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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, July 9, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 135        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
'Listen here,
bird brain!'

Parrots love to gossip, but it is hard to tell what this female is telling this male. Or is it the other way around? Equally hard is telling the sex of parrots because both male and female are about the same size.

Usually the birds are a green swoosh or perhaps a squadron of green swooshes because they love traveling in groups. These two came to rest on a city fence long enough for a brief conversation. Then they were off again in search of ripe fruit, perhaps an avocado, orange or mango.

Despite their apparent numbers, parrots are endangered by deforestation and the frequently illegal pet trade.

U.S. firm buys two major Costa Rican universities
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. company announced Tuesday that it bought Universidad Latina and Universidad Americana.

The company, Laureate Education, Inc., owns a global network of  universities in 18 countries and has more than 90 campuses throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.  Laureate also announced Tuesday that it bought Universidad Tecnológica de México, one of the largest private universities in Mexico with eight campuses.

Universidad Latina with its principal campus in Montes de Oca  is the largest private university in Costa Rica. The university has about 16,000 students and numerous campuses. Universidad Americana has campuses in Barrio California in San José,  in Cartago and in Heredia. Both universities have extensive English language programs and offer majors in English education. 
Laureate Education, Inc., has both online and campus-based universities and offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 405,000 students worldwide. Laureate common stock stopped trading on Nasdaq Aug. 17 when the company went private. The company announced in June 2007 that shareholders would receive $62 in cash, without interest, for each share of Laureate common stock held. The total transaction was valued at approximately $3.82 billion. The firm did not announce sale prices for the two Costa Rican universities.

“Laureate’s position as the global leader in international higher education is a direct reflection of the strength and reputation of each university within our network," siad Douglas L. Becker, chairman and chief executive officer of Laureate. "We are proud to bring these important universities into our network, as they will enhance our ability to meet the needs of the growing number of students in Mexico and Costa Rica.” He was quoted in a company press release.

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Uncertainty still reins
over vehicle restrictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some transit officials are saying that the all-day prohibitions of wrongly numbered motor vehicles in the metro area will start Thursday.That's news to workers at the La Gaceta official newspaper.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is presumed to have signed a decree last week amplifying the restricted zone times. However, for the ruling to go into force, the document must be published in the official newspaper.

Even some officials at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes say that the earliest that the new rules will go into effect is next week.  La Gaceta printers said Tuesday afternoon that they have not yet seen the decree. Casa Presidencial officials had not idea either and referred callers to the transport ministry.

Once the decree is published, the current peak hour prohibitions will be extended all day. That means all day, 24 hours. The perimeters of the restricted area will stay the same, basically the Circunvalación on the south and east, Calle Blancos on the north and La Uruca on the west.

That will mean some 20 percent of the nation's vehicles will not be able to enter the  zone on one of the five workdays. Today vehicles with the last license digit of 5 or 6 are prohibited downtown but only for peak morning and evening hours.

Meanwhile, Casa Presidencial announced that some ministers will be in Maracaibo, Venezuela, this weekend exploring the possibility of joining Petrocaribe,  a union of 17 nations that rely on President Hugo Chávez to supply cheaper petroleum. The country now gets 20,000 barrels a day from there.

Our reader's opinion
Society based on opinion
is not the place to be

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Once again we have an instance of a well-intentioned-but -short-sighted prominent Costa Rican elevating gossip, hearsay, and personal opinion above the rule of law.  I refer to the opinion of Jeannette Carillo Madrigal of the Instituto Nacional de Mujer that Costa Rica should permit Chere Lyn Tomayko to remain in the country and defy extradition demands from the U.S.

Ms. Carillo evidently believes that if Ms. Tomayko returns to the U.S. she will suffer physical abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.  Ms. Carillo may be correct or she may not be.  All she really knows is what Ms. Tomayko has told her, one side of the story, and this side has apparently been filtered through Ms. Carillo's prejudices.  Yet, what we know is that a U.S. court was not persuaded by Ms. Tomayko's story, and that ever since Ms. Tomayko has chosen to defy the court and live as a fugitive.

Whether or not Ms. Carillo is correct in her opinion is unimportant.  What is important is her attempt to elevate her personal opinion above a U.S. court ruling.  There is a real danger when this happens, and if Ms. Carillo wants to support Ms. Tomayko, the place to demonstrate that support is in the U.S. courts.

