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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 185       E-mail us
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Sala IV gives protection to a tree that parrots love
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's high court has prohibited the cutting of a certain species of tree, in part because a highly endangered type of parrot uses the tree almost exclusively for nesting.

With one decision, the Sala IV constitutional court protected the mountain almond tree and the great green macaw, specifically in a sprawling area in northern Costa Rica. However, the court also ordered the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía to spread the word to all its regional officials, thus protecting the tree throughout the country.

The Sala IV also ordered the environmental courts to monitor compliance with the decision.

The tree is known in Spanish as the almendro amarillo, and it has the Latin name of Dipteryx panamensis. It is a slow-growing, towering tree that has wood so dense it only recently has become subject to lumbering. The wood resists termites, too.

The court decision annulled an order issued in February 2007 by the director of the Área de Conservación Arenal Huetar Norte that would allow harvesting of the tree.

The great green macaw is far more endangered than the almond trees. The Rainforest Biodiversity Group, which used to be called Friends of the Great Green Macaw, reports that only about 50 nests of the bird were found in a census and that some of the nests had not been occupied.

The group estimates on its Web site that only about 200 of the birds remain in Costa Rica, about 10 percent of the original population remains.

The bird is called  lapa verde in Spanish and has the Latin name of Ara ambigua.

The birds have a real advantage with the towering almond trees. The seeds or nuts provide food for the birds and other forest creatures.

Cavities in the tree collect water that the birds drink as well as supply safe locations for nesting.

The objection to lumbering was brought to the Sala IV by a man identified in the decision  summary by the last names of Carmiol Ulloa. He
great green macaw
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
The great green macaw

 was doing so on behalf of the Asociación Red Costarricense de Reservas Naturales.

The Arenal Huetar Norte conservation area is some 4,220 square kilometers (1,629 square miles) that runs north from Zarcero to the border with Nicaragua. The area extends to a point west of Upala and shares a border with the Área de Conservación Tortuguero on the east.

The reserve network organization that brought the case is an association of some 110 private reserves.

The almendro tree was not commercially viable until the introduction of special carbon steel blades about 25 years ago due to the density of the wood. Some trees may be 50 meters, nearly 164 feet, tall.

Protection of the trees and the birds have long been a goal of many environmental organizations, and a few years ago at one Texas university a concert was held to raise money to protect the trees and the bird habitat.


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drug boat file photo
U.S. Southern Command file photo
This is the type of craft caught off Guatemala

Navy and Coast Guard
stop another submersible

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Navy and coast guardsmen caught another semi-submersible drug vessel Saturday night some 350 miles off the coast of Guatemala. Captured were four suspected narcotics smugglers from Colombia and cargo of suspected cocaine, said the U.S. Southern Command.

The navy ship involved, the USS McInerney, happens to be scheduled for shore leave in Costa Rica, and the drug boat will end up today at dock in Caldera, The security ministry here said that the 15 officers and 185 crewmen of the boat have Asamblea Legislativa permission for their stay here through Sept. 30.

The captured boat eventually will be transported by the United States to the Caribbean and then elsewhere. The actual capture was made by a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment on the boat, which is part of the new U.S. Fourth Fleet.

Southern Command officials estimate the cost of a semi-submersible at about $2 million. The newer versions, fabricated by Colombian drug smugglers, can travel 2,500 miles without stopping for fuel.

They are said to be hard to detect because they travel with just a foot to 18 inches of hull out of the water. The Southern Command said the latest capture contained seven tons of cocaine valued at $187 million.

Costa Rican law enforcement officials will get to inspect the 59-foot craft when it arrives.

The Southern Command said that such a boat is dangerous to capture since it is designed with valves that smugglers can use to quickly flood and sink the vessel, posing a risk to boarding teams attempting to capture it. The command estimated that about 30 percent of the cocaine that is trafficked through the Pacific travels in such boats. This is at least the 20th such craft caught by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

The U.S. Southern Command commander has a different take on the semi-submersible crafts:  “What worries me is if you can move that much cocaine, what else can you put in that semi-submersible.  Can you put a weapon of mass destruction in it?” said Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis in a press release.

Two held as window-breakers
who attacked women drivers


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained two boys, a 15-year-old and 19-year-old, who investigators suspect broke though a car window and stole a women's purse as she waited at a stop light, said a judicial spokeswoman Tuesday.

