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(506) 223-1327         Published Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 17             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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urban train
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The single track through town mixes the train with vehicles frequently without crossing gates

$1.2 million for another study of passenger train
By José Pablo Ramírez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The administration is spending $1.2 million for another feasibility study on the proposed electrification of the Central Valley rail line.

The Brazilian firm Engevix S/A. is being engaged to spend a year studying the possibilities in depth. The study comes on the heels of what officials are calling a pre-feasibility study by a firm named Systar in 2004.

The contract is being let by the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones in anticipation that the government will be able to find a firm to bid on a concession to run the rail line.  Engevix is supposed to create the plans for a concession as well as set up procedures for bidding, said officials.

The diesel-powered train now makes rush hour trips to and from Pavas and the Universidad Latina in San Pedro. Under plans advanced by officials Wednesday smaller cars carrying up to 250 persons will make trips every 10 to 15 minutes along the route.

Officials also want to make the rail line two way. 

The current service started Oct. 7, 2005. The train capacity is for 300 to 400 people.  The lines already existed in the valley, although some run along major roadways mixing trains and vehicles. Many of the rail crossings still do not have signals.

One aspect of the new feasibility study will be to determine if the electrification and improvements of the line would be profitable.  Luis Diego Vargas presented the plan at Casa Presidencial Wednesday. He is a vice minister in charge of concessions at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

The current proposal is less expensive than that which President Abel Pacheco planned under his ill-fated $500 million tax plan. He wanted to electrify the rail line coast to coast.

Under the Arias administration plan, the first stage would cost some $90 million and provide electrified train service from eastern Heredia past the Estación al Atlantico to the Estación al Pacifico. This line would intersect with the current east-west passenger service. The lines already exist to Heredia, and workmen for the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles spent months rehabilitating the right-of-way and installing a much-needed bridge.

The second stage of the plan would be widening
electric trains
Prague Public Transit Co. photo
These articulated cars in Prague, Czech Republic, are of a type that attract local officials.

the line from the center of San José to Pavas. The third stage would be extending the passenger service to Cartago, said officials. Eventually they want the line to run to Alajuela.

In May 2006 Casa Presidencial said that the Czech firm Inekon Group A.S. had made a $120 million offer that would include a concession. Inekon makes rail cars and urban trams, but the firm also has planning and financing units. It had been in joint ventures with Skoda Transport Technology of Pilsen until a much publicized breakup three years ago. Anyone who has visited Central Europe probably has ridden on a Skoda car.

But like so many plans for the railway, this proposal died in the face of the extensive work that needed to be done to get the passenger service running.

According to its Web site Engevix is a 40-year-old consulting engineering firm with experience in hydro power and electrical distribution. It said it worked on the Baghdad, Iraq, subway.

With the timetable given Wednesday, the presidential term of Óscar Arias Sánchez will be in its final year by the time the feasibility study is presented.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 17

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Costa Ricans get high marks
as environmentally conscious

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite the raging reader write-ins concerning Costa Rica's litter and pollution problem, a recent study by Columbia and Yale universities has cited Costa Ricans as some of the world's most environmentally conscious people.

Costa Rica was ranked fifth in the world and first in the Western Hemisphere for its environmental performance.  The study cited the strict legal protection of Costa Rica's forests and biodiversity.  This information was presented Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum.

The study ranked 149 countries based on a six-part criteria: environmental health, air quality, water resources, biodiversity, natural resources and climate change.  Switzerland received the top billing for environmental performance, followed by Sweden, Norway and Finland.  The bottom five countries with the worst environmental concerns were all African nations: Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola and Niger. 

Colombia was the second-best in the Western Hemisphere, after Costa Rica, with a ninth place finish putting it above the United Kingdom (14), Japan (21) and Spain (30).   The United States ranked 39 out of 149 countries.

