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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 12     Email us
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High pressure generating high winds and high seas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

High pressure in the Caribbean has generated strong winds across Costa Rica and also threatens to cause high seas along the Caribbean coast. A small boat warning was issued.

A weather station at the Irazú volcano east of San José reported winds of 70 kph, about 44 mph, Monday. There were winds measured between 61 kph and 65 kph at Daniel Oduber airport, Juan Santamaría airport, Santa Ana and at Hacienda Pinilla in Santa Cruz. That is about 38 to 40 mph.

Overnight the temperature dipped to 17 C (62.6 F) in San José. The temperature also was estimated at slightly below freezing for a time Monday before
dawn on the Turrialba volcano.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the high pressure in the Caribbean would mean continued windy but dry and clear weather today. It was the national emergency commission that issued the small boat warning.

The commission cited marine experts who said the high pressure was generating 4-meter waves but that they expected the conditions to improve by Thursday. That's about 13 feet.

The heavy seas also represent a danger to bathers and they should stay out of the ocean, said the  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

Tax agency's computer system crashes for a time
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tax collecting computer system, Tributación Direct@, crashed Monday, the last day to pay the luxury home tax and also to create forms for monthly sales tax payments.

Francisco Villalobos Brenes, the head of the Dirección General de Tributación, posted a statement on the agency's Facebook page. However, taxpayers were not cut any slack.

The agency said the computer system failed between 11 a.m. and 2:35 p.m. and this prevented taxpayers and their accountants from presenting tax forms. The system also prevented the creation of special forms for paying the sales tax which are then presented to various banking branches along with payments.

The Dirección General de Tributación in a later statement said that there were other avenues for taxpayers to present their forms and pay, including going to a local bank.

Villalobos said that the system handled bigger
loads in the past, including Dec. 15 when the annual income tax statements were due.

The agency just upgraded the EDDI-7 tax preparation program, and those using the system had to download the new version. This may have contributed to the overload. Villalobos said that the agency would conduct a port mortem starting today to see what happened.

Monday also was the day for employers to file the report and pay money that has been withheld from employee salaries for future payment of taxes. Usually the date is the 15th of the month, but this month that date was a Sunday.

The luxury home tax is an assessment on dwellings which had a value of more than 111,000,000 colons on Jan. 1. Owners have to declare the value and then pay the tax. The amount is about $221,000 at the current rate of exchange. However, the assessment is based on a unique replacement- cost-new-less depreciation formula. The tax agency has examples of how to calculate the tax on its Web site, but for some reason these documents are password protected.

Road agency announces nine more resurfacing jobs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high season is also the asphalt season. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, Monday listed nine more routes that would be resurfaced under an $8.3 million plan.

The roadways are in Alajuelita, San Sebastian, Paso Ancho, Zapote, Desamparados, Guadalupe, 
Sabanilla, Tibás and San Francisco de Dos Ríos, all in the metro area. The agency already has begun work on Paseo Colón, the General Cañas highway,  Avenida Secunda and the Bernardo Soto highway near Juan Santamaría airport.

Much of the work is being done at night. The goal is to finish the work before the rains return in April.

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Bandits intercept worker
going to downtown job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was another robbery of a store in San José Centro Monday, but investigators released very little information.

Agents said bandits intercepted an employee as the individual was going to work at 2 a.m. The bandits had firearms and threatened and tied up all the employees present. Then they fled with 900,000 colons, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The robbery is the most recent in a series of stickups that have been taking place in the center of San José. The bulk of the places robbed have been hotels. Agents did not describe the nature of the latest business to be robbed.

Typically one band of robbers operates at night, between 10 p.m. and the early morning hours.

An hour after the 2 a.m. stickup at 3 a.m. a robber wearing the uniform of a Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad employee showed up at a branch of the telecom company in Guadalupe. When a guard opened the door for a person he thought was an employee, two more men appeared and held pistols on the guard, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was tied up, and the bandits ransacked the offices and took a cell telephone and the guard's pistol.

The current band of robbers seems to deal in disguises. Two men stuck up a downtown hotel about 10 a.m. a week ago. They were let in because they carried suitcases as if they were to be guests.

Breast implant removals
begins at Caja hospitals

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Surgeons at Hospital México removed possibly faulty breast implants from two patients Monday. The two women were the first of some 29 who are scheduled to have the implants removed. According to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Three Caja hospitals are evaluating about 10 woman a day and have identified 139 patients who received implants, the health agency said. Most were given implants because they were mastectomy patients.

