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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 11, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 30
Jo Stuart
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Foreigners seeking to work here in for a shock
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Would-be expats frequently contact those already in Costa Rica seeking information on gaining employment here.

The biggest hurdles are ways foreigners can become legal residents with the right to work. That is a difficult accomplishment when so many Costa Ricans are seeking the same jobs. Work permits for foreigners usually are granted only for specialized jobs that Costa Ricans cannot perform.

Another hurdle is salary. Would-be expats frequently are astonished at the salaries paid here. A union truck driver from the United States or Canada is shocked when he finds out the typical salary for that type of job in Costa Rica is less than $10 a day.

Costa Rica closely controls salaries. While countries to the north have minimum wages, Costa Rica has a separate minimum wage for nearly every type of job. And the numbers keep changing, thanks to a continual devaluation of the colon.

Every six months the government negotiates salary increases with various employee unions. If the negotiations fail, as they did in November, the president may issue a decree setting the new salaries in conjunction with the Consejo Nacional de Salarios.

Under the latest decree that covers the first half of 2005, blue collar workers in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and a host of other areas must earn from 3,903 to 5,377 colons daily, depending on qualifications. That’s from $8.45 to $11.64. And that’s for a day.

Monthly, the legal minimums range from 117,014 colons a month for someone like a janitor, a messenger or an elevator operator to 266,202 colons for a university master’s degree holder. That’s from $253 to $576 at the current exchange rate of about 462 colons to the U.S. dollar.

Some other salaries:

Domestic servant: 
67,648 colons a month ($146) plus food.

University bachelor degree holder: 221,829 ($480).

4,475 colons a day ($9.69).

Bus driver:
4,475 colons a day ($9.69).

Tourist guide:
4,475 colons a day ($9.69).

Machine operator:
4,475 colons a day ($9.69).

Electrician or carpenter: 
4,475 colons a day ($9.69).

Private accountant: 
195,576 colons a month ($423).

Architectural draftsman:
136,409 colons ($295) a month.

136,409 colons ($295) a month.

General office worker: 
126,973 colons a month ($275).

4,475 colons a day ($9.69)

The highest paid job title on the list is graduate journalist, which pays 327,856 colons a month or $710.

A bare-bones list of minimum salaries usually is available at news outlets in the metropolitan area and legal bookstores. However, the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social has many more job classifications and specific minimum salaries in its files.

Most professionals work for salaries established by their colegios or trade organizations. For example, lawyers are supposed to get 10 percent of the value of any contract they prepare.

Most companies try to pay around the legal minimum, although more enlightened ones reward good employees. Although the salaries seem low by North American standards, they are good for Latin America, and employees here have the benefit of free medical care, pensions and other benefits not fully reflected in the paycheck.

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Pacheco has chest pain
and goes to hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Abel Pacheco, the 71-year-old president of Costa Rica, was in Hospital Calderón Guardia Thursday night while physicians keep him under surveillance.

The president experienced a sharp pain in the left side of
his chest about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and aides took him to the hospital. A battery of tests proved negative for any kind of heart problems, but physicians said they wanted the president to stay there for at least two days.

Hospital officials held a Thursday afternoon press conference where they outlined steps taken to treat the president. 

Dr. Luis Paulino Hernández Castañeda, director of 

Dr. Luis Hernández
Hospital Calderón Guardia, said that Pacheco had been walking around  in his hospital room.

Also at the hospital in the afternoon was Ricardo Toledo, the former minister of the Presidencia and a close friend of Pacheco. He now is a legislative deputy. He said he had talked with Pacheco.

Lineth Saborío is first vice president, and she would take over if Pacheco were incapacitated. However, Thursday she said that the president was alert and still in charge despite his hospitalization.

Pacheco’s term runs until May 2006. He is a medical doctor and a psychiatrist.

Pacheco suffers from diabetes and at times has had trouble walking. However, he generally is considered to be in good health.

Giant mall in Santa Ana
reported on stand-by

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The $70 million Mall Sambil that was supposed to be the largest shopping center in Central America is on hold.

That was the word Thursday from Grupo Inmobiliaria Genesis, one of the firms involved in the two-story, 500,000 square foot project.

Ingrid Clare, who identified herself in an e-mail message as vice president of marketing, said costs have gotten out of control.

