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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 173                          Email us
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Country seems to have made great strides in 10 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With holes in the highways and other daily aggravations, expats here may not always fully realize the giant leaps that Costa Rican society has taken in the last decade.

This country has progressed mostly due to outside influences. But it has progressed.

The Idea of Progress is a much debated philosophical topic that dates back to the Greeks. Still, expats can see real progress if that term is defined as easier living and even security.

Little more than a decade ago, dial-up Internet service was cutting edge. The valley rail line would occasionally carry some flat cars loaded with rolls of steel bound for a factory in Tibás.

Paying utility bills meant hours in line at the bank.

Need a cell phone? Get a number and wait months for your turn.

Clearly the improved Internet service has caused many of these changes. Now free and paid movies, millions of songs, video chats and e-shopping are available with just a few clicks.

But not all progress is linked to the Internet. Some stems from government decisions or even just accidents.

The valley passenger train line is almost to Cartago, and Alajuela is next on the list. Hundreds ride each day from and to Heredia.

Three telephone companies seek the business of Costa Ricans and expats. A tourist can pick up a telephone at the airport.

Private banks have blossomed, and even the state banks are now paying some heed to those strange words servicio al cliente, “customer service.”

Air transport has improved with the growth of Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. A decade ago the airport saw a few charter flights a day. Now there is continual regular service.

Progress is a double-edged sword. Progress in Liberia cuts into the income of Central Valley tourism operators. Just 10 years ago nearly every tourist landed in Alajuela and spent the night in or
around San José before heading to the beaches. Nearly all spent a night in the valley in order to catch an early return flight. Now a growing minority of tourists have never seen the Central Valley.

Those tourists that have now can take the Caldera highway to the Central Pacific and the paved 
old money
In a decade even the money has changed.

Costanera Sur with its new bridges south to such towns as Dominical. This was not possible even just a few years ago.

Higher up the coast the Puente de Amistad links the central Nicoya peninsula with points east. For those who prefer the ferry to visit tourist meccas like Montezuma, there is the $5.7 million Tambor II. This craft can carry 170 vehicles and 500 passengers, so the lineup of vehicles in Puntarenas awaiting space to board is history, too.

As far as shopping, one word says it all: Walmart. The retail giant has revolutionized marketing and helps bring in thousands of products that expats had to smuggle within their suitcases 10 years ago. There are more modern shopping centers on the way.

Also on the Pacific coast there is an increase in the availability of medical services. And Banco de Costa Rica can handle renewals of residencies nationwide.

Although the fact may not be obvious, police agencies also are improving their handling of data and training. There soon will be a new police academy designed to continue the professionalization of the Fuerza Pública. The judiciary and investigators are getting more electronics to do their jobs quicker. Oral court hearings are being introduced to cut down on the traditional paperwork.

Even education is available online, both for Costa Ricans and expats. Many expats work online every day, and not just in call centers and sportsbooks. Individuals can live anywhere now if they have the right type of job. Many of these choose Costa Rica.

Even traditional jobs are more now with the emphasis on outsourcing. Costa Rica has an international reputation as a host for medical technology companies and device manufacturers.

Some who came to Costa Rica to hug trees are unhappy with the progress. Yet the modern necessities are vital selling points for the many would-be expats who will sample Costa Rica as their future home.

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Reward posted for French pair
missing for more than a year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The French Embassy in Costa Rica is offering a $7,000 reward to anyone who can give verifiable information about the whereabouts of the French couple Gerard and Claude Dubois. 

The couple disappeared March 31, 2011, after arriving in Quepos for vacation.  Hotel employees called police on April 4, after noticing the couple's rental car had been left unattended at the Río Naranjo for days.

Police found the passports of the tourists in a trash can in Jacó, which led to an investigation.  In the last year authorities said they have questioned multiple people in the effort of finding suspects and made searches based on information gained in the process.

Investigators also searched for bodies in case the husband and wife were victims of homicide.

The couple was last seen on March 31, 2011, when they came out of the hotel where they were staying for a tour through the area.

Anyone that has important information that can help the authorities solve this case can call the Embajada de Francia at 2234-4188, an embassy release said. The couple's family also is offering the reward.

The information must lead to a solid discovery of the couple, in order for the source to receive the money, the release added.

Investigators embarked on an extensive search of agricultural land based on information from an informant. That individual told police that members of a gang had ingratiated themselves with the couple and lured them to a remote area where they were robbed and killed.

However, the search failed to find any evidence.

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
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 173
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Book fair visitor snaps a photo of some of the posters that feature Costa Rican personalities to encourage more reading.

