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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, March 18, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 55          E-mail us
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Tuirrialba-Siquirres festival is one of many events
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather institute is predicting a windy but mostly dry weekend for the Festival Nacional de las Artes in Turrialba and Siquirres. That is one of the many events expats can choose.

More than 2,000 artists will produce 350 events over the two-week run of the festival.

Turrialba is just 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of San José and the two festival towns are just 45 kilometers (28 miles) apart.

President Laura Chinchilla will inaugurate the event at 7 p.m. today in the Boulevar Jorge de Bravo in Turrialba and later deliver a speech at the botanical gardens of the Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza nearby.

The festival has a Web page with the schedule of events.


Puriscal is in the second weekend of its festival. A tope or horse parade is planned for Sunday. Friday there is the Festival Ranchero at 7 p.m. and a concert Saturday at 8 p.m. The horse parade is at noon Sunday with bull fighting a la Tico at 5 p.m. There also is a bull fighting event Monday night. These are the events where groups of men and women share the arena with a fighting bull and with predictable results.

More bullfighting

For those who cannot get enough of bullfighting a la Tico, the Cruz Roja is sponsoring an event Saturday at the rondel at the Zapote fairgrounds in east San José. This is a benefit for the rescue agency. The sponsorship is a bit ironic because it is the Cruz Roja that usually attends those beaten up by bulls at similar events all over the country. The entry fee is 7,000 colons or about $14 to watch the mayhem.

Gallo pinto

Sunday is the Día Nacional del Gallo Pinto 2011 and the traditional Costa Rican dish for 5,000 persons will be prepared in Paseo Colón. The sponsor is the Maggi food company that also will be launching its new Sazón y Amor spice for gallo pinto, the rice and bean dish. The company also will be handing out samples. The food will be ready about 1 p.m., the company said, but raffles and other events begin at 10 a.m.

Benefit for Japan       

The Japanese Embassy, the Asociación Japonesa en Costa Rica and the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud are organizing Día Arigato: Ticos por Japón, a fundraiser for the disaster-struck nation.
Cruz Roja bull
Cruz Roja bull: Would you get in the ring with this guy?

It will be Sunday from 11  a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura just east of Parque España on Avenida 7 in San José.

Japanese cuisine will be available as will displays of other Japanese arts, such as calligraphy. There also are concerts planned by national groups including the Orquesta Sinfónica of the national music system from Desamparado and the Big Band. Entry is free.

The money collected is to go to Japan via the Cruz Roja.

Symphony orchestra

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional opens the new season tonight at 8 p.m. with a repeat performance Sunday at 10:30 a.m., both in the Teatro Nacional.

The invited conductor is Daniel Nazareth, an Indian accountant turned conductor who worked with Leonard Bernstein and Seji Ozawa. The guest violinist is Erez Ofer, who has been first violin with a Cincinnati, Ohio, quartet since 2002.  Ravel's "Bolero" is on the program

Poás festival

North of Heredia the communities of Fraijanes, Poasito and Varablanca, plus the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás have joined together for a fiesta that starts today. This is the area that was hard-hit by an earthquake Jan 8, 2009, and has been hard hit with recovery efforts and difficulty with tourism since. The event is in the Centro de Atención Integral Turístico in Poasito.

Most of the stands will be by local groups promoting their tourism, such as trail rides, canopy tours, sport fishing and visits to the volcano.

Another Saturday in the city

Saturday there will be more activities and music at parques España, Morazán and the Centro Nacional de la Cultura. This is the fifth edition of ¡Enamorate de tu ciudad! that is designed to draw residents to the parks. The event opens at 11 a.m. and runs until 8 p.m.

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High wind alert issued
for valley and Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national weather service has issued a wind warning and said gusts Thursday reached as high as 65 kph (40 mph) in the Pacific and 60 kph (37 mph) in the Central Valley. Gusts in the mountains may have been stronger, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional in a special bulletin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The bulletin said that winds in the north Pacific might reach as high as 80 kph (50 mph) and up to 70 kph (43 mph) in the Central Valley.

The weather bulletin said that the strong winds were likely to last the entire weekend into next week and might intensify.

The strong winds are a product of a high pressure area over the Gulf of Mexico, said the weather institute.

The institute said the major dangers were with unstable trees, electrical wires and with fires getting out of control. The bulletin suggested that residents start no fires. The bulletin also suggested that small boats stay in port due to turbulent seas caused by the wind.

Strong winds can do damage to rooftops and cause trees and other structures to collapse. However, if a forest fire starts, the wind can whip it into a fury.

Data privacy bill OK'd
on its initial reading

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature passed on first reading Thursday a proposed law that would keep secret personal data. This includes telephone numbers, photographs and home addresses.

Casa Presidencial praised the measure as a boost for foreign investment because business people can keep their information secure.

