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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, April 29, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 84             E-mail us
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The secret of flying high

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Smoking is supposed to be forbidden on air flights now, which is maybe why the marijuana was hidden below deck on a Spirit Air craft.

Maintenance workers found the package of more than 2.5 kilos of marijuana by accident. Anti-drug police are not sure of the details of how the drug got into the aircraft. But perhaps the name of this particular craft is a clue: Spirit of Jamaica.
Spirit Air
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Is the plane's name a clue?

Casa Amarilla tours are a highlight for weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who wants to see the inside of Casa Amarilla will have that opportunity Saturday. Tours of the imposing structure that houses the foreign ministry are being arranged as part of Enamorate de tu Ciudad!, the long-running series of expositions centered on Parque España across the street.

Also planned are guided tours of the Museo del Jade, which contains a priceless collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Tours also are planned, starting at noon, of the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo.

The Saturday events include music, yoga, face painting, classes and displays. It is being billed by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud as a celebration of the end of summer. Costa Rica summer generally is considered the December-April dry season, and the country is well into a transition to the rainy season.

Casa Amarilla never served as a private residence. This is the former home of the ill-fated Corte de Justicia Centroamericana, promoted by Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s.

A U.S. architect got the job to build the home of the court on the north side of what is today Parque España on Avenida 7. The structure was the Palacio de la Paz Centroamericana, but because of
the color of the exterior walls it became known locally as Casa Amarilla.

The agreement creating the court quickly fell apart, and Costa Rica took full possession of the building. In the early 1920s the structure was the casa presidencial of the time, the office of the foreign minister and even the site of the legislature. The structure withstood natural events, and it was the place to move government operations when other locations suffered earthquake damage.

The building was remodeled in 1963, and the basement was brought up to the same elegant standards as the first floor.  The building was declared a national monument in 1976.

The festivities also include Parque Morazán to the west. There in the Templo de la Música starting at 11 a.m. will be a series of presentations, including the Orquestra del Sistema Nacional de la Música de Desamparados and the Banda de Conciertos de Heredia, followed by Circo Fantástico, breakdancing and Ballet Folclórico Nayuribe and Ensamble Cultural de la Caja at 5 p.m.

The Parque Jardín de Paz between the two larger parks will see urban sports during the day followed by hip hop and the rock/pop band Los Govinda.
The finale will be an open percussion session where anyone may bring their drums or other instruments of that type.

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Leadership battle showdown
coming down to the wire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is the possibility of an impasse if opposition parties take control of the Asamblea Legislativa Sunday.

President Laura Chinchilla has promised to scrutinize any legislation that is the product of the new regime.

The five opposition parties claim that they have 31 votes, two more than necessary to elect the legislative leadership. This is an annual event on May 1 each year. In the past, the Partido Liberación Nacional has forged alliances with minority parties to keep control.

This year it seems that Liberación can count on just 26 votes, 24 from its own party and one each from two evangelical parties. Although leaders of Liberación said they are confident that they can retain control, the mathematics seems to work against them.

The opposition parties include some who oppose the free trade treaty with the United States and others who want to deny the United States landing rights for ships on anti-drug patrol. Nearly all the opposition lawmakers oppose the president's tax proposals.

The philosophical makeup of the opposition parties ranges from the libertarian right to the far left, so it seems unlikely that together they can create a consistent policy. And that certainly is one of the arguments that Liberación leaders are using in private meetings with opposition lawmakers.

Traveler traffic up 10%
at Peñas Blancas this year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials say that more than 60,000 crossed the border legally at Peñas Blancas during Semana Santa. That is about 10 percent more than in 2010, said the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The agency said that 36,426 persons left Costa Rica and that 24,174 travelers entered. The agency said it opened up more immigration desks at the border and also gave special treatment to bus travelers.

There were far fewer travelers at the border with Panamá. The agency said that there were 6,692 entries and 7,515 exits during the holiday week.

Our reader's opinion
Repeal of mandatory tip
hurts working class

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read the article about the new tourism group that is recommending the immediate repeal of the law that requires 10 percent added on to a check in a restaurant. This 10 percent goes to the wait staff as a gratuity. I find it very difficult to believe that this group actually wants to take this income away from people who work to support their families. 10 percent is a very reasonable amount to pay for a tip, and I know many people actually give more in cash to a waiter or waitress for exceptional service.

