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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 37                            Email us
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Anti-tobacco law gets first approval in legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Smoke 'em if you got 'em because soon you will not be able to do so. In public, that is.

The legislature suspended discussion of the president's proposed new taxes Monday to discuss and vote on an anti-tobacco law. The measure passed overwhelmingly, 46 to 4. This is the legislation that Costa Rica has agreed to pass to bring itself into conformity with an international treaty against tobacco that the country has signed and ratified. A second and final vote is likely this week.

The proposed law, as reported in the past, prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, office, shopping centers, public and private schools, automatic tellers, workplaces and, after a small change Monday, at bus and taxi stops.

The proposed law also prohibits advertising related to tobacco products. And cigarette packages have to have 50 percent of the outside space dedicated to health messages.

Also prohibited is the Costa Rican tradition of selling cigarettes one at a time. This is common at vendor stands in urban areas. When the measure goes into effect, the minimum purchase will be 10 cigarettes.

The measure also provides for health services to help those addicted to tobacco.

Also covered are smokeless tobaccos, such as snuff.

The measure also imposes a special tobacco tax, which is 20 colons for each cigarette, cigar or other type of tobacco. Some 60 percent of the tax will go to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to support anti-tobacco programs and cancer treatments. Some 20 percent will go to the Ministerio de Salud to support its obligations under the law. And 15 percent is earmarked for the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia. The Instituto Costarricense del Deportes y la Recreación gets 5 percent.

The average citizen or resident who is caught smoking in a prohibited place will face a fine of 15 percent of a base salary, which now is 316,200 
smoking woman
A.M. Costa Rica archives
Doing this in the wrong place would cost $94.

colons. So the fine would be a bit more than 47,000 colons or about $94.

Administrators of businesses where illegal smoking is found are subject to a fine of 50 percent of a base salary. That also goes for those using a method of sale, such as the Internet, where they cannot verify that the purchaser is an adult. The same fine is specified for anyone who sells cigarettes in quantities less than 10 and anyone who does so through a vending machine.

Business operators also have to put up and maintain posters that say smoking is illegal.

The stiffest fine, 10 base salaries or about $6,250, mostly concerns manufacturers and distributors. The fines cover those who may not place warning notices on cigarette packages, sell tobacco products in places where smoking is prohibited, such as bars and restaurants, and those who engage in advertising tobacco products.

The fines and prohibitions in the proposed law will not be immediate. The executive branch has six months from the publication of the law to draw up regulations. And all those affected by the law have 12 months after the regulations are published to conform.

Lawmakers declined Monday to assess the new tobacco tax in stages of five colons per year, despite concerns that higher taxes would lead to smuggling.

Here's a chance to snag a deal from Uncle Sam's attic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy has again put items up for auction, and the pick of the litter appears to be a refrigerated
wine coller
A good deal for ¢11,000
wine storage rack with an initial bid of 5,000 colons. Someone already had offered 11,000 colons.

Periodically the embassy consigns items to Rematico, an online auction site. The 145 items will be available for inspection Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the auction company's storage
facility in Pavas. The viewing is obligatory for those with a love of lamps,

The embassy had dozens of table and floor lamps up for bid. There also are generators, a washer and dryer, fire hoses, tires, computers CPUs, laptops and even assembled sets of computers with CPU, keyboard and flat-screen monitor. They are in the  25,000-colon
range, about $50.

There also is the important embassy machine: paper shredders. The embassy items take up eight pages on the Web site. Internet viewers cannot miss them. Each page carries a giant seal of the U.S. State Department.

Some earlier embassy auctions are legendary. The embassy used to conduct them without an intermediary. Some expats made spectacular deals, including a like-new beer keg cooler and dispenser at a price that would make the Congressional Budget Office wince. There even was a forklift at one auction.

The big ticket item this time is a smoke extractor of the type used over stoves in restaurants and commercial kitchens. Opening bid is 2 million colons or about $4,000. But there are no takers yet.

Since 2005 Rematico has been handling the excess embassy goods with little advertising. Bidding on this lot closes Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

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School sit-in generates
counter protest in Térraba

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police in the rural region near Buenos Aires are awaiting and hoping for peaceful resolution to a conflict between native protestors occupying a schoolhouse and angry residents demanding their removal.

