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(506) 223-1327             Published Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 190           E-mail us   
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Parking rates are a real jungle, ministry finds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who drives in urban areas knows what the economics ministry reported Monday: parking prices differ wildly.

The ministry did another of its consumer studies of 38 parking lots this month and reported that nearly 90 percent of the locations did not comply with the law to provide consumers complete information on pricing and services.

The ministry also said it found differences in charges of up to 450 percent and a difference of 247 percent on monthly prices.

The survey took place in Alajuela, Cartago, San José and Heredia. The ministry made no adjustments for the factor that influences parking prices the most: the value of the land. However, much of the study concentrates on how the pricing is administered.

In the study of the price a motorist would pay for a fraction of an hour after the original first hour, the ministry reported that the charge for a mere nine additional minutes can run from 100 colons (about 20 U.S. cents) to 550 colons, more than $1. That is because some lots charge for an additional hour even when just a few minutes have been consumed
The Ministerio de Economía Industria y 
Comercio conducts consumer studies every month, and the surveys usually point out large discrepancies in prices.

The basic hourly price in a parking lot can be as low as 300 colons (58 cents) or as high as 650 colons ($1.25). The daily rates ranged from 1,600 ($3.08) to 5,000 colons ($9.62). The monthly rates ranged from 15,000 ($28.85) to 52,000 colons ($100), the survey report said.

Costa Rica has a consumer protection law that specifies what information should be provided by businesses. But the ministry reported that only 10.5 percent or just four parking establishments provided ample information.

One lot provided no information at all. Some 33 lots had partial information, said the survey. The most frequent error, the ministry said, was stating the hourly price but not the charge for fractions of the hour. Other lots did not provide price information for all-day or all-month parking or for related services, like car washing and waxing, said the report.

The lots that did not conform to the law have a month to post the appropriate information or they will be reported to the Comisión Nacional del Consumidor, said the ministry.



Costa Rica joins with rainforest coalition at U.N.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Meeting at the United Nations, a group of countries, including Costa Rica, which share about half of the world's tropical rainforests Monday urged measures to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The leaders from Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Peru were attending the high-level meeting on climate change convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and adopted a joint statement on their shared concerns.

More on U.N. meeting
HERE!

They resolved "to enhance cooperation among countries blessed with a wealth of tropical rainforests."

The countries pledged to promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development and eradication of poverty while intensifying collective efforts for the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.

The statement emphasized the "primary responsibility of industrialized nations for the
current atmospheric interference leading to global warming."

Forests "play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance as sinks, sources and reservoirs of greenhouse gases," the coalition of countries pointed out.

"We are committed to cooperating among our nations to slow, stop and reverse the loss of forest cover and to promote the rehabilitation of degraded forest lands, forest management and conservation."

They called for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and "for protected areas to be given special consideration by the international community."

Looking ahead to the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding pact for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the countries pledged to ensure that forest issues are addressed at planned talks in Bali, Indonesia aimed at producing a successor agreement.

"Fully cognizant of the value of intensified and sustained dialogue and cooperation, we commit ourselves to strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation among the tropical rainforest countries and invite other tropical rainforest countries to actively participate in this cooperative endeavour," the statement said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 190

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More than 600 valley homes
damaged or destroyed by rain


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's emergency commission said that 556 homes were damaged by rain and flooding in the Central Valley last week, and some 66 were destroyed. Destruction happened in Aserrí, Desamparados and Alajuelita, said the commission.

Desamparados was cited as the canton with the most damage. The Río Cañas caused heavy damage and destruction in the community of Maiguetía, and many residents there were left homeless. Some 55 homes were destroyed there, according to an inventory by the commission released Monday.

Employees of the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias flew over a landslide of some two hectares, more than five acres, in Las Vegas de Laurel de Corredores in southern Costa Rica Monday. The slide is threatening seven homes and has backed up the Río Vaca into a potentially dangerous pool.

The emergency commission will continue to monitor the area and residents have been supplied radios to do so. The commission said that an immediate rupture of the natural dam is not likely.

In Guanacaste, the commission opened shelters in the gimnasio de Cañas, and at two locations in Filadelfia. In Santa Cruz three shelters were in use. The total number of refugees from flooding were more than 500.

