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(506) 2223-1327              Published Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 192             E-mail us
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Judicial agent among weekend murder victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wave of murders swept the country Sunday night. The victims ranged from a judicial policeman gunned down in Barrio Cuba to a man in Puntarenas whose murder is attributed to his son. At least three of the suspects are under 18.

The judicial policeman was Mauricio Barrantes Zúñiga, 28, according to his Judicial Investigating Organization. He was surprised by four persons near the Medalla Milagrosa Church in Barrio Cuba in southern San José between 10 and 11 p.m..

A spokesman for the investigating organization said that Barrantes resisted what appeared to be a robbery and one of the assailants shot him in the back. Another source said that he was gunned down by a man in a car.

Witnesses saw a yellow car as it left the scene and told police. Fuerza Pública officers detained a vehicle that matched the description a short time later in downtown San José about 11 p.m. Barrantes died about 5:30 a.m. Monday in  Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The Fuerza Pública said that a .38-caliber pistol was recovered from the vehicle. Barrantes worked for the division of the Judicial Investigating Organization that moves prisoners to the courts and other locations. Agents are attributing his murder to a street crime and not as an act of revenge.

The death in Puntarenas is being called a murder for hire. The dead man, identified by the Fuerza Pública as Adolfo Zapata Pizarro, 53, suffered seven bullets in the stomach about 7:30 p.m.

A taxi driver tipped off police to the crime, and Fuerza Pública officers detained a 20-year-old man with the last names of Ledezma González and a 17 year old with the last name of García. They said the minor was carrying a .38-caliber revolver. There also was a 9-mm pistol found.

Both men are residents of San Antonio de Desamparados in the Central Valley. They carried a photo of the victim, police said.

A short time later police detained the victim's 19-year-old son, identified by the last names of  Zapata Moraga. Police said they suspected that the
blood money
Ministerio de Governación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This is the money for which Fuerza Pública officers said a son contracted the murder of his own father.

son was trying to break into the rear of the victim's home to take money belonging to his father. They said they confiscated $64,000 mostly in U.S. currency in the home.

The money was in a steel box, they said.

Fuerza Pública officers said they suspected that the dead man was a major drug dealer in the area.

Judicial agents also are investigating the following deaths that took place Sunday:

• A man with the last name of Luna died about 10:30 p.m. in  Hospital San Juan de Dios. He had been shot in the head in Rincón Grande de Pavas. Investigators are not sure if they are dealing with a murder or a suicide.

* An unidentified man came to the same hospital about 9 p.m. from Avenida 6 between calles 8 and 10 in San José. He died as the result of a knife wound in the stomach.

• An 18-year-old man died about 8:35 p.m. inn Golfito when someone shot him in the back while he was riding as a passenger on a motorcycle. Agents said they have no motive.

• A 26-year-old woman with the last name of Brenes was found dead Sunday in Barranca, Puntarenas. The cause of death will be determined by a autopsy.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 192

Costa Rica Expertise
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Pavas residents seeking
land by hook or by crook


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The demand for land for homes in Pavas is taking legal and illegal turns.

The housing ministry said Monday that a group of residents from Finca San Juan in Pavas protested at the ministry and then met with a vice minister.

Meanwhile in Rincón Grande de Pavas individuals are invading public property again and setting up temporary housing. Many of these are the same people who were evicted Sept. 11 in a massive display of police and other officials. The municipality is concerned because much of the land that is now occupied again are parks and playgrounds.

There is a long tradition in Costa Rica of homeless individuals simply taking vacant land.

The group that met with  Luis Fernando Salazar, vice minister of Vivienda, said they wanted space for about 300 families. One problem is that the land they have designated for their future homes is zoned commercial-industrial and not for housing. There are other technical problems, too. The land also is within a restricted zone near Tobias Bolaños airport.

The ministry pledges to find homes for everyone who needs one all over the country, the ministryy quoted Salazar.
 as saying.

Sept. 11 the police and municipal workers destroyed the temporary homes that had been erected. Police torn down shacks and evicted individuals from more than 20 areas in Pavas, including Metrópolis 1 y 2, Bribri, La Manguita and Libertad 1.

Detained were 21 adult and 17 minors for throwing rocks at the officers, for obstructing the right of way and other charges. In some places police faced a rain of rocks. Three Fuerza Pública officers and five municipal policemen suffered injuries as did one civilian.

Municipal officials almost certainly will return to evict the individuals, who seem to expect to wear down those in charge.

Vacant land is fair game in Costa Rica because the laws favor squatters who can retain possession for a short period. The problems have grown along the Pacific coast where the value of land has skyrocketed. Lawmakers seem unwilling to adjust the legal code to insure the rights of investors and other land owners. Property owners have to resort to guards and frequent inspections.

