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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 200                          Email us
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Mar Vista


Twin bills mean millions for dedicated slush funds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are poised to give final passage for two bills that create dedicated taxes that will benefit public and private organizations. One tax is likely to cost every Costa Rican, young and old, about $4 a year. Neither of the measures will have any effect on the country's financial deficit because the money collected goes to special funds.

The first is the wildlife tax that is contained in a bill that was sent to the Sala IV for review last week.

This measure creates a $7 tax on every municipal tax payment. Since there are an estimated 1,360,055 dwelling units in Costa Rica, according to the 2011 national census, the tax is likely to generate about $9.5 million.

But that is not all. The tax also will be levied on those who pay the national road tax. There are slightly more than a million vehicles in Costa Rica, so the tax will generate $7 million more.

The tax also will be levied on every construction permit, which is a number that varies with the economy.

The bill was styled as an effort to end sports hunting in the country. But the proposal allows what is called subsistence hunting that would seem to be a big loophole. Most persons involved with wildlife agree that the problem is illegal hunting of any kind and not sports hunting.

The bill sets up a wildlife fund to administer the money that comes in. Beneficiaries are likely to be the organizations that passed petitions to bring the measure before lawmakers.

The tax also is linked to an inflation index, so the amount will increase every year when someone pays road tax on a vehicle or pays real estate taxes to a municipality.

The second tax is designed to create a slush fund to fight trafficking in persons. Although there are few such crimes reported each year, the new law
 probably will generate more complaints because presumed trafficking victims will benefit with residency here or by a free trip to their country of residence.

This is the bill, No. 17.594, that also would penalize anyone who describes Costa Rica as a sex tourism destination online or in any campaigns even if that is true. The bill also requires media outlets to donate part of the space or time to a new Coalición Nacional Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes y la Trata de Personas. The bill does not only cover sex exploitation but labor exploitation, too.

A recent exploitation case came to light in March when two persons were found in the company of Ecuadorian youngsters who had been smuggled into the country from Panamá. The children were en route to the United States, said the Poder Judicial.

A case of alleged sex exploitation involved a San José strip club where the female dancers lodged complaints about pay and working conditions. Male managers were detained.

The tax that will be managed by the new coalition is $1 paid by every person leaving Costa Rica by air, according to one version of the bill.

Based on traffic at Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela and Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia, this tax will raise about $2 million a year. The coalition is made up of representatives from 20 public agencies. Just 20 percent is being allowed for administration, and 80 percent or some $1.6 million a year for other purposes.

One role of the coalition is to approve or reject projects from diverse public institutions, entities, non-governmental organizations and international organizations.

The law is unusual because it criminalizes the act of transporting someone for purposes of prostitution, be the passenger male or female. But adult prostitution, itself, is not penalized. The bill also targets those who would rent rooms or homes to persons involved in trafficking.


birds
                        being fed
Photos by Steve Heinl
The blue-gray tanager is a common bird of the Central Valley which will come to bananas almost anywhere. Here the bird is shown with a
palm tanager and a euphonia. The yellow-throated euphonia to the right is also attracted to fruit at feeders.
Wildlife measure would prohibit bird feeders
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A more obscure provision of the new wildlife protection law just passed on first reading by the Costa Rican legislature effectively outlaws bird feeders. At its broadest interpretation, even children feeding the pigeons in San Jose’s Plaza de la Cultura would be in violation of the law.

Article 116 of the law “Unwarranted feeding of wildlife,” after laying out the penalties involved, says those apply to “…whoever might feed wild animals in their natural habitat, attract wildlife as a tourist attraction using natural or artificial substances, auditory or visual means, or any other manner.”

In the biological sense habitat is anywhere an organism lives or is even present. The term does not require that the place be in any way natural or unaltered, though it is often used in that sense. For example, the only places on earth not habitat of some bird are polar and glacial ice, some sandy deserts, and the highest Himalayan and Andean peaks. Usually when animals or birds are endangered it is because of habitat destruction, rather than the direct removal by hunting contemplated in the new law. But when one animal’s favored habitat is destroyed, it creates habitat for other species either more adaptable or already evolved for similar conditions. An excellent example in Costa Rica is the abundant great-tailed grackle, which originally was a shoreline scavenger found only on beaches before humans altered the landscape.

Similarly, when escaped domestic pigeons take up residence in downtown San José they are in their natural habitat. It might be argued in this case that
they are not wildlife, but once reproductive success
is achieved usually a population is considered wild again.

