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(506) 223-1327               Published Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 176            E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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pigeons in Plaza de la Cultura
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
more pigeons
Plaza is ankle deep in hungry birds

pigeons flying
Birds take to the air, and humans duck!

Shall we call it a plethora of pigeons?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most successful creature in Costa Rica is not the turtle nor the toucan nor the land developer. There are plenty of these, but pigeons seem to out breed and out number them all.

Particularly in the vicinity of the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José, the pigeon population is benefiting from the humans who 
purchase small baggies of corn and continually feed them.

Where there once were a hundred or so pigeons, there are now countless packs who nest in the facade of the nearby Teatro Nacional and Gran Hotel Costa Rica, among other sites.

At risk are the clothes and heads of the many pedestrians who pass through the plaza.

Costa Rica's good luck holds with Hurricane Felix
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The raging Hurricane Felix constricted its reach Tuesday and the major effects that emergency officials predicted did not take place.

Monday and early Tuesday some 56 incidents took place that were blamed on the hurricane. These included some landslides that endangered homes. However, local response teams took care of these problems.

The highway between San José and Limón, route 32, was cut again by a slide near the Zurquí tunnel, but transport workers had the route open again by 4 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. Another slide took place between Turrialba and Siquirres but passage was opened partly there, too.

The country had prepared for the worst. Some 200 shelters were put into service. Small evacuations had begun from low areas. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias maintained an alert most of the day and repeated warnings from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional that cloud formations from Felix could turn into strong downpours.

That never happened, and the institute's automatic weather stations show that rainfall was minimal all over the country.

Television stations had sent camera crews to the Pacific coast where the bulk of the impact was expected. But their reporters had to do standups for the national news recounting that nothing had happened.

That was not the case in northern Nicaragua. Hurricane Felix made landfall as a category five storm with heavy rainfall and maximum sustained winds of 260 kph (160 mph). Weather forecasters said the storm had weakened after the eye came ashore, and said it would continue to lose strength during the next day or two. By late Tuesday it was classified as a category one storm and then reduced to a tropical storm.
At 9 p.m. Costa Rican time the center of Felix was located over southeastern Honduras about 100 miles (160 kms) east of Tegucigalpa. Honduran officials had canceled all maritime and coastal warnings.

The hurricane first hit land in remote, swampy areas of the Miskito Coast, and moved through villages further inland. Officials in Honduras and Nicaragua moved thousands of residents and tourists into shelters, and evacuated others from flood-prone areas ahead of the storm. Two persons were believed dead and about 26 were missing in Nicaragua.

U.S. military officials said a Chinook helicopter was flown in to evacuate 19 American citizens from the Honduran island of Roatan Monday. Military officials say a team has been in Belize since Hurricane Dean hit the area two weeks ago. It is assessing damage from the storm and helping organize rebuilding efforts.

Hurricane Dean also was rated a category five storm when it came ashore along the border of Mexico and Belize on the Yucatan peninsula. Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center in Miami said it is the first time two hurricanes of that strength have made landfall in the same season.

"Since our records began in the late 19th century, we have no record of two land-falling category five hurricanes in the same season," he said. "Nor do we have any record of the first two hurricanes of the same season developing into category five hurricanes."

Feltgen says it is impossible to predict if other hurricanes will develop in the Atlantic region in coming months, but he says forecasters expect storm activity this year to be above average.

In the Pacific Ocean, forecasters are tracking Hurricane Henriette which is moving north, near Mexico's western coast. The storm brushed the tip of Baja California and now is in the Gulf of California moving northeast.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 176

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Fugitive from New Mexico
detained in Rohrmoser

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another U.S. fugitive has been detained, this one in Rohrmoser.

He was identified as Nicolas Himmelsback, 26, who is wanted in the U.S. state of New Mexico on charges of attempted first-degree murder. He also was sought to face charges of abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, criminal damage and firing a weapon in a public place, said the security ministry.

