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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 158                          Email us
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Bandits using taxi drivers for long-distance heists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers are getting taxi drivers to do their work, the Judicial Investigating Organization reported Wednesday.

In a scenario that seems like it comes from late night television, crooks call up a taxi dispatcher and ask a driver to be dispatched to a certain store, said the judicial police, giving this additional explanation:

About the time the driver reaches the store, the crook calls the dispatcher and obtains the cell number of the driver. On the pretext that the
 telephone in the store is either out of service or busy, the crook tells the driver to enter the store and give the cell phone to the clerk.

That's when the robber tells the clerk that the driver is armed and wants the money put in an envelope. When the clerk delivers the cash to the man he or she thinks is a robber, the taxi driver delivers the money to the crook, all the while not knowing he has been an accomplice to a stickup.

To add insult to injury, the crook sometimes declines to pay the taxi driver for the trip.

Judicial police said this technique has not been used before in Costa Rica.



Expat faces defamation charge over YouTube video
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sheldon Hazeltine, the self-described Anglo-American, who is fighting to keep ownership of land in the Central Pacific, has been served with a criminal notice for defamation.

Hazeltine reported this Wednesday, the same day that a separate criminal hearing against him and his lawyer was postponed in Puntarenas court.

Hazeltine is the man who made a 7-minute, 14-second YouTube video describing his 14-year court fight to keep the land he and his partners own. The video is at the heart of the defamation allegation.

The complaint came from Armando González Fonseca of Curridabat, Fuad Farach Abdalah of San Rafael de Escazú, Ricardo Jiménez Montealegre of Sánchez de Curridabat and Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora of Santa Lucia de Barva, Heredia.

The case was filed July 24 by Ceciliano Mora, a lawyer. He said that at trial he will show that the video has offended the dignity, decorum, reputation and good name of those bringing the case. The lawyer notes that removing the video from YouTube is unlikely with the order of a judge, suggesting that he may seek this at trial.

The lawyer also entered into evidence a translation of the video by an official translator. The filing also contains statements from those bringing the case that the video has caused damage to family and commercial life.
Defamation in Costa Rica is covered by article 146 of the penal code, which says someone will be penalized with from 20 to 70 days fine for dishonoring another or publishing any sort of material to affect reputation. There also would be the prospect of a civil money award upon conviction.

So far, the YouTube video has had 7,519 views.

However, article 149 provides truth as a defense, particularly if the statements are in the public interest.

The filing by the lawyer makes much of his arrest last year. Hazeltine said in the video that according to local newspapers Ceciliano has three convictions and had been detained in December in a case related to drugs, arms trafficking and money laundering. Ceciliano explains in the filing that he was freed in January by a judge because he was a lawyer and the judge said that he was not part of a criminal ring but just exercising his legal profession as a defensor.

Hazeltine has five days to file an answer to the criminal charge with the court.

Hazeltine said by telephone Wednesday that the Puntarenas criminal case was postponed until October. This is a forgery case brought by González Fonseca challenging Hazeltine's right to represent the corporation that owns the disputed land in a civil case. Hazeltine and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez, have been cleared in two trials. But each time the acquittal was annulled on appeal for technical reasons. Even the local prosecutor has supported the pair and says there was no forgery.


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Tourism operators planning
expo in San José next week

By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A coalition of more than half a dozen public and private organizations representing the tourism industry plans an Aug. 16 exposition to get local travel agencies acquainted with their options.

The nine organizations, including the national chamber of tourism and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, expect more than 85 businesses to have booths at the Travel Show Expo 2012 and an additional 125 to attend, said organizer Erick Asch.

Asch explained that many of the hotels, restaurants, tour companies, travel agencies and other businesses are small operations, and as such, they have difficulty connecting with potential customers.

“There have been very few opportunities to promote ourselves, because we are small businesses,” said Asch. “We need to sell now or never.”

This event is the second of three expos held every year for such businesses. The first one was in May and the third one will be in November.

Asch is no stranger to the problems facing small businesses in the tourism industry and how necessary promotion is. He and his family have owned and operated a small hotel in Manuel Antonio, called Hotel Divisamar, for 35 years.

“We know the needs and the results we have to have,” he said.

