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President Chinchilla decrees code for electrical work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new decree requires electrical professionals to stick to a code. The decree came out Wednesday in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The regulations apply to any additions of remodeling of any structure. And buildings that accommodate more than 100 persons, such as schools, hospitals and dance halls, have to be inspected every five years.

The electrical code was approved by the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos.

The code probably will not do much to eliminate the rats nests that pass for electrical systems in many residential structures. Fire fighters are quick to note that bad wiring is a major cause of blazes.

There are no requirements now in Costa Rica for licensing of electricians. Many handymen  do electrical work as well as carpentry and other manual labor. There is a Colegio de Ingenieros Electricistas, Mecánicos e Industriales. One of the conditions of the new decree is that the electrical provider has to
approve a new service and verify that a professional engineer says it meets requirements. The property owner also is responsible to make sure that work complies with the code.

There does not seem to be a standardized system of inspections by third parties as is customary in other countries. Nor is there a system of permitting by municipalities by those who would make changes in existing electrical systems.

Many lower-income residents in Costa Rica build their own homes of concrete block, steel beams and wood. Such homes can be built cheaply because the climate is mild. However, this style of construction usually means that electrical wiring will run on the surface, perhaps in a plastic channel. Frequently, wires simply are tacked to wood beams. Generally there is no inspection past the electrical meter.

In older homes from the 1930s and 1940s, owners have used creative methods to bring in enough power for modern appliances. The decree was by President Laura Chinchilla and the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio.

Polcie and protesters
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela
Police in riot gear engage in a shoving match with marchers Wednesday. Police tried to block the route to Casa Presidencial in Zapote, but
eventually the thousands of protesters easily overwhelmed the handful of officers. 
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Central Pacific sea floor
continues to rock and roll

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sea floor southwest of Dominical continues to be the site of seismic activity.

A quake estimated at from 3.7 to 4.1 magnitude took place there at 1:57 a.m. Wednesday. This is the same location where a 5.9 or 6.0 quake took place at 4:57 a.m. Monday.

Since then there have been at least 50 smaller quakes like the one early Wednesday, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, at Universidad Nacional in Heredia. Most could not be felt by humans.

The Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica said the quake early Wednesday was 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) southwest of Dominical on the central Pacific coast. The Red Sismológica estimated the magnitude at 4.1. The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica said it was 3.7.

There were four significant quakes Tuesday in the same area.  At 10 minutes after midnight there was a 3.8 quake. At 16 minutes after midnight a 3.3 quake hit. At 10:46 a.m. a 4.5 quake took place in roughly the same spot. Then at 11:12 a.m. Tuesday there was a quake on land at Damas north of Quepos with a 3.2 magnitude.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico said that subduction of the Coco tectonic plate was the cause of the quakes.

Also Tuesday, a 3.3 quake took place in the Caribbean  23.1 kilometers (about 14 miles) north east of Limón Centro.

Bandits shoot passengers
in robbery on public bus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two passengers suffered bullet wounds Tuesday night when three men stuck up a bus in Sabana Sur.

The bus originated in Santa Ana and had made a stop at Multiplaza in Escazú. It was headed to San José. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the men who had boarded as passengers pulled out guns and began threatening passengers. They took cell telephones and the money the driver carried, said the agency.

For some reason one of the bandits fired on the passengers and hit one in the shoulder and the other in the head, said the  Judicial Investigating Organization. Both victims were reported in stable condition at Hospital San Juan de Dios in San José.

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!
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Country plans major efforts to attract Chinese tourist groups
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will embark on major tourist efforts including investing $50 million in promotional campaigns in the United States and Europe. The country also will make strong overtures to China to attract wealthy tourists from there as  part of a general plan to boost tourism.

These were the revelations Wednesday by President Laura Chinchilla in a meeting with reporters at Casa Presidencial. The focus of the session was to announce that Copa Airlines will begin a new route from Panamá to Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia starting June 24. Flights will be Sunday and Thursday. Officials hope that this new route will provide a link for tourists from the south, mainly Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

These steps also were presented:

The central government also will move to revise the process of awarding visas to Chinese citizens so that tourists can come in groups from that country.

