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(506) 2223-1327              Published Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 174              E-mail us
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Untangling the mess

on those utility poles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Every wonder how linemen know which wire is which inside the bird nests that populate Central Valley utility poles?

In some cases, three cable television lines,  telephone cables and electrical systems all compete for space on utility poles.

With the opening of access in the telecom market, space on poles is becoming a political issue, and telecom regulators are rushing to create regulations that provide access without making the wire so low they interfere with daily life.

In a related issue, wires in downtown San José are supposed to be underground, and the telecom regulators also are asserting authority over the buried conduits.

For a situation report, see our story

Telephone pole mess
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers



Nearly a dozen policemen face shakedown charges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators visited police stations in downtown San José and in Barrio Cristo Rey Wednesday to detain 10 police officers accused of extorting money from average citizens as well as law breakers. The 10 include a top official of the Fuerza Pública in the downtown area.

Those arrested represent a fraction of the number of police officers being investigated for such shakedowns.

The Poder Judicial said that possible charges include bribery, abuse of authority and depriving individuals of their liberty.

The judiciary said that in addition to Cristo Rey, a poor barrio in southwest San José, investigators made arrests at a police station adjacent to the Parque de las Garantías Sociales which is between avenidas 4 and 6 behind the headquarters of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The Poder Judicial said that the investigation has been going on since 2008. Involved Wednesday were the Fiscalía de Delitos Varios and the  Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The head of Fuerza Pública in the downtown area is Comandante Carlos León.

The Poder Judicial said that the officers would take money in exchange for not making arrests. The short Poder Judicial statement did not offer much explanation, but the Fuerza Pública detained two of its own policemen early Aug. 21. At that time the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the two men were shaking down patrons leaving bars on San Jose's south side with the threat that they would be turned over to the
Policía de Tránsito for drunk driving.

Both detained officers were long-time members of the force and assigned to the central area.

In addition to jail and fines, public officials convicted of taking money face a penalty of not being able to work for the government from 10 to 15 years.

The Poder Judicial said that agents recovered documents connected with the case when they searched police stations. This raises the possibility that the shakedowns and solicitations for bribes were coordinated actions. Expats have been subjected to such shakedowns for the last two years as they walked through the downtown area mostly at night. Motorcycle patrolmen would approach them and search them. In the process, the officers would remove money and other valuables. An expat who was not carrying current immigration documents would be pressed for a significant bribe.

Another expat told of being stopped in his vehicle by Fuerza Pública officers on suspicion of drunk driving. The man had not dunk any alcohol this night, but police pressed him for money so as not to call Tránsito officers. Finally the expat produced his bar bill showing he had purchased only non-alcoholic beverages.

If the detained policemen represent just a fraction of those officers who have been preying on petty crooks and pedestrians, the impact on the Fuerza Pública could be a major one.  The raids also represent new problems for the already troubled security ministry, which has been wracked by  crime attributed to its own officers, including the robbery of 320 kilos of cocaine from the prosecutor's offices in Golfito.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 174

Costa Rica Expertise
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Man appeals to high court
over his soccer ticket


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court appeal was bound to happen. It did Wednesday morning. A man identified by the last names of Calvo Jiménez presented a request for help, called an amparo, claiming that workers at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa kept his ticket for Saturday's soccer game illegally.

This is a case involved with the cloning of tickets by a worker in the company that produces and distributes the tickets. As a  result of the fraud, those who had purchased tickets had to turn them in and receive tickets from another series. Some duplicated tickets were confiscated. perhaps as many as 500.

The game is between the Costa Rican and Mexican national teams. Players on both teams hope to be able to travel to South Africa next year for the World Cup contests.

The Poder Judicial confirmed that the legal document had been presented but said that court magistrates have the option to consider the case or not. The court considers many cases that would appear to be solved easily at a lower level. Now  magistrates must decide if the distribution of soccer tickets is in their domain.

U.S. Labor Day is Monday,
a step closer to high season


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Labor Day in the United States. this is the official end of the summer season in the north. For Costa Rica, it is a benchmark for preparing for the high tourist season just three months away.

The day also marks a time when residents of the north think about retreating to warmer climes when winter moves in.

For Costa Rican tourism operators, the day is awaited with cautious optimism. Those companies whose operators have been hanging on by their fingernails hope that the U.S. economy is improving enough so that tourists will have funds for trips here. Lately tourism in Costa Rica has seen a resurgence, helped in part by vacationing Europeans.

As is traditional with Costa Rican and U.S. holidays, the U.S. Embassy will be closed Monday.

Traffic law repairs put
on legislature fast track


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bill in the legislature to fix errors in the traffic law that goes into effect Sept. 23 will be put on the fast track.

