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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, May 16, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 97         E-mail us
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Rebel e-mails on Costa Rica are not really a surprise
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

New revelations from the computer of a Colombian rebel leader are hardly a smoking gun of extensive penetration here.

Costa Rican individuals are mentioned in some 36 e-mails recovered from a dead leader of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. None of the mentions are inconsistent with a rebel goal of obtaining political strength and recognition. None mentions drug trafficking or other crimes.

The Fuerzas Armadas has been involved in a four-decades-long war with the Colombian central government. The United States and other countries have designated them terrorists because they engage in kidnapping and drug smuggling.

An analysis on the news

The rebel leader known as Raúl Reyes, who died in Ecuador during a cross-border raid by Colombian troops, had denied in interviews that his organization is involved in drug smuggling.

Those who were mentioned in the e-mails on the computer of Reyes are exactly those one would suspect to be there. They are politicians or public persons here who are decidedly to the left. They also are those who have steadfastly opposed the free trade treaty with the United States and work for more socialism in Costa Rica.

Former president Rodrigo Carazo Odio, whose term ended in 1982, is mentioned as a friend of the rebels in the e-mails supplied by the Colombian government. Also mentioned are a 2001 student leader at the Universidad de Costa Rica, a union lawyer for the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, a union leader at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and José Merino del Río, a current member of the Asamblea Legislativa.

The e-mails seem to date from 2001 and 2002 when the rebels were trying to establish a formal office in Costa Rica. Merino admits meeting with rebel officials and has said he wanted to help broker a Colombian peace.

Also mentioned are the professor in Santa Bárbara de Heredia and his wife who were custodians of some $480,000 in money believed belonging to the now-imprisoned rebel leader Rodrigo Granda, who visited Costa Rica and had a meeting with then-security minister Rogelio Ramos.

Costa Rican police confiscated the money and the small safe that contained the bills March 14, thanks to a mention in one of the e-mails.

Related stories

Interpol validates e-mail files

The international police organization Interpol says computer files suggesting Venezuela armed and financed Colombian leftist rebels are authentic and show no evidence of tampering.

U.S. State Department disturbed

The U.S. State Department Thursday said reports that Venezuela may have tried to acquire advanced weapons for Colombian rebels are highly disturbing.

Both HERE!


Ramos was appearing before a legislative committee Thursday, and he played down any threats of rebel infiltration. Granda was the rebel foreign minister, and his meeting with Ramos has been well publicized. He was trying to set up a political office for the rebel group after the office in México was shut down by then-president Vicente Fox.

Ramos told the committee that then-president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez did not want a rebel office in the country. There was some input from Colombian officials, too, he said.

Ramos also discounted the great concern about rebel infiltration voiced by Fernando Berrocal in his earlier appearances before the committee. Ramos said that during his time as minister the Fuerzas Armadas was not considered here to be a terrorist or drug trafficking organization. And, he said, he only met with Granda once.

Berrocal lost his job as security minister because he suggested that some politicians here were involved with the Fuerzas Armadas. Spanish language newspapers transmuted his comments into a declaration that he had a list of such people.

Any list that could be constructed from the now-public e-mails would be no surprise.

Perhaps more troubling from the e-mails is the claim that substantial numbers of Colombians linked to the right wing paramilitary forces are present in the country under the nation's refugee program. The paramilitary organizations also have been designated terrorists, too. The paramilitary groups were created by large landowners and others to fight the Fuerzas Armadas.


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airport meeting
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Karla González listens to Jeffrey Scheferman outline his company's idea.

Suitor for airport operation
would put up $25 million

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The company that wants to buy out the current operator of Juan Santamaría airport says it will inject $25 million of its own funds to finish the work that has been started.

Jeffrey Scheferman, representing Houston Airport Systems, was in town Thursday to present his company's case. The plan is that Houston Airport Systems, which already operates airports in Texas and in Quito, Ecuador, will buy 95 percent of Alterra Partners and finish the airport construction projects that include new boarding areas.

Scheferman discussed the project at a press conference in the presence of Karla González, the mininster of Obras Públicas y Transportes. Nothing is firm, and the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil is studing the Houston proposal now. Eventually, if ministry officials like the idea, it will go to the Contraloría General de la República, the financial watchdog.

