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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 123                          Email us
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New street scam is a drug setup and then blackmail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a new wrinkle in scams being worked on tourists and expats. The crooks set up a fake drug deal and then extort money from victims with the threat of jailing them.

The scam works even if the victim is not interested in drugs.

One such scam took place at the Mercado Central in downtown San José Wednesday. A scammer tried to ingratiate himself to a 23-year-old U.S. tourists, and the tourist tolerated the approach and even let the man hand him a small package that the crook quickly said contained marijuana. The tourist said he hoped that the man would just leave.

Then the man identified himself as an undercover anti-drug agent and displayed some type of identification. He threatened to jail the tourist for buying drugs unless he received money. The man said he had other agents standing by. The naïve tourist allowed himself to be escorted to an automatic teller when he paid the man hundreds of dollars.

The tourist admitted to being stupid but also noted that he only has been in Costa Rica a few days and has been warned that jails here are not nice places.

The man was embarrassed but said he agreed to tell his story in hopes of helping others avoid the same fate.

An analysis of the crooks approach suggested that there might be multiple traps. For example, the man invited his victim to share a drink at a nearby bar. That evokes memories of the so-called Viper Lady who worked the downtown for several years. She would lure a victim to a bar where he was drugged and yielded credit cards, debit cards and PIN numbers.
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Big mistake

The technique seems to be a variation on the old badger game where a man is tricked into a compromising situation with a woman only to have a man claiming to be her husband show up. Blackmail is the goal here, too.

The scammer Wednesday appeared to have acquaintances within the Mercado Central. The victim said he exchanged greetings with some individuals.  He said he goes by the name of  Antony or Johnny and claims to be from Utah. He speaks accented English fluently, according to the victim.

Wednesday the short man had black hair gelled in short spikes and wore a light blue basketball jersey and cargo shorts, the victim said.

A check of news files seemed to suggest that this fake drug deal technique was something new here.

Caja cites a steady flow of abused adult patients
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Abuse of the elderly does not get as much press coverages as similar crimes, such as child abuse, but there appears to be significant numbers of cases in Costa Rica.

The  Hospital Nacional de Geriatría y Gerontología reported that there have been 249 persons treated this year that were considered elderly abuse patients.

Physicians noted that not all abuse is physical. They cited psychological abuse, abuse by neglect and even sexual abuse of patients who mainly are 75 years and older. Taking the money or goods of the elderly without their permission also is considered abuse.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social outlined
 the situation here as part of marking an international day against elderly abuse.

The description of a typical victim is grim.  At least 70 percent are female and many have an emotional tie to their abuser, who may well be a family member. In many cases the family has a history of types of abuse. Frequently either the elderly individual or the care giver suffers from depression. Sometimes alcohol or drug abuse is involved.

There have been several murders this year in which offspring killed a parent or a grandparent to obtain money for drugs.

Vilma García, who specializes in adult care for the Caja, urged the public to be aware and to report possible cases of elderly abuse. 

Student health trumps commercial liberty, court says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The state has the power to restrict  commercial freedoms under certain circumstances, including forbidding the sale of certain food products to students within a school.

That was the decision announced Wednesday in a vendors' appeal against a new public school ruling restricting the sale of foods high in fats, sugar, salts and calories.

The decision was reached last week.

The Ministerio de Educación Pública issued a decree .in January before the start of the current school year
 that regulated and limited the sale of certain products at food operations that managed concessions inside schools.

The Sala IV said it recognized that the rules ere to protect the health of students.

The court also cited World Health Organization and other international guidelines that urged governments to adopt policies to guide students to a health lifestyle, according to a summary issued by the Poder Judicial.

The decision also noted that the students are minors and so the ministry can restrict liberty of commerce inside schools

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Sala IV ducks one appeal
on new tax on corporations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected a second appeal against the new tax on corporations. But the magistrates did not rule on the new law itself.

It said that the appeal was premature and that there were other steps that the person making the appeal should follow before bringing the case to the Sala IV.

There are three more appeals still pending in the constitutional court against the tax which is levied on every active and inactive corporation or similar legal entity.