The Costa Rican government is pleased with the ranking, as it reinforces Oscar Arias' Iniciativa Paz con la Naturaleza, which supports sustainable solutions for environmental problems, according to Casa Presidencial.

“Costa Rica is proud to be an international leader in conservation.  I have often said, the future of Costa Rica will be green, or it will not be.  Equally, the future of the world will be green or it will not be,” Arias said in a prepared release.

Gunshots punctuate robberies
as victims suffer injuries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robberies ended in shooting and with the two victims hospitalized, said officials.

A man in a car shot a woman in the foot for her cell phone. In a separate incident, persons tailing a motorcyclist, shot him four times for his bike. Both shootings happened Tuesday night said officials.  The Judicial Investigation Organization gave these accounts:

Gretel Morales Navarro was standing outside of her house talking on her cell phone when a red car with tinted glass pulled up and someone inside rolled down the window. One of the men told her to hand over her cell phone, but she refused. He then shot her in the foot, ripped off her gold necklace and sped away, she told investigators. She was taken to Clínica Santa Catalina in Desamparados, where attendants reported she has been released.

Hector Montoya Rishmond told officials he was riding his motorcycle near the Catholic church in San Diego de Tres Ríos when he noticed he was being followed. He accelerated and the individuals behind shot him four times, twice in each leg. Montoya went to Hospital Calderón Guardia, where he was operated on Tuesday night, said officials. He was reported in stable condition Wednesday evening by a hospital spokeswoman.

Young murderer sentenced
and faces other allegations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 18-year-old has been a one-person crime wave for years, and he finally was sentenced this week to nine years for a murder that he committed when he was a minor

A court acquitted the youth of another murder charge, and he still faces trial on two more murder charges, said the Poder Judicial. In addition, he is a suspect in another murder case that still is under investigation. The youth was 14 years old when the first victim, Heiner Bravo Bermudez, was murdered in 2004. However, he was not convicted in this case.

The 18-year old did receive nine years for the murder of Geovanny Morales Arguedas, 31, in 2006. All the cases appear to be related to robberies.

The Poder Judicial also said that the man got four years prison last week on charges of aggravated robbery, deprivation of liberty and aggravated resistance.

Boom times in Curridabat,
according to municipality

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Curridabat says its economy is booming, up 35 percent over 2006 and with 169 businesses opened or moved there.  The municipality now has 1,821 active business licenses, an announcement said.

Edgar Mora, the local mayor, said part of the success is because of the short time it takes to issue a business license or patente. Sometimes the license can be issued in eight days instead of the month and a half previously, he said.
The economic increase is based on the collection of business taxes by the municipality, from 272 million colons in 2006 to 367 million colons in 2007, said the announcement.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday,  Jan. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 17

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Cariari resident just picked the wrong cab for a trip home
By Nick Daines*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I have just read the article about the French couple who were robbed while returning to San José. This particular scam where someone points out the flat tire has happened to clients of mine recently very early on in their stay and seems to be indicative of the evolving criminal mentality of people in Costa Rica.

I have lived in Costa Rica for just over two years now and have many decent, caring and proud Tico friends who have helped me enormously during my time in this country. Unfortunately, it is ever more apparent to myself and the Ticos I know that crime is escalating rapidly here and also becoming more violent as well.

Unfortunately last Friday night while I was leaving a well known bar in Santa Ana, I hailed what seemed to be a licensed taxi to take me back to my apartment in Cariari.  The driver initially went in the right direction, but as we approached Belén he suddenly drove in the direction opposite to my apartment at high speed, telling me that he wanted the bag I had. I tried to reason with him and even told him I would pay extra for him to take me home but he was insistent about the bag. Although I consider myself to be able to take care of myself, I don't mind admitting that I was becoming very anxious at this point and even more so when the taxista reached down the side of his seat for something.

