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(506) 2223-1327           Posted Thursday, April 14, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 73             E-mail us
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Hotel operators reported optimistic for Easter Week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new organization of small and medium tourist operations has a litany of complaints. Some are consistent with universal economic concerns such as electrical rates.

But the group, Asociación para Protección de Turismo, also would like to see more of the taxes tourism generates for the government. And the tourism operators would like to see the lion's share spent on promotion.

They voiced their concerns this week as the country moved toward Semana Santa or Holy Week. The period, which usually means week-long vacations for some private and nearly all public employees, can be a windfall for tourism.

But maybe not this year.

The well-establish Cámera Nacional de Turismo reports that hotel operators are upbeat and expect about 79 percent occupancy during Semana Santa. The down side is that actual figures from April 1 show a national average of just 54.2 percent.

The tourism chamber took a survey of 100 representative hotels of all price ranges during the last week in March, it said.

The expectations and the actual occupancies were linked to location. For example, northern Guanacaste hotel operators expected 91.5 percent of their rooms to be filled for Easter week.

The actual figures of occupancy on April 1 ranged from 32.7 percent in the Central Valley to 65.6 percent in the south Pacific. None of those figures suggest hotel owners are making much of a profit on their investments.

Central Valley hospitality operators will take another hit during Semana Santa. The week may be great for beach locations and mountain retreats, but the exodus means low occupancy in the Central Valley. Hotel operators there estimated Easter occupancy at 53.8 percent.

The chamber said that hotel rates for Easter range from $12 to $500 a night. In fact, hotel owners are scurrying to develop Easter week packages. A typical one is $60 a night for two persons with breakfast thrown in.

A lot depends on the location, the amenities and from where vacationers come. Papagayo hotels that draw from an international crowd are charging rates far higher than businesses that cater to the national tourism consumer.

The actual occupancy rate last year was 85 percent, the chamber said.

The tourism operators who met with lawmakers this week were seeking special considerations in a number of areas. They had some support from legislators. The group hopes to put on effective lobbying campaigns.

That is something that long-standing national organizations like the Cámera Nacional have not been able to do. For example, the tourism chamber opposes the dry law that forbids the sale of alcohol on the Thursday and Friday of Holy
Region
Expected
Semana
Santa

Actual
Occupancy
on April 1

Guanacaste North
91.5%
59.5%
Central Pacific
88.1
68.5
Puntarenas and
nearby islands
86.9
52.5
Northern plains
84.6
63.5
Southern Guanacaste
81.4
64.6
Southern Caribbbean
80
65.6
Southern Pacific
77.4
49.6
Monteverde
69
37.5
Northern Caribbean
63
35
Central Valley
53.8
32.7
National average
78.9
54.2
Source: Cámera Nacional de Turismo survey

Week. That is April 20 and 21 this year. The prohibition, based on religious grounds, cost hotel and restaurant operators thousands each year.  But the chamber has been largely ineffective in pushing this goal.

There does not seem to have been any support from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo either.
Tradition has it that Jesus Christ served his apostles wine at the Last Supper, so the Easter Week prohibition against alcohol would seem to be arbitrary at least. Yet it endures.

As far as promotion, there does not seem to have been any special efforts made by the government to attract international visitors even though the Easter week processions and pageants are highly photogenic and colorful. Roman soldiers mix with apostles and other biblical characters in processions all over the country.

Yet there is no mention of this fact on the tourism institute official Web site or even the site of the tourism chamber. Both sites also are low in visitors. Alexa, the Amazon.com affiliate, says the tourism institute site is in 177,882nd place in the world and the chamber site is in 1,106,893rd place. By contrast A.M. Costa Rica is at 69,642nd place and La Nación is in 8,044th place worldwide.

This year was seen to be one of rebound for the tourism industry, which took major hits in 2009 and 2010 due to world economic conditions. The industry still is hobbled by and unfavorable dollar-colon exchange rate and First World tourist who are not spending the way they have in the past.

