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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, June 2, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 107     E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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D.C. Web site keeping eye on Tico customer service
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Having trouble with the local bank?

Did the manager of the fried chicken store call you an imbecile when you complained?

Do they tell you that customer service does not exist in Costa Rica?

Well, now there is a place to turn.

A former top reporter for La Nación has started a Web site that seeks to report on and evaluate retail firms and organizations here.

She is Hazel Feigenblatt, who is producing the Web site from the safety of Washington D.C., well out of reach of Costa Rica's defamation laws. The United States has very liberal laws on fair comment and criticism, demonstrated by harsh restaurant reports and negative play reviews.

Ms. Feigenblatt explained via e-mail that her Web site receives complaints and then she sends the complaint to the company. If the firm does not contact the customer within five days, it is put on a not recommended list, she said.

The Web site is, which loosely translates to "he who pays rules." She said she is anxious to obtain complaints even from those who are challenged in Spanish. She is fluent in English and volunteered to translate complaints into Spanish.

The Web site is the latest in the action line tradition that began with the raising of consumer consciousness in the United States in the early 1960s. At that time many newspapers had columnists who basically did the same thing and then published the results. Eventually advertising-minded publishers squeezed out the local commentary and most columns eventually vanished.

Ms. Feigenblatt is in Washington as a research associate of Global Integrity, a non-profit that seeks to keep track of governments and corruption around the world.

Her Web site does contain complaints about rude fried chicken managers and banks. In one case it 
Web site promises consumers useful information

appears that she, herself, paid and asked Banco HSBC to send an interbank money transfer. The cost here ranges from $1.50 to $5 depending on the bank. Through an internal error, the bank failed to send the money and asked her to submit another request. But bank workers declined to refund the fee. Eventually they did, she noted.

In another case, a man complained that the traffic license department refused to accept a dictamen médico because the date was written in numbers and not in words. There seems to be an edict from
the Colegio de Cirujanos y Medicos on this point. The man complained that he had to pay 10,000 colons ( about $17.50) twice. The license bureau responded to Ms. Feigenblatt that their workers will ignore the rule about the date. And the physician's organization said that the original doctor should have filled out a new form for free.

Later in the year, she said "the companies with the best and worst customer service in the country, which will be decided by a group of experts and the Web site´s readers. The 'awards' don't have a name yet, and we're asking people for proposals. There will also be a list of recommended companies."

So far no company is on either the recommended or not recommended list because the Web site is too new. The site also will contain a list of companies that make uninvited phone calls or other contacts that are forbidden by the new telecom law, said the site.

Ms. Feigenblatt, a frequent award winning investigative reporter at La Nación, was the newspaper's Washington bureau chief for two years.

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World Bank expert optimistic
on Latin America's economy

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Latin America is likely to bounce back from its economic troubles faster than other regions because of its sound economic fundamentals and better preparedness to fight a global financial crisis, said Augusto de la Torre, the World Bank’s regional chief economist,

Although the region has been impacted by the global economic meltdown and its growth projections for 2009 have declined by an estimated 0.7 percent of gross domestic product, Latin America is better positioned to successfully overcome economic challenges, return to its growth path and continue to attract foreign investment, de la Torre said in a presentation of regional economic projections in Washington, DC.

De la Torre linked Latin America´s “bounce back” with that of industrialized countries. The benefits to the region from a fast recovery, he said, depend on how quickly the center recovers, but that growth likely will rebound as the region has not borrowed and managed to save during good times.

The expert added that this crisis demonstrated Latin America’s reduced vulnerability to negative effects compared to past crises and to the performance of other emerging regions.

He noted, however, that although Latin America has prevented a systemic crisis, it cannot prevent an economic slowdown as the multiple channels that transmitted the crisis, financial costs, commodity prices, remittances and external demand, have all suffered considerable negative impacts.

For example, the cost of international financing for Latin American firms has doubled in the past few months, while commodity prices fell up to 50 percent from a peak in 2008. This has a considerable impact in a region where 95 percent of the economic activity and 90 percent of its population live in countries that benefit from high commodity prices, de la Torre said. This is further compounded by reduced remittances sent from the north, which account for 10 percent to 20 percent of national income in some Caribbean and Central American countries.

