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(506) 2223-1327         San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 117        E-mail us
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Series of rules proposed
Government favors diesel in effort to control costs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias government took steps Thursday to lessen the impact of rising petroleum prices on the national economy.

The government reversed a planned 85-colon increase in the liter price of diesel sought by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. monopoly.

In addition, the government moved to initiate train traffic into eastern Heredia.

The restricted travel zone of San Jose's downtown also was extended to the south.

Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia and brother to President Óscar Arias Sánchez, said that diesel is vital for transportation, including public buses, as well as agricultural operations. He also said that the legislature would be asked to amend the fuel laws so that tax on other forms of fuel would pay for the elimination of the diesel levy. In the meantime, the national refinery would be compensated for the loss of the planned price increase from the national treasury, he said.

He said the government had an obligation to protect the less financially well off classes who primarily use public transportation.

Arias also said that the octane rating of regular gasoline would be boosted from 88 to 92 without increasing the price so that more car owners would purchase regular instead of super.

Arias was speaking after a four-hour session with government officials. The goal was to offset the money that petroleum was draining from the national economy. Rodrigo Arias put that annual cost at $1 billion, about 3 percent of the entire internal economy.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles will get 2 billion colons, about $3.9 million to get the Heredia line running again. Workers had been clearing the line, which was abandoned by 1998. But the job was put on a back burner in the last year.

The Heredia line would join the valley line near the Estación al Atlántico in northeastern San
José.

Arias also spoke of extending the passenger line to Cartago and then to Caldera on the Pacific and the Caribbean, although these jobs would be massive undertakings.
balancing act


The government estimated that the Heredia line  could be in operation in eight months.

Another part of the plan is to eliminate some of the vehicles in the downtown. Since Aug. 3, 2005, 20 percent of the vehicles, depending on the last number on the license plate, have been barred from the central city on weekdays. The government plans by next week to increase the size of the restricted area by moving the limit south to the Circunvalación, the four-lane bypass highway.

The government also plans to restrict heavy delivery trucks downtown to several hours in the morning and in the afternoon. Also planned are weight restrictions on the Autopista General Cañas, the Autopista Próspero Fernández, the Braulio Carrillo highway, the la Uruca radial, and the San Ramón –Esparza stretch of the Interamerican between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"The government facing a situation like this has to take very hard measures, and today we are announcing just the first of many others that will come," said Rodrigo Arias.

Roberto Dobles, minister of Ambiente y Energía, said his agency is working on ways to improve the quality of vehicles here. He said that restrictions on importing older cars would be one way and that import taxes would be reduced for vehicles using alternate energy like electricity and also hybrids. Technically there are restrictions on importing older cars now, but enforcement is spotty.

Costa Rica imports all its petroleum. The country declined to become a petroleum producing county when six years ago the courts voided an exploration concession awarded to Harken Petroleum for an area offshore from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The central government, then under Abel Pacheco, declined to restructure the deal to answer judicial concerns. Harken is now suing for damages.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 117

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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.



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Proman advertising
New U.S. ambassador makes
official visit to Óscar Arias


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

The new U.S. ambassador made it official Thursday by presenting his credentials to President Óscar Arias Sánchez at Casa Presidencial.

The Maine resident said he does not speak Spanish but said
ambassador
Peter E. Cianchette
that he soon will start language classes. The two previous U.S. ambassadors were language-challenged when they arrived, but both were reasonably conversant when they left.

The new ambassador, Peter E. Cianchette, might have to hurry. He is a supporter of George Bush and a political appointee. So no matter who is elected in November by U.S. voters, he may find he has to pack and move again. Costa Rica is a plum assignment for friends of the sitting president, regardless of political party, and those who are ambassador here are either heavy campaign contributors or workers.

Cianchette, a businessman and  investment banker, headed the 2004
George Bush campaign in Maine and was a member of the Republican National Committee, representing his state. The U.S. Embassy said that he was here with his wife, Carolyn, and their two children, Evan and Maria.

