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(506) 2223-1327                      Published Wednesday, July 4, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 132                          Email us
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July 4 wishes

rainbows at park
Dennis Rogers/A.M. Costa Rica
Looking for some excitement during this mid-year vacation? The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in Santo Domingo de Heredia has
new exhibits of snakes and volcanoes. Visitors are greeted with this tunnel made of pop bottle caps at the entrance. The story is HERE!


Another custody case involves sisters from Georgia
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican family court judge has ruled that a local woman must return her two children to the father in the United States, but it is still unclear whether she will contest the decision.

This is the latest in a long series of international custody disputes.

The woman, Lucrecia Ramirez Camacho, had until Monday to appeal the decision that she must send her two daughters, 10-year-old Isabella and 6-year-old Elena, back to Georgia to live with their father and her husband Christopher Camacho.

By Tuesday it was not yet clear to Camacho's attorney, Michael Manely, whether or not the woman had filed an appeal.The lawyer here representing Ms. Ramírez was not available.

Even with the appeal, Manely is confident that Camacho's children will return soon.

“I think it's very likely,” he said in a telephone interview assessing how probable it is that the children will returned to Georgia. “This is a case that is very clear under both tests Costa Rica uses.”

Manely described how international custody disputes in Costa Rica fall under international laws set at the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, which determines custody based on a child's habitual residence and Costa Rican law, which determines custody based on a best interest test.

“When it became abundantly clear that all of the evidence regarding how these girls were raised was in Georgia, except for the few months that the mother was trying to unilaterally shift habitual residence, it was clear that these girls had to come home to Georgia,” said Manely.

Last summer, Ms. Ramirez, a native of Costa Rica, brought her children here for a month-long vacation, which was an annual routine when the children were off of school for the summer.

Ms. Ramirez extended the vacation several times before finally telling Camacho by phone that she
was not coming home, according to Manely.

Since then, Camacho initiated divorce proceedings in November and has been granted a judgment in Georgia in December ordering that the children be returned home.

Although the case was argued in April, as of last week a Tribunal de Familia judge, Yerma Campos Calvo, gave a second order the girls be returned to their father.

Manely said that these decisions were fairly easy to come to because the mother and the father presented the same set of evidence.

“Both sides agree on the facts,” he said.

In order to make her case, Ms. Ramirez argued that to send the children back would expose them to grave risk of harm, citing an incident when Camacho slammed a car door in a park after a quarrel with Ms. Ramirez and an incident in which he allegedly ordered one of his daughters to eat a hamburger that had not been prepared to her taste, according to Manely.

Despite not being able communicate with his daughters often while they have been in Costa Rica, and months of international legal battles, Camacho has left the divorce proceedings in Georgia open to allow her to legally come to a custody agreement.

“Dad has intentionally not finished this case so the mom can have a say in this. . . . she can still have her day in court,” said Manely.

Since it is still unclear whether Ramirez will appeal the case, it has not yet be determined how the children will return to the U.S.

In similar cases fathers in the U.S. were successful in court proceedings here but the children still were not returned. In one case, a mother sought and received refugee status from the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration to allow her to avoid an extradition to the United States to face a charge there of child abduction. One Costa Rican woman also lost possession of her children when the U.S. father brought them here and she was unable financially to continue with a court case.

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First half of year posts
increase in highway deaths


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorcyclists, bike riders and pedestrians are keeping the undertakers busy, according to the nation's road security agency, which released statistics for the first half of 2012 Tuesday.

In the first half of the year there were 177 traffic deaths, some 13 more than in the same period the year before. Some 50 persons on motorcycles died, eight more than in 2011. That is a 28 percent increase, said the Consejo de Seguridad Vial.

The agency noted that motorcycle riders are supposed to wear a helmet and a reflective vest during periods of low light, such as night or during a thunderstorm.

Many of the motorcycle accidents that took place during the first half of the year did not have anything to do with visibility. In several cases motorcycles collided head on.

Deaths of bicycle riders also showed increases in the first half of the year. There were 18 deaths, four more than in 2011, said the Consejo. That means that 10 percent of all road deaths were those on bikes, said the agency.

