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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Friday Aug. 24, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 169                          Email us
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New tourism group points out exchange rate pitfall
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new tourism chamber has characterized the currency exchange rate at Juan Santamaría airport as a government-sponsored robbery mainly directed at tourists.

The group, the Asociation para las Protección  del Turismo in Costa Rica, posted a receipt from a U.S. visitor to its Facebook page.

The receipt shows that the visitor received 444.00 colons to the U.S. dollar in a transaction Saturday. That's 48.50 colons per dollar lower than the bank rate on the same day in San José.

The visitor, identified as Joe Allan Stokes, exchanged $600 at the airport currency broker. He received 266.402 colons in return. At the bank rate of 492.5 colons per dollar, he would have received 295,500 colons.

That's 29,098 fewer colons or about $59.

Reactions to the posting were mixed. One person wrote that everyone knows that currency deals at airports are heavily discounted.

Ironically, some hotels also exchange currency at rates that are very favorable to the business.

The business at Juan Santamaría is Global Exchange, which has airport currency windows at many airports. The firm says on its Web site “we are the leading company in Foreign Exchange Services at main International Airports of Latin America and the Caribbean, and we are growing exponentially in Europe, North of Africa and the Middle East.”

The tourist probably did not realize that the taxi firm at the airport accepted dollars. In fact, supermarkets downtown accept dollars as do a number of other businesses. So there really is not
dollar squeezed
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Putting the squeeze on the dollar

a pressing reason for a person arriving by air to change money at the airport.

Global Exchange makes no secret about its business, and it is listed with other currency outlets on the Banco Central Web page. The most recent quote was that it would sell colons for 438.87 per U.S. dollar and that it would sell a dollar for 512.02 colons. The difference was 73.15 colons, by far the greatest among the Costa Rican money outlets. However, the numbers have not been updated since late July.

First effects from tropical storm expected today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Tropical Storm Isaac has turned slightly to the north, but local weather experts say the indirect effects will begun to be felt here today.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami expects the storm to turn further to the north and move directly through Haiti and Cuba before coming ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the storm will strengthen the pattern of rain mainly in the south Pacific in the afternoon and evening. Strong downpours also are expected in the central and north Pacific.

Saturday and Sunday there will be a stronger effect with an increase in rain in the afternoon and evenings on the Pacific coast and in the Central Valley, said the weather institute.

The center of the storm is at 16.7 north latitude late Thursday, about a degree further north than it was late Wednesday. The weather system is completely in the Caribbean now. Costa Rica is between 8 and 11 degrees north latitude.

The storm is expected to be near or over Hispaniola today. That is the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  The storm is moving just north of due west at 18 mph or 30 kph, said the Hurricane
Center. Weather experts expect the storm to become a hurricane by Saturday

An International Red Cross worker in Port au Prince, France Hurtubise, said Haiti remains especially vulnerable to the approaching storm because it has not recovered from a devastating 2010 earthquake.

"It is a huge, huge concern because there are still 400,000 people living under makeshift tents and not always in very good condition," said Hurtubise.

In an interview, Hurtubise said relief workers are trying to evacuate as many people as possible from refugee camps.

Officials at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba postponed a hearing for five detainees charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because of concerns about the approaching storm.

Also, organizers of next week's Republican National Convention in Florida are keeping a watchful eye on Isaac. Thousands of people are expected to attend the four-day meeting in the city of Tampa where delegates plan to formally nominate former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to challenge President Barack Obama in November's presidential election.

A tropical depression in the mid-Atlantic, now named Joyce, is expected to swerve to the north and never touch land, according to the Hurricane Center.

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Our reader's opinion
Drunk driving effort
lacks important aspects

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A.M. Costa Rica reported that in the first half of 2012, there were 1,132 arrests for drunk driving with a blood alcohol level of .75 grams/liter or more.

When I compare these data to those of my state, New Jersey, i am astounded. Costa Rica's arrest rate is about one tenth that of New Jersey, which has twice the population.