However, more than just promotion, Asch said that an equally valuable part of the event for businesses is the ability for these businesses to network with one another and help each other.

“We have the chance and the opportunity to talk between companies,” he said. “It's very rare for us to talk with one another.”

The expo will run from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Calles Blancos, and it will be free and open to the public.


 
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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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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 158
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Growers seek to brand their national production of potatoes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's potato farmers are going to brand their product with a little seal of a Sr. Potatohead.

The idea is to give consumers the news that the potato came from Costa Rica. Potato growers are facings growing international competition.

The Cámara Costarricense de Productores de Papa announced this Wednesday, which happened to be the national day of the potato.

The seal said that Costa Rican potatoes are of the best quality.  The country has about 1,000 potato growers, and they have been facing over production in recent months, said the chamber. This year's production may reach 34,000 tons, the chamber said, about 8,000 tons more than the annual average.

The official presentation of the new seal was to be Wednesday night in Cartago, the heart of potato country.

The growers will round out the festivities with the first national potato fair in Plaza Mayor de Cartago near the Las Ruinas this weekend. Growers will have suggestions on ways to prepare potatoes
potato guy

Individual branding of food products is not new. The concept has been tried with eggs, apples and a number of other products to encourage loyalty from consumers.


Elementary program seeks to keep schools free of firearms
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In 2010, a student at Colegio Montebello, a private school in Heredia, shot and killed the principal, Nancy Chaverri.  The act was what the ministry of peace is calling a wake-up call for gun education in schools, the ministry said.

“He was young, and he killed the principal because he didn't know how to solve his problem with her,” said Ana Lucía Cascante Acuña, an advisor to the vice minister of Paz. “This is a wake-up call.  So far this year we reached 4,000 kids with our program.  We want to end the year with 8,000.”

The Ministerio de Justicia y Paz is sponsoring a campaign called Escuelas Libres de Armas to educate elementary school students about gun violence.  First, second and third graders at the Escuela Naciones Unidas in San José saw the program Wednesday.

“We tell them the negative effects of using weapons.  We try to explain to them that guns are not for their defense but can have this super negative effect that is death,” said Ms. Cascante.

In the beginning students are allowed to trade in toy weapons for coloring books with built-in activities about gun safety. The following presentation featured a video and interactive question-and-answer session about how to handle confrontations.  

“We exchange toy guns for artistic products such as coloring pencils and crayons.  In some cases people have brought real guns and said, 'I have a real gun, can you give me two notebooks.'  We're trying to explain to them that they have a lot of alternatives to play with,” said Ms. Cascante.

Presenters tell the students about kids who have confused toy guns with real guns.  This is important because many families in Costa Rica have guns, making them assessable to children, officials said.  The youth thinks the guns are normal and essential to possess, said the ministry.

“They look at it as a natural thing, but we explain to them that it is not natural.  We do this because we know they are kids and they want to play with guns. There have been a lot of cases where guns have killed kids,” said Ms. Cascante.

The ministry targets the younger kids because they want to plant a seed in their heads that guns are bad.  By the age of 10, many Costa Rican youngsters have already manipulated a gun, and by high school teenagers own guns, the ministry said.  Some of them even bring their guns to school, said the ministry.
nti-gun coloring book
Coloring book promotes anti-gun educaton

“In high schools our message is different.  We teach them to solve problems in a specific way and give alternatives that are not violent.”

So far the Escuelas Libres de Armas program has visited 30 schools.  Friday the presenters will help paint a large peace mural called Graffiti de Paz with students from Escuela Manuela Santa Maria in Alajuela.

According to Ms. Cascante, the program receives support from both the ministry and the community.

“Vice Minister Max Ramírez always goes with us.  It is great because we have great support from a great leader and he's great with the kids.”

All the artistic materials passed out to the children Wednesday were a donation from the United Nations, and the juice and snacks were donated by the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

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Survey finds vast differences face shoppers for Día de Madre
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some merchandisers appear to have little mercy even during the runup to mother's day, Aug. 15.

The economics ministry found interest rates on possible presents for mother that were as high as 97 percent. In addition a study of the marketplace showed that the same item was priced as much as 92 percent higher in some stores and that the price of similar items had a range of up to 399 percent.

