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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, July 9, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 135                          Email us
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Postal service issues set marking London Olympics
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Correo Nacional has issued a set of stamps to promote the Longon Olympics. The stamps feature events in which Costa Rican athletes will participate.

The set consists of two stamps. They show tae kwon do and running. Two other drawings on a first-day cover show cycling and competitive walking. Sprinter Nery Brenes is Costa Rica's best hope for a gold medal. He finished in the semi-finals in 2008 and has improved since then.  He has taken some other world championships. He is not pictured on the stamps, but if he wins, there is a certainty that Correos will come out with one.

The stamps came out June 25 but the postal service delayed making the announcement. The London Olympics are from July 27 to Aug. 12. Costa Rica's Olympic committee expects to be well represented. The value of the stamps are  365 and 435 colons, about 73 and 87 U.S. cents.

\The first-day cover measures 94 millimeters (3.7 inches)   by 163 millimeters (6.4 inches). The envelop featured the official logo of the London Olympics. There have been 500 first-day covers prepared. In all 15,000 of each stamp have been printed.
Olympic stamp
This is a graphic of the first-day cover.


For the president, situation keeps getting worse
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The presidency is not going well for Laura Chinchilla Miranda. She is getting the blame for a string of deficiencies and scandals that have wracked her administration.

The latest, of course, is what is being called the crater on the General Cañas highway. The road fell away leaving a hole where two lanes of the highway had been. That problem got a temporary fix with twin bailey bridges, but everyone, including the president, agrees that the problem was lack of maintenance.

Then there is the Ruta 1856 along the Río San Juan in north Costa Rica. That scandal keeps growing. Prosecutors are investigating the project that was financed under an emergency decree. Meanwhile, bridges are falling there, too, leaving gaping holes in the unfinished roadway.

Public confidence is eroding. Some organizations are calling for Ms. Chinchilla to resign.

The real problem began when La Nación disclosed that ministers of Ms. Chinchilla's government had not kept current on their property valuations.

In January when Ms. Chinchilla spoke to finance ministry workers, she called tax cheats criminals. When many of her ministers were revealed to have ducked updating the values of their properties in late March, they were guilty only of a lamentable descuido or  regrettable neglect.

This double standard extends to a current scandal in which the Procuraduría de la Ética issued a blistering criticism of letters that a vice president and education minister sent to the national refinery
company. Vice President  Luis Liberman and  Leonardo Garnier, minister of Eucación Pública sent letters to the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo
S.A. on behalf of  Florisabel Rodríguez and her company, Procesos. Ms. Rodríguez is the wife of the man who was the finance minister at the time and also a close aide to Ms. Chinchilla. Procesos then got a fat public relations contract from the refinery.

The  Procuraduría said that the two men failed to live up to the standards of a public official. The Presidencia issued Friday what it called an exhaustive analysis of the 80-page ethics report. A summary stressed technical defenses, such as some of the directives cited by the  Procuraduría had expired.

And the Presidencia said that the president would take no action and would simply file the ethics report.

Ms. Rodríguez and her minister husband, Francisco Herrera, had to resign when La Nación published a report saying that they had grossly undervalued for tax purposes a property that they were renting to a government agency.

The scandals have served to unite once again opposition parties in the legislature, and lawmakers are conducting their own investigations. Although no formal action is expected, the cross examination of minsters is an embarrassment for the administration.

Ms. Chinchilla has a long tradition of protecting her ministers. When Alan Flores, the married minister of Turismo, became involved in a scandal over a relationship with a female employee, Casa Presidencial prevented a notary from filing papers on the minster when he was at the presidential offices. That was in February, and the case was in the  Juzgado Contencioso Administrativo.

The minister of the Presidencia, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, was the direct supervisor of Flores when Benavides was tourism minister. There does not seem to be any action despite a judicial determination that a woman was fired for the wrong reasons.

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U.S. will provide $800,000
to improve prisons here


 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. government will invest $800,000 to help improve Costa Rica's prisons.

A U.S. Embassy release said that part of the money will go toward the development of a special, independent unit that will fight corruption within the prisons.

A second aspect will be improve the operation procedure and training mainly at the La Reforma prison complex in Alajuela.

In addition, the U.S. government will help with an evaluation of the need for a new maximum security prison, said the embassy.

The money comes from the Central American Regional Security Initiative, said the embassy.

