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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 77                            Email us
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Controlling
the streets


In a well- publicized effort against street vendors, police and other agencies descended on the center of the city Tuesday. The only thing missing were street vendors.


See story
police on operation
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo


Changing season brings a dose of refreshing rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first rains of the year are refreshing. The afternoon downpour washes away the trash and accumulations of the previous four months.

Plants seem to open their leaves and branches to receive the life-giving moisture.

Of course, by November, most Costa Rican residents will be totally sick of rain and will be awaiting the advent of the dry season.

This is the annual replay of the grass being greener.

Much of the country had a taste of the rainy season Tuesday. More of the same is predicted for today.

In the Central Valley that means hot and humid morning hours with temperatures perhaps up to 27 C. (a bit more than 80 F.). That condition only gives strength to the clouds that bring rain.

The lightning bracketed the valley Tuesday, mainly striking in the northern and southern mountains. Stray jolts of electricity warned users of computers and other electronic devices that they need to take precautions quickly to protect them.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued an advisory at 9:30 a.m. that the storms were on their
 way. Much of northern Guanacaste appears to have been spared heavy rains. Santa Cruz had none, according to the automatic station there. But the station at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia reported 65 millimeters (2.6 inches) after 7 a.m.

On the Caribbean coast and the northern zone, the conditions were reverting to what is normal during the rainy season. That area of the country generally is much drier then. That was the case Tuesday when there was just a trace in Manzanillo and at reporting stations in the northern zone.

The storms in the Central Valley swept in earlier than normal around noon. San José got 29.2 millimeters (1.14 inches), according to the automatic station at the weather institute's headquarters in Barrio Aranjuez.

Rains, of course, were heavier in the mountains.

The weather institute warned of local flooding due to blocked storm sewers as four months of trash are swept from the streets and gutters. It also warned of slippery streets and small landslides due to rain.

The change in the weather can generate danger and the weather institute restated its warning about lightning and why humans should not be in the open air during a thunderstorm. Expat golfers routinely ignore this warning.


Obama administration will treat drug use as a disease
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Obama administration now considers drug use is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated. That is the basis of a new strategy released Tuesday.

The announcement comes at a time when many Latin leaders are considering the same approach.

According to a release from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the new strategy is guided by three facts: addiction is a disease that can be treated; people with substance use disorders can recover; and innovative new criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration, and rearrest. 

Among other Obama administration initiatives with drugs, the president's health care reform requires insurers to cover treatment for substance use disorders the same way they would other chronic diseases, starting in 2014.
“Outdated policies like the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders are relics of the past that ignore the need for a balanced public health and safety approach to our drug problem,” said Gil Kerlikowske. “The policy alternatives contained in our new strategy support mainstream reforms based on the proven facts that drug addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated and that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

He is director of National Drug Control Policy.

The administration release said that illicit drug use today is roughly one third the rate it was in the late 1970s. There has been a 40 percent drop in cocaine use and meth use has dropped by half, it said. 

The Obama Administration has requested over $10 billion to support drug education programs and support for expanding access to drug treatment for people suffering from substance use disorders. 

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Electric rates in valley
will go up about 4.67%


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central Valley customers of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz are facing a 4.67 percent rate increase.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos has approved that amount, which is about half what the company sought. The increase amounts to between two and four colons per kilowatt.

The price setting agency said that a family with an 11,300-colon ($22.60) monthly electric bill would soon be paying 11,600 colons ($23.20). The new rates become effective when they are published, probably next week.


President picks successor
to former finance minister


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla has named career economist Edgar Ayales as the new finance minister or minister of Hacienda. He replaces Fernando Herrero, who quit after La Nación revealed that he paid less taxes than he should have.

Ayales is a graduate of the University of Kent in England. His undergraduate degree is from the Universidad de Costa Rica. He has helped draft many of the country's tax laws, said Casa Presidencial.

Ayales is out of the country now consulting with the Central Bank of Angola. He has been a consultant to the Banco Central here and has worked with the International Monetary Fund. He also has been executive director of the Interamerican Development Bank.

