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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Aug. 17, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 161     E-mail us
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Lasers lead the way to dentistry without hated drill
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

For most people, going to the dentist is reason alone to have nightmares for several nights before sitting on that dreadful chair and getting tortured by the infamous chilling drill. Having a traumatic experience at the dentist has almost become a rite of passage during childhood for thousands of people. Fortunately, technology is now transforming the painful and horrific aspect of dentistry into a painless and actually pleasant experience for patients around the world, including Costa Rica.

Laser dentistry has been available in the U.S. for some years, and plenty of clinics offer laser treatments. Laser technology is used to treat both hard (tooth) and soft (gum) tissues. It can treat most problems related to dental health, and it is the main tool used for cosmetic procedures.

There are many laser treatments available for teeth and gums. The following, based on extensive interviews and seminars, are some of the most common.

Common soft tissue laser procedures

Periodontal surgery: Lasers are mostly recommended for performing a great variety of periodontal surgeries since they are minimally invasive, produce virtually no pain, bleeding or swelling, eliminate the need of stitches and recovery takes a fraction of the time it takes with normal surgery.

Bacterial infections: Lasers are excellent tools to treat and prevent bacterial gum infections since they can reach deep along the tooth root to kill accumulated bacteria in the gums.

Gummy smile correction: Lasers can trim extensive gums to expose teeth structure and improve smile appearance.

Common hard tissue laser procedures

Cavity detection: There is a special low-intensity laser used specifically to detect the presence of cavities in teeth.

Tooth preparation and fillings:  Laser procedures eliminate the need for anesthetic injections and the traditional drill. In addition, the laser rays kill the bacteria inside the cavity, which prolongs the sealing effect of the filling and prevents future formations of cavities in the same places. However, lasers cannot be used to replace amalgam fillings, inlays or crowns.

Sensitivity: Lasers are used to seal the tubules responsive to hot and cold sensations located on the root of the tooth.

Bleaching: Teeth can get up to 10 shades lighter in one painless laser session. The real laser bleaching procedure does not include a laser lamp or painful gel applications that over-sensitize the teeth.

Being afraid of the dentist is a reality for most Ticos and expats since many dentists in Costa Rica have been reluctant to acquire and offer the latest technology to their patients and continue using the dreaded drill, injections and other painful traditional tools.

Some dentists think that investing in laser equipment is too complicated and expensive. Others feel that because laser treatments are more expensive, their patients may still prefer traditional treatments. And others feel that they should work with the equipment and technology they learned to use in school. Whatever the reason, dental technology has not easily permeated the Costa Rican health market, and patients continue suffering. However, just as everything else in this country, change is coming slowly.  A small group of dentists is changing the landscape of Costa Rican dental health.

Dental laser technology was distributed to Costa Rica by Biolase – the main laser provider for Central America and the Caribbean – approximately five years ago, when four dentists decided to explore its benefits in their practice.

The pioneers of laser treatments in the country are Ileana Campos and Jenny Mora, who were trained
laser dentistry
Laser device in action

in Florida and San Diego, California, and are certified by the American Dental Association. They train local dentists in their clinic, and Dr. Campos has also conducted laser procedure workshops for dentists throughout Latin America. They use three kinds of laser machines: a) Waterlase (which they use to treat cavities, sensitivity and crowns), b) Laser Smile (for bleaching, periodontal surgery and pain treatment) and c) a special laser for cutting through gums for crown and bridge procedures.

Dr. Campos’ and Dr. Mora’s Clínica Dental de Especialidades is located between San Jose and Guadalupe, not far east of El Pueblo shopping plaza. The clinic does not currently have a Web site.

Diana Rodriguez is the third dentist in Costa Rica to offer laser treatments in her clinic. Fully trained by U.S. Biolase experts and with plenty of experience, Dr. Rodriguez uses the Waterlase machine for treating cavities, tooth preparation for fillings, sensitivity, bone cutting, root canal procedures, periodontal bacterial treatments, a great variety of surgeries and cosmetic procedures as well.

