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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 250       Email us
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Volume of spam declines but not its criminality
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Spam email has declined, according to international sources, but the evil messages are becoming more sophisticated.

The Symantec Intelligence Report said last month that global spam is now at the lowest level since 2008 when several major bulk emailers were closed down. However, the company noted that one reason is because spammers are targeting social media sites. Spammers also are focusing in on mobile media, like iPhones.

The Kaspersky Lab Security News Service said that spam still accounts for over 80 percent of global emails.

For the first time in recent memory, the United States is no longer among the world’s premier spam distributors, and the United States isn’t even in the top 10, according to an August report from Kaspersky Lab. That's because some major U.S. spammers have been stopped, the lab said.

However, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru and Ukraine were the top producing countries in a Kaspersky survey, which ran from April through July.

Recent reports by companies that track spam show large amounts coming from Russia.

Nearly 60 percent of global spam is produced in only 10 countries, increasingly located in Asia and Latin America, Kaspersky said. showed a major reduction in spam messages since the first of the year. From 40 messages per second in January to just 10 a second in December, based on spam traps that the company maintains.

Much of the spam has crooked goals. Some seek to infect computers by tricking a user into opening an attached file. The computer will then be used to send more spam under the control of the spammer.

Some messages are just theft attempts, like those offering cheap prices on electronic products. Others purport to come from Russian beauties desperate to meet the spam recipient.
spam emails

Increasingly, spam is showing up in many more languages, including Spanish.

Some spams seek to steal passwords from Facebook, bank accounts and Pay Pal. These are called phishing, and Kaspersky said that Pay Pal remains the main target of spammers with 62 percent of the phishing attempts the company logged.

Spammers, of course, steal email addresses even if they have not hacked the accounts. They send out emails that might damage the reputation of reliable firms. Google and Yahoo maintain active anti-spam efforts, but some expats here have reported that their yahoo accounts have been hacked by spammers.

The impact on legitimate email marketing efforts cannot be determined, but it is large. Many email users will not open messages from persons who they do not know, and many will not permit graphics to load. And attachments and invitation to view YouTube videos always are suspect.

One sophisticated spam purports to be a reply from an anti-spam service and says that the recipients previous email will not go through unless a link is clicked or a Web page is visited. Of course, that is just a way to infect a computer.

Don't ask the municipal cop to see a badge now
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Said the bandit chief to Humphrey Bogart:

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

That is the classic line out of the 1948 movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

That also is now the case in San José. The municipality, in considerably more civilized tones, pointed out in a press release that so many of the metal badges used by the Policía Municipal have been misplaced that they are being discontinued. The Dirección de Seguridad Ciudadana of the municipality said that those badges that are in the hands of police officers are being retrieved and taken out of circulation.

Marcelo Solano Ortiz, director of the municipal security force, said in a statement that badges have been lost and citizens have complained that they have suffered from situations in which persons pretending to be police showed badges.
The security agency said it would receive citizen complaints about misuse of badges at 2547-6020.
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Guard in student shooting
has jail time extended

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A hotel guard who shot and killed a U.S. student he thought was an intruder remains in prison.

The man, who has the last name of Guevara, faces allegations of simple homicide. The U.S. victim was Justin Johnson, then 16, a student at McLouth High School in that Kansas community and a member of the school's Spanish club.

The shooting took place at La Cangreja Lodge in La Fortuna de San Carlos. The Poder Judicial noted that Johnson and two other male students were visiting female classmates who had been put in another part of the building. As they returned to their rooms through a grassy area, the guard reported he thought he saw an intruder.

The Poder Judicial said that the guard fired in the air as a warning, which scared the three young men, and they began running toward the guard, who fired in what he thought was self defense.

The Juzgado Penal de San Carlos has ordered three months more preventative detention for the guard. He was jailed the same day as the shooting, July 2.

Our reader's opinion
Costa Rica must first collect
the current taxes on the books

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is at a turning point along with much of the rest of the world. Proposals are made daily to try to "fix" the economic problems and financial shortfalls which exist. But Costa Rica is unique in that so much of its revenue comes from outside sources, and to throw those sources away could easily spell disaster.  Large international companies such as IBM have committed recently to relocate a portion of their workforce in Costa Rica. But now?  

With the uncertainty and potential tax increases, their decisions are on hold. Can Costa Rica afford to lose these companies and all of the jobs they bring?  Please, evaluate carefully the potential problems that will come if these corporations are taxed even more. Can Costa Rica afford to lose more jobs in today's environment?

Many applaud the decision that has been made to close down the gold mining operation here in Costa Rica despite a legitimate concession being given. The validity and ultimate "right or wrong" decision will be ratified (or not) by the future. But has the government told the people what the potential liabilities are by nullifying the concession?  The country of Costa Rica could easily have a judgment rendered against it in the billions of dollars by an international arbitration court.  Can Costa Rica really afford that?

