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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 244       Email us
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Jo Stuart
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The portal or nativity scene at the Teatro Nacional is a tradition in Costa Rica where the line between church and state is blurred at best. Such displays, although on a lesser scale, can be found in public and private offices.
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A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald

Milanes investors begining to get settlement cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some Savings Unlimited investors have begun to receive checks or bank deposits as a result of a deal negotiated between the casino owner's lawyers and lawyers representing investors.

The casino owner, Luis Milanes, appears to be off the hook in his criminal case because nearly all the investors have settled. A trial is unlikely.

More than 200 are believed to be represented by Ewald Acuna, who accepted the payoff on behalf of his clients based on full powers of attorney they had provided him years ago.

The amount of money investors are getting is proportional to their original investment. Many are getting just a few hundred dollars as an initial payment. Others who lost vast sums when the Milanes operation Saving Unlimited, collapsed, are getting checks in the thousands of dollars. The initial payment is believed to be a bit more than 1 percent of what investors gave to Milanes. Eventually they may get 5 percent, according to informal estimates.

The lawyers involved are getting a percentage of the money coming to their clients. In many cases, the money is passing through the accounts of the lawyers.

The money comes from monthly amounts of $100,000 that Milanes agreed to pay to a trust that
also is handling properties that were surrendered as part of the conciliation deal. No properties have yet been sold, according to investors close to the trust. Among the properties is the Hotel Europa in downtown San José where Milanes now rents space for one of his casinos. The properties were estimated to be worth about $10.4 million

Milanes agreed to pay monthly amounts for 18 months as part of the settlement.

Some of the money is being used for expenses to maintain the properties.

Some of the lawyers admit that they have lost track of some of their clients. Milanes fled in November 2002. A member of an investor committee that advises the trust is making an effort to contact all the clients who may be in line for money.

Some investors who were holding out for a trial are believed to have accepted individual agreements.

When Saving Unlimited folded, the loss was estimated to be about $200 million. Milanes returned to Costa Rica in June 2009 under a deal negotiated with prosecutors.

He spent a night in jail. He later claimed that an associate now in Europe had taken the money.

Others who were defendants in the criminal prosecution also contributed lesser amounts to the investor fund.

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ice pops
Here are examples of the ice pop product

Ice pop firm is spotlighted
as strong national exporter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Of all the goods produced and exported by Costa Rica, a national company specializing in the manufacturing of ice pops has gained particular fame for its product.

The Snackitos ice pop, manufactured by Alimentos Cónicas, can be found in 18 countries across the Caribbean, North America and South America, including Suriname, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and even Miami. They come in every color and flavor of the rainbow and can be found all over this country as well. They are naturally and artificially fruit flavored ice sticks encased in a plastic tube.

The company, based in Alajuela, began in 2002 and was featured this week by the Promotora del Comercio Exterior as one of the country's strong export products. Last week at a press conference celebrating national exporter day, President Laura Chinchilla said despite a hurting global economy Costa Rican exports of goods and services in the first semester of 2011 have seen a 10 percent increase over the same period in 2010.

Although a press release about the event didn't specifically mention ice pops, Ms. Chinchilla said the nation's economic development was dependent on maintaining a strong export sector.

The ice pops are perfect for export because they can be shipped unfrozen and put in a freezer at the retail outlet.

Chinese check out beef

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chinese agricultural inspection authorities finished a five-day audit and inspection of Costa Rican beef exporters Dec. 2, reviewing the practices of the companies which handle meat that is sent to China.

The inspectors checked factories and farms for sanitary conditions, the health of animals and documentations of their practices. The inspectors will publish a report within 60 days detailing which Costa Rican entities pass muster and which others must either improve their practices or are sanctioned from providing the meat to China.

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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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Constitutional court expands protection of wetlands
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wetlands are part of the national heritage whether the individual tracts have been declared as such or not, according to the Sala IV constitutional court.

In a far-reaching decision announced Thursday, the court said that even if the wetlands are on private property, the owners have a legal obligation to preserve and maintain the land in a way that is consistent with international treaties and national laws.

The court also ordered the central government to identify and classify the wetlands so that they can be protected and managed scientifically.

Wetlands, called humedales in Spanish, generally are mangroves between higher dry land and a river or ocean. They are a vital ecosystem but many have been compromised by construction or invasion of land by squatters.

The court rejected a directive by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones that sought to provide protection only to wetlands that were officially designated as such. The implications of the court decision
are vast. In Costa Rica there are 350 such wetlands that cover about 7 percent of the country, according to a 2001 estimate.