There also are highly promoted and successful campaigns elsewhere in Latin America and even in the southern United States.

Many government offices are closed all next week. The Semana Santa holidays are beginning with a trickle as some vacationers managed to take today and Friday off. The big rush to the beach begins Friday afternoon. For the religious, Palm Sunday is this weekend with the beginning of Easter processions. in anticipation of Easter April 24.

Most of the vacationers will return for a normal workday April 25, and that is when hotel operators will know the degree of success.

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Renewed traffic restrictions
will only be in San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials have decided to waive vehicle restrictions in communities other than San José, but the possibility will be studied.

That was a decision announced Wednesday by Francisco Jiménez, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes. However, as expected, the ministry will resume stricter traffic controls in the metro area. Prohibitions against vehicles with the incorrect plate number will be broadened to cover the period from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Officials had reduced the prohibition to just peak hours.

The prohibited license plate numbers will continue to be 1 and 2 on Monday, 3 and 4 on Tuesday, 5 and 6 on Wednesday, 7 and 8 on Thursday and 9 and 0 on Friday. This will go into effect May 2.

An exception will be between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for passenger cars containing four persons. The government is trying to encourage car pooling.

Taxis, emergency vehicles and vehicles used to repair utilities will continue to be exempted from the regulations.

The ministry also will be cracking down on buses that block traffic by not stopping in approved areas. This will take place all over the Central Valley, the ministry said.

The ministry will continue to have special lanes on the major highways for buses, but taxis containing passengers also will be allowed to use these lanes, the ministry said.

The ministry said it will keep 167,000 cars out of the center of the capital each day. The borders will continue to be Pavas and La Uruca on the west and the Circunvalación on the south and east. The main highway of Calle Blanco is the limit on the north. Signs with maps are posted on the perimeters.

The fine for violation of restricted days is 31,600 colons or about $64. 

Officials said they also will be cracking down on trucks, which are prohibited every day from the same zone at peak hours.

The ministry also promises to optimize the automatic traffic signal system in the center city.

Another reason for the prohibitions is to save gasoline. Costa Rica imports all its petroleum.


German president visits
Costa Rica May 3 and 4

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of the German Federal Republic will lead a delegation to Costa Rica May 3 and 4.

The president, Christian Wulff, will be accompanied by his wife, Bettina. Members of the Bundestag, commercial representatives, scientists, cultural personalities and press will complete the delegation.

The last time a German president visited Costa Rica was in 1977, said the German Embassy in a release. That was when Walter Scheel visited then-president Daniel Oduber Quirós.

Wulff, 51, won election June 30, 2010, to a five-year term. He has the right to seek re-election for one term more, said the embassy. Election is by the federal assembly of 1,244 persons.


Postal service to enter
the cell telephone business


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The postal service, Correos de Costa Rica, is expanding its market and will offer cell telephone services.

The government agency announced an agreement Wednesday with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and Grupo Tecnológico GAMA TAU.

The agreement means that the postal service will offer pre-paid cell telephones and cell phone recharging at all of its branches. The agency has 97 branches.

The state-owned electrical institute, now a broad telecommunications company, will soon face competition for the first time.

 
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, Thursday, April 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 74
Latigo K-9

Judiciary gets another black eye with corruption case arrest 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a major embarrassment for the judicial system, agents detained a criminal prosecutor in Limón on the allegation that the man accepted a bribe to allow a murder case to expire.

Jorge Chavarría, the nation's chief prosecutor, was there for the arrest and stripped the man of his credentials. Then agents transported the man to San José where he was to be questioned.

The suspect was identified by the last names of Ortíz Sandí by the Poder Judicial.

The arrest comes in a month when a judge freed seven juveniles accused of terrorizing their home barrio with extortion and threats and another judge freed three persons accused of money laundering. In both cases, the judges were critical of the paperwork that has been presented. Two of the juveniles were detained just a few days later on a new robbery allegation.

