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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, June 2, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 107         E-mail us
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Credit agencies told to eliminate personal data
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has determined that the addresses of individuals, their telephone numbers and their photos are private and ordered a credit reporting company to eliminate the information from its data bases.

In most cases, the information is already in the public record from driving licenses, the telephone book and the Registro Nacional.

The company at the adverse end of the ruling was Cero Riesgo Información Crediticia Digitalizada S.A., which provides such information to subscribers for a fee. The company also lists salaries that individuals report, sometimes to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, vehicle ownership, family relationships and credit history.

The Sala IV acted on three separate appeals lodged against credit reporting companies.

One litigant, identified by the last names of Sosa Soto, said that Cero Riesgo and another agency maintain information about him and his family without any authorization. He was concerned that such information can be sold. Based on this complaint, the court ordered Cero Riesgo to eliminate addresses, telephone numbers of the litigant and his father, the man's photograph, and those land telephone line numbers listed in the name of the litigant and his father.

Another man, identified by the last names of Villegas Alvarez said he lost a promotion because  Cero Riesgo reported to his employer that he had a pending criminal case. The man said that the criminal case was on hold and that he went to the company in an effort to find out about the information it held on him. But, he said, he was denied that information and said he thought that for a certain amount of money he could have the information eliminated from his file, according to the summary of the case by the Poder Judicial.

A third individual, a woman identified as Carmen Soto Montero, challenged the whole concept of gathering personal data. She said that she did not authorize anyone, much less the credit reporting agency, to hold, copy or distribute information pertaining to her or her family.

She said this was a violation of intimacy, privacy, personal liberty and free use of information. Procesamiento de Datos Datumnet  S.A. also was named in this case.

The court ordered the companies to eliminate the data.

The summary released by the Poder Judicial did not say how broad was the court ruling. Sometimes such decisions refer only to the individuals who brought the case.
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Nearly all that Cero Riesgo sells is public information available in bits and pieces from the Registro Civil and the Registro Nacional. Even the Instituto Nacional de Seguros keeps a list of vehicles and their plate numbers by name of owner. Telephone numbers and their owners are available from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad or by downloading and manipulating an online telephone book.

With the Internet much information that was hard to locate is now available via search engines. For example, Ms. Soto Montero will be online forever as one of the participants in these court cases.

What Cero Riesgo produces is valuable to lawyers, newspeople and even investigators. The data shows family relationships, as does the data base at the Registro Civil. The credit records show employers and former employers and reported salaries. There also is information on criminal and civil court cases. Some of this comes from self reports when individuals go to a bank or other lending agency seeking loans.

Costa Rica is a country where every citizen and legal foreigner has an identifying number. That, too, is in the public records.

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet company, just signed an agreement with the immigration agency to provide data about legal foreigners online for a fee.

European countries have many strict rules on data disclosure. The Internet search engine Google has admitted intercepting wireless transmission in Germany and illegally collecting sensitive user data. The company said this was done in error.

In Costa Rica, such data proves to be of value in the hiring process. In one case, an employer found that the majority of applicants for a sensitive position had cases lodged against them for failing to pay on their credit cards. That was reported in 2006.

A.M. Costa Rica wrote about credit reporting agencies last year and outlined how persons can have their data eliminated.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 107

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Recycling bins attractive
to thieves in Tamarindo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The thieves in Tamarindo believe in recycling. At least that is where they get their loot.

Tamarindo Recycles, the program in that community, lamented this development in an e-mail Tuesday. Unauthorized persons are cleaning out the recycling bins at night and taking away the contents.

"We assume that the people who do this do it in order to pick out the valuable materials (cans) and sell them," said the organization.  "As those materials eventually end up recycled, this is NOT a problem for us.  Our concern, together with the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz, IS that the persons may not be properly disposing of (recycling!) the less valuable materials (glass, paper, etc), not to mention garbage that, unfortunately, is often left in the barrels.  We fear that this is ending up in fields or in rivers."

The organization asked residents of Tamarindo and Langosta to bring recyclable materials to the bins only on Tuesday mornings so that there isn't materials in the bins at other times. The bin thieves work at night, the organization said.

Brazil still faces plague
of extra-judicial killings

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many Brazilians, especially inhabitants of shanty towns, continue to be subject to murder and other forms of brutal violence by various gangs, militias, death squads and the police, despite efforts by the government to end the crimes, a United Nations independent human rights expert said Tuesday.

“When I visited the country two and a half years ago, I found that the police executed suspected criminals and innocent citizens during poorly planned and counter-productive war-style operations into favelas said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Off-duty police, operating in death squads and militias, also killed civilians, either as vigilantes or for profit.

“Today, the situation on the ground has not changed dramatically. The police continue to commit extrajudicial executions at alarming rates. And they generally get away with them,” Alston said in a follow-up report on the progress Brazil has made in reducing police killings since his previous visit in 2007.

