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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Friday, June 8, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 114                           Email us
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New stamp issue marks birthday
of state's Banco de Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banco de Costa Rica is celebrating its 135th birthday, and Correos de Costa Rica is issuing a set of commemorative stamps to mark the occasion.

From the beginning the bank was involved deeply in public finances and made loans to the government.

The bank, which began in 1877 as Banco de la Unión, was an innovator in its time. The bank was nationalized after the 1949 civil war and is defined an  autonomous institution in the Costa Rican Constitution.

In coverage, the bank is rivaled only by the competing public bank, Banco Nacional de Costa Rica. Banco de Costa Rica employes 4,300 persons and has 246 offices and 1,658 automatic tellers. Correos released the set of stamps Thursday.

The three-stamp set features a photo of the bank's central offices and an illustration by artist Paula Díaz that bank officials provided that represents the projects that the bank has financed over the years.

Each stamp has a value of 275 colons. There are 500 first-day covers available for purchase. The envelope features a photo of the bank identical to the one on the stamp. The cancelation shows two outstretched hands shaking, presumably a banker and a customer making a deal. The designer was identified as  Cristian Ramírez.

Collectors can find the new stamp set and other stamp issues on the virtual store of Correos. It is HERE!

Casino and alcohol bills advance at legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislative leadership is patting themselves on the back for what they are calling a very productive week. Lawmakers passed six measures and credited a consensus among the various parties in the Asamblea Legislativa for that.

Among the measures is one that levies a series of special taxes on casinos and gambling call centers. This passed Thursday on first reading by a lopsided 43-2 votes in favor. The bill is schedule for a second and final vote Tuesday.

Lawmakers also:

•  Approved a new law relating to the sale of alcohol and gave responsibility to the municipalities to determine if the tradition of halting sales on Holy Thursday and Good Friday would continue each year;

• Establish sign language as an official language in Costa Rica;

• Transferred the responsibilities of overseeing the telecommunications market from the environmental ministry to the science ministry, and

• Approved unanimously a tax treaty with Canada for the exchange of taxpayer information.

The casino bill, NO. 17.551, in one form or another has been in the legislature for years. The current version assesses a special 10 percent tax over the net casino income and taxes each gambling table and slot machine. The bill has been promoted as an income for citizen security, but a last-minute amendment Thursday appears to dedicate all the income to the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz for prison infrastructure.

The bill uses the so-called base salary as an index for the tax. As the salary of a specific job category in the Poder Judicial goes up, so does the tax. For each gambling table, a casino operator will be asked to pay about 215,000 colons or some $434 a month. Each slot machine will be taxed about 36,000 colons a month, about $72.

Casino operators will have to submit sworn
'An amendment Thursday said that none of the taxes paid under this law could be deducted as expenses when casino operators file their annual income tax return.'

paperwork to the Ministerio de Hacienda by the 15th of each month and make the appropriate payments to a bank.

The tax appears to be punitive because President Laura Chinchilla has characterized incorrectly casinos as places for prostitution. An amendment Thursday said that none of the taxes paid under this law could be deducted as expenses when casino operators file their annual income tax return.

Casinos have been considered tourist attractions in the past. The new law again states that a casino must be associated with a hotel of four stars or higher. Although some tourists do play in the country's casinos, the clientele is heavily Costa Rican.

A committee sent the bill to the full legislature in November.

According to the bill, gambling call centers are taxed based on the number of employees.

The bill as written appears to be an invitation for a Sala IV constitutional court case by casino operators. There also is the possibility that the bill might be referred by a lawmaker to the court for an opinion before the vote Tuesday.

All 40 lawmakers present at the time voted in favor of the measure, No. 17.613, that adds a new chapter to the penal code to cover Internet crimes. Some of the possible acts were not crimes under the current code.

The Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología was quick to praise legislative action giving it supervision of telecommunications. The bill, No.  17.332, also will change the name of the awkward Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

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Costa Rican officials greet Zhang Gaoli at airport

Top Chinese official visits
to mark anniversary of ties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, a top official from there is visiting here.

He is Zhang Gaoli, a vice minister and member of the politboro of the Community Party central committee. He arrived Thursday night and has an appointment with President Laura Chinchilla this morning in Casa Presidencial.

Although there has been an official announcement of possible donations by the country to Costa Rica, officials here have a wish list. China donated and built the national stadium in Parque la Sabana.

The Chinese diplomat is accompanied by 20 other persons.

China already has entered into a deal with the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo to collaborate on constructing a new refinery. The money will come from the Chinese Development Bank.

