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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, July 27, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 147           Email us
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Despite firebombs and rocks, doomed hotels secured
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police who responded to open up the Caribbean highway Tuesday met firebombs, rocks and burning tires at four locations. The Fuerza Pública said that 10 persons had been arrested.

The protest began Monday night on Ruta 36 and was triggered by expectations of efforts to evict those in residence at two hotels in  Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca. One is the Hotel Las Palmas, operated by Complejo Turístico Punta Uva S.A.  The other is the adjacent Hotel Suerre.

The Hotel Las Palmas, operated by Jan Kalina, has been fighting the government since 1993, and Tuesday was the second time that he was evicted from the premises. The government has alleged substantial environmental damage as well as the fact that the hotel is in the national refuge.

The hotel complex is about three kilometers from Punta Uva. The well-manicured grounds of the hotel included extensive beach. Many improvements had been made by the hotel operator.

Many in the crowds that maintained the blockades are residents of the Caribbean who have property in the maritime zone. Many of the homes there predate the maritime zone law that makes their dwelling illegal. They fear that they will be next with the evictions. But they also were fortified by criminal elements that came from Limón Centro.

The burning tires sent columns of smoke into the air. Police used tear gas. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said it provided help for tourists who were evicted from the Las Palmas and others in the area who were delayed by the blockades. The institute did not give a number. Traffic was backed up two kilometers, police said.

The tourism institute said it set up tents with bilingual attendants to help tourists.

Blockades were in Hone Creek and near Cahuita, said police.

The Las Palmas case appears to have touched about every court in the land from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo y Civil de Hacienda to the Sala IV constitutional court.
Las Palmas
A.M. Costa Rica archives photo
Soon to be demolished


It was the Sala IV that froze government efforts in October 2005 to evict Kalina and his staff. At that time the then-minister of environment, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, said that the hotel would be turned over to the tourism institute for a national tourism school. The luxurious hotel is some 1,500 square meters of structures.

Kalina was back in the hotel shortly thereafter, and the tourism school idea was not mentioned again. Park rangers occupied the hotel Tuesday. It will be demolished.

The order of eviction that was executed Tuesday was signed Oct. 13, 2009. It survived appeals.

The main concerns were environmental damage done when the hotel was constructed, the illegal cutting of trees, building in the public zone of the maritime strip, building drainage to affect wetlands, blocking ditches and destructions of coral.

In addition to the Fuerza Pública and the Unidad de Intervención Policial riot squad, a number of government agencies were involved, including the Cuerpo de Bomberos. About 140 persons were believed involved in the blockades. Officials were quick to note that the evictions from the hotel had nothing to do with the cases of the long-time residents in the maritime zone in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. These, too, are complex cases.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

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Nation's bus fares going up
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos has approved an average of a 3.94 percent increase in the nation's bus fares. Some fares did not change. The largest increase was a bit more than 7 percent.

The formula the agency used involves salaries, fuel costs, repairs, maintenance, administration and the amount of the last fixing of fares in February 2010.  Operators of 187 routes received no increase because they did not submit all the needed documents, the agency said.

Current and new fares for buses
Route 

San José
01   San José Barrio México  
13   Sabana Estadio/Cementerio   
14    Pavas
50    San Pedro y ramales
70-7  Desamparados 
             (cruce San Rafael)
20-21  San José-Tibás
30-35  San José-Guadalupe   
100    San José-San Isidro
           de El General  
145  San José-Puriscal 
   
Alajuela
200 MB   San José-Alajuela
201    San José-Grecia             
202    San José-Palmares

Cartago
300    San José-Cartago 
302    San José-Turrialba   
307 A San José-Volcán Irazú

Heredia
400 B    San José-Heredia 
402-421    San José-La \
     Aurora   (por autopista)  
400 BS    San José-Heredia 
  (buseta por autopista)          

Guanacaste
500    San José-Liberia
503 A    San José-Santa Cruz
              via Interamericana 
505   San José-Peñas Blancas   515    San José-Upala x Cañas          
Puntarenas
600    San José-Puntarenas     
612 SD    SanJosé-Golfito
613    San José-Quepos
    (via costanera)               
601    San José-Paso Canoas   