Since there is no specific reference to feeding birds, it is possible that the framers of the law were thinking of large mammals like monkeys and pizotes, as the raccoon-like coati is known here. The feeding of crocodiles as a tourist attraction is well known also. But the reference to artificial substances clearly rules out the hummingbird feeders that are a common feature at tourist lodges.

Similarly the only interpretation available for the prohibition of other means of attracting wildlife is to eliminate the use of recordings to call in territorial birds where they can be better observed or photographed. This practice is sometimes criticized for causing untoward disturbance of the birds, and can be notable in heavily visited areas, but has not been shown to cause lasting harm to any population.

Most bird species that can be attracted to feeders in Costa Rica come to fruit like bananas or papaya rather than the birdseed more familiar to those from colder climes. On occasion this is criticized in scientific circles, but more likely for artificially maintaining unsustainable populations than for being just unnatural.  The fines for these offenses are from 15 percent up to one salario base, or from about $105 to $700.

According to a member of its scientific committee, the Costa Rican Ornithological Association will attempt to lobby the environmental ministry who will set the final regulations that make the vague language of the law enforceable. Some softening of other aspects of the bill, such as only allowing research permits of up to six months for visiting biologists, will also be desirable to the scientific community.

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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 200
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Costa Rica Expertise

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Our readers opinions
Tourism colegio proposal
will be expense, restrictive


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The proposed national tourism employee colegio should be seen for the publicly detrimental power grab that it is.  A group of self-appointed administrators wish to allegedly self-police their profession by erecting barriers to entry for new competitors.

Where is the evidence that the current system is producing harm?  No doubt a few 'victims', including straw men, will be cited as the need for complete control over a new brotherhood by a few at the top.

We can expect a slow, if any, growth in operators (less choice) and higher prices (again, less choice in the face of growing demand) because those already in the profession wish to shelter themselves from competition.  The practical, empirical, historical evidence is overwhelming.  Is this what is good for Costa Rica?  Do Ticos really wish their country to become like the over-regulated, over-licensed U.S. with fewer opportunities?

Troy Matz
Texas, on my way to Guanacaste


Elections are a farce
because elite always win


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It may seem funny but it actually is worrisome that Americans just as well as law-abiding citizens in most other countries have not yet realized that presidential elections really are a farce, a cleverly-designed 'Elite-owned' media show, popular deceit disguised as a lollipop.

Politics are decided by others than the popular wanna-be politicians on their campaign trail.

Their puppeteers in the background laugh their butts off at the gullibility of the masses that are glued to the TV set or the morning paper becoming infused with the absurdity of blind discussions about which one of the candidates would be best for the country, which one is more gods-fearing while the chosen candidates only utter remarks contemptuous of humanity worshiping their psychopathic super-egos.

Sorry, democracy though benign in its original definition has become a hideous tool of covert dictatorship; democracy has been hijacked as has the entire planet.

Never forget what a wise man said: 'No matter how you vote the government always gets in'.
Axel Marquardt
Berlin, Germany

Genetically modified foods
are more than a cross-breed


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My understanding of what is commonly called GMOs today is that they are transgenic. It's not just crossing one variety of peach with another to make a third type of peach or crossing a plum with an apricot to make plucot. Both of which can also be considered genetically modified. Transgenic GMOs are different. They cross different species with each other or plant with animal, like mating one of my goats with a bird or a bacteria or God knows what.

GMOs feeding the world is a myth, too (as is big farming in general). That's just pure PR. I mean, come on, Monsanto, the company that brought the planet death with dioxin, agent orange and aspartame, is now concerned about the starving poor? There's plenty of calories in the world and plenty of potential to produce more. It's not a farming practices problem. Pura vida.

Albert Lusk
San Isidro Heredia

 
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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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 200
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Economics ministry survey finds that Palí offers the best prices
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators at the economics ministry reported that the prices for basic foods and household products can vary by over 100 percent depending on the grocery store. This was the latest of the continuing surveys of the marketplace.

Investigators found that particular brands of tortillas, spaghetti and soap were the most varied depending on the store and the location.

Researchers took the prices of dozens of necessary household products of various labels and found the cheapest and costliest. The chain Palí had some of the cheapest prices and the chain AutoMercado had some of the most expensive.