Even wetlands that already have been declared as protected frequently are in the news because agricultural operators and developers invade the area either to grow crops or to provide landscaping for housing projects.

About 60 percent of the existing wetlands are now listed as protected, according to estimates by environmentalists.
The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo frequently inspects coastal areas and nearly always finds some intrusion into sensitive wetlands and mangroves. Or inspectors might find that the wetland has been drained to create agricultural land.

Even municipal and national government entities have been accused of destroying wetlands.

The destruction of wetlands has a role in the Costa Rican case against the government of Nicaragua that will be argued in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Nicaraguan workers and soldiers sought to construct a new mouth for the Río San Juan through Costa Rican territory, but the area was mostly wetlands. The environmental damage is a large part of the Costa Rican case.

Route is readied for Festival de la Luz Saturday night
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The stands have gone up on Paseo Colón for the Festival de la Luz, San Jose's elaborate Yule parade that steps off Saturday.

The route of march will be east on Paseo Colón to Avenida Secunda. The parade will disburse in the vicinity of Plaza de la Democracia adjacent to the Museo Nacional where a large tree dominates the scene.

The Municipalidad de San José now says that the smaller event for kids will begin at 3 p.m. at the west end of Paseo Colón. This event features clowns, acrobats and music. Officials began this aspect of the Festival de La Luz in 2005 to benefit parents with young children and those who may not want to brave the city streets at night.
The main parade is supposed to step off at 6 p.m. just as the sun sets. More than a million persons are expected to see the parade under tight police security.

They will begin gathering at their favorite spots by noon.

In addition to closing off Paseo Colón, the Minsterio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that bus stops will be changed as well as taxi stands.

Parents of younger children might want to preview the elaborate floats where they are parked Saturday afternoon along the south side of Parque la Sabana.

The parade will be featured on the country's major television stations. Towers for cameras have been installed along the parade route.

To have a new beginning, there must be an end to the old
Blue Periods are not confined to artists.  Ordinary people can have them, and December is a good time to enjoy one.  It is the end of good old 2011, which was so easy to remember and write on checks. Humans have arbitrarily turned time and therefore life into a linear thing.  So, after 365 days we will begin a new year, and 2011 will never return.

We think of a new year as a new beginning, and, according to a wise friend, in order to have new beginnings, you have to endure the endings.  You need a neutral zone, to think, to come to terms, and even grieve a little before you can consider the future and have plans, or at least some ideas for the future.

Lately I have become disenchanted with my fifth floor apartment in Sabana Norte and think about moving. But it is a comfortable light apartment, and visitors always marvel at my views.  It has lots of large windows that look out onto two volcanoes, the hillside of Heredia, twinkling lights at night on one side . . . and the new national stadium blocking the view of the mountains on the other side.  And that is part of the problem. Not just the stadium, but the north/south exposure. 

During the summer, the apartment is wonderfully cool on the hottest days, but on cold, windy days of our so-called green season, it is colder in my apartment than it is on the street.  The other problem is that my neighbors and I become prisoners of our neighborhood whenever there is some big activity at the stadium.  Not during, or just before, but for hours beforehand.  It is hard to cross a street because the cars are parked bumper to bumper.  A car cannot make a left turn without going blocks out of its way.  The numbers on a taxi's maria and the cost of gasoline go up and up.

Then last night, from my bedroom window (on the north side), I could see a lovely Christmas display of fireworks – high in the sky, huge balls of red and green sparkles with very little noise.  They were coming from the children’s museum where a celebration was going on. How nice to not have to leave my apartment to enjoy such a sight. However, it made me wonder why red and green are the
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

colors of Christmas.  I know that Christmas trees are green (and seldom found growing indigenously in the Middle East), but how did the two colors come to be related to Christmas?  Just one of the thoughts I have been pondering.

More seriously, I am, like most foreigners who have chosen to live in Costa Rica, an in-between person.  I am not really a part of Tico culture, nor am I any longer a participating member of the culture I left in the United States.  I am still very interested in politics and the values of both countries, and how they will play out in the future.  Mainly because of language, I am intellectually more interested in the politics of the U.S. The cast of characters are always fascinating in politics.  But you have to understand what they are saying.

Learning the language is probably the single most important key to becoming a participating member of a new culture. It is not simply learning nouns and verbs. All languages have nuances and idiomatic phrases and words with double meanings and slang.  I certainly have not mastered these in Spanish, and probably won’t.

I realize that all through my life I have been an “in-between” person.

