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bare feet
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Only the very brave or the very pious walk to Cartago in bare feet. Ouch! A much better idea is to make the trek holding hands with a loved
one.  Our story on the Costa Rican amazing, annual display of faith is

High court say police should only carry light firearms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala Primera ruled that police officers should not carry powerful firearms unless officers are members of special units that take on organized crime.

In one of its more controversial rulings, the high criminal court threw out a directive by the executive branch allowing police officers to carry weapons other than .22-caliber, .38-caliber and 9-mm.

The Poder Judicial issued a clarification Wednesday over the decision which took most police officers by surprise.

The Poder Judicial said that the Sala Primera recognizes that the law gives the executive branch the power to regulate the use of weapons. But the court said the existing decree allows police to indiscriminately carry heavier weapons on a daily basis.
This is a violation of the law because police carrying such weapons exposes citizens to risk, said the summary by the Poder Judicial.

The court ordered the executive branch to issue within a month a more reasonable decree outlining the use of weapons.

The court says it did not prohibit the use of weapons but only rejected a decree that provides for the use of heavy weaponry.

Criminals frequently have access to AK-47 automatic rifles, Uzi submachine guns and even heavier armament. Fuerza Pública officers sometimes carry rifles when guarding prisoners or large stashes of drugs.

The court ruling would seem to apply to all police agencies, including the Judicial Investigating Organization and the anti-drug police.

Costa Ricans overseas will be able to vote locally
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans who live overseas will be able to vote in national elections, according to an agreement announced Wednesday between the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

This is a big benefit to politically aware Costa Ricans because each national election some return from where they are living overseas specifically to vote.

The voting will be in the Costa Rican consulates in other countries, according to the agreement. Figures
from the various consulates show about 49,000 Costa Ricans living overseas, but these numbers are not solid. There may be many more.

Officials agreed that the big problem will be in alerting Costa Ricans elsewhere that they can vote locally. The next election is in February 2014.

Other Latin American countries allow citizens living overseas to vote, and some of the embassies here have been voting locations.

U.S. citizens can vote absentee in local and national elections there, but they must do so by mail.

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Judicial police warn
of car thefts by trickery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial police have been flooded with complaints from vehicle owners about fake purchasers who end up stealing the car.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said it has at least 25 complaints already this year.

One man was detained Monday, but the scams and extortion continue. So far this year 20 men and a woman have been detained on charges related to this type of crime.

Typically the crook shows up in response to a classified ad and seeks to try out a vehicle that is for sale. If the owner allows him to do so, the crook simply takes the car. Later, the owner may receive a telephone call offering to return the car for the payment of $1,000 or $2,000.

car theft arrest
Man detained Monday
is led to jail

In a more complex theft, the crook says he wants to buy the car and directs the owner to an office where a lawyer is said to wait to do the transfer paperwork. The vehicle owner goes in search of the lawyer only to return to find that the car and supposed buyer is gone.

Monday Judicial agents recovered a Mitsubishi Montero Sport that was taken Saturday by a man who said he wanted to have a mechanic inspect the car. The owner went to a waiting room in a vehicle repair shop in Calle Blancos only to find out that the vehicle vanished and that there was no mechanic there to inspect the vehicle.

The owner was lucky. Agents found the car in San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados and made an arrest. It is one of 13 vehicles that have been recovered this year, agents said.

The judicial police have some recommendations to sellers of cars, but they are obvious. Plus it is possible that when pressed, a car thief will pull a gun. However, the agency urges those who are victimized to file a report.

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
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romeros on the road
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Cartago-bound pilgrims filled the streets Wednesday despite a few brushes with bad weather.
Pedestrian traffic is moving only in one direction: To Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The massive movement of the faithful and not-so-faithful was in high gear late Wednesday and early today. Four or six abreast pilgrims filled sidewalks and traffic lanes on their way to Cartago and the basilica there.

The Cruz Roja reported Wednesday evening that its aid stations had treated 1,544 persons, mostly for muscle aches and individual medical problems. Some 26 persons suffered from sunburn and 38 suffered from some physical injury. The rescue crews had to take 27 persons to clinics or hospitals, the agency said.

