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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Tuesday, May 1, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 86                            Email us
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Cement firm bids a disgruntled farewell to Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cement producer that spent five years wrapped in red tape has called it quits.

The firm, Comercializadora de Concretos y Asfaltos S.A., took out full page ads in Spanish-language newspapers Monday to say that Costa Rica does not have a favorable climate for investment.

The firm operated here as Cementos David.

The company closed down its operations in San Rafael de Alajuela and is moving its machinery to Panamá, it said.

The dramatic decision by company officials is certain to give Costa Rica a black eye for international investments.

In its paid advertisement, the company said that it was founded in 2007 and needed 18 months to obtain required permits even though it rigorously respected Costa Rican laws. The firm said that its effort to obtain permits was aggravated by what it called persecution that included illegal closures and rejection of requests without reasons. The firm said that the Sala IV constitutional court finally ratified its operation but that there was a delay of 10 months in beginning business.

The company said that it also faced problems in importing the materials it needed and that government officials declined to correct this problem.

During the 18 months it was operating, the firm said it sold 4 million sacks of cement all over the country. The price of cement fell during this period. The cement supply is tightly controlled in Costa Rica by just two other firms.

The firm in its farewell ad said that it set up in an industrial zone and adopted the highest health and environmental standards.

The action that appears to have triggered the company's exit was by the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo which ordered that the company's
cement sacks

construction permits be voided and that the operation be closed. As a result of the decision the company, would have been obligated to begin more years of a judicial process that would generate high costs in an already competitive cement market, it said. Consequently, it said the judicial insecurity and the uncertainty forces the closing of the company.

The ad was signed by Alexandre Chueri Neto, company president.

The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo is the same judicial body that voided the concession held by Industrias Infinito S.A., the subsidiary of a Canadian company, that is seeking to operate an open pit gold mine in north Costa Rica. The Tribunal's role is to oversee the actions of government.

Spanish-language newspapers have repeatedly pointed out that a foe of the cement firm was Joyce Zürcher, who was mayor of Alajuela when Cementos David was seeking a business license. The newspapers noted that a close relative of the mayor works for Holcim, a competitor of Cementos David.

During its court appearances, Cementos David claimed to be battling what it called a duopoly. The other major cement marketer is Cemex. The Cementos firm acquired $20 million in startup capital. It's sales efforts also were hurt by the decline in construction here as a result of the worldwide recession.

Fax machine blamed for blaze that damaged home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire investigators are blaming a fax machine for a blaze that nearly destroyed a home in Calle Blancos early Monday.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos received the alarm at 5:30 a.m. The blaze was in a home in El Encanto subdivision in Goicoechea.

Neighbors managed to save the family who lived in the home. They were aroused by the fire and made their way to a balcony where they appeared to be trapped. Neighbors punched a hole in a wall to allow the four members of the family to flee, said fire fighters.
The entrance road to the subdivision is difficult because the streets are narrow and vehicles were parked on both sides, said the fire agency.

Fire fighters had to haul hoses, ladders and other equipment about 75 meters to the fire scene, said the fire agency. The blaze was not controlled until about 7 a.m. The damage was about 65 percent of the home, fire fighters estimated.

The agency issued a warning about electronic devices and the possibility that they may cause a blaze.

About 30 percent of fires are the result of electronic devices, it said. The Cuerpo de Bomberos also said that structure fires are up 25 percent over 2011.

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Those with complaints
ready to march today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Depending on the weather, a good part of the morning and early afternoon today will seek International Labor Day marchers in the downtown to the Plaza de las Garantías Sociales behind the headquarters of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Members of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos will be gathering in front of the Correo de Costa Rica main offices about 9 a.m. today. Elsewhere other groups will be organizing for a march up Paseo Colón to Avenida 2 and then to the legislative complex.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos is seeking a show of support to defend the Caja, which it says has been taken over by corporate groups.

There is no barrier for special interests to join the march. Already motorcycle operators have said their goal will be to protest the state of obligatory insurance. A wide range of political and social opinions will be on display.

Also for labor day, the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado said that national officials need to pay more attention to security and to the cost of living for the benefit of workers.

At 6 p.m. President Laura Chinchilla is scheduled to deliver her annual state of the country speech to an invited crowd mainly of politicians and diplomats. Much of the labor day march and Ms. Chinchilla's speech will be televised.

Robbery suspect certainly
knows the procedure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Maybe the 25th time will be a charm. At least that is what Fuerza Pública officers hope after they detained a robbery suspect for the 25th time.

