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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 210       Email us
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Drug possession for own use will not be prosecuted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is becoming more drug friendly because prosecutors cannot handle the load of individuals detained with small amounts.

The fiscal general, Jorge Chavarría, outlined the procedure in a meeting Friday with other top law enforcement officials. The procedure appears to have been enforced for nearly a year without public disclosure.

Our opinion HERE!

Basically cases of possession will not be referred for further judicial action but the drugs will be confiscated, according to the procedure. However, each case will be reviewed by a prosecutor to determine if the amount of drugs involved or the situation amounts to a delito or felony. Those that do will be forwarded for criminal action, according to a summary of the meeting released by the Poder Judicial. The Judicial Investigating Organization is supposed to set up a reception office where the prosecutor will be located.

Chavarría said that mere possession of drugs does not constitute a felony. Drug sales and transportation still will be prosecuted, according to the fiscal general.

In 2010 there were 124,722 cases of simply possession and each one cost the judicial system 307,000 colons to process, he said. That's about $600.

The drug procedure is similar to one that existed relating to street robberies and thefts. Robberies and thefts that did not reach a threshold amount of at least 100,000 colons were not prosecuted. That policy has been rescinded.

Costa Rican law has favored those who have drugs for personal consumption. Basically those detained with small amounts of drugs faced a fine. Sale and other aspects of trafficking receive tougher penalties.

Law enforcement actions show that possession, sale and other crimes are linked. For example, the security's ministry's Policía de Control de Drogas
crack cocaine
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Judicial agents found these 348 doses of crack cocaine when they made an unrelated arrest earlier this month.

detained suspects in Puntarenas and Tibás Friday.

In Tárcoles on the central Pacific coast agents detained a 25 year old and a 29 year old and confiscated 37 doses of crack, two doses of cocaine and some marijuana.

In Cinco Esquinas de Tibás other agents conducted raids that resulted in the detention of a 29 year old who was the subject of an arrest warrant. He has prior arrests for robbery and for carrying a firearm illegally. Confiscated were 109 doses of crack cocaine. Also detained was a 16 year old.

In both cases, the presumption is that the drugs were for sale, but the outcome of the case has not been determined yet.

For years police in San José have not prosecuted marijuana use. In one case reporters watched police chuckle as a man passed by smoking a marijuana cigarette. 

In certain sections of the central canton of San José public drug use is visible. Usually the drug of choice is crack cocaine, which is smoked in a pipe. 

Many thefts and burglaries have been blamed on drug users.

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Business chamber opposes
fiscal plan and ATM taxes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The business chamber has come out against the proposed tax plan and reports that the government proposal would tax financial transactions at automatic tellers. This is important to expats here because many bring money into the country from overseas bank accounts via the automatic machines.

The organization, the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, said that the tax plan would give a boost to those companies that work in the informal economy and do not pay any taxes. They would have an advantage over law-abiding firms.

The chamber urged lawmakers to pass a bill now in the hopper that provides economic rights and guarantees to citizens. This would elevate these rights to a section in the Costa Rican constitution.

The chamber said that by taxing financial transactions, including credit cards and automatic teller transactions the impact would fall on all users.

It also said that increasing the tax on interest from 8 percent to 15 percent would diminish the desire of citizens to save.
The chamber also said that the proposal to tax the estimated 547 companies in the so-called free zones would generate insecurity and reduce production.

The statement from the chamber was anticipated because the tax plan targets larger firms and high-income earners.

Appeals panel rejects
ordering delay on port job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted at 11:55 a.m.

The appeals panel of the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo rejected today the Moín dock workers union's request for delay on approving the contract for a $1 billion port concession

Government officials said they were pleased.

This was a key decision that could have delayed the concession under which a Dutch firm has agreed to construct a modern port facility.

Opposing the plan is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva, known as Sintrajap, whose members now work on the public docks in Moín.

The decision today was on the so-called medida cautelar or restrictions sought by the union. The initial trial panel declined to order medida cautelar that would have stopped the signing of the contract between the Dutch firm APM Terminals and the government. This is the decision that the union has appealed.

Regardless of the decision today, more litigation is likely and the case still has to be heard on its merits. The union is challenging the award of a concession. It would prefer that the government invest funds in the public docks. The government says it does not have the money. The union said that the new docks do not have an environmental study to show the impact.

A union spokesperson said that an unfavorable decision today might result in a the Sala IV constitutional court appeal. In any event, a court fight is likely to drag on for years.

Japdeva Is the acronym of the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, the government agency that runs the ports.

The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo is a body that evaluates the legality of government actions.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

Readers pick five finalist names for tourism institute's sloth
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers have selected five names out of a semifinalist list for the nameless sloth that is the central figure in Costa Rica's North American promotion. They are:

Pokey, Slo Mo, Flash, Syd, Tico/Tico Feliz and Manuel/Manuel Antonio.

Readers now have the chance to vote for just one of these names. Those who wish to do so can send their selection to through Wednesday. The naming has no legal effect, but editors thought the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and its ad agency in Atlanta, Georgia, missed a good bet by not naming the animated critter that promoted the country.

The selection of the finalists brought a litany of new names. Not the least was Little Buddy, submitted by Jennifer Rice of Kids Saving the Rainforest on behalf of her mother who is in New York. Ms. Rice said that Little Buddy was the name of the first sloth the central pacific organization rehabilitated and released in 2000.

Barry N. Leon of Atenas suggested relámpago because the word rolls off the tongue and is ironic because a sloth is something less than lightning.

Daniel M. Sheridan of Tamarindo suggested Bradley from Bradypodidae family category in which scientists place the three-toed sloth.

There were dozens of others that were similarly creative. However, the new entries were not on the semifinalist list, so they did not attract other votes.

Other strong finishers were Oscar, Smiley the Sloth, Paco and I.C.E. This last name dripped with sarcasm because the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad frequently
Mr. Sloth
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo graphic

Will he be
           Slo Mo,
           Tico/Tico Feliz or 
           Manuel/Manuel Antonio?

is considered painfully slow in handling utilities. One woman was unsure about that name. No one likes I.C.E., but everyone loves the sloth, she said.

Other names that found favor were Maksamillion deSloth, Señor Domilion and Stretch.

