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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Jan. 17, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 11           E-mail us
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Tax package expected to go to lawmakers today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central government officials are meeting with members of opposition parties in an effort to sell the Chinchilla administration's tax plans.

Today is the day when the tax package is supposed to go to the legislature.  Marco Vargas, minister of the Presidencia, and Francisco Herrero, the minister of Hacienda, met last week with lawmakers from Acción Ciudadana, Accesibilidad sin Exclusión, Renovación Costarricense, Restauración Nacional and Movimiento Libertario at Casa Presidential.

Today President Laura Chinchilla will meet for lunch with lawmakers from the government party, Liberación Nacional.

Liberación has 24 lawmakers in the 57-seat legislature. A majority to pass any bill is 29.  Measures that require a two-thirds vote would need 38 lawmakers. So it is clear that the Chinchilla administration will have to knit together some allies to pass any new taxes.

As sweetener, each lawmaker will be getting a new car when they return to work today.

Ms. Chinchilla has promised to slash government spending and freeze any hiring in a prelude to the presentation of the new taxes. Still, the proposals are expected to generate sharp discussion. One Liberación lawmaker, a former minister, has threatened to quit because he disagrees with the administration's approach.

The Costa Rican Constitution says that in no case may the amount of budgetary expenditures exceed that of probable revenues. However, Costa Rica has
been running deficits for years and borrowing money to fill the gaps.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a Costa Rican who is a Latin American expert with the Cato Institute, a conservative U.S. think tank, wrote a blistering criticism for La Nación. It was published Friday. He said that the new budget designed by the Chinchilla administration is 10 percent greater than the previous year.

He also said that many government agencies were obsolete and that Ms. Chinchilla froze hiring after putting on 5,000 new employees in December.

The proposed new taxes have been criticized from less conservative directions because they come at a time when the country is just pulling itself out of a steep recession.

The central government has 22 ministries including a Ministerio de Deporte or sports, which has not yet been fully approved.

The exact nature of the taxes have not been given, but a 15 percent value added tax is believed to be among the proposals. The new tax would cover many more transactions than the current 13 percent sales tax, thereby bringing more money into the government.

Ms. Chinchilla recently said she would like to assess a tax for national defense. Then there are possible taxes on casinos and sportsbooks and a $200 annual tax on corporations that already is in the legislative hopper.

The legislative process is a slow one, and lawmakers likely will take a long time to consider the tax proposals in committees.


When salaries go up, so do fines and penalties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cost of being bad just got more expensive.

Because the colon traditionally has been unstable, many fines and penalties here are stated in base salaries, as in "the fine will be two base salaries."
Because minimum salaries went up Jan. 1 so did the base salary on which all the legal definitions are resting: the monthly salary of an auxiliar administrative 1 of the Poder Judicial. That salary is now 316,200 colons a month.

That's about $634.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 11

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Juveniles figure in murders
with cases reaching courts


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17 year old and a 13 year old are scheduled to be in court today to face separate murder charges.

Another 17 year old received five years last week after admitting he murdered a man.

The 17 year old who is in court today in San José is accused of killing Rigoberto Montero Umaña, 19, Jan. 18, 2009.
The victim died from a bullet to the neck after he was approached by robbers near the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados water company offices in Escazú. It was 6:30 p.m. The robbers wanted the man's cell telephone but he put up resistance. Prosecutors say that the juvenile was the principal suspect in the murder. The trial started before Christmas but has been delayed by the three-week holiday break in the courts.

The 13 year old is accused of killing a homeowner in Silitral de Santa Ana. The dead man is Efraín López López. He died Sept. 23.

According to the Poder Judicial the 13 year old arrived at the house of López and sought food and housing. The homeowner refused, and an argument ensued. The youth is charged with taking a blunt object and beating López around the head and back, causing his death.

The Poder Judicial said that the youth then dug a makeshift grave in the victim's backyard and buried the body. The trial began last week.

The 17 year old who got five years in what the Poder Judicial calls a specialized center agreed to an abbreviated hearing in the Juzgado Penal Juvenil de San José. The victim was identified as Samuel Barquero Arguedas, 22. The killing happened two years ago near the sports field in Ciudadela 15 de Setiembre in Hatillo.

