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(506) 2223-1327              Published Wednesday, May 12, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 92         E-mail us
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The new railroad issue, called 'Ferrocarriles de Costa Rica,' features four representative rail cars. The stamp series went on sale last week but gained little publicity because of the presidential inauguration.

Railroad stamps

New stamp series honors country's rail history
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Railroad buffs and stamp collectors will be excited when they learn that Correos de Costa Rica S.A., the postal service, has come out with a four-stamp series honoring the country's rail history.

The series features four locomotives ranging from the nation's first, the María Cecilia, to the new addition just imported from Spain. Each stamp is 200 colons or about 38 U.S. cents each.

The design also features a scene of a section of narrow gauge track passing through a forest. The postal service also said it wanted to mark the acceptance that the public has had with the revived rail service. San José is one of the few places in the world where vehicle traffic mixes with rail cars as it does each day on Avenida Central.

There are 30,000 four-stamp sets that have been released. This includes 2,000 first-day covers that feature an illustration of a burrocarril. That was the first effort at rail transportation, and burros were used to pull cargo cars containing mostly the coffee harvest.

The designer of the new stamps is Cristian Ramírez Vargas, said Correos de Costa Rica. The locomotives were placed digitally, it said.
Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez used his presidential powers to push for rail transport for commercial development in 1871. The Alajuela-San José trackage was put down in his administration. A second line from Limón and Matina to the Río Pacuare went into service in 1874.

By 1882 there was rail service as far east as Carrillo on the Río Sucio. In 1884 U.S. entrepreneur Minor Keith got a contract to build track some 52 miles to connect the Atlantic section from the Río Reventazón to Cartago. He received a 99-year concession.

In 1910 the rail line to the Pacific became a reality. The locomotive María Cecilia was the first steam engine that Minor Keith brought to the country.

Then-president José María Figueres halted passenger operations on the nation's rail lines in 1998 for economic reasons. Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverria began efforts to revive the lines during his presidential term. The valley line from Pavas to the Universidad Latina went back into service during the administration of Abel Pacheco, and Óscar Arias Sánchez inaugurated the revived spur from San José to Heredia.

The postal service issued an earlier stamp of Guardia and an early locomotive.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 92

Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Real estate agents and services

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The registration of Burke Fiduciary S.A., corporate ID 3-101-501917 with the  General Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF) is not an authorization  to operate. The supervision of SUGEF refers to compliance with the capital legitimization requirements of Law No. 8204. SUGEF does not supervise the
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Consejo de Goberino
Casa Presidencial photo
Ms. Chinchilla presides at Tuesday's meeting.

New president creates four
special advisory councils

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In her second cabinet meeting of her administration, Laura Chinchilla created four councils to concentrate on specific themes.

They will address competitivity, social welfare and family, environment and citizen security, said Casa Presidencial.

In future weekly Consejo de Goberino meetings, Ms. Chinchilla said she would first meet with her minister and then with one of the four special councils. The councils will include government ministers and heads of autonomous agencies. Casa Presidencial said the idea was to coordinate closely the themes that are the responsibility of each mini-council.

Ms. Chinchilla held her first council meeting with her ministers shortly after taking the oath of office Saturday. They met in a tent in Parque la Sabana. But the meeting was a brief one in which the new president signed several decrees that she had promised. One banned any new open pit mines in Costa Rica.


Firemen think someone set
early morning Tibás blaze


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Firemen think that someone set a blaze that climaxed in dramatic rescues in Tibás early Tuesday.

The blaze began on the first floor of a three-story structure not far from the POPS ice cream store. The first floor was occupied by a small grocery, but the second and third floors contained apartments where 14 persons were sleeping when the blaze broke out.

The apartments had no escape routes once the first floor was involved fully in flames.

When firemen arrived some residents were jumping from second floor balconies. But at least nine persons, including three youngsters, were trapped on the third floor.

Firemen used extension ladders to get them out of the building. They came down the ladder over the flames below.

A report from the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the firemen, said that the fire seemed to have been started because the initial inspection could find no other reason for the blaze. 

Residents said they suspected that a firebomb started the blaze. The alarm came in about 2:20 a.m. When firemen arrived, the first floor was engulfed in flames and flames were coming from windows of some second floor apartments. Firemen wearing masks entered the building through the windows of the third floor apartments to make sure all the residents were out.

The three second floor apartments were heavily damaged. The four third floor apartments suffered some fire damage and significant smoke damage.


Costa Rican firms seeking
new business in Panamá


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of Costa Rica firms are in Panamá through Thursday seeking business.  Among them are Costa Rican architectural and engineering firms that want to explore the possibility of providing their services to the country in the south, said Promotora del Comercio Exterior, which organized the trade mission.

