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These stories were published Thursday, June 9, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 113
Jo Stuart
About us
Hotel operators face sanctions on illegals
Confusion continues for rentistas in new law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new immigration law has been cleaned up a bit but still contains contradictory rules for rentistas.

The measure, which may undergo final action tonight, also fines hotel operators if they house illegal foreigners and fines employers if they hire illegals.

The measure leaves the category of pensionado untouched.

Rentista and pensionado are categories frequently used by North Americans who want to maintain legal residency in the country.

The law also criminalizes for the first time trafficking in persons and provides jail time for those who would provide housing for persons being trafficked.

The measure also allows pensionados and rentistas to apply for permanent residency after three years instead of the five that is commonly required now.

The new measure also spells out clearly why someone would have their residency revoked or be barred from the country. The current law is vague on this issue.

Those who may not enter or stay in the country are individuals who have been convicted in Costa Rica of serious crimes or convicted elsewhere of actions that also are crimes in Costa Rica. 

Among these are crimes against the life of persons, genocide, terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, fraud, conspiracy, illegal possession of firearms, sexual abuse of minors, trafficking in the cultural or ecological heritage of the country, tax evasion, crimes against minors, the elderly or handicapped, domestic violence or being linked to a criminal gang or criminal organization.

The conflict for the immigration category of rentista comes in Article 77 and Article 78. The first says that a rentista has to show permanent and stable income from foreign sources of $1,000 a month.

Traditionally, immigration officials have required rentista applicants to show they had $60,000 deposited in a domestic or foreign bank. Rentistas now are supposed to exchange the equivalent of $1,000 a month into colons.

Article 78, however, says that rentista applicants (plural) have to show stable and permanent income of no less than $2,000 from outside the country. The use of the plural may mean that officials will interpret this as referring to a rentista and his or her spouse. But the law has no further explanation on this point.

The same Article 78 requires rentista applicants to show a monthly income of $500 for each

minor child or each student dependent up to age 25 years.

A pensionado still must show an outside income from a certifiable pension of $600 a month. That amount is not changed.

Legislative aides were unable to say Wednesday if the law as presented here was exactly the measure passed by the Asamblea Legislativa Plenario Tuesday night. Some amendments might have slipped through. The final document is now undergoing the review of an editing committee before possible final passage tonight.

The new law also puts a burden on non-resident foreigners, such as North American tourists, to leave the country when their visas expire. U.S. citizens have 90 days. The new measure also states specifically that foreign students, as well as tourists, cannot work for money.

The fine specified for providing work to illegal residents is an amount of from two to 12 times the base salary specified by law. The amount is based on the gravity of the offense, the law says.

Hotel and innkeepers who provide housing for illegal residents face a fine of one to five times the base salary. the base salary now is approximately 130,000 colons or $275.

The provision for fines is expected to have an impact, particularly on the Pacific coast, where many North Americans work illegally in tourist operations. The new law also will have impact on the sportsbook industry where many English-speaking foreigners work while here on tourist visas.

Trafficking in persons is punished with jail time, some two to six years, and the term can be increased if those trafficked are minors. The new law does give a break to illegal residents. 

If they are caught and deported, they may not return for five years. The current policy is 10 years.

Foreigners still may be able to take advantage of aspects of the current law. Even if and when the new law is passed, the text says that it will not go into effect for eight months after publication in the official La Gaceta.

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Tico team wins match
and gains third place

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican national soccer team beat Guatemala 3-2 Wednesday night and took over undisputed third place in the North, Central American and Caribbean Confederation. 

The confederation sends three teams to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

At the start of the game, Costa Rica was in a three-way tie with Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago. But México beat Trinidad, leaving the Tico team alone in third place. The U.S. team beat Panamá, an expected victory against the weak Panama squad.

The Mexican team has 13 points, and the U.S. team has 12. Costa Rica has seven, three more than Guatemala and the Trinidad team.

The next and deciding series of games will be played in October.

In Wednesday’s game at Ricardo Saprissa stadium Costa Rica took a 2-0 lead and then saw the edge vanish as Guatemala evened the score. Paulo Wanchope put in the third and deciding goal.

Hearings planned
for bus rate hikes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two bus companies are seeking to raise rates, and the regulatory agency plans two public hearings next week.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said that TRACOPA, which carries passengers between San José and Paso Canoas on the Panamá border wants a 45.17 percent increase from 3,315 colons to 4,815. The new rate would be about $10.

A hearing on this request will be Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Casa de la Juventud in Río Claro.

The company Buses INA-Uruca seeks a 33 percent hike in the rate it charges from 120 colons to 160, some 34 cents. A hearing on this request will be April 16 at 4 p.m. in the authority building in Sabana Sur.

Free concert planned
for downtown Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Classical music lovers will be treated to Beethoven and Schubert Saturday at another edition of music in the vestibule at the Teatro Nacional.

One of the three artists will be North American Catherine Hayes, a violinist who plays here with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.

