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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, June 18, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 120                          Email us
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Union and government meet today on Limón strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial is taking credit for the elimination of strike-related violence in Limón. That was one of the conditions laid down for union officials in advance of negotiations today.

Violence dropped to zero Saturday night after two nights of unrest in and around the port town. Trucks were intercepted and burned, other material was torched, and the disorder on the streets rose to what one organization calls chaos.

Police made a number of arrests. The most significant action was sending hundreds more Fuerza Pública officers into the areas. Casa Presidencial said that calm had been reestablished and street disturbances had practically disappeared.

Central government officials also said that port activities were operating normally. Strikers walked out Tuesday morning leaving six cargo ships at the dock and two more waiting offshore.

The port activities continued with efficiency after police took control of the docks early Thursday, said Casa Presidencial. That is when disorders broke out, and Thursday night and Friday night were filled with acts of vandalism.

Casa Presidencial claims that the loading and unloading of cargo ships has improved 200 percent with respect to the usual activities. Some 10 vessels have been handled, it said. Getting priority are
shipments of perishable pineapples and bananas bound for the United States and Europe, said Casa Presidencial.

The meeting this morning at 10 o'clock is between the leadership of the dock workers union and Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia. Casa Presidencial said that the topic would only be the port operation. That was reference to the union demand that the government shelve the plan to build a competing $1 billion container handling facility nearby.

The union wants the government to make an equal investment in upgrading the existing cargo ports in Limón and Moín so that port operations remain in the hands of a government agency.

The union is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de  Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica,

There is no conclusive evidence that all the violence was done by strikers. The area has a large number of disaffected youth who welcome the chance to be vandals.

About 80 percent of the nation's shipping go through the two Caribbean ports. President Laura Chinchilla has distanced herself from the strike. Her televised message to the country Sunday night was on education and made no mention of the violence in Limón. And she is not expected to meet with the union leadership today.


Economic picture contains bright spots and concerns
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation experienced a noticeable economic slowdown as lawmakers discussed the president's massive tax proposal.

Now that the value-added tax has been shelved, a new proposal to tax sportsbooks and casinos has raised concern in the restaurant and rental sectors. They fear that some operations will leave Costa Rica to avoid the tax.

Still there is some good news for expats. Firms involve in the relocation business report increased inquires and business.

And the second tourist season has begun now that schools are on vacation in the north. There is an increase of young tourists.

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.

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

The last levy is the one that bothers those who rent apartments and houses and those who operate restaurants. Throughout the economic downturn call centers here have been profitable and the expat employees are big spenders. They rent luxury homes and apartments. They are steady customers at bars and restaurants.
Casinos do not have the flexibility of call centers, which can move to another country overnight. In addition to the well-paid expat managers, these call centers employ many Costa Ricans.

In contrast, relocation experts say they are having the best months ever with inquires and contacts from persons who wish to live in Costa Rica. Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica wondered if the U.S. economy may have prompted more people to consider living aboard. Yet some of his inquires come from Canadians and even Europeans.

The various expat discussion lists have steady exchanges on relocation to Costa Rica.

The international interest is in spite of a less favorable dollar-colon exchange rate and increasing Costa Rican prices. Some long-time expats have announced that they are leaving over these conditions that put them in an economic squeeze.

The so-called second tourism season should be of help to the struggling hotels that have suffered the brunt of the U.S. economic downturn. 

Students and vacationing teachers are not luxury hotel candidates but prime customers for the struggling individually owned hotels that have experienced low occupancy rates because the country appears to be over-built with chain hotels and other places offering accommodations.

In anticipation of this second season, some downtown San José restaurants have jacked up their prices as much a 30 percent.


Industrial chamber concerned about Colombia treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cámera de Industrias is expressing its concern over the opening of free trade talks with Colombia.

The chamber, in a news release, pointed out that Costa Rica's exports to Colombia in 2011 were $48.2 million but that Colombian exports to Costa Rica were nearly 10 times that at $445.6 million.

The business chamber said that Costa Rica was at a disadvantage because of infrastructure, access to
credit, the paperwork needs, energy costs and raw materials.

The government announced Friday that talks are about to begin with the goal of a free trade treaty. The  Cámara de Industrias said that the opening of commerce with Colombia should be carefully analyzed. Many of its members see such a trade treaty as a grave threat, it said.