I have seen this question posed in the past but have never seen a satisfactory answer:  "with the financial shortfalls that exist in Costa Rica today, why does the government not simply make a concerted effort to collect the taxes owed instead of inventing new ones which will simply not be collected ?"  The government, if it is indeed serious about erasing its deficit, needs to demonstrate that it "means business" and that delinquency or tax avoidance will not be tolerated.

Randy Berg
San Mateo

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Rice eaten here does not undergo test for heavy metals
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rice can harbor harmful amounts of arsenic, and in Costa Rica there is no requirement that rice is checked consistently for that toxic metal, according to a spokesman for the health ministry. The spokesman agreed that there should be a testing, but could not confirm that there was any.

Approximately 115 grams of rice contaminated with arsenic can affect a person, said Clemence Rupert, laboratory coordinator for the Instituto Regional de Estudios en Sustancias Tóxicas at Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

Costa Ricans eat approximately 56 kilos of rice per person a year, an equivalent to approximately a daily 150 grams, said Diego Jiménez Prendas, agricultural engineer for Conarroz, a government organization that maintains a market for rice and promoted its development. Americans consume an average of half-a-cup of rice per day, approximately 113 grams, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“In Costa Rica no one has taken a look at arsenic in rice, we're focused on other issues, such as pesticides and conservation of land . . . In the cases of metals, it's very weak here,” said Rupert. “But in the case of Costa Rica, it's important to investigate.”

A recent study, published by Dartmouth University researchers, showed that arsenic in urine increased with rice consumption in a group of pregnant women. The study was a sample of 229 pregnant women who were split into two groups, based on whether they had eaten rice in the past two days. The women who didn't eat rice showed a significantly lower amount of arsenic in their urine. The 73 women who ate rice showed an average 5.27 micrograms per liter, and the 156 who hadn't eaten rice showed an average of 3.38 micrograms per liter.

Another finding of the study was that 10 percent of the women drank well water contaminated with arsenic above the World Health Organization standards. All the test subjects were from the U.S. state of New Hampshire. The authors of the test also concluded that private water is a potential source for arsenic exposure.

Exposure to high levels of arsenic can be related to the cause of infant mortality, reduced birth rate, dysfunctional immune system, and death. Rupert said arsenic is a complicated substance with serious effects if taken in harmful amounts.

Costa Rica doesn't have a specific law that states the highest limit of arsenic in products. But the country does follow the international rule of 10 micrograms per liter, a World Health Organization guideline, for arsenic level in drinking water. Although there isn't a precise law in Costa Rica for arsenic in rice, the spokesperson for the Ministerio de Salud said the agency follows the international Codex Alimentarius 195, Standards for Rice that state under part 4 “Contaminants” section 4.1 “Heavy Metals,” the product “standard shall be free from heavy metals in amounts which may represent a hazard to human health.” The codex doesn't provide a numerical value for harmful amounts of arsenic in products.

The Dartmouth researchers pointed out that China already has statutory limits on arsenic content in rice (0.15 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per kilogram of food) but the United States and the European Union do not.

If there is no testing or sampling for arsenic in rice
rice field
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
This is a rice field near Quepos approaching harvest

produced in Costa Rica, then there is no way of knowing what the heavy metal content might be.

There are two different ways rice is exposed to arsenic. Rice can absorb arsenic through water when it is in the field. The application of pesticides to rice also can contaminate the food with arsenic.

Jiménez of Conarroz said that rice is important in the country and as an export. The majority of the country’s rice comes from local growers, but a portion is still based on import from El Salvador and other countries, including the United States. The areas of Chorotega and Brunca produce 73 percent of the rice in the country.

That would be the north and south Pacific coast areas.

Earlier this year, Costa Rica returned rice to El Salvador because tests showed that aflatoxins was present. Aflatoxin is a form of fungus. All international food imports into the country are tested for toxins, but not the local crop.

U.S. imports also have been embargoed because of aflatoxins. The fungus can cause cancer, but the levels are reduced in the milling process.

Dartmouth researchers are calling for the U.S. government to monitor arsenic levels in food.

The team at Dartmouth Medical School studied pregnant women because scientists believe arsenic may be linked to premature births and low birth-weights.

“Developing fetuses may be more vulnerable to environmental agents,” said Margaret Karagas, senior author of the Dartmouth study, which appeared in the Dec. 6 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She was quoted in a university release.

Ms. Karagas said pregnant women should not avoid rice, as it contains important nutritional elements, according to the university. Instead, she said her team wants food “to be monitored for the presence of arsenic and regulated to keep it below certain levels.”

Ms. Karagas is a professor of community and family medicine and director of the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth Medical School.

