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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 202       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Heredia girl finishes second as continent's 'idol'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's Latin American Idol finalist María José Castillo came in second last night at the end of a two-hour, commercial-filled spectacular on Sony Television..

Once again there was a leak earlier in the day that said the cellular text message votes for Ms. Castillo were falling behind.

The organizers of the show extended the voting at 6:30 p.m. and later reported that the votes received were greater than totals from the finals of the first two seasons of the reality show.

However, no vote totals were given.

The two-hour show included taped cameo appearances by President Óscar Arias Sánchez and President Martín Torrijos of Panamá. The winner, Margarita Henríquez, is from Panamá.

Some Costa Ricans considered the show a patriotic effort, and newspapers, magazines and the Internet were filled with messages urging a
vote for Miss Castillo. At Miss Castillo's home in Barva de Heredia, tents were set up, and hundreds
Maria  jose
Miss Castillo
came to show their support.

Earlier in the day there were concerts at which citizens were urged to vote for the woman.

Each vote cost 425 colons (77 U.S. cents), an increase from earlier in the week.

The audience in the studio in
Argentina was filled with Costa Ricans, including Miss Castillo's mother, María Eugenia Gutiérrez, and Panamanians. Many waved national flags.

The producers of the show filled up the two hours with clips from previous shows and performances by established musicians and the two finalists themselves.

Miss Castillo has been declared a person of cultural interest by the government and will receive an official welcome when she returns to the country.

Court says bank is responsible for Internet thefts
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a Thursday decision that may set a groundbreaking precedent for other cases involving Internet fraud, a court ruled that the Banco Nacional must pay damages to a man after money was stolen from his bank account via the Internet.

The Banco Nacional de Costa Rica has argued that Internet theft occurs mainly because clients have been careless with their account information and that banks are therefore not responsible for reimbursing them. Thursday's ruling, however, implied otherwise.

“When it comes to online security, there is a bilateral relationship between the customer and the bank,” said one judge. The case was in the Tribunal Procesal Contencious Administrativa.

Currently, 11 lawsuits have been filed against the Banco de Costa Rica and the Banco Nacional, all concerning cases of Internet theft via fraudulent online transfers.

The ruling would set a standard for future cases, said the lawyer for Cristian Loría, the victim. “It will call attention to banks, whether they are government-owned and private, and signal to them that the responsibility is theirs,”  said the lawyer, Guido Palacino.

Loría first suspected he was being targeted for online theft in August 2007 after he received a phishing e-mail, that is, a fraudulent message disguised as an official e-mail from the bank, asking for his account information. After calling the bank, a representative took down his name and identification, then told him to delete the e-mail, according to testimony.

According to the tribunal, by failing to instruct him to either change his passwords or to close his account, the Bank was partly to blame for the security breach. 

During the lawsuit, the bank also failed to successfully prove that Loria had been careless with his security passwords or his personal account information.

“It's akin to having a passenger get into a taxi and
then blaming them for crashing it,” said Palacino. “That's what the bank presumed.”

Also helping the prosecution's case was the fact that over 500,000 colons (nearly $1,000) were transferred from Loría's account on three separate occasions from July to September. Officially, Banco Nacional only permits a daily transfer of 500,000 colons, a measure that was imposed last December, in reaction to a dramatic increase of Internet theft. 

Costa Rica currently lacks specific laws concerning how victims of online theft should be reimbursed, if at all. Because of this, the Banco Nacional is considering appealing the decision, said a spokesperson for the bank.

“We believe that security is a shared responsibility between the bank and the client,” said José Francisco Araya, director de relaciones cooperativas at the bank.

Thursday's ruling was largely based on a law regarding consumer responsibility. The law dictates that businesses must respond if consumers are harmed in some way by the services provided by the business. Therefore, even if banks are not directly guilty of a customer's online theft, they must still bear some responsibility for it if it can be proved that the customer is not to blame.

