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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, May 6, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 89             E-mail us
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Alas, the rainy season has arrived as expected
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rainy season came in full force Thursday, and sections of the Caribbean and the northern zone are expected to get up to 17 centimeters or nearly 7 inches of rain over 24 hours, according to the national weather institute.

The weather institute issued its first warning of the season against slides and flooding Thursday night.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued the special alert at 7 p.m. Thursday. It noted that a low pressure area was influencing the national weather pattern and said that overnight and in the early morning rains of variable intensity were expected in the Caribbean and in the northern zone.

The low pressure area appears to have swept across the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean. There was rain in the Central Valley Thursday morning and afternoon.

The weather bulletin said that downfall of from 4 to 7 centimeters (1.6 to 2.75 inches) could be expected.

It said that rivers in Sixaola, Gatas, Sarapiquí and Guápiles were rising slowly.

The Central Valley and the north Pacific were expected to have light showers in the mountains.

The alert over flooding and slides covered  Sarapiquí, Cinchona, Orosi and Peñas Blancas. the weather institute also noted the adverse impact of rain on the national highways and said there might be a reduction of visibility.

Later today thunderstorms are predicted in the central and southern Pacific.

Weather Underground Inc. which provides forecast for A.M. Costa Rica said there was about an 80 percent chance of precipitation today in San José.

Although clearing was predicted for Friday night, Saturday, Sunday and Monday have a 60 percent chance of rain.

Youngsters from reserves will share soccer, cultures
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Youngsters from Costa Rica's native communities will meet for the finals of a nine-month soccer tournament Saturday and Sunday in Parque la Sabana. The championships, both male and female, will take place Sunday morning in the new national stadium.

However the event is much more than a fútbol contest. More than 300 youngsters are expected from a host of native communities: Terraba, Boruca, Quitirrisi, Conte Burica, Guatuso (Maleku), Talamanca, Bajo Chirripo and Coto Brus, organizers said. There was extensive participation in the lead up to the championships by volunteers of the U.S.
Peace Corps at the native reserves in the country.

The event is being called the Primera Copa Nacional del Niñez y Adolescencia Indígina. The major sponsor is the Seprojoven organization.

In addition to playing soccer, the youngsters, 15 to 23, will get to know one another and share a cultural evening Saturday of dance, movies and theater. There also will be leadership training.

The gathering kicks off at 8 a.m. Saturday in the national stadium, and soccer games will take place on the various la Sabana fields. There will be a parade of participating delegations Sunday at 7:30 a.m. in the national stadium before the soccer finals.

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Contest open to restore
a national heritage site

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry's heritage arm opened the period of applications for restoration grants for historic buildings.

The deadline is Aug. 15. This is the 15th annual contest, and some 100 million colons. About $200,000, is available for the successful candidate.

The ministry's Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural runs the contest in conjunction with the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos de Costa Rica.
Architects and others are invited to submit proposals for restoration of a heritage site. The grant probably will not cover the entire project, but the successful architect also gets 10 million colons in an honorarium. The downtown Correos de Costa Rica was restored with such a grant, as was the Black Star Line building in Limón and others.

A more recent project was the Steinworth commercial building in downtown San José.

Sandra Quirós, director of the heritage center, also said Thursday that her agency would invest 25 million colons in restoring the Estación del Atlántico that has fallen into disrepair and some 200 million for structures on the Isla San Lucas, the former prison island that officials hope to turn into a tourist attraction. That's about $50,000 and $400,000.

Rescue workers find body
of another teen lost in Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers Thursday morning recovered the body of a second young Ohio tourist who died in a rip tide at Playa Bejuco Wednesday. A third victim still is missing.

The body of James Smith was found about 100 yards offshore. The body of a girl, Caity Jones, was recovered Wednesday shortly after the tragedy.

A total of five teens, all missionaries from the Columbus, Ohio, area, were caught in the rip tide. Two were rescued. The teens, part of a group of about 12, came to enjoy the beach on their last full day in the country. Most of the group left Costa Rica Thursday.

Still missing is a teen with the name Kai Lamar. Rescue workers will be on the scene again this morning, the third day after the tragedy.

Arms smuggling spinoff
results in freeing hostage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers were able to rescue a kidnapped undercover police officer from Panamá Wednesday night. They also detained one individual.

