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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, June 11, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 115                           Email us
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Electronic Cigarette Association photo
Some devices do not look like a traditional cigarette.
Nicotine device helps smokers get around new law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now that much of the country's anti-tobacco law is in force, some expat smokers are turning to electronic cigarettes.

Sales of the electronic nicotine delivery systems are possible in person or online. Promoters say the devices are safer than traditional cigarettes and might even help a smoker stop the habit. Online they range from 6,000 to 18,000 colons, about $12 to $36. Most are made in Asia.

The electronic cigarette sometimes is modeled to appear like a traditional one. The plastic tube contains a battery, an atomizer and a cartridge filled with nicotine. When a user inhales, the battery ignites the atomize and water vapor filled with nicotine enters the mouth. When the user exhales, the water vapor that is emitted looks a lot like cigarette smoke.

The user can select various concentrations of nicotine in the interchangeable cartridges and might even choose one that gives a cheesecake flavor, among others.

Costa Rica's new anti-smoking law is silent on electronic cigarettes, and one user said that he has been told by police that the devices are legal. Under the new law, smoking tobacco is prohibited in restaurants, bars, some other public places like bus stops and also offices.
Electronic cigarettes are being touted as healthier choices than a tobacco product. Even some U.S. medical groups have said that electronic cigarettes are a better choice than tobacco products that emit a smoke with all kinds of cancer-causing agents.

Internet accounts generally favor the electronic cigarette. One graphic video shows an animation of a woman struggling for breath in a hospital room. A voiceover says that electronic cigarettes will not cause emphezima and other respiratory ills associated with the tobacco variety.

One man in the United States lost two teeth and part of his tongue when the electronic cigarette exploded in his mouth. An explosion is reported to be possible when a battery had been overcharged.

A typical electronic cigarette kit includes several nicotine cartridges, a battery and a recharging device, either from a wall plug or via a USB computer hookup.

Some of the cigarettes even have a tip that glows when a user inhales. But others do not resemble a traditional cigarette at all. Such devices have been around since 2006, but are becoming more popular as many jurisdictions pass restrictive tobacco laws.
An online YouTube offering even features Johnny Depp explaining the functioning of an electronic cigarette to Angelina Jolie. The segment is from the 2010 movie “The Tourist.”

Milanes case appears to be headed back to court
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casino operator Luis Milanes has defaulted on the payment arrangement that a judge approved to keep him out of jail.

A source close to the case said that Milanes was supposed to make a payment of about $1.1 million May 23 but did not do so.

A court hearing is scheduled June 25 and 26, starting at 8 a.m. where Milanes is expected to seek an extension of the payments.

Milanes was the operator of Savings Unlimited which failed in November 2002 and left 6,300 investors without their funds.

Some $200 million was involved.

Milanes fled and was a fugitive for six years and then returned after he appeared to have struck a deal with prosecutors. He served one night in jail.

He also is the owner of a number of casinos in Costa Rica.

Creditors have been engaged in a two-year court procedure. A judge eventually accepted a deal in which Milanes would turn over properties to a trust for the benefit of creditors and also sweeten the pot with cash. Among the properties is the Europa Hotel in downtown San José.

Creditors also are expected to raise the issue of the expenses incurred by the trust and a five-person committee that is supposed to represent the interests of creditors. Among the expenses is believed to be a
$40,000 rewiring job of the downtown hotel. Creditors are seeking an accounting via the courts.

A property worth $3.5 million was supposed to be part of the deal. Milanes was supposed to turn over this property in Santa Ana to the trust, but that never happened, said the source.

At least one property turned over to the trust has been sold, thereby generating some income for the creditors.

Also causing problems is the fact that some of the properties that Milanes pledged turned out to have liens on them. Apparently the titles were not searched fully in the Registro Nacional.

Under the best of circumstances, creditors who were part of a criminal case against Milanes were supposed to get about 20 percent of their money returned with the sale of property and contributions by the Cuban-American casino owner.

Prosecutors are reluctant to pursue a criminal case against Milanes because it would be long and complex.

In addition, Milanes cleaned out his Edificio Colón offices when he left town in 2002, so there is little evidence.

Milanes claims that the bulk of the money from the high-interest enterprise is in Europe in the hands of a former associate.

Milanes appears to be conducting business as usual in Costa Rica. He sometimes is seen on the streets of San José accompanied by armed bodyguards.