Police officers frustrated an armed robbery in Tibás Monday. Two men stuck up a youth in a section known as Bajo Piuses. The robbers took a watch and a wallet, but the two suspects were detained a short distance from the crime scene.

Police officials confirmed that one of the men had been detained 24 times in the past. This time both men are headed to the flagrancia tribunal where they will face allegations of robbery and also of carrying a firearm.

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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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 86
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Engineers spent a lot of time figuring out how to support the highway at Alto de Quitirrisí. They ordered anchors to support the retaining wall and also designed an asphalt strip to protect a bed of gravel.

Puriscal wall
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Puriscal-Ciudad Colón road rebuilding due to be done in July
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Road officials expect to finish the Puriscal-Ciudad Colón rebuilding by July. The work has been going on since September.

An unusual aspect is a retaining wall that has been put up in Alto de Quitirrisí. The wall helps workers rebuild the road that has been washed out by heavy rains. The wall holds up the roadway that passes by a steep drop. The retention structure is fortified by horizontal bolts and an asphalt cap on gravel.
The goal is to finish the job before this year's heavy rains.

The roadway, Ruta 239, runs from Pursical to Ciudad Colón and is a vital link in the transport net. It also is a tourism route.

Between Ciudad Colón and Salitrales the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad is rebuilding the concrete gutters to direct runoff away from the roadway. Workers also are fixing highway barriers and removing the remains of slides.

Both projects total 940 million colons or about $1.9 million.

Minor Vargas convicted of 10 felony counts by U.S. jury
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A federal jury in Virginia found Minor Vargas Calvo guilty Monday in a massive fraud scheme that has thousands of victims worldwide.

Vargas, 60, was president of a Costa Rican company, Provident Capital Indemnity Ltd., that sold reinsurance bonds to life settlement companies. Vargas is well known in Costa Rica because he also was president of the Brujas and Barrio México football clubs.

The U.S. Justice Department said that Vargas was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.  He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each fraud count and up to 10 years in prison on each money-laundering count when he is sentenced on Oct. 23.

Costa Rica will not extradite its citizens for trial in other countries. So U.S. law enforcement officials waited until Vargas landed there before they made the arrest in 2011. The speed with which Vargas was detained, indicted, tried and convicted was surprising to many Costa Ricans because in their country such cases drag on for years and suspects frequently can buy their way out of a criminal case by making small reparations to victims.

The U.S. Justice Department gave this summary:

According to court records and evidence at trial, Provident sold financial guarantee bonds to companies selling life settlements, or securities backed by life settlements, to investors.  These bonds were marketed to Provident’s clients as a way to alleviate the risk of insured beneficiaries living beyond their life expectancy.  The clients, in turn, typically explained to their investors that the financial guarantee bonds ensured that the investors would receive their expected return on investment irrespective of whether the insured on the underlying life settlement lived beyond his or her life expectancy.

Evidence at trial showed that Vargas and Provident’s purported independent auditor, Jorge Castillo, 56, of New Jersey, used lies and omissions to mislead Provident’s clients and investors regarding its ability to pay claims when due on the financial guarantee bonds that the firm issued.  Vargas caused Castillo to prepare audited financial statements that falsely claimed that Provident had entered into reinsurance contracts with major reinsurance companies.  These false claims, which were supported by a letter from Castillo stating that he conducted an audit of Provident’s financial records, were used to assure Provident’s clients that the reinsurance companies were backstopping the majority of the risk that Provident had insured through its financial guarantee bonds.  The fraudulent financial statements Provident distributed showed significant assets and relatively small liabilities.

From 2004 through 2010, Provident sold at least $485 million of bonds to life settlement investment companies located in various countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.  Provident’s clients, in turn,
sold investment offerings backed by Provident’s bonds to thousands of investors around the world.  Purchasers of Provident’s bonds were required to pay up-front payments of 6 to 11 percent of the underlying settlement as premium payments to Provident before the company would issue the bonds.

Evidence at trial showed that Vargas sent more than $23 million of his ill-gotten gains to fund his professional soccer team in Costa Rica, to his unrelated companies, to his family and to himself.  Due, in part, to these expenditures, when it came time to make good on Provident’s promises to pay bond holders, Vargas resorted to yet more lies to justify Provident’s inability to do so.

Castillo, who was a Provident employee prior to becoming Provident’s outside auditor, pleaded guilty last Nov. 21 to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.  Castillo is scheduled to be sentenced on May 22.  In addition, the corporation, Provident, pleaded guilty April 18 to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of five years’ probation.

