A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Tuesday, April 27, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 82
Jo Stuart
About us
New $5.3 million casino planned near airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An international casino company that already has two locations in San José plans to build a $5.3 million gambling complex near Juan Santamaría Airport.

The company is International Thunderbird Gaming Corp., a California firm. The company said in a press release that the new casino, a joint venture with local investors, will have 250 gaming machines and 84 new gaming positions. 

That size would make the Alajuela casino the largest in Costa Rica.

The news of the project is contained in a shareholder letter from the publicly held company. The summary said that the development also would include the structure for a Denny’s Restaurant.

The hotel involved is the Hotel Hampton Inn-Aeropuerto. The hotel is operated by the Grupo Marta S.A., which also operates the Hotel Best Western Irazú where the group opened the first Denny’s in Costa Rica in 1999. The Hampton hotel is about a kilometer from the international airport on the Panamerican Highway.

Thunderbird operates the Fiesta casino in the 

Hotel Presidente on the pedestrian mall in 
downtown San José and also the casino in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica near the Teatro Nacional. By law, casinos in Costa Rica must be associated with hotels except in the case of casinos that existed before the law was passed. 

Thunderbird said it had entered into an agreement with a U.S. financial group to borrow up to $10 million to pay for various projects it plans to undertake in the next 12 months. The Costa Rican project will be paid from this money.

Thunderbird has casino properties in Panamá, Guatemala, Venezuela and in Nicaragua. The firm said it plans to open at least two casinos in Chile once legislation is approved for that purpose.

The news release was issued in the name of Jack R. Mitchell, president and CEO.

In the last financial report available, for the third quarter of 2003, the company had revenues of $5.4 million, an increase of 28 percent over 2002.  Net income for the quarter was $704,000 compared to a loss of $63,000 during the third quarter of 2002.

The company’s stock is traded by the Canadian Trading and Quotation System, Inc.

Pacheco launches 'sacred war' on sex criminals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco said Monday that he has instructed his foreign minister to try to get Costa Rica invited to join the European Convention on Cybercrimes.

Pacheco said the minister, Roberto Tovar, would work through the country’s mission in Geneva.

The instruction was part of a wide-ranging plan by Pacheco to wage a "sacred war" against sexual exploitation of minors, pedophiles and pornographers.

Pacheco spoke as he signed a decree that seeks to keep youngsters out of Internet cafes in the late evening and also extends control to videogames and computer games, which will be classified according to the level of violence.

Pacheco also accepted a law that created a family and children’s court in San José and other measures that increase levels of protection to children.

The 2001 European Union treaty is basically a cooperative, mutual assistance measure that requires national police forces to help their counterparts in a computer crime investigation that may touch their jurisdiction.

The treaty requires the signatory nation to: 

- Make illegal the possession of hacking software

- Adopt criminal laws against the possession of child pornography

- Establish criminal laws against copyright infringement.

- Require Internet service providers to 

maintain traffic data, identification of users and other subscriber data.

- Pass legislation to allow law enforcement tapping of computer transmissions

- Extradite cybercriminals, or in the case of a country like Costa Rica that constitutionally prohibits extradition of citizens, the nation must prosecute the crime internally.

A Casa Presidential statement said that Pacheco wants the country to live under the European Union treaty because current law here do not punish all these crimes. The convention would increase the country’s capacity to combat offenses against children and other vulnerable persons, Pacheco said.

The convention is complex, and typically such documents are reviewed extensively against existing law before any action takes place in the Asamblea Nactional which must approve a treaty.

Pacheco also said that he wants Costa Rican diplomats to try to get the topics of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation on the agenda of the Organization of American States. 

"Our position will be a call to form a continental front to combat these evils," Pacheco said.

Pacheco’s plan to adopt the European treaty generated almost immediate support in the legislative assembly. Joyce Zürcher Blen, a deputy with the rival Partido Liberación Nacional, said deputies should promise to ratify the measure once it comes into their hands.

Although the treaty was drawn up by European Union members, there are provisions for non-union nations to ratify the measure.

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Although it looks like it is a product of Colonial Spanish construction, the Bella Vista Fortress dates from the late 19th century.

Museum plans party
to celebrate birthday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The birthday is really Tuesday, but the Museo Nacional will celebrate its 117th years Sunday at the Bella Vista Fortress east of the downtown.

