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These stories were published Thursday, July 14, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 138
Jo Stuart
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Agent surveys the burned-out top floor of the hospital's old building as the detailed probe of the fire begins.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Investigators begin their search for a cause
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization began their detailed study Wednesday of the heavily damaged sections of Hospital Calderón Guardia in an effort to determine why a fire broke out early Tuesday.

Officials also released a revised body count and said that all of the 19 dead had been identified except one male. Three nurses were among the dead.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that no conclusions have been made as to the cause of the fire. Agents are treating the case as a criminal investigation until they can conclude that the fire was not set.

Information from those who escaped the building about 2:25 a.m. Tuesday suggests that the fire came from a gas explosion or that some kind of explosion figured in the early stages of the blaze.

Informal reports point to a short circuit in an electrical device in the radiological section of the hospital. Several strong explosions were heard during the course of the fire, which is not unusual in a place where oxygen tanks and other compressed gases are stored.

Agents arrived about 11 a.m. Wednesday to begin their efforts. They are members of the Sección de Delitos Various, which handles a number of different types of crimes. They will be assisted by the Laboratorios de Ciencias Forenses of the agency.

Damage from the blaze is now being set at about $20 million. The replacement value of the structure is about $8 million. The remaining loss is attributed to the equipment that was destroyed.

Damage is so great that officials are talking about demolishing the structure and rebuilding on the site. The top two floors of the five-story structure were heavily damaged.

The three nurses who died were Patricia Fallas Portilla, María Elena Díaz Garita and Mayra Mercado González. All died helping patients escape.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Flag at Hospital Calderón Guardia flies at half staff as a sign of mourning for the 19 dead.
The dead patients who have been identified are Alfonso Hidalgo Madrigal, Antonio Barquero Quesada, Gilberto Morales Cordero, Rigoberto Mora Barboza, Ronald Vega Solano, Rodolfo Arguedas Campos, Juan Carlos Suárez, Alfonso Pérez Alvarado, Anabelio Agüero Chavarria, Francisco Jirón Quintero, Raúl Madrigal Matamoros, Rafael Ángel Solano Sojo, Orlando Segura Guzmán, José Gutiérrez Monge and Asdrúal Vindas Chinchilla.

Most of the dead were in the neurosurgical ward recovering from brain surgery. They had little chance because the 52-year-old hospital building had only one exit, no working alarms and no working smoke detectors, according to firemen.

According to a statement by the Judicial Investigating Organization, the agency's participation in the investigation will end if the cause of the fire is determined to be accidental. Investigators then will not address the question of criminally negligent homicide by those who failed to install adequate safety devices in the hospital.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 14, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 138

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Our readers respond

Free trade treaty is
only good for big biz

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A few comments in regards to the letters from both George Chapognag and Oliver Duex. The article by Duex was fair and balanced and from my perspective very right on, and he didn't even have to resort to below-the-belt insults like Chapognag. 

It's difficult to understand how somebody who at least had the forsight to escape from America can maintain the political views that he does. Why should it be so difficult to see CAFTA for what it is, the most up-to-date manifestation of manifest destiny. It is our God-given right to rule and dominate the planet no matter how screwed up things are in our own country.

What about that old Biblical quote about removing the log in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbors. CAFTA and NAFTA and all the rest are just simply devices to pepetuate the corporate imperium of the U.S. and multi nationals in general. Big biz wants to get out of the U.S. where labor is paid an honorable wage and the environment must be respected (at least until Bush/Cheney) in favor of doing business in the third world or less developed world where they don't have to regard the environment and current economic conditions guarantee them a slave labor force.

There will be more jobs for people and certain benefits but in the bigger picture it's only a win for Haliburton and Bechtel and the Carylye Group, etc. After  seeing the effects of privatization in Panamá with Union Fenosa from Spain and Cable and Wireless, the infamous English pirates, I can see the wisdom of nationalized utility companies at least in small countries like Costa Rica and Panamá. Panamá now has the highest electricity rates and worst phone service that I am aware of in Latin America. ICE is bad or so I thought when I lived in Costa Rica for so long, but as bad as they are they are better than what we have here in Panamá and I make it my mission to tell every Tico to resist CAFTA and above all to make sure that Cable and Wireless never set foot in C.R.

If the incompetent government of C.R. could fix the roads and keep a steady course instead of changing their minds every 15 minutes, I might consider moving back there. At least there is some human factor at work there unlike in the mighty beast to the north.

