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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 179                          Email us
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Mar Vista

Residents of El Castillo de la Fortuna have great concerns about the state of the road because the cracks will generate small landslides destroying the road when heavy rains come.

cracks in the road
Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna

Small community far away feels wrath of quake
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While the government is diligently working to restore Guanacaste's infrastructure to normalcy and to clear key thoroughfares, some rural towns also anxiously await repairs to their only avenues to the outside world.

El Castillo is one such community. On the southwest side of the Arenal volcano, the town is made up of hotels, tour companies and other small tourist industry businesses. The community is some 70 miles (about 112 kilometers) from the epicenter of Wednesday morning's earthquake.

Another story

Initial reports are that several hotels were seriously damaged there. But owners and employees at these hotels said that their homes had been severely damaged while the hotels were fine.

Residents of El Castillo worry that cracks formed in the road to La Fortuna, the town's lifeline to the outside world, will make the pavement vulnerable to erosion and that they will lose access.

Nico Botefur owns the Essence Arenal, a boutique hostel. When the 7.6 earthquake occurred Wednesday morning, he had gone to take his child to a neighbor's house for a play date.

“When I came back, I saw the main house was almost collapsed,” he said.

Although most of the hostel was spared, much of which he described as being tents, the main building had significant structural damage and will need to be entirely rebuilt. This main structure was his home.

“We're dismantling it so we can reuse it, but we're going to tear it down,” said Botefur.

Agustín Piedra, who manages property for a couple from California, said that his clients had a similar experience. Their hotel, the Nepenthe B&B, had little to no damage but that their house under renovation was destroyed.

“We were almost done when the earthquake happened,” he said. “Some of the columns gave out, some of the walls broke, and there were cracks in some of the walls and the floor because of the earthquake.”

Victor González, who works at the Universidad Nacional's Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico, said that there are numerous factors that can contribute to why some areas and sometimes buildings within a community are affected by earthquakes differently than others. These issues can range from geography and soil composition to the quality of construction and the materials used.
Castillo casa
Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna
This structure is ready to collapse

castillo casa
Photos by Ricardo Villalobos of El Castillo de La Fortuna
There appears to be no way to save this structure.

“The conditions can vary,” he said.

Costa Rica is spotted with places far from the earthquake zone where major damage took place. Meanwhile, communities adjacent to the quake suffered much less damage.

Wednesday's 7.6 magnitude earthquake triggered landslides that knocked out key routes that government organizations are still clearing. However, it also caused countless cracks in road surfaces.

These cracks can lead to greater problems because they give pathways for rain and runoff water to pass through, gradually widening the crack. If not repaired, segments of the road can eventually become so weak that they wash away in a strong storm.

Not only is this road the route to supplies in La Fortuna, but it also represents the best escape route for El Castillo residents if the nearby volcano were to erupt.

“There's no other road. There's no other access or way to go out,” said Botefur. “If the volcano goes off, we can't even evacuate.”

Thursday, officials from the San Ramón canton, the police in La Fortuna, engineers and officials from the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias held a meeting to assess damages.

However, Reinaldo Carballo, a commission spokesman, said that authorities are still assessing damages and they may release a formal plan of how they will respond to all affected Costa Ricans' needs Saturday.

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U.S. expats tell Congress
of negative impact of laws

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A group of American citizen organizations based in Switzerland, including Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad, has just sent a report to every member of Congress and the administration highlighting how U.S. government policies and actions are negatively affecting the millions of U.S. citizens who live abroad.

The report is based on a series of well-attended town hall meetings held this year in five different Swiss cities, which brought together hundreds of Americans living in all parts of Switzerland. These meetings were organized by the leaders of several organizations, including American Citizens Abroad, the Overseas American Academy and the Swiss branches of both the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States   Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Bern were invited and attended each of the meetings.

The report sent to Congress by the Americans in Switzerland Working Group says that the most urgent motivation for the town hall meetings was the unintended consequences and deplorable collateral damage caused to Americans living abroad by the pending implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act legislation.

Mary Louise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad, said “many of the attendees at the meetings are finding that banks overseas are applying FATCA in a way that makes life very difficult for average, law-abiding American citizens who live and work overseas.” 

