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(506) 2223-1327                     Published Monday, Jan. 7, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 4                Email us
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Expat set afire by bandits tells how it happened
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They beat him.

They tied him up.

They fractured his skull in three places.

They stabbed him in the chest three times seeking his heart.

Then they dumped him in the trunk of his car, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire.

And now Mark Lester Metz said: "I rescued myself and stood on my own two feet with three skull fractures, three stab wounds, two broken ribs, a collapsed lung and burnt to hell from mid thigh down."

Metz is the expat who was lured to a road in Alajuela and set upon by would-be murderers. He said Friday that he has come out of nearly a month-long coma and is now living with family in Florida. He wants to set the record straight because he is unhappy with some of the news stories surrounding his robbery and attempted murder.

Police, judicial investigators and fire fighters issued conflicting reports about the Nov. 7 attack. Metz, in an email, seemed most upset with accounts that fire fighters rescued him from the trunk of his burning car. He said he rescued himself. The more sensational Spanish-language press incorrectly suggested the case was one of drug dealers,

Metz said a man who owed him money called him up one night to arrange a meeting. The man said that he had a present for Metz in appreciation of his waiting so long for repayment. The gift was a custom date planner. This is the rest of the account by Metz:

"I arrived to see his car parked on the side of the road, and as soon as he seen my car pull up behind his some 50 foot he walked over to mine, got in the passenger side and left the door open. He began to show me the date planner book. He made me keeping me looking down at it. A hard knock then came from my window as several men were at it. I, myself, thought it was OIJ because of the way they were dressed and I parked illegally maybe half way in the street.

"As soon as I opened my door, I was clocked in the head with a gun, cracked my skull as well. Then all three men were pointing guns at me and yelling.

The man who invited him to the meeting got out of the car as the men got in, and one got into the back seat, said Metz, continuing:

"I was hit in the head a second time once again making a second crack in my head. Then I was pulled into the back seat by all the men there. My cash I had in my pockets was taken and my watch and glasses. The watch wasn’t the best but worth 1,000 U.S. dollars and I had . . .  about 1,000 dollars in my pocket.

"I was hit a third time in the head as the men then started to drive off in the car. They took me to a house where I was hogtied then kicked and beaten while they wanted more money, and I had no more.

"They then picked me up by the hogties and put me into the trunk of the car and drove off again. I . . .  prayed they were just going to dump me some place with a good old ass whooping. As the car
burning car
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stopped, the trunk opened and, before I could beg them to just let me go, I was stabbed three times into the chest. They were trying to stab me in the heart to kill me. The trunk closed and car drove off once again.

"At that point I realized I wasn’t just going to be beaten, I was to be killed. I picked at the knots that tied my hands and feet and the hogtie knot. The hogtie came loose, and the car stopped once again, trunk opened and gas was splashed on me. Then the guy lit me on fire and closed the trunk.

"Within a second I kicked the safety latch in the trunk, and it opened, and I pogo flopped my self out of the trunk onto the ground. I lay still while on fire not knowing where they were. I looked around slowly and saw they were gone, so I rolled myself to the road edge into muck to put out the flames. Because majority the fire was to my lower body, the rope tying my legs was burnt off, but my hands were still tied. I quickly got away from the car thinking it might explode.

"I walked to the first house I saw and tried to call for help, not knowing how bad I was. My lung was collapsed and hands still tied. I did what I could. I sat there kicking for well over 30 minutes.

As time went, I lacked the energy to walk to a different house and thought it best to stay close to the burning car for the fire department, when they showed they drove past me and went to the car. A local man found me, and I asked him for a cigarette. The fire department then came over to me and called paramedics."

Metz identified in his account the man who lured him to the meeting. That man was involved the entire time and didn’t want to go to jail and that’s why they thought it best to kill me, said Metz. "By doing all this, it would of got him out of the debt with me and got the other guys paid. . . with the cash I had on me. . . ."

This is the real story, said Metz as he said he thought all involved would face 12 to 18 years in prison for attempted murder.

