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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 146           Email us
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Another prison sweep turns up even television sets
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Televisions, frying pans and cell telephones are supposed to be prohibited in Costa Rican prisons. But somehow individuals managed to smuggle nine television sets, six fry pans and three cell phones into the Centro Penitenciario de Pérez Zeledón.

A sweep by 300 law officers turned up the illegal merchandise early Sunday as well as 362 knife-like weapons.

The  Policía Penitenciaria and the Fuerza Pública descended on the prison before dawn. They were accompanied by drug dogs. This is another sweep
as a result of an attempted prison break at the La Reforma complex in Alajuela. A search there turned up all sorts of illegal items.

 The Pérez Zeledón sweep also uncovered drugs, cash, bootlegged alcohol and tape recorders. All are illegal.

Searchers found cocaine and marijuana in the four units of the complex.

Many of the smaller illegal items were hidden in the wooden molding of the cells or in mattresses and books, including a Bible. One stash of marijuana was located in a tape recorder.

Nearly a year has passed without word on Kim Paris
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In just a few days last August, the disappearance of Kim Paris from a hotel in Santa Teresa de Cóbano dropped out of the headlines. There was nothing new.

The woman simply vanished after leaving the  Hotel Latitude 10 Resort on a hotel bike. She made a withdrawal at a nearby automatic teller. And that is all anyone knew at the time.

That still is all anyone knows as the disappearance approaches the one year mark Aug. 25.

Her husband, Gabriel Orozco, the hotel administrator, notes that Ms. Paris will be 34 Aug. 29. And he has wracked his brains trying to think of a reason or even just a clue. He and other family members also have conducted extensive searches of the area.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has not developed any leads. Nor has an investigator from the French embassy here, Orozco said. Ms. Paris holds French nationality.

A sister, Natasha in Florida, is equally frustrated. "I'm sure someone must know something, someone must say something once they'll see she's still missing," she said in an email.  "We haven't been asked
kim paris
Kim Paris
any ransom, her body hasn't been found, she must be somewhere, and hopefully still alive."
The family has been more low key that those of other missing expats. There is a Web page: 

The family of David Gimelfarb brought his case to the CNN "Nancy Grace Show." The Chicago area man disappeared after hiking in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja in eastern Guanacaste.

The family of British journalist Michael Dixon put a song on the Web and created t-shirts, among other publicity efforts. His brother David visits frequently and does a lot of media interviews. However, in neither of these cases have their been any developments despite the publicity

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Tourism chamber seeks
quick OK on marina law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism chamber is calling on President Laura Chinchilla to quickly approve a new marina law that already has passed the legislature.

The Cámara Nacional de Turismo noted that the period of time during which the president can veto legislation has expired because the Asamblea Legislativa gave final passage June 27.

There are at least five marinas with space for more than 1,000 boats in the concession stage or with some construction, said the chamber.

It noted that the new law provides a 35-year concession period that will make such investments more profitable. The legislation also seeks to speed up approval of such projects, the chamber said.

Now the country has three active marinas, Los Sueños in Playa Herradura, Marina Pez Vela in Quepos and Marina Papagayo in Playa Manzanillo

Liberia terminal predicted
to be ready for high season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said Monday that a new passenger terminal at the Liberia airport will be ready in November, in time for the high tourist season.

The $35 million terminal is being built by the company that holds the concession on the airport, Coriport S.A. The new terminal will be able to handle 1,500 tourists at a time instead of the 900 that is now the case, the ministry said.

Coriport is a consortium made up of five companies, including MMM Aviation Group of Canada, ADC & HAS Corp., Inc., of the United States and three Costa Rican firms.

Firemen save many cars
in blaze at repair shop

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Firemen saved nearly all of some 360 vehicles that were in a mechanical shop when fire broke out early Monday morning. The location was the Taller 3R  in La Uruca, said the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

One car was destroyed and six others suffered damage. In addition the shop suffered smoke damage, firemen said.

