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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 252       Email us
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bull ring
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Costa Ricans and expats can settle the Christmas dinner while facing down an unhappy bull
Here's a way to get a little exercise Christmas Day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas Day, after handing out toys under the tree to youngsters, Costa Ricans and expats have the chance to get in a ring with a 1,400-pound unhappy bull.

Believe or not, many do. This is the highlight of the Zapote festival, the Fiestas de San José, that take place every year starting Christmas.

Fortunately for most participants, a bull does not have a long attention span. Consequently, as he runs down one would-be bull fighter, Toro is distracted by a slap on the rump or the wave of a piece of cloth.

Some Costa Ricans are even famous for their exploits in the bull ring. They wear distinctive clothing, like Superman togs, and try to show their courage.

Liquid courage is discouraged for obvious reasons, and informal bull fighters now must have a special insurance policy from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Private insurance companies probably will not write such a policy.

The bull fighting takes place in the afternoon at 3 p.m. and in the evening at 9 p.m. through Jan. 1, and many of the sessions are televised. Sometimes the television hookup is international.

Although participants enter with a light heart, the bulls are serious. Sometimes bull fighters are gored and killed. The activity is a mainstay of many local festivals, and a few participants end up at the morgue each year.

Basically the game is one of odds. With 120 to 150 individuals in the ring, including a few women, chances are the bull will never zero in on a single participant. But someone has to win the
out of the ring
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
No one tells a bull where to go.

lottery, and someone has to be elected by the now angry bull.

Sometimes the game moves to the stands. A few bulls have made the leap from the ring into the bleachers. Many have leaped the first barrier into the area where assorted technicians, camera operators and others believe they are safe.

Thanks to good planning, there is a clinic built into the wall of the arena.

Only human participants die in these bull fights. Toro gets to live another day and run down another human.

When cheating death at the horns of a bull becomes boring, sometimes participants turn bull riders. But not for long. After the bull sheds its rider, he has multiple targets. 

Eventually, many television viewers end up rooting for the bull as humans slap, tease and otherwise annoy the animal.

A.M. Costa Rica will publish during the holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

During the holiday, which begins this week, A.M. Costa Rica staffers will be keeping a close eye on news developments to keep readers informed. News takes no holiday, nor does A.M. Costa Rica.

For example, in 2003 a major earthquake took place in the southern zone early Christmas Day, and readers need to know someone is keeping a lookout.

The paper will be published next week Monday through Thursday and resume five-day-a-week publication Jan. 2.

Most staffers will be off Friday, Dec. 23, and
Friday, Dec. 30, and no newspaper will be published those days in order to conform to the established 257-day advertising commitment.  The newspaper offices will be closed those days and frequently during the coming week. Internet and telephone messages will be monitored.

Coverage will include the Zapote festival all next week, the Tope Nacional that will fill San José with horses Monday and police and emergency activities.

In the event of a major news development, readers will be alerted via the daily digest and the newspaper's Twitter account as well as the daily newspaper. Readers may sign up for the daily digest HERE and for Twitter messages HERE!

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Lack of quorum stops
help to taxi drivers' widows

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The widows of cab drivers were taken for a ride in politics on Tuesday as their initiative did not appear again in the legislative assembly session for the second time in less than a week.

Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, decided there was no quorum, putting a halt to all legislative activity for the day. The lawmakers got an early day-off before the holidays.

The widows were supposed to have the second and final debate on their initiative Tuesday. They are seeking the right to inherit the taxi permit held by their late husbands.

Monday, their representative had a meeting with officials at Casa Presidencial where they were told that their bill would be considered again Tuesday. The meeting Monday came because the final vote on the measure was pulled from the assembly agenda a week ago.

The widows are pushing for bill 18.132, Ley Reguladora del Servicio Público de Transporte Remunerado de Personas en Vehículos en la modalidad de Taxi. To inherit the license held by their late husbands requires a change in the law, which most legislators support since it passed the vote, but the executive branch has frozen the measure in favor of the proposed tax plan.

Campaign planned next year
to target dog fighting here

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Beginning in 2012 the international animal advocates are teaming up local officials to launch a publicity campaign against dog fights in Costa Rica.

The campaign will be conducted by the Humane Society International working in conjunction with the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal and the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería. The campaign will use television commercials, events and other public announcements and feature the Costa Rican, female boxer Hannah Gabriel as a spokesperson.

The campaign has a goal of persuading the youth not to participate in dog fighting activities and helping officials learn to conduct raids against the illicit fighting rings. The society claims dog fighting rings are also commonly linked with other illegal activities such as drug use, violence and gambling.

New panel to study way
country manages seas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Tuesday swore in a six-person panel that is supposed to advise the executive branch on governing the maritime areas of the country. The panel is in addition to the existing agency that is supposed to do that, the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura.

