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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 179              E-mail us
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Motorist gravely wounded, and suspect is familiar
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man accused of sticking a gun in the face of former president Luis Alberto Monge and stealing his car has yet to complete the judicial process. He still is at liberty.

Or at least he was at liberty until a judicial agent nabbed him Wednesday night in  San Francisco de Dos Ríos where another motorist, a 21-year-old, suffered critical wounds from gunmen who tried to take his car.

The story starts in Heredia April 24, 2004, when Monge, then-74, was the victim of a carjacking. The former president, his driver and a female companion were forced from the vehicle at gunpoint while robbers drove it away.

Less than six weeks later, Fuerza Pública officers, working on a tip, spotted the  gray Toyota Prado near Dominical and gave chase on the Interamericana. The driver, later identified by the last names of  Blanco Pérez, rolled the vehicle and was caught after a short chase. Others were detained as a result of that police action.

One of the suspects is a man with the last names of Jara Olsen. He went to trial and was convicted in the Monge case, but the Sala III supreme criminal court voided the 12-year sentence on appeal and sent the case back to a trial court. A second trial started Aug. 24. The trial was supposed to continue Wednesday, but Jara was in jail again at the  Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José.

He was nabbed at the scene of the carjacking, called a bajonazo in Spanish. The 21-year-old motorist, identified by the last names of Chavarría Campos, tried to drive away when a gang of men tried to rob  him of his Chevrolet vehicle. He was hit multiple times with bullets. His condition was described as grave.
Justice delayed

Judges at the  Tribunal de Juicio de Heredia had to cancel the session Wednesday and said that Jara would again be in court on the Monge case Sept. 18. In San José Jara is now facing allegations of attempted murder and aggravated robbery.

His arrest Wednesday was attributed to an agent of the Judicial Investigating Organization who happened upon the scene. Others who fled are being sought.

When police encountered the Monge vehicle near Dominical in 2004, another vehicle accompanied it. Drivers of both cars had radios tuned to the police band. It appears the driver was going to try to take the vehicle to Panamá.

When the judicial agent detained Jara Wednesday the suspect, too, was carrying a radio, the Fuerza Pública said.

Judge unfreezes 7 percent electrical rate cut
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electrical customers moved another step closer to getting their 7 percent rebate.

The Tribunal  Contencioso Administrativo lifted an injunction against the government's price regulating agency. On the losing end was the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad that said the proposed
rate cuts would endanger its economic stability and cost is $1 million.

The court had frozen the rate cut ordered by the  Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos two weeks ago. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is still appealingg the rate cut within the Authoridad, but probably will go to court if the rate cut stands.

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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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85-year-old woman forces
changes in legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 85-year-old woman has won an access case against the Asamblea Legislativa.

The woman argued in an appeal to the Sala IV constitutional court that she likes to attend legislative sessions and watch what happens from a gallery reserved for the public.  But she said that certain obstacles impede her. She said she had a bad right leg.

In addition she complained about what she said was poor audio and that a higher area that allowed her to look down on lawmakers had been eliminated. She also complained about the quality of the air conditioning.

She was identified by the last names of Zamora Solera. The Sala IV found against Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández, the president of the assembly, and order him to make the appropriate changes within six months.

Although the woman does not fall under the category of disabled, she said that there were no ramps and other facilities for those who are.

The assembly deliberations are televised gavel to gavel each day lawmakers meet.

Husband gets 26 years
for forced rapes of wife

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trial panel gave a husband 26 years in prison for what judges determined were two rapes of his wife, the Poder Judicial said Wednesday.

The man was identified by the last names of  Alvarado Montoya. The first attack took place in 2003. The second was in 2007 after the couple reunited after a separation.

The rapes involved a sexual act not further described by the Poder Judicial in a summary of the case. The woman objected both times and was taken by force, said the summary. She required ,medical treatment after the first attack, the Poder Judicial said. The case was tried in  Corredores. 

