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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, June 26, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 125       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Post office will be tri-toned
Say good-bye to that drab institutional green

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Work has started on the main post office building, and the institutional green color will become tri-toned, although the exact shades have not yet been selected.

The 92-year-old structure is in the heart of San Jose's downtown adjacent to the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica tower and facing the venerable Club Unión and a small park that collects a sampling of society each day.

The reinforced concrete building looks a lot like an old-time train station with 20-foot interior walls and tile floors that echo footsteps.

Sandra Quirós, director of the Centro de Patrimonio of the culture ministry, said the contractor will present three options for colors in the next few weeks. Instead of the drab green, the different colors will be used to highlight the architectural contours of the building.

The real job is something like dentistry. The concrete has developed cracks, and these cracks allow water into the steel reinforcings.

So workers have to carve out old concrete and make repairs to the metal, if needed.

The Spanish architect Luis Llach of Barcelona designed the structure. He also is the architect for the elegant Basílica de los Angeles en Cartago.

Ms. Quirós said the work would take about three months. This is a restoration and not just repairs because attention will be given to restoring the architectural ornaments and the facade, officials said.

In addition to fixing the cracks and steel underneath, workers will restore 24 doors and
Post office work
Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud 
y Deportes photo 
Workers start to tackle the job

nine windows. The paint will cover 2,700 square meters or about 29,000 square feet.

The postal building was one of the historic structures designed a winner in the 2008 heritage contest run by the center. The Centro de Patrimonio is investing 100 million colons or about $175,000 in the job.

At the same time Correos de Costa Rica will be investing nearly four times as much to make other repairs including bringing the electrical system up to date.

Officials have said that the central postal office will continue to be in service during the repairs.

Runaway mom in court today fighting extradition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nicole Kater, another runaway U.S. mom, will be in the Tribunal de Casación Penal de San Ramón during an oral session fighting her extradition today.

The bulk of Costa Rican officialdom is lined up against the U.S. government, which is seeking her presence to answer a charge of international child abduction.

Opposing the extradition is the Ministerio Público. Chief prosecutor Francisco Dall'Anese is on record saying the woman has suffered physical abuse, although California sources have not verified this. Also on her side is the Defensoría de los Habitantes and the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres.
Ms. Kater came into the hands of law enforcement in April 2008. She was accused of kidnapping her young daughter, Tierra Zion Gehl-Kater, and flying to Costa Rica, just 11 days before a custody hearing in Humboldt County, California. The court had forbidden Ms. Kater to take her daughter out of the county before the hearing scheduled for Aug. 17, 2005, said agents.

Ms. Kater has been fighting extradition and even sought refugee status. She gave birth to another child while she was living here illegally.

Both Costa Rica and the United States subscribe to an international treaty that says such cases should be heard in the court where the case originally was filed, but Costa Ricans respect motherhood. Ms. Kater has been airing her case on television.

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Security minister stresses
successes in drug fight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration, stung by repeated doses of bad news about narcotics, is going on the offensive for the International Day of Fighting Against Drugs, which is today. At least as far as public relations is concerned.

Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, admitted Thursday that the country does not have the resources to fight against narcotics and drug use. A week earlier, the nation's chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese also was lamenting the lack of resources.

Ms. del Vecchio's ministry, Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, issued a statement in which it said police under the Óscar Arias Sánchez government had confiscated 80,000 kilos of cocaine. The ministry reported the dismemberment of 30 drug organizations, 25 national and five international, this year. It also said that 241 such organizations were broken up since Arias took office in May 2006.

The country is in the middle of a big scandal now over the shipment of two containers of frozen sharks to México. The sharks had packages of cocaine in their bellies, some 900 kilos. Officials are trying to figure out how a cocaine shipment that large managed to evade all the controls that are in place to catch drugs.

Not only that, there is a strong suggestion that there were many other shipments before the one intercepted by the Mexicans. The case also shows the infiltration by the Mexican narcotics cartels of Costa Rica.

