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Long-scuttled cargo ship becomes environmental case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A dramatic event at the beginning of World War II has resurfaced as an environmental problem just off the beach at Puntarenas Centro.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo has ordered that any salvage work on the sunken cargo ship “Fella” be halted and asked that the Servicio Nacional de Guardacoastas and the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación keep watch on the site.

The environmental tribune is seeking an evaluation of the wrecked boat by the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental mainly because the wreck has been converted by nature into a reef that harbors sea life.

In recent weeks complaints have emerged that locals are salvaging metal and other materials from the boat.

The “Fella,” a boat of Italian ownership and registry, and the “Eisenach,” a German cargo boat, both sought shelter in a neutral port when war loomed in Europe.

Anthropologist Roberto Le Franc Ureña has outlined the events on a Museo Nacional Web page. He said that the German boat has been in port since Sept.1, 1939, and that the Italian boat arrived from Panamá June 5 the next year. The vessels basically were stranded.

There was concern that the boats were being used by Nazi spy networks. Costa Rican officials stripped boat vessels of their radios, the anthropologist said, but there were rumors that the boats were back on the air and perhaps getting messages sent in code by lights on shore.

March 31, 1941, both vessels suffered an early morning explosion and sank. Capt. Gabriel Locatelli Gabrielli of the “Fella” and Capt.  Gerhard Loers Struck of the “Eisenach” are presumed to have received orders to scuttle the
ships explode
 The Museo Nacional has this newspaper photo of
  the 'Fella' and the 'Eisenach' in the distance
  burning after explosions.

vessels from their governments and shipping companies in Europe, perhaps passed through German diplomats in Costa Rica.

Not long after, Le Franc noted, the “Eisenach” was raised and repaired. It went back into service as a cargo ship, he said. Attempts to raise the “Fella” were unsuccessful. It was believed carrying a cargo of marble, although there were rumors of war materials.

The boat lay in Puntarenas harbor for more than 60 years rusting. At extremely low tide part of the boat could be seen, locals said.

The environmental tribunal said it got a report last week of a Sala IV constitutional court appeal by a Puntarenas resident about efforts by others to dismantle the boat underwater. The tribunal said it sought information from the municipality over any permits that would allow the work and warned that the activity may be affecting the reef that has formed around the boat.

Thursday the Tribunal issued its restrictive order and asked for an environmental report in 10 days.

Reports from Puntarenas say that a barge had erected a crane above the wreck and that large pieces of metal were being brought ashore.

Registro says no deadlines exist yet to exchange plates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Registro Nacional says that incorrect information is circulating about the process of exchanging vehicle license plates.

Internet users have been getting messages that list certain time periods during which motorists must surrender their old license plates and obtain new ones.

However, the Registro, which is in charge of the process, said that there still is no official calendar from when the old plates expire.

The agency promised to provide the information when it is available.
All vehicles in Costa Rica will need new plates this year. For owners of passenger vehicles the cost is 15,000 colons or about $30. The new plates are supposed to be more difficult to forge because they will contain security features.

Plates are available the same day at the Registro and its regional offices. However, Correos de Costa Rica also is accepting plates for exchange.  Correos made the announcement Jan. 26.

Exchanging the plates at the post office requires a wait of five days, workers at the Correos headquarters downtown said. The motorist brings in the plate and pays the fee but then must wait for the post office to deliver the new plates, mostly to postal boxes.

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Trio held in trafficking case
involving foreign prostitutes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained two foreigners and a Costa Rican Thursday on allegations that they were engaged in trafficking in persons.

Investigators said that the trio were involved in a night club where prostitution services were offered.

The Poder Judicial identified the men with their last names and their nationalities as Caicedo of Colombia, Mazid of Egypt and Sánchez, a Costa Rican.

There were little details released. However, the case is in the hands of the organized crime prosecutor.

The prosecutor is seeking three months preventative detention for the men, the Poder Judicial said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization conducted five raids Thursday to detain the men.

The information provided by the Poder Judicial is vague. Most strip clubs in Costa Rica are centers of prostitution. And most contain small bedrooms that are rented to customers. Law enforcement has overlooked this pimping tradition for years. Prostitution is not penalized in Costa Rica, but pimping is supposed to be a crime.

Costa Rica is in the process of considering new legislation on human trafficking, but the law, as written, does not contain a definition. Consequently, trafficking in Costa Rica could be considered driving a bus containing illegal Nicaraguan immigrants or forcing women to work as prostitutes.

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime defines trafficking as the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. It also includes smuggling of immigrants as human trafficking.

Costa Rica's proposed legislation lacks the aspects of force, fraud or deception.

