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(506) 223-1327       Published Wednesday, July 12, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 137       E-mail us    
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Inspector general's office in the works
More officers on the street is Berrocal's goal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security ministry officials have spent two months targeting local and international drug activities. Now they want to get more Fuerza Pública officers on the streets.

At the same time, the ministry will tackle internal corruption with the creation of an office of inspector general and crack down on visa fraud in the immigration agency, according to Fernando Berrocal Soto, the minister.

Berrocal said that in the two months since he has taken over, the Policia de Control de Drogas have carried out 57 operations, 34 targeting local activities like crack sales and 23 involving international trafficking, such as intercepting couriers at Juan Santamaría airport.

The Fuerza Pública and the anti-drug police, as well as immigration agents have conducted sweeps in likely spots for illegal residents and fugitives. The ministry agencies were joined in most of these efforts by agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization, which is an arm of the courts, and municipal police.

Berrocal said that he would soon announce the makeup of the inspector general's office. He said Tuesday that an accountant and a lawyer would be among those named, perhaps later this week.

"Nothing is more demoralizing than cases of corruption in the Fuerza Pública, said the minister. He speaks with experience. May 27, shortly after he took over, 15 M-16 military rifles and two handguns were stolen from the  Fuerza Pública delegación in Guácimo. Investigators later arrested a policeman.

Then June 26, Berrocal outlined allegations that two Fuerza Públicas officers and an ex-officer helped set up the murder of three small-time drug dealers. He said at the same time another officer was suspected of working with a Colombian gang.

Then La Nación, the Spanish language daily newspaper, disclosed that a fleet of patrol cars of Romanian manufacture are no longer in service because repair parts are not available.

Fuerza Pública officers and immigration employees used the vehicles. Some claim the vehicles were unfit for service when they arrived, purchased in 2002 from a local dealer.
Berrocal also disclosed that some smaller police stations that were supposed to be constructed in rural areas had not been built but the ministry had paid for them anyway. This case is under investigation, too.

The minister said that more police will be seen on the street because he is chasing them out from behind desks. In addition, some 350 policemen who now work inside the ministry will be given street assignments, he said.

Berrocal recounted a recent motor trip he took with Rafael Angel Gutiérrez Gómez, vice minister of Seguridad Pública, from San Pedro to Escazú. He said he saw no policemen on the streets and immediately called the San José regional commander to order more officers to the beats. Some expats who frequent the San José downtown in the early evening report an increased presence of police.

Ana Eugenia Durán Salvatierra, vice minister of Gobernación, said that plans to crack down on visa fraud will not have an effect on North Americans or Europeans. Berrocal promised an announcement Thursday or Friday in conjunction with the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto to drastically change the way so-called "restricted" visas are handled. These are visas for persons in about 134 countries, such as Cuba and the People's Republic of China, who do not have free and easy access to Costa Rica.

The country has weathered a series of disclosures of fake marriages and other tricks that foreigners from such countries have used to gain residency here.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores issues the visas at the nation's many overseas consulates. And the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería processes the visa once the person arrives in Costa Rica. Ms. Durán supervises the immigration department within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Berrocal also said that his ministry was seeing alliances with the major security companies and companies that deliver their products in Costa Rica. There are some 19,000 private guards, about twice the number of Fuerza Pública officers. Berrocal said that the ministry wants to set up common emergency radio frequencies and share intelligence to avoid confusion when crimes happen. Distribution trucks, like those delivering beer and soda, are prime targets for bandits.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 137

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Japanese sending experts
to help with disasters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Nicoya Peninsula is overdue for a major earthquake, and the government of Japan is sending advisers to help emergency officials strengthen their local networks there.

Yoshihiko Sumi, the Japanese ambassador, visited emergency officials Monday along with local representatives of the Japanese Agency for International Cooperation.  Daniel Gallardo, president of the  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias, joined them in signing the appropriate requests for expert help in Guanacaste.

