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(506) 2223-1327          Published Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 174          Email us
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Fire fighters get their tax, and USS Boone can dock
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators took action Thursday to approve for the second and final time a 1.75 percent tax on electricity bills so that the Cuerpo de Bomberos could build 30 new fire stations over the next 10 years. Some will be in unprotected Pacific coast towns that are far from a station now.

The approval was expected because the bill passed on first reading 50 to 1. Still firemen demonstrated with their equipment in Avenida Central outside the legislative chamber, and firemen dressed in
yellow shirts jumped and danced in the visitors gallery when the final vote came.

Lawmakers also gave permission for the USS Boone to dock in Puntarenas Saturday to hand over five Costa Ricans caught at sea with a large quantity of drugs.

The U.S. Navy ship also is expected to hand over the fishing craft the men were on. Other crewmen go to the United States for trial, but the United States has a special agreement with Costa Rica to hand over any of its citizens caught at sea.

New law designed to expedite dealing with officials
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economics ministry is working on regulations to put into force a new law that is supposed to cut down on unnecessary government paperwork.

The law contained sanctions for public officials who fail to follow it, and it requires autonomous institutions to get approval from the ministry when measures that require citizens to take official actions or file paperwork. This part of the law also covers public  universities.

The full effect of the law will not be known until  regulations are published, but there seems to be an emphasis on what is called
 silencio positivo. That is the Costa Rican legal tradition that if a public entity does not act within a reasonable time after an applicant has submitted all the necessary documentation, approval is granted automatically.

The measure also requires the central government to do a cost-benefit analysis on any regulations that are passed.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio is in charge of managing this law.

The law, No.  8220, is supposed to expedite the way business is conducted in Costa Rica, said the ministry.

Wife held in stabbing death of hubby for insurance
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said that a woman and her lover plotted successfully to kill her husband for an 18-million-colon life insurance policy. That's about $35,500.

The victim of the plot, identified as Julio César Rodríguez, 48, died when he was stabbed 17 times when he was confronted in Barrio Matabuey, Nicoya, last April 8.

Agents detained the 40-year-old wife, identified by
the last names of Mora Arroyo and the male suspect, identified by the last names of Alemán Calvo, said the Poder Judicial. He is 33.

Ms. Mora works in the Centro de Adaptación Social de Nicoya, which is associated with the penal system, said the Poder Judicial.

She initially told investigators that two men in a vehicle had attacked her husband, but agents noticed inconsistencies, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Ms. Mora has three children.

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Photo by reader Scott Bartlett
 Things could be worse. This is a shot of the Killington Ski
 Resort in Vermont after Irene. The community was
 isolated and water had to be airlifted in. See our story
 about the Northeast HERE.

Tropical depression surprises
nation from the Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While attention was centered on the Atlantic, a tropical depression crept up from Panamá Wednesday night and sowed flooding and destruction. One victim was the Caldera highway where tons of dirt slid onto the roadway Thursday. Crews were still trying to open the vital link to the Pacific coast and Atenas.

The U.S. Hurricane Center said the Pacific depression, named Eight-E, had dissipated and was along the southwestern coast of México at midnight.

The storm hit southern Costa Rica and then worked its way up the Pacific coast. From San José early Thursday flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance in the south and west.

Flooding was reported by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional in Pérez Zeledón, Quepos and other parts of the Pacific coast. Playas del Coco was also reported to have been hit with heavy rains and flooding. Rivers ran out of their banks.
The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that high winds swept the Caribbean coast.

The commission said that high seas were recorded along the Pacific coast, especially in Playas del Coco and that four boats were destroyed in Aguirre and a house in Barrio Cocal, Quepos. The commission opened a public shelter for 23 persons on the Pacific coast.

The commission said it expected the high seas to diminish by Sunday but that Monday would see a return to current conditions.

