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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 254       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Chief prosecutor files appeal in runaway mom case 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's chief prosecutor has interjected himself into the case of a U.S. woman being extradited to face a federal charge of international child abduction.

This is the case of Nicole Elsie Kater, who fled Humbolt County, California, contrary to a judicial order. She was in the middle of a custody hearing.

The chief prosecutor, Franciso Dall'Anese, filed a habeas corpus brief in favor of the woman with the Sala IV constitutional court, the Poder Judicial said Monday. The goal is to set aside the order of extradition and to have the Tribunal de Juicio de Puntarenas rehear the case.

Ms. Kater has been the subject of television news coverage about her situation here. She has been held in Buen Pastor women's prison since her arrest April 22.

The summary provided by the Poder Judicial of the current status of the case is unclear, but it appears that after extradition was rejected in the Puntarenas tribunal the case was appealed to the Tribunal de Casación Penal de San Ramón, which ordered extradition Wednesday.

Dall'Anese, who does not speak English, appeared to have made errors in his appeal. He said, for example, that the woman came to Costa Rica with her child, Tierra Zion Gehl Kater, with permission of the father. However, both the U.S. FBI and the U.S. State Department said that the woman fled contrary to a specific judicial order issued by a judge in Humboldt County Superior Court. The girl is now 8.

Dall'Anese also said that the woman said she was the victim of domestic violence by her former boyfriend,  John Gehl. Law enforcement officers said that the couple had not been living together for at least a year before the custody hearing.

The Sala IV can deny the appeal by Dall'Anese, but it is unusual for the nation's chief prosecutor to become involved in a continuing court case. The Instituto de las Mujeres has taken an interest, too.

Ms. Kater left California in August 2005, just before the custody hearing. Subsequent to her flight, a judge ordered that the father have full custody. The girl is now living in California.  In December 2005, Ms. Kater was charged with international parental kidnapping, and a federal warrant was issued for her arrest.

At one point during her stay in Costa Rica, Ms. Kater had been selling souvenirs in the beach towns around Cobano and Mal Pais, according to a spokesperson from the International Police Agency. Investigators said tracking her was difficult because she never used credit or debit cards, according to the spokesperson.
Ms. Kater gave birth to another child more than a year after she arrived in Costa Rica.

The mother later moved with her new boyfriend and two children to Sabalito Tierra Morena de Tilarán in Cañas, Guanacaste, said the police spokesperson. Ms. Kater  earlier this year stayed at a hotel in San José and got on a bus to Tilarán, which confirmed her location to investigators, according to the spokesperson.

Ms. Kater's older daughter is a dual citizen of Costa Rica and the United States, according to the FBI.

U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security investigators in Costa Rica have taken credit for reuniting the girl with her father. Agents said they participated in an extensive investigation.

The FBI told the Eureka, California, Times-Standard that Gehl and Ms. Kater met in 2000 in the San Francisco Bay area, and six months later the couple went to Costa Rica. Their daughter was born in November 2000. In May 2001, the couple returned to Humboldt County. By mid-2004, Ms. Kater and the daughter moved out of Gehl's house, the FBI said, according to the newspaper report at the time of the arrest.

U.S. officials are having difficulty extraditing U.S. women caught here and facing a child abduction charge. Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, awarded refugee status July 23 to Cher Lynn Tomayko, another runaway mom who was living in Heredia for 10 years. She, too, was championed by the women's institute.

Another woman, Mary Anginette McBeth, 37, who was living in Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula, now is confined to the immigration detention center in Hatillo also awaiting extradition.

The woman is accused in the United States of abducting her son, Amedeo Gabriel Cuomo, who was 17 months old when he was listed as missing May 1, 2007. The boy will turn 3 Jan. 5. He was featured on a number of missing children Web sites, including one in Germany where his mother initially took him.

In both the Tomayko case and in the Kater case, Costa Rican officials have cited human rights treaties as reasons for their actions. The Poder Judicial cited this in the summary of Dall'Anese's Sala IV filing.

Dall'Anese said that every defendant in a court case has the right to have the decision reviewed by a higher tribunal. Why he said that was not explained because Ms. Kater's case has been considered by both the Puntarenas Tribunal and the higher Tribunal de Casación Penal de San Ramón.

The goal may be to bring the case to the Sala IV, which also gave Ms. Tomayko a favorable ruling.

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Holiday human flood
inundates Peñas Blancas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 10,000 persons a day are leaving Costa Rica for Nicaragua at the Peñas Blancas border crossing, and problems with immigration officials on both sides of the border have caused miles of congestion by tractor trailers and other vehicles.