The appeal that was rejected said that the sanctions in the law were not reasonable.

Trafficking in persons forum
has goal of promoting new law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's coalition against trafficking in persons plans a public forum in July to analyze and back a law on this topic that is in the Asamblea Legislativa.

The Coalición Nacional Anti Trata de Personas is coordinated by  Marcela Chacón Castro, vice minister of Gobernación y Polícia.

The Fundación Friedrich Ebert, will support the forum, which is scheduled to include panelists representing various institutions, the legislature, academic circles and the political arena. The goal is to eradicate trafficking in persons, said a release.

Traffic police will close
Ruta 32 three times Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The road agency and traffic police will close Ruta 32 three times Sunday so engineers can make studies of the Rio Virilla bridge. This is the bridge that is near the  Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.

The roadway will be closed form 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., from noon until 12:30 p.m. and from 5 to 5:40 p.m., said the  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

This is the highway that connects San José with the Caribbean coast.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 21, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 123
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Women's vision is a safe house for youngsters in sex trade
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What happened in your past doesn’t have to dictate your future.  This is the message Georgia native Holly Lynch gives to young Costa Rican girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. 

Ms. Lynch is a part of the organization Seeds for Hope. The goal to open a house in the central Pacific for girls, ages 12 to 17, who once were forced to exploit their body, and not just provide them a place to live, but education and skills for the future.

“Just because they have been sexually exploited doesn’t mean their life is over,” Ms. Lynch said.

Her journey with working with teens began when Ms. Lynch was a volunteer at the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

 She said she thought it was destiny when she met Claire Brackmann, a current Peace Corps volunteer, in January during a vacation trip to Costa Rica.  Ms. Brackmann introduced Ms. Lynch to her idea of starting a home for young women in the sex trade, and Ms. Lynch joined the project.

In April, Ms. Lynch gave up her life in the States to live with a host family in Costa Rica, and began Tica Toes as a way to get girls jobs. The girls make and sell a jewelry product that resembles an anklet but connects to a toe.  It’s all made out of buttons.

The nine girls who are in Tica Toes are young. Some are pregnant and some have children.

“Some are not sure who the fathers are.  A lot were raped between the ages of 6 and 8,” Ms. Lynch said.   For the girls, prostitution had been going on for generations. Their mothers sold their bodies as a source of income, and they are expected to do the same.

Without an education, and with children it made it hard to leave that life, she noted. “For one girl it became a cycle where mother and daughter will go out as a pair,” said Ms. Lynch.

Tica Toes shows the girls that there other ways to make money.  All the proceeds go towards buying rice, beans, diapers and other essentials the girls need for survival. The girls also receive education on healthy lifestyles. 

With a master’s in business from The Citadel, Ms. Lynch cites her background and her faith as factors in her success.

“This is definitely a calling from God.  Yea, I was making a lot of money in the States but this is more important and will change the future.  I know the Lord has some really big plans.”
Holly Lynch
Holly Lynch photo
 Ms. Lynch is buying buying rice, beans and other staples
 for the girls involved in the project.

Tico toes
Holly Lynch photo
This is an example of Tica Toes.

According to Ms. Lynch, when asked what she wanted in the future one girl responded that she wanted an education and to learn to speak English so her baby doesn’t have to do the same thing she did.

Once the Seeds of Hope house gets established, probably in July, Ms. Lynch will live with the girls. 

Until then, the organization needs help to raise the money needed to pull off the project.   More information is available on the Web site.

Lawmakers OK land transfer for new train station in Alajuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A section of the legislature approved the transfer of land from state ownership to that of the Municipalidad de Alajuela.  The $7 million tract will be the site for a new rail station.

The locationn is between Juan Santamaría airport and an area known as Bajo Cañas. Municipal officials are planning an elaborate station that also will serve as a terminal for buses.

The final approval came from what is known as the  Comisión
Plena Segunda, which is a subdivison of the full assembly that has complete authority to approve measures that are not highly controversial.

The action Wednesday  improved the possibility that Alajuela will get train service next year. At the very least, work will begin on the tracks by then.