About 60 of the native people have been occupying a small schoolhouse in the community of Térraba in the southwestern sector of the country since last week, demanding that the school's administrators hire native people as teachers, according to Fuerza Pública commander of that sector Edwin Miranda. The school is Academic Lyceum Térraba.

But early Monday about 200 residents of the community decided to disrupt the sit-in by the natives and broke through the closed schoolhouse door and provoked a physical confrontation. Reports said they are upset because they want normal classroom instruction for their kids to continue.

Miranda said about a dozen people were injured primarily due to rocks being thrown between the two crowds. He said 35 police were dispatched to the small community to quell the violence. As of Monday evening the protestors were still inside, and negotiations are taking place to try to reach a peaceful accord with officials of the Ministerio de Educación Pública. Miranda characterized the community as one divided by the conflict.

Our reader's opinion
Praise of Panamá fails
to answer some questions

Dear A.M.. Costa Rica:

I read Mr. Simonson's letter and was left with some questions. I think it is extremely demeaning to compare the life threatening injuries with multiple fractures and a very complicated rescue effort to his wife's, as he put it, bump on the head requiring 13 stitches. Most reasonable people would not compare the two injuries or the medical costs of those two incidents. Mr. Simonson did not say if the hospital in David that treated his wife was private or government-run. He paid for the service, but if I bumped my head and needed stitches, I could go to the hospital in Heredia and get medical attention for free (I do pay into CAJA as required by my residency and with my Gold Card I could receive faster attention . . .or so I have been told).

If I suffered life-threatening injuries, I would be at CIMA or Clinica Biblica, and the cost would be high but still a fraction of what it would be in the U.S. Mr. Simonson alluded to the fact that he did not take Panama's FREE insurance because he was too clever to get sick or have an accident. Is there a catch to their insurance there? I do not know of anyone who would not accept free insurance while visiting a foreign country, but he turned it down. Hmmm.

I am getting tired of hearing about Panamá. Costa Rica had to shut down the borders because of a very dangerous situation there with reports of serious police brutality (one report of a pregnant woman being thrown to the ground and all the police officers laughing about it).

Yahoo ran a story of five great and cheap places to retire, and a town in Panamá was one of them. It was not close to the ocean or Panama City so it sounded a little isolated. Several people replied saying that living in Panamá was dangerous and one went on to say that if you wanted to walk in Panama City you needed two bodyguards (his words). I do not know how expensive Panamá is but I have compared real estate listings on the Internet and see comparable houses with comparable listing prices.

The bottom line is, lay off Costa Rica. If you do not like it, do not move here. If you like Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, etc., etc., move there. But those of us who like it here need not hear all the crepe hangers bad mouthing what we like about it.
James Clarke

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
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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President gives ground in salary talks with public employees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla appears to have compromised with her hard line on public employee salaries. Labor leaders met with her for six hours Monday. The president was trying to deflect the threat of a general strike.

Among other stipulations was that the central government would not penalize protesters who march last Wednesday and skipped work, according to a draft of an agreement. A teacher union representative estimated that there were 25,000 persons in the protest. Other estimates were lower, but reporters found some school children were sent home because teachers did not show up.

The draft accord made public after the meeting contains some concessions by the central government. One demand that was not addressed in the accord was the one that Ms. Chinchilla shelve her proposed new taxes. That was not mentioned in the draft.

The draft of the accord did address four demands.

The government agreed to establish a working group made up of officials and labor leaders to reach an agreement in a week on salary increases. During that time a presidential decree over salaries will be suspended.

The draft promises some type of adjustment in the second half of 2012 based on the union demands to respect an agreement reached in 2007. That agreement promised at least a 1.9 percent salary increase and the incorporation of inflation percentages in any salary negotiation.
The government also agreed to set up a committee to develop a salary policy for public employees. The discussions would be based on the current state of salaries as defined by the International Labor Organization, the draft said.

Labor leaders also demanded that the government not present any proposed laws on public employees without their knowledge and discussions. The government said that with the agreement for a committee to discuss public employee salaries, this demand was moot.

The agreement was signed by the minister of Trabajo, Sandra Piszk and a labor representative. Union leaders will take the draft back to their members for discussion, said a statement.

Before the meeting with Ms. Chinchilla, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados said it was seeking a 4 percent salary increase.