The men who were detained Thursday are believed to have been in the business of supervising the arrival of foreign women who then worked as prostitutes. If the women were brought here illegally, the actions are crimes under the immigration law regardless of whether the women worked as prostitutes.

Costa Rican law enforcement has increased its efforts against human trafficking, and A.M. Costa Rica has reported that this probably is due to the desire to obtain good marks from the United States in this year's human trafficking report. The U.S. State Department puts out such a report in June each year. The State Department has placed Costa Rica on what is called Tier Two watch list for human trafficking. 

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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Liberman confident that train will service Cartago in October
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central government officials again promised Thursday that passenger train service will reach Cartago on a regular basis by October.

The goal is to have the extension of the line completed so that President Laura Chinchilla can travel to independence day ceremonies in Cartago Sept. 14.

Vice President Luis Liberman toured the work in progress between Curridabat and Tres Ríos Thursday with Miguel Carabaguíaz, executive president of Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles.

Liberman said that new rail cars are already on order in Spain where the country's new, narrow-gauge cars originate However, the plans are for much more than extending the current service. Liberman noted that the country is awaiting a
 feasibility study by a Spanish firm that will outline the requirements for a high-speed train between Alajuela and Cartago.

Liberman said that such a train would be much more comfortable.

However, to set up such a system would involve routing the lines out of the center of San José where commuter trains mix with buses and cars on a daily basis.

The rail lines from San José to Heredia and from San José to the east have been or are being reconstructed with concrete cross ties that would accommodate a rapid train. The rail system still does not have gates at vehicle crossings, and train engineers continue to blow their whistles before they reach a crossing. That would seem to hamper the speed of train service.

There has been little talk of installing such safety devices.

IBM inaugurates its tech center supporting cloud computing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

IBM inaugurated its new information technology center in Heredia Thursday.

The company says it plans to invest $300 million in Costa Rica over the next 10 years. This new facility will support the firms cloud computing operations. The firm said it plans to hire about 1,000 persons by 2014.

Cloud computing allows storage and applications for those
working at home or in offices. The concept is considered to be more secure and cost effective.

At the same time IBM announced a program for public and private universities. The goal is to improve instructions in the skills the company will need. The firm is offering access to its software in areas of online security, cloud computer, data storage and business analytics, it said.  The firm also will work with professors to develop their courses.

The new facility is in Zona Franca América.

All over the world, the population is getting fatter and bigger
It is great being a superhero, larger than life and indestructible, but it is not so good being super big, larger than necessary and prone to destructive illnesses   A recent study by the Institute of Medicine in the U.S. revealed that two out of three adults and one of three children there are overweight or obese. 

Years ago, each time I returned to the States from abroad, I was struck by the number of fat people who suddenly seemed to appear and realized that this was not so in other countries.  When I first came to Costa Rica in the 1980s, I was struck by the opposite phenomenon:  there were almost no fat people anywhere, and certainly no one who was obese.  Today, it is different.  Giants are once again appearing all over the earth, but they are not healthy giants.  We are growing in the wrong direction.  Since the 1960s the average man in the United States has gained one inch in height and 25 pounds in weight.

There are some people who are heavy and healthy, but for the most part, obesity is the cause of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, which has a variety of life threatening side effects.  Writer and critic Cyril Connolly said “Obesity is a mental state, a disease brought on by boredom and disappointment.”  Maybe so, but obesity along with diabetes is prevalent at younger and younger ages, not just in the States but everywhere sugar and fats are easily available, and a sedentary life has become the norm.

Adaptations are taking place to accommodate super-sized people.  They use the health facilities more often than their slimmer counterparts, and larger ambulance stretchers and hospital beds are being built.  Even bigger coffins are necessary.  We won’t go into seats in public and private transportation.

Statisticians are beginning to report that maybe obesity is going to lower life expectancy.  I have been predicting this since 1990.  Actually, before that I said that those of us born after 1930 will not live, on average, as long as our parents (“the great generation”).  I based this on the changes in farming and the growth of chemicals in everything we consume and use that have had a greater effect on us than our parents who grew up in a tougher, but healthier environment.  True, my mother’s father died of a heart attack at 65. But my mother was a month short of her 100th birthday when she died, and her mother would have lived longer than her 86
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

years had she not been hit by a truck.  I don’t think Baby
Boomers are going to live as long as my generation, nor their children as long as they do. 

This column was going to be about old saws that are biting the dust.  And one even applies to the topic I got caught up in….”You can’t be too rich or too thin.”  (I think the Duchess of Windsor may have said that.)  Well, we are really in trouble because even the rich are getting, if not fat, at least portly.

Another saying: “It is not what you say, but what you do that people remember.”  This may still be true in the long run, but poor President Obama, it seems that the fact that he has done more to promote gay rights than any other president in history matters not, he must say something.  As for Mitt Romney, the contender, what he says as what he has done is so confusing and changes enough to baffle most of us into silence.

