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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, June 13, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 115            E-mail us
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Government moving all its purchases to online site
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One after another Costa Rican ministries, institutes and other agencies are turning over their purchasing procedures to the Sistema Mer-Link, an online project that is supposed to inject transparency into government acquisitions.

The system would appear to be a boon for vendors both in Costa Rica and elsewhere. U.S. firms, for example, have certain rights to offer goods and services under the free trade treaty with the United States and Central America.

Costa Rica is following in the steps of other Latin countries, like México, Brazil and Chile in putting government purchases online and open to anyone who wants to watch.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad announced that it would eliminate its list of vendors March 7 in favor of the data base maintained by Mer-Link. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said last week that it would direct all its purchases through Mer-Link, which has the formal name of Sistema de Compras Públicas en Línea Mercado.

Until now, a vendor who sought to do business with a government agency would have to register with that agency. That meant a series of repetitive filings, and even then there was a chance that the company would miss out on a lucrative deal because it did not happen to be registered with the agency seeking the product or service.

Now all the bid offerings are listed online and can be seen all over the world. A quick check of the principal Web page shows that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is seeking office supplies, including paper, plastic covers, a whiteboard and transparency sheets for an overhead projector. This will be a direct contract in which the complexities are held to a minimum. The institute also seeks a refrigerator.  All products are described in great detail.

But one has to dig deep to get all the information. The various products and services are listed by code numbers, and vendors can list the services or goods that they offer. Mer-Link promises an
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email or a telephone call when items are sought that match the products vendors have said they offer. Each solicitation for goods or services also contains the name of a contact person at the agency or Mer-Link for more information.

All of this information was available previously, but not in a concentrated form. Agencies used to advertise their needs in the la Gaceta official newspaper, but it was clear that sales representatives who had established a relationship with the agency got the lion's share of the deals.

With the electronic system, a firm in Iowa or an expat in Pérez Zeledón would have the same opportunity to respond to a bid invitation at a firm in San José. However, agencies still will require sales people to explain exactly what they need. The personal touch still is needed to stimulate deals.

Mer-Link is a place where the digital signature comes in handy. When the Gobierno Digital program announced the creation of such signatures in 2005, the emphasis was on electronically signing legal documents from afar. But Mer-Link requires a vendor to have a digital signature for full access into the system and to submit bids. The digital signature is nothing more than an encoded card unique to the users and a small card reader that plugs into a computer.

Mer-Link promises a reduction in cost for state agencies, a savings in time, transparency and greater competitivity among vendors.

The Mer-Link offices are in San José above the Mas x Menos supermarket on the Autopista General Cañas just west of Parque la Sabana.

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Disabled Osa man endures
prolonged home invasion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wheelchair-bound Puerto Jiménez man said he suffered through a 40-minute home invasion Saturday night but then received surprisingly generous treatment from the robbers.

"It's strange, but they were actually somewhat kind to me and allowed me to keep my main laptop that has all of my work (life) on it and keep my car," said the man, Gene Warneke.  "They also allowed me to keep mementos of my father and mother."

Warneke said he lost over $6,500 of electronics, cash, jewelry and gold that he bought from local river placer miners.  He said the intruders were in their 20s and had their faces covered. The men crashed through his front door just as he was closing it after investigating noise in his neighbor's yard, he said.

A third robber remained outside, he said.

He said that the crooks pummeled him around the back and side of his head head until he stopped struggling.  "Luckily, I have only head and neck bruises, a big crick in my neck and an abrasion from my left ear to my mouth.  I maintained enough calmness to calm them down and kept things from escalating by cooperating," he said.

Warneke spoke with the men and said that one had an excellent knowledge of English. ". . . All that I know are sympathetic to my plight with my disability," he said.  "I think the thieves knew of this and thus treated me somewhat kindly after the initial shock and awe entry." Warneke has one leg and uses a wheelchair.

The Judicial Investigating Organization sent agents Sunday, he said, adding:

"I feel very lucky not to have suffered any serious injuries, but I'm shaken to the core and feel a great loss of my freedom security."

Puerto Jiménez is on the Osa Peninsula not far from Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Five in Playas del Coco
detained on drug counts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police said they detained five persons in Playas del Coco who are suspected of distributing drugs in bars and other public places in the community. They also are facing allegations that they robbed individuals at knife point and committed armed robberies at various commercial establishments and homes.