Big quakes have hit the peninsula in 1853, 1900 and 1950. Earthquake experts estimate a period of recurrence of from 48 to 50.7 years with standard deviations of from 2 to 4 years.

According to officials at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico, a large seismic gap exists underneath the Nicoya Peninsula. The gap is where the Cocos plate to the west and the Caribe plate to the east meet. The juncture of these two plates creates the potential for a large earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 or higher.

In 1990 a 7.0 magnitude quake hit offshore in the Gulf of Nicoya which caused one death and caused damage in Puntarenas and in the Central Valley. Since then scientists have been expecting a quake further north on the fault that runs under the peninsula.

The earthquake and volcano observatory is associated with the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

South of Ciudad Neily
highway will be closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Construction workers will be replacing a collapsed pipe south of Ciudad Neily today from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Interamerican highway will be closed.

Passenger cars and light trucks will be able to make use of a detour, but heavy trucks and trucks carrying containers might have to await the reopening of the highway, said the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

Workers will be putting in reinforced concrete pipes to replace the damaged one, said Alejandro Molina, executive director of the highway agency.  Tránsito officers will be on hand to direct vehicles, he said.

The spot is a half mile southeast of the Hospital Neily and is the stretch that connects Paso Canoas with Ciudad Neily.

Even after the road is reopened, traffic many be reduced to a single lane for some time, the road official said.

Security minister expects
arrests soon in cop's killing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fernando Berrocal Soto, the security minister, said Tuesday he expected quick arrests in the murder of a Fuerza Pública officer early Sunday.

The officer, Mario González González, 47, an 11-year veteran of the police unit,  took five bullets in his body when he tried to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint in Tuba Creek, a few miles north of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast.

Police units are out in force sweeping the landscape near Cahuita and the Valle de la Estrella.

Officials believe that at least four persons are involved. Two vehicles were involved. One was an Isuzu pickup stolen from a U.S. citizen in Puerto Viejo just hours before.

The crime was not reported until later Sunday morning, so the policeman did not know he was stepping into the middle of a getaway.

Berrocal gave the impression that police have a good idea who the suspects are.

Financial control unit
urged for regional group

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will use its authority as president pro tempore of a Central American regional agency for six months to push for tighter financial supervision.

That was the opinion of President Óscar Arias Sánchez, voiced in his address at the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana in Panamá City Tuesday.

Also supporting this possibility was Bruno Stagno, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

In a summary, Stagno's ministry said that the creation of a controlaría would optimize resources.  The agency would be similar to the one in the Costa Rican government where contracts are reviewed.  Arias said in his speech that such an agency would be able to keep better track of money coming in from various sources.

The session of heads of state also will analyze the first five years of Plan Puebla-Panamá, an integration program from Puebla, México, to all of Panamá.

Holiday this year
will be on July 31

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although July 25 celebrates the Annexation of Nicoya, the day will not be a holiday. A law passed last year moved the holiday to the next Monday, in this case July 31 so workers can have a three-day weekend.

The idea advanced by lawmakers was to advance tourism by giving workers time to travel.

The day marks the decision by Nicoya officials to join their district with Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua in 1824.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 137

Expat, 71, lets the wrong taxi pick him up near Ciudad Colón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For 71-year-old Avery Patterson, the pirate taxi was very welcomed.

The Cuidad Colón resident made a mistake and took the wrong bus Friday morning. He got off at the end of the route, just half way from home to his destination, Multiplaza in Escazú.

He said his body was short on sugar, and he was getting a little dizzy when the red car pulled up at the bus stop. Although there was a man and woman in the backseat, Ciudad Colón residents often double up on longer trips. They beckoned, and he got in.

But Patterson, a nine-year veteran of life in Costa Rica, thought he was in trouble when the driver quickly pulled the car into a side road. He was certain when he felt the cord being looped around his neck.

Patterson said he never passed out but breathing became difficult. The driver went through his wallet to find just 10,000 colons  (less than $20). The man also
took his watch and ordered him out of the car. He never really saw in detail the two people in the backseat, including the man with the noose.