De la Torre said he remains optimistic about the region’s medium-term prospects.

Countercyclical measures in the form of fiscal stimulus packages in Peru, Brazil, México and Chile, among others, will cushion the economic and social impact of the crisis, he said. Multilateral organizations will provide significant economic support to countries that lack the capacity to implement incentive plans, for example, in Central America and the Caribbean, he added.

Additionally, exchange rate flexibility in the region should allow for relatively dynamic domestic economies, thereby making national assets more attractive to foreign investors.

“Therefore, when the world begins to activate again, I expect foreign investment to flow to Latin America,” de la Torre said.

Nicaraguan non-profit honored
with U.N. population prize

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations secretary general Monday presented the organization's population award to a Nicaraguan non-governmental organization in recognition of the contributions to public health and efforts to reduce maternal deaths.

Also honored was an Egyptian doctor, Mahmoud Fathalla.

The Nicaraguan organization, the Movimiento Comunal Nicaragüense, and the doctor were chosen from 18 nominees by an award committee, headed by Ambassador Hamdon Ali of Malaysia.  The honor consists of a gold medal, a diploma and a monetary prize.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, paid tribute to the Movimiento Comunal Nicaragüense, which was created in 1978 to boost living conditions in Nicaragua through social and community development, gender equality and environmental protection.

He noted that the organization has trained people in more than 2,000 local communities, “and has mobilized an impressive 20,000 people, including leaders, educators and midwives, to improve public health.”

The group’s efforts have led to advances in literacy, polio eradication and reduction of maternal and child mortality rates, said Ban. “It has also improved conditions for Nicaraguans by focusing on youth, gender relations, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancies.”

U.S. consumers cut spending,
Commerce statistics show

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. consumers cut spending in April, as rising unemployment and other worries prompted them to boost savings.

Monday's report from the Commerce Department showed a one-tenth of a percent decrease, the second straight month that spending fell.

Economists track consumer spending closely because consumer demand drives two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

A separate report from a business group, the Institute for Supply Management, said the U.S. manufacturing sector continued shrinking, though it declined at a slower pace.

Another government report on construction was more upbeat, showing spending for building rose eight-tenths of a percent in April, the strongest gain since last August.

Only two of five suspects
jailed in Guápiles case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The prosecutor asked a judge to put five Fuerza Pública officers in jail for investigation for three months, but the Juzgado Penal de Guápiles only put two of the men in jail for two months.

These are the five who were detained as suspects of using drug addicts and other homeless persons in the area to steal from local businesses, mostly in Guápiles.

They were arrested in raids in Pococí, Sarapiquí,and Siquirres Friday.

The two men who were jailed, identified by the last names of Alfaro Rodríguez and Domínguez Marín, face aggravated robbery allegations. The two officers worked in Guápiles, said the Poder Judicial.

Three officers, identified by the last names of Porras Vargas, Hidalgo Díaz and Rodríguez, were granted conditional liberty.

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Nationality thrown out as maritime license requirement
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another law that restricts foreigners from entering business has been overturned by the Sala IV constitutional court.

The court decided that a requirement that anyone getting a maritime license be Costa Rican was discrimination.

A 1958 law says that anyone who seeks permission to navigate a maritime route must be Costa Rican or the company making the request must have at least 60 percent of its shares held by Costa Ricans.
There are a number of similar laws on the books, and periodically the high court strikes one down. For example, the purchase of La Republica by a Canadian newspaper chain required that the court annul a similar law.

This appeal was brought by a woman identified only by the last name of Boruvkova. The decision was reported Monday.  The court said that the decision was retroactive but protected persons who acted in good faith.

The woman raised the challenge of xenophobia and that the law unduly restricted commerce.

Digging will resume in cemetery of former island prison
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Archaeologists and historians are resuming work at the Isla San Lucas. 

The Isla San Lucas was one of the nation's major prisons from 1873 to when it was closed in 1991. It is well known by visitors to the Puntarenas area and also internationally through the book  "La Isla de los Hombres Solos," written by one-time inmate José León Sánchez.