Overseas expat group campaigns against new U.S. tax law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American Citizens Abroad, a Geneva-based expat group, is organizing a campaign to repeal U.S. tax legislation that the organization says will destroy the lives of average, honest and hard working Americans no matter where they live.

The issue is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, known as FATCA. The expat organization is one of several groups that oppose the law. “Reporting on foreign bank accounts, pension plans, annuities, and property just because you hold these assets overseas is discriminatory,” said American Citizens Abroad.

A.M. Costa Rica reported in January that the organization, the Association of American Residents Overseas, based in Paris, and the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas submitted comments criticizing the reporting proposals.

Non-willful reporting penalties can quickly amount to $50,000 for simply forgetting to list an asset on the proposed form, said American Citizens Abroad.

The law also puts a burden on foreign banks, whose employees have to report the assets of U.S. citizens.

Starting in 2014, foreign financial institutions will be required by the U.S. government to report information regarding accounts of U.S. citizens to the Internal Revenue Service, said American Citizens Aboard.   This law requires foreign financial institutions such as a local bank, stock brokers, hedge funds, pension funds, insurance companies, trusts, and others to report directly to the tax agency all their clients who are U.S. persons.

That includes U.S. citizens and green card holders living in the United States or abroad, it noted.

The American Citizens Abroad organization said that a survey by a major international accounting firm said that only 36 percent of foreign financial institutions will comply with the U.S. law. The others are considering dumping any U.S. securities they hold as well as U.S. customers.

The form, No. 8938, that U.S. citizens will be forced to use to report foreign financial assets still is in draft form.
No to tax form

The Internal Revenue Service published instructions Sept. 30.

The current draft requires calculating the values of financial assets that it defines as bank accounts, stocks, securities,  interests, and financial instruments, A.M. Costa Rica reported Friday. Detailed information about the assets such as names of trusts, corporations, and account numbers must also be provided.

The Internal Revenue Service will order U.S. banks to withhold up to 30 percent of assets of foreign financial institutions for failing to comply.

American Citizens Abroad proposes a letter-writing campaign and has prepared a detailed report on the law. That report is HERE! In a letter to members of Congress, the organization said “How can the United States expect to be competitive in the global economy when its own legislation destroys the investment confidence of the rest of the world and makes it impossible for its own citizens and companies to operate internationally on a level playing field?”

Said the organization on its Web page:

“Legislators want you to believe that FATCA is about tax evasion, but it isn't. It is about destroying U.S. jobs and economic well being. Write to your congressmen and encourage all of your American friends in the United States as well as those residing overseas to support a massive write-in campaign. ACA has prepared a model letter

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

Trio in two vehicles said
to have been hauling alcohol

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents stopped a shipment of presumably untaxed alcohol late Thursday near Buenos Aires de Puntarenas in the southern part of the country.

Agents said they think that they were dealing with a well-organized operation because the boxes of alcohol were camouflaged in the back of a vehicle and two men in another vehicle were serving as security.

Agents said they found 77 boxes with 1,058 bottles in the vehicle. The occupants were in contact by radio, police said.
The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the men involved were residents of Río Claro and that there may be more arrests.

Some residents in the southern part of the country take advantage of the proximity with Panamá to smuggle all types of merchandise. Most end up in the Central Valley.
confiscated booze
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Here are the boxes that judicial agents managed to interdict in the southern part of the country last week.

Low pressure area strengthens but is moving to the northwest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

That low pressure area in the western Caribbean turned into a tropical depression over the weekend and proceeded to drive more rain into Costa Rica.

The depression is causing troubles in Costa Rica, but it is advancing toward the Gulf of Honduras and bringing even more rain to the other Central American states where scores died in flooding and slides last week.

The depression is called Rina, and the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said at 9 p.m. that it would continue to affect the weather here through today. The weather system was moving north northwest.

The weather institute reported up to two inches of rain in the Central Valley in its 9 p.m. report. Rain continued for at least two more hours. But most areas received a lot less rain than on
 Saturday. In many places the already saturated soil could not take much more.
The rain forced the closing of Ruta 2 at Cerro de La Muerte, said the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency.

Also closed was the road to Volcán Irazú, Ruta 219, because of landslides. They were among the 35 routes that have been closed, up from 18 Friday. There also are 118 stretches with some form of restrictions.

The roads that are closed are mainly in Santa Cruz, Carrillo and other parts of the Guanacaste province. There also are some closed roads in Tillarán and even one in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, Parrita, Buenos Aires, Desamparados and Pursical. The problems include slides, flooding and collapsed roadways.

The phone lines  2202-5577 and 2202-5567 still are available for motorists to check up on road conditions.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

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Ms. Fernández appears
to win big in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Initial results from Argentina's presidential election show Cristina Fernández de Kirchner re-elected by a landslide.

The early returns give Ms. Fernández 53 percent of the vote while her closest challenger, the Socialist governor of Santa Fe province, Hermes Binner, has just 14 percent.

It will be a bittersweet victory for Ms. Fernández whose husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, died of a heart attack a year ago this week.

Ms. Fernandez, who succeeded her husband in 2007, struggled to hold back her tears when she cast her ballot in his hometown of Rio Gallegos.

Political experts in Argentina say voter sympathy and Argentina's strong economy helped Ms. Fernández win re-election.

President Fernández said she feels very proud to be Argentine, especially when she looks at the rest of the world economy.

President Fernández will be the first woman re-elected president in Latin America.

Also at stake in Sunday's election are 130 seats in Argentina's lower house of congress and 24 seats in the senate. Supporters of Ms. Fernández are looking toward a heavy voter turnout to allow her Musicality Party to regain control of congress, a position it lost in the 2009 mid-term elections.

Guatemala wins U.N. seat
on Security Council

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo will serve as non-permanent members of the 15-member Security Council in 2012-13 after winning their seats during elections held Friday at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

But a fifth vacant seat, which is allocated to an Eastern European country, remains unfilled after no country passed the necessary threshold during nine rounds of voting.

U.N. member states voted in the General Assembly by secret ballot for five non-permanent seats divided by geographical grouping – three from Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, one from Eastern Europe, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

To win election, a country must receive a two-thirds majority of those countries present and voting, regardless of whether or not they are the only candidate in their region. Voting continues until the threshold is reached for the required number of seats.

