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These stories were published Monday, May 24, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 101
Jo Stuart
About us
Instituto Meteorólogo Nacional photo
by storms

Costa Rica (colored in pink) is surrounded by bad weather in this infrared satellite shot taken early today. The positions of the storm cells show that the recent heavy rains are not yet over, and the weather bureau agrees.

See story


Consumer protection law is a valuable weapon
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The consumer protection law in Costa Rica, a model law for Latin America, works well if you know how to use it.

On July 1, 1996, the consumer protection law was published in La Gaceta, Costa Rica’s public records bulletin.  Before that date, any consumer who had a problem with a private or public company that sold products or services had few rights.  The administrative and judicial processes to complain were very complicated. 

The consumer law prohibits acts that cause damage or threaten to cause damage to consumers by creating confusion or making false allegations.  It prohibits the improper use, reproduction or imitation of trademarks, commercial names, advertising, packaging or any other means of identification that are the property of others. 

Most importantly, the new law included two new defense systems for consumers: 

First, it created the national consumer commission (Comisión Nacional del Consumidor, as a branch of the economy ministry, Ministerio de Economía). Second, it outlined new, faster legal ways to sue using the normal court system to protect ones rights.

The national consumer commission was created to receive all consumer complaints.  Once a complaint is received, an administrative process is started against the accused institution. The office has the faculty to mandate a severe fine against a merchant and/or to order the restoration of money paid and/or the replacement of an article purchased or service received.

It is very important to note, any consumer complaint is caduco after two months, which means if one is going to complain about something they better do it quickly, or learn to live with the product or service purchased.

When problems are bigger and the potential damages greater, it may be necessary to go to court.  Before the change in the law the only legal avenue was a legal case called a proceso ordinario, or ordinary process suit.  These cases usually outlive their owners because they take so long in court.  Ordinary process cases 10 years old are not uncommon.

Now one can file a sumario in a consumer complaint.  A sumario, a summary proceeding, is an expedited case that moves very quickly through the courts, which means one may actually be around to benefit from the results.

Many companies like building contractors, rent-a-car agencies, time-share hotels, have abusive clauses in their rental agreements or purchase contracts.  Building contractors hardly ever finish projects on time and rarely under budget.  Most people do not know these companies can be sued using the consumer laws for relief.

In the case of high-tech product companies, some sell refurbished items stating they are new. Certain cell phone vendors are the best example of this.  Many cell phones sold in Costa Rica are grey market, or secondary market items, mostly from telephone company cellular promotions in the United States.  Another abuser in Costa Rica would be a computer store selling old and outdated computer-related articles that are no longer found in the United States except maybe on EBay.

The consumer protection law defines a merchant as "any physical or legal person, public or private that sells products or services," which includes public institutions like INS, the insurance monopoly, ICE, the telephone company, RECOPE, the national refinery, everyone’s favorite RACSA, the Internet monopoly, and all the municipalities. 

This is great news for consumers because one can sue public institutions using the consumer protection laws and, in many cases, win.  The court for public institutions is called the Juzgados Contencioso, or public complaints court.

The necessary laws exist here to get action and make a difference unlike other Latin American countries.  As anywhere in the world, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, prevails so one should at least complain or sue quickly if unhappy with a product or service in Costa Rica.

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides business services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at crlaw@licgarro.com.

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Five held in Christmas murder of economic reporter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained four Colombians Saturday and said they were the individuals responsible for killing Ivannia Mora Rodríquez, an economic journalist last Dec. 23.

And agents again detained her work colleague and said he was the man who hired the Colombians.

Officials held an unusual press conference at 5 p.m. Saturday to detail the events of the day. Fiscal General Francisco Dall'Annese outlined the case. He was responsible for detaining the colleague, Eugenio Millot, last Christmas when the man tried to leave the country for his native Uruguay.

The government’s case is believed to rest heavily on the testimony of a single witness who was an associate of the four Colombians.

Ms. Mora died in Curridabat about 8:30 p.m. Dec. 23 when two men on a single motorcycle pulled up to her driver side door and began firing.

