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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 152                          Email us
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Legislature votes to float $4 billion in new bonds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers Tuesday approved on first reading a measure that will allow the executive branch to float $1 billion a year in bonds on the international market. The total amount was set at $4 billion.

The measure gives wide discretion to the executive branch on how to spend the money. The cash may be used to reduce the internal debt.

According to the measure that needs one more approval, the interest rate would be keyed to U.S. Treasury bonds for the same period of time but could be higher.

The loan period could be from five to 30 years.

The national budget is about 50 percent borrowed money now, and the debt service on the bonds are likely to increase debt costs in future budgets.

The vote Tuesday came as a result of an agreement among members of the political parties represented in the legislature.  Casa Presidencial praised the
vote, saying that the bonds would improve the financial situation of the country.

Right now, the central government lacks funds to accomplish projects.

However, there is a downside. Some observers fear that the influx of dollars into the country will affect negatively the value of the U.S. dollar against the colon. However, the impact would be so complex that the results are hard to determine. The first influx of money probably will be at the end of the year if the bonds are sold successfully on the international market.

Brokers typically take a percentage of the proceeds for their services, so the first major expenditure will be for this purpose. The bill does not cap the brokerage fees and gives the Ministerio wide discretion to float the bonds.

The current U.S. Treasury interest rate on 30-year bonds is 2.5 percent. So the government's idea is to pay off higher interest rate instruments with the lower yielding new bond issues.

Today is the big day for a flood of pilgrim hikers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the big day for pilgrims on their way to Cartago from all points of the country. They will fill the highways, and emergency and police are working overtime to insure their safety.

Some pilgrims or romeros, as they are called, have been walking for several days to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.  The small, black statue there is called la Negrita, and it is the Costa Rican manifestation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ in Christian theology. Most of the hikers are doing so as thanks for favors granted or with personal petitions they hope the Virgin Mary will present to God, the Father.

Each year some 2 million persons make the trek but not all on the same day. Hikers have been heading for the basilica for two weeks.

The high point is a Roman Catholic Mass Thursday morning, and politicians of every stripe will be there.  The day is a legal holiday.

Fire fighters are active, too. A provision fire station has been set up in Oreamuno west of Cartago. And there is a small, temporary fire facility immediately behind the basilica, the Cuerpo de Bomberos said. Fire stations in Tres Ríos and Cartago have been reinforced.
Ministerio de OLbras Públicas 
y Transportes photo

This is the goal of the pilgrims, the basilica.

The Policía de Tránsito, the Fuerza Pública, judicial police and anti-drug agents are all on the job along the main roads leading to Cartago.There even are aircraft keeping an eye on the hikers during the day. The Cruz Roja has set up aid stations for the weary and the ill.

Heavy trucks and those with dangerous cargos are prohibited along the routes. Traffic has been blocked for three blocks around the basilica and many routes have been restricted to vehicular traffic. The basilica plaza there will be the scene of an all-night religious and social gathering tonight though Thursday morning.

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Investigators seek reason
for murder of Bobby Cox

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are checking the business career of Bobby Cox in an effort to locate the individual or individuals who ordered his murder.

Cox, a one-time associate of fugitive fraudster Luis Enrique Villalobos, died in an assassination Tuesday night in San Miguel de Santo Domingo de Heredia. Police said he held Filipino nationality, although many expats who knew him thought he was a U.S. citizen.

The killing was not random. Agents believe that more than one gunman was involved and that they intercepted a vehicle driven by Cox by using one or more motorcycles. Nearly a dozen bullets were fired at the vehicle, and many hit Cox. It appears that he was shot repeatedly in the head at close range, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents said that the killing was not a robbery because the victim's personal effects were not taken.

Cox, was known as Bobby Gold to hundreds of expats. He claimed to be in continual contact with Villalobos until about two years ago.

Neighbors in the vicinity of the killing notified authorities about 11 p.m., and police found Cox in his Chevrolet Avalanche near an electrical substation in San Miguel.

Cox, 51 when he died, had been in a business relationship with Villalobos, who operated a high interest money borrowing operation known as The Brothers until late 2002 when he fled. Cox, himself, was said to have tried to pick up where Villalobos and his brother left off and started his own money-borrowing operation that offered 3 percent interest per month. But the business was unsuccessful and some expats complained of losing their money there, too.

When Enrique Villalobos fled, Cox continued to try to rally the investors and held meetings at his home. He told investors that he was in close contact with Villalobos, but that never was established conclusively. He was believed to be one of the Villalobos supporters who convinced many investors to refrain from filing criminal charges with the expectation that the fugitive would return to pay them off.