Guatemala received 191 votes and was duly elected to the Latin America and Caribbean seat, Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser announced after the conclusion of the first round of voting.

Morocco received 151 votes and Pakistan received 129 votes in the first round, which means they were elected to two of the three seats allocated to Africa and the Asia-Pacific. Morocco has served twice previously on the Council – in 1963-64 and again in 1992-93. Pakistan has served on six previous occasions, most recently in 2003-04.

Togo (119 votes), Mauritania (98), Kyrgyzstan (55) and Fiji (one) did not receive enough votes in the first round, and during a second, restricted round of voting Togo again received 119 votes while Mauritania obtained 72.

But in a third round of voting, Togo obtained 131 votes, above the two-thirds threshold, and was therefore elected. Mauritania received 61 votes. It will be the second time in its history that Togo has served on the Security Council, with the first stint taking place in 1982-83.

In the Eastern European category, after nine rounds of voting, no country had met the two-thirds majority threshold. Voting will resume on Monday. In the ninth round of balloting, Azerbaijan obtained 113 votes and Slovenia received 77 votes.

The elections were held to replace the departing members of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria.

The new members will join Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa, whose terms end on Dec. 31, 2012, and the five permanent Council members, which each wield the power of veto – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Muslims hold prayer service
to support Occupy protests

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scores of social and civic groups are backing the Occupy Wall Street protest movement around the world. At the site of the original Occupy demonstration in New York, a group of Muslims held Friday prayers in a show of support for the anti-corporate movement.

Muslims associated with the New York Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations and the local Islamic Leadership Council came to express their grievances and to speak of social justice.

"We, as Muslim New Yorkers, are here today because we are in solidarity and support of Occupy Wall Street," said Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab-American Association.

Imam Aiyub Abdul Baki of the Islamic Leadership Council delivered a sermon on social justice based on the Last Sermon of the Prophet Muhammad.  In a veiled reference to Wall Street bankers, the Imam mentioned the Prophet's commandment against usury.  He also noted U.S. constitutional protections of religious expression, alleging that Muslim-Americans do not fully enjoy that right.

"We are also suffering, suffering racism and discrimination.  Islam-bashing is on the increase," Baki said.

With this Friday prayer, Muslims join Jewish and Christian groups that have brought an element of spirituality to the diverse, if ill-defined Occupy Wall Street movement for social and economic justice.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

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Magistrates will take
a tour of cemetery today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The magistrates of the Sala IV constitutional court will be making a site visit today to the Cementerio Calvo where the Municipalidad de San José hopes to construct housing for athletes during the Juegos Deportivos Centroamericanos in 2013. The land is part of the complex of cemeteries in Sabana este not far from the municipal building and Parque la Sabana.

The cemetery has been used as a potter's field for the unidentified or those without family who die without funds. Some citizens have objected to changing the use of the cemetery. The case the magistrates are hearing was filed on behalf of a woman named Vilma Isabel Sánchez Castro, according to the Poder Judicial.

The municipality plans to market the housing after the athletes leave.

Guard at bar a suspect
after two men are shot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A guard is being investigated after two men, 20 and 27, suffered bullet wounds and a third was beaten at a bar in San Pedro.

The three men went to Hospital Calderón Guardia. The Judicial Investigating Organization said it appeared that a guard at the bar pulled out his weapon during an altercation with the men. One man, identified by the last name of Alpizar, suffered a bullet wound in the foot. The second gunshot victim, identified by the last name of Vargas, was hit in the lower back.

The shooting took place about 2:45 a.m. Sunday in an area patronized by mostly younger customers.

Canadian gets eight years
for smuggling cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian man, identified by the last name of Hamilton, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for drug trafficking.

The Poder Judicial said that the case was heard in the  Tribunal Penal de Liberia. Hamilton, 35, was accused of trying to smuggle cocaine onto a Canadian bound flight at Daniel Oduber airport by hiding the drugs in two cans of refried beans.

He was detained Jan. 11 at the airport. The Poder Judicial said that the cocaine amounted to about 400 grams or about .88 of a pound.

Quake was local event

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake of local origin rattled the Volcán Barva area at 2:12 p.m. Sunday. The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica said the epicenter was about 10 kilometers north of the volcano. It said the quake was felt in  Vara Blanca, Sarapiqui and Venecia. Readers reported feeling the quake in Atenas and Grecia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

Costa Rican
surfer wins
a gold medal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican senior surfer  Craig  Schieber took first place Sunday in the World Masters Surfing Championship  in El Salvador.

He won in the 50 and older class. The event is sponsored by the International Surfing Association. The gold medal was the first for Costa Rica in the 21 years the country has been participating in the event.

he overall winner was the United States with Brazil a close second. Costa Rica was in seventh place.

Schieber took costa Rican citizenship 20 years ago, said the surfing organization.

Fishing tourney will begin research race for tagged marlin
 Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Marlin are some of the most magnificent fish in the ocean, but several species are sadly in serious decline. That’s why the International Game Fish Association has partnered with leading scientists from Stanford University to create the Great Marlin Race – a conservation research program which combines the excitement of tournament angling with cutting-edge marine bio-logging science. The part-competition, part-research race has anglers and scientists alike waiting for the 58th annual International Billfish Tournament Sept. 4 to 11 in Puerto Rico.

In the days leading up to a billfish tournament, angling teams are invited to sponsor pop-up archival satellite tags to be placed on fish caught and released during the event.  Exactly 120 days after each tag is deployed, it automatically releases itself from the fish, and its exact location is determined by earth-orbiting ARGOS satellites.  

In a given tournament, the tag that surfaces furthest from where it was initially deployed wins the race for that tournament. The Great Marlin Race will last 12 months, encompass several tournaments, and deploy at least 50 tags on a variety of billfish species in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The marlin whose tag travels the furthest of all will be recognized at the annual auction and banquet.

“The goal of the program is to learn more about the migration patterns of these magnificent fishes, and how they utilize th

open ocean habitat,” said Jason Schratwieser, Game fish Association research director, adding:

“We also envision giving open access to the tagging data so that it can be utilized by scientists around the world.”