The cause appears to have been an electrical or battery problem in the vehicle that was destroyed, they said. The call came in at 4:02 a.m.

Firemen still are uncertain of the cause of a blaze that leveled a furniture shop in  La Cocaleca de Palmares Sunday.

Crash claims three lives

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car-bus crash about 20 kilometers north of San Isidro de El General claimed the life of three persons Sunday afternoon. The mishap also tied up traffic on the Interamericana Sur. A fourth person in the same passenger vehicle was hospitalized in critical condition.

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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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 146

Prisma dental

Three-day weekend gave a jump start to Cartago pilgrimage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the most part, the weekend was perfect for a trek to Cartago. And thousands did.

The feast day of the Virgen de los Ángeles, the patroness of the nation, is not until Aug. 2.  The three-day weekend allowed those who wished to participate in the pilgrimage to do so early

The plaza in front of the Cartago basilica was crowded Monday, a legal holiday in Costa Rica. There were long lines of the faithful waiting to enter the center door of the church on their knees.

The pilgrimage to Cartago is an amazing aspect of life in Costa Rica. Between now and next Tuesday morning more than a million persons will have hiked from all parts of the country and from some adjacent nations to Cartago. The police and rescue agencies do not swing into full readiness until Friday. The the Cruz Roja already reported on more than two dozen being taken to the local hospital.
There also are a number with leg cramps, breathing problems and heat exhaustion.

The cloud cover over the weekend kept the heat down and limited the victims of the sun.

The history of the  Virgen de los Ángeles is wrapped up in the social situation when it was discovered in 1635. The diocese of Cartago points out that in those days the whites were separated from the Indians and the mulatos. So it was a mulato woman, Juana Pereira, who discovered the small statue that is now venerated as a holy object.

The black rock that had been engraved with an image of mother and child continued to return on its own to the place where it was found, according to the legend. Eventually this resulted in the construction of a church there.

The full name for the basilica is the Santuario Nacional Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. The Mass next Tuesday will attract most of the politicians in the country as well as the nations bishops.

Ms. Chinchilla promotes her tax plan in Nicoya speech
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reactivating the productive sector of Guanacaste is a priority of the Chinchilla administration, the president said Monday, as she gave the traditional annual talk in the Parque Central de Nicoya.

The occasion was the celebration of the  Anexión del Partido de Nicoya that took place 187 years ago when political leaders there agreed to cast their lot with Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua. Every year politicians travel to Guanacaste to show that their ancestors did not make a mistake.

Our opinion: Fix the transfer tax

President Laura Chinchilla showed some frustration during her speech, in part because she was met by about 400 protesters with various complaints. She told Guanacaste residents Monday to take their demands to legislators because opposition lawmakers now control the Asamblea Legislativa.

In addition to a stalled proposal for a national park, the president cited the tax reform plan that is being considered in the legislature.

"Despite that we have limited resources, my government has been advancing diverse projects. I tell you who are waving banners of other parties or to those who represent distinct regions of Guanacaste that we ought to have the same shared objective: the well being of Guanacaste residents."

"My government is the government with the biggest deficit in the last 30 years," she said. But she added that political will is not in short supply. The opposition has presented a legislative agenda, and she said that the country was built in a collective manner.

". . . we have to demand of the government but we also have to demand of the other powers of the Republic," she
Ms. Chinchilla
Casa Presidencial photo
President Chinchilla hands out a symbolic housing grant representing the 1,323 that have been distributed by her administration since 2010.

said in clear reference to the legislature.

"I will not hide from you the necessity that we have a sick state. I need more taxes, and they are not taxes that you are gong to pay. They are taxes that those that have the most will pay to give to you," she said urging that the listeners contact lawmakers to seek passage of her administration's tax plan.

The plan would raise $1 billion in new tax money, according to administration calculations. That is about half of the government's deficit.

During the session,  Sandra Piszk, minister of  Trabajo y Seguridad Social, said that her ministry had signed an agreement with four local municipalities,  La Cruz, Nicoya, Santa Cruz and Liberia, to set up a 24-hour system with the goal of promoting employment in the area.

