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(506) 2223-1327            Pubished Friday, Oct. 30, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 215      E-mail us
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Another man reported missing in Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is another case of a missing man in Guanacaste.

The latest to be listed as missing is Michael George Dixon, 33. He was seen last Oct. 19, and the Judicial Investigating Organization issued a bulletin this week. He was staying at the Villas Macondo Hotel in Tamarindo. An investigation is just being started, and his brother, David, was reported to be flying in from the United Kingdoms.

Friends said that Dixon arrived Oct. 18 and was seen leaving the hotel at 8 a.m. the following morning dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. He was carrying a blue hotel towel, they said. Concerned friends have opened a site on Facebook to exchange information.

A poster distributed by e-mail to many residents of Tamarindo said Dixon weighed 65 kilos and was 1.7 meters tall. That's about 174 pounds and 5 feet, 7 inches. He was said to be a fluent French speaker who knew some Spanish.

Illinois resident David Gimelfarb, 28, vanished Aug. 11 after he went hiking alone in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja north and east of Liberia. There was an extensive search and a local private investigator was called in.

A resident reported seeing a man who may have been Gimelfarb living off the land, but a search that included dogs never turned up more than matted grass. Gimelfarb was a doctoral student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. The national park where the man vanished is about 25 kms from Liberia, the provincial capital. That's about 16 miles.

No one knows what happened to former Key West, Florida resident Craig Snell. He was an expat living in Ostional who vanished  Feb. 18. He was seen last walking south along the beach from Ostional toward the Boca Nosara. He, too, was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the uniform of the day for Pacific coast residents. Ostional is south of Tamarindo on the same western pacific coast.

Snell spent five years in Ostional living in a home in the center of the community. He was described as well liked.  Snell left his computer on when he departed his home in Ostional. He also left his wallet, passport and credit cards.

There was a resolution of sorts in the case of missing Australian student Brendan Dobbins. He vanished in Tamarindo, too, shortly after walking away from friends on the beach. That was March 4, 2005.

Dobbins, then 24 and a senior at the University of Florida, traveled to Costa Rica with several of his classmates over spring break. The man's parents and the Australian diplomatic service instigated a massive search that failed to find clues.

In mid-June of the same year the bones of an adult male were found in mangroves near the beach. Judicial agents said that the bones and the remains that investigators have show no sign of violence, although the process of decomposition and the actions of scavenger animals has destroyed many clues. Irregularities in the teeth convinced judicial police that the body was Dobbins.

Dobbins, too, was thought to be carrying little money and no passport. Tamarindo is about 35 miles from Liberia. That's about 56 kilometers, but the drive takes about an hour because of road conditions.

Several theories have been advanced in some of the missing cases. Some friends thought that the Australian, Dobbins, may have fallen in with
Missing man Snell
Craig Snell
Missing man Dixon
Michael Dixon
Missing man Gimelfarb
David Gimelfarb
MIssing man dobbins
Brendan Dobbins
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Locations when men have vanished

local, crooks who tried to rob him and then killed him to avoid being identified. His body was
found too far inland for his death to have been the result of a water accident.

Relatives and friends of Snell think that he may have met his death in the water, perhaps with the help of a sea-going crocodile or shark. Costa Rica's coastlines are treacherous, and undertows can pull a victim so far out from shore that the body never will be found.

For a time searchers thought that Gimelfarb may have suffered some kind of psychological breakdown that caused him to adopt the lifestyle of a hermit. Now they are not so sure because there has been no further evidence.

Snell and Gimelfarb were not considered high risk individuals. Neither was a heavy drinker, drug user or otherwise engaged in high-risk activities. Dixon hardly was in Tamarindo long enough to be at risk.

The Judicial Investigating Organization in Santa Cruz is handling the case. The agency issued a bulletin Monday and said that persons with information should call 2681-4062 or 2681-4060. Judicial police and the news media are slow to react to a case of missing individuals because there are so many and most turn up after having sampled the Costa Rican high life.  But Dixon has been gone for 12 days as of this morning.