Araya said that because Banco Nacional has made serious efforts to warn customers against the threats of online fraud through advertising and through its Web site, it should not be held solely responsible for security breaches.

“We're not saying who's guilty and who's not, that's up to the legal counsel,” Araya said.  “Yet, this is a case that occurred in June. Since February, the bank has been engaged in an advertising campaign warning against phishing . . . On the bank's log-in page, where customers can sign into their accounts, there is a permanent alert against these threats. We warned customers not to give out their password or PIN to others, share their e-mail addresses, and we warned them about responding to these suspicious e-mails.”

So far this year, the Judicial Investigation Organization has received more than 600 complaints from victims of virtual theft.

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Museum pieces are going
to an exhibition in Montreal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canadians will soon be getting a view of pre-Columbian Costa Rican life.

The Museo Pointe à Callière in Montreal will be mounting a show of some 258 pieces from the collection of the Museo Nacional. The show opens Nov. 2.

An expert from the Canadian museum is in the country now going over the final details for the project.

The exhibition will end April 19, said the museum here.

The exhibition also will include a chronology of events in Costa Rica from 500 A.D. to the arrival of the Spanish.

The museum said that 184 of the pieces have never been exhibited before including in Costa Rica.

The majority have been acquired by the museum over the last 10 years. In addition to gold, the pieces are of ceramic, stone and jade.

The Canadian museum is financing the entire project., which will be titled "Costa Rica: Land of Marvels."

New, speedy trial system
lets culprit off quickly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man with a metal bar attacked a woman near the bridge at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in Tibás this week and took her purse.

Because a suspect was captured not far away, he became one of the first individuals to appear before the Tribunal Penal de Flagrancia. This is the court that is supposed to give quick treatment to those caught red-handed.

In this case the man was a likely candidate because he had possessions of the woman on his person when arrested.

The prosecutor asked a judge to jail the man for preventative detention because under the rules of the new, speedy process, the case should be resolved within five days.

The judge, however, decided to allow the suspect to have conditional release.

The prosecutor appealed, and a higher court agreed that jail was the appropriate place to hold the man to insure his participation in the rest of the process.

The man already had been released.

Two activities for kids
Sunday on Cultures day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is el Día de las Culturas, as Columbus Day is called in Costa Rica.

Although the day is not a legal holiday here, there are activities Sunday, including a puppet show at the Teatro Eugene O’Neill in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses. The show is based on the book “Historias Cabécares” by Severiano Fernández and Varela Varas.

The show begins at 11 a.m. and admission is 2,500 colons, about $4.50.

The Cabécares are one of the country's native groups, and the book includes short stories about tribal traditions and life.

At the Museos del Banco Central under the Plaza de la Cultura in the center of San José a Festival Pluricultural will be held mostly for children from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Monday is a legal holiday, Columbus Day, in the United States, so the U.S. Embassy here will be closed.

Canadians mark Thanksgiving

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving, and Canadians here are celebrating the day Sunday at Rock 'n Roll Pollo in Santa Ana from 1  p.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are being taken at at 2232-5056. The dinner is 9,500 colons ($17.25 U.S.) for adults and 4,740 ($8.60) for children 10 and under, according to a club announcement.

Car carried off victim
of Heredia hit-and-run

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car struck down a 73-year-old Heredia man and carried the victim nearly a mile to the home of the driver, said investigators.

The dead man was identified as Juan Francisco Arce Arroyo.  The accident happened in San Rafael de Heredia.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that a suspect, identified by the last names of Villalobos Vargas, had been located and was being questioned.

The hit-and-run driver apparently did not know that the man was still attached to the vehicle.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 202

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Costa Rica has many species on environmental red list
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica takes a prominent spot in the 2008 Red List of Threatened Species.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature releases an assessment of species of animals and plants with enough information to determine their conservation status, with rankings from “least concern” through “endangered” to “critically endangered” and extinct.

