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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 106             E-mail us
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Action this week promised on traffic law rewrite
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers promise that a revised traffic law will come to the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa for action within a week, and that the measure will contain penalties that are proportional to the offense and consistent with common sense.

The measure now is in a special commission that was created to study the law that the current legislature inherited from the previous one.

Word from the committee is that there were 75 proposed changes and 74 were accepted. In addition, the revised document now has the support of committee members from every major party and that there are only minor areas of disagreement.

The lawmakers got a wake-up call last week when the Sala IV constitutional court threw out monetary fines for failing to wear a seat belt. The court said the fine, 237,000 colons (about $474), was disproportional to the offense. The traffic law that went into effect two years ago is full of such steep penalties, and more than 80,000 motorists are appealing their fines. This is a major problem for the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad that has a department to adjudicate the cases.

Viviana Martín Salazar, president of the special commission, said Monday that lawmakers have to move ahead diligently to fill a gap in the law brought about by the Sala IV decision. She said that the previous legislature put patches on three aspects of the law but that the current rewrite is consistent.

The commission will spend the week preparing its report to the full assembly and will try to seek a high priority for the measure.
traffic law speed

The previous legislature passed the law in December 2008, and provisions against drunk driving and drag racing went into effect in time to catch New Year's revelers early Jan. 1, 2009.

The bulk of the other regulations and steep fines were supposed to go into effect Sept. 23, 2009, but lawmakers passed a bill delaying the effect date until March 1, 2010.

That was after the Feb. 7, 2010, elections. Lawmakers toyed with the law until they left office May 1. They left what appeared to be critical revisions to the incoming legislature, which now must handle the chore.

Few people oppose the drunk driving provisions, which can mean prison and loss of the vehicle.
However, the other prohibitions carry fines similar to the seat belt violation. There also is a system of points that causes the loss of a driver's license. Transport officials said Friday they would continue to deduct 20 points from the license of motorists who are caught in violation of the seat belt law. The law also requires car seats for children.

Accumulating 50 points causes the loss of a driving license, according to the law.

Despite higher prices, gasoline continues to sell well
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite higher prices, Costa Ricans continue to use more gasoline.

During the first four months of 2011, sales of super gasoline increased 8.18 percent but the lower grade plus only crept up .29 percent, according to  Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A., the national monopoly.

Over all, use of petroleum dropped about 1.8
percent, but that decline was not seen in gasoline sales even though both types of motor fuel are above $5 a gallon.

Sales of plus were 1.2 million barrels, and sales of super were 840,700 barrels, the refinery said. Motor fuel diesel was up 1.32 percent at 2.3 million barrels, the company said.

In all, the company marketed 6.2 million barrels, ranging from aviation gasoline to asphalt, it said in a summary.

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Humid morning predicted
what would happen later

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One did not have to be a weather expert to know Monday that a heavy thunderstorm would slice through the Central Valley.

The hot humid morning was all the warning anyone would need.

The real weather experts at the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional were a little more precise in a 10:30 a.m. bulletin. The prediction was for intense rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon. But only in some places.

The prime recipients of downpours would be the south Pacific and the Central Valley, the institute said. But the Caribbean would have to watch out for rising rivers because there would be rain in the coastal mountains.

No one said anything about hail, but that also is a frequent product of tropical thunderstorms. Pearls of ice fell in San Pedro and San José as bolts of lightning sought out computers and other electronics.

The center of the metro area got the brunt of the 12:30 p.m. storm. The weather institute estimated 31 millimeters (1.2 inches) fell at the Barrio Aranjuez headquarters between 1 and 3 p.m. San Pedro was hit with flooding, and Avenida Central was deep in water in front of Mall San Pedro.

The storm also hit the San José downtown.

But automatic stations showed that there was only a hint of rain at both metro area airports, and very little fell in places like La Garita where the rain usually is more than in the downtown. Monday La Garita got just 6.4 millimeters (.25 inches).

The weather institute predicts the same scenario for today, perhaps with rain continuing into the evening. The weather institute issued a warning about lightning over the weekend.

Midweek beach cleanup
returns to mouth of Tárcoles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 600 volunteers are returning to the mouth of the Río Grande de Tárcoles today in another cleanup sponsored by Walmart de México y Centroamérica and the Asociación Terra Nostra.

Many of the volunteers in this mid-week expedition will be Walmart workers. The target is Playa Guacalillo where there have been previous cleanups, but never with 600 volunteers, said Terra Nostra.

