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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 157      E-mail us
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museum ramp
A.M. Costa Rica/Valereia Morales
In addition to being an access for disabled tourists, the new ramp at the Museo Nacional is a skateboarder's dream. Workmen have the project roughed out now. The 110-meter (361-foot) ramp is part of a $500,000 remodeling project first reported here July 16. Visitors will
enter the museum from the west and south of the existing door that faces the Plaza de la Democracia. They will enter a vestibule that will contain displays to welcome them.  The ramp also will provide access to a reinforced southwest tower in the background.


It's a jungle out there: Shopping for Mother's Day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Día de la Madre is Saturday, and this is a big day in Costa Rica where mothers remain the heart of the family.

But it also is a time, like Christmas, when store operators can capitalize on the desire to give presents.

The economic ministry did another of its consumer studies late last month and reported that the price of certain household items can vary as much as 415 percent. The ministry checked 25 retailers in San José, Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia.

The biggest disparity in price involved an automatic coffee maker. An off-brand model sold in the Visol store for 6,740.25 colons or about $11.56. A comparable Oster brand coffee maker was offered at El Gallo más Gallo for 34,700 colons or $69.52, according to the report.

Another product with a large gap between the lowest and highest prices is a hair flat iron, according to the report. Once again, the JM brand scored lowest at 15,798.12 colons or $27.10 with a Gama brand being sold for 72,590 colons or $124.50. That is a difference of nearly 360 percent.

There are similar differences in other products, but the reason may not be gouging. JM is a trademark of the Jaiman Sanitary Ware Co. Ltd. in China. Oster is a trademark of the New York Stock Exchange-listed Jarden Corp. Gama is an Italian manufacturer of high quality flat irons, hair dryers and similar products.
The report recognized that quality differences might affect the price. Another example is a Sony digital camera being sold by Verdugo for 185,020 colons or $317.36 versus a camera with the trademark Look also being sold by Visol at 61,165 colons or $104.91.

Although both companies offer a year's guarantee, there really is no way to compare the two complex cameras based on the information in the report.

So the price surveyors of the ministry compared identical items. They still found differences ranging from 61 to 95 percent. A Proctor Silex electric fry pan was 22,780 colons ($38.94) in Electro Centro Gonzáles S.A.. But the same model was 44,450 colons ( $76.24) in Electro Cartago S.A.

The Gama hair iron was 25,610 colons ($43.93) in Almacén Gollo in Tres Ríos. El Gallo más Gallo had the same product for 48,600 colons ($83.36).

The Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor of the Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio also checks on information being made available to consumers. Retailers have to list the cash price, and various specifics if there is financing involved.

These include the base price for financing purposes, the term of the financing in months, the down payment, the interest rate, the total amount paid over the term of the financing and the entity that actually will hold the note.

A related study of 21 Central Valley retailers found that 18 did not comply exactly with the law. And the other three only sold for cash.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 157

Costa Rica Expertise
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Escazú fire claims life
of female domestic worker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A domestic worker on the job just a short time became trapped in a bathroom when a blaze tore through a single-story home in San Rafael de Escazú.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the woman was identified preliminarily by the last name of Tercero. She was between 30 and 35, agents and firemen said.

Initially firemen did not think anyone was in the structure because the occupants were in San José. But after the blaze was extinguished early Monday, the woman's body was found.

There was no immediate indication of how the blaze started.


Museum has produced book
on care, cultivation of orchids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional has come out with a boom on how to maintain and cultivate the threatened orchids of Costa Rica.

The book addresses the home cultivation of some 25 different species, said a release.

The museum is the location for the Herbario Nacional, which with support from the government of Norway has published the guide.

According to the museum the book starts from square one and explains to readers exactly what is an orchid and what are the conditions necessary for the plant's survival.

Museum experts identified what they believe are threatened orchids, among which are the Guaria de Turrialba, cara de gato, zapatito and tricopilia, the museum said.

The book is available at the museum from Tuesday through Sunday for 7,000 colons, about $12.


