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(506) 2223-1327              Published Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 232       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Looting was mainly in Escazú, Santa Ana
Four more grabbed in probe of condo crashers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained four more suspects in what is turning out to be a massive case of home and condo invasions, mostly in the Escazú and Santa Ana areas.

The four join in jail two more suspects who were detained in Sabana Sur Oct. 20 in a confrontation in which a judicial investigator was killed.

The agency said that the men are suspects in as many as 35 home invasions that have taken place since the beginning of September. The Poder Judicial was more conservative and attributed 14 home invasions to the gang and said the number may increase by 30 more.

This is the gang that has terrorized residents for the last three months. They were well organized, worked mainly Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and took over entire condominium complexes to loot them.

The four men were detained Friday night on the Autopista General Cañas. Agents said they suspected that the men were on the way to commit another home invasion, probably in Heredia. Investigators confiscated weapons, gloves, ski masks, radios and wigs.

Over the weekend investigators searched a home in Hatillo and one in Pavas where they said they found other evidence. The Pavas location appears to have served as a gathering spot for the gang when they were preparing for another criminal outing, agents said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the gang worked like this:

Using a rental car, some members would arrive at a condo complex and ask for an non-existent individual. When they had a chance they would put the guard at gunpoint, disarm him and tie him up. Then one of the gang members would take the guard's place monitoring and controlling access to the complex.

The rest of the gang, in touch with the fake guard by radio, would go from condo unit to condo unit, breaking down doors, terrorizing residents and
holding them in a secure place.

Sometimes another resident would arrive and become a victim.

Then the gang would steal one or more vehicles from the residents and flee. The stolen vehicles would be used in the subsequent invasion.

Agents attributed one condo invasion in Escazú Nov. 14 to the group. The gang continues to work  even after the confrontation with agents Oct. 20. Killed at that time was Ronny Javier Sojo Chacón, 40. The Judicial Investigating Organization reported this week that he died from a bullet fired by another agent. He and others tried to keep two suspects from fleeing the scene of a home invasion in Sabana Sur. Agents detained the two other men at the scene that night and grabbed a third man a day later.

Agents attributed a few home invasions in Curridabat and in Heredia to the gang. They said the most frequent targets were west of the San José downtown. Agents also said that infrequently the gang members plied their trade on Monday and Tuesday.

A man said to be the leader of the gang was living in a luxury hotel, said agents.

The men are believed to be the same group that sacked a condo complex in Guachipelín Oct. 10.

Then five men, armed with shotguns and pistols, confronted a guard and tied him up. They also grabbed two residents who were entering the condo area about 6:45 p.m. Eventually the residents ended up on the floor of a guard shack. In all some eight residents were held hostage as bandits went door to door in the complex. Agents have not confirmed this.

The confrontation Oct. 20 was believed to be a direct result of the Guachipelín crime. One of the cars that bandits took contained a locator device, so agents were able to find the vehicle and identify who was using it. They monitored the vehicle until the shootout in Sabana Sur.

Three vehicles were taken Nov. 14 in Escazú, and agents said they were able to locate one or more and link them to the suspects

Official Yule break is a full two weeks this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public employees will get eight days of vacation, two weekends and two legal holidays for a 14-day respite this year.

Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, said that the Consejo de Gobierno has established the official government vacation period. Those who are affected also include workers at autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions.

Workers will get off Dec. 21, 22, 23 and 24 as vacations. Dec, 25, Christmas, is a legal holiday. This year both Christmas and New Year's Day, another legal holiday, fall on Fridays. Vacations also have been established for Dec. 28, 29, 30 and 31, which is New Year's Eve.

Not everyone will be able to take advantage of the vacation period. Arias noted that some agencies will be maintaining a small staff to keep some offices open. Of course, police, firemen and other emergency personnel work full shifts during the Yule break.
holliday vacation
Most public employees are off during pink days.

Residents know that there is little chance of getting official business done during that period.

The courts are expected to make a similar announcement.