The panel will begin work next year for three months in which it is supposed to diagnose problems with the management of the seas. The panel is supposed to have input from the public and interested economic sectors.

Marco Quesada of conservation International is the only non-governmental member of the panel, which is headed by  María Virginia Cajiao, the president's environmental adviser.

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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Members of the Policía Turistica stand by their new machines during a ceremony of delivery Tuesday. The force is part of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Tourism police
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Officials hope to double the number of tourism police
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism police now have 19 new off-road motorcycles, 12 new radios and 650 new uniforms after a 75 million colons investment by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The tourism police also plan to have 50 new tourist police added to their ranks by 2012. The specialized force hopes to have 600 officers patrolling areas of high-tourism activity. Now the force has just over 300 patrolling these areas. The Institute reports that over the
past several years the number of reported incidents against tourists has fallen 8 percent.

The Minister of Tourism Allan Flores said the tourism industry, contributes thousands of jobs and accounts for a significant sector of national economy. He said it is important to ensure visitors have a safe visit to the country. He said even if a destination in the world has the most beautiful wonders, prettiest beaches and attractions, if it doesn't have security it can't share them with the world.

Marijuana smuggling case involves law, customs officers
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained suspected drug traffickers in a marijuana smuggling ring and government employees supposedly acting as co-conspirators. The Judicial Investigating Organization detained the suspects during raids Tuesday.

Judicial police have been working to dismantle this illicit system of importation that brought “High Red” marijuana from Jamaica to Heredia, from where it was later distributed to other parts of the country, officials said.

The investigation began in summer of 2010 when police in Heredia apprehended two suspects and 70 kilograms of marijuana, they said. The investigation was brought to a head in August when the supposed leader was killed as a result of an internal gang dispute.

Six people were arrested in total. The list of detainees included a pilot with the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry, a customs agent stationed in Límón, an official of the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional in Heredia and a lawyer. Other suspects were detained as well.

According to agents, the pilot met with the band's leaders and gave advice about importing the drugs while the customs agents allowed the marijuana to reach San José. The officer with the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional in Heredia along with the lawyer helped with legal processes and documentation such as making electronic money transfers sent to Jamaica in exchange for the drugs, said agents.

Police also confiscated several vehicles supposedly used to transport the drugs, cell phones, marijuana, automatic rifles and pistols in the raids Tuesday. The men suspected of killing the leader in August still remain at large, according to investigators. He was identified as Michael Araya Castillo.

Agents said there also were allegations of importing weapons from Nicaragua for resale. Divers located some weapons underwater in an inlet in Cieneguita, Limón. Tuesday. This is near the area that was basically off-limits to police patrols because of the presence of heavily armed individuals who kept officers and the public in general away. They used to fire warning shots.

A Limón businessman lost a boat to crooks who stripped the vessel and took the boat and parts to areas well within the domain controlled by drug traffickers.

Census growth hot spots reported as Garabito, Santa Ana
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cantons of Garabito, which includes Jacó, and Santa Ana grew the fastest over the last 10 years, according to the preliminary report of the national census that was released Tuesday.

Garabito grew 4.7 percent in the 10 years, and Santa Ana grew 3.2 percent, said the Nacional de Estadística y Censos.

Santa Cruz, Liberia and San Pablo also registered significant growth, about 2.7 percent. Other growth areas were Flores and Aguirre (Quepos) with 2.6 percent each, Parrita with 2.5 percent, Orotina with 2.4 percent and San Carlos with 2.3 percent, according to the initial figures.

In contrast, the cantons of Tibás, San José, Coto Brus, Montes de Oca (San Pedro), León Cortés, Jiménez, Limón, Dota and Curridabat showed slight declines in population ranging from .6 percent to 1 percent, said the census.
Over the last decade, the total Costa Rican population experienced a growth of 491,533 people, from 3,810,179 inhabitants in 2000 to 4,301,712 in 2011, according to the census. Of the country´s inhabitants, 49 percent were men and 51 percent were women.

The study confirmed that the province of San José had the highest concentration of inhabitants: 1,403,963 representing 32.6 percent of the total population.

Guanacaste was the fastest growing province with an average of 1.9 percent annually, although it remains the least populated with 326,821 inhabitants.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica´s average annual growth rate declined from 2.8 percent in the 1984 to 2000 period to 1.1 percent in the 2000 to 2011 period. The institute attributed this result to the steady decline in fertility levels in the last decade, which was 19.9 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2000 compared to 15.5 births per 1,000 in 2011.