Millot became a suspect because Ms. Mora had recently left his Red Castle Publishing group and began working at a competing magazine.

However, investigators admit that the motive still seems vague. They are believed to have some ballistics evidence and a confiscated motorcycle said to be the one used in the crime. However, witnesses could give no clear description of the individuals or the motorcycle.

The four Colombian men were identified by the names Cerna, López, Nievas and Cortés. Millot went to jail until Jan. 13 and then was allowed to post a 3 million colon bail. That bail was revoked Saturday, and he, too, was jailed.

Break in weather
may be brief one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nearly a week of heavy rains ended Sunday afternoon in the Central Valley, but the weather experts say that more rain is on the way.

Meanwhile, emergency officials maintained a general alert Sunday morning and said that the weather forecast was one reason.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the ground was heavily saturated all over the country and that landslides and washouts had taken place in the Pacific coast and the Central Valley.

A low pressure system in the southern part of the Caribbean was to blame for storms since last Wednesday and that the system would hang on until at least Tuesday.

The weather service said that 3.2 inches of rain fell in San José from 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday. Rainfall Sunday, although heavy at times, totaled about a quarter of what fell a day earlier.

In all, Costa Rica fared better than during other periods of heavy rain. Some roads were cut by high water, including a stretch between Quepos and Dominical.  Some bridges were damaged near San Carlos. But a full reckoning would not be done until today.

There were no reports of people seeking public shelter.

Surprise statistics
cited on sex crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The presidential message to the country Sunday night contained some startling statistics. A narrator said that 61 sexual exploiters had been investigated, processed and brought to trial since July 2002.

The narrator also said that 179 police operations had rescued 294 minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation from the streets.

The narrator attributed these statistics to Rosalía Gil, minister of Niñez and the director of the children’s agency the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

The narrator also said that the 911 emergency service had received 490 complaints for sex crimes, presumably during the same period.

The numbers surprised reporters who cover police activities because few of these criminal cases have been reported. Nor have officials said in the past that 294 children were being exploited sexually on the streets of Costa Rica.

Instead of a speech by President Abel Pacheco on national television Sunday night, the weekly message included excepts of the president addressing the regional followup to the Second World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation. That event was held last week here.

The narrator also pointed out that Pacheco has signed a decree in late April that regulates pornography in Internet cafes and in video game parlors.

Art fair will start
Wednesday here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The second artisans’ fair in honor of cultural diversity will be opened Wednesday at the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes. The event will run until Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The ministry said that some 150 artisans would display their works at the event. The majority will be Costa Rican, but representatives from all over Central America also will participate.

Minister Guido Sáenz will lead the dedication and the school band from the Escuela Buenaventura Corrales will play at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

More prison space

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new prison wing in Roble de Puntarenas has been put into service with 176 new spaces. This brings the capacity to 396.

The $500,000 project was inaugurated Saturday. The prison has 345 inmates.

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Cuba, in gesture of reconciliation, restores citizenship to seven
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba has restored citizenship to seven exiles involved in the failed U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island in 1961. 

The government acted Friday during a migration conference in Havana attended by 450 Cubans who live abroad. 

Officials handed Cuban passports to six of the seven men who took part in the unsuccessful effort to overthrow President Fidel Castro's government. The seventh person was not present. 

The government called the move an act of reconciliation toward the exile community. More than one million Cubans live overseas, many of them in the United States. 

The migration conference comes amid new U.S. policies aimed at tightening the four-decade-old U.S. embargo against Cuba in a bid to hasten the end of President Castro's rule. 

A plan announced recently by President George Bush calls for aircraft to broadcast U.S. government-sponsored radio and television programs into Cuba, in an attempt to avoid electronic jamming by the Castro government. It also includes restrictions on cash remittances and family visits by Cuban-Americans to relatives on the island. 

Bush said in a statement Thursday that the United States is working for the day when a free Cuba will rejoin the community of democracies in the Americas.  He made his remarks on the 102nd anniversary of Cuban independence from Spain.

Top-level aide to Carlos Menem convicted of illegal enrichment
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An ex-aide to former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison.

