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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Aug. 16, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 160      E-mail us
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Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
One of many checkpoints around the country Sunday
64 persons detained at 94 police checkpoints
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers set up 94 checkpoints around the country Saturday and Sunday and managed to detain 64 persons.

The reasons ranged from robbery or theft to failing to pay child support.

Costa Rican police do not need probable cause to pull over motorists, and some checkpoints, such as one near Dominical, are in operation continuously.

At one such checkpoint near Cóbano on the Nicoya
peninsula police stopped a vehicle that was carrying a 55-horsepower outboard motor in the trunk. That was about 3 a.m. Sunday, and police detained the four occupants of the vehicle. Officers said the outboard motor had been stolen. The four are from Esparza.

Elsewhere, 55 motorists ran into trouble because they were not carrying the documents relating to the vehicle. One weapon, a carbine, was confiscated in San Carlos and another firearm was confiscated at a checkpoint in Heredia. In Escazú four men were held as suspected armed robbers. One pistol was confiscated as was a toy gun, officers said.


Motorcycle drivers and riders die disproportionately
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Persons on motorcycles are dying disproportionately in traffic accidents.

The transport ministry said that 43 persons riding motorcycles died on the highways in the first six months of the year. 

That is 26 percent of the death toll, said the ministry.

By contrast 63 persons or 38 percent of the total died in a personal vehicle, said the ministry.

The other deaths, 19, took place in taxis, buses or trucks, said the report.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the deaths on motorcycles happened despite stiff penalties specifically for this kind of vehicle.
It said that motorcycle riders should not do what is very common on the nation's highways. That is riding between vehicles in two lanes or riding down the right lane. The motorcycle driver and any riders also have to wear helmets and a reflective vest during the evening hours. In addition a motorcycle driver can have only one passenger. The ministry said that in rural areas riding without a helmet is usual even when a child is the passenger.

The fine for many of these actions is 293,400 colons, which becomes 381,420 when taxes are added in. That is $748 at the current rate of exchange.

The ministry noted that although some motorcycle riders do dangerous things, the driver is not protected if another driver makes a mistake. There was no breakdown as to the reasons motorcycle riders died.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 160

Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Our reader's opinion
Law for biological corridors
would enhance tourism here


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Phil Matingley's letter on palm oil biofuel reminded me of something that has always bothered me — the lack of biological corridors through Costa Rica's sprawling plantations of all types. They may look green enough, but they are virtual wildlife deserts. Travelers can see this problem from the air, for example flying into Quepos on one of the small airlines.

The never-ending palm plantations effectively isolate the few remaining forested areas from each other, making it impossible for the wildlife to interbreed or feed properly. Tourists are vital to Costa Rica, and they come to see its beautiful natural wealth, not the sterile devastation of mono-agriculture.

So since the Costa Rican government seems to like to pass laws, here is one I would suggest: all large plantations be required to have 10 percent of their land dedicated to effective wildlife corridors. As well as helping the animals, such a measure would retain the most of the (low wage) employment provided by the fruit production, and the improved situation for wildlife will also benefit tourism that is so important for Costa Rica.

I'm afraid I'm not as enthusiastic as Phil about the possibilities and benefits of palm oil production. There is little good land left that is suitable for agriculture. Converting what limited forest is left to plantation use is an environmental disaster, and one of the main causes of global warming. So until we find the magic energy bullet, conservation and using less fuels of all types may be the smartest way to approach the dilemma of petroleum over dependence.
R. Martin  
Quepos/Toronto

Crime reporting is called
a great public service


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a frequent visitor to and a lover of Costa Rica. I want to again applaud your coverage of crime and other dangers in Costa Rica to tourists and expats alike.

I have read elsewhere that your Web site is irresponsible for publishing criticism of Costa Rica. Au Contraire !!! The truth of the matter is you are doing a great service in telling people what they might expect in Costa Rica. You all are about the only ones doing so. You all are pretty balanced in your coverage of what is happening there.

I know certain vested interest there do not like negative criticism, but it is essential to making sound decisions about travel to Cost Rica. While I do not always agree with certain positions of A.M. Costa Rica, you are dead right on this one .

Bill Pitts
Fort Worth, Texas

Palm oil plantations ruin
ecosystem, add pollution


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Extraordinary!! Palm oil plantations destroy ecosystems, cause massive destruction and create huge levels of pollution. You only have to see what is happening in Asia, specifically Indonesia and Borneo to witness the destruction wrought by palm oil plantations. Plantations have ruined vast stretches of the Pacific coast already and this kind of suggestion flies in the face of everything Costa Rica stands for. Job creation!! I wonder, when all the rainforests in Costa Rica disappear and the tourists stop coming whether Phil will think that it was such a good idea. Ridiculous!!

