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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 159       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Sportsbook employees gather in small groups at Mall San Pedro Thursday trying to find out about their salaries and their future.

BetonSports operation here is closing down
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees of BetonSports gathered in small groups at Mall San Pedro Thursday as they learned that the company would shut down.

Many of the employees had been furloughed since the U.S. government unsealed a 22-count indictment against the firm, its executives and shareholders July 17. But their discussions Thursday centered on if the company would pay the severance money required by Costa Rican law.

Usually an employee who is fired or laid off is entitled to a month's pay for every year worked, vacation pay, salary due plus a proportion of the annual Christmas bonus.

Also involved were individuals who worked for Millennium, a sportsbook that operated with BetonSports. In all, the firm has bragged in the past that some 2,000 persons, mostly bilingual Costa Ricans and North Americans, worked at the companies in sprawling offices at the mall. The company also does business under other names and Web sites.

Also up in the air are the thousands of bettors, mostly from the United States, who had accounts with the company. They can only hope that the firm makes good on its debts. The accounts contain deposits made in anticipation of future bets and winnings.

The U.S. indictment said that between Feb. 3, 2003, and Feb. 1, 2004,  BetonSports and its related companies took in $1.23 billion in wagers. That would represent about $100 million in bets a month.

The employees were not in a generous mood Thursday. Most felt that BetonSports would fail to pay the severance money. Some had been expecting bank deposits.

The Ministerio de Trabajo confirmed Thursday afternoon that investigators have been looking into the affairs of the company for about a week. A spokesperson said the ministry initiated the probe instead of waiting for complaints. The ministry is in charge of enforcing the labor laws.

A spokesperson for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said that agency had no knowledge of any developments at the
company. The Caja receives payments from employers and provides the health, pension and other social security benefits to employees.

There was no confirmation of the closing from the company, which declined comment. But many of the employees who mingled in the mall office confirmed what they had been told in meetings with bosses. The Web site has not operated for three weeks.

The U.S. federal indictment charged 11 individuals and four corporations on various charges of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud. The U.S. government seeks $3.3 billion in back taxes on wagers taken from the United States and $4.5 billion more from other defendants as individuals.

Costa Rica might have trouble finding local assets to use to pay the sportsbook employees. According to the indictment, deposits for bets went to Ecuador, Belize and other countries but not to Costa Rica. This was the electronic hub of the British corporation but it was not the banking center. The bulk of the assets here are computers in the multi-floored Mall San Pedro operation.

Internationally, the U.S. government is likely to freeze the company's overseas accounts before Costa Rica locates them. One stipulation of the civil order that accompanied the indictment is that the firm return any funds of U.S. citizens that it holds.

At the mall, Costa Rican officials might be hard-pressed to find out who is in charge.  David Carruthers, the former general manager, is in jail in the U.S. State of Missouri. He was named in the indictment and is trying to make $1 million cash bail. He is a British subject and was arrested in Texas while changing planes on a return trip from London. The company said that he had been fired.

Carruthers was an outspoken advocate of legalizing Internet gambling and even wrote an opinion piece to that effect for the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.

The U.S. Justice Department says that Internet gambling is illegal. Sportsbooks here dispute that and until the crackdown last month on BetonSports, many executives here thought they were invulnerable to U.S. criminal and civil action.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 159

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Last-minute accord
keeps docks operating

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An agreement reached late Wednesday ended the immediate possibility of a strike by dockworkers in Limón and Moín, collectively the country's principal port.

The government agreed to give dockworkers the money they are owed from a 2005 accord no later than Sept. 22. Government officials are expected to seek donations from private firms that depend on the docks to seek their products.

The workers also exacted a promise from government officials that a group of high-level officials would visit Monday to discuss ways to strengthen the agency that runs the Caribbean docks in a way to avoid any possible concession that the government might want to give to a private firm.

Workers fear a concession because the government is turning over this week the Pacific dock facilities in Caldera because the country does not have the cash needed to modernize them.

The agreement was between the workers, represented by the Federación de Trabajadores Limoneses and the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva. The government agency that runs the docks is the Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica.

Signing the agreement were Walter Robinson Davis and Rachid Esna for the government and Winston Norman and Ronaldo Bleasar for the unions.