Lawmakers have decided to use a special process that limits debate. They hope to vote on the bill by Sept. 12 so it can be signed into law and published before the larger traffic bill goes into effect.

Lawmakers discovered that some paragraph numbers are in error in the larger bill. That means various penalties could not be assessed against motorists until the law is fixed.

Japan donates equipment
for study of judo here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Japan has donated $250,000 worth of equipment for the practice of judo, the martial art.

The official presentation will be today, and dignitaries will see a demonstration of the sport.

Job cuts in August reported
to be smallest in year

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A report from a private researcher says August saw U.S. employers cut the smallest number of jobs in nearly a year.

The firm reports 298,000 non-government jobs were cut during August, which is considerably less than the prior month.

The ADP company gathers the information as it processes payrolls for millions of workers at thousands of U.S. companies.

A separate report from job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says it saw the number of layoff announcements decline in August (by more than 20,000 to a bit more than 76,000), compared to the prior month.

Together, the two reports may indicate the battered U.S. job market is improving. A clearer picture of the job situation is expected on Friday when government experts report the latest unemployment figures.

Economists surveyed by the Bloomberg financial news service predict the unemployment rate will increase slightly from 9.4 percent, and the economy will have a net loss of more than 200,000 jobs.

Those lost jobs may be reflected in a separate report Wednesday on U.S. worker productivity. The amount that each worker produces each hour rose significantly in the second quarter. Analysts say those gains came largely from employers cutting jobs and squeezing more work out of their remaining employees.

Pfizer to pay biggest fine
for pushing arthritis drug


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The world's largest drug company, Pfizer, has agreed to pay $2.3 billion in fines and penalties for marketing some drugs improperly.

The U.S. Justice Department says the fine is the largest ever levied in a health care fraud case.

The case involves several drugs, including Bextra. It was approved for arthritis, but the company improperly tried to get doctors to use it for other kinds of pain. Bextra was taken off the market because of safety concerns.

It is legal for physicians to prescribe drugs for uses that have not been officially approved, but it is not legal for a drug company to push doctors to write such prescriptions. It also violates rules to pay kickbacks to encourage doctors to choose a particular drug.

Officials say money from the fines will go to various health and medical programs run by the government.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Did you try
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We're not trying to avoid you. We just are victims of another ICE problem.

The workmen came and disconnected the phones in our old office before they found out that they did not have sufficient space to install the lines in the new office.

You can reach us at 8832-5564.

But Internet is best.

-A.M. Costa Rica 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 174

August was a great month
Your Costa Rica

all those wires
A.M. Costa Rica photo and graphic/Dennis Rodgers
Labels show what each of those wires are on a Santo Domingo de Heredia utility pole. See the doves?
Telecom providers wrestle for space on valley's utility poles
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Opening telecoms to competition has brought one issue to the fore immediately as interested firms jockey for position on utility poles. The electrical distributors who are the owners of the infrastructure plan to offer telephone and cable television services, prompting conflicts with cable companies seeking similar opportunities. Latecomers  risk being crowded out entirely.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones intends to expand its writ to force changes to building codes and ensure access to any new construction, residential dwellings included.

Squabbles about rents and access are before the Superintendencia even though regulations are not yet in place. Previous disputes have been settled by the government utilities regulator and competition commission, some resulting in fines for electricity distributors. According to Carolina Mora at the Superintendencia, the firms have to negotiate among themselves anyway before the regulator will step in. The regulations should be approved in two or three months. They include time limits for negotiations and intervention, but also appeals to what promises to be an overworked and underfunded process.

Towers and underground viaducts are covered by the first round of rules, though it’s the “last mile” that is of most importance. For the moment, it’s the outdoor infrastructure where incumbents have the biggest advantage.

These include Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, a subsidiary of the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad, the incumbent monopoly telecoms provider known as ICE. Other providers planning to compete with ICE have found little welcome. The Empresa de Servicios Públicos de 
Heredia is in a court battle with CableTica, having refused the latter use of its poles. In other cases, large and sudden rent increases have been applied.

The technical issues are strictly a matter of space on the poles, according to an ICE linesman who gave his name only as Juan Carlos. Once the safety margin is in place below the main high-tension wires, electrical interference between nearby wires is negligible. Usually 1.5-2 meters are left below the 34,000 volt tri-phase system, though that is often partly occupied by a street lamp and/or a transformer for the distribution wires which take 220-volt power to the user. Next is usually copper telephone wire, loose and/or bundled depending on user concentration and how recently the wire was installed.

In many places, especially rural areas, electricity and basic telephone are all that is installed. Regulations elsewhere, and under consideration for Costa Rica, say that from there downward cable or fiber optic systems can use 35 centimeters each until reaching a level 6.5 meters above ground level. Generally there is space for four lines. As few places in Costa Rica have more than two cable television providers, poles have not actually reached saturation as some owners have alleged.

