Stacked supreme court assumes all legislative powers in Venezuela

The Venezuelan supreme court’s decision to take control of the opposition-controlled legislature has set off a flurry of outrage and condemnation from much of Latin America, including Costa Rica, and the United States.

The decision by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, the official name for the high court, came late Wednesday night in what many lawmakers and citizens see as another move by Nicolás Maduro and the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela to consolidate their already-firm grip over the country.

Costa Rica’s foreign ministry released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning these actions and calling the decisions inadmissible and contrary to the essence of democracy. The ministry also called for a multilateral solution under the umbrella of the Organization of American States to resolve this issue.

Meanwhile, for some Venezuelan nationals, the regime’s newest move seems more like business as usual. “It’s not a surprise. We’ve been in a dictatorial state since 1999,” Klaus Bengochea said bitterly in response to the court’s decision.

He is referring to the year in which Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez was popularly elected and remained head of state until 2013. Bengochea is a Venezuelan national here in Costa Rica. According to his own testimony, he was jailed and beaten by police in Venezuela for his assistance to opposition protesters during his time there and remains an opponent to the current regime.

The secretary general of the organization, Luis Almagro, denounced what he called a “self-inflicted coup d’état perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime against the National Assembly, the last branch of government to be legitimized by the will of the people of Venezuela.”

The court issued two decisions which strip parliamentary immunity from members of the national assembly and provide 

for the court to assume the legislative function, according to the Organization of American States.

The main decision declared all legislation passed by the national assembly unconstitutional, calling support for the Inter-American Democratic Charter a treasonous act, the organization said. Venezuela was also ironically the first country to invoke the charter back in 2002.

The U.S. State Department officially condemned the court for its decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected national assembly calling the move a serious setback for democracy.

Perú pulled its ambassador Thursday in protest, and countries including México, Colombia, Argentina and Chile also denounced Venezuela’s high court.

Almagro called an emergency session of the organization’s Permanent Council saying that: “The restoration of democracy is an obligation we all share. It is time for the hemisphere to work together to help restore democracy in Venezuela. We have an obligation to the people of Venezuela to act without further delay. To be silent in the face of a dictatorship is the lowest indignity in politics.”

Almagro had earlier called the organization to suspend Venezuela from the group back in mid-March due to a  glowering and increased amount of human rights violations such as suppression of the free press, arresting of political opposition and a court packing of the judiciary that led to this recent decision.

That is not withstanding Venezuela facing numerous shortages in food and medicine due to the economy spiraling downward from drops in oil prices and demands.

It remains to be seen how some Latin American countries proceed in suspending the country from the group. Many of those countries, such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, rely on Venezuela in the form of subsidized oil.

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Free music, free movies and free shows are all on this weekend

Free is the key word for many cultural activities going on this weekend.

The 2017 Salón Nacional de Artes Visuales recently opened at the Museo de Arte Costarricense. The exhibition features 38 works by 27 different artists in painting, sculpture, photography and video among other mediums. This year’s exhibition received more than 242 proposals from over 155 different Costa Rican artists to be presented to the country.

The Salón Nacional’s artwork will be open to the public until June at the museum located in Parque La Sabana. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday with entrance free for everyone.

Meanwhile in film, the “Preámbulo” continues on every Thursday and Friday evening at 7 with Saturdays and Sundays playing movies at 4 and 7 in the afternoon. The showings are played at the Sala Gómez Miralles at the Centro del Cine north of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. There is no entry or ticket fee.

Escazú will get a free concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional at the Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel de Escazú. The concert is tonight at 7 p.m. and will include the orchestra’s rendition of Antonio Vivaldi’s famous “The Four Seasons” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Las cuatro estaciones porteñas,” according to the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.

This concert will represent the first time that the orchestra has played both works in the same performance, the ministry said.

Entrance for the show will begin at 6 p.m. while the concert is expected to last almost an hour and a half.

Today will also mark the premiere of the new TV series “Forjadores.” The opening will also bring with it hula-hoopers and dancers at the Plaza de la Democracia at 6 p.m. The activity is expected to last until 7:30 p.m., according to the cultural ministry.