Even in San José those who own vacant property usually put up fences or some other sign of possession in order to keep individuals from making ownership claims.


Our readers' opinions
Most important aspect
is need for work permit


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Garland Baker's article about expats working in Costa Rica in Monday's edition failed to include the single most important point: It is illegal for any foreigner to work in Costa Rica while here on a tourist visa or while in a temporary residency status (rentista or pensionado). Foreigners may not compete with Costa Rican citizens for jobs unless there is no Costa Rican who can do the work. In that circumstance, the foreigner is legally required to have a work permit issued by the government before beginning to work. Obtaining a work permit can take a year or more, and success isn't guaranteed. 

The other observations in his article may be generally correct, but to omit this most important point is to mislead your readers into thinking that working here is a real possibility.
David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela


Illegal workers deserve
exactly what they will get

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I just can’t get excited about the woes of expat workers in Costa Rica.  As Mr. Baker says up front, most of these folks are working illegally anyway, so what’s the big deal?  IMHO, since these are generally people who are already looking for ways to circumvent the law, then add to that the old idea of trying to get something for nothing, why should they expect fair treatment?

I wanted to live here for many years before I actually made the move, but it never occurred to me that I might try doing it any way other than strictly legally.  I don’t know, but this situation, and that involving the ubiquitous perpetual tourist is, for me, much like a situation I faced when I was a young man.  I wasn’t too crazy about being drafted, or having anything to do with Vietnam, but it never occurred to me that I might be able to dodge the draft that caught me (but, thankfully, did not send me to Vietnam).

John G. Dungan, R.N.
El Aguacate, Guanacaste


A.M. Costa Rica gives
distorted view of country


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

You readership is being reduced by one, beginning today.  As a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and a very knowledgeable student of its culture, I am finally ending my almost daily reading of your "news" service.  The constantly negative tone of your reporting has become intolerable.  Your quasi-informational columns by Garland Baker are illustrative of a grossly limited perspective where half-truths and ethnocentric values are represented as factual observations.  The selective nature of your reporting adds to a very one-sided and, in my mind, distorted impression of the country, its people and its culture.

I understand that your perspective is meant to be for expats or those thinking of moving to Costa Rica.  But if you never get inside a culture, your observational stance becomes distorted, myopic, and untenable.  I do not resent negative press per se or presenting stories that represent the concerns of your readership that open up issues and problems of a country.  What I cannot continue to tolerate is the absence of a broader perspective or a lack of ownership in the problems that exist.  There is a latent self-centeredness and ungraciousness that pervades your columns.

My hope is that these comments at least alert you to my discontent, and I offer my hope that it will be some motivation for you to reconsider your current direction.

Sam Crowell
Idyllwild, California

News feed stories now easier
to read from a Web page


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers have a new feature. The news feed below contained a year's worth of top stories, but some readers said that news feed was causing their page loading to be slower.

This certainly could be true with those readers who still are on dial-up Internet.

So a year's worth of top news stories has been converted to a Web page, that will be a continuing feature of the newspaper.

The page is HERE! Keywords and names still can be searched HERE!

Like the news feed, each story is linked to the original in the archived newspaper copy of the day it was published.

Editors try to pick from one to three news stories each that are on continuing interest. These are put in the feed, which is available for personal used or on Costa Rica Web pages.

Those who would like to have the feed on their news reader or to place it on their blog or Web page can start with this LINK.

Have you seen these stories?





Top story feeds are disabled on archived pages.








For your international reading pleasure:


News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Panamá

Newspaper masthead
Did you try
to call us?

We're not trying to avoid you. We just are victims of another ICE problem.

It is hard to believe that our company telephones have been out of service  for at four weeks.

The workmen came and disconnected the phones in our old office before they found out that they did not have sufficient space to install the lines in the new office.

Calls to ICE are met with yawns.

You can reach us at 8832-5564.

But Internet is best.

-A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 192

second garbge panel
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Dennis Rogers
                        Ordinary                                                   Utilitarian                                     Rustic
There's a lot of creativity in those garbage containers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What to do when dogs and garbage, come together? Build a basket to keep the former from the latter.

Anywhere dogs roam free and garbage containing food has to be picked up from the street, dogs will rip into anything that smells interesting. Given that almost nobody in Costa Rica uses anything but plastic bags, there’s not much to stop them.  A homeowner who does not want a mess just has to put the prize out of their reach.

Dogs are not the only offenders, although they are the most visible. A host of other mostly night creatures road the streets and countryside seeking a quick snack. These, too,
can sometimes be frustrated by a creative basket.

