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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, May 26, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 104        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Tornado victim Miguel Ruíz Vargas surveys the damage at his two-story home.  Three persons live there.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Heredia neighborhood swept by tornado
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tornado swept through the Santa Cecilia section of Heredia Thursday afternoon and tore roofs off about 30 homes. 

The total number of dwellings damaged was 74, according to Miguel Rivas of the national emergency commission. He said 271 persons were affected directly.

The funnel cloud filled the afternoon air with wood and galvanized sheets that are used here for roofing.

There were no reports of injuries from the storm although the flying debris smashed through cinderblock walls in some homes. Rivas said six persons were taken to local hospitals to be treated for the emotional effects of being in the storm. The area is a residential one.

Electricity was out, and sheets of steel roofing material ensnarled itself in some overhead cables.

The six- to eight-foot sections of galvanized roofing are prone to wind damage because
they are only attached by nails and screws at their perimeters. The section where the tornado hit is southeast of the San Francisco district of Heredia Centro.

It is between San Francisco and La Aurora de Heredia and just a few miles north of the Cariari Mall and the Autopista General Cañas, the main road between San José and Juan Santamaría airport.

Several residents caught the white funnel cloud on videotape as well as the dark clouds before the funnel touched down.

The tornado was not predicted, nor were there any general warnings about tornadoes. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional did issue a bulletin the day before about continued rain.

The Central Valley experiences one or two strong windstorms a year. Occasionally one rises to the level of what officials call a tornado. But Thursday there was no question of definition.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias, Rivas' organization, and the Cruz Roja were at the scene until late Thursday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 104

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Big bite of highway
will be steel filling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nature took a big bite out of the Autopista Bernardo Soto and the main road between San José and points east was reduced two weeks ago to a tight two lanes at kilómeter 47.

However, a private contractor began moving machinery to the site Thursday because the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the organization in charge of the roads, managed to put through an expedited contract. The cost of repairs will be $275,000, and the contractor is Procon S.A.

The roadway was undermined by water at the point that also is known as San Miguel de Naranjo. The road parallels a steep drop, and much of the eastbound lane just fell away.

The contractor will install steel piles to support a metal structure to contain the soil that will be filled and then covered with a new asphalt base, said the consejo in announcing the contract.

The work will take 90 days, according to Pedro Castro, vice minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes. Some 18,000 vehicles a day pass the point, the ministry said.

Insurance employees
abandoning the ship

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 225 employees have quit the nation's insurance monopoly this week, officials said Thursday.

The employees are leaving because they think that the Sala IV constitutional court will decide to put a top on the severance pay they now get. Now the employees when they leave get a year's pay for each year they have worked at the agency, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Other agencies pay a similar amount up to eight years, but employees of the institute known as INS have negotiated a special deal over the years. The special payment apparently is valid even if the employee is fired for cause.

Some of those who have quit this week are entitled to amounts up to $300,000. The action this week highlights the special benefits many public employees have been receiving.

The Sala IV in the last two weeks have decided a number of cases that have been brought challenging the constitutionality of special deals for public employees. The court ordered, for example, that employees of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the electric company, have to pay full price for household power use. They had been paying one-half.

The Sala IV also ordered the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to collect full social security payments from its employees.

INS is one of those state institutions whose employees have been opposed to the free trade treaty because the agreement would open the insurance market to private competition. The agency also has been criticized for its abundance of paperwork.

The exit of employees may produce a streamlining  effect on the organization. Officials are planning to review the employment needs of the organization over the next 30 days.

Employees rallied briefly at the INS building in north San José Thursday. Officials said they had plenty of money to pay off exiting employees. INS employees include firemen and accident inspectors who show up at even minor mishaps.

Young musicians present
orchestra, choruses Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four choruses and the Banda Sinfónica Elemental will present a concert Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar. The program is under the sponsorship of the Instituto Nacional de la Música.

The orchestra plans some upbeat works, including one by Sousa, a Disney medley and Jacques Offemback's "Can Can."
 The young choruses will be presenting popular works, including "A Whole New World" from the movie "Aladdin" and "El Día Que Me Quieras," written and popularized by Carlos Gardel.

Admission is 1,500 colons, about $3.

Autopsy on child awaited

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15-month-old child died Wednesday after having received a vaccination.

