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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 168          Email us
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The real jungle appears to be inside the retail stores
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Buying on credit is expensive anywhere, but in Costa Rica shoppers may face effective interest rates as high as 119 percent, according to a study by the economics ministry.

The study found that someone buying on credit could end up paying three times the cash price for a household appliance.

Paying cash is not always the answer, the study found. The ministry said that the cash price of some items can differ by 61 percent.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio did the survey at the beginning of the month in anticipation of the Día de la Madre Aug. 15. Appliances are big gift items on that day.

The ministry and its Dirección de Apoyo de Consumidor periodically conducts price surveys during the year, mainly around holidays.

Some of the findings were startling enough to be shared with a legislative committee that is looking into the credit industry. Mayí Antillón, the minister, characterized some of the credit systems as abusive.

One help to consumers is a law that entered into force in November that requires merchants to inform buyers who use credit of the nominal and effective interest rates they will pay on a particular item. The effective rate includes the price of the item and other costs, such as commissions, administration and insurance.

Costa Ricans are big credit shoppers, and generally it is the less educated residents who suffer the most because they do not understand how the interest adds up.

One purpose of the study was to see if merchants were following the law with regard to providing information on credit rates.

The ministry found that stores that maintain their own system of credit offer rates that range from 42 percent to the high of 119 percent a year. Credit cards range from 40 to 50 percent, and bank credit has an annual average of about 25 percent, said the ministry.

So it is the shopper who uses the store's own
credit buying

credit system who pays the most. Add to that the fact that the price may be inflated to begin with. Merchants generally jack up prices around holidays. In fact, now that the Día de la Madre has passed, some stores are promoting sales.

The survey was mainly interested in items like rice cookers, electric frying pans, refrigerators, flat-screen televisions and electric stoves.

In the example of an Atlas refrigerator the surveyors found that Importadora Monge offers a 45.34 percent interest rate for the product that has a cash price of 264,000 colons, about $525. Buying the refrigerator there on credit would eventually cost a shopper 442,485 colons, about $880, said the survey.

But if the shopper purchased the same refrigerator at Hogar Feliz.  They would pay an interest rate of 75.85 percent on a product priced at 327,890, about $652. To pay off the refrigerator with a credit agreement would cost 838,476 colons, about $1,667, the survey said. Hogar Feliz also would run up the price on a 32-inch flat screen television from the ticket price of 358.800 colons, some $713, to a credit price of 900,180 colons, about $1,780.

Among all the stores surveyed in the metro area prices of identical products differed by as much as from 43.34 percent to 61.78 percent.

The firms that offered the lowest cash price were Ricesa in Santa Ana with 26 mentions and El Verdugo on Avenida 4 in San José with 23. Play in Zapote and the Casa de los Precios Bajos in Santo Domingo de Heredia were tied for third with 19 mentions each.

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Suspects accused of killing
dogs encountered in burglaries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two suspects detained Tuesday are accused of not only burglarizing homes but poisoning homeowners dogs by feeding them meat to silence them.

Fuerza Pública officers got the tip Tuesday and set up roadblocks in San Ignacio de Acosta. The men had a bolt cutter and poisoned sausage in their car, said officers. A neighbor reported what seemed to be suspicious activity.

They were identified by the last names of Mata Pérez, said the Poder Judicial. They are residents of Tabarcia de Mora, the Fuerza Pública said. Officers said they were caught in the act of stealing a motorcycle after they broke locks securing the vehicle.

The men are suspected of being the thieves who specialize in taking motorcycles. There have been cases reported in Santa Ana, Asserí and Desamparados.

President sends more bills
to Asamblea Legislativa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With just seven days left in August, the period when the Presidencia controls the legislative agenda, Laura Chinchilla has designated 12 more bills as priority items. They include ratifying an agreement between Costa Rica and Qatar for promotion and to protect investments and one to declare the local version of the boy and girl scouts, the Asociación de Guías y Scout de Costa Rica, as a meritorious institution.

There is also a bill to ratify an agreement on investment with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Another measure seeks to provide incentives for building homes. There also are measures approving property transfers by municipalities.

