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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 19       E-mail us
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Arias likely to seek broad unemployment coverage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some hints of the presidential economic rescue plan might be leaked today as top ministers meet with Óscar Arias Sánchez in the weekly consejo de gobierno or cabinet meeting.

Arias is supposed to come forward with an integrated plan that he will outline in a national speech Thursday night.

So far, the president has stressed heavy borrowing by the country to make bank credit more liquid. Other major loans from international development banks are going to infrastructure.

Sources in Casa Presdencial said Tuesday that Arias will propose an expanded system of unemployment insurance, perhaps tapping the private sector to support it. Arias has been talking about such a system since the end of last year in the face of the world economic crisis. At the same time he encouraged employers to reject firing workers to meet reduced budgets.
Costa Rica has an unemployment system, but payments are good for just three months. And not all workers are covered.

Many workers who lose their jobs have to be content with cesantía, a final payoff by employers.

Because the country has many illegal workers, some will not be able to take advantage of whatever plan the president proposes. Typically unemployment here remains below 5 percent, but latest figures are not available.

The 6 p.m. talk by Arias is being given in San José, and several television stations are expected to carry it live.

Business leaders are concerned that Arias will support new taxes to fortify the nation's social safety net. Whatever the case, Arias has limited flexibility without getting legislative approval, and the lawmakers have been slow to react to national problems. They still are discussing a citizen security initiative.


Gates says he is worried about Iranian influence in Latin America
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told senators Tuesday that although much attention was given to Russia's recent courting of some Latin American countries, he is more concerned about new activities of Iran in the region.

Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee he is worried about efforts by the Iranian government to gain influence in Latin America.

"I'm concerned about the level of, frankly, subversive activity the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America, particularly South America and Central America," said Gates. "They're opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere with what is going on in some of these countries."

Other countries, including Russia and China, have also stepped up their presence in Latin America, where the United States has historically had the biggest influence.  Russia caused concern to the region last November when it sent a fleet of ships to conduct joint naval exercises with Venezuela.  In December, a Russian destroyer also passed through the Panama Canal for the first time since World War II.

Still, Gates says a plunge in the world's oil prices has severely curbed Russia's income and its ability to build up its navy.

"At 40-dollar oil the Russian navy does not bother me very much," said Gates. "This is the first time they've had an out-of-area exercise in a decade or so. It's important for us to keep perspective about their capabilities."
Gates in Congress
Department of Defense photo by Cherie Cullen
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testifies before the Armed Services Committee. 

Russia has had a tense relationship with the West since its troops invaded Georgia in August.  Gates says the United States is taking Russian activity in Latin America in stride.

"I felt that our best response to the Russian ship visits to Venezuela was nonchalance," he said. "In fact, if it hadn't been for the events in Georgia in August, I probably would've tried to persuade the president to invite the Russian ships to pay a port call in Miami, because I think they would've had a lot better time than they did in Caracas."

Russian officials denied that the maneuvers were meant to provoke the United States.  President Dimitri Medevedev and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended cooperative agreements they signed in November, saying they would help to create a "multi-polar" world that is not dominated by a single power.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 19

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4815-5/24/09
Global tourism seen facing
threat of 2009 stagnation


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The current global economic slowdown brought the growth of international tourism to a standstill in 2008 and threatens to reverse the historic four-year gains made by the industry in foreign travel, according to a report published Tuesday by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Although international tourist arrivals reached 924 million in 2008, up 16 million from 2007 or a 2 per cent overall increase on the year, growth stagnated in the second half of last year, hitting Europe the hardest.

The collapse of financial markets, sharp increases in commodity and oil prices and volatile exchange rate fluctuations combined to force a 1 per cent decline in international travel in the six months from July, a trend that is expected to continue in 2009.

A 3 per cent drop off in international arrivals across Europe after June meant the continent was the only region to experience stagnation over the whole year, reported the January 2009 issue of the World Tourism Barometer.

