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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 232       Email us
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American European Realty

Cops and bikers
Unhappy motorcycle drivers
Day of protests

Strikes, protests and blockades were the order
of the day Tuesday.
See stories

Anti-mine protesters

Long-running dispute on vaccinations leads to death
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A long-running impasse between health authorities in Puriscal and stubborn parents over the administration of vaccines to their children may have led to a fatal horseback ride in which a foreign-born teen died.

The girl, 13-year-old Nikoline Hill, was riding a horse across a stream in Turrubares with the five members of her family Sept. 29 when a current swept her and her horse downstream. Her body was found more than a kilometer away.

Judicial officials say she was born in Denmark and brought to Costa Rica at a young age. They classified her death as an accident.

But documentation leading up to the tragic incident shows that the family at the time may have been trying to escape authorities who supposedly threatened to take Ms. Hill and her siblings away from the parents if they didn't allow for the government-mandated vaccinations or properly school their children.

A vaccine guide for children published by the Ministerio de Salud requires that certain vaccines such as hepatitis, tetanus, diphtheria and others are administrated to children in Costa Rica. The children involved also were home-schooled.

According to a Web site blog, maintained by a friend of Hill's family who previously lived in Puriscal, the parents, identified as James and Birgitte, believed the government was overstepping its bounds in its demands.

The father wrote a note following the funeral of his daughter. The note states that the family was seeking refuge while riding the horses, thanks certain people for helping host them while they were fugitives and for pulling Miss Hill's body out of the river.

Also documented in the blog is video footage of the clash between health officials and the family leading up to Miss Hill's death, including a court case in Puriscal and personal visits by armed police officers and the health director there, Juan Miguel Cerdas Chacón, to the family's residence in the countryside where they lived without modern transportation, just horses.

Cerdas would not comment for this story and only said court documents are available in Puriscal. The Judicial Investigating Organization also did not elaborate on the event surrounding Miss Hill's death.

Postings by the family show the conflict began earlier this year and continually escalated. At one point, agents were said to have broken down the family's gate while they were away and
Miss Hill
Nikoline Hill with a kitten on horseback

confiscated various items such as their computer.

The family's unique spiritual beliefs may have also played a part in the confrontations, as the parents continually asked government officials if they were subservient to the God of Israel. Leading up to his daughter's death the father wrote and published his convictions about the role of government in a person's life and his fear of serving what he said was a new king.

“If the offers made by government officials involve insurance for health care, or 'free' education , or any such schemes to 'limit' liability, we must create an official act of re-lieging,” he wrote. “. . . we must divorce the king of the common law in order to accept a new king to rule over us because we cannot serve both.”  The word liege is a root of the modern word allegiance.

Some of the parents' complaints are that they were unlawfully forced by the Ministerio de Salud and Patronato Nacional de la Infancia to appear in court without having the charges brought before them and then not being allowed to testify because they did not bring proper identification. The family is reported to be undocumented and without cédulas of identification.

The family could not be reached to comment further on the events or their beliefs. They may have left the country.

But a posting by the father, Nov. 9, after the death of his daughter shows he is at least claiming to remain steadfast in the decision not to bend to the government's will, which could have indirectly led to the loss of Miss Hill.

“Never, ever cave in to bullies when so few could see them as clearly as I could,” he wrote. “Giving in to lawless people for personal relief only makes life worse for the next generation.”

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Liberación boycotts session
to avoid big budget cuts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa failed to meet again Tuesday. This was the second day in a row that lawmakers from the Partido Liberación Nacional boycotted the session.

The party members did not show up, and there was no quorum. No business was conducted.

Liberación Nacional is trying to avoid votes on a proposal to cut the nation's budget for the coming year.

The budget already has been approved once. However, lawmakers must vote on it a second time for it to be sent to the president. The chamber failed to meet Monday, too.

A coalition of political parties, except Liberación, seeks deep cuts in the budget because of the country's growing annual deficit. However, Casa Presidencial where officials are counting on a major tax package being passed, are bucking the effort. The proposed budget is believed to be 5 percent greater than the current one.

