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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 162
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The votes are in: Burn that sneaky taxi driver
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The voting is in. Some 312 readers want me to burn the sleazy taxi driver. Just 40 readers want me to show mercy or choose an alternative.

To recap: Two weeks ago I accidentally left a camera bag and expensive camera in the rear seat of a taxi at Casa Presidencial. After some friendly newspeople put notices in El Diario Extra and other newspapers, the taxi driver came forward. But he wanted 50,000 colons ($112) because he said he hocked the camera for that much. He did give me back my camera bag and credentials.

We asked readers to express their views by e-mailing to either burntheguy@amcostarica.com or paytheguy@amcostarica.com. And did they. The request tapped a lot of latent anger about crime in Costa Rica.

We’ll tell you what finally happened later, but here are some reponses from folks who wanted the cops called on the taxi driver. We left out names because we never said we would publish comments.
___
Crime should not pay !!! In life, there are the moral things to do and then there is the immoral. Had the driver simply kept the camera and played dumb to its dissappearance, it would have been an immoral act. Yet, the driver turned it into a crime by attempting to extort money for its return. That now makes it a CRIME !!!! I would press charges.
___
The guy had no right pawning something that didn't belong to him. He was aware of who the camera belonged to, and  should have made arrangements to return it. Don't condone this act by paying the guy and grow some cajones and burn the extortionist. 
___
I say burn the guy!! I also think nothing will happen to him in the long run even if you try to burn him. I think you need to  weight the cost of the camera vs the cost and time it will take you to burn him ((your mental health is worth more) but they need to learn a lesson and the lesson starts with you my friend. I SAY BURN HIM WHAT THE HELL...... 
___
Never ever reward bad behavior! This is basic parenting.  Good luck!
___
File the complaint. I have been traveling to Costa Rica since 1980 surfing. The petty stealing is out of control and 99 percent of Ticos abhor it. The police are now  used to laughing gringos off on this and many other complaints and the result is higher and higher crime rates. Don't let him get away with it. The next thing  you know he'll be dropping off gringos in alleys to be robbed. 
___
Another Tico that says don't pay.  $120 is a lot of money for something that is yours!

Some of the e-mails contain unrelated complaints about taxi drivers. One said a few tend to grope women or worse.

Some who voted in the other direction said there should be a third category:

Unfortunately you fail to have a category into which the majority of we foreigners fall. We would love to BURN the guy, but we know it will take YEARS in court, during which time the camera will be held as evidence. You are without the camera and may not live long enough to see justice happen so. If you need the camera you pay.  If you don't need the camera or can afford a new one, you go buy one, you forget the taxi driver ever existed and you keep on getting on.   So please add don'twasteyourtimeontheguy@amcostarica.com

Another reader suggested a dual course of action:

Pay the guy, then you've got your camera back in your hand . . . .  THEN file an action against the son-of-bitch (maybe you could also clandestinely mark the five c10,000 bills in a way that will not be obvious). That way you can't lose completely, even if the authorities flub the case (either the taxista or the fence probably has a 'cousin' in the police department).

Others had these views:

From a purely "economic" point of view the only logical thing to do is pay the guy and chalk it off to experience. Until a law comes out that "finding" something is a crime, then I don't see 

The bag is back but not the camera

what good filing a complaint will do. Finders keepers, losers weepers. Then again you can always use the $112 to pay someone to beat up the guy, but that would leave you with no camera. For me that's the real dilemma. Or you can beat the guy up yourself and use the money to pay for the camera. Hmmm. That would complicate matters though as you will probably end up spending a lot more than the original $112 to pay for a good lawyer to get you out of the trouble you got yourself into. Wait. OH WHY DID YOU HAVE TO LOSE THE DARN CAMERA ?  Kidding aside, just pay the guy and get on with your life. He probably needs the money more than you do anyways. Good luck. 
___
Just pay the guy, too much of a headache to get the police involved.
___
If you made the same mistake in New York, you wouldn't even get the bag and credentials back, and your taxi ride would have been 100 times more expensive. Give the man a reward and a nice gift for his children who likely have little in the way of food or clothing. If you're dealt lemons make lemonade. This taxi driver will appreciate your kindness and feel shame for his mistake, and offer to be at your beck & call whenever you need a taxi. Then make a claim on your insurance. If you don't have insurance, then you are just a hopeless man of many mistakes hahaha. 
___
If you don’t have the name of the pawn shop, reporting him may be problematical. Being a "guest" in another’s country, where visitors have many more resources than locals, calls for tact and restraint- and sometimes a creative solution. You may not have intended to offer this large a reward for the cameras return. But you might also be able to make a new friend and gain insight into what will always remain a delicate relationship. 
___
Think of it as a reward tax. Rich gringo (relatively they are all rich) absent mindly forgets his stuff. Tico thinks must be nice to be able to afford to be so lackadasical. Probably will not realize it's lost. If and when he does he will have given up the idea of recovery. Happens all the time with Gring's. He's long gone anyway. Ever seen the lost and found at a bar? Bus or airport terminal? What happens to most of that stuff. Finders keepers. . . . 
___
In the 3 years I've lived here I have "lost" 3 cameras. Twice, I've been told that because of CR's staggering bureacracy and time lost at the police station filling out papers hardly make it worthwhile to report the theft. So I just wrote it off to my carelessness. 

