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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 249            E-mail us
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Two female U.S. tourists end their visit here in jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The plane left without two U.S. female tourists who now stand accused of drug trafficking.
 
Airport police at Juan Santamaría found 3.8 kilos of cocaine hidden on the body of one of the women Tuesday during a routine x-ray exam, officials said. The woman was searched further, and agents came up with clothing packed with the suspected drug, they said.

Agents said they then used footage from the airport surveillance camera to determine who was accompanying the woman, identified by the last name of Daniels. They said they found a second woman, identified by the last name of Cooper, just as she was about to board a plane.

They said they found more drugs in a bag the second woman was carrying.

A third suspect was traced to an airport restroom, but when she was searched there were no drugs, agents said. Members of the Policía de Control de Drogas participated in the investigation and confirmed the nature of the drugs, agents said.

The women, of course, will be subject to judicial action in Alajuela for international drug trafficking. They are two of a growing number of U.S. citizens who have become involved in smuggling cases here.
drug laden clothes
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
One piece of clothing confiscated at airport weighs in at a bit more than 1.3 kilos.

Agents speculate that the easy availability of cocaine in Costa Rica, particularly at beach resorts, tempts tourists and that some may be approached by traffickers with offers of earning quick cash. Airport and anti-drug police have become skilled at finding drug shipments.

In a number of cases this year, the smugglers had the substance in clothing or taped to their bodies.


U.N. experts decry intrusion by Chávez into courts
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Decrying what they called “a blow by President Hugo Chávez to the independence of judges and lawyers in the country,” three independent United Nations human rights experts Wednesday called for the immediate release of a Venezuelan judge arrested after ordering the conditional release of a prisoner held for almost three years without trial. 

The judge, María Lourdes Afiuni, was arrested by intelligence police officers after ordering the conditional release pending trial of Eligio Cedeño, whose detention was declared arbitrary in September by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which cited violations of the right to fair trial. His counsel introduced the experts’ opinion before Judge Afiuni earlier this month.

“We are particularly troubled about allegations that President Hugo Chávez attacked both Mr. Cedeño and Judge Afiuni, calling them ‘bandidos’ and accusing Judge Afiuni of corruption,” the U.N. experts said in a statement issued in Geneva, where they report to the U.N. Council on Human Rights. Cedeño, a banker, was being held on currency transaction allegations.

In an appearance before government officials, broadcast on national television and radio, Chávez demanded that Judge Afiuni be sentenced to a 30-year prison term, even if new legislation was required to achieve that result, and he instructed the attorney general and the president of the
supreme court to punish her as severely as possible to prevent similar actions by other judges.

He also suggested that Cedeño’s defense lawyers had engaged in criminal conduct in requesting his release. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz is reported to have given interviews to the press slandering the Judge. Two court bailiffs accompanying Cedeño out of the court room, and one of his lawyers were also briefly arrested, but soon released.

“Reprisals for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and creating a climate of fear among the judiciary and lawyers’ profession serve no purpose except to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice,” the experts said. “The immediate and unconditional release of Judge Afiuni is imperative.”

Judge Afiuni is said to have been charged with corruption, accessory to an escape, criminal conspiracy and abuse of power. She has been denied a public defender. It is also feared that Cedeño’s Venezuelan defence lawyers are under imminent threat of arrest.

In November, another judge was reportedly removed from the court of appeals and demoted after determining that Cedeño’s pre-trial detention had exceeded statutory limits. The experts are:

El Hadji Malick Sow, Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva and Margaret Sekaggya.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 249

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California firm planning
$2.5 million investment


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Motif, Inc., a U.S.-based company that provides customer support, back office processing, research and analytics, and online fraud prevention to Fortune 500 companies, plans to set up a 500 seat service center in Costa Rica. The company will invest $2.5 million in this center that will begin operating in January, it said in a release.