New regs on monitoring boats
in effect, foundation says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Billfish Foundation says that new regulations requiring commercial fishing vessels to install electronic monitoring systems went into effect last month.

The foundation was instrumentalll in getting the rule passed by the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura. Covered are vessels longer than 56 feet. Captains have six months from the date the edict was published to install the devices.

The system will allow fisheries employees to monitor the location of of the commercial trawlers and see if they intrude into protected areas. The organization also said that commercial captains will think twice before they approach and threaten sportsfishing boats as happened last year.

The Florida-based foundation is dedicated to conserving and enhancing billfish populations worldwide

Now it's Hurricane Fred
who's growing in Atlantic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weather forecasters say Hurricane Fred gained strength Wednesday, making it the second major hurricane of the year, although it posed no threat to land.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Fred is now a Category Three hurricane on the five-level scale that measures a hurricane's intensity and potential destructiveness.

At last report, the storm was moving over the eastern Atlantic Ocean with winds near 195 kilometers an hour. It was hundreds of kilometers west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands. Forecasters say Fred will weaken beginning Thursday.

Meanwhile, over the Pacific Ocean, Tropical Storm Linda continues to drift slowly, moving northwest at 13 kilometers per hour. The storm had winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour and was spinning more than 2,000 kilometers west of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

Isolated community gets lab

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica will inauguratetetetetete the Laboratorio de Computación del Centro de Capacitación Iriria Alakölpa ú this Friday.

That's not a typo. The lab will be in the native community of Amubrë de Talamanca. The lab will be hooked to the Internet via a satellite system donated by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

In addition to just connecting the community to the outside world,  the Cartago-based university hopes that some residents will be able to take courses via the Internet.

Inmate killed in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A 23-year-old prisoner at La Reforma penitentiary in Alajuela died Tuesday after he was stabbed there. He was identified as Mario Navarrete López. He was serving a five-year term for robbery, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The death was reported Wednesday. Agents said they had two suspects, fellow inmates.

Oddity in calendar prompts
many weddings in Asia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Couples around the world are hoping that Wednesday's unusual 9-9-09 (ninth month-ninth day-2009) date will bring them good luck in marriage.

China predicted more than 10,000 marriages Wednesday while some 500 couples said "I do" at a mass wedding in Malaysia.  The numbers "9-9" are pronounced "jiu jiu" in Mandarin Chinese, and mean longevity or everlasting.

Singapore's Registry of Marriages recorded more than 360 couples exchanging vows Wednesday.  The Straits Times newspaper says the registry usually averages about 64 per day.

Australia, Russia and the U.S. also predicted a significant increase in the number of marriages.

A discount store in the western U.S. state of California is using the numbers to its advantage Wednesday.  The "99 Cents Only" store in Hollywood is giving nine couples 99-cent weddings.

Just 20 years ago cracks
began to show in Iron Curtain

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hungary is marking the 20th anniversary of its decision to allow tens of thousands East Germans to cross the Hungarian border and flee to the West. It was a risky decision that contributed to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Former refugees from then-Communist East Germany and aid workers still recall the often traumatic experiences that preceded the mass exodus to freedom.

Twenty years ago that Hungarians organized a peace demonstration.  During the August demonstration, known as the Pan-European Picnic, Hungary briefly opened the gates of its border with Austria, allowing hundreds of East Germans, including many women and children, to flee to the West.

Soon after on Sept. 10, 1989, Hungary gave permission to the other tens of thousands of refugees to leave, despite protests from East German leader Erich Honecker. The borders opened at midnight, the next day.  It was risky, as Hungary was officially still a Soviet-satellite state.

Our reader's opinion
Ticos are great people
a cut above other Latins

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading the various comments after Garland's diatribe against Ticos.  While I neither have his tenure here nor have I been associated with many businesses other than my own, I have traveled extensively in the world and in Costa Rica.  I am also married to a Tica.  No country is perfect, but I have found that people worldwide have the same need to be loved, respected and secure.  With that said, I can relate two stories from this weekend's travel to Cano Negro.
First, was the bartender at the Cano Negro Lodge where we stayed.  A Nicaraguan who arrived in this country when he was 10, he has been here for 20 years.  In that time, he married, worked 3 to 4 jobs at the same time, bought a 20-hectare farm, purchased milk cows and learned to make delicious cheese that he markets on weekends.  At 30, he is a success story. 

