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(506) 223-1327               Published Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 230                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Fountain being constructed to complement Grecia's church
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Grecia's central park is getting a makeover that will include a new fountain as part of a project to improve the aesthetic of the city center.

Workers are excavating ground in front of the famous red metal church, Iglesia de las Mercedes, to install the water feature.  The program of improvements is designed to better the experience of visitors, most of whom come to see the unusual prefabricated-iron structure.

As part of the project the boulevard around the park has been improved and access for buses made easier, but the only improvement the church has seen is a new coat of paint.  The work, financed by the Municipalidad  de Grecia, began Aug. 1 and is expected to be finished in the next two weeks.
workmen in Grecia
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Workmen have located the proposed fountain not far from the Grecia church.

Financial watchdog gives OK to Caldera highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The much awaited new highway to the Pacific got a boost Monday when the nation's financial watchdog approved adjustments to the concession contract and told officials that the job should start within 30 days after legal notification.

The decision was by the Contraloría de la República and involved a concession contract between the nation's Consejo Nacional de Concesiones and the company Autopistas del Sol.

Investors in the highway project balked at the financial arrangments, and Autopista del Sol had to come up with a better deal. The project was supposed to start earlier this year but was delayed by the contract negotiations.

The consejo reached a deal with Autopista del Sol in early October. At that time officials said that the cost of the project had increased to $230 million from the original $158 million.  An announcement from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the price hike also includes improvements in drainage, guarantees in the durability of the pavement and more work on stabilizing slopes.

Any time a government agency enters into a contract involving substantial sums, the deal has to be reviewed by the Contraloría. Frequently minor glitches doom a deal.

In this case, the Contraloría reviewed the fifth addendum to the concession contract. A panel of three experts, headed by Carlos Andrés Arguedas Vargas, reviewed the documents. Although some lapses were found, the panel decided to approve the document with reservations.
The report by the panel considered each clause of the contract separately. The decision was contained in a letter to Karla González Carvajal, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes and also president of the consejo. The document is nearly 6,000 words and full of technical references and constitutional citations.

The job is in three parts. The first enhances the stretch of road from La Sabana to Ciudad Colón, now called the Autopista Próspero Fernández. Much of this is now a four-lane divided highway but west of Santa Ana the road becomes two lane. This work, according to the ministry, will take about a year.

The big job is the Ciudad Colón-Orotina highway, some 39 kms. or about 24 miles. The estimated time of constrcution is two years, said the ministry.

The third part of the project is the enhancement of a 24-km. stretch from the Orotina traffic interchange to the Puerto de Caldera. This road now exists, and the upgrades are expected to take but six months, said the ministry.

When finished, the route will knock about an hour off a car trip to the Pacific coast.  Locals are using the highway now.

Autopista will get back its money and it hopes a profit by charging motorists a toll. The price for a passenger car is set now at $2.75.

The Costa Rican central government likes concessions because it does not have the money to pay for big projects.

In the case of the highway, Autopista del Sol is raising the money to build the roadway.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 230

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Association of judges disputes
claims by Berrocal, Dall'Anese

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The association representing the nation's judges wants to meet with the chief prosecutor because he has been critical of their training and the rotation that moves judges around and affects the investigation of crimes.

At the same time it made public its request, the association, in the name of its president, Abel Jiménez Obando, fired back at the security minister who suggested earlier in the year that the judiciary was soft on drug traffickers.

The organization, the Asociación Costarricense de la Judicatura, has as members about 95 percent of the nation's judges, it said. The group had an annual meeting in October.

The chief prosecutor or fiscal general Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz irked the judges when he said in September before the Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial that the constant rotation of judges, their inexperience or lack of knowledge and their misinterpretation of some legal issues was hindering investigations.

Costa Rica is under Napoleonic law, so judges have a major role in safeguarding defendants rights at the first stages of investigations. They frequently participate in raids and play more of an investigative role.

Dall'Anese is head of the Ministerio Público, the independent agency in which prosecutors prepare cases against criminals. Recent claims have put the percentage of convictions at about 3 to 4 percent of the complaints that the investigative agencies like the Judicial Investigating Organization receive.

Dall'Anese successfully sought a new four-year term starting Nov. 1, so he was seeking to deflect blame from the prosecutors.

The judges were not as kind to Fernando Berrocal Soto, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Among other things, the security minister was quoted as saying "you can't let go narcos the way you let go pickpockets."

The judges' association said that Berrocal directly attacked the independence of the judiciary. Berrocal supervises the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas. In several major cases judges freed persons who had been caught with large quantities of cocaine.

Jiménez said that the judges' association would file a complaint with the Red Centroamericana de Jueces por la Democratización de la Justicia alleging that Berrocal attacked their independence.  The response to Berrocal was made in a letter in September but released only Monday by the association.

Immigration police sweep
nets 42 in Central Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police conducted sweeps in Quepos and Jacó on the central Pacific coast over the weekend and 42 persons went to the immigration lockup in Hatillo.