Leer people
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U.S.Embassy supporting campaign to promote reading here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy and the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano have joined with the Club de Libros and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia to promote reading.

The campaign, outlined Wednesday night at the Feria International del Libro, involves setting up posters featuring well-known Costa Ricans. The slogan is ¡Leer es pura vida!

The campaign is similar to Celebrity Read, a program in the United States that featured posters with the likenesses of Cindy Crawford, MohammedAli, Antonio Banderas and Michael Keaton.
Most expats will not be familiar with the 10 individuals on the poster here. Certainly boxing champion Hanna Gabriels is known to many. So is Edgar Silva, a television personality. Three Costa Rican actresses and the comedy team of Medio Docena probably are known only to long-time expats fluent in Spanish.

The campaign will be set up in 56 public libraries, branches of the university and schools. There also are bookmarks that will be distributed.

The goal is not only to promote reading among persons of all ages but to play a role in national, cultural and personal development, organizers said.

Construction expo opens with high hopes among some vendors
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Standing just outside of his half log cabin, Antonio Flores stood waiting and hoping.

This year has not been a great year for his small architecture business, Alternativos Maderables Ambientales, which specializes in wooden cabins, and he was looking to change his fortune in the last couple months of the year.

From his far corner in the Centro de Eventos Pedregal, Flores could look out across the room and see dozens of other businesses where more people stood anxiously waiting. Beyond the far wall were several more rooms, which in total held displays of nearly 200 businesses.

“I hope this event raises our sales,” he said.

The event was The ExpoConstrucción y Vivienda 2012 Edición Especial, a five-day event that started Wednesday afternoon, organized by the chamber of construction. The event is called a special edition because the event has been held in February for 12 years, and this is the first time that the chamber is holding two expos in one year.
According to the chamber, nearly 200 businesses will be present and over 500 booths set up for customers to browse different options for anything from tiles and sinks to condominiums and houses.

The companies involved range from small, locally-owned businesses like that of Flores to international corporations.

Bernardo Marques also stood waiting in the opening hours of the event at the booth of his employer, ArcelorMittal, one of world’s largest international steel suppliers.

The company has sponsored or contributed materials for buildings like the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London, a public art piece which was commissioned for the Olympic Games, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the second tallest building in the world. Marques also said that the company has two factories in Costa Rica and has between 75 and 80 percent of the Costa Rican market-share for steel.

Marques explained that a company that large was not at the fair to sell steel on the spot, but more to have a presence in the community of the construction industry and to answer technical questions from local construction companies using the firm's steel.

“It’s very important for people who have doubts about our products,” said Marques. “We have employees who can sort out any kind of inquiry.”

“We have so many products and sometimes they’re not applied correctly. So we’re here to help the customer better use our products.”

Across the aisle was the larger booth of Impersa, a Costa Rican company that produces mortar, concrete mixes and dozens of other construction materials that are sold in retail stores. Massive signs around the booth that said “30” indicated that the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Jimmy Vargas, one of more than a dozen Impersa spokesmen on hand Wednesday afternoon, explained that they also were not there to sell to the do-it-yourself customer and they did not have any of their products on hand to sell. Rather the company was looking to make an impression with engineers looking for construction materials.

Also to make an impression, Impersa’s booth also had a table stocked with hors d'oeuvres and several bottles of Johnnie Walker Red and Bailey’s.

“Everybody is coming here, and we’re talking about different products,” said Vargas. “It’s good for everybody.”

As the afternoon went on, more and more customers began to trickle in. People seemed to congregate around particular areas such as the Banco de Costa Rica booth, the expo’s official sponsor, which had more than a dozen terminals for people to apply for loans to buy homes. Also, employees and customers alike gathered around booths with television sets to watch a soccer match.

Other customers were visibly on the hunt to see what companies were offering at this expo.

One such customer, Dagoerto Cascante, was searching for a good deal on ceramic tiles for his house. He had his wife and two daughters in tow. This was his first time at the expo and
bank booth
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
 Expo visitors explore loan possibilities at this Banco de
 Costa Rica booth.

Antonio Flores andhis log cabin.
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Antonio Flores and his log cabin.

he said he heard that there were good deals, but he said he was unable to find any. “At this moment, we haven’t been able to find good prices,” he said.

Other customers were just browsing, such as Juan José Li Cordero, who was looking around to see if he could find anything new or interesting for his architecture practice.

“I like to see what new things they are showing,” he said.

