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(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 253               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
About us

Contract with immigration is $1.7 million
U.S. firm says it will make secure residency cards

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A California firm has won a contract to set up a system to issue foreign residents in Costa Rica optical memory cards as their carnets or cédulas.

The company already manufactures similar cards for foreign residents in the United States and Canada and said that the new system will be compatible with electronic verification systems in those countries.

The firm is LaserCard Corp. and the amount of the contract is $1.7 million. To apply for the various immigration categories foreigners will have to provide fingerprints, an image of their face and other demographic and biometric data, said the company.

In addition, the system keeps track of and restricts access by employees of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. The agency has been a frequent site of corruption.

The director general, Mario Zamora, has been talking about a new electronic system after a $500,000 test run that also involved LaserCard. The 2006 test run was not totally successful because those who got the cards said that their images and the writing quickly began to rub off or fade.

LaserCard also makes an identification system for some states in India who use it for vehicle registration. It is involved as a subcontractor for the U.S. green card program and for the national identification system being set up in Italy, according to the company's Web site.  More than 7 million foreign residents in the United States carry a LaserCard optical memory card, the company reported.

Said the company Thursday:

"Under the terms of the agreement announced today, LaserCard will supply a suite of demographic and biometric data collection and card issuance equipment and software solutions to assist the Costa Rican government to manage the issuing of highly secure optical memory based foreign resident cards.

"The applications include the centralized enrollment of legal foreign residents, automatic fingerprint identification to prevent the issuance of duplicate cards, optical memory encoding and card printing servers, quality assurance and card issuance controlled by LaserCard’s biometric verification system. The issuance process will also include biometric identification of workstation operators and strict card auditing processes."

The card’s optical memory will store cardholder information including high resolution color facial image, fingerprint images and templates (for 
automatic one-to-one identity verification), digitized signature and biographic data, said the company. In addition, the optical stripe will also
secure identification
LaserCard graphic
What the company calls the world's most secure ID card is polycarbonate bonded to an optical material with a personalized hologram and an optical watermark. This is the U.S. green card.

feature LaserCard’s unique Embedded  HologramHD, a personalized optical variable device which, like the digital data, cannot be fraudulently altered, it said.

The immigration department has been in chaos for the last two years because workers were unable to issue or renew residency documents fast enough. Zamora extended the validity of residency documents for a year twice to avoid a flood of applications.

The government requires those who want to stay
in Costa Rica to apply for and obtain one of a number of  residency approvals. The bulk of the North American community chooses to be pensionados, rentistas or inversionistas. But there also are many Colombians here as refugees and others who have permanent residency similar to a U.S. green card.

A revised immigration bill working its way through the Asamblea Legislativa will further clarify the rights and obligations of foreigners. Many are here illegally or as so-called perpetual tourists who are supposed to leave the country periodically.

LaserCard of Mountain View, California, said that installation of the system will take place during the North American spring and will be subject to acceptance by Costa Rican authorities before payment is made.

Third party test results show that the LaserCard optical memory card withstands electrostatic discharge, harsh environmental conditions, and rough handling, it said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 253

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Tourism police credited
for drop in complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Criminal complaints by tourists are down, especially in San José, thanks to the creation of the tourism police, according to the Ministerio Gobernación, Policia y Seguridad Pública Thursday. The official numbers for the year are out, and the biggest improvement is in the capital, said the security ministry.

The tourism police were created last year in an effort to fight crime against foreigners, according to officials. There were about 125 officers this past year and with the recent graduation of 100 tourism police officers, the total number of officers is now up to 225.  The officers are distributed in major tourism zones around the country, said the Ministerio Gobernación, Policia y Seguridad Pública.

The main drop in complaints by tourists, is in San José, with a decrease of 36 percent according to the security ministry. This large drop may have a lot to do with another program instituted by the ministry this year to eliminate crime in downtown San José. Police have been rounding up known robbers and other street criminals.

The drop in Guanacaste was about 34 percent, and there was a 33 percent drop in Límón, said a ministry report.

The report also mentioned that complaints dropped 13 percent in Heredia and 2.5 percent in Puntarenas. The report failed to mention however that there were no tourism police stationed in those areas this year. According to Xinia Vasquez, sub-director of the Policía Turística, in an earlier interview, tourism police were placed in Puntarenas and Heredia for the first time less than a week ago.