More cocaine at airport
and on Tibás roadway

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug agents completed several successful anti-drug operations this week, including two arrests in the Juan Santamaría airport and the seizure truck full of cocaine.

The grand total from those three operations, according to the ministry: over 1,200 kilograms of cocaine confiscated, several firearms confiscated and five suspects detained.

Two of the arrests made were of foreigners attempting to transport cocaine through the airport. One occurred Monday of a Colombian-born suspect identified by officials with last names of Zuleta Aguirre. The other was Israeli and identified as Benshabata. Officials say both were bound for Spain with the drugs stashed in their luggage.

The largest cocaine seizure of the operations came after authorities pulled over two vehicles early Tuesday morning driven by three Colombians, according to ministry reports. The 1,200 kilograms of cocaine apprehended from one of the vehicles was stored in 58 separate packages. Authorities reported it smelled of sea salt, presumably transported by water.

Prison break feared,
and police mobilize

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers set up roadblocks in the Limón area Monday after they received reports that prisoners would try to break out of the penitentiary there.

The tipsters suggested that the prisoners were to get outside help.

Although there were no arrests that were linked clearly to a prison break, officers did detain three men and a woman who were in a vehicle with two handguns and quantities of crack cocaine.

More than 200 persons were checked by police in the checkpoints they erected, they said

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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President acts to restructure southern zone poverty agency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president has asked for the resignation of directors of the southern zone anti-poverty agency.

This is the Junta de Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur that manages the Depósito Libre Comercial in Golfito.

The agency again got low marks from the Contraloría de la Pública in a study released Sept. 22.

The Depósito is the place in Golfito where Costa Ricans and others go to get up to $2,000 a year in tax-free merchandise. The commercial operation was set up to cushion the area against the effects of the end to the banana trade. The Depósito also provides income to the Junta.

The nation's budgetary watchdog issued a report that could only be characterized as blistering. It said that the Depósito Comercial lacked maintenance and lacked a plan to attract visitors.

The Contraloría said that the agency, known informally as JUDESUR, maintained 9 trillion colons in securities and was not using this money for the benefit of the persons living in the area. The amount is about $18 million.

The Contraloría also said that the Junta Desarrollo Regional did not have a clear view of what it is supposed
to do. The Junta was set up as an anti-poverty agency. Some 35 percent of the residents in the area are listed as poverty statistics, said the Contraloría, citing other government figures.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda discussed the situation with her cabinet Tuesday. Central government officials also have been discussing action with representatives from municipalities in the southern zone.

The Junta has been the target of criticism for years and frequently operates without much oversight.

Casa Presidencial also said that the president would see a new board of directors nominated by entities involved with the Golfito project. Sought would be persons who would fit a profile of assisting in reaching the goals of the Junta.

Casa Presidencial also said that the job of executive director of the Junta would be filled with a public search run by a company specialized in recruiting and personnel.

The plan also calls for the creation of an oversight group to recommend management suggestions and reforms.

The group will come from central government agencies.

Casa Presidencial said the president wants the new directors on board in 15 days.

Smoke 'em
if you got 'em

Anyone who has a fast-growing lawn should have compassion for the  Policía de Control de Drogas. They are constantly battling marijuana plants in rural areas. A nine-day project that ended Friday in the southern zone destroyed 89,724 plants, said the security ministry. Plants were in Villa Colón, La Unión de Coto, San Miguel de Coto, Sinaí, Cerro La Danta and Finca Puntarenas.
Ministerio de Gobernación. Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

Regulator orders ICE to refund money due to Internet outage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Users of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad Acelera Internet services will be getting a refund because they were victims of an outage from Sept. 30 to Oct. 8.

That was the ruling from the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones which noted that the bulk of the interruption was Internet service to households.
The company known as ICE said that it experienced a hacker attack that affected its service. The Superintendencia said that 16,955 users were affected and that the total refund would be about 88.5 million colons.

That is about $177,000.

There is a catch. ICE said it would refund money based on the date and time when the customer reported an outage.

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Multiple strikes and protests make Tuesday an unusual day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A series of unrelated strikes and protests made Tuesday an unusual day in San José and the Central Valley.

