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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Friday, June 29, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 129                          Email us
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Mar Vista

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Workmen excavate under the General Cañas highway bailey bridge to install a new culvert
Commuters prevail despite big hole in highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central Valley residents showed their resilience Thursday as they confronted a collapsed section in a key highway.

With some local exceptions, traffic appeared to be moving reasonable well Thursday. Passengers on the Heredia-San José line jumped 30 percent to 10,000 for the day. Taxi drivers said that a diversion at the problem site kept westbound traffic moving on the General Cañas highway, Ruta 1.

The Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes said that a bailey bridge over the collapsed section of the highway should be in operation by noon today. The bridge already had been installed Thursday, but the structure is about 90 centimeters, nearly three feet, higher than the roadway. Work crews were constructing ramps as others were installing the bridge deck.

Meanwhile, other workers were below the bridge excavating the steel culvert that failed late Tuesday when heavy rains drove a tree trunk into the 30-year-old pipe. The plan is to install two pipes, each about 10 feet in diameter. The collapsed section spans nearly two traffic lanes.
The bailey bridge, developed during World War II, is a mainstay of the emergency plans of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency. Bridge sections can be bolted together to span great distances.

The ministry and its Consejo were trying to open a stretch of road from the Caldera highway, Ruta 27, to El Coyol, which is on the highway west of the Juan Santamaría airport. Some motorists are avoiding the General Cañas highway altogether and using Ruta 27 to reach the airport and points west on Ruta 1 via Santa Ana and Belén. Traffic on that road was normal Thursday night.

The temporary fix that got traffic moving again was installing a westbound lane in one of the two eastbound lanes. Workers successfully chopped through the highway's concrete barrier Wednesday night to allow westbound vehicles to travel some 300 meters on one of the eastbound lanes.

What transport officials are called a bypass is in operation from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., they said.

There was less highway traffic Thursday, too, as many workers telecommuted and education officials  closed many schools in the Central Valley.


Women who bring drugs into prison may get break
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature's anti-drug commission moved Thursday to give a break to women who smuggle drugs to their imprisoned boyfriend or spouse

Right now the penalty for doing that can be eight to 20 years in prison. The  Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico gave approval Thursday to a change in the law that would reduce the penalty to three to five years.

Lawmakers heard that there are 120 women in the Buen Pastor correctional center after having been convicted of smuggling drugs into prisons.

Lawmakers heard from María de los Ángeles Chaves Villalobos, director of  Buen Pastor, and from Marta Iris Muñoz Cascante, director of  Defensa Pública, whose office represented many of these women.

Ms. Muñoz  said many of the women submitted to an abbreviated legal process in order to get a reduced term. This process makes invisible the  history of discrimination, threats and vulnerability and poverty
of these women and the judges do not know about the threats and pressure, she said.

Annie Saborío Mora, the lawmaker who headed the subcommittee that studied the proposal, noted that
the law provides the same penalty for smuggling drugs into prison as it does for someone who sets up and conducts an extensive narcotics smuggling ring.

From the discussion, it was unclear if men who smuggle drugs into prison would benefit from the proposed legal change.

The  Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, also supports the legal change, lawmakers were told.

Several women are caught each months in the act of smuggling drugs. Many more must get through because when guards do an extensive sweep of the facilities, they turn up quantities of drugs as well as other smuggled items.

Ms. Chaves said that there are 780 women now in prison for drug violations. That includes the 120 who were caught smuggling into prisons. Lawmakers were told that most of the women who were caught do not have steady jobs and have children to raise. They also have limited schooling.

They average four children each, lawmakers heard.

The chief defense lawyer and the prison director said those who were caught were housewives and prostitutes or those worked as maids.

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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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Tourism chief Flores outlines
zoning plan for Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the tourism agency said that a new zoning plan for the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula would protect individual who have properties in the maritime zone. However, a summary of his talk does not show he made any mention of the protests that the plan faced in a public meeting Friday.

The tourism chief, Allan Flores of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, was meeting with the  Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo Thursday. The agency also has responsibility for maritime concessions.

The meeting as in Cóbano, but the zoning plan also would include Montezuma and other popular beach towns. Municipal officials in Cóbano support the project.