Recently, re the third lost camera. A very new, and adequate Fuji Digital. Cost around $280 bucks. Like you, I inadvertantly left it in the back of a cab in Hatillo. Actually I left an entire bag of goodies in the cab. Consequently I received a call from my friend in Hatillo Tres informing me that the cab driver had called and reported that he had my bag. The driver would not deliver the bag even though I had left word, and a reward, that if the driver DID call, he could deliver return the bag to my friend. 

A week later I made the trip to San Jose and met with the driver. My bag, with camera and EVERYTHING ELSE, was returned to me. Of course I paid a reward,10,000 colones. The cab driver gave me his business card..so now whenever I'm in San Jose I try to call the guy to use his services...AND I always give him a tip. . . 

And what happened

Thursday the taxi driver drove up in front of the office again. He admitted he got 20,000 colons from the pawn shop but wanted 25,000 for himself to say which pawn shop.

My Tica associate, herself the daughter of a taxi driver, took secret photos of the guy and called the local municipal police. Two officers showed up quickly, got the guy’s identification, checked his papers and taxi license. They encouraged me to file a complaint, and I will shortly. Bye-bye camera.

 
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New campaign starts
for designated driver

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Florida Bebidas, S.A,. the company that makes most of the beer in Costa Rica, is embarking on a new campaign to stimulate the use of a designated driver when friends go out drinking.

The company, owner of Cervercería Costa Rica, said it will kick off the new campaign Wednesday. A similar campaign in 1999 was successful, said the company, but officials have noticed a continued reluctance of vehicle owners to turn their keys over to a designated driver.

So new television commercials will stress this point in both a positive and negative way, the company said. Additionally, taxi drivers will be presented as professional designated drivers in publicity material.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the national insurance monopoly, is participating in the campaign as is a local ad agency.

Venezuela praised,
and activist rejected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has praised Venezuela for the expression of democracy showed by the referendum on President Hugo Chavez Sunday in that South American country.

Then the foreign ministry announced that it has revoked the political asylum status of long-time Chavez foe Carlos Ortega Carvajal, who sought protection here two years ago. The action against Ortega took place Friday before the Venezuelan vote in which Chavez has claimed victory.

Ortega, a leading Venezuelan labor activist, continued working against the Chavez government while he was in Costa Rica. This generated complaints from Venezuela. Finally Ortega left the country last month. He was believed to have returned to Venezuela for the Sunday vote.

Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign minister, has said Ortega’s actions here were inconsistent with his status as a political exile.

Ortega was one of the leaders behind a general strike two years ago in Venezuela that was designed to drive Chavez from power.

Invitation from south
seeks free trade deal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco is expecting an invitation today from the Mercado Común del Sur to begin negotiating a free trade treaty.

The invitation will be extended by Luiz Inacio Lula
da Silva, the president of Brazil, acting in his capacity as the rotating president of the trade group.

The common market includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay and includes several other countries as associates. Da Silva seeks to include Central America and the Caribbean in the free trade organization.

Pacheco does not know the terms of the invitation, according to a spokesperson from Casa Presidencial, but he will turn the proposal over to the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior for study.
 

Claudia Poll out of finals

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ATHENS, Greece — Claudia Poll, the Costa Rican Olympic swimming hopeful, failed to qualify for the finals in the 200-meter women’s freestyle event Monday.

She captured 10th place based on her time (1:59.79) in the qualifying heat. Only the top eight are in the final. She also failed to qualify during the weekend in the women’s 400-meter freestyle.
Ms. Poll is a former Olympic gold medalist.

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Italian researchers use 3-D blowup
Anti-forgery technique could be helpful here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and Institute of Physics news service

Did you ever go to Banco Nacional hoping to cash a check only to be told that the signature on the check does not match the one in the bank’s computer? At least that’s the guess of the 21-year-old teller who may or may not have training in graphic analysis.

Or how about the legislative debate over the new contralor general de la República, Alex Solís. Did he or did he not forge names on important legal papers in his capacity as lawyer and notary?

Inquiring legislators would like to know. However, up until now validating a signature was a two-dimensional exercise that approached an art form. Reasonable people and experts could disagree.

