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(506) 223-1327                  Published Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 1                 E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Workplace conversations waste time and money
Employers have options to stem cellular abuse
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Give an inch, and they’ll take a mile. 

Offer a hand, and lose an arm. 

These management axioms also have to do with cellular telephones.  Cell phone abuse is rampant among employees.

Even someone who still does not have a cell phone is not immune from the increased numbers of them. In a movie, a restaurant, a church, or a meeting people are using the technology and being a disturbance. 

In the workplace, some employees will not take a job if they do not get a cell phone.  Yes, the instruments can be very productive tools.  They save time. They also contribute to lost productivity and employees avoiding making their own decisions because they can always call someone else and ask what to do.

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a business meeting with an employee and the wife calls, or the kids call, or  Mami calls.  In Costa Rica one always needs to talk to Mami, it is part of the culture.

Nowadays people do not need even to call. They can send SMS and even MMS messages.  SMS stands for “Short Message Service” which is available on digital GSM networks allowing text messages of up to 160 characters to be sent and received.   MMS is short for “Multimedia Message Service,” a method of transmitting graphics, video clips, and sound files over wireless networks.

This, too, is a big drain on productivity.  A short “beep” or some other kind of annoying sound notifies the employee of a waiting message. They then have to look at the phone and then answer the message with another message — all on company time.

The situation is going to get much worse.

First there was Millicom, a private phone company that came to Costa Rica in the mid 1980s and setup a mobile telephone system.  Soon thereafter, the government decided it was a mistake to give the firm a license and kicked it out of the country while conveniently taking over the system in place. Millicom sought a big settlement from an international arbitration agency.

Then came analog, digital, TDMA, GMS and now WAP enable GMS.  Each system brought new phone lines, and cellular telephones started to grow out of people’s anatomy like mushrooms.

The newest system introduced in December is WAP enable GMS.  WAP stands for “Wireless Application Protocol,” a set of communication protocol standards to make accessing online services from a mobile phone simple.

Can employers save themselves from all this technology and still follow Costa Rica's labor laws?  Yes!  Here is a checklist.

1.)  Employers should not give an employee a cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary.

2.)  If employees need a company phone, employers should set a written policy of cell phone use and spell out what is considered abuse.  A company phone is a privilege and responsibility not a birthright.

A.M. Costa Rica grahic

3.)  Written reprimands or warning letters should go to any employee who does not follow the rules.  And employers can take the device away or fire an employee who cannot work with the policy.

What about a personal cellular owned by an employee?

Again, the employer should set a policy.  The best is the phone needs to remain turned off during work time.

Where one gets into trouble is letting an employee use a personal cellular in a business because the organization needs the employee to have a phone.  In this scenario, there are too many ways to dance around the rules and waste working time.

In the recent past, cells in Costa Rica were scarce, so companies had to work around the problems and accept employee personal cell phone abuse.  This is no longer true. There are plenty of mobile phones in the market.

Cell phones are wonderful gadgets and incredible tools.  They get better and become more useful every day.  Who wants to be out on a dark road with a broken down car without one.

The point is, in the workplace they become distractions and ways of wasting time, money and avoiding responsibility. 

Recently, in a Sala IV ruling, the Constitutional Court of Costa Rica upheld banning their use from banks because they can contribute to robbery.  In the workplace, they can contribute to theft and certainly loss of vast amounts of employee time, not to mention the bills generated by company-owned devices.

The best mobile telephone policy is one that would set a balance and works for the employer as well as the employee. However, these policies seldom work.  With thousands and thousands of new lines available for 2006, this is a good time for employers to get a policy on paper for employees and household staff.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2004-2006, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 1

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U.S. continues to delay
free trade effective date

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected, the United States says the start of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement will be delayed.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative said Friday that the target date for implementation has been pushed back to either the beginning of February or March. The pact had been set to go into effect this Sunday.

The spokesman said the United States wants to begin the agreement as soon as possible, but needs to make sure it is done correctly. The United States has said all along that the agreement would go into effect on a rolling basis as each country participating sets up the laws and regulations to be in conformity with the treaty.

The agreement, known as CAFTA, is meant to cut or get rid of tariffs between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Costa Rica is the only country that has yet to ratify the pact.

Stephen Norton, the trade rep spokesman, said again Friday that the participating countries can continue to enjoy existing trade preferences until full implementation takes place.

"Several countries are close to being ready to implement but none has completed all of their internal procedures," said Norton.  "For example, on December 15, El Salvador's Congress passed a legislative package to implement the CAFTA-DR.  Once the Congress sends the legislation to President Saca for signature in early January, El Salvador will have the ability to issue further regulations and complete its internal steps and the final CAFTA implementation review process with the United States.

