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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 17           E-mail us
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Cash registers are ringing along with school bells
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Poor families in Costa Rica are facing the choice of eating or preparing their children for school.

The economics ministry estimated last week that the cost of preparing for school, including uniforms and books, ranges from 41,000 to 124,000 colons. At the current rate of exchange, that is from $82.25 to $249.75.

Most schools require the student to show up on the first day with all the required books and materials. Schools provide parents a list, and families can be seen trying to obtain all the required materials before school opens. Public schools begin this year Feb. 10.

The ministry correctly noted that there are some government programs to help poorer families pay for schooling. The Avencemos program instituted by then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez mainly helps secondary school students. The goal of the program was to prevent dropouts for economic reasons.

Under that program parents and students agree via a contract with the Instituto Mixta de Ayuda Social to attend classes for the full term.

Help for other parents comes from the Fondo Nacional de Becas, which is directed at primary students of families in vulnerable financial situations. The fund makes its first payment at the end of January each year and makes periodic payments through the school year.

Nevertheless, finding families who fail to send their children to school for financial reasons is not unusual. The Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio estimated, based on 2010 household census data, that there were 274,616 homes considered to be poor.

Families where at least one of the parents works can take advantage of another program, the salario escolar. Wage earners can designate up to 8.33 percent of a salary that can be held in trust by a bank or company organization. The big benefit is that the worker pays no taxes on this money nor are social charges assessed. Employers
Ministerio de Educación

may choose to add to the money.

These funds are supposed to be returned to the worker during January in time to be used for purchasing school supplies and paying tuition. For lower income earners the main benefit is the obligation to save every payday. The tax benefit would be useless if the worker does not earn enough to file a return. The tax threshold is about $1,000 a month.

The lowest costs, of course, are for pre-school students. The ministry estimated that parents would pay about 30,171 colons for a uniform and about 11,000 colons for tuition.

That adds up to about 41,170 colons.

The ministry noted that for higher grades the tuition is slightly higher as is the cost of the obligatory uniforms. The study was based on a survey of 17 stores in Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia and San José. The surveyors used the official list of supplies published by the Ministerio de Educación Pública.  In all cases, the average cost came in above 100,000 colons or about $200. Lists are published on the education ministry Web site.

The ministry noted that the estimates did not include a backpack or clothing for physical education.

So a family with four children in school faces a major expenditure.

Students in private schools get a list, too. Depending on the economic status of the parents, the list may be extensive. Then there is private school tuition that may range up to 200,000 colons a month during the school year, plus other charges levied by the school.

Many students also must pay for transportation to get to school. A public bus is just 100 to 200 colons a day, perhaps 40 U.S. cents. But many parents pay for private transportation, which can range to 50,000 colons a month or about $100.

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More driver training
considered for new law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers still are studying drafts of the new traffic law, and a highway department legal adviser testified Monday that more driver education should be mandated.

The witness, Carlos Rivas, is the legal director for the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad. He told the special commission studying the traffic law that current educational requirements were inadequate. He suggested that public school students should get courses on highway rules and safety.

Since 1984 highway education has been a shared responsibility of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial, the Minsiterio de Educación Pública and the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje. He said that the booklet learners get is not enough, but he hesitated to insert major changes in the traffic law. The only new requirement is a special class for negligent drivers, he noted.

He did suggest that the theoretical driving class could be given in the secondary schools followed by a test, which would count toward a license.

Our reader's opinion
Río San Juan story said
to be biased and skewed

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Sorry, but I couldn’t let your article Monday on the border dispute pass without commenting on the biases I detect in it.   Were it run as an editorial, that would be fine, but as a news article I find it skewed.   Should Nicaragua prevail on key points of its case, I even believe that you should publish a retraction.   You’re assuming a lot of facts that remain in dispute and spinning others in favor of Costa Rica.  

Indeed, the gist of the story — [René] Castro’s public relations tour — could easily be spun against Costa Rica. Faced with a weak case, it could be inferred that Castro is trying to whip up world opinion to influence the court, and is at minimum just spending Tico tax dollars to whine to the world while positioning Costa Rica as the victim.  If Costa Rica is so sure it is right, why doesn’t it trust the court to rule in its favor?   It appears that Costa Rica is finding out that it isn’t as right as it believed it was so is trying to make an end run around the court.

