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(506) 2223-1327          Published, Monday, April 25, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 80             E-mail us
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burning Judas
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Paul Gamboa
Fuerza Pública officers squelched possible trouble in Lindora de Santa Ana Saturday night by participating in and supervision of the
traditional quema de Judas or burning of Judas. Lindora had been the scene of unruly behavior in years past. Our story is HERE!

This will be a rough and tumble political week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature is back in session today and the best spectator sport will be watching while the Partido Liberación Nacional tries to hang on to power.

At stake is the legislative leadership for the coming year. The vote will be taken May 1, less than a week away. A bloc of opposition parties claimed to have 31 votes. That's two more than needed to win control.

At this writing Liberación has 24 votes and two votes from two evangelical political party representatives. Liberación needs to woo away at least three votes from the opposition parties.

What is usually seen as political theater contains some real implications for expats and Costa Rican citizens.
Liberación generally supports the tax proposals of President Laura Chinchilla although some lawmakers disagree on some points.

Opposition parties generally want stricter enforcement of existing tax laws and more efforts to catch tax evaders. There is a slight problem.

Francisco Villalobos Brenes, whose official title is director general de Tributación, said he does not have the staff to increase anti-evasion efforts and he does not have the power to hire new agents. Ms. Chinchilla has instituted a hiring freeze in the executive branch.

For Ms. Chinchilla, the need for more money is critical. The current budget is based on approval of the new taxes. Her entire security plan is mainly hiring more police officers. Nearly half the current budget is financed by borrowing.

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Four earthquakes rattle coast
over Semana Santa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacific subduction zone has been active over Semana Santa. Four felt quakes took place between April 18 and Sunday.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica logged these events:

The latest was at 6:49 p.m. Sunday about 6.7 kilometers (4.1 miles) northeast of Puerto Armuelles in Panama. That is a very active area. The magnitude was listed as 4.5

Thursday at 8:45 a.m. a 3.8-magnitude quake took place 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles) northeast of Grecia.

Tuesday at 6:42 a.m. a 4.1 quake took place 31 kilometers (19 miles) west of Quepos.

And Monday at 9:44 p.m. a 4.3-magnitude quake took place 18 kilometers (11 miles) southeast of Herradura. That was felt in Playa Coyote, Jacó and Paquera.

The denser Cocos plate is pushing under the lighter Caribbean plate on which much of the country rides. Although the Cocos plate is popularly considered to be under the Pacific Ocean, it intrudes inland and the subduction is responsible for the country's volcanoes and mountains. The visible trench where the western edge of the Caribbean plate meets the Cocos is visible under the Pacific Ocean.

Puerto Armuelles is an active area in part because the Panamá microplate or block is in contact with the Cocos plate there.

U.S. chamber plans to honor
President Laura Chinchilla

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla will be the guest of honor at a reception and dinner May 18 sponsored by the U.,S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. chamber said that Costa Rica has long been viewed a leader in Central America and plays an influencial role in regional affairs.

The event is at the International Hall of Flags in Washington, D.C. It was rescheduled from mid-April.

Casa Presidencial has not yet announced that the president will be going to the United States, and it is likely that after spending time promoting Costa Rican investments with members of the various chambers she will have meetings with The Organization of American States and U.S. government officials. She likely will be seeking more funds for drug interdiction.

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, Monday, April 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 80
Latigo K-9

Judas on bike
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Paul Gamboa

Traditionally the Judas effigy gets a trip around the community on bike or motorcycle before being hung and burned.

Cops take lead to burn Judas
in Lindora de Santa Ana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers were out in force Saturday night to put the lid on the traditional quema de Judas that has frequently led to excesses by youth mobs and even set fires.

In Lindora de Santa Ana, an area that has seen its share or violence on the night before Easter, police acted first.

Yadelly Noguera, the chief of the Fuerza Pública in Santa Ana, said that officers met earlier with local association leaders and actively participated in setting up the activities for the evening.

Elsewhere, however, there were confrontations between police and young vandals. In a string of communities in Heredia there were arrests. The full total is not yet available. More than 260 police were on the job.

In addition to supervising the burning of three figures representing the bibical Judas, Fuerza Pública officers organized a competition for youths to climb a greased pole.
pre-burining judases
In Lindora one effigy was dressed for the part with robe, wig and sandals. Effigy No. 2 was ready for the prom. No. 3 appeared to be from outer space.

Participants said they expended most of their energy in the competition and had little left to participate in vandalism.

Judas, of course, is the turncoat apostle who was said to have pointed out Jesus Christ so he could be arrested, thereby setting off the most famous trial and execution in western civilization.

