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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, July 20, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 141        E-mail us
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Iwo Jima
U.S. Southern Command photo
Iwo Jima looks a lot like an aircraft carrier
Controversial visit is a medical, humanitarian one
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the U.S. Navy vessels to take advantage of Costa Rica's approval of its visit is the USS Iwo Jima.

A spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said that the Iwo Jima, a 257-meter (843-foot)  amphibious assault ship that has been refitted with special medical equipment, plans a stop in Costa Rica. The boat, its crew and non-profit organization staffers will spend from 10 days to two weeks providing humanitarian assistance to residents of the southern Caribbean coast, the Southern Command spokesman said. The dates still are uncertain.

"The primary focus of the medical teams is to provide a range of health care services ashore.  On a case-by-case basis, select patients will receive medical or dental care on the ship," said a Southern Command release, adding:

"The medical contingent aboard USS Iwo Jima is trained to provide general and specialty surgical care, primary and consultative care for children and adults, obstetrical and gynecological consultative care, ophthalmologic services, optometric services, preventative medicine treatment, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, public health training, infrastructure support and veterinary services."

This is the fifth such visit by similar ships. The Iwo Jima was included in a list of 46 ships that the Asamblea Legislative permitted to visit Costa Rica. Such approval is required by the Costa Rican Constitution. Also cited was a 10-year-old anti-drug agreement between Costa Rica and the United States, although the mission of the Iwo Jima does not involve drug interdiction.

Although 46 boats and 7,000 crew members were mentioned in the assembly resolution, most of them will not visit Costa Rica. For example, the famous USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, is on the list but not scheduled to stop here during the next six months, said the Southern Command spokesman.

Primary opponents in the legislature were Luis Fishman Zonsinski of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and Jose Maria Villalta Florez-Estrada of Frente Amplio, a party that has ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

More recently the Sindicato de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores de la Educación Costarricense published a half-page text ad in El Diario Extra in which it said its Congreso Ideológico opposed the resolution and asked the government to withdraw the permission. President Laura Chinchilla noted that similar permissions have been granted every six months for years.

A Prensa Latina news story prompted the most concern because it gave the impression that 46 ships and 7,000 service members were going to come to Costa Rica at the same time. The Cuban news service seems to be in step with Communist Party President Fidel Castro, who is promoting the idea
that the United States is about to start a nuclear war.

Some 1,600 persons will be on the Iwo Jima, the Southern Command spokesman said. The Iwo Jima left Norfolk, Virginia, July 12 to begin its four-month goodwill mission, called Continuing Promise 2010.  In addition to Costa Rica, the ship will visit Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panamá and Suriname.

"The mission aims to foster goodwill and demonstrate U.S. commitment and support to Latin America and the Caribbean," said the Southern Command. The Continuing Promise medical contingent will partner with local health care providers and community officials to provide free medical care to communities with limited access to medical treatment, it said.

The medical/dental/veterinary crew includes medical professionals from the U.S. military and U.S. Public Health Service, non-governmental organizations and other international partners, all with approval from various ministries of the host nations, said the Southern Command.

A team of Navy Seabees will conduct building repairs and improvements, small construction
projects, utility system repairs and
other engineering assistance projects for local communities during the mission.. About 500 Marines from Cherry Point, North Carolina, are supporting the deployment.  The Marines’ mission is to provide air, ground and logistics support to humanitarian civic assistance activities, the Southern Commands said.  They will also be ready to provide relief to any natural/man-made disaster that may occur in the region, it added. The ship is carrying four Blackhawk helicopters.

The Iwo Jima now is in Miami and scheduled to leave Wednesday for Haiti, the first country on its list of stops. The crew of the Iwo Jima will be joined during the mission by medical, dental and engineering professionals from Canada, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and Paraguay, the Southern Command said. Supplies have been donated by some 30 non-profit organizations.

