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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 158           Email us
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Tourism chamber seeks to link numbers with cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism chamber says that how long a tourist stays and how much each spends should be considered when assessing the state of the market.

The Cámara Nacional de Turismo took issue with rosy figures reported by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The tourism institute said tourists increased 6.5 percent in the first half of the year. But the chamber said that spending dropped 14 percent.

This is no news to many tourism operators who have seen their income constricted. The tourism chamber said that tourist activity should be integrated and considered as a factor in judging the health of the industry.

In 2010 the chamber said that the average tourist stay was 9.8 nights and the amount spent averaged $954.40. That is 14 percent less than before the industry was affected by the world economic crisis, it said.
The goal of the tourism industry is to generate increases in these factors. The chamber also noted that tourism operators were offering more deals and that this suggested the industry has not recovered completely from the downturn of two years ago.

The chamber also noted that the rate of exchange between the Costa Rican colón and the U.S. dollar  has had a negative effect. The dollar has dropped about 85 colons or about 17 percent from its high point to the current rate of about 500 colons to the U.S. dollar. Most tourism operators are paid in dollars but have to pay their expenses in colons, so the rate of exchange is a daily issue.

Carlos Ramos, chamber president, estimated the decline in the value of the dollar at 20 percent. The chamber said that it was pleased with the increase in the first half of the year, but urged the government to continue to diversify its tourism marketing to include countries like China, Brazil and Russia as well as the long-time market, the United States.

Trust committee sets up Milanes investor Web site
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The committee handling assets handed over by Luis Milanes now has a Web site.

Luis Milanes is the Cuban-American casino owner who used to operate Savings Unlimited, a high interest operation that folded in November 2002.

Milanes offered 11 properties and a $100,000 monthly stipend for 18 months in exchange for investors to drop their charges. Most but not all did.

The Web site contains a blog of informational postings. The most recent said that the five-member committee that is overseeing the conciliation agreement with Milanes is serving without pay or an expense account.

They are Ewal Acuña Blanco, a lawyer representing hundreds of investors; Leonardo Gómez, another lawyer; Gina Renault and Michel Messier, two investors, and a man identified as Mario Verardo. Gómez is identified as the spokesman for the group.

The properties and the money are in the hands of Global Trust Firm S.A., a company registered to handle these types of transactions that are called a fideicomiso in Spanish. The contract is basically a trust agreement. The company is charged with accepting the 11 properties from Milanes, maintaining them and then selling them. The proceeds, less expenses, will be divided among the investors who accepted the agreement. The amount may range from 5 to 15 percent of their investment
with Milanes, No one knows for sure because the amount depends on the sales prices of the properties.

Those investors who have not accepted the conciliation agreement are betting that the prosecutors will win a criminal case against Milanes so they can be compensated at the end of the trial. In Costa Rica, victims can maintain a civil action alongside a criminal process.

The largest property handed over by Milanes is the Hotel Europa, where he lives in the penthouse. Another tenant is one of Milanes' many casinos. The Europa is downtown and adjacent to an office building that also is part of the deal. The trust committee suffered an early setback when members learned that many of the Milanes properties had liens attached to them. They are trying to clear the liens now. There did not seem to be any mention on the Web site of this process, although there is a link to other documents.

Global Trust is trying to use the Web site to assemble the names of investors, living or dead, who might receive payment from the trust. There is a form in English, although those living outside the country must submit the signed and notarized form to the relevant Costa Rican consulate and then to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto for authentication. This is the international process known as apostille.

Milanes fled the country in November 2002 but continued to own casinos here. He returned in June 2009, served a day in jail and then returned to civilian life to await the judicial processes.

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Agents said the drug packages were in brassieres.

Two women from England
detained as drug smugglers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug agents detained two British women Tuesday at  Juan Santamaría and accused them of trying to smuggle more than a kilo of cocaine to Madrid.

Agents said that the women had inserted packages of the drug in their brassieres.  The women were identified by the last names of May Dawkins and Reid.