For this study, investigators from the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio visited 41 groceries in all provinces, between Aug. 23 and Sept. 3. Of those stores, 31 were chains and 10 were independent. They specifically looked at 39 types of food and 14 cleaning and personal hygiene products.

Some of their findings were obvious. For example, the report indicates that a Gillette razor blade at Super Cristal in Curridabat is more than four times expensive than a Super-Max razor blade at Palí in Chacarita, southern Costa Rica.
However, the report also said that a 250-gram package of Milano spaghetti costs 125 percent more at the Megasuper in Puntarenas than at the Súper Rosvil in Grecia.

Of the 41 stores researched, they found the five stores with the cheapest prices on 49 basic products to be Palí el Roble with an overall cost of almost 93,000 colons for all of them. That store was followed by Maxi San Isidro, Palí San Felipe, Palí Heredia Centro and Palí Nicoya.

The most expensive store for these products was the AutoMercado in Heredia with a cost of nearly 117,000 colons.

By province, stores in Puntarenas had the cheapest prices and products, but the greatest variances in prices were found to be in Heredia and San José.

The report focused primarily on the extremes between products and stores. Researchers did not include median or average prices in their findings.

Researchers also investigated 14 stores specifically to see if they had proper tags on cheese and ham packages. They found that only 29 percent of these stores had correct tags on all of these products that were in stock. Overall, these violations were on cheese products because they lacked a list of ingredients or instructions on preserving the product.


Another holiday, Día de las Culturas, coming up in a week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A week from today is another holiday.

Oct. 12, Columbus Day in the States, falls on Friday. But the observance is today in the United States, so the U.S. Embassy will be closed.

Although Oct. 12 is a Friday, Costa Ricans will celebrate the day Monday, a week from today. The U.S. Embassy will be closed that day, too, as will public schools and most private schools.

The holiday is called día feriado de pago no obligatorio, but that is misleading. Salaried workers get the day off with pay. Under some circumstances hourly workers do not receive pay.

The day is called the Día del Encuentro entre las Culturas here as a way overlooking the impact of the Spanish invasion.
 Unlike many Latin country's Costa Rica still treats Christopher Columbus well. The currency is even a colón, his name in Spanish.

The name of the day also is a way to recognize not only the native culture here but the Caribbean culture that grew from imported laborers from Jamaica.

Costa Rica has been making some moves to reach out to the native groups. An 18th century revolutionary leader, Pablo Presbere, was honored by the legislature in 1997 as a defender of liberty. He was executed by the Spanish in 1710. Technically, the BriBri in southeastern Costa Rica are still at war with the white colonists.

The Caribbean residents center the Carnaval in Limón of the Día de las Culturas. This year the event runs from Thursday to Oct. 21. The two-week event is a big tourist draw.


Two highway accidents claim three lives over the weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three persons died in two unrelated accidents when the drivers appear to have lost control.

On Ruta 27 east of Santa Ana a man and a woman died when the car went off the road and collided with a utility pole. That was in the area known as Alto de las Palomas, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The time was about 3:40 a.m. The
man was identified by the last name of Rodríguez, and the woman was identified by the last name of Borbón, said agents.

In an area known as La Palmera near San Carlos, a motorcyclist ran across the road Saturday night and collided with an automobile. That was about 11:10 p.m. Judicial agents identified the man by the last name of Carvajal.

He was 37, they said.

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Traffic police encircle reporter who took their photographs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry has launched an investigation to see why seven traffic officers detained a CRHoy reporter and her taxi for about 25 minutes Friday morning.

The reporter, María Siu, said she attracted the officer's attention when she took photos showing them congregating and conversing near the Holiday Inn in downtown San José.

Rodrigo Rivera Fournier, the acting minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said Friday that he has ordered a preliminary investigation. Diego Herrera Hidalgo, director general of the Policía de Tránsito, said the same thing.

According to a news story in the Spanish-language publication written by Ms. Siu, she was on her way to another assignment
when she saw the group of traffic officers.

CRHoy, a relatively new arrival on the mass media scene, has been critical of the lack of traffic officers at key times in the Central Valley.

Ms. Siu said that the motorcycle officers put three of their vehicles ahead and three behind and blocked the street that runs east of the Holiday Inn.  She said that the officers said the taxi driver was not wearing a seat belt. She said the officers recorded and photographed her.