The country also will develop an accord so that agencies in China and Costa Rica will be able to help in the visa process. Now China is on a restricted list, and visitors from there require a formal consular visa to enter the country.

Costa Rica also will develop a promotional campaign in China to identify it to those wealthy Chinese tourists who might be traveling to the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and South Korea.

The Costa Rican aviation authorities will attempt to negotiate with Chinese officials to have air flights between both
countries. A Costa Rican delegation from Aviación Civil will visit China in May, officials said.

The Cámera Costarricense de Turismo has been lobbying for promotional efforts in non-traditional countries to boost the number of tourists. Ms. Chinchilla said that the goal would be to have from 4 to 5 percent growth in the tourism industry through 2014.

Officials also said that the country has 1,700 new hotel rooms as a result of a $325 million investment in projects. That is in addition to the 44,190 rooms that existed in the country. The new hotels and the investments are El Andaz de Hyatt in the Papagayo peninsula ($80 million), the Hyatt Place Curridabat ($16 million), Hotel Riu Palace ($85 million), Hotel City Express ($8 million), Hotel Park Inn San José by Carlson ($20 million), Hotel Courtyard by Marriott Aeropuerto at Juan Santamaría ($18 million), the Marriott Papagayo ($67.8 million) and the Corteza Hotel y Suites ($30 million).

Official also said that the proposed convention center is expected to be begun this year. This is a $30 million project which now is in the hands of the Contraloría General de la República to resolve appeals over bidding for design work.

In addition to the president, Allan Flores, minister of Turismo, and Pedro Heilbron, executive president of Copa Airlines, were at the press conference.

Officials also said that from this year until 2014 some $50 million of investment in promotional activities is planned. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo plans to hire public relations agencies in the North American market and in Europe to promote the country.

Chinese cars
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
These are some of the patrol cars donated by the Chinese government.
After the donation comes the need for spare parts and repairs
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although they say it's not right to look a gift horse in the mouth, the patrol cars that the Chinese government donated to Costa Rica are getting mixed reviews.

The cars were donated in early January to be used by the Fuerza Publica and Policia de Tránsito. This was the second donation of its kind. The first group was of 250 cars donated in 2009 by the Chinese government, according to the secuirty ministry.

Many of the cars from the first donation sit at shops across the country awaiting parts that need to be shipped from China. A Fuerza Pública mechanic working at the Consejo de Seguridad Vial shop in La Uruca said the process can be very slow when requesting parts from the Chinese car manufacturer, First
Automobile Works. The company primarily operates out of China, which is the biggest automobile market in the world.

The mechanic added that unlike the cars, the parts are not free. He said he preferred Toyota and Hyundai to the Chinese cars. There was a line of about five of the Besturn brand lined up in front of the shop. And there are many more parked in lawns and driveways at government auto shops around the country.
News sources have reported that more than half of the cars from the first donation are out of service.

Although the Besturn B70, the model of the car donated, has been given good marks by auto critics in 2011, sales of that model reportedly dropped off more than 40 percent. It was during this year that FAW won the bid with the Chinese government to have their cars be bought and then donated to Costa Rica, a press release from the company said.

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The crowd of protesters eventually overwhelms police officers who were attempting to block the way to Casa Presidencial. The Cruz Roja said there were  no significant injuries during the march.

A.M. Costa Rica/Sahahrazad Encinias Vela

Thousands march against small pay raise without success
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela, Andrew Rulseh Kasper
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A protest by public employees filled main streets in San José Wednesday, produced a shoving match when police closed off a street in Zapote and ended with negotiations that protesters described as unfruitful.