Flores told lawmakers that the plan was in the stage of public hearings. Some of those who showed up Friday carried signs against the plan, according to persons who attended.

Flores did mention that there was a public hearing Friday, but he did not give details. But he did say that residents got a lot of technical details. He said the plan would promote sustainable development.

Many residents of the beach towns have been there for years and are suspicious of a zoning and land-use plan. And many properties are clearly in the maritime zone, which prohibits structures within 50 meters of mean high tide. Much of the main street in Montezuma would fall into that category as well as some hotels outside of town.

 
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, Friday, June 29, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 129
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Survey of basic food items turns up some startling differences
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats who have been complaining about the increased cost of living here may also have been shopping at the wrong stores.

The economics ministry, in another of its market surveys, showed that identical and popular items were being sold at prices that differed by 126 percent. Surveyors reported that shoppers could pay 6,315 colons ($12.82) more for a kilo of fresh fish, corvina,  depending on where they made the purchase. This difference was 153.5 percent.

Similar articles, like a bottle of brand name shampoo, could cost 249 percent more depending on the store.

The Ministerio Economía, Industria y Comercio directed the survey at items that are in the basic food basket. The ministry's Dirección de Apoya al Consumidor had low-income shoppers in mind in selecting the 53 products surveyed.

Some 36 supermarkets, chains and independents, received visits from surveyors between May 4 and 17. The stores were in San José, Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela. In all, the survey crews checked 7,211 prices.

Surveyors also found that many products were not marked the way the law requires.

Powdered skimmed milk in a 350 gram container cost 715 colons ($1.45) at Super Tres Más in Paraiso de Cartago while the same product sold for 1,619 colons ($3.29) at Perimercado and Jumbo. That was the 126.5 percent difference.

A toothbrush carrying the label Pro Plus Mayor cost 467 colons (95 U.S. cents) at Walmart and 1,040 colons ($2.11) at Mega Super, according to the survey.

Even 480 grams of Cinta Azul sausage showed a difference of 104.12 percent, according to the survey. At Perimercado the price was 850 colons  ($1.73). At Super Coope in Tarrazú, the price was 1,735 colons ($3.52), the surveyors said.
The corvina that sold with a difference of 153.5 percent was 4,115 colons ($8.36) at Super Coope Tarazú. Shoppers who bought it at Auto Mercado paid 10,430 colons ($21.18).

Ground beef showed a difference of 95.96 percent, and a kilo of tilapia had prices that ranged up to a difference of 99.25 percent.

Even cleaning products like liquid bleach showed highly variable prices. A 900 milliliter container of Mega Super's house brand cost 210 colons (43 cents). The same size bottle of Conejos brand cost 576 colons ($1.17) at Muñoz y Nanne in  Currridabat.

Surveyors worked with a list of 53 products typical of an average shopper's purchases.  They found that the items would cost 92,733 colons ($188.29) at Super Rosvil in Grecia. That was the lowest. Other stores in the same range were Maxi Palí in Higuito de Desamparados  and in Paraiso de Cartago, Super Más y Más in Desamparados and Palí in Cartago.

However Super Rosvil in Grecia also was the store that had the most differences between the marked shelf price and the price rung up by the cashier. Most were small but beans were 10.9 higher at the cashier, and canned tuna was 7.25 percent higher, according to the survey.

Surveys found 12 stores that have ignored an order to list product prices by a unit of measurement. All were independent stores.  A similar number had labels that were reported to be hard to read. And six markets had incorrectly reported the price per unit.

Only four stores were found to comply fully with a decree that said store operators had to list ingredients on prepared meats. For example, a meat that was marinated did not contain a label stating what was contained in the marinade. The surveyors also said that some meat products had been injected with water and salt as a tenderizer. This was supposed to be on the label, too, they said.

The full study is on the ministry Web site


After a rough week, the best choice is to celebrate at lunch
 The week that was is over.  I managed to make things as difficult as I could in the process of renewing my passport at the American Embassy.  I am sure the people who work there are even more relieved than I am that it is done.

