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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, July 21, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 143           Email us
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U.S. woman murdered at family compound in Osa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone murdered a 52-year-old U.S. woman on the grounds of her family's luxury tourist rental on the Osa peninsula.

Friends identified her as Lisa Artz, who was the resident manager of  Casa Tres Palmas in upper Matapalo, just south of Puerto Jiménez on the east shore of the Osa peninsula.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that she was found in a small cabina bound hands and feet with a blanket over her face. Agents presumed she was smothered. Acquaintances said the woman lived in the small cabina, the first structure her family build on the land, because the adjacent 6,000-square-foot structure was rented frequently to vacationers.

Casa Tres Palmas is known as the most luxurious property in the area with a commanding views of the point where the waters of the Gulfo Dulce meet those of the Pacific. Ms. Artz' father is George Artz, a successful restaurant owner. The family runs Coconuts on the Beach in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The sprawling main house features a Tiki-style villa with a palm thatched roof. The property rents from $300 to $400 a night and sleeps up to 12, said the Casa Tres Palmas Web site.

Judicial police said they were awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine exactly how the woman died. The autopsy also should provide an estimate on when death occurred. Ms. Artz was a frequent visitor, and friends said she arrived in the community last December to serve as manager for the property. The property is 20 kilometers or about 14 miles south of Puerto Jiménez.

An acquaintance said the woman was scheduled to leave Costa Rica for the United States Wednesday.

There has been a wave of criminal activity in the area, including robberies and home invasions. There also is the unsolved February murder of  Kimberly Blackwell, 53, a Canadian, in San
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Miguel de Cañaza near Puerto Jiménez. Ms.
Blackwell was known in the area as the operator of Samaritan Xocolata, which produced high-end chocolate items from Costa Rican cocao.

There also is the case of two Austrian citizens who were residents of Puerto Jiménez. They vanished around Christmas 2009. That case still is open.

Across the gulf in Golfito, the death of an expat there still is an open case. He was  Kelly Robert Nutting, 38, who was dumped in the gulf with his hands tied behind him and with a piece of concrete attached to his body. He appears to have been strangled. The U.S. Navy veteran managed his family's hotel. The murder was in March 2010.

Although there have been sensational rumors, a close examination of all the cases point to individual and personal motives, according to residents of the area and some police investigators. Except for the Artz case, judicial agents seem to know the likely suspects and the individual motives that led to the killing but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest under Costa Rica's complex penal code. The reasons appear to be different, involve different suspects and have motives that range from revenge to greed to jealousy.

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Our reader's opinion
Another letter warning
of China's hidden agenda

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have read the articles about the concerns relevant to China, the most recent one by Art Sulenski, and, I most wholeheartedly agree with them.  For me, this comes at an interesting time, as my residency was just approved and I will be moving to Costa Rica very soon.

The relationship between China and Costa Rica is new, still in it's most primitive developmental stages.  Just like a romance developing between people, everyone is on their best behavior, then comes the marriage and then the honeymoon.  But, one day, they realize the honeymoon is over and the realities of day to day life take hold.  The leaders of our country should not let themselves be romanced and memorized by a nation bearing gifts.  It comes with a price! 

Everyone should take a look at China and that nation's history and present day practices.  They are one of, if not the biggest, violators of human rights.  The government will round up and execute anyone it wants, at any time.  Its citizens have little, if any rights.  They will come to Costa Rica bearing gifts and paying off anyone and everyone they can.  Then, one day, the noose will tighten.  We will be told that because of our obligations to China, we can no longer import goods from other countries, and, we will be restricted on who we can export to. 

China knows Costa Rica will pose no military threat to them as we have no military.  They saw how those to the north of us easily trespassed on our land without repercussion.  If Costa Rica then thinks the United States will come to her rescue, she is mistaken.  With China holding so much debt, the U.S. will not want to rock the boat.  What will happen if one day China demands that the U.S. repay the money it is owed?  If the U..S. goes to the world court, it will lose, mainly because there are so many nations today that are against the United States.
After decades, communism failed in Russia, but, China with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, is a long way from that.  They can threaten with force.  They are now developing state-of-the-art military equipment that rivals what the U.S. now has. 

Many years ago, Mao Tse-tung made a statement relevant to a war between China and Russia.  He said he could send a wall of humanity to invade Russia, so massive that Russia would be defenseless.  He said that he could go to war and lose 100 million people and it would only benefit the economy of his country.  A leopard does not change it's spots. If Costa Rica does not wake up soon, in a matter of one or two decades, Chinese will be taught in the schools, we will become a satellite of China, subject to their rule and oppressive way of life.
Bruce Jacobs
New Jersey

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 21, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 143

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President decrees national mourning over deaths of teens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an unusual decision, President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has decreed a period of national mourning from today through Saturday in response to the deaths of students in Orotina and in San Ramón. During this period the national flag will fly at half staff.