In fact, all demonstrations and trainings conducted by Biolase experts for local Costa Rican dentists take place at Dr. Rodriguez’ clinic, Denti Lase, located in Tower 3 of the CIMA Hospital in Escazú.

Jorge Mendez is the fourth dentist who acquired laser technology for his clinic. Trained in New York, Ecuador, Mexico and San Diego and certified by the Chicago Dental Society and the American Dental Association,  Mendez uses two types of machines, a) the cavity detector and b) Waterlase, which he uses for a variety of treatments, including cavities, crowns, bridges, cosmetic gum surgery, among other procedures. He also trains local dentists interested in using laser technology.

Dr. Mendez’ clinic, Cosmetic Dental Laser, is located in Rohrmoser.

On average, the cost of laser treatments is naturally more expensive than regular procedures, since the cost of the equipment is higher than traditional machines and the procedures are top quality. Prices can range at double what the regular dentistry treatments are. However, although more pricey, many customers will see the price difference as valuable and well worth it for comfort, fast recovery, fewer sessions and excellent results. In fact, patients should either stop going to traditional dentists or demand that their dentists upgrade their equipment.

 Going to a dentist that still uses old equipment is like paying a lawyer that is still using a typewriter because he refuses to upgrade it to a computer. It is simply not worth one’s time or money.

In addition, recent studies have revealed that dental prevention is not only important for oral health but also for overall body health, since a variety of conditions can be detected by certain tooth or gum signs or can be even provoked by an excess of gum bacteria being absorbed into the blood stream. By eliminating the traumatizing factor of traditional dentistry, Ticos and expats can now sit comfortably on the dentist chair, worry only about preventing major conditions and forget about having nightmares before each dental appointment.

Dentists interested in learning about laser dental instruments and procedures should visit Biolase’s Web site.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2009, use without permission prohibited.

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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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tropical storms
U.S. National Hurricane Center graphic
This was the situation shortly after midnight Monday as Tropical Storm Claudette came ashore in Florida.

Hurricane season swings back
into action with three storms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weather officials were happy a week ago when they said that the 2009 hurricane season is off to a slow start. But all that changed over the weekend.

While storm watchers had their eye on the central Atlantic and Ana and Bill, a third named storm popped up just off the coast of Florida. That is Claudette, which came ashore at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, late Sunday. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. The storm was moving northwest at 12 mph, they said.

Just a week ago scientists were saying that 2009 had been one of the quietest hurricane seasons on record.

The 2009 hurricane season, which officially began June 1 and lasts until the end of November, had yet to produce a named tropical storm. Normally, nine or ten tropical storms form in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa each year. Five or six of those become hurricanes and threaten landfall in the Caribbean or southeastern United States.

"So far, it has been unusually quiet and it looks like it will stay that way for a while," says Stephen Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University in Miami, Aug. 7.

Leatherman said the weather phenomenon known as El Niño may be responsible for disrupting normal weather patterns this year, thwarting the formation of tropical storms.  El Niño is the name given to the appearance, every few years, of large scale climate fluctuations that produce unusually warm surface waters in the Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon can cause global climatic anomalies in the equatorial Pacific, Asia, and North America.

The effect produces dry conditions in the western United States that often lead to large brush and forest fires.  In the central and eastern United States, just the opposite occurs and the result is above-average rainfall.

"People tend to be complacent when nothing happens and this is not good," said Leatherman. "My advice is to be prepared and never take anything for granted."

The 1992 hurricane season provides a case in point.  That year also started off quietly, but it also saw one of the most destructive hurricanes in modern history.

Hurricane Andrew was responsible for 65 deaths and $26.5 billion in property damage when it devastated southern Florida.

Costa Rica does not see hurricanes, but the long arms of such storms can bring damaging rain and winds.

Tropical Storm Ana and Bill, still a depression, are unlikely to have much effect on Costa Rica. They probably will threaten Puerto Rico and some of the Caribbean islands.

