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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, June 8, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 111        E-mail us
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Prostitutes say immigration harbors trafficking ring
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry, which seeks to fight human trafficking, seems to harbor — unknown to top officials — a trafficking ring of its own.

Women from the Dominican Republic, who seek to work as prostitutes in Costa Rica, had no trouble getting visas and being admitted to the country, A.M. Costa Rica has learned.

A network that extends from the Dominican Republic to Costa Rica includes employees of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, according to prostitutes who have made the trip.

Reporters learned this through casual conversations with Dominican prostitutes who described the way they reached Costa Rica. In two cases they came in as students to learn English. This is not a new technique. Eastern European prostitutes arrived in the country between 2001 and 2004 with visas that said they were students learning Spanish.

What is new is that the prostitutes freely discussed how they paid a bribe for their visas in the Dominican Republic and then had to go to the right immigration line at Juan Santamaría airport. There an immigration worker accepted their visas and allowed them to enter the country. They ended up paying the balance due at a side door of immigration headquarters in La Uruca.

Prostitutes from other countries were not as forthcoming with information on how they arrived in Costa Rica. So it is not clear if women from Colombia and Nicaragua entered with the student ploy.  Some, of course, entered illegally.  Some Colombians entered as refugees.

Two Dominicans said they made the trip here in November 2008. They first tried to obtain student visas, but Costa Rican consular officials in the Dominican Republic told them the process would take six months and there was no guarantee they would get the visa. They got in contact with someone close to the consulate who offered them visas for studying English or computers.

The women said they each had to give a $500 down payment in Santo Domingo to obtain a visa. Typically consular officials all over the world are suspicious of attractive, single women seeking to move to a wealthier country, and they conduct more research on such persons. But after they paid, the women quickly obtained visas.

Immigration officials at the various ports of entry have the right to reject individuals who appear to be suspicious. Having a visa is no guarantee of entering the country. This is why the network needed persons within the immigration department to guarantee that the woman would be able to enter the country. These two women explained how they were instructed to arrive on certain dates and to go to a specified airport immigration station within a specific time period. They did, and they were quickly admitted by the agent there.

After they arrived in San José the two women each still owed $250 of the total $750 fee. After a month of earning money as prostitutes, the women said that they were instructed to visit the main office of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería in La Uruca. There they were told to go to a certain side door notused by the public.
They did, and a suspicious man inside the building met them and took one of the women's cell telephones because it contained a camera. After paying the money, the phone was returned and the women left, they said.

Currently the fee to get a visa to work as a prostitute in Costa Rica is $1,000, they said, based on information from their newly arrived fellow Dominicans.

A.M. Costa Rica is not naming the prostitutes at their request. However, they established the validity of their story even to letting a reporter see the air ticket stub from the flight there. They also provided the names of the individuals to whom they paid the money. The women usually work in an upscale location frequented by North American tourists. One has acquired residency.  The other is illegal.

Once in the country foreign women have many ways of legitimizing their status, sometimes with fake marriages. In the case of the legal Dominican woman, she really was married for a time to a Costa Rican.

The complicity of immigration workers also explains why many raids of night spots seldom turn up illegal foreigners or underage prostitutes. Such persons and their employers appear to receive advanced warning of raids.

The former immigration director, Mario Zamora, made news early in his tenure by rejecting a multimillion dollar offer to allow Chinese to enter the country and going public. He was promoted last month to vice minister in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

He now has oversight responsibility for the immigration service.

The Dominican Republic is in the third group of countries listed by the immigration service. As such citizens from that country must have a consular visa and they may remain in Costa Rica just 30 days, according to the immigration Web site.

About the time the Dominican women were flying to Costa Rica, the country kicked off a promotion campaign against trafficking. Ana Durán Salvatierra, who preceded Zamora in the vice minister's job, chaired the Coalición Nacional Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes y la Trata de Personas. The coalition was set up in 2005. The effort also is promoted by the United Nations Children's Fund and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the country's child welfare organization.

