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(506) 2223-1327       San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 22, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 143       E-mail us
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Health chief breaks tradition to suspend pilgrimage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pilgrims who walk to Cartago at the end of the month will be doing so against the advice and requests of the health ministry and the Roman Catholic Church.

María Luisa Ávila, the health minister, said the official suspension of the annual pilgrimage was for the protection of the health of the population. She said that the incidents of swine flu are expected to peak at the end of the month and that an estimated 20,000 persons would come down with the illness if the pilgrimage continued as planned. She based her estimates on statistics.

Perhaps as many as 2 million persons make the trek, mostly from the Central Valley. However, others come from distant places in Costa Rica and even other Latin nations.

Officials have been hand-wringing over the situation for a week. The pilgrimage is a tradition of more than two centuries. It also is a boost to the economies of merchants in Cartago and along the various routes.

The big question now is will the faithful listen. As one Costa Rican put it, the pilgrimage is religion and not government.

Roman Catholic Church officials have agreed to keep the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles closed Sunday and Monday as well as Aug. 1 and Aug. 2. The second day of August is the traditional day for a Mass and sermons in  honor of the Virgen de los Ángeles, who happens to be the country's patron. However, Eddy Solórzano, rector of the Santuario Nacional, said the church doors would be closed Aug. 2 while a private religious ceremony takes place inside.

He said the event will be carried by the electronic media for the benefit of the faithful.

A total of 12 persons have died in Costa Rica from illnesses attributed at least partly to swine flu. The health ministry said that 11 of those who died suffered from conditions that made them vulnerable. There are about 560 confirmed cases of swine flu.
R. Naranjo
L. Mendez
Mendez Vargas
S. Mendez

Church officials suggested that the faithful celebrate the feast day of the Virgin at their own local churches. Nevertheless, the Municipalidad de Cartago said it would take steps to assist those who ignored the health warning.

The suspension of the religious event did not also affect other gatherings of the public, such as concerts, plays and soccer games.

The pilgrimage is unique in that so many people walk long distances and frequently sleep outdoors. The gathering in the plaza of the basilica includes many thousands who press forward to touch the gold case in which the representation of the Virgin is carried.

Casa Presidencial called on the public to understand the reason for the decision by health officials. A statement also praised Dr. Ávila and the church officials for making a difficult choice.

A sampling of public opinion in the vicinity of Hospital Calderón Guardia Tuesday afternoon found that most favored the decision. A physician, Ronald Naranjo Solís, said for purposes of health it was a good idea to avoid large gatherings.

Luis Alberto Méndez, a vendor, wondered if the edict would be followed by pilgrims.

But another vendor, Sergio Méndez Vargas, said that the government was acting incorrectly and that the tradition should be followed.

A seller of lottery tickets, Ana Pérez Gamboa, who said she was blind, agreed with the order and said that the government made a correct move if the pilgrimage was going to hurt the people.

Pilgrimage can sometimes be like a great, big party
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pilgrimage to Cartago is more than a religious event. It is a social fiesta as boyfriends and girl friends, entire school classes and neighborhoods make the walk.

The evening of Aug. 1 is more like a carnival in the plaza of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles. There are continual events, both formal and informal, to keep the pilgrims, called romeros, occupied. Sometimes there are fireworks. An occasional penitent will walk by dragging a 10-foot cross.

Infants and the aged mix easily. The high point for many is entering the center aisle of the church on the knees. Shoulder to shoulder during peak hours a human wave gyrates down the aisle. A sign above the front door says that entering on knees is obligatory.

For others there is the nearby spring which played a role in the 17th century manifestation of the Virgin.

The representation of the Virgin is a small sculpture that dates from Aug. 2, 1635, when it was found by a girl. Because the sculpture kept returning miraculously to the spot near the spring where it was found, religious leaders took this as a sign to build a church on the site.

Water for the spring sometimes is carried in plastic bottles that are shaped to resemble the Virgin and the elaborate case she is in.  Vendors are happy to supply the containers and just about anything else pilgrims need.
Cartago church
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
The faithful await their turn to enter the church on their knees.

A small room to the left of the main altar contains many gifts and changes of clothes that the faithful have made for the statute.

Pilgrimages are not unique on this day to Costa Rica. A smaller event takes place in Panamá.

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Marijauna goes up in smoke in the Osa

Marijuana goes up in smoke

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police found more than 1,800 marijuana plants when they searched a tract in the location ironically known as Rancho Quemado de Osa de Drake.

And that is what the police did: burned the plants.

Agents had to hike an hour through the mountains of the rugged Osa Peninsula to find the location.

The marijuana plantation seemed to be cared for well. In addition to plants, agents found jars of seeds stored for future use.

These cattle rustlers need
a better set of wheels

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Three Stooges may be alive, well and stealing cattle in the northern zone.

