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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 195          Email us
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If pigeons were a cash crop, the central government could balance the budget. The birds that inhabit downtown San José and deface the structures on which they roost have experienced a population explosion. That is in part because
vendors sell bags of corn that well-meaning visitors feed to the pigeons. Periodically the municipality provides corn laced with a chemical to keep the population in line, and that time is approaching

New immigration regs contain little for expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch finally has published regulations to support the immigration law that went into effect March 1, 2010.

The regulations cover the finer points in enforcing the law, and the bulk of the 29,338-word document addresses technicalities. Few of the 365 sections address items of importance to expats.

And those questions dear to the hearts of perpetual tourists remain unanswered. For example, the regulations do not say how long an individual must remain out of Costa Rica before returning and getting a renewed tourist visa. The general belief is that there is no time period for immigration but that the customs or Dirección de Aduana enforces a 72-hour absence for bringing in items that may be exempt from duties.

The regulations showed up in the La Gaceta official newspaper in January as a proposal. The government sought comments then. The regulations published a week ago in the La Gaceta said that the document was signed by President Laura Chinchilla May 23. There was no explanation as to why the publication was delayed.

Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica, who keeps track of immigration matters, pointed out the publication in an email to A.M. Costa Rica. He noted that there is no mention of the various 
immigration categories, such as rentista or pensionado in the regulations. He said he thinks that a lot of detailed information of interest to expats and those seeking residency have been left out of the final draft when compared to the previous one that surfaced in January.

The regulations do address penalties for hiring foreigners who do not have the right to work in Costa Rica. The fine can be as much as 12 times a base salary. A single base salary is about 320,000 colons. Employers are supposed to verify the right that a job applicant has to work in Costa Rica. The Policía de Migración y Extranjería has the right to enter workplaces along with representatives of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to verify that all there are legal and enrolled with the Caja.

The regulations continue to require that hotel owners and others who rent rooms to foreigners keep a registry of who stays, similar to a traditional hotel registry. This, too, is open to police inspection.  This requirement is in the law, but the regulations say in detail the procedures police are supposed to take if they find a renter who is an illegal resident.

This is the first time in years that the immigration law has been supported by regulations. A law passed during the administration of Abel Pacheco was superseded without regulations ever being adopted by this new one passed in late 2009 during the Oscar Arias Sánchez administration.

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Pensionado painter opens
his 10th art exhibit here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Donaldo Voelker, the expat artist from Michigan, has opened his 10th exhibit, this one at the Casa de la Cultura in Heredia.

Voelker had his first art class in Heredia in 2004, he said in an email. He is a pensionado who retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in Detroit. He had a show in June at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery west of Liberia.

He said that his focus is not restricted to Costa Rica or even Central America. The current exhibit, which ends Oct. 15, includes seven oils from a trip he took to Cuenca, Ecuador, in May. He said he would return to South America again next year.

“My artistic influences are listed in my Web page, but my style keeps evolving, Voelker said.   “I am an avid reader of modern European art history.   My biggest artistic debt is to Vincent Van Gogh, but also the other post-impressionists Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne.  With each painting I incorporate more of the influences of the German expressionists, who followed Van Gogh.”

Basílica y féria: Santo Domingo de Heredia
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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 HERE!
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 195

Death of judge after liposuction treatment prompts raids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents raided a plastic surgery clinic in Tibás Friday and then did the same at the home of the woman physician who runs the clinic.

The judicial action was the result of the death of a judge who died after spending time in Hospital Calderón Guardia. The judge, identified as Elizabeth Tosi Vega, had had at least one treatment at the clinic.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the judge
 spent a week in the hospital and that judicial agents are confiscating documents related to her treatment there.

Judicial agents are seeking to determine the nature of the treatment that the judge received at the clinic. The Judicial Investigating Organization did not identify the physician, who lives in Barrio Don Bosco. Other sources said the treatment was liposuction of areas around the face.

The judge is believed to have suffered some form of blockage of arteries in the head after she returned to her Curridabat home from the clinic.

Coronado bootleggers had
a first-class operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The image generated by the words “illegal alcohol still” probably involves a couple of rednecks armed with shotguns sitting around a coil of copper up in the hills. There might even be a coon dog sleeping in the shade.

Not so in Coronado. When judicial agents accidently stumbled on a guaro operation Friday, there was plenty of stainless steel, a bottling assembly line and even a brand name, Apache.

Judicial agents were on the trail of a third juvenile suspect in a murder case. They tracked him to the home in San Rafael de Coronado where they detained him. At the same time they made the surprise discovery. Hundreds of bottles, all labeled with the brand name, were packed and ready for distribution.

Guaro is a cane alcohol called aguardiente in other countries. As with all alcohol, improper preparation can prove fatal to drinkers.