Tags record information about depth, temperature and light levels, which can be used to study fish migrations and behaviors over the course of several months after they have been tagged.  These data, in turn, will help scientists to identify key habitat areas where large numbers of fish spend significant portions of time as well as the migratory corridors they use when they travel from place to place. Data from the tags will be processed and disseminated via Barbara Block’s lab at Stanford University in California.

Ms. Block pioneered the use of electronic tags on open ocean fishes in the early 1990’s. She was also one of the founders of the initial Great Marlin Race program, which was launched in 2009 in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kona, Hawaii .
“We are really excited about this new partnership between our organization and Stanford University,” explains Paxson Offield, chairman of the IGFA and long-term supporter of the Great Marlin Race. “By pairing top-notch science with tournament angling, we hope not only to learn more about the biology of the animals, but also to engage our constituents – billfish anglers around the world – in helping to conserve them for future generations.”

 Six new events added for 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia will have six new events, including women's ski jumping.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announced in London Tuesday that the board also approved the addition of men's and women's ski halfpipe, mixed relay in biathlon and team events in luge and figure skating.  That means an extra 150 athletes will compete in the Russian Black Sea resort city.

Women's ski jumping had long campaigned to be in the Winter Games and even lost a legal battle for inclusion at last year's Vancouver Olympics. Rogge said the newest additions "are exciting, entertaining events that perfectly complement the

existing events on the sports program" and they "bring added appeal and increase the number of women participating at the games.''

Proposals for inclusion of slopestyle events in snowboard and freestyle skiing and a team Alpine skiing event were put on hold for further review.

In the new event of ski halfpipe, skiers score points for performing tricks and jumps on the same course used for the snowboard halfpipe.

The only remaining Winter Olympics event that does not have both male and female representation is Nordic combined, which features ski jumping followed by a cross country ski race.

Sprints trump endurance runs
for helping heart, study says

By John Wiley & Sons, Inc., news staff

Exercise is important for preventing cardiovascular disease, especially in children and adolescents, but is all exercise equally beneficial? New research published this week in the American Journal of Human Biology reveals that high intensity exercise is more beneficial than traditional endurance training.

“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of mortality throughout the world and its risk factors have their origins in childhood,” said lead author Duncan Buchan from the University of the West of Scotland. The research examines the effects of brief, intense exercise when compared to traditional endurance exercise on the markers of cardiovascular disease in young people, he said

Buchan’s team recruited a group of volunteer school children, 47 boys and 10 girls, and randomly divided the group into moderate  and high intensity exercise teams.

The two groups performed three weekly exercise sessions over seven weeks. The high-intesity group’s training consisted of a series of 20-meter sprints over 30 seconds. In contrast the moderate group ran steadily for a period of 20 minutes.

By the end of the study the moderate group had completed 420 minutes of exercise while the high-intensity group had trained for a shorter 63 minutes. The estimated energy expenditure for the high-intensity group was 907.2 kcal in comparison to 4,410 kcal for the moderate group.

The results revealed that both groups demonstrated improved cardiovascular disease risk factors. However, the total exercise time over seven weeks was six times higher for the moderate group compared to the hihg-intensity group. Thus, significant improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors in the high-intensity group occurred in only 15 percent of the total exercise time.

These findings demonstrate that brief, intense exercise is a time efficient means for improving cardiovascular disease risk factors in adolescents, the study said.

Although limited to relatively small samples, the findings demonstrate significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, body composition and insulin resistance in healthy adolescent youth after a seven weeks of different exercise intensities.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 210

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Getting soft on drug possession is a serious error by Chavarría

The fiscal general has made public what has been practiced for nearly a year by the nation's prosecutors. Possession of small amounts of drugs will not result in criminal prosecution.

The fiscal general, Jorge Chavarría, said this was a financial decision to keep an estimated 125,000 cases a year out of the court system. He said that in the past, a case was opened and then there was additional paperwork in getting a judge to close the case. Now prosecutors will just not open the case in the first place.

The revelation was hailed by those who seek legalization of what are now considered illegal substances. Others said that the fiscal general's position amounts to legalization of all sorts of drugs in Costa Rica.

The policy does not just include marijuana, but all types of drugs, as long as the quantity does not suggest the potential for resale.

Fiscal General Chavarría may be content to live in a drugocracy, but A.M. Costa Rica is not. It would be helpful if prosecutors and judges would do their job instead of looking for loopholes. The purpose of drug laws is to reduce consumption. The result of the fiscal general's policy is encouragement.
If one is photographed speeding on the highway, the potential fine, although being litigated now, is gigantic, some $600. Costa Rican law also provides for stiff fines for drug possession. That was rarely enforced. Now the law will not be enforced at all.

Some expats who consider Costa Rica as their own personal adult disneyland may hail the position of the fiscal general. That is short-sighted. The proliferation of drugs means the continued proliferation of robberies, thefts, burglaries and all the other situations that affect foreigners.

One cannot believe that police officers will continue to risk their life to stem the drug trade if many of those they detain walk.

And one cannot have drugs unless there has been a sale at some point in the chain of possession. That is a delito or felony here.

In addition, the idea that a chief prosecutor can overturn the nation's laws on a whim is troubling. What next? A little bit of bribery will be OK? How about whacking the wife around a bit but not enough for a felony? Maybe a pass for stealing just older cars? Or maybe these are the fiscal general's rules now. Who knows?
— Oct. 24, 2011

Costa Rica is not an innocent when it comes to drug trafficking
President Laura Chinchilla sees Costa Rica as an innocent party between South American drug producers and the United States, which she characterizes as the major consumer.

This was a diplomatic way to tell the U.N. General Assembly “It's not our fault.”  That could be Costa Rica's national slogan, and what Ms. Chinchilla wants is money. Not that the United States is not already pouring money into this country to fight the drug trade.  Witness the multi-million dollar police mansion planned for the Interamericana highway in south Costa Rica or the two aluminum patrol boats recently given the Guardacostas.

Perhaps the president has lost touch with what is going on in the country, but many Costa Ricans have actively and gladly joined in the drug trade. And they are not just serving the United States. The arrests Thursday involved a cocaine shipment to Spain. Drug mules frequently are picked up at Juan Santamaría airport headed to Europe with a hidden stash. Many more get through.