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Absolute Poker exec pleads guilty to U.S. gambling indictment
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Brent Bentley, the director of payment processing for Absolute Poker, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, New York, to conspiracy to engage in unlawful internet gambling and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, in connection with a scheme to deceive U.S. banks and financial institutions, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York reported.

Bentley was accused of using banks to process tens of millions of dollars in payments for Absolute Poker, which is based in Costa Rica.

Beckley is a United States citizen who had been living in Costa Rica. He returned to the United States voluntarily Monday in connection with a superseding indictment unsealed April 15 that charged him and 10 others with crimes relating to the illegal operation of three internet poker companies, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Beckley pleaded guilty before U. S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis.

According to the superseding indictment, other documents previously filed in the case, and statements made in court, the U.S. Attorney's Office gave this account:

In late 2006, Congress enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act making it a crime to knowingly accept most forms of payment in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling. Following the passage of the act, leading Internet gambling businesses withdrew from the U. S. market. Absolute Poker, however, did not.

Along with several other Internet poker companies, Absolute Poker continued to operate in defiance of the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Because U. S. banks were largely unwilling to process payments for an illegal activity such as Internet gambling, Absolute Poker used fraudulent methods to avoid these restrictions and to receive tens of millions of dollars from U. S. residents who gambled online.
As the head of payment processing for Absolute Poker, Beckley oversaw these deceptive processing methods.

For example, because most U. S. credit card issuers block Internet gambling transactions, Beckley disguised Absolute Poker transactions so that they would appear to be from other, non-gambling online merchants, such as online flower shops or pet supply stores that would be approved despite credit card company policy.

To accomplish this deceit, Beckley relied on co-conspirators who allegedly created shell companies, complete with phony Web sites, to use as covers for Absolute Poker transactions.

An Absolute Poker report from the fall of 2007 identified approximately 20 phony Internet shopping companies being used by the gambling company to disguise credit card transactions, such as and www.beddingsuperstore. tv.

Beckley surrendered to law enforcement agents Monday and was released on bail following his court appearance.
Beckley, 31, faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan next April 19, said the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Four additional defendants charged in the superseding indictment have appeared in the United States to date, including Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie, and John Campos.

Franzen pleaded guilty May 23 and awaits sentencing. Trial for the remaining defendants is set for March 12 before Judge Kaplan.

Absolute Poker has been based in Plaza Mayor, Rohrmoser. The primary Web site is now

The online gambling business is operated by Blanca Games Inc., which says it is incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda. Blanca says it is licensed by the gaming commission of the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada.

Another breakthrough reported in search for malaria vaccine
By the University of Oxford Press and Information Office

A new malaria vaccine with the potential to neutralize all strains of the most deadly species of malaria parasite has been developed by an Oxford University-led team.

The scientists from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford have shown that their vaccine induces an antibody response in animal models that is capable of neutralizing all the strains they tested of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

The group led by Simon Draper, published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

The results add to a key discovery reported last month. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute identified a potential Achilles’ heel in the malaria parasite that could hold significant promise for vaccine development.

This is an important step towards developing a much-needed vaccine against one of the world’s major killers, the researchers said.

Their research published in the journal Nature showed that the P. falciparum parasite relies on a single protein – the antigen RH5 – to unlock the doorway for the parasite to enter red blood cells. Once there, it grows and replicates, causing potentially life-threatening disease.

Lead researcher Sandy Douglas of the University of Oxford
says: ‘We have created a vaccine that confirms the recent discovery relating to the biology of RH5, given it can generate an immune response in animal models capable of neutralizing many – and potentially all – strains of the P. falciparum parasite, the deadliest species of malaria parasite. This is an important step towards developing a much-needed vaccine against one of the world’s major killers.’

Malaria killed around 800,000 people in 2009, mainly young children and pregnant women. It is caused by parasites that are carried by mosquitoes. The most deadly form, P. falciparum, is responsible for nine out of ten deaths from malaria.

The disease is found in coastal areas in Costa Rica.

Vaccination is likely to be the most cost-effective way of protecting people against malaria. However, no licensed vaccine is currently available. While one vaccine is achieving promising but incomplete levels of protection in clinical trials in Africa, scientists believe a new and more effective vaccine will be required to eradicate the disease.

Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, says: ‘Vaccines against malaria are notoriously difficult to develop because the parasites’ antigens – the target of vaccines – tend to be genetically so diverse. The RH5 antigen doesn’t show this diversity, making it a particularly good target for a vaccine to exploit. Our next step will be to begin safety tests of this vaccine. If these prove successful, we could see clinical trials in patients beginning within the next two to three years.’

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Winter storm hits U.S.
and leaves at least 6 dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. National Weather Service says a massive winter storm blamed for at least six deaths has worked its way deeper into the central United States and made highways impassable in five states.