The Policía Especial de Migración said that they found false visas and false documents and dozens of persons here illegally. Among the persons questioned were U.S. citizens and Swiss citizens, but the majority were Nicaraguans, Colombians, Guatemalans and Dominicans, the police said.

Police said they paid special attention to 56 foreigners who were here on tourist visas but were working at selling art pieces and jewelry in Quepos.

In all, some 207 foreigners were questioned about their legal status, said Francisco Castaing, chief of the immigration police. Police said that in Quepos one U.S. citizen was among those who were taken to the immigration lockup.

Some 34 persons were taken into custody in Jacó where 120 persons were questioned. They were Dominicans and Nicaraguans, the immigration police said.

Price regulating agency
going on line with requests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency soon will be putting requests for changes in rates on the Internet so citizens can see what is sought.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, is in charge of evaluating rate requests from transportation companies, utilities and the like. This is the same agency that has been approving frequent increases in the cost of gasoline.

Fernando Herrero, the regulador general, said that putting the information on the Internet will provide the transparency that the public needs to know what is going on and to respond.

The agency holds public hearings for most rate increases. Also available will be the methodology that the agency uses to evaluate rate increases. The Web page is

Music school for Desamparados

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new music school under the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical will be inaugurated in the Parque Centenario de Desamparados this afternoon. It is the first for the canton. The school is part of a plan to construct schools all over the country and a fund-drive is being conducted to pay for them. President Óscar Arias Sánchez is expected.

Our reader's opinion
Another letter on trash

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I love Costa Rica and the people. What a great country.   Why is there no national effort to clean the trash along the roads and at the cruise ports? Limón looks like the government forgot they have a town there.

With all the port fees coming in, put some of that money to work in the local community paying people to collect litter along the roads and anywhere else they can collect it. There are  people looking for work in every part of this country who would take the money to take away the trash.

Once the locals see their own friends and family cleaning up after the litter bug maybe they will be inclined to walk the extra 10 feet to place their TRASH in a TRASH can.            

Kevin Burdock
Ciudad Colón

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 230

Major music festival planned as charity event in Quepos
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The usually sedate sportfishing town of Quepos is awaiting a greater inundation of visitors than usual this high season, as a gang of rock bands will descend on it for a one-day outdoor music festival that they claim will put Quepos on the international music festival map.

Experienced American promoters and their rock star friends have taken a gamble on the festival, even though they said they were warned that it was doomed to failure by prominent Costa Rican promoter Marvin Cordoba.

Five American bands, a Panamanian group and a Canadian band will be flown in to play alongside a line-up of around 10 Costa Rican bands that is rumored to include both Gandhi and Malpaís, currently the country's most popular home-grown talent.

For six years, a Massachusets man, Bruce LaPierre, has been heading down to Costa Rica's Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio to relax and cleanse himself of the stress accumulated while coordinating the gothic Locobazooka festival in June.

After telling the locals about the New England festival that draws upwards of 20,000 black-clad metal fans and whose stage has been graced by such big names as System of a Down and Alice in Chains, people started asking if he could bring something similar down to Quepos.

"After working at such a big festival, I thought, how hard can it be to get a few bands down to Quepos? People wanted to know if I could do it for real, and after five years I decided that was enough talk, and we should just do it, " said LaPierre.

He is hoping for about 2,000 people to turn up Jan. 12 at Rancho Alegre just outside Quepos, but he has been told that it would be a miracle if so many made it to the 14-hours of entertainment.

For over a year, he has been spending $18,000 of his own money gathering sponsors and contracting bands, and he needs at least a couple of thousand to attend in order to break even and raise money for his chosen charity.

During a stay at Hotel California, LaPierre met owner 
bazooka festival

Roberta Felix and soon a partnership with the Roberta Felix Foundation was formed, ensuring that at least a dollar from the $15 price of every ticket will go to benefit disabled children in rural Costa Rican communities.

To this end, all the bands are playing voluntarily, and numerous Quepos hotels and businesses are giving up rooms and services for free to accommodate the musicians.

LaPierre and his musical adviser, Kenn Youngar of band Turning Point, now fly down from the States every three weeks to publicize the event, iron out complications and improve their Spanish.

"The biggest problem we've run into was getting Imperial beer on board as a sponsor," said LaPierre. "They weren't interested in a one-off, but we intend to make this festival bigger and better every year."

Locals are said to be enthusiastic about the project.

"There's such a buzz in Quepos about it," said Youngar. "Everyone is helping to sell tickets. The only people not interested were in one hotel who told us that American rock music was no good to dance to and that we should stick to Calypso and Reggaeton."

The lineup includes Youngar's band, which has been nominated for four Grammy Awards even though it is unsigned by a major label, and a collection of others that will play rock, calypso, reggaeton and salsa music.

The bands will play smaller venues in San José and Quepos in the week running up to the festival. Details of all events can be found at

Robbery suspects arrested twice within 12 hours, agents say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits held up an Importadora Monge delivery truck Sunday afternoon in Calle Blancos, tied up the three employees there and then fled in the vehicle with merchandise valued at nearly $20,000, police said.