When I assumed responsibility for New Jersey's Intoxicated Driving Program along with my other duties about 25 years ago, there were about 43,000 convictions per year (with a total population of 7+ million — more than twice Costa Rica's at the time). When I retired in 2000, there were about 23,000.

This dramatic decline in convictions was only partially due to the improvements we made in screening, evaluating, and providing education and treatment to convicted drivers. It was a combination of many policy changes. Fines were substantially increased; insurance surcharges due to increased risk were imposed; treatment for those determined to need it was mandatory. The driver had to respond to all of these demands to get the driver's license reinstated.

The key to New Jersey's success lay first in the emphasis given to drunk driving arrests by all law enforcement agencies. Checkpoints were set up. The roads near well known watering holes were monitored. Police were taught to observe physical signs indicating intoxication, from observing gross behavior to testing nystigmus or eye movement.

This laid the groundwork for identifying and helping the problem drinker, and from the point of view of law enforcement, getting drunk drivers off the road. It was only possible through a concerted effort by all involved government agencies.

I don't see the same thing happening in Costa Rica, and I urge A.M. Costa Rica to pursue this topic with appropriate government officials.
John French

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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

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

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

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 169
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Some local restaurants opt for eggs from free-range chickens
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A life of a chicken is simple.  They just want to scratch at the ground, preen themselves, dust bathe and locate places for nesting. However, placing them in cages prohibits them from exhibiting natural behaviors, said the Humane Society.

“Conventional eggs are produced in circumstances where chickens are in cages.  The cages are so small that hens can't stretch their wings.  By being outside, they can stretch.  Also, chickens enjoy privacy.  When they are cage free, they have decisions on where to put eggs. They enjoy scratching the ground and dust bathing.  These are natural behaviors they are not able to do when inside,” said Jennifer Brown from Humane Society International- Latin America.

Around the world, hens are placed in battery cages where the duration of their life is spent in confinement.  An alternative to cage-raised hens, are cage-free hens which are given an open space and freedom to roam and thrive organically, said the organization.

There are close to 3 million laying hens in Costa Rica, and a very low percentage of those hens are free-range chickens.

Restaurants such as Escazú's Oasis and Buena Tierra, San José's Café de los Deseos, Cambalache and Jardín del Parque, Santa Ana's Alquimia Healthy and San Pedro de Montes de Oca's Café Kracovia and Veggie House have committed to only selling eggs that are from free-range chickens, spokespersons said.

“As soon as we heard about cage-free eggs, we did not hesitate to make the switch. It’s the best way for us as a business to support a better treatment of animals used in food production. We at Café de los Deseos urge all food retailers to join us in this change. Switching to cage-free eggs does not take any extra effort, and it’s an alternative that supports all aspects of improved welfare,” said Café de los Deseos owner David Meléndez.

However, cage-free chickens don't guarantee better tasting eggs.  Some consumers have noticed a difference in the quality of eggs from free-range hens, but this is not always the case.

“A number of people notice a difference in the flavor of the egg and the color of the yolk, but that's not all very common for consumers to note the change.  It's all objective opinion,” said Ms. Brown.

“Our reason for wanting folks to know about these are so
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
'It's good to get outdoors!'

they can support the restaurant and really try to consider the  consequences of their choices.  Also, so then they can start thinking about ways their food choices affect animals so they go and purchase these eggs in places like supermarkets,” she said.

Eggs from non-caged chickens are available for purchase in a variety of places.  Egg brands La Yema Dorada in Perimercados, NutriHuevo in Walmart and Mas x Menos, and Huevo Criollo in Auto Mercado all offer cage-free options, reported the society.

Also, farmers at organic markets have these eggs available, and there are restaurants in Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Tambor, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Cahuita that have followed suit.

 “Adopting a cage-free egg policy is something every restaurant can do to improve the lives of egg-laying hens and to attract consumers who care about the treatment of animals.” said Cynthia Dent, Humane Society International- Latin America regional director.

