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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 78                            Email us
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Ms.Chinchilla announces a stopgap budget measure
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda went on television Wednesday night to announce new measures by the central government to reduce expenses and increase income.

The president said that an electronic system for reporting sales tax would be implemented to reduce evasion. She also reduced the number of produces that are exempt from sales tax, concentrating on what she said were luxury items. Those food items that now will be subject to the tax include T-bone steaks and kiwi fruit.

The president also said that the central government would sell off some of its real estate.

The president said that she would freeze the salaries and high pensions and also the per diem fees paid to boards of directors. Also taking a hit will be the political parties that receive funds from the central government. She said she would reduce these payments.

Government agencies would be authorized to collect for non-essential services, the president said. She also wants to move surpluses from the autonomous agencies to the central government.

The president was not very specific, but Casa Presidencial immediately announced a session for today where officials will explain the measures to reporters.

Those who will do so were identified as Vice President Luis Liberman, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of the Presidencia, Franciso Chacón, minister of Communications and the staff of the Ministerio de Hacienda.

The stopgap measures will only raise about half of what the president says she needs to run the country. She estimated it at 0.8 percent of the value of the country's gross domestic product. The new measures were forced on the president when the Sala IV constitutional court ruled that the legislative process used to bring her $500 million tax plan to a vote was not constitutional. That plan was estimated to raise about 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product for the central government.

Ms. Chinchilla met since Friday multiple times with advisors to come up with the proposals.

The president spoke on what is called the cadena nacional or national network for an unusually long time. Her talk was seven minutes and 21 seconds. She began by telling Costa Ricans that the interest rate they pay in their daily life was high because of the debt of the central government. And she noted that 45 percent of the national budget is from borrowed money.

She outlined steps she took to save money, including freezing the government payroll and freezing the salaries of ministers, vice ministers and even that of herself. She said these efforts saved 100 billion colons  (about $200 million).

She made no mention of her closest advisers who were caught failing to pay their own taxes and accepting generous contracts from the state. Some

Presdient Chinchilla
Casa Presidencial video
Ms. Chinchilla adresses the nation

are under investigation. She did mention that the country achieved its first criminal conviction for tax evasion this month. That was a case started in 2005.

Ms. Chinchilla said that to cut the budget to meet the income would require firing 24,000 employees or failing to pay 60 percent of the interest on the public debt. She said it would mean not paying 55 percent of the pensions.

She said such actions were not feasible and would jeopardize the high level of social security and highway infrastructure.

She also said a lot of her new plans required action by the legislature. She said action there was critical on some proposals the central government has submitted, including one for issuing debt instruments.

The president admitted that the measures she is taking will not resolve the country's financial problems. She said what was needed is a more progressive tax structure.

Although the president did not give details, Casa Presidencial released a decree she signed that changed the content of the so-called basic consumer basket. Also released was a proposed law to efficiently manage public finances. It includes some of the actions the president promoted, including cutting the money paid to political parties for the 2014 elections.

Some proposals seem to face an uncertain future in the legislature.

The method of electronic registering of sales and sales tax now exists, but not every company uses it. The system allows workers from Tributación, the tax agency, to peek into company computers via the Internet.

The decree gives a long list of items exempt from sales tax and said that the idea was to protect individuals with low incomes.  What will be taxed now includes better cuts of meat, salmon, rice for paella, risotto, shrimp, lobster, peaches, plums, cherries and bottled water.

There are 228 items exempt from sales tax, and they seem to be the same items that were listed in the president's tax plan. Her advisers created the list to please some lawmakers who said the poor need more breaks. Also listed as tax-free are school uniforms, school shows, texts and notebooks, newspapers and periodicals. Many of the items already are free of sales tax.

Casa Presidencial contends that the president has the power to apply sales tax and exempt some items. That may lead to a legal challenge.


Constitutional court rejects one corporate tax appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected one challenge to the new tax on corporations.

The Poder Judicial said late Wednesday that rejected was an appeal filed by a man identified as Oscar Ocampo Soto. He said that the law contravened due process because it calls for the dissolution of a
corporation if the tax is not paid for three years in a row.

Magistrates have at least five more appeals pending on the tax, which is supposed to be paid by the end of this month.

The full decision was not released, just a brief summary.

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Our reader's opinion
Offshore jobs not minuscule
as researcher reported

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I will never be able to understand why people are unable to perform even simple mathematics.

I refer to your article on page four of A.M. Costa Rica of April 18, 2012, "Economic study says offshoring does little damage to U.S. jobs."