Private sector employers usually take advantage of the same period for their employees if they are not involved in medicine, retail or tourism.

A.M. Costa Rica will be published as usual except for Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 232

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'Nutcracker' begins run Dec. 3,
as staple of holiday season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas season would not be complete without "The
Nutcracker," called "Cascanueces" in Spanish.

This is the annual tour de force at the Teatro Nacional presented by the Fundación Amigos Pro Mejoras del Teatro Nacional and the Centro Nacional de la Música.

There are dancers by the dozen, including invited performers this year from the American Ballet Theater in New York.

The Russian Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky composed the
nutcracker dancer
music for the work in 1891 and 1892. It is based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.

The first performance was at the historic Marinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1892.

Wes Chapman is the artistic director of the work. He is artistic director of the American Ballet Theater's studio company. As a performer he worked with such names as George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp.

The theater says this is a new production of the classic work with the participation of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. The principal ballet soloists are Yuriko Kajiya and Carlos López of the American Ballet Theater.

The theater will present 12 performances started Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.

Choreography is by María Amalia Pendones and Patricia Carreras with the assistance of the Russian expert Maria Monakhova.

Our readers' opinions
Panamá is adult country
compared to adolescent one

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There's only one error in Baker's otherwise excellent article. Costa Rica has already become Panama's back yard.

Panama is a serious "adult" country compared to Costa Rica's negligent, responsibility-dodging, adolescent one.

One example is security. A year ago, after storms closed the route to the interior, gasoline trucks arrived at Almirante in the Bocas del Toro area. Drivers and boaters flocked to get gasoline at the port dock. By the end of the day the one lone attendant must have had $10,000 in cash. But not one guard was on hand.

Compare that to Costa Rica where guards at gas stations are routine. Yesterday, when I got gas outside David the lone attendant had a wad of cash that would choke a horse. But again, no guard. Why?  None was needed.

In Panama it's crime — and punishment. Swift, effective punishment. And the bad guys know it. It's a whole different "grown-up" attitude.

That's why banana ships are in and out of the port of Almirante in record time, compared to work blockages in Limón that cause loss of millions of dollars in fresh fruit.

The difference is a national attitude  --  a "can do" attitude versus "why do" attitude.

If this trend continues, Costa Rica will not only become Panama's backyard, but a backwater to booming, thriving Panamá.
Carl Robbins
David, Panama, 
Seattle, Washington

Press freedom seen as key
to national development

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Only when freedom of the press is allowed, similar to what just passed in Argentina, will conditions improve in Costa Rica.
It's understandable, given the incompetence and corruption in the government, why these people would want press freedom discouraged but surely there must be some among them who would put the country and its people ahead of the interests of their colleagues, despite not being in the majority.
Had the Spanish the same press and speech freedoms that were accorded the people who settled the United States and Canada, allowing the governed the right to complain, there would be prosperity from Alaska down to Tierra Del Fuego. Instead, we get people dying on a daily basis as a result of government ignorance and mismanagement. Those responsible should be getting jail terms when these deaths occur. Perhaps that might straighten them out.
Grant Carson
La Fortuna

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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.

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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.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 232

Unexpected boat takes top honor in trans-Atlantic race
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The multi-hull Crêpes Whaou! crossed the finish line off Puerto Limón Monday night at 10:31 p.m. to claim victory in the Transat Jacques Vabre trans-Atlantic boat race. The expected leader, the Safran was still some 70 miles back but still expected to claim the honors in the mono-hull class.

Franck-Yves Escoffier and Erwan Le Roux were greeted by hundreds of spectators, most of them Ticos. Fireworks lighted the sky.

The Crêpes Whaou! took 15 days, 15 hours, 31 minutes and 50 seconds to travel from Le Havre, France. Race organizers compute their average speed at 13.41 knots over the 5,805 miles.

Safran had been presumed to be the lead boat for most of the race. But that was based on skipper position reports. Crêpes Whaou! notified race organizers when the craft was just 12 miles from the finish.