Holdridge’s Toad (Bufo holdridgei) was a small toad species known from a small area on Cerro Chompipe, an outlying cinder cone on the east side of Volcan Barva. It was quite common as recently as the 1970s but has not been seen since 1986. As its habitat has not been affected, the decline is considered likely to have been caused by chytridiomycosis, a fungus that grows on the skin of highland tropical amphibians.

This history of sudden decline and extinction of an extremely localized species is nearly identical to that of the Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes), which was formerly common in the Monteverde forest reserve but has not been seen since 1989. It is often speculated that climate change caused that extinction, perhaps favoring the growth of the fungus, but there is no direct scientific evidence.

Some 62 species of Costa Rica’s amphibians are listed under the various vulnerable categories, fully one-third of the total list for the country. These are mostly highland frogs and salamanders that are poorly known and considered threatened by chytridiomycosis.

Another eight reptiles make the list, comprising sea turtles, two species of small fresh-water turtles, the American crocodile, and a localized species of iguana.

About 18 species of birds breeding in mainland Costa Rica are considered to be of conservation concern. Four are classified as endangered. The great green macaw is endangered over its large range by habitat and food resource loss as well as some capture for the pet trade. Several species such as harpy eagle would be considered critically endangered in the Costa Rican part of their range, but survive in numbers elsewhere, Amazonia in the eagle’s case.

The black-cheeked ant-tanager is found only in forest on the Osa Peninsula. This habitat is well-protected in Parque Nacional Corcovado National Park, but the bird continues to decline in nearby deforested and fragmented areas. “Somewhat paradoxically, as it becomes entirely
confined to the protected areas, the extent of its range is
Honduran bat
Photo by Rick Anderson
The Honduran white bat is considered 'vulnerable' by the Red List. 

likely to stabilize and it will be reclassified as vulnerable,” states the red list account for the species.

The other bird species are restricted to small areas entirely within Costa Rica or nearly so. The mangrove hummingbird is found only in mangroves from the Gulf of Nicoya to the Golfo Dulce, though it is still common locally. The yellow-billed cotinga is also highly dependent on mangroves in Costa Rica, with one small population in Panama.

Both species are considered endangered given their small range and population size, with a restricted habitat. Mangrove destruction in Costa Rica has largely been arrested, but the habitat is by nature restricted to brackish waters in bays and river mouths and, therefore, localized and potentially at risk.

Worldwide, the red list includes more than a third of the world’s mammals. Costa Rican mammals considered threatened or endangered include the large cats like jaguar as well as Baird’s tapir, threatened by habitat loss and hunting.

The Central American squirrel monkey has had its habitat reduced to a few parks on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and Panamá. Several species of bats and rodents are poorly known.

When the news get grim, it's time to retreat to the kitchen
During tough times, personal or global, my solution is food.  No, I don’t want to eat it, I want to cook it or watch it being cooked. On 9/11, sick at heart, after seeing the two towers collapse one too many times, I switched the channel to Food Network and watched Mario Batali prepare an Italian dinner.  It was an oasis of peace and familiarity in a world turned upside down.

Back in March I wrote a column with my opinion that the U.S. was in a recession that would soon hit the rest of the world.  Beginning last week the full force of the grim financial situation hit the States, this week the world.  I keep heading for the kitchen.  (I must confess, most often I start making fudge, but I don’t have much luck here getting it to the stage one can actually pick up the squares.  I think it’s the altitude.)  Today I decided upon something Italian.  Preparing tomato sauce is very comforting to me.

There is a package of scallops in my freezer.  One day in better times I splurged and bought a package of frozen scallops.  I had had them in a restaurant and craved them again.  The price was stunning – nearly $12 a pound, but, gritting my teeth, I bought them rationalizing that they would make at least 10 meals for me.  In another column about the pleasures of living alone, I said that you can splurge on a luxury food because you can buy small amounts, or, if you have to buy them by the kilo, they are still reasonable per serving.   My scallops have been in the freezer a very long time as I nibble away at them.