What is the danger?  It is that an attitude emerges among the public as well as officials that the law need not be respected and everyone is free to take matters into their own hands.  This results in arbitrary enforcement of existing laws, bogus arrests, and corrupt public officials.  Sound familiar, expats?

But, based upon the letters in response to Garland Baker's article about pimping, it doesn't appear that expats understand the importance of the rule of law any better than the Ticos.

Mr. Baker's article was not an attack on prostitution, but on pimping, and there is a huge difference.  If a person wishes to sell sexual services, some people may not approve, but it is morally difficult to deny an adult the human right to enter freely into such a transaction.  This is why, the U.S. being the main exception, most western countries permit prostitution. 

However, it is a completely different matter when pimps organize and profit from businesses that sell sex.  When this happens, the providers lose their freedom to choose or reject clients, to negotiate their own fees, and so forth.  Indeed, sex slavery is invariably a byproduct, as pimps have an incentive to buy prostitutes from foreign countries and bribe the appropriate officials to keep them in their brothels, while as illegals without funds to return home the prostitutes have no choice but to endure their torment.  It is for these reasons that most western countries, and Costa Rica, outlaw pimping.

Yet, as with the Tomayko case, nobody seems to care what the law says or the courts rule.  Instead, everyone appears to believe that their personal prejudices should take precedence.  I'm telling you though, you don't want to live in a society like this.  Without respect for the law, everybody is at risk because your rights can always be trumped by someone else's opinion.
Ken Morris
San Pedro and Georgia

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This is why they call it a cloud forest!
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Research study suggests tourism goals for Pérez Zeledón
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The forests of Perez Zeledón could be Costa Rica's next great tourism project, according to a study done this year by the tropical scientific center and a Canadian university student.

A coffee tour, nature walk, bird viewing and horseback riding would be the principal options for developers in areas of Pérez Zeledón if the region's tourism potential were realized, according to a spokesperson for the Costa Rican organization Centro Científico Tropical.

New tourism projects would be beneficial to about 2,000 citizen and improve the environment in the zone, according to a study involving York University and the Centro Científico Tropical.

Canadian master's degree student Kelly Galanski of at York University evaluated specific areas in the region between February and May.

The research concluded that Pérez Zeledón could become an area of rural tourism, specifically in the area of the Corredor Biológico Alexander Skutch, which includes 6,000 hectares (about 15,000 acres) and eight communities.

“One objective is start healthy ecological tourism. The local people can save nature and operate the entire project,” said Ms. Galanski, according to the nonprofit Centro Científico Tropical. 

Ms. Galanski, the only researcher, conducted 30 interviews with tourism workers and visitors in Pérez Zeledón, said Olivier Chassut, director of the tropical center. She also visited with locals and analyzed the vegetation and ecosystem of the area, said Chassut.

Ms. Galanski had done other environmental research projects in Pérez Zeledón about two years ago and continued to visit before she began the study, said Chassut.
Chassut said that environmental studies students from York University may volunteer to teach English in the different schools on the biological reserve. The students would prepare the residents to be tour guides and give professional services to incoming tourist groups. 

The communities where Ms. Galanski conducted her research were Monte Carlo, Quizarrá, San Francisco, San Ignacio, Santa Helena, Santa Marta, Santa María and Trinidad, located in the Corredor Biológico Alexander Skutch, which runs from the former Skutch home and the Reserva Biológico Las Nubes. York University owns the 133 hectares (329 acres) known as  Las Nubes. The land was a gift by Murray Fisher, a Toronto, Canada, physician and researcher.

Chassut added that the idea is to connect the Corredor Biológico Alexander Skutch and the Parque Nacional La Amistad. Problems in the zone are locals feeling pressured to sell their property, plantations of pineapple and sugar cane, and growing urbanization with big houses like those in Escazú, said Chassut.

Chassut said that Monteverde was in the same situation years ago. Now the area is controlled by locals, and they haven't the problems with high industrialization, he said. The science center also helped develop the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

The corridor, promoted jointly by the center and York University, seeks to join the Reserva Biológica Las Nubes and the Skutch homestead, now called the Santuario de Aves Neotropicales Los Cusingos, in Quizarrá with the Parque La Amistad that straddles the Costa Rica-Panamá border.