The Chinese official also will visit the legislature and be honored with a luncheon hosted by Bernal Jiménez Monge, president of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

At 6 p.m. today there is a ceremony at the foreign ministry to commemorate the establishment of diplomatic relations. Later the Chinese visitor will call on former president Óscar Arias Sánchez at his Rohrmoser home. It was Arias who ditched relations with Taiwan to seek better opportunities with mainland China.

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Group backing gays plans protest march against rejection of law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group calling themselves the Invisibles plans a march next week to cleanse the legislature of corruption, hatred and discrimination, it said in a news release.

The march is June 16.

The protest is a response to an action by the legislature's Comisión de Derechos Humanos which Wednesday shelved a measure that would have given certain recognitions to homosexual couples. The chairman of that committee is Justo Gerardo Orozco, the sole representative of a Christian political party. He was among those who voted to shelve the measure.
 He did so as proponents of the measure yelled and demonstrated in the hall. Orozco had to be escorted by security from the room.

The group said it is seeking the resignation of Orozco from the chairmanship of the human rights committee and recognition of the right to live regardless of sexual orientation.

The group release also was critical of the political coalition that put Orozco in the chairmanship in the first place.

The release also said the group wanted a secular state and passage of legislation to permit in-vitro fertilization. Those have been hot button issues, too.

Santa Ana marijuana hydroponics setup confiscated by agents
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Early rising judicial officers entered a marijuana growing operation in Santa Ana at 6 a.m. Thursday and then detained a man suspected of being linked to the operations in Paso Ancho at his home.

Agents said the property had two storage buildings, and one was air conditioned and fully equipped for the hydroponic cultivation of marijuana. They said they confiscated 800 plants, seven kilos of marijuana ready for sale and three vehicles. They said the investigation has been going on since April.  Agents have been making a steady stream of arrests related to hydroponic cultivation of marijuana.
In an unrelated police action Fuerza Pública officers Thursday afternoon detained a 20 year old and a 16-year-old minor at Avenida 7 at Calle 0 and discovered what they reported to be about 1.4 kilos of marijuana. Police said it appeared that the individuals had arrived in town from Limón by bus.
Marijuana operation
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Públca photo
Interior of building housing the plants.

Captivated by the Queen and the tradition of the monarchy
This past week I have been watching the progress of a great lady and a woman to be respected.  In old dictionaries the first definition of ‘progress’ was “a royal journey marked by pomp and pageantry,” and we certainly saw that this past week, complete with a 1902 Landau.

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and was celebrated by her subjects throughout the world for her more than 60 years as Queen of England and head of the Commonwealth. (And probably something else I have forgotten.)  She has held her post with a steady hand and remarkable stamina and stoicism (known by the British as stiff upper lip) which she demonstrated over the past few exhausting days.  Although British royalty no longer wield the political power, they still have an influence and claim some powerful women.  Only Queen Victoria reigned longer than Elizabeth II has (so far, at least).  Victoria lasted 64 years, even after spending about 10 of them in seclusion mourning the loss of her husband, Prince Albert.  Like Victoria, Elizabeth II married for love.  The Victorian era was marked by industrial and global expansion and peace, and also denoted proper behavior and prudish morals (at least publicly) encouraged more by Prince Albert than the Queen and associated today with the middle class.

Another female British monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was also among the top 10 longest lasting royalty of England.  She ranked sixth in crown longevity, reigning 45 years, during an era known as Elizabethan and making history as a time when the art of theater blossomed, and Shakespeare wowed (and still wows) the world with his plays.  Unlike her sister queens, Elizabeth I never married, and was known as “the Virgin Queen,” Perhaps “virgin” was a title given to any unmarried woman, however, she managed to be discrete in her personal life.

All three women were and are excellent leaders when necessary, avoided war when possible, and generally have made the British proud to be British.  The first two marked their reigns strongly enough to give their names to them.  We must wait, I suppose, to see if history will give a name to the era of Elizabeth II.

I have admired all three of these queens and found British royalty fascinating, perhaps simply because their reigns generally last a long time so that one gets a feel for the era, the customs, the arts, the intrigues.
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

But my favorite British monarch probably never existed. The legendary King Arthur may have been the combination of many early kings, or entirely fictional, the creation of many storytellers and king makers.  The King Arthur I love is the King Arthur of T. H. White’s novel, “The Once and Future King.” I like to think of it as an historical novel, but it is actually classified as fantasy, considered the best of that genre.