International travel to Asia also decreased by 3 per cent in the second half of 2008 after double-digit growth in 2007 and a 6 per cent increase in the first part of 2008.

On the other hand, the Americas are up 1 per cent overall. Africa is up 4 per cent, and the Middle East 5 per cent. The regions all posted positive results in the second half of the year, although with a significant slowdown compared with the period between January and June.

The World Tourism Organization report forecasted continued stagnation or decline for this year and beyond, but noted that the high degree of economic uncertainty makes predictions of international travel difficult. If the economy starts to show signs of an early recovery, foreign travel might grow slightly in 2009, but if the economy deteriorates further, then the current forecast might be revised downwards.

As most of the travel to the Americas and Europe originates from countries already suffering from historically severe economic recession, the World Tourism Organization expects those two regions to be the most affected with a decline of up to 2 per cent.

Predictions for Asia and the Pacific, on the other hand, are positive, although growth will continue to be much slower compared with the region’s performance in recent years, said the report. The same applies to Africa and the Middle East.

The World Tourism Organization report underscored the fact that the softening of international tourism growth follows four historically strong years, with 7 per cent annual growth between 2004 and 2007.

Tourism minister plans
new campaign for Poás


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's tourism minister said his staff is working to position the Volcán Poás area as a destination not only for foreigners but also Costa Ricans.

"We want to begin activities in the zone in a short time," the minister, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, said at a meeting of business people in the area. He said that his ministry has more money this year so his staff is planning a radio campaign and making efforts to get tourism wholesales to come to the area which was near the epicenter of the Jan. 8 earthquake.

The volcano is the centerpiece of a national park just 10 kilometers or about six miles from where the earthquake hit. The volcano is again open to tourists but some trails in the park remain closed due to damage from the quake.

Benavides met with members of a new Cámera de Turismo Corredores del Volcán Poás. The goal was to begin to reactivate the area for tourism and its tourist-related businesses. Among the topics were technical help and the new promotional campaign.

Tourism was stiffled for days after the quake because access roads to the area were damaged and some were covered by slides. That has been cleared up, but Costa Ricans still are wary of the area.

Crude oil prices drop $4

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Crude oil prices fell after some downbeat economic reports pointed to a deeper recession in the United States, which would push energy demand down.

Traders also expect a U.S. government report to show continued growth of oil inventories in the world's biggest energy market.

The price of a barrel of oil for future delivery fell more than $4 to hit $41.67 at the close of trading in New York. Oil has fallen as low as $33 a barrel recently, and hit an all-time high above $147 a barrel last July.

John Updike, 76, is dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike, 76, has died. Updike's publisher says the writer died of lung cancer Tuesday.

Updike was a prolific writer of more than 50 books, including novels, short stories, and poetry. Throughout his distinguished career, he won nearly every literary prize, including two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards for fiction.

Updike was known for his fully realized descriptions of fictional characters and wry humor, writing about sex, divorce and American life after World War II. He was awarded Pulitzer prizes for "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest." Updike lived with his wife in the northeastern state of Massachusetts.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 19


Our readers' opinions
The phishing expeditions continue at Banco Nacional
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

We lived in Costa Rica until May 2007. We are still customers of Banco Nacional with a couple of accounts and some money. Now the money is gone. We get mail from our banks in Germany and the U.S., and this is nothing unusual.

We got mail from Banco Nacional, we thought. (Banco Nacional says on their Web page that they never send mail to their customers.) Our bank account information got phished and some accounts emptied.

We contacted Banco Nacional the next day over the phone. We blocked the accounts with what was left, asked for help. We know who received the money, but that was it for the information. (We asked our lawyer in Costa Rica if the money can be recuperated and, as usual, it is a costly and lengthy process with no guarantee for success.)

We wrote an e-mail addressed to the fraud department at Banco Nacional. We received no reaction from their side in over six weeks.  

How is it possible that someone knows that we are (still) customers of Banco Nacional? How does he/she know our e-mail address? We were not in Costa Rica since 2007. Did Banco Nacional get hacked? Was it an inside job?

