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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, Oct. 9, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 200          E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Security minister to pull permits for gun abusers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister said Thursday that she is enacting a rule that would strip a permit to carry a weapon from anyone  who misuses the firearm. That would include gun owners who fail to report the theft of a weapon.

At the same time the minister, Janina del Vecchio, said that the bearers of the majority of weapons confiscated by police throughout the country do not have the legal right to carry them.

She said her plan to cancel carry permits was without a doubt one of the most direct forms to prevent robberies, murders and the most effective way to take guns away from the hands of undesirables be they Costa Ricans or foreigners. She said she based this conclusion on discussions with experts.

The minister's statement is the latest comment on firearms issued by members of the Arias administration. Laura Chinchilla, then vice president, put together a citizen security bill that contained extensive rules on why citizens should not have more than two firearms in their homes for protection. She is now a presidential candidate.

Ms. del Vecchio avowed that carrying a weapon is a privilege and not a right and likened the permit to
the motor vehicle driver's license. She said that she would establish another form of punishment for those who abuse their right to carry a firearm over and above whatever the courts do.

Costa Rican officials have deep concerns about firearms. Fuerza Pública officers are required to surrender their weapons at the end of a shift in many locations. In other countries, off-duty policemen are encouraged and sometimes ordered to carry a personal weapon.

Police officers stop individuals and confiscate weapons nearly every day. The cases seldom show up in the court docket. Once or twice a year, officials put on a show at the Plaza de la Cultura or elsewhere as they chop up weapons.
Many weapons are of the homemade variety, either small caliber long guns or weapons designed to fire a shotgun shell.

Ms. del Vecchio gave no statistics, but there seems to be a trend for more Costa Ricans and expats to be purchasing firearms. Permits are needed to purchase a weapon to keep in the home and a permit, a written and practical test and a psychological exam are required to obtain a permit to carry a weapon. Most of those who seek such permits are private guards. Having a weapon permit usually is a requirement for being hired.

11 cops face probe in one-sided shootout in Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a startling allegation against policemen  in Cartago, prosecutors say that 11 Fuerza Pública officers doctored a murder scene to protect two other officers who now face investigation for murder and attempted murder.

The Judicial Investigating Organization and prosecutors in Cartago detained the 13 officers Thursday morning. The Poder Judicial said that two of the officers face homicide allegations and allegations of attempted homicide.

The other 11 face a litany of charges, including making a false police report and altering a crime scene before Judicial investigators arrived.

The arrests stem from an incident the night of Aug.
6 when police chased a car they thought contained
a felon. The individuals in the car were fleeing because the driver had been drinking.

A swarm of patrol cars intercepted the vehicle, and policemen discharged their weapons multiple times into the vehicle.  Dead was a 24-year-old businessman with the last names of Monge Salas.

Investigators have confiscated the weapons of the policemen and are turning them over to experts to find out which gun fired a fatal shot that killed the man. The men in the car were unarmed. More than two dozen shots were fired.

The case follows on the heels of several arrests of groups of officers for collaborating with drug smugglers and for the arrest of at least 11 policemen, including the chief, in central San José who were collaborating with criminals, according to the allegations.

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drug shipment
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
This is the shipment of cocaine that agents confiscated Dec. 19 in Tuetal de Alajuela

Fishing business owner
linked to drug smugglers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators think that a man who was running a shrimp fishing business here is a high-ranking Colombian guerrilla who has been coordinating the shipment of drugs through Costa Rica.

The man was detained Tuesday when he arrived from Colombia at Juan Santamaría airport. He was identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of Salazar Cuero. He is being linked with the confiscation Dec. 8 of some 1,600 kilos of cocaine at sea and the discovery of about 1,100 kilos of the drug in a home in Tuetal de Alajuela Dec. 19.

The 54-year-old man has been linked to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia, which has been doing business here with the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.

Negotiators leave Honduras
with little hint of success

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A diplomatic delegation has left Honduras without resolving an ongoing political stalemate over the ouster of president José Manuel Zelaya.

Members of the delegation sponsored by the Organization of American States departed Thursday, following talks a day earlier with representatives of both interim President Roberto Micheletti and Zelaya.

Envoys also met with Micheletti, who criticized the diplomats for failing to understand why Zelaya was forcibly removed from office June 28. Additionally, Micheletti criticized the suspension of aid to the Central American nation.

