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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 30, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 128
Jo Stuart
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Popular with expats
Banco Elca is shut down by regulators here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A government agency Tuesday took over a popular private bank that sought out customers among expats.

The financial institution is Corporación Elca, S.A., better known as Banco Elca. The central office is in Sabana Este between Calle 38 and Calle 40 on Avenida 4.

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras took over the bank because government inspectors said the institution lacked solvency. The agency also cited unspecified anomalies.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
You can't tell that the entire bank is closed from this small sign on the door to the automatic teller machine.
In addition to the central office, the bank maintains offices in Barrio Amon, Heredia and San Carlos. The Web site of the superintendencia said the institution has 155 employees.

The bank recently sold off its brokerage and insurance businesses.

The Web site also identifies the officers of the bank as Carlos Enrique Gill Ramirez, president; Carlos Alberto Alvarado Moya, vice president, and Antonio Elicer Saturno Alvarez, manager.

A number of expats who live here under the status of rentista maintained accounts at Banco Elca with the $60,000 deposit stipulated by immigration rules. In addition, several major organizations that cater to expats maintained accounts there.

If previous cases are typical, the superintendencia will take some time to sort out the finances of the bank. The last private bank to run into trouble with regulators was Bantec, a La Uruca-based institution. Regulators said very little and kept depositors guessing for months.

Banco Elca closed up Tuesday, but the only advisory to customers was a small note affixed to the door of the automatic teller machines that said "cajero cerrado disculpe" or "teller closed. sorry." That gave the impression that only the teller machine was out of service. No signs could be found at the Barrio Amon facility.

Banks in Costa Rica are supposed to maintain a 10 percent reserve requirement. But Elca was believed to be below that limit. The Costa Rican government stands behind national banks but not private banks.

In the case of Bantec, the assets eventually were sold to another bank, which assumed liabilities. The government audit will determine if Banco Elca is viable or if its assets will have to be liquidated to satisfy depositors and creditors.

Immediate family, citizens or not, can picnic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. citizens who attend the traditional Independence Day picnic this year can also bring non-citizen immediate family, according to the American Colony Committee which puts on the annual event.

The event, which is free, runs from 8 a.m. to noon at the Cervercería Costa Rica recreational facilities west of San José. The date this year is 

July 3, Saturday, instead of the usual July 4.

A committee spokesperson said that U.S. citizens need to bring passports. The immediate family includes a husband or wife, and children if married, and a child may bring parents and siblings, the spokesperson said.

Some readers wondered if they could invite Costa Ricans to the event, and this prompted the committee reply.


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U.S. Supreme Court
backs Web filtering

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision to block enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act due to First Amendment free speech concerns.

The act provided a $50,000 fine and six months in jail for anyone who posted material to a Web page that might be harmful to children unless they took steps to restrict access, possibly by requiring a credit card. Lawmakers were targeting pornography.

The lower court concluded that an injunction was appropriate before a trial because the act was not the least restrictive means available for the government to serve the interest of preventing minors from using the Internet to gain access to harmful material, the high court said.

The court in its decision supported filtering technology. The request for an injunction against the law was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Filters impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source," said the decision. "Under a filtering regime, childless adults may gain access to speech  they have a right to see without having to identify themselves or provide their credit card information."

Costa Rica has ordered Internet cafes to use filtering technology to prevent children from accessing pornographic Web pages.

Man found burned
inside car in Aserrí

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car burned in Aserrí early Tuesday, and fireman found the body of a man in the vehicle after they extinguished the blaze.

Investigators identified the man as German Castro Corrales 35, but said they were uncertain about the cause of death. an autopsy has been ordered.

Officials said the fire happened about 12:30 a.m. when the vehicle went into a ditch. Firemen were told that a short circuit caused the car to ignite, trapping the driver.

Policeman is wounded,
but assailant dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two policeman tried to mediate a dispute between three men and a taxi driver late Monday, but one of the men pulled a gun and fired at one officer.

The policeman, identified as Víctor Vargas Mora, was wounded. He and his partner, Danilo Salas, returned fire and killed the assailant, said investigators.

The shooting took place in San Rafael de Heredia. The three men had taken the taxi from San Carlos and disputed the fare, said agents. A second man was arrested and the third fled.

The dead man who carried no papers was not identified immediately.

Woman carrying cash
jailed for 10 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Venezuelan woman who carried $716,000 in cash into Costa Rica has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for money laundering.

The sentence was handed down Monday in the Tribunal de Juicio de Alajuela. The woman who has the last names of Becerra Barrios, was 36 when arrested Dec. 9.

She was a passenger on a commercial flight from México to Venezuela, but she had to spend the night in Costa Rica due to scheduling problems.

Officials found the money in her luggage when she returned to board the airplane. The money will go to the Instituto Costarricense de Drogas.

Bandit shoots taxi driver

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A taxi driver in San Pedro came to the aid of a woman who was being robbed early Tuesday, and the bandit shot him in the right knee, said investigators.