The  Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles is gradually expanding the valley train line to the east and the west. Passengers will be able to ride from Alajuela to Cartago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 21, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 123
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University founder held for putting her students to work
By the .A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained the founder of a university after students complained that they were forced to work after getting a scholarship.

The detained woman is María de los Ángeles Madrigal Monge, head of the Universidad Creativa, which had three locations in the Central Valley: Sabanilla, San Pedro and Zapote. Agents searched them all. They also searched her home and a farm in Acosta where students complained they were made to build a retaining wall in exchange for the scholarship.

The situation was made public by reporting on a local radio station.

The Poder Judicial said that the woman was questioned formally by prosecutors from the organized crime section and that she was remanded to a cell operated by the judicial Investigating Organization for an appearance today before a judge.

The Poder Judicial described the case as one of labor exploitation.

The dozen or so students worked as domestics and even as bartenders during school events, according to the allegations.
The university boasts 15 distinct majors that are designed to stimulate creativity.
arrested university founder
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Agents take Ms. Madrigal to a wating car for transport.

Instead of scholarships, the program that is being investigated appears to be more like work-study situations.

Such work-study positions are common at many universities.

Rio summit opens with pledge of $175 billion for transport
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Leaders from more than 100 nations began meeting in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday for the first day of a three-day United Nations environmental summit.

The leaders are expected to put the finishing touches on a draft document approved by diplomats from more than 190 nations that spells out a number of goals aimed at lifting billions of people out of poverty through sustainable development.

Opening the conference Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said officials are now in sight of a historic agreement. He said, "The world is watching to see if words will translate into action" and called on those at the summit not to waste this opportunity.

In a podcast this week, Bindu Lohani , the Asian Development Bank's vice president for knowledge management, spoke about the importance of the so-called "Sustainable Development Goals" for Asia.

"Asia is growing fast economically," said Lohani.  "We project by 2050, more than 50 percent of global economy will be in Asia. Asia is also rich in ecosystems, and therefore, very vulnerable. So with the sustainable development goals in mind, we would be able to develop Asia, still have growth, but we'd also be able to take care of the social and the environmental concerns at the same time."

But environmental activists say the draft document is too weak and has no enforceable mechanisms.

Stephen Howes, an environmental analyst at the Australian National University, said it is not surprising the diplomats failed to agree on any concrete actions in the document, because nations must first reach a domestic consensus before taking any action. 

"So it's not as if it's impossible for countries to agree on targets in general, but I guess in the area of environment, it's become so contentious," said Howes.  "I mean there are now detailed negotiating processes underway, in just about all of the areas that have been discussed in Rio. And it's not really possible to cut across those negotiating processes, each of them have its own dynamics, its own constraints, its own momentum, and in a sense they have to be respected.  And Rio can just give us a sort of overall blessing to those, it can't cut across them."
But Howes says the Rio summit has already succeeded by producing a document, unlike the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and six other multilateral development banks announced Wednesday at the summit that they will invest $175 billion in the next decade to help implement more environmentally-friendly transportation solutions in developing countries.

The president of the Asian Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda, told a news conference that rapid motorization is creating more congestion, air pollution, traffic accidents and greenhouse gas emissions, but he said developing countries have the opportunity for a greener future.

The other banks joining in the transport pledge are the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.

Mayors of dozens of the world's biggest cities held their own summit in the Brazilian capital Tuesday to discuss measures they have already undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the world's cities have recognized they have a responsibility to take action, as they are responsible for up to 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emission.

"Even as progress at national and international level has faltered, it's fair to say that world cities have forged ahead," said Bloomberg.  "And, the reason for that is clear — mayors, the great pragmatists on the world stage who are directly responsible for the well being for the majority of the world's people, just don't have the luxury to simply talk about change and not deliver it.''

The measures the mayors say they have undertaken include improved waste management practices, more efficient street lighting and electric-powered municipal transport. 

More than 40,000 people, including environmental activists and business executives, are attending the Rio Plus 20 summit.  The gathering marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark first Rio Earth summit that paved the way to the 1997 Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause global warming.

