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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 160                          Email us
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Where's R2D2
when he's needed?

The job is straight forward: Assemble a small machine that can pick up chips and move them to the correct place. That's the basic rule for a competition in roboticas that picked semi-finalists this weekend for a showdown next weekend.

See our story:


New rule tightens access to country's court records
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de Justicia has closed public access a bit more with a new rule on online data.

Unlike the United States, court records in Costa Rica are not open to the public, and only parties to many actions really know what is going on.

The new rules, adopted earlier this year, orders that the name search feature of the judicial Web pages be disabled.

The action stemmed from an appeal by a man identified as Jaime Solano Delgado who did not want his name to appear connected with two penal cases from the 1990s. After accepting the man's appeal, the high court ratified a broad rule in February.

Other agencies, such as the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, also wants data to be restricted.

Criticism of the action has been raised by Seth Derish, a private investigator who works in Costa Rica and in the United States. He said he was surprised one day when he was unable to obtain the information he needed from the court Web pages.

Lena White Curling, contralora de servicios for the judiciary, said that the court was responding to a law passed by the legislature. That law is No. 8968, Protección de la Persona frente al tratamiento de sus datos personales. That was a measure passed in July 2011 that gave citizens the right to correct errors in data bases and also to have their personal information removed, if they so desired.

While the law was going through the legislature, it did not seem that there was any belief that the judiciary would use it to seal its files. In fact, the law, in its article 8 lists a series of exceptions, and these include the security and exercise of public authority. In all there are at least four sections that would seem to exempt the judicial data base from actions under the law.

Still, the Sala IV found that Solano's request to remove his name was in keeping with the law.

Derish has said in emails that he needs access to the
online court files to check up on individuals that his clients might seek to do business. There are several private firms in Costa Rica that keep track of court actions, such as bankruptcies. These clearly are subject to the personal data law, and there have been a flurry of cases requiring them to remove information about citizens.

In general, the court system here lacks transparency. Although not connected with the current rule, many investors with Luis Milanes, operator of the defunct Savings Unlimited, would like more information about how a committee set up by the courts to distribute money is operating. The five-person committee is supposed to sell Milanes property and remit the money to the investors. But one of the lawyer's on the committee has cited court secrecy for not making public reports.

Milanes is benefiting from a Costa Rican law that allows him to make a financial settlement with his creditors to avoid going to jail. This is not an unusual approach in criminal cases here. However, if a case never goes to trial, there is not much of a public paper trail that might benefit persons in the future who are considering doing business with the former defendant.

Until this year such persons, foreigners and Costa Ricans, could count on access to the judicial computer system to at least get a reference number for former cases. Deeper access usually is reserved for lawyers in this society.

Law enforcement and the courts have a unique approach to names and photos here. For example, a judge ruled that no one could photograph and publish the face of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho when he went on trial for a $1 billion fraud. Only after he was convicted, were newspapers free to publish the photos.

In routine police cases, the Judicial Investigating Organization and the security ministry freely identified those killed or hurt. But suspects are protected to the extent that they are draped with clothing to hide their faces when they arrive for interrogation. Their names must be obtained informally. When someone is sought for a crime, the judiciary asks the news media to publish a photo. But the instant the person is arrested, the agencies ask that the photo not be used.

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Motorcycle riding proves
to be hazardous to health

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five persons riding on motorcycles died in accidents this weekend.

Saturday night in the Bella Luz section of Corredores a man, a woman and a 2 year old died when a vehicle heading in the opposite direction collided with their motorcycle. The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the adult victims as a 21-year-old man with the last name of Pérez, and a 49-year-old woman with the last name of Guerrero. The 21-year-old driver of the other car was hospitalized and placed under police guard for an investigation.

Sunday in Los Lirios de Los Chiles a motorcycle headed from San Carlos crossed over the center line and collided head-on with a truck, said judicial agents. One person on the motorcycle died and a second suffered injuries.
Also Sunday morning, a 47-year-old man with the last name of Chaves died when his motorcycle ran off the side of the road and hit a utility pole. That was in the Sucre section of Ciudad Quesada. Another person on the motorcycle was injured, agents said.

Illegal fishing alleged
as crew is detained at sea

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The crew of a Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas boat stopped a fishing vessel and its six occupants near the Isla del Coco Sunday and said that the men were fishing illegally and taking fins from sharks.

The boat, “Los Pericos,” was about 10 nautical miles from the island inside the perimeter of a national park where fishing is prohibited. The boat contained 20 kilos of shark fins and a fishing line 12 miles long, the coast guard crew said.

The arrest of the crew and the taking of the boat was the third such action in the last 60 days, said the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.

In addition to fishing in a prohibited area, the men face a charge of taking shark fins and dumping the carcasses back into the water. Costa Rican law requires sharks to be landed with the fins attached.

