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(506) 223-1327              Published Friday, Oct. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 213                  E-mail us
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Emergency commission announces weather alerts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 1:45 p.m. Saturday)

The national emergency commission ordered weather alerts Saturday afternoon..

One is for southwestern Costa Rica, specifically the cantons of Pacífico Sur, Pérez Zeledón, Corredores, Osa, Golfito, Buenos Aires y Coto Brus. A tropical wave is bringing instabilty to the atmosphere and heavier rains are expected this afternoon.
On the Caribbean, the emergency commission said that clouds were building and the probability of heavy downpours exists, in part because of the same tropical wave. Local emergency committees in Pococí, Guácimo, Matina, Limón centro and Talamanca have been activated in anticipation that some supplies will be needed from storage.
 
Also on the Pacific there is a small-boat warning because of abnormal high tides that also might flood some coastal areas.



It's time for a little Octoberfest to benefit Colegio Humboldt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This weekend's best bet: The Oktoberfest celebration tonight at the Costa Rican Country Club to benefit the bilingual Colegio Humboldt.

The organizers promise sausages, sauerkraut, polka, contests and a number of German beers. The event is being supported by the Embassy of Germany and a number of German companies operating here.

Admission is 4,000 colons (some $7.70) at the door. The bulk of the money raised at the 7 p.m. event will be used for student scholarships.

Some 6 million persons visit the Munich Octoberfest that has been held there for two weeks each year since 1810, said the school.
Octoberfest figure



Falsification of computer records alleged
Three held after fraud probe at immigration agency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators grabbed three immigration department employees, a man and two women, Thursday and said they were selling residencies for $5,000 to $10,000 each.

Arrests took place in Naranjo in Alajuela province, in Barrio Las América de Moravia and in  Ciudadela Garabito en León XIII.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the three used their access to the main immigration computers to change details on files of individuals to make them eligible for cédulas of residency or for refugee status. Some of the persons whose files were altered already had been rejected. The bulk of those who benefited from the illegal updates were Colombians, officials said.

The immigration department has been correctly described as chaos with hosts of missing files, overworked staff and long lines of foreigners. The director general of the department has had to extend the residency terms for thousands of foreigners for a year twice because the agency cannot handle the demand.

The arrests show that the agency also lacks good controls on its data bases.

Two offices of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería were also raided Thursday. They were the Departamento de Subproceso de Valoración Técnica of the Gestión de Extranjería and the Departamento de Refugiados de Migración.

The Poder Judicial said that the three persons who
were detained worked in immigration's computer department and conspired with persons outside the agency to modify electronic files of foreigners.

In the home of one suspect, the Poder Judicial spokesperson said that investigators working with the Fiscalía de Fraudes or frauds prosecutor found photocopies of immigration files.

The Poder Judicial spokesperson said that the investigation was centering on allegations of fraud, infomation sabotage and conspiracy.

The immigration department said that its director, Mario Zamora, was the complainant in the case. The Poder Judicial said that the investigation had been under way for several months.

This is not the first such series of arrests. In February 2006 a computer operator and a secretary were detained on similar allegations.

Law enforcement officials believe that some of the Colombians who arrive in Costa Rica and present themselves as refugees are, in fact, associated with some of the rebel and drug-smuggling gangs in that country.

The immigration department has been controversial. Zamora, himself, said shortly after he took office in 2006 that he was approached by a Chinese man who offered to pay him $2.5 million to allow immigrants from that country enter Costa Rica. The department also has been criticised by the Sala IV constitutional court for its hardline stand on marriages of foreigners with Costa Ricans. Zamora claims many of the marriages are fake and contracted only so the foreign can obtain residency.


Workers in private industry get a 5.1 percent raise
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Minimum salaries in private businesses will go up 5.1 percent Jan. 1.  The amount was released by the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado Thursday. The amount was fixed by the Consejo Nacional de Salarios.
All three entities involved in the twice yearly salary negotiations agreed. They were the government, the employer representatives and unions.

The chamber noted that some 1.6 million, nine of every 10 workers, is in private business. The increase is similar to that awarded public workers. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 213

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Prison for drunk driving
proposed in legislature


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch has proposed to increase the fine for drunk driving from the present 20,000 colons ($38.50) to 300,000 colons ($575), but one legislator said that this increase in not enough.