The Costa Rica center will become part of Motif’s network of global delivery centers in Ahmedabad, India, and Manila, Philippines. The center will offer bilingual support in English and Spanish, provide location redundancy and a marked increase in Motif’s global capacity to serve its fast-growing international customer base, the company said.

The Costa Rican subsidiary is Motif Limitada, which is located in the America Free Zone in San Francisco de Heredia.

“This is a significant milestone in Motif’s history," said Chris Meneze, the company's president and CEO. "Our new Costa Rica center expands our international footprint and language capabilities, while positioning Motif for further growth.”

Motif, Inc. was founded in 2000 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.


Lottery vendor is target
of two armed robbers


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Street vendors are easy targets, particularly during the Christmas season when there is a lot of money on the streets and crooks need holiday cash.

The latest victim is a female lottery vendor who was the victim of a robbery as she left for work about 5:40 a.m. in Cieneguita de Limón Wednesday. The woman was about to get in a taxi when two masked  men with guns arrived and took her bags containing lottery tickets and prepaid telephone cards.

The Judicial Investigating Organization did not report she was harmed. So she fared better than the lottery vendor who was gunned down by bandits in Barrio Lujan, San José, three weeks ago.


Honest airport janitor
surrenders Russian cash


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A janitor at Juan Santamaría airport found a briefcase containing wads of Costa Rican and foreign bills Sunday night while doing his job. The man turned the find in to police, who tracked the money to a foreigner with the name of Mustafin, who had passed through the airport on his way to Cuba.

Aeris Holding Costa Rica S.A., the new manager of the airport, will be in charge of returning the cash. Police said there were $1,890 in bills, $1,710 in euros and 1,250 rubles as well as credit cards and other documents. They said the man who lost the money was Russian.


Mexicana opens new route
to its Cancún passenger hub


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who wants to try another beach can now hop a direct flight to Cancún, México.

Mexicana de Aviación inaugurated a new route Wednesday from Juan Santamaría airport. There will be four flights a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, officials said.

The Mexican airline maintains a transportation hub in Cancún, a well-known party town, for those with a final destination elsewhere.  Mexicana now has 15 weekly flights to and from Costa Rica. Most are to México's Districto Federal.


16 year old held in murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A personal dispute between families is being blamed for prompting a 16 year old to take a baseball bat to the head of an 81-year-old man in San Ramón.  The man died in his home in Barrio San Rafael, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The victim was identified by the last name of Medina. The youth was turned over to juvenile authorities.

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A.M. Costa Rica
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Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 249

A guest editorial
Costa Rica poised well to be graduate hub of Latin America
By Otto F. von Feigenblatt*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It is no secret that Costa Rica is one of the most peaceful and stable developing countries in the world. Expats from all over the world are attracted by the country’s natural wonders as well as by the friendly population. Costa Rica has
von Feingenblatt
Otto von Feigenblatt
benefited from the influx of expatriate retirees as well as by the foreign direct investment of multinational corporations moving some of their operations to the peaceful country.

This process took place side by side with an increase in the demand for bilingual and international education at the primary and secondary levels. Costa Rican presidents starting with José María Figueres encouraged the teaching of English as a second language as a way to increase the country’s human capital in preparation to
join the international boom in the outsourcing of services. Public schools improved their language programs, hundreds of private bilingual schools were established, and a few fully international schools provided fully accredited American and European educational programs. Nevertheless, a huge sector of the population was ignored: undergraduate and graduate students.

The least globalized sector of the Costa Rican education system is higher education. Dozens of private universities offer vocational training and professional degrees, but with little to no instruction in the English language, the professionals they train lag behind their counterparts from other middle income countries.

Clearly, undergraduate education in Costa Rica is widespread in comparison to other Latin American countries, but the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality. Countries such as Thailand, Japan, Singapore, the Philippine, and even South Africa are attracting international students to their universities by taking advantage of their accumulated highly skilled human capital (Examples: Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, among others.

