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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Monday, March 26, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 61                            Email us
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Feathery alarm clock begins the annual songfest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather experts predict the arrival of the rainy season in the Central Valley a few days later this year about May 13.

But that prediction is lost on the national bird, the yigüirro, which has taken upon itself since last week the job of waking up the neighborhood around 3 a.m.

The bird, Turdus grayi, has personal reason for its pre-dawn serenade, but Costa Ricans have attributed this action to calling the rain, that is, the rainy season.

The bird is a cousin of the American robin but lacks the red breast. The  yigüirro became the official national bird in 1977. Two years ago Correos de Costa Rica came out with a commemorative stamp issue depicting the yigüirro and also the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

The tiny bird is as consistent as an alarm clock. The calls can be heard every morning about the same early time. Although the bird can be found all over the country, the bulk of the population is in the Central Valley where its call competed with unanswered automobile alarms.

An A.M. Costa Rica news story about the bird in 2007 noted that sometimes the bird is a bit early in predicting the rainy season. This year the calls started seven weeks before the date officially
bird on stamp
Yigüirro and Virginia white-tailed deer share stamp issued to honor national symbols.

predicted Friday by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The bird is hardly ever that far off, so some residents are expecting a start of the daily rains early next month.

The weather institute said its experts expect the rainy season to move into the northern zone around April 3, several days later than normal. The prediction for the southern and central Pacific coast is May 3, a bit later than normal. The estimate for the northern Pacific coast is May 23, a few days later than the long-term average.

There's just a few public workdays before vacation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who have business to conduct with government agencies have just four days to do so.

The Semana Santa vacation period for many public employees starts officially Monday, April 2, but typically such employees stack up vacation days to begin their time off this Thursday or Friday.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros said Friday that its sales and administrative offices will be closed starting April 2 through Easter, April 8.

Certain departments that provide health care through Hospital la Católica will remain open.

Banco Nacional said that it would operate normally through Tuesday, April 4. Bank offices will close at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday April 4, and all offices will be
closed for Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Electronic services will operate through the holidays, the bank said, as will its automatic tellers.

Sales of alcoholic beverages will continue to be prohibited Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. Turismo operators and bar owners have been pushing for years to eliminate this provision. Even though the legislature passed on first reading a new alcohol law, the bill maintained the prohibition. The bill eventually was rejected by the Sala IV for other reasons and sent back to the legislature for revisions.

That means tourist operators will have to continue the long-standing practice of serving alcohol to their foreign customers in paper cups or in other under-the-table ways.

In lower-income Costa Rican communities, the prohibition means the proliferation of illegal bars with alcoholic beverages that may be dangerously homemade.

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Language education

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Action by lawmakers freezes
increase in public bus fares

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislators of the Partido Acción Ciudadana have challenged in the constitutional court four increases in bus fares.

The party in a release posted to its Web page says that the increases are illegal because they were characterized as emergency measures when there was no emergency.

The Sala IV constitutional court has agreed to hear the appeal, said the party.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos announced the increases last week. As a result of the legal action, the fares are frozen at their current lower level.

Acción Ciudadana said that in approving the fares, the agency failed to hold a public hearing where those affected could voice their opinions. The party also said the rapid decision prevented a detailed analysis of the need and the condition of the buses.

The agency rejected the bulk of the requests for increases because of what it said was lack of required documents.

The Authoridad Reguladora granted the increases in the face of soaring fuel prices. Some Acción Ciudadana lawmakers have said that the reason for opposing the fare increase was to safeguard the purses of bus passengers. One lawmaker estimated that the rate increases might cost individual passengers 4,000 to 5,000 colons a month, some $8 to $10.

Our reader's opinion
Why are there problems
with credit cards and ATMs?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have just read a discussion list account of the experience of a couple visiting southern Nicoya. They said that very few businesses take debit or credit cards in that area. They commented that in two days, they found only one business that would take a debit/credit card. They went to an ATM, but it wouldn't give them cash!

I have been trying to find out why from the ATMs I use, I can't get colons when using my debit card. I have been using my debit card for a number of years to get colons directly out of the ATMs I have been using. I carry a substantial balance in my checking account. The bank has informed me that I should not be having problems, and after contacting consumer inquiries at Mastercard, being told that they were investigating (and "Thank you for your patience"), then, not hearing from them for over a week, and inquiring what was going on, I was blown off with "Contact your bank"!

What is going on? Anyone interested in doing an investigative report on this? Why are the Costa Ricans shooting themselves in the foot with the tourists? The country is almost bankrupt, and they could care less about satisfying their biggest industry.

Paul Meister

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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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 61
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Ms. Chinchilla seeks to take debate on drugs to United Nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla wants to bring the issue of narcotics control before the U.N. General Assembly.  That was her proposal when she met with two of Central America's presidents in Antiqua, Guatemala, Saturday.

Ms. Chinchilla called upon Central American officials to ask for effective action against drug trafficking. The session was hosted by Otto Pérez, the Guatemalan president, who has suggested that a proposal to decriminalize drugs be debated.