Zelaya was forced into exile following his overthrow in a military-backed coup. He slipped into Honduras Sept. 21 and took refuge at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

His opponents say Zelaya was ousted because he was illegally trying to change the constitution to extend his term in office.

The international community has refused to recognize the interim government, and called for Zelaya to be reinstated with limited powers until a presidential election is held. Zelaya's group insists that elections scheduled for Nov. 29 be delayed if he is not reinstated by then.

Strategy session planned
to expand rail service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Executive branch officials will meet next week with transportation chiefs to evaluate proposals to increase train service in the metro area.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his brother Rodrigo will meet with representatives of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, the  Consejo Nacional de Concesiones an the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles.

Óscar Arias eventually would like to see electric train service throughout much of the Central Valley.

Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia, said Thursday that officials are looking at a short-term and a long-term solution. The long-term is a high-speed, modern electrical train service. The short-term plan is to extend the current service as much as possible. Cartago officials would like the current diesel service to go there.

Some 11 international companies have expressed interest in the project. The government hopes to create a concession so that a private company expands the service and profits by passenger fares over a fixed period. That's because the government has little money for major undertakings.

Some passengers of the new Heredia-San José line have returned to buses because they say the passenger train takes too long, some 45 minutes. In addition the train sometimes is stalled when there is an accident with a motor vehicle. There are no crossing gates.

Unidad puts off picking
candidate for another week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The beleaguereddd Partido Unidad Social Cristiana has called off a national assembly for Sunday and said one would be held Oct. 17.

This is the party that has to select a new presidential candidate because standard bearer Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier was convicted Monday of accepting an illegal commission on a public contract. The former president is free on appeal and is taking an active role in the election campaign where his wife seeks a legislative deputy's seat.

Calderón would have been a strong candidate, and now party leaders are seeking someone strong to lead the ticket and attract votes.

'Ugly Betty' will promote
anti-malaria bed nets for U.N.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Remember "Betty la Fea," the evening telenovela that dominated the airwaves here in 2002?

The show has been transformed into English as "Ugly Betty" for U.S. television.

A United Nations-backed campaign to raise awareness about malaria – which claims over 1 million lives annually – has a starring role on the season premiere of the television comedy.

Airing Oct. 16, the two-hour special will center around the efforts by the main character, Betty Suarez, a young woman recently promoted to become the features editor at a fashion magazine, to draw attention to the “Nothing But Nets” scheme.

Under that campaign, the U.N. Foundation seeks to curb the spread of malaria by providing insecticide-treated bed nets, each costing $10, to communities in greatest need. Malaria infects over 500 million people worldwide annually, killing more than 1 million people, the vast majority of whom are African children. More than 100 persons catch the disease in Costa Rica each year.

To date, the campaign, which started in 2006, has resulted in the distribution of more than 2 million bed nets in Africa.

“Our storyline resonated with every member of our cast and crew,” said Richard Heusfrom, the show’s executive director.

One of the stars of “Ugly Betty,” Ana Ortiz, who recently gave birth to her first child, said that being a new mother has opened her eyes to the need to help vulnerable children around the world.

“Ugly Betty” is the first-ever television comedy series to be filmed at the U.N.

Limón leadership is held
in casino license scandal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents took the mayor and two vice mayors of the Municipalidad de Limón into custody  Thursday to face allegations of irregularities in granting a casino license in the community.

Detained were Eduardo Barboza Orias, the mayor, and vice mayors  Emilce Flores Barquero and Lisa Freckleton Owens. the Poder Judicial confirmed the arrests and that they related to a search of the municipal building Thursday morning.

The allegation is peculado, that is conversion of public money to their own use, and one of  prevaricato, which is issuing a resolution based on false facts or contrary to the law.

The case comes as Limón prepared for its annual carnival, which runs through Oct. 18.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 200

Caldera highway work allowed to resume with restrictions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's environmental tribunal is letting Autopista del Sol resume work on the unfinished stretch of the San José-Caldera highway, but it still is prohibiting constructions at key points such as those likely to affect the Barva aquifer and some 20 rivers and streams along the route.

There was no indication what percentage of the new roadway was still off-limits to construction.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo ordered a halt to work Sept. 24 and said that construction was jeopardizing the Barva aquifer and that runoff was putting silt and debris into many streams and rivers.

The highway involved is the one that is expected to cut down the travel time from the Central Valley to the near Pacific coast and Puntarenas.