President Chinchilla handed out housing grants representing the 9 billion colons that have been distributed to 8,298 persons in poor families in the province since 2010. That's about $18 million.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 146

Costa Rica offers to help by sending experts to starving Africa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The country has offered to field a team of experts in agronomy, veterinarian science and general technicians to aid those facing a humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The offer came Monday from  Fernando Sánchez, Costa Rica's representative in Rome at a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization meeting. He said the organization estimates that famine is affecting 12 million persons there.

He called the death of human beings due to hunger a scandal and said it was inhumane and unacceptable. There was no indication when such a team would leave for Africa. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto here reported on his offer.

The meeting was an emergency one of U.N. aid agencies and charities at the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organization

The U.N. World Food Program announced that it would begin an airlift of food aid today into the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as well as to eastern Ethiopia and northern Kenya on the border with Somalia.

An estimated 3.7 million people in Somalia, around a third of the population, are on the brink of starvation. Millions more in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have been struck by the worst drought in the region in 60 years. 
Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, said that a deadly combination of natural disaster and regional conflict had created this emergency, with soaring levels of malnutrition.

His food program has ranked this as the most critical food emergency in the world, he said, adding: "Last week I designated the Horn of Africa a Level 3 emergency. There is no higher for us. The scope of this is 13 million people."

Jacques Diouf, who hosted the emergency meeting, said the catastrophic situation in Somalia demands massive and urgent international aid. He heads the Food and Agricultural Organization.

Diouf said it is imperative to stop the famine that afflicts the Horn of Africa and in particular southern Somalia.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said donor countries would hold talks to step up aid pledges in the Kenyan capital on Wednesday. He called for action to bring down high food prices on international markets.

Le Maire said if the necessary measures are not taken, famine would be the scandal of this century.

Officials say that the U.N. has received some $1 billion since first launching an appeal for the region in November 2010. But they added that a billion more is needed by the end of the year to cope with the emergency.

Researchers zero in on origin of the malaria parasite
By the Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique
news service

The agent of malaria has been found in the greater spot-nosed monkey, also known as putty-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans), a small African primate derived from a line different to that of humans, gorillas and chimpanzees. This discovery challenges current thinking on the origin of the parasite and introduces a key element in the fight against malaria: knowing how it has adapted to the human species will make it possible to target its weaknesses.

This work stems from research carried out by Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique researchers in association with other organizations and is published this month in the journal PNAS.

Malaria, also known as paludism, is one of the greatest global scourges. This pathology, which causes a million human deaths each year, is especially rampant in Africa. The question of whether the primary infection originated from rodents or birds has long remained unanswered. Also found in gorillas, it was thought that the parasite was specific to hominids.

By working on the subject, a team of Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique researchers jointly with the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville in Gabon, and in collaboration with other organizations, has demonstrated the presence of Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria, in  the greater spot-nosed monkey, a small African monkey derived from a line different to that of humans. The origin of the  parasite probably predates the
African monkey
Centre International de Recherches Médicales
de Franceville in Gabon/ Jean-Louis Albert
Putty-nosed monkey

origins of the African hominids line.

The presence of Plasmodium falciparum in this Old World Monkey opens the way to the analysis of the genome of the parasite found in this species. Comparing its sequence with that already known of falciparum in humans will enable researchers to discover the molecular signatures of the human parasite and to find out how it has adapted to humans. Knowing the weaknesses of the parasite will be a major asset in combating malaria.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 146

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Cause of Bolívar's death
eludes Venzuelan experts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in Venezuela say experts who examined the remains of 19th century independence hero Simón Bolívar have not been able to determine what caused his death.

Vice President Elias Jaua Monday announced the results of the investigation, one year after President Hugo Chavez's government ordered the remains exhumed in search of clues to Bolivar's death. Experts involved in the investigation did confirm the remains were those of Bolívar, who died in 1830.

