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(506) 223-1327          Published Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 207        E-mail us    
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Grave allegations cited
Shower scandal sparks new probe of police school
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister has ordered a full investigation of grave and irregular allegations at the Escuela Nacional de Policía.

In addition, the minister has fired police trainees who were involved in a nude photography scheme directed at other trainees and suspended for investigation instructors who may have been directly or indirectly involved.

The minister's action is the climax of a week of scandal involving the national police school in Guanacaste. Police trainees used a cell telephone camera earlier in the year to photograph female trainees in showers and in other situations when they were unclothed.

Two male trainees and three female trainees were reported to be involved in the case, which the minister, Fernando Berrocal, said took place before the change of government May 8. The students were members of class 25 at the police school and began their work there at the beginning of the year.

Berrocal said that his ministry and the Arias administration would have zero tolerance toward any violations of human rights.

Unofficial reports said that some of the persons who took the photos tried to sell CDs containing the embarrassing photos to those depicted, raising the allegations to extortion.

Berrocal did not specify what other grave incidents would be investigated. However, the suspected involvement of sworn police instructors in the photography case suggests a wide-open atmosphere at the police school. Berrocal praised  Carlos Roverssi, the new director of  the school, for taking prompt action.

The minister said he had just returned from a short trip to the United States in explaining why he did not take action when the scandal broke last week.

The Arias administration has promised to put 1,000 more police a year on the streets, so the police school, where would-be officers are trained figures strongly in official plans.

The police school case was another embarrassment for the Ministro de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, which is part of the ministry,  has had equipment malfunctions and delays that have prevented thousands of foreigners from completing their residency requirements and renewals.

The chief of the Fuerza Pública is under investigation over a three-month series of threatening telephone calls to an Alajuela former police official. The calls have been linked to the cellular telephones of the new director general, Osvaldo Alpízar Núñez, according to a Judicial Investigating Organization report. Alpízar denies the allegations, and the case has been submitted to an ethics panel.

Meanwhile, a small fleet of patrol vehicles of Romanian origin lies unused either because the vehicles never worked correctly or because there 

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are no parts available. The vehicles were purchased in 2002 under the previous administration.

May 27, shortly after Berrocal took over, 15 M-16 military rifles and two handguns were stolen from the Fuerza Pública delegación in Guácimo. Investigators later arrested a policeman.

On June 26, Berrocal outlined allegations that two Fuerza Pública officers and an ex-officer helped set up the murder of three small-time drug dealers. He said at the same time another officer was suspected of working with a Colombian gang.

Later Berrocal also disclosed that some smaller police stations that were supposed to be constructed in rural areas had not been built but that the ministry had paid for them anyway. This case is under investigation, too.

Then there was the case on the Caribbean coast where police officers are accused of stealing cocaine they had confiscated from a courier. The case came to light when armed drug dealers showed up at the police station demanding their drugs.

It was on the Caribbean coast, too, where fleeing robbers killed a police officer, who would not have died had he been issued a protective vest.
Fuerza Pública gets $2 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry got a $2 million grant from the government of Taiwan Tuesday. The money will be used for six trucks to transport prisoners, 65 crew cab pickups and 30 motorcycles.

All the rolling stock will be used by the Fuerza Pública. The Central American Bank of Economic Integration will handle the bidding, acquisition and payment in conjunction with the Embassy of Taiwan and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 207

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Public banks report similar
dollar exchange rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new system of exchanging money went into effect Tuesday, and those who didn't know what the buy and sell rates meant, still didn't.

The Banco Central has let the colon float within limits, but its one thing to shop around for a good price for a new car. Doing the same thing with pockets bulging with dollars is another.

The Central Bank envisions the savvy economic man, but there was not a lot of difference in the rates offered by the public banks Tuesday. There was a 3.5 to 4 colon difference in the buy and sell rates.

The story was different at smaller, private entities. One reported that it would give customers 470.60 colons for each dollar.  That was well below the average of about 521 colons to the dollar. That was another way of saying they had enough dollars or maybe "Tourists welcome."

The market showed some movement Tuesday, mostly because of the pent-up demand from a three-day weekend.

The Central Bank will be publishing a daily reference rate that will be the rough average of all transactions at supervised entities.

Some expats think that the market will take a month or two to get evened out. The rates will show seasonal changes as tourists and seasonable businesses make deposits and withdraw funds.