Heading at high speed in the opposite direction to where I needed to be caused me to instinctively go for the hand
brake simply to slow the speeding cab down a little. As we wrestled with the brake, I managed to open the door and jump out with my bag. I got up and ran towards some houses shouting at the top of my voice in hope that someone would either let me in or come out and see what was happening. Unfortunately the cab driver had followed me and knocked me down with the car. As I
tried to get up, I was either kicked or hit in the face by an object, and my struggle to keep the bag was over. This was the second laptop I've had stolen in 2 years in Costa Rica.

Someone had evidentally called the police because they were there when I came around. Even though I attempted to explain, in Spanish, what had just happened, they didn't seem concerned and only wanted to know if I had any cash to give them for gas so they could take me home. For me the really depressing aspect to this is: nothing about this experience has been a surprise. I won't be going to the Judicial Investigating Organization to report the robbery because I am certain they won't act upon it in much the same way as nothing was done in relation to the first laptop that was stolen from me.

Costa Ricans need to realize that the increasing bad press is not helping their tourist trade or international image whatsoever, which is a crying shame for such a wonderful and enchanting country. Quick fixes are non-existent for most problems, but can we start paying the police a decent wage so they take more of an interest in doing actual police work?

*Mr. Daines is a transplanted native of London, England.

The sneaky parts of English explored at teacher conference
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

English can be a tricky language. Pronunciation often has little to do with spellings, and grammatical rules are there only to be broken.

Native English speakers who attended the 24th Conferencia Nacional para Profesores de Inglés were therefore eager to praise the teachers who pass on the language and all its quirks to the next generation of Costa Ricans

The theater auditorium of the Centro Cultural Norteamericano Costarricense was packed at 8 a.m. Wednesday for the inauguration of the conference.

Speeches were made concerning the importance of the English language to any country that wishes to advance within a global market.

The conference is named “Empowering future leaders,” and many speakers, including Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder, commented that although English may not be the only language in the world, it is the one that will open doors for Costa Ricans as they attempt to get international employment, and reinforce economic links with other countries.

The U.S. representative, Peter Brennan, acting chief of mission, lightened the mood with his comments on the challenges that English teachers have to face.

“English is not always the most sensible language to teach. I remember some of the comments of the cultural comedian
George Carlin, who said: If people from Poland are called  Poles, why aren't the people from Holland called Holes? Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?”

Leonardo Garnier Rímolo, Costa Rica minister of
Educacíon Pública, said that teaching English to Costa Ricans is not about losing the Spanish-speaking culture and roots of the country but about augmenting the abilities of its population so that they can be effective in the modern world.

For many of the 650 teachers in attendance, this is the only training they get during the year. Most of the teachers are from Costa Rica, teaching in public and private schools, but a total of 21 countries was represented at the conference.

Many public school teachers pay the conference fees themselves.

Tony Harden, a British man who owns four schools in Mexico, was invited by publishing house Macmillan as one of the conference's four key speakers. “There are new ideas about teaching every year,” he said. “This multicultural environment keeps us in touch with reality, and with developments in teaching all over the world.”

The conference of 110 workshops will be taught by 132 lecturers, more than the conference has ever hosted in its history.

The event is supported by publishing houses including Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday,  Jan. 24, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 17

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Ms. Rice leads house members to Colombia over trade deal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flies to Colombia today with 10 House Democrats in an effort to boost congressional support for a free-trade agreement with that country. The Bush administration faces an uphill battle to win election-year approval for the Colombia trade deal.

The Rice trip to Colombia with legislators is one of several being conducted by senior Bush administration officials in an effort to promote the Colombia trade pact, which faces strong opposition from congressional Democrats and labor and human rights groups.

The Secretary of State is taking her entourage to Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, which, owing to an improved economy and more effective law enforcement, has been shedding its image as a center for crime and the illicit drug trade.

The Bush administration says that the trade pact eliminating virtually all tariffs between the two countries, would help the government of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe continue the country's recovery from decades of civil conflict.