"Sambil is on stand-by while we review our building budget," she said. "With the rise of petroleum and steel our project is out of our hands, and so we are taking the time to review the overall project.  We do not have an opening date either, so it is best to wait and see what the future holds for this project."

The location is on the Autopista Próspero Fernández in Santa Ana opposite the Forum office center. A.m. Costa Rica reported Tuesday that although preliminary grading work had been done, the developers had not yet applied for a construction permit from the municipality.

Caribe musical festival
is later due to weather

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Seventh Festival de Musica y Artes de Caribe Sur will take place later this year because of the flooding that has caused extensive problems on the Caribbean coast.

Normally the event is held in February and March in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca de Limón. But this year the events are scheduled for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in March.

The festival is organized by the Ministerio de la Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, and the chief emphasis is music. In addition, performances, and workshops will be offered.

There also will be story times for children, movies and exhibitions of painting. Admission is free except for certain concerts where admission is charged. The Web page is HERE!  For Festival correspondence, contact

Concert in plaza Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central will sponsor a concert in Plaza de la Cultura at 11 a.m. Saturday. The concert will feature the group Son de Tikisia, a salsa and Latin jazz band. 

Son de Tikisia feature trombone arrangements that back the vocals of lead singer, Alfredo Poveda. The group is currently recording a new album scheduled for release in late 2005.

The concert is part of the traditional cultural events that Banco Central supports.
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A search for space heaters to warm a chilly apartment
This has been my week for being taken to task — mainly about my last column.  In one instance, Ed reminded me that being in denial is sometimes very useful as we grow older.  And he is right.  Sometimes it works for quite a while. 

The other gentle reprimand came from David.  He said that President Bush never said anything about postponing the election, rather "some elected officials" had wondered if there were mechanisms to postpone voting if necessary. 

I was quite convinced when I wrote it that the suggestion had come from the administration. Newsweek in its July 19 issue said American counterterrorism experts were reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack around the date of the voting. But Bush was not mentioned.

So I stand corrected and in the future will more carefully check my statements — especially the negative ones I have about President Bush — before I make them.

Meanwhile, my friend Bill is looking better every day.  He is still in the hospital but out of intensive care and sitting up and looking almost like his old self — or I should say his younger self. 

Also meanwhile, I have discovered the books of Shirley Hazzard, an Australian writer.  Her novel, The Transit of Venus," has some of the most remarkably elegant and many layered sentences I have ever enjoyed.  Currently I am reading another of her books, "The Bay of Noon," about a young English woman (Jenny) living and working in Naples, Italy. 

There was a paragraph that brought me up short.  Jenny remarks that in the modern cluster of buildings outside of Naples — buildings that could exist anywhere — "thousands of NATO personnel and their families lived out their term of exile, requiring nothing of Italy or its language, passing among themselves stale, trumpery talismans of home, recreating a former existence from the shelves of the PX until such time as they should — on other equally alien shores — speak with nostalgia and authority of the Bay of Naples."  Oh, dear, I wondered. Could I be one of them?

It is still chilly in my apartment, and after visiting Bill at Clinica Biblica I continued my search for a space heater.  Actually, the day was quite lovely and warm so my search had lost some of its desperation.  Luckily I ran into fellow writer Garland Baker on Avenida Central.  I mentioned my fruitless search and he made one call on his cell phone and told me that the hardware store in Muñoz y Nani had heaters. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Garland is not only helpful in big business situations, he is very good in helping out in small transactions.  The next day I bundled myself off to Muñoz y Nani in San Pedro.

Unfortunately the operative word regarding heaters was "had."  They were all sold out and not getting any more until June.  June!  Why not sooner while it is cold?  I asked.  I don’t know why I bothered, although the salesman did answer me, I couldn’t understand the one key word in his reply that would have helped me understand his rationale.  So I made up my own answer: 

"If we order more now they will only disappear like the last batch."  On my way out I saw a small heater that was fired by butane gas.  It cost over $150!  I decided I would just have to buy more warm socks and a heavier sweater — or go into denial about the cold until it got warm again — which it is rapidly doing!

I went into the Muñoz y Nani supermarket.  I used to shop there often when I lived near San Pedro.  They always had some exotic thing I couldn’t get anywhere else.  This day I found yellow peppers and portobello mushrooms.  I hadn’t seen those mushrooms in ages.  As I purchased them I again felt guilty, thinking of those people shopping at their PX.  But, I rationalized, I discovered portobellos in Costa Rica!

