A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 171       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Weak controls a boon for bad guys and girls
Paradise still has its problems with snakes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A year from now if John Mark Karr finishes his child pornography sentence in California and steps off a plane at Juan Santamaría airport, he probably would sail through immigration without problems.

That is one of the reasons law enforcement officials around the world call Costa Rica a paradise for bad guys and those on the run.

Karr has been here twice before. Once he was in flight from those same pornography charges. He managed to teach here just the same in 2003 and 2004.

Karr, of course, seems to have been ruled out as the killer of Jon Benét Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado, eight years ago. But his strange behavior and obsession with young females makes him an unwelcome neighbor.

He is just the most visible of a procession of fugitives who are in Costa Rica. Some are being rounded up. Two, a suspected drug dealer and a suspected swindler, were picked up over the weekend.

Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, 38, believed to be a leader of the leftist Colombian rebels was detained Aug. 10. He was living a quiet life as a fisherman in Puntarenas, leaving the country only occasionally to massacre policeman and kill townspeople, according to the Colombian government.

The security minister, Fernando Berrocal, complains that the immigration agency under his ministry lacks the resources to enforce a new, stiffer law. And police under the ministry have had only moderate success in closing the nation's wide open borders with Panamá and Nicaragua. The Panamá border was so open that a newspaper there won an international award for exposing the situation last year.

The constant flow of illegals and petty crooks from Nicaragua make immigration's job nearly impossible. But the really bad people usually come from elsewhere.

Slowly immigration is closing the computer gap. But resources are only part of the problem. Immigration officials complain that the way the United States is divided into 50 states and a federal government makes keeping track of criminals from there nearly impossible.

Many foreign residents — good and bad — live here on tourist visas. Because the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería approaches an administrative meltdown, they find an excuse for not seeking a more permanent residency status.

And if they are on the run, the bad guys certainly do not want to supply their fingerprints, a basic part of the residency process.

There are all kinds of tricks to sidestep requirements of the notoriously corrupt and frequently lax immigration department.

The department reels from one scandal to another, particularly now that the Arias administration has the goal of conducting a cleanup.

Martínez, the alleged leader in the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia,

obtained residency by marrying a Costa Rican woman. That is a trick foreign prostitutes frequently use, too, to obtain residency here. This is a controversial area as immigration officials walk a fine line between true love and outright fraud stemming from fake marriages.

The inversionista category appears to be abused, too. This is a residency category open to those who invest $100,000 in a tourism business or $200,000 in other types of businesses. Some in the residency business say they have learned crooked lawyers will certify a fake investment so foreigners can gain residency.

Costa Rica has come a long way in reducing child sex tourism since the time five years ago when President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez incorrectly said the practice was not a problem. Signs at the airport lay down the law, and some North Americans have been put in prison for 20 years or more because they were involved with youngsters.

But there still is not that kind of aggressive approach to other types of foreign criminals, particularly those who bring money for investment. Although Costa Rica is trying to develop a tradition of neighbors blowing the whistle on drug dealers, the same kind of aggressive approach is lacking for other types of criminals.

In fact the process to reel in a foreign fugitive is slow. Jorge Ernesto Velarde Silva, the Peruvian wanted to face drug smuggling charges in Australia who was arrested Friday, had been under surveillance since 2005. Getting a local arrest warrant based on a foreign allegation is a major diplomatic chore.

Then there are the two-bit criminals foreign government don't even want: the wife beater, the petty drug dealer, and. in some cases, the parent in flight with a child. The cost to fly some fugitives back to justice is not justified by the crime, some governments report.

The Arias administration seems to have reluctantly accepted the immigration law passed by the previous Asamblea Legislativa.

The murder last week of two policeman by a troubled Nicaraguan national helped change some minds. The probability now is that officials will enforce that law while seeking some legislative changes. Officials have taken an oath to enforce the nation's laws.

Residents should look for more immigration raids and more screening at the airports and land crossings while the current administration seeks additional money to tighten the borders. Already promised are frontier forces and a tourism police, whose members will have closer contact with North Americans, including the bad ones.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 171

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Tomatoes from here get
right to travel to the north

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States will allow importation from Costa Rica of pink and red tomatoes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled.

The ruling also covers El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Monday that it is amending its regulations to allow, under certain conditions, the importations.

Tomatoes were not allowed in the past due to concerns about insects and diseases.

To be eligible for importation, the tomatoes must be grown and packed in areas free of the Mediterranean fruit fly. A preharvest inspection of the production site must be conducted by the national plant protection organization of the exporting country and the site must be found free of pea leafminer, a destructive pest of vegetables and flowers; tomato fruit borer, a serious tomato plant pest; and potato spindle tuber viroid, a disease that affects tomato and potato crops, the department said.

