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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Tuesday, July 3, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 131                          Email us
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El Pueblo
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp

Tourist center seeks

to improve image

The El Pueblo tourist center in north San José is suffering through hard times from the same crime problems facing individuals and businesses all over the country. The managers of the Colonial complex hope to change the image.




IRS to offer a deal to U.S. citizens behind on taxes
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. citizens living abroad who have neglected to file tax returns now have the chance to catch up with a new Internal Revenue Service plan due to go into effect Sept. 1.

The plan benefits taxpayers who are considered low compliance, meaning they owe $1,500 or less in taxes for any of the years they are filing.

The plan will allow them to become current without facing penalties.

“From what I understand, as long as the tax due per year is under $1,500, they are not going to have an issue with the IRS,” said James Brohl, a San José accountant and business consultant.

Those who file using this procedure will have to file three years worth of delinquent tax returns as well as six years worth of delinquent Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, known as  FBARs, according to the IRS..

Taxpayers who file and are found to be of higher
compliance, meaning they owe more, will face a review and a potential audit.

This procedure also has a section for retirees.  Those with foreign retirement plans will be able to file for income deferral even if the election is not made on what is considered a timely basis, said the IRS.

According to Brohl, the plan is not entirely new, but a continued effort of the IRS's Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program that began in 2008. 

The IRS reported Tuesday that it has had 33,000 voluntary disclosures from its 2009 and 2011 program, and has collected $5 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties.  This program is the department's way of stopping offshore tax evasion and ensuring tax compliance.

The accountant's recommendation for now is for taxpayers to wait until the plans are effective to start preparing.

“This is something I haven't even started discussing with my clients yet,” said Brohl. “It's more important to wait until September to know exactly what they are proposing.”





These are the two bailey bridges that are spanning a spot on on the General Cañas highway that was washed out a week ago.

bailey bridges
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

Temporary Cañas highway bridges ready to open
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic police are expected to put into full service today at 5 a.m. the two bailey bridges that span a spot where the General Cañas washed out a week ago after heavy rains.

The transport ministry said that each bridge can support 40 tons, so there will be no weight restrictions except for those that are normally enforced on the highway during peak hours.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that a bypass that takes one of the eastbound lanes of the highway will remain in effect. Workers created the bypass by knocking out part of the concrete center divide.

The washout that became an embarrassing hole suddenly appeared late June 26 in both of the westbound lanes. A bus driver has been credited with spotting the developing hole and putting up flares to prevent an accident.
Each bridge is 30 meters, about 98 feet. Under the bridges workmen are attempting to replace the drainage system that failed and caused the road to collapse.

Traffic officials admitted that the problem was one of lack of maintenance. President Laura Chinchilla visited the site over the weekend.

The bridges were in place Sunday, but workmen has to construct ramps because the bridges were higher than the road surface. Workmen also had to apply highway markings.

Ministry officials said that they still expected jams even though traffic is lighter this week due to mid-year vacation.

They said that some motorists might want to continue using the alternate routes through Heredia and on Ruta 27, the Caldera highway, that carried a lot of westbound traffic last week.

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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 131
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Costa Rica Expertise



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


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Our reader's opinion
He has motion sickness
from health care spin

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Monday’s lead article reassures expats that they needn’t worry about the “tax” deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. Thank you for the information. The airways are saturated with misleading spin about the effect of the court’s decision with dizzying innuendo. Republican spinmeisters have been calling the Affordable Care Act “the largest tax increase in the history of the world.” Politifact rates this FALSE.  Repetition of falsehoods can make believers out of the unwary.

There are two tax issues, which mustn’t be confused or fused. First, there is the mandate penalty. Whether you call it an incentive to purchase affordable health insurance (96 percent bought insurance in Massachusetts), a fine, a fee, a tax, a penalty for opting out or an aardvark, only about 1 percent of people will have to pay and that excludes the poor. It only applies to those who can afford health care and decide to risk their health uncovered. If something catastrophic happens to them, we, the taxpayers, end up with the bill as we now do for the millions of uninsured who receive but can’t pay for emergency care.

The second tax issue is the overall cost of the entire package. Every government program is indeed paid for out of tax dollars, be it Medicare, Social Security, foreign aid, the military, Homeland Security, health insurance for legislators or farm subsidies. According to the Government Accounting Office, the bottom line on the Affordable Care Act is that it is revenue neutral. The largest tax increase in the law is on high earners ($250 k/year), who will see their Medicare payroll taxes increase by 0.9 percentage point and who will also pay a slightly higher rate on investment income. That raises more than $200 billion. There’s also the tax on unusually expensive health insurance plans, which raises $30 billion in the first decade, and much more in the second. There’s a $60 billion tax on insurance companies. It would not increase taxes on the middle class a cent. Its overall effect will be to lower the national debt and decrease the cost of health care. Repealing it will increase the national debt and accelerate the cost of health care.

