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(506) 2223-1327              Published Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 27      E-mail us
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Fuel prices going up, thanks, in part, to inflated exchange rate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

During the presidential election campaign, some candidates addressed the inflexibility of the nation's price regulator and blamed higher consumer expenditures on this situation.

A classic case developed Monday when the price regulator, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, announced increases in gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene and cooking gas.

The prices will go into effect in a few days when the formal announcement is published in the La Gaceta government newspaper.

The increases are a bit more than 6 percent for super gasoline and about 4.5 percent for plus gasoline. The increases are based on the estimated inflation from Dec. 24 to Jan. 7, the depreciation of the colon and the international price of petroleum.

Under the new rates, motorists will be paying a price that reflects an exchange rate to buy dollars of 576.93 colons, according to the regulating
authority. That was what the rate was Jan. 7. However, today the buy rate for one dollar is 560.04 colons, according to figures from the Banco Central de Costa Rica. The price of a dollar is critical because petroleum is sold for that currency.

Using the Jan. 7 figure means that the exchange rate is about 2.9 percent higher than the rate today. In other words, the dollar is pegged 17 colons higher than today's rate.

As some political candidates pointed out the price of petroleum affects most products in the marketplace because nearly everything has to be transported.

The announced changes in fuel prices are super gasoline, from 588 colons per liter to 627 colons; plus gasoline from 573 to 599 colons and diesel from 511 to 535 per liter. Cooking gas is going up from 311 colons to 389 colons, some 78 colons per liter. That's a 25.1 percent increase.

Many Costa Rican homes used the bottled cooking gas daily.



After election, Ms. Chinchilla will seek a coalition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President-elect Laura Chinchilla made the appropriate stops Monday, the day after her landslide victory.

She visited the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago which is dedicated to the patroness of Costa Rica. She also visited the tombs of her grandparents in the Cementerio de Desamparados. Ms. Chinchilla's visits to Cartago and the cemetery are more than just showmanship. She is a devout Roman Catholic who is likely to stick close to church teachings in her administration.

Today she has a 3 p.m. appointment with her mentor, President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

But the real challenge will come when she meets with legislators and tries to come up with a coalition that can get her favored projects through the Asamblea Legislative.

Ms. Chinchilla has said that she would meet with opposition leaders to find common ground to fight poverty and improve citizen security.

Her Partido Liberación Nacional managed to seat 22 of its members in the 57-place unicameral
legislature. One seat in Guanacaste still is in doubt. There are 25 Liberación members in the current legislature that leave office May 1.

Arias worked closely with his party's members of the legislature to pass key pieces of legislature. To do that the party had to form a coalition that resulted in sharing assembly leadership with allies. Exactly 38 votes is a two-thirds majority in the legislature, so any coalition that seeks to have a super majority to be successful under the voting rules must have at least that number.

There is no love lost between Liberación and either Partido Acción Ciudadana (11 deputies) or Movimiento Libertario (probably 10 deputies). Likely allies are the four legislative deputies elected from the Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión, which works for the rights of the disabled. That party has four seats in the new legislature. The Partido Unidad Social Cristiana also is a possible legislative partner along with several independents.

Still, it is clear to obtain a supermajority for critical contested votes, either Acción Ciudadana or Libertarios will have to come on board. So right from the start the situation will test Ms. Chinchilla's diplomacy and that of her party's legislative leaders.


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San José, Costa Rica Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 27

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Our reader's opinion
Election did not show shift
of the country to the right


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to take issue with your assertion that Sunday’s elections represent a “significant shift to the right in Costa Rican politics.”

Actually, if we assume that Chinchilla’s party represents the center (a center that would be fairly far left by U.S. standards), Sunday’s results show that her strongest opposition came from farther left, not the right.  Solís on the left took 25 percent of the vote while Guevara on the Libertarian right took 21 percent.  The victorious party is center-left while its opposition remains tilted farther left.

I understand your reasoning, namely that Solís took far fewer votes this year than he did in 2006 as well as that the Libertarians nearly tripled their normal also-ran vote tally.  However, the left lacked the galvanizing issue, CAFTA, that it had in 2006, and as a two-time loser many were reluctant to support Solís again.  The banks also cut off his access to credit, which limited his ability to advertise effectively during the final weeks of the campaign.  Meanwhile, Guevara abandoned many core Libertarian positions, like the privatization of health care, in an attempt to bring his campaign closer to the center-left mainstream.

