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(506) 223-1327              Published Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 193           E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Idea was to swap Barrantes for prison inmates
Two held in bizzare plan to kidnap archbishop here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In what seems more like the plot of some television thriller, judicial agents said Thursday that a gang of men were going to kidnap a high Costa Rican official and try to arrange a swap for two criminals being held in maximum security.

Other sources identified the target of the scheme as the Most Rev. Hugo Barrantes, archbishop of San José.

The kidnapping never took place, and the Judicial Investigating Organization said it detained two men they did not identify. One was 35 and the other was 40. Both men had warrants outstanding to face unrelated charges, agents said.

The masterminds of the scheme were identified as two men being held in La Reforma prison in San Rafael de Alajuela. One man is believed to be  Jovel Araya Ramírez, a leader of a kidnap ring.
Araya was one of eight inmates who broke out of prison Oct. 9, 2006. He was the last to be captured — in a shootout with agents in Guápiles Oct. 24 of that year.

Agents said at the time that the gang of kidnappers assisted Araya with the prison break in which a guard was murdered. Investigators figure that vehicles awaited the inmates outside the prison.
The gang was involved in high stakes kidnappings, mostly of businessmen. Unlike other criminals, they accepted property and cars as part payment of the ransom, officials said. Police attribute at least
four separate cases of kidnapping to the gang. In most cases the victims were held about a week.

Investigators are believed to have found out about the plan to grab Barrantes when they were investigating a recent kidnapping involving a businessman.

Two more suspects still are at large, so investigators are being careful about what they say. The only official word was a brief statement from the press office of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

That statement said that the arrests were made on the public right-of-way in San José, but other sources said the arrests were made Wednesday in Desamparados and Asserí.

As archbishop, Barrantes is the highest ranking Roman Catholic churchman in the country. He has held the post since 2002. Typically clergymen, including bishops, do not have high security.

The other prison inmate who is suspected of trying to engineer the kidnapping of the archbishop is believed to be a Colombian facing a long sentence for narcotics trafficking.

Taxi fares are about to take a 11.5 percent jump
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi fares are going up again, mostly due to the continuing rise in the price of gasoline.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said Thursday that the rates would go up about 10 percent. However, A.M. Costa Rica computed the hike for a 3-kilometer taxi ride to be 11.5 percent, from 1,045 ($2) to 1,165 ($2.24).

Taxi rates are computed automatically by a meter in the vehicle. The rate has four components.

The first is the price for the initial kilometer or less of travel. That went from 365 to 405. Passengers pay this rate even if the taxi goes but a block.

The second rate is the price for each additional kilometer. That went from 340 to 380. The meter usually assesses this charge in 10-colon increments.

Other charges include the hourly fee for waiting with the motor off: from 2,015 to 2,205. The last is a charge assessed by the meter when taxis are caught in traffic under 10 kph. That went from  3,400 to 3,800 colons per hour. This amount also is prorated for the time the taxi is delayed.
New taxi rates
                                 now              will be
  First kilometer           365                 405

    kilometers                340                 380

    (per hour)               2,015              2,205

Rural and handicapped vehicles are slightly different

The new rates will take effect when they are published in the La Gazeta official newspaper sometime next week.

The regulating agency reminded taxi patrons that the fees are fixed despite the condition of the road, the nationality of the passenger or where the ride initiates.

Many hotels and malls have deals with taxi drivers who do not have meters in their vehicles. They charge what the traffic will bear. These drivers and their cars are very visible, but the regulating agency issues warnings but does not crack down. These drivers say they have to kick back a significant part of their fare to the hotels or malls.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 193

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Visiting U.S. lawmakers
called enemies of nation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ottón Solís, his Partido Acción Ciudadana and opponents of the free trade treaty are getting heat because they brought a "true enemy of the Costa Rican working class" to Costa Rica.

The characterization comes from Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia. And the claim is the latest salvo in what is becoming a political campaign with daily charges and counter charges. There even are formal complaints being filed, including one in which the Partido Acción Ciudadana alleges misuse of funds sent in support of the treaty campaign by sugar cane growers.

Last Sunday Solís invited U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine to his home and presented them as U.S. lawmakers who oppose the free trade treaty.

Although it was known at the time that Sanders opposes just about all trade treaties, Casa Presidencial hit hard on the theme Thursday. Solís and his party are friends of the enemies of Costa Rica, said Rodrigo Arias.

Sanders opposes agreements where the likely result is that U.S. jobs will be shipped offshore. And he has been consistent. He also voted against the Caribbean Basin Initiative which passed and gives Costa Rica preferential treatment with its imports to the U.S.

