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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, June 6, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 111            E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Wheeze, sniffle, snort: It's the rainy season again
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At first, the sensation is one of lethargy. A detachment from the world around. Then there is the blazing headache coupled with possible stomach problems, a fever and chills.

No, it is not the dreaded dengue or malaria or bird flu. The malady is the annual changeofseasonitis that assaults Costa Ricans and expats every year when the rainy days displace drier weather.

Each year the manifestation of the virus differs. But any office or production worker knows that the absentee rate will soar. Maybe the cause is getting wet running for the bus or association with sick individuals as one huddles to stay out of the rain.

Regardless of the reason, Costa Ricans come to expect a minor plague this time of year.

The change of seasons headaches are not to be
sick guy

confused with the headaches that will appear Thursday morning. Those headaches will be caused by ingesting too much guaro while watching the Costa Rican national soccer team take on Canada.

The game, which is in Miami, begins at 6 o'clock tonight, and that means there will be few rush hour taxis and probably less traffic as the country stops and watches.

Lawmakers wants to mandate special Tico hotel rate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fine hotels and other tourism resorts may be getting priced out of the local market for Costa Rican vacationers, but Bienvenido Venegas Porras, a legislative deputy, has an idea to give locals a financial break.

He has formalized his proposal, which would force hotel owners and others providing tourism services to maintain cut rates for Ticos the year round. The measure is No. 16528 of the proposals being considered by the current legislature.

Venegas, representing the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, is from Esparza and has been involved in local and national politics since he was 17, according to his official biography.

His plan would require hotel operators and others providing tourism services to have a preferential rate for Costa Ricans that is at least 20 percent below the normal tourism rate. Covered would be any business that has taken advantage of tourism incentives.

In a description of his proposal, the lawmaker reasoned that by providing incentives to hotel and resort operations, the Costa Rican people down to 
Bienvenido Venegas
Bienvenido Venegas
the most humble have made a financial sacrifice.

So he thinks that tourism operators should return the favor because many of these operations are off-limits to Costa Ricans now due to the cost.

He also said that the local base for tourism should be
expanded and that his measure would help to do this.

Also part of his plan is that hotels, which have to give cheaper rates, also must designate at least 20 percent of their hotel rooms to reduce-priced local tourism.

His proposal would put the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo in charge of enforcing the law. Any Costa Rican who thought a hotel owner did not follow the law could report the business to the Oficina del Consumidor of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio, where punishment would be covered by the existing consumer laws.

In addition, the lawmaker wants a penalty assessed of 10 times the value of the preferential rate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 6, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 111

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Caldera contractor fined
$50,000 per day for delay

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public works ministry said Tuesday that the contractor for the San José-Caldera highway is being fined $50,000 a day because work has not started.

The contract has been tied up at the Contraloría de la República.

The Autopistas del Sol S.A. obtained a concession on the highway. The company will complete the work, which basically amounts to grading and blacktopping. Bridges have been installed for at least six years.

The company was supposed to start the job April 1, and officials announced that date in February. However, the company presented an amendment to the contract that would have allowed the Central American Bank of Economic Integration to take the company stock as security for a loan.

After the Contraloría rejected the plan, a new document was drafted that is being studied by officials now. Meanwhile, the meter is running on the company, which plans to invest $176 million.

Luis Diego Vargas, vice minister of Conseciones de Obras Públicas y Puertos, said Tuesday he expected the work to start within two months if the Contraloría accepts the second document.

Autopistas del Sol will have 23 years to earn back its investment by means of tolls from motorists. The route is expected to cut the travel time from San José to the coast in half. Seven toll plazas are planned.

Any fines the company pays probably will be lumped into its expenses so that the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos will consider these expenditures when setting the amount of tolls. In other words, it will be the motoring public that will pay the fines in the long run.

The concession also includes work on the highway that runs along the south side of Parque La Sabana and additional work on the highway to Ciudad Colón. From there, three lanes will be constructed to Orotina and then the road to Caldera will be improved.

The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones is involved in the agreement as is the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte. Autopista is a creation of two Spanish firms, a Costa Rican company and a Portuguese entity. The original contract was signed in March 2006.

Measure to protect minors
wins first assembly approval

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers approved on first reading Tuesday a measure that will stiffen penalties for sexual contact with minors and for possession of juvenile pornography.

The measure also prohibits youngsters from using firearms and penalizes those who might give a child a weapon.

The proposed law also says that the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors does not begin to run until the youngster turns 18. In addition, the proposed law increases from 12 to age 13 when more serious penalties can be applied for sexual crimes. The penalty is from 10 to 16 years for sexual intercourse involving someone under 13 or an incapacitated person or when violence is used for any age.

The penalty is from two to six years for an adult who has sexual intercourse with someone between 13 and 15 years even if the younger party consents.

The law also increases the minimum term by one year for corruption (four years) and aggravated corruption (five years), which is generally enticing a minor into paid sex.

The penalty for making pornographic material with a minor would be raised from three to eight years to five to 10 years.

A new section provides a prison term of three to five years for distributing pornography to someone 13 or younger. The current penalty is one to four years. For someone over 13 but younger than 18, the penalty would be from two to four years, instead of the current one to four years.

The proposed law, as it is on file in the Asamblea Legislativa, also provides penalties of from five to 10 years in prison for someone who takes an organ or body fluids from someone without the donors permission. The penalty is raised to 10 to 20 years if the unwilling donor is a minor.

Another new section, Articulo 188 bis, makes it the responsibility of the owner, operator or a guard to prevent minors from entering places "where they are not authorized." This is interpreted to mean bars and brothels. The penalty is three months to three years. The same penalty applies if the person is incapacitated mentally.