Reviewing federal and state government actions over the past two years, Alston’s report notes that Brazil’s efforts to tackle the problem of extrajudicial killings had resulted in significant improvements in some areas.

“Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Pernambuco have investigated militias and death squads and the fact that some police have been arrested is very positive,” he said. “In addition, new efforts at community policing in a handful of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are very welcome, as is the federal Government’s promise to increase salaries to improve security in anticipation of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

“But these efforts will require a much greater push if they are to bring the security hoped for within the next four years,” the independent expert added. Favelas are the notorious shanty towns.

Alston, however, pointed out lack of progress in other areas, saying resistance killings – police killings which are reported as having occurred in self-defense – continue to be perpetrated.

“There were at least 11,000 so-called resistance killings in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro between 2003 and 2009.  The evidence clearly shows that many of these killings were actually executions,” Alston said, adding that such killings are almost never seriously investigated.

He welcomed Rio de Janeiro’s experimental approach, which replaces violent short-term police interventions in slums with a long-term police presence and the provision of social services.

Retired teacher murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A person suspected of being a robber bound and gagged a retired teacher in La Aurora de Heredia and then killed her with a knife or other sharp instrument.

Police got the call Tuesday afternoon. Dead is a woman with the last names of Ramírez Arroyo. She is believed to be in her 60s.

A lottery vendor discovered the body after investigating why the security gate to the home was open.

Our reader's opinion
Stranded over requirement
for yellow fever shot

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a warning to your readers, recently I attempted to board a flight from Medellin, Colombia, to San Jose, Costa Rica.  Costa Rica requires a person entering from Colombia to have had a yellow fever vaccination not less than 10 days prior to arriving.  Because I was unaware of this requirement, I was not allowed on the plane, and lost my ticket.  The effect of this will be to cause me to spend my money in Colombia for approximately two extra weeks, money I would have spent in Costa Rica.  Pura vida.  Incidentally, I still show no signs of yellow fever.

Jack Meyer
Stranded in Medellin
Framingham, Massachusetts

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A.M. Costa Rica 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 weekday.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For your international reading pleasure:

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 107

New immigration director promises improved services
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new director of the immigration agency promises to improve the services offered to the public. The new director is Kathya Rodríguez Araica. She began work Tuesday.

In an earlier interview, she promised that as a first order of business she would approve and have published the regulations for the new immigration law that went into effect March 1. She said she was studying the efficiencies and main problems of her new department, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The regulations pick up where the law leaves off and addresses practices in detail. The regulations are expected to tighten the rules for the so-called perpetual tourists, those who live and work here and leave the country every 90 days to renew their visa.

Expats also come in contact with this department when they seek to establish residency. Visitors also have to pass through immigration checkpoints when they enter the country.

Ms. Rodríguez is a lawyer who graduated from the Universidad de Costa Rica and worked since 1993 in the Defensoría de los Habitantes, most recently as the director of the children's department. The previous immigration director, Mario Zamora, has been elevated to be her boss as vice minister of Gobernación in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

During an interview last week, Ms. Rodríguez begged off answering specific questions because she had not taken on the job yet. Among the problems pointed out to her by a reporter was that the telephone calls to the agency frequently go unanswered.
She promised to set up a department to help foreigners who want to renew their tourism visas without traveling to another country.

In the immigration law, there is a section that says visas can be extended by paying a $100 fee. But after the measure became law, immigration workers would not accept renewals from North Americans because the law only applies to those with visas of less than 90 days. Most North Americans and Europeans get a 90-day visa when entering the country.

An A.M. Costa Rica reporter went with a Swiss tourist three times to immigration as he attempted to renew his visa. Eventually he was denied. The newspaper also has reported on the extensive paperwork that a renewal requires if it is permitted. This includes photos and forms.

The $100 renewal originally was seen as a benefit for snowbirds who own property in Costa Rica and like to spend four or five months here during the North American winter.

Somewhere in the approval process the text was changed to exclude these people.

Ms. Rodríguez was with Zamora Tuesday as they unveiled a plaque at the La Uruca immigration headquarters. The plaque honors Francisco de Vitoria, the 16th century clergyman who is known as the father of international law. The department calls him the father of the right of immigration because of his one-world philosophy. The immigration facility will now carry his name.

Ms. Rodríguez will be joined in the department leadership by Freddy Mauricio Montero Mora, who will be deputy director. He is an anthropologist with a master's in management of businesses and cultural institutions from the Universidad de Barcelona in Spain.

Israeli commando raid sparks demonstration and demands
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

The raid by Israeli commandos on a ship threatening to breach the Gaza blockade drew condemnation Tuesday in Costa Rica. There has been worldwide outrage.