Cox also was believed to be involved in other international business dealings. He also was said to be involved in the operation of a second-division soccer club in Guanacaste. Agents said that Cox lived near the scene of the shooting, and that his family had sought police protection.

*Part of this story appeared in an afternoon update Tuesday.

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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Conditions improve as many return home along the Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Weather conditions improved Tuesday, and the number of Caribbean residents stranded in public shelters declined as flood waters receded. There still were more than 900 being housed, said the national emergency commission.

Cruz Roja workers located the body of another man in Matina, and another body was found in Sixaola, bringing the fatality count for the weekend rains to five.

The commission expects to continue to assess the damage.

President Laura Chinchilla toured the area around Turrialba Tuesday, and the sun was shining brightly.

There still is a chance of more rain on the Caribbean coast, but the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said conditions would be typical of this time of year, the start of the rainy season.

Bridges were damaged in El Poró, Tuis, Colonias de la Suiza and Quebrada Túnel in Campabadal de Turrialba. There also was damage to rail lines in Matina.

Damage to roadways has been extensive. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, said it already has spent 500 million colons, abut $1 million, in the province of Limón alone clearing highways and reinforcing roadways.

Ruta 36, which parallels the Caribbean coast is closed due to a slide four kilometers before the entrance to Bribri. There is a temporary alternate route, said the road agency. Ruta 805 at Matina needs to be resurfaced, and this will be done this weekend, the agency said.

Much of the road damage was in the Turrialba vicinity. Ruta 
fallen bridge
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
Pedestrian bridge at La Suiza might be salvaged.

10, the usual alternative route from San José to the Caribbean has been reopened but there are some spots where the traffic flow is reduced. Ruta 225 to the Pejibaye bridge has been reopened but there are sections that still are dangerous for motorists, said the agency.

A low pressure system that was accompanying a tropical wave in the Atlantic has veered to the north to bring rain to Bermuda and then to Cuba. But a new system has developed in the mid-Atlantic that forecasters are watching.

All over the Caribbean coast and the northern zone residents who have returned to their homes are moving mud and cleaning out the damage caused by slides. An emergency commission geologist flew over critical areas Tuesday.

farmers march
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Tax protesters are led by a sound truck down Avenida 2 in San José.
Farmers on the march to suport bill that would cut their taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thousands of agriculture workers and farm owners from different farmer organizations across Costa Rica arrived in buses to Parque Central to support a proposed law,  N° 18.070.

They are demanding passage of the measure that will exempt much of their agricultural land from taxes.

Corporacion Ganadera,  Camara de Ganadera de Carrillo Guanacaste, and Junta Nacional de Ferias del Agriculture were some of the organizations represented.

The demonstrators marched  to the legislative complex.  Some carried signs with messages about not raising taxes, while others dressed in western clothes and guided oxen attached to oxcarts.

Also, people linked arms to symbolize a united front, and marched with the Costa Rican flag as patriotic music played.
The march ended at the assembly, where demonstrators were met by a live band that played meringue music from a stage.  Also, from this stage, organizers gave speeches about the cause to the crowd.
farmers gather
Partido Liberación Nacional photo
Farms congregate in front of the legislature.

Meanwhile, Casa Presidencial confirmed that the proposed law will be among those that the executive branch designates for action during the August session of the Asamblea Legislativa.

The agricultural sector has said that if productive land is assessed as current law requires, the price of food will go up.

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Food firms want products like sugar included in Colombia pact
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's chamber of the food industry has criticized the Ministry of Foreign Trade for removing sugar, among other products, from the proposed free trade treaty with Colombia in the first round of negotiations.

This will mean that farmers and businesses within the two countries will not be able to buy or sell sugar to each other, as well as coffee, flowers and bananas, which were also excluded from the agreement.

The chamber, the Cámara Costarricense de la Industria Alimentaria, focused on sugar specifically, because it said that not being able to buy sugar from Colombia will put Costa Rican food producers at a disadvantage to Colombian industry.

“If you want a country like Costa Rica to compete with Colombia, you need everything to be on the table,” said Marco Cercone, president of the chamber, in a phone conversation.

Sugar and the other commodities are key exports for both countries.

The chamber pointed out that such restrictions put processed food and drink producers at a disadvantage, because these
companies will not be able purchase the cheapest sugar. The chamber said that this will force these local companies to increase prices and make them less competitive internationally.

“If we don't have the tools with good prices, then we cannot compete,” said Cercone.