Agents said that the four packages of cocaine weighed in at 1.503 kilos.

The two women now face allegations of international drug trafficking. The pair brought to 31 the number of persons detained for that crime at the airport since the first of the year.  Agents said 10 of those had ingested the drug to slip through the various checkpoints.

Regulator will set rates
for private power generation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's regulatory agency has proposed a new methodology for computing the value of clean energy.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, approved Wednesday pricing that will affect the 32 private electrical generating operations in the country. The private firms sell the power to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The methodology defines a range of rates based on operating costs, maintenance and other factors. The agency will seek to obtain accurate statements of these costs from the private providers to establish final rates.

The agency said that the new rates will be an incentive for clean energy production. The bulk of the private providers are hydro operations.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 158

Prisma dental

Ministry will put up a duplicate bridge at troubled span
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public works ministry has made the unusual announcement that it will build a new four-lane bridge adjacent to the troubled span on the Autopista General Cañas.

The ministry expects to invest $15 million in the project.

The older span is the one that keeps eroding and exposing its metal structure to traffic. The bridge has been a continual embarrassment for the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration and now for the Laura Chinchilla administration.

Francisco Jiménez Reyes, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said that two employees are being suspended to face administrative hearings as a result of the bridge dilemma. They are María Ramírez, director of the ministry's División de Puentes, and Álvaro Ulloa, the engineer who supervised the reconstruction of the bridge.

The problem began in 2009 when the metal covering of an expansion joint became loose. At least three times, the ministry tried to tie down the piece of metal that bounced around every time a vehicle rolled over it. Finally, officials closed the bridge and did a complete overhaul by replacing the metal and concrete bridge deck and the expansion joints. The public and news media quickly named the bridge platina, meaning little plate.

The bridge was closed for weeks after Christmas last year. Within days of reopening the bridge, inspectors noted that the concrete was turning to dust and exposing the rebar underneath. Several times the bridge was closed in the night to put down more concrete.

The ministry never really said what the problem was but unofficial sources say that the bridge flexes too much.

Jiménez put a positive spin on the announcement Wednesday by saying that a new bridge had been planned all along and that the decision to build it now simply speeded up the ministry timetable. The ministry and its Consejo National de Vialidad will seek money for the new bridge from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica in September, Jiménez said.

Officials expect to go to bid before the end of the year. The job is estimated to take 18 months.

The bridge spans the Río Virilla west of San José on the route that leads to Juan Santamaría airport, Alajuela and eventually to Pacific coastal towns.

The ministry also will impanel a committee of experts to
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
Francisco Jiménez Reye, minister, explains decision

oversee the design and construction, it said.

 The Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales of the Universidad de Costa Rica has been involved in assessing the condition of the bridge. Its former director, Jorge Gutiérrez, will serve on the oversight committee.

The ministry is suspending the payment to the contractors who did the latest work on the bridge, it said. The ministry said that there was evidence that the work done after Christmas and into the beginning of this year did not meet specified requirements.

The ministry said that it would seek a specialized firm to plan and execute new strategy for the older bridge so that eventually there will be two bridges of four lanes each over the river. Some 80,000 vehicles a day pass this point.

Mayor, vice mayor, police chief in Jacó detained in probe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-corruption investigators raided the Garabito municipal building in Jacó Wednesday and detained four persons, including the mayor, vice mayor and chief of the municipal police. A fifth person, a lawyer, was detained at his office in Puntarenas.

The five were taken to San José for formal interrogations. The Poder Judicial said that the possible charges included embezzlement, illegal enrichment, fraud and faking documents.

The mayor is Marvin Elizondo Codero. The vice mayor is Tobías Murillo Rodriguez. The police chief is Juan Gabriel Hidalgo Hernández. Also detained in Jacó was a woman purchasing agent with the last names of Schmidt Quesada, according to the Poder Judicial. The lawyer who was detained was identified by the last names of Vargas Zeledón.

This is the second time in less that two weeks that anti-corruption agents targeted a municipality. Three officials in Golfito were detained July 30.

