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(506) 2223-1327                      Published Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 189                          Email us
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U.S. House acts to counter Iranian Latin influence
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U. S. House of Representatives has passed unanimously a resolution demanding that the U.S. government thwart Iran's attempts to establish relationships with countries in the Western Hemisphere.

The bill addresses concerns that Iran is cozying up to Latin American countries so that its affiliated terrorist cells, like Hezbollah and Quds Force, can infiltrate those nations and threaten U.S. interests as well as the United States itself. The vote was Wednesday.

These organizations have also used illegal narcotics trafficking to generate funds, according to the bill, which cited an attempt connected to the Iranian Republican Guard Corp's Qods Force to hire a drug trafficker from Mexico to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in the United States.

In debate on the bill, members of Congress specifically called attention to recent events indicating that Iranian and Lebanese terrorists are in Central America, including Israeli media reports that one group has set up a training camp in Nicaragua.

“Iran has publicly stated that increasing their presence and ties to Latin America is one of their top foreign policy objectives,” said U.S. Rep. Jeffrey Duncan, who authored and introduced the bill. “We must be able to clearly identify this threat and develop strategies, strategies which include working with our neighbors here in this hemisphere to prevent Iran from being a danger to our country here at home.”

He is from South Carolina.

The bill calls on the U.S. Department of State to create a comprehensive report detailing the extent of Iran's involvement with countries in the Western Hemisphere, the strength of Iranian backed terrorist cells in the area, and a plan of how to address the threat.

The bill, “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” was brought up for approval at a tumultuous time in the United States' relationship with the Middle East and North Africa.

Last week, an anti-Islamic film made in the United States and posted to the Internet triggered anti-American protests across the Muslim world. Four U.S. consular employees, including the ambassador were killed in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

While debating the bill, U.S. lawmakers cited recent news regarding Hezbollah in Central
Hezbollah flag
Hezbollah flag

America. Hezbollah is a militant Lebanese political party that the U.S. Department of State considers a terrorist organization.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing the state of Florida, said that Mexican authorities Sept. 9 detained three suspected members of Hezbollah, one of whom was an American citizen. That was near Mérida in the Yucatan. She also cited Israeli media reports that Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua.

The government of Nicaragua has not confirmed these reports although President Daniel Ortega has established close relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat from New York, said that Hezbollah has 80 operatives in Latin America and is active in 15 American cities.

In the bill, numerous countries are named as having publicly expressed willingness to help Iran evade economic sanctions, including Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“We must be particularly vigilant towards the relationship between Iran and Venezuela given the opacity of the ties governing each country and the anti-American bombast of their leaders,” said Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York.

The bill said that Iran has 11 embassies and had funded 17 cultural centers in Latin America. Costa Rica does not have an Iranian consular office.

Duncan, a Republican, introduced the bill in January of this year and it accumulated 87 sponsors among the House of Representative's 435 members. It passed unanimously and will move on to the Senate.


Sala IV rejects proposal to help Caribbean residents
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 3 p.m. Friday
The Sala IV constitutional court has declared a proposed law to help coastal dwellers to be unconstitutional.

This is the proposal that would have frozen demolition of illegal construction in the country's martime zone. The measure was favored by President Laura Chinchilla.

The Poder Judicial said Friday afternoon that the vote of the magistrates earlier in the day was unanimous and that the constitutional problem goes to the heart of the measure. In the legislative process lawmakers can refer a proposal to the constitutional court before final passage for a review.

The court said that the proposal lacked a full
 scientific and technical study and that it would have a strong impact on the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo.

Ms. Chinchilla has proposed a two-year moratorium on demolitions of construction in the maritime zone while a long-term plan was worked out.  Under current law, the first 50 meters of the 200-meter zone should be public and free of construction. The remaining 150 meters is subject to concessions form the municipality.

Residents of the southern Caribbean coast are in structures that have been there for years but encroached technically  on the maritime zone. Two hotels already have been demolished there.

The decision also has implications for costal dwellers elsewhere.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 189
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Bill sent to full legislature
to tax payment of taxes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An initiative from the public would ban sports hunting in Costa Rica and also assess a small new tax.

The sweeping bill was under discussion Thursday at the Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente, and lawmakers finally passed it on approvingly to the full legislature.

The tax would be 1 percent of base salary, which now is 360,600 colons or about $709. So the tax would be about $7. It would be assessed on all vehicles when they renew their registration and also when a registration is issued the first time. It also would be assessed when a construction permit is issued and when a property owner pays taxes to a municipality. The money would go to a wildlife fund for actions required under the law.

