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These stories were published Wednesday, April 20, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 77
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Sentences in two cases differ greatly
Abduction, rape and murder rates 13 years
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is a just penalty for kidnapping, raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl?

The Tribunales of San Carlos has sentenced to 13 years and 6 months of jail Ronald Gerardo Artavia Porras for such a crime. The charge was aggravated homicide based on events of Nov. 6, 2003, and Artavia admitted his guilt.

His admission allowed him access to an abbreviated legal process that did not include a trial. His sentence was read Jan. 25 after he served one year of preventive prison,  according to Carlos Arce from the Tribunales of San Carlos. The crime took place at El Carmen de Río Cuarto de Grecia. The admission and sentences were made public April 8.


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The victim, Ana Isabel Chamorro Orozco, was kidnapped while she was walking home from her school, raped and finally killed brutally. The body was found one day after she vanished on a bank of  Río Hule in Cuarto de Grecia. 

Ronald Gerardo Artavia Porras was born July 28, 1975, and he is known at the Centro Admisión of San Sebastian, the prison at the south of San José. When he gets out of prison on this charge, he will be about 44 years old.

The case and the sentence at least point out inconsistencies in the Costa Rican legal system. 

A similar crime was the abduction and murder of Kattia Vannesa  González Juárez, who died  July 3, 2003 in Barrio Quesada Duran east of San José. 

The man responsible is Jorge Sánchez Madrigal, who was sentenced last Nov. 22 in the Tribunales de San José.  Sanchez Madrigal was found guilty of premeditated murder and got 30 years of jail without benefit of earning time off the sentence by good behavior.

Although the crimes look the same, they never are the same, said Henry Esquivel of the prosecutor’s office in San Carlos.  That is because other variables figured in the difference between 13 years and 30 years, he said.

In the case of Ana Isabel Chamorro Orozco the proof presented by the prosecutor was strong but not conclusive, said Esquivel.  The fact that Artavia Porras admitted his guilt and agreed to an abbreviated process was enough to influence the judges of the final stages, he added. 

Sánchez Madrigal already had served time as a juvenile for raping and murdering a woman, something that certainly contributed to the judges’ deliberations.

According to Esquivel prosecutors in the Artavia Porras case did not present a casación recurso or appeal of sentence because they didn’t want to take the risk of going to a trial with the possibility that the suspect would be 

found not guilty and allowed to go out on the streets again. 

The risk was high especially because prosecutors believed that they did not have conclusive proof, said Esquivel, so they preferred to see the suspect get 13 years and 6 months in prison.

Any sentence for a crime that involves children and sex abuse does not allow the guilty party to earn sentence discounts, and they have to spend the full term in prison.

For many other crimes in Costa Rica the sentence handed down is reduced drastically, perhaps by as much as half, by time off for good behavior and other discounts.

The Community of El Carmen de Río Cuarto de Grecia will be not the same. Neighbors have been living in fear since the day of the murder, and the family of the dead girl has moved back to Nicaragua, said Jorge Trejos of the Policia de Proximidad Grecia of Fuerza Pública.

He was one of the local officers who worked together with the Judicial Investigating Organization to get the arrest. 

Trejos said this week that Artavia was living in his sister’s house and that investigators did find a lot of evidence in the place when they searched.

Trejos said clothes with bloodstains were found along with other items that implicated Artavia in the crime. But there also exists the possibility that another person was involved, he added.

Since the murder, the community of El Carmen del Río Cuarto de Grecia has been working to increase community security. An office of the Instituto Nacional de la Mujer has opened to offer care and prevention of domestic violence cases.

Working together with the Fuerza Pública workers train school children, parents and the community at large in prevention of abuse or kidnapping and to help detect possible criminals, especially those who may commit crimes against children.

But El Carmen del Río Cuarto de Grecia will be never the same, said Trejos.

 
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Comments on Benedict XVI
are laudatory, critical

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Politicians and official elements of the government were quick to issue favorable comments on the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, but those who hoped for change in the Vatican were less pleased.

The Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto issued a mid-afternoon statement by Roberto Tovar, the foreign minister. The minister expressed his wishes for a fruitful papacy.