The commission said persons in these communities should take appropriate action: Playas del Coco, Nosara, Sámara, Carrillo, Herradura, Jacó, Hermosa, Palo Seco, Esterillos, Ballena, Isla Damas, Boca Vieja, Zancudo and Pavones.

Newspaper publishes late

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica published an hour and 47 minutes late this morning because  power was knocked out in a wide area around the newspaper's editorial offices in San Pedro. The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz had no immediate explanation. The power went off at 1:40 a.m., about 20 minutes before the newspaper's regular publishing time. It was back on at 3:47 a.m.

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 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 174

Prisma dental

Monday marks the start of the runup to high tourism season
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Labor Day in the United States, a legal holiday.

The day also marks the traditional end of summer and the start of elementary and high school semesters.

For Costa Ricans, especially those in tourism, the day marked the beginning of a tough month with the lowest number of arriving tourists for the year. In 2010 some 120,214 tourists came to Costa Rica in September, about 5.7 percent of the yearly total. Only 44,216 tourists came from North America, the country's principal market, according to statistics from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

October was not much better. The number compared with between 100,000 and 118,000 tourists in February and March of that year. That's the high season.

Elsewhere in the retail economy, merchants, facing the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, are dumping much of their merchandise at sale prices. Some sales are 40 percent off. The retail operators plan to stock up with Christmas goods after Sept. 30.

More troubling than the raw statistics are reports from hotels and rental car companies that there are very few reservations booked. Although that may change.

Costa Rica has not profited from the drug cartel troubles in México as much as tourism operators here had hoped.
México has made a strong case in the United States and Canada that organized criminal activity will not be found in the traditional tourism locations like Cancún. That may not be correct, but the pitch is the centerpiece of the Mexican advertising and public relations campaign.

Economy tourism operators are being hit the hardest because their segment of the market is the one with the biggest problems from the U.S. economy. Luxury accommodates seem to be doing well.

Flights continue to be a stumbling block. A family of four, two adults and two children, would pay $1,879 total for a New York-San José roundtrip, according to online sources. That is the lowest available for mid-October by Expedia, and it does not appear to include the $26 per person exit tax or the $15 welcome tourist tax payable on arrival.

Tickets to Cancún are about $100 less. But México also has a departure tax.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo hired what it described as an innovate ad agency in January. It is  22squared, described as one of six of the largest independent advertising agencies in the United States with 89 years of experience and now with 302 employees.

Little has been heard from the ad agency since. A check of its Web page devoted to Costa Rica shows the last entry was Feb. 24 when a person identified as Jane Matthews was writing glowingly of Four Seasons in the Papagayo Project. That's where a quick breakfast cost $36.

Costa Rican kids have the benefit of the extended family
My friend Sandy is back from another extended trip.  This time she was in the U.S., Europe and Russia.  She has worked in or visited 66 countries in the world so far.  Because she is smart, observant and insightful, I learn a lot from her.  And since she has family in both Costa Rica and the United States, and I have recently written about children, I asked for her opinion on what makes the difference.  (We both agree that generally speaking, from an adult’s point of view Tico children are well behaved, happy children who seem content with little and can be around adults without demanding constant attention.  In the U.S. children are less so.)

She sees it in terms of the extended family still being within frequent touch with one another so that children learn that the rules are pretty consistent in the family, so they should listen to their grandparents, aunts or uncles in disciplinary matters when they are with them.

In the U.S. couples with children may have chosen to live many miles away from where they grew up and from their extended families. A visit to relatives is not an everyday or every week affair.  It becomes special and often both parents work, so that time spent with children, whether with parents or grandparents, is quality time, and quality time is not often spent disciplining or teaching good manners.  The child is the center of attention.

And, of course, the size of the countries affects this.  Even if young adults move from their hometowns in Costa Rica, the country is so small, it is not difficult to keep in frequent touch with family.  In the United States, it can be a big deal.  I recall going from California to New York State with my daughter, both by train and by plane.