During periods when the Costa Rican Constitution does not order the legislature to meet, the chief executive has the right to call lawmakers into what are called extraordinary sessions. During these periods the Presidencia controls the agenda and lawmakers may only act on bills cited by Casa Presidencial.

The legislature is in session nearly all the time, and there are several of these extraordinary sessions a year.

Our reader's opinion
Why do police ignore
clearly illegal behavior

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Over the years many articles about downtown San José and the tolerance of the local police with the street people and beggars. Many beggars have permanent spots through out San José. They sit in front of the Universal store, in front of Wendy's, strumming on a guitar in front of the bread stores and McDonald's on Avenida Central. They are all around hotels all hours of the day and sleeping on the sidewalks. Some are smoking crack cocaine in the open. I see the policeman just ignore and walk on by.

What prompted me to write this was what happen yesterday. A women who stinks to high heaven was walking around. You could smell her 50 feet away. Screaming at the police and they just stand there keeping their distance. I have seen her before. Why is there not some intervention? Why do they allow street children and others to sleep on the sidewalks, drink in the open, puking and urinating on the street corners?

Comments from locals and  tourist give San José the reputation of a filthy stinking hole. Unfortunately, many of us must travel using the buses, and this is the hub walking from one place to another. Great that they are repairing the streets and sidewalks. Now how about intervention with this kind of daily problems. You do not see much of this in other cities around here.

I believe in freedom, but this has been the slow decay of San José our beloved city.
Dwayne Egelund
La Uruca

Find out what the papers
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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. 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 168

Prisma dental

Irene, now over the Bahamas, is heading north northwest  while two more systems are en route.

Irene in Atlantic
U.S. National Hurricane Center/A.M. Costa Rica

Country still feeling the effects of first hurricane of season
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first Atlantic hurricane of the season is in the Bahamas, but it still is having an effect on Costa Rica. Meanwhile another threatening system is off the coast of Africa headed this way.

The national emergency commission issued a low-level alert for the Pacific coast and the Central Valley Wednesday, and the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said the effects of the hurricane would continue through today.

The storm, Irene, was listed as a category three system by the U.S. Nacional Hurricane Center Wednesday night. The center said the storm is expected to become a category four later today. This is on the five-point Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.

Some of the Pacific coast got a drenching Wednesday afternoon. Liberia got 75 millimeters (2.95 inches), mostly between 2 and 4 p.m., and Santa Rosa reported 39.6 millimeters (1.56 inches), according to the automatic weather stations there. Elsewhere just a few millimeters fell, despite forecasts of heavier rain.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias reported that some rivers were rising.

In a 7 p.m. report the weather institute said that heavy rains also fell on the Caribbean mountains. It recommended that persons living near rivers should be vigilant and said that some landslides are possible in the Central Valley, mainly in places where slides have taken place previously.

At 9 p.m. Costa Rican time the hurricane center said Irene was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) and that turns to the north northwest and then to the north are expected
today. The core of the hurricane was moving across the central Bahamas and would reach the northwestern Bahamas later today.

Maximum sustained winds remain at 120 mph (195 kph) with higher gusts, the center said. Some strengthening is expected today, it added.

The center's graphics show that the storm will not make landfall in Florida, Georgia or South Carolina.

There are two more systems in the Atlantic headed west. One is in the mid-Atlantic with just a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone within the next two days.

A more ominous system is just off the coast of Africa. This system has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days, the center said, estimating movement as northwest at 10 to 15 mph.

The hurricane center's director, Bill Read, says tropical storm force winds from Irene could approach the U.S. state of North Carolina as soon as early Saturday morning, according to A.M. Costa Rica wire services.

Evacuations were already under way in parts of the state.

Read said that Irene could become a big threat Sunday to the northeast United States, including New York's Long Island.

Irene is the first hurricane to seriously threaten the United States in three years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that emergency personnel are preparing all along the coast.

The storm likely will complicate airline flights from the northeast and probably shut down major airports when it makes landfall this weekend.