The concession holder for the project, Autopista del Sol, was authorized to only do work to mitigate or prevent environmental damage to the underground Barva water source. The tribunal also is seeking a laboratory analysis of water from this source to determine the extent of the environmental damage. The aquifer is close to the surface at one point along the route.

The company also was authorized to begin using again three areas where soil is dumped along the right-of-way as long as it makes sure that there is no environmental damage.

Tribunal judges inspected the highway route last week and said that its technicians would continue to do so.

The company also was told to provide details topographical maps that show the sensitive areas where work is being done.

The tribunal still is awaiting  a series of reports from government agencies on the impact of the work.

The company has said that much of the work being criticized is being done under the supervision of other government agencies and that the tribunal has failed to consider a number of documents the company has presented.

The Tribunal in September asked these government
agencies to provide reports:

• from the Departmento de Aguas of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones: A report on all the bodies of water that could be seen to be affected or put in danger by the  highway from Ciudad Colón to Orotina.

• from the Servicio Nacional de Riego y Avenamiento: A report on all the sources of underground waters that exist along the highway route, their fragility, vulnerability, hidden dangers and whatever other information that is important to mention.

• from the  Área de Conservación del Pacífico Central of the environmental ministry:  An inspection of the entire stretch of the highway between Ciudad Colón and Orotina with a report on details of possible environmental damage and a monetary evaluation of the environmental damage produced by the project.

* from the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental: To confirm that there is a file on the project and a report on what kind of environmental permission has been given the company as well as information on the current state of the file.

• From the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad: A report on all the inspections conducted on the project with emphasis on the steps to protect the environment and mitigation of such damages.

• from the  Consejo Nacional de Concesiones: A report on what steps have been taken and what recommendations have been given to Autopista Del Sol to prevent negative environmental impact.

Although the tribunal is within the environmental ministry, it is an independent body with the power of a court. It can issued fines for environmental damage.

When the concession holder began the project in January 2008, it had 30 months to finish the  77-km (48-mile) highway. The section of most concern to the Tribunal is the 39-km (24-mile) section from Ciudad Colón to Orotina. Bridges have been in place for at least 12 years. The price tag is $230 million. Autopista del Sol is putting up the money and will have 25 years of tolls to recover its investment. The job is supposed to be done by July 1.

Emergency drivers reject waiting in line to pay autopista toll
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What happens if you are racing to a fire on the Autopista del Sol but do not have the exact change?

Of how about it you left your money at the fire station?

Those are a bit silly as examples, but the truth is that there is no lane for emergency vehicles at the toll stations on the remodeled highway from San José to Ciudad Colón.

This would seem to be a simple matter to resolve. But the concession holder for the autopista has been less than anxious in the past to resolve disputes. Construction cut off an access road and also access to some businesses near Santa Ana. A small community already went to the Sala IV constitutional court and won a ruling under which Autopista del Sol has to improve access.

Now it is the turn of the firemen. The Cuerpo de Bomberos has filed a Sala IV appeal asking the court to enforce a clause in the contract that requires free passage for emergency vehicles, according to the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones, which  drew up the contract.
No one had died as a result of the confusion at the toll booths, but ambulance drivers and police actually have had to wait in a line at a toll booth despite flashing lights and that obvious fact that they were  on an emergency call.

In addition, Karla González, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, already has notified the concession holder than the contract should be respected, said the consejo.

Not only should emergency vehicles be allowed to pass through the toll plaza without paying, but drivers should not be required to stop and fill out a form to note their passage, the consejo said.

According to the ministry, all emergency vehicles should have the right of free transit, said the consejo, which is part of the ministry. That includes firemen, Cruz Roja, Tránsito officials, the Fuerza Pública and members of the various other police forces, such as the Judicial Investigating Organization, hacienda, municipal police and others.

The rules established now will cover the newer section of the highway from Ciudad Colon to Orotina. That stretch still is being constructed.

You might say that books have some pretty good medicine
My fridge was still full of food from the feria when I became sick enough to want to stay in bed.  And here I have been for two weeks with little desire to eat regular meals or think about food at all.  Being sick in bed means you spend a lot of time in one place. And in that place mainly what I do is sleep, read and thank heaven for little remotes. Periodically I get up to refill my water glass.

After a while, watching TV seems to give me a mixture of boredom and distress.  There are re-runs of re-runs of silly sitcoms or re-runs of violent police and detective shows and the same news repeated ad nauseam. I can’t remember much about them except for the news. 