Two favorite words come into use during an afternoon trip
Julie Andrews is not the only one who has favorite things.  Hers are many, and some of them complex. Mine are pretty short and simple.  Two of my favorite words are serendipity and gratitude. I like the sound of them and what they mean. This past week I experienced both and am entering the weekend with a smile that just may last awhile.

I made an appointment with my longtime dentist, Dr. Furchtgott.  It has been a while since I have seen him, and I was pleased that he is still hard at work in his dental office and that I was able to make an appointment.  The drawback is that I live in Sabana Norte and his office is across from the Hospital Católica in Guadalupe.  That can involve at least an hour and a half traveling in taxis and buses, or a fat taxi fee.

I took a taxi to Yamuni Department store on Avenida 10, then caught the Sabana Cementerio bus to downtown.  They are tearing up Avenida 10 so the bus took a detour to 12th.  The driver was a good looking, athletic type (so many are gaining weight), who was not bashful about using his horn or of taking corners at what I considered breakneck (mine) speed, but it was fun.  I planned to get off at the AutoMercado corner and then walk about four blocks to a Guadalupe bus stop near Hotel Aurola.

However, before arriving at my stop, I asked the driver if a Guadalupe bus that went to Hospital Católica had a parada on his route.  He said yes, two stops farther.  He told me when to get off.  What serendipity, not to have to walk the long four blocks and wait wondering if a bus would come on time.

I immediately climbed on the Guadalupe bus. We were few passengers when the driver took off.  And then proceeded the wildest ride through town I have ever enjoyed (like the way you enjoy a roller coaster ride).  More bridges were out and streets closed, so we went through the back streets of barrios California, Dent and probably San Pedro.  But I was deposited near my dentist’s office with 10 minutes to spare.

After my appointment I caught a bus to town and decided to shop at a Ropa Americana Italiana near Mas X Menos.  It was raining when I left, and I was tired, so I splurged on a taxi to the bank four blocks from home.  After taking care of bank business, I headed for home, more than tired as I walked and just 100 feet from my apartment building I realized I was going to faint if I didn’t stop.

Two people passed me, and, feeling desperate, I asked them if they could help me.  I felt stupid but knew I didn’t want to fall.  I handed the man my purse and bundle, and then he helped me lower myself to the curb.  The young woman went somewhere and came back with a glass of water, and someone
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

else was stirring sugar into it. She insisted I drink it. The sugar would help, she said.  I told them that I lived in the tall building across the street but I just couldn’t make it.  They were most kind, if a little incredulous that I had such a short way to go.

They were probably returning to work from their lunch hour but their attention was totally on me.  When I felt better, I told them to call my friend who also lived in the building, and with the help of Doug and Carl, the guard next door, and after I had thanked my good Samaritans profusely, I made it home.

This is not the first time Costa Ricans have come to my rescue, or even what they perceived was my need for help.  Experiencing the delight of serendipity and the profound feeling of gratitude is about the best one can hope for in one day. It will keep me smiling for a while.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 169
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Park protectors
on parade

Park guards and workers marched through Turrialba Thursday to mark the Día Nacional de Parques Nacionales, which is today. They said they wanted to raise consciousness of the public and also to discourage forest fires. School children marched,  too. The march ended at the local University of Costa Rica campus where an environmental fair is being held.
park guards march
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía photo

Lawmakers authorize $4 billion in bond issues over 10 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was just one negative vote Thursday afternoon when lawmakers voted to float some $4 billion in bonds on the international market. That was the second and final vote.

The only person voting against the measure was José María Villalta Florez- Estrada of Frente Amplio, who said that the government had not fully explained the benefits of the deal.

The approval gives the Ministerio de Hacienda the right to issue $1 billion in bonds each year. The money is supposed to pay off internal debt and refinance international debt that now earns a higher interest rate.

The measure earned support from 41 lawmakers.

Edgar Ayales, the minister of Hacienda, thanked lawmakers in
a press release issued shortly after the affirmative vote and said that his ministry would hurry to complete the bond issue as soon as possible.

Some expats have expressed fears that the inflow of more dollars into Costa Rica would negatively affect the exchange rate with the colon. Although the government can issue $1 billion in bonds a year, officials do not have to.