Border police, traffic police, immigration police and the Fuerza Pública have reinforced the border to prevent illegal crossings. Most of the exit traffic consists of Nicaraguans on their way to their family homes for the holidays.

Francisco Castaing. chief of the Policía de Migración, said that the major reason for delays is on the other side of the border. Officials said that some of the lines of waiting vehicles was 89 kilometers long, some 5 miles.

Last year more than 60,000 Nicaraguans left Costa Rica to be with their families in the north for Christmas, officials said. The last two weeks in December always are a challenge because of the flood of travelers and frequent confusion on what documents are required. Costa Rica officials denied entry to 1,700 Nicaraguans who were returning after the holidays last year.

Have a Heart Golf tourney
accepting registrations

Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ninth annual Have a Heart Charity Golf Tournament conveniently falls on a Saturday next Feb. 14. The event is put on every year by the Amigos de la Educación, which raises funds for education and scholarships in Guanacaste. The organization said it is seeking early registrations.

The golf tournament will take place again this year at the Hacienda Pinilla course in Santa Cruz. The golf registration fee is $125 per golfer, and there will be four-person teams. This fee includes golf, cart, breakfast and an awards luncheon, said a press release. Tee off time is 8:30 a.m., and trophies will be awarded to the top four teams.

The charity event will also include a silent auction and raffle with prizes from local and national businesses and artists. A welcome cocktail party will be held Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at Villa Alegre Bed and Breakfast in Playa Langosta where golfers can register to play in the tournament. The number of player/team spaces is limited and pre-registration is recommended, organizers said.

For more information, or to sponsor, volunteer or register to participate in the golf tournament those interested can contact Barry and Suzye Lawson (English) or Casandra Rauser (Spanish and English) by phone at 2653-0270 or e-mail at

Last year, the association was able to construct four new classrooms, including one for special education, at the Liceo de Villarreal and provided nine scholarships to students at various schools, organizers said. Amigos de la Educación is also committed to expanding the programs and developing evening adult education and English as a second language programs for community members working in the tourism industry.

Our reader's opinion
Costa Rica is an option
for the self reliant few

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What is with all this doom and gloom?

Some of us who live here in Costa Rica were lucky or smart enough to buy value property in areas that are not only beautiful but incredibly safe, secure, tranquil and appreciating in value. We can still enjoy the awesome quality of the fresh fruits, vegetables, ice cream, and beer for very little more cost than a year ago. Health care still has the same quality, availability, and affordability as in the past.

As the world economy goes through this latest adjustment, I am receiving more inquiries from all over the world. The printout from the statistics on my web page so far this month show 5,456 pages visited.

Many of the people who are dramatically affected by the recent downturn will cower in fear and wish and pray that some miracle will occur and bring back the best parts of the past. Handouts from the government for incompetence and/or greed will not bail out most of these people.

There are those more introspective and self reliant few who will see this as a chance to review their values, resources, and choices for how they want to live the rest of their lives. Some of these will discover the Costa Rica undiscovered by the typical visitor. These are the smart or lucky who will join the growing group here who are already living the best part of their lives.

We would rather be here sipping on our beverage of choice watching the incredible views and breathing our clean air than watching all of the doom and gloom on network news.

George Lundquist

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Lundquist gives tours to expats who may settle here.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 254

from Europe

Each year a reader in Zagreb, Croatia, Vlasta Zara, sends a scene of the city for other A.M. Costa Rica readers. The photo is a way of wishing all "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

We are happy to publish a photo again and return the greeting. Maybe officials here will be inspired to purchase some of the passenger trams!

Zagreb Christmas scene
Photo by Vlasta Zara

Professor and her recorder hold conversations with birds
By The Cornell Chronicle
Cornell University News Service

To many people, bird song can herald the coming of spring, reveal what kind of bird is perched nearby or be merely an unwelcome early morning intrusion. But to Sandra Vehrencamp, Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behavior, bird song is a code from which to glean insights into avian behavior.

Birds use song systems to communicate about mating and reproduction, territorial boundaries, age and even overall health. Ms. Vehrencamp studies them to decode which elements convey such essential information. With colleagues in the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology, she studies birds in such natural habitats as Costa Rica, Colombia and Bonaire.

Ms. Vehrencamp records bird songs and then plays them back to birds of the same species to decipher strategies that various species use to attract mates and resolve territorial disputes. The technique allows researchers to study birds' reactions to songs when such elements as overlapping vocalization, finer song structural features and the type of song played back are varied.