Tango musician hosted
all who wanted to sing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central Valley is home to a small, dedicated circle of Tango fans. In fact, some Tico tango balladeers have been invited several times to Buenos Aries to show their extensive

Fridays and Saturdays you could find these fans coming forth with their songs under photos of Carlos Gardel and other Tango greats. The scene was a cramped room tucked away in the El Pueblo commercial centers. Giving them musical support and perhaps encouragement above and beyond the wine served there was owner Oscar Ricardi "El Che" Molinari and his bandoneón.
Mr. Molinari
Oscar Molinari

Molinari, who died late last week, would hold court on a small platform at the south end of the small room with the bandoneón, the curious Argentine accordion. The singers might become a little groggy as night turned into early morning, but Molinari would never forget any of the thousands of songs he carried in his head.

The place is called the Tango Bar, but there is no room for dancing. The great and terrible would take their turns at the microphone, and Molinari's attentive wife would see to their refreshment needs from behind a tiny bar.

The Tango Bar is world famous because tango is something that transcends national borders. Even fans who cannot sing a note would break forth with Gardel favorites. No one ever was asked to sit down. Molinari is famous, too, and his death is being carried by news outlets all over Latin America. A Mexican newspaper called him the ambassador of tango.

In the Costa Rica tradition, Molinari was buried Saturday from the Iglesia Catedral del Carmen en Cartago in the Cementerio General de Cartago. He was 75 and lived more than 30 years here. The Tango Bar was his life for more than 25 years.

The future of the Tango Bar is uncertain. And finding another skilled bandoneón expert is almost impossible.

Mystic will give opinion
to clarify economic future

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Confused by the economic crisis? Not sure what to do?

Well, the Speaker's Form has put together an economic panel for Aug. 26, and among the businessman, and economics graduate, there is one man who may know the answer to those questions.

He was identified as Doug Kelly, a 14-year resident of Costa Rica who was further identified as a mystic.

Also on the panel are Marvin Sossin, a Canadian-born businessman who has lived here for 27 years;  Sam Butler, who has an economics degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and Robert Durnin, a retired Canadian medical specialist living in Costa Rica for five and a half years, said Butler, the founder of the forum.

Kelly also has a master's in architecture from Berkeley, Butler said.

Some of the questions the panel will field are the future of the U.S. dollar, the future of the Costa Rican colon and what and where are the best investment sectors. The panel also will discuss gold, Butler said.

The meeting is in the Hotel Beacon Boutique in Escazú centro about 150 meters west of the Catholic church. Forum organizers would like people to arrive about 6:30 for the 7 p.m. event. Parking is available in the hotel garage.

More information is available at 2289-6333, 8821-4708, or The Beacon Hotel at 2228-3110, said Butler.

Assessments proposed to fix
nation's troubled hydrants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has proposed both a fixed fee plus a use surcharge to pay for the nation's fire hydrants.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos is working with firemen and the water company to establish the rate. For Heredia, the proposal averages about a 5.5 percent increase. Customers of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillos will pay bout 4.56 percent more on the average, the agency said.

The proposal is for a fixed charge of from 280 to 325 colons a month, depending on what public entity supplies the water. After that, there will be a 12-colon assessment for each cubic meter of water used. The agency will hold a public hearing Sept. 17.

Firemen report that more than half of the country's hydrants are in bad shape and that it is urgent to begin regular maintenance. Firemen, who now have control of the hydrants plan to put in more than 12,000 new ones including about 1,666 near hospitals and other priority locations.

Group jumps demonstrators
who happened to be reporters

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has strongly condemned violence unleashed in downtown Caracas against Venezuelan journalists and called on the government of President Hugo Chávez to carry out a prompt and full investigation to identify those responsible and bring the full weight of the law to bear.
As they were handing out leaflets calling for freedom of expression 12 journalists belonging to the Capriles newspaper chain were attacked by a group of unidentified supporters of the Chávez government, The members of the group punched the journalists, stoned them and beat them with sticks, causing a number of injuries. Four were knocked unconscious and rushed to hospital.