Poás continues to emit tall gas plumes from its hot spot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After years of relative calm, the dome of the Volcán Poás crater is registering high temperatures and emitting gas plumes that may go a kilometer in the air.

That's the report from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The agency, which is affiliated with Universidad Nacional in Heredia, said that staffers observed that the dome, a lump of volcanic material on the edge of the crater, was incandescent.

This is similar to what has been observed in 1981. The glow is caused by the high temperatures under the materials. For 30 years until 2008 the temperature of the gas vents in the dome has been around 93 degrees C., about 200 degrees F.

Lately the temperature has soared to more than 850 C., about 1560 F. Researchers don't really know because the high temperature broke the device they were using to measure the heat.
The vents in the dome are liberating quantities of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride and also vast amounts of water vapor, they said.

Staffers went into the crater near the dome Aug. 9 and noticed that gas emissions below are agitating the highly acidic lake in the crater. However, in the four hours they were there, there was no eruptions, they reported. The lake continues to be about 51 degrees C., about 124 F. Staffer María Martínez did manage to capture a kilometer-high plume of gas jetting from the dome last May 18.

The researchers also used a thermal imaging camera to photograph the hot spots in the dome. The camera is able to cut through the haze and clouds that usually are found in the crater.

The crater and dome have not yet reached the temperatures registered in 1981 to 1983. The dome is easily viewed from the visitor's observation area.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 168

El Niño drought cycles heavily affecting some 90 countries colored in red appear to be helping drive modern civil wars.

tropical countries
Solomon Hsiang et al./Nature

New study correlates hot El Niño with outbreak of civil wars
By the Columbia University news service

In the first study of its kind, researchers have linked a natural global climate cycle to periodic increases in warfare. The arrival of El Niño, which every three to seven years boosts temperatures and cuts rainfall, doubles the risk of civil wars across 90 affected tropical countries, and may help account for a fifth of worldwide conflicts during the past half-century, say the authors. The paper, written by an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, appears in the current issue of the leading scientific journal Nature.

In recent years, historians and climatologists have built evidence that past societies suffered and fell in connection with heat or droughts that damaged agriculture and shook governments. This is the first study to make the case for such destabilization in the present day, using statistics to link global weather observations and well-documented outbreaks of violence. The study does not blame specific wars on El Niño, nor does it directly address the issue of long-term climate change. However, it raises potent questions, as many scientists think natural weather cycles will become more extreme with warming climate, and some suggest ongoing chaos in places like Somalia are already being stoked by warming climate.

“The most important thing is that this looks at modern times, and it’s done on a global scale,” said Solomon M. Hsiang, the study’s lead author, a graduate of the Earth Institute’s doctoral program in sustainable development. “We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. That’s a specific time and place that may be very different from today, so people might say, ‘OK, we’re immune to that now.’  This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict, and shows it right now.”

The cycle known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, is a periodic warming and cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean. This affects weather patterns across much of Africa, the Mideast, India, southeast Asia, Australia, and the Americas, where half the world’s people live. During the cool, or La Niña, phase, rain may be relatively plentiful in tropical areas; during the warmer El Niño, land temperatures rise, and rainfall declines in most affected places. Interacting with other factors including wind and temperature cycles over the other oceans, El Niño can vary dramatically in power and length. At its most intense, it brings scorching heat and multi-year droughts. In higher latitudes, effects weaken, disappear or reverse. La Niña conditions earlier this year helped dry the U.S. Southwest and parts of east Africa.)

The scientists tracked the phenomena from 1950 to 2004 and correlated it with onsets of civil conflicts that killed more than 25 people in a given year. The data included 175 countries and 234 conflicts, over half of which each caused more than 1,000 battle-related deaths. For nations whose weather is controlled by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, they found that during La Niña, the chance of civil war breaking out was about 3 percent, During El Niño, the chance doubled, to 6 percent. Countries not affected by the cycle remained at 2 percent no matter what. Overall, the team calculated that El Niño may have played a role in 21 percent of civil wars worldwide—and nearly 30 percent in those countries affected by El Niño.

