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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 177              E-mail us
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September is Patriotic Month in Costa Rica. Sept. 14 and 15 are days when the country marks its 189 years of independence. The
highways, public buildings and many private establishments are decked out in the national colors.  And now A.M. Costa Rica is, too!

Canadian woman vanishes in Nicoya peninsula town
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another expat has vanished under suspicious circumstances on the Pacific coast. This time the missing expat is a woman, 33-year-old Kim Paris, a Canadian.

The Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed it is handling the case. The woman disappeared Aug. 26, said judicial agents. She lives in Santa Teresa de Cóbano de Puntarenas. Friends identified her as being associated with Hotel Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa. She vanished while bicycling to the hotel, they said.

Friends and residents are passing out fliers in the area. The town is on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula.

The woman's husband, Gabriel Orozco, also is associated with the hotel, but he was unavailable Tuesday night.

Judicial agents are accepting calls with information at 800-8000-645.

The woman's sister is Natasha Paris, who lives in Florida. She said in an e-mail to friends in the area that her sister has been missing since Aug. 25 and that she speaks French and English and some Spanish. Although she might be carrying a French passport, she is Canadian, said the sister.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified her as French in information provided Monday.

She is the fifth expat to vanish since March 2009. Craig Snell, an expat from Ostional, vanished from his home in that month. He was last seen leaving the home on foot. Friends said he left his computer turned on and all his belonging in the home. The town is also on the Pacific coast but further north than Santa Teresa.

The next missing man was David Gimelfarb who
Kim Paris
Kim Paris

disappeared a little more than a year ago after hiking in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja in eastern Guanacaste. His case may be featured on the CNN "Nancy Grace Show." He is from the Chicago, Illinois, area.

Michael Dixon, a British tourist, vanished after he left a hotel in Tamarindo Oct. 18.

His family has searched extensively for him, as has the family of Gimelfarb.

Dixon is a journalist who works in Belgium.

Another U.S. citizen, Roger Peter Biennvennu, 64, has been missing since early July, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. He lives in Barrio Quebradas, San Isidro de Peréz Zeledón.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 177

Costa Rica Expertise
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Plastic grates
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers 
Plastic grate grabs a lot of trash

Plastic storm drain grates
are.  . . well . . . not that great

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Much of this rainy season’s flood damage has been attributed to garbage in the rivers, and clogged storm water drains are a chronic problem around the metropolitan area. The worst factor affecting urban drainage is the theft of steel gratings for sale as scrap with resulting intake into the sewers of floating garbage.

A Colombian company is marketing plastic gratings that have no scrap value, made of recycled polypropylene. Grupo Linasa has sold to several Costa Rican municipalities.

Manhole covers are also often stolen, resulting in a serious hazard to drivers, especially when the open hole is hidden by water. The company sells plastic manhole covers too.

In Tibás, a municipality on the north side of San Jose, there are about 1,500 grates missing, according to Maikol Madrigal of the city’s street maintenance department. In some parts of the municipality, a replacement grate is carried off in a few days. Tibás includes the famous León XIII slum.

Scrap steel is currently selling at junkyards for 60 colons (about 12 cents) per kilo or $120 per metric ton. At that price, a high quality steel grate is worth something less than a dollar from unscrupulous junkyard owners. There are usually middlemen with transport involved so the actual thief would get less.

International steel scrap prices are high again after the world economic crisis in 2008 took Chinese buyers out of the market. Prices are almost back to pre-recession levels at about $250 per ton.

The price of a dose of crack in Costa Rica is about a dollar.

About 100 of Linasa’s plastic grates have been installed around Tibás, but the municipality does not intend to purchase more as they have not withstood the abuse heaped upon them. “Unfortunately, people here in Tibás have the bad habit of parking trucks on the sidewalk,” and generally mistreating infrastructure, Madrigal said. The grates have a stated capacity of 4 to 5 tons; “that’s the first truck, but the second, the third, the fourth . . . . ” The plastic grates are better suited for residential areas, he added.

Tibás’ engineers have resorted to manufacturing their own steel gratings, anchored with chains and loops of rebar to avoid pilfering.

