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(506) 2223-1327          Published Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 236       Email us
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Juan Diego Castro displays a slide that asks how many new crime victims can society stand as a result of the incapability and lethargy of the politicians.

Juan Diego Castro
Impunómetro 2010 photo
Financial cost of crimes placed at millions of dollars
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica may be one of the safest places to live — at least for criminals. That conclusion is according to a statistical analysis of crime in the country which calculated high rates of impunity among violent and non-violent transgressors. And that impunity is not only threatening the safety of people in the country, a report asserts the situation also is damaging the nation's economic well being.

According to the study, monetary damage as a result the approximately 500 homicides which occurred in Costa Rica during 2010 was more than $60 million. Other studies cited in the report claim robberies and thefts of homes caused $171 million in losses.

A survey from 2010 shows 76 percent of national companies pay for private security measures. Security was less common among smaller businesses. On average private companies reported paying 2.3 percent of total sales for the private security measures in addition to the money paid in taxes for public security. For companies of 20 employees or less the cost was about 4 percent on average.

The report was conducted by economist Luis Rivera in coordination with the socially and politically conscious law firm, Jurisis. Rivera characterized the amount of money lost due to the climate of insecurity as troubling.

“In reality I think it's doing a lot of damage, to the society at least,” Rivera said during a public presentation Monday.

But the more shocking results of the report lie within the analysis of the country's punishment of criminals.
For homicides: Over the past 13 years, a period during which there were more than 4,200 murders, the report says that 61 percent of those registered homicides did not result in a conviction.

For rape: Over the past 13 years the lack of conviction among rape cases was nearly 90 percent, with 17,885 reported incidents during that time. Robbery suspects had the highest rate of non-conviction, at more than 97 percent over the same period, according to the report.

Jurisis is directed by the former security minister Juan Diego Castro. He said a shortage of resources for the law enforcement and penitentiary systems and a lack of political will to reform the penal code are at the root of the insecurity problem.

“I attribute the impunity to the incapacity of the judicial system to punish criminals,” Castro said.

He said in general, based on the statistics, criminals are rarely punished, and if they are, they often serve insufficient punishments and repeat offend.
He is a frequent television guest who presents a hard line on crime.

Castro said one of the most efficient ways to stop violent crime in the country would be to immediately detain any person caught with a prohibited firearm, send him or her to a flagrancy judge and have the person serve four years in prison if found guilty.

The current security minister, Mario Zamora Cordero, has also said that taking firearms out of the hands of criminals is one of the most effective ways to curb the recent rise in homicides and violent crime. But there have been no efforts by the Laura Chinchilla Miranda administration to make criminal laws more strict.

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Banana worker strike
continues near Sixaola

By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banana workers from a Del Monte subsidiary have been on strike for 20 days, with more than 600 workers participating, making the walkout the biggest labor protest in the country thus far this year.

This makes it one of the largest peaceful protest for banana workers in more than 30 years, said José María Villalta Florez Estrada, representative from the political party Frente Amplio, during a press conference Monday at the legislature.

Because there are more than 90 percent of the banana company Bandeco's workforce in the Sixaola area on strike, a court can't declare it illegal, he said. The strike was a result from the company lowering worker wages and a refusal to pay overtime, said Luis Angel Serrano, president of Sindicato de Trabajadores de Plantaciones Agricolas. He added that the company also refused to negotiate with the union.

Banana company officials could not be reached Monday afternoon.

The Ministerio de Trabajo has not intervened. Officials have shown no efforts into putting a stop to these labor violations, to what he referred to them as “washing their hands” from the problem, Villalta said.

“It seems as though in this country foreign investment is valued more than a Costa Rican,” said Serrano.

Sixty-three percent of the workers are from the Costa Rican native population, followed by Panamanian immigrant workers.

The union is supported by Villalta and Carmen María Muñoz Quesada and Claudio Enrique Monge Pereira, both lawmakers from the political party Acción Ciudadana.

