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(506) 2223-1327                     Published Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012,  in Vol. 12, No. 251                   Email us
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Long distance

These youngsters walked miles to get these gifts. But members of the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea went even further to deliver them into a remote area with strange names that is hardly different than it was 500 years ago.

Our story is HERE

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Ministerio de Gobernación. Policía y Seguridad Pública/Jorge Alonso Alvarez v

Security officials seek law to let police investigate
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Top officials at the security ministry are drafting a bill for the legislature that will give Fuerza Pública officers the ability to investigate crimes.

If passed, a new law would mean that victims of petty crime could simply report the incident to the police that are constantly on patrol, such as a case of pick-pocketing on Avenida Central.

The current system requires that the victims of such crimes go to the offices of the Judicial Investigating Organization (also known by the Spanish acronym OIJ) hours or days after the crime and file a report.

“The law in Costa Rica doesn't permit for the regular police, the Fuerza Pública, to conduct investigations,” said Vice Minister Celso Gamboa. “That's the problem.”

Minister Mario Zamora Cordero said that this will allow the judicial police to follow up on more serious crimes like murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

“In order to make this change, we need a change in legislation that permits an increase in the investigative capabilities of the police to have the power to investigate small crimes,” said Zamora.

“That will make it so that the OIJ can specialize in the large crimes,” he added.

Both Gamboa and Zamora off-handedly announced the project at a press conference. The conference was focused on the successes of the Fuerza Pública and the ministry this year, and what plans they have for next year.

If passed, the law would make Fuerza Pública officers more like police officers in the United States, who can record testimonies from victims and witnesses minutes after the crime occurs.

Right now, this police force can only make arrests if they personally witnessed the crime despite them
being on patrol where these crimes are occurring, according to Gamboa. For all other cases, the victims must go to the Judicial Investigating Organization offices and file a report, usually long after the trail has gone cold.

“The OIJ is the police that works for the judiciary, and they have to investigate other kinds of crime, organized crime, not the other kinds of crime that we can investigate, like some kinds of robberies,” said Gamboa.

Gamboa said that these crimes will be the small ones that are most frequently reported such as intellectual property, property thefts, cattle thefts and other common crimes that consume a lot of the organization's time and manpower.

“We need to have the ability and the legal power to investigate minimum crimes to let the OIJ investigate the more serious crimes,” said Gamboa.

Gamboa and Zamora said that they plan to finish the legislation and have it ready to present to the legislative assembly in June of next year. However, it could take years for the legislature to vote on the bill.

The proposal is likely to draw opposition from the judicial, which is jealous of its investigative powers.

In 2005 the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública was forced to disband a special investigation unit specializing in the sex trade, car theft rings, copyright infringement and juvenile gangs.

The special investigative unit had 40 officers, including four involved in tracking down cybercrimes. The U.S. government supported the unit with an initial grant of $250,000, and the British government made donations for the purchase of computers and video cameras.

But Jorge Rojas, then the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization, found support from Francisco Dall'Anese, then the nation's chief prosecutor.

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Police school in Pococí
on agenda for next year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new police school will be located in Pococí in the Limón provence.  It will be built next year with a $30 million donation from China, said Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister.

“It will be about an hour and a half from San José,” he said.

The area allotted for the new establishment is 83 hectares.  The school will have the capability of educating 800 students to add to the current police force, said Zamora.

Along with the school, the ministry has the hope of building a new police station.  A bid has been placed for $23 million to build the new facility.

A final police improvement for next year will be more bikes and motorcycles to make for a more mobile police force, and more technological advances in the stations.

U.S. Coast Guard given
approval to dock ships

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With no opposition, lawmakers gave approval Monday to U.S. Coast Guard vessels that might want to dock at Costa Rican ports.

Lawmakers seldom have problems with Coast Guard vessels. But when the U.S. Embassy seeks permission for U.S. Navy boats, there usually is long debate.
The U.S. vessels usually work in conjunction with Costa Rica's  Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas. The permission to dock runs until June 30.

Under the Costa Rica constitution, the legislature must approve the arrival of foreign warships.

Leadership change due
for immigration agency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjeria may have a new director in the early part of next year, according to Mario Zamora Cordero, the minister who oversees the agency.

Currently Freddy Montero is leading the immigration agency.  According to Zamora, Montero may take the position permanently next year.

Montero is filling the place of Kathya Rodríguez Araic.  Ms. Rodríguez was placed on vacation last week.  Zamora did not specify the reason Rodríguez was removed from office.