It seemed a good time to defy the gods of disaster by preparing something extravagant.  I share the recipe with you because you can make it with shrimp (3 large ones will do) or even tuna, and there is enough sauce for two. 

In one frying pan sauté ½ finely chopped onion, one minced clove of garlic and salt in 2 TB olive oil. Don’t brown.  Add one can tomato cubitos; simmer for 15 minutes. 

Wash and dry 3-4 scallops and cut in half horizontally.  Sauté 1 clove garlic in a TB olive oil.  Add scallops and
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

cook for three minutes, turning them. Set aside.
Normally I will add some cream to the tomato sauce to make a pink sauce.  Not having any, I tried buttermilk and cream cheese.  It tasted good. Add the scallops to the sauce and heat.  (Be careful not to overcook or they will be tough.) Serve over capellini.  I had enough left over for a second meal.  A hint for the thrifty: left over spaghetti even with sauce clinging to it is delicious in a fritatta.  Briefly sauté the pasta in an oiled frying pan. Beat an egg with a TB of water, add to spaghetti, gently stir and fold over.

It seems a bit frivolous to talk about food in these times, but I’d rather talk about recipes and leftovers than nest eggs and bailouts.  My daughter obviously is a chip off the old block because she just e-mailed me asking for my recipe for fudge.

Meanwhile, I have learned that there were some errors in my last column about registering with the U.S. Embassy.  Mel Goldberg, who is vice commander of the American Legion, Post 16, (in Heredia) volunteers his help to U.S. citizens. He gave me a more direct number to call for information about registering: call American citizens services at 2519-2453, between 8-11:30 a.m.  If you get frustrated and need more personal help with your questions, you can call Mel himself at 2288-0454.

And the embassy’s estimate is of the number of U.S. citizens in Costa Rica (not North Americans).  That estimate is 55,000.  I wonder if this withering financial situation is going to raise or lower that number.  Whatever, I expect to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  Next week I will probably have a new recipe for rice and beans to share.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 202

U.S. financial problems reducing money being sent home
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Months of slowdown in the U.S. economy already have reduced the amount of money immigrants and foreign workers in the United States send to family in their home countries. Add to that the recent weeks of financial crisis that have shaken the international banking system.

Official figures show migrant remittances are down worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank, which studies Latin American and Caribbean economies, reported in March that the amount of money sent home by millions of Latin Americans working abroad grew at the slowest rate last year in nearly a decade. Partly attributing this to the economic downturn in the United States, the development bank reported that remittances to Brazil fell by 4 percent, while those to Mexico grew by only 1 percent.

The total amount of money sent home last year by Latin Americans worldwide was still huge, about $66.5 billion, but many analysts and experts are concerned about the future outlook.

Many Costa Rican families are dependent on money sent home from the United States and Canada by Ticos living there.

Economist Walter Kemmsies said the decline in remittances from the United States, particularly to Mexico, makes sense. More than 20 percent of Mexican migrants work in the construction industry. "I suspect that a lot of the workers in the construction industry were illegal aliens, and as the industry slowed down, they originally just got rid of the workers who were of temporary status. That would explain a big chunk of the decline," he said.

Kemmsies, chief economist at the infrastructure engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol, says economic hardships, as well as increased immigration enforcement, are contributing to the decline in remittances from the United States.

Diana Rosario, a legal immigrant who came to the United States 12 years ago from the Dominican Republic, has always sent money and other necessities back to her family. But since losing her job recently at an education staffing firm, she is finding it harder and harder to support herself, much less send funds home. "I send everything that is possible to send to my poor family in the Dominican Republic. Whatever I collect from anywhere, I save it and I send it. And I usually send $200 every month, but now, with the economy down, I cut it down to half," she said.