This Saturday beginning at 7 a.m. the United World College in Santa Ana is hosting its festival celebrating diversity. Organizers said that it is an event full of music, dancing, food, sales, games and more.

If that sounds typical of festivals, then the difference in this one will be that every single thing involved in the festival will have an international focus showcasing all the cultures of the world at the school, the college said.

Not free but for a good cause is Sunday’s Cruz Roja event.

The organization expects to field more than 1,000 runners and walkers Sunday for its third annual Carrera por la Vida at Parque la Sabana.

The rescue service is offering 9.1- and 5-kilometer courses as well as a 5-kilometer walking route. The starting point is at the west side of the park. The finish line is at the nearby Estadio Nacional.

The starting time is 7 a.m. The enrollment fee is 15,000 colons, and there are prizes ranging from a motorcycle to hotel stays, said the Cruz Roja.

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First all-woman band hosting debut evening concert Saturday

The first Costa Rica women’s band will debut this Saturday in the amphitheater of the Centro Nacional de la Cultura at 5:30 p.m.

The ensemble is made up of 19 female members of the Ministerio de Cultura bands program, plus 17 guests for a total of 36 performers.

The concert is free and open to the public. The direction of the Banda de las Mujeres will be in charge of Pilar Redondo and Pamela Goyenaga.

“The creation of the Banda de las Mujeres of Costa Rica is part of the commitment of the cultural sector to the national policy on gender equality. We must fight for equality in all areas of life, in this case, the recognition and promotion of professional female musicians,” said Silvie Durán, the head of the cultural ministry.

“When three decades ago the first woman managed to join a concert band, she encountered adverse circumstances and the mockery of those who questioned their performance by reason of their gender,” she added.

The Banda de las Mujeres prepares for another show.

The Banda de las Mujeres prepares for another show.

The Costa Rican directorate of bands has 171 years of existence and is the oldest cultural institution.  After the abolition of the army in 1948, the bands transformed their original military nature into civilian concert bands.

At some point, they were part of Ministerio de Seguridad Pública.

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New major effort to reduce road deaths

The central government is launching a major effort to reduce highway deaths. Casa Presidencial said that the project includes seven major components and 89 separate initiatives.

Among the efforts will be an evaluation and possible revisions to the traffic code, said the government. The announcement comes at a time when lawbreakers seem to do so unmolested by traffic police. One government report estimated that half of the motorcycle drivers in the country are unlicensed.

Anyone who drives knows that motorcyclists take big chances. That is shown in the report Thursday that motorcycle deaths increased from 122 in 2015 to 200 in 2016. There also have been increases in deaths of those on bikes as well as pedestrians.

The announcement by Casa Presidencial said that priorities will be promoting the proposed bike path from La Sabana to the Universidad de Costa Rica and a major public relations effort to change the vehicle culture here.

Vice President Ana Helena Chacón presented the plan that has been in the works since February. The name of the project is the Pacificación de las Vías Públicas, or “pacification of the public roadways.”

The road deaths also are being considered a health issue with the government ready to promote more Sundays without vehicles on Paseo Colon in San José, according to the announcement. Also planned is a national road education week in the public schools in June.

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Not all goods can be checked by Aduana

A man who was able to enter the country without declaring parts used for agricultural machines and tractors, was forced to pay 106 million colones as compensation for damage caused by the evasion of customs duties. The last 25 million of that amount were wired to the finance ministry last Thursday, March 23.

Prior to that payment, the man had already deposited 81 million colons for taxes, fines and interest, an alternative judicial measure known as integral damage repair, that keeps people from going to jail. The man also had to make a publication in a newspaper of national circulation as well, according to Poder Judicial.

“I don’t know the specifics of the case, but in general terms, not all the merchandise that arrives into the country is checked at Aduana. That would make international trade impossible. However we do random checks to verify that products declared in the forms are actually the ones entering the country,” said Fernando Rodríguez, a vice-minister with the Ministerio de Hacienda.