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Obama invokes privilege
to deny Congress data

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For the first time, President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege, a power used by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government to deny requests for documents or reject subpoenas to compel testimony by senior officials.  Obama acted before a congressional committee voted along party lines to cite the U.S. attorney general for contempt.

​​Obama invoked the rarely-used power in response to a request from Attorney General Eric Holder, who is involved in an 18 month investigation into Fast and Furious, a failed sting operation in which U.S. authorities permitted some 2,000 guns originating in the United States to flow into Mexico as part of efforts to identify and dismantle arms trafficking networks.

Gun-walking, as it is known, is prohibited under Department of Justice rules, but was used on a trial basis during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Two of the weapons later were found to have been used in the shooting death of a U.S. border patrol agent.

Holder, who heads the Department of Justice, turned over more than 7,000 documents to lawmakers and wanted assurances that additional information he might supply would satisfy a subpoena from the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Holder and Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican, failed to reach a compromise.  The committee voted 23 to 17 to cite Holder for contempt, but not before a heated debate erupted between Democrats and Republicans.

Another hearing on Muslims
draws response from chairman

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A senior U.S. lawmaker held the fifth in a series of congressional hearings Wednesday on alleged radicalization within the American Muslim community.  The House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security focused on the response from the U.S. Muslim community to the hearings, which have generated a great deal of controversy and media attention.

Committee Chairman Peter King opened the hearing by defending the basic premise of examining the extent of radicalization of America's Muslim community.  The New York Republican said the issue is of serious concern to many senior national security officials in the Obama administration and that the hearings should have garnered bipartisan support.

"Yet, from the moment I announced the hearings, I was attacked by politically correct special interests and their unthinking allies in the media led by The New York Times," he said. "More than 1,000 protesters came out in the rain to rally against me in Times Square the Sunday before the first hearing."

King's invited witnesses included several representatives from the U.S. Muslim community, including physician Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.  Jasser spoke out strongly in support of the hearings, saying it is crucial to differentiate Islam from the extremist political ideology of Islamism, which he says is trying to hijack his religion.

"Since your hearings began, so many Muslims told us that they were tired of having their identities stolen by two groups:  one is the radicals that commit acts of terrorism, and the other are the grievance groups, whose denials, lawsuits and cries of bigotry have actually caused more negativity toward Islam and Muslims than bridge-building," he said.

Other witnesses from the nation's Muslim community agreed, saying that an open discussion of the problem of radicalization does not infringe on their civil liberties or imply that they believe that all Muslim Americans are violent extremists.  All of the witnesses and lawmakers at the hearing agreed that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Americans are peaceful and law-abiding citizens.

But some Democratic lawmakers said they believe the focus of the hearings should be broader, and that they worried about the perceptions created by focusing on a particular religious group.

"I hope that the hearings did not perpetuate the notion that the United States is at war with Islam," said ranking Democratic committee member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. "Such a notion would only help the recruitment efforts of al-Qaida and similar groups."

Committee Democrats invited Faiza Patel to testify before the panel.  Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said it is wrong to focus on the U.S. Muslim community because they have been very cooperative with law enforcement officials in counterterrorism efforts.

"Polling by the Pew Research Center shows that vast majorities of American Muslims have consistently held the view that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified," Patel said.

Previous committee hearings addressed issues such as the threat of radicalization of American Muslims in U.S. prisons, recruitment by the al-Shabab extremist group and the threat posed to U.S. military communities.  Chairman King did not say whether he plans to hold more hearings.

Experts links U.S. and Israel
to sophisticated Flame virus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. cyber security expert says it is pretty likely the United States and Israel are behind a sophisticated computer virus that appears to have been used to gather intelligence about Iran's nuclear program.

Tofino Security's chief technology officer, Eric Byres, said there are only a few countries in the world with the resources to develop something as advanced as the so-called Flame virus.

The Washington Post newspaper reports Israeli and U.S. security agencies used Flame to collect information about Iran's preparation for a cyber attack aimed at slowing its nuclear program.

