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(506) 2223-1327       Published Thursday, April 9, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 70     E-mail us
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Firemen face second big fire in as many days
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the second day in a row, Costa Rican firemen faced a massive blaze.

The fire Wednesday was in a saw mill and adjacent lumber yard in Pueblo Nuevo de Alajuela. Firemen faced difficulties in getting water to the blaze, which spread out of control over almost three acres. Some adjacent homes were damaged.

The late afternoon blaze continued to burn into the night.

Firemen said they were hampered by vehicles parked in the right-of-way and the absence of a strong water supply in the area.  Residents were put into service helping firemen string out hundreds of feet of hose so they could reach the blaze with water.

Meanwhile, residents tried to keep flames away from their homes with garden hoses and buckets of water.

The efforts of firemen seemed to have little effect. Attempts to bring water from a nearby river resulted in problems with pumps jamming.

The yard was filed with drying lumber stacked in a way that encouraged the flames.

This was the second blaze in two days that challenged firemen, although the units that responded were different. Tuesday fire broke out at the docks maintained by the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.  The subsequent inferno destroyed 12 boats, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.
Agents were on the scene in Caldera, Puntarenas, Wednesday with trained dogs in an effort to find out how the fire started. The investigation may run into trouble because the area of the docks is impregnated with many types of petroleum products, and trained dogs might be challenged to find any location where a blaze may have been initiated on purpose with accelerants.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the majority of the burned boats were shrimpers, but some were craft confiscated from drug smugglers.

Other estimates put the number of burned craft as high as 28.

Some of the burning boats were freed of their moorings and allowed to drift, and some spread the fire to adjacent private docks, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents called this a domino effect.

Some of the confiscated boats were tied up at the dock in anticipation of the end of judicial processes against the individuals who piloted them to Costa Rica. Once a criminal case results in conviction, the boats may be turned over to the government, and the coast guard was hoping to outfit some of the speedy craft for patrols.

At both fires firemen seemed to lack the numbers and equipment to control the flames and by the time reinforcements arrived, the fires had a good grip on the flammable material.

Firemen also had physical trouble because the temperature was in the low 30s (about 90 F.) and their heavy, protective clothing was like a sauna.

This is just not a good time to consider wetting your whistle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just before this issue went into the Internet server, Fuerza Pública officers and licensing officials in 81 municipalities have sealed bars and covered displays of alcohol in supermarkets and restaurants.

The Semana Santa dry law went into effect at 00:00 a.m. today. It will last until 00:00 a.m. Saturday.

But this year there have been questions from official sources about the value of two days of prohibition. Several lawmakers are considering
proposing a change that would allow the sale and consumption of alcohol at restaurants and hotels frequented by tourists.

The stated purpose of the law, according to the security ministry, is to provide the majority Catholic population a period of peace and reflection for the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. Friday is the day tradition and written texts say Jesus Christ died on the cross.

Costa Rica also has a dry period every four years when national elections are held.

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Bank accounts to be open
to international inspection

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration will seek legislative approval for a bill that will allow tax officials to spy on personal bank accounts without the oversight of a judge or the need for a criminal investigation.

That is the result of criticism by an international organization that promotes taxation.

Information on personal bank accounts would be available to tax officials in any other country, according to the proposal.

The announcement of the proposed law came from Guillermo Zúñiga, minister of Hacienda. He was responding to criticism by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which listed Costa Rica as one of four countries that did not provide other countries with personal tax information from accounts in Costa Rica.

The organization, which was itself engaging in public relations after the G-20 summit, also listed Malaysia, Philippines and Uruguay. Larger countries that have a reputation as tax havens were not listed, and the initial report from the organization did not say why the four countries were singled out.

The suggestion that Costa Rica was put on a black list got good play in the local press even though there was no reason given for the designation.

The organization said that its April 2 report was designed to show progress in the implementation of the standard on exchange of information for tax purposes.

The organization said it will now work with all jurisdictions to speeding up the process of concluding and negotiating tax information exchange agreements.

Costa Ricans have a constitutional right of privacy, but there are many laws that allow government oversight even without a judge's warrant. Generally such laws have to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Zuñiga, in a press release, said that Costa Rican tax authorities can only open bank accounts with the authorization of a judge and that the lifting of bank secrecy for tax purposes would be a very valuable tool to fight tax fraud. He noted that the Arias administration had a program to fight tax fraud.

Still Costa Rica has laws on the books, supported by a constitutional clause, that allow tax officials access to the account books and other documents of an individual or business. And prosecutors have routinely obtained bank information with little trouble.