We also talked about current day Europe and England, and she said that signs of World War II and the Stalin years are still present, sometimes in the destruction of buildings that cannot be fully restored, as in England, or in Russia, in the psyche of the people.  Wars and dictatorships leave long-lasting scars.

Then talk drifted to friends she visited. She experienced a typical British village, familiar from the books about the 19th century.  She actually got to walk on the moor, with the wind whipping as she imagined it did in Jane Eyre.

In Denmark, two friends, insisted she see their home.  They are an upper middle class family, both professionals.  She said it was a lovely large house, but it was totally cluttered with paper and books (I could relate to that).

Denmark comes in first in just about any poll, whatever criterion, as the happiest country in the world.  Her friends said that between 50 and 70 percent of their incomes go to
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

Tivoli Gardens
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen

taxes.  How can anyone be happy being so heavily taxed?

Well, the government covers their health needs, education and spends more on children and the elderly than any country. Your choice of career does not define you, nor is one job more valued more than another.  Denmark is considered a post consumerist society where ownership of stuff is not as important as hanging out with friends, playing games or following some interest.  In some cases, the government will even cover social groups.  Obviously weather does not figure in their happiness quotient. It can be dreary and cold in Denmark.  But as fellow Danes say, they feel tucked in and safe.

Costa Rica comes in pretty close to the top when it comes to being a happy country.  A lot of it has to do with being able to live comfortably within your means and having close ties with friends and family.  Paul and Gloria Yeatman, who live in San Ramón de Alajuela, seem to have achieved that.  I visited San Ramón.  I don’t think it is large enough to be considered a small city, but it has most of the amenities of a city, including a fine public hospital. The Yeatmans share their contentment in their blog,

Of course, it seems to help to be small.  Denmark’s population is just 5.5 million and Costa Rica’s is just over 4.5 million.  And I am back to small is beautiful and happy that Sandy is one of my hanging out with friends.

Don’t need much to do that and be happy.

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You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 174

Civil registry adopts electronic methods and dumps books
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another long tradition based on paper has given way to modern methods.

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, which maintains birth, death and marriage records in its Registro del Estado Civil, said these records have been electronic since Aug. 16.

The purpose is to optimize resources and save paper, the tribunal said. The agency also said that it was applying a new law that requires an agency to reduce excess requirements.

Right now the tribunal has 8,500 paper volumes developed
since 1888. The agency said this takes up a lot of space. Spanish and Latin American civil agencies were great creators of books. And citizens would have to sign the books for any number of actions.

The electronic status also will allow the Registro Civil to keep track of citizens. Unlike in the United States, the Registro keeps a running list of the life and marital status of citizens. That is not possible up north where someone may be married in one state and divorced in another.

The Registro also issues documents that attest to the marital status of a citizen. This also is the agency that issues cédulas, so each citizen has a unique identification number.

Super rich taking advantage of struggling U.S. economy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As slow economic growth and high unemployment continue to stress the United States and other parts of the world, economists say many of the world’s wealthy are continuing to shop at designer stores, making big purchases.  The global economy has also affected the luxury retail industry.

In the heart of Beverly Hills, tourists and the rich flock to Rodeo Drive — a street famous for its designer brands and high-priced stores.  It is where C.C. Hong and her family are spending their last week in the United States, before returning to Malaysia. “We think it’s a good time to buy right now,” she said.

Ms. Hong says the relatively low value of the dollar has made everything in the United States cheaper than in Malaysia.  She just purchased a limited-edition Coach handbag, calling it a bargain. “About $650 U.S," she said. "Back home probably double the price.”

"This has actually been one of the few bright spots of the economy, mostly because its affluent consumers who continuously spend in this segment of retail,” economist Armen Bedroussian stated. He is with the Milken Institute research center in California, and says that was not the case during the recent global economic recession. 

The wealthy curbed their spending.