The proposed law targets credit reporting agencies and sales people who would use information to contact potential customers.

In effect, the proposed law would create new rights for individuals, but it would not affect the ability of the government to use its own data bases for investigative reasons.

To become law, the measure would have to be passed a second time and signed by President Laura Chinchilla. who supports the measure. The second approval is likely next week.

Flagrancy courts ordered
for five new locations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial said Thursday that flagrancy courts would be opened up in five new locations. They are Liberia, Santa Cruz, Pococí, San Carlos and Corredores.

The Tribunales de Flagrancias handle cases where criminals are caught red-handed or nearly so. Such courts now exist in  Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Puntarenas and Limón as well as the initial one in the Tribunales de Goicoechea.

The extension of the system was authorized by a vote of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

The system is called the Programa Nacional de Flagrancias,  planners in the Poder Judicial said that the initial courts so far have given a good account of themselves.

The new courts will allow cases to be resolved in a few days or weeks when the crimes are simple, said José Manuel Arroyo, the court magistrate in charge of the program.

In each of the new locations, the Poder Judicial is assigning an additional judge, an additional prosecutor and an additional defense lawyer as well as an assistant. The new courts are expected to be in operation in July.

The flagrancy courts generally handle cases like robbery or crimes against property which are clear cut. A standard criminal case may take months or years to resolve with a hearing and a full trial.

By next year, the court is expected to extend the flagrancy concept to the rest of the country.

Highway work beginning
on roads near Cinchona

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's road agency said Thursday that it had begun highway repairs in the vicinity of Cinchona, the community that was destroyed by an earthquake 27 months ago.

The announcement comes after the Cámara Nacional de Turismo said that failure to repair the damaged stretch of road was hurting tourism in the northern zone.

Two stretches, one of seven kilometers (a bit over four miles) between Tambor and Vara Blanca and 10 kilometers (about six miles) between Vara Blanca and Cinchona are being leveled and drainage systems are being installed.

The work is being supervised by the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

Residents of the area spent upwards of $200,000 for heavy equipment to repair the road, but the tourism chamber said only large trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles could use the stretch. The road agency will level the sections and put down gravel.

During the earthquake sections of the highway fell into the adjacent valley taking vehicles too.

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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Grocery survey shows buyer better be alert in stores
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The phrase 'It pays to shop around" is a gross understatement if the data collected by the country's consumer agency is taken into account.

The survey of basic foodstuffs and supplies uncovered differences in price up to 258 percent between stores. The agency also said that there did not seem to be any geographically based variables.

At Maxi Bodega in both Liberia and Desamparados the surveyors found a 250-gram package of whole wheat spaghetti priced at 200 colons or about 40 cents. A similar brand of the same quantity was 715 colons at Súper Corona in Pérez Zeledón. That's $1.44 at the current rate of exchange.

Even something as basic as a kilo of first quality potatoes varied from 670 colons at Diboyco in Turrialba to 1,953 colons at Más x Menos in Alajuela. That is from $1.36 to $2.60, a difference of 191.49 percent, said the survey report.

Identical articles, such as toilet paper and spaghetti, varied as much as 73 percent between stores, and even papaya varied by as much as 203 percent, the survey showed. There

were variances among the stores of the same chains, too, said the report.

White sandwich bread was 746 colons ($1.51) in Más x Menos in Hatillo, but in Súper Plaza Liberia the same product under a different brand was 1,850 colons ($3.73).

The surveyors compiled a basic basket of 38 typical products and found that the price varied from 70,002 colons ($141.53)  to 86,855 colons ($175.64) depending on the location and the brand. That is a difference of $34.11.

The price study took place from Feb. 7 to 16. The Ministerio de Economía, Industry y Comercio conducts a series of studies each year and also looks for technical errors such as failure to provide labels in Spanish.

In this study the ministry said that 59 pricing errors were found, including 22 cases of overpriced rice, a Costa Rican staple. Costa Rica also is subject to a price established by the state, so the locations where the prices were higher are facing sanctions.

The ministry said that its Commission Nacional de Consumador has received 31 formal complaints as a result of the study. Fines can be as high as 220,000 colons or about $445.

Sometimes Caja medical care shines and sometimes not
Jo Stuart is taking a week off. In this space she has generally praised the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social for the medical service she has received.

Ms. Stuart has been lucky enough and personable enough so that she easily makes good contacts at Caja hospitals and clinics. She believes in state-supported medical care, and from her experiences she is justified in doing so.

This column is really a report on the good and the bad in the Caja system as experienced by staffers of A.M. Costa Rica and family members.

At worst, the Caja system is inconsistent.