The crime against tourists is down 26 percent for all of Costa Rica. said the ministry.  The ministry reported that so far this year there have been 4,038 complaints filed by persons identified as tourists. In 2006 that number was 5,450, the ministry said. The biggest categories were thefts from vehicles, robbery and burglaries.

Kattia Chavarría, director of the Policia Turistica, thanked tourism police for all of their work this past year.  She said the efforts have paid off. “With work, tranquility has been returned to the visitors,” she said.

Christmas vacation under way
as many head to the beach

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

That rumble is the sound of Central Valley Costa Ricans headed for the beach. Nearly every government office closes at 3 p.m. today, but the exodus began two days ago.

If someone needs a document from the Registro Nacional, too bad. Workers at the central storage location for the country's vehicle and property records will not return to work until Jan. 3. Inside sources say that the computer system might be down for another week because of planned updates.

Casa Presidencial will be closed until Jan. 3, too.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos will be closed through Jan. 4, which means it will not open until Jan. 7, thanks to the weekend.

The courts will be closed until Jan. 4, but the Judicial Investigating Organization will be working at half strength through the holidays.

The Municipalidad de San José is off until Jan. 7, but windows for payment of municipal fees are open after Christmas. Fourth quarter property and patente payments are due.

The U.S. Embassy's consular section will be open Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. That is good news for tourists who have had their passports stolen. But the rest of the embassy is closed. Even the consular section is closed Christmas. From Wednesday through Friday the embassy will have normal daytime hours. That also is true Dec. 31 and Jan. 2, an embassy release said. Of course, Jan. 1 the facility is closed.

Emergency service is always available in the event of loss of life or other major crisis. According to the Web site the emergency numbers for U.S. citizens are 519-2000 or after hours (506) 519-2280, (506) 519-2279 or (506) 220-3127.
Other embassies provide similar service.

A.M. Costa Rica will published every week day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Of course, in the event of a disaster or an emergency, a special edition will be published and readers will be notified via the daily digest e-mail list.

Man convicted in murder
of Italian woman in Malpaís

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man convicted in the rape and murder of a Malpaís woman has been sentenced to 62 years and one month in prison.

The man was identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of Guzmán Ulloa. He was tried by a judicial panel at the Tribunal de Juicio de Puntarenas for the crime than took place June 15, 2005.

The dead woman, an Italian citizen, was identified by the last name of Costantino. Malpaís is at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. According to the trial summary, the man entered the home of the woman, hit her on the head with a hard object and then raped her and then strangled her to cover up his identity. He took her cell phone with him. The sentence will be reduced because the legal maximum is 50 years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 253

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Police conducting a raid related to an illegal pharmacy operation prepare to force an entry at a home in Gravilias de Desamparados Thursday morning. No resistance was encountered in the home occupied by a man identified by the last name of Bennett, agents said.
bernnett's house
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero

U.S. man here headed illegal virtual pharmacy, police say
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican drug police arrested a U.S. man Thursday morning on the allegation that he was directing a virtual pharmacy from here. Clients from the States ordered restricted drugs online and were sent envelopes from Costa Rica, according to officials. Agents arrested five other persons, police officials said.
Officials said they discovered two Miami, Florida, bank accounts linked to the operation in Florida totaling $10 million. Police raided six locations in Costa Rica, uncovering at least $13,000, they said. It was the first case of this kind in Costa Rica, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The Policía de Control de Drogas uncovered 11 shipments since officers began investigating the operation in April, they said.

Costa Rica has long been home to online pharmacies. But most require a prescription form a U.S.-licensed physician to dispense controlled drugs.

Drugs being shipped by this organization included psychiatric and narcotic drugs and drugs illegal in both countries without a prescription. Officials seized 437 envelopes each containing about 40 pills, totaling a seizure of about 17,000 pills in transit, said police authorities.

Hydrocodone, marketed as vicadin, a narcotic; codeine; Valium; mazindol, which stimulates the central nervous system and suppresses appetite, and alprazolam or Xanax, used to treat severe anxiety, were all found in the tested pills.

The virtual pharmacy was using a Costa Rican mailing company to send products to the United States in bulk, according to officials. The mail service company revealed employee suspicions to the Policía de Control de Drogas and fully cooperated with the agency in the investigation, said officials. The shipping business had offices in San Pedro, Montes de Oca, and Escazú, according to officials.