“As I said before, I don’t know this specific case but it is likely this person could enter the country and was later spotted on a second check,” Rodríguez added.

Once the agreements were completed, his criminal case was dismissed.

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Man arrested on suspicion of 16 robberies

Judicial investigators apprehended a man Thursday and said he was the suspect in 16 of those window-breaking robberies that plague female motorists on the Circunvalación in Hatillo.

Unlike the usual juvenile suspects, the man who was detained is 30, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents detained him in a raid at his home in Hatillo 8. They said they confiscated purses, cell telephones and other items to be used as evidence.

Agents were investigating a string of robberies that usually took place between 6 and 9 p.m. since September. There are traffic lights on the six-lane highway in Hatillo, and accomplices spot female motorists alone in their vehicles and set them up for the window-breakers.

When the vehicle stops, the crook breaks the passenger side or back window with a rock or some other object, reaches in and takes what is there, usually purses or briefcases.

The robbery gangs prefer to target women because they usually leave purses on the passenger seat and because they are less likely to pursue the bandits.

Within the last week, television news shows played a video taken by a motorist in a car behind a victim. The video clearly showed the face of a man breaking a window, grabbing something and fleeing. Agents did not relate the arrest with the video.

Police have been challenged to prevent these types of crimes. There are three stoplights in the Hatillo area, and each produces long lines of vehicles backed up during rush hours. In addition, the courts usually treat these offenders lightly. And many are juveniles.

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Criminals are packing heavier weaponry

By Rommel Téllez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Organized crime is getting heavier weaponry at a rate the security forces cannot keep up with, according to Juan José Andrade, director of Fuerza Pública.

“This is a concern we have been talking about for a while, because criminal groups are getting heavier guns and that’s a huge threat to both police officers and civilians.” he said.

Andrade explained that cops can only carry small weapons because they need to comply with the Armas y Explosivos law, which regulates what the officers may or may not carry.

“This phenomena is the reason why our police forces are the ones in Central America that always wear a bulletproof vest. We might need to discuss the law and foresee changes in the short term,” said Andrade.

His comments come after the latest police raid against heavily armed groups on Wednesday night, where police officers arrested several individuals in front of a bar in Llorente de Tibás.

One of them allegedly tried to bribe two officers with around one million colons, according to police. The men were driving a Honda with two Glock pistols in the vehicle, according to a report. Both weapons were without permits, officials said.

The Special Operational Forces and Operational Support Group agents also arrived after reports of other powerful weapons and ammunition in several parked vehicles. After a quick review, officers found seven other weapons, including a U.S.-made AR-15 assault rifle, which uses 5.56- milimeter caliber bullets and has an effective range of at least 500 meters, according to the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública.

Police said another individual had three pistols with four loaders and a total of 31 bullets.

Earlier this week, the security ministry reported that 340 firearms have been confiscated in the first four months of the year.

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Everyone is welcome to propose some legislation

No restrictions. No matter age, immigration status, education level, race or gender. Anyone, anytime, may approach the Costa Rican legislature and propose a new bill, a reform of an existing law or even a request to change the constitution. Even expats can submit their proposals!

Everybody is welcome at the Oficina de Gestión de Propuestas Ciudadanas, a legislative department created in 1999 to give a voice to anyone who has got something to say about public affairs. Here, any idea is welcomed and heard, no matter what it is.

Making Costa Rica the 51 state of the United States of America is one of them. Filed by Luis Campos Quesada last year, his proposal consists in organizing a referendum and asking the citizens if they want to give up independence to become Gringos.

Perhaps not taken into consideration by Quesada was also that expats would suddenly find themselves repatriated.

“Our dependency on the United States is so big that we better join them. It benefits both sides. The U.S could set up a strategic military base and make up for the loss of the Panama Canal. In exchange, we Ticos would get federal funding and turn any undocumented Costa Rican living there into a lawful citizen,” said the 17-year old college student who lives in Pérez Zeledón.