It is the story of the Age of Chivalry, of love, friendship, betrayal, honor and forgiveness and an era of true nobility. The characters are the immortal Merlyn and his sometimes bumbling magic. There is Wart, as a young Arthur, tutored by Merlyn and learning how to be a man and a king by experiencing life as other animals, and when king, forming the Knights of the Round Table devoted to doing good.  Sir Lancelot, the very ugly and too perfect knight who fought his own demons.  And Guenever, the woman who bewitched the men who loved her, causing havoc, as women have to royalty and lesser men, not just in fantasy but history. Elizabeth II came to the throne because her uncle abdicated so that he could marry the woman he loved, leaving the throne to his brother, George, Elizabeth’s father.

Her reign has covered colonialism and a World War; the age of industrialism to an age of electronic communication, nuclear power and terrorism, and struggles for freedom by the people against the leaders of countries that once were colonies.  And, also, the transition from Great Britain’s role as world leader to a new world power, an upstart country (and one of England’s former colonies) that had been a nation little more than two hundred years (compared to Great Britain’s beginnings in the Eighth Century.) 

Historians will decided whether her era, and ours, will be named and associated with a time of improvement and progress, as defined in today’s dictionaries (to move toward perfection or a higher state, improvement) for the world’s people and countries, or regrettably, a return to the Dark Ages.

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Another load of cocaine confiscated on high seas in Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. sailors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are having good hunting in the Caribbean. The latest gofast boat to fall into the hands of the military yielded 57 bales weighing 1,720 kilos or some 3,790 pounds of cocaine, reported the U.S. Southern Command.

The boat was the guided-missile frigate USS Elrod, which is serving as part of Operation Martillo, a multi-national effort to interdict cocaine shipments in the Caribbean and Pacific.

A report released this week outlined events in mid-May when a helicopter based on the Elrod spotted a suspected drug smuggling boat in the Caribbean. The military does not give an exact location, but the event is believed to have taken place May 17.

The occupants of the boat began dumping bales into the sea, but the crew of the helicopter marked the area, and a  rigid-hull inflatable boat from Elrod captured the five individuals on the boat, said the Southern Command. The suspects first went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then to Tampa for trial.

Members of the Elrod crew also recovered 89 bales of cocaine April 20 off Panamá when it pursued two 40-foot, twin-engine vessels in conjunction with Panamá authorities. Those bales weighed 4,840 pounds, said the Southern Command.
coke haul
U.S.Southern Command photo
 Sailors prepare to hoist confiscated bales of drugs onto the
 USSD Elrod.

Caribbean seaweed called a strong competitor against coral
By the University of Queensland news service

A new study finds that Caribbean seaweeds are far better competitors than their equivalents in the Indian and Pacific oceans. But this triumph is bad news for Caribbean coral reefs.

The picture-postcard beauty of Caribbean reefs owes much to the living corals that build reefs and contribute startling white sand to beaches. Coral reefs might seem to be tranquil environments, but, in fact, a battle is constantly waged between corals and seaweeds that fight over space. Scientists have known for some time that seaweeds can gain the upper hand if corals are damaged by hurricanes or excessively warm sea temperatures that cause coral bleaching. But a new study, published online Thursday, reveals that Caribbean seaweeds are the equivalent of Olympian athletes compared to those found on coral reefs elsewhere.

"Seaweeds bloom four times faster in the Caribbean than the Pacific Ocean," exclaims study author George Roff of the  University of Queensland. "This helps explain why corals in
 the Caribbean seem to be such weak competitors against seaweeds".

The study raises concerns about the future of Caribbean coral reefs. If seaweeds bloom faster, corals are less likely to recover once they have been damaged.

Coauthor Peter Mumby, adds, "Seaweeds are able to bloom when we loosen their controls, either by polluting the sea with fertilizers or catching too many parrotfish, who treat seaweed as a delicacy. We now know that seaweeds will bloom if we give them the slightest chance. This means we should redouble our efforts to control pollution and fishing of parrotfishes".

The study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, cannot yet explain why Caribbean seaweeds are so prolific.

"It is intriguing to see such variability in seaweed behavior around the world", said Roff. "We raise a number of possible explanations that scientists will test over the next few years."

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Untreatable gonorrhea cited
as major world threat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization warns that antibiotic resistance to gonorrhea is growing and that the world is running out of treatment for this sexually transmitted disease.  The U.N. agency is calling for greater vigilance on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatment options.

The World Health Organization reports an estimated 106 million people are infected with gonorrhea every year.  It warns there are few treatment options available for these infections.

A scientist at the agency's Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, says there will be considerable health consequences if gonorrhea becomes untreatable.

"For men and women of reproductive age, they could become infertile," said Lusti-Narasimhan.  "For women who are pregnant and they could have ectopic pregnancies or spontaneous abortions that could increase maternal deaths.  And for infants born to these women with untreated gonorrhea, we already know that over half of them develop severe eye infections and many of these could lead to blindness." 