The last big haul in the Pacific involved a boat that was part of the Puntarenas fishing fleet. Some of the crew were Costa Rican.
Time after time, drug investigators make arrests involving the shipment by land of drugs to the north. But they also make large hauls of crack cocaine. Children as young as 8 have been visible for years in south San José smoking crack pipes. At certain corners in San José one can find a drug supermarket.

The point is that Costa Rica is not just a victim but that many  citizens here are active participants in the drug trade. And there are many drug users in Costa Rica, perhaps some not very distant from Ms. Chinchilla.

This newspaper has urged a serious and consistent program of preventative drug testing not just of the police, but also of other members of the public administration. In the past we have seen politicians and others go down as drug traffickers. So this is not just a problem of fishermen in Puntarenas.

Ms. Chinchilla has spent many years in public administration here. She has been a security minister, a minister of justice, a first vice president and now a president. One would hope that she devised some plan to stifle the drug traffic.

But we have yet to hear it other than asking for money.
— Sept. 26, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Tax-loving president and lawmakers off on the wrong track

President Laura Chinchilla's push for more taxes stems from her belief that government has to be the nanny. In her independence day speech she said that Costa Rica's level of taxes is below its level of development.

The idea that is current in liberal circles is that developed countries should have high taxes. Sweden, for example, takes 47.9 percent of its gross domestic product in taxes. Denmark takes 49 percent. Both numbers come from annual indexes compiled by the Heritage Foundation.

Costa Rica is listed as taking 15.6 percent of the domestic product. Ms. Chinchilla would like to take 20 percent.

Juan Carlos Mendoza Garcia, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, also is a member of Acción Ciudadana, He is fond of saying that a tax plan should take from those who have for those who do not.

Ms. Chinchilla's administration appears to have reached an accord with the opposition parties that control the legislature to push through revised tax legislation. Presumably Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, had a large role in this agreement. He's the guy who created the new tourist tax for the benefit of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. We can see the impact of that.

None of these individuals appreciates the fact that you get less of whatever it is that you tax.

Two of the most robust economies in the world defy Ms. Chinchilla's point of view. Hong Kong takes 13 percent of its
gross domestic product. Singapore takes 14.2 percent. Both figures are again from the Heritage index. Meanwhile, Danish professionals are on record for not wanting to work in their own country due to the high taxation.

Costa Rica's problem is not the level of taxation. It is the sprawling, inefficient bureaucracy that seems to be designed to provide jobs for the politically favored instead of doing anything for the country. Ms. Chinchilla has done little to  reduce the expenses of the central government.

What is needed is a complete overhaul of how Costa Rica is run. There are far too many government employees communicating on Facebook and Twitter all day and not doing any thing. We would ask minsters to take a look at the computer server reports from machines under their jurisdictions. These tell the tale.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social is shaking up its employees after officials read in La Nación that the number of staffers calling in sick rose dramatically during major soccer games. Then there were the teachers who got two days off to attend a professional union convention, but few showed up.

We strongly object to Ms. Chinchilla's idea that the role of government is to use its redistributive function to insure the welfare and security of citizens in the future.   The role of government is to get out of the way as much as possible to let the economy function. Mr. Mendoza wants to take from those who are working and earning money and give it to those who are not. Class warfare may be good for votes, but it is not good for the economy.

— Sept. 19, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
How about just making public records available to the public?

There was a crowd at the Registro Nacional in Zapote Monday. Documents that are supposed to be available online are not because the Registro shut down its system.

The Registro did so because the Sala IV constitutional court forbade it from charging for documents while an appeal is pending. A lawyer objects to paying for the online documents.

There is a lot of sense behind this appeal, although the lawyer involved probably has mostly money on his mind.

Public documents should be available freely to the public. That is a basic foundation of a democracy. Costa Rica has an elaborate system of documentation, notaries and certifications, all designed to make lawyers money.

Someone who runs a company is powerless unless he or she holds a current personaría juridica. This document, which may be good for 15 days or 30 days, depending on the source, assures anyone in business that the individual named in the document has the right to act for the company.

Never mind that this information should be available on the Internet. Costa Rica custom usually requires a lawyer with notary credentials to draw up the document to guarantee it is correct. And where does the information originate? In a lawyer's section of the Registro Web site. It's copy-and-paste time that generates 10,000 colons or about $20 for the lawyer.

For awhile, a company manager simply had to purchase a copy online from the Registro for nearly 3,000 colons, about $6. This is the system that has been frozen. The Registro server allowed interested parties to double check the validity of the
document by just entering a few numbers.

We wonder why the entire data base is just not made public so that inquiring minds can find out who has the power to act for a company simply by checking the Registro data base. No paper documents. No lawyers. No notaries.

We say the same about court cases. Most are private affairs from which the public is excluded. When someone is arrested, the bulk of the information is strained through judicial public relations professionals. Many arrests simply are not reported.  Reporters do not have the right to look at case files in the courts. That right is reserved for lawyers.

Consequently, many people are labeled crooks in the press and are later released. There is one case of a man held out as a crook in a press conference by high judicial officials. He later was acquitted. There was no press conference then. He can only salvage his reputation by calling on newspapers to take the initiative and report his acquittal.

The Internet lives forever, and so do news stories. The system would be far more equitable here if reporters had more access to preliminary court hearings and case filings. But not just reporters. Any citizen should be able to leaf through court files and search court documents online.

Article 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution seems to establish this right. But in practice, that's just so much smoke.

Of course, prosecutors, crooks and others would prefer that all be handled in the dark.
— Sept. 6, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
President Chinchilla delivers a troubling speech in Nicoya

President Laura Chinchilla really led with her chin Monday when she told an audience in Nicoya that if they wanted something done they should talk to legislators.

Ms. Chinchilla's point was that opposition party members control the Asamblea Legislativa and her plans for major tax increases, an annual tax on corporations and approval of multi-million-dollar international loans are moving too slowly through the process.

The president forgot to mention that her party controlled the legislature the previous year. The problem is not who is in control. The problem is the lack of viable proposals coming from Casa Presidencial. Her initial tax plan was so greedy that even members of her own party winced.

But that is only part of the problem as polls show support for the president is low. Ms. Chinchilla ran on a platform of firmness, and voters expected her to take strong action against crime and some other maladies. Instead, she turned the job of making a plan over to a United Nations agency.