The case is related to a large weapons smuggling ring. Seven persons have been detained in Panamá, said police here. Those detained there include four Costa Ricans.

Police here became aware of the situation about 4 p.m. Wednesday when they heard shots along the border near San Antonio de Sabalito.

Fuerza Pública officials learned later that one of the suspects in the shootout with police from Panamá fled taking an individual with him as a hostage. The hostage was a ranking officer in the Panamanian force who had been working undercover.

Police caught up with the fleeing individual about 8 p.m. at Sabanillas de Coto Brus and managed to free the hostage.

The undercover officer had been impersonating a buyer who was interested in purchasing illegal firearms, police here said.

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, Friday, May 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 89
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Credit card scams made tourism operators the victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crooks came up with a new wrinkle on credit card theft that left tourism operators and agencies holding the bag.

Judicial agents detained two men who are suspects in the scam Thursday. Arrests were made in Hatillo 7 and Moravia.

The scam was simple. Crooks obtained credit card information from accomplices who worked in locations frequented by foreigners. This was not a sophisticated operation. The credit card information was copied by hand, said judicial police.

Once they had credit card numbers and names in hand, crooks would use the data to make new reservations for hotel stays and air trips with reputable tourism agencies, said police.

Once the crooks had vouchers in hand representing these
 trips or hotel stays, they would sell them at deep discounts to members of the public, judicial police said.  When the tourism providers presented the vouchers for payment, the tour agencies would realize that they had been defrauded.

Over the course of a year, some 10 tourism agencies were scammed for about $78,000, judicial police said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization agents were from the Sección de Fraudes.

Tourists are highly vulnerable when paying by credit card. More sophisticated gangs of crooks have ways to steal the credit card information electronically or they simply make photographs of the credit card.

Recently some expats have complained that service station attendants were adding additional amounts to credit card slips and pocketing the difference. They urged credit card users to pay close attention to the amounts shown on the receipts.

Drilling crew in Pacific finally surmounts an obstacle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists some 900 kilometers (about 560 miles) west of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean have spent 16 days cleaning and stabilizing a drill hole left by a previous expedition.

The work is being done on a 143-meter (469-foot) vessel specially designed to remain stationary in the ocean while its drill penetrates the sea floor.

The drill met and spent considerable time surmounting an obstacle about 980 meters (3,215 feet) below the sea floor. The team, which left from Puntarenas in mid-April, has been making frequent reports online. The team seeks to drill perhaps 2 kilometers (6,560 feet) into the Coco tectonic plate beneath the sea. The first step was to locate and insert the drill into a hole drilled in 2005. That hole was 1,500 meters (about 4,900 feet) deep.
A report Tuesday said that the drill was advancing and reached the bottom of the hole. Drilling to a new depth has begun and already the science team reports that the crew has a core from the enlarged hole on deck for study.

The professional drillers on the ship, the JOIDES Resolution, pumped 60 barrels of cement into the drill hole and then drilled through the hardened cement. This had the effect of hardening the walls of the drill hole that had been eroding.

The team will dock in Panamá June 3.

The crust of the Cocos plate, formed 15 million years ago, is expanding at 20 centimeters a year, which is faster than any existing active ridge, scientists have said.

That is why the area is of such interest.

No longer a woman alone with a flood of daring females
For years I have been writing to women encouraging them to come to Costa Rica.  Last Friday I learned that they are here.  That is when I attended a meet and greet gathering of the Women’s Professional Network, a relatively new organization and offshoot of the Women’s Club of Costa Rica. The get-together was held in a new Venezuelan restaurant in Barrio Amón.  The acoustics were not cushioned in this two-story Caracas Arepas and Juice Bar, and I walked into a cacophony of enthusiastic voices. 

Joyful, but still cacophonous. I got my first eye opener about what women are up to when one of the young women at the door told me that she works with study abroad students, and that 70 percent of the arrivals are female.   Women, I learned, now make up a majority of students taking advantage of study abroad programs.  Wow, I thought.

I bought myself a beer and climbed the stairs to the second floor, which had been turned into a balcony. That is where most of the chatter was coming from. There were more than a dozen women there, all in their 20s to their 40s.  They were talking about their various enterprises and exchanging business cards. Most of them are involved in environmentally sustainable businesses or non-profit concerns. 

