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(506) 2223-1327          Published Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 197          Email us
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A modest proposal to balance the nation's budget
By the A.M. Costa Rica humor staff

The country is missing a good bet that would balance the budget and provide many social benefits.

In keeping with the tradition of $600 automatic traffic fines, the central government just has to institute a program of fines for crimes.

A prison director gave a hint of what was possible. She was detained Tuesday on the allegations that she was providing conditional liberty to a prisoner in exchange for money. The story is HERE!

The state should do the same thing instead of instituting burdensome taxes. After all, you get less of what you tax, so by taxing or fining armed robbers instead of prosperous businesses, there would be fewer crooks.

The courts are releasing most of these scofflaws anyway, so why not hit them with a big fine. If speeding generates a $600 fine, armed robbery should be worth at least $1,500. And property fraud, maybe $5,000.

Perhaps people would say that crooks have no money which is why they rob and steal. They would just have to sell their BMW with the tinted glass, their motorcycle or other sports car to cover the fine. Maybe even their Smith & Wesson.

Meanwhile, Banco Popular is instituting a program for repeat traffic offenders. The bank will advance the motorist the money to pay the fine and then take payments covering principal and interest. After all, some motorists have six or eight speeding fines generated by the radar controlled cameras on the principal highway.

The same with crooks. Suppose some bandit runs up four armed robbery fines of $1,500 each. That's $6,000, and Banco Popular, true to the banking tradition, is much more aggressive 
Armed robbery

at getting loans repaid than the Poder Judicial is
in jailing bad guys. Prosecutors released a series of photos Tuesday of convicted criminals they sort of lost track of: rapists, fraudsters and all sorts of bad guys. The crooks were convicted but they vanished while waiting for a higher court to hear their appeal.

Banco Popular would not lose people like that.

And if the bandit is hit with multiple fines, he might have to get a real job instead of mugging people around Parque la Sabana. 

Hence fewer crooks on the prowl.

Cops would like the idea, too. No more bloody shootouts with bandits. They could whip out their ticket book instead of a gun.

The highway traffic cameras are awarding hundreds of speeding fines a day. If the fines for crime program is a success, that hidden camera in the supermarkets and gasoline stations could be converted to produce instant fines for bandits.

At the current rate, President Laura Chinchilla would have the country's budget in the black in no time under the slogan “If you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime!”

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Outbreak of illness blamed
on municipal unconcern

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Comité Bandera Azul Ecológica de San Miguel, an environmental organization, is blaming the outbreak of illnesses in a section of Heredia on the lack of action by municipal officials.

Marchers including members of the committee confronted a backhoe operator a month ago near the Río Agra. They said they were surprised Sunday to find a backhoe digging in a wetland near the river.

The Río Agra is the boundary between the cantons of Moravia and Coronado, and a consortium of private groups there have been protesting development work.

Thousands of residents of San Miguel de Santo Domingo de Heredia have been sickened by impure water from the tap. Local schools have been closed and residents marched Tuesday. Municipal officials said that chlorine was left out of the water for two days.

During the rainy season there is a good chance of ground water infiltration into water sources, and the committee blames construction for increasing the run off and also blames the use of agricultural chemicals.

Committee spokesman Nicolas Boeglin said the group presented the concerns in a letter to municipal officials more than a month ago but received no response. They said in the letter in August that the water had a chocolate color.

In addition to possible illnesses from water, the country is experiencing the annual epidemic of stomach flu during the rainy months. Symptoms are similar. Stomach ache, headache and diarrhea.

Three held in brutal death
of director of school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents have detained three persons and are seeking one more in the brutal murder of a school director over the weekend.

The dead man, Kenneth Paniagua Soto, 40, was found in a river with signs of a beating and with fatal bullet wounds. He appeared to have been tortured, said police at the time. His job was equivalent to a principal.

Among the three persons detained Tuesday was a 17 year old.

Arrests were made in La Rita de Pococí and at a coffee operation in Santa Bárbara de Heredia.

Agents have not said if the man died because he expelled a student who was selling drugs at the school. They did say that the victim was invited to a party where he was confronted, beaten and killed. The killers took his vehicle and tried to sell it.

Paniagua had told parents of the children in the school at Línea Vieja en Guácimo that he had been receiving death threats.

Soccer fans who faced off
with police get restrictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial reports that 22 persons have been placed under restriction after a confrontation between soccer fans and police Sunday in Limón. The bulk of the fans are supporters of the Saprissa professional team.

The court said that the 22 have been ordered to face an action for causing damage. The individuals have to sign in once a month, maintain a fixed home and not attend soccer games. Some 20 were ordered not to carry guns. Two of the individuals have gun permits, said the Poder Judicial.