I see nothing wrong with this law at all. I see that this group is not asking for the immediate repeal of the 13 percent sales tax. Thats right: Make the little guy pay. The big guy stomping the little guy into the ground again. I hope the government files this recommendation right where it belongs — in the trash. I would just like to know which hotels are represented by members of this group so I can stay away from them and recommend my friends stay away.

James Siddall

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
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 84
Latigo K-9

New decrees issued to reduce official approval times
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government took steps to speed up approval processes and eliminate certain regulations covering the importation of low-risk merchandise.

The orders came from four decrees signed by President Laura Chinchilla and Mayi Antillón, minister of Economía, Industria y Comercio.

The decree stipulates that building plans be studied in 30 days and not the current 90 days. In an administrative resolution the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados was told to reduce to a single day the issuance of certificates that water is available. This is a requisite for construction.

The registering of certain agricultural chemicals for use in  the country would be reduced form 20 months to 10
 months, and approval of environmental impact studies would be reduced from a year to three months, according to the decrees.

Construction plans would be maintained in a digital format and study and approval would be done at the same time by the various institutions involved, according to the decrees. Approvals are needed by the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the water company, the Ministerio de Salud and the Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo. Now the various agencies study construction plans sequentially.

The digital system would be run by the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos.
The purpose of the decrees was said to be to increase the competitivity of the country. The success of the plan usually relates to how the various agencies interpret the requirements.

dancing kids
Dirección Nacional de CEN-CINAI photos
The girls are engaged in a dramatization called the 'La Marcha de los Hormiguitas' or march of the little ants.
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Derek Mora seems to be a reluctant frog as he croaks away during the inaugural of the new facilities.
Kids in San Ramón getting a new nutrition and health center
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sometimes an event comes along that is just too cute not to share. Such was the case Thursday in Valle Escondido de San Ramón.

The Junta de Protección Social was donating 1.5 billion colons, some $3 million for child education and nutrition, but the youngsters stole the show.

The Junta runs the national lotteries and other games of chance. The money from these voluntary taxes on wishful thinking is distributed to good causes each year. The
recipient Thursday was the Dirección Nacional de CEN-CINAL.  That stands for Centros de Educación y Nutrición and Centros Infantiles de Nutrición y Atención Integral.

In addition to San Ramón a second facility will be built in Chacarita III, Puntarenas. These are areas where officials believe many of the children are at risk. The money also will go to remodeling eight centers around the country.

The San Ramón facility will benefit 120 youngsters up to age 13, officials said. The ceremony Thursday was a ground breaking.

Games of chance are better when eveyone knows you
 My heart goes out to travelers who are confronted with today’s airports and planes.  The last time I made air reservations I was told I had to pay $25 extra if I wanted to reserve a seat.  When the attendant put me in a different seat, I complained. She shrugged. “Pick another one,” she said.  

This brought to mind a story my niece Cathy told me of her daughter’s experience at the airport in Jamestown, New York.  This was some dozen years ago, but Jamestown is still a small city and although it is in the heart of Chautauqua country where people go each summer, at the time it had a small airport. Her experience comes under, “Ah, those were the days,” category.

Cathy was taking her daughter Tiffany to catch a plane to Florida. They arrived an hour early to the small and empty airport building.  They were alone until departure time approached and a young woman hurried in, went behind the desk, put on an airline hat, then said, “Tickets, please.”

Tiffany handed over her ticket and was instructed to take her bag to security.  Nearby was the counter with a conveyor belt and security mechanism.   No one was there but they went over.  The ticket lady removed her hat, ducked under the ticket counter and came over to security.  She pinned on a security insignia and sent Tiffany’s bag through the x-ray machine.  “You may start boarding now,” she said.

Boarding involved going out onto the tarmac and climbing the stairs to a small aircraft.  Tiffany was the only passenger on the plane.

Cathy went to the airport window to wave goodbye.  Now on the tarmac was the ticket agent cum security.  She had donned earphones and held white batons as she directed the plane to back up.  Cathy checked to see if the stairs had been lifted or if they were waiting for her to climb aboard as co-pilot.

Ah, yes, times have changed.  But people still brave air travel for many reasons, one being to experience something they can’t at home.  Along with all of the outdoor pleasures Costa Rica offers, there is the indoor pastime of casinos and gaming.  I am happy that gambling is legal here.  If governments try to outlaw all activities that can lead to addiction, nefarious practices or have bad unintended consequences, they would have to close fast food restaurants, sporting events and any establishment
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

serving alcohol, to mention a few.  Betting on outcomes is a universal trait among societies.

