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(506) 2223-1327             Published Wednesday, June 9, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 112        E-mail us
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Competitivity panel sticks to course set by Arias
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the four advisory panels set up by President Laura Chinchilla is the Consejo Presidencial de Competitividad e Innovación.

This body generally has been overlooked as public attention turned to similar entities involved with citizen security and the environment.

The group had its first meeting with the president Tuesday, and set as goals improving infrastructure, simplifying governmental applications and promoting private investments. These all are complex topics that could have long-standing impact on the country.

Among other goals the council outlined in a later summary the improvement of ports, airports, highways and public transportation, both local and long-distance.

Two specific goals are the complete opening of the telecommunications sector and to achieve by 2014 the production of 95 percent of the country's energy demands by renewable sources.

The council appears to have a broad mandate, and the financial sector, including the stock market will be looked at, according to the summary.

The council also will promote foreign trade with
pushing for more exports and encouraging the legislative approval of pending trade agreements with the People's Republic of China, Singapore and the European Union.

The council wish list also includes generating high-valued employment and opportunities for youngsters over the next four years.

Those who voted for Ms. Chinchilla were seeking stability and a continuation of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. That is what they got.

Arias and his brother Rodrigo skillfully replaced the leadership of the Limón dock workers' union with members favorable to the government's buyout plan and a proposal to lease the port as a concession.

The trade treaties all were generated during the Arias administration, and the free trade treaty with the United States is the key document in forcing open the once-monopolized telecom sector.
Simplifying government approval processes and increasing exports and increasing foreign investments have been goals for many administrations.

The councils have only the power vested in them by the president. She has the power to issue decrees that have the force of law. But in most cases, the likely path will be proposals for new legislation and adjustments to the existing bureaucracy.


Demolition begins today to create parking spots for legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen will begin tearing down the Lamm Apartments at the legislative complex today. The structure, once known as the Edificio Daniel Oduber Quirós after the former president, has been used as offices.

The result will be a 100-place parking lot.  Luis Gerardo Villanueva Monge, president of the Asamblea Nacional, said the job would take 75 workings days and that as much material would be
recycled as possible. He also added that workmen would not be using dynamite.

The site will not be where lawmakers hope to build a $96 million main building for the legislature. That project hinges on passage of a loan agreement with the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Economica. One part will be offices for legislators and the other will be for staffers.

That site is adjacent to the south side of Parque Nacional and north of the Edificio Sión.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 112

Costa Rica Expertise
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 ambassador
Casa Presdiencial photo 
Eduardo Ulibarri, former editorial chief of La Nación, chats with President Laura Chinchilla. The former newsman has been named to be the country's ambassador to the United Nations.


Petroleum fuels drop
slightly just for June


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Petroleum fuels are going down slightly as soon as new prices are published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

Super gasoline is going down 5 colons to 618 colons a liter, and plus is dropping 6 colons to 586.

But diesel increases just one colon to 518 per liter.

The new prices are based on an exchange rate of 517.95 colons to the dollar as of May 13. The colon has devalued since then with today's exchange rate being 552 colons to buy one dollar.

The more favorable exchange rate for the dollar will make itself known next month when the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos recalculates the price of gasoline. The July prices most certainly will be higher.

Bill to accept $500 million
put in first legislative spot


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government and legislative blocs have agreed to move to the front burner a bill that would allow the country to accept money from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo to improve infrastructure.

The first $300 million will go toward rebuilding sections of the Interamericana Norte in Guanacaste, construction of an overpass on the Circunvalación at the Paso Ancho traffic circle and completion of several other road projects.  The central government will add $75 million to this loan for the work, said Marco Vargas, minister of the Presidencia.

In the second stage, the country would get $200 million more.

Land seekers stake claim
to presidential sidewalk


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Protesters continue to gather in front of Casa Presidencial to press their case for free land.

The group camped out on the sidewalk there last month but signed an agreement May 18 with the Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario, which was to help them find land. The protesters were back again June 1, according to Casa Presidencial. This time they were seeking title to individual tracts for 54 families on a certain piece of land.

The problem was that the institute did not own the land and the land owner said he had no intentions of selling the property.

Tuesday the leader of the group, identified by Casa Presidencial as Marco Aurelio Carpio, came back with more demands. First he said he wanted to consider new options for free land. Secondly he wanted to make direct contact with directors of the institute.