The Judicial Investigating Organization, that Metz called by the Spanish acronym OIJ, detained two men and a woman in mid-December. The men received preventative detention, but the woman was set free to sign in with prosecutors once every 15 days. She was identified as the girlfriend of one of the men.

Metz did not mention a woman, but it is believed that she was the occupant of the house where he was tied up.

Metz also says four men were involved in the attack. Judicial agents identified just three persons by the last names of Ricon Gallega, a 30-year-old Colombian, Brown Vega, a 43-year-old Costa Rican and Ugalde Vasquez, the 40-year-old Costa Rican woman. More arrests are possible.

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Fireworks extravaganza ends
the annual carnival at Zapote


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A spectacular fireworks show signaled the end Sunday night to the 2012-2013 Fiesta de San José.

The carnival had the usual health problems at some of the food stands and many injuries of amateur bull fighters in the rondel. Security officials say they are pleased with the relatively calm carnival.

The highways also were relatively calm. Ruta 27 was made eastbound in extra lanes so that vacationers from the Pacific beach towns could return to the Central Valley. There were no reports of tie ups.

A motorcycle driver died in a Sunday accident. The mishap was in  Purral de Guadalupe. Judicial investigators said that a man with the last name of Rojas died about 6:30 a.m. His family said the 29-year-old man had been celebrating with alcohol the day before.

His vehicle crashed into a wall, agents said.

Theoretically all government offices should be operating normally today as will the courts. Hotels, restaurants and many private businesses did not enjoy the extended Christmas vacation. In fact, hotels and restaurants find the holiday to be the busiest time of the year.

The next big vacation is Semana Santa, the last week in March. So that gives the country 11 weeks of normality.


Irish firm issues report
that is upbeat on tourism


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Research and Markets, a research agency based in Ireland, is predicting 2.36 million tourists for Costa Rica this year. The firm also predicts that tourism will increase on the average by 6 percent a year until 2017.

The firm notes that the top three markets for Costa Rican tourism are the United States, Canada and Nicaragua.

Here are some other forecasts:

"In the same vein, Costa Rica is making retirement communities a priority to keep visitor numbers up. The country is targeting North American pensioners by doing away with the red tape of residence permits, especially for those in good health. Tax exemptions on real estate and vehicles are also being offered."

and

"The planned regeneration of the province of Limón, on the less frequently visited Caribbean coast, has the potential to put upward pressure on inbound tourism numbers. Puerto Limón was once the home of the United Fruit Company (the predecessor of Chiquita Brands International) and the province has two national parks. The parks have the potential to be a large tourism draw. In our view, the development of tourism infrastructure in the region is likely to unlock great potential."

The firm is seeking to sell the report, "Costa Rica Tourism Report Q1 2013."
 
 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 4
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dante
Terry J. Conroy photo
Hey, guys, got any more bananas?
Meek forest giant is best left alone to munch and frolic in surf
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats could live in Costa Rica for years and never encounter the shy forest giant, the tapir.

That probably is a good thing because the animal, which can grow to 700 pounds, can knock a full-grown man into unconsciousness. Ask former environmental minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi who had a run-in with such a critter, called a dante in Spanish. The scene was in the Parque Nacional Corcovado, and Rodríguez was among the missing for several days.

Famed hunter and collector Frank Buck also recounts in his biography nearly being killed by a tapir. He still called the creature the meekest of animals.

The animals are very protective of their much smaller young. They also are considered a match for large crocodiles and jaguars.
But there is another location near the park on the Osa peninsula where visitors can see groups of these creatures. Some even like to frolic in the surf.

Terry J. Conroy of the Lookout Inn Lodge submitted the photo above. He said that this critter was at a banana station Saturday night munching away. Then he was on the beach at 6 a.m. to the delight of guests.

Conroy said that there are three others that roam the area around the inn.

He calls his place "my off the grid, end of the road, remote, no cell service lodge . . .  on the Osa peninsula.  His Web page documents the animal playing in the surf.

The animals are Baird's tapir, Tapirus bairdii, that are the largest mammal in Costa Rica. They are considered a threatened species, and hunting them in Costa Rica is illegal, although the law does not always stop some locals.


