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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, May 12, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 93             E-mail us
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This is Pristimantis cruentus, a frog species that can still be found in Costa Rica where many other species have declined because of a fungal epidemic.

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Three killed in bloody prison break shootout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fierce and prolonged firefight ended an abortive escape from the La Reforma maximum security prison Wednesday and freed 14 hostages.

A prison guard held hostage and two prisoners died as a result of the firefight.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the guard by the last names of Castro Vindas. He died of a bullet wound in the back at Hospital México. The two prisoners were dead at the scene. They are Johnny Rodríguez Moya, who was a participant in a successful escape in 2006, and Erlyn Hurtado Martínez, the sole survivor of a gang that caused a massacre at a Santa Elena bank near Monteverde in March 2005.

The seven prisoners involved in the escape attempt include Jovel Guillermo Araya Ramírez, another successful escapee in 2006. Araya and Rodríguez killed a guard when they broke out of prison Oct. 9, 2006, and shot it out with agents when they were caught 15 days later. Araya was wounded six times then.
The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the other would-be escapees by the last names of Jiménez García, Rojas Miranda, Hidalgo Mayorga, and Robles Chávez.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said the would-be escapees had two firearms and even fragmentation grenades. One grenade was for gas, one was homemade and the third appears to have been real, said Rojas' agency.

The prisoners wanted a bus to flee the San Rafael de Alajuela institution with hostages, said Rojas. Judicial agents and police from a number of agencies sealed off the prison and had decided that the prisoners would not escape, said Rojas.

Then when the prisoners started to move the hostages inside the prison complex they ran into an ambush by a judicial police tactical squad armed with heavy weapons.

The firefight lasted for at least five minutes and hundreds of shots appear to have been fired. At least four other persons were hurt, but not seriously, officials said.

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Nation getting $132.4 million
for social, police programs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is borrowing $132.4 million to set up a number of social programs directed at school dropouts, drug users, convicts and police training.

Of that amount, the security ministry will get $23 million for infrastructure and equipment for the police forces under its command.

The money comes from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo and has a five-year grace period. After that, the loan has to be paid back in 20 years, according to an announcement.

Youngsters who leave school will be targeted by programs that build and equip community centers and justice centers that will promote conflict resolution, said the announcement. Also planned are schools of music, art, sports and care centers for babies with the participation of public and private entities, the announcement said.

Another major focus is what is being called social reinsertion for persons in conflict with the law. The money in this area will be used for treatment of addicts and will include construction and development of educational and labor centers, some of which are under the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, the national training service, said the announcement.

Additional money will go to community programs that reduce repetition of crime and improve the work of those in the Dirección General de Adaptación Social, the prison agency.

The security ministry said it expects to construct a police academy with an emphasis on prevention of violence, improve police selection both for officers in the community and those guarding the prisons.

Costa Rica will be contributing $55.3 million to these programs, the security ministry said.

Our reader 's opinion
It's Twilight Zone time
at the Asamblea Legislativa

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Once in a while A.M. Costa Rica prints an article about the absurdity of political life in Costa Rica that just leaves me speechless!

Wednesday's article entitled "Concessions, Caldera highway come under legislative fire" is a classic! Therein one of the legislative geniuses who could and probably should be standup comic instead of legislators said that "Arias pushed the highway project even though the Costa Rican state was not prepared institutionally to guarantee the success and oversee the project," although the project has been in the works for 30 years.

So 30 years isn't enough time for the bozos-in-charge to figure out how to manage what they were going to build? Someone should get a medal!

Even more incredible was the subsequent statement by the esteemed Sr. Villalta that "some unions have given him their support for an action of unconstitutionality directed at an article in the Free Trade Treaty with the United States that allows private insurance firms to sell workmen's compensation insurance."

So let me see if I get the gist here, Sr. Villalta and his ilk believe that the long-standing insurance monopoly which like the vast majority of monopolies charges high rates and gives lousy service is constitutional, but busting the monopoly and allowing competition among insurance providers which will undoubtedly lead to lower rates and better service to their customers Sr. Villalta's constituents is UNconstitutional.

Wow. That's simply breathtaking in its disingenuousness. Someone change the channel! We're stuck in the Twilight Zone!
Dean Barbour
Manuel Antonio

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 93
Latigo K-9

New evidence points to fungal epidemic killing amphibians
By the San Francisco University news staff

There’s a crisis among the world’s amphibians. About 40 percent of amphibian species have dwindled in numbers in just three decades. Now, museum jars stuffed full of amphibians may help scientists decide whether this wave of extinctions was caused by a fungal infection.