I suggest to our friend Senor Chapognog that if he really wants to acquire a more balanced perspective of history to read "The Peoples History of the United States," a masterly scholarly work that deserves a Pulitzer Prize. This book blew my mind even though I was already familiar with the alternative view. Please don't say Pura Vida if you don't mean it.  Aloha,  

Alan Bollinger
She's angry at officials
who failed on hospital

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

RE: hospital fire

I am so infuriated, as I think many people should be! Pacheco (he does not deserve enough respect to be called Mr.) claims that Costa Rica is such a
poor country and couldn't afford to have proper safety measures in, of all places, a hospital.!!!

Well, Pacheco, possibly raiding and removing all the corruption monies from the ex-presidents' secret accounts, including your own, could have saved
these precious lives.

Please do not insult the intelligences of the people of Costa Rica by blaming this total tragedy on our "poor country."

Citizens and residents, let us make sure our taxes are going to the right places and not into these "fat cats" pockets.

Let's take the time to be damned angry and at the same time say a heartfelt prayer for the victims of a senseless tragedy.

Cathy Knorr
Jaco, Garabito
He has same problem
as fake marriage writer

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I really liked the article on fake marriages. I can see it is from the heart of this woman.

I, myself, am in the process of buying a business in Costa Rica. After working with a great attorney, I think it is a done deal. I will know Friday of this week.

Same problem for me. I have to leave the country every three months, cannot get residency, don't have a pension as of yet and just shake my head.

I love Costa Rica, the people and the culture. I can see what this lady was going through and support her, even if it is illegal. The government someday has to take a look at the people that care and have a passion to own a business. I am not doing this because of what I can buy this for, but to live and enjoy Costa Rica. I can tell you I make much more in the U.S.A. than I will running this business.

You may pass this onto her if you would like.

[signed only] Rick
Shark species to carry
satellite beacons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Researchers are convening on Isla de Coco to mark whale and hammerhead sharks with satellite beacons. 

Organizers of the project, which will last through Sunday, hope to establish migration routes for the whale sharks and discover whether the hammerheads currently patrolling the island are residents, said a press release. 

This visit is the first of many expeditions to the island to mark the sharks there, the release said.  The project should last for two years.  

The team is made up of researchers from the Instituto de Investigación Sobre Tiburones and the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas. 

The Costa Rican government protected Isla del Coco in 1978 by making it a national park.  The island's surrounding waters are renowned for the diversity of sharks that live there, said the release. 

Melico Salazar event
will be 'Luisa Fernanda'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Spanish musical comedy “Luisa Fernanda” is scheduled for several nights in August at the Teatro Melico Salazar. 

This “zarzuela,” as this type of play is called, is one of the most popular works in the genre, said a press release.  “Luisa Fernanda” is a three-act play set in 1868 Madrid.  The action takes place at the end of the reign of Queen Isabel when conservatives and liberal, republicans and monarchists conspired in silence, said a press release.  The first production was in Madrid in 1932.

The scheduled showings at the Teatro Melico Salazar are Aug. 26, 27, 28, 30, 31 and Sept. 1.  Tickets range from 8,000 colons to 16,000 colons per person, or from $16.50 to $33.

This production will use over 75 singers, choir members, dancers, orchestra members, stage crafters and technicians.  
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'It's not our fault,' La Extra says of  bloody photo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diario Extra, the San José Spanish-language daily, pushes the envelope on taste and decency every day.

But Wednesday the newspaper apologized for “an involuntary error” that put the battered, bloody body of a dead young accident victim on Monday's front page.

La Extra, as it is called, has a tradition of picturing death and violence as well as scantily clad young ladies. The formula works because the newspaper has the greatest circulation at least in the Central Valley.

But the maimed body of Jeanneth Loria Mena proved to be too much for many of the hardened La Extra readers. The newspaper said it had been called to account by readers who telephoned or sent e-mail messages.

North American newspapers usually do not publish photographs of bodies unless there is an overriding reason to do so. At La Extra, no edition would be complete without at least one body.

In a Page 14 statement Wednesday the newspaper responded to the complaints. The “Explanation and excuses for the front page photo of Monday” said that the bloody photo of the woman got in the prime position by accident. The newspaper outlined a complex situation in which editors decided to use a less graphic photo of another murder but accidentally left in computer information that cause the offending photo to be published.

So the bloody photo was published “without anyone's fault,” said the newspaper. The statement was unsigned but presumably reflects the thoughts of management. Ducking direct responsibility is a Costa Rican tradition.

The newspaper said that the photo had been taken by a correspondent at the vehicle accident scene in

Monday paper
Bodies and babes
are a standard
Diario Extra

Typical paper
Pavón de Golfito. The newspaper statement said that the photo, although scheduled for Page One, arrived late Sunday night and editors immediately decided it was too bloody and graphic. The woman's face is heavily damaged.