Patterson, who has a heart condition, said he worried about nightmares and the walk back to the main road. But the walk did not cause serious problems, and the nightmares did not appear, he said.

Patterson did not report the crime because he said he thinks that investigators really are not interested. Plus the loss was small. Patterson said he had left his credit cards and most of his money in his home.

Still. He counts himself fortunate. Nine years after moving here from Atlanta, Georgia, this is the first robbery that he has experienced, although he has been a victim of pickpockets several times.

Ciudad Colón is about 20 kms (12.5 miles) west of San José.

Woman from here was victim in Boston tunnel mishap
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOSTON, Mass. —  Gov. Mitt Romney says his office has begun taking legal steps to remove the head of the state's Turnpike Authority following a deadly accident in a Boston tunnel that killed a Costa Rican woman.

Romney said Tuesday it is time for change and he has instructed his legal counsel to find a way to remove the turnpike chief, Matt Amorello, from his post.

Also on Tuesday, the state attorney general Tom Reilly launched a criminal probe into the incident.

The developments come one day after a three-ton concrete panel fell from a ceiling that is part of the
so-called "Big Dig" tunnel system late Monday and killed a woman in a car. She was identified as Milena Delvalle, 38. She was a passenger in a car driven by her husband, Angel Delvalle, 46, who was injured. The couple had been married recently and were on their way to Logan International Airport to pick up family members. He is from Puerto Rico.

Inspectors are working to ensure that 100 similar ceiling panels pose no danger. The Big Dig has become a central route through Boston. It carried  Interstate 90 under the city.

The biggest public works project in U.S. history, the 15-year-long, $14-billion undertaking has been plagued by cost over-runs and water leaks.

Can you believe Costa Rica has to import caffeine?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite coffee being one of the nation's major exports, some 500 tons of caffeine are imported each year for pharmaceuticals and drinks because no one extracts the substance here.

Orlando Hernández, a lawmaker affiliated with the Partido Acción Ciudadana, raised this issue in the legislature Tuesday as he praised a pilot project in  Turrialba which is being supported by the
governments of Brazil and Colombia, as well as local experts.

He said that sometimes the caffeine that is imported comes from the same beans that Costa Rica exported. Local production would produce a less expensive product because money would be saved in not pushing the beans around, he said. Hernández said that the extraction process is relatively simple. Lawmakers will be asked to approve an agreement with Brazil and Colombia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 137

Cubans in Miami generally pleased with Bush plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Many people in Miami's Cuban community are praising Washington's continued efforts to promote democracy in Cuba. This comes after President George Bush's Monday approval of a new, multi-million-dollar program to support freedom and democracy in Cuba, after decades of Communist rule.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the efforts Monday, with the release of the second report of the bipartisan Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

The new American commitment includes a two-year, $80 million program to end what Secretary Rice called the information blockade in Cuba, and also to support efforts to one day transition to democracy on the island.

The announcement comes about a month before Cuban President Fidel Castro turns 80. The Communist dictator came to power in 1959. His brother, Raul, is his chosen successor.

Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcón was quoted in Cuban state-run media last week as saying the draft of the commission's report reinforced what he called an American plan to annex the island.

In Miami, some in the city's large Cuban community welcomed the announcement in Washington.

Alfredo Mesa, the executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, says the efforts show there is a clear commitment to bring a transition to democracy in Cuba. But he says the efforts for change cannot just come from outside the island.
"The decisions for a transition to democracy in Cuba have to take place in Cuba by Cubans," said Mesa.

He also says those who want political change in Cuba must act with those who would be part of the transition.

"Opposition leaders and dissident leaders and even people who work in the government today that can be in a position tomorrow to bring a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba are the ones who need to be guiding us in how we can help them," added Mesa.

Maria Vazquez owns a shop in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. She praised the Bush administration's effort for political change in Cuba. She says Cuban freedom is the goal.

