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A faulty pipe fails and creates a gigantic mess
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A unique series of circumstances Wednesday turned the Central Valley road network into a parking lot, made tourists miss their flights home and led to the cancellation of classes today and tomorrow at many schools.

The initial cause was a 30-year-old galvanized corrugated steel culvert that collapsed under the westbound lanes of the General Cañas highway at Los Arcos.

The ensuing traffic jam resulted in delays of up to two hours, significant loses in product deliveries and embarrassed the  Cámara de Industrias de Costa Rica with a pall of vehicle exhaust over the Central Valley. The chamber is holding a two-day environmental conference.

Crews were working last night to erect a bailey bridge over the hole but it was unlikely that they would finish by morning rush hour. An attempt to smash through the concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes failed Wednesday afternoon when workmen ran into utility lines there.

Transport officials suggested alternate routes, such as the one through Heredia and Ruta 27, the Caldera highway. But these highways filled up quickly and contributed to the jam. In addition there was a truck accident on Ruta 32 that goes north from San José. Motorists were using that route to go into northern Heredia and then west.

For today, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes is prohibiting trucks during peak hours and giving special consideration to buses. Bus stops near the problem area also are suspended.

The highway began to give way late Tuesday. The resulting round hole has a 20-foot diameter and is about 12 feet deep. Highway workers will have to excavate much more soil to make the repair because they will have to replace the offending drainage system. Transport officials said Wednesday that the pipe should have been replaced sooner. Rains drove a tree trunk into the pipe to cause the collapse, said officials.

Late Wednesday traffic police were channeling automobiles off the General Cañas Highway at the Juan Pablo Secundo bridge at the La Uruca traffic circle and directing them through Heredia. That is the same route that was being used at night while workers resurfaced the westbound lanes. Buses and trucks were allowed to travel a little further before being diverted.

The traffic plan still is a work in progress, and what motorists will confront this morning still is uncertain. Much depends on progress with the bridge, which arrived disassembled on three flatbed trailers. The transport ministry also said workers were attempting to set up one westbound lane on the eastbound side of the highway. Utility workers had been called to reroute the various pipes and cables. That job was supposed to be finished by 5 a.m. today giving some relief to the detours.

When the peak traffic hour arrived Wednesday morning the operative word was chaos. There were not enough traffic policemen to handle the diversion, and motorists had to fend for themselves. One taxi driver said he spent an extra two hours taking a fare to Juan Santamaría airport Wednesday morning.

The  Cámara Nacional de Turismo issued a statement Wednesday urging special consideration for airport-bound traffic.

The chamber reported that a United Airlines flight
Super Marios
 The humor site El Infierno de Costa Rica did not
 wait long before publishing touched up photos.
 One showed Óscar Arias Sánchez cutting a ribbon
 as if to inaugurate the big hole on the highway.
 Here the Super Mario Brothers celebrate.

Area schools closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public schools in the following areas have no classes today or tomorrow, and students, staff and teachers get to start the mid-year vacation two days early. Classes resume July 16 for all public schools.

In San Jose's central canton: Merced, Catedral, Hospital, Carmen, La Uruca, Pavas, Mata Redonda;
In the canton of Goicoechea: Guadalupe and Calle Blancos;

In the canton of Moravia: Moravia central;

Also public schools in Escazú, Santa Ana, Tibás, Alajuela Centro, Heredia, including Santo Domingo, San Isidro, Barva, San Rafael, Santa Bárbara, Belén, Flores, San Pablo.

Some private schools on the U.S. calendar already are on break. Others announce their closings on radio or television.

to Houston left at 11:45 a.m. without 40 passengers having checked in. Taca reported it delayed some flights to accommodate passengers

The chamber requested that the Dirección General de Policía de Tránsito set up a special route for drivers carrying tourists. The chamber said that tourists and other air travelers could present their passports to show they really were going to the airport. The traffic police have not yet responded to that request.

Traffic officials said that the highway handles some 100,000 vehicles a day.

The detours include travel on Ruta 27, the Caldera highway, to Belén or on the  northbound Braulio Carrillo highway, Ruta 32, to Tibás and then to Santo Domingo de Heredia.