The two countries are not complementary but competitors, the chamber said.

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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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Riteve gets 10 more years
to inspect nation's vehicles


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry had renewed the contract of Riteve SyC S.A., the firm that provides the vehicle inspections.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the firm has not had a single complaint for failing to fulfill its contract. In addition, the state will take over the company's$25 million in property and machinery at the end of the 10-year extension.

There have been calls to allow other firms offer the same services. But the transport ministry said that not having an interruption in inspections was in the country's best interest. In addition, it said some 500 families depend on a member having a job with Riteve.

The company will allow its rates to be fixed by the country's regulating agency instead of by the ministry. The company had complained that it was not getting  sufficient return. Some motorists claimed their vehicles were being rejected initially so that Riteve could collect a reinspection fee.

The company also agreed to build permanent facilities in some of the areas where motorists are now serviced by a mobil inspection facility.


Day begins with light rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central Valley experienced several waves of rainstorms Sunday night and early Monday, but the weather institute said that conditions in the beginning of the week would be highly local.

The Instituto Metorológico Nacional said Monday would be another hot day  giving way with isolated showers over the national territory and the south Pacific

On the other hand, Monday has an 80 percent chance of rain with 60 percent Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Weather Underground, Inc., which provides the forecast for A.M. Costa Rica.

 
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
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A Santo Domingo municipal employee works at the Asociacion Domingeña de Gestion Ambiental where recycling is a profitable venture.

Plenty of trash
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Santo Domingo recycling program scores a limited success
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A voluntary recycling project where residents can drop their cans, bottles, and paper products is running in Santo Domingo de Heredia and is capturing a substantial share of the recyclables in the municipality’s solid waste.

For the month of May, 35 tons of material were removed from the waste stream, according to figures provided by project coordinator Guillermo Umaña. The total value of the materials sold on to various middlemen and larger recycling projects was 1.9 million colons, roughly enough to cover the salaries of the five people working to sort the recyclables.

This also saves the municipality about one day’s worth of tipping fees at the La Carpio landfill. At 8,000 colons per ton, that would be another 280,000 colons per month. Some fuel to truck that garbage can also be subtracted from overall costs.

A study in 2005 found that organics make up the majority of Santo Domingo’s domestic waste at 69 percent by weight. Other non-recyclables total about 17 percent, then white paper, newspaper, boxboard, and corrugated cardboard about 2 percent each. Recyclable categories including steel, HDPE plastic, PET plastic, glass, and tetra/waxed cardboard registered 1 percent each. Small amounts of aluminum complete the useful component.

This was for strictly residential waste. Commercial pickup includes more white paper and corrugated, according to studies elsewhere The total amount of recyclables in Santo Domingo’s waste flow would be about 14 percent. At 35 tons of waste collected each work day, that is about 100-110 tons of recyclables per month. Five tons of the total collected at the center in May was unrecyclable plastic which is taken away by the cement company Holcim for fuel in its kiln in Cartago with no compensation. Thirty tons still means 25 to 30 percent of the total recyclables produced in Santo Domingo are captured by the project.

This is a large amount considering that recycling is a new concept to most Costa Ricans.

The Paseo de las Flores mall in Heredia also has set up a recycling program consisting of pairs of labeled bins
trash bins
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Mall trash bins are not very clear.

throughout the mall and in the food court. Operations manager Gustavo Ugalde indicated that cooperation on the part of visitors is very low, and ordinary trash ends up in both sides. In the case of the areas away from restaurants, this is a minor problem as the recyclable bottles, cans, and cups can be quickly sorted.

Where food scraps are a major part of the waste flow, the situation is more complicated. In the food court (17 locations) a relatively small number of customers actually bus their tables, so the cleaning staff can sort the recyclables. Since most paper gets wet or contaminated by food, the main criteria for usable recyclables is that it be “uncontaminated” as a sign on the bins states. This is not too clear. “Customers don’t even look” said cleaning manager Carlos Núñez, as a teenager dumped a tray of hamburger wrappers into the recycling bin.