In a short statement after the official meeting, Cianchette, the 56th U.S. ambassador here, said "I told President Arias that I would do everything in my power to strengthen our close partnership, and to take it to new levels that benefit people here in Costa Rica and in the U.S."


Our readers' opinions
Cows are a big source
of Lake Arenal pollution


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to Albert Almeida's concern about bad septic tanks possibly polluting Lake Arenal, I would like to say the following:

I appreciate the environmental issues concerning Lake Arenal especially since I am an avid windsurfer and spend a lot of time in Lake Arenal's water. However, in my opinion by far the biggest problem is not the septic systems. In my mind the biggest problem is the cattle.

Beef cattle produces about 50 pounds of manure per head per day and dairy cattle may produce over 100 pounds of manure per head per day. By comparison, a pig will produce about 7 pounds and a human being even less. None of the manure produced by cattle goes into a septic tank. It sits on the surface and because of the steep terrain around Lake Arenal part of it washes directly into the streams that are feeding Lake Arenal.

A bad septic tank may leak a little bit and mostly underground, but it is nothing compared to the wholesale pollution caused by cattle. I live in Sabalito where rainwater runs off into Lake Arenal. There are at least as many head of cattle in our village as there are people. With each head of cattle producing 10 or 20 times as much manure as people and none of it going into a septic tank, I think it is obvious where the problem lies.

Also, it seems to me that the newly constructed houses have much better septic systems than the old houses. Until about 10 years ago a septic tank was just a hole in the ground with only the part near the surface cemented. It would be more productive to do something about those older tanks.  As far as I can tell, most of the septic tanks of the newly built houses in my area are made out of reinforced concrete culverts that are stacked vertically to a depth of four meter or so.

Another possible bigger problem that has not been addressed is the question where those trucks that pump out your septic tank dump the content of their tanks. There seems to be no effective oversight on those.
Augustinus Linssen
Sabalito

The blame is on judges
who fail in their duty


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Recent articles by Garland Baker and the A.M. Costa Rica staff about the reluctance and often refusal of judges to detain and prosecute criminals and suspects are deeply disturbing and indicative of a failure to create, maintain and enforce a system of morality that is the hallmark of developed nations.

Judges are charged with the obligation to be the final moral authorities of a nation, and their perspectives and rulings should consistently reflect a firm and unwavering commitment to upholding the morals that maintain civil society. The consistent and outrageous failure of judges here to meet their obligation to society has resulted in a mentality of moral confusion at best and an obvious moral decay that holds the upright citizens of Costa Rica hostage in their own country. One, therefore, has to question the morality of such judges themselves.

This failure to consider and determine if a suspect or criminal is a menace to society and to detain, prosecute or release them accordingly also reflects a failure of compassion or empathy for the alarming number of victims and future victims. It is cold hearted and is only succeeding in creating a frightened populace who have no faith in the legal system to protect them. They are given no choice but to protect themselves.

If criminals and suspects are allowed to continue to flaunt the legal system as they do, society here will continue to decay at its current alarming rate and any credibility this nation had as a peaceful and dignified country will be utterly destroyed.

If the administration and the judges don't get a grip on reality, and fast, reality is going to get really ugly. It's not looking pretty now.
Pamela Ellsworth
Nosara


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 117


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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Supreme Court defends Constitution against the president

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions released Thursday may not become the cornerstones of jurisprudence like Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education or Times v. Sullivan. But the decisions salvaged the soul of the United States.

The first, Boumediene v. Bush, the court found, 5-4, that enemy combatants or those being held at Guantanamo have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus.

A second case, Munaf v.Geren, held that the habeas statute extends to American citizens held overseas by American forces operating subject to an American chain of command. Both Munaf and a figure in a related case, Omar, are U.S. citizens being held in Iraq.

As the court pointed out in Munaf, "habeas is at its core a remedy for unlawful executive detention." This long-standing tradition in Anglo-American law means that someone imprisoned may ask a judge for a review.

For years, the Bush administration claimed that detainees from Afghanistan and Iraq were outside U.S. law.

The U.S. Congress, to its discredit, even worked to further this idea.