The study states that 3,400,000 jobs are shipped offshore every year. This is out of a total of 60,000,000 jobs available in specified categories. I have no way of verifying these figures. The article continues and states that this is a "minuscule 0.53 percent of the nearly 60 million jobs within those categories".

For those not accustomed to dealing in percentages, it is a portion of a whole expressed in parts of 100 expressed as a whole digit with a decimal and a remainder, or for those percentages smaller that 1 percent, the decimal remainder.

To find the actual percentage of jobs shipped offshore, one would then take 3,400,000 and divide it by 60,000,000. The quotient obtained is .05666. One then simply moves the decimal two places to the right, effectively dividing it by 100, and you obtain the true percentage of 5.67%, after rounding off, which is considerably different from what is stated. In any case, it is not "miniscule."

A direct quote from the Internet when I Googled "U.S. Unemployment" gave me this "The unemployment rate in the United States was last reported at 8.2 percent in March of 2012". When I checked "U.S. Population" I found this: "The United States will enter 2012 with a population of roughly 312.8 million people". With 8.2 percent unemployment, that gives us 25,649,600 out of work. And those are only the ones still on the unemployment roles. It does not include those who are hard core unemployed because of drug addictions or other reasons. If we now take the number of jobs shipped overseas and divide it by the number of unemployed, we obtain 13.2 percent. That being the number of people represented by that percentage who would be working in the U.S. rather than someone in a foreign country. A considerable number.

Some other points made I agree with. But most of those really have to do with the corporate "bottom line" than anything else.

But I'm just an aerospace engineer. I do know that a lot of my work is being shipped to India.
Joe Sullivan
Puntarenas

Editor's Note: We have sought clarification from the author of the article at the University of Buffalo, New York.
 
 
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 19, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 78
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An A.M. Costa Rica guest editorial
Wrong-headed approach to sex trade obscures the real problems

By Ken Morris*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The collaboration between Costa Rica’s immigration police and the non-profit organization Fundación Rehab in recent raids of San Jose nightclubs with reputations for prostitution, chiefly Hotel Del Rey and Key Largo, was a misguided response to a serious problem.

No, the problem isn’t sex trafficking — the combating of which was the pretext for the raids — at least in the nightclubs targeted.  Genuine victims of sex trafficking (as opposed to voluntary immigrants) are more apt to be found in the downscale brothels, which despite being illegal according to the spirit of both Costa Rican and international law, operate with impunity under the auspices of pensión licenses issued with winks and giggles by the authorities.

The problem is sex tourism.  At any one time, upwards of 5,000 women and girls in Costa Rica work as prostitutes, often with foreign clients, and over time tens of thousands of Ticas are involved in the industry.  Indeed, the combined demand by locals and tourists for commercial sex forces Costa Rica to import about half of its prostitutes (a pattern of women’s voluntary labor migration that Fundación Rehab calls “sex trafficking”).  The roughly 200,000 North American sex tourists that visit the country annually, coupled with perhaps a tenth as many sexpats who live here permanently, are a large portion of that demand.

But Fundación Rehab is not the group to combat sex tourism — much less one that deserves a police escort to raid private businesses and detain customers without a warrant.  The non-profit simply doesn’t understand the sex industry, sex trafficking, or even prostitution.

According to Fundación Rehab’s Web site, prostitution is an extension of male domination to the point where men use women’s bodies for their prurient pleasure.  This, however, is stale ideology that doesn’t fit the facts and isn’t even accepted by most feminist sex researchers.

While male dominance is often a component of female prostitution, the relevant domination usually occurs long before a woman turns her first trick.  By the time she does, she frequently views prostitution as empowering retaliation for earlier exploitation.  Her thinking is:  If men will do this to me anyway, I might as well take charge and get paid for it!

To assume therefore that women in a nightclub looking for men who will pay them for sex are being exploited by those men is simply mistaken.  On the contrary, by then the women often feel that they are the exploiters, while the men are frequently remarkably kind and generous.

Fundación Rehab’s ideology of male domination also conveniently ignores that mothers in Costa Rica often initiate their daughters’ into prostitution — and then live off the proceeds.  Likewise, their ideology ignores male prostitution.  Not only is there a thriving gay sex trade throughout the country, but there is also a documented female sex tourist industry centered in Limón.

Fundación Rehab’s emphasis on the exploitation of women’s “bodies” further betrays their sophomoric ideology.  In reality, prostitution mainly involves “emotional labor” — smiling, listening, feigning affection, etc. — while the sex acts take only a few minutes.  In fact, the prostitutes’ main physical complaint is that their feet hurt from hours of trolling in high heels.

