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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, Sept. 17, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 184              E-mail us
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New fiscal general will face multiple problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A commission of Corte Suprema magistrates has finished interviewing the 19 candidates for fiscal general. The group will consider what they have heard and make a nomination to the full court, perhaps as soon as the end of next week.

The job is that of the chief prosecutor for the nation, yet none of the self-selected candidates stand out as a top crime fighter.

The term is for four years, and the selection comes at a time when even President Laura Chinchilla expresses formal concern about the rising crime.

Although the chief prosecutor may not be involved in every judicial case, he or she will set the tone. Under the Costa Rican system the judiciary is responsible for investigating crimes, and the fiscal general will head the independent Ministerio Público where prosecutors work.

From the expat point of view, the job is daunting. So much has been left undone by the snail-like judicial system.

Many investors in the failed Savings Unlimited high interest operation are outraged that after two years the man who operated the scheme still walks free. They were jolted last week with the news that a second conciliation hearing would be put off until March. They feel that they and the judicial system are being played by the operator of Savings Unlimited, Luis Milanes.

But there are many other areas of crimes against expats that were not addressed by the previous fiscal general, Francisco Dall'Anese, who took a United Nations job in Guatemala. No progress has been made to orderly handle the many property theft and squatter cases. Each is being handled separately, usually in civil court, and perhaps not handled at all. Some cases would seem to be candidates for the new organized crime law.

The property theft crimes, usually with forged documents, have a high profile among U.S. expats because some of them have been victims or know victims. However, the number of Costa Rican victims far outnumbers the expats. And many Costa Ricans do not have the resources to wage a long legal battle. Their cases usually go unresolved.

Although there have been several well-publicized arrests of lawyers, notaries and others on allegations of faking property documents, none has yet resulted in a recent public trial much less a conviction. The ease with which a crooked notary can steal property with the stroke of a pen is a barrier to real estate transactions here.

A spokesman for one group of Savings Unlimited investors also said he believes the lengthy delays in the judicial process also affect foreign investment. The case has its third prosecutor and its third judge now.

"Investors have to be warned and anyone else who comes to this country that they are not going to be treated fairly in the courts," the spokesman said. Milanes has pleaded poverty, and has offered real estate to compensate his investors at a very small percentage on the dollar. But he also is the operator of a string of profitable casinos, and the judiciary has made no effort to even assess the income of these businesses.

Appraisals of the properties offered in exchange for prosecution by Milanes are between $7 and $8 million, according to the spokesman who is quoting information from lawyers involved in the case. Savings Unlimited investors lost $200 million when the high-interest business folded in November 2002. Milanes was on the run for years until he struck a deal with Dall'Anese and returned to Costa Rica. He is a Cuban-American.

There also are a string of killings and disappeared tourists and expats that the new fiscal must face.

But for all the concerns in the expat community, the new chief prosecutor will have a much bigger job with Costa Rican society in general. The
fiscal

country as been known for years as part of the drug trafficking highway. Ms. Chinchilla said Tuesday and Wednesday that the government is at the point of losing measures of control over sovereignty, territorial spaces and the integrity of its institutions. "The country is in grave danger," she said, adding that the country's schools, parks, avenues have been converted into lines of fire among those who battle for the control of drugs.

As some expats have pointed out in letters Ms. Chinchilla came up short on solutions. Her stated plan is to tax casinos and corporations to generate money for security, including more police. Some expats have pointed out that she ran on a citizen security campaign and that she has been a security minister, a vice president and a justice minister with control, among other things, of the prisons.

So for the next three and a half years, the new fiscal general probably will have to deal with an indecisive executive branch.

The Asamblea Legislativa also has not blazed a trail to confront crime. The last session passed measures to protect victims, to elevate major cases to organized crime status. And Dall'Anese was anxious for what he called a police platform, a computer system linking all officers and agencies.

The Sala IV just ruled that police could not stop motorists and conduct random searches without probable cause. So the new fiscal probably will have to handle a flood of cases where convicts seek to be released because they were convicted on evidence gained in what is now an illegal search.

Then there is the issue of official corruption. There are pending cases against many Fuerza Pública officers and traffic officers. But the ones that will get top-level attention are those against former president Óscar Arias Sánchez. He has been accused, mostly by Dall'Anese, of issuing an illegal directive involving the Las Crucitas open pit gold mine. There are other allegations against him and some of his ministers, mostly by political enemies.