The corridor is on the Pacific slope of the Talamanca mountains roughly 130 kms. or about 80 miles south of San José.

Alexander F. Skutch was for more than 50 years the leading authority on birds of the area. His former home, now the bird sanctuary, is owned by the center. 

Bus full of prison guards tumbles off highway to Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Paramedics and rescue teams treated 22 prison guards after a bus rolled off the highway in Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, said a Cruz Roja spokesman Tuesday.

The guards and other prison workers were all in stable condition and being treated at various hospitals in the San José area, said Daniel Venegas, a spokesman for Cruz Roja. All of those treated were conscious and suffered only  scrapes and bruises, said Venegas.
The bus, belonging to Adapción Social, was headed towards Limón, said Venegas.  At about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday the bus went out of control and rolled off the highway, although the actual reason was still unknown, said Venegas,. The bus waas headed to Limón.

The accident occurred outside of San José about 10 kilometers from the Río Sucio bridge, sad Venegas. The bus had about 30 passengers in total, said Venegas. Seven ambulances responded and three rescue teams were called in, he said.

Security ministry to unveil another project to fight crime at hotel confab today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister will present a new initiative to fight social crime in a collaboration with the United Nations today.

The project is aimed at combating things like domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV-AIDS, and human trafficking, said a security spokesman.
 The minister of security Janina Del Vecchio will present the project at 9 a.m. today at  the  Hotel San José Palacio.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública worked with the U. N. Population Fund on the project, said the spokesman.

The Organización Internacional para las Migraciones will also help with the new project, said the spokesman.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 9, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 135

Nation's financial watchdog meets with Arias on slush fund
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his staff met with the nation's top financial watchdogs Tuesday as the scandal over a $2 million slush fund continues to play out.

There were no startling announcements after the closed meeting. Casa Presidencial said that Arias gave permission for the investigators to look into documents relating to projects in Costa Rica being held by the  Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

The bank is the source of the $2 million that has been given to the Arias government without much fanfare. The Spanish-language daily La Nación reported more than a week ago that the money had been distributed among Arias supporters who were supposedly advisers. Casa Presidencial later confirmed that a number of individual, including those from other political parties, had received payments from the money. Some $342,000 had been expended, Casa Presidencial said. The number of advisers has grown to 82.

Meeting with Arias Tuesday was  Rocío Aguilar, the contralora general de la República, and one of her department chiefs,  Wálter Ramírez. The contraloría is supposed to oversee government spending, but the money distributed by the Arias administration was outside any budget.

So far Casa Presidencial has not fully described the persons who received the payments, the purpose of the payments and the total amounts. However, Casa Presidencial said that
Rodrigo Arias Sánchez would send a note today to the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica asking that this information be made available to the Contraloría.

Off-the-books payments to political figures and supporters are not unusual. In the Abel Pacheco government funds from foreign governments were used to enhance the salaries of ranking Casa Presidencial employees. Similar payments went to employees of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The United States also provided certain payments for expenses and training for Costa Rican negotiators for the free trade treaty. That caused a political flap, too.

The $2 million slush fund is not all of the headache that Casa Presidencial is experiencing. The administration converted to its own use some $1.5 million that had been donated by the government of Taiwan to help poor people hit by flooding to rebuild. Instead, the housing ministry used the money also to hire so-called advisers. There has not been a full accounting of that money.

Taiwan has washed its hands.  The Taipei Times, the English-language newspaper there, reported that a ministry of foreign affairs spokesman said Taiwan had nothing to do with Arias’ alleged misappropriation of foreign aid and stressed Taiwan was meticulous when allocating monetary aid to its allies.

Costa Rica broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China not long after the funds were delivered.

Robbers take three gambling machines, but police quickly recover the loot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers arrested four suspects Tuesday in connection with the robbery of three pinball machines from a supermarket in Tirrases de Curridabat.

Three of the suspects were identified by the last names and ages of Mondragón Contreras, 22, López Contreras, 31, and Fernández Fernández, also 31. Robbers entered the Camacho supermarket and used toy guns to make off with the three gaming machines that they loaded onto a pickup, according to the Ministerio de Gobernacíon, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
The truck driver, identified by the last name Morales Castro, 51, was also detained.