Maintenance was a reason embassy purchased Japanese car
By Zack McDonald
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy here purchased an electric car assembled in Japan instead of a U.S. product because officials said they doubted that an American vehicle could be serviced adequately here.

An embassy spokesman gave that explanation at the request of A.M. Costa Rica, which reported last week that the embassy has purchased a fully electric Mitsubishi MIEV to add to its fleet. The initial report of the purchase was posted to the embassy Web site.

Unlike expats, the U.S. Embassy does not have to pay taxes on the vehicle import because of its diplomatic status.

Some U.S. expats were unhappy with the purchase. One, Garry Wiersum of Ciudad Colón, wrote  a letter to the editor saying “Is the U.S. Embassy so far removed that they haven't heard that U.S. auto manufacturers are building very competitive electric cars.  Come on.  This is really ridiculous.”

That was one of several similar comments.

“While U.S. government procurement rules specify that preference be given to U.S.-built vehicles, purchasing one was not possible in this case,” said Eric Turner, information officer for the U.S. Embassy, in an email. “Even if we could import the Leaf and Volt, they were not
practical choices because they could not be reliably serviced here in Costa Rica.”

The embassy plans on installing a charging station for the car that will be used by the embassy’s customs and shipping staff, Turner said.

“We will actually use this car more often than the vehicle it is replacing because of its lower operating costs,” said Turner. “While realizing that fuel costs vary over time, the embassy estimates that at current prices, the reduced operated costs of the electric vehicle will pay back the increased purchase price of the electric car within five or six years, at which time additional savings will accrue. Generally, we keep vehicles about eight years before we sell them at a local auction with proceeds going back to the U.S. treasury.”

The car cost $43,000, said Turner. The embassy reported the car was assembled in Japan, and the import fees were included upon purchase in Costa Rica at Vehiculos Internacionales, S.A.

According to the embassy Web site, the MIEV can travel at speeds up to 90 kph (56 mph) and has a range of about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) per charge.  The embassy plans on installing a charging station.

One reader noted that the vehicle might have trouble with hills in Costa Rica and that it would need a charge to reach the southern Pacific coast.

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Public employee union voices concern on presidential directive
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's public employee union says it thinks the central government is laying the groundwork for large layoffs.

The union, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, cites a decree issued by President Laura Chinchilla Miranda in November. The presidential decree appears to create a central office for setting employment, salary and incentive guidelines for public employees.

Like many directives, this one never was publicized and discussed. It came into force after being printed in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The employees association said it feared standardization and
the imposition of a uniform salary for government workers. This has been a controversial issue in the past because each ministry appears to have it own salary scale. A uniform scale probably would be lower than what now exists in some ministries.

The decree is so general that the motives behind it are hard to determine. However, the employees union fears that the central government is creating the conditions for massive layoffs. Fernando Herrero Acosta, the finance minister, already has threatened staff reductions if the administration's tax proposal is not passed.

The decree, however, does speak of inequalities in public sector jobs and the need for classifications and challenges that focus on competence, evaluation, merit and productivity.

Biggest winner Sunday night was the agency running the lottery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Junta de Protección Social netted about $20 million Sunday night. Thanks to the Christmas lottery.

The lottery, called the gordo because the top prize is about $2.4 million, was a sellout, said the Junta. That means about a half million lottery tickets were sold for 60,000 colons each or about $121.

The winning number was 25 and the winning series was 186. There was little suspense this year because the top prize was  determined just a few minutes into the drawing. The Junta said it will be distributing a bit more than 18 billion colons or about $38 million. There are five sets of the lottery tickets so there are five winners of the big prize.
Typically, the lottery tickets are sold in pieces. There are 40 for each sheet. Each piece of the sheet with the winning number and series gets about $60,600 or about 30 million colons.

The drawing this year was at the Museo de Arte Costarricense in Parque la Sabana. The event was eclipsed this year by the finals of the soccer football final that was won in a shootout by the Liga Deportiva Alajuelense and it and Heredia tied 1-1.

The Junta distributes its winnings to a number of social agencies and organizations.

This year the amount is the difference between the $60 million paid for the tickets and the $38 million in prizes, less commissions for lottery sellers.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Migration agency warns
of health risks of migrants

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Organization for Migration warns that societies that deny migrants access to health care do so at their peril.  To mark International Migrants Day Sunday, the agency is calling on governments worldwide to offer health services to all people, including legal and illegal migrants.

The International Organization for Migration says governments would be wise to grant migrants access to health services, if only for purely selfish reasons. 

The International Organization for Migration notes deadly diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and bird flu are highly contagious.  They travel around the world.  They kill people indiscriminately, citizens and migrants alike.   The International Organization for Migration argues excluding migrants from health care systems is both dangerous to the individual and to the public at large.

