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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, May 18, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 98        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Photo courtesy of Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Matapalo de Aguirre
Farm tractor helps 18-wheeler across the swollen Río Portalón Wednesday afternooon
Contracts in limbo while rains ravage roads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government asked the Contraloria de la República to speed up evaluations of some 23 road contracts left over from the Pacheco administration.

At the same time residents all over the country were struggling with roads and bridges wrecked from the last rainy season.

The Consejo de Gobierno or cabinet of President Óscar Arias Sánchez declared the agreements to be an urgent matter. The Contraloria reviews most agreements.
Meanwhile on the Costanera Sur south of Quepos the Río Portalón was higher — stopping all but the most massive vehicles. Even a tractor trailer needed the help of a local farmer and his tractor to cross the swollen river.

Residents were fearful of being cut off from medical and other services, and they blamed the government for not getting a promised bridge in on the main highway.

Elsewhere the rains caused local flooding, mostly from drains and culverts clogged with garbage and trash.

Garbage crisis spawns dengue, rats and fears
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A chronic garbage problem is being blamed for a wave of dengue that is sweeping the municipality of Tibás.

At least 13 cases of the mosquito-born disease have been reported already, according to  María Luisa Ávila, the minister of Salud. Officials anticipate a rapid rise in cases because the start of the rainy season is dumping water on the Central Valley. Mosquitoes need water to propagate.

The municipality of Tibás presented a request for intervention to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias Wednesday. This followed discussion about the situation at the Consejo de Gobierno at Casa Presidencial earlier in the day.

The consejo declared an immediate emergency relating to the garbage and allocated 21 million colons ($41,500) for immediate action for collection.

A study by the Ministerio de Salud blamed the dengue problem on uncollected garbage. Garbage has been uncollected in the canton for three years.

Tibás is just north of San José, and officials fear that such an early outbreak of dengue in the major population center can result in unprecedented numbers of cases. Some 10,000 or so persons contract the disease each year. Most of these live on one of the two coasts. Last year two persons died.

In addition to dengue, the so-called bone-breaker disease, officials in Casa
Presidencial said Wednesday that the municipality also was facing a parallel outbreak of rats. The rats could be carrying leptospirosis, another serious diesase, they said.

Tibás has faced years of substandard garbage collection from what local officials there attributed to a lack of money. Officials hope that with the initial money from the central government and support from the emergency commission that the standing garbage can be collected over about six months. Some empty lots in the community are waist deep in garbage sacks.

The emergency commission will meet on the municipal request next week. In the meantime, workers paid by the central government will begin the collections at night so that traffic is not impeded.

One case of leptospirosis appeared this year in a worker at the Parque Boliver zoo. There was no evidence that he contracted the disease via rats at the zoo, but zoo administrators took steps to provide protective gloves and boots to other workers. The bacterial disease is spread by contact.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control symptoms of leptospirosis include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, and respiratory distress, the centers said on a Web site. In rare cases death occurs, the centers added.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 98

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Scammers soiled name
of country in the U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

All over the United States local newspapers have written about victims of the Costa Rican advance fee lottery scam.

An 84-year-old Clearwater, Florida, man was swindled out of $3,000.

In Fargo, North Dakota, a local woman lost $15,000 when she sent cash to Costa Rica via Western Union.

A 76-year-old Naples, Florida, man lost $12,000.

A Pennsylvania man lost $1,000.

A 67-year-old woman near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, lost more than $4,000.

These are the public relations fallouts from the lottery scam that was run out of multiple locations in San José for at least four years.

Raids Tuesday resulted in the arrest of three U.S. citizens and two Canadians who investigators said ran the operation here using up to 200 bilingual Costa Ricans.

A check of news stories posted on the Internet shows that many people now think of Costa Rica as a nest of scammers. The callers claimed to be from American Direct Sweepstakes or similar in Las Vegas. Sometimes the name was USA Direct Sweepstakes.

The names of the victims had been gathered by accomplices at supermarkets and other public places on various pretexts.