Union workers had engaged in a slowdown, and the central government moved 60 to 70 members of its tactical squad into the Limón area Thursday in anticipation of a work stoppage or blockade of highways.

The Arias administration said Wednesday that it would be happy to pay the money to dock workers once a legal way is found to do so. The fiscal watchdog, the Contraloría General de la República, cut the funds from the Junta's budget. In addition, a recent Sala IV constitutional court decision has voided much of the 2005 agreement entered into by the Abel Pacheco administration.

Top Colombian rebel
captured in Puntarenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers said they grabbed a top leader of the Colombian terrorist rebel movement in Puntarenas Thursday, and security officials want to know how the

Hector Martínez
man managed to come here and gain residency.

It was during his residency that the man left Costa Rica and participated in an armed attack against a village in the Chocó section of Colombia near the Panamá border where 85 persons, including 46 children, died and about 100 persons suffered injuries, officials allege.

The man is Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, 38. He was detained Thursday in a major
police operation that included tactical squad members, the Sección de Estupefacientes and the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fiscalía de Narcotráfico.

The operation was coordinated by the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad and the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

In addition to his exploits in Colombia, investigators believe that Martínez was the Central American coordinator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. As such he was involved in the trading of drugs for weapons. As a member of the subunit Frente 58, he was in charge of the international network of the rebel organization, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The ministry said that the man was extremely dangerous and held enormous power inside the organization.

Martínez faces 40 years in prison in his native Colombia.

Costa Rican officials have been watching him for years. They said he first entered the country Jan. 23, 1997, and has made various entrances and exits over land to Panamá since then.

He lives in Barrio El Cocal in Puntarenas where he works as a fisherman. He owns two boats. He gained his residency here by marrying a Costa Rican woman in 2000, but officials believe that this was a false marriage contracted so he could gain residency. The usually lumbering Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería granted him permanent residency in just a month after his marriage.

Officials said they would investigate what transpired inside the department to grant him residency so quickly and without the presentation of a police report from his home country.

He faces charges of murder, terrorism and injury to protected persons, the villagers of Bojayá in Chocó. The deaths happened May 2, 2002, while Martínez was still a Costa Rican resident. His Frente 58 attacked the town and villagers fled to the local church. Some kind of explosive device landed in the church killing the 84 persons.

Martínez also is a suspect in an attack on Juradó in 1999 where 47 Colombian police officers were captured and then executed.

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias is a major drug producing and smuggling organization. It is the largest rebel group in Colombia. Martínez was well situated to provide logistical support for Colombian fastboats that carried the drugs north to the United States. Police officials have known for years that fishermen on both coasts were providing fuel to the drug crews. In fact, the fuel usually was the low-priced fuel that is available only to fishermen under a special government program.

The drugs are exchanged for money or for weapons, and the rebel group has been successful in obtaining big arms shipments even though governments forbid trade with the rebels.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 159

Safeguards against terrorists prompt an alert here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

A terrorist plot to blow up aircraft flying between Britain and the United States is having repercussions in many airports around the world, including in Costa Rica.

Investigators said the plot centered on a plan to use liquid explosives, and many airports are now prohibiting passengers from carrying any liquids on board with them. 

Costa Rican officials said they tightened security to what they call a yellow alert Thursday after learning of the plot. The alert includes both Juan Santamaría international airport in Alajuela in the Central Valley and Daniel Oduber international airport west of Liberia in Guanacaste.

Officials are following the rules set down by the Transport Security Administration, according to Oldemar Madrigal, director of the Servicio Nacional de Vigilancia Aérea, which also is in charge of security.

All passenger luggage is being carefully screened and all passengers who are bound for cities in the United States may not carry liquids in their carry-on luggage, he said. Shoes are being checked, too. This prohibition includes gels, toothpaste, perfumes, creams and other liquids and semi-liquids, based on information from the British investigators, he added.

Exceptions are made for formula prepared for babies who are on the flight as well as insulin and other
medicines that have the passenger's name on the label.

About 15 to 18 scheduled flights leave Juan Santamaría for the United States each day. The traffic from Daniel Oduber includes many charter flights.

Although officials promise an efficient screening, some travelers plan to give themselves three hours to clear security and immigration instead of the usual post-Sept. 11 two hours.

