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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, May 3, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 86             E-mail us
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Universal press freedom still is a fragile liberty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is World Press Freedom Day, and for the first time, the liberty of publishing belongs to everyone.

In the past, newspapers and television stations were criticized for the self-serving promotion of press freedom. In fact, the media plowed the road for everyone to establish strong protections for those who would give opinions.

The monopoly of the printed press and television has been broken. No longer do those who wish to express their opinions have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for equipment. A couple of hundred dollars in a computer and an Internet connection is all that is needed.

Can't do a Web page? There is Facebook and Twitter. That's free freedom of the press.

Yet there still are many countries that are allergic to press freedom. Cuba is one where those who comment on the social condition might end up in prison. Freedom House, a press watchdog, estimates that 87 countries or about 45 percent of the world's 194 nations are free.

"Nearly 2.5 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected. China accounts for more than half of this number," said Freedom House in a press release Monday. See story HERE!

Costa Rica, which is listed as totally free, still has its problems. There has been a proliferation of English-language news outlets on the Internet here. A.M. Costa Rica still is the best read, but there are no guarantees.

The big danger to publishers here are criminal defamation charges. Such cases can be brought without any real evidence and can tie up a company in litigation for years. Fighting such a case is expensive, and the Costa Rican courts have no provisions for throwing out a case without substance early in the proceedings. Such a case usually goes to trial, and there is no guarantee that the truth will prevail.

So every time a reporter or editor in Costa Rica types a word for publication, either in print or on the Internet, there is the risk of a criminal allegation.

Costa Rica needs to eliminate the criminal aspects of defamation and provide a legal way for a judge to throw out a case at an early stage if there does not appear to be substance to the allegations. In the United States, this is called a summary judgment.
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Press freedom in Costa Rica is better than in adjacent countries and in other Latin lands. No one questioned editors here when A.M. Costa Rica first appeared on the Internet. Readers comment critically on news stories. Letters to the editor frequently are argumentative and sometimes nasty. This newspaper has a policy of publishing nearly all the letters readers send in.

The main reason letters are left out is because the writer has submitted opinions too frequently.

For that there are discussion lists. There are a handful about Costa Rica. The submissions range from the weighty to the trite. There also are travel Web pages where tourists can post critical reports on their accommodations and restaurants. Frequently these reports carry a lot of weight with future visitors.

The freedom the public has today to voice their opinions frightens some politicians. This may be the golden age of personal expression. Even in wide open societies there is movement to restrict what writers can say online.

But for today, the freedom is there for the public to lose. Each citizen must resist even well-reasoned efforts to curb free expression. That's because for the first time, the free press truly belongs to the public and not media corporations.

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Two murders reported
on Central Pacific coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Intruders smothered a 71-year-old Jacó man after tying him to his own bed Sunday night, said investigators.

The man's wife discovered the body about 7 p.m. Sunday, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The agency identified the victim as a Russian, although expats who know him in Jacó said he was a U.S. citizen. He was identified unofficially as Pierre Beauvais.

Fuerza Pública officers detained at least one man who was believed to be leaving the scene. The investigation was hampered because police could not locate a Russian translator. They issued a call for someone with knowledge of Russian and Spanish.

Meanwhile, about the same time in Villanueva about 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) south of Quepos, someone killed a real estate agent with at least 10 bullets. The man was identified by the last name of Brenes, and investigators said he lived in Uvita de Osa to the south. His age was listed as 45 years.

Agents said that the man's body was found in a solitary location and that a neighbor about a half a kilometer (about a third of a mile)  away said he heard a series of gunshots about 7 p.m.

Phone company marketing
iPhones and user plans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telephone company will begin marketing iPhones 3 and 4 Wednesday, but requirements suggest that most expats will have to get a note from their accountant to sign up.

The iPhones themselves will range from $352 for a 3G model with 8 gigabytes of memory to $581 for a 4G with 32 gigabytes of memory. Both prices are for a 12-month contract.

Then there are the charges for use. That ranges from 15,435 colons a month to 39,278. The difference depends on the amount of download and the number of cell telephone minutes and the number of text messages. The full description of the plans is HERE.

The G4 telephone allowed Internet access, face-to-face communication and a 5 megapixel camera, the company said.

Like every transaction with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, there are certain papers that someone seeking to rent a phone must bring. Individuals need a  constancia salarial, a document from an employer specifying the salary.

