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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, May 3, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 85        E-mail us
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Shyam Nandwani, a Universidad Nacional professor, shows off his solar oven, one of many products he has designed.
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A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Even do-it-yourself solar has a pretty good payback
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Given regular increases in the cost of electricity in Costa Rica, solar water heating has gained potential especially in lowland climates. A Universidad Nacional professor, Shyam Nandwani, has developed designs appropriate for local conditions that can be constructed at low cost.

At the heart of any system is the solar collector itself, which in this case can be made of wood, galvanized pipe, and a glass top.  Nandwani says two square meters of surface area is a good amount for a family of four. Panels of this size can be interconnected to increase capacity without changing the design of the collector itself.

The same design can be used to heat a swimming pool. In that case the surface area of the collector should be about 50 to 80 percent of the surface area of the pool, he said.

The basic panel design relies on convection to circulate water through a flat box with a glass top. Something cheaper and less fragile than glass can be used with some loss of efficiency. Galvanized metal pipes inside a sheet metal receptor, all painted black, collect the heat of the sun. The box is well-sealed to trap as much heat as possible. With a small angle and cold water entering at the bottom, the warmed water flows upward towards the holding tank.

Following instructions provided by the researchers, the most basic design for the solar collector can be made locally, though as it requires sheet metal crimping and welding, it’s not really a do-it-yourself project for most.

Materials for a two-square-meter panel with a wood floor and sides and glass top can be purchased for about 200,000 colons ($400) as quoted at a large building supply company in San José.

Top quality wood for longer life and any support structure will set the builder back a little more. This does not include fittings from the collector to the tank or to connect into the house’s existing hot water system, or supports for the storage tank, or labor. Some improvements in efficiency can be had with copper pipes instead of galvanized steel for example, but at a substantial increase in cost. The smallest plastic tanks easily available are 250 liters, too big for good circulation according to  Nandwani.

Commercially available systems can cost $1,500
solar panel
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
This surface area is a good amount for a family of four.

to $1,800 installed and guaranteed. Several vendors sell complete packages of foreign-made components.

The collector should be placed at about a 20-degree angle facing south for maximum sun exposure. If there is no south-facing roof, it is possible to place it on a stand, perhaps somewhere with easier access to existing pipes.

Nandwani calculates that a system of this sort can save 2,250 kwh of electricity per year under Costa Rican climate conditions. At present prices, that would be a minimum of 124,000 colons; at higher consumption levels each kwh becomes more expensive, so at the highest marginal rate (95 colons per kwh for Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz customers, slightly less elsewhere) the savings would be 210,000 colons. If the efficiency rate used in the calculations holds in a particular situation, at the higher rate the system could be amortized in three or four years.

Several designs for solar-powered ovens starting with one patented in 1982 are also among Nandwani’s creations. The original design was the product of power rationing in 1979 shortly after his arrival in Costa Rica. Different designs of reflective screens focus light on glass-topped compartments, ranging from fairly simple to something NASA would design.

Nandwani will provide advice at his demonstration facility at the university, which also includes a totally solar-powered house and solar ovens that he is working on. For additional information:

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Our readers' opinions
Immigration and traffic laws
repel potential expats

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

If Costa Rica wishes to dissuade the foreign influx of expats & travelers, it is doing a good job! Consider the new heavy handed immigration policies. I'll admit that I do not know if these laws are in effect as of this date but their very nature will repel potential expats for obvious reasons, the primary being tougher financial qualifications.

The new traffic laws are a brilliant exercise in police state psychology: Aim high with your tyranny, causing a public outcry then back off a bit. Soon the people breathe a sigh of relief & love their masters again for they are suddenly understanding & compassionate. Alert expats will recognize this ploy. Ticos & expats alike should have shut the country down until the whole thing was rescinded. Period.

Now we see that expat personal information will be posted to an apparently publicly accessible database. Great. I'm positive it will never be hacked.