San Pedro intruder stabs young woman, 19, seven times
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An ex-boyfriend with a prison record climbed a wall and confronted a 19-year-old woman in her second-floor home while she was eating breakfast Sunday.

The intruder stabbed the woman seven times, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. She was identified by the last name of  Román.

The home is in the los Cedros section of  San Pedro de Montes de Oca. Also present at the time of the attack, said investigators, was the woman's stepfather, a U.S. citizen with the last name of Furguson. He is 79 and suffered a cut to the left arm, they said.
Among other injuries the woman suffered a perforation of the lung, said agents. She went to Hospital Calderón Guardia.

The assailant, whose identity is known, fled.

In another attack against a woman, judicial agents have detained the man who is the prime suspect in the death of a woman in Cariari de Guápiles.

This woman suffered 18 stab wounds, said agents. She was 30 and was identified by the last name of Bermúdez.

Agents detained the suspect last Saturday night. The man apparently sought to surrender himself.

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Iranian general says that U.S. is fostering Iranophobia in world
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new U.S. law that targets Iran is part of a campaign to spread
Iranian general
Massoud Jazzayeri
Iranophobia in the world, according to a senior Iranian military commander.

The military man, Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazzayeri, was quoted Sunday by the pro-government Fars News Agency.

"The media hype and certain commentaries which have been inspired by the western and Zionist political, intelligence and security
sources about Iran's use of the Latin American states as a platform for infiltration, penetration and attack on the U.S. soil are part of the Iranophobia scenario and to convince the public opinion and prepare grounds for global consensus on  threatening action against the Islamic Republic of Iran," the general was quoted as saying.

The general cited the arrogant nature of the United States and the reason it sees the growth of Iranian embassies in Latin America as a threat.

The U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a measure that instructs the U.S. State Department to develop a strategy to counter the growing Iranian influence in the Americas.

Last month a top Iranian diplomat was making the rounds of
friendly countries in Latin America in what U.S. observers believe is another effort to establish more influence in the area and solidify supply lines.

The diplomat is Ali Asghar Khaji, the deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. His trip was announced by the Fars News Agency in Iran, which said he would visit Bolivia, Cuba, and Uruguay. That was Dec. 9.

The Iranian news service noted that Bolivia and Cuba are members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, known as ALBA. This is a union of eight Latin American states that has been stitched together by Venezuela President Hugo Chávez to counter U.S. influence in the area.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has visited Latin America, including Nicaragua. That was the country where rumors surfaced in September that another Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, was setting up a training camp. That report came from Israeli news media and was never validated.

Iran has opened six new embassies in Latin American countries since 2005, bringing the total to 11, and 17 cultural centers.

The Middle East Quarterly noted that U.S. officials attribute to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps the unsuccessful plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington with the use of gunmen from the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel.

The United States cannot block the promotion of the Iranian nation's anti-arrogance discourse among freedom and justice-seeking nations of the world, said the general, according to Fars.


Bandits manage to isolate one truck from liquor convoy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delivery of liquor is being done in caravans with security vehicles front and back.

But that was not enough Sunday to stop an attempted hijacking.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that four trucks left Santa Ana for Cartago.

About 1:30 p.m. the fourth vehicle in this caravan was flagged down by a man dressed as a traffic officer, agents said. As soon as the driver stopped, two vehicles with armed men pulled up and tried to drive away the vehicle.

The truck contained a dead switch that prevented the hijackers from starting it, said agents.

Just as they were figuring this out, the security vehicle
following the convoy pulled up and the crooks forced the driver from the car.

He was taken for a ride, lost his cell phone and money and was dumped near the Costa Rican Country Club in Escazú, said agents.

The crime bore similarities to one that took place in November when bandits were successful in driving off with a container truck that was bound to Atenas from Coronado. Agents were able to recover that vehicle quickly.

Companies that transport marketable merchandise appear to be taking more and more steps to avoid crime. Many delivery trucks carry an armed guard.

Big targets are trucks carrying appliances, food products and computers. One gang actually stole a truck carrying coffee last month.