Anyone without a salaried job, as many expats are, need to have a statement from a public accountant. The company also wants users to sign up for an automatic debit plan.

According to the company, those signing up for an iPhone plan have to rent the phone at the same time. There was no mention of the many persons who already have an iPhone.

Resurfacing work is planned
on Autopista General Cañas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is more work planned on the Autopista General Cañas. This is the highway that has been closed on and off since Christmas to fix a balky bridge. Now the job is resurfacing.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, said that workers will be sealing cracks with asphalt from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. The stretch from Juan Santamaría airport to Plaza Real Cariari was supposed to have been completed this morning in the Alajuela-San José direction.

Early Wednesday workers will be resurfacing from the Río Virilla bridge to the airport, the Consejo said.

The highway will be open but traffic barriers will be restricting motorists to one lane.

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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 86
Latigo K-9

Country begins massive program to vaccinate children
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has embarked on a project to vaccinate 700,000 youngsters this month.

The youngsters are getting shots against polio, rubella, measles and mumps. The work is being done through the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Alfio Piva Mesén, vice president, and the minster of Salud, María Luisa Ávila, kicked off the program Monday morning in Alajuelita.

The vaccination program will cost more than $1 million and continue through May 27. The goal of the program is to eliminate many of the childhood diseases, some of which can lead to death.

Although vaccinations are readily available, not all parents in lower income families take advantage of the government health services. In addition, some youngsters are new arrivals from other countries that do not have a comprehensive health system.

Although polio is considered to have been eliminated in the Americas, the shots are a protection until the disease is eliminated in the whole world. For many children the shots are boosters to fortify the immunity they received by vaccinations earlier in their lives. Some of the childhood diseases are dangerous to unborn children, so the shots are a protection to mothers, too.
Casa Presidencial photo
The health minister, María Luisa Ávila, a physician, administers the shot to a youngster Monday while Alfio Piva Mesén steadies the child's arm.

Liberación bites the bullet and moves into the minority
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The opposition slate prevailed Monday as legislators elected leadership for the coming year.

Juan Carlos Mendoza became the president of the Asamblea Legislativa in the afternoon voting. He is a member of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. His election was a certainty because Liberación Nacional declined to put up a candidate.

The election ended what some called the worst political crisis in years. Named as vice president was Patricia Pérez of Movimiento Libertario. Members of other parties previously in the opposition got lesser officers.

Liberación lawmakers did not vote for a candidate. That party had 24 votes, less than the 29 needed to name leaders through April 30, 2012.

The other parties were Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the  Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión and the single lawmakers from Frente Amplio.

President Laura Chinchilla quickly issued a statement expressing her desire to work together with the new leadership in favor of the country.

Luis Gerardo Villanueva made clear earlier in the afternoon that he would not be a candidate for the presidency of the assembly and that his party, Liberación would not run a candidate.

Villanueva was at the middle of the conflict Sunday when he won the presidency after the opposition parties
had left the room. He later resigned. More than a dozen Sala IV appeals from individuals have been filed over the incident, according to the Poder Judicial. They appear to be moot now.

The chaos was so great Sunday that lawmakers did not meet for the annual state of the state message from the president. This was considered a national embarrassment because foreign diplomats and others are invited to hear the president. Casa Presidencial had to uninvite the guests Sunday afternoon. Ms. Chinchilla was said to be livid at the way the situation unfolded.

Insiders say that Liberación made a deal with some members of the opposition party to support Villanueva but only if the voting could be in secret. The opposition parties wanted to hold together their fragile bloc and wanted to oversee the voting by the members of the opposition parties. They walked out over the plan for secret voting.

Both groups sought the political high ground. Liberación styled itself as the defender of the right to secret ballot. The opposition parties claimed Liberación had engineered a coup d'etat by changing the rules. The rhetoric flew hot and fast.

Earlier Monday, Viviana Martín, the leader of the Liberación party in the legislature, met with opposition lawmakers and reached an agreement for a 3 p.m. meeting at which 55 of the 57 lawmakers attended.

That was enough to elect the opposition slate with 31 votes.

Costa Rica is not accustomed to hard-nosed politics, so the developments Sunday were covered live and in depth.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 86

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Freedom on the decline in 2010, watchdog survey reports

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Global freedom suffered its fifth consecutive year of decline in 2010, according to Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties around the world. This represents the longest continuous period of decline in the nearly 40-year history of the survey. The year featured drops in the number of free countries and the number of electoral democracies, as well as an overall deterioration for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa region, the organization said.

