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(506) 2223-1327              Published Friday, April 9, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 69        E-mail us
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New credit and debit card rules go into force
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

New rules for credit and debit cards went into effect Thursday, and officials involved writing the regulations say that the general philosophy is that in case of doubt, the consumer is favored.

The rules for the first time treat debit cards separate from credit cards. There are more than 400 types of cards in use in Costa Rica, and the principal issuers are Credomatic, Citi and Bancrédito, noted the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio which negotiated the rules.

For the first time, debit card issuers will have to inform their customers about all the conditions, the rights and obligations, the charges and the responsibilities of both parties. The new rules provide for highly transparent treatment that give consumers the data they need to make intelligent decisions about their credit and debit cards.

However, there is no mention of the interest rates, which can be in excess of 50 percent a year for some cards. The ministry, however, does report separately on interest rates several times a year.

Here is a summary of changes based on information from the ministry:

Credit card firms cannot demand that their customers contract with a specific insurance company or an insurance intermediary.

The regulations are even more general with other services that the credit card company may want customers to buy. The regulations prohibit issuing credit cards conditioned on the contracting of other services. This is a ban on so-called tied-in sales.

When the issuing company makes new rules regarding credit card accounts, the cardholder now has two months to reject the changes instead of one month, which was the period under the previous regulations. Card issuers also must allow anyone who rejects the changes to pay off the account under the conditions previously agreed upon. This rule includes the customer's rights when the card issuer raises the interest rate.
Collection charges now can only be applied to accounts in default. The card issuing company  must show on statements the amount of principal and the amount of interest and the way in which the interest was calculated. The credit card statement must be separate from other lines of credit that the card holder may have. Collection charges cannot exceed the cost of three contacts or communications.

In the past there were no rules about statements for debit cards. Now debit card statements must be delivered at least once every three months.

Credit and debit card issuers have three months to bring their statements into compliance.

Another new rule is that credit card companies must protect the personal data of users. And any use of the data outside the business of credit cards requires the approval of the customer.

The new regulations also cover the obligations of the banks that clear the credit cards. They are required to adopt technical security measures for electronic transactions.

Companies that collect payments with credit cards also must upgrade their security. The new regulations say that the processing of the credit card must be done in the view of the consumer. If the company has a system that requires processing in another location, the firm must have adequate technical measures in place to protect the security of the payment.

This regulation is designed to cover the cloning of credit cards at the point of sale by larcenous salespeople or waiters. That has been a continual problem.

Automatic teller operators have six months to set up their machines to inform card holders of the specific cost of withdrawing money.

Card issuing companies and their collection agencies are prohibited from harassing debtors or dealing with third parties. The new rules say that collectors can only contact a debtor three times.
The regulations provide fines for violations.


Country, People's Republic sign free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials signed a free trade treaty with the People's Republic of China Thursday after six rounds of negotiations. The agreement comes three years after the country dumped is diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of mainland China.

Marco Vinicio Ruíz, minister of Comercio Exterior, and Cheng Deming, his Chinese counterpart, signed the commercial accord that gives direct access to the second most important national economy after that of the United States.
Ricardo Lizano, a political analyst, said that the agreement was much more than a commercial accord. He called it a moral obligation that Costa Rica had with China. He noted that China has donated a new national stadium that is under construction and that the country is promoting a Chinese shopping district in downtown San José. China also has donated a lot of money to the country, he told a reporter.

Ruiz this week also signed a free trade treaty with Singapore. Both agreements need legislative approval.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 69

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Great weekend appears
to be highly probable


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend weather report is promising.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that winds are gradually increasing and reducing the rain that fell in some sections of the country this week.

There also is a reduction in the humidity in the atmosphere.  The weather institute said that with the exception of clouds over the Caribbean, there would be generally clear skies today in much of the country.

Some isolated showers are possible in the central and southern Pacific, the Central Valley, the Caribbean and the northern zone, the forecast said.

But there is a down side. The weather report said that ultraviolet radiation would be abnormally high. In addition to sunburn, ultraviolet light can predispose skin to cancer.


AmCham gives Ms. Chinchilla
an agenda for development


By the A.M. Costa rica staff

The  Cámara Costarricense Norteamericana de Comercio board of directors has met with Laura Chinchilla, the president elect, to promote its version of national development.

The chamber, known as AmCham, presented the president elect with written proposals. The delegation was headed by Luis Gamboa, AmCham president.

According to a press release from the chamber, one of the principal points was that a national policy should not only promote aggressively the attraction of foreign investment but should define with clarity its role in the strategy of developing the country and integrate this foreign investment with domestic production.

The chamber also called for stimulating innovations in domestic production in addition to designing incentives for companies that become more competitive. The goal would be to multiply the benefits of foreign investment for the the nation's businesses, it said.

The chamber said it also urged the creation of a national council of competition to overcome bureaucratic obstacles that hinder efficiency.

The chamber also called for modifying the energy rates which punish heavy users without evaluating their efficiency and for working with the educational system to create professionals in careers that are needed in the marketplace.


Salvador paper convicted
of identifying young killer

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An El Salvador court has convicted the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica for publishing the identity of a minor who committed a murder on a public street. The paper’s executives argued that the public’s right to information is above that of a minor’s privacy.