Some 15 months ago the central government announced it was tightening its laws against human trafficking to include movement of individuals even with their consent for sexual purposes. The activity was not even a crime until the passage in 2006 of a revised immigration law that subsequently was updated.

The Laura Chinchilla administration just sent to the legislature a proposal for a trafficking-in-persons law, but the summary admitted that investigators only handled 14 such cases in the last decade.

The U.S. Embassy also provides substantial funds to organizations like the Fundación Rahab, which promotes activities to draw attention to human trafficking as well as finding jobs and training for former prostitutes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 111

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Vandals add grief to road
where rocks are crumbling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorists on the autopista of bad luck have another problem to worry about. Vandals have been throwing rocks off overpasses.

This is the highway where the hillsides are crumbling so bad that the Asamblea Legislativa called in the transport minister for an explanation Monday.

At least three trucks have suffered broken windshields and two persons have been injured, according to the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes. One person, identified as Natalia Bolaños, a medical doctor, suffered cuts to the face and has some teeth knocked out when a rock crashed through the windshield of her car, the ministry said. This happened about 7:30 p.m. Friday, but had not been reported until Monday. Another person, a passenger in a truck, also suffered injuries.

The ministry was quick to point out that the rocks were not part of another landslide on the controversial highway where one person already has died after a collision with a boulder.

The incidents happened at Rincón Chiquito in La Guácima de Alajuela or in Siquiares, the ministry said.

At the legislature Francisco Jiménez Reyes, the minister, told lawmakers that the concession holder for the highway, officially the Autopista de Sol, has two months to present a report on what it has done to reduce the rocks and boulders falling on the right-of-way.

He also told lawmakers that the state has the power to intervene in the situation if the concession holder does not live up to its promises. He also said that all the necessary geological and hydrological studies had been done as part of road construction.

The rock at various cuts in the roadway is brittle and flakes off. In addition there is running water that pours from the tops of the hills into the raw earth when there is heavy rain. The concession holder has put up chain link material to hold back the rocks, but some are too heavy for the solution.

Landscaping with native plants
will be topic of conference

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ProNativas, an organization that promotes the use of native plants in landscaping, is holding its first annual conference June 25 at Hotel Bougainvillea in Santo Domingo de Heredia. The public is welcome to the one-day event.

Costa Rica is known for its rich and inseparably linked diversity of flora and fauna, the organization notes, adding that the use of native plants in both private and public landscapes encourages a greater interaction of plants and animals and creates unique gardens by using plants found locally.

Speakers include Barry Hammel from Missouri Botanical Garden and INBio and author of “Plantas Ornamentales Nativas;” Willow Zuchowski, author of “Tropical Plants of Costa Rica;” Deedra McClearn  and Orlando Vargas from the Organization for Tropical Studies at La Selva; Alberto Negrini and Mauricio Baltodano, landscape architects, and a speaker from the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, said a release.

Topics to be discussed will include:  the diversity of flora in Costa Rica, the importance of the use of native plants, identification of invasive exotic species and the environmental and economic problems they cause, landscaping with native plants, animal and plant interactions, planning and planting a native garden, and much more.

Questions from the audience will be entertained and discussion will be encouraged throughout the conference, the organization said.  There will be opportunities for networking and for viewing books, cards, and laminates relating to Costa Rica’s flora, it added.

More information is on the organization's Web site or by calling 8990-8440.

Our readers' opinions
Quick action on land frauds
would help nation's image

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I heartily agree with Garland M. Baker's column on social networking endangering Costa Rica's international image. I'm now in the process of having to defend land I purchased over a dozen years ago by two men who had no rights to my property but made the claim anyway. This foolishness that should have been dismissed in minutes has cost me tens of thousands of dollars and the outcome, after two years and several honorable witnesses testifying on my behalf, is still in doubt.

I don't like to tell foreigners what's happening to me with this particular property because I still believe Costa Rica is a fine place to invest. The only danger is the lack of law in some areas, their lack of enforcement, or ancient laws being applied inappropriately.