The tomatoes must also be packed in insect-proof containers or covered with insect-proof mesh or plastic tarpaulin during transit to the United States, it added. 

In addition, each shipment of tomatoes must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate issued by the exporting country with an additional declaration stating that the tomatoes were grown in a Medfly-free area and the shipment was inspected and found free of all pests listed in the requirements.

In Costa Rica, the Ministerio de la Producción will do the inspection and certification.

This final rule was scheduled to be published Monday in Federal Register and was to become effective upon publication.

Angel of Love Foundation
seeking money for land

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Angel of Love Foundation is seeking to purchase land adjacent to its Tom and Norman Home in Rita de Pococí.

The director, Alexis Barquero Benavides, said in a solicitation that adjacent land is available for $5,000. The foundation plans to eventually build housing for from 50 to 100 persons, recreation room and a nursing area.

The foundation, which has been supported heavily by expats in the past, has a dollar account in the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica: 200-02-051-3099-6

The home houses unwanted adults, with the emphsis on unwanted. Some were cast out by their families and were found living under cardboard of sheet steel.

The home originally started as a refuge for AIDS sufferers when Costa Rica did not provide for that illness.

Barquero can be reached at 763-2121 or 343-1775.

Our readers' opinions

'Security theatre' blamed
for expending resources

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your recent article on the deaths of two policemen highlights the difficulty of maintaining appropriate public security. Yes, the police officers should have been better equipped to respond to a robbery call. But there is more to the story than that.

No one mentioned that Costa Rica is plagued with an increase of illegal weapons. The international arms dealing cartels, fueled by the U.S., Russia, and Eastern Europe are reaching down to smuggling hand-held and automatic weapons into Costa Rica. Law enforcement needs to concentrate efforts on this as well as on armored vests to protect from attack.

Also, Costa Rica is responding to what one international security expert (Bruce Schneier) calls "security theatre" — massive security efforts solely designed for show. Examples at U.S. airports include sending everyone's shoes through the X-ray machine, when every security person and most passengers know that X-ray does not show plastic explosives.

One day some lunatic will try to bring explosives onto a plane in a ballpoint pen, and we will have to start throwing away all our ballpoint pens. Then the airlines can sell us new ones to complete our transit documents. Someone will find try to smuggle something in a laptop, and get caught. No more laptops. You get the picture.

The Israelis circumvent much of this by profiling — a reasonable way to focus expensive security measures, although they, too, are bowing to pressure from the U.S., which will not allow planes to enter U.S. airspace unless they have met U.S. standards for security. But to the extent that Costa Rica complies with nonsensical security regulations, qualified personnel are wasting valuable resources.

So the death of these two officers should be more than just a tragic episode. It should be a wake-up call to more effectively use existing law enforcement resources.

John French

He opposes tuna farm
near Peninsula de Osa

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The planned tuna farm just south of the Osa Peninsula is a really bad idea. My wife and I have visited Costa Rica on holiday every year for the past six years to enjoy "la tierra de la pura vida."  Activities which put the environment at risk make no sense, especially in an area near or in the Osa where the environment is fragile.

Please help to spread the word regarding the fight to protect Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast from business schemes that will cause far more harm than good to Costa Rica.
Shepherd Nachbar
New Fairfield, Connecticut
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 171

Tale of plot against Arias dismissed as totally false
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The discovery of a stash of rifle cartridges in a car and later a much larger stash in a house has generated a theory that Colombian guerrillas were trying to assassinate President Óscar Arias Sánchez and other top members of his administration.

But after the theory appeared as the top story in the sensational El Diario Extra Monday, Arias' office and investigators dismissed it.

According to the newspaper, agents who raided a house Friday in San Antonio de Tejar Alajuela, not only found some 50,000 cartridges for AK-47 rifles but also a list, photos and directions to the homes of top officials, including Arias.

The newspaper said the attacks were related to an effort to liberate Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, 38, a leader in the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, who was detained Aug. 10 in Puntarenas.

Jorge Rojas, director general of the Judicial Investigating Organization, issued a statement in which he denied that any lists, telephone numbers of similar identifying information was found.
The Ministerio de la Presidencia also dismissed the news story, saying that there was no relationship between two Nicaraguans detained Thursday and any plot against the government. The two men with last names of Obregón Cerda and Martínez Urriarte, were chased and caught by police on San Jose's Avenida 10. In their car agents found about 6,000 cartridges.