The only things that survive once the forest has been cleared to plant palm oil are rats that eat the seeds and snakes that eat the rats. African killer bees are also quite partial to them because they don't get bothered by any other creatures. Pollution is on a number of levels — the forest is cleared, either by slash and burn, which releases vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, in addition to which, nature's very effective ability to recycle carbon dioxide is diminished because palm oil trees are not very good at this in relation to primary and secondary rainforest. Also, when the palm oil is processed this is not cleantech and is typically done close to site with little regard for health and safety. Acrid smoke and runoff in to the water system are several undesirable outcomes.

In addition the notion of job creation is laughable. Palm oil plantations essentially take care of themselves so people are only involved during planting and harvesting, and even then numbers are small. Work at processing plants is largely mechanized. Offset that against job losses in tourism and negative press and it is clear that palm oil is a dreadful idea.

Lastly there is now so much pressure on African nations to plant palm oil that they are actually replacing food crops with it. Imagine, a continent ravaged by famine and disease being forced to plant crops to convert in to fuel rather than food to eat!! Simply ludicrous.
Peter Mackness
United Kingdom


missing man
Roger Peter Biennvennu

North American is reported
to be missing since July 9

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents said Friday that a North American left his home in Pérez Zeledón July 9 and has not been heard from since.

They identified the man as Roger Peter Biennvennu, 64.

Information is being sought at the following telephone numbers: 2771-3449, 2785-0378 or 800-8000-645.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said that Biennvennu was 1.75 meters tall, abut 5-foot, 9-inches. They said he preferred to dress in shorts and tennis shoes.

There was no information as to why there was such delay in going public with the case nor was there additional information on the circumstances preceding the disappearance.


Weapons office will move
to location in Sabana Sur


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The licensing agency for weapons is moving at the end of the month to better quarters in Sabana Sur.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública announced Friday that the Dirección General de Armamento and the Departamento de Armas y Explosivos would be closed from Aug. 23 to 27 during the move. The agency now is in San Pedro in a building that everyone agrees is substandard.

The ministry said that the new facility will have air conditioning. It will be 50 meters east of the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, a local landmark.

In addition to being the agency where expats can obtain several types of weapons permits, the office also handles applications from private security guards and others.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 160


Even the court system is moving to paperless offices
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When one thinks of the Costa Rica court system, the image of mountains of paper leaps to mind. In fact, the courts used 52.5 million sheets of official paper and thousands of reams of plain white paper in 2009.

A typical criminal case might be in one or more books four to five inches thick.

But that is changing. The Poder Judicial set up a committee in March to move the institution toward zero paper with electronic files, electronic signatures and a change in the mentality of employees.

In January court officials issued a directive that correspondence to the secretary general of the court should be in electronic form except for the few regional offices that lack Internet access.

Also moving the court toward less paper is the beginnings of oral hearings. In the past the bulk of the legal arguments were reduced to paper and filed in the case file. Now lawyers and prosecutors are being trained to give their legal reasoning in person before judges.

There is an economic reason, too. The Poder Judicial has been spending $500,000 a year on paper.

In fact, a lot of the criminal investigative files and other legal filing already are electronic. In many cases, the duplicate paper product is filed but is not read. Judges at trials have laptops at their desks.

The Poder Judicial already has experienced substantial savings by making electronic deposits and reports of paychecks, officials said.
paperwork


Paragon again in the news over land sales practices here
By the A.M.  Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican real estate is taking another hit as a Florida newspaper expounds on the Paragon Properties case. A lawyer there filed a class action suit earlier this year.

Now the Sun-Sentinel newspaper is exploring the human side with interviews of people who lost money with the firm here.

Paragon was the company that used extensive e-mail and telephone pitches to get mostly U.S. residents to visit Costa Rica. In order to get a free trip, the individuals had to post $25,000 or more into a lawyer escrow account.

As A.M. Costa Rica pointed out as long ago as 2004, the company's contract did not protect would-be purchasers

Paragon is facing a number of legal suits in Florida where it is based. One lawyer, Matthew Sarelson in Miami, has filed a case in U.S. district court there against a number of firms and individuals involved in the land sales.

Paragon at least owned the land that it was selling. That is
in contrast to some now-defunct land sales operations where promoters at best had an option.

Sarelson is trying to show that Paragon was a ponzi scheme in that persons who demanded their money back obtained funds that others had invested. Even if he wins, company chairman William Gale says he has no money.

At issue is the fact that Gale and others did not develop the properties as promised.

In early 2009, Gale reported that his firms had sold  2,509 lots in some 17 projects along the Pacific coast. Many of those purchasers put down an initial deposit, perhaps 40 percent.

According to a typical purchase agreement, the buyers said they would pay the balance and build a home, perhaps in as little as two years. Paragon agreed to put in roads, water systems in some projects and other infrastructure.