The other person is my wife's cousin who quit the university to strike out on his own.  He learned carpentry, he worked long hours to eventually to become a manager but that was not good enough.  He wanted his own home, so he built it then sold it to move north of Fortuna on his own land.  In his mid 40s he has built a home most people would envy, started a small farm, built his own 100-seat restaurant and small hotel and is a successful family man.
These are only two of many stories that I have heard about the people of my adopted country.  Sure there are some bad people out there.  Silvia and I have had our share of thefts, but by and large Ticos are a cut above their Latin American neighbors and, in my opinion, are some of the finest people I have met on five different continents on which I have worked or visited.  To support this I also refer to Wednesday's article on Costa Rica's worldwide ranking.
Ken Beedle

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 179

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Workplace harassment need not involve power, court says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala II supreme labor court has expanded the concept of sexual harassment to include unwanted actions even when there is no power relationship between the harasser and the victim.

The case involved a man who was fired from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The termination came without employer responsibility, meaning that the telecom company paid less severance pay. The ex-worker carried the case through the courts to the Sala II, which is an element of the Corte Supreme de Justicia.

Testimony recounted by the Poder Judicial showed that a woman coworker was getting text messages with sexual content. The company was able to trace the messages to a cell  phone issued to the male employee. He argued in his filing that because there was not a differential in power that he was not guilty of harassment.
The case revolved around the meaning of the sexual harassment provision of the internal rules of the  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the fact that the man was using a company telephone.

Another important aspect was that the woman victim immediately tried to find out the origin of the calls and reported the matter to her supervisor.

The male worker lost at all levels of the judicial proceeding. The Sala II decision confirmed a decision of the Juzgado de Trabajo del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José. However, the Sala II appears to have heard the case on its merits. The man sought to get back his job as a telecom technician and to receive back pay.

Magistrates ruled that the evidence showed the cell phone used in the harassment had not been cloned and the original phone never was out of the control of the man who was fired.

Tourism minister quits so he can join Chinchilla campaign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carlos Ricardo Benavides has resigned as minister of tourism so that he can work in the presidential campaign of Laura Chinchilla. That was announced Wednesday in Casa Presidencial.

Benavides is best known as the tourism minister who authorized the spending of $4.3 million in public money to take officials to Germany for the 2005 World Cup games where Costa Rica lost three straight contests.

He also engineered designating a New Jersey family as the country's 2 millionth tourist in 2008 when there probably were not that many tourists that year.

In fact, accurate reports of arriving tourists have been hard to obtain from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo since the start of the Óscar Arias administration. For years the institute has made available a statistical report of arriving tourists by nationality. That stopped when Benavides took over the top spot. Tourism workers blamed slow reporting by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, but even 2006 reports are unavailable.

The statistical breakdowns showed that Costa Rican officials were counting vast numbers of Nicaraguan visitors
as tourists. The last available figures showed more than 400,000 Nicaraguans included in the statistics. Tourism numbers recently have come from the Cámera Nacional de Turismo, a private group, that stitches together statistics from information on airport arrivals and other sources.

Benavides has had successes, too. One has been raising the visibility of the institute Web page with a $500,000 ad campaign in the United States. Some tourist operators offered discounts through the Web site up until Aug. 8., the Amazon affiliate, reports that the institute Web page increased in readership ranking 56 percent in the last three months. It is now ranked 183,080 worldwide  and 103,340th among U.S. readers. By comparison is 35,700th among U.S. readers and 106,809 worldwide.

Although the Web site has become more popular, the exact effect on tourism still is unknown.