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Canadian who sheltered
U.S. diplomats dies at 88


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

John Sheardown, a former Canadian diplomat, who sheltered fugitive American Embassy staffers in his Tehran home during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, has died.  He was 88 years old.

Sheardown had been treated for Alzheimer's disease and other ailments before his death Dec. 30 in Ottawa.

The rescue of the Americans has become known as the "Canadian caper" and is depicted in Ben Affleck's Oscar-contender film "Argo." However, Sheardown is not portrayed in the film.

Affleck has said Sheardown's role in the hostage crisis was omitted in the film due to time constraints and plot developments.

Sheardown and his wife, Zena, housed four of the six fugitive Americans in their 20-room home in Tehran.  The  group had escaped from the American Embassy after militant Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, holding 52 American hostages for 444 days in retaliation for U.S. support for the recently deposed shah.  The two other Americans were taken in by Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.

Sheardown received a telephone call from one of the Americans about a week after the embassy takeover, asking for help and Sheardown agreed.

His wife said "it was just not in John's nature to refuse help to anyone."

In a story posted in October on the Slate magazine Web site, one of the rescued American diplomats, Mark Lijek, said without Sheardown's "enthusiastic welcome we might have tried to survive on our own a few more days.  We would have failed."

Sheardown was made a member of the Order of Canada for his role in the rescue.


Father names the victim
of brutal Indian rape

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The father of the Indian woman who was brutally gang-raped and later died from severe injuries says he wanted to reveal his daughter's identity in order to embolden other sexual crime victims.

Jyoti Singh Pandey is her name, her father, Badri Singh Pandey, said.

The father told Britain's Sunday People newspaper that his daughter "didn't do anything wrong" and that "she died while protecting herself."

He said he is proud of her and that by revealing her name, he hopes it will give courage to other women who have survived similar attacks.

Alongside the numerous protests in India against the gruesome crime, there have been public calls to identify the 23-year-old woman, including a proposal to name a new anti-rape law after her.

However, Indian law forbids the naming of sex-crime victims with the intent of protecting them from social stigma associated with rape.  So far, authorities have already filed a case against one media outlet, Zee TV, after it ran an interview with the male friend who was with the victim during the attack.  They say the interview could lead to identifying the victim.

In the interview, the woman's companion accused police in New Delhi of wasting time arguing about who had jurisdiction and then taking the couple to a hospital that was not the closest one available.  This came after the victim's friend said it took nearly half an hour before anyone stopped and helped the couple after they were dumped naked and bleeding on the side of the road.

The Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police, Vivek Gogia, has defended the speed of the police response, telling reporters that police took less than 30 minutes to get the couple to the hospital after the distress call.

Indian authorities have charged five men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges in the Dec. 16 attack. Officials say they will push for the death penalty if the men are convicted.  A sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.

Authorities say the accused used the rod to beat the two victims and to violate the woman during the rape.

The unidentified woman died more than a week ago in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment.  Her father has backed calls to hang the men charged, if they are convicted.

The Zee interview marked the first time the man, who has not been named, has spoken publicly about the Dec.16 attack.  The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Indian officials to refrain from pressing the charges against the media outlet.

India has set up a so-called "fast-track" court to try the men accused of the crimes.  The fast-track court is one of five being set up in New Delhi, known by some as the rape capital of India.  The courts will hear cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women in an effort to bypass India's overwhelmed regular court system, where cases can often take many years to be resolved.


Australian officials seek
possible victims of fires


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Raging wildfires are continuing to burn through southern Australia, where concerns are focused on about 100 people who may be missing.

Australian firefighters, using helicopter and planes, are battling the blazes across the state of Tasmania, where the fires flared Friday after a record summer heat wave that pushed temperatures above 40 degrees C.

Acting Tasmanian Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says in areas hit hardest by the fires, officials are trying to make sure that everyone is okay.

"We have teams on the ground now focusing particularly on Dunalley and Boomer Bay today going through the process of having to go door to door, literally on every fire-damaged property, some are shacks, some are houses, some are outbuildings, and confirming that there are no people who have lost their lives at that particular location," he said. 