Bike riders also are supposed to have helmets and should wear reflective garments. Bikes are a common means of transport in rural areas where some residents cannot afford cars. There were several deaths where riders were in the middle of the highway at night with their bike and perhaps under the influence of alcohol.

The Consejo said that 36 pedestrians lost their life in the first half of the year. These deaths represent the third highest category of road deaths. The highest are those of the 46 motorists operating their vehicle at high velocity and the 20 who were  drunk behind the wheel, said the Consejo.

Many pedestrians do not seem to take advantage of the bridges that have been installed over major highways. Instead they take their chances.


 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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A.M. Costa Rica

Third News Page
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 132
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Cloudy skies but no morning rain predicted for July 4 picnic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather report calls for cloudy skies this morning as U.S. citizens and Costa Rican friends gather west of San José for the annual July 4 picnic. But there is a good chance of afternoon downpours.

As is traditional, the July 4 picnic mostly a morning affair. It ends at 1 p.m. today.

The Instituto Meteorological Nacional said that one of those tropical waves is expected to cross the country early today increasing the instability of the air.

A wave is a  low pressure trough that originates in Africa and sweeps across the globe in tropical latitudes. The wave will take a good part of the day to make the crossing, said the institute. This will contribute to afternoon thunderstorms.

Meanwhile in the Pacific there are two disturbances. The first is north of Costa Rica. It is likely to become a tropical cyclone within the next two days, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. There may be some effect here, but the system is moving away from Central America to the west northwest at about 10 mph.
A second system is weaker, but it is directly off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It, too, is moving slowly westward.

The picnic is at the Cervercería Costa Rica grounds off the General Cañas highway in the direction of Juan Santamaría airport from San José

To overcome the problem of traffic jams and lack of parking spaces, the American Colony Committee has set up an off-site parking area and a bus shuttle.

The site is next to the Avis rental car headquarters in Belén. The Cervercería picnic grounds has limited parking, and visitors have parked in nearby fields in the past. Some visitors had to park on the highway and exit ramps, but that is being discouraged this year, and the committee said that cars parked there will be towed. A map to the parking area is HERE!

The General Cañas highway still is experiencing some delays due to the washout a week ago. Those coming from San José to attend the picnic can take Ruta 27, the Caldera highway, west to the new El Coyol west of the airport exit and then backtrack to the picnic grounds. There also is a route through Belén that reaches the General Cañas just east of the airport.


Today is 10th anniversary of day world changed for expats
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the law enforcement raid that radically changed the lives of expats in Costa Rica.

As U.S. citizens were enjoying their July 4 picnic at the Cervercería Costa Rica picnic grounds in 2002 Costa Rican investigators and prosecutors used a relationship with a Canadian drug case as an excuse to search offices of Ofinter S.A. and the Villalobos high interest borrowing operation downtown and in Mall San Pedro.

A.M. Costa Rica carried a brief, three-paragraph report the next day, Friday, under the headline “Money exchanges raided.” Not until the following Monday did the full scope of the investigation become known. Eventually the raids would cause Luis Enrique Villalobos and brother Oswaldo to close down the businesses. Even today only a handful of creditors have received a percentage of their investment.

Dreams shattered, marriages broke up and lives ended in despair or suicide. Such is the legacy of that July day.

Even today no one really knows how Luis Enrique Villalobos managed to pay investors interests of up to 42 percent a year. Brother Oswaldo tried to distance his money exchange business from his brother's activities. But in a subsequent trial that led to his conviction for aggravated fraud and illegal banking his intimate role was disclosed.

Prosecutors convinced judges that the Villalobos borrowing operation was a ponzi scheme in which early investors are paid form the funds deposited by latecomers. Proof of that was minimal, and a better explanation is that the brothers were engaged in exchanging dollars for Colombian pesos.

Today's anniversary is significant because there still are investors who believe firmly that Luis Enrique, a fugitive for 10 years, will return by the end of the year to distribute the money he has been safeguarding for loyal investors.

The statute of limitations might take hold by then.

Oswaldo has been housed in a prison for the elderly and can leave the grounds to live at home weekends.

Investors who pressed a claim against him finally received
about 38 percent of money awarded them by the trial court. Many more investors believed Villalobos supporters who urged them not to file a claim.

The Villalobos case generated hundreds of news stories, but none truly reflects the human tragedies and the despair the collapse of the businesses caused.

