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(506) 223-1327       Published Friday, July 14, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 139       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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House OKs bill criminalizing Internet gaming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. House has passed legislation that makes clear that Internet gambling is a criminal activity.

The measure would remove uncertainty from the existing law, last updated in 1961. The bill also prohibits transferring money, including electronic transfers, checks and credit cards, for gambling purposes and gives the federal government the right to seek immediate injunctive relief in the courts to stop such activity.

To avoid U.S. government complications, there are some 2,300 gambling operations offshore outside of federal jurisdiction.

“Offshore online gambling Web sites are cash cows and the greed that propels these companies leads them to solicit bettors in the U.S. despite the fact that the Department of Justice already believes this activity is illegal,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, one of the sponsors of the bill.  “Internet gambling is a serious problem that must be stopped and I believe the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act will help eliminate this harmful activity before it spreads further.”

The bill passed the House Tuesday night by a lopsided  317-93 vote. It goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The Bush administration strongly supports the bill.
This legislation increases the maximum prison term for a violation from two to five years.

Costa Rica hosts a number of gambling sites that do the bulk of their business with bettors in the United States. The businesses employ U.S. citizens, many illegally, and bilingual Costa Ricans.

The operator of one, Canadian Calvin Ayre of Bodog.com, says offshore gambling has made him a billionaire in 10 years.

The United States government has cracked down on Internet gambling in the past and ordered major credit card companies to block gambling payments. However, there always was uncertainty because the 1961 wire act was written with telephone and telegraph lines in mind, not new technology.

Illegal gambling with offshore sites and across state lines is an $8 billion business and "these activities suck billions of dollars per year out of the U.S. economy, serve as a vehicle for money laundering, undermine families, and threaten the ability of states to enact and enforce their own laws," said  Goodlatte in a prepared statement.

He is a Republican serving his seventh term from Virginia's Sixth District.

Some Italian Mafia figures also have been linked with gambling operations in Costa Rica.

Massive renewal planned for city of Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration is about to send a $70 million proposal to the Asamblea Legislativa to transform the city of Limón into a regional center of economic growth.

The project hinges on a $70 million loan from the World Bank, which needs legislative approval.

"Limón is not just Carnival, violence and drug addiction," said  Yalile Esna, a lawmaker representing the province.

The plan proposes to create more jobs, improve the infrastructure and change the environment, which is run down.
Marco Vargas, the coordinator of government institutions, said he was almost ready to send the measure to lawmakers. The planning had been done with a grant from the Japanese government.

Limón has always been the nation's stepchild, in part because most residents there are Afro-Caribbean and not descendants of European settlers.

The city revolves around the port where Caribbean cruise ships visit each year. But there is little for tourists to do in the city. Most are bused to Central Valley sites. Part of the plan is to promote small businesses that are involved with the port operation in some way.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 139

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Nosara friends gather
for murdered resident

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carl D. Brainard was one of the more visible of Nosara residents. He operated the Juice Lab and seems to have had an above-average number of friends.

"Carl was a friend and a very jovial guy. . .  A shame for us all and for his family," said one Nosara resident.

That was a sentiment shared by others.

Friends said they were going to gather at the Juice Lab Thursday night for an informal memorial service, complete with candles and beer, a beverage much favored by Brainard, said a friend.

Intruders murdered Brainard as he watched over someone else's home in the La Esperanza section of Playa Guiones, the "Gringo section" of Nosara.

Such things seldom happen in the upscale Pacific coast town where petty crime is common but cold-blooded murder is not. The hills are full of $1 million-plus homes and the guy in shorts and sandals could be an Oscar winner.

Brainard, 72, originally was from Michigan, but he seemed to have been a very visible figure for a long time in Guiones. In addition to dispensing juice and smoothies, he worked as a salesman for Nosara Real Estate for at least two and a half years.

Still unclear was who owned the home where the gardener found Brainard's body bound hand and foot Wednesday, but the Toyota Four Runner that was stolen is owned by his long time friend Carly A. Schroeder, according to the Registro Nacional. She is out of the country, according to an employee at the real estate firm.

The Judicial Investigating Organization is in charge of the case now, but some residents fear that the isolated condition of Playa Guiones, some 40 kms. from a paved road, will hinder the investigation by agents based in Nicoya.

Fugitive from Canada
arrested in vehicle here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police trapped a Canadian wanted to face murder and drug charges there in a coordinated operation Thursday in central San José.

The man was identified as Jaime Restrepo, who is Colombian by birth and a naturalized Canadian, agents said.  He is known as Jimmy Prado in Costa Rica. He lives in Palmares de Alajuela.

Police and International Police Agency agents had him under observation and decided to act today when the man left his house in a motor vehicle.

They followed him to Avenida 3 at calles 10 and 12 where undercover police pulled guns on him and forced him from the car.