Barquero was shot three times at close range and died at Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Meanwhile, the Poder Judicial reports that a 16 year old has been ordered detained in the death of Steven Alberto Calderón Zúñiga, 17.  The fatal injury took place about 2 p.m. Jun. 9 when an argument turned to blows in Veinticinco de Julio in Hatillo. Calderón died a short time later at Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Another murder in Jacó
and one in Goicoechea


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gunman on a motorcycle assassinated a 32-year-old Jacó man in another killing of a pedestrian in the Pacific coast community.

The dead man was identified as Zachery Boyer, a long-time resident of the area. He died when the assailant pumped six shots into him and then fled. Police roadblocks failed to produce a suspect.

The killing was similar to one Jan. 2 when two men on a motorcycle killed 25-year-old Christopher McLean on a Jacó public street. In neither case was there any effort to rob the victim. McLean was a native of Limón.

Boyer was believed to work in some area of tourism in the seaside community.

The Jacó murder was not the only one of the weekend. Saturday night in Los Cuadros de Purral de Goicoechea three masked men got out of a car in front of a liquor store, entered and began shooting everyone there. They used military style rifles.

One man died a short time later and five persons went to metro hospitals. At least one was in critical condition. Most were shot more than once.

Kidnap victim freed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The daughter of a used car dealer has been released safely after her parents paid an undisclosed ransom to kidnappers.

The 30-year-old women, who has the last name of Miranda, was working at Autos Leo in Barrio Cuba in San José Tuesday when three men entered and kidnapped her.

She was let go Saturday night in San Lorenzo de Flores, Heredia shortly after her parents paid the ransom.


Our readers' opinion
Faults found with both firms
that offer cable television


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am a former subscriber to Cable Tica and a new subscriber to Cable Amnet. I was with Cable Tica for six years in the metro area and I have nothing but good things to say. They provided my cable TV service as well as Internet. I now subscribe to Amnet because I moved to an area that is not served by Cable Tica.

Overall, I am satisfied with Amnet. I would not say that I am delighted with their service, but so far they have lived up to their end of the contract. Internet has been down a few times, and a few times I found Movie City playing on the channel that is supposed to carry CNN. Regarding ABC, NBC, and CBS, I used to get two of each because I subscribed to their less than adequate digital service. One of the CBS channels was  that exceedingly unprofessional affiliate out of Erie, Pennsylvania, and the other was a Denver station. I noticed a few days ago that now both CBS channels are from Erie. I believe the NBC and ABC channels are out of the Miami area.

But, Dean Barbour, I don’t think you have died and gone to TV heaven. Cable Tica is not without its faults. I lived (miserably) without CNN for several months. I was told and I believe it was because they did not want to pay the franchise fee to carry that channel. Also, ABC was missing for several years, something about a contract problem with Disney and/or Sony. Several of the channels are offered with SAP, but Cable Tica did not broadcast them with that feature. And despite what the Cable Tica rep told you, your favorite channels will indeed disappear from time to time, sometimes for just a few hours, sometimes for days on end.

Now I have a question for anyone who might know. Now that most of the consumers in the western hemisphere seem to have switched to digital HD TV equipment, why are we not getting HD broadcasts? Amnet offers perhaps 5 HD channels with the premium package. Big deal!

Tony Waddell
Curridabat

Puntarenas could become
a great tourist attraction

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

First impressions are generally very accurate and set the tone for the future of any relationship.  And such will be the case when 1,800 tourists from the luxury ship “Disney Wonder” have the opportunity to base their first impression of Costa Rica solely on their short visit to the fishing town of Puntarenas.

Since moving to Costa Rica two years ago, I visit Puntarenas periodically for the sole purpose of filling my freezer with fresh fish.  But as one walks the streets of that town, you can’t help but feel depressed at the rundown, shanty town look that Puntarenas portrays.  Other than a few hundred meters of souvenir stands directly adjacent to where ships dock, there is little the town has to offer a visiting tourist.  The beach areas are filthy, strewn with litter and rotting driftwood.  Neighborhoods are in disarray and are uninviting.

Puntarenas has such a huge potential of being a tourist mecca, the possibilities are endless. It’s a shame, so many of these first-time visitors will see and experience Costa Rica and base their opinions of this country on their first (and possibly last) visit to Puntarenas.

I know Costa Rica is cash strapped and there are many items on the financial agenda that are demanding money.  I hope the powers to be consider making our two main sea ports more inviting to our visitors.  Costa Rica is an incredibly beautiful country with so much to offer.  We need to create a better first impression.