Alterra has been in repeated financial hot water and has been unable to perform. The company has been unable to work out a deal with its creditors for more money. In addition, the firm has been under fire by minority parties in the legislative assembly.

Alterra did open some 4,400 square meters of salons as part of a $15 million update in December. However other work at the airport proceeds at a snail's pace.

Scheferman heard from Ms. González that if his firm takes over, the reconstruction must be completed in 14 months. There is no indication from officials when or if the proposal will be approved or a decision made. Some politicians want the government to take over the airport again. Alterra holds a concession, and Houston Airport Systems would be bound by the clauses of that agreement, Ms. González noted.

Houston administers four airports in Texas that handle 58 million passengers a year.

Troubled pop star visits
as guest of Mel Gibson


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tabloids have their long-lenses trained on Costa Rica once again this weekend, as Mel Gibson flies in with a special celebrity guest: Britney Spears.

The troubled pop singer arrived in Costa Rica Thursday, along with Gibson and his wife, Robin, who are two of Costa Rica's highest-profile property owners. Ms. Spears' father was the fourth person in the group.

Gibson reportedly befriended Ms. Spears earlier this year, as the two used to be neighbors in California. Ms. Spears, who became famous at the tender age of 16 with her song “. . . . Baby One More Time,” has kept herself in the headlines recently with a divorce, drug abuse, an inadvisable shaved head and the loss of a custody battle for her two children to ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Gibson is said to have reached out to her during her darkest hours, and is now hosting her in his recently-acquired beach home in Playa Barrigona, near Sámara on the south Guanacaste coast.

The group took a private jet from the United States to San Jose's Juan Santamaría airport, arriving just after 3:15 p.m. for a connection to Carrillo airport.

Parking fines a good business

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San Jose's unusual parking system is paying off for the city. The municipality said Thursday that it has collected 115,113,750 colons (about $226,000) from parking violators in the first four months of the year.

More than 30,000 drivers were caught in the business district without the required ticket on their dash. Some had overstayed their time. The tickets are available from some stores and from the parking aides that watch the vehicles.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 16, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 97



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Three held in scam involving ATMs and used credit cards
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained three Romanians Tuesday night who they suspect ran a credit card scam and swindled thousands of dollars away from victims.
 
Agents from the Sección de Fraudes raided a San José hotel and confiscated $22,000 and 13 million colons ($26,000) in cash along with 450 fake credit cards, said a spokeswoman.

Scam operators used discarded prepaid credit cards that no longer had money on them.  They then inserted new magnetic strips onto the discarded cards which were obtained from stolen credit cards. The perpetrators would withdraw sums of money from automatic tellers. Officials
noticed something was amiss when the names of numerous foreign companies began to appear on the withdrawal records. No card numbers or further information appeared on the magnetic strips, said the spokeswoman. 

The three individuals entered the country May 3, said the spokeswoman. Agents suspect they were transferring sums of money from $3,000 to $4,000 back to relatives in Romania. They found records documenting the transfer of at least $57,000, said the spokeswoman.

Police arrested Vasili Popescu, 28, Danila Marius Ionut, 26, and Andrei Matache Rada, 23.  Officials solicited four months of custody for the suspects so the case can be further investigated, said the spokeswoman. 


Guápiles lawyer held to face allegation of property fraud
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained a lawyer Wednesday who they say falsified documents in property transfers.

The lawyer, Magaly Mattus Gutierrez, attended an unusual private hearing before a criminal judge in Guápiles Thursday, said a court spokeswoman. “The case being treated in a very private level,” said Andrea Marín, a spokeswoman for Poder Judicial. The purpose of the hearing was to see if the woman would be jailed or released under certain conditions.

Ms. Mattus is registered with the Colegio de Abogados de
Costa Rica. She entered the national lawyer organization in August of 2000, according to the Web site, and has never been suspended or received disciplinary actions.  Calls to the number listed for the office of Ms. Mattus went to a fax machine Thursday afternoon.

Illegal property transfers have a history in Costa Rica. In 2006, the court did not find any guilt in a high profile case involving the wife of current San José Mayor Johnny Araya. The stolen property belonged to a U.S. citizen from California. Someone had forged his name and took title of the land and house. The notarized documents came from the official book of a notary who said he had lost the book and never realized it.


