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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 153       E-mail us
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Criminal court is simply no place for an expat
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a sue crazy society. Many Costa Ricans and foreigners believe court is the place to solve their disputes. Because of this belief, the court system is over burdened and currently in a state of meltdown.  Court cases last for years in this country, and many criminals get off because of this.

Most expats do not know how the court system works in Costa Rica.  This article summarizes for the lay person the criminal court system.

To convict someone in Costa Rica for a criminal act, three elements need to exist: 1.) daño, damage, 2.) dolo, deceit, and 3.) tipicidad, the act needs to be typified as illegal.

There are two major types of criminal acts, private and public.   Private criminal acts are those against the honor of someone else, unfair competition, etc.  Public criminal acts are more comprehensive covering those acts against society, for example, fraud, rape, murder, etc.

Usually, proving damage is easy.  Sometimes, finding the correct law to fit a crime is like fitting a round peg in a square hole, but a good and experienced criminal attorney knows the criminal code by heart and can do so without much effort.  The keyword here is experienced.  Many attorneys start practicing as criminal lawyers when they first get out of school but do not have enough experience to do a good job.  The hard part to convict someone is showing the dolo or deceit. 

Criminal court judges in Costa Rica will do everything in their power to try to show why an accused party is not guilty.  The benefit of the doubt is 100 percent on the side of the accused.

There are four elements to a criminal case: 1.) the victim, 2.) the complaint, 3.) the prosecutor, and 4.) the judge or judges.

In Costa Rica, the typical victim of a crime has no voice except through the prosecutor.  If a prosecutor feels there is no merit to a case — or in many cases just not important — he or she can “desestimar” or dismiss a complaint easily.  Many prosecutors dismiss cases just to clean up their desks without ever doing much investigation.   Prosecutors in this country are low paid and overworked.   Most of them are moved from one location or job to another every few months so they never get to know any of the cases assigned to them.   This is why so many cases expire, and crooks never are punished for their crimes.

For a victim to have a voice other than that of the prosecutors, he or she needs to hire an outside lawyer.  The lawyer needs to file a querella, a separate accusation.  This has the same information as in the prosecutor's complaint, but it is required if the victim wants additional protection in front of the court.  In the case where a prosecutor decides to dismiss a case, a victim’s attorney can continue the criminal prosecution without the prosecutor if there is a querella.

Prosecutors do not fight for damages for a victim.  If an accused party is convicted of a crime, the court will only sentence the person to pay a fine or to prison time or both.  If a victim wants damages, he or she needs to file another lawsuit called an acción civil resarcitoria.  This is a civil component in a criminal matter to protect a victim’s private — or civil — interest. 

In summary, to be fully protected in a criminal case against another person or persons, three documents need to be filed with the prosecutor’s office: 1.) the complaint, 2.) the querella, and 3.) the acción civil resarcitoria.

A major complaint everyone has with the criminal justice system in Costa Rica is that no one can count on the prosecutors.  As mentioned above,  
court system and justice
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Justice can always be found on the wall of the Corte Suprema de Justicia building.

prosecutors play musical chairs in their jobs being bounced from one position to another by the court system.  For this reason, it is imperative to have private representation when going to battle in the criminal court.  Unless a case is a high profile and well publicized issue, it will more likely than not die on the desk of someone in a prosecutors’ office.

One must be on constant alert, pushing the court to do its job at every point of the process.  A victim’s lawyer must meet regularly with the prosecutor of a case to keep it alive and moving forward.

There are two times a case goes in front of a judge in the criminal process:  The first is the audiencia preliminar or preliminary audience and the second is the juicio or trial.   In some cases during an appeal, a third instance may occur when an additional audience is given in front of a judge.  This audience is referred to as a vista or hearing.

The preliminary audience is where the prosecutor and lawyers formally present a case to a judge.  It is a technical hearing dealing with procedures not facts.  At this point a judge decides whether a case goes to trial or is closed. If the judge decides the case goes to trial, the case is sent to the tribunal de juicio or trial tribunal.

The trial is the only place where the facts of a case are debated.  This is where one wins or loses.  Appeals in Costa Rica do not re-debate the facts. An appeal only looks at technical procedures.  If the appeal court finds something wrong, it will void the trial and send it back to the trial tribunal for re-trial.