Costa Rican are very lucky that in times of  extreme financial distress they do not have to support health care reform and pay for two wars. 

According to a Harvard study, over 40,000 people in the U.S. die each year  because they don’t have health insurance. According to military statistics, the war in Afghanistan is killing more than 230 U.S. soldiers in their prime this year, and thousands more are seriously injured. (The number of people who die is much greater if you count other North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops and civilians.)  These two situations are related because already there are tens of thousands of soldiers returned home with wounds that will require life-long health care.  A terrible dilemma. 

Costa Rica has its corruption and shoot-outs in the city, but at least they have the satisfaction that even past presidents can be found guilty.  However, none of this makes me feel any better.

Retreating to books has been a welcome refuge.  One that has affected me the most is titled “The Book That Changed My Life.” Collections of essays by writers and others on a particular subject have become popular, and this one contains the essays of 71, mostly writers, about the book or books that made a difference in their lives. 

I was not familiar with many of the 71e writers, but I have read a third or more of the books they mentioned and want to read the rest.  The books include “The Little Engine That Could,” (which I did read) and taught investigative reporter/writer/attorney Jeff Benedict humility, confidence and determination. “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollop was a life-changing book for Dominick Dunne. Dunne didn’t start writing until he was 50 and considered himself a failure.  He had lived as an outsider in the world of the rich and famous and that is the subject of Trollop’s
book, but set in the 19th century.  Dunne wrote his own
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

version of Trollop’s novel, entitled “People Like Us.” — plus much, much more. 

One reason I want to read Trollop is that my editor teases me that my writing reminds him of Trollop. (Actually, I think he said that we both write about nothing.) Another is that I loved Dickens and Austen. How could I have missed Anthony Trollop?

A truly life-changing book for Sark (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) was Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."  Ms. Sark read it when she was 16, escaping via books from her world full of abuse and incest.  She found her own story recounted and the ability to overcome her experience to become a successful writer and more, herself. 

All books, even those written to make us laugh or are beyond our ken, change our lives for at least a while.  Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes,” read his first line of Shakespeare when he was a child and in the hospital with typhoid.  He didn’t understand what the words meant but they were ‘like jewels’ in his mouth when he said them, and added, “If I had a whole book of Shakespeare they could keep me in the hospital for a year.”

Among the many nice things about this book is that the editors, Roxanne J Coady and Joy Johannessen, are donating all of the proceeds to the Read to Grow Foundation, which works with urban hospitals to send every newborn baby home with a book and a literacy packet about the importance of books to childhood development.

I think all hospitals should have libraries where those confined to their beds can be given books that help them escape from their surroundings and visit places they never expected to go and meet people who might change their lives, or at least, make them laugh and wonder. 

My bed is not in a hospital, but I have three bookcases to choose from. One is almost full of cookbooks, which I enjoy reading because I learn so much, but I’ve had no interest in them for the past two weeks. I picked one up today.  I surely am getting better.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 200

Venezuela's anti-U.S. center concerns Arias administration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial is now expressing its concern over the so-called Peace Base established by the government of Venezuela in Costa Rica.

The Peace Base is supposed to be an area of discussion and reflection directed at countering U.S. diplomatic objectives. Similar peace bases have been established in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries. Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, came up with the idea Aug. 6 as he was discussing his country's relations with Colombia and the U.S. plan to use some military bases there to continue its program of anti-drug flights.

Rafael Correa of Ecuador did not renew the lease on a airport in his country near Manta that had been used for 10 years to keep track of drug smugglers.

Chávez characterizes the U.S. efforts in Colombia as an extension of the American empire under the guise of fighting drugs.

Chávez has received some support for his position from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the anti-government guerrillas that have been branded drug-smuggling terrorists by the United States and other countries.

An announcement from the Venezuelan Embassy in San José Sept. 30 suggested that there would be other peace bases set up in the country. Among those attending the
opening were representatives of CVG-Alunasa, the Venezuela-owned aluminum company that  employs some 400 Costa Ricans at it Esparza plant. President Óscar Arias Sánchez has been far less critical of the Venezuelan government and Chávez after Venezuela threatened to close the plant in 2007.

Nelson Pineda Prada, the Venezuelan ambassador here, spoke of the urgent necessity to consolidate the peace in the continent during the inaugural. He cited grave imperialist threats that might frustrate the revolutionary transformation of Latin America, according to an embassy release.