Also at the meeting was Ricardo Martinelli, the president of Panamá. Other Central American presidents sent representatives. The session was set up under the auspices of the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana.

Ms. Chinchilla complained that time has passed and nothing has changed and that any programs have had little impact.

Costa Rica is considered a major transit country for drug shipments from the South. Ms. Chinchilla has shown a tendency to seek help from international bodies. For example when Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica she first sought help from the Organization of American States, then the United Nations and then the International Court of Justice, a U.N. creation.

Costa Rica has avoided the violence that has torn apart Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Still Central American countries have seen expensive efforts to control the flow of drugs, in part, paid for by the United States.

Despite the decades-long fight against drugs, Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern command, recently told a congressional committee that about 90 percent of the drugs still get through. The general reported that the command's Joint Interagency Task Force South confiscated 117 metric tons of cocaine in 2011 but estimated that the total destined for the United States was 1,086 metric tons.

Transnational crime rings “threaten to overwhelm law enforcement capacities, and in an effort to reduce violence and halt the spread of these criminal groups, these countries have deployed their militaries in support of law enforcement organizations,” he noted.

About 90 percent of the drugs bound for the United States pass through Central America, the general said.
load of cocaine
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Mario Zamora Cordero, security minister, discusses the confiscation with police after the 585 kilos arrived in the Central Valley by air.

As if to prove the point, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública reported over the weekend that two loads of cocaine had been stopped at the border with Nicaragua.

A 37-year-old Guatemalan trucker was held after 585 kilos of cocaine were found in the floor of the trailer Saturday afternoon. The trailer carried a load of cement.

Wednesday another trucker was found with 290 kilos hidden in the roof of his truck cab, the ministry said.

At Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia, police detained a U.S. woman who was carrying 61 packets of cocaine in her clothes. The arrest was Saturday. Police said the cocaine amounted to 748 grams.

Ransom now is extended
to all types of stolen items

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The car thieves learned long ago that the best customer for the stolen vehicle was the victim. What emerged was a long tradition of stealing cars and then ransoming the vehicle back to the owner.

That was an imperfect system because sometimes the telephone caller was a scam artist and not the person who stole the vehicle.  There also was official involvement uncovered in some cases.

Now the system seeks to have encompassed any kind of stolen goods. Agents reported Sunday that they arrested a man who attempted to sell back stolen goods to the original owner.

They detained a 32-year-old man in Hatillo 5, and said that Friday at midday someone burglarized a home in that community and took television sets, sound equipment, microwaves, a DVD and 140,000 colons in cash.

A short time later the homeowner received a call offered to bring back the stolen goods for the payment of 30,000 colons or about $60. When agents made the arrest Sunday afternoon, they were able to recover the stolen goods, they said.

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Costa Rica enters the U.S. pepper market after big effort
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a three-year effort the first container of Costa Rican peppers is on its way to the United States.

The opening of the new market for products from here follows an extensive effort to comply with sanitation rules mainly directed against the Mediterranean fruit fly.

This is the insect that has ravaged crops mainly in California by laying eggs under the skin of fruit crops.

The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería considers the exportation a triumph for the country.  The 10,500 kilos of peppers comes from Buenos Aires de Puntarenas and belong to the transnational Del Monte.

In 2009 Costa Rica was able to meet international standards in 2009 for the exportation of fresh tomatoes and peppers, which Costa Ricans call chiles dulces.

Officials here worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to win certification that the product is free of fruit flies.

The grower had to begin monitoring of the product two months before harvest by setting up traps to capture any fruit flies in the area.  There were 34 traps within the covered areas where the peppers were grown and 18 outside. The capture of just a few fruit flies would prevent exportation.

Costa Rican and U.S. plant specialists are not doing weekly inspections, said the agriculture departments. Officials envision weekly container shipments of the product. The first is en route to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
checking the peppers
Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería photo
Technicians check out the pepper plants

Two quakes take place 10 minutes apart in the Pacific Ocean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two earthquakes 10 minutes apart took place at midday Sunday in the Pacific Ocean off Guanacaste. The first at 12:23 p.m. was estimated at 4.2 magnitude by the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica.
The second was at 12:33 p.m., and the estimate was 4.4.
The location is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Tamarindo, Conchal and Cabo Velas

Saturday at 5:44 p.m. there was a 3.2 quake 18 kilometers (11 miles) southwest of Quepos in the central Pacific.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 61
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Obamacare gets its day
in Supreme Court today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two years after it was signed into law, President Barack Obama's divisive health care law comes before the U.S. Supreme Court today.

The court will hear a challenge by attorneys general representing 26 states who argue that the health care law violates the Constitution and tramples on individual liberties by requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance.

Over three days, the nine justices will hear six hours of oral arguments, the most the court has scheduled since the 1960s.

The law — sometimes labeled Obamacare — seeks to extend medical insurance to millions of Americans who do not have any. It has become a rallying point for conservatives who claim the changes will lead to bureaucrats replacing doctors in medical decision-making and that the quality of health care will diminish.

