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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Wednesday, May 9, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 92                           Email us
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Mar Vista

Motorcycle gathering
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Bikers brave
bad weather

Motorcyclists kept their promise Tuesday to protest at the Asamblea Legislativa and to block Avenida Central. But the rainy weather kept down the numbers. Organizers said they hoped to have another protest with three times the estimated 30 motorcycle drivers that showed Tuesday. They are unhappy with the proposed traffic legislation and their annual road tax fees. Organizers said they had a pleasant encounter with some lawmakers.


Public finally asked to help find missing U.S. citizen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ramachandra H. Breathwaite may be alive, or he may be dead. He may be in a hospital with a loss of memory. Or he may be deliberately hiding out to duck Costa Rican law.

About all law enforcement officials know is that the 34-year-old man, a U.S. citizen, has been missing for more than a year. He lived in Tilarán, Guanacaste, in Sabalito de Tierras Morenas. The last word investigators have about the man is that he was going to visit some friends in Escazú.

Breathwaite apparently was no angel. Agents at the Judicial Investigating Organization said he was known to use drugs and was detained twice by police. One charge, that of carrying a weapon illegally, still is unresolved, they said. He also has had episodes of schizophrenia and has been confined to the Hospital Nacional Psiquiátrico.

He also had his problems with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería because he was one of those perpetual tourists living and working here on that type of visa.

Judicial investigators could not explain why they waited more than a year to go public with the request for information about the man. They didn't do so because he was a U.S. citizen. At the same time they asked for information from the public about Rishi Jeoshua Vaccaria Mora, a 23-year-old Costa Rican who had been missing since 2010. In the last few days Vaccaria turned up as a result of the law enforcement agency's announcement.

When an Australian student, Brendan Dobbins, 24, vanished in Costa Rica in 2005, that country's ambassador who was based in México quickly arrived to press for stronger efforts to find the young man. When a French couple, Gerard and Claude Dubois, vanished near Quepos a year ago, their country's ambassador ended up hosting press conferences.

But that does not happen at the U.S. Embassy. Officials there are bound by the strict U.S. Privacy Act that makes releasing information a crime. Just two weeks ago an embassy spokesperson could not





Ramachandra
H.
Breathwaite
Breathwaite

confirm or deny that a consul was visiting a U.S. citizen who was a prisoner in La Reforma's high security wing. The prisoner was complaining of extra-official beatings by guards there.

Even when death extinguishes Privacy Act concerns, embassy workers here decline to release or confirm any information. One official said they did so for the benefit of the family of the dead person.

There have been cases where relatives elsewhere were attempting to locate a U.S. citizen who was believed to be in Costa Rica. U.S. Embassy workers generally are unhelpful in these cases unless the visitor is a minor and the relative is a parent.

Said the U.S. State Department on its Web site:

“As a rule, consular officers may not reveal information regarding an individual American’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives, without the expressed consent of that individual. Although sympathetic to the distress this can cause concerned families, consular officers must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act."

In the case of Breathwaite, reporters do not know if embassy workers are even aware of the situation or why they may not have made their own announcement about a U.S. citizen that was missing. Such announcements to protect lives or for safety are permitted under the Privacy Act.

The State Department's data base of American citizens missing abroad does not contain Breathwaite's name.

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President seeks goodwill
from private businesses


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla met with the nation's business chamber Tuesday in an effort to improve relations with the private sector.

Private business people have been hit with a new corporation tax and a new decree that puts a 13 percent sales tax on some food products. For many months business plans were in limbo as the president unsuccessfully tried to get her massive tax plan enacted into law. The plan would have taken $500 million more from the public.

Casa Presidencial said that Ms. Chinchilla told the group that economic growth will be a fundamental pillar of the government for the next two years.

She stressed her administration's achievements in improving regulations and in reducing excessive governmental paperwork.

She also noted that the government has plans to invest $640 million in infrastructure.
 
For its part, the business people, represented by the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, said it wanted to see concrete actions and follow through.

The session was downtown at the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn. Among other concerns is that the business people wanted some assurances that public policies would provide security for long-term investments.

As part of the Chinchilla administration tax plan, the president wanted to open the free trade zones to municipal taxes and to take a bite out of profits being returned to foreign headquarters over and above income tax.

The chamber also supported a new electrical generating bill that would reduce power costs.


Our reader's opinion
Economic irresponsibility
hurts national health


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What kind of government penalizes its poorest inhabitants by making it more economical to use the most unhealthy cooking oils instead of olive oil? Almost any cardiologist will tell you that decaf coffee is healthier for the heart muscle than caffeinated coffee.

