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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, June 22, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 122           E-mail us
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Arenal seismic activity
Red Sismológica Nacional graphic
Graph shows the average of seismic activity based on 15-day averages since 2007
Experts think that it may be bedtime for Arenal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Is Arenal volcano running out of steam.

That is the question on many lips, especially those of persons with a large investment in tourism in the La Fortuna de San Carlos area near the mountain.

That the mountain would enter a dormant stage is not a surprise to experts who note that the volcano has been perking along throwing out hot rocks and lava for more than four decades. It is one of the premier tourism attractions in Costa Rica, and one estimate is that 80 percent of the real tourists here visit the area.

There are good reasons. There is nothing better than wallowing in a hot swimming pools after sunset with an elbow on a swim-up bar while nursing one of those foamy drinks with the little umbrella. In the distance molten rocks tumble down the mountain and lava splashes upwards.

The mountain has reduced its activity significant since last October, according to vulcanologists at the Red Sismológica Nacional, part of the Universidad de Costa Rica. The mountain is about 7,000 years old and seems to have phases of activity of from 200 to 600 years.

The volcano woke up violently with the tragic 1968 eruption that sent rocks the size of Volkswagens miles in all directions and destroyed much of the area livestock, agricultural land and several communities.

The mountain has been among the top 20 most active volcanos in the world. Since 1968 the mountain has spewed out more than a half a cubic kilometers of lava, the university experts said they
estimated. That is enough to build a road around the earth four times, they said.

Experts track a volcano's activity by the local earthquakes that frequently are continual. In the case of Arenal, these movements have decreased to nothing, the experts said. The volcanologists Gerardo J. Soto, Mauricio Mora and Guillermo E. Alvarado, have been tracking Arenal for 20 years.

They said the tourism operations in the area are likely to continue offering quality service to visitors and that the Lake Arenal nearby also is an attraction. They also warned that the mountain is unpredictable.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional seconds that opinion. In a separate report, the observatory commented on a silver object, believed to be a cross, that someone erected on a dormant crater at the peak of Arenal about 300 meters from the active crater. It noted that the mountain can throw out blocks of rock some two kilometers from the summit. based on existing impact craters, and that approaching the peak can be fatal.

Some 101 persons have died as a result of Arenal activity in the modern era. Among these are a mother and child who inhaled toxic gases when they approached the volcano too closely in 2000.

The observatory said that the apparent quiet state of the volcano should not encourage tour guides and visitors to approach too closely. The volcano can spew out gases in any direction from its flanks if the active crater is sealed. And many of the slopes are unstable just waiting to tumble, it said. There is a map that shows the restricted area around the volcano.

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Calls for time are four digits,
telecom officials stress

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even if it is an emergency for you to find out the time, officials hope you will not call 911 or 112. Hundreds do, and that ties up the emergency service telephones.

The problem is that the telephone number to obtain the correct time has been changed as of Jan. 11. The correct number for the service provided by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is 1112. The numbers became four digits to accommodate the future private telephone companies.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones issued the reminder Tuesday.

Sustainable tourism session
planned in Santa Clara

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is sponsoring a two-day session on sustainable tourism starting today in the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Santa Clara de San Carlos. About 150 persons are expected to attend.

Attendances is free, and a fair showcasing the products and services of the area is being set up by the business people who are participating, the tourism institute said.

Also expected to attend are government representatives from Upala, Los Chiles, Guatuso, Sarapiquí, San Carlos, Tilirán and Zarcero, said the institute.

Our reader's opinion
Now its global cooling
that appears to be a threat

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I'm amused at the way the media eases in to a potentially major scientific revelation that, according to some experts of the American Astronomical Society, earth is on a cycle of a mini-ice age.  In other words:  Fading sunspots suggest years of impending cold, going so far as "to balance out the negative atmospheric effects of global warming suffered by our planet due to manmade greenhouse gases."  Psssst!  Don't anyone tell Al Gore and other global warming gurus their scam is over.

The "easing" part comes with your article titled:  "Climate change linked to ocean currents in new study," which is explained in the recent discovery of solar activity to effect a missing jet stream and a cooling cycle which is now upon us and due to continue until 2019  (an 11-year cycle).  This is NOW news, not tomorrow's news.