The lawmaker, Mario Quirós Lara of the Movimiento Libertario, has proposed that those caught driving on a license suspended because of alcohol violation face from one to five years in prison. In addition to the fine, a driver now can lose driving privileges for six months. But most continue to drive, even sometimes drunk, because of the lack of enforcement.

Anyone who pays attention to traffic reports knows that motorists die every weekend and alcohol usually is involved. Oct. 7 a driver believed drunk slammed his car into one containing three young women. He fled the scene but the three women died. That early morning crash took place on Calle 9 at Avenida 8 in the heart of the downtown.

Those involved in traffic death cases usually never serve any time because the possible penalties are light. A man who was at the wheel when a boy, 10, was run over was freed on his own recognizance this week to await further action. Last year 329 persons died on the nation's roads and alcohol was deemed the cause of the second highest number of deaths after excessive speed.

Raging river at San Carlos
floods out 12 homes

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A raging Río Platanares flooded 12 homes in Barrio San Roque in San Carlos Wednesday night. The river continued to pour out of its banks Thursday, threatening bridges and  other homes.

Five of the homes were filled completely with the muddy river waters, said the national emergency commission.

Engineers, workmen and machinery were on the scene early Thursday attempting to prevent more damage.

The flooding was a surprise because in most of the country water was receding, thanks to several days of decent weather.

Meanwhile, the head of the emergency commission, Daniel Gallardo, met with Guanacaste mayors Thursday in an effort to develop a priority list on the repair of infrastructure damaged or destroyed there by 15 days or more of heavy, non-stop rain.

Today Gallardo will be in Jacó to meet with officials from the central Pacific. Parts of Parrita centro, for example, were under for nearly two weeks and adjacent communities were cut off. That meeting is at 9 a.m.

Immigration detains women

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police raided a home in Jacó early Thursday and took seven women into custody. Police said they were working in the sex trade.

Officers of the Policía de Migración also interviewed some 55 other women in the area and gave appointment dates to nine who are believed to be working illegally in the country.

Police said that many of the women were married to Costa Ricans in order to be here legally but that there was no sign that the unions were legitimate. The detained women include Dominicans, Colombians and a Nicaraguan.

Our reader's opinion
President's place is at side
of people suffering disaster


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In our little country, 25 people have died from mudslides and flooding, thousands of people remain homeless, and thousands more are fighting to save their homes from 15 days of non-stop rain.

Forget potholes, entire roads are washed out, bridges have collapsed resulting in community isolation, businesses, especially small businesses, are no more, dengue fever is at epidemic levels and because 97 percent of all sewage water flows to the ocean instead of being treated appropriately, three of the most popular Pacific beaches are "people dangers".

Not one senior administration member has visited a single disaster area.

Alas, in addition to don Óscar, we have a vice president and chief of staff brother Rodrigo Arias, which are all no shows.

Headlines say that $20 million has been promised from the Chinese but we all know that will take years to filter down and these areas will be fortunate if they ever see 10 cents on the dollar. An all to clear example of how the system works is the $36 million  appropriated for school repairs in the year 2003. According to a La Nación editorial dated Oct. 23, four years later only 1 percent of those funds have ever been applied.

Mr. President, get back here and lead us out of crisis.

This country is imploding from just about every conceivable direction, and we very much need domestic leadership, direction as well as sharp and clear decisions.

A unique difference between elitist administrations and socialists is that Ortega, Chávez, Morales, Lula know how to be, or at least appear to be, in the trenches with their people whenever tragedy hits. Precisely why they are "populists" and why they are being elected.
John Holtz
Santa Ana

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 213




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Lawmaker seeks to ban war toys and violent video games
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative deputy has proposed to prohibit violent video games and the importation, assembly or sale of any toy that resembled a weapon of war.

The measure has been sent to a committee for study.

The deputy is Alexander Mora Mora of San José, a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The prohibition would extend to any item that represented a weapon or soldier, a military vehicle, a tank, war plane or ship of war. Like with a lot of the measures drafted in the legislature, the proposal is very broad. Taken literally, sculptures of horses or elephants would be prohibited
because they have been used as devices of war. And a model of a 17th century navy vessel also would be covered, as well as model planes if they resembled a warplane of any vintage. The committee is expected to alter the wording somewhat if it considers the measure.