“No, I’ve never lived in the U.S. but I got family over there. See, that’s another advantage. We could go visit our relatives anytime we want with no worries,” he added.

The office was created with one main objective: to encourage people to take part in public decisions and by doing so, strengthen the concept of participative democracy over the representative one, according to Xinia Jiménez, the coordinator of the office.

“Legislative proposals can be written, e-mailed and by telephone. If someone is illiterate, we’ll write his ideas. Same case if the person is blind or has a disability. Even if they struggle with Spanish, we’ll do our best to help that person out,” she said.

That means Spanish-challenged expats have no need to fear that their proposals cannot be sent in. In her time, Ms. Jiménez has witnessed all sorts of ideas.

A few examples are file numbers 742 and 629, that seek to establish a death penalty in Costa Rica and another proposal numbered 1215 filed by Beto Rodríguez.

Xinia Jiménez searches for a proposal.

Xinia Jiménez searches for a proposal.

This one wants to authorize liquor manufacturers to sponsor sports teams because of the “big amount of money they may input in the sports industry.”

Another case is the proposal 2235 from José González, who states  the need of overseas congressmen with one in each country that has a significant Costa Rican expat community.

All ideas are sent to the congressmen. If a lawmaker considers it interesting enough, he or she will study it and decide whether it worth it is for legislative discussion and a possible approval, according to the coordinator.

“In 18 years, we have processed 2,317 proposals. Out of that amount, 1,013 have been studied by congressmen and 123 were fully discussed by all 57 lawmakers.  Today, we have 19 laws of the republic that had its humble origins in this office,” said Ms. Jiménez.

Thanks to the citizens initiatives the Colegio de Profesionales en Orientación was created, a law to identify medicines for blind people was approved, the national students day was established and a national program to protect children against gambling was set up.

“It is quite satisfactory, especially if you take into consideration that from time to time there are political parties that do not get a single law approved in its four years.” added Ms. Jiménez.

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Renovated road seen as boost to area’s tourism

La Cruz and El Jobo, two small villages located in the northern part of the Guanacaste  province, have now a renovated road built to boost the economy in the area.

Ruta Nacional 935, that runs for 14 kilometers with two lanes, received a new layer of special asphalt known as TS3. New signs were also put in place.

The works will also benefit the communities of Tempatal, Puerto Soley and Cuajiniquil.

The improvements seek to make it easier for tourists to get to the beaches and help the local farmers who had trouble transporting their goods.

The works were financed thanks to an alliance between the Municipalidad de La Cruz, the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad and the investors of Hotel Dreams Las Mareas and the Costa Elena project.

“It is really satisfying to see the cooperation between the public and private sectors to benefit the communities and their access to basic services,” said Carlos Villalta, the minister of Public Works.

Carlos Hernández, director of the Costa Elena project, said the amount invested by the private parties reached $7.4 million and it makes part of their effort to increase the social and touristic development of the region.

“One of things that makes us proud is that, according to Ministerio de Planificación in 2013, the access to clean water implied a 30 percent increase in the health development index for the people. The aqueduct is also a work we did and then donated to the state,” he said.

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$310,000 confiscated by drug police

Wednesday, the Policía de Control de Drogas arrested a 29-year old truck driver who was transporting about $310,000 in cash wrapped in twelve plastic packs. The money was hidden under the driver’s seat inside an air conditioning device.

The man also transported a cargo of steel wires, according to police. The truck is registered in Costa Rica. Coming from Nicaragua, the man tried to enter the country through the Peñas Blancas border, according to a preliminary report.

Aside from the money, the man also carried with him a revolver along with Nicaraguan, Salvadoran and Costa Rican currency, officials said.

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Union complains about disabled quota

The opening of 32 jobs exclusively intended for disabled people in Poder Judicial, has sparked complaints among unionized employees who claim those spaces are already taken.

According to Poder Judicial officials, they are just complying with the law 8862, which requires all public organizations to reserve 5 percent of their available jobs for people with disabilities.