The taxi driver, identified as Vargas, came to the woman’s aid about 12:30 a.m. after he saw a robber take the woman’s cellular telephone outside a popular mall in the community east of San José.

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Immigration bill still being debated in legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new immigration bill is working its way through the Asamblea Nacional, but the process is of a long and complex one.

President Abel Pacheco said last week that he expected a rapid approval of the bill, but others are not so sure.

Marco Badilla, director general de Migración y Extranjería, has spent two days at the legislature defending sections of the bill before a committee. He is due back again today.

The bill already experienced major changes in the hands of the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración. The measure that is being considered now bears the number of a bill proposed by the government of President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez. That bill came to the legislature Feb. 12, 2001.

The contents of the bill appear to be what the current government presented Feb. 19, 2004.

For foreign residents here, the major change is the elimination of the rentista category. Despite claims to the contrary, the bill does not change the amount of money a pensioner must have to immigrate to Costa Rica. That amount still is $600 a month.

However, the proposed law would give the director general of Migración full authority to raise that amount when in his judgment that would be appropriate.

That is what worries those who help foreigners here obtain residency papers. They envision rapid increases in the amount pensioners must have.

Once the bill is approved, the executive branch has six months to issue the rules that would round out the law.

By eliminating the category of rentista, officials would keep out of the country anyone who does not have a recognized pension from a foreign source. Now rentistas can live here if they show they have at least $60,000 on deposit in a bank, here or abroad.

Ryan Piercy, manager of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, sees a basic unfairness in eliminating the rentista category. He said that many independent businessmen and professionals do not 

have what would be considered a pension. But they do have bank accounts and investments. The proposed law would keep them from obtaining residence here.

Piercy and his association provide legal services for foreigners who wish to relocate here. He and the association have mounted a lobbying efforts against aspects of the bill.

Nevertheless, of some 220 amendments offered for the bill in the general assembly, only one was accepted by the committee in charge of revising the bill.

The Partido Libertario has expressed misgivings about certain aspects of the proposed bill including proposals to fine those who employ or house illegal aliens. The Libertarians also have said they think six years in jail is too much as a penalty for those who engage in human trafficking.

Badilla and police officials issued an urgent call this weekend when they arrested seven Chinese nationals living here with false Taiwanese passports. They jailed the illegal aliens but they had to let three persons who assisted them go because at this point there is no penalty for aiding an illegal alien.

Piercy said that he and his association are concerned because the proposed law makes the amount of a pension a matter for rules and not a matter of law. Rule can be changed administratively very quickly, he noted.

Officials reintroduced the immigration bill Feb. 19, 2003. At the time they said their goal was to criminalize human trafficking, provide a legal framework for the Policía de Migración and eliminate the rentista category that was being used by foreigners with a lot of money from doubtful sources.

Several months ago, Badilla said that someone who cannot immigrate because the rentista category has been eliminated can qualify for the inversionista category. Such individuals must invest up to $100,000 in a qualified business, such as a hotel, here.

However, Pierce said Tuesday that persons who have applied recently for the inversionista status have been rejected by means of a form letter that says the applicants would not be an economic benefit to the country.

Scientists confused by unexpected data from Saturn
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Cassini spacecraft, now approaching Saturn, has measured the planet's day at 10 hours, 45 minutes and 45 seconds, a finding that conflicts with measurements taken by the Voyager One and Two missions in 1980 and 1981. 

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are puzzling over this six-minute discrepancy between the Voyager and Cassini data as the spacecraft prepares to orbit the ringed planet today, according to a press release. 

Cassini measured the length of the planet's day by recording the rhythm of natural radio signals of the planet. The JPL team doesn't believe that the planet has actually slowed down in its rotation over the last couple of decades. Rather, they are exploring the possibility that the radio signal is out of sync with the planet's core.

"I don't think any of us could conceive of any process that would cause the rotation of the entire planet to actually slow down," said Dr. Don Gurnett, principal investigator for the Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument. "So it appears that there is some kind of slippage between the deep interior of the planet and the magnetic field, which controls the charged particles responsible for the radio emission."

The finding is significant in that it suggests that rotation of the planetary magnetic field is not rigid. It was already understood that the magnetic field of the Sun does not rotate uniformly. 

"I think we will be able to unravel the puzzle, but it's going to take some time," said Gurnett. "With Cassini in orbit around Saturn for four years or more, we will be in an excellent position to monitor long-term variations in the radio period, as well as investigate the rotational period . . . . "

Six U.S. airports alerted to possible terrorist camp alumni
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Department of Homeland Security has asked customs agents at six U.S. airports to look for travelers from Pakistan who show signs they have been at terrorist training camps. 

The alert directs customs agents to look for rope burns, unusual bruises, burns and scars that might point to paramilitary training. 

CBS News, which first reported the story late Tuesday, says the Homeland Security directive mentions recent Pakistani raids near the Afghan border and the "terrorist-related threat by individuals traveling to train at terrorist camps in Pakistan." 

The directive covers Washington Dulles, New York Kennedy, Newark International, Chicago O'Hare, Detroit and Los Angeles International airports. 