While officials are hopeful, Tasmanian Fire Service Chief Mike Brown says the battle is not yet over.

"The fact that we've got many, many kilometers, possibly hundreds of kilometers of uncontrolled fire in very remote and heavily forested country, is still going to be problematic for us over the next few days," he said.

Several communities were evacuated as the fires approached.  Residents like Roger Sparrow, who escaped with his two daughters, said he was happy to get out alive.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer.  In February of 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 4
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Pawn shop holdup leaves
employee, suspects hurt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A holdup attempt Saturday at a pawn shop in Desamparados left the son of the owner wounded as well as two suspected bandits.

At least three men tried to hold up the pawn shop about 1 p.m. Saturday. The employee on duty, identified by judicial agents by the name of Castro, happened to be the son of the owner.

He engaged the trio in a firefight. When police arrived, one suspect was located nearby with a bullet wound in the right arm.

A short time later, a man with seven bullet wounds was dumped at Hospital Calderón Guardia, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Castro suffered a wound to the stomach and under went surgery.


Arias brother decides
to return to private life


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez does not look like a matinee idol and does not have a Nobel Peace Prize as does his brother.

Plus he has a lot of political baggage because he was chief of staff to his brother at Casa Presidencial.

So he has put aside his political ambitions and will return to private life, he said Friday at a press conference.

The former candidate did not fare well in public opinion surveys either within his Partido Liberación Nacional or among the public. And his campaign has not been successful in raising a lot of cash.

The decision by Rodrigo Arias leaves Johnny Araya Monge, mayor of San José, as the strong favorite to capture the presidential nomination by Liberación Nacional at an April convention.

Araya has been successful in bringing would-be competitors into his campaign. He made a deal with Antonio Álvarez Desanti to be his campaign manager in exchange for political benefits in the future. It is possible that there may be room for Rodrigo Arias.

The only other potential presidential nominee is Fernando Berrocal Soto, the former security minister. He was a long third in the polls.










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Political confusion reigns in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelans and their political leaders are facing a week of questions as the country, and the world, waits to see if ailing President Hugo Chávez takes the oath of office Thursday.

Thursday is Jan. 10, the day designated by the Venezuelan constitution for administering the oath of office.  Chávez won re-election in October, but he has been in Cuba for cancer treatment and has not been seen in public for nearly a month.

The most recent word on Chávez's condition came this past Thursday from Venezuela Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, who said the president has experienced some difficulties.

"Following the sensitive surgery on 11 December, Commander Chávez has faced some complications as a consequence of a severe lung infection," he said. "This infection has resulted in a respiratory deficiency that requires Commander Chávez to remain in strict compliance with his medical treatment.  The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reiterates their confidence in the medical team taking care of the president which has been following closely the evolution of the patient and has acted with the utmost thoroughness in dealing with the difficulties that have come about."

Doctors have been treating Chávez for cancer in his pelvic area, but his exact form of cancer and condition are unknown.

Some Venezuelan opposition leaders argue if Chávez is unable to take the oath of office on January 10, it would have to mean he is stepping down and that new elections would have to be held.

Chávez's allies, including re-elected national assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, say that is not the case.

"Without any arrogance, on 10 January, it does not mean anything if President Chávez is not present, President Chávez was elected on 7 October for the term between 2013 and 2019," he said.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro has said if Chávez is unable to attend his inauguration Thursday before the National Assembly, he could be sworn in later by the Supreme Court.

Saturday, while speaking to supporters, he blamed much of the uncertainty on propaganda by the opposition.

"We need to be in constant battle to fight the lies," he said.  "If the lies come via Twitter, then let us go after the lies on Twitter, if the lies come via Facebook, then let us go after the lies on Facebook.  If they are in the street, then let us argue against them in the street."

Maduro also promised more information would be coming.

"In the coming days, we will continue to inform you about the status of the respiratory condition that our commander is suffering. You know that these types of treatments call for keeping calm and we are calm. We are calm," he said.