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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, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 197

Scientists say that earthquake may have awakened volcano
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volcano scientists used a video made by a guide to estimate that the Volcán Ricón de la Vieja produced a column of vapor from 750 to 900 meters high Sept.16. That's from 2,460 to 2,952 feet.

The estimate came from geologists at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad who work with the Red Sismológico Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The geologists, Waldo Taylor Castillo and Gerardo J. Soto, said in a report made available by the Red that an earthquake in July just 10 kilometers or about six miles from the volcano may have triggered the recent activity. They said that the infamous Limón earthquake in 1991 was believed to have triggered eruptions at the same volcano that year and the next.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional in Heredia released its report on the volcano late last week. That report noted that material ejected from the crater polluted streams and rivers and led to the death of many fish.

The volcano is right on the continental divide in northern Costa Rica not far northeast of Liberia.

The geologists said that activity began Aug. 15 when turbulence and bubbles were noted in the lake that fills the crater. That activity was also noted by guides.

The first eruption appears to have taken place Sept. 10. On Sept. 16 another geologist had visited the crater and heard an eruption a few hours later.

That event put material from the crater outside on the volcano slope.

The next day observers were able to see that the material eventually reached two nearby rivers and caused the death of fish.

Rincon de la Vieja
Red Sismológico Nacional graphic
Geologists estimate that this is what the vapor cloud looked like Sept. 16.

Eruptions continued through Sept. 28, a day when the geologists said there was four times the previous activity.

Their estimates of the future are uncertain. They said they had to analyze their date of the activity in the mountain. But they thought that the activity would continue for at least several weeks more.

The national park in which the volcano is located is restricted now, and the local guides are not climbing to the top to show tourists the crater, the geologists said.

They said the video that gave them an idea of the height of the cloud was made by Walter Granada, a local guide.

Prison director accused of taking money to help inmates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained the director of the Centro de Atención Institucional in Pérez Zeledón, one of the nation's prisons, and said she was accepting money for favors, including awarding conditional freedom.

The 46-year-old woman was identified by the last names of Valverde Granados by the Ministerio Público. She was transported from the prison to San José Tuesday.

There were a total of six raids relating to the case or related ones. One was at the woman's home, and another was at the prison. However, others took place at prisons in Cartago, San José and Alajuela, suggesting that the arrest Tuesday is just the initial one. The administrator of the Pérez Zeledón prison also was questioned Tuesday but not detained.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the woman is suspected of taking money in exchange for
bettering the situation of prisoners. As an example, the judicial agency said that a prisoner may be moved from a place of heavy security to a location where there were open spaces and the opportunity to work in gardens. There also is the program of semi-institutional where prisoners do not have to spend all of their nights in their cells but could return home.

A man convicted of murder was on such a program when he robbed a bar and was gunned down by police last month. It is not known if he was related to this case.

The arrest Tuesday represents another investigation in the wake of a May 11 breakout attempt at the La Reforma maximum security wing in Alajuela.

The woman is facing an allegation of concusión, which means accepting money or a benefit and abusing the status as a public employee in order to provide a benefit to a third party, said the Ministerio Público.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 197

Executive branch setting up committee to study Caja proposals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government is responding to a critical evaluation of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social by setting up another committee and setting up a  team of experts to make changes in the agency.

The Caja runs the nation's public heath system, including hospitals and clinics.

A special commission of four persons made public some 81 recommendations Monday. If they can be reduced to just one imperative it is to run the Caja like a business. The suggestion is to get professionals to run the sprawling network both at its center and at the many hospitals. The report did not say so exactly but it implied that professional administrators be hired to run the hospitals. Now the bulk of hospital directors are physicians who came up through the ranks.

The report on the Caja was the topic when the president's cabinet met Tuesday. A summary of the meeting said that a team made up of persons from four ministries would be formed along with Caja representatives to evaluate the recommendations and see to their execution.

The cabinet, the Consejo de Gobierno, set Oct. 12 as the day when a timetable is presented along with an outline of actions to take and resources needed. If new legislation is needed, the executive branch will present it when it controls the agenda of the Asamblea Legislativa, it said.

The cabinet also is seeking a monthly report from the executive president of the Caja about advances in the process. In addition, the cabinet wants a detailed report on the first Tuesday of each month of the team of experts set up to make changes and also a report from the executive president so that the cabinet can monitor the progress.

The 58-page report on the Caja said that as of June 2010 1,075,528 salaried workers were enrolled as subscribers. There
were 138,767 independent workers enrolled and 120,645 who chose to enroll voluntarily. There were 77,588 persons enrolled through various separate agreements and 24,401 who were enrolled but their relationship was unknown.

