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(506) 2223-1327          Published Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 20     Email us
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BBG continues to rack up the caller complaints
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U. S. telecommunications firm continues to generate complaints from customers who make international phone calls. Some of the unhappy customers placed calls from Costa Rica and were charged up to $50 for a five-second call abroad. The country's main telephone service, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricity, has signed another 10-year contract with the firm.

The public telephones are found all over the country, mostly in hotels and at Juan Santamaría airport. According to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the former monopoly provider in the country, there is a rate of 134 colons a minute for international calls on a pay phone.

The rate is the maximum that can be charged in the country, said a spokesperson for the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones de Costa Rica. The person added that it is against rules to apply a higher cost.

BBG Global A.G. has found a way to charge more and continues to operate in the country. Because of the locations, the callers usually are foreigners, perhaps tourists, and the calls are all placed with credit cards. The caller usually does not learn of the astronomical charge until the credit card bill arrives.  As A.M. Costa Rica has reported, hotel operators and others who host the distinctive blue BBG telephones share in the income. They may not be aware of the excessive charges.

In the United States there are two court cases against the corporation. The first suit is by a Marine and his wife who are suing the corporation because they were charged $44 when the Marine called her for four seconds from Germany. The soldier was on his way to Iraq and paid the call with his credit card. Many servicemen use the company's phones because the airport in Germany is the last place they are

before entering a combat zone and the first place they are when they leave Iraq or Afghanistan.

The second case is against BBG Inc. and BBG Global A.G. Both companies are the same but with different company names, according to information provided by the San Diego Better Business Bureau. However, the company has avoided litigation by saying the firms are separate. There also is a Costa Rican subsidiary.

The bureau provided a list of names that BBG Inc., also know as BBG Global A.G., use worldwide. There have been 459 complaints about the telecommunications corporation in San Diego made to the bureau in the past 36 months. San Diego is the BBG headquarters.

“Consumer complaints allege that consumers are being charged extremely high rates for international phone calls and not being properly informed about the rates prior to making the phone call. Some consumers state they are charged for calls even though they were never connected or the call did not go through,” says the San Diego Better Business Bureau Web site describing the complaints.

Alan Mansfield, a California consumer attorney, is one of the lawyers in the Marine's case against the telecommunications corporation. In the past year he has received many complaints, and he shared two complaints that have been from Costa Rica.

Both persons had made the calls from hotels in Costa Rica.

One of the callers, a student from Chile, said in his complaint that he had only made five calls, each about 30 seconds per call, and he is now stuck with a $250 credit card bill from BBG Global A.G.

Judicial stats show fewer persons murdered in 2011
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial Investigating Organization statistics show what authorities are calling a positive decrease in homicides on a national level. But the numbers also demonstrate other areas where police have been unsuccessful in curtailing incidents of crime, such as assaults and home invasions, both which increased in 2011.

Jorge Rojas, director of the investigative organization, explained that in 2011 the number of homicides in Costa Rica decreased by 11 percent from 2010 and even more so in comparison with 2009. The number of homicides in 2010 was 520, and in 2011 there were 459 homicides reported. Rojas said the 2011 figure could still increase by 20 homicides because that many cases are still being analyzed and investigated. He said more concrete figures will be released in March.

The current statistics place Costa Rica at about 10 homicides per 100,000 persons, a common rate used for comparison on an international level. Although it is better than in 2010, the rate is still more than double what it was in the mid 1990s. Rojas said Costa Rica is far from being Honduras which was recently declared one of the deadliest places in the world and has a reported rate of 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

But the figure also puts Costa Rica at double the rate of the United States and well above other modernized nations such as Japan, which has less than one homicide per 100,000 persons. Louisiana as a state and the District of Columbia both have higher homicide rates than Costa Rica.

When broken down into provinces, Cartago, Heredia and Guanacaste and Alajuela all have relatively low rates of homicide. And San José
murder statistics

has dropped steadily in homicides since 2009. Meanwhile Puntarenas and Limón had the highest homicide rate last year. Limón was the only province to have an increase in homicides from 2010 to 2011. The province had 26 more homicides in 2011 than in 2010 and remains the province with the most murders.

Moreover, Limón has already began 2012 with a spat of violent murders and crime. The Fuerza Pública dispatched hundreds more police officers to the region Monday. Rojas said it is one of the most problematic regions and may be for a long time because many of the criminals are young.

