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These stories were published Thursday, June 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 119
Jo Stuart
About us
Diario Extra reporter becomes the story
Not all journalistic errors show up in paper
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The venerable English-language weekly, The Tico Times, made an error Tuesday of the sort that makes editors and reporters run off into the mountains, don monk’s robes and live out their lives on yak butter.

In its online edition, the weekly said that "Costa Rica is mired near the top of the list of chronic sexual exploiters and traffickers, according to a recently released U.S. report."

A paragraph later, reporter Robert Goodier cited U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as the source for this information.

Of course, Costa Rica does not rank with feudal African and Asian states as a sex trafficker and exploiter. The reporter misread Costa Rica’s status as a "Tier 2" country as meaning second worse place among 140 nations. Actually, many nations are in Tier 2, according to the U.S. State Department. Canada is a Tier 1 country, and that does not mean it is No. 1 in the world as a sex trafficker and exploiter. The designation means Canada is doing about all that could be expected to handle the problem.

The error prompted two e-mails to A.M. Costa Rica by readers who noticed the difference between coverage of the story here and in the Tico Times online page. To its credit, The Tico Times the next day published a brief correction and said it regretted the error.

The purpose of this article is not to criticize The Tico Times because reporters there might be writing about an A.M. Costa Rica goof soon. But it does bring journalistic practices into focus.

Working with limited information, limited resources, demanding supervisors and with the pressure of deadline, newspeople crank out newspapers, radio copy and television reports day after day.

Although the Tico Times story might have clouded briefly the understanding of human exploitation, it does not compare to the 1948 Chicago Tribune headline: "Dewey defeats Truman" nor is it a case like the one of Jayson Blair, The New York Times reporter who got caught last year fabricating Page One stories for the leading U.S. newspaper. Blair’s transgressions were deliberate.

A drama of a different sort played out Wednesday when investigators here detained a reporter for Diario Extra at the newspaper. Held was Adrián Marrero. The nation’s chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese, said in a press conference that the reporter had delivered a 

cellular telephone to one of the murder suspects in the Parmenio Medina Pérez murder case.

The murder suspect is a man named Luis Alberto Aguirre, who is accused of using the telephone to threaten witnesses in the case. Competing reporters think that the phone was a pipeline so that the story-breaking Diario Extra could be in contact with the major suspect. Marrero, who works in the section where crime news is covered, denied the telephone is his.

Prison officials found the telephone hidden in Aguirre’s cell, they said.

Parmenio Media was the radio commentator who was gunned down near his Heredia home in 2001. A priest, the Rev. Mínor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar, and a local businessman are jailed, suspected of being the intellectual authors of the murder. Aguirre, a known criminal, is suspected of being one of the triggermen.

Instead of reporting the news Wednesday night, Marrero was in a jail cell making the news. Prosecutors want to keep him there and have asked a judge to order preventative detention, according to a spokesperson for the courts.

His publisher, William Gómez, defended his reporter and criticized investigators for entering the newspaper without a warrant.

But if Marrero actually did slip a murder suspect a cellular telephone, he stepped far over the line that separates newspeople from the story. This would be an error in the same league with Jayson Blair.

Witnesses in the Parmenio Medina case have reported threats, and one key individual has recanted.

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Comments from our readers

Response to the man
from Evergreen, Colo.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Perhaps before expressing your opinion on a Dumb! Dumb! law from another country, you should do some research on laws around the world.  Your xenophobic expressions really ticked me off.  Costa Rica is not the U.S.  We do not have a system of common law, but rather a system of parliamentary law.  That means that our system requires legislation for every little thing.  I don’t agree with all of it necessarily, but that’s the system we have.

I don’t necessarily agree with the system we have in the U.S., but that’s the system we have. 

In any system, all we can do is work with it until we can do something about changing it.

So calling a system we know nothing about dumb, only shows that your gray matter needs some augmenting also.

Heredia, Costa Rica, 
by way of Denver, Colo.

Rental law outline
from Montana, U.S.A.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In today's online edition was a letter to the editor from Nicholas C. Allen from Evergreen Colo.  One of his comments was "who on the face of this earth ever heard of a real estate contract, or any other contract, for that matter, that extends beyond one year to be made orally?"

I am not certain if there was a typographical error in that statement as, when I re-read the original article, I could not find anything that implied in any way that contracts had to be oral. 

I am an attorney in Montana.  Montana law requires that any contract that has anything to do with real estate, whether it is a buy-sell agreement, mortgage, etc., as well as any rental contract for one year or more is required to be in writing in order to be valid. 

Montana has what is called the "Statute of Frauds" which is an attempt to reduce fraudulent claims that could otherwise be made by people who might claim they had an agreement with someone to either buy property, sell property or rent/lease property.  Parties to these sorts of agreements are required to have the terms of the agreement set out in writing so that later disputes as to what the agreement really provided cannot be made without a written contract being produced.  As with all laws, there are some exceptions but this is the general rule. 

