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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, May 27, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 104         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Puerto Viejo and Cahuita sites of attacks
Caribbean struggles with rape and official delays

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A serial rapist is loose just south of Puerto Viejo, say residents. The man has violated various women, many of them foreigners sunbathing alone on the beach, said a Fuerza Pública officer in the small town. But fed up community members are starting to fight back.

The rapist puts a bag over the head of his victim or otherwise covers her eyes so she cannot identify him, said José Ceciliano, a Fuerza Pública officer in the area. But many locals say they know who the attacker is. “I'm not sure if women here are scared or just angry,” said local hotel owner Wendy Strebe. She said she warns her guests not to go alone to Chiquita beach, the area where various incidents have occurred.

Police say they are always on the look out. “I'd advise tourists and nationals alike not to walk alone,” said Ceciliano, adding “in any situation in which a person feels fearful or sees someone suspicious they should call the police.”

A group from the community organized a meeting with Janina Del Vecchio, the security minister, and also petitioned officials to revise the complicated process a victim must go through to report a rape, said a community organizer. The organizer who wished to go unnamed, said the complex system can deter rape victims from reporting the crime.

“This is a national problem. People are not inclined to report or are inclined incorrectly,” she said. Furthermore in Costa Rica lab results take three months because of the backup of cases at the Judicial Investigating Organization, so many women have to live side-by-side with their aggressor until the results come back, added the woman.  

Eva Menéndez, another resident, said she's organized self defense classes for women in the Puerto Viejo area. “We are living side-by-side with him,” she said. Menéndez said classes instruct women to stop an attack. 

Most people in the town believe they know who the rapist is, said various residents. They say they know his family and occasionally see him. And due to some glitches in the judicial system, the rapist is still wandering the beaches of Playa Chiquita, they said. Whether the blame is on the local police, the prosecutor, the Judicial Investigation Organization, or judicial system in general, is hard to know, said a woman who is helping organize the community.

Victims' lab results have come back inconclusive, said the community organizer. But there are still open cases, and the Judicial Investigation Organization continues their work, said Ceciliano. Judicial investigators have known about the case for months, said Ms. Strebe, who said agents came and investigated last fall. 
Many residents blame the police, and say Fuerza Pública officers know who the man is. But Ceciliano said without full identification or judicial orders, the police cannot act. “The people talk. They say that we know. But when we arrive, they shut up and say they don't know anything,” said Ceciliano.
The cases seemed to have started about a year ago, said residents. Reporting the cases to authorities has proven to be extremely difficult, complicating the situation even further, said a woman who has helped a number of survivors report the rapes:

A rape survivor may only be examined by a doctor from the Judicial Investigation Organization. She must not shower or change clothes before the examination. She must report the case both to the
Judicial Investigation Organization and to the local prosecutor. If the rape occurs after business hours or on the weekend, the victim must report the case to Fuerza Pública officers who then must call the prosecutor.

Unlike the Judicial Investigation Organization in San José, most judicial organization posts throughout the country are not open 24 hours a day. One victim drove all the way from Puerto Viejo to the nearest prosecutor in the town of Bribri only to discover the offices were closed and no one was there to help her, reported a resident.

A former social worker who helped women in Puerto Viejo also described these barriers:

Victims who do not speak Spanish are not provided a translator. The victim may provide his or her own translator but many do not know this. A victim also has the right to a personal lawyer, although most times no judicial official tells her this.

Puerto Viejo is not the only town where there is frustration with the judicial system. A recent rape in nearby Cahuita has left police officers angry and questioning Costa Rica's court system.

The subdirector of Fuerza Pública in Cahuita said officers arrested a suspected rapist last week, turned him over to immigration, and a few days later he was back in town.

A Swiss woman who lives in Cahuita left the Reggae Bar at about 9 p.m. when a naked man on the side of the street grabbed her and raped her, said the subdirector, Jesús Cortez.

“The laws are very soft. This can't keep going on,” said Cortez, “We need some help in our town and attention brought to this issue.” The suspect was from Nicaragua and has lived in Cahuita for at least a year, but because he carried no documents, officials did not deport him, said Cortez.

“They held him for maybe two or three days,” said Cortez. Cortez added that the whole thing was frustrating because the Fuerza Pública officers have done everything they could in the case.

The woman went through all the examinations, and even though she didn't speak much Spanish, everything was reported correctly, he said. Cortez just learned the suspect was back on Monday, he said.  He still is unclear why the man was not prosecuted or deported.