In Golfito, officials have been making raids and found houses that had concrete tunnels and storage facilities underground. Who did the inspections on these properties, officials wonder.

The situation is so confused that police raided the wrong property a week ago. And they still are trying to check out the ownership.

Ms. del Vecchio urged the police forces to act in a more coordinated fashion. She supervises the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, the Fuerza Pública, immigration and the Policía de Control de Drogas.  The Judicial Investigating Organization is under the control of the judiciary. She also said that the port captains, customs and officials at airports work together.

One spin off of the tons of drugs passing through Costa Rica is the increase in the amount of crack cocaine that is available. Smugglers usually pay for fuel and protection with kilos of cocaine, which then enters the local market.

Ms. del Vecchio said that her forces had confiscated 600,000 doses of crack cocaine in the last nine months. She expressed concern over the impact of this drug on children and the society.

Anti-drug police appear to make two or more arrests each day in Costa Rica. Television crews are invited to follow them and record how they break into a home of a suspected criminal. But many of these dealers are low-level neighborhood types. Drugs are an epidemic in the poorer areas of the country.

Just Thursday drug police detained a husband and wife in Tirrases de Curridabat and a Cruz Roja volunteer in Zapote that they described as a major dealer.

Big loan gets first OK
from Asamblea Legislativa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers gave first approval to an $850 million loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo Thursday. The measure probably will get a second and final approval next week.

The action was met with elation at Casa Presidencial. President Óscar Arias Sánchez is counting on the loan to pay for many improvements in the national infrastructure.

Included are six separate loans that were approved as a package. Some $200 million will go to municipalities under the Arias plan.

The bulk of the remainder will go to the transport ministry for road projects, including work on the Interamerican highway north of Puntarenas.

Judge who freed drug suspect
reported back on the job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judiciary has reinstated a judge who was suspended when he set free a narcotics suspect.

The judge is Ricardo Madrigal Jiménez. He was suspended June 11 after the daily newspaper La Nación reported that he acted on the case even though another judge had been assigned to the case and had ordered the individual to continue to be held in preventative detention.

As soon as the suspect, identified by the last name of Cuero, was freed at San Sebastian prison, he left the country.

The Poder Judicial issued a three paragraph statement Thursday saying that the judge was back on the job. But there was no explanation, just the statement that the judiciary's  Consejo Superior had reinstated the man. He works in the Juzgado Penal de Goicoechea.

Restrict activities for vote,
tribunal asks the nation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones asked the country Thursday to avoid any sports or cultural gatherings on Feb. 6 to 7. The tribunal said it feared that large gatherings of people would prevent other individuals from getting to the polls for the general election.

The election is on a Sunday, Feb. 7, so the tribunal's request was unusual. There usually is not a lot of traffic on the weekend.

The tribunal also announced that Oct. 7 is the last day for youngsters to obtain a cédula so they can vote or for others to report change of address. Such changes can be made at any of the 32 offices of the tribunal. Some  264,797 are eligible to cast their first vote, the tribunal estimated.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 125

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Used tires are ending up holding back the river in Cañas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency officials will be in Barrio Hotel in Cañas today to study a test dike made with used vehicle tires.

The project is an effort by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the national emergency commission.

The real test will come as officials evaluate how the tire dike withstands this years rainy season.

Putting layers of tires to use is one prevention technique passed on by the Japanese experts. Work was done by members of the community. The tires are set in place with stakes and filled with dirt.

There is a double advantage to the process. The tires are a favorite breeding place for mosquitoes that carry dengue and malaria. Volunteers fighting those diseases already have collected more than 6,000 old tires this year.

The ceremony marking the completion of the dike will be held in the neighborhood's Salón Comunal.  Local youngsters even have put together a ballet of the dike workers, which will be performed by about 15 community youngsters during the morning event.