Motorcyclists, mainly messengers, gathered at the Instituto Nacional de Seguros Tuesday morning to protest increases in the obligatory insurance and the road tax. Then some 100 motorcyclists descended on the San Pedro traffic circle about 6 p.m. and effectively blocked the main highway. Bus passengers were forced to continue on foot. The blockade at the peak traffic hour had impact all over the metro area. Some taxi drivers refused to carry fares in that direction.

On the San José-Caldera highway, Ruta 27, some 70 vehicles operated by Atenas residents and friends slowed traffic to a crawl Tuesday afternoon. They are protesting the imposition of a toll at the Atenas exit from the new highway.

Striking anesthesiologists said they would continue their week-long walkout again today after negotiations with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and Casa Presidencial failed. The strike has crippled the public health system because no surgeries can be performed. President Laura Chinchilla said a team from the Caja was in Cuba recruiting replacements. She said the country also would look to Colombia for help.
Caja lawyers are expected to take legal steps today to end the strike.

Taxi drivers, as reported in A.M. Costa Rica Tuesday morning, embarked on a protest against unlicensed pirate
drivers. But they generally kept their vehicles on the side of the Circunvalación and did not delay traffic as much as in previous protests.

At the Imprenta Nacional in La Uruca workers completed their sixth day of a strike over salaries. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the official government newspaper La Gaceta resumed publication online only. This is the publication in which new laws, proposed laws and governmental decrees are announced. Such actions do not come into force until publication.

Jorge Luis Vargas Espinoza, director general of the Imprenta Nacional, said on the Web site that the Tuesday edition had been signed digitally in .pdf format to give it legal weight. The Gaceta was on the Gobierno Digital Web site and those visiting the normal site were redirected automatically. He said in a press release that the government was seeking a private contractor to continue publishing the Gaceta.

Printing plant workers are seeking an additional 5 percent in salary and an increase from eight to 20 years of their payoff if they should leave or are retired. The workers would get a month's pay for each year.

Downtown during the day opponents of the La Crucita open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica marched from the Plaza de la Cultura to the supreme court building to vent their anger over a scandal in which a high court magistrate is accused of slipping a draft of a proposed decision to representatives of the mining company.

Motorcycle drivers say they were blindsided by rate increase
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorcyclists gathered Tuesday in front of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, blocking traffic, honking horns and revving engines to decry the 50 percent hike in their annual vehicle insurance premiums and road tax for 2012.

The institute, which collects the yearly fees for each vehicle class, answered the motorcyclists' boisterous protest with a simple justification sent out in press release: motorcycles are dangerous, and their drivers don't pay their parking tickets.

For the motorcyclists the issue is simple. They received the highest increase in fees, from $120 to $180, than any other class of vehicles. They now pay the highest amount to the institute.

Other types of transportation such as taxis and buses also saw increases, from $80 to $120 for the former and $100 to $150 for the latter. They have had their own protests recently as well. The annual payment is called the marchamo.

The press release from the institute states that about half of the amount motorcyclists pay will contribute to costs associated with the high rate of accidents in which they are involved, which lead to common injuries including cracked skulls, road rash and broken bones. Even when a motorcyclist dies the funeral costs can be left to the government.

Roughly the other half of the amount will fill the monetary gap left by unpaid parking tickets issued to motorcycle owners, which amounted to $450,000, according to the press release.
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Even Superman showed up to seek what the sign says is justice for motorcycle drivers.

But one of the motorcyclists at the protest, Alfredo Chen-Apuy, a member of the Coyote motorcycle band, said the government lets other types of vehicles like large trucks off too easily with a far smaller bill despite the affect they have on road damage.

Also, after three years of not raising the premium and increasing the amount of coverage, the Institute needed to raise all rates for 2012, according to the press release.

But the sudden increase caught Chen-Apuy off-guard. “It's craziness,” he said. “The difference is huge, what they're charging. It's not proportional.”

March against Crucitas also brings criticism of  Óscar Arias
By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Angered about an environmental issue, protesters marching from the Plaza de la Cultura to the Tribunales de Justicia Tuesday carried a simple motto: Justice is worth more than gold.