There are six candles on this column's birthday cake
I have been writing this column for nearly six years.  I remember vividly the day that Jay Brodell suggested that I write a column for his new publication, amcostarica.com.  We were having coffee at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.  This was after we both had left The Tico Times, he more willingly than I.

And I remember, too, the day, outside the Centro Cultural when he took a snapshot of me for my column, and we discussed what to call it (the column, not my head). We came up with the title “Living in Costa Rica.”  Over the years I have thought it a rather bland title, and the subtitle, “Where the Living is Good,” even less compelling.  But change is difficult.  Today, perhaps just “Living” would fit better, or perhaps “Still Alive in Costa Rica.”  Or something more instructive like “Lessons Learned in Costa Rica.”

My readers have been privy to a lot of the lessons I have learned and have been with me as I have moved from one apartment to another within the city of San José and one as far away as San Antonio de Belén.

Actually, I have lived in six different apartments in the city and have never lived in a place with bars on the windows.  I have told you of the joys of living in San José and the advantages of living alone.

Readers have also heard about my various visits to the hospitals.  I have been a patient in every hospital but one in the environs of San José (the missing one is Hospital Nacional de los Niños, the children’s hospital. Otherwise I probably would been in that one, too).  I even wrote one of my columns while in a ward bed at Hospital México.  My friend Sandy typed it up and e-mailed it to Jay.

I have told you about my struggle with the red tape (known as tramites) in doing business or becoming a resident.  By now most of you know that I hate tramites and my one solution is not to own anything except what I must.  And all of you must know by now that I ride the bus as often as I can, not just out of necessity but because I like riding the bus.  One can sightsee from a bus more easily than from a car.  And if I don’t feel like looking out the window, I can read my bus book. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


You all know that I am frugal (not cheap, thrifty), the same.  I shop at the feria, both because the produce is fresher and the prices are considerably lower, and besides, visiting the feria early in the morning, walking the wide corridor between the fruit and vegetable stands with hundreds of other people, is a lovely way to begin the day.  Just as I find Sunday morning attending the symphony during the concert season is a great way to begin that day.  As long as I can climb those three flights of stairs and my acrophobia does not get the best of me, I shall buy gallery tickets.  Can you imagine paying $8 to watch and listen to a world-class orchestra play a two-hour concert that includes Mussorgsky’s  “Pictures at an Exhibition?

And I have probably been in a department store or new clothing store three times since I have lived here.  I shop at ropa Americana or ropa Italiana whenever I think I need something different to wear.  The choice of styles is much greater. I am a serious recycler, but don’t come close to living as creatively and conservatively as so many others who have chosen Costa Rica as home.
 
This is not a goodbye column; I was inspired in this direction by a dear friend of mine who asked me to write on the subject of writing a column for her blog.  This is not what I wrote for her. I do wonder how many new things I will have to write about.  Costa Rica is changing — a lot.  The other pages of the paper record the news about them.  But one thing is sure, I still have more lessons to learn, and, of course, I always have my opinions to share.  
               
Jo’s Book, "Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica," is available through 7th St. Book Store, Liberia Internacional and La Campesina in Cariari or e-mail her at jostuart@amcostarica.com.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 16, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 97



Interpol validates Colombian claims based on computer data
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The international police organization Interpol says computer files suggesting Venezuela armed and financed Colombian leftist rebels are authentic and show no evidence of tampering.

Interpol said Thursday that Colombian authorities did not always follow internationally accepted methods for handling computer evidence but said that did not taint the data.
Colombian authorities seized the computers during a March 1 cross-border raid on a Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias base in Ecuador.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that it has been shown files that indicate high-ranking officials in Venezuela offered to help Colombian rebels obtain surface-to-air missiles. The Post said there is no evidence the rebels obtained the missiles. Interpol studied the data at Colombia's request.


State Department spokesman calls reports highly disturbing
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department Thursday said reports that Venezuela may have tried to acquire advanced weapons for Colombian rebels are highly disturbing. Venezuela denies the reports, which have spurred U.S. congressional calls for action against the Hugo Chavez government.

The Bush administration is acknowledging the seriousness of the reported Venezuelan activity, but it is non-committal about the request from members of Congress that the Chavez government be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

Colombia said two months ago its troops found computer evidence of Venezuelan arms and financial support for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, when they raided a leftist rebel camp in Ecuador March 1.