Obviously that has suited me.  There is a certain freedom to being neither here nor there.  Like Joni Mitchell sang, “I’ve looked at both sides now…..(but unfortunately) I really don’t know life at all.”  That’s what I will think about, and although no great paintings will be created in my blue period, maybe a few new thoughts on what life is about will.  I’m not going to worry about it, but it’s a plan.  And I do believe something I told a friend — old age is running out of plans for the future.

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Costa Rica and others protest whaling expeditions by Japan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Latin American contingent of the International Whaling Commission group has announced that they are in opposition to Japan's new season of so-called scientific whale hunting in the Antarctic water.

Japan has abstained from commercial whale hunting since the mid-80s but the designation of the whaling excursions as scientific is used as a loophole each year to allow the practice to continue.

The regional component of the International Whaling Commission includes the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, México, Panamá, Perú, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

They are known as the Buenos Aires Group.
The group countries have said they are opposed to Japan's whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was designated as such by the commission. Japan's whaling ships departed from ports this week to begin the expedition into those waters.

“The Buenos Aires Group makes public its most firm rejection against the continued whale hunt, including species classified as endangered, in the Southern Ocean Santuary,” said a press release published by the alliance.

That press release was circulated Dec. 8 by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, at a time when the President Laura Chinchilla is on a diplomatic trip to Japan in an attempt to strengthen ties.

Japan's whaling fleets will typically kill hundreds of whales in a season, including species that are considered protected.

U.N. chief urges action for Anti-Corruption Day, which is today
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging everyone to do their part to stamp out corruption, which afflicts all countries, undermining social progress and breeding inequality and injustice.

“All of us have a responsibility to take action against the cancer of corruption,” he declares in a message for International Anti-Corruption Day, which is observed annually today, Dec. 9.

No country, region or community is immune to corruption, which is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

This year the Office on Drugs and Crime and the U.N. Development Programme have developed a joint global campaign, focusing on how corruption hinders efforts to achieve the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals and hurts education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity and development.

“When desperately needed development funds are stolen by corrupt individuals and institutions, poor and vulnerable people are robbed of the education, health care and other essential services,” said the secretary general.

“Although the poor may be marginalized by corruption, they
will not be silenced,” he added. “In events across the Arab world and beyond this year, ordinary people have joined their voices in denouncing corruption and demanding that governments combat this crime against democracy.

“Their protests have triggered changes on the international scene that could barely have been imagined just months previously.”

Ban highlighted the efforts of the U.N. in helping countries combat corruption as part of its broader, system-wide campaign to help bolster democracy and good governance.

He urged all governments that have not yet done so to ratify the U.N. Convention against Corruption, which he called a powerful tool in the fight against the scourge.

He also called on businesses to adopt anti-corruption measures in line with the convention, noting that the private sector, too, stands to gain enormously from effective action.

“On this International Anti-Corruption Day, let us pledge to do our part by cracking down on corruption, shaming those who practice it and engendering a culture that values ethical behavior,” said the secretary general.

Numerous events will be held around the world to mark the day, including concerts, youth events and awareness-raising campaigns.

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Holder says gun project
was fundamentally flawed

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is defending his Justice Department's record and is pushing back against what he terms politically motivated attacks by Republican lawmakers over the Operation Fast and Furious gun scandal.  More than 50 Republican lawmakers want Holder to resign over an operation in which U.S. law enforcement officers allowed suspects to walk off with weapons believed to be heading for the top levels of Mexican drug cartels. 

Operation Fast and Furious led to a day of fast and furious grilling of Attorney General Eric Holder in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Holder made clear Thursday that the controversial tactic known as gun-walking, where U.S. law enforcement officials allowed suspects to take guns across the border into Mexico in an effort to track and arrest top arms and drug traffickers, is no longer being used.

Officers lost track of hundreds of weapons in Arizona that they were supposed to be monitoring.  Many of the guns were eventually recovered from crime scenes, and two were found at the scene of a shooting in 2010 that killed U.S. border agent Brian Terry, provoking outrage.

Holder warned that more deaths could result from what he called a fundamentally flawed operation.

"Now, although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," he said. "Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border."

But Holder again insisted that he and other top Justice Department officials were not aware of the operation when it was under way, and that when he found out about it, he stopped it.

Republican lawmakers are venting their anger over the failed operation at Holder, who has been a target for criticism of Democratic President Barack Obama over where to detain terrorists suspects.

"But Mr. Attorney General, the blame must go to your desk, and you must today take the real responsibility," said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, who is one of Holder's leading critics. "Why have you not terminated the many people involved?"