The Colegio de Periodistas lodged a protest with the ministry and said that Ms. Siu was detained under unfounded excuses and intimidated by the group of officers.  The journalists' professional group said it supported Ms. Siu and offered her legal help if she decides to take action.

Hugo Chávez wins presidential race for a fourth term
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan election officials say President Hugo Chávez has won re-election, taking more than 54 percent of the votes in Sunday's polling. 

His opponent, Henrique Capriles, congratulated Chavez late Sunday for the victory.

The election council says 81 percent of the nearly 19 million registered voters went to the polls, with Chavez getting more than 7.4 million votes, beating Capriles by more than 1.2 million votes.

Fireworks erupted in downtown Caracas outside the presidential palace where supporters of the president were celebrating after the announcement was made. 

Analysts say Sunday's vote was the toughest election leftist President Chavez had faced after nearly 14 years in power.
While Chavez's base remains strong among the country's poor, Capriles electrified the opposition. 

The 40-year-old lawyer conducted a national door-to-door campaign, criticizing the president on Venezuela's power outages, food shortages and high murder rate.

A persistent question in the race was the president's health.  Chavez says he has fully recovered from the cancer that was first discovered more than a year ago.

The exact nature of his cancer has never been revealed. 

By winning his fourth term, the 57-year-old Mr. Chavez could serve until 2019, which would mark his 20th anniversary as Venezuela's president. 

Chavez is an outspoken critic of the United States and supports anti-U.S. governments around the world.  He has spent billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil money on social programs.

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Space station delivery vehicle
blast off into Florida sky


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The California-based company SpaceX has launched the first of a dozen missions to deliver critical supplies to the International Space Station for the U.S. space agency.
 
On the eve of the mission, the launch weather forecaster said there was a 40-percent chance that poor weather could delay the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida Sunday night. But the craft took off on schedule.
 
The SpaceX unmanned Dragon capsule rides atop a Falcon 9 rocket toward the International Space Station for the second time ever.
 
The company made history in May when its space capsule became the first private vehicle to dock with the space station
 
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday evening that the rocket and capsule in this first operational mission are largely the same as the ones used in the successful demonstration flight.
 
"I'm not sure any of the engineering team, frankly, or myself feels like this is substantially different than the last one with the exception that we got there once," said Ms. Shotwell.  "We demonstrated we could do it. So there might be a teeny, teeny bit of relaxation.  Uhm, not a lot though."
 
NASA has awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to provide 12 supply flights to the space station.
 
Space station partners Russia, Europe and Japan have the ability to deliver cargo, but their cargo vessels burn up in the atmosphere during reentry.  The United States has not been able to send supplies to the station since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year.     

The Dragon carries about 450 kilograms of supplies, including materials critical to scientific research.
 
At the end of the month, the capsule will return to Earth carrying space station hardware as well as scientific materials, including research samples.
 

Britain announces plans
to thwart cybercriminals


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain has launched a multi-million-dollar global initiative to help fight organized criminals and terrorists using the Internet. The plan was rolled out at an international gathering in Budapest aimed at making the Internet more secure.

Speaking at the international Budapest Conference on Cyberspace, British Foreign Minister William Hague said his country wants to lead a worldwide effort to stem the rapidly growing number of cyberspace attacks threatening companies and governments.

"It has never been easier to become a cybercriminal than it is today," said Hague. "It is now possible to buy off-the-shelf malicious software designed to steal bank details for as little as 3,000 pounds, including access to a 24-hour technical support line. As foreign secretary, I see frequent evidence of deliberate and organized attacks against intellectual and government networks in the United Kingdom."

He said that when London hosted the Summer Olympic Games, some 200 emails and dozens of British government departments were targeted by cybercriminals attempting to obtain sensitive government information.

Hague explained that earlier this year, hackers managed to steal the equivalent of 20 million pages of sensitive information from what he called "a well-protected international company." A large manufacturer allegedly was targeted during negotiations with an unidentified foreign government.

Hague said the attacks prompted his government to allocate an additional amount of roughly $1 billion over the next four years to improve the nation's Internet capabilities. Additionally, Britain will invest more than $3.2 million annually to help other less fortunate countries tackle cyber crime.

"Cybercriminals and terrorists should have no refuge online, just as they should have no sanctuary offline. I can therefore announce today that the United Kingdom is a developing a new center for global cybersecurity capacity building in the United Kingdom," said Hague. "And, we will be investing 2 million pounds a year to offer countries independent advice on how to build secure and resilient cyberspace, improving coordination and promoting good governance online."