Agents found barrels of the liquid in addition to the small bottles ready for distribution.
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Stainless steel bottling machine ready to go

Trio of quakes all reported to be produced by local faults
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Wednesday afternoon earthquake near San Isidro de El General generated 10 smaller quakes in the 1.5 to 2.5 magnitude range, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The initial quake that took place at 4:25 p.m. was estimated at a magnitude of 4.4, said the observatory.

Most of the repeated quakes after the initial one probably were too weak to be felt by humans. They took place over an hour, said the observatory.
A 4.2 magnitude quake took place 11 kilometers or about 7 miles south of Liberia at 10 a.m. Saturday.

There have been no reports of major damage.

Residents near Higuito de Desamparados south of San José may have felt a 2.5 quake about 10:02 p.m. Thursday. The observatory said this quake, the quake in San Isidro and the one in Liberia all were the result of movement in local faults.  That means they were not generated directly by the collision of tectonic plates beneath the county that is the source of major earthquakes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 195

World's plants use carbon faster than estimates, new study says
By the Scripps Institution of Oceanography news staff

A research team followed the path of oxygen atoms on carbon dioxide molecules during photosynthesis to create a new way of measuring the efficiency of the world's plant life.

A team led by postdoctoral researcher Lisa Welp considered the oxygen atoms contained in the carbon dioxide taken up by plants during photosynthesis. The ratio of two oxygen isotopes in carbon dioxide told researchers how long the CO2 had been in the atmosphere and how fast it had passed through plants.

From this, they estimated that the global rate of photosynthesis is about 25 percent faster than thought. She is with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the Univesrity of California-San Diego.

"It's really hard to measure rates of photosynthesis for forests, let alone the entire globe. For a single leaf it's not so hard, you just put it in an instrument chamber and measure the CO2 decreasing in the chamber air," said Ms. Welp. "But you can't do that for an entire forest. What we have done is to use a naturally occurring marker in atmospheric CO2 that let us track how often it ended up inside a plant leaf, and from that we estimated the mean global rate of photosynthesis over the last few decades."

The authors said the new estimate of the rate of global photosynthesis enabled by their method will in turn help guide other estimates of plant activity such as the capacity of forests and crops to grow. Understanding such variables is becoming increasingly important to scientists and policymakers attempting to understand the potential changes to ecosystems that can be expected from global warming.

"It speaks to the question, how alive is the earth? We answer that it is a little more alive than previously believed," said Ralph Keeling, a study co-author and director of the Scripps CO2 Research Group.

The key to this new approach was establishing a means of linking the changes in oxygen isotopes to El Niño, the global climate phenomenon that is associated with a variety of
unusual weather patterns including low amounts of rainfall in tropical regions of Asia and South America. The naturally occurring forms of oxygen known as 18O and 16O are present in different proportions to each other in water inside leaves during dry periods in the tropics. This signal in leaf waters is passed along to CO2 when CO2 mingles with the water inside leaves. This exchange of oxygen between CO2 and plant water also occurs in regions outside of the tropics that aren't as affected by El Niño and eventually returns this 18O/16O ratio to its norm. Ms. Welp's team used the time it took for this return to normal to infer the speed at which photosynthesis is taking place. They discovered that the ratio returned to normal faster than previously expected.

From this, the team revised the rate of global photosynthesis upward. The rate is expressed in terms of how much carbon is processed by plants in a year. From the previous estimate of 120 petagrams of carbon a year, the team set the annual rate between 150 and 175 petagrams. One petagram equals one trillion kilograms.

Keeling added that part of the value of the study is its validation of the importance of long-term measurement series and of making multiple independent measurements of the same phenomena. The researchers conducted isotope analyses of air that has been collected by the Scripps CO2 group at several locations around the world since 1977. It was only after decades of measurements that the researchers saw that the several bumps in the isotope record matched the timing of El Niño events. They compared their data to samples collected by Australia's Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization. The redundancy was needed to make sure the data from Scripps' own samples weren't the result of measurement errors, said Keeling.

"Supporting long-term measurements is not easy through the normal funding mechanisms, which expect to see results on time scales of typically four years or less," said Keeling. "Few science agencies are happy to commit to measuring variables over longer periods but the value of tracking changes in the atmosphere doesn't stop after four years. Decades of measurements were required to unravel the features highlighted in this paper."

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 195

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

President undergoes
gallbladder surgery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla went home Saturday after being hospitalized Friday at Hospital Metropolitano in San José.

Surgeons there removed her gall bladder, said Casa Presidencial. An earlier ultrasound exam located gallstones, and physicians decided to remove the entire organ via a laparoscopy procedure, said a news release.

Ms. Chinchilla left the hospital by a side door to avoid reporters Sunday.

Latest hurricane is heading
north to Newfoundland

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

U.S. forecasters have downgraded Hurricane Ophelia to a Category 2 hurricane as it continues moving northward towards Newfoundland.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a bulletin Sunday that Ophelia's winds have decreased to 175 kph (about 110 mph) and it is traveling north-northeast towards Cape Race, Newfoundland in Canada.

