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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 195       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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High court rebuffs jailed priest who wants radio show
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They say there are no guilty persons in prison. That is never truer than in Costa Rica where those convicted of high crimes can appeal to the court of public opinion via Web pages, radio shows and even pocket calendars.

The most vocal of these prisoners is the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar, a Catholic priest, who is serving time for fraud. He wants to moderate a religious call-in radio show by telephone from his cell block and went so far as to make a constitutional appeal when prison officials cut him off the air.

The Sala IV constitutional court upheld the prohibition by the Dirección del Centro de Atención Institucional de San Sebastián, according to a summary released Tuesday by the Poder Judicial.

But that does not stop the priest, who promises to continue to be a "pebble in the shoe" of the prison administration. Never mind that he is in prison based on allegations of fraud stemming from his management of a radio station.

But it is not just the radio show, "Jesús está vivo," which is being aired by Radio Centro 96.3 F.M. Calvo has his own Web page where he disputes point by point the circumstances leading up to his conviction. He was among a handful of men tried in the murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez. That high-profile murder took place near Medina's home in Heredia July 7, 2001.

Calvo was acquitted of the murder charge Dec. 19, 2007, but was convicted of misuse of the funds that the faithful gave to his station, Radio María de Guadalupe. A colleague, businessman Omar Chaves Mora, was not so lucky. He got 35 years as the intellectual author of the gang hit on Medina.

Medina had been critical of Radio María and the management by Calvo, and prosecutors considered that to be the motive for the crime.

Also convicted of murder was Adalberto Reyes Ruiz, a man with a criminal record. Chaves, the businessman, was convicted of hiring Reyes as triggerman, although the man the prosecution said was the financial intermediary was absolved.

The prosecution theory is that Chaves wanted to stop the aggressive radio commentator from talking more about the Radio María station where he and Calvo were partners.

Omar Chaves
The reverse of this card is a 2008 calendar
priest's web page
From the priest's Web page

Reyes. known as El Indio, does not appear to be seeking public support. But Chaves supporters are distributing pocket calendars that feature the smiling man and the phrase: Doy la cara porque soy inocente, meaning "I show my face because I am innocent."

On his Web page, Calvo attacks the nation's chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese, trial prosecutor Guiselle Rivera, appeals court magistrates, constitutional court magistrates, witnesses and anyone else involved in his conviction. He also denies that anyone ever has filed a complaint against him for fraud.

He also urges supporters to press his case with the constitutional court.

It is the radio show that has propelled Calvo again into the public eye. He was cut off a few minutes into his first broadcast when prison officials became aware of what was going on. In his constitutional appeal, the priest said prison officials were limiting his free expression by not letting him spread the word of God.

Prison officials responded that Calvo never asked permission and that inmates only are allowed 15 minutes a day on the telephone.

The daily show would take telephone time from the other inmates, said the magistrates in denying Calvo's request for judicial relief.

Considering that the priest served nearly five years in preventative detention that counts against his sentence and that most inmates receive generous reductions in their sentences for good behavior, Calvo may be out in a year or less.

So his posturing with the 9 a.m. half-hour radio show could be considered public relations or advertising. He suggested Tuesday that the show might be prerecorded, although there is no certainty that prison officials will allow this either.

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More rainfall reported
to be headed this way

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There may be hundreds of people in shelters around Costa Rica this morning, but the country did have some luck when rain Tuesday afternoon and evening was much less than expected.

Costa Rica was drenched Monday, and the soil is saturated. Emergency officials issued an alert about 11 a.m. Tuesday in anticipation of more heavy rains. But they did not come. At best, some areas received an inch, but the automatic weather station at Juan Santamaría airport registered no precipitation all day. Rainfall in Liberia was minimal, too.

The luck may not hold, however. The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that moisture from the Pacific is likely to generate afternoon rains today in the Central Valley and the Pacific slope. These conditions may last for the week and include Guanacaste.

The alert issued Tuesday by the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias covered nearly the whole country.

Overnight damage from rainfall was heaviest in the provinces of San José and Cartago, said the emergency commission. There were landslides in Oreamuno and Cot in Cartago. One vehicle was swept into a river and a search was mounted for the driver, said the commission.

In Tirrases de Curridabat, a hillside gave way Monday evening and wrecked several homes evicting about 16 persons.  In Bajo los Anónos in Escazú the Río Tiribí ran out of its banks and caused flooding. In La Trinidad de Moravia there also was flooding.

