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(506) 223-1327               Published Friday, Aug. 31, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 173            E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Talk about jumping gun: Snowmen have arrived
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As North Americans are mourning the end of summer with the Labor Day holiday Monday, some Costa Ricans already have turned their minds to Christmas.

Each year merchants jockey to be the first with Nativity wares. Long-time locals blame the El Universal store for starting that trend. Now small merchants try to beat El Universal to the punch.

At the same time the tourist industry is gearing up for their flood of reservations for the high season that starts about Dec. 1

Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, and hardly anyone except those involved in necessary services are going to report for work on Monday Dec. 24. So the country is looking at at least an 11-day holiday through Jan. 1.

Some agencies, like the courts, and employees of generous private business operators, will have even longer vacations.

The early bird this year is José Manuel Elizondo, who manages a store in Curridabat east of San José. Motorists passing his business, Artesanias del Sol, might be surprised to see lighted snowmen staring back already.

Elizondo really jumped the gun this year and put out his Christmas items around Aug. 1. All
snowmen for sale
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A family of snowpeople await a purchaser

that is left are some snowmen, perhaps because the bigger ones carry a 60,000-colons pricetag, some $115.

The early Christmas marketing dovetails nicely with the Costa Rican mentality. They would prefer to shop at a leisurely pace, avoid the press of crowds and cash in on lower prices.

Another Christmas tradition is the algüinaldo, the bonus that employers must pay because it is mandated by law. The bonus is a twelfth of what an employee has earned throughout the year, and payment is enforced rigorously. The money must be paid by early December, so with a flow of new money entering the economy, prices are certain to rise the closer Christmas approaches.

More cell phone lines promised to nation in the early part of 2008
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While on the subject of Christmas, residents may be getting a late gift from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The telecommunications monopoly said Thursday that the Contraloría General de la República had approved a $65 million deal for 300,000 new GSM technology cell phone lines and 100,000 data ports. New ports would quintuple the capacity of text messaging to permit some 450 such messages a second, the company said.
The Contraloría has to approve all major government contracts.

The company said that it expects to offer these lines in January. When the deal is done Costa Rica will have 480 cell towers, an increase of 35, it said.

Now no new cell lines are available from the institute although there are periodic sales of lines that have been taken from customers for non-payment of their phone bill or have been surrendered.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 173

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Another probe launched
involving electrical institute

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors conducted five raids Thursday that made it clear they were investigating another case involving the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

This time the investigation involves at least two executives of the telecommunications and electrical generating monopoly and a manager of a private firm.

The raids were conducted by the Fiscalia de Delitos Tributarios and the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization. They took place at the central office of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in Sabana Norte, the offices of the Grupo Pujol and at three diesel generating plants at Jiménez, Orotina and Guanacaste.

The case stems from the electrical supply problems that the nation endured earlier this year. The company rented generating substations to the electrical monopoly via a direct contract without bidding. This frequently is done during times of emergency. The deal may have been for as much as $500,000 a month, said a source close to the investigation.

Officials at the Judicial Investigating Organization did not want to comment on the case Thursday. So-called raids are conducted frequently and are not necessarily signs that arrests and charges are likely.

Cartago plans fiesta Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cartago will have a fiesta Sunday to celebrate the return of the statute of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles to the basilica there. The statue represents the patroness of Costa Rica, the Virgin Mary. The Plaza Mayor will be filled with agricultural products of the area as well as booths representing various commercial sectors of the province.

The statue has been on display at the Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Carmen where it was carried shortly after the Aug. 2 devotions at the basilica. The festivities begin at 8 a.m. and last through the afternoon. They include dancing, singing, marimba performances and folkloric dances.

Our readers' opinions
Reader favors both plans
to be instituted together

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am in support of both the Arias and the Libertarian proposals to control and diminish crime. I believe, however, that instituting one plan without the other will be nonproductive.

The Arias proposal seeks to address the necessary challenge of cultural reform by guiding this country's youth towards a moral and productive lifestyle. It's far more difficult to achieve this goal with older and hardened criminals.

The Libertarian proposal would offer solutions to crime-related problems that have reached critical mass and, therefore, require triage, or serious attention now. This country, its citizens, its business community and its tourism industry cannot wait for the intended results of the Arias proposal. Cultural reform cannot be instilled overnight. The losses in the interim will be considerable.

As much as we would all like to believe that education and rehabilitation are the answer to immoral and criminal behavior, one must accept the fact that those responsible for criminal behavior are a menace to society.

It makes far more sense to protect society from a menace, then to protect a menace. The damages are measurable. It must also be acknowledged that there are individuals who are incorrigible criminals due to environmental or psychiatric disorders. A judicial system that is unable or unwilling to recognize these individuals and to incarcerate them in the appropriate manner, is an irresponsible system at best.