The child was a resident of Los Criques de San Ramón.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the child suddenly became sick after receiving the vaccination and family members took the child to a hospital where the baby died.

Agents are awaiting the outcome of an autopsy at the Morgue Judicial to determine the cause of death.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 104


Unidad deputies waffle on backing free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Efforts to ratify the free trade treaty with the United States suffered a jolt Thursday when deputies of the former government party expressed uncertainty about their support of the treaty.

The deputies are members of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the party of former president Abel Pacheco. There are five of them who managed to secure legislative positions as their party took a trouncing in the Feb. 5 national elections.

Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, the leader of the group, told  Marco Vinicio Ruiz, minister of Comercio Exterior, that the party is not married to approval of the treaty, according to a report from the Asamblea Legislativa.

Approval of the treaty is a legislative goal of the Partido Liberación Nacional of President Óscar Arias Sánchez. His minister is meeting with various political factions to gain their support.

Support from the Unidad deputies was considered a given in that the Pacheco administration negotiated the document. Ms. Chacón was a vice minister in that administration.

However, Ms. Chacón said that her party's support of the treaty was conditioned on a development agenda that permits the country to move ahead. She said she was speaking about a legislative agenda that fights poverty and provides increase in educational spending.
"We are here for you to convince us of the necessity of the TLC . . . At this moment I am not convinced," she said, referring to the treaty by its Spanish initials.

Liberación has 25 deputies in the current assembly. Although proponents of the treaty say that the document needs but a majority of the 57 deputies, opponents will certainly carry any vote of approval
less than 38 votes to the Sala IV constitutional court. There is a strong legal case that a two-third vote is necessary, based on constitutional requirements. To get that number, Liberación needs every Unidad vote because the Partido Acción Ciudadana of Ottón Solís opposes the measure. That faction has 17 lawmakers.

Liberación has secured the backing of Movimiento Libertario and its six deputies. To get 38 votes, treaty proponents need all of Liberacion's votes, all of Unidad and all of the Libertarios, plus votes from two of the four deputies in the legislature representing minor parties.

Meanwhile, Thursday, Libertarios were talking with liberal members of the European Parliament who were urging approval of the U.S. free trade treaty. Europeans want a treaty, too, with Central America and Costa Rica.

At the west side of town Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Interamerican Development Bank, met with President Arias and later told newspeople that the Central American countries that have ratified the treaty already are seeing an increase in external investment.

A bit of guilt over the purchase of a new fridge
Over the weekend I became the owner of a new refrigerator – a larger refrigerator than the one I had.  At the moment I am having buyer’s remorse and nostalgia for my former fridge.  (It is still sitting in my laundry room).  It was the first refrigerator I ever bought.  I won one once on a quiz show but had never bought one. 

My little fridge is a model of smart, efficient design, I now see, as I clean it out.  And probably one of the last that has rubberized wire shelves instead of plastic or glass, which I find show every smudge and stain.  It has four very handy door shelves, whereas I notice that my new, much larger fridge has only three and a half.  And it kept everything really cold.  Actually, though, I bought it because I thought it looked sexy.  My sexy little Samsung.  Now I have a practical, no frills unsexy big Amana.
Remorse is not just regretting having done something; at the bottom of remorse is a  “deep torturing sense of guilt” about having done something wrong, according to my trusty dictionary. Buyer’s remorse is a pretty common occurrence.  The most well known is house buyer’s remorse. 

“Do I really need five bathrooms and a swimming pool just because my last house had only one bathroom?”   There are probably other forms of buyer’s remorse, like trip remorse, as in “Why did I choose to visit this country where I can’t understand the people, and I don’t like the food.”  And expat remorse, “Why did I choose to live in this country where I can’t understand people, and I still don’t like the food?”   

Bride’s remorse?  “What have I done?  I’m supposed to be looking for a good sperm donor.  I don’t want bald children!”  I’ll bet there is plenty of bridegroom remorse, too.  “What I have I got myself into?  I’m supposed to be spreading my sperm around. I’m not wired to be monogamous!” Well, I don’t think those are conscious thoughts. (I’m getting carried away into Woody Allen territory.)