"You kind of feel like you're talking to the bird," Ms. Vehrencamp said.

She found, for example, that song sparrows in southern California can interpret some forms of playback as fighting words, because they often resolve conflict by singing the same type of song — known as song-type matching — back to one another.

"They get really mad," Ms. Vehrencamp said. "They treat playback like it's another bird and will sometimes come right up to the speaker."

Between male birds, if song-type matching fails to resolve a conflict, physical confrontation might ensue. "They both pay costs if they fight," Ms. Vehrencamp said. "Birds start to negotiate a boundary dispute with song — they don't want to fight."

Ms. Vehrencamp's work also suggests that males that are most successful are those that share many song types with their territorial neighbors. Song sparrows, for example, can learn songs only within a narrow time period restricted to the first few months after fledging, which means that males must learn neighborhood songs quickly to facilitate successful territorial negotiations.

"Song sparrows are very restricted learners, so the dominant birds that acquire territories within their natal area share more song types with their neighbors and survive better," explained Ms. Vehrencamp, who observed that birds with a low degree of song-sharing spend more time fighting with neighbors and are rarely seen the next breeding season.

Ms. Vehrencamp also studies the banded wren in Central America. This species has a longer learning period, up to a year or more, so all birds in the neighborhood share a large fraction of their song types. "Males get up early, and sing vigorously with frequent song-type matching in what's called a dawn chorus," Ms. Vehrencamp said. "We think they're singing to other males, but the females are listening, too."

Type-matching not only indicates aggressive intentions but enables the birds to compare each other's singing performance for each type of song. Her study suggests that such detail as the trill elements in a song are used by listeners to indicate the singer's overall fitness. "You really have to be in top-notch shape to produce these elements well," she said, adding that a well-sung song in wrens or a large song repertoire in tropical mockingbirds, another species she studies, can indicate the age of a bird. Older males are generally preferred by females because they have a proven ability to survive.
bird song two
Cornell University photos
A male banded wren (Thryothorus pleurostictus),  captured in a net, is individually marked with colored leg bands for the study.

professor in Santa Rosa
Sandra Vehrencamp is recording bird songs in Parque Nacional Santa Rosa in Guanacaste. She plays them back to other birds of the same species to try to determine exactly how birds communicate.

To study how the wrens pay attention to these finer details, Ms. Vehrencamp created a "super male" by manipulating the fine-structure elements in song recordings. Territory owners, she found, were reluctant to approach the speaker and chase off such strong intruders.

And when she genetically tested offspring to determine paternity, she found that singing was a factor when females sought to breed with males that weren't their mates.

"In general, these wrens are quite faithful, but every once in a while we find evidence of extra-pair mating, and the extra-pair mates always had better song quality," she said. "So we know females pay attention to fine song structure."

Ms. Vehrencamp said that placing such avian observations within a larger framework can help predict what effects environmental factors — including humans — might have on an animal's behavior or survival.

"If we can understand the ecological factors that enhance reproductive success and can link them to conservation, then we might be able to save a species," she said. She added that by better understanding how ecological factors affect the evolution of social behavior, "you can see where humans fit into the big picture, and that adds a richness and depth of understanding for why we are the sorts of animals that we are."

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 254

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State Department says violent crime increasing in Nicaragua
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crime is on the upswing in neighboring Nicaragua, according to the U.S. State Department which paints a grim picture of the country in a report released Monday.

The State Department warned that "gang violence, drive-by shootings, robbery, assault and stabbings are most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, including the Ticabus area, a major arrival and departure point for tourist buses.  However, in recent months it spread to more upscale neighborhoods and near major hotels, including the Zona Hippos."

The State Department also said that in 2008 a U.S. citizen was injured critically in a gang drive-by shooting in the San Judas areas and that another U.S. citizen was kidnapped and left for dead.

"Violent criminal activities and petty crime are also increasing in the tourist destination of San Juan del Sur." said the report.  "In 2008, a U.S. citizen family was violently assaulted and kidnapped by several armed men.  Other American citizens have been the victims of armed robberies by assailants wielding machetes, knives, and/or guns along the beaches in and around San Juan del Sur.  U.S. citizens should exercise particular caution when visiting the following beaches: Maderas, Marsella, Yankee, Coco, and Remanso."