The U.S. citizen, identified by the last name of Bennett, is 41 years old and lives in Gravilias de Desamparados, said officers. Police designated him as the leader of the drug operation and said he chose medical distributors, took complaints from clients and distributed money among the firm's employees. Police found packets containing 500 pills in Bennett's house, they said. A call center was found near Bennett's house and two computers were seized, they said.

In addition to the Gravilias de Desamparados locations, raids were conducted in Escazú, Tibás and Pavas. Police arrested a 63-year-old Italian man with the last names of Massonicic Manguso and a Costa Rican woman he was with who had the last names of Agüero Vargas. Police said she was 34.

Officers confiscated a BMW car found in the couple's garage. Police arrested another couple, a 38-year-old woman, with the last names of Camps Avendaño and her
Bennett under arrest
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero

The man identified by the last name of Bennett awaits booking in this ministry photo. Officials have tried to protect his identity.

 husband identified by the last names of Cedeño Montoya. A Pathfinder vehicle was seized from their property. The sixth suspect arrested had the last names of Torres Fonseca and was 28, agents said. Torres was the driver for the organization, they added. He drove Bennett to various locations and delivered shipments, they said

Since April 2 drug agents intercepted 11 shipments going to the United States. Inside the shipments were individually packaged envelopes containing the pills destined for customers. The shipments were packaged with material to defeat x-ray inspections, said police.

Drug agents said they received a tip from law enforcement officials in the United States as well as the employees of the mail service here. 

The Italian with the name Massonicic and the Costa Rican woman with the last name of Agüero were in charge of a branch office in Guatemala City, said agents.

The Ministerio de Salud also has expressed interest in this case because the drugs involved also are restricted here.

The Internet has many virtual pharmacies, and many trace back to Chinese or other Asian operations despite being labeled "Canadian."

Security ministry officials promised to have more information on this operation Friday.

The hectic Christmas time gives way to the quiet vacations
“Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees

This is supposed to be a "Manic’s Christmas Carol," but it could apply to Ticos, especially Josefinos.  Ticos do seem to love Christmas and all its trimmings.  Last weekend was the Festival of Lights in San Jose — but even before that everything that didn’t move seemed to have Christmas lights on it. Since Josefinos began decorating the stores in September, the Festival had to go some to surpass the lights already twinkling. 

The Light Festival was indeed stunning, and far and away surpassed any decoration to date.

I, of course, particularly liked the float with a huge blue butterfly flapping its wings and touching some of the beautiful flowers of Costa Rica, also on the float.  I would have preferred, though, that the butterfly had been in a city setting and was giving its attention to city scenes.

There was no way I was going to brave the crowds (and the brief rain) to enjoy the parade, but I did watch much of it on TV. I was impressed with the creativity that went into some of the floats.

It reminded me of the sometimes incredible fireworks that are displayed at other times of the year.  Gee, gunpowder and electricity, both used for such beautiful, yet, frivolous pastimes.

But in spite of the gaiety and music and stuff, I am going to be very happy when Christmas week finally arrives and everyone once again heads for the beach.  Then I shall go into the city and enjoy walking along the uncrowded streets — which will be not only easily maneuvered, but for the most part, will take me past stores that are, if not closed, pretty empty of shoppers.  I am not anti people. I am just anti people frantically in search of Christmas gifts.

Actually, to avoid the hustle and bustle of today’s    
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

fast-moving manic world I have been re-reading Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice."  I am enjoying going back to the 19th century where there are no cars (just horse drawn phaetons to mess up the streets).  People still strolled the streets when they were not writing long letters to one another that were delivered faster than snail mail today.  But all was not peace and quiet. There seems to have been a ball or dinner party every other day and love had its frustrations even back then.  I have always loved the name Darcy because he was to my mind the almost perfect man, although not much of a conversationalist.  I have only once in my life met a man named Darcy, and he was Brazilian.  We hardly spoke to one another.

I am going to see if I can find a DVD of the movie version, and I will watch that over and over during this Christmas holiday — when I am not strolling the streets of San José or San Antonio.

But speaking of dinner parties, they of course, proliferate in December.  I recently attended a small one (the best kind) and enjoyed the incredible dishes that Marguerite served.  Although I am a pretty good cook, my presentation leaves much to be desired.  Hers does not. 