The raid in Jacó took place shortly after 9 a.m.

Expats who live in the Pacific beach town expressed shock and surprise. Jacó, the main city in Garabito canton, is best known as the beach town closest to San José and with a colorful nightlife.

The case is being handled by the Fiscalía Adjunta de Probidad, Transparencia y Anti-corrupción.

The charges involved a payment for professional services for a special training course for the municipal police in 2008, said the Poder Judicial. The training never took place despite a payment of 6 million colons or about $12,000, said the Poder Judicial, quoting the prosecutor involved in the case. The payment was made to the lawyer, said the Poder Judicial.

Garabito mayor
Mayor Marvin Elizondo Codero

The prosecutor was not expected to ask that a judge jail the suspects but that they should be ordered to comply with certain restrictions, such as signing in with investigators once every 15 days and staying away from the municipal building.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 158
Scientist sees link between Peru's ocean and Montana climate
By the Montana State News service

A Montana State University researcher who analyzed 100 years of data has found a significant link between extreme Montana weather and the ocean temperatures near Perú.

Montanans who want to know what to expect from the weather should look to the Pacific Ocean in the fall or maybe find a way to chat with some Peruvian fishermen, according to Joseph Caprio, professor emeritus in the university's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences and former Montana State climatologist.

If the average surface temperature of the ocean near Perú is warmer than normal from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be poor, and Montana will experience El Niño from the following December through June, Caprio said.

El Niño generally means Montana will be warm and dry.

If the average surface temperature is cooler than usual from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be good, and Montana will have a cool, wet spring, like the one experienced this year during La Niña, Caprio said. He added that weather in different areas of the country responds differently to El Niño or La Niña.

Caprio said Peruvian fishermen knew hundreds of years ago that ocean temperatures affected their livelihood. And scientists have long known that weather around the globe is linked to El Niño in different parts of the world. Meteorologists with the
National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration make long-range forecasts by monitoring sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure, wind, air temperatures and cloudiness in various areas of the Pacific Ocean.

Caprio focused on the sea-surface temperatures in the area that's associated with Montana weather. That area is off the Peruvian coast and near the equator. It covers about 550 miles from north to south and 4,100 miles east to west.

Caprio specifically wanted to determine the effect of El Niño on extreme daily temperatures and precipitation in Montana.

"Since El Niño sea surface temperature anomalies tend to persist for many months and have predictable climatic associations, it is prudent to undertake research to understand how El Niño affects extremes of weather for individual locations in order to provide useful information for decision makers," Caprio said in a paper he published in the Intermountain Journal of Sciences

Compared to normal years, El Niño years tend to have about 20 percent more days with extreme high daytime temperatures, 20 percent fewer days with extreme low nighttime temperatures and 20 percent fewer days with high precipitation amounts, Caprio said.

"An increase or decrease of extreme daily weather occurrences can impact natural resources and a wide range of human activities including agriculture, forestry, recreation, construction and other businesses," he added.

Our readers express their opinions on climate and Costa Rica
Better to invest money
in climate than in wars

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mary Jay is slamming the possible misuse of funds to help slow down climate change.   Much of her concern is not how the money will be spent but she doesn't believe humans are having a drastic impact on the climate of the world.
She commented " Is the world out of its friggin' mind?  Have we gone totally mad?"

That has already been established to be true, with the waste of trillions of dollars, supporting unnecessary wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and who knows where the next contrived war needs to be started.  There are over 700 U.S. military bases all over the planet.  Over 60,000 military personnel just in Germany alone. 

Monies would be much better spent on saving the environment than trying to control some of the most corrupt governments in the world with little to no success, or wasting money on countries, like Germany, that are perfectly capable of defending themselves and others.  The U.S. military has land holdings world wide of approximately 29 million acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.
It was mentioned that 69 percent of the public, who is relatively uninformed, feel they don't believe in climate change caused by human influences.  The vast majority of meteorologists, climatologists and others in the field related to climate change are still supporting the facts, regarding the influence of the human species on the climate of the planet.  Most of the data is accurate and not manipulated as she would like you to believe.
A comment was made, on man's arrogance, that we think we can attempt to control climate change.  I think the true arrogance of man is that he feels he has little or no impact on the climate through our extreme polluting processes all over the world since the industrial revolution.  She also refers to C02 as a trace element. 