The routes through Heredia, either from the  Braulio Carrillo or  from the detour at the Juan Pablo Secundo bridge are two-lane and pass thought urban areas, There also is construction on the west end of the detour and even concrete barriers standing unmarked in the middle of the road.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles announced it was starting rail service earlier today at 5 a.m. and beginning the afternoon service at 3 p.m., also earlier than usual. Trains run from  San José to Heredia Centro and the length of the valley from Belén to Curridabat.

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President defends officials
who wrote recommendations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has come to the defense of a minister and a vice president who have been accused of ethical lapses.

Ms. Chinchilla, in a statement, said Wednesday that Vice Presdient Luis Liberman and  Leonardo Garnier, minister of Educación Pública did not make grave ethical errors.

The president did so after the  Procuraduría de la Ética issued a report saying that they did.

Both men wrote letters of recommendation so that a company operated by the wife of another minister would be considered for a contract with the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, the state petroleum monopoly.

The firm, Procesos, is controlled by the wife for the former minister of Hacienda. The woman also was an aide to the president. There have been no indications that the firm did anything illegal to win a contract, but the Spanish-language daily La Nación disclosed that the high officials wrote letters that were presented to the refinery.

The release from the president said that both Liberman and  Garnier acted in good faith.

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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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 28, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 128
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Those who attend July 4 picnic will have a parking option nearby
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To overcome the problem of traffic jams and lack of parking spaces, the American Colony Committee has set up an off-site parking area and a bus shuttle for those who attend the July 4 picnic west of San José.

The site is next to the Avis rental car headquarters in Belén. The Cervercería picnic grounds has limited parking, and visitors have parked in nearby fields in the past. Some visitors had to park on the highway and exit ramps, but that is being discouraged this year.
The picnic is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and traffic police are sure to be on the General Cañas highway in the early afternoon to snag any expats who consumed too much of the free beer.

A bus stop is on the highway about 200 yards from the entry for the benefit of those who may take a taxi to the picnic but will need a ride back to San José.

Other details are on the committee's Web site.

A map prepared by the committee to show the location of the parking area is below.
Map to parking
American Colony Committee graphic

Investigators say cocaine ring was led by a Caja physician
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When anti-drug agents detained a woman in Río Claro de Golfito June 17, they got the information they needed to roll up an extensive cocaine smuggling operation.
The investigation culminated Wednesday with the arrest of 23 persons all over western Costa Rica. All face allegations of international drug trafficking.

The leader of the organization was identified by the last names of Ramírez Araya, a physician with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. He works at a clinic in Corredores and at the hospital in  Ciudad Neily.

The woman who was detained June 17 was identified by the last names of Martínez Martínez. She was reported to be the companion of the physician.
Judicial Investigating Organization agents conducted raids, searches and arrests in  Puntarenas, Jicaral, Lepanto, Paquera, Cóbano and Paso Canoas. Jorge Rojas, director of the judicial police said that at one location agents were confronted by a suspect who threatened them with a firearm. But no shots were fired. Agents confiscated shotguns, pistols and even an AK-47, they said.

The Poder Judicial said that the suspects were being questioned in the late afternoon by prosecutors in Puntarenas.

Agents allege that the physician used his location near the border with Panamá to import cocaine from there for the local market.

Ms. Martínez was transporting eight kilos of cocaine when she was arrested, agents said. The Poder Judicial said that the organization imported and distributed 25 kilos a week.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 28, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 128
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The basic rule of dancing salsa: Never forget to be happy
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The palm of my hands were already moist when I stepped onto the dance floor Monday night for my first salsa lesson in years.

Arriving on Tico-time, I walked into a weekly dance lesson at a language school to find about 25 fellow Gringos and Gringas had started to learn basic steps and also those of the mambo and cumbia. Just like back home in the States, the women outnumbered the men about three to one.

Although I walked in with confidence from the Latin dance lessons I had taken in the past, my German ancestors had only equipped me with a dance moves necessary for a polka and the rhythm necessary to walk in time with a march. More complicated steps and rhythms have always been a challenge.

I tiptoed past the other students into the far corner of the classroom converted into a salsa dance club. There I could catch up without being seen by the rest of the group.

“I just see feet shuffling around,” said our Tica instructor, Jessica Cascante, who appeared to be looking for a more gentle way to observe our progress on a new quickstep that she was teaching but gave up and put it bluntly.