For Flores, this is the third straight time in two years that he has had a booth in the expo to generate interest in his 14-year-old business

He started the firm after finishing his studies with the intention of building wooden cabins that did not harm the environment. To that end, he uses only trees from plantations for his cabins.

“I have been in love all my life with the beach and the mountains,” said Flores. “It made me sad to see the way people use wood and destroy the forests.”

In the past two expos, he has had both success and disappointment. His first time in the expo kicked off a great year, but this year has been very slow for him and he said he hopes he can turn it around in the final months of the year.

“The first time was excellent, the second time was okay and this time I hope it’s good,” he said. “You cannot stop working just because you had a bad year.”

The expo started yesterday and will run through Sunday at the Pedregal center in San Antonio de Belén. Admission is free today and tomorrow. Over the weekend admission for adults is 2,000 colons, while seniors and children 12 and under are free.

The expo will be open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., except on Sunday when it will close two hours earlier.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 173
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Security official cites actions against drugs in wake of article
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A security ministry official called in foreign reporters in the country for a press conference Wednesday about Costa Rica and drug trafficking.

According to vice minister of security, Celso Gamboa Sanchez, Costa Rica is facing six different drug issues.  They include international trafficking, internal trafficking, violence, corruption, drug abuse and money laundering.

The ministry is actively planning ways to attack these issues, and is also working to combat robberies and assaults.  So far the efforts have been met with success, he said.

In the meeting, the vice minister said that the drug control police seized 7.5 tons of cocaine in 2011 and 7 tons 238 kilograms from the beginning of the year until August.  Also in 2011, the force destroyed 1,448,000 marijuana plants last year and has destroyed 835,903 plants this year.
This ranks the country number 20 in confiscation of drugs, after Panamá, officials said.

There are people who grow marijuana in Costa Rica, but also it is being smuggled in from the surrounding areas.  The minister cited the case last month where 2,265 kilograms of the drug was found being transported through the Caribbean.

The smugglers threw the drugs overboard and fled in their boat.  The U.S. Coast Guard was called in to help with the pursuit.

The fight against drugs is one that should be a shared responsibility between the country and the United States, Gamboa said, with the United States bringing in weapons and boats.

This meeting comes two weeks after Reuters wired out a story from reporter Isabella Cota Schwarz that charged that cocaine is being trafficked in the national parks, and marijuana is being grown amidst the protected trees.

Internet and advanced cell phones hit with afternoon outage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An outage swept through the country's Internet service and advanced cell telephone system Wednesday afternoon. The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones said it is evaluating the possibility of compensating users for the outage, which was blamed on the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The problem was with the advanced network of the state telecom company. The Superintendencia said that Claro and Movistar also reported problems in connecting with the state network.

The bulk of the outage was felt in the metro area, but there also
were reports from elsewhere, said the Superintendencia.
The telecom regulator said in a release that companies have 12 hours to remedy an outage but by 8 p.m. Wednesday the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad had not done so.

However, the outage seemed to begin after noon, so the telecom giant would have more time before a rebate would be imposed.

Basically the cell phones in the metro area were not functioning for much of the afternoon. The less advanced cell phones, those that do not have Internet service and are not on the 3G network worked without problem.

There were reports that bank automatic tellers were out of service, too, because they connect to the data servers via the Internet.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 173
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Isaac may dump 20 inches
on parts of Louisiana

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Isaac was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Wednesday.  But the slow-moving storm was hovering over New Orleans, Louisiana, on the Gulf of Mexico, generating tremendous rain and high winds.  Isaac is testing the city's improved levees that were breached exactly seven years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Tropical Storm Isaac is a much weaker weather event than Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,800 people dead in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.  Still the threat of dangerous storm surges and flooding is increasing as Isaac slowly moves across Louisiana.

Storm surges are testing the New Orleans levee system that failed during Katrina and has since been bolstered by $14 billion in federal repairs and improvements.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that so far the stronger levees are withstanding the assault.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says officials might need to cut a hole in a levee in a flooded area to relieve pressure on the structure and prevent a major breach.  He says that as many as 40 people in the area need to be rescued.

“Bottom line: This storm is a very slow moving storm.  It will be moving through our state.  We'll be dealing with this storm through early Friday morning.  So this is a storm that we will be dealing with not only today and tomorrow, but we're going to continue to see the weather effects especially as it moves to the northern part of our state,” Jindal said.

Earlier Wednesday, Isaac packed 120 kilometer-per-hour winds, driving a wall of water nearly 3.4 meters high inland and soaking a stretch of land that extends into the Gulf of Mexico.  The storm stalled for several hours before resuming its slow trek inland.  Isaac's slow movement over land means it could dump up to 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) of rain in some areas.  In New Orleans, one district on the west bank of the Mississippi River has ordered a mandatory evacuation because of concerns of a sustained storm surge.  New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has issued a curfew for the city.