Most disturbingly, Fundación Rehab makes essentialist assumptions about who is and who isn’t a prostitute.  Research on sex tourism by the feminist scholar Amalia Cabezas shows that women’s identities are typically more fluid than labeling them “prostitutes” captures.  A few are looking for love, more for a stable mistress-like arrangement,  
opinion graphic

and most at least for friends.  At both Hotel Del Rey and the Key Largo, the women don’t necessarily accept all offers — they exercise choice — and it is not uncommon for them to construe money they receive as “help” rather than a “fee.”

With what moralistic audacity does Fundación Rehab assume that the mere presence of a woman in one of these nightclubs brands her a prostitute?  Isn’t the non-profit — backed by police power — the one foisting the demeaning puta identity onto them?

The real problem is that Costa Rica’s bloated tourism industry entices women who would otherwise finish school, get a job, and get married into the more lucrative sex trade.  Again, these enticements are so powerful that thousands of foreign women are attracted to the country by them.

Beneath this problem though lurks a deeper one:  The entrenched economic interests of the tourism industry — interest that include an entire government ministry and government tax collectors along with thousands of private business — most of whom profit more from sex tourism than the prostitutes.

Unfortunately, these recent raids show that neither Costa Rica nor the international community (Fundación Rehab receives grants from the U.S. Embassy) is prepared to confront the country’s festering sex tourism industry at its root — or even wants to.

Indeed, raids of safely middle-class nightclubs, where all of the women enter voluntarily, smack of a showy spectacle designed to appease the grant-giving international community rather than a sensible engagement with a serious problem.

Meanwhile, the only ones victimized by this showy spectacle were the women, who were illegally detained and stigmatized.  But no one in Costa Rica has ever really cared about putas.  They have after all been offered up as enticements to tourists for decades.


*Ken Morris is an expat living in San Pedro.  He taught in the women’s studies program at the University of Georgia and published what Tammy Wynette’s biographer considers the definitive interpretation of Stand By Your Man. 


Teachers are planning another protest today all over country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Teachers are protesting again today all over the country.

The Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza said that protesters would gather in many communities as well as San José

Among other issues, the teachers union demands  that  Leonardo Garnier, the education minster and other officials of the Ministerio de Educación Pública be relieved of their jobs while an investigation continues about their role in a controversial contract.

The teachers union noted that  Garnier was among those who wrote recommendation letters to the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo in favor of  a company founded by the then-finance minster and his wife. The company is called  Procesos.

The teachers allege the possible crime of undue influence. They note that Vice President  Luis Liberman, the brother of President Laura Chinchilla Miranda,  Adrian Chinchilla, and
Amparo Pacheco, the former vice minister of Comercio Exterior, also wrote letters.

The contract was for the revision of an aspect of the curriculum and was valued at nearly $800,000.

The finance minster, Fernando Herreo, and his wife,  Flor Isabel Rodríguez, already have quit their government jobs. She was an aide to the president. The issue started when the newspaper La Nación learned that Herrero, who supervises the nation's tax collecting, did not update the values of one of his properties and managed to evade about $600 in municipal taxes a year for 10 years. Then there was an allegation that  Procesos failed to pay taxes on its income. And now there is the contract with Refinadora and with the education ministry.

Originally the teachers were going to march to protest the president's tax package, but that has been shelved.

The are asking for deep cuts in consultants' fees and more effort against tax evasion. Teachers also are unhappy with some proposed changes in the labor code.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 19, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 78
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Urban culture on display for 10 days at Parque la Libertad
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An urban arts fair will take place during a 10-day festival in Desamparados, beginning today.

The IV Festival Abierto de Danza y Arte Urbano will end on April 29 with a battle of the bands finale in Parque la Libertad. Although the festival starts today, the main events will be on the final two days, April 28 and 29.

According to the creator of the cultural event, Miguel Bolaños, this is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy and discover the art scene of urban culture. He said those oblivious or uneducated about the urban arts will be able to soak up the culture.

“The festival has been a very necessary space for the community,” said Bolaños.

It was first held in San José said Bolaños, but he then moved it to the suburb of the city because there was a bigger breakdance urban community. And Parque de La Libertad is a space with a lot of culture, he said.
At the festival there will be plenty of opportunities for workshops and live shows to experience the urban culture of the Central Valley in Costa Rica.

The art culture of urbanization was born in the streets, said Bolaños. He was born in Colombia and has lived in this Central American country for 10 years. He had a project for break dancers called La Zona, where he encouraged youths to continue in the arts regardless the form.

He said he was surprised and intrigued to find the growing urban arts scene in the country. This included break dancers, graffiti artists, parkour, turn-table spinning, and other arts from the urban or hip-hop culture. The festival is open to all ages and open to the public.