Ms. Cascante, 23, has been dancing to seemingly every Latin rhythm since she was 13 years old, and now doubles as a dance instructor, usually out of her own home, and as a self-employed fashion designer.

Although Ms. Cascante studied to be a fashion designer, becoming a salsa teacher was something thrust upon her.

“At my 16th, I started going out with my friends, and people started asking me about classes, so I first had two or three people, then I had groups of people asking at my house about it,” she explained in an email. “So that's how I did it . . .  and people liked it.”

After an hour of teaching the steps, Ms. Cascante coupled off her students, and several more men trickled into the room.

With all of the elegance of pre-teens at a junior high dance, the men and women had been separated on two sides of the room when Ms. Cascante told them to find a partner.

I ran into a young American named Kiara and we agreed to dance together out of convenience.

“Men: place your hand firmly on her shoulder-blade and keep your elbows up,” Ms. Cascante said, looking around the room.

“No,” she said when her gaze fell on Ms. Kiara and me. “More like here,” she said as she walked over, grabbed my hand and firmly it placed on the center of Ms. Kiara’s back, pulling me six inches closer to my partner.

From there, a dozen or so couples tried to put our newly learned steps into practice with varying degrees of success.

“I need to stop trying to lead you,” Ms. Kaira told me as we attempted to move time after time.

Eventually we sought help from Ms. Cascante, who eventually began leading me in order to demonstrate the importance of keeping a firm arm to not only clearly signal to my partner where to go, but also to guide her movements.

I later learned that Ms. Cascante earned first place in the Costa Rica Salsa Open in 2010, and occasionally still competes with her partner. Her exploits on the dance floor
Salsa dancing

are plain to see by simply typing her name into a YouTube search.

After about 45 minutes, she cut the music and called for us to wrap up, but she invited all of us to come to El Observatorio in Barrio California, not her favorite place to go except on Mondays when the bar has live salsa music by Madera Nueva.

“I'm a salsa lover,” said Ms. Cascante. “So I prefer live bands.”

On weekends, she prefers Pepper Disco Club in Zapote,
where she says there are two or three salsa orchestras per night, or to the Jazz Club in San Pedro. Some of her other favorites include places like Fiesta Latina in El Pueblo, La Puerta de Alcalá in San Rafael de Heredia, Casa Zeller north of the Guacamaya traffic circle in San José, and La Rumba Disco Club in Belén.

However, for newer Gringos she recommends starting off with Salsa en Linea en Costa Rica at either the Centro de Artes Promenade or Rincón Salsero.

“It would be better to join with some people and start together if we're talking about foreigners,” she said. “I would say Pepper's is been a good spot for Gringos to meet Ticos, but it's better in groups, because normally people go there together with friends, although they're really friendly.”

As for finding good salsa music on the radio, Ms. Cascante says that Gringos and Ticos alike are out of luck except for one hour on Saturdays, starting at noon on 89.1 FM a distant second choice is 95.1.

Whether practicing at home, taking lessons with other Gringos or diving in with the locals at a club, Ms. Cascante says to practice, but more over to relax and have fun – the rest will come with time.

“Enjoy it, don't get frustrated if something doesn't look like you wish, keep trying and it will!” she said. “Practice, practice, practice, hear the music and try to feel it with your body, watch tons of videos, go out and look at people, and never forget to be happy!”

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

New York Times begins
to challenge Chinese wall

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The New York Times has launched a Chinese-language news Web site aimed at China's massive online population.

The paper said in a statement the site, which went active Thursday, it hopes to draw readers from China's growing number of educated, affluent citizens.

China has an estimated 500 million Internet users, making it the world's largest online population. But Chinese net users experience the web much differently than the rest of the world, due to a massive government censorship system that blocks content deemed objectionable.

The Times acknowledged Wednesday that government censors sometimes block material from its English Web site. But it said it was hopeful that government officials would be receptive to its Chinese-language project.

Its foreign editor Joseph Kahn said the paper has no control over what is censored by Beijing. But he vowed the Chinese version would adhere to journalistic standards, saying it will “not become an official Chinese media company.”

The Chinese government has had a rocky relationship recently with foreign reporters. In May, Al-Jazeera said it was forced to close its English-language Beijing bureau after reporter Melissa Chan was expelled from the country. Ms. Chan is believed to be the first foreign correspondent in 14 years to be kicked out of China.