The treaty supporters may have scored some points with their belated revelation.

The opponents will try to sway Costa Rican voters Sunday with a mass rally on Paseo Colón. University students will march from San Pedro to downtown San José starting at 9 a.m., so traffic will be snarled.

The rally comes just a week before Costa Ricans go to the polls to vote on the treaty.

Two convicted of murder
are allowed to go home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men who goaded a third individual into a fight and then stoned him and smashed him on the head with a pipe were convicted of premeditated murder Thursday in the Tribunal de Juicio de Alajuela.

But the judges let them go free while their conviction is routinely reviewed by a high court.

The men each were given 12-year prison sentences. They were identified by the last names of Fernández Viales and Valverde González by the Poder Judicial.

They were convicted in the beating death of Omar Zamora Mora outside his home in Copan de Alajuela Jan. 1, 2003.

The court found that the two men went to the home of Zamora to settle a score that had been the source of an argument days before. They shouted and screamed until Zamora came out of his house.

Then Fernández hit him in the face with a rock as he approached. This caused Zamora to fall, said the Poder Judicial. When he was on the ground, Valverde took a pipe and hit him repeatedly on the head while Fernández continued to kick the man.  The victim died on the spot, said officials.

A tribunal sentence almost always is reviewed by a higher court, but the convicted individuals usually are remanded to jail if the charge is serious and likely to prompt flight.

These hometown favorites
make Guanacaste hit parade

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They may not reach the popularity of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," but Guanacaste musicians have made a start with their hometown tributes.

The songs became known at a culture ministry contest that was decided Sunday.

"Viva mi pueblo" by Edgar Leal Arrieta took first place in the soloist category. Second was "Linda Santacruceña" by Luis Fernando Leal Arrieta.

"Santa Cruz" by Pedro Golobios Madrigal was the top song in the group category,and "Fiesta in Sardinal" by Héctor Pomares Zúñiga was the winner in the traditional bands, Cimarrones, contest.

First prize in each category was worth 200,000 colons or some $385.

Our reader's opinion

Crime is caused by poverty
and not just in Costa Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am replying to Michael Cook’s interesting letter of Sept 27 where, at the end, he states that “Crime . . . is endemic to the culture (of Costa Rica).”

Just so we all know what he is saying, I offer the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, ENDEMIC: belonging or native to a particular people or country.

This thinking is shared by so many of us who go to other countries and complain about things when we get there.

This thinking is shallow and typically chauvinistic, (undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs.)

Crime and corruption in Costa Rica, or in the United States . . . or any place else on Earth, has nothing to do with culture.

The underlying cause of crime is poverty and that of  corruption is greed. These things are not endemic to Costa Rica.  They are endemic to the human race. As for the culture of Costa Rica, it is charming and probably the reason that keeps Michael coming back to visit!

Dick Burgoon

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 193

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Tinted car windows are targeted as anti-robbery measure
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The top judicial investigator wants traffic policeman to crack down on motorists whose vehicles have polarized front or back windows.

In addition to a 5,000-colon ($9.60) fine such a violation brings, the investigator, Jorge Rojas Vargas, wants the vehicles to be brought out of circulation.

The summary of a letter that Rojas wrote to Karla González, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, came to reporters from the Judicial Investigating Organization that Rojas heads.

Rojas correctly noted that such vehicles are used frequently in drive-by holdups of pedestrians. He called such vehicles a hidden threat to the citizenry.

The press release said that as a result of the letter, checkpoints were being set up to find and take out of service these types of vehicles.  It was unclear if the Judicial Investigating Organization would do this or that the job would be left to the Policía de Tránsito.

Such windows have been outlawed for years, but this is one of those laws that is enforced selectively here. Also unclear is how such vehicles are able to pass the mandatory Riteve vehicle inspection.

For some that is not a problem. Many of the offending cars do not even have plates. Police are reluctant to stop such vehicles because occupants frequently are heavily armed.
Rojas spoke last week about the waves of criminality that are sweeping the country. He said that he was thinking of advancing his retirement because he blamed budgetary officials for not providing enough resources for his department. He said he could use double his current force of 1,000 investigators.

Many of the vehicles with tinted windows are used by criminal gangs that prey on pedestrians.

The latest case was of a man gunned down for his portable computer as he walked near Parque la Sabana. He was Freddy Blas Ramírez, a construction inspector, who was confronted by robbers Tuesday evening. He died from the head wound early Wednesday in Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The lack of resources and the wave of robberies is getting a humorous treatment on the Internet. Wednesday a fake press release purportedly from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública began making the rounds.