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BetOnSport's Kaplan had to turn $43 million over to feds
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Gary Kaplan, the founder of BetOnSports, has pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges and agreed to surrender more than $43 million, according to the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis, Missouri. Kaplan will serve between 41 and 51 months in federal prison, according to the deal he made with prosecutors. David Carruthers, another executive of the operation, pleaded guilty April 1 in the same jurisdiction.

U.S. federal officials now say that Kaplan and his associates caused the loss of from $7 to $20 million to about 250 customers. These are believed to be U.S. citizens who had active accounts at the BetOnSports operation when Carruthers, a British citizen, was snagged while changing planes in the United States.

The guilty pleas conclude a lengthy investigative and prosecution effort by several law enforcement agencies, including the IRS and the FBI.  Kaplan has been in custody without a bond set since his arrest in March 2007.  Sentencing has been set for Oct. 27, 2009.

BetOnSports employed hundreds of young Costa Ricans and had facilities in Mall San Pedro. Kaplan began closing down the operation after the arrest of Carruthers. Kaplan had been a fugitive until March 2007 when he was arrested in the Dominican Republic.

Pursuant to a complex plea agreement, Kaplan, 50, entered pleas of guilty to charges of conspiracy to violate the racketeering statute, conspiring to violate the Wire Wager Act and violating the Wire Wager Act.  He appeared before U. S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson in St. Louis.  As part of the plea, Kaplan caused the wire transfer of more than $43 million from a Swiss bank account to a U.S. District Court bank account approximately one week prior to enter his guilty pleas. 

Kaplan said in court Friday that beginning in the mid to late 1990s, he set up business entities offshore in Aruba, Antigua and eventually Costa Rica to provide sportsbook services to U.S. residents through Internet Web sites and toll-free telephone numbers.  He founded, operated and controlled, with others, the enterprise known as “BetOnSports.” 

BetOnSports advertised heavily in the United States to solicit U.S. residents to place sports wagers by telephone and over the Internet, said law enforcement officials.  BetOnSports-related entities controlled toll free numbers and domain names advertised by BetOnSports.

Technologically, Kaplan’s toll-free telephone lines terminated in Houston or Miami, and then were forwarded to Costa Rica by satellite transmitter or fiber-optic cable.  Some of Kaplan’s Web servers were located in Miami and were remotely controlled from Costa Rica. 

U.S. residents became customers of BetOnSports by depositing funds on account and placing wagers over U.S. toll-free telephone lines and via the Internet using the deposited funds, said officials.  Funds were sent from the U.S. customers to BetOnSports operations outside the United States and the company sent winnings from outside the United States to its U.S. customers.
BetOnSports was highly successful and attracted a large number of U.S. customers.  By 2004, the BetOnSports organization’s principal base of operations in Costa Rica employed approximately 1,700 people.  During the year ended Jan. 31, 2004, BetOnSports had close to 1 million
registered customers, and accepted over 10 million sports bets in a cumulative gross amount that exceeded $1 billion, officials estimate.

In mid-2004, Kaplan made a successful public offering of the stock of BetOnSports on the London Alternative Investment Market that netted him over $100 million. Those funds eventually found their way into various Isle of Jersey trusts which invested the funds in Swiss bank accounts.

Carruthers was hired by Gary Kaplan in approximately June, 2000, as chief executive officer of Carruthers agreed to conduct the enterprise through, what officials claimed was a pattern of racketeering acts, including repeated mail fraud, Wire Wager Act violations, operation of an illegal gambling business and money laundering.

Law enforcement officials claims that the BetOnSports organization made false representations to the targets of its advertising campaigns and customers by:

• Creating and disseminating advertising throughout the United States which represented that its Internet and telephone gambling operations were legal and licensed.  They failed to disclose known material facts, namely that the U.S. government and most state governments viewed such operations as illegal, and that they did not have a license to operate legally anywhere in the United States.