Mora said in a summary of the measure that violence continues to grow in society and blames the introduction of children to simulated weapons early in life as well as the presence of videogames that require players to destroy objects and persons on screen to be a winner.

He equated violent items and games with illegal drugs.

Violators of the proposed law would face a fine, according to the draft.


Police officer shot last week may have been revenge victim
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A police officer died Thursday after lingering in a highly critical condition since last Friday when he was shot in the neck and head.

The man is Dixon Hernández Valerín, 29 and the father of three children. He died at Hospital Calderón Guardia.

At first the shooting appeared to be a random street crime. The officer was approached by a man just two blocks from the police station where he worked in Barrio Cuba Oct. 19
about 6:30 p.m., said officials at the time. He had just gotten off duty.
Now officials are saying that the murdered man had received threats because of an arrest he made days earlier. Officials also said that three men were involved in the shooting.

The officer's girlfriend also is a police officer. It was not clear if they were armed at the time of the attack. She was unhurt.

The officer was a member of the Grupo Apoyo Operacional, which is similiar to a tactical squad and takes on difficult police tasks. He began in 2000 as a bicycle policeman.

Judicial police are investigating the case, officials said.


A mother wories when the son, a tourist, hits the beaches
We have been staying in the apartment of a friend in the city since my son Justin arrived. I did take him out to see the Residence where I normally live, and he was very impressed with the grounds, the ambiance and my apartment, especially considering the cost. I can walk for exercise at the Residence. In the city walking is my transportation.  I have lost two pounds since we have been in Sabana Norte. 
 
Those of us who have lived in Costa Rica for some time forget what it is like for those who are just visiting. My son and I have recently gone through this, and it may not be over.

Justin decided to visit Puerto Viejo for a couple of days.  Because my Spanish is better than his, he asked me to reserve a seat on the bus going there.  To make a bus reservation over the phone, you have to give them a credit card number, your phone number and e-mail address, and the name of all parties involved.  Although my Spanish proficiency drops considerably when I am on the phone, I managed to do it, and he left the next morning at 7:30. He had asked me whether he should take his passport or a copy.  Because we both were worried about his losing it or having it stolen, I told him to take a copy.

Some hours after his arrival he called me on the cell phone I had lent him to tell me he was not going to have enough money and so far no one would take credit cards. He couldn’t get money at any bank because they would not accept the copy of his passport.  (I am sure the picture on it looked authentically like him, but . . .  )  Had I been there, I could have simply gone into a local bank and withdrawn some money, but, naturally, he does not have an account here.  Some years ago when I went to Nicaragua for three days, I had carried little money hoping to use my American Express card.  No one would take that either.  I spent a frugal three days there.
 
He called again later to say his cell phone was running down and would I please call the bus line and make a
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

reservation for him to return on Thursday.  After doing this, I went into the kitchen and started cooking, which is my stress solution.  Sautéing onions and garlic does wonders for my nerves.  (I cannot do this at the Residencia.) Justin seemed okay. It was me as mother who had decided to worry.  

After the onions and garlic were ready for whatever I wanted to do with them, I decided to call Bonnie in California to see if the fires were affecting her and Arnold.  They are okay.  Bonnie was a family counselor before she retired.  Although that wasn’t why I called her, she soon had me talking about what was happening. 

Bonnie laughed.  “Don’t you know?” she said, “People from the United States don’t know about buses, how to make reservations, or get on a bus.  If we want to go anywhere, we jump in our cars and turn the key.  And we whip out our credit cards when we have to pay for something.”  Yeah, right.

Then I confessed that I had been so preoccupied with all of this that I could not think about what I would write in my column.  “Why don’t you write about this.”  Bonnie said, more than asked.  Bonnie is not of the Freudian school of psychology.

I have relaxed considerably since talking to Bonnie and finding a subject for my column -—and afterward I was able to enjoy a lunch of chicken paprika, with plenty of onions and garlic.  Later Justin called again to say he had taken a bus to Cahuita and enjoyed the beautiful national park there.