Ultimately, the staff separates waxed cups, plastic bottles, and a small number of aluminum cans which become a source of income for the mall’s waste disposal contractor, along with used cooking oil for biodiesel. Other businesses produce some paper. Cardboard recycling was done previous to this arrangement as a fund-raiser for the mall employees’ solidarity association. Overall, the mall produces about seven tons of waste per day not counting the cardboard, with the food court producing about 60 percent of that, said Ugalde. The Mas x Menos supermarket at the mall has its own pickup service, which would also include cardboard recycling. Removal of recyclables as per the present system reduces the total garbage output of the mall very little.


Ruta 32 reopened after 1,600 tons of rock and dirt removed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Highway workers managed to reopen Ruta 32 Friday morning at the point where 1,600  tons of rock and dirt fall onto the two-lane roadway.

The slide happened early Wednesday,  The route is a key one because it connects the Central Valley to the northern zone and the Caribbean coast.

The section still represents a danger. Some of the rocks that fell were the size of automobiles. So the  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said it will continue to monitor the site. This is the first time there was a slide in this area.

Much of the section of the highway through Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo is on a shelf road with towering cliffs to one side and a steep drop off to the other. Rain makes driving there dangerous
highway open
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
Workman views the reopened section of the highway.

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The bottles are Cruz Blanca, Big Cola, Fanta, Inca Cola, Milory and another version of Big Cola.  The chips in front are plain Pringles to clean the Pallet of taste testers.


colas on parade
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

New entry Inca Cola fairs well in evaluation by young experts
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With the arrival of Inca Cola to the Costa Rican soft drink market, A.M. Costa Rica has compared it to the existing competitors so readers don’t have to. A team of experts subjected the products to careful scrutiny and passed judgment on the four main competitors in the kolita class.

Inca Cola is “the pride of Peru,” preferred by many there to regular colas, like the one in the hourglass bottle, on a nationalistic basis. It isn’t actually a cola in taste, but instead a sweet drink originally flavored with jamaica or hibiscus flowers. It is now available in Supermercados Unidos outlets like Mas X Menos and Walmart, imported in bottled form.

The equivalent locally produced kolita beverages are products sold alongside orange or grape flavored sodas in most any supermarket or neighborhood pulpería.

The Coca Cola product is called Fanta and is sold mostly in bottles. The company which is widely considered the most valuable brand in the world doesn’t need much introduction.

Pepsi for this line is represented by Florida Ice & Farm, the monopoly brewer in Costa Rica. The kolita product is called Milory.

Also from Peru originally is Big Cola, which broke into the Costa Rican market in 2004 despite considerable resistance from the established multinationals, who were eventually accused before Costa Rica’s competition commission of using spurious environmental complaints against the new entrant. Big Cola made its mark with large bottles aimed at the lower socio-economic strata, with minimal amounts of syrup and bottles about as thin as is possible by blow molding PET plastic. These were sold at small neighborhood stores until the company eventually reached all the supermarket chains.

Once established in the market, an additional bottling line allowed Big Cola to add other presentations of different bottle sizes. Representatives of Big Cola claimed they are the reason other companies have changed to 3-liter sizes and also the return of the smurf bottle from Coke, according to news reports. Big Cola’s different sized bottles have different descriptions, with some saying strawberry, some jamaica, and some just red. Jamaica wasn’t located for the study.

An additional market participant is Cruz Blanca, with a carbonated version of the cola syrup that can be purchased to make refrescos. The taste-testers’ grandmother has been known to subject chan, a seed that looks like frogs’ eggs when soaked in water, to this treatment producing a savagely sweet refresco. Cola syrup is also the red fluid that is often put on shaved-ice copos. Cruz Blanca’s pop seems only to be available in Periféricos supermarkets in a small bottle.

The Euromonitor market research company has overall consumption of carbonated soft drinks in Costa Rica at just under $500 million, with Coca Cola at 70 percent, Pepsi at 18 percent, and Big Cola most of the remainder. These figures are from 2010.

Test subjects were a Costa Rican/U.S. duel national male, 12 years old, and another female aged 8. Both have a known
Cola experts
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
The panel of cola experts

penchant for sweets. They tasted each brand and were asked leading questions about its aroma, sweetness and strength, bouquet, and amount of carbonation. The palate was cleansed with plain Pringles between samples. Expectoration was not allowed. The experts considered the appearance in a glass and the presentation of the product itself.

All six samples were chilled overnight. Service was in a small water glass.

Fanta was essentially the benchmark to which others were compared. It scored intermediate in the important factors, being sweet with moderate carbonation and orangey color. 

