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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 23     Email us
Real Estate
About us
Jo Stuart
Go Dutch rentals
Big cat
Big cats had their day at the Museos del Banco Central
Drug arrest
Another series of drug arrests
on the Pacific Ocean.
Sleeping in the street
Why are all those people
sleeping on the city streets?

Public employee unions call general strike for Feb. 15
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public employee unions have designated Feb. 15 as the day for a general strike to protest what they said is an insulting pay hike decreed by the central government. The day is a Wednesday.

At the same time motorcycle organizations are unhappy with an aspect of the proposed traffic law and may join the strike.

Expats can figure on government offices being understaffed if the protest takes place. That includes municipal offices, workers for utilities and even some police. Schools, too, will be affected.

When negotiations collapsed with public employee representatives, the central government under President Laura Chinchilla decreed a 5,000 colon raise, about $10. The raise is the same for every job category.

The Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social said that public employee representatives walked out of negotiations again Tuesday when it became clear that  the government was sticking to the 5,000-colon increase.
The wage increase will cost 25 billion colons that will have to be financed with debt, said a release from the ministry. The negotiations are being handled by the Comisión Negociadora de Salarios del Sector Publico.

That amount is nearly $50 million.

Sandra Piszk, the minister, reiterated the government's desire to continue negotiations.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados said it was following the lead of teachers, represented by the Asociación Nacional de Educadores, in calling the strike.

The unions held a protest last week, but the turnout was only a few hundred persons. In a statement Tuesday the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos said that the government was incorrect when it said there was no money for larger raises.

The union group said that autonomous institutions have a lot of money and that by cracking down on evasion, the government could come up with three times what President Chinchilla hopes to raise with her new tax plan.

Country will be represented at competitive bake off
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has a special team of bakers ready to compete in the World Cup of Baking 2012 in Paris from March 3 to March 7, said the director of the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje during a press conference Tuesday. The team will be joined by one from the United States and one from Perú, all  representing the Americas.

They are three of 12 participating countries in what Fabrice Delloye, the French ambassador to Costa Rica, referred to as the “biggest fair in the world, according to France.”

This is the 19th edition of the international baking
 contest where Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Senegal, Italy, South Korea, Thailand and the host country of France will participate.

The teams compete in the categories of bread, chocolate, and pastries. The panel of judges score on taste, teamwork, and competition.

The competition is the World Cup of baking said Pablo Esparza, president of Lesaffre Group, a yeast manufacturer. And just like the sport there are eliminations.  Costa Rica placed third in Las Vegas last year, he said.

The national institute trains bakers among other job categories.

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Hospital de San Carlos takes
steps to divert lightning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Who has not lost a computer, a telephone or even a television set to the fierce lightning that sometimes accompanies storms here?

Consider the plight of the hospitals with all that sensitive diagnostic equipment.

That is why the Hospital de San Carlos has put up three towers to catch those lightning bolts before the electronic devices do. The area is high on thunderstorms, and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said the hospital contains more than $1 million in medical devices. Some are to monitor hearts. Others are in the radiology department. Even others are part of the hospital structure, like ventilators and their controls, said the Caja.

And today everything is controled by computers. The hospital administration also said they were concerned that the equipment continues to function even at the height of a thunderstorm.

The hospital also developed an emergency plan to prevent fires in conjunction with the Cuerpo de Bomberos, said the Caja.

Our reader's opinion
The news has two sides:
Good news and bad news

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The good news / bad news.

Talk about good news bad news: “The Good News,” no illegal cheese for Costa Rica. ”The Bad News,” The bandits got away with 215 Glock pistols.

“The Good News,” majority of Costa Rican citizens disagree with the new tax proposals. “The Bad News,” the president doesn't care and we will be taxed anyway.

“The Good News,” we are adding many new police to protect us. “The Bad News,” the judges keep freeing all the criminals back to society to prey on all of us.

“The Good News,” China keeps donating police cars and motorcycles. “The Bad News,” many are sitting idle due to lack of maintenance.

“The Good News,” tourism is on the rise. “The Bad News,” crime against visitors and corrupt traffic police asking for bribes are turning them away.

“The Good News,” we have a great car inspection process to keep us safe. “The Bad News,” the lack of maintaining the roads are the cause of many accidents and deaths. Shouldn't they have and inspection process for that?
Tom Ploskina
Nuevo Arenal

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 23
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One street dweller has a homemade wagon that doubles as a bed when the time comes for an early evening nap.