“Tragically, binational marriages overseas are coming under great stress because the non-American partner is understandably reluctant to share joint account information with the IRS,” she added.

Maya Samara, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad in Switzerland, said “accidental Americans, those who were born in the United States to non-American parents, are discovering the severe penalties they can incur because they didn’t know they had to file tax returns with the IRS.”

“The heart of the problem, “ explained Ed Karr, director of Republicans Abroad in Switzerland, “is the U.S. government’s unique policy of citizenship-based taxation, which has extremely adverse effects on U.S. exports and on the entire U.S. economy.”

The report sent to Congress proposes several specific remedies, including the need for the United States to shift to a residence-based rather than citizenship-based tax system, the need for direct representation for overseas citizens in Congress so their concerns can be addressed, and the need for an ombudsman for Americans abroad to review and respond to challenges currently facing individual Americans living outside of the United States today.

A copy of the report can be found on the Web site of The Americans in Switzerland Working Group.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 179
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This Sunday, Día del Niño, is for the country's children
By the A.M. Costa Rica

Sunday very conveniently is Día del Niño. Expats with kids anywhere in the extended family should be forewarned that the youngsters are expecting presents and some kind of outing.

However, the day is more than just a Christmas markdown every 9th of September. The purpose of the day is to honor those who are the future of the country.

Just as in the United States it is the young and unborn who are going to have to pay off the national debt. Costa Rica is about to borrow $4 billion more.

The United Nations suggested the day in 1954. Costa Rica set the commemoration for Sept. 9 eight years earlier.  Other nations chose other dates.

Many private organizations such as the Costa Rican Tennis Club, will be hosting activities for the children of members. In poor neighborhoods, the Fuerza Pública and other agencies will be bringing treats and entertainment to kids.

Because most Costa Ricans have Sunday off, this year the day
is a bigger deal than most years when the day falls on a weekday.

Certainly the Parque de Diversiones in La Uruca will be a prime destination. The Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar in north San José has special events for children starting at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Many restaurants will take advantage of the day, too, by offering special meals and events.

Each year there usually are competing newspaper columns for or against corporal punishment for children or various ways of responding to juvenile crime.

There is no secret that those under 18 commit many crimes, including street robberies and murders in Costa Rica and that the criminal justice system has not yet caught up to that fact.
Others will be critical of underage employees, either in family enterprises or outside the home.

But for the kids, the smallest members of the family, they simply are likely to just bask in the glory of having a day just for them.

Fire fighters get a tower
to practice vertical techniques

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican fire fighters will get training on high altitude rescues thanks to a new tower that was inaugurated Thursday.

The tower is said to be unique in Central America. The tower is 24 meters high, some 79 feet with nine levels.

The structure went up at the Academia Nacional de Bomberos in San Antonio de Desamparados.

A spokes person for the Cuerpo de Bomberos said that the tower can provide training in many ways, including making rescues in tall buildings.

The tower cost 290 million colons, about $580,000. Not only firemen here will use it. Fire officials said that training might also be given to fire fighters from other countries.

Some of the training might involve the manipulation of hoses in tall structures and movements within confined spaces, officials said.

The officials said that in the 32,000 emergencies last year there were a number that required some form of vertical effort.
fire tower
Cuerpo de Bomberos photo
Fire fighters show off their skills at the new tower.

A night at a former prison, and it is all for the Women's Club
In my opinion, the Children’s Museum is one of Costa Rica’s greatest architectural makeovers.  It stands high on a hill in San José and looks like a fairy tale castle.  But once it was a prison.  Today it is the venue for many cultural and social activities.  Saturday night it was the setting for the Women’s Club of Costa Rica’s big fund raiser.  The setting was impressive. You enter and walk through the long hallway which is lighted by huge scone torches of fire along the walls.  The central hall is large, with high ceilings, but surprisingly warm and intimate.

The Women’s Club was auctioning off a variety of ordinary chairs, made over by local artists into uniquely beautiful and charming creations. The money they raised will go to fund scholarships for deserving Costa Rican children so they can attend school and university. 