Liquor licenses produced
little income, study says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The vendors of alcohol paid on the average in 2010 just  121,818 colons each for their business license. That's about $240.

The Contraloría General de la República reported that this is insignificant income for municipalities. The watchdog agency said that the legislature should consider reforming the law that covers alcohol sales. There are several existing bills that should be put into one, said the Contraloría.

The study covered 33 local governments and the way they award and maintain liquor licenses. The Contraloría said that the payments for the patentes or business license was not proportional for the income that the retail operators make. Of course, such companies and individuals also collect sales tax.

Cartago pork plant closed
due to water contamination

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pork processing plant in Cartago has been ordered closed because of contamination of the Quebrada Barahona that flows into the Río Coris, said the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo.

The pork processing operation, Porcina Americana S.A., had been the object of multiple complaints from several government agencies.

The company has been in the same location for 30 years, and the lagoons that hold water processing runoff are 25 years old, said the Tribunal. The result is that nitrogen levels are 5,000 percent higher than permitted in the nearby waterway, said the Tribunal.

The Laboratorio Nacional de Aguas of the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados took samples in September, said the Tribunal.

The company has been trying to install a bio-digester for some of the waste products for four years, the Tribunal said.

The closure means that no new animals can be brought onto the premises for slaughter.

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!
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Lawmakers consider bill to protect beach concession holders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are trying to create some protection for individuals and companies holding concessions in the maritime zone.

Alan Flores, the minister of Turismo, was at the legislature Monday to testify on the bill.

The proposed legislation would require the government to tax concessions based on the value of the land and not based on the value of the concession.

Many beach dwellers have been hit with high assessments and high taxes because concession values have skyrocketed. That can happen when a major hotel or other tourism use comes into the area and purchases an existing concession.

The summary for the legislation, No. 18180, said that some commercial concession holders have faced taxes that were disproportionate.

Occupants do not really own concessions, so they do not pay the prevailing property tax.

The summary said that some occupants have been faced with demands for payment that were 300 percent of the previous amount. In some cases, the amount demanded was 2,000 percent, the summary said.

Municipalities, which collect the payments, are having
increasing trouble with collections, the summary said.

The proposed law said that the concession holder who is engaged in agriculture or is using the property for a residence would pay a quarter percent of the value of the land each year. Commercial users, such as hotels, would pay a half percent a year.

Those who are behind in the payments would have a chance to pay up under the new rates, but they would be subject to a 100 percent fine, said the text of the bill.

Adonay Enriquez Guevara, a lawmaker in the Partido Movimiento Libertario, proposed the measure in July. The bill now is being considered by the Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has a role in awarding concessions in the maritime zone.

Flores supported the measure when he appeared Monday. One goal of the legislation is to protect small businesses in the coastal areas.

The maritime zone is the first 200 meters above mean high tide. The first 50 meters is in the public domain except for special uses like marinas and the like. The remaining 150 meters can be award in a concession that may last from five to 20 years.

Under terms of the bill, the value of the land will be that determined by the Dirección General de Tributación in the area.

Legislature designates a special day for domestic workers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers officially designated the last Saturday in March as the day for domestic workers. They took the action Monday afternoon when they passed a bill doing that for the second and final time.

Of the 48 lawmakers present, 48 voted for the measure in an unusual show of non-partisan unity.

The bill empowers the executive branch to create a celebration to raise the consciousness of society to the importance and economic value of this work.

The bulk of domestic employees are women. They are cooks, housekeepers, nannies and maids. The bill stops
short of giving these workers the day off, although it does call for a day of reflection on the importance of the work.

Officially the day will be called Día Nacional de las Personas Trabajadoras Domésticas.

Despite the universal support of the bill and the fact that it costs no money, lawmakers still took more than three years to pass it. The measure was proposed Nov. 11, 2008. The first approval came Oct. 31.