Limón
703    San José-Limón 
        (via Braulio Carrillo)
700    San José-Valle La Estrella (via   autopista)       
735    San José-Guápiles
           (via autopista)                  
Current


115 
160
250 
200

210   185 
230  

2,070
750  


450
870  
835 



435
1,170 
1,930   


340

320  

435  


2,915 

4,600   
4,580   
3,735 


2,125
6,145  

3,530  
6,455


2,645   

4,170      
1,140  
Approved


120 
165
260  
210

210
195
240

2,810
790
   

465
870
870



435
1,215
2,005


355

335

450


3,030

4,780
4,760
3,880


2,210
6,385

3,670
6,710


2,750

4,335

1,185
*Source: Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públcos

 
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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary










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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

Prisma dental

U.S. debt limit feud may cause problems for Social Security
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The financial feud between President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives may seem far away and just a lot of politics to expats here. But there is a chance that until the two sides come to agreement there will be problems with August Social Security checks.

Wire service reports confirmed Tuesday that if there is no plan to let the federal government keep borrowing funds by Aug. 2, the United States risks defaulting on its debt. The U.S. Treasury says it could not pay all of its obligations, and interest rates would rise for anyone seeking loans from U.S. banks. The government also may not be able to pay Social Security checks to retirees or fulfill corporate contracts, the wire services confirmed.

But White House Chief of Staff William Daley says he is confident the United States will not default on its debt.

Daley told CNBC television Tuesday that there are a lot of debt reduction plans on the table and everyone is stressed as the Aug. 2 deadline for default gets closer. But he said that, in the end, Congress will do what is right.

Congress and the White House are in what President Barack Obama calls a dangerous stalemate over two competing plans to deeply cut spending while raising the debt limit by next week. The White House says  Obama is doing whatever he can to reach a compromise, calling it the only option to avoid default and the cataclysmic effects it would have on the world economy.

Daley said it is obvious a plan by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner would not pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. Boehner's plan would
social security

immediately raise the debt limit by $1 trillion while cutting spending by the same amount.

Obama prefers a plan by fellow Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: $2.7 trillion in cuts and raising the debt ceiling through next year's election to avoid another divisive debate.

In a televised speech Monday, Obama told Americans to call their representatives and senators to urge them to back a plan that cuts spending while boosting taxes on corporations and millionaires. Officials on Capitol Hill say lawmakers' telephone lines and email were jammed all day Tuesday.

The U.S. Social Security Administration said that as of May 1 anyone who applies for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits will receive payments electronically, and all current beneficiaries must switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. To sign up or learn more, recipients can visit www.godirect.org.
 
Many U.S. expats in Costa Rica have the monthly Social Security payment deposited directly into their local state bank account. Other simply use a debit card to withdraw money from a stateside account.

Typically Social Security monthly payments are deposited on the first of every month, but the checks have to be collected by banks from the federal government, and that may result in problems if the U.S. debt limit is not changed by Aug. 2.


Newspaper getting heat again over Page One body photo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

El Diario Extra, Costa Rica's version of a sensational tabloid, is in trouble again because it published a photo of a body on the front page.

This is the second time in a month it has been criticized publicly. This time the complaint comes from the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the nation's child welfare agency.

July 19 the newspaper published a front page photo of a dead high school student who had been gunned down at his desk.

The victim, 17-year-old Juan Pablo Salazar Calderón, was still seated at the desk but the upper part of his torso was sprawled toward the floor where his head lay. The newspaper put a small black line across the youth's eyes. Even by El Diario Extra standards, the photo was graphic.

The shooting was at the Colegio Técnico Profesional Ricardo Castro Beer in Orotina, and a disturbed friend, just
short of his 18th birthday, shot himself fatally after killing Castro.

Marielos Hernández Corella, the executive president of the Patronato, was quoted on the agency's Web page as energetically rejecting this type of publication because it provokes more violence and more pain in people.

She cited the  Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia as a guide to what the news media should publish.

El Diario Extra last June 24 published another graphic photo. This one was of a soccer star,  Dennis Marshall, bloodied and dead in the driver's seat of his motor vehicle. He and his wife died when his car skidded on Ruta 32 north of San José and collided with a Mack truck going in the opposite direction.