While scientists (and not the kind like "Hide the Decline"  Michael Mann) figure out the full impact and how to inform the public of a potentially serious climate change in the opposite direction of global warming, countries should probably rethink the advantages of petrol-run cars over hybrids and increasing CO2 emissions, not decreasing them.

Ain't it a bummer when Mother Natures shows us exactly who is in charge of the planet?  Kind of humbling to realize we are just annoying gnats in the grand scheme. 

Mary Jay

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 HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 122

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Tax plan is reborn with some revisions to speed passage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government sent a revised tax plan to the legislature Tuesday. The proposal contains some changes that are expected to attract more votes from lawmakers.

The plan still is to collect $1 billion more a year in taxes, mostly from the 20 percent of the population that is engaged
in commerce and investments. That amount represents about 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product of the country. The central government is running an annual deficit of more than
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twice that at 5.5 percent or about $2.2 billion.

The plan is similar to that which has been presented previously, including a proposal for a 14 percent value added tax to replace the 13 percent sales tax.

The value added tax would be broadened to include professional services like that of lawyers, physicians and medical practitioners. The tax also would be assessed on education and medical services. However, the new plan reduces tax on hospital services and exempts the first 110,000 colons a month in tuition at private schools.

Casa Presidencial said that the government is running a loss estimated at $2.6 million a day. The government supports 22 ministries, including a sports ministry that is in the process of being created. The budget also supports other branches of government.

The new text increases to 233 the number of basic food products that would be exempt from taxation. That had been expected because some lawmakers complained about the limited number of exempted food product.

The government presentation likened the current situation to a home where the expenses were greater than the income and the family has to rely on ever-increasing credit card debt. The proposal also said that the nations' independent institutions probably do not have high reserves, and many that do are safeguarding their money to compete in open markets. Critics had suggested that these reserves be tapped to help the central government.

The proposal would not take effect for at least six months after passage, it said.
Some other aspects of the proposals:

*Anyone earnings 1 million colons or less a month will pay no taxes. That is about 85 percent of workers.

* Small businesses will pay just 25 percent on their net income.

* Certain investment benefit will be eliminated because these benefit 5 percent of the population, but pension funds will continue to receive special tax treatment.

* Investment income that now is tax free will be taxed at 15 percent.

* The government also will seek to tax foreign individuals and firms that operate in Costa Rica. These would pay 15percent on gross earnings here. The government used an example of a foreign bank that makes loans to Costa Ricans. Costa Rican banks now pay a 30 percent income tax but on net earnings.

* Private school tuition will be taxed above 110,000 colons a month, a bit more than $200.

* Hospital services that had been proposed to be taxed at 14 percent would be taxed 10 percent.

Some 30 legislative deputies voted to substitute the new text for the existing one. Now the whole package goes back to committee for discussion and possible amendments. There is no guarantee that the legislature will pass a tax bill, but President Laura Chinchilla's Partido Liberación Nacional holds 24 seats in the assembly and just 29 votes are needed to pass a bill.

Meanwhile the Ministerio de Hacienda and its tax-collecting Dirección General de Tributación is trying to increase compliance.

One advantage of the new proposal is that the tax on professionals like lawyers and physicians could be used to estimate their annual income. That way the government could see if the professionals underpay their income tax.

The Chinchilla administration has labeled the tax proposals as a step to increase citizen security. But other than hiring hundreds more street policemen there have been no concrete proposals.

More downpours and lightning predicted for this afternoon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy thunderstorms swept through the Central Valley again Tuesday with accompanying lightning.

The downpours and the electrical discharges lasted until mid-evening.

 The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the same can be expected for today all over the country.

Another one of those tropical waves is about to pass over, and this will reinforce the usual afternoon instability, said the weather service.

The last such wave also caused heavy downpours and killer lightning. Three persons died Saturday from lightning strikes, and officials have renewed the traditional warnings and urged person to stay out from under trees and bus
shelters during thunderstorms.

Two of the dead were men who chose to finish their soccer game at Parque la Sabana instead of seeking shelter.