Most of the luxury hotels have casinos.  In San Jose proper there are four casinos clustered on Avenida 1 between calles 7 and 11.  There are others scattered in and around San Jose.  I think people usually find one or two places they like to patronize.  After a while, it’s like Cheers, everybody knows your name and you feel at home. (Good business practice for casinos that want to take your money.)  I have settled upon two where I enjoy playing roulette.  One thing that recommends casinos, at least in the city, is that they have the cleanest and best equipped public bathrooms.

One of my favorite casinos is Club Colonial on Avenida 1.  Besides the large gaming room, there is the Magnolia Restaurant with good food and a weekday three-course almuerzo ejecutivo (executive lunch) for under 3,000 colons.  It also has a windowed area overlooking the street that is about as close as you can come to a sidewalk café in San Jose.

The kitchen also prepares some of the best free bocas that I have tasted.  They are served by friendly waitresses to the players at both machines and tables.  Alcoholic drinks are no longer free, but very reasonable. The other advantage at the roulette table is that if you play with colons, the fichas (chips) are just 100 colones each; if you play with dollars, a chip is $1.  

The one drawback is that there are no non-smoking areas in a casino – except perhaps still at the Europa on Calle 3 going north out of town.

I always figure that after an evening of roulette, if I’ve enjoyed myself and walk out breaking even or not losing more than I planned to spend, I am a winner.  Present day air travel is something of a gamble, too, so if you can say the same about your last flight you also are one lucky person.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 84

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Central Bank will freeze part of incoming foreign loans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banco Central has decided to freeze 15 percent of any foreign short-terms loans to Costa Rican individuals or companies. The bank announced the details of this decision Thursday. The plan met with immediate opposition from the business sector.

The central bank plans to freeze the money in stages. Foreign funds coming into the country in August will face a 5 percent freeze. In September the amount will be 10 percent. In October the full 15 percent will be assessed.

The ruling is supposed to only affect short term loans from foreign sources and longer-term loans that have a clause the allows a payoff within 360 days. The action is not supposed to affect transfers of money by expats from their accounts in other countries. However, it would appear that a short-term loan from a parent company to its subsidiary in Costa Rica would be affected.
Amount other reasons, the frozen money is supposed to help stabilize the dollar exchange rate and maintain liquidity, said the central bank.

However, the freeze also is applied to colons coming into the country from foreign sources. The central bank will pay no interest on the money it holds. There was no explanation on how central bankers will know the terms relating to money coming into the country or even be able to distinguish between a loan and a payment.

Among those criticizing the measure was the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado.

The organization said the decision would affect everyone because it would result in higher interest rates.

The central bank's explanation of why it has the power to do this seemed tenuous, and a legal challenge is possible.

Non-profit ESL group wins grant to fix Potrero school

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Playa Potrero Mardi Gras that is typically known for beers and beads brought in over $10,000 in donations to local charities this year.  One of the lucky recipients was Playa Potrero’s own Abriendo Mentes that received $2,200 for repairs and renovations of the Potrero public school.

Each year in the Playa Potrero/Flamingo/Brasilito area, the “Mardi Gras Committee” organizes a large parade and charges a fee for cars and pickup trucks to strut their stuff through the streets. This year, the raucous auto procession made it’s way from Flamingo Estates to Playa Blanca.  The cars and trucks are elaborately decorated by local businesses and feature the young, the old, Gringos, and Ticos alike.  More than just a fun event, the parade is meant to be an overall community building project.  Abriendo Mentes entered the parade with a pickup donated by Las Catalinas Development, and decorated the truck in a wild beach theme supporting the Bandera Azul Committee. 

As if parades, advertising, and beaded necklaces aren’t enough, the proceeds from the parade are donated to local non-profits.  The donations-to-be are held in a fund by the committee and dispersed to local non-profits through a project proposal process.  The Mardi Gras board reviews the applications and determines who is worthy and needy.

In the application process Abriendo Mentes said it "works closely with the public elementary school in Potrero in order to help aid their needs . . . .We would like to provide a lasting contribution to the school, in the form of needed repairs and renovations to the school building.”  Some of the repairs they cited were: extermination of termites, roof repair, and screening of the open side wall. 