The one big lesson I learned is that the U.S. Embassy does not work like the Caja.  It is not necessary to arrive an hour early for an appointment because there will be at least 10 other people with the same appointment, and you are hoping your folder is near the top.  As far as I could tell, I was the only 9:30 appointment, and I was called, if not exactly on time, very close to it.  I have been in Costa Rica a very long time and seem to have adapted to their system of getting things done . . . or not.

However, the great news was that my friend Ann found my cédula in her car.  How it got there is a mystery to me, but it must have been the last time we went out for lunch.  To celebrate we went to lunch again this week.

Since Il Ritorno left its city home in the Casa Italia Avenue for the suburbs, to my mind the best Italian restaurant in the city is L’Olivo.  And it happens to be just around the corner, from where I live.  It is on the street that runs on the east side of the electrical institute and is next to the casino of the Palma Real hotel.  It is the consummate Italian restaurant, cozy and with murals of the idealized Italian countryside, with a bar at one end and a visible wine cellar. The waiters are attentive and helpful, and the food is excellent.

For years my jaws have become weary in my search for tender calamari fritti. Now I can say that that my search is over.  L’Olivio has them.  Ann and I shared that generous appetizer, which was more than enough for two.  All of their dishes are excellent, but the bread they serve before you order should be labeled as dangerously addictive.  Ann and I enjoyed a very long lunch to celebrate serendipity.  I am sure L’Olivo closes lunch hour at three p.m. but graciously waited until we finally walked out at 3:35. 

While I enjoy restaurants here, my friends are enjoying the food in France, Eastern Europe and Istanbul.  Three sets of friends have enjoyed the cuisines of these different parts, but they also came home was some impressions that I, of course,
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart

related to “how it is at home.”  One couple was struck by the smells in the buses, trains and even planes in Eastern Europe.  They were overwhelmed by what was apparently simply

unwashed bodies in close spaces.  Living in Costa Rica, they just weren’t used to it.  They don’t often take buses here, but I do, and from day one I was struck by the fact that Ticos must be the cleanest people in the world and in close spaces simply do not smell.  Occasionally on a bus I would get a whiff of someone’s perfume, but no longer, and sometimes, if someone nearby was obviously drunk, I could smell him, but that is rare, too, just as a nearby heavy smoker is rare.  Body odor?  Never.

Another friend mentioned that in Istanbul she was unexpectedly impressed with the public bathrooms!  It seems the Turks have installed the latest in bathroom furnishings and fixtures, with automatic faucets and towel dispensers.  They are obviously proud of them because she said they all were spotless and in perfect working order.  When she arrived at Dulles Airport in Washington she was surprised to discover she had to try five different sinks to find a faucet that worked.  Ah, infrastructure.

I cannot declare all public bathrooms in Costa Rica a success.  Some I have visited have been abysmal.  There is a law that every establishment serving the public must have a bathroom for their use, but the law does not say they must have paper or be clean.  However, over the years the bathrooms in stores and restaurants have improved, and if you want to find the best bathrooms, it is a good idea to go into a hotel or a casino.  The law says you can.  I didn’t have the opportunity to try the bathrooms either in the Embassy or the L’Olivo.  This week I am quitting while I am ahead.

Sometimes, Forrest, life is a ride on a pogo stick.

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Environmental enforcement team is on the site of Ruta 1856
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's environmental enforcement agency has sent a crew of investigators to the northern part of the country to explore claims of damage by the controversial Ruta 1856.

The agency is the  Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo, which said Thursday that two judges, three forestry engineers, two lawyers and a biologist are at the site of the 160-kilometers (99-mile) highway.

The primary subject of the investigation is the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, said  José Lino Chaves, Tribunal president. But he would not rule out bringing others into the case.

The Tribunal is known for aggressive enforcement and frequently closes down construction sites and hales polluters into environmental court. 

The troubled highway project already is being investigated by
 prosecutors because of allegations of bribery.

 In many areas, the work appears to be shoddy, and the government of Nicaragua has alleged environmental damage to the Río San Juan that parallels the highway.

The road was built after Nicaraguan troops invades a part of Costa Rica. Officials say it was a defensive measure.