However, that is for a 12-meter pole, and many are 12-meter poles with at least 1.5 meters underground. Clearance over roads and streets is also supposed to be 5.5 meters at the lowest cable, though this is routinely violated. As most trucks are not more than 4.25 meters tall, there is some margin for error. However, construction equipment on flatbed trucks sometimes exceeds that limit.  Away from streets the lowest point can be 4.5 meters, also often violated in practice.

Proposed regulations also state that each system should have its own ground wire but there is usually only one per post.


Man identified as gang member goes on trial for trying to kill robbery witness
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Liberia hotel employee with the last names of Meneses Oporto narrowly escaped death when he was shot at in what investigators say was revenge for his testimony in a robbery case.

The man was attacked, punched and shot at as he ran into his home last April 15, according to the Poder Judicial. On trial for attempted murder is a man with the last names of Zelaya Chaves, who has been identified as a member of the Guanacaste gang called Los Comelones.

Meneses testified against gang members last Oct.29 because he had surprised them while they were robbing the
hotel where he works, the El Cañon.

While he was on his bicycle returning from work April 15, agents allege that Zelaya attacked him, punched him in the face, knocked him down and threatened to shoot him in the stomach.  Meneses was able to get up and run to his home nearby while his assailant pegged two shots after him. Then the man stole his bicycle, said the Poder Judicial.

The gang is called Los Comelones. because they usually eat food in the home they are robbing or after they have invaded a home and tied up its occupants.

The Poder Judicial said that the trial starts today and four witnesses are scheduled.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 174

Readers continue to respond on Ticos and development
It's more tolerant, friendlier,
more diversified country


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to comment on Garland Baker’s article about Costa Rica and the culture.

I have lived here for almost 20 years, I am married to a Tica and, of course, the family unit comes with the marriage. That is their culture and if this is not acceptable, don’t marry a Tica. Some of us cherish a dedicated family.

As far as Tica mothers cultivating lazy sons, I believe that is the exception and not the rule. I can personally name dozens of mothers that I know in the U.S. that enable their children, not only sons, but also daughters to be lazy, unfocused, arrogant, and also quit anything they start, including schooling.

Many parents enable their children because of the fear that they will lose their love, when in reality they absolutely lose their respect. Costa Rica is no different than most other countries including the U.S.

Although there is one major difference in parenting here in Costa Rica and that is that parents can allow their children to walk to and from school alone or to a little convenient store without fear of being kidnapped. In the U.S do we dare even allow our children or grandchildren out of our sight, even in a mall?

Count the crime rate as far as severity is concerned with the U.S. verses Costa Rica. Why is there an Amber Alert system operating constantly and why is the TV show “America’s most wanted” so popular? There is no shortage of major capital crimes in the U.S. is there?

As far as education is concerned, I always believed Costa Rican children are more intelligent than others in the world and that also must reflect on the parent’s attitude regarding education. I believe Costa Ricans are devoted to education. I can point out many Costa Ricans that have excelled in education and employment. One very good example is Dr. Franklin Chang, a former U.S. astronaut, he as you probably know, was born here and of course is Costa Rican. He and his company here in Costa Rica are developing a new fuel system to propel space travel to Mars at a much faster speed than ever before possible, and he’s Costa Rica!

What about the dedicated pilots who fly for Taca and other airlines, and their mechanics that all must pass complex testing by the U.S. FAA? I can name numerous industries here that were U.S. based and expanded to Costa Rica because of the hard working dedicated Costa Rican workforce.

Yes there are shortcomings with every person on earth, and Costa Rica is exception, but I have not found a more tolerant, friendlier, more diversified country on the planet and I have traveled to many, many countries, and many of which viewed North Americans as arrogant and unwelcomed.

If North American’s don’t stop their open criticism of Costa Rica, maybe someday the Ticos and Ticas will no longer welcome us here and understandably so.

Didn’t Costa Rica recently win the distinction of being “The Happiest Country in the World?” Maybe some people just can’t stand the fact that the majority of Costa Rican’s are happy, and they wish they could be happy rather than living with their miserable attitude each and every day.

Now why mister “Garland Baker” would you want to take away that wonderful virtue from anyone? “Pura Vida”

Alan Johnson
Sabanilla, Costa Rica

Nature over nurture
seems to be the case


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It’s rather amusing to read those outraged over Garland’s “generalities” when at the same time they accuse him of not properly adjusting to “culture shock,” quite as if they are unable to realize that the generalities are applicable ONLY because such a large difference in culture exists.  A culture is the same thing as a generality.  Duh!