The racers called cloaking their position "stealth mode," and it was Marc Guillemot on Safran that said he was going to adopt this strategy earlier in the day. But he must have had a hint. He said by radio "If Crepes Whaou! gets in first, so be it, it won't bother me. And it would be good for Franck-Yves and Erwan but what interests us is in getting in before Groupe Bel and the others. They are a different class and did a different course.”

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is counting on the race to bring swarms of tourists to Limón. Most of
race winner
Marcel Mochet/AFP/ used with permission
Race winner at sea in a file photo

them will be Costa Rican. Some groups are organizing outings from the Central Valley to see the boats.

Francisco Antonio Pacheco, the president of the Asamblea Legislativa, is acting president while Óscar Arias Sánchez makes a tour of the Mideast. Pacheco will do the official honors Friday at 5 p.m. for a formal presentation of awards in Limón.

Escoffier and Le Roux got the traditional spraying of champagne shortly after they arrived. They stood together with hands held high accepting the crowd's cheers.

The race may not do the promotion that the tourism board wanted. Even race organizers called the country Puerto Rica in a Monday news release posted to the Web site. 

Tourism minister Allan Flores was reported to be in Limón to welcome the winners.

Teatro Nacional says audit did not find money is missing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Teatro Nacional now says there was no funny business in its ticket office.

The council of the theater reported that an internal audit did not encounter any shortages of money.  In a cryptic statement last Oct. 28, the council said that it had called for a full internal audit after complaints came of supposed irregularities in the management of the ticketing operation.

The nature of the complaints were not disclosed, and the council said it would not elaborate.
The governing council discussed the matter on Nov, 12 and then Friday, said the most recent statement. No financial details were released, but the council said that minutes of the meeting would be available Thursday.

However, the council said that the audit uncovered deficiencies in the internal controls of the ticketing office and that adjustments were being made in as little time as possible.

The theater, one of Costa Rica's most attractive tourism and cultural sites, is a dependency of the Ministerio  de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 232

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New report cites deficiencies in many of nation's dumps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The garbage dumps used by municipalities outside the metro area are inappropriate and in a gray area as far as regulations are concerned, according to the Contraloría de la República.

The Área de Fiscalización Municipal of the Contraloría looked at the problem and came to the same conclusion that has been apparent for some time. The open garbage dumps used by the municipalities are polluting the soil, underground water, nearby streams and rivers and the air.

The Contraloría cited an absence of controls and suggested that the dumps represent a risk to the public. Most dumps are older than 10 years, the agency said.

The four private dumps used by municipalities in the metro area comply with established requirements, the
Contraloría said. However, the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones should strengthen its controls over dumps that are closing because eliminating environmental problems is costly.

The Contraloría said that mitigating the effects of the former Río Azul dump southeast of San José cost the country 2.7 billion colons or nearly $5 million.

The Contraloría also noted that residents are not paying a fair share of the cost of garbage management. It also ordered the 32 offending municipalities to take steps in their next budgets to mitigate the air and gas problems generated by the dumps.

The study and report did not address medical wastes, which A.M. Costa Rica has found to be a problem at many dumps. Medical waste does not receive the special care needed, at many dumps.

Compromised biology exam becomes major dispute

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Perhaps only in Costa Rica with its easy access to the constitutional court can a biology exam become a major case.

So far the Sala IV has rejected every appeal to keep the Ministerio de Educación Pública from making students retest in biology. The controversy involves fifth year, university bound students. More than 33,000 public and private students took the national biology test earlier this month.

But the education ministry believes that the test was compromised and said that students in at least one school,  Liceo de Moravia, got a look at the test the day before. The test is produced by the Imprenta Nacional.

The ministry said that there was a chance that all students got a look at the test and scheduled a retest for Nov. 19.
That's when the constitutional court cases began, brought by parents of students who already took the test. The court dismissed every one, but some parents brought a case to the Tribunal Procesal Contencioso Administrativo y Civil de Hacienda. That court, which evaluates government actions, suspended the test and held a hearing Monday.

