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(506) 2223-1327                      Published Thursday, May 10, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 93                           Email us
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Appeals judge rejects decisive acquittal in fraud case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The expat property owner and his lawyer who are named in a criminal case have had another reverse.

An appeals judge in Puntarenas voided their acquittal in their second preliminary hearing and ordered yet a third.

This is the case of Sheldon Hazeltine, who has been accused by a prominent businessman of falsifying a document. The document is key in a civil case that revolves around Hazeltine's fight to keep land he owns near Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast.

Others claim the property based on occupation by a squatter.

This is the second time that an appeals judge has voided a decisive acquittal of Hazeltine and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez. In the first preliminary hearing in the Puntarenas court, the government's prosecutor went so far as to side with the accuseds. That acquittal was voided by a Feb. 2 appeals verdict that said the judge had failed to read into the record the full identifications of one of those involved.

In the second preliminary hearing March 29, the judge strongly sided with the accuseds, said the businessman and others bringing the allegation acted in bad faith and awarded the defendants $60,000 as a civil penalty, the maximum allowed by law.

The well-known Costa Rican businessman, Armando González Fonseca, and the other individual making the allegation, Marta Sandova Fernández, appealed.

The appeal hearing was Monday and in a decision released Wednesday, Judge Leonardo Pereire Valerín said the judge in the second hearing also made technical mistakes. The appeals judge remanded the case back to the trial courts and said that a new judge should hear the case all over again.

Both preliminary hearings were conducted orally, which is a relatively new process in Costa Rica.

Although the trial proceedings are on a CD, there also is an accompanying written file.

Judge Pereire said that the trial court judge neglected to read into the acquittal verdict the allegations by González and Ms. Sandova and only read the charge by the public prosecutor. The judge cited what he said was lack of observance of the forms and conditions in the Código Procesal Penal.

Pereire addressed a special comment to the trial judge in the verdict: “Take note, Sr. Judge, that the use of the oral criminals process does not imply omitting essential aspects of a verdict.”

Hazeltine understandably was upset Wednesday afternoon when he spoke with a reporter about the verdict. “At best, this latest nonsense shows that the judges have no hesitation in blaming their colleagues for 'technical errors' and, at worst, are dragging this out for obvious reasons of currying favor which appears to be going well as we have now had two hearings, two appeals and, one nullification, and now we have to go back for a third hearing,” he said later.

Hazeltine's 16-year battle to keep the property is well-known for two reasons. First is that he has become the poster boy for expats battling against the entrenched Costa Rican power structure. In addition, he released a video on YouTube Feb.27, which has generated more than 6,000 viewings and has been copied to dozens of other Web sites. The video is titled “Costa Rica land fraud.”

In his video Hazeltine uses only published sources
Hazeltine gained fame of sorts when he went public on YouTube with his case in February.

The recent chronology

Jan. 12: Expat wins small victory in prolonged property case

An expat and his Costa Rican lawyer prevailed this week in a criminal case that was the latest development in a long-running saga over disputed properties on the Central Pacific coast.

Jan 24: It's back to square one for British expat involved in forgery case

The case of a British expat and his lawyer facing a forgery charge has been remanded back to the trial court.

Feb. 27: Embattled expat landowner takes to YouTube to air case

Expat investor Sheldon Haseltine has taken to YouTube to air in public his 14-year battle to keep his Pacific coast property.

and makes a point of saying that the lawyer who represented González through many of the proceedings is Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora, the former Barva mayoral candidate, had been in preventative detention in an unrelated marijuana smuggling and money laundering case. For the latest appeal, González got a new lawyer, Alexander Rodríguez Campos.

The case centers on a document that was validated by a Costa Rican consul in Nassau, The Bahamas. The document clarifies that Hazeltine is the party responsible for the corporation, Ivanhoe Investment S.A., that owns the Los Sueños land. Only González and his associates question the authenticity of the document.

A prosecutor, Dixiela Madrigal Mora, as well as the judge at the first hearing said there is no substance to the forgery allegation. The prosecutor conducted her own investigation and even talked to the consul who confirmed signing the document, according to hearing testimony.

At the first hearing, González was accompanied by international commercial developer Fuad Farach Abdalah and Ricardo Jiménez Montealegre, a well-known contractor.  Ms. Sandova at one time occupied the land.

“All quite Kafkaesque and disappointing,” was Hazeltine's summary Wednesday night.

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Our reader's opinion
Isla Caño is now off limits
as a result of bureaucracy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Isla Caño is a small island off the northern Osa Peninsula that has delighted tourists for decades as a well-preserved biological preserve open to picnicking, exploring, swimming, and snorkeling.