President Chávez rejects the generally accepted account that Bolivar died of tuberculosis. Chávez believes Bolivar was murdered.

The announcement Monday came one day after Venezuela marked the anniversary of Bolivar's birth.

Chávez tells newspaper
that he will run again

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says in a new interview that he will seek another six-year term next year even as he struggles to overcome cancer.

President Chávez made the remark in an interview published Monday in the government newspaper Correo del Orinoco.  The president said he has not thought for a moment about leaving his post and that he would have left the job if he had valid health reasons to do so.  Chávez said he is pursuing his candidacy with more strength than before.

Argentine president fails
to help candidate win

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Argentine President Cristina Fernández suffered an electoral setback Sunday when her candidate finished in third place in the race for governor of Santa Fe province.  Argentina's Socialist Party appears set to retain the governorship.

Santa Fe is an agricultural hub and politically a Socialist stronghold.   

National opinion polls indicate President Fernández has a wide lead over rivals three months before general elections.  Opponents hope poor showings in provincial elections will create a closer election result. 

The first round of the Argentine general elections is scheduled to take place Oct. 23.

Bodyguards get blame
for killing crime lord

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian authorities say the leader of one of the country's most powerful criminal groups has been shot dead by bodyguards.

Officials say Ángel de Jesús Pacheco, known as “Sebastian,” was killed Monday in the northwestern province of Antioquia, and that his body was found tied to a tree, showing signs of torture.

They say Pacheco was the leader of Los Rastrojos, one of Colombia's criminal gangs.

Earlier, an international research institution said quickly evolving criminal gangs in Colombia are seeking to expand their influence in local elections this October, and could reverse a decade-long trend of decreasing electoral violence.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report that illegal armed groups seek to consolidate and expand their hold over local governments in October's gubernatorial, mayoral, departmental assembly and municipal council elections. The group also said the gangs are fast becoming larger, more robust criminal networks, and some could develop a more ambitious political agenda.

The research institution said the government of President Juan Manuel Santos must rigorously implement measures to protect candidates and shield the electoral process against criminal infiltration, corruption and fraud. It described the upcoming vote as the first electoral test for President Santos, who took office in August of last year.

Colombia has been mired in a nearly 50-year civil war involving the government, leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries. The conflict has left thousands dead. Last month, President Santos signed legislation aimed at offering restitution to victims of the nation's violence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 146

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Obama acts to target
internation criminals

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order imposing sanctions against significant transnational criminal organizations. The order provides the United States with new tools to break the economic power of transnational organized crime and protect financial markets, said the Office of the White House Press Secretary. It will assist the Administration’s efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the criminal organizations that pose a significant threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy or the economy.

As a result of this order, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the significant criminal organizations have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them, the White House explained..

 The order names the Los Zetas of México, the Brothers' Circle in Eastern Europe, the Camorra in Italy and the Yakuza  Japanese crime syndicate.

The order also authorizes the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to identify for sanctions any individual or entity determined to have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order, the White House said..

 When the president signed the order, the sanctions were imposed on:
• The Brothers’ Circle is a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union but extending to the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Many Brothers’ Circle members share a common ideology based on the “thief-in-law” tradition, which seeks to spread their brand of criminal influence globally. The Brothers’ Circle serves as a coordinating body for several national level criminal networks, which includes mediating disputes between the individual criminal networks and directing global criminal activity.

• The Camorra is considered the largest Italian organized crime group, the Camorra is a loose collection of allied and competing local clans in the province of Naples and the Campania region of Italy. The Camorra operates internationally and is involved in serious criminal activity such as counterfeiting and narcotics trafficking.  

• The Yakuza comprises the major Japanese organized crime syndicates, sometimes referred to as “families,” and had more than 80,000 members as of 2008. The Yakuza derives most of its profits from the drug trade, particularly methamphetamine, the most widely abused drug in Japan.