A final remark:

We do business all over the world with our banks. Besides
that with some banks we have to know the correct password for the account. We also need an authorization code for each account transaction at the time which is provided then by the bank either by e-mail or phone and is valid for 24 hours only.

If they think there is something “fishy” they call us back and hold the transaction.

For other banks we need to have the correct password for the account and we got a list with transaction numbers provided by the bank.

For each account transaction, the security system of the bank picks a number at random from the list which has to be entered to complete the account transaction.

Our experience with online banking at Banco Nacional? You have to know the password — we know it can be phished — and once you are in the account can be plundered to ZERO. 

We think it is insufficient security and ultimately it is dangerous! Banco Nacional apparently thinks it has done enough.
Martin Kautz
Randall Koropp
Germany and Florida

EDITOR'S NOTE: Banco Nacional now has installed an optional virtual terminal for online customers. Half the password is from the computer keyboard and half is by touching the screen.


Tico expat in the U.S. reflects on home burglary here
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Here I am, an avid reading of A.M. Costa Rica who enjoys the news coverage, valuable information provided and Jo Stuart’s column. Upon arriving to the office each morning, the first item on my agenda is to open the daily message from A.M. Costa Rica and read it thoroughly.  Oh yes, many times I read of homes being broken into and often wondered of the shattered dreams and expectations associated with such an invasion of your personal life. What a terrible feeling it must be!!

Two and half years ago, I bought a house in Coronado from a nice American gentleman who had no interest in maintaining it any more. It is a very nice house with a fireplace, plenty of trees, burning wood, flowers and a creek bordering the backyard. Since then, I have worked very hard and saved diligently to make my payments on time and to decorate and beautify the house. I was so proud to have my parents stay there last July during my annual two-week summer break visit to Costa Rica and on several other times, I had the opportunity to welcome visits from my other Tico family still residing in Costa Rica.

A couple of days ago, I was shattered and reduced to a number of desperate feelings when I received the fateful
phone call informing me that thieves had broken into the house and taken everything. I mean everything, from comforters, bed sheets, pillows, sound equipment, clothes, tools, etc. that I had worked so hard to obtain. Even spoons, forks and knives from the kitchen they took. It appears that they gained access to the ceiling from the exterior roof eve and disconnected the alarm. No clues so far as to how many thieves were involved or how they knew that the alarm horn was there in the first place.

I have so many question but so few answers.

I still love Costa Rica, but it hurts to realize that it is not the same country that I left some 30 years ago.  I sadly conclude that there are evil and mean individuals walking the streets terrorizing our communities and, by the response I've received so far, the government fails immensely in the provision of adequate security to its citizens.

This really hurts!

I am going back to Costa Rica next Monday. What will I do?  Don’t know yet. The house alarm is being repaired today.  Perhaps I’ll just pick up the pieces and start all over again.
Gerald Jiménez
Dallas, Texas


About the commentary on the English language
Spanglish is more fun!

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Three cheers to Mary Jay for her thoughtful support of language evolution.

As a 30+-year resident of Costa Rica, I love my English, I love my Spanish. But most of all the best fun is with the SPANGLISH!!!

And what a mess trying to peel off those pesky Spanish language stickers that they paste right on top of the English so we can’t figure out what’s inside of the jar.  Sure I can read Spanish, but the print is so fine you need a lupe to decipher it!
Dick Burgoon
Alajuela, Costa Rica


The expected backlash


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mary Jay should not be surprised by backlash after she attacked non-English speakers and men in general.  Yes, the separatist government in Quebec is protectionist, but Trudeau's insisting that French and English be on 
commercial labeling is hardly forcing it down your throat. Don't read the French side if it bothers you.  In your words "What would upset me is if they took the same position as the French and demanded their German, Dutch, Greek, Italian, Chinese etc. etc. all be declared official languages in Canada." As an English- and French-speaking Quebecer, I can say no one in Quebec wanted other Canadians to have to speak french.

