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(506) 2223-1327      Published Thursday, April 23, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 79     E-mail us
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Dutch expat murdered by home invaders on coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three masked bandits forced their way into the home of an expat early Wednesday and killed him when he resisted.

The murder took place in the victim's home in San Martín de Santa Teresa de Cóbano on the Pacific side of the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The dead man was identified with the last name of  Kolkman by the Judicial Investigating Organization. They said he was 85.

Kolkman, a Dutch citizen, lived in Costa Rica for 20 years, they said.

The murder is being attributed to a gang of home invaders who have plagued the Pacific coast from Sámara south.
The Judicial Investigating Organization said three  bandits were involved. They broke into the home about 12:30 a.m. The men carried firearms and demanded money. Kolkman, said agents, struggled with the men to protect his wife, who also was there. The bandits shot him three times, once in the arm and twice in the chest.

There have been informal reports of home invasions all along the Nicoya coast over the last two months. One took place in Sámara two weeks ago. But police have not confirmed the unofficial accounts.

Santa Teresa is just north of the better known surf town of Mal Pais. Despite its distance from the Central Valley the area still has a reputation as a place where drug smugglers dock their boats, load fuel and food and sometimes offload drugs for land shipment. Police presence is minimal.


Discussion of U.S. role draws reader responses
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The newspaper seems to have hit the nerves of some readers when it asked Tuesday what the United States could do to improve its image in Latin America. Some responses suggested that the United States simply cut off contact with Latin America and decline to send any more money.

But reader Martin Schrick of Dayton, Ohio, makes a very basic point: "While a valid attempt at examining some United States foreign policy issues, A.M. Costa Rica makes no attempt to explain exactly what 'image' the U.S. should be attempting to project? Protector of freedom? World superpower? Mild mannered good uncle? Benevolent neighbor?  The U.S. must be all these things."

Marv Harris had problems with the suggestion that the United States cut off tobacco exports to improve the health of Latin Americans:

"People are free; if you don't want freedom, move to Cuba.  People also have the right to kill themselves, slowly or quickly.  Many people have derived pleasure from smoking tobacco for over 1,500 years.  Besides, it's the Indian's fault, they corrupted Columbus!  Leave tobacco users alone.    If the U.S.A. REALLY thought tobacco was bad they would BAN it and then forsake all that tobacco tax income.  Hypocrisy, bigtime."

Harris also said he wanted the United States to keep its money at home: "I want to see Costa Rica pay back all the $$$ that has been invested here, since the U.S.A. is now spiraling into socialism.  The U.S.A. needs to do a  LOT LESS overseas and take care of their own over-taxed, over-regulated LEGAL population."

Tim M. Graham of Rohrmoser and San Francisco, California, also mentioned money:

"One way to improve the image of the United States is to remind the Costa Rican government and people just how much the U.S. has helped in the
past. The $54 million dollars granted by President Kennedy in 1963. The $1.8 billion in loans that was granted to Costa Rica between 1980 and 1989, that was then forgiven in an exchange for granting extended green space.  I think that President Arias has as short memory as to which country has given aid to Costa Rica.  Would the Pan-American highway exist today if not for the United States. The attitude would appear to be one of 'not what we can do for our country' but 'what can other countries give our country.'"

John G. Dungan,  who is soon to move to Arenal, said "How about this?  The U. S. needs to follow through with re-establishing open relations with Cuba, at the same time that we need to strengthen all ties with Latin America.  Since we are talking about Latin America in the first place, and despite what Mr. Gingrich and the rest of his sad party may say, Hugo Chávez is indeed legitimate, as is every other elected leader of a sovereign country, and thus is deserving of being recognized, and greeted by our leader!"

The responses were generated by a news story that itself was expanding on the Fifth Summit of the Americas last weekend where President Barack Obama inspired hope for positive change in some Latin Leaders.

Frequent letter writer Dean Barbour of Manuel Antonio adopted a more isolationist strategy: "Given the bloody history of U. S. military intervention in Latin America over the last 100 years, (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, etc.), and America's past support of brutal right wing dictatorships, perhaps the most concrete thing the United States could do to improve its image at this juncture would be to surprise the hell out of everyone by keeping its hands offa the region! Let Latin America find its own way, no matter how long and difficult that process turns out to be."

Most agreed with Barbour that the days when the United States could freely assert its influence in Latin America are past, at least for now.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 79

Costa Rica Expertise
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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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drugs found
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Cocaine that was found in the Pacific

Isla de Coco patrol yields
floating sack of cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another mystery of the sea has turned up about eight miles off the Isla del Coco.

Coast Guardsmen on patrol in a small boat found a package  containing 20 one-kilo bricks of cocaine.