Andy Browne
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste
 
 
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.
Click a story for the summary








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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 11
Latigo K-9

Real estate rollover

Scientists report why coffee protects against type 2 diabetes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Researchers think they know why coffee protects the body against type 2 diabetes. That's good news for Costa Rica's coffee producers.

A protein called sex hormone–binding globulin regulates the biological activity of the body's sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, which have long been thought to play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, and coffee consumption, it turns out, increases plasma levels of this protein, according to researchers at the University of California at Los Angles.

The study showed that women who drink at least four cups
of coffee a day are less than half as likely to develop
 diabetes as non-coffee drinkers. The university said the study was made public in the current edition of the journal Diabetes. The authors are Atsushi Goto, a doctoral student at the university, and Simin Liu, a professor of medicine.
 
The university pointed out that the American Diabetes Association estimates that nearly 24 million children and adults in the U.S. — nearly 8 percent of the population — have diabetes and that type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease and accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of these cases.
 
Scientists have known for a long time that coffee drinking reduces the incidences of type 2 diabetes, but they did not know why, the university said.

Fuerza Pública officers and anti-drug police escort those arrested to a waiting vehicle for transport to jail.
car wash drug suspects
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

Anti-drug agents say that mom enlisted girl, 10, to sell crack
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police said that a mother used her 10-year-old daughter to help her sell drugs in the center of San José.

Police said they received eight complaints about drugs being sold at a car wash between Avenidas 8 and 10 on Calle 2. They moved in Friday and detained the woman, identified
by the last names of Rivas Estrada. She is 38. Her child was in the car wash when police raided.

Also detained were two individuals, a man, 41, with the last names of Quirós López and a woman, 42 with the last name of Garcia, said police. The child was put with family members. Police said they confiscated crack rocks and money.


Pre-trial detention sought in case of Osa invasion suspects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors want to put the five persons detained on the Osa peninsula in prison for a year for investigation. That was the request prosecutors were making to a judge last Friday.
These are the five persons detained on private property at Playa San Josecito, Drake Bay. An armed group took over the dwelling and the property Tuesday and kicked out the caretaker and his family.

Detained were four men with the last names of Picado, Morales, Ureña and Jiróin and a woman with the last name of Montiel.

What happened there still is being disputed. Residents said that some 20 heavily armed persons took over the property. They were suspected of being a drug gang awaiting a shipment. The neighbors were frightened.
Agents needed three days to assemble their forces in the remote area on the far west side of the peninsula.

Instead of AK-47 automatic rifles, agents found bb guns when they made the arrests. Agents and police were criticized for allowing the bulk of the force to slip away in the night, although there is no real evidence that this happened.

Television videos showed individuals with weapons that did not appear to be bb guns.

The neighbors got close looks at the weaponry because some of the intruders would walk to the nearby stores fully armed.

The home invasion is being blamed on a land title dispute. Frequently in Costa Rica individuals fed up with the lack of speed in the court system take the law into their own hands.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 11


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Earthquake deaths correlated to corrupt governments

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new assessment of global earthquake fatalities over the past three decades indicates that 83 percent of all deaths caused by the collapse of buildings during earthquakes occurred in countries considered to be unusually corrupt.

Authored by Nicholas Ambraseys of the Imperial College of London and Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the study also found that in some relatively wealthy countries where knowledge and sound business practices would be expected to prevail, the collapse of many buildings is nevertheless attributable to corrupt building practices.

A commentary piece on the subject is being published in Nature.

Corrupt building practices — which are generally covert and hard to quantify — can include the use of substandard materials, poor assembly methods, the inappropriate placement of buildings and non-adherence to building codes, said the authors.

Ambraseys and Bilham used data gathered by Transparency International, a global organization based in Berlin that operates through more than 70 national chapters around the world. Transparency International annually generates a Corruption Perception Index as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.

The index — which defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain — is determined by an aggregate of 13 opinion polls averaged over two years from 10 institutions monitoring the frequency and extent of bribes paid within various countries, said Bilham, a professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. A score of 0 indicates a highly corrupt nation with zero transparency, while a score of 10 indicates an absence of perceived corruption with total transparency.

