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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 248
Jo Stuart
About us
Police explore theory that Sabana murder was an inside job
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are exploring the possibility that the person who killed a British citizen over the weekend was a friend or acquaintance.

If so, the victim, Thomas Purvis, 44, joins a list of other expats who died because they trusted too much.

Purvis lived in a secure second-floor apartment in Sabana Sur. There was no sign of forced entry into the apartment. Curiously, there did not seem to be signs of robbery and his sports utility vehicle still was in its parking place on the ground floor.

Purvis suffered stab wounds to the back. He had lived in Costa Rica for several years and about nine months at the apartment in a nondescript block building.

Steven Ines Hartling, 54, died Jan. 16, 2002, 

because robbers used a phony employee to trick their way into the Alajuela home. Hartling, a recently arrived tourist, just happened to be in a home where the owner hired a woman as a domestic worker the day before. Both the woman and her male companion got 25 years in prison.

Donald Leonard Durr, 70, died after being beaten up and dumped into a river near Atenas. Dec. 4, 2001. Prosecutors eventually convicted the Alajuela man’s wife for the crime.

David Kane, 59, died in his La Granja, San Pedro home Jan. 4, 2003. The young man who killed him was a family friend and later got 32 years in prison. Agents said robbery was the motive.

In the Purvis murder, investigators are trying to determine who was with the man between 9 a.m. Saturday when he was seen parking his vehicle and 10 a.m. Monday when friends got the building owner to enter the apartment to find him dead.

Plenty of clothes
Food products
A.M. Costa Rica photos/José 
Pablo Ramírez Vindas
And what appears to be a streetlight
Flea market!
The poor man's Pricesmart florishes weekends near city hall
By Saray Ramírex Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The major flea market in San José is in the shadow of the municipal building in Sabana Este.

Just like elsewhere, nearly every manufactured item eventually finds its way onto sales blankets there. Sunday there were used toothbrushes and even an artificial leg. Not to mention boxes of new foods and products that appear to have just fallen off the truck overnight.

Even so, some items are show stoppers. Where did they get the municipal streetlight? Two styles even.

Tons of new and used clothes are on sale inexpensively. Most seem to have been washed and ironed recently. The sellers take pride in their presentations.

To display goods at the market, which runs Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon, a seller must purchase a permit from municipal officials. The permit offsets the tradition of not collecting sales tax at the market.

Prices range from a steal to robbery. Small dolls sold for 3,000 colons ($6.60) were on sale at the local supermarket for a third the price.

Some families take advantage of the proximity of Parque La Sabana or a fast food hamburger store to turn shopping into a full-scale outing. Nearby Paseo Colón is reserved for pedestrians Sundays, and is available for strollers, even those with bundles of flea market products.

The market is on the south side of Avenida 10 just a few hundred yards from the park between calles 28 and 34. This is the same place where vegetable and fruit wholesalers  market their wares seven days a week. 

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Woman anti-violence bill
advances in assembly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers approved on first reading Tuesday the controversial law that penalizes violence towards women.

Hundreds of women marched Nov. 25 demanding that the law be passed.

The approval Tuesday came after some opposed to the law agreed to hold their remarks until Thursday when the measure is expected to be voted upon for the second and final time.

The vote Tuesday was 41 to 11. Opponents have said the law is unconstitutional because it penalizes men more in certain circumstances than it does women who might commit the same crime.

Some men fear that women could use the law to strip them of their home and property.

The bill’s principal opponents are from the Movimento Libertario.

A Libertario press release lists the main objections that the party has regarding passage of the law. 

The first is that the law attempts to prevent discussion between partners which could hamper the resolution of disputes. The movement said that the bill also prohibits reconciliation between couples. In addition to this, neighbors and relatives are encouraged to accuse spouses. 

The bill is backed heavily by the Instituto de Mujer.

The main concern is physical violence against women. Supporters say some 5,118 cases have been filed already this year.

However, the bill also would penalize psychological violence.

Another controversial detail in the bill says if a victim is economically dependent upon an assailant, the length of sentence will automatically be increased by a third. Another article states that if someone insults, ridicules, or embarrasses a women, he could be sent to jail for two to six years. 

