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A.M. Costa Rica

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AIM S.A.
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 28, 2014, Vol. 14, No. 147
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Surveillance cameras are a growing trend in Costa Rican communities
By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Under the stated aims of improving citizen safety, municipality leaders are putting up public surveillance cameras throughout Costa Rica's streets and parks.

Recently, Palmares became the seventh community in Alajuela to install surveillance cameras in its town center. Now Palmares' mayor, Bernal Vargas, says the town is so satisfied with their ability to aid police forces that the current system of 10 cameras could nearly triple in coming months.

He said that although public security cameras on every street corner may sound like the backdrop for a totalitarian state, the town's population has given near universal approval of them because police can now respond to any potential robberies or assaults quicker than ever.

“Maybe it's a policy that others may see as repressive,” he said. “But our plan for public security in Palmares is more about prevention of crime and that police can arrive on the scene immediately.”

San José is also filled with the 24-hour eyes of public security cameras. Monica Coto Murillo, who is in charge of electronic security at the municipality, said seven of the 11 districts are equipped with surveillance systems. She said when the decision to install cameras first came about there were many who voiced their concerns about their rights of privacy being violated but added that those protests have since been calmed by the protocol and rules that surround the issue.

Regulation No. 34104-G-MSP, published in 2007 when an initial 3,000 cameras were installed, states that authorities cannot use information retrieved from the cameras for anything but pertinent police investigations. It further says that police working the cameras are highly trained and follow a strict guideline of confidentiality so that information is not handed over to third parties.

Ms. Coto said that the cameras are strategically placed in areas that both Fuerza Pública and municipality police have targeted as seeing higher daily traffic or being more at risk for crimes.

“We are able to prevent any suspected crimes by immediately catching those who leave suspicious evidence for those watching the monitors,” she said. “The cameras also allow us to evaluate our management of security as a whole.”

Though far from a surveillance state, Costa Rica is following a trend
 that activists and privacy advocates around the globe are protesting. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote earlier this year that the more police cameras there are, the more likely they are to abuse this power of information they have over the citizen.

“As with any technology, one can imagine scenarios where such systems save the day,” he wrote. “But it is even easier to imagine scenarios where such a technology is abused and in fact such scenarios don't require any imagination whatsoever as experience strongly suggests abuses are inevitable.”

Studies done by the civil liberties union have also shown that crime levels do not drop as a direct result of having cameras and that preventing attacks or acts of terrorism are still incredibly hard even with the aid of overhead eyes.

In Palmares, Fuerza Pública has total control of the surveillance operations and keeps track of the information 24 hours a day from the monitoring station. The high-tech system of cameras have the ability to capture a car's license plate from hundreds of meters away, pivot at a 360-degree range, and they're bulletproof.

Though fancy, another concern of public monitoring systems is their high costs. The whole system was priced around $75,000 as the cameras alone cost around $6,000 each. Palmares is capable of holding up to 17 more cameras, which Vargas said would be a welcome investment.

“When people realize there are surveillance cameras around, they take less risks,” he said.

Another Alajuela canton, San Ramón, has had cameras since 2011. According to a report written by Oscar Mario Alvarado Vásquez, the head of information technology for San Ramón, installation sprang up after people became worried about clearly illicit acts that were happening at a town park at all hours of the day. Alvarado said the Fuerza Pública officers weren't able to keep an eye on all of San Ramón without the technology's aid.

Now police have access to 16 cameras mounted throughout the city of more than 10,000 people. The initial investment cost around $45,000 but the municipality also took out a $150,000 loan from Banco Nacional to pay for the system, according to Alvarado.

“Public surveillance is just another tool to improve the way of life for our people,” Alvarado said. “There's a lot of work that lies ahead, but evidence of our local government's promise to its people can already be seen.”


Solís reaffirms country's prohibition against drilling for petroleum
By the A.M. Costa Rica  staff

President Luis Guillermo Solís signed off Friday on a decree to continue a moratorium on petroleum exploration until 2021. He cited grave environmental risks as he did so and basically insured the country's dependency on foreign petroleum until that date.

The president also declared corn to be an item of cultural heritage but he stopped short of declaring a prohibition against genetically modified corn as many of his supporters would have wanted.

Solís also endorsed geothermal generating projects in Guanacaste and decreed that government agencies should work together to mitigate the expected drought there.

The president also declared plans for wholesale markets in the Choratega and Brunca regions to be in the public interest, an action that advances their construction.

With the petroleum exploration prohibition, Solís extends a similar 2011 action by then-president Laura Chinchilla. The original prohibition came when a U.S. petroleum exploration firm managed to surmount some 12 years of legal challenges. The firm, Mallon Oil Co., has a concession to explore for petroleum in the northern zone but the government will not sign off on the agreement. The prohibition also covers offshore efforts.

The petroleum decree also ordered the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía to issue a decree telling public agencies not to purchase pieces of equipment that are big consumers of electricity.

The decrees were signed in a presidential cabinet meeting in Nicoya Friday. The meeting was in commemoration of the 1824 Anexión del Partido de Nicoya which brought that area into Costa Rica.

The location was an appropriate one to talk about corn because the annual tortilla contest had just finished.  The decree notes that there is archaeological evidence of corn being consumed in Guanacaste some 5,000 years ago. The president was joined in the decree by Luis Felipe Arauz, the minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, and Elizabeth Fonseca, the minister of Cultura y Juventud.

The decree addresses the agricultural uses and also the traditions. The culture ministry has published booklets on the cuisine of
Sol;is and hat
Casa Presdiencial photo
President dons a traditional Guanacaste hat for the celebration.

Guanacaste, which is heavily based on corn.

There is a movement in the country to prohibit the growing of genetically modified crops. Because corn is pollenated through the air, there is concern that the modified pollen will pollute the existing traditional varieties.

Another decree supported the development of the geothermic plant Pailas II in Guanacaste with some $600 million provided by the Japanese Agency for International Development.

Another decree declared the presence of arsenic in the local water supply of Cañas and Bagaces to be a sanitary emergency. Ms. Chinchilla issued a similar decree.


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