In addition, as Zuñiga also pointed out, the country has promised to meet international standards to fight drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism and that such a measure already is in the hands of legislators. Banks are now requiring extensive documentation for even the most routine account help by a foreigner, and many private banks will not allow international transfers until the account is open for at least a year.

The nation's financial officials are keeping detailed track of who has access to each bank account and any changes in signing power or ownership have to be provided to them.

Zuñiga said that the major interest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was that bank information be available for tax collecting purposes without the need for a judicial order or a tax fraud investigation.

The organization appears to want the bank information available to countries other than Costa Rica. It envisions a system where every country's bank accounts are open to the tax officials from every other country so they can hunt for evasion. The organization called that a level playing field.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that the other three countries involved also had agreed to adopt the required standards.

Murder is main cause
of Semana Santa deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Murders have outdistanced other reasons for deaths during the Semana Santa holiday so far.

The Cruz Roja reports eight persons died from attacks with firearms or knives. That's 50 percent of the 16 reported deaths so far this holiday week. The period is from Saturday through midday Wednesday.

There were three fatal water accidents reported, and one traffic death, according to figures released by the Cruz Roja Wednesday. The figures are incomplete because the Cruz Roja is not called to the scene of every crime or accident.

Our readers' opinions
Third-party DNS server
avoids many ICE problems

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

DNS is one of the few things that you do not have to rely upon ICE to provide. Two years ago I switched to a third-party DNS because I had noticed ICE was becoming less reliable. I suspected at the time ICE had been overburdened because the newly released Vista consumed more DNS than XP. Also, I started to occasionally detect that the ICE DNS servers would totally fail although the underlying Internet connection was actually fine.

So, I did not notice the latest outage on Tuesday until it was reported in A.M. Costa Rica. I use Open DNS, which is a free service. You should also be able to pay for DNS for a nominal price. Either option will require you to reprogram IP settings on your computer or preferably the ADSL modem so that all computers you connect to your network will receive the new DNS.
Daniel Woodall
San José

OpenDNS configures easily
and has other options

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There is a permanent and very easy to install free fix for all of the DNS problems that both ICE and RACSA are continuously experiencing.

OpenDNS ( is a free site that maintains DNS servers for anyone to use.  It works on any computer Windows, MAC, Linux, and is very easy to set up.   After my last go around with DNS problems, I changed the DNS server to OpenDNS and all of the problems disappeared.  They also offer a variety of security options including protection against visiting sites that have been infected.
Dave McDuffie

Friday is a holiday
A.M. Costa Rica will not be published tomorrow, Good Friday, a holiday in Costa Rica. This is one of two weekdays a year the newspaper is not published. The next edition is Monday.

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Escazú Christian Fellowship
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 70

Change favorable to expats reported in immigration bill
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An immigration Web site is reporting that changes have been made in a proposed bill that outlines rules for foreigners to get residency.

According to Residency in Costa Rica, the immigration director, Mario Zamora, made the changes known in an interview published in La Nación. However, questions still remain.

A.M. Costa Rica reported April 2 that the Comisión de Gobierno y Administración had approved a motion to create a Tribunal Administrativo Migratorio. Legislative sources also said other unspecified changes were made to the draft bill that soon will go to the full legislature.

Zamora was quoted as saying that legislators reached an agreement to increase residency income requirements to $1,000 per month for pensionados and $2,500 per month for rentistas. The current requirements are $600 and $1,000 per month, Residency in Costa Rica noted.

Javier Zavaleta, one of the principals in the Residency firm, said that Zamora's comments are incomplete in that he did not specify if the $2,500 is per family or per person. Nor did the immigration director address the issue of whether current residents will have to meet the new standard when they renew. The original draft suggested that they might.
The amount required for residency has been a hot topic among expats because many individuals who are on Social Security could not meet the standards that had been proposed originally

The draft of the law would require pensionados to prove they had a guaranteed income of $2,000 a month, and rentistas would have to show a stable income from investments or rents of at least $5,000 a year, instead of the current $1,000.

Those amounts would decrease drastically the number of foreigners who could legally seek residency here.

According to the Zamora interview, the changes appear to have been made in the April 1 meeting of the committee.

Because of the Semana Santa holiday, the amended version of the law was not available this week.

In any case, the final determination will be made in the full legislature, which likely will discuss the topic soon after it reconvenes Monday. The full legislature has the power to accept, reject or modify amendments put forth by the committee.

