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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, June 28, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 127               E-mail us   
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Immigration director hopes for January
Expats might be able to renew residencies at bank

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

By January the immigration department chief wants to have a system in place so that expats can renew their residency documents by going to the local bank instead of enduring a long process at the central office.

The expectation was advanced Wednesday by Mario Zamora Cordero, who likened the proposed system to the one that starts Monday for Costa Ricans who can renew their passports at offices of the Banco de Costa Rica. He is director general of Migración y Extranjería.

Zamora said that the bank transaction would be only for renewals of existing residency permissions. Such residencies include pensionado, rentista and inversionista, which are primary categories for North Americans who seek to live here legally.

Now the process is a long one requiring multiple visits to the central immigration office in La Uruca.

Zamora was at the Asamblea Legislativa to help expedite the Arias administration's proposed immigration law. Tuesday Zamora announced a system of visas that relied heavily on the Internet. The plan which is supposed to go into effect in August will only be for recognized companies who seek to bring in executives and technicians. However, the Internet system could easily be expanded to all those seeking visas in the future.

With Zamora at the Comisión de Gobierno y Administración was Fernando Berrocal, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He told  lawmakers that the need for the new immigration law was urgent. The bill was proposed in January.

The new law is an attempt by the Arias administration to address what it perceives as faults in the immigration law that was passed by the previous legislature and went into effect in August. Berrocal and President Óscar Arias Sánchez tried to stop the current law from going into effect but could not get a delay enacted into law soon enough.

When Berrocal addressed lawmakers he stressed that he was seeking a national consensus on immigration. He said that many sectors of society were consulted to draft the new law.  Some have called the new law draconian because it penalizes those who would employ or house illegal aliens.
Berrocal said shortly after the law went into effect that he did not have the resources to enforce it. He said Wednesday that a major emphasis of the new legislation is protecting human rights.

For expats, a major item in the proposed law is a requirement to pay about $25 a year as a donation to the country's general treasury. The money is supposed to offset the government's expense in providing health care and education to immigrants.

Berrocal said that of the estimated 600,000 legal foreigners in the country, some 300,000 are from Nicaragua. But there also is about 950,000 illegal residents, he said. This number represents from 20 to 25 percent of the population, he said.

Zamora told lawmakers that the legislation stresses simplification of the residency application process and promotes integration into the population of foreigners. Berrocal had mentioned that an influx of immigrants can change the culture of a nation. In particular he was talking about Colombians who come from a country where war has raged for decades. He said he was concerned that new immigrants have different ideas about the estado de derechos or nation of rights that is Costa Rica.

Zamora also said that the new legislation creates a specialized immigration police and  provides teeth to fight human trafficking and transnational gangs who engage in such activities. He said he also was interested in simplifying the application process to reduce corruption.

Later he said that expats should not worry about the $25 fee which would be collected during the immigration process. He said one of the aspects of the new law allows persons already in Costa Rica to save money by applying for residency here. Under the current law they have to do so at the Costa Rican consulate nearest their foreign home.

The formal presentation by Berrocal and Zamora generated a few questions from lawmakers, but Lesvia Villalobos, the president of the commission, cut off discussion and invited the men to return July 10. The legislature is about to take a week off for vacation.

The $25 fee is being considered in some quarters as a back-door way to legalize or at least identify the thousands of illegal aliens in the country. That idea has not been pushed by the Arias administration.

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Anti-spanking bill given
green light by committee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special commission of the legislature reported out a bill Wednesday that would prohibit physical or emotional punishment of children.  The measure is likely to go before the full legislature after July 9.

The measure has been discussed widely but a close reading of the bill not only prohibits physical punishment but undefined emotional punishment. Although the bill has been presented as being without penalties, the draft of the measure on the Web site of the Asamblea Legislativa provides for the removal of a parent's rights if he or she violates the law.

The bill is 15.341 “Abolición del Castigo Físico Contra Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes.”

