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(506) 2223-1327          Posted Monday, May 9, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 90             E-mail us
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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Saving Unlimited victims need a fair deal
Today Luis Milanes will be back in court trying to buy his way out of a fraud trial.

Costa Rican law allows a suspect to settle privately with crime victims to avoid a judicial process.

Milanes, the operator of a string of casinos, has offered a package of properties supposedly worth $10 million to those victims of his Saving Unlimited high interest scheme who have filed against him.

The major property is the Europa Hotel, but no one seems to have obtained financial statements to see if it is worth anything more than the land on which it sits in downtown San José.

If the fraud victims accept the deal, they might not get much. There are bank fees, lawyer fees, brokerage fees to sell the properties, taxes, insurance and probably a host of management fees. The lawyers and bankers like to be paid first.

In a similar case, that of Oswaldo Villalobos, judges took his properties after conviction, but the victims in that case still are waiting for some of the money awarded them because the real estate market is slow.

Oh, and one lawyer took $2 million off the top.
There may be good reasons for former Saving Unlimited investors to take the deal. Many are older. There is no guarantee that Milanes ever will be convicted in a court trial.  Prosecutors just do not have their heart in it, it seems.

But it would seem unfair after ruining so many lives, that Milanes should be the one calling the shots. He has not included those casinos in the offering to investors. Those are money machines. When he was collecting investments from those would become victims, he and his colleagues said the money would be used for casino development. So it seems fair that victims should get the casinos.

More than that. Milanes should be ordered by the court to file a sworn statement of all his assets, both here and in other countries. And then the court should appoint asset trackers to verify the document. After all, the missing $200 million has to be somewhere.

We remember Savings Unlimited offering a special higher interest deal for deposits in the weeks before the business collapsed in 2002. If Milanes knew then that he was going to close the firm and flee, it seems a bit like bad faith to be offering special investment deals.

More jail space now available at facility in Liberia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government said that 192 new spaces have been made available at the Centro de Atención Institutional Calle Real Liberia.

Alfio Piva Mesén, first vice president, and two ministers inaugurated the facility Friday. In 12 months, the government has opened up 1,014 new spaces in prisons, said Hernando Paris, minister of Justicia.
President Laura Chinchilla promised 3,000 new prison spaces in her election campaign, Paris said, and he said that the government would meet that goal.

Already $12 million has been invested, he said.

The spaces in LIberia are not individual cells but bunks in group facilities. Judges frequently are influenced by the lack of jail space when they decline to incarcerate suspects.

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New low pressure system
will keep country wet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rain touched most parts of the country Sunday as a new low pressure system moved in from the southwest. The system was expected to strengthen and cause rain through Monday, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The system is causing rain in the northern zone, the Caribbean and the mountains around the Central Valley and on the Pacific coast.

Boyeros paraded their oxen Sunday in Coronado in the rain, and a soccer championship played out on a wet field.

Several accidents were attributed to wet roads and the possibility of some oil slicks.

A slide took place on the San José Guápiles highway 32, in the late evening. Rescue workers were on the scene as were transport officials. Although the Policía de Transito Web site said the road was open, local reports said it has been closed. This is the highway that eventually leads to Limón and the Caribbean.

The highway passes through the Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, and there are frequent slides in wet weather.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional warned of slides in a special bulletin issued at 6 p.m. Sunday. The weather agency also warned of rising rivers.

It was in San Carlos where the home team dropped a tournament game to the Liga Deportiva Alajuelense by a single goal. The field condition did not seem to be a factor. A second game between the two teams is Saturday.

The oxen in Coronado paraded because Sunday was the feast day of San Isidro Labrador, the patron of the agricultural industry.

Juvenile justice law at 15
may come in for changes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's juvenile justice law is 15 years old, and judicial officials say there need to be changes.

Doris Arias Madrigal, a magistrate in the Sala III high criminal court, suggested in a seminar Friday that a registry should be created for juveniles in the justice system. She also said that preventative measures before trial should be revised.

Since January the Fiscalía Adjunta Penal Juvenil said it has received allegations against 60 juveniles. Of these, 26 are free while the investigation continues and 33 have some sort of restrictions short of jail. One youth, convicted of abduction was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Officials also said that groups that use youngsters to commit crimes should be targeted by investigators.

There were no reports of discussion on the juvenile age limit. Youngsters up to age 18 are now covered by the juvenile law, but there is a measure in the legislature to reduce that age to 15. This proposal is strongly opposed by professionals in the juvenile justice system, including psychologists and social workers.

Sessions on municipal risks
will stress prevention

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission is setting up meetings with municipalities to discuss the potential risks that exist in the communities.