The agency considers migration one of the biggest challenges facing global health today.  It says migrants face many barriers to health care.  These include language or cultural differences, lack of health insurance and administrative hurdles. 

Director of Migration Health at the organization, Davide Mosca, says undocumented or irregular migrants have the greatest difficulty in accessing health services.  He says their legal status makes them vulnerable to exploitation and discourages them from seeking care.

“Even in the country where, the few countries that have given access to regular migrants to basic health care, sometimes they do not go for fear of deportation or different approaches in the politics of the country at that moment.  And, they then resolve to go to these services only in emergencies. This, of course, is not the best way to do it for many reasons. First of all because it might be too late, because it might be too costly and certainly this would not have a good result on the health of the migrant,” Mosca said.

The International Organization for Migration says a delay in seeking care also increases public health risks, particularly if infectious diseases are involved.  It says emergency care ends up being more expensive than if migrants had access to preventive and primary health care.

There are more than one billion migrants worldwide; 214 million of them have gone to foreign countries.  The International Organization for Migration says every country in the world is either dependent on the labor, skills and knowledge migrants bring or on the money they earn.

Spokeswoman Jemini Pandya says most countries recognize that migrants are an economic necessity they cannot do without.  She says it is to the benefit of societies at large to take care of their migrant populations.

“If you do not take care of the health of the migrants, many of the structures on which our societies and economies function today could not survive, could not cope ... Global development on every level could not continue.  So, that health aspect is absolutely integral to every single aspect of our modern lives today - the health aspects of migrants," Ms. Pandya said. "And given that we are living in a world where dependency on migrants is ever growing, this is an issue that governments ignore at their peril, essentially.” 

While the economic argument might be persuasive, The International Organization for Migration says it is important to recognize that migrants, above all else, are human beings.  It says they should not be seen as a mere commodity, representing an economic value that is easily replaceable.

The International Organization for Migration argues that denying migrants access to health care is both a violation of their human rights and, ultimately, self-defeating.

Jackel gets life sentence
for French bomb attacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A French court has sentenced a Venezuelan militant to life in prison for a series of deadly bomb attacks in France nearly 30 years ago.

Late Thursday, a court in Paris convicted Carlos the Jackal, on four separate bombings that killed eleven people and wounded nearly 150 others.

The judge said the 62-year-old, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez  Sánchez, must serve at least 18 years of the life sentence.

Sánchez has been serving another life sentence in France for the past 20 years on an unrelated murder conviction.

Authorities say Sánchez masterminded the terrorist bombings on two trains, a train station and on a Paris street during 1982 and 1983.

Officials say two of the attacks were designed to persuade French authorities to free two of his associates and his girlfriend.

The court acquitted Sánchez's girlfriend.  His two co-conspirators, who were not in court during the trial, were convicted and sentenced to life terms.
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Gasoline to drop in price,
but diesel fuel increases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of gasoline will be going down at the end of the year. The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said that it would send new, lower prices to be published in the La Gaceta official newspaper during the last week of the year.

Super gasoline will go down 10 colons to 656 colons a liter. Plus gasoline will drop seven colons to 635 however, and diesel will increase 25 colons to 624 colons a liter.

Based on the current exchange rate of 494.5 colons to the dollar, the per gallon prices will be super, $5.02; plus, $4.86, and diesel $4.78.

Low pressure gas that many Costa Ricans use for cooking and hot water declined 27 colons, and aviation gasoline also declined 18 colons a liter. But jet fuel increased 13 colons.

Fire fireworks victim
is a Guachipelín
girl, 5

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Hospital Nacional de Niños reports that it is attending the first young fireworks victim of the year.

The youngster, a 5 year old girl from Guachipelín de Escazú, was hit in the back with some form of explosive and suffered burns. The child is being treated in the hospital's burn unit.

Attending physicians have remanded the paperwork in the case to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, which has an explosives unit. Hospital and police officials have been working to reduce the number of burned and injured youngsters. Fireworks are a tradition at Christmas and at New Year's but the basic rule in Costa Rica is that if it explodes, it is illegal.

Two woman are killed
by suspected drag racer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two motorists have been detained after one of their vehicles struck down and killed two women early Saturday near a shopping center in Heredia.

The two men are suspected of drag racing.

The two women, a 19-year-old and a 22-year-old, both with the last name of Segura, had just gotten out of a taxi around midnight in San Pablo de Heredia when they were struck by a car reported to be traveling at a high speed.

Surf claims man, 25
at Manuel Antonio beach

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 25-year-old died Sunday afternoon when he was caught in the surf at Manuel Antonio, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man had the last name of Moya.

Agents said the man was with friends about 1 p.m. and entered the water to wash away sand. He was caught by a wave, said agents.  Although the friends were able to bring him from the water, the Cruz Roja said he was dead when their rescue personnel arrived.

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