Even though C02 can be considered a trace element doesn't mean that small changes in its amounts doesn't play a significant role in the big picture.  Any trace element in excess can be harmful, even if it may still seem miniscule in proportion.
I would rather see monies better spent fighting the climate swings we are having than to try to control al Qaeda or the other bogie men of other countries with trillions of our dollars.   Does the money have to have oversight, of course.   It should only be implemented in cases where the monies used are clearly used for what they are intended for. 

Henry Kantrowitz
Punta Leona

Drug market in north
is the root of the problem

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

First of all I want to congratulate you on your online paper. Although it is not polished and fancy like some, it does have the most honest and informative content I have read so far. Many of you expats are not going to like or agree with what I am about to say, But let the Americans remember it is supposed to be their law. (The freedom of speech).

We had this coming winter intended to drive to Mexico, to the Chapala area for the winter. As I kept reading on the Internet, It would be like driving in Afganistan, dodging bullets and bandits most of the way. We decided to perhaps fly down, Again I read of the police chief and two of his officers being found in shallow graves after arresting a cartel member in Lake Chapala. We then thought “Oh, how about Costa Rica?.”

Our government Web site issued a caution for traveling there. We thought a Country that beautiful can't be that bad. After following Costa Rica on the Internet through various feeds, I have come to the conclusion that it is expensive. Most of the contacts via the Internet and tourist trade are run by Gringos who have moved there mainly to work and take advantage of the situation. It is very hard to find the local people doing any communications with the outside world. Tours are an outrageous price. Real estate is ridiculously priced, as is rent for accommodations that you can easily find on the Internet. I know that the better, less-expensive units are there, but where can you go to find them?

In addition to the Gringo invasion, it appears that crime is increasing exponentially and again I don't think I need to experience an area where I have to keep looking over my shoulder every time I get off a plane or get money out of my bank. Now what do I do? Well we are looking at Panamá now, and, yes, there is certainly crime there as well, but as far as I can tell so far there are areas where the Gringos are not sucking the life out of the visitors.

When people come in a country with a lot of money and using and abusing drugs and alcohol, others want what they have and of course crime increases. I fully believe, that if the American drug market were not there, the drug wars and supply would diminish and eventually dry up. Instead of Panamá, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico being condemned for their lack of control, the Americans should clean up their own back alleys. Their economy, job force, way of living are all out of control and headed south for a major crash.

I can already feel my ears burning and hear the nay sayers screaming for my blood. I felt I had to get this off my chest in hope it will open some eyes that are closed to reality.

Pat Andby
St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 158

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Brazil's president loses
popularity over scandals

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A poll shows that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's personal approval rating has declined since March.

A Ibope poll released Wednesday shows President Rousseff's popularity fell 6 percentage points to 67 percent.  Forty-eight percent of those surveyed described the president's administration as good.  In an earlier survey, the approval rating for her government stood at 56 percent.  Ms. Rousseff took office Jan. 1.

The survey comes as the Rousseff government confronts political scandals and economic issues.

Tuesday, police arrested the deputy tourism minister, Frederico da Costa, and at least 34 other people in a corruption sweep linked to funding for major sports events.

Last month, the transportation minister, Alfredo Nascimento, resigned in connection with a scandal over an alleged kickback scheme in his office. 

President Rousseff's chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, stepped down June 7 following questions about how his personal wealth had increased sharply while he was a congressman in 2010.  Palocci also served as a consultant at that time.

Separately, the government earlier this year announced $30 billion in budget cuts to curb rising inflation.  Brazil is Latin America's biggest economy and is now considered one of the world's major emerging economies.