One lawyer said going to trial in Costa Rica is like flipping a coin, no matter how well one prepares, judges will decide what they “damn well please.”

Expats take heed. Stay out of court, especially criminal court, unless there are no other options.  The criminal court system in Costa Rica is a quagmire and a long drawn out, horrific experience.  It seems the only winners are the bad guys who know how to tweak the system to their favor either by slowing down the process so cases expire or throwing up so much smoke that the judges are blinded from the facts.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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ADSL users having problems
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Users of the ADSL service operated by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad  are having trouble with the service, and the problem has endured since July 18, the day a third undersea cable when into operation on the Pacific coast.

The telecom monopoly known as ICE even had technical servicemen working Sunday in an attempt to solve the problem in the downtown area where many businesses and even Internet cafes are dependent on the system. The servicemen said they were in the dark about the problem and the possible solution.

The fault causes extensive data loss when users send messages and other electronic documents. In addition, reports from the Caribbean coast say that Internet service has been spotty there.

The problems are less serious with Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., an ICE subsidiary that also provides Internet service.

Pilgimage brings 51 arrests
but no serious injuries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A record number of arrests is balanced by an absence of deaths or serious injuries during the pilgrimage to the Basilica de los Ángeles in Cartago this year.

Fuerza Pública officers arrested 51 people in connection with the pilgrimage. Some 34 arrests were made on drug-related charges. The majority of these drug arrests were made in the vicinity of Calle de la Amargura, according to a security ministry release.

The street inSanPedro is five blocks long and is home to many bars popular with nearby Universidad de Costa Rica students. There was no confirmation that those who were arrested were pilgrims, called romeros in Spanish.

This year's arrests marks the highest rate of any year documented from 2003. Only 13 arrests were recorded last year, and only seven in 2006. This year's number is closer to the 36 in 2005 and 38 arrests made in 2005. Arrests in 2003 amounted to 28, the release said.

On the other hand, injuries reported by Cruz Roja representatives are minimal, with no deaths and only two cases of pilgrims being struck by cars with only minor injuries, according to agency representative Federico Castillo.

“Cruz Roja attended the romeros mostly for muscular problems and a few for medical problems like problems breathing or problems walking in high altitude areas.” Castillo said.

Of the 5,097 romeros reported assisted by the Cruz Roja, only 73 were taken to a hospital, almost all of them for respiratory problems along the walk, Castillo said. In 2006 a man was struck and killed by a car, and Friday night the pilgrims clogged streets all over San José in their hike.

Despite the religious nature of the yearly pilgrimage paying homage to the Virgen de los Ángeles some of the participants were more interested in spirits of the alcoholic kind. Three women participating in the hike were spotted sharing a small bottle of rum in Chelly's bar in San José Friday night.

This year officers of the Fuerza Pública were out in the hundreds along the pilgrimage routes, utilizing foot patrols as well as bicycles and vehicles. A Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública release said the police were mounting surveillance by air and land.

Officers this year seized 28 grams, about an ounce, along with what was described as 266 doses of marijuana and other paraphernalia such as pipes. In addition, 31 doses of cocaine and 77 doses of crack were seized during the pilgrimage, according to Fuerza Pública's director Erick Lacayo Rojas in a ministry release.

Officers also seized false money, several knives and two cars. Officers helped a total of 21 minors find their parents or families Friday night and Saturday morning, the release said.

There were no official estimated of how many pilgrims walked or otherwise made their way to Cartago for the religious ceremony Saturday morning. Earlier estimates said that perhaps 2 million persons would participate. Some go days beforehand to avoid the rush on Aug. 1 and 2.

At the ceremony and Roman Catholic Mass, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the country's vice president, urged her listeners to embark on a pilgrimage toward development. She said that a global crisis in petroleum prices and the higher cost of food would make the next year difficult. But she said that Costa Rica with its strong infrastructure was better prepared to confront the challenges than other nations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 153

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cow parade
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
The fiberglass art works in the form of cows were accompanied by some real animals
The fiberglass cows really go on parade along Paseo Colón
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For those San José residents who are tired of cows, their misery will soon be at an end. And some local charities have something to be happy about, too. 

Whether viewers were hoping to see real animals or fiberglass ones, their wishes were fulfilled Sunday morning on Paseo Colón.