An estimated 3,000 bolts rained down from the sky in the Central Valley Saturday. Places like Quepos get 50,000 lightning strikes a year, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which follows such developments due to its electrical web.

There were brief outages during Tuesday's storm in some sections of the metro area. So the best advice for today is to carry a good umbrella, but not one with a metal shaft.

Meanwhile the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Beatriz has dissipated and turned to the west. The storm is in the Pacific off México, and at one time had hurricane force winds.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 122

CR Home

Cell tower foes are meeting this morning to plan strategy

By the A.M. Costa Rica

Cell telephone towers are rapidly becoming a political issue.

José María Villalta, the legislator representing the left-wing Frente Amplio, is among those hosting a meeting of those persons who live in communities that are affected by tower construction.

Also expected to talk is Claudio Monge, who is a legislator with the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

The towers are being built by the two private firms, one Mexican and the other Spanish, that won concessions.
The meeting is at 10 a.m. today in the auditorium of the
legislature in San José. The goal is to plan a strategy, an announcement said

The current cell telephone system belongs to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. As a government agency, it did not have to petition municipalities to build towers. But private firms do, and some residents oppose them. Some municipalities do not even have laws on the books to permit the approval of tower construction.

Frente Amplio and Acción Ciudadana oppose concessions in principle and also have many supporters in the public sector. If the companies do not build enough towers to service a required percentage of citizens, they stand the chance of losing their concessions.

Energy giant appears to put Costa Rica on notice over oil

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. energy firm created a stir in Costa Rica when it issued a press release Monday that said its subsidiary was about to get a concession contract from the Costa Rican government.

This is the controversial plan by the subsidiary,  Mallon Oil Co., to drill exploratory wells at three points in the northern zone.

The parent company, Black Hills Exploration & Production, Inc., noted that it purchased Mallon in 2003. Its subsidiary here is working with the Costa Rican government to obtain execution of an oil and gas lease concession contract to allow for exploration of approximately 2.3 million acres of land in northern Costa Rica, it said.

Environmental activists here are strongly opposed to any exploration. So are some political parties.
President Laura Chinchilla said she favors natural gas exploration but not petroleum.

Recent news reports from Costa Rica have indicated that the concession contract may be executed, necessitating a comment from the company, said Black Hills.

“Mallon Oil Company began working to obtain this concession in 1999, and we have continued that
effort since acquiring Mallon in 2003,” said David R. Emery, chairman, president and chief executive
officer of Black Hills Corp., as quoted in the press release “For years, it did not appear the concession contract would be executed, but now there is a reasonable possibility that the concession contract may be executed by the Costa Rican government this year. Upon successful execution of the concession contract, Black Hills will develop
plans regarding the property and disclose more information as appropriate.”
In 1998, the Costa Rican government invited all oil and gas companies to submit competitive bids for
oil and gas lease concessions within the country pursuant to the hydrocarbon laws of Costa Rica, Black Hills noted. In 1999, Mallon Oil Co., through its wholly owned subsidiary Mallon Oil, Sucursal, submitted bids for six
separate tracts collectively covering approximately 2.3 million acres in the northern portion of Costa Rica, it added.

After a thorough analysis of the bid proposals, all six bids from Mallon Oil, Sucursal, were accepted and
awarded in 2000 and are subject to execution of the concession contract, the company continued. Throughout the entire process, Mallon Oil, Sucursal, has met all legal requirements necessary to preserve its rights under the concession while the government of Costa Rica has followed its laws and procedures applicable to execution of the final concession contract, it said.

The company made no mention of the fact that Mallon was tied up in court here for 11 years by legal filings by environmental activists.

Black Hills serves 762,000 natural gas and electric utility customers in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, the company said.

Black Hill is a New York Stock Exchange-listed company. As such it has certain legal obligations to disclose material facts to the public. However some here took the press release as the company putting Costa Rica on notice that it no longer was dealing with a small Denver energy firm but a major player in the energy field.