In areas of southeastern Louisiana, people in boats and trucks have rescued residents stranded by floodwaters.  Authorities fear that many others could need help following fierce winds and rain that knocked out power to more than 600,000 households and businesses on Tuesday night.

Town in California endures
flurry of some 400 quakes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Residents of the California town of Brawley are coping with rattled nerves as they assess the damage from hundreds of small and moderate earthquakes that have shaken the region since Sunday. They say it is a reminder to stay prepared because they live in earthquake country.

Since Sunday more than 400 quakes, the highest a major shaker at magnitude 5.5, have rocked the city of 25,000.

Furniture store owner Mary Lourdes Miller lost two front windows.  She went through a major quake here in the 1970s.

“And all of a sudden you have it hit and you are not sure if it is going to be another seven-pointer or it is going to be a three-pointer or a four-pointer.  So you are on touch-and-go for quite a while until they completely stop,” Miller said.

Stocks tumbled from the shelves at Raj Lunagaria's pharmacy. There are cracks in the walls and the stock room is a shambles.

Construction worker Jay Robertson says it has been scary.

“All day long, all night long.  You hear thunder.  You do not know if it is going to hit again or if it is below us, or what is going on.  It is a clear day, so it's not thunder from the sky.  It is thunder from the ground,” Robertson said.

The town has declared a state of emergency.  The quakes have died down and city officials are assessing the impact, says interim fire chief Chuck Peraza.

“We have had some major damage to a mobile home park here in the city of Brawley, where 20-plus units shifted off their foundation.  We've had some old businesses dating back to the 1940s, unreinforced masonry that sustained some damage,” Peraza said.

The students are back at school after summer vacation, with a one-day delay, says the high school district superintendent, Hasmik Danielian.

“One day late, and we made sure that the safety of the kids is not compromised under any circumstances,” Danielian said.

The quakes have taught a lesson, says Katy Miller.

“Do not run outside.  Just calm down.  And it will pass, hopefully,” Ms. Miller said.

San Francisco was hit by a devastating quake a century ago, and the San Andreas fault, which caused it, runs through much of the state.

California Institute of Technology seismologist Kate Hutton says people need to be ready.

“Any earthquake is a reminder that we live in earthquake country and you had better prepare.  That involves having your (emergency) kit and your family plan, and having your water heater bolted in, all these safety precautions that people need to take,” Ms. Hutton said.

She says, we do not know when, but we know that some day, a big earthquake is coming.
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Food prices face impacts
that are global, prof says

By the Saint Joseph's University news staff

Consumers see buying from area farmers and producers as a good way to keep money and jobs close to home, improving the local economy while protecting American jobs.

But does buying local really make a significant economic difference?

“Everybody is looking for local food,” says John Stanton, professor of food marketing. “But whether we like it or not, the food world is global and what happens in Brazil can have just as big an impact on U.S. consumers as what happens in Nebraska.”

Although many U.S. consumers were alarmed to see news reports this summer of droughts leaving shriveled crops dying in the fields, Stanton warns other factors will have a greater effect on Americans’ wallets.

“Price increases from the droughts are likely to have short-term effects, but global issues can have a longer and greater impact,” Stanton explained, citing increasing demand from the rest of the world for crops like corn.

“The biggest cost in a box of corn flakes isn’t the corn,” Stanton says. “It’s everything from the price of oil to transport the product to the marketing and the packaging. So something like the cost of oil will have a much more lasting effect on the price of your cereal than the supply of crops.”

Stanton predicts higher food prices are an inevitability, whether the local food movement is here to stay or not.

“U.S. farmers are doing everything they can to keep America’s food inexpensive,” Stanton said. “But while I like to get my tomatoes from a local New Jersey farm stand or my mother’s garden, most of the prices of the food products that I buy are likely to be just as affected by storms in China, a growing middle class in India, or drought in Argentina, as they are by a drought in the Midwest.”

Political advertising rules
announced by newspaper

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica will accept political ads relating to the U.S. elections or for Costa Rican elections. But such ads must be paid in advance at established rates.

The newspaper does not want to be involved in subsidizing political speech. Each ad also must contain the name of the individual or organization placing it.

The newspaper staff also will review ads for their tone. Political advertising should avoid personal attacks.

The deadline for publishing such advertising is Oct. 15 because U.S. citizens in Costa Rica need additional time to submit their absentee ballots.

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