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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, March 19, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 55     E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Avendaño Arce
These are some of those who gathered Thursday evening to demand tough alcohol laws.
Hundreds pray that lawmakers tighten alcohol law
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A white wave of citizens showed up at the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday to demand a strong law against alcohol and the restoration of the point system for violators.

"We don't want more drunks driving in our highways," said placards carried by the estimated 300 to 600 persons who attended. "We don't want more deaths because the deputies protect the drunk drivers," said another, referring to the technical term for legislators. Most were dressed in white.

The event was called the "Vigilia de la Vergüenza" or vigil of shame. The public outpouring was a direct result of the death of a dentist Sunday morning. The man, Cristopher Lang Arce, 31, was standing by his bike on the Autopista Florencio del Castillo in La Unión when a vehicle struck him. The operator of the vehicle fled but was later detained to face a drunk driving allegation.

Some of those who showed up Thursday wore white T-shirts bearing Lang's photo. The shirts also said the limit for alcohol should be zero. That is not exactly what the organizers of the demonstration want.  Ramón de Pendones, president of the Asociación de Deportistas Contra la Violencia Vial y el Irrespeto, said that the amount of liquor permitted in the law should be less than .5 grams per liter of blood. Legislators have set .75 grams as the legal limit for drunk driving.

Lawmakers also eliminated the prison penalty for first-time offenders.

Some of those present carried small candles in memory of the dentist, who also was a bicycle athlete. He left a wife and two children.

The drunk driving legislation has political ramifications, too. The Partido Liberación Nacional favors weakening the penalties in the traffic law. Members of some other parties do not.

At the demonstrationn Thursday was Alberto Salom of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. He said he
did not favor the new limits on alcohol and wanted to see the system of points restored. The point system never had been used. It was part of the stiff traffic law that lawmakers passed in November 2008. But lawmakers delayed the effective date of the law until this March 1, except for the drunk driving and reckless driving penalties that went into effect at Christmas 2008. 

Under the original proposal drivers would accumulate points as well as fines for traffic violations. A typical violation would cost 10 or 20 points. Once a driver reached 50 points, his or her license would be suspended.

Operators of transportation companies opposed the point system because they said their drivers were the most vulnerable. So lawmakers unexpectedly moved to throw out the entire idea last month.

They were working on a series of changes to the traffic law that were designed to change what many considered disproportionate penalties.

Salom said that the consequence of the legislative actions promoted by the government party, Liberación, was death on the highway.

The man accused of killing Lang had .95 grams of alcohol in each of his liters of blood, according to tests done after the accident.  He was coming home from an all-night party.

Lang's family was at the demonstration in the boulevard of the legislative complex. They joined others in prayer in which they asked God to illuminate the lawmakers so that more persons would not die on the highways as a result of alcohol.

Lang, an odontologist, was well known among those in the 20 to 35 age group. In fact his family and the family of the man whose car hit him are friends. However, support for the demonstration came from many quarters, including from motorcycle riders.

Some citizens think that the lawmakers caved in to pressure from restaurant and bar owners. The package of changes had not been fully approved, so lawmakers still have a chance to make adjustments.

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Two held on drug charges
have 131 prior arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained a man and a woman Thursday and said they were principal distributors of illegal drugs in the downtown market area.

The two have a combined total of 131 arrests. The woman,  Lilliana Vargas Chaves, 50, has been a suspect 69 times for crimes such as theft, robbery, assault, attempted murder and murder. She has spent 21 years in prison, according to police sources.

The man, Arnulfo Zapata Sandino, 57, has faced 62 allegations, including theft, robbery, drugs, aggravated rape and assault, the sources said. In addition a woman, María Isabel Ramos Aguilar, 39, also was detained.

The Unidad Trafico Nacional de Drogas of the Judicial Investigating Organization made the arrests after extensive investigation.