The measure has been in the legislature since 2008 when some 177,000 persons signed petitions to create the law. Lawmakers must vote if they will accept it. There is a deadline to so a week away.

Costa Rica is not a big sports hunting location. Most of the hunting is by people in the countryside who eat the meat of the animal they kill. Subsistence hunting would be regulated but not banned under the law.

The law also seems to assert broad control over every living wild creature in the county, including the oceans.

The proposal also would require controls and monitoring of the wild population of animals and combine a lot of existing laws into one package.

What the committee approved Thursday was a substitute text that they said improved the scope of the proposal.


Sabana Sur intersection gets
more lights and facelift


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen were supposed to be on the job Thursday night finishing up the installation of traffic lights at a key city intersection.

This is the spot where the Caldera highway, the old road to Escazú, Avenida 10 and other routes converge, not to mention the railroad tracks. Traffic there has been a mess.

This is the intersection at the Gimnasio Nacional, the Universal bookstore and the McDonald's fast food restaurant in Sabana Sur.

Until now traffic from the direction of Escazú on highway 165, as the old road is called, had to merge with traffic going north in front of the fast food restaurant.

Today there are supposed to be traffic signals there to make the intersection easier to navigate. Traffic policemen also will be on duty to help motorists navigate the new system.

There is a traffic light there now for vehicles going east on the end of the Caldera highway.

 
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 189
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Violence against children called epidemic here and everywhere
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a growing epidemic of child violence in not just Costa Rica but the world, according to a panel of lawmakers and child care experts. The suggested solutions includes regulating pornography, television programs and toys that youngsters receive.

The panel came together Thursday at the Asamblea Legislativa to discuss the effects of violence against children.  Violence was described as physical, emotional or sexual. Also included was negligence and commercial exploitation.

According to the social work director at the Hospital Nacional de Niños, Ana Virginia Quesada Morales, infant deaths have quadrupled between 2009 and 2012. 

Rodolfo Hernández Gómez, Hospital director, said that child abuse is a problem of social health and is seen everyday.  He cited the biblical account of Cain and Abel where a jealous brother killed his sibling. 

Also, he listed fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, where a witch tried to eat two kids and Little Red Riding Hood where a wolf tried to eat a young girl visiting her grandmother. The culture extends to the television and computer.  This makes it a learned behavior, said Hernández. He urged control of pornography and toys, too,

Not coincidentally, a legislative commission has approved and sent to the full body a measure to strengthen penalties for child pornography and for displaying pornography to children.
Child violence has irreversible damage to the brain and development, said another participant.  From birth to 6 months of age, the brain is most vulnerable.  Of infants abused, 10 percent of cases result in mental disorders or cerebral paralysis, said Beatriz Cordero Huertas, director of Maestría de Estimulación Temprana at Universidad Santa Paula in Curridabat.

Later, children are left feeling alone, sad, abandoned and lose respect for authority figures, she said, adding that as adults, these children run risks of performing violent acts, being depressed, obese, fighting addiction or being suicidal, she said.

Costa Rica has a law since 2008 called Abolición del Castigo Físico Contra Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes, geared to protect children's rights.  Under the law it is illegal for children to receive punishment that is deemed excessive or humiliating. 

It also empowers the court to place mistreated children into adoptive homes.

However the law needs much work and lacks application, said Gloria Bejarano Almada, a lawmaker.

“Many things can wait.  The children, no.  Now their bones are forming, their blood is producing and their feelings are developing.  To them we cannot say tomorrow.  Their name is today,” said Ms. Cordero, the academic.

Ms. Cordero was quoting Chilean poet and activist Gabriela Mistral.  Her emphasis was the same as her colleagues, everyone must come together to change the culture of child abuse by educating the public.


Ex-president of Banco ELKA awaits another verdict
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The former chief of the defunct Banco ELKA is back in criminal court today awaiting the verdict in a case that may cost him seven more years in prison. The man, Carlos Alvarado Moya, already received 23 years on allegations of aggravated fraud, fraudulent administration, of use of privileged information and of supplying false information to government regulators. That was a verdict April 30, 2008.

Today judges are supposed to render their decision in a separate but related case involving $2.8 million deposit by the U.S. bank customer. The allegation again is fraudulent administration.