The plastic products are somewhat more expensive than steel, but in addition to their unattractiveness to thieves, they are marketed as “ecological.” Salesperson Raquel Jiménez said they are “100 percent recycled,” the source of the plastic being “trash.”

Research has shown that polypropylene is a minuscule part of the domestic waste stream in Costa Rica, and Colombia with a similar level of economic development has similar garbage composition. The main use of polypropylene is margarine tubs, and most margarine in Costa Rica is sold in cubes.

Twine used in the banana industry is the biggest source of polypropylene garbage in Costa Rica. Industrial residues rather than “post-consumer” recycling is a possible source, or plastic can be imported from recycling operations in the U.S. Ms. Jiménez did not respond to repeated requests for details on the origin of the plastic used for the grates.

Gunmen blast away at pair
in San Pedro apartment unit


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen wounded a Dominican couple Tuesday night in their San Pedro living quarters.

A reader reported hearing shooting at a neighbor's quarters in Apartamentos William in Barrio Roosevelt, some 300 meters south and 100 meters west of the Banco Nacional on Avenida Central there.

Two persons were removed on stretchers and taken to Hospital Calderón Guardia.

The shooting happened shortly before 10 p.m. The male member of the couple was reported in what amounts to critical condition. He suffered up to six bullet wounds. The woman suffered at least four and was hurt less seriously.

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A.M. Costa Rica 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.

Classifieds
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.

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

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.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 177

Security minister reinstitutes police roadblocks cautiously
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister launched an argument in favor of  indiscriminate searches of citizens Tuesday and said that his Fuerza Pública would resume these activities that were rejected by the Sala IV constitutional court Friday.

President Laura Chinchilla used the situation as reason to call on the Asamblea Legislativa to pass bills that would tax casinos and online betting operations.  Despite the lack of resources and the court tying the hands of police, Ms. Chinchilla promised that the country would not take one step backwards and continue ahead. The gambling taxes are supposed to be used for security measures.

Ms. Chinchilla also said that her government would ask the Sala IV constitutional court to clarify the ruling.

José María Tijerino, the security minister, discussed the situation with Ms. Chinchilla and her cabinet at the regular Tuesday consejo de goberino. He said later that the Sala IV twice approved the police checkpoints, once in 2002 and once in 2004.

Typically the police will stop some or all cars on a main highway and sometimes search them. The Sala IV in the Friday decision basically said that police need probable cause to do that, perhaps in search of a fugitive or when they have witnessed a crime.

Channel Six television packed a car with luggage and put two simulated packages of cocaine on the back seat and toy guns on the front seat and one in the glove compartment Tuesday. Then a camera crew photographed the car passing through three unmanned checkpoints on the Interamericana Tuesday. The point was that without police searching vehicles, criminals would not be discovered. The Costa Rican citizenry appears to favor overwhelmingly police checkpoints.

One Sala IV decision Tijerino cited, the one in 2002, was a finding in which the court appears to have supported searches without probable cause. A citizen had complained that police made travelers get out of their cars or step down from buses and indiscriminately searched baggage and other personal items. Such checkpoints are routine on the Interamericana and along the Caribbean coast.

There is an economic dimension, too. Frequently motorists are stopped at checkpoints on the Interamericana bringing in untaxed merchandise or alcohol from Panamá.

Tijerino said that the checkpoints would resume based on article 140 of the Costa Rican Constitution that gives the executive branch police powers. Article 140 (6) says the president and cabinet ministers have the authority "to maintain order and tranquillity in the nation; to take such measures as may be necessary to safeguard public liberties. . . ."

The Sala IV based its decision on article 37, which says: "No one may be detained without substantiated evidence of having committed an offense or without a written
Captured on camera
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This presumed sale of crack to two women on the sidewalk took place early Tuesday. Fuerza Pública officers were anxious to share it.

order issued by the judge or the authority in charge of
maintaining public order, unless the person concerned is a fugitive from justice or is caught in the act; but in all cases, he shall be placed at the disposition of a competent judge within a peremptory period of twenty-four hours."

