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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Jan. 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 14             E-mail us    
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Academics and promoter team up to create a new city walking tour
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Organizers hope that a new educational walking tour of downtown San José will shine some light on the area's forgotten treasures.
 
Downtown San José is an area of Costa Rica often overlooked by tourists, and sometimes never even seen as people race from the airport to one of the beachs, maybe passing through some of the parks and museums on the way to the Coca Cola bus station.

Kevin Wilks, president of Tico Walks, started up his business three months ago to make learning about all of the rich cultural areas and history of San José more accessible to tourists, he said. 

The 48-year-old California native has been travelling in and out of Costa Rica for nine years, and has also worked in the tourist industry in Asia, Europe, and South America.

Wilks, who studied history and tourism at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, teamed up with local academics Julio Fernández, a Fulbright scholar who wrote his history thesis on San José, and José Antonio Pinto who studied architecture at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, to create a walking tour with an added bit of history on the politics and architecture of the nation's capital.

The municipality of San José has been supportive of the tour, said Wilks, and the new tourist police have been keeping a watchful eye on the groups.  The new tourist police are part of the plan to clean up Costa Rica's reputation in hopes of attracting more foreign money.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Kevin Wilks with flag in hand leads a tour of visiting Brits Thursday past the Monumento Nacional.

Some of the visited sites include Teatro Nacional, Catedral Metropolitana, Correo Central, Escuela Metálico, Casa Amarilla, Cuartel Bella Vista, a few of the more popular parks and more.  The tours leave every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from the Teatro Nacional at 10 a.m.  The two-and-a-half hour educational walk costs $10, and organizers suggest bringing a comfortable pair of shoes, suitable clothing, and even an umbrella depending on the season.  Private tours are welcomed.  More information is available HERE!



Arias promotes his concept of a Limón megaport in a visit there
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez promoted his $300 million megaport during a visit to Limón Thursday.

With the construction of the megaport — 600 times bigger than the existing port — Limón and Costa Rica will be converted into the Singapore of Central America and into an example of efficiency in world commerce, he said.

Arias is trying to sell the concept of a concession to the skeptical area residents, many of whom now work on the government-controlled docks. With a concession, the government would lease the docks to a private firm or consortium which would be expected to make substantial investments.

"With this project we have the opportunity to change the face of the country and return to a nation more competitive, capable of having more potential than the canal in Panamá," said Arias. He said one reason such a project would be a success is the political and economic stability of the country.

Still not clear is who would use the port. The government has said a big new port would be attractive for merchandise in transit. However, others have suggested that with the new Caribbean port and the Caldera port on the Pacific, Costa Rica could create a so-called dry canal that would take business away from Panamá. The existing rail lines could be refurbished and carry containers from one ocean to the other perhaps at an expense much less than the tolls to take a boat through the Panamá Canal.  Panamá plans a $5 billion upgrade of the canal with subsequent increases in rates.

Costa Rica is working with the Autoridad Portuaria de Santander in Spain for technical advice. The current port is in the hands of the 

Casa Presidencial photo
President Arias studies a map of the future megaport in Limon.

Junta de Administración Portuaria de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica, a government agency.

Arias said he wants to begin construction of the new port in 2008.

Marco Vargas, minister of  Coordinación Institucional, said he would be meeting Monday with representatives of the Limón unions to discuss the plan. The megaport is the keystone of the Arais plan to bring development in the Provincia de Limón. Vargas, in perhaps an understatement, said that union leaders were reticent


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 14

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Walkout does not stop
action on free trade bills


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the Partido Acción Ciudadana walked out of the Asamblea Legislativa session Thursday in an effort to derail measures that are vital to implementing the free trade treaty with the United States.

The walkout did not stop legislative leaders from sending the measures to special committees for study and from applying a time limit. Two of the laws involved would change the telecommunication sector to conform with the wording in the free trade treaty.

The legislature is likely to ratify the free trade treaty with the United States in February, but for the treaty to enter into force, lawmakers also have to pass a series of measures known as the complimentary agenda that restructures Costa Rican law to conform to the treaty.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana members, some 17 lawmakers, walked out while the vote was being taken.

By putting the measures in a special committee and setting a time limit, legislative leaders hope that the proposals will sail through the preliminary steps and return quickly for debate in the full legislature.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana has said it will strengthen its efforts to defeat the free trade treaty and related legislation.


