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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, June 21, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 122               E-mail us   
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New strategy promised to combat sex tourism here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials are promising a new plan in a few days to combat what they call sexual tourism.

This was the word Wednesday from Mario Víquez, director of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. He and others concerned with prostitution and exploitation of children met to discuss the recent report by the United States about trafficking in persons. The United States said that Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.

However, the session covered a wide range. Ana Durán Salvatierra, the vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said that fliers soon would be distributed in Jacó, Tamarindo and other beach towns warning tourists of the legal pitfalls in associating with minors.

She also said that officials would attempt to do a survey to get an idea of the magnitude of the human trafficking problem in Costa Rica. Among other steps, an unnamed Italian Mafia expert is being invited to the country to provide training in fighting organized crime, she said.

The areas overlap, so much so that the International Organization for Migration even provided a graphic to show the difference between the illegal trafficking of migrants and trafficking in persons. The first usually is voluntary, but the second usually is not, although traffickers may participate in both activities.

The other manifestation is trafficking minors for sexual purposes. This is illegal whether the minor agrees or does not.

Since February when they were installed, there have been some 40 calls to report the trafficking of minors for sexual purposes, according to the regional office of the Organization for Migration. The phones are run in conjunction with the Patronato Nacional and the 911 service.

The report suggested that the calls could be a result of more sensitivity to the topic by the citizens.

Víquez gave no clue what proposals may be in mind to combat sexual tourism or if only prostitution of minors would be targeted. This area, too, has many overlapping populations, from woman who voluntarily come to Costa Rica to work as prostitutes to those who may have been tricked into working in a brothel. He promised a new strategy.

Like the gun and drug trade, trafficking is a  clandestine business, the officials agreed. And it 
Ana Durán and flyer
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Ana Durán Salvatierra displays a proof of the flyers that will be distributed in beach towns warning against exploitation.

was clear that without statistics, officials would be hard-pressed to talk about specifics. Not made clear was how a statistical evaluation of the situation would be made.

The four persons addressing the issue have a lot of experience in the area. Also there was+ Milena Grillo, executive director of Fundación Paniamor and Agueda Marín of the trafficking unit of the migration organization.

Among some of the plans are a training session in August of police in the Guanacaste area on sexual tourism and the involvement of minors. In July Paniamor will distribute bumper stickers to truckers who travel the country to show their rejection of trafficking of minors.

Paniamor also will attempt to construct maps of routes used to traffic persons into Costa Rica, said the organization. This will be done with the security ministry. However, most policemen agree that the major access point for prostitutes is Juan Santamaría airport where hundreds of sex workers from all over the world land every year.

Paniamor is the organization responsible for signs hung in the airport warning against sexual contact with minors.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 122

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Quintavalle faces claim
linked to investments

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Matteo Quintavalle is rapidly writing his own chapter in the "Book of Costa Rican Interesting Characters."

The 34-year-old hotel owner and Italian citizen became a public figure earlier this year when he tried to purchase a soccer franchise and then began signing contracts with top soccer players with the goal of starting his own team.

Wednesday the Juzgado Penal de Pavas ordered him and four associates not to leave the country while an allegation of fraud was investigated.  In addition to Quintavalle, the judicial order covers associates Marvin Hernández Zúñiga, Ricardo Urbina Paniagua, Chistopher George Coulther and Ismail Gelle Fosia.

The initial criminal complaint was filed by 17 U.S. investors, said the Poder Judicial. They gave the last names as Blame, Peck, Delefisher, Fereman, Lacineck, Cristopher, Harvey, Yerin, Mataras and eight others.

The Pavas prosecutor's office received the complaint Tuesday. The allegations include fraud, conspiracy and fraudulent offers of credit, said the Poder Judicial.

Quintavalle last made news earlier this month when the Banco de Costa Rica closed out 11 accounts he had there. The bank said Quintavalle moved $10.5 million through those accounts in a year, according to a report at the time in La Nación, the Spanish language newspaper.

Government takes action
to stop dock workers' action

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More trouble is brewing at the public docks in Limón.

Union members there have been on a slowdown for a week emphasizing their demand for payments that the Sala IV constitutional court said were illegal.

The government moved Wednesday to take the union at the  Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica into court. Marco Vargas, the minister of  Coordinación Interinstitucional, said that papers were filed with the Juzgado de Trabajo de Limón. The goal would be to have the slowdown declared illegal.

Vargas guaranteed that the port would not be paralyzed by a job action. The port is a key one for the export and import of goods.

The government has been negotiating with the union chiefs for several months. One goal is to clear the way to put the ports in a concession similar to the one that is in place in Caldera on the Pacific now. Union members do not want to see this version of privatization because of the potential loss of benefits.

Emergency is declared
for weather-beaten areas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration declared a state of emergency for the country because of flooding, landslides and tornadoes.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed the decree in San Antonio de Belén at the bridge over the Río Quebrada Seca that caused so much damage there.

