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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 199          Email us
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Here's the new mascot for the $6.4 million campaign
Tourism institute bets $6.5 million on social media
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism institute has adopted a three-toed sloth as a mascot for a $6.4 million promotional scheme that will give away 80 free trips for two and hope that the recipients say good things about the country on the social networks.

The promotion is keyed to the incorrect assumption that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world, and the giveaway is called “Costa Rica’s Million Dollar Gift of Happiness.”

The promotion is the brainchild of 22squared, Inc., the Atlanta, Georgia, ad agency.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo picked 22squared in January after what it said was a five-month courtship in which 30 agencies were considered. The firm has a two-year contract to develop and execute an integrated marketing and advertising campaign to promote Costa Rica as the premier travel destination for North America.

The campaign includes social and digital media, media buying and planning, and creative.

Based on a presentation Thursday the social media networks, like Facebook, play a large role in the initial, $2.9 million part of the campaign.

Tourism Minister Allan Flores said that Costa Rica’s campaign goes beyond traditional publicity. It aims to break standards and transcend time, thereby leaving its mark on history and on how life is perceived, the institute said in a release.

During the first phase of the campaign, visitors to a Facebook page will participate in a raffle to win a trip for two to Costa Rica. A winner will also be able to bring a companion. Everyone in the United States and Canada is eligible except those in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Quebec, the institute said without explanation.

Said the institute: “Trips will be given through various channels: via Facebook, a trip will be given daily (from Monday to Friday) to one winner and a companion, until 80 trips have been given; in other words, 160 tourists will win a trip. Likewise, individuals who need happiness in their lives will also be selected via a constant monitoring of social networks and the news. Additionally, key people will also be chosen who deserve to be awarded for defending different causes related to promoting happiness in others or sharing Costa Rican values. This aspect will benefit 95 more people.”

The institute cited in a release the Happy Planet Index that it said listed Costa Rica as the happiest country in the world. Of course, as A.M. Costa Rica reported at the time, the politically charged index did no such thing.  The introduction to the index said:

“The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible.”
another sloth
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo graphic
After an eloquent introduction, this sloth falls off the branch. See it HERE!

The campaign has put up a one minute, 14 second video on YouTube featuring an unidentified talking sloth. The production is similar to the talking toucan that Paragon Properties used to attract land buyers to Costa Rica before the real estate boom collapsed. The sloth ends his talk by falling off a branch.

A tourism institute spokesperson said that a sloth was picked because market research showed that North Americans liked the creature.

The sloth also appears on the institute's Facebook page. Facebook also contained the contest rules.

The campaign will promote selected operations that hold certificates of sustainable tourism, said the institute. Raffle winners will stay at these hotels.

For the second stage from March 2012 to February 2013 the campaign will focus on positioning Costa Rica, and the investment will total $3.5 million, said the institute. Part of the campaign is a full-page ad in USA Today.

To enter the raffle, a person has to be at least 21 years and have or open a Facebook account. The first drawing is Oct. 17. When someone registers for the raffle, the individual must select one of five different vacation packages. If they win, that is the package they get. Air fare is included. Four of the packages include arrivals at Juan Santamaría airport. One has an arrival at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. Winners cannot take their trip over Christmas or Semana Santa. They also have to pay their own departure tax.

Those who enter must be residents of the United States or Canada, so Costa Rican expats are not eligible.

The tourism institute estimates that the retail value of each prize is $7,846 or $8,239.63 Canadian.

Canada appears to have different rules on raffles, and winners from that country will have to successfully pass a math test to demonstrate their skills before being awarded the prize.

In addition to the raffle, the tourism institute is giving away those 95 vacation packages they call gifts that are supposed to be awarded randomly.

In most cases. the gift trip includes two people, but one gift would include three of more members of a single family.

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Tax officials will accept
monthly advance payments

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Small taxpayers can choose to have their income tax advance payments made monthly to avoid a big expense at Dec. 15, the tax deadline, said Francisco Villalobos, director of the tax collecting agency.

“The whole concept strives in making things easier for small businesses and professionals who are not big enough to hire an accountant or a sophisticated tax adviser, yet they need help with their taxes,” he said. “So, the taxpayer comes to us, we calculate, based on previous years tax, the monthly amount to pay, and they pay that as a credit to the final payment at the end of the year.”