Almost half a year ago, the government built a couple of new toilets to accommodate the increasing influx of tourists to the southern area. But then another government agency having to do with health, said the new toilets could not be used until they had improved sewage technology. So the tourism agency, ignoring that the old toilets still worked, shut the entire island to visitors without advance notice, claiming that the health department had ordered it. The health department said that was not true that they only said the new toilets could not be used.

So since last January, tourists coming to the Osa Peninsula expecting to visit the beautiful beach on Isla Caño have been herded instead by tour operators to another beautiful beach on the mainland of Osa, Playa San Josecito. But there is a minor problem — San Josecito has no toilets or shower facilities at all! It is just a secluded beach, now inundated with tourists, and with no facilities.

The parks agency response, from the southern regional director, is to announce that they will permanently close Isla Caño to tourists, forego the thousands of dollars of park fees they have been collecting for years, ignore that the Island has a ranger facility, toilets, showers, and a beautiful beach. Why? Because they don't want to install relatively cheap disposal technology to a couple of toilets that have already been built.

You gotta love government that allows arbitrary and capricious authority to every little bureaucrat in every ministry, the courts, law enforcement, taxation, you name it. The lady in charge of the local parks region seems to have more authority than the president or legislature. The only government official that seems to have no such authority is poor Laura Chinchilla, who is hamstrung at every attempt to run this archaic government.

John French

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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These are some of the women being sought by investigators to serve out a sentence.
Judiciary sets up a Web page in an attempt to find fugitives
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial appears to have misplaced about 70 convicted felons. But never fear, the agency is setting up a searchable Web page to enlist aid from the public to find the individuals.

There are six women, mostly convicted of drug charges, and at least 59 men. The numbers do not add up, but the system just went online this week.

In addition to mug shots, a click will give a viewer the name of the fugitive and a second click with give a brief description of the charge. There did not appear to be any U.S. or Canadian citizens in flight.

Part of that reason is that Costa Rican judges usually put North Americans in jail for fear that they will flee. They are a little more lenient with Costa Ricans.

The Web site also points out a problem with the judicial system.
Even though someone is convicted of a serious crime, they might not be jailed until the Sala III high criminal court validates the sentence. This could take months.  Although a judge can jail someone for preventative detention after a conviction, many times this is not ordered.

The Poder Judicial said that the information on each fugitive also contains input from the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones  and the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. The election tribunal also supervises the Registro Civil where Costa Ricans obtain their cédulas.

Some of the individuals on the site are fleeing murder convictions.

The site will be updated daily, said the Poder Judicial. The site also contains contact information for turning in a fugitive.
This includes the telephone number of the Judicial Investigating Organization, 800-8000-645, the agency's Facebook page: and its email address:

President outlines her hopes for the current legislative session
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has made her wish list known to the new president of the Asamblea Legislativa.

She met with Víctor Emilio Granados Wednesday at Casa Presidencial.

High on the president's list was a bill that would delay the eviction of residents and demolition of structures that are now in the country's maritime zone. The most endangered properties are in Puerto Viejo and Cauhita. She also pushed for passage of a bill to create a new ministry of sports.

In all, Ms. Chinchilla has about two dozen bills that she said were a priority, according to a summary from Casa Presidencial.

Among these are updating the law covering firearms and explosives, passage of a revised traffic law, a bill to regulate
casinos, another to create crimes for the use of online  information, a bill addressing trafficking in persons and protection of minors while they are on the Internet. Also high on the list are a series of bills that the president put forward when her massive new tax bill was set back by the Sala IV constitutional court. These include a bill for tighter management of public funds, a bill to make public financial transactions more open to the public, one to strengthen tax collecting and one to enhance the way Costa Rica borrows on the international markets.

Ms. Chinchilla also spoke in favor of bills for electrical generating and a geothermic generating law, said Casa Presidencial.

Although the current session is not one of those special times when the executive branch controls the legislative agenda, Ms. Chinchilla has more pull with lawmakers now because her Partido Liberación Nacional is in control.

Changes coming in government's rules for inspecting vehicles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agency in charge of vehicle safety is updating the manual that Riteve SyC S.A. uses to do inspections. The changes are expected to be published in the La Gaceta official newspaper soon, and the Consejo de Seguridad Vial said that it will begin an information campaign to alert vehicle owners to the changes.

Some of the current serious violations will be downgraded and new violations will be created, said the agency.
The Consejo plans to institute some of the changes in June and others in 2013, officials said Wednesday. The changes are the responsibility of the Consejo's Departamento de Fiscalización Técnica Vehicular in the Dirección de Logística.

Private automobiles have to undergo the inspection once a year. Taxis are checked twice a year.  Riteve has been criticized as a monopoly, and there is a bill in the legislature to expand the possibilities for inspections. Despite what may happen to that bill, the government still sets the rules and the vehicle inspectors follow them.

