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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 14     Email us
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Pilsen plus pilsen
 
= drunk driving
under new traffic law proposal
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers want to stiffen the drunk driving section of a revised traffic law so that an average male drinking two beers within an hour could qualify as drunk.

A committee that presented a revised traffic law Wednesday also recommended to lower the drunk driving fine to 280,000 colons or about $558. The current law specifies a fine about $100 higher.
The existing law has been criticized for disproportionate fines. The Sala IV constitutional court has thrown out a stiff speeding fine for that reason.

Currently the legal limit for the blood alcohol of a driver is .50 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to a .05 blood alcohol content. If the driver's blood alcohol level exceeds .75 grams per liter of blood he or she faces possible prison, confiscation of the vehicle as well as the fine.

The proposed change would lower the blood alcohol level to .20 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to .02 blood alcohol content. A 180 pound male who drinks two 12-ounce Pilsen beers at 5.1 percent alcohol each within two hours would
have the blood alcohol level of .21 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to .02 blood alcohol content. This would make driving a vehicle against the law. The calculations were done through onlineconversion.com.

This new transit law was a unanimous effort from the transit committee in the Asamblea Legislativa. Members of the committee gave a press conference Wednesday to clear up what they considered a misunderstanding about the proposal. Earlier in the day several lawmakers gave a press conference to express their concern with the proposal. They thought that the proposed law would loosen up the legal blood alcohol level by raising the limit to .75 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to .07 blood alcohol content. The opponents were also upset about the decrease in the fine and said the bill was enabling those who drink and drive.

According to Viviana Martin Salazar, from the Partido Liberacion Nacional, the reason the committee chose to lower the fine to 280,000 colons was that it was more reasonable than the current fine. She is one of the members of the transit committee along with representatives from the partidos Acción Cuidadana, Movimiento Libertario, Unidad Sociocristiana, and Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión.


Perhaps they just wanted to wash the car windows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

According to a judge, six men, three of them packing guns, did nothing wrong when they descended on a parked car that happened to contain two judicial agents.

The agents thought that the men were trying to hijack the car. The agents, members of a special unit that investigates vehicle hijackings, used their judgment and, with the help of Fuerza Pública officers, arrested the six. The Judicial Investigating Organization hasn't said so, but the situation appears to have been a setup with a decoy attracting known car hijackers.
But that was not enough for Marcela González, the judge, who said that the men did not even demonstrate with clarity that they were about to commit a crime. And they didn't have their guns out. So the judge freed the six without any restrictions.

The prosecutor had sought six months of preventative detention for the men.

The encounter happened in Dos Cercas de Desamparados Monday afternoon.

The good news from the Poder Judicial is that the vehicles, guns and money that were confiscated have not been returned to the men.

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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Weather will be a winner
due to lower humidity


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The winds are expected to moderate today, but there still is the likelihood of gusts up to 50 kph in the mountains.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the atmosphere remains stable and dry and the humidity will be low today. That means clouds have less chance of forming. So the day is expected to be bright with blue skies in most parts of the country.

The winds have been in excess of 70 kph (44 mph) in many parts of the country so less wind will be welcomed.

The weather institute noted that such gusty conditions with blue skies are typical of January in Costa Rica.


Authors group planning
seminar on publishing


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Costa Rican Authors Group is presenting a seminar “Getting Published” at 1 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Universal Baptist Church in Escazú.  All interested persons are invited, the organization said.

The seminar will include panel presentations titled “Article and Short Story Markets,” “Print Publishing,” and “E-Publishing.”  Each presentation will be followed by questions from the audience.

Anyone with an interest in learning more about publishing can contact either Allen Dickinson at allen@humphree.net, or L Michael Rusin at, crcaseyboy@gmail.com.  The price is 5,000 colons for those who make contact in advance. The entry fee is 7,500 colons at the door.  Complementary coffee and pastries will be provided, the organization said.


Two minors among those
linked to gun and drugs


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública apprehended two minors since last weekend in separate busts: one for possession of firearms near the airport in Limón and the other for selling crack in Paso Canoas near the Panamanian border. Both suspects allegedly tried to jettison the contraband when the police moved to arrest them.

