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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 162       E-mail us
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Mother's Day
See story HERE!


Giant wind energy farm under way in Guanacaste
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A German company has begun work in Guanacaste on the largest wind farm in Central America, a spokesperson said Monday.

The company, Juwi, plans to build 55 wind energy turbines which will supply enough energy for 70,000 houses, according to a company press release. The 45-meter-high windmills will operate during dry season from December to May and create enough energy to displace 240 million tons of CO2, according to the release.

Juwi, reports it's annual revenue at more than $590 million (EUR 400 million), and said that the project will create jobs for Costa Ricans.

The project is called Proyecto Eólico Guanacaste
and is expected to begin operations in 2008 or 2009.

This is Juwi's biggest wind power project to date, according to the press release on the firm's Web site. The company currently has 300 wind turbines in Germany and France and is planning more wind farms in the United States, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Argentina, according to their release. 

In 2006 three companies submitted a joint bid to the national energy supplier, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, and the firms were awarded the contract to build and operate the wind farm, according to a previous Juwi release.

As project developer Juwi is first and foremost in charge of the project management, Enercon will supply the turbines and continue to be involved during operation.


Caja computer lists Uncle Sam as a big deadbeat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Costa Rica has the U.S. Embassy listed as a deadbeat. Big time. For some $1.2 million.

According to the Costa Rican social security system computer, the U.S. Embassy owes the country payments for 868 "quotas," which could be months or individuals.

The situation came to light Thursday on a blog operated by independent journalist Cristian Cambronero. He published a short note and a screenshot of the embassy's account with the social security system and notified A.M. Costa Rica.

A social security spokesman said the 579 million-colon debt is related to the Ley de Protección al Trabajador or worker's protection.

Costa Rican law requires that employers pay the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social a specific percent of each employee's salaries each month. In addition, the employer must add company funds. The U.S. Embassy in Pavas employs both U.S. citizens and Costa Ricans.

When asked about the matter, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson replied with a confusing and contradictory written statement. The statement said that the embassy has participated in Costa Rica's social security system since 1970 and paid the required amounts regularly although the 
participation is clearly voluntary under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

“As our participation in local social security systems is entirely voluntary under the sovereign immunity and exceptions we are endorsed under the VCDR, we can in no way be considered indebted to the CCSS,” said the embassy's statement.

The statement also said that foreign diplomats working in the United States do not have to pay Social Security into the U.S. system.

“It should be noted that U.S. law specifically exempts diplomatic missions (such as Costa Rica’s) in the United States from payment of social security and unemployment taxes for their U.S. citizen and permanent resident employees,” said the statement.

But then the statement added an additional line that suggested there was a difference of opinion:

“We are currently investigating new possibilities for resolution and hope to initiate discussions with the Costa Rican government in the near future.” That last statement was not clarified in the e-mail sent by the embassy spokesperson.

The press officer at the Costa Rican social security offices said more questions should be directed to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

A reporter's call and e-mail to the ministry Thursday were not returned.


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first page
The first and only page of the first edition

It's birthday time again
for A.M. Costa Rica

By Jay Brodell

editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Seven years ago today the first issue of A.M. Costa Rica appeared.

That Wednesday issue was tiny by today's standards. Ottón Solís had appeared before the Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica. The nomination of John J. Danilovich as U.S. ambassador here was about to go before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The issue the next day reported on the deep dip in coffee prices and a topic that would become repetitive: money laundering.

There were several reasons to create an internet daily newspaper. The expat economy here needed a daily outlet for advertising. Everyone knows that to be effective an advertisement has to appear with daily frequently. The alternative is to waste money.

In addition, Costa Rica no longer was a sleepy banana republic. Vital news needed a professionally edited daily outlet to carry the latest developments to the world. And the world was watching.

Thanks to the relatively new Internet, A.M. Costa Rica could be on computer screens all over the world instantly with effective advertising at half the price of a paper product. Now the daily issue (This one is No. 1,800) is in at least 90 countries every weekday morning. Some 3,000 readers depend on a daily digest to alert them to the daily news and to breaking news stories.