What officials were not so proud of is the elevated number of robberies and home invasions that took place in 2011. There were more than 12,500 reported robberies in 2011. A majority took place in San José, and a majority were conducted with a firearm. Although the number of home burglaries declined by 6 percent from 2010 to 2011, approximately 6,500 occurred last year, the number of home invasions increased by 21 percent. About 780 took place last year.

Rojas said that figure is troubling and people should be more careful about for whom they open the door. He said many of the home invasions take place in the morning or late afternoon when one of the occupants is coming from or going to work.

The statistics released Thursday also said that car thefts and burglaries are declining.

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Post offices to exchange
license plates for motorists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Correos de Costa Rica will work with the Registro Nacional to provide new license plates to the nation's motorists.

The Registro has decreed that each vehicle should exchange the existing plates for ones with secure features. There also is a sticker to put on the vehicle's windshield. The effort is to reduce license plate fraud.

Correos said that motorists can get the job done at any of the 118 post offices in the country as well as the regional offices of the Registro Nacional.

If the motorist chooses to turn in the plates at a Registro office, Correos said that it is prepared to deliver the new plates via its EMS courier service.

The new plates cost 15,000 colons for passenger cars, and the courier service can be from 4,000 to 7,000 colons depending on the location. Motorcycle owners pay 8,000 for the plates.

More information in Spanish is available HERE!

Because a lot of ownership information is online at the Registro some of the usual paperwork is not required, but if someone other than the vehicle owner seeks to exchange license plates, a notarized special power of attorney is required.

Talking about leaving
a clue for the police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If someone plans to call in a bomb scare, using the household telephone probably is not a good idea.  That is what the Poder Judicial said a man did Thursday when he called in a bomb threat to the courts in Heredia.

The call came to the 911 service, and agents quickly traced the call to a home in San Pablo de Heredia. They arrested a suspect who lives in the home while he was walking some 100 yards away.  They knew him. He just finished a sentence for aggravated robbery.

The 3:30 p.m. call resulted in evacuating the building, said the Poder Judicial.

Iberia will increase seats
on Costa Rican flights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said Thursday that the Spanish airline Iberia would be increasing its capacity to over 234,000 airplane seats in 2012 for people traveling between Spain and Costa Rica. That constitutes a 5.5 percent increase in passenger capacity for people traveling from major tourism markets in Europe such as Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. Iberia offers daily direct flights between San José and Madrid. Iberia has a flight network branching out to 32 Spanish cities, as well as 41 European stops and 11 more in the Middle East and Africa, the institute reports.

The tourism institute applauded the announcement because Spanish visitors account for the largest share of European tourism dollars spent in Costa Rica, about $58 million per year. In 2010 approximately 48,500 Spanish tourists came to Costa Rica and 82 percent came by airplane. The visitors stayed an average of 13 nights and spent about $125 per day, according to tourism statistics. The institute said that Iberia is the only airline that has flown continuously to Central America over the past 40 years.

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!
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Eduardo Echeverria does his work at a reliable, foot-powered machine that is an antique.
tailor at work
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper

New fashion trends mean more business for a traditional craft
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With sastrerias in relative abundance in downtown San José, it is apparent that in comparison with the United States the age old art of clothing repair still holds a strong place in Costa Rican culture.  But according to one seasoned tailor, at least a part of his success in maintaining a traditional trade in the 21st century exists not in spite of the quickly modernizing world, but because of it.

Eduardo Echeverria's one-man clothing repair shop is in the downtown at the Plaza de Los Artes. He said he attributes much of his success to his ability to change his style of clothing repair with the influences of the larger fashion world. The result is that his shop is not only bustling with elderly men looking to have their pants mended, but he claims he has been able to draw a fairly large amount of business from youth who just can’t let go of a good pair of torn jeans.

This started about 10 years ago when torn jeans became commonplace in new stores, sometimes even costing more than their pristine counterparts. Echeverria has become a master in the art of detailed and fashionable jean repairs.
The good prices don’t hurt either when it comes to attracting customers. Apart from that, his biggest workload is shortening pants that are too long for the sometimes vertically challenged Ticos and fixing the result of pants cuffs that have been dragging on the asphalt. To repair a damaged pair of cuffs and properly shorten the pants Echeverria charges about $4. It’s about the same price for the placement of a large patch to fix a hole.