Ms. Chinchilla issued a decree stipulating a 5,000-colon raise for all public employees except top officials, who would get nothing additional. That's about $10.

This was the decree that enraged the public employees even though salary negotiations were deadlocked.

The Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza was the primary force behind two protests. The biggest was Wednesday when union members marched from downtown San José to Casa Presidencial in Zapote.

Ms. Chinchilla has said that any pay raises would have to be with borrowed money.

U.S. teens, supporters and some of the beneficiaries of the soccer shoe drive pose with the hundreds of pairs the youngsters were able to collect and bring to Costa Rica.

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There will be no shoe shortage for young Jacó soccer players
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two U.S. 13 years olds have successfully conducted a soccer cleat drive to put the appropriate footwear on the feet of young athletes in Jacó.

The youngsters are Christopher Skurka and Nicholas Oviedo-Torres, both from Long Island, New York. Young Skurka's parents are owners at the Jacó Paloma Blanca condos, and both lads have visited Costa Rica. Both are avid soccer players.

“On Chris' last visit to Costa Rica, he noticed that most of the Costa Rican kids playing soccer were not wearing soccer cleats, and he realized that for many Costa Ricans, soccer cleats were just too expensive,” said an employee at the condo complex.   “Upon his return to New York, he shared this information with his friend, Nick, and together the two boys decided to
address the situation.  Already veterans of a very successful costume drive, the boys decided to have a soccer cleat drive.” 

The boys contacted their soccer club, the East Islip Soccer Club, and after informing coaches there of the situation, they  asked them if they would be able to set up collection boxes at the soccer fields for the soccer cleats, said the employee.  With the full support of the club president, John Davis, the boys were able to set up boxes, and the club parents were asked to drop off any soccer cleats in good condition for the children of Costa Rica, the employee added. 

The boys were able to collect hundreds of pairs of soccer shoes with cleats. And they were able to bring them in to Costa Rica as extra luggage. The high point was Friday when the cleats were distributed at the Escuela Central Lider in Jacó. Both the Jacó Rays soccer team and Daystar Properties, which developed the condos, supported the project.

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Emergency officials and quake experts say flurry is normal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Earthquake experts have characterized the flurry of quakes off shore in the Pacific as normal. That was the consensus after a meeting of emergency and technical experts Monday.

The national emergency commission called the meeting. The area some 30 to 40 kilometers west of Dominical has been the scene of dozens of quakes, one of them in the 5.9-6.0 range. The biggest was Feb. 13.

This is not unusual, said the experts, noting that similar flurries have taken place in 2008, in 2009 and in 2010. The latest flurry produced 11 quakes greater than 3.8 magnitude, they said.

Participating in the session were experts from the Red Sismológica Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica from the same university and the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico at Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

Although no one can predict earthquakes, some expats have been quick to voice their opinion on some of the social networks that the flurry of quakes is leading up to a major event.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias that sponsored the event would be the lead agency if a disaster did take place. Despite the inability to predict quakes, the emergency commission said later that Costa Rican residents should be prepared at all times because the country is highly active geologically.

The latest quake in the area was Sunday at 11:36 a.m. that was estimated at 4.8 magnitude.

The cause of the quakes is the subduction of the Coco tectonic plate under the lighter Caribbean plate. The Panama Block also contributes stress from the south.
quake locations
Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica graphic
 Red dot is the estimated epicenter of the Sunday quake.
 Yellow dots are quakes since Feb. 13.

Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos
y Atención de Emergencias graphic
Graphic shows the process whereby the Coco tectonic plate is being pushed down by the continental plate.

New research seen as a step toward predictions of earthquakes
By theStony Brook University news staff

Stony Brook University researchers have devised a numerical model to help explain the linkage between earthquakes and the powerful forces that cause them, according to a research paper published Friday in the journal Science. Their findings hold implications for long-term forecasting of earthquakes.

William E. Holt, a professor in the Geosciences Department at the New York university, and Attreyee Ghosh, a post doctoral associate, used their model to help explain the stresses that act on the Earth’s tectonic plates. Those stresses result in earthquakes not only at the boundaries between tectonic plates, where most earthquakes occur, but also in the plate interiors, where the forces are less understood, according to their paper, "Plate Motions and Stresses from Global Dynamic Models."