And the fiscal general also will oversee the appeal by former president Rafael Calderón Fournier and the possible appeal by former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, if he is convicted of taking a bribe on a cell telephone contract. That last case is now in the late stages of a trial.

Magistrates may be seeking more of an administrator than a crime fighter. Dall'Anese evoked strong feelings among those who worked in his agency. His late-night partying caused a team of bodyguards to quit. He ruffled feathers by his autocratic style.

And for eight years, the judiciary and investigators have been unable to turn up the trail of fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, another high-interest operator. It may be that judicial officials are not anxious for another lengthy trial of the type that convicted the brother of Villalobos of aggravated fraud. The collapse of  the enterprise, also in 2002, affected more than 6,000 clients, mostly expats and U.S. citizens.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 184

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Interamerican work
Loren B. Ford photo
Workmen place another one-meter section of concrete pipe into the gap under the Interamericana.

Interamericana Norte closed
while overflow pipe installed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic was halted on the Interamericana Norte again Thursday as contractors installed concrete sections that replace corrugated pipe that washed out Sept.8.

Resident Loren B. Ford reported that the temporary one-lane bailey bridge was opened to foot traffic Tuesday to allow runners carrying the Antorcha de la Libertad to pass. The route was opened to light traffic that afternoon and all Wednesday, he said.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that contractors were replacing the damaged pipe with 30 one-meter concrete sections, including 10 right under the highway. The sections under the bridge are the first to be installed. MACAO Constructores is doing the job.

When the job is finished, the highway will again be two lanes, the Consejo said.

Ford said he was told the bridge would be closed again today so the work can continue. The Consejo said that the work under the bridge required that the temporary span be moved, which is why the route was closed. Once the concrete sections are in, fill will be placed over them and compacted so the roadway can be restored. The job is estimated at 40 million colons or about $80,000.

The route was reopened at 4:45 p.m. Thursday after the work was finished for the day, Ford said. The Consejo had estimated 5 p.m.

The washed out culvert carried overflow during periods of high flow of the stream seen in the background of his photo, a tributary of the Río Barranca that flows through the center of Río Jesús, he said. The stream passes under the highway in an undamaged culvert.

Newspaper supports legal
marijuana and maybe coke


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tico Times, the weekly newspaper published in English, urged in an editorial today that Costa Rica legalize and regulate the sale of narcotics. Said the editorial:

"Rather than working to turn the country into a police state, which would clash violently with the nation's history and values, and which long experience throughout the hemisphere has shown won't work, the government of Laura Chinchilla should have the courage to lead in developing a peaceful, more effective alternative to the failed and bloody war on drugs."

The newspaper called for the immediate legalization of marijuana and a study of the best alternatives for legalizing and regulating the use of other narcotics, such as cocaine.

The newspaper said in both its online edition and printed pages that such a move would give farmers an immediate lucrative cash crop and that the government would have access to a formidable source of funds. It also said that legalization would be a blow to organized crime.

Surprise: Costa Rica listed
as major drug transit nation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States listed Costa Rica as a top drug transit country, and the announcement of the obvious sent Casa Presidencial into a tizzy.

President Laura Chinchilla called a quick press conference. So did U.S. Ambassador Anne Andrew. The designation is not a criticism of the country, only a statement of the geography, the ambassador said.

For some reason this is the first time that Costa Rica was included on the list, despite tons and tons of cocaine and other drugs being confiscated here. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard operations in the Pacific frequently drive drug smugglers ashore, too.

Casa Presidencial said that the Chinchilla administration has been recognized by the United States for having confronted the dangers against citizen security a priority.

Mauricio Boraschi, a vice minister and head of the nation's anti-drug effort, quickly listed a number of measures the administration has taken. They included creating the anti-drug commission, authorizing a study and donating 3.4 billion colons to the Poder Judicial for the development of the so-called police platform, a computer system that is to link officers and police agencies. Anti-drug money also went to develop the Centro Nacional de Intervención de las Comunicaciones, which will eavesdrop on communications, he said.

He said that there is a system of inspection and control of shipment containers at both ports.

Government officials here hope that the designation leads to more U.S. money to fight trafficking.