Four students died in San Ramón early Wednesday because a car ran into a group. In Orotina Monday a young man killed an 18-year-old student as he sat in a classroom. The motive was personal differences. Then the gunman gave himself a fatal bullet into his head.

Dead at the scene in the Orotina school was Juan Pablo Salazar Calderón. His assailant, Josué David Villegas Moya, died at Hospital México on his 18th birthday Tuesday.

 The details of the San Ramón accident were contained in an updated article in Wednesday's A.M. Costa Rica. The four high schoolers died after a motor vehicle ran into a group of pedestrians in the public right-of-way in the San Rafael section of San Ramón.

Three students died at the scene and one died later in Hospital México, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The youngsters were in the street participating in what police said was a traditional student serenada or serenade. Two other students were hurt badly, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The mishap took place about 4:30 a.m.

The vehicle involved overturned, and the driver fled the scene, said judicial police. The Poder Judicial said that a man identified by the last names of  Chavarría Alvarado  
surrendered himself later and was hospitalized. Police said he is 25 years old.

Dead at the scene were two young men and a minor girl. They were identified as Dennis Méndez Varela, Luis Alonso Solís Briceño and Angie Miranda Méndez by the judicial police. Dead at the hospital was Iván Elizondo Rodríguez.

Chavarría was in the Hospital de San Ramón and was being questioned by prosecutors late Wednesday afternoon. The Poder Judicial said that after questioning, prosecutors will decide if they will seek preventative detention of other measures in advance of filing a criminal case.

The presidential decree also said that there would be no festive activities of an official nature during the three days of mourning and that the government presents its most sincere condolences to the families of the students. The decree diplomatically did not state if the Orotina gunman was included in the mourning.

He appears to have created big questions as to his state of mind with postings he made on his Facebook page.

Such a decree of mourning over traffic accident victims and persons involved in a police case is highly unusual.

Ms. Chinchilla declared two days of national mourning last Nov. 5 when more than 20 persons died in an Escazú landslide.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez declared five days of national mourning after the $100 million Cinchona earthquake that killed nearly the same number in January 2009.

Finance minister lobbies lawmakers for fast action on taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The finance minister urged legislators Wednesday to pass the substitute tax plan to provide the government with an estimated $1 billion more a year.

The minister, Fernando Herrero, said that private hospital stays would only be taxed at 10 percent instead of the 14 percent value-added that that is in the proposal.

The minster also argued that 80 percent of private school students would not be affected by the government plan to assess a 10 percent tax on monthly tuitions of more than 110,000 colons or about $220.
The minister also said that under the new proposal, residents with income would pay a 15 percent tax, which is the same rate as corporations.

Herrero also said that the revised tax plan exempts more food products from the value-added tax for the benefit of those with low income.

The minister urged quick approval of the plan to members of the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios so that the government does not have to borrow more money to meet its obligations.

Most lawmakers favor some form of tax plan.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 21, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 143

Another meeting today to discuss approving cell phone towers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Telecom officials now say that cell telephone towers should be constructed to house the equipment of three companies offering services.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones is holding another session today for municipal officials to educate them on the finer points of cell towers. With the opening of the mobil telephone market, two new companies are seeking to set up their services, and the towers they are building have caused problems among some residents.

The principal complaint is that the proximity of the town might lessen the property values in the area. Some residents near tower sites also worry about the electromagnetic radiation generated by telephone calls.

The Superintendencia said in a new release Wednesday that there was no scientific evidence about ill effects from cell tower emissions. It noted that individuals are exposed to all
sorts of radiation, including form the sun, from electrical appliances and even from the television sets. The World Health Organization has documented that cell phone radiation can increase temperatures in some organs of the body, and this increase should be held to 1 degree C,  the Superintendencia said.

The agency has produced a booklet on recommended practices for the design, construction and shared use of cell towers. Among other pointed, the agency said that the towers should stand on at least 80 square meters of land, which is about 861 square feet.

The regulation of cell towers is up to each municipality, but the Secretaría Técnica Ambiental and the  Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos also must sign off on the project.

The session today is at the Hotel San José Palacio with expected attendance from the municipalities of Moravia, Tibás, San Carlos, Goicoechea, Montes de Oca, Belén, Limón, Barva and Santo Domingo, said the Superintendencia.