• Formerly the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas is an extremely violent transnational criminal organization based primarily in Mexico. The organization is estimated to have thousands of members in Mexico, Central America and the United States. Los Zetas facilitates drug trafficking into the United States and has relationships with U.S.-based gangs. Los Zetas is specifically responsible for the safe passage of large quantities of illegal narcotics, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana moving through México and eventually into the United States. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Property transfer scam needs a little presidential attention

President Laura Chinchilla told Guanacaste residents Monday to take their demands to legislators because opposition lawmakers now control the Asamblea Legislativa.

The president showed some frustration during her speech at the annual Anexión del Partido de Nicoya celebration, in part because she was met by about 400 protesters with various complaints. In addition to a stalled proposal for a national park, the president cited the tax reform plan that is being considered in the legislature. The plan would generate about $1 billion in new income for the government.

But there is one action the president could take right now to raise funds.

The president's plan would increase the property transfer tax from 1.5 percent to 3 percent, but the government has been ineffective in collecting the current levy.

There exists a tradition among lawyers and and property purchasers to establish a sales price for fiscal purposes. This
amount is much lower than the actual sales price. This really amount to false statements to tax authorities. The transfer tax is paid on the lower amount even though the seller gets the real purchase price.

This is tax evasion of the most bold sort because a little investigation can usually determine the real sales price. After all, a lot of the properties have been advertised and the amount clearly stated.

In some cases this fiscal price is a really total effort at evasion. The stated price may be just 10 percent of the actual sale. So on a $200,000 sales, the government collects $300 instead of $3,000. The lawyers, however, collect their fee on the actual sales price. Some of them produce two invoices for their clients, one with the fake price and the second with their full fee based on the actual price.

This clearly is fraud. And it would not take a lot of effort to review all the property transactions for the last five years.
July 27, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Preventative detention misused badly and inconsistently

For a country that prides itself on respect for human rights, the concept of innocent until proven guilty is frequently overlooked.

Depending on the crime, a suspect may be tossed into the general prison population for months, even years, without the chance to present a defense. On the other hand, the flagrancia courts convict and sentence without the suspect having sufficient time to mount a defense.

The issue of excessive preventative detention, came to light when Kathya Jiménez Fernández, a criminal judge, ordered that two Mexican drug suspects be placed in home detention and liberated from prison. The decision created a firestorm among police officials and potential neighbors. The judge correctly reasoned that the men had spent seven months in prison without significant action by prosecutors.

Costa Rica does not have a speedy trial law, and some of these cases drag on for years only to have the jailed suspect found innocent. Sometimes police and prosecutors are happy that suspects are confined for lengthy periods pre-trial. They figure that the fickle Costa Rican courts might find the suspect innocent, but he or she will at least have served some time. Pre-trial detention should be reserved for cases where there is a possibility of danger to the public from the suspect.

A case in point is the hotel guard with the last name of Guevara, who is accused of murder for shooting a 16-year-old U.S. tourist by accident in La Fortuna last week. Prosecutors at first sought a year of preventative detention. A judge ordered six months. This case is not rocket science. The man is guilty of having an unlicensed gun and working without residency. But he is not guilty of murder, as prosecutors allege. A trial could easily be held in a month or two. Instead the man will languish in prison for months while prosecutors handle other cases. Out of sight is out of mind.

Another human rights violation is mixing the pre-trial prison population with the convicted felons. Pre-trial inmates deserve special treatment if one assumes they are innocent until proved guilty.

We are reminded of the case of Roger Crouse, the Playa del Coco bar owner who was charged with murder for shooting a man who attacked him with a knife. He was not a paragon of virtue, but the case appeared cut and dried. The local bad guy 
created a scene, and police had to detain and confine him. A few hours later they inexplicably released the man, who told them he was going to return to the bar and kill Crouse. He tried. He found another knife. Crouse had a gun.

So investigators arrested Crouse, who spent a year in jail before there was a trial. His bar was sacked by locals. His limo business was vandalized into junk. He periodically would call reporters to talk about his latest robbery by fellow inmates.