That was April 15, but the drugs did not reach Puntarenas until Wednesday because officials had to send a larger Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas to the island some 350 miles west of the mainland.

There has been no recent anti-drug activity in the area, and officials still are tying to figure out who dumped the cocaine and why.


Parrita is for the birds
during kids' festival today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parrita is going to the birds today as the community and the Museo Nacional put on the II Festival de Aves Migratorias.

The purpose is to raise the knowledge of the community to the value of birds and their migratory habits.

The central Pacific is a major resting place, feeding area and flyway for migratory birds which are headed back north at this time of year as springtime arrives in the United States and Canada.

The festival is geared to students. It includes a play in which a boy who likes to hunt birds is himself the prey for giant birds.

The events start at 8 a.m. with a youth foot race and inauguration. The play is at 10 a.m. There is another presentation at 1 p.m. It is titled  Si los pájaros hablaran "If birds talked".
 
The events are centered on the Escuela La Julieta and the Colegio Técnico Profesional.
 
In addition to a science fair there will be the usual mascarada and cimarrona, the large-headed caricatures and bands.


Monetary Fund predicting
bleak world economy


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Olivier Blanchard, chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, says the world is absorbing an enormous shock from the financial crisis and recession that began in the United States in 2007. Blanchard presents an economic outlook sharply reduced from the predictions of only three months ago.

The Fund says the world economy will shrink by 1.3 percent this year, its worst performance in more than 60 years. It says recovery is expected to begin only at the end of the year and that growth will recover to only 1.9 percent in 2010. Blanchard said there has been unprecedented contraction in recent months.

"The collapse of demand has led to sharp cutbacks in production and a dramatic decline in exports. Global GDP went down by an unprecedented 6 percent, at an annual rate, in the last quarter of 2008. And, as far as we can tell, most likely declined almost as fast in the first quarter of 2009," he said.

The severity of the global downturn has surprised Monetary Fund forecasters who only three months ago predicted slight growth, not a downturn, for 2009. Blanchard expects the recovery to be sluggish with unemployment in the major economies peaking only at the end of 2010.

Blanchard and his colleagues believe the fragility of the banking system poses a downside risk to their already gloomy forecast.

"Banks are still very much in the process of retrenching and tightening lending standards. Many securities markets are still poorly functioning. And the longer this goes on the longer and the deeper will be the recession. And the longer and deeper the recession the worse will be the health of the financial system," he said.

The fund calculates that worldwide losses associated with bad loans, mainly in the U.S. and European housing sectors, could reach $4 trillion by the end of next year. World trade is likely to plunge 11 percent this year, after expanding by 3 percent in 2008.

The fund says the U.S. economy is likely to contract by nearly 3 percent this year and register zero growth in 2010. Growth in the euro-zone (16 economies using the euro currency) is projected to be even more sluggish, negative 4 percent this year. Japan's economy is predicted to contract by 6 percent.

China's growth has slowed to 6.5 percent and India's to 4.5 percent. Russia, suffering from last year's sudden collapse in energy prices, is predicted to shrink 6 percent. Africa, late in being hit by the crisis, is expanding at a 2-percent annual rate.

Caution given on liquid gas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's refinery is putting out liquid gas with a lower concentration of the chemicals that make it smell. The problem is a shipping delay, said the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, which issued a warning.

The Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo began putting smaller quantities of the chemical in its gas earlier this week. It said it will continue to to do until Saturday.

The chemical, which is a smelly hydrosulfide, has arrived in the country but it will not be integrated into the process until the weekend, the refinery said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 79

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Unidad considers 'Plan B' in case Calderón is convicted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Politics in Costa Rica can be a bit complex.

While ex-president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier observes the daily developments in his corruption trial he probably also is mapping out the strategy for his presidential
reelection.

Meanwhile, a man who is not even representing Calderón's political party, Unidad Social Cristiana, is putting himself forward as "Plan B," in case Calderon is convicted.

Plan B is José Manuel Echandi Meza, the former defensor de los habitantes who organized his own party four years ago and won a legislative seat as a member of the Partido Unión Nacional.

Things look good for Plan B
Echandi Plan B
José Manuel Echandi
because Walter Reiche, the former head of the Corporación Fischel, testified candidly all week confessing his role in what prosecutors say is a kickback plot on some $39 million in medical purchases from Finland. The so-called CCSS-Fischel case has Costa Ricans riveted to their chairs during the nightly television news in Spanish. Reiche has implicated Calderón as well as Eliseo Vargas, former head of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. 
A total of eight persons are on trial. Prosecutors say some $9 million was paid as so-called commissions to political figures involved in the purchase.