Chavarría, himself, has been under criticism for ordering a halt to an interrogation days before he actually took over
the top prosecutor's job. The suspect is the former minister of the Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the brother of the former president.

According to the Poder Judicial, Ortiz is accused of hiding a judicial file relating to the murder case of a man identified by the last names of Smith West.

The allegation is that he took 500,000 colons to do so. That is a bit more than $1,000.

The case against Smith began June 29, 2009, and it was shelved last Jan. 9. Smith is now in preventative detention on an attempted murder allegation. He was originally accused of the contract killing of a Jamaican man Dec. 30, 2007.

The Poder Judicial said the investigation of Ortiz began in March.  Ortiz began working for the judiciary in November 2003. In 2008, the Poder Judicial said he was named an assistant prosecutor in Limón in 2008 and began as trial prosecutor April 12, 2010.

Officials are expected to seek preventative detention against Ortiz.


Security minister apologized for inappropriate telephone call
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minster made a public apology Wednesday for making an inappropriate telephone call to a prosecutor and then received a tongue lashing by opposition deputies. One even suggested that the minister, José María Tijerino resign.

Tijerino, himself a former chief prosecutor, talked about what everyone already knew. He telephoned Emilia Navas, the former chief prosecutor for financial crimes and corruption, to find out why Rodrigo Arias, the former minister of the Presidencia, was being called in for questioning. She testified last week.

The testimony was before the special committee investigating the Arias administration's use of some $2 million from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The money was paid off the books, and in some cases the payments appeared to be designed to silence opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States. Administration officials have said that many of the individuals were hired as political advisers.

As minister of the Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias was involved in the reception and payment of the money.

Ms. Navas recounted the developments when she planned to call in Rodrigo Arias for a formal interrogation session.

Lawmakers already knew that the formal questioning, called an indagatoria, had been canceled by order of Lillian Gómez, who was acting fiscal general or chief prosecutor at the time. That was after Jorge Chaverría, the current fiscal general, called her and asked her to postpone the session
 until he could study the facts. That call was made after Chaverría had been appointed by supreme court magistrates but before he took office.

Tijerino said what he did was an error but he did not know how big at the time. "If I had known the consequences, I never would have made that call," Tijerino told lawmakers Wednesday.

Víctor Granados Calvo, an opposition lawmaker, wanted to know how frequently such calls are made. Tijerino, fiscal general from 1990 to 1995, said that the popular opinion is that prosecutors are subject to political influences, but in reality most do not respond to such pressure.

It was Manrique Oviedo Guzmán, another opposition lawmaker, who suggested the security minster resign. For most of the tongue lashings Tijerino remained silent.

Tijerino has said that he simply was making an inquiry on behalf of Rodrigo Arias. The former minster thought the investigation into the slush fund had been closed. Tijerino suggested Wednesday that he was making the call as a citizen and friend of Rodrigo Arias and not as a minister, but the lawmakers rejected this contention.

A week ago Juan Carlos Cubillo Miranda and Cristian Fernández Mora, both prosecutors, testified. They with Ms. Navas made the decision to continue with the investigation even though the questioning of Rodrigo Arias was put off. The events happened in October.

The case has wide political ramifications. Rodrigo Arias is a candidate for presidency in 2012.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 74


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Another survey shows that retail food prices are variable

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Semana Santa is when Costa Ricans change their diets to more fish and other traditional Lenten foods.

The holiday also is the time for surveyors of the Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comerico to check up on prices in the retail stores.

The ministry found wide differences in reports from 25 supermarkets and 13 fish stores in San José, Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia.

As usual, the survey showed it pays to shop around. A can of Del Monte fruit cocktail costs 1,000 colons ($2.02) in Palí in San Sebastián and 1,786 colons ($3.61) in Mega Súper in La Uruca, the surveyors found. That's a difference of 78.6 percent, they said.