Several lawmakers not on the Gobierno y Administración committee have expressed the desire to modify the stringent amounts specified in the original draft.

Like mother, like son when it comes to dental crowns
My son left Costa Rica a happy man.  He was somewhat suspicious of Costa Rican dentistry upon his arrival. Do Costa Rican doctors have the same sanitary standards as his very good dentist in Califormia?  Dr. Furchtgott’s office was not up-to-date — it had no digital x-ray machine. 

He did like the idea that the laboratory was on the premises and this dentist knew about making crowns as well as installing them. He was also pleased when Dr. Furchtgott said that he could reuse the gold in his former crown and thus save him money. 

Since this was a belated birthday gift from me, I was happy, too, because we could spend some time together and the cost was less than 20 percent of what it would have been in the States.

But I am learning that I have become accustomed to my place with only me in it.  Living alone for a long time plays havoc on one’s hosting skills. And most of my guests still eat lunch at noon and dinner in the evening, dinner meaning more food than at lunch.  I have changed to having my dinner to around 1 p.m.  They, of course, cannot adjust in a few days, and I don’t want to because I don’t think it is as healthy.  I think all of my guests go home hungry.  This time we looked at Alfi’s, a small hotel in the heart of San José, just off the new Avenue 4 boulevar for next time.  This will give both of us more freedom.

I have a new four-drawer file, something I have wanted for years.  What I didn’t want was the job of transferring my files from my three existing files.  How boring!  But I did come across (in my correspondence file, naturally) a letter to my sister Annetta back in October 1992.  This was just two months after my arrival.  I reported on my first visit to Dr. Furchgott.  I had learned about him from another student at the Spanish school I was attending.  (Once I was going to write a book entitled “Dentists Around the World Who have Fixed my Teeth.” I said, “The kind dentist is using the gold from my crown so it won’t cost me so much. But I am not sure he can even save the molar.”  (He did.).  Ah, the more things change.

Then I follow with probably the source of my troubles:
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

“I have begun a terrible hobby.  I am trying to perfect fudge making.  And I am nearly there.  It is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but it is very sweet.  Any ideas to mitigate the sweetness?  I wish I would change to another hobby, like running up hills. But instead I began to think about mocha fudge, fudge with peanuts, macadamia nuts, coconut.  Maybe I could go into business.  The Ticos have a serious sweet tooth.”  

I returned to the subject later:  “I just heard some awful news at my Spanish conversation class last evening.  We were discussing the prevalence of stomach cancer in Costa Rica and Japan.  A young woman said that a local doctor told her it was the mold on the tapa dulce (the hard, unrefined sugar I use in my coffee and my fudge) and peanuts.  My heart sank.  There goes my business.  There goes my stomach, not to mention my teeth.”

And we are back to the present.  Curiously, I did go into business making chocolate, but chocolate sauce, not candy.  I never could guarantee my fudge would get hard.  The altitude makes a difference.

And I am still seeing the same dentist.  Who was it who said, “The past is prologue”?

Another Easter vacation/celebration is about to begin in Costa Rica.  I wish happy times to those who celebrate Seder and Passover and to those who celebrate the rebirth of Christ. And the same to those who go back even further in the history of religious celebrations and celebrate the coming of spring and honor their gods and goddesses at this time of year.  I even hope those of you whose religion is the here and now are enjoying yourselves at the beach or wherever while I enjoy the relative quiet and charm of San José.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 70

Whale sharks travel world's oceans, DNA study reveals
By the University of Illinois-Chicago news service

Whale sharks — giants of the fish world that strike terror only among tiny creatures like the plankton and krill they eat — are imperiled by over-fishing of the species in parts of its ocean range.

That threat is underscored in a new study from geneticists led by Jennifer Schmidt, University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of biological sciences, reported online in the journal PLoS One.

Ms. Schmidt and her colleagues studied the DNA of 68 whale sharks from 11 locations across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean Sea — an area that covers most of the shark's known range.

Results showed little genetic variation between the populations, which indicates migration and interbreeding among far-flung populations of the big fish.

"Our data show that whale sharks found in different oceans are genetically quite similar, which means that animals move and interbreed between populations," said Ms. Schmidt. "From a conservation standpoint, it means that whale sharks in protected waters cannot be assumed to stay in those waters, but may move into areas where they may be in danger."

A tropical fish that can grow 50 feet or longer and weigh over 20 tons, a whale shark's range can span oceans. They do not breed until they are about 25 to 30 years old, so it
will take a long time for the species to recover from recent population declines.