The implants, known as PIPs, have been known to rupture easily, and many were made with low-grade silicone that can cause infection or inflammation. The PIP implants were approved by foreign and local health officials until the Ministerio de Salud revoked the approval in the middle of last year. The implants were made by the French firm Poly Implant Prostheses.

Hospitals Calderón Guardia and San Juan de Dios are also participating in the evaluation.

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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The time has come to pray Baby Jesús asleep for another year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas 2011 has gone, and the time has come to remove the decorations and discard or put away the tree.

But there is special handling required for those ubiquitous nativity scenes. One cannot just dump Baby Jesús in a box for next year.

Enter the Costa Rican custom of rezo del Niño. As A.M. Costa Rica has reported:

Rezo del Niño is a religious event with a lot of social interaction and even music thrown in. The evening prayer session is not held on a special day but on a convenient day throughout the month.

Many foreigners are surprised that such activities take place all through January. One year the Museo Nacional had a public rezo del Niño that took place as late as Jan. 25 just before the nativity scene was dismantled for the year. This year the event is even later: Jan. 27 at 2 p.m.  Feb. 2, the church festival of the Día de la Candelaria, usually is the cutoff date.

A typical rezo del Niño is an hours long production with live music, much prayer, food, including tamal asado, and sometimes even fireworks. The prayer is centered around the rosary, the assembly of 54 beads Catholics use for prayer and meditation.

A musician frequently is part of a team that makes the neighborhood rounds. Also present could be a mistress of ceremonies who leads the prayers and perhaps other assistants. The family and invited guests gather around the nativity scene, sing hymns and recite the rosary.

Although the event is called rezo del Niño or prayers of the child, Catholics wisely suspect that the easiest way to the Son is through the mother. So the dominant prayer is the "Hail, Mary."

One round of the rosary is 59 separate prayers. The mistress of ceremonies provides half a prayer and the assembled faithful respond with the remainder.

In the Catholic faith, a full recitation of the rosary is four rounds or 20 decades, but with food waiting and restless children, a single round is the norm in all but the most religious households.
Razar al nino
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A typical manger scene in Costa Rica

Sweet cakes and even a punch with alcohol or rompope for the adults round out the evening, and within a day the nativity scene is packed away for the coming year.

In Costa Rica there is no separation of church and state, so nativity scenes are found at many public facilities. And a few offices will even have truncated rezos del Niño during the last half hour of a workday. So do social groups and organizations like the Costa Rica Country Club and the Tennis Club.

In fact, the tradition transcends a religious obligation and has been described as a a social tradition that preserves the Costa Rican identity.

Readers have some suggestions to reduce property frauds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers have responded to an editorial Monday that suggested legal fixes to reduce property fraud in Costa Rica.

Phil Baker, who successfully survived a legal effort to take his beach property, said “the problem is that an attorney can transfer your property by entering in their protocol book that you appeared in front of them and then they issue and sign the deed and forge your signature.”

“There needs to be a system that uses fingerprints alongside of any signature,” he added. “Just as signing a real estate document in front of a notary public in California, you have to give your fingerprint alongside your signature, the same must apply in Costa Rica.”

Barry D. Cohen of Escazú said that his years in Costa Rica have taught him that the rich and powerful run roughshod and with impunity over everyone.  “It is a sad reflection on the Costa Rican people who, for the most part, are honest and hard working,” he added.

“It is extraordinary this practice has been going on for years and sadly it is likely to continue to do so,” Cohen said.

The editorial followed a news story Friday that reported that British citizen Sheldon Haseltine has been acquitted of forgery because a prosecutor and judge did not believe that the
allegation had merit. The trial was one of a series of long-running legal cases that jeopardized Haseltine's property ownership of land on the central Pacific coast.

“Your article regarding Mr. Haseltine's land raises some interesting questions,” said Cohen.  “If it has taken him 16 years even to begin to get anywhere when he has real title, what can any foreigner expect?”

Said Baker:

“The fix is simple. Stop making it so easy for crooked attorneys to transfer title. But why would the Colegio of Abogados want to fix a problem that generates so much revenue for attorneys? They are attorneys! You have a problem in Costa Rica, so you get an attorney. Nine times out of ten afterwards you now have two problems: The legal problem and the attorney milking it for all the money they can make off your problem, and that includes making the problem worse. I am not being sarcastic.