Customer service also has a different feel in a small shop like Echeverria’s. There exists a stronger connection when the relationship is direct between the customer and the vendor. On a sunny afternoon in San José Echeverria hemmed the pants of a loyal customer for free after he stopped in the store during his office lunch to inquire about the work. That's a far different practice than shipping consumer goods in need of repair back to the factory where it was made and praying they do the job right.

The experienced tailor, who often makes use of his
Sewing example
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
A quick zig zag of stiches renders work pants whole again.

foot-powered sewing machine, realizes he is up against a gigantic industry of quickly made, mass-produced products. Even if a repair only costs a few dollars, that amount can be the same price or more as a brand-new cheap factory garment or used pair of jeans in a used clothing store.

Echeverria said he used to work in the textile industry, sketching different types of fabric and setting the machines to the appropriate calibrations. He learned the work in a specialized course he took in Germany. However, after leaving the field for several years to work in business administration, he tried to return to his previous line of work with fabrics. But he said in just that short time the technology had left him behind.

So he made the decision to open the tailor shop in San José more than a decade ago. Now he can choose his own hours and work at his own pace.

Echeverria's current job is analogous to the foot-pedaled sewing machine he uses in his shop. It demonstrates how a seemingly antiquated component of society can still find a place in the changing times.

In his own words about the machine.

“It’s old but practical. It never breaks. When it starts to sound ugly just pour some oil on it.”

cluttered view
Where are the mountains?
mountain view
A.M. Costa Rica/Jo Stuart
Restful view on the north side
High rise mania plays havoc on those mountain views
There is almost no way to stop change.  Isolated societies have managed to slow change as far as their environments are concerned, but those of us who live in the city are overruled by forces beyond our control.  Sometimes those forces are called development. Sometimes they seem to be “Let’s build another high rise.”

Ever since the first double tower went up in Sabana Norte blocking the view of the mountains and Sabana Park from the unfortunates living behind it, (which includes my apartment building), the let’s build attitude has reached mania heights. (No pun intended.) Next came the sky-skimming stadium, two more towers in Sabana Oeste and Sabana Sur, and now we have a very large and modern MacDonald’s handily close to the Stadium.  It is only two stories but the big M is visible for miles. That is the view I currently have from my guest room/office on the south side of my apartment.  Once this view was as restful as the view from the north side of my apartment.

This past week I had lunch with Grady in Sabana Sur.  The changes there astonished us.  Unlike the north side of the park that has lots of large homes, some discrete, if mysterious businesses, and is essentially suburban, the south side is made up of smaller buildings and small mom and pops type stores and restaurants.   Times have changed.  There are new strip malls with a variety of restaurants ranging from hamburgers to sushi, and beauty salons and an AM PM (which I think was always there), and now a huge three tower complex of condos/apartments is going up.

I’d like to point out at this moment that my neighbor on the south side of my building says that the original high rise (the one blocking his view) seems sparsely occupied. Of the 52 condos he figures are there, 21 windows have drapes and only between seven and nine apartments are lit up each night. There may be many reasons, only one of which could be because nobody lives in the others.  When it first opened, I looked at an apartment on the 12th floor.  It had a balcony with a wonderful 180 degree view. The problem was the wind at that height was so strong, I could never stay put on the balcony. 

Since I love looking at apartments, I suggested to Grady that we visit the model apartment advertised on a billboard in front.  A
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

lovely young woman (they all are lovely and young in these offices, it seems) greeted us.  There were diagrams of the units on the wall and three-dimensional models on a table.  But we had in mind an actual apartment.

As it turned out, the building is far from finished, and the elevators had not been installed, let alone, a furnished model.  We started up the white tile staircase, alongside workers carrying various tools. I soon lost my eagerness to see anything but the ground floor and outdoors.  But Grady continued.  They were kind enough to unlock an apartment on the floor where I stopped so I could look at something.  Something was a huge expanse of white space, floors and ceilings, probably nearly 40 feet long.  That was the living room dining room area.  Some would find it palatial, I felt as if I would be more comfortable in that space if I were wearing a straight jacket.  I politely declined looking at the bedrooms.  We learned later that the price of these condos is the hundreds of thousands – I couldn’t figure out the prices exactly because they are quoted in square meters and increase $50 per square meter with each floor.