The work is being done by the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in conjunction with the Ministerio de Ambiente,
Energía y telecomunicaionces and the University of Miami.
The excavations began in early 2008 on the island that is now known as Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre.

The scientists are trying to uncover the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of the island during the time it was a prison. Excavation will mainly be in the former prison cemetery. That's where researchers uncovered the body of a presumed prison guard.

The prison will be restored as a tourist attraction, and the findings of the archaeologists will be part of the displays, the museum has said.

Juveniles, 15 and 16, among those held in Limón murder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two juveniles, 15 and 16, and a 19-year-old are facing allegations in the murder of a young man Sunday night in Barrio la Colina in Limón.

The victim received a fatal knife wound during a street robbery.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the victim, who had the last name of Zapata, his girlfriend and a family member were returning home when they were confronted by three robbers who pulled knives.

One robber took Zapata's bag by cutting the strap, and as he started to run away he simply stabbed the victim in the chest. The wound proved fatal a few minutes later at
Hospital Tony Facio, agents said.

Agents detained the 15-year-old at his desk at the high school where he is in the first year. The other two suspects were detained at their homes in the same barrio where the murder took place.

Agents said they are continuing the investigation because they presume that the trio may be suspects in other robberies.

In another juvenile case, a judge sent a 17-year-old to provisional detention because he is a suspect in the robbery of two Cruz Roja ambulance attendants in la Capri de San Miguel de Desamparados early last Tuesday. The robber made a fake call to the emergency service and then robbed the attendants when they arrived in response to the call.

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Experiment says bilinguals learn new language quicker
By the Northwestern University News Center

People who can speak two languages are more adept at learning a new foreign language than their monolingual counterparts, according to research conducted at Northwestern University. And their bilingual advantage persists even when the new language they study is completely different from the languages they already know.

“It’s often assumed that individuals who’ve learned multiple languages simply have a natural aptitude for learning languages,” said Viorica Marian, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at the Evanston, Illinois, university.  “While that is true in some cases, our research shows that the experience of becoming bilingual itself makes learning a new language easier.”

In the first study to explore a possible advantage in bilinguals who learned a second language at a parent’s knee, Northwestern researchers asked three groups of native English speakers — English-Mandarin bilinguals, English-Spanish bilinguals and monolinguals — to master words in an invented language that bore no relationship to English, Spanish or Mandarin.

They found that the bilingual participants — whether English-Mandarin or English-Spanish speakers — mastered nearly twice the number of words as the monolinguals.

And they believe the bilingual advantage is likely to generalize beyond word learning to other kinds of language learning, including learning new words in one’s own language and a very basic ability to maintain verbal information.

“After learning another language, individuals can transfer language learning strategies they’ve acquired to subsequent language learning and become better language learners in general,” said Marian.

Marian and Margarita Kaushanskaya, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are co-authors of  “The Bilingual Advantage in Novel World Learning.” Their study will be published in the August issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

The study has important implications for educators who are considering the appropriate age at which to introduce foreign language instruction as well as for parents who in increasing numbers have an option to enroll their children in dual language immersion programs, the pair said.

“We’re seeing that exposure to two languages early in life 
carries far-reaching benefits,” said Professor Kaushanskaya.

“Our research tells us that children who grow up with two languages wind up being better language learners later on.”

Although there are more opportunities today for children to participate in dual language immersion programs than in the past, parents often avoid them for fear that dual language instruction may end up confusing or distracting their children and inhibit subject learning, the pair noted.

In research presented in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, however, the two co-authors demonstrate that bilinguals actually are better able than monolinguals to inhibit irrelevant information while learning a new language. Repressing irrelevant information, after all, is something bilinguals do every time they speak.

What’s more, the majority of the world’s population outside the United States is bilingual or multilingual, Marian noted. In the U.S., approximately one out of five American households speaks a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census. And, with higher birth rates among Hispanics relative to the rest of the population, that proportion is rapidly growing.

Previous research already indicates that individuals who have formally studied two or more languages as adults more easily acquire a new language than monolinguals. New research even indicates that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in bilinguals is, on average, delayed by four years compared to monolinguals.