However, Freddy Solórzano, a union leader from Asociación Nacional de Empleados Judiciales, said the authorities are unfairly letting go people who have occupied that position in the past, just because they didn’t plan on time.

“It all comes down to the law and the reality. First of all the law says that the administration should reserve 5 percent of the jobs. To reserve is something you do before and not after. They should have complied with it before, since 2010. They didn’t. It’s not the workers fault.” he explained.

On the other hand, José Bermudez, director of human resources at Poder Judicial explained in a statement that the whole process has been transparent and cites several laws with which they are apparently complying. He also said the job openings were vacant.

A.M. Costa Rica tried to contact Bermúdez for further information, however the press office didn’t allow it, saying all the information is in the statement.

“It is a lie. There were people working those jobs as temporary workers, expecting to get an indefinite contract one day. We have nothing against the initiative of providing handicapped people with opportunities but not at the expense of others,” the union leader says.

Some of the jobs include the position of administrative assistants, receptionist, janitors and a radio technician among others. The jobs are opened for applicants until Friday.

“We are just asking the administration to halt the process and have a conversation with us. We need more people working at Poder Judicial, we are not enough. We should have the 32 people who were already there plus 32 more.” Solórzano said.

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Costa Rica’s food security is potentially at risk, according to experts

Exporting the best and most nutritious food while consuming the imported and cheaper products could jeopardize public health, social development and the country’s ability to nourish itself.

In other words, it may put at risk Costa Rica’s food security, according to Alex Pacheco, professor of Natural Resources at the Escuela de Agricultura de la Región del Trópico Húmedo, located in Limón.

Food security is a term first coined in 1974 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

It describes a country’s ability to provide nutritious food to its residents at any given time, even in crisis.

Pacheco explains that even though food scarcity is an unlikely scenario in the country, there might exist a lack of nutritious quality on what Costa Ricans eat, due to the fact that the best crops are reserved for international markets.

“A lot of people rely on imported food because it might be cheaper. However, low prices are low because of trade agreements, subsidies, pesticides or genetic manipulation.

That’s the reason food grown miles away from here may have competitive prices,” he said.

The professor argues that having access to food that is not healthy and nutritious is not really the concept of food security. He also explains that a country whose residents eat what comes from afar, loses its capacity to face unexpected changes in the world and in the market.

“We have extensive crops of pineapple, coffee, bananas, etcetera. Nevertheless, if for whatever reason we lose access to the food we import right now, we are not prepared and our diets are not based on pineapple, coffee and bananas. Exporting provides great socio-economic advantages, but we must make sure that self-sustainable agriculture and agro-ecology is taking place,” he said.

Pacheco explained that, at the global level, the trend is to encourage local and small farmers to produce food that will be locally consumed as well.

This becomes even more important in small villages located in remote places, so that residents don’t depend on big cities to provide their food.

“There is no such thing as food scarcity. There is enough food for everyone, The reason many people don’t have access to it is just because of the inefficient distribution channels, which makes products more expensive and harder to get,” he adds.

To make sure that Costa Rica doesn’t fall short on it’s own capacity to provide aliments to its citizens, the agricultural affairs office of the legislative assembly is currently discussing a bill that seeks exactly that: to encourage internal consumption of locally produced food.

The bill 20.076 was introduced Aug. 23, and right now has the support of 30 lawmakers from several parties, according to Javier Cambronero, legislator of Partido Acción Ciudadana.

“The proposed law will make agriculture-oriented public institutions work together to empower small producers and give them the tools to sell at competitive prices. If approved, this law will require the state to buy national production for all the hospital networks, jails and school cafeterias,” he said.

According to the latest report of Estado de la Nación, a social research and analysis program, from 1998 to 2011, the country imported 73 percent of the beans and 34 percent of the rice, the two main ingredients of a typical Costa Rican diet.

In addition, a 2015 report of the food and agriculture organization shows that Central America increased its dependency of imported cereals, with Costa Rica at the top of the list.

Between 2007 and 2012 the import of basic cereals in the country came from United States, El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua and China. In the same period, 97 percent of all rice came from the United States.