In her April 6 ruling Judge María Isabel Ponce Gallardo of San Salvador’s 2nd Juvenile Court ordered the newspaper’s executive editor, José Roberto Dutriz, to pay a fine equivalent to 50 days’ minimum wage on the grounds that La Prensa Gráfica had violated Article 5 of the Juvenile Criminal Law and Article 8 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the protection of a minor’s privacy.

The case arose from the publication of a series of photographs taken by a La Prensa Grafica photographer March 11 and published over the following days in the paper and other local media. The photos showed a 17-year-old student at the precise moment he was attacking another youth in a mid afternoon fight on a public street. The victim died from his wounds in the hospital hours later.

The judge had notified the paper not to publish any more details, which the paper complied with. In the audience brought by the judge, Dutriz and editor Gabriel Trillos testified that after hours of consideration whether to adhere to the law or publish, they decided that in this particular case the prevailing factor was that the editorial principle of the people’s right to know and defense of press freedom were above the legally stipulated right for the protection of minors and children. They added that they protected the victim’s identity by not publishing his photo, but they did decide to show and identify his attacker.

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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.

Searching
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.

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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.

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

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For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 69

Agreement to extend rail service in valley expected today
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry and the nation's railway operator will enter into an agreement today with two Spanish companies to extend train service through much of the Central Valley.

There have been no announcements, although one may come today.

The signing will be at the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and includes the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles.

The exact nature of the agreement still is not known. At last report in October some 11 firms were anxious to obtain the concession to run the trains in the Central Valley.

The current project is believe to include extending the rail service to Cartago.
Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia, said in October that officials are looking at a short-term and a long-term solution. The long-term is a high-speed, modern electrical train service. The short-term plan is to extend the current service as much as possible. Cartago officials would like the current diesel service to go there.

Train service now goes from Pavas to the Universidad Latina in San Pedro. There is a second, independent line that connects San José with Heredia. That line recently was extended to Universidad Latina, too.

Several Spanish companies were involved in helping Costa Rica purchase cars from that country's narrow gauge operation. One firm even contributed to shipping the rail cars here.

A source within the transport ministry did not mention that anyone from the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones would be at the meeting, so the probability is that the agreement addresses the short-term solution.


As the city returns to normal, there still have been changes
Unlike past years during Easter week, I didn’t venture  downtown to walk the almost empty streets and enjoy the quiet.  I don’t even know if they were quiet or if the parades and religious pageantry dominated. The pageantry was mostly Catholic since this is officially a Catholic country, and, like all Catholic countries, Costa Rica is struggling with the sex abuse scandals that have been in the news. 

I kept pondering something Andrew Sullivan said in a recent talk televised on C-Span.  Sullivan is a self-described “gay, Catholic, political conservative.”  He stated that the church has been a haven for gays since the Middle Ages.  It was the perfect institution for men who did not want to marry.  My first reaction was, “Of course, why haven’t I thought of that!” It also occurred to me that convents may have served the same purpose for women.  Nuns are married to Christ.  Perhaps priests are also symbolically married to Christ – and thus the Church does permit gay marriage under certain circumstance.  If Sullivan is correct, it’s likely there are a number of gay clergy – even some of the men at the top.  The church, like all large institutions, must establish discipline and be aware of the abuses of power.  
 
In full disclosure, I, with the mentoring of a young seminarian, later priest, raised myself as a faithful Catholic. I won a catechism contest for our diocese.  Father John taught me what was right and wrong – not always exactly the church’s version- — but always what was moral and honorable.  Father John died when he was just 28, and I lost my mentor.  In my 20s I came to realize that I was out-Catholicking the Catholic Church and formally (to a monsignor at the Harvard Club) excommunicated it from my life. I don’t think he or the church even shrugged, but I was bereft for years.  I have been remembering Father John.
 
Then I heard that my friend Ellen’s husband Jim had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack.  He had just taken his finished book to a publisher and seemed fine when Ellen went shopping.  He was a good, kind man, who, while  ambassador to Thailand,  became a fine Thai cook. When I told him I would like to learn, he sent 
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr


me a  cookbook of simple Thai recipes. Ellen and all of us who knew Jim are mourning his loss.

It took me some days to once again realize the same old truth: That life is for the living, and all we have is today (and as someone told me recently, maybe just part of today), so live it. 

By Monday, I pulled myself together and took a bus downtown to pay some bills.  People keep telling me it is easier to pay via the Internet, but I only have to walk 15 feet to my computer. Walking in the city is better exercise.    On the bus ride down I was aware (it seemed for the first time) of the beautiful pink flowers blooming on the robles de sabana trees along Paseo Colón.  And as I walked from the bus stop in front of the Teatro Nacional, passing the Plaza de la Cultura, I saw one with clusters of blossoms the size of bridal bouquets.  It was one of the few times I wished I had a camera.

My monthly health insurance with the Caja has increased for the first time in 10 years.  The increase is less than 20 percent as far as I can tell.  It is still reasonable.  My other bills remain the same.