Lawmakers estimated that there are about 120,000 persons doing this type of labor. Some workers get up early and return home late after serving the needs of the families that employ them, lawmakers said in a summary of the bill. Some work up to 16 hours a day, the summary said.

Weather experts tell residents to hold on to their hats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today will be windy and chilly, the weather institute said.

Temperatures in the metro area took a drop Monday afternoon. In Cartago, the country's icebox, overnight temperatures were 12.7 C. or about 55 F. That is chilly by Costa Rican standards.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional describes the condition as temperaturas bastante frescas.

Winds early today were variable. Santa Ana had 41.8 kph winds (some 26 mph), San José had 31.9 kph (20 mph) and
 Santa Cruz in Guanacaste reported 27 kph, about 17 mph.

The weather institute warned of winds earlier Monday and said they would be caused by a high pressure system in the Caribbean. It said that the mountains,  Guanacaste and the metro area would get the highest winds.

There also was a prediction of isolated showers.

There were some with traces of rain Monday.

The weather institute said that there was a chance of wind gusts up to 60 kph (37 mph) in the Central Valley and 70 kph (43.5 mph) in Guanacaste.

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Tax collecting agency changes rules on reporting transactions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Once again the word from the tax collectors is never mind.

A change in policy now means that the D-151 form that lists income and expenses for the last fiscal year does not have to be presented by Wednesday.

In the past, Nov.30 was the deadline for filing this document.

The Dirección General de Tributación, the tax agency, would use these forms to check up on deductions and income of other taxpayers.

They still will, but the form is not required for most persons now until Feb. 29. That is according to a decree published Sept. 13.

Francisco Villalobos Brenes, the director of the tax collecting agency, said that his staffers have met with accountants and associations of accountants to explain the new procedure. However the Tributación Web page still contains the old information.

And a private accountant told a reporter Monday that she only learned of the change when she showed up at the Tributación offices in Barrio Don Bosco and saw a big sign posted on a wall.

However, there was a mention of the change on the
Tributación Facebook page. The message was posted Friday and included an excerpt from the Sept. 13 decree.

Villalobos, himself, said in a La Nación op-ed piece last week that 18,000 taxpayers last year filed returns that did not match what others had said they paid.

Among these certainly were professionals, like lawyers and medical practitioners. The Contraloría General de la República, in a study of tax-collecting procedures, reported last week that some 63 percent of the professionals who filed a tax return in 2010 said they had no income.

Tributación is moving toward full reporting by computer. The D-151 form was hand-written, and workers at Tributación had to put the information in a data base. With online reporting via the agency's computer system, the work will go quicker and tax cheats will be identified sooner.

Already the monthly sales tax reports have to be generated by computer, but they still are submitted manually to banks for payment of the tax.

Villalobos has tackled the job aggressively. He has been there less than a year, but already has snagged professional soccer players who did not file luxury home taxes and who played games with the income tax.  He said Monday night that he would ask Web page technicians to replace the faulty information.

Ms. Figueres urges action at U.N. climate change conference
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Thousands of representatives from almost all governments, international organizations and civil society gathered Monday in Durban, South Africa, for the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which seeks to advance ways to cut global carbon emissions and pollution.

The stakes at the two-week long conference are high, as its outcome will determine the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whose first commitment period is due to expire in 2012.

During her opening remarks to the conference, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Conventions on Climate Change, urged countries to seize the opportunity to finish the tasks set during last year’s negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, and ensure policies are translated into action.
“We meet here at a time when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have never been higher, when the number of livelihoods that have been dissolved by climate change impacts has never been greater and when the need for action has never been more compelling or more achievable,” she said.

Ms. Figueres, a Costa Rican, said countries can take two major steps in Durban to address climate change. The first is completing a comprehensive package to help developing countries adapt to climate change and limit the growth of their gas emissions, and the second relates to how governments can work together to limit the global temperature rise and thus prevent further natural disasters.