The bill also amends the Código de Familia to exclude physical punishment or whatever other form of maltreatment or denigrating treatment.

None of the terms are defined in the measure. The prohibitions also are directed at anyone who might have care of children.

The bill would cover anyone who is a minor.  That is in Costa Rica anyone younger than 18 years.

The measure also promotes other unspecified methods of correction for youngsters and instructs the Patronato Nacional de Infancia to provide training for parents in this area. The original measure drafted in 1998 cites Sweden as an example, as well as the Ukraine.

The bill originally was reported out of a committee in 2005.

Without definitions it would appear that a youngster would be able to define emotional punishment and bring the law down on his parents, for example, for prohibiting cell phone use or late night television viewing.

Public school youngsters
getting two-week vacation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

That communal groan you hear stems from the fact that when youngsters leave school Friday they do not have to return until July 13.

It time for the mid-year vacation.

For some private schools the vacation is a week longer. Double groan.

The school break also may mean an increase in in-country tourism because many parents manage to get off a week or two at the same time. The Asamblea Legislativa, including lawmakers and the staff members, will be off for one week starting Friday.

Private clubs and the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes are announcing plans for special activities for the younger set.

The Museo Nacional has an elaborate series of workshops planned starting Sunday. They are outlined on the museum's Web site.

The Costa Rican school year begins in February and ends in December, although some private schools maintain a North American calendar.

Four stopped in Escazú
after robbery of pedestrian

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers detained four robbery suspects Tuesday night in Escazú Centro and found out that three of them are minors.

The arrest came after a pedestrian, Antonio Flores Jara, said that he was confronted by four persons in a vehicle about 150 meters west of the Escazú park.

Flores said the men left when they realized he carried nothing of value. Police managed to stop the suspects five minutes later in the center of Escazú.

The adult suspect was identified by the Fuerza Pública as José Alberto González Muñoz. Police confiscated three knives and a toy gun, they said.

The suspects all are residents of Lomas de Pavas.

In another robbery case Wednesday, armed men stuck up a delivery truck of the CoopeCoronado firm near Mata Palo, south of Quepos. The Fuerza Pública said the crime happened about 4 p.m. when two masked individuals armed with 9-mm. pistols intercepted and beat up two persons in the vehicle.

The scene is not far from where a home invasion happened Tuesday.

The bandits got about 300,000 colons, officers said. That is about $578. The two victims, identified by the last names of Arroyo and Chacón, told police the two men fled on foot into the jungle.

Four 19 year olds detained
in multiple robbery probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained four 19-year-old men, two of them brothers, Wednesday during 6 a.m. raids in the Projecto Manuel de Jesús Jiménez in Cartago. Agents attributed at least 15 armed robberies to the men.

Agents said the crimes took place in Cartago Centro, Tres Rios, San Pedro and San José. They identified the suspects as Gabriel and Miguel Zuñiga Suárez, Carlos Obando Monge and Jonathon Mauricio Solano Mora.

Agents said that in one of the dwellings they raided they found pawn tickets and jewelry and cell phones, which may have been taken from victims. They also found knives, and they will send them to the crime lab to see if either was involved in the brutal stabbing of a Cartago man in his own home April 27.

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Investigators wait for paperwork to begin robbery case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization said Wednesday that agents were not conducting any investigation into the robbery and beating of a U.S. expat couple in Hatillo, near Dominical on the central Pacific coast.

That response was relayed from investigators in Quepos to the agency's press office in San José at the request of a reporter.

The response from the Quepos office said that the victims, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Warner, had not filed a formal complaint with the agency.

Warner and his wife were beaten by as many as seven intruders about 1 p.m. Tuesday in a successful attempt to get them to open a combination safe. The pair underwent medical treatment at the Hospital de Quepos until early evening.

A family member said that Warner was attempting to file such a complaint with another Judicial Investigating Office Wednesday afternoon.

The agents in Quepos admitted that they knew of the invasion and robbery. Fuerza Pública officers set up road
checkpoints for the bandits, although no one was caught. Some agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization participated in the search.