The foundational problems — both criminal & economic — in CR are NOT due to expat presence insofar as I see it. What about you?

A new international airport is about to open  It's capacity has been increased three or fourfold above its current ability to move people about. Unless its architects considered only outgoing flights, the airport's utility will have ended on the day the last construction workman brings home his toolbox & has collected his/her last paycheck for a job well "done" as visitors & expats alike vote with their feet on an outbound itinerary.
Denny Sartuga

Anti-Gringo discrimination
is rampant in Costa Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am really fed up with the discrimination here against Gringos in Costa Rica. Most Ticos really hate us here. Discrimination is as rampant in Costa Rica as it is anywhere in the world.  The Gringos are at the bottom of the list.  Below the Nicas and even below the Caribis. 

Yes now I hear the gasping of the readers.  Such a tabu subject to be spoken in public.  It is as a secret as the everyday talk in the living rooms of most households in Costa Rica.  Just as it is very true in most houses in the U.S.A.  Now that my Spanish is getting better I hear the comments from the Ticos. 

There is a real RACIAL PROFILING going on here on a daily basis.  From the police, restaurants, pulperias, and the attitudes of MOST Ticos.  YES, MOST TICOS!!! THIS IS A SOCIAL FACT. My friends actually admit this fact. One aspect of the racial profiling is the idea that all Gringos are filthy rich and don't need their money. This is a form of FISCAL PROFILING. It is OK to steal from them.  I worked very hard for 35 years in the USA for 10 to 12 hours a day to get what I manage to keep, after taxes and other scam artist in the U.S.A.

And my experiences in their court systems.  There is no justice for a Gringo in the court system here. I have been a domestic violence victim in family court.  Fiscales, and penal courts hear from false denuncias. In most cases, you have no chance of winning.  It is very hard to find a Tico to be your witness.  And they do not like to talk bad against other Ticos. And there is a stigma if a Tico helps a Gringo. I won't even go into on how the lawyers take your money without any intention to carry out their services.  My Tico friends actually confirm that the condition really exists.

I hear and see it at the colegio with my own kids.  There, too, are the talk, harassment, and even fights stemming from the  bias and discrimination.  It has been tough for my kids being the only white Gringos in the whole colegio.  AND I wanted to build my kids some character? I tell them now, "You know how Chris felt in 'Everybody Hates Chris'?".  I saw it, too, as a young boy in a predominately black and hispanic middle school.

I also understand that discrimination is a natural human behavioral phenomenon.  It has been evident throughout human history.   It is more prevalent with the ignorant
Steve Meno
Coronado, Osa.

Country mischaracterized
in news story on violence

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: Multiple protests range from peaceful to violent, Friday, April 30.
The opening sentence of the article:  "The country descended into chaos Thursday as multiple protests paralyzed daily life."
I take issue with your characterization of the country being in chaos on Thursday, April 29.  We traveled peacefully from Puriscal to Hospital San Juan de Diós on Thursday, with barely any effect felt from any of the protests, save a slight traffic slow down on Paseo Colón.
Although life may have been disrupted and chaotic in certain sectors — certainly and lamentably in the part of Limón where the violence took place — I think characterizing the whole country as having "descended into chaos" is an extreme and unfair depiction of life in Costa Rica, overall, this past week.
I urge the editors and writers of A.M. Costa Rica to exercise restraint in the use of hyperbolic and inflammatory language.
Connie Sandlin
Cerbatana, Puriscal 

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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 weekday.

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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.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 85

Arias swan song did not have much in it for expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez defined his administration in his final state of the nation address Saturday. But there was little specifically for expats.

Arias took credit with his economic shield plan of protecting the country from the impact of the world economic downturn and noted that no big business or bank failed.

He said passage of the free trade treaty was a major achievement and that the breaking up of monopolies of insurance and telecommunications was the beginning of a process of surprising commercial expansion that will allow the county to conquer the marketplaces of 2 billion consumers.

