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(506) 223-1327     Published Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 42          E-mail us    
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BBG Communications cuts hotels in on deal
California company continues socking tourists

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Abby Pariser's daughter went to call the United States from the pay phone by the reception desk at Hotel Terraza del Pacífico in Jacó, both the hotel workers at the front desk and the operator she talked to on the phone told her the call would cost $1 per minute with no extra fees or surcharges.

When the Long Island, New York, woman

Watch out for this
received the bill from her bank, her debit card had been charged $336.20 for 68 minutes of phone calls provided by a San Diego, California, company called BBG Communications, Inc.

This is not the first time a tourist to Costa Rica has been charged hundreds of dollars by the company for phone calls that the
tourist presumed were much cheaper.  In May 2005, A.M. Costa Rica reported on another New York woman who was a little surprised when her daughter made an 11-minute call home from Arenal and again from Monteverde and was charged $69.88.  In all, the teenage daughter spent $324 for seven calls home, a total of 46 minutes connection time.  The owners of the bed and breakfast where the girl stayed, the Dragonfly Inn, immediately removed the phone.

Hotel Terraza del Pacifico was not willing to take such measures.  Iysen Quesada, a manager at the hotel, said that BBG has been a client with the hotel for three or four years and that Mrs. Pariser's complaint was the first he had received.  In addition, Quesada has several friends who also own hotels in Jacó and use BBG's service and have never had complaints, he said.  Quesada confirmed that the hotel can receive up to 15 percent commission on calls from the phone.  In the case of Mrs. Pariser's daughter, the hotel would have made $50.43 in commission at that rate.

Noemi Olmos, manager at BBG Communications, said that the charges can vary greatly depending on the credit card charge and the cost of operator assistance to connect the call.  However, both she and Quesada said they were looking into Mrs. Pariser's situation and willing to give her money back if erroneous charges were made. 

How not to get stung

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists have one very easy method they can use to avoid excessive long-distance charges.  Phone cards issued by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the national telecommunications monopoly, are available from small stores and street vendors throughout the country. 

The cards cost 500 colons, 1,000 colons, 3,000 colons and 5,000 colons – the last about $10.  To call internationally, it is necessary to buy a 3,000 or 5,000 colons card. Otherwise the call will last for only a couple of minutes.  But a 5,000 colon card will last approximately a half-hour in calls to the United States.

In this way tourists can limit telephone expenses.
 

BBG Communications has an unsatisfactory rating according to the Better Business Bureau of San Diego due to a pattern of complaints.   

The bureau processed a total of 277 complaints about the company in the last three years, it said. Of the 277 complaints in the last 36 months, 95 of those were closed in the last 12 months, the bureau said. 

The company has resolved some complaints presented by the bureau. However, some complaints remain unresolved, it said. Complaints include extremely high rates for international phone calls and customers not being properly informed about rates prior to making the phone call, the bureau said.  In addition, the bureau's files show a delay in responding to consumer complaints brought to the company's attention by the bureau, it said. 

The company agreed to work with the bureau in eliminating the pattern of consumer complaints by bringing their customer service department in house and making sure that all carriers are aware of their billing procedures, policies, and rates. However, It does not appear that any changes implemented by the company have had an impact on the complaints received by the bureau, it said.



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 42


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Gasoline prices dip
as market cost drops


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of gasoline is moving again. This time it is going down.

Fluctuations in the world price mean a decrease of between 5 and 5.5 percent for gasoline here, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos.

The authority said it had sent the new prices to the Gaceta official newspaper for publication. The prices take effect the day after publication.

Regular gasoline drops 26 colons from 466 colons a liter to 440, 5.58 percent. Super drops 25 colons from 488 to 463, some 5.12 percent.

Diesel goes from 335 a liter to 313, a 22-colon drop or 6.47 percent.

The price of liquid gas decreased about 2.85 percent

Plane found abandoned
is possible drug craft


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents with the security ministry seized an abandoned single-engine plane near Corredores that they suspect was used to transport drugs into or out of the country. 

Agents found the plane on a runway at Cangrejo Verde in the Laurel district in the Canton of Corredores after an anonymous call to the security ministry's drug hot line tipped the agents off, they said. 

The plane was a single-engine Cessna 210 with an altered registration, agents said.  Inside, agents found two bags of objects from Mexico as well as two firearms, agents said. 

Although no arrests have been made, the Fuerza Pública in the area as well as the Policía Control de Drogas from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública are searching for the passengers who officers suspect are hiding out somewhere nearby. 

The plane was in perfect condition, officers said.  Monday afternoon, agents accompanied the plane to the headquarters of the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry at the Juan Santamaría airport.  There experts will subject it to a number of tests to determine the plane's exact origins, officers said. 

Officers did take drug dogs through the plane and the dogs smelled the residue of a past narcotics shipment, agents said. 

A few weeks ago, drug agents seized a similar plane in Sixaola, Talamanca, on the southern Caribbean Coast, agents said. 