The campaign is a continuation of  Costa Rica, te quiero limpia, which also is sponsored by the Ministerio de Salud and Telenoticias at Canal 7.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos, the Cruz Roja, the Fuerza Pública and the Municipalidad de Garabito will support the volunteers, starting at 7 a.m., said Terra Nostra. The last cleanup at the beach was May 21, where volunteers covered about 600 meters.

The Río Tárcoles carries all the trash from the Central Valley and also plants and dead trees, particularly after heavy rains.

The bulk of the material that is picked up will be recycled.

Any latecomer who wants to join the cleanup might be able to obtain transportation to the beach at 5:45 a.m. today at Forum II on the Autopista Próspero Fernández, in Santa Ana.

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, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 106
Latigo K-9

Health officials and activists to rally against tobacco today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This morning would not be a good time to step outside the legislative complex for a quick smoke. Anti-smoking activists are launching a campaign to protect children from tobacco and second-hand smoke. Health officials and citizens will be on the boulevard of the Asamblea Legislativa with music, dancing and talented youngsters, said an announcement.

Today is World No Tobacco Day, and the turnout here is to encourage the legislature to pass laws that support the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Costa Rica has accepted the treaty but has not yet passed specific laws to enforce it.

Among other actions, activists want smoking banned in public places and roofed locations. The legislation does not have a high priority.

The event begins at 9 a.m.

Tobacco control measures such as regulations on packaging
 and labeling, restrictions on advertising and promotion, and bans on smoking in public places have proved highly effective in reducing tobacco consumption, health officials have said.
As a result, these measures have been actively opposed by the tobacco industry. An expert committee convened by the World Health Organization concluded in 2000 that the tobacco industry has operated for years with the express intention of subverting the role of governments in implementing public health policies to fight the tobacco use.

The framework is the first international public health treaty and was adopted by World Health member states in 2003. It contains provisions on labeling and packaging of tobacco products, smoke-free public spaces, tobacco tax increases, and restrictions on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Costa Rica ratified the treaty in 2008 but took no further action.
The treaty also calls on countries to prevent the interference of the tobacco industry and its allies in policy making and measures related to tobacco control.

Tourism chamber also seeks lawmaker action on key bills
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism chamber wants action from the Asamblea Legislativa, too. They join a line of organizations and individuals seeking passage of certain bills.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo favors six proposals, but only two have been placed on the legislature's consent agenda. One is 17.128 that approves a $19 million loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo to finance tourism programs in protected forest areas. The second is 17.410, which is a reform of the alcohol law.

The alcohol measure does not have the content the tourism chamber wants. The organization is seeking elimination of the Holy Week dry law that forbids sales of alcohol on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

The chamber said in a release that the dry law was an obsolete measure. Bar and restaurant owners lose many sales in those two days, which also happen to be periods of high tourism.

Bills that did not make the priority agenda include one to stimulate accessible tourism in Costa Rica and one to stimulate tourism development in Puntarenas and Limón. There also is a measure to exclude tips from the wages of waiters and bar tenders.
Some restaurants have closed for a day or two to protest the proposal to include tips as wages. Employees would have to pay 9 percent of their tips to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, and the employer would have to pay at least 23 percent. And employees would have to include this money in whatever tax return they file.

Tourism operators said this is ruinous.

Costa Rican law requires the addition of 10 percent of the price of a meal for table service even if the service is below par. Diners have the option of enhancing the tip.

Some lawmakers support the taxing of tips because it provides a better picture of a restaurant employee's real salary for purposes of credit and home purchasing.

The chamber says it is seeking more attention from government and plans to meet with the legislature's tourism committee to air its positions.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo is being challenged by the new ProTur organization which says it has 500 firms as members. ProTur has a specific agenda that it has presented to some lawmakers to cut costs for tourism operators.

The Cámera Nacional was slow to respond to the steep decline in the tourism business.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 106

An A.M. Costa Rica guest editorial
Country struggles to provide technical training for young

By Daniel Woodall*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

President Laura Chinchilla met with executives at Intel Corp. in California earlier this month and invited the company to expand its operations in Costa Rica. Exports of Intel microprocessors account for 20 percent of value of the nation’s trade, which makes the U.S. company the single largest contributor to the market.

While the response from Intel execs was positive, they expressed concern about the rising cost of electricity and a lack of qualified professionals skilled in information technology.

