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(506) 2223-1327          Published Thursday, April 28, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 83             E-mail us
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Two decrees spur household electrical generation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Chinchilla administration has asked electrical distributors to come up with pilot plans so that customers can generate their own power and market the excess.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, has such a pilot project but the other electrical distributors, including the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, have not embraced the idea.

The request from the central administration was in the form of two decrees issued March 15 and published just before Easter in the La Gazeta official newspaper. The significance of the decrees was largely overlooked, according to industry sources.

"Their impact is potentially huge, but I fear this potential will only be realized if the population of the country, and the electricity consumers of the distribution companies, are aware, concerned and get involved," said Jim Ryan of ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A. in Liberia.

“The ICE pilot program for net-metering which was introduced last year is a superb example of how a program can be constructed and implemented to support small-scale renewable energy generation," he said. "It would be ideal if the other distributors would take the ICE pilot program contract and program regulations and merely change the name of the company from ICE to Distributor X. In fact last year ICE offered their technical and program support to any Distributors willing to adopt their model program – none accepted ICE’s offer ”

Six months ago the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad invited its customers to produce their own electricity and send the surplus to the national grid. The company restricted the offer to those generating systems that use renewable and clean sources, such as wind, solar, methane, and water. The inflow and outflow of electricity is measured as it comes and goes from the national grid, and the customer is credited with any electricity sent into the grid.

The few readers who took the energy company up on its offer reported that employees were helpful and anxious to make the connections.

Other readers complained that their electrical distributors were not allowing these types of connections. In addition to the Compañía Nacional, they are Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S. A. and Servicio Eléctrico Municipal de Cartago. These firms were named in the decree signed by President Laura Chinchilla and Teofilo de la Torre, minister of Ambienta, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The decrees give the firms three months to come up with a plan.

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There is one catch to the current program of the  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. No money is returned to the homeowner who produces the electricity. Instead the company awards credits against future electrical use.

The Chinchilla decrees, however, gave the price regulator, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, two months to come up with tariffs that would promote individual production of electrical power.

The president also asked the electrical institute to come up with as quickly as possible new financing options that would accelerate the development of this type of power generation.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said six months ago that it expected to generate about 5 megawatts from customers. The Chinchilla decrees mention 20 megawatts. Costa Rican laws are believed to allow the household production of 30 megawatts.  Although exact figures depend on usage, a megawatt usually is defined as enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

Said Ryan:

“Renewable energy generation of all sizes, both large and small, is important for the economic future of Costa Rica and all developed countries. And if we want fewer dams built on our rivers and fewer overhead transmission lines in our communities, then we must also consider installing our own small generation systems to take some of the load off of ICE and the distributors for generating and distributing power. But to have that option, we must now get consumers energized enough to help drag the distributors into the present and future reality.”

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The Teatro Nacional as seen from the west

Big outdoor production
marks theater's restoration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Teatro Nacional plans an evening event with two presidents to celebrate the restoration of the cupola that dominates the structure's roof. In addition to Laura Chinchilla, Christian Wulff, president of the Federal Republica of Germany, is scheduled to attend. The public is invited to the open-air event.

The event is planned for 8 p.m. on a night that is supposed to be moonless. That is Tuesday.

The darkness will be broken by an audiovisual show using the Teatro Nacional and its cupola as a backdrop. There also will be live entertainment. There also will be an original musical premier. The title of the evening is “La Cúpula y el paso del tiempo.” That also is the title of a photo show that will be open inside the theater until June 15.  It shows the progression of work on the theater's roof.

The cupola is the section on the roof of the theater that is 26.8 meters (88 feet) square and 18.15 meters (60 feet) high. This is more than a roof. The cupola contains all the machinery used to change and manage the scenery inside the theater. And the job was more than just repair. There was bug damage, and the pigeon flock had compromised the metal.

The $190,000 restoration brings back the red color of the roof. Work began two years ago. The job was financed by grants from the government of Spain and Germany with additional funds from the local firm Holcim Costa Rica S.A

The visit by the German president is appropriate because an architect who worked on the theater in 1897, Guillermo Reitz, was a Costa Rican whose parents were born in Germany. He studied there and put some of the German neoclassical style into the theater. The roof shows that influence, officials said.

More storms likely today
but probably in afternoon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The operative word is bochornosa, meaning sultry, sticky and humid. That was the weather Wednesday and probably will be the case again today with a continuing unstable atmosphere.

Central Valley residents were surprised Wednesday by mid-morning showers when a line of thunderstorms swept through. Typically mornings are clear with the clouds building in the early afternoon.

That is the prediction for today with the possibility of downpours accompanied by thunder and lightning on the Pacific coast and also in the Central Valley, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The Caribbean and the northern zone is expected to see partly cloudy weather.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 83
Latigo K-9

Rodríguez will join Calderón awaiting results of appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country now has two former presidents under a cloud of corruption awaiting a final decision by the Sala III high criminal court.

