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(506) 223-1327              Published Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 201        E-mail us   
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Losses from state bank accounts are a steady trickle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Complaints continue to come in from expats who had their bank accounts tapped by crooks. Most of the victims also complain that the state banks from which the funds were taken have been less than fully helpful.

Bank officials generally blame sloppiness on the part of the account owners, but some indications point to inside jobs.

The recent reports do not rise to the level of the $215,000 stolen from the account of an expat businesswoman earlier this year. But $2,000 and $3,000 thefts are common.

One expat reported that the manager at the branch he uses became a victim of Internet theft and blamed the crime on the error of using an Internet cafe computer to access an account.

One businesswoman in a tourist region said that her Banco Nacional account was tapped more than 20 times, including once from Nicaragua and once from Spain. She also said she learned that the single bank investigator assigned to such cases took a two-week vacation and there was no replacement.

In a different twist, an expat in the central Pacific said that his Banco de Costa Rica account was tapped from some $2,000 through what appeared to be the use of his debit card to purchase a computer from a U.S. outlet. The man said:

"I have followed every warning published many times over both here and in the U.S. about protecting account information: never use an Internet cafe, always take receipts from ATM machines, cashiers, etc., never respond to e-mails asking for information, etc., etc., etc.  In restaurants I pay with cash.  I do use my BCR debit card for gas, buying groceries or for shopping in major stores (Cemaco, Pricemart, EPA, etc.).  Despite all this, someone was still able to obtain sufficient information about my account and my debit card number to steal US$2,000 . . . ."

The man said that a similar theft happened to a friend, and that the bank refused to cancel the unauthorized payment, if it was a payment.

The Pacific coast man also has asked for a refund from the bank and is awaiting a decision.
bank account thefts

Staffers at A.M. Costa Rica also have lost small amounts of money repeatedly from their accounts at state banks, and a close study of the statements available from Banco Nacional on the Internet shows that they are inaccurate.

Bank officials claim their systems are secure ones. They blame the customers and say that the thefts are via phishing, a technique where crooks trick bank customers into giving them access information.

Others cite the use of wireless Internet hookups that are vulnerable to eavesdropping and a multitude of electronic methods by which crooks can get the information.

The woman expat who lost $220,000, however, had money removed from her account in amounts six time greater than the bank's daily limit of $10,000.

Banco de Costa Rica has been plagued by Internet crooks using the phishing method of sending out fake Web look-alikes and then tricking bank customers into signing on the fake page with their login name and password.

There have been some suggestions that the obvious phishing efforts are really just covers for inside thefts.

The Judicial Investigating Organization broke up one ring that agents said was dedicated to using phishing techniques. Lately the agency's director has been complaining about lacking resources and investigators.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 201

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Companies that backed treaty are equated with Hitler on Web site of The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Session seeking compromise
will take place today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today President Óscar Arias Sánchez will seek to form a coalition to allow easy passage of pending legislation that will bring the free trade treaty with the United States into force.
Arias and his brother Rodrigo, minister of the Presidencia, will be meeting in the morning with legislative deputies of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. Party leader Ottón Solís already has said that he will negotiate for financial help for smaller firms affected negatively by the trade treaty.

Solís supported the campaign against the trade treaty and even visited Washington to sound out U.S. officials on re-negotiation of the document. The treaty passed Sunday by 3 percentage points, in part because the U.S. Trade Representative's Office said that there would be no re-negotiation of the agreement if voters turned it down.

The Arias brothers also have meetings scheduled with other political party representatives in the legislature, including the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, whose member Abel Pacheco, authorized the treaty negotiations and served as president when the document was signed.

Partido Acción Ciudadana, a strong opponent of the treaty, seems to be distancing itself from the more radical members of the No campaign who still are seeking to reverse the referendum vote. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, for example, has a photo of Adolph Hitler on its Web site and says that Costa Rican businesses were concentration camps that forced workers to vote in favor of the trade treaty to avoid unemployment. The Web site contains a number of other stories that suggest the organization, which represents workers in the nation's government monopolies, has not accepted the outcome of the referendum.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana, on the other hand, is looking toward the 2010  elections where Solís will likely be a presidential candidate. The party could lose face with some voters if it did not accept the results of the referendum.

Dole says it will phase out
use of paraquat herbicide

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Dole Food Co. Inc. said Tuesday that it is discontinuing the use of paraquat in its agricultural operations worldwide by implementing an immediate phase-out program, except in Costa Rica where Dole’s targeted phase-out program extends to June 30.