The parade Sunday morning marked the end of the Cow Parade, a display of 130 life-size cows decorated by local artists that has been on streets and public areas since March in San José.

The Municipalidad de San José used the end of the public art show as a reason for another parade of live creatures through San José. Other parades include the Entrada de los Santos of  wooden saints and ox-cart handlers that opens the Christmas season and the tope horse parade Dec. 26.

The event featured a flatbed trailer bed loaded with eight special painted cows as well as boyeros leading their oxen steadily through the street.

An auction will be held  Sept. 3 at the Museo de los Niños. Not all of the cows will be auctioned off there. The
“cowtologue” includes “Vaca Tomate,” “Vaca Negra,” and “Cowfe con Leche.” A first auction already was held at the end of July at Museo de Arte Costarricense, according to reports.

Seventy percent of the profits will go to local groups including FundaVida, Hogares CREA, Asociación Obras de Espiritú Santo, and Fundación para Desarollo de Hospital Nacional de Niños.

The municipality and other organizations are still accepting votes for the favorite cows.

CowParade officially started in Chicago, Illinois, in 1999. The year before in Zurich, Switzerland, lions, the symbol of the city, were displayed in a similar fashion. The idea spread. Many cities have used the idea to raise funds with a variety of animals.

But CowParade is the largest of its kind and has traveled to cities all over the world, relying on the hands and creativity of local artists and the money from bidders across the globe.

CowParade says it is the world’s largest public art event.

The first auction in Chicago raised $3 million. The second, in New York, raised more than $1.3 million. Bidders can use the Web site to bid on cows worldwide.

Mother in 1999 extradition case disputes letter from reader
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is in specific response to Bobby Ruffin's letter that was in Thursday's edition.
I would suggest that you, Ruffin, get the facts straight and will help you in doing so.
I am the mother, I presume, that you are referring to as I am the only mother who was extradited and was able to return.

We tried to stop the extradition, of course, and, yes, there was plenty of legal work done, and, I may add, that Pedro Muñoz represented me and my children pro bono.
We chose Costa Rica by researching a place that loved and cared for children in law and in fact.  I feel that perhaps you are hinting to some underground network for abused families, and for what I know from any source, there is none here.  We lived here in Costa Rica in San José, not Heredia,  for over two years before any problems arose.
Our case was investigated by the Patronato Nacional de Infancia and the allegations of abuse were investigated by the Patronato, and independent psychologists and the sexual abuse was confirmed once again as was the case in the U.S.A. regarding my daughter and her father.  The fathers of my three children have lost legal parental rights to each of the children.

 The FBI and the Department of State, during the course of this process BEFORE extradition, was told of fraud on the part of the father and the guardian ad litem in regards to my daughter that would have stopped the hunt at the beginning.  They chose not to look into the matter. 
Costa Rica was threatened with economic sanctions if they did not extradite me.  The judge was outraged. Unfortunately, the system fell to political pressure. I think I would, too, as you have a family of four versus a country full of people.

The judge here, however, set out agreed-upon regulations with the United States for the extradition which the very moment we were on U.S. soil, all agreed-upon rules were disregarded by the United States. 
I spent seven and a half months held in jail in the U.S.A. simply awaiting trial only to be released free of all charges and there was no "slap on the wrist," as you put it.  It took two more weeks for me to regain my passport that was taken from me to be able to return to my children at my own expense, that were kept protected, here, by the Costa Rican government and the Patronato.
Understand that ALL charges were dropped.  I was told that it was the first time in the history of the U.S. that someone was released of all charges who was extradited.  Refer back to above that the FBI and the Department of State were told at the very beginning details that would have stopped this entire process.
I was represented in the United States by several exceptional attorneys, and all of them worked pro bono as well.
Now, let's look at this from a dollars and sense side.  The U.S. spent millions of dollars on this case and my being in jail (just jail, not even prison) to come to the end that it was unnecessary and uncalled for.  My bill from just one of the attorneys was over 1 million dollars which the firm never charged me for, i.e. pro bono work.  Why, because they believed in us and the evidence.  Again, the U.S. had access to the same information and was told in detail prior to the extradition, even at the onset of the request for extradition that this was fraudulent, as were the charges.
At one point, during this ordeal, my children and I went to live in Heredia with an elderly couple that was kind enough to help us since the onslaught of press and extradition request had put my business in ruins.  I was the sole income for my family as there was no child support from the fathers.  And yes, for a short time, my children went to a school in Heredia as the family, approved by the Patronato, with which they lived while I was in the U.S. was in Heredia.  That option of

The Tomayko Case
This is a selected bibliography of A.M. Costa Ricanews stories for those interested in the more recent case of Chere Lyn Tomayko, the U.S. fugitive just given refugee status by the security minister.