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University coed gunned down
when caught in a crossfire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Universidad de Costa Rica student presumed to be on her way home from class became caught in a crossfire on a main street in Los Yoses Thursday evening and died when a bullet struck her in the head.

The woman was identified by the last names of Madrigal Muñoz. Sources said she was between the ages of 18 to 20.

The woman appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when two groups of men began to shoot it out. The location was in front of the Citibank branch on the service road of the San Pedro Boulevard Los Yoses, usually called Avenida Central, and next to the Restaurant Río.

The woman's body lay covered in the parking area in front of the bank. The shootout happened about 5:30 p.m., about a half hour before bank closing hours. Investigators are expecting to see what happened by reviewing the recording tape of the security cameras of the bank.

Ms. Madrigal was believed to be the daughter of a Costa Rican diplomat.

Two men in a car tried to leave the scene after the shooting but a public bus pulled up and blocked their escape. Both fled the car, and one escaped in a taxi. A suspect was detained in a nearby restaurant when police arrived. He was identified as a Jamacian. The operator of the restaurant said the man was acting suspiciously.

Investigators said they found .22-caliber shells and 9-mm shells at the scene, suggesting that at least two weapons were in play.

The sidewalk is heavily traveled and many passerby are headed to the nearby Mall San Pedro. There is a bus stop nearby.

Woman and three lawyers
held on property fraud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two more lawyers have been detained as suspects in stealing property from a U.S. citizen by using fake paperwork.

The name of the victim was not disclosed but the Judicial Investigating Organization said the property involved was in Guanacaste and worth $1 million.

The judicial police said that the two lawyers with the help of a woman convinced the man to take out a mortgage on the property. The lawyers did the paperwork and collected fees for their work, but they actually transferred the property into a corporation that they controlled, said the judicial police.

The events are believed to have happened last year.

The agency's Sección de Fraudes conducted three searches Thursday. One was in Escazú at the home of the women and two more were in Heredia at the home and office of the lawyers. The three suspects were detained at the time of the searches, the judicial police said.

Environmental minster urges
downgrading Ostional refuge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environment minister went to the legislature Thursday to convince lawmakers to downgrade the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional. The minister is Jorge Rodríguez, and he was accompanied by Julio Méndez of the Área de Conservación Tempisque and two academics.

The minister is in the unusual position of trying to turn the refuge into one of mixed use so that nearly 700 families will not be displaced.

The Sala IV constitutional court has ordered the government to evict the residents unless they can show they lived there before 1980 when the refuge was created.

The central government does not have the funds or the inclination to relocate so many families. The only way to circumvent the Sala IV decision is to pass a law that will change the use of the refuge. The area is a nesting ground for turtles.

The Comisión de Ambiente was considering the measure Thursday. Rodríguez of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones has been the most senior government official to address the proposal in committee.

The lawmakers are working on a deadline because the Sala IV ordered that the refuge be cleared by Jan. 1.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 215

Minimum wages will be going up 5 percent on Jan. 1
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans who work at the minimum wage will get a 5 percent increase starting Jan. 1

That was the decision of the Consejo Nacional de Salarios that fixes the individual pay in a number of job categories every six months.

The 5 percent figure came from negotiators for the private sector who presented a proposal slightly higher than that presented by the Ministerio de Trabajo. The ministry said 4.7 percent.

The salary increases are supposed to reflect the rise in the cost of living and the depreciation of the colon currency. Many of the 1.5 million employees in the private sector work at the minimum wage.

Union and worker representatives wanted a 7.74 percent increase.

The increase actually will be more than that for employers
because they will have to pay higher social assessments on the higher wages to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, which represented its members, said that the increase was a serious effort to keep employees on the job in the face of negative economic pressures. The chamber said that the minimum wage represented a 2.5 percent increase in social assessments.

The chamber also asked legislators to increase their efforts to protect the Costa Rican worker. There are several proposed laws in the legislative hopper that would make the work week and working hours more flexible.

For example, an employer would be able to set a four-day, 10-hour a day schedule without having to pay surcharges on the hourly rate as is the case now. Some unions strongly oppose this idea.