Himmelsback was grabbed when he left his apartment. He gave agents a hard time, they said, and resisted arrest.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the man did not enter the country legally. The arrest was made by Fuerza Pública officers, members of the Policía Especial de Migración and agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad.

Hewlett Packard has plans
to increase workforce by 2,000

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Hewlett Packard executive said Tuesday that the company would put on some 2,000 more local employees within the next two or three years. That would be in addition to the nearly 5,000 who now work for the company at its Heredia location.

The estimate was by Martín Castillo, general manager of the firm's Caribbean region, and relayed by Casa Presidencial.

The company's call center provides support to some 55,000 clients in the Americas, using English, Spanish and Portuguese languages, said the firm. the company also does back office work for firms elsewhere.

The largest part of the workforce is devoted to customer support for Hewlett Packard products, said the company.

Higher bus rates approved
for 420 local, regional routes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bus companies have received an average increase in their fares of about 3.8 percent, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos. The increases involve 420 bus routes and range from hikes of five colons to 305 colons.

The price-setting agency said it rejected requests for 147 routes because complete information was not provided. The rates are expected to go into effect in about five days after the details are published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

Some key rate changes: Sabana Estadio and Cementerio, from 120 to 135 colons; San Pedro-San José from 145 to 155 colons; San José-Pavas from 180 to 190 colons; San José-Alajuela, from 335 to 355 colons; San José-San Ramón from 785 to 825 colons; San José-Naranjo, from 535 to 570 colons;  San José-Volcán Irazú, from 1,530 to 1,625 colons; San José-Heredia, from 220 to 235 colons; San José-Heredia (via the superhighway), from 300 to 320 colons; San José-Liberia, from 2,310 to 2,350 colons; San José-Tamarindo, from 2,740 to 2,915 colons; San José-Puntarenas, from 1,365 to 1,535 colons; San José-Paso Canoas, from 5,275 to 5,440 colons; San José-Playa Jacó, from 1,015 to 1,440; and San José-Limón, from 1,955 to 2,080 colons.

Young pianists get certificates
after performing in Rohrmoser

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Cynthia Soto, 6, and Alejandro Faerron, 11 have been  awarded certificates of excellent achievement in their  accomplishment of the entire Suzuki Piano School
and performance in concert. Miss Soto completed Volume 1, and young Faerron completed Volume 2 of the Suzuki Piano School. 

In addition, Miss Soto performed the Sonatina, Moderato by Beethoven.   

Also performing were:  Christopher Boekhoudt, 3,  Escazú;  Mariangel Moya, 4, Rohrmoser;  Scarlet Weidig, 5, San Antonio de Belén;  Nicolas Boekhoudt, 6. Escazú; José Brenes, 6, Escazú; Lisette Latjes, 7, Escazú; Couloir Hanson, 8, Escazú; Maria Paz Jiménez, 8, Escazú;  Stacey Volandi, 9, Escazú;  Elisa Long, 11, Rohrmoser; Charlotte Abarca, 10,  Rohrmoser;  Andrea Duarte, 12, Heredia;  Emma Cazzulini, 11, Heredia; and Jonathan Duarte, 14, Heredia. 
The students are currently studying the Suzuki Piano Method in Carol Wunderle's Talent Education Suzuki Piano Program in Rohrmoser.  The recitals are free to the public with the next one scheduled for Nov. 15 at 6:45 p.m.  Those interested can call 232-3999 for directions and information.

Two young men murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two young men, one 15 and the other 18, were shot dead Monday and dumped in a street right-of-way in Ipís de Goicoechea. The older victim was  identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization as Luis Ricardo Rojas García, 18. The name of the younger victim was not available.

The bodies were dumped shortly before midnight, said agents. Both suffered bullet wounds to the head.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 176

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Our readers' opinions
Crime in Quepos

Resident says personal responsibility lacking in fight against criminals
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As the person responsible for putting in place the infrastructure of a Quepos Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, and who has taken action for trying to help improve the security situation, I would like to make a few observations regarding Harrison Hitt’s recent letter.