A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains, said the report. The number of countries designated as free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, far below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world, Freedom House said.

“This should be a wake-up call for all of the world’s democracies,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “Our adversaries are not just engaging in widespread repression, they are doing so with unprecedented aggressiveness and self-confidence, and the democratic community is not rising to the challenge.”

Published annually since 1972, Freedom in the World examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world. The latest edition analyzes developments that occurred in 2010 and assigns each country a freedom status — free, partly free, or not free—based on a scoring of performance on key democracy indicators.

Four countries received status declines, including Ukraine and México, which both fell from free to partly free. Mexico’s downgrade was a result of the government’s inability to stem the tide of violence by drug-trafficking groups, while Ukraine suffered from deteriorating levels of press freedom, instances of election fraud, and growing politicization of the judiciary. Djibouti and Ethiopia were downgraded from partly free to not free. Other countries showing declines included Bahrain, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela.

The Middle East and North Africa remained the region with the lowest level of freedom in 2010, continuing its multiyear decline from an already-low democratic baseline.

The world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes acted with increased brazenness in 2010, said Freedom house, noting:

China pressured foreign governments to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony honoring jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez pushed through legislation that allowed him to rule by decree and further restricted nongovernmental organizations and the media. Russia’s leadership showed blatant disregard for judicial independence in its handling of, among other cases, the sentencing of regime critic and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky after a trial that was widely considered fraudulent. And both Egypt and Belarus conducted sham elections with little hint of transparency. In the case of Belarus, the election was followed by massive violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.

“It is often observed that a government that mistreats its people also fears its people,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “But authoritarian regimes will have a much freer hand to silence their domestic critics if there is no resistance from the outside world. Indeed, if the world’s democracies fail to unite and speak out in defense of their own values, despots will continue to gain momentum.”

Immigration policies were a topic of concern this year in many countries, including those in Western Europe and the United States. France saw a decline in its civil liberties score due to its treatment of Roma of Gypsies from Eastern Europe as well as its problems in coping with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

There were a few bright spots in the survey, including status improvements from not free to partly free for Kyrgyzstan and Guinea after both countries held comparatively free and
fair elections, and ratings improvements for Kenya, Moldova, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Tanzania, Freedom House said.

Key global findings, according to the organization:

Free: The number of countries designated by Freedom in the World as Free in 2010 stands at 87, two fewer than the previous year, and representing 45 percent of the world’s 194 countries and 43 percent of the world’s population.

Partly Free: The number of Partly Free countries increased to 60, or 31 percent of all countries assessed by the survey, comprising 22 percent of the world’s total population.

Not Free: The number of countries deemed to be not free remained at 47, or 24 percent of the total number of countries. Nearly 2.5 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected. China accounts for more than half of this number.

Electoral Democracies: The number of electoral democracies dropped from 116 to 115, the lowest number since 1995. Three countries — the Philippines, Tanzania, and Tonga — achieved electoral democracy status after conducting elections that were regarded as improvements over earlier polls. Declines in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, and Sri Lanka triggered their removal from the list of electoral democracies.

Worst of the Worst: Of the 47 countries ranked not free, nine countries and one territory received the survey’s lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Key regional findings:

Sub-Saharan Africa: Major declines were recorded in Ethiopia and Djibouti, both of which dropped from partly free to not free. In addition, declines were noted in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Rwanda, Swaziland, and Zambia. Improvements were noted in Kenya, Nigeria, Somaliland, and Tanzania, as well as in Guinea, which received an improvement in status from not free to partly free.

Asia-Pacific: Successful elections resulted in improvements for the Philippines and Tonga. Declines were documented in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Fiji, Indian Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union: The 2010 election in Kyrgyzstan, which followed the collapse of the government earlier in the year, was considered relatively free and fair and resulted in a status improvement from not free to partly free. Gains were also noted in Georgia and Moldova. Ukraine dropped from free to partly free, and Nagorno-Karabakh fell from partly free to not free. Other declines were seen in Hungary and Latvia.