Certainly Ms. Chinchilla, who attended university in the United States, must know that U.S. police must have probable cause to stop vehicles and conduct a search. That fact also is very clear on U.S. television police shows aired here. But Tijerino said the social reality of the country and criminality justifies the checkpoints as a preventative measure. He said officers would work closely with judicial agents to justify stopping vehicles based on complaints filed with the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Fuerza Pública officers frequently conduct checks of nightspots in which they require those present to show identification. They usually are accompanied by immigration agents. Those operations always seemed to be borderline legal because officers would enter private property, including hotel rooms and restaurants.

There also is some question worldwide about the use of cameras to keep watch on public spaces. The security ministry maintains 30 cameras in the capital, and the Municipalidad de San José has others installed. More are planned. There probably was no coincidence Tuesday when the Fuerza Pública released a still photo of what appears to be a drug sale in San José. The incident resulted in the arrest of two persons and the confiscation of crack rocks, they said.

One question that has not been addressed is if prosecutors can still present evidence that was gathered during a search the Sala IV now says is unconstitutional. There are many smuggling cases and cocaine trafficking cases where the evidence was found that way.


Sports institute told to fix chronic park water problem
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The decision may seem like a no-brainer, but the Sala IV constitutional court has declared that parks should be kept in good condition.

The case at hand involved a man who complained via a Sala IV filing that the installation of the Velódromo Nacional de Ciclismo at Parque de la Paz in south San José included an underground section that was always filled with water. This is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, the man said. The underground section allows persons to cross underneath the
track where bicycles circulate.

The legal action was against the Instituto Costarricense del Deporte y la Recreación and the Ministerio de Salud. The man also complained about the quality of water that was available at a tap at the cycling location. He said it was not fit for humans.

The appeal said the underground section has been filled with water for six months.

The court agreed with the man and gave the sports institute six months to fix the problem.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 177


Water rates are going up, and so is the price of diesel fuel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government price regulating agency said that it was hiking water rates 13.74 percent for the next 15 months.

The decision is in favor of the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados. The regulator, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicas, said that it included extra income incorrectly when rates were adjusted for the water company in December. The math error resulted in a decrease of about 3 percent in the amount due the water company. That's 3.6 billion colons, the regulator said.

There also is an 11.55 percent increase in sewer rates, the
regulator said. The change will cost the average Costa Rican household about 1,000 colons a month. Expats probably will pay more because they generally use more water.

The agency also announced fuel prices for September.  Plus and super gasoline will decline a single colon to 562 and 587 colons per liter. Diesel will increase 13 colons to 498 per liter.


There are 3.79 liters in a U.S. gallon, so the new rates will mean plus sells from $4.15 a gallon. Super sells for $4.33 a gallon and diesel is $3.67 at the 513 colon to the dollar exchange rate.



Central Valley gets dose
of ground-hugging cloud


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday was one of those nights when a pedestrian expects Sherlock Holmes to step out of the mist hot on the trail of Dr. Moriarity.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted fog along the coast, but the Central Valley got its share, too. The adjacent photo was taken in San Pedro.

Visibility dropped to less than a quarter mile. Drivers in the city can handle the phenomenon, but country driving can be dangerous with these ground hugging clouds. The weather institute predicted more of the same for today.

Fortunately Costa Rica is not like some of the northern countries where fog is accompanied by bone chilling temperatures.
foggy night
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 177

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Opposition going uphill
in effort to beat Chávez


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's political opposition has an 11-year record of futility.  President Hugo Chávez has twice won re-election, survived an opposition-led recall referendum, and secured voter approval of constitutional changes to boost executive power and end term limits.  An opposition boycott of 2005 elections gave the president near-complete control of the national assembly.

During the past decade, no country in the Americas has seen more protests, demonstrations, national strikes, and venting of mass-frustration than Venezuela.  Always eager to march in the streets, the opposition to President Chávez habitually stumbles at the ballot box — something anti-Chavez voters readily acknowledge. 

These comments from two women in a busy Caracas plaza are typical:

"The opposition does not know how to lead, how to speak to the people," a female voter said.