The principal challenge before the court is the constitutionality of the legal requirement that almost every American must buy health insurance. Opponents of the requirement say Congress lacks the authority to force Americans to buy insurance. The Obama administration has argued that Congress has the authority, under the Constitution.

This case comes before a divided bench made up of five justices appointed by Republican presidents and the rest appointed by Democrats.

Pope Benedict says Mass
for thousands of Mexicans

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pope Benedict has celebrated Mass before tens of thousands of faithful Catholics in the central Mexican city of Silao.

Cheering onlookers waved balloons, flags and banners Sunday as the pope arrived at Bicentennial Park in Mexico's Guanajuato state.

He urged Mexican Catholics to remain true to their faith to confront the sufferings, difficulties and evils of daily life, saying "human strategies will not suffice."

The pontiff called on the Virgin Mary to "continue accompanying and protecting her beloved Mexican and Latin American children."  The invocation of Mary is particularly important for Mexicans, who revere the Virgin of Guadalupe as their patron saint.

Benedict's visit to Mexico comes as church leaders there grapple with brutal drug-related violence. More than 50,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006.

The pope is scheduled to arrive today in Cuba, where he will meet with President Raúl Castro and visit Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

Saturday Pope Benedict addressed thousands of cheering Mexicans from the balcony of the Casa Del Conde Rul, where he met with President Calderón.

Benedict told the throng "I wish to lift up my voice, inviting everyone to protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile." 

The 84-year-old pope made the comments about protecting children amid complaints about the Vatican's handling of the case of a prominent priest in Mexico, Marcial Maciel, who was facing allegations of molesting young boys before he died. While the pope has met with the survivors of priest pedophilia in other countries, no such meeting is scheduled for Mexico.

U.N. official praises
progress in Haiti's recovery

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations development chief has commended Haiti’s progress in rebuilding its capital, Port-au-Prince, two years after a devastating earthquake rocked the country killing 200,000 people.

“I saw a huge difference from the desolation I saw four days after the earthquake: The streets of Port-au-Prince are alive again,” said Helen Clark. She is the administrator of the U.N. Development Programme. This was her second visit to the country since the earthquake on January 2010. “I feel very confident in the capacity of the Haitian people to rebuild their own country.”

More than 80,000 buildings in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas collapsed after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, leaving a mass of concrete, steel and other debris, equivalent to 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

In a press release, the U.N. agency said more than 60 per cent of the 10 million cubic meters of rubble caused by the earthquake has been removed in one of the largest-scale clearance operations of its kind by the U.N. and its partners.

Some 25,000 cubic meters of the rubble have also been re-used this year on new infrastructure through a strategy for debris management developed by the government in conjunction with the U.N.
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Canadian foundation helps
youngsters in Guanacaste

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Canadian foundation has provided toys and clothing to 55 children in Guanacaste.

The foundation is Kids Explore, based in Williams Lake, British Columbia. The items were carried by a sponsor, Jet Blue, the foundation said.

The Hotel Iguanazul in Playa Junquillal south of Tamarindo provided the location and food for the fiesta.

The non-profit group, which has made more than 30 trips delivering assistance to Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Belize over the past eight years, made its initial exploratory visit to Costa Rica six weeks ago.

Foundation President Glen Lahey connected with Hotel Iguanazul owner David McKague at that time and provided clothing, lunch and a pool party for 110 local children, said the foundation. The two hope that the ventures become an ongoing project for Kids Explore, which delivers cargo containers of corporately donated food, clothing and medical supplies to the nations where it already has established a presence, the foundation added.

“It’s all about helping the children and keeping them in school,” said Lahey, who started the foundation eight years ago with his wife, Debbie, to help needy youngsters in rural northern Canada. They extended their effort to the Caribbean and Central America about six years ago with the help of corporate donors like Jet Blue.

Tropical chicken firm
opens San José location

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Miami-based Pollo Tropical has opened its first franchised restaurant in Costa Rica, in San Jose’s Parque Central. The opening marks the first of what it hopes will be at least five Pollo Tropical locations of the Latin grilled chicken brand being established in Costa Rica by international franchisee, Chicken Tropical Service SA. A second unit is slated to open in Liberia at the end of the month, said the firm.

The operating partners of Chicken Tropical Service S.A. include Alberto Chacin, Jose Chacin, Carlos Borregales, Leonardo Belloso and Rafael Belloso. Borregales as well as Leonardo Belloso and Rafael Belloso are also partners in more than 30 international Burger King franchises in Costa Rica, and another 13 Burger King franchises in Panamá. This first Costa Rica Pollo Tropical location is a non-traditional location, in the Palace Food Mall at Parque Central in San Jose.

Pollo Tropical serves flame-grilled chicken and roast pork and will also offer locally-sourced ribs, said the parent firm.

Tax treaties in the works

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature is considering tax treaties with Island, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, according to the Comisión Permanente Especial de Relaciones Internacionales.

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