The Banco ELKA case is well known among expats here because bank officials aggressively sought deposits from foreigners. Among its clients the bank had many foreigners, U.S. and Canadian, who deposited money to comply with various immigration financial requirements for residency here. Regulators closed the bank June 29, 2004, because the institution lacked solvency, they said.
The Poder Judicial identified the man who lost the money by the last name of Carabetta, who had a time certificate.

The customers and the former bank president reached an accord in 2006 to avoid trial, but Alvarado did not fulfill all the aspects of the agreement, so the case went to court in 2008, said the Poder Judicial.

Prosecutors Thursday asked the trial panel to sentence Alvarado to seven more years. The theory of the prosecutor is that Alvarado used his client's money in what was called an irregular fashion just a month before the bank closed down, said the Poder Judicial.

Prosecutors are from the Fiscalía de Delitos Económicos, Tributarios y Legitimación de Capitales. The case is in the Tribunal Penal del II Circuito Judicial de San José in Goicoechea.

The main bank office was in Sabana Este between Calle 38 and Calle 40 on Avenida 4. Officials said that the bank failed to maintain the required 10 percent reserve.


Calderon Guardia
 
Here is the lowdown on the Caja and Costa Rican medical care

Many countries have government-sponsored health care.  Costa Rica is among them.  The two political parties in the U.S. are battling over whether or not to retain what is known as Obamacare, which will include millions more people under the current plan and erase some of the contingencies insurance companies can use to limit their coverage.  The cost, some say, will be enormous.

Costa Rica has nearly universal health care sponsored by the government.  It is colloquially called “the Caja.”  Early in its history costs were covered by members’ monthly payments, based upon their incomes, and the money saved as a result of not having to support a military.  As everywhere, costs have gone up.  I have been a member of the Caja ever since I became a resident.  Now it is mandatory for all legal foreign residents to join the Caja. It still has financial problems as well as the problems associated with all hospitals, doctors and medical care in general.

First let me quote Dr. Marty Makary, who has researched and written much on health care safety and shortcomings in the United States.  His latest book is, “Unaccountable.” He cautions, “Human doctors are doing human things.”  And humans make mistakes and are not always pure of heart. Hospitals are built and managed by humans. The same is true in Costa Rica.

The Caja contains hospitals, clinics and ebais.  They constitute the three levels of care, from the EBAIS, which furnishes the basic attention and preventive care. The name is an acronym based on the Spanish title. An installation also has doctors who write prescriptions. If there is a generic form of the medication you will probably get it. Clinics are equipped with more sophisticated equipment, like x-rays and blood test facilities.  Hospitals handle complete medical attention. Operations are performed, and complicated tests are administered.  Every hospital has an emergency room.  Some local clinics are terrific, others, not so much.  Two of my favorites have been the one in Pavas and the one that services Barrio Lujan and surrounding neighborhoods.

There are three Caja hospitals in the city of San José.  I have spent time in all of them.  I would prefer not to return to San Juan de Dios, located at the east end of Paseo Colon in downtown San José.  It is always crowded, and the distances between sections are so far that it seems to me that if you can make the trek you don’t need to be in the hospital in the first place.  The halls of the emergency section are lined with p
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart

eople waiting interminably.  All emergency rooms are overcrowded, but once an authority tells the patients’ relatives or friends to leave, it empties noticeably.

It was at San Juan de Dios that I experienced my first cold shower during my only inhospitable stay.  I found it torture, but the Ticas, also showering, assured me it was healthy.  There were hot showers at both hospitals Mexico and Calderón Guardia.

If you are lucky, your private doctor also works for the Caja.  After paying for a private visit, he or she can arrange for tests and even a hospital stay at a Caja hospital, and even an operation. Prescriptions written can be picked up at a Caja pharmacy.  The catch is that you may have to wait for weeks, unless your doctor says it is an emergency or urgent, whereas at a private hospital it would be done more quickly.  The good news is (if you are also a member of the Caja, of course), is that everything is free and without having to fill out a single insurance claim or wrangle with an insurance company over what they will cover.  Having to do those can make you sick.  And no matter what your age or previous health conditions, you will be covered and taken care of as long as your premium is current.

As for the quality of care, my experience has been that it is equal, and sometimes superior to the care I have received at the local private hospitals. I have expat friends who have learned far more readily than I how to manage the system and get everything from eyeglasses to dental work and physical therapy through the Caja without finding themselves overwhelmed.