One, Christina, is working with Children without Borders (Niños sin Fronteras), an organization that brings medical attention to poor children.  There were writers, a photographer, and social media specialist, and Sara, a movie producer who is working to get U.S. filmmakers to use locations and crews in Costa Rica (an idea whose time has certainly come if the government would encourage it). Stacey, a mover and shaker in any organization, has opened a yoga studio in Barrio Amón.  And one was promoting American-style football.  Her team is made up of young men from the tough barrios.

There were a number of English language teachers, and one involved in the Multilingue program in public schools.

What both pleased and surprised me was there were some  women who have packed their bags and come alone to Costa Rica, some as a stop included in their plans to visit other countries as well. Others, came to live here.  When I moved to Costa Rica as a woman alone it was something of a rarity, or seemed to be by the surprise people expressed at my daring.

But women are freer to be more independent and adventurous than we once were.  And we are doers. Seeing
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

these women in action made the reality even clearer.  Even
older women are getting more daring.  Gigi, a former ballerina, simply packed two bags three years ago and has been traveling the world.  We found we have a lot in common.

Another reality hit me this week.  I visited a school in Moravia.  It is a private school that delivers the curriculum in English to children from the age of 2 through sixth grade.  I was there as the result of an invitation from Mariana, the 11-year-old daughter of a friend of mine.  Mariana had done a report of my book, "Butterfly in the City" and asked her mother to see if I would visit their book club at her school.

It is a small privately run school with about 200 students.  It is the creation of John and Silvia, a Costa Rican couple.  I was impressed with the behavior of the kids.  In the middle of the school is the playground, and during recess they run and swing and play together and make noise. In class they all work quietly at their desks, whether they are coloring or reading or learning science – even the 2 to 4 year olds.  At least when I visited.

John showed me their reading books and workbooks.  All in English.

But my visit revealed that although the students obviously read and write English with some proficiency, they are very hesitant to speak it.

They need more practice, and one way to give them practice speaking is to have them do something where communication is tantamount and self-consciousness is reduced — where they can be somebody else, not themselves talking self-consciously but actors playing characters.  They need short little plays where they can be funny, tragic, informative or angry.

And that is just what a group of people at the Little Theatre of Costa Rica is doing. The group is bringing plays to the schools, even getting students to write plays and act in them.  I’m not involved in this endeavor, but I applaud them and just may contribute something, at least to this one special school I visited.

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Ms. Chinchilla at assembly
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Ms. Chinchilla addresses
in an unusual afternoon session.

President brings message of conciliation to legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla prefaced her state of the state message Thursday with conciliatory themes.

Ms. Chinchilla was faced with the challenge of giving a speech when everyone already knew the content. Politics blocked her appearance Sunday, but she made public a copy of the speech she was supposed to give.

Thursday there were just ministers as guests in the assembly chambers. Usually this is a black-tie affair for diplomats. Lawmakers listened respectfully. Later, however, many of the former opposition parties that are now in the majority said they had differences with the president's policies and proposals.

"Today more than ever we have to build a policy in which leadership does not consist of blocking an idea or in articulating a harangue but in sharing agreement and articulating accords that will result in the order for action," said the president in a new preface that she delivered in advance of her speech.

She said the new leadership of the Asamblea Legislativa
 was entitled to deepest respect. It was the president who ended the legislative standoff. She told Luis Gerardo Villanueva to step down from the assembly presidency he had won on a tricky maneuver. Both are from the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The main speech was a recounting of what had been accomplished and what the president expects to accomplish.

Many of her plans depend on increasing taxes, and she has plenty of support to do that. However the way it is done might challenge the new ruling coalition because it includes parties from the right and the left.

Some oppose the Chinchilla proposals because they believe not enough taxes are levied on the wealthy. Others believe that ending evasion would generate enough funds. This issue will be argued out in committee meeting and on the legislative floor.

Basically Ms. Chinchilla proposed a 14 percent value-added tax and taxing a number of basic items that are not now subject to the 13 percent sales tax. Many lawmakers want to keep the basic items such as foods stuffs free of taxes and seek to reduce the value-added tax to 13 percent.