The trick is to create something that does the job but does not attract scavengers of the human variety who seek to steal the finished product. That's why garbage cans of most types are not in use here.

A trip along the highways and byways of Heredia shows that the homeowner choices run from standard to rustic to even elegant with vines tended to embrace the metal basket.

Of course homeowners need to know when the garbage pickup will take place. Anything can happen to a green plastic bag when it is exposed to the world for two or three days.
garbage choices
                        Elegant                                                Inadequate                                        Communal


New Heredia hospital expected to be completed in January
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new Heredia hospital will be inaugurated during the third week of January, a lawmaker announced Monday.
The lawmaker, José Ángel Ocampo Bolaños, told a legislative session that the facility will be one of the most modern in Central America. The existing 117-year-old Hospital San Vicente de Paúl is obsolete. The lawmaker represent Heredia in the assembly.

Ocampo credited President Óscar Arias Sánchez for pushing  the construction of the hospital since his inauguration in May 2006.

The lawmaker's estimate is slightly different than that of 
Casa Presidencial, which said the work would be concluded about Jan. 28. Casa Presidencial also said that the hospital probably would not begin receiving patients until at least May or June.

The new facility is 400 meters south of the existing hospital on 11 hectares (27 acres). The building will have 36,000 square meters of space (387,500 square feet). The hospital will be operated by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which runs the country's public hospitals and clinics. The investment is about $85 million or about 49 billion colons.

Caja officials stressed that the new hospital will have modern fire detection equipment unlike Hospital Calderón Guardia where 19 people died in a surgery ward blaze.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 192


Interim Honduran regime wavers on its emergency decree

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The interim Honduran government appears to be backing down from restricting civil liberties and keeping dissident television and radio outlets off the air.

The government issued a decree that went into effect Saturday for 45 days. Soldiers Monday shut down Canal 36 and Radio Globo, two media outlets identified with ousted president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

However, later in the day Roberto Micheletti, the interim president, said in Tegucigalpa that he would consider lifting the decree by the end of the week.

Soldiers also blocked what was expected to be a march in favor of Zelaya, who continued to be holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.

The restrictions on civil liberties and the media received condemnation form all sides of the international community. Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, warned that “this decree allows discretionary censorship based on political interests,” in contrast to every institutional principle concerning freedom of expression set forth in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression, and the Declaration of Chapultepec, which establishes that the exercise of freedom of expression and of the press “is not a concession of the authorities but an inalienable right of the people.”

He is president of the Inter American Press Association.

Santos Calderón stressed, “To qualify as a true democracy requires an unrelenting respect for freedom of the press and of expression, whatever differences may exist over editorial positions. To accept a decree of this sort is to accept censorship and the shut down by authorities of any news media outlet that dissents from the government or its officials.”

The U.S. State Department urged adoption of the San José accords outlined by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez as the best solution and also expressed hope that the interim government would rescind the decree of emergency.

Zelaya is getting some international criticism for his secret entry into the country. His presence has stirred up his supporters. A senior U.S. representative to the Organization of American States, Lewis Amselem, said that the action by Zelaya was irresponsible.

Meanwhile, the Honduran de facto government is pressing Brazil about its decision to grant refuge to Zelaya at its embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Honduran officials asked Brazil's government to respond, within 10 days, to define the status of Zelaya, who has
been living in the Brazilian embassy for more than a week. Interim officials also have criticized Zelaya for secretly entering the country and using the Brazilian embassy as safe haven to call on his supporters to hold demonstrations.

The de facto government's foreign minister, Carlos Lopez, said Sunday that Brazil's government bears some responsibility for the current situation.

Lopez says someone at the embassy allowed Zelaya to enter the building, so Brazil is directly responsible.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva rejected what he calls an ultimatum from a coup government. The Brazilian leader has said Zelaya is welcome to remain in the embassy as long as he likes.

Lopez also announced plans to revoke the diplomatic status of the Brazilian Embassy, because the government in Brasilia has refused to recognize the de facto government. But he stressed that officials do not plan to enter the compound to carry out the order to remove the diplomatic seal or seize Zelaya.

Lopez says Brazil acted first to break relations with the current government in Honduras. He says, now, his officials are taking reciprocal action.

Officials also plan action to revoke the diplomatic status of delegations from Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela, which do not recognize the current government. Lopez says diplomats from those countries should hand over their credentials in coming days.

Also Sunday, Honduran officials refused entry to four delegates from the Organization of American States who arrived at the airport in Tegucigalpa. A fifth delegate from Chile was allowed to enter on a mission to prepare for the arrival of a high-level group of mediators. Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza condemned the action, saying it was a threat to peace efforts in Honduras.

