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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, July 1, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 129        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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railroad bridge
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Workers repair bridge above mural featuring social reformer Rafael Calderón Guardia
Rail crew tackles shaky bridge on the Heredia line
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A relic from the past is being slowly uncovered again northeast of the capital's downtown: the rusty railroad tracks from San José to Santa Bárbara de Heredia. Work has finally resumed after a year of delay.

Work on the Heredia line has been delayed since 2005 due to lack of funding and blockages in Cinco Esquinas de Tibás, and even though renovations and repairs are seemingly underway, a specific plan or date of completion is not available.

At one point the line crosses over Avenida 7 near Hospital Calderón Guardia where last August a flatbed vehicle recovery truck was nearly smashed when it knocked the bridge frame onto itself and the road below as it passed underneath. Workers are now huddled over the bridge with welding torches and sledge hammers.

Workers could not speak at length regarding the project, but they are working to replace the original wooden supports with steel in order to put the tracks on a more stable footing. Workers are also clearing the mounds of trash and bush that have overgrown that area of the tracks, and much more awaits them.

Farther up the line in Tibás there are mountains of trash and bushes that have covered the tracks, as well as makeshift houses constructed dangerously close to the line, the workers said. A second bridge in Cinco Esquinas is also badly in need of repair, according to the workers.

The eventual plan is to replace the diesel-fueled train that used to run the line with an electric
second railroad photo
A.M. Costa Rica/Jeremy Arias
Railroad worker chips away at faulty concrete

passenger train, accompanied by a charged third rail, much like a metro system, but these plans are speculative, workers said yesterday.

First, workers must finish the job they began in clearing the railroad and repairing the necessary bridges.

The rail line is part of the executive branch's efforts to save fuel. The Óscar Arias administration is emphasizing diesel at the expense of gasoline and public transport in the place of owner-driven cars. Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, has spoken of rail lines from Cartago to the Pacific, but the Heredia line is the most likely to join the existing east-west metropolitan passenger train in operation. That passenger service runs from northern San Pedro to Pavas, but there are plans to extend it to the west.

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Four men on fastboat held
after police search in Osa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Colombian fastboat presumably looking for a fillup became the target of a massive police search Monday morning. The boat and four suspects were apprehended, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The fastboat had three 200-horsepower outboard engines and nearly a dozen empty plastic fuel containers. Officials said there was a ton of suspected cocaine aboard.

The drama unfolded about 8:30 a.m. when an informant told officials at the Quepos station of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas about a suspicious craft in the Bahía Ballena de Osa.

One member of the crew was said to have gotten out of the craft when it briefly approached shore.

Fuerza Pública officers in the area quickly rounded up a suspect and the coast guard cutter Villa del Mar began a search for the suspicious craft. Aircraft from the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea picked up the search. Park rangers also were involved.

A pilot spotted the vessel a short time later and around 9:35 the coast guard fastboat Megui began the chase. The suspicious craft touched shore at the mouth of the Río Uvita in Uvita de Osa about a mile north of where the first suspect was apprehended. The boat was identified as the Culebra II.

There were unconfirmed reports of gunshots as police officers arrested the three fleeing crew members. The four were identified by the last names and ages of Torres Guaitoto, 29,  Quiñones Urrutia, 52, Calimeño Leiva, 42, and Olmedo Orobio, 36.

A fifth person, a woman, also was believed to be involved but there was no official comment on this.

Smugglers frequently use fastboats and a Pacific route to bring drugs north. The boats guzzle fuel and Costa Rica is a frequent pit stop. Some local fishermen are ready to provide fuel and supplies.

Woman seeking U.S. visa
has date with prison cell

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican woman wanted to face a drug conviction was detained Monday in the U.S. Embassy.

The woman, Karla María Ortíz Nuñez, 37, a resident of Jacó, failed to appear before a tribunal in Puntarenas last November to begin a six-year sentence in prison for international drug trafficking, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Ms. Nuñez was attempting to obtain documents needed to travel to the United States and was not in possession of any drugs at the time of her detention, the agency said.

Woman who murdered child
ordered to psychiatric help

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trial court convicted a Desamparados woman Monday of killing her 18-month-old child six years ago but then ordered the woman to receive psychiatric help instead of prison.