Milory is stronger and sweeter, mostly due to less carbonation and is less brightly colored also. One tester described the taste as “rotten strawberry.”

Inca was scored high on flavor and carbonation with a much fruitier bouquet, evoking lemon or banana. Inca Cola has a bright yellow color which some might associate with dehydration after a long hike in the Peruvian coastal deserts, as opposed to the red of the other brands. This could have been a cause of bias.

The Cruz Blanca product was considered little more than a watered down version of the syrup with hardly any carbonation. One tester described it as “weird” and both noted a slight salty or bitter taste.

Two different presentations of Big Cola were tried, strawberry and just red. Nobody detected any hint of strawberry in either. Both experts said the red had little taste. Red has some more carbonation while the strawberry has “little, little, little” gas.

Big Cola is the regional partner of the Barcelona football team, with some players on the labels. Uniforms show the old Unicef promotion before the team sold out to a Qatari consortium as part of the conspiracy to have the 2020 World Cup there. The two presentations don’t show the same players however, as red has Villa, Puyols, former coach Pep Guardiola, Messi, and Iniesta, while fresa has Villa, Puyols, Messi, Pedro, and goalkeeper Valdez.

Adults present detected a slightly bitter aftertaste to both Big Cola products but found them barely distinguishable. With Inka the most palatable, adults generally find all of the tested products to taste like bubblegum.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 120
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Haiti making headway,
prime minister reports


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe says his country is making headway two-and-a-half years after an earthquake claimed the lives of 300,000 people and left 1.5 million others homeless. 

In a recent interview, Lamothe said that the government has moved 250,000 people out of tents they had been living in and relocated them to homes, but he admits more still needs to be done. 

The magnitude 7.0 quake on Jan. 12, 2010 reduced dozens of government and private buildings to rubble within 25 kilometers of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.  In two weeks, the government will begin construction on a new building for the ministry of interior and the ministry of commerce. 

The prime minister explained that the commerce ministry was chosen because the government wants the world to know Haiti is open for business.

Haiti is getting help from the United States to build 5,000 homes and develop an industrial park that is expected to generate 40,000 jobs. The country has also begun infrastructure improvements to replace more than 40 percent of the roads.  Lamonthe says the government has waived tuition for more than 1 million schoolchildren as part of a poverty reduction program that will also assist parents.  

Haiti has received 48 percent of its pledges from international donors.  The Haitian prime minister says the government is working with donors on remaining pledges.

The country is also working aggressively to eradicate corruption.  Lamothe said more than 43 people have been arrested in the first three weeks of the latest anti-corruption initiative. 

Haiti has also struggled to control cholera outbreaks, but Prime Minister Lamothe said the most recent outbreak is under control and work is ongoing to completely stamp it out.


Argentina's president seeks
talks on fate of the Falklands


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Cristina Fernández of Argentina used the 30th anniversary of the end of the Falkland Islands conflict to demand that Britain begin formal talks with her country on the fate of the disputed archipelago.

Ms. Fernández made the demand Thursday during an appearance at the United Nations Decolonization Committee. She accused Britain of abusing its position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, but insisted Argentina did not want any more wars over the islands, which are referred to in Argentina as the Malvinas.

"We are just asking to talk," Ms. Fernández said. "We are not asking to be said that we are right, told we are right. We are just asking to talk. We are not asking for anyone to say 'yes, the Malvinas are Argentina's.' We are asking for no more no less than to sit down at a table and talk."

But two legislators from the Falklands attending the meeting accused Ms. Fernández of using bullying tactics to win control of the archipelago, and said the island would determine its own fate through a referendum it plans to hold next year. The Falkland lawmakers attempted to present a letter to Ms. Fernández offering to hold talks with her, but no one in her large delegation would accept it.

Britain says it will not discuss the Falklands's future with Argentina, saying it is up to the island's residents to determine their future. 

Argentina and Britain engaged in a 74-day war after Argentina invaded the remote South Atlantic islands, which ended with Argentina withdrawing from the islands.  About 650 Argentinean and 255 British military personnel died in the conflict.

The Falklands have been a self-governing British territory since the 1982 war.


Africa becomes a player
in world's drug trade


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say Mexican drug cartels are playing an increasing role in trafficking illicit drugs in Africa. Anti-drug officials say the cartels increasingly use Africa as a conduit for illegal drugs.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials say their investigations indicate a growing number of chemicals used to produce illegal drugs for cartels in Mexico have been coming from African traffickers.