Pentagon seeking major cost-cutting in military health plan

By American Forces Press Service

The Defense Department's proposal to reform the Tri-Care health plan and the military health system would save at least $3.2 billion between 2012 and 2016, the Pentagon's chief financial officer told Congress Wednesday. There would be extensive impact on retirees, some of whom live in Costa Rica.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee, the financial officer, Robert F. Hale, said the initiatives would support President Barack Obama's debt-reduction plan, which calls for reducing the federal budget $4 trillion by 2023.

Obama's plan includes a reduction of $78 billion in the Defense Department's fiscal 2012 budget and an additional $400 billion in national security cuts through 2023.

Hale stressed that although $3.2 billion is only modest savings toward the president's overall goal, the savings are substantial within the Defense Department.

"The federal government as a whole would save money under this plan — not a lot, but there are modest savings," he explained. "The department savings from this proposal would be very substantial. We're looking out over the whole career of an individual and setting aside money to pay for it, so you immediately see major effects."

The fiscal 2012 budget request calls for $52.5 billion to support the military health system's 9.6 million beneficiaries, which include retirees, active duty members and their families. The department's health care bill has more than tripled from $19 billion in 2001.

"We've got to find ways to maintain the quality of health care but slow the growth in cost," Hale said.

Meeting that challenge begins with streamlining operations at the health affairs headquarters, he said, which means cutting more than 700 civilian contractors from the Tri-Care staff. The proposal also calls for reforms for beneficiaries, including a maximum $5 a month increase for working-age military retirees under 65, raising the co-payment for prescription drugs, and regulatory changes that would eliminate special subsidies for community hospitals that serve beneficiaries, Hale said.

Hale noted that Tri-Care enrollment fees have not increased since Congress appropriated funds for the program in 1994. Families pay an estimated $460 annually for Tri-Care Prime coverage, but had the fees been indexed today to meet the growth in per capita national health expenditure, those fees would now be more than $1,000 per family each year, he said.

Beginning in 2013, future enrollees would pay fees based on the national health expenditure if the proposal is enacted, Hale said, and that, he added, still would be significantly less than what beneficiaries would pay in the private sector for health insurance.
The proposals would save an estimated $430 million over the next five years and would stabilize cost sharing in Tri-Care at a level much more favorable than what Congress envisioned in the 1990s, Hale said.

Reform proposals in pharmaceuticals include incentives for allowing the department to prescribe generic drugs and deliver prescriptions by mail, saving $2.5 billion by 2016, he added.

Hale told the panel that the rates the Defense Department pays to sole community hospitals that serve military beneficiaries are substantially higher than the rates it pays to other hospitals. Sole community hospitals are determined by Medicare rules that factor in distance from other hospitals, capacity and other criteria.

Federal law requires that the department adopt Medicare rates when practical, and combined with lower rates paid to sole community hospitals, the proposal would save the department $395 million through 2016, Hale said.

Hale also discussed the department's proposal for equitable treatment for all Medicare-eligible military retirees. Under current law, he said, some Medicare-eligible enrollees are allowed to remain in the U.S. Family Health Plan, a Tri-Care Prime option that provides care to active duty family members and all military retirees regardless of whether they participate in Medicare Part B, which covers doctor services, outpatient care and home health services that Part A does not.

The Defense Department, Hale added, seeks legislation that requires those who are part of the U.S. Family Health Plan to join Medicare, as all other retirees must.

This, he added, will ensure that Tri-Care does not pay claims that exceed Medicare rates when military retirees qualify for both programs.

"We will make these fee changes very gradually, very slowly, and grandfathering all those who are currently over age 65 and in the Family Health Plan, so it will take place over a number of years," Hale said. "I particularly ask the committee's support for the provisions affecting the sole community hospitals and for legislation to permit changes to the U.S. Family Health Plan."

The proposals are more than reasonable, Hale said, and strike a solid balance between bringing savings and maintaining quality health care for veterans and their families. None of the proposals would affect active duty troops, he emphasized.

"These proposals generate savings that will help us pay for needed training and equipping of the armed forces," Hale said. "If we don't get authority to do this, we'll face major holes in the military budget, and it will be very hard to handle in difficult budgetary times. But most importantly, these proposals will lay the groundwork for a sustainable future of the military health care system."

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 89

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No hope for life in México
for trapped coal miners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's labor minister says there were no survivors from Tuesday's deadly explosion at a coal mine in the northern part of the country.