Members of the Centro de Amigos para la Paz demonstrated in front of the Costa Rican foreign ministry Tuesday and called the commando raid a massacre.  Nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, the lead boat, died in the raid. Israel said its commandos carried paintball rifles when they came down ropes onto the ship. Activists aboard attacked the troops with iron bars and other materials and stripped some of the soldiers of their pistols, said Israel. That is when a fire fight started. Much of the conflict was videotaped.

The peace center handed out a paper with seven demands, including one that said Israel should free all detainees from the fleet. That appears to have been done. Wire service reports say that more than 100 activists on the flotilla crossed into Jordan today. They represented 12 Muslim nations, most of which do not have embassies in Israel.

The peace center also asked that Costa Rica condemn the raid, that the blockade of Gaza be ended and that the United States cease its $3 billion-a-year aid to the Israeli military.

Israel and Egypt have been maintaining the blockade since 2006. The peace center noted that the blockade intensified after Hamas, won elections in the Gaza Strip. Hamas seeks the elimination of Israel.

Israel said it will forward the humanitarian aid that was the flotilla's cargo to Gaza by land. Israel said it is trying to block entry to the strip of material that can be used to build
more rockets that terrorists fire into Israel or construction materials to build more bunkers.

The United Nations Human Rights Council held an urgent debate in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday on the topic. Kyung-wha Kang, deputy U.N. high commissioner for human rights, expressed shock “that humanitarian aid would be met with such violence, and we unequivocally condemn what appears to be a disproportionate use of force.”

She again appealed for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, causing the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians, which she characterized as “an affront to human dignity.”

Ms. Kang expressed hope that “the Israeli government will take the necessary decisive actions to demonstrate to the international community a clear commitment to abide by international law.”

At the Human Rights Council debate, which heard from dozens of speakers, Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar of Israel expressed regret over the loss of life in Monday's incident, stressing the need for support of moderate parties to build on the momentum generated by the recent start of proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

He pointed the finger at a Turkish group called Insani Yardim Vakfi for what he said was a premeditated act against Israeli forces. The flotilla, he said, was not on a humanitarian mission but was rather seeking to provoke and incite, and convoy passengers had used knives and clubs, shooting two Israeli soldiers.

Imad Zuhairi, representing Palestine, called for legal action to be taken over the operation, saying that Israel’s actions would not help to strengthen the ongoing peace process.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 107

Students who attended Eco3 could provide eternal proof of their attendance by signing the event banner.
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A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Hundreds of students gather to show enviornmental ideas

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

High school students from around Costa Rica met last weekend at Eco3, the third annual environmental awareness conference at Lincoln School north of San José. The best ideas will earn a $500 grant to be put into practice.

Overall 52 groups of students from around the country joined the event, for a total of 350 students and teachers, said Joshua Sneideman, project organizer for Lincoln.

Environmental and social activism was the theme presented to the students first, with presentations by way of example. Scientific study of jaguars and pumas on the Osa Peninsula, mostly outside Parque Naiconal Corcovado, focuses on conflicts with local people.

This requires extensive community outreach which takes Aida Bustamante around the area with an anti-hunting message and documentation of damage to livestock.

Lincoln has its own sea turtle program, which has students keeping watch on nesting turtles on both coasts, depending on which species is in season.

An organization called Cavu provides high resolution aerial photography which is then used for management purposes. Some waterfowl can be identified to species and sex, according to the presentation.

Karen Clachar described social art in Liberia such as “not for sale” signs, produced at a time when “everything seemed to have a 'for sale' sign on it.” Another project was to trace the shade from a Guanacaste tree with seed pods, having discovered that many residents do not know which tree gives Guanacaste its name or connect it with the woody fruits.

A documentary filmmaker, Allan Barbosa, described his activism as giving voice to people “who can’t access a microphone.” He showed a few days of the “Bambuzal”
project presenter
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Jeylin Espinoza describes a project proposal for the Instituto Educacion General Basico in Paraiso de Sixaola.

episode in 2004, a months-long local conflict between  militant squatters and the land’s owners and authorities. None of the approximately 25 students in one group knew of the tear gas and church sit-ins, which was given as evidence of the mainstream media’s complicity, though it was covered in newspapers at the time.

Projects presented by students ranged from simple graphics on a laptop to elaborate posters and demonstrations of examples. Students from a high school near Sixaola on the Panamá border brought a diagram of a system to filter the non-potable water of their school building. This demonstration of stained toilets and possible remedies contrasted with the recycling themes and cheerful slogans characterizing many presentations. 