He called Plan Colombia, the massive U.S. infusion of money into Colombia, a plan of war for the militarization of Latin America, according to the release, which said the inaugural was attended by intellectuals, professors, researchers, students, workers, artists, politicians and members of social organizations.

In a release issued in the name of Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, brother of the president and minister of the Presidencia, the administration expressed its concern.

Rodrigo Arias said that the foreign ministry has been asked to evaluate the Venezuelan project and see if it is contrary to the Convention of Vienna that regulates diplomatic activity.

He said that Costa Rica respects the principles of non-intervention and self determination of peoples and asked that other countries show the same respect.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 200

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Some positive signs noted
as U.S. economy recovers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. economy is showing modest but welcome signs of life in employment and retail sales, adding to expectations of recovery from the longest and deepest recession of the post-World War II era.

The number of newly laid off Americans filing for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level since the beginning of the year. According to the U.S. Labor Department, new unemployment insurance claims totaled 521,000, down from 554,000 the previous week.

Joel Naroff heads Naroff Economic Advisers consulting firm.

"This was a somewhat better-than-expected number," said Naroff. "What this is telling us is that the really great problems in the unemployment situation are behind us. We are still having too many people file for unemployment claims, but we are beginning to see some firming in the labor market."

Naroff says the number of new jobless benefits claimants will have to fall even further, to about 450,000 a week, to prevent overall unemployment from continuing to rise. The unemployment rate stands at 9.8 percent, and is widely expected to top 10 percent in coming months — even if the U.S. economy records positive growth in the final quarter of the year.

Among the hardest hit segments of the U.S. economy is the retail sector. But, collectively, America's stores recorded the first sales gains in more than a year in September. The 0.1 percent rise may seem miniscule, but compares favorably to a 1 percent drop a year ago.

Retail analyst Candace Corlett says consumers remain frugal.

"There is a real movement afoot that says, 'I do not want to go back to the debt I used to carry.' Consumers are being selective," said Ms. Corlett. "It is not that they do not have some money to spend. But they just are not going to spend it everywhere."

The consensus view among economists is that consumer spending is urgently needed in the short term to spark economic expansion, but that ultimately Americans must save more and consume less than they did before last year's financial meltdown.

Earlier this week, Australia became the first industrialized nation to raise interest rates since the financial crisis and global economic slowdown struck last year. Thursday, the European Central Bank left a key interest rate unchanged at a record-low one percent, but said the worst of the recession is over.

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

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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 200

Latin American news
TACA, Avianca will merge
into one airline group

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Synergy Group and Grupo Taca Holdings Ltd announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement leading to the creation of a merged airline group. As a result of this agreement, each shareholder will contribute its respective controlling ownership participations in the operations of Aerovías Del Continente Americano S.A., known as Avianca, based in Colombia, and Grupo TACA, the Central American carrier, to a newly formed holding company. The transaction is subject to regulatory and other antitrust approvals.

The new group will capitalize on two of the best known airline brands in Latin America, two world-class product offerings, strong hubs and complementary networks, as well as two uniquely entrepreneurial and service-oriented cultures with highly motivated employees, said the announcement. By leveraging the new group’s four hubs — in Bogota, Lima, San Salvador and San Jose, Costa Rica, — Avianca and TACA will be able to offer customers better service to more destinations than any other carrier in the region. Employees will also benefit from the new group’s greater geographical diversification and stronger combined platform for future growth and career development in the face of a still challenging economic environment, volatile fuel prices and intense competition, the announcement said.

Roberto Kriete, chairman and CEO of TACA, who will serve as chairman of the future group, said, “Grupo TACA has long been a leading force for consolidation and rationalization in the Latin American airline industry. This latest chapter is a significant milestone in our corporate evolution, giving us the breadth and scale to better compete with any player in our markets while ensuring our long-term success. It represents a unique opportunity for all of our employees and shareholders to form part of one of the leading airline groups in the Americas.”

Germán Efromovich, chairman of the Synergy Group, said, “We are proud of what Avianca has achieved over the past few years in terms of the strong corporate culture we have developed and the quality of service we are providing. With this formidable partnership we will be able to build further on that success and provide our passengers access to what is now Latin America’s leading airline network, as well as creating opportunities for further growth and development for all our employees.”

Avianca and TACA have nearly $3 billion in aggregate annual revenues, serve more than 100 destinations worldwide (including 75 cities in Latin America, the largest number of any carrier), operate a fleet of 129 aircraft, employ approximately 12,000 people, and have over 3 million frequent-flyer program members.

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