However, there are frequent claims of mismanagement, spearheaded by the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación. Air photos show in many places a scar of bare soil. There also are allegations that trees were cut without permits.

Tribunal experts will be on the site until at least later today.

Typically the Tribunal experts will return to their offices and prepare a report, if environmental damage is found. That will lead to legal action. The Tribunal judges have the power to assess stiff fines and halt projects.


THE Mayan date shows up within a 7th century political text
By the Tulane University news service

Archaeologists working at the site of La Corona in Guatemala have discovered a 1,300-year-old-year Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called end date of the Maya calendar, Dec. 21, 2012. The discovery, one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, was announced Thursday at the national palace in Guatemala.

“This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy,” says Marcello A. Canuto, director of Tulane’s Middle American Research Institute and co-director of the excavations at La Corona. Since 2008, Canuto and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala have directed excavations at La Corona, a site previously ravaged by looters.

“Last year, we realized that looters of a particular building had discarded some carved stones because they were too eroded to sell on the antiquities black market,” said Barrientos, “so we knew they found something important, but we also thought they might have missed something.”

What Canuto and Barrientos found was the longest text ever discovered in Guatemala. Carved on staircase steps, it records 200 years of La Corona history, states David Stuart, director of the Mesoamerica Center at The University of Texas at Austin, who was part of a 1997 expedition that first explored the site.

While deciphering these new finds in May, Stuart recognized the 2012 reference on a stairway block bearing 56 delicately carved hieroglyphs. It commemorated a royal visit to La Corona in AD 696 by the most powerful Maya ruler of that time, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ of Calakmul, only a few months after his defeat by long-standing rival Tikal in AD 695. Thought by scholars to have been killed in this battle, this ruler was visiting allies and allaying their fears after his defeat.

“This was a time of great political turmoil in the Maya  region, and this king felt compelled to allude to a larger cycle
Mayan text
Tulane University photo
 Marcello A. Canuto excavates another  hieroglyphic panels
 in La Corona in Guatemala.


of time that happens to end in 2012,” says Stuart.

So, rather than prophesy, the 2012 reference places this king’s troubled reign and accomplishments into a larger cosmological framework.

“In times of crisis, the ancient Maya used their calendar to promote continuity and stability rather than predict apocalypse,” says Canuto.              

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Health care decision called
victory for all Americans


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama says the Supreme Court ruling upholding the health-care reform law, his landmark legislative achievement, is a victory for all Americans. Although the ruling is a major victory for the president, Republicans are describing it as a momentary defeat, and they vow they will repeal the law.

Obama spoke in the White House East Room after the high court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

In the court's 5-4 ruling, the conservative chief justice voted with four liberals in upholding the centerpiece of the law, the so-called individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

Since Congress passed the law in 2010 against Republican opposition, a national political battle has ranged over this provision, which opponents said violated the Constitution by forcing people to buy a product they may not want.

​Obama said the ruling will be the subject of intense discussion, but it is a victory for all Americans.

"I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this — about who won and who lost," he said. "That is how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington. But that discussion completely misses the point. Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country, whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it."

​​The Supreme Court's majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said legal precedent demonstrates that Congress has the power to impose a tax, and this principle justifies keeping the mandate in force.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said he and three conservative justices believe the entire law is invalid.

Obama has faced criticism of the way he pushed the health care law through Congress, with some in his own Democratic Party saying he did not do enough to educate Americans about its benefits.

In his East Room remarks he listed those benefits and said he understands the concerns Americans expressed in what has been a "divisive" debate. But he urged Americans to leave that behind them.

Aiming to provide insurance to about 30 million Americans who have not had it, the law contains a number of provisions that enjoy strong public support.

These include preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions, banning limits on payouts for coverage, and allowing young people to stay on parents' insurance plans until the age of 26.

Despite this major victory, the president now faces the opposition party's intensified efforts to repeal the law. Republicans who control the House of Representatives scheduled a vote for July 11.
 
In the U.S. Senate, Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell spoke shortly after the court ruling was announced.

"Republicans will not let up whatsoever in our determination to repeal this terrible law and replace it with the kind of reforms that will truly address the problems it was meant to solve," he said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the court did not endorse the law as "good policy," and renewed his vow to repeal the legislation if he is elected.