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Fuerza Pública reports 255 average daily arrests over one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública during the last year has been arresting on average 255 persons a day, said officials Wednesday.

They released a summary that showed that from May 2011 to April 2012, the police force detained 93,151 persons. Of these, some 1,105 were caught in the act of some crime and were eligible for presentation to a flagrancy court that administers swift justice, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

No where near these numbers have been processed by the judicial system, so there is no clear answer to what happened to all those who were arrested.
Mario Zamora, the minister, Celso Gamboa, the vice minister and Juan José Andrade, director general of the Fuerza Pública, gave the summary.

Offices confiscated 749 kilos of cocaine, 88,190 doses of crack and 145 kilos of marijuana, said the officials. Not included in these totals are the confiscations by anti-drug agents who are in the same ministry but not Fuerza Pública.

The police agency responded to 492,950 calls via the 911 system to provide the initial contact on 121,610 crimes, said the report.

During the year period, police participated in 817 planned operations, such as raids, officials said.

Traditional pre-Columbian ball game's range expanded
By the George Washington University news staff

Jeffrey P. Blomster’s latest research explores the importance of the ball game to ancient Mesoamerican societies.  Blomster’s findings show how the discovery of a ballplayer figurine in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca demonstrates the early participation of the region in the iconography and ideology of the game, a point that had not been previously documented by other researchers. Blomster’s paper, “Early evidence of the ballgame in Oaxaca, Mexico,” is featured in the latest issue of Proceedings in the National Academies of Science.

Blomster, a George Washington University associate professor of anthropology, has spent 20 years researching the origin of complex societies in Mesoamerica. The participation of early Mixtec societies in ball game imagery is a new aspect of his research. For the journal publication, Blomster worked with undergraduate students to create artistic renditions of the figurine artifacts found in Mexico.

While early games used a hard rubber ball, the ball games Blomster researches bear little resemblance to today’s Major League Baseball. The games and the costumes or uniforms participants wore were tied to themes of life and death, mortals and underworld deities or symbolizing the sun and the moon. In some instances, the ball court itself represented a portal to the underworld.

According to Blomster, “Because the ball game is associated with the rise of complex societies, understanding its origins also illuminates the evolution of socio-politically complex societies.”

During the Early Horizon period, or roughly between 1400 B.C. and 1700 B.C., there was little evidence of ball game activity in the way of artifacts in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Blomster’s findings of a clay figurine garbed in distinctive ball game costume, similar to both Olmec figurines and monumental sculptures from the Gulf Coast, indicate such engagement did take place in the area.

This is one of four drawings from a Maya vase now in the Dallas Museum of Art that was found in the central lowlands of México. The ball and the player's gear is greatly exaggerated. The figure is believed to be a local ruler.

“Exploring the origins and spread of the ball game is central to understanding the development of the Mesoamerican civilization,” he said. “We know there were earlier versions of a ball game prior to the Early Horizon with both a ball court and rubber balls found in coastal Chiapas and the Gulf Coast, but the institutionalized version of the ball game, a hallmark of Mesoamerican civilizations, developed during the Early Horizon. While there has been some limited evidence about the participation of the nearby Valley of Oaxaca in the ball game, the Mixteca has largely been written off in terms of involvement in the origins of complex society in ancient Mexico. This discovery reemphasizes how the ancient Mixtecs were active participants in larger Mesoamerican phenomenon.”

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Obama administration seeks
OK for Law of Sea Treaty

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration is beginning a new push to get the U.S. Senate to approve the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea treaty. Administration officials said the pact is necessary to protect the U.S. Navy’s right to carry out exercises off the coast of China. 

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers and others meeting on the treaty Wednesday in Washington that it is time for the United States to ratify the 30-year-old pact, which sets rules on navigation and exclusive economic zones.

Panetta said the treaty will ensure that U.S. warships, commercial vessels and aircraft have access to go where needed.

“The time has come for the United States to have a seat at the table. The time has come for the United States to fully assert its role as a global leader and accede to this important treaty," Panetta said. "It is the bedrock legal instrument underpinning public order across the maritime domain.  We are the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is not a party to it.”

The Obama administration says that ratifying the pact will protect the U.S. Navy’s right to conduct exercises in waters near China, where Chinese ships in the past have harassed U.S. vessels.

China, which is a party to the treaty, claims control over its exclusive economic zone that extends about 370 kilometers (230 miles) from its coast and can therefore ban foreign navies from conducting exercises in the area.  The United States says no such control exists beyond about 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the coast.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Washington believes that being part of the Law of the Sea treaty will help bridge international differences. “The convention gives us another tool to effectively resolve conflicts at every level.  It provides a common language, and therefore a better opportunity, to settle disputes with cooperation instead of cannons,” he said.

