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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Feb. 8, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 26      E-mail us
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Laura Chinchilla wins in landslide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Laura Chinchilla won the nation's presidency Sunday with a landslide victory in which she prevailed in each of the country's seven provinces.

The 50-year-old protege of current President Óscar Arias Sánchez promises that security and continuing the fight against drug traffickers would be her No. 1 priority.

"Security, security and more security," she told her supporters at a post-election rally.

Laura Chinchilla         46.76%

Ottón Solís                 25.16%

Otto Guevara             20.85%


She appears to have gained about 47 percent of the vote based on incomplete returns. Her vote total was more than the totals of the second and third finishers, Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario.

Opinion polls had predicted that Ms. Chinchilla of Partido Liberación Nacional would finish first with about 41 percent of the vote. She needed 40 percent to win outright and avoid a runoff.

Opinion polls underestimated the strength of Solís. Nearly all polls put him third with Guevara in second place. His support is among the young, which is a class usually underrepresented in opinion polls. He earned about 25 percent. Guevara earned about 21 percent, more than twice what he received in 2006.

Ms. Chinchilla said that her victory did not represent a blank check and that she considered the votes in her behalf a mandate. Among these mandates were education, the strenthening of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and a sustainable environment.

She said she wanted to expand the scholarship program of school children and promised that Costa Rica would become the first developed nation in Latin America. That drew cheers. She also said she would provide more specialists and reduce the lines at the Caja medical facilities.

On the environment, she spoke for Arias' goal to make the country carbon neutral by 2014.

Ms. Chinchilla is a former minister of security but she was upstaged during the campaign by Luis Fishman of Partido Social Cristiana and Guevara. Both stressed personal secuirty in the face of the country's rising crime rate. Guevara's campaign produced a television spot showing a nearly naked man walking on the street in fear of carrying anything valuable.

The president-elect did not give details of how
Laura Chinchilla
Laura Chinchilla

she would fulfill any of the mandates. Presumably she would rely on the party's published campaign platform.

She did promise that the best pages of the country's history have yet to be written, and she concluded with lines from a song she used in the campaign that praised Costa Rica. The speech was to a crowd at the Hotel Crown Plaza Corobicí.

More on election HERE!

Ms. Chinchilla takes office May 8. Her political party appears to have won 24 of the legislature's 57 seats and is well-positioned to form a leadership coalition that will pass bills favored by the presidency.

Casino operators are leery of Ms. Chinchilla, who has called the gambling establishments centers of prostitution. At the time she appeared to have overlooked the nation's strip clubs where prostitution is the norm and the many massage parlors and similar establsihments that are highly visible in the country.

As vice president to Arias she headed a committee that was supposed to produce a citizen security bill, but the bulk of the measure submitted to the legislature was a plan to keep homeowners from having more than two weapons.

Ms. Chinchilla is strongly establishment. She is the daughter of a former head of the Contraloría de la Republica, the nation's budgetary watchdog.

She has served in the legislature and as minister of security. As vice president she also assumed the second role as minister of Justicia y Gracia.  She left the vice presidency because the Costa Rican Constitution forbids sitting ministers from seeking the presidency.


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San José, Costa Rica Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 26

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Candidates' election day
began with Catholic Mass


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff*

The major candidates for president began the day with a Roman Catholic Mass Sunday.

Only Ottón Solís was absent from the religious ceremony at the Catedral Metropolitana in San José because he attended Mass in San Isidro de El General where he grew up.

In San José, the candidates heard Hugo Barrantes, the archbishop, call upon the winner to take care of the poor.

Since Vatican II, there has been a time during the Roman Catholic Mass where those attending shake hands and sometimes share a kiss of peace.  At that point Sunday, the candidates, standing in the front row of the cathedral, turned and hugged each other in turn. Eugenio Trejos of Frente Amplio shared a hug with Laura Chinchilla of the Partido Liberación Nacional on his left. She in turn saluted Luis Fishman to her left. He is the candidate of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.  Also sharing the friendly moment were Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario, Oscar López of Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión and Walter Muñoz of Partido Integración Nacional.

Then supporters of the candidates came forward in the church and joined in the hugs.

Ms. Chinchilla and Trejos later walked to the altar and received Holy Communion from the hands of Barrantes. Guevara also appeared to take communion a few minutes later with his fiancée. It turns out she took the communion host and broke it into two parts and placed half in Guevara's breast packet.  They then left for various points in their own motorcades to continue to rally the vote. The handling of the host raised questions in the Spanish media.

The Mass on the morning of election day is a tradition.

The day was sunny, and there appeared to be no weather problems associated with getting to the more than 6,000 polling places in the country. Major parties and some local and regional ones set up tents and displays at the polling places to provide information on their candidates. The bulk of the voting was in schools.

Saturday and Saturday night saw hundreds of vehicles decked with flags of the competing parities move through the streets of major population centers. Partido Acción Ciudadana, the party of Solís, even had a repainted bus with a representation of his face.