There is no cost to participate in the workshops or to watch the live shows. The festival is sponsored by an Iberoamerican funding.

Those interested for further information on the day-to-day particular events can visit the park's Web site at www.parquelalibertad.org.


Famed artist will debut not one but two exhibitions Saturday
Special to  A.M. Costa Rica

Famed Costa Rican artist Otto Apuy is opening a pair of exhibitions in Liberia. One is at the Daniel Oduber airport and one is at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery five kilometers west of the airport. Both openings are Saturday.

"Focus" is a selection of works from different periods of Apuy’s career and includes paintings, works on paper, objects, videos and installation effects. It represents a retrospective for exhibition in Guanacaste, and is a must-see for art lovers, said the gallery. For this exhibition, Apuy has also created an installation for display in the garden, "Territorial Unit.” It is composed of bull horns and other natural elements calling for the territorial unity of Guanacaste, with an aesthetic and historical focus. The exhibit at the gallery is at 4 p.m.

The second exhibition also is called “Focus,” and it is at the airport. It features his Chinese-Guanacastecan heritage, a vision of identity and memory, said the gallery, which added:

For almost five decades Apuy has been developing as an artist. In his earliest years he explored oil painting in a self-taught manner, painting still-life and landscape themes. In his adolescence he moved on to abstract work. Over the years this multi-faceted artist continued growing his professional interests, which have included social and ecological concerns, a search for his own professional identity in conceptual art, and his work as a communicator.

He is a pioneer in Costa Rica in conceptual art, installations and performance art, video art, painted sculpture, and intervened objects, and has evidenced a multimedia attitude that has expressed itself in his capacity as a writer, with 12 books of poetry, short stories and novels published.

Apuy was born in Cañas and has studied communications at the University of Costa Rica and later art at various institutions in Barcelona, Spain, where he lived for 11 years before returning to Costa Rica. For more information readers can call 8386-6872 or visit HERE!

artist in Liberia
Otto Apuy works with the colors representing the Costa Rican flag at the beginning of an exhibit that ran for 10 months in San José.



Students adopt international personas for Model U.N. weekend
By Jana Wehnemann*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Wouldn´t it be interesting to act as someone else? More exactly, to embrace a new culture, its mentality and political view and position oneself as a delegate in the United Nations to discuss current topics and find a solution to a situation based on one´s national interests?

From Friday to Sunday students will come together and discuss global current topics and situations such as nuclear proliferation, money laundering and North Korean refugees in China. These students act as if they really were delegates of a country involved in the United Nations. This activity is called Model United Nations. Lincoln School will host the weekend event with the participation of different institutions.

This academic simulation practiced in various countries has as its goal to educate students about current situations discussed in the United Nations. Students learn to research, develop ideas, defend a country based on its political, social and cultural views and to discuss a topic.

Moreover, it gives the students awareness about how the United Nations is structured and displayed, showing the difficulty of making agreements between the countries in order to have a final solution towards a situation.

Throughout the world, universities and organizations promote this activity.

ModelUnited Nations
 
Annually in Costa Rica, for the past few years, bilingual and trilingual schools have been organizing this Model United Nations and encouraging other students to participate. In order to join the event, there must be a registration and payment per school or individual. Each student is assigned a committee with a topic and a country, which will be their delegation for the activity.

This weekend Lincoln School will have nine committees such as The International Military Tribunal, Historical General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council, Peace Building Commission and the World Health Organization.

Sixty six countries will be represented by the delegates in the General Assembly Committees and thirty four in the Organization of American States. Many students will participate mostly from such schools as the Pan-American, Blue Valley, Country Day and Humboldt. To conclude this activity a closing ceremony is organized, in which awards are handed out to the deserving students of each committee.

* Miss Wehnemann is a Colegio Humboldt student.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Cuba street scene
Voice of America photo
Pedestrian passes in front of a billboard calling for more socialism.

Economic changes in Cuba
designed to save socialism

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ovidio Ulloa swings open his iron gate and lets in a group of women who had seen the handwritten Se Vende, or “For Sale” sign in the window of his home.  He gives them a tour of the dining room, the brightly lit patio and the kitchen, pointing out selling points including high ceilings and colorfully patterned hydraulic floor tiles.

The women appear unimpressed, but that does not seem to bother Ulloa.  He already has several offers for the home in Havana.  And he is eager to move out after living there for 20 years.

"Because this place is too big for me," he said. "I want to downsize, look for a smaller place for me and my son, and have money left over to live on."

That is allowed under a law passed last year that permits the sale of real estate in Cuba.  Already, there's a bustling real estate market, with homes being sold at informal street exchanges as well as on Web sites such as cubisima.com and revolico.com.