It was in 1887 when President Bernardo Soto and his minister of development, Cleto González Víquez, prepared legislation to create the museum.

And it was not until 1948 when the junta that won the civil war abolished the military that the museum got the fortress.

The party starts Sunday at 10 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m.. Visitors will find typical Costa Rican bands, shows, folkloric dances and activities for children.

A face painting booth is promised and a workshop on butterflies. 

A tour of the museum’s butterfly garden is an attraction.

The museum was in many different locations in the beginning and its first collection of archaeological pieces was located in Aguas Calientes de Cartago. They had been donated by the Indians who found them.

Admission Sunday is $4 per tourist and $2 for foreign students.

Vannessa hires experts
from UCR to help

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vannessa Ventures Ltd., the Canadian firm that wants to mine for gold in northern Costa Rica has hired five University of Costa Rica environmental experts to help get governmental approval.

The company said in a release to shareholders that the firm through its wholly owned subsidiary Industrias Infinito S.A. has been actively working with the Secretaría Técnica Nacional del Ambiente of the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía.

The Crucitas mine will be an open pit, and the gold will be leached from the rock with mercury, a fact that caused concern among residents. The site is near the San Juan River that separates Costa Rica form Nicaragua.

The company noted that in October, the ministry allowed the company to update its environmental submissions. Last month the Secretaría Técnica appointed a technical commission to review the company’s environmental impact study.

Once the commission evaluates the study, the mining firm said it was prepared to submit additional material to cover any deficiencies.

The company did not identify the university experts. The San Pedro campus is a center of opposition to the gold mining proposal.

Travel firms signing
code of conduct

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expotur, the marketing exposition for the country’s tourist trade, will be May 24 to 28 this year, again at the Hotel Herradura Conference Center in Heredia on the Panamerican Highway.

One tourism operator said Monday that the Expotur inauguration will include recognition for tourism operators whose employees have completed a program on the protection of children against sexual exploitation.

The firm, Tropic Joe’s Tours, said that it has signed a code of conduct to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.

By signing the new industry code, the Sabana Norte firm and others in the hotel and travel industry agree to establish a corporate policy against commercial sexual exploitation of children. Signatories also pledge to train personnel on what to do to take action and to include clauses in contracts with suppliers stating opposition to the practice. The code also requires the industry to provide information on the sexual exploitation of children to travelers and provide information to local key persons at destinations.

Tropic Joe said that President Abel Pacheco will make a presentation to the firms that have signed the code at a ceremony May 25 at 7 p.m.

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Major agricultural conference will be here in May
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman will travel to San José to co-host a conference May 10 to 11 for the countries of Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic on the use of science and technology to improve productivity in the agricultural sector, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Agriculture Department said Monday that some 200 invited participants are expected to attend. Attendees include the vice presidents of Nicaragua and El Salvador; ministers of agriculture and science and technology from the nine member countries of Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama; and representatives from private industry, academia, research centers, and nongovernmental, regional or international organizations, the Department said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development are co-hosting the 

event along with Costa Rica's ministries of Agriculture and Science and Technology and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

The conference will examine such issues as improving food security by applying agricultural science and technology in an environmentally sustainable way, according to a press release. 

Also being studied are ways of adopting conventional and state-of-the-art agricultural technologies, including biotechnology, to boost productivity, the release said.

Among the many speakers President Abel Pacheco, Secretary Veneman, George Atkinson, U.S. science advisor, Inter-American Institute Director General Chelston Brathwaite and others.

The sessions will be held at the Radisson Europa Hotel.

For more information about the conference, click HERE! 

British start testing national ID card for citizens
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain has begun testing a national identification card that authorities say should reduce the threat of terrorism and other criminal activities

The last time the British government ordered its citizens to carry identity cards was during World War II, and the Home Office says it is time to  revive the practice because of the war on terrorism.

Home Secretary David Blunkett published draft legislation that could lead to compulsory identity cards by 2013. 

Under a pilot program also launched Monday, 10,000 volunteers will test the technology and receive cards measuring their facial dimensions, iris images, and fingerprints.

Blunkett says identity cards are needed to help authorities fight several 21 century criminal and social problems.