DNA swabbed from the preservative-soaked skins of salamanders, frogs and toads collected from some of Central America’s best-known extinction hotspots revealed a startling but clear pattern. Salamanders in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, and frogs and salamanders in Costa Rica’s Monteverde cloud forests began to disappear at the same time that the deadly Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or "Bd" fungus first appeared in these areas.

The museum specimens helped biology graduate student Tina Cheng and her colleagues track an epidemic that began in southern Mexico in the early 1970s, spread southward to western Guatemala in the 1980s and 1990s, and reached Costa Rica by 1987. They report their findings in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The disappearance of Monteverde’s famed golden toad, which vanished within three years, brought widespread attention to the amphibian crisis. The extinctions have happened so rapidly and over such a wide swath of the globe that scientists have been scrambling to find their cause. The proposed culprits include fungal infection, global climate change and drought, among other explanations.

“One of the things that is so cool about Tina's research is that she is solving a mystery that has been hanging over science since 1989,” said study co-author Vance Vredenburg, assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University and a research associate at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley.

If you’re solving a murder mystery, however, you’re going to need a body. By the time most researchers realized the extent of the decline in amphibian populations, the amphibians themselves had disappeared. Ms. Cheng and Vredenburg, along with Berkeley researchers Sean Rovito and David Wake, decided to find their bodies in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Since Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a skin infection, they reasoned, it might be possible to collect DNA from the museum specimens from the past 40 years and analyze it for traces of the fungus. But they were skeptical at first whether they could even recover DNA from the skins. "They are basically pickled in formalin, which is known to degrade DNA over time," Ms. Cheng said.

Ms. Cheng said it was “quite a task to fish through all these jars,” sometimes holding 400-500 salamanders at a time, “to find the ones we wanted. But the museum has
San Francisco University photo
Bolitoglossa lincolni, one of the salamander species from San Marcos, Guatemala, found to harbor the pathogenic 'Bd' fungus.

done a great job of preserving these animals, and we didn’t really encounter any in poor shape.”

The researchers used swabs to gently swipe the amphibian skins and collect the short DNA sequence needed to confirm the presence of the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis fungus. The earliest confirmed data of infections among the specimens was 1972.

But the researchers didn’t stop with dead things. The team also brought living amphibians into the lab and infected them with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis to get a better handle on how the fungus might have felled so many of their comrades. The fungus doesn’t kill indiscriminately, they confirmed. Some species seem to be more susceptible to infection, and the likelihood of death depends on the level of fungal spores. “We now know that the pathogen isn't going to drive every amphibian to extinction,” Vredenburg said, “but we want to know why.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study suggests that this fungal infection may be the prime suspect in amphibian declines, but Vredenburg believes it also offers a way to test whether climate change may have played an indirect role. “Now that we can say, ‘here’s the actual factor that’s killing these amphibians,’ we can go to 100 other sites and document when it showed up," Vredenburg said. "Then you can go to the climate data, and find out what happened with the climate at these sites in the years when this pathogen showed up."

Vredenburg said he is excited about the possibilities of testing museum specimens from other collections around the world, hoping to find out why and how these extinctions are happening.

“Amphibians are long-term survivors,” he said. “They’ve been on earth for 360 million years, and have made it through four mass extinctions. They were doing just fine until now, but something unprecedented and worrisome has happened in the last 40 years.”

No one goes to jail in the Caja embezzlement decision
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III gave everyone what they wanted Wednesday.

Prosecutors got convictions in the so-called Caja-Fischel case.  Former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Founier got his freedom and got to keep his money.

Calderón followers got a potential presidential candidate.

Although Costa Rican penal law provides for prison of up to 12 years for someone who embezzles public money, the Sala III magistrates reduced Calderon's five-year-prison sentence to three years.  That way he became eligible for conditional release.

Other defendants in the case also benefited, too.

Calderón had been convicted of two counts of peculado or embezzlement. But the Sala III found that evidence gathered in Panamá under a mutual assistance treaty was faulty. That was an appeal raised by defense lawyers.

However, the court found that evidence gathered in Miami were done so legally. In both cases, the bulk of the evidence were records of bank accounts and deposits.