The chairs were on display throughout the hall so bidders could get up close to them. Also on display were folders and pictures of the many gifts and certificates from Costa Rican enterprises, also to be bid upon.

Along one side of the room were tables laden with bocas prepared and being served by the people from some of the most prestigious restaurants and caterers in the Central Valley, as well as imported wine and cheese.   White clothed tables and chairs filled the center of the hall so people could relax and enjoy the food and wine and conversation with old and new friends.

Everything was donated, and private citizens also contributed to make the fundraiser a success.

The motto of the Women’s Club is “Friendship through Service.”  Over the years, thanks to

The Women’s Club of Costa Rica, women of all nationalities have become friends, and together, in the last five years alone, the Women’s Club has donated more than $250,000 to support education in Costa Rica.
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

At this point in my column I was interrupted by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake. Its epicenter was not far from the west coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean.  I have experienced my share of earthquakes.  The last two noticeable ones flooded one apartment and the other so damaged the building I was living in I had to move.  A more recent one caused a large mirror in my living room to crash to the floor.  So this time I raced into the living room to see if its replacement was secure.  Then I rescued a bottle of Cointreau that was about to totter off the edge of my small liquor cabinet top. Everything else looked safe, so I hurried into my bedroom and crouched down beside my bed because that is what I read one should do in case the roof fell in.  After about 30 seconds it was over (except, of course, for the aftershocks.) 

Since then I have been watching the two political conventions in the United States.  The Republicans seem to be saying that if you succeeded, you built it yourself. If you failed, the government was to blame. The Democrats are saying, we all are in this together, and that is how we will help each other make it.  Part of what we do together is called “government.”

And I thought, what a brilliant idea the Costa Rican government had to turn a prison into a beautiful setting where people could gather and work together to make a success of a charitable idea, and I thought also of Sabana Park.  It used to be Costa Rica’s only airport, when they built the new one in Alajuela, instead of turning this valuable city property into businesses, the government made a park for the people. Art festivals, concerts, football and exercise happen there.    

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 179
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Work clearing a slide at Bajo Tapezco between Zarcero and Cuidad Quesada provides a bit of entertainment for residents nearby. The job may take some time because the rocks that fell are as big as automobiles.

road blocked
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo

Hundreds of aftershocks continue to rattle the Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even as experts are evaluating the damage and homeowners are making repairs of quake damage, the ground continues to move.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at 5 p.m. Thursday said that there had been 700 aftershocks in the Pacific Ocean and nearby since Wednesday morning. Most were in the 2 to 3 magnitude, but there was one with a magnitude of 5.1 at 3 a.m. some 23 kilometers (about 14 miles) south of Sámara. Perhaps more significantly, the Observatorio said that quakes have been reported in Cartago near Volcán Irazu.

In the community of Nicoya, the administrative hub of the peninsula, the municipality's mayor, Marcos Jiménez, said local government offices would be closed for three days while repairs are made. The municipal building suffered damage to glass, ceilings and also some walls. The mayor said he was taking the action for the security of the 153 persons who work there.

The municipality noted that there also were 55 damaged homes in the area. The community of Nicoya in the municipality of the same name is about 20 miles east of the estimated quake epicenter near Sámara.

The national emergency commission said there were 107 population centers with some type of problem related to the earthquake.  These were in Alajuela, Heredia, San José Puntarenas and Guanacaste. The Ministerio de Vivienda y Asentamientos Humanos said its workers had counted 179 damaged homes.

In Nicoya, the commission said that 90 percent of the public services had been reestablished.  Water service had been restored to Puntarenas, Tilarán and Cañas Dulces de Liberia. The quake broke pipes.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that 19 of 22 stretches of road that had been affected by the quake had been put back into service. The problems mainly were slides.

Still closed is a stretch between Zarcero and Ciudad Quesada where there was a slide in a section of the road known as  Bajo Tapezco.

The Cruz Roja said it has workers with boats at the Río Sucio in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí to transport residents who were stranded because a former railroad bridge collapsed. In some cases, ill or injured were being evacuated Thursday. One woman was nine months pregnant. The river is 100 meters wide, some 328 feet, at that point.