Coauthor Mark Cane, a climate scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said that the study does not show that weather alone starts wars. “No one should take this to say that climate is our fate. Rather, this is compelling evidence that it has a measurable influence on how much people fight overall,” he said. “It is not the only factor. You have to consider politics, economics, all kinds of other things.” Cane, a climate modeler, was among the first to elucidate the 
mechanisms of El Niño, showing in the 1980s that its larger swings can be predicted — knowledge now used by organizations around the world to plan agriculture and relief services.

The authors say they do not know exactly why climate feeds conflict. “But if you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch,” said Hsiang. When crops fail, people may take up a gun simply to make a living, he said. Kyle C. Meng, a sustainable-development doctoral candidate and the study’s other author, pointed out that social scientists have shown that individuals often become more aggressive when temperatures rise, but he said that whether that applies to whole societies is only speculative.

Bad weather does appear to tip poorer countries into chaos more easily. Rich Australia, for instance, is controlled by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, but has never seen a civil war. On the other side, Hsiang said at least two countries “jump out of the data.” In 1982, a powerful El Niño struck impoverished highland Peru, destroying crops. That year, simmering guerrilla attacks by the revolutionary Shining Path movement turned into a full-scale 20-year civil war that still sputters today. Separately, forces in southern Sudan were already facing off with the domineering north, when intense warfare broke out in the El Niño year of 1963. The insurrection abated, but flared again in 1976, another El Niño year. Then, 1983 saw a major El Niño and the apocalyptic outbreak of more than 20 years of fighting that killed 2 million people, arguably the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. It culminated only this summer, when South Sudan became a separate nation. Fighting continues in border areas. Hsiang said some other countries where festering conflicts have tended to blow up during El Niños include El Salvador, the Philippines and Uganda (1972); Angola, Haiti and Myanmar (1991); and Congo, Eritrea, Indonesia and Rwanda (1997).

The idea that environment fuels violence has gained currency in the past decade, with popular books by authors like Jared
Diamond, Brian Fagan and Mike Davis. Academic studies have drawn links between droughts and social collapses, including the end of the Persian Gulf’s Akkadian empire (the world’s first superpower), 6,000 years ago; the AD 800-900 fall of Mexico’s Maya civilization; centuries-long cycles of warfare within Chinese dynasties; and recent insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, tree-ring specialists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory published a 1,000-year atlas of El Niño-related droughts; data from this pinpoints droughts coinciding with the downfall of the Angkor civilization of Cambodia around AD 1400, and the later dissolution of kingdoms in China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

Some scientists and historians remain unconvinced of connections between climate and violence. “The study fails to improve on our understanding of the causes of armed conflicts, as it makes no attempt to explain the reported association between ENSO cycles and conflict risk,” said Halvard Buhaug, a political scientist with the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway who studies the issue. “Correlation without explanation can only lead to speculation.” 

Another expert, economist Marshall Burke of the University of California, Berkeley, said the authors gave “very convincing evidence” of a connection. But, he said, the question of how overall climate change might play out remains. “People may respond differently to short-run shocks than they do to longer-run changes in average temperature and precipitation,” he said. He called the study “a useful and illuminating basis for future work.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 168

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POeru earthquake location
U.S. Geological Survey, National Earthquake Information Center:
Concentric circles show the estimated epicenter

Jungle region of Perú hit
by magnitude 7.0 quake

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A strong earthquake has struck northern Peru, with reports of shaking felt more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) southwest in the capital, Lima.

The U.S. Geological Survey says Wednesday's 7.0-magnitude quake was centered north of the jungle city of Pucallpa, near the border with Brazil. The Survey had initially rated the earthquake 6.8.

The quake was registered at a depth of 145 kilometers (90 miles). The deeper a quake occurs, the less likely it is to be felt or cause destruction.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

In 2007, a massive 8.0-magnitude quake along Peru's central coast killed at least 540 people and left thousands homeless.

Peru lies near the boundary of two tectonic plates, making the region vulnerable to strong earthquakes.

Salvadoran massacre suspect
located in Massachusetts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Federal agents in the northeastern U.S. state of Massachusetts have arrested a former Salvadoran military officer accused of participating in the killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989. 