We even have a small following in Baghdad and also in Kabul. Costa Rica looks pretty good when people are shooting at you.

The staff has had its ups and downs. Angry investors with Enrique Villalobos made death threats when the newspaper did not go along with the fiction that jealous bankers had forced the Costa Rican government to close down the high-interest scammers.

The fallout from some of those high-interest schemes is still visible, and even the Villalobos case is not resolved.

Some ill-informed readers accuse us of simply lifting material from Spanish dailies and translating them. But the unique needs of the expat readership cannot be filled by stealing. Immigration is a big topic with us. We also try to hold the unresponsive U.S. Embassy to account. And we have gone out on a limb more than once to stand by an expat who was being ground up in the system.

Protection of expats is a major concern, and A.M. Costa Rica was screaming about street crime almost from the beginning. Finally the central government is taking some notice.

A.M. Costa Rica also pioneered news reports about property fraud and offered readers ways to protect their holdings. The publication remains head and shoulders above any other Costa Rican news outlet in reporting on the law, courts and the complexities of doing business here.

The newspaper also has an educational dimension, and a series of First World interns have learned and are learning about Costa Rica, Latin America and international reporting in the A.M. Costa Rica newsroom.

During these seven years readers all over the country and the world have helped with news tips, photos, advice and criticism. Their efforts are appreciated.

And our advertisers recognize a good vehicle when they see it, and they have made this newspaper a viable and successful business. Their efforts are appreciated, too.

Costa Rica is not without its challenges, be they from the economy, from pollution, from despots or from the weather. We will continue to be there to tell you about them and stand with you to confront and meet them.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 162

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Sala IV orders bank to give account theft details to customer
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of a Banco Uno branch in Rohrmoser admitted an employee took money from a woman's account but refused to say who the thief was, said a court spokesperson Thursday.

The woman, María Membreño Bustamante, realized someone was stealing money from her account and complained to the Sala IV constitutional court in January after the bank refused to show her a list of recent transactions on her account. Ms. Membreño had both dollar and colon accounts and frequented the Banco Uno branch  located in Plaza Mayor in Rohrmoser.

Sala IV ruled that denying a bank client access to reports
on the movements on their account is a violation of fundamental rights. The court ordered that the Banco Uno branch release all transactions on Ms. Membreño's account since the account was opened. They also ordered that the bank show records of every signature from the bank employees who authorized withdrawals on the account and the security videos of the tellers who worked on the days in question.

The court also ruled the bank pay damages.

According to the court release, representatives of the bank told Ms. Membreño that a bank employee had removed a certain amount of money from her accounts but refused to give her further details. Representatives repeatedly told  Ms. Membreño that they would give her information within 15 days but never did, according to the court release.


stuck truck
A.M. Costa Rica/Melissa Hickley
WHOOPS!

Thursday around noon a truck attempted to pass under Avenida 3 on Calle 11 just south of Parque España. 

The truck initially fit under the bridge, but to the truck driver's surprise, the cement sloped downward causing the truck to become stuck. 

The heaviliy damaged vehicle was unable to pass  under the bridge and had to be towed out backwards.  There are no signs on the overpass indicating a height limit.


The 'broken window' theory and the proliferation of crime
Like many others before him, my friend Steve came to Costa Rica to check it out before deciding to move here.  Shortly after he arrived, he saw a need and immediately did something about it.  He learned that no one could give him an idea of the crime statistics here.  The fact that his camera was stolen in a hostel where he was staying sparked his enthusiasm to get some idea as to whether or not he was alone. 

His survey, which is not scientific or exhaustive, was done through word of mouth and by posting it on a Web site for expats.  Thus only English readers responded to his questions about their experience of crime.  Some recurring themes jump out in the responses.

Foreigners are subjects to random crime, usually involving theft or burglary

Tourists are prime targets beginning in the airport. Thieves know how to open the trunks of rental cars without breaking the lock.  Another trick is to cause a flat tire and then offer help, distracting the occupants while an accomplice steals everything in the car.