Feb. 7, 2002
Texas nurse most visible child abduction suspect

Sept. 21, 2007
Nation's most visible fugitive finally arrested in Heredia

Sept. 26, 2007
A father's bittersweet 10-year search for daughter

Oct. 24, 2007
Embassy official says delay in Tomayko case not due to race

Oct. 25, 2007
Editorial: U.S. Embassy needs an independent investigation

Jan. 9, 2008
Embassy here blames FBI for Tomayko case fumble

June 19, 2008
Chere Lyn Tomayko loses her last bid to avoid extradition

July 8, 2008
Arias minister wants to derail Tomayko extradition

July 11, 2008
Half-sister of abductee says aggression claims are untrue

July 17, 2008
High court suspends extradition of Ms.Tomayko

July 18, 2008
Father of abducted girl says he just wants to hear her again

July 22, 2008
Lawyer files extradition court brief in defense of fathers

July 23, 2008
Tomayko gets refugee status to avoid extradition

July 24, 2008
Tomayko extradition case could cause internal rift

July 25, 2008
U.S. Embassy expresses its displeasure at Tomayko decision

July 28, 2008
Texas judge unconvinced by Tomayko abuse claims

July 29, 2008
What is the Chere Lyn Tomayko case all about anyway?

July 29, 2008
Opinion:  Cyprian's lawyer says his client's human rights were ignored

July 29, 2008
Opinion: Granting refugee status is simply an obstruction of justice

July 30, 2008
U.S. and Costa Rica mend fences with quick trip

a school came about after the extradition request and not before.  My children left that school to go to another fine school upon my return to Costa Rica.
I, personally, have known a number of children visiting in this country that have been given scholarships in various private schools in many parts of the Central Valley and it had nothing to do with being an alleged fugitive's child.

Now, are you getting the idea that perhaps you did not have all the information and here are just a few headlines to wake you and others up.
There is so much that most people do not know in regards to the civil and judicial systems in the United States where our children are concerned.  The "system" does not protect the victim. The real victims are always the children.  The systems are currently set up to protect the perpetrators.  Sad, is it not?
My daughter was a victim of sexual abuse and then again all three children victims of the system by losing their mother for what to their ages seemed like an eternity.  Our family, my children and I, are a close knit, loving family that has endured hardships and challenges and risen above, and I thank God for our being together again and for keeping us.  Normally, I do not feel compelled to address persons who "have their facts" out of some misinformed thinking or hear say however my children deserve to have a clear stand where their mother is concerned.
Parting thoughts:  The absolute most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life was to walk away from my children into the judicial system of the U.S.A. to protect the very children I was leaving.  One thing I knew was that although I may not be the only person who could love, care for and raise my children, I was the ONLY one that could protect them and was willing to do that even if were to cost my entire life.

I will give my life willingly for them as would most any other good mother.  Chere [Tomayko] and I and the countless other women who have withstood trials, unethical or wrongly reported press, heartless non-thinking people, abusers etc, to protect our children, are nothing special.  We are simply loving mothers that put the children first.  It is time for the "systems" to put the children first.
My thanks to the many people who have helped us and cared for us and to Costa Rica for having us here and for caring enough to stand up finally for what is right for these children!
Teresa E. Weber
Costa Rica
A comment from A.M. Costa Rica

Teresa Weber, perhaps for brevity, omits some details of her case. For fairness, they should be included.

The extradition took place in 1999 before A.M. Costa Rica existed. But the case was covered extensively by the Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier.

According to that newspaper, the charge of parental kidnapping against Ms. Weber was dismissed without prejudice because the case was referred back to the local state family court to clarify some issues. For one, there was an admission by her former husband, Farriel Britt, that he later had an affair with the woman who had been guardian ad litem for the child in the initial custody case.