Union workers at the public docks in Limón also walked out and that facility was closed for about eight hours. About 70 percent of  teachers joined the protest and did not attend school Wednesday, according to the Ministerio de Educación Pública.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the focus of the protest, said she didn’t understand why the people have come out to protest and accuse the government. She spoke at Casa Presidencial, just several hundred yards from where protesters tangled with a police blockade. She was the person who issued the decree that gave all public workers a 5,000-colon monthly salary raise, something the protesters call insulting.

There were thousands of protesters on the streets. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, which promoted the protest and march, said there were tens of thousands.

The marchers gathered on Avenida Secunda in front of the Ministerio de Hacienda and then marched the estimated three kilometers toward Casa Presidencial in Zapote. There yards from Casa Presidencial police stood behind orange plastic barriers in full uniform, wearing bulletproof vests and riot helmets., They blocked traffic and the marchers from continuing down the street. Fuerza Pública's protocol is for officers not to carry firearms when they act as security for a strike, according to Pablo Bertossi, deputy director of the Fuerza Pública.

There was pushing, shoving, and verbal exchanges between the marchers and the police at one point. One woman, Rosio Layton Vergosa, was pushed by Fuerza Pública officers as she tried to walk through the barrier. She was let go after a few seconds  When she did pass through the barrier later, she was shaking and upset. Ms. Layton said it was the first time she had experienced such brutality by the police in all her years of participating in protests. She was part of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Another protestor and her 10-year-old daughter were pushed into the barrier by the crowd and shoved back by police officers. The protester, Nidia Acuño Quiros, said she is a teacher and that she took her daughter, Monserrath Chacón, to participate in the march. She said she was very scared and nervous when they were caught in the middle.

“I have always come out to the streets to speak my mind in a protest and this was . . . very sad,” said Ms. Acuño. “We only ask for social justice. We come unarmed with no machetes, knives, or guns. We came with our hands clean.”

This was the second protest of the year against the 5,000-colons salary increase to all government employees. That is approximately $10. The protest was organized by the public teachers union, the Asociación Nacional de Educadores, and joined by several other unions from Costa Rica for public employees.

According to the Ministerio de Educación Pública 70 percent of teachers in the country were absent from their classroom with the exception of the teachers in Liberia, Guanacaste, where 100 percent were absent for the day. At Buena Ventura Corrales public school in San José only six teachers showed up to their classroom, a reporter found. The missing teachers were at the strike. The students who had no teachers were sent home for the day.

José Luis Castillo, who represented Limón dock workers, said that  if President Chinchilla didn't change the economic situation quickly “then we will take to the streets. “This is only the beginning,” said Castillo. “We will meet again in the streets because that is where they are taking us.” He is with the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Junta de Administración Portuaria y. Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica.
child and cops
A.M. Costa Rica/Sahahrazad Encinias Vela
Monserrath Chacón, 10, appears bewildered as she is caught between a crowd of protests and a police barricade.

The protesters also were against President Chinchilla's proposed tax increases.Viria Solís, a member of Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, said she thought the raise in salary didn’t correspond with the cost of living in the country.

She also said it wasn’t correct for the lawmakers to get an increase in their salary that was greater than the public sector. Lawmakers are supposed to receive a 150,000 -colon increase to their salary May 1. That is approximately $300.

José María Villalta Florez-Estrada was the only lawmaker to participate in the protest from the beginning. He said to the crowds that he had officially declined salary increase. Organizers also said they have the right to negotiate salaries.

The government broke of negotiations that were stalled, and that is when Ms. Chinchilla issued the salary decree.

The first protest against the decreed salary increase was in January at the Ministro de Trabajo.

A few representatives of different unions eventually were allowed Wednesday to enter the Casa Presidencial and to talk with central government officials. The dialogue wasn’t fruitful, according to the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados Web site.

The president had scheduled a press conference on an unrelated topic Wednesday morning, so she was at Casa Presidencial when the marchers eventually plowed through police lines and then were allowed to approach the building.

Although the  Policía de Tránsito was under instructions to keep the roads open, marchers blocked traffic on the route. At one point they closed down the San Pedro traffic circle and caused detours and tie ups.