Lawmakers dump plan to destroy heritage site Colegio Sión
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The former  Colegio Sión is now legislative offices, but the building is in bad shape. In fact, the building has been declared uninhabitable by the Ministerio de Salud.

So some lawmakers favored the idea of tearing down the structure and constructing an office tower to replace it. The legislative leadership has been seeking a solution to the problem for several years.

It appears, however, that the  Colegio Sión will be spared the wrecking ball.

The  Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración
 Wednesday shelved legislation that would have authorized the demolition.  Elibeth Venegas Villalobos, a lawmaker with the Partido Liberación Nacional, headed a subcommittee that studied the proposal. She said Wednesday that even the legislature does not have the power to demolish a national heritage structure, as the colegio building has been designated.

She told her fellow legislators that the only agency with the power to do so is the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural of the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. She said the legislature has the obligation to fix up the building.

Based on Ms. Venegas' comments, the committee agreed to archive the proposed legislation.

Tiny lizards show they have problem-solving brain power
By the Duke University news services

Tropical lizards may be slow. But they aren't dumb. They can do problem-solving tasks just as well as birds and mammals, a new study shows.

A Duke University experiment tested Puerto Rican anoles on several cognitive tasks and found they can learn and remember to solve a problem they've never faced before.

The results challenge the scientific stereotype that reptiles have limited cognitive abilities and methods for finding food.

The lizards' success on a worm-based test normally used on birds was completely unexpected, said Duke biologist Manuel Leal, who led the study.

He tested the lizards using a wooden block with two wells, one that was empty and one that held a worm but was covered by a cap. Four lizards, two male and two female, passed the test by either biting the cap or bumping it out of the way.

The lizards solved the problem in three fewer attempts than birds need to flip the correct cap and pass the test, Leal said. Birds usually get up to six chances a day, but lizards only get one chance per day because they eat less. In other words, if a lizard makes a mistake, it has to remember how to correct it until the next day, Leal said. He and Duke graduate student Brian Powell describe the experiment and results online in Biology Letters.

Leal's experiment clearly demonstrates that when faced with a situation the lizards had never experienced, most of them were able to devise a way to solve the problem. Their ability to unlearn a behavior, a skill that some mammalian species have difficulty in, is the mark of a cognitively advanced animal, said Jonathan Losos, a biologist at Harvard who was not involved in the study.

The results should cause researchers to re-evaluate what they think they know about the evolution of animal cognition, Losos said.

Leal tested the cognition of the Puerto Rican anole, Anolis evermanni, after seeing sparrows flip a cap to get a worm and wondering if lizards could do the trick, too.

"They'd put their snout under the little plastic chip and then quickly bump it," Leal said. "They don't do this in the wild."

Even when Leal covered both wells, the lizards chose to flip the  cap covering the well with the worm. They had learned to associate the color or brightness of the chip with their reward.
brainy lizard
Duke University/ Manuel Leal
A Puerto Rican anole eyes a blue cap to get a worm.

To see if the lizards could reverse this association, Leal next placed the worm under the other cap. At first, all the lizards bumped or bit the formerly lucrative blue cap. But after a few mistakes, two of the lizards figured out the trick. "We named these two Plato and Socrates," Leal said.

The lizards' performance doesn't necessarily mean that reptiles are smarter than birds, said McGill University biologist Louis Lefebvre, who studies learning and behavior in birds and was not involved in the new study. He said a better way to use these new results would be to compare cognitive abilities among reptile species, rather than between reptiles, birds and mammals.

"We know birds and mammals have bigger brains and that within bird species and within mammal species, the bigger the brain is, the higher the chance of that larger-brained species making it when moving to a new environment," Lefebvre said. "It may be the same with lizards."

Research has shown that large-brained lizards are better than small-brained lizards at colonizing new areas. "My guess would be that the lizard genus in which Manuel Leal has shown fast learning would be among the larger-brained lizards," Lefebvre said.

Compared to other lizards, anoles are better at exploiting diverse habitats and they exhibit complex behavior, factors that may favor the evolution of higher-level mental processing. The lizards' ability to perform on the lab tests may also be an indication of the traits that allowed the group to successfully spread across the tropics, Leal said.

He plans to test other species of lizards and compare their brain to body size later this year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 21, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 143

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U.S. teen faces trial
as drug cartel hitman

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A teenaged boy accused of being a drug cartel hitman has gone on trial in Mexico.  The boy, Edgar Jiménez Lugo, who was born in the United States, is charged with killing and mutilating four people.

The victims' bodies were found strung from a bridge last year in the central Mexican resort town of Cuernavaca, in Morelos state, outside of Mexico City.