Scamsters pick RACSA
to push bogus raffle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., RACSA, is being featured in a scam e-mail message.

The company quickly produced a press release Tuesday night to announce that a bogus e-mail was offering $850 prizes to good customers who were winners in a RACSA raffle. All a recipient has to do to collect the money is to unknowingly surrender financial passwords to the scamsters. Of course, there is no RACSA raffle.

The message is in stilted English, and the sender does not seem to know that most of RACSA customers speak Spanish. Still, RACSA officials worked quickly to get the word out that the message is a scam.

The scamster’s hook is that recipients are suppose to go to a special Web site to confirm receipt of the $850 and then transfer it to their credit card account providing the scamsters with credit card numbers, passwords and other financial data. This is when the crooks steal the information. The message also targets E-gold and Pay Pal clients.

The message appears to be a generic one into which the name of just about any internet service provider can be inserted for a mass mailing to customers.

No asylum permitted here
for Panamanian TV boss

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has decided not to grant political asylum to Ariel Rosas Femenías, a Panamanian journalist and politician.

Rosas applied for the status Oct. 14. Rosas is the nephew of former education minister Doris Rosas de Mata, and was head of Channel 11 public television under the administration of Mireya Moscoso.

The Rosas family is strongly identified with the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement, which supported President Moscoso.

At least $250,000 in cameras and television equipment vanished from the public television station during Rosas’ tenure, according to a newsman in Panama. Much of the equipment had been donated by the country of Japan. Millions of dollars in funds also seems to be unaccounted for, the source in Panama said.

Costa Rican officials at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto made no reference to the scandals in Panama when they announced their decision Tuesday.

Body found in Villa Colón
formally tied to abduction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization has confirmed that a body found in an informal grave Nov. 24 is that of kidnap victim José Fabio Gañier. The confirmation came from DNA testing.

The body was found on a farm not far from a road in Villa Colón. Kidnappers abducted Gañier Jan. 17, 2002, as he left work at a rental car firm on Paseo Colón.

The dead man’s father is the former director of the country’s soccer football league. 

Agents took four men into custody Nov. 2 for investigation of the crime. Then they embarked on an extensive effort to find the body, which paid off late last month.

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Gun-wielding Osama wannabe puts Costa Rica on the world media map
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is known far and wide for its rainforests, white sandy beaches and wonderful climate.

Now the country is also known as a place where pranksters run around in an Osama Bin Laden mask and get shot.

That event happened Monday night, and by midday Tuesday, thanks to an Associated Press news story, the shooting of Osama was featured in the Web site of dozens of U.S. and world newspapers.

The story also provided something new during the pre-Christmas doldrums. Two San José television stations featured the story extensively, including interviews with the man who did the shooting, the owner of the mask and witnesses.

What happened was strange but simple: A man wearing the Osama mask jumped out of the bushes about 8 p.m. in Carrillos Bajo de Poás in Alajuela. He startled the driver of a car. 

The masked man was carrying an old shotgun, so the motorist felt threatened, pulled a .25-caliber pistol and fired at the presumed assailant.

Shot twice was Lionel Arias Agriero, who had spent the afternoon playing the same trick on other motorists. The motive was not clear, but he was in stable condition in the Hospital de Alajuela Tuesday night. The motorist, identified as Juan Pablo Arce Sandoval, was not detained. The two men live in the same town, Carrillos. 

The Judicial Investigating Organization is in charge of the case. But agents have said that they believe the shooting was justified as self defense.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
More than
just a bus

Two buses squared off in Desamparados Tuesday afternoon, and 17 persons suffered injuries. 

The Barrio Lourdes de Aserrí bus (left) suffered the most damage, and the driver and a passenger were the most seriously hurt. 

The second bus, one on the San Miguel de Desamparados route, was damaged less heavily.

The mishap took place at the San Miguel turnoff near the MaxiMercado in Desamparados.

Country will build center to try to rehabilitate addicted street kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will construct next year a center to treat youngsters addicted to drugs and other substances. 