Second author of memo
drops legislative jobs


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The famous memo claimed its second author Monday. Fernando Sánchez resigned as president of two legislative committees but stopped short of quitting the legislature.

He was the lawmaker who authored a campaign memo with Kevin Casas, the nation's second vice president until he resigned Saturday.

Free trade treaty opponents got ahold of the memo and exploited its call for a more aggressive campaign strategy. The two men suggested using fear appeals that said Costa Rica would lose jobs if the free trade treaty with the United States were not adopted in a referendum Oct. 7. They also suggested leaning on members of their own Partido Liberación Nacional who were municipal mayors in an effort to get out the favorable vote.

Sánchez has headed the commissions on reform of banks and election reforms.

When news of the memo came out, free trade supporters reacted timidly. No one came to support the two men, although President Óscar Arias Sánchez said that none of the ideas in the memo were incorporated in the campaign.

However, the field was left mostly to the opponents of the treaty who made it seem that the two men were suggesting something out of the ordinary in politics.

Prosecutor seeks 51-year terms
in Parmenio Medina murder


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial in the 2001 murder of a famous radio commentator has reached the stage where the prosecutor asked trial judges to impose penalties.

This is the case where a Roman Catholic priest and a businessman are being blamed for the drive-by execution of Parmenio Medina Pérez in Heredia. Medina was the radio commentator who targeted Radio María, a Catholic station run by Minor Calvo Aguilar, the priest, and Omar Chaves Mora, the businessman.

Giselle Rivera, the prosecutor, asked for 51-year sentences for both men Monday. She also accuses the men of taking money for their own use from Radio María and conspiracy.

No one says that the two men actually did the shooting. There are seven other persons on trial, including one for whom an acquittal has been asked by the prosecutor.

The other men are accused of either killing the radio commentator or being lookouts or serving as intermediaries between Calvo and Chaves and the killers. The prosecutor sought 20- or 30-year terms for the other men.

The trial has been going on since December 2005, and although penalties have been requested, the defense still has presentations to make. No one expects the trial to end for at least two more months.

Our reader's opinion
How about a complaint
against these lawmakers?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Am I dreaming? Ottón Solís PAC party leader of the anti TLC has invited two U.S. lawmakers Bernard Sanders of Vermont (a real team player — the only independent in the U.S. Senate) and Michael Michaud of Maine down to speak against TLC. 

Excuse me. Is this the same PAC that filed a formal complaint against our ambassador, the official representative of the U.S. government, for giving an informational talk on a treaty already voted on and passed by the executive branch of both countries. 

I hope there is some Tico with balls enough to file a formal complaint with the Election Tribunal against the two New England legislators for violating Costa Rican Law with their mindless meddling in the election here.  Also a formal complaint should be filed against Solís too. 

As an American investor here who is sick and tired of paying outrageous taxes on imports and dealing with the featherbedding ICE and INS workers and bureaucrats who are only interested in protecting themselves, the average people in this country should have a chance to buy consumer goods at a fair price and experience the thrill of good service from a phone company, insurance company or power company. 

Change will come, like it or not sooner or later.  It is ironic that most of the anti-TLC graffiti in the countryside is spray painted on rocks — because if it fails Costa Rica will remain in the stone ages.   The Cuban and Venezuelan press has been the first to spread the word of our Yankee lawmakers down here doing stupid things.  Please someone come forward and make a formal complaint about this. 
Dan Wise
Barra del Colorado

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 190

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This guy decided to branch out on a Sunday afternoon
By the A.M. Costa Rica editor

Sunday is usually a slow day around the A.M. Costa Rica homestead and office.

Slippers and shorts are the uniform of the day. And a midday siesta is always a good idea.

In the midsts of the siesta Sunday there was a tapping, a gentle rapping. Birds practicing karate, we wondered. Perhaps another snake in the attic chasing a squirrel.

A quick and quiet survey of the property showed only one unusual feature. In the steel portón along the north wall outside the kitchen there was an old tree branch sticking up from the vacant lot. And it was moving among the 10-foot high grasses.

Having just seen "Macbeth" the portend on the portón was a bit disconcerting. Walking trees? Periodically the tree branch would insert itself between the bars.