Abuse alleged at school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained late Thursday a 28-year-old man in Palmares on the allegation that he sneaked at least five times into the girl's bathroom of a private school in that community and sexually abused children between 7 and 8 years. Agents said they thought there might be more cases.

Liquor run sidetracked

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers nabbed two men Friday at a checkpoint on Ruta 32 in Limón after they found 150 boxes with a total of 240 containers of vodka, tequila, rum and beer. Police said the men could not show that taxes had been paid on the alcohol.

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
From the Costa Rican press
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Robotics contest designed to generate interest in engineering
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hundreds of science and engineering students gathered over the weekend at the University of Costa Rica’s basketball courts. They all were trying to design, build and program the best robot at the semifinals in a national competition.

The teams were in three age groups. Those who designed the most efficient robots for specific tasks moved on to the finals which will take place next weekend.

The three teams that win in each age group next week will go to Malaysia in November to represent Costa Rica in its debut appearance at the World Robotics Olympiad, a global robot-building competition organized by The LEGO Group in which teams from 60 countries compete.

“This is the first time in Costa Rica that we having this event,” said Alejandra Sánchez, an event coordinator and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Costa Rica. “This is the first time we have three competitions, and this is the first time teams will go to Malaysia.”

Over the course of two days, more than 80 teams of two or three students competed against one another in three different age groups: 18 teams of students 12 and younger, 16 teams of students ages 13 to 16 and 47 teams of 16 to 19.

All three groups had eight-hour days designing three robots to perform different tasks. The two younger groups competed Saturday and the older groups, with a mix of university and high school students, competed on Sunday.

In addition to LEGO, the event was largely coordinated by a coalition of organizations gathered together by the Ministerio de Ciencias y Technologia, according to Alejandro Hernández, an event coordinator and director of science promotion at the ministry.

He described the government’s role in planning this event as a bridge between schools like the university and science-focused high schools and private organizations like LEGO, which is a Danish firm. This and other events that include other world olympics programs and science fairs are part of a strategy to get more students interested.

“We are the fourth largest producer of technology, and we are having a problem because we don’t have enough engineers to support our growth,” said Hernández. “This youth program is an umbrella to find this talent and guide them to studying engineering.”

Christian Linares, a representative from LEGO who helped coordinate the event, agreed with the notion that Costa Rica needs to train more engineers.

“For every 10 lawyers this only one engineer,” he said. “Costa Rica needs more engineers and less lawyers and professors.”

The event was largely run by dozens of Costa Rica’s next crop of engineers, volunteer students from the university, who were too old to participate, but wanted to be a part of the event.

“I don’t know how they manage it. They’re doing pretty well,” Sergio Brenes, a 21-year-old student at the university, said of the younger teams.

While these volunteers are around to help out the teams, Brenes said that he is not allowed to give as much help as he sometimes would like.
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Tiny machines had to stack chip-like objects.

“As an engineer, I get really frustrated when they can’t do it,” he said. “I want to tell them what to do.”

Brenes and fellow industrial engineering student, Sergio Montero, said they preferred to watch the younger students because the parents of younger students generate more excitement in a way that was reminiscent of youth soccer games in the United States.

“Sometimes the parents get more dramatic than the kids themselves,” said Montero. “They want to disqualify the other teams.”

Brenes and Montero picked out the design that one of the older teams built to demonstrate good engineering. In this part of the competition, the robots had to be able to find a specific-colored cube that was hollowed out on the top and bottom, lift it up, carry it to a thin cube of corresponding color and fit the two together like a puzzle.

However, Jimmy Rojas and Michael Varela, both 19-year-old students at the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, designed their robot to pick up cubes on two sides. Although their robot was not as functional in accomplishing the task, it far outstripped the other robots in speed.

“We used two prongs to pick up the cube,” said Varela of his robot, which functioned more like a fork-lift than the more common practice of using arms. “It’s faster.”

Even so Rojas and Varela’s robot placed fifth in the competition easily getting them into the finals next weekend at the Antigua Aduana. There three teams will be chosen to represent Costa Rica at the World Robotics Olympiad in Malaysia, Nov. 9 to 11. The two younger categories will compete on Saturday, and the older teams will compete on Sunday.

U.S. targets another betting operation here with indictments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another betting organization with strong links to Costa Rica has been targeted by U.S. federal agents. A 23-count indictment was unsealed last week charging 16 defendants in a conspiracy case involving the Mastronardo bookmaking organization, a multi-million dollar sports betting operation with bettors throughout the United States, said the U.S. Attorney's office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

At its peak, the alleged organization had more than 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars a year, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a release, adding that residents of Costa Rica staffed the Internet and telephone sites.