The declaration is a formal procedure that allows officials to mobilize funds and government agencies.

A tropical storm front battered the country last week. A small cyclone appeared June 13 in Cartago and a certified tornado hit Hatillo, Alajuelita and Barrio Cuba the following day.

Also hit by flooding were San Rafael, Barva and Flores in Heredia and the central canton of Alajuela.

The  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias will coordinate repairs

rials a fugitive


Sex offender discovered
to be living here illegally

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A convicted U.S. sex offender who has been living here since March 2006, came into the hands of law enforcement Wednesday near a home in Barrio Corazón de Jesús in San José.

The Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad identified him as Bernard Rials, 44. He was identified as a fugitive from authorities in Seattle, Washington, who was being sought also by the U.S. Marshals Service. The Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad is the local representative of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL)

Local agents said that Rials had admitted having sexual relations with youngsters as young as 8 years old. He was placed on conditional liberty, but another charge of sexual contact with a minor was lodged against him.

Because he is an illegal resident here, agents said he would be deported into the hands of U.S. officials.

Festivals in la Cruz, Tilarán

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

La Cruz in Guanacaste will have its art festival Friday, and Tilarán will have one the next day. Matambú de Nicoya plans a similar event June 28.

This weekend, each community will host a display of small enterprises in the business of producing cultural items. In La Cruz the firms will be houses in the Colegio Experimental Bilingüe. In Tilarán they will be in the Gimnasio Municipal.

In all cases there will be food, music and cultural objects to purchase.

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Agricultural research is very specific
Getting ready for free trade is not all politics and marches

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the future of the free trade treaty is argued, all over the country researchers and exporters are working to make Costa Rican products more welcome in the United States. The work is detailed, directed by a multitude of laws and frequently unnoticed.

One such effort is being directed at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza by a Purdue University scientist with the goal of making a certain ornamental plant pest free.

To say this work is specialized is an understatement. The United States, represented by its Department of Agriculture, does not want any more exotic and strange bugs and plant diseases in the country. If a container load of ornamental plants shows up, and inspectors find excessive insect eggs or others signs of contamination, the shipment is barred. That's a big loss for the Costa Rican producer.

The Turrialba-based center, known as CATIE for short, is the nation's premier agricultural research institution. Here is where Tamara Jo Benjamin takes seriously grasshoppers, scales, snails and leafhoppers. These all are the pests that can doom a shipment of Dracaena plants.

Simply zapping a container with insecticide is not practical, she said, because the pests frequently stow away as eggs that are not easily killed by sprays.

So the job is to drastically reduce the number of plant pests and help growers cultivate their products in a pest-free way.

According to Ms. Benjamin, this single ornamental plant provides a living for 500 producers and 20 exporters and generates an annual income of some $30 million. Overall ornamental plants bring $165 million to the Costa Rican economy, she said. And that amount is growing.

The research professor obtained her doctorate from Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, and that university is involved in the Clean Stock Program for ornamentals that she directs. She has been in Costa Rica for seven years.

Ms. Benjamin reports that the work is going well and that she and her colleagues hope to be able to assemble the final documentation this year. At issue is a U.S. regulation that prohibits the importation of Dracaena more than 18 inches tall and younger than two years.

"The belief is that larger plants or older plants will harbor
more quarantined insects," said Ms. Benjamin. "We are trying to conduct research on the insects and how to reduce the quarantined pests on Dracaena plants so that the Ministry of Agriculture here can ask for this regulation to be lifted."

The request will be in the context of the free trade
dr. Benjamin
Ms. Benjamin
agreement, if it is ratified here.

It is the  U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that does the inspections. Ms. Benjamin estimates that if the U.S. restrictions are removed, Costa Rica will be able to sell $15 million more of this single ornamental plant to North America.

In the case of leafhoppers, the CATIE
researchers have identified 50 species and six which are likely to cause a rejection of a plant shipment. Ms. Benjamin reported in a recent essay that two of the six species were known but the other four were being cultured to be studied. While doing this effort, researchers have discovered parasites that attack the insect eggs, suggesting a possible biological weapon.

Exporters in pilot projects to control insect infestations have gone four months now without having a shipment rejected, she pointed out in her essay. "Others not in the program continue to have problems with U.S. inspectors, she said.

From looking at tiny insect eggs, the researchers have gone to a bigger picture using air shots of farms and their neighborhoods to see what impact the agricultural environment might have on insect populations.

The research certainly will have value even if the free trade treaty is rejected by Costa Rican voters Oct. 7 or by the Sala IV constitutional court in July. But it is clear that the treaty has jump started the research, as it has in many other Costa Rican industries.

Those in agriculture are split as to the value of the free trade treaty. The Cámara Nacional de Agricultura y Agroindustria Wednesday gave strong support to approval of the treaty.