Also, in Montana, if there is a lease for a certain time period, and that time period expires with nothing else is being agreed to, that term lease is automatically treated as being a month-to-month type of rental agreement.  From your prior article, it does appear pretty clearly to me that Costa Rica does, in fact, need to "clean up" the law in regard to rental agreements between landlords and tenants. 

It appears that the old law gave tenants way too much power and control over the use and (free) occupancy of someone else's property.  If I were the landlord/owner, I certainly would want a faster, better, and more streamlined system so as to be able to evict bad tenants, non-paying tenants, and the like.

In Montana, if a tenant does not pay rent, either on an oral or a written month-to-month residential agreement, the landlord can give the tenant a notice to either pay rent in three days or leave.  If the tenant does neither, the landlord's remedy is to take the matter to the Justice Court, a lower level court which deals with landlord-tenant issues. 

The landlord may also give a 30-day notice to the tenant to simply terminate the rental agreement and to leave the property, whether rent is paid or not (again subject so some exceptions).  If the tenant does not leave, the landlord again must take the matter to the court as well.  In no case may the landlord simply start moving the tenant out in any sort of "self help" procedure. 

But if the court enters an order requiring the tenant to leave, then the landlord may solicit law enforcement assistance if needed to then actually move the tenant out of the property.  The reason for these laws is that the landlord is the owner of the property and is entitled to manage it as he/she sees fit and is entitled to possession in the event a tenant either is not paying or is acting so as to cause damage to the property. 

We also do not have anything near as liberal as Costa Rica's squatters' rights.  Here, if one wants to gain title to real estate by simply occupying it, that person must do so for a full five years and, in addition, pay the real estate taxes for that full five years before being entitled to claim ownership of real property.  One may, however, gain rights to access, say to a driveway or a road, across someone else's property by adversely and openly using the access for the full five years without the true owner's permission but is not required to pay real estate taxes on the piece of property used for the access.

I hope this helps your other reader who questioned some of the niceties of various laws.

Judith Loring 
Attorney at Law 
Stevensville, Montana 
EDITORS NOTE: In Costa Rica a rental agreement may be oral as well as written, but it is assumed that some sort of receipt or factura will outline the substance of the deal. Savvy expats will insist on a written document.
High court rejects
Villalobos argument

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected without comment a petition by José Miguel Villalobos Umaña that was designed to free the imprisoned Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho.

Lawyer Villalobos said in a message directed to Internet lists that he is convinced that he must present the petition once again because he does not think the judges read his document. He said he would do so again Monday.

Lawyer Villalobos represents a group of persons who loaned money to the failed Villalobos Brothers high interest borrowing operation that was raided by investigators July 4, 2002.

The group’s stated goal is to eliminate legal hurdles so that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the other brother, can return to Costa Rica to distribute the estimated $1 billion in creditor funds that is missing. Lawyer Villalobos has been hired for $300,000 by the informal group.

Oswaldo Villalobos did not flee and was jailed after his brother vanished.  He has been in detention, the hospital and under house arrest off and on since.
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Saray Ramírez Vindas.... associate editor

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Reinspection of your car will cost you on July 16
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The company that has the monopoly on inspecting motor vehicles in Costa Rica says it will start charging for reinspections. 

The company, Riteve S yC, said that starting July 16 the reinspection fee would be one half of that paid for the initial inspection. For most passenger cars, which pay 8,805 colons for the initial inspection, the reinspection will be 4,400.

The firm also reported that an astounding 72 percent of the vehicles brought in for inspection failed the first round. And it said 35 percent failed the second inspection. The company said that the figures, which included January to May this year, were similar to last year, the first year that the inspection program was put in service.

The company said it would charge for reinspection as a way of causing vehicles owners to do their maintenance before bringing in the vehicle. They characterized their new fee as a way to improve vehicle safety.

However, the company recently lost an effort to increase its rates in hearings before the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Publicos.

The price of 8,805 colons is about $20 and the reinspection fee is about $10.

The company also said that under the new policy vehicle owners would have 30 days to have their rejected car repaired in order to qualify for the half-price reinspection. They said the previous 

period was 15 days, but forms given drivers at the inspection stations now say 30 days.

Passengers cars older than six years have to be inspected each year. Newer vehicles must be inspected once every two years. Taxis and other vehicles in service to the public are inspected twice a year.

The company said that the biggest reason for failing an inspection is excessive contaminants in the exhaust, bad brakes and faulty suspension in that order.

The inspection program is controversial because vehicles must meet a high standard and the country’s roads are deteriorating leading to tire and suspension problems even in the best-maintained vehicles.