Delegación de la Mujer is one organization that helps women in these situations, said the community organizer. Women who feel helpless or confused can call this organization for advice. Many times hotel owners are the first to find out one of their guests has been raped, and they are not sure what to do, said the woman.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
A rainbow appears above the clock in the center of the San José pedestrian mall.

Break from the rain
will not be a long one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A rainbow appeared Monday over San José, and rain did not pour down in buckets for the first afternoon in more than a week. But the forecast for the week says that the rains will return again today.

Another tropical wave is making its way from Venezuela and should provide drenching rain in the Central Valley and the rest of the country except the northern zone and the Caribbean coast. Those two places should expect some rain but not a daily dose, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The weather institute also said that breezes from the Pacific were adding to the humidity over the Pacific coast and the Central Valley, thereby generating rain.

Our reader's opinion
Stimulus payment fails
to stimulate this reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This tax refund is just a joke.  It is a ploy to get people to file their returns in a questionable economy.  It only applies to the sheeple ( yes this word is spelled correctly), who followed all of the rules and were good little boys and girls.  Come on $300 to $600?   What the heck is that suppose to do.

People like me never get a refund.  For one thing, I am always late in filing.  Have been for years.  I am the king of the extensions.  BUT I always pay my fair share and including the usury interest and penalties that go along with it.  Heck I should just get the refund because all of the extra money I pay.

ALSO  I never got a refund, because I was an employer.  The self-employed never get those refunds.  It didn't say it in your article, but usually the people who qualify are those who on a prescribed payroll plan.  The ones employers supply for you.  We, too, as employers pay more into the tax system because we have to match the deductions out of our pockets. We take out of the employees check.  Including a host of others taxes paid depending where you operate a business.   We don't get refunds.

We are the country's tax collection system.  We collect taxes from the people and turn them over to the government along with our share out of our profits and pockets.  Anyone who has filled out a  941 knows what I am talking about. I guess the idea is to have those refund receivers spend their checks in out stores, restaurants, and gas stations.  HOW STIMULATING! 

Heck those checks don't break us even for the extra expense we already paid on the gas this month or this year.  AND remember our president's  family is in the oil business.  AHH, excuse me, that's a whole another issue.

Overall, Couldn't all that $45.7 plus billions have been better spent?  Also don't forget, this is practice expected in an election year. Yes, I am an expat.  Giving other reasons why I left the U.S.A.
Steve Petretti
San Buena Ventura

EDITOR'S NOTE: Information on the U.S. stimulus payments is HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 27, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 104

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5.2 quake in Panamá causes some damage in southern zone
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A moderate earthquake felt mostly in the southern zone of Costa Rica led to the evacuation of a hospital, damage to various houses and the cracking of a road Monday.

Measuring 5.2 magnitude, the strongest of four tremors took place at around 9 a.m., and hit hardest in towns such as Golfito and Ciudad Neily. It had its source in the fault line located just south of Puerto Armuelles in Panamá, the same fault line that caused an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 on Christmas Day 2003.

No injuries or fatalities were reported, but a number of patients were evacuated from Ciudad Neily's hospital as styrofoam ceiling laminates became dislodged, and it was thought that this could hurt the health of staff and patients.

A wall of one house collapsed in the town of Laurel, situated very close to the border with Panamá, and the walls of the local school of Caracol cracked. A road linking the villages of Santa Rosa and Incendio also opened.
Officials of the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias headed to the affected areas after the tremor in order to register damages and give support to the affected residents.

The commission had already been kept busy throughout the weekend by the first strong rains of the season.

The bridge over the Río Pánica was evacuated when officials decided that the strength of the water flowing close to the bottom of the structure put travelers at risk, and roads in the center of Pacayas, Cartago, were flooded by water and mud.

Landslides near Cartago and Ciudad Quesada held up road travelers, while four houses in San Antonio de Ciruelas and three in Marías de Naranjo were flooded when sewers overflowed.

A family living in Santo Domingo de Heredia sought refuge in the homes of relatives when their house was also flooded, and up to nine other houses reported damage in Barrio Nuevo and Tirrases in Curridabat, and in San Francisco de Coronado.

Drownings are leading cause of death for U.S. citizens here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drowning was the No. 1 cause of violent death to U.S. citizens in Costa Rica over the last three years, according to a U.S. State Department report.

The report, which recorded 75 deaths from January 2005 to December 2007, listed all "non-natural" deaths of U.S. citizens visiting or living in the country. The information on Costa Rica came from the U.S. Embassy here.