The newspaper said that the editors changed the photo for another that showed a man who “was dead from only a single stab wound in the heart.” But the editors forgot to erase computer instructions that were at the foot of the page, the newspaper said.

The newspaper tried to prove its point by noting that the offending photo appeared in smaller size on Page 27 of the same edition. However, the newspaper frequently runs photos identical to the Page One photo alongside news articles inside.

The photo was so graphic that it was a topic of conversation among reporters and editors of other publications as soon as it appeared.

The newspaper also said that it throws out a grand quantity of tasteless photos. “. . . in the case of Monday it was one of those, this photo was not going to be published not in the front page and not inside and no one in the country would have known of its existence.”

The newspaper offered “excuses from the bottom of our heart,” the statement said.

Saturdays and now Fridays the newspaper publishes swimsuit models who sometimes take up the entire side of the front page. And the swimsuits seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

Country accepts $117 million loan keyed to free trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Although Costa Rican officials have been hot and cold to the proposed free trade treaty with the United States, they still accepted a nearly $117 million loan Wednesday to make ready for the agreement.

The loan is coming from the Interamerican Development Bank, and the purpose of the money is to increase the country's competitiveness in anticipation of the challenges brought by the free trade treaty.

The minister of Hacienda, Federico Carrillo, signed an agreement with the international development agency Wednesday in the presence of President Able Pacheco.

Costa Rica is required to put up $91.5 million, which Carrillo has said will be covered by allocations in the budget to various government agencies.  The loan is for 25 years and no payments are necessary for five years. The interest rate is variable, based on market conditions.

Among other things, the government says it will use the money to rehabilitate some 2,000 kilometers of rural roads so farm produce can get to market easier. That's about 1,240 miles. Costa Rican roads have deteriorated under the Pacheco administration because fuel tax funds have been diverted from roads to other uses.

When it approved the loan last month, the Interamerican Development Bank said the money would support a program to boost Costa Rica’s competitiveness by investing in strategic sectors for economic growth: small- and medium-size enterprise productivity, trade management, technological innovation and rural roads.

The program, which combines investment and technical assistance components, is part of the “complementary agenda” proposed by the Costa Rican government to smooth the transition to free trade.

“These programs can help countries prepare for competition in an open economy,” said Enrique V. Iglesias development bank president, after the Board of Executive Directors approved the loan. Iglesias also praised Costa Rica’s efforts to address “its society’s legitimate concerns” regarding integration.

The program seeks to help Costa Ricans maximize the benefits of trade liberalization by responding to needs identified in national and international studies and in the government’s dialogue with the country’s productive sectors, said the agency.

Costa Rica carried out a successful process of trade and economic liberalization from the mid-1980s, promoting export diversification and attracting a growing flow of long-term investment. On the basis of comparative advantages such as political stability, persistent investment in education and an aptitude for scientific and technological innovation, Costa Rica managed to grow at an annual rate of 5.2 percent during the 1990s, surpassing the regional average.

However, some of the factors that weigh in Costa Rica’s competitiveness have been eroding during the present decade, such as the quality of its transportation infrastructure – particularly its rural roads. There are also shortcomings in the transfer of scientific and technological innovations to small and medium enterprises as well as in the state’s mechanisms to promote economic output, said the bank.

These needs were identified as priorities in broad consultations the Costa Rican government held with hundreds of companies in 49 different productive sectors, business chambers, local governments, academic institutions and civil society organizations.

In light of these priorities, the program will make investments and provide technical assistance in the following areas, according to the bank:

Support for small and medium enterprises. Even though they contribute nearly one-third of national
income and generate a great part of the jobs in Costa Rica, small- and medium-size enterprises represent just 13 percent of exports. To foster more participation in trade, the program will co-finance business development services to help them overcome their lack of information about opportunities and knowledge of regulations and quality requirements in foreign markets. It will also support instruments to involve more small and medium enterprises in collaborative export projects.

Assistance for the transition to free trade. The program will finance, together with private sector associations, projects to raise productivity across entire economic sectors. It will support, among other activities, consultancies and managerial and technical training; technological research and development, sector-wide quality standards, marketing plans, logistics systems development and the adoption of international measurements and animal and plant health regulations.

Trade management. The program will strengthen and modernize the public sector agencies responsible for implementing trade agreements, in areas such as labor legislation compliance; animal and plant health and food safety, drug quality control, competition, consumer rights, unfair trade practices and safeguards, farm census and productive sector surveys and intellectual property protection.