In addition, some mechanics have complained that computerized equipment that monitor exhaust vapors are not adequately calibrated. They show readings from similar sophisticated equipment in their shops that are far different than the values reported by Riteve.

The company also said that it has asked permission from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes to waive the reinspection fee for certain types of failures. Most of these are rejections relating to improper paperwork for the vehicle.

Riteve also said that it would increase the number of payment windows at its chain of stations to accommodate those paying for a reinspection. This will decrease waiting, it said.

Angry mob murders,
hacks provincial mayor

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivian government officials say the mayor of a small town has been murdered by an angry mob. 

Officials say they are investigating reports that Bolivian Indians dragged Ayo Ayo Mayor Benjamin Altamirano through the streets earlier this week before burning his body.

The government says it believes the killing was an act of vigilante justice by Indians angry over reports linking the mayor to a corruption scandal. Bolivia's mostly poor indigenous people have been carrying out anti-government demonstrations for much of the past year.

Rebels blamed in deaths
of 34 farm workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Authorities say at least 34 farm workers are dead and five others injured following an attack by suspected rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

Officials say the incident happened early Tuesday at a farm near La Gabarra, northeast of here, when armed men attacked the property, then bound and shot the workers. 

Survivors were taken to a hospital in the nearby town of Cucuta. Investigators say the victims apparently worked in fields of coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine. 

The farm appeared to be the property of rightist paramilitaries who are at war with the guerrillas for control of the lucrative drug trade. The long-running conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year.

Fox seeking vote
for expat Mexicans

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Mexican President Vicente Fox is seeking congressional approval for a measure that would allow Mexicans who live outside the country to vote in elections.

President Fox said the right to vote is one that Mexicans abroad cannot continue to be denied.

Currently, Mexicans have to return to their home country in order to vote. At least 13 million people of Mexican heritage live in the United States.

Fox made his remarks ahead of a visit to the midwestern United States. He is expected in Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan this week.

More peacekeepers
arrive in Haiti

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Another group of Brazilian peacekeepers has arrived in Haiti to take part in efforts to rebuild the country and train its police force.

The United Nations says 161 soldiers, marines and drivers arrived here Tuesday. 

A U.N. statement says the Brazilians join 241 staff officers and soldiers who are already part of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

Brazil is leading the U.N. peacekeeping mission and has committed 1,200 soldiers to the operation.

At least 8,000 U.N. troops and civilian police will be involved in the mission.

U.S. immigration report
calls for legalization

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report on U.S. immigration calls for legalizing the status of millions of undocumented workers and revamping policies to better absorb immigrants into American society. 

The task force report by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations says the situation is already in crisis: application backlogs are growing, worker abuse continues, families remain separated, scientific and medical research is hampered by visa complications for immigrant experts and the system's vulnerabilities invite security threats by potential terrorists. The task force of more than 30 prominent business and political leaders calls for quick action to fix the system. 

During the past decade, immigrants have accounted for about one third of the population growth in the United States and nearly half the growth of the U.S. labor force. 

Former immigration commissioner Doris Meissner is not surprised. "The changes in this country are that we are a country that is aging," she said. "We have less and less of a workforce coming forward as a result of children born to native-born Americans and the numbers are very dramatic. 50 percent of the growth of the workforce in this country in the 1990s came about as a result of immigrants. And that was on a parallel track with the longest sustained economic growth in our history. There is a direct tie between that sustained economic prosperity that we enjoyed and the availability of immigrant workers in our workforce." 

The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations' report on immigration focuses on the American Midwest. In the region's 12 states, immigrants accounted for 85 percent of the workforce growth in the last decade.

Coast Guard grabs
hundreds of illegals

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Coast Guard says it is continuing to intercept record numbers of migrants seeking to reach the United States illegally.

A Coast Guard statement says in recent days, the agency has rescued or intercepted nearly 400 migrants in the waters off Puerto Rico.

The statement says on Saturday, a 10 1/2 meter boat with 94 Dominicans on board capsized near Puerto Rico. A search and rescue mission was launched, but three people died.

Since then, the Coast Guard has intercepted nearly 300 other Dominican and Cuban migrants, most of them at sea in boats, but one group on an island. The Coast Guard has made efforts to repatriate the migrants.

Street gang problems
is topic of meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The growing influence of Latin street gangs will be in the spotlight today as experts discuss the situation in Costa Rica.

Street gangs, Las Maras, have been in the news for two reasons.

First a devastating fire May 16 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, took the life of more than 100 gang members who were detained there.

Meanwhile, in La Carpio, gang members participated in a May 31 rock and shooting confrontation with police in the poor western San José settlement.

Participating today at the 9 a.m. event will be María Fullmen Salazar, a vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The session will be in the office of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund in Pavas.

Although Latin gangs are considered being mostly in the western United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, there are indications that the gangs are organizing toward the south.

