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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 101                           Email us
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stolen statue
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
The purloined statue.
Suspect was pretty obvious
with statue under his arm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man with the last names of Portuguez Chávez should be real happy that Costa Rica does not have a death sentence. As it is, his future most likely will be assured for some time.

He is the main suspect in the theft of a statue of the Virgin Mary from the Catholic church in Mora. Fuerza Pública officers detained him as he approached the center of town Monday afternoon carrying the statue, which is correctly called the Virgen Santísima de la Asunción.

Not only is the statute an icon of the local Catholic community and valued at about 200,000 colons, or about $400, it also is an antique.

If Portuguez is guilty he might consider another line of work. Pawn shops are reluctant to accept historic statues of the Virgin Mary. Other church thefts have involved bells that were cut down for scrap and brass objects that were not clearly liturgical.

An exception is the still missing Christ Child that someone swiped out of the Nativity scene at the Teatro Nacional in December 2005. The 80-year-old wooden statue had at least historical value and has never turned up.

Officials said they thought the theft was a political statement.

Vargas convicted again over actions as public official
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eliseo Vargas was convicted again Monday, but he still is free pending a likely appeal.

Vargas is the former head of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. He was convicted in the Fischel case that involved the purchase of medical equipment for $32 million. Also convicted in that case was former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier. The trial tribunal found that some of the money had been diverted and workers at the Caja hospitals said the equipment was not needed.

Vargas also was convicted along with former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría in the Alcatel scandal that involved the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. That case involved the  allegation that Alcatel executives paid bribes to win
a contract for cell telephones in Costa Rica.

In the Caja case Vargas received a three-year sentence but was given what amounted to probation. He got two years in the Alcatel case.

Monday he received a sentence of four years on five counts that involved hiring an adviser who did not have to report to work. The assistant, Renato Soto received a three-year sentence, but was granted probation.

The trial was in the Tribunal Penal de Hacienda in Goicoechea. The allegations covered the time Vargas was running the Caja.

Vargas was a lawmaker when the $32 million loan came before the Asamblea Legislativa. He was the person who helped put the bill through into law.

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Our reader's opinion
Warrant for Paul Watson
is simply not justified

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The ongoing debacle that is Costa Rica's harassment of Paul Watson is yet another embarrassment for our country's long befuddled and corrupted system of justice, and may substantially damage the tourism industry.

Multiple sources, including A.M. Costa Rica, have reported that a video exists of the encounter between the Sea Shepherd vessel and the Costa Rican fishing boat which proves the claims made by the Tico fishing crew about damage and injuries resulting from the collision are false. Add to that the fact that the incident in question occurred outside Costa Rican jurisdiction, and there is clearly no legal justification for this warrant on the part of the Costa Rica government. In fact, one wonders if the government will charge the fishing crew with making a false report. (Color me skeptical)
I believe that this whole disingenuous extravaganza is nothing more than a humiliating, behind-the-scenes kowtow on the part of Tico politicians and bureaucrats to the Communist Chinese who are Costa Rica's newest/best-est buddies, are the world's largest consumers of shark fin soup, and who don't want to see the illegal finning trade shut down here.

Chinese citizens suffer tremendously because of the massive, systemically inbred corruption that is rampant in China, and Costa Rica certainly has its own serious problems with corruption. We don't need to be importing more. This is yet another reason why Costa Ricans should be very wary of allowing the growth of Chinese influence here. But hey! They built a soccer stadium, right?

Mr. Watson is no saint. He has a long history of being extremely annoying on and off the water, and of committing illegal acts at sea that often put human lives at risk in his long campaign to stop the oceanic barbarism of shark finning and whaling. But in this case, the evidence just doesn't exist to back up Costa Rica's warrant. The warrant should be quashed.

But more importantly, unscrupulous Costa Ricans should get their heads out of their bank accounts and realize that the money they make in bribes to allow this repugnant trade to continue isn't worth the international condemnation that will continue to debase Costa Rica's national reputation for as long as shark finning continues.