The decision affected co-defendants Eliseo Vargas García, Juan Carlos Sánchez Arguedas, Gerardo Bolaños Alpízar, Walter Reiche Fischel and Marvin Barrantes Vargas, according to a summary released Wednesday afternoon.

Defense lawyers presented a number of appeals from the Tribunal Penal de Hacienda Oct. 5, 2009. The appeals that were upheld related to money damages but not to the guilt or innocence of the defendants, according to the summary.

The initial decision also ordered the confiscation to the state
of more than $500,000 that Calderón had in Banco de Costa Rica and the money in another account in the United States. Vargas, too, was ordered to surrender money in his accounts. This aspect of the verdict seems to have been overturned. Calderon's wife, Gloria Bejarano Almada, lost an appeal against civil damages but without the full ruling what this means was not clear.

She is a sitting legislative deputy in Partido Unidad Cristiana, which also is Calderon's party.

Calderón was convicted of accepting a bribe to advance a $39.5 million contract for equipment being supplied by a firm from Finland. Vargas is a former deputy and former head of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, and Reiche Fischel was the head of a local pharmaceutical company that handled the transaction. Reiche Fischel  was the principal witness against Calderón and also a defendant.

Vargas, Sánchez and Bolaños had been barred from public employment under the initial verdict. The magistrates did not overturn this. Sánchez and Bolaños also are former officials of the Caja. However, the court did overturn the same prohibition against Calderón, so he is now eligible to seek public office.

Medical experts at the Caja hospitals said the equipment was not needed or was inappropriate. Some $9 million of the amount was skimmed off, according to the allegations.

The magistrates also ordered that a home in the Parque Valle del Sol subdivision in Santa Ana, once occupied by Vargas, be registered in the name of the state.

Reaction from Costa Ricans was mostly resignation.

An earlier version of this article was published at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 93

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Security ministry's fingerprint unit raided in probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The location is well known for expats who have sought residency. The first-floor location is in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública across the street from the Centro Comercial del Sur where fingerprints are taken.

Technically the place is called the Archivo Policial.

That is where judicial investigators barged in Wednesday morning to arrest two employees, including the head of the office, identified by the last names of Ortega Guillén. Another employee, identified by the last names of Ramírez Villalobos, also was detained.

They are accused of abuse of authority, embezzlement and accepting bribes, said the Poder Judicial. The ministry is an executive branch agency, and the Judicial Investigating Organization and the judicial police work for the courts.

The Poder Judicial said that the allegations stem from irregularities in the records of the archive and that it appears internal records that are not suppose to leave the office have been taken outside to benefit individuals seeking permits to carry weapons. These documents included paperwork that contained fingerprinting.

The Poder Judicial said that the allegation is that the two men were working with private security companies to expedite the approval of permits to carry weapons for employees of the firms.

The judicial police confiscated a number of records, including books in which fingerprint samples are kept.

Those who seek residency have to submit their fingerprints for a routine check by international police agencies. That is why some expats here decline to seek residency and remain what is known as perpetual tourists, exiting the country to renew their visa every 90 days.

Prosecutors asked a judge in the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda to jail the men for three months, but a final decision was not available late Wednesday.
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One of the two security ministry employees is led away for questioning and for an appearance before a judge.

Super gasoline will be higher than 700 colons per liter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of super gasoline will crack the 700-colon- per-liter ceiling when new prices go into effect in about five days.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos approved a 28 colon increase in super from 681 to 709 per liter. The new prices are based on costs between March 24 and April 7, said the authority.

In U.S. dollars the price increases mean that super goes from $5.13 a gallon to $5.34 a gallon, and plus goes from $5 to 5.18 a gallon.

The authority approved just a two-colon increase in a liter of liquid petroleum gas, which is used extensively for cooking. the new price is 370 a liter or about 74 U.S.
cents. This product usually is sold in tanks beginning at about eight liters.

Aviation gas is going up 20 cents a gallon to $6.43, and jet fuel is going up nine cents to $4.61.

Prices are based on the U.S. dollar exchange rate of 502.5 colons.

The new prices take effect when they are published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

Costa Rica produces no petroleum, and all products used here are imported and pass through the government monopoly of the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. Although the country may have extensive petroleum deposits off the Caribbean coast, international companies have been prohibited from exploration there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 93

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Mrs. Clinton is optimistic
on three free trade pacts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration will soon send the U.S. Congress implementing legislation for free-trade agreements with Panamá, Colombia and South Korea.  Action on the trade accords, reached during the Bush administration, has long been stalled.