The authors determined that there is roughly a one-to-one relationship between a nations' wealth and its perceived level of corruption. "Less wealthy nations are the most corrupt," said Bilham. "We found that fully 83 percent of all deaths from earthquakes in the last 30 years have occurred in nations where corruption is both widespread and worse than expected."

Relative wealth is the most obvious parameter that influences a country's corruption, according to the authors. Bilham and Ambraseys chose the gross national income per capita to compare the relative wealth of the
Haitian destruction
U.S. Air Force photo
A street scene in the Haitian capital

countries. High wealth is strongly linked to countries  with a stable government conducive to the rule of law, they said.

The authors noted that while a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck in New Zealand in 2010 resulted in zero fatalities, an identical 2010 quake in Haiti resulted in a death toll reaching six figures. "Widespread anecdotal evidence points to the collapse of structures in devastating earthquakes as a result of corrupt building practices," said Bilham. "In this study we have attempted to quantify that perception.

"Corruption is found to be far worse in some countries than others, despite a measure of wealth that tells us they should do better," said Bilham. "It is in the countries that have abnormally high levels of corruption where we find most of the world's deaths from earthquakes."

The global construction industry, currently worth $7.5 trillion annually and which is expected to double in the next decade, is recognized by experts as being the most corrupt segment of the world economy, said the authors.

Since 1980, deaths due to an absence of effective earthquake engineering activity have averaged about 18,300 per year, according to the authors.

Poverty and poor education also contribute to building collapse through a lack of strong, available building materials and a lack of education that otherwise would help guide safe building practices, the authors said.

The authors said even if corrupt building practices were halted today, those residing in impoverished nations would inherit at least some structures and dwellings that were constructed while corrupt construction practices were under way.



Latin America progresses in economic freedom, study says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Better than five out of every six countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean made steady progress toward economic freedom last year, according to the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, released Thursday by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.

Only Chile ranks among the world’s 20 freest economies, coming in 11th overall with a score of 77.4 on the Index’s 1-100 scale. But Colombia ranks among the world’s most-improved countries – its score rose by 2.5 points over the previous year – and the region as a whole ranks a half-point better than the overall world average of 59.7. Only three countries in the region – Ecuador, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic – actually lost ground in the quest for economic freedom.

“With more than half the region’s economies implementing some form of business reform over the past year,” the Index editors write, “regulatory systems are becoming more transparent and modern, and the overall climate for entrepreneurship is improving.”

Costa Rica was in 49th place, with 67.3, up 1.4 points from the previous year. The country was ranked mostly free. Nicaragua was 98th at 58.8, a half point increase over the previous year. The ranking put it in the mostly unfree category.

The index, compiled as a joint project of The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, ranks countries on a 1-100 scale on the basis of 10 measures that evaluate openness, the rule of law and competitiveness. The 10 scores are averaged to produce the overall score.

Countries that score well demonstrate a commitment to individual empowerment, non-discrimination and the promotion of competition. Their economies tend to perform better, and their populations tend to enjoy more prosperity, better health and more positive measures on a 
variety of quality-of-life indices. A score of 80 or higher merits the designation of “free economy.” Those who score in the 70s are considered “mostly free,” those in the 60s “moderately free,” those in the 50s “mostly unfree” and those that score less than 50 “repressed.”

Chile easily maintains its perch atop the region with scores of at least 67 in all 10 categories. Saint Lucia, averaging 70.8, and Uruguay, at 70, are the only other countries in the region to score in the “mostly free” category. At the other end of the scale, four countries – Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba – scored below 50 points, putting them in the category of “repressed” economies. On the bottom rung in the 29-state region is Cuba. Its 27.7 point rating is the third worst in the world. Only Zimbabwe and North Korea allow less economic freedom.

Colombia continues to show dramatic progress and has become, in the words of the editors, “one of South America’s most stable economies.” Its score improved thanks to upgrades in its entrepreneurial environment, facilitated by openness to trade and investment.

Recent reforms in regulation and fostering a strong private sector also contributed to its improvement.

The region overall ranks above the world average on just four of the 10 Index categories. Its biggest problems remain corruption and a lack of property-rights protection. Only eight countries in the region scored better than 50 in the corruption index, and only seven exceeded a score of 50 on property rights.

“These reflect longstanding issues of poor governance and weak rule of law,” the editors wrote.