Some legal experts note the constitution allows the Supreme Court to swear in the president without mentioning a specific date.

For now, all that is certain is that Chávez's allies hold a majority in the Assembly and all of its leadership positions.


It's round two on U.S. fiscal crisis

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. lawmakers are getting ready for another political fight over the country's budget woes.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned Sunday his party will not consider any more tax increases. He told ABC television's This Week that “the tax issue is finished.” He said President Barack Obama and lawmakers now need to focus on cutting spending, calling Washington's “spending addiction” the nation's biggest problem.

But the top House Democrat says lawmakers still need to raise more revenue. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told CBS' Face the Nation” that the tax issue is still on the table.

Ms. Pelosi said lawmakers need to look at ending tax breaks for special interest groups and industries that are doing well and do not need them.

Congress last week passed a compromise deal combining tax hikes and spending cuts that puts off for now, much more drastic measures.

Meanwhile, White House and Congressional sources tell U.S. news agencies that President Obama will nominate a former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, as the new secretary of Defense as early as Monday.

This could lead to another fight with the White House with some lawmakers accusing Hagel of being tough on Israel and willing to compromise with Iran.

Obama told NBC television last month that Hagel is a patriot who has done extraordinary work in the Senate and served his country with valor during the Vietnam war. The U.S. Senate must approve the president's pick for defense chief.

Republican lawmakers are not ruling out using America’s debt limit as a bargaining chip in looming deficit reduction battles with congressional Democrats and the Obama administration.  A similar partisan dynamic in 2011 led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

A new year and the swearing in of a new Congress have not erased familiar battle lines between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to reining in America’s runaway national debt.

Failure to grant additional borrowing authority could cause the federal government to run out of funds in coming months, and could shake global confidence in U.S. credit worthiness.

As in 2011, many Republicans today are demanding a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling.  But unlike two years ago, President Barack Obama says he will not bargain over the debt limit, a stance that all but dares Republicans to follow through on a threat that economists warn could inflict massive damage to the U.S. and global economy.

Democrats, like House Minority Leader Pelosi, point out that a higher debt ceiling is required to cover spending Congress already approved.  She argues it is a separate issue from looming budget battles over future federal spending.

“Right now we have to pay the bill that has been incurred.  If you want to cut spending for what we do next, fine.  But you cannot say, ‘I am not paying the past debt’," she said.

Republicans counter that absent dire consequences for inaction Congress will never agree to the painful spending cuts and reforms required to solve America’s fiscal woes.  Democrats point out they have already voted in favor of more than $1 trillion in federal spending cuts.  President Obama has said he is open to reforming costly programs that provide health care and other benefits to retirees.

Last week, Congress approved a measure to avert automatic tax hikes and delay deep spending cuts mandated under the so-called “fiscal cliff."   The last-minute deal raised income tax rates for top earners. 

President Obama says a mix of spending cuts and additional revenues will be needed to reduce America’s trillion-dollar federal deficit.  Republicans say taxes have already been dealt with, and debt-reduction efforts must now focus on spending alone.


New U.S. food rules promote safety

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New rules hailed as the biggest improvements in U.S. food safety since the 1930s took a step forward Friday. Regulators say the proposals may prevent more than one million cases of food borne illness each year.

They come two years to the day since President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. They are the first step in implementing that law, which puts the Food and Drug Administration in charge of preventing food borne disease outbreaks. Experts say that’s a change from the reactive role it has played in the past.

Passage of the law followed a string of high-profile nationwide disease outbreaks linked to bagged spinach, peanut butter and other foods, in which hundreds of people became ill.

The new approaches the Food and Drug Administration has proposed call for food manufacturers to show that they have identified where contamination is most likely to happen, and taken steps to prevent it. The proposed rules also set safety standards for raising and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing all of the law’s provisions will cost the government $1.4 billion dollars. Food makers support the law, though the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a major industry trade group, declines to estimate what it will cost producers.

The new food rules are likely to have an effect on Costa Rica's export business. A number of fresh products are welcomed into the United States each day. The impact here has yet to be determined.
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