And the same is true in reverse, of course.  Every Tico I have ever met who spent some time in the United States (many seem to go to New Jersey for reasons I don’t understand) always tells me the same two things, minimum, about their experience: (1) they couldn’t believe how COLD it could get, a couple of them feared they would never be warm again; and (2) how FAST everybody and everything moved, it was quite exhausting and unnerving.

Now, on the occasion of my visits back north, I can heartily agree.

So why should anyone be surprised to hear that North Americans living in Costa Rica find that things operate much too slowly for them ever to escape third-world status and compete with colder-climate countries?  This may not be a negative thing, since there are definitely other compensations, but what’s the point in trying to deny it?

I don’t think it’s only in Costa Rica, of course.  I’m not all that much of a world traveler but I’ve spent some time in various tropical countries in the Western Hemisphere, an experience which led me to decide I wanted to retire in the tropics, and it seems to me to be endemic in all of the tropical climates I encountered: people simply do not over-exert themselves or move too rapidly.  How many times have you ever seen people here running or even hurrying to get somewhere on time?  If you see someone actually running and it isn’t a child or a soccer player, then you know something has to be wrong.  (I don’t run any more, either, although I do occasionally still hurry.)

Is it a result or nature or of nurture?  I don’t know, because I’m the guardian of a 6-year-old Tico son who has lived with me and my wife since he was 2 and in diapers.  He speaks excellent English just from picking it up from us, without formal instruction, so he’s completely bilingual.  I take him to school every day, and quite often I am trying to hurry him along so he will not be late.  He is absolutely impossible to hurry no matter what I do!  When I hear the whistle blow both the 5-minute warning and then the final on-time notes I can look up the street and watch any number of students, with and without parents, ambling toward the school at the same unhurried pace as if the whistles hadn’t meant anything at all.  The school administrator used to stand at the gate with a large clock in his hands during the last five minutes, pointing to the time and encouraging students to hurry, but to absolutely no avail.  It just doesn’t seem to matter all that much to them.

There’s no sense getting upset about it — or denying it, either — and in fact I have adapted quite well to the notion that this means I don’t have to bust my butt to be anywhere on time, either.  I get there when I get there.  My wife has not adapted nearly as well. Despite nine+ years of experience, now, she still expects “mañana” to mean “tomorrow” whereas I have come to understand that it means only “not today” but on some future date as yet unspecified. 

On the other hand, “mañana en la mañana” might actually mean tomorrow morning but is far more likely to mean tomorrow sometime rather than an unspecified future date.  When hours are quoted they are best considered to be good-faith estimates than anything else.  My wife, who occasionally is referred to as “the ahora señora” outside her earshot, now always asks people if they are going to be on “Tico time” or on North American time.  They understand what she means, too. 

One of my best local friends works in the tour business and he observed to me the other day, almost sadly, that everything had to be on North American time in the tour business.  Dealing with me personally, though, he reverts to Tico time, where minutes don’t really count for much, a couple of hours is not “late” and maybe he won’t even show up at all if something more important interferes.  I’ve known him since 1993 and that’s just the way that it is, we’re the best of friends.  No sense getting upset about it, but at the same time there’s no sense in denying it, either. 

Professionals, and the same with him when he’s working in his profession, are on time because they need to be, but when that need is gone and they revert to personal time then we’re back in their culture again.  I find it amusing to see that my son has picked up English from us by association but not our sense of time importance, which would seem to point out the importance of nature over nurture.

Gregg Calkins
La Fortuna

Change fundamental values
and lose national identity


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Wow!. I guess even professionals can be delusional as well [as a letter writer said Wednesday]:“but most professionals here strive to achieve excellence”

In my three years of living here, I have not found a single instance in which any professional “strives” for excellence. Pride and Excellence only exists in fútbol and certain artisans. Most everyone else, good enough seems to the defacto standard. Why do more than the minimal work necessary to collect a pay check.

Certainly excellence isn’t required by yourself to bill your clients?? But it is a cultural thing, and I respect that. But please don’t confuse your personal beliefs with how the majority of the country is.

I have yet to see a student run home from school saying “Mommy, Mommy, look what I did. Aren’t you proud of me?”. I have yet to see anyone do anything over to try to make it perfect.

Personal pride may exist at some personal hygiene level, but it certainly doesn’t exist in other aspects of work related experiences. Quality, Pride, Perfection, Excellence are four values left out of Costa Rican’s caja of values.  You can not change the fundamental values of a nation without it loosing it’s identity. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact it works quite well here. Stress and other related illnesses are lower because of it. Outsiders can be blamed for much of the “new” problems in Costa Rica. Weight gain related to the 100’s of new fast food restaurants, etc. I see more and more “Keeping up with the Jones.”