• Representing to potential customers that money transferred by them to BetOnSports on account was safe and readily available to be withdrawn at anytime.  BetOnSports was actually using the funds to support and expand its operations, including the purchase of Easybets.  When BetonOnSports ceased operations in July 2006, it could not repay its customers over $16 million held on account.

"BetOnSports was a very large and diverse operation.  While BetOnSports operated offshore, their illegal activities were not outside the long arm of the law.  This plea is a significant step in the government's efforts to end the proliferation of U.S.-facing offshore sportsbooks," said John Gillies, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge, St. Louis Office.

Carruthers, 51, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000.  Sentencing has been set for Oct. 2.

Offshore gambling was targeted heavily by the George Bush administration, which tightened the cash flow from U.S. gamblers.

Carruthers was outspoken in his defense of offshore gambling, and that may have been what got BetOnSports in trouble with authorities.

A number of sportsbooks still operate in Costa Rica. Many U.S. young men and women work at these establishments.

Bus has a close shave after being tied up in traffic on track
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic was so jammed Friday afternoon west of Hospital Calderón Guardia that an Heredia-bound train had to stop to allow a passenger bus to clear the tracks.  The bus became jammed in the traffic and could neither pull forward nor back up.

The train rolled to a stop just a few feet from the bus. Passengers saw the train coming and made hasty exits from
both the front and rear doors.

Traffic and rail officials managed to put down some white markings on Avenida 11 at Calle 11. The markings warn of train tracks ahead. However, there are no automatic signals.

The traffic jam resulted from several construction projects in the downtown area that have caused drivers to make a detour. At one point vehicles were bumper to bumper from the hospital to the downtown.

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Prosecutors meet over underworld threats to their own
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The meeting of prosecutors in Cahuita Friday took place because criminals in the Provincia de Limón are making threats against judicial and police employees and their families.

The chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese, is not making any explanation of the extent of the case, but the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública outlined the situation in a press release.

Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, traveled to Cahuita to participate.

The threats against prosecutors and other judicial officials are not new. Criminals have been making threats against medical personnel at the Hospital Tony Facio in Limón. A number of physicians and nurses have left their jobs there over the threats and extortive demands.
A Poder Judicial spokesperson said Thursday that the topic of the meeting was organized crime. Of course under the new Costa Rican law, a criminal action taken by two persons or more can be branded organized crime.

Ms. del Vecchio reported that she sought the creation of a flagrancia tribunal on the Caribbean coast. This is the swift justice system now in use in San José. Those caught in the act or nearly so are quickly brought to court.  The security ministry said that Dall'Anese would forward the request to the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The high court is ultimately in charge of all investigations and prosecutors. Dall'Anese is an employee of the courts. The Judicial Investigating Organization reports to the supreme court magistrates.

Tourism and business people in Limón south of the city of that name have been seeking a meeting with law enforcement supervisors. In addition, expats there have reported the arrival of a number of new individuals they think are foreigners.

Woman lawmaker wins Sala IV case over her exclusion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An independent legislative deputy has won a Sala IV constitutional court order that the legislature should guarantee effective participation by women.

The court decision was announced Friday.

The deputy, Andrea Morales Díaz, appears to have lost her seat on the Comisión Permanente Especial de Asuntos Municipales in a political shuffle that put a man in her place. That made the committee 100 percent male,  according to her court filing.
The female deputy cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. It is settled law in Costa Rica that a slate put up for office by political parties must have male and female candidates.

The court decision lists Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, and said the exclusion of the woman was a violation of a clause in the Costa Rican Constitution.

The court stopped short of ordering her seated on the committee.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 161

Casa Alfi Hotel

First U.S. citizen ensnared
in Swiss banking disclosures

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Malibu man was charged Friday with failing to inform the government of a Swiss bank account as part of a scheme to move at least $1 million from the United States into Swiss bank accounts with the goal of avoiding the payment of federal income taxes.

In a criminal information filed in U. S. District Court, John McCarthy was charged with one count of willfully failing to file a foreign bank and financial accounts report. In a related plea agreement also filed Friday, McCarthy agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge.

