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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, Nov. 13, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 225        E-mail us
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Let there
be light


Christmas lights at the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building get a late afternoon test. The national insurance company did not display the lights last year, but they soon will be turned on for 2009.

Lights are going up elsewhere in a country that unapologetically mixes Christianity with daily life.

One big event will be the Festival de la Luz parade starting at 6 p.m. Dec. 12.
Christmas at INS
A.M. Costa Rica photo



Phone scammers are back in business calling U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scamsters in Costa Rica are again at work defrauding U.S. citizens with the advance fee lottery trap.

Just two and a half years ago investigators here shut down a major scamming ring that resulted in extensive jail time in the United States for some of the operators.

The latest report comes from Berea, Ohio, where a man told police that he sent $9,000 in money transfers to Costa Rica because a caller said he had won a drawing worth $450,000, according to the Chicago Sun News. The last contact with the bold caller who identified herself as Ashley was while the man was in the police station making a report, the newspaper said.

Typically when scamsters find a sucker they keep adding more financial charges before the mythical prize can be delivered. In the case of the Ohio man, the callers said they would refund all his money if he sent more money, said the newspaper.

Such scams are good jobs for English-speaking Costa Ricans and undocumented North Americans who get healthy commissions for stealing money. Costa Rica law enforcement only seems to respond to multiple requests from the FBI. The location of the scamming call centers are well known and can easily be traced by telephone technicians or Western Union workers. Costa Rican workers know that they are protected because the nation's Constitution forbids extraditing citizens. But fraud also is a crime here.

Penalties for U.S. citizens can be significant. Former Horseshoe Casino operator Jaime Ligator was involved with a scam that was busted up in May 2007. He finally was extradited to the United States last August and promptly pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution.
The case involves some 36 co-defendants. One, Alfredo Susi, got a sentence of 180 months in prison a year ago after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and 19 counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors said at the time the scam resulted in losses of $10 million by its victims.

Susi surrendered $1.05 million from a Swiss account, which was to be applied to $4.2 million in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the cases were heard.

Chad Michael Schneider got 51 months in prison, three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution along with his co-defendants, the prosecutor's office said.

Also sentenced were Allen Fialkoff and Sheldon Brenowitz. Fialkoff got 28 months in prison and was ordered to repay $5 million.

Brenowitz got 51 months and was ordered to repay $10 million along with his co-defendants.

Most of the men who were sentenced were well known in the Costa Rican expat community. Ligator was a respected poker player.

As many as 200 bilingual Costa Ricans were believed involved making telephone calls from the city to potential victims in the United States at the time of Ligator's arrest.

This group handed out lottery tickets at supermarkets and shopping centers in the United States, so that those being called had had previous contact with the fake lottery, officials said then.

Callers told victims that they were associated with the mythical "lottery commission of the United States," agents said at the time.

The woman who started defrauding the Ohio man Oct. 15 said she was with the Federal Game Commission, according to the Ohio newspaper.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 225

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Legal services

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Physicians and surgeons

Dr. Marco A. Mora Aguilar, Neurosurgeon
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For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Panamá
Quake rattles  central Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 4:50 p.m.
A quake measured at a magnitude of 5.1 took place about 3:30 p.m. today, Friday, about 30 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) northeast of Parrita on the central Pacific coast. The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico of the Universidad Nacional said the origin was a local fault and not the clash of the two great tectonic plates on which Costa Rica rides.

Officials in Parrita said there were no immediate reports of damage, according to the  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. However in other communities including San José, there were reports of falling objects dislodged by the quake.


Cold front brings shivers
to Central Valley Ticos


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cold front from the north is moving in, and Costa Ricans may soon be wearing ski caps and heavier coats in the Central Valley.

Even at the beaches the mercury is expected to drop lower during the nights. This is normal at this time of year, and northern hemisphere snowbirds are likely to be mystified by the concern over cold weather.

Central Valley residents will see temperatures in the mid-teens, perhaps 17 C. in San José. That's a moderate 63 degrees F, except for Costa Ricans who prefer warmer nights. The temperature at 1:30 a.m. Friday was 18 degrees C in north San José.  That's 64.4 F.

Beach dwellers will continue to have hot days over the weekend, but temperatures will be in the low 20s C during the nights. That is around 72 degrees.

Big game is Saturday
for World Cup berth

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

All eyes will be on the Estadio Saprissa Saturday as the Costa Rican national team takes on the best from Uruguay in a match that may be the key to joining the elite squads that participate in the World Cup matches next year in South Africa.

Costa Rica has the home field advantage in a stadium with artificial turf. This has worried some visitors, and Costa Rica continues to dominate the play in its home stadium.