Middle East and North Africa: The Middle East and North Africa, which has long been the region with the lowest levels of democracy in the world, continued its steady decline in 2010. In addition to a reduction in Egypt resulting from the country’s sham elections, declines were seen in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iran. There were no status or ratings improvements in the region.

Americas: The inability of the Mexican government to protect ordinary citizens, elected officials, or journalists from organized crime caused Mexico’s status to fall from free to partly free. Other countries that saw declines included Venezuela, where President Chávez pushed through damaging legislation just before the formation of a new parliament with significantly more opposition seats. Improvements were noted in Colombia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Western Europe and North America: Western Europe and the United States continued to struggle with a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. France received a score reduction for its treatment of ethnic minorities, including the mass deportation of Roma.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 86

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Milanes gets questions
from his former investors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former investors and lawyers got a chance to question Luis Milanes Monday, but there was no decision on his proposal to pay back those on whom he defaulted in 2002.

Milanes is the casino owner who has put forth an estimated $10 million in property to satisfy the claims and avoid going to trial for fraud.

Those who attended the conciliation hearing said that about 150 creditors were there and that Milanes sat on a platform and fielded questions. The bulk of the questions were technical and related to the trust agreement Milanes has proposed to satisfy his creditors. One women directed her questions amid tears.

He is believed to have defaulted on some $200 million when he closed up his Saving Unlimited operation in November 2002. Also there Monday were some of his associates and employees who also face charges in the case.

Some creditors wondered where the income from the many casinos run by Milanes figure into his buyout plan. Under Costa Rican law those accused of a crime can avoid trial if they can settle with those that are considered to have victimized.

Milanes returned to Costa Rica in June 2009, spent a night in jail and has been free tending to his many businesses since. Like other high-interest operations at the time, Milanes offered returns of some 3 to 4 percent a month. He said he was investing in his casinos.

Milanes claims that a former associate now in Europe has made off the with bulk of the money from investors.

The hearing lasted just the morning and has been scheduled to continue next week. There are about 500 persons listed as victims in the Savings Unlimited collapse, but many are in other countries. The majority are not listed in the case because they lacked the money, the desire or the time to present their claims earlier.

Many have simply written off their losses. Others do not speak Spanish, live in the United States or elsewhere and have no idea on how to press their case.

Haitian government to get
dictator's cash in Switzerland

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Switzerland says it has begun legal proceedings to return the frozen assets of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to the Haitian government.

Switzerland says the assets total about $6 million.  

In February a new law intended to make it easier for Swiss authorities to return illegally obtained funds to their country of origin took effect.  The law was prompted in part by the legal battle over Duvalier's funds.   It requires that the money be used for civic interests.

The former Haitian leader's Swiss accounts were frozen 25 years ago when he was ousted from office.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.  It is struggling to rebuild following a January 2010 earthquake that left more than 200,000 people dead and 1 million others homeless.  Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tent camps.

Artists helping Coca Cola
celebrate its anniversary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 50 artists have created giant bottles of Coca Cola to commemorate the 125 years that the company has been in business.

The works will be exhibited at the Museo de Arte Costarricense in Parque la Sabana starting Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

The exhibition is called Destaparte, and the museum said that some of the bottles are two meters high. That's more than six feet.

An announcement said that the unveiling would be accompanied by a a show never before seen in Costa Rica.
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Truck in center of San José
carried coke, cops report

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police stopped a truck in the very heart of San José and discovered what they said was 40 kilos of cocaine.

The Fuerza Pública said the incident took place near the main offices of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. They said they approached the vehicle when they thought the driver looked nervous.

A 40-year old man with the last names of Rojas Prendas was detained. The Policía de Control de Drogas arrived to verify the contents of the 40 packages in the rear of the truck.

Guachipelín and Tibás
will have power cuts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Power company workers will turn off the electricity in Guachipelín and in part of Tibás today.

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said the work was necessary for preventative maintenance. The area will be from the southeast side of Residencial Cerro Alto to Don Francisco Apartotel y Café, from 100 meters north of the AM PM grocery north to Residencial Pinar del Río and west to Urbanicación Bosques de Santa Ana.

Included will be the Hotel Real Intercontinental, Saint Mary School, Mountain View School, Escuela de Guachipelín, a number of condominiums and the Pequeño Mundo store.

Power is expected to be restored by 3:30 p.m., the company said.

In Tibás, the company will be replacing transformers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Affected will be the installations of the antigua Plywood, said Fuerza y Luz.

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