Byres says the virus can be used in a variety of ways.

"The primary focus of Flame as it is currently configured appears to be stealing or collecting intelligence, and that can be everything from what we call autoCAD drawings about factories, to emails, to even things like voice conversations or video of what is happening in the office around the computer that is infected," said Byres.

An Iranian state-run media report says Communications and Technology Minister Reza Taqupour has lodged complaints with unspecified international organizations about alleged state cyber-terrorism.  The report said Iranian officials blame detected computer viruses, including Flame, on Israel and certain Western countries.

Earlier this month, The New York Times said U.S. President Barack Obama authorized cyber attacks on Natanz, Iran's main nuclear-enrichment facility.   The report said the so-called Stuxnet computer virus was used to hamper operations at the site.

Byres says analysis reports indicate the Flame virus may be more targeted than Stuxnet.

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Latin America news
Starbucks expands elsewhere
as Escazú store here opens

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Starbucks Coffee Company has reaffirmed its commitment to Latin America with two major openings: its first store in Costa Rica and its first Farmer Support Center in South America located in Colombia.

“Starbucks business outside the U.S. is a key part of the company’s future, and Latin America continues to play an important role,” said Cliff Burrows, president, Starbucks Americas. “As a coffee company, we source the majority of our coffee from Latin America. We’re dedicated to not only expanding our store presence here, but also deepening our relationships with farmers, their families and the community.”

Together with joint-venture partner Corporación de Franquicias Americanas, Starbucks opened the door of the first Starbucks location in Costa Rica Wednesday. The coffeehouse, located in Avenida Escazú, features Starbucks premium single-origin coffee, Bella Vista F.W. Tres Rios Costa Rica.

“Costa Rica produces some of the world’s most bright and flavorful beans and remains a key coffee growing region for us,” said Pablo Arizmendi-Kalb, vice president and general manager, Starbucks Latin America. “We have sourced coffee from Costa Rica since our founding in 1971, as well as operated a farmer support center in Costa Rica since 2004. We’re excited about the opening of the first retail store to introduce our high-quality coffees and the unique Starbucks experience to our customers in this market.”

Costa Rican-grown coffees tend to be consistent in taste and quality and serve as the backbone for many signature coffee blends, the company said. Bella Vista F.W. Tres Rios Costa Rica is a single-origin coffee that displays a vibrant acidity and a clean finish, it added. This coffee was grown with meticulous care and attention to every detail and is a great example of a coffee with straightforward flavor, the company said.

In addition, Starbucks is opening its first farmer support center in South America located in Manizales, Colombia. Agronomists and quality experts will work directly with Colombia’s coffee farmers to provide resources and expertise to promote responsible coffee-growing practices that improve quality and enhance the size of the yield.

“We believe that our long-term success is linked to the success of the thousands of farmers who grow our coffee around the world,” said Peter Gibbons, executive vice president, Starbucks Global Supply Chain Operations. “Our comprehensive farmer support includes offering them access to the tools, information and capital they need to advance the methods that support the longevity of their farms.”

Through globally-tested coffee knowledge, best practices and with the support of Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, Starbucks said it aims to improve the lives of local farmers, their families and communities, while reducing the environmental impact of the region’s coffee-growing activities. This will not only enhance the breadth and depth of the region’s coffee leadership, but also deliver tangible and significant benefits for local farmers, communities and the economy, it said.

Starbucks opened a farmer support centers in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2004 and one in Kigali, Rwanda in 2009 and started ground operations in Mbeya, Tanzania in 2011. Later this year, Starbucks is also scheduled to open a center in Yunnan, China.

In other parts of Latin America, Brazil remains a strategic, long-term growth opportunity for Starbucks. In 2010, the company took full ownership of its business in Brazil and plans to open several hundred stores in the next five years. Also, last year Starbucks strengthened its relationship with Alsea, the joint-venture partner in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Together with Alsea, Starbucks plans to open more than 300 new stores in Argentina and Mexico by 2015.

Currently, Starbucks operates more than 560 stores across Latin America and employs about 8,050 employees.

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