Large amphibious ships, like Iwo Jima, resemble small aircraft carriers and include the ability to rapidly move personnel and cargo by
helicopter and landing craft, making it an ideal platform to support humanitarian relief missions on short notice, the Southern Command explained.

This is the fifth such deployment to the region since 2007. Prior deployments were supported by crews aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort and the amphibious ships USS Boxer and USS Kearsarge, the Southern Command said. Continuing Promise crews have treated more than 265,000 patients during previous missions, it added.

U.S. service personnel have visited southeastern Costa Rica several times. They provided needed medical treatment for the largely native population there.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 141

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Water as a human right
runs into some trouble


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two parties in the legislature have joined forces to vote down a proposed constitutional addition that says water is a human right, according to Acción Ciudadana, which supports the idea.

The two parties are Liberación Nacional and Movimiento Libertario, said Acción Ciudadana in a release.  The topic came up on the floor of the legislature Monday but there was no definitive action.

The idea that water is a human right has been before lawmakers for five years. Still it is unclear exactly what that means legally.

Acción Ciudadana accused President Laura Chinchilla, the Liberación Nacional leader, of throwing out her environmental agenda.

In the legislature, Liberación said that an existing law provides ample protection for water. Lawmakers for Acción Ciudadana disagreed. One lawmaker in favor of the measure said that he wanted to make sure that big companies could not buy up all the water rights.


After Dall'Anese who?
That's the major question


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big question now is who will replace Francisco Dall'Anesse as the nation's chief prosecutor.

Dall'Anese accepted the leadership of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. The commission notes on its Web site that it was established as an independent investigative body by a treaty-level agreement between the United Nations and Guatemala.

Now it is up to the Corte Suprema de Justicia to pick a new chief prosecutor or fiscal general. The position is a key element in stemming a growing wave of lawlessness in Costa Rica. The chief prosecutor sets the tempo for subordinates.

Dall'Anese came to the position after being a judge. He was a controversial figure. The court magistrates probably will pick someone currently in the Poder Judicial for the position.


Colombia marks 200 years
of independence from Spain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation of Colombia celebrates 200 years of independence today.  It was this day 200 years ago when the junta in Bogotá in what was then Nueva Granada declared independence from Spanish rule. The decision was in response to Napoleon's invasion of Spain.

The ruling junta in Cartagena actually declared independence a month before. However the independence day is celebrated on July 20.


Prisoner who fled to Texas
is being returned to jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A prisoner who escaped form the La Reforma facility in Alajuela is being returned from Texas where he fled.  He is Raudel Pérez Benzol, a Cuban, who was jailed for theft, fraud and homicide.

The man fled the prison Jan. 8, 2009, the same day that a major earthquake struck Cinchona north of Heredia. He did four years of a 16-year sentence, said the Poder Judicial. He will face an additional process for escape, they said.


Our reader's opinion
What laws says is different
from what actually happens


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In reference to Garland Baker’s story regarding “Heavy Handed Judges...” in Monday’s A.M. Costa Rica, what many expats fail to recognize is how very differently the laws are interpreted and enforced in Costa Rica.

Ten years ago when I was considering a business operation in Costa Rica I was advised of the labor laws and even made it a point to read them for myself.  Having owned and operated a business in Houston for 25 years which was very employee-oriented with a comprehensive and generous employee benefits package, I was not put off by the required holidays, vacation, aguinaldo and cessation payments for employees. However, when a man I had employed on a contract basis as an agent to manage certain aspects of my business on an interim basis successfully sued me for several thousand dollars when I terminated our arrangement, I learned that what the law says and what actually happens is quite different in Costa Rica.  This man actually spent less than eight hours each week on my business, and I had absolutely no control over his schedule or other details of his time, so obviously it never entered my mind that he was due vacation pay, etc.

I think many expat men find themselves in the same situation with their new Costa Rican mates.  They think, “I’m not going to mistreat or neglect her, so I don’t have anything to worry about,” not considering that they have no control over what she decides to do and say.  Hence the nasty repercussions so many of them are faced with.