This continuing investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service and FBI, with assistance from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Texas State Securities Board and the New Jersey Bureau of Securities.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael S. Dry and Jessica Aber Brumberg of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Albert B. Stieglitz Jr. of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission conducted a parallel investigation and in January 2011 filed a parallel civil enforcement action against Provident, Vargas and Castillo.  

Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division made the announcement following the jury’s verdict. 

“Mr. Vargas lied to investors across the globe to sell almost half a billion dollars worth of guaranteed bonds, which turned out to be worthless,” said MacBride.  “His fraud affected thousands of victims around the world, many of whom invested their life savings with life settlement companies because of the worthless guarantees PCI made.  Mr. Vargas may have thought he was safe operating his scheme from overseas, but his conviction is yet another example to global fraudsters: You can run, but you can’t hide.  This verdict demonstrates our ability to pursue justice on behalf of U.S. victims regardless of where the fraudsters may be hiding.”

“Mr. Vargas reaped millions in profit from a sprawling scheme to defraud investors seeking to hedge their risk in the life settlements market,” said Breuer.  “He used his ill-gotten gains to fund a soccer team and to provide financial comfort for his family and for himself.  Today, a Virginia jury told Mr. Vargas that he would be held accountable, hopefully bringing some measure of peace to the investors he defrauded.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 86
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Researcher says wind causes low estimate of plastic in ocean
By the University of Washington news service

While working on a research sailboat gliding over glassy seas in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski noticed something new: The water was littered with confetti-size pieces of plastic debris, until the moment the wind picked up and most of the particles disappeared.

After taking samples of water at a depth of 16 feet, Proskurowski, a researcher at the University of Washington, discovered that wind was pushing the lightweight plastic particles below the surface. That meant that decades of research into how much plastic litters the ocean, conducted by skimming only the surface, may in some cases vastly underestimate the true amount of plastic debris in the oceans, Proskurowski said.

Reporting in Geophysical Research Letters last month, Proskurowski and co-lead author Tobias Kukulka of the University of Delaware said that data collected from just the surface of the water commonly underestimates the total amount of plastic in the water by an average factor of 2.5.

In high winds the volume of plastic could be underestimated by a factor of 27.

“That really puts a lot of error into the compilation of the data set,” Proskurowski said. The paper also detailed a new model that researchers and environmental groups can use to collect more accurate data in the future.

Plastic waste in the oceans is a concern because of the impact it might have on the environment. For instance, when fish ingest the plastics, it may degrade their liver functions. In addition, the particles make nice homes for bacteria and algae, which are then transported along with the particles into different regions of the ocean where they may be invasive and cause problems.

Proskurowski gathered data on a 2010 North Atlantic expedition where he and his team collected samples at the surface, plus an additional three or four depths down as far as 100 feet.

“Almost every tow we did contained plastic regardless of the depth,” he said.
ocean plastic
Sea Education Association photo
 Pieces of plastic debris found in the oceans are smaller than
 many people think. Most are measured in millimeters.

By combining the data with wind measurements, Proskurowski and his co-authors developed a simplified mathematical model that could potentially be used to match historical weather data, collected by satellite, with previous surface sampling to more accurately estimate the amount of plastic in the oceans.

In addition, armed with the new model, organizations and researchers in the future might monitor wind data and combine it with surface collections in order to better estimate how much plastic waste is in our oceans.

“By factoring in the wind, which is fundamentally important to the physical behavior, you’re increasing the rigor of the science and doing something that has a major impact on the data,” Proskurowski said.

The team plans to publish a method that simplifies the model so that a wide range of groups investigating ocean plastics, including those that aren’t oceanographers, can easily use it.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 86
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Delta purchases refinery
to provide its jet fuel

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S.-based Delta Airlines will soon be the world's first air carrier to produce its own jet fuel.

Delta announced Monday it is buying a struggling oil refinery near Philadelphia from the Phillips 66 oil company for $150 million. The airline flies to Costa Rica.

The refinery has been losing money, and its owner had planned to shut it down, leading to thousands of job losses.

Delta chief Richard Anderson calls buying a refinery an innovative approach to managing the airline's largest expense.

Delta spent $12 billion on jet fuel last year, which was about 36 percent of its operating expenses.

Delta says making its own fuel will save it about $300 million a year.

New tower in New York
claims record as tallest

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One World Trade Center, the skyscraper being built in Lower Manhattan to replace the World Trade Center twin towers destroyed by terrorists in 2001, is now the tallest structure in New York City. 