They say Mexican drug cartels now have documented links to criminal groups in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Jeff Breeden, the chief of the drug agency's Africa section, says he has witnessed the growing trend himself.

“We haven’t identified specific cartel activity in Africa. We’ve identified Mexicans in Africa, and we know they are affiliated with cartels. We just haven’t put it together,” Breeden said.

In the past, Mexican and South American drug operations extended as far across the Atlantic as West Africa, which served as a staging point for drugs smuggled north to Europe.  But a growing number of joint DEA and local police operations in recent years have shown drug trafficking operations reaching farther east across sub-Saharan Africa.

In a DEA report presented to the U.S. Senate in May, officials in Pretoria, South Africa, say police intercepted a shipment of chemicals used to make illegal drugs destined for a group of Mexican nationals operating out of Maputo, Mozambique.

Further investigation led to the arrest of three Mexicans and one Nigerian operating out of a Mozambique residence.

DEA officials said they believe nine of the largest drug trafficking organizations in South America and Mexico have operations in Africa. Breeden says the concern among drug enforcement agents is that Africa may grow into a central transit point for the cartels.

“There were several large seizures. One in Kenya, and one in the DRC, where a Mexican was identified at the time. The pseudoephedrine was transiting and being repackaged in Africa, and then forwarded to Mexico or Central America for processing into methamphetamine, and ended up on the streets in the U.S,” Breeden said. Using initials for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The growing number of illegal drug operations in Africa forced the DEA to increase its efforts, opening multiple offices across sub-Saharan Africa. In January the agency opened an office in Nairobi, with plans to open one in Senegal and a few other locations within several years.

Breeden says the DEA is reacting to a threat in Africa that is coming from all over the world.

“We’ve seen in the past several years heroin coming from Afghanistan, transiting both East Africa, South Africa, and West Africa, and a lot of that is destined to the United States," Breeden said.

Breeden says Africa’s porous borders, under-trained law enforcement and corruption problem create prime ground for illegal organizations to operate freely.
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Quakes within 6 minutes
had different origins


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two quakes within six minutes of each other came from difference sources, said geological experts.

The first was at 12:21 p.m. Sunday about 22 kilometers (14 miles)  south of Jacó  and 52 kilometers (32 miles) west of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio.  The intensity was strongest in Jacó. The estimated epicenter was in the Pacific ocean.

The Red Sismológica Nacional attributed this quake to the subduction of the Coco tectonic plate under the lighter Caribbean plate on which Costa Rica rides. The magnitude was estimated at 3.8.

The second quake was at 12:27 p.m. had an epicenter estimated to be some 5 kilometers northeast of  San Isidro de Coronado. The cause, according to the Red  Sismológica Nacional, was a local fault. The magnitude was 3.8, said the Red.

Red Sismológica Nacional said that it is common for quakes form various sources to take place on the same day. The country averages 18 quakes a day but most are not felt by humans, the Red said.


Grecia expats planning
independence event


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Grecia hosts its second annual Independence Day Fiesta for Sunday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Th event is organized by a group of expats and their Costa Rican neighbors who said the purpose is  to celebrate U.S. independence with American foods, live music and dance, and much more, and to give back to the community.
 
The event again will be at the Quinta Real recreation center in San Francisco de San Isidro de Grecia. Everyone is invited, no passports needed for entry.

The day's activities include swimming, fútbol, raffles, silent auction, along with vendors of everything from local art to baked goods to hot coffee, said organizers. Besides all-American hot dogs and hamburgers with all the trimmings and sides, the menu also includes ice cold soft drinks and beer, they said. All foods and beverages are reasonably priced. Ample free parking is provided. The U.S. Embassy is hosting a voter registration drive. Those who seek to register to vote will need their U.S. passport, the organizers said.
 
Admission at the gate is 1,500 colons ($3) or 500 colons ($1) for children 12 and younger. All profits benefit the Fundación de Amigos Griegos Hoy por Ti (Friends of Grecia Foundation – For You Today!), whose goal is to assist members of the Grecia community who have fallen through the cracks and need a helping hand, said organizers. For more information, those interested can call 2444-7861 or email azbelle72@gmail.com, or visit the Facebook page.










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