For many, the uncertainty of tomorrow's rate represents a de facto dollarization of the economy.

The Central Bank expected to get off the hook in supporting the colon. Officials there say that the floating colon will reduce inflation. Others expect the colon to devalue quicker under the new system than it would have had the 20-year-old system of daily mini-devaluations stayed in place.

More than half the debt in Costa Rica is denominated in dollars, as is the exterior national debt. A drop in the value of colons could have serious effects on individual borrowers and the government. which collects its funds in colons.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the new system are those shady guys who hang around the boulevard and Calle Central with calculators in their hands. They offer tourists and others better rates, and looking for a better rate is being encouraged now.

Of course they offer better rates because many of the dollars they sell say hecho in Colombia in small letters under the engraving of Pablo Escobar.

Innovations are goal
of Cartago ideas fair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Students from the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Cartago will be displaying their creative ideas Thursday in the X Feria de Ideas de Negocios.

The event will be in the Biblioteca José Figueres Ferrer of the institute, one of four public universities in Costa Rica. Some of the ideas put forth at previous events have gone into commercial production. The three categories are eco-friendly, services and computers-electronics. Top prizes are $1,000. The event is being sponsored by many of the major companies in Costa Rica.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 207

Albino Vargas gets a very diplomatic letter from Arias
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez sent a diplomatic letter to the man who is leading a public protest next week that is being called a revolution.

Arias directed his message to Albino Vargas Barrantes, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Vargas had stood Arias up for a meeting Tuesday after having agreed to the session in a telephone call last week.

Arias is seeking to discuss the free trade treaty with the academic-turned-union-leader. In his letter Arias said that both he and Vargas agree on goals:

"I also want a Costa Rica more prosperous, more just, more democratic, more free, more tolerant, more participative and more transparent," Arias said. But he acknowledged that they both disagree on the means to achieve this future.

When he turned down the meeting, Vargas said he wanted Arias instead to hold a big discussion with all sectors of the Costa Rican economy.

Arias recalled that he met with then-Vice President George Bush in 1986 when the topic was the war in Nicaragua. Bush wanted a military solution, Arias said, noting that his diplomatic solution eventually prevailed with the peace accords that ended the Central American conflicts.

Arias said the situation today is similar. He has made campaign promises that he will keep. As far as the free trade treaty with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic, Arias said the political position separated him from the other candidates and formed a fundamental axis of his victory in the past election.

"Costa Ricans chose the option that my party presented them," Arias said, adding that he felt he was bound by those campaign promises.  Arias won by little more than 1 percentage point.

He said Vargas should seek a new meeting after his street protests Monday and Tuesday.

Vargas has in his union many of the employees of state institutions who fear competition if the free trade treaty is ratified by the Asamblea Legislativa. These include employees of the telecommunications monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the insurance monopoly, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social.

Caja workers fear private competition to the sprawling and inefficient health system noted for long lines and physicians who lack bedside manner.

Under the free trade treaty, the Costa Rican market would

Casa Presidencial photo
President Óscar Arias gets a tour of the medical goods production facility at MedTech Costa Rica in Barreal de Heredia with the help of company president George Blank. Arias was there Tuesday to inaugurate a new 2,500 square meter plant worth $2 million. Most of the medical supplies are for export.

be open to competition in wireless communication and private firms would be able to sell insurance in a few years.

The union members are joined by many teachers, who also fear some form of competition, as well as many public university students and teachers who despise anything connected with the United States. Producers of some agricultural products, such as rice, oppose the treaty. But others embrace it for the new markets it will open.

The treaty has been in a legislative committee for months and is ready to be voted out. Lawmakers are holding debates on the document all over the country.

One gathering in Liberia, Guanacaste, attracted some 300 persons, according to the Partido Liberación Nacional. Those who attended heard views for and against the document.

With most of the public employee unions ready to strike Monday and join in a big march Tuesday, there is a good chance that the country will be shut down. Union members will be joined by family members and anyone else who is against the treaty, The effect on tourism cannot be predicted with any certainty.

This was the turnout in Liberia when lawmakers staged a debate on the free trade treaty with the United States. An estimated 300 persons turned out to hear all sides in the Gimnasio de Liberia.