Anything is possible, but viewing Sunday’s election results as signifying a shift to the right strikes me as far fetched.  My read is that voters broke for Chinchilla in the end in order to stop Guevara, whose vote count was significantly lower than polled, and thus to preserve their center-left social democracy.  However, they didn’t break for her in landslide numbers, and the real surprise was that Solís took twice the percentage of votes he was polling.  Many Costa Ricans seemed to see Chinchilla as the safest candidate, but a quarter of them went to the polls determined to place their candidate on the left ahead of Guevara in case there would be a runoff between the top two candidates.  The center-left and far left both succeeded in their objectives, while the right failed.

These outcomes strike me as pretty normal for Costa Rica, although we’ll now have a few more Libertarians in the legislature.
Ken Morris
San Pedro

Marines sought to join
organization forming here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Local U.S. Marines are forming a Costa Rica detachment of the Marine Corps League.

Eligible members are those who served as U.S. marines and U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen who have trained with Marines.

Mel Goldberg, a U.S. Navy captain, said that there are 16 persons ready to sign up but that more are needed. Associate membership in the Marine Corps League is open to all veterans of other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, he said.

This is an opportunity for U.S. Marines to associate with other U.S. Marines to preserve the traditions and promote the interests of the U. S. Marine Corps, he said.

Those interested can contact Goldberg at 2288-0454 or 8870-6756 or Bill Enell at 8812-0126.

Another quake near Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake estimated at a magnitude of 4.4. took place near Quepos at 8:50 p.m. Monday.

The Obvservatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica said the location was about 15 km or about nine miles north northwest of Quepos. The case was attributed to the interplay of tectonic plates.

The quake felt in the Central Valley was a sharp shock of short duration.

Quakes are common in the southern zone and in the Central Pacific where the Coco and Caribe plates are in collision. There were some 31 felt quakes in January and most were in that area, according to the Red Sismológico Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

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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 weekday.

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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 Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 27

    
Check out the printed version of the Top Story news feed and see what  you  missed.
Enjoy Incredible Beach Sunsets and  Sunrises. With the Pacific Ocean and the awesome mountains.
Video security and alarm.  View your home from any computer anywhere.  24/7 monitoring and recording.

Police survey what amounts to a quarrying operation along a river in Siquirres. Part of the backhoe that was loading the gravel and sand can be seen in the foreground.

Illgal quarry
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

Police grab 10 at unapproved quarry operation at river
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The move was a bold one. Bring in heavy equipment and extract sand and gravel from the Río Cocal in Siquirres de Limón.

Doing that is a big no no in Costa Rica if those involved do not have permits from the environmental ministry and its watchdog unit.

Verny Jiménez, chief of the Fuerza Pública in Siquirres credited a member of the local security committee for spotting loaded trucks leaving property that had access to the river.
When police arrived they detained 10 persons, including the property owner. Officers said that they found a backhoe and seven dump trucks in various stages of being loaded.
Nine of those detained are employees of various firms, said police. Some tried to flee but police blocked the only exit from the riverbank.

Police said that some trees and some riverbank was destroyed by the operation.

Those who seek to do such work, even on their own land, are required to obtain permission from the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones and its Secretaria Técnica Nacional Ambiental.


Bandits ambush Alajuela man after he gets money at bank
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone knew that a Río Secundo de Alajuela man was carrying a lot of cash when he left the bank Monday morning.

When the man arrived at his home, four men on motorcycles pulled pistols on him and made him surrender about 7 million colons, some $12,500.

The victim, identified by the last name of Castro, is 35
years old, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He had just arrived in his truck when the robbers appeared, agents said. This was about 11 a.m.

Castro had just visited a bank branch in the center of Alajuela, agents said. The bandits demanded the cash and shot him in the stomach when he did not comply. They broke the truck window to get the money, agents said.

The bandits had their faces covered with motorcycle helmets and visors, said agents.


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San José, Costa Rica Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 27


International tourism seems to be on rebound after 2009

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Growth returned to international tourism in the last quarter of 2009 contributing to better than expected full-year results, according to the latest edition of the World Tourism Barometer. International tourist arrivals fell by an estimated 4 percent in 2009. Prospects have also improved with arrivals now forecast to grow between 3 percent and 4 percent in 2010, the U.N. World Tourism Organization said.