The increase also applies to expats who may employ domestic or garden workers. A garden worker now should make 6,575 colons or about $11.33 a day. The Ministerio de Trabajo will post new salaries on its Web site before Jan. 1.

New series of history books cover oxcarts and liquor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oxcarts and the San Jose's cemetery figure in a series of new books that would seem to be treats for history buffs.

The books also discuss the history of Parque La Sabana, the Fábrica Nacional de Licores and legends of Santa Ana, Escazú and the Cantón de Mora.

The book series will be outlined further today as officials of the Ministerio de Educación Pública and the Centro de  Patrimonio discuss the use of an education Web site to promote the books.

The titles and brief descriptions are alluring although the books are in Spanish. One gives the history of the Cementerio General, written by Carlos Zamora and Santiago Quesada. This is the cemetery south of Avenida 10 and east of the municipal building that was started in 1845. The cemetery is rich in architecture and art because there are few plain headstones. Instead, families have installed mausoleums.

The cemetery holds the remains of many leaders and cultural figures who lived over the last two centuries. The title is "Cementerio General Ciudad de San José."

The legends and traditions are contained in the work "Certamen de Tradiciones Costarricenses 2006, cantones de Escazú, Santa Ana y Mora." The text includes the works of winners of the centro's contests that sought intangible cultural aspects of the area. Among the short stories is one titled "De cómo mi abuela habló con la Llorona."  La Llorona is the crying woman who haunts Latin America in one manifestation or another because, as legend goes, she killed her baby. In other words, she is a ghost to whom the author's grandmother had a chat.
The work on the metropolitan is simply "La Sabana, un parque con historia." It is by Carlos Zamora. The area used to be known as the Liano de Mata Redonda. It also was the location of the municipal airport. John Kennedy landed there in 1963 on his famed Latin tour with his elegant Spanish-speaking wife.

The oxcart is the central subject of "La ornamentatión de Carretas en Costa Rica: origenes y tendencias." It is by Carmen Murillo Chaverri and Yanori Alvarez Masís. This is an academic-level work treating the history and development of the colorful carts that are seen today.

The collection "Circuito de Turismo Cultural" really contains four little books that treat the district of El Carmen in San José, the city of Cartago and the Orosi Valley and Puntarenas. Carlos Zamora also was involved in writing these works as were Gerardo Alberto Vargas and Elisa González. The book contains maps and information about the specific areas. For San José it includes a suggestion for a walking tour through the central city.

While on the walking tour, visitors might be tempted to carry "Sintesis histórica de las estructuras arquitectónicas de la antigua Fábrica Nacional de Licores."  The former liquor factory is just east of Parque España and houses Ministerio de Cultural, Juventud y Deportes now. There many features remain from the early days of making alcohol.  The ministry took over the location in 1994. Much of the ministry is open to the public during working hours, and there are art galleries inside. 

The Centro de Patrimonio is an agency of the ministry.

The books that will be presented today are not yet on the education ministry's Web site, but there are other historical and cultural titles there.

The decision has been made to go back to the books
I watched most of “Latinos in America,” a CNN documentary produced and narrated by Soledad O’Brien.  It was as compelling as her “Black in America.” As far as I could tell there were no Costa Ricans featured or even mentioned.  That only half surprised me because compared to other Latinos who have migrated to the States, Costa Ricans are few. Or maybe as some wiseacre said “The show’s producers didn’t go to New Jersey.”

I felt more sympathy for the illegal immigrants in the U.S., especially the children who crossed the border, often on their own, and were put in detention centers to wait for hearings about whether their fate would be to stay or be deported. I guess that is the problem with so many laws in many countries: they are rigid and cannot take into account the relativity of some actions or the consequences of their sweep.

But the big news for me this week was not on TV.  It was the fact that I took a walk for the pleasure of it.  After a cloudy morning that kept me from getting my 20 minutes on my balcony soaking up the sun, the clouds broke their huddle and the sun came through. What thrilled me was that I was eager to walk. 