Shelters had residents in San Sebastián, Paso Ancho, Pérez Zeledón. In San Miguel and San Antonio, both Desamparados, there was flooding and some homes were in jeopardy from cut away river banks.

In addition all over the country rivers were at their maximum ready to flood if more rain falls.

Symphonic concert features
themes from hit movies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be none of that long-haired stuff, and there will be no dozing in the Teatro Nacional when the symphonic orchestra next meets.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica is presenting  a concert heavy with John Williams movie themes.

Marvin Araya is the guest conductor for the three-concert series.  Dates are Thursday, Oct. 9, Friday, Oct. 10, both at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.

The program includes eight works by Williams, including the "Harry Potter" theme and "Indiana Jones." Other works include a selection from "High School Musical" and the James Bond themes.

Exploitation allegations
target expats in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An anonymous complaint filed with the prosecutor's office in Liberia has led to allegations of commercial sexual exploitation of children and abuse against a handful of residents there. Some of those involved are U.S. citizens and one person is French.

Mauricio Medrano, technical manager of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, confirmed that the complaint had been made. He said Tuesday that his child welfare agency and the Judicial Investigating Organization were involved in the case Friday. He said six persons were being investigated and that the children involved were offspring of the adults being investigated. The Patronato has not taken custody of any children, he said.

Medrano said that the prosecutor's office in Liberia was handling the entire investigation. But Marisel Rodríguez, a spokesperson for the Ministerio Público, said that there would be no comment on the case.

The complaint was the topic of a full-page feature in El Diario Extra Tuesday, and it appears that the newspaper staff received a full copy of what Medrano described as a detailed complaint.

Water outage planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you had a shower this morning and you live in the metropolitan district, you are lucky. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados was planning to cut off service to much of the eastern part of the metro area and La Unión de Cartago in order to make a connection with a distribution tank.

Outages were predicted for Montes de Oca, Curridabat, Goicoechea, Coronado and Moravia, the water company said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 195

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Country gets another break on trade treaty extension
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When it comes to ratifying the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the clock keeps running out on Costa Rica. The country got another break Tuesday when its trading partners agreed to reset the clock and approve another extension.

The Asamblea Legislativa was supposed to have passed the laws necessary to ratify the free trade agreement by Oct. 1, but instead the government was forced to ask for an extension until Jan. 1, 2009.

“Frankly, I never expected that we would have to request another extension,” said President Óscar Arias Sánchez during a brief press conference Tuesday afternoon. “I hoped that we'd be able to have the law presented before congress in October, so that we could begin implementing TLC before the fourth of November, before the elections in the United States,” he added, using the Spanish acronym for the pact.

Arias met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, who is touring Costa Rica in what is widely seen as an effort to pressure the government into speeding things up.  Shortly after their press conference, Casa Presidencial announced that all signatory nations of the free trade treaty had approve the extension for Costa Rica. This was a requirement.

Of the six countries that have signed the free trade agreement, including El Salvador, Honduras, the United States, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica is the only one that has not yet begun fully implementing the treaty, due to opposition and complex legislative, judicial and bureaucratic delays.

Costa Rica, also the last country to ratify the deal, first asked for a seven-month extension back in February. Any likelihood of meeting the October deadline, however, was derailed when the Sala IV constitutional court ruled Sept. 11 that the legislature could not pass a law concerning intellectual property rights without first consulting the country's native groups.

“We don't have any specific conditions for how this law should be passed,” said Gutierrez. “We're asking that they pass the treaty as quickly as possible.”

The supreme court ruling was the latest delay in what has already been a long, painful wrestling match between Costa Rica and the free trade agreement. The agreement was only approved narrowly in a referendum Oct. 7. 

Public opinion is similarly split: anti-treaty graffiti is a common sight on the walls and public buildings of San José. However, the president continues to stand behind the treaty.

“Each day that passes in which the TLC is not signed into
thumbs up
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
President Óscar Arias Sánchez seems to be giving a thumbs-up sign to visiting U.S. Commerce secretary.

law is another day that damages the citizens, the workers and the small business owners of Costa Rica,” he said.

While both Gutierrez and Arias emphasized the damage that an unratified pact would inflict on the Costa Rican economy, Gutierrez implied that it was unlikely that the country would immediately experience any negative fallout from the current financial crisis gripping U.S. markets.