The eye is expected to pass near or over the Avalon Peninsula early Monday at near-hurricane strength.

The Canadian Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm watch beginning Sunday evening. Forecasters warn that large swells created by Ophelia will impact the South Coast of Newfoundland, with the largest waves arriving near noon (local time) Monday.

Greek government plans
to eliminate 30,000 jobs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Greek Cabinet has approved a draft 2012 budget that includes a provision to eliminate 30,000 government jobs by the end of next year.

Officials have not released details of the plan, including who would be laid off. The entire budget package will be sent to parliament on Monday.

Also Sunday, the Finance Ministry said the Greek budget deficit will hit 8.5 percent of gross domestic product this year — missing the European Union and International Monetary Fund's target of 7.6 percent. The ministry projects a 6.8 percent deficit for 2012, still short of the 6.5 percent target. It blames the missed targets on a deeper than expected recession.

Greece is struggling to prove to its lenders that it is cutting spending and raising revenue so that it can secure a $10 billion installment from last year's bailout. Greece says it will default on its loans if it does not get the money.

A Greek default could have devastating consequences for the European Union and U.S. economies.

U.S. legislation seeking
to punish China on currency

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

America’s extensive yet friction-laden economic relationship with China will be the focus of debate in the U.S. Senate this week, as it considers a bill to penalize Beijing for allegedly manipulating China’s currency, the yuan, to benefit domestic exports and disadvantage foreign imports.

U.S. officials have long complained that China intentionally maintains an undervalued yuan as part of an aggressive — some might say predatory — export promotion strategy.

“China’s exchange rate policy is unfair, and hurts the interests of American producers,” said Timothy Geithner, U.S. Treasury secretary.

A bill garnering bipartisan support in the Senate would treat currency manipulation as a foreign subsidy, triggering U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

“China illegally subsidizes their industries," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, who is a sponsor of the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act. "They underpay their workers. They skirt environmental regulations, and ignore the tenets of global trade rule after trade rule after trade rule. They get away with economic murder.”

Schumer says China’s currency practices have cost the United States more than two million jobs over the last decade.

Also backing the bill is Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican of Alabama, who says it is time for the United States to defend its interests.

“During these tough economic times, we ought not to allow any of our trading partners to rig the game in their favor," he said. "It is the job of American officials to defend the just and fundamental interests of the American workforce.”

Some U.S. industries squeezed by Chinese competition have welcomed the bill. But 50 trade groups representing many of America’s most vibrant export industries have written a letter to Senate leaders arguing the legislation would invite Chinese retaliation and should be rejected.

The Obama administration says China’s currency remains undervalued, but has not endorsed the Senate bill. Chinese officials argue against politicizing trade issues, and point out that, in fact, the yuan has gradually appreciated in value since 2005.

That slow appreciation does not appear to satisfy U.S. lawmakers. With the 2012 general election looming, some legislators seem eager for a fight that will allow them to point fingers and assign blame for America’s economic woes.

Should the bill pass in the Democratic-led Senate, its enactment is far from certain. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has not indicated it will take up the legislation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 195

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Drinking coffee associated
with lower depression risk

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Women who drink coffee may have a lower risk of depression, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Several recent studies have looked at a possible link between coffee and suicide, and found that coffee drinkers were less likely to kill themselves.

Depression can contribute to suicide, so a logical question might be, does coffee lower the risk of depression?

In this new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers used data from an ongoing project called the "Nurses' Health Study." Women in the study periodically answer questionnaires about their health and lifestyle.

Some 50,000 nurses who reported their coffee consumption and depression status were included in this study.

Researchers found that women who drank more coffee were less likely to be diagnosed with depression. However, the association is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship.

"This study can not prove that caffeine reduces the risk of depression," says Michel Lucas, of the Harvard School of Public Health, "but only suggests the possibility of such protective effect."

The lower risk of depression was not observed in people who drink decaffeinated coffee. Also, nurses in the study who reported drinking tea and other beverages with caffeine didn't show a significant change in their risk of depression, possibly because of the much lower levels of caffeine in those drinks.

Lucas says the study cannot answer whether coffee possibly helps protect against depression, but he says caffeine does have biochemical effects that might explain why coffee-drinkers – or, more accurately, caffeine-users – are less likely to be depressed.

"We cannot assume causality in this study. It suggests some possibilities. As we know, caffeine is a well-known psycho-stimulant, which increases also a sensation of well-being and energy."

Lucas says caffeine is also associated with regulation of dopamine and serotonin, chemical neurotransmitters linked to mood and depression.

Future research may prove whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between coffee-drinking and a lower risk of depression. But for now, Lucas says, "If you're worrying about your drinking cups of coffee, then I think this study is a little bit reassuring for people that like coffee."

Michel Lucas of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues published their study on the link between coffee consumption and depression in the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine.

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