New Pacific port in Chiapas
expected to jumpstart area


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Despite its beauty and vast natural resources, Chiapas is the poorest province in Mexico. The government is trying to turn this around by upgrading the old fishing port of Chiapas. Officials say improvements made in the port's infrastructure during the past few years are seeing results in attracting more cruise liners from America and Europe, and in more efficiently exporting goods from the region to other parts of the world.

In effect, the port is competing with Costa Rica's Puntarenas.

Cruise liner horns are increasingly being heard in Puerto Chiapas. That means plans to build up the port as a tourist destination and commercial center are beginning to take root. 

The governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabenas, is actively pushing the economic development of the port. He says work to improve and modernize its infrastructure is moving ahead and some of the first results can be seen in the growing number of cruise liners coming into port. He says passengers from Europe and America disembark for the day and typically spend about $100 per person.

"Port of Chiapas is a brand new port. It was inaugurated in 1975, but mainly as a fishing port," said Alfonso Pérez, the general director of the port authority in Puerto Chiapas. "Now, in 2005, a lot of money was invested to upgrade the port, and now we are a port that started receiving cruises." 

Pérez says the cruise liner business is not booming yet, but it is growing quickly.  In 2006, he says only one cruise liner came to the port. This year, he expects 22 will come. 

He says the area offers tourists many attractions, from chocolate making to exotic flora and fauna to Mayan archeological digs. 

"We have another income that comes from the tuna fish ships and some other cargo that comes to port of Chiapas. We are not depending just on the cruises where we are doing very well," he said. "There are other industries that will come to port of Chiapas. One is the oil. You know in Mexico, Petroleum Mexicanos is the Mexican oil company, and they are going to open a facility here in the port with an investment of around $15 million, which is very nice, very good." 

Pérez says Petroleum Mexicanos is planning to move its oil distribution facility from the region's main city of Tapachula to the port's industrial area. He considers this an ideal arrangement, as it will make it easy for the company to transport its fuel by ship rather than by truck. 

He says the port is a long-term investment and funds from the federal government will be needed for the foreseeable future to pay for the ongoing upgrade.

"I think in five years, we will be, if not a cash cow, we will have enough funds to run by ourselves," added Pérez. 

Pérez says the port's yearly revenue is about $1.5 million. He thinks it will take another five years before the port turns a profit.

Andrea Hernández Fitzner is young and enthusiastic about an agreement Chiapas has signed with five Central American governments to enter into an economic partnership to develop the region. She is minister of development for the south border region

"The government of Chiapas wants to design a unique strategy for development, and this government thinks Chiapas can be a strategic key for the development of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia," said Fitzner. "If we see the Central America and Chiapas like a similar region to develop, we can offer more to the big market." 

While it is important to improve the region's infrastructure, port official Gustavo Gutierrez says that is not enough. He says cultural and educational deficiencies also have to be overcome. 

"If you have a country with education and economic opportunities, you can grow, you can develop the people and the country," he said. 

Unfortunately, officials in Chiapas agree this goal is not yet in sight. Chiapas has a big, largely uneducated native population. The region suffers from unskilled laborers who are unable to perform the high-tech jobs needed for a modern economy. 

The government is aware of this and, along with work to improve the region's roads, airports and ports, it is working to provide better education and health care to lift the people out of poverty.

Study says adults accept
physical punishment of kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A study of surveys of 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean shows that a high percentage of parents think that physical punishment of their children is a normal educational and socialization practice.

The United Nations Children's Fund and the Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe did the overall study.

A 2004 survey in Costa Rica was cited in the study. That showed that 65 percent of the adults engage in physical violence against their children. The survey here was by the  Instituto de Estudios Sociales en Población.

The different methods used in various countries made it impossible for the researchers to tell exactly, but they said they believe that parent-on-child violence is seldom sanctioned.

Both agencies oppose physical or emotional punishment.

In Colombia, some 42 percent of women questioned said that their spouse punishes their children with blows, according to a national survey there, cited in the study. In Uruguay, 82 percent of the adults surveyed report some form of physical or psychological violence against a child in the home, a national survey there said.

The study was unable to define the various types of violence, which could range from a slap to a brutal beating.