Political observers think that Calderón would be a strong candidate if he avoids conviction. When Calderón returned to his Curridabat home after serving a term of preventative detention March 23, 2005, he was met with a crowd of supporters.

In addition to a relatively successful term as president from 1990 to 1994, he is the son of one of the two most important political figures in 20th century Costa Rica.

President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia served during World War II and was credited with constructing much of the country's social system.

Echandi also has significant credentials. An e-mail announcement from his campaign this week said he had met with Luís Fishman, president of Unidad Cristiana, and that Echandi would make his candidacy official in a few days.

Echandi, born in 1964 is a lawyer with long experience in government. He headed the Patronato de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, and other government agencies. He was a member of Unidad until 2005 when he formed his own party. He was the only legislator elected from his slate.

His campaign has been working quietly since before Christmas.



Protesters confront technicians over Sardinal water line
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government technicians say that they were set upon by rock throwers in the Sardinal park Tuesday.

The technicians were there to continue monitoring the flow of the nearby water source that has been the object of controversy.

The environment minister said that at least 12 persons attacked the assembled technicians, insulted them, jostled them and threatened that blood would flow if they  returned.

The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones said that the technicians withdrew from the area in the face of the threats.

Ministry vehicles and those of the Instituto Costarricense de
Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, were hit with rocks, the ministry said.

The aquifer is being used as a water source for a pipe that will run to the Pacific beaches for tourism development and real estate projects. Developers have paid $8 million into a fund that is being administered by the water company.

Still the project has attracted controversy, including much from outside the small community.

The ministry said that persons who are not residents of Sardinal were involved in the confrontation Tuesday.

Officials promised to take steps to protect the technicians.

The ministry has agreed to monitor the water source for a year to see if the supply is sufficient for the pipeline and local use.


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Chávez tried to score points with handshake, analyst says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 34-nation Western Hemisphere summit that closed in Trinidad and Tobago Sunday is being hailed by most participants as a new beginning for relations in the region. President Barack Obama was praised by many for setting a new tone of openness, especially for his comments about Cuba and his handshake with Venezuela's anti-American leader, Hugo Chávez. But Obama's goodwill gestures at the summit were criticized by some U.S. lawmakers at home.

Expectations had been low for the fifth Summit of the Americas. The last meeting of hemispheric leaders in Argentina in 2005 was marked by riots and anti-American rhetoric.

But the lack of tension at this year's summit led to some surprises, including President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez shaking hands. 

Some Republican lawmakers in the United States denounced President Obama's friendliness toward the Venezuelan leader, including Senator John Ensign.

"You have to be careful who you are seen joking around with," Ensign said. "And I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chávez."

Obama maintains that he has great differences with Chavez but he also defended his actions. "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interest of the United States," Obama said.

In fact, a video from a cell phone that emerged after the summit shows Obama looking stern and serious during his brief encounter with President Chávez.

The Venezuelan leader once called former President George W. Bush the "devil." President Chávez last year expelled the U.S. ambassador and Washington retaliated by kicking out Venezuela's counterpart.  At the summit, Chavez proposed sending a former foreign minister as the new ambassador.
Michael Shifter is an analyst on U.S.-Latin American relations at the the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. He thinks Chávez was trying to attract attention at the summit by reaching out to Obama.

"He's a politician, and he understands that Obama is enormously popular throughout Latin America, in the United States today and in Venezuela. And I think it was smart politics for Chávez to associate himself to Obama, to be nice to Obama, to open up to Obama and have these kind of gracious, warm moments with Obama because he knows it plays well with his constituency," Shifter said.

Although the global economic crisis and environmental problems were on the summit's agenda, it was Cuba that took the spotlight.

The Communist nation has never been invited to a Summit of the Americas, though at this meeting many Latin American leaders urged the U.S. to lift its restrictions against Havana, including the 47-year embargo. 

The day before the summit began, Cuban President Raúl Castro gave a speech saying he is willing to discuss any issue on Cuba with the U.S., including human rights, press freedom and political prisoners. 

Despite the overture, Obama said at the summit he does not expect relations between the U.S. and Cuba to thaw overnight.

Latin American analyst Shifter agrees, saying after 50 years of mistrust by both sides, any opening will be gradual.

"I don't think the embargo is going to be lifted anytime soon," Shifter said. "I think we're going to see a cautious opening gradually with Cuba and I wouldn't have great illusions that there will be an opening of democracy in Cuba."

For now, Shifter and others say it remains to be seen how much the Obama administration will be able to build new relations with two of Latin America's more confrontational leaders.