From what I understand, the Caja is having some severe financial problems, due to . . . well, to human beings being human, which means not only corruption and greed, but to people avoiding their responsibility to pay their fair share. These systems do not work unless everyone who can benefit contributes.

For a clear and complete précis of how the Caja operates outside San Jose, I recommend the Web site containing "The EBAIS – Where Healthcare Starts," by Paul Yeatman.

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Golden
arches


Workmen lower an arch of concrete at a job site in Parrita on Ruta 34. Contractors moved tons of dirt to insert the arches that are designed to keep water from flooding out the highway. This is the same technique that contractors are using to fix the washout on the General Cañas highway west of San José. The Parrita work cost about $500,000.
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U.S. university program to target major Latin killer ailments
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Major health care problems associated with non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory conditions are not unique to the United States. In fact, such illnesses are a concern across the globe, and are growing at an alarming rate in some developing regions like Latin America.

The unprecedented increase can be attributed in part to rapid urbanization and the influence of western lifestyles, say University of Michigan School of Public Health researchers, who have received funding to develop a program for Latin America aimed at prevention of these diseases.

Ana Diez-Roux, professor and director of the Center for Integrative Approaches to Health Disparities and of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, and Dr. Eduardo Villamor, associate professor of epidemiology, are co-investigators on a $1.4 million National Institutes of Health five-year grant that will provide several levels of training to health professionals, aimed at reversing the growth of  non-communicable diseases.

The program establishes partnerships with two research sites in Latin America, the Comprehensive Center for the Prevention of Chronic Diseases from the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama in Guatemala, and the National University of Lanus, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Latin America is an exciting and important region to work and establish these bridges,” Villamor said.

“Non communicable diseases are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Latin America. In addition, social and
economic changes occurring throughout the region are increasing the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors,” Ms. Diez-Roux said. “It is, therefore, imperative to support training in the area in order to better understand the determinants of non-communicable diseases in these countries, and develop the most effective policies and interventions to reduce the population burden of these conditions.”

The education will involve training junior-level health care professionals at Michigan's School of Public Health and in Latin America, Villamor said. The program will provide scholarships for graduate and post-doctoral students from Latin America.  The in-site training will take the form of workshops, online journal clubs, and webinars. 

Research will be promoted through the training experiences of the Latin American scholars, he said.

“Rapid environmental changes — including changes in diet and physical activity patterns — are occurring in Latin America, and it is important to document how they are occurring and how they are affecting people’s health,” said Villamor. These changes involve diets that are high in refined sugars, saturated fat, and salt, and marked declines in physical activity, all of which are contributing to an obesity epidemic, Villamor said.

Ms. Diez-Roux said lessons learned from combating these illnesses in other regions have influenced their approach to this project.

Globally non-communicable diseases account for 63 percent of deaths and low- and middle-income countries currently experience 80 percent of the world’s deaths due to such illnesses, the university said.

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U.S. voter ID law tested
in Pennsylvania courts


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A court battle over the state of Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification law is being seen as a proxy in the battle between Republicans and Democrats.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has asked a lower court to reconsider its earlier ruling in favor of the law.  Republican legislatures across the country have pushed voter ID laws — ostensibly to prevent voter fraud.  Democrats argue the laws are an attempt to suppress minority voter turnout.

Democratic volunteers are canvassing Philadelphia neighborhoods with information on the state's new voter ID law.

The Republican-sponsored law requires voters to have state-approved photo ID to vote. But more than 700,000 voters may not have one.

"We think there are going to be a lot of people surprised when they show up this year," said Bob Previdi, who is with the non-partisan Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition."And we are trying to alert as many people as possible that they need to have this photo voter ID."

Critics say the law is a thinly-veiled attempt to disenfranchise minority voters who voted for President Obama in 2008.

"A lot of African-Americans don't have ID's," said Charles Warner, a Philadelphia voter.  "And some of our Spanish-Americans don't have ID's either.  They don't want him in.  They don't want him in office no more."

Republican state officials declined our requests for interviews.  They argue the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

Democrat Stephanie Singer, chairwoman of the Office of City Commissioners, which oversees Philadelphia's elections, disagrees with Warner.

"The purpose of the law is to suppress the vote of certain groups of people, and the way to win over this law is for those people to vote," she said.

More than 30 states have considered voter ID laws since the 2008 election.

"The color barrier was broken at the White House for the first time in U.S. history, by-the-by the largest, most diverse presidential election ever," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  "It should not be surprising historically that we are facing a wave of voter suppression efforts that are designed to shave off tens of thousands of votes."