And he restated his belief that the way to citizen security is not a strong hand but a fight against poverty, exclusion, cynicism and frustration.

He said that for the first time in history the country has the chance to become fully developed.

The Arias talk clearly showed his belief that the government sets the national agenda.

He characterized his administration as having the top priority of helping the poorest members of society. He listed the 19,000 families that received homes, the 90,000 persons who got an increase in their old-age pensions and the 166,000 young students who received special scholarships to stay in school.

Arias noted that the central government made this possible by paying half of the 185 billion colons it owes the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The Caja was able to construct the Hospital de Heredia and the new Hospital de Osa as well as build 100 new neighborhood clinics.

Arias also mentioned his pet project, the Sistema Nacional de Música that now has 32 schools and 7,000 students.

Few expats benefited directly from these programs. Arias did not mention the new immigration law his administration passed with the help of Partido Liberación Nacional legislative deputies. The measure still drags along and lacks written regulations to put the measure into effect. The proposal to allow tourists to renew their visas by paying a fee has turned into a nightmare for some. All legal expats here now have to join the Caja whether they have insurance elsewhere or not.

Arias cited the estimated 4,500 new police officers who along with their peers will benefit from higher salaries and more resources. He cited his administration's fight against police corruption and that law officers had confiscated nearly 100 tons of cocaine. But he failed to mention the
tourism police, a unit that was created in his administration. In fact, he hardly mentioned tourism, one of the main economic driving forces. The Arias administration put through a new $15 per head tax on air travelers to take the place of the special tourism sales tax. But that fact did not make the speech.

Arias said that for the Laura Chinchilla administration his government is leaving a financial deficit of just 5 percent of the gross domestic product, an amount proportionally just half of that of the United States and just a third of the percent of the deficit of the United Kingdom.

"This night I tell you, with certainty, that school dropouts, infant malnutrition, the illness of our labor force, citizen insecurity, the lag in the construction of public works are headaches much worse than a controlled fiscal deficit and less than the developed countries have," Arias said.

Arias said that his administration has increased by five times investments in public works. He took credit for 500 kilometers (310 miles) of highways and 950 kilometers of gravel roads, some 590 miles. He cited the reconstruction of the community of Cinchona, destroyed by an earthquake 16 months ago. He noted that last week he inaugurated the Costanera Sur highway along the central Pacific coast. He also said his administration reactivated the train between Heredia and San José. The costanera was 30 years in completion.

Another of his projects is the effort to make Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2010 and that his administration planted 19 million trees to make Costa Rica the country with the most trees per capita per square kilometer in the world, he said.

On a more controversial note, Arias talked about his indispensable pragmatism in foreign policy. His administration has established diplomatic relations with 20 countries, including Cuba and the moderate Arab states, he said. The latter was made possible because Arias moved the Costa Rican embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, fixing what he called an historic error.

Arias has emphasized foreign relations, including strong participation in the United Nations. Perhaps the most dramatic was when the Arias Administration dumped Taiwan in favor the the People's Republic of China. Arias said then that he believed the 21st century would be the century of the Asians.

Arias came close to scolding the new members of the Asamblea Legislativa who gathered to hear his words. He said that no developed country can spend five years discussing a project of national interest. He meant the free trade treaty with the United States and other Central American countries. He said that lawmakers should think of the country and not their narrow partisan political goals.

May Day parade
A,M, Costa Rica/Manuel Avendaño Arce
Pick a cause and there probably was someone marching for or against it Saturday in the traditional Día de los Trabajadores May Day event. With the free trade treaty
with the United States completed, opposition focused on an open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica and a plan to change the compensation for public employees.

Family, friends not giving up on missing Michael Dixon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dixon family is not giving up. Even though family member Michael Dixon vanished Oct. 18, the family keeps coming up with ideas to keep the search alive.

"We have launched this worldwide appeal with the primary intention of keeping this story alive by spreading awareness of Michael's disappearance," said brother David. "Through this video we hope that someone out there will recognize him and may be able to provide the information that may ultimately lead us to him."