But others were critical of the new pope in messages to A.M. Costa Rica. Ratzinger, the closest associate of Pope John Paul II is considered to be even more conservative than the late pope.

"I feel like the Holy Ghost has being sleeping when they make this choice," said one reader, who said that Ratzinger has led an inquisition while he had a top spot in the Vatican.

The writer said the German prelate scolded a nun who denounced human rights abuses in Guatemala, including her own rape. Also Ratzinger has opposed the U.S. Catholic Church when it asked for reforms and a change in how the Vatican handles sexual abuses by priests.

The new pope was a major supporter of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, but he remained a strict guardian of Roman Catholic dogma. He has spoken out against the ordination of women and marriage for priests. He also has denounced homosexuality and gay marriage, and in 2004 wrote a letter to U.S. bishops criticizing politicians who support abortion rights and euthanasia. 
 

New magistrate picked
for top criminal court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Magda Inés Pereira Villalobos was elected Tuesday as a magistrate of the Sala III of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

She won the job on the 33rd vote by the Asamblea Legislativa. She received 40 votes and will replace Daniel González, who retired Jan. 1

The new magistrate is a 22-year-employee of the Poder Judicial and has specialized in criminal jurisprudence since 1983, a year after leaving the Universidad de Costa Rica law school.

The selection was not without controversy. The lawmakers were faced with pressure to appoint a woman to the post. The Sala III is the final authority on criminal cases.

The new magistrate was a compromise candidate. Rosario Fernández initially had more support. In addition, ex-presidents Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría have been accused of trying to block a Fernández appointment. They deny the charge. Both are under house arrest awaiting the outcome of a corruption investigation.

Neither Ms. Fernández nor Rónald Salazar Murillo, another candidate, could muster the 38 votes needed to be elected during repeated sessions of voting. Salazar got 12 votes Tuesday.
 

Bellavista Mine ready
to begin gold recovery

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Glencairn Gold Corp. says it has about 12,000 tons of ore on leach pads and ready for extraction at the Bellavista Mine.

This will be the first gold generated by the company in the location near Puntarenas.

Glencairn said it expects to begin producing gold at Bellavista in the second quarter of this year with commercial production to begin in the third quarter. Bellavista is expected to produce an average of 60,000 ounces of gold per year over eight years based on current reserves, said the company.

"This is an important milestone of Glencairn's growth towards mid-tier producer status," said Kerry Knoll, president. "Bellavista will push our gold production past the 100,000 ounces per year mark, lower our costs per ounce and  demonstrate our ability to grow through new mine development."

Ore is being placed on the leach pads at a rate of 4,000 tons per day, the company said. 

The mine is controversial, although it has all its permits. The leach process uses cyanide to extract the gold. The leach pits are lined with material to prevent the gold or chemical from getting outside the pit, but environmentalists still are critical of the project.
 

Caribbean flooding
ousts 392 from homes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 392 persons have been moved from their homes by flooding in the Province of Limón on the Caribbean coast.

Emergency workers have set up 10 shelters, three in Matina, six in Talamanca and one in Siquirres.

Some 30 communities have been hard-hit by flooding from swollen rivers, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. The communities were listed as Sixaola centro, Margarita, Olivia, Daitonia, Chase, Celia, Paraíso, Alberi, Bambú, Zepecue, Suretka, Chiroles, La Chinchilla, Gavilán Canta. 

Also fincas in the Valle de la Estrella, Estrada, La Perla, Bataan, Davao, Matina, B-Line, Cuba Creek, Encanto No1, Santa Rosa, Encanto No. 2., Perlita, La Lucha, Islona, Hamburgo and Rachearía.

Flooding has been accompanied with the collapse of sanitary and storm sewers and damage to roads.

The rain started over the weekend, but officials hope it will stop today.

Fire claims three lives

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fire in Filadelfia, a town on the Nicoya Peninsula, took the lives of a father, a mother and their 2-year-old child about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The man, identified by the last name of Urbina, was 20. His wife, identified by the last name of Medrano, was 18. The blaze was in Barrio La Islitas of the community.