What kind of government penalizes its poorest by limiting the chance of purchasing the best grades of meat? This as other proposed taxes are enacted in place of physically responsible belt-tightening while giving economic belt-tightening some lip service. I see this economic irresponsibility as not helping the national health by trapping the most dependent in poor diet choices. I also see this kind of irresponsibility as rampant in many European countries.

As long as a government has the means to raise the funds it needs to run the country without penalizing any group of its inhabitants, it has a responsibility to do so. As I see it, there are very few ways for a government that constantly penalizes its inhabitants to stay in power, and none of them include popular vote by the people.        
Gordon l. Balter
Atenas

 
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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Esparza struggles with bandits and with poor police response
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An up-close and personal experience with a home invasion has left an expat couple in Esparza frightened and less than satisfied with the police response.

Deb Klipper and her husband were not the victims of the home invasion. That unhappy role went to their shared caretaker at a neighbor's home. The neighbors were away when robbers arrived. They tied up and locked the man in a room, and he had to break a small window after two hours to get out and run to the Klipper home, she said in an email.

“I want to get the word out that increased police force and presence in San José is pushing the ladrones out to the campo areas,” Mrs. Klipper said.  “In little Esparza, a simple agricultural town, we are fearing for our safety.  Having lived here over six years, we are now experiencing armed robbery in what was a peaceful area amongst cows and horses.  In just one month, two homes have been invaded that I know of, in each home an individual was tied up at gunpoint and robbed of the usual: computer, small electro domesticos, power tools, cell phone.”

When the caretaker awoke the couple, they all feared that the robbers would return. Already the crooks had hauled a stove out by a garage, she said. “Our caretaker was hysterical, the ladrones had used packing tape to bind him and gag him,” she said.

“The dispatcher for the local police was not going to send anyone out until the next morning,” she said. “My husband had to convince her, argue to almost a point of hostility, to send them out.  Especially with the statement the ladrones made that they 'would be returning for the bigger stuff.' The stove was already out by the garage in preparation for their return. We were very afraid, yet the people who are supposed to protect us and help us feel secure in our community, did not give that impression.”
“It was all pretty disconcerting, believing the ladrones would return before the police arrived or not, and seeing our caretaker so horribly shaken and afraid,” she said.  “Plus, we did not know if perhaps one or some might still be in the house.”

So the Klippers waited with the shaken caretaker and their shotgun not knowing who would arrive first, the police or the crooks.

Two policemen eventually arrived in about 30 minutes, she said. Now the Klippers and the neighbors, mostly Costa Ricans, are organizing to fight crime.

“It would be nice to know that some of the 13 percent tax on certain goods would place more police in our area and ones that aren't afraid to combat crime:  Be present, drive up and down the roads, send a message to the ladrones that we will not let them win. Is this too much to expect,” she asked.

Such home invasions are a nightly event.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that a similar incident happened in Dulce Nombre de la Unión Sunday night. About 10 p.m. four armed and masked men broke into a home, threatened and then tied up the residents. The crooks took appliances and a small safe. Informal reports said that the intruders were armed with shotguns and had poisoned the homeowners dogs two evenings earlier.

In Guachipelín de Escazú Monday night the story was different. Crooks came to invade the home, but no one was home. So they looted the place. Fuerza Pública officers surprised them, and the trio fled in a car. They took a wrong turn and had to bail out and flee on foot. One of the crooks fell and hit his head on a rock, a fatal injury.

The other two were detained. Police said there was evidence inside the car of other home invasions.


Public works ministery to take on job of northern highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ruta 1856, which was designed to be a symbolic confrontation with Nicaragua now seems to be a growing scandal.

The central government has suspended work by private firms in the wake of bribery allegations. Now workers of the Ministerio de  Obras Públicas y Transportes will do the job, officials said.

Meanwhile, more allegations of wrongdoing are surfacing, mainly with the illegal use of gravel for private access roads along the stretch of public road.

Inheriting the situation is Luis Llach, who was just named acting minister. He said Tuesday that 30 pieces of heavy equipment belonging to the ministry have been at work on the project and that these will be augmented by 30 more next week.

The former minister lost his job last Friday because two of his
 staff members are being investigated on the bribery allegation. He was fired for lack of oversight, not because there is any indication he was involved in illegality.

Contractors on the job also have complained of not being paid for months.