President Laura Chinchilla took the valley train line as far east as it would go and then hiked the remaining distance to the basilica where police cleared the interior so the president could have a little alone time with La Negrita, the nation's patroness. Presumably  Ms. Chinchilla was seeking strength to finish out the term of her rocky presidency.

Not everyone was bound to Cartago with religion on their minds. Police were out in force, and Fuerza Pública officers were handing out flyers with instructions for a safe hike. Officers also set up those steel frame watch towers along the route to spot the not-so-faithful.

The forecast called for stable weather with afternoon showers. That was the case Wednesday when thunder and lightning intruded on a hot and sticky day. By evening the skies cleared. A full moon came into view, and the cooler temperatures were perfect for the pilgrims.

The crush of pilgrims was so great that traffic police began detouring buses and trucks into alternate routes all along the way.

At the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago the evening was like a party with fireworks, musical groups and, of course, food and religious items.

Not everyone was in Cartago. Some will walk or otherwise
raincoast and rosary beads were for sale
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
 Rain ponchos and rosary beads were for sale along the routes.

Policewoman and baby carraige rigged for bad weather
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
 A no-nonsense policewoman provides security as one baby travels in a carriage rigged for bad weather.

arrive there this morning in time for the Roman Catholic Mass.

Off-duty police officers were to assemble at 7 a.m. in San Jose's Barrio Córdoba near the security ministry and walk as units to the basilica some 24 kilometers (15 miles) away. They plan to arrive in time for Mass.

Bus company operators were standing by ready to put into effect the major transport effort of the year to return hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to their homes after the Mass.
More romeros
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearons
The mood resembled that of a party for young people on the pilgrimage

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Water pretty well demolished this site where a tunnel brought water from the Río Reventazón some distance into the turbines.

power plant
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad photo

Two generating plants and a construction project damaged
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The storms last weekend damaged two electrical generating stations and one hydro construction project, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The Angostura plant in Turrialba and Cachí in Jiménez de Cartago suffered damage from the storm. In addition, the institute said that access roads were damaged as well as electrical distribution lines. In addition, high levels of water
brought sediment and mud into machinery and systems.

The Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Reventazón in Siquirres is supposed to go into service in 2016. However, the plant suffered substantial damage, said the institute. The project had been about 45 percent complete.

The water at Reventazón reached critical areas and damaged a bridge put in to transport construction materials, the state electrical company said.

Drone will give 3-D archaeological maps in Peruvian test
By the Vanderbilt University news service

Archaeological sites that currently take years to map will be completed in minutes if tests underway in Peru of a new system being developed at Vanderbilt University go well.

The Aurora Flight Sciences unmanned aerial vehicle will be integrated into a larger system that combines the flying device that can fit into a backpack with a software system that can discern an optimal flight pattern and transform the resulting data into three-dimensional maps. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Vanderbilt archaeologist Steven Wernke and Julie A. Adams, an engineering professor.

They call it SUAVe – for Semi-autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

“It can take two or three years to map one site in two dimensions,” Wernke said. “The SUAVe system should transform how we map large sites that take several seasons to document using traditional methods. It will provide much higher resolution imagery than even the best satellite imagery, and it will produce a detailed three-dimensional model.”

“You will unpack it, specify the area that you need it to cover and then launch it,” Wernke said. “When it completes capturing the images, it lands and the images are downloaded, matched into a large mosaic, and transformed into a map.”

The algorithms developed for the project allow the SUAVe system to specify the flight pattern to compensate for factors such as the wind speed, the angle of the sun and photographic details like image overlap and image resolution, Adams said.

“The only way for this system to be cost-effective is for it to be easy enough to operate that you don’t need an engineer on
Vanderbilt University/ Anne Rayner
 Julie Adams and Steven Henke with the SUAVe aerial device.

every site,” Ms. Adams said. “It has to be useable without on-site technical help.”

Tests are scheduled from mid-July to mid-August at the abandoned colonial era town of Mawchu Llacta in Peru, and plans call to return next year after any issues that arise are addressed in the lab.