In an Aug. 6, 1998, news story that newspaper also said of Britt: ". . . a Moore County, N.C., judge cleared him of all the allegations of sexually abusing his daughter. In a 1996 order, Judge Joseph Williams not only granted Britt custody of Holly, but said that Weber's allegations were made in 'bad faith' to 'harass' and interfere with Britt's parental rights." There was no basis in fact of allegations, the judge said, according to the newspaper. The allegation was raised in 1991 when the child, Holly, was about 3.

However, Ms. Weber correctly notes that once the family was in in Costa Rica, employees of the Patronato de la Infancia reported they did find evidence of sexual abuse. That would be at least three years after the allegation was made.

Based on the news clips, it also appears that Ms. Weber remained in jail in the United States because she refused to allow her daughter Holly to return from Costa Rica.

Among the friends that she made here was the wife of U.S. Ambassador Peter de Voss, who blocked a U.S. ABC Prime-Time camera crew from taking photos of Ms. Weber and Holly one day in Costa Rica and took them away with a car bearing diplomatic plates, said the newspaper.

Ms. Weber, her new husband Rodney Dantzler and their newborn twins took Holly to Mexico and later settled on Costa Rica, according to the newspaper. However, she later left Dantzler claiming that he still was married to another woman, it said. Dantzler also sought custody of the twins unsuccessfully, said the newspaper.

For more information on Ms. Weber's case, readers may look HERE.

A.M. Costa Rica does not seek to rehear any of these complex custody cases. But the newspaper strongly believes that the case must be heard in the court of initial jurisdiction. It is grossly unfair for one party to a legal dispute to flee to a foreign county to seek a more favorable ruling. The evidence and the witnesses remain in the initial jurisdiction. That is the purpose of the international agreement on child abduction that Costa Rica has abrogated in the Chere Lyn Tomayko with the help of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

Being a runaway is no fun,
Heredia woman says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am writing in response to Bobby Ruffín’s letter about fleeing women allegedly getting tons of help in Costa Rica.

This is not the first time that I hear this line about “Costa Rica being helpful to the undesirable,” and I have a few things to say about it:

a.) Every case is different, and nobody should point fingers unless he or she knows all the details, which Mr. Ruffin doesn’t seem to care about.

b.) No matter what circumstances make a woman run away from the U.S. family court jurisdiction/legal system, I guarantee you that it’s not a fun thing to do. I’d like to know if Mr. Ruffin would enjoy being a runaway of any kind, or spend one year at the Buen Pastor jail, or any jail for that matter.  It doesn't seem like something one would do on a whim.

c.) Costa Rica is as poor a country for Costa Ricans as well as for foreigners, but many lawyers do help people without charging a penny for it. There's also people who show compassion for a fleeing mother and her children, but I don't know of any outfit within Costa Rica (public or private, in Heredia or any other place,) that specializes in helping runaway U.S. mothers "get away with it," like Mr. Ruffin implies.

d.) Maybe Mr. Ruffin remembers Heredia as a stage for a well publicized case. I was a teacher at the school where it happened. The way ABC sent cameras to tape the "rescue" of a child could only be described as a bizarre, sensational Hollyweird stunt to sell ads and make money on the story. It's sad that some networks only pay attention when there's "a juicy story" to make money off.

e.) I dare Mr. Ruffin to find statistical data about population vs. runaway mothers ratio escaping the U.S., versus the number of escapees from other countries —Costa Rica included.  Then, he could start investigating the cause of this phenomenon rather than writing in a put-down manner that doesn’t produce any remedy or relief.
Silvia Piza-Tandlich
San Rafael de Heredia

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fourth news page

Real estate
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 153

Some in Puerto Viejo see delay of marina as just a strategy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While many Puerto Viejo residents were celebrating the decision to suspend development on the proposed marina this weekend, others were skeptical.

The anti-marina group, Talamanca Unida/Caribe Sur, had a meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss the news and plan the next move. “We do not see this as a triumph,” said José Guido Bízet Delgado, founder of the group. The decision is likely a strategy, said Bízet, and the group realizes that the fight is not over.

The decision was announced over the weekend that Grupo Caribeño Internacional S. A. was suspending the marina project until further notice. In a letter to the marina and tourist attraction commission, the company's president, Jan Kalina, said that a minority of residents were against the marina, according to reports.