The suspects are accused of trying to avoid arrest by carrying only a small amount of crack cocaine at any one time.  Agents said their work area was at the Mercado Central and the Mercado Borbón. They were detained on Avenida 8 between calles 3 and 5. The 39-year-old woman was accused of being the storekeeper for the illegal substances while the other two individuals distributed.

The Mercado Central is a prime tourist attraction, and the Mercado Borbón is a major vegetable and fruit market.

More cooling breezes
predicted for valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central Valley residents are welcoming breezes and a low temperature as they recover from some of the hottest weather of the year. On the coast, however, the predicted temperatures for today still are in the 90s, between 32 and 36 C, with the latter being in Liberia. That is 97 F.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that a cold front was bringing windy conditions to the bulk of the country today in addition to some rain on the Caribbean coast and in the northern zone. The central and south Pacific may have it a little cooler because partly cloudy skies are predicted for the afternoon, the weather institute said

Wood stove gets blame
in death of elderly man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 85-year-old man, presumably making breakfast in his home, appears to have fainted Thursday and died in a fire that firemen traced to his wood stove.

The man was identified as Miguel Ángel Acosta Jiménez. He lived in Barrio Encinales in San Miguel de Desamparados.

The blaze was reported at 5:51 a.m., said the Cuerpo de Bomberos. Firemen said they found the body not far from the stove. Firemen said the man had a practice of starting the fire with a flammable substance with a petroleum base. They said that neighbors reported the man had sudden fainting spells.

Firemen had trouble reaching the blaze and ended up stringing together 11 hoses to bring water to the scene. Ironically, the man lived adjacent to a large water tank, but firemen would not draw from it.

New bill backs photocopying
of texts for education

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio has introduced a bill that would let students freely photocopy text books. The measure also would free operators of photocopy centers from the possible penalty of prison for illegal photocopying.

Merino said in a summary of the bill that current legislation irrationally overprotects intellectual property rights. And he said, most of those holding the rights are big, transnational  corporations.

Current law provides for up to five years in prison for those who photocopy a book. He noted that another section of the law provides prison and fines for those who communicate to the public literary works or other types of intellectual properties and place it at the disposition of the public, including Internet distribution. He said access to education was a human right that outweighs the intellectual property rights of book publishers.

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

For your international reading pleasure:

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 55

Thursday was practice time for many of the performers involved in the Festival International de las Artes. A Spanish troupe stacked these umbrellas as part of their performance, which will be presented Saturday in the Plaza de la Democracia.

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Some of the Festival de las Artes events are sold out
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some of the prime events for the Festival Internacional de las Artes have been sold out.

The performances Friday and Saturday of the Ballet Nacional de España are two such events. Although most of the festival events are free, a few top draws are paid, and the seats are going fast.

The ballet was practicing Thursday evening in advance of a small presentation at the inauguration of the festival. The show was fast-moving and filled with hand clapping, called palmas, foot stomping by very athletic men and women, guitars and the haunting flamenco cantes or songs.

Spain is the invited country for this year's festival. And President Óscar Arias Sánchez made note of the flamenco tradition in his talk at the inauguration, according to Casa Presidencial. He spoke of the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Both were involved in stimulating flamenco in Spain in the 1920s.
The festival runs every two years, and Arias started it during his first term. He urged citizens to participate. In addition to a number of events each day in Parque la Sabana, there are shows at various parks around San José and also in Limón and Alajuela.

Some 20 countries have groups participating and the representations of the arts cover the full range from theater to sculpture, literature, song, dance, performance art and singing. Many of the performers are world class.

The festival starts in earnest today.

Security was tight at the Teatro Nacional Thursday night prior to the arrival of Arias, diplomats and various dignitaries. The security ministry's Unidad de Canina swept the theater with the dogs checking every square foot of the building, including the various trash cans.

Policemen involved said this was normal practice, but reporters had not witnessed such a concern for security in the past.