Arias praises renewal
of downtown San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mayors from the capital cities of the Iberoamerican countries began a meeting in San José Thursday. Johnny Araya, mayor of San José, is the host for this, the 12th such annual session.

In an opening address, President Óscar Arias Sánchez gave support to the "San José posible" project to renew the city. Araya is the prime motivator.

Arias noted that slowly signs are coming down, the street vendors have been relocated, trees are being put in and electricity has been put underground.

The city soon will set off some 12 square blocks in the center of town for pedestrians only.

Our readers' opinions

We are 'must reading'

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I want to compliment you on the excellence of A.M. Costa Rica and all of the progress you have made on this new source since you started.  I have been one of your readers from the very beginning. Your news coverage has increased and improved tremendously and is always "must reading" for me!  For several years I have been coming to Costa Rica three to four times per year on vacation, and I keep up with the news through A.M. Costa Rica.
I see that you are sometimes criticized one way or the other however I respect the professionalism of your journalism and appreciate your importance on objectivity.
Bill Edwards
Arlington, Virginia 
Doesn't want 'early' news

EDITOR'S NOTE: This reader objects to our efforts Thursday to keep readers informed on the murder of Nosara resident Carl D. Brainard.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

You guys have become so yellow you are jaundice.  Crime is an issue and should be addressed, as it is important to your readers and the Costa Rican
society at large.  The "early reporting" of a murder smacks of sensationalism, dishonors the victim and, plain and simple, is not newsworthy. 

Get the facts, report them and then relate them to something that is important to your readership.  Make up your freaking mind — are you an online newspaper who reports news or are you just an advertising vehicle
that produces muckraking news to support revenue?  I am pretty damn disappointed and hope to see a higher level of journalistic integrity. 

Ben Lazar
Woodstock, GA
Ojochal, Costa Rica, property owner
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 139

Cuba revisited, and some food prices compared
Soon after I sent off my column about the cost of living in Cuba as reported by the Cuban consul in Costa Rica last week, La Nación ran a letter by Huber Matos.  Matos is a Cuban-American living in Miami. He was quoting prices from a Cuban newspaper to contradict the rosey picture provided by the consul. 

A pineapple in Cuba cost 10 pesos (50 cents) or about 255 colones.   Hot peppers, five pesos for a half pound. And a garlic head 3.5 pesos.  I can buy three heads of garlic here for 100 colones (about 23 cents.)  I have no idea how much hot peppers cost, but I am sure a half pound goes a long way.

Unfortunately, Matos did not record the price of rice and beans, something Cubans as well as Ticos eat at least once a day, probably more.  

Another Floridian wrote to me to say that his electric bill is $267 a month and his water bill $150.  

Then a letter to my editor stated that in Cuba, although there is health care and doctors, people couldn’t fill prescriptions because there are no medicines.

Recently here the Caja has been out of medications, including antibiotics.   Then I was directed to a blog that stated that every minute an ambulance is turned away from an emergency room in the U.S.  According to the article, this is the result of lack of medical insurance by millions of people (including 10 million children). 

I have never been turned away from an emergency room in Costa Rica. But at Hospital CIMA they didn’t turn me away — they just refused to treat me until I gave them a $1,000 deposit.  In the United States the law says emergency hospitals must treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay.  That is, if they can admit them in the first place.

So perfection has not been achieved by any of the three countries I have talked about.  However, in all three, life expectancy is about the same. Probably the lowest infant mortality figures go to Cuba, in spite of no medication.  (I am of the opinion that most of us are overmedicated anyway. But that is just my opinion.)  As of now, Costa Rica is the only country of the three that has both political freedom and relative security.

Meanwhile, more and more people write to me asking if they can live in Costa Rica on a modest income — an income they cannot live on in the States
or other fast-track country.  (I have decided I don’t like the terms “developed” and “developing” or       
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart


“undeveloped”).  Costa Rica is still a slow-track country but trying to speed up.  For some of us this is not a happy development. 

Expats can live in Costa Rica on a modest income if their needs are also modest, if they like fruit and vegetables more than meat and seafood, enjoy rice and beans more than expensive restaurants, don’t need a new car, a home with all the comforts they were used to, learn to use their time to save money, and have no costly addictions, like gambling or consumerism. 

A couple of years ago I did a shopping comparison with a friend in the States between the cost of fruits and vegetables that I bought at the feria (farmers’ market) and she bought in a supermarket.  This was not an entirely fair comparison, but the few farmers’ markets I have visited in the States did not have particularly low prices.  At the time, I bought the same items here for a total of one third less than she paid. 

Prices have gone up here, but for someone living on dollars it is difficult to figure it out since inflation is between 12 and 15 percent and the colon is pegged to the dollar, so it is almost a weekly event that one gets more colones for the dollar. 