Also playing will be Eduardo Madigal and Roberto E. Vargas, pianist. Beethoven’s Opus 17 and a piece for a trio by Franz Schubert will be presented.

The trio calls itself the Grupo de Cámara.

The free concert is one of six that the theater puts on each year.

Community hymn sing
scheduled for Saturday

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A community hymn sing is planned for Saturday at noon, in the auditorium of the International Church in Escazú.  This will be an opportunity to enjoy the traditional hymns of the Christian church and also some special instrumental and vocal music, an organizer said. The Davidson girls will sing, and Christy Peterson will be at the grand piano, he added. 

The program will last an hour and will be followed by coffee, juice and snacks. There is no sermon and no collection, and all seats and secure parking are free, the spokesmasn said.

The church is located on the highway to Santa Ana, north side, a half mile west of MultiPlaza. More details from Sandy 263-6933, Ken 395-9653, or Ron 446-3840.

Bank in Escazú robbed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men held up the Scotia Bank branch in San Rafael de Escazú Wednesday morning and made off with an estimated 20 million colons, some $42,000. They escaped in a stolen auto.

A reader’s opinion

Louisville man defends
Jo Stuart’s descriptions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In Defense of Jo Stuart’s column of June 3, 2005.

The point of her column has obviously been vindicated by the fact that some responses have been so disrespectful and rude. Public civility in the U.S. is at an all time low. Even a "liberal" such as C.K. Hobbs, in his/her response of June 6, refers to a beautiful country, Costa Rica, as a "run-down-corrupt-third-world-sinkhole." It is embarrassing to have a U.S. citizen, liberal or not, use such rude language in referring to Costa Rica. Perhaps he/she could take some lessons in etiquette from the people of Costa Rica.

I took part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. I can remember that and the controversy over the Vietnam war, Watergate, and other national issues that divided the people of the U.S. Never, however, have I witnessed the degree of hostility that is taking place today.

I am reporting from a Blue City, Louisville, from within a Red State, Kentucky. I can tell you that the Christian fundamentalist, pro-corporate, neo-conservative element is making the quality of life within the Red States very unpleasant. Disagreements are so extreme that my family and other families I know are unable to communicate without getting into shouting matches.

We are now living in a country where the news has been suspended. The corporate media now only reports such nonsense as the Michael Jackson trial, the latest selected missing person to be chosen as celebrity for a few weeks, who is still in a vegetative state, etc., while the real news can only be found on the Internet, BBC or Canadian news. 

In this country the corporations are being deregulated while the people are being increasingly regulated. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is now a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations and all supported by the rising Christian Taliban. 

Now the Christian fundamentalists, allied with the neo-conservative movement, are suspending science. Evolution is now only a theory and Revelations - Last Days Prophecy, is now fact. The "heresy" of Galileo of discovering that the earth revolves around the sun may soon face an official reversal with the likelihood that the earth, fewer that 10,000 years old, will be pronounced flat as a pancake with the sun circling this flat planet which was created in only 7 days.

When we progressives object to such outrageous teaching, we are called heretics and traitors. The education level of the U.S. has sunk to the point that we are around 29th in the world in literacy. Educated scientists and engineers from other nations are taking many jobs that are no longer filled by U.S. citizens.

I am looking forward to my relocation to Costa Rica.

Michael King 
Louisville, Kentucky
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Kidnap allegations linked to high-interest loans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents have arrested six men and linked them to a kidnapping and extortion ring that targeted slow payers in a loan-shark operation.

Agents provided a list of some 12 victims who were kidnapped for periods ranging from one day to a week from 1998 to last May 8. The locations of the kidnappings were all over the Central Valley, including Heredia, Curridabat, Desamparados, Barva, Grecia, Pavas, Guápiles and Aserrí.

The law enforcement actions that led to the arrests were outlined Wednesday by Francisco Segura Montero, the No. 2 man at the Judicial Investigating Organization. He said that 25 agents, Fuerza Pública officers and a tactical squad were involved in the arrests because the suspects, many of whom work as guards, also are believed to be experts in the martial arts. 

Three of the suspects are Costa Rican, and three of the suspects are Chinese, although one is a naturalized Costa Rican, said Segura. Later Wednesday, a  spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said that a seventh person, a Nicaraguan who was a naturalized Costa Rican, also was involved.

The bulk of the arrests took place at a parking lot at Avenida Central Tuesday, said Segura. Raids for evidence took place all over the Central Valley

The Unidad de Apoyo de la Fiscalía General requested from the Juzgado Penal del  I Circuito a year of preventative detention for all suspects, according to the spokesperson.

Although without being too specific, the Judicial Investigating official said there was a relationship between the kidnappings and extortions, high interest loans and gambling.

Segura said that the interest on the short-term loads were as high as 100 percent. Another investigator said later that the customary transaction was $1 in interest for every $2 borrowed.  Loans were frequently in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. After victims were kidnapped, they were set free after they had promised to make payments. This is the basis of the extortion allegations.