Our reader's opinion
A chip on both shoulders
is attitude to foreigners


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Kautz is right.  His experiences are common in Costa Rica.

Add to his "true reality" vs. propaganda image the fact that most Costa Ricans are xenophopic and dislike foreigners, except when taking their money of course.

My Costa Rican brother-in-law told me "we have a balanced view of foreigners. We have a chip on both our shoulders."

Costa Rica has perhaps the greatest gap between reality and propaganda image of any country in Latin America.

So if I don't like it why don't I leave?

I have and am now in Panama, a "grown-up" adult country compared to Costa Rica's juvenile, adolescent country.

Carl Robbins
David, Panama

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 157

another great month
Your Costa Rica

Made a mistake
A.M. Costa Rica/Valeria Morales









Workmen accidentally hit a small water line as they began work near the Biblioteca Nacional Monday.


Major city street is closed, and traffic chaos soon follows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Call it traffic chaos. Officials have closed off the Paseo de las Damas for two months while they install a new road surface. Most motorists do not know the name but this is the road that goes west north of Parque Nacional and south of the Estación al Atlantico and the exhibit of the nation's first railway locomotive.

The street also is known as Avenida. 3. It is heavily traveled. But not Monday. Traffic was tied up throughout northeast San José because of the road closure.
To make matters worse, police officers were demonstrating downtown, and Avenida 2 was closed off from 10 a.m. to noon.

Add to the confusion the hundreds of persons who walked to the San José-Heredia train station just west of the Estación al Atlantico.

Monday was the first day of paid passenger service.

Avenida 3 is a major route for buses as well as private vehicles.


Balky Virilla bridge joint triggers a major repair effort
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Who would have expected the Arias administration to be defined in part by a bridge expansion joint?  But that is what has happened in the last two weeks.

The joint on a bridge of the Autopista General Cañas has defied repair. The last time the westbound two lanes of the highway were closed for a full weekend and the repair job lasted about six hours. Workman had put about an inch of concrete over steel plating.

The expansion joint provides a discernible bump to an otherwise smooth ride. Motorists slow down, and a traffic jam ensues. This is the main route to the Pacific, to Alajuela and to Juan Santamaría airport from San José.

Because workmen initially installed a metal plate two lanes wide, the project got the name of platina, and that word has worked its way into the language as shorthand for "the problem with the bridge over the Río Virilla."

A young Tico created a short film for a social Web site in which Adolph Hitler flies off the handle when a Nazi general tells him that troops cannot be moved because the autopista is closed. That effort got local television time.

El Diario Extra published a front page photo Thursday of two female workers dressed in hard hats, boots and not much else. The women, young models, pretended to work at the site with shovels and a pickaxe. Then a reporter wrote a short story about the predictable reaction of male motorists.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes revealed Monday that officials there have known since 2004 that major work was needed at the Río Virilla bridge. They announced a three-stage plan. Instead of just fixing the expansion joint, officials will strip off all the concrete covering the bridge and replace it with a bridge deck of steel. This is to reduce the weight of the bridge because officials are concerned about the condition of the substructure, too. Replacing the concrete deck with steel will reduce the bridge weight by 50 percent, engineers estimate.

The bridge will be out of service for three months, they said.
The ministry has sought an emergency direct contract for this work from the budget agency, the Contraloría de la República.

Alejandro Molina, executive director of the Consejo de Vialidad, the ministry's road agency, said that during repair work of the expansion joint officials became aware of other damage to the substructure that needs to be inspected.

However, he said the bridge still is considered safe.

In the second stage of repairs, officials will rebuild the supporting structure of the bridge. The third stage will be the construction of an eight-lane bridge as part of the San José-San Ramón highway project.

That project has not yet received full approval.

Officials said they did not want to await approval of the San Ramón project which is why they are going to replace the bridge deck as soon as possible.