Advocates argue voter ID laws are widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

"Georgia and Indiana had voter ID laws on the books on the last election and what they saw was an increased turnout in the same voting blocks that the ACLU and the left thought wouldn't come out," said Justin Danhof, general counsel for the conservative National Center For Public Policy Research.

These opponents of the law will have to wait until Oct. 2 for the lower court to determine whether voters have enough time to obtain proper ID before the Nov. 6 election.


Anti-nuke New Zealand gets
OK for visits by warships


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has lifted a 25-year-old ban that prevented New Zealand naval ships from entering U.S. military ports. The move is seen as a key step toward restoring military relations between the two nations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday during a visit to Auckland that Washington is also removing restrictions to make it easier to hold military exercises and security discussions.

Since New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory in 1985, U.S. nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed warships have been unable to enter its waters. The U.S. suspended its defense treaty with New Zealand shortly thereafter.

At a joint news conference Friday with his New Zealand counterpart Jonathan Coleman, Panetta acknowledged differences of opinion still exist in some limited areas. But he said both sides have decided to not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement.

Under the new policy, the U.S. secretary of defense may authorize individual visits by New Zealand vessels to Department of Defense or Coast Guard facilities around the world.

But Coleman said that New Zealand's nuclear weapons ban, which still enjoys widespread public support, will continue, saying the U.S. has accepted that fact and the two countries have decided to move on.

Military ties between Wellington and Washington have improved in recent years, with New Zealand sending troops to help fight U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Study on rats reveals clue
to addiction to chocolates

By the Cell Press news service

Researchers have new evidence in rats to explain how it is that chocolate candies can be so completely irresistible. The urge to overeat such deliciously sweet and fatty treats traces to an unexpected part of the brain and its production of a natural, opium-like chemical, according to a report published online Thursday in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

"This means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought," said Alexandra DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "It may be one reason why overconsumption is a problem today."

Ms. DiFeliceantonio's team made the discovery by giving rats an artificial boost with a drug delivered straight to a brain region called the neostriatum. Those animals gorged themselves on more than twice the number of M&M chocolates than they would otherwise have eaten. The researchers also found that enkephalin, the natural drug-like chemical produced in that same brain region, surged when rats began to eat the candy-coated morsels, too.

It's not that enkephalins or similar drugs make the rats like the chocolates more, the researchers say, but rather that the brain chemicals increase their desire and impulse to eat them.

The findings reveal a surprising extension of the neostriatum's role, as Ms. DiFeliceantonio notes that the brain region had primarily been linked to movement. And there is reason to expect that the findings in rats can tell a lot about human binge-eating tendencies.

"The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes," she said. "It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people."


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Reader Jim Twomey spotted this patriotic display in the  Anais Anais in Santo Domingo de Heredia. 'An uplifting way to show your patriotism!' he said.


Police still on the trail
of marijuana and crack


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The anti-drug police are taking actions to show that marijuana is not legal yet.

Although President Laura Chinchilla is urging the decriminalization of some drug use, there has been no firm decision. Much of the discussion will take place at a future meeting of heads of state.

So the Policía de Control de Drogas conducted raids early Thursday and made arrests in Osa, Jacó and Montes de Oca.

In Ojo de Agua, Cortés, Osa, agents confiscated 208 doses of marijuana as well as a pistol and cash. They detained a 21-year old.

In Jacó Centro agents detained a 23-year-old who had 99 doses of marijuana and 51 doses of crack cocaine, they said.

In Lourdes, San Pedro, Montes de Oca, agents found 18 marijuana plants of some 10 to 25 centimeters. They were in a home occupied by two minor brothers, agents said.


Policeman and ex-policeman
being held in murder case


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial has identified a former police officer with the last names of Enriquez Ruiz and a current officer stationed in Pavas with the last names of Fonseca Chavarría as suspects in the murder of a taxi driver.

The murder took place Jan. 4, 2011 in Lomas del Río, Pavas, when the taxi driver declined to transport drugs, said the Poder Judicial. The men were detained Wednesday.


Costa Rica wins a seat
on atomic energy body


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has been given a seat on the International Atomic Energy Organization from 2012 to 2014. Costa Rica was one of 10 nations selected to serve on the 35-nation panel.

The agency met in Vienna, Austria. The announcement of the election came from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The atomic energy organization is involved in an effort to verify the nuclear programs of North Korea, Syria and Iran.













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