And finally, we have the third dying saw:  “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Not so anymore.  The world of words has become a minefield.  Anyone who opens his or her mouth, or writes something is in danger of offending (mortally, it would seem) some member of a race, nationality, sex, or type of person.  It is getting so that apologies will have to be posted automatically after every opinion, commercial, joke or comment on TV, the Internet, etc. etc.

I am a little worried that I am going to be accused of some sort of hurtful and prejudicial attack on a vulnerable segment of the population.  Before you come after me, just think, I have survived being an offspring of an immigrant population that was called names, caricatured,  considered members of the mob, and today, Mario Batali can say, “There are two kinds of people, Italians and those who wish they were Italian.” And no one objects!  In fact, pizza is probably the most popular food in the world . . .  unfortunately.

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Bandits invade condo complex in Curridabat during daytime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits invaded a Curridabat condo complex in mid-morning and broad daylight Thursday. They tied up individuals there and sacked the compound, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A preliminary report said that the bandits, armed and wearing ski masks, confronted a woman outside her condo in the complex in Guayabos de Curridabat. The gang of about five persons took the woman to another condo where they encountered yet another woman.

Both victims were taken to a small service room where they found three other persons tied up.
The crooks spent more than an hour going through condos.

They took a small safe from one residence, said agents.

About the same time five bandits were sticking up a couple at the Polideportivo in Barrio Aranjuez in northeast San José. These bandits used a knife to take cell telephones, coats and other items of value, said the Fuerza Pública.

However, officers caught up with five suspects a short distance to the north in San Francisco de Goicoechea. Police said the victims identified the suspects, and officers recovered the items that were taken. Each has prior arrests for robbery, police said.
The five suspects were to appear before the Tribunal de Flagrancia that administers quick justice.

Florida study cites benefits of selective logging in tropics
By the University of Florida news service

Harvesting tropical forests for timber may not be the arch-enemy of conservation that it was once assumed to be, according to a new study led by a University of Florida researcher.

Selective logging may be one of the few feasible options left for conserving tropical forests given the huge financial incentives pushing tropical landholders to convert primary forests into cash-generating agricultural plantations.

The report analyzed data from more than 100 studies of tropical forests on three continents that had been harvested for timber. Results suggest that while biodiversity and carbon retention take a hit from selective logging, the losses are survivable and reversible to a degree if the forest is given adequate time to recover. The study appears in the online version of the journal Conservation Letters.

That’s not the case when forests are converted to rubber or palm oil plantations, said the study’s lead author, Jack Putz, a University of Florida professor of biology. Once a forest is gone, it is hard to get it back in any semblance of its former glory.

“We aren’t advocates for logging,” he said. “We’re just acknowledging that it is a reality — and that within that reality, there is a way forward.”

The study found that on average, 85 to 100 percent of the animal and plant species diversity present before an initial harvest remained after the forests were selectively logged. Forests also retained 76 percent of their carbon after an initial harvest.

The authors concede that the reports they analyzed could be overly optimistic portrayals of forest health. They nevertheless maintain that even moderately well-managed forests provide  valuable benefits, and that badly managed forests can recover
 many of their most valuable attributes over time.

The continued existence of native people culturally bound to these forests depends on forest survival, Putz said. Other people benefit from the eco-services that forests provide like soil erosion control, carbon sequestration and habitat for wildlife.

The problem, he said, is that there are powerful economic forces driving developing nations to convert their forests to cash crops and cattle ranches.

A forest sustainably managed for timber and biodiversity might earn $2,000 per acre every 20 to 30 years. In contrast, a palm oil plantation can bring in the same amount in less than a year.

But there are ways to tip the balance sheet in favor of conservation, according to the study.

Programs that root out illegal logging operations protect forests by raising the price of legitimately harvested timber, he said. And that makes sustainable logging a more economically viable option for cash-strapped nations. The study also suggests that climate change mitigation programs designed to prevent logging could be modified to include support for environmentally sustainable timber management plans.

Many conservation biologists and ecologists in developed countries north of the equator seem reluctant to get behind these policies in a public way, he said. A chronic lack of oversight has made programs that allow for selective logging a risky ecological proposition in the past. That makes people involved in conservation hesitant to be seen as aligning themselves with timber harvest in any capacity.

But logging is going to happen anyway, Putz said. “Conservationists should be working to make sure it is carried out in the most environmentally and socially responsible ways possible,” he said.

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JPMorgan Chase takes
$2 billion hedge bath

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The chief executive of JPMorgan Chase — America's largest bank — revealed Thursday that the bank recently lost $2 billion in the same complex, risky trades that helped bring on the 2008 financial crisis.