A shocking encounter with victims of motorcycle crashes
The letters to the editor regarding whether or not motorcyclists and bike riders should be forced to wear helmets have made me think about a never forgotten experience that I had in Orlando, Florida, in the late 60s.

I was working for an advertising agency, and one of my assignments that year was public relations for Ringling Brothers Circus.  To that purpose, I went with one of the circus clowns to the local hospital to visit the childrens’ wards.  At one point we entered a large room. I don’t recall what the door said, but we simply assumed it was another ward of sick kids.  Inside were perhaps 30 teenaged boys in wheel chairs.

Before the clown could begin his little show, the chairs headed for us.  I thought it was the clown but they came at me and the boys began pulling at my clothes and making unintelligible sounds.  I felt like I was being chased by gnats. We tried to make a fast retreat towards the door as a nurse came running in. She said we should not have entered.  Those young men were all brain damaged from motorcycle accidents and about the only things left of their brain activity were some motor skills and out of control sex drives, due to frontal lobe damage.  They were being ‘just warehoused,’ she said because there was nothing further the hospital could do.

Every driver, pedestrian and passenger on the streets in Costa Rica is concerned about the hazards presented by risk-taking motorcyclists.  My friend Sandy (a driver) suggested that it might help if the law made it clear that the double yellow line dividing the lanes was not a motorcycle lane.  Maybe.  But I think the minute that some of these youngbloods get on a motorcycle they have visions of being the reincarnation of Evel Knievel. 

Whatever happened to Evel Knievel? I know, the late daredevil is part of the past, but it is my segue into wondering whatever happened to two things of my past. 

One is Waldorf Salad.  It seems to me it used to be (in the States) as common as cabbage salad is here.  So I decided to make some for a potluck lunch for our Perros Calientes meeting this week.  I have over a dozen cookbooks and access to more than one food network channel. 
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

I decided to first see what’s new in Waldorf Salads and went to Food Network.  I printed two recipes, both rather complicated, one calling for buttermilk and blue cheese, the other simpler but including flat leaf parsley, yogurt and lettuce. 

I tried that.  I didn’t like it. 

So I did what I always do when stymied in the kitchen. I opened my  “Joy of Cooking.”  It is the shortest recipe in the book, I swear.  It includes 1 cup each of diced celery, diced apples and optionally, Tokay grapes.  You combine that with ¾ cup mayonnaise and ½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped.  It was so simple I embellished it with a bit of yogurt, honey raisins and white pepper.  I liked that one. 

Spirulina is another part of my past.  I found an old letter from me to a friend in the States asking her to send me some since I couldn’t find it here.  When I was taking it I said it made me feel energetic and generally upbeat.  So once again I went to the Internet. 

Spirulina is a fresh water blue-green micro algae.  It has most of the vitamins and minerals that are in fruits and vegetables and is also a protein. It is also supposed to be anti-aging.

Although my local pharmacist had never heard of it (or at least not by that name), there is even a spirulina farm in Guanacaste, which happens to be for sale.

I found nothing negative about the supplement, so I think I will try it again.  My friend Doug is making a trip to Canada, where his local vitamin store does know about it and carries it.  So we will see if I get energized enough to buy me a motorcycle and become a terror on wheels just like those other dudes.

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A.M. Costa Rica
fourth news page

Brenes law firm
Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 55

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Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church

Readers give their opinions on the declining dollar

Supply and demand
controls dollar's value

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to the question asked by one of your readers why the dollar keeps dropping in value against the colon, when before it kept increasing in value. The answer is found in the economic law of supply and demand.

Until the Banco Central allowed the colon to “float” — to find its real value —  within upward projected bands, a ceiling and a floor, the colon was devaluated at a rate of 20 céntimos a day under what was the central bank’s controlled mini-devaluation policy. This policy was good for exporters and importers for they could calculate what the dollar was going to be worth for their future commercial transactions. However the artificially established exchange rate did not reflect the true value of the colon against the dollar, which needs to be known, because the supply of and demand for dollars in the country are not constant. True, dollars poured into the country with the construction boom and increased tourism until 2009 worldwide recession hit, but during that same time, dollars were flowing out at an ever greater rate. Ticos were importing more things than the “good times” allowed them to do.