So far the results of extensive searches and the single-mindedness of his brother have not turned up anything.  Dixon vanished as he left a Tamarindo hotel on his way to the beach. The family members are convinced that someone out there knows something that can bring some light to the case.

"We simply refuse to accept that Michael could have just disappeared without a trace," said his brother in an e-mail exchange.

The video appeal has appeared on local television stations. Friends and relatives in many languages ask viewers to help find Michael Dixon. There also is a Web page. Dixon, 33, is a British citizen, a journalist, who was working in Brussels, Belgium. Among those asking for help is a cousin, who appears to be an active duty U.S. Army officer, and even an unidentified man standing in front of St. Basil's Church in Red Square.

Like Dixon, David Gimelfarb is still missing in another
Michael Dixon
Michael Dixon

section of Guanacaste. The Chicago man, then 28, vanished Aug. 11 after hiking in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja. His family also has pushed for answers but without the international support that David Dixon's efforts have generated.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 85

Sandinistas get scant mention as Arias honors reporters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez has created a day of the journalists for May 30, the Día Nacional del Periodista,

He did so with profuse mentions of the La Penca bombing in which three news reporters died. According to Casa Presidencial, La Penca was an attack on journalists.

Arias said he wanted to recall an event that has social consequences today. The bombing happened May 30, 1984.

The bombing, in fact, was an attempt to kill Edén Pastora, a southern Contra leader. And Arias failed to mention that the likely intellectual author behind the bombing were the Sandinistas who are the political party in power today in Nicaragua.

"When I assumed power, I expelled the Contras from Costa Rica," Arias said, as he seemed to blame the Contras for the bombing. Arias took over in 1986. He stressed his desire that Costa Rica remain neutral.

The bombing happened in a village in Nicaragua not far from the Costa Rican border. Pastora wanted to give a press conference, so news people were brought in under what proved to be faulty security. One person who went along said he was a Danish photographer. It was he, most
people believe, who carried the bomb.

Pastora, who was injured but recovered, told The Associate Press in 2008 that Daniel Ortega, the sitting president of Nicaragua and the leader at the time of the Sandinistas, sent the man to kill him. Pastora also said that he was trying to kill Ortega at the time. Pastora said the time was one of war. Pastora now is engaged in politics in Nicaragua and even ran for president and also accepted an appointment from Ortega.

A former Sandinista ally, Swedish journalist Peter Torbiornsson, told a human rights commission in Nicaragua in 2008 that he provided the camera that contained the bomb. He identified the man who carried it as the Argentine Roberto Vital Gaguine. That was reported both by The Associated Press and the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario at the time.

Torbiornsson said the assassinationn attempt had the blessing of the the Sandinista interior minister and a Cuban intelligence officer.

Many in Costa Rica thought that the bombing had been the work of the U.S. CIA. A law suit alleging that was thrown out of a U.S. court.

Tico Times reporter Linda Frazier suffered fatal wounds in the bombing.

Bolivia's Morales nationalizes power firms on May Day

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Saturday that he is nationalizing several private electricity companies.

Officials had said that police had moved into the offices of at least three power companies, including the British-run company Guaracachi, and Corani, which is controlled by a subsidiary of France's GDF Suez.

A police official said officers were enforcing a presidential decree nationalizing the companies. Morales nationalized the hydrocarbons industry in 2006 and the
country's main telephone company in 2008. Both announcements came on May Day.

Morales was first elected in 2005, and is Bolivia's first native head of state.

In the 2008 announcement taking over the telephone company, the Bolivian leader said his government was also taking control of four foreign-owned energy firms.

In 2006, he forced oil and gas companies to negotiate new contracts that gave Bolivia's state-owned YPFB a majority share of the revenues generated.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 85

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U.S. and Brazil emeshed
 in strange trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

American taxpayers may soon be subsidizing Brazilian cotton farmers in order to protect the earnings of U.S. drug companies. That's one way to look at a new agreement aimed at ending a long-running dispute within the World Trade Organization between Brazil and the United States.