Only the comedy men of misadventure could be responsible for one cattle theft over the weekend. Someone took two milk cows and put them in a panel truck. Then they made their getaway. But only for about a half mile.

The panel truck, perhaps straining under the weight of the cows, gave out. Police found the panel truck and cows  but they have not yet found the persons responsible. Check out Larry, Curly and Mo.

In another cattle rustling incident police tracked down 10 cows that had been stolen from a woman rancher near Upala. Seven of the animals were at an auction and three were grazing at a nearby farm.

They did not have a lot of trouble finding the man who sold the stolen cows. He showed up Tuesday at the bank to cash the check he got for the animals.

Police were not surprised. The suspect has been detained before for stealing cattle and for smuggling illegal Nicaraguan immigrants. He uses the same truck, police said.

The man already has served five years in prison for stealing cows. In 2007 and 2008 the man has been detained at least eight times as a cattle theft suspect and as a suspect of transporting illegal lumber, Fuerza Pública officers said.

But sometimes he dabbles in other activities. When investigators searched his home after he was arrested, they found a vehicle that was stolen in Grecia April 15.

Underage prostitution report
aired in U.S. congress

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report says that more than 100,000 Americans under the age of 18 are victims of sex trafficking in the United States. While the illicit sex trade is often considered a scourge of the developing world, experts told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday that it is also a serious problem in the United States. 

The report highlights a problem known around the world — the prostitution of young women and children.

Former congresswoman Linda Smith, Shared Hope's founder, explained the severity of the problem at a briefing hosted by the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus.

"Our research showed that it happened all over the United States," said Ms. Smith. "At first I thought, 'No, not in my town.' Yes, in my town."

According to the report, the average age of a child prostitute in the United States is between 12 and 14. Many have run away from home and are lured into the illegal sex trade by men who offer them shelter. Some become addicted to drugs — something their pimps use to keep them under their control. Beatings and physical threats are the norm.

But advocates for child sex trafficking victims say that despite these abuses, too often children are identified as criminals, arrested and put in jail or in juvenile detention.

Ernie Allen is president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"These kids are victims," said Ernie Allen. "This is 21st century slavery. They lack the ability to walk away. The pimps who use and discard them are the criminals, as are those who patronize them."

Advocates for child sex trade victims say that charging these children with crimes infringes on their rights and creates barriers to getting them the help they need. They advocate a system that protects and rehabilitates these children.

Rep.Ted Poe of Texas, co-chairman of the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus, told the panel that there are more safeguards in place for foreign victims of sex trafficking in the United States than there are for American citizens.

"If you are a foreign child and you are in the United States and you are involved in trafficking, the police will treat you as a victim of a crime," said the Republican congressman. "But if you're an American and some trafficker finds you and abuses you and then sells you out through the United States, you're treated as a criminal."

The Shared Hope International report criticizes the U.S. Congress for failing to authorize more funding for social services and shelters for sex trafficking victims.

Our reader's opinion
Twin experiences importing
a vehicle from the States

Dear A. M. Costa Rica:

Referring to a recent article about importing vehicles to Costa Rica, I have some old, and I have some recent experience. About 15 years ago I imported a Ford Festiva. I paid an import company here to handle the import fees, and the car delivered to an exporter in Houston, Texas. I want go into all the sordid detail, but once the car arrived, I handled everything myself and it was not a pleasant experience. If it was not for hiring a gavilán at the inspection station in Sabana Park to help me with the paperwork, it would have been even worse.

My son recently graduated from high school in the U.S.A. I had bought him a 2000 Toyota Corolla about two years ago. He decided he wanted to return to Costa Rica. I got the idea to bring his car here. I did some checking over the Internet and found a person that was recommend by one of the living and moving to Costa Rica sites. I called him and asked was it worth it to import the car.

He said with the make and model it would cost me $5,400 for everything except getting the car to the Everglades Port in Florida and the car was worth about $8,000. My son and a friend were more than willing to drive the car from Dallas, Texas, to Florida. They messed around in Orlando and Miami for a few days and left the car at the dock and took a plane from Miami to San José.

The whole experience went very smooth, and all I had to do was wait for the car to be delivered to my house with inspection, registro documents, insurance and plates. The whole thing took about three weeks.

The question is a car worth about $3,000 in the U.S. worth paying $5,400 to be imported to Costa Rica. As the article pointed out, it depends a lot on the make and model. I did it because if I was to buy the same make and model, I would have not only have to pay several thousand dollars more, but also have no idea of the car’s history, much less if the odometer was correct.

It is no secret that the dock worker and sailors will steal anything of value from the car. I told my son to take the radio out before leaving it at the docks, but the worker there told him he would note it on the paperwork. Sure enough it was stolen, but since it was noted, he got a new radio without charge. He had a lot of books. I told him not to worry about them because books is about the last things these guys are going steal.