The idea behind the central bank’s new “band” policy was to sit on the sidelines and watch the “float,” intervening only when necessary. As long as the exchange rate behavior remained within the pre-established bands, there was no need to intervene, meaning use its reserves to buy dollars when the supply of dollars in the market was excessive against the demand, or sell dollars when it wasn’t, in other words, when the exchange was approaching either of the bands, top or bottom.

With the establishment of MONEX, the place that was created so that selling and buying of dollars did not have to be done at the banks, this allowed for an even more well functioning of the law of supply and demand. By the way, MONEX  is open to the public for transactions of over $1,000.

The question of why has the dollar headed south so rapidly in recent months has been answered in several articles in local Spanish language newspapers. People are shifting their investments, CDs and other time-related instruments to colons because of the higher interest rate returns. That means they are selling their dollars to get into colons and that means an increase in the market of dollars — supply and demand again.

The central bank sets the colon interest rates, like the Feds in the States do with the dollar, and the central bank knew by keeping the colon rate high, this effect was going to be produced, and because they knew it, the central bank flattened out the lower band to ¢500. At least you know how far down the dollar will or can go. The upper band was left with the projected increase. The sky is the limit there. 

So like with the Feds, keep your eye on what the central bank does, so when it drops colon interest rates, and it will, that is when the dollar will start being worth more again.

Robert Nahrgang S.

Rush to convert to dollars
has been slowing down

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is empirical. The demand for dollars is down here in Costa Rica.  You can argue that the dollar is declining in value against the colon because no one wants the dollar, simply no bids and the dollars slides because of no support.  Or you can argue that there is an actual conversion of dollars to colons which would cause a slide in the dollar's value.  Or both!
An opinion: There are accounts that would normally convert colon reserves or saving accounts into dollars (banks, department stores, etc)  I believe that with growing expectations of reduced inflation in Costa Rica and the fact that interest rates on deposits are higher here than in the U.S. (sort of a mini carry trade situation), that there is a slowing down in what was the usual rush to convert colon deposits into dollars.  This in itself might explain fewer bids in the market for dollars.
 I have questions about the other possibility, the actual selling of dollars.  I would have to see it to believe it.
Jim Filerman
Dollar woes

Panamá is an option
where dollar is currency

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I regards to Mr. Burg’s letter about the devaluation of the dollar he asks “does anyone have a clue what is going on“?

I don’t know, and I doubt anybody does, however the consequences of what is happening could be far reaching. Many pensionado residents are struggling with their small U.S. pension checks, some as low as $600 per month. Many are considering moving to Panamá where there is no exchange rate and there currency is the dollar. Where $.35 buys a kilo of rice! Hamburger, fries and a coke is $3!

The government should step in and take control of the central bank and stop this devaluation of the dollar before it chases all the Gringo retirees out of this country.

I believe that those dollars spent in this country do contribute to feed local economies, and if we are all gone to Panamá, who is going to feed them now?

I am going to Panamá next month to check things out. Many will await my return and report on living costs there. If I move to Panamá, my U.S. pension dollars go with me! Can Costa Rica afford this?
Jay Clark
Flamingo beach

Boycott Chinese products
to support local firms

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I could not stomach enough to finish reading your headline story in today's edition re: Merciful legislators & the PRC import issue for automotive safety equipment.

Costa Rica! You'd better wake up or face the same consequences as the rest of the 'modern' world. That is: rampant government abuse through police state legislation, increasing police presence, huge increases in fines, licenses, penalties of all sorts and a general deterioration of trust amongst Ticos.