The message, supposedly an urgent warning, said that a lion had escaped from the zoo at Parque Simón Bolivar in north San José. The lengthy message was a stingy criticism on the current state of Costa Rican life but it took special interest in the police and investigators.

Of the lion, the message said that the Fuerza Pública could only muster a single car and two policemen to conduct a search. And then it said police were looking everywhere except some run-down sections of San José and much of Pavas. But that was fine because even a valiant African lion would not dare to go to such places, the message said.

Evaluating the simple life in Belén with the city bustle
I’ve been going into San José more frequently lately, usually to make my chocolate fudge sauce at a friend’s apartment. My old apartment, which is in the same building, is still without a tenant.  That surprises me because it is a nice spacious apartment.  Maybe they have raised the rent. I mean, really raised it.  Rents and real estate seem to be going up everywhere in the Central Valley.  I am beginning to think that should I want to move from my assisted living apartment, I couldn't afford it.

Lately I have been considering the pluses and minuses of living in this residence in the town of Belen as opposed to living in San José, where I spent nearly 15 years.  I loved living in the city, but I think that the air, combined with my past years of smoking was not healthy for me.  The polluting car emissions have decreased noticeably over the years, thanks to new regulations and newer cars and buses.  But I lived there before the change. 

There is less traffic noise where I live now, mostly an occasional airplane leaving the nearby international airport.  Thank heavens not all of them fly over Belén.  In the city, I seldom heard my neighbors. I hardly knew I had any. 

Here there is the constant chatter of the various attendants to other residents, people talking while they wait outside the dispensary (my apartment is right next door), the sounds of someone washing clothes in the outside pila a couple of doors down, or someone’s music — usually religious. 

There is no place where one can be free from some kind of dirt.  In the city the dirt is more like grime.  The dirt out here may not be grimy, but it is still gritty on the soles of my bare feet.  However, there is always SOMEONE ELSE to sweep and mop.  All I have to do is ask. 

Music and theater are far more accessible in the city.  In order to go into San José I must take the autopista that runs from the airport.  Some mornings we all become turtles on the highway.  Huge trucks are vying with commuters, taxis and tourist buses to make it to their destinations. 

More often than not, there is an accident. That really slows the wheels of progress.  If I stay in Belén, and more large corporations like Intel decide to build here, will I
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

find myself cut off from the city because it is just too much trouble?

I was pretty happy with Cable Color, which operates in San José.  If a storm knocked out my TV reception and Internet, they were promptly there to fix it. My electricity seldom went out.  The storm on Monday knocked out electricity, Internet and TV at the residence.  By Tuesday afternoon, TV and Internet still had not been repaired.

This is an all too regular occurrence.  Cable Tico is going to have to improve its service if all of the condos that have been built around here are sold and occupied.

Of course, there is the Spanish Country Club just beyond the gate.  Everything there is available for those of us in the residence.  Mostly I walk around the club for exercise and to think about what to write about. There is more to observe, and thoughts come more readily to me when I walk in the city or take a city bus.  I miss that.

I am a good cook. And I love good food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.  I am still complaining about the food here.  Lots of fresh fruit, but fresh vegetables are a rarity, and usually, if cooked, they are not enhanced with herbs, or olive oil or garlic. if raw, they are without dressing.  I guess they are afraid we will become old fatties.  And although there is rice at every meal but breakfast, they almost never serve any kind of beans.  Beans are wholesome (and cheap), so I asked one of the cooks why no beans?  She raised her eyebrows and smiled a funny smile.  I got the picture. They obviously are also worried that we will become old farts.

I guess I can always go into the city and cook some beans with plenty of garlic and onions at my friend’s apartment.  Then I’ll walk the city thinking about next week’s column.  In all that traffic and noise, no one will notice.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 193

Beautiful property where air is clear — above 3,000 feet

Ecuador's president to seek reimbursement for not drilling
 Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, proposes to ban drilling in one of his country's national parks. And he wants his country to be paid for the oil revenues it will lose.

Correa’s decision simultaneously addresses two factors blamed for global climate change — tropical deforestation and oil consumption.

Correa is attempting to build support for the Yasuni proposal, named after Yasuni national park, thought to be the Amazon basin’s most biodiverse area. Under the proposal, Ecuador would forego drilling an estimated 920 million barrels of crude oil contained in the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini fields located directly under Yasuni.