"There has been a dramatic shift, not simply because we have the 11 of September 2001, and 

the new international network terrorist threat under al-Qaida, but actually because we have also seen a massive growth in organized fraud," he 

"We have seen a very large move in people across boundaries and the flood of people coming into Europe and to the United Kingdom, some claiming asylum, some clandestine workers."

Critics of the plan say criminals will find a way to defeat the technology, while law-abiding citizens face the threat of increased government intrusion in their personal lives.

"The government's really going to have to make a much more detailed case as to how this card is going to be a panacea for all ills from terrorism to benefit fraud and illegal immigration. This costs a lot of money, and also has personal and social costs," said Shami Chakravorty, a spokeswoman for Liberty, a British civil-liberties group.

A poll published last week said four out of five Britons support the concept of identity cards, though fewer than one in five believe they will help combat terrorism. 

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The new, secure $50 U.S. bill is kind of pink
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

FT. WORTH, Texas — U.S. government officials unveiled the new $50 note design Monday. The new bill has enhanced security features, subtle background colors of blue and red, images of a waving American flag and a small metallic silver-blue star.

The new design is part of the government's efforts to stay ahead of counterfeiting and protect the integrity of U.S. currency. The new $50 note, which will be issued in late September or early October, is the second denomination in the Series 2004 currency. The first was the $20 note, which began circulating in October.

"U.S. currency is a worldwide symbol of security and integrity. These new designs help us keep it that way, by protecting against counterfeiting and making it easier for people to confirm the authenticity of their hard-earned money," U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said.

Snow was joined at the unveiling of the new $50 note's design by Federal Reserve Board Governor Mark W. Olson, Tom Ferguson, director of the Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which produces U.S. currency, and C. Danny Spriggs, deputy director of the United States Secret Service, the law enforcement agency responsible for combating counterfeiting.

The new $50 note was unveiled at the Bureau of Engraving’s Western Currency Facility here. 

The facilty prints 55 percent of all U.S. paper currency. It is the only location other than the bureau's Washington, D.C., facility that prints currency, and it will also be printing the first run of the newly redesigned $50 note.

The new $50 notes will be safer, smarter and more secure currency: safer because they will be harder to fake and easier to check; smarter to stay ahead of tech-savvy counterfeiters; more secure to protect the integrity of U.S. currency, officials said.

Despite counterfeiters' increasing use of technology, advanced counterfeit deterrence efforts on the part of the authorities has kept counterfeiting at low levels. Current estimates put the rate of counterfeit $50 notes in circulation 

worldwide at less than 1 note for every 25,000 genuine $50 notes in circulation.

The $50 note will be followed later by a new $100 note. Decisions on new designs for the $5 and $10 notes are still under consideration, but a redesign of the $1 and $2 notes is not planned. Even after the new money is issued, older-design notes will remain legal tender.

Because counterfeiters are turning increasingly to digital methods and as advances in technology make digital counterfeiting easier and cheaper, the government is staying ahead of counterfeiters by updating the currency every seven to 10 years.

The new notes feature subtle background colors and highlight historical symbols of Americana. 

Security Features

The new $50 design retains three important security features that were first introduced in the 1990s and are easy for consumers and merchants alike to check:

• Watermark: a faint image, similar to the portrait, which is part of the paper itself and is visible from both sides when held up to the light.

• Security thread: also visible from both sides when held up to the light, this vertical strip of plastic is embedded in the paper and spells out the denomination in tiny print.

• Color-shifting ink: the numeral in the lower right corner on the face of the note, indicating its denomination, changes color when the note is tilted.

Because these features are difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce well, they often do not try. Counterfeiters are hoping that cash-handlers and the public will not check their money closely.

Three Irish visitors acquitted of explosives charges in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A Colombian judge has acquitted three Irish men on charges they trained local Marxist rebels in explosives techniques. 

But the three men, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, were convicted of using false documents. It is unclear if they will serve sentences on those charges or be expelled from Colombia. Their sentences range from 26 to 44 months. 

Authorities arrested the men in August 2001 at 

Bogota's international airport after the Irish men had visited a rebel-held area of Colombia. They said there was evidence the three were members of the Irish Republican Army, and were in Colombia working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

The men denied being tied to the Irish Republican Army and said they were in Colombia to observe the peace process between the rebels and government. 

Had they been convicted on the explosives charges, they each could have faced as many as 20 years.

Jo Stuart
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