Benavides played a role in the creation of the Policía de Turismo. Some institute funds were allocated to put the white-shirted tourism police in key locations.

Taking the spot vacated by Benavides will be Alan Flores, who now is the general manager of the institute. He is another lawyer and served in his present job since 2006.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 179

Health minister tries to outlaw strike by Caja employees

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The health minister Wednesday invoked a decree designed to fight swine flu as a way to halt a proposed strike by workers at the nation's public hospitals.

The minister, María Luisa Ávila Agüero, said that the decree published April 29 in the La Gaceta official newspaper requires everyone to collaborate with health officials and puts special responsibilities on health workers.

A group of unions had announced Tuesday a plan to strike today. It was not known if the unions would follow through on their threat.

The ministery directed her comments to the Sindicato de la Salud y Seguridad Social, the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja, the Sindicato Nacional de Auxiliares de Enfermería, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, the Sindicato Nacional de Asistentes de Servicios de Salud and the Sindicato de
Trabajadores del Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The minister said the main issue with the unions was salary, but the  Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados placed a list of other grievances on its Web site and said that the strike would begin today for an indefinite period.

The unions issued a joint communication in which they said the minister should pay attention to the thousands of biopsies for cancer of the cervix and for breast cancer that have not been analyzed putting the health of the public at risk.

The message puts all the blame on the management of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the public agency that runs the hospitals and clinics, for breaking off negotiations eight months ago. The unions also said that treatment of swine flu patients would not be affected.

The June 29 decree has the strength of law, but othr national laws protect the right of employees to strike.

Historical study shows Latin economic ups and downs

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Latin America and the Caribbean economy grew an average 4.1 percent from 1950 to 2008, while its average annual inflation rate from 1970 to 2008 reached 15.4  percent.

This is part of the data gathered in the Statistical Booklet N° 37. "Latin America and the Caribbean: Historical series of economic statistics, 1950-2008," published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean available as of Wednesday in electronic format.

The publication provides macroeconomic data from the past six decades based on countries' records of national accounts (in national currency and dollars), balance of payments, terms of trade, consumer price index and the price of commodity exports.

The data contributes to the analysis and comprehension of the evolution of the region's economy and reflects the profound changes that often took place during this extensive period of time. For example, the statistics reveal the volatility of regional economic growth, which averaged
5.9 percent in the 1970s and only 1.4 percent in the 1980s.

The booklet also illustrates the changes in the productive structure by sectors in the region, providing information on the gradual loss of importance of agricultural and industrial production versus the increasing relative importance of services.

The publication also reveals the prevalence of high inflation in Latin America during most of the past decades. Based on countries' consumer price index records, the average annual inflation in the region during the almost 40 years  between 1970 and 2008 is estimated to be 15.4  percent.

The highest inflation in the region was recorded in 1990, with an annual average of 72.8 percent. The lowest was in 1981, with an average -27.9 percent.

Latin America's terms of trade have also been highly volatile, according to the publication. In the 1950s they diminished 31.2 percent, while in the 1970s they rose 46.8 percent, and again dropped 14.2 percent in the 1980s before rising again in the 1990s.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 179

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'Crude' documents plight
of Ecuadorian oil victims

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger was shocked when he traveled to the rainforest of Ecuador and saw the native Cofan native peoples eating canned tuna. "Here we were, in what is supposed to be paradise, in one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, and people who have lived off the water for years can no longer sustain themselves because the fish are dead!"

With that, Berlinger had the subject for his latest documentary film, "Crude." It's the story of an on-going lawsuit filed by 30,000 indigenous people against oil giant Texaco, who they say is responsible for dangerously polluting their land and water for more than three decades.

Berlinger and crew come on the scene 12 years into the litigation. The drama is set in motion by Pablo Fajardo, the charismatic 35-year-old lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "Here's someone who had a very impoverished childhood, worked in the oil fields as a young man, saw the devastation, environmental degradation, humiliation of the workers and the poor treatment of people around them," Berlinger says. "And, he just had a fire in his belly! There were seeds of drama there."