Montero was the subdirector for immigration.

Zamora is minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He had been immigration director.

Our reader's opinion
System with guns in the U.S.
shows something is amiss

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It pains me to read this stuff about gun control. How many innocent U.S. children must die? How many times must President Obama attend at these senseless tragedies? How many more mothers and fathers must lose their children before this is fixed?

Yes, I agree, we are given free will however, the U.S. has historically chosen where to allow free will to be free will!

The U.S. (and the rest of the world) doesn't allow you to take a gun on a flight. Historically, some U.S. citizens have had more freedom that others.

Might want to look at the history of Black Americans in the U.S.

I have gleaned these figures from the Internet. Where they may not be accurate they clearly show the discrepancy in the system.

The UK, according to Piers Morgan, has very strict gun control laws.  All the countries noted have very diverse populations.
Country      Population                 # deaths       
 UK             62,700,000                     58              
CANADA     34,880,554                   554             
USA             313,000,000               8,775             

Ellen van Dyk
Grecia. Alajuela

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
From the Costa Rican press
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Trio detained in case where crooks tried to burn up U.S. expat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said Tuesday that a U.S. businessman was lured to a meeting on the pretense that crooks wanted to buy vehicles and property.

When the criminals found out that the man was not carrying the expected large amount of cash, they kidnapped him.

The man was identified at the time as Mark Lester Metz. Agents now say he is 36.

Metz was abducted in his own car early one November morning in the parking lot of a casino near Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela.

Eventually the crooks had him pull over, at which point they stabbed him at least three times in the chest, locked him in the trunk of his car and set the vehicle on fire.

Firefighters were called to the scene quickly enough to rescue Metz, but he still went to the hospital with much of his body burned, attendants said.

Monday judicial investigators detained three persons, a Colombian, his girlfriend and another Costa Rican male. The arrests came at three locations. The Colombian, who is 30, was detained in Pavas. The 40-year-old girlfriend was detained in Coyol de Alajuela. The second man, who is 43, was detained in la Garita de Alajuela.

Agents said that the assailants were under the impression that Metz was carrying a sum of money. When they found he did not have the cash, they carried him off.
Metz arrest
Judicial Investigating Organization
Woman involved in case heads off to interrogation.

It still is unclear if Metz was able to free himself from the
vehicle trunk or if fire fighters did so when they arrived.

The suspects are facing allegations of attempted murder.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos
Police check out the fireworks at an Orosí market and then display their haul.
Police make a sweep and find illegal fireworks at markets
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers did not have any trouble finding illegal fireworks stashed under the counter at three supermarkets.

They reported Monday that they had confiscated 9,312 fireworks, all of the illegal exploding kind.

The police effort is unlikely to make a dent in the market, because as the clock reaches midnight New Year's Eve, the sky will be filled with exploding projectiles.

Police have joined with health officials and those from the Hospital de Niños to try to eliminate injuries caused by fireworks. The problem is that many exploding devices are

smuggled into the country, sometimes from Nicaragua.

Police said they confiscated illegal fireworks at a mini supermarket in Orosi, at a supermarket in Birrisito and at one in  La Laguna.

Nils Ching Vargas, the Fuerza Pública director in Cartago, said that the crackdown would continue to try to prevent harm to children.

Police said that fireworks that they confiscated were available to children.

Police officials pointed out that the available fireworks are dangerous because they may not be made correctly.

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Santa even looked the part despite having to hike three hours to get to the assembly point.

Ministerio de Gobernación. Policía y Seguridad Pública/Jorge Alonso Alvarez v

That's a long way to deliver some presents for Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even though Santa has a sleigh, the native zone of Grano de Oro is off the schedule. But not for the employees of the security ministry's Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea.

The ministry employees have adopted native communities in Turrialba in the shadow of Chirripo. They traveled this weekend five hours by vehicle and three hours on foot to bring presents to a school where members of the Cabécar. communities assembled. They come from such places as  Taklak Yaka, Kalkó, Nimari Tawa, Tsipirí, Uká Tipey, Bukerim Jak Tain, Tsiobata and Tsiniclori

There were about 200 young people who overcame their traditional shyness and showed up for the gifts.

The local school teacher, Elvis González, said that many of the children walk five, six or seven hours a day to receive classes.

The Vigilancia Aérea police have access to aircraft, but they are used for emergency purposes. Typically native communities see helicopters when someone has been bitten by a snake or has suffered a serious accident. González, himself, said he hiked for 12 hours to show up. The ministry officials credited him with arranging the meeting.