The CEO, Jamie Dimon, called the bank's actions an “egregious mistake” and embarrassing.

Shares in JPMorgan fell nearly 7 percent in late trading Thursday. Other bank shares were also sharply lower.

The complex trades by JPMorgan, known as hedge funds, act like an insurance policy so investors are protected if the market loses value. But recent rises and drops in the stock market led to losses.

JPMorgan had previously avoided such risky investments, allowing it to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis relatively unscathed.

In better economic news, the United States has posted its first budget surplus in almost four years.

The Treasury Department said Thursday the country took in more money last month than it spent for the first time since September 2008, just before the recession.

Americans pay their yearly taxes in April, so an increase in revenue is not unusual. The country is also expected to post another trillion-dollar deficit this year. Some economists believe the first surplus in nearly four years is a sign the U.S. economy may be coming back to life.

The government also said Thursday that the U.S. trade gap widened in March, with the country importing more goods than it exported.

It says the $52-billion increase in the trade deficit is a 14 percent jump over February.

Officials cite higher prices for imported oil and a greater demand for foreign-built computers, cars, televisions, cell phones and clothes. U.S. trade with China accounted for about 40 percent of the overall American shortfall.

In a separate report, the government said the number of first-time claims for jobless benefits was slightly lower last week from the prior week. Analysts said the level of initial claims for unemployment compensation signals that the U.S. is poised for modest job growth.

The U.S. jobless rate dipped in April to 8.1 percent, but partly because some people out of work stopped looking for jobs and were not counted in the monthly employment survey.

Honduran drug ring ran
couriers six years, Feds say

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. federal agents have arrested 28 people for allegedly running a cocaine smuggling ring between Honduras and northern Virginia.

Officials say many of the suspects are illegal immigrants from Honduras.

Investigators say that the ring used couriers to import the cocaine into the United States and that once those couriers arrived in the U.S., the drug would be picked up and distributed to dealers in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The defendants allegedly spent six years smuggling millions of dollars of cocaine inside shoes, souvenirs, and wooden frames and wired more than $1 million to their suppliers in Honduras.

Officials say the defendants, who are from all over Maryland and Virginia, face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

More headless bodies
discovered in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican police have found the dismembered and decapitated bodies of at least 18 people in the western part of the country, where violence between rival drug gangs has flared.

Prosecutor Tomas Coranado says the remains were discovered stuffed inside two vans near Lake Chapala Wednesday, not far from the city of Guadalajara.

Police say a handwritten note believed to be from the Zetas drug gang was found at the scene.

A woman allegedly linked to the Zetas gang is reported to have told investigators the killings were in retaliation for the murders of 23 people last Friday.  The victims were found hanging from a bridge and stuffed in trash bags in the border city of Nuevo Laredo.

The Zetas and Sinaloa drug cartels have a history of violent attacks against one another in battles over turf.

More than 50,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels began in 2006.
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Charges entered formally
against 10 prison guards

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors have presented to a court formal allegations that accuse 10 prison guards with torture, murder and abuse of authority.

This involves events at the La Reforma maximum security  facility from May 11 to 15, 2011. That was the period after police frustrated an attempted jailbreak.

During this time one of the inmates, Johel Araya, a leader of the breakout attempt, suffered fatal injuries and was found dead in his cell.

The prosecutors expect that a preliminary hearing will be set up for the 10 accused, said the Poder Judicial.

They also are investigating the role of other persons outside the prison in the breakout attempt.

Agents detain lawyers
in property fraud cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial Investigators have detained two lawyers in an investigation of property fraud.

The pair were identified by the last names Navarro and González. There were few details given Thursday after the men were arrested, but the men are believed to be accused of filing fake paperwork that stole the property from rightful owners for purposes of resale.

Costa Rican law protects the rights of innocent third parties, so once a property is stolen and resold, the original owner has a long battle to get it back.

Property transfers here do not require the signature of the owner, just a certification by a notary that the property has been sold. Both lawyers are notaries, a position that requires further study than being a mere lawyer.

Unhappy woman dumps
hot water on policeman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman being evicted Thursday from a dwelling in Barrio la Pitahaya fought back by dumping a pot of hot water on a policemen, said the Policía Turística.

The tourist police officer named Fallas was helping Fuerza Pública officers with the eviction from substandard housing, police said. The officer suffered burns to the face, an eye and his head. The woman fled into the dwelling but was detained, police said.

Parents held in child's death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parents have been detained in the death of their 4-month-old baby in Río Jiménez de Guácimo.

The baby died en route to the Hospital de Guápiles Tuesday after rescue workers called to the home found the infant having trouble breathing. Agents said they suspect battered child syndrome. The couple, 22 and 24, have two other children.

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