Hundreds of Thai, Filipino, Cambodian, Japanese, and Singaporean scholars studied abroad with scholarships and returned to their countries with graduate degrees from elite international universities. Rather than have them wither teaching the same translated books and publishing articles in
their languages which no one outside of the country can read, their governments and university authorities organized international programs.

Why would anyone get their Ph.D. in Thailand? Simple, their international programs are taught by professors with the same degrees as in any university in the United Kingdom or the United States and at a fraction of the cost in both tuition and living expenses. This is a very appealing option for those who can’t afford to study in the United States or other developed countries. There is also another important competitive advantage, that the professors share similar experiences and concerns as students from the developing world. These advantages are especially enticing in the social sciences and the humanities which require little to no capital investment.

Costa Rica has a single truly international university, the University for Peace. Tuition is as expensive as in the United States, and it is very selective. There is no other university in Costa Rica offering truly International programs.

What would Costa Rica gain from offering international programs? The country would attract highly qualified students from the developing world and some from the developed world. International programs would also slow down the serious brain drain the country is experiencing with the most qualified scholars leaving the country to study and teach abroad.

Costa Rica could become the educational hub of Latin America and thus attract young, enterprising expats involved in fields such as journalism, political science, and economics, among many others.

This would also be an excellent way to promote research in Costa Rican universities since graduate students have to conduct high quality research for free. Currently there is only one private university with research as part of its mission, the University for International Cooperation.

Costa Rica is aiming to join the Asia Pacific region, and to do so it needs to prepare its human capital to cooperate and compete at a regional level. What better way to do so than by securing a place as an educational hub and as an abode of peace.

* Otto F. von Feigenblatt is a Costa Rican living in Florida.  He is a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. He has authored three books and was recently elected a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for his contribution to Asia Pacific studies. He can be contacted at: vonFeigenblatt@hotmail.com


Nine convicts will be home for Christmas after pardons
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president's cabinet awarded pardons Wednesday to five women and four men in recognition of the Christmas season. Those pardoned included a robber, a murderer, drug smugglers, a kidnapper and two persons who embezzled.

"As human beings, all of us are imperfect. Only God is perfect," said President Óscar Arias Sánchez as he handed out the pardons in a ceremony at the Centro Penal La Reforma in Alajuela. "All of us have the possibility of committing errors in our lives. The important thing is that with this pardon, with this grace, God guides us and gives us the strength to not commit the same errors again."

Casa Presidencial said that each case had been evaluated by criminologists and other officials.

Those who were pardoned are

• Esther Castro Cascante, 38, who was sentenced to six years for embezzlement and would have finished a third of her sentence April 27, 2010.

• Guillermo Cedeño Navarro, 45, who was sentenced to six years for aggravated robbery and finished a third of his term Dec. 1, 2008;

• Carlos Enrique Fallas Fonseca, 44, who was sentenced to 12 years for homicide and would have completed a third of his term Aug. 20, 2010
• Ana Violeta Garcia Nuñez, 28, who received five years and four months for trying to smuggle marijuana into the La Reforma prison. She completed a third of her term Nov. 6;

Rodrigo Matta Cruz, 56, who received six years for embezzlement involving the government funds. He would have finished a third of his term Jan. 9;

María Eugenia Mora Agüero, 45, who received eight years in prison for a drug violation. She would have finished a third of her term next April 18;

• Johnny Alejandro Obando Bermúdez, 36, who received a seven-year sentence for three counts of holding people against their will. He would have completed a third of his sentence Jan. 14.

• Karla Ortiz Nuñez, 38, who received a six-year term for trafficking and sale of marijuana and cocaine. She completed a third of her sentence Nov. 7;

Nelly Sáenz Elba, 70, who received a five-year, four-month term for transporting drugs. She completed a third of her term Dec. 19, 2008.

Technically the pardons are awarded by the Consejo de Gobierno, the presidential cabinet, and not directly by the president.