 The projects are in conjunction with the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz, which runs the prisons through the Adaptación Social agency. Experts from the United States will visit to provide training and advice, according to the proposal.

La Reforma has been a trouble spot for the Costa Rican prison hierarchy. A frustrated prison break resulted in the death of an inmate and was quickly followed by the beating death of one of the ringleaders. Guards are facing criminal prosecution over that.

Just 10 years ago a U.S. firm offered to build a state-of-the-art maximum security prison as a concession. But the Sala IV rejected the idea and said that having foreigners keep track of prisoners would be unconstitutional. Some politicians said at the time a new prison was not needed.

The prisons are rife with corruption. Prisoners seem to be able to obtain any goods they need, including drugs. Periodic prison sweeps turn up weapons, cell telephones and drugs. Many of the prisons are overcrowded and controls by criminal gangs inside.

 
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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The Gran Hotel Costa Rica is in the heart of the city with a patio that gives guests a chance to see the real Costa Rica in action. Tour bus of young people usually can be seen arriving or leaving.

Gran Hotel
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson

Two downtown hotels prosper by rejecting sex tourism
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For some people embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle means indulging in guilty pleasures that start in bars and casinos and end in pricey one-night stands with prostitutes. 

Gran Hotel Costa Rica and Hotel Don Carlos are two historic places located in the heart of San José that have refused to allow these adult activities onto their premises.

“While in San José there are an amount of hotels dedicated to sex tourism, night life, casinos — pure entertainment,  we decided to eliminate that image and make a complete transformation,” said Eric Gutiérrez, owner of Gran Hotel Costa Rica.  “For example, not allowing prostitutes into the hotel, and shutting down the casino machines in the lobby.”

Staffers at Hotel Don Carlos expressed that their desire is to maintain a family-conscious environment.

"We have a lot of families and a lot of students from the United States, and we receive a lot of clients from Europe who bring their families.  This one is a . . .  family hotel, so we don't allow prostitutes," said Mauricio Espinoza, Hotel Don Carlos reservation manager.

Graced with personalities such as presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy  as well as many famous actors and actresses, the Gran Hotel has a rich history.  Built in 1930, this hotel holds the claim as being the only hotel in Costa Rica established by law and the first in the city.

Gutiérrez, a man with a big voice of passion for culture and history, took over the hotel in 2010 after serving as the hotel lawyer for more than 20 years and then transferring to a hotel partner 10 years ago. The hotel has only passed through the hands of only two others, Luis Paulino Jiménez Ortiz, and Los Angeles native David Brewer.

“Since the moment I took charge of the hotel, I decided to make major fundamental changes.  I converted the hotel into an icon of cultural and historic tourism.” Gutiérrez said.

The hotel even made an advertising change challenging tourist to “visit an historically restored hotel where tourism was created."  The outside patio became an elegant place where people could hear live classical music from trained pianist and relax while viewing the culture of the city through the plaza and surrounding buildings such as the Teatro Nacional across the street.   

According to Gutiérrez, the hotel has seen a positive reaction to all the changes from guest and city of San José.  It was declared in 2005 an historic and architectural landmark.

Not far away, in  San José's first residential area called Barrio Amón, The Don Carlos Hotel also shares a deep historical background.  The hotel's namesake, Carlos Balser was an archeologist and artist who came to Costa Rica to help construct and manage The Gran Hotel.  In 1947, Balser started his own hotel named Pension Canado that was the stomping ground for many famous scientist.  It was later renamed in his honor.

The charm of Hotel Don Carlos greets guest at the door.  The 33-room hotel is three houses in one, filled with Balser's discoveries, unique art, gardens, fountains and sculptures.  The presidential house used to be the home of former Costa Rican president Tomas Guardia.  Also in the neighborhood was local doctor legends Ricardo Morena Cañas and Carlos Echandi Lahmann.
Don Carlos
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
The Hotel Don Carlos in Barrio Amón

Receptionist recount the time when a man was running through the street outside the hotel with a bullet in his chest and another in his elbow.  Morena rushed to assist his neighbor, performing the first open heart surgery in Costa Rica.

"This was long ago, but it is our history," said one receptionist.

In his old age Don Carlos sold the company to his son-in-law and American educator and anthropologist Lee Weiler.  It is the Weilers' children who now mange the hotel.  Being a family-operated business, they manage the hotel with a standard of class and uphold the value of a personal experience.

“We are called a petite hotel because you can speak with all the staff.  In big hotels you don't have the same treat,” said Espinoza.