Partido Liberación Nacional photo

Judge suspended in Nicoya corruption investigation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has been suspended for three months and two agencies are investigating a case of alleged corruption in Nicoya.

The situation was aired by Channel 7 Teletica news earlier in the week.

Suspended is Gustavo Valverde Chavarría, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial. The action was taken by the Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial.

A man involved in a criminal case in Nicoya complained that three persons involved with the courts demanded money from him so that his case may be settled favorably, said the television station.

The judicial spokesperson stopped short of saying why the judge was suspended and made brief mention of 
journalistic references that had circulated in the last few days.

The Tribunal de la Inspección Judicial, the internal investigatory unit, will look into the case, and the Ministerio
Público, the independent prosecutorial agency, will be asked to determine if a crime has been committed.

Also named by the Poder Judicial was a former fiscal or prosecutor,  Enrique Sandoval Núñez, who has not worked for the state for two years, said the spokesperson.

A third person, identified as Ivette Quesada, has never worked a a full-time, regular  employee of the Poder Judicial but only as a temporary worker, said the spokesperson. She, too, is believed involved in the case.

The spokesperson said that Sandoval was removed from his post Oct. 26, 2004, because of the investigation, implying that the case has been under study that long.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 207

Venezuela, Guatemala still deadlocked over U.N. council seat
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela and Guatemala have fought to a standoff in a second day of voting at the United Nations for an open seat on the Security Council. After 22 rounds of balloting, neither country is close to the two-thirds majority needed for election.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez faced an embarrassing political defeat Tuesday, his attempt to gain admission to the U.N.'s most powerful body effectively stymied.

Two days of voting, 22 ballots in the General Assembly, left Venezuela 25 votes behind rival Guatemala in the race for the Latin American Council seat being vacated by Argentina. More importantly, Venezuela is more than 40 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for election.

Guatemala is also short of the roughly 125 votes needed to win. Its highest total in Tuesday's balloting was 112.

The result is a stalemate, with each country having enough support to block the other from winning, but not enough to win itself. After Tuesday's voting, the meeting was adjourned until Thursday to allow negotiations on a possible compromise.

Venezuela has framed the contest as between a champion of the developing world and the world's superpower, and vowed not to give up.

Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas, Tuesday accused the United States of trying to influence the outcome through the use of extortion and pressure. Speaking in Spanish, he said Venezuela would only quit the race if President George Bush or U.S. Ambassador John Bolton publicly called off the pressure tactics.

"When Mr. Bolton stops at this microphone or publicly says 'I'm not pressuring you any more, and won't use any more money or power to influence the vote against one country or in favor of another,' then we will accept a consensus," he said.

Bolton rejected charges of U.S. pressure or arm-twisting. He said Washington opposes Venezuela's candidacy because of its potential disruptive influence on the Security Council.

"Others can say whatever they want, but I've been in politics, international politics and American domestic politics for a long time, and I know arm-twisting and it is
not happening here by the United States," said Bolton.

Bolton said the 22 rounds of inconclusive balloting had doomed Venezuela's candidacy. "You can draw one conclusion from the result so far, and that is, Venezuela is not going to win," he said.

Guatemala's Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal admitted his country probably cannot win either, since Venezuela has the support of one-third of the member states needed to block the Guatemalan candidacy. He accused Venezuela of holding the General Assembly hostage to its own demands.

"Under normal circumstances, our competitor would stand down graciously, but for reasons well known, he's not willing to do that," said Rosenthal. "We are interested in the integrity of the General Assembly, and we believe that the General Assembly should not be held hostage to the position of one country."

With the Assembly clearly deadlocked, the session was adjourned until Thursday to allow Latin American countries a chance to explore other options. Among them is the possibility of a compromise third candidate emerging.

The Latin American group scheduled a Wednesday meeting, but diplomats said both Venezuela and Guatemala had agreed to attend only if it was understood that neither would be asked to quit the race.

The two countries are contending to serve as a non-permanent council member for a two-year term starting Jan. 1, replacing Argentina.

Balloting will continue until a state from the region achieves the required majority. There is no limit to the number of rounds of voting and in 1979-80 there were a record 155 ballots before México was chosen from the Latin American and Caribbean Group to serve a two-year term.

Monday assembly members, following an agreed geographic allocation, elected Belgium, Indonesia, Italy and South Africa to serve as non-permanent members starting Jan. 1. They will replace Denmark, Greece, Japan and Tanzania when their terms end on Dec. 31.