“If you take into account the effects of topography and all density variations within the plates – the earth’s crust varies in thickness depending on where you are – if you take all that into account, together with the mantle convection system, you can do a good job explaining what is going on at the surface,” said Holt.

Their research focused on the system of plates that float on the Earth’s fluid-like mantle, which acts as a convection system on geologic time scales, carrying them and the continents that rest upon them. These plates bump and grind past one another, diverge from one another, or collide or sink (subduct) along the plate boundary zones of the world. Collisions between the continents have produced spectacular mountain ranges and powerful earthquakes. But the constant stress to which the plates are subjected also results in earthquakes within the interior of those plates.

“Predicting plate motions correctly, along with stresses within the plates, has been a challenge for global dynamic models,” the researchers wrote. “Accurate predictions of these is vitally
important for understanding the forces responsible for the movement of plates, mountain building, rifting of continents, and strain accumulation released in earthquakes.”

Data for their global computer model came from Global Positioning System measurements, which track the movements of the Earth’s crust within the deforming plate boundary zones.

They also used measurements on the orientation of the Earth’s stress field gleaned from earthquake faults and reports from a network of global seismometers that provided a picture of the Earth’s interior density variations. They compared output from their model with these measurements from the Earth’s surface.

Ms. Ghosh and Holt said they found that plate tectonics is an integrated system, driven by density variations found between the surface of the Earth all the way to the Earth’s core-mantle boundary. A surprising find was the variation in influence between relatively shallow features (topography and crustal thickness variations) and deeper large-scale mantle flow patterns that assist and, in some places, resist plate motions. Ms. Ghosh and Holt also found that it is the large-scale mantle flow patterns, set up by the long history of sinking plates, that are important for influencing the stresses within and motions of the plates.

Topography also has a major influence on the plate tectonic system, the researchers found. That result suggests a powerful feedback between the forces that make the topography and the push-back on the system exerted by the topography, they explained.

While their model cannot accurately predict when and where earthquakes will occur in the short-term, “it can help at better understanding or forecasting earthquakes over longer time spans,” Holt said. “Nobody can yet predict, but ultimately given a better understanding of the forces within the system, one can develop better forecast models.”

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Federal judge denies
anti-whaling injunction

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Seattle district court has denied a preliminary injunction in the case of The Institute for Cetacean Research vs. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Shepherd said Monday.

This injunction was an attempt by the institute to halt immediately Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Judge Richard A. Jones made it quite clear that in addition to looking at Sea Shepherd’s activities in the Southern Ocean, the issue of whaling and its legality would indeed be at the heart of this case.

The judge acknowledged that Sea Shepherd is not a violent organization and does not intend to cause harm to anyone, Sea Shepherd said. Based on the declarations and videos submitted to the court Judge Jones declared “It is apparent to me the Sea Shepherd would prefer that people not get hurt. There is no evidence that they have ever done anything with the intention of hurting anyone.”

According to Sea Shepherd:

The court declared that it does have subject matter jurisdiction over this case based on the Alien Torte Statute and admiralty jurisdiction. The Alien Torte Statute allows non-U.S. citizens to file civil suits in U.S. federal courts for cases dealing with violations of international law. The court also expressed displeasure with the Japanese whalers for filing an injunction against Sea Shepherd while appearing to be themselves in violation of an injunction issued by the Australian Federal Court. This injunction prohibits the whalers from hunting whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, which the institute is clearly in violation of.

Judge Jones asked the plaintiffs why they believed they should be able to ask another court for an injunction that benefits them, when they are clearly in violation of an injunction themselves. The plaintiff’s answer to this was that because the ships move they can’t confirm whether the whaling fleet is in Australian waters and therefore in violation of this injunction. As Sea Shepherd crews can attest, the Japanese whaling fleet has been in direct violation of this court ordered injunction issued in 2008 and have certainly killed whales within the Australian Marine Sanctuary.

Sea Shepherd has filed a motion to have the entire case dismissed from the U.S. court system on the grounds that this case should be resolved in either World Court, Australian Court or through diplomacy. The court requested more time to sort through the specific issues and arguments before ruling on this motion.