Such forgiveness is traditional around the various holiday seasons.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 249

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About 50 musicians and signers, some of them well-known, were at Casa Presidencial Wednesday protesting government changes that restrict their rights to copyright and residual payments. Leaders met with vice ministers for about and hour.
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Problems found at six of 305 gasoline service stations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An inspection of 305 gas stations between June and August found three stations had contaminated fuel and three measured the fuel flow incorrectly, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

The survey was done by the Centro de Electroquimica y Energía Quimica of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

According to the regulating authority, a station in Palmar Norte had gasoline contaminating its diesel tank. So did a station in Playa Naranjo where the operator said the company had rented a tanker and that the contaminants probably came from what was inside the tank truck, said the agency.
In Santa María de Dota surveyors founds some type of contaminant, and the operator responded by cleaning the tanks and getting an inspection from the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., the monopoly supplier of fuel, said the agency.

Shortages ranged from 180 milliliters in la Sabana to 300 milliliters in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, the agency said.  The shortages were in the delivery of 20 liters of fuel.

Some 12 stations did not sell both types of gasoline and diesel. Operators in rural areas said there was little demand for super gasoline, said the agency.

Some 52 gas stations had one or more pumps out of service, said the agency.



Costa Rica sticking to its goals at Copenhagen conference

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Costa Rica stands with the 100 countries that are seeking a limit of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air and a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees C., according to the country's chief negotiator.

The summary comes from Álvaro Umaña Quesada, a former environmental minister, who sent an account to officials here from Copenhagen, Denmark. He noted that the negotiations were complex and participants have only two days to finish crafting an agreement, which now runs to some 600 pages.

He characterized the conference as a confrontation between the industrialized nations which generate most of the carbon dioxide and the countries in development and the island nations which are facing rising sea levels. Only two other countries, Norway and the Maldives, have adopted Costa Rica's position to be carbon neutral by 2021, he noted.

When this conference began more than a week ago, delegates were told that time is running out to do something to end climate change. During these final days of negotiations, that message remains much the same, as Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen reminded participants.

"I think the world is expecting us to reach some kind of agreement on climate change," he said.

Environment ministers joined their country delegations this week and negotiations have run through the night as heads of state and government have begun arriving. But major differences remain and speeches often have contained the same rhetoric North versus South, rich versus poor, who is to blame and who is the victim.

Remarks by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe are a case in point.
"We are dealing with vested interests," he said.  "We are dealing with dominant economies resting on a faulty eco-unfriendly development paradigm, aspiring to mis-rule the world."

But there also have been other approaches: an indication from African nations that they could scale back the amount of money they say they will need to cope with climate change.  And there was a pledge from the United States of $1 billion to a $3.5-billion global fund to curb greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation.

The U.N.'s top climate chief, Yvo de Boer, says there has been some progress.

"Significant amounts of money are being offered, targets have been tabled in a number of areas," he said.  "On capacity building, on technology, on reducing emissions from deforestation, we've seen real advances on the substance."

But other key disagreements remain, including extending the 1997 Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration date to cut greenhouse gases.  Questions remain over who will cut emissions, by how much, how much it will cost and who will pay.

Doubts have been raised that this conference will achieve a binding agreement on climate change.  And analysts say it might have to settle for a framework whose details will need to be filled in later.

But the U.N.'s de Boer remains optimistic. "I still believe that it's possible to reach a real success," he said. "But I must say, the next 24 hours are absolutely crucial."

More world leaders continue to arrive in Copenhagen to see whether differences can be ironed out for a climate agreement. 

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to address the conference Friday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 249

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México hangs in balance
as cartels continue war


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As 2009 comes to a close, drug-related violence in México continues to rage along the border with the United States and in other areas where powerful drug cartels are fighting over turf and billions of dollars in narcotics profits.