The Colegio de Periodistas, the journalistic professional group, accused the newspaper of lacking ethics. There was some negative sentiment among the public, too, because Marshall was well-liked.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

New genetic technique shows turtles are close kin to lizards
By Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Famous for their sluggishness, turtles have been slow to give up the secrets of their evolution and place on the evolutionary tree. For decades, paleontologists and molecular biologists have disagreed about whether turtles are more closely related to birds and crocodiles or to lizards. Now, two scientists from the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, and their colleagues from Dartmouth College and Harvard and Yale universities have developed a new technique using microRNAs for classifying animals, and the secret is out. Turtles are closer kin to lizards than crocodiles.

To reach their conclusion, published in Nature News and Biology Letters, the research team looked at a newly discovered class of molecules called microRNA. Most of the genetic material or DNA that scientists study provides the code for building proteins, large molecules that form an essential part of every organism. But microRNAs are much smaller molecules that can switch genes on and off and regulate protein production. They are also remarkably similar within related animal groups and provide important clues for identification.

“Different microRNAs develop fairly rapidly in different animal species over time, but once developed, they then remain virtually unchanged,” said Kevin Peterson, a paleobiologist at Mount Desert Island and Dartmouth College. “They provide a kind of molecular map that allows us to trace a species’ evolution.”
turtle
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
The secret is out about turtle evolution

Peterson worked with Ben King, a bioinformatician at Mount Desert Island. “My role in the study was to enhance our software so we could find new and unique microRNAs in the lizard genome,” King said. “We identified 77 new microRNA families, and four of these turned out to also be expressed in the painted turtle. So we had the evidence we needed to say that turtles are a sister group to lizards and not crocodiles.”

Though few creatures have been as puzzling as the turtle, the research team plans to use its microRNA analysis on other animals to help determine their origins and relationships as well.  It is also developing a Web-based platform to share the software with other researchers around the world.


Researcher suggest why dolphins can heal wounds like magic
By the Georgetown University Medical Center
news service

A Georgetown University Medical Center researcher who has previously discovered antimicrobial compounds in the skin of frogs and in the dogfish shark has now turned his attention to the remarkable wound healing abilities of dolphins.

A dolphin’s ability to heal quickly from a shark bite with apparent indifference to pain, resistance to infection, hemorrhage protection, and near-restoration of normal body contour might provide insights for the care of human injuries, says Michael Zasloff, a physician who also holds an academic doctorate.

For a “Letter” published  in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Zasloff, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Medical Center and former dean of research, interviewed dolphin handlers and marine biologists from around the world, and reviewed the limited literature available about dolphin healing to offer some new observations about what he calls the remarkable and mysterious ability of dolphins to heal. In his publication, Zasloff describes a brush with death by a dolphin with the name Nari’s after the dolphin was attacked by a shark off the coast of Queensland in 2009. The injury of a second dolphin and Nari’s frequent companion, Echo, is also documented.

“Much about the dolphin’s healing process remains unreported and poorly documented,” says Zasloff. “How does the dolphin not bleed to death after a shark bite? How is it that dolphins appear not to suffer significant pain? What prevents infection of a significant injury? And how can a deep, gaping wound heal in such a way that the animal’s body contour is restored? Comparable injuries in humans would be fatal. ”

Zasloff explains the dolphin healing process by synthesizing scattered reports of known aspects of dolphin biology.

For example, he proposes the same diving mechanism (diving reflex) that diverts blood from the periphery of the body during a dolphin’s deep plunge down in water depths also could be triggered after an injury. Less blood at the body’s surface means less blood loss.

As for pain, Zasloff’s review suggests the dolphin’s apparent indifference clearly represents an adaptation favorable for survival. Still, he says, the neurological and physiological mechanisms engaged to reduce pain remain unknown.

The prevention of infection is perhaps less of a mystery. Despite gaping wounds and deep flesh tears, those who observe dolphins following shark bites have not noted significant rates of infection. Zasloff says it’s likely that the animal’s blubber holds key answers.