Llach said the highway is a priority and that materials experts might be called in to check the work of some contractors. There have been allegations of shoddy work.

The highway was envisioned as a response to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. That country owns the adjacent Río San Juan and has restricted use by Costa Ricans. Without the new highway, the river is the only viable route for traffic.

In addition to adopting the number 1856, the highway is called “Juan Rafael Mora Porras.” He was the president that engineered the defeat of the U.S.-led filibuster force in 1856.

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Study of 8,121 U.S. homes shows one in five are deep in debt
By the University of Michigan news service

As the United States emerges from the Great Recession, a substantial number of families are underwater – and not just with their mortgages.

According to a new University of Michigan report, about one out of every five U.S. households owe more on credit cards, medical bills, student loans and other non-collateralized debts than they have in savings and other liquid assets.

The report also predicts continuing trouble ahead with home mortgages, with 1.7 percent of families surveyed in 2011 saying that it is “very or somewhat likely” that they will fall behind on their mortgage payments in the near future.

This represents an improvement from 2009 when 1.9% of families had such expectations.

“Our data suggest that the mortgage crisis will continue for the next few years, although a somewhat smaller share of families will experience mortgage distress” says Frank Stafford, an economist at the university's Institute for Social Research and co-author of the report with researchers Bing Chen and Robert Schoeni.

“And even though average savings levels have gone up since 2008, our data show that there has been no improvement in financial liquidity between 2009 and 2011, except among families with more than $50,000 in savings and other liquid assets.”

The report is based on an analysis of home ownership, mortgage and other debt, and financial resources among the same 8,121 families interviewed before and after the downturn. 

The families were interviewed as part of the institute's Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the longest running longitudinal household survey in the world.

Among the key findings:

• About 3.5 percent of families owned a home and were behind on their mortgage payments in either 2009 or 2011, or in both years.  While these percentages are low, the number of families affected is significant – approximately 4,100,000 on a national level.

• The proportion of families with no savings or other liquid assets rose to 23.4 percent in 2011, from 18.5 percent in 2009.

• About the same percentage of families in 2009 and 2011 had $30,000 or more in credit card and other
debt
A.M. Costa Rica graphic

non-collateralized debts (8.5 percent vs.10 percent) and about the same proportion (48.0 percent vs. 47.4 percent) had no such debt in both years.

“ Some families have not been able to make substantial headway,” says Stafford.  “Even if they’re not underwater with their mortgages, they are struggling to save money and reduce their debts.”

Stafford says the situation today follows a scenario described by the 1920s economist, Irving Fisher.  “In Fisher’s Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions, he predicted that when people are optimistic about a broad investment category, as they were before the Great Depression and now in the housing bubble of the Great Recession, there is a companion rise of excessive indebtedness. Once the bubble in the underlying asset has burst, there is a rush to safe assets as in 2009-2010. In short, as the inevitable collapse happens, they rush to get rid of their debt and start saving more.

“It’s a classic response to economic uncertainty.  But the problem is that today only those families who have more than $50,000 in liquid assets have actually been able to do this to any extent.  The rest of American families are simply treading water, if they’re lucky.”

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Romney's hopes advance,
but Lugar Tea Partied out

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has swept primary elections in three more states, moving him even closer to becoming the nominee to run against President Barack Obama in November.

Romney now has more than 900 delegates, after wins Tuesday in Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia. The former Massachusetts governor needs 1,144 delegates to clinch his party's nomination and earn the chance to face the Democratic incumbent.

In the Indiana primary, Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar lost his bid to run for re-election in the state he has represented for more than three decades. The 80-year-old incumbent was defeated in a tough battle against a candidate backed by the Tea Party movement, which supports smaller government and less taxes.

In a statement, President Obama recognized Lugar for his distinguished service and praised his work across party lines and in efforts to secure the world's most dangerous weapons. Obama said the senator “comes from a tradition of strong, bipartisan leadership on national security that helped us prevail in the Cold War and sustain American leadership ever since.”

In North Carolina, voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. North Carolina law already bans homosexual marriage.

Obama Tuesday made his case for Congress to advance bills he says will boost the economy, such as helping veterans find jobs, assisting homeowners in getting a lower mortgage rate, and extending tax credits to producers of alternative forms of energy and small businesses that create jobs.

Speaking at a university in Albany, New York, the president said progress is being made, including with hundreds of thousands of jobs created each month over the last several months. But he told the audience, “everybody knows we need to do more. And in order to do that, we are going to need some more action from Congress. Democrats and Republicans have to come together.”