Anyway, eight points came to mind when I read your story.   Here is what you wrote in quotes and why I find that biased:

1. ”René Castro, the foreign minister, is in Spain today seeking Spanish support as Costa Rica continues to seek relief from the Nicaraguan invasion at the Isla Calero.”

“Relief” from an “invasion” is a one-sided opinion. Nicaragua doesn’t believe it’s an “invasion” and neither did the Organization of American States agree that it is. We won’t know whether it is or not until the Court decides. At this point, Castro is mounting a global public relations campaign to persuade world opinion to take Costa Rica’s side, and perhaps even to influence the World Court. “Relief” sure spins this in Costa Rica’s favor.

2. ”the Nicaraguan regime”

Would not “the Nicaraguan government” or just “Nicaragua” be a less prejudicial phrasing?   “Regime” has negative connotations, and I doubt you’d write “the Costa Rican regime.”

3. ”Nicaragua appears to have presented a case much stronger than expected.”

Expected by whom? Nicaraguans always believed they had a strong case, which they do.   It was really just naïve Costa Rica and those they have influenced (like the Washington Post) who expected Nicaragua’s case to be weak.

4. ”Nicaragua is seeking to install a direct mouth of the river to the Caribbean to circumvent the existing meandering river course. That will open the river to tourism and for development in the adjacent area.”

This would seem to be speculation on your part and should be labeled as such. Publicly Nicaragua seems to be saying that it is merely dredging the river and, as I understand it, all court documents are not open to the public. What Nicaragua’s objectives are remains speculation.

5. ”Those who live in the northern area fear that a mouth of the Río San Juan sufficient to shipping will divert water from the Río Colorado, which is totally in Costa Rican territory.”

Yes it is in Costa Rican territory, but one of the issues is that Costa Rica diverted water from the Rio San Juan to the Rio Colorado, so the question becomes whether Nicaragua has the right to recapture the water diverted by Costa Rica.  To imply that because a river is located in Costa Rica that Costa Rica has rights to its water flow is to misrepresent the dispute in favor of Costa Rica.

6. ”The Nicaraguan invasion”

Here we go again.   You’re calling it an “invasion” before we know whether or not it is.

7. ”has given Costa Rican officials an incentive to beef up the security of the border.”

This is an awfully polite way of describing Costa Rica’s militarization of the border.   Might we say that all Nicaragua has done is to have “beefed up its security”?

8  “The Costa Rican Defensoría de los Habitantes traveled to the area and reported on difficulties that police have in patrolling the zone.”

“Difficulties” or “negligence”?   The court ordered Costa Rica to contribute to the security of the region, and Costa Rica responded by stationing two or three cops there in a hut with, as I recall, inadequate transportation.   You might as well join Costa Rica’s defense team if you want to present this irresponsible flouting of a court order in terms of the “difficulties” Costa Rica has had patrolling the area.   Indeed, the excuse of “difficulties” doesn’t fly when you look at how quickly Costa Rica managed to send soldier-cops there after it alleged Nicaragua had invaded.  Costa Rica doesn’t have “difficulties” patrolling the area now!
Ken Morris
San Pedro

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
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 17
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Japanese royalty begin a visit here today with museum tour
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the royal family of Japan will be in Costa Rica today for a visit through Sunday morning.

They are Prince Akishino, the second son of Emperor Akihito, and his wife, Princess Kiko, who left Japan Monday, according to the Japanese press.

They are here to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations. Much of the visit will be private, but a schedule released by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto Monday said that the pair would visit the Museo Nacional today for a private guided tour.

They also will meet with Japanese residents of Costa Rica at 4  p.m. and attend a private dinner hosted by Yoshiharu Namiki, the Japanese ambassador here.

Wednesday the Japanese visitors will tour Parque INBio and Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. They also will meet with President Laura Chinchilla Wednesday at Casa Presidencial.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday the prince and princess will place a
wreath at the Monumento Nacional in Parque Nacional. Then there is a dinner hosted by Ms. Chinchilla in the Teatro Nacional.

At 7 p.m. Thursday there is the commemoration of 75 years of diplomatic relations at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú.

Friday the pair will visit the Hospital Nacional de Niños and the Escuela Centroamericana de Gandería. There are no public events Saturday.

The foreign ministry has produced a 17-page guide for reporters which seems to establish every step the Japanese couple will take and where the press will await them. There also are instructions provided by the Japanese Embassy to alert reporters on how the royal visitors should be treated. For example, electronic journalists are warned not to tape the pair when they are talking to each other.