There were similar price differences among identical products.  A tin of calamares or squid packaged by Sardimar cost 525 colons ($1.06) in Más x Menos in Paseo de las Flores and 887 colons ($1.79) at Mega Súper in La Uruca for a difference the ministry computed to be nearly 70 precent.

Even canned tuna, a staple of the Easter season, showed differences ranging from 39 percent for smoked pieces in oil to 58.9 percent for pieces in sunflower oil.

Vast differences were encountered in similar products. Tuna in oil with vegetables by Gomes da Costa at Hipermás in Heredia and Curridabat cost 520 colons ($1.05). Calvo brand of tuna with jalapeños cost 1,270 colons ($2.57) at Perimercado in Escazú and Pavas.

That is a difference of 144.2 percent, surveyors said.

Similar differences were found with cut vegetables in vinegar, encurtido, 135.8 percent, and whole canned palmitos, 85.33 percent.
tuna can

The ministry also warned that purchasers should check the net weight on the cans when making price comparisons.

The lower prices were found in Palí, Mega Súper, Perimercado and Más x Menos, the ministry said. Higher prices were in Automercado, Mega Súper and certain Más x Menos locations.

In nearly all cases, fish stores, pescaderias, had lower prices for various types of fish than supermarkets. A kilo of tilapia was listed at 4,200 ($8.49) colons in Mas x Menos in Rohrmoser and 3,000 colons ($6.07) at Pescadería la Única in Heredia.

The differences in prices do not always mean stores are gouging customers. Retail prices reflect rents, pilferage, bulk buying and sometimes prices of loss leaders or sales items. There also are premiums paid for branded products who producers pay for advertising campaigns.

The entire survey and list of prices can be found HERE.



Tropical ocean linked to warmer Antarctic Peninsula

By the University of Washington news service

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed rapidly for the last half-century or more, and recent studies have shown that an adjacent area, continental West Antarctica, has steadily warmed for at least 30 years, but scientists haven’t been sure why.

New University of Washington research shows that rising sea surface temperatures in the area of the Pacific Ocean along the equator and near the International Date Line drive atmospheric circulation that has caused some of the largest shifts in Antarctic climate in recent decades.

The warmer water generates rising air that creates a large wave structure in the atmosphere called a Rossby wave train, which brings warmer temperatures to West Antarctica during winter and spring.

Antarctica is somewhat isolated by the vast Southern Ocean, but the new results show that it is still affected by climate changes elsewhere on the planet, said Eric Steig, a  professor of earth and space sciences and director of the University of Washington Quaternary Research Center.
Steig is the corresponding author of a paper documenting the findings that is being published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The scientists used surface and satellite temperature observations to show a strong statistical connection between warmer temperatures in Antarctica, largely brought by westerly winds associated with high pressure over the Amundsen Sea adjacent to West Antarctica, and sea surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific Ocean.

They found a strong relationship between central Pacific sea-surface readings and Antarctic temperatures during winter months, June through August.

Though not as pronounced, the effect also appeared in the spring months of September through November.

The observed circulation changes are in the form of a series of high- and low-pressure cells that follow an arcing path from the tropical Pacific to West Antarctica. That is characteristic of a textbook Rossby wave train pattern, Ding said, and the same pattern is consistently produced in climate models, at least during winter.

Using observed changes in tropical sea surface temperatures, the researchers found they could account for half to all of the observed winter temperature changes in West Antarctica, depending on which observations are used for comparison.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 74

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Final vote totals in Haiti
delayed by two days


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haitian officials say the final results of the country's recent runoff elections will be announced next Monday, instead of this coming Saturday as originally planned.

A government source close to the matter said conditions have not been fulfilled to present the results on Saturday as scheduled.  Word of the delay comes as president-elect Michel Martelly prepares to take office May 14, succeeding President Rene Preval. 