The mininster, Javier Lozana, posted Thursday on his twitter site that there was no hope of life among the 14 miners who were working inside the facility at the time of the blast.

He told reporters a sixth body had been pulled from the site Thursday.  Eight more miners remain missing. 

Authorities say a methane gas buildup caused the explosion, which was powerful enough to severely injure a teenage boy working outside the mine. 

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has ordered the attorney general's office to open an investigation into the blast. The mine had been in operation since last month.

Peruvian elections appear
to be a dead heat in poll

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new opinion poll indicates that the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori has narrowed the gap with leftist former army officer Ollanta Humala ahead of a run-off election set for June 5.

The survey, published Wednesday, says Humala leads with 39 percent of voter support, while Fujimori's daughter, Keiko Fujimori, has 38 percent support. An earlier poll had Humala ahead of Fujimori by six percentage points. The new report is essentially a statistical dead heat.

In the first round of balloting last month, Humala won 32 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent margin needed to win the election outright. Ms. Fujimori took 24 percent.

Analysts say many Peruvians question Humala's and Ms. Fujimori's credentials on human rights and see them as a threat to the democratic system.

Humala, who led an uprising against Fujimori's father in 2000, lost a run-off election to current President Alan Garcia in 2006. Humala was outspoken during that campaign about his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, but has since distanced himself from the leftist leader.

Some Peruvians distrust Ms. Fujimori because of her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for his role in death squad killings in the 1990s. There has been concern that his daughter would try to free him if elected. Keiko Fujimori has apologized for mistakes and crimes committed while her father was in office. The older Fujimori was Peru's president from 1990 until 2000.

Much of the presidential campaign has focused on continuing the rapid economic growth seen in recent years, while ensuring that the poor also see some of the increased prosperity.

Fidel Castro criticizes
U.S. raid on Abbottabad

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has criticized the way the United States carried out the raid against Osama bin Laden, saying the U.S. commandos killed him in front of his family.

Castro made the comments in an essay published by state media Thursday. He also said the U.S. raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, violated that country's laws and offended its dignity.

The former Cuban leader noted he expressed solidarity with the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, despite political differences with the United States.  He also said he abhors all types of terrorism. 

But Castro said the killing and burial at sea of bin Laden has made the world's top terrorist a much more dangerous person.

A team of Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound early Monday, killed the terrorist leader and ended a nearly decade-long manhunt of the man behind the Sept, 11 attacks on the United States.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 89

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Garabito plant inaugurated
with nod to environment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad inaugurated its $360 million Garabito oil fired generating station Thursday with nods to the environment.

The generating engines, supplied by the Germany firm MAN Diesel & Turbo SE, are clean and each puts out particulates not greater than those from a typical truck on a Costa Rican street, said  Hermann Kröger, who represented the German firm.

The power company also said that the plant on the Pacific coast would be a center of a reforestation effort. The plant is supposed to generate 200 megawatts, and provide backup electricity in the periods when hydro power is limited.

Irreverent musical tapped
as Tony Awards finalist

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Nominations have been announced for the Tony Awards, celebrating New York City's famous Broadway shows, and an irreverent newcomer is at the top.

"The Book of Mormon," a satirical musical not to be confused with the holy scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, earned 14 nominations this week.  That is just one nomination short of the record for the most nominations for a single show.

The musical follows two young Mormon missionaries to Uganda, and features songs about AIDS and one that uses profanity as its chorus. It comes from the creators of the irreverent "South Park" cartoon series that has drawn controversy for its own religious-themed story lines, including episodes mocking Jesus, the prophet Mohammed, and, of course, Mormons.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has responded to the play "The Book of Mormon" by saying it may "attempt to entertain" for an evening, but the scriptures of the same name "will change people's lives forever."

The other musical to garner the admiration of the Tony nominators was "The Scottsboro Boys" - a show that only made it through 49 performances before closing.  "Scottsboro," which uses the guise of a minstrel show to look at a dark side of U.S. history, earned 12 nominations.

Some other shows to get Tony nods included "The Merchant of Venice," movie-turned-musical "Sister Act," and "Catch Me If You Can." Only musicals and plays produced in one of the exclusive Broadway theaters are considered.

The awards will be presented in a televised ceremony on June 12.

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