The news was big in Puerto Viejo, according to residents. “Everyone's talking about it, that's for sure,” said Wendy Strebe, owner of the Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge.

“I think it would change this community in negative ways,” said Ms. Strebe, who said she was personally against the marina.
The decision was wonderful news, said Alaine Berg, director of Talamancan Association of Ecotourism and Conservation, said “It's a triumph for sustainable development,” said Ms. Berg. She said there had been a lot of support in the community to fight the marina and that had made the difference. The community got involved, and now people are more concerned and attentive to ongoing issues with the municipality, said Berg. “It's exciting,” she said.

Bízet was not so optimistic. He said the decision that developers were likely waiting for the assembly to approve the bill which would make it easier for them to implant the marina. The bill which has waiting in the assembly for about a year would reform the marina law, making it  easier for all marina developers, said Bízet. Members of  Talamanca Unida/Caribe Sur want to get Puerto Viejo declared a protected environmental strip, said Bízet. They are working with representatives from Partido Acción Ciudadana to do that and to throw out the awaiting marina bill, said Bízet.

Bízet said that various biologists and representatives from Universidad de Costa Rica had conducted various studies and declared that the nearby coral reef was 70 percent alive. Grupo Caribeño Internacional's experts stated that the coral was less than 9 percent alive.

Vice president sign law banning physical punishment of kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Less than a week after hundreds of youngsters went on a rampage and inflicted heavy damage on the Universidad Latina, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the vice president, signed a law Friday that would ban corporal punishment of children.

According to Casa Presidencial, physically punishing children encourages them toward violence.

Still from 65 to 75 percent of the parents mistreat their children in some way as punishment, said Casa Presidencial. The goal of the legislation is to change that attitude even though the measure was criticized in the Asamblea Nacional because penalties were minimal.

The measure also prohibits humiliating punishments even if they are not physical.
Costa Rica becomes the third country in Latin America to adopt such a progressive law. The concept is supported by the United Nations Committee for the Rights of children.

The Fundación Paniamor has been running a campaign in the nation since 2003 urging parents to education without hitting. Also high on the new law is the executive director of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, Mario Víquez. That child welfare organization plans to incorporate the thrust of the new law into its administrative and evaluative rules.  The Patronato has the power to removed children from homes and place them into foster facilities.

The riot July 27 at the university known as U. Latina came when teens, many of them drunk, rebelled when denied entry to a music concern. Police through the facility already had enough concertgoers. A lot of the youngsters are members or associates of youth gangs in the lower income areas of the Central Valley.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 153

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Chávez says he'll take over
major bank in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is set to take over the country's third largest bank, Banco de Venezuela, which is owned by a Spanish company.

In a televised address Thursday, President Chavez said he will pay fair compensation for the bank and said he hoped for a friendly agreement with the bank's owner, Spain's Banco Santander.

Chavez said he decided to nationalize the bank after Santander sought permission to sell it, which the president said he denied.

Bloomberg News Service reports the Venezuelan bank has 285 offices and nearly $9.5 billion in deposits.

President Chavez has nationalized other industries including oil, steel, cement, electricity and telecommunications.

The bank takeover would further Chavez's goal to move Venezuela toward what he calls "21st century socialism."

Pope makes bishop a layman
so he can govern Paraguay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI has allowed Paraguayan President-elect Fernando Lugo to resign his status as a Catholic bishop so he can take office next month without violating church rules.

Roman Catholic Church officials said Wednesday the pope gave Lugo a dispensation that changes the incoming president's status from bishop to layman. It is the first time the church has granted such a waiver to a bishop, although Catholic priests have been allowed to change their clerical status to take political office.

Officials say the pope agreed to change Lugo's status as bishop because the position is incompatible with serving as president. The incoming Paraguayan leader will remain a member of the church.

Lugo said in 2006 he wanted to resign as bishop to run for political office. Church leaders said his presidential ambitions violated papal rules against priestly involvement in politics.

Once called the bishop of the poor, Lugo was ordained into the priesthood in 1977.

The incoming Paraguayan leader was elected in April, ending the 61-year rule of the country's Colorado Party. He will be sworn in Aug. 15. Lugo heads the center-left Patriotic Alliance for Change — a coalition that includes the main opposition party, trade unions, farm groups and Indians.

Jo Stuart
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