The woman was identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of Reyes Oporta.

The murder by strangulation happened Aug. 31, 2001, in  San Miguel de Higuito en Desamparados. Experts told the court that a psychiatric order would be appropriate, the Poder Judicial said.

Another unstable wave
scheduled to pass over

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oh, no! Not again!

Get out the slicker and the umbrella. The weather experts say that a tropical wave is bearing down on the country, and it should bring heavy rain to the Central Valley and the Pacific slope in the late afternoon and the early evening.

Costa Rica still is recovering from heavy damage and flooding brought by Tropical Storm Alma that hit May 29 and 30. However, this latest weather event is said to be not as strong.

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Óscar Arias comes under fire for secret $2 million slush fund
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his staff, under fire for having a $2 million slush fund, revealed some of the expenditures Monday night.

The Spanish-language daily La Nación revealed the existence of the fund in a news story early Monday. The money comes from a grant by the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The newspaper got nearly all its information from the regional agency because the Arias administration would not give details.

The president of the Movimiento Libertario, Otto Guevara Guth, raised questions about the slush fund at a press conference in the Asamblea Legislativa Monday afternoon. He specifically wanted to know the reasons why the Arias Administration paid $1,000 to an adviser to José Manuel Echandi Meza, who is the leader of his own small political party. Guevara wanted to know how many other legislative advisers are on the presidential payroll.

Mishelle Mitchell Bernard, the public relations chief in Casa Presidencial, sent out a bulletin later in the evening in which she emphasized the questionable theory that the money involved was not public funds but came from the  Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. She also provided a list of some who were getting paid from the fund.

Her calculations show that the Arias administration is paying nearly $76,000 a month under five vague areas, including communication strategy, governmental coordination, legislative reform, opening public monopolies and efficient management of the public function.

The list includes public opinion research and public relations firms like Consultoría Cid S.A. and ES Comunicación Relaciones Públicas. Ms. Mitchell herself is on the list sharing some $27,700 a month with 11 other persons or entities.

In her bulletin Ms. Mitchell said that the contracts do not
go through the Ministerio de la Presidencia and somehow this makes them private and not a salary enhancement for those already getting government paychecks. The matter of salary enhancements was controversial in the Abel Pacheco administration.

Ms. Mitchell said that $321.000 already had been spent from the $2 million pledged by the Banco  Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The bank is a 40-plus year old creation of the Central American countries. It received public funds and also grants from other countries like Spain.

Guevara said that his party was going to file a criminal complaint over the matter.

Ms. Mitchell said that Estrella Quirós, the woman mentioned by Guevara, only worked for two months and was no longer on the payroll.

The Arias administration has been distinguished by its slick public relations and upbeat television segments. It also is known to be keeping close tabs on any negative news reported about the administration.

The list released by Ms. Mitchell contained 30 names, some of them corporations.  The release said that the names were those who were under contract "today," suggesting that the more embarrassing names might already have been removed by terminating the contracts.

There were no functions included in the list, and most of the individuals seem to be politically faithful. One, Alejandro Trejos, has been sending out e-mails in favor of the free trade treaty with the United States.

Another person listed is Lineth Saborío Chaverri, vice president under Pacheco and former director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. Also listed is long-time Arias supporter and society figure Ana Ross Góngora.

Arias is still believed to be out of the country at a meeting of heads of state in México.

Expert overseeing law for women says she is unaware of ills
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a year of harsher laws against perpetrators of domestic violence, an analysis group announced mixed results at the supreme court Monday afternoon. Principal coordinators of the commission said the law still needs a lot of analysis and
Ms. Gomez
Maria Elena Gómez
revisions and that there continues to be a great number of domestic violence cases.

A problem reported by the expat community with this law, is that a woman living in a man's house can kick him out if she alleges physical abuse. The coordinator of the law study, Maria Elena Gómez Cortés, who analyzed the law for a year, said Monday that she had no knowledge of women falsely accusing men in violent incidents.

Although police legally forcing a man away from his house was already practiced in Costa Rica, 
cases have greatly increased since the law was put into place,
A.M. Costa Rica has reported. The newspaper has also said that some women use the law for extortion.