Organizers said that there were 50 individual meetings set for Costa Rican producers to present their sales pitches.

The services offered include construction, development, tourism, designers, interior decorators, producers of plants and floral products, financial entities, lawyers and information service providers.

The architectural firms will be meeting with the Cámera Panameña de la Construcción and the Sociedad Panameña de Ingerieros y Arquetectos.

Costa Rica and Panamá have a free trade treaty that covers some but not all of the services offered.


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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
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.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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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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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 92



An analysis of the news
New citizen security initiative might include a new tax

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens and expats alike are expecting action from the Laura Chinchilla administration to reduce criminality.

The new president has empaneled a committee to develop a plan of action. There is a 100-day deadline.

José María Tijerino, the new security minister, emphasized Monday the lack of resources that handicap the law enforcement agencies. He did not say so, but the next logical step would be to propose a special tax to beef up police and the judiciary.

The Chinchilla administration has been considering several new taxes anyway. The goal is to reduce the financial disparity between the well off and the poor. That is a central theme of her political party, Liberación Nacional. One idea that has been tossed around is a value-added tax of the type that is popular in Europe. The tax is popular because it generates massive incomes to the governments who have it.

A value added tax imposes a levy at each stage of production on the value that is added by that step. The entire tax is rolled into the final price of the goods.

Currently the country has a 13 percent sales tax and an income tax that is enforced irregularly. There also was a tax on upscale homes that won passage in the last administration. The law carefully exempted large tracts and imposed the levy just on the land in the immediate vicinity of the dwelling. In addition there is a whole litany of minor taxes, including the fee of $26 for anyone to leave the country.

When Laura Chinchilla was vice president, she headed a committee to draw up a security plan. A lot of the emphasis of the final effort was to reduce the number of firearms held by citizens.

Both she and Tijerino have said that criminality must be defeated by tackling the root causes, such as poverty and lack of education.

Under the previous administration street crime seems to have diminished. The Fuerza Pública conducted several well-publicized early morning roundups in the center city to catch street robbers as they awoke to begin the day.

At the same time the Poder Judicial started and then expanded the concept of flagrancy tribunals where crooks caught in the act get quick justice.

The perception is that street crime has been reduced, but the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública usually only issues press reports on actions that make their law enforcement employees look good. Police officers at
the various stations around the country had become unwilling to discuss crime during the last half of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

So a clear read on the incidents of crime is impossible to obtain. Statistics are notoriously misleading because many victims fail to report what happened. Only in major cases like murder are statistics any guide. The most recent murder statistics show a slight decline from a year ago.

The United States has made a number of donations to the security ministry. One such donation will take place today when the United States gives more than $1 million from the Central American Regional Security Initiative. However, U.S. officials are mostly interested in the fight against illegal drugs, not the kind of crime that citizens and expats may face. For example, the United States helped the country beef up the Peñas Blancas border crossing inspection station to make the hunt for drugs easier. The United States also has been generous with the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and provided a refitted boat and other smaller boats over the last few years.

The U.S. Embassy also provides its own security for its American employees, including patrols of their living areas. So workers there are better protected than most residents here.

The types of crime of most concern for U.S. expats does not directly involve drugs, although Tijerino noted in a chat with reporters Monday that the international drug trade is integrated with the Costa Rican drug trade. The drugs generate some but not all street crime and burglaries.

The biggest concern for most expats is the prospect of a home invasion when three to five heavily armed and masked men suddenly crash into the home, tie up those there and ransack the place. There are continual arrests of gang members who participate in such invasions, and a judicial agent died in a shootout earlier this year with one gang.

The other type of crime that concerns many expats is the theft of real estate through faked paperwork and crooked notaries and officials. There are periodic arrests in these types of crimes, but prosecution lags for years.

The U.S. Embassy has ignored these developments even though all the most recent ambassadors have promised to protect U.S. citizens here. The flashy new embassy Web site still carries just three old articles about property rights, beach land and squatters. All were written in 1998.

On the Costa Rican side, some well-placed Ticos have profited or tried to profit from shaky land deals and with collusion with squatters. So this type of white collar crime may not get the aggressive study it deserves during the 100-day period.


paintings
         Templo de la música                           Basilica de Los Ángeles                                Museo Nacional
             Esli González                                      Evelyn Garrido                                         Ana Elena Solía

Two art expositions feature the old and the modern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 20 paintings of the country's historic architecture are on display at La Casa del Artista until the end of the month.