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Our reader's opinion
Oxygen not ozone protects
earth from ultraviolet light

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thanks for your informative article on the upcoming Rio Conference.

I want to comment on your reference to the U.N.’s Achim Steiner and his statement that progress has been made on reducing products that damage ozone.

For purely commercial reasons that I won’t get into, there was a panic move to reduce chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) based products for fear that they were the cause of some ozone holes that were in our atmosphere.

Without sunlight ozone wouldn’t exist in our atmosphere. The chemistry is fairly simple. Molecular oxygen (O2) is converted to ozone (O3) in the presence of ultraviolet light and/or electrical discharges like lightning. Like most chemical reactions, equilibrium exists between oxygen converting to ozone in the presence of ultraviolet light and then ozone recombining to form oxygen in the absence of such light.

In other words ozone in our atmosphere is the result of ultraviolet light bombardment from the sun hitting our atmosphere. Any areas without ozone are due to either darkness or insufficient light contacting our oxygen.

The highest concentrations of ozone exist over our tropics and subtropics where sunlight is most direct or incident. At the two polar regions ozone is not formed, since the sunlight is weak and enters obliquely, leaving two rather large holes. By the way these holes were reported by British scientists as early as 1957, long before major use of CFC’s. As the sun moves north during our summer, the northern hole shrinks in size while the southern hole increases in size and vice versa during our winter.
An interesting example would be our moon. Due to its orbit and rotation it always shows its same side to the sun. If the moon were to have an oxygen atmosphere like ours, it could be expected to have large ozone concentrations on its sunny side and none on its dark side.

In summary, the presence of ozone indicates that our oxygen has absorbed damaging ultraviolet light from the sun not the reverse. Ozone is not a major ultraviolet light absorber. It’s the oxygen that absorbs and reduces the ultraviolet light to protect us.

We underwent major economic dislocations converting from Freon 12 to so called, safer CFC’s without considering the chemistry involved. Let’s hope we do a better job with respect to the causes of climate change.
Clifford Dukes
La Aurora de Heredia

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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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 115
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Casino tax would raise thousands a month from each operation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some casino owners will have to pay the government up to 8.5 million colons (more than $17,000) a month plus 10 percent of their net income, according to a new tax bill that is scheduled for final approval Tuesday.

Operators of gambling call centers will have to pay up to $82,000 a year in taxes under the same proposed law.

The bill, No. 17.551, singles out these types of business for special treatment in order to create a tax for citizen security. The measure was designed to provide money to the security ministry, but an amendment passed Thursday when the bill got its first approval appears to funnel all the money to the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz for prison construction.

The taxes in the bill are set according to a base salary, which is described in the law as the monthly pay of an auxiliar administrativo 1 who works in the Poder Judicial. That pay is now 360,600 colons.

The tax bill says that casino operator will have to pay 10 percent of a base salary for each slot machine. One of the biggest collections of slot machines is at the Casino Colonial in downtown San José. A reporter counted 180 of the electronic devices there Saturday night.

That means once the law goes into effect three months after publication the Casino Colonial management will have to pay about 649,000 colons a month or about $13,000.

About half the machines were in use Saturday night.

The casino also has about 10 traditional gambling tables. The tax for each will be 60 percent of a base salary or 216,360 colons, some $436. So the casino also will have to pay 2,163,600 colons each month or about $4,358.

Casino Colonial also has three automatic roulette machines, a device that is not addressed in the draft of the law.

There are six legal casinos in walking distance from the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José. Each has a significant number of slot machines and gambling tables.

Each casino operator also will have to remit 10 percent of the net income of the operation along with the table and slot machines taxes each month.

Casinos have been a target during the Laura Chinchilla administration. They were forced to curtail their hours and begin charging for the free drinks they were dispensing to gamblers.

Call center operators received a different type of tax because most of the money generated by these operations never reaches Costa Rica. Online gamblers use bank accounts elsewhere.

The bill levies a flat annual tax of 57 base salaries on online
slot machines
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Government stands to made a big haul on such machines,

gambling operations of up to 50 employees. That is about 20.6 million colons or $41,400. Operations with from 50 to 99 employees pay 85 base salaries or 30.6 million colons ($61,734). Operations with 100 or more employees by 113 base salaries or 40.7 million colons or $82,070.

Call center operators have been poised to move if a stiff tax were enacted. The online operations are highly portable although some companies own their own real estate here.