Third, Casa Presidencial said the man wanted to approach the Chinese Embassy to negotiate in the name of the country housing projects and the purchase of properties, presumably financed by China. Casa Presidencial said it turned down this proposal.

The central government also expressed concern about the health conditions of the group living on the street without adequate access to water and sanitary facilities.

Internet takes a hit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's Internet service appears to have suffered several outages Tuesday and early today. There were problems from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and from 12:30 a.m. until about 1:40 a.m.

Workers at Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. denied that service was down even though reporters with connections in Desamparados and San José centro reported outages.

Amnet, the cable company that now has its own connection to the World Wide Web functioned within its own system. Its Web page was available to customers. But locations outside the company's control were unavailable.

Curiously mail services and FTP servers continued to function.

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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.

Searching
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.

Newspages
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.

Classifieds
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 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 112

Krav maga
Rock and Roll

Readers have their say on country's image and crime
Letter was contradictory
in mentioning murders


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with some amusement the obvious contradiction contained in J. Brett Swindell's letter which ran in yesterday's A.M. Costa Rica. In that letter, he complained about the lack of news coverage on CNN (and by implication elsewhere) of the ". . . dozens killed in Costa Rica . . ." as compared to the ongoing coverage of a single apparent murder in Aruba.

First, it must be noted that the apparent murder in Aruba (no body has ever been found), happened to a young and beautiful white American teenager. Those are always the stories that get the coverage in the press. No one takes note of the many others who disappear without a trace unless the family raises an enormous hue and cry.

Second, from his vantage point in Suffolk, Virginia, one wonders just how Mr. Swindell learns of the dozens killed in Costa Rica to which he refers. If they're not covered in CNN, if they're not covered in the online press, how does he know?
David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela


Some real estate prices
unrealistic in this market


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
I have lived in Costa Rica for five years now. I have been renting since I kept witnessing real estate prices rise exponentially every year up until 2008.

I have again been looking to purchase for about the last six months. However, all of the properties that I have been looking at are still being priced at 2008’s unrealistic prices. On a recent trip to the Guanacaste province, I saw many areas where it seemed like there were more properties for sale than those that are not. Yet when you call the contacts, the response is similar – “the property next door is priced 25 to 50 percent higher.” They won’t even consider a substantially reduced offer.

There are a staggering number of so-called subdivisions with only a large, fancy “porton” but nothing past that except deteriorating roads and no infrastructure. There are half-built buildings (construction halted) everywhere. Farms next to nothing with signs stating “perfect for a tourist development” – huh? Many hotels and restaurants, with much better locations, are mainly empty. Look around people!

I have pieced together much anecdotal information from an assortment of realtors, developers, construction workers and lawyers. Their response is resoundingly similar – virtually nothing is selling and it’s been like this for almost two years now. Everyone had high hopes that sales would pick up during the last dry/tourist season. Unfortunately for them, that did not materialize.

I’ve been through three real estate corrections in my life. Most last for quite a few years. Real estate prices go up, BUT they also do go down. Property value in Costa Rica is going to face downward pressure for years. How can it not when values went up so far and so fast? The current asking prices of property in Costa Rica are completely out of touch with the current reality in the majority of the world.

The era of reaping huge profits from real estate are over for a while. Like any investment, some people can get hurt. If you don’t risk, there’s no reward. But, people have to understand that real estate speculating can be a dangerous game. Unfortunately, some people are not going to realize their anticipated profits. I’ll keep searching for property and one day I’ll find that realistic land/home owner or real estate agent.
G. Holubitsky
Heredia


Letters damage unfairly
reputation of Costa Rica

 
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
In regards to Brett Swindell's letter to the editor and his statement below.

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."

This is a very strong statement to print without some facts and specifics to support it. Dozens of tourists get killed in Costa Rica? When, every year? Every month? Every five years? Since 1980? The statement ignorantly suggests that TOURISTS get "killed" with regularity here in Costa Rica, I've been here 10 years, MAYBE, in the 10 years I've been here could I accept that there have been a dozen "killed".

Does "killed" include drowning? Or just violent murders? Car accidents? What are we talking about here?

Like many expats and Ticos who rely on income from Costa Rica being an attractive place to live and visit, we would hope that media (English and Spanish) report the FACTS, not print loose cannon letters to the editor that are written by people that don't live here, that may have visited once, that have some hidden agenda or are bitter or just bored. Your Web site is read by thousands, I suggest you be a bit more responsible in substantiating or at least clarifying damaging letters that can unfairly DAMAGE Costa Rica's image in the name of sensationalistic statements grounded wholly in sentiment rather than research.
 