Inocente Orlando Montano was arrested on charges of making false statements on U.S. immigration forms.

Montano is one of 20 Salvadorans indicted in Spain earlier this year for the murders of the priests, their housekeeper and her teenaged daughter.  The slayings occurred during El Salvador's 12-year civil war. Montano has denied involvement in the killings.

Montano is reported to have been living in Massachusetts under his own name for the last decade.

At Montano's court hearing in Boston Tuesday a federal judge ordered him held until electronic monitoring could be arranged.

The Spanish judge issued the indictment against Montano and the other Salvadorans under the principle of cross-border jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of some crimes even though they were committed in another country.  Spain can request Montano's extradition from the United States.

Protests in Chile enter
their second day

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Protesters in Chile are set for a second day of demonstrations in support of a 48-hour national strike to press for education reform.

Government officials say 36 people were injured Wednesday when protesters clashed with police, who were trying to shut down demonstrations in the capital of Santiago. Officials say 348 people were arrested following the clashes.

Chilean government officials called the strike a great failure, saying that only 5 percent of public employees participated in the work stoppage in its first day.

Businesses in most parts of Santiago were uninterrupted Wednesday, with public transportation continuing to function and traffic flowing through most streets, despite street blockades set up by protesters.

The government has condemned the strike, saying it will cost the country about $200 million per day.

The strike was called by Chile's main labor union, CUT, in support of students who have been protesting for weeks for education reform and an overhaul of educational funding. In addition, strike organizers have called for tax reform and constitutional change.

There have also been large-scale protests against conservative President Sebastian Pinera.

President Pinera announced cuts in the education budget earlier this year. The president has called on students to reach a negotiated solution with the government based on 21 proposals he presented, but no agreement has been finalized.

The Chilean leader also faces sagging approval ratings.

The last time Chileans held a two-day national strike was during the rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who held power from 1973 until 1990.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 168

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Suspects released from jail
due to lack of hearing record

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judiciary is introducing oral hearings into the court system, and the plan backfired this week.

The Poder Judicial said that 12 policemen and a civilian were freed when a disk that was presumed to contain the proceedings of an earlier court hearing was found to be blank when the case got to an appeals panel Tuesday.

Because of the oral nature of the previous hearing, the only documentation would have been the recording.

Most courtrooms have cameras and sound equipment. Judicial assistants usually turn on the equipment when a hearing starts. In this case, the defense lawyers argued that they could not adequately argue against a continuation of pre-trial detention because they did not know what had transpired July 28. At that time the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda del II Circuito Judicial ordered the 13 individuals held for four more months.

Even though the men have been freed, they still are suspects. When they were arrested in Heredia, officials said they were involved in drug dealing and stealing drugs from criminals for resale. Prosecutors can seek to have them rearrested or just continue with the criminal case.

The Poder Judicial noted that specific rules for recording were published in June.

Star-crossed locomotive
overturns in Pococí

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The small locomotive that killed a man Tuesday night in Matina derailed when a bridge gave way Wednesday in Jiménez de Pococí. A train crewman lost a leg in the Wednesday mishap.

The diesel locomotive overturned when the bridge gave way. It was hauling flatcars with steel for a local plant. Many of the cars overturned, too.

The night before an unidentified man died when he was hit by the locomotive about 10 p.m. The Judicial Investigating Organization said it appeared that the man was sleeping on the rails.

Physician remanded to jail
in child sex abuse case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A physician facing a child sex abuse allegation has been remanded to jail for three months preventative detention. The action took place in the Juzgado Penal de Garabito, according to the Poder Judicial.

He is German Enrique Moreno Rojas, 51, who also is wanted in Houston, Texas, on nine counts of similar offenses.

The Poder Judicial disclosed that the alleged abuse took place in 2008 in the Cóbano area. Moreno has a medical practice in Mapais at the tip of the Nicoya peninsula. He was detained Monday at his mother's home in Cuatro Reinas de Tibás.

Moreno was in the news because he cannot be extradited to the United States because to do so would violate the Costa Rican Constitution.

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