Bobby Ruffin

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 143

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Gunman shoots down off-duty Fuerza Pública officer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gunman backed up by companions in a nearby vehicle murdered an off-duty Fuerza Pública officer Tuesday afternoon as the victim walked along a road to his home.

The dead man was identified as Juan Luis Vargas Ureña by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The officer was praised as a good cop who might have been killed because of his intense efforts against criminals.

The 30-year-old man has worked for the Fuerza Pública for 10 years, the ministry said. He was dressed in street clothes and unarmed when a man on a motorcycle and a vehicle containing other individuals stopped near him in the Las
Cañas sector between San Rafael de Desamparados and Concepción de Alajuelita.

Raúl Rivera, regional director of the police force, said that the gunman fired four times at the officer. Vargas was assigned to the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional in San José. That unit is something like a tactical squad that stages raids and difficult arrests.

Police officials said they had a suspect in mind. The Judicial Investigating Organization was conducting an intense search, they said. The prime suspect was a man who has been brought before the courts 140 times, officers said.

The killing happened about 1:30 p.m. Off-duty Costa Rican officers do not carry personal sidearms.  Usually they have to leave the weapon at their police station.

Tourism chamber chief cites job cuts this year in industry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 25 to 30 percent of tourism operations have had to fire employees in the first half of this year, according to a tourism organization official.

He is Gonzalo Vargas, president of the Cámera Nacional de Turismo. He was testifying at the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday to support a bill that would forbid discrimination for religion, sex or other reasons in the tourism sector.

He told lawmakers that the bill was important to encourage the visits of tourists. The bill also is supported by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Vargas noted the economic crisis facing the tourism
industry. His organization supports an effort with the tourism institute to offer special incentives to would-be visitors. Among these are extra nights lodging and other discounts outlined on the tourism institute's Web page.

The Web page itself,, has shown a 48 percent increase in visitors, according to Alexa, the Amazon affiliate that tracks Web use. 

The Web page is now ranked 63,953 in the United States and 96,316 in Canada, according to Alexa.

The dramatic increase is due to the $500,000 advertising campaign that the tourism institute put on in North American newspapers. The Web page was ranked out of the top 100,000 sites at the start of the campaign.

Telecom officials pay a visit to Panamá to check out cell systems in that country
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Panama’s telecom regulator received a delegation from its Costa Rican equivalent looking for advice on opening the market for cellular telephones, according to a press release from the Panamanian agency. The visitors were led by George Miley, general manager of Costa Rica’s Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

Technical matters relating to spectrum designation, regulation, interconnection costs, minimum rural coverage, and the implementation of all of these were discussed.
The report noted that Panama has more than one cell phone line per person whereas the Costa Rican system has only 40 percent coverage. “Panama is 10 years ahead of Costa Rica and, thanks to competition, has seen the results in terms of price and service quality,” said the press release. Costa Rica’s Superintendencia didn’t publicize the trip with as much enthusiasm.

The four companies active in Panama, Cable & Wireless, Digicel, Claro, and Telefónica, have all expressed interest in the Costa Rican market. The recent free trade treaty with Panama makes it relatively easy to come from there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 143

Lawmakers push to finance new highway to San Carlos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two minority political parties are pressing the central government to use part of a $850 million loan to finish a new highway to San Carlos. The project is somewhere between $150 and $160 million. According to current estimates.

The San Carlos highway was a project that was being financed by the government of Taiwan. When President Óscar Arias Sánchez dropped that country in favor of the People's Republic of China, the Taiwanese left the job undone. However, the Communist Chinese are building a soccer stadium.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana and the Movimiento Libertario are asking the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes to include funds for the San Carlos link in the first allocation of money from the loan from the Banco
Interamericano de Desarrollo. The agreement with the development bank got final legislative approval July 2 but the ministry has not made clear what it will do with the money.

Patricia Romero of Acción Ciudadana asked the ministry and Arias to include money for the San Carlos project because the highway link has been promised for 30 years. Mario Quiros, a Libertario, urged the ministry to send details of its plans to lawmakers.

The cost the the project seems to have ballooned since the Taiwanese have left. Originally the project was about $60 million with Taiwan paying about $50 million. But then-president Able Pacheco said that he had assurances that Taiwan would come up with at least $80 million.  The current estimate is twice that. The San Carlos highway is considered a key element for development in the northern zone.

Trio held as suspects in faking a death for insurance money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judicial police reported Tuesday that they had frustrated an attempt by three persons to collect insurance on a fake death. They said three persons had been arrested.

The first arrest was made Monday in Chilamate de Sarapiquí of the man who supposedly had died in a motor vehicle accident in Nicaragua. He had a pair of insurance policies taken out last October worth about 29 million colons or about $50,000.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, the 30-year-old wife with the last name of Lindo used forged
documents to show that her husband had been killed in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, he moved to Chilamate to await the payment on the policy, they said. He has the last name of Muñoz. A third individual also was involved, they said. This person was a neighbor who traveled to Nicaragua to process the paperwork, they said.