Blubber and its composition have been studied extensively
dolphin
A.M. Costa Rica archive photo
Blubber might  hold the dolphin's antibiotic

for many years because it accumulates many toxic pollutants of human origin, such as heavy metals from its food sources, which allows scientists to monitor environmental pollution, Zasloff says. It is therefore well documented that blubber also contains natural organohalogens which are known to have antimicrobial properties and antibiotic activity.

“It’s most likely that the dolphin stores its own antimicrobial compound and releases it when an injury occurs,” Zasloff predicts. “This action could control and prevent microbial infection while at the same time prevent decomposition around the animal’s injury.”

Finally, Zasloff explores the ability of the dolphin’s wound to heal in a way that restores the dolphin’s body contour. He says the dolphin’s healing ability is less like human healing and more like regeneration.

“The repair of a gaping wound to an appearance that is near normal requires the ability of the injured animal to knit newly formed tissues with the existing fabric of adipocytes, collagen and elastic fibers,” he explains. “The dolphin’s healing is similar to how mammalian fetuses are able to heal in the womb.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Four Guatemala soldiers
on trial for massacre role


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Four Guatemalan soldiers proclaimed their innocence on the opening day of trial Monday for a 1982 massacre that claimed at least 250 lives.

The massacre took place in the village of Dos Erres.  The four defendants say they were stationed elsewhere at the time of the attack.

The trial in Guatemala City is the latest effort to hold officials accountable for war crimes that happened during the 1966-1996 civil war.  The war was fought between leftist guerrillas and the government.

The United Nations says the Guatemalan civil war led to more than 200,000 deaths and disappearances.

Earlier this month, the United States deported former Guatemalan military officer Pedro Pimental Rios for his alleged role in the Dos Erres massacre.  The Guatemalan government says it will hold a separate hearing for Rios.

Last year, Gilberto Jordan received a 10-year prison sentence in Florida for failing to disclose his role in the massacre in his U.S. citizenship application.

Another man, Santos Lopez Alonzo was arrested last year in Houston and charged with reentering the United States after being deported.  A fourth person, Jorge Vincio Sosa Orantes, faces criminal charges in Los Angeles for naturalization fraud.  He is awaiting extradition to the United States following his January arrest in Canada.


Cuba marks 58th anniversary
of Castro's failed attack


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba has marked the 58th anniversary of the failed attack on army barracks that sparked the beginning of the overthrow of the government of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The official celebration was held in the city of Ciego de Avila Tuesday. Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, who spoke at the event, said the city was picked because of its social and economic achievements over the past year.

Machado Ventura called on Cubans to work harder and more efficiently. He assured the tens of thousands in attendance that the island nation is not moving away from socialism even as it implements free-market reforms.

President Raúl Castro presided over the event, but did not give a speech. His brother, president Fidel Castro, did not appear.

July 26 is the anniversary of the attack by the Castro brothers and their fighters on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes army barracks. While the initial attack failed, later aggression by the Castro forces resulted in Fidel Castro taking power in 1959. He instituted a Communist system of rule that has been in place ever since.

Raúl Castro formally assumed the presidency in 2008, two years after Fidel Castro, now 84, handed over power as he underwent and recovered from intestinal surgery.

Raul Castro turned 80 this year and has said this will be the final congress for his generation.


Vatican is reaching out
to contemporary artists


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Vatican, once the world’s premier art patron, is again reaching out to artists, organizing an exhibit of contemporary works. Some 60 living artists, including two Americans, were invited to reflect on the theme of truth and charity.

U.S. artist Max Cole, 75, was one of them. She found herself shaking hands with Pope Benedict while standing in front of the painting she submitted to the Vatican's exhibit.

“I thank you very much for embracing the spirit of art and the artist,” she said to the pontiff.

Most of the artists in the exhibit are European. The second American in the show is photographer Jackie Nickerson. The artists were asked to reflect on a particular theme: the splendor of the truth and the beauty of charity.

In addition to painting, sculpture, and jewelry, the exhibit features photographs, poems and music.

The exhibit is part of the Vatican’s bid to reconcile with contemporary art.