The Warner family member expressed concern that with other individuals entering and leaving the house crucial evidence, such as fingerprints, might be destroyed. However, he said that the bandits may have worn gloves.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has teams of crime scene investigators who usually respond to such incidents.
The lack of aggressive response by the agents in Quepos points out a continuing problem with law enforcement in Costa Rica. Fuerza Pública officers are forbidden to conduct investigations, and investigators require detailed, written complaints before acting.

In addition, other crime victims on the Pacific coast and in other rural areas have found that the distances involved frequently keep agents from making a crime scene visit.

Hatillo is about 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Quepos via the gravel Costanera Sur.

Agents are expected to be copied on Warner's complaint today, and an investigation will begin.

Ministry survey finds tiny differences in rural and city prices
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economic ministry embarked on another study of basic food products and now concludes that prices have gone up and that consumers actually do better shopping in smaller stores in rural areas than at major supermarkets. But not by much.

Surveyors for the ministry found differences of up to 156 percent in prices of similar products in comparison among 31 separate outlets, the report said.

The ministry noted in its report, released Wednesday, that a kilo of eggs has gone up 83 percent in just 10 months.

Ministry workers checked the prices on 10 food basics and four non-food items during the last week in May. Surveyed were prices on eggs, rice, corn meal, granulated sugar, tuna fish. spaghetti, margarine, black beans, vegetable oil, mayonnaise, three types of soap and light bulbs.

Prices were checked in San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas, Liberia, Limón, Guápiles, Siquirres, Turrialba, Guácimo, Dota, Tarrazú, León Cortez, Curridabat, Esparza, Palmares, San Ramón, Naranjo, Zarcero and Ciudad Quesada.

The study cited what is said were abysmal differences in prices on similar and identical products. The first example was a 75-watt light bulb selling from 111 colons to 283
colons or from 21 U.S. cents to 54.5 cents. A 250-gram package of spaghetti ranged from 134 colons to 290, colons, a difference of 116.4 percent, the report said. That is a range of 26 cents to 56 cents.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio also estimated how much an average citizen would have to spend a week if food were purchased in a supermarket or in a smaller store. The report said that six of the 11 products sold at higher prices in supermarkets.

The report made no provision for higher fixed costs and employee salaries of supermarkets. But it did note that stores in rural areas charged less than in the metropolitan area. As an example, the study said that an average weekly purchase for one person would cost 1,481 colons (some $2.85) in Liberia or Esparza. The same products would cost 1,542 colons in San José, Alajuela and Heredia. That's $2.97.

While the rural-city difference is just 4 percent or some 61 colons (about 12 cents), the ministry report calculates the difference for a month at 245 colons, still just 47 cents.

Using the same basket of basic food products, the ministry was able to calculate that average food prices had risen about 10 percent between August 2006 and last May. Leading the increase was the kilo of eggs that sold for 513 colons in August and 939 in May, a jump of nearly 83 percent.

Strike threatened today by union at Alajuela hospital over management there
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees at the Hospital San Rafael de Alajuela said Wednesday that they would be going on strike today to demand the replacement of the administrator and the human resources chief.

The strike plans were announced by a news release from the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social.

The call for a strike came after a day of negotiations in which the union took issue with the management of Juan
Luis Vargas Salas, the administrator, and Leida Alfáro Cordero, the head of human resources, said the release.
The union also is unhappy because it said that the hospital administration has not lived up to certain agreements made in April.

Luis Chavarría, secretary general of the union, cited what he said were deficiencies in transportation, the X-ray department, nutrition, pathology and the transfer of certain individuals.

The union said it wanted an appearance by someone from the central administration to resolve the problem.

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Thousands march in Caracas backing freedom of expression
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have marched in the capital to press for freedom of expression, one month after self-proclaimed socialist President Hugo Chávez shut down the country's most popular private television station.