The United States team, already a World Cup qualifier, tied the Costa Rican team in the last few seconds of play Oct. 14 and pushed it into fourth place after Honduras. The fourth place team has to scramble to win a ticket to South Africa.

The stadium is sold out and the game will be televised.

Uruguay has been training on an artificial surface in Guatemala to prepare for the game. A second match is in Uruguay later in the week.

Veteran ceremony Sunday
at church in Guachepelín


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents here will mark Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day, Sunday at 5 p.m. in the International Baptist Church in Guachepelín, Escazú.

Although the official date is Nov. 11, the commemoration of the sacrifices of members of the armed forces has been moved to this Sunday.

Representatives from the U.S., British and Canadian embassies are expected to attend along with military veterans.

More information is available at 2258-2025 or 8395-9653.

Armistice Day used to mark the end of World War I, but it has expanded to mark the sacrifices of all war veterans.

highs and lows
National Center for Atmospheric Research graphic
The ratio of record daily highs to lows from 1950 to 2009 at 1,800 U.S. weather stations.

Record highs outpace lows
in U.S. weather analysis

By the National Science Foundation

Spurred by a warming climate, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States, new research shows.

Results of the research by authors at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States," says Gerald Meehl, the lead author at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "The ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting."

If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead, for the period from Jan. 1, 2000, to Sept. 30, 2009, the continental United States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves.

A record daily high means that temperatures were warmer on a given day than on that same date throughout a weather station's history.

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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

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

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

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

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us

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

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 225


Cruictas protest

Opponents of an open pit mine in northern Costa Rica congregated at the Corte Suprema de Justicia Thursday while lawyers inside argued the case in an open hearing. The Sala IV will make a decision on multiple appeals in a month. That's Óscar Arias Sánchez characterized with blood on his hands by the none-too-subtle protesters.
mine protesters
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas


Comment by Arias concerns hemispheric press group
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The hemisphere's press organization said it wonders if President Óscar Arias Sánchez plans to change the Costa Rican Constitution to restrict press freedoms.

The organization expressed its concern in a summary of press freedoms on Costa Rica as part of its annual general assembly last week in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The organization, the Inter American Press Association, said that during his term of office Arias "has swung in and out of spats with the press, accusing the country’s two major media outlets of pursuing scandals with a Watergate-like ferocity.

The organization noted that due to a crackdown on corruption that started five years ago, Arias (and the administration that preceded him) lost dozens of cabinet members and department heads, because of – in his opinion – lengthy articles in the newspapers or incriminating talk shows.

The press group was particularly concerned with this statement by Arias last Aug. 27: “The contemporary media does much more: not only do they inform, but they also influence, decisively and always deliberately, people’s political opinion. It does so through its editorial, treatment given to the news, and with the inevitable task of selecting the news.”

The organization noted that Arias finishes his term in May and that none of the leading presidential candidates have expressed interest in constitutional reform.

An eight-year-old media bill continues to languish in the
legislative assembly, the press association noted. This measure would provide some protection for newspeople and their outlets when they are accused of defamation. The bill would institute a rule that would force those bringing the case to show that newspeople acted with reckless disregard of the truth or with knowledge that the information they published was not true.

"Another threat exists -- stemming not from controlling politicians or disparaged officials – but from a sharp increase in organized crime," said the organization. "With a near doubling of murder rates since 2006 and an 800 percent increase in drug-related cases from 1997 to 2007, the country is dealing with a real security problem, which is recognized by the current administration and presidential candidates. Organized crime not only presents a physical threat to journalists, but media outlets may engage in a certain degree of self-censorship to avoid risk, analysts say."

The summary also noted that the new electoral code eliminated a ban on alcohol at election times and did not include a proposal to assess criminal penalties for editors and news directors who publish the results of polls shortly before elections.

The organization did pass formal resolutions critical of press freedoms in these countries: Argentina, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

*The parent company of A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the Inter American Press Association.


Oasis of hamburgers and french fries sprouts up in Pavas
I grew up eating meatballs, not hamburgers, and pastas instead of french fries, so I don’t have a nostalgic addiction for some of the dishes considered all-American food.  But a good number of my friends do, so for their sakes I should tell them that “Sneaky Pete’s American Diner” has recently opened in the plaza opposite the U.S. Embassy in Pavas.  Pete makes old-fashioned hamburgers, fresh potato salad, Cuban sandwiches, french fries with skins and more.  His homemade killer desserts sit under glass on his diner’s counter. 

The owner is the cook and is doing what he loves — and you can tell he loves what he is doing.  He mentioned he might expand to hot dogs (somewhere in my youth I did eat them) and if he can also make glazed donuts (very similar to what are called Krispy Kremes today), then I will be a regular.

