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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, May 29, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 106         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Costa Rica at center of storm
Costa Rica, colored green, is in the middle of turbulent weather, colored orange, early today.
Pacific coast, Sámara get a taste of rough weather
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency officials announced a yellow alert Wednesday afternoon as storms pounded the Pacific coast and many fearful residents took shelter in their homes.  By 10 p.m. officials upgraded the alert to red in anticipation of a major storm.

Waves crashed into the beach and branches were torn from trees in Sámara during pounding afternoon rains, reported residents Wednesday evening. The storm was also in Jacó on the central Pacific coast, said the Fuerza Pública there, although it wasn't reported to be as fierce as the torrent in Sámara on the west side of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Wind swept water into houses and other buildings, said Betsy Waddington, a real estate agent in  Sámara. Ms. Waddington said her main phone line was out and the electricity sporadic. Trees were bending and palm fronds flying everywhere on the beach, she said.

 “The wind is horrible” said Judy Castillo, an employee at Casa del Mar hotel on the beach.

Most residents scared of the storm, took protection in their houses, said a Fuerza Pública officer in Sámara. The police officer reported the roof of the community center had collapsed, and large branches were falling onto the street.

“The visibility is only about 100 meters,” said Ms. Waddington. One hotel reported that its guests were actually wandering outside enjoying the storm.

The heavy winds and storm were believed felt elsewhere up the coast as far as Playa Garza and Nosara.

The local Fuerza Pública offices had not received any emergency calls or reports of damage to residencies, said the officer in Sámara. Residents said the rain started Sunday and has hardly let up since. The strong winds started Wednesday morning, reported the Fuerza Pública.

The storms in the central Pacific and Nicoya were expected to increase Wednesday night due to an oncoming tropical wave and a growing low pressure system, said a spokeswoman for the national emergency commission. The yellow alert through Thursday was directed at the Pacific central region, Brunca region in the south, the
western weather
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Line of storms approach the coast of the country in this afternoon satellite photo.

Chorotega region in the north, and the Central Valley she said. (Costa Rica has green, yellow, and red levels).

Later officials said they were concerned about conditions along the Guanacaste coast and upgraded their warning there.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias reported the soil was already saturated from the rains over the weekend and warned rivers may soon overflow.

There was already isolated floods in Paquera and San Vito, said the spokeswoman and Garza and Ostional facing the flooding of the rios Montoya and Rosario.

The spokeswoman said rescue workers were on their way to Parrita with supplies Wednesday afternoon. Emergency workers were also expected to arrive in Quepos, Filadelfia, Liberia, Nicoya Peninsula and Corredores.

Tropical waves, spawned in Africa, are low-pressure troughs that move east to west over the Atlantic.  This will be the third to pass over the country in as many weeks.

Tropical waves are believed to help create tropical storms, and Sunday is the official start of the 2008 hurricane season in the Atlantic. Although such storms never hit Costa Rica directly, the backlash can cause torrential rains, flooding and a lot of damage.

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Anti-tobacco bill moves
into legislative first place

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers moved an anti-tobacco bill to No. 1 position on the priority list Wednesday clearing the way for a vote today. The measure had been in 82nd place.

This is the measure with which Costa Rica accepts an agreement with the World Health Organization, approved by 122 other countries, to restrict tobacco use.

There is money involved. The measure will establish and finance a mechanism to coordinate the control of tobacco, sort of like a tobacco police. The country also promises to adopt other measures to reduce the consumption of tobacco and public exposure to tobacco smoke. Saturday is a world day against smoking, and some lawmakers wanted to have the measure passed by then.

The measure also would restrict even more smoking in public places and forbid any cigarette advertising or promotional activities.

Country wins a long delay
in passing terrorism bills

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has until next March to pass anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation, Casa Presidencial said Wednesday.

José Torres, a vice minister in the Presidencia, held meetings with members of the Egmont Group during the organization's international meeting in South Korea and won the concession, Casa Presidencial said.

Had the country not been given an extension of the original May 20 date, law enforcement officials here would not have been able to access the various data bases maintained by the group and the nation would have been considered a financial outlaw.

Costa Rica has had since 2004 to pass the necessary legislation, and even a plea by the nation's chief prosecutor and others could not get the measure onto the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa this month.

Four held in car hijackings
in La Sabana and Pavas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents, prosecutors and the Policía Municipal staged five raids Wednesday in Pavas centro, Rincón Grande and  Finca San Juan to arrest four of five suspects in vehicle hijackings. A fifth person still is being sought.

One of those detained was a juvenile who officials said had an active role in the crimes. He also is being questioned about a recent murder case, officials said.

The hijacking cases involve events that took place in La Sabana and Pavas from October to this month. At least three motorists lost their vehicles to men who stuck guns in their faces, and one person was held hostage for a time, officials said.