Science and technology. Costa Rica still has a certain advantage in the Central American region but its levels of investment in research and development are below those of the world’s most dynamic economies, and the private sector’s participation is low. In order to encourage private investment, the program will co-finance projects to strengthen links between businesses and academic centers and ensure the pertinence of scientific research and technological development to the country’s productive sectors.

It will also increase the productivity and capacity to innovate of research and development centers, education institutions and technology services in three strategic poles identified by officials: biology, materials science and engineering and information and communication technologies.

Rural roads. In order to contribute to the competitiveness of Costa Rica’s rural economy, the program will finance the rehabilitation of rural roads to make them usable year-round. Using a system of participative planning, execution and monitoring, 2,000 kms. of roads will be improved and drainage works will be carried out along 1,500 kms. of roads. The project will help Costa Rica speed up the recovery of its rural roads networks, contributing to reduce transportation costs for people and businesses in the countryside. At present, nearly half the roads are in poor condition.

The rural roads maintenance system, which involves all three levels of government (national, regional and local), will also be strengthened. As part of the program, local residents will be trained in Costa Rica’s 81 municipalities so they may form road committees to plan and carry out routine and periodic road maintenance. It will also strengthen the capacity of municipal governments to implement systems to monitor rural roads in their jurisdiction, as well as the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes as the sector’s regulating agency.

The development bank said it expects that this program, which reflects its strategy of supporting Costa Rica’s national development plan, will generate greater benefits than the sum of its parts by contributing to improve the country’s business climate and creating more incentives for its companies and productive sectors.

There was no indication what will happen if Costa Rica decides not to participate in the Central American free trade agreement or if the U.S. House rejects the proposal in a vote likely to take place this month.

Much of the Costa Rican national budget goes for debt service, and Carrillo has complained that his ministry has to spend two colons for every colon that comes in as fees or taxes.

Very simply . . .  your choices here in Costa Rica of finding your dream home are limited to:

1. a Tico home:  claustrophobic, cold water, and postage stamp land size.

2.  a rare American-style home . . . normally at a VERY inflated price . . . in Grecia, a town of 50,000 less than an hour from San José  there are MAYBE five existing homes for resale suitable for most "gringos."

3.  a renovation;  problem here is that it typically costs more to remodel than to build from scratch.
And of course, we have all heard the horror stories about building in Costa Rica: the builders that absconded with the money —  the five-year wait until completion — the shoddy workmanship . . . and so on.

BUT... think for a minute:  "what do Ticos do when in the market for a new home?"  ANSWER:  "they BUILD" So...just maybe...the horror stories are an exaggeration... or....

The simple fact is this:    BUILDING IN COSTA RICA IS SAFER AND LESS RISKY THAN BUILDING IN THE UNITED STATES.... and obviously the cost is less.

If you are having problems finding your dream home... talk to us.  We work with a small group of very talented and very honest builders who guarantee their work... honor their contracts... and live in the areas in which they build. 

Call us... and come and visit... and see for yourselves .

Call today or e-mail for an appointment:    011-506-444-1695 or 011-506-841-5782  

New Hurricane Emily is making tracks across the eastern Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weather forecasters say Hurricane Emily is expected to produce from three to six inches of rains across the Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and portions of northern Venezuela, the Island of Margarita and the Netherlands Antilles, according to the U.S. Hurricane Information Center.

The storm center was very near Grenada at midnight Costa Rican time.
Emily is moving west at about 18 mph (30 kph) and a gradual turn to the northwest is expected during the next 24 hours, said the center. The hurricane was a category one early today, but the hurricane center said some strengthening is expected.

This latest storm comes just days after Hurricane Dennis killed at least 26 people in Haiti and Cuba and caused billions of dollars in damage. Although hurricanes do not come on land in Costa Rica, the effects of the hurricane are felt here.

Ring of bank account thieves had inside help with their scheme
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents have arrested five persons as suspects in  elaborate thefts that gathered personal identification numbers at automatic teller machines and used that information to withdraw large sums of money from banks, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Two of the five suspects are a man and his son. Thieves would stand behind people in line at cash machines not protected by cubicles, a report said. 

From their vantage point they watched as people typed in their person identification numbers and then recorded the name that flashed on the screen when the transaction was finished.  Then, they would take
the information to an Internet cafe and figure out where the victim had an account. 

This information was passed to a bank employee, officials said.  The employee would wait until a large amount was deposited in an account and inform the thieves.  Two other men would then make the withdrawals, the report said.

In addition to the man and his son, agents arrested a woman bank employee and two men they said would impersonate account holders and make the withdrawals.

Officials said they started investigating the thefts in December.
Jo Stuart
About us
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