Fire at prison in Honduras may have caused 350 deaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A massive fire at a Honduran prison has killed hundreds of inmates, in what is believed to be one of the worst such disasters in Latin America. Officials say more than 350 prisoners are missing and presumed dead, although some of those who are unaccounted for may have escaped.

The head of Honduras' prison system, Danilo Orellana, says the fire broke out late Tuesday in the town of Comayagua, north of the capital, Tegucigalpa. He said authorities are looking into whether it was caused by a prisoner or an electrical short circuit.

Authorities say many of the inmates burned to death or suffocated in their cells.

Distraught relatives surrounded the prison Wednesday
morning, desperate to learn the fate of their loved ones. Some threw rocks at police and tried to force their way into the facility. Police fired tear gas in an effort to hold back the crowd.

The Organization of American States is sending a delegation to investigate. Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressed "deep consternation regarding the tragic events" and expressed solidarity with the government.

The Comayagua prison housed about 850 inmates.

Honduran prisons are notoriously overcrowded and are often the scene of riots and clashes between rival gang members.  The U.S. State Department has criticized Honduras for harsh prison conditions. The Central American nation's last major prison fire struck the town of San Pedro Sula in 2004. The blaze killed more than 100 prisoners.

San Ramón group plans seminar on Costa Rican, U.S. laws
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Community Action Alliance in San Ramón is hosting a presentation by a lawyer and an accounting specialist to discuss topics that are of concern to expats.

The lawyer is Roger Peterson, author of “The Legal Guide to Costa Rica.” The accounting specialist is Randall Zamora.

The organization said the goal of the seminar will be to alleviate any anxiety expats may feel resulting from information they may be hearing about changes in Costa Rican
laws and U.S. Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements. Among other topics, the seminar is expected to address the new tax on corporations, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, the new Costa Rican license plates and the use of immigration identity cards to make bank transfer.

The seminar is Friday at 10 a.m. in the upstairs conference room at the COOPENAE offices in San Ramón. Members of the organization can attend for free.

Non-members are asked to pay 2,000 colons, about $4.  Reservations are requested at or 8333-8750.

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Shark fins are falling out
of favor with young Asians

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For many centuries, shark fins were revered among Chinese globally as a delicacy fit for emperors and noblemen. As the fins are expensive, the Chinese saying “to be able to eat rice with shark fins” symbolizes one's wealth and prosperity.

But the delicacy is appearing on fewer menus in places like Kuala Lumpur.

The fins, which have a springy texture, is highly coveted and traditionally served as soup at Chinese weddings. It is widely perceived that dinner hosts would be seen as more generous and gracious to their guests by serving shark fin soup.

While the premium attached to shark fins is high, the younger and increasingly wealthier generation of Chinese are now rejecting them as the result of heightened awareness of the near-extinction of sharks globally.

When Melody Song, 25, had her wedding in a Chinese restaurant recently, shark fin soup was missing on the menu. Instead, she had asked the restaurant to replace the delicacy with crab meat soup.

“I have stopped consuming shark fins in recent years, as a result of being influenced by my cousin, who is an animal lover.  When I attended weddings in the past, I have declined to consume the shark fins soup, although I have been criticized by older people for wasting food,” she said.

Restaurants have also caught on this consumption trend, and more establishments are taking shark fins off their menus to appeal to conscientious young customers.

The Shangri-La Hotel chain is the latest to announce that it has stopped taking orders and serving shark fins and other endangered fish species, including the bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass.

Maria Kuhn, Shangri-La's director of communications said the hotel chain does not think it will lose customers despite its removal of shark fins off the menu. “With suitable alternatives readily available, we do not foresee a decline in business. We have received overwhelmingly positive support from this initiative,” she said.

She said guest comments in recent years have also indicated that in recent years, the younger generation would prefer to steer away from shark fins.

“While shark fin soup has been a tradition in Chinese cuisine for many years, specifically for celebrations such as weddings, worldwide trends have clearly demonstrated there is growing awareness of the damage the practice of finning does to the ecosystem,” Ms. Kuhn said.