The greatest number of deaths, 27, occurred in the Provincia de Puntarenas. Most of those came from drownings. The province includes all of the central and south Pacific beaches. The Provincia de San José was second in violent death, with 21, most of those results of homicides, said the report.  

Second to drowning in Costa Rica were car accidents with
13 deaths and then homicides with 12 deaths.

Other causes of deaths were suicides (eight), air accidents (seven), maritime accidents (four), drug-related deaths (four), and  “other accidents” (six). The 21 drownings accounted for 28 percent of the overall deaths. 

During the same three-year period, 30 deaths of U.S. citizen deaths from non-natural causes were recorded in Colombia and 14 in Nicaragua.

México had 75 deaths of U.S. citizens in just the first three months of 2005.

Curiously, U.S. officials in France reported just 22 such deaths during the three-year period, and those in Germany reported 72, many from motor vehicle accidents.

The full list by country is available HERE!

Two state banks will combine their teller services for their customers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Nacional took the first steps Monday to form a single entity that could compete with private banks.

The two banks announced that customers of either bank could make deposits and cash checks regardless of where the account is maintained.  It is an extension of the Sistema Interbancario de Negociacón y Pagos Electrónicos that now allows the transfer of funds from one bank to another.
Tellers in either bank will have access to a customer's account information and will accept deposits, payments or other transactions as if they were in the home bank.

Automatic teller cards also will work in machines maintained by either bank, officials said.

A committee now is studying the fusion of the state banks in the face of private competition. Certainly the matter of real estate will come up. Both Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica maintain many branches in close proximity.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

Jaco Towers

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 27, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 104

Some lawmakers want to pass tobacco ban by May 31
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some lawmakers are pushing to approve a strict ban on smoking before May 31, the International Day of No Smoking.

The World Health Organization has created an agreement to control the use of tobacco, and this has been incorporated into legislation that is now before the Asamblea Legislativa. Many other nations have subscribed to the agreement.

Among other measures, the legislation would increase tobacco taxes, forbid tobacco advertising and forbid  smoking in private places open to the public, like restaurants. The measure also would prohibit premiums and
prizes from tobacco companies and provide for stronger warnings to be printed on packages of cigarettes.

Among those promoting the bill is Guyón Massey Mora of Restauración Nacional,

The measure is No. 14844, and it has been in the legislature since 2004, according to Massey. He said the bill was necessary to protect non-smokers from the effects of tobacco.

Most restaurants now have a no smoking area, but the rule is frequently ignored. Massey noted that sometimes the areas are separated just by potted plants or chairs. The bill being considered would increase fines for violations, too.

Cheap laptops for developing world getting good reception
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More of the so-called "$100 laptops" are being distributed to the world's poorest children. While the computer still costs more than originally advertised when the initiative was unveiled three years ago, some 300,000 children in developing countries are now using the distinctive tiny green laptop. And the non-profit organization "One Laptop Per Child" hopes to double that number soon.

At the Apostol Santiago school in the highlands of Peru, children are enthralled with the laptop. Yesenia Borquez, 8, says she is thrilled with her computer.  "I'm very happy because I learn everything on my computer," she said.

Children at some 6,000 Peruvian schools will be getting the computers from One Laptop Per Child.

Founder Nicholas Negroponte unveiled the $100 laptop three years ago with great fanfare. The aim: to make a computer that would cost as little as $100 and to distribute millions of them to the world's poorest children.

Negroponte said the laptop is transforming education. "Teachers will tell you they've never had so much fun teaching. It's completely transformed teaching. The second thing you'll hear is about discipline problems, the love of learning, the engagement — you walk into a classroom and the energy level is something you've never seen before. It's just unbelievable," he said.
The laptop runs on a conventional power source, but also can be charged with a hand crank or a solar panel, which makes it functional in even the most remote areas of the developing world.

However, the true cost of the laptop is higher than expected, about $187. Negroponte remains optimistic that the $100 per laptop goal will eventually be met, as prices for components go down.

He also rejects criticism that money would be better spent on building schools and buying books, instead of on laptops.  "Training teachers, building schools, that's all very important. And not for a moment are we saying: 'Don't do that.' I am saying don't ship books, but I'm not saying don't do the other. But by doing something like this, in parallel or instead of, is leveraging the kids themselves," Negroponte said.

At the Apostol Santiago school in Peru, the 60 laptops are seen as toys by many of the children. They are much more than that, says school principal Guillermo Lazo.