The report points out that problems with the Caja started to become obvious in 2009 when payments to service and material providers slowed down. In March, the Caja board of directors sought help from the Panamerican Health Organization, which presented a summary of what was called the true situation of the institution in July.

That same month the board of directors asked the two economists, a sociologist and a businessman to form a commission to analyze the Panamerican Health Organization report and to make recommendations in the short-, medium- and long-term. That was the report delivered Monday.

The basic finding of the Panamerican Health Organization was that in the last few years the expenses of the Caja increased much more rapidly than income. The Caja was estimated to post a 118 billion colons deficit in 2012 if no action was taken, according to the report. That is about $230 million.

Part of the income problem was blamed on lower social security payments by employers due to the economic slowdown. The central government also has been slow to pay its share and there were problems in collection, said the report Monday.

According to the report, employers were expected to pay 1.1 trillion colons or about $2.2 billion in social security charges. This amount includes money deducted from employee salaries.
The report by the four individuals did not recommend increasing the percentage of salary that employers had to remit to the Caja. But it is possible that the central government will take steps to do that.

The Caja has become more important to expats living in Costa Rica since immigration rules forced them to affiliate to preserve their residency status.

Arrest made in murder of 13-year-old  daughter of police official
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents have made an arrest in the murder of a 13-year-old girl in the northern zone, but a judge has ordered just a month's preventative detention because evidence still is being accumulated.

Agents arrested the suspect, identified by the last names of  Colomer Galeano, at his home in El Carmen Dos de Upala. He was an immediate suspect because witnesses said they saw him near the girl about 5 p.m. Saturday. That was about the time
the girl vanished. She had been on a household errand.

The girl, was identified by the last names of Araya Aguirre. She was the daughter of the deputy police chief in the area.

The Poder Judicial said that evidence still is being sought from the suspect and from tests that were done at the morgue. A funeral for the girl was held Tuesday night in Upala.

In the event that there is more evidence, a judge can lengthen the preventative detention term.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 197

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Another whale hunt by Japan
draws heavy criticism

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New Zealand has condemned Japan's decision to resume its annual Antarctic whale hunt in December.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Wednesday that Japan is isolating itself from the international community by its decision to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean. He said Japan also shows a lack of respect for the concerns expressed by the people of Australia and New Zealand.

Japan is gearing up for this year's Antarctic whale hunt with a sharp eye on anti-whaling activists who forced an early end to last year's hunt.

Michihiko Kano, the agriculture, fisheries and forestry minister, announced Tuesday the government is planning new measures to protect the whale hunters, such as dispatching a Coast Guard patrol boat to accompany the whaling fleet.

Last year, the fleet was forced to cut short its hunting expedition because of repeated interference from boats belonging to the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The activists hurled paint and stink bombs at the ships, and snarled their propellers with floating objects.

Sea Shepherd is led by Paul Watson, an outspoken conservationist who sometimes intimidates shark finners in the Pacific near Costa Rica.

New Zealand's foreign minister called on all parties to act responsibly and avoid actions that may endanger lives or the Arctic environment.

Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, but Japan has continued the practice under an exception that allows for whales to be killed for research purposes.

Tokyo says the research is necessary to determine the size of the world's whale population, but critics say it is using research as a cover for commercial whaling. They note that the whale meat is usually sold in stores and at restaurants.

Whale meat was served as a valuable source of protein in Japan in the years after World War II, but demand for it has declined over the decades.

Wall Street protesters seem
to have triggered copycats

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Protesters against what they call corporate greed are camping out near Wall Street in New York City. After two weeks and despite hundreds of arrests, the protesters say they have no plans to move.

Protesters have been gathering in New York’s financial district for over two weeks now.

Many sleep in the square near Wall Street that they have occupied. Free pizzas and ham sandwiches are served up from a make-shift kitchen. There’s even a medical tent.

On some days there are hundreds of protesters. But they say they represent 99 percent of Americans who are suffering in the current economy, while the other 1 percent prospers.

Patricia Walsh is a former nurse in the Vietnam War. She says that she joined the movement because she’s appalled at the number of children that go hungry every day in America.

She says part of the problem is taxes. “I’m not against every big multi-millionaire and multi-billionaire but they need to realize we are the people who made them their money. It was made off the backs of the working people. And they are sitting in their ivory towers finding ways, tax loopholes, so they don't have to pay any taxes, it’s just outrageous," she said.

A group calling itself the movement’s General Assembly has published a declaration that lists a range of grievances they want addressed. It ranges from the torture of animals to poor working conditions and high university fees.

The protesters in the square voiced a range of concerns.