"The problem with the opposition, to put it bluntly, is that they never have had the manhood to defend their ideals," said another voter.

Opposition leaders say they are aware of the shortcomings.  Julio Borges heads "Justice First," one of several parties that will challenge President Chavez for control of the national assembly on Sept. 26.

"The opposition, with all its factions, has spent more time trying to evict Chávez from the presidential palace than fighting for the hearts of the people," Borges said. "That has been our big mistake: portraying the fight for Venezuela as a personalized battle to stop Chávez instead of offering a vision for a better country.  We understand that now."

Caracas-based political analyst Luis Vicente León says the opposition has always underestimated President Chávez and his base of support. 

"Their biggest mistake was believing, year after year, that they spoke for the majority in Venezuela," León said. "They did not acknowledge that Chávez was strong, popular, and had majority backing — that his message was reaching the people.  The opposition wasted time and resources alleging electoral fraud when they should have been engaging people face-to-face in communities across the nation, building a viable political base."

To build that base, the opposition will have to reach out to poorer communities where President Chávez draws his support.  Winning over pro-Chávez voters like Gladys Marcano will be no easy task.

"My family and I survive, thanks to the president," Ms. Marcano said.

The hillside community where Ms. Marcano lives has received significant public works funding since President Chávez came to power.  She sees the opposition as a throwback to past governments that turned a blind eye to the poor.

"If you knocked on doors to present the community's needs, that door was slammed in your face," Ms. Marcano noted.

Wresting control of the national assembly from President Chávez will be a steep challenge for the opposition.  More seats have been apportioned to pro-Chávez regions than areas where the opposition is strong, the president dominates Venezuela's airwaves, and he can deploy the country's vast oil wealth to his political advantage.

But Borges is optimistic.

"In this year's legislative elections, and in the presidential election in 2012, we will show that we have majority backing to take the country in a different direction," Borges said.

It is a promise the opposition has made before.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 177


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U.S. experts are praising
response to trapped miners


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chile's government is sparing neither money nor trouble in supporting the 33 miners trapped by a cave-in Aug. 5.  As part of that effort, they asked the United States' National Aeronautic and Space Administration, or NASA, to send specialists to advise local medical officers on the trauma of prolonged isolation. The NASA team traveled to Chile's Atacama Desert last week and briefed reporters afterwards.

Video released last week shows the miners receiving supplies like food and music — sent down a narrow tube from 700 meters above.

NASA specialists just back from the site say Chile has mounted an outstanding response following the discovery of the 33 miners alive.

"They had done a lot for their own health before they were even found, and they had organized into groups and established a hierarchy among themselves," said Al Holland.

Holland is a NASA psychologist sent to Chile to help.  He and his colleagues urged authorities there to focus not only on the challenge of rescuing the miners, but also on the often complex aftermath.  Michael Duncan is a NASA doctor:

"When they come out of the mines that is just the beginning because they will have to be re-introduced to society and to their families," he said.

"This is an operation probably unprecedented in scope," said James Polk. "Never have people been trapped for so long so deeply."

Polk, another NASA doctor, says Chile has done an excellent job introducing limited amounts of food to the miners.  That, he says, can be tricky business.

"Re-feeding folks that have been starving is not a simple thing," he said. "In fact if done incorrectly it can be life-threatening."

It's recommended that the miners, in fact, not gain much weight so that their extraction through a narrow escape shaft will be simpler.

Family members have set up makeshift camps above the disaster site.

Last week, they waved flags and read aloud the names of their loved ones, marking one month since the mine collapsed on the men.

"Faith has not been lost," said Jose Vega, family member of a trapped miner. "I know we will get him out."

Helping family members hold onto that hope were survivors of a famous 1972 plane crash in the Andes mountains, where survivors ate their dead and were often in despair.  Survivor Ramón Sabella urged families and survivors not to give up.

"It reminded me of when planes would fly over us and we would get close and then they would get farther away and the pain we felt and the frustration," said Sabella.

The miners could face months in isolation as engineers drill an escape shaft in what's expected to be one of the world's most challenging rescue operations.






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