One would hope that after a year and a half of debate, passage by the House, Senate and Supreme Court, the public would see that so-called Obamacare insures 30 million currently uninsured, allows for affordable coverage for people with preexisting conditions (being a women was deemed by many insurers as a preexisting condition justifying higher premiums), abolishes annual or lifetime limits on coverage, closes the donut hole that can cost seniors a fortune, advances communication of best practices among providers, decreases waste, increases training of generalist physicians, etc.. etc., without interfering with the relationship that the insured now have with their doctors and hospitals.
Lenny Karpman M.D. 
La Guácima

 
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!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Pacifico Radio
A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 131
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The central courtyard of El Pueblo has few visitors these days during the daytime. The action is at night with the dance clubs and bars. Much of the second floor has been taken over by offices, as have some of the ground-level storefronts.

El Pueblo interior plaza
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp

El Pueblo tourist center operators struggle to change its image
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

“Costa Rica passed through our fingers,” a Costa Rican woman once said.

She went on to describe a peaceful, tranquil time when she used to leave her door unlocked at night without worrying about thieves, and on the isolated occasion when thieves came into a home, the occupant could simply roll out of bed, yell at the thief and they’d run away in fright.

One look around and it’s clear that those times are over. It is hard to find a window without bars over it, business offices without armed guards and homes that require less than three keys to enter.

Meanwhile, many people have a similar nostalgia for a time when drugs and shootings were isolated incidents.

The shopping and tourist center, El Pueblo, is perhaps one of the best representations of where Costa Rica was three decades ago and how it has evolved up until now.

“15-20 years ago, you could walk anywhere without any problems, not just in El Pueblo. You could walk… the central avenue in San José anytime, day or night, without any worries,” explained Marlon Medina, a managing owner of El Pueblo. “Today, if you do the same thing, you’ll see that you might be in danger… the entire country, not just El Pueblo.”
Once a prosperous market frequented by tourists from around the world, El Pueblo has changed in the past 10 years after incidents of violence and fatal shootings gave it a reputation as an unsafe place and consequently choked out many of the businesses that once thrived there.

However, five managers elected to run El Pueblo decided to stop trying to reclaim the past and embrace the change by letting the shopping center evolve to a key spot in San Jose's nightlife for youth – and it seems to be working despite the dangers of the surrounding area.

“We have chosen to adapt to the changes that happened to El Pueblo,” said Medina. “We don’t actually believe that we will have the El Pueblo that we had 18 years ago.”

Built 35 years ago, El Pueblo is a unique open-air mall designed using colonial-Spanish architecture, with distinct red shingles and white adobe walls. It was designed to be a major tourist and local shopping center.

Before long, all hotels began sending their tourists to El Pueblo as a key part of their visit to Costa Rica, and the mall was full of souvenir shops, restaurants and other types of stores. The location is five minutes north of the downtown on Calle Blancos.
“If you came from anywhere in the world and came to Costa Rica, you had to come to El Pueblo,” said Medina, who became involved when he opened an art shop in El Pueblo 18 years ago.
However, he recalled how the prosperity of the shopping center began to decline about a decade ago when crime began to rise in Costa Rica and around El Pueblo.

“We started to receive some people who were not coming before to El Pueblo, people who were very violent,” Medina explained. “They would come, have their drinks, start fights, and then they made a big mess for the whole place . . . . we didn’t know what to do back then.”

El Pueblo was hit hard when an on-duty security guard was killed by gunfire just outside of the complex. After that incident, hotels and even the U. S. Department of State began warning tourists from visiting El Pueblo.

The problem was only exacerbated when tourists began flocking to a fully developed airport in Liberia that allowed them to bypass San José and go directly to the Pacific beaches.
Shops began closing in El Pueblo, and although some offices have taken up residence in the old shops, many of the old storefronts remain empty with for sale signs in the window.

During the day, the restaurants on the perimeter get some customers, but the interior resembles a ghost town with very
interior corridor
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Interior walkways have an Old World flavor

few open shops and even fewer potential customers passing through, a condition that changes only after 10 p.m. when the bar and clubs open, and young people pack the area.