As a 12-year area resident, I am very much aware of what is going on in the area but also know that the problem at the Pajaro Azul development where Harrison lives is not only the lack of manpower of the local police department but also the unwillingness to the more than 30+ homeowners to get an association of the ground and turn this particular community in a gated community.

Through a private security service their $500K - $1.5M properties and their lives would be protected 24 hours a day. It is beyond comprehension why these people would be unwilling to split the cost of this service, but I do have some idea. This idea of a home owners association contracting a private security firm is applicable to several area developments. Even with a doubling or tripling of the local police department there are several things we can’t “farm out,” especially since we are all becoming “experts” on security and we know that we can not rely on the San José authorities to come to our immediate rescue.

As an employer who lost an employee (Erick Méndez), several years ago because he was murdered in this particular development because he tried to make some extra money by house-sitting for an Expat, I decided to do something about the situation and organized the F.O.P. Quepos in order to improve the professionalism of our local law enforcement officers through various programs. At the end of this month we are taking several Quepos officers to Florida through the Sister Cities International Program to attend several educational programs, and we will try to set up channels for on-going assistance and exchange program that will benefit our local community.

I assure you that we now have a wonderful group of professional officers which are getting better and better as time goes by. Together with other local organizations, we are trying to weed out corruption, and all departments are working closely together than ever before on makings things better. The guilty party here is not our local law enforcement officers but Fernando Berrocal, the minister of security and Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of tourism. With a total of 37 officers each making the equivalent of $320 per month, and who need to cover 340 square miles, they are putting their lives in harms way every day with a shortage of guns, equipment that does not work, no bullet proof vests, old ammunition, one working patrol car and two motorcycles. This is an outrage. With this equipment they could not even cover the Parque de Diversiones in San José.

We, the business communities, are equally at fault. With hundreds of millions of dollars in hotel investments, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of development in progress and bank accounts stashed with money, we cannot even get ourselves sufficiently organized to buy the most needed office supplies for these police departments on a regular basis. I communicate on an almost weekly basis with the chiefs of the various departments, and sometimes they do not even have a hot meal to feed their staff or lack gasoline for their patrol car. 

God forbid, they need a piece of equipment for a repair. When we look for funds amongst the business community, we are glad if we manage to find a $100 because almost all look the other way or think a lousy few thousand colons will help solve our problems. The lame excuse is usually a previous corruption incident of people who are no longer here.

The more than 90 hotels in the Canton de Aguirre area produce more than $100M in annual revenues either directly or indirectly through the sale of tours. The new marina, once finished will add an additional estimated $100M per year.

If no action is taken to improve this situation and have law enforcement get back in control, we will kill the goose that laid the golden egg. To make things more complicated, the municipality takes in a lousy $800K per year partially because only a few of the more than 70 rental properties are registered and almost none of them
guard graphic

pay local, or federal taxes, and most local businesses avoid paying taxes in any way, shape or form. How can we ever think of putting a city camera surveillance system in strategic locations in Quepos or Manuel Antonio to stop most crime if we are not willing to fund even the bare necessities?

The newly formed municipal police department of eight officers does even have one car, not one motorcycle and only four .38-caliber Smith & Wessons. There is not even enough money to buy them identification badges. Their monthly take home pay is less than $280. Any officer that goes off duty is obliged to turn in his/her gun before they leave — which renders them virtually powerless. Imagine a police chief responsible for investigating felony crimes and for making arrests during the day who does not carry a gun while on public transportation at night or on his day off in the midst of a bunch of people who are known to him to carry regular drug shipments.

The five local traffic officers must sleep in roach- and rat-invested quarters that are about to fall apart and must cover the same 340 square miles without as much as a radio and a patrol car that is falling apart. They must deal with more than 60 traffic accidents per week. They rely on their cellular phone to respond to emergencies and fatalities.

Wake up and smell the Quepos Coffee! For anyone locally who wants to make a real difference, please contact me. Anyone who wants to co-sign a petition to Minister Fernando Berrocal and Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides to let them know what an outrage the current situation is, when our tax contributions amount to dozens of millions of dollars per year, and who is willing to help us pay for a full page to publish these petitions in the La Nación Newspaper, let me know! If you want to join me on a tour of our local police station to see how serious our problem really is, let me know.