The alleged drug dealer was identified by authorities as having the last name Guerra and being 15 years old and a Panamanian national. He reportedly brought drugs across the border from Panama, to Costa Rica to sell over the weekend. Police reported that he tossed a cigarette package containing 180 doses of crack when agents approached him in a small grocery store. Police report he has been investigated in other crimes and was given two months detention.

The other youth in Limón was arrested in a car with two other suspects in front of a police checkpoint. Authorities report that someone in the car tossed a green shirt containing three firearms and ammunition from the vehicle window approximately 100 meters from the control point. One of the guns was reported stolen in Desamparados, and the black Hyundai the suspects were driving had not been registered since 1997, agents said.

 
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, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2011, Vol. 12, No. 14
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Turrialba volcano wakes up and spews ash after a short nap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Turrialba volcano made very sure Wednesday that scientists would not lose interest. The volcano east of San José emitted another column of ash from a newly formed vent in the west crater about 3 p.m. There were volcano experts nearby to observe it.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional said that the column may have gone as high as 20,000 feet and dispersed in the direction of Ochomogo and toward the Caribbean. Much of the ash fell on the nearby communities of La Central, Calle Vargas and Virtudes, the observatory said.

This is the same kind of activity that brought scientists to the mountain last week. Thursday a similar burst of ash was followed the next day by a column of bluish gas.
The scientists have sent mixed messages as to whether they think the mountain is headed for a major eruption. The observatory put out a report Tuesday that said that imminent eruptions was unlikely. But the report also said that the creation of a new vent in the volcano's west crater was similar to what happened in 1864 to 1968 when Turrialba last produced a major eruption. They also said that the creation of vents took place before the volcano's sister, Irazú, exploded in 1963.

The report said that more vents are likely because they are created by the rock being eroded by heavy rains.

The observatory said that its pilot, Federico Chavarría, observed the column of ash from the sky.

Only Tuesday the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that the volcano appeared to have returned to normality.


Environmental group cheers rejection of gold mine project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmentalists expressed their pleasure Wednesday after the nation's environmental watchdog refused a request to allow the Bellavista gold mine to reopen.

This was the mine in western Costa Rica where much of the infrastructure collapsed because of heavy rains.

The organization Ni Una Sola Mina also noted Wednesday that a supposedly unbreakable membrane also ruptured during the collapse. The membrane was supposed to protect the soil from chemicals used to extract gold from crushed rock.

The mining site is adjacent to the Río Ciruelas that flows into the Gulf of Nicoya.

The Canadian firm, B2Gold and Metales Procesados M.R.W.  S.A., seek to pick up from the previous owner. The firms can appeal the decision by the Secretaria Tecnica National Ambiental.

Specifically the Secretaria Tecnica rejected the environmental viability of the project and ordered the case to be archived.
The same agency had approved the mine in 2002.  Ni Una Sola Mina said that the collapse of the infrastructure showed that the original environmental studies were flawed. When the ground began to move, the mine operator halted the use of chemicals to extract the gold and flushed the area with water. That prevented any seepage into the adjacent lands.

The reborn Bellavista mine is in Montes de Oro near the town of Miramar east of Puntarenas. Mining operations there started in April 2005, and the operator Glencairn Gold Corp. ended them in August 2007 due to the ground movement. The landslide happened the next October. Gold has soared in value since the closing.

The Bellavista property has proven and probable reserves of 314,000 ounces, and measured and indicated resources of 421,000 ounces, according to the firms involved. An ounce of gold sold Wednesday for $1,663. so the probable reserves are worth at least $520 million.

Since the Bellevista mine was closed, the legislature passed a law forbidding open pit mines in Costa Rica and restricting other types of gold mining. The Glencairn concession at Bellavista predates that law.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2011, Vol. 12, No. 14
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The nanny state and citizens face the painful economic realities
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M Costa Rica

As the economic realities sink in to the central government and lawmakers wrestle with revisions to a proposed value-added tax plan, the nation faces the possibility of unrest that has not been seen since the consideration of the free trade treaty with the United States and other Latin countries.

The last budget had a 4.4 percent deficit, and the total deficit exceeds $1 billion. Even if President Laura Chinchilla gets everything she has sought, her tax plan will raise just $500 million, if the predictions pan out.