"The wolf is watching the hen house. Very sad.”

Another reader said:

“You are the only member of the fourth estate to have the integrity and courage to shine a light on this awful and disgusting aberration. You are doing a great service not only to the foreigners who own property but to Costa Rica itself. Well done.”

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Costa Rican firms in Spain courting potential Spanish tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 57 Costa Rican firms are participating in the Feria Internacional de Turismo that will open Wednesday in Madrid, Spain.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo said that it hopes that the promotion of Costa Rica there will result in added tourists in July and August, months that are vacation times in Spain.

The typical Spanish tourist spends 10 nights in the country, the chamber said. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is participating in the international fair as well as the chamber, it said.
Costa Ricans have always felt an affinity with Spain, the mother country for many. 

And tourists from Spain speak Spanish. The fair is expected to attract 200,000 visitors, according to the chamber.

Spanish tourists represented 2.3 percent of the tourists who entered the country in 2010, said the chamber. That number is understating the value of Spanish tourism because Costa Rica lists more than 400,000 Nicaraguans as tourists each year.

Tourism institute statistics say that there were 48,492 Spanish tourists in 2010. that was 18 percent of all European tourists, according to the chamber.

Lawmakers split over plan to eliminate newspaper subscriptions
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are upset about a plan to cut newspapers from the legislative assembly budget. Last year Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, vowed to reduce the budget.

Legislative deputies receive daily national newspapers every morning, and now they will be faced to look up the information online, radio, television or to simply purchase the newspaper with their own money. This is one of many reforms that Mendoza wants to implement to reduce the budget.

But certain lawmakers are not seeing eye-to-eye with the president. Some referred to the initiative as a “violation and persecution of the press.” An upset representative Fabio Molina Rojas from the Partido Liberacion Nacional expressed his concern for the press and claimed that the initiative was an attempt to hide current events from legislative assembly members. Carlos Humberto Góngora of Movimiento Libertario
agreed with Molina by saying the budget cut of newspapers "revoked his right to access.”

There were other assembly members who expressed concern over the fact that some of their fellow lawmakers refused to accept a minor cut. Carmen María Muñoz Quesada of the Partido Acción Ciudadana was one of them. She said for the elder assembly members it might be a little harder to adapt to using the Internet but that the news online is more up-to-date than a newspaper anyway.

Another supporter of the initiative was Claudio Enrique Monge Pereira, also from Acción Ciudadana.

“The right to information is there . . . You should just buy your own newspaper,” said Monge.

He added that another initiative should be to stop providing glasses filled with water for the lawmakers during the public meetings, since most of the water is tossed into a toilet at the end of the session. Monge suggested for lawmakers to buy their own bottle of water or bring in their cup of water.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.N. chief praises accord
that ended Salvadoran war

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Monday on El Salvador to address its socio-economic inequalities and advance rule of law reform to ensure its citizens can experience positive and tangible results from the peace process that was initiated 20 years ago at the end of its civil war.

“As we acknowledge the success of the peace process in El Salvador, we cannot forget that peace consolidation is a long process that requires addressing the root causes of the conflict,” Mr. Ban said in his message marking the 20th anniversary of the historic peace agreements.

“Tangible peace dividends must materialize in citizens’ daily lives. Addressing socio-economic inequalities and advancing the reform of rule of law institutions in the face of citizen insecurity are among key challenges yet to be addressed at the national and regional level.”

In his remarks, which were delivered by Anders Kompass, director of field operations and technical cooperation  for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Ban congratulated the country for the progress achieved so far, and said this day provided an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned on democratic life.

Press group says Ecuador
seeks to limit coverage

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has voiced concern at proposed amendments to the electoral law introduced by the government of Ecuador that would limit press coverage and the people’s right to be duly informed during the period leading up to presidential and congressional elections in January 2013.

Approval could be given Feb. 4 to the amendments to the the election code, which seeks to authorize a partial veto by President Rafael Correa and include bans on the dissemination of electoral advertising and news coverage during the run-up to voting.

One of the amendments proposed by the Correa government would require “news media to abstain from making direct or indirect propaganda, whether through special reports or any other form of them, that seeks to influence in favor of or against particular candidates, stands, options, electoral preferences or political views.”