Finally now that foreigners and investors are becoming victims, our plight is getting more attention! We have been warning San José for years that this would happen!

As point of information, according to the U.S. Embassy, the Consular Section in San José receives more reports of lost U.S. passports than any other consular section in the world. Over the past three years they did receive 4,100 reports of stolen U.S. passports.

The surge in tourism (1,700,000 last year) made foreign tourists the favored prey of thieves (they all carry something of value), and they are unlikely to report the theft because most do not know how to report the theft. They do not want to waste time at a police station. A crime is not easy to report (only the O.I.J. can accept reports) or almost all do not want to return to Costa Rica in the event someone is arrested.

All tourists and residents should be asked to report crimes, and especially cases of corruption, so we can inform the appropriate authorities with facts and put more pressure on San José. We need to continuously remind our visitors not to let their guard down but that the same is true in any country.

Harry Bodaan
Sister Cities International
coordinator, Quepos

Too much money in house
encourages, tempts robbers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to your article on Sept. 3: Investigators say home invasion bandits are well-organized, by José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Police earn about $300 per month…
— Aug. 25 four men broke into a home of Douglas S. Nathan, a U.S. citizen and made off with appliances and about $25,000.  (83 months or almost 7 years of salary for a police officer).
— The same day bandits got $9,600, from a home in San Pedro de Montes de Oca.  (32 months or almost 3 years of salary for a police officer).
— Also on Aug. 25, bandits broke into the home of Alejandra Mata, a vice minister of Educación Pública and stole kitchen appliances, ($48,000) and the woman's vehicle. (160 months or more than 13 years of salary for a police officer).
So on a single day three home invasions netted bandits $82,600.  That is the equivalent of 275 months or 23 years of what a police officer earns.  This does not even include the appliances and vehicles that were stolen.
I find the amounts of cash that was reported stolen to be so astonishing as to be unbelievable.  It leaves several questions in my mind.  Who keeps that much cash in their home and why, are the victims absolute idiots?  Are the amounts reported to the police accurate, or is there a possibility of insurance fraud?  How could and why would a vice minister have almost $50,000 in cash at home?   What does a vice minister earn per year?
We are in big trouble if the amounts stolen during these three robberies are accurate.  How many of us would not be tempted if they knew there was the equivalent of over 20 years of our salary just waiting to be “collected” from homes throughout the city.  When crooks hear of such easy pickings being available, their numbers will increase and their methods will become more sophisticated and more violent.
If you keep large amounts of cash at home, You are the problem.  You are enticing crooks.  In doing so you are not only endangering yourselves, you are also endangering those of us who are more prudent with regard to the safe storage of our cash, i.e. the bank.
B.J. Massey
Edmonton, Canada
Crime problems in Quepos
are not new development

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Unfortunately, the old adage that beauty is skin deep applies to places as well as to persons, as Mr. Hitt has discovered since taking up residence in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area.  However, I can assure Mr. Hitt that robbery, theft and burglary was a common problem for foreign residents or visitors to Quepos long before his arrival.

The apparent rise in the crime rate is simply a reflection of the fact that the extensive commercial development in the past 10 years or so has supplied thieves with a steady increase in the number of  "wealthy" outsiders to be relieved of their "excess" cash and/or belongings. Many tourists even in 1980 made the foolish mistake of leaving valuables unattended in their rental cars, hotel rooms, or "hidden"under beach towels while swimming. Such foolishness invites disaster no matter whether in Quepos or elsewhere.

I owned a house and property in Quepos over 20 years ago, and can not recall knowing a single foreign resident at that time whose home had not been burglarized at least once — and knew many who had been burglarized even while they slept in their homes or despite hiring "guards" for protection. My own house in Quepos was emptied of everything from clothing to furniture so many times that I simply gave up replacing things that had been stolen. 