Perspectives of 1856 war
is topic of history seminar

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría is organizing a history lesson to coincide with the 150th commemoration of a national campaign against the filibusters in 1856 and 1857.  

Víctor Hugo Acuña is scheduled to lead the conference.  He has dedicated his career to studying and comparing the memory of the war from the perspective of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the United States.  

Hugo's analysis of the perspective of 19th century historians began in 2004 and, according to him, his goal is not to come up with a new explanation of the war, but to establish a history of the historians by understanding the time and environment that formed different outlooks on the war. 

The event takes place Thursday at 7 p.m. at the museum.  For more information, call 441-4775 or 442-1838.

Onions being harvested
in Santa Ana and Escazú


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

During the first three months of the year, the onion plantations in Santa Ana and Escazú buzz.  The harvest this year should produce some 1.2 million kilos of the vegetable, all of which will be consumed in Costa Rica, said the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

“The truth is that the onions of this region are dryer, with a more exquisite flavor as a result of their extra hours in the sun,” said José Martí Jiménez, of the agriculture ministry in Santa Ana. 

In Santa Ana and Escazú nearly 50 small farmers produce six varieties of onion on some 89,000 acres.  Planting begins between September and December and the harvest takes place between December and March. 

Costa Rica consumes 2,200 metric tons of onions per month.  Onions are also grown in Cartago and Zarcero and also in Guanacaste. 

Orchid exhibit to be in Paraíso

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Unión de Mujeres Productoras de Orquídeas is organizing another exhibition of the prized plants in Birrisito, Paraíso de Cartago.  The exhibition will take place Saturday and Sunday.

The activity will take place in Rancho Azul and several of the orchids will be on sale. The exposition will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and entrance is free.  

Several artisans and typical food vendors are scheduled to accompany the orchids. 

Dogs have their day Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is the ninth annual Festival de Canes at the Plaza de Deportes Roosevelt in San Pedro.  The event is the largest organized by the Asociacion Nacional Protectora de Animales, and dogs from throughout the Central Valley will drag their owners to the event.

The association is also asking persons who are willing to volunteer at the event.  For more information, contact Gisela Vico at gvico@adoptame.org.
      



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 42


 

Antonio Álvarez Desanti and Óscar Arias Sánchez are interviewed by the television and radio reporters.

A.M. Costa Riuca photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas

International visitors flock to president-elect's house
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The de facto president-elect, Óscar Arias Sánchez, is hosting a stream of visitors to his home in Rohrmoser as he considers the form his government may take.

Among the visitors Monday were the former chief executive of Toyota Motor Corp., Shoichiro Toyoda, and the German vice minister of economic cooperation and development, Erich Stather.

Arias noted that Costa Rica has strong ties to Japan and that the probability of a free trade treaty with the United States gives the country strategic importance for foreign business operators.

Also visiting Arias was Antonio Álvarez Desanti, the presidential candidate for his Partido Unión para el Cambio. Álvarez was a likely candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional until Arias won the legal right to seek a second presidential term. That's when Álvarez bolted and formed another party. Other former presidential candidates have visited Arias in the last few days as his victory appeared secure.

The Toyota executive and his wife had lunch with Arias for about three hours. Toyoda now is honorary chairman of the multinational automobile manufacturer. After he left, Arias was asked if the company would build a plant to manufacture cars here. Arias said he did not think such a plan was viable and that Toyoda mainly visited to extend his congratulations.

Arias noted he had been to Japan several times and that Toyoda has served as an honorary consul for Costa Rica for 22 years. Arias emphasized that the proposed free trade agreement with the United States would make Costa Rica a handy location for Toyota's Latin American sales efforts. And he speculated that a free trade agreement with Japan is a possibility after the country negotiates one with the European Union.

Toyota has 13 manufacturing plants in the United States and Canada. Toyoda, who holds a doctorate in engineering, has been with the company since 1952 and became managing director in 1961. He was chairman from 1992 to 1999.

The German visitor, Stather, led a delegation of development officials from his country, including Wolfgang Schmitt, director general of the German Agency for Cooperation.

The agency has invested $200 million over the last 40 years. Current projects include supporting road improvements at the canton level, water improvement for 35 communities, a line of credit for improving municipal infrastructure, and a line of credit for small and medium enterprises.

Álvarez said he was there to congratulate Arias and said the presidential election was legitimate and the  Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones had done a good job. Álvarez also criticized those who would destabilize the country with strikes and stoppages.

He referred to the Partido Acción Ciudadana which has flooded the Tribunal with objections to the elections. The party's candidate, Ottón Solís, lost by a mere 18,000 votes of 1.6 million cast.

Shoichiro Toyoda, wife, Hiroko, and Arias


Álvarez said he supported international investment and that the new government needs to open the doors to good foreign investments and treat them equal to Costa Rican firms. The country also needs to enforce security by strengthening the legal norms, particularly in the areas of private property, intellectual property and commercial transactions.