That’s the good news.

Just as much a part of the American scene, it seems, are mass murderers.  The most recent has been Major Nidal M. Hasan who apparently acted alone in the killing of 13 people and wounding 30 others at Fort Hood.   On the same day as the memorial for the dead soldiers and support personnel, John Allen Muhammad was executed for his killing spree as a sniper, leaving at least 10 people dead in 2002. In between these killings there have been other mass murderers.

The first one I recall (other than the Manson Family) was of ex-Marine Charles Whitman who holed himself up in a tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and killed 14 people, wounding 22.  And, of course, in 2007 the massacre of 32 people, before the shooter, 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, committed suicide.

All mass killings are not acts of terrorism.  In many cases, after the fact, there are writings that warning signs were missed, and the shooters are labeled as psychopathic or psychotic, or (based upon autopsies) brain-damaged.  But seldom is the perpetrator’s religion mentioned or blamed or has his affiliation to an organization been more than briefly considered. 

Killings at one’s place of employment or school are not uncommon.  It is also not uncommon for a psychologist or a psychiatrist to struggle with his or her own emotional/mental problems.  It is one reason they are attracted to the discipline. 

Unfortunately, in the case of the Major Hasan, these possibilities have been given short shrift by the media because above all he is a Muslim.  And we are in a War
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 

against Terror — not a war against mass murders. It is a war specifically against radical Muslim terrorists and those who encourage them.

There is a dilemma, however, if it is found that his radical views of religion fueled by others did prompt Major Hasan’s rampage, which therefore makes him a terrorist.  The U.S. has warned other countries that if they harbor (perhaps even unknowingly) terrorists, they will be considered an enemy and may be subject to attack.  Major Hasan was born and raised in the U.S.  And he was supported by the military as he studied medicine and then psychiatry

At some point the people in charge must realize that international acts of terrorism cannot be dealt with by attacking countries with uniformed armies in tanks lumbering along secondary booby-trapped roads. Our brave young warriors are perfect targets. 

As wars go, the fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan are few, but the number of returning veterans with broken bodies and damaged psyches is legion. The cost to the insurgents to achieve this damage is little — to the U.S., it is huge. 

And to add to the problem is the fact that, just as in Vietnam, we will again find ourselves supporting with lives and money, a corrupt president and government that is not supported by its own people.

Thanks to cell phones and the Internet, plotting and planning a terrorist attack can come from anywhere. Headquarters no longer need to be a mountain hideout in Afghanistan.

It is going to take brains, not brawn, to deal with them.  It is going to take cooperation between the various intelligence agencies within and between different countries to spot and share the warning signs in individuals who are planning the mass murder of innocents. It didn’t succeed with Dr. Hasan, but there are lessons to be learned from the tragedy.

It is all so depressing, it is no wonder people look for something comforting, like the food from their childhood when times were simpler (or seemed to be.)



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 225

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Election Tribunal backs off slightly from its ad blackout

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has decided that state banks are not subject to the publicity blackout it ordered for the February elections.

The blackout was challenged by Mario Rivera Turcios, manager of Banco de Costa Rica. So the Tribunal was forced to revisit its pronouncement that banks and other state institutions be restricted in their advertisements.

The Tribunal did not originate the rule. This is another of those situations where aides in the legislature draw up a measure with unintended consequences and lawmakers pass it without thinking the measure through.

The new election code is specific in saying that institutions of the executive branch, state companies, decentralized administration, mayors and municipal councils are prohibited from distributing by any medium of
communication publicity about any public works realized once the election has been called. Typically that is in October, so the prohibition runs until February. The idea is to keep state agencies from promoting the candidate of the party in power.

The election code is a law, so the Tribunal has to figure out a reason for exempting banks, which need publicity to do their daily business.

The Tribunal came up with the idea that state banks are businesses and are in competition with private banks. None of this is in the election code, but the concept gave the Tribunal enough wiggle room to exempt banks as long as they do not praise the current government or promote candidates.

In addition to the Banco de Costa Rica, the ruling covers Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago y Banco Popular y de Desarrollo Comunal.



Spanish language umpire gets train station as new home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Academia Costarricense de la Lengua has been given the Estación al Atlántico as a new home.

The organization is part of the Academias de la Lengua Española network that arbitrates usage in the Spanish language.

The Costa Rican organization also participates in other cultural activities and gives an award each year of books published on its central theme.  This year the award went to "El Español de Costa Rica, según los ticos" by Carla Victoria Jara. The publisher is the Universidad de Costa Rica press.
The train station in northern San José previously was occupied by the Museo de Formas, Espacios y Sonidos, but that museum has been closed for several years.