In a video interview Lugo says he felt bad committing the murders, but feared for his own life if he did not carry out the orders of the South Pacific drug cartel.

The maximum penalty for a juvenile convicted of crimes in Mexico is a three-year prison sentence.  The trial is expected to last two weeks and will include the testimony of at least 60 witnesses.

The 14-year-old Lugo, nicknamed el Ponchis or "the Cloak" was captured in December as he tried to board a flight in Tijuana, Mexico, bound for San Diego, California.

The Mexican Network for the Rights of Childhood says at least 15,000 minors have been recruited to commit crimes for the drug cartels.

More than 41,000 people have died in violence linked to Mexico's drug gangs since President Felipe Calderón initiated a military crackdown on them in December, 2006.

U.N. agency urges Honduras
to probe journalist killings

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The head of the United Nations agency that works to defend press freedom spoke out Wednesday at the recent slayings of another two journalists in Honduras, where at least a dozen reporters have been killed in the past 18 months.

Nery Jeremías Orellana, who served as manager of Radio Joconguera and as a correspondent for Radio Progreso, was gunned down July 14, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reported. The 26-year-old had also been a member of an opposition movement.

Adan Benítez, a 42-year-old reporter for 45TV and Teleceiba Canal 7, was in the northern port city of La Ceiba on  July 4 when he was shot in the head by two gunmen who also robbed him.

In a statement, the U.N. agency's director general, Irina Bokova, called for a thorough investigation into the killings of both Orellana and Benitez.

“The killing of journalists constitutes a crime against society as a whole,” she said. “Democracy and rule of law require a free and independent press to nourish informed debate. I call on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of these crimes to ensure that everyone in the country is free to exercise their fundamental human right of freedom of expression without fearing for their lives.”

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which began work in 1946, is specifically mandated to defend freedom of expression and press freedom.

Sept. 11 killer executed
despite survivor's pleas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. man who went on a shooting spree for what he said was retaliation for the 2001 terrorist attacks has been put to death, after courts rejected a last-minute bid by a survivor to stop the execution.

The man, Mark Stroman, was lethally injected Wednesday night in the southern state of Texas after judges rejected appeals by the only remaining survivor of the attack.

Stroman was convicted of killing a 49-year-old Indian gas station clerk in October 2001. He was also charged with the murder of a 46-year-old Pakistani man in a separate attack.

The self-described white supremacist said he was targeting people he thought to be of Arab descent.

The surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan, was blinded in one eye when Stroman shot him in the face with a shotgun. Bhuiyan, from Bangladesh, had argued against the death sentence, saying his Muslim faith calls for forgiveness.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 21, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 143

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Court inspects hospitals
to see if strike is legal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While unions representing workers in the public hospitals plan another series of demonstrations today, the central government is counting on a court to declare the strike illegal.

The Poder Judicial confirmed that representatives of the Juzgado Laboral de Goicoechea inspected Hospital México, the Hospital Nacional de Niños, Hospital Blanco Cervantes and the Hospital Psiquiátrico Wednesday to learn about the situation first hand.

The government filed the case Tuesday. About 12 percent of the workers at the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social were on strike Tuesday, but much of the health services were not affected seriously.

The labor court did not appear to have made a decision at the close of business Wednesday.

Rebuilt Ruta 21 done soon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials said workmen are putting down asphalt on the reconstructed Ruta 21 between the Puente de Amistad and the regional center of Nicoya. Work began July 1, and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that work on the road base was completed last week.

Officials said they expected to have the entire job finished in 15 days.

Rice growers prevail
in government parley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government has agreed to guarantee the 2011 rice harvest at 22,604.31 colons per each 73.6 kilogram sack. That's about $45.10 per sack.

That was the outcome of a meeting Tuesday afternoon and evening between rice growers and the minister of the Presidencia, Carlos Ricardo Benavides.

That was basically the deal the rice growers proposed. The price of rice is wrapped up in a number of complexities. The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio fixed the floor price of rice last year at 20,050 colons per 73.6 kilogram sack. That's about $40.10. But rice growers challenged that in court and the price never went into effect.

Instead the court established a temporary price of 22,604.41 colons. Because of the new price, growers and the government agree that more land was put into production.

At the same time international producers found they could compete successfully with Coast Rica growers even when they have to pay customs duties. The government controls both the floor price producers are paid and the price the end consumer pays at the store.

Another part of the agreement Tuesday night was that the government and the producers will set up a commission to come up with an alternate measure to fix a price that producers will get for their crop. The government has to tread lightly because international agreements and the World Trade Organization limit the subsidies that agricultural producers can get.

The average Costa Rican eats about 50 kilos of rice every year, according to international estimates.

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