The same section prohibits giving or placing in reach of a minor or someone mentally incapacitated a firearm, explosives or poisons. The same penalties apply.

The measure may come up for a second and final vote Thursday. However, some lawmakers have said they want to discuss the proposed law in more depth. The vote Tuesday was unanimous. However, the text that is on file may not be the exact text that lawmakers approved. Frequently changes are made at the last minute.

The measure edits a handful of sections of the penal code.   Ana Helena Chacón, a legislative deputy with the Partido Social Cristiana, has been pushing the bill for years, beginning when she was a vice minister of security in the Abel Pacheco government. She said this proposal fills certain voids in the current law.

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Referendum date now is Oct. 7, pending word from Sala IV
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court review of the free trade treaty with the United States has forced a delay of a public referendum on the issue.

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones announced Tuesday that the new tentative date would be Oct. 7 instead of Sept. 23, as had been announced previously.

The tribunal made the change because it is awaiting official word from the constitutional court. Legislators opposed to the treaty and the Defensoría de los Habitantes sought a high court review of the document.

If the treaty is found unconstitutional, there will be no referendum. The high court decision also has wider implications. Opponents of the treaty have pointed out sections that they believe are unconstitutional. For example, some have cited clauses that allow arbitration of trade issues by an impartial foreign panel.

This processes has been termed unconstitutional.
However, many aspects of the U.S. trade treaty also are found in a number of international pacts to which Costa Rica has agreed. A negative high court opinion could jeopardize treaties already in force because they would have the same constitutional flaws as the free trade agreement.

A team of Universidad de Costa Rica academics, including lawyers, has studied the treaty and prepared a long list of what are considered unconstitutional items.

Still, the election tribunal is going ahead with referendum plans. As part of the decision announced Tuesday, the registry of voters will be reopened so that more citizens can participate in the referendum. Registration had been closed June 1. Now citizens will be able to sign up through June. Most Costa Ricans already are on the rolls by virtue of having obtained their cédula de identidad. A major reason for signing up again would be if the potential voter had changed the place of residence.

The decision announced Tuesday was made by the three-magistrate leadership of the tribunal headed by Luis Antonio Sobrado González.

Star-crossed lovers will play out their tragedy with hip-hop
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"Romeo y Julieta," a hip-hop dance version of the Shakespearing work, will take the stage for four nights starting Thursday.

The production is by the Compañía Nacional de Danza. The director general of the dance company, Carlos Ovares, said that the theme of violence and inter-familiar rivalry is appropriate, as is the theme of love trying not to be drowned by the hatred.

The production will be at the Teatro de la Danza in the  Centro Nacional de la Cultura.

The site is just east of Parque España in north San José.

Spanish speakers call hip-hop danza urbana, and break dancing also is part of the choreography. The dance spectacular already has been performed in Atenas, Hatillo, Zarcero and Tucurrique, said a summary provided by the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

The choreographer is Miguel Bolaños.  The show will have other dates in other sections of the country.

The show is at 8 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday and at 5
Romeo y Julietta
Compañía Nacional de Danza photo
A sample of the love tragedy in modern garb

p.m. Sunday. Admission is 2,500 colons or about $4.80. Seniors and students pay 500 colons less.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 6, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 111

Negotiations continue over the fate of manager of airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican public works ministry and civil aviation officials are still negotiating with the financial backers of the Juan Santamaría airport concessionaire, Alterra Partners.

The government officials met nearly all day with a team from the International Finance Corp., a private arm of the World Bank.

Negotiations are expected to resume today. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes canceled a press conference called for Tuesday afternoon, presumably to announce a satisfactory conclusion to the discussions.

Karla González Carvajal, the minister, and Viviana Martín Salazar, vice minister and president of the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil, are handling the negotiations for the government.

The International Finance Corp. put up about $35 million for Alterra's initial capital and supervised the lending of some $80 million more from private sources.
In January the corporation and other creditors proposed that Alterra get a five-year extension on its 20-year contract and that certain other concessions be made.  Although aviation and ministry officials agreed, the Contraloría de la República, the nation's financial watchdog, rejected the proposal. So the negotiators must come up with a plan that the Contraloría will approve.

Alterra is supposed to make major improvements to the airport in Alajuela. It is supposed to profit from landing fees and other income. However, some improvements have been delayed and the company complains that the government does not pay it promptly.

The principal Alterra sponsors are Bechtel Enterprises and Airport Group International Holdings, LLC. Alterra was supposed to invest some $161 million in the airport in the three years after making the agreement in 2001. Work was supposed to include refurbishment of the main runway, the construction of a new taxiway, and the rehabilitation and expansion of the passenger terminal. Some of the work already has been done and more passenger terminal facilities are expected to be ready by Christmas.

Colombian human rights worker awarded international prize
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. human rights organization has awarded a prize for human rights defenders to Colombian activist Ivan Cepeda.

Human Rights First Tuesday announced the winner of the prize, which is awarded every other year for outstanding work in international human rights.

Cepeda is the founder of a number of organizations that document human rights violations in Colombia. In a statement, the organization said he has demonstrated that paramilitary groups have committed serious human rights violations, often in complicity with members of the Colombian armed forces. It said he has helped in a process 
that has documented some 40,000 cases of rights violations since 1966.

The statement also said Cepeda has been unfairly targeted by the government for investigations, and has twice had to live in exile because of death threats.

Cepeda's father was a Colombian senator, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, who was killed by paramilitaries in 1994.

The prize is known as the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty, named after the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and the International League for Human Rights. Colombia is one of the deadliest places in the world for human rights workers due to its four decades of war.

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