“We will help him or her to prepare the return, and if needed, will grant extensions for the payment,” he said. “The system is aimed to small taxpayers and professionals such as computer programmers, lawyers, doctors, etc.”

Villalobos was the man who was picked late last year to increase the collection efforts of the Dirección General de Tributación. Among other things he has reminded English-speaking taxpayers of their obligation to make partial tax payments every three months.

The new monthly system stems from that.

“If they make their payments monthly, the tax becomes part of their budget, and they will not suffer the stress at the end of the year to pay a bigger amount,” he said of small business owners and professionals.

Two homes are invaded
by armed groups of bandits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Home invaders struck Wednesday night in Heredia and early Thursday in the center of San José.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that bandits made off with 70 million colons or about $140,000 in jewelry and electronics during the 8 p.m invasion in Los Angeles de Heredia. Three men with guns jumped the owner when he was entering the home and then put him and the rest of the family in a room and forced them to lie down. The crooks also took a late model Audi, but it was recovered later in Pavas, said judicial police agents.

The home invasion in San José took place about 1:50 a.m. At a home at Avenida 8 at Calle 19. Judicial agents only said the home was occupied by foreigners. The bandits forced the metal bars of the main door to gain entry and then forced a nurse to direct them to the sleeping quarters where they tied up some of the persons there and forced the owner to give up the location of two safes. The crooks tried to carry off the two safes but they dropped one after saying they thought they had been seen by persons outside.

The crooks left in two vehicles, including a BMW with polarized windows.

Forecast true to the season:
cloudy skies and then rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don't forget the umbrella this weekend. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that it probably will be needed.

A report for the weekend said that there will be plenty of rain and thunderstorms due to an increase of humidity in the air.

The mornings will be cloudy with afternoon downpours in the Pacific and in the Central Valley. The Caribbean might even see some rain, and in the northern zone there will be isolated showers and thunderstorms in the mountains.

Also predicted are partly cloudy skies in the evenings.

San Antonio power to be cut

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said that service would be cut in Barrio El Carmen in San Antonio de Escazú today from 7:30 a.m. To 3 p.m., but only for residences.

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!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 199

Ministry quickly reports that Moín world ranking dips more
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's world ranking for its container port in Moín dropped even further into the cellar, and the transport ministry quickly put out an almost joyful press release.

The World Economics Forum ranked Costa Rica 137 out of 142 ports,said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, and only earthquake-ravaged Haiti was lower in the Americas, it added.

The rankings were published in Port & Shipping News.

The evaluation is an embarrassment and the result of postponing investments in the port for 30 years, said the minister, Francisco J. Jiménez in a release.

He used the ranking to say that the development of a new
 $1 billion container port by a private Dutch company should not be postponed despite opposition from union dock workers in Limón and Moín as well as opposition from some representatives of banana growers.

Jiménez also said that the port agency, the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, should be restructured to provide better service to customers.

The port agency is facing financial troubles. The government agency runs the existing ports. Some $14  billion in exports pass through the port, and that figure is expected to rise, he said.

The Dutch firm, APM Terminals, has received a concession to construct a new port in Moín, but the plan has been attacked in the courts by opponents.

Ticket prices for Brazil soccer game become political issue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The usually angry Costa Rica en Acción is really angry over the price of tickets to the soccer game tonight between the Brazilian and Costa Rican national teams. Brazil is a world powerhouse.

The email diatribe shows that sports even transcends politics in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica en Acción shot off its criticism and said that the cheapest tickets should not cost 40,000 colons, some $78. “The concrete mausoleum was built by China for the people of Costa Rica not for an elite of Costa Rica,” said the political message.

The message asked who is administering the fund generated by the soccer games and large music concerts. In fact, the money is being handled by a trust in a local state bank. And a committee hired persons to manage the stadium.
Still, Costa Rica en Acción said that it is not right that children, youth and adults from low-income families cannot attend the stadium and see the game. This is the same organization that has consistently opposed the free trade treaty with the United States.

About 100 traffic policemen also will not attend the game. They will be outside the stadium starting at midday today keeping motorists out of the area.

There is a chance that the roadway bordering the stadium to the north will be closed due to the crush of pedestrians. Traffic police said they would try to keep the way open for persons who live in the area, but they are discouraging parking in the Sabana area by soccer fans. Instead, those who will attend the game are urged to use buses or the valley train service.