One woman who has been running one of the few remaining souvenir shops for 32 years, pointed out some stores during the day that have been closed for years and others are rarely open. Her store has only been able to survive because she does most of her business by phone outside of the shop.

Although she says that no one comes to El Pueblo during her business hours, she agreed that there is a much bigger night and weekend crowd.

“I don’t like to stay here at night,” she said when asked why she did not have her store open then.

Despite her apprehension of staying open for the night crowd, she acknowledged that there is dramatically more security and cameras, to keep an eye on all of El Pueblo’s narrow alleyways and the sidewalks around the complex.

Those changes started five years ago, when Medina was first elected to be a managing owner. At that point, the owners built walls surrounding the entire complex, added 78 security cameras, hired more security and began searching everyone who came into the complex at night.

Although these changes have benefited night clubs and bars that have been growing and now own 56 percent of the property in El Pueblo, it has come at the expense of the old souvenir shops that used to be prevalent, as well as restaurants that now only get lunch rushes from employees of nearby businesses.

Medina is confident that visitors to El Pueblo are very safe, and even though he admits the neighborhood around the complex is not safe, he’s quick to point out that the same dangers exist everywhere in San José.

“El Pueblo is safe on the inside, but once you walk on the sidewalk down to the street, we don’t know what could happen because we don’t have control over that area,” he said. “There are more drugs everywhere, there are more people with guns. Now, any little fight could end up in a big shooting.”

Given the risks, Medina takes personal care in making sure people do not walk outside of the complex at night and always take a taxi, even if home or a hotel is only a few blocks away. Workers even go to the lengths of recording the numbers of taxis that pick up fares.

Even with these measures, El Pueblo is struggling to regain the image it once had among locals and tourists alike, and the key now is to once again convince potential customers, especially locals from previous generations who remember El Pueblo as it used to be, that it is once again a safe place to be, despite the crimes have for many tarnished not only El Pueblo, but also the entire country. 

“That’s the way things have gone and we have to build with them and try to make the best out of it,” said Medina.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
SSan José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 131
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Old guard getting reins in México troubling to rights observers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Enrique Peña Nieto, the presumed new president of México, is a marketer's dream. He is ranked among the country's most handsome politicians and married Televisa soap opera star Angelica Rivera in 2010.

He also served as governor of the State of México from 2005 to 2011.  His performance there and his membership in the  Partido Revolucionario Institucional is causing concern among human rights activists.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Peña Nieto has 38 percent while former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador has 31 percent. ​López Obrador calls the results fraudulent and something no one can accept. His left-wing party will decide whether to formally challenge the results after all votes are counted.

Peña Nieto's party, known as PRI, ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, when voters elected Partido Acción Nacional candidate Vicente Fox. Outgoing President Felipe Calderón also represents Acción Nacional. His administration has been plagued by economic stagnation and rampant drug violence.

During its seven decades in power, the PRI developed political machinery of an authoritarian and corporatist nature that fostered a culture emphasizing loyalty and obedience to those in power rather than the assertion of rights, according to Mariclaire Acosta. Its ability to rule a country as diverse and complex as Mexico for so long stemmed from its exploitation of revolutionary legitimacy as well as a skillful combination of social reforms, cooptation, and repression of the opposition,
she said. Ms. Acosta is an academic, a recognized human rights activist and the director of Freedom House – Mexico.

After the 2000 election, the PRI continued to govern in many of Mexico’s states, generally continuing the practices that have characterized it through most of the 20th century, she said in an interview on the eve of the elections.

Peña Nieto visited a Jesuit private university in May and failed to defend himself well against allegations over his role in violent repression of a popular protest in the town of Atenco when he was governor, according to Ms. Acosta.

From that encounter the  YoSoy132 movement was born, she noted. The name “I am 132” comes from the initial number of the unhappy students who were vilified in the national television.

“The movement has proven to be a vigorous one, bringing together students from public and private universities,” she said. “It has forced the television networks to change their coverage of the electoral process, and it has catalyzed opposition to the PRI’s comeback.”

She expresseded concern that the election of Peña Nieto would stall a move toward democracy in México.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Peña Nieto to congratulate him and offer U.S. support in meeting mutual goals.

Peña Nieto told supporters that Mexicans have voted for a change in direction, but he vowed to keep pressure on drug cartels.


Costa Rica helps push arms trade treaty at United Nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
with staff reports

Costa Rica, Britain, France, Germany and Sweden are among the countries urging United Nations members to support a decisive effort to regulate conventional weapons trade.