The Supreme Court decision is a repudiation of the U.S. military's system of combatant status review tribunals. At this stage, the court notes, the prisoner does not have a lawyer and has limited means to rebut the government's assertion that he is an enemy combatant. There are no limits on admission of hearsay, the court noted, adding:

"The court therefore agrees with petitioners that there is considerable risk of error in the tribunal's findings of fact. And given that the consequence of error may be detention for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, the risk is too significant to ignore."
In addition, the decision said: "To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this court, say 'what the law is.'"

The tragedy has been that the terrorists who smashed passenger jets into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field also smashed the U.S. legal system, and a fearful and over-reacting executive branch was only too happy to shred the law books even more.

International telephone calls are subject to eavesdropping, shoes must be removed at airports, there are no-fly lists for U.S. citizens and who knows what other secret policies are in place under the slogan of protecting the country from terrorism.

This has brought shame on the United States from the entire world and discomfort among its thinking citizens.

Strangely, what should be issues to rally conservatives are finding support elsewhere. What could be a more conservative stance than firm support for the U.S. Constitution?

Yet in the Boumediene decision, the dissent came from the right: Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. But Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote the majority decision.

When this newspaper supported George Bush for reelection as the best of bad choices, it was with full knowledge and confidence that the cowboy style of this president would be corrected by a more temperate Supreme Court.

This is a good start and validation that American justice can still handle the bad guys.



U.S. image improves slightly in survey of 24 countries
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For the first time this decade, an international survey shows an increasing number of people have a favorable view of the United States. But the survey also shows pessimism about the world economy.

Anticipation of a new U.S. president seems to be one factor in a global poll that shows that the number of people who look at the United States in a positive way has increased modestly in the past year.

The Washington-based Pew Research Center surveyed more than 24,000 people in 24 countries. Among those polled, favorable views of the U.S. were higher this year than last year in almost half of those countries. One big reason for that is the prospect of a new U.S. president next year, according to Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center.

"People around the world are looking forward to a new president," said Kohut. "President Bush has been very unpopular over the course of his term. And many people, if not most people following the election, say the next president will provide a
more acceptable foreign policy, and I think that may be part of the answer here."

In almost all of the countries surveyed in March and April, presumptive Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama received much more support than his likely Republican Party opponent, John McCain.

But America's popularity still remains very low in the Islamic world, and very few of the people surveyed there expect big changes in U.S. foreign policy, regardless of who wins the November election.

The survey results on the economy are not encouraging. Most of the people in 18 of the 24 countries polled describe economic conditions in their country as bad. And large majorities say the U.S. economy is hurting their economies.

The exceptions to the pessimism are China and India, where people remain upbeat about their national economic conditions. People around the world also expressed concern about China's impact on the global economy, but while China's favorable ratings slipped from last year, people in most countries still approve of the decision to hold the Summer Olympics in Beijing.


Successfully living here requries a change in schedule
Mark Twain has been credited with saying, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  It seems, however, that this thought actually was part of an editorial in the Hartford Courant in 1897.  Either way, things have not changed much. We are still talking about the weather — the floods the scorching temperatures, the hailstones the size of golf balls, the droughts, the tornadoes. Although some are also talking about doing something about it — or about its boss, the climate -— so far not much has occurred. 

We are in the middle of the rainy season in Costa Rica, and, as in other countries, Mother Nature is showing her power over us with her gift/weapon — water. Sunday, after two hours of torrential rains, I looked out the window and saw plastic bags of garbage floating down the street.  Monday was garbage pick-up day, and on Monday I watched those wonderful athletes of the garbage truck clean up every last bit of garbage and plastic.

One thing nice about the rain in this city is that it washes the streets clean, and it seems to remove the smog temporarily.  The rest of the country is not so lucky.  Not everywhere has the deep gutters and effective drainage of San José.
 
Apropos of the weather, I had an interesting conversation with Steve, a newcomer to Costa Rica who is weighing the pros and cons of living here permanently.  Much to my surprise, one of his concerns is the weather.  The weather!  I have been praising the climate for over a dozen years. But as a New Yorker, he is finding it difficult to conform to the routine of getting errands done in the mornings because it rains every afternoon (practically). 