There were 240 persons reported in public shelters around the country due to damage to their homes. Four were in Grecia. There were 42 persons in a shelter in San Antonio de Nicoya and 60 being housed in Sámara, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the state-run insurance agency, said it already had received 300 claims for damage. Most Costa Ricans do not carry earthquake insurance.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social, the health provider, and the Universidad de Costa Rica set up psychological teams to provide comfort to those suffering from anxiety and stress. Contacts were mainly in hospitals and clinics, although the health workers said that there might be house calls, many in areas that were seriously affected.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo issued a news release internationally in which it said that all air service continued to work normally and that the tourism industry was not
Rio Sucio bridge
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo 
This is the downed former railroad bridge at Río Sucio

why they are walking
Cruz Roja photo
Cruz Roja workers have a line of residents who wish to cross the Río Sucio near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. There are two launches in service due to a downed bridge.

seriously affected. The news of Costa Rica's 7.6 earthquake received heavy play in the international media, and some reported incorrectly that persons had died.

Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia handled four international flights Thursday, the commission said.

The commission said that evaluation of the damage would continue today. One crucial point is a dike at the Guanacaste town of Filadelfia where there is damage in four places.

The dike is key to flood control there. Officials said fixing it would cost 20 million colons or about $40,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 179
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Vitamin B3 may help fight
drug resistant bacteria

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New research suggests megadoses of vitamin B3 may be able to help bodies fight some of the world’s deadliest bacteria or superbugs.

When given in doses far higher than found in any normal diet, scientists say the common nutritional supplement, vitamin B3, boosts the immune system by as much as 1,000 fold, and can kill a life-threatening infection called methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus.

U.S. public health officials report that more Americans now die from Staphyloccocus aureus each year than from AIDS. In 2005, more than 18,000 deaths were attributed to Staphyloccocus aureus. About 16,000 people in the United States died from AIDS that year.

George Liu, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, led a team investigating B3’s potential to kill the superbug in both mice and samples of human blood. 

The researchers found very high doses of B3 stimulate a gene involved in the production of specialized immune cells called neutrophils. These cells destroy and sweep away harmful bacteria, boosting the immune system response to staph and Staphyloccocus aureus by anywhere from 100 percent to 1,000 percent.

Liu explained that megadoses of B3, known scientifically as nicotinamide, do not kill the pathogens directly.

“What it does is it hits the white cells in our body and makes them much more potent so they can come about and kill some of the staph. . . ,” he said.

Judge lets Arizona cops
check immigration status

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. federal judge has cleared the way for the border state of Arizona to begin enforcing a controversial part of a state law that requires police to check the immigration status of people stopped during the investigation of other crimes.

The ruling requires authorities to question those suspected of being in the country illegally.

The requirement is the centerpiece of a contentious piece of immigration legislation at the center of a two-year legal battle that ended in June with the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the key provision. Several other parts of the law were rejected.  

A coalition of civil rights lawyers and immigration advocates asked a federal district court judge in July to block the immigration status requirement, arguing that it would lead to systematic racial profiling and long detentions of Latinos if enforced. The court rejected that request Wednesday.

Ahead of the latest ruling, lawyers for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer urged the court to let the requirement — dubbed the "show-me-your-papers" clause — go into effect.  They argued that opponents were merely speculating about the potential for racial profiling — a practice of targeting individuals for searches based on race that the High Court found unconstitutional in 1996.

Strategic plan would target
Impunity in Guatemala

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A United Nations-backed commission today presented a strategic work plan at the world body’s headquarters in New York outlining efforts to combat impunity in Guatemala and support the country’s justice system.   

The plan presented by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known by the Spanish-language acronym CICIG) focuses on four areas to improve the rule of law in the Latin American nation: reducing impunity rates, coordinating government efforts to fight criminality, eradicating and preventing the emergence of illegal security forces, and raising awareness of the impact that impunity has on a democratic society. 

The United Nations and the Guatemalan Government set up CICIG in 2006 as an independent body to support the public prosecutors’ office, the national civilian police and other institutions to investigate a limited number of sensitive and difficult cases regarding illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations and also dismantle them.  