One of the winning entrants from Eco2 was back with results, showing a water treatment system using a plant called vetiver to make a small artificial wetland. This is used to purify gray water flowing on to the school property in Cóbano. This group successfully worked with the local municipality to design and construct the system, and now can monitor the results with lab tests to check alkalinity.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 107

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Haiti's producer of rum
struggles to recover

By the A.M. Cota Rica wire services

One of Haiti's most well known exports and a symbol of national pride is back in business.  Barbancourt's rum was first distilled in Port au Prince in the 1860's by Dupre Barbancourt, a French cognac maker.  The company maintained production through Haiti's turmoil of the last century and a half, but January's earthquake was devastating. The factory sustained extensive damage.  After several months of repairs, Haiti's prized rum is back in production. 

Thierry Gardere is the fourth generation owner and manager of the Rhum Barbancourt factory in Port au Prince.  Barbancourt is considered one of the finest rums in the world.  The company has survived dictators and hurricanes.  But, it was the earthquake last January that brought production to a halt.

"The top of them fell down," recalled Gardere.  "That is one that was outside that we are trying to recuperate, to repair also.  And now there are almost four so, things are coming back, slowly but things are coming back."

The earthquake sent large fermenting vats and one hundred gallon casks of rum, some aged 15 years, crashing to the floor.  Rum spilled everywhere.

"The rum is alcohol, it killed the grass," he added.

Gardere estimates losses at close to $4 million, about a third of his yearly sales. 

"We have about four hundred small farms; small farms who sell sugar cane," he noted.

Barbancourt rum is made solely from sugarcane, not molasses.  In 1862, Founder Dupre Barbancourt developed a recipe using a distillation process similar to cognac. He then aged his rum in fine oak casks from France. 

Gardere ordered new casks from Europe to replace those damaged by the earthquake.

"We are preparing them and testing them with water.  Then we are going to put them back on the shelf again and fill them with rum," he said.

Barbancourt produces more than 300,000 cases of rum a year.  About 20 percent is exported to the U.S. 

Gardere says it will take at least four years to recoup his losses, but he is quick to point out that Barbancourt lost more than just business in the earthquake.

"We lost two or more employees who died in their houses.  And a lot have lost families, sons, children or parents.  And I must say that 40 percent of our employees lost their house," he said.

The Barbancourt Foundation, which funds non-profit groups, has also suffered.  The foundation has worked in the Croix des Missions neighborhood that surrounds the factory. 

The foundation put in this basketball court and solar array for electricity.  And a well for water.  After the quake, neighbors took over the company soccer field.  Jean-Marc Clairemont oversees the sports facility. He called Gardere.

"The field belonged to the Barbancourt Foundation," said Clairemont.  "And after the quake, I was the one who went to him and told him that people were taking over the field.  He didn't do anything.  He called some friends to ask for help in finding them some tents."

There are now 2,000 people living here.  The foundation pays for 24-hour security.  Mauril Desir, who lost her home, is grateful.

"Mr. Gardere did a lot of good things for us.  He allowed us to stay here and provided security for us so that we can sleep in peace without worry," she said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 107

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Agatha's toll now estimated
at nearly 180 dead and rising

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in Central America say flooding and landslides from Tropical Storm Agatha have killed nearly 180 people, and more deaths are feared as rescuers reach villages cut off by the weather.

In hardest-hit Guatemala, 152 people were reported killed and at least 100 others are missing from the weekend storm.  Thousands of people remain in emergency shelters. 

Guatemalan authorities were also coping with a giant sinkhole that opened up and swallowed an entire intersection in the capital. 

Agatha was the first tropical storm of the 2010 eastern Pacific hurricane season.

The rescue effort in Guatemala has been complicated by last week's eruption of the Pacaya volcano, which coated parts of Guatemala City with ash, forcing the closure of the international airport. 

The European Union has granted $3.6 million in emergency aid for victims of the tropical storm. Kristalina Georgieva, the EU humanitarian aid commissioner, said the bloc will continue to monitor the situation closely in case further needs arise.

In Honduras, at least 17 people died due to the storm, while in El Salvador, 10 people were killed and more than 8,700 evacuated after nearly 200 landslides.

The intense rainfall has led to fears about the coffee crop in Guatemala, the region's biggest producer.

Tropical Storm Agatha pounded Central America and Mexico Saturday and Sunday after coming ashore near the Guatemala-Mexico border.

Two top cops kidnapped

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican police are searching for the people responsible for kidnapping the two top traffic officials in the northern city of Monterrey. 

Enrique Barrios Rodriguez was kidnapped early Monday morning when armed assailants rammed through the front gate of his home. It was just a day after his operations chief, Reynaldo Ramos, was abducted from his home nearby.

Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said the motive was not yet known.  He said the state prosecutor's office is handling the investigation. Monterrey is the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, which has experienced a recent increase in drug-related violence.

The mayor has recently fired a large number of traffic police officers suspected of corruption or collusion with drug traffickers.

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