A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, March 24, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 60          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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City to get $4.7 million in smart traffic lights
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorists may not always act intelligently, but San José is getting $4.7 million in smart traffic signals, a job that will take 30 months.

The new traffic signals will be computer driven and provide feedback by sensors in the streets. The idea is to change the duration of the signal lights to enhance the traffic flow.

Public works officials say that the smart signals will help motorists save fuel.

The central control center for the traffic lights also will get an electronic message when the signal ceases to function or functions incorrectly, thereby alerting repair workers. Dead traffic signals have been a long-time danger in San José.

The project will hang 800 traffic signals at 325 intersections in the greater San José area. And additional $500,000 will be invested for signal upgrades in Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago.

A Mexican firm, SEMEX S.A., is the contractor. Officials from the Ministerio de  

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This one is on the way to the junk pile

Obras Públicas and Transporte outlined the project Thursday and the deal was signed.

Mystery visa OKs expedite entry of Cubans into Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone has been impersonating immigration officials here to get entry visas for Cubans, the agency said Thursday.

The situation came to light when the Costa Rican consulate in Havana, Cuba, received an approval to grant a visa to a Cuban who had married a Costa Rican.

Although the message contained a file number and carried the signature of the head of immigration, Johnny Marín, the document was false, officials reported. An investigation found three other approvals for visas in cases in which there had been no request made of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería in San José.

In each case there was a fake signature and a fake file number.
This is the second scandal in a month at immigration. Feb. 23 two persons were detained to face allegations that they falsified entry and exit dates for persons who paid them money.

So far this year, Costa Rica officials have received 278 requests for visas from Cubans who say they have married Costa Ricans. Some 125 requests have come from Chinese.

Last year 1,593 Cubans requested visas to join spouses here, and 987 requests were approved, according to the immigration department.  Last year 608 Chinese requested such visas, and 258 requests were approved.

Immigration officials say they have referred the lastest cases of forged visa approvals to investigative authorities. Other aspects of the visa approval system and some questionable cases already are under investigation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 60

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Drama and color are some of the ingredients of the Festival Internacional de las Artes 2006 at Parque la Sabana where most of the action will be this weekend. Sunday is the last day.

High court outlaws use
of irritating gas sprays

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court ruled Thursday that prison guards could not use mustard gas against unruly inmates.

The magistrates issued the same order about MACE or CN gas, as well as the mustard gas that was used during World War I.

Two inmates, Alexander Vargas Rojas and Melvin Calvo Mora, raised the issue with the high court. They are two murderers who were hit with some kind of gas spray when they were engaged in a fight inside the prison.

The Sala IV said that the use of such gas violated the constitutional provision against degrading and cruel treatment.

The court also ordered Adaptación Social, the agency that runs the prisons, and officials at La Reforma prison in Alajuela not to use similar gas in the future and to educate personnel about the decision.

The court also sent the case to the Ministerio Público for investigation to see if any crimes were committed, according to a summary released by the press office of the Poder Judicial.

Mustard gas, also called blister gas, was used in World War I and as late as 1988 by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. However, mustard gas has a delayed reaction, taking sometimes as much as four hours to cause blistering and suffering.

CN gas was used by U.S. forces in Vietnam, but it has a high level of toxicity, so much of the gas used by police today is of the pepper spray variety, which is far less toxic.

The high court said that similar petitions had been rejected in the past because there was no evidence that gas had been used. However, two guards admitted using gas in a report prepared about the fight.

Three fairs to welcome
visitors this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three local fairs take place this weekend for the benefit of tourists and visitors.

The Feria Ambientalista Río Pejibaye begins the first of two weekends in Pejibaye de Jiménez some seven kilometers from Tucurrique or 22 kilometers (14 miles) from Turrialba.

On the Pacific side the first Expoferia Turística del Oro Verde Montes de Oro, Miramar 2006 opens today for a single weekend. Miramar is north of Puntarenas on the Interamerican highway. Saturday there is a horse parade and Sunday there is an exposition of horses, in addition to the tourist products and food on sale.

The third fair is in Laguna de Alfaro Ruiz, and it is the Expoferia Turística del Chiverre Laguna 2006, where the chiverre squash is honored. This fair runs for two weekends, ending April 2. The community is four kilometers from the center of Zarcero on the road to San Carlos.

The Pejibaye fair also features a horse parade, and it will be Sunday.

Tour guide blocks car
and helps arrest pair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tour guide blocked a parking lot exit with his van Wednesday to allow police to catch two persons suspected of stealing luggage from tourists.

The drama took place at a restaurant on highway 32, the main road from San José to Guápiles and then to Limón about 2 p.m. Two men entered the restaurant and one snatched a tourist's bag.

The tour guide saw two suspects trying to leave the parking lot in a vehicle, and he blocked their exit until police could arrive. Detained were a Colombian, 40, and a Peruvian, 37, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 60


Chief minister-to-be says there will be new tax plan
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new legislature will get the chance to draw up a concise and simple new tax plan, said Rodrigo Arias, the future minister of the Presidencia.

"Costa Rica has to understand that without incomes, we are going to collapse, and it is important to work to

Rodrigo Arias
rescue the most important topics," Arias said of the tax plan.

He said that the current leadership of the Asamblea Legislativa acted irresponsibly in the way the tax plan got the first of two necessary approvals in a February vote.
The Sale IV constitutional court ruled that the actions of the leadership were unconstitutional in a ruling made public Wednesday.

The court did not rule on the
aspects of the tax plan but on the way the current legislative leadership forced a vote and avoided the need for a two-thirds vote for the plan. Lawmakers who favored the plan engaged in creating new procedural rules so the measure would pass because they could not get the two-thirds vote.