Castro told police that he had no idea that his cargo had been stolen until the truck had been stopped by the Fuerza Pública. He had been hired to move the devices.

Each of the machines has an estimated value of about $800, according to the release.

Three female officers from Zapote, Susana Acosta, Isabel Jiménez and Mairena Alfaro, responded to call and initiated the arrests in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, said the ministry.

Gunmen shoot up Alajuelita bar and kill taxi driver who happened to be there
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men opened fire into a bar in Alajuelita at 12:03 a.m. Monday , killing a taxi driver and wounding four others, according to Fuerza Pública officials.

Luis Alberto Vargas Quirós, an independent taxi driver, was shot three times at close range and died from his injuries. Quirós was in the Cantonés bar when the two men opened
fire and quickly fled on a motorcycle, according to Fuerza Pública officer Ronald Perez in  Alajuelita.

Cynthia Morales Fuentes, who officials think was Quirós's fare at the time, was wounded in the leg. Three other bar patrons also were injured in the gunfire, Pérez said.

Peerez did not know any motive for the violence, or why the taxi driver was at a bar with a fare when the shooting occurred.

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Analysts wonder if Fuerzas Armadas might be on way out
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After the dramatic rescue mission of 15 hostages by the Colombian Army last week, many analysts are starting to talk about a possible crisis in one of the oldest guerrilla groups in the world. Some suggest this is the beginning of the end for a rebel group dating back more 40 years.

Last week's rescue is widely described as an embarrassing setback for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.  Not one shot was fired when Colombian

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intelligence officials tricked the rebels into handing over 15 hostages in the Colombian jungle.

Experts and analysts now say they see a crisis within the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America.  Patrick Esteruelas, of the Eurasia Group, says the rebels could be coming apart. "It is the beginning of the end of the Farc guerrilla movement as we know it," he said.

The Fuerzas Armadas began in 1964 as a Marxist-oriented rural rebel army. Its initial income came from extortion of landowning elites and emerging drug lords. By the 1980s, the Fuerzas Armadas began charging farmers and drugs lords for protection, allowing the group to increase its manpower and to purchase more weapons.  In a few years, the Fuerzas Armadas activities evolved into an alliance with drug lords. Today, experts estimate that between 60 and 90 percent of the rebel income comes from the illicit drug business.

Adam Isacson, a political analyst with the non-profit Washington think-tank Center for International Policy, says the Fuerzas Armadas fronts operating closer to Venezuela are entirely dedicated to drugs.

Isacon says,"From taxing the growers, to buying the coca paste, to turning it into cocaine and crystal cocaine and to get it through the corridors in Colombia and in some cases getting it out of the country — that's where we do not know how far it goes though. We have heard that the FARC has contacts with Mexican cartels."

Isacson estimates that about 20 percent of the rebel income comes from kidnapping. The group's 70 fronts, or local cells, now hold about 700 hostages and its total income, he estimates, is in the hundreds of millions. "I would say at least half a billion dollars a year," Isacson said.

With estimates of Fuerzas Armadas membership running up to 18,000, Isacson says that the defection of hundreds of rebels this year indicates some fronts are facing political and economic difficulties.

Several billion dollars in U.S. aid has helped the Colombian government infiltrate and disrupt rebel operations. There have been arrests and assassinations. In the last few months, the organization's founder died and two senior leaders were killed. The government campaign interrupted communications between many of the fronts.

Eduardo Gamarra of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at the Florida International University says the stated purpose of the U.S. money was to eradicate coca production.

"The investment was originally to stop the flow of drugs into the United States. If you gauged it from that perspective then the plan has not worked.  If you gauge it from the perspective of dismantling a major, the major guerrilla force, the most important drug trafficking organization, then it is a huge success,” Gamarra said.

According to the U.N., Colombia's production of coca leaf, used to produce cocaine, increased 27 percent last year. But the Fuerzas Armadas could be in crisis, says Patrick Esteruelas.

"The FARC has not been left with too many options.  Right now they are too busy surviving and are not capable of staging anything close to a military resurgence," Esteruelas said.

Colombian analysts and public opinion surveys give the Fuerzas Armadas less than a 1 percent approval rating in Colombia.  But while many agree that the Fuerzas Armadas has lost members and faces one of its most difficult moments, they also warn that it is probably far from being eliminated.

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