Three arrests came during raids of three homes in the area. Two suspects were detained on the public street, the Judicial Investigating Organization said.

Judicial agents said they started the investigation in April after they received confidential reports that the individuals were heavily involved in the sale of drugs.

During the arrests, agents said they confiscated marijuana and cocaine as well as handcuffs, weapons and seven cell telephones that were used in the drug sale business.

Three quakes reported

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two low-level earthquakes took place Friday. One was near Paraíso de Cartago at 4:26 a.m. with a magnitude of 3.1, and the second was in San Mateo de Alajuela at 8:40 a.m. with a magnitude of 3.4, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. A third quake took place at 7:14 a.m. Sunday near Esparza de Puntarenas. That also was estimated at 3.4 magnitude, the observatory said.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 115
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Guardacosta officers take one of the new boats out on a trial run Friday. President Laura Chinchilla also got a short trip on one of the boats.

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Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Carlos Eduardo Hidalgo Flores

 U.S. donates two new 33-foot patrol boats to coast guard
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has invested $1.8 million in the Costa Rican Servicio Nacional de Guardacosta. The bulk of the donation is in the form of two new 33-foot aluminum launches.

The donation is part of the joint agreement between the two countries for patrol of maritime drug routes.

The boats were presented in a ceremony Friday in Caldera on the Pacific coast.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the boats possess the highest technology. However, no weapons were visible on photos supplied by the ministry and Casa Presidencial.

The Pacific coast has been plagued with pirate and port thefts as well as the passage and frequently landings of drug boats from Colombia. Local fishermen have been the victims of robberies at sea, and some pirate gangs are known to have set up camps in estuaries. There have been some arrests.

The boats donated Friday are the first new vessels to be given Costa Rica. In the past, the United States has donated refurbished crafts. The donation includes a container load of spare parts for the two boats and several weeks of training.
Frequently coast guard boats are out of service awaiting repairs.

President Laura Chinchilla was at the ceremony for delivery of the boats. Casa Presidencial said that she characterized as insufficient the resources that Costa Rican crime fighters have. She said she was calling on the legislature to provide more resources.  There are several tax bills in the hopper awaiting action.

The president said that the sovereignty of the country was at risk from the threat of organized crime and narcotraffickers.

An example of that threat was reported Thursday on the Caribbean coast. Employees of a company that lost a boat to thieves and coastguard officers were fired upon not far from downtown Limón centro when they tried to go up an inlet in search of the boat. In all, there was one shooting incident and twice that armed men prevented a boat to continue up the public waterway. The coast guard and police took no action.

There also have been thefts from boats in the Limón harbor, and some expats involved in maritime work seem to think that drug smugglers have begun to use Caribbean routes more frequently to ship drugs. They also expressed concern about the unpatrolled area of Eastern Nicaragua and Honduras that have become havens for smugglers.

Investigators seek leads in arson murder of four near Jacó
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

By any definition, the murders near Jacó Friday were horrific. Someone put a lock and chain on the exits of shipping containers used as a home and then torched the place.

Four bodies, including one of a 14-year-old girl were found inside when firemen broke into the container.

Using shipping containers as homes is not unusual. This is done frequently in rural areas where containers provide a quick, cheap structure. Some firms produce elaborate homes from containers, but the containers in Herradura, south of Jacó were anything but elaborate.

Firemen from the Garabito station said they got the call at 5:55 a.m. Friday and that they were on the scene 22 minutes later. It took more than an hour to bring the blaze under control.

Firemen said that there were two containers in the area known as Finca Pipasa.

Dead were two brothers with the last names of Villalobos
Miranda. One was 22 and the other was 24, firemen said. The girl was identified by the last name of Delgado, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Firemen called agents as soon as they cut open the containers and found the bodies of the brothers. One held a steel bar with which it is presumed he was trying to use to pry open the door someone had locked from the outside. The girl's body was found a short time later. Then at 11:50 a.m. firemen found a fourth body, still unidentified, in the rubble.

Firemen said it was clear one of the containers was being used as a living quarters because there were kitchen appliances there. The bodies all were in one container. The second was involved in the fire but not occupied. Someone sealed that one, too.