It's the first time the U.S. has been penalized over its farm subsidies. But the resolution leaves some agricultural trade experts scratching their heads.

For years, cotton growers in developing countries have complained about U.S. farm subsidies. The U.S. government wants to help sell more American farm products on the world market. So it provides export companies with financial help to lower their prices on everything from grains and soybeans to dairy products and, in this case, cotton. That pushes down the global market price of cotton.

"For farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who are subsisting on very little money, a small reduction in price based on American subsidization is a big deal to them," says David DeGennaro with the Environmental Working Group.

In 2002, several African countries joined Brazil and took the United States to the World Trade Organization over its cotton subsidies.

They won. That's a first.

But the U.S. didn't end the subsidies. So the World Trade Organization said Brazil could retaliate by raising its import tariffs on U.S. agricultural products.

Brazil, however, is a major farm exporter and doesn't buy that many agricultural products from the U.S. To have more clout with the U.S., Brazil said we don't want to just retaliate in agriculture, said David Orden with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Brazil wanted to hit the U.S. where it would hurt more: by breaking patents on pharmaceuticals and copyrights on movies and software. The World Trade Organization agreed, and gave Brazil the right to $260 million dollars worth of U.S. intellectual property this year.

Orden says U.S. officials didn't want that to happen.

"Rather than have Brazil retaliate against us, the U.S. has found a way to bribe Brazil, if you will, to not impose that retaliation in exchange for various things the U.S. says it will do," he says.

The U.S. has agreed to establish a $147 million dollar fund to help cotton farmers in Brazil and other countries improve their production.

U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary Jim Miller says the settlement keeps the U.S. from getting shut out of Brazil, a growing market for American exports.

"Given the fact that the level of retaliation next year would likely increase, we have protected the market for a significant level of goods and intellectual property rights going forward," he says.

But DeGennaro with the Environmental Working Group puts it this way: "It's really kind of ridiculous that American taxpayers are going to be subsidizing Brazilian cotton farmers just so that we can keep on subsidizing our own cotton farmers. It's really a strange situation."

Even Dave Salmonsen with the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents U.S. farmers, is not an enthusiastic supporter of the U.S. aid to Brazil.
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La Fortuna invasion
fails when gun jams

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men broke into a home in La Fortuna de San Carlos early Saturday, held a gun on the occupant and then fired at him multiple times.

The Fuerza Pública said that the men fled after the gun, a .25-caliber pistol, jammed.

Police did not identify the victim but said that two suspects were detained not far from the home. They were identified by the last names of Fallas Carvajal and López Solano. López is a La Fortuna resident, and Fallas lives in Tirrases de Curridabat in the Central Valley, said police.

Escazú police checks
results in nine arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía Municipal de Escazú spearheaded a checkpoint at the Cruce de los Anonos late Thursday and early Friday. Nine persons were detained and two vehicles were confiscated.

Judicial agents and the Policía de Tránsito also participated.

One vehicle yielded four suspects when police found weapons, women's purses, money, cell phones and documents.  The driver of the second vehicle carried ownership papers that police determined were false, they said. Also detained was a driver suspected of being drunk and individuals with other traffic violations.

A number of vehicles had their license plates removed, police said.

Trio blamed for fraud
in more than 100 cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two adults and a 16 year old are being investigated in more than 100 cases of fraud involving tires, clothes and office equipment.

The trio also are being investigated for conspiracy.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the amount of the fraud may be as much as 100 million colons or about $200,000.

Investigators said that local businesses have been plagued by a gang that paid for goods with bank deposits using stolen checks. By the time the bank determined that the check was bad, the individuals had left with merchandise. Sometimes crooks would pose as chamber of commerce workers on the telephone in order to find out company information.

Taken in this manner were office machines, reams of paper and other items that could be resold easily, said agents.

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