The Northwestern researchers chose to study bilinguals who learned a second language at an early age and in a non-classroom study to avoid suggestions that their subjects simply were exceptionally talented or motivated foreign language learners.

For their study in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, the researchers controlled for age, education, English language vocabulary size and, in the case of bilinguals, second language proficiency. Sixty Northwestern University students in their early 20s — 20 monolinguals, 20 early English-Mandarin speakers and 20 early English-Spanish speakers — participated.

All participants were tested twice for word mastery in the invented language. The initial test took place immediately after they heard and repeated the invented language words. The second test occurred a week later. The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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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 week day.

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.


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.


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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Mrs. Clinton welcomes step
to improve Cuban relations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has welcomed Cuba's decision to hold new talks about migration issues as an early step toward improving relations between the United States and Cuba.  Talks on legal and illegal migration have been suspended since 2003.

American officials say the head of Cuba's Interest Section in the United States accepted a U.S. offer to renew talks on legal migration and human smuggling between the island and the United States. The last talks were in 2003, when the Bush administration complained about lack of cooperation from Cuban authorities and suspended later meetings.

During a trip to El Salvador, Mrs. Clinton said President Obama offered new talks as a way to turn a new page with Cuba.

"These talks are part of our effort to forge a new way forward on Cuba, that advances the interests of the United States, the Cuban people and the entire hemisphere," said Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton says migration from Cuba is an important national security issue for the United States. U.S. officials say human smugglers have increased trafficking operations from the island into the United States in recent years.   Washington offers 20,000 visas for Cubans to travel to the United States, but some Cubans complain that Havana blocks them from leaving the island.

Mrs. Clinton says the two governments also plan to pursue negotiations on restoring direct postal service between the countries.  She says increasing the flow of mail is part of an effort to strengthen contact between Cubans and people off the island, especially family and friends in the United States.

However, Mrs. Clinton says the new measures do not represent a change in Washington's underlying policy toward the Cuban government.

"We will continue to press the Cuban government to protect basic rights, release political prisoners and move toward democratic reform," she said.

Mrs. Clinton was in El Salvador for meetings with her counterparts from the Americas, ahead of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, opening in Honduras today. Delegates are expected to discuss the decades-old decision to exclude Cuba from the group and possible measures to welcome back the Communist government.

Mrs. Clinton says she does not believe Cuba should rejoin the group until it makes reforms that bring its government in line with other democratic nations in the hemisphere.
Mrs. Clinton is expected to attend the opening of the meeting today before flying to Egypt, where she will join President Barack Obama later in the week.

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Physicians in Puntarenas
held in malpractice case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two physicians at Hospital Monseñor Sanabria in Puntarenas are facing allegations of malpractice involving the death of a stabbing victim.

The two men have the last names of Muñoz and Sing. They were detained Thursday as the investigation continued in the death of  Josué Rodrigo Ramos Fallas, 20, on Aug. 14, 2007.

The man came to the hospital suffering from a series of wounds. The Poder Judicial said that the physicians operated and treated an obvious wound in the chest but failed to notice a wound that proved fatal in his back.

The allegation said they failed in their duty to provide minimal care.

Swine flu cases reach 50

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The health ministry said that confirmed cases of swine flu are now 50, but that in the investigation they also have found nine persons who are suffering from two types of flu at the same time. None is suffering from swine flu.

The transmission of the swine flu virus continues to be to persons who are in close contact with those who already have the disease, said the Ministerio de Salud.

Two held for drugs at airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police have detained a Dutch airline passenger who, they said, was carrying more than two kilos of cocaine. The 30-year-old woman identified by the last names of Felomina Germonice, was on her way to Madrid when she was stopped at Juan Santamaría airport, officials said.

A 36-year-old Mexican man with the last names of Rivas Chávez was detained 24 hours later on his way to Guadalajara. Anti-drug police said he had more than two kilos of cocaine hidden around his hips.

Japan donates water system

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Japanese government has donated three pumps and a storage tank to augment the water supply for some 600 residents of San Vicente de Nicoya. The donation is valued at $21,000.

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