“I have no knowledge of these kinds of cases,” said Ms. Gómez, when asked about women falsely accusing men of abuse. Ms. Gómez said that if there was any sort of doubt in a case, a team of social workers and psychologists would investigate the accusations. Ms. Gómez added that the law was still being revised and that more analysis would have to be done.

A woman can only accuse a man of domestic violence if they are currently married or live together, said Ms. Gómez. If a couple is divorced, the law no longer protects the woman, she added.
Expats say that the problem is the long delay between being kicked out of the house and a court case to present the facts of the situation. The law only covers women, and many Costa Ricans, including police officers, have been kicked out of their homes just on the word of their female companion.

The men are then legally responsible for providing the upkeep for the woman, her dependents and the house until the case is resolved.

The legislature approved the Ley de Penalización de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres in April 2007.  Approval came after a series of high-profile cases in which women were killed by their companions.

After the passing of the law, the Poder Judicial hired 77 new professionals and 80 support employees including public defenders, investigators, social workers and psychologists, among others, to carry out the new law, said a court spokeswoman. Officials approved  a 2.9 billion colon ( about 5.7 million) budget for 2008.

In July, Poder Judicial and the Universidad de Costa Rica will give 10 training courses aimed at 310 judges, public defenders and prosecutors, said Jeannette Arias Meza, who works in the gender unit.

Ms. Gómez said one of the biggest obstacles in the way of the law are the emotional and physical companionship needed by a woman who has been physically or emotionally abused. She said it was helpful if female lawyers accompanied women to court.

Other obstacles in the law, said Ms. Gómez, are the investigation protocols in domestic violence cases. “A domestic violence case is not the same as any other case,” she said, “there are many facets to these cases.”

“Without a doubt the law will help victims of violence,” said Ms. Arias. The session was held at the Corte Suprema de la Justicia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 129

Children and adults enjoy a pool at the Los Laureles tourist resort while Volcán Arenal emits fumes that most certainly contain vapor of mercury and other heavy metals. Photo is from May 11 when the clouds cleared briefly to show the summit of the restless mountain.
smoking arenal
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Norton

Scientists find volcanos give off tons of mercury each year
By the Oxford University news service

Scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have discovered how volatile metals from volcanoes end up in polar ice cores.

The research has relevance to Costa Rica, which has many active volcanoes.

"It has always been a mystery how trace metals, like mercury, with a volcanic signature find their way into polar ice in regions without nearby evidence of volcanic activity," said David Pyle of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences who led the research team.

"These traces only appear as a faint background signal in ice cores but up until now it has still been difficult to explain," he said.

The team sampled the fumes of two volcanoes; Mount Etna in Sicily and Masaya in Nicaragua. They pumped gases from the edges of the volcanic craters across some gold-plated sand, to measure the volatile metal mercury, and through very fine filters, to capture fume particles. They discovered that the gases at both volcanoes contain high levels of mercury vapor and that the fume is also very rich in tiny particles, as small as 10-20 nanometres in size.

"This is exciting and important since we didn’t know that volcanoes were a natural source of particles as small as this," said Rob Martin of the University of Cambridge. "The existence of these particles is potentially very important for the climate system – they may control how clouds form, and how much solar energy reaches the Earth’s surface. What we don’t know yet, though, is what
these nanoparticles are made of: whether they are tiny droplets of frozen magma, or salts that condense due to cooling of high-temperature volcanic fumes."

That one vent of one volcano can produce 7 tons of mercury a year is astounding — that’s considerably more than total industrial emissions of mercury from the United Kingdom, according to one of the researchers..

The nanoparticles are small enough to be carried around the world and could be involved in the formation of clouds with dense concentrations of water droplets that reflect large amounts of solar radiation back into space. They may also seed distant patches of barren ocean with nutrients, according to the researchers.

While researchers had suspected that mercury boils out of hot magma, the big surprise was just how much mercury escapes from volcanoes. Measurements made on just one part of the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua by Melanie Witt of Oxford University have shown that about 7 tons of natural volcanic mercury escapes into the atmosphere from this vent each year.