In a press release, the chamber said it will not support a treaty with such an agreement between Costa Rica and Colombia, and voiced concerns for what might occur to the local food processing industry if this ends up in the final treaty.

In addition to the standard operational costs, Cercone described in a press release how Costa Rican food producers will have to contend with new competing imports while they must buy more expensive sugar.

"This terrible practice of protecting a commodity, like sugar, is an attack against the consumer and  against creating added value, for this reason, CACIA rejects the possibility of supporting a supposed 'free trade treaty' with such features,” said Cercone in the press release.

This is the first round of negotiations between the countries on the free-trade treaty that will encompass many other products and commodities. Handling negotiations for Costa Rica is the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior.

Tomb of a Mayan prince discovered by German researchers
By the University of Bonn news service

Archaeologists at the University of Bonn have discovered a lavishly adorned tomb of a young prince while excavating in a Maya palace. The discovery was made in a building of the royal palace complex in the Maya city of Uxul, Mexico. The tomb dates from the early Eighth century and, in addition to containing the remains of a 20- to 25-year-old adult, also revealed numerous valuable burial offerings which point to the noble status of the deceased.

Archaeologists from the department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn have been excavating for the past four years together with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History in the Maya city in Campeche, Mexico. The aim of the excavation project under the direction of Nikolai Grube and Kai Delvendahl is to investigate the process of centralization and collapse of state structures in the Maya lowlands using the example of a mid-sized classic Maya city and its ties to a regional center. Uxul is close to the border with Guatemala

Since 2011, excavations have concentrated on the royal palace complex, which is located directly south of the main plazas in the center of Uxul. The palace extends 120 by 130 meters and consists of at least 11 individual buildings which surround five courtyards.

“The palace complex was built around 650 A.D., a time when the neighboring ruling dynasty from Calakmul was extending its influence over large areas of the Maya lowlands,” explained Professor Grube. In 2011 six sculpted panels were discovered during excavations of the southern stairway of the largest building of the group, Structure K2. Four of these panels depict kings from Calakmul playing ball. The similarities in the layout of the centers of Calakmul and Uxul and especially of the main palace complexes in the two cities led the researchers to suggest that Uxul, originally a smaller independent kingdom, may have been temporarily ruled and inhabited by members of the Kaan Dynasty of Calakmul.

Through recent excavations in several of Uxul´s central buildings, the changes in the city´s center can be linked directly to the time of military and political expansion of the Kaan Dynasty during the reign of Yukno´m Ch´een II, in the first half of the 7th century. However, the influence subsided after 705 A.D., and there is a strong likelihood that a local ruling family came back to power for a few generations. At the start of the 9th century, Uxul was almost completely abandoned.

“During this year´s excavation below one of the southern
A cup fro a prince
Archäologisches Projekt Uxul/Universität Bonn photo
This is presumed to be the prince's drinking cup.

rooms of Structure K2, we have discovered a richly furnished tomb, which can be dated to the time right after the influence of Calakmul in Uxul had ended” explained Delvendahl. The walls of the crypt are made of rough stone, and the chamber was covered with a corbel vault, typical for the Maya culture. In the interior of this tomb chamber which dates back about 1,300 years, the remains of a young man were discovered who was buried on his back with his arms folded. Deposited around him were four ceramic plates and five ceramic vases in an exceptionally preserved state, some of which were decorated with spectacular paintings and moldings. A unique plate, painted in the famed Codex-Style, was covering the skull of the deceased.”

On one of the vases, there was a simple dedication, written in hieroglyphics, which read: “the drinking vessel of the young man/prince,” said Grube. Also a second molded vessel appears to mention a young man or prince, he said.

Although these references are not definite clues as to the identity of the departed, the location of the tomb and the absence of certain status markers, such as jade jewelry, would indicate that the deceased was a young male member of the ruling family who was not in direct line for the throne, Grube added.

The exceptionally preserved ceramics in particular make this tomb one of the most significant discoveries of its kind in the entire Maya lowlands, Grube added.

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French lawmakers approve
tough sex harassment law

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As old sexual scandals implicating former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn continue to haunt his native France, French lawmakers have approved a tough new sexual harassment law.

French government figures offer cause for alarm. Out of hundreds of sexual harassment complaints filed in France every year, only about 80 resulted in sentences under France's old sexual harassment law.

In May, the country's constitutional court tossed out that law on grounds that it was too vague. Two months later, both France's senate and national assembly have passed a replacement that will make sexual harassment a criminal offense.