Rights foundation says that OAS charter precludes Cuba as a member
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Human Rights Foundation said Wednesday that it sent a legal opinion and letter to José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, asking that he stop promoting the violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

His recent declarations that he “will request” that member states of the Organization of American States eliminate the obsolete 1962 resolution that excluded Cuba from participation in the organization show not only negligence in the fulfillment of his duties but also a blatant disregard for the democratic commitment of the hemispheric organization, the Human Rights Foundation said.

"It is a scandal that Mr. Insulza would support Latin America’s worst human rights violator and ask that OAS member states defy the Democratic Charter," said Javier El-Hage, the foundation's general counsel. “Article 19 of the charter prohibits the participation of an antidemocratic government in the OAS, but Mr. Insulza seems determined
to erase with the stroke of a pen a compromise that took decades of suffering and sacrifice,” added El-Hage.

The foundation's letter says Cuba has not complied with a single essential element of democracy as set forth by Article 3 of the Democratic Charter. With respect to the requirement that it “respect rights and fundamental freedoms,” the foundation cites seven reports by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights stating that the current Cuban government has perpetrated a number of grave crimes.

These crimes include summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture, rape, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of men and women who have been persecuted and incarcerated solely for political reasons, the foundation said.

With regard to freedom of the press, the foundation cites special reports that show that, after China, Cuba has the highest number of incarcerated journalists in the world and that it ranks as one of the top 10 censors of the press, along with North Korea and Libya.


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A.M. Costa Rica

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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

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Broadcasters seeking value
at their Las Vegas confab


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The annual gathering of the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas has a renewed focus on the bottom line, especially in television, the most capital and labor intensive part of the industry.

Equipment-makers are displaying their wares through 93,000 square meters of exhibition space.

Standing in the sprawling Sony Electronics display is Doug Jensen of Vortex Media, who has been coming to this convention since 1983. Now also a consultant for Sony, Jensen says this year people are focused and looking for value.

"These people, they have already done their homework on the cameras, they want to come and touch and feel them and find out the details. In years past, people have been browsing by and kicking the tires a little bit and not that really interested. The people here this year are serious, and I would say that people are looking for value for the cameras, absolutely. They are looking for a camera that can meet the wide demands of their clients and needs," he said.

He says they are looking for cameras that can use multiple standards, including the so-called PAL system favored in Europe and the NTSC system in the United States, which can shoot in both standard and high-definition formats. He says added versatility, and the fact that the cameras use no tape, will cut costs.

Hollywood actor Kelsey Grammer, who stared as psychiatrist Frasier Crane in the shows "Cheers" and "Frasier," says the change in the economy has television networks and studios rethinking their programming. Grammer is now a producer and the man behind the shows "Girlfriends" and "Medium."

He says Hollywood made the move to cheap reality-based programs a few years ago, but the format is getting stale and profits are dropping off, so the networks are investing once again in scripted shows, which feature professional actors.

He says the industry is looking to new sources of revenue through digital downloads for home computers and portable devices, and is producing new content especially for these media.

Dennis Wharton, the executive vice president of media relations for the National Association of Broadcasters, says the people attending the convention come from 160 countries. The recession is taking its toll, however, even at this industry convention.

Attendance is down to just under 84,000 attendees from more than 105,000 last year. Yet organizers say there are profits to be made. They expect the gathering to generate more than $50 billion in spending for the 1,400 exhibitors showing off their products.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 79


Latin American news digest
Measure calls for taxing
companies in free zones


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican lawmakers are getting a bill that, if approved, would levy a 5 percent income tax on companies that are in the nation's free zones.  The 247 firms produced 52 percent of the country's exports in 2008, said Casa Presidencial. The companies pay no income taxes now.

The country and other nations are being asked to levy a tax by the World Trade Organization. Companies not in the free zones pay a substantially higher percentage in income tax.

Costa Rica has been successful in attracting companies to the various free zones because of the incentives.

The proposal that was sent to the legislature by the executive branch has a series of tax benefits for companies based on the number of employees and the amount of investment they make in the country. Products made here in free zones go to more than 100 countries, officials said.


Bilingual school praised
by Arias during visit


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new bilingual school, the Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de San Ramón, got a presidential blessing Wednesday.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez was among those who visited. The school is the first of its type in the canton and cost the Ministerio de Educación Pública 347 million colons or about $615,000. There was local support, too.

Arias praised the concept of the school and exhorted the students to learn English and reminded them that the United States is the principal military, economic and scientific power in the hemisphere.

The school houses 410 students, but plans are being made to increase that number by 120 with an addition next year, said  Carmen Campos, school Director. The school opened in 2006 on a limited basis. The major construction finished this year.



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What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier
The contents of this page and this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  and 2008 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for details