Thanks to the locals, I had nothing left to move from the house when I finally sold out and moved away from "paradise" for good — at about the time that Mr. Hitt was arriving.

It's a cliche to blame the availability of illicit drugs for causing crime, as does Mr. Hitt. To paraphrase the National Rifle Association, illicit drugs don't steal, people do.

The problem faced by the foreign community in Quepos, as in other parts of Costa Rica, is the flaunting of the vast economic disparity between the minority "haves" and the majority" have-nots.  Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up the problem in the rest of the world.

I. Sargent
Montreal, Canada

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 176

Road closed
by downed tree

Residents at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula are cleaning up after a fierce storm Thursday.  Power and cell phone service were out in Mal País, Santa Teresa, and Playa Hermosa and hundreds of trees were toppled, said a resident. Bicyclists find their mode of travel is more efficient here on the road between Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa.

Nicoya storm damage
Photo by Tomas Leyenda

Coffee emerges in study as the major source of antioxidants
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There's good news for Costa Rican coffee producers.

That steaming cup of coffee is also the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. The study was described at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close," says study leader Joe Vinson, a chemistry professor at the university. Although fruits and vegetables are generally promoted as good sources of antioxidants, the new finding is surprising because it represents the first time that coffee has been shown to be the primary source from which most Americans get their antioxidants, Vinson said. Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels, he added.

He cautions that high antioxidant levels in foods and beverages don’t necessarily translate into levels found in the body. The potential health benefits of these antioxidants ultimately depends on how they are absorbed and utilized in the body, a process that is still poorly understood, said Vinson, whose study was primarily funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute.

The news follows a growing number of reports touting the potential health benefits of drinking coffee. It also comes at an appropriate time: Coffee consumption is on the rise in the United States and over half of Americans drink it everyday, according to the National Coffee Association.

Antioxidants in general have been linked to a number of
potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer. For the current study, Vinson and his associates analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common beverages. The data was compared to an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture data base on the contribution of each type of food item to the average estimated U.S. per capita consumption.

Coffee came out on top on the combined basis of both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption, Vinson said. Coffee easily outranked such popular antioxidant sources as tea, milk, chocolate and cranberries, he said. Of all the foods and beverages studied, dates actually have the most antioxidants of all based solely on serving size, according to Vinson. But since dates are not consumed at anywhere near the level of coffee, the blue ribbon goes to coffee, he said.

Coffee has been linked to an increasing number of potential health benefits, including protection against liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, according to some recently published studies. There’s also a downside: Coffee can make drinkers jittery and cause stomach pains, while some studies have tied it to elevated blood pressure and heart rates. More research is needed, particularly human studies, to firmly establish its health benefits, Vinson said.

While the findings would seem to encourage people to go out and drink more coffee, Vinson emphasized moderation.

"One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial," he said. If you don’t like coffee, consider drinking black tea, which is the second most consumed antioxidant source in the U.S. diet, Vinson said. Bananas, dry beans and corn placed third, fourth and fifth.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 176

National games in Heredia will feature three new sports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 6,200 young athletes will participate in the 28th Juegos Deportivos Nacionales in Heredia in January, and new categories will be offered for karate, judo and tae kwon do.

Regional competitions will run through October to select the athletes from each canton who will participate in the national games.

Also being offered this year is a juvenile female boxing category. Gymnastics and skating will be offered as   exhibition sports. In all, there will be 18 categories in  which championships will be determined. But this year
 there will not be a canton declared to be an overall winner, said the organizers.

The scope of the games were outlined Tuesday at the  Palacio de los Deportes. The games will run from Jan. 21, a Monday, to Jan. 27, a Sunday.

The games are coordinated by the Instituto Costarricense del Deporte y la Recreación.

Events will take place in San Joaquín, Santa Bárbara, Heredia, Barva, San Rafael, San Isidro, San Pablo, Santo Domingo and Sarapiquí. The Estadio Nacional in San José also will be used, organizers said.  Sarapiquí will be the site of mountain bike competitions and bicycle racing.

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