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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 31                            Email us
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Sala IV issues split decision in Registro document case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court reaffirmed a citizen's right to governmental materials, but it also affirmed the right of the Registro Nacional to charge for some services.

That was the outcome of the appeal brought by the lawyer's professional organization against the Registro, which has instituted an online system to distribute official documents.

When the appeal was filed, the Registro shut down its online service rather than give away documents for free.

That was Aug. 1. Until then anyone with a credit card could purchase certifications, personarias that show who has the power to contract for a company, and other documents.  Before the electronic system was set up early last year, the Registro would dispense these documents on paper for a fee or someone could pay a notary to draw up the document.

Notaries and other lawyers had access to a Registro system that contained the data needed to prepare such documents. The Colegio de Abogados, the lawyer's professional group, filed the appeal when the Registro asked everyone to pay.

The Sala IV did not tell the Registro to shut down the system. But it did say that the Registro could not charge. Registro officials decided to freeze the
system even though frequent users had money on deposit.

The result of that decision created longer lines at the Registro and required persons seeking documentation to make a personal trip or pay a lawyer.  The decision hit hardest those living outside the metro area or away from the regional offices of the Registro.

In a significant statement as part of the decision, the constitutional court magistrates said this:

“A new right or right of the fourth generation exists which consists in the ability of citizens to access by electronic means the archives, registries and data bases in the power of public entities that ought to be developed in the framework of the information society and the growth of new technologies of information and communication.”

The decision said that information that was free in the past should continue that way. But the magistrates noted that the law that set up the Registro specified that charges could be made for some services.

As of Sunday night, the Registro had not restarted the online system that is the heart of its digital services. The decision that was made Friday was released the same day in a summary by the Poder Judicial. The full decision still is not available.

A.M. Costa Rica explained the digital system in detail last May HERE!

Pacific at Dominical continues to shake, rattle and roll
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A moderate earthquake took place early today about 30 kilometers off Dominical in the Pacific west coast.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica estimated the magnitude at 5.9. Sensor readers reported that the
quake was felt all over the national territory.

The 4:57 a.m. quake was in the same area as similar quakes over the weekend.  The Red Sismológica Nacional Facebook page had messages from all over the country, but no one reported damages.
See our story HERE!

Ban on public smoking moves slowly at legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed law that will ban smoking in public, including bars and restaurants, is slowly making its way through the legislature.

The measure would prohibit any kind of tobacco advertising, make illegal sponsorships by tobacco companies and specify new warnings for cigarette packages.

The measure is consistent with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first international public health treaty, which requires nations to apply a series of policies and measures aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and protecting people from secondhand smoke. 

Costa Rica ratified the treaty in 2008 but still has not passed the required legislation.

The Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales has been studying the proposal, # 17371. By signing the treaty and ratifying it, the country agreed to enact certain prohibitions on tobacco within five years.

The proposal says that it will be against the law to smoke in public areas such as bars, restaurants, dance clubs, shopping centers, and sporting events. If the law passes, there will also be new restrictions to the sale and packaging of the cigarettes. And
imported cigarettes will not be sold if they do not meet the new requirements.

There will also be a ban on all tobacco related advertisements and publicity. This includes a ban on any type of tobacco business sponsorship and the sale of tobacco branding souvenirs or give-aways. Of 35 countries in the Americas, 29 have ratified the treaty, most recently, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St. Kitts and Nevis, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

Argentina, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, and the United States have only signed the treaty, implying they will make good-faith efforts to ratify it and, in the meantime, will not undermine its objectives.  The Dominican Republic is the only country in the hemisphere that has neither signed nor ratified the treaty.

A.M. Costa Rica published a hemispheric report on the treaty Thursday.

In Costa Rica, the proposal has strong support in the health sector. Tobacco companies, of course, oppose it. Among other measures, the treaty calls for higher taxes on tobacco.

Quick legislative action is unlikely because lawmakers are engaged in prolonged discussions of President Laura Chinchilla Miranda's major tax increases.

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Teatro Nacional flyer for the midday program

Midday theater scheduled
again at Teatro Nacional

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Teatro al Mediodía debuts again this year with a dance performance Tuesday. This is the first of some 36 productions that will be presented this year.

The innovative programing has proved to be popular for lunch hour Costa Ricans and tourists.

The presentation Tuesday will be “Pendulum” by the Danza Abierta group of the Universidad de Costa Rica. The performance is based on the human relations among youngsters, said the Teatro Nacional, where the performances will be held..