These are works, mostly oil or acrylic, done by students from 19 to 67. The student artists have honed their skills with paintings of pre-Columbian pieces, lottery tickets and even postage stamps.

The show is called “Un Encuentro con el Pasado Arquitectónico de Costa Rica” or an encounter with the older architecture of Costa Rica. The students have been supervised by Ricardo Jiménez Salazar, who has been associated with the Casa de Artista since he was a youngster.

La Casa de Artista and its gallery are in Guadalupe. The
gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays the gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is 25 meters east and 50 meters south of the Hipermás intersection in that community.

For those seeking an exposition with more modern works, the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo opens a show Tuesday, which also is the International Day of the Museum. The show, “La Colección del MADC," features a section from some 700 works that have been accumulated in the last 15 years.

The museum is in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, which is the ministry facilities in the former Fábrica Nacional de Licores just east of Parque España. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.  This show runs until November.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 92


Man who fled police served three years on cocaine charge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who spent less than three years in prison for transporting 93 kilos of cocaine has been stopped again with what anti-drug police say is 100 kilos of the drug.

The man, 31, has the last names of Ruiz Sánchez, said the Fuerza Pública. He lives in La Cuesta Corredores on the Panamá border. He is a fugitive.

Police said they intercepted him driving a pickup about 5 a.m. on the Interamerican Sur near Guaycará de Río Claro in the canton of Golfito. The Fuerza Pública said the man refused to let officers inspect his vehicle, so they called the Policía de Control de Drogas.

In the meantime, the man tried to run down an officer and flee, said the Fuerza Pública. Officers shot out the tires of the truck.

The man traveled about three kilometers and then abandoned the pickup. He still is at large, they said, although he has been identified fully.

Police said an inspection of the pickup revealed the cocaine hidden in a compartment under the front seats.
drugs conficated
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This is what police said they found in the pickup


Ruiz was detained in 2003 in San Vito de Coto Brus. He was sentenced to five years and four months in prison and was jailed Dec. 19, 2003.

 He was granted conditional liberty Aug. 9, 2006, said the Fuerza Pública.



Yerba mate goes commercial as a U.S. coffee sustitute

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

It's not quite tea. And it's definitely not coffee.

The traditional South American beverage called yerba mate is still relatively unknown in the U.S. But it's becoming more and more prevalent in natural food stores and cafes.

The Top Leaf Mate Bar in downtown Bend, Oregon, looks a lot like your average coffee shop. But there's no coffee on the menu here.

The baristas are exclusively serving products made with yerba mate. That's a large shrub grown in countries like Argentina and Paraguay. The leaves are dried and steeped in either hot or cold water to make a beverage that's kind of like tea.

But Top Leaf customer Len Meserve is nursing a mug holding something that looks more like a fancy frothy coffee. It's called a mocha mate.

"It's mate and chocolate and it's very good," said Meserve.

Another popular drink is the mate latte. Customer Alex Monshaw made the switch from coffee to mate several months ago. He used to drink up to four cups of coffee a day. Not anymore.

Said Monshaw: "When you miss your coffee, it's really unpleasant, but mate isn't something I need to wake up. It's just something that makes me feel really good."

Top Leaf owner Santiago Casanueva is practically evangelistic in his support of mate. He wants to turn the mate bar concept into a franchised chain. But he doesn't expect to displace Americans' coffee anytime soon:

"Coffee's had a strong run for 20 years. It's going to keep being here," says Casanueva. "I educate my customers in a way that allows them to realize they're making, not only a choice that's giving them the same buzz if not better, but they're getting all these nutritional benefits."

Those nutritional benefits vary, depending on who you ask. Jennifer Nelson is director of clinical nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She says mate does have disease-fighting antioxidants along with nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamin C.

"However, the total amount of those nutrients and the total amount of these antioxidants are relatively small in comparison to other foods," she says. "And so you need to kind of put it in perspective."

According to Nelson, mate does contain a small amount of caffeine, but much of its boost comes from other natural stimulants. She says mate, like other caffeinated beverages, is best consumed in moderation.

Moderation is the furthest thing from Oregon entrepreneur Nate Winkler's mind.

Winkler runs Oregon Yerba Mate. He does sell mate by the cup in a small café, but it's around back in his warehouse where the real action is. Winkler imports mate from Argentina and adds herbs and spices in a
yerba mate
A.M. Costa Rica wire service photo
Not a lot of U.S. customers want to share a straw


customized blending machine that looks kind of like a cement mixer. Winkler says even his most creative concoctions are still about 95 percent mate.

But he says the flavored blends are a way to make it appeal to a wider audience. "Mate has a pretty bitter taste, especially drinking it traditional style. So for the American palate, it's really hard to handle that way."