No one has any confidence that the police will do something about a crime even if it is reported and whether or not the perpetrator is caught. And if he/she is caught, the police say the courts will simply give them a slap on the wrist.

Even bystanders cannot be counted upon to come to the aid of the victim.

So-called petty crime in Costa Rica is a serious problem.  There is a danger that accepting its existence and that no one is going to do anything about it is becoming part of the culture of this country. This will be devastating for the people who live here and will certainly discourage people from visiting here.

Some time ago James Q. Wilson and George Kelling put forth the “broken window” theory.  The theory has come under fire, but former mayor Rudy Giuliani, applied it in New York (with other steps), and now New York is considered a safe city.  And, as my New York friend would say, “It can’t hoit.”

The idea is simple: a broken window — or a littered sidewalk, graffiti, public drunkenness, occasional pickpockets — does no great harm to a neighborhood if 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


something is done about it immediately.  But if ignored, it sends a signal: that no one cares about this neighborhood, that it is a safe place to break things, to litter, to prey on pedestrians. Those who engage in such behaviors will feel safe here. And once these minor miscreants have become well established, perhaps it will seem a safe place for pickpockets and more violent criminals. In short, the smallest symptoms of antisocial behavior, if allowed to continue, will “breed greater and greater crimes, all the way down to murder."

The Costa Rican police force has grown tremendously since I first arrived — and so has serious crime.  Perhaps if the police start dealing with the small stuff they will find fewer calls to have to deal with the more serious stuff.

Meanwhile, there are some things that people can do to protect themselves. Tourists, watch your luggage in the airport and be wary of friendly strangers distracting you.
Ask your car rental agency about the safety of the trunk. Always drive to a safe area if you find you have a flat tire, even if you have to ride on the rim. Put your valuables in the hotel safe.  Don’t carry all your valuables in one place.

People who live here often have household help and guards for the property or neighborhood.  Make sure you can trust them.  Make sure you know where they live.  It is not uncommon for burglaries to be inside jobs. 

I live in San José. Most of the people I know, expats and Ticos alike, who live outside the city think it is a very dangerous place, but I walk here (except at night) feeling quite safe.  It is my city.  However, I do see people sleeping in the street, garbage, litter and beggars.  I have been the victim of street crimes, and finally a burglary.  There are times when I feel that those in charge do not care about my neighborhood — or me.

I hope that when Steve returns, he will continue his survey and get the results to those who can and will do something about it.



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Mother's day shoppers face computer, crowd challenges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A failure in the Banco de Costa Rica computer system put a crimp in shopping for some Costa Ricans Thursday. The problem also meant trouble for companies trying to make payroll and do other transactions.

Melvin Jiménez, director of the Departamento Sistemas de Pagos of the Banco Central confirmed the problem Thursday afternoon, but no one from the Banco de Costa Rica was available to comment.

Today, el Día de la Madre, is a major holiday here, and many bank customers were anxious to withdraw money to purchase presents or to prepare for a holiday dinner today.

Banco de Costa Rica was unable to make interbank transfers at least, said Jiménez. He is in charge of the interbank transaction system used by some 70 banking entities and averaging some 80,000 daily transactions worth $500 million, he said.

Despite the computer problems, the downtown Thursday night resembled an evening in Christmas week with thousands of shoppers and very long lines at automatic teller machines. Because the 15th of the month is a traditional payday, many bank customers were seeking money electronically deposited by employers.

Metro area traffic restrictions are lifted today because of the holiday  The restrictions that prohibit vehicles with license plates that end in a 9 or 0 will not be enforced. 

Also, heavy vehicles coming and going from San José will be permitted to travel today at all hours.
line up for atm machine
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A long line winds around a battery of automatic tellers on the pedestrian boulevard in the downtown.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that many citizens visit their mothers, grandmas, or mother-in-laws today and should not have to worry about their mode of transportation.  Many are also accustomed to visiting the cemetery or going to other commemorative activities, the ministry said.