“These negations are about securing a better future and improving the quality of life of people. The momentum for change is building, not least in developing countries. More can be achieved if governments and the private sector work in partnerships,” she said.

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Mexican rights advocate
files case against Calderón

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Mexican human rights lawyer has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing President Felipe Calderón, other top Mexican officials and drug traffickers of crimes against humanity.

Netzai Sandoval filed the complaint Friday with the court in The Hague, calling for an investigation into the deaths of hundreds of people at the hands of the Mexican military and drug traffickers.  More than 20,000 Mexican citizens signed the document.

The prosecutor's office said it had received the complaint and that a decision on the request will be made in due course.

Mexico's government denies the accusations listed in the complaint.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Mexican military and police of widespread human rights violations in efforts to combat organized crime.  The group's Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, has said that instead of reducing violence, Mexico's war on drugs has led to a dramatic increase in killings, torture and other appalling abuses by security forces.  He said this makes the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country.

An estimated 45,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Calderón took office in late 2006 and began a crackdown on the cartels.

Closer Eurozone ties
promised by leaders

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Key European leaders pledged at a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama Monday that they will push for closer economic integration of the 17-nation Eurozone to help resolve the continent's burgeoning debt crisis.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called for uniform, binding controls over government spending in the countries that use the euro currency. Van Rompuy said a roadmap spelling out a new Eurozone economic plan would be presented to a European Union summit in early December.

Barroso, speaking after a White House summit in Washington with President Obama, said European leaders "are determined to overcome the current difficulties." Debt-ridden Greece, Ireland and and Portugal have already been forced to secure international bailouts, while Italy, Spain and other countries are facing sharply increased borrowing costs to finance their governments.

Obama said the U.S. is prepared "to do our part" to help Europe solve its debt crisis, which he described as being "of huge importance to our economy." But he did not spell out any specific actions the United States might take.

A new report says the Eurozone's economy is falling into a recession.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said it expects the Eurozone economy will shrink by an annualized rate of 1 percent in the last three months of the year, and by another four-tenths of 1 percent in the first quarter of 2012. The organization, a policy forum for 34 advanced economies, said the European Central Bank needs to intervene decisively to stabilize the continent's debt crisis.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the European debt crisis has "created a headwind for much of the year" on the sluggish U.S. economy.  He said the U.S. government believes it is critical for European leaders to move forcefully to resolve the debt issue and that the eurozone nations have the financial capacity to deal with it.

As debt worries in Italy, Spain and elsewhere roil international financial markets, the continent's economic leaders - Germany and France - are starting to negotiate a new fiscal agreement that would enforce budget discipline across the Eurozone. That is something individual countries have long resisted, as they fear the loss of sovereign control.

The effects of the debt crisis have been widespread. Belgium was forced to pay sharply higher interest rates on Monday, while the Italian Banking Association promoted a patriotic drive to get Italians to buy government bonds to try to keep interest rates from spiraling out of control.

Credit rating agency Moody's warned in a statement Monday that while it believes there will not be widespread defaults in the eurozone, the probability of multiple debt defaults is no longer negligible.

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Women in judicial police
celebrate gender diversity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Droves of police women gathered to celebrate gender diversity in the Judicial Investigating Organization in San José on Monday.

The celebration, "V Encuentro de Mujeres Policías," brought together female employees of the judicial police from all over the country to discuss how to deal with sexual harassment in a career dominated by men and how to empower each other as women.

“This is to help create a space for women police because it has taken a lot of time and it hasn't been easy for us especially in this career where the majority are men,” said Alba María Solano Chacón, coordinator of the Consejo Consultivo de Genero Organismo de Investigación Judicial.

When Ms. Solano first began working there 25 years ago, she said there were a total of only seven women. Now there are 246, some 15 percent of the Judicial Investigating Organization workforce.

The conference is held every two years.