Hague said concern over illicit Internet activities should not be used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression, even in some established democracies.

The minister did not mention conference host Hungary, although the country was criticized about legislation that opponents say limits press freedom and increases government control of online and traditional media.

Hungary's center-right government says the media law is in line with international standards.


Biggest radio telescope array
ready to probe for
 secrets


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A powerful new super telescope in the Australian outback is set to begin probing the origins of stars and galaxies.  The Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder lies in the western Australian desert.  The technology is expected to capture radio images with unprecedented sensitivity and speed across large areas of sky.

Australian scientists say the new facility opening Friday on the country’s remote west coast will be one of the world’s most important radio telescopes.

The isolated site was chosen because it is remarkably quiet, with a small population and few man-made radio signals that could interfere with the faint astronomical data.

The antenna array will give astronomers the power to investigate some fundamental questions about the universe, including dark matter, the nature of gravity and the origins of the first stars and galaxies.

The super telescope is 100 times more powerful than any previous design.

John O’Sullivan, a scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, says these are exciting times.

"It is a number of telescopes; 30-odd telescopes that are each 12 meters in diameter.  They are not very big telescopes but it is still a very, very powerful survey instrument to start to get a look at the origins of galaxies, and it looks a long way back towards the beginning of the universe," he said. "My personal interest has been partly on the technology and partly on the, you know, big questions about where do we all come from, how does the universe operate and so forth.  It is the beginning of a great new period, I think."

The power of the telescope in Western Australia will, however, be dwarfed by what is to come.  It will become part of an even greater astronomical adventure, the Square Kilometer Array project.  It aims to build the world’s biggest radio telescope spread across different continents.

Its main components will be constructed in Australia and South Africa, with additional facilities in New Zealand.   The super telescope will be made up of thousands of antennas.  Combining their signals will create a telescope equivalent to a dish with an area of about one square kilometer.  This means that very weak signals from space can be detected.

The Square Kilometer Array will take well over a decade to finish.  Among its tasks will be to search for alien life.
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Latin America news
New Canadian ambassador
presents her credentials

Canadian ambassador
Wendy Drukier
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new ambassador from Canada has presented her credentials. She is Wendy Drukier

Ms. Drukier speaks three languages, English, French and Spanish, and holds a master's degree, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.
She has served in Buenos Aires, with Canada's delegation to the Organization of American States and at the Summit of the Americas, said the ministry.

The government of Canada said she has concurrent accreditation to Honduras and Nicaragua.


Sentence in hotel shooting
being appealed in San Carlos


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of a Nicaraguan security guard in La Fortuna, convicted of killing a 16-year-old student from Kansas, will go to an appeal panel, according to court officials in San Carlos.

An official at the criminal court in San Carlos, Alajuela, confirmed that the defendant’s lawyer has submitted an appeal.

The accused, Jorge Guevara, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Sept. 30 for the murder of Justin Johnston, which took place June 2, 2011. Additionally, Guevara and his employer, La Cangreja Hotel in La Fortuna, were ordered to pay about 323 million colons (approximately $650,000) to Johnston’s family.
 
At the time of his death, Johnston was visiting Costa Rica and was staying at La Cangreja with a group of students from his high school in Kansas. Guevara, a Nicaraguan citizen, was a security guard at the hotel, for which he carried an illegal .22-caliber revolver, the court concluded.

Johnston had left his room at night with a group late in the early morning of June 2, and was trying to sneak back into the hotel unnoticed. Guevara spotted them and thought he and his companions were thieves. He said that he meant to only fire warning shots with his gun, but one of the bullets hit and killed Johnston.

Court officials said it will take approximately two more weeks before the appeal to be formalized.

One of Guevara’s defense lawyers is Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora, the former mayoral candidate of Barva, Heredia.


Teen, 15, held in death
of another teenager

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained a 15 year old boy Thursday evening in the murder of a 17 year old boy that occurred that same evening, according to a  bulletin.

As in some states in the United States, the Judicial Investigation Organization cannot legally disclose the names of minors involved in crimes.

The bulletin says that the two youths were with other friends when they got into an argument. The 15-year-old went home to obtain a knife, came back to find the other boy and stabbed him in the armpit, said agents.

The stabbing occurred at around 7 p.m. according to the bulletin near an unspecified eating place in San Juan de Dios de Desamparados.












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