo Guzman, Universidad del Valle, Guatemala. The 3-D topographic map expands surveys from 1995 and 2002 by Guatemalan archaeologist Vilma Fialko and Guatemala's Institute of Anthropology and History, which were documented by Ms. Fialko and archaeologist Erick M. Ponciano.

Situated in a patch of rainforest Head of Stone today sits in a patch of rainforest surrounded by cow pastures and cornfields on a limestone escarpment, which would have made it highly defensible, Ms. Kovacevich says.

Holtun's structures — more than 100 of them — now are overgrown with a thin layer of centuries-old jungle foliage
and soil. The site is about one kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, or almost three-quarters of a mile long and one-third of a mile wide. The large mounds protruding here and there from the jungle floor signal to archaeologists the familiar building arrangements customary at a Maya site, Ms. Kovacevich says.

As with most Maya sites, looters have tunneled into many of the important structures. Kovacevich and her colleagues will dig more tunnels to further explore the buildings with the help of Guatemalan experts skilled at working Maya sites.

The 3-D mapping has confirmed an E Group, a key Maya architectural structure. Holtun's E Group dates from 600 B.C. to 600 A.D. and consists of stair-step pyramids and elongated buildings that likely served as astronomical observatories central to Maya rituals. A stepped pyramid to the west of a long narrow building directly oriented north-south served as the observational structure and was related to veneration of sacred ancestors, Ms. Kovacevich says.

"From the observational structure you can see the sun rising at the different solstices throughout the year, which is very important agriculturally, to know the timing of the seasons and when to plant and when to harvest," she said. "So the people creating this are harnessing that knowledge to show their followers and constituents that they possibly are even controlling the change of seasons."

Adjacent to the E Group are four structures that face one another around a central patio. The pattern usually indicates a residential group, where cooking and food processing were carried out on the patio, Ms. Kovacevich says.

"The closeness of the residential structure to the E Group suggests these were very early elites, and possibly kings," she says. "Kingship was just being established during this period."

The Maya often left offerings to their ancestors, such as jade or ceramics, at the base of structures.

Besides the E Group, a triadic pyramid dating from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. sits at the north end of the site. As is typical at Maya sites, three pyramids about 10 feet tall sit atop a high platform that rises about 60 feet from the jungle floor, Ms. Kovacevich says. One of the pyramids faces south, flanked on either side by the other two, which face inward around a central patio. The platform sits atop — and obscures — an earlier sub-structure platform, buried underground and decorated with monumental masks that are visible from the looters' tunnels.

"Some archaeologists argue that this configuration represents elements of Maya mythology: the three hearthstones of creation that were set down by the gods to create the first home and hearth, thereby civilizing humanity," Kovacevich says. "Re-creation of that by the people at Holtun would show piousness and connection to ancestors."

During the Classic Period, kings were typically buried in Maya pyramids. During the Pre-Classic Period, however, that isn't the case and they were typically buried in their residence. It's possible an early king of Holtun was buried in one of the residential structures, Ms. Kovacevich said.

"Ancestors are buried beneath the floor and kept very close and venerated," she said. "The more ancestors a residence has, the more times the family redoes their floor, making a new floor, and so their mound gets higher and higher. A person with more ties, more ancestors, has more status."

Another familiar structure is a ball court, signified by two long mounds that are exactly parallel, said Ms. Kovacevich.

"Those are the two sides of the ball court, and the ball would have been bounced in the center off of the sides," she said. "Almost all Maya sites had a ball court."

The team's Holtun excavation is scheduled to start this summer. Funding is from the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, the Downey Family Fund for Faculty Excellence and Southern Methodist University.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 77

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S&P reports misgivings
over U.S. credit rating

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

Standard and Poor's Ratings Services announced Monday that the United States continues to have a AAA credit rating, but the rating agency lowered its long-term credit outlook for the U.S. government. S&P cited U.S. budget deficits and government indebtedness as causes for concern.

According to Standard and Poor's, the United States is among 19 sovereign nations that hold a AAA credit rating, signifying that the country is among the most credit-worthy nations.

But S&P has concerns, prompting the agency to lower its long-term credit outlook for the U.S. government from "stable" to "negative," indicating that a change in the country's credit rating might be on the horizon.
David Beers, the global head of sovereign ratings at Standard & Poor's, spoke to reporters via teleconference.

"A negative outlook means that in S&P's opinion, there is at least a one in three chance that over roughly the next two years, that we could lower the rating," said Beers. "It also means, conversely, that there is, in the committee's opinion, a two-thirds chance that the rating might not change."  