The purchase of a new refrigerator doesn’t seem like such a big thing to be sorry or guilty about when put in its proper perspective.  And my new fridge is much roomier.  It takes me no time at all to put
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

put something in it because I don’t have to move things around to fit it in.  And I suppose it is more sanitary to wipe everything off so as not to smudge the shelves.  And the freezer has room for lots of ice trays.  I happen to love ice cubes, but decided an icemaker was just too over the top. 

One of the things I usually totally enjoy buying is books. I seldom ever have had buyer’s remorse over the purchase of a book — except perhaps one or two expensive textbooks that seemed pretty useless.  And maybe "The Bridges of Madison County," although I think I borrowed that one. There is not much to feel guilty about in buying a book — unless it is a really badly written pornographic one.  Or one on how to make a bomb.
For a very reasonable price you can experience what it is like to visit another country, or even live in one, read about the life of someone else, a real live person whom you’d never have the opportunity to meet otherwise.  You can be scared out of your wits, held in suspense or laugh yourself silly just reading a book. Or even learn how to operate something you have just bought.  Unfortunately, the book that came with my refrigerator is for a different refrigerator altogether.

However, I am sure I will get used to my new one once I learn how it works, it seems user friendly, and the food I can store in it, I usually like.  I wonder if buyer’s remorse is really a form of culture shock.


Readers have asked me how they can buy "A Girl from Texas" outside Costa Rica.  It is available in the U.S. through most of Borders bookstores in the U.S. or you can click on www.agirlfromtexas.com for more information on how to order it.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 104

Money laundering summit being held in Washington
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Experts on controlling money laundering have been meeting this week at the Organization of American States in Washington to discuss the corrosive effect that the practice has on economies worldwide, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Organization of American States said topics being discussed at the meeting include regional cooperative efforts to detect and seize assets illegally gained by corrupt officials in government and business.

Money laundering is described as the processing of criminal proceeds to disguise their illegal origin.
Among the speakers at the Washington meeting is Daniel Claman, a senior trial attorney in the Asset Forfeiture Program at the U.S. Department of Justice.  Claman's office uses the USA Patriot Act and other U.S. criminal forfeiture statutes to seize assets accumulated through criminal acts such as theft,
extortion, fraud and money laundering.  Money laundering is a particular concern because it also can be used to finance terrorism.

The event at the Organization of American States is being held under the auspices of what is called the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.  The Organization of American States established the commission in 1986 as a forum regarding all aspects of the Western Hemisphere's drug problem. 

The commission's anti-money-laundering unit was established in 1999.  The unit provides technical assistance and training to all Organization of American States member states in judicial and financial measures and also to law enforcement bodies.

During the meeting, the experts will also unveil studies on the establishment and strengthening of intelligence and financial units, and training programs for judges and prosecutors dealing with money laundering.

Venezuela formalizes its desire to enter the Mercosur trade community
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela has signed a key protocol that puts the oil-rich nation on track to become a permanent member of South America's main trade bloc, Mercosur.

Caracas and Mercosur's four member countries — Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay — signed the protocol late Tuesday.

The document sets a four-year timetable for full membership and gives Venezuela until 2012 to enforce common tariffs and respect free trade within the grouping. Some safeguards and extensions are allowed.
The four Mercosur presidents still have to ratify the deal during an upcoming summit.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Wednesday the protocol puts his country on the right political, social and economic track.

The signing came just weeks after Caracas withdrew from another South American grouping (the Andean Community of Nations) to protest bilateral trade deals between members Peru and Colombia and the United States.

Mercosur was formed in the 1990s by the South American nations of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay to increase regional economic cooperation.

U.S. actually gives up on a telephone tax and will return money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Readers better be sitting down when they see this:

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday it is conceding the legal dispute over the federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service.  The Department of Justice will no longer pursue litigation, and the Internal Revenue Service will issue refunds of tax on long-distance service for the past three years. Taxpayers will be able to apply for refunds on their 2006 tax forms, to be filed in 2007.

“Today is a good day for American taxpayers; it
marks the beginning of the end of an outdated, antiquated tax that has survived a century beyond its original purpose, and by now should have been ancient history," said Treasury Secretary John Snow.

“In addition to ending the litigation, I would like to call on Congress to terminate the remainder of this antique tax by repealing the excise tax on local service as well.”

The telephone tax was originally established in 1898 as a “luxury” tax on wealthy Americans who owned telephones. The federal excise tax on telephone calls is not compatible with today’s modern information-age society, said the Treasury Department.

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