Mrs. Clinton did not say when the implementing bills will go to Congress, but strongly suggested the long-awaited action will come soon.

The deals with Colombia, Panamá and South Korea were signed by the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007, with an expectation of swift ratification that would sweep away trade barriers and boost employment in the United States and the three other countries.

But action on the agreements faltered amid concern in the U.S. Congress about, among other things, labor and environmental standards in the three countries, and market access for U.S. farm products.

Speaking at the annual Conference on the Americas, Mrs. Clinton reported great progress on the trade deals. “We have worked with our Panamanian and Colombian partners to address key concerns and forge broader bipartisan support in the Congress, just as we did with the South Korean free-trade agreement," she said.

"Panamá passed important new laws on labor rights and tax transparency.  With Colombia we have established an action plan to address concerns about labor rights, violence and impunity.  And Colombia has already taken important steps to implement this plan, and we are working hard to execute the next phase by June 15th,” she added.

The Obama administration in recent days has won support from farm-state legislators for the South Korea free-trade deal by agreeing to seek consultations with that country on market access for U.S. beef exports. Senate hearings on all three trade deals are expected later this month.

In her remarks, Mrs. Clinton called political and economic strides in Latin America in recent years a “stunning transformation.”  But she lamented a continuing, huge gap between rich and poor in the region and said in many countries the wealthy are not paying enough in taxes to support public services.

Arturo Valenzuela earlier told the gathering the United States remains very concerned about what he termed the authoritarian tendencies of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez.

But Valenzuela said the Chávez government is under duress because of the country’s poor economic showing, and said the opposition is gaining ground.  He said overall, the influence of leftist leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, the so-called ALBA group, appears to be waning. Valenzuela is assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

“Where maybe four or five years ago a lot of people perceived that there was sort of an ascendancy of the ALBA group that they had a very significant strong voice in much of the hemisphere, we have seen in fact a greater degree of isolation.  And they simply have lost a significant amount of ground,” said Valenzuela.

Killer quakes hit Spain,
damages historic town

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two earthquakes have rocked southern Spain, killing at least 10 people and injuring others. 

The quakes hit Wednesday early evening in the popular tourist region of Murcia, including the ancient town of Lorca.  The tremors caused houses to collapse and damaged historic churches and buildings.

The U.S Geological Survey said the epicenter of the stronger 5.1-magnitude quake was one kilometer below the ground.  A milder quake of 4.4 magnitude had hit the area shortly before.

Television images showed frightened people in the streets of Lorca, strewn with rubble and crushed cars.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero ordered the emergency military units to the region to help with rescue efforts.

Lorca, a town of about 90,000 dates back thousands of years and has an old town center with narrow streets.
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Convention center reborn
in deal with two banks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials signed an agreement Wednesday night that is a step forward in the construction of a center for conventions and fairs.

The signing took place at the inaugural of Expotur, the tourism marketplace.  The Centro Nacional de Convenciones y Ferial is a new twist on the long effort to build a convention center.

The agreement Wednesday is between the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario, which has a facility in an industrial park in Barreal Heredia. The property involved is some 10 hectares or about 25 acres.

Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Nacional will finance construction with a $30 million loan. The center is seen as a location for fairs, reunions, concerts, expositions and other events. The project includes providing drinking water and setting up a sewer system, building a parking lot and providing access.

Expotur, which is a five-day marketplace for tourism providers and buyers, is based at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura in San Antonio de Belén. However, many organizations say that location is too small for major events.

The nation's convention proposal suffered a setback when the government of Taiwan scrapped a $25 million planning project as Costa Rica severed diplomatic relations in favor of the Peoples Republic of China in June 2007.

The government hoped to construct the convention center near the Centro Nacional de Distribución de Alimentos and the Real Cariari Mall. That is west of San José on the Autopista General Canãs between downtown San José and Juan Santamaría airport. The Centro Nacional is an agency of the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario.

After Taiwan pulled the plug, officials searched for a private firm to build a center. Although there were some announcements, nothing concrete took place, and then the world economic downturn arrived.

Three minors among five
held in Pavas murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Murder investigators served warrants at six homes in Finca San Juan in Pavas early Wednesday and eventually detained five persons in a March 31 murder. Three of the suspects are minors, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The victim was a man with the last name of Chavarría. Gunmen showed up at the man's home and fired repeatedly at him, agents said. That was in the same neighborhood.

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