Casino operators most likely will reduce the number of slot machines and the number of gaming tables.

As with many taxes in Costa Rica, the money paid by the casino and call center operators are not deductible for income tax purposes.

Most observers expect some form of court appeal from the casinos and the call centers. However, according to the online file at the Asamblea Legislativa, the Sala IV already has reviewed the text.

There also could be surprises when the measure is approved, signed by the president and published. There have been some amendments that are not reflected in the latest draft of the law provided by the legislature.

Highway crews finally complete temporary bridge near Arenal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen finally got Ruta 142 open late Thursday.

The El Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that work was complete on a 25-meter (82-foot) bailey bridge that spanned where the road was washed out.

The washout was at a stream bed called Quebrada Flores. Heavy rains earlier in the week took out the roadbed and two drainage lines.

This is considered an important tourism route because it is along Lake Arenal, and there is no alternate route, said the Consejo.

The site still is a mess with mud and gravel approaches to the temporary bridge. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes urged caution on the part of motorists.

This is the first major washout of the new rainy season.
arenal route
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
Job site is a muddy mess, and caution is advised.

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Another trucker caught with cocaine at Peñas Blancas crossing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another trucker has come into the hands of anti-drug police because his rig was carrying cocaine.

The Policía de Control de Drogas said that the detained 34-year-old man was from El Salvador and had the last name of Hernández.

The 103 kilos of cocaine was found Friday in the fuel tanks of the rig when the trucker stopped at the Peñas Blancas border crossing. Hernández entered the country June 2 and was headed to Nicaragua with a load of plastic pipe for delivery there, police said.

Agents did not say how they knew the cocaine was in the tanks. They did say that some 806 kilos of cocaine had been intercepted at the border crossing this year alone.

In another cocaine case, the Tribunal Penal de San José sentenced five fishermen to eight years each last week after they admitted their role in transporting 1,515 kilos of cocaine in their vessel.

They were identified by the last names of Moreira González, Campos Bolandi, Núñez Núñez, Rivas Castrillo and Díaz Pérez.

Last Aug. 28 the fishermen on the 48-foot  “María Canela” were intercepted near the Galápagos Islands by the “USS Boone.”

Under terms of a patrol agreement with Costa Rica, Ticos

coke in tank
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Police photo shows where cocaine was hidden in fuel tank.

seized at sea are turned over to the justice system here along with a sample of the confiscated drug.  However, the “Boone” was unable to deliver the boat directly to Puntarenas because the Costa Rican legislature had not passed a measure that allowed U.S. Navy boats to enter Costa Rican waters.

The “María Canela” has been in trouble before. In 2001 it was detained by Ecuadorian officials for illegal shark fishing. It vanished from Puerto Ayora in the Galápagos the following year just as officials there were going to auction it off, said the ministry. Walter Navarro, a vice minister, estimated at the time that the boat was worth about $280,000.

Italian fugitive detained by agents in Zancudo de Golfito
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents have detained a 46-year-old Italian citizen in Zancudo de Golfito to face extradition to his homeland.

The man has been convicted in Italy of smuggling cocaine in cans of juice, said agents here.
The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man,who was not named, has been in Costa Rica since 2006.

The man was sought in conjunction with the International Police Organization,which provided information that helped agents here make the capture, they said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 115
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chávez says recent tests
show he's absolutely fine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says recent medical tests following his cancer treatments show he is absolutely fine.

The president said Saturday the exams included imaging tests, which are used to check for the reappearance of tumors.

Chávez, who is seeking a new six-year term as president in the October elections, has yet to disclose specific details about his type of cancer.

He has traveled to Cuba several times to have tumors removed from his pelvic region and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

His lack of transparency about his illness has fueled speculation about whether he will be strong enough to campaign.

The socialist leader said Saturday he has faith in God and his own will to live to continue fighting for Venezuela.

Helicopter crash site
yields bodies of passengers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in Peru say all 14 people aboard a helicopter that went missing earlier this week in the Andes mountains have been killed.

Officials said Saturday the bodies were being recovered from the crash site.

Police General Hector Dulanto said the helicopter was found at an altitude of about 4,900 meters. Bad weather had hampered the search for the helicopter, which went missing Wednesday on its way to the city of Cusco from Mazuco.