The new minister inherits a government with its finances in disarray because the Sala IV constitutional court has delivered a setback to plans to implement a 14 percent value-added tax. The president declined to comment on that Tuesday and Casa Presidencial said the administration is waiting to read the written decision from the magistrates before refining a strategy.


Purchasing systems merger
being studied by experts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A team of experts is in town to evaluate and propose the merger of the central government's two online purchasing systems.

The expert comes from the Organization of American States and the Interamerican Development Bank. The two purchasing systems are Comprared and MerkLink. The idea is to reduce the cost of items purchased by the state.

One expert is the former director of the Gobierno Digital de Chile. He is Alejandro Barros.


Quake hits near Turrialba

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3.1 magnitude earthquake took place Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., said the Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica at the Universidad de Costa Rica. The Red Sismológica Nacional estimated the epicenter to be 5.8 kilometers north of Turrialba Centro. That is about 3.5 miles. The Red at Universidad Nacional said the cause was a local fault and not due to activity by Volcán Turrialba.
 
 
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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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 77
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no vendors to be seen
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
With no vendors in sight, police keep watch near the Catedral Metropolitana at Avenida 4.
Street vendors appear to have taken a one-day vacation Tuesday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a well-publicized effort against street vendors, police and other agencies descended on the center of the city Tuesday. The only thing missing were street vendors.

They had sent out a notice to the press the previous afternoon, and camera operators attended.

Typically street vendors have a sense when the police are going to crack down and confiscate their goods. Municipal police officers have been waging a battle against the vendors for years. In some cases, the small-scale sales operations have moved from the major streets into side streets where they are less likely to be bothered by the authorities.

Tuesday municipal officers, immigration agents and representatives of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia took
part in the effort. The Patronato was there because children frequently are working with their parents. Immigration was there because many street vendors are not in the country legally.

The Fuerza Pública was there because in the past vendors battled municipal police to a draw.

In addition to blocking the passage on the major pedestrian walkways, many vendors sell counterfeit goods, like CDs, and sometimes stolen items.

Teams of police spent the day patrolling the center city, but not much success was reported.

Police officials consulted with the Defensoría de los Habitantes before conducting the sweep. The nation's ombudsman frequently has taken the side of vendors.


Fuerza Pública officer dumped because of his Nazi beliefs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A good policeman must have a touch of authoritarianism. After all, that's the job. But being a Nazi is more than Costa Rica wants, at least when the affiliation shows up on the Internet.

So the security minster fired a Fuerza Pública officer Tuesday after a minor flap because the man showed up in an Internet social site smoking in uniform, drinking a bottle of beer and standing with comrades giving a Nazi salute.

The man is Ronald Herrera Borges, who was assigned to the San Pedro detachment.

According to Mario Zamora Cordero, the minister, being a Nazi is outside the political beliefs that the police force will accept. Police officers should not join movements that demand  xenophobia political positions, he was quoted as saying in a news release.
The minister fired the police officer with what is called responsibilidad patronal, meaning the man must get a payoff because no fault can be shown.

But Zamora said that the man was not a very good officer anyway. He has been late, clashed with colleagues and did not follow orders, the minister said.

Zamora acted rapidly after photos of the officer showed up in the Spanish news media. But members of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that they saw the photos three months ago and reported them to the officer's superiors but nothing happened.

It was they who leaked the photos to the news media, they said.

Zamora said that higher ups in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will review hiring practices to see if they can weed out applicants with anti-social tendencies.


Foundation's environmental report is flawed, mining firm says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The firm that seeks to operate the Crucitas gold mine in northern Costa Rica says an environmental study is false.

The study was by the Fundación Neotrópica, and it determined that environmental damage at the mine site could be as much as $12 million.

The report was done by a team headed by Bernardo Aguilar, the foundation executive director. The study was requested by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The mine operator, Industrias Infinito S.A., said that the foundation included an adjacent lumbering operation in its evaluation. The foundation compared air photos of the site since 2005 because the company would not permit foundation workers to enter the mine project.