It would also “prohibit during the election campaign the contracting and dissemination of propaganda and advertising on the part of those subject to the law regarding the electoral process in the press, on radio, television, billboards and any other news medium.”

Venezuela pulls diplomats
from Miami consulate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela says it is withdrawing its personnel from its consulate in the U.S. city of Miami because the staff members there have been threatened.

The move comes shortly after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez ordered the closure of the consulate in Miami in an escalating diplomatic dispute.

Chávez said on Friday he was closing the consulate in response to a U.S. decision to expel a Venezuelan diplomat.

Venezuela's consul general in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera, was ordered out of the United States recently amid reports she discussed possible cyber attacks on the U.S. The allegations were made in a documentary aired by the Spanish-language media outlet, Univision.

Chávez has described the expulsion as unfair, saying there is no proof that the diplomat was engaged in espionage.

Non-communicable diseases
targeted by World Health

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The director general of the World Health Organization says non-communicable diseases are among the most pressing public-health challenges of the future. 

Obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, cancers and other chronic diseases are growing globally.  Once considered as diseases of the wealthy, they increasingly are threatening the lives of people in poor and middle-income countries.

In an opening speech to the annual World Health Executive Board meeting, the director general, Margaret Chan, presented an overview of the global health situation and called for action on a number of important issues. 

Dr. Chan urged the 34-member board to tackle the root causes of non-communicable diseases.  She says the impact of non-communicable diseases comes in waves, and much of the developing world now is experiencing the first wave of chronic, debilitating, often fatal illnesses.

"This is marked by growing numbers of people with raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol and the early stages of diabetes," she said. "The growing prevalence of obesity and overweight, seen nearly everywhere, is the warning signal that big trouble is on its way.  The second wave, which is yet to come, will be much more horrific." 

For example, Dr. Chan notes more than half of the estimated 346 million people who suffer from diabetes are unaware of their disease status.  Unfortunately, she says many of these people will not seek treatment until the disease has reached an advanced stage and they start to go blind or need a limb amputated.  She says World Health is giving the highest priority toward the prevention of this tragic outcome.

Dr. Chan also listed a number of significant health accomplishments in the first decade of this century.

She notes the epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have peaked and begun to decline.  Malaria also is on the decline.  She says young child mortality has dropped below 10 million deaths a year for the first time in nearly six decades, with great strides being made in sub-Saharan Africa.  She says the number of maternal deaths worldwide has finally begun to go down.
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Socialist International
plans council session here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's Partido Liberación Nacional will host the Socialist International council meeting from Jan. 23 and 24 at the Hotel Intercontinental in Escazú.

More than 162 delegations from socialist and labor party organizations around the world will attend the council meeting, which is usually a twice-yearly event. Discussions will focus on the economic crisis and climate change, two of the most serious questions the international community faces today, said an announcement.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda is scheduled to speak at the opening session along with the former prime minister of Greece, George Papandreou, who is president of Socialist International.

Also speaking will be Bernal Jiménez Monge, president of Liberación Nacional.

All meetings and seminars will be open to the public, said Jiménez.

Under the agenda item “Redefining markets in a democracy and overcoming the crisis with growth in the real economy,”  participants will examine ways to ensure that governments implement policies for economic recovery that are in line with the International’s principles of fairness and opportunities for all, said the organization.

Chemical blows up
fumigation tanker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The driver and a companion suffered injuries Monday when a fumigation tanker exploded on the Autopista General Cañas in Heredia.
The Cuerpo de Bomberos said the explosion was caused by a buildup of gas in the rear of the vehicle.

The fire agency responded to the 10:24 a.m. emergency. The agency said that the vehicle was transporting 12 kilos of waste Aluminum phosphide. The chemical oxidized and released gas that built up and exploded, the agency added. The material is used for fumigation of silos and grain storage bins.

The two men in the Orkin vehicle suffered respiratory problems and bruises, said firemen. There was no blaze although the material has the potential to ignite, said firemen.

Bandits picked wrong car

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six bandits tried to hijack a vehicle in Dos Cercas de Desamparados Monday. The vehicle containing two men was in a parking lot. The bandits approached with firearms, but they did not know that the men inside were judicial agents attached to the vehicle robbery section, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The judicial agents were able to alert Fuerza Pública officers nearby via radio, and the six were rounded up.

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