A number of robberies of this kind have happened recently, said the judicial spokeswoman. This case happened in Hatillo at a crossing on the Circunbalación four-lane highway, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization. Investigators have not confirmed if the two suspects are believed to be involved in other cases but said they are not being ruled out, according to a judicial release.

The 19-year-old arrested has the last names Rojas Villalobos, spokespeople did not give the name of the 15-year-old. Fuerza Pública and municipal officers also participated in the arrest Tuesday morning, according to the judicial press release.

U.S. launches ad campaign
to education credit users


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now for some dark humor:

Amid the financial chaos in the United States, the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled a new multi-media campaign Tuesday aimed at combating financial illiteracy among young adults. The ad campaign, featuring an interactive online game and radio and television spots, warns its audience, "Don't let your credit put you in a bad place," according to a news release.

"Consumers can face serious problems when they make uninformed choices about borrowing," said Dan Iannicola, deputy assistant secretary for financial education. "The goal of this campaign is to equip Americans with the knowledge to take advantage of the positive aspects of credit, while avoiding its pitfalls."

As the officials were speaking thousands of Americans faced the loss of their homes and jobs due to years of over-reliance on credit.

Girl survives long fall

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A troubled 16-year-old girl threw herself off a bridge over the Río Tiribi Tuesday and plunged an estimated 90 meters, some 295 feet. But she did not die.

The bridge on highway 32 is not far from the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa and is well known to motorists.

The girl appears to have landed in trees that broke her fall. She was lifted to the bridge in a stretcher by the Cruz Roja while her mother and sister watched.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 185


Troubled young man traveled a long way for his suicide
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The investigation is over in the mysterious death of a U.S. tourist. But family members still have a lot of unanswered questions, said the victim's father Monday. 

The body of the victim, Jeremy Hall was found in Guápiles hanging from a noose on a tree. The strange part about the death was that Hall's hands were tied behind his back with a rope, said investigators.

Hall, 27, was a Cub Scout and baseball player when he was young, said his father Ron Hall. The elder Hall said looking back on his son's younger years it was hard to believe he may have committed suicide. In high school Jeremy Hall began to get into trouble with drugs and the law, said his father. But recently things seemed to be improving for Jeremy, said his father.

Nearly five years ago Jeremy drove from his home state of Ohio to Colorado without telling his family, said Ron. While there he robbed a restaurant with a fake gun and was sentenced to five years in prison. Jeremy served three years and 10 months in Colorado and was released on probation for good behavior. Back in Ohio, Jeremy seemed to be getting his life back together, said the father. He enrolled in community college and was working full time at a scrap yard, said Ron Hall, adding that his son even aced quite a few tests. The elder Hall described his son as very intelligent and said he wanted to study architecture.

Then one day Jeremy broke his parole and left Ohio to visit Tennessee, said his father. His parole was almost over, said Ron. No one would have found out about his road trip but on his way back home Jeremy had a car accident in Kentucky, said his father. The authorities were notified, and Jeremy had to go to receive medical treatment for crash injuries.

The 27-year-old had been back in Ohio for about a week when he got a call from his parole officer saying they needed to talk. The officer said he wasn't in too much trouble, that he just needed to call, said Ron. On top of that, his medical bills from the accident were piling up, said the father. But Jeremy's insurance would have covered most of it, said Ron Hall.  Jeremy was using a cane and hadn't worked for the last couple of weeks, said the father. “Maybe it overwhelmed him,” said Ron Hall, reflecting on the final events of his son's life.

Jeremy's siblings are putting together a collection of photos for the memorial service in Ohio, said the father. Jeremy was the oldest. “It's hard to decipher what happened and to see Jeremy in the earlier years compared to the later years,” said the father.

The father had dinner with Jeremy July 13, he said. His son seemed to be in good spirits. The last time the father saw his son was the following day, July 14, he said. The change in his son's attitude seemed to be from day to night, said the father, who explained that he was driving home from work and saw his son walking slowly down the sidewalk with his cane.

The father said he asked his son if he needed a lift but Jeremy said, “No I'm just going to get some smokes.”  The son showed no emotion and had a depressed attitude about him, said the father. Jeremy asked his dad for some money, and the father said he declined to give him any. “I didn't know that was the last time I'd see him,” said Ron Hall. “I saw him in the mirror of my vehicle as I drove away.”

Jeremy's body was found exactly one month after that last meeting: Aug. 14 in Guápiles, Pococí.
Jeremy Hall
Jeremy Hall in a photo provided by the family.