Standard and Poor's says the U.S. economy is flexible and highly diversified, and that the nation's monetary policies effectively support output growth, while containing inflation.  But the agency warned that relative to its peers with the same AAA rating, the United States has what S&P considers to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness.

The U.S. debt limit is more than $14 trillion, and the United States is on course to hit that figure in a matter of weeks.  Under U.S. law, the Treasury Department cannot borrow more money unless Congress gives its approval by increasing the limit on borrowing.

Lawmakers are debating whether to raise the debt ceiling as they consider the federal budget.  Earlier this month, a government shutdown loomed as Congress wrangled over a budget that was supposed to have been set last September. 

Standard and Poor's says the United States has not presented a clear strategy to address the nation's long-term deficits and indebtedness. 

S&P analyst Nikola Swann says that in the wake of the recent financial crisis, lawmakers have yet to agree on ways to address longer-term financial pressures and ways to reverse fiscal deterioration.

"If the Congress and the president do not succeed in coming to an agreement for a plan to consolidate fiscally on a multi-year basis that we think is credible by 2013, in that circumstance, with other things unchanged, we would expect to downgrade," said Ms. Swann.

AAA is the highest credit rating.  If the U.S. rating is downgraded, it could become more expensive for the United States to borrow money.   

Asteroid will squeak by
in November, NASA says

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says an asteroid measuring 400 meters (1,312 feet) in diameter will pass the Earth within the orbit of the moon in November, giving scientists their best opportunity so far to closely observe a space rock this large.

Asteroid 2005 YU55 is classified as a potentially hazardous Near-Earth Object, but NASA says it poses no threat for at least the next 100 years.  Astronomers say the asteroid will fly past the Earth Nov. 8 within a distance of only 326,400 kilometers (202,815 miles). That is 15 percent closer to the planet than the moon.  

NASA is eagerly preparing for the asteroid’s approach with plans for a wide variety of radar, visual and infrared observations, including using the radar capabilities at its Deep Space Network facility in Goldstone, California, and the huge Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. 

The space agency says the next known close fly-by to rival asteroid 2005 YU55 will not occur for 17 years, in 2028, when a different asteroid will pass within 230,400 kilometers (143,164 miles) of the Earth.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 77

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Press group labels killings
crimes against humanity

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has voiced concern at a statute of limitations being applied this week in two cases of murder of Colombian journalists and called on the authorities to take appropriate action to prevent the crimes remaining unpunished.

Julio Daniel Chaparro, a 29-year-old reporter, and Enrique Torres, a photographer, 39, both from the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador, were killed April 24, 1991. Their cases, having gone unpunished for 20 years, are subject to a statute of limitations that expires this week, even though Congress passed a reform on Dec. 29 last year increasing the statute period from 20 to 30 years – but without making it retroactive.

Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, declared, “ We view with concern how the statute of limitations applied in cases of such crimes is feeding a vicious circle of impunity.” He said he hoped “the authorities can take appropriate action to prevent these and other cases from becoming an indelible stain on press freedom in the country.”  He is president of the organization.

In addition to the murder of Chaparro and Torres it is also 20 years since fellow journalists Carlos Julio Rodríguez, José Libardo Méndez, Arsenio Hoyos Lozano and Rafael Solano Rochero were killed.

Referring to the action that could be taken Robert Rivard, chairman of the organization's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information said, “We join the call by other organizations, such as Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom, that the Attorney General’s Office declare the murders of Chaparro and Torres as crimes against humanity.”  He is editor of the San Antonio Express-News in Texas,

As a precedent, a ruling was issued July 2 last year by the Attorney General’s Office that the 1986 murder of Guillermo Cano, the editor of El Espectador, be treated as a crime against humanity, and thus not subject to any statute of limitations. The Office argued that the Cano slaying was part of a systematic plan of the Medellín drug cartel, headed by Pablo Escobar.

The current request by the Inter American Press Association is based on the argument that the murders of Chaparro and Torres are part of “systemic and generalized actions against El Espectador.”

At the time of their death the two were investigating the consequences of what was known as the Segovia massacre in the town of that name in Antioquia province which occurred in 1988 and in which paramilitaries shot and killed 40 people.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 77

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
True freedom includes having the right to gamble online

Government-sponsored gambling is centuries old. Still, politicians cannot come to grips with the industry. When New York authorized a state lottery in 1967, cautious lawmakers required lottery players to purchase their tickets at a local bank. Eventually that dumb rule vanished, and in many states lottery tickets are available at many retail outlets.