Others could not make the event because heavy rains in the area caused rivers to rise and made them dangerous to cross.

For another report on the Cabécar, please see Helen Thompson's report. She hiked in and then road a zipline to cross a river.
kids lined up
Ministerio de Gobernación. Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Jorge Alonso Alvarez v
Lineup for presents.

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Daniel Inouye praised
a true American hero

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate and the man who was third in line for the presidency, Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, has died.  He was 88 years old.

Inouye, a decorated World War II veteran, had been hospitalized in Washington since Dec. 6, when he fainted in his office at the U.S. Capitol.  His death on Monday was attributed to respiratory complications.

Senate Majority Leader and fellow Democrat Harry Reid announced Inouye's death on the floor of the Senate. 

In a written statement, President Barack Obama said the country had lost a true American hero.  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Inouye an iconic political figure who had every reason to call attention to himself but who never did.

Inouye also was an advocate for expats.

At the time of his death, Inouye was the Senate's president pro tempore, the designation for the person who is third in line for the presidency after the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.  Inouye also chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye was elected the first representative from the state, and was reelected to a full term in 1960.  He was first elected to the Senate in 1962 and was serving his ninth consecutive term.

He was one of the most influential Democratic senators on Capitol Hill.

In another development affecting the Senate's membership, a conservative Republican congressman from South Carolina has been named to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat representing the southern state.

Representative Tim Scott was named Monday by the state's governor, Nikki Haley, to take over the seat being vacated by the recent, unexpected resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint.  He is leaving the Senate to assume control of a conservative think tank in Washington.

With his appointment, Scott will become the only African American currently serving in the 100-member Senate.  He also will be the first black senator in 130 years from the South, the U.S. region that was the focus of the country's sometimes violent conflict over the civil rights of blacks in the 1960s.

The 47-year-old Scott, who owns an insurance agency, will fill the Senate seat for two years before facing a 2014 election for the last two years of DeMint's six-year term.

Sides appear to be closer
in U.S. financial negotiations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama and his political opponents in Congress are moving a bit closer to reaching a compromise over contentious year-end financial issues.
No deal appears imminent, but officials say the leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, met again with the president at the White House. For the first time Boehner offered to let taxes increase for wealthy households earning more than $1 million a year and to raise the country's borrowing limit.
Obama, the Democrat re-elected last month to another four-year term, campaigned to push taxes higher on couples with annual incomes of more than $250,000, but Boehner's offer suggests the two sides may yet be able to reach an agreement.

Despite the possibility of movement in the negotiations, the two sides remain divided on what spending cuts the White House might agree to implement.
Obama is calling for $1.4 trillion in higher taxes during the next decade, with Boehner offering $1 trillion. Obama's Republican opponents are calling for sharp spending cuts in popular government health programs for the elderly and poor, and pensions for older Americans.
The president and Boehner are trying to avert what Washington is calling a fiscal cliff, about $500 billion in mandated spending cuts and tax increases that would affect almost all U.S. workers starting Jan. 1, unless they agree on a new financial plan. Analysts say that without a compromise, the shock of the spending trims and higher taxes could send the U.S. spiraling into its second recession in three years.
The United States is also likely to reach its borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion by February and would then run out of money to pay some bills.  Obama wants to increase the borrowing limit as part of the year-end deal, and Boehner offered an unspecified increase in the debt ceiling that would put off a renewed debate on the issue for a year.

Mississippi lacks water,
and commerce jeopardized

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A lack of rain in the central part of the United States has created a crisis on the Mississippi River.  The most important inland U.S. waterway is reaching historic low levels, which could significantly disrupt shipping.  The U.S. Coast Guard, which plays a key role in determining whether the river stays open to traffic, is keeping one eye on the receding river, and another on the skies hoping for rain.
Crew members on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Gasconade are struggling to keep traffic flowing on the Mississippi River.
As the water level beneath them continues to drop, the green and red buoys they deploy to mark the shallow spots are all that stand between successful navigation of the river and disaster.
“As it gets narrower, there’s less room to move around, and things like wind pushing on you and the shallow water coming up it makes it very difficult," said Ryan Christensen of the U.S. Coast Guard.
So difficult in fact that some barge traffic winds up stuck amid rocks or sand bars if they venture outside a 100-meter-wide, 2.7-meter-deep channel.
The Coast Guard’s goal is to prevent that from happening, a job Chief Ryan Christensen admits is becoming more difficult as the Mississippi recedes.
"I think it’s pretty tough.  There’s a lot of places where two boats can pass and now it's one way traffic that they have to choose to go through there one boat at a time," he said.
Barges that make their way up and down the Mississippi River carry more than $100 billion worth of goods every year.  Any disruption has significant consequences for the U.S. economy.