The regional director of the Judicial Investigation Organization in Guápiles said Tuesday that investigators are convinced the death was a suicide. “We don't have any doubt. If we did we'd continue working,” said the regional director, Carlos Thomas. Thomas said he had spoken with Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigation Organization about the case.

Rojas, judicial director for the entire country, was the one who originally brought up doubts in the case at a press conference. After another mysterious hanging death in the area, Rojas said Jeremy's case was being reevaluated as a possible homicide. After further investigation however both cases were ruled as suicides, said Thomas.

Jeremy's body was released from the morgue Tuesday, said a spokeswoman there. The family plans to have the body cremated and have the services in Swanton, Ohio, said Ron.

Thomas, said investigators believe Jeremy was traveling alone in Costa Rica. His father said that was not unusual for Jeremy but that Costa Rica was the furthest he believed Jeremy had ever gone. It was probably the first time Jeremy had ever been on an airplane, said his father. 

Jeremy lived by himself in an apartment in Swanton, Ohio, the same town as his father. When Jeremy disappeared and his mail started piling up, his father said he became worried. He said he eventually opened his son's credit card statement and saw that he had purchased a ticket for Costa Rica Sept. 9.

Investigators believe the case was a suicide because they found the store in Limón where they believe Jeremy bought the rope and because he had 700,000 colons (about $1,400) in his bag when his body was found, said Thomas.

The regional director added that the area where the body was found was known for crack.

He said it was likely that Jeremy could have been on drugs at the time of death but did not confirm it with evidence or autopsy results. A representatives at the morgue said she could not release results from the exam Tuesday evening.

Thomas did not explain why the victim's hands were tied behind his back.

Investigators only talked to one person who had spoken with Jeremy during his month in Costa Rica, said Thomas. The woman, from San José said the two had spoken briefly, said Thomas.
 
Jeremy leaves two brothers and a sister, many cousins, a mother and father, and three surviving grandparents.


Postal service and ICE will work toward mapping addresses
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The postal service and the electric company have pledged their cooperation as Costa Rica tries once again to bring some kind of numerical order to the uniquely Tico addresses.

Officials of both the Correos de Costa Rica and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad signed an agreement Sunday during a government cabinet meeting in Cartago where the country's independence was being celebrated.

The plan is called the Sistema Nacional de Direcciones, and it has been languishing. Many urban properties already have street numbers, but frequently even the occupants do not know what the numbers are.  The country relies on landmarks and locations based on compass directions and distance in meters.
Many taxi drivers in San José do not really know the numerical designations of the calles or avenidas and look blankly when someone says "Avenida Diez y Calle Seis."

The interest in the numbering system by the postal service is obvious. And the electric and phone company that is known as ICE wants to be assured that its bills and receipts will be delivered.

At the heart of the agreement is that the national utility company will share its data base with the postal service. One necessity for electrical or telephone service is to present a current utility bill, so ICE has a good idea where all the customers live.

Part of the agreement is confidentiality in that the parties agree not to disclose information on individuals except to those involved in the addressing scheme.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 185


Bolivian troops arrest opposition governor for genocide
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian troops have arrested an opposition governor accused of leading attacks that killed at least 15 government supporters. The unrest in Bolivia has prompted U.S. officials to withdraw aid workers from the country.

Bolivian military officials say Gov. Leopoldo Fernández was taken into custody without incident and placed on an airplane for La Paz. The nation's top prosecutor says he plans to charge Fernández and other opposition leaders with genocide for allegedly organizing the attack that killed at least 15 people last week. Scores of others have been reported missing in the rural area along the Brazilian border.

President Evo Morales declared martial law in Pando province and deployed troops to the region following a series of violent clashes. Opposition members seized government buildings in Pando and three other provinces to protest a constitutional reform plan.

Morales says the federal intervention in Pando is aimed at restoring order to the area. He called the governor's arrest
 legal under the constitution, and said the armed forces are completing their duties in the region.

Meanwhile, the president met with other opposition leaders in an effort to resolve the dispute over his plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution.

In response to the latest unrest in eastern Bolivia, the United States has withdrawn about 130 Peace Corps volunteers and placed them in Perú. Officials say U.S.-backed anti-drug efforts in rural Bolivia also have been interrupted. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says violent demonstrations have raised concerns about all U.S. staff in Bolivia.

"Any sort of harm that would come to any of our personnel would imperil the ability over the long term for us to have the kind of programs that we have there right now," he said. "So the common thread is security."

Last week, Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador, accusing him of siding with opposition leaders in the country. In response, U.S. officials ordered Bolivia's ambassador in Washington to leave the country.