The following Tuesday, the theme is the environment when  Árbol de Pie is featured. This is a group of young musicians whose objective is to present a message of protection of the environment, said the theater.

“Las 3 Marías” is scheduled for Feb. 28 with the dance presentation “Interruptus.” The group is composed of professional dancers.

The men's chorus “Bucaneers” is scheduled March 6. The following week no performances are scheduled because the Teatro Nacional will be participating in the Festival Internacional de las Artes 2012.

Burglars target pharmacy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Burglars visited a pharmacy in Desamparados late Saturday or early Sunday. An employee discovered the entry about 6 a.m. Sunday. The business is an outlet of the Farmacia Chavarría chain.

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
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Pacific quake zone produces a flurry over the weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A series of earthquakes took place in the Pacific this weekend at the point where the Cocos tectonic plate goes under the Caribbean. This is a highly active area.

One of the quakes was estimated at a healthy 4.8 magnitude and was listed among such events by the U.S. Geological Survey. It was one of three that took place at nearly the same point about 30 kilometers (19 miles) off the Pacific coast at Dominical.

The strongest of the three quakes was the first, and it took place at 2:43 p.m. Saturday, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, which estimated the magnitude slightly less at 4.5.

A second quake took place Sunday at 12:41 p.m. The magnitude was estimated at 3.1. Less than an hour later at 1:39 p.m., the third quake of 3.4 magnitude took place.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico reported another quake that took place Sunday. This one was farther west in the Pacific, about 194 kilometers (about 120 miles) southeast of Puerto las Playa de Golfito. The  magnitude was estimated at 4.5.

Another Sunday quake took place off the northern Pacific coast. That was at 5:03 p.m.  The epicenter was estimated to be some 67.2 kilometers (about 42 miles) west of Tamarindo. The magnitude was set at 4.4 by the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

An other quake took place further south and just five minutes

flurry of quakes
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica graphic
Arrow shows where the flurry of quakes took place.

later at 5:08 p.m., according to the Laboratorio. The magnitude was estimated at 3.7. The epicenter was about 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) off the coast and north of the Osa Peninsula.

That is roughly the same location as the three quakes Saturday and earlier Sunday.

There were no reports of damage from the sea quakes, and the earthquake watchers said most persons along the Pacific coast did not feel them. Most of the data comes from automatic sensing stations.

Search for missing French couple fails to produce any evidence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police initiated a large-scale search Friday for the bodies of a missing French couple after agents received information as to where their bodies might have been buried.

The search involved canine units and teams of agents combing a rural region near Quepos, called San Antonio de Damas. After beginning at 8 a.m. and searching until about 1:30 p.m. officials called off the search, vowing the investigation would continue but that no more large scale efforts were planned.

Agents from the regional Judicial Investigating Organization participated as well as several agents from San Jose. About 60 officers participated in the search that covered more than 50 hectares (about 125 acres), the agency said.

The search came after agents received confidential information about the possible location of the married couple. The
 informant, according to a judicial press agent, disclosed that the couple had been murdered and buried in the remote location after they were possibly tricked by fake tour guides. But agents would not release any further details or confirm further questions. No arrests have been made in connection with the couple’s disappearance.

The couple, Claude and Gerard Dubois, both 65, vanished while vacationing in Manuel Antonio Beach in March 2010. Afterward their credit cards were used by someone else and their passports were discovered in a trash can near Jacó, about 50 miles north of where agents found their car. Their rental vehicle had been vandalized and parked near Río Naranjo.

Only last month the French government and the family of the victims put pressure on agents to make headway with the case. The French ambassador here in Costa Rica requested permission to allow French investigators to look at the case and was outspoken about seeing results in the case.

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The next big holiday, Semana Santa, is just seven weeks away
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists and those with businesses in Costa Rica have about seven weeks to prepare for the next vacation, Semana Santa.

A substantial part of the public and private workforce will be on vacation, and there will be little chance of doing any public business from about March 29 to April 10. The dates are not set yet by the various public agencies, but public employees usually combine the two public holidays of Holy Thursday, this year April 5, and Good Friday, April 6, with vacation time to get a week or more off.

And then some agencies declare the entire week of Semana Santa to be a vacation period.

This is a great time for tourists because there are church processions all over the country that are highly photogenic. They are marking the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, Feb. 22, is Ash Wednesday, the start of the
 Christian period of fasting, penance and reflection. Only in Puntarenas is there the traditional pre-Lent carnival. The big ones are in Rio de Janeiro and in New Orleans, where the celebration is called Mardi Gras. Another carnival in Costa Rica is in Limón, but it takes place in October. The canton of Desamparados has had a successful carnival for several years on Dec. 27. That was the date of the discontinued San José post-Christmas carnival.