“I expect that this won't affect bilateral relations,” he said. “What may happen is companies will be more selective when deciding where to invest, so they'll begin looking more at things such as transparency of law . . . laws concerning private property . . .  areas in which Costa Rica has always excelled.”
Separately, the U.S. government agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation said that it will loan $45 million to Costa Rican bank Banco Lafise, as well as $60 million to Banco BAC San Jose. Both banks intend to funnel the money towards loans for aspiring homeowners. Robert Mosbacher, head of the agency, said in a news release that the $105 million investment, along with the approval of the free trade agreement, signaled that Costa Rica's integration into the free-trade market would yield nothing but benefits.

“OPIC recognizes the importance of demonstrating to the citizens of Costa Rica that open markets and free trade can help improve the quality of life for citizens and help small businesses better exploit their economic potential,” he said.

Museum fiestas will celebrate nation's diversity this month
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

October is multiculture month, and both the Museo Nacional and the Museos del Banco Central have fiestas planned to mark the nation's ethnic diversity.

The central bank museums lead off with a nine-minute film Friday Un pueblo que construye su identidad: Museo Comunitario de Boruca. The film also is produced by the Universidad Estatal a Distancia.

The film, directed by Alejandro Astorga, shows the construction of a traditional Boruca building. The showing is at 4 p.m. in the museums which are under the Plaza de la Cultura in San José.

Sunday the Museo Nacional is pulling the stops on its  V Festival Multicultural with music, dance, art exhibitions and food.

The museum is covering the wide range of cultures that make up Costa Rica. For example, the first presentation at 10 a.m. is by the Asociación China de Costa Rica, which is demonstrating a lion dance to bring good luck. The event 
winds up at 2 p.m. with a calypso concert.

What is Columbus Day in the United States is El Día del Encuentro de las Culturas in Costa Rica. That is Oct. 12. That is the same day that the Museos del Banco Central will present its Festival Pluricultural from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The museums also promise music, a book exchange, discounts in the museums' store, food, and sale of traditional crafts. The event is at the museums.

One of the Banco Central museums houses an impressive collection of pre-Columbian gold and other artifacts.

In addition as part of the outreach program, the musems will be hosting school children from La Fila and La Shamba with the help of Proctor & Gamble later in the month.

The Boruca community is in southwest Costa Rica in the vicinity of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas. There are about 3,000 native Costa Ricans there. It was in this area where the traditional structure was erected and films in 2006 and 2007, said the museums

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 195

Both Russian and Chávez have reasons to display forces here
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Several Russian bombers spent time in Venezuela last month and, for many, revived images of the Cold War such as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Earlier this month, two Russian Tupolev-160 strategic bombers spent a week in Venezuela, engaging in training exercises off the Venezuelan and Brazilian coasts. The Tu-160s are long-range bombers, capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons, including long-range nuclear missiles. But Russian officials made clear that the two aircraft were not armed and were carrying only dummy weapons.

Daniel Erikson with the Washington-based policy group Inter-American Dialogue said Moscow's action brings back memories of the Cold War. "Indeed, I would describe it as the most provocative action taken by Russia in the western hemisphere since the end of the cold war." Erikson and other experts say the visit by the Russian strategic bombers illustrates a deepening military relationship between Moscow and Caracas.

Jason Lyall at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs says Russia is Venezuela's biggest arms supplier. "It has been purchasing, over the last four years, about $4.5 billion worth of equipment: high capacity, high capability aircraft. They are now negotiating for three diesel submarines. It has also restocked its army with infantry carriers as well as small arms. And so most of the Venezuelan arsenal now is actually coming from Russia."

As another example of closer military ties between Caracas and Moscow, experts point to upcoming naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea involving ships from Russia. Lyall says four vessels have left the Arctic seaport of Severomorsk to participate in the military maneuvers in November.

"The Russians chose to send 'Peter the Great,' which is an atomic-powered heavy cruiser. This is the flagship of the northern fleet and it is one of the most capable weapons systems in the Russian Navy and is one of the newest and most modern," said Lyall. "And so they are not sending that many ships, but the choice of ships shows that they are anchoring a lot of importance into this particular mission. They want to bring their best equipment with them on this one."

Lyall says one of the reasons for Russia's presence in the Caribbean is to show that Moscow can exert influence in what often is considered to be Washington's backyard.