Trees do not usually behave like that, so from our hiding spot we finally saw the top half of a man's face.  A dirty face. The man was working at the portón and trying to bend the bars so that he could enter.

The problem was that he was short and the wall was tall, so he needed to jump up frequently to make sure the coast was clear. Finally he actually bent one of the bars. A couple of more bends and there would be an opening big enough to admit our thief.
kilroy

We had hoped to provide a photo. But he did look a lot like Kilroy above peering over the concrete wall. When he saw the camera, he exited abruptly through the high weeds and past the police station.

We thought about calling the police. But there was not a lot of evidence. We think this is the same guy who burglarized an adjacent apartment. He seems to like to work on Sunday afternoons.

Later we considered that we should have let the man enter. But not leave. Yet who knows what he might be packing. And the court system being what it is, we might be held for abduction.

Every expat has his favorite thief stories. This is one of ours — from Fort Apache on the north side of San José.

— Jay Brodell



Caribbean Basin Initiative is barrier to trade treaty approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One reason Costa Ricans are not rushing to sign on to the free trade treaty with the United States is the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

This trade preference came from a 1983 law and a law passed in the United States in 2000. The measure covers 24 countries, including Costa Rica and gives them duty-free access to the United States market.

Analysis of the news

The United States asked little in return from the countries, unlike in the Central American Free Trade agreement in which the preferences are expanded, but U.S. goods are supposed to enter signatory nations also duty free.

Some critics of the initiative say it was a Cold War anti-Communist measure. They also claim it was special legislation for the U.S. textile producers who wanted to move offshore.

So when Costa Ricans say they have little to gain from the free trade treaty, they are correct. At least in the short term.

And a visiting senator from Vermont and a visiting congressman from Maine claimed Sunday that the United States probably would not pull the plug on the Initiative even if Costa Ricans reject the free trade treaty.

Their optimism is not shared by President Óscar Arias Sánchez.  He told an audience over the weekend that melon growers would face a 40 percent U.S. tariff if the initiative expired.

Arias also said that Intel rejected Costa Rica in 2005 as the site for a new plant because the country had not approved the free trade treaty. Arias said that he met personally with
the top executives of the corporation, and they finally contracted for the new plant with Vietnam.

Originally the initiative was designed for preferred nations to export raw materials like petroleum products, sugar cane, coffee, cocoa, bananas, and aluminum ores and concentrates, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today the list of products has expanded broadly to cover things like textiles, ornamental horticulture and medical and surgical supplies.

Like all trade agreements, the initiative is complex. The
Caribbean countries benefit because they can export liqueurs and wood products without a tariff but subject to a multiple of footnotes. The countries also can bid on providing goods and services to the U.S. federal government. A long-standing "Buy America" provision has been waived.

The United States considered the Initiative as a warmup for a free trade treaty, and the initiative expires when a country enters into a trade treaty with the United States.

The visiting lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine said the agreement could not be breached without congressional action. But the initiative contains a lot of wiggle room that would allow the United States to diminish the benefits for Costa Rica or any other country administratively.

Trade treaty supporters have said that a treaty is more solid than the initiative, but the treaty contains substantial benefits for the United States that Costa Rican voters might not be willing to permit when they vote Oct. 7.

From the U.S. point of view, it is hard to see why that nation would continue preferential treatment for Costa Rican products if there were no trade treaty. Countries like the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua provide many of the same products that Costa Rica exports and they have approved the treaty.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 190


U.N. global warming summit called a powerful signal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An unprecedented summit on climate change has ended at the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the event has sent a powerful political signal to the world that there is the will and the determination at the highest level to act decisively on global warming.

The secretary-general said he heard a clear call from world leaders for a breakthrough on climate change. He added that he now believes there is the political commitment to achieving that at an upcoming conference in Bali later this year.

More than 150 nations and 80 heads of state and governments came together at Monday's summit, making it the highest-level meeting on climate change the United Nations has ever hosted.

Ban called on industrialized countries to take the lead in halting global warming.

"Undoubtedly, there is a need for much deeper emission reductions by industrialized countries, which must continue to take the lead in this respect," said Ban. "It was encouraging to hear many of the leaders from the industrialized countries themselves expressing their willingness to do so."