The ceremony will move outside to the dike where trees will be planted to stabilize the flood control structure.
The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y
dike construction
Workers apply another layer of tires to the test dike

Atención de Emergencias also will want to analyze the financial considerations connected with the dike. The agency is in charge of flood prevention as well as response to floods.

Great new freeway seems to just move the traffic jams
My long-time friend Ann and I were having lunch together for the first time in years.  Not long after I moved to Costa Rica and joined The Little Theatre Group, I met Ann, a long-time member of the theater world as an actor, director and teacher of both. We became roommates. She is also an adventurer, and I lost her as a roommate because she took off for a safari through Africa. 

We both love to cook and love good food, so we met for lunch at the Park Café, my “neighborhood” restaurant, which, in fact, is one of the foremost gourmet restaurants in San José, if not Costa Rica. 

Ann, who is also a journalist, said she didn’t know how I managed to come up with a column every week.  I confided that this week was really giving me trouble because I could not find a topic.

I have been home a lot and, like much of the TV audience, have been watching Iranian people struggling to have their votes counted — and learning that freedom and democracy can be costly, even when supported by the United States, as the people of Iraq have learned. I have listened to President Barack Obama being careful not to involve the U.S. as responsible for the situation, which, as he has said, is about Iran and its people, not about the U.S. 

He has had his very vocal critics who feel he should loudly condemn the regime and tell the protesters we are behind them.  Sen. John McCain and others have insisted that the U.S. has always defended and supported democracies around the world and Obama did not “appreciate” the situation.  I thought McCain was a student of history, but he seems to have forgotten the times the governments of the U.S. have not supported democracies but rather dictators and ruthless military leaders when it suited their political aims.  I have yet to hear a reporter call him on that.  Well, all countries have their myths.

That is what has preoccupied me this past week because I have gone out rarely, and when I have, I have taken a bus.  Not so for Ann.  She lives in Santa Ana and teaches English in San José.  And she has a car.  Her concern has been the change in the driving regulations that affect drivers. 

Some time ago, in order to reduce the heavy traffic coming into San José weekdays, new rules were passed
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

designating which license numbers were allowed into the city on which days between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.  There was much grumbling and complaining until drivers began to notice and appreciate the reduction in traffic, adjust their habits or figure out sneaky ways to sidestep the rules.

Then someone decided to challenge the traffic control action as an infringement on human rights — in this case, the right to come and go freely, I guess.  He won his case and once again there are no restrictions on who can and who cannot drive into the city at will.

Now, according to Ann, the streets and highways are once again parking lots and a commute that used to take a half hour can stretch into an hour and a half.  I sympathize but can only share her pain when I occasionally take a taxi and watch that maria (meter) turn over as we sit in traffic. 

And there is an ironic twist to this.  The highway to Santa Ana and the way west has been under construction as workers build new lanes for months.  It is now up and running, so to speak, complete with tollbooths.  The big difference is there are many more tollbooths and the price has increased to 310 colones.  That can add up if you have to make several trips a day.  To avoid that, drivers are choosing to take the slower route of the “old road” between Santa Ana and Escazú and from Escazú to la Sabana.  These are two-lane roads. 

I have ridden on the new expanded freeway.  What a breeze!  The first time, I became disoriented as to where I was because we moved along so quickly.  Meanwhile, the road running through the center of San Rafael de Escazú has become a literal parking lot a good part of the day. 

But Costa Rica is upholding one of its own myths — that of upholding human rights.  And forgetting, one more time, to plan ahead for unexpected — and even expected — consequences.

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Republican and
Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 125

Our reader's opinion
Jacó development and high-rise projects caused tragedies
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Leo Plumley made some important points in his analysis Monday, June 22, of the Jacó high rise development projects that appear to be all but dead. Yet his analysis only touches on the real tragedies that these failed projects have produced.