Martelly was initially excluded from the disputed first round in November, until international observers reviewed those results and recommended he advance to the second round instead of the ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin.  The observers cited fraud and irregularities in the first round of balloting.  The second round took place March 20.

Meanwhile, the president-elect says his new government will be all-inclusive and that he plans to make his selections based on qualifications, not political affiliation.  In an interview, Martelly also said he is deciding whom to pick as prime minister to help implement his vision for Haiti.  The president-elect says his goals include free tuition for all children nationwide, housing for people living in tent camps following last year's earthquake, and strengthening the agricultural sector so Haiti can become more self-sufficient.

The president-elect was not clear on whether he planned to renew the mandate of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission after its expiration this coming October.  Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton co-chair the commission, which is overseeing assistance to the Caribbean nation following the January 2010 earthquake.  The quake left more than 200,000 people dead. 

The number of people still living in tent camps as a result of the quake has fallen by more than half to 680,000.  A deadly cholera epidemic that started in Haiti last October appears to have stabilized.  Millions of people, however, continue to rely on non-governmental organizations to meet their basic needs.  Haiti's justice system is dysfunctional, and the prison system is dangerously overcrowded. 


Sabana bridge club invites
new members to play


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Beginner or intermediate bridge players are invited to visit the Costa Rican Bridge Club, also known as the Asociación Recreativa Nacional de Bridge. The organization is interested in developing new players to join in playing bridge, it said

Thursday at 1:30 p.m. there is a relaxed bridge game for three and a half hours. Refreshments are included in the price of 4,000 colons, a club announcement said.

Starting April 26 at 9:30 a.m and every Tuesday thereafter there will be a free social meeting for anyone interested in learning about bridge in Costa Rica. Open Bridge will be played until noon, the organization said.

The language used is English and many of the players are North Americans but players from throughout South America also are members of the club, the organization said.

For further information, or for answers to any question, those interesed can contact George P. Harris at gpharris73@gmail.com

The location is in La Sabana Oeste just west of the Pops I
ice cream store across the street from the La Bruja convenience store.

There are also bridge games for advanced to expert level players at the same location at various times throughout the week.

Sax quartet to perform

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The saxophone quartet Rice and Beans will play today for the Música al Atardecer at the Teatro Nacional at 5:10 p.m. The members of the quartet also are members of the Big Band de Costa Rica and the New Jazz Project. Admission is 2,000 colons, about $4.
 


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 14, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 74

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Latin American news
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Economic crunch, gas prices
affected U.S. confidence


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New opinion polls in the United States show rising gasoline prices have hurt Americans' confidence in the country's future and the performance of President Barack Obama.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday found that the proportion of respondents who believe the United States is on the wrong track rose five points from last month to 69 percent — the highest since Obama took office in January 2009.

Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said the worsening confidence is the result of rising gas prices that six out of 10 respondents said led them to to reduce their driving and cut back on other expenses. The poll also found that Obama's approval rating dropped for a second consecutive month to 46 percent.

Young said there is "very little lag time" between rising gas prices and the impact on presidential approval and confidence. He pointed out, however, that the effects of energy costs on poll results often are short-lived.

A Gallup poll released Tuesday said Americans' optimism about the U.S. economy dropped in March for the second straight month. It showed that only 33 percent of respondents said the economy is getting better, down from 38 percent in February and 41 percent in January.

Gallup said soaring gas and food prices pose major challenges to American consumers, reducing their disposable income and discouraging spending on non-essential items. It said other factors hurting consumer confidence include global events, continued U.S. political battles over the federal budget, and a weak job market.


Experts will expound
Miravalles potentials

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad plans to discuss the geothermal and other power projects at the Miravalles volcano Friday in a 1 p.m. session in its offices in Guayabo de Bagaces, Guanacaste.

The Miravalles area also has projects in the works for wind, solar and hydro power, the company said.

The company will present its experts who are involved in developing these potential power sources now.






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