One of Costa Rica's great draws for tourism is its reputation as an ecologically aware and responsible nation. Actions like this frivolous warrant against Mr. Watson and the inability/unwillingness of the Costa Rican government to once and for all eliminate shark finning, fly in the face of that reputation and could potentially cost the country millions of dollars in lost ecotourism.
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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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 101
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As weekends go, this one was very typical with high emotions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers sometimes are critical of A.M. Costa Rica for reporting crime news. There are some who want to maintain the fiction of a peaceful, stress-free country.

In fact, Costa Rica is like every other county. There is jealousy, lust, pride and all the other deadly sins. Mix these with frustration, poverty and perhaps alcohol, and the result is explosive.

This newspaper's policy is to print crime news as it relates to expats, as it relates to national policy or when the event is so unusual that publication is warranted. So many routine crimes go unreported here, perhaps giving a distorted view of the country.

Seldom are published the tales of guaro-soaked migrant laborers engaged in duels with machetes in the northern zone. Traffic and water deaths only rate a mention if there is an expat connection or if they took place in a community with a high expat population.

This weekend was just like most weekends with accidents, water deaths and crime. Most of these events find a place in the Spanish-language newspapers, El Diario Extra in particular where editors strive to have the body of the day on Page One.

So as a benchmark, here is a summary of the crimes and tragedies that took place this weekend:

1. Police raided a chicken-fighting operation in Calle Fallas, Desamparados, and detained more than 50 persons, including one person facing a murder warrant. All three newspapers carried this story. Mistreatment of animals is big news now.

2. In Caño Seco, Rita de Pococí, Limón, a 32-year-old man shot his 15-year-old sister-in-law three times and then killed himself with the same weapon Sunday morning. The girl is hospitalized in grave condition. Both La Nación and El Diario Extra covered the story.

3. In Salitrillos, Aserrí, an 18-year-old man suffered critical injuries when someone smashed him in the head with a rock. El Diario Extra reported the story.

4. In Pavas a 40-year-old woman was confronted by a robber Saturday night after she just left church services. She resisted, and the bandit shot her in the chest. She was hospitalized. El Diario Extra reported the story.

5. Both newspapers covered the story of the 24-year-old woman who was an Intel Corp. engineer who died in a traffic accident in the U.S. State of Arizona.

6. Only El Diario Extra covered the story of the 20-year-old man who was stabbed by his girl friend because she saw him kissing another woman. That was in San Sebastián, San José. The victim is hospitalized.

7. In Guararí, Heredia, a 15-year-old boy came to the aid of his father who was being beaten. The boy suffered a fatal
newspaper montage
A.M. Costa Rica montage
A selection of the weekend stories

knife wound to the chest. The early Sunday dispute appears to be over a soccer game. Both El Diario Extra and La Nación covered the story.

8. Both newspapers covered the traffic accident in La Angostura, Puntarenas, where a 20-year-old motorcyclist died and others were injured early Sunday.

9. El Diario Extra was the only newspaper to cover the crash of a 65-year-old motorist into a photo shop in Guadalupe and the death of a motorcycle driver in San Pedro when his vehicle was hit from behind.

10. Both newspapers reported on the death of a mother who died in the surf Sunday as she tried to save her 9-year-old nephew at Playa Herradura, Jacó.

11. El Diario Extra reported on the death of a woman Sunday night who died when she was hit by a car as she crossed the Circunvalación in the rain in San Sebastián.

12. Both newspapers reported the death of a farm worker in Pital, San Carlos. He was struck by lightning Sunday afternoon.

13. Both Spanish-language newspapers and A.M. Costa Rica reported on the discovery of 195 kilos of cocaine in a shipping container that had entered the country from Colombia.

National television stations also reported on many of these news stories. In fact, the Sunday night newscasts on Teletica and Repretel are perhaps the most bloody of the week because every crime and traffic fatality is covered in depth and there is a scarcity of other types of news.

Banco Central formalizes rule on interbank transfer IDs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banco Central announced Monday that rules to track money laundering will go into effect July 1.

These are the same rules that have been discussed and even applied for months.

Anyone making a transfer from one bank to another will have to provide an identification number for him or herself and the  recipient.