Three years ago fast talking developers swept through Jacó like a tsunami driving up land prices and promising good returns to investors on their money. There were also promises to the municipality of an improved infrastructure and well paying jobs. Those were heady times, and weekly we were approached by realtors and persistent developers who offered us large sums of money for our beachfront property or the opportunity to own part of their projects in exchange for our property. “Gee,” we thought. “We’re millionaires.”  Yet we were more interested in our lifestyle than money, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The investors who are now waiting for the completion of their condominiums are probably the most visible and talked about victims of these projects as they do not have a title to the unfinished project they invested in, and, as the lawsuits mount, there is little possibility of them ever getting their money back. Yet, as they join the ranks of those who invested in Enron and WorldCom, they should not be pitied as all investment carries risk and those fortunate to have $100,000 plus to plop down on a beachfront condo in Costa Rica aren’t hurting. Pity those who built the projects, are now out of work and live one paycheck away from complete poverty.

A bigger loser was the municipality of Jacó which was lured by the many hints and promises of infrastructure improvements and job creation. The municipality ignored the complaints and petitions from residents who were plagued by property invasion and destruction and kept awake and on edge by 15-hour days/7 days a week work schedules.  The municipality also allowed many of the projects to continue without proper permits, turned a blind eye to the illegal drains that eroded the beach, and allowed large trucks and equipment to tear up the roads and bridges.

So what did Jacó get in return? As far as I can tell we ended up with a beach cleaning machine that looks a little like an old manure spreader we had on the ranch where I grew up. After a lot of fanfare and boasting on the part of the developers, the machine made a few runs up and down the beach and ended up working about as well as the stuff it was suppose to pick up. The private contractor who lost his contract over the machine mentioned at the time that the money spent on the machine and tractor to pull it could have bought two new trucks and provided year around employment for three to four workers. The town also lost a number of affordable and sustainable mom and pop hotels and cabinas that made Jacó the laid-back beach town so popular with Ticos and tourists.
Those of us who moved here so we could enjoy the beach with our children were also victims. Speaking for the many homeowners who were neighbors to one of these mega projects our property was seriously damaged, we were physically and verbally assaulted by the workers of the construction company, and it became impossible to raise children and live next to an almost nonstop construction. Up and down the beach the developer refused to build retaining walls so that adjacent property would slide into their projects. For two years concrete, concrete forms, tools, and garbage rained down on our heads and we are still chipping concrete off our house and patio and picking up rebar and garbage that fell from 10 floors.

So two years later we live in the shadow of a half completed 10-story condo project that is quickly being consumed by the corrosive salt air. At least the half dozen workers, who are chipping away at the project each day start after 8, take long lunch breaks and are gone by 5. On the other side of us and in back of our property which once boasted hundreds of coconut and almendros trees, a gaggle of scarlet macaws, squirrels and green parrots and a few cabinas is a wasteland strewed with mountains of construction garbage, dissembled cranes, lakes of standing water and piles of gravel, rock and rusting rebar. It kind of resembles those pictures of Hiroshima after Little Boy was dropped by the Enola Gay.

There is plenty of blame to spread around for the mess in Jacó. The muni should have responded to the complaints and should have never allowed the developers a free rein. The media who eagerly took the advertising dollars of the developers could have gotten out of their offices in San José and did a little investigative reporting rather than calling the developers and asking them to comment on what they thought of the mess they were creating in Jacó.

The developers themselves could have been “good neighbors” like they promised but greed and their egos got the best of them. Despite the ugliness of the half finished skeletons on either side of us we should count our blessings. Not all the condominium projects are ugly. A few, including Mr. Plumley’s project, are esthetically pleasing, well built and almost finished. The beach is slowly rebuilding itself after it was eroded away by the nonstop discharge of water from the projects.  The hundreds of almendros and coconut trees that the developers knocked down are reseeding themselves with a little help from those of us who live on the beach. The squirrels and green parrots are back and yesterday we were awakened at 5:15 by macaws fighting over almendros outside our bedroom window.