Costa Rica is one of the few places left on earth, I can be in a dirty t-shirt, flip-flops, and tank top, and get the same treatment inside a store as if I had a suit and tie on. When you say failed to engage in meaningful relationships. I have to ask. How many people from Guanacaste, Limón, Golfito, etc. are your friends? Have you yourself only had meaningful relations with just your group of people (You know, that small and exclusive group that strive for excellence.)? I’ve travelled all over Costa Rica, and from my experiences, most Costa Rican’s don’t like others, even their own countrymen, but again this is a cultural difference. You don’t see the people in Guanacaste mingling with Central San José people.

You don’t see the people in Limón mingling with others, etc. This country is still divided by race and class, and always will be, until the Costa Ricans learn that ALL people are created equal, regardless of race or color.

Gringos will always be walking ATM machines. I realize there are exceptions to every rule, and generalization abound. For it’s good and it’s bad, Costa Rica is still the place to be for me. No one is forcing anyone to be here that doesn’t want to be. Please pay your departure tax upon leaving.
Craig Salmond
San José

Toilets at border crossing
are unsanitary and filthy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After two trips via bus to Nicaragua to satisfy our tourist visa 72 hours out of country experience, I would like to describe what I observed at the entry of all people into the Peñas Blancas Costa Rican customs building on both trips.

The first trip over, the customs/immigration health officials made great fanfare of coming onto the bus wearing masks to protect themselves against infection from the passengers and checked all the health forms we had to submit for entry coming and going across the border. The second trip in August there were no masks and no health officials collecting the forms (This was shortly after the president of Costa Rica came down with swine flu.) We also visited the restrooms on both trips. Both times we were appalled at the very unsanitary conditions. Here is one of the main entries into Costa Rica servicing people entering the country that posts notices about the importance of washing hands and this is what I observed in the women’s restroom, some of this hard to be delicate about:

Toilet seats missing or so filthy one would not want to sit on them, many with no toilet paper or you had to purchase it at the door. Often this absence is not noticed until after the need for it arises. Floor with urine since it is hard for a woman to sit over a pot without sitting on the seat and direct aim is sometimes hard to accomplish.  So now we are walking in increment too. We don’t have convenient zipper or appendages in the right places so then there is the problem about how to keep pants off the floor and skirts out of the toilet while squatted precariously over a dirty stool. Such acrobats would be impossible for the elderly or handicapped to do anything at all let alone in a clean safe manner. Many of the stalls were missing doors or latches. So privacy was lacking. God forbid, if you needed to do something other than urinate. Try that standing up with no toilet paper.

Then after this ordeal, one would like to thoroughly wash their hands. But on one trip the water source to the sink was a garden hose stuck in a 55-gallon barrel because none of the sinks had running water to them. On the first trip the sinks were filthy and many not working. Soap? It is like it is something the government never heard of: no soap in sight.

Mind you this is the entry location for many travelers to Costa Rica and we were wondering why on earth they do not want to make a better impression on travelers at the beginning trip into their country than this. It would seem especially important for sanitation to be provided at these site in view of the swine flu epidemic warning we hear daily and the report that a more virulent strain of the virus has been discovered.

I am always amazed at the number of places I visit here that advertise using soap and water to wash your hands and find soap totally lacking and water source questionable. Warning to travelers that should be posted. Carry role of toilet paper and sanitary cleanser at all time when crossing borders of Costa Rica.
Jeanita Ives
Atenas, Costa Rica

The bulk of the comments
on this page were promted
by an article that appeared Monday and reader reactions published Tuesday and Wednesday
about that article.



Lack of responsibility
is a universal trait all over


Dear  A.M. Costa Rica:

You had an interesting editorial on Monday by Garland M. Baker. Unfortunately it left me kind of confused.  I can’t find any significant differences between his description of the behaviors and attitudes of Ticos and the behaviors and attitudes of citizens of the U.S.  The same is probably true of the Europeans, and most of the rest of the developed world as well.

You have to get a degree, but why go to a college where they expect you to work for grades.  It’s much better to go to a school where you can get easy grades and have a good time.  Then get hired as a VP at a major corporation, and rake in a major salary without having to earn it.  Buy an overpriced house that you can’t afford and and blame the lender instead of accepting responsibility when the value goes down and your asked to pay your debts.  I could go on, but I hope that you get the point.
E Taggart
Orlando, Florida



Nation lacks community
not to mention nepotism


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
I do not know Mr. Baker nor am I the best fan of A.M. Costa Rica. However, Monday, Baker did hit the nail on the head and was quite sensitive with his observations, and A.M. Costa Rica deserves credit for having the courage to run the op-ed piece. Kudos to both and good journalism.
 