Some of the investors, mostly U.S. and Canadian citizens moved to Costa Rica to be near their money. A few U.S. stockbrokers touted the investment under the table to clients. Some Costa Rican communities pooled their money to invest with Luis Enrique. Many members of Escazu's International Baptist Church did likewise because Luis Enrique was a popular member of the congregation.

Ofinter reopened a few days after the raid, and Luis Enrique made moves to modernize his business. He asked the faithful to invest more money. Many did. Luis Enrique said he would make bank deposits instead of stuffing the monthly interest in envelops. Investors rushed to open accounts.

They were not pleased when Ofinter and Villalobos suspended operations Oct. 14. Some investors organized and hired a lawyer to bring pressure on the Costa Rican government. Others predicted the collapse of the Costa Rican economy because the monthly flow of money from Luis Enrique Villalobos has stopped.  Some firms that did business with expats suffered, but a poll showed that most Costa Ricans did not know of the case.

Other firms were marginally profitable and were being subsidized by the Villalobos money paid to their operators. They eventually failed, too.

Some investors were enraged when A.M. Costa Rica offered a reward for Luis Enrique and Luis Milanes, the head of a similar firm who also fled. Telephone calls threatened death or advertising boycotts. Only a few individuals offered to fatten the reward.

One investor ended his life by plunging from the third level of Mall San Pedro. A man near Lake Arenal was reported to have shot himself. In neither case was there clear evidence of a cause.

Even today, 10 years later, there has been no closure. Luis Enrique still is a fugitive. Many questions remain unanswered. No one knows where the estimated $1 billion went or if it ever was anything more than a bookkeeping entry.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 132
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Snakes and rocks augment exhibits at Heredia's InBioparque
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

New attractions at the INBioparque in Santo Domingo de Heredia will appeal to lovers of snakes and geology, while the institution itself is also working to understand its own management challenges.

The main function of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is the description and inventory of Costa Rica’s wildlife, but it maintains a substantial facility in Santo Domingo for educational purposes and as a fundraiser. The park has regular events and some courses. The INBio web site is  http://www.inbio.ac.cr/. Upcoming events in July include a bird watching course as well as one on cultivating mushrooms.

The park itself has exhibits as well as a network of trails. A maze formed from a large hedge is popular with kids. There is also a substantial pond and marsh where some waterbirds and other wildlife are relatively easy to observe.

The main exhibit hall has been converted to a display on volcanism with appropriate rumbling noises and diagrams of how volcanoes form and grow. There is also a video presentation on climate change. 

With the cooperation of the National Serpentarium, the size of the reptile exhibit has been expanded considerably, to about 30 terrariums with various snakes and lizards along with an aquarium to hold sea snakes. All the poisonous species are represented. 

The facility has added a weather station and smart electric meters to get a better idea of how energy is used among the different parts of the institute.

A major event in May that will be repeated next year was a bioblitz where groups of visitors led by the institute’s researchers attempted to catalogue as much of the park’s
new species
Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad photo
 This immature male long-tailed manakin was the first of
 the species recorded at INBio.


wildlife as possible in 24 hours, including owls and insects overnight. More than a thousand visitors took part in this event, according to the park administration. In total, 58 species of insects, 35 birds, 26 plants, 22 reptiles, 20 mushrooms, 16 arachnids, 13 amphibians, 10 mammals, and seven fish were found. Visitors discovered a bird and a mushroom that had not been previously recorded on the property.

For residents and Costa Rican nationals, entrance to INBioparque for adults is 3,750 colons, children up to 12 years 2,600, and seniors 3,000. The reptile exhibit is an extra 1,000 colons for adults and 500 for children. Non-resident foreigners pay $24 for adults and $14 for children with a tour included.

Weekend park hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with last admission at 4 p.m. Admission after 3:30 has a reduced rate. The park is also open to the public Fridays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with last call at 3 p.m.
  
INBio is on the south side of Santo Domingo de Heredia and can be reached via the main road from Tibás to Santo Domingo and Heredia, with a sign indicating the left turn to the park. From the west, the main road from Lagunilla de Heredia to Santo Domingo goes by INBio after passing through Santa Rosa.