We think that Crouse would have been convicted without the continual carping by A.M. Costa Rica reporters. Why? There would have been a significant civil settlement in favor of the family of the dead man. Prosecutors were trying to wear him down.

Another case in point is the man, Carlos Pascall, who was detained in Limón last week in a money laundering investigation. In a made-for-television raid, police broke down his front door and smashed through an interior door while Pascall, dressed only in underpants, calmly watched from a second-floor balcony. They threw him to the floor to cuff him. He was ordered jailed for investigation.

This is a case prosecutors have been following since 2004.  Is there any reason to put Pascall in jail before a trial? He has millions in investments here as well as being the president of a first division soccer team.

Luis Milanes, who admits his investors lost some $200 million when he fled in 2002, returned to Costa Rican in 2009 and spent just one day in jail. He has been free to run his casino businesses for two years.

Why is there such a difference in the treatment of these men? We think Pascal should be freed before trial, and so should Milanes. But we think the trial should be completed in a couple of months, not a couple of years.

On the other hand, once someone is convicted, there should be strong consideration of prison even though appeals have been filed in the case. Monday the Judicial Investigating Organization released the photos of 12 men who have been convicted of such crimes as murder, aggravated robbery and rape. They were convicted and allowed to wander off while an appeal was heard. This is wacky.
June 7, 2011

Here is a career-ending case for the sob sisters in the judiciary
There is another custody battle brewing, and Costa Rican judicial officials who like to meddle in such U.S. cases could face the decision of their lives.

The judicial officials unerringly seem to favor the women in a custody battle and have disregarded international treaties that say the court of initial jurisdiction is the place where custody should be decided. Usually the court of initial jurisdiction is in the United States.

But Tico judges and judicial officials are quick to protect a fleeing mother from the U.S. justice system and award her refugee status here, usually without making any investigation.

But now comes a case with two mothers. And one is lesbian and the other is a former lesbian.

At the center of the case is a 9-year-old girl, who was born via artificial insemination.
The biological mother is Lisa Miller who fled the United States to avoid turning over custody to her former lover, Vermont homosexual rights activist Janet Jenkins. Ms. Miller fled to Central America two years ago, and has been reported to be in Nicaragua. There is a possibility that she has entered Costa Rica.

A judge gave custody to Ms. Jenkins because Ms. Miller moved from Vermont and denied Ms. Jenkins visitations.

The case is further wrapped up in evangelical Christianity, gay rights and a host of sub-issues.

If some ladies in the judiciary want to be world arbitrators of parental rights, we would be happy to provide Ms. Miller telephone money, Such a case would remind the ladies of the judiciary why laws and treaties were designed to trump emotions.
— April 25, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
True freedom includes having the right to gamble online

Government-sponsored gambling is centuries old. Still, politicians cannot come to grips with the industry. When New York authorized a state lottery in 1967, cautious lawmakers required lottery players to purchase their tickets at a local bank. Eventually that dumb rule vanished, and in many states lottery tickets are available at many retail outlets.

Online gambling seems to be following that same erratic course. Revelations of a U.S. government crackdown on the online poker industry came Friday. Meanwhile, the U.S. District of Columbia, the seat of the federal government, has authorized online gambling for its residents this year. Specifics are in the works.

Three other states, Nevada, Iowa and New Jersey, also are flirting with online gambling. Yet in 2006 the U.S. federal government passed a law that has been used to punish Costa Rican gambling sites and those executives here who publicly supported unrestricted online gambling.

There are many good reasons not to allow gambling, just as there are good reasons to forbid cigarettes, alcohol and Big Macs. Frankly this newspaper would welcome a well-regulated online gambling industry based in the United States where participants probably would get a fair shake.

We have not received any complaints about Absolute Poker, the
 Pavas-based firm that figured in the federal indictments announced Friday. But we have fielded international complaints about other online gambling sites here who seem to fail to pay big winners. Costa Rica, being what it is, international gamblers have no recourse to collect their funds.