Venezuela's private news media declared Wednesday Press Freedom Day, and large numbers of spirited opponents of Chavez heeded the call to take to the streets. Among them was school teacher Maria Isabel. "I am fighting for the rights of Venezuelans to have a free and democratic country where no one prevents me from expressing myself. I lived through the era of dictatorship, and I do not want to return to that situation," she said.

Government opponents remain incensed that Chávez refused to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, forcing it off the air.

Chávez accused the opposition-allied RCTV of inciting rebellion against the government and backing a failed 2002 coup. At the very least the Chávez government did not give the station management an opportunity to answer these allegations and the refusal to renew lacked due process.

The head of the now-defunct RCTV, Eladio Lares, says the allegations are false. He said what is at stake in Venezuela today goes far beyond the fate of one television station.

"What is at risk is freedom of expression, which at this moment is being restricted. We will recover it when the signal of Radio Caracas is restored," he said.
The government had initially objected to the march, saying it could interfere with a hemispheric soccer championship Venezuela is currently hosting, the Copa América. Security forces did not intervene or impede the march, however, and one government representative, social projects administrator Omar Urbina, bravely waded into the crowd sporting a red baseball cap which signified his support for  Chávez.

"I applaud freedom of expression. The world says there is no democracy here. But look, here it is," he said.

Almost as soon as he began speaking, however, Urbina was surrounded by angry and highly vocal marchers.

Urbina's attempts to speak with this reporter were repeatedly interrupted,and at one point he turned to plead with the crowd. "Show that you can behave, that you have manners. Show that there truly is freedom of expression."

Then, turning to a reporter, he commented: "You see? They will not let me speak."

Elsewhere in the city, addressing government supporters, former vice president José Vicente Rangel labeled the marchers as a defeated people who have been swept aside to the margins of Venezuelan history. He added there is no country on earth that enjoys more freedom of expression than Venezuela.

The march came as Chávez arrived in Moscow, beginning a week-long trip that will also take the Venezuelan leader to Belarus and Iran.

They preserve wild places in the Southern Hemisphere by buying them
Doug Tompkins
Doug Tompkins
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After successful careers in the sportswear business, Doug and Kristine Tompkins set out with a passion to preserve some of the world's last remaining wild places.  Today they are among the largest landholders in the southern hemisphere. The Tompkins have bought and created Pumalin Park, a wilderness park in Chile of more than 300,000 hectares, some 742,000 acres.

The park sits on the northern edge of Patagonia in Southern Chile.  Fifteen years ago, with millions of dollars made running sportswear companies North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia, they began buying patches of wilderness for preservation purposes. Today, through their non-profit foundations, the couple owns and controls over 800,000 hectares (nearly 2 million acres) of park land in the southern hemisphere.

"It's peanuts if you weigh it against what's being saved on an annual basis versus what is being destroyed,” says Kristine Tompkins. “We're on the losing team."

Pumalin Park is home to pristine waters from the Andes mountains, untouched 3,000-year-old forest, and protected wildlife. The Tompkins vow to keep it that way. But some Chilean officials want to see a national highway right though Pumalin.  "We're going to see about that," says Doug Tompkins.

The preserve cuts Chile in two.  To reach its center visitors must take a ferry or drive through neighboring Argentina.  The Tompkins want a less invasive coastal connection.
The couple has already given parks to Chile and Argentina, and plan to donate Pumalin Park to the people of Chile when they are convinced it will remain as it is.

U.N. agency puts Ecuador's Galapagos Islands on list of endangered places
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations has put Ecuador's Galapagos Islands on its list of endangered places.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said invasive species, tourism and immigration are threatening the archipelago's unique plants and animals. The U.N. agency issued the statement Tuesday at a meeting
of its World Heritage Committee in New Zealand. In April, Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, declared the islands at risk and vowed to impose restrictions on residency and tourist permits.

The volcanic islands, 1,000 kilometers west of Ecuador, inspired British naturalist Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution. The introduction of non-native species, such as goats, has sped up the ecosystem's decline.

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