The first session will be with La Unión, Alajuelita, Aserrí, Escazú, Desamparados, Mora and Santa Ana, the commission said.

The emphasis will be on prevention, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said.

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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, May 9, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 90
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Major tourism groups push for concrete government action
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A coalition of tourism organizations has called on the Laura Chinchilla administration to take concrete actions over the next three years.

A summary, released by the Cámera Nacional de Turismo, asked the administration to stop the continual changing of the rules of the game and to reduce the number and length of official paperwork.

The organizations involved, in addition to the chamber, are Cámara Costarricense de Hoteles, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo, the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes, the Red Nacional de Pequeños Hoteles, the Asociación Costarricense de Agencias de Viaje and the Asociación Costarricense de Operadores en Turismo.

The action by these groups is believed to have been stimulated by the emergency of ProTur, a new organization that held several press conferences and said that the government should specify a state of emergency for tourism.

The government should guarantee greater stability and competitivity of the tourism industry and take action that surmounts the current economic crisis, said the joint release by the organizations. The group also called for improved infrastructure, such as the nation's highways, and some legal changes. Among other requests, the coalition would
like the government to eliminate the ban on serving alcohol on Holy Thursday and Good Friday of Semana Santa. A similar ban on selling alcohol during national elections has been repealed.

Tourism accounts for 5.5 percent of the gross national product, the coalition noted, adding that the current exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Costa Rican colon has affected the tourism sector. Most tourism operations earn dollars but have to pay their expenses and salaries in colons. ProTur also sought help in this area.

Although the foreign tourism situation is improving slowly, the coalition is seeking a redirection of the country's promotional efforts toward emerging markets, it said. It also said that a new convention center was vital to increase business tourism and to make Costa Rica a destination for weddings without leaving aside the main product of the country, which is sustainable ecotourism.

The coalition also said that it opposed the tax plan put forth by the Chinchilla administration and supported instead attacking evasion and tightening the government's budget. The coalition said that with a new $15 head tax on tourists, the government should have enough money to develop promotions to attract tourists.

The group noted that there is a general law of tourism languishing in the Asamblea Legislativa. It said it would create a lobbying effort in the legislature to obtain favorable action for tourism.

Judicial raids here linked to U.S. case against online poker
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents conducted six raids Friday morning seeking individuals and evidence linked to the U.S. case against online poker companies here.

PokerStars confirmed in an email posting that its offices had been raided. The email that came from the Isle of Man said that Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet offices here had been raided by the Judicial Investigating Organization. It said about 2:20 p.m. Friday:

"PokerStars continues to operate the world's largest poker room, business as usual. It is true that the OIJ is currently at the PokerStars Costa Rican office and has sent employees home temporarily, but employees will be able to return in a few hours. PokerStars expects the office to return to business as usual in short order as this action was most likely taken as a response to problems experienced by other local companies in the same industry."

PokerStars is located in the Forum complex in Santa Ana. Absolute Poker is in Plaza Mayor in Rohrmoser.

The raids were expected because the United States has indicted U.S. citizens who live in Costa Rica and who are associated with the online betting operations. Although online betting is not illegal in Costa Rica, the indictments allege conspiracy and money laundering, which is illegal here.

A.M. Costa Rica reported on the indictments April 18.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, New York, announced April 15 the unsealing of indictments charging 
11 defendants, including the founders of the three poker companies with bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses. The United States also filed a civil money laundering and forfeiture complaint against the
companies, their assets, and the assets of several payment processors. In addition, restraining orders were issued against more than 75 bank accounts used by the poker companies and their payment processors, and five .com Internet domain names used by the companies to host their games were seized, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Scott Tom and Brent Beckley, both 31 and founders of Absolute Poker, were two of the 11 persons indicted in the same action. Two other persons with Costa Rican ties, Bradley Franzen, 41, and Ira Rubin, 52, also were indicted. All are U.S. citizens. Federal authorities described Franzen and Rubin as highly compensated payment processors who helped the poker companies get around money transfer prohibitions in a 2006 U.S. law.

Rubin and Franzen have since been taken into custody. Three persons were in custody when the indictments were announced. So six are being sought. No Costa Ricans were named in the initial indictments

Among those arrested initially is John Campos, vice chairman and part owner of SunFirst Bank in Saint George, Utah. Federal officials said that he processed payments for the poker sites in exchange for a $10 million investment in the struggling bank. He was arrested in his hometown. In Las Vegas, Nevada, FBI agents detained Chad Elie, who is accused of setting up the SunFirst deal for the poker firms. He, like Rubin, was identified as a funds processor.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan took over the domain names of Absolute Poker, PokerStars and FullTilt Poker April 15. However, a subsequent agreement allowed Poker Stars and FullTilt to use the domain names to refund money being held for U.S. citizens, said the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Federal officials claimed that the poker firms conducted up to $3 billion in business each year.