Under the U.S. free trade treaty with Costa Rica, Black Hills can request international arbitration and compensation if the concession is not granted.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 122

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Race is on to develop
effective malaria shot

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More than 2 million people die of malaria each year - a child every 45 seconds - with 90 percent of the cases in sub-Saharan Africa. That's why so much importance is placed on developing an effective vaccine.

Organic farmers in Africa complain that insecticides used to control mosquitos that carry the malaria parasite contaminate their crops and hurt sales.  And a Ugandan nurse says the insecticide of choice is no longer effective.

"It was realized that the mosquito had already developed resistance against the DDT," said Sam Dick Kale.

So in malaria-prone regions, bed nets treated with insecticides, and drug treatment, also are used. That has helped to cut the number of cases nearly in half, but some 800,000 Africans still die from malaria each year, most of them children under 5.

Dr. Christian Loucq explains the challenges facing vaccine researchers. He is director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative that's conducting human trials in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It is difficult to develop a malaria vaccine because we are dealing with a complex organism, a parasite which has many, many components and that parasite organism can change, it’s very versatile," said Loucq. "It’s quite difficult to develop immunity against that parasite.”

Loucq is hopeful the World Health Organization will approve the new vaccine by 2015.

“It will reduce the number of times a child is going to have malaria, clinical malaria, and it means reducing the number of opportunities for that child to die from malaria," he said.

The Malaria Vaccine Initiative also is trying to develop a second generation vaccine to prevent mosquitos from carrying the malaria parasite.

"Once the mosquito will come to take the blood meal  - the mosquito will take the antibodies that are going to stop the cycle in the mosquito," said Loucq. "Therefore the mosquito will not be in a position to transmit malaria to another child, and that would be a fantastic way to stop the transmission of malaria."

Loucq says the new vaccine, called RTS,S, will be a major step toward getting rid of malaria. But for that to happen, he says, greater investment in research will be essential.

U.S. out to seek revenge
on Panama's soccer team

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. men's soccer team is set for a rematch against Panamá tonight at the Gold Cup regional tournament being hosted by the United States. At stake this time is a berth in the semifinals. 

Panamá stunned the United States, 2-1, in first round group play June 11. It was the first time the U.S. had ever lost to Panamá in 10 matches, and it ended a 26-game unbeaten streak for the U.S. men in first round Gold Cup play.

Three days later, after the Americans beat tiny Guadeloupe by only 1-0, and Coach Bob Bradley allowed two of his star players to leave three days of training to attend their sisters' weddings, the team found itself on the receiving end of a lot of criticism.

Much of that subsided after a 2-0 win over Jamaica Sunday in Washington that sent the U.S. into the semifinals, which will be played in Houston.

There the Americans will get a chance for revenge against Panamá, which advanced with a penalty kick shootout win over El Salvador.

The U.S. soccer team has reached four of the past five Gold Cup finals and can make it five of six with a win over Panamá. The other semifinal, also Wednesday in Houston, features defending champion México against Honduras. The semifinal winners meet for the title Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

This biennial Gold Cup has more than just regional football bragging rights at stake this year. The winner earns a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil that serves as a tune-up event one year before the next World Cup.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 122

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Silvia Bolaños, executive director of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial, the road safety agency, hands out information flyer near Juan Santamaría airport Tuesday.

This week is dedicated
to safety on highways

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials have embarked on the 22nd  Semana de Seguridad Vial to raise awareness of road safety.

Students were out marching Tuesday, and an information fairs are planned for today at schools in Pérez Zeledón, Puntarenas, San Carlos and Pococí.

There also will be more distribution of information material today on the Circunvalación near Parque de la Paz at 9 a.m. In addition police will be \enforcing seat belt laws and laws related to having special seats for children.

A similar distribuion of informational material took place Tuesday near Juan Santamaría airport with a number of transport officials participating, including César Quirós, director of the Policía de Tránsito.

Suspect gave himself away

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A drug suspect gave himself away `monday night when he tried to evade judicial agents and then jumped from his vehicle and tried to flee.

The man, identified by the last names of  Venegas Ovares, left behind what agents said was 47.5 kilos of marijuana. The incident took place in  Santo Domingo de Heredia about 7:30 p.m., agents said.

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