An analysis of the news

Many facets of Costa Rican society have been beneficiaries of government spending. As the belt tightens, the screams can be heard.

Corte Suprema magistrates are irked that they will not get new vehicles. Lawmakers are irked because the president of the Asamblea Legislativa wants them to buy their own newspapers or read the information on a computer.

Union worker leaders are irked because the government has broken off negotiations for pay raises and seeks to decree a 5,000-colons raise for everyone.

That's about $10, although the pay structure of public employees might mean more in some cases.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social already experienced a strike by physicians. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados is urging its members to take to the streets next Wednesday to protest the unilateral pay raise. An organization Web page called the raise equivalent to a wage freeze. The organization also fears layoffs in public agencies.
There is some justification to these fears, because the central government has hinted at deep cuts in the workforce if the new tax package is not approved. Lawmakers are beginning to consider the measure now, but there are many suggested amendments that must be considered, and the whole process has been submitted to the Sala VI constitutional court because some lawmakers think it is unfair. The court has ordered the legislature to stop short of final approval of the measure until the case can be decided. That may take a year.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados said the budget gap can be closed by better collection from tax cheats and the elimination of some 200 exemptions to the tax law.

The doctors' strike and the protests next week are just promises of things to come. The government is going to be forced to take away benefits it has given the country's citizens. The only question is what benefits.

The central government has always overestimated the income from various taxes. As a tax is put into law, citizens take steps to avoid it. That is in addition to those who simply ignore it. Tax evasion is a national sport, and even with new computer systems, the Direccion General de Tributación, the tax collector, is overwhelmed.

The protests that come will not be about tax rejection. Costa Ricans will not form a U.S.-style tea party. Instead the push will be to put more taxes on corporations and high earners to provide continued support for government benefits. At some point there is a breaking point where firms and successful individuals find greener pastures.

Some European countries with their high taxes are seeing a talent drain now for just that reason. As the spiral tightens, there is a real chance that the government will become unstable and that demogoguery will rule.


Researchers say coffee blocks precursor to Type 2 diabetes
By the American Chemical Society news staff

Why do heavy coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a disease on the increase around the world that can lead to serious health problems? Scientists are offering a new solution to that long-standing mystery in a report in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Ling Zheng, Kun Huang and colleagues explain that previous studies show that coffee drinkers are at a lower risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases in the world. Those studies show that people who drink four or more cups of coffee daily have a 50
percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. And every additional cup of coffee brings another decrease in risk of almost 7 percent.

Scientists have implicated the misfolding of a substance called human islet amyloid polypeptide in causing Type 2 diabetes, and some are seeking ways to block that process. Zheng and Huang decided to see if coffee’s beneficial effects might be due to substances that block  human islet amyloid polypeptide.

Indeed, they identified two categories of compounds in coffee that significantly inhibited the substance. They suggest that this effect explains why coffee drinkers show a lower risk for developing diabetes. “A beneficial effect may thus be expected for a regular coffee drinker,” the researchers conclude.

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U.S. is putting the squeeze
on various big snakes


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is banning the import of Burmese pythons and three other species of giant constrictor snakes due to the danger they pose to local wildlife.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement Tuesday as he visited the Everglades National Park in Florida, saying the ban will take effect in about 60 days.  The move will make it illegal to import the snakes or transport them across state lines.  In addition to the python, the new policy refers to the yellow anaconda as well as the northern and southern African pythons as injurious to wildlife.  

Salazar said in a statement that the non-native, invasive snakes pose a real and immediate threat to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States.  He said the Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Everglades.

Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, said pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida.  He said Tuesday's action will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and U.S. territories.

Authorities say people who own these reptiles as pets will be allowed to keep them if state law allows, but cannot take, send or sell them across state lines.  Officials say people who wish to export the snakes have to do so from a designated port within their state and obtain the appropriate permits.

Five other non-native snakes remain under consideration for listing as injurious. They include the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee's anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

It is estimated that the Everglades is now home to thousands of Burmese pythons, which have preyed on everything from small mammals to large wading birds. The pythons are native to Southeast Asia.


Obama rejects pipeline
to bring down Canadian oil


By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

The Obama administration on Wednesday denied a permit for a new oil pipeline from Canada because it says congressional Republicans did not give the administration enough time to determine the project's impact on public safety and the environment.  The president's political opponents say the move shows he is not serious about creating jobs.

