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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, June 16, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 119        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
About us

Digging deep
for evidence

A suspect in a fatal hit-and-run buried his car to confound police. But not deep enough.

Agents found and exhumed the mashed pickup Thursday. They think this is the vehicle that hit a motorcycle Sunday night on the autopista Bernardo Soto, killing the cycle driver, Oscar Centeno Hernández, 40, and badly injuring a passenger,  Oscar Ramón Pérez.

The 23-year-old pickup driver is under investigation.

Judicial Invesigating Organization photo

Coco is a playground for thieves, residents say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Burglars and thieves are pretty much having their way in Playas del Coco, a growing Pacific coast community that no longer is a sleepy fishing village.

Residents say that the criminals are so bold as to threaten guards with retribution if thefts are reported.

Coco is particularly vulnerable because many North American residents live there part-time leaving their house or condo empty and under the care of managers.

A guard even found a child burglarizing a condo for food, one resident reported.

A manager said that nearly every day his guards report some criminal activity from the night before along with recounting threats uttered by the crooks. The guards are unarmed, but the manager will consider obtaining firearms.

Expats in Coco are linked via an e-mail system that urged them to be extra cautious in one message this week.

The Fuerza Pública unit in Coco appears to be
ineffective, and one resident even suggested vigilante action in an e-mail message.

Victims complain that police are not receptive to their plight and said the Judicial Investigating Organization will only take formal complaints in person at its Liberia office.

Cars are also targets when left unattended for even a short time — and even in guarded lots.

The large Mapache condo developments are in Coco, but other residents said they think these projects are protected by a large number of guards. However, they claim that the large number of workers at Mapache might be a source of thieves.

Still, even when it was just a village five or six years ago, several extended families were feared by police and Costa Rican residents. They were considered criminals, and even the police deferred to them.

So far the crime in Coco has not escalated to personal violence, although many residents are resigned to the possibility that may happen. In the meantime, residents are adjusting their lifestyles to avoid leaving easy targets for thieves.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 119

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Sala IV voids monopoly
of Fábrica Nacional's guaro

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another icon has fallen.

The Sala IV has ruled that guaro produced in Costa Rica by a government monopoly may face competition.

The ruling, released Thursday by the press office of the Poder Judicial, was a narrow one and related only to sugar cane liquor called guaro with an alcohol content of 30 percent.

The action was brought by an importer of alcoholic products three years ago.

The magistrates, in their decision, ruled that two decrees were unconstitutional. The decrees were issued by the then-Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería and gave the exclusive right to produce guaro to the Fábrica Nacional de Licores.

The Fábrica Nacional produces Cacique guaro with that percentage of alcohol.

The decision would not seem to apply to other products of the Fábrica Nacional nor to other guaros with different alcoholic content. The liquor company produces a range of gins, vodkas and other spirits.

Guaro is called aguadiente de caña in other Latin countries.

The magistrates said that the production of guaro was a legal activity that does not damage the public morals, the public order or the rights of third parties. Consequently the government had no right to give the Fábrica Nacional exclusive right without an objective reason.

Because of the abundance of sugar cane, guaro is bootlegged extensively in Costa Rica and purchased by people who want to avoid taxes on alcohol.

Fraud suspect caught
when he returned here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have arrested an Italian American who avoided extradition from Italy in 2001 because documents needed by the Italian courts were tied up in the anthrax attack on U.S. government offices that year.

He is Joseph Conti, 37, who faces charges of fraud and

Joseph Conti
money laundering.

Officials said that he sold telecommunication licenses to investors in the United States for $7,000 when the licenses were generally available for $35. He made at least $3 million agents said they were told.

Agents said Conti was taken into custody when he got off an Air Madrid flight at Juan Santamaría airport.  An associate, Anthony Garcia was
detained Jan. 20 in downtown San José.

Conti lives in a luxury home in west San José agents said. He also is president of a corporation that holds property in Playa Grande, Guanacaste, agents said. He is wanted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.

Conti was charged in 2000 and turned up in Italy in 2001. That was when officials were unable to provide paperwork to the Italian courts and he left jail and vanished, they said. He has traveled from Costa Rica to both Panamá and Nicaragua, they said.

Alice goes to the opera
at Children's Museum

 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alice is going to Wonderland again. But this time she will be learning about opera and music.

This is the goal of "Alicia en el país de la ópera," which will be presented Sunday and again June 25 by the  Compañía Lírica Nacional.

There are two performances each day, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the Auditorio Nacional del Centro Costarricense de la Ciencia y la Cultura, also known as the Museo de los Niños in north San José. During her excursion, Alice meets, among others, Mozart's magic flute, the Barber of Seville, Carmen, Hansel and Gretel.

Entry is 2,500 colons ($4.90) for adults and 1,500 colons for youngsters.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 119

In downtown San José grown men cried like babies
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National soccer team coach Alexandre Guimaraes and his unsuccessful team better look into getting political asylum in Germany, if the opinions of average Ticos have any weight.