"That one vent of one volcano can produce 7 tons of mercury a year is astounding," said Ms. Witt. "That’s considerably more than total industrial emissions of mercury from the UK – recorded at about 5.5 tons in 2000. It confirms our suspicions that volcanoes are an important part of the global mercury cycle: what we need to understand next is where this mercury ends up and what effects it may have on the environment."

The research is reported in two papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Latin economic trade summit sure to focus on controversy over EU immigration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Leaders of South America's 10-member trade bloc known as Mercosur began their two-day summit in Argentina Monday. The meeting in Tucuman was expected to focus on the world's food crisis, regional integration, and Europe's controversial new immigration policies.

Earlier this month, European Union ministers agreed on a set of measures for expelling undocumented migrants. The new laws allow EU nations to detain illegal immigrants up to 18 months before deporting them to their home countries.
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has lashed out at the new measures, saying that xenophobia and discrimination are on the rise in Europe, as workers fear losing their jobs to immigrants.

Mercosur was created in 1991 by the Treaty of Asunción, signed by the heads of state of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru were later admitted as associate members, and Venezuela expects to join in as a full member. Mercosur is headquartered in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo.

Bandits kill service station guard and then steal his shotgun
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits killed a service station guard and caused two police officers to crash their patrol car in north of the city early Tuesday.

The bandits are believed to be the same individuals who stuck up a service station in Guápiles earlier.

The shooting happened at the Servicentro Tour, an
independent operation in Barrio Tournon, Goicoechea. The dead guard was identified as Gilberto Chavez Terrino, 30. The bandits took his company-issued shotgun, too.

The two policemen were in San Juan de Dios Hospital. Chavez died at or en route to Hospital Calderón Guardia.

The shooting happened around 1 a.m. The service station is on route 32, the San José-Limón highway, not far from the La República newspaper building.

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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.

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

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Dutch prohibiting tobacco,
but marijuana is just fine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As of today, The Netherlands becomes the latest European nation to ban smoking in restaurants, cafes and all public places. The difference in Holland, though, is someone can still order marijuana and hashish at cafes and coffee shops alongside coffee, tea or juice.

The new rules for smoking it have left a lot of coffee shop owners and patrons dazed and confused.

The no-smoking advertisements are everywhere, as Holland gears up to create the smoke-free environment it says all workers deserve. Under the new rules, smoking tobacco is out. But the ban doesn't extend to marijuana, also called cannabis, which under existing soft drug legislation is still tolerated if not entirely legal.

Tourists purchase their cannabis at the Bulldog coffee shop — one of the country's first built in an old police station in the heart of the city. Most Europeans smoke their marijuana in cigarettes rolled with tobacco. And that's where the confusion comes in. Long-time smoker Rob says he'll never smoke the pure marijuana joints that will now be the only ones still allowed.

"I don't know, smoke at home, I think. Just buy it and go home, smoke," he said.

Coffee shop owners are also confused. Although they say they will try and stop people from smoking joints that are mixed with tobacco, it's often hard to police people as they're rolling. They say they will direct them outside, where smoking still is allowed.

For those who remain inside at the Bulldog, there will be other smoking options — tobacco substitutes on the counters, segregated smoking cabins, water pipes and vaporizers.

Fritz, who's been selling soft drugs at the Bulldog for a decade, says he doesn't think the new rules will hurt business. And they could even have some unforeseen benefits.

"I think it will be good because I smoke a lot but when it's forbidden, I have to go outside. But not possible because I must be in when I'm working. So, it's good for my health," he said.

Many smaller coffee shops, though, are worried they'll be put out of business. They can't afford to create a separate smoking space for tobacco diehards, as the law requires.

For the owners who don't follow the law, fines start at about $475 for a first offense and work their way up to $3,800 for continuing breaches.

But even the 200 inspectors charged with enforcing the new law say it's a bit unclear. With some 60,000 establishments to police, of which about 700 are coffee shops, they say they'll wait and see what happens at the smoke shops before levying fines. Which means for now at least, the traditional Dutch coffee shops will remain firmly rooted in another time-honored Dutch tradition, the legal grey area.

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