Rodrigo Arias Sánchez and president-elect

Brother to be chief of staff

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister for the Presidencia will be Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the brother of the president-elect, according to a spokesman for the Arias organizational team.

Rodrigo Arias managed the winning campaign for his brother. His appointment was confirmed by Luis Fernando Villalobos, press spokesman.

The minister of the presidency is equivalent to the position of chief of staff in the U.S. White House.


Iowa producers coming here in search of new trade treaty markets
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State of Iowa is sending a trade delegation here for four days to drum up business in anticipation of approval of the free trade treaty.

The State of Indiana had a similar delegation here in mid-January.

Among those coming are representatives of John Morrel & Co., the big meat packer. Another firm, Big River Resources, L.L.C., is a distiller of ethanol, an important product of corn agriculture in the wake of high prices for petroleum.

Another firm, Al-Jon Inc., designs and makes equipment for junk and garbage disposal.

Iowa is a strong agricultural state with five pigs for
every resident. The state produces 25 million pigs each year. In addition to pork producers, soybean producers, beef producers and the corn producers will have representatives in the delegation.

The visit is being sponsored by the agricultural division of the U.S. Embassy.

Visitors with the Indiana delegation said that U.S. producers generally can raise food products cheaper than Costa Rican farmers. That is because of the size and efficiency of the U.S. agriculture. The free trade agreement expands markets by eliminating import duties on 90 percent of products immediately and the remainder over a period of years.

Costa Rica has not ratified the free trade treaty yet, and concern for the future of agriculture here is one of the reasons.






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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 42




U.S. concludes free-trade agreement with Colombia
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States has reached a free-trade agreement with Colombia, the second one with an Andean country, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative  has announced.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said Thursday that the free trade pact would create export opportunities for both sides.

"The agreement will help foster economic development in Colombia and contribute to efforts to counter narco-terrorism, which threatens democracy and regional stability," Portman said.

Two-way trade between the two countries amounted to $14.3 billion in 2005.  Colombia is already the second-largest Latin American market for U.S. agricultural goods.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters in a  teleconference that the trade pact would provide U.S. exporters duty-free treatment in Colombia for all goods over time, protections for investors and intellectual property owners, expanded market access for services, and strong protections for workers' rights and the environment.

Under the Andean Trade Preferences Act nearly all imports from Colombia and other Andean countries already receive duty-free treatment in the U.S. market.  With the act scheduled to expire later in 2006, however, a free trade pact would continue such treatment for Colombia.

Only sugar from Colombia would still face limits in the U.S. market under the agreement.  Under a tariff-rate quota, Colombia could export 50,000 metric tons of sugar at a relatively low tariff, the level increasing 1.5 percent a year, Schwab said.  Any more exports would face prohibitively high tariffs.
Colombian tariffs on all U.S. agricultural exports would be phased out over time, many over 15 years but over 19 years for rice, their most sensitive product, according to Schwab.

Colombia would provide immediate duty-free treatment for other U.S. agricultural goods including high-quality beef, cotton, wheat, soybeans, soybean meal, and key fruits and vegetables, she said.

In December 2005, the United States concluded negotiations for an FTA with Peru.  Schwab predicted the United States and Peru would sign that agreement in April and Congress could consider whether to approve it in the second half of 2006.

She said Congress could consider the Colombia FTA two months or so after the Peru pact.  She said lagging negotiations with Ecuador are scheduled to resume in March.

Trade negotiations with the three countries for an Andean Free Trade Agreement began in May 2004, with Bolivia at one time participating as an observer.  Schwab said that successive pacts with Peru, Colombia and Ecuador would amount to the same thing.

Portman has testified to Congress that the administration is seeking to conclude several pacts before the president's trade negotiating authority or fast track, expires in July 2007. 

Under fast track, Congress restricts itself to approving or rejecting a negotiated trade agreement within strict time limits and without amendments.

Negotiations are scheduled to start soon with South Korea and are under way with Ecuador, Panama, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the five countries of the Southern African Customs Union.  Portman has said the United States is interested in negotiating a trade agreement with Malaysia as well.


Customs agents grab tons of rare fossils believed taken illegally
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have seized nearly eight tons of rare fossils that have significant scientific value and were believed to have been smuggled out of Argentina.

The items were seized at the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase in Arizona earlier in February after agents received information that a vendor was offering fossils illegally smuggled out of Argentina.

Included in the seizures, the agency said, were three dinosaur eggs valued at more than $4,000 each.

Fossils are protected by the Argentine government
 and removing them without government permission is against the law.

"These prehistoric treasures rightfully belong to Argentina and the Argentinean people," said Roberto Medina, special agent-in-charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations in Arizona.  "It is shameful that someone would plunder specimens like these from another nation simply to pleasure hobbyists and line their own pockets."

ICE said no arrests had been made yet and the investigation was continuing.

In all, Tucson agents seized an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 pounds of fossils, including the three dinosaur eggs.  






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