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Stronger central governments urged for Latin lands
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The extension of effective state sovereignty throughout the Western Hemisphere and the evolution of the region's security architecture are key in confronting the myriad security threats in the Americas, according to Roger Pardo-Maurer. He is deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere. 

In remarks Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, Pardo-Maurer offered insights on U.S. engagement in the Americas and shared potential solutions to regional security threats. He has family ties to Costa Rica.

Citing terrorism, kidnapping and narcotics trafficking as some of the many security threats the region faces, Pardo-Maurer said that the common link among these threats is that the weakness of the state apparatus throughout much of the hemisphere facilitates illicit activities.

Because weak government presence in certain areas provides a platform for these myriad threats, he said, the weakness of the state is "overall the greatest threat to security in the region."

To address the challenge of a weak government presence, Pardo-Maurer suggested that a rationale for hemispheric security cooperation encompassing more than counternarcotics cooperation is needed. 

The concept of "effective sovereignty" has emerged in response to this problem, he said. The central tenet of this concept, he explained, is that "it is the duty of the state to exercise its authority throughout the state."

He added that effective sovereignty is not exclusively a military concept, but pertains to the extension of all elements of state power. Pardo-Maurer said the United States hopes to work with Latin American nations to support their efforts to exercise effective sovereignty and cited cooperation with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as one example of this sort of cooperation.

As the United States collaborates with hemispheric nations to confront security threats, Pardo-Maurer said, it must also grapple with bureaucratic asymmetries in the region.

The symmetry issue, he explained, is a question of "how do we match our bureaucratic structures with the bureaucratic structures of our partners in the region?" 

Pardo-Maurer noted that regional asymmetries sometimes complicate designating the right agency to carry out the right mission. He cited Mexico's two co-equal departments of defense as an example of how divergent bureaucracies can complicate U.S. coordination with regional counterparts.

In order to overcome these asymmetries, the hallmark of the region's security architecture must be flexibility, he said. Pardo-Maurer argued that the hemispheric security network of old and new institutions must continue to evolve and work together to meet the security threats they face.

Within this evolutionary process, Pardo-Maurer said, Western Hemisphere officials are increasingly interested in approaches that are more regional, more inter-agency-oriented, more software- and intelligence-based, and more operational.

U.S. Senate weighs in on Juárez murders of women
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  A new bipartisan resolution introduced in the U.S. Senate has condemned the continued abductions and murders of young women in the Mexican cities of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, and expresses "the solidarity of the people of the United States with the people of Mexico in the face of these tragic and senseless acts."

The resolution was introduced last week by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat of New Mexico, with Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican of Texas, and Mary Landrieu, a Democrat of Louisiana, as co-sponsors.

A similarly worded resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2003 by Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat, with 126 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.

A U.S. congressional resolution, such as those introduced by Bingaman and Solis, relates to the operations of a single chamber of the Congress, or expresses the collective opinion of that chamber on public policy issues.

Bingaman said in his resolution that Ciudad Juárez, which is located on the Mexican side of the border across from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, has been plagued with the abduction, sexual assault, and brutal murders of more than 370 young women since 1993, and that these abductions and murders have begun to spread south to Chihuahua. More than 90 of these murders show signs of being connected to one or more serial killers, Bingaman said.

The resolution points out that the Mexican 

government has taken steps to prevent these 
abductions and murders, including creating a commission to coordinate federal and state efforts in Mexico, establishing a 40-point plan, and appointing a special commission and special prosecutor for these cases.

Bingaman said that in 2003, the El Paso field office of the FBI and the El Paso police department began providing their Mexican counterparts with training in investigation techniques and methods to stop the killings and assaults.

In a press release accompanying his resolution, the New Mexico senator noted that "unfortunately, these murders have continued" into 2004. "Nearly all of the cases remain unsolved," he added. "In fact, many of the bodies of victims have yet to be positively identified."

Bingaman said that he wants to ensure that these deaths are never forgotten, and that the governments on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border "continue to give this issue the attention that it so rightly deserves."

The resolution supports continued efforts to create a DNA database that would allow families to positively identify the remains of the victims, and encourages the U.S. secretary of state to "facilitate" U.S. participation in such a database.

In addition, the resolution requests that investigative and prevention efforts involving these cases become part of the U.S.-Mexico agenda.

The resolution also condemns "all senseless acts of violence in all parts of the world and, in particular, violence against women."

U.S. to tighten travel rules for Cuba starting today
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New U.S. rules restricting travel to Cuba take effect today as part of U.S. efforts to tighten the existing trade and travel embargo against the island. 

The new rules prohibit Cuban-Americans from visiting relatives on the island more than once every three years. U.S. visitors of Cuban descent who are currently in Cuba will have one month to return to the United States. 

 The revised U.S. policy also reduces the amount of money Cuban-Americans are allowed to send relatives on the communist island. 

The new U.S. rules are designed to keep American dollars from reaching the cash-strapped island, in an effort to hasten the end of Cuban President Fidel Castro's rule. 

Travel to Cuba was already severely restricted before the new measures. 

Jo Stuart
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