Online gambling seems to be following that same erratic course. Revelations of a U.S. government crackdown on the online poker industry came Friday. Meanwhile, the U.S. District of Columbia, the seat of the federal government, has authorized online gambling for its residents this year. Specifics are in the works.

Three other states, Nevada, Iowa and New Jersey, also are flirting with online gambling. Yet in 2006 the U.S. federal government passed a law that has been used to punish Costa Rican gambling sites and those executives here who publicly supported unrestricted online gambling.

There are many good reasons not to allow gambling, just as there are good reasons to forbid cigarettes, alcohol and Big Macs. Frankly this newspaper would welcome a well-regulated online gambling industry based in the United States where participants probably would get a fair shake.

We have not received any complaints about Absolute Poker, the
 Pavas-based firm that figured in the federal indictments announced Friday. But we have fielded international complaints about other online gambling sites here who seem to fail to pay big winners. Costa Rica, being what it is, international gamblers have no recourse to collect their funds.

District of Columbia officials expect its local online activities to bring in more than $10 million a year. That is peanuts compared to the billions at play in the world.

And if United States officials were consistent, they would see large financial benefits for uniform, reasonable online legislation. The online gambling industry already is big business there. Those in the Land of the Free should recognize that true freedom includes the right to lose one's shirt in an online poker game.

Those detained Friday in the current U.S. investigation face the most serious charges because they sought to circumvent the prohibition on U.S. gamblers posting money to their poker accounts. They face money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy allegations. These charges stem from the roadblocks U.S. federal officials erected in opposition to what is a legal business here and in the other jurisdictions where the other two poker sites are located.

April 18, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The time has come to crack down on juvenile criminals
A wave of juvenile crime is seeping the country, and the existing laws are insufficient to handle the problem.

The entire Costa Rican penal code is base on redemption, but some criminals cannot be redeemed. That goes for young criminals.

Someone under the age of 18 who commits premeditated murder probably will not serve more than five or six years in prison. They should be put away for a long, long time.

The Costa Rican juvenile code should be changed to make 14 years the limit for a juvenile criminal. Those older than that go to adult court and face adult penalties. The adult penalties are weak enough.

We would prefer to see imprisonment without possibility of parole in some cases. But that is too much to expect with the current touchie feelie administration and legislature.

But subjecting persons 14 years to adult penalties would be a start.

We have had three youngsters detained in the last few days for the murder of a taxi driver.  That was in Tejarcillos de Alajuelita Sunday night, and they were trying to rob the man, identified by the last names of Ramírez Gutiérrez.

Another youngster of 16 is accused of shooting down a mother
earlier in the week as she walked with her two daughters. Why? Because the woman filed a complaint against the suspect's mother.

Then there are the pair of robbery suspects who are charged with putting a foot-long slash in the stomach of a schoolboy Wednesday.

We think society would be well served if none of these youngsters who are between 15 and 17 years of age do not see liberty for 30 years each.

We may never know what happens to these suspects. The juvenile court is closed, and the only reports are filtered through the Poder Judicial press office. Even after conviction, a young criminal may not serve the time a judge has specified. That's true of adult criminals, too.

Youngsters are being encouraged to really bad behavior by the television cop shows. But we also think that adult criminals are using youngsters for bloody jobs because they correctly feel the kids are immune to prosecution.

If they are killing people at 16, what will they be doing at 25?

We urge that they be so treated that they continue to contemplate their crime from behind bars at 25 and for many years later.

— March 17, 2011

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Apparently, international treaties are just suggestions, too

How do Costa Rican officials justify ignoring the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?

Time after time runaway moms from the United States come here with a child and try to get the courts here to block U.S. arrest warrants and judicial orders to return the child.

The latest case is that of Trina Atwell and her 2-plus-year-old daughter Emily. Ms. Atwell is wanted for child abduction, and a court in Green County, Missouri, has awarded the biological father full custody. She claims she fled violence and drug abuse. He denies that.

A.M. Costa Rica is in no position to determine who is telling the truth. But neither are Costa Rican officials. The international treaty says that jurisdiction rests with the Green County judge. There the evidence exists to adjudicate the case and confirm or award custody. A complicating factor is that Ms. Atwell was married to a Costa Rican when she had the child.

One would think that Ms. Atwell would want to go back there and reopen the case, at least to be with the other daughter she left behind.
One would think that Costa Rican judicial officials would want to take immediate and decisive action to comply with the Hague Convention if only to avoid another long court case in an overwhelmed judicial system.