Probably I have spent as much time here, if not more than Mr. Baker. From the late 1970’s. And, my credentials are about as good as his. So it is with some confidence that I agree Costa Rica was first developed as a center of humanity representing the best of Central America, perhaps all of Latin America, by the Europeans and on a commercial basis later saved by the United States. Costa Ricans have done very little to help themselves during both the good times and the more difficult times, such as now.
 
The busy bee workers do work hard and are usually under appreciated. They are encouraged not to initiate change as that exercise is interpreted to be a threat to leadership. From middle management on up, if they are the owners, they also work hard. But the entire educational system has trained Costa Ricans, from elementary through universities, of which I believe at last count there are 51 for 4.2 million people, not to think, but rather memorize. In short, they have been trained to be good exam takers but certainly the leaders are not adept at innovation, planning nor ethics.
 
Are we “gringolizing?” No Costa Rica opted to “gringolize” itself when it collectively saw the money roll in.
 
It became a country for sale and because of the excessive bureaucracy which saved the nation from fire during the 70’s and 80’s, our country also became a haven for incompetency, corruption and organized crime. Think of this, as Mr. Baker points out there are two ex-presidents being officially accused of massive corruption and one is in self imposed exile in Switzerland. 120 national police officers have been relieved of duty during the first 6 months of 2009, 72 percent of all waste water still flows into rivers that run into the ocean and, as an example of planning, the average bridge has not been repaired or maintained for 48 years and the new toll road to the Central Pacific is using a plan that is 30 years old. More than 300 guns are sold legally each day to criminals and scared residents but the foreigners cannot get a pre-paid cellphone chip because the telephone company monopoly prohibits it.
 
As to not having an army that is true. But there are more than 20 different law enforcement agencies in Costa Rica who have no real time communications between them and the goal is to have 20,000 national police officers on patrol by the end of 2010. (They used to be called national guard but that was too close to military so the name changed.)
 
Mr. Baker alludes to it, but is kind enough not to use, the word xenophobic which might also characterize us. However, we embrace all foreigners when there is a need for investment or cash flow. Not long ago Costa Rica welcomed the retirees from around the world and most all the U.S. with incentives similar to what Panamá now offers such as importing furniture, appliances, cars, etc. all duty free. Also tax incentives and assistance to invest were part of the package. But the country got paper rich from tourism, foreign investment into real estate, technology, call centers not to mention the more than 300 sports-books who pay no taxes at all but do make major political contributions.
 
“Costa Rica For Sale” signs went up, and the retirees who integrated soon became tolerated rather than welcomed. The incentives were erased. After all, of the 78 million U.S. baby boomers some will retire here anyway.
 
Mr. Baker describes what we laugh about: the male, the baron of the house. “Yes,” he is supported by mom and entitled to all the male benefits possible until he selects, with mom’s approval, a wife who is frequently, too frequently, becomes the new mommy. The baron and wife-mom live together, have babies, they get divorced at 40, and the baron comes back to his biological mommy until a replacement can be found. Surprisingly, upon return home there is no expected contribution to the household. Just show up for dinner from time to time and be there for Mother’s Day.
 
We are a small country so we have a small pool of leaders and we all know who is the cousin of who which might very well be our cousin two times removed. This is why when you select a lawyer to represent you, always get all her/his last names to see if this person might be a cousin of the  opposition. This is a serious problem and leads to not only grandiose nepotism within a de facto feudal system but also corruption of wealth which is shared only among the wealthy and those cousins who we can trust. And, I argue that in Costa Rica there are some very, very wealthy people by any measure who do not and will not invest here.
 
Costa Ricans are polite, but they are not considerate. A flat statement that defies comment. We cannot say the word, “No,” and we cannot say the phrase “I don’t know.” Ask directions to some place and you most certainly must look the person straight in the eye and if you see even the slightest blink or tic...she/he has no idea how to get there. So it becomes two out of three and often times three out of five who say the same thing. Setting an appointment longer than one day is a gamble and if that gamble fails, do not expect an apology, an email nor phone call.
 
Take a look at handicap parking spots.
 
Full of Hummers and Jeeps. When designated, most spots are a long way from the entrance. Never, in all my years, have I seen handicap parking rules enforced by the guards who are too afraid to speak up. They need the job. The rule of thumb is, “If you are handicapped, don’t drive.”
 
What Mr. Baker and A.M. Costa Rica left out was the “indifference factor” of Costa Rica. “My car is clean because we tossed the trash out the window.” Thinking in terms of community simply does not exist. I will argue this with anyone. Far too many smart foreigners have taken advantage of that and have constructed  buildings, resorts, real estate signage, laundered money, sold drugs, and even assassinated people only because Costa Rica refuses to think in terms of “community.”
 