A quality workforce is a common reason cited by companies such as Intel, Proctor & Gamble, and Boston Scientific for coming to Costa Rica, however the educational system is failing to equip enough young people with the required skills.

According to the minister of labor, Sandra Piszk the country suffers from a serious mismatch between the actual labor supply and the demands of business. She admits that as many as 300,000 young adults among the nation of 4.2 million people are neither working nor pursing an education.

At the same time the country is facing a serious challenge on the issue of public security. Young people are committing more crime, and the nation has been forced to consider changes for the system of juvenile justice. On her way back from the United States, President Chinchilla visited the Inter-American Development Bank to expedite a $132 million loan. The money is earmarked to bolster security programs and expand the nation’s prison system.

The most immediate approach to meet the human demand for information technology skills is to leverage the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, which provides free job training according to the demands of industry.

Unfortunately much of the material related to information technology training is in English, and since technology is constantly changing the old material is of little value. Leaders and educators in the field of information technology require a high degree of proficiency in the English language. Bilingual professionals with highly marketable technology do not frequently teach in the Latin American public sector.

A longer-term approach is to encourage the use and understanding of technology for both primary and secondary education. Early introduction helps to counter
cultural barriers and encourages young people, particularly in rural areas where job opportunities are in decline. Advantages for learning a foreign language at a young age are well established.

The ministry of education has undertaken a program to put a free laptop computer in the hands of each of the one million school children. This approach has the advantage of requiring less direct knowledge transfer between teachers and students. Educators can facilitate understanding of technology by using the computer as a tool, and mentoring students with the aptitude and inclination toward technology.

Unfortunately the government is struggling with the cost, $220 for each primary student and $500 for each high school student. The value of a computer is also diminished by the lack of a modern Internet connection. Broadband penetration in Costa Rica has fallen behind developed nations, and Internet quality in rural areas is among the worst.

Costa Rica is not alone in trying to meet the human resources demands of technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth of jobs for computer network, systems and databases administrators is expected to grow by 23 percent between 2008 and 2018.

Upgrading infrastructure such as the electrical grid requires a long-term commitment. Costa Rica is counting on oil fired power plants such as the new 200 megawatt plant in Garabito to meet the demand, and hopes hydroelectric power will continue to play a large role. The $1.2 billion Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Reventazón is expected to come online in 2015, and would add 305 megawatts.

The country is blessed with an abundance of possibilities for hydro and thermal power, and international loans for these kinds of energy projects are not the most difficult to obtain.

Educational change however requires at least as much commitment as it does patience. Engineers enjoy more flexibility with materials and machines than a society’s leaders have with its culture. Costa Rica’s ability to stay ahead of its Central American neighbors in technology and foreign trade will require a continued commitment to technology, both human and infrastructure.

Failing this goal means that a laptop for every child will be replaced with a prison cell for each young adult.

* Mr. Woodall is a technical expert and editor of Costa Rica Report.

Regional broadband costs, speeds reported highly variable

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has launched the Regional Broadband Observatory to monitor mobile services.

Mobile broadband has been one of the fastest growing telecommunications services in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, thanks to its wide availability and the rise in the number of payment options and contracts for users.

However, such growth has been uneven, and this results in a wide gap between the region's countries and more developed nations.

According to data from the new Regional Broadband Observatory, the percentage of the Latin American and Caribbean population who have mobile broadband services went from 0.2% in 2005 to 4.7% in 2009, while in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (generally considered the First World), the proportion rose from 5 per cent to 49 percent in the same period.

According to Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean promotes a development agenda based on equal rights and the narrowing of productive gaps, "and the Observatory helps us to see more clearly the inequalities of broadband access, in terms of charges and speed, as well as challenges in relation to infrastructure and connectivity".

Broadband may "become a fundamental axis for regional integration," especially in the context of the Union of South American Nations, she said. The Economic Commission is a United Nations agency.
One of the main factors that determine the take-up of broadband is its price, according to Ms. Bárcena. In March 2011, the average regional price for fixed broadband was $72.8 per megabyte per second (mbps), compared with $5.9 dollars per mbps in the 34 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This makes the Latin region 50 times more expensive than the developed world.

At one extreme, in Bolivia the charge (measured by purchasing power parity) was $300 per mbps, while at the other extreme in Panamá the charge is $17.7 per mbps, the observatory reported.

Another aspect of broadband quality is speed. Observatory figures show that, over the past year, the effective upload and download speeds for Internet broadband in South America rose by 53 percent.