Some hotels in San José have 75 to 85 percent of their customers as single male tourists. The Gran Hotel Costa Rica and the Don Carlos are two hotels that have lost business by not allowing guest to bring in a nightly companion. 

“When people call our toll-free number, they ask questions about girls, and we advise them that we are not that type of hotel, and they choose to stay in another hotel,” said Espinoza.

However, both places report that staying family-oriented keeps them busy with guests.

“We've been receiving frequent clients.  They know how we handle the hotel, they know the place and that it's family and friends first.  For us its very easy,” said Espinoza.

Most of the guest who stay in the Gran Hotel are foreign individual travelers and families coming from the United States, Canada, England, Spain, Germany, France, and Netherlands. Corporate travelers also frequent the place.  The 107-room hotel has an occupancy rate of 60 to 70 percent all year.

 “I can not say we have a high or low season because we have a balance all over the year,” said Álvaro Salas, Gran Hotel operations manager.

This is not to say that neither hotel has night entertainment for the guest.  The Gran Hotel owns a casino with a separate entrance, and Hotel Don Carlos has a restaurant  and bar.


Three Diablos held in nearly year-old murder in Pavas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three suspects who belong to a gang known as Los Diablos came into law enforcement hands Friday when judicial agents conducted raids in Rincón Grande, Metropoli 2, Villa Esperanza and Lomas del Río, all Pavas, and in Alajuelita. The men, 29, 20 and 21, are suspects in the murder of a man agents said was a purveyor of drugs in the area.

The victim, identified by the last name of Barrantes, became involved in a dispute with the gang, agents said. Aug. 29,
2011, the gang tricked Barrantes and lured him to a spot where he was shot, said agents.

In one raid, agents routed a man who fled and dropped a briefcase containing crack cocine and cash. At another location in Rincón Grande they found a chicken-fighting facility. They said the luxury fighting ring was air conditioned and contained a bar and easy chairs. There also were birds in cages.

The gang got its name not by their own choice but because they are located on what is known as the Finca de los Diablos.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 9, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 135
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Five held in cross-border credit card scam involving U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained five persons Friday and said they were part of an international ring that charged money to the accounts of U.S. citizens even though the cardholders never had been to Costa Rica.

Also involved were victims from Europe, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents conducted raids in Pavas, La Uruca, Santa Ana, Heredia, Palmares and Guanacaste.

In all, three men and two women were held.
The complaint came from a credit card operation here that said some of its customers had large amounts of money charged to their accounts in Costa Rica although they never had been here.

Agents concluded that the operation was an international one in which crooks stole card information from bank customers and then transmitted it to other parts of the world.

The credit card information was incorporated into the magnetic band on a plastic card, and then the crooks here would get a commission for using the card.

Judicial police said that in Costa Rica alone, the amount taken was about 25 million colons or about $50,000.


Sala III upholds murder conviction imposed on Nosara man
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III high criminal court has upheld a sentence of 16 years for a Nosara man convicted of murder. The Poder Judicial reported on the decision Friday. The man, Jorge Arturo Sirias Sequeira, was found to have murdered Michael Eduardo Rojas Murillo, then 23, of Matapalo de Abangares. April 18, 2009.

The verdict came from a second trial because the Sala III had annulled an  earlier verdict.The latest trial was April 14, 2011,
in the  Tribunal de Juicio de Nicoya, The defense lawyer for Sirias appealed that verdict, too, but the Sala III decided that the appeal lacked merit.

The murder happened near the Nosara airport because residents said they heard a shot. But the body was dumped about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. The two men are believed to have known each other and had been on friendly terms. Rojas received a blow to the head as well as a bullet, according to the Poder Judicial.

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Grim jobs report again
raises recession fears


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Stock prices retreated Friday following another weak U.S. jobs report.  U.S. companies added only 80,000 jobs last month, the third straight month of tepid job growth.  Although the unemployment rate held steady at 8.2 percent, the weaker than expected employment numbers are adding to worries that the global recovery is running out of gas.

The U.S. government's closely-watched monthly employment report has become an important barometer of the state of the world's largest economy.  Combined with the debt crisis in Europe, and manufacturing slowdowns in Asia, Friday's jobs report paints a picture of a global economy in decline.

"The U.S. economic recovery remains tepid and downside risks have intensified," said the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Christine Lagarde.