The telephone pitch announced that the victim was a lottery winner. However, to collect several thousand dollars was required in "insurance" or "local taxes."

The Pittsburgh area woman was told she won $350,000, according to the Tribune Review newspaper. She sent $1,925 via Western Union to Costa Rica. When no lottery check arrived, the woman, who has a 74-year-old husband, called and was told that she really had won $3.5 million, but she had to send more insurance money, $2,250.

The 84-year-old Clearwater, Florida, man sent $1,000 three times for alleged Costa Rican tax, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Then he was contacted and told the original telephone caller had scammed him but that he could share in $780,0000 confiscated from her simply by paying more money, said the newspaper.

A lot of the victims claim that their caller had a New York accent.

Officials here estimate that the ring took in up to $20 million from mainly U.S. victims. The army of bilingual or English speakers earned high commissions. Officials think that from 200 to 300 Costa Ricans were involved in making the calls or in collecting cash from Western Union or other types of money transfers. Judicial authorities are investigating to see if they should file local fraud charges.

Wednesday a judge authorized three months detention for the five persons agents say were the ringleaders.

They were identified as Martin Kalchstein, 60, a U.S. citizen and Brian Wall Coyle, 52, another U.S. citizen who also was known as Steven Blain, said officials.

The third U.S. citizen is Michael Attilio Mangarella, 51.

The two Canadians are Herman Kankrini, 42, and Giuseppe Pileggi, 45, who also was known as Joe Robert Haley, officials said..

The five are being held for extradition to the United States to face charges there. However, if an examination of their immigration status shows that they are not here legally they may be deported immediately.

Our readers comment

How about street signs,
motorist wants to know

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I'm sure that there are numerous plant lovers here who have wandered through the parks, admiring but unable to identify the various types of plants and flowers contained therein. For only about $16,000 that dilemma has been solved for them.
Now, if the powers-to-be could only find another $16,000 maybe we could spend that money on identifying the calles and avenidas in San José for those who may not be life-long residents.  I find it deplorable that, in the capital of our country, one has to drive blocks and blocks (or further) to find a street or avenue sign, in order to locate almost anything. Congratulations, plant lovers, you've succeeded in your identification needs, so San José, how about the rest of us?
John Rubida
San Ignacio de Acosta
Laura Bush was off base,
this reader contends

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was surprised to see Mrs. Bush's remarks on Canal 7 as she was leaving Costa Rica after being the official representative to the Arias inauguration.

She said  "Twenty years ago President Arias led this country, Costa Rica, to a peace that it still enjoys today. And that it was an unimaginable event at the time. Costa Rica is still a democracy that's an example for the world, and Costa Rica's democracy show every country that if you have strong democratic institutions it leads to the best for the people of that country."

Apparently what Mrs. Bush didn't know was that Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize 20 years ago for bring peace to Central America, most notably El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Costa Rica has enjoyed peace for the past 57 years when the Constitution was changed and the army disbanded. This was after the civil war of 1948 and under the leadership of José (Don Pepe) Figueres, who served three terms as president of Costa Rica.

I do think it was a slap in the face to Costa Rica to send a civilian instead of a senior government official to honor President Arias and one who knew so little of the history of Costa Rica but who had no fear of displaying her lack of knowledge.  May be it's a Bush family trait, history is what we say it is. But you would think that with Papa Bush, Ollie North and Nicaragua there would be some idea of what went on.

(Mrs. Bush's remarks are quoted from the White House transcript)
Doug Gesler
Sabana Oeste
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 98


Immigration department gets new leaders
Security minister vows zero tolerance for corruption

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister announced the appointment of two new directors of the immigration department Wednesday with a promise of zero tolerance for corruption.

Later the vice minister in charge of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said the zero tolerance would start internally before the agency worries about foreigners living here for extended periods on tourist visas.

Also to be targeted will be those foreigners in irregular immigration status who are involved in suspected criminal activity.

Both of the persons announced as appointments Wednesday are lawyers.  Mario Zamora Cordero, 36, becomes the new director general of the immigration department.  Xinia María Sossa Siles, 32, is the subdirector.