Other foreign new organizations have reported being harassed or interfered with by government authorities when their material is critical of Beijing.

China employs thousands of censors that continuously monitor online content and block material considered a threat to government authority. Popular foreign websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are among those blocked by the so-called Great Firewall of China.

The government says its online censorship is aimed at maintaining social stability, and that it helps stop the spread of false rumors and inappropriate material.

California city seeking
protection with bankruptcy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Stockton, California will be the latest and largest U.S. city to seek federal bankruptcy protection.

The city council voted 6 to 1 to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, under which a judge would decide how the city would pay off its debts.

Some city residents appealed to the council not to declare bankruptcy. They say their property values would plummet. Past and present city employees fear they will lose their health benefits. But Mayor Ann Johnston and city managers say they have no choice.

The city of some 300,000 residents, about 135 kilometers east of San Francisco, is facing a $26 million budget deficit, caused, in part, by the collapse of the housing market, mismanagement and a large city workforce.

City officials already have laid off some police and firefighters to curb spending.

Ban urges peaceful end
to situation in Paraguay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging all sides in Paraguay to peacefully settle their political differences which led to the ouster of the country's president.

A spokesperson for Ban said Wednesday the U.N. chief has been concerned about the implications for democracy in the country.

The spokesperson said the secretary general welcomes the fact-finding mission by the Organization of American States heading to Paraguay.

Paraguay's Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo last week and removed him from office.  The opposition party controls both houses of Congress.

Lawmakers blame Lugo for ordering  police to evict a group of peasant farmers who were squatting on a private estate.  The farmers claimed the land was acquired illegally.  Violence broke out, leaving 11 peasants and six police officers dead.

U.N. agency asks for repairs
to Panama's historic forts

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Citing environmental factors, lack of maintenance and uncontrollable urban developments, the World Heritage Committee Wednesday  placed an historic Panamanian property on its list of endangered world heritage.

The site, Portobelo-San Lorenzo, is made up of a group of fortifications and is considered an example of 17th and 18th century military architecture built on Panama’s Caribbean coast to protect transatlantic trade.

“The Committee considered that the site, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1980, is deteriorating at a rate which could undermine the outstanding universal value for which it was inscribed,” according to a news release from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known s UNESCO.

The World Heritage Committee meets once a year, and is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, which defines the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. The Committee’s other responsibilities include the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Over more than a decade, the Committee has been asking for measures to preserve Portobelo-San Lorenzo.

During it session on Wednesday, the Committee emphasized its call for Panama to undertake a risk assessment for structure in the site and reinforce the walls, batteries and platforms of the forts. Other measures requested included the development of a comprehensive conservation plan and an end to urban encroachment on the property.

The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of threats to the outstanding universal values for which a property has been inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.
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Press group deplores pressure
against newspeople in Cuba

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has condemned a new wave of detentions and threats against Cuban independent journalists, as well as the lack of press freedom and freedom of assembly persisting in the country.

The independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press complained Monday through a video posted on its Web site of an increase in repression of its journalists. In the 12-minute video, also available on YouTube, news photographer Gerardo Younel Avila reported that he was arrested last month and again Saturday.  Editor Ernesto Aquino was summoned on June 11. Reporter Calixto R. Martínez was also detained in May, and correspondent Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez was detained on June 16 and Monday, having been warned that if she continued with her journalistic activities and enemy propaganda she would be jailed.

The chairman of the press group's  Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, protested “the lack of press freedom and freedom of assembly that the Cuban colleagues continue to suffer.”

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, praised the commitment of the determined journalists who despite the harassment and arbitrary detentions are continuing to exercise their right to express themselves.

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, director of Hablemos Press, created in 2009, explained that since they began two months ago the weekly publication and distribution of a news bulletin the repression has become even more intense.

Reporter Martínez confirmed that they will continue working “so as to break down the wall of silence that the government has put in place in order to keep the Cuban people censored.”

International organizations have also denounced an increase in repression and harassment of those opposed to the government, especially against members of the Ladies in White association and other groups of independent journalists and bloggers. The Cuban government does not allow people belonging to these associations to express themselves without reprisals, to travel abroad or to freely move around the country.

In January and February, according to human rights defense organizations, some 600 arrests were reported. In 2011 a total of 4,115 people were detained and 1,765 in 2010.

The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the organization.

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