Just a week ago, all I wanted to do was stay in bed.  I have reached an age when maladies I never thought about have begun to plague me.  Perceiving myself as less than resilient, I have succumbed to the supposedly greater knowledge of the medical profession.  Thus I have become a pill taker and a candidate for tests.  Then a combination of events came together to make me decide that maybe I knew more about my body than anyone.

One was seeing an interview on TV with an agile and smart 112-year-old man, who declared that he was not taking a single pill.  Suddenly I realized that all the pills I was taking were not making me better.

So I rallied the troops — the troops being the cells of all my organs — and said, “Team, we’re going to do this on
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

our own, like that 112-year-old man.”  We began to withdraw from the pills, and I changed my diet to a bit healthier one (mainly giving up bread and butter).

In less than a week I was free of the pain that had been a part of me for months.  I cautiously waited a couple of more days before declaring victory.  Then just before going to sleep I said, “Well, gang, we did it. And I want to thank all of you, I am so proud of you!” and I swear, I heard a whole bunch of little “yeas!” And they weren’t coming from my mouth.  I burst out laughing and went to sleep.

Now I am up and about and walking in the neighborhood.  I passed the back entrance to the nearby school, Los Angeles, and thought I would go by another day when I was more presentable and see if they had an opening for a volunteer to teach English.  Which brought me back to Latinos in America.

Watching it I realized that an awful lot of people in the world speak Spanish, and I wish I had been more fluent in the language before I came to Costa Rica or had continued to study and take opportunities to learn and practice more.

It may be a bit late now, but my friend Sandy and I have decided to find a teacher for a class of two.  We both got excited about the idea until she said, “I really want to brush up on the subjunctive!” 

“Oh, no, not again!” I thought, remembering a recent column,  and then  just had to laugh.  I guess I can’t win them all.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 215

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Acción Ciudadana wants the new Hotel RUI investigated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana is asking environmental judges to investigate the new Hotel RIU on Playa Matapalo, Guanacaste.

The massive, seven-story hotel with some 701 rooms is at the point of opening.

Acción Ciudadana said that it questions the way the project was designed and that it appears the hotel construction damaged the mangroves in the area.

The political party also noted that the Asociación Confraternidad Guanacasteca has filed a Sala IV case against the hotel. That organization generally opposes development in the area.

Acción Ciudadana said in a release that the hotel had not followed the local zoning plan devised by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones that showed part of the project area to be mangroves. The plan also was devised by the Área de Conservación Tempisque.

The statement was issued in the names of Lesvia Villalobos and Patricia Romero, legislative deputies who are members of the political party.
The communication said that the hotel was just 200 meters from the beach, although that is a legal location. The statement seemed to suggest that such large projects should not be so close to the ocean.

The political party also said that the hotel contractor had deficiencies in matters of health and labor and that workers lived in terrible conditions there.

The construction project closed for a time last November when some of the workers became sick. One man died.

The majority of the workers were from Nicaragua.

Acción Ciudadana did not say why it waited until now to complain about the hotel, which has been a long-time construction project. The hotel is believed to have an inauguration ceremony today.

The political party said that the project should be investigated by the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo  and the local prosecutor.

The hotel probably will not be a popular vacation spot for Costa Ricans. A Web site said that a special deal for a standard room was in excess of $400 a night. It is an all-inclusive hotel, meaning that food is part of the price.

Nation may study railroad route that would go to Panamá

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican and Panamanian officials are considering a feasibility study over the possibility of a rail route between the two countries.

That was one of the topics when President Óscar Arias Sánchez met with his counterpart, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal of Panamá.

The two presidents signed what is being called an association agreement. The two men also discussed
additional ways of integrating the two countries, including the electrical grid. Panama is installing some 31 hydroplants along its rivers, and Costa Rica hopes to build a giant plant on the Río Térraba in southwest Costa Rica.
The meeting was held in Panama City.

The men also discussed the narcotics smuggling situation and the possibility of reinforcing controls at the common border, according to Casa Presidencial.