The law needs a complete overhaul, but Costa Ricans will have their pride and customs involved and, of course, the lawyers and judges will not want changes to something they've studied in its present form for much of their lives. For these reasons I don't see any real improvements or the sort of advances we've come to expect in the first world for many years to come.

But making land purchases more secure, and quickly dismissing obviously fraudulent claims, would go a long way in improving Costa Rica's increasingly precarious reputation as a place to invest.
Grant Carlson
La Fortuna

Favored treatment given
by U.S. media on crime

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

For years Costa Rica has enjoyed having a biased U.S. media that never considered running stories about all the horrible things that happen there.  One tourist gets killed in Aruba and it's all over CNN and the mainstream media, but dozens get killed in Costa Rica, some in very violent murders, and you never hear a word about it. 

The time has come for the truth to come out and maybe if it destroys the countries tourism and real estate market something will happen to fix the problems with the legal system and law enforcement.  If people accept that murder, theft, fraud, corruption and torture are tolerable occurences in paradise than Costa Rica will be just fine.
J. Brett Swindell
Suffolk Virginia

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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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 111

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Fallen trees stacked in piles are a frequent feature at the park now as well as elsewhere on the central Pacific coast.
fallen treesA.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson

Manuel Antonio park cleaned up enough to be reopened
By Clair-Marie Robertson
Special To A.M. Costa Rica

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio has been reopened by environmental officials after a week of hard work to clear the debris left after the June 1 storm.

In a statement released Monday, Carlos Vinico Cordero, the regional director of the Área de Conservación Pacifico Central, said the national park will be in operation as of 7 a.m. today. The main access to the park, via Sendero Perezoso is open and access points 2 and 3 to the beach have also been secured, he said.

This is welcome news for hotels and businesses in the area. A week after many tourists vacated Manuel Antonio after the severe weather warnings, the reopening of the national park is an indication of the beginning of a return to normality for the popular tourist hotspot. 

Though a significant amount of trees were uprooted and properties were damaged, no fatalities were reported.
With winds reaching up to 100 kph, the storm hit Manuel Antonio and Quepos late Tuesday, knocking out the electricity supply to most of the area and leaving 7,000 residents and hotels without power. Over the past week, an estimated 200-strong crew from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad was brought in to return power to the area including the Manuel Antonio national park. 

Vinicio also thanked the support given by the association of local guides who helped to clear footpaths. More than 25 local guides and tour operators have put in lengthy 10-hour shifts over five days. 

Government experts from the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación visited the park on Monday to assess the feasibility of reopening. An official report is due to be released from the Sistema detailing the conditions of the footpaths.

Vinicio noted that the weather damage has been considerable with other footpaths requiring more extensive and specialized reparation. Access to these areas in the national park have been restricted and are only permitted with a national park ranger. “As there are less tourists arriving during this season, it will give us an
Linemen at work
A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Linemen continue the job of restoring electric, phone and Internet services.

opportunity to complete the necessary works,” Vinicio added.

Additionally, The Aguirre Chamber of Commerce thanked the local community and government institutions for their participation in the extensive cleanup efforts.  Over the past week the community has worked hard to clear the area of debris with much of their efforts being focused on the Manuel Antonio national park, which bore the brunt of the destruction.

With more than 300,000 visitors a year, Manuel Antonio national park is the most visited in Costa Rica. The community depends greatly on the revenue generated from tourism. Recognizing the importance of an accessible and secure access to the national park, local businesses and residents have united in a joint effort to clear the area.

Museums continue to reflect lag in arrival of tourists
By Manuel Avendaño
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Museums, a good indicator of the state of the tourism market, continue to struggle.

The low number of visitors that the national museums have hosted in the first six months of the year demonstrate why other tourism operators are offering specials and cutting prices.

According to the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, May was the best month in visits to museums. The ministry said that May showed a 22 percent increase in tourist visits. Those actually in charge and workers have a different story.