Industrias Infinito said in a release Tuesday that the foundation
included an adjacent property in its evaluation, and the property is a lumbering operation. The trees that were cut down are not the responsibility of the mining firm, it said.

Industrias Infinito identified the adjacent property as  Compañía Madera del Norte run by Jorge Jiménez Berrocal. The lumbering company is following an approved plan, the mining firm said.

The Crucitas site contains an estimated 800,000 ounces of gold, but Costa Rica has worked for the last two years to cancel the firm's concession. The company has been the target of several court reverses, and environmentalists have fought the mining project aggressively. Infinito is the subsidiary of a Canadian firm.

If the company is prohibited from mining the gold, Costa Rica faces a long fight in international arbitration. The environmental survey is to gain evidence in anticipation of that battle.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 77
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Artist's life here started with search for reasonable dental work
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Love brought artist Scott Wimer to live in Costa Rica, but it was a need for dental work that introduced him to the country.

At 21 he was living in Paris as a fashion photographer. By the age of 28 he left his life in the fast lane and returned to the United States. He moved to San Francisco where he worked as a cab driver, in what Wimer referred to as humbling.

“I'm actually probably one of the only people to move there (San Francisco) to stop doing drugs,” said Wimer jokingly.

Before his move to Europe, Wimer went to the Art Institute of Chicago and stumbled onto photography by taking pictures of his model friends to help build their folders. His girlfriend at the time had moved to Paris to model, and after a short amount of time she bought his ticket to France. And so began his career in the fashion industry.

His hard partying ways led him to a need for change. At least that's what his shrink told him, said Wimer. His therapist said either he leaves or die young as a result of the way he was living. So he packed up and moved to the home of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wimer has lived in this country for more than a year. He got his first taste of Costa Rica five years ago when he came to the country for a dentist appointment and continued his trips for further medical reasons.

Wimer like many Americans in the United States doesn't have health insurance, let alone dental insurance. He Googled “cheap dental” and the Web site of a dentist popped up, so Wimer said he sent an email to the dentist and the doctor called him right away.

He said he travelled to the country and after a few years of visiting, the country grew on him. And now he is happily married to a Tica and has opened his own gallery in the Barrio Otoya neighborhood.
Artist and his work
A.M. Costa Rica/Shaarazad Encinias Vela
Scott Wimer and one of his photos

“ I tend to fall in love and move,” said Wimer. He said that was the case when he moved to Paris, to Italy and now to Costa Rica. But it seems that his romantic side has allowed him to experiment and continue to work in the art industry.

At his gallery his new experimental works are on exhibit. He manipulates his photography with digital media and he blends painting to the mix. This is something new to him, he said.

Although he is still experimenting with the style, he has been successful as he has sold certain pieces. He has sold a few pieces to certain ambassadors. One of his pieces that he sold to an ambassador and his wife was a manipulated picture of a local nightspot around 5 a.m.  Wimer said he took the picture from his seat in the bus as it drove past the site.

“I like to capture real stuff happening,” said Wimer. “I like to have a lot of fun!”


Economic study says offshoring does little damage to U.S. jobs
By the University of Buffalo news service

Sending jobs overseas may not be as damaging to the U.S. economy as commonly believed, according to a study by a University of Buffalo economist.

Offshoring, the practice of moving specific operational tasks originally performed in one country to a new location abroad, is just another form of trade in goods and services, says Winston Chang, an expert in international economics. U.S. firms, in fact, become more efficient and competitive when offshoring savings are redirected to new areas of operation, new products and services, or invested in further research and development, Chang, a professor, noted.

Chang's paper, which appears online in the Social Science Research Network collects research from numerous studies supporting a conclusion long held by economists but not similarly embraced by the general public: that services offshoring has had a negligible impact on net employment and median earnings in the U.S.

Although offshoring is blamed for a staggering quantity of job losses and has created heated debate in the media, Chang cites research that indicates the projected number of 3.4 million jobs offshored between 2002 and 2015 in nine occupational categories prone to offshoring is a miniscule 0.53 percent of the nearly 60 million jobs within those categories.