The fires were set outside the containers, and firemen suspect that an accelerant was used. Each container was about 20 square meters or about 215 square feet.

The brothers are believed to have lived on the land for several years. Their father was for years a watchman or guard of the property.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 115

CR home

There may be one more day without major thunderstorms

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has experienced three days of mostly sunny skies with only a small amount of rain.

But the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said Sunday that the weather soon will turn to the usual for the rainy season:  Hot and sticky mornings giving way to thundershowers in the afternoon.

There still is a pretty good chance that Monday will be the fourth day in a row of just isolated showers. The weather institute said that winds from the east generally inhibit rain in the Central Valley and the Pacific. But there is a good chance of some rain in the Caribbean and northern zone.

There were only a few millimeters of rain in the country
 Sunday. Some places got no rain. Turrialba with 6.5 millimeters appeared to be the wettest, based on the institute's automatic weather stations. That is about a quarter inch.

Isolated rains Sunday morning were caused by the passage of a tropical wave over the national territory, said the weather institute. This was tropical wave No. 6 for the season. These are low pressure troughs that form west of the Atlas Mountains in Africa and sweep across the tropical latitudes.

The tropical waves can bring heavy rains, but not this one.

There was some rain in Limón but nowhere near the heavy downpours the weather service warned about in a morning bulletin.

Study cast doubt on traditional view of microcredit projects

By the Yale University news services

Microcredit, which involves giving small loans to very small businesses in an effort to promote entrepreneurship, has been widely touted as a way to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth. A multitude of both non- and for-profit institutions are spending billions of dollars each year on microcredit ventures in developing nations.

But just how effective is microcredit lending? In a new study, researchers find that the practice may not be an efficient tool in promoting business growth or improving the lives of its beneficiaries but could instead have just the opposite effect. However, they discovered other surprising advantages.

Economists Dean Karlan of Yale University and Jonathan Zinman of Dartmouth College conducted a study of microloans given out to nearly 1,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Philippines. They found that, contrary to widely held beliefs, the loans did not generate bigger businesses, higher income, or greater subjective well-being for the recipients. Instead, the loans led to fewer businesses and a lesser sense of well-being. However, the practice did result in stronger risk management.

"This study suggests that microcredit works through complex mechanisms that are not entirely understood, and it's clear that we can't set policies and make decisions based on our intuition about what microcredit accomplishes," Karlan said. "We need a better understanding of how this strategy works, based on sound data and analysis."

Karlan and Zinman developed a new method for evaluating the impact of microcredit lending, working in partnership with First Macro Bank, which made loans to 921 men and women in the Manila area. The team randomly approved
loans for a subset of applicants who had been pre-selected based on their credit scores and who were considered "marginally creditworthy." These types of people, and especially the women among them, are often cited as the most likely to benefit from microcredit lending.

The team gave loans ranging from about $100 to $500, with an average monthly interest rate of 2.5%. Typical businesses supported by the loans included small grocery/convenience stores, food vendors, auto and tire repair shops, tailors and barbershops/salons.

Researchers conducted follow-up surveys with the loan recipients 11 to 22 months after they had applied for the loans. The surveys showed that the entrepreneurs who received loans actually shrank, rather than grew, their number of business activities, and that their self-reported sense of well-being (including life satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism and stress levels) did not improve, but in fact got slightly worse.

However, they also discovered that the loans did provide a buffer against income fluctuations and unexpected expenses, allowing the recipients to manage risk without relying on formal insurance. The small business owners' access to informal credit, such as financial assistance from friends and family, also increased as a result of the loans.

"Rethinking microcredit as a tool for the household, rather than merely as a tool for enterprise growth, is clearly the first step in the right direction to understanding the impacts of microcredit," Karlan said. "We hope our methodology can provide a model for others to conduct similar research in other settings and help provide a clearer picture of whether and how microcredit works."

The study appears in the June 10 issue of the journal Science.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 115

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chávez  has quick surgery
on official visit to Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's president, who is recovering from a recent knee operation, underwent surgery Friday morning in Cuba.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Hugo Chávez had an operation in Havana for a pelvic abscess. 