 

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Reflections regarding realities are the current themes for these artists

Reflections in realities as embraced through multi-dimensional art mediums are the themes behind the two new exhibitions to be presented at the Costa Rican Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo today.

“Partidas y Partituras” by Honduran artist Pável Aguilar is a reflection on the immigrants returning to Honduras after a failed attempt to reach the United States on La Bestia.

According to the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, La Bestia was the network of freight trains in México taking migrants towards the U.S. despite the result of the journey often ending in tragedy.

According to Adriana Collado, the curator for the exhibits, the work is presented in three acts with the first one being what she calls “the musicalization of silent dramas.” The second part composes visuals of missing body parts and the memory of the forgotten, Ms. Collado said.

“Finally, the cyclical history. We listen to the Texas Philharmonic Orchestra tuning before a concert: the pathetic symphony is to begin because certainly today, there are thousands of immigrants who have just started their departure toward exile,” she said.

Guillermo Tovar explores the hidden corners of nature.

Guillermo Tovar explores the hidden corners of nature.

The other exhibit showcasing the work of Costa Rican artist Guillermo Tovar combines nature with symbolism. Observing reality with the eyes of the mind is the goal for Tovar with a look into exploring other mediums of art such as digital animation, tattooing and painting.

“Truth that can only be revealed to those who learn to look beyond appearances and to observe reality with other eyes,” Ms. Collado explained in describing the exhibit.

The museum’s opening for the exhibit will be tonight at 7 p.m.

Admission is free to attend the ceremony, according to the cultural ministry. The normal entrance fee for foreigners is $3, while permanent residents and Costa Rican citizens get in for 1,000 colons. The museum is open from Tuesday until Saturday.

 

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Our reader’s opinion

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article Wednesday had one small error. It made it look like CONCACAF would get an extraordinary percentage of teams into the World Cup, Russia, 2018.  You wrote: “This region with six teams will send at least three teams to Russia. A fourth spot is based on the results of a playoff with a team elsewhere.”

I just wanted to remind us that: This region CONCACAF actually began with 35 countries, not six.

Round 1) Qualifying started in March 2015 with 14 games, when seven teams were eliminated.
Round 2) Then in June 2015, 20 more games, with 10 more countries eliminated.
Round 3) September 2015, with 12 more games, six more countries eliminated.
Round 4) November 2015/March 2016 and September 2016 another 36 games, and eliminated 6 more countries.

So now, 29 members of CONCACAF have been eliminated with 82 games having been played throughout North & Central America, and the Caribbean Islands.

It’s a very long process, and Costa Rica is pleased to still be a part of the Final Round. In this round, six teams known as ‘The Hexagonal,’ play a total of 30 games and then we get to, “This region…will send at least three teams to Russia.” And maybe four!

Go Sele, Pura Vida.

Robert Roman  
Ciudad Colón  
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Under-educated can get driving lessons

The road education directorate is opening up classes for those persons who did not have an education past the sixth grade.

In an announcement Wednesday, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, which oversees driver education courses in Costa Rica, said that May is the month for people to learn the rules of the road. The sites will be at the headquarters of the Dirección General de Educación Vial in San José as well as the sites in Heredia, Alajuela and San Ramón.

The ministry said that the registration will start next Monday and run until April 28. The month-long course costs only 5,000 colons and applicants must attend two classes each week before taking the theoretical test, according to officials. The test will not be an additional charge.

The effort is for those persons who did not complete their education to still be able to obtain a driver’s license in a manner that caters to the additional assistance those persons may need, a statement from the ministry said.

The requirements for enrolling are to present on the first day of classes a certified document from the regional education department certifying that the applicant did not complete the second cycle of their primary education.

There is even an allowance towards foreign nationals as well. With foreigners, a certificate from the education ministry of the country of origin must be notarized by the consulate of the applicant’s embassy indicating an incompletion in one’s studies.

Officials emphasized that playing hooky won’t be allowed either. Attendance upon registration is mandatory pending any health emergency or death in the family, according to the ministry.