Involved in the raids was the Unidad Especializada en Robo de Vehículos of the Ministerio Público, the independent prosecutorial agency.
Agents removed boxes of car parts from the various locations that were raided.

Frontier will charge $25
for second bag of passenger

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Frontier Airlines said it will charge $25 for the second checked bag of airline passengers who purchase tickets after June 10. The charge will include international flights. The airline has a San José-Denver, Colorado, direct flight.

The company announced the charge and other cost-saving actions and other fees over the weekend, but it was unclear until Wednesday if the bag charge would apply to overseas flights. American Airlines has announced a similar series of fees but they do not apply to international flights.

In addition to the second checked bag fee, Frontier also said that the policy for pets traveling in the aircraft cabin will be discontinued, effective June 10, but all existing reservations will be honored. The fee for children traveling alone will
increase from $40 to $50 per segment, the airline said.  However, they will be allowed to travel via connection to more destinations within Frontier's system, it added.

A Frontier spokesperson said that other airlines charge for the second bag even internationally. Continental charges for the second bag to México and South America, Northwest assesses the fee for México and the Caribbean, and Spirit charges for the second bag on all flights, said the spokesperson.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 106

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Central government agrees to fix up pipes in Sardinal first
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Municipal officials decided to paralyze work on the new water line between Sardinal and Playas del Coco Tuesday after members of the community turned up at a meeting and refused to leave until a decision was made.

Less than 24 hours later, Casa Presidencial announced the investment of 525 million colons ($1.013 million) in the local infrastructure of Sardinal.

Tension is high in the western Guanacaste town, after local people conducted a series of protests against the 9 kilometer (6 mile) aqueduct financed by 32 private businesses that aims to take water from Sardinal's aquifer to the beach towns of Playas del Coco and Ocotal.

A group of protesters made their way to Filadelfia, the town in which the Municipalidad de Carrillo has its base, in order to present officials of the Consejo Municipal with a document demanding the immediate halt to construction of the aqueduct.

Residents fear that the aqueduct will take water to tourist developments on the coast where it will be used to irrigate golf courses and supply hotels while the town will be left without sufficient water.

After giving their reasons for the opposition to the work in front of the council, they demanded that officials vote on the issue. The vote decided that construction on the water line should be paralyzed, and not resumed until all required studies are in place.

Claudio Rivas, president of the municipality, said that the municipality wants to see a study made by a third party into the capacity of the Sardinal aquifer. A recent study made by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados said that the aquifer has a capacity far greater than what would be piped away.

Members of the Asociaciones de Desarrollo de Sardinal y Playas del Coco say that they are defending their right to water, but Wednesday's announcement by Casa Presidencial attempts to allay fears that the aqueduct would compromise this right.

“Water is and will continue to be of and for all Costa Ricans,” said Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia. “Not one single drop of water will be privatized, not only because the constitution and laws designate its public character but also because this is a serious and firm government that guarantees that (these laws) will be rigorously respected,”

At the same conference, Ricardo Sancho, president of the water institute, announced the huge investment into Sardinal's local pipes and the acceleration of work in this area.

The two projects are separate. The $8 million aqueduct to Playas del Coco is financed by private enterprises with a
view to handing over the finished infrastructure to the national water institute.

Sardinal's system will be improved with public money. Improvements are to include the widening of pipes, better distribution lines and a new storage tank of 400 cubic meters, about 14,125 cubic feet.

Sancho has promised that water will not start to pour through the pipes towards Playas del Coco until the improvements to Sardinal's own system have been completed. The work is expected to be finished within the next three months.

Spokespeople from the water institute also said that any problems with shortages of water in Sardinal, el Coco and Ocotal have been due to poor infrastructure, rather than a fundamental lack of water in the zone's aquifers.  Some 40 families living in nearby Carpintero were without potable water for some time, but the water institute say that the problem has been corrected.

“The aqueduct in the community of Sardinal is the absolute priority,” continued Arias. “It seeks to substantially fortify the supply and distribution of water for more than 4,000 inhabitants of the community.”

Families will not have to pay any more for their water as a result of the investment in the infrastructure, he added.

Apart from the suspension of work on the pipeline, the Sardinal community petition demands apologies to the village, the demolition of works that have already been built without appropriate permission and the investigation of the public officials who allowed the pipe to be installed.

“At the most, work will only be stopped for a few days,” said Alex Picado, a project engineer for Grupo Mapache, one of the businesses that has invested in the line for Playas del Coco. “Residents of Sardinal will benefit just as much as those in Coco. Some of them have had to use water from contaminated aquifers in the past. With these improvements everyone will have access to pure water.”