The victims were businessmen, and some operate restaurants. Agents said the case was under investigation for six months, but the effort was difficult, in part, because of language problems with Chinese speakers.

Officials planned a lineup so victims could identify suspects. For that reason, law officers kept a lid on photos. They identified the arrested individuals by their last names and towns where they lived: Morales of Pural, Mena Rivera of Coronado, Salazar of Tibás and Wang, Wei Choi and Hou, all of Curridabat.

Valley seems to have dodged weather bullet again
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tropical depression is growing in the Caribbean off Honduras, and the storm is generating rain in Costa Rica.

Weather experts expect the influence to last until at least Friday. They also suspect that the depression may grow into the first tropical storm of the year in the Caribbean. Such storms can become a hurricane.

Both the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional and the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias issued bulletins Wednesday alerting the population to the possibility of heavy rains. The 

warnings came on the heels of another storm that hit the Central Valley Tuesday. Officials noted that the ground was already saturated.

However, the rain in the metropolitan area stopped in time for most of the Costa Rica-Guatemala soccer game and even early Thursday there was no sign of heavy rain. The tropical depression was moving north at about 6 mph.

The emergency committee opened two shelters Tuesday night Tres Ríos and Calle Blancos as a precautionary measure. There were many complaints of storm sewers being backed up.

Bolivian protesters take over oil field on eve of vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Protesters have taken over several oil fields of a Spanish oil company after weeks of demonstrations demanding the nationalization of the country's energy industry. The protests have forced President Carlos Mesa to offer his resignation.

Bolivia's Congress is scheduled to meet today in a special session to decide if it will accept Mesa's resignation and appoint a successor. The president resigned Monday — for the second time since March — in the face of mounting public opposition to his government's policies.

Wednesday, officials said, a group of indigenous protesters took over several oil fields in the eastern part of the country. Growing public protest is bringing the country's economy to a standstill. President Mesa

warned lawmakers that only new elections would end the protests. The president says this is a time for him to resign, not a time for what he calls "betting on madness."

He was referring to lawmakers' suggestion that he should be replaced by the unpopular Senate leader Hormando Vaca Diez. The president asked Vaca Diez not to accept the post, and called for new elections instead.

Thousands of demonstrators have clogged the streets of La Paz and other Bolivian cities for weeks, calling for the nationalization of the country's energy industry. They are also demanding a new constitution that would give the country's indigenous population greater say.

President Mesa has warned Bolivians the public disorder is bringing the country to the brink of civil war and called for an end to demonstrations.

Human rights in the Americas described as a mixed bag
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Despite some advances in the past year, the Western Hemisphere has experienced serious threats and setbacks to the protection of human rights, says Claire Roberts, president of the inter-American human-rights body of the Organization of the American States.

In a statement, Roberts said the setbacks have grown out of an environment characterized by deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries in the region.

The setbacks have also resulted from corruption in the public and private spheres, increases in crime and citizen insecurity, and the marginalization of sectors of society through social exclusion and discrimination, said Roberts.

Roberts presenting the report by the Inter-American

Commission on Human Rights to the 35th OAS General Assembly meeting and called attention to various problem areas in the region. Those areas include unrest and the deterioration of democracy in Bolivia, and the recent events that led to the resignation of Lucio Gutierrez as president of Ecuador.

Roberts also expressed concern about the effect of Colombia’s internal armed conflict on the country’s civilian population, particularly indigenous peoples, African-descendant communities, and displaced persons.

These concerns notwithstanding, the Organization of American States official noted that the demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia has moved forward despite complaints over the violation of the agreed cessation of hostilities and the lack of an appropriate legal framework clarifying the conditions under which those responsible for the commission of crimes are to demobilize.

New atlas identifies high priority undersea regions worth saving
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The priorities for marine conservation on the North American Pacific coast are identified in a new book and atlas published this week by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 

The publications identify 28 aquatic environments that marine experts consider essential to safeguarding the biological diversity of the west coast of North America, according to a CEC press release.

The CEC includes the heads of the national environmental organizations of Canada, Mexico and the United States and reflects a continental effort to monitor environmental conditions across North America. The organization was launched in conjunction with the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

"The selection of this set of marine conservation areas is a major achievement," says Hans Herrmann, head of the commission's conservation of biodiversity program.

The Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a private nonprofit organization, is co-publisher of this new marine conservation plan. The institute, based in Redmond, Wash., is dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity through the protection and restoration of marine life. 

The atlas, "B2B: A blueprint for conservation from Baja California to the Bering Sea," identifies the entire region as a high priority for conservation by the three nations.

The atlas and accompanying map mark the seven marine ecoregions and their distinct characteristics and biological life in this area of the Pacific.  The commission effort also identifies the priority conservation areas where biodiversity and uniqueness are under threat from human activities.

The blueprint for conservation also outlines ways to enhance conservation and management in the identified areas, and to protect and restore the migratory species, according to the document. 

Jo Stuart
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