Gonorrhea is one of four major curable sexually transmitted infections.  The so-called superbug that causes gonococcal infections is an organism that has developed resistance to virtually every class of antibiotics that exists. 

The World Health Organization is releasing a global action plan that calls for increased monitoring and reporting of resistant strains, as well as better prevention, diagnosis and control of gonococcal infections.

Health officials say gonorrhea can be prevented through safer sexual intercourse.  They say early detection and prompt treatment, including of sexual partners, is essential to control sexually transmitted infections.

U.N. says current lifestyles
are simply unsustainable

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations is warning the world is doing a terrible job of managing the environment and conserving its precious resources for future generations.  The U.N. Environment Program is launching its most comprehensive assessment of the state of the global environment before the Sustainable Development Conference that opens next week in Rio de Janeiro.

The report finds the world is continuing to speed down an unsustainable path, despite more than 500 internationally agreed goals and targets aimed at conserving the environment and improving human well being.

The just released fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook assesses 90 of the most-important environmental goals and objectives. Jan Dusik, the agency's European director, says of these significant progress has been made in only four.

"These are eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, the removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment," said Dusik.  "Some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as national parks and efforts to reduce deforestation.  Little or no progress was detected for 24 of the goals, which include climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought."

Among its key findings, the report says Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean share the common problems of population growth and increasing consumption.  It says these are worsened by rapid urbanization in Africa and Asia and the Pacific.  This, in turn, places growing stress on dwindling natural resources.  It cites climate change as an overarching problem.

The report notes Europe and North America continue to operate at unsustainable levels of consumption, and North America in particular is slow in developing a renewable energy industry.

The agency finds West Asia is facing worsening water scarcity, land degradation and sea level rise.  But, it points out that Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain manage their water resources well and it praises Syria's rangeland rehabilitation policy. 

Stock exchange offers payoff
for Facebook trading faults

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A major U.S. stock exchange is apologizing and offering $40 million in damages for the technology problem that marred the start of stock trading last month in Facebook, the popular Internet social-networking site.

The NASDAQ exchange in New York was initially overwhelmed by the large volume of investors wanting to buy and sell the Facebook stock.  It failed to post an accurate price for Facebook shares for half an hour, and many investors said they did not know whether their purchase or sale orders were being processed.

NASDAQ chief executive Robert Greifeld says "clearly we did not succeed here."

Some brokers and rival exchanges said the $40 million Nasdaq is offering in compensation falls far short of the damages they incurred May 18.  They said the damages ranged from $100 million to $200 million.

Because Facebook has 900 million users worldwide, many investors viewed its stock, and the initial $38 price per share, as a potentially profitable investment.  But after jumping to $45 in the first hours it was available, the Facebook stock ended the day only 23 cents higher. Since then, its value has fallen sharply.   Thursday, it traded below $27 a share.

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Two more days without rain
predicted for weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good weather is supposed to hold until Sunday, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

A weekend forecast said that a mass of dry air continues to hover over the country and this reduces the formation of clouds and rain. However, typical rainy season weather is expected to resume Sunday, said the forecast.

The Central Valley has seen some rain over the last two days, but nothing like the heavy downpours that are typical at this time of year. Some areas remained dry and just saw light sprinkles.

The rain Sunday is supposed to be mainly in the northern zone, the Central Valley and the Pacific coast.

Blaze that routed 28 persons
blamed on overheated wire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire officials are blaming an overheated electrical wire for the blaze Wednesday that swept through four low-income homes in Barrio Cuba.

The area is called El Pochote. Two other homes suffered damages. Fire investigators recovered an electrical cable that is believed to have been the cause. Electrical problems rank high in Costa Rica as the origin of fires.

Some 22 adults and six children were made homeless by the blaze.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos said that no one was home in the dwelling when the fire started. Investigators reported that the wire was connected to a ceiling light and that the high wires ignited some ceiling material which fell on a bed and began the blaze.

Firemen faced all sorts of trouble in fighting the blaze. There were no hydrants and access to the homes was via a three-foot-wide path, far too small for fire equipment.

The homes have metal sheets for roofs and for some walls, so the heat was concentrated within.

The Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social said it was providing rented homes for those who suffered a total loss and also necessities such as mattresses and personal items.

Outages planned for today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said that workmen will cause outages in San Antonio de Coronado and in Curridabat this morning.  In Coronado the outage will be in Barrio San José and in the vicinity of the Dulce Nombre bus depot. It will last until 3:30 p.m., the company said. The Curridabat outage will be a small one in the vicinity of the Yin Hermanos S.A. firm from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the company said.

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