The tourism high season runs through Semana Santa or Easter week, and the religious celebrations are great subjects for photographers. For years, however, tourism operators have complained of the dry law that is enforced Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Many tourism hotels and restaurants got around the law by using paper cups and other techniques, usually with the approval of the local police.

Lawmakers passed in January on first reading a law to eliminate the prohibitions, but the law gives the municipalities the power to enforce a Holy Week dry law. So that situation still is up in the air.

Coffee grounds turn out to be a super filter for sewer gas
By the The City College of New York news staff

For coffee lovers, the first cup of the morning is one of life’s best aromas. But scientists have found that those leftover grounds could eliminate one of the worst smells around, sewer gas.
In research to develop a novel, eco-friendly filter to remove toxic gases from the air, scientists at The City College of New York found that a material made from used coffee grounds can sop up hydrogen sulfide gas, the chemical that makes raw sewage stinky.

Teresa Bandosz, a City College professor of chemistry and chemical engineering develops and tests materials that scrub toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide from air in industrial facilities and pollution control plants. Much like the grains of charcoal packed into the filter of a tabletop water pitcher, her filters use a form of charcoal called activated carbon.
Carbon producers already use materials like coal, wood, peat, fruit pits, and coconut shells to make filters. Professor Bandosz realized that the modern coffee culture could supply an abundant source of eco-friendly organic waste. But coffee grounds also come equipped with a special ingredient that boosts their smell-fighting power.
Caffeine, the stimulant that gives coffee its energy jolt, contains nitrogen. This element cranks up carbon’s ability to clean sulfur from the air, a process called adsorption. “We should not neglect the natural biomass that is rich in this element,” she and colleagues assert in the Jan. 30 issue of the
Journal of Hazardous Materials. The National Science Foundation and the Army Research Office funded the research.

Usually, making carbon adsorbents more reactive to toxins requires treating the original with a nitrogen-rich chemical such as ammonia, melamine, or urea, the main nitrogen-containing substance in mammal urine.  “All of these,” the researchers note, “significantly increase the cost of adsorbents.”
To make their new filter, Professor Bandosz and her colleagues carbonized old coffee grounds, essentially turning them into charcoal.
To do so, they prepared a slurry of coffee grounds, water and zinc chloride, a chemical activator.  The team then dried and baked the mixture at temperatures of up to 800 degrees C (more than 1400 F). The process of activation fills the carbon with scores of minute holes about 10-30 angstroms in diameter, roughly equivalent to 10-30 hydrogen atom-widths across. These densely packed pores are blanketed with nitrogen, perfect to capture hydrogen sulfide molecules passing through.

Hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) isn’t just a smelly nuisance for sewage plant neighbors. It can be deadly. Human noses are so sensitive to the rotten-egg scent of this toxin that it can overwhelm the sense of smell, Professor Bandosz explained. “When someone is exposed to high concentrations of H2S, the nose will stop detecting it,” she said. “There have been cases in which workers died of H2S exposure in sewer systems.”

Professor Bandosz suspects that the coffee-based carbon could also separate out other pollutants from the air and water.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Capriles will face Chávez
as opposition candidate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's opposition coalition says Henrique Capriles has won its primary and will be the sole candidate to challenge President Hugo Chávez in the October presidential elections.

Opposition officials announced Sunday that Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, earned about 62 percent of the vote, more than double his nearest rival, Pablo Pérez. 

The election board said 2.9 million people voted, a higher turnout than some had predicted, but still a small percentage of the pool of 18 million registered voters.

The 57-year-old Chávez, who is seeking a third six-year term in office, remains popular.

Opinion polls show Chávez leading Capriles, who is 39, in a prospective contest. But Capriles got a boost from a popular Venezuelan politician, Leopoldo López, who dropped out of the primary race last month and endorsed him.

Chavez underwent chemotherapy in Caracas and Havana last year and now says he is cancer-free. He was first elected in 1998 and then won elections in 2000 and 2006. 

Chávez is a vehement critic of the United States and an ally of Communist-ruled Cuba.

Shining Path rebel chief
reported captured in Perú

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Peru's president says an alleged leader of the Shining Path rebel group has been captured deep in the Peruvian jungle.

President Ollanta Humala said Sunday that Florindo Flores, known as Artemio, was shot and badly wounded before his arrest last week. Initially, Humala said Flores had died, but authorities now say the guerrilla leader is still alive.