Undercover operative
credited in bomb bust


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. media reports say a man sent by al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner was actually a double agent working for the United States, who infiltrated the terror network and volunteered to carry out the suicide attack.

Unidentified American and foreign intelligence officials provided details of the bomb plot. They told how the would-be bomber turned over his sophisticated explosive device to U.S. and Saudi officials, and also provided information that led to a successful air strike against an al-Qaida leader in Yemen.

The New York Times said the details emerging Tuesday night amounted to an extraordinary intelligence coup. The newspaper said the double agent managed to leave Yemen and traveled through the United Arab Emirates to meet with members of the CIA, Saudi intelligence and other spy agencies. The man’s identity has not been disclosed.

An FBI analysis of the device is under way.

The informant is said to have spent weeks working with and gaining the trust of members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The information he gathered allowed the CIA to order an air raid Sunday that killed al-Qaida member Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, who has been sought since the bombing of the USS Cole warship off Yemen in 2000.

Al-Quso had been charged in a U.S. court with the ship bombing, which killed 17 U.S. sailors, and the FBI had ordered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

U.S. officials have said al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen intended to put a suicide bomber on a U.S.-bound jet with explosives concealed in the person’s underwear. U.S. officials say the plot was detected in its earliest stages and that no U.S. airliner was ever at risk.

Authorities say the bomb was a redesign of an explosive underwear device intended to blow up a jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan on Dec. 25, 2009.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the incident is a reminder that America and its allies are still targets of terrorist plots.

William McCantis, a terrorism analyst with the Center for Naval Analysis said this latest operation underscores the importance of intelligence in war on terrorism.

“We had the bomb before it was detonated, so we’re getting better at disrupting these plots. On the other hand, it’s worrisome that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is able to build these sorts of bombs still, after a year or more of increasing drone strikes. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is definitely the greatest threat the United States faces from al-Qaida, because, one, it controls territory, and it’s able to move freely through a large swath of territories. So it’s able to gather resources, it has places it can train and it provides safe haven, perhaps it’s gotten control of some munitions when it overthrows various military groups, and every time they innovate, we have to innovate as well. There’s not gonna be a perfect security system in place to stop these plots, because our enemies will always innovate around them, so we have to keep changing.”

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is also suspected of forming a plot in 2010 to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes with explosives hidden in printer ink cartridges.

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Latin America news
Another death raises
concern over cocaine


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents are investigating the death of another person in a downtown hotel. This is the second in four days, and it raises the possibility that there is some potent or bad cocaine available in the downtown.

Investigators found cocaine in the room of a man who died Friday at the Hotel Del Rey. Drugs are routinely sold on the street in the vicinity of the hotel. Some prostitutes say that North American tourists are anxious to obtain illegal drugs then they are here to share a romantic time with them. Typically the tourist asks the women to obtain the drugs to avoid entanglements with local police.

Fuerza Pública officers confirmed that they were on the scene because of a suspected fatal overdose at Avenida Primera and Calle 9 Tuesday evening. No name was available. Of course nothing can be determined until lab reports come back to the judicial morgue.

A snickering story Saturday in the Spanish-language press blamed a so-called love pill for the death of the man Friday. Presumably the news writer meant Viagra. However, that is far less likely to cause medical problems than cocaine, which has a history of causing heart attacks because it constricts the blood vessels.

Costa Rica is flooded with cocaine of varying degrees of purity because smugglers pay for services with kilos of the drug. There is little doubt that the potential for very potent cocaine exists here because distributors do not have refined techniques to cut the drug. There also is the possibility that local drug dealers are cutting cocaine with dangerous chemicals, such as rat poison.

In either case, that could prove fatal for inexperienced drug users, such as tourists.


National archive debuts
more complex Web page


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Archivo Nacional has debuted a new Web site that the organization says will give Internet viewers access to many more documents.

In addition to some 300 public archives, there also are sections of photographs, historical documents and even a section on the history of lotteries in Costa Rica.

For notaries, there is an entire section with electronic access to information about various transactions. Notaries have to file their protocol books at the archive, so a lot of the information will be current.

The archive is part of the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.


Bill Clinton visits Zapote

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton will be meeting with President Laura Chinchilla for about a half hour today.

Casa Presidencial said the meeting is at 4:15 p.m. The former president will be in town to keynote a conference on sustainability that is being sponsored by Grupo Nación at the Hotel Real Intercontinental, en Escazú.







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