Martha Ligia Solano, subdirector of the Museos del Banco Central below the Plaza de la Cultura, questioned the report of an increase in visitors.
"It's true that May was the best month of the year, but in comparison with the months of May in other years it was very bad," she said. Tourist visits have gone way down and 60 percent of the people who usually visit the nation's museums are tourists, she said.

Roger Cartín, a worker at the Museo de Jade said that truly this year there is a big difference in tourists who visit that museum, which is located in a corner of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building on Avenida 7.

"In the three years I have worked here, 2010 is the year that the fewest tourists have visited the museum," he said.

The ministry said that with the second tourism season beginning with summer vacations in the north, it hoped that June would be an even better month for the museums. The facilities depend on admission fees for a percentage of their budget.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 111

Carlos Enrique Brenes photo
Scene from last year's skateboarding extravaganza

1,000 skateboarders will strut their stuff in city June 20

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 1,000 skateboarders are expected to take to the San José streets June 20 to celebrate the international day of their sport.

There will be competitions and exhibitions, but the big event is a procession of skateboarders from Barrio Aranjuez in northeast San José through Parque Morazán, through Plaza Gonzales Víquez to the Parque de la Paz on the south side of town. Permits have been obtained and the Fuerza Pública will provide assistance and protection, said sponsors.

This is the third year for the event, and skateboarding
youngsters are expected to come from all over the country. The day is a Sunday.

The procession will include a loud speaker truck promoting the sport. The skating begins at 10:30 a.m. and participants are expected to arrive at Parque de la Paz about 1:30 p.m. More than 700 participated last year.

At Parque Morazán the skaters will face a jury that can award money prizes and products of the firms sponsoring the event.

At Parque de la Paz a number of ramps and other constructions will be set up to allow skateboarders to show their skills.

Mrs. Clinton calls for restructuring hemispheric watchdog

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday appealed for the urgent financial and political restructuring of the Organization of American States.  She made the appeal in debate at the organization's 40th General Assembly meeting in Lima, marked by sharp differences over the status of Honduras after its coup last year. 

Mrs. Clinton said the United States continues to support the Washington-based Organization of American States as the foremost multi-lateral organization of the hemisphere.

But in a sharply-worded appeal to fellow foreign ministers, she said the organization founded in 1948 is in urgent need of streamlining because of a "proliferation of mandates."

She said without a reform plan, hopefully in place by key budget meetings in September, the fiscal path of the Organization of American States is "unsustainable."

The secretary of State spoke in a general debate otherwise dominated by regional political issues, including lingering bitterness over last year's coup in Honduras.

A number of key Latin American states including Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are not recognizing the results of elections last November won by new President Porfirio Lobo, because the interim government that preceded him refused to reinstate ousted President José Manuel Zelaya.

But Mrs. Clinton appealed for the return of Honduras, expelled from the Organization of American States last July, saying the new government has met its reconciliation commitments.

"We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo," said Mrs. Clinton. "And we have watched President Lobo fulfill his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San José accord, including forming a government of national reconciliation, and a truth commission.  This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order.

Mrs. Clinton drew support from among others, Guatemalan
Foreign Minister Haroldo Rodas, who urged the prompt return of Honduras to the Organization of American States along with creation of a high-level commission to verify its renewed democratic system.

But several other foreign ministers disagreed, among them Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who said his government condemns the mistreatment of Zelaya, whom he termed the legitimate president of Honduras.

"My government cannot recognize the new government in Honduras while there are violations committed against human rights," said Patino. "And Zelaya has to be recognized in his true capacity, with guarantees in his country.  And those who are responsible for the coup, those who broke human rights and democratic guarantees — they have to be punished for this."

A controversial new law pending in the U.S. state of Arizona aimed against undocumented aliens in the United States also figured in the Organization of American States debate and bilateral meetings here.

The law, to take affect at the end of next month, requires Arizona police conducting traffic stops and other routine duties to question people about their immigration status, if there is reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Rodas said respect for the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual should be a condition for any migratory legislation.