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Wife of Argentine president appears to be election favorite
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Argentines go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, along with legislators and provincial governors. In a country that produced the iconic figure of Eva Peron, wife of two-time President Juan Peron, more than 50 years ago, all eyes are on another woman: the current first lady. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is running to succeed her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, and pre-election polls show her with a commanding lead in the race.

Argentina could be on the verge of making history. A victory by Cristina Fernandez, who is both first lady and a senator, would give the country its first elected female leader. Polls show her with about a 30-point lead over her nearest rival, fueled by Argentina's strong economic performance during her husband's term — a fact she has stressed during the campaign.

"The truth is that with this year's growth, Argentina has seen the best economic growth in the last hundred years," she said. "Argentina has recorded five consecutive years of growth for the first time in a century."

The presidential slate features a dozen other candidates, ranging across the political spectrum. Among them is Roberto Lavagna, who gained international prominence as economy minister under President Kirchner and his predecessor.

Lavagna, who stepped down in 2005, says he was the architect of Argentina's recovery from an economic meltdown in 2001. He accuses Kirchner of squandering these gains and says Cristina Fernández would do no better.

"I believe the president has lost a great opportunity," he says. "The economic recovery the country experienced between 2002 and 2005, which no one thought possible, neither at home nor abroad, is being wasted."

On the streets of Buenos Aires, opinions on the presidential race are decidedly mixed. Polls show nearly half the electorate backing the first lady, who hails from Argentina's Peronist Party, but is running as a center-left coalition candidate.
Buenos Aires lawyer Adriana Gomez says she will vote for Ms. Fernández.

"Cristina seems to be consistent as a politician," she said. "She strikes me as intelligent. I would like for her to become president."

Businessman Eduardo Roig agrees.

"The fact that she is a woman does not guarantee anything, but is nothing negative, either," he said. "I have hope that she would do a good job."

Argentina's opposition is severely fragmented with no candidate polling above 15 percent. Many who plan to vote for the opposition seem to have only one thing in common: a dislike for Cristina Fernández.

"The fact that she is a woman does not bother me," said University student Julieta Solis. "But I am not going to vote for her because she seems very arrogant, and I do not like her or the president."

Despite billboards and campaign posters, the election campaign has been very low-key. Argentine political consultant Sergio Berensztein notes there have been no public debates among the presidential contenders, and most campaign appearances by the candidates go virtually unnoticed by the broader public.

"This campaign and these candidates have not generated any enthusiasm," he said. "Only one in four Argentines is paying attention to the campaign. Important issues are not being debated, in part because the Kirchners have refused to do so."

The president and first lady refuse to talk to reporters, to field questions and give answers.

To avoid a runoff election, Cristina Fernández would have to win 45 percent of the vote — or receive 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the second-place finisher. Most political analysts believe the first lady can win outright, but note that pre-election polls are often unreliable in Argentina.


At least 18 workers die and oil pollutes Gulf of México after mishap at rig
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least 18 Mexican oil workers are now dead after an accident at an offshore oil drilling facility Tuesday in the Gulf of México.

The accident occurred when an oil drilling rig slammed into a platform during a heavy storm that caused 130 kph (about 80 mph) winds and eight-meter (26-foot) waves.
Mexico's state-owned energy company Pemex says 86 workers abandoned their drilling platforms and escaped into emergency life rafts. At least 61 people were rescued. Seven other people are missing.

The accident sent oil and natural gas spilling into the gulf, and forced the closure of Mexico's main oil ports. Pemex officials say it will take at least five days to control the leak and clean up the spill. 


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Brazil gets the nod from inspectors to host 2014 World Cup
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Football Federation has recommended Brazil to host the World Cup in 2014, after inspectors toured the South American nation.

The inspection report said Brazil is an "appropriate choice" to host the 2014 World Cup. The inspectors said Brazil has demonstrated itself to be more than capable of hosting what they called "an exceptional World Cup."
The report was sent to the federation executive committee, which will announce its decision Tuesday.

Brazil is the only candidate bidding to host football's biggest event in 2014. The federation has a policy of rotating the tournament among the continents.

Brazil has won the world cup five times, but has hosted the tournament only once — in 1950 when it lost to Uruguay at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

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