Beverly Hills fashion designer Pol Atteu had to lay off all his employees. “At one point, I had over 35 people working for me.  I was the number one seller at Saks Fifth Avenue, I sold to Neimans,” Atteu said.

As these luxury department stores suffered in 2008, Atteu’s relationship with them ended.

“If you’re looking at luxury retails like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, these types of retailers -- they took a big hit because a lot of their market were these aspirational wealthy, those who really save up and try and buy something that is a big treat for themselves," David Winter explained.

Winter is with the Luxury Marketing Council,  which
represents many of the world's major luxury goods and services companies.  He says luxury shoppers are starting to spend again.  But he says the ultra-rich around the world have not been affected by weak economies.

“We are noticing every month, there seems to be more and more interest, bigger and bigger projects,” Jamie Adler said. Ms. Adler owns Phyllis Morris, a company that designs, manufactures and sells luxury furniture.

“Our beds start at $20,000 and they can go up to $60,000 to $70,000, depending on the finishes, the size of the bed, the fabrics, the detailing,” she added.

Ms. Adler says that although her clients in the United States stopped spending in 2008, her business overseas has grown. “I think the dollar became more attractive, and I really do think that the Internet allowed visibility for American-made products to be showcased all over the world,” she said.

“The high-end retailers, even when they were not doing well in Europe and in the U.S., were doing very well and continue to do well and are doing even better in Russia, India, China, Brazil, what we know as BRIC countries.  They are the ones who are driving the world economy right now,” Winter noted.

But economist Bedroussian cautions that recent economic turbulence will be felt in the luxury retail industry. “In the near term, increase in the volatility given the recent downgrade in the U.S. credit rating, and the European debt crisis is actually going to harm sales in the near future.  However, I think the market would have to take a much more substantial hit for it to have a more meaningful impact on the luxury goods segment,” he stated.

Winter says the ultra rich are actually benefiting from the economic downturn. And they’re not just buying designers clothes. They are also investing in cheap real estate. “It’s the very rich people who are buying with cash and it’s also the ultra-high net worth individuals who are buying dozens of homes at a time because there’s a fire sale.  The rich are getting richer,” he explained.

Malaysia resident C.C. Hong is not only on Rodeo Drive shopping for designer handbags.  She is also in the United States looking for opportunities to invest in real estate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 174

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Oil companies pull workers
from threatened rigs in gulf

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Oil companies are evacuating workers in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of what U.S. forecasters say could become a powerful storm.

The National Hurricane Center says a low pressure system over the Gulf could develop into a tropical cyclone in the next two days. The governor of Louisiana has declared a state of emergency, saying the storm could drench the region in up to 38 centimeters of rain, about 15 inches.

The potential threat to oil and gas platforms off the southern U.S. coast prompted companies like Shell, Exxon Mobil and BP to shut down production. Chevron said it was evacuating non-essential workers, but announced no impacts to production.

The news comes as emergency crews continue to help residents recover from a hurricane that ravaged the eastern U.S. just days ago.

Flooding devastated parts of the states of Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Irene brought high winds and heavy rains to the eastern U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the region are still without power, and many schools remain closed. Roads in the area are under repair.

Irene hit North Carolina Saturday with 120 kph (75 mph) winds, before moving up the East Coast and weakening.

Irene is blamed for at least 45 deaths in the U.S. and five in the Caribbean, and has caused billions of dollars of damage. U.S. President Barack Obama signed disaster declarations for New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, making federal funding available for recovery efforts.

Obama is scheduled to visit the state of New Jersey Sunday to view wind and flood damage from Irene.

Meanwhile, forecasters are monitoring Tropical Storm Katia in the Atlantic, which is moving west with maximum sustained winds of 110 kph, about 68 mph.

Katia was briefly strong enough to be classified as a Category One hurricane on the five-point scale of hurricane intensity, and forecasters say they expect it to regain strength in the next two days. The National Hurricane Center says Katia could become a major hurricane by Saturday. It is the second Atlantic hurricane of the season.