According to court documents, Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS AG, turned over records showing that McCarthy was the beneficial owner and, therefore, had a direct financial interest in a UBS bank account opened in Switzerland in 2003 in the name of COGS Enterprises, Ltd., a Hong Kong entity.

In court documents, McCarthy admitted skimming money from his domestic business and, after funneling the money through a U.S. account, wire transferring the skimmed funds into his COGS Enterprises account in Switzerland. McCarthy admitted that, with the assistance of UBS representatives and his Swiss lawyer, he directed the investment activities and transfers of funds into and out of the COGS UBS Swiss bank account, as well as from other UBS Swiss accounts he controlled. UBS representatives worked closely with his Swiss lawyer to keep McCarthy's funds from leaving Switzerland and helped McCarthy move additional monies out of the United States undetected by the federal government, according to the plea agreement.

UBS just made an agreement with the U.S. government to allow access to some banking information. The disclosures are expected to lead to many more cases like that of McCarthy.

McCarthy admitted that he transferred more than $1 million of money skimmed from his business to the COGS Enterprises account at UBS in Switzerland. As a result of the money transfers, McCarthy admitted that he failed to pay at least $200,000 in federal income taxes and that he now owes the government interest and penalties.

“Tax prosecutors in my office, working with IRS-Criminal Investigation agents and Department of Justice attorneys, are aggressively pursuing those who shirk their federal tax obligations by hiding funds in secret bank accounts in Europe and Asia,” said U. S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien.

In his plea agreement, McCarthy agreed to cooperate with the U. S. Attorney's Office and the Internal Revenue Service, including agreeing to work with federal tax authorities to determine his personal and business tax liabilities for 2003 through 2007. McCarthy agreed that he is liable for the fraud penalty of 75 percent on any individual income taxes he owes for those years. In addition to the tax liability, McCarthy agreed to repatriate all funds held in foreign bank accounts and resolve his civil liability for failing to file foreign bank and financial accounts reports for 2003 through 2008 by paying a penalty equal to 50 percent of the highest balance in his COGS account for each of the six years.

McCarthy is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Sept. 14. Once he pleads guilty, McCarthy faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and fines totaling $250,000.

In February, UBS AG entered into a deferred prosecution agreement on charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by impeding the Internal Revenue Service. As a result, UBS agreed to provide the United States government with the identities and account information of certain United States customers. McCarthy's Swiss bank account information was among the information provided by UBS to the Department of Justice.

Eileen C. Mayer, chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation, said “The prosecution of John McCarthy is the tip of the iceberg. In conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office here in Los Angeles and prosecutors around the country, our agents continue to investigate existing leads, as well as develop and follow-up on additional leads uncovered in the course of their investigations on others similarly situated. Today's actions show the IRS is committed to pursuing people hiding income offshore. Anyone in this situation needs to immediately come in through our voluntary disclosure process and get right with your government or face stiff criminal and financial penalties.”
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 161

Latin American news digest
Venezuela and Russia plan
joint venture in Orinoco

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Russia and Venezuela made plans to set up a joint venture to develop Venezuela's oil reserves as they signed a series of agreements meant to forge a closer relationship between the two allies.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin met with Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizalez Saturday in St. Petersburg for talks focused on energy and arms.

Sechin told a news conference that the Orinoco oil belt project could cost up to $30 billion and is estimated to yield 53 billion barrels.

Sechin also said Russia has not ruled out supplying Venezuela with tanks or other military supplies.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, said Saturday the country's ties with nations like Russia and Belarus have gained importance as the United States moves to expand its military presence in Latin America.

Chávez said there are significant reasons to accelerate cooperation plans with allies because of an agreement between Colombia and the U.S. to run anti-drug operations off Colombian bases.

Gangs spark fatal riot in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials say at least 19 people have been killed in a riot that erupted in a prison in the northern Mexican state of Durango.

Authorities say another 26 were injured in Friday's fighting.

Mexican public safety officials say the fighting at the prison in the city of Gómez Palacio was the result of rivalries among prison gangs.

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