In Costa Rica, both the treaty and the group of laws that would put the treaty into effect here are in the Asamblea Legislative. However, lawmakers left before Christmas on a lenthy vacation that will not end until after presidential elections Feb. 5.

In addition to these pieces of legislation, the United States agreement with Costa Rica includes a side letter in which Washington agrees to respect Costa Rica's right to maintain the online gambling conducted from here.

Our reader's opinion

Another way of business
at Quepos gas station

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is my response on the editorial regarding the ability of Costa Rica to compete.
I only wish to tell a little story, will make no further comment regarding the competitiveness of Costa Ricans in general.
Recently I was looking for a co-sponsor to help build a roofed bus stop at an intersection that serves many bus routes and has no covered stop. The intersection happens to be in front of the oldest gas station in the Quepos area. It is also about 5 kilometers before one would reach the newest most modern and best equipped gas station in the Quepos area.
The second gas station not only offers more services, but the owner also has the concession to sell marine fuel and is likely one of the most successful businessmen in Quepos, a Costa Rican guy.
I thought (as a competitive type of thing) that if we built the covered stop we would be able to paint signs advertising our businesses on the stop, and I thought the successful guy would really benefit, basically putting a sign that he was just down the road, in front of his "competition."
When approached, this very successful businessman had no interest whatsoever. Turns out that he and the man who owns the other gas station are old friends. Beyond that, the older gas station has had a lot of administrative problems due to the fact that the old man who owns it left it in the hands of his sons who aren't such great administrators. The successful guy didn't want to do anything that would further create problems for his friend, who is a nice old guy, widely liked by people in the community.
Given a choice, I would rather live around people who see the bigger picture and who operate as though there were enough business for all of us without cut-throat competition. I like the way small town business works, and I prefer to pay more in a locally owned business than buy from a chain. Call me crazy, but I stop in the local pulpería every day and buy something as I appreciate the convenience of a grocery store near my house and want to see them succeed. If you put a 7-11 on the way to my house, I wouldn't stop there, even if they had real donuts. Well, maybe if they had REAL donuts, every once in awhile!
Robbie Felix
Manuel Antonio-Quepos
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 1

A saying that encourages moderation in all things
Ni tan cerca que queme el Santo. Ni tan lejos que no lo alumbre.

“Not so close so as to burn the saint, nor so far that it can’t be seen.” Literally, this dicho is talking about holding up a candle in order to view a statue or a painting of a saint.

On one level it is yet another example of the strong influence that the Roman Catholic Church has had on Latin American culture. But the real meaning of this little saying is a bit like the ancient Athenian motto, “everything in proportion and nothing in excess.”  It cautions us against extremes.

We have a young nephew whom we are very fond of, but he always seems to want things at the wrong time. For example, when he is offered dinner, he is not hungry. Of course, he’s always ready for dessert. But the rule at our house is if you don’t eat your dinner, you forfeit the dessert.  Over the course of his 12 years he has made great strides with eating, though the underlying concept of balanced nutrition still, I believe, eludes him.

On Christmas he wanted a little bit more of the Christmas cake and, seeing as how it was the holidays, I allowed him to have some. But then, clearly taking advantage of this golden opportunity for gluttony, he gleefully sliced himself a huge chunk. This, of course, won him the scornful reproach of all present.

So then, going altogether to the other extreme, he tried to cut a piece so thin that it fell apart into crumbs and morsels. This brought him more rebuke, and my sister finally took the knife away and cut him a reasonable slice of cake. Ni tan cerca que queme el santo. Ni tan lejos que no lo alumbre.

Sometimes, though, extremes can appear to have their benefits.

I heard on the news the other day, for example, about a businessman in Cañas, Guanacaste, who was kidnapped. A large sum of money was demanded from the family for his return.

The four kidnappers took the businessman and went tearing off in their car toward Puntarenas. But
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

recklessly rounding a curve, they hit one of the many huge potholes in the road and two of the car’s tires exploded. This made it impossible for the kidnappers to continue their getaway, so they fled into the forest on foot, leaving the businessman unharmed in the disabled vehicle.

But the police — who had been in pursuit from Cañas — found the businessman by the side of the road and soon captured the kidnappers as well. So one might be tempted to conclude, especially if one happened to be a member of the present administration, that the extremely poor condition of the road actually aided the police in saving the businessman and apprehending his abductors.

Hmm . . . .  I don’t think this is exactly what is meant by Ni tan cerca que queme el santo. Ni tan lejos que no lo alumbre, although one does hear stranger things than this out of the mouths of politicians, especially during an election campaign.

When I go to the supermarket for a liter of milk and come home with three bags of “stuff,” that’s when to apply this dicho. Or when I eat or drink to such excess that I make myself sick, that’s exactly what this saying cautions against.

Essentially what Ni tan cerca que queme el santo. Ni tan lejos que no lo alumbre is saying is that if we do anything too much, even if it is nice, it is TOO MUCH!