Delegates from more than 150 countries gathered in New York Monday to begin a month-long meeting to draft a global arms trade treaty.

Ahead of the conference, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle published a joint statement saying illicit arms trafficking poses a growing threat to humanity.

They say each year millions of people around the world suffer the effects of poorly regulated arms trade.

The statement, also joined by Sweden's trade minister, calls for a strong and comprehensive framework of common international standards to prevent legitimate arms sales from being diverted to trafficking networks.

The diplomats note their countries are some of the largest arms exporters in Europe, and say that means they have a special responsibility to ensure the weapons are not used in a way that violates humanitarian aims or international law.

The process to create a legally binding pact regulating the sale of conventional arms has been under way since 2006.  The agreement would set standards for importing, exporting and transferring a range of weapons, including tanks, fighter jets and machine guns.

Major arms exporters, including the United States and major importers, such as India, will participate in the conference.

Erkki Tuomioja, the foreign minister of Finland, hosted a breakfast Monday for the seven countries that are coauthors
castillo
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo
 Enrique Castillo and U.N. Secretary General  Ban Ki-moon
 shake hands after their meeting.


of the proposed treaty. In addition to Costa Rica, they are Japan, Britain, Argentina, Australia and Kenya, as well as Finland. Representing Costa Rica was Danilo González R., director general of  política exterior.

Costa Rica's foreign minister, Enrique Castillo did not arrive at the United Nations in New York until the afternoon.

Then he held a meeting with Secretary General  Ban Ki-moon and touched on topics including the arms treaty, said the foreign ministry here.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
shopping
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 131
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Northeast heat wave
worsened by outages


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weather forecasters say a record heat wave baking the eastern United States will continue at least through this week.

The heat is especially hard on more than 2 million people who remain without power in the region, following severe storms late Friday that toppled trees and cut off energy supplies.

At least 20 deaths have been blamed so far on those storms and the extreme heat that has followed, and there are concerns that others, especially the sick and elderly, may be at risk.

Power outages have persisted from the East Coast as far west as the state of Illinois.

With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees C (104 F) many homes have no functioning air conditioning or refrigerators. Utility companies warn that it could take all week to restore electricity to some locations.

Power crews from other states have been called in to help get power restored.

The nation's capital, Washington, and some states, including Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, have declared states of emergency.

Officials are urging residents to check up on elderly or sick neighbors and to seek cool shelters if their homes have no power.

Washington resident Pat Armelin said the entire block in northwest Washington where she lives has been without power since the storm hit. She expressed concern about her 92-year-old neighbor who was trapped in her home after a large tree fell on cars blocking access to her house.

“I have a next door neighbor who is 92 years old and cannot get out of her house. The tree here has landed on both of their cars, and if it was an emergency the firemen would be the only ones who could go in and be able to get her. And with no air conditioning and the heat in the 90s, it has been very frustrating.”

Some secondary roads remain closed to traffic because of fallen trees awaiting removal.

Extremely hot temperatures in the U.S. Midwest have stressed crops in their critical stage of development, raising concerns about crop failures.


Despite fears of crime,
México sets tourist record


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Widespread violent crime in Mexico has prompted the U.S. State Department to warn travelers to avoid some parts of the country, including the popular tourist destinations of Acapulco and Mazatlan.  Much of the violence involves drug trafficking gangs, but victims sometimes include foreign visitors.  Still, tourism remains one of Mexico's biggest industries.

At the recent G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico's tourism secretary, Gloria Guevara, hailed world leaders for recognizing tourism's role in promoting economic development.

“One of every 12 jobs in the world are related to travel and tourism,” Ms. Guevara said.

But Mexico's image as a tourist destination has suffered from a crime wave that has prompted its top two visitor nations, the United States and Canada, to issue travel warnings.

In spite of the trouble, Mexico set a record last year, with more than 22 million international visitors.

Mexico is a big country and while some areas are like war zones,  tourist destinations tend to be as safe or safer than the cities where many tourists live.

Retired businessman Bob Gebo and his wife, Christine, came to Cabo San Lucas from California 11 years ago on a fishing boat and decided to call it home.

“I think it is the safest place I have ever been,” Gebo said.

The Gebos are among the many thousands of American retirees who live in Mexico.

Bob Gebo says he and his wife enjoy interacting with Mexicans.

“If you live here like I do, you don't want it to be like southern California; you don't want this to turn into San Diego. This is a quiet place, it is not over-run. And the Americans that are here are a more adventurous type of people or they would not be all the way down here,” Gebo said.