The ministry determined that the traffic flow will be significantly less because many businesses are closed due to the holiday. However, nearly all businesses downtown will be open today, and some for extended hours until 9 p.m.

In other transportation news, beginning Monday, the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad will be building a cement divider on route 2B, the Autopista Florencio del Castillo, in anticipation of road reconstruction work.  The location is a section of about 200 meters in front of the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. west of Cartago.


Heredia train service seen by Christmas with infusion of some $3.6 million
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government has earmarked 2 billion colons or about $3.6 million to bring back passenger service on the eastern Heredia line. President Óscar Arias Sánchez reported this Thursday in a discussion of new amendments to the national budget.

The budget needs the approval by the Asamblea Legislativa, but that will not happen next week. The lawmakers are on vacation. Casa Presidencial said that officials hope to have the train in service by Christmas.

Miguel Carabaguíaz, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, said that his employees have been working with funds obtained from other institutions

Quake in sea off Panamá

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake of from 5.6 to 6.0 intesity took place about 4:55 p.m. Thursday off the coast of Panamá in the Pacific Ocean.  The  U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was about 77 miles south of David, Panamá. It was about 100 miles southeast of  the tip of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.
and that the infusion of new money would expedite the job.

The line runs from the Estación al Atlántico near Parque Nacional in San José north through Tibás and into eastern   Heredia, Santo Domingo.

Crews already have repaired a bridge over Avenida 7 near Hospital Calderón Guardia that was damaged when it was hit by a truck boom.

Crews still need to rebuilt a bridge over the Quebrada Rivera in Cinco Esquinas de Tibás and put down some 11,200 new ties, according to the rail institute. They are working now on a bridge at the Río Virilla.

The crews are traveling to the work sites every day by train, so most of the right-of-way already is open.
However, a part near Santo Domingo has not been traveled by a train for at least 13 years, officials said.

Although officials hope to electrify the lines and are seeking a major development bank loan to do that, the initial hauling will be by diesel locomotive, said the institute. 

Carabaguíaz said he hoped to buy new equipment with the money being made available by the central government.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 162


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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.


Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 


Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.


Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Correos de Costa Rica
wins restoration money


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The downtown post office building, the Edificio Central de Correos de Costa Rica, has been named the winner this year of the culture ministry's architectural contest. A panel chose the restoration project put forth by a team headed by Sergio Arguedas Chaves.

The designation means that there will be money coming from the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural of the ministry.

The award was announced Thursday. Other contestants included the Templo Católico San Luis de Tolosa, the Colegio Superior de Señoritas, the Templo Católico Nuestra Señora María Auxiliadora, the Antiguo Club Social in Golfito, the Ecomuseo de las Minas de Abangares and the Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril, Heredia.

Arguedas said that the restoration work on the well-known post office building would take from six to eight months, according to the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

The ministry said the post office building won because it was so well known and a great example of early 20th century architecture. The building was designed between  1914 and 1917 and has great historic value, the ministry said. The building between avenidas 1 and 3 also contains two museums.


Detained duo have links
to Sinaloa cartel, cops say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Cuban-American was one of two men arrested Thursday and linked to the Sinaloa drug cartel. The arrests came during raids at homes in Hatillo and Santa Ana.

The Cuban who is a naturalized U.S. citizen was identified as Manny Lizazo of Santa Ana, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Officials said that he had a direct link with the heads of the cartel in México.

A Costa Rican, identified by the last names of Guillén Gamboa, is 40 years old and was the leader of the operation in Costa Rica, officials allege. He lives in Hatillo.

The arrests stem from a raid April 3 in El Tejar de El Guarco where some 299 kilos of cocaine were confiscated and two Mexican nationals were detained, officials said.

The Policía de Control de Drogas said that the two men detained Thursday were involved in the logistics of shipping drugs and also were trying to find landing strips that could be used for drug flights. They kept very low profiles, said agents.

The drugs involved had an eventual destination in the United States, agents said.


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