At this time, and only recently, I have a friend who lost his mother’s home, her land and savings upon death because of an illegal transaction that will go on for years to be righted. My wife was robbed at gunpoint at 1 p.m. in the afternoon on her way to lunch, my sister-in-law, 12 years later is still trying to receive court approval to pay for her car when a bridge to Quepos was moved and no detour sign was erected, and my house has been robbed of priceless family jewelry but the police simply do not care because we are just one of hundreds and hundreds of victims.
 
While my statements are harsh, they can be defended. While Mr. Baker’s op-ed is harsh, it can be defended and the publication by A.M. Costa Rica can also be defended, all with fact, with reality. What none of us have is the solution, not even a clue of how to effect change.
 
John Holtz
Santa Ana



Take off rose-colored glasses
and try to solve problems


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Arcelio Mussio seems to have some blinders around his eyes.  He mentioned Costa Rica is an example of a country where health, education, freedom, work and peace are values which constitute a priority and that there is true freedom and peace.
 
I don’t connect peacefulness with every house having bars on the windows and razor wire on the top of walls.  He of all people should know there is lots of crime here especially since he lives in Jacó.  Our house being robbed 11 times and having my partner almost killed doesn’t represent peace to me.  Unfortunately it is now not safe to walk on the beach or even in town at night in his community of Jacó.  That is not the feeling of peacefulness 

Everyone I know who lives in his community has been robbed one way or another.  Is that the calmness and peacefulness he is talking about?  I don’t consider it freedom when you get pulled over by the transit police just because you are driving a rental car or look like a Gringo?

He also mentioned that many big companies are flocking here to Costa Rica because of the professionalism level here.  The reality isn’t the professionalism, it is they can be paid one fourth or less wages than what the same person would be paid in North America.
 
Education is another subject he mentions.  Children are only required to attend school til grade 7.  I know the literacy rate is higher hear than in the United States.  Yes, kids can be literate by the 7th grade but are they really educated.

The health care system has its problems too.  Jacó is a good example of rampant outbreaks of disease.  Several years ago there were approximately 7,000 cases of dengue in the area.  This number was not reported to the press and kept undercover to not scare away the tourism business.  Yes, the health care system is better than many other places but lets not make it more than what it is.

We need to take off our rose colored glasses and try to solve many of these problems in paradise and not act like this is a perfect place.

I am not a new arrival in Costa Rica.  This December will be 20 years here.  Of course with many of these problems I still choose to live here in Costa Rica.
Henry Kantrowitz
Punta Leona



Do something of importance
instead of writing letters


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
Bashing and praising Garland Baker’s article on describing Ticos is controversy over nothing.

Mr. Baker’s article was right on target on some things, but his net of generalizations let a lot fish escape, so he is guilty and not guilty of the charges. He’s not Will Durant writing a 900-page tome on Ticolandia. He’s a foreigner with a long time in Costa Rica, calling it like he sees it.

Besides, Ticos come in all kinds: fat, skinny, tall, short, and just right, from the generous, sharing, kindhearted ones to the downright greedy, lying, back-stabbing, thieving bags of scum. Some come endowed with extraordinary intelligence and talent, worthy of Noble and Pulitzer prizes, while others are deserving of the prize of the most stupid oafs on the planet. Wisdom is not a monopoly of a sage holed up in a Himalayan cave. Some Ticos could give classes to these mountain dwellers.

Foolishness, inane talk and acts – Pura Vida, in other words-does not belong to Ticos alone. Drink and be merry is a universal human trait. Low level conscious Ticos dumping trash on the highways or in the rivers is being offset more and more by illuminated fellow countrymen — and women — by cleaning up after the louts, and making campaigns so the offspring of these troglodytes will treat their county differently. .

Can’t we say that people in all countries are the same, coming in all kinds, like the Costa Ricans? It’s good that A.M. Costa Rica readers feel inspired, even angered, to send a letter to the editor — I am one — but use your brains and writing talents on something of importance, please . . . and there is so much write about. What is a Tico is not one of them.
Robert Nahrgang S.
Escazú

Ticos have good work ethic,
fishing trip organizer says


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Maybe I have missed something. I run fishing trips to Costa Rica and have been coming here 2 or 3 times a year for the last 10 years. Have I missed something? I am still looking for the lazy Ticos. One of the reasons I love the country is the people. Warm, friendly and hard working.

I have observed the hard working altitude of many of the people here and by and large I think they mostly have a good work ethic. I’m sure there are the lazy ones but they don’t stand out.
 
I don’t think I have been a victim of Gringo pricing. Maybe I just don’t know it or maybe because I have taken it upon myself to learn to speak Spanish I fit in a little better. A slower way of life for sure but isn’t that part of the charm? I am a type A person, but you get used to it and it works for them. I’m not sure the American way of running so fast is better as the Ticos have a longer life span.
 