The number can be that of a cédula for Costa Ricans or the number of an identification that has been issued by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

Or the transfer can be made via the account of a company listed in the Registro Nacional. In this case the cédula juridica will be used.
There also is a provision for diplomats who have a special identification.

Expats who have bank accounts can expect to be contacted to provide updated information.

Most interbank transfers via the Sistema Nacional de Pagos Electrónicos now require the cédula number or similar of the recipient. The sending bank already has the number of the person or firm making the transfer.

Those who might have problems with this system are perpetual tourists who do not have identification issued by immigration. Many of these, however, are owners of corporations that have cédulas from the Registro. And tourists probably will not be making many interbank transfers.

The system also represents an effort by Costa Rica to show international organizations that it is fighting money laundering.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 101
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Seagrasses found to store much more carbon than do forests
By the National Science Foundation news staff

Seagrasses are a vital part of the solution to climate change and, per unit area, seagrass meadows can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests.

So report researchers publishing a paper this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The paper, "Seagrass Ecosystems as a Globally Significant Carbon Stock," is the first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses.

The results demonstrate that coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, mostly in the soils beneath them.

As a comparison, a typical terrestrial forest stores about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer, most of which is in the form of wood.

The research also estimates that, although seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2 percent of the world's oceans, they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

"Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they're a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation," said James Fourqurean, the lead author of the paper. He is a scientist at Florida International University and the National Science Foundation's Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research site.

The Everglades site is one of 26 around the world in ecosystems from forests to tundra, coral reefs to barrier islands.

"Seagrasses have the unique ability to continue to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal seas," said Fourqurean. "We found places where seagrass beds have been storing carbon for thousands of years."

The research was led by Fourqurean in partnership with scientists at the Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigation, the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Bangor University in the United Kingdom, the University of Southern Denmark, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Virginia.

Seagrass meadows, the researchers found, store 90 percent of
sea grass
National Science Foundation Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research site
Scientists take samples of seagrass beds at the Florida Coastal Everglades site.

their carbon in the soil — and continue to build on it for centuries.

In the Mediterranean, the geographic region with the greatest concentration of carbon found in the study, seagrass meadows store carbon in deposits many meters deep.

Seagrasses are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Some 29 percent of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, mainly due to dredging and degradation of water quality. At least 1.5 percent of Earth's seagrass meadows are lost every year.

The study estimates that emissions from destruction of seagrass meadows can potentially emit up to 25 percent as much carbon as those from terrestrial deforestation.

"One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly sequester carbon and reestablish lost carbon sinks," said paper co-author Karen McGlathery, a scientist at the University of Virginia.

Seagrasses have long been recognized for their many ecosystem benefits: they filter sediment from the oceans; protect coastlines against floods and storms; and serve as habitats for fish and other marine life.

The new results, say the scientists, emphasize that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores--while delivering important ecosystem services to coastal communities.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 101
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Hard, tight campaign
predicts for U.S. presidency

  By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Less than six months before the U.S. presidential election, new polls show a deadlocked race between President Barack Obama and his expected Republican opponent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The intense verbal jousting between the Obama and Romney campaigns has begun early and political analysts predict a long and largely negative campaign between now and November.

Frank Newport is a pollster with one of the most respected monitors of U.S. public opinion, the Gallup Organization.

"You put it all together and my conclusion looking at it is that it is a very close race at this point," said Newport.  "In fact, when we asked people who would you vote for if the election were today, voters in America, basically it is tied at about 46 to 46."

If the predictions hold true, the 2012 race will be in keeping with other recent close presidential elections, including those in 2000 and 2004.

Most analysts say the economy is the critical issue in this year's campaign and they say the key question is whether voters have enough faith in Obama to reward him with another four years in office or turn instead to Romney.

Romney is close to securing the 1,144 delegates he needs to claim the Republican Party's presidential nomination and has focused his campaign on President Obama's handling of the economy.

"He has spent more and borrowed more.  The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead.  I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno," said Romney.

After a relatively comfortable victory four years ago, the president is warning his Democratic supporters to expect a much closer contest this year.  Obama spoke recently at a campaign fundraising event in New York.