Monday workers erected a steel column on One World Trade Center that poked through the sky at 381 meters, slightly higher than the Empire State Building, which has dominated the New York skyline since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For several years after the rubble of the twin towers was removed, the area was an empty hole in the ground as government officials and private developers debated reconstruction plans.  But since a compromise was reached, the new building, often called Freedom Tower, has been rising an average of about one floor per week toward its goal of 104 stories.

With the collapse of the twin towers, the Empire State Building reclaimed the title as the city’s tallest building.  It was the world’s tallest structure for more than 40 years after its construction in 1931.

A car dealer from Atlanta, Georgia, Brad Hanson, says he likes the rivalry between New York’s two major skyscraper districts - downtown and midtown. 

“It is good to see downtown get the skyscraper back," he said. "The whole landscape of the area has changed since the towers went down, but now it is back.  I think it is cool.”

One World Trade Center will also be North America’s tallest building at 541 meters.  That translates to 1,776 feet, a number specifically chosen to coincide with the year the United States declared its independence from Britain.

Study says non-native speech
better for decision-making

By the University of Chicago news service

In a study with implications for business executives in a global economy, researchers at the University of Chicago have found that people make more rational decisions when they think through a problem in a non-native tongue.

People are more likely to take favorable risks if they think in a foreign language, the new study showed. “We know from previous research that because people are naturally loss-averse, they often forgo attractive opportunities,” said University of Chicago psychologist Boaz Keysar, a leading expert on communication. “Our new findings demonstrate that such aversion to losses is much reduced when people make decisions in their non-native language."

“A foreign language provides a distancing mechanism that moves people from the immediate intuitive system to a more deliberate mode of thinking,” wrote Keysar in the paper, “The Foreign Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases.” The paper appeared in the current issue of Psychological Science.

In one of the most telling experiments, they tested native English speakers at the University of Chicago who gained Spanish proficiency in the classroom, in order to see how loss aversion influenced their decision-making. The experiment explored how likely the students were to take attractive bets depending on the language in which they considered their options.

Each participant received $15 in dollar bills, from which they took $1 for each bet. They could either keep the dollar or risk it for the possibility of getting an extra $1.50 if they won a coin toss. So in each round, they could net $2.50 if they won the toss, or get nothing if they lost. The bets were attractive because statistically, the students stood to come out ahead if they took all 15 bets.

When given the experiment in English, the students thought myopically, researchers found. The students who considered the problem in English focused on their fear of losing each bet, and took the bet only 54 percent of the time. In contrast, students who did the experiment in Spanish took the bet 71 percent of the time.

The new findings are relevant to how people in a global society make decisions as more individuals use a foreign language on a daily basis, the researchers wrote. The results suggest that thinking in a foreign language could be greatly beneficial in making decisions in a business setting or in personal finance.

“People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language might be less biased in their savings, investment and retirement decisions, as they show less myopic loss aversion. Over a long time horizon, this might very well be beneficial,” the author wrote.

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Tourism chamber seeks
more government action

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism chamber wants more action from the central government during the final two years of the Laura Chinchilla presidency. Among the requests is legislation to make the theft of a passport a felony.

The chamber, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, also wants infrastructure beefed up and a more aggressive policy in favor of the growth of tourism, it said.

The chamber also has expressed concern with the dollar exchange rate that has caused problems for the industry that received payments mostly in dollars but has to pay expenses in colons.

The chamber, in its news release, also asked for more tourist police and a focus on actions that would reduce crimes against tourists.

Environment ministry
losing telecom section

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who thought that the situation was strange to lump telecommunication in with the environment will be happy to know that there is going to be a change.

As a stopgap measure, the Arias administration put the telecom supervision into what was then called the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. This was an awkward fit.

Monday lawmakers approved on first reading the move of the telecom responsibilities to the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología.

The change received 40 votes in the legislature, and there were no objections. The measure has to be approved  a second time to become law.

French president to sue
Web site for defamation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will bring charges against a news Web site for claiming that late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi had offered to give him $50 million to help finance his first presidential bid.

French Web site Mediapart reported Saturday that it had obtained a 2006 Libyan document signed by Libya's then-intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, with the offer.

Sarkozy told France Television Two Monday that the claim was grotesque and said he would file a lawsuit before the end of the current presidential campaign.  

Sarkozy spearheaded Western military intervention that helped drive the Libyan leader from power in a 2011 popular uprising.

France will hold a runoff election Sunday, with Sarkozy trailing socialist candidate Francois Hollande in opinion polls. Hollande emerged as the frontrunner in the April 22 first-round vote, edging the incumbent with 28 percent of the vote to Sarkozy's 27 percent.

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