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Cooperative corruption case continues

The six members of the Instituto Nacional de Formento Cooperativo arrested Tuesday had their Wednesday court session delayed for unclear reasons.

The Poder Judicial issued a statement that said the Fiscalía de Anticorrupción suspended the Wednesday afternoon hearing and moved it to today. A spokesman for the Poder Judicial did not say the hour in which the hearing was to be held.

These six persons are charged with embezzlement, influence against public finances, illicit enrichment and bribery, according to Poder Judicial. They are facing preventive detention before the trials begin. All six held high positions within the institution known as Infocoop, which judicial agents said was in charge of promoting and developing cooperatives at the national level.

One person arrested was the executive secretary of the Consejo Nacional de Cooperativas. Another was the board president for the institute and as leader of the nation’s coffee cooperative and yet another was even the administrator of a periodical called La Voz Cooperativa.

Investigators said they believe that money for grants was given away to contacts close to the suspected leader of this group. This was allegedly done through manipulating appointments in Infocoop to grant large amounts of money to those contacts. In addition, minutes during meetings of the cooperative were allegedly falsified and elections of board members were allegedly manipulated as well, according to Poder Judicial.

The losses for Infocoop are believed to be in the range of at least 9 billion colons or around $16.1 million, based on estimates from the judiciary.

Some of the evidence seized in Wednesday’s raids included: portfolio reports, audits, financial statements, credit analyses, appraisals and Board of Directors minutes. Over 160 agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization participated in the raids that occurred throughout the Central Valley and San José. The Poder Judicial said that 17 people have now been charged so far, but the prosecution is requesting the aforementioned six to receive preventive detention.

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Puerto Viejo man called dealer for tourists

Drug police allege that on Tuesday they detained the main drug dealer of Chiquita beach in Limón’s Puerto Viejo.

Police from the Control de Drogas allege that the 60-year old man was selling indiscriminately to foreign tourists. The man also apparently had a lot of guns in his possession. One of the more unique firearms was a revolver registered in the name of an association called the “Amigos de las Aves,” according to a preliminary report.

Police also said they seized a shotgun. The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública believes the man in custody sold cocaine and marijuana. The anti-drug unit seized around 90 baggies of cocaine and marijuana in addition to over $5,000 in colones and dollars that officials believe was earned through the sale of drugs.

The suspect has no prior criminal record but could face up to 20 years in prison if charged and found guilty, the ministry said.

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Illegal firearms give holders perceived protection

The security ministry reported this week that its officers confiscated 340 firearms in the first four months of the year.

Not all the confiscations followed shootouts like the one Monday in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados when a gunman fired on police.

Only 15 of the confiscated guns came from drug raids. Almost always when the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas officers conduct raids, they find weapons. That makes sense. Drug dealers and producers are big crime targets and keep weapons around to protect themselves and their stash of cash.

Expats can draw some conclusions from the police report:

1. Plenty of people are carrying weapons illegally. If police officers found more than 300 weapons simply by stopping and frisking individuals on the street, the number of unregistered weapons must be much higher.

2. A high percentage of these weapons are carried for self-protection as are all sorts of knives.

3. The poor and youngsters make their own firearms. Police said the ministry statistics show that some of the confiscated weapons were made in Costa Rican workshops. Several major criminal gangs also use the services of specialists who can make guns that then become untraceable.

One of many confiscated illegal weapons.

One of many confiscated illegal weapons.

The gangs also export these specialists to other countries for the same purpose.

4. The complex gun rules generally can cause people to carry illegal firearms instead of going through the lengthy process to obtain permission from the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública. Frequently private guards are found with illegal weapons.

5. Expats should remember the next time they shout out the window of their car to a driver who has cut them off that there is a good chance the offending motorist is packing a weapon.

Police said that they thought the man arrested in Desamparados was a hitman trying to commit a murder. They said the man fired 18 shots at another individual who is suspected to be a major drug dealer.

The presumed victim was injured but lived. He was hospitalized.

The gunman received a bullet in the leg from police and also received medical treatment.

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