"But I'm going to need all of you," said Obama.  "This is going to be a tough race.  It is going to be a tight race.  Nobody should be taking this for granted."

Polls show voters like Obama personally more than Romney, but many surveys give Romney a slight edge in handling the economy.

Thomas Mann, a political expert at the Brookings Institution, says public perceptions of the economy will be a determining factor in November.

"I would say the most important factor is whether the economy is picking up some steam and moving forward or is it falling back again?  If it's falling back again Obama's re-election is at serious risk," said Mann.

Like the 2004 matchup between President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry, both candidates this year will rely on a strong turnout from committed supporters in their parties.

But close elections are usually decided by independent voters, who do not have strong allegiances to either political party and are liable to swing either way on Election Day.

Ken Duberstein served as former President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff in the 1980s.

"Where the votes are going to count are in the middle, in the independent vote," said Duberstein.  "If the bases turn out, nobody wins.  It is the fight over the independents, the 'indies.'  So you have to broaden your constituency and not just play to your existing base."

While the campaign is expected to be tough, Romney has repudiated a proposed attack campaign against the president developed on behalf of wealthy conservative businessman Joe Ricketts.

The New York Times said that the $10 million ad campaign that Ricketts wanted to fund separately from the Romney campaign would have resurrected Obama's ties to his controversial former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  But a spokesman says Ricketts has now rejected the proposed campaign.  Republican candidate John McCain opposed a similar campaign when he ran against Obama in 2008.

Facebook shares take
a dip on Nasdaq exchange

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The price of shares of social-media giant Facebook plunged on its second day of stock market trading.

Investors quickly started selling the stock on the Nasdaq exchange Monday, sending the price of Facebook shares down 13 percent in the first hour. It later regained some strength, but still was down more than 10 percent in midafternoon trading at below $35 a share.

Facebook shares traded publicly for the first time on Friday, when they edged up to $38.23, 23 cents above the initial offering price.

With more than 900 million users, the social networking site is a well-known product. However, some financial analysts say they think the company is overvalued, and some projections of its future advertising revenue have been reduced.

The Nasdaq exchange said Sunday it mishandled the opening session of trading. Some investors say they lost money because of technical problems that prevented some large and small investors from completing stock trades. Nasdaq says it is recreating the mishandled trades to determine which stock buyers and sellers are owed compensation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 101
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Public employee union
awaits salary negotiations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Union representatives are laying the groundwork for their negotiations for salary increases. A salary adjustment is expected for the second half of the year in minimum wages.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados said on its Web site that increased costs require salary increase.

The organization noted that fuel, electricity, telephones and water have gone up along with bus fares. It also noted that President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has levied a 13 percent tax on more food products.

The union organization said that Costa Rica has a divide between the rich and the poor and the best way to surmount this is with a salary policy that is just and distributes the benefits of economic growth.

The eventual increase will be set by the Consejo Nacional de Salarios. The union group did not give a figure that it would seek at negotiations, but it did note that the salary increase is supposed to go into effect July 1. Sometimes an increase is not determined until after the day specified for the increase, so employers have to make retroactive payments.

Public employee negotiators were stung during talks over the salary increase for the first half of this year. There was a deadlock, and Ms. Chinchilla stepped in and awarded everyone a 5,000-colon raise. That's about $10. Negotiators and many public employees were furious and took to the streets in vain. They will be primed for a larger increase next month.

New fire station readied
for Puerto Jiménez

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday fire officials will be inaugurating a new station. This one is in Puerto Jiménez on the Osa peninsula.

A spokesperson for the Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica said that the structure was made possible by a new tax that Costa Ricans pay on electrical use. This will be the second station opened with money from that assessment. Others are planned in Bribrí, Nandayure, Cariari and Monteverde.

Contralora general picked

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers named Marta Eugenia Acosta Zúñiga as the new contralora general Monday. She has been the deputy contralora since 2004. She was not among the 10 original candidates for the post but lawmakers were not able to choose one of them.

The Contraloría General de la República is the nation's budget watchdog and its workers have to rule on any major contracts.

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