No jail time ordered
for car holdup suspects


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men suspected of sticking up motorists and stealing their cars have been detained by police.

They were grabbed Tuesday as they traveled on Avenida 10 in west San José.

They are facing allegations of aggravated robbery. Their last names are Cordero Rojas, Céspedes Segura and Serrano Vargas.

The local prosecutor asked that they be put in jail for investigation. However, Thursday a judge in the Juzgado Penal de San José said that would not be the case.

Instead, the judge liberated the men with conditions. They must sign in with the prosecutor's office once every 15 days. They may not talk to witnesses or victims in the case. And they may not leave the country.


Toxic arms treaty promoted
during international session

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 40 delegates from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean met in San José Thursday to urge action on a Convention on Biological and Toxic Arms.

Volker Fink, German ambassador here representing the European Union, said that Pandora's box had been opened and action needed to be taken to close it permanently.

Fink said that delegates were working toward a time when no country makes or keeps such weapons. Costa Rica was picked as the site for the session because of its historic opposition to arms.


Immigration employees
facing criminal probe


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three employees of the Dirección General de Migración have been detained as part of an investigation into bribery and fake stamps at the Peñas Blancas border station with Nicaragua.

The Poder Judicial identified the men by the last names of  Oporta Martínez, Guevara Torres and Brizuela Canales. Oporta is facing an investigation of bribery. Guevara faces investigation on an allegation of fraudulently applying seals to official documents. Brisuela faces investigation on both allegations.

The case is believed linked to the illegal passage of individuals through the Costa Rican border station into the country.


Tourist dies at Montezuma

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. tourist identified as Paul Vignaud, 58, died in the surf at Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula Jan. 12, according to investigators.

The cause of death was drowning, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.  The visitor, who was from California, had been in the town for three days camping and entered the surf about 8 a.m., the preliminary investigation disclosed. His body was found about 10 a.m., investigators said.


Alarm challenge dismissed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has thrown out a challenge to the alarm monitoring service of the Municipalidad de San José.

The challenge that came from the operator of a competing alarm service said that the business violated his right to work and to conduct business.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 14






City workers on the corner of Avenida 2 and Calle 17 study the location for one of two new traffic signals.  The lights are an addition that is meant to improve the safety of the pedestrian walkway from Parque Nacional to the legislative complex and the courts.  One of the workers suggested that construction should be complete by Wednesday. In the background is the Bella Vista fortress that still shows bullet holes from the 1948 revolution.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking


Survey of public school needs shows prices fluctuate wildly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the start of the public school year just weeks away, parents are scurrying to buy what their children need, from pens to pants.

The Ministerio de Economia, Industria y Comercio went shopping, too. And its consumer watchdogs found startling differences in prices in their traditional back-to-school survey. They checked 17 stores..

The ministry concluded that parents who were not paying attention could pay up to 362 percent more for uniforms and school supplies.

For an elementary school child, surveyors found that among various stores there was a difference of some 537 percent in the price of boys pants and 462 percent in the price of a girl's school dress.

Each school and class level has a printed list of school supplies. The surveyors found that for elementary school children a parent could pay as little as 20,341 colons or as much as 73,700.50, a difference of some 362 percent. For high school youngsters, the lowest price was 26,117, and the highest was 79,511.50, a difference of 304 percent. The U.S. dollar is about 518 colons.

The ministry said that the typical colegio or high school uniform costs 30,985 colons for a girl and 34,090 colons for a boy, based on the highest prices surveyed. The difference is in the cost of pants vs. a dress. Each would pay about 45,421.50 for school supplies, ranging from notebooks and pens to a backpack.

Parents of elementary students get off easier. Uniforms are 15,965.79 colons for a girl and 18,812.76 colons based on
the average price found in the marketplace. The school supplies add some 20,808.75 colons.

The ministry surveys found dramatic differences. A pack of crayons was 1,600 colons in Santa Domingo de Heredia and just 445 colons in downtown Heredia, a difference of 260 percent. In another store the same item was just 115 colons. In all, the difference between the highest price and the lowest price was 1,291 percent.

A set of colored pencils shows a difference of 470 percent among stores. Similar backpacks were selling at a difference of 866 percent: 1,750 colons in Alajuela and 16,900 in Heredia.

Even among identical items bearing the same bar code, the ministry survey found differences ranging from 6 to 85 percent.

The survey was done the week of Jan. 8.