These traffic laws are nothing but a BAD joke on the citizenry of C.R. If the C.R. government cared about its people, this abuse would not be happening right now. If the C.R. government cared about you, its judicial branch would not be constantly letting dangerous criminals free.

If your government cared about you, it would not be continually caught committing crimes for which YOU could face time in prison.

You must BOYCOTT all Chinese products so that the businesses & manufacturing in your communities can stay strong and grow which is where a society builds: on manufacturing, not importing, not supporting slave labor and not bowing down to a den of thieves!
Dennie Sartuga

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Costa Rica
fifth news page
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 55

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. economic reports
predict slow growth

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A flurry of economic reports shows the U.S. economy is likely to grow slowly for the next few months, with little inflation and small improvements in the job market.

Thursday's report from the Conference Board business group says its index of leading indicators moved up a modest one-tenth of a percentage point in February.  The gauge is designed to predict economic growth for the next three to six months. 

A separate report from the U.S. government showed inflation to be tame in February.  Overall prices were unchanged, while outside the volatile area of food and energy, prices advanced only one-tenth of a percent.

The figures are in line with U.S. central bank predictions that inflation will be very low. 

Federal Reserve experts say the economic slowdown leaves factories operating below capacity and many people out of work. That makes it hard for producers to demand price increases and for workers to get raises.

A separate government report shows the troubled labor market getting slightly better.  The Labor Department says the number of U.S. workers signing up for unemployment compensation decreased by 5,000 to a total of 457,000 last week.

U.N. agency rejects bans
on Bluefin tuna, polar bears

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A United Nations body regulating wildlife commerce has rejected a U.S.-backed proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish used mainly in Japanese foods such as sushi and sashimi.

During a convention in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, representatives from Monaco argued that overfishing has threatened tuna stocks.  But Japan and scores of other nations opposed the ban, saying it would devastate fishing economies.

Only 20 countries, including the United States and Norway, voted in favor of the ban. The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will vote on a number of other measures involving threatened plants and animals, including sharks and coral.

Earlier Thursday, the international body rejected a proposed ban on the trade of polar bear parts.

The U.S. argued the sale of polar bear parts is endangering a population already threatened by a shrinking ice habitat.

But Canadian representatives and others insisted the trade threat to polar bears is minimal and that a ban would hurt the economies and livelihoods of indigenous communities.

There are currently about 25,000 polar bears in the wild.

The United States classified polar bears as a threatened species in May 2008 and has made almost all hunting of the bear illegal.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 55

Latin American news
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Guatemala takes steps
to fight organized crime

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The top United Nations drug and crime official and Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom oversaw the destruction of some 6,000 illegal firearms Wednesday at the launch of a national program to fight organized crime in a country that has a gun for every 10 people.   

“Corruption, poverty and poor criminal justice capacity make Guatemala extremely vulnerable to organized crime,” said the official, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

“In turn, crime scares off investors and tourists, deepening the under-development that attracts crime. It’s time to break this vicious circle before it breaks Guatemala,” Costa added at the launch of the National Integrated Programme on the Strengthening of the Rule of Law, Security and Justice in Guatemala.  

The three-year programme – worth $16 million – is designed to strengthen Guatemala’s capacity in the areas of criminal justice, police reform, anti-corruption, firearms control, prison reform, cybercrime and human trafficking.  

Cocaine and other drugs are having an impact in the Central American country located between the Andean region, the world’s top producer of coca, and the United States, the top consumer. The same routes used to smuggle drugs are used to smuggle migrants and weapons.  

As part of the programme, the drug office will establish a Centre of Excellence on Organized Crime in Guatemala City.  

The center will support the development of applied research, data collection and analysis on crime trends, and provide training to national and regional authorities on counteracting organized crime.   

Guatemala will join a regional network of Centres of Excellence, including centers for: urban crime prevention (El Salvador); maritime security (Panamá); and drug demand reduction and prison reform (the Dominican Republic).  

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