Fuerza Publica officers captured at least two of the suspects, a 15-year-old and an adult, as they traveled in the stolen truck en route to Tarbaca, Aserrí, a short time later. The employees were believed to be still tied up in the truck.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that three suspects from the Importadora Monge robbery were picked up again early Monday as suspects in the hijacking of another vehicle in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados.

There was no explanation how the men managed to get out of jail so soon.
There are inconsistencies between the two accounts. The Fuerza Pública identified the adult suspect in Aserrí by the last names of Santamaría Cubillo.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the three men detained early Monday as suspects in the car hijacking were Juan and Cristopher Santamaría, 18, and Kenett Rojas, 23.

Agents said they were detained Sunday near the Clinica Marcial Fallas in Desamparados. They were detained early Monday about 3 a.m. near the Catholic church in Los Guidos de Desamparados, said investigators.

Agents said robbers took the vehicle, a Nissan, by means of bajonazo, by sticking a gun in the face of the driver and forcing him or her out of the car.  That was at 3 p.m, less than 12 hours after the men would have been detained as suspects in the truck robbery.

Sustainability is the watchword for December conference near Montezuma
By Anne Clark
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmentalists will descend onto the Nicoya Peninsula for a four-week long conference beginning Dec. 28.  The so-called Aristotle Gathering will provide forums, classes, workshops and entertainment all centering around sustainability.  The group will be based near Parque Nacional Cabo Blanco.

The organizer is the Costa Rica International Center for Sustainability which has a 50-hectare (124-acre) finca near the tip of the peninsula.

Local businesspeople in nearby Montezuma are optimistic about the Aristotle Gathering.  Ozlem Ozdener, owner of Organico Restaurant, expressed excitement for the environmental changes she hopes will occur soon and cited some pollution problems the town is currently trying to clean up.  She hopes the gathering will address some of these issues.
Some of the classes that are already posted include sustainable agriculture, organic cacao growing, tropical gardening, peace and human rights and yoga.  Fridays will be different from the rest of the week with a day-long emphasis on a specific topic.  The regularly scheduled classes will not be held but speakers from various non-government organizations will lecture, according to an agenda.  The First Friday is called “Sustainable Development – Agriculture, Construction and Community” and will address organic gardening and building with natural materials. 

Anyone can register to attend and those qualified can apply to conduct classes, the organization said.  There is a $50 entrance fee, $200 if a visitor is camping on the organization's premises.  Some activities may have additional fees. 

The Aristotle Gathering is running through Jan. 24.  More information is available at the Web site

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 230

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Seven government soldiers die in explosion and fighting in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Colombian government is blaming lefetist rebels for a massive landmine explosion and subsequent fighting that has claimed the lives of seven soldiers.

The blast erupted Saturday in Tolima province, a long-time stronghold of the leftist Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

Tolima province, about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) southwest of the capital Bogota, is where the rebel group began operations more than 40 years ago, and the area recently has seen a sharp increase in fighting between government security forces and guerrillas.
The Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias, Colombia's largest rebel group, has killed nearly 600 members of the country's state security forces during the past year.

The rebels' landmines also have caused heavy civilian casualties, many of them children from poor farming communities who trigger the hidden explosives by accident while walking to school.

Colombia has increased the number of military and police teams hunting for Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias members, and the guerrillas in turn have switched tactics instead of confronting security forces openly, the rebels now concentrate on planting landmines and explosives to disrupt government patrols.

Three interns join A.M. Costa Rica to train for international journalism spots
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A British and two U.S. newswomen have joined A.M. Costa Rica as reporting and editing interns.

One is Helen Thompson, former news editor of gair rhydd, the Cardiff, Wales, University student newspaper. The Hampshire native has had extensive experience writing for British newspapers and a magazine as well as two Chinese publications.

From Anchorage, Alaska, came Elise Sonray, a graduate of Fordham University in New York.  She worked for student publications, including The Wagnerian Newspaper, the student publication of Wagner College, in Staten Island, N.Y., and MSNBC in nearby New Jersey.

The second U.S. citizen is Anne Clark, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University there. She is an award-winning photographer with experience in film and in the arts with a strong interest in sports.

Miss Clark taught in Puerto Cortes, Honduras. Miss Sonray spent time in Ecuador, and Miss Thompson most recently lived in Guatemala.

All three are seeking to improve their Spanish language abilities and to concentrate on reporting and editing in a Latin American country.

In addition they will be exposed to newspaper administration, marketing and other knowledge that will
three interns at A.M. Costa Rica
A.M. Costa Rica/Anne Clark
Newspaper interns Elise Sonray, Helen Thompson and Anne Clark on the job in the Gulf of Nicoya.

prepare them for eventual management responsibilities in their home countries or in Latin America.

The year-long internship program is designed to introduce promising English-speaking newspeople to Latin America so they can serve as a bridge between the developed and developing world. More than 100 persons applied for the program. Applications for the 2008-2009 internship program will be sought in June and July.

This is the fourth class of interns hosted by A.M. Costa Rica. Those who successfully completed the program are now at work in journalism jobs

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