I don’t have any sage advice for the hapless, only a word of warning to remember: “You are no longer in Kansas, Toto.”

Bess Herzog
Rio Cuarto, Grecia, Alajuela
Houston, Texas

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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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 weekday.

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.

Searching
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.

Newspages
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.

Classifieds
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.

Advertising information
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Contacting us
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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For your international reading pleasure:

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 141

Rapid Respose
Rock n roll

Squatters take over beach land, and government fails to act
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A deadline has passed for the removal of squatters occupying public beaches and private property in Ojochal, with no action by authorities to evict them. Beach zones at various places in the Osa municipality have been occupied for some time.

The central government comptroller made the order in 2007 and gave an extension with Osa mayor Alberto Cole theoretically facing criminal action for failing to comply. Cole did not return phone and e-mail messages requesting comment.

The municipality has its seat in the town of Puerto Jiménez, with jurisdiction over the coastline around the Osa peninsula up to the town of Dominical. Until the recent completion of the Costanera highway, the western part was difficult to access, and still requires a substantial drive. The layout of some Pacific coastal municipalities reflects a time when boat travel was the main way of getting around. 

In Costa Rica, municipalities are in charge of the first 200 meters from high tide which is exclusively state property. The first 50 meters is public. It is possible to lease out the next 150 meters, but to do so requires environmental review among other prerequisites. This mechanism is a constant source of corruption in municipalities on both coasts.

The first squatters took over the area near Playa Tortuga and the mouth of the Río Tortuga in 2007. They have since grown in numbers, with damage to mangrove and streamside vegetation, and shacks built nearly on the beach, reports from the local environmental ministry office show. Most damage is actually in the river’s protection zone rather than the beach itself.
Beach vegetation has also been damaged by a local huckster selling residential lots well into the 50-meter zone.

Diego Arias of the municipality’s coastal zone section said there can be no permits or concessions approved since there is no management plan ready for the area.

The squatters also have electrical power. The government electric company, the Instituto Costaricense de Electricidad known as ICE, put in a meter by the Río Tortuga bridge. The illegal residents could then string wire through the trees of the also-protected riparian zone to the beach.

Asked why ICE put in power when a building permit is required, Arias said the municipality can’t do anything if the electric company “irresponsibly installs a meter there.” A complaint by locals was supposedly referred to ICE’s legal department in San José.

Alexia Maizel, who is organizing a biological research center and wildlife refuge in the area, says the squatters have threatened neighbors and other users of the beach. These locals complain of negligible police response to their problems.

The squatters are also involved in poaching, particularly eggs of the sea turtles that nest there. According to Ms. Maizel, one individual brazenly digs up nests in front of the researchers, knowing they have no authority to intervene.

The southern Pacific coast is also a center for international drug trafficking, and one of the researchers’ “anti-poaching” patrols recently was shot at when out at night on the beach.

To add insult to injury, Playa Tortuga is not eligible for the “Bandera Azul” awarded to clean beaches with the squatters present.


Here is an example of the corner signs that will be put up in 16,000 locations, thanks to a donation
by two state banks.

street signs
Banco Nacional photo

Banks front the money for putting signs in San José Centro
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

That street over there where the kids hang out in front of the pulpería really does have a number, even though experienced taxi drivers are hard-pressed to remember it.

But no more. The Municipalidad de San José and two state banks signed an agreement Monday that will lead to the erection of some 16,000 street signs in the central canton of San José.

The signs are based on a decree benefiting Correos de Costa Rica, which promises street numbers soon. The job will cost 600 million colons with Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica sharing the costs, according to the agreement.

The cost is about $1.2 million based on today's dollar exchange rate.

Each of the signs will carry the number of the street or
 avenida as well as the the popular name. For example, Paseo Colon is Avenida Central and Calle 9 is the Paseo de los Estudientes. The sign also will contain the name of the district, such as Carmen or Hospital. Although officials did not show an example containing the bank names, the deal provides for the two institutions to put their logos on the signs.