The writing asserts that it is a four-wheel drive, turbo-powered wagon.
Sleeping on the street
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper

Part of the culture for some is the right to nap anywhere
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Freedom in Costa Rica also means the right to lay down and take a nap in a doorway or even on a busy street.

There are sections of town where the presumed homeless gather to sleep under cardboard boxes or a soiled blanket.

Tourists frequently ask without an answer why police do not carry off such individuals. They may be alcoholics, drug abusers or persons with mental disabilities. Crack cocaine is rampant in this subculture. There also is guaro. So the individual on the street may simply be someone who was unable to reach home after a boozy night out.

Some of the better-heeled street people can sleep cheap and somewhat secure for the equivalent of $3 or $4. These might be some car guards and the informal taxi attendants. They avoid the dangerous streets. For others, the bedroom can be the sidewalk.

There is no law against public drunkenness in Costa Rica. And drinking in public is no crime either.

“If we arrest them, it is an illegal hold because there is no crime,” said Freddy Guillen, head of Planes and Operaciones for the Fuerza Pública.

The only way an inebriated person can go to jail is for public disruption if there is physical harm, said Guillen. Otherwise, if there is a drunk person or someone drinking in public, they are free to continue.

There are rules that Fuerza Publica officers are supposed to follow when they encounter an inebriated person passed out on the ground, said Guillen. First they make sure the person is alive and check their condition to see if they need medical help. And second, they tell the person they cannot be in the street passed out, so they make sure the person leaves the area.

But some police officers just ignore the situation.

There is no law about open alcoholic containers, but there are laws against drinking and driving as well as the sale of alcoholic beverages.

A new transit law will lower the legal level of blood alcohol level. If the bill passes, the level will decrease from .50 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to .05 blood alcohol level content, to a .20 grams per liter of blood, an equivalent to .02 blood alcohol content.

According to Guillen, at least in San José the bigger problem is drug abuse compared to alcohol abuse. Humberto Triuveño, Salvation Army program director, said the same thing. But he added that although drug abuse is higher in the country compared to drinking, that alcohol is a serious problem. Not only is there no law against drinking in public, if you want to go buy a bottle of booze you can, he said.

“This is a culture of guaro in Latin America. Drinking is part of our culture,” said Guillen of the distilled sugar cane beverage.

The Salvation Army program is fighting this mentality, said Triuveño. There are two soup kitchens in Costa Rica, one in San José, and the other in Liberia. Both provide free meals as well as help to those that want to kick their addiction he said. They are soup kitchens and serve as a refuge.

There is one catch; Attendance must be voluntary.

“We do not force anyone to commit, and we do not accept anyone who is there against their will,” Triuveño said.

The program is free of charge for those that do not have the financial means. It is also open to everyone, regardless of
Cynthia María
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Cyntia María prefers not to give a last name

Not everyone on the street
has a substance problem

By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the past seven years Cyntia María has asked for change on the streets working mainly Calle 7, just north of Parque Morazán in San José. She is not homeless, hooked on drugs, or an alcoholic. She simply prefers to provide for her daughter, her 5-month old puppy, and herself by working as a person who asks for limosna or charity.

She sits down on the curb and waits for motorists to wave their hands or hold out change for her to collect and drop into her empty can. While she waits for a good line of cars to gather at the red light, she calls to them as if she knew them. Most smile back, and others reply to her friendly conversation. She is also a big flirt. It seems as though Fuerza Pública officers in their shiny white trucks are her favorite.

She usually works from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

In an hour Tuesday she scored a banana, an apple, a Dos Pinos juice box, a cup of coffee the parking lot attendant nearby kindly provided her and a couple hundred colons. This was not nearly enough for her quota she had to meet for the day. She had a 6 p.m. deadline to make 30,000 colons to pay for a doctor's appointment, she said.

She stuck to her money making plan. It is tax-free and all in cash. She doesn't depend on a bank but rather the charity of the people in Costa Rica.

race, nationality, sex, and age he said. They accept everyone.

“We try to provide the basic needs for them like food,
bathroom, a clean place, and health care. We also have a space where we talk and listen to them,” said Triuveño.

Nevertheless, the subculture continues on the streets. There even are 8 year olds addicted to crack who have left home to spend time on the streets. Or perhaps they never really had a home in the first place. So social organizations try to help these youngsters.

And very few end up on the pavement. Survival on the streets has its own rules, and many of the homeless actually have rough dwellings deep in vacant lots where they live, venturing out only to find food, money and, of course, drugs and or alcohol. Or they might dash down to the local fountain to do laundry and take a bath.