Ms. Atwell is seeking refugee status for herself and her child.

Of course, this is a strategic play because no right-minded individual would compare the lumbering, flawed judicial system here to the one in the United States.

But we also wonder if she does not have legal custody how can she apply for refugee status on behalf of her daughter?

Of course, in Costa Rica mothers are sacred. Whenever there is an international custody dispute, women gather at the judicial complex to support uncritically the mother of the hour.

Some supporters of Roy Koyama, Emily's father, have suggested that the United States freeze international aid from Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica will not go that far, but the lack of response and action by the U.S. Embassy make one wonder.

— Feb. 14, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Two judicial flaws create grossly unfair situations

Wednesday a news story about a Florida court case illustrated some deficiencies in Costa Rican law.

We have no way of knowing who will prevail in the Florida case. A former businessman here alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company he ran here.

However, in bringing the case, the lawyer, Craig A. Brand, pointed out some serious problems with Costa Rican law.

Anyone is vulnerable to private court cases because any lawyer can file such a case, including criminal cases. Frequently lawyers will file a private criminal case even while they know the case is a tissue of lies. The purpose is strategic.

Brand said lawyers did so to him in an effort to extort money. Perhaps they did. But we know of other situations when such cases have been filed to stop civil cases when it appears one side would lose.

This is a typical and reprehensible technique used here. The real problem is that there is no mechanism in place for judges
 to throw out weak or fake cases at an early stage. Such actions usually have to go to a full trial, causing great expense to the victimized individuals and frequently delaying justice.

The second aspect illustrated by the Brand case is that a judge can issue a prohibition against someone leaving the country and the subject of the order does not find out until he or she is at the airport. No one should be the subject of a secret judicial order. Each person should have the right to contest the order quickly before a judge. That means the the judiciary should notify the person who is the subject of the impedimento de salida order.  Such orders should not languish in secret in the immigration computer system for months or years until someone has invested money in air tickets and travel.

Again, these orders can be used strategically to bring pressure on an individual whether for legal or private reasons. The orders frequently are placed against foreign expats because opposing lawyers can argue that the individual might flee.

Both of these issues are grossly unfair. The sad part is that everyone in the judiciary and in government knows it and they do nothing to remedy the unfairness.
— Feb. 10, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Time has come to end disgusting practice of shark finning

Costa Rica needs to live up to its environmentalist reputation by banning the practice of shark finning in its waters and to forbid the shipment of shark fins.

So far the country has bobbed and weaved but failed to take decisive steps to crack down on this despicable practice.

A lower-court judge once again has stifled efforts to bring some kind of oversight to this practice. The judge, Rosa Cortes Morales, acted at the request of Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. to annul an agreement that would make shark finners dump their cargo at a public dock in Puntarenas.

For obvious reasons, these ravagers of the seas prefer to hide their cargo by unloading at friendly private docks.

The court decision was reported by the Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group that has been fighting shark finning for years.

The agreement was between the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes. The effect of the agreement was to require shark fishermen to obey the law.

Judge Cortez took the unusual step of throwing out the agreement without hearing from the other side because the shark finners and their wholesalers claimed irreparable damage, according to the decision. They would be damaged by abiding by the law.

There is more to come in this legal process, but Round One goes to the shark finners.

They say that people cannot comprehend large numbers. To say that 200,000 persons died in the Haitian earthquake does not have the emotional impact of seeing the damaged body of a single Haitian baby.

That may be true with shark finning. In 2006 the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their fins estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, said the study.
shark fins
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop

That number is hard to fathom. But the adjacent photo shows a number of shark fins, and each represents an animal dumped back in the ocean to die. The photo came from the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, which reported that the photo shows a Puntarenas rooftop being used to dry shark fins. The photographer had to flee.

From time to time government officials take note of shark finning. When the film "Sharkwater" played in San José, then-legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, said she would introduce a bill to ban the practice. Nothing ever came of it.

Ms. Taitelbaum is now the defensora de los habitantes and would seem to be in a position to follow through if she were not just posturing in 2007.

The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking, although nutritionally they are less adequate than many other meals. Perhaps the new stadium, a gift from China, should be called the Arena of Dead Sharks.              
 — Feb. 7, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."

Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.

Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth.  José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.

Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.

Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
President Luis Alberto Monge declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.

Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.

But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for.  After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.

But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?

President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.

Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one  be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.

At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.

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