The ministry conducted the study in July and announced the results Wednesday. Prices were checked on kitchen appliances and other products that might make a gift for mother.

The ministry also found that not all outlets were providing the information the law requires for consumers.

Prices were checked on rice cookers, automatic coffee makers, electric frying pans, refrigerators, electric stoves with ceramic tops, washing machines and 32-inch flat screen televisions. The surveyors visited 46 outlets in San José, Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia, the ministry said.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio's consumer office does similar surveys at peak buying times. For example,
the agency checks the price of seasonal foods before Semana Santa.

Interest rates for the products ranged from 42 to 97 percent, the survey report said. And two different types of financing had a difference of 60 percent for a typical washing machine, the report said.

In all cases, of course, the price after financing was significantly greater than the cash price.

The report said that the lack of information was mainly in the description of credit terms.

The survey showed that a Panasonic flat screen television could cost a purchaser 150,000 colons (about $300) at a store in Desamparados and 229,900 colons (about $460) in Zapote.

The biggest differences in similar items were for a rice cooker and a coffee maker. The rice cooker sells for 10,500 to 35,162 colons, a difference the survey report said was 335 percent. That's about $21 to $70.40.

The 12-cup automatic coffee maker sells for 7,700 colons up to 30,700 colons, some $15.40 to $61.40. That's 399 percent, the report said.


Riteve opponents say they are bringing a case against president
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Movimiento Dignidad Nacional said Wednesday that it was bringing a criminal case against President Laura Chinchilla

press conference
Accion Democratica photo
José Miguel Corrales watches while Claudio Monge Pereira explains the action against the president.
 because the vehicle inspection firm Riteve S y C has been given a 10-year extension to do business here.

The announcement came at a press conference in the legislative building from Claudio Monge Pereira of the Partido Acción Democracia and former lawmaker José Miguel Corrales, representing the dignity movement.

The complaint also lists several other government officials.

The revision tecnica opponents say that the new transport law requires the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes to open up the vehicle inspection process.

They also argue that there was no public bidding and that these actions hurt local vehicle shops.  Monge said that the current firm cannot provide the services because one of its partners is a foreign Spanish firm.

The opponents allege favoritism on the part of the president.

Riteve has established inspection stations all over the country and as a condition of the concession extension, it has agreed to build more.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 158
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Food versus fuel conflict
fanned by U.S. drought


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The price of maize — called corn in the United States — is soaring on global markets, as the worst drought in decades parches the American Midwest.  The prices of meat, milk and eggs are expected to climb, and the increasing proportion of maize used to produce ethanol for auto fuel has pushed prices higher.  The situation has re-kindled the fight between food and fuel.

There has been a corn maize boom in rural Iowa, in America's heartland.  In corn-farming towns like Galva that had been shrinking for decades, new homes are being built.

A new 400-seat performing arts center opened at the local school.

And farmers like Alan Bennett are buying new equipment. "This is my new combine," said Bennett.

One big factor boosting the local economy is just down the hill from Bennett's corn and soybean fields.  Quad County Corn Processors turns his harvest into ethanol fuel.

There are three ethanol plants within easy driving distance,  he said. "And there is a lot of competition for corn now.  And there was not before."

In 2005, Congress passed a law requiring ethanol in U.S. gasoline.  One reason was to produce more fuel at home, says Quad County manager Delayne Johnson.
 
"As we have domestically produced products, we have less dependency on the Middle East, where we have obviously spent money trying to defend that area," said Johnson.

Use of domestically produced ethanol has grown as government requirements have increased.  Now, at least a quarter of the U.S. corn crop is turned into fuel.

Economists say that is one reason the price of corn is triple what it was before 2005.

Bill Tentinger grows corn 100  kilometers away, in Le Mars, Iowa.

But he also feeds corn to his pigs.  He supports ethanol to a point.

Cattle, pigs and chickens are competing with that corn-consuming animal, ethanol, like never before, as this year's drought dramatically cuts the corn supply, he said.  Corn prices have set a new record.  The livestock industry is facing big cost increases, and some meat producers may go out of business.

So the industry is asking Congress to waive the law that requires ethanol in gasoline.