The risks include a sharp decline in business confidence, due to the failure of European leaders to find a comprehensive solution to what is now a three-year-old crisis.  But Standard and Poor's chief equity strategist Sam Stovall says it's not entirely the fault of Europe's leaders.

"I think politicians here in the U.S. as well have not done their job of instilling confidence on Wall Street as well as on Main Street and giving businesses reason to expand," Stovall said.

Both Ms. Lagarde and Stovall point to political discord in the U.S. Congress, and the possibility that lawmakers will once again be unable to agree on a deficit cutting plan and the expiration of tax cuts by the end of the year. Should that happen, Stovall believes the Federal Reserve is likely to step in with a third round of quantitative easing, essentially pumping more dollars into the economy to stimulate growth.

The ratings agency projects China's economy will grow around 8 percent this year, with the U.S. economy picking up strength in the second half of 2012 with about 2 percent growth.


Mexicans march to back
presidential election loser


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Mexico City Saturday to protest the presidential election win by Enrique Peña Nieto, accusing him and his party of widespread vote-buying.

The protesters, including students and leftists, accuse Peña Nieto and his Partido Revolucionario Institutional, the PRI,  of buying the election win by handing out gift cards and groceries to thousands of people in return for their votes in the July 1 polls.

Runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who finished nearly 7 percentage points behind Peña Nieto, said he will file a formal legal challenge to the vote count in electoral courts this week.


Ernest Borgnine dies,
ending flexible career


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine, who could play heartbreaking sensitive roles as easily as he portrayed hulking bullies, has died at 95 in a Los Angeles hospital.

Borgnine entered drama school after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He nearly gave up acting after failing to make much money with small parts on the stage and early television in New York.

After moving to Hollywood, Borgnine won attention for his role as Fatso Judson, the mean-spirited sergeant who beat Frank Sinatra to death in the film “From Here to Eternity.”

But Borgnine's portrayal of Marty, a sad, lonely and homely butcher pestered by his worried mother, won him the 1955 Academy Award for Best Actor and made him a major film star.

Borgnine also won millions of fans as star of the popular television comedy series “McHale's Navy” from 1962 until 1966, and the 1980s adventure series “Airwolf.”


Press group expresses
concern over killing


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has expressed concern at the killing of sports reporter Valério Luiz de Oliveira in Brazil, the fifth such incident in the South American country so far this year, and urged the authorities to promptly solve the crime and bring those responsible to justice.

De Oliveira, 49, was killed outside the building of Rádio Jornal 820 AM, in the city of Goiânia, in Goiás state. A person riding a motorcycle shot six times at de Oliveira, who died before receiving medical attention, an eyewitness reported.

De Oliveira was the son of another well-known local sports reporter, Mané de Oliveira, and according to his colleagues he had received death threats in recent weeks.

So far this year another four journalists have been killed in Brazil

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Three weekend earthquakes
reported in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three earthquakes took place Saturday and Sunday.

The first Saturday was five kilometers south southwest of Golfito on the east shore of the Gulfo Dulce and 15.5 km east northeast of Puerto Jiménez. That was at 3:12 p.m. The estimated magnitude was 3.2, said the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

At 10:24 p.m. a quake rattled the country's northern zone. The estimated epicenter was 14.4 kilometers east northeast of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in northeast Costa Rica. The magnitude was estimated at 3.1.

At 6:20 p.m. Sunday a quake of magnitude 2.8 took place nine kilometers southeast of Colonia de Upala in northwest Costa Rica  not far from the Nicaraguan line.


Decision on Moín docks
scheduled for Aug. 7

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial has confirmed that a trial in the  Tribunal Procesal Contencioso Administrativo involving the proposed $1 billion container facility in Moín has concluded.

The case was brought by the  Cámara de Bananeros and the Sindicato de Trabajadores that represented those who work on the Caribbean docks.

Th case was against the state and also against APM Terminals, the Dutch firm which seeks to build the modern facility. The allegations related to the technicals requirements for putting the public docks out for concession.

A decision is expected by Aug.7, said the Poder Judicial.


Banco Nacional charging
for utility bill payments

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Nacional has quietly instituted a new set of charges for those who would pay utility bills and other debts unrelated to bank activities.

The charge is 300 colons per bill, about 60 U.S. cents.

Unlike some banks in the United states, there still is no charge for conducting bank business at a teller window.

Costa Ricans have paid utility bills at bank windows for generations, but now bank officials want them to do so online or at private firms that collect for the various utilities.






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