Opponents of the accord say congressional approval should be withheld pending more progress on human rights. But in a talk with reporters, Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, reversed the argument, saying the trade deal is needed now to help Uribe consolidate economic and human rights progress already made.

"As its economy grows and pulls in people that have historically been outside the formal economy, the basis for political stability and the basis for a culture of justice expands. And therefore we see the FTA not just as a trade policy with Colombia, we see it as part of a broader social and economic development policy and as necessary for consolidating the democratic gains that Colombia has made," he said, referring to the free trade agreement.

State Department officials say the trade package would secure the jobs of nearly 700,000 Colombian workers
involved in the U.S. export business, while the U.S. workers would benefit from the elimination of Colombian import duties far higher than those maintained by the United States.

Ms. Rice and her House delegation, including U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chairman, are to meet in Medellin with, among others, business leaders, trade union officials and former members of rightwing paramilitary groups demobilized under a key initiative of the Uribe government.

On the eve of Ms. Rice's departure, the New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch said Rice should use the trade deal as leverage to get the Colombian government to confront what it said is still a "deplorable" human rights record, including the world's worst toll of violence against trade unionists.

Shannon said human rights is a constant part of the U.S. dialogue with Colombia and that the Rice mission is structured so that the members of Congress can make their own judgments about what the Uribe government has achieved in that area:

"We see this as an educational experience that will allow us to make our argument more concrete when we meet with members on the Hill. At the same time, when it comes to ending impunity and building this culture of justice, there's always more that can be done. There's always more that has to be done. And we understand and respect the concerns of our Congress in this regard," he said.

Congress in December approved by a wide margin a similar free trade agreement with Peru, which has a less turbulent recent past than Colombia.

Both Bush administration officials and House Democrats say a vote on the Colombia package would be much closer.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet scheduled a vote, and the powerful AFL-CIO Labor Federation said this week it sees virtually no chance for the pact to win approval this year. The fate of two other pending trade deals, with Panamá and South Korea, is also in doubt.

With $1.5 billion at stake, México pushes drug gang cleanup
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's federal police have raided two mansions in the capital and arrested 11 alleged gunmen for the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. At the same time, Mexican soldiers carried out operations to disarm local police in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders the U.S. State of Texas. These actions, along with the arrest of a major drug trafficking figure Monday, are part of a major crackdown on organized crime.

Heavily armed Mexican federal police conducted the raids in Mexico City before sunrise, capturing eight men at one house and three at another.

Federal police commissioner Edgar Millan Gomez provided details on the results of the raids.

He said that the men arrested in the raids were all part of major drug trafficking organizations and that in the raids police had also seized large quantities of automatic weapons, grenades and other weapons that are illegal for private citizens to own in Mexico.

The raids followed the arrest Monday of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, allegedly the key figure in the so-called Sinaloa cartel, which is considered the biggest and most powerful organized criminal group in Mexico. He was captured by the Mexican army in the State of Sinaloa, which is on Mexico's Pacific coast.
The arrest drew immediate praise from U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza, who said that when Mexico takes such criminals off the streets it also benefits the United States.

U.S. law enforcement officials say the Mexican drug trafficking organizations are responsible for most of the
cocaine, marijuana and other illicit drugs that come into the United States. President George Bush has asked the U.S. Congress to provide Mexico with close to $1.5 billion in assistance to help fight the drug cartels.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón began a major offensive against the criminal organizations shortly after taking office. The going has been tough for both the law enforcement groups and the general public as rival gangs fight the police and each other. Drug violence claimed more than 2,500 lives in Mexico last year. Most of the violence has been in the border region, where both drug and human smuggling gangs operate, often with the protection of local police.

In an effort to crack down on violence and police corruption, Mexican military units went into the border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros Tuesday, disarming local police and carrying out investigations.

The Mexican army carried out operations last week on the western end of the border, in the city of Tijuana, where soldiers and federal police engaged in a three-hour gun battle last week.

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