The tribunal eventually decided to lift the freeze on the test, and the education ministry is prepared to repeat the examination this afternoon for day students and at 6 p.m. for evening students.

However, there is a chance that a new appeal might be filed with the Sala IV protesting the decision of the Tribunal Procesal Contencioso Administrativo. In which case another freeze might be ordered.

Parents argue that there was no hint of cheating in the schools their students attended, and to retake the test might cause damage because the students are not prepared now.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 232

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Venezuela asked to do more
to stem drug trafficking

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. anti-drug officials are calling for greater efforts by Venezuela to combat drug traffickers who are using the country to make illegal shipments. While attending a regional anti-drug conference in Miami, Venezuelan leaders say they are working to crack down on the problem.

U.S. and Latin American officials gathered in Miami to seek new resources to use against the expansion of drug trafficking and drug abuse. The Organization of American States urged the member states should increase cooperation to fight what is increasingly a cross-border problem.

As a major consumer of illegal drugs, the United States has sought to work with Latin American nations to stop production and shipment of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.

U.S. officials say a major obstacle to their efforts in recent years has been the lack of cooperation with Venezuela's government.

David Johnson is assistant secretary of state for international narcotics. He says the chief concern is the number of unauthorized flights from Latin America which are believed to be carrying illegal drugs.

"The bulk of them at this time are exiting Venezuela and the border region with Colombia. If you look at the radar tracks you can only draw the conclusion that that is where the problem lies," said Johnson.

Johnson says Venezuelan police have the capacity to do more to stem illegal flights.

Anti-drug cooperation between the United States and Venezuela has suffered since 2005, when President Hugo Chávez ordered U.S. drug agents to leave the country. Chávez claimed some agents were conducting political activities against his government, but Washington denies this.

Edylberto Molina, Deputy director of Venezuela's drug agency, said the government has struggled with transshipment of drugs produced in Colombia or elsewhere. But he says new police efforts are targeting the transit sites.

Molina says security forces have used explosives to destroy 242 illegal runways to prevent criminal groups from using the landing strips again.

Police also have seized 11 airplanes and 1,100 kilograms of cocaine in recent operations.

Molina says one of the biggest difficulties is determining whether Venezuelan or Colombian groups are responsible for the illegal flights, because of the porous nature of the border region.

He says almost anyone can use a tractor to flatten a farmer's field during the dry season and enable a small plane to land. He says it is hard to know where the traffickers originated.

Colombia recently signed a deal to open some military bases to U.S. officials to help in the battle against drug traffickers and leftist rebels. Venezuela's President Chávez has criticized the deal for raising fears about a possible military conflict in the region.

Organization of American States officials say the global expansion of drug trafficking also has spread problems of drug addiction around the region.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 232

Latin American news
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Legislator gives up immunity
to face probe of air trip

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected, Maureen Ballestero Vargas of the Partido Liberación Nacional has lifted her own immunity for criminal and administrative action.

She did this because she is being investigated by the  Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones for using public resources for political reasons. She was the legislative deputy that took a trip on a security ministry light plane to Liberia and ended up appearing at a political meeting. She said the main purpose of the trip was to pick up her passport at her home there. She was leaving the country the next day.

Subsequent investigation shows that she was a frequent flier in ministry aircraft. She sent a letter from Switzerland where she is visiting to Francisco Antonio Perched, president of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Three electrical outages
planned for maintenance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the electric company, said that the center of downtown San José will lose power today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In addition, the center of Desamparados, Barrio Colinia del Sur, also will lose power for the same period.

A third outage is planned for La Ribera de Belén, the company said. That outage will be from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Involved will be the sectors east and south of the Firestone plant. Firestone itself will lose public power.

The downtown outage will include the main office of Banco de Costa Rica, the Catedral Metropolitana and a host of retail outlets and food stores around Parque Central. The area is from Calle 1 to Calle 2 between avenidas 4 and 6 and from Calle 1 to Calle Central between avenidas 6 and 8, said the company.

The company said the reason is for maintenance.

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

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