Fernando Naranjo, general manager of Banco Nacional, said that the signage will help commerce as well as tourism. He said Costa Rica is known internationally as a joke in the way directions are given. Most directions cite landmarks and distances in meters. Frequently the landmark vanished long ago.

Mayor Johnny Araya emphasized that the banks had made a donation and not a loan.

The next step is to open a bidding process to fabricate and hang the signs.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 141

Turrialba volcano
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica/E. Duarte
Glow from the new crater depends on the availability of oxygen.

Goal was to find out why the volcano was giving off a glow

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Every once in awhile, residents in the Central Valley can see a red glow emanating from the new crater on Volcán Turrialba to the east. The glow also can be seen on the Web cam installed at the summit of the mountain.

Scientists said that there did not seem to be a reason for the glow from the cavity, and they wanted to find out why it increased and decreased in intensity.

At its peak, the glow can be seen some 40 kms away, they said. That's about 25 miles.

 The temperature around the crater is between 520 and 580 C. (968 and 1076 F), according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. Scientists
 from the Universidad Nacional observatory were there earlier this month to check out the temperature in an unusual way.

The scientists put a piece of lead in a steel container and lowered it on a steel cable into the mouth of the cavity and kept the container there for five minutes.

There was no surprise that the lead melted. The material melts at 327 C or 620 F.

Eventually from observation scientists concluded that gas from an adjacent volcano mouth was blocking the oxygen that helps create the glow. Only when a strong wind blows away the heavier gases from the adjacent cavity does the glow appear. It can be 40 meters high, they said.  That's about 130 feet.



Senate passes bill to protect citizens from foreign libel suits

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U. S. Senate has unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to protect American journalists, authors and publishers from foreign libel lawsuits that undermine the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. 

The free speech bill's chief sponsor, Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, hailed the passage, saying the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the cornerstone of American democracy.

"It is the basis of our democracy.  It guarantees us the right to practice any religion we want, or none if we want," he said. "And it protects the right of free speech.  Those protections guarantee diversity.  And if you have a constitution that guarantees diversity, you guarantee a democracy.  And that is what this does."

The unanimous voice vote sends the bill back to the House of Representatives for final approval.  From there it would go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.  Approval is expected because there is broad, bipartisan support for the legislation.

Senator Leahy said libel judgments in certain foreign courts are undermining freedom of speech and are having a chilling effect on open debate in the United States.  He said the bill would prevent U.S. courts from becoming a tool to undermine the Constitution.
The law was modeled on a New York state law that was inspired by author Rachel Ehrenfeld who faced a libel lawsuit in Britain over her book "Funding Evil:  How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It." 

Ms. Ehrenfeld refused to go to London to be tried under what she calls "archaic, plaintiff-friendly" libel laws. 

The new law passed in the Senate would not allow U.S. courts to enforce foreign libel judgments against U.S. defendants when they are inconsistent with First Amendment protections.

Michael Macleod-Ball, American Civil Liberties Union chief legislative and policy counsel, welcomed Senate passage of the bill as an important, bipartisan step forward for free speech.  He said the practice of filing libel lawsuits in countries that have weaker free speech protections, a practice known as libel tourism, is increasing with the ease of electronic communications, and that Britain is a popular place to file such lawsuits.

"The United Kingdom has traditionally had libel laws that just don't stand up under the free speech tests that are accepted internationally," he said.

Macleod-Ball says he hopes that passage of the legislation in the United States will not only protect Americans' right to free speech, but that it will also inspire other countries to enact laws that protect freedom of speech around the world.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 141

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

National Guard troops going
to U.S. border with México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States says it will send 1,200 National Guard troops to the country's border with Mexico next month.  This comes amid concerns about escalating violence and efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics into the U.S. and weapons into Mexico. 

U.S. National Guard troops will begin to deploy along the Mexican border Aug. 1, and they are expected to stay a year to support federal border patrol agents already in the region.