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Contraloría seeks action
to keep track of casinos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The system that keeps track of casinos and their tax obligations is flawed, according to the Contraloría de la República. The watchdog agency just completed a survey of the security ministry's list of casinos and also that of the tax agency, Tributación.

Three casinos that are authorized by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública do not appear as taxpayers with the Dirección General de Tributación. And there are 15 casinos that routinely report their income and pay taxes that are not authorized by the ministry, as the law requires, said the Contraloría.

The agency asked the ministry to make a quick census of casinos that operate in the country and make sure they have the requirements to be in business. Tributación was asked to create a list of casino taxpayers using the ministry list and that of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

That the casinos are not on the tax agency's list may not mean that they do not pay taxes, just that they do so under other names.

Credit companies are ready
to finance marchamo fees

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Credit companies are offering to help out motorists who have to pay the marchamo or road circulation tax.

The marchamo is due before Jan. 1. Otherwise fees and fines accumulate.

Two firms, Banco Cathay and Credix, are offering their credit card holders to finance the marchamo for three months interest free if the transaction takes place at one of the  Servimás outlets.

Meanwhile, Banco Citi said that it would finance the marchamo for three, six or even 12 months at a low interest rate.

Go ahead given for route
across the northern zone

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry said Monday that it has given the go ahead for a start on the Vuelta Kooper-Bajos de Chilamate. This is the 27-kilometers of road that will tie together the northern zone and provide a direct link to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.

Now to make that trip requires a motorist or truck driver to go about 60 kilometers.

Much of the money comes from the Corporación Andina de Fomento.

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Mundo Mayan
From the Mundo Mayan official Web site

Mayan calendar hype rallies
New Agers and mystic in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A few words by an American scholar, a crumbling Mexican monument and the love of a good yarn were all it took to spawn the belief that the world could end this week.

Dec. 21 marks the end of an age in a 5,125 year-old Maya calendar, an event that is variously interpreted as the end of days, the start of a new era or just a good excuse for a party.

Thousands of New Age mystics, spiritual adventurers and canny businessmen are converging on ancient ruins in southern Mexico and Guatemala to find out what will happen.

"No one knows what it will look like on the other side,'' said Michael DiMartino, 46, a long-haired American who is organizing one of the biggest Dec. 21 celebrations at the Maya temple site of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula.

It is not the world but "the way we perceive it''  that will end, said DiMartino, who pledged his event at ground zero for 2012 acolytes will be a "distilling down of various perspectives into a unified intention for positive transformation, evolution and co-creation of a new way of being.''

A mash-up of academic speculation and existential angst seasoned with elements from several world religions, the 2012 phenomenon has been fueled by Hollywood movies and computer  games, and relentlessly disseminated by Internet doom-mongers.

Mass hysteria in a Russian prison, a Chinese man building survival pods for doomsday and UFO lovers seeking refuge with aliens in a French mountain village are just some of the reports that have sprung up in the final countdown to Dec. 21.

Robert Bast, a New Zealander living in Melbourne who wrote a book called "Survive 2012'' on how to cope with the possible catastrophe, believes the Maya may have sent out a warning.

"The most likely thing for me is a solar storm, but that's not going to kill you straight away. It's more of a long-term disaster,'' said Bast, 47, noting a flu pandemic could also strike the planet. "I feel the world isn't as safe as we think it is. The last couple of generations have had it very cozy.''

When dawn breaks on Friday, according to the Maya Long Count calendar, it marks the end of the 13th bak'tun, an epoch lasting some 400 years - and the beginning of the 14th.

This fact would probably have languished in academic obscurity had not a young Maya expert named Michael Coe written in the 1960s that to the ancient Mesoamerican culture the date could herald an Armageddon to cleanse humanity.

Since then, the cult of 2012 has snowballed.

Among the sun-bleached pyramids, shaded mangroves and deep cenotes of the Maya heartland, there are hopes Dec. 21 will bring a spiritual rebirth.

Nobody seems quite sure what to expect on Friday, but it has not stopped people getting their hopes up.