As the court cases progress, Florida newspapers will write about the cases, and the still struggling real estate market here will have to cope with the negative publicity.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 160

Frontend loader clears some of the rubble from the most recent landslide on the new highway link.
ddig we must
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo


Highway officials have another landslide problem

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The highway ministry has another stretch where motorists are facing the possibility of a landslide. This is the new Sabana Sur-Escazú route that was built for $10 million.  The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes ordered the 1.7-km. link closed for up to eight weeks while efforts are made to eliminate the landslide danger.

This is the third major highway that has landslide problems. The new Autopista del Sol is closed periodically between Atenas and Orotina because of this problem. So is Ruta 32, the San José-Limón highway through Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.

The Sabana-Escazú link was built by the concession holder for the Autopista del Sol. It was envisioned as a relief road while the new autopista was constructed. In addition there was highway work going on in Sabana Sur at the same time that added to the difficulty of driving from Escazú to San José.

The new link passes through the Hatillos and Alajuelita. As with the other locations, the road cuts are too steep 
car navagates landslide
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo
Vehicle navigates the area of a landslide.


and material falls when there is rain. The route is less dangerous than Ruta 32 where a landslide can sweep cars and trucks off the shelf road into a steep dropoff.

Material has been falling on the Sabana-Escazú road for weeks, but there was a significant slide Tuesday. Although heavy machinery has cleared the road, María Lorena López, a vice minister, ordered the route closed Friday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 160

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Fidel Castro
Prensa latina photo
Fidel Castro in a file photo

Fidel's current role in Cuba
is not easy to figure out

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A series of recent public appearances by Fidel Castro is raising questions about what role the former president is taking in Cuba's Communist government, and what impact that might have on the island nation's decades-old differences with the United States.

Castro showed his age in a recent speech at Cuba's national assembly. But his words displayed much of his fiery rhetoric toward the United States. He accused the U.S. of pushing Iran toward nuclear war. "They would be ordering the death of hundreds of millions of people, amongst them an incalculable number of residents of their own country, but also of the crew members of all the United States' naval ships in the waters around Iran," he said of U.S. officials.

Castro's speech to lawmakers was his first since falling ill in 2006 and handing power to his brother, Raúl. The comments on Iran do not necessarily reflect a new alliance with Iran. Rather, Andy Gomez, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, says it is a chance to antagonize the United States. "They have signed a couple of agreements with Iran. This is the small nations versus the big nations," he explained. "But it's according to how Fidel wants it."

For many Cubans, Castro's speech offered little on domestic issues, especially the struggling economy. Philip Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute, says that may be on purpose. "The old Fidel would have gone into microscopic detail about the government's decisions on domestic policy, and he's not touching that," Peters said. "Most importantly, he has not raised a word or given the slightest hint of objection to the release of political prisoners that Raúl Castro is engaging in now."

In July, Cuba released 21 jailed dissidents, including several who were sent to Spain. President Barack Obama has been pressing Cuba to free all political prisoners, especially amid hunger strikes by prominent dissidents.

Guillermo Farinas was recently hospitalized during a four-month hunger strike to demand the release of dissidents.

Gómez says the prisoner release may appease the U.S. and other foreign critics, but by sending dissidents abroad the government weakens the opposition. "You're trying to get rid of the opposition. It's a smart move on their part. On the other hand, these people finally got the freedom they deserve. Unfortunately, they had to leave their country," he said.

Peters said that may be a slow process of reform, as long as the Castros are in power. "I don't for a minute believe that Fidel Castro is ceding anything, but it does seem pretty clear that Raúl Castro is proceeding with his very cautious step-by-step economic reforms. And they are going to take a while to play out. They're going to take longer to play out than most of us would like," Peters said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 160


Latin American news
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High seas flood homes
as more rain predicted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The highest seas of the year flooded 10 homes in Espirito Santo de Caldera and washed away part of a road in Palo Seco near Parrita Friday.

Meanwhile, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that a low pressure area in the Pacific will meet up with another of those tropical waves that is moving west over the Caribbean.

The weather institute predicted the usual cloudy skies this morning with thunderstorms in the afternoon over most of the country.

It also said that isolated showers would continue during the evening.

A reader reported that municipal officials over the weekend were dumping gravel and other fill where the road was washed away at the southern end of Palo Seco. He dismissed the television reports that Palo Seco was cut in half.

The national emergency commission issued a precautionary alert for the Pacific coast, the northern zone and the Central Valley in anticipation of heavy rains today.


Two Latin airlines join
to create area's biggest


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two major South American airlines are planning to merge and create the biggest carrier in the region.

Brazil's TAM Airlines and Chile's LAN, both the largest in their respective nations, are looking to join forces as demand for air travel in Latin America continues to grow.

The merged company will be known as LATAM Airlines Group.

TAM said the combined airline would fly to 115 destinations in 23 countries, operate a fleet of more than 220 aircraft and have more than 40,000 employees.

Last year, the two carriers had combined revenues of $8.5 billion and carried more than 45 million passengers.




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