They have 10 years to issue the full $4 billion.

Members of the executive branch say that much of the money will be used to refinance existing debt. If that is the case, there will be no extra pressure on the dollar here. However, a large amount of money in the hands of government officials will be highly attractive to elected officials who have pet plans and for President Laura Chinchilla, who has been frustrated with not having money to do certain needed projects.

New hamburger restaurant is scheduled to open next week in Sabana Sur
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another international restaurant chain has set up shop in the San José area, this one a British-themed burger joint called Mo Joe's, will open it's newest location in Sabana Sur with a celebration and live music Tuesday starting at 7 p.m.

The event will feature a live performance by The Crew, and
former Miss Costa Rica Leonora Jiménez will cut the ribbon for the restaurant, according to a press release.

The Sabana Sur location, 75 meters south of the AM/PM, is the second Mo Joe's franchise in Costa Rica, the other is in Santa Ana near Parque Comercial Lindora. The menu in Lindora features hamburgers from 1,800 to 3,450 colons, about $3.60 to nearly $7. There is no sign of a British theme online.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 169
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Brazil joins drill program
to explore off Pacific coast

By the National Science Foundation news staff

Brazil has joined an international marine research effort to document environmental change by monitoring and sampling the unseen world beneath the sea floor.

The country's inclusion made it the newest of 26 member countries in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

The first program expedition with Brazilian researchers will begin in about six weeks off the coast of Costa Rica. Scientists plan to learn more about the processes that trigger large earthquakes.

The research will take place aboard the drill ship JOIDES Resolution as part of the Costa Rica Seismogenesis Project. Geoscientists will investigate an erosional subduction zone – a zone where Earth's crust is returning to the mantle at an eroding undersea trench.

It's the only known seismogenic zone at an erosional trench that's not too deep for current scientific drilling capabilities. Expedition scientists will work to understand how unstable slip is triggered in this zone.

Program scientists conduct research aboard specialized scientific drilling vessels to advance understanding of the Earth through drilling, coring, monitoring and documenting Earth processes and effects, solid Earth cycles, the subsurface biosphere, and geodynamics.

"We welcome the addition of Brazil's scientists and engineers to IODP at a time when the world needs the knowledge of its researchers," says Rodey Batiza of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences.

The foundation manages the program along with Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

West Nile virus coming
from all over State of Texas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in the southwest U.S. state of Texas are tracking the spread of the West Nile virus, which has killed 21 people in the state so far this year and has sickened nearly 700. While the Dallas metropolitan area has had the most cases, the disease is cropping up all across the state.
Technicians in the state's mosquito laboratory are examining mosquito corpses sent from all over Texas, at the Texas Department of Health Services Laboratories in the capital of Austin.

State Laboratories Director Grace Kubin said technicians use animal tissue that is susceptible to West Nile virus to test the mosquito samples.

“We add in, essentially, the ground-up mosquitoes," said Ms. Kubin. "We have to grind them up; that releases the virus. And now we have that in a liquid form and we can use that to infect the cells.”

Ms. Kubin said the tests provide results within 48 hours so the lab can advise local officials on what action to take.

Mosquitoes aren't born with West Nile virus. They generally get it from biting birds that are infected.

To ingest the virus, mosquitoes need to find the right bird at the right time, according to Texas State veterinarian Tom Sidwa. Some birds survive the virus.

“The birds only have the virus remaining in their blood from one to four days after they get infected. Then they have lifetime immunity, so you have to find that bird that has the virus in its blood stream," said Sidwa.

From the Austin command center, Sidwa manages the state effort to track the West Nile outbreak. He said his team got an early warning months ago from routine testing of donated blood.

“This year we got advance notice that there was activity by virtue of that testing and people who were donating blood testing positive for West Nile. That does not mean they are sick. Some of them may be, but they have the virus in their system,” he said.

Sidwa said most infected people are unaware of it. Symptoms can include fever, headache and feeling tired. For the small percentage whose brains are affected by the virus, it can be debilitating and even deadly.