The game is at 8 p.m., and many fans will see the contest on television at a local bar, a home or even in social clubs.

Even years ago teachers cheated to defeat standardized tests
When I was at the International House, I heard rumors that some foreign students had been accused of cheating in class.  The students told me that they didn’t think studying together and helping each other was cheating, but rather enabling everyone to do better.  I tried to explain that when it came to exams and tests, they were supposed to be on their own and show how much they knew, not how much the group knew.

Recent news stories revealed that high school students, and even teachers and administrators, have been cheating on SAT and standardized tests. I am not naïve enough to believe that cheating does not happen in Costa Rica and elsewhere.  We have a few presidents in this country who have found themselves in hot water, if not in jail, accused of some form of cheating.

Sadly, this is nothing new.  I went to high school in a small town in New York State when they had state exams that students took at the end of the class to prove they had learned the subject.  When I was a junior, the first Spanish class was offered.  Unfortunately, the teacher, a World War II veteran, knew nothing about Spanish much less how to teach it. So we learned more about how he lost his leg fighting for our country than how to pronounce this new language.  Of the class of about nine, three of us were top students in the school.

I had never failed a class, but when I finished the state exam, I knew I had failed this one.  That afternoon, the Spanish teacher came to my home and insisted that I just needed more time to finish and that he would help me. He placed my exam on the dining room table. I knew the tests were supposed to be put in an envelope and sealed immediately.  I told him I wouldn’t do it because it was cheating and I hadn’t learned the subject, anyway. Then I asked if everyone had failed. He said no, that Randall and Sarah (not their names) had passed.  I had just dropped to the third smartest student. 

The summer before my senior year we moved to a city and I enrolled in a much larger school.  In the fall I had to take Spanish I and II at the same time.  I spent a lot of time in Spanish II hiding my tears, but I worked hard and passed both state exams with good grades.  I had a great teacher.

Flash forward 20 years at a beach cocktail party on Fire
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

Island.  An acquaintance came over to me with a bald fellow in tow.  “Randall says he knows you,” she said.  We got reacquainted and arranged to have a quiet drink later.  Almost as soon as we got settled in a booth at the local hangout, Randall brought up the Spanish class.  He said he had often wondered why the teacher had not offered me the same opportunity he had offered him and Sarah.  After a moment of silence (it never occurred to me that they had been approached), I said that he did, but I had refused.

Randall looked stunned. “All these years I wondered how you felt about failing, because I always felt like I prostituted myself and have regretted it.”  I laughed with relief.  At first, I said, I was angry because my self-esteem had suffered due to the incompetence of a teacher, but over the years I forgot it. After talking with Randall, I decided anger about the past is better than regret or guilt.  Anger can fade.

Now we fast forward 20 more years, and I am at a class reunion at my small town high school class.  We were sharing stories about our teachers, and I told my story (neither Randall nor Sarah was there), expecting people to gasp at the dishonorable behavior of my Spanish teacher.  Instead several of them laughed.  “You were so innocent back then, Jo,” someone said. 

Back then, it seems, teachers faced with state-mandated standardized tests cheated and encouraged their students to cheat.  I was dismayed (to say the least) at their casual acceptance of such dishonesty.

But maybe there is hope.  “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America,” is a new book by Michael Hais and Morley Winograd, and they think there is. They say this group, born between 1982 and 2003 is “a positive, accomplished, group oriented, civic generation.”   Maybe we are back to working together to get the best possible results, not to take tests that are often meaningless in the long run.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 199

Acción Ciudadana promotes its view of tax restructuring
By Shahrazad Encinias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana promoted its view of tax legislation in a seminar Thursday. The party's lawmakers had enough members that they influenced the tax package that now is being studied by a special commission.

Acción Ciudadana did not sign on to the tax package until Casa Presidencial made significant changes. In general, the party is pushing for higher taxes on high earners and less taxes for those near or under the poverty line.  Some of the proposals were topics of the seminar Thursday.

Acción Ciudadana successfully pushed for expansion of the number of basic products that are to be exempted from taxation. There are now 228 categories of food products and daily needs that will be exempt from the proposed 14 percent value-added tax if the measure is passed in its present form.