The big expense for most people is their rent or housing.  Ticos manage this, it seems, because extended families share the same home or else build on property that the family owns.  As in Cuba, most of the adults in families work and contribute to household expenses. 

House-sharing among non-family members would be an answer here or anywhere to cutting expenses.  I have lived in successful cooperative households in the United States and England and found that they answered both social and economic needs (not to mention gourmet meals in one), as well as offering me privacy when I wanted it.  The future is going to require some creative ideas on how to live a manageable life wherever one is.
Correction:  Oops.  In my column about schools and homestay I said that there were homestays for $20 a week.  I meant to say $20 a day.

Two of three held in murder of Fuerza Pública officer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men suspected of being involved in the murder of a Fuerza Pública officer early Sunday are in custody, and a third man is still being sought.

The two, identified by the last names of Artavia and Herrera were the objects of a raid Wednesday night in Concepción de Alajuelita, a San José suburb. The men were brought to Limón Thursday for judicial questioning. They had been the subjects of a massive police search of the Caribbean coast.

The three men involved in the murder began their night of crime Saturday by robbing a U.S. citizen and
his female companion at their home in Puerto Viejo. They took his Isuzu pickup, money and paintings.

They ran into a routine checkpoint being manned by Mario González González at Tuba Creek just a few miles north of Cauhita. The policeman was not expecting fugitives because an alert about the robbery had not yet been broadcast.

The suspects have prior records and contact with the police, and police seemed to know who they were even before the arrests. Fernando Berrocal Soto, the security minister, predicted quick arrests in a Tuesday press conference. The emphasis now returns to the Caribbean where police think the third suspect is.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 139

Chávez helps terrorists, U.S. House committee told
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his government have come in for more criticism during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday. State Department officials testified that Venezuela supports terrorist groups, and fails to respond to U.S. efforts to build cooperation on anti-terrorist efforts.

Venezuela was added earlier this year to the list of countries the U.S. State Department designates as not cooperating fully with anti-terrorist efforts.

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce said evidence shows Venezuela maintains close ties with terrorist groups and countries supporting them.

"Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez has tolerated terrorists on its soil and has forged close relationships with officially-designated state sponsors of terrorism, for example Cuba, Iran and North Korea," said Royce, a Republican.

Royce also sites reports of Venezuelan support for Colombian narco-terrorists, and the use of Venezuelan territory as a safe-haven.

Lawmakers are particularly distressed with Venezuela's failure to crack down on forging of passports and other documents.

Frank Urbancic is the State Department's principal deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism:

"Most worrisome, Venezuelan government officials direct the issuance of documents to ineligible individuals to advance political and foreign policy agendas," said Urbancic. "As a result we are detaining at our borders increasing numbers of third country aliens carrying falsified documents or fraudulently issued Venezuelan documents."
U.S. officials say a major outcome of all of this is to place ordinary Venezuelans under greater scrutiny.

Efforts to construct an anti-terrorism dialogue with Caracas have been largely unsuccessful, amid increasing concern about President Chavez' outreach to Iran and North Korea.

"Over the past three years, the U.S. embassy in Caracas has submitted roughly 130 written requests for different types of biographical or immigration-related information on potential terrorist suspects, and to date has not received one single substantive response," said Charles Shapiro, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs

Key areas of concern for lawmakers include the Chavez government's intensifying ties with Iran and opposition to sending the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council, as well as fund-raising activities by Hezbollah in Venezuela.

Brad Sherman says President Chávez should address these concerns, but also urges U.S. patience:

"The U.S. must have patience in dealing with the Chávez government," noted the California Democrat. "Those who talk about taking Chávez down should recognize that it is up to the Venezuelan people to decide who will be their leader."

U.S. officials reiterated Washington's opposition to Venezuela obtaining a two-year, non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, something the Chávez government says would help it represent the interests of developing countries.

The officials noted that Venezuela's designation as a non-cooperating country in the fight against terrorism, will result in the cutoff of U.S. military equipment sales Oct. 1.

Get ready to enjoy the record chunk of cheese at a festival near Turrialba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's cheese time again in the community of Santa Cruz north of Turrialba.

Organizers promise a 260-kilo (572-pound) cheese and a world's record tortilla. That's a good start on a record quesadilla.
The event is today through Sunday, and it is sponsored by the Asociación Pro Fortalecimiento de la Actividad Láctea and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Saturday will see a fiesta with masks, musical groups and the effort to make the tortilla. Sunday the big chunk of cheese figures in a parade.

Shots are pegged at vendor by two men near Hospital México
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men tried to settle a score in front of Hospital México Thursday afternoon.

They ran towards their victim firing from pistols. Some of the bullets broke glass in the facade of the
hospital in west San José.

The victim, a vendor who frequents the area, ran toward the hospital, and the two men followed. Police eventually arrested one, but the second escaped.
The victim was unhurt and no reports of injuries came from the hospital.

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