Criminal court upholds public defender's murder sentence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III high criminal court Tuesday upheld the 35-year, 3-month sentence handed down on a former public defender who was convicted of murder. The high court rejected all the arguments presented by the defense of the convicted man, Luis Fernando Burgos. He was convicted Sept. 25, 2007, in the murder of his wife, Mauren Hidalgo Mora, also an employee of the judicial branch.

The court did accept one appeal from prosecutors and asked the trial court to reexamine the award of conditional  freedom for a second trial figure. She is Zulay Rojas Sánchez, a fired prosecutor, who was convicted of failing to tell authorities that Burgos confessed the murder to her. She is an ex-girlfriend, and the trial shed light on the romantic activities of the workers in the court system.

The woman was sentenced to two years but given conditional freedom and did not have to serve time.
The dead woman was found July 16, 2006, in a ditch on a road near Atenas. Burgos had said she was missing for several days.

There was no clear evidence of the guilt of Burgos, but the three-judge panel spoke at length of the supposed domestic violence to which Burgos subjected his wife of a year. The judges also accepted the testimony of other persons who said Burgos asked them to help him get rid of the body.

In a dramatic moment during the trial, Ms. Rojas stood and confronted Burgos and told him that she knew he killed his wife. Evidence showed that the pair were in contact by telephone and e-mails after the death of the wife.

Ms. Rojas had gone to a hospital during part of the trial and told judges that she was afraid of her ex-boyfriend.

Burgos had reported his wife as missing and said she had gone out with a large amount of money to purchase a car. He blamed a gang of car thieves.


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Nicaraguan U.N. assembly president seeks stronger voices for smaller states
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The new president of the General Assembly Tuesday kicked off the 63rd session of the 192-member forum with a call to democratize the United Nations so that it can deal more effectively with the world’s most pressing problems and ensure that the voices of a few do not overwhelm the views of the majority of others.

The new president, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former foreign minister of Nicaragua, pledged in his opening address to the session to dedicate his year as president to representing


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the interests of “the dispossessed of the world” and fostering solidarity between peoples and member states.

“I am aware of the great expectations which the vast majority of the dispossessed inhabitants of our threatened planet have placed in the United Nations to bring them peace, security and to defend their right to life and to full development,” he said. “We must not fail them.”

D’Escoto told delegates that he had taken up the post “at this difficult time for humanity,” citing a series of deep problems, including widespread hunger and poverty, the impact of climate change and unequal access to water.

“The central and overarching objective of this . . .  will be to democratize our United Nations. In so doing we will ensure that the United Nations maintains its place as the world’s most important and indispensable organization for achieving the levels of peace and security that our peoples are so rightly demanding of us.”

D’Escoto noted he would try to transform what he labelled “the prevailing exclusionary logic of selfishness” in the world, saying it had crippled the ability of the General Assembly to fulfil its mandate.

“The state of our world today is deplorable, inexcusable and, therefore, shameful. What Tolstoy denounced as ‘mad selfishness’ explains why, as trillions of dollars are spent on wars of aggression, more than half the world’s people languish in hunger and destitution. Our priorities, sisters and brothers, could hardly be more confused.”

The president said Assembly members would focus during this session on examining the root causes of major problems, such as the current crisis caused by soaring prices of many basic foods, and its effect on hunger and poverty.

He also said a high-level dialogue will be held during the next year on the subject of democratizing the UN. The event will be split into three sessions that consider the Bretton Woods and other international finance institutions, the role of the General Assembly, and the size and format of the Security Council.

Reform of the 15-member council was among the most urgent challenges facing the U.N., he noted.

“It is a sad but undeniable fact that serious breaches of the peace and threats to international peace and security are being perpetrated by some members of the Security Council that seem unable to break what appears like an addiction to war.

“In the case of some of those members, the veto privilege seems to have gone to their heads and has confused them to the point of making them think they are entitled to do as they please without consequence.”

The resolutions of the General Assembly should also become binding, warning that all too often the resolutions are ignored by member states.

He added that climate change, access to water, terrorism and human rights, nuclear control and disarmament and human trafficking are among the other priority themes during the 63rd session.

Later, in response to questions from journalists, he said he hoped to reach the heart of people and show them the value of love and solidarity and the dangers to the human species and the natural world.

“We must . . . do away with dreams and hopes about planetary domination. All imperial dreams and behaviour are totally against the spirit and the letter of our charter and certainly are going to lead us to our extinction.”


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