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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, June 26, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 126        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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The Nicoya-Nosara-Sámara highwaymen
Stickup arrests are bittersweet breakthrough for cops

By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After nearly three years of armed men ruling the highway from Nicoya to Nosara, police apprehended two suspects, they said. The only problem is that this is the third time the men have been arrested and — after less than 24 hours in jail— they are once again on the streets, said a judicial investigator. 

Delivery truck drivers who must travel through Nicoya have lived in fear of the rumors of the
road sign near samara
Bandits' playground
masked robbers who terrorize the highway. The armed men who are said to spring out of the brush and take money from drivers, are described by police as fast and extremely aggressive. The situation has not been good for tourism either.

Last week police got a huge break, said Fernando Briones Zúniga, director of the Fuerza Pública in the
Pacific coast town of Sámara. Two men with guns robbed a tourist of his Mitsubishi as he drove near a beach outside of Sámara, said Briones.

Police later located the stolen vehicle in Heredia and detained two suspects in the case, said Briones. But much to the dismay of Fuerza Pública officers in Sámara, said the director, the two suspects are walking free once again.

This was confirmed by the San José court press office as well as the Judicial Investigation Organization in Nicoya. The two suspects, Juan David Herrera Alpizar and Giovanni Barqueo Ulloa, were detained by officers in Heredia June 18, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The two men were released by a judge in Nicoya and now must sign in every 15 days, said a court spokeswoman.

This is the third time the two suspects have been arrested, according to William Obando, a judicial investigator in Nicoya. Like local police officers,  judicial investigators in Nicoya believe that the bandits who robbed the tourists are the same ones who have been robbing trucks on the highway, said Obando.

“Their actions, the way they commit their robberies, and their physical descriptions all match those of the highway band,” said Obando.

The suspects were arrested for the first time about two years ago, said Obando,  They were arrested a second time and served three months preventative prison, said the investigator. They were again released. The highway robberies began some months later.
polie director
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Fernando Briones Zúniga

The two suspects, Herrera and Barqueo, are from Gaúpiles. They must now sign in with judicial officials in Gaúpiles twice a month.

Judicial agents, like police officers, are disappointed with the legal system but continue to perform their duties, said Obando. “The laws in Costa Rica are very bad,” he said.

The band described by officers as mountain men loaded with weapons and in black ski masks, stops traffic and demands money from delivery truck drivers. After they have their loot, the band of robbers disappears back into the brush long before police arrive at the scene. A robber shot a guard in the fingers in March, officers reported at the time.

The robbers seemed to favor the stretch of unpaved road between Nosara and the hard-surfaced highway that connects Sámara and Nicoya. A handful of robberies took place in the view of tourists in the Playa Guiones area south of Nosara.

The highway band contains five to six men. “We know who they are,” said Obando, “but we can't detain them.” Another judicial agent mentioned in a March interview that the organized band of criminals were most likely from the Gaúpiles/Limón area where a similar string of highway robberies had taken place.

Numerous investigators and police officers have said the armed band appears and then disappears sometimes for days, sometimes for months. There were also various theories as to whether there was one or two armed bands robbing the semi-trucks.

A few police officers reported that with more road patrol they expected the highway robberies had stopped altogether.

But they will be back, according to Obando. “They are a very organized criminal group,” he said. And Briones in Sámara said that in his opinion with only six Fuerza Pública officers protecting nine separate towns, and only one motorcycle, resources are not nearly enough to stop crime.

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restrictded area
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes graphic
Map shows that area has grown north and south

Restricted city driving area
much larger than announced

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government has greatly expanded an area in which 20 percent of the nation's vehicles are forbidden to enter during peak hours each weekday.

The area outlined Wednesday in a presidential decree is much larger than the executive branch had announced.

The restricted zone runs from the Circunvalación on the south side of San José north to Cinco Esquinas de Tibás. When the program was instituted in 2005, the restricted zone ran from Avenida 9 in the north to Avenida 16 in  the south.

The decree that will be enforced starting this morning even covers Pavas some 100 meters east of Plaza Mayor. The eastern boundary is in San Pedro at Mall San Pedro and the Fuente de Hispanidad. To the west the restricted zone runs to La Uruca.

Although the earlier rules were an inconvenience from the drivers who happened to have the forbidden final digit of the day on his or her license plate, the new rules do not seem to allow any easy access by the unlucky vehicles to much of the center city.

The penalty for violation is 6,500 colons, counting taxes on the 5,000 colons ticket. The base amount is about $9.70.

The restrictions will be enforced from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Some 80 tránsito officers are expected to be enforcing the regulations during the initial period.

For today the forbidden last digits are 7 and 8.

The idea is to reduce traffic congestion and consumption of gasoline. There have been no serious studies of the results of the earlier experiment, and a lot of gasoline was expended by motorists trying to comply with the rules and skirt the downtown.

Miramar cultural fair
being held this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The third annual tourist fair of Miramar will be held in the Parque Municipal de Miramar in Montes de Oro, Puntarenas, from Friday to Sunday.