Judge Jones has made it evident that if this case does go to trial that the court will hear arguments on the legality of whaling. “The plaintiffs insist that I am not supposed to consider the legality or illegality of the whaling activities. In my assessment, I believe it would be inappropriate for me to consider the balance of hardships or the public interest without considering the environmental consequences in this case. Now, it is clear to me that a substantial portion of the world believes it is very much not in the public interest to continue killing whales in the Southern Ocean.  It is also clear to me that the environmental harms, like the killing of hundreds of whales, are relevant in the balance of hardships. So please understand in this context I must consider this aspect of the facts,” said Judge Jones.

John Glenn' s historic flight
celebrated with seminar

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. space agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first time an American orbited the Earth.

John Glenn went around the planet three times in just under five hours on Feb. 20, 1962, in a mission designed to see how man would react to the space environment.

The former astronaut and ex-U.S. senator took part in a forum Monday at Ohio State University to mark the anniversary and discuss the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

He was critical of the decision to end the U.S. shuttle program that carried astronauts to the International Space Station.

"NASA is in a difficult position today, quite frankly.  It's sort of a hold-your-breath period for NASA as to what's going to happen, because the only way we go into space now, as it's already been mentioned here today, was to go over to Russia and we pay them.  We buy seats for them to put our people into space on the Soyuz.  And this comes at a real price because what we cannot do then is send our people up with all the equipment and everything they need to our own space station, which was developed just to do this kind of continuing research, the research in this new environment of space," he said.

American astronauts now rely on Russia to fly them into space while the United States helps fund the development of private sector spacecraft.  President Barack Obama's proposed budget for next year would double the amount of money allocated to the development program to $830 million.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden was a speaker at the forum Monday.  He and Glenn chatted via video link to three crew members of the International Space Station, with Glenn expressing amazement at how such a talk is now possible, considering how rapidly technology has advanced since the NASA program he was a part of decades ago.

Speaking at a NASA event last week, the 90-year-old Glenn said his experience on the historic 1962 flight is hard to describe.

"You know, the things that remain very, very personal that you can't really convey are the feelings of things and the actual feel of this and that and something and just the view that was different from what people had ever been able to see before and things like that," he said.

But he was not the first person to orbit the planet.  Nearly a year before Glenn's flight, Soviet Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin made a single pass around Earth. 

Glenn, who served four terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio, returned to orbit aboard a shuttle mission in 1998, becoming at age 77 the oldest person to fly in space.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 37
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Jo Stuart

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Latin America news
Three ocean incidents
result in as many deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacific waters have been dangerous for at least three persons visiting them in the month of February. So far, one Costa Rican drowned while swimming, an Englishman had a heart attack while snorkeling and an American returned to his residence after skin diving and died from breathing complications.

The Costa Rican, Giovanni Solano Obando, was 33 years old and vacationing with friends at Matapalo in Aquirre, Puntarenas, when he and two others companions were swept to sea by a wave Saturday evening, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in that sector reports. Two of the men were able to leave the ocean with help from others on the beach, but Solano drowned. His body was recovered shortly thereafter.

An Englishman identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization as Jonathan Fields also died from a water-related incident only a day earlier, Friday. Authorities say the man was snorkeling near Isla del Caño, about 15 miles off the Osa peninsula when he suffered a heart attack and died. He was transported by boat to a nearby hospital but could not be resuscitated. He was 74 years old, agents report.

Earlier this month, an American man, identified as 70-year-old John Rutledge, died Feb. 2 after SCUBA diving in Playas del Coco. He had returned to his residence after participating in the activity and began having difficulties breathing, according to Cruz Roja workers in Sardinal. A friend who was with Rutledge called for emergency help. Paramedics say when they arrived Rutledge could not breath so they transported him to the Sardinal clinic. He was dead upon arrival.

Police detain 300 persons
during Puntarenas carnival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officials said that their officers detained 300 persons as of Sunday during the Festejos de Puntarenas or Puntarenas carnival.

Some 157 persons were detained for drug possession, said  Juan José Andrade, director general of the police agency. Officers were able to confiscate eight firearms and 12 knives, he said. Five persons were held as immigration violators. Police also confiscated marijuana, crack and cocaine, he said.

The preventative effort was done in conjunction with the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Sacks in car raised suspicion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers say they stopped a vehicle on Ruta 32 because the driver had sacks stacked on the rear seat and because the Land Cruiser had a strong smell of marijuana. The result was the confiscation of 243 kilos of the weed. Detained was a León XIII resident who was driving the vehicle. Officers said they confiscated a .40-caliber pistol.

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