Built in the 1570s at a former Inca settlement and mysteriously abandoned in the 19th century, the village of Mawchu is a 45-minute hike for the team from the nearby village of Tuti. Mawchu Llacta is composed of standing architecture arranged in regular blocks covering about 25 football fields square.

“Archaeology is a spatial discipline,” Wernke said. “We depend on accurate documentation of not just what artifacts were used in a given time period, but how they were used in their cultural context. In this sense, SUAVe can provide a fundamental toolset of wide significance in archaeological research.”

Wernke hopes that the new technology will allow many archaeological sites to be catalogued very quickly, since many are being wiped away by development and time.

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Black market peso plea
involves laundering scheme

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Mexican businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiring with the owners of a Los Angeles-area toy wholesaler to launder money for drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

The businessman, Luis Ernesto Flores Rivera, 54, of Guadalajara, Mexico, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to launder financial instruments. As a result of his guilty plea, Flores becomes the first defendant to be convicted in Los Angeles on money laundering charges arising from this type of scheme, which is commonly referred to as a black market peso exchange.

Flores was among eight defendants, including Woody Toys in the City of Industry, indicted in April for allegedly using structured cash deposits in the United States to launder illicit proceeds generated by drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico and Colombia. A structured deposit is less than $10,000 and is designed to avoid laws that require any cash transaction of at least $10,000 to be reported to federal authorities.

According to his plea agreement, between 2008 and 2011, Flores conspired with Woody Toys to launder between $70,000 and $120,000.

“Money laundering is an nefarious practice that plays an integral role in narcotics trafficking,” said U. S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Here, Mr. Flores stooped to using children’s merchandise as part of a scheme to hide illegal proceeds – a practice that serves to demonstrate how desperate drug trafficking organizations are to evade law enforcement’s efforts to cut off their flow of money.”

As part of the money laundering scheme, the indictment in the case alleges that foreign toy retailers in Colombia and Mexico would contact currency brokers to buy discounted U.S. dollars, which they would use to purchase merchandise from Woody Toys. The dollars being sold were allegedly proceeds from illegal drug sales that had been deposited in the toy company’s accounts or had been delivered to the business in the form of bulk cash. To complete the circle, the Colombian and Mexican pesos used by the foreign toy retailers to purchase the discounted U.S. dollars were remitted by currency brokers to drug trafficking organizations.

According to the indictment in this case, Woody Toys took in approximately $3 million in out-of-state cash between 2005 and December 2011 without filing the required paper work with the government. During that same time, Bank of America records show that another $3 million in out-of-state cash was deposited into Woody Toys’ accounts at the financial institution.

In addition to Woody Toys and Flores, the other defendants charged in the case include the owners of Woody Toys – Jia “Gary” Hui Zhou, 43, and Dan “Daisy” Xin Li, 43 – three of the company’s employees, and another Mexico-based toy dealer. The remaining seven defendants are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 16.

Press group criticizes
Correa on ad decision

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has described as “contrary to the principles of freedom of expression and press freedom” an order by the government of Ecuador to withdraw official advertising from independent news media. The hemisphere organization also voiced concern at the raid on and embargo of assets of the magazine Vanguardia and threats to shut down the organization Fundamedios.

President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that he was ordering his officials to suspend placement of official advertising in several privately-owned media in reprisal for their critical stance towards the government. The order affects such independent media, among them the newspapers Hoy, El Comercio, El Universo and La Hora and television channels Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas.

In June this year the Inter American Press Association and other international and national press organizations criticized Correa for having ordered ministers and officials to not grant interviews to news media outlets.

“We in the IAPA believe that discrimination in the placement of official advertising to benefit some media and punish others is a capricious use of public funds and it is against the Declaration of Chapultepec and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission,” declared Milton Coleman, president of the Inter American Press Association and senior editor of The Washington Post.