The State Department recommended that President Obama reject the application for a new crude oil pipeline from Canada's tar sands region to Texas refineries because of concerns about the proposed route through areas of the state of Nebraska that State Department officials say they did not have sufficient time to consider.

In a written statement from the White House, President Obama said the decision is not a judgment on the merits of the proposed pipeline.  It is on what the president called the arbitrary nature of a 60-day deadline imposed by congressional Republicans.  Obama says that deadline prevents a full assessment of the environmental, health and safety impact of the more-than-2,700-kilometer project. That's about 1,675 miles.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said the congressional deadline left the Obama administration no choice but to deny the pipeline application. "Sixty days is simply not enough time," he said.  "We don't even have an alternate route identified yet, so how could anyone possibly review it thoroughly, in the manner that is expected in this process?"

John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives and a Republican said the president was authorized to block the project only if he believed it was not in the country's national interest.  Speaking on Capitol Hill, Boehner asked, “Is it not in the national interest to create tens of thousands of jobs here in America with private investment?”

"Is it not in the national interest to get energy resources from an ally like Canada as opposed to some countries in the Middle East?  The president had said he will do anything that he can to create jobs.  Today that promise was broken," he said.

Boehner said the decision shows the president is more concerned about politics than about creating jobs because approving the plan might have alienated Obama's supporters in U.S. environmental groups. 

The leading Republican presidential contender, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, issued a written statement saying that the president's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline is “as shocking as it is revealing.” 


A vice president in Perú
quits over corruption claim


By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

Peruvian Vice President Omar Chehade resigned Tuesday due to corruption charges.  However, Chehade kept his congressional seat.

The resignation came just ahead of a vote on recommending moving forward with impeachment proceedings against him.

Chehade maintains his innocence and told members of congress he did not want to cause Peruvian President Ollanta Humala any harm with the corruption charges.
President Humala took office in July promising to fight political corruption. 

The Peruvian government has two vice presidential positions, both largely ceremonial.  Chehade had been vice president for three months.

The charges against Chehade include allegations that he asked the police to help remove workers from a cooperative sugar plantation to clear the way for a corporate takeover.

Peruvian law prohibited President Humala from firing Chehade from his administration.
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Latin America news
Lawmakers say workers
face inhumane conditions


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several lawmakers demand government intervention at pineapple plantations in the northern zone of Costa Rica for allegations that the firms operating the farms violate the human rights of their employees.

Lawmakers from the Partido Acción Ciudadana and the sole lawmaker from Frente Amplio have claimed to Sandra Piszk Feinzilber, the minister of Trabajo y Seguridad Social, that the employers are violating the human rights of the workers. They also said employees have experienced discrimination and persecution.

The union workers said they are fired without justification and working under bad conditions, the lawmakers reported. The employees work on a daily basis in inhumane conditions with with inadequate tools, and are exposed to poison, said Claudio Enrique Monge Pereira, a lawmaker for Acción Ciudadana. Many workers also claim to work 14 hour days and only get paid for eight hours, with no overtime, said Monge.

There has been no response from anyone at the Ministerio de Trabajo so far, the lawmakers said Wednesday. They traveled there over the last few weeks. Monge said they will wait until the end of the week for a reply from the mninistry, and if they still do not have any response they said they will ask for a meeting with President Laura Chinchilla to discuss what they called atrocities.

This is one of many accusations pineapple union workers have taken to the Ministry of Trabajo with support from assembly members from Acción Ciudadana and Frente Amplio.

José María Villalta Florez-Estrada referred to the ministry as an embarrassment to the country for its lack in worker protection.


Alajuela hospital helps
smokers kick the habit


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Hospital San Rafael in Alajuela has opened a stop-smoking clinic. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said that the coordinator is a physician, Luis García Briceño. The clinic began in October with 25 participants. The hospital expects to accept up to 100 persons with four groups, said the Caja. The next group begins Feb. 2.

The smokers work with specialists and engage in discussions with other smokers, according to the Caja.

The interdisciplinary group of specialists includes cardiologists, nutritionists, psychologists and others with special training. All have been certified by the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia. Those interested in kicking cigarettes can call 2436-1097.







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