Whale sharks are listed as threatened, but not every country protects them. The large animals are especially prized by fishermen for meat and fins used in soup.

Little is known about the shark's biology, perhaps because they have been studied primarily near shore, while mature animals may breed and give birth out in the open ocean. Nor is much known about neonatal or juvenile sharks, including where they grow to maturity, or how and when they move between regions. That has made devising effective conservation efforts a problem.

"The only real threat to whale sharks is us," said Ms. Schmidt. "To design proper conservation plans, we need to understand the sharks' lifestyle. We can only protect their habitat if we know what habitat they use."

Ms. Schmidt credits some countries for closing whale shark fisheries and hopes that efforts such as ecotourism programs, which sometimes include swims with the gentle giants, may prove an attractive economic alternative.

With the money brought in by well-managed ecotourism programs, Ms. Schmidt said, "people in many countries have come to realize that whale sharks are more valuable alive than dead."

The research was funded by the university and the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, N.J.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 70

A.M. Costa Rica

users 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 week day.

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.


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

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.

México holds 21 suspects
in Baja shooting incident

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police in the Mexican border state of Baja California say they have detained 21 suspected hitmen in connection with a shooting incident near the border with the western U.S. state of California.

Authorities said the suspects were taken into custody late Tuesday after two Mexican federal agents were shot and seriously wounded at a gas station in the city of Tecate. Officials also said that rifles and uniforms were among the items seized following the arrests.

Investigators have linked the men to Teodoro Garcia Simental, who is on Mexico's list of most-wanted drug trafficking suspects.

The arrests come about one week after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano visited Mexico to discuss growing drug-related violence. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected in Mexico next week.

The White House has said President Obama is concerned about the increased level of violence in Mexico and its impact on both the U.S. and Mexico. Drug-related violence in Mexico has killed more than 7,000 people since the start of last year. U.S. officials also say Mexican drug cartels have a presence in more than 200 U.S. cities.

Chávez says world power
has shifted to host China

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met Chinese President Hu Jintao Wednesday in Beijing where he told the Chinese leader the power in the world has now shifted to China.

In his meeting with Hu, the Venezuelan leader said "no one can be ignorant that the center of gravity in the world has moved to Beijing."

Chávez called China "the biggest motor driving the world" during the global financial crisis, which he referred to as a crisis of international capitalism.

Chávez visited Iran last week and Japan earlier this week before traveling to China. The Venezuelan leader has been a fierce critic of U.S. power. Chavez's visit to China is his sixth to the Asian nation, where he is hoping to secure more oil deals to reduce his country's economic dependence on the United States.

His goals include building Venezuelan refineries on Chinese soil and boosting exports of Venezuelan oil to China from 380,000 barrels a day last year to one million barrels by 2013. In his earlier stop in Japan, Chávez said Tokyo had agreed to invest $33.5 billion in oil and gas projects in Venezuela. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 70

Latin American news digest
Polio making a comeback
with Nigeria as a source

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns a polio outbreak in 15 African countries threatens the global eradication campaign and puts many children at risk of getting this crippling disease. The Red Cross is appealing for more than $2 million to support polio immunization efforts in all African outbreak countries, except for Chad, which has not asked for assistance. 

There were 350,000 cases of polio around the world when the World Health Organization began its global eradication campaign in 1988. Now, there are 1,851 cases including 192 new cases this year.

But, Tammam Aloudat, International Red Cross Federation senior officer for health and emergencies, said it is not these numbers that are scary for health professionals.

"It is not the ultimate number so far that tells us a lot about the outbreak position. It is the countries that had zero cases before and are having re-infection again," said  Aloudat, a physician. "And, those are the best examples: Uganda, Kenya, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. But, even the more drastic is Uganda has not seen a single case in 12 years. And, now Uganda has got five cases today. It is one of the worrying situations in the continent now." 

Several years ago, northern Nigeria's reluctance to immunize its children against polio caused the wild virus to spread to neighboring countries. Religious and political leaders suspended vaccinations claiming the polio vaccine was contaminated and could spread HIV/AIDS and sterilize girls.

Aloudat says the spread of most of these recent cases of polio also comes from Nigeria, the last endemic country in Africa. He says there is still reluctance in some parts of Nigeria to immunize children against polio.

The polio immunization campaign will target some 80,000 children under age 5 over the next four months.

Thousands of Red Cross volunteers will fan out across local communities in all affected countries. They will knock on doors and make sure that as many children as possible get vaccinated against a disease that could cripple them for life.

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