Immigration is within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The minister, Fernando Berrocal, admitted that grave problems exist within immigration.

Not the least of these are extensive lines for Costa Ricans who wish to obtain a passport. The line begins forming at the La Uruca facility at midnight in anticipation of service when the agency opens later that morning.

Berrocal said that the passport service will be separated from the other agency functions like dealing with foreigners.

Immigration is where expats go to obtain one of the various forms of residencies that allow them to live here legally.

A new immigration law is going into force in early August, and ministry and immigration officials are drawing up internal regulations to put the law into effect.

Berrocal was asked about the arrest of five foreigners Tuesday who were involved in a call center that is accused of taking money from North Americans under false pretenses. He also was asked about the condition of the border crossing with Panamá at Sixaola. The national border along the Río Sixaola was wide open, the minister said. He called it a matter of national security because illegal aliens, drugs and other contraband were entering the country unimpeded. Officials visited there last week.

Berrocal said that 30 officers who had been on anti-mine duty in the north of the country were being detailed to the southeastern border to provide control.

Mario Zamora Cordero

Xinia María Sossa Siles

For his part,  Zamora, the new director, promised dramatic changes in the department. He has worked with the Defensoría de los Habitantes, the nation's ombudsman, and is a member of the Comisión Costarricense de Derecho Internacional Humanitario. He holds two doctorates and a diploma in international human rights. He has been subdirector of the Escuela Nacional de Policía and adviser to the Comisión de Seguridad de Centroamérica.

Ms. Sossa worked in the Department de Pensionados in the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo from 1995 to 1998 when that entity handled such applications. She also was a lawyer in private practice for four years and an adviser to the Asamblea Legislativa. She participated in an analysis of the new immigration law.

It was Ana Durán Salvatierra, the vice minister, who said that the priority was to eliminate internal corruption.  Among other things the long lines have generated work for those who can cut through the red tape illegally.

In addition, an undetermined number of people who are working here illegally somehow manage to obtain renewals of their tourism visas without leaving the country. Speculation is that persons unknown provide the appropriate stamps and make false entries into the department's computer.

Two immigration employees ended up in police custody Feb. 23 on the allegation that they did enter computers and falsify entry and exit information for citizens.  That case has not been resolved yet.

In another case, a man appears to have walked through immigration controls at Juan Santamaría airport without having the legal right and appropriate papers to do so. Immigration employees also were investigated in that case.

Officials are expected to announce changes at both the airport in Alajuela and at Daniel Oduber airport near Liberia in the coming weeks.

Baptist church here forming study group to consider 'The Da Vinci Code'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 2003 book, "The Da Vinci Code" may be fiction, but it is generating a lot of discussion among Christians who do not like the idea of a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Locally, the International Baptist Church in Guachipelin, Escazú, is setting up a four-week study course to consider the statements made in the popular novel.

The movie based on the book, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou and directed by Ron Howard, opens Friday in Costa Rica and most of the world.
The Baptist church group said a curriculum, "Exploring the Da Vinci Code" will be used in the course.

The study group meets either Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. at the church or Thursdays at 7 p.m. in a Santa Ana home. Further information is available from Pastor Paul Dreessen at 365-1005 or 215-2117, said a church statement.

Author Dan Brown appears to have played fast and loose with history in creating the backdrop for this modern day mystery story. But in the United States and elsewhere, pickets are expected at the open night of the movie.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 98

Venezuelan foreign mininster warns of attack
Intelligence ties to Cuba and Iran cited for arms ban

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration is citing alleged Venezuelan intelligence links to Iran and Cuba as a reason behind its decision this week to ban arms sales to the Caracas government. The State Department said a claim from Caracas that the move is a prelude to a U.S. attack on Venezuela is just overheated rhetoric.

The State Department says the decision to halt weapons sales to Venezuela stems from a formal determination by the administration that the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is not cooperating with the United States in the fight against terrorism.

The action, first disclosed by the State Department on Monday, will have little practical effect since Venezuela does little military business with the United States and has shifted in recent years to other suppliers.