The State Department also warned that U.S. citizens  "are increasingly targeted shortly after arriving in the country by criminals posing as Nicaraguan police officers who pull their vehicles — including those operated by reputable hotels — over for inspection.  In each case, the incidents happened after dark and involved gun-wielding assailants who robbed passengers of all valuables and drove them to remote locations where they were left to fend for themselves.
These events happen on the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, and more recently on the Managua-Leon Highway, the State Department said.

"U.S. citizens should exercise caution when approached by strangers offering assistance," said the report.  "Several U.S. citizens traveling by bus from San Juan del Sur to Managua have reported being victimized by fellow women travelers who offered to assist them in locating and/or sharing a taxi upon arrival in Managua.  In all cases, upon entering the taxi, the U.S. citizens have been held at knife point, robbed of their valuables and driven around to ATM machines to withdraw funds from their accounts."

The State Department also warned about travel in  Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions, including the Corn Islands to where U.S. Embassy staffers are told not to travel and can provide only limited consular help.
In late 2007, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and violently raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island, and U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country, the State Department said.
Although visitors are advised to take taxis instead of walk, the State Department said that robbery, kidnapping, and assault on passengers in taxis in Managua are increasing in frequency and violence, with passengers subjected to beating, sexual assault, stabbings, and even murder.

The U.S. Embassy reported it has received an increasing number of complaints from U.S. citizens who have been stopped by transit police authorities demanding bribes in order to avoid paying fines.  Motorists in rental cars and those whose cars have foreign license plates are more likely to be stopped by transit police, said the report, adding that transit police have seized driver licenses and car registration documents from motorists who refuse to or are unable to pay.

Grim financial forecast says all major economies are weak
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Institute of International Finance, an association of world financial institutions, has issued a grim economic forecast, saying that all of the major economies are weak or in recession.

The institute says global growth in 2009 will be negative for the first time since reliable statistics became available in 1960. Growth is projected to be minus four-tenths of 1 percent, compared to 2008 growth of nearly 2 percent.

Philip Suttle prepared the forecast.

"We have got the world economy contracting by just under a half percentage point, which really does not sound like very much," Suttle said. "But it is really, really important to recognize the world economy basically never contracts. Somewhere in the world economy there is always enough to offset recessions even in the major industrial countries."

The current recession is projected to continue in some of the world's biggest economies — the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Each of those areas is projected to experience economic decline of about 1.5 percent in 2009.

Growth is also decelerating sharply in emerging economies, with China's growth projected to slow to 6.5 percent and
India 5 percent. Economist Suttle says his biggest worry is weakness feeding on itself.

"One of the things that is so alarming about the current situation is how quickly things have changed," Suttle noted. "Just three or four months ago, we were projecting slow growth, but not an outright recession. And we have seen a change in conditions, which has not just been evident in the United States, but across every significant economy in the world."

One indicator of just how quickly economic activity has slowed is the dramatic fall in the price of oil. Barely four months ago oil was trading at a record high level of $143 per barrel. But as demand plummeted so did the oil price, which is now down 75 percent to barely $35 per barrel.

Forecasters are divided about whether the global recession will be of long or short duration. Suttle applauds U.S. authorities for moving quickly with appropriate policies. He believes the Europeans are moving too slowly.

The Washington, D.C.,-based Institute of International Finance, like other forecasters, is reluctant to make comparisons between the current downturn and the Great Depression of the 1930s, when U.S. unemployment reached 25 percent. Suttle says U.S. and European joblessness in the current downturn is likely to peak at no more than 8 percent.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 254

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

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

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


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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Volcano and flooding create
need for food in Colombia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations is bringing $500,000 in emergency food aid to 30,000 Colombians after a volcanic eruption caused massive flooding and avalanches in the northern and western parts of the South American nation.

The country’s harshest, most destructive rainy season on record has wreaked havoc on the Sucre, Bolivar and Choco provinces, leaving 24,000 people in need of assistance, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.

“Although the government of Colombia’s response to the various disasters has been effective and timely, the number of victims has surpassed our expectations,” said Praveen Agrawal, World Food Programme’s representative in Colombia.

World Food Programme. will begin by distributing a 40-day supply of non-perishable food to 4,500 people in 30 communities in San Juan, a Pacific coastal municipality in the north. The agency will coordinate the relief effort with the Colombia institute for family welfare and the social action agency of the presidency.

Heavy rains since September have already plagued much of the country, claiming the lives of 66 people and affecting more than 1 million more. In addition, in late November, the Nevado de Huila volcano erupted, leaving some 6,000 people in need of aid. 

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