The latest is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, who was convicted Wednesday of aggravated corruption as the instigator of a plot to obtain a $2.4 million bribe from the Alcatel cell phone company.

Rodríguez said after the verdict was read that he will appeal. He will join former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, convicted of two counts of peculado, who also awaits an appeals court review of his October 2009 conviction.

Rodríguez, 71, got five years in prison. But he was allowed to go home to await the outcome of the appeal on the condition he does not leave the country. He characterized the guilty verdict as just another step in the process.

Not so lucky were three fellow defendants. Guido Sibaja Fonseca got 15 years for corruption and fraud.  He is a former adviser to the board of directors of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. Edgar Valverde Acosta, the former Costa Rican president of Alcatel, got 15 years for four counts of aggravated corruption. And Luis Adrián Quirós, a notary, got 15 years for three counts of aggravated corruption. All three left the courtroom and went to prison to await the outcome of the appeal.

Eliseo Vargas García, the former head of the Caja Costarricense de Segruo Social, got two years for his role in the plot. He also was the only one of the defendants to have been convicted in the Calderón trial for his part in engineering a kickback from a medical equipment supplier.

The bulk of the verdict came from Rosaura García Aguilar. She and fellow judge Ileana Méndez Sandí generally agreed on the decisions involving each of the nine defendants. The third judge, Jorge Camacho Morales, would have declared the defendants innocent. Majority rules in Costa Rican criminal cases.

As the verdict was being read, José Antonio Lobo, the chief witness for the state, was boarding a plane at Juan Santamaría airport to go to the United States. His testimony was damming because he had an inside role in the plot but choose to turn state's evidence. He said he gave money to Rodríguez. Lobo was not charged.

Rodríguez was acquitted of an allegation of illegal enrichment because judges said they could not see where he actually got any money. He was president from 1998 to 2002 and later was named secretary general of the Organization of American States. He had to leave that job after serving briefly when the bribery allegations became public. The actions that led to the trial took place in 2001.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
In happier times, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez addresses the Organization of American States in September 2004.

All the defendants were at the hearing in Goicoechea Wednesday. More than 100 persons crowded into the tribunals biggest courtroom, and the atmosphere was oppressive because the cooling system was turned off to reduce noise. The verdict was delayed 15 minutes because there were problems with the audio system.

In a press conference after the verdict, Jorge Chavarría, the fiscal general, declared that the case shows that despite all its flaws justice in Costa Rica works. He was not directly involved in the case, which began in 2004 and resulted in a year-long trial.

The case was complex because it appeared that the bulk of the money involved passed through foreign bank accounts.

Both major local television stations covered the reading of the verdict. A detailed, written outline of the case and the verdict will be available next month.

President Laura Chinchilla issued a statement that said "Costa Rica is a state of rights and its political Constitution  established the division and independence of powers; in that sense I reaffirm my conviction in the competence and jurisdictions that correspond to each one."

Vargas got five years in prison in the Calderón case that still is on appeal. That trial lasted 10 months.

The case involved a $39.5 million contract between the Caja and a medical supply firm in Finland. This Prosecutors argued successfully that Calderón and others exacted a commission, perhaps as much as $9.5 million. The contract was financed by the government of Finland.

Like many governments, Finland provides special financing for overseas purchasers from their country's products

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Another taxi protest snarls the downtown for most of the day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday saw one of those reoccurring protests by licensed taxi drivers. The drivers were careful not to block completely vital Avenida Central that runs past the legislative complex.

But traffic police had no such qualms. They blocked the entire street with heavy machinery and barriers.

The result was a traffic nightmare that lasted through evening rush hour. The purpose of the prohibition of certain license plate digits during the weekdays is supposed to increase traffic flow downtown. But whatever was gained
 by restricting those vehicles with plates ending in 5 and 6 was lost by the snail pace of traffic.

Avenida Central is a major bus route. All traffic had to detour past the Estación al Atlántico and the Biblioteca Nacional. The tie ups had a chain reaction effect through much of the downtown.

Taxi drivers were protesting the lack of action by legislators in finalizing an agreement that subjected porteadores to the same rules as licensed drivers. The porteadores also stage protests and block roadways. They are the contract drivers who sprung up because officials let them. Look for their protest next week.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 83

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Puntarenas pool
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo photo

This is a rendering of the proposed swimming pool complex that the instituto Costarricense de Truismo will build in Barrio el Carmen, Puntarenas. The $3 million
job is supposed to take about eight months. Work started officially Wednesday. The idea is to make the Pacific port town more attractive for tourism.

Daylight home invasion in Grecia ends in two arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bold daylight home invasion in Grecia ended Wednesday in arrests in San José.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that two men showed up at a Greaci home about 8 a.m. and then pulled guns. The bandits carried off portable electronics goods such as computers and flat screen televisions, said the agency. They even took an electronic piano before they fled.

Judicial agents in the anti-robbery squad said they began 
checking out the locations of known fences in the San José area. They were able to find a car that matched a description of that of the bandits in Barrio Cuba. In the car were some items that matched those stolen in Grecia, they said.