U.S. announces program to send top Tico scholars Stateside
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Red, white and blue balloons flooded the Museo de Niños Tuesday as music played in celebration of 236 years of U.S. Independence and the announcement of a scholarship for young Costa Ricans to extend their science education in the States.

The U.S. Embassy raised $80,000 from local American organizations and will offer full scholarships in the name of Franklin Chang Díaz to students from the Colegios Científicos de Costa Rica to study for a year in secondary schools in the United States.

“It's one more opportunity that is very unique.  I still feel that the U.S. is the land of opportunity and I am very happy,” said Chang, the former U.S. astronaut. He expressed his pride to the students in a speech and commented that he was given the chance to study in America so he is proud to be able to present the same chance to other Costa Rican students. He holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

He said he was “ honored and pleased to be part of this important program to Costa Rican students. These grants bring even more closer to both nations by providing opportunities for excellence for our youth, to experience what living in United States, are competent in the English language and at the same time benefit from a first-class educational system,” said Chang.

Ambassador Anne Andrew agreed that the former astronaut was a great choice of a name for this scholarship. “No one exemplifies the promise and opportunity of these educational exchanges better than Franklin Chang, a celebrated astronaut of NASA and founder of the company Ad Astra here in Costa Rica. Franklin came to the United States as a teenager with the dream of travel to the moon and its first step on this
trip was to study in an American college. Education, literally, led Franklin to the moon,” said Ms. Andrew.

Students at the Colegios Cientificos de Costa Rica are finishing their last two years of high school education after being selected to enter the prestigious chain of schools that emphasize the physical sciences.

“Our school is the best in the country and we try to keep this position.  Most of us want to study engineering or something with science, so this scholarship is important,”  said student Nathalie Campos.

The Embassy changed venues from the usual hotel celebration to the children's museum to promote the idea of educating youth.

“We chose the museum because we wanted to tie in the theme of school and kids.  Also, the museum has a portion dedicated to Franklin Chang Díaz with his biography and spacesuit,” said John Paul Martinez, a Rotary ambassador scholar

“Franklin Chang Díaz is to Costa Rica what Martin Luther King was for education.  He is someone who inspires the younger generation,” he added.
 
The plan is for four students to travel to the United States in 2013.  More details about the selection process will be given in September but basic scholarship requirements will apply such as academic achievement, community leadership and a desire to share cultural experiences. 

“United States and Costa Rica share a commitment to education and the value of investing in the education of our citizens. This shared commitment to education has launched a rich history and a strong tradition of educational exchanges between our countries,” said Ms. Andrew.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 132
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Monetary Fund concerned
by slow recovery in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said the tepid U.S. economic recovery could be hurt by two problems: Europe's economic troubles and U.S. political gridlock.

Ms. Lagarde said the first one is "clearly an exposure to potential contagion from an intensification of the euro area debt crisis."

She said Europe's problems could hurt the American economy by cutting consumer and business confidence and by reducing demand for U.S. exports. Even without these threats, she said the U.S. economy will probably grow a meager 2 percent this year and a little faster in 2013.

She said the U.S. Federal Reserve has done a lot to bolster the flagging economy, but could and should do a little more.

Fund experts said Washington should continue to spend on things like job training to boost the economy for the time being, but must cut the deficit in the near future.

The Monetary Fund said reducing the deficit will take continued spending cuts as well as tax hikes, but both actions are politically unpopular and have stalled in Congress. 

“The second downside risk is obviously a failure to reach an agreement on near-term cuts and spending policies that would trigger what is well-known as the ‘fiscal cliff,’ Ms. Lagarde added.

"In addition to that, obviously, the risk of the debt ceiling being reached and not being resolved is also a clear potential for financial market disruption,” she said.

Ms. Lagarde spoke to journalists in Washington on Tuesday at the end of a year-long study of the U.S. economy by 12 fund experts and extensive consultations with government officials.


Popular actor Andy Griffith
dies at 86 in North Carolina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Iconic American actor Andy Griffith, best known for his role as a small-town sheriff in the 1960s television series “The Andy Griffith Show,” has died at the age of 86.

A television station in Griffith's home state of North Carolina reported the actor's death was confirmed by his close friend Bill Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina, where Griffith earned a music degree. The station quoted Friday as saying Griffith died Tuesday morning at his North Carolina home.