The Princeses Akishino will see Costa Rica as many tourists do. For example, their tour at the Museo Nacional is scheduled for just 40 minutes, including two minutes of a photo opportunity.

High court but not lawmakers launches probe of Chavarría
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Corte Suprema de Justicia decided Monday to launch an investigation of Jorge Chavarría Guzmán, the nation's chief prosecutor.

The key issue is did Chavarría quash an interrogation of Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the former minister of the Presidencia.

However, the legislature failed to launch its own investigation Monday when a vote to do so fell short with only 31 of the 38 required votes. Opposition party members were not able to convince lawmakers from the Partido Liberación Nacional that the Arias allegations should be aired there.

The larger issue is the management by Arias of money that came from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica during the early years of his brother's presidency.

Liberación Party members noted that the Procuraduría General y la Contraloría General de la República said at the time that the money was not public. The Arias
 administration used the money to hire a number of consultants. Others suggest that Arias and his brother were buying off those who opposed the Central American Free Trade Treaty that had not yet been approved. The money was spent as if it were private and not within the scope of the national budget.

The investigation of Rodrigo Arias had been going on for two years, but it was in October when prosecutors called him to make a formal appearance and answer their questions on the record.

Meanwhile, Chavarría has launched his own investigation to find out who in the Poder Judicial provided an e-mail on the case to La Nación.  That newspaper reported Friday that the acting chief prosecutor at the time said that Chavarría, who had been selected but not sworn in formally, wanted to review the case against Arias before there was an interrogation. That person, identified as Lilliam Gómez, contacted the prosecutors in the case and told them to cancel the appearance, according to the newspaper. Rodrigo Arias is a possible presidential candidate in three years. Also involved in the complex scenario is José Maria Tijerino Pacheco, the security minister.

Scientist confirms part of Turrialba's crater wall collapsed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A volcano expert finally reached the top of the Volcán Turrialba and confirmed what researchers thought.

A piece of the inside wall of the volcano's new crater collapsed, and that is why there was ash in the air Jan. 14. Neighbors of the mountain reported a deposit of fine material.

The report came from vulcanologist Eliecer Durate González, who reached the peak Friday. Scientists had been hampered by bad weather earlier. He said that there  appeared to be unstable parts of the interior wall that could cause collapses and result in the emission of ash some time in the future.
Scientists speculated that the most recent collapses were caused by heavy rains falling on the interior crater wall.

He said that gas continues to escape from the crater and with such force that it sounds like a turbine. He said that the mountain was not in a critical state and said that tourists probably could visit under normal precautions provided by the park rangers and others.

Duarte is with the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional in Heredia. Volcan Turrialba is east of San José and north of the town of the same name.

The acidic gas from the volcano is damaging vegetation in the area.

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Recovery causes slight decrease in regional joblessness

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The economic upturn posted by most Latin American and Caribbean countries during 2010 facilitated the 0.6 percentage point drop in unemployment, and is expected to lead to a further decrease of between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points in 2011.

The assessment came from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the International Labour Organization.

In the bulletin "The Employment Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean No. 4," the two institutions point out that international trade and financial conditions, as well as the upturn in domestic demand resulting from macroeconomic policy, generated economic growth of around 6 percent for the region in 2010.

The document indicates that this recovery has driven the generation of formal employment, a rise in the employment rate, a fall in joblessness and a moderate increase in real wages. The document also states that the performance of different countries and subregions has been very uneven.

However, these indicators of recovery do not guarantee growth with decent work in the long term. "To bolster the improvement in labor market indicators and generate more productive employment and decent work, the region's countries need to strengthen their macroeconomic policies, improve regional and global policy coordination, identify and remove bottlenecks in the labour market itself and enhance instruments designed to promote greater equality", this is according to Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the economic commission, and Jean Maninat, director of the labor organization's Latin America office.
Like the rest of the world, the Latin American and Caribbean region is also confronted with the challenge of transforming the way it produces so that its economies can develop along tracks that are sustainable in the long term, the report said. Climate change and the consequent challenge of developing and strengthening low-carbon production and consumption patterns will also affect the way people work, it added.

The document thus includes a special chapter on creating green jobs, which are ones that make a contribution to promoting the transition towards an economy with lower carbon emissions.

Although the debate about the green jobs concept is fairly new in the region, examples already exist and a number of countries have moved ahead with the application of policies and programs in this area.