The aide, María Julia Alsogaray, who oversaw the privatization of several state-owned companies during Menem's rule, was convicted in Buenos Aires Friday of illegal enrichment. Alsogaray's lawyer says her client will appeal the verdict. The former Menem aide has previously likened the case against her to an inquisition.

Alsogaray is the highest-ranking official from the Menem era to be found guilty of graft. Menem is also under investigation on corruption charges although he is not in the country..

Last month, an Argentine judge issued an international arrest order for Menem, after he failed to appear in court for a probe into a Swiss bank account linked to him. Authorities say he never declared nearly $600,000 in the account to tax officials.

Menem currently lives in Chile and has rejected corruption charges in multiple cases against him.

U.S. changes rules to allow foreign reporters to enter as tourists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Foreign journalists will be able to enter the United States even if they hold a wrong visa, says the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Bureau in the Department of Homeland Security.

In a news release, the bureau said it gave its border agents discretionary authority to admit foreign media representatives with visas other than the "I" visa required for working journalists. But journalists who benefit from the new rule once will be required to have the proper visa for subsequent trips to the United States, it said.

According to news reports and a non-governmental 

organization, several foreign reporters were detained by Homeland Security agents at U.S. airports and repatriated to home countries because they did not have the proper visa.

The denial was a public relations disaster for the agency because several reporters complained of mistreatment. In the past, foreign journalists could enter the United States either with a tourist visa or without a visa if the journalist came from a country for which a visa was not required.

However, the United States tightened entry and strictly enforced rules that say a journalist who comes to the country to work must have a visa regardless of country of origin.

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Leatherback turtle will carry a bug for science
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Stand by for radio direct from a leatherback turtle. This week biologists in the southeastern part of the country will be installing a transmitter on a nesting female leatherback.

The idea is to check migration routes. The signal will be picked up by a satellite in polar orbit that will keep track of the female as she does what turtles do when they are not laying eggs on Costa Rican beaches.

The project is being carried out by the Asociación ANAI of Talamanca, the Caribbean Conservation Corp. and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía in cooperation with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md.

The female leatherback probably will not notice the transmitter. The leatherback is the largest sea turtle in the world and resemble Volkswagen bugs without wheels. The turtles are a popular tourist attraction when they lay their eggs in pits dug in the Caribbean beaches or when the tiny turtles make a dash for the ocean.

But the species is an endangered one, having declined perhaps as much as 80 percent on the Pacific in the last 10 years, according to Didiher Chacón director of the program for conservation of the sea turtles of the south Caribbean. 

The turtle will be tagged at Playa Gandoca in southern Costa Rica where there are about 650 nests a year, according to Chacón. The leatherback has better prospects in the Caribbean.

However, the species still is hunted for its meat, even though such activity is against the law. Plus the nests are raided by locals seeking the eggs. Better transportation to the area has increased poaching, according to the Asociación ANAI, which helped establish the Gandoca/Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge in 1985 and is running the sea turtle conservation project.

The use of locals as tourist guides has offset some of the economic loss to residents by the protection of the turtles.

Asociación ANAI photo
Conservation workers collect turtle eggs and raise the young to this stage under protection.

Asociación ANAI photo
A full-grown leatherback could carry around a television set without problems, so a radio transmitter will not be a problem.

Colombian Indians flee fighting for Venezuela, U.N. agency says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The U.N. refugee agency says it is working with other humanitarian groups to protect hundreds of indigenous Wayuu people who fled Colombia to escape attacks by paramilitary fighters.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Kris Janowski, said here Friday that as many as 500 Wayuu have fled to Venezuela. 

Janowski said that so far, at least 300 people, many of them women and children, have been registered but that a precise count is difficult since some of 

them are reluctant to come forward.

The spokesman says his agency is working other U.N. groups and the Red Cross to deliver food, medicine and other supplies to the Wayuu.

Colombia is locked in a long-running war involving the paramilitaries, leftist rebels and the government.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said earlier this month that the drug-fueled war has created the Western Hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis and forced two million people from their homes in the past 15 years.

Jo Stuart
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