City cleanup brings out 200

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 200 volunteers spent Thursday cleaning up Avenida Central, Barrio Amón, Barrio Tournón, Paseo Colón and Sabana. The groups included the Asociación Terra Nostra, 20 members of the Policía Turistica and representatives from private industry. The effort is part of II Jornada Nacional de Limpieza 2010.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 184

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A guest editorial
Even when parents are U.S. citizens, process is complex

By Becky Clower*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As a U.S. citizen, a child born abroad usually has the right to be eligible for U.S. citizenship as well. Since my children were both born in Costa Rica of U.S. citizen parents, they were both granted Costa Rican and U.S. citizenship.  They each have their U.S. and Costa Rican passports. When we fly to the U.S., we have to use their U.S. passports since using their Costa Rican passports would require a visa.

Since our children are Costa Rican citizens, they must get a stamp in the back of the their passport that gives one or both parents permission to travel with the children outside of the country. I think this is a great idea, and I believe the logic behind it is to avoid child trafficking and kidnapping, among other unfortunate things.

The process of getting a U.S. passport for a child born to U.S. parents in Costa Rica has become increasingly complicated.   I have to say I was shocked to see how much the requirements have changed in just two short years. (Our older son is 2.5 years old). We applied for our younger son’s (6 months) passport and report of birth abroad last month. I filled out the documentation online, printed up all the necessary documents and sent everything DHL to the U.S. Embassy. We were then sent an e-mail stating that our application was received and were given an appointment time where we would have to show up with our son and us — the parents. We were also instructed at that time, which, if any, documents were lacking or requested.

In this case, the U.S. Embassy required me to bring in pregnancy photos as well as medical records/immunizations for our son. (Apparently the certified birth certificate and letter from my OB/GYN was not enough?). This is, of course, in addition to the three forms you must fill out (passport application, report of birth abroad and parentage affidavit). We also had to provide two passport size photos of our son, our marriage certificate, tax returns or college transcripts (to prove prior residence in the U.S.A.), our new and old passports and, the BEST part of all, is they wanted my husband (who is also a U.S. citizen) to list his last 10 years of travel in and out of Costa Rica. This was a new requirement as well, as we never had to do that with our older son.

I asked the woman why they would make it so complicated for a couple who are both permanent residents of Costa Rica, are U.S. citizens and had a son in the country already. Not to mention my side of the family is all from here. Her response was that the U.S.
Mrs. Clower
Ms. Clower and her youngest

government doesn't assume anything.

The appointment (which was given to us one week after the application was received) lasted about 30 minutes, and we waited about 20 minutes. Not too bad.  The rates have also gone up. I spent around $200 to get all of this done. Two years ago it was about 30 percent less. They also did not give me the option to send the passport via DHL to Liberia this time. They said they did not recommend it for security reasons (but if you are a Costa Rican who is getting a visa to travel to the USA, DHL is your only option). Doesn't make sense. Not that much does when the government is involved. So, we must now take another four-hour trip back to San Jose to pick up the passport in person.

Once you are approved for the passport, it is about a one week processing time.

If you have a child here, know that you must have your documents all together or it will delay things and NOTHING is a for sure thing. Even when both parents are American.

*Ms. Clower lives in Playa Conchal in Guanacaste. Both she and her husbnd are native-born U.S. citizens who now have permanent residency here.



In search of the lucious, sweet and inexpensive grapefruit
 I felt a small leap of joy at the feria last Saturday.  From 15 feet away I saw on the ground, in front of a fruit stand, a box full of grapefruit.  Even from 15 feet, even though they were small and obviously not quite ripe, I knew they were grapefruit. I felt like that dog in the commercial that jumps up and down yelling “Bacon! Bacon! I love bacon!!”

Even the sight of grapefruit makes my mouth water. 

In a country where every possible tropical fruit is available, my favorite is grapefruit.  There are grapefruit trees, but not being a popular fruit among the population, except when candied, many are allowed to rot on the ground.  The same seems to be true of lemons. Of course, I love lemons, too. Friends with access to lemon trees bring me some when they are in season. 

A few years ago both fruits began to appear sporadically at the feria. My friend Jerry told me that he had bought grapefruit in the AutoMercado and they were delicious.  I bought them there once, but they were expensive and not that good, so I didn’t buy them again.  Even at the feria the price has gone up a bit.

Grapefruit are not the only food that is getting expensive. A comparison between supermarkets in Canada and the local AutoMercado shows prices remarkably similar for many products — not more than 20 Canadian cents difference between items like chicken breasts and potatoes.  Feta cheese, cereals and other imported products are much more expensive in Costa Rica. 