Feliz Año Nuevo a todos.  Happy New Year to everyone

Devils and bull going at it in Boruca today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The bull and the devils will be going at it again today in Boruca as the traditional Juego de los Diablitos finishes up its four-day run.

This is a major festival for the Boruca Indian communities, but for those who can't make it today, organizers report that a similar event will be held the weekend of Jan. 27 in nearby Rey Curré.

Both communities are in southwestern Costa Rica.

The toro and the diablitos represented a version of
the battle between good and evil, which includes resurrection and renewal.

The Diablitos, under the leadership of a Diablo Mayor confront the bull over the four days of the festival. All are disguised and wear the distinctive Boruca masks. Eventually the bull kills the devils, but they are reborn in time for the fourth day of the festival, and they go out seeking to kill the bull.

The ritual confrontations are dances, and the community also gets involved with dancing and other aspects of a fiesta. On the final day, the remains of the murdered bull is burned up in a big bonfire.

Optimistic Pacheco says 2005 was an heroic year for Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco said that 2005 was an heroic year for the country despite natural disasters, limitations of resources, the crisis in the price of oil and "many other terrible things."

Thanks to the work of Costa Ricans, the president said the country reduced poverty, increased employment, increased production and exports, improved the income of homes and reduced the gap between the income of the most fortunate and the most humble.

And he called on the country to redouble its efforts for 2006. Pacheco, joined by his wife, Leila Rodríguez, made the comments in his weekly radio and television speech.
In passing reference to the free trade treaty with the United States and his plan to increase taxes, Pacheco said that the "unity of the Costa Rican family" must be maintained in this year when there are elections and it is also necessary to take other decisions.

Unity is needed so these decisions do not divide the country, he said. "We will not permit the division and conflict to weaken our aspirations of prosperity and well being," he said.

Pacheco's optimistic summary is not shared by many Costa Ricans who believe that their quality of life has been eroded. Pacheco said nothing about the condition of the nation's roads. Their state, caused in part by backlash from hurricanes, will be the defining element of his presidency in years to come.

A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 1

Friday morning was a time of multiple murders in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men died early Friday morning in separate murders in San José.

One victim was Gustavo Lascares Víquez, 25, who was confronted by two juveniles near a bus stop about 4 a.m. in Guadalupe. The robbers were after his celluar telephone, and when he did not cooperate, they shot him fatally, took the telephone and fled.

In the settlement of Léon XIII, Michael Rojas Salazar, 31, died about 3:35 a.m. in what investigators are calling a crime of vengeance. The victim was shot at least 15 times at short range. Rojas used to live in the La Uruca settlement but moved about three months ago to Alajuelita, investigators said, adding that none of the residents there want to talk about the case.

At Plaza González Víquez in central San José the body
 of a man was found in the public right-of-way. That happened about 6:30 a.m.

Investigators Friday said they also had found information that the death of a man Dec. 22 in a fire in Léon XIII was murder. They said he was tied up and tortured with blows and sharp objects for some time before his death. A 23-year-old adult was been arrested and a minor is being sought.

Investigators said the dead man was José Mata Zúñiga. He was found in a burning home about 8:30 a.m. Dec. 22. A medical examiniation showed later how he died.

Thursday in Home Creek, Limón, a 21-year-old man, Denis Sanabria Astorga, was shot during a dispute over 5,000 colons, some $10. He, too, died Friday morning in Hospital Tony Facio. His brother-in-law was arrested.

Bolivian president-elect pays a visit to Cuba and meets with Fidel Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales met with Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Friday

The two leaders told a large group of Bolivian students studying in Cuba that among new agreements between the countries is a plan to step up bilateral education efforts.
Morales — a socialist who will become Bolivia's first indigenous president when he is inaugurated Jan. 22 —chose Communist Cuba for his first trip since winning a victory two weeks ago.

After ringing in the new year with his countrymen, Morales was to embark on a trip to Spain, France, Belgium, China and South Africa before taking office Jan. 22.

Zapatistas begin a nationwide tour to promote their poliitcal agenda
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's Zapatista rebels emerged from their southern jungle hideouts Sunday to begin what they say will be a six-month nationwide tour.

The rebels, who are traveling unarmed, hope to build support for indigenous people's rights and the poor ahead of Mexico's presidential election in July.

The tour was kicking off in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas state, where rebel leader
Subcomandante Marcos was due to speak.

The mysterious ski mask-wearing leader plans to meet with other leftist organizations throughout Mexico in an effort to broaden the Zapatistas' appeal.

The rebel leader is asking that he now be called "Delegate Zero."

The tour's start coincides with the 12th anniversary of a Zapatista uprising demanding greater rights for Indians and autonomy for the Chiapas region.

Jo Stuart
About us

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