District of Columbia officials expect its local online activities to bring in more than $10 million a year. That is peanuts compared to the billions at play in the world.

And if United States officials were consistent, they would see large financial benefits for uniform, reasonable online legislation. The online gambling industry already is big business there. Those in the Land of the Free should recognize that true freedom includes the right to lose one's shirt in an online poker game.

Those detained Friday in the current U.S. investigation face the most serious charges because they sought to circumvent the prohibition on U.S. gamblers posting money to their poker accounts. They face money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy allegations. These charges stem from the roadblocks U.S. federal officials erected in opposition to what is a legal business here and in the other jurisdictions where the other two poker sites are located.

April 18, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The time has come to crack down on juvenile criminals
A wave of juvenile crime is seeping the country, and the existing laws are insufficient to handle the problem.

The entire Costa Rican penal code is base on redemption, but some criminals cannot be redeemed. That goes for young criminals.

Someone under the age of 18 who commits premeditated murder probably will not serve more than five or six years in prison. They should be put away for a long, long time.

The Costa Rican juvenile code should be changed to make 14 years the limit for a juvenile criminal. Those older than that go to adult court and face adult penalties. The adult penalties are weak enough.

We would prefer to see imprisonment without possibility of parole in some cases. But that is too much to expect with the current touchie feelie administration and legislature.

But subjecting persons 14 years to adult penalties would be a start.

We have had three youngsters detained in the last few days for the murder of a taxi driver.  That was in Tejarcillos de Alajuelita Sunday night, and they were trying to rob the man, identified by the last names of Ramírez Gutiérrez.

Another youngster of 16 is accused of shooting down a mother
earlier in the week as she walked with her two daughters. Why? Because the woman filed a complaint against the suspect's mother.

Then there are the pair of robbery suspects who are charged with putting a foot-long slash in the stomach of a schoolboy Wednesday.

We think society would be well served if none of these youngsters who are between 15 and 17 years of age do not see liberty for 30 years each.

We may never know what happens to these suspects. The juvenile court is closed, and the only reports are filtered through the Poder Judicial press office. Even after conviction, a young criminal may not serve the time a judge has specified. That's true of adult criminals, too.

Youngsters are being encouraged to really bad behavior by the television cop shows. But we also think that adult criminals are using youngsters for bloody jobs because they correctly feel the kids are immune to prosecution.

If they are killing people at 16, what will they be doing at 25?

We urge that they be so treated that they continue to contemplate their crime from behind bars at 25 and for many years later.

— March 17, 2011

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Apparently, international treaties are just suggestions, too

How do Costa Rican officials justify ignoring the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?

Time after time runaway moms from the United States come here with a child and try to get the courts here to block U.S. arrest warrants and judicial orders to return the child.

The latest case is that of Trina Atwell and her 2-plus-year-old daughter Emily. Ms. Atwell is wanted for child abduction, and a court in Green County, Missouri, has awarded the biological father full custody. She claims she fled violence and drug abuse. He denies that.

A.M. Costa Rica is in no position to determine who is telling the truth. But neither are Costa Rican officials. The international treaty says that jurisdiction rests with the Green County judge. There the evidence exists to adjudicate the case and confirm or award custody. A complicating factor is that Ms. Atwell was married to a Costa Rican when she had the child.

One would think that Ms. Atwell would want to go back there and reopen the case, at least to be with the other daughter she left behind.
One would think that Costa Rican judicial officials would want to take immediate and decisive action to comply with the Hague Convention if only to avoid another long court case in an overwhelmed judicial system.

Ms. Atwell is seeking refugee status for herself and her child.

Of course, this is a strategic play because no right-minded individual would compare the lumbering, flawed judicial system here to the one in the United States.

But we also wonder if she does not have legal custody how can she apply for refugee status on behalf of her daughter?

Of course, in Costa Rica mothers are sacred. Whenever there is an international custody dispute, women gather at the judicial complex to support uncritically the mother of the hour.