Foreign Minister Lopez says the Organization of American States delegates had been told, in advance, they would be refused entry to the country. Last week, the de facto government turned down a request to send foreign ministers to mediate an end to the political crisis.

Instead, Honduras has backed a visit by Arias to mediate talks between Zelaya and the de facto government.

Three months ago, the Honduran Supreme Court stripped power from Zelaya, who was seized by military forces and removed from the country. He is demanding to return to power and finish the remaining four months of his term. The de facto government has rejected the demand, saying Mr. Zelaya is facing 18 criminal charges, including treason.

One reason Michelette gave for rescinding the decree imposing a state of emergency was so that general elections planned for November would be received better by the international community.


   
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 192

Casa Alfi Hotel

California ponzi scammer
imprisoned for 100 years


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In what is believed to be the longest sentence ever handed down in a white-collar case in the Los Angeles area, the mastermind of a Riverside, California,-based ponzi scheme that collected well over $60 million from hundreds of investors and caused more than $39 million in losses got 100 years in federal prison Monday.

The man, Richard Monroe Harkless, 65, lived in Riverside when he ran the scheme through a company he called MX Factors from 2000 until late 2003. He was sentenced by U. S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in federal court in Riverside.

During the hearing, Judge Phillips said that Harkless cause “every kind of grief and loss imaginable” and that the defendant demonstrated that he “would commit his crimes all over again if given the chance.”

In addition the prison term, Judge Phillips ordered Harkless to pay $35.4 million in restitution to the approximately 600 victims who lost money as a result of the scam.

Harkless was sentenced after being convicted in July of three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office:

Harkless and a team of salespeople at MX Factors raised funds by telling potential investors that MX Factors provided short-term loans to commercial construction companies that had guaranteed, government-backed contracts. Harkless created the company, controlled its bank accounts, hired and paid agents to solicit investors and created MX Factors promotional literature.

Investors were promised returns of up to 14 percent every two or three months, at which time investors could either receive their investments back or roll over their investments into the next investment period. The vast majority of MX Factors investors were convinced to invest money more than once. At trial, several victims testified that Harkless and his co-conspirators encouraged potential investors to try out the MX Factors program, investing in one 60- or 90-day cycle and then withdrawing their money to see if it worked. Once victims felt more comfortable with the program, Harkless and his co-conspirators encouraged them to invest even more and to get their families and friends to invest as well.

As the scheme began to collapse, Harkless diverted millions of dollars of investor money to Belize and México. In the final months of the scheme, once Harkless knew that he was under investigation by various state regulators, he accelerated his fundraising and accelerated the transfer of funds to his own accounts in Belize.

During the scheme, the bulk of the money raised from investors was used to pay off earlier investors, to pay agent commissions, to fund Harkless’ crabbing business in Ensenada, México, and to pay for various personal expenses. Over the course of the scheme, approximately 600 victims invested and lost money with MX Factors.

Harkless fled to Mexico shortly after the ponzi scheme collapsed, and federal authorities executed search warrants in February 2004. Harkless was arrested by special agents with IRS-Criminal Investigation two years ago when he traveled to Phoenix. At this summer’s trial, Harkless represented himself in court.

Three of Harkless’ sales agents, Daniel Berardi, Thomas Hawkesworth and Randall Harding, pleaded guilty and received sentences of up to six years in federal prison.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 192


Latin American news
Credit card thefts and scams
result in series of arrests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judicial agent was among four persons detained Monday when the frauds unit of the Judicial Investigating Organization sought to clear up a sting of credit card thefts.

No names were given by the Poder Judiciallllll, but raids were conducted by the Sección de Fraudes and the Sección de Robos in Alajuelita, Desamparados, Santo Domingo de Heredia, León XIII and San Sebastián. One of the four persons arrested was a woman.

The Poder Judicial said that the case revolved around the theft credit cards at various gatherings. Crooks were attend events where large numbers of persons were expected and seek to rifle handbags and other possessions for credit cards.

The position of the judicial agent was not made clear.

The fraud unit and prosecutors also detained eight persons Monday in an investigation of cloned credit cars. It was not clear if the two cases were related. The second set of raids were in Alajuelita and Guadalupe. Six men and two women were detained.

In this case, the Poder Judicial  said that the electronic bands of credit cards were copied at various retail outlets. Later crooks would use that data to fabricate credit cards and then use them to make purchases.

Customers were victimized at the restaurants  Weekends and Tiquicia as well as the service stations La Favorita in Los Yoses and one identified as  Servicentro JSM, said the Poder Judicial.


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