Mr. Ban said international cooperation needs to increase to assist developing countries with increasing energy needs to move in the direction of renewable energy and cleaner fossil fuel technologies.

Throughout the day world leaders, ministers and other figures addressed the issue of global warming.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore told a luncheon
gathering that the world is facing what he called a "planetary emergency." Citing rising sea levels, he warned that global warming could create a new class of refugee.

"Even a one-meter rise would lead to 100 million climate refugees in our world," said  Gore. "A six-meter rise would lead to 450 million climate refugees in our world."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, told reporters the world needs to make difficult decisions now, before it is too late and the atmosphere becomes too warm.

"It is our duty to take decisions straight away, because otherwise it is going to be too late," said Sarkozy. "And let me spell that out for you, 'too late' means one thing — it means an additional two degrees centigrade. And an additional two degrees centigrade means we have reached the point of no return."

Ban organized the summit on the sidelines of the 62nd General Assembly to build political momentum ahead of a U.N.-sponsored climate change conference in Bali in December. That meeting aims to launch negotiations for an emissions -reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration says a study shows that the world's temperature is reaching a level that has not been seen in thousands of years.
The study used temperatures around the world taken during the last century. Scientists concluded that the earth has been warming at the rate of approximately .36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2° Celsius) per decade for the past 30 years.

All is not negative. The Panama News has reported that a project to widen the canal there might be jeopardized by the opening of the northwest passage that can be navigated now because the polar ice cap has receded.


Iranian president off to see Latin leaders after New York talk
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected in South America later this week following his visit to the United Nations.

The Iranian leader is scheduled to travel to Bolivia to meet with President Evo Morales and sign agreements on energy and industrial aid as the two leaders strengthen ties.

Ahmadinejad also is scheduled to meet with President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

Two months ago, Chávez visited Iran and pledged to unite the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf. Chávez and Ahmadinejad also launched the construction of a joint petrochemical plant on Iran's Gulf coast.

Ahmadinejad praised what he called brotherly ties between Iran and Venezuela.  Chávez said cooperation between countries like Iran and Venezuela can have an effective role in defeating imperialist policies — an apparent reference to the United States. Ahmadinejad and Chávez are fierce critics of the United States. Ahmadinejad visited Venezuela earlier this year as part of a Latin America tour that took him to Nicaragua and Ecuador as well.

President Chavez has said Iran has the right to a peaceful atomic energy industry because it is a sovereign state. The United States and other Western nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran's president insists his country has the right to develop a nuclear program, which he says is for peaceful purposes.

Iran's president got a frosty reception during a rare public appearance at an American university Monday.

Protesters were kept well away from Ahmadinejad during his visit to Columbia University in New York. But there was one protester he could not avoid: the university's president, Lee Bollinger.

In blistering opening remarks, the university leader, who had been criticized for inviting President Ahmadinejad to 
speak, lashed out at the Iranian president for his
 government's record on human rights, support of terrorism, denial of the Holocaust, and the threat to eliminate Israel.

"We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by our values, and we won't be shy about criticizing yours. Let's then be clear at the beginning: Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," Bollinger said.

Ahmadinejad seemed taken aback by the harsh words from Bollinger. "Many parts of his speech, there were many insults and claims that were incorrect, regretfully. Of course, I think that he was affected by the press, the media, and the political, sort of, mainstream line that you read here that goes against the very grain of the need for peace and stability in the world around us," he said.

In an address similar to an earlier one he gave by teleconference to the National Press Club, President Ahmadinejad focused first on religion. He then accused Western powers of misusing science to political ends.

"They deceive people by using scientific methods and tools. They, in fact, wish to justify their own wrongdoings, though. By creating nonexistent enemies, for example, and an insecure atmosphere, they try to control all in the name of combating insecurity and terrorism," he said.

Bollinger labeled the Iranian leader "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated" for denying the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

During a lengthy question and answer session after the address, the Iranian president said he was not outright denying the Holocaust but was only calling for more research on it. But he was evasive when asked if he favors Israel's destruction.

The Iranian leader was asked about the alleged executions of homosexuals in Iran. He sparked laughter from the audience when he denied they exist in his country. "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it," he said.



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