Griffith began his career as an entertainer in the 1950s with comic monologues and roles on Broadway and in movies, but it was his portrayal of widowed sheriff Andy Taylor in his self-titled sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show," that made him a household name.

Americans young and old tuned in to watch Griffith's Andy as he navigated life and law enforcement in a fictional North Carolina town with his son Opie and bumbling deputy Barney Fife. The show earned Griffith the nickname of "America's favorite sheriff," and its lingering television presence through re-runs has made fans out of later generations.

After “The Andy Griffith Show,” he went on to play another iconic TV character in the 1980s and 90s, starring as a criminal defense attorney in the popular legal drama “Matlock.”

Griffith was also a Grammy Award-winning Southern-gospel singer and in 2005 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-president George W. Bush.


Press advocacy group
condemns killing of photog


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association condemned the killing of Ecuadorean news photographer Byron Baldeón and called on the local authorities to conduct a prompt investigation to determine who was responsible and the motive.

Baldeón, 31, a freelance photographer, was killed on Sunday afternoon in the town of El Triunfo in the coastal province of Guayas. Two men on a motorcycle intercepted him as he was arriving home and shot him several times. He was a stringer for the newspaper Extra in Guayaquil, the provincial capital.

The chairman of the Inter American Press Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, expressed outrage at the incident and urged the authorities “to investigate this crime promptly, solve it and punish those responsible.”

Although the motive for the killing was not immediately known, according to local media Baldeón had been called in by the local public prosecutor’s office over a photo he had taken of a dumpster containing stolen television sets, linked in May to police officers.


Power outages and fires
put damper on July Fourth

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The aftermath of last week's violent storms, wildfires and continued heat in parts of the United States is likely to mean more subdued 4th of July celebrations for some Americans this year.

On Tuesday, the eve of Independence Day, about 1.3 million homes and businesses in the eastern United States remained without power while in the western state of Colorado more than 300 homes had perished in the wildfires. 

Showers and thunderstorms are predicted for the nation's capital during the holiday Wednesday and possibly in the evening when they may diminish the splendor of the nation's greatest fireworks display.  Some localities have banned the displays this year to prevent possible fires.

The showers are expected to bring the record temperatures down by a few degrees Wednesday, but the heat will rise up close to 40 degrees C (104 F) Thursday and remain high until the end of the week.  The death toll from the storms and heat in recent days in the region has climbed to 24 so far and is expected to grow with continue heat.  

In Colorado, tens of thousands of people who were forced to flee their homes in the area of Colorado Springs are slowly returning to face the devastation of their homes. The total death and destruction toll from the wildfires has yet to be assessed.

On the East Coast, recovery efforts continue with utility crews struggling to return power to those who have lost it.  Officials have warned that it may take until the end of the week to catch up with the back log. They have also asked citizens to check up on their elderly or sick neighbors who are especially vulnerable to heat.  Cool shelters have been made available to those whose homes have no power.

Extremely hot temperatures in the U.S. Midwest have stressed crops in their critical stage of development, raising concerns about crop failures.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 4, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 132
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Latin America news
U.S. Embassy now offers
53 items of furniture


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy is open for business again.

The embassy has posted 53 items of furniture on the Rematico auction Web site.

The articles will be on display Friday and Saturday at the auction sites storage facility in  Bodega Morepark #4. The auction site provides a map on its Web site.

The auction this time offers desks, bedroom sets, washers, dryers, a Whirlpool refrigerator and a Whirlpool dehumidifier. Web shoppers place bids, and the highest bidder wins. The last U.S. Embassy auction offered motor vehicles.

One individual has purchased 315 items at auction since February 2007, according to the Web site. Rematico does not do much advertising for the auction except send out emails to those who have registered, and the embassy starting prices appear to be highly competitive.

The embassy has been selling surplus goods this way since October 2005.


Electronic lottery irks
those who sell on streets


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lottery vendors are unhappy that the  Junta de Protección Social has opted for an electronic version.

The lottery vendors demonstrated Monday to show their concern.

Vendors worry that a successful electronic lottery will cause the Junta to eliminate the paper one that is sold all over the country.

The Junta, a government agency, distributes the proceeds to a number of social agencies in the country.










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