For trauma care, there is nothing better. If you look down and find a knife in your chest, Hospital Calderón Guardia or Hospital San Juan de Dios are the places to go. They have a lot of practice. For major accident and trauma issues and complex surgeries, Hospital México in la Uruca is as good as it gets.

Many say that Costa Rica has free, universal coverage. Neither is true. A.M. Costa Rica gladly pays around $1,500 a month for health and other coverage of employees. Everyone who works at A.M. Costa Rica full time is an employee and covered. The payment also includes pensions and some other fees.

Jo Stuart and others have affiliated with the Caja system independently. All expats with residency now are required to affiliate with the Caja, and there are several ways of doing so. An independent contractor, like a part-time maid, a plumber or gardener should have his or her own coverage as a service provider. They also should have their own riesgo de trabajo or workmen's comp insurance, but that is another story.

A.M. Costa Rica gladly pays the Caja bill every month because the health system has cured the tiny daughter of an employee of childhood leukemia. For that, the Hospital Nacional de Niños wins high praise and deep respect. It is the best children's hospital in Latin America, we believe.

The path to a cure was rocky initially. The little girl experienced problems walking, and parents took her to the local Caja clinic. A physician there who apparently slept through most of his diagnostic classes said the girl had arthritis. He ordered aspirin.

That did not sit well with the parents, who took the child to a private physician at Hospital Clinica Biblica. Apparently trouble walking and joint problems are red letter signs of leukemia, and it took this doctor a short time to remand the tot to the Hospital Nacional de Niños. From there on the treatment was first-class. Many private physicians here also are affiliated with the Caja and have full access to the state system.

Two other events loosely related to A.M. Costa Rica staffers did not reflect favorably on the Caja hospitals.

The Friday column

By A.M. Costa Rica editor
Jay Brodell

In one case a staffer's sister-in-law was giving birth to her
first child at the Hospital de Mujeres, otherwise known as La Carid. The staff at this hospital has never heard of pain management, and mothers give birth without any spinals or other methods to diminish the pain of delivery.

This woman, however, ran into trouble. The husband was in a panic and eventually picked the woman up from her bed and carried her to a taxi and then to Hospital Clinica Biblica. Mother and child were fine, but the private physician said the situation was a close one and that both were at the point of no return when they came in. The bill was about $2,000.

Another staffer did deliver successfully a child at La Carid after a prolonged labor. She paid nothing.

In another case, the relative of a staffer became enraged when he was told a biopsy could not be done for a year. He feared he had testicular cancer. Police escorted him from the hospital.

A private physician fixed the problem with an outpatient procedure in his office in a half hour. There was some blockage of fluid, which seems to be frequent with men who sit most of the time at work. This man drives a taxi.

Other staffers have complained about long waits at Caja clinics and the inability to see a physician rapidly. There also is the problem that physicians are not always the same during repeat visits to the same facility.

Staffers also have made use of the Caja pharmacies when they have prescriptions written by private physicians who also have Caja privileges. The medications basically are free, although sometimes the Caja has been accused of having outdated products or products from an unusual source.

None of these problems are unknown to Caja officials. They try to do more with less. But not always.

A former head of the Caja, a political appointee, is on trial for engaging in a $9 million kickback scam in the purchase of $39 million in unnecessary equipment.

There also are occasional complaints that individual physicians are extorting money from patients. So corruption is possible as with every big institution.

Those injured in work-related events usually only visit the Caja for emergency care. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros maintains a chain of its own hospitals. This is the same state company that writes the workplace insurance. They emphasize rehabilitation.

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New monitoring device keeps track of coral reef pulse

By the University of Miami news service

Researchers at the University of Miami have developed a new tool to monitor coral reef vital signs. By accurately measuring their biological pulse, scientists can better assess how climate change and other ecological threats impact coral reef health worldwide, they said.

During a March 2009 experiment at Cayo Enrique Reef in Puerto Rico, the team tested two new methods to monitor biological productivity.

They compared a technique that measures changes in dissolved oxygen within a chamber that encloses an area of water above the reef with one that measures the flux of dissolved oxygen across the turbulent boundary layer above an unconfined portion of the seafloor.

By measuring dissolved oxygen production and consumption rates, scientists were able to monitor the balance between the production of new organic matter by the corals and algae and the consumption of that organic matter, which are essential to assessing the health of coral reef ecosystems. The research can help assess impacts of climate change and other threats to coral reef ecosystems

A combination of these methods is a valuable tool for assessing and studying the effects of climate change on coral reef health, according to Chris Langdon and his colleagues. He is with the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the university.

According to a recent analysis by the World Resources Institute, nearly 75 percent of the world's coral reefs are currently threatened by human activities and ecological disturbances, such as rising ocean temperatures, increased pollution, overfishing and ocean acidification.