The car chase and arrest led to a raid on the home where more cartridges were found.

La Extra attributed the information in the news story to persons close to the investigation but did not name anyone.

The newspaper anticipated the denial by authorities by saying that agents were not talking about the list because of concern for national security.

Colombian rebels are violent and have assasinated and kidnapped their enemies in Colombia. However, some observers dismissed the idea that rebels would be involved with Nicaraguans in a complex plot.

Agents said they were seeking instead an idea where the cartiges were going, although that location almost certainly is somewhere in Colombia.

Opponents continue to press for public vote on treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the free trade treaty with the United States moving closer to possible ratification in the Asamblea Legislativa, opponents are pushing for a popular referendum.

Informa-Tico, an online publication that is close to the Partido Acción Ciudadana, said Monday that former ministers and lawmakers are approaching the Tribunal Supreme de Elecciones to ask for a public vote.

José Miguel Corrales is one of the opponents. He was a lawmaker in the last legislature. The idea is to use a new law to set up a public vote to avoid social disorders that an approval in the legislature would bring.

The opponents would have to collect more than 100,000 signatures if the election tribunal agrees.
They cite a recent survey that says public opinion for the free trade treaty is less than 50 percent.

The tribunal conducted the last public sounding on national questions, the general elections this year. President Óscar Arias Sánchez won by a narrow margin. He favors the treaty, and his party, Liberación Nacional, controls the legislature.

Ottón Solís, the candidate of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, says that the treaty should be renegotiated, although U.S. lawmakers say that would be nearly impossible. Other Central American states and the Dominican Republic, also parties to the treaty, have approved the measure.

Union members from the government monopolies, some farmers and leftist student groups promise strikes and public disorders if the treaty is ratified. The monopolies fear market competition.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 171

Costa Rica's luck holds with latest tropical storms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The long arm of Ernesto did little damage to Costa Rica, and the country barely felt the presence of Pacific Tropical Storm John, which was 250 miles or 400 kms. southeast of Acapulco earlier today.

The country's emergency commission reported that some houses in Heredia suffered wind damage Sunday from Ernesto. In Santa Domingo two homes lost their roofs, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.  In Calle Quintana de Santo Domingo one home was flooded by a sewer backup. Trees were down.

There was a landslide in Barrio La Milpa where a home suffered damage to its roof from shifting soil, the commission said. In Tibás a home faced danger from a slide caused by the weight or a nearby factory, the commission said. The residents slept with family elsewhere.

There was some flooding, and the commission was cautious.

But the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional was downright happy: "Ernesto is not now a danger to the county," it said in a press release late Monday. The weather experts promised sunny skies this morning with afternoon downpours in the Valley Central and the Pacific coast. The northern zone and the
Caribbean slope are supposed to be rain-free with lots of heat.

Ernesto was nearing the northern coast of Cuba. It still was a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph). It was expected to hit the Florida keys by this evening. Some five to 10 inches of rain are possible over southern Florida, said the hurricane center.

The center says the storm will be moving over the Caribbean island nation for most of the day Monday with winds of 72 kph, well short of hurricane strength. Authorities in Cuba evacuated tens of thousands of residents Sunday.

The storm is on a path that is expected to take it across Cuba toward the Gulf of Mexico, where it could become a hurricane for a second time. It drenched Haiti and the Dominican Republic Sunday at hurricane strength, leaving at least one person dead in  Haiti.

Residents in the Florida Keys are bracing for Ernesto. The National Hurricane Center has posted a hurricane watch for the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, including the Keys and the Miami area.

The U.S. national Hurricane Center said early today that John was nearing hurricane strength in the Pacific. The storm was expected to drop up to four inches on the Mexican coast, something forecasters said was life-threatening.

Rodrigo Arias asks election magistrates to reconsider their publicity ban
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration is giving the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones a chance to rethink its prohibition on publicity during elections.

The effect of the ruling, publicized last week, would prevent any self promotions by the executive branch until Dec. 3, when municipal elections are held.

Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, addressed a letter to the tribunal magistrates Monday in which he asked them to clarify the true sense of the ban.
Casa Presidencial said that he noted the need for the executive branch to keep the public informed. The Arias administration had five shows on television a week ago pointing out the achievements of officials in the first 100 days of being in office.

Rodrigo Arias contends that the section of the electoral code containing the prohibition was only relevant in the community where elections were to be held and did not apply to the central government, except during times of national elections. The letter to the magistrates was seen as a preface to a full-scale court challenge to the position of the tribunal.

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Jo Stuart
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