This is particularly true for Chile, where in April upload speeds reached 1,767 mbps (39 percent more than in April 2010) and download speeds reached 6,413 mbps. In Bolivia, upload speeds were 210 mbps and download speeds 428 mbps, which represent the lowest figures.

The data was reported at the Regional Dialogue on the Costs of International Connections and their Impact on Broadband Prices. The regional dialogue on broadband was set up in 2010 and involves Argentina, Brazil, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The economic commission was given the mandate to set up the Regional Broadband Observatory, which is part of a project funded jointly with the European Union, during the second meeting of the Dialogue held last Nov. 20 in Lima, Perú.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 106

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Quake toll in Haiti revised
lower in hidden U.S. report

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A draft report commissioned by the U.S. government says far fewer people died or were left homeless following Haiti's January 2010 earthquake than had been previously reported. 

News agencies, which obtained a copy of the document, say it estimates that the death toll was between 46,000 and 85,000 people, far below the Haitian government's figure of more than a quarter million people. The report also questions official United Nations figures that around 680,000 people remain homeless. There has been no comment from the government of new Haitian President Michel Martelly.

The report was prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development but has not yet been publicly released.

Monday, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the report has inconsistencies and will not be made public until they are resolved. 

The report was commissioned through a Washington-based consulting firm, LTL Strategies. The lead author, Timothy Schwartz, said in a blog post that no one should be surprised about a revised death toll. He said no one had any idea as to how many people were killed.  The research for the document was conducted in January.

Last year, international donors pledged billions of dollars to help the Western Hemisphere's poorest country recover from the quake. Some donors have withheld aid until the new government can address the country's deep poverty, earthquake-shattered infrastructure and a cholera outbreak.

Reconstruction is estimated to take 10 years and cost $11.5 billion.

Spanish judges seeking
arrest of 20 in El Salvador

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Spanish judge has issued international arrest warrants for 20 Salvadoran military officials in connection with the 1989 slayings of eight people, including six Jesuit priests.

Soldiers killed the priests, five of them Spaniards, along with their housekeeper and her daughter in November of 1989 during El Salvador's civil war.

The priests were suspected of sympathizing with leftist rebels fighting the right-wing government.

Spain's judiciary has investigated alleged human rights abuses in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the most famous of which was Judge Baltasar Garzon's attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The high-profile judge uses the principle of universal jurisdiction to bring such cases to trial.

Monetary fund candidate
seeks backing in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was in Brazil Monday to solicit support from emerging economies for her bid to be the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

With solid backing for her candidacy from Europe, Minister Lagarde is off to conquer a more skeptical audience — emerging countries who have been calling for the next head of the International Monetary Fund to be one of their own.

Ms. Lagarde's first stop is Brazil. But in an interview Sunday with France's Europe 1 radio, she outlined plans to also visit China, India and several African nations.

Ms. Lagarde said she was visiting these emerging countries because they have expressed anxiety and frustration over having their interests recognized at the highest levels of multilateral organizations, and about the fact the monetary fund directorship has traditionally gone to a European.

But the only declared emerging country candidate to date is Mexico's central bank governor Agustin Carstens, who visits Brazil Wednesday.

Europeans argue a fellow national at the head of the monetary fund right now is critical, as the 17-nation eurozone struggles to cope with the financial problems in Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland.

If picked, Ms. Lagarde would replace another Frenchman, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who resigned earlier this month over charges of sexual assault.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 106

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Diesel tank
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Tank is rated to hold 100,000 barrels of diesel

Giant tank holds diesel
at El Alto de Cartago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national petroleum monopoly has put into service a $6.6 million diesel tank that can hold 100,000 barrels of fuel. The location is at El Alto de Cartago.

The company, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, said it spent $6.5 million locally to build the steel tank and also spent $1.1 million on material and items imported from the United States.

The tank is reported to have all the modern safety features, including outlets for water and foam to fight fires.

The roof is a dome of aluminum. And the whole project is surrounded by a dike in case of spills. This will be a major distribution center for tankers.

Ad rates are going up

Consultantes Río Colorado S.A., the parent company of A.M. Costa Rica, announces that it will be increasing advertising rates as of June 1. The increases, between 0 and 9 percent, will affect display as well as some classified rates.

Sales executives will provide existing clients full details. They also will point out that the company will stand behind advertising agreements made between now and June 1 at the current rates for a period of up to one year.

The company last raised rates in 2007 and held the line for the benefit of clients during the recent recession.

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