Then on to the bakery in the same complex.  It is a wonderfully stocked bakery and losing all reason, I bought a sweet roll, a strawberry tart and two chocolate covered cookies. After all, one can take on only so much guilt without some consolation.

On my way out I studied the bulletin board.  There were a number of apartments for rent in the area.  And it is warmer in San Pedro. I plucked two phone numbers from the fringes of the notices.  As I walked down the main street I wondered how far away from this street one would have to live to escape the roar and rumble and fumes of the traffic. 

In one of her books Hazzard’s heroine mentions the two luxuries of silence and time, unscheduled, free, all mine, time.   I have both in my life in my current apartment.  Perhaps I will leave well enough alone.

The lowdown on soy protein and natural estrogen
When next you see soy protein products in the fancier markets or "natural" estrogen supplements in the vitamin stores, think before you buy and ask the question, how does the disease "Infectious Corporate Greed" affect women? 

I don’t know more than a small piece of the story, but what I know is worse than Enron-like deceit. 

It began with "Feminine Forever," a bestseller written by Dr. Robert Wilson 36 years ago that characterized menopause as a disease, curable with estrogen. Estrogen’s manufacturer Wyeth paid for Wilson’s book, research and lecture tour, according to his son. The promise to women grew in time to include enhanced sexuality, decreased heart disease, fewer fractures, fewer strokes, youthful appearance, less dementia and NO HARM. Oops, it seems to increase uterine cancer.

Then came estrogen-progesterone combos for six million women that promised all of the above and did not seem to increase uterine cancer, just breast cancer. It took two decades to find out. It also appears that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) does not protect against stroke, heart attack or dementia after menopause, according to double-blinded large studies in 2002. Neither does HRT do as well against osteoporosis as other non-hormonal agents. Even in women taking aspirin, venous clots and pulmonary emboli increased on HRT.

Well then, how about estrogen alone after removing a woman’s uterus? A New England Journal of Medicine article in1997 suggested that estrogen alone or in combination with progesterone increased the risk of breast cancer by 30 to 80 percent. It also has been shown recently to cause an increase in ovarian cancer, particularly in post-menopausal women taking estrogen for more than 10 years (80 percent increase in 10- to19-year group, 220 percent increase beyond 20 years).

The new PANACEA ( beware of that word) is soy protein. When Archer Daniels Midland went into the soy oil business, it looked to recycle the waste product, soy protein. The oil was easy to hydrogenate to evil trans-fats for use in the deceptively marketed "cholesterol free" fast food and snacks. Based on poorly designed studies often paid for by soy food manufacturers and used to promote their products, the soy myth has been disseminated: Soy protein protects against breast cancer and atherosclerosis and eases the symptoms of menopause. Fact or fancy? 

1.) Breast cancer is less prevalent in Asia than in America. TRUE. 

2.) The difference is because women eat more soy products in Asia than America. IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPARE AT PRESENT TIME. 

Asian and American soy products are very different. In Asian, soy is usually fermented for three to 12 months, is never exposed to high temperatures as it is here, is usually eaten with dairy or meat products, all of which decrease some of its toxicity. 

Here it is most often eaten in much larger quantities to replace meat or dairy products. Here it contains nitrites, lysinoalanine, trypsin blockers, thyroid inhibitors and enough toxins to severely limit its utility as feed for 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


cows, pigs or chickens. The commercial message in magazines, on television and radio and on the Internet for women is that more soy protein is better. If you don‘t eat enough, take supplements.

3.) Because the phyto-estrogens, plant estrogens, in soy are weaker than a woman’s own estrogen and are more rapidly metabolized, soy ingestion leads to diminished estrogen effect by blocking receptors. FALSE. 

One study that looked at nipple secretions, indicates "that prolonged consumption of soy protein isolate has a stimulatory effect on the pre-menopausal female breast, characterized by increased secretion of breast fluid, the appearance of hyperplastic epithelial cells, and elevated levels of plasma estradiol. These findings are suggestive of an added estrogenic stimulus from the isoflavones genistein and daidzein contained in soy protein isolate." 