Pamela Ellsworth

Penalty must be swift,
not like situation is now

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is nice to see that President Arias wants to increase recreation opportunities for the young to lure them away from a life of crime. That may even work for a few. But there will be limited funding, and many will find it uninteresting or just don't have the social standards to make use of it. That could have a positive effect on a few many years later.

It is not surprising that increasing the statutory penalties for crimes has little or no effect on crime. When the victim and the criminal believe based on reality that there is little chance the police will actually apprehend the criminal, and, if arrested, he will be let go in a few hours, and if found later to be chargeable, they will not be able to find him again, and that, if he is found, it is unlikely that he will be brought to trial, and the investigators are likely to make technical errors in the investigation, and that, if brought to trial, it is further unlikely that he will actually serve an appropriate sentence, nor will the damages be compensated.

What is the incentive not to commit the crime when the chance of a real penalty is about 1 percent? I believe crime will be reduced when it is highly likely to get caught, tried and jailed quickly and have to pay the damages.

Criminals in jail commit much fewer crimes. I am not expecting any significant improvement. I take my chances and just try to defend as best I can. It is not worth the effort to struggle against the system to report a crime.
Joe Lassiter
Playa Hermosa

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Suspects in Belén home invasion case caught after shootout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gang of armed men who tried to invade a home in San Antonio de Belén ended up in police custody after a firefight with officers.

The arrests late Wednesday are significant because the western part of the metropolitan area, including Escazú, Rohrmoser and Santa Ana, have been plagued by these home invasions in which gangs break into a dwelling, hold the occupants at gunpoint and then steal what they can.

The Fiscalía of San Joaquín de Flores in Heredia is conducting the investigation into this latest case. One of the suspects was wounded in the confrontation with Fuerza Pública officers and Policía Municipal in Belén.

The Poder Judicial identified the suspects by the last names of Calderón Zúñiga, Chinchilla Fallas, Mirada Pérez and Cantillano Hernández. They have been jailed while prosecutors seek six-month terms of preventative detention from a judge.

A report from the police in Belén is incomplete but the
general circumstances were that the men were spotted  trying to gain entry into a dwelling by a neighbor. They were caught after the firefight with police.

Such crimes have a frequency of about three or four times a week, most recently in the western part of the metropolitan area, although one took place Saturday in San Pedro. Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, said that the frequency might be closer to being daily.

There is little protection against such crimes because the bandits carry overwhelming force and frequently have inside information on the layout of the property. Gates are easily circumvented and doors are smashed easily.

The most publicized crime of this type took place March 21 when men assaulted the wife of a former presidential candidate when she arrived home and opened the gate to her parking spot. The bandits injured the woman, killed a domestic employee and shot dead a neighbor who stepped out on his balcony at the wrong time.

Suspects in this crime involving the Rohrmoser home of Ricardo Toledo were caught.

Motorcycle rally Sunday will generate funds to assist terminally ill children
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorcyclists will flood the Autodromo la Guácima Sunday in a fundraiser for a foundation that helps terminally ill children.

The event, called Dos ruedas por una sonrisa ("Two wheels for a smile") will involve at least 100 motorcycles, quarter-mile races, a motorcycle rodeo, a concert and exhibitions, said organizers.

The Fundación Pro Unidad de Cuidados Paliativo will be
the beneficiary. The entrance fee is 2,000 colons, a bit less than $4, and all will go to the foundation, said organizers. The event is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Marielos Arce, a member of the foundation board of directors, said that the funds collected will allow better care of youngsters in the final stage of their illness.

The foundation spends some 20 million colons (about $38,500) a month and has attended some 800 children already in 2007, she said. The foundation provides housing, medicine and food for patients and their families.

Free trade and the fear that pact approval will hike prices
This past week I heard two Costa Rican gentlemen give the pros and cons of TLC, or CAFTA, the so-called free trade agreement that the Costa Rican people will be voting on Oct. 7.

I also attended the Chinese exhibition in Cariari.  Communist China has replaced Taiwan as Costa Rica’s new best friend in Asia. China now has an embassy in Costa Rica. There seems to be a confusing case of role reversal with the United States attempting to spread democracy with its armed forces and the Chinese winning the hearts and minds of the people of Africa, Latin America and now, Central America, with the capitalist tools of money and products.  Both of which they have plenty of.

My friend Marina and I were disappointed in the exhibition, mostly because we mistakenly thought it was going to be a cultural exhibition.  It was not.  On display were all sorts of large items from automobiles to washing machines and televisions.  Everything that other countries are making but probably cheaper.  Although Marina did inquire about the lavishly chromed red motorcycle, we didn’t ask the price of anything.

The exhibition was good preparation for the debate on TLC. 

Both speakers were knowledgeable and persuasive. Alberto Trejos, with a doctorate in economics, has been prominent both academically and politically. He negotiated the Central Aemrican Free Trade Agreement for Costa Rica.  His argument focused on the positive trade consequences of the treaty:  How Costa Rica would be able to compete more fairly with other countries that export similar products.  And on the new investments and companies that would be coming to Costa Rica. He assured the audience that approving CAFTA does not mean opening munitions factories in Costa Rica. He finished with the disarming statement that whether the people voted yes or no on CAFTA, it was not going to be the end of the world.