Many immigrants in the New York area say they have had to tighten their belts recently. One such immigrant is
Albanian Sejdi Husenaj, who says he has been particularly affected by the housing market crisis. As the manager of a real estate company, Husenaj says these are the worst economic times he has seen in the U.S. in 40 years living here.

"We've had to cut down on supporting our families by 50 percent, at least. It's not easy lately, because I have a father and stepmother in Kosovo I've been supporting for the past 30 years, and I have a brother, his wife and two of his children in Albania I've been supporting for the past four years."

Kabir Syed, who works for an insurance services firm in New York, does not send money back to India on a regular basis. However, he said he has been saving for a rainy day, like many other Indians living in the United States. Syed said he does not think the Indian community here will be as heavily hit as other immigrant groups.

Of all migrant workers around the world, Indians send the largest amounts of money home. "Most Indians save a lot traditionally, and they send a certain amount, so it's not going to be a huge impact on the renumeration, because they do it on a monthly basis. So it's not going to impact severely like it happens in the Mexican immigrant community, because those are mostly hourly or construction workers, so they are really hit very hard," Syed said.

Economist Kemmsies says more and more New Yorkers will soon feel the effects of the bankruptcies, mergers and consolidations rippling through the financial sector, particularly the many immigrants who work in service industries.

"The people who work on Wall Street spend a lot on services. They're the ones who use the dry cleaning services, they go out and eat and enjoy the many restaurants in the city. They spend a lot of money on entertainment. So as their spending really declines, then all of these other industries that are dependent on Wall Street — the supporting industries — they all have to take a hit," he said.

Global remittances from foreign workers make up an estimated $300 billion a year, three times as much as the foreign aid paid out by governments in the developed world. The biggest share of this, over $42 billion, comes from immigrants working in the United States.

As big as those sums are, Kemmsies says, they are probably underestimated, since quite a few foreign workers send banknotes back to their home countries by mail. Those envelopes may become thinner and thinner in the coming months.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 202

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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

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.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Drug trade and violence
called biggest safety threat

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Drug trafficking and the violence committed by its associated organized crime is the biggest threat to public safety in the Americas, according to the executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
“As a hemisphere, the Americas face the world’s biggest drug problem,” said the director, Antonio Maria Costa, at the first-ever gathering of the ministers responsible for public safety of the Americas, during their meeting Wednesday in Mexico City.

Costa added that “whether we measure it in hectares of cultivation, tons of production, its market value or even by the gruesome number of people killed in the dirty trade,” the drug crisis affecting the security of the ordinary people in the area is huge.

“Your citizens indeed say that what they fear the most is not terrorism, not climate change, not a financial crisis. It is public safety. And in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetrated by organized crime,” he said.

Costa pointed out that urban violence in the United States, biker gangs in Canada, the brutality and kidnapping in Mexico, the insurgency in Colombia and gangs in Brazilian shantytowns, Central America and the Caribbean are all connected to drug crime.

Drug-related crime has turned some neighbourhoods into combat zones, observed Costa, as he urged municipal authorities to play a greater role in enhancing security for their citizens.

“Experience shows that pro-poor housing reform, youth programmes, rejuvenation of public spaces, widening access to public services and introducing public surveillance technology can create safer cities,” he said.

Citing an Office on Drugs and Crime report on the threat of narco-trafficking in the Americas, Costa explained that the continent differs from other drug-infested regions because drug demand is largely satisfied with supply, as South America produces almost all of the world’s cocaine and North America consumes half of it while most of the rest goes to Europe.

Although some progress had been made in reducing the supply of narcotics, with cocaine production in Andean countries well below the levels of a decade ago,  Costa noted that the demand for drugs remains constant. 

“Until the number of cocaine users falls worldwide, the problems caused by narco-trafficking will be displaced (as we are now seeing in West Africa) rather than solved,” he said.

Also attending the meeting was Janina del Vecchio, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública in Costa Rica.

Jo Stuart
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