"The potential job loss, though different among industries, is not as large as feared," said Chang. An annual loss of 100,000 service jobs is about 0.1 percent of total employment, according to studies. The possibility of that trend continuing, however, raises fears that most or all service jobs, which account for 70 percent of U.S. employment, could be eventually offshored. Chang says those concerns are both empirically and theoretically flawed.
"Services such as catering, retail, hotels, restaurants, tourism and personal care, which require the buyer and seller to be present in the same place, cannot be outsourced," said Chang, referring to the argument's empirical mistake. "Furthermore, offshoring occurs mostly to mundane and standardized types of work. Complex jobs that require higher skills are more difficult to offshore. High-skilled workers benefit from the vast increase of low-skilled workers in the world. Offshoring promotes growth in developing countries, raising income and creating more demand for high-skill products."

In addition, Chang noted that "a lot of transactions are not suited to the arms' length approach. Instead, they require the establishment of long and familiar business relations." The world is not flat in this respect, he said.

By offshoring some stage of production abroad, U.S. firms can create more domestic employment in other stages of production, Chang said. "The upstream blueprint designs and the vast downstream distribution and retail operations in the U.S. benefit from the possibility of offshoring some intermediate stages of such production as manufacturing and assembly operations."

"Offshoring has undoubtedly contributed to the economic growth of many developing countries, which has led to currency appreciation and higher standards of living," he said. "It is possible that we are about to see the tides turn as manufacturing activities are being reshored back to the U.S. due to rising costs in these developing countries."

GE is one of the firms to have pulled jobs back to the U.S. Sharp wage increases in India's IT sector, along with the U.S. recession and the decline of the U.S. dollar, in fact, led the company to dispose of back office operations that had been offshored to India, Chang said.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

French predictions put
Sarkozy at a disadvantage

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

French voters go to the polls Sunday for the first round of presidential elections with two top contenders dominating the campaigning, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate.

Sarkozy is running for a second term, and many analysts say he is facing an uphill battle. After five years in office, he is seen by many French voters as not delivering on his promises of cutting government spending, increasing wages and creating more jobs.

“He sees himself as the candidate of economic growth,” said John Merriman, an expert on France at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “But in fact, the results of his presidency have not been marked by any economic growth at all.

“It still has a very high unemployment rate, young people particularly - educated young people, uneducated young people - the level of unemployment is very, very high,” Merriman said. “And this is going to work against Sarkozy.”

The latest statistics show more than 20 percent of France’s young people are unemployed, more than twice the overall unemployment rate.

Merriman and others say Sarkozy, married to former super-model Carla Bruni, has alienated many people because of his lavish life-style.

“He gives the impression that all he really cares about is big yachts and big trips and big restaurants and big money,” said Merriman.

In an effort to counter that perception, Bruni told several French news outlets: “We are modest people.”

Dominique Moisi, senior adviser to the French Institute for International Affairs in Paris, points to some of Sarkozy’s accomplishments.

“Resisting the financial and economic crisis. Being at the helm of the European presidency of the Union at the worst time and sustaining the high winds. Starting to reform France on retirement age and the university system. And intervening and making a difference in the Ivory Coast and Libya.”

Moisi said Sarkozy’s message to voters should be simple: “You need me. Help me save you because the winds are going to be even tougher. You need someone with experience. In fact, any other candidate would be dangerous for you because he would lack the experience I’ve had.”

Sarkozy’s main challenger, Hollande, is a veteran politician who has never held a national government position. A graduate of the prestigious National School of Administration, Hollande has been a member of the National Assembly since the late 1980s and secretary-general of the Socialist Party.

Hollande, according to Moisi, is “a discreet person, a man who says: ‘you must vote for me because I’m normal.’ But as a result, the French may not only find him normal, but slightly banal.

“He is not charismatic - that’s the least one can say,” Moisi concluded. “But he is reasonable, serious and, in fact, friendly.”

Hollande’s political platform includes raising taxes on the very rich, freezing fuel prices, increasing welfare payments and hiring 60,000 new teachers. He has called for 75 percent tax on France's richest people.