The Maoist Shining Path rebels began their insurgency in 1980, eventually killing tens of thousands of people.  Violence declined sharply after its founder, Abimael Guzmán, was captured and convicted in 1992, but the rebels continue to carry out smaller attacks.

Attacks have occurred primarily in remote areas used to produce coca, the raw material used in cocaine.

Police in Brazilian city
vote to end their strike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police in one of Brazil's largest cities have ended their nearly two-week strike that unleashed a spike in murders.

Officers in Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, voted to end the strike Saturday. They had been demanding higher wages.

Officials say a crime wave claimed more than 130 lives in the Salvador metropolitan area during the strike.

Meanwhile, authorities say police may soon suspend their short-lived strike in Rio de Janeiro. Rio's residents were spared the violence that erupted in Salvador.

The strikes renew concerns about Brazil's readiness to host the World Cup in 2014.  Rio and Salvador are among the cities selected as venues for the soccer games. Rio will host the Olympics in 2016.

Europeans stage protests
against trade agreement

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of Europeans braved bitterly cold temperatures to rally against a controversial treaty intended to protect intellectual property.

Anger spilled into the streets of European cities, from Sofia and Vilnius to Prague and Paris to voice displeasure with ACTA, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

The treaty had been under negotiation for years, and countries like the United States, Japan and South Korea say it is needed to protect the rights of musicians, filmmakers and even clothing and pharmaceutical companies.  But in the past few months it has come under increasing criticism from young people in Europe who say it will lead to online censorship.

Some protesters, like Jan Hulek in Prague, also voiced complaints over how the treaty has been ratified.

"The main issue why I am here is because ACTA was accepted without people knowing it. We didn't know ACTA was going on, and there should be discussion before we accepted it. There wasn't," Hulek said.

Others, like Act Up Paris President Frederic Navarro, say the treaty's negative impact will be felt throughout the world.

"Eighty percent of Africans who have AIDS are treated with generic medicines made in India. If this agreement is signed, they won't have any access to generic medicines and will die while the pharmaceutical laboratories are making profits on our lives," said Navarro.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States signed ACTA this past October.  And more than 20 European Union members approved the deal last month.  But several countries, including Germany, have pulled back from officially signing onto the treaty as the protests have begun to intensify.

Last month, several of the world's best known Internet sites staged an online blackout to protest anti-piracy legislation before the U.S. Congress.  Critics at organizations such as Wikipedia and Google said the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act would censor the Web and threaten freedom of expression.

U.N. devotes a day to mark
free expression via radio

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The role of radio as a facilitator of education, freedom of expression and public debate will be celebrated as World Radio Day is observed for the first time today by the U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With the ability to reach up to 95 per cent of the world’s population, radio is the most prevalent mass medium which has the ability to reach remote communities and marginalized groups at a low cost, said the U.N. agency. It has also proven to be highly resilient as its scope and distribution platforms have grown with the development of new technologies, it added.

The observance of the day on Feb. 13 also marks the anniversary of UN Radio, which was launched in 1946.

However, the U.N. agency noted that worldwide, up to one billion people still do not have access to radio. In Nepal, for example, almost one fifth of the people live in areas without radio coverage.
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Two speedy boats ready
to patrol the Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas is putting into service two $200,000 patrol boats that are supposed to be capable of speeds up to 93 kph (about 58 mph). They have three 200-horsepower motors, and are designed to be interceptors.

The boats were presented over the weekend in Puntarenas. Each is 11.5 meters (about 38 feet) and can carry four persons.

The security ministry to which the coast guard agency is attached, said the boats would be used for fighting illegal fishing and drug trafficking.

Colombian drug smugglers typically use similar open boats with three outboard motors. They are capable of high speed and usually are first intercepted by helicopters.

The Guardacostas also received a catamaran donated by Mar Viva, the environmental group. It will be used to patrol the area around Isla de Coco.

Armed men invade complex

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men with guns invaded a complex of six apartments Saturday morning in Cartago. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the men forced the front gate about 11:30 a.m.

Only one occupant was home, agents said. He was pistol whipped. The apartments are occupied mainly by university students. The intruders broke into each apartment. What the men took has not been determined because all of the occupants have not been interviewed, agents said.

Newcomers seeking adventure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Newcomer's Club has begun an adventure group that organizes day and weekend trips. The group is holding its first meeting Tuesday at 9 a.m. The meeting will be at a guarded condo in Escazú. More information and directions can be obtained at 4030-1644 or by emailing

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Jo Stuart
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