I know that in New York, neither rain nor snow nor sweltering heat keeps people from their appointed rounds and work.  They slosh to the subway or a car, go to a heated or air conditioned office or store.  One could do that in Costa Rica, I suppose, but most of us do not. We adjust ourselves to the rhythms of nature, whether it is the rain in the afternoon or the sun rising at around 6 a.m. every single day and setting 12 hours later, every single day.  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 Some expats remain night owls, and some still enjoy their main meal, dinner, in the evening.  But a lot of us have surrendered to the rhythms (and sometimes the demands) of nature.  I used to be a night person but over the years, I have found that I like being up with the sun at 6 in the morning, and I begin to wind down not too long after the sun has set unless something is happening that is exciting enough to keep me awake. 

For some people who come to Costa Rica, there are more adjustments to make than just the weather, and they prove too many to overcome.

Among the positives for Steve, was the ease with which one can make friends and then get together with those friends without juggling schedules and planning too much ahead.  I thought about this the next day when my friend Alexis called to say that she and James would like to take our mutual friend Doug out to a belated birthday lunch.  When would be a good time, she asked.  I said, today is fine.  And so with an hour’s notice, the four of us trooped off to Casa Luisa in Sabana Sur — with no reservation.  No problem.  Of course, I am talking about people who have essentially retired from their 9 to 5 jobs.  That makes a difference, too.

As for Steve, he had been telling me of his concerns as we sat in my living room early Sunday evening enjoying drinks.  He had called me just an hour and a half before to suggest we get together, then had to wait a half hour for the torrential rains to subside a bit before he could make the one block run to my apartment.  It was the same downpour that caused the garbage bag to float down the street.  The next morning the sun was out, and all of us, along with the garbage collectors, got busy running our errands.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 117


Cuba acts to provide incentives to salaries of state workers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba says it is dropping wage limits for state employees in favor of salary bonuses aimed at stimulating worker productivity. The change is the latest economic shift in Havana in recent months.

Cuba's vice minister for labor, Carlos Mateu, told Cuban state media that the changes already are under way to implement the incentive system at all state-run companies. He said individual employees could earn up to 5 percent more if they meet performance goals, and managers could boost staff pay by as much as 30 percent.

The announcement marks a shift away from the Socialist policies of former President Fidel Castro which aimed at reducing income disparity. Mateu told Granma newspaper that egalitarianism is not convenient and said it is harmful to pay workers less than what they deserve.

Low salaries have been a frequent complaint among employees in Cuba's state sector, which represents the vast majority of the island's economy.

Magdelivia Hidalgo, a Miami-based activist for Cuban farm workers, says many workers receive similar wages regardless of their position or experience level.
Ms. Hidalgo said a trash collector earns about 198 pesos a month, which is the same as an office worker.

She added the wage shift will not have a significant impact, and said Cuba's government should address the disparity created by the dual currency system. State employees are paid in pesos, while workers in the tourist or informal  
sector often earn convertible pesos which are pegged to the U.S. dollar and are worth much more.

Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York, says some state workers have abandoned their jobs in recent years to pursue more lucrative work in the informal market. He says the latest shift on wage limits seeks to reverse the trend.

"So the government is learning that is has to do something to attract these people to stay in their professions and continue to perform, because for many people it is a losing deal," said Henken.

Henken says the growth of informal restaurants, hostels, shops and other underground businesses in Cuba has had a serious impact on the nation's economy. He says income inequality has expanded widely over the past 15 years because of the success of the informal economy.

It is unclear whether the reform on wage limits will further the trend, but Henken says the decision shows the Cuban government is moving in a new direction.

"It is dangerous because one of the pillars of the revolution, at least rhetorically, is this idea of socialist egalitarianism," he said. "But that puts a damper on efficiency and productivity. It is kind of a balancing act."

The wage reform is the latest economic shift announced since Raúl Castro succeeded his brother, Fidel, as president in February. Other changes included lifting measures that prevented Cubans from staying at tourist hotels, buying electronics and owning cell phones.