Abriendo Mentes which means open minds is an ESL non-profit that aims to help the people of Potrero through education. The committee saw the need in the community for a safe, functioning public school, so plans are already under way for the construction project so a heavy rain won’t keep the kids from their education.
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Abriendo Mentes photo
Enthusiastic support participates in Mardi Gras parade that raised funds for charitable organizations on the Guanacaste Pacific coast.

Abreindo Mentes is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit under the US Internal Revenue Code. It's Web page is HERE.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 84

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Obana and Martinelli
White House photo
Barack Obama and Ricardo Martinelli  after meeting

Obama says he's confident
of Panamá trade deal OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama says he is confident that a free trade agreement between the United States and Panamá can move ahead in the U.S. Congress. The president discussed the issue Thursday with Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli.

Obama said Panamá has made significant reforms in banking and taxation, removing barriers to U.S. approval of the trade deal.

"We are confident now that a free trade agreement would be good for our country, would create jobs here in the United States, open up new markets with potential for billions of dollars of cross-border trade," he said.

The U.S. and Panamá reached agreement on the deal this month, after Panamá approved a provision to discourage the use of its banks by those seeking to evade taxes in other countries.

Obama thanked President Martinelli for his leadership on the issue, and the Panamanian president also expressed confidence that the agreement can move ahead.

"Panamá has completed all the necessary steps in order to have a free trade agreement with the U.S.  This new agreement will bring jobs for both countries.  It will also bring growth for the United States and for Panama," he said.

The Obama administration is talking with lawmakers about the U.S.-Panamá Trade Promotion Agreement, as well as free trade deals with Colombia and South Korea.

White House officials have not discussed a specific timeline for having Congress approve those pacts.

The deals with Panamá and South Korea are ready to be considered on Capitol Hill. 

The agreement with Colombia can move forward when the administration is satisfied that the government in Bogota is meeting specific goals as part of an “action plan,” which mostly relates to workers’ rights and protection of labor union activists.

Some lawmakers oppose including all three trade agreements in a single legislative package.

Obama said he and Martinelli also discussed a regional security deal, in which Panamá would play a key role in stopping the flow of illegal drugs from Central and South America.

That partnership, announced in March, is intended to protect citizens in the Americas from organized crime, gangs and drug-fueled violence.

Death of news director
deplored by U.S. agency

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The head of the U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Thursday deplored the death of Bolivian news agency director David Niño de Guzmán and called for an investigation into his death.      

The 42 year old joined Agencia de Noticias Fides as a reporter in 2006 and became news director in March 2010. He was found dead April 21 in La Paz’s Restamanis neighborhood, two days after he had been reported missing.       

He was killed by an explosive device, according to the non-governmental group Committee to Protect Journalists.       

Irina Bokova, director general of the U.S. agency, urged the Bolivian authorities to thoroughly investigate the brutal ”death of Niño de Guzmán", the U.S. said.      
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 84

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Non-prime time wedding
keeps viewers here up late

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The bleary-eyed today probably are those who stayed up much of the early morning to see the wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Some 1,900 guests were entering Westminster Abbey as this edition went to the Web. The coverage was carried in English on CNN.

Five thousand police officers have been deployed in London to handle the massive crowds and to keep an eye out for terrorism attempts.

For those who survive the wedding, there also is the Saturday night-into-Sunday morning of the ceremonies in Rome promoting former pope John Paul II toward eventual sainthood. A Catholic radio station has plans to use the new national stadium to put on a 12-hour extravaganza for the faithful.

Buckingham Palace has announced that after they are married, William and Kate — who will officially be known as Catherine — will be given the titles Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The couple have said they are “incredibly moved” by the outpouring of affection toward them since their engagement last November, and have thanked the public for joining in the celebration of what they hope will be one of the happiest days of their lives.

Thursday, thousands of fans from around the world camped outside London's Westminster Abbey, transforming the area into a multicolored sea of tents, flags, outlandish hats and good spirits.

Late Thursday, Prince William surprised the well-wishers with an impromptu walkabout. The 28-year-old future king spent several minutes shaking hands and joking with them.

Vice president plans trip
to Nicoya Peninsula today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vice President Alfio Piva Mesén will be visiting the Cantón de Hojancha, on the Nicoya Peninsula today and will, among other actions, inaugurate a new Fuerza Pública station. Saturday he will meet with business leaders at Playa Carrillo to discuss tourism and other concerns.

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