Arias did not say that the executive branch that will be headed by Óscar Arias Sánchez after May 8 will introduce the same law. The fiscal plan that has spent three years in the legislature is some 385 pages.

However, he did hint at least a value added tax in lieu

A.M Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Franklin Chang Diaz looks more like a college professor than an asronaut as he arrives Thursday.

of the existing 13 percent sales tax.

The future minister met with reporters while the president-elect was speaking with those involved in technology in Costa Rica, including former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz's, who is starting up a technology company here.

21 percent of Ticos keep their nest egg at home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 21 percent of Costa Ricans who save money regularly keep the cash in their house instead of a bank, and only slightly more than 4 percent put their money in places other than a bank.

This is the result of a study done of savings habits by a regional bank.

The study said that 69.8 percent of those who save regularly put the money in a savings account, even though many express unhappiness with the interest rate and return. Some 14 percent keep the extra money in a checking account.

The study was commissioned by Banco Uno, which has
financial products the firm says will promote savings.

The study, done by PSM – Sigma Dos Panamá, involved 2,109 persons over the age of 18 in Panamá, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, in addition to Costa Rica.

Some 64.5 percent of those questioned said they saved money regularly, and 92 percent save less than $100 a month, mostly in anticipation of some emergency.

The bank said that it has responded to the need for higher interest rates by creating its unique Plan Horizonte, which rewards regular savers with an interest bonus. More than 9,000 Costa Ricans are enrolled in the plan, the bank said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 60

Residents of Iraq did not ask to be sacrificed
It is the beginning of the fourth year that the United States will be fighting its war in Iraq, and the news is full of pros and cons concerning whether the war is going well or not.  There continues to be controversy over being there in the first place.  And the polls are showing a steady reduction in the number of Americans who think it is worth it. 

President Bush is going public frequently to defend and define his position and rebuild support for the war.  And the administration as well as others are putting some blame on the media for the dwindling support because, it is claimed, the media show only the bad news, the violence and destruction, and are not reporting the good things that are happening there.

Once in a while someone will point out that since news was invented it is the bad news that is going to get the headlines.  Put another way, if in one week, two bombs exploded in New York City and six people were killed in Washington by a suicide bomber, no one would expect the media to headline their stories with the news that rebuilding in New Orleans was going well.   Of course, when there is a lull in the violence and killing, there is room for good news.  An upsurge in the killing brings a new concentration on the bad news. 

Someone from the Web forum DemocraticUnderground took the trouble to map the reports of violence in Iraq.  He chose to track the phrase “recent surge in violence in Iraq.”  In the past 31 months there have been 32 news stories reporting the “recent surge in violence” Some of those, of course, had to be referring to the same surge.  But the murder of even one person in the States usually merits more than one news story.   That doesn’t leave much room on the front page or lead stories for good news about what is happening in Iraq.

During President Bush’s campaign to bring more people to his way of thinking, the phrase “we are
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here at home.” is voiced again and again.  People proudly make this statement.   To choose a country whose people have for years suffered under the iron hand of a cruel dictator and the deprivations of sanctions by the victors of the Gulf War as the battleground of revenge for a terrorist attack in the U.S. I do not find admirable.  Acknowledging that this is a different kind of war — more like fighting saboteurs than the charge of the Light Brigade — the U.S. has in essence said to the Iraqis, “Better your cities in rubble and your people victims of suicide bombers and collateral damage than the U.S.”

It made sense to send our troops to Afghanistan because that is where Bin Laden is.  It even might have made sense to send them to Saudi Arabia to rout out the terrorists because that is where most of them came from. But Iraq was one of the few countries in the Middle East where there were no terrorists at least not until President Bush said, “Bring them on.”  It would be the same as if the U.S. had chosen Costa Rica as the battleground for the Contras to fight the Communists in Nicaragua and death squads in El Salvador in the 80s.  (Actually, I guess the U.S. was not fighting the death squads, it was helping to fight the rebels in El Salvador.)  

Yes, I realize that Iraq was the home of a terrible dictator. And that our soldiers are prepared to fight and even die (as opposed to innocent Americans) but the thousands of Iraqi women and children were not prepared and they had nothing to do either with 9-11 or terrorism and I am ashamed every time someone says “Better there than here.”

Anti-U.S. crowd traps ambassador in building for two hours in Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. officials in Venezuela say supporters of President Hugo Chávez burned a U.S. flag, set tires on fire and surrounded a building that the American ambassador was visiting Wednesday, temporarily trapping him inside.

Officials say Ambassador William Brownfield was stranded for at least two hours as the demonstrators gathered outside, chanting anti-U.S. slogans. No injuries were reported during the protest.
The incident took place days after a Venezuelan newspaper printed an interview with Ambassador Brownfield, who said Washington is concerned over Venezuela's growing ties with Iran.

Venezuela's government often clashes with the United States. Chávez recently criticized President George Bush, following a White House report which called  Chávez a demagogue.

Although relations are tense, Venezuela is still a key supplier of oil to the U.S. market.

U.S. citizen held in bombing of two hotels in Bolivian capital
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Authorities have detained a U.S. citizen and his Uruguayan girlfriend in connection with Wednesday's deadly bombings of two budget hotels in this capital.

American Lestat Claudius de Orleans and Alda Ribeiro of Uruguay were arrested in the nearby city of El Alto hours after the attacks.

A Bolivian man and woman were killed when the first
bomb exploded late Tuesday night. An American woman was among several people injured. The second blast occurred four hours later at a nearby hotel. Police managed to evacuate the hotel before the explosion. Both hotels were destroyed.

Police say the two suspects were planning to bomb the Chilean consulate later this week.

Bolivian President Evo Morales called the bombings an attack on his country's democracy, and accused the U.S. of sending terrorists into Bolivia.

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