His letter goes on to state how the truth needs to come out to expose the corruption and crime and blah, blah, blah. I’ve read it all before.
               
Believe it or not, there are thousands of us who have chosen to live and work and raise families here and do it with respect to the fact that we are not native Costa Ricans and are in a developing country. We are here “boots on the ground”.  We are integrating with community leaders, networking with our neighbors and responsible members of commerce, raising children, supporting each other and local businesses, using COMMON SENSE, and LEARNING THE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE, in order to make our lives better in this incredible country.
 
Thanks for your sagely advise Mr. Swindell in Virginia, U.S.A., let us know when you’re ready to get your hands dirty, or criticize your own country, I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement there as well. In the meantime, do your research and get specific if you are going to issue blanket statements on how terrible Costa Rica is.
 
Colin Miller
Hermosa Beach
Continued insecurity causes
rise of local vigilantism


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am writing in regards to the fine article by Garland M. Baker and to add to the two other letters posted today by expats responding to his thoughts about the coming reputation problem faced by Costa Rica in regards its miserable failure in controlling crime and processing criminals. (I have felt for many years Mr. Baker is one of the best writers on Costa Rica.)
 
I, too, am welcoming the Internet's ability to expose the corrupt, dirty system and escalating crime that is building from an horrible level as far back as my arrival in 1997, to extremes today that are intolerable and dangers for Costa Rica future.
 
Beyond the ever-present threats of land fraud outlined so well in the submission by Mr. Carlson, and the lack of state side coverage of murder and violence discussed by Mr. Swindel, Costa Rica is setting itself up for unheard of levels of trouble if and when some of the horrendous street gangs of El Salvador realize what easy pickings are here due to a almost non-existence of a viable security system and inexcusably bad "legal system" one would need to prosecute them.
 
I have written and published years ago in this very publication my accounts of murder of an innocent German tourist in Tamarindo the very day after I personally tried to alert the local businesses and non-existent "law enforcement" to the dangers posed by a particularly deranged Tico living on the beach preying on tourists. This animal was picked up by "police" AFTER the murder and then released for lack of three witnesses.
 
We have watched for years in Arenal expatriates like myself move into this beautiful area only to realize the extent of insecurity and leave. Myself and other longtime residents estimated that of every 10 people who came to live, within one to two years eight would end up selling the house, furniture, car and dog to get out of Costa Rica.
 
The only thing I remember Costa Rica doing effectively was countering bad press stateside very quickly. So the possibility of the reality here being exposed by Internet information sharing would be a blessing to those tourist and potential residents before they decide to come here.
 
I have no sympathy for Costa Rica's corrupt, dirty system and it past time that the rest of the world have access to the facts.
 
I, myself, have also dealt with losses in the tens of thousands of dollars at the hands of other expatriate thieves in the area only to find that when one works within the legal system to secure justice there is no movement. My particular case against a person suspected of robbing and vandalizing my house was filed about a year ago and the fiscal in Cañas has yet to even verify the witnesses in the case. What one hears instead is "we will in January . . . next month . . . this week . . .  possible in Abril" and on and on. The poor fiscal has no money to function possibly as a result of funds being skimmed by the corrupt system or to allow the legislators to give themselves obscene pay raises. The police more often then not have no phone to receive reports or gas money to react.
 
What this eventually leads to, as witnessed in Tamarindo's explosion of theft, is the rise of vigilantism as the only means to any semblance of justice. You had better be ready to take justice into your own hands or settle for the continuation and escalation of the existing crimes.
 
We have locally witnessed a poor, dear elderly American woman in our area broken into and robbed while one Tico perpetrator sat on her head to keep her out of the way while his partner robbed the house. As disgusted as we locals were, the known attackers went free, were never confronted by police, and got no action even after a meeting of scores of angry expats with the OIJ who came up from Cañas and then did NOTHING. Absolutely inexcusable for an otherwise lovely country.
 
Costa Rica has always had a poor record of being able to plan for the future. So if Internet file sharing is an answer to letting the world know just how bad it can get, more power to it.
 