The 2011 Index was edited by Ambassador Terry Miller, director of Heritage’s Center for International Trade and Economics, and Kim Holmes, Heritage’s vice president for foreign affairs. A complete online version of the Index is available free at www.heritage.org/index.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 11

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Obama loosens travel rules
for U.S. citizen Cuban visits


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama has loosened travel restrictions on Cuba to allow religious groups and students to travel to the Communist country.

The White House said Friday the measures are aimed at developing people to people contacts through more academic, cultural and religious exchanges.  It says the looser restrictions are designed to support civil society in Cuba, enhance the free flow of information to, from and among the Cuban people and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities. 

Additionally, the White House says the changes allow any American to send as much as $500 every three months to Cuban citizens who are not part of the government or Communist Party.

Also, more U.S. international airports will be allowed to offer charter service to the Caribbean nation.  Currently, only airports in Los Angeles, Miami and New York can offer authorized charters to the island.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American and a Republican, opposes the changes to the Cuba regulations, which are scheduled to take effect in two weeks.  Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said that loosening the restrictions will neither help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba nor aid in ushering in respect for human rights.  The congresswoman said the changes will not help the Cuban people free themselves from what she called the tyranny that engulfs them. Ros-Lehtinen chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

There was no immediate comment from Cuban government officials in Havana regarding the announced changes. 

In 2009, President Obama eased restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to family to Cuba, but he kept the long-standing U.S. embargo in place.  He has said it is up to Cuba to take the next step. 

The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations.  They have interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other's capitals.

Japanese agency to back
energy projects in region

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency have agreed to support renewable energy and energy efficiency for the mitigation of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Japanese aid agency is the world’s largest with operations in over 150 countries and regions and has some 100 field offices. The organization assists economic and social growth in developing countries and promotes international cooperation.

One of the key priorities of the Japanese agency is to increase assistance and strengthen climate change operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, it said. The region’s global greenhouse gas emissions rate is currently 12 percent, which is relatively small but is expected to grow. In addition, Latin America and the Caribbean contributes more to the emissions per capita compared with other developing countries, such as China and India, said the development bank.

The agreement establishes a new co-financing framework to support renewable energy and energy efficiency promotion programs and projects in Central America and the Caribbean. The framework includes long-term concessional loans from the Japanese of up to $300 million for the next five years.

The agreement will give support for the development bank's Energy Innovation Center launched jointly with the U.S. Department of Energy last year. The center serves as a regional incubator for cooperation, resource mobilization and knowledge dissemination. A Janaese technical specialist has been appointed to the center to promote effective and efficient cooperation with Japan. The center recently held a successful seminar on energy efficiency in Tokyo.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 11

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Latin American news
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Teachers to work on census
while students work at home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public school year begins Feb. 10, and families are rushing to get in more vacation time until then.

But students in the lower grades will have an extra break from class later in the year.

Some 30,000 teachers and others in the Ministerio de Educación Pública participate in the national census that takes place from May 30 until June 3 this year. These mainly are teachers for the primary and pre-school classes.

School officials said that the break will not be complete because teachers will assign their students work to do while they remain home during the Censo Nacional.

Local sculptor opens
Liberia show Wednesday


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Sculptor and artist Tony Jiménez premiers his exhibit in Guanacaste Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery, located five kilometers west of the Liberia International Airport.

Jiménez was born in Guanacaste, in 1978 and started sculpting professionally at age 19. Today he is a well-known artist that has participated in numerous exhibitions and collectives, said the gallery.

His creations have easy to recognize characteristics because he uses various woods, which he obtains from trees that have fallen from natural causes, said the gallery.

One particular characteristic of his art is that it integrates materials such as chains, wires and stones, elements that stand out in their dynamic and surrealist style, said the gallery.

"Nature was always with me. I played with it, cultivated the earth and saw its fruits," said Jiménez.  "I listened and it sang to me. I noticed its forms. From early childhood in my drawings the connection with animals, trees and mountains that my charcoal pencil lines traced was evident. Eventually my hands appreciated the size, shape and detail of these wonders. It is a pleasure and an honor for me to share this with the people of my country, Guanacaste. I thank God for this."

The exhibit continues through Feb. 19. The gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Quake hits near Herradura

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A moderate earthquake estimated at a magnitude of 3.9 took place Saturday at 3:39 a.m. some 15 kilometers southwest of Herradura, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional in Heredia. The observatory said that the quake was produced by a local fault.




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