I learn over and over what interesting people expats in Costa Rica are.  Most, I have found, have traveled extensively and lived in other countries before settling here.  Marguerite said something I will pass along as good advice for someone new to a country.  She said that she and her husband always headed to a university to ask questions about what was happening, like concerts, plays, etc., and to find out where they might go to get more information.  The people at the University of Costa Rica, she said, were most helpful.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 253

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Each year a loyal reader, Vlasta Žara in Zagreb, Croatia, sends along a photo of Christmas in her town. This is her contribution this year. 'Feliz Navidad and all the best for the year 2008! Best regards from a long-distance reader,' she said. It is obvious that the residents there take Christmas seriously.

And A.M. Costa Rica wishes her and our other foreign readers a Merry Christmas and/or a happy holiday. The newspaper is read daily in 90 countries.

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New book seeks to report Jefferson's views on incitement
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans have been engaged in an intense debate over how to balance the government's need to protect citizens from terrorist violence against the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech — including hateful speech — that they also enjoy.

A newly discovered letter written two centuries ago by founding father Thomas Jefferson shows that this debate is as old as the Republic itself. Jefferson's letter and its relevance are the subjects of a new book by Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor

For most of his professional life, Dershowitz has been interested in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and has written several books over nearly 50 years exploring the foundations of free speech set forth in that legislation.

The story of Dershowitz's new book "Finding Jefferson: A Lost Letter, A Remarkable Discovery, and the First Amendment in an Age of Terrorism," really began only in 2006.

While browsing in a favorite rare books shop in New York City, he was shown a time-worn, hand-written letter dated July 3, 1801, the night before the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson had recently been installed as president after a very contentious election.

"And he sits down and writes a letter all about the very issues I'd been thinking about all my life!" crows Dershowitz. "If I were more of a person who believed in fate, I would say, 'My God, he wrote it to me!'" That discovery ultimately led to the new book. "I just wanted everybody in the world to read this letter."

President Jefferson had written that single-page letter in response to a published sermon by Stanley Griswold, a popular preacher of the day. Griswold had said that if a clergyman made a sermon that inspired followers to commit crimes, the minister should be punished. "Jefferson said 'no,'" paraphrases Dershowitz, "and that people have a right to express these views. What we should do is wait until the first crime is committed — the first physical act — and punish that.'"

In his missive, Jefferson wrote that "we have nothing to fear from the demoralizing reasonings of some, if others are left free to demonstrate their errors" and that "these are safer correctives than the conscience of a judge."

In other words, if ideas and opinions are allowed to compete freely in the public sphere, everyday people can judge for themselves what to believe and how to act. "That was a very radical view at the time," said Dershowitz, who claims that Jefferson was a true democrat. "He thought if you allowed any kind of censorship it would be the conscience of elite judges that would decide what we could say and when we could say it, rather than individuals themselves making that decision."

Dershowitz sometimes challenges the founder's arguments in "Finding Jefferson." For example, he notes that the "free marketplace of ideas" that Jefferson praises doesn't  always operate for the best. As examples, he cites the free
Jefferson book

 elections in Nazi Germany in 1932 that put Adolph Hitler in power.

Jefferson was no anarchist. While he believed people should be allowed to express any opinion (even an opinion that a crime should be committed), "the state stands ready," in his words, "to punish the first criminal act produced by the false reasoning." On that point Dershowitz sounds a cautious note.

"What if we can't wait for the crime to be committed? What if the crime is a mass act of terrorism, 9/11 or worse, or chemical, biological or nuclear terrorism? Do we permit a religious leader to inspire or incite his followers to commit acts of terrorism that we may not be able to tolerate? Hard questions."

These are difficult questions Dershowitz is not certain how to answer definitively himself. He believes Jefferson would have been more willing to acknowledge the dangers citizens face in the current era, but that the founder would still say that, on balance, "it's better to have open, free dialogue than having the government deciding what you can hear or can't hear."

Dershowitz himself praises Denmark's leaders who, in 2005, resisted calls for censorship of the press from Muslims who were offended by newspaper cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, in what they deemed a disrespectful light. "Once you start creating exceptions, everybody demands an exception in their own interest," he said. "Suddenly, there is nothing left."

Alan Dershowitz's new book is a useful reminder, too, that Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on the subject remain as relevant and provocative today as when he first expressed them over two centuries ago.

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