Recently, President Barack Obama faced criticism from other leaders at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia for insisting on democratic reforms in Cuba before the United States will lift its 50-year-old economic embargo against the island nation.  But Cuba is pushing through economic reforms in the hope of preserving the political status quo.

"In Cuba, we are updating the Cuban economic model to make our socialism sustainable," the official in charge of privatization, Vice President of the Council of State Manuel Murillo, told reporters covering Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit.

Billboards in Havana and Santiago show smiling mothers and victorious athletes clutching the national flag and proclaiming: "The changes in Cuba are for more socialism."

Another home for sale is a palatial neo-classical structure.  At $90,000, it would be a bargain in many other markets, but it needs work.  Crumbling Corinthian columns are buttressed by wooden struts.  Plaster has crumbled from the ceiling to reveal rusted steel reinforcing bars.

Owner Francisco Prats says President Raúl Castro's reforms are necessary.  "The world is developing and this society is part of that world and also has to develop," he said.

Across Havana, street after street of dilapidated architecture harks back to a more prosperous era.  So do the classic automobiles — 1950s Studebakers, Cadillac Fleetwoods and de Villes — that now can also be sold by individuals.

Since taking over from his brother Fidel, Raúl Castro has recognized the need for change, says Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute research group near Washington, D.C. "It is an economy that does not produce enough and the government has been very blunt about saying that," he said.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba suffered severe shortages and economic crisis.  But the farm sector was restructured in the 1990s and markets now teem with the organically grown produce.  On the streets, the reforms of the last year-and-a-half have increased the number of small entrepreneurs selling ice cream, eggs and crafts.

La Casa is one of a growing number of home restaurants known as paladares that have been around since the 1990s.

Co-owner Silvia Cardoso reveals her secret of success."Lots of work and trying to obtain quality products even if it means less earnings," she said.

Although largely for foreigners, the paladares increasingly cater to local clientele.  Cardoso's husband, Manuel Robaina, worked in restaurants before Cuba's communist revolution and says his business is not about profits. "I have never looked at it like a capitalist because I have bad memories of that," he said.


U.S. gives support to Haiti
for vaccinating children


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An ambitious campaign is under way in Haiti to provide the same protection against deadly childhood diseases that children in developed countries enjoy. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, along with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and international providers, helped the Haitian government launch this program.

Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers, called the program a major step forward. He said the U.S. government worked with Haiti on health issues before that country's deadly 2010 earthquake, but that after a cholera epidemic erupted several months later, efforts were stepped up. A vaccination program to prevent cholera is already under way. And now, another campaign has started, with the goal of protecting infants and children under the age of 5 from deadly childhood diseases, including measles.

Frieden, a physician, said although measles does not exist in Haiti now, health officials have seen a recent increase in outbreaks. They are concerned because travelers may introduce measles, which is highly infectious.  

"The country is certainly at risk for measles so one major effort is to improve measles immunity to protect children in Haiti," he explained.

Another part of the program is a pentavalent vaccine — one that protects against five childhood diseases: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and the bacterial illness haemophilus influenza Type B (known as Hib).

"Currently, Haiti only vaccinates against three of those diseases," noted the doctor. "So for the first time, Haiti will be vaccinating against five childhood diseases. And that will prevent literally thousands of deaths in the months and years to come."

Frieden said other vaccines to protect against pneumonia and diarrheal diseases will soon be introduced as part of this effort. In addition to being "the right thing to do," he said it is also personally gratifying.  

Until this campaign started, the vaccination rate for children in Haiti was below 60 percent. Frieden said that the Centers is helping the country improve its routine vaccination program so children born in the years to come will have a greater chance to become healthy adults.
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Highway safety council plans
major motorcycle campaign


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
 
In the first four months of the year 30 motorcyclists have died on the nation's roads. That number is 27 percent of the total who died. And April is not yet over.

So the Consejo de Seguridad Vial is embarking on an enforcement and educational campaign. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros also will develop a companion campaign. In addition to the 30 bikers who died at the scene, there were 1,281 injuries.

The campaign will emphasize the need for those on a motorcycle to wear a helmet and also to wear reflective vests after dark. The campaign had the support of the Asociación Importadora de Motocicletas, the Comité Cívico de Motociclistas and the Automóvil Club de Costa Rica.

The Policía de Tránsito will provide the enforcement aspect.

The campaign will cost about 70 million colons or about $140,000. Some written material is planned as well as a magazine just for motorcycle operators.

The Consejo noted that the purchase of motorcycles is increasing.






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