"If we do not waive that law and the ethanol industry is allowed to continue to make alcohol, the crop is going to get ate up, and it is not going to go into food," said Tentinger.

Tentinger says the cost of food will go up, hurting consumers already struggling in a slow economy.

But farmer Alan Bennett says waiving the law would be a blow to his town, and to consumers as well.

"It could bankrupt the ethanol plant," he said. "It is a huge deal.  This country relies on ethanol for 10 percent of its fuel supply.  Ethanol is good for America."

Tentinger agrees.  But he says this year's drought has made him think differently.

"I have not been one of these that have really argued the food-versus-fuel argument, but yet, in the end, maybe it does come down to that," he said.

With the ethanol industry now a fixture in the U.S. economy, that argument is likely to continue.


Earth's arsenals are lacking
a big bomb for astroids


By the University of Leicester Press Office

According to the internet hysteria surrounding the ancient Mayan calendar, an asteroid could be on its way to wipe out the world on Dec. 21.

Obviously this is pretty unlikely, but if an asteroid really is on its way, could we take a cue from the disaster movie “Armageddon” in order to save the planet?

According to science research carried out by University of Leicester physics students, the answer is definitely no.

In the 1998 film, Bruce Willis plays an oil-drilling platform engineer who lands on the surface of an Earth-bound asteroid, drills to the centre and detonates a nuclear weapon, splitting the asteroid in half.

The two pieces of the asteroid then pass either side of the Earth, saving the planet’s population from annihilation.

But the group of four physics students worked out that this method would not work, as the world simply does not have a bomb powerful enough.

Students Ben Hall, Gregory Brown, Ashley Back and Stuart Turner found that the device would need to be about a billion times stronger than the biggest bomb ever detonated on Earth, the Soviet Union’s 50-megaton hydrogen bomb Big Ivan, in order to save the world from a similar sized asteroid.

To do this, they devised a formula to find the total amount of kinetic energy needed in relation to the volume of the asteroid pieces, their density, the clearance radius which was taken as the radius of Earth plus 400 miles, the asteroid’s pre-detonation velocity and its distance from Earth at the point of detonation.

Using the measurements and properties of the asteroid as stated in the film, the formula revealed that 800 trillion terajoules of energy would be required to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing the planet. However, the total energy output of Big Ivan only comes to 418,000 terajoules.

In other words, earthlings would need to construct a bomb about a billion times stronger than the most powerful weapon ever built in order to save the world in this way.

They also found that scientists would have to detect the asteroid much earlier if we were to have any chance of splitting the asteroid in time.

On top of this, the asteroid would need to be split at almost the exact point that it could feasibly be detected at 8 billion miles.

This would leave no time for Bruce to travel to the asteroid and drill into its centre, let alone share any meaningful moments with Ben Affleck or Liv Tyler along the way.



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Latin America news
Gasoline takes small dip,
but diesel fuel going up


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of super and plus gasoline will go down slightly when new prices are posted, but diesel is going up.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos released new prices Wednesday. Super gasoline is going from 743 per liter ($1.50) to 723 ($1.46), a drop of 20 colons, about four U.S. cents. Plus goes from 697 ($1.41) to 681 colons, a drop of 16 colons.

Diesel increases 5 colons to 609 colons per liter ($1.23).

Based on the current exchange rate, the price for super per U.S. gallon will be $5.53 when the new rates are published in the official government newspaper. Plus will be $5.21.  Diesel will be $4.66.


Tourism chamber satisfied
at reported visitor increase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism chamber says it is satisfied at a report from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo  that tourist arrivals in the first half of the year were 7.3 percent greater than the same period last year.

The tourism institute reported that 1,285,599 tourists visited the country in the first six months of 2012. Some 856,672 came by air, it said. That means that 428,927 came by land over the northern and southern borders.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo maintains its own watch on tourism statistics.


New fire, police stations
will be inaugurated


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is getting a new fire station and a new police station.

The police station is being inaugurated today. It is near the Iglesia de Concepción de Alajuelita and cost 52 million colons, about $104,000.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica inaugurates a new fire station Sunday in El Roble, Puntarenas.


Animal fair is Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asociación Animales de Asís will hold an adoption fair for cats and dogs Saturday at the Auto Mercado in Alajuela. The time is from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.










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