U.S. ratification of the convention has been held up over concerns among some congressional leaders who warn that the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and gives the United Nations too much control over oil and other mineral rights.  Treaty opponents say ratifying the pact will not cause China to change its maritime claims.

The U.S. push to approve the treaty comes as the Pentagon focuses new attention on China’s military buildup and its expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Washington has also been paying close attention to a dispute that has been escalating between Beijing and the Philippines over an island in the South China Sea.

Responses to president
on gay marriage predictable

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Reaction to President Obama’s statement supporting same-sex marriage was swift in the nation’s capital.

On the streets of Washington, passersby voiced strong opinions about America’s first-ever presidential endorsement of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“I support marriage equality, so I was very happy.  It should be a universal right that you can love whoever you want to love and get the same benefits as somebody else, regardless of your genitalia,” said web designer Kate Brown:

By contrast, Washington resident Rupert Moreno says he has many gay friends, but does not support their right to marry. “I think that is an aberration. If you go that route, then the next step will be people doing polygamy. How about that?  Why not also allow marriage between one man and a few women?  Three?  How do you like that?  Or four or five?," he said.

Advocacy groups weighed in quickly.  The socially-conservative Family Research Council called President Obama’s announcement “disappointing but not surprising,” and predicted that same-sex marriage will be a major issue in this year's presidential election.

“It is a tremendous day.  The president coming out and pledging his full support for marriage equality really shows a great amount of leadership,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz of the Human Rights Campaign

He says he was elated when he heard the news. “I think there is something tremendously powerful when the leader of, not just our country, but the leader of the free world goes on television and says, ‘I value all families’.  I think gay and lesbian families need the same protections.  And I think about the gay kid growing up somewhere in this country who has heard his president say he can have that dream that everyone else shares of one day growing up and getting married.  I think it sends a tremendously positive signal,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Press group seeks action
on Honduran abduction

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association condemned the abduction Wednesday morning of Honduras journalist Alfredo Villatoro, asking the country’s president, Porfirio Lobo, to take immediate action in the case. It also urged the government to organize means of ensuring the safety of members of the press and put an end to the impunity that surrounds other cases of violence against news media and individual journalists.

Villatoro, with the Tegucigalpa radio station HRN, was driving at 4:45 a.m. on his way to the station, where he is in charge of the newscast, when he was intercepted and kidnapped by at least six assailants who were riding in two pickup trucks, a police spokesman reported. Villatoro, known in various local media as one of the Central American country’s most influential radio reporters, had reported receiving death threats.

Villatoro’s abduction occurred two days after the discovery of the body of journalist, gay community activist and National Popular Resistance Front member Erick Martínez Ávila. The reasons for his having been killed are so far unknown.

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Caja union workers threaten
strike over cut in benefit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The union that represents workers in the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social is threatening a strike if the government goes ahead with plans to cut costs.

The union is the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social. A general strike would paralyze the nation's public health care, although in the past, the union maintains essential services.

No firm date has been set, but union members will meet Friday at the time government officials are meeting with union officials Friday.

The government wants to reduce in stages the final payoff awarded employees, usually upon their retirement. Currently employees with long service can get up to 20 months pay when they leave. The government eventually wants to cut this to eight months pay.

Union officials say that most of the members are honest, hard-working individuals who are not responsible for the grim situation in which the Caja now finds itself. The union blames bad administration and political corruption.

U.S. Embassy warning
of unauthorized phone calls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. embassy spokesperson said Wednesday that someone is making telephone calls and seeking identifying information on U.S. citizens here. The caller falsely claims to be working at the embassy, the spokesperson said.

“These calls are NOT legitimate and very well could be the efforts of a scammer looking to steal personally identifiable information,” said the spokesperson, adding:

“Callers to the American Citizen Services section state that the person making the calls often identifies himself as Jack Austin, and leaves the real U.S. Embassy switchboard number as a contact.  No one by that name works at the Embassy.  Americans residing in Costa Rica, as well as Americans here as tourists, have reported receiving these phone calls.”

The calls appear to seek Social Security numbers and says the purpose of the call is to register the citizen with the embassy.

The spokesperson said that citizens only can register themselves with the Smart Traveler Alert Program on the U.S. Department of State Web site.

Government will kick off
Interamericana Norte work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government will kick off officially the reconstruction and widening of the Interamericana Norte Monday with a ceremony in Cañas which is at the midpoint of the project.

The project ranges from Baranca near Puntarenas Centro to Peñas Blancas at the Nicaraguan border, some 50 kilometers, some 31 miles. As part of the project, the current two-lane highway will be widened to four lanes.

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