His ex-partner, and the mother of his four children, is Segolene Royal. She was the Socialist Party presidential candidate in 2007, but lost to Sarkozy. She has endorsed Hollande this time around.

There are eight other candidates for the French presidency, including far-right Marine Le Pen, far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and centrist Francois Bayrou.

No one is expected to get the 50 percent necessary to win outright in the first round of balloting this Sunday. This will mean that the two top vote-getters will face each other in a second round of voting scheduled for May 6. 

Public opinion surveys show Sarkozy and Hollande are expected to make it through to the second round.


Noise has complex effect
on plants, study reports


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Researchers haven’t given much thought to the effect of noise and noise pollution on plants.

But that could be about to change.

In northwestern New Mexico’s Rattlesnake Canyon, gnarled juniper trees and piñon pines dominate a landscape of high mesas and rough sandstone cliffs.

Tucked in among the trees are thousands of natural gas wells. About one-third of them are pressurized by ear-splitting compressors.

“They run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the exception of periodic maintenance, so they are going all the time,” says Clinton Francis, of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina.

Since 2005, he’s been studying how Rattlesnake Canyon’s birds respond to the compressors’ non-stop racket.

“Black-chinned hummingbirds, for example, tend to prefer and settle in really noisy landscapes, and western scrub jays tend to avoid these noisy areas,” Francis says.

So the noise in the canyon is changing the way the birds behave. And that got Francis wondering whether that’s having an effect on plants the birds interact with. Take piñon pine trees and scrub jays, for example.

“We know that jays are really important seed dispersers for piñon pine,” he says.

The jays bury the seeds to snack on later, but inevitably, some get forgotten and grow into new pine trees.

Francis already knew there were fewer pine seedlings at noisy sites. Was that because the noise was keeping the jays away from their pine nuts?

Francis set up motion-trigger cameras at both noisy and quiet sites, put out some pine seeds, and waited.

As he predicted, jays avoided the noisy sites, not stashing any nuts there.

“We only found them removing seeds on the quiet sites,” he says.

But that wasn’t the only thing the cameras saw. At the noisy sites, mice were gobbling up the seeds, leaving nothing behind to sprout.

So for the pine trees, it looked like the compressor noise was delivering a double whammy.

“We’re just not getting as many seeds going into the seed bank in noisy areas, and the ones that do might be consumed by the mice that are there.”

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Global economy improves
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By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Monetary Fund says in a new report that the global economic outlook is improving.  Despite a marked slowdown in Europe, the global lending institution projects the world economy will grow 3.5 percent this year, a slight improvement from its earlier forecast in January. Growth in developing countries remains brisk, but significant risks remain.

The Fund says the U.S. job market is starting to show signs of life, factory output is up sharply from recessionary lows and American consumers are spending more.

There's also good news from Europe, where coordinated efforts by the European Union may have eliminated the threat of a Greek default and lowered borrowing costs in other high debt countries.

But Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard says the global economic picture is complicated. "Things have quieted down since but an uneasy calm remains.  One has the feeling that at any moment, things could well get very bad again," he said.

Analysts point to Spain as a potential risk. Yields for Spanish bonds have doubled since March on speculation that Europe's fourth largest economy might seek financial support. But William Hobbs from VP Research says that's an unlikely scenario. "Spain is not Greece.  Spain has a viable, albeit open-to-reform economy, and they have globally-respected businesses and generally an economy which we think will eventually see it through these dark times to come," he said.

The Fund sees promise in developing economies, particularly those in Asia, which are projected to grow 7.5 percent this year. China's growth will likely slow slightly to 8.2 percent.  But the pace is expected to accelerate in the Middle East and North Africa as oil prices continue to rise.

Improvements are also seen in sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, where economic output is likely to expand 5.5  percent. Still, Blanchard says he sees reason for caution. "For many countries, the challenges come mainly from the outside in the form of lower exports to advanced countries because of the low growth there, of the volatility of commodity prices which affects both exporters and importers and the high volatility of capital flows," he said.

The report comes as the 187-nation institution and its sister lending organization, the World Bank, prepare to hold annual spring meetings in Washington.





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