This is a sad state of affairs, and if a drastic fall in tourism and incoming money is an already bad worldwide economy is what it takes to wake the Ticos up, then so be it.

Loren Salazar
Nuevo Arenal

Bias is really sensationalism
and not planned distortion


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I wanted to respond to Brett Swindell's letter of June 8.
 
In his letter Mr. Swindell alleged that Costa Rica enjoys an all too cozy, even biased relationship with the U.S. media that distorts and disguises the amount and seriousness of crime directed at Americans in Costa Rica.
 
Mr. Swindell, apparently, is not familiar with the extensive media coverage in the U.S. of two young American coeds back in 1998 or 1999 who were killed on the country's Caribbean coast.
 
That news story was all over CNN and other U.S. media outlets.
 
Heck, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright even got in on the act by publicly declaring Costa Rica's Caribbean as "dangerous" and advising Americans, from tourists, to students, to potential investors, to avoid the place like the proverbial plague.
 
The news coverage of that tragedy did significant, and to some extent, terribly unfair damage for a very long time to the many good people on the Caribbean who depended on tourism and related industries to make their livings.
 
As with Natalie Holloway, the story of the murders of those two American girls received huge media coverage because of the sensational nature of the crime.
 
Sad as it may be, not every murder or violent crime in Costa Rica, or anywhere else for that matter, even if it involves an American, is going to be "big news".
 
That reality has much more to do with the sensationalism  and the "bloodier and gorier the better" story angles the media crave than it does any kind of overly cozy or biased relationship the Costa Rican government has with the U.S. media.
 
Michael Cook
Gloucester, Massachusetts, and
Puerto Viejo de Limón
EDITOR'S NOTE: There were 472 murders in Costa Rica in 2009. Since the beginning of 2009, a cursory check of news files show three murders of U.S. citizens, but none was a tourist. Two tourists are missing, and a resident expat also is missing. Also killed was a Dutch
resident near Cóbano in a home invasion and robbery. There also have been several suspicious deaths including a U.S. citizen who police consider a suicide even though he was shot twice, once in the head and once in the heart.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 112



Mrs. Clinton rails against Latin income tax evasions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued a four-nation Latin America and Caribbean trip Tuesday, meeting in Quito with Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa. In a speech in Quito, Mrs. Clinton criticized what she said was widespread tax evasion in Latin America. She said governments are not collecting enough money to provide quality education and services.

Previous suggestions by the secretary that Latin American states should raise taxes on the wealthy have drawn criticism from American conservatives who see lower taxes in the United States as conducive to growth.

But she emphasized that theme in her policy address in Quito, saying it is a simple fact that in many Latin American countries, the wealthy don't pay their fair share.

"We cannot mince words about this," said Mrs. Clinton. "Levels of tax evasion are unacceptably high, as much or more than 50 percent in some of this region's economies when it comes to personal income tax. Now, why does it matter?  It matters because without a sufficient tax base, there are simply not enough revenues for the public sector to offer the services and infrastructure that foster social mobility and competitive economies, roads and power plants, airports, health systems and schools."

Mrs. Clinton said that acknowledging tax unfairness and cheating is not class warfare, but a matter of recognizing that a winner takes all approach to economic policy is short-sighted and obsolete.

She said everyone benefits when economic opportunity is broad based:

"More inclusive growth will make our entire economies stronger and more competitive over the long run, which will benefit us all," she said. "We simply cannot support policies that reduce poverty and spread prosperity if the wealthiest among us are not doing our part."

Mrs. Clinton said that with trade and growth in Latin America relatively high and regional conflicts rare, it is a moment of opportunity for the Americas to consolidate democracy and take off economically.

Mrs. Clinton had three hours of meetings here with
Mrs. Clinton adn Correa
Casa Presidencial de Ecuador photo
Mrs. Clinton is at the Palacio de Carondelet in Quito with President Rafael Correa.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, a left-leaning populist who angered the Bush administration by refusing to extend an accord allowing U.S. drug surveillance flights from Ecuador's Manta airbase.

Correa has since been critical of the subsequent accord giving U.S. forces access to several Colombian bases. At a joint press event with Correa, Clinton promised U.S. transparency in its Colombian operations aimed, she said, at helping that country's battle against drug gangs and leftist guerrillas.

"The United States has been proud to help Colombia," said Mrs. Clinton. "But clearly we respect the territorial integrity of all countries in the region. And we are certainly committed to sharing information and working in a mutually-beneficial way with the neighbors of Colombia."