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Regional security experts discuss transnational criminals

By the U.S. Southern Command

A month after telling U.S. lawmakers that Central America has quickly become a hotbed for violent illicit traffickers, U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, met with security leaders from the region to discuss proposals and cooperative solutions to counter the growing threat.

The discussions were part of the two-day Central American Security Conference 2011 that included security and defense leaders from 11 Western Hemisphere nations.  The annual conference, which ended Thursday, was sponsored by the Southern Command and hosted in San Pedro by Belize Defense Forces. Costa Rica was not represented.

“The issue that impacts all of our sovereignty is a non-traditional threat, and that is the threat of these transnational criminal organizations and their illicit activity and the violence it brings,” said Fraser during his opening remarks.

The conference focused on how regional security forces can better tie their efforts together to counter transnational criminals and the illicit trafficking of drugs, humans and weapons in Central America that form the backbone of their existence.

“These are important forums that we all share and the Central American Security Conference is, I think this year, as vital as any as we have had in the past,” said Fraser.  “None of us has the individual resources to individually solve this problem.  It is only by pooling our resources, coordinating our efforts, really attack this problem.”

The consensus among participants was that improving information sharing between each nation’s security forces would significantly enhance efforts to counter trasnational criminal activities.

During the conference, Fraser noted that if all the regional
nations don’t effectively work together, the burden of the threat will shift from nation to nation as criminals adapt to the ebb and flow of individual nations’ security efforts.

"And we have seen over the years that as we collectively and internationally work to solve a problem in one location, they move to another location and intensify their efforts there . . . going to a place where they can conduct their activity with the least resistance,” said Fraser.

U.S. military efforts are one part of an overarching U.S. government effort to counter the threat of illicit traffickers in Central America.

David Zimov, director of policy, plans and coordination for the U.S. State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs, briefed the attendees on the newly launched Central American Region Security Initiative.  The State Department initiative aims to increase citizen safety in the region, disrupt the movement and activities of trasnnational criminals between nations and enhance security cooperation among nations in the region.

Zimov said the initiative is one of four U.S.-led security assistance efforts now under way in the Western Hemisphere. The other initiatives are the Merida Initiative to assist Mexico, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and support to Colombian internal security efforts.

Joining the U.S. and Belize during the security conference were officials from Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Panamá.  Representatives from the Conference of Central American Armed Forces, the U.S. State Department, U.S. Northern Command, Joint Interagency Task Force-South and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies also took part in the conference.

Last month during House and Senate testimony, Fraser stressed the dangers of the growing threat in the northern triangle formed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Study attributes tropical diversity to long-time residency

By the Stony Brook University news staff

For more than two hundred years, the question of why there are more species in the tropics has been a biological enigma.  A particularly perplexing aspect is why so many species live together in a small area in the tropics, especially at some sites in the rain forests of the Amazon Basin in South America.

New research on the evolution and ecology of tree frogs, to be published online this month in the journal “Ecology Letters,” sheds new light on the puzzle. The patterns found in tree frogs may also help to explain the high species richness of other groups of organisms — such as trees, birds and insects — in the Amazon rain forests.

The article, entitled “Phylogenetic Origins of Local-Scale Diversity Patterns and the Causes of Amazonian Megadiversity,” will be published online at

“Tree frogs are a particularly important group to study for understanding amphibian diversity, because they can make up nearly half of all amphibian species in some rainforest sites,” says lead author John J. Wiens, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University in New York.  “Tree frogs also offer a striking example of the high local-scale biodiversity in the Amazon.  At some sites in the Amazon rainforest, there are more tree
frog species in a small area than there are across all of North America or Europe.”

The researchers compiled data on the number of tree frog species at 123 sites around the world and analyzed the data with a new evolutionary tree (based on DNA sequence data) for 360 tree frog species.  They discovered that the richness of tree frog species in the Amazon rainforest sites is not explained by wet, tropical climatic conditions alone.

“In fact, we found that many tropical rainforest sites that are outside the Amazon Basin have no more species than do some sites in temperate North America,” said Wiens.

Instead, the researchers discovered that the high biodiversity of Amazonian sites is related to different groups of tree frogs occurring together in the Amazon Basin for more than 60 million years — since before most dinosaurs became extinct.  In contrast, those sites in tropical rain forests that have relatively few tree frog species are in areas that were colonized by tree frogs much more recently.

These results also have important implications for humans.  “The results suggest that the incredible biodiversity of amphibians in some sites in the Amazon Basin took more than 50 million years to develop,” said Wiens.  “If the Amazon rain forests are destroyed and the amphibian species are driven to extinction by human activities in the next few decades, it may take tens of millions of years for this incredible level of biodiversity to ever return.”