As far as thieves, come to Philadelphia and you will really see crime and rudeness you wouldn’t believe.
 
Art Scena
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania


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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 174

Casa Alfi Hotel

Zelaya talks at university
about democracy and coup


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ousted Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya is speaking out in support of democracy as he continues efforts to regain power, more than two months after his overthrow in a coup.

Zelaya delivered a speech Wednesday in Washington at George Washington University on the events surrounding his June 28 removal.

Zelaya said his ouster has been a "cause for mourning" in Latin America. He said the accusations against him are unfounded as he accused those behind the coup of trying to scare and humiliate him. The deposed president said a democratic government should work for and be organized by the people.

The caretaker government of President Roberto Micheletti has said Zelaya was legally removed from office for violating a supreme court order to drop efforts to change the Honduran constitution.

The deposed leader meets today with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the best way forward for Honduras.

His schedule includes talks this week with the Organization of American States.

Zelaya's trip to the U.S. follows recent contacts between the State Department and a visiting delegation representing the interim Honduran government.

Monday, a State Department official said the delegation is waiting to find out whether the interim government will re-think its opposition to a Costa Rica-brokered plan that would allow Zelaya to return to Honduras and complete his term.

Micheletti's caretaker government has rejected that idea and recently proposed handing power to supreme court President Jorge Rivera Aviles.

Colombia's lower house OKs
vote on third term for Uribe


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian lawmakers have approved a bill calling for a referendum on whether to change the country's constitution to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term next year.

The measure passed in Colombia's lower house late Tuesday by a vote of 85-5. The vote followed a lengthy debate and disruptions by anti-Uribe protesters. The Senate passed a similar measure in May. 

The proposal now goes before Colombia's constitutional court, which has three months to approve the referendum before it can go before voters.

Fabio Valencia Cossio, Colombia's interior and justice minister, called the lawmakers' vote for the referendum a "great act by the chamber in response to a popular initiative."

But opposition lawmaker Orsinia Polanco said the passage of such a measure is against Colombians building a real democracy.

In 2006, Colombia's constitutional court approved a referendum that changed the constitution to allow Uribe to seek a second term. 

The president has not commented on the current referendum, and has not said if he will run for re-election in next May's balloting. Because of his economic and security policies, Uribe has become hugely popular since his initial election in 2002. 

Backed by financial aid from the United States he has successfully confronted Colombia's left-wing Fuierzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia leftist guerrillas. 

But his policies have been widely criticized, especially over allegations that soldiers have killed civilians claiming they were guerrillas.

Even some of Uribe's most vocal supporters have spoken out against the referendum, saying it will undermine Colombia's democracy.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 174

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 New process makes fuel
from algae, carbon dioxide


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Researchers around the world are trying to find alternative fuels to replace fossil fuels, which are finite and might not be available in sufficient quantities in coming decades to meet the growing world demand for energy. In addition, burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, which is linked to climate change. One U.S. company may have found a partial solution to both problems by using carbon dioxide to grow algae, which can be used to produce fuel.

On a 9.6-hectare tract of land on the Texas coast south of Houston, a start-up company from Florida called Algenol, in partnership with the Dow Chemical company, plans to build more than 3,000 bioreactors, starting next year. The bioreactors will grow algae that can produce ethanol fuel through a special process that involves using carbon dioxide from nearby coal-burning power plants to promote faster growth of the algae.

Algenol is already testing the process with 40 bioreactors in Florida, but the partnership with Dow and the U.S. Department of Energy on the Texas project is a major leap forward.

"There are very significant capabilities that Dow has that they are bringing to bear in this process," said Paul Woods, Algenol's Chief Executive Officer.

For Dow Chemical, the main focus will be producing material from algae that can be used to make plastics. The company currently uses natural gas for that purpose.

The Algenol bioreactors also produce oxygen as a byproduct and that can be fed into a power plant to burn coal more cleanly. Carbon dioxide produced by the power plant can be recycled back into the bioreactors to help promote more algae growth.

Once the site is developed, Paul Woods says the fuel it produces will be competitive with gasoline produced from petroleum at nearby refineries.

"We do not, in any way, intend to come to market with fuel that is more expensive than gasoline," he said. "We, in fact, intend to come to market with fuel that is less expensive than gasoline."

Some energy experts and environmentalists have expressed skepticism about the benefits of biofuels, especially ethanol produced from corn. But Woods notes that algae, using Algenol's patented process, produces eight times more energy than the energy used to make it. Corn-based ethanol produces only slightly more energy than it takes to produce it. And unlike corn, algae is not grown for food.





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