“The way it manifests is everything from 80 percent of the people with no symptoms, to 20 percent with a lesser disease, and roughly 1 percent - or one in 150 - will develop the severe neurological form of the disease,” said Sidwa.

As the hot weather subsides in the weeks ahead, Sidwa said he expects the number of reported West Nile cases to taper off. And he said what has been learned this year will help in dealing with future outbreaks

New study places birth
of Indo-European in Turkey

By the Radboud University Nijmegen news staff

The Indo-European languages belong to one of the widest spread language families of the world. For the last two millenia, many of these languages have been written, and their history is relatively clear. But controversy remains about the time and place of the origins of the family. A large international team, including Max Planck Institute researcher Michael Dunn, reports the results of an innovative geographic analysis of Indo-European linguistic and spatial data. Their paper 'Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family' appeared this week in Science.

The majority view in historical linguistics is that the homeland of Indo-European was located in the Pontic steppes (present day Ukraine) around 6,000 years ago. The evidence for this comes from linguistic paleontology: in particular, certain words to do with the technology of wheeled vehicles are arguably present across all the branches of the Indo-European family, and archaeology says that wheeled vehicles arose no earlier than this date. The minority view links the origins of Indo-European with the spread of farming from Anatolia 8,000 to 9,500 years ago.

The minority view is decisively supported by the present analysis in this week's Science. This analysis combines a model of the evolution of the lexicons of individual languages with a spatial model of the dispersal of the speakers of those languages. Known events in the past are used to calibrate the inferred family tree against time.

The data used in this analysis come from the Indo-European Lexical Cognacy Database. This database provides a large, high-quality collection of language data suitable for analysis.

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Special construction expo
planned for next week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican chamber of construction will host nearly 500 stands and 200 businesses for a construction expo next week where companies and individuals with projects can find contractors and merchandise.

The ExpoConstrucción y Vivienda 2012 Edición Especial, a five-day event organized by the chamber of construction, will also feature an auction of more than 120 foreclosed properties by seven banks, according to a press release.

The goal is to bring construction companies and construction material suppliers to potential customers, according to Randall Murillo, president of the construction chamber.

“The idea of the expo is to have more opportunities,” he said.

The chamber of construction has hosted the expo annually for 12 years, but it is usually held in February, which is summer in Costa Rica. This expo is called a special edition because it is the first expo held in addition to the annual one.

Although the special edition has less participants than the one in February, it is only marginally smaller, with seven banks instead of nine, 185 businesses instead of 225 and 490 stands instead of 550.

A main event at the exposition is always the auction of foreclosed homes. This year more than 120 properties will be auctioned off, including empty lots from $25,000 to $100,000 and completed homes from $45,000 to $1.7 million. The banks and loan agencies selling these properties include: Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular, Banco Nacional, BAC San José, Mutual Cartago de Ahorro y
Préstamo, Mutual Alajuela and Scotiabank.

“They are great opportunities,” said Murillo.

According to the press release, these and other banks will offer special financing options on these properties at the expo, available to Costa Ricans or foreigners with legal residency.

“In colons, there is no restriction on the quantity of houses that an applicant has or wishes to acquire,” Guillermo Quesada, an assistant commercial manager at Banco de Costa Rica, said in a press release.

As a sponsor, Banco de Costa Rica will also raffle off a $10,000 debit card at the expo.

However, Murillo explained that this is only half of the expo.

“The fair is also for those who want to build a house or remodel,” he said. “There are companies selling floors, doors, windows, finishings.”

These are only a few types of products and services that companies will offer at the expo, and a full list of the businesses that will have stands at the expo is posted on the chamber's Web site.

The fair will run from next Wednesday until Sunday, Sept. 2. Seniors and children under age 12 can enter the festival for free any day, but adults need only pay 2,000 colons on Saturday and Sunday.

The expo will take place at the Centro de Eventos Pedregal, 800 meters west of the San Antonio de Belén train station, or about midway between Alajuela and Heredia. The expo will be open Wednesday from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.

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