"Guatemala condemns any law that criminalizes the migrant and his family, is a violation of his human rights and distorts the good neighborhood that should prevail between partners and nations," said Rodas.

The Barack Obama administration opposes the state law, but its defenders in Arizona and elsewhere say it only aims to enforce immigration laws already on the books.

Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza has called the law "an issue of concern to all citizens of the Americas, beginning with citizens of the United States."  

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 111

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Counterfeit drugs becoming
a growing health menace

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Last month, representatives from all over the world discussed the dangers posed by counterfeit medicines at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.  The problem is growing. The World Health Organization warns that more than half of all medicines bought online are counterfeit. U.S. experts say there is no one solution.

Last year, 84 infants died in Nigeria from tainted teething syrup. More than 2,000 times last year, counterfeit medicines caused illness and death, according to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a watchdog group. That's an increase of more than nine percent over 2008.

Scott LaGanga, director of PhRMA, a leading pharmaceutical research and manufacturing company, says it's easy and profitable to sell look-alike, low quality drugs. "We are not all experts. And so we trust the supply chain to deliver the right product," he said. "In a lot of the parts of the developing world this trust could be broken and because it's become so profitable to distribute, sell, manufacture, a lot of these products are of low quality, and substandard."

The production and sale of counterfeit drugs are a problem for both rich and poor countries. 

The World Health Organization says in rich countries, counterfeit drugs typically involve hormones, steroids, and anti-cancer medications. 

But in developing countries, especially Africa, patients buy medicines — often counterfeit —  to treat life threatening diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.  And those diseases could worsen quickly with substandard or bogus medications.

Ashifi Gogo heads a company that protects consumers against counterfeiters. He says Nigeria's government is fighting back with mobile phone technology that the company developed. "We have developed a technology which makes it easy for consumers to authenticate medication at the point of purchase. There is a scratch panel, just like a lottery ticket with number on the drug. Each drug has a different number. When you buy a drug, you scratch the panel. You send a text message with the number that you see, and you get a response instantly at the counter if the drug is genuine or fake," he explained.

The World Health Organization reports that although counterfeit drugs are sold globally, rich countries are better at policing and preventing sales.

LaGanga says combating these drugs is all the more difficult because some countries lack tough laws.  "If one country makes an immense step forward, even like the U.S. has done over the years with a very strong regulatory agency like FDA, with very good law enforcement in place, with good coordination around the world, it's not sufficient for the rest of the world. It's also not sufficient for those people who are into new mediums like online pharmacy sphere," he said. The Food and Drug Administration Web site provides a continual stream of product warnings and information. It also allows visitors to report problems.

Major manufacturers of generic medications, in India and Brazil, accuse the pharmaceutical industry of using the issue of counterfeiting to protect their patents.

But The World Health Organization says its issue is not intellectual property rights, but public health.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 111

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Air passenger now in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the 16th time this year, anti-drug police at Juan Santamaría airport have intercepted what they said was illegal drugs being carried on by or in an airport user.

Monday the suspect was a woman from Panamá with the last names of Alonso Davis. She is 35. The Policía de Control de Drogas said she was booked on a flight to Madrid, Spain. The woman had suitcases with false bottoms, police said. They said in the hidden space were packages that added up to nearly three kilos of cocaine.

La Fortuna robbery foiled

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robbers, later described as minors, beat up a gas station attendant in La Fortuna de San Carlos.

Police detained two suspects before they could leave the area on a motorcycle. The Fuerza Pública said that 13,000 colons were stolen. That's about $24.

The suspects were identified by the last names of Guerrero and Rojas. The are 16 and 17, police said.

The incident happened at the Gasolinera La Cristalina.

PriceSmart reports gains

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

PriceSmart Inc. said Monday that its May net sales increased 16.1 percent to $118.5 million compared to May a year ago.

For the nine months ending May 31, net sales increased 8.9 percent to slightly more than $1 billion. The company has 27 warehouse stores now, one more than a year ago. There are five in Costa Rica.

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