Some supporters of Roy Koyama, Emily's father, have suggested that the United States freeze international aid from Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica will not go that far, but the lack of response and action by the U.S. Embassy make one wonder.

— Feb. 14, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Two judicial flaws create grossly unfair situations

Wednesday a news story about a Florida court case illustrated some deficiencies in Costa Rican law.

We have no way of knowing who will prevail in the Florida case. A former businessman here alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company he ran here.

However, in bringing the case, the lawyer, Craig A. Brand, pointed out some serious problems with Costa Rican law.

Anyone is vulnerable to private court cases because any lawyer can file such a case, including criminal cases. Frequently lawyers will file a private criminal case even while they know the case is a tissue of lies. The purpose is strategic.

Brand said lawyers did so to him in an effort to extort money. Perhaps they did. But we know of other situations when such cases have been filed to stop civil cases when it appears one side would lose.

This is a typical and reprehensible technique used here. The real problem is that there is no mechanism in place for judges
 to throw out weak or fake cases at an early stage. Such actions usually have to go to a full trial, causing great expense to the victimized individuals and frequently delaying justice.

The second aspect illustrated by the Brand case is that a judge can issue a prohibition against someone leaving the country and the subject of the order does not find out until he or she is at the airport. No one should be the subject of a secret judicial order. Each person should have the right to contest the order quickly before a judge. That means the the judiciary should notify the person who is the subject of the impedimento de salida order.  Such orders should not languish in secret in the immigration computer system for months or years until someone has invested money in air tickets and travel.

Again, these orders can be used strategically to bring pressure on an individual whether for legal or private reasons. The orders frequently are placed against foreign expats because opposing lawyers can argue that the individual might flee.

Both of these issues are grossly unfair. The sad part is that everyone in the judiciary and in government knows it and they do nothing to remedy the unfairness.
— Feb. 10, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Time has come to end disgusting practice of shark finning

Costa Rica needs to live up to its environmentalist reputation by banning the practice of shark finning in its waters and to forbid the shipment of shark fins.

So far the country has bobbed and weaved but failed to take decisive steps to crack down on this despicable practice.

A lower-court judge once again has stifled efforts to bring some kind of oversight to this practice. The judge, Rosa Cortes Morales, acted at the request of Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. to annul an agreement that would make shark finners dump their cargo at a public dock in Puntarenas.

For obvious reasons, these ravagers of the seas prefer to hide their cargo by unloading at friendly private docks.

The court decision was reported by the Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group that has been fighting shark finning for years.

The agreement was between the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes. The effect of the agreement was to require shark fishermen to obey the law.

Judge Cortez took the unusual step of throwing out the agreement without hearing from the other side because the shark finners and their wholesalers claimed irreparable damage, according to the decision. They would be damaged by abiding by the law.

There is more to come in this legal process, but Round One goes to the shark finners.

They say that people cannot comprehend large numbers. To say that 200,000 persons died in the Haitian earthquake does not have the emotional impact of seeing the damaged body of a single Haitian baby.

That may be true with shark finning. In 2006 the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their fins estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, said the study.
shark fins
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop

That number is hard to fathom. But the adjacent photo shows a number of shark fins, and each represents an animal dumped back in the ocean to die. The photo came from the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, which reported that the photo shows a Puntarenas rooftop being used to dry shark fins. The photographer had to flee.

From time to time government officials take note of shark finning. When the film "Sharkwater" played in San José, then-legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, said she would introduce a bill to ban the practice. Nothing ever came of it.

Ms. Taitelbaum is now the defensora de los habitantes and would seem to be in a position to follow through if she were not just posturing in 2007.

The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking, although nutritionally they are less adequate than many other meals. Perhaps the new stadium, a gift from China, should be called the Arena of Dead Sharks.              
 — Feb. 7, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."

Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.

Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth.  José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.

Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.

Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
President Luis Alberto Monge declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.

Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.

But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for.  After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.

But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?

President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.

Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one  be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.

At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.

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