Álvaro Sáenz, president of the group, said that over the last 20 years Costa Rican agriculture has become more diversified in the products produced. He predicted a grim future if the treaty were rejected.

On the other hand, those with more traditional crops like rice and pork producers see a wave of cheaper competition coming from the United States, so they oppose the treaty.

Campaign against trade treaty will kick off at auditorium of Catholic bishops
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The campaign against the free trade treaty will be launched Saturday, but the choice of location is generating controversy.

The self-designated Campaña Patriótica NO al TLC will kickoff its activities at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of the Conferencia Episcopal in San José

Immediately Casa Presidencial responded with a criticism of the location, operated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez said that he respected the decision by church leaders but did not share in it. "It appears to me that this is not the best place. We would have preferred that
the activity take place in another place, but this is a decision that they did not share with us."

The Arias administration, which strongly supports the treaty, has faced opposition from some church leaders, although aides finally convinced them to remain silent.
Rodrigo Arias noted that in an Oct. 9 appearance at the Asamblea Legislativa, bishops said they were neither for nor against the free trade treaty.

Meanwhile the pro-treaty Alianza Cuidadana del SÍ is holding afternoon seminars around the country to introduce voters to the positive aspects of the treaty. The public referendum is Oct. 7 unless the Sala IV constitutional court finds legal flaws in the agreement. Costa Rica is the only signatory nation that has not ratified the agreement.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 122

Conservation group sting nets marketers of illegal shark fins
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said Wednesday it had thwarted a gang involved in transporting shark fins after a two-month undercover investigation.

The conservation group said that by working with the Ecuadorian Environmental Police they were able to assist in the seizure of 18,673 shark fins and arrested four suspects who are now being detained.

In Ecuador, exportation and commercialization of shark fins is against the law. Not so in Costa Rica where shark fishermen seem to have immunity to prosecution as well as their own private dock in Puntarenas to unload their haul. Private docks are not legal, but Sea Shepherd was unable to generate much official support when its members taped illegal activities related to shark finning there.

“This successful sting is the result of several months working covertly with the cooperation of General Bolivar Cisneros, chief commander of the Ecuadorian National Police,” said Sean O’Hearn-Gimenez, Sea Shepherd Galapagos director. “Sea Shepherd traced potential exit points in the illegal shark fin trade that occurs in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.”

The initial seizure, at the immigration checkpoint, included four huge sacks with over 500 pounds of shark fins that were hidden in the compartment area of a passenger bus traveling along a route from Guayaquil to Huaquillas, the organization reported.  Three passengers were arrested at this point, including an Ecuadorian and two Peruvian men.

A second passenger bus traveling from Guayaquil towards the Peruvian border was also inspected and two boxes were
found full of shark fins, weighing 97.9 pounds. A Peruvian male approached the driver and stated that he was expecting the two boxes and he was immediately arrested, said the organization.  These seizures are roughly equivalent to over 4,500 sharks slaughtered with a street value of over $140,000, they said.

“This is a cruel and senseless act.  Some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent in the last 30 years," said O’Hearn-Gimenez.  "Many of the sharks are finned in and around the Galapagos Marine Reserve and this has a direct impact on Ecuador’s tourism industry.

"Using longlines, the shark finner will use a long hook to haul the shark into the boat and then club it in the head knocking the shark unconscious," he added.  "At this point the shark is finned alive and is thrown back into the water and left to bleed an agonizing death."         

In Ecuador, Sea Shepherd will be filing a lawsuit as well as conducting a forensic analysis of the shark fins in order to determine the biological makeup of the sharks and to determine whether any of the species are also listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The confiscated shark fins were burned to they would not enter the illegal market a second time.

“We have invested seven years in the Galapagos so far,” said Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd founder and president. “We have established a solid working relationship with the Galapagos National Park and enforcement authorities in Ecuador. This important bust and seizure of shark fins is a heavy economic blow to the criminals engaged in this destructive and illegal trade.”

Uribe denies claim by drug lord that 2002 campaign received dirty money
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is denying accusations by a fugitive drug lord that his 2002 election campaign was partially funded by far-right paramilitaries and cocaine traffickers.

Uribe said Tuesday in the coastal city of Cartegena that his campaign took measures to block contributions from crime figures. Uribe first won the presidency in 2002 and was re-elected last year.

Drug lord Fabio Ochoa Vasco told the weekly magazine Semana that he had contributed $150,000 to an alleged paramilitary-drug trafficker fund.
Ochoa is thought to be hiding in Mexico, and the United States is offering a $5 million reward for his capture.

President Uribe has repeatedly denied allegations that he collaborated with paramilitaries in the 1990's.

Colombia's paramilitaries were formed in the 1980's by wealthy ranchers to battle leftist rebels.

They evolved into powerful criminal gangs that engaged in drug trafficking, civilian massacres and other atrocities.

About 31,000 fighters have demobilized as part of a peace plan with the government aimed at ending Colombia's 43-year civil war.

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