Part of what keeps Cabo safe is a local police force that both residents and tourists can count on.

That is a key element in controlling crime, says security analyst Alejandro Hope.

“For its many, many flaws, municipal police forces have played a role that is very difficult to replace from afar,” Hope said.

Mexican federal police and soldiers patrol some areas where state and city forces have become corrupt or overwhelmed, but Hope says the worst violence occurs when there is a lack of local vigilance.

“They are the actions not of a criminal mastermind, but criminals who can do those things because of impunity," Hope said.


Cloud storage services
lack security, study says


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Security experts at the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology in Darmstadt, Germany,  have discovered that numerous cloud storage service providers do not check the e-mail addresses provided during the registration process. This fact in combination with functions provided by these service providers, such as file sharing or integrated notifications, result in various possibilities for attacks.

For example, attackers can bring malware into circulation or spy out confidential data, said the experts. As one of the supporters of the Center for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt, the Fraunhofer Institute scrutinized various cloud storage services. The testers discovered the same weakness with the free service offerings from CloudMe, Dropbox, HiDrive, IDrive, SugarSync, Syncplicity and Wuala. Scientists from Fraunhofer presented their findings on the possible forms of attacks last month at the 11th International Conference on Trust, Security and Privacy in Computing and Communications in Liverpool,England.

Attackers do not require any programming knowledge whatsoever to exploit these weaknesses, the report said. All they need is to create an account using a false e-mail account. The attacker can then bring malware into circulation using another person’s identity, the report said. With the services provided by Dropbox, IDrive, SugarSync, Syncplicity and Wuala, attackers can even spy on unsuspecting computer users with the help of the false e-mail address by encouraging them to upload confidential data to the cloud for joint access.

Fraunhofer informed the affected service providers many months ago. And although these weaknesses can be removed with very simple and well-known methods, such as sending an e-mail with an activation link, not all of them are convinced that there is a need for action. Markus Schneider, deputy director of Fraunhofer, said “Dropbox, HiDrive, SugarSync, Syncplicity and Wuala have reacted after receiving our information.”

Some of these providers are now using confirmation e-mails to avoid this weakness, a method that has been in use for quite some time now. Others have implemented other mechanisms. “We think it is important that users are informed about the existing problems,” said Schneider. “Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide 100 precent protection against attacks, even if the affected services are avoided.  It is therefore important that cloud storage services providers remove such weaknesses, as this helps to protect users more effectively.”

Consumers who use the affected services should be careful, said the institute. Those who receive a request to download data from the cloud or upload data to it should send an e-mail to the supposed requester to verify whether the request was really sent by them, it added.

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Latin America news
Lightening strike hurts
two policemen on duty


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two police officers on duty in northern Costa Rica suffered injuries Monday when lightning struck nearby.

The two were identified as  Danilo Quesada Sancho and Esteban Chávez Sirias, both members of the  Unidad de Intervención Policial. The location is a police control point at Agua Dulce en Barra de Colorado.

They were evacuated by the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry.

Both men were in stable condition in Hospital México, the ministry said. The two officers were with others at the police facility when the lightning struck. They were the most seriously injured. One was working the radio and the other was on the telephone line, said the ministry.

Workers constructing a power line to Agua Dulce gave assistance, the ministry said. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is trying to provide power to the entire northern area along the Río San Juan.

Residents said that the area received heavy rain since noon Sunday.

The ministry said that one of the officers had problems moving his arms and legs. One officer suffered second-degree burns, the ministry said.


Much of eastern downtown
will lose power today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The power company said that it would cut service this morning at 8:30 a.m. to a section of San Jose's downtown.

The area is between Avenida 6 to the south and Avenida 3 to the north between calles 11 and 15.

The area includes the Universidad San Marcos, the Biblioteca Nacional, Sleep Inn, Casino Colonial, Manolitos, the Defensoria Públicas of the Poder Judicial, the Hotel Flor de Lys and Hotel Asia, said the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz.

Power is expected to be restored by 4:30 p.m. The reason is preventative maintenance of the underground electrical distribution system, the company said.

The company also said that crews would be moving utility poles in Tibás on the east side of Bodegas Parque Condal and that this would lead to some outages including one at Banco Popular.


Quake estimated at 3.0

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica reported an early morning earthquake at Guaitil   de Acosta  Monday. The Loboratorio said that the quake took place at 2:57 a.m. and had an estimated magnitude of 3.0. It was felt strongest in San Ignacio Acosta, Santa Ana, Ciudad Colón and Fraijanes, the Laboratorio said.














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