Colombia said the records of a senior commander killed in the cross-border operation revealed large scale Venezuelan funding and arms aid for the rebels, who have been active for decades.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that documents it was shown by Colombian officials indicate that Venezuela tried to arrange delivery of anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels. The Post said there was no evidence the guerrillas received the missiles, which could have tipped the balance of power in the conflict, but that Venezuela did apparently provide light arms, grenade launchers and ammunition.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the latest reports only add to U.S. concern
about the alleged relationship between the Caracas government and the rebels who have been designated terrorists because of their kidnapping and drug smuggling.

"Certainly the picture painted by some of the preliminary news reports that I've seen over the past few days is disturbing, highly disturbing," he said. "There are serious allegations about Venezuela's supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization. Certainly that has deep implications for the people of the region as well as states in the region."

McCormack said the United States, which has been given access to the computer information, is conducting its own analysis and at this point has no reason to question its legitimacy.

Venezuelan President Chavez, who has defended the Fuerzas Armadas as a legitimate military force, has accused Colombia of fabricating the computer documents. The Caracas government has termed the latest charges as laughable and lies.

But the affair has spurred several members of the U.S. Congress to call on the Bush administration to list Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier, as a state sponsor of terrorism.

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, a Republican, said Thursday the latest information makes it imperative for the administration to act against Venezuela without delay.

Spokesman McCormack said he is sure the latest information will figure into what he termed the administration's rigorous analysis of the issue.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 16, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 97

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.


Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


Statistics
A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 


Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.


Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

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Datascension reports
smaller first quarter loss


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Datascension, Inc., a market research and custom call center with offices in San José and Limón, is reporting a first quarter loss of $66,890. That is 78 percent better than the net loss of $310,576 for the quarter ended March 31, 2007, the company said

Total revenue for the quarter ended March 31 was $5,347,987 as compared to $4,753,852 for the quarter ended March 31, 2007, an increase of $594,135 or 12.5 percent, said the company.

Operating income for the quarter ended March 31 was $140,525 as compared to an operating loss of $136,867 for the quarter ended March 31, 2007, an increase of $277,392 or 202.7 percent, the company said.

The increase in revenue for the first quarter of 2008 as compared to the first quarter of 2007 was a direct result of the increased business generated during the latter part of 2007 by existing clients and the addition of new clients, for which the increased revenue potential is now being realized, said the company.

Results from operating cost controls initiated in January are now showing resulting reduction in costs which has also resulted in an increase in gross margins, said the company.

“The quality of our service and recruiting efforts to hire individuals that can speak both English and Spanish is enabling us to enlarge the scope of services we offer our existing clients as the Hispanic population continues to grow in the Americas,” said Datascension’s chief operating officer, Joey Harmon.

Datascension, Inc. is engaged in the collection, storage and processing of data and conducting outsourced market research with operations mainly in Costa Rica.

One held after car chase
and theft at Multiplaza


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police caught one suspect after thieves broke into a car parked at Multiplaza in Escazú Thursday, said a security spokesman.

The owner of a Hyundai Elantra reported to police that the window of his car was broken and three thieves took 16,000 colons (about $31) , a radio, and other belongings, said the security spokesman.

Fuerza Pública officers from Escazú chased what they believed to be the getaway car, a Hyundai Euro Accent. The officers chased the car into the parking lot of Pequeño Mundo where the suspects began to run, said the security spokesman.

Police did not arrive until several minutes later, said the spokesman. They detained a suspect with the last names of Alvarado Obregón as he traveled on the bus from Santa Ana to San José, they said.

Officers said they found two radios among other items in the abandoned vehicle. The evidence and the suspect, Alvarado, are being held by Ministerio Público, said the spokesman. 

50 Peace Corps volunteers
to be sworn in this morning


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 50 new U.S. Peace Corps volunteers will be sworn in this morning in a ceremony at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Los Laureles, Escazú. The volunteers will work two years with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia and with the Dirección Nacional de Desarrollo de la Comunidad in a community development program.

The new volunteers are all between 22 and 28 years of age and university graduates with degrees in relevant areas, such as finance, psychology and children and family, said the embassy.


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