*This article is a reprint from the updated Sunday edition of A.M. Costa Rica.

Banco Nacional begins
to check customer data


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Nacional is in the process of updating the information of its account holders.

"Banco de Costa Rica did it last year, and we are doing it this year," said a bank manager Friday.

Banco de Costa Rica, also a state bank, won some negative public relations points when workers summarily closed accounts of those customers who did not present the proper paperwork or, as in the case of some expats, were simply out of the country.

Banco Nacional is sending out e-mails to addresses employees have on file. The e-mail gives the recipient 15 days to update the account. There is no indication of what the bank workers will do if the individual does not show. Updating involved visiting the bank in person with identification papers and a personaría juridica for companies operated by the customer.

This is part of the process whereby the banks try to comply with a law that says they should know their customers. The law seeks to prevent money laundering, but Banco de Costa Rica carried the requirement to extremes, even closing bank accounts for long-time customers who had very little money on deposit.


Hundreds evicted by Pavas fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire tore through 40 dwellings in Rincón Grande de Pavas Friday. Firemen estimated that each dwelling housed six persons.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths. The call came in at 6:22 a.m., and the blaze was controlled an hour later, said the Cuerpo de Bomberos. Four pumpers and two tank cars responded to the alarm, as did 40 firemen.

Firemen termed the dwellings ranchos, meaning that they were less than standard construction. Such self-constructed dwellings of wood and sheet steel are vulnerable to electrical malfunctions and other fire causes. In this case, firemen said that a wood stove may have been the cause.



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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.

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San José, Costa Rica Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 26

    
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Enjoy Incredible Beach Sunsets and  Sunrises. With the Pacific Ocean and the awesome mountains.
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The weekend was repeat displays of democracy as party faithful drove around town with flags of their favorite candidate fluttering from the vehicle. Or they simply took to the ground to express their preference, like this man Sunday night in San José. The colors are of Acción Ciudadana.
flagwaver
A.M. Costa Rica photo

Candidates from the left did not fare well with voters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday's elections produced a significant shift to the right in Costa Rican politics.

The presidential candidate of pro-business Partido Liberación Nacional is drawing about 7 percent more of the vote than did its candidate, Óscar Arias Sánchez, in 2006.

Movimiento Libertario appears to have gained about 21 percent of the vote. That party, the Libertarians, drew just 8 percent in 2006. In a speech to campaign workers Sunday night, candidate Otto Guevara characterized the party as triumphant, even though he did not win the presidency. The party will have an estimated 10 seats in the new legislature.

That is the same number that the Partido Acción Cuidadana will have, one less than in the current legislature. In addition, party standard bearer Ottón Solís appears to have earned about 25 percent of the vote, far less than the nearly 39 percent he scored in 2006 when he nearly won the presidency. The percentages are based on partial results with about 85 percent of the nation's polling places reporting.

A big winner was the Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión, which works for the rights of the disabled. That party increased its legislative count from one to four in the new Asamblea Legislative. In addition, the party is a good candidate for a coalition with Liberación, which will have about 25 new lawmakers in the 57-member unicameral body.

Eugenio Trejos, the academic who is the presidential candidate of Frente Amplio, did not fare well, but it appears that the party managed to place one person in the legislature. Frente Amplio is considered the furthest left of any Costa Rican major party. The party's presidential candidate got less than half a percent of the popular vote.

Trejos did not join with Walter Muñoz of Partido Integración Nacional, and Rolando Araya of Alianaza Patriótica in giving support to Solís late in the campaign. Both Muñoz and Araya got negligible numbers in the presidential race, and their parties' legislative deputy candidates appear to have finished out of the money.
vote totals
These are the official vote released by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones about 11:15 p.m. They represent returns from about 85 percent of the polling places.

They asked supporters to vote for Solís but to back the parties' legislative candidates Alianza contained many individuals who opposed the free trade treaty with the United States and the rest of Central America.

Guevara waged an aggressive and expensive campaign in which he promised to fight corruption and street crime. Acción Ciudadana ran out of money in the final stages of the campaign and appears to have suffered at the polls as a result.

The dominance of the center and right may have developed because polls correctly showed that Ms. Chinchilla was a likely winner. The percent not voting this year appears to have exceeded 30 percent with up to 40 percent not voting in the provinces of Limón and Puntarenas.


Big screen television
A.M. Costa Rica photos
Big screen television dominates Parque Central and a car with split loyalties
Sentiment of the day; Overwhelming pride in democracy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's citizens take their democracy seriously.

Party loyalists crammed the highways over the weekend to express their preferences with flags bearing the appropriate colors.

About 1,000 persons gathered in Parque Central Sunday night to watch a wide screen feed from Channel 7 Teletica.