The deaths are being investigated, but preliminary indications are that the home was destroyed by a blaze of accidental origin.

28 families have to leave

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 28 families were evicted from their houses in a settlement known as Gloria Bejarano in Barrio México, San José, Tuesday.

The order to vacate the homes came from the Ministerio de Salud and was enforced by the Fuerza Pública working with representatives of various social agencies.

The health ministry said the homes were in the way of a potential landslide.
 
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Top cops trained to improve reporting by their officers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When expats talk about crime, a big complaint frequently is that the police arrived and do very little.

Expats and tourists usually expect Fuerza Pública officers responding to a crime scene to solicit information and fill out a report. Such reports are crucial to keeping track of crime and also for discovering trends, locations and possible crime hot spots. But reports are not traditional here.

Typically a crime victim is expected to make a report at the intake office of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The problem is that few expats and fewer tourists actually do.

The system is changing. Some 22 high-ranking Fuerza Pública officers completed a two-month course Tuesday in which they learned about the police reporting process inside and out. They also were trained to pass on the teaching.

The training was done in conjunction with the prosecutors because frequently it is the prosecutors who must deal with an inadequate initial report by police. If the initial reports are flawed, a case against a suspect can fail, officials pointed out Tuesday.

The Fuerza Pública is the first-line police force. Dial 9-1-1 and ask for police, and the Fuerza Pública is the agency that responds. Consequently officers witness a lot of crime and a lot of situations. Plus they make arrests in obvious cases. They made 50,000 in 2004, according to Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Ramos and Jorge Chavarría, fiscal general adjunto, both predicted that there would be resistance to the new procedures within the police ranks.

Ramos called the plan a radical change from the past. In some cases the 22 students in the course, were the highest-ranking police officials in their region. Most were from the greater San José area.

Using a multiplier effect, officials hope to train about 2,000 officers this year. Ramos said the goal is to provide objective transmission of information for the use of investigators and prosecutors.

Although the topic of statistics was not mentioned at the graduation ceremony for the course Tuesday, the state of crime in Costa Rica is generally uncertain because many victims never make the trip to the local Judicial Investigating Organization intake office. 

And street police are notorious for not filing reports on even the most serious crimes short of murder.

Ramos said the idea for the course grew out of official concern about how many repeat offenders were ending up back on the streets. Sometimes the criminals were let go because of flawed reports.

Expats and tourists alike bemoan situations where a property crime has been committed but officers fail to conduct an investigation, fail to obtain even the most basic details and ignore getting contact information.

Ramos and Walter Navarro, chief of the Fuerza Pública, have been emphasizing professionalism and training during their tenure in the top jobs.


 
U.S. Diplomatic Security agents get a boost in their official powers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Diplomatic Security agents are now full-fledged federal law enforcement officers.

An amendment to the State Department Basic Authorities Act expanded the law enforcement authorities of special agents of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. 

The new authorities, which became effective on April 6, allow Diplomatic Security special agents to: 

• Obtain and execute subpoenas, summonses, and search and arrest warrants for any federal offense; 

• Make an arrest without a warrant for any federal offense committed in a special agent's presence or for any federal felony if an agent has probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested is committing or has committed such felony. 

The guidelines impose reasonable limitations, including a requirement that a warrant be obtained when the need to make an arrest is reasonably foreseeable, said the State Department in a release. 

"This is a great day for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security," said Joe D. Morton, acting assistant secretary 

for diplomatic security. "These new authorities enhance the ability of our special agents to conduct effective criminal investigations, secure U.S. borders, and protect the American people from the threat of terrorism." 

Diplomatic Security is the worldwide law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State with special agents assigned to U.S. diplomatic missions overseas and field offices throughout the United States. Diplomatic Security special agents conduct passport and visa fraud investigations worldwide and are responsible for security at 285 U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. 

Lately they have been involved in enforcing U.S. laws against citizens traveling overseas for sexual liaisons with minors.

In the past, the authority of Diplomatic Security special agents was limited to the areas under the statutory authority, including identification fraud, offenses committed against U.S. or foreign dignitaries under their protection or foreign diplomats in the United States, said a spokesperson.