Picado also said that it is the responsibility of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados to carry out any studies that the project is considered to be lacking rather than that of the group of businesses paying for the project.

Arias also denounced the violence that has led to several people getting injured in the confrontations between protesters and police in the town of Sardinal.

'Violence serves for nothing,” said Arias. “Here there are people who are not from Sardinal that just try to benefit from the situation to try to revive their own political thesis and people who are even throwing stones and attacking and injuring police. None of this serves the people of Sardinal.”

Sancho and members of the municipality are expected to visit Sardinal to speak to the leaders of the opposition groups in the next few days.

Users of older TDMA cell phones will have to make change next year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thousands of cell phone users will find that their lines are discontinued next year when the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad clears out old technology to make room for 1.5 million new GSM lines.

Around 400,000 people who currently use TDMA lines will be affected because the technology has been removed from the worldwide market.

“Starting from the middle of 2009, the institute will retract the use of this type of technology, in order that clients change to the GSM network and move towards third generation (G3) services,” said Elbert Durán, spokesman for the electricity institute.

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communication, and is used by some 82 percent of the world's cell phone consumers.
A simple way of explaining the difference between the two is that GSM uses a SIM card, which holds all the user's personal information and can be slipped in and out of the phone, whereas TDMA does not have this removable component.

Durán said that GSM also allows for much faster downloading and better all-round performance.

Third generation technology offers a wider range of advanced services, including video calls and broadband wireless. Handsets compatible with this technology, are, however, more expensive than other phones.

It is unclear what customers in possession of the old lines will be expected to do. The institute is currently revising the contract for the purchase of the GSM lines, and Durán said that as soon as the contract has been confirmed more information will be available about how clients' accounts will be transferred to the new lines.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 29, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 106

Dutch ambassador notes that security, trash affect tourism
By Ernst Roemers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a serious security problem, according to Susan Blankhart, the ambassador to Costa Rica from The Netherlands.

The ambassador, who soon will move to Egypt, said even
Dutch Ambassador
Susan Blankhart
employees of her embassy in San José were victims of street crimes during her tenure here.

"Crimes including violence or threats by weapons," she noted. ". . . compared with a few years ago, there is a clear increase of insecurity. Crime is not limited to the capital San Jose, but you will find it also at coastal tourist destinations.  Tourist in rented cars are the most likely target of robbery.”

In 2007 about 27,000 tourists came
to Costa Rica from The Netherlands. The rising crime in Costa Rica frequently results in tourists becoming victims.
Another increasing problem affecting tourism is scattered household rubbish, the ambassador said. “On a lot of spots you see household rubbish, in yards, streets, woods and on beaches," she added. "That is something that urgently needs change. Tourism is the golden egg for the country, and it should not be endangered by increasing insecurity and waste.”

But Ambassador Blankhart looks back on a good time in Costa Rica. “Here a lot is taking place in the field of contemporary art, music and modern dancing.  Most people who visit Costa Rica rush to the beaches or into nature.  They should stay a few days in San José visiting museums and theater. 

"A specific cultural program should be designed for the tourist, perhaps including the idea of a walking route along the museums and theaters,”  She said.

In the three years that she was ambassador in Costa Rica, the relation between the Netherlands and Costa Rica has changed, she said. Three years ago Costa Rica still received development aid from the Netherlands, but this has been minimized, she noted.  Now there is a relationship between the two independent countries based on cooperation and partnership, including trade, she said.

New condo-hotel project announced for Punta Leona gated community
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Limoncito, a new luxury 58-unit condo-hotel, will be built at Punta Leona. The idea is to combine the uniqueness of a 30-year-old beach club infused with modern day luxuries built with environmental preservation in mind, said a release from developers.

Just 90 minutes from San José when the Caldera highway is finished, Limoncito will be within the gated community of Punta Leona. During the past three decades, Punta Leona has served as a private beach club for Costa Ricans and international residents alike.

The resort community has three blue flag-rated beaches.

The authenticity, appeal and activities of Punta Leona serve as the foundation for Limoncito, said the release. Situated above the shoreline of Limoncito beach, the development will offer buyers a secure yet genuine Costa Rican

experience while delivering the amenities and services they have come to expect from high-end North American resorts, it said.

The condo-hotel will be a low-density building on the 22-hectare (54-acre) site, with just six buildings tucked into a hillside, said the release.

Ranging in price from $250,000 to $850,000, the 850-plus square foot one-bedroom, and expansive 1,250-plus square feet two-bedroom suites will feature tropical interiors, said the release.

Limoncito owners will have access to a wide variety of on-site amenities such as multiple swimming pools, a natural waterfall, jacuzzis, hammocks, and outdoor decks and terraces. The owner’s clubhouse will serve as a community gathering spot offering special events, movie nights, children’s area, fitness facilities and barbecue areas, said the release.