I can say that you have to learn a second language to understand the benefit, if for nothing else than to be more open minded.  You are now in Costa Rica spouting off that everyone should speak your language.

Another quote "English survives, in part, because it is a language of the people."  Spanish is not? And French and Mandarin?

The important thing is that a language is more than just words.  It is a part of your culture, a unique way of communicating your beliefs, your emotions and your history that loses when translated. Yes most of English is made up of words from other languages, because the English language didn't have words to express that thought or describe that object.

So please quit whining about other languages and let us know how your Mandarin courses are coming.

Paul Smith
Quebec and David, Panama


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 19


Japan's whale-hunting proposal shocks environmentalists
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Whaling Commission is considering a plan to allow Japan to hunt whales locally in return for scaling back its activities in Antarctica. Australia, which is one of six countries involved in the discussions, said negotiations are at a very early stage.

Conservationists say they are shocked by the proposal to reach a compromise deal with Japan. Under the plan, Japan would be allowed to engage in commercial whaling off its coast, in exchange for reducing the number of whales it plans to kill in the Southern Ocean.

Under international rules, the giant sea mammals are allowed to be killed for research but not to make money. Critics have insisted that Japan's annual expeditions in Antarctica are merely a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.

Tokyo maintains that its whaling activities are solely for scientific research. However, it offers the whale meat on the domestic commercial market.

Environmentalists have said they cannot believe that a suggestion to allow whales to be caught commercially is being considered by the International Whaling Commission, which oversees conservation issues.

Patrick Ramage from the International Fund for Animal Welfare says the plan would be a disaster for whale populations.
"The proposal being put forward by the working group of the IWC is not to end scientific whaling by the government of Japan. It's simply to export it. And, make an arrangement whereby Japan could kill an equal number of whales in waters of the North Pacific," he said.

Australia has confirmed it is involved in discussions on the plan, along with representatives from Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Brazil and the United States.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says his government is a long way from accepting the deal.

Smith insists that Canberra's policy on whaling remains the same and that the talks are at a very early stage.

"They're a long way from any formal proposal or formal suggestions or anything that the Australian government has agreed to," he noted. "Our priority remains to Japanese ceasing whaling in the Great Southern Ocean and our overall objective is for whaling to end completely."

A spokesman for the Japanese fisheries agency says his country is hoping to resolve a 23-year deadlock between pro- and anti-whaling members since the 84-member International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in the mid-1980s.

Japan's whaling fleet is currently engaged in its annual whale hunt in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, where the fleet aims to catch about 900 whales. Australia has called the expedition an "unnecessary slaughter."


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 19


A.M. Costa Rica
users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics
A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Watchdog agency cites
failures by phone company


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría General de la República has come out with a critical report on how the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad set up two new systems to provide client service and billing for telephone customers.

The Contraloría said the telecommunications company did not provide the expert team necessary to handle the complexities of the computerized systems. The report covers the period from 2003 to 2007.

The critical report said that both systems were the subjects of a public bidding process to migrate the client information and billing to an open architecture standard system. The idea was to give the company options in the future with enlarging the infrastructure.

The report cited deficiencies in the planning and management by the company and in the allocation of resources. The project lasted 15 months until it was suspended by the telecommunications company, the report said. By doing so, the company had to pay $2.6 million to an outside contractor, the report said.

The Contraloría, the nation's budgetary watchdog, said it predicted this outcome when the contract was put up for bid.


Man flees two robbers
and is killed by car


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 21-year-old man tried to flee two assailants Monday night and instead ran into the path of a car.  Dead was Róger Barrios, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The death happened in San Diego de La Unión while the man and a friend were waiting for a bus about 9 p.m. near Terramall on the autopista Florencio del Castillo.

Investigators said that two persons approached the man with the apparent intention of robbing him, and he fled into the traffic stream. A companion survived to tell agents what happened.

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