Roman Macaya, also an academic doctor but a businessman and executive director of the national chamber of generic products of Costa Rica, spent most of his time talking about the effect CAFTA would have on the cost of prescription drugs to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.  In short, with CAFTA, patents would be renewable and it would take longer for generics to replace the much more expensive drugs that the Caja (national health insurance) buys for its patients. 

According to his charts, the difference would be astronomical. He also made the point that foreign
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

companies do not come here in the hopes that CAFTA
will pass.  They come here for the educated workforce, the country itself (the lack of a military and all that implies, and the environment) and the fact that the Caja will insure its workers, which costs a pittance compared to the U.S. He also said that Costa Rica’s exports are growing by 9 percent a year without CAFTA and that there is little or no tariff on 80 percent of the products exported to the U.S. now.

He noted that those countries that have signed CAFTA (like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic) had nothing to lose, given their situations.  Costa Rica does.

My thoughts during both talks were about what it is that Costa Rica would be losing were CAFTA to come into being.  It has been over 10 years since the import taxes on automobiles were reduced drastically.  When that occurred, the roads were hardly able to take the traffic that existed.  Today, the traffic situation is practically a disaster – especially with the increase of huge trucks as well as cars.  Accidents are rampant.  What will happen if more trucks, loaded with products to go abroad, are put on the roads?  

Electricity and water are being stretched already with the building of so many luxury hotels, resorts, condos and houses.  Here in Belén there are huge transformers the country installed to lure Intel.  Still we are without electricity for hours during the rainy season when lightening strikes one of these transformers.

When I first came to Costa Rica, shrimp and tuna were cheap and plentiful.  Costa Ricans and I could afford them.  Once Costa Rica began to export them, the prices went up and up.  Will this happen with our fresh produce?  Will Costa Ricans (and I) be like the cobbler’s children?

And then there is the whole culture of free trade – buying goods, selling goods and competing to do both cheaper than the other guy.  Costa Ricans already have become more consumer-oriented as it is.  At a time in history when we all should be conserving and reusing and cutting back, and Costa Rica could be a leader in this endeavor, will the idea that happiness is owning more and more stuff become an entrenched value here?

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 173

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maleku montage
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Norton
Visitor checks out the fiber and vine communal nest of the montezuma oropendula, a common local bird.

A tourist checks out the traditional structure that now is a center for souvenir sales

Erla Pérez presents her hand-painted waterholder or jícara made from the fruit of the Jícaro tree.
Maleku find that souvenirs help to maintain their traditions
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Just north of Guatuso and off the main highway is an Indian reserve where the Maleku are balancing the 21st century with their traditional ways.

The Maleku Indians no longer live in homes made of bamboo and other plant materials.  However, they still construct outdoor ranchos, such as their own local tourism center where they display their handcrafted artwork by contract with tourism companies. The art work is the principal way the residents support their modern needs.

The Costa Rican government has constructed modern concrete and block homes that are used for daily living. The reservation includes Palenque Margarita and the larger Palenque Tonjibe.

The Indian group is aggressive in defending its language and
traditions. A tiny radio station, Radio Maleku at 1250 KHz, helps. And tours to the reserve and sale of their artwork are promoted on the Internet.

At Palenque Margarita, the Pérez family is happy to receive some local tourists who were afraid to cross a rickety bridge to the next Maleku village, Palenque Tonjibe. 

The family said that tourists will pay a third the cost for a souvenir if the item is purchased directly from their home as opposed to purchasing from a local store or the reserve's own tourism center. 

Angel Pérez, his wife, Erla, and daughter Angélica, proudly displayed their hand-painted artwork at their concrete home.   Besides hand-painted clay pots that they bake in their own clay ovens, hand-painted water pitchers and wall decorations made from the jícaro fruit, they also hand-paint bamboo filled with seeds used for a musical instrument or a soothing rain-like sound, and javelins.

Hundreds arrested as mass protests over Bachelet government continue in Chile
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean officials say at least 740 people have been arrested after clashing with police during mass protests in Santiago over the government's social and economic policies.

Authorities say demonstrators hurled objects at police and hid behind barricades Wednesday as officers used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds. Some shops were looted as the violence erupted in the capital.

Dozens of people were injured, including a ruling coalition
senator, Alejandro Navarro, who was seen bleeding from the head after he was clubbed by an officer.

Labor unions organized the protests, saying workers should get a larger portion of profits from Chilean industry. Chile is the world's biggest copper producer and has benefited from high prices for the metal in recent years.

President Michelle Bachelet has pledged to take advantage of the country's revenues from copper exports to improve education and conditions for the poor. Chile has one of Latin America's most prosperous economies.

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