During the Costa Rica phase-out program, Dole will continue its practice of applying paraquat-containing herbicides only through mechanized equipment such as boom spray devices under supervised conditions, the company said. The herbicide has not been used in banana cultivation here since 2001, but it still is used on fields of pineapples.

“Dole’s implementation of this phase-out program responds to developing marketplace conditions in Europe and elsewhere regarding the use of this herbicide, while also balancing needed compliance with the local regulatory requirements,” said David DeLorenzo, president and chief executive officer of Dole.

A number of European countries have prohibited the chemical, which also is distributed under a number of trade names. Environmental groups said that exposure to the chemical can cause damage to internal human organs and also skin cancer.

Environmentalists also estimate the poisoning by agrochemicals causes up to 200 deaths a year in Costa Rica and costs the country $7 million a year in medical care.
Dole with 2006 revenues of $6.2 billion, is the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh-cut flowers. The firm is based in Westlake Village, California.

Play planned for Jacó Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group of Escazú will present its latest play, "84 Charing Cross Road," at Club Del Mar in Jacó Saturday at 6 p.m.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 201

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Bandits make off with computers at Muncipalidad de Osa
 By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed robbers descended on the Municipalidad de Osa and took 11 computers containing vital information including business licenses, plans, permits and information about maritime concessions.

The robbery took place Thursday, and the men wore masks and carried two AK-47 rifles and a shotgun.

The municipal building is in Cortez, and the area of jurisdiction stretches from north of Dominical to the north half of the Osa Peninsula in the south.

Now the municipal workers are forced to do the daily business by hand with pen and paper.  Fernando Jimenes, an aide to the municipal mayor, confirmed that the CPUs taken by the men contain vital information. He said several home robberies had been reported in the area.

The guard at the municipal building was tricked and then overpowered by four men.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that one robber approached the guard shack about 8 p.m. and asked the security officer for a drink of water. While the man was
distracted, the three masked men with guns showed up and then tied up the guard, said investigators.

The guard told investigators that the armed men were all dressed in black and wore gloves, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. They took the guard to an interior room of the municipal building and took his keys.

Despite having the keys, agents reported that the men cut the locks on the doors to gain access to the computers with the municipal records.

The haul from the robbery included 450,000 colons (about $865) that was to be used to pay for transporting voters during the referendum election Sunday, the 11 CPUs, seven computer screens and a 2007 Toyota Hi-Lux, said agents.

The municipality recently was criticized by the Contraloría de la República for its failure to supervise a maritime concession in Dominical, and additional reviews of documents were anticipated. Much of the documents at the municipal building also exist in hard copies, but it is not known how well they have been archived.

Municipalities share responsibility for granting development concessions of public beach land with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

CouchSurfers meet to discuss their new way to see world
By Judy Gill
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Some 20 or so persons, ranging in age from a recent high school graduate to a couple of septuagenarians and many others in between, met at an Italian Restaurant in Heredia Sunday, creating the first known local international mini-conference of CouchSurfers.

The group, lined up along both sides of a long table, created a babble of many languages, including the international ones of laughter and smiles, food and drink. Represented were people from seven countries: Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, the UK and the United States.

CouchSurfers are people who register with so that in their travels all over the world, they have opportunities to meet others in the various communities they visit, often just for coffee and conversation, for lunch, or to wander around a particular town together, perhaps with the host showing the visitor his or her favorite spots.

The object is not merely for the host to provide accommodations of some sort — anything from a chunk of floor to lay a sleeping bag, a couch, or even a guest room for a night or two, but to make new friends with the hope that someday the host will become the surfer and end up on his or her new friend's couch. It works both ways.

As the CouchSurfing Project web site says, "CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!
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Photo courtesy of Judy Gill
CouchSurfers at their mini-conference.

A recent count showed that 435,250 participants report a positive experience. That's more than 99 percent.

Some member simply surf. Other members host. Some do both. CouchSurfing is a great and truly secure way to meet new friends all over the world. All communication through CouchSurfing is recorded and can be monitored for safety purposes.

Participants can travel without the concern of finding a hotel or hostel, or simply to be shown around town by someone familiar with the traveler's current destination.

It is not a dating service, though undoubtedly friendships are formed and forged as a result of surfing.

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Secretary Rice: Defeat of Latin trade deals would hurt U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is urging Congress to pass three Latin American free trade agreements, saying defeat of those deals would deliver a great blow to America's standing in the region.