International tourist arrivals for business, leisure and other purposes are estimated to have declined worldwide by 4 percent in 2009 to 880 million, the U.N. agency estimated. This represents a slight improvement on the previous estimate as a result of the 2 percent upswing in the last quarter of 2009. In contrast, international tourist arrivals shrank by 10 percent, 7 percent and 2 percent in the first three quarters respectively.

Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East led the recovery with growth already turning positive in both regions in the second half of 2009.

“The global economic crisis aggravated by the uncertainty around the A(H1N1) pandemic turned 2009 into one of the toughest years for the tourism sector,” said Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the tourism organization. “However, the results of recent months suggest that recovery is underway, and even somewhat earlier and at a stronger pace than initially expected,” he added.

Experience shows that tourism earnings generally follow the trend in arrivals quite closely, even if they suffer somewhat more in difficult times. Based on the trends through the first three quarters, receipts for 2009 are estimated to have decreased by around 6 percent. While this is unquestionably a disappointing result for an industry accustomed to continuous growth, it can also be interpreted as a sign of comparative resilience given the extremely difficult economic environment, the organization concluded.

This becomes even more evident when compared with the estimated 12 percent slump in overall exports as a consequence of the global crisis, it added.

Similarly to the situation in previous crisis, consumers tended to travel closer to home during 2009. Several destinations have seen domestic tourism endure the crisis better and even grow significantly, often with the support of specific government measures aimed at leveraging this trend.  This was the case among many other countries, of China, Brazil and Spain, where the domestic market, representing a large share of the total demand, contributed to partially offsetting the decline in international tourism.

The Americas registered a 5 percent decline in 2009, said the agency. The Caribbean returned to growth in the last four months of 2009. The performance was more sluggish in the other sub-regions, with the influenza outbreak exacerbating the impact of the economic crisis. it said.

Against the backdrop of both the upturn in international tourism figures and overall economic indicators in recent months, the U.N. agency forecasts a growth in international tourist arrivals of between 3 percent and 4 percent in 2010.  The International Monetary Fund has just said that the global recovery is occurring significantly faster than expected, as compared with its October assessment which already counted on a clear return of economic growth in 2010.

By region, Asia is expected to continue showing the strongest rebound, while Europe and the Americas are likely to recover at a more moderate pace. Growth is expected to return to the Middle East while Africa will continue its positive trend benefiting from the extra boost provided by the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the agency said.

This year promises to be one of transformation and provides several upside opportunities, while naturally not eliminating downside risks, said the agency. 
happy tourists

Specifically, it said the upside opportunities were that

• Business and consumer confidence has picked up;

• Interest rates and inflation remain at historically low levels and are expected to rise only moderately in the short term;

• A slump is generally followed by a rebound due to pent-up demand and destinations are expected to actively leverage this opportunity;

• There is scope for a revival among source markets which were hard hit in 2009 such as the Russian Federation or the UK;

• Major international events will take place in South Africa (FIFA World Cup), Canada (Winter Olympics) and China (Shanghai Expo), creating potential extra travel demand;

• The momentum of the spirit of cooperation and partnership bred by the crisis is expected to be maintained by stakeholders;

 • The flexibility shown by the tourism sector in dealing with rapid shifts in demand and volatile market conditions has made it stronger;

• Crises provide an opportunity to address underlying structural weaknesses and implement strategies fostering sustainable development and the transformation to the Green Economy.

The agency outlined these downside risks:

• Unemployment is the key challenge. The jobs crisis is not over yet, particularly in major advanced economies and many valuable human resources are still at risk;

• Economic growth in major source markets, specially in Europe and the USA, is still fragile;

• Stimulus measures are likely to be phased out due to increasing public deficits while a number of advanced economies may see increases in taxation, putting extra pressure on household and company budgets;

• Oil prices remain volatile;

• Although the overall impact of the influenza A(H1N1) virus was milder until now than anticipated, experience from previous pandemics shows that the situation could once again become challenging;

• Security threats and the potential of increased related hassle and costs for travelers are still a challenge;

• Revenues and yields are expected to recover at a slower pace than travel volumes.

Although prospects have improved, 2010 will still be a demanding year, the agency said. “Many countries were quick in reacting to the crisis and actively implemented measures to mitigate its impact and stimulate recovery," said Rifai. "Although we expect growth to return in 2010, a premature withdrawal of these stimulus measures and the temptation to impose extra taxes may jeopardize the pace of rebound in tourism."