The fair is aimed at stimulating tourism interest in the Montes de Oro area by introducing participants to local foods and culture, as well as offering horseback tours, cloud forest and nature trails and cart rides, according to a Instituto Costarricense de Turismo release.

There will be a cultural inauguration event at 4 p.m. on Friday, a presentation of traditional local games Saturday at 2 p.m. and a painting workshop on Sunday at 2 p.m. along with other activities. The fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, and local crafts and art will be on sale up for display throughout, the release said.

The event is hosted by the Cámara de Empresarios Turísticos y Afines de Montes de Oro with the support of the tourism institute.

Three held after robbery
of woman in Los Laureles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers have arrested three men suspected of robbing a woman in Los Laureles in Escazú late Tuesday.

The victim was leaving her house near the Convento de las Hermanas Carmelitas when she was robbed of her purse and and about 2 million colons by a group of criminals, who then fled in a Hyundai Accent, according to a Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública release.

The suspects, two Costa Ricans identified by the last names Agüero Otárola and Biasetti Sancho, and a Cuban, Peña Toledo, were later apprehended along with two briefcases and a firearm, the release said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 26, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 126

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Beach dwellers organize to fight gigantic increases in taxes
By Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of Costa Ricans and foreigners whose occupancies are in jeopardy due to rising concession taxes in the Provincia de Puntarenas has rallied to appeal to the Ministerio de Hacienda for a break from the hikes of up to 1,600 percent.

Alan Masis, a Costa Rican lawyer, is one of the 30 residents involved in the debate with the ministry.

The Ministerio de Hacienda made assessments about how much the land was worth and "they came up with ridiculous amounts like $200 and $250 a square meter," he said. Of the ministry's assessments in December, he said “We are trying to demonstrate to them that those prices are not right according to real markets right now.”

The trouble stems from the maritime zone status of the property. The land along the beach is leased in 20-year periods by the municipalities to individuals and developers, and with the inflow of big-money developers like hotels, values have skyrocketed.

“My neighbor owns 2,500 square meters, and he has to pay $15,000 a year,” Masis said, “He was paying $200 a year.”

Masis's family has leased the land in Malpaís, Puntarenas, for 30 years, but now he says he may have to build a small hotel as well as pay the higher rates because his land is technically considered a “low density touristic” maritime zone, and not a residential area, so he must offer public services. He said he has been given a five-year deadline.

“I could do it in five years,” he said, “What I couldn't do is pay $25,000 and $30,000 a year, plus the sales taxes, plus the maintenance of the area, plus all the things that hotels have to pay.”

Masis's holding has not yet been reassessed, but rather than wait around for the notification, he and others have taken action, rallying behind Costa Rican tax lawyers to argue against the tax hikes.

“We formed a group of 30 people in January to sustain the appeal and to find a way to negotiate with . . .  Hacienda to get fair rates and fair assessments on our land or our concessions,” he said.

Several appeals have already been made to Hacienda by individuals whose land has been reassessed, but Masis says the reductions, if any, granted by the Hacienda will be minor. Representatives of Hacienda are reviewing documentation of past sale prices and will likely make their final decision in two or three months.

“The Hacienda doesn't want to understand the consequences. The government just wants to increase the money that they can collect,” he said, “This will disintegrate our community because many of us will have to leave.”

As the demand for land continues to rise in Costa Rica, the problem faced by Masis and others will only become worse as reassessments begin to push out individual leasers in favor of larger development and hotel companies, said the lawyer.

“There has been a lot of demand from people who want to live in this area and there is not too much land available so they put higher prices on it.” Masis said. He claims that if a resident cannot pay the tax then their land will be taken and sold off to richer developers:

“We have agreed to pay taxes, but in a reasonable amount!”

The situation became public in December when experts from the ministry reassessed the Municipalidad de Cóbano in the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Even the local mayor was hit with a major hike in the concession fee.

Bill allowing wiretapping of overseas Americans advances
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services

A so-called compromise surveillance bill would require U.S. government authorities to obtain individual court orders to wiretap Americans who are outside the United States and require a special court to give advance approval to the government's procedures for wiretapping operations.

But the bill would allow electronic eavesdropping on American targets without court orders in what are designated as emergency situations, allowing the government to submit justifications within one week.

The legislation to revise U.S. surveillance law survived a key test vote in the Senate Wednesday, despite opposition from some majority Democrats to a provision protecting telephone companies from possible privacy lawsuits.

The Senate could give final approval to the bill and send it to President George Bush for his signature before a congressional recess next week.  Senators voted 80 to 15 to proceed to the legislation — 20 more than the 60 votes necessary under Senate rules.

According to Roy Blunt of Missouri, leader of Republican in the House, his party does not believe that the courts should hold the ultimate decision over how and when terrorist communications are monitored overseas. 

The bill, which updates the 1978 Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, would expand the government's powers to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects while at the same time take steps to safeguard civil liberties.