The two cities that sprawl over the plains by the desert mountains could not be more different.  El Paso, Texas, is ranked the second safest city in the United States.  But it sits just across the border from one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Juárez, Mexico.

Despite a massive deployment of armed forces and federal police in drug trafficking zones, some 4,000 people have been killed in Juárez during the past two years.  Mexican President Felipe Calderón began the war on organized crime shortly after taking office in December, 2006.  Although he continues to enjoy public support for the effort, experts say the results have been mixed.

In many cases, police and soldiers sent to fight the drug gangs have been accused of working with the criminals.  There have even been high-ranking government officials arrested for taking bribes from drug traffickers.

That has led some security analysts like Fred Burton of the Austin, Texas,-based global intelligence company Stratfor to question whether President Calderón can win this war.

"It is extraordinarily challenging and that is why Calderón is fighting a war on multiple fronts," said Burton. "Let's not forget that he has a tremendous corruption problem, not knowing who to trust within his own ranks at times."

Stratfor was one of several organizations earlier this year warning that Mexico could become a failed state if it does not win the war against the criminal elements that hold sway over some areas of the country.

But University of Texas at El Paso anthropologist Howard Campbell says that kind of talk is not helpful.

"There are several problems with this notion of a failed state," said Campbell. "One of them is that somehow in Mexico, all of a sudden, the government has become heavily corrupted by cartels as if there wasn't corruption in the past.  This might be a greater magnitude and level of corruption, because of drug cartels.  But corruption, unfortunately, has been a big part of the Mexican political system for a very long time."

Campbell says it is in the interest of the United States and México to prevent criminal gangs from gaining effective control of Juárez or any other parts of México.

"What we have are serious threats to public security," he said. "We have tremendous crime problems, with violence and corruption.  But these are things that can be minimized and lessened if Mexico and the United States work together, identify the most serious problems and try to fight them in very focused ways."

The U.S. government is also going after drug traffickers north of the border.  Washington has provided material aid to the Calderón government and is coordinating anti-cartel efforts with Mexican authorities, using the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Houston as the spearhead.

At a recent discussion about illegal drugs at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Gary Hale, Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence chief for the Houston sector, said one sign of progress is that the cartels are seeking other sources of income, with drugs comprising only about 20 percent of their overall profits.

"What does that mean?  That means that we are affecting their ability to make money, lots of money. Their only source of money through drugs," said Hale. "And now, they are using other crime activities to generate their income."

The expansion of crime organizations into other areas is not good news for Mexican citizens caught in the middle of this war.  Kidnappings, automobile thefts and armed robberies have made many Mexicans feel insecure.  They hope that somehow their government's efforts to fight crime will show more progress in the year ahead. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 249


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Some economic trends,
once bad, are now good


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As a rule, economists do not welcome upticks in prices that signal inflationary pressure or a widening of America's trade deficit showing U.S. exports lagging further behind imports.  But what would normally be worrying signs are actually viewed in a more positive light at a time when the United States is emerging from a deep and painful recession.

A year ago, economists openly worried about the recession sparking a destructive deflationary cycle in which the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar rises over time.  Such a trend would cause consumers to postpone purchases, which would further slow economic activity and put downward pressure on prices for goods, causing the cycle to repeat itself.

And so a rise in the U.S. Consumer Price Index does not seem to worry financial analysts, especially since prices were largely in check if volatile energy and food categories are excluded.

Beth Ann Bovino is a senior economist at Standard and Poor's. "Certainly energy was a factor.  So the CPI was up point-four percent in November, and the core price, which is something that most people look at — core price taking out food and energy — was actually relatively tame," she said.

Similarly, a widening U.S. trade deficit is no cause for celebration.  But analysts say a jump from $115 billion to $132 billion in the third quarter of the year provides some evidence that American consumers are beginning to spend again.  Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, and is seen as a critical element of a sustained economic recovery.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reports new home construction rose 8.9 percent in November.   

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