The Vatican was once the world’s most important art patron. In the 16th century, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Raphael was hired to paint the pope's portrait.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

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Another Mexican reporter
found murdered after threats

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Another mexican reporter has been tortured and murdered.

The Inter American Press Association Tuesday expressed outrage at the murder of reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz from the Veracruz newspaper Notiver and issued a strong call on the country’s federal and state authorities to investigate the crime to identify those responsible.

Association President Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, offered his sympathy to the journalist’s family and colleagues and urged the Mexican authorities “to act promptly and investigate the crime so as to determine who was responsible and prevent those who resort to violence in restricting press freedom in Mexico from continuing to go unpunished.”

Ms. Ordaz de la Cruz, who covered security and drug trafficking matters for her newspaper, had gone missing on July 24. Her body was discovered Tuesday morning in the Veracruz township of Boca del Río, with signs of her having been tortured and having her throat slit. Local news media quoted official sources as saying the motive for her murder was not immediately known.

She was the second journalist from the same newspaper to have been killed in a little over one month. Miguel Angel López Velasco, a Notiver columnist, his wife and 21-year-old son were murdered June 20 by an armed group that burst into their home.

Ms. Ordaz de la Cruz had been indirectly threatened on blankets thrown over the bodies of people who had been murdered and in videos shown on Youtube. In those warnings it was suggested that she was linked to a group of drug traffickers belonging to the self-styled Zetas cartel, according to information obtained by the association sources in Mexico. Officials, who have not begun an investigation into this, discarded the possibility that the crime is connected to the publication of news reports, although think it might be linked to organized crime.

So far this year in addition to Ms. Ordaz de la Cruz and López Velasco, both from Notiver, also murdered in Mexico have been Luis Emmanuel Ruiz Castillo, Noel López Olguín and technical engineer Rodolfo Ochoa Moreno. Meanwhile, Marco Antonio López has been missing since early last month.

From 2003 to date 10 journalists have been murdered in the state of Veracruz, with the majority of these cases not believed to be linked to their work as journalists. However, the authorities have not reported on the results of their investigations nor arrested anyone.








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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 147

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
President Chinchilla delivers a troubling speech in Nicoya

President Laura Chinchilla really led with her chin Monday when she told an audience in Nicoya that if they wanted something done they should talk to legislators.

Ms. Chinchilla's point was that opposition party members control the Asamblea Legislativa and her plans for major tax increases, an annual tax on corporations and approval of multi-million-dollar international loans are moving too slowly through the process.

The president forgot to mention that her party controlled the legislature the previous year. The problem is not who is in control. The problem is the lack of viable proposals coming from Casa Presidencial. Her initial tax plan was so greedy that even members of her own party winced.

But that is only part of the problem as polls show support for the president is low. Ms. Chinchilla ran on a platform of firmness, and voters expected her to take strong action against crime and some other maladies. Instead, she turned the job of making a plan over to a United Nations agency.

The result was not unexpected. The agency, the Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, produced an abstract document that resembled a college term paper on crime. Even a leading television reporter characterized the document as "Blah, blah, blah."

Basically what Ms. Chinchilla said Monday was a variation on the common Costa Rican slogan: "It's not my fault."
Ms. Chinchilla has held many high offices before becoming president. She was a minister of security, a minister of Justicia and a vice president. That's pretty good training for a president, particularly in times when a crime wave is sweeping the nation.

The most decisive action she has taken against crime recently was to instruct government agencies to put a slogan on all their press releases: Constuimos un país seguro. "We are building a secure country."

Opposition lawmakers were uniform Tuesday is saying that the president was ducking her responsibility and trying to put the blame on them.

But perhaps the most unsettling comment the president made in her speech in Nicoya was when she told the crowd that they would pay none of the taxes she proposes. Only those with a lot of money would pay, she said. But the president's own tax plan levies taxes on individuals who earn more than 2,890,000 colons a year, although there are other deductions and loopholes. That is just $5,780. Even someone working at the mid range of the minimum salary would reach that level in a year. Any money after 241,000 colons a year is taxable. And in Nicoya there were plenty of well-heeled ranchers and farmers in the audience.

But even more troubling was the president's effort to generate class envy.
July 28, 2011


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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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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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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