Cruz Roja workers also participated in the Lindora gathering.

Toll for week is 11 drowned and two reported missing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cruz Roja reported Sunday that 11 persons had died in water accidents over Semana Santa. And the search continues for a surfer who vanished at Playa Guiones at Nosara on the far Pacific coast.

The rescue agency reported increases in most forms of death last week when compared to the previous year.

Six murders and a suicide took place during the week and there appears to have been 13 deaths involving motor vehicles.

The Cruz Roja released its latest report at 5 p.m. Sunday. Traffic was reported moving steadily as Central Valley residents returned to their homes.

The Cruz Roja also said it was able to effect 102 rescues

Semana Santa saw unusually high seas on the Pacific. However, some of the drownings took place in rivers away from the shore
The missing surfer is Alvaro Durán Rivas, 39, who disappeared Friday evening at the popular surfing location.  Alejandra Monge, a friend, said by email that his surfboard had not appeared giving those close to him hope that he was carried out to sea but still was alive.

The Cruz Roja, police and others mounted a major search that included Ministerio de Seguridad aircraft. Durán is the father of two children and was identified as a businessman.

Early Saturday the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and the Policía Turística managed to locate the body of a Moravia resident identified as Gregory McKensy Mathews, 23. He died at Playa Potrero de Brasilito, Guanacaste.

Rescuers recovered the body Sunday of a 7-year-old Central Valley child in a river in Jacó. The child appears to have died Saturday. A man also was believed to have died in a Jacó water accident Sunday.

The Cruz Roja also reported searchers were seeking another adult who went missing on Playa Hermosa in the southern zone.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 80

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Orb-weaver spider here basically unchanged since Jurassic

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

University of Kansas scientists are thrilled because they found a Jurassic period spider fossil in China. They could have found the same type of critter very much alive in the Central Valley or hundreds of other Costa Rican locations.

The spider is the golden orb-weaver, which seems to have changed little in the last 175 million years. The fossil and its modern descendants have a leg span of more than five inches. The female spiders weave webs as much as 1.5 meters in diameter. That is nearly five feet.

The University of Kansas said that the fossil was found near Daohugou, China in a joint effort with the Capital Normal University in Beijing. Paul A. Selden, a professor at Kansas and Chinese colleagues authored a report on the find in Biological Letters, an online research journal. He said that the many millions of years was an extremely long range for any animal genus, said the university which called today's spiders living fossils. They are frequent in tropical areas nearly all over the world. The genus is Nephila.

Today's spiders generally feed on insects but can handle an infrequent small bat or bird. The spiders are striking because of the golden web and because of the size of the creature.
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A.M. Costa Rica file photo
This critter, now called a living fossil, made its home in Ciudad Colón when this photo was taken several years ago. It's hard to miss these spiders with the body length of two inches or more.

Caja acquires title to land for new hospital in Turrialba

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Plans are moving ahead for a new hospital in Turrialba to replace the existing Hospital William Allen Taylor. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social has gained title to some 10 hectares or about 25 acres that will be the site of the new facility. The Caja said it invested 250 million colons (about $505,000) and the owner, the Pirie family, donated half the estimate value.

The search for the correct location was not easy, said hospital officials. Sought was land that would not flood, was not near underground thermal activity and was close to public services.

The Caja is now embarking on a project to estimate the
 health needs of the some 87,000 persons who live in the cantons of Turrialba and Jiménez that will be served by the facility. In that way, officials said, they can determine what kind of specialized care will be provided. The hospital also is the primary health provider for some 7,000 native Cabécar who live in the surrounding mountains.

The anticipated health needs of the area population will influence the final design of the facility, officials said. A design team already has been assembled under the supervision of Gabriela Murillo Jenkins, they added. He is head of the Caja's Infraestructura y Tecnologías division.

Meanwhile, renovations and construction will continue at the existing hospital, said the Caja. The staff there now is about 500.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 80

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U.S. backing Honduran bid
to reenter hemispheric group

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told Honduran President Porfirio Lobo she supports his country's efforts to gain readmission to the Organization of American States.

State Department officials say Mrs. Clinton spoke to Lobo by telephone Friday.  They say the two also discussed political and citizen safety challenges in Honduras.

Honduras was dropped from the Organization of American States following the 2009 coup that sent then president Manuel Zelaya into exile in the Dominican Republic.  Lobo was then elected president.

More bodies are unearthed
in northern México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican authorities have pulled about 30 more bodies from an unmarked mass grave in the northern part of the country.

Officials say the bodies were found near the city of Durango, capital of the state with the same name.

The discovery comes after authorities recently unearthed mass graves holding as many as 126 bodies in the northwestern state of Tamaulipas near the U.S. border.