Officials say the helicopter's passengers include three Peruvians, eight South Koreans and three Europeans. The Europeans have been identified as a Swede, a Czech and a Dutchman.

South Korean officials say the missing Koreans had been exploring a possible hydroelectric project in southern Peru.

Environmental group names
Potomac as most endangered

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The conservation group American Rivers says the Potomac River that runs through Washington is the most endangered river this year in the United States. The organization says that pollution in the Potomac is decreasing water quality, threatening marine life and will become worse if Congress rolls back national clean water protections.

The Potomac River is seen by hundreds of thousands each day as it flows under bridges and past memorials.  It is used for recreational activities, and provides drinking water for five million people.

Before the Potomac reaches Washington, it runs through farmland in four states, and continues on to the Chesapeake Bay, the country's largest estuary. 

All along its course, pollution undermines the river's water quality, said Bob Irvin, American Rivers president.

"It flows through farmland, where pesticides are running off from the fields, where farm waste is running into the streams," said Irvin.  "Then as it makes its way down through the urban area of Washington, DC, we have runoff from our streets, and when it rains really hard we have raw sewage flowing into the river."

That runoff concerns Don Boesch, head of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.   He says it is creating dead zones where aquatic plants and marine life cannot survive.

"It's got low light penetration and sometimes lowest levels of oxygen in the water," Boesch noted.

He says before the river can become healthier, the nutrient runoff must be controlled.

"These are good things that stimulate life in the river, but they are actually in excess, so they cause lots of negative problems in the river," Boesch added.

A nearby coal powered electrical plant will close soon, but until then, it is putting toxic substances into the water and changing the habitat, says Whit Overstreet, with the environmental group, Potomac Riverkeepers.

"They discharge hot water back into the river that wouldn't be there naturally, which can be problematic for aquatic life," Overstreet noted.

Scientists have also found that chemicals appear to be causing male fish with female traits. But fishing guide Steve Chaconas says he thinks the Potomac has improved from the filthy river it was years ago.

"The fish are very vibrant," said Chaconas.  "People are picking up after themselves, finally!"

American Rivers warns the Potomac and other rivers could backslide if the Clean Water Act of 1972 is weakened, a distinct possibility, says Irvin.

"Congressmen from various parts of the country, representing big agricultural interests and industry interests, are trying to weaken the act, trying to prohibit the federal government from protecting, for example, small headwater streams and wetlands, and from regulating the use of pesticides on farmland," Irvin explained.

Clean water advocacy groups are calling on Congress to kill any legislation that erodes those vital protections.

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Latin America news
Juan Mora painting
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A painting of Juan Rafael Mora Porras, the Costa Rican president who led the national campaign against William Walker and his filibusterers in 1856 and 1857, now hangs in Casa Rosada, the seat of Argentina's government. He is among paintings of other Latin American patriots. A ceremony took place Friday. Mora is being praised now due to the border dispute with Nicaragua even though he was deposed and later shot.

Another quake hits Pacific
in active zone near Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another quake took place in that seismically active area in the Pacific west of Quepos. This one happened Saturday at 8:58 a.m. The Red Sismológica Nacional, Costa Rica said that the quake has a magnitude of 4.7 and was felt in most of the central Pacific and also in the Central Valley and Turrialba.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica also put the magnitude at 4.7. The Laboratorio noted that the area has been the location of many quakes. It said the quake was 28 kilometers (17 miles) south of Quepos.

The Red Sismológica Nacional said that the quake has its origin in the movement of the Coco tectonic plate moving under the Caribbean plate.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica said the magnitude was 4.4.

Minor held in murder case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A minor is one of two persons detained in Limón in the murder of a guard at a school.

The dead man was identified by the Judicial Investigation Organization by the last name of Contreras. He was 42.

The guard was supposed to have the day off Saturday, but he returned to his workplace to do some needed maintenance, said judicial agents. He appears to have interrupted a burglary. He was shot once in the head, said agents.

A 23-year-old man was detained late Saturday as well as a minor who may be as young as 12.

Crash takes three lives

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mother suffered fatal injuries and her two children died when their vehicle collided head on with a tanker truck Friday afternoon in La Palma de Palmar Sur. The woman appears to have lost control of the vehicle.

Dead at the scene a boy, 13, and a daughter, 8. The mother, 31, died Sunday morning in the Hospital Escalante Pradilla de Pérez Zeledón. She was identified by the last name of Pérez.

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