Fajardo is up against a Goliath of a multi-national corporation. Chevron had acquired Texaco in 2001. In a dramatic scene set in the former oil fields, Fajardo argues that Texaco — and its current owner — are responsible for dumping toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest. "More than a billion gallons of poisonous toxic water were dumped into marshes and rivers of this area," he says, adding, "what the people demand is the complete remediation of the area Texaco contaminated."

"Crude" follows the Ecuadoran natives to a 2007 Chevron shareholders meeting in San Francisco, joins Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa on a visit to the affected region, and records a heated debate between Fajardo and Chevron attorney Adolfo Callejas before a judge at a site where samples of toxic soil have just been collected. Fajardo says they are typical of what's buried everywhere.

"Today, dozens of men and women are suffering from cancer and dying because of this," Fajardo tells the judge, "although the defense doesn't want to recognize it as toxic and even though they claim that this doesn't kill people. Well, that is completely false, because it does!"

Callejas responds that it is impossible to date the sample and link it to Texaco, noting that an Ecuadorian company took over when Texaco left and that Texaco already paid for remediation in a settlement with the Ecuadorian government. "Your honor," he says, "these are false accusations, and it cannot be assumed that because Texaco built the station that they should be eternally liable for anything that goes wrong."

The film gives ample room for both sides to state their case. But for Berlinger the movie is about much more than the legal arguments. "For me it's the story of the plight of these indigenous people." "Ultimately," he says, "I wanted to make a film about what has befallen these people as a result of industrialization."

The case grabs the attention of Trudie Styler, wife of the rock star Sting and co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation, a group dedicated to helping native people in the Amazon. Following a trip to Ecuador, Ms. Styler promotes a clean water campaign with Pablo Fajardo at the 2007 Live Earth concert, a global environmental event broadcast from Giants Stadium in New York.

While the case drags on in court, the documentary debuted at the renowned Sundance Film Festival in early 2009. Since then, it has been shown at more than two dozen movie festivals in the United States and was released commercially in early September.

Berlinger says the most emotionally-charged screening was in Quito, Ecuador, where 1,300 people jammed into a 1,200-seat university auditorium. "The reaction was incredible and everyone involved with the case was there. Pablo was the last for me to bring up on stage, and it was like a hero's welcome."

And, it's there that Pablo Fajardo advised citizens to stay informed and to put pressure on Chevron and the Ecuadorian government to act responsibly. For its part, Chevron has accused the plaintiffs of trying to bribe Ecuadorian officials. The $27-billion lawsuit is far from being settled.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 179

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Unusual date was impetus
for Mexican hijack attempt

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials say a Bolivian man claiming to have received a divine revelation was behind Wednesday's brief hijacking of an AeroMexico commercial jet from the resort city of Cancun to Mexico City.

Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna says the 44-year-old man told police he is a pastor and that he hijacked the plane because Wednesday's date, 9-9-09, had meaning for him. Garcia Luna said the man told authorities he wanted to warn Mexican President Felipe Calderon of an impending earthquake.

As the incident ended, all 112 passengers and crew left the plane unharmed and police stormed the jet, taking away as many as eight men in handcuffs. Authorities later said there was only one hijacker.

Earlier reports said several hijackers had demanded to speak to President Calderon and threatened to blow up the jet unless they were allowed to talk to him. Police said they did not find explosives on board.

President Calderon was already at the airport, apparently on an unrelated trip. There was no indication he spoke with the suspect, who officials said was a drug addict and alcoholic who has lived in Mexico for 17 years.

One passenger was quoted as saying she did not know the flight had been hijacked until the plane landed in the Mexican capital.

A U.S. official initially said American, French and Mexican citizens were among those on board the flight. But the State Department later said in a statement it was attempting to obtain a list of passengers and that U.S. officials could not confirm whether Americans were aboard.

The State Department also said consular employees were en route to the airport in Mexico City to assist any U.S. passengers.

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