I am beginning to wonder if Costa Rica is going through its own building bubble and hasn´t realized that the customers are not there.  Or maybe they don’t need customers.  Ooooh dear.

There is some good news in this long running complaint. The city has been planting native trees in Sabana Park to replace the trees they chopped down.  And already birds are returning to the park to enjoy what the trees have to offer, small as they are.  That is probably why I for one brief moment saw a beautiful scarlet tanager on my north side balcony recently.

Note to my friends on the coasts.  I hear the same has happened there.

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Nation's 2011 exports estimated at a successful $15.4 billion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Exporters and officials are declaring 2011 a successful year for international business conducted from Costa Rica.

According to the annual report of Promotora del Comercio Exterior, or PROCOMER, the country as a whole achieved $15.4 billion in total exports in 2011. That figure includes $10.4 billion in goods and $5 billion in services. Both were significant increases over 2010. The exports are compiled of more than 4,300 products that originated in 2,412 companies operating in the country. Those products reached a total of 145 different destinations across the globe, the report said.

Agricultural products such as bananas and pineapples and industrial products such as electric cables and tires, among others, saw marked increases in exportations over 2011.

Costa Rica as an exporter is known for its high-technology goods and medical supplies. The Ministerio de Comercio Exterior reports that Costa Rica is the largest exporter of advanced technology products in Latin America and fourth in the world. The ministry also said Costa Rica is the second largest exporter of medical devices in Latin America, only trailing Mexico. Many of these goods are manufactured in the so-called free zones where manufacturers do not have to pay import taxes on raw materials.
The general manager of Promotora, Jorge Sequeira Picado, said in a press release that products originating in the free zones saw an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2010 in value of exports. The ministry also reports that the free zones are where more than half of all the country’s exported goods are generated and a third of all the exported services. The ministry also reports that businesses in the free zones attracted $470 million in foreign investment in 2011, making it the sector of the Costa Rican economy that receives the largest percentage of foreign investment.

The free zones are being eyed by lawmakers for more taxes and to allow municipalities to assess levies. Promotora opposes this idea, which is why the emphasis was placed on the free zones or the zonas francas.

Apart from exports the ministry reports that 30 percent of all private sector jobs, and 13 percent of all jobs, in Costa Rica are generated by the free zones. The official report indicates that in 2011 several large corporations such as Bridgestone, Intel, IBM, Helix medical and GW Plastics decided to new installations in these zones.

The United States represents the largest receiver of Costa Rican exports with a 38 percent share. Holland is the second most valuable destination for Costa Rican goods with about 7.1 percent of the share. China is in third with 6.9 percent.

Until the job is done, traffic is continuing to move but in a restricted fashion.
retaining wall
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

Long wall used to salvage Puriscal route that washed away
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains sometimes wash roadways downhill. That happens frequently in Costa Rica.

One example is on Ruta 239, the road from San José to Puriscal at the Alto de Quitirrisí. Here the highway lane closest to a steep grade into the valley gave way, and highway engineers had to figure out a way to repair it.

The solution has been a 400-meter retaining wall with the new
 highway lane fastened to the rest of the road with steel anchors. There are several layers of steel-reinforced concrete.

The distance is a bit more than 1,300 feet.

The job is costing 800 million colons or about $1.6 million.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said the work is being done in the daylight and noted that the highway was the  only route between Puriscal and the Central Valley and was frequented by tourists.

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Lobo in Honduras moves
to regulate journalism

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association Thursday voiced concern and surprise at an announcement by President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras that he plans to send to congress a bill to regulate the practice of journalism and news media.

Lobo made the announcement Wednesday night during his speech opening the third legislative session, but he gave no details of the bill’s content. After praising the role of the news media in exposing wrongdoing committed in his government, Lobo justified the need to regulate the media so they would not be at the service of special interests, explaining that journalism is a true vocation.

Gustavo Mohme, chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information of the Inter American Press Association, expressed surprise at Lobo’s announcement.  “It is important that Honduras maintains its respect for freedom of the press and for the work of journalists as democratic values,” he said.