As the team was falling 3-0 to Ecuador Thursday morning, grown men were crying in San José. For some here the team is an extension of self, and by failing to qualify for the second round of the World Cup, the national selección delivered a crushing mental blow.

Most put more blame on Guimaraes than the team, although Costa Rica's weak attack and lackluster defense was obvious.

Costa Ricans gathered at the intersection of Avenida Central and Calle Central where a giant screen mounted on a commercial building brought the bad news.

The Ecuadorians who live here, although jubilant, were well inside the nation's embassy celebrating.
Most of the responses from red-garbed soccer fans were pensive and guarded. But the extreme disappointment was obvious. Perhaps, too, there was a bit of embarrassment for the team which has not distinguished itself on the world stage.

Costa Ricans are very sensitive, and even a small international achievement gets a strong welcome here. An international embarrassment does not play well.

The defeat a week ago by the host German team earned a stiff upper lip here. Newspapers called the game honorable, and Costa Rica did score twice against Germany's four goals.

The 3-0 defeat Thursday is close to a rout in low-scoring soccer.  And against Ecuador?

The so-called sele may be able to redeem itself if it defeats winless Poland Tuesday before coming home. As far as the World Cup, the game means nothing. The winner places third in the four-team division, and the loser places last. Neither advance to the next round.

If Costa Rica loses, asylum might be the way to go.

The lowdown on safety of tourists and residents
Many people planning a vacation in Costa Rica, or thinking about living here are worried about safety.  Some of them write to me about their concerns.  Perhaps it is time for a column discussing how safe is Costa Rica.

Recently in the news it was reported that violent crime in the U.S. has gone up some 4 percent — most notably in the Midwest.  I have seen no statistics about Costa Rica recently, but my own observation is that violent crime has gone up here, too.  I do see more stores that sell firearms than I saw when I moved here.  Violent and non-violent crimes that involve foreigners, of course, are the concern of those who write to me.

Pickpockets, thieves and robbers concentrate on tourists and foreigners for the same reason Willy Sutton robbed banks — because they think that is where the money is.  Most thieves are opportunists, and so you just don’t give them the opportunity to steal from you.  If I am an example to anyone, the message would be, double lock your doors when you go out, stow your money in your shoe and keep track of your belongings at all times.  Pay attention as well to your surroundings and don’t wear expensive jewelry on the street. I have been pick pocketed three times and had a gold necklace ripped from my neck. My laptop and passport were stolen from my apartment. 

John writes that he can’t seem to get a realistic appraisal from tourist agencies because they want the business and thus paint a rosy picture.   In fact, you are probably safer being part of an arranged tour with a group than going it alone.  People renting cars at the airport (a logical thing to do) might find themselves with a flat tire, and the friendly people who stop to help, instead taking everything they have. If you do rent a car, do so in the city and get one with a trunk rather than a hatchback.  Park only in parking lots with guards, and put your valuables in hotel safes.

If you have brought your laptop, camouflage it if you take it out on the street.  Carry it in a basket rather than its smart case.  My editor tells me that in the past year 1,000 U.S. passports have been reported lost or stolen to the American Embassy  It is one big nuisance and expense to lose your passport.

Kidnapping and murder are usually not random, but rather business or revenge related.  Car jacking, as in other countries is aimed at the most desirable cars – usually four by fours here.

In my opinion Costa Rica is one of the safest places to be at this time in history.  It certainly is less stressful than much of the rest of the world.  I never think about terrorists attacking here.  I don’t worry about food poisoning or dysentery from polluted
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

water.  But I don’t take chances.  I drink the tap water where I am told it is safe. I don’t in places where the sanitation is not up to par. 

Most of the dangers that visitors and those new to Costa Rica face are those brought on by their own attitude and behavior.  They are in a safety bubble of their own naivete or ignorance. (Most of the crimes of which I was a victim occurred in my first years here.) It is an attitude that many tourists have world over, that, hey they are on vacation, ready to enjoy themselves and the world is going to cooperate.

Just recently there was the story of the sad, sad avoidable tragedy of the students and their brave teacher killed in the undertow of a dangerous beach.  Neither rain and impending darkness, nor lack of knowledge about tide conditions deterred their desire to go into the ocean as soon as possible.  On a less serious note, I recall the visitor who was trying to get change from a fellow in a newspaper stall.  He waved his 5,000 colon note in the air over the people in front of him. 

Someone snatched it out of his hand and made off with it.  If you are young and having a good time in a local bar, you still don’t go off with someone who seems so friendly to another place.  You keep your wits about you.  And if you engage in questionable or downright illegal activities, you have a greater chance of getting into trouble — just like every place else in the world.

Costa Ricans are among the kindest most considerate people I have ever known, but they are not here to make my life, as a tourist or a resident, safe and wonderful.  Not even Costa Ricans have your best interests at heart — especially when they are behind the wheel of a car.  Traffic accidents are probably the greatest danger here whether you are a pedestrian, driver, or rider.  That is one reason I take the bus as often as possible.  Buses are big.  But even they have accidents on these dangerous roads. 