The ministry also announced that Japanese experts have evaluated 29 bridges in the country and that the ministry is seeking approval to contract for repairs. The bridges are:

Ruta 4 at the Río Chirripó, Ruta 32 at the Río Sucio, Ruta 218 at the Río Torres, Ruta 1 at Río Azufrado, Ruta 2 at Río Nuevo, Ruta 4 at Río Sarapiquí, Ruta 32 at Río Chirripó, Ruta 1 at Río Abangares and Río Aranjuez, and Ruta 2 at Río Puerto Nuevo. These bridges are at the end of their useful life, officials said.

Karla González, the transport minister, said that the ministry also is seeking contracts to do work on 44 more bridges. The country abandoned bridges for two decades, she said.

The ministry was quick to point out that in the three years of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration 17 bridges have been reinforced and widened and some 44 more have been built or are in various stages of construction. These include four bridges on the Costanera Sur.

But the one the public will remember is the platina over the Río Virilla that so enraged Hitler.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 157

Policemen demonstrate
A.M. Costa Rica/Valeria Morales






Only some of the officers were in uniform Monday, and all were reported to be off-duty. The Ministerio de Hacienda was closed during the protest, which was peaceful. Hacienda manages the nation's budget.




Police seeking better salaries block main street for two hours
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police officers demonstrated Monday morning to generate public support for higher salaries, but they also raised the ire of motorists because they blocked Avenida 2, a main street, for two hours.

The protest was in front of the Ministerio de Hacienda and organized by the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados. The union is negotiating salary increases mainly in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The union said it recognized that the government already had opened a process to improve salaries and working conditions.

The Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Migración, prison guards and the Policía de Tránsito were represented. Most demonstrators stood in the street. The union was quick to point out that all the participants were on their own time.
Meanwhile, Tránsito officers who were working blocked Avenida 2 with their motorcycles to protect the demonstrators.  A handout said that the demonstration was not against the government and cautioned participants to be on good behavior.

On the union Web site, Edgar Morales Quesada, secretary general of the union, was quoted as saying the country has money because it has offered 80 million colons (about $137,200) to Limón dock workers so there should be money for those who risk their lives each day. What has happened he said is that the money had been stolen and that the government is distributing little. He also lamented the disproportionate distribution of wealth in the country.

The central government is trying to buy out the Limón dock workers so the operations can be turned over to a private concessionaire. The union there is fighting the proposal although many of the workers want the money.


Rapid justice sought for the Caribbean coast in Puerto Viejo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Business people and tourism operators in the Caribbean coast are asking the judicial system to install a flagrancia court in that area.

The Cámara de Turismo y Comercio del Caribe Sur, the Asociación Unidos por Talamanca y el Caribe Sur and the Asociación del Desarrollo de Puerto Viejo sent a joint letter to José Manuel Arroyo Gutiérrez, a supreme court magistrate in charge of criminal administration.

They asked that the rapid justice system be set up in Puerto Viejo de Limón.

The letter, signed by Luis Videla, vice president of the tourism chamber, and Manuel León, president of the development association, is another effort by these groups to fight crime. Last week they asked via another letter that the president of the Corte Surprema de Justicia, the nation's chief prosecutor and the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization meet with them.
In the letter released Monday, Videla and León cited the growing crisis of public insecurity in the southeastern Caribbean region. They said the organizations were convinced that a flagrancia court would play an essential role in fighting crime.

The Sala IV constitutional court has ruled that such courts are legal. The only such court now is in the second judicial district in San José. A proposed law in the Asamblea Legislativa would extend the concept nationwide. However, considering the Sala IV ruling released last week a bill might not be necessary.

The flagrancia court judges suspects who have been caught red-handed or nearly so. The convictions are mostly for street crimes like robbery. Instead of waiting two or three years for a trial, suspects are judged in a few days and the sentence is levied immediately.

The two men said that Puerto Viejo was strategically located for such a court and that it had the largest flow of tourists. Such tourists are likely victims of crimes.



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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 157

Casa Alfi Hotel

All three leaders back
Zelaya in Honduran crisis


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico have concluded their brief summit by pledging more cooperation to fight the swine flu virus and illegal drug cartels as well as to strengthen the North American economy. In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a spirited defense of his policy toward Honduras.

Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have left Guadalajara with a promise to work together to prepare for the next swine flu outbreak, expected later this year.