The weather service said Tuesday that blizzard conditions caused hotels to fill up quickly along major roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas, and that nearly 100 rescue calls came in from motorists in the Texas Panhandle. New Mexico was blanketed by 60 centimeters (about 23 inches) of snow, while in parts of Colorado, snow drifts of up to 3 meters were reported. The storm was expected to move into the Denver area later today.

The snowfall has been welcomed by many in areas such as Oklahoma and Texas, which have suffered from a long drought.

U.N. expert cites woes
of Canadian native peoples

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An independent United Nations human rights expert has asked Canada to clarify what it is doing to address the dire socio-economic conditions of the Attawapiskat aboriginal community, noting that many of its members live in unheated shacks or trailers with no running water.

James Anaya, the special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said in a news release that he has been in touch with the Canadian government to voice his deep concern about the conditions of the Attawapiskat community, which he said exemplifies the conditions of many aboriginal communities in the country.

The Attawapiskat settlement is a remote community in northern Ontario comprised of about 1,800 members.  Anaya, who has visited Costa Rica, noted that the poor living conditions are particularly serious as winter approaches the area, which faces winter temperatures as low as -28 degrees C  or -18 F.

“The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,”Anaya said.

New book outlines treasures
of Amazonian natural foods

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A U. N. book released Tuesday aims to provide people in the developing world with accessible knowledge of Amazon plants and foods they can use to improve their livelihoods.

The book, “Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life,” is written in easy-to-grasp language and incorporates the folklore and customs of rural villagers so they can easily put the book’s recommendations into practice. It is available in .pdf format HERE!

“Some 80 per cent of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products such as fruits and medicinal plants for their nutritional and health needs,” said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director-general for forestry at the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“This new book provides comprehensive information on Amazon fruits and plants, and is a perfect example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximize the benefits from forest products and services and improve their livelihoods.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 25 per cent of people in developing countries are functionally illiterate, and that in rural areas this figure can be of up to 40 per cent. The layout of the book takes this into account and allows readers who lack formal education to extract knowledge using pictures and numbers.

“Some 90 Brazilian and international researchers who were willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats – including jokes, recipes and pictures – collaborated in the production of this book,” said Tina Etherington, who managed the publication project for organization's forestry department.

Ms. Etherington also highlighted that farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed insights and their experiences to the publication, making it an “innovative way of presenting science and how those techniques can be transferred to other areas in the world.”

Some of the foods spotlighted in the publication that provide nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants that keep the body healthy include the Buriti palm fruit, which contains the highest known levels of vitamin A of any plant in the world and the açaí fruit, which is hailed as a superfood for its high antioxidant and omega fatty acid content.

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New U.N. measure to let
kids file rights complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A United Nations measure dealing with children’s rights aims to empower people under the age of 18 to complain about violations of human rights. After ratification by countries, a new protocol will protect children from abuse and violence. The U.N. General Assembly approved the measure Monday.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure allows individual children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights. One of the first two optional protocols is geared to end child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography. The second focuses on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

“Children will now be able to join the ranks of other rights-holders who are empowered to bring their complaints about human rights violations before an international body,” said Navanethem Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights. “We see every day examples of a wide range of human rights violations against children – from discrimination to child trafficking to all forms of physical or mental violence.¨ Ms. Pillay said. ¨I encourage states to sign this optional protocol to give child victims of such violations direct access to an international human rights complaints mechanism.”

The protocol was transmitted by the Human Rights Council to the U.N. General Assembly last June. It establishes a procedure to bring complaints under the Convention on the Rights of the Child similar to those that already exist for other core human rights— civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

Upon receiving a complaint, the Committee on the Rights of the Child will examine it to determine whether the convention has been violated. The committee will guarantee that child-sensitive procedures and safeguards are put in place to prevent the manipulation of the child by those acting on his or her behalf under the protocol, according to the procedure.

While it is examining the complaint, the committee may request the state to adopt interim measures to prevent possible irreparable damage to the child. The committee may also request protection measures to prevent reprisals, including further human rights violations, ill-treatment or intimidation, for having submitted such complaints. If the convention is found to have been violated, the committee will make specific recommendations for action to the country responsible.

“The new protocol takes into consideration the particular, special needs of children,” said Jean Zermatten, a committee member. “In fulfilling its functions under the protocol, the committee will be guided by the principle of the best interests of the child and will bear in mind the rights and views of the child.”

The protocol also provides for the committee’s role in friendly settlement agreements and in ensuring follow-up to the recommendations made to countries. It further provides that the committee may initiate inquiries into grave and systematic violations of the convention and its first two optional protocols.

The protocol will be open to signature next year and enter into force when ratified by 10 U.N. countries. Costa Rica is likely to be asked by local child defense agencies to adopt the measure.

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