The council’s five other non-permanent members, whose terms end Dec. 31, 2007, are Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia. The five permanent members, which are the only members with veto power in votes, are China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Enzyme study suggests drugs for diabetes and Alzheimer's
By the University of Chicago news service

Researchers from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have deciphered the three-dimensional structure of insulin-degrading enzyme, a promising target for new drugs because it breaks down not only insulin but also the amyloid-beta protein which has been linked to the cognitive decline of Alzheimer's disease.

In the Oct. 19 issue of Nature, the researchers describe the structures of insulin-degrading enzyme in complex with four of the proteins it digests: insulin, amyloid-beta, amylin and glucagon.  The structures are exciting because they suggest ways to develop drugs that could either speed up or slow down this enzyme's activity.

"The structure of insulin-degrading enzyme tells us a lot about how it works, which is somewhat unorthodox," said Wei-Jen Tang, associate professor in the Ben May Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Chicago and director of the study. “Understanding how it works gives us clues about how to design drugs .. . to inhibit or activate it.”
“By introducing small, targeted mutations, we have already been able to increase the enzyme's activity by as much as 40-fold,” he said.  "That gives us a blueprint for the next step, trying to devise a drug that would produce a similar effect."

Ever since I. Arthur Mirsky discovered the insulin- degrading enzyme in 1949, physicians have sought ways to manipulate it. Mirsky thought that by inhibiting the enzyme he could help diabetics by making their insulin remain active longer. 

More recently, as scientists realized that the enzyme was also involved in clearance of amyloid-beta, they have begun searching for ways to supercharge the enzyme to see if it could prevent the build-up of the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

Using the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, Tang and colleagues were able to solve the structures of this enzyme in complex with insulin and with amyoid-beta, as well as amylin and glucagon. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 207

Playa Jacó surfer advances in world games in California
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diego Naranjo of Playa Jacó took first place in his third-round open heat at the World Surfing Games in Huntington Beach, California, Tuesday.

Naranjo earned 14 points. Armando Daltro of Brazil earned 12.57, Heifara Tahitini of Tahiti earned 11.77 and C. J. Hobgood of the United States finished last with 11.53.

In the female division, Natalia Bernold of Playa Tamarindo took third place in her heat and will compete in the repercharge round. Lisabeth Vindas of Playa Jacó earned second place in her open heat with 9.00 points. She beat María Eugenia Rojas of Venezuela who had 7.90 and María del Mar of Puerto Rico with 6.60. The winner of that heat was Bethany Hamilton of Hawaii with 12.50. However, in the second round in the afternoon, Ms. Vindas finished third and failed to advance. She, too, will be competing in the repercharge round.

The morning of day two began with 32 heats and kicked off with Julian Wilson of Australia dominating heat one with a combined 12.47 score. Three intense heats highlighted the range of talent within the first qualifying round with French surfer Joan Duru, a world junior champion, wowing judges in heat 11 and posting a huge 9.5 score bringing his combined score to the day's high with a 17.67.

“It is great to hear that I got the highest combined score of the day.  The conditions were not great but I love to surf . . . ,” said Duru.

Heat 12 was a solid battle with Chris Ward of the U.S.A. team grabbing some long rides and posting a combined score of 13.04, followed by Brazilian Jadson Andre whose impressive performance earned him a combined score of 11.34 moving both of them forward to the qualifying round two. Tatsuki Inoue of Japan and Freddy Roux, the only surfer from Cote D’Ivoire was knocked

Shifi Surf Shots photo
Diego Naranjo is at the peak of his form during his third-round open heat Tuesday.

into the repercharge, but not before executing solid snaps.

The U.S.A. and Australian teams continued to fare well through out the day as they dominated all of their heats.  U.S. surfing legend Pat O’Connell earning a 12.17 combined score leading heat 24, while Mexico’s Diego Cadena rounded out heat 32 with a remarkable 14.17.

In the qualifying round 2, heat three initiated the action with Damien Hobgood of the U.S.A. team and David Rutherfold of Mexico splitting a wave in the first 10 minutes of the heat. It was a confident Alan Stokes of Great Britain who executed a chest high wave coming in second in the heat with a combined score of 9.80 knocking Eusebio Rodriguez of Ecuador into the Repercharge.

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