But it underlines the increasingly frosty U.S. relationship with Chávez, who has been accused by administration officials of undermining democracy at home and trying to export his brand of left-wing populism to other countries in the region.

At a news briefing, Sean McCormack,  State Department spokesman, declined details but said the arms sales ban stemmed from, among other things, Venezuelan intelligence cooperation with Iran and Cuba and ties with Colombian insurgent groups.

"In our judgment, they over the course of the year developed a much closer and stronger intelligence-sharing relationship with the intelligence
agencies of Iran and Cuba," he said. "We also have concerns about their failure to stop transit of certain individuals through Venezuela. We also have concerns about Venezuela serving as a transit point for types of arms. We have concerns about their links to the FARC and ELN. So there's a broad menu here of concerns that we have. Like I said, I can't get into all the details of it. But these are not decisions that we take lightly."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque has charged that the U.S. decision to halt arms sales is intended to prepare the political conditions for a U.S. attack on the South American country.

Spokesman McCormack dismissed that remark — reminiscent of similar comments by President Chávez — as overheated rhetoric, and an effort to divert the discussion from Venezuela's lack of cooperation in the war against terrorism.

He said Venezuela has repeatedly used charges of alleged hostile intent by the United States as a foil, and that the Bush administration has no problem dealing with leftist governments in the region that govern democratically.

McCormack also brushed aside a reported suggestion by a senior military adviser of Chávez, Gen. Alberto Muller, that Venezuela was considering the possibility of selling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter aircraft to another country, perhaps Iran.

He noted that Venezuela is bound by the 1982 contact under which it acquired the planes to seek U.S. approval for any third-party transfer, and he made clear that permission for a sale to Iran would not be forthcoming.

U.S. agency puts up $120 million for three countries in free trade pact
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp. is providing at least $120 million to spur investment in three Central American nations that are signatories to a free-trade agreement with the United States: El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

In a statement Tuesday, the agency said the money will provide finance and political risk insurance in those three countries where the U.S. free-trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic has entered into force.  Robert Mosbacher Jr., the agency president, will discuss the new investment package during his trip this week to the three Central American nations.

The Overseas Private Investment Corp. said the financing comprises its support for a new private equity investment fund for Central America, Mexico and Colombia; a loan to fund microfinance institutions in the region; loans for a series of housing construction and mortgage financing projects that will
help relieve the region's substantial housing need; and an agricultural project in Nicaragua that features both  financing and political risk insurance.

The Overseas Private Investment Corp. insurance projects being announced during Mosbacher's trip include an offshore oil and gas exploration project in Nicaragua, and U.S. small business projects in Honduras and Nicaragua.  Joining Mosbacher on the trip are representatives from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp.

Mosbacher said that increasing investment in Central America is a central goal of the trade treaty, which is the first trade agreement to establish a committee on trade capacity building.  In the eight months since the pact was enacted the Overseas Private Investment Corp. has marshaled $120 million to support investment in the region, he said.

Costa Rica has signed but not yet ratified the trade agreement.

Trade talks with Ecuador halted after country takes oil company assets
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration says it has halted negotiations on a free trade deal with Ecuador following that country's decision to cancel an operating contract with Occidental Petroleum Corp.

The U.S. Trade Representative's Office in Washington said in a statement that the U.S. is disappointed at Ecuador's decision, which it said appears to constitute a seizure of the assets of a U.S. company.

Ecuador announced its decision Monday following a dispute with Occidental over a stock sale. Ecuadorean
officials also say they are starting a gradual takeover of oil fields operated by the company.

Authorities in Quito say Occidental transferred oil stocks to a Canadian oil company without notifying the Ecuadorean government. Occidental says it has complied fully with all its obligations under its contract with Ecuador's government.

Earlier this year, Ecuadorean Indians staged demonstrations to protest the free trade talks with the U.S., saying an agreement would damage their livelihoods and way of life. Colombia and Peru have already signed trade deals with the United States.

Jo Stuart
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