The 70-bed facility was outlined by health officials at the weekly press conference at Casa Presidencial. Delia Villalobos, vice minister of Salud, estimated that some 1,000 youngsters are addicted and on the streets of Costa Rica.

The plan calls for an integrated facility with a clinic, television room, and sports areas with an emphasis on rehabilitation. The cost is estimated at 300 million colons, some $660,000. Some of the money would 

come from funds confiscated from drug traffickers, officials said.

The project, expected to be done in August, is a joint one with the health ministry, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia and the Instituto de Alcoholism y Farmacodependencia.

More than 80 percent of the underaged youngsters who roam city streets are addicted to crack cocaine which is readily available here in the form of rocks. Youngsters can be seen smoking crack pipes within several blocks of the downtown pedestrian mall. Many are reluctant to leave their street life, their friends and drugs for shelters and clinics.

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Latin American pension reforms praised by World Bank
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even as the debate continues on reforming the Social Security system in the United States, the World Bank has released a new study examining how Latin America's more than decade-long experience with pension reform has delivered significant fiscal, social, and financial benefits for the region.

In a statement this week, the World Bank said that the study, entitled "Keeping the Promise of Social Security in Latin America," found that governments in the region that have undertaken structural overhauls to their national pension systems have improved their budget position, made public pensions more equitable, and encouraged savings and investment. But the study also warns that a broader segment of Latin Americans need greater access to pensions to prevent poverty in old age.

"Social security reform in Latin America has fundamentally remade systems that were bloated and inequitable," said Guillermo Perry, the World Bank's chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the "failure to extend coverage to a broader segment of society makes it premature to call the reforms a success," he added. "Old-age poverty remains a significant risk for the region's citizens."

In the United States, the Bush administration says that for the last 65 years, the Social Security system has provided retirement security for tens of millions of Americans. The administration says that four generations of Americans have relied on the U.S. government "to keep the promises it made to them 

during their working years, but as demographics change and costs increase, the challenge we face is ensuring that the Social Security system is strengthened for tomorrow's retirees."

The World Bank says its new study, which assesses the region's experience with structural reforms to social security, found that pension reforms in the region could count "many successes," with fiscal sustainability having been improved by reducing the "overly generous benefits" paid under previous pension systems. Although transition costs "have been higher than expected in some cases," reforms have generally had a positive effect on government finances, the bank said.

The World Bank said that "pay-as-you-go" public pension systems — where pensions paid to the elderly are financed by taxes paid by current workers — have been substantially downsized, and mandatory individual savings accounts and voluntary pension plans have been added in a process known as the "multi-pillar approach" to pension reform. 

Beginning with Chile in 1981, 12 Latin American countries have adopted this approach, the bank said.

The study contends that although structural reforms were a step in the right direction, more attention should now be paid to ensuring that privately administered pension plans are efficient and offer affiliated workers and their families the best possible coverage at competitive prices. The study said that governments in the region should be paying much more attention to the poverty-prevention function of national pension systems. 

Student visas from Latin students show a slight increase over 2001
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States welcomed almost 70,000 Latin American students during the 2003-2004 academic year, and the U.S. Department of State says it has made significant strides in processing student visa applications to ensure that visa policy is not a barrier to future students who wish to study in the United States.

In the 2003-2004 academic year, there were 572,509 foreign students studying in the United States. Of this number, 69,658 of the students were from Latin America. With 13,329, Mexico had the most students in the United States, followed by Brazil (7,799) and Colombian (7,533) students. There were 4,994 students from Jamaica, the most from any Caribbean nation.

The approximately 70,000 Latin American students who studied in the United States during the 2003-2004
academic year represent a 1 percent increase over the

previous year. This number might well grow in the future, as student visa issuance figures for the 2004 fiscal year ending in September indicate that student visa issuances were up for the first time over the previous fiscal year since 2001.

The upswing in student visas follows a three-year decline following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs said the United States had initially made significant changes following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, many of which added time to the visa process.

To address these delays, the Department of State has made a significant investment in systems and staffing to increase the transparency, efficiency and predictability of the non-immigrant visa process, she noted. 

Jo Stuart
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