The Instituto National de Seguros had made a partial payment on the policies, but investigators were called in when someone tipped off either the insurance institute or a bank that was handling the money.

The woman was detained Tuesday after a raid on her  Cristo Rey, San José, home.

Motorists caught unaware
of license plate restrictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The unlucky numbers today are 5 and 6. These are the last digits of license plates that hundreds of traffic officers will be seeking in the metropolitan area.

Police had a field day Tuesday, the first day that traffic restrictions were reinstituted. They gave out more than 700 tickets, each worth 5,000 colons or about $8.60. The resumption of the restrictions was well publicized, but many motorists still seemed to be unaware of the rules.

Drivers said that traffic moved better Tuesday. The rule is in effect from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in an area bounded on the south and east by the Cicunvalación, in the west by La Uruca and in the north by Tibás. Those living in the restricted area lose the use of a vehicle one day a week. 

The concept was thrown out by the Sala IV constitutional court in June, but traffic officials like the idea so much that President Arias Sánchez signed a decree supported by a traffic study.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 143

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Decline in 2009 investments
may lead to 2010 rebound

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new U.N. report says foreign direct investment by transnational corporations will start to recover in 2010 and rebound substantially in 2011. The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has published the results of this year's World Investment Prospects Survey.

More than 240 transnational corporations were surveyed for this report. The results show a drastic 54 percent decline in foreign direct investment inflows for the first quarter of 2009.

The survey finds cross border mergers and acquisitions dropped by an even more dramatic 77 percent, compared to the same period last year.

Although this gloomy situation is expected to persist throughout the year, the transnational corporations surveyed indicate they expect foreign direct investment will progressively recover in 2010 and gain momentum in 2011.

But, James Zhan, the agency's director of Division on Investment and Enterprise, warned of several risks related to the recovery.

"One is the further global economic downturn," he said. "A second is an increase in financial instability and a third, which is very interesting, is the rise of protectionism involving a change in foreign investment regime."

Zhan says protectionism is not a big deal at the moment. But, he says the Conference on Trade's concerns about the risk of protectionism in foreign investments is not ungrounded.

"The economic stimulus packages could give rise to what can be labeled as smart protectionism," said Zhan. "Furthermore, a new wave of economic nationalism could occur in the aftermath of the crisis when the exit of the public investment from the bailout flagship industries might lead to the protectionism of the national 'champions' from the foreign takeovers."

The survey finds foreign direct investment prospects remain bright in the agriculture and services industries, while the situation is less optimistic for the manufacturing sector.

Cuba's Castro visits Angola
for second time this year

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Raúl Castro is in Angola on his second visit to the southern African nation this year.

Angolan officials say the visit is intended to further strengthen cooperation between the two allies, and will include a meeting between Castro and his Angolan counterpart Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Angolan media said the two leaders are not likely to sign any new deals, and will focus instead on implementing existing agreements.

Castro last visited Angola in February.  Angola and Cuba have had a close relationship since the mid-1970s when Angola gained independence from Portugal. Cuba sent thousands of troops to assist the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which eventually became the country's ruling party.

Hundreds of Cuban doctors, teachers and medical staff still work in Angola.
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 143

Latin American news digest
U.S., Costa Rica scheduled
to play soccer Thursday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Men's National Soccer team returns to Soldier Field in Chicago where they meet Honduras Thursday.  The match is the first semi-final game in the North, Central America and Caribbean region Gold Cup tournament.  The second match pits Costa Rica against Mexico. 

The United States is up against a Honduras team it defeated earlier in Gold Cup action.

There are only four teams left in the conference's Gold Cup, and all of them have been here before.  

The first game of the semi-finals doubleheader on Thursday night is a rematch.

The United States takes on Honduras, the team it defeated 2-0 in Gold Cup Group Play earlier in July.  

The U.S. advanced to the semi-finals after defeating Panama 2-1 in extended play.  U.S. Head Coach Bob Bradley is undefeated in Gold Cup play, and Thursday's match is the fifth consecutive semi final appearance for the U.S. team.

Honduras takes the field for only the third time in its history.

Costa Rica advanced to the semi-finals for the first time since 2003 after defeating Guadeloupe 5-0.  They face Mexico fresh off a 4-0 victory against Haiti.

Soldier Field, considered the home field for the U.S. Men's Soccer team, is expecting near capacity crowds for both matches Thursday night.  

U.S.A. and Honduras take the field first at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time, with Mexico and Costa Rica scheduled to face off at 9 p.m. Central Standard Time.

The two winning teams head to Giants Stadium in New Jersey for the Gold Cup finals Sunday.

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