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San José, Costa Rica Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 27

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Study concludes trawling
hurts dolphin population


By the University of Haifa news service

Extensive commercial fishing endangers dolphin populations in the Mediterranean. This has been shown in a new study carried out at the University of Haifa’s Department of Maritime Civilizations. “Unfortunately, we turn our backs to the sea and do not give much consideration to our marine neighbors,” said researcher Dr. Aviad Scheinin.

The study examined the competition between the two top predators along the Mediterranean coast of Israel: the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and bottom trawlers. Trawling is the principal type of commercial fishing in Israel and involves dragging a large fishing net through the water, close to the sea floor, from the back of a boat. These two predators off the coast of Israel trap similar types of fish near the sea floor, so the researchers decided to examine the nature of the competition between the two.

Commercial trawling in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel targets codfish, red mullet and sole, three commercial and sought-after types of fish. The Department of Fisheries in Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture has data showing that over the years the amount of fish from the sea floor taken by Israel’s commercial trawling is larger than the amount of fish that nature provides, indicating that the sea floor fish population dropped between the years 1949 and 2006.

Would this decline in fish supply necessarily cause direct harm to the dolphins, seeing as their diet might also include other types of fish? In order to verify this, the researcher examined the contents of the stomachs of 26 dolphins that died and landed on the beach, or that had been caught by mistake. He also examined the behavior of living dolphins by carrying out 232 marine surveys over more than 3,000 km. along the central coast of Israel. The dolphins’ stomachs contained mainly non-commercialized fish, suggesting that they perhaps do not compete directly with the commercial trawlers, and that the commercial fishing does not directly affect the dolphins’ nutrition.

The living dolphins’ behavior, on the other hand, draws an entirely different picture. According to Dr. Scheinin, most of the dolphins were observed around the trawling boats: the chances of observing a school of dolphins near a trawler is 10 times higher than in the open sea. This is because the trawler serves as a “feeding station” for the dolphins: there they are not able to feed from the more expensive loot caught in the nets, but they are able to enjoy schools of other types of fish that swim around the trawler. “The problem is that this type of fishing endangers the dolphins. Eight dolphins die each year off the coast of Israel on average, and of those, four die after having been mistakenly caught in trawling nets. Seeing as many studies have proven the high intelligence of the dolphin, it is clear that these sea mammals are aware of this danger, but are left with little choice due to their need to search for food around the trawlers due to the scarcity of other food sources,” Scheinin explains.

This conclusion is reinforced by the suckling female dolphins. These dolphins require larger quantities of food than usual, and despite the risk for the younger and much less experienced dolphins that swim by their side, all of the suckling dolphins have been observed significantly more frequently around the trawlers. This indicates that they could not obtain enough food in other places.

The dolphins off the coast of Israel spend most of their time in search of food while similar animals in other areas in the world are far busier with social activities. This fact is yet another contributing factor to the assumption that they suffer a deficiency in food resources, said the researcher.

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San José, Costa Rica Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 27


Latin American news
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Chávez cites emergency
and blames it on drought

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has declared an "electricity emergency" in the oil-rich nation, saying the country is facing the worst drought in a century.

Chávez made the announcement Monday as he inaugurated a new radio program, "Suddenly Chávez," which he says could be broadcast at any time of the day or night.

He said the decree would make confronting the electrical power crisis the government's top priority.

Discontent has been growing in Venezuela over chronic shortages of electricity and water, along with a sharp devaluation of its currency, the bolivar.  The country is in the midst of an economic recession and is trying to fight double-digit inflation.

In recent years, Chávez has nationalized major companies across a range of industries, from oil, steel and cement to electricity and communications.

Critics have accused the populist leader of trying to model Venezuela after Communist-led Cuba, but Chávez has said he is working to improve the lives of the country's impoverished majority.

Another storm heading east
and likely to hit today


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With six U.S. states and Washington, D.C., digging out from a weekend blizzard, weather forecasters are predicting another major snowstorm.

The National Weather Service says 25 to 50 centimeters of additional snow could fall on the Middle Atlantic region of the United States by a storm that is expected to start Tuesday and last well into Wednesday. That could be as much as 10 to 20 inches.

Already on the ground in portions of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware is more than a half meter of snow.  Washington had a near-record snowfall.

The federal government was shut down on Monday, schools and businesses were closed and airports were providing limited service.   Tens of thousands of homes are without electricity.

The severe winter weather has contributed to an increase in oil prices.  Crude slated for March delivery rose 70 cents on Monday to nearly $72 a barrel, reversing a recent trend.




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