The protesters signs and speeches attributed a shift in the court´s 2010 ruling against a gold mining project in Cutris of San Carlos, Alajuela, to former president Oscar Arias Sanchez and ¨the new crusaders of savage capitalism.¨

Leaflets handed out around the protest stated that the practices of Arias have been ¨customary to try to manipulate the judiciary by twisting arms of judges, prosecutors and magistrates. . . . all public officials should be questioned and brought before the courts including Oscar Arias Sanchez.¨

The call to action was not attributed to anyone. It simply ended with ¨Estamos Indignados!¨

A year ago on Nov. 24, the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo made a decision to cancel a concession granting Industrias Infinito S.A. the right to develop the open pit mine known as Las Crucitas

This Oct. 25, the administrative law chamber of the Corte Supremaa de Justicia (Sala Primera) accepted the appeal of the lower court's decision. The appeal was lodged by Industrias Infinito and a host of government agencies seeking to defend their actions in the case.

"The intrusion of political influences and the interests of the company within our jurisdiction have reached such a degree,¨ said Ana Beatriz Hernandez, environmental activist, ¨that it is intolerable to continue to allow Infinito to remain in our country."

Industrias Infinoito S.A. is the subsidiary here of the firm Infinito Gold Ltd. The firm changed its name earlier this year from Vanessa Ventures. It is based in Calgary, Canada.

A petition signed by protesters at the steps of the court demanded the Sala IV constitutional court reject the
Crucitas protest
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
Protesters and police gather at the court building.

annulment, other appeals by state entities be withdrawn and lawyers and judges associated with Infinito be punished in an exemplary manner for ¨such a monstrosity.¨

The offices of John Morgan, president and CEO of Infinito Gold Ltd. did not answer attempts for a statement.

Las Crucitas contains at least a million ounces of gold, but the open pit process involves using cyanid to leach out the gold. This concerns environmentalists. But the latest spark that generated the protest was the allegation that a replacement magistrate for the Sala Primera slipped copies of a draft decision to company officials. The magistrate so named quit and a criminal investigation has been launched.

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Intangible heritage list
being overloaded, U.N. says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations-managed Intangible Heritage List shines a spotlight on the vast range of global traditions – from Korean dance to French gastronomy to Costa Rican ox carts - but risks becoming a victim of its own success, a senior United Nations official warned Tuesday.

“Intangible cultural heritage is our bridge from the past to the future,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. She was speaking at the opening ceremony of the sixth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, held in Bali, Indonesia.

“It is the precious possession of communities, groups and individuals. Only they can safeguard it and pass it on to generations to come,” she said, further noting that the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and member states should support all cultural preservation efforts “in every way we can.”

Seventy-nine nominations will be examined during the present session, including saman dance from Indonesia, fado music from Portugal and mariachi music from Mexico. Mali, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire have presented a joint nomination for the balafon, an instrument prominent among their Senufo communities.

“This is an unmanageable workload,” Ms. Bokova said, “and is, inevitably, unsatisfactory for states parties and the communities whose intangible heritage is concerned. They will be disappointed if the convention is unable to meet their expectations.”

“States must now show restraint and everybody must understand that the system has reached, or even gone beyond, its own limits. A maximum of about 60 nominations only could be treated in each session under the present conditions,” she added, arguing that the inscriptions also had to be more geographically diverse for the list to remain credible.

Since its creation in 2008, the Intangible Heritage List includes a swathe of global cultural expressions, ranging from Turkey’s Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival and the Mediterranean diet to the watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks and the Peruvian scissor dance.

Meanwhile, while visiting Indonesia, Ms. Bokova met with the country’s minister of education and culture, Mohammad Nuh, who announced that his government would contribute $10 million to help support the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's activities and cover its recent budget shortfall.

The United States – which contributes 22 per cent of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization budget – suspended its dues after the agency admitted Palestine as a full member Oct. 31.

Automatic budget cuts
become the law in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Under current U.S. law, automatic cuts to domestic programs and national defense will begin in 2013 because a congressional committee failed to agree on trimming America’s federal deficit. Already, many lawmakers say they want to shield favored federal programs from the budget ax, despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

A budget deal earlier this year specified there would be $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, known as a sequester, if a special supercommittee failed to trim the deficit by an equal amount over a 10-year period. The supercommittee’s failure leaves the sequester in place, at least for now.