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, declared that “journalism has no greater virtue than that which democracy demands, that is to say to be a watchdog over the powers that be, create public opinion and have the necessary freedom to practice the profession in accordance with its own editorial criteria.”

 “Whatever law – if any were necessary – should underscore these democratic principles,” he added.

President Lobo signed the Declaration of Chapultepec last February during a ceremony in Tegucigalpa, pledging to defend the principles of freedom of the press and free speech. The  Inter American Press Association sponsored that document.

The organization's officers are planning to meet with Lobo late next month and among other matters discuss the difficult situation of the press in the Central American country in the face of violence unleashed by organized crime and drug traffickers. In the last three years 17 journalists have been killed in Honduras.

The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. The parent firm of A.M. Costa Rica is a member.

Three buildings collapse
in downtown Rio de Janeiro

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rescue workers in Brazil have pulled at least five bodies from the rubble of three collapsed buildings in downtown Rio de Janeiro. At least six people were injured and 15 others are still missing.

Emergency crews found the five bodies Thursday as they used search dogs and heavy machinery to sift through the wreckage of the buildings that collapsed late Wednesday.

"We really hope to find survivors," said police officer Julio César Mafia. "That is why we are carrying out the debris removal very carefully, to be sure that we won't harm any survivors.''

The three buildings that fell were between four and 20 stories high.  Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said the collapse appeared to be caused by structural problems and not a gas leak as earlier suspected.

"We won't speculate about the accident's causes, but we have ruled out the possibility of a gas explosion," he said. "What has probably happened was a structure failure in the tallest building that led to the collapse of the three structures.''

Authorities told Brazil's Globo television network that construction was being carried out on one of the buildings and could have contributed to the collapse.

Witnesses said they heard what sounded like an explosion Wednesday evening, and then with a rumble, the top floors of the buildings began collapsing, covering vehicles with a thick dust.  One unidentified witness likened the scene to that of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Officials say the buildings were for commercial, not residential, use.  Television reports say police have cordoned off the area around the destroyed buildings, and that electricity has been cut off over concerns of a possible gas leak.

The infrastructure problems come as Brazil makes improvements before hosting the 2014 World Cup and the Summer Olympics two years later.

Experts warn that Haiti
many see more quakes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Experts are warning Haiti to brace for more strong earthquakes over the next several decades.

A study by the Seismological Society of America says the magnitude 7 quake that wrecked much of Port-au-Prince two years ago was centered in the same place as a 6.6 quake in 1701.

That was followed by three more powerful earthquakes in 1751 and 1770, before 240 years of quiet that preceded the 2010 quake.

The experts say the 2010 earthquake may be the start of a new period of strong seismic activity. They say earthquakes are impossible to predict, but they call on Haitians to prepare by putting up stronger buildings.

The 2010 earthquake killed 250,000 people. Parts of Port-au-Prince are still in ruins.

Scientists say the Caribbean island of Hispanola, which is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was one of the earliest European colonies and has extensive seismology records dating back more than 500 years.
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Chinchilla at Registro
Casa Presidencial photo
President Laura Chinchilla Miranda is accompanied by Hernando París, minister of Justicia and Paz as they tour the new structure.

New Registro building
houses intellectual property

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president and other officials get a look Thursday at the new $9 million addition to the Registro Nacional in Zapote where information about authorship and other intellectual property data is stored.

The Registro, said President Laura Chinchilla Miranda, is a leader in providing online service and the new multi-story structure will strengthen this service.

The Registro handles more than just authorship. There also are trademarks and business names that are protected by a series of laws.

Ms. Chinchilla said that by protecting intellectual property, the country is defending creativity and innovations at times when frauds within the Registro Nacional are history because of modernization of the administrative processes of the agency.

The Registro also maintains data on property holdings, vehicle and other personal goods.

The president also said that a big battle is taking place to defend the sustainability of public policies with financing of public institutions. She was critical of protests, strikes and work stoppages. That appeared to be in reference to public employees who staged a protest Wednesday over a 5,000-colon monthly pay raise that the president has decreed. There also is a threat of a general strike. She also is trying to get more taxes passed.

Casa Presidential, in its summary of the visit, made no mention of the situation in which the Registro has frozen online access to corporate ownership records because the Sala IV told officials not to charge for the information. Because the data is not available online for a small fee, those who need such documentation must visit the Registro or its regional offices.

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