"The naval exercise is a tit-for-tat response to NATO and the U.S. presence in the Black Sea right now, as a consequence of the Russian-Georgian conflict. The Russians are very, very upset that the United States and NATO put so many ships into the Black Sea and are particularly upset that humanitarian aid was delivered by combat warships," said Lyall. "So I think it's not surprising that the Russians chose to match that type of reaction with a reaction that is very, very similar — so again, a naval exercise right astride
a major commercial and energy transit route looking very much like the U.S.-NATO presence in the Black Sea." The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the U.S.-led European security coalition.

For his part, Daniel Erikson said that by participating in naval exercises with Russia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is also sending a message to Washington. "Chávez clearly feels that he is the leading adversary to U.S. power in the hemisphere and is seeking to reach out to Russia, in part, to irritate the United States and to show his independence from the U.S. And the fact is that he can get away with it. And so far he's been proven correct," says Erikson.

Chávez says Venezuela's partnership with Russia is aimed at countering possible threats from the United States. And he points to the re-establishment of the U.S. Fourth Fleet as such a threat. The Fourth Fleet was re-activated July 1. It is responsible for U.S. Navy ships operating in the Caribbean and in the Central and South American regions. The fleet is headquartered in the U.S. state of Florida and comes under the leadership of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

But analysts say the reconstituted Fourth Fleet does not pose a threat to Venezuela. One reason, said Frank Mora from the National War College in Washington, is that the fleet has no permanent ships assigned to it. "No new naval assets have been deployed or sent to Jacksonville as part of the Fourth Fleet. The Fourth Fleet is in a sense just a headquarters at the moment. It does not have any vessels or ships of any kind, other than those assigned to it by other fleets in other parts of the world," said Mora.

Cassandra Newell with the British publication Jane's Defense Weekly agrees. "They get ships from other fleets, from say the Third Fleet from the West Coast and the Second Fleet up in Norfolk, Virginia and also down in Florida. There are no ships assigned to the Fourth Fleet," says Ms. Newell.

Mora and other analysts said the Fourth Fleet was reactivated to engage in what he calls "non-lethal missions," such as humanitarian assistance. Mora added that whenever a specific mission is designated, ships from other fleets will be assigned, essentially creating the Fourth Fleet.

"The reason why the Fourth Fleet was created is to send a clear signal, particularly on the part of Southern Command, not that we are trying to return to the days of hegemony or invasion or anything of the sort that Hugo Chávez and others have been trying to suggest, but to simply say to Latin America that we are going to use whatever assets we have to engage in joint exercises dealing with humanitarian assistance, disasters, counter-narcotics and a whole series of missions," said Mora.

Analysts said there is a chance that the U.S. Fourth Fleet could be engaged in humanitarian missions in the Caribbean in mid-November when Russian and Venezuelan ships are participating in joint military maneuvers. At the same time, analysts said they do not foresee any kind of confrontation between the two sides.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Libel tourism is focus
of U.S. bill House OK'd

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Senate should pass legislation immediately that shields American authors from libel judgments handed down in countries with less free speech guarantees than the United States, said Freedom House, an organization that says it supports the expansion of freedom in the world.

The organization said it applauded the House of Representatives for passing a bill over the weekend that provides this essential protection.

"We need legislation now that prevents foreign court judgments from further undermining our First Amendment rights," said Karin Karlekar, editor of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press survey. "These lawsuits aim to silence journalists, authors, academics and other watchdogs who dare to write about critical issues such as terrorism financing and corruption."

The House bill, H.R. 6146, addresses the issue of libel tourism — the practice of suing an author in another country that has lower standards for determining libel and weaker free speech protections. The bill would prevent American courts from enforcing such foreign libel judgments. In recent years, numerous American authors have had to defend themselves from lawsuits filed by powerful claimants from authoritarian countries in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

The United Kingdom is a preferred destination for these claimants because of the country's relatively lax libel laws. British courts will try cases for any publications sold in the country, including via the Internet, regardless of where they are published.  These cases have had a chilling effect on authors, with many thinking twice about writing on controversial topics or choosing not to sell their books abroad, said Freedom House.

Libel tourism is part of a larger global trend in which countries are increasingly using punitive laws to punish journalists and authors, the organization said. The trend is now a key factor hampering press freedom worldwide, according to Freedom of the Press, Freedom House's annual press freedom survey.

"U.S. legislation against libel tourism is an important step, but it is by no means an exhaustive solution to this global threat," said editor Karlekar. "Freedom House implores the international community to work to ensure that authors around the world are not preyed upon by these libel tourists."

Jo Stuart
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