Two men, 23 and 25 were detained at the scene.

The Grecia case underscores the fact that more and more San José criminals are heading to the suburbs where they are less likely to run into a heavy police presence. The case also shows that fences or those who deal in stolen goods seldom are punished.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 83

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Cameramen gunned down
while on San Salvador bus

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A 39-year-old television cameraman in El Salvador died Tuesday when someone shot him in the head on a public bus.

The victim was Alfredo Hurtado, who was for the past two years a cameraman with the news program Teleprensa aired by Canal 33 television. He was riding in a public bus about 7 p.m. in the Ilopango district of San Salvador when he was shot several times in the head. His assailants fled.

Police investigators initially discarded robbery as the motive.

While the reason for Hurtado’s death remains unknown, Canal 33 said in a press release that “there are firm beliefs that his murder could have been linked to his work as a cameraman for the Teleprensa newscast during the nighttime, mostly covering the police beat.”

The station added that awareness of a certain criminal act was one of the main theories currently being pursued in the investigations. Local news media also said that gangs operated in the neighborhood where Hurtado lived and had committed a number of crimes there.

Members of Hurtado’s family said that he and his wife had been receiving threats.

More bodies discovered
in mass graves in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales says 183 bodies have been uncovered so far from mass graves in the northeastern part of the country, near the U.S. border.

Morales made the comment Tuesday as she announced that 74 people, among them 17 police officers, have been arrested in connection with the investigation.  The corpses were discovered recently around the community of San Fernando in Tamaulipas, the state where 72 Central American migrants were found shot to death last August.

Authorities have linked Mexico's Zetas drug gang to these incidents.  The Zetas started as a Mexican military unit that defected and began working with the Gulf cartel, based in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.  The Zetas split from the Gulf cartel last year.  The two groups are now fierce rivals.

Elsewhere, investigators also have uncovered bodies from a mass grave in the northern state of Durango. They say that, to date, they have pulled the remains of 75 people from that site.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug-related violence since the end of 2006, when President Felipe Calderón took office and ordered a crackdown on the country's drug cartels.

In a separate development, Mexican police Monday rescued 51 people, including 18 Central Americans and six Chinese, who were kidnapped in northeastern Mexico.   Officials say 27 Mexicans were among those rescued.

Earlier this month, police freed 68 kidnapped people in Mexico's Reynosa area, across from McAllen, Texas.  Authorities have taken four police officers into custody in connection with the abduction of the 68 individuals.

Blood from John Paul II
figures in ceremony Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Vatican has announced that blood taken from Pope John Paul II shortly before his death will be used as the official relic for veneration during his beatification on May 1.

In a statement Tuesday, the Vatican said the several vials of blood had been drawn for a possible transfusion shortly before the pope's death on April 2, 2005.  But the blood was never used.

After the beatification, a vial of Pope John Paul's blood will be installed as a relic in a church in the pope's native Poland.  A spokesman for the John Paul Center said the vial will be encased in crystal and built into the altar of a church in the southern city of Krakow.

Beatification is the last major step before possible sainthood.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 83

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Fed chief Bernanke fields
questions on economics

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head U.S.banker flung the doors of the normally secretive Federal Reserve wide open Wednesday to hold the first of three planned news conferences.  Fed chief Ben Bernanke fielded questions on a number of economic issues, including record low interest rates and the nation's high unemployment. 

In his first ever news conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. economy is recovering at a moderate pace.   He also announced that the Fed's controversial $600-billion bond-buying program would end in June as planned.

"Of course, going forward the committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings in light of incoming information and is prepared to adjust those holdings as needed to meet the Federal Reserve's mandate," said Bernanke.

The bond purchases were intended to bolster the U.S. economy by lowering loan rates and encouraging banks to lend more money.  But critics worried the purchases would feed inflation and lower the value of the dollar. Bernanke downplayed inflation risks but acknowledged that the recent spike in gasoline prices is hurting consumers.

"Our view is that gas prices will not continue to rise at the recent pace and as they stabilize or even come down if the situation stabilizes in the Middle East, that that will provide some relief on the inflation front.  But we'll have to watch it carefully," he said.

The Fed also kept a pledge to hold its key interest rates at record lows for an extended period. Higher rates would reduce borrowing and dampen consumer spending, but it would also make companies less inclined to boost prices.

Economists say as long as unemployment remains high, the recovery is likely to stay muted. But Bernanke says he's optimistic.

"While the recovery process looks likely to continue to be a relatively moderate one compared to the depth of the recession, I do think that the pace will pick up over time and I am very confident in the long run that the U.S. will return to being the most productive, one of the fastest growing and dynamic economies in the world," said Bernanke.

In the past, policy decisions made by the Federal Reserve's board members were often shrouded in secrecy or announced weeks later. Some analysts see the Fed decision to answer reporter questions directly as a bold move that will allow the nation's top economist to steer discussion on the U.S. economy.

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