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Obama's meeting idea resonates with some weary Cubans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama has tried to stand out from other U.S. presidential candidates by saying, as president, he would be open to meeting with some of the most hostile foreign leaders, including those in Cuba and Iran. The policy has drawn criticism from his opponents, but it is beginning to win support among Cuban-Americans, who see a need for change in U.S. policy toward the island.

Obama has said his willingness to meet with America's foes is intended to overcome years of stagnation on crucial security and human rights issues.  In recent speeches, he has pointed out that past U.S. presidents met with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union at periods of heightened tension.  And he says now is the time to engage the governments in Syria and Iran, for example, because he says the Bush administration's policy against direct talks is hurting American efforts in Iraq.

In a speech in Miami last week, Obama told Cuban-American leaders that he would also engage Communist leaders in Havana, to demand the release of political prisoners and the start of democratic reforms in Cuba.

"As president I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at the time and place of my choosing. But only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, but more importantly to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people," he said.

Critics reject the senator's position as a naive proposal, or even a danger to U.S. interests.

His rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said it would be a mistake to hold presidential
talks before Cuba begins to implement long-awaited changes.

Sen. John McCain also expressed criticism in a speech before Cuban-Americans and other Miami residents last week. He said direct talks would only hurt the cause of Cuban democracy.

"These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators: there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms," he said.  "They can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy. That is what they would think."

McCain, a Republican, has promised that, if elected, he would maintain many of President George Bush's policies, including trade and travel restrictions.  Obama has said he would ease limits on Cubans traveling to visit family on the island.

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The debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba has resonated among the Cuban exile population in Miami, where many people are upset that current U.S. policies have been unable to weaken the Communist government especially after the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl.

Pepe Hernandez is president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, which hosted Obama's talks in Miami. He said he does not necessarily endorse the Illinois senator, but after Obama's speech he said he welcomed the message of change.

Hernandez says a solution is needed to the Cuban situation, adding the United States should not cross its arms and do nothing while Raúl Castro consolidates power.

Change may be difficult for some Cuban exiles. Miami businessman Javier Mora said he was impressed by Obama's speech, but he said his brother rejects any negotiations with Cuba's leadership.

"He will not listen to it, when I say this is the only way we can achieve a change in Cuba," he explained.  "But even in my generation I have to fight, I have to convince people."

Miami's Cuban community is known for strongly backing Republican presidents, but leaders say this year may be different. Obama is hoping his policy of engagement will win over enough voters to boost his campaign in the state.

The Illinois senator has said his possible offer of talks with U.S. foes also would include top officials in Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for the destruction of the Israel.

The idea of talks has raised some concerns among Jewish voters, who say Obama's foreign policy toward Israel could endanger the nation's security.

But a University of Miami law professor, David Abraham, said few Jewish voters believe a presidential meeting with Iranian officials would upset the balance in the Middle East. He said, like the Cuban-American community, many Jewish voters are eager to see new ideas in the White House.

"The last eight years in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community have not been successful," he said.  "They also see that it is time for a change."

Obama's campaign is hoping his policy will help win needed support among Jewish voters, who so far have given strong backing to Obama's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Mrs. Clinton.

Amnesty cites big changes,
but says abuse continues

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Amnesty International says there have been historic changes in Latin America, while human rights violations, including torture continue to affect the lives of many in the region.

In its annual report released Wednesday, Amnesty cited the power shift in Cuba with Raúl Castro replacing his brother Fidel Castro as president. In Paraguay, former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo was elected president, ending more than 60 years of rule by the Colorado party.

On rights abuses, the report said Cuba's restrictions on freedom of expression and association remain severe. In Colombia, Amnesty said the continuing conflict involving the government, army-backed paramilitary groups and rebels has resulted in serious human rights abuses.

Amnesty cited a new law in Venezuela that will give women in the country greater protection against violence. However, it added that human rights activists there continue to face intimidation and attacks.

Another southern quake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another earthquake, this one about 3.7 magnitude, struck about 1:13 p.m. Wednesday. The quake was 22 kms (about 14 miles) southeast of Coto 47 in the southern zone.

There has been a flurry of such activity in this area and south into Panamá this week with a 5.7 quake being followed by numerous aftershocks.  A house was destroyed and 22 more were damaged, emergency officials said.

Agencies on display in Mora

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ciudad Colón and the entire Cantón de Mora will have a chance to learn about all those government agencies that are known mostly by their initials.

The  Mercado de Artesanías in the canton will be the site for what is being called an institutional fair Friday and Saturday. Some 35 tents will house exhibits and representatives of the various agencies.

The event starts with a demonstration of K-9 dogs at 9 a.m. Friday.

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