As a result of the change, Diplomatic Security special agents now have the same law enforcement authorities as special agents and federal law enforcement officers at other government agencies. 


 
In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!


 
But perceptions of citizen security worsen
Hemisphere gets an optimistic human rights report
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Numerous advances in human rights were achieved in the Western Hemisphere in 2004, says a human rights body of the Organization of American States.

In a statement Tuesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said these advances included the launch of a comprehensive national program to address human-rights concerns in Mexico, and the adoption of constitutional reforms to eradicate impunity for human-rights violations in Brazil. In addition, the commission pointed to a national referendum conducted in Venezuela, "despite conditions of extreme political polarization" in that country.

The commission also cited a number of "promising trends" in the region in 2004, including continuing efforts to curb impunity for serious human-rights violations committed in preceding decades.

Highlights of the efforts to curb impunity, said the commission, were the prosecution of Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet for atrocities committed during the time of his military regime, and the elimination in Argentina of various legal obstacles that impeded judicial prosecution in cases of forced "disappearances" and other human-rights violations.

The commission also praised the creation of a "Truth Commission" in Paraguay to investigate human-rights abuses, acknowledgments by Guatemala and Peru of serious human-rights violations in cases pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the signing of a settlement in cases of disappearances that occurred during the 1980s in Honduras.

On the negative side, the commission said crime and 

citizen insecurity reached "alarming proportions" in various countries of the Americas during 2004.

The commission said that in many countries, the insecurity generated by the high rates of crime and growing income inequality led both the governments and the general public to "demonstrate a higher tolerance for repressive methods used by the police." In this context, said the commission, "torture and excessive use of force are tools commonly used by the security forces in many countries in the region."

The commission added that corruption, "still a region-wide phenomenon, continues to impede the construction of democratic and transparent societies." In addition, the vast majority of countries in the region have not addressed the "causes and consequences produced by social exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity, class, race and gender," said the commission.

High poverty rates and the "extensive inequality prevailing in the region continue to limit the effective enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, and negatively affect the observance of many civil and political rights," said the commission.

Negative human-rights developments were reported in Haiti, which the commission said was mired in a grave institutional crisis in 2004 amid rising political violence and deteriorating economic conditions.

In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of a number of the country's Supreme Court magistrates, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal raised deep concerns about the effective functioning of institutions that are "key to the rule of law and respect for the principle of separation and independence of powers," said the commission.


 
Annan seeks dialogue to end judicial crisis in Ecuador
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. —  The United Nations is urging dialogue to resolve a crisis in Ecuador involving the independence of the country's judiciary.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Ecuador's government and its political opponents to find a constitutional solution to the crisis.

Annan said he was following with concern the latest developments in the South American nation.

"The present crisis may aggravate an already unstable situation," Annan said.

He joined a previous call by the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador, Kristie Kenney, urging all parties in Ecuador to join in a "respectful, open dialogue" to end the crisis in that country.

Kenney, in a statement posted on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy to Ecuador, said that a solution needs to be found that "establishes an independent judicial system that ensures the rule of law, a judicial system that all Ecuadorians can respect."

The United States, said Kenney, "does not presume to tell Ecuador's democratically elected government, nor its people, how to conduct its internal affairs. Only the Ecuadorian people can decide which path is the correct one to follow."

But she added that the United States stands ready to help bring about a dialogue that would resolve the crisis  "so that Ecuador can concentrate on how best to take advantage of its vast potential and avail itself of the many opportunities that lie before it. . . . " 

The dispute in Ecuador arose after the national government attempted in 2004 to restructure the country's Supreme Court. The United Nations says the dispute involved the replacement of 27 of the 31 judges on Ecuador's Supreme Court with magistrates of the Ecuador National Congress' own choosing.

After months of public opposition to that action, Ecuador's Congress ratified, on Sunday, Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutiérrez's decision to dissolve the country's Supreme Court. But that move did not end the crisis, according to news reports, which said thousands of people in Ecuador took to the streets to demand Gutiérrez's ouster.


 
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