Culprits face prison sentences of up to two or three years and hefty fines, penalties that are essentially double those under the old law. Potentially offensive behavior can include sexual jokes, neck massages and leaving pornographic material on office desks.

A number of groups have praised the new legislation. But Mary Heloise, a jurist at the women's rights group Ni Putes Ni Soumises — French for "neither prostitutes nor doormats" — says it does not go far enough.

Ms. Heloise says the toughest penalties are only for extreme cases. Generally, she claims, people who steal mobile phones face harsher penalties than sexual harassment offenders.

Critics say France is fertile territory when it comes to sexual harassment.

Consider the reaction by male lawmakers earlier this month when Cecile Duflot, the housing minister, addressed them wearing a blue and white flowered dress. The hooting and catcalls have since sparked plenty of debate about machoism in French society, including in the parliament which is dominated by men.

Jurist Heloise says it clearly shows the lawmakers need to curb behavior that is clearly sexist.

The new legislation is unrelated to the sex scandals dogging Strauss-Kahn. But they have sparked much soul searching in France about sexual harassment in the workplace and, some say, a new awakening to women's rights in France.

NASA prepared for landing
of Mars rover 'Curiosity'

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. space agency is preparing for its newest Mars rover, “Curiosity,” to touch down on the Red Planet Monday.  The rover's entry and descent will be nerve-wracking for NASA engineers, compounded by a 14-minute delay as the rover's signals travel to Earth from Mars.  If successful, “Curiosity” will be the sixth NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.
Curiosity is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars science laboratory spacecraft, launched in November aboard an Atlas V rocket.
It's traveled some 560 million kilometers (347 million miles) toward its destination, the Red Planet.
At 2.8 meters long, the Mini Cooper-sized rover is much bigger than its rover predecessors, “Spirit,” “Opportunity” and “Sojourner.”  A nuclear battery will enable “Curiosity” to operate year-round and farther from the equator than would be possible with only solar power.

”Curiosity” is a Mars scientist's dream machine, said Ashwin Vasavada , ahead of its launch. "This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another planet, but it's actually the most capable scientific explorer we've ever sent out," he said.
“Curiosity” will be traveling at about 20,000 kph (12,400 mph) when it hits the Martian atmosphere.  It will have only seven minutes to reduce its speed for a soft landing.  NASA engineers will not be able to  control or even witness the events in real time. They call this period seven minutes of terror.
Ideally, after a parachute deploys, engines will fire for a powered descent.
A team of space agency scientists selected the landing site, the foot of a mountain within a deep, 150-kilometer-wide 93-mile) depression called Gale Crater.  Each layer of rock contains clues about the planet's evolution.

U.S. Fed considers actions
to boost economic growth

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. central bank officials are meeting in Washington, to consider whether new measures are needed to boost economic growth and cut the stubbornly high jobless rate.

Federal Reserve policy makers are discussing options through today before announcing any actions to try to spur the U.S. economy, the world's largest. The American economy only advanced 1.5 percent in the April-to-June period, while the unemployment rate has been stuck for 41 straight months above 8 percent, an unusually high level.

U.S. economists are divided on whether the central bank will act now or wait until September, after collecting more information on the country's economic trends. The government is to release unemployment and job-growth numbers for July Friday.

Central bank efforts have not significantly boosted the economy from the depths of the country's 2009 recession, its worst in seven decades. The Federal Reserve has twice bought U.S. bonds and mortgage-back securities in an effort cut long-term interest rates, which some analysts say it could do again.

In part, the U.S. economy has been hurt by the stagnant economy in Europe's 17-nation euro currency union, one of its main trading partners. European central bank policy makers are meeting Thursday to consider whether to make direct purchases of Spanish and Italian bonds to help cut the borrowing costs for the debt-ridden Madrid and Rome governments.
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television complaint
Policía de Control Fiscal photo
These are some of the televisions that were confiscated.

Tax police conduct raids
and confiscate 3,423 TVs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tax police raided two warehouses Tuesday and confiscated 3,423 flat-screen televisions, according to legislators who were advised of the action.

Also participating was the Fiscalía de Delitos Tributarios.

Without naming names, the report said that the warehouses contained goods from a major Costa Rican electronics sale firm that has stores all over the country. The report did not name the firm.

The investigation is seeking evidence of smuggled goods, and sources said that the evasion of import tax is of enormous proportions. The televisions were described as being 19, 24 and 32-inches.

This appears to be the largest confiscation by the  Policía de Control Fiscal del Ministerio de Hacienda in recent years.

A photo released by the tax police showed boxes of flat-screen televisions stacked to the ceiling.

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