The troops will be distributed among four border states: Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico.

Alan Bersin is the commissioner of customs and border protection at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. "The fact of the matter is that violence has been proceeding and escalating in Mexico as the result of the civil war among the cartels and the struggle between the government of Mexico and those cartels," he said.  "So we see this as part of an ongoing threat that we have been cooperating deeply with the government of Mexico to confront."

Violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated in recent years.  Bersin says illegal crossings are on the decline, but that seizures of weapons and drugs have increased.

In Mexico, northern border areas have been hit by drug violence that has left nearly 25,000 people dead since the government launched a crackdown on organized crime more than three years ago.

In recent days, nearly two dozen people have been killed in assaults, including a car bombing that targeted police — the first attack of its kind in the country's drug war.

Homeland Security's Bersin said "This latest incident is one in a long string of violent incidents.  The precise nature of it is one that we need to work with our Mexican colleagues and counterparts to discover exactly what it was and what implications it may have."

The Obama administration has pledged to ask Congress for $600 million to hire 1,000 more border patrol agents and to purchase unmanned aerial detection systems.

National Guard Bureau Chief, Gen. Craig McKinley, says the troops will be armed, but that they will only use their weapons defensively. "They will be taking the lead from the law enforcement personnel who they will be assisting in that support role.  Entry identification teams will fill a variety of roles, depending on the situation.  But they certainly will be deployed on the United States side of the border, following the rules of engagement as set forth by the lead agencies here," he said.

Sending the National Guard troops follows a decision by the governor of Arizona to sign a law requiring local police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

The Obama administration has filed a lawsuit to get the law overturned, arguing that immigration enforcement is a federal, rather than a state, responsibility.

Illegal immigration also will be a major issue in the November elections in which all members of Congress and a third of the U.S. Senate must seek reelection.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 141


Latin American news
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President's husband given
OK to leave Hospital CIMA


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José María Rico, the husband of President Laura Chinchilla, got approval Monday to leave Hospital CIMA where he was treated for a broken hip, said Casa Presidencial.

Juri Navarro Polo, the hospital's medical director, said that Rico will require nursing assistance at his home as well as therapy. Rico spent eight days in the hospital after he was airlifted in from Punto Isleta where he and his wife were visiting friends to watch the World Cup finals.

Rico is supposed to rest and have few visitors in the coming days, Casa Presidencial said.

Real estate firm specializes
in commercial properties


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica real estate brokerage is an industry that has evolved without legislation or other common industry shaping factors. Even the most sophisticated real estate brokers have historically operated as generalists, differentiated solely by geographic coverage.  This paradigm is changing in the commercial real estate and investment property sector, as maturity drives industry specialization, according to Marc Schweitzer, a broker who deals exclusively with commercial properties.

Several well-established brokers have acquired franchise rights to leading commercial real estate brokerage brands over the last two years. However, the majority of these firms still derive the majority of their revenue from marketing residential homes, condos and lots, said Schweitzer. None of these firms has yet to offer a broad portfolio of commercial property listings on their Web sites, he added. They are establishing niche marketing turf, with long-term plans to offer specialized expertise across the primary commercial real estate segments such as office space, warehouse properties, retail and income-producing investment property, he added.

In contrast, Schweitzer said his firm, Costa Rica Commercial, specializes exclusively in commercial space and investment properties. This firm commenced operations about a year ago, with strategic intent to dominate this maturing market niche, said Schweitzer. The Web site is the first bilingual one to exclusively market Costa Rica commercial real estate and investment property, he added, noting that it contains more than 300 commercial and investment property listings.  The Escazu-based firm has grown rapidly and currently has seven brokers on staff, he said.

Schweitzer, who is the president, brings more than 20 years of Latin American business experience to Costa Rica Commercial. His professional experience includes 10 years with Price Waterhouse and five years as a senior corporate officer with a global Fortune 250 company.

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