Authorities have arrested at least 17 members of the Zetas drug gang for the killings, as well as 16 municipal police officers accused of protecting those who carried out the killings.

Migrants trying to reach the United States often cross through Tamaulipas.  The state is where 72 Central American migrants were found shot to death last August.  The Zetas have been blamed for that massacre as well.

Drug-related killings have claimed at least 35,000 lives since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón took office and launched an offensive against drug cartels.

The Zetas began as a Mexican military unit that defected and began working with the Gulf cartel, based in Juarez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande river 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.

Four women and girl
are slain in Acapulco

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican police say the brutally murdered bodies of four women and a teenage girl have been found in the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco.

Authorities say all the victims apparently had a connection to a local beauty parlor.

Officials say the semi-nude and bound bodies of two of the women and a 14-year-old girl were found with their throats slashed early Saturday in the salon.

Police say the other victims, who also had their throats cut, were found later in the day in other parts of the resort town.

Acapulco, a popular tourist destination, has increasingly been the scene of violent battles between rival drug cartels. 

On Friday, the U.S. issued a new travel warning for U.S. citizens in Mexico, urging them to exercise caution amid rising drug-related violence.

Nearly 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug-related violence since the end of 2006, when President Felipe Calderón ordered a military-led crackdown on the country's drug cartels.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 80

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Fraud allegations emerge
in Haitian legislative races

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations and Haiti's major donor nations, including the United States, are questioning whether there was fraud in the final results of legislative elections.

The final voting results announced last week showed that the government reversed the outcome of 18 legislative races from vote totals it had released earlier in the month. All but two of the new results favored candidates from the ruling Unity Party of outgoing President Rene Preval.

The U.N. said the results raised serious concerns about the legitimacy of the vote counting. The final results would give the Unity Party 46 of the 99 seats in the chamber of deputies and 17 of the 30 seats in the senate. Former pop star Michel Martelly won the presidency with two-thirds of the vote, but his fledgling Reypons Peysan party won only three legislative seats.

Martelly said the results are "unacceptable and don't reflect the will of the people." He urged the international community to not recognize the results.

The U.N. released its statement Friday on behalf of the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, the European Union and other major donors. Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince called on the Haitian government for an explanation of the results, saying it could find no explanation for the reversals. The U.S. noted that in one instance a candidate was listed as having more votes than the total that was cast for all candidates in his district.

Martelly has promised change in Haiti after he is sworn in on May 14. International donors are waiting for a new government before they release billions of dollars to help Haiti overcome its deep poverty, earthquake-shattered infrastructure and cholera epidemic.

False bottomed suitcase
fails to pass inspection

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Guatemalan woman ended up in jail instead of Berlin when anti-drug agents found what they suspected to be material laced with cocaine in her suitcase. She became the 13th person to be nabbed this year at Juan Santamaría airport.

Agents said the cocaine totaled three kilos or about 6.6 pounds. The arrest was made Saturday as the woman was about to leave for Madrid, Spain, en route to Berlin, Germany.

Part of the bottom of her suitcase was made from cocaine mixed with some type of resin, agents said. They added that this was an old smuggler's trick in which the inspectors are supposed to believe that the material is actually part of the suitcase.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 80

Here is a career-ending case for the sob sisters in the judiciary
There is another custody battle brewing, and Costa Rican judicial officials who like to meddle in such U.S. cases could face the decision of their lives.

The judicial officials unerringly seem to favor the women in a custody battle and have disregarded international treaties that say the court of initial jurisdiction is the place where custody should be decided. Usually the court of initial jurisdiction is in the United States.

But Tico judges and judicial officials are quick to protect a fleeing mother from the U.S. justice system and award her refugee status here, usually without making any investigation.

But now comes a case with two mothers. And one is lesbian and the other is a former lesbian.

At the center of the case is a 9-year-old girl, who was born via artificial insemination.
The biological mother is Lisa Miller who fled the United States to avoid turning over custody to her former lover, Vermont homosexual rights activist Janet Jenkins. Ms. Miller fled to Central America two years ago, and has been reported to be in Nicaragua. There is a possibility that she has entered Costa Rica.

A judge gave custody to Ms. Jenkins because Ms. Miller moved from Vermont and denied Ms. Jenkins visitations.

The case is further wrapped up in evangelical Christianity, gay rights and a host of sub-issues.

If some ladies in the judiciary want to be world arbitrators of parental rights, we would be happy to provide Ms. Miller telephone money, Such a case would remind the ladies of the judiciary why laws and treaties were designed to trump emotions.
— April 25, 2011

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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