President Obama says austerity is on the way. “One way or another, we will be trimming the deficit," he said.

That means major cuts to a range of programs, from farm subsidies to transportation to payments to medical providers for treating the elderly. It also means deep cuts for the defense budget.

The looming sequester angers lawmakers across the ideological spectrum.  Many Democrats oppose cuts to infrastructure and other domestic programs. And Republicans say security will suffer if the Pentagon budget is slashed. Rep. Howard McKeon said, “National defense has contributed enough to deficit reduction.”

Congress may try to pass legislation blocking the spending cuts.  President Obama says a new budget plan is welcome, but only if it reduces the deficit as much as the sequester.

Gingrich moves into lead
among Republican voters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The latest U.S. public opinion polls show the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, in the lead among Republican contenders for next year's presidential election.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday shows Gingrich with 26 percent support among likely Republican voters. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is not far behind with 22 percent, while 14 percent of those surveyed favor Georgia businessman Herman Cain. The rest of the field trails in single digits.

When limiting the choice to just the two front-runners, Gingrich and Romney, the difference is even larger. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed selected Gingrich, compared to 39 percent for Romney. But when it comes to the candidate with the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama, Republican voters pick Romney over Gingrich.

The latest polling marks a huge drop in support for Cain, who had been seen as a top rival to Romney until he was forced to respond to multiple allegations of sexual harassment dating back to the late 1990s.

Cain also had some awkward moments on foreign policy, including a bungled response to a question about whether he agreed with President Obama's policy on Libya during a videotaped meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

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Canadian study shows link
between coffee and sewage

By the University of Montreal news staff

Researchers have discovered that traces of caffeine are a useful indicator of the contamination of water.

“E coli bacteria is commonly used to evaluate and regulate the levels of fecal pollution of our water from storm water discharge, but because storm sewers systems collect surface runoff, non-human sources can contribute significantly to the levels that are observed,” said Sébastien Sauvé of the University of Montreal's Department of Chemistry.

“Our study has determined that there is a strong correlation between the levels of caffeine in water and the level of bacteria, and that chemists can therefore use caffeine levels as an indicator of pollution due to sewerage systems.”

The researchers took water samples from streams, brooks and storm sewer outfall pipes that collect storm waters across the Island of Montreal, and analyzed them for caffeine, bacteria, and a third suspected indicator, carbamazepine. Shockingly, all the samples contained various concentrations of these contaminants, which would suggest that contamination is widespread in urban environments. Carbamazepine is an anti-seizure drug which is also increasingly used for various psychiatric treatments, and the researchers thought it might be a useful indicator because it degrades very slowly. However, unlike with caffeine, no correlation was found.

Caffeine degrades within a few weeks to two to three months in the environment and is very widely consumed. The presence of caffeine is also a sure indicator of human sewage contamination, as agriculture and industry do not tend to release caffeine into the environment. The team also noted that the data suggest that Montreal's storm water collection system is widely contaminated by domestic sewers.

On the other hand, the researchers observed high levels of fecal bacteria but little or no caffeine in some of the samples, which they attribute to urban wildlife.

“This data reveals that any water sample containing more than the equivalent of ten cups of coffee diluted in an Olympic-size swimming pool is definitely contaminated with fecal coliforms,” Sauvé said. “A caffeine sampling program would be relatively easy to implement and might provide a useful tool to identify sanitary contamination sources and help reduce surface water contamination within an urban watershed.”

Shopper gunned down
in the center of Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen executed a 23-year-old man on a downtown street in Limón Tuesday at 2 p.m. The scene was near the Roman Catholic cathedral.

The Judicial Investigatign Organization said that the man, identified by the last name of Morales, was purchasing auto decorations at a store. When he went to put his purchases in his car, a second vehicle pulled up and two men shot him seven times.

The Fuerza Pública quickly obtained a description of the vehicle from witnesses. They said it was distinctive. Police detained two suspects in a similar vehicle some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away a short time later. They are being investigated.

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