But now, a team of physicists in Rome, Italy, have created a system that makes forgery nearly impossible. They use a three-dimensional technique.

Writing in the latest issue of the Institute of Physics journal, Journal of Optics A, the scientists announce their technique that can detect forged handwriting better than ever before. 

Professor Giuseppe Schirripa Spagnolo, Carla Simonetti and Lorenzo Cozzella from the Università degli Studi "Roma Tre," have devised a forgery detection method that creates a 3D hologram of a piece of handwriting and analyses tiny variations and bumps along its path using two common scientific techniques: virtual reality and image processing.

Until now, detecting forged signatures or handwriting has generally been done by experts who analyze the sequence of individual strokes in a piece of handwriting using two-dimensional

samples. However, a good forgery can go undetected at the two dimensional level because it isn’t always easy to determine the exact sequence of strokes.

Schirripa Spagnolo’s team create 3D holograms of the path of a piece of writing, generating an image on a computer that looks like a ditch or furrow. This makes it easy to analyze variations or "bumps" generated by the writer’s pressure on the paper at crossover points, for example the mid-point of the figure eight. 

The most common technique used by forgers is tracing, although in real life no two signatures are ever identical. A more sophisticated method is known as the freehand technique, and here the forger copies the general style and characteristics of the handwriting they are trying to copy. However, in both cases it is almost impossible for the forger to reproduce the exact variation of pressure used by the original writer.

Schirripa Spagnolo said: "Using image processing and virtual reality makes it easy to detect the presence of bumps at crossover points. Finding these bumps allows experts to easily determine the sequence of strokes in a piece of handwriting and the tell tale signs of a forgery or original. Another benefit of this technique is that it doesn’t damage the sample."

The Rome team used their technique, known as "3D Micro-Profilometry" to analyze hundreds of different handwriting samples made using a variety of different paper types and pens. They have also applied their technique to wills and checks and successfully detected forgeries in both.

Schirripa Spagnolo said: "We believe this type of 3D micro-profilometry is one of the most promising ways of detecting forged handwriting, and it will be a powerful tool for forensic experts around the world."


 
Tighter U.S. rules Oct. 26 for visa-waiver visitors
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Visitors entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must have machine-readable passports by Oct. 26, or the traveler must apply for a visa to enter the country, according to the U.S. Department of State.

"This means that if you are from one of the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program and want to travel for basic tourism or business without a visa, you must have a passport that has two typeface lines at the bottom of the passport that contains, in a machine readable form, the information on your biographic page, that is, the photo page," said State Department Consular Affairs Spokeswoman Kelly Shannon. 

Citizens of visa-waiver countries have been able to travel to the United States without visas.

The rules also would apply to citizens of visa-waiver countries living in Costa Rica who seek to visit the United States or simply change planes at an airport there.

Asked how travelers can know whether their passports are machine-readable, Ms.  Shannon said, "They should look at the bottom of their passport [the photo page] for two lines that are typeface lines, that have letters, numbers and hatch marks." The two lines at the bottom of a machine-readable passport, for example, would look like the following:

LINE 1: P COUNTRY LAST NAME << FIRST NAME < MIDDLE NAME <<<<< 
LINE 2: PASSPORT NUMBER COUNTRY DOB<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

With this technology, the lines include the 

biographical data on the photo page of the passport, she said. "When a passport is swiped through a machine-reader, the information would come up and it should match up to the biographic page," said Ms. Shannon. 

"If it does not, then there is obviously going to be concerns that it has been fraudulently altered," she said. 

The U.S. government first issued a machine-
readable passport in 1981. According to Ms. Shannon, "Machine-readable passports enhance security on several fronts. They are scanned at entry and exit points to verify integrity of the data. Lost or stolen machine-readable passports are easier to track. They also enable faster processing of travelers at ports of entry."

Persons traveling from countries where obtaining a visa is standard practice will not be required to have machine-readable passports.

In addition to the Oct. 26 deadline for the machine-readable travel documents, by September 30, 2004, all visa-waiver travelers arriving at a U.S. port of entry will be required to enroll in US-VISIT, a program in which the traveler is photographed and digitally fingerprinted at the immigration checkpoint. 

Countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.


 
Guatemalans march for effective control of crime and criminals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Thousands of Guatemalans marched on the capital's central park Friday to demand the government address the crime and violence that plagues the country. 

The march extended for over 10 city blocks. The protest is a sign of the growing sense of desperation in Guatemala because of runaway crime and sky high murder rates. 

Last year, in this nation of 11 million people, over 4,000 people were murdered, and this year's death toll could be even higher. In the first six months, nearly 2,500 people were murdered. 