"This is the Arab Spring of the spiritual movement,'' said Geoffrey Ocean Dreyer, a 52-year-old U.S. musician wearing a sombrero and mardi gras beads. "We're going to create world peace. We're going to Jerusalem and we're going to rebuild Solomon's temple.''

The words of Coe, a highly respected Maya scholar, were published in 1966 at the height of the Cold War, stirring fears in a world haunted by the prospect of nuclear holocaust.

Coe could not be reached for comment for this article, but friends and academics who know him insist he never meant to inspire a vision of apocalypse when he committed them to paper.

Stephen Houston, a Maya expert at Brown University in Rhode Island and student of Coe's, said too much has been read into the end of the 13th bak'tun, which was little more than a "dull mathematical declaration'' used to bracket dates.

"I see it all as an expression of present day anxiety and not much more than that,'' Houston said.

Few remaining inscriptions refer to the event, and the best known one is part of a monument recovered from a Maya site in Tabasco state called Tortuguero, much of which was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the construction of a cement factory.

Still, the mix of religion, ancient inscriptions and media-driven speculation about impending doom remains potent.

"I got an email the other day from a mother who was contemplating taking her own life, because she didn't know what was really going to happen, she didn't want her children to live through this ordeal,'' said David Stuart, a Maya expert at the University of Texas. "We can dismiss it as a kooky idea, which it is, but they're still ideas, and they still have power.''

U.S. space agency NASA has sought to allay fears of impending catastrophe, noting that "our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.''

Nothing has given the 2012 theories more oxygen in the run-up to the big day than the Internet, noted John Hoopes, a Maya anthropologist at the University of Kansas and an academic well-known in Costa Rica.

"Computers come straight out of the same people who were smoking pot and protesting at Berkeley and Stanford,'' he said, referring to U.S. student movements in the 1960s. "This Maya calendar stuff has been part of hacktivism lore for 40 years, since the beginning, and with every significant change in computer technology, it's gotten another boost.''

Many of those gathering in Chichen Itza praised the Internet as a discussion forum and organizing tool for New Age events.

 "We don't need leaders now we have the Internet,'' said Muggy Burton, 66, who had traveled to Mexico from Canada with her 15-year-old, blue-haired granddaughter, Talis Hardy.

The two, who communicate with each other by whistling, plan to live in Mexico for six months, according to Ms. Burton, who is going to homeschool Miss Hardy. "`It's the end of the world for her, and the beginning of a new one,'' she added.

Mexico's federal government is not officially marking the phenomenon, but the country's tourism agency has launched a "Mundo Maya 2012'' Web site with a countdown to Dec. 21.

Up to 200,000 people are expected to descend on Chichen Itza alone for the night of Dec. 20.

Among modern descendants of the Maya, the idea it could all come to an end on Friday generally raises a wry smile — but they are happy to play along if it makes money.

"It's a psychic epidemic,'' said Miguel Coral, 56, a cigar salesman in Merida, a colonial town and capital of Yucatan state. "It's all about business, but that's fine. It helps our country. I think it's excellent we've exported this idea.''

 Nearby, workers built a pyramid of spray-painted polystyrene blocks for the opening of the town's Maya festival.

"If people who believe in this joke want to come, let them,'' said Jose May, a Merida tourism official of Maya descent. "Nobody here believes that. Those people were sold an idea.''

Hazy rumors have helped feed the sense of anticipation.

A few hours' drive south of Merida in the remote Maya town of Xul, which means "the end,'' media reports began circulating as early as 2008 that a group of Italians were readying themselves for impending doom by building apocalypse-proof bunkers.

Today, the settlement dubbed the "end of the world resort'' is open for business as "Eco Spa Las Aguilas.''

"There's no truth in it,'' said deputy manager Andrea Podesta, 45, referring to speculation it was a cult.

"Some people came here, took some hidden photos, and published some very unpleasant articles about us,'' he added, noting the glistening new spa was booked up well into 2013.

Inside, a group of elderly Italians, mostly dressed in white, were watching the path of an asteroid on a giant screen. A black-and-white image of Christ's face hung from the wall and a large stone statue of a robed woman greeted visitors.

Whatever lies in store for the planet, even Maya academics who have fought to play down the hype surrounding the passing of another 24 hours feel there could still be some surprises.

"I think there may be some mischief on December 21 because the whole world is watching,'' said Hoopes in Kansas, citing rumors hacktivist group Anonymous was planning a stunt. `"It's a very fertile opportunity for a tremendous prank.''
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