"They have a powerful tool in their hands, even though, incredibly, the children think they are toys. But they are really a powerful information tool," he says.

And educators say they hope these laptops will help children overcome the poverty and isolation that is so endemic in the developing world.

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Trail of origin of domestic sunflower appears to be older
By the staff of the U.S. National Science Foundation

Global warming could affect one of the world's major oil seed crops, the sunflower. Drawing on genetic information from early plant stocks is key to improving future harvests.

This is the view of David Lentz, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, who has been studying the origins of domesticated sunflowers since an initial sunflower discovery in Tabasco, Mexico, in 2000.

"It is very hard to extract genetic information from archaeological sunflower plants," says Lentz. "But it is important to know where our crop plants originated for breeding purposes and for conservation. We need to try to

sunflower grower in Mexico
Robert Bye, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
David Lentz discusses sunflower cultivation with a Mexican grower.

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preserve every bit of genetic information we can to insure flexibility in future breeding efforts."

Lentz's sunflower finding in Tabasco's San Andrés archeological site, dated 2600 B.C., prompted a revision of former understandings about sunflower domestication, and pointed to new locations for potential early plant stocks.

Lentz's new research report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms his earlier finding that sunflowers were domesticated twice, once in the eastern part of the Mississippi Valley about 3,200 years ago, and independently in Mexico about 4,600 years ago. It also stirs up past controversy surrounding the previous finding.

"While it is recognized that major centers of prehistoric plant domestication existed in Central and South America, many archaeologists also believe that the same process, with less well known domesticates, was present in North America," says John Yellen, National Science Foundation program manager for archaeology, whose unit paid for the study. "Dr. Lentz uses genetic data to address this important question directly."

"Some researchers don't want to believe sunflowers were domesticated as a crop in Mexico prior to domestication in North America," says Lentz, who conducted his research with an international team of researchers from Ohio, Florida and Mexico.

"They refuse to believe it, even though the evidence shows Mexicans cultivated foods such as squash, corn and beans as early as 10,000 years ago, in 8000 B.C."

Lentz and his co-authors argue that their recently reported discovery of three well-preserved achenes, the fruit of the sunflower that contains the seed, confirms early Mexican domestication.

The achenes, discussed in the team's 2008 report, date from around 300 B.C., that is, 1,800 years before the Spanish Conquest of Mexico led by Hernando Cortez. The achenes, found in a dry cave in Cueva del Gallo, a site in the central Mexican state of Morelos, have unmistakable sunflower traits that blunt criticism of the previous San Andrés finding.

"We have the earliest fully domesticated sunflower seeds from Mexico at San Andres and also we have sunflower, huge seeds, from Cueva del Gallo," says Lentz. "A careful examination of the early Spanish literature about Aztec plant uses reinforces this idea, too. The more we look, the more we find. An independent domestication hypothesis is the best explanation for these facts."

To verify the earlier findings and seek out new sources of genetic material, the research team of archeologists, biologists, and experts on the use of plants in ancient cultures returned to Mexico for further investigation.

The researchers documented archaeological and language data, as well as descriptive field data, from current and past Mesoamerican societies. The team found that a number of Indian groups, such as the Otomi and the Nahua, had words in their languages for sunflower that were not related to Spanish words for sunflower. This indicates that sunflower use for these people predated the Spanish expeditions of the early 1500s.

The Otomi use the name "dä nukhä," which translates to "big flower that looks at the sun god," a reference to pre-Columbian solar worship. The Otomi still use sunflowers as an ornament in their churches.

Lentz and his co-authors argue that the conquering Spaniards had reasons to discourage the use of sunflowers in Mexico. "In fact, they may have discouraged sunflower's use because of its association with rituals and other practices Spanish priests would not have approved," says Lentz.

For example, sunflowers were believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Although there is no basis for this belief, it may have contributed to a lack of evidence of sunflowers in Mexico, which encouraged modern-day scholars to assume that North America was the first to domesticate this crop.

Other than in its very early history, there is not much mention of sunflowers in Mexico. However, North American history has many references to sunflowers as a Native American crop. When scientific crop breeders started experimenting with sunflowers, they worked with the plant's genetic resources from Native American sources.

Now crop breeders may want to look to the hotter, drier climates of the south to improve sunflower harvests as farmers anticipate effects from global warming.

Azteca style sunflower glyph
Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation
This is an artist's interpretation of how the lore of the cultivated flower could have been included on long-lost Mexican Valley artifacts.

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