Arias also got a helicopter ride to see the progress of work on the Panamá Canal expansion project.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 215

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Honduran accord reached
to return Zelaya to office

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The Honduran interim government said early today that an accord had been reached to return the government to the condition it was before June 28 when President José Manuel Zelaya was taken away by military officers and flown to Costa Rica.

The announcement by the Honduran Casa Presidencial said that the decision would be submitted to the legislature for a vote.

Another point of the agreement calls for the creation of a national government of unity and national reconciliation.

The agreement basically follows the lines proposed by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez shortly after he was asked by the United States to mediate the dispute.

Reinstalling Zelaya in office always was a stumbling block, but national elections are a month away, and he leaves office in January.

The accord also includes an amnesty, and Zelaya renounces any aims to call a national assembly to reform the constitution. He was accused of trying to change the constitution so he could serve an additional term. His leftist allies in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador have done that, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua is the beneficiary of a supreme court decision that will let him run again.

The agreement also authorized the transfer of authority over the military and the police to the national election commission. The agreement also calls for creating a truth commission to investigate what happened before, during and after the June 28 ouster of Zelaya,

A team of senior U.S. diplomats had extended a stay in Honduras suggesting that there would be an end to the political crisis spawned by the ouster of Zelaya. A resolution was seen as essential for the success of elections to be held there at the end of next month. The final agreement calls on the international community to normalize relations with Honduras.

The team headed by the top Latin America experts at the State Department and White House National Security Council had originally intended to leave Tegucigalpa Thursday.

Zelaya and his supporters, backed by the Organization of American States, said the ouster amounted to a coup d'etat and demand his return to office.

The two sides have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement of the crisis but talks were stalled over the future status of  Zelaya, who has been sheltered at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since slipping back into the country in September.

Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said earlier in the day that the parties asked him and his colleagues including White House Latin America policy chief Dan Restrepo to stay on to try to assist the process. Shannon said without a deal to end the crisis, it would be difficult for the rest of the hemisphere to support elections Nov. 29 for a new Honduran president to take office in January.

The U.S. team had met separately with the rival Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti camps and also with the Honduran presidential candidates — all of whom, Shannon said, agree that a political agreement is absolutely essential for the election to be peaceful and productive.

The Obama administration has supported settlement efforts by the Organization of American States and its Honduras mediator, Arias. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to step up the U.S. role and send the Shannon team to Honduras after Zelaya said last week the process had broken down.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 215

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New data suggests recovery
is ending U.S. recession

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The longest and deepest U.S. economic recession of the post-World War II era is over, according to government data released Thursday.

After four consecutive quarters of contraction, the U.S. economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate from July through September. The figure, released by the Commerce Department, showed the most robust expansion in two years.

Economists, like Kathleen Stephansen at Connecticut-based Aladdin Capital Holdings, hailed the news. "Indeed, the recovery is in place. This is a good start. It is a little bit stronger than what the consensus was," she said, Stephansen was speaking on Bloomberg television.

Fueling the economic growth were jumps in spending on large manufactured goods and housing. Both of those categories benefited from significant government subsidies for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles and homes. But the so-called "Cash for Clunkers" automobile subsidy has ended, and the first-time home buyer tax credit is expiring. That has Ms. Stephansen apprehensive about U.S. economic performance going forward. "A lot of this consumer spending increase is thanks to government support. Seventy percent of this economy is still the consumer. The consumer is still in a balance sheet repair-mode. And that means that he or she will be careful in spending, and wage income is not growing very fast. So, we still have major headwinds here for the consumer, and that worries me," she said.

Among the hurdles to sustained, robust growth is the U.S. unemployment rate, which stands at 9.8 percent and is expected to go even higher in coming months. The Labor Department reports 530,000 newly-laid off Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, a slight dip from the previous week but still more than many economists had expected. On the other hand, the total number of continuing claims stood at 5.8 million, down by nearly 150,000 from a week ago.

Analysts say stubbornly-high unemployment will constrain U.S. economic expansion for the foreseeable future. But some also note that the current economic improvement is welcome, since barely a year ago there was open debate among economists as to whether the United States stood at the precipice of a second Great Depression.

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