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"We have produced a strong, smart policy that will meet the needs of our intelligence community and protect America's cherished civil liberties," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The bill would grant retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies that allegedly took part in the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — but only after a federal court determines they received legitimate requests from the government to participate in the program.

That provision has some Democrats furious. Said Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat "This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation. This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program – a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about."

"And this bill will grant the Bush Administration — the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years — expansive new authorities to spy on Americans’ international communications," said Feingold.

Phone companies face some 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretap program.

At least one Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, takes issue with that provision. "The idea that the executive branch of the government needs the explicit approval of the judiciary branch before collecting foreign intelligence information from foreign citizens in foreign countries is simply wrong-headed, and is contrary to our constitutional principles," he said.

The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last week, and President Bush has said he would sign it. The measure would replace a temporary surveillance law that had expired in February. The current legislation has a sunset clause that is effected in 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union also called the measure a capitulation and said Americans had lost the protection of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 26, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 126

Guancaste chamber still predicts more tourists are coming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If gas prices continue rising as they have been, tourism will be affected, but so far things are growing, said the executive director of the chamber of tourism in Guanacaste.

Despite worries from locals, the Cámara de Turismo Guanacasteca expects numbers to rise in the coming years, said the executive director, Mauricio Céspedes Mirabelli. “Everything depends on if these great price raises continue to increase. If the prices stay they same, we don't believe there will be problems, but if the rise continues at the rate we've seen, we believe it will affect the quantity of tourists that travel,” said Céspedes.

So far, however no flights have been cut from the Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quiros in Libería, said Céspedes, and tourists continue to arrive.

The number of passengers arriving to the Libería airport have grown every year since 2002, according to the chambers numbers. From 2007 to 2008, passengers increased by 11 percent and the chamber expects a 10 percent increase this year and next year, said Céspedes.
chamber projections
A.M. Costa Rica-Cámera de Turismo graphic

As to whether numbers of tourists from specific countries was changing, Céspedes said the numbers in Guanacaste remained the same. Some 70 percent of tourists arriving at the Libería airport are from the United States and 25 percent are from Canada, he added.

México says it will extradict major drug trafficking figure from Tijuana
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico says it will extradite the leader of a Tijuana-based drug cartel to the United States where he is wanted on five charges, including drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime and racketeering.

The Mexican attorney general's office said Wednesday the Mexican government has agreed to extradite Benjamin Arellano Felix, who faces trial in a U.S. federal court in California.

The decision overturns a Mexican judge's opinion that a trial in the United States would mean trying him on the same charges twice. The attorney general's office said the charges against Arellano Felix in the United States are
different than the charges he was tried for in Mexico.

Arellano Felix's defense attorney says he will appeal the order within 15 days.

Arellano Felix headed a powerful Tijuana-based drug cartel, just across the U.S. border from San Diego, California, until his arrest in 2002. He is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into California between 1990 and 2000.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed some 24,000 troops and federal agents across the country to battle drug traffickers. Authorities have cracked down on the Arellano Felix drug cartel, arresting or killing the brothers who took turns running it.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Federal Reserve rejects
any change in U.S. rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After steadily cutting interest rates for much of the past year, the U.S. central bank has decided to keep them unchanged, while signaling concerns about inflation that could trigger interest rate hikes in the future.

The U.S. Federal Reserve typically raises interest rates during periods of brisk economic activity that tend to boost inflationary pressures and usually cuts interest rates when the economy falters and inflationary risks are low. 

But the U.S. economy remains weak and American consumer confidence continues to plunge, while inflationary pressures, led by rising energy costs, have been growing.

Further interest rate cuts could heighten the risk of inflation, yet raising interest rates could send a weak economy into a full-blown recession.

If each option poses undesirable risks, perhaps the best course of action is to maintain the status quo. That appears to be the Fed's thinking, at least for now, as policy makers chose to keep interest rates unchanged at their two-day Washington meeting that ended Wednesday.

In a statement, the central bank said recent interest rate cuts should set the stage for a return to moderate economic growth, although it could not discount the possibility of a recession, saying that "downside risks" to growth remain. At the same time, the Fed said, in light of price increases for energy and other commodities, uncertainty about the inflation outlook remains high.

Given that uncertainty, many economists say the Federal Reserve will continue to face tough decisions in the months ahead.

"The Fed is facing probably one of the most difficult circumstances that it has faced in three decades," said Julia Coronado, a senior economist with the New York-based investment firm, Barclays Capital.

"We are seeing some pretty pervasive inflationary pressures. They learned in the '70s that you cannot successfully accommodate an energy price shock with lower rates. That, ultimately, it does fan the flames of inflation."

In the 1970s, the United States faced similar circumstances of slow growth amid rising prices — what economists refer to as stagflation.

The U.S. economy returned to robust growth with low inflation in the 1980s, but only after the Federal Reserve dramatically raised interest rates and America suffered a deep recession. 

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