It does make a difference when produce is in season.  And right now everything seems to be between harvests.  At least I hope that is the explanation for the higher prices.  However, in the interest of saving money, I am sharing a recipe that was taught to me by a Chinese student who was one of my resident assistants when I worked at San Jose State University.  It became a favorite when my RAs and I shared dinner in my apartment. 

Tuna Tofu ala Gordon  (serves 4-5)

1 block tofu             ½ tsp salt
2 cans tuna               1 tsp. sugar
4 eggs                      1 tbs. soy sauce
1 medium carrot grated    
4 or 5 Boquitos (like Ritz crackers) crushed
½ small onion chopped        oil for frying
(you can spice this up with a mashed garlic clove or hot sauce.)
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart


Squeeze the water from the tofu block and mash the tofu.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Heat oil in frying pan and drop mixture by tablespoonfuls and flatten with spatula.  Cook 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until golden.  Mixture lasts several days in fridge.  Recipe can easily be halved to serve two.

Grapefruit has no place in this recipe, but, finding the grapefruit too sour even for me, I squeezed them and made myself a cocktail with the juice before my dinner. 

I finished my frugal beginning to the week by going to lunch with two friends.  They had wanted to try Arte y Gusto café in Barrio Amón.  I had eaten there once and been so impressed that I wrote about it afterwards.  I was worried that things had changed. They often do in Costa Rica, especially when it comes to restaurants. 

Bertrand, the waiter whom I had met the first time, was on vacation abroad.  Gerald, who had been behind the bar, was managing all of the tables.  We ordered a salad to share. Warren had the spicy chicken and Grady chose the fish en papillote.  I had another entrada containing lots of beets. 

Once again, the presentation of every dish was a work of art and the flavors of the food unique. There were such a variety of ingredients in each!  No grapefruit, but there were fresh peaches.

By the end of the meal I was kidding Gerald about his waiter’s garb (calf-length cargo pants, T-shirt with an open shirt over it.) He explained that in southern France waiters no longer wore the formal black tie outfits that tend to intimidate diners.  His informal dress put people at ease and feeling friendly.  It worked for me.  I have never commented to a waiter on his attire before.

Both of my friends said this was one place they would certainly return to.  Unfortunately, they will have to wait until Oct. 1.  Gerald and his wife, Patricia, the amazing chef, are going on vacation to southern France Monday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 184

Escazú Christian Fellowship
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Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church


La  Niña appears to be coming on strong in the Pacific

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The tropical Pacific Ocean has changed from last winter's El Niño conditions to a cool La Niña, as shown by new data about sea surface heights, collected by the U.S-French Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite.

La Niña ocean conditions often follow an El Niño episode and are essentially the opposite of El Niño conditions. During a La Niña episode, trade winds are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central equatorial Pacific.

La Niña episodes change global weather patterns and are associated with less moisture in the air over cooler ocean waters, resulting in less rain along the coasts of North and South America and the equator, and more rain in the far Western Pacific.

"This La Niña has strengthened for the past four months, is strong now and is still building," said Climatologist Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "It will surely impact this coming winter's weather and climate." The lab is an agency of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"After more than a decade of mostly dry years on the Colorado River watershed and in the American Southwest, and only one normal rain year in the past five years in Southern California, water supplies are dangerously low," Patzert added. "This La Niña could deepen the drought in the already parched Southwest and could also worsen conditions that have fueled Southern California's recent deadly wildfires."
La Niña
NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team
La Niña continues to strengthen in the Pacific Ocean, as shown in the latest satellite data of sea surface heights from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 satellite. The image is based on the average of 10 days of data centered on Sept. 3. Higher (warmer) than normal sea surface heights are indicated by yellows and reds, while lower (cooler) than normal sea surface heights are depicted in blues and purples. Green indicates near-normal conditions.


NASA will continue to track this change.

The comings and goings of El Niño and La Niña are part of a long-term, evolving state of global climate, for which measurements of sea surface height are a key indicator.



Slob returns to help
in anti-litter campaign

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism institute is reviving the 30-year-old figure of Jacinto Basurilla in a 200 million-colon campaign against litter.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo created Jacinto 30 years ago and said that recent studies show that much of the population remembered him.

The institute will spend the money, about $400,000, in television, radio and newspaper advertising as well as production of educational material and posted on social nets, it said.

All Costa Ricans as well as the tourists who visit the country want a cleaner country, the institute said. The campaign will run through December, the institute said.