Venezuela acts to curb inflation and to boost the economy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is introducing a series of measures aimed at fighting inflation and boosting the nation's economy.

In announcing an economic stimulus package, Chávez said Wednesday that he will create a $1 billion fund to encourage joint public-private projects in sectors such as food and manufacturing.

The president also said a 1.5 percent tax on financial
transactions for businesses would be eliminated on the grounds it was causing inflation.

Inflation has been accelerating while economic growth dropped to 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year. The South American oil-exporting country's inflation rate is the highest in the region, climbing to 31.4 percent last month.

In April, Venezuela said it planned to sell $3 billion worth of government bonds on local markets, in a bid to slow inflation and strengthen the currency, known as the strong bolivar.


Gunmen in Sao Paulo make off with two Picasso engravings from local museum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian authorities say three heavily-armed men have stolen two engravings by Pablo Picasso as well as two works by Brazilian artists from a Sao Paulo museum.

Officials say the thieves Thursday stole Picasso's print, "The Painter and the Model" as well as "Minotaur, Drinker and Women" from the Pinacoteca museum.

The thieves also snatched the painting, "Women in a Window" by Brazilian Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and the work known as "Couple" by Brazilian Lasar Segall.
The four pieces have a combined value of $612,000.

This is the second time in recent months that thieves have targeted a Brazilian art museum.

Last December, Picasso's "Portrait of Suzanne Bloch" was stolen from the Sao Paulo Museum of Art. Additionally, the art work "The Coffee Worker," by Brazilian painter Candido Portinari, was also stolen. Both works, worth a combined $50 million, were later recovered and returned to the museum under heavy guard. Two suspects were arrested. Museum officials say the two paintings were recovered in perfect condition.


Case Afli
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Are you still spending 70 percent 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 117

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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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.


Searching

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.


Newspages

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.


Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.


Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 


Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.


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City to become a center
for bands and directors


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry's directorate of bands will hold the first international seminar of directors and the first festival of the bands from June 30 through July 6.

Recognized music instructors and band directors from Brazil, Norway, the United States and Switzerland will hold the seminar of directors in the Centro Nacional de la Música y el Festival. The audience is currently open to those interested, according to a press release from the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

After the seminar, two bands will be formed with the Banda Sinfónica Nacional, bands “A” and “B”.

Band A will be directed by Dario Sotelo of Brazil and Franco Cesarini of Switzerland. Band A will perform July 4, a Friday, at the Teatro 1887 and July 6 at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar. Both performances will be at 7 p.m.

Band B will be directed by national band directors and will perform at the Catedral Metropolitana July 5, at 6:30 p.m. and again at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar July 6, at 5:30 p.m. according to the ministry.

The seminar and festival aims to bring a diverse array of international directors to the San José area for unique performances at local venues, and will offer an excellent opportunity to broaden local contacts in the music industry, the release said.

Museum will celebrate
World Environment Day


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional new facility in Pavas will host an evironment festival June 22 from 10 a.m.to 3 p.m. in order to celebrate World Environment Day, which was last Thursday.

The event will feature a variety of different booths staffed by public and private institutions with information promoting recycling, water conservation and other environmentally themed topics. There will also be crafts, games and various eco-friendly workshops and events, including a live snake interactive exhibit, according to a museum press release.

Minor Castro, a cultural superintendent in the museum's education division, said in the release that the event will help introduce the museum's new headquarters in Pavas.
Attendees will include the national university, the Municipalidad de San Jose, the Costa Rican Red Cross and Grupo ICE, among others. Admission will be free to the public for the festival.

Theater group plans comedy night

The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica presents a U.S. Independence Day “Freedom” comedy night.  Show times are July 4 and July 5 at 7:30 p.m., and July 6 at 2:30 p.m. The location is The Laurence Olivier Theatre, Avenida 2 and Calle 28 (next to Sala Garbo).  Those interested can call 8355-1623 or visit littletheatregroup.org.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 117



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