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European Union leaders gather for showdown 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Leaders of the European Union gather here today for a two-day summit that may be their best chance to agree on a constitution that would enable the 25-nation bloc to streamline the way it makes decisions. Failure to agree could further undermine public confidence in the E.U. after mass abstentions and gains for Euro-skeptics in last week's European parliament elections. 

The last time they got together, six weeks ago in Ireland, E.U. leaders joyously welcomed 10 new members into the club. Now, they have to sort out their differences over the proposed constitution so the bloc can function effectively with 25 members. 

Ireland's minister for European affairs, Dick Roche, says it is urgent that member states agree on a constitution overhauling the union's institutions to stave off paralysis in the years ahead. 

"The reality of it is that the existing arrangements, after all, were put in place for a community of six, and then they were adjusted slightly for nine and 12 and 15. And now we're 25, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that, when you move from six up to 25, you need different institutional arrangements," Roche said. 

As E.U. leaders prepare to descend on this city for an intense round of haggling, there are at least three thorny issues that still need to be solved. One of them involves the policy areas that would be subject to majority voting, with vetoes eliminated. Proponents of the constitution say more majority voting would prevent decision gridlock. But Britain 

insists on keeping its national veto over tax and social security issues as well as defense and foreign policy. And it is supported by some Nordic countries and many of the former Communist states that just joined the union. 

Another involves the size of the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body. Small nations insist there should be one representative per country. Supporters of the constitutional draft say that a bureaucracy with 25 commissioners would be too unwieldy. 

The toughest issue of all is how much voting weight each country will have when decisions are made by majority vote. That was the issue that sank the last attempt by E.U. leaders to agree on the constitution in December. France and Germany pushed for a new voting system to replace a flawed compromise formula that was agreed to four years ago. Poland and Spain held out for the old arrangement, known as the Nice Treaty, which gave them disproportionate influence. 

Diplomats have been pushing for a formula whereby a decision would require the support of 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of the EU's population. But Poland signaled Wednesday that it will not accept such an arrangement without a guarantee that smaller nations could block decisions they see as unfavorable to their interests. 

The showdown over the constitution comes as most leaders face up to stinging electoral defeats and a dismal turnout in last week's European parliament elections. 

Olympic torch is relayed through Los Angeles
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Olympic flame is being carried through Los Angeles in the start of a four-city relay across the United States. 150 people will take turns carrying the Olympic symbol through the West Coast U.S. city, including some well-known film stars.

The torch, bearing the legend, "Pass the flame, Unite the World," arrived at Venice Beach early Wednesday morning. Actor Sylvester Stallone, the star of the "Rocky" films about a determined boxer, was the first runner. As Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn handed him the torch, the actor called it the "proudest moment" of his life. "My biggest problem is that I don't ignite the next man who catches the torch," he said.

The next runner, Frank McCourt, is the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

As the flame was passed from runner to runner, onlookers cheered and drivers waved. "Honk your horns, people, honk your horns. Let's hear it for the Olympic runners," one person in the crowd shouted.

Some participants earned a place in the run by entering a contest. Others, like gold medal-winning gymnast Peter Vidmar, were chosen for their ties to
the Olympics. "This is the greatest thing in the 

world. I'm really thrilled about it, and really honored to do this," he said.

Mario Machado, 69, says he hopes to go the distance of his leg of the run, a little more than one kilometer. "I could be running, walking, crawling, as long as I make it. They've got enough people around me to support me if I fail God forbid," he said.

The flame will pass from torch to torch as the relay progresses through the city's rich and poor neighborhoods, including Beverly Hills, Koreatown, and heavily Hispanic Boyle Heights.

Actor Tom Cruise was scheduled to carry the torch into Dodger Stadium, just before a Wednesday evening baseball game. The actor was to pass the flame to World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, a 1996 Olympic boxing gold medallist. Klitschko was to pass it to Olympic swimming gold medallist Janet Evans. Rafer Johnson, 69, a 1960 decathlon champion, will light a ceremonial cauldron, as he did at the start of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984.

The flame will continue its U.S. journey in St. Louis, Atlanta, and New York, before heading north to Montreal, Canada. It will then be flown to Europe for the final leg of its 26-nation journey on the way to Athens. The Summer Olympics will start there Aug. 13.

Six coal miners are still missing in Argentine mine disaster
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Buenos Aires, Argentina — Rescue workers continue to search for 10 miners they believe are still trapped inside a coal mine swept by fire late Monday.

Search crews have pulled four bodies out of the mine in southern Argentina's Santa Cruz province. Authorities say there is little hope of finding the others alive, but say they could have reached 

ventilated areas deep within the mine.

When the fire broke out, dozens of miners scrambled to the surface to escape the smoke and flames before some tunnel walls collapsed. Investigators believe the fire started on a conveyor belt.

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner and a cabinet minister were headed to the province to assess the situation.

Jo Stuart
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