The result was not unexpected. The agency, the Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, produced an abstract document that resembled a college term paper on crime. Even a leading television reporter characterized the document as "Blah, blah, blah."

Basically what Ms. Chinchilla said Monday was a variation on the common Costa Rican slogan: "It's not my fault."
Ms. Chinchilla has held many high offices before becoming president. She was a minister of security, a minister of Justicia and a vice president. That's pretty good training for a president, particularly in times when a crime wave is sweeping the nation.

The most decisive action she has taken against crime recently was to instruct government agencies to put a slogan on all their press releases: Constuimos un país seguro. "We are building a secure country."

Opposition lawmakers were uniform Tuesday is saying that the president was ducking her responsibility and trying to put the blame on them.

But perhaps the most unsettling comment the president made in her speech in Nicoya was when she told the crowd that they would pay none of the taxes she proposes. Only those with a lot of money would pay, she said. But the president's own tax plan levies taxes on individuals who earn more than 2,890,000 colons a year, although there are other deductions and loopholes. That is just $5,780. Even someone working at the mid range of the minimum salary would reach that level in a year. Any money after 241,000 colons a year is taxable. And in Nicoya there were plenty of well-heeled ranchers and farmers in the audience.

But even more troubling was the president's effort to generate class envy.
July 28, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Property transfer scam needs a little presidential attention

President Laura Chinchilla told Guanacaste residents Monday to take their demands to legislators because opposition lawmakers now control the Asamblea Legislativa.

The president showed some frustration during her speech at the annual Anexión del Partido de Nicoya celebration, in part because she was met by about 400 protesters with various complaints. In addition to a stalled proposal for a national park, the president cited the tax reform plan that is being considered in the legislature. The plan would generate about $1 billion in new income for the government.

But there is one action the president could take right now to raise funds.

The president's plan would increase the property transfer tax from 1.5 percent to 3 percent, but the government has been ineffective in collecting the current levy.

There exists a tradition among lawyers and and property purchasers to establish a sales price for fiscal purposes. This
amount is much lower than the actual sales price. This really amount to false statements to tax authorities. The transfer tax is paid on the lower amount even though the seller gets the real purchase price.

This is tax evasion of the most bold sort because a little investigation can usually determine the real sales price. After all, a lot of the properties have been advertised and the amount clearly stated.

In some cases this fiscal price is a really total effort at evasion. The stated price may be just 10 percent of the actual sale. So on a $200,000 sales, the government collects $300 instead of $3,000. The lawyers, however, collect their fee on the actual sales price. Some of them produce two invoices for their clients, one with the fake price and the second with their full fee based on the actual price.

This clearly is fraud. And it would not take a lot of effort to review all the property transactions for the last five years.
July 27, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Preventative detention misused badly and inconsistently

For a country that prides itself on respect for human rights, the concept of innocent until proven guilty is frequently overlooked.

Depending on the crime, a suspect may be tossed into the general prison population for months, even years, without the chance to present a defense. On the other hand, the flagrancia courts convict and sentence without the suspect having sufficient time to mount a defense.

The issue of excessive preventative detention, came to light when Kathya Jiménez Fernández, a criminal judge, ordered that two Mexican drug suspects be placed in home detention and liberated from prison. The decision created a firestorm among police officials and potential neighbors. The judge correctly reasoned that the men had spent seven months in prison without significant action by prosecutors.

Costa Rica does not have a speedy trial law, and some of these cases drag on for years only to have the jailed suspect found innocent. Sometimes police and prosecutors are happy that suspects are confined for lengthy periods pre-trial. They figure that the fickle Costa Rican courts might find the suspect innocent, but he or she will at least have served some time. Pre-trial detention should be reserved for cases where there is a possibility of danger to the public from the suspect.

A case in point is the hotel guard with the last name of Guevara, who is accused of murder for shooting a 16-year-old U.S. tourist by accident in La Fortuna last week. Prosecutors at first sought a year of preventative detention. A judge ordered six months. This case is not rocket science. The man is guilty of having an unlicensed gun and working without residency. But he is not guilty of murder, as prosecutors allege. A trial could easily be held in a month or two. Instead the man will languish in prison for months while prosecutors handle other cases. Out of sight is out of mind.

Another human rights violation is mixing the pre-trial prison population with the convicted felons. Pre-trial inmates deserve special treatment if one assumes they are innocent until proved guilty.

We are reminded of the case of Roger Crouse, the Playa del Coco bar owner who was charged with murder for shooting a man who attacked him with a knife. He was not a paragon of virtue, but the case appeared cut and dried. The local bad guy 
created a scene, and police had to detain and confine him. A few hours later they inexplicably released the man, who told them he was going to return to the bar and kill Crouse. He tried. He found another knife. Crouse had a gun.

So investigators arrested Crouse, who spent a year in jail before there was a trial. His bar was sacked by locals. His limo business was vandalized into junk. He periodically would call reporters to talk about his latest robbery by fellow inmates.

We think that Crouse would have been convicted without the continual carping by A.M. Costa Rica reporters. Why? There would have been a significant civil settlement in favor of the family of the dead man. Prosecutors were trying to wear him down.

Another case in point is the man, Carlos Pascall, who was detained in Limón last week in a money laundering investigation. In a made-for-television raid, police broke down his front door and smashed through an interior door while Pascall, dressed only in underpants, calmly watched from a second-floor balcony. They threw him to the floor to cuff him. He was ordered jailed for investigation.

This is a case prosecutors have been following since 2004.  Is there any reason to put Pascall in jail before a trial? He has millions in investments here as well as being the president of a first division soccer team.

Luis Milanes, who admits his investors lost some $200 million when he fled in 2002, returned to Costa Rican in 2009 and spent just one day in jail. He has been free to run his casino businesses for two years.

Why is there such a difference in the treatment of these men? We think Pascal should be freed before trial, and so should Milanes. But we think the trial should be completed in a couple of months, not a couple of years.