Epithelial hyperplasia is considered a pre-cancerous state. Some oncologists treat it with five years of Tamoxifen.

4.) The isoflavone genistein, a plant estrogen linked to the presumed health benefits of soy, has been shown in a series of National Institute of Health-funded studies to stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent human breast-cancer cells implanted into laboratory mice. Oops. 

5.) For more than a decade there has been a media blitz extolling the virtues of soy. From a publication in the 80s to farmers by the John Deere Co. comes this:

"Advances in technology make it possible to produce isolated soy protein from what was once considered a waste product — the defatted, high-protein soy chips — and then transform something that looks and smells terrible into products that can be consumed by human beings. Flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers and synthetic nutrients have turned soy protein isolate, the food processors’ ugly duckling, into a New Age Cinderella."

Enough said. I am not expert in this field, and you can rest assured that the points I have presented are only a small piece of the conundrum. I can only plead that when corporate giants are calling the shots on health issues, consumers beware! Phyto-estrogen supplements and soy proteins are still being advertised to promote good health despite well designed studies that show the opposite. 

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Fee for U.S. passports will increase $12 March 8
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department announced Thursday that it plans to raise the fees for passports. Effective March 8, the fee for a U.S. passport will increase $12.

The increase comes as part of a revised schedule of fees for consular services provided by the department and by U.S. embassies. All of the new fees will take effect March 8. The last major fee increase was Aug. 19, 2002.

Now, the fee for new adult passports is $85 and renewals are $55. After the change, those fees will rise to $97 and $67. Passports for minors are slightly less.

Other fees slated to change in March include a surcharge of $45 to be added to the current fees for immigrant visas. 

There will also be an increase for the Diversity Visa Lottery surcharge. This charge is applied to all immigrant visa applications and will increase from $100 to $375

From Nov. 5 to Jan. 7, the State Department received over 6.3 million online entries for the Diversity Visa Lottery. The online registration process has aided the department’s ability to screen against duplicate and other fraudulent entries, the department said.

Bus operators urged to use tickets to foil robbers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bus operators have been urged to eliminate money and adopt some form of ticket system to cut down on robberies.

The Cámara Nacional de Transportes has been demanding an immediate solution to a wave of robberies that have plagued the industry.

Transport representatives have met with police and officials of the security ministry.

María Fullmen Salazar, vice minister of Seguridad Pública, told the bus operators that they could help by eliminating money that drivers carry in their sponge compartments. Most drivers have a piece of four-inch deep sponge some two feet square in which they have 

cut compartments for each denomination of coin and currency. They carry these with them when starting and leaving work.

The vice minister said that these sponges sometimes contain significant amounts of money and the use of tickets for passengers would help solve the problem.

She also told operators that they should report every crime so that police could have the information.

Robbers find buses to be easy targets. They not only take money from the driver but sometimes also from the passengers.

Tickets are in use for intercity buses. But on local routes the only tickets are those issued by the government to the elderly.

Country gets $16 million for Caribbean development
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Inter-American  Development Bank announced Thursday that is has approved a $16 million loan to Costa Rica. The loan will be used to help sustain a development program on the Atlantic coast.

The announcement stated that the program has the potential to promote tourism and economic development in areas that currently have high poverty levels and vulnerability to natural disasters.

The program is set to cover the country’s entire Caribbean coastline from Nicaragua to Panamá. This area is home to many of Costa Rica’s Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples, said the statement. 

The biodiversity-rich region has 32 protected wilderness areas and coastal zones with development potential.

The main goals of the program are to promote economic and social development projects, reduce risks of 

disasters, improve natural resource conservation and management, and strengthen governance at the municipal and regional levels.

The statement said the economic and social development component would foster diversification of production and job creation. The program will also finance the mapping of the flood-risk areas in key watersheds, the expansion of the region's network of hydro-meteorological stations, the development of early warning systems of impending natural disasters, the prevention of settlements in high-risk areas, and the construction of small-scale flood-control infrastructure.

The statement also noted that the bank has approved a loan to build a new international airport in Ecuador's capital city of Quito. The bank’s statement said the airport "will improve the country's overall business climate and its capacity to attract additional private investment." 

The current airport in Quito, Mariscal Sucre Airport, suffers from geographic constraints, said the bank.

Jo Stuart
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