The party also is seeking a 50 percent tax on so-called luxury
automobiles, those worth more than 18 million colons or about $35,100.

The party also wants public utilities exempt from the taxes users pay now, and it successfully negotiated to lower the proposed tax on private education and medical treatment and providers from 14 percent to 2 per cent.

The party also is working to increase the amount of money a wage earner can bring in each month without paying taxes at the end of the fiscal year.

Among other proposals, Acción Ciudadana seeks a global tax so that money earned anywhere by Costa Ricans and residents is subject to a tax here unless more tax has been paid elsewhere.

The party also wants to exempt micro and small organic agricultural operations from taxes.

This is the third effort to get a tax package passed by the legislature.

Reefs reflect effects of human activity, researchers report
By the Stony Brook University news service

Changing human activities coupled with a dynamic environment over the past few centuries have caused fluctuating periods of decline and recovery of corals reefs in the Hawaiian Islands, according to a study sponsored in part by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. Using the reefs and island societies as a model social-ecological system, a team of scientists reconstructed 700 years of human-environment interactions in the Hawaiian archipelago to identify the key factors that contributed to degradation or recovery of coral reefs.

“Historical reconstruction reveals recovery in Hawaiian coral reefs,” published online Oct. 3 in the journal PLoS ONE, concludes that historical changes in human societies and their relationships with coral reef ecosystems can explain whether these ecosystems exhibit patterns of sustainability and resilience or decline and degradation. John N. Kittinger, lead author of the study, was in the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa when the reconstruction was conducted. He is now at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

"Our reconstructed ecological changes included an intensive review and assessment of archaeological deposits, historical observations of ecosystem conditions, and modern ecological and fishery data,” said Kittinger. “Using these data sets, our  findings demonstrate that we can’t always view environmental degradation solely through the lens of simplistic
 cause-consequence relationships. In the historical recovery periods we uncovered, we found that human agency is partly responsible for environmental recovery, which shows that not all human-environment interactions lead to irreversible deleterious outcomes and that degraded ecosystems may still retain the adaptive capacity and resilience to recover from human impacts.”

The analysis suggests that in the main Hawaiian Islands marine exploitation was highest in the early period after Polynesian settlement more than 700 years ago.

By 1400, however, reef-derived protein sources became less important than those derived from domesticated animals, and a suite of coral reef resource conservation strategies was implemented by native Hawaiian societies, allowing reefs to recover.

This recovery continued as traditional reef-fishing subsistence practices were abandoned through the post-European contact period after 1778 due to the introduction of epidemic diseases to the native Hawaiian population.  By the early to mid-1800s, however, reefs again went into decline due to over exploitation, land-based pollution, and other factors associated with changes in demography, economic systems, and new technologies. The analysis shows that negative impacts continued and intensified to the present day, exhibiting only a brief reprieve in the 1940s due to World War II.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 199

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.N. report on homicides
notes crisis in Americas

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Young men in Central and South America and southern and central Africa are most at risk of being killed in cases of intentional homicide, while women face increased likelihood of being murdered in domestic violence, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report unveiled Thursday.

Evidence points to rising homicide rates in Central America and the Caribbean, which are near crisis point, according to agency's Global Study on Homicide, which blames firearms for the rising murder rates in those two regions, where almost three quarters of all homicides are committed with guns, compared to 21 per cent in Europe.

Men face a much higher risk of violent death (11.9 per 100,000) than women (2.6 per 100,000), although there are variations between countries and regions.

In countries with high murder rates, especially involving firearms, such as in Central America, one in 50 males aged 20 will be killed before they reach the age of 31 – several hundred times higher than in some parts of Asia, the report said. It also made these points:.

Worldwide, 468,000 homicides occurred last year. Some 36 per cent of all homicides take place in Africa, 31 per cent in the Americas, 27 per cent in Asia, 5 per cent in Europe, and 1 per cent in Oceania.

Countries with wide income disparities are four times more likely to be afflicted by violent crime than more equitable societies. Conversely, economic growth seems to stem that tide, as the past 15 years in South America have shown.

Chronic crime is both a major cause and result of poverty, insecurity and under-development, the study points out. Crime drives away business, erodes human capital and destabilizes society.