The plan would entail Ecuador forgoing an estimated $4.6 billion in oil revenues and prevent significant carbon dioxide emissions as a result of avoided oil extraction activities in the lush Amazon rainforest.
Ecuador’s proposal is one of the most significant proposed commitments from a developing nation aimed at combating global climate change.  The Ecuadorian government has invited the international community to help develop innovative financing options in support of the Yasuni proposal, to help this developing country make up for the foregone oil revenues.

“For the first time, an oil-producing country, Ecuador, where a third of the state’s income depends on the exploitation of this resource, is renouncing this income for the wellbeing of all humanity and invites the world to join this effort through a fair compensation package, so that together we can sow the seeds of a more humane and just civilization,” said Correa at a  U.N. climate change meeting earlier this week.

In addition to being home to some of the last traditional peoples anywhere in the Amazon basin, Yasuni also boasts stunning biodiversity, including 4,000 plant species, 173 species of mammals and 610 bird species.

Morales seeks forum to create a new economy of respect
 Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The president of Bolivia Thursday called for the United Nations to convene a world indigenous forum to foster a new approach to economic relations based on an appreciation of natural resources and not their exploitation.

Addressing the General Assembly's annual high-level debate, the president, Evo Morales, welcomed the recent approval of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, thanking all countries, except the four which voted against it.

"Our culture is a culture of life," said Morales, the first Indian leader of Bolivia.

He called on the U.N. to convene a world indigenous forum to "understand different ways of life."

Questioning whether it was necessary to exploit and plunder in order to live well, he suggested instead that living well is living within a community -- not having an excess of material wealth.

To Indian communities, he said, the Earth is sacred, as demonstrated by their practices. "Let us gather these experiences to defend life and to save humankind," he said.
Morales said natural resources should be used to benefit nations, he said, adding that while companies have a right to profit, they do not have a right to plunder.

Natural resources should be accessible to all, he argued. "Water is a human right. Energy is a human right," he said, stressing that these should not be considered commodities to be exploited by private businesses.

He said talk of biofuels was confusing. "I don't understand how we can produce food for cars. Soil should be for life! Because there is a lack of gas we are going to divert food for automobiles?" He called for giving up luxury. "We cannot continue to accumulate garbage," he said.

Morales spoke out against "economic policies that have caused genocide" and denounced the arms race. "War is the industry of death," he declared.

He decried the economic imbalance of the world, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

Morales also spoke of his own difficulties traveling to the U.N. Assembly. "I don't know how all of you managed to come here to the United States but at least my delegation had a great deal of visa problems," he said, proposing that "perhaps we should change the site of the United Nations."

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 193

Hungry Brazilian women's team defeats U.S. in semi-final
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil has reached the championship game of the Women's World Cup football tournament in China. Brazil's 4-0 victory Thursday in Hangzhou snapped a 51-game unbeaten streak held by the heavily favored United States.

Most coaches will say there is a risk-taking element in the campaign to win the Women's World Cup. Unfortunately for U.S. coach Greg Ryan, his larger wagers fell short.

Ryan inserted veteran goalkeeper Brianna Scurry for the semifinal in place of Hope Solo. He also made clear before the game he wanted the referee to call early fouls on the hard-hitting Brazilians.

But the South Americans were on the scoreboard first in the 20th minute. U.S. defender Leslie Osborne headed the ball into her own goal past Scurry while trying to deflect a Brazilian corner kick. Then from long range in the 27th minute, Marta, the latest of a long line of Brazilian players with no last name, sent in a shot that caught Scurry off guard.

As for fouls, it was the United States that received four yellow cards. Two of those resulted in the expulsion of midfielder Shannon Boxx near the end of the half, leaving the U.S. women one player short for the rest of the game.
Cristiane added an easy 56th minute score. A 79th minute tap by Marta completed the stunning result. Ryan says he has no regrets.

"I am disappointed for my players because they have put so much into this," he said. "But in terms of me personally, this has never been about me. This has always been about the team doing the best that they can, and me trying to put them in situations where they can be successful. So I feel good about what I have done with this team. And of course we will be second guessed."

Brazil is aiming for its first Women's World Cup title, and is already guaranteed its best finish after placing third in 1999. Brazilian coach Jorge Barcellos says desire has been just as important as talent in reaching the championship game.

"We can say nothing is impossible," he said. "That is what I am always telling to my players. I think that is also part of the reason we had success tonight. So for Brazil, it is a perfect victory, a perfect win today. And I would like to congratulate my players because they have a strong wish, a strong desire to win the match."

Brazil will face defending champion Germany in the final Sunday in Shangahi. The United States and Norway will battle for third place earlier that day. 

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