Coleman added that what “we do maintain, and is in line with court rulings in other countries and with international standards, is that the government should have technical and transparent criteria, and that the mission of that advertising is to add to the knowledge of the citizens in matters of public interest.” Under this concept, he said, in Ecuador “the independent and privately-owned media provide great coverage and penetration and it cannot be denied that they are excellent vehicles of information for the people.”

In another action, officials of the ministry of labor relations raided the Quito headquarters of the magazine Vanguardia and impounded computers, furniture and other assets. The raid was justified as being a response to non-compliance with an administrative sanction regarding the magazine’s failure to heed the requirement that it employ a certain number of handicapped persons on its staff. However, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Iván Flores Poveda, argued that the company has submitted legal evidence to the contrary.

In December 2010 Vanguardia suffered another raid, it being alleged that it owed rent for its offices. On that occasion the offices were searched and several of the journalists’ computers were seized.

Coleman in addition said that the Inter American Press Association has been following the case of the government accusations and threats to shut down the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios), and against its director, César Ricaurte. Fundamedios, a not-for-profit organization devoted to monitoring press freedom in the South American country, has been accused by the government of carrying out destabilizing activities there.

U.S. Postal Service goes
into default on pensions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Postal Service says for the first time in history, it will default on a payment into fund for health benefits for future retirees.

Postal officials say they do not have the $5.5 billion owed to the U.S. Treasury. Officials also say they will likely miss another $5.6 billion owed in September.

Defaulting on a debt will not affect mail delivery or salaries and benefits for current employees. Post offices will be open as usual.

But it does cast more doubt on whether businesses and customers can keep relying on traditional mail service which has served the country for almost 250 years.

The post office gets no taxpayer funds. It relies on the sale of stamps and other products for revenue. It is losing billions of dollars a year as people turn to email to send letters and the Internet to pay bills.

The Senate passed a bill in April to help the post office avoid default. The House of Representatives has yet to act.

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Researchers shocked by songs
from endangered whales

By the University of Washington news service

When a University of Washington researcher listened to the audio picked up by a recording device that spent a year in the icy waters off the east coast of Greenland, she was stunned at what she heard: whales singing a remarkable variety of songs nearly constantly for five wintertime months.

This is an example of the songs bowheads sing as they cross the Fram Strait: HERE!

Kate Stafford, an oceanographer with the university's Applied Physics Lab, set out to find if any endangered bowhead whales passed through the Fram Strait, an inhospitable, ice-covered stretch of sea between Greenland and the northern islands of Norway. Only around 40 sightings of bowhead whales, which were hunted almost to extinction, have been reported there since the 1970s.

Stafford and colleagues put two hydrophones, or underwater microphones, on moorings attached to the sea floor in Fram Strait, leaving them there for as long as the batteries would last: nearly a year. Since the population of bowhead whales likely to pass through was thought to number in the tens, they didn’t anticipate much interesting data.

“We hoped to record a few little grunts and moans,” Stafford said. “We were not expecting to get five months of straight singing.”

Not only did they record singing nearly every hour of the day and night, they picked up more than 60 unique songs. A paper detailing their discoveries appeared as the feature article in Endangered Species Research.

This bowhead whale is a member of the population that lives in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. The bowheads that were the subject of this study are rarely seen.

The variety of tunes was so surprising that the researchers compared the whales’ song catalog to that of birds. “Whether individual singers display one, multiple or even all call types, the size of the song repertoire for . . . bowheads in 2008-2009 is remarkable and more closely approaches that of songbirds than other . . . whales,” they wrote in the report.

They have yet to learn why the whales sang so consistently last year.

Scientists believe that bowhead whale song comes from males during mating season. In most other kinds of whales, individuals either sing the same song their whole lives or all members of a population sing the season’s same popular tune. If bowheads are like the former, that would mean more than 60 males were in the Fram Strait. If the population is evenly split between males and females, there could have been more than 100 whales – far more than anyone thought comprised this population.

With further study, the scientists instead could discover that individual bowhead whales have a repertoire of songs that they sing during a season. That would be equally interesting because it would make the bowheads the only known whales to sing a variety of songs in the same season.

The findings also hint at the possibility of a rebound in bowhead whales.

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