“To achieve the Millennium Development Goals, crime prevention policies should be combined with economic and social development and democratic governance based on the rule of law,” said Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Sudden dips in the economy can drive up homicide rates. In selected countries, more murders occurred during the financial crisis of 2008/09, coinciding with declining gross domestic product, higher consumer price index and more unemployment, said the report.

Last year, 42 per cent of homicides were committed with firearms – 74 per cent of them in the Americas and 21 per cent in Europe. Gun crime is driving violent crime in Central America and the Caribbean – the only region where the evidence points to rising homicide rates, said the report.

“It is crucial that measures to prevent crime should include policies towards the ratification and implementation of the firearms protocol,” said Fedotov. He stressed that although 89 states are parties to the protocol, which supplements the U.N. Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, many more countries could accede to that legal instrument.

Organized crime – especially drug trafficking – accounted for a quarter of deaths caused by firearms in the Americas, compared to only 5 per cent of homicides in Asia and Europe, said the report. That does not mean, however, that organized crime groups are not active in those two regions, but rather that they may be operating in ways that do not employ lethal violence to the same extent, it said.

Crime and violence are also strongly associated with large youthful populations, especially in developing countries. While 6.9 persons per 100,000 are killed each year globally, the rate for young male victims is three times higher (21.1 per 100,000). Young men are more likely to own weapons and engage in street crime, take part in gang warfare and commit drug-related offenses, according to the study.

Globally, some 80 per cent of homicide victims and perpetrators are men. But, whereas men are more likely to be killed in public places, women are mainly murdered at home, as in Europe where half of all female victims were killed by a family member. In Europe, women comprised almost 80 per cent of all people killed by a current or former partner in 2008.

Nobel committee picks
one of its own for literature

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Swedish Academy awarded one of Sweden’s most famous living poets, Tomas Tranströmer, the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, making him the first Swede in nearly 40 years to win the award.

“The Nobel prize in literature for 2011 is awarded to the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer because through his condensed, translucent images he gives us fresh access to reality,” the announcer said.

This is not the first literary award for Tomas Tranströmer, whose poems have been translated into nearly 60 languages over the last five decades.

Tranströmer, a trained psychologist, first emerged on the literary scene in 1954, with his collection, called “17 Dikter,” or “17 poems,” published by Bonnier.

His daughter, Paula Tranströmer, says she and her father are shocked. She says he found out about five minutes before the announcement on television so he hadn't had time to prepare. That's why he looked so calm. And she thinks he's still in shock, she said.

Tranströmer has appeared among the list of nominees for the prize for many years. One well-wisher, who left a congratulatory message on the Nobel Prize Web site, wrote, “Finally.” 

Awards for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace were first given in 1901. Tranströmer becomes the 107th recipient of the literary award.

The last time a Swede was awarded was in 1974, when Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson won the award. The honor sparked controversy as both were members of the academy.

Along with the award, the 80-year-old is awarded about $1.5 million. Tranströmer currently lives outside Stockholm with his wife.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 199

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Aranjuez bridge
Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes photo
This is the bridge over the Río Aranjuez.

First Interamericana span
repaired and reinforced

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first of 10 bridges on the Interamericana Norte that needed major repair has been fixed up, said the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes.

This is the bridge over the Río Aranjuez between Barranca and Cañas.

The bridge was one of those identified as needing urgent attention by the Japanese Agency for International Cooperation, which did inspections.

The bridge work cost 1.1 billion colons or about $2.2 million. The bridge is 87.81 meters long or about 288 feet.

The ministry also said that work on the second bridge in that area, the one over the Río Abangares, will be finished in a month and a half. That bridge is 101.51 meters or 333 feet.

All the bridges along the Interamericana Norte in that area will be widened to four lanes under a project being supported by the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.

Speedy court extends
its hours of operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial said that the flagrancia court in Heredia has increased its hours of operation and is now working from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the past, the hours were from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

This is the court where persons caught in the act or nearly so get instant justice.

The first person to be brought before the court during the new hours was a 22 year old who was caught in Barrio Corazón de Jesús stealing a motorcycle Wednesday night, said the Poder Judicial. The location was near Universidad Nacional.

The man received an eight-month sentence with three years probation.

Sharp shock was near Pérez Zeledón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 10:07 p.m. sharp shock felt in the Central Valley came from a quake about 25 kilometers northeast of Pérez Zeledón, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

The observatory estimated the magnitude at 3.2 and said the cause was a local fault.

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