On the other hand, once someone is convicted, there should be strong consideration of prison even though appeals have been filed in the case. Monday the Judicial Investigating Organization released the photos of 12 men who have been convicted of such crimes as murder, aggravated robbery and rape. They were convicted and allowed to wander off while an appeal was heard. This is wacky.
June 7, 2011

Here is a career-ending case for the sob sisters in the judiciary
There is another custody battle brewing, and Costa Rican judicial officials who like to meddle in such U.S. cases could face the decision of their lives.

The judicial officials unerringly seem to favor the women in a custody battle and have disregarded international treaties that say the court of initial jurisdiction is the place where custody should be decided. Usually the court of initial jurisdiction is in the United States.

But Tico judges and judicial officials are quick to protect a fleeing mother from the U.S. justice system and award her refugee status here, usually without making any investigation.

But now comes a case with two mothers. And one is lesbian and the other is a former lesbian.

At the center of the case is a 9-year-old girl, who was born via artificial insemination.
The biological mother is Lisa Miller who fled the United States to avoid turning over custody to her former lover, Vermont homosexual rights activist Janet Jenkins. Ms. Miller fled to Central America two years ago, and has been reported to be in Nicaragua. There is a possibility that she has entered Costa Rica.

A judge gave custody to Ms. Jenkins because Ms. Miller moved from Vermont and denied Ms. Jenkins visitations.

The case is further wrapped up in evangelical Christianity, gay rights and a host of sub-issues.

If some ladies in the judiciary want to be world arbitrators of parental rights, we would be happy to provide Ms. Miller telephone money, Such a case would remind the ladies of the judiciary why laws and treaties were designed to trump emotions.
— April 25, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
True freedom includes having the right to gamble online

Government-sponsored gambling is centuries old. Still, politicians cannot come to grips with the industry. When New York authorized a state lottery in 1967, cautious lawmakers required lottery players to purchase their tickets at a local bank. Eventually that dumb rule vanished, and in many states lottery tickets are available at many retail outlets.

Online gambling seems to be following that same erratic course. Revelations of a U.S. government crackdown on the online poker industry came Friday. Meanwhile, the U.S. District of Columbia, the seat of the federal government, has authorized online gambling for its residents this year. Specifics are in the works.

Three other states, Nevada, Iowa and New Jersey, also are flirting with online gambling. Yet in 2006 the U.S. federal government passed a law that has been used to punish Costa Rican gambling sites and those executives here who publicly supported unrestricted online gambling.

There are many good reasons not to allow gambling, just as there are good reasons to forbid cigarettes, alcohol and Big Macs. Frankly this newspaper would welcome a well-regulated online gambling industry based in the United States where participants probably would get a fair shake.

We have not received any complaints about Absolute Poker, the
 Pavas-based firm that figured in the federal indictments announced Friday. But we have fielded international complaints about other online gambling sites here who seem to fail to pay big winners. Costa Rica, being what it is, international gamblers have no recourse to collect their funds.

District of Columbia officials expect its local online activities to bring in more than $10 million a year. That is peanuts compared to the billions at play in the world.

And if United States officials were consistent, they would see large financial benefits for uniform, reasonable online legislation. The online gambling industry already is big business there. Those in the Land of the Free should recognize that true freedom includes the right to lose one's shirt in an online poker game.

Those detained Friday in the current U.S. investigation face the most serious charges because they sought to circumvent the prohibition on U.S. gamblers posting money to their poker accounts. They face money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy allegations. These charges stem from the roadblocks U.S. federal officials erected in opposition to what is a legal business here and in the other jurisdictions where the other two poker sites are located.

April 18, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The time has come to crack down on juvenile criminals
A wave of juvenile crime is seeping the country, and the existing laws are insufficient to handle the problem.

The entire Costa Rican penal code is base on redemption, but some criminals cannot be redeemed. That goes for young criminals.

Someone under the age of 18 who commits premeditated murder probably will not serve more than five or six years in prison. They should be put away for a long, long time.

The Costa Rican juvenile code should be changed to make 14 years the limit for a juvenile criminal. Those older than that go to adult court and face adult penalties. The adult penalties are weak enough.

We would prefer to see imprisonment without possibility of parole in some cases. But that is too much to expect with the current touchie feelie administration and legislature.

But subjecting persons 14 years to adult penalties would be a start.

We have had three youngsters detained in the last few days for the murder of a taxi driver.  That was in Tejarcillos de Alajuelita Sunday night, and they were trying to rob the man, identified by the last names of Ramírez Gutiérrez.

Another youngster of 16 is accused of shooting down a mother
earlier in the week as she walked with her two daughters. Why? Because the woman filed a complaint against the suspect's mother.

Then there are the pair of robbery suspects who are charged with putting a foot-long slash in the stomach of a schoolboy Wednesday.

We think society would be well served if none of these youngsters who are between 15 and 17 years of age do not see liberty for 30 years each.

We may never know what happens to these suspects. The juvenile court is closed, and the only reports are filtered through the Poder Judicial press office. Even after conviction, a young criminal may not serve the time a judge has specified. That's true of adult criminals, too.

Youngsters are being encouraged to really bad behavior by the television cop shows. But we also think that adult criminals are using youngsters for bloody jobs because they correctly feel the kids are immune to prosecution.

If they are killing people at 16, what will they be doing at 25?

We urge that they be so treated that they continue to contemplate their crime from behind bars at 25 and for many years later.

— March 17, 2011

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Apparently, international treaties are just suggestions, too

How do Costa Rican officials justify ignoring the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?

Time after time runaway moms from the United States come here with a child and try to get the courts here to block U.S. arrest warrants and judicial orders to return the child.

The latest case is that of Trina Atwell and her 2-plus-year-old daughter Emily. Ms. Atwell is wanted for child abduction, and a court in Green County, Missouri, has awarded the biological father full custody. She claims she fled violence and drug abuse. He denies that.

A.M. Costa Rica is in no position to determine who is telling the truth. But neither are Costa Rican officials. The international treaty says that jurisdiction rests with the Green County judge. There the evidence exists to adjudicate the case and confirm or award custody. A complicating factor is that Ms. Atwell was married to a Costa Rican when she had the child.

One would think that Ms. Atwell would want to go back there and reopen the case, at least to be with the other daughter she left behind.
One would think that Costa Rican judicial officials would want to take immediate and decisive action to comply with the Hague Convention if only to avoid another long court case in an overwhelmed judicial system.