The cost of uniforms and school supplies is a touchy subject with some parents who point out that the Costa Rican Constitution promises a free education. Some poor children do not go to school because their parents cannot pay for uniforms and supplies, although there are a number of scholarship plans run by the government.

In some cases the dramatic differences in the prices is more a commentary on the poor record keeping by storekeepers. A pack of crayons that has been on the shelves for years would carry a price reflecting the value of the colon then. That would have a tendency to make a fair, current price look bad.

So, too, do some stores deal in contraband goods, thus giving them an advantage over competitors.


New Mexico police officials coming here to exchange skills and information
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will be signing a police cooperation agreement next week with the U.S. state of New Mexico.

The agreement under the term Programa Estados Hermanos or brother states is being sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, according to a release from the U.S. Embassy and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
The Southern Command is heavily involved in trying to stop the flow of drugs to North America, and anti-narcotics operations are on the agenda of the three-day meeting, which will be at the Hotel Corobicí west of San José.

Not counting Tony Hillerman's fictional Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, New Mexico is not known for law enforcement. But Spanish is widely spoken there.  Other topics on the agenda include police communication and disaster response.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 14




New language tends to block native speech, study reports
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You've got to give a little to get a little when learning a new language.

A new study suggests that when one learns another language, forgetting words in the native tongue is natural and can even assist in the recollection of the new dialect. 

After immersion in a foreign language, speakers often have difficulty retrieving native-language words. This phenomenon is known as first-language attrition and possibly experienced by those expats who make an attempt at tackling the Spanish language here.

What the new language study shows is that repetition of a Spanish word may cause the brain to forget the English word. The brain seems to do this on purpose to help learning the second language.

In other words, if the brain erases the English word, the Spanish word may come to mind more easily.

The study is entitled, Inhibiting Your Native Language: The Role of Retrieval-Induced Forgetting During Second Language Acquisition, and was produced by the University of Oregon in Eugene and University of Salamanca, Spain.

In one of the experiments a moderator showed subjects 
picture cards with the correct Spanish word below the drawing.  Later, the moderator had the subjects recall the Spanish word for the picture without the answer below.

What the study found was that if subjects were asked to do this once, there was no trouble responding with the English word for the object in the drawing. However, if the subjects were asked to recall the Spanish word 10 times, they were slower to remember the English word for the drawing.

The academics concluded that, “The present experiments support the inhibitory-control account of first-language attrition.”

What's more, the researchers speculated that the more common English words are more likely to be shelved by the brain because these words are more likely to mess up the learning of the new language.

“Native-language words for ideas used most often in the foreign language are most vulnerable to inhibition. . . .Thus, bewildering lapses for words used throughout one's life may be an especially vivid example of forgetting as an adaptive response to the need to regulate interference,” said the report. 

So, the lesson may be that when learning a language, people should not throw down their zapatos when they can't remember the word for shoes because it could be a sign that fluency is around the esquina.


Venezuelan lawmakers ready to give Chávez right to rule by decree
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's national assembly has given its initial approval to a measure that would grant President Hugo Chávez the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

Legislators voted unanimously for the bill Thursday in Caracas. A second session of the legislature, which is controlled by allies of Chávez, is expected to give the bill final approval next week.

The president was re-elected in December with 63 percent of the vote. He began serving his new, six-year term last
week with a promise to continue socialist reforms in Venezuela. Venezuela's opposition accuses Chávez of moving the country toward a totalitarian form of government that resembles Cuba. The president is a long-time admirer of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

During his inauguration address, Chávez said he will seek to amend the constitution to allow unlimited consecutive presidential terms. This would allow him to run for re-election when his current term expires in 2013.

The president is also expected to nationalize Venezuela's oil, telecommunications and electrical industries.


Mercosur trade bloc meets with push for more effort toward social concerns
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Presidents from most South American countries have gathered in Brazil for a meeting of the Mercosur trading group. The two-day meeting in Rio de Janeiro began Thursday.

One of the main issues under discussion is how to make Mercosur more responsive to the social concerns of the member countries.
The push for a change of direction for the five-member alliance is coming from Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez. Ecuador and Bolivia, both also led by leftist governments, are seeking to join the group.

Officials say the trade bloc now accounts for $1 trillion in annual economic activity and includes 250 million people.
Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay formed Mercosur in 1991. Venezuela joined in July of last year. Chile and Bolivia are associate members.



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