The increasing awareness about the effect of killing sharks for their fins is apparently showing some results. According to a survey conducted by Bloom Association, a marine conservationist group, nearly 80 percent of people in Hong Kong think it is acceptable if shark fins are not served.

In January, Shangri-La joins several establishments to stop serving shark fins and other endangered species in its 72 hotels, most of which are located in Asia.

Shangri-La's decision came hot on the heels of similar bans made by the Singapore-based supermarket chain FairPrice and the French-based Carrefour in Singapore, that used to sell canned shark fins.

However, Southeast Asia still has an active shark fin market, namely in Singapore. Indonesia is also known to be among the largest shark fin exporters globally.

Shark fin soup, a dish consumed by Chinese emperors and noblemen since the Ming Dynasty between the 14th and 17th century, is among the most expensive foods in the world today. Prices ranging from $1,500 to $60,000 per fin.

Nevertheless, a Kuala Lumpur restaurant owner who only wanted to be known as Mr. Lee, says he will continue to serve shark fins to customers.

“Perhaps, when there is enough pressure exerted on the banning of shark fins, we will also stop serving it, our restaurants. But, for the meantime, we will continue to provide shark fins as there is still demand for it,” he said.

Lee said the supply of shark fins is still readily available, although the price fluctuates every now and then. “Since we are still able to obtain shark fins pretty easily, it makes business sense for us to continue to serve it to our customers, as the delicacy is considered premium quality,” he said.

The high prices of shark fins make its trade lucrative and hence, the supply of fins is still intact. According to Oceana, a marine conservation group, almost 10 million kilograms of shark fins were exported in 2008, as a result of killing of 73 million sharks worldwide.

The marine conservation group Shark Foundation say the battle to stop the practice of finning is a hard one, especially with the increasing wealth of China's middle class that has opened up a massive new market.

A spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund in Malaysia said it is heartening to see more establishments declining to serve shark fins.

“This has come about, thanks to the wide and repeated publicity given to this issue. Many NGOs have strongly condemned the practice of finning, and these initiatives have jointly convinced more establishments to follow suit. We hope this awareness will continue to spread,” he said.

Melody Song, however, expresses optimism for her stand on shark fins consumption.

“If there is no demand from people like me, there will eventually be no supply as well,” she said.

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Three steps to protect
tourists who visit here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your story in today's issue titled: "The ATV accident was just the start of the problems" is indeed a sad one.

The article reported that: "The agency [Cruz Roja] typically receiving two to three calls a month for similar accidents in the area he said." [emphasis mine] and "The problem tourists have with accidents is a continuing one. Mrs. Merritt is only the latest to face medical and financial problems while visiting here. In contrast, starting last year, Panamá decided to provide medical coverage to all visitors who arrived at its Tocumen international airport for the first 30 days they were in the country."

It appears logical to me that given the frequency of these accidents that certain precautions should be instituted both in terms of prevention as well as treatment, such as:

• The routes need to be examined and approved with "caution" signs where deemed appropriate;

• These tourist companies be mandated to provide accident insurance to all tourist participants and/or

• With the increase in landing fee imposed for tourists that the government provide the necessary insurance like that in Panamá.

This would be responsible tourism as well as smart tourism. One negative incident will nullify a lot of the tourism promotion dollars.
Dennis Jay

Situation had bad impact
on country's tourism

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The story about the ATV accident near Jacó and how the injured tourist was treated angered everyone who read it.  The ripple effect for something like this is far reaching and very, very negative for Costa Rica's tourism industry.  Wake Up Costa Rica!!  If you want tourists you need to change your laws and standards. 

In the United States, it is a criminal matter not to render care, especially to a critically injured person, until payment is received.  In Costa Rica, it's business as usual?

I shared the article with a number of people who have never been to Costa Rica.  I guarantee that they will never have any desires to visit Costa Rica, and I guarantee that they shared what they read with numerous people.

Phil Manuel
Playa Flamingo

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