When the fountain in front of the Escuela Metálica can double as a laundromat, there is an added advantage: No water bill.
clothes washing
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

Key Largo beach party

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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Pursuit in Gulfo Dulce near Golfito leads to capture of drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Information from a U.S. Coast guard aircraft allowed Costa Rican patrol vessels to chase ashore a boat load of cocaine and two gasoline supply craft.

The action took place Tuesday starting about 8 a.m. in the Gulfo Dulce. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said there were 1,080 kilos of cocaine confiscated and five persons detained. Three are Colombian nationals.

Presumably two boats with fuel were going to resupply the boat with cocaine but the three were driven to shore by patrols.

The landing took place at Punta Tigre six miles north of Cabo Matapalo between Playa Tamales and Puerto Jiménez. Other boat occupants fled into the hills, said the ministry.

There is a cottage industry along the coast of providing fuel for drug smugglers. Frequently the fuel is tax-free designed to be used by fishing boats.

Two of the boats confiscated Tuesday carried large blue plastic containers for fuel.  Participating in the chase and subsequent capture were the Vigilancia Aérea, the Policía de Control de Drogas and the Service Nacional de Guardacoastas.

Costa Rican officials said they exchanged information with
arrested onboard
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Guillermo Solano
One suspect is handcuffed to a Guadacosta patrol boat for transport.

the U.S. Coast Guard plane prior to the arrests.

Sometimes the Costa Rican coast from the Panamá border to Quepos is the destination of so-called fastboats loaded with drugs. In this case, it appears that the boat was simply going to take on fuel and continue a trip north before it was spotted.

One neagtive effect of the refueling practiced by some Costa Rican fishermen is that the drug smugglers frequently pay in cocaine, which then enters the local market.

Researcher uncovers genetic secret of common butterfly
By the Mississippi State University news staff

Years after sleeping in hammocks in the wilds of Perú and Panamá collecting hundreds of thousands of samples of colorful insects, Brian Counterman now is helping unlock a very difficult puzzle.

The more-than-century-long challenge has involved a secret of the Heliconius butterfly, the orange, black, yellow, and red insect that hasn't easily communicated how all its radiant colors came to be.

For evolutionary biologists, and especially geneticists like Counterman, the butterflies — commonly called passion vine butterflies — make perfect research subjects for better understanding the important scientific question: How do organisms change to survive?

Over the past decade, the Mississippi State assistant professor has been part of an international team using field experiments, genetic mapping and population genetics to study the butterflies' biology and history.

Passion vine butterflies are found throughout South and Central America. Through the years, scientists observed that Heliconius butterflies with certain red patterns survived in certain areas while others didn't.

"There are very few cases that we know what traits determine if an organism will survive in nature," Counterman said, adding that he and a team of researchers recently uncovered the gene responsible for the different red wing patterns.

Counterman said the butterflies use red as a warning signal to birds and other predators that they are poisonous and should not be consumed.

This is one of the first examples where scientists have found the genetic change that allowed an organism to live or die in nature, he observed, adding that finding the red gene was just
butterfly expert
Mississippi State University/Megan Bean
Brian Counterman, an evolutionary geneticist, studies a  Heliconius butterfly.

the first step in understanding how they have survived.

Counterman and his team further analyzed the red gene to reconstruct when the different red patterns evolved, providing important clues into how rapidly new adaptations can arise and spread in populations that nearly encompass entire continents.

Counterman now is part of a team sequencing the entire Heliconius genome — one of the first butterfly genomes — that should open the door to a new level of questioning into the biological causes for one of the most charismatic groups of organisms on earth.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 23
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Major campaign sets goal
to check tropical diseases

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A global initiative to control or eradicate 10 neglected tropical diseases within the decade was officially launched this week in London.  Experts say the initiative is the largest coordinated effort ever undertaken to combat diseases, including sleeping sickness and guinea worm, that affect more than a billion people around the world.

In an unprecedented show of unity, leaders of government, public and private health groups and major drug companies have pledged to work closely to combat neglected tropical diseases. These debilitating infections affect 1.4 billion people in the world’s poorest countries. The so-called London Declaration calls for the eradication and elimination of 10 of these tropical illnesses by the year 2020.

The World Health Organization says neglected tropical diseases cost billions of dollars in lost productivity. But the maladies have been largely overlooked by medical researchers because they affect relatively small and mostly poor populations.

Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health director general, called the initiative a roadmap for an ambitious but achievable journey.

“Just think of the prospect of freeing millions of people — most of them are children and women — so that they could have a healthy and productive life. On that we need your support. Come with us. This is going to be a long journey but we have a very good first step,” said Dr. Chan.