Javier Contreras, 9, carried a poster during the march with the photo of a woman on it. Below the photo were the words: "Mommy we miss you." His 

mother was shot dead three months ago in a robbery on the streets of Guatemala city.  His uncle, Jaime Ajuchan, accompanied him at the march. "It's been three months now and we haven't heard anything," he says. "The crime hasn't been solved, and we are here to demand justice." 

In recent weeks the government has stationed soldiers on the streets of the capital to assist the police and has passed a law that will force bars to close at one o'clock in the morning. But analysts predict these measures won't make much of a dent in crime rates. Guatemala has a serious gang problem, as well as powerful organized crime syndicates and many illegal weapons. What's more, analysts say the judicial is ineffective, starting with a deeply corrupt police force that is unable to apprehend those who commit crimes.  In past years, on average, 90 percent of the cases that prosecutors received were never resolved. 


 
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Shooting, fraud claims taint voting in Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Tensions remain high in Venezuela after Sunday's recall referendum in which President Hugo Chavez claimed victory. An opposition rally to protest the outcome was disrupted by gunfire Monday, leaving one person dead and four wounded. 

Witnesses say gunmen riding motorcycles fired into the protest rally. However, in a televised speech shortly after the incident, President Chavez said there is no proof his supporters perpetrated the violence. He said he has ordered an investigation.

The opposition protesters had gathered in the plaza in the Altamira section of Caracas to condemn the results of the recall referendum, which they call fraudulent. Opposition leaders plan to present evidence of irregularities in a meeting with international observers, including representatives of the Organization of American States, or OAS, on Tuesday. Observers from the OAS and the U.S.-based Carter Center followed the entire process Sunday and into the early morning hours Monday. OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria says he is confident in the results announced by the Venezuelan Electoral Council.

He says the observers did not find any evidence of fraud nor has anyone presented them with specific allegations of fraud. 

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who headed the delegation of the Atlanta-based center that bears his name, says close observation of the vote counting in the early morning hours provided proof that the process was carried out properly.

"We were in the totalization room [central vote counting chamber] with all five directors at the time that the figures were derived from the machines," he said. "As has been the case with our evaluation of elections in many countries, the Organization of American States and the Carter Center cooperated on a quick count. 

"This was done at the actual voting places and we have found that our information from that quick count was almost exactly the same as the results obtained from the consejo (the electoral council.)"

Carter and Gaviria said there are still discrepancies between the joint OAS-Carter Center quick count, the count produced by the opposition organization called Sumate and the official results. However, they said these differences of a few points one way or the other are not enough to change the election council's outcome.

Gaviria called on all elements of Venezuelan society to overcome differences through peaceful dialogue. But various opposition leaders continue to call for protests, claiming that President Chavez stole the election.

An opposition Web site on Monday provided results based on exit polls showing 59-percent in favor of removing President Chavez and 41-percent in favor of his remaining in power. The official results were almost exactly the opposite. 

In Washington, State Department spokesmen say the United States is withholding judgment on the contested results of the recall referendum and that allegations of fraud by Chavez opponents should be fully investigated.


 
U.S. withholds judgment on validity of election
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is withholding judgment on the contested results of the recall referendum for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The State Department says allegations of fraud by Chavez opponents should be fully investigated. 

The State Department congratulated the people of Venezuela for what it said was their extraordinary civic spirit in turning out in such large numbers and waiting in lines, in many cases for hours, to cast their votes in the referendum. 

But it is withholding judgment on the results and the conduct of the voting until final official figures are announced by the country's National Election Commission and verdicts are heard from international monitors from the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based Carter Center. 

President Chavez is celebrating victory based on figures he said showed 58-percent of those voting opposing his recall. But opposition leaders claim they won the referendum by about the same margin and are alleging widespread fraud. 

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Thomas Casey said the idea behind the referendum was to provide a solution to Venezuela' long-running political crisis, and he said it is important that any allegations of fraud be investigated fully and transparently: 

"Certainly, though, it is essential for this process to 

be positive, that there be full transparency in addressing any of the concerns that might arise concerning the referendum process," he said. "Because the vote is part of a larger process of national reconciliation, and certainly any allegation of fraud, including those that are being raised now by the opposition need to be fully investigated by the proper authorities in Venezuela, and we will certainly be looking for that to happen." 

Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas also observed the recall election but not as official monitors. Casey said the voting process was relatively calm and peaceful. 

The spokesman said that all along, in the controversy-ridden petition process leading up to the referendum, the United States had urged the sides in Venezuela to refrain from violence. He said it certainly would not want to see, and would not support, any kind of violent reaction to the referendum itself. 

The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with Chavez, who has close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and has been a strong critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere. 

Chavez claims the United States orchestrated a coup that ousted him briefly two years ago.

The United States had raised concern about incidents of harassment and intimidation of Chavez opponents in the run-up to the voting and said last week the Chavez government had a special responsibility to ensure a free and fair election. 


 
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