The television station workers had their work cut out for them. Broadcasting was predominately the election from 6 a.m. Frequently reporters were reduced to interviewing those waiting to vote, as they did in Playas del Coco.
Official returns did not start becoming available until about 8:15 p.m. There were no serious incidents to cover all day. One station even had a helicopter in the sky by 7 a.m. The television investment was massive. Channel 7 even set up a voting program for children.

Supporters of different parties stood side-by-side over the weekend and Sunday night with no hint of antagonism. More than one family was divided, as were the owners of a car that carried Movimiento Libertario flags, a Costa Rican flag and a tiny bumper sticker supporting Laura Chinchilla on a side window.

The one constant was the overwhelming pride Costa Ricans expressed in their successful participation in democracy.


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San José, Costa Rica Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 26

For expats Sunday the presidential elections may have taken second place to the annual ritual of the Superbowl. Most expat bars had special promotions for the afternoon game, which the New Orleans Saints won. Bill Alexander of Sportsmen's Lodge, where the adjacent photo was taken, said he had to turn people away. About 230 persons watched the game there. This was the first year that alcohol was allowed to be sold on election day.
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A.M. Costa Rica photo


Third annual blues fest is planned for Feb. 27 in Guachipelín, Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The third annual Costa Rica Blues Fest will be Feb. 27, a Saturday, at El Club Cubano in Guachipelín, Escazú.
This year's headliner will be Texas Johnny Brown and the Quality Blues Band, organizers have announced.

The much-honored Brown will share the stage with other foreign bands and local ones, too.
Robbie Clark and the Live Wire Blues Band from Austin, Texas, is on the program, as is Electric Storm from Uruguay.

Costa Rican groups are Sin Trucos, Calacas Blues, 3 for Blues, The Known Associates, Autómata, Blue Devils and The Blind Pig Blues Band, said an announcement.

Tickets are on sale at a number of expat locations.


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San José, Costa Rica Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 26

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snow in washington
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Motorist tried to get his car out of snowy slumber

Washington, Atlantic states
stalled under blanket of snow

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Washington and surrounding areas are digging out after a paralyzing blizzard that dumped more than half a meter of snow, triggering emergency declarations by state officials throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

For nearly two days, the snow fell, and fell, and fell some more. The U.S. capital and surrounding areas received more snow in 36 hours than it usually sees in an entire winter. Local governments fought losing battles to keep roads clear, while residents struggled to free their cars from massive snowdrifts. Most public transportation ground to a halt, and flights to and from Washington were canceled.

"I have been in Washington for maybe 30 years, and I think this is probably one of the biggest storms, maybe the biggest we have ever had," said one resident.

Hundreds of thousands of people lost power to their homes. The weight of the snow caused tree limbs to snap and roofs to collapse. Emergency responders have been hard-pressed to reach those in need.

But what caused grief for many gave others a chance to engage in activities not usually seen in the nation's capital. A Washington landmark, Dupont Circle, became ground zero for a massive, friendly snowball fight that was organized on Twitter and other social networking sites.

And winter's grip on Washington is far from over. More snow is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.

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San José, Costa Rica Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 26


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U.S. treasury chief upbeat
but seeks more regulations


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. economy is healing from a deep and prolonged recession, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Geithner struck an upbeat note on America's economic prospects, but also stressed the need to confront pressing risks to the nation's long term financial health.

Friday brought some hopeful news to the battered U.S. labor market. Although employers continue to cut jobs amid a fledgling economic recovery, the U.S. unemployment rate for January dipped below 10 percent to 9.7 percent. Geithner hailed the development on a television program. "We are seeing some encouraging signs of healing. This is going to take a while, and it is going to be uneven. But there are encouraging signs in this report," he said, of unemployment.

Geithner noted that the drop in unemployment follows word that the U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 5.7 percent at the end of 2009. "We have an economy that was growing at almost 6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year -- the most rapid rate in six years. And we have the capacity as a government to reinforce that process, and help guide this economy back to the point where we are not just growing again, but we see growth translate into jobs," he said.

In its budget projections, the Obama administration is assuming that unemployment will remain stubbornly high -- above 9 percent -- well into next year. Fearing what some economists are already calling a jobless recovery, President Barack Obama is pressing Congress to enact financial incentives for small businesses to hire new workers.

Treasury Secretary Geithner says a jobs bill is vital, as is an overhaul of America's financial regulations to limit risk-taking by the nation's banks and major private financial institutions.

Slight changes in the unemployment statistics are big news in Washington, S.C. Almost no one points out that the numbers are the product of surveys and should be treated as such. The margin of error is almost never reported.

Also appearing on television Sunday was former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who highlighted another long-term risk to America's economic health: its skyrocketing national debt. Greenspan said the debt will eventually constrain the U.S. economy and erode America's place on the world stage. "History tells us that great powers, when they have gotten into very significant fiscal problems, have ceased to be great powers," he said.

President Obama's budget projects federal deficits in excess of $1 trillion for this year and 2011. He has proposed a freeze on some domestic spending, and sought a bipartisan commission to craft a plan to tackle America's long-term fiscal imbalances.




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