Measurements of biological productivity have typically
Coral monitoring
University of Miami photo
This is the device that can keep track of respiration of coral reefs.

been made by tracing changes in dissolved oxygen in seawater as it passes over a reef. However, this is a labor intensive and difficult method, requiring repeated measurements. The new method opens up the possibility of making long-term, unattended measurements of photosynthesis and respiration of coral reefs and any other ecosystems.

The study was published in the March issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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U.N.'s Ban encourages Haiti
to hold credible elections

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he hopes Haiti's presidential runoff elections Sunday will proceed smoothly and in a credible and transparent manner.

Speaking in Guatemala City, Ban described Haiti as a fragile nation in need of a stable government which can be an effective partner in reconstruction and sustainable development.  The secretary general made his remarks during a meeting with regional leaders of Central America. 

The March 20 presidential runoff pits former first lady Mirlande Manigat against pop singer Michel Martelly.

Martelly was initially excluded from the runoff until international observers reviewed the first round results and recommended he advance to the second round instead of the ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin.  The observers cited fraud and irregularities in the first round of balloting, which took place in November.

Celestin was later dropped from the runoff.  The person who wins Sunday's vote will succeed outgoing President Rene Preval.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.  The Caribbean nation is struggling to recover from a devastating January 2010 earthquake which left more than 200,000 people dead.  Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tent cities.  The country also is struggling with a cholera epidemic that broke out last October, leaving thousands dead. 

Harvard study say cholera
will be double the estimates

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. researchers predict cholera will hit almost twice as many Haitians this year as the U.N. has estimated. The new analysis suggests there will be more than three quarters of a million cases of the disease.

Haiti had been free of cholera for about a century until last October, when the first cases were reported. The outbreak came nine months after the devastating earthquake, though it's not exactly clear how the two are related.

Jason Andrews of Harvard Medical School and colleagues have just published a new study projecting the course of the epidemic over the next year.

Andrews says the United Nations originally projected there would be 200,000 cases of cholera. "They then revised that estimate to project that 400,000 cases would occur over the next year. In our model, we projected 779,000 cases of cholera and 11,000 deaths."

The new study uses a more sophisticated mathematical model of the likely course of the outbreak than the U.N. used for its estimates.

Andrews' projection includes assumptions about improving water supplies, vaccination, and the use of antibiotics. He says his model indicates that those interventions can make a real difference in the ultimate impact of the epidemic.

"Certainly, if more aggressive interventions were done, such as vaccinating a larger proportion of the population or a faster rollout of clean water, the impact of interventions could be greater," he says. "But what we found was by doing all three of these interventions, you could avert a substantial burden of cholera and a substantial burden of deaths over the coming year, and that's one of the main messages of my analysis."

México admits U.S. drones
are patrolling the border

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's government says unmanned U.S. drones have flown over its territory to gather intelligence on organized crime and that the operations respected Mexican national law.

Mexico's national security council Wednesday confirmed the flights after The New York Times reported that the Pentagon began sending the unarmed drones on high-altitude flights over Mexico last month.

Mexico said all U.S. overflights were carried out with authorization, oversight and supervision by the Mexican air force and other national agencies.  The unmanned planes flew routes along the U.S.-Mexican border, pursuing intelligence sought by Mexican officials.
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Garden scene
Artist Porras will display this garden scene.

Singing painter has show
at art gallery in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Hidden Garden Art Gallery in Liberia inaugurates a show Saturday at 5 p.m. of Christian Porras, called the  minstrel Guanacasteco because he plays the guitar as well as paints.

"Painting, like the guitar, has formed a creative character in Christian, allowing him depths into technique and discipline, which provided opportunities to create works that have been exhibited and published in different venues, nationally and in countries like Canada, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia,"

The inaugural opening includes a live concert and admission is free. Porras uses acrylics on canvas. The show will run until April 19. The gallery is 5 kilometers west of Liberia international airport

Said artist Juan Carlos Ruiz:

Christian Porras, a minstrel Guanacasteco, painter and singer of images whether with guitar or paintbrush, wanders from the heights of Guanacaste and is  carried away by the causes of unwritten stories and people from the melody of the mountains to the shores of the ocean. He paints what he sees, sees what he paints, and tells a story from his perspective as he perceives the environment, the magic of Guanacaste, whether by brush stroke or musical note.

Diesel fuel takes a jump
as prices are adjusted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is only an increase of two to three colons in gasoline but diesel is going up 32 colons a liter, nearly 7 U.S. cents. The new diesel price will be 578 a liter or about $1.17.

The new prices are based on the period from Jan. 27 to Feb. 11 and do not reflect the recent spike in petroleum prizes as a results of disturbances in the Middle East.

The price fixing agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, said the jump in the price of diesel was based on the seasonal demand. The new prices are expected to go into effect at midnight Thursday.

Jet fuel showed an increase similar to diesel.

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