President Obama has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Holder. Democratic members of the panel came to his defense, saying this one failed operation is just a small part of broad cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials to fight the drug and arms smuggling rings at the border.

Holder also pushed back at his critics.

"As we work to avoid future losses and further mistakes, it is unfortunate that some have used inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric about one particular tragedy that occurred near the Southwest border in an effort to score political points," he said.

Operation Fast and Furious also attracted a lot of attention in Mexico, where top officials have long argued that U.S. weapons fuel the country's drug war. The Mexican attorney general's office has demanded a quick U.S. investigation of the operation and said authorities must hold those responsible accountable.

Noriega might return
to Panamá this Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Panama's foreign ministry says the country's former dictator, Manuel Noriega, will return to his native land Sunday following the approval of his extradition last month by a French court.

The ministry announced Noriega's arrival date in a statement Wednesday. The former dictator is being sent back to Panamá to serve time for embezzlement, corruption and murder.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said Noriega will go to jail when he arrives in Panama. But the president has also acknowledged that Noriega, now in his late 70s and reported to suffer from health problems, could be granted house arrest by law because of his age.

Noriega told the French court that he wants to go back to Panamá to prove his innocence.

The one-time U.S. ally ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, when he was ousted by U.S. forces.

After his overthrow, he spent two decades in prison in the U.S. on drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering charges before being extradited last year to France, where he was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to seven years in jail.

The United States also gave its approval to authorize Noriega's return to Panama, where he is accused of murdering political opponents.

Gunmen ambush ambulance
in bloody Ciudad Juárez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials say gunmen killed four people in an attack on an ambulance in the border city of Ciudad Juárez.

Witnesses say a pickup truck carrying the gunmen rammed the ambulance Wednesday and forced it to stop.

They say the gunmen got out of the truck and opened fire and killed the ambulance driver, two kidney patients, and a fourth person.

No motive has been given for the attack, but Ciudad Juárez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, has a history of drug-related killings.

More than 1,800 people have been killed in Ciudad Juárez this year compared to more than 3,000 murders in 2010.

The city has been on the front line of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's war on drug cartels. 

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Gunmen riddle man
as woman, child watch

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mother and her child barely escaped with their lives when armed gunman entered their bedroom early Thursday morning and shot the father and husband dead.

The murder took place in the Pacuare sector of Limón in the residence of the family. Authorities say the 28-year-old father, identified by the name of Kelly, was shot between 15 and 20 times with a revolver and some type of heavy firearm. The baby and the mother were not injured.

The two killers entered the residence at 4:30 a.m. wearing ski masks, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. After committing the crime they fled in an automobile, authorities reported. It was not reported if anything was stolen from the house and agents are still determining a motive for the crime.

Costa Rica leads LatAm
in branding and identity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica ranked first among Latin American countries in the 2011-2012 Country Brand Index, said the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo Thursday.

Costa Rica rose three spots, positioning itself above Brazil, on the Latin American portion of FutureBrand´s seventh annual Country Brand Index.

FutureBrand is a global brand and corporate identity consulting company.

Similar to gauging the popularity of products or corporations, FutureBrand measures awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration, advocacy and active decisions to visit or interact with a place to assess the strength of a country´s brand.

However, Costa Rica ranked 24 on the full list of 113 countries. Canada retained its position at the top of the rankings, and Pakistan finished up the list.

According to FutureBrand, the most important factors — the aspects that truly differentiate the rank of a country´s brand — are its associations and attributes across five key dimensions: value system, quality of life, good for business, heritage and culture and tourism. Out of these, Costa Rica was only ranked within the top 25 countries, placing 25th, in the value system category.

The report´s data and opinions, taken between July and September of this year, were drawn from 3,500 business and leisure travelers, 14 primary research markets and 102 expert contributors in 16 cities. More than 400 ideas developed in a collaborative exercise also provided the ratings.

Memorial service Sunday
for Eugene McDonald

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friends of Eugene Harold "Gene" Mc Donald will hold a memorial - celebration of life ceremony in his honor Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Esquina Argentinian in Escazú Centro.

Mc Donald, 70, a well known expat who practiced acupuncture and auriculartherapy, died Nov. 16 in Hospital San Juan de Dios where he had been fighting a gastrointestinal infection and pneumonia since Oct. 17.

Mc Donald was born March 4, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois. and studied at the University of Miami. When he came to Costa Rica, he moved to Montezuma on the Nicoya peninsula and later to Escazú where he had a large practice among fellow expats. He had more than 20 years experience and was licensed by the State of Florida.

Friends are encouraged to bring chocolates and sweets in his honor to share with the others.

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