September is normally the peak of the hurricane season. Experts predicted an active 2011 hurricane season with eight to 10 hurricanes possible, which would be slightly more than normal.

Security breach publishes
Wikileaks cables online

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The anti-secrecy website Wikileaks has confirmed reports of a security breach that has led to a massive amount of U.S. diplomatic cables being released onto the Internet with the names of sources revealed.

In a statement posted Thursday, Wikileaks blamed Britain's Guardian newspaper for the disclosure, saying that a journalist revealed the password to unlock the entire unredacted archive in a book on Wikileaks published earlier this year.

A spokesman for the newspaper denied any wrongdoing, saying they were told that the password would expire within hours. It adds that no details on the location of the files was published.

Until now, Wikileaks had released censored versions of U.S. diplomatic cables, as well as confidential material on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The breach has led to the publications of some 251,000 cables online, which contain sensitive information that could put U.S. sources at risk.

The U.S. State Department says Wikileaks informed it of their impending release of the documents, but ignored appeals not to make them public.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned Wikileaks' actions as "irresponsible, reckless and dangerous," adding that the department is not working with the group. She added that the release threatens U.S. national security and the safety of confidential informants.

Chávez urges quick eviction
of Irish tree farming firm

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has called on his government to speed up the removal of an Irish company from land it owns in an agricultural state in Venezuela.

Two years ago, Chávez ordered the seizure of 1,500 hectares (about 3,700 acres) of land from Smurfit Kappa Group, claiming the company's eucalyptus tree farm was depleting the water supply from local rivers.  He said Wednesday that the government must take control of all the seized land quickly.

Venezuela's agriculture minister says the company still uses 12,000 hectares (about 29,650 acres) of property between the central plains states of Portuguesa and Lara.

During a broadcast on state television Wednesday, President Chávez did not say if he will seize all of Smurfit Kappa's land holdings in his country.

In the past, Chávez has turned over seized properties to farmers to boost harvest.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 174

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Latin America news
Texas firm inaugurates
facilities with 200 jobs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and a special report

National Instruments, a global technology company based in Austin, Texas, inaugurated a shared operations center here Thursday. The new center is expected to employ 200 people over the next five years in customer relationship management, financial services, information technology and sales, said the firm. National Instruments is opening the center, which is expected to be a $700,000 investment by the end of 2011, to optimize global operations to support the company’s growth, it said.

President Laura Chinchilla attended the inauguration, and Casa Presidencial attributed to her the firm's decision to locate here. However, the company announced its plans 10 months ago.

“The widespread adoption of National Instruments software and hardware has resulted in strong, long-term growth for our company, and the new center in Costa Rica will help us better support our customers in North, Central and South America,” said John Graff, vice president of sales and marketing for Americas at National Instruments, last year when the project was announced. “We selected Costa Rica as the site of our new center because of its competitive business infrastructure, talented workforce and unique culture that promotes education and continuous learning and empowers its people with a drive to succeed.”

Business processing center
will hire 400 by end of year

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Aegis Limited, a global business process outsourcing provider, announced that it plans to hire more than 400 workers in its Central Valley contact center. Aegis has had a presence in Costa Rica since 2006.

“Over the next three months, we plan to hire 400 agents to support our health care, financial services, retail, and travel & hospitality client engagements,” said Allen White, Aegis’ vice president of operations for Costa Rica. “Our hiring is beginning now and will continue through November. The positions for our health care clients will include open enrollment and customer care, and will be seasonal as well as temp to perm. Responsibilities of these positions will include presenting the options available to consumers so that they can make informed decisions regarding their health care. Bilingual (English and Spanish) speakers are encouraged to apply.”

For the positions supporting financial services, retail, and travel & hospitality clients, White added, “These are customer care positions. We would encourage people with good phone skills and a positive attitude to consider Aegis.”

Interviews will be conducted at the firms facilities in the Ultra Park Free Zone, it said.

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