There must still be people at the beaches because the streets of San Jose were comfortably populated.  The rush of the pedestrians and the cars was considerably slower.  That will change.  There have been two aguaceros (sudden strong rains) in the past week, so perhaps the yigüirros are finally right, the rainy season is beginning – did I close my eyes and miss summer?  But they can stop their chirping.

Life is getting back to normal, but normal is no longer what it used to be.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 69

Escazú Christian Fellowship
xx
Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church


Antiqua Aduana
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Motorists would find it hard to miss the Antiqua Aduana on Avenida 23

Rehab of the Antiqua Aduana cost country $6.3 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three years and $6.3 million later, the culture ministry has inaugurated the former Aduana building as a cultural arts center.

The complex contains 161,459 square meters, counting the outside areas. That is 3.7 acres.

The lengthy structure, just south of Santa Teresita church on Avenida 23, is best known to residents as the site for Christmas craft sales and other expositions.

The government evicted a tenant, the Feria Internacional de Costa Rica, five years ago and took over the structure. Since then it has been little used. The brick building is 215 meters (705 feet) long and 17.5 meters (57 feet) wide

When officials in the Abel Pacheco administration announced the project in November 2005 the price tag was $20 million, but they had plans for a 500-car underground garage, too.
The building is known in Spanish as the Antigua Aduana, using the word for old and customs. The building was designed to process cargo that arrived by train from the coasts. The Estación al Atlántico is just across the street.

The structure will be a new home for the Teatro de La Aduana. The section known as the Casa del Cuño will house Ciberartes, a virtual art project. The Casa del Cuño is where Costa Rica's money was once coined. The Compañía Nacional de Teatro also will have a home there.

Sandra Quiròs, director of the Centro de Patrimonio in the culture ministry, noted that the building underwent extensive restoration and renovation. That is an understatement.

Workmen had to replace the roof and reinforce the brick walls so that they would meet modern standards.

A lot of steel went into the restoration. In effect, workmen constructed a new building within the walls of the historic building.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 69

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Judicial agents protesting
reinstatement of colleague


By Manuel Avendaño Arce
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of the judicial police fraud unit protested for two hours Thursday against a colleague who had been suspended for three years on the allegation that he gave information to scamsters.

The focus of the protest, an investigator named Camacho, was suspended in 2008, and officials said at the time the scamsters paid millions of colons for the information. However, the man was acquitted last month in a trial and sought reinstatement in the Sección de Fraudes.

Most of the participants had their faces covered with ski masks in the style of undercover officers and anti-drug agents. One agents said that those who work in the Judicial Investigating Organization were concerned with the effect of Camacho's reinstatement on the reputation of the agency. They said they were protesting against corruption.

Francisco Segura, the deputy director of the agency, said that officials knew that there had been traffic in confidential information and that the situation was delicate and complex. He noted that the allegations amounted to a felony. He said that officials have to analyze the situations. Despite the demonstration, Segura said that some agents are not anxious to work with colleagues who may put their lives in danger.

The case was being evaluated by the Inspección Judicial.

Camacho had worked just a few months for the agency when the allegations surfaced.


Another police sweep
into Tierra Dominicana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública and the health ministry closed down a hotel and confiscated drugs in the so-called Tierra Dominicana on Avenida 9 at Calle 8.

Also involved were members of the Policía Municipalidad.

Police have been targeting the area because there are a lot of foreigners living there.  Nils Ching, subdirector of the Fuerza Pública in San José, said that the area houses persons being sought by police.

Police surprised a man in the hotel in the afternoon while he was using drugs, they said. He was preparing crack cocaine, they added.

In addition police interviewed more than 250 persons and found seven who may be in the country illegally. Another person was the subject of an arrest warrant.

This week the owner of some run-down dwellings and commercial structures tore them down, but police fear that the individuals who lived in the area will be seeking another neighborhood now that they have lost their hangouts.


For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 9, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 69


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200 persons may be buried
after landslide in Brazil


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rescue teams are working in a Rio de Janeiro suburb to find some 200 persons believed trapped in a huge mudslide caused by days of torrential rains.

Fire official Pedro Machado said Thursday the mudslide hit a slum area known as Morro do Bumba in the city of Niteroi, burying at least 60 homes.

Officials say many of the homes in the slum were unstable because they were built on an old landfill where many years worth of garbage was buried.

Record rainfall since late Monday has triggered deadly flooding and mudslides throughout Rio de Janeiro state. Many of the deaths occurred in slums where homes were most fragile.

The death toll is already at more than 150 people, and that does not include those believed buried in the latest mudslide.

The state's heaviest rains in decades began Monday. Weather forecasts predict storms to continue until Friday.

Officials say 28.8 centimeters of rain had fallen in the city of Rio in a 24-hour period. That is more than 11 inches.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, urged people to stay at home and off the streets, while Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral on Wednesday called for three days of mourning.

The rains have forced thousands of people to leave their homes.

Quake hits near Parrita

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake with a magnitude of 4 took place Thursday at 2:37 p.m. in the Pacific west of Parrita. The cause was attributed to the contact between the Coco and Caribe tectonic plates. The quake was felt in Jacó and at other points along the Pacific coast.




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