Goyo, the beach cleaner, is out everyday with his three kids and old Toyota truck and it almost seems like Jacó is back to normal.

Steven Locke
Jacó Beach

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 125

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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.

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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.


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Obama administration seeks
expanded hate crime law

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is calling on Congress to pass a new, expanded hate crimes law that would permit the federal government to prosecute cases of violence based on disability, gender and sexual orientation.  Democrats have been trying to update the current hate crimes law for more than a decade, which already makes it a federal crime to attack someone because of their race, creed or color.

Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, reminded those at Thursday's hearing of the recent shooting death of an African American security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., saying hate crimes are still a problem in America.

"We know two weeks ago, just blocks away from this hearing room, a man entered the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, he shot and killed Steven Johns, a security guard," said Leahy. "It was a cowardly action of a white supremacist, it resulted in the death of a 39-year-old husband, father of an 11-year-old son." 

Attorney General Holder said getting the law passed after 11 years of attempts in Congress is a personal priority for him and for President Barack Obama.

"The president and I seek swift passage of this legislation because hate crimes victimize not only individuals, but entire communities," said Holder. "Perpetrators of hate crimes seek to deny the humanity that we all share, regardless of the color of our skin, the God to whom we pray, or the person who we choose to love."

The bill being debated, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act, is named after a gay man killed in the state of Wyoming in 1998. It would allow federal prosecution of violence committed because of gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim.

Several Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned whether new legislation is necessary, since violent crimes are usually prosecuted by state and local officials. 

"Murders occur all over America every day," said Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee. "Robberies, assaults, rapes, burglaries occur every day, and those are handled by our state and local jurisdictions.  Probably 90 plus percent of criminal prosecutions in America are done by our states and local governments."

Sessions of Alabama said the original civil rights act was based on a demonstrated need, because in some parts of the country, state and local authorities were reluctant to prosecute certain crimes because of racial prejudice.  He said he remains unconvinced that there is a similar need today on cases related to gender or sexual orientation. 

Holder responded that there is still a need for federal involvement on occasion, if localities lack the will or the resources for effective investigation or prosecution of hate crimes.

Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations shows the number of hate crimes per year has remained relatively unchanged for the past 10 years, with 7,624 hate crime incidents in 2007, the last year for which figures are available.   Holder said statistics show hate crimes against Hispanics have increased for four years in a row. 

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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 26, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 125

Latin American news digest
Honduras leader claims
he is victim of a coup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

The effort by the president of Honduras to extend his term in office seems to have backfired, and elements of the military, the congress and others are lined up against him.

The president, Manuel Zelaya, is a socialist, and is a fan of Cuba and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of Chávez and other socialist leaders by changing the country's constitution to permit him to seek a second term.

The perception outside of Honduras divides on ideological lines.

Miguel D’Escoto, the U.N. General Assembly president and a Nicaraguan Sandinista, condemned what he called an attempted coup in Honduras. Wednesday, Zelaya fired  Romeo Vásquez, the nation's top general.

The minister of defense quickly resigned.

Zelaya accused Vásquez of not supporting the president's efforts to have a non-binding referendum on the constitution Sunday.

Reports from Honduras do not mention any coup activities, and the general filed a legal appeal. The nation's supreme court ordered him reinstated, but Zelaya says he will not follow the court decision. It is Zelaya himself who is characterizing the activities as a coup or a golpe del estado, as it is called in Spanish.

D’Escoto told a news conference in New York that he thought the ugly days of military coups and the interruption of democratic processes were over.

The Honduran congress is considering impeachment proceedings against the president, but Zelaya claims the body does not have that power.

The country is suffering from the world economic situation, and this situation is the worst political crisis in years. In addition the country was just hit by a major earthquake.

All the confusion would seem to have a negative effect on voter turnout Sunday.

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