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Brazilian firm to open
Mozambique coal mine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian mining giant Vale has opened a coal mine in Mozambique, as the impoverished country seeks to exploit its vast coal reserves.

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza presided over a ceremony Sunday in Moatize, in western Tete province.

Vale has invested $1.7 billion in the project. Officials say the mine will begin exporting coal later this year. 

Output is expected to start at about one million tons annually and eventually increase to roughly 11 million tons a year.

The southern African country has billions of tons of coal reserves, but until now they have been largely untapped.

Later this year, India's Tata Steel and Australia's Riversdale Mining are expected to jointly open another major coal mine in nearby Benga.

Officials say that mine will eventually export millions of tons of coal per year, although there are conflicting reports about the exact number.

Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries. Per-capita annual income is about $900, one of the lowest levels in Africa.

The country has been wracked by poverty since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 after years of civil war.

Researcher of bees wins
coveted environmental prize

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bees play an important role in agriculture, pollinating crops and providing the natural sweetener, honey.  Environmental stresses are taking their tolls on the insects, however, and this year's Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement has gone to researcher May Berenbaum, who is studying solutions to the bee crisis.

Ms. Berenbaum said that for thousands of years, people have had an adversarial relationship with bees, because they sting.

"But on the other hand, people all over the world have developed a dependency on the honeybee because it is really the world's premier managed pollinator," noted Ms. Berenbaum.  "And here in the U.S., for example, over 90 crops depend on honeybees for pollination services." She heads the entomology department at the University of Illinois in Champagne Urbana.

Ms. Berenbaum says farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops from nuts to melons.  They are directly responsible for pollinating $19 billion worth of crops in the United States alone, each year.

But many bees have been lost in recent decades in what scientists call colony collapse.  The worker bees suddenly disappear, and the colony dies.  In North America, it has been a problem especially in the past five years.  Although scientists don’t completely understand the problem, Ms. Berenbaum says there are many likely reasons for the collapse.  One is the long-distance transport of bees for pollination and the spread of bee diseases from one region to another.  She says the toll of disease is worsened by the buildup of pesticides in bee colonies.

As scientists like Ms. Berenbaum study the problem, she says consumers can help.

"You can buy local honey," noted Ms. Berenbaum.  "Local honey is available at local stores only because there is a local beekeeper who went to the trouble of harvesting it, so the more beekeepers there are, the more honey there is.  We have, over the last 25 years, seen an alarming decline in the number of beekeepers.  The interest is resurging, which is the best news for American bees, actually, more beekeepers."

Ms. Berenbaum says people can also help the honey bee by planting more flowers and becoming more tolerant of weeds, some of which offer food for pollinators like bees.

The bee researcher was in Los Angeles to accept the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, which is administered by the University of Southern California.  Previous recipients include the biologist Edward O. Wilson, the primatologist Jane Goodall, and conservation biologist Paul Ehrlich.  She says these and other winners are among her scientific heroes.

She says the $200,000 cash award that comes with the prize will help expand a project of hers involving citizen-scientists.
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Firms to get concessions
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this week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial said Friday that President Laura Chinchilla has authorized the concessions that give the companies América Móvil and Telefónica the right to provide mobil phone service.

The concessions are a result of more than two years of work by the government. The firms prevailed in a bidding process to win rights to spots on the radio spectrum.

The concessions are the result of the free trade treaty with the United States which required Costa Rica to open its mobil phone market. Costa Ricans opted for the treaty by a slim margin in a referendum in October 2007.

The action by the president now opens the door to the acceptance of the concessions this week by the firms.

Ecuador's Corea prevails
on public referendum

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorians Voted Saturday on a reform package critics say could give President Rafael Correa too much power.

The referendum contains 10 questions, which range from a bullfighting ban to an increase in executive branch control on appointing judges. The measures seem to have carried by about 55 percent of the vote.

The referendum also included a measure that would set up a panel to regulate media content and hold individual journalists responsible for any violations. Some say the move is aimed at silencing dissent. Another press-related reform would bar media companies from other commercial interests.

Opposition leaders say Correa is using the referendum to increase his power.

President Correa has headed Ecuador since 2007. He is an ally of other leftist Latin American leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Third body recovered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescuers recovered the body Friday of the third victim of a rip tide at Playa Bejuco near Parrita on the central Pacific coast. He was Kai Lamar, a high school student who had come to Costa Rica briefly as a missionary.

The trio died Wednesday when caught in the undertow. Two other students were rescued. All were from the Columbus, Ohio, area.

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