Defendant Joseph Vito Mastronardo was one of the leaders of the organization, the federal government said. He was a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and told an undercover agent that he had loaned $2 million to another sports better organization here, Costa Rica International Sports, known as BetCRIS Sportsbook.

In addition to Joseph Mastronardo, Jr., charged are John Mastronardo, the other alleged leader; Joseph F. Mastronardo, Eric Woehlcke, Harry Murray, Joseph Vitelli, Anna Rose Vitelli, Patrick Tronoski, Edward Feighan, Kenneth Cohen, Schuyler Twaddle, Michael Loftus, Michael Squillante, David Rounick, Ronald Gendrachi, and Joanna Mastronardo, the wife of Joseph Mastronardo, Jr. She is the daughter of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.

According to the press release, Mastronardo has been coming to San José since at least 2007 so he could bet legally. He also told the informant that he worked in the building occupied by BetCris, said the press release and indictment. The informant reported that Mastronardo also said he had millions invested in Costa Rica.
The indictment alleges that the defendants ran the organization using telephone, Skype, email, text messaging, and in-person communication, said the federal government.

The government said that according to the indictment, members of the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization laundered the gambling proceeds using check cashing agencies, private bank accounts, and international bank accounts and provided instructions so that a losing bettor could pay a gambling debt through a charitable donation.

Mastronardo was in trouble with the federal government before, in 2006 and 2007. Part of the time he was in Costa Rica, he was on probation. He liked it here. The indictment reported him as saying in a letter to his probation officer:

“With regard to my travel to San José, Costa Rica, the weather there is perfect for my health, 82 degrees and humid every day. I traveled at least fourteen times to San Jose last year, 2006, from August to January, leaving on Friday and returning on Monday . . . Betting is an integral part of my income, and in order to maintain that, San José is a legal venue for all types of gambling . . . by restricting my betting to Costa Rica and other offshore betting venues where betting is 100 percent legal, I will be allowed to make a living doing what I do best and love without being in violation of my probation.”

The organization used the Web sites and, said the federal government.

Joseph Mastronardo is charged in all 23 counts of the indictment, said the federal government. The remaining 14 defendants are each charged with racketeering and with illegal gambling. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of more than $6.3 million as alleged proceeds of the illegal enterprise, said the government.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 160
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river cleanup
Instituto Nacional de Seguros photo
Instituto Nacional de Seguro volunteers were on the Río Torres this weekend planting native trees to restore a biological corridor. The project in La Uruca was a joint one
with the Municipalidad de San José. Volunteers planted more than 100 trees and conducted a cleanup of the area. The river is heavily polluted.

Proposal to halt coastal demolitions advances in committee
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A change in the law to avoid demolition of seaside structures is in the final stages of discussion in a legislative committee.

Agnes Gómez Franceschi, president of the Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo, said that the group of lawmakers agreed Thursday to send the measure for review to the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

This is the measure that has the full support of President Laura Chinchilla. It is No. 18.440. The measure freezes the country's maritime law to prevent evictions of individuals and demolition of structures that are in the zone.
The first 50 meters of zone inland from the line of the mean high tide is supposed to be for the public. The remaining 150 meters of the 200-meter zone are supposed to be controlled by the municipality and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. Concessions, not deeds, are issued for these areas.

Ms. Chinchilla was moved by pleas from those who live in the zone in homes that in many cases predate the original law. There have been several efforts to adjust the situation, but one law was challenged and thrown out by the Sala IV.

Ms. Gómez said that she expected that this week the law will be reported out by the committee and sent to the full legislature for action.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 160
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Mayors share strategies
for successful Olympics

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the city that will host the 2016 Olympics, said he was impressed with London's ability to handle the large crowds attending the games.  The Brazilian city plans to upgrade its transport system and infrastructure in the next four years to accommodate the surge of Olympic fans and leave a lasting legacy for its residents.

London Mayor Boris Johnson says this year's games have provided a boost to tourism and to the image of both London and Great Britain.  In a joint news conference with Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes -- to talk about what Rio can learn from London when it hosts the games in 2016 -- Johnson said visitors have seen a city that functions extremely well.

“There was a lot of anxieties about transport, about security, whether people would get behind the games. And you've seen some fantastic images of London beamed around the world. That's the winner for me,” Johnson said.

Mayor Paes praised London's established public transport system for its capacity to move large crowds with few major delays.  He said Rio de Janeiro is already working to upgrade and improve its system for the games and for the long-term benefit of the people of the city.

“So only we carry 18 percent of all the population in high capacity transportation. With what we are doing now for the Olympics it will be more than 60 percent. So that means lots of changes for the city,” Paes said.

Taking note of some of the cheaper, temporary venues that London constructed for the Olympics, Paes said Rio does not intend to waste money building huge structures like's China's bird nest stadium that rarely has been used since the end of the 2008 games. 