Blood test for TB ruled
misleading, unreliable

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization is urging many low and middle income countries to ban the use of currently available commercial blood tests to detect active tuberculosis. This is the first time the agency has issued an explicit negative policy recommendation against a practice widely used in tuberculosis care. It is based on two recent studies that found the commonly used test to be unreliable and misleading and even a possible contributor to TB transmission.

Tuberculosis kills 1.7 million people a year, around the world. In India, where the blood tests covered by the recommendation are widely used, the government says more than two million new people are infected every year.

In fact, the studies that prompted the World Health Organization action were done in India, where researchers argued the blood tests have contributed to increasing the number of TB infections in the country.

They blamed the inaccuracy of the test for this outcome, saying an undetected, and untreated, case means the infected person can continue to infect others.

David Dowdy, a physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, was a lead researcher in one of the two studies.

“These tests are actively doing people harm by causing them either to take medicines that they don’t need or delaying the diagnosis that they actually do need to get better,” Dowdy said.

Dowdy says that the traditional sputum smear microscopy test is still the cheapest and most effective way of diagnosing TB.

But since the sputum test is time-consuming, he says, the blood tests are often preferred because they are simple, straightforward and quicker to run.

Experts also say the blood tests are a multimillion dollar business in developing countries.  The World Health Organization says more than a million of the tests are carried out each year, even though they are not approved by any recognized regulatory body.

“What these tests do is they measure antibodies in the blood against TB so any time anyone has been infected with TB at any time in their life they will develop antibodies against TB.  But the problem is that one person’s antibodies are not going to be the same as the other person. And we don’t have a test yet that can detect antibodies across the board,” Dowdy said.

After the World Health Organization issued its guidelines, the Indian government issued a statement urging doctors and labs not to rely on these imprecise diagnostic tests.

It may take some time, though, before the realities on the ground change in a country as vast as India.

However, experts in the field have welcomed the announcement and the Indian government's response.

U.N.'s Ban asks academics
to solve world's problems

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the world's academic community to find solutions to global hunger, poverty and intolerance.

Ban told an international forum in the South Korean capital Wednesday that there can be no peace, justice and dignity in the world if billions of people are forced to live in chronic poverty. He urged academics, students and governments to search for underlying causes of crises like the one faced by more than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa.

Joining a group of dignitaries, Ban also attended the opening of a photo exhibition intended to attract support for the U.N. development goals for poor countries.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 158

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Helicopter trip results
in embezzlement verdict

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal de Juicio de Hacienda convicted Pablo Quirós, the former president of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, of embezzlement and misuse of public funds because he used a helicopter of the state-owned firm for personal due.

The judicial panel imposed a sentence of 15 months Wednesday and then said that Quirós did not have to go to jail, He also was barred from public jobs for three years.

Typically those sentenced to three years of prison or less are allowed to have conditional freedom without actually serving any time.

The wife of Quirós and an aide were not convicted. The case stems from a trip the trio took March 21, 2009, to inspect earthquake damage in  Cinchona. But there was a side trip to a wedding.

The issue was raised by opposition political parties in the last legislature.

Suspect held in murder
at La Garita dwelling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police and agents reported the murder of a young man late Wednesday afternoon in his home in La Garita.

Police said that there were three persons involved in what appeared to be a shooting and that they all fled into the countryside.

The Fuerza Pública said that one man was detained as a suspect.

Arizona law on illegals
appealed to Supreme Court

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The governor of of Arizona has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that blocked key provisions of the state's immigration enforcement law.

Gov. Jan Brewer appealed to the nation's highest court Wednesday after a lower court barred certain provisions of the law she signed last year. Those include requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they questioned or detained and suspected of being in the country illegally.

Brewer says Arizona faces the most problems caused by illegal immigration, and that federal authorities have not done enough to enforce immigration laws along the state's border with Mexico.

Opponents of the law say it is unfair and could lead to racial profiling.

The lower court decision sided with the Obama administration, which says the measure is unconstitutional and that only the federal government has the power to enforce immigration laws.

The Supreme Court must choose whether to accept the case, and will likely decide after it begins its new term in October.

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