Press group denounces
Honduran media threats

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association Monday expressed concern at threats and other acts of intimidation made against media editors and reporters in Honduras and added its support to a request by the national human rights commissioner that the government investigate complaints of such actions so as to ensure the safety of journalists and guarantee freedom of the press.

The human rights commissioner, Ramón Custodio, last week had condemned acts of harassment and threats to reporters and editors with the newspapers El Heraldo and La Tribuna, television channels Televicentro and Globo TV and radio station Radio Globo. These media have reported on corruption in the police force and complained of a lack of transparency in the public administration.

The chairman of the Inter American Press Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, declared that the organization “repudiates these actions against Honduran journalists and their families, aimed at scaring the press and through intimidation bring about self-censorship in order to prevent compromising information coming out in the press.”

“The lack of justice and punishment is encouraging greater violence,” said Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República. He echoed the plea made by the human rights commissioner to the Honduran resident, Porfirio Lobo, to have the reports of wrongdoing investigated and reminded him that it is the duty of the government to investigate some 19 still unsolved murders of journalists committed in the Central American country since 2007.

According to the El Heraldo reporters and editors have been receiving insults and threats on their cell phones, and last week one of them was followed by a suspicious-looking vehicle that was understood to have been seized by the authorities for having been used in organized crime activities.

Also last week a reporter with the La Tribuna investigative team was uninjured in an attack after being followed as he left the newspaper’s offices. Unidentified persons shot at him several times. The newspaper has also received a number of suspicious calls, and one of its editors was twice detained by police between Nov. 9 and 11 and roughed up after identifying himself as a La Tribuna employee. In addition, a photographer covering a court case involving a police officer was threatened, said the newspaper.

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Maybe now the poor magistrates will have to hike to work?

The discussion and final vote over next year's national budget was very revealing.

Among the items cut was one for 356 million colons, about $712,000. The money was supposed to purchase new cars for magistrates in the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

We wonder why that was in the budget in the first place. Magistrates are supposed to sit around a table deciding legal cases. They ought to drive to and from work in their own vehicles.

Dare we say the same about legislative deputies? Some readers have raised this point. Why is the government paying for vehicles for legislative deputies? They also get an allocation for fuel. Can they not afford their own vehicles?

The problem is not automobiles. The problem is a government
that has no respect for the taxpayer. We have noted before that government offices are in luxury structures. Some are only half filled.

A visitor can tell a lot about the local society just by looking at who has the best buildings. Here the banks and the government have fancy surroundings while much of the population live in less than adequate circumstances.

Now President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has made a point to say that her tax plan will take from those who have to give to those who have not. This is a modern version of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as popularized by Karl Marx.

We wonder how many more public officials need new cars.

— Nov. 29, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
If Crucitas allegation is true, prosecution is the only course

This newspaper has supported consistently the Las Crucitas mine.

We did that not because we love open pit gold mines, but because Industrias Infinito S.A. already had a permit when this newspaper arrived on the scene.

Costa Rica has to live up to its promises, even though that seems not to be the tradition. We were shocked when President Able Pachco in his first press conference said that he was stopping work on all the open pit gold mines. No public official has the power to take something from someone else without the process of law. In this case, Pacheco sought to take a concession that already had been granted from two separate gold mines.

Open pit mining is preferable to having workers go down miles into hard rock and run the risk of injury or death. We also thought that Costa Rica could use the money generated by
mining a million ounces of gold. And we thought that residents of Cutris de San Carlos could use a major industry, if only for about 20 years.

But there is no room in Costa Rica for corrupt company officials. If the allegations are true that Infinito officials welcomed a magistrate who was bringing a leaked copy of the draft of a high court decision, there is only one just action. And that is criminal prosecution.

We do not know now if the allegation is correct. But if it is, the investigation and prosecution should go up the corporate food chain to Infinito's parent company in Canada.

And it would seem to us that an illegal action of this magnitude would void any attempts by Infinito and its Canadian owner to seek a favorable international arbitration ruling if Costa Rica dumps the entire project.
— Nov. 16, 2011

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
How about some belt-tightening before demanding new taxes?