House votes to cite Holder
for contempt in gun case


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to cite Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to release documents relating to Fast and Furious,  a failed government operation that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  The was vote viewed by many as a legal and political showdown between the Republican-led House and Democratic President Barack Obama and his attorney general.

With Democratic lawmakers in the mood to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama's health care law, Republican Speaker John Boehner agreed to bring the contempt votes to the floor of the House.

"Now, I don't take this matter lightly and I would frankly hope that it would never come to this," said  Boehner. "The House's focus is on jobs and on the economy.  But no Justice Department is above the law, and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold."

While Republicans stressed that Congress deserve to hear all of the facts about the failed Fast and Furious operation, Democrats accused Republicans of unfairly targeting the president's attorney general in an election year to score political points with their voters and with the National Rifle Association gun lobby that urged lawmakers to vote for the contempt resolutions.

Seventeen Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in voting for the contempt resolution.  The vote was 255 in favor and 67 against.  Scores of Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, walked out of the House chamber and did not vote.

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican majority "contemptible."

A citation for contempt of Congress has symbolic importance, but its impact is limited because the Executive Branch controls prosecution decisions.  And in this case, that means the Justice Department.  Experts says it is highly unlikely that one of Holder's employees at the Justice Department would put his or her boss in front of a grand jury for prosecution, especially because President Obama has asserted executive privilege over the release of the documents.

The White House released a statement after the House vote, saying that Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General, and calling the vote a "transparently political stunt."


Lawyer who helped terrorist
loses jail sentence appeal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. federal appeals court has upheld a 10-year prison sentence for a disbarred lawyer who helped her jailed terrorist client smuggle messages to his followers.

The three-judge panel in New York wrote Thursday that the ex-lawyer Lynne Stewart still refuses to understand the seriousness of her crime.

Ms. Stewart was originally sentenced to 28 months in prison in 2006, and showed apparent contempt for the court by telling reporters that she could serve the time “standing on her head.”

Federal prosecutors appealed the sentence as being too light and a court re-sentenced her in 2010.

Ms. Stewart's lawyer says his 72 year-old client is ill and calls the longer sentence a blow against free speech.

Stewart was the lawyer for blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving life in prison for planning terrorist attacks in New York City.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 29, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 129
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Tourism operators optimistic
for mid-year vacation


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tourism chamber said that hospitality operators expect about 68 percent occupancy this mid-year vacation. The vacation starts Friday evening and lasts for two weeks.

The chamber, the  Cámara Nacional de Turismo, sponsored a survey last week of 104 tourism operators. The survey said that reservations averaged about 39 percent throughout the country.

Despite the low rate of reservations, tourism operators were optimistic and expected up to 72 percent occupancy for the vacation, said the chamber. Most of the visitors are expected to be from Costa Rica.

As with most vacation periods, occupancy in the Central Valley is expected to be lower than at the beaches and mountains.


Country seeks protection
for the hammerhead shark


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental ministry says it is seeking trade restrictions on the hammerhead shark.

The ministry said that it has provided the appropriate documentation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. The inclusion will take effect Sept. 25, said the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

The listing calls upon other countries to help protect the species. The listing will impose restrictions on shark finners who transport fins of the sea creatures in and out of Costa Rica.

The hammerhead is the signature predator in the vicinity of the Isla del Coco, and there are many hundreds of the shark living in protected waters there.


Wireless Internet service
had problems all Thursday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The wireless service of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. failed Thursday morning, and technicians said that it may be restored by this morning.

There was no clear explanation of why there was a failure, but technicians labored in vane all day Thursday to repair the system. Although technicians said that the wired service of the company was in full operation, a tour of downtown Internet cafes found many there had no service during Thursday afternoon.

The company, known as RACSA, is a subsidiary of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which  has its own Internet services.


Bus riders file complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's regulatory agency lowered bus fairs from a few colons to 1,000 colons and alerted passengers to the change. The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicas also invited complaints. The agency reported Thursday, the first day of the change, that it received 880 complaints at a call center and 97 to its Facebook page.








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