With funds from various partners totaling $785 million, the project aims to eliminate many ancient scourges, such as leprosy, sleeping sickness, lymphatic filariasis, blinding trachoma, and guinea worm.

Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates pledged $363 million through his namesake foundation. He called the London Declaration a milestone event.

“We have very ambitious goals that we have set. For example, for guinea worm we have got that 2015 eradication so we have a nice little competition going on between polio and guinea worm to see which would get to be the second disease eradicated and which will get to be the third disease eradicated, and the sooner the better for both of those,” said Gates.

To speed the search for new drugs to fight the diseases, 13 drug companies have for the first time agreed to share their libraries of experimental compounds. And they also have agreed to donate and deliver billions of doses of drugs every year to aid the poorest of the poor, in the most remote corners of the world.

U.S. consumer confidence
takes a dip over holidays

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. consumer confidence dropped in January. A private research group, the Conference Board, says its monthly survey of consumer sentiment showed people increasingly think jobs are more difficult to find. 

The group's closely watched index fell from 65 in December to 61 in the first month of the new year, well below the 90 level signaling a healthy economy.

Economists monitor consumer sentiment as a hint about the future of the national economy because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economic output.  The world's largest economy has sluggishly recovered from the recession in 2007 to 2009, but 13 million workers remain unemployed.

Consumer worries about employment prospects may mirror January employment numbers the U.S. government will release Friday.  In December, America added 200,000 jobs, but economists are predicting the country only created 125,000 in January.

With 8.5 percent of the workforce unemployed, President Barack Obama called for Congress to quickly pass job-creating measures.  He wants to extend tax breaks for small businesses and give new assistance to entrepreneurs who start companies.

While the American economy has advanced slowly, the U.S. government has also struggled to curb its deficit spending.  The national debt has ballooned to a record-high of more than $15 trillion, and government officials say the trend is continuing.  They projected a $1.1 trillion budget deficit for the year ending in September.  That is down from last year's $1.3 trillion figure, but still high by historical standards.

Winter death toll now 50
as mercury dives in Europe

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cold weather blanketing much of eastern and central Europe has killed more than 50 people in the last five days.

Emergency services authorities in Ukraine said Tuesday that 30 people died, mostly the homeless, as a result of the cold in recent days. Authorities say another 500 people were treated at hospitals for frostbite and other cold-related injuries. Emergency workers have provided hundreds of heated tents and have given food to those vulnerable to the cold temperatures, which reached lows of minus 23 C ( - 9 F).

Meanwhile, officials in Poland reported five new deaths Tuesday, bringing the death toll there to 15 as overnight temperatures dipped to minus 30 C (-22 F) in parts of the country.

In Romania, the health ministry says two people died due to the cold temperatures, raising the death toll to eight since the cold spell began last week.

The freezing weather has caught many Europeans by surprise, as this winter had been unusually mild with spring-like temperatures in many cities.
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Latin America news
Hunting big cats was not always illegal, as witnessed by this undated historical photo taken in the San José area.

Feline exhibit highlighted
plight of endangered cats

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central under the Plaza de la Cultura has highlighted the artistic and natural history of one of Costa Rica's oldest and most effective predators on a recent exhibit.

Costa Rica's felines migrated from Eurasia over the Bering straight 1.8 million years ago. And since 300 B.C. their presence has been documented in the crafts and traditions of native peoples in clay, stone, gold and folklore.

The recent exhibit told the history and displayed much of the art surrounding Costa Rica's most prominent cats: the jaguar, cougar, ocelot, jaguarundi and the tigrillo. For example, in BriBri culture the jaguar is associated with high-ranking officials that have the power to protect the society.

But the exhibit should also call attention to the tenuous existence of Costa Rica's majestic creatures, all six of which are threatened with extinction. Deforestation is the leading threat to felines, forcing them to search elsewhere for food and risk being shot by humans. Hunting the protected felines is illegal in Costa Rica.

Prison inmates get blame
for new telephone scam

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Inmates in the Costa Rican prison system continue to defraud from their cells. The Judicial Investigating Organization said Tuesday that a new scam involves rechargeable cell telephones.

The prison system has been unable to keep inmates from making calls from their hidden cell telephones, and judicial police said the current scam seems to originate with prisoners.

A caller working the current scam asks a cell telephone user to effect a recharge in order to test the system. A telephone number is provided, and the victim puts up from 10,000 to 25,000 colons on the promise that the money will be returned once the system check is completed. Of course, there is no recharge and no system test. And no refund.

Prisoners working with accomplices outside the facility have operated a number of creative scams for years.

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