Travelers from the United States to Costa Rica will find that the list of prohibited items are the same there. Some carry-on items are being put in clear plastic bags.

Thursday the security line stretched the length of Dulles airport and check-in lines were crowded as well.  Police with bomb-sniffing dogs were patrolling the airport and Transportation Security Administration officials asked passengers to put all liquids, including their morning coffee or any other drinks, in large plastic bins.

The line continued to snake through the terminal throughout the morning, but crowds were orderly, and officials were making every effort to accommodate travelers. Because of the delays caused by the increased security precautions, Washington Metro Airports Authority officials are advising passengers to get to the airport even earlier.

London police officials say the terrorist there had plans to blow up 10 U.S.-bound aircraft in midflight at the same time.

The pleasures of traveling without leaving home!
It seems to be that time of the year when my friends in Costa Rica go traveling.  I suppose the whole world goes traveling in the summer.  Everyone except me.  And from the horror stories I hear of flight delays, security delays, unannounced cancellations, extended stays in airports (one of my least favorite places to be), and the danger inherent in all kinds of travel, I would just as soon stay at home and listen to their tales. 

Besides, friends often bring back things I think I need or just surprises. Win went off to California and is bringing back some Trader Joe’s chocolate chips.  Alexis and James were off to Canada, the U.S. and then a cruise, and I have a New York Times Almanac.  Doug went to Florida and brought me back a World Almanac. 

You might think that two almanacs would be redundant.  But they are not. They are very different.  I grew up loving encyclopedias and between the two almanacs I feel like I have a lot of knowledge (some that I can cross check) at my fingertips.  I realize I can go online for the same information, but I like books and a comfortable chair in which to read them.  Besides, I am not all that great at googling. To assuage my guilt at asking friends to lug extra weight back for me, I will ply them with cookies and ‘worldly’ information. 

When I did travel, I took things to family and friends in the U.S.  In the beginning it was the usual — cans of smoked tuna and coffee.  My sister Annetta recalls the coffee I used to take her.  First it was Britt’s, then I changed to Volio.  If I go back again, I will probably take Britt’s Tarrazu.  Along with my espresso maker (also a result from someone else’s trip to the U.S.) was a little booklet that said you should use only Arabica coffee.  So far in my testing, I like Britt’s the best. 

Besides the hassle of traveling, there is the hassle of changing money and adjusting the arithmetic.  I am having enough problems with the money in Costa Rica.  There have been a number of changes in the   
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

money since I came here.  First 10,000-colon notes appeared (good idea), then 100- and 500-colon bills disappeared to be replaced by coins, and then gold colored coins replaced the nickel ones.  The most recent change is again with the coins.  The smaller denominations, like the 10-colon coin is being replaced with a much smaller, lighter, aluminum ones.  Comparing the two coins made me think of the movie “Twins.”  The coins are worth the same, but the new one is Danny DiVito and the big one is an Arnold.
After his first visit here my son said one of the things he remembered about Costa Rica was the smell of the money.  He couldn’t describe it, but he knew it when he returned on another visit.  I’d never thought of it, but the paper money does have a distinctive smell.  Coins don’t. 

So there are all of my reasons for not traveling.  I am beginning to wonder if it is just sour grapes.  But no, if there were a ship that left from Costa Rica that actually traveled to the Mediterranean, or Florida or a train that went through Central America to Alaska or south to Chile, I would be on it. This new custom of families taking a cruise together seems a wonderful solution to so many of the unexpected consequences of family get-togethers.

Although I do wonder about the recent reports of various family members who have gone missing on cruises. I’d love to get together with my sisters.  When we were little they were real pranksters.  They used to wake me up by putting a pillow over my face. 

Maybe cruises aren’t the answer either. 

Expat women's calendar will benefit animal refuge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 14 woman, most of them expats here, are following the lead of the the 11 British women who took off their clothes in 2000 for leukemia research.

The women, some of whom have careers as psychologist, jewelry designer or professional photographer, have produced their calendar to benefit the Asociación Humanitaria para la Protección Animal de Costa Rica, an animal shelter and spay-neuter clinic in Heredia.

The 2007 Wild and SASY calendar features the women tastefully naked with various types of animals sharing the camera. The calendar is $15 plus shipping and the Web site is here. The women also bear the names of the month, as popularized by Playboy in the 1950s.