Mixing in other flavors isn't the only concession to North American preferences that Winkler and other mate purveyors have made.

In South America, mate is a shared experience, almost a ritual. You drink it out of a gourd through a metal straw called a bombilla. A server pours water over the mate leaves, enough for a single serving. You drink it, and pass it back to the server, who does the same thing for the person next to you.

The gourd goes around the circle, everyone drinking out of the same straw.

Winkler says he drank mate that way when he was in South America with the Peace Corps. But he's not sure most of his customers are ready for that.

"If people were more receptive to that kind of thing, I would obviously be way bigger on it," says Winkler. "But we're in America and it's fast-paced, you know, get your drink and go. It's going to be hard to get a bunch of people to come into my café and sit around and share a gourd."

Back at the Top Leaf Mate Bar in Bend, Santiago Casanueva says about 10 percent of his customers choose to share a gourd. Len Meserve is not one of them. He knows about the traditional way of drinking mate, but says while the shared experience has its attraction, he'd rather just go it alone:

"It's just more convenient to have your own," says Meserve. "You get to control it. We seem to like that aspect."

In addition to the convenience of drinking mate out of a cup, there's also the "yuck" factor. In a germ-phobic society, sharing a straw doesn't have much appeal.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 92

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Reins are passed in Britain
as Cameron takes over

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain has a new prime minister and a new government as five days of political deadlock has come to an end. Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned as Britain's top politician Tuesday evening, making way for Conservative leader David Cameron.

Queen Elizabeth appointed Cameron as the prime minister later Tuesday evening.

He is to form a coalition government with Britain's third largest party the Liberal Democrats, ending 13 years of Labor leadership. 

Speaking outside his new residence - Number 10 Downing Street - Cameron said the road ahead won't be easy.

"This is going to be hard and difficult work," said Cameron. "A coalition will throw up all sorts of challenges, but I believe together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs."

He said he wanted a proper and full coalition to sort out Britain's financial deficit, its social problems, and problems in the political system.

Outgoing prime minister Brown handed his own resignation to the queen earlier in the evening.

Before leaving Downing Street with his wife and two children, Brown said he had loved his job.

"In the face of many challenges in a very few short years - challenges up to and including the global financial meltdown - I have always strrived to serve, to do my best in the interest in Britain, its values and its people," he said.

Brown's unexpected resignation brings to an end five days of political upheaval in Britain. A general election last week saw the Conservative party win the most votes but turned out no clear majority winner. Since then the Conservatives and Labor have jockeyed for the support of the third largest party in order to form a coalition strong enough to take power.

The party in the middle, the Liberal Democrats, sided with the Conservatives, ending any hope Labor might have had that it could hold on to power.

The exact details of the new government were not immediately clear.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are at odds on a number of major policies including on immigration, the European Union, and the economy.

Cameron, 43, will be Britain's youngest prime minister in 200 years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 92


Latin American news
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U.S. agencies plan to pour
millions into education


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

According to several educational research studies the United States is falling behind other countries in math and science achievement by middle school and high school students. Now, there's a push by several U.S. federal government agencies, including the US space agency NASA, to create programs that will encourage students to study for careers in science and technology.

These students are taking part in experiments designed to test their knowledge and inspire them to concentrate on science, technology, engineering and math.  Charles Bolden, the head of NASA, and Lisa Jackson from the Environmental Protection Agency, came to this Washington, D.C., middle school to encourage these youngsters to focus on math and science careers.

"If you want to be competitive the more study you have done the better," Bolden said. "The critical part at the end of whatever the level of study you are going to do is to get yourself involved in something that puts you into a laboratory."

In the 2011 U.S. federal budget, both NASA and the  Environmental Protection Agency propose to spend more than $146 million on programs to increase student and teacher proficiency in science and technology disciplines.

Efforts to strengthen math and science education come at a time when 15-year-old U.S.students rank 25th in math literacy and 30th in science literacy among the 57 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment.

Bolden said other studies indicate the United States is not preparing enough students and teachers to meet the demand in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

"The nations that lead everybody in math and science education are Finland and the Scandinavian countries and we are well behind. President Obama's efforts and his emphasis on education particularly technical education science and math, to want to have every kid in college by 2020, is to be applauded and that's a goal that we at NASA are really going to make sure that he can accomplish," Bolden stated.

NASA is launching a three-year program called "Summer of Innovation." It will target middle school students during their summer recess to take part in intensive math and science learning programs.  Those will include follow-on activities during the school year. Educators say the goal will be to improve student academic performance in math, science and technology courses, while giving them the tools they need to build lasting professional careers in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.


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