“I mean we'll do as much temporarily as we can. Only if we need that after the games and we will use it as simple as we can. And not spend too much money on things that have to be teared down by the end of the games,” Paes said.

London's Mayor Johnson describes the successful experience of hosting the Olympics as “spine tingling apprehension and a steady growing sense of relief.” The only advice he offered his Brazilian counterpart in planning the 2016 games, was to ignore the skeptics in the news media.

Whooping cough outbreak
worries health providers

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This year the U.S. has seen the worst outbreak of whooping cough in more than 50 years. In fact, it has reached epidemic levels in many states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the numbers of cases reported is already twice as many as last year. With kids getting ready to head back-to-school, the numbers of children impacted or killed by this disease could continue to rise if children aren’t accurately vaccinated.

“Vaccinating our children against whooping cough and other illnesses is the best way we can protect them,” said Andrew Bonwit, pediatric infectious disease expert at Loyola University Health System. “The next best defense we have for children is good hand-washing hygiene, and also not sending children to school, day care or after school programs if they are sick.”

Whooping cough is only one of numerous potentially deadly illnesses that can be effectively diminished by vaccination schedules. In addition to keeping kids safe from these diseases, vaccines also can help when diagnosing a sick child.

“When your child gets sick, being fully vaccinated helps your doctor simplify the evaluation and can lead to a quicker, more accurate diagnosis,” said Bonwit.

“Though no one likes to get shots, vaccines are an integral part of keeping kids and our community safe,” said Heidi Renner, primary care physician at Loyola University Health System. “They work to safeguard children from illnesses and death caused by infectious diseases and protect our kids by helping prepare their bodies to fight often serious and potentially deadly diseases,”

Vaccines have helped to nearly eradicate many of the diseases that were leading causes of death in children only a few decades ago.

Extradited drug suspect
was known as the queen

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Mexican woman accused of being a high-ranking drug trafficker has been extradited to the United States to face drug charges.

U.S. authorities took custody of Sandra Avila in the city of Toluca Thursday and transported her to Miami, where she was to appear before a federal judge on cocaine trafficking charges.

Ms. Avila, known as the Queen of the Pacific, is accused of belonging to an organization that transported cocaine from Colombia to the United States during the 1990s. She was arrested in Mexico City in 2007, and was awaiting trial on organized crime and money laundering charges.

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Plate restrictions suspended
for el Día de la Madre

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those taking Mom out for lunch Wednesday will not have to worry about the last number on the vehicle license plate.

The Policía de Tránsito said that the license plate restrictions will be suspended because Wednesday,  el Día de la Madre, is a national holiday.

Usually restrictions are in place in the metro area from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays vehicles with the last digit on the plate of 5 or 6 are prohibited during those hours.

Wednesday is a holiday in which employers must pay their employees and give them the day off. Although the law says that the day may not be swapped for another, many employees agree to take the Friday off instead of the Wednesday.

Those who work Wednesday are supposed to be paid double.

Ban creates new U.N. agency
for Law of Sea Treaty

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has launched a new initiative to protect the oceans and the people whose livelihoods depend on it, and called on countries to work together to achieve a more sustainable management of this precious resource and address the threats it is currently facing.

"The seas and oceans host some of the most vulnerable and important ecosystems on earth, but the diversity of life they host is under ever-increasing strain," Ban said at an event in the city of Yeosu in the Republic of Korea to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the opening for signature of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Convention, also known as the constitution of the oceans, governs all aspects of ocean space, from delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental regulations, scientific research, commerce and the settlement of international disputes involving marine issues. It was first opened for signature in 1982 and entered into force in 1994; there are 162 parties to it -- 161 states and the European Union. The United States has not accepted the treaty.

Ban praised the achievements of the convention in helping countries establish a legal framework to guide the management of the oceans, the settlement of disputes, and the administration of the international seabed.

"Among its principles, the Law of the Sea recognizes that all ocean issues are related and that they need to be addressed as a whole," Ban said, adding that this is in line with the development framework put forward at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The event is known as  Rio+20.

However, Ban also emphasized the need to address multiple issues that threaten the marine environment. To do this, he announced the launch of the Oceans Compact, which will seek to support and strengthen the implementation of the Law of the Sea.

"What we need is to create new momentum for ocean sustainability," Ban said. "The Oceans Compact sets out a strategic vision for the U.N. System to deliver more coherently and effectively on its oceans-related mandates, consistent with the Rio+20 outcome."

The Compact, Ban added, will provide a platform to help countries protect the ocean's natural resources, restore their full food production to help people's whose livelihoods depend on the sea, and increase awareness and knowledge about the management of the oceans.

To achieve the objectives of the Compact, Ban proposed a results-oriented action plan along with the creation of an ocean advisory group made up of high-level policy makers, scientists and experts, as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society.

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