I hope I have not frightened away people.  The vast majority of visitors leave Costa Rica having experienced only a wonderful time.  Those of us who live here wouldn’t be anywhere else.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Fuerza Pública have published a bilingual page with sensible information (i.e. Use only licensed taxis). The single sheet will be available at principal country entry points.

San Pedro entrepreneur Gregory Warne loved Costa Rican hardwood
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San Pedro businessman Gregory Warne died last

Warne and hardwoods
weekend, officials have disclosed.

Warne operated Armas Deportivas S.A. in Grandilla, San Pedro, where he made custom gun grips from Costa Rica hardwoods.

Warne was found dead in a downtown hotel Friday, but identification was not made until an autopsy was conducted at the Morgue Judicial in Heredia. The initial finding is that he suffered a heart attack, a morgue employee said. His family here had reported him 
missing. Warne, who was in his late 50s, was a
well-known figure in downtown circles, and he would relax Friday evenings and discuss business at several bars frequented by North Americans.

Services were still incompleted Thursday, but they are expected to be today in Granadilla.

Warne had an Australian accent, but much of his career was spent in the gun business, first in North American and later here. He identified himself as the retired president of Kimber, the rifle and pistol manufacturer in Clackamas, Oregon.

It was while at the Kimber firm that he became interested in the hardwoods found in Costa Rica, mainly cocobolo.  He used the wood in some Kimber products and later moved to Costa Rica and opened up his firm specializing in producing custom wood grips for pistols. His firm had contracts with major gun manufacturers, he said.

A manager at the San Pedro firm said employees there range from 20 to 22.

Stolen at gunpoint in
Desamparados Saturday afternoon
1991 Nissan four-door sedan
Plate No. 571158
Color blue

Last seen traveling Sunday from Guadalupe to Hatillo
If seen, call 911. Do not approach.

¢100,000-colon reward for information
leading to recovery.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 119

Colombia's Uribe and Bush have cordial meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe say they will continue working together to defeat the illegal drug trade. The leaders also discussed a pending free trade agreement.

Bush congratulated the Colombian leader on his May re-election and said he admires Uribe for his strong beliefs in democracy and fighting illegal drugs.

"He's got a tough job in dealing with narco-terrorist groups in his country, but he's committed to dealing firmly with narco-terrorism," said Bush. "He's committed to helping reconcile past differences. He's committed to helping people get back into society."

President Uribe says they discussed how to speed up the eradication of drugs. Profits from harvesting coca leaves have helped fund rebels fighting Colombia's government.

"One challenge is that Colombia can overcome this long nightmare of terrorism," he said. "I understand
the mandate my fellow country citizens have given me to work harder, and with better results, for my country to get peace, and the United States cooperation is necessary."

During their Oval Office talks, the leaders vowed to work out the remaining details of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States so Bush can submit it to Congress.

Uribe briefed Bush on the recent Andean summit in Ecuador where he joined the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru in an effort to strengthen their trade alliance following Venezuela's withdrawal from the group in April.

Bush says he wants to do a better job communicating with the people of South America and Central America about Washington's desire to promote justice, education, and health.

The United States spends more than $1.5 billion in the region each year, and Bush said he wants people there to understand that the money is meant to help them.

Chávez confirms Venezuela is buying 24 Russian jets
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez says his government will purchase 24 new Russian Sukhoi fighter jets this year to replace a fleet of U.S.-made F-16s.

Chávez made the announcement Wednesday in a speech before hundreds of soldiers at a military base in Caracas.

Chávez also presented the troops with new Russian-made AK-103 rifles — part of an order of 100,000 of the weapons scheduled for delivery within the next six months.
Chávez said Venezuela is preparing for what he called the defense of sacred land. He has frequently warned that the United States could invade to seize control of Venezuela's oil reserves.

U.S. officials deny any such plan exists. Last month, U.S. officials cited alleged Venezuelan links to Cuba and Iran as a reason behind a decision to ban arms sales to the government in Caracas.

Venezuela has warned it could sell its F-16 fighter jets to other countries, such as Iran, while looking to buy more aircraft from Russia. U.S. officials say Washington and Caracas have previously signed agreements that would not allow such a resale.

Bolivia's Morales pays tribute to Che Guevara at village where he died
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA HIGUERA, Bolivia — President Evo Morales has paid homage to revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara in this, the Bolivian village where the legendary Argentine leftist was executed in 1967.

Morales led a ceremony in Guevara's honor Wednesday in this remote eastern village. It is the first time a Bolivian leader has made such a tribute.

Wednesday's event was held to celebrate the 78th anniversary of the birth of Guevara — a leader in the 1959 Cuban revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
Speaking at the event, Morales praised his two closest allies, Cuban President Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, for standing up to the "empire" — a reference to the United States.

The Bolivian president said he would "take up arms" against the "empire" if it attacked either Bolivia, Cuba or Venezuela.

In 1966, Guevara launched another Communist insurgency in Bolivia, but he was captured and executed wihtout trial by Bolivian troops a year later. Guevara was 39 when he died.

He now is an icon of revolutionary struggle.

Read the news
without killing trees

A.M. Costa Rica

Jo Stuart
About us

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