Jacinto is a slob, as the last name implies. He carries various articles of trash that he may discard incorrectly.

The institute has put up a Web site and social network pages. The campaign is expected to be carried out with other agencies and community groups.

Costa Rica has a lot of problems with trash, and public litter is only part of the problem. In some urban areas, addicts and others prowl the streets and tear apart garbage to find cans and anything else of value. Any dumpsters would quickly vanish into some recycling yard.
trashman
Instituto Costarricense Tursmo photo
Jacinto Basurilla


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 184

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Embargo is now tighter,
Cuba says of U.S. trade


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba says the U.S. trade embargo against the island has toughened under President Barack Obama.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said Wednesday that enforcement of the 48-year embargo, which Havana calls a "blockade," has become stricter in some areas. He said since Obama took office, the United States has levied larger fines and applied sanctions more vigorously.

Rodríguez said the embargo has cost the island $751 billion and Obama has not lived up to expectations for U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Last year, President Obama called for a new beginning in relations with Cuba and eased restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to family in Cuba.  However, he left the trade embargo in place, saying it is up to Cuba to take the next step.

The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations.  They have interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other's capitals.


Cartel concerns dampen
México's celebrations


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has begun elaborate celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the start of its independence from Spain.

Wednesday, thousands of people gathered in Mexico City to watch a parade, fireworks and light show.

Later in the evening, Mexican President Felipe Calderón gave the famous cry of the call to arms, known as "El Grito" or "The Shout" in Mexico City. "Viva, México," he said as he waved a national flag from the balcony of the national palace.

The celebration re-enacts the 1810 call for independence by Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, which began Mexico's long struggle for independence from Spain.

Security for the celebrations is tight because of concerns over drug-related violence.  Those concerns have prompted some municipalities in Mexico to call off celebrations because of fears that drug cartels might try to disrupt the events.

More than 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Calderón took office in late 2006 and began a crackdown on the cartels.


Three teams produce car
getting 100 miles per gallon

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Three teams won a combined $10 million prize Thursday in the U.S. competition to build a new generation of super fuel efficient cars. The winners all exceeded 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent.  The cars were unveiled to the public at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. 

"The goal is to have a very affordable, very economical to operate, but still a very dependable vehicle, said Ron Cerven, who built one of the cars with his Li-ion Motors team. 

It is one of a 136 vehicles from around the world that competed for the $10 million prize.  The objective: design a car that is fuel efficient, safe, environmentally friendly and affordable.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 184


Latin American news
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quake location
Graphic via the Observatorio
Vulcanológico y Sismológico
Marker shows location of quake

Tip of Nicoya peninsula
gets brunt of offshore quake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least 60 quakes and aftershocks rattled the southern Nicoya peninsula Thursday. Some were felt in the Central Valley.

The location was estimated at a point just offshore in the same area where a more severe 1990 quake took place.

The magnitudes ranged from 5.3 at 9:27 a.m. and 4.6 at 10:34 p.m. to strength that could be detected only by instruments, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica.

Montezuma and the rest of the beachfronts in the southern tip of the peninsula felt the shock the hardest. Some homes in Cóbano, the regional center, suffered damage. One grocer said goods fell from his shelves.

Local television stations mobilized their helicopter units because scientists predict another major quake in the Nicoya area.

U.S. Senate OKs export bill,
giving a boost to Obama


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Senate has approved a bill aimed at helping the country's small businesses, giving President Barack Obama a political victory in his effort to revive the country's economy.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday with the help of two key votes from opposition Republicans.  It now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is expected to pass the bill and send it to the president to become law.

President Obama says U.S. exports had a bigger-than-expected increase during the past year, which he says will help fight unemployment.

"Obviously working off a low baseline, given the crisis last year, exports are expected to be up, but we are very pleased to see that they are up 18 percent, to where they were a year ago," Obama said. "And manufacturing exports are up 20 percent, and that is helping put a lot of our people back to work."

The U.S. unemployment rate remains mired at 9.6 percent, which has depressed Obama's public approval ratings and hampered candidates from his Democratic Party.

The president says one way out of the recession is to sell more American goods and services in other countries.

"The more American companies export, the more they produce," the president said. "And the more they produce, the more people they hire. And that means more jobs - good jobs that often pay as much as 15 percent more than average." Obama spoke Thursday at a meeting of his recently formed export council.

Earlier this year, President Obama called for the United States to double its exports within five years. He says that goal can be met.





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