The Laura Chinchilla Miranda administration has done little to stop the increase in the national deficit and the country's budget.

The Ministerio de Hacienda defends the lack of action by saying that the national budget is rigid. The administration has reduced the growth of the budget from 24 percent a year to 13 percent in 2011, the ministry reports. Next year, the proposed budget only increases less than 10 percent, it said.

The administration is putting all its hopes on passage of a new tax law that will suck more money from the productive sector to grow the budget.

Prior to any major tax proposal, Ms. Chinchilla should have taken some strong steps to increase current government income and reduce expenses. Of course, there has been an effort to increase collection and crack down on evasion. But that amounts to peanuts in the overall scheme.

With any tax increase, expats and those in the tourism business will see a negative effect. The country already sees a decrease in tourism, and not all of that is due to economic conditions elsewhere. Part of the problem is increases in taxes and increases in tourism industry pricing, in part because of government demands from employers.

Here are some suggestions for the president:

• Any pension higher than $2,500 a month should be cut to that amount. There are plenty of public employees who have received very generous retirements from the government. Some are perhaps too generous. Ms. Chinchilla says she seeks to take from those who have and give to those who do not. This is a start. Fully 40 percent of the national budget is salaries and pensions, said Hacienda.

• The practice of giving public employees an aguinaldo every Christmas should be stopped. Making employers pay bonuses without regard for production is silly. Distributing such bonuses for work not done in the public sector is, as Ebenezer Scrooge would say, “a poor excuse from picking a man's pocket every 25th of December.” Perhaps there should be a show of solidarity by public employees who would surrender this year's bonus in the interest of fiscal stability. Fat chance.

• The administration should start selling off some of the large buildings that are under utilized. Do officials even know what they own? The landscape shows that the Costa Rican economy is dominated by banks and public entities. Some of the finest buildings are public. Does the Contraloría de la República really need that gigantic tower in Sabana Sur? How much of
the La Uruca building of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo really is in use?

• The administration should immediately seek a buyer for the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., the fuel monopoly. Some big oil company or perhaps the Chinese probably would be interested in the facilities but probably not the luxury building in Barrio Tournon. That could be sold separately.

• Dare we suggest that the country should sell off the national stadium that the Chinese were nice enough to construct? If you can't keep a country out of the red, how can you be expected to make a profit from a stadium?

• Some Costa Rican laws that involve payments to the government specify where the cash should go. The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, for example, gets a piece of the traffic speeding fines. There is no rationale for this except that some
lawmaker sought to reward the children's agency. Hardly any of the speeding fines go to the central government. This law and others like it should be changed so that all money goes to the central treasury and is allocated by the central government based on needs and budget. The slush funds at the various agencies should be eliminated. A $15 entry tax on tourists may have generated $4.7 million this year based on the arrival of 312,659 tourists by air, but that cash goes to the tourism institute which does what with it?

• This newspaper already has suggested that the government inventory the land it holds and consider marketing excess.

• The government should consider a management plan for its vast holdings of public lands. Instead of treating trees as sacred, the valuable hardwood should be harvested to provide room for growth of younger trees. Concessions to do that would give a boost to the public income. Otherwise, trees just get old, die and fall down.

• This newspaper already has suggested that the Chinchilla administration get fully behind plans by a Canadian firm to mine gold in northern Costa Rica and plans by a Denver firm to explore for oil and gas. The severance tax and commissions on both commodities could be ample.

This newspaper's opinion is that the Chinchilla administration should take immediate steps to lower its expenses and seek funds from resources before it seeks a single colon more from the working public. And Ms. Chinchilla has been around in public life far too long to complain that the financial problems are something she inherited. The problems are what she helped create in her years of public offices.
— Nov. 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Sept. 19, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— March 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Feb. 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

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

A Costa Rican letter writer Monday said this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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