Ms. Atwell is seeking refugee status for herself and her child.

Of course, this is a strategic play because no right-minded individual would compare the lumbering, flawed judicial system here to the one in the United States.

But we also wonder if she does not have legal custody how can she apply for refugee status on behalf of her daughter?

Of course, in Costa Rica mothers are sacred. Whenever there is an international custody dispute, women gather at the judicial complex to support uncritically the mother of the hour.

Some supporters of Roy Koyama, Emily's father, have suggested that the United States freeze international aid from Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica will not go that far, but the lack of response and action by the U.S. Embassy make one wonder.

— Feb. 14, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Two judicial flaws create grossly unfair situations

Wednesday a news story about a Florida court case illustrated some deficiencies in Costa Rican law.

We have no way of knowing who will prevail in the Florida case. A former businessman here alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company he ran here.

However, in bringing the case, the lawyer, Craig A. Brand, pointed out some serious problems with Costa Rican law.

Anyone is vulnerable to private court cases because any lawyer can file such a case, including criminal cases. Frequently lawyers will file a private criminal case even while they know the case is a tissue of lies. The purpose is strategic.

Brand said lawyers did so to him in an effort to extort money. Perhaps they did. But we know of other situations when such cases have been filed to stop civil cases when it appears one side would lose.

This is a typical and reprehensible technique used here. The real problem is that there is no mechanism in place for judges
 to throw out weak or fake cases at an early stage. Such actions usually have to go to a full trial, causing great expense to the victimized individuals and frequently delaying justice.

The second aspect illustrated by the Brand case is that a judge can issue a prohibition against someone leaving the country and the subject of the order does not find out until he or she is at the airport. No one should be the subject of a secret judicial order. Each person should have the right to contest the order quickly before a judge. That means the the judiciary should notify the person who is the subject of the impedimento de salida order.  Such orders should not languish in secret in the immigration computer system for months or years until someone has invested money in air tickets and travel.

Again, these orders can be used strategically to bring pressure on an individual whether for legal or private reasons. The orders frequently are placed against foreign expats because opposing lawyers can argue that the individual might flee.

Both of these issues are grossly unfair. The sad part is that everyone in the judiciary and in government knows it and they do nothing to remedy the unfairness.
— Feb. 10, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Time has come to end disgusting practice of shark finning

Costa Rica needs to live up to its environmentalist reputation by banning the practice of shark finning in its waters and to forbid the shipment of shark fins.

So far the country has bobbed and weaved but failed to take decisive steps to crack down on this despicable practice.

A lower-court judge once again has stifled efforts to bring some kind of oversight to this practice. The judge, Rosa Cortes Morales, acted at the request of Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes el Pescador S.A. to annul an agreement that would make shark finners dump their cargo at a public dock in Puntarenas.

For obvious reasons, these ravagers of the seas prefer to hide their cargo by unloading at friendly private docks.

The court decision was reported by the Programa de Restauración de las Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group that has been fighting shark finning for years.

The agreement was between the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes. The effect of the agreement was to require shark fishermen to obey the law.

Judge Cortez took the unusual step of throwing out the agreement without hearing from the other side because the shark finners and their wholesalers claimed irreparable damage, according to the decision. They would be damaged by abiding by the law.

There is more to come in this legal process, but Round One goes to the shark finners.

They say that people cannot comprehend large numbers. To say that 200,000 persons died in the Haitian earthquake does not have the emotional impact of seeing the damaged body of a single Haitian baby.

That may be true with shark finning. In 2006 the first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their fins estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, said the study.
shark fins
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop

That number is hard to fathom. But the adjacent photo shows a number of shark fins, and each represents an animal dumped back in the ocean to die. The photo came from the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, which reported that the photo shows a Puntarenas rooftop being used to dry shark fins. The photographer had to flee.

From time to time government officials take note of shark finning. When the film "Sharkwater" played in San José, then-legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, said she would introduce a bill to ban the practice. Nothing ever came of it.

Ms. Taitelbaum is now the defensora de los habitantes and would seem to be in a position to follow through if she were not just posturing in 2007.

The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking, although nutritionally they are less adequate than many other meals. Perhaps the new stadium, a gift from China, should be called the Arena of Dead Sharks.              
 — Feb. 7, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
At some point there must be a reason to discard pacifism

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not seem to be having much success finding international support to counter Nicaragua's invasion of a small patch of national soil.

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

"I am certain that if you asked civilized, average Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans if they believe that that patch of God-forsaken land is worth the life of one single person on either side, they would respond with a resounding NO! Costa Ricans don’t go to war at the drop of a hat, not because we are 'cowards with no backbone,' but because we are smart and educated."

Much has been made of this country's tradition of existing without an army. Also highly valued is the tradition of neutrality.

Both are pragmatic positions what have morphed into myth.  José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after he won the country's civil war. He had good, pragmatic reasons. The army in many countries is the likely source of rebellion. Later in life he said that his decision had a sound philosophical basis, too.

Costa Rican school children are encouraged to believe that Costa Rica is special because it does not have an army. The money they would have spent on military has been spent on education, social services and infrastructure, so the theory goes.

Clearly it has not been spent on roads and bridges.
President Luis Alberto Monge declared the country to be neutral when it appeared that Costa Rica would be swept into the Nicaraguan civil war. There was a recent ceremony praising that pragmatic decision.

Can Costa Rica be neutral in all things? We know it is neutral with regard to the Taliban suppression of women in Afghanistan. Other nations and the United Nations have taken up that fight.

But where does Costa Rica draw the line? Perhaps the letter writer is correct and that a small chunk of national territory is not worth fighting for.  After all, the Isla Calero appears to be mostly a home for large mosquitoes.

But if Nicaraguan forces move down the Río Colorado deep into Costa Rica, is that worth fighting for? How about Guanacaste? If Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega wants that land back after 186 years, is that worth fighting for?

President Laura Chinchilla seems to think that there should be a line drawn. She has beefed up the northern border with heavily armed police.

Myths of neutrality and the effectiveness of international law often clash with realities. Clearly no one can be neutral in the face of Nazi aggression and concentration camps. Nor can one  be neutral when one country calls for the elimination of another country.

At least the citizens cannot remain neutral and claim any pretensions to moral superiority.

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