Harper said the three nations can build on their previous efforts. "The excellent cooperation among our three countries was effective in helping to manage the initial outbreak, and we will continue our cooperative efforts," he said.

Obama said greater cooperation is imperative throughout North America. "With science as our guide, we resolve to continue taking all necessary preparations and precautions to prepare for the upcoming flu season, and protect the health of our people. This challenge transcends borders, and so must our response," he said.

The three leaders also concentrated on boosting the regional economy, which has suffered in the global recession. Obama promised aggressive and coordinated action to restore economic growth.

The president and the Canadian prime minister reaffirmed their support for Mexican President Calderon's war against illegal drug cartels.

But Obama pressed his Mexican counterpart to be careful to observe human rights. "I have great confidence in President Calderon's administration, applying the law enforcement techniques that are necessary to curb the power of the cartels, but doing so in a way that is consistent with human rights," he said.

Calderon responded, through a translator that he is most concerned about the right of Mexican citizens to walk the streets in safety. "The struggle, the battle, the fight against organized crime is precisely to preserve the human rights of the Mexican people," he said.

President Obama downplayed disagreements with Canada over the "Buy American" provision of the U.S. economic stimulus plan. Obama said the clause has not endangered the billions of dollars in commerce between the world's two biggest trading partners.

All three leaders reaffirmed their support for democracy in Honduras and called for the return of Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup on June 28.

Obama responded angrily to criticism of U.S. involvement in efforts to restore Zelaya to power. "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who are always saying that we are always intervening, and Yankees need to get out of Latin America. You cannot have it both ways," he said.

Prime Minister Harper then defended U.S. policy. "If I were an American, I would be really fed up with this kind of hypocrisy. The United States is accused of meddling, except for when it is accused of not meddling," he said.

The North American summit also served as a prelude to the G-20 summit of major and developing economies, set for September in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the October summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Harper is scheduled to visit Washington in September, and he agreed to host the next North American summit in Canada next year.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 157

Latin American news digest
Britain's swine flu sufferers
are told to just stay home


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire srevices

Britain is trying to cope with more than 100,000 new cases of the swine flu virus each week. More than four dozen people have died and hundreds are hospitalized. The country's chief medical officer expects the flu to get worse in the autumn, when Britain has its annual flu season.

"I collapsed in a supermarket when I went shopping," Joanna Dabrowska explained, "and I didn't think it was swine flu at the time. I just thought it was fainting from lack of food, or sheer weakness or exhaustion from work."

But her doctor assessed her symptoms over the phone, headaches, nausea, aching joints, fever. He determined it was indeed swine flu. He prescribed medication that her parents picked up and put through her mailbox.

"I was in quarantine, I couldn't see anyone, except through the window, I really couldn't speak to anybody because I lost my voice by then," Ms. Dabrowska recalls.

There are a 100,000 new cases of swine flu a week in England alone. Numbers in Scotland and Wales are much lower. Most cases are young or middle aged, and the British government is taking the outbreak very seriously.

It's launched television commercials about what to do if you have any symptoms: "To prevent the spread of flu, when you cough or sneeze, catch it in a clean tissue, bin it, and kill it."

Britain's chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, is waging a one man public information campaign. He said because London's an international travel hub and business center, it makes sense that there are so many cases of swine flu here.

"I think we have a lot of traditional travel links with North America so I think the virus was seeded into our country in multiple entry points, so it's not particularly surprising that we've had the surge in cases that we have had," Donaldson said.

The government has setup a nationwide call center and Internet service to diagnose people quickly. If they're believed to have swine flu, they're quarantined in their homes and a friend or relative comes to pick up their medicine. So far, it's taken the strain off the country's health service, but the number of cases are expected to rise.

"We expect that to last a little bit longer, but then in the fall and winter we will see a very big surge, as we have seen in previous pandemics," Donaldson said.

Donaldson expects to get it in time for the flu season. "We will get some vaccine at the beginning of the fall. We won't be able to vaccinate everybody initially, so we'll be identifying priority groups," he states, "but because we had advance contracts for vaccine we'll get very big supplies through the fall and winter."



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