Beside the normal English definition, sasy here means Stop Animal Suffering Yes!, according to the Web site.

The British women of the Rylstone and District

Expat women on front of calendar

Women's Institute, North Yorkshire, sold 800,000 copies of their calendar and inspired a movie, "Calendar Girls," starring Helen Mirren.

The Costa Rican calendar has less wrinkled models, according to the samples on the Web site. Some of the women are retired, and others have lived here for years. All seem to be the type who would lunch at the Marriott instead of Chelleys.

The calendar will be formally introduced at an already sold-out concert Aug. 19 in Escazú.  Fuzzy Rojas, Miss October, will sing.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 159

11-day sweep in south destroys marijuana plantings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 24 police officers have concluded a sweep of mountains in the southern part of the country where they found more than 100,000 marijuana plants and destroyed them.

The officers spent 11 days in the mountains of the  Osa Peninsula and around Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.

Sometimes they were forced to walk for two or more days to reach locations of marijuana plantations in the rough terrain, exposing themselves to poisonous snakes, bad weather and possible attack from drug producers, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

In all, 13 plantations were destroyed. Five were in Dante and one was in Boruca de Buenos Aires. Seven more were located in Sinaí de Osa, said the ministry.

The area covered by the plantations was some 5,200 square meters, officials said. That's about 13 acres. The size of the plants ranged from seedlings to plans six feet tall and ready for harvest, said the ministry.

Agencies represented included the Policía de Control de Drogas, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Fuerza Pública of the southern zone and a Judicial Investigating Organization agent from Corredores.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

Officer has an arm full of uprooted plants
Officials said this was the biggest eradication of marijuana plants in a single sweep this year

State of Fidel Castro's health is just a guessing game
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

It has been more than 10 days since Cuba announced that President Fidel Castro had undergone gastrointestinal surgery and temporarily transferred executive authority to his brother, Raúl. Since then, there has been no independent confirmation of Castro's state of health. 

The lack of information has generated suspense and much conjecture about the condition of the world's longest-serving president, who turns 80 Sunday.

Cuban officials have told the island's government-controlled news media that Fidel Castro's health condition is being kept as a state secret, given what they describe as U.S. threats and plots to forcibly change Cuba's form of government. But they insist Castro's recovery from surgery is going well, that he is able to sit up in bed and read documents, and that doctors anticipate a return to presidential duties in a matter of weeks or months.

Cuba watchers say such upbeat assessments are to be expected from Fidel Castro's top lieutenants, but add that, for now, they have nothing else on which to base any judgments. At the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies, senior fellow Andy Gómez says the world is in the dark when it comes to Fidel Castro's condition.

"We have not seen any facts that we can analyze and say, 'This is what is going on.'  We do not know," he said.

But what is to be made of the dearth of information, including the lack of any photos of Castro since his operation? Gómez says there are several possible explanations. One is that Fidel is, as Cuban officials say, on the road to recovery, and that the government
prefers to withhold details until he is able to fully resume presidential duties.

Another possibility, according to Gómez, is that the government is still in the process of implementing plans drawn up for the post-Castro period, and is hiding the severity of Fidel's health problems to buy more time.

"The silence can also be interpreted as making sure that the security apparatus is put in place, so if and when Fidel becomes gravely ill, leading to his death, they can prevent any kind of protest throughout the island," he added.

At Miami's leading Cuban-American radio station, Radio Mambi, the consensus opinion of commentators, analysts and callers alike is that Fidel Castro is finished as a leader, and that the rule of Raúl Castro, 75, who has also not been seen in public, will be brief.   Many argue that, were Fidel Castro well enough to pose for a picture, such a photo would have been distributed by now.

But a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Wayne Smith, cautions against reading too much into the habits of Cuban officials when it comes to divulging anything about Fidel Castro. Smith notes that Cubans on the island have reacted with calm to news of their leaders ailing health, and that in the absence of unrest there is little pressure on officials to be more forthcoming about Castro's status.

Nevertheless, with Fidel's long-anticipated 80th birthday just days away, Smith says, if officials on the island were inclined to release a photo of Mr. Castro, his birthday would be a perfect opportunity.

Cuba has postponed official celebrations of Fidel's birthday until early December.

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