Commissioner Francisco Javier Dall’Anese Ruiz, the former Costa Rican prosecutor general, presented the plan.

Colombian rebels insist
on a cease fire for talks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's main leftist rebel group, battered by a decade-long government military offensive, says it will seek a cease-fire next month at the start of preliminary talks with the Bogota government.

Thursday's cease-fire announcement by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, better known as FARC,  comes just days after President Juan Manuel Santos announced a deal with rebels to open talks next month aimed at ending nearly five decades of warfare.  However, the president said there would be no military let-up as the talks open in the Norwegian capital.

The FARC cease-fire overture also follows a government announcement Wednesday that another top rebel leader was killed in a government bombing raid this week near the border with Venezuela. 

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón told reporters the rebel was a close ally of FARC leader Timoleon Jiménez, better known as Timochenko.

"Three guerrillas were killed whose bodies were found," said Pinzón. "There were 15 weapons seized, explosives, grenades, communications systems.  We estimate that at least 15 terrorists may have died.   Alias Danilo Garcia, the terrorist right-hand of Timochenko was killed in the Catatumbo region," he said.

Last November, Timochenko rose to the rebel group's top post when an earlier leader was killed in a battle with government troops.

An attempt to show good faith ahead of 1999 talks saw an earlier government cede territory the size of Switzerland to rebels.  But FARC used the ceded land to train fighters and build airstrips used to transport illegal drug shipments that financed renewed military operations.  Those talks collapsed in 2002.

Ahead of this week's announcement, President Santos repeatedly said he would only consider talks with FARC if he was certain that rebel leaders would negotiate in good faith. 

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Postal service now has plan
to deliver Internet purchases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The postal service said Thursday it has created a system for shipping goods purchased via the Internet to customers in Costa Rica.

The system is called Box Correos, and it has a separate Web site and registration is required.

The setup is much the same as private carrier services. Correos de Costa Rica said it has an address in the United States where shipments can be sent. Packages will be shipped to Costa Rica for distribution to customers here.

Correos also said that it would handle the customs duties to deliver packages to the customer's door, at least in the metro area.

Until now getting packages through the postal service tested the patience of most expats. Usually a trip was required to the central office in Zapote where taxes and customers duties would be paid. The postal service said that customs duty and sales tax would be calculated automatically and charged to the customers online. There also are provisions for insurance.

Correos got a lot of bad press over Christmas because the Ministerio de Hacienda began charging sales tax without warning on shipments from overseas. The postal service was caught in the middle, but somewhere there is a pile of Christmas presents still awaiting delivery once fees are paid.

Bus companies docked
for ignoring complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bus company operators who do not respond to customer complaints will not be getting any raises in their rates, according to the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos.

The rate-setting agency said that it has rejected requests for more money from three bus companies because they have not responded to complaints from passengers. There was a resolution passed by the agency last December that gives bus companies 20 days to respond to complaints.

Transportes Mora y Rojas Ltda, which runs a Cartago route on highway 324 to La Suiza, Jicotea and Platanillo was one of the firms.

Also getting a rejection was CIPARO S.A. that runs buses on highway 317 in Turrialba.  In Guanacaste, Autotransportes Colorado de Abangares S.A. received a rejection. That firm runs three bus routes from Las Junta de Abangares to Cañas, said the agency.

An individual, Gerardo Adilio Madriz Morales, also received a rejection. He runs a Cartago line that services customers from Cartago to Piedra Azul and Barrio La Minita.

Gold deposit found

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Calibre Mining Corp., a Canadian firm, said that a drilling program in northeast Nicaragua at Santa Rita discovered a deposit that appears to be 29.54 grams of gold per ton. The firm has an agreement with Alder Resources Ltd., which did the drilling.

Belgium has new envoy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Belgium has a new ambassador to Costa Rica. He is  Hans-Christian Kint. The career diplomat presented copies of his appointment Thursday at the Costa Rican foreign ministry. He will present his credentials to President Laura Chinchilla Miranada at a later date, the ministry said.

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