Secretary Rice made her comments Tuesday at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington.

Ms. Rice said failure to pass the deals with Colombia, Panamá and Perú would send a loud and clear message across the region that the United States cannot be trusted to keep its promises.

U.S. officials say the agreements will help American exporters by cutting duties on their products to the three nations.  They say 90 percent of imports from Colombia, Panamá and Perú already enter the United States duty-free.

Some U.S. lawmakers, however, are concerned that free trade deals with Peru and other countries could jeopardize American jobs.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee approved the deal with Perú in a significant step toward ratification
 by the U.S. Congress.  The agreement also is expected to go before the House Ways and Means Committee next week.  Many Peruvian farmers fear the deal — which lawmakers in their country ratified last year — will hurt local businesses.

Last month, some U.S. officials said the deal with Panamá may be in jeopardy after the country's national assembly elected as its leader a lawmaker wanted by the United States on charges he shot dead a U.S. soldier in 1992.  The lawmaker, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, denies any role in the incident.

Separately, U.S. labor groups oppose the agreement with Colombia, citing human rights concerns.  Critics also say Colombia has a history of violence against trade union leaders.

Democratic Party legislators who control the U.S. Congress also say they are concerned about Colombia's rights record and alleged links between that government and illegal paramilitaries.

President George Bush has said free trade is the best way to lift people out of poverty and that Congress will have to decide whether or not to turn its back on a friend in considering the deal with Colombia.

New South American development bank will be located in Caracas, Venezuela
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Seven South American countries are launching a new development bank aimed at expanding regional trade and growth.

The Banco del Sur, or Bank of the South, is to be officially established Nov. 3 in Caracas, Venezuela. The date was agreed on by regional finance ministers meeting in Brazil Monday.

The bank, championed by Venezuelan President Hugo
 Chavez, is also supported by Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Ecuador. The presidents of each country must sign off on the deal before the bank can get underway.

Chavez proposed the regional bank as part of a drive to counter the conditional lending practices of international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Officials say the bank will be open to all South American countries.

Gunmen in Guatemala City slay aide to leading presidential candidate, Pérez.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An aide to Guatemala's leading presidential candidate has been shot and killed by unknown gunmen in Guatemala City.

The candidate, Otto Pérez Molina, described Monday's attack as politically motivated. The former general suggested it was a response to his threats to crack down on drug trafficking if elected in the Nov. 4 runoff election.
Perez's aide, Aura Salazar, and a guard were shot while sitting in a car parked blocks away from Congress. At least 50 people have been killed in violence related to this year's presidential elections.

A poll published Monday in the national Siglo XXI newspaper shows Pérez leading his opponent, Álvaro Colom, by nearly 8 percentage points. Colom and Pérez were the top two candidates in the first round of elections held in September.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 201

Two pro basketball teams in London to promote the game
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In an effort to the increase basketball's international popularity, the National Basketball Association will hold a game tonight in London. The event will be a rare opportunity for British fans to catch live NBA action when the Boston Celtics face the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Ten days ago, London was treated to National Hockey League match.  In just under three weeks, American football will take center stage here when the National Football League hosts a game.

This week though, the game in town is basketball and the match at the O2 Arena will be the first time the NBA has come to London in 14 years.

Boston guard, Paul Pierce says developing interest outside of North America now seems like a natural thing to do, especially given the fact that more foreign players are playing professional basketball in the United States each year.

"It is a global game," he said.  "I mean, I am excited to see that the game has expanded over the years to how it is growing all across the world and it is only good for the game because you get the interest from so many people that
it just generates that many more fans and makes the game even more exciting."

What the NBA wants to do is grow interest in the game in places like Europe.  And although nothing has been decided at this stage, more exhibition games could be heading this way in the coming years.

Timberwolves center, Mark Blount says that is all right with him.

"Figure something out with the flying and the jets.  And if they are able to work something out you know, it would be great," he said.  "I really like London.  It is a great town, a great, great place."

Former Timberwolf, now Celtic forward, Kevin Garnett says just as David Beckham is trying to boost interest in soccer in America, he is pleased to do what he can this week to increase the profile of basketball in Europe.

There has been a lot of speculation this week in Britain about whether there might one day be an NBA franchise in Europe.  Kevin McHale, the vice president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, said there are a lot of avenues to explore in the coming years and that means different options can be tried out.

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