Organizer Jason Ahmadi says the movement’s demands are still in the making. "The interesting thing about this movement is that it is a movement, it is horizontal.  Everyone is coming for a different reason and we are coming together but we are constantly growing so it’s difficult to make a demand for the 99 percent," he said.

As yet there are no exact aims.  But that isn’t stopping the movement’s growth.  Media attention around the movement is growing and a number of trade unions have come out in support, including those representing transit workers and teachers.

Protester Iggy Videgain said “I think people are willing to put their heads out. It’s picking up steam in terms of the unions. I’ve seen pilots. I’ve seen reps from all different labor unions, so that’s a plus, that’s a big thing.”

The movement also appears to be emerging in other parts of the country.

Organizer Ahmadi said “Since its first inception it’s been really growing. Occupy Los Angeles just happened the other night with 350 people, in San Francisco, in Boston, in Chicago. A lot of us are inspired by things happening in North Africa, in Spain, in Greece, London. This is something that we see as a global movement that’s starting.”

Ahmadi says he’s in for the long haul. And he’s not the only one. But other protesters said they didn’t know what would happen when New York’s weather turns cold for the winter.

México praised for plan
to buy endangered land

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations welcomed Mexico City’s new preventive measures to protect its population from earthquakes by ensuring that property at high risk of damage is expropriated by the government and its occupants provided with safe alternate housing.

The new law was passed last week by the city’s municipal government, coinciding with the 26th anniversary of the September 1985 earthquake, which took 9,500 lives and affected an estimated 2.1 million residents of the country’s capital.

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. international strategy for disaster reduction chief, praised the initiative and called on other local governments to follow its example.

“The last global platform held in Geneva in May of this year called for increased investment in local action, and it was all about promoting such initiatives and creating the space for local governments to take these necessary actions. Examples such as this one from Mexico City are exactly what we need from local governments to demonstrate disaster risk reduction tangibly at work and that it does work best at the local level,” she said.

The new law will facilitate vulnerable populations with loans for affordable housing, and will expedite the expropriation process as it will no longer require approval from the ministry of works and services, allowing the secretariat for civil protection and other safety officials to authorize it.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 197

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Fed chief confirms China
undervalues its currency

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of America's central bank says China's currency practices hinder U.S. and global economic recovery.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but did not specifically address a bill being debated in the upper chamber that would penalize Beijing for maintaining an undervalued currency.

At a time when the Capitol reverberates with intense and often bombastic debate on China's currency valuation, Fed Chairman Bernanke told lawmakers that, indeed, Beijing keeps the yuan artificially low, and that undervaluation has real consequences.

"The Chinese currency policy is blocking what might be a more normal recovery process in the global economy," said Bernanke.

Bernanke spoke at a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee, comprised of legislators from both chambers. He said China's currency practices contribute to sluggish economic growth in the United States and other advanced industrialized nations, which puts a damper on global expansion.

"We have a two-speed recovery where advanced industrial countries like the United States and Europe are growing very, very slowly, and where emerging market economies are growing quite quickly," Bernanke added.  "A more normal, more balanced recovery would have some more demand being shifted away from the emerging markets towards the industrial economies. The Chinese currency policy is blocking that process. And so it is, to some extent, hurting the recovery process."

The Fed chief said he had no data on U.S. job losses stemming from an undervalued yuan. Senators backing a bill that would force the U.S. government to treat currency manipulation as a foreign subsidy have pointed to economic studies alleging millions of American job losses over the last decade as a result of Beijing's monetary policies.

Bernanke did not comment on the bill itself, which would trigger U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. The bill survived a procedural vote in the Senate Monday and likely faces a final vote in coming days.

Chinese officials have denounced the legislation as protectionist, and warned of serious disruptions in U.S.-China trade ties if it becomes law.

The likelihood of the bill reaching President Barack Obama's desk appeared to diminish significantly Tuesday. The speaker of the Republican-led House of Representatives, John Boehner, told reporters he understands widespread concerns about China's currency practices. But he added he is not sure that congressional action is the way to fix it, and that it is dangerous for Congress to tell a foreign country how to conduct its monetary policy. Bills must be approved by both houses of Congress to become law.

The Obama administration says China's currency remains undervalued, but has not endorsed the Senate bill.

Much of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke's testimony was devoted to the languishing U.S. economic recovery, which he said is close to faltering amid sluggish job growth, financially-strapped consumers, and market volatility stemming from the European debt crisis, U.S. fiscal woes, and other factors. He defended record-low U.S. interest rates and other steps taken by the Federal Reserve, and urged Congress to tackle thorny issues including federal taxation and regulation.

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