The Ecuadoran president, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, welcomed the Clinton assurances while saying regional concerns remain about the bases. He said he and his government are not anti-American but pro social-justice and said his happiest years were those spent at a U.S. university.

He endorsed Mrs. Clinton's emphasis on tax evasion, saying when he has proposed raising taxes on wealthy Ecuadorans, it is attacked as Communist rhetoric.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 112

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Haitian farmers are urged
to burn donated seeds


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haiti's farmers are being urged to burn seeds donated by U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto.

The American company donated $4 million worth of seeds to Haiti to help the country rebuild after January's devastating earthquake. The seeds promise to help farmers in the hungry nation increase the amount of food they can grow.

But the powerful Haitian peasant group that's telling farmers to burn the donations says the seeds will change the way most Haitian peasants farm, tying them to multinational corporations and threatening the environment. The seeds are hybreds that do not breed true.

It's the latest example of the worldwide ideological struggle over how to feed a hungry planet.

Even before the earthquake, more than half Haiti's population was undernourished. The earthquake forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and into the rural areas. They arrived with nothing but their appetites, the Haitian saying goes, putting extra strain on rural farmers.

"Monsanto made this donation, simply put, because it's the right thing to do," said company spokesman Darren Wallis. "The needs in Haiti are significant and we have seeds that could help farmers not only grow food for themselves but, with an ample harvest, significantly impact the food security of other Haitian citizens."

So it may come as a suprise that Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the head of Haiti's Peasant Movement of Papaye (abbreviated MPP in Creole), wants the seeds destroyed.

"We consider introducing poisonous seeds in our country as a major attack," he says. "We want to say clearly to Monsanto, the American government who supports the idea, as well as the Haitian government. We want them to hear the voice of the peasants who say no."

Monsanto is perhaps best known for creating genetically modified crops, which draw fire from some environmental groups wherever they are introduced.

But the donated seeds are not genetically modified, says Christopher Abrams with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is helping to distribute them.

"The immediate association with genetically modified organisms versus what we were doing was unfortunately incorrect," he said. "But since then, it's created many, many opinions out there on what this means."

What it means, according to peasant movement chief Jean-Baptiste, is that, "Our farmers will stop being independent and rely on a multinational like Monsanto or any other multinationals that sell seeds."

Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have saved seeds from the previous season to start the next crop.

That began to change in the early 20th century. Researchers developed new techniques to select crop varieties that produce especially large harvests, resistance to diseases or drought, or other valuable traits.   The downside, however, is that the offspring of these varieties don't perform as well as their parents. So farmers have to buy new seeds every season.

It's a matter of weighing the pros and cons, said Abrams.

"If you have a good hybrid seed that works in Haiti that produces a good yield but it costs you a bit more on the front end, that becomes an economic choice that the farmer makes."
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 112


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Ban asks Guatemala
to back impunity probers

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Guatemalan authorities to fully support the work of the United Nations-backed commission dismantling illegal armed groups and fighting impunity in the Central American country after the body’s chief resigned.

The chief, Carlos Castresana, announced Monday that he will leave the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala where he has served as commissioner since its inception in 2007.

The U.N. and the Guatemalan Government set up the International commisson as an independent body to support the public prosecutors’ office, the national civilian police and other institutions to investigate a limited number of sensitive and difficult cases regarding illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations and also dismantle them.

Ban stressed in his statement that the success of the commission “requires that the international commitment be matched by an equal commitment on the part of the national authorities.

The statement noted that Ban plans to appoint a replacement for Mr. Castresana who can build on the progress made so far.

Mine full of dead victims
found in southern México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials say at least 55 bodies have now been recovered in southern México from an abandoned silver mine that became a dumping ground for apparent victims of the country's lethal drug wars.

The attorney-general for the southern state of Guerrero, Albertico Guinto, said the search for bodies concluded Saturday night. He said the mass grave may be the largest ever unearthed in Mexico.

Authorities discovered the site in late May, about 100 meters deep in the mine, near Taxco, a colonial-era tourist attraction famous for its silver jewelry. The bodies apparently had been dumped over a long period of time in an airshaft near the entrance.

Most of the victims have yet to be identified, but prosecutors say one of the bodies was a kidnapped state prison warden.

Guerrero has recently been plagued by drug violence among rival gangs.


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