Costa Rica has formulated a national climate change strategy, for example, whose foremost achievements include professional training in natural-resource management, the report noted.

In Brazil, fuel production from biomass has increased and social housing with solar panelling is being built. A number of other countries in the region are making progress in areas such as ecotourism, sustainable agriculture and infrastructure for climate change adaptation, and in formalizing the work of people who recycle household waste, it said.

The shift towards a more environmentally sustainable economy may cause jobs to be destroyed in some economic sectors and created in others. The working world will inevitably undergo major changes, the report added.

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Americas lead the year
in deaths from disasters

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new U.N. report says the earthquake in Haiti and heat waves in Russia made 2010 one of the deadliest years in at least two decades.  The report issued by the Belgium-based Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters finds nearly 300,000 people lost their lives in more than 370 natural disasters last year.

The report notes most of the deaths last year resulted from the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed nearly one-quarter of a million people.  The second deadliest disaster occurred in Russia where a heat wave in the summer of 2010 caused about 56,000 fatalities in the capital, Moscow.

The report says natural disasters, which affected more than 200 million people resulted in economic losses of nearly $110 billion.  Most of these losses occurred in wealthy countries where expensive buildings and infrastructure were destroyed and damaged. 

Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters Director Debarati Guha-Sapir says for the first time last year, the Americas headed the list of the world’s worst-affected continents.

“The largest share of the pie is from the Americas, north and south America.  Essentially again this is due to Haiti, but it is also due to Chile," said Ms. Guha-Sapir. "The Americas generally do not top the list of people dying from natural disasters, but here in this year they do.  Europe remains second in the share of the pie, largely because of heat waves.  Heat waves have been one of the most important contributor to deaths in Europe, keeping it always at a very high rank.” 

The report says Asia experienced fewer disaster deaths than the Americas and Europe in 2010.  Nevertheless it remains the highest affected continent, with nearly 90 percent of all people affected by disasters living in Asia.

Among the list of top 10 disasters with the highest death counts, five occurred in Asia.  The report notes an earthquake, landslides and floods hit China, massive floods devastated Pakistan, and Indonesia was struck by a powerful earthquake.

Ms. Guha-Sapir says the largest economic losses often do not correspond with the largest loss of lives.  She notes Haiti, where an earthquake last January killed more than 220,000, suffered losses of about $8 billion. 

In comparison, she says the costliest event in 2010 was the Chilean earthquake, which killed 562 people and caused $30 billion in disaster damage. 

“And, that is because of the fact that lives are not insured.  That is where most of the economic losses data comes from insurance.  So, lives are not insured, property is not insured and 225,000 people dead in Haiti essentially counts for nothing," stated Ms. Guha-Sapir. "We do not take into account the fact that mothers have died, people who earn the living of the family have died, that does not enter the economic loss estimates.” 

U.N. officials say countries must take preventive measures now.  Otherwise, they warn more disasters due to unplanned urbanization and environmental degradation will occur in the future.

The officials say weather-related disasters are sure to rise in the future, due to factors that include climate change.  They urge governments to incorporate climate change adaptation in their urban planning.

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Stay the course, Ms. Clinton
urges Mexico's Calderón

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging México to persist in its war against drug cartels, saying there is no alternative to confronting them head-on.

Secretary Clinton made the comment Monday as she met in the Mexican city of Guanajuato with Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and gave strong support for President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug gangs.  Clinton was quoted as saying that what President Calderón has done is absolutely necessary and that the drug traffickers are not going to give up without a fight.

The U.S. secretary of State also pointed to the killing or capture of about two dozen high-level traffickers as a sign of the Mexican president's progress.

The talks took place ahead of a scheduled meeting in Mexico City later Monday between Secretary Clinton and Calderón.

México is one of several nations involved in the Merida Initiative, a U.S. program that provides equipment, training and technical assistance to law enforcement operations in neighboring countries to help them fight crime.  In 2008, Congress approved $400 million in program funding for Mexico and $65 million for Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Drug-related violence has surged in Mexico in recent years.  The violence has left 34,000 people dead since President Calderon took office in late 2006 and began a crackdown on the cartels.

English teachers will meet
to share their techniques

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public school English teachers will hold their 27th national conference Wednesday at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses. In addition to the Centro Cultural, the event is sponsored by the Ministerio de Educación Pública and the U.S. and British embassies.

The topic this year is described as the experience of teaching for which national and international experts will share their techniques and research.

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