The foreign minister said President Chávez felt ill and was immediately attended to by his medical team.

Maduro said Chávez has begun the recovery process, surrounded by his family, and is expected to return home in a few days.

The president was in Cuba for a joint Cuba-Venezuela Commission meeting.

Vigilante killings suspected
in discovery of 21 bodies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police in western Mexico have discovered the bodies of 21 men.

Officials said Thursday the victims were found in various locations outside the city of Morelia in Michoacan state. 

Police say the victims appear to be between the ages of 20 and 35 and some showed signs of torture.

Authorities say some of the bodies had warning notes attached.  One read "here are the thieves, muggers and rapists, and there are still more to come."

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the murders. 

Michoacan is the home state of Mexican President Felipe Calderón and has been the site of bloody drug-related violence.  It is the base of the drug cartel known as La Familia.

More than 37,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug-related violence since President Calderon took office in late 2006 and began cracking down on the nation's cartels.

U.N.'s Ban praises law
for victims in Colombia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has commended Colombia for enacting a law that seeks to compensate victims of human rights violations, injustice and deprivation in the South American country, saying the legislation is a fundamental step towards resolving the conflicts that Colombians have endured for decades.

The Victims' Rights and Land Restitution Law focuses on the rights of victims, rather than on how to deal with perpetrators and seeks to overcome obstacles that could have resulted in discrimination, Ban said when he attended the signing of the legislation into law by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón in the country''s capital, Bogota.

The law reinforces the right to remedy for lands seized illegally and recognizes the different needs of different victims, especially women, children and displaced people. It lays the foundation for justice for some 35 million displaced people and estimated 500,000 victims of human rights abuse.

"This ambitious, complex piece of legislation has taken Colombia closer to realizing the rights of victims.
But let us not overlook where it can be strengthened. I urge you to send a powerful message that under no circumstances will human rights violations be tolerated," said the secretary general.

Ban stressed that no one who had been subjected to human rights violations should be excluded from the benefits of the law, including members of illegal armed groups, and especially those who were recruited as children.

The effectiveness of the land program will also depend on adopting comprehensive protection measures.

"The proper and timely implementation of this law will determine whether expectations raised are met," said Ban.

"The United Nations in Colombia stands ready to support your Government and civil society in this challenging task. It will be important for the Government to maintain close dialogue with victims and their representatives," he added.
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Scam suspect arrested
on his way to Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Utah man believed to have significant property in Costa Rica, has been detained to face allegations that he ran a massive Internet enterprise that scammed consumers out of millions.

He is Jeremy D. Johnson, who has been in trouble with federal authorities since last year. He lives in St. George, Utah. He was detained Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona, when agents took him off a plane that was headed to Costa Rica.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the consumer watchdog, said in December that it took legal action against Johnson and nine other individuals who were involved with his I Works Web sites. The Federal Trade Commission said that O Work made millions of dollars by luring consumers into trial memberships for bogus government-grant and money-making schemes, and then repeatedly charging them monthly fees for these and other memberships that they never signed up for.

The Federal Trade Commission has charged the defendants with misrepresenting that government grants are available for paying personal expenses, that consumers are likely to obtain grants by using the defendants’ program, that users of their money-making products will earn substantial income, and that their offers are free or risk-free. The civil complaint also alleges that defendants failed to disclose that consumers who pay a nominal shipping and handling fee will be enrolled in expensive plans that charge consumers fees until they cancel, and that the defendants charged consumers’ credit cards and debited their bank accounts without their consent.

Criminal complaints in these consumer cases usually mirror the civil ones. The civil complaint names 10 corporations, and 51 shell companies as defendants. The Federal Trade Commission seeks the return of $275 million to Johnson's customers. There was no indication that the operation was run out of Costa Rica.

Delivery team held up
in Piedades de Santa Ana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men on motorcycles pulled up to a fruit drink distribution truck in Piedades de Santa Ana Thursday afternoon and pulled guns on the driver and a companion.

The men on the motorcycle forced the driver to move the truck to an isolated place in nearby Salitral, and then one man drove the truck away while the other left on the motorcycle.

Agents said the truck turned up not far away. The robbers only took fruit drinks because they were unable to gain access to the secure money compartment on the truck, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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