"We want a free Cuba," she said. "We want a free Cuba with elections, where both the people inside the island and ourselves who have been refugees for almost 47 years be able to vote in a democratic way."

At the InterAmerican Campus of Miami Dade College, one student says, although there are some positive aspects to life on the island, they are far outweighed by the negative.

"There are advantages and disadvantages, they have free education for everybody and health care, but they also have problems with the food and how they get basic stuff for everybody," said the student.

The United States imposed an economic embargo against Cuba more than four decades ago. The student says she believes American pressure on the island is influencing the people of Cuba — but not the government.

López Obrador beginning to look like a sore loser
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In Mexico, leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador continues his efforts to challenge the narrow result from July 2 election that gave victory to ruling party candidate Felipe Calderón. Meanwhile, Calderón is acting more and more like a president-elect.

Speaking to reporters in Mexico City Tuesday, Felipe Calderón called for calm ahead of protests and said he thought López Obrador was making a mistake in promoting the turmoil.

He said by promoting demonstrations, López Obrador would lose much of the political capital he gained in the election, especially after having made pledges to honor the results even if he lost by a single vote.

López Obrador, for his part, continues to claim the election was rigged.  He says some of his own representatives may have taken bribes to allow vote tampering.

But while his followers express faith in these accusations, there is evidence the public at large is growing tired of the complaints. Monday, López Obrador played a video for reporters that he said showed a ruling party representative stuffing ballots in a box. But the Instituto Electoral Federal later released a statement with documented evidence to demonstrate that what was shown on the video tape was nothing more than the transfer of misplaced presidential votes from a box marked for deputy votes.

Tuesday López Obrador produced two more videos.

Leaders of some other political parties, including the once powerful Partido Revolucionario Institucional, have recognized Calderón as the winner. President George Bush as well as a number of other leaders from the Americas and Europe have called Calderón to offer their congratulations.

A close observer of Mexican politics in the United States, Professor George Grayson of the College of
William and Mary, says López Obrador is looking more and more like a sore loser. But Grayson says the populist candidate of the leftist Partido Revolución Democrática, did make an important contribution to the electoral contest.

"López Obrador, in getting about a third of the vote, really did put on the map the issue of the profound poverty in Mexico and also the stark inequality that finds 10 percent of the elite owning 45 percent of the wealth,"said  Grayson.

Grayson says he believes Calderón will weather the storm of protests called for by López Obrador. He also believes Calderón will build an effective government of unity by appealing for support from state governors from the the two other parties.

"The governors actually handpicked many of the newly elected senators and deputies and so, I think, Calderón will focus on the governors, who, in turn, will encourage legislators from their state to back his initiatives in return for having their state's projects addressed," he said.

In this way, Grayson believes, Calderón will succeed where current president Vicente Fox failed in getting fiscal reform, judicial reform and energy reform through a divided congress.

But Grayson disagrees with those who worry that the agenda of the poor championed by López Obrador will suffer neglect under Calderón.

"Calderón is a modern person," noted Grayson. "He knows that there have to be profound structural changes and he also has a social Christian outlook. So he is going to be supporting programs that uplift the poor and try to make a better life for those who have been excluded from the mainstream of Mexican society."

Of course, all of that is still a long way off. The Mexican electoral tribunal must first rule on the complaints of irregularities and declare the official winner of the election on Sept. 6. But the new president will not take power until Dec. 1.

Morales' socialists get more than half of the assembly votes in Bolivia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivia's elections court has confirmed that President Evo Morales' party won more than half the seats in the nation's constituent assembly election last week.
The official count released Tuesday shows that Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party won 137 of the assembly's 255 seats.
That result leaves the party short of the two-thirds needed to control the assembly, which will rewrite the constitution. Coming in second was the main opposition PODEMOS alliance with 60 seats.

A referendum held at the same time on whether the national government will grant Bolivian states greater autonomy failed in a majority of states.

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