The academy was founded in 1923 and has not had a permanent location since, officials noted. At times it was housed in the Biblioteca Nacional.

On its Web site the academy says it is organized for the protection, diffusion and study of the linguistic and literary heritage. Most countries with a majority Spanish-speaking population have a similar organization.

The network is affiliated with the well-known Real Academia Española.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 225



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Elimination of landmines
said to be progressing


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report finds significant progress has been made in eradicating antipersonnel landmines since the Mine Ban Treaty came into force 10 years ago.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has issued its 11th annual Landmine Monitor Report showing the use, production and stockpiling of these weapons has gone down dramatically. 

The Mine Ban Treaty is one of the most widely ratified in the world.  Authors of the report say 156 nations have now joined the treaty, leaving 39 states that have not.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch and Landmine Monitor's Ban Policy editor says those who have not joined include some of the biggest stockpilers and former and current users of landmines: China, Russia, the United States, India, and Pakistan.

"But, we do see that even with the vast, vast majority of these 39 states that have not yet joined, they are in de facto compliance with most of the key provisions," said Goose. "The United States, for example, has not used since 1991.  It has not exported since 1992.  It has not produced the weapons since 1997.  And, we understand that the Obama Administration is taking a fresh look at U.S. landmine policy." 

Goose says the United States has registered to attend the Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in Cartagena, Colombia, in early December.  He says this will be the first time the United States will participate in a formal meeting in 10 years.

The report finds that only two countries, Burma and Russia, are still using landmines.  It says use by rebel groups has decreased in 2008. 

The Landmine Monitor says 38 countries have stopped producing landmines.  Only 13 countries, among them Burma, India and Pakistan, are still producing them. 

Goose says during the past decade, 44 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines have been destroyed in 86 countries.  Belarus, Greece, and Turkey have missed their destruction deadline in violation of the treaty. Nevertheless, he describes the destruction of these weapons as a major achievement.

"When you destroy a mine from your stockpile, it is a mine that will never get laid, will never take a life or a limb," he said. "So, we put a very high priority on this preventive mine action, if you will."

Since 1999, the report says millions of lives have been saved by the removal of more than two million landmines, 250,000 anti-vehicle mines and 17 million explosive remnants of war in more than 90 countries. Northern Costa Rica has been cleared of landmines that were placed during the Nicaraguan civil war. Perú also has participated in a landmine clearing program operated by the Organization of American States. Surinam also  has a mine problem.

Between 1999 and 2008, the Landmine Monitor identified more than 73,500 casualties in 119 countries.  It says the actual number is probably higher.  The report refers to factory-made mines and does not count the improvised mines that are killing U.S. soldiers and civilians in the Middle East.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 225


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New use for old material
may improve e-books

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Johns Hopkins materials scientists have found a new use for a chemical compound that has traditionally been viewed as an electrical conductor, a substance that allows electricity to flow through it. By orienting the compound in a different way, the researchers have turned it into a thin film insulator, which instead blocks the flow of electricity, but can induce large electric currents elsewhere. The material, called solution-deposited beta-alumina, could have important applications in transistor technology and in devices such as electronic books.

The discovery is described in the November issue of the journal Nature Materials and appears in an early online edition.

“This form of sodium beta-alumina has some very useful characteristics,” said Howard E. Katz, a professor of materials science and engineering who supervised the research team. “The material is produced in a liquid state, which means it can easily be deposited onto a surface in a precise pattern for the formation of printed circuits. But when it’s heated, it forms a solid, thin transparent film. In addition, it allows us to operate at low voltages, meaning it requires less power to induce useful current. That means its applications could operate with smaller batteries or be connected to a battery instead of a wall outlet.”

The transparency and thinness of the material (the hardened film is only on the order of 100 atoms thick) make it ideal for use in the increasingly popular e-book readers, which rely on see-through screens and portable power sources, Katz said. He added that possible transportation applications include instrument readouts that can be displayed in the windshield of an aircraft or a ground vehicle.

The emergence of sodium beta-alumina as an insulator was a surprising development, Katz said. The compound, known for decades, has traditionally been used to conduct electricity and for this reason has been considered as a possible battery component. The material allows charged particles to flow easily parallel to a two-dimensional plane formed within its distinct atomic crystalline arrangement. “But we found that current does not flow nearly as easily perpendicular to the planes, or in unoriented material,” Katz said. “The material acts as an insulator instead of a conductor. Our team was the first to exploit this discovery.”

The Johns Hopkins researchers developed a method of processing sodium beta-alumina in a way that makes use of this insulation behavior occurring in the form of a thin film. Working with the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer staff, Katz’s team has filed for international patent protection for their discovery.





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