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(506) 223-1327          Published Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 208        E-mail us    
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A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rodgers
Santos Briceño supports three kids working one block in Heredia, while Inspector Adrian Camacho, right, is quick with a ticket when the time of a motorist has expired.
When finding a parking place turns into big business
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The first-time visitor to San José will note immediately the presence of a corps of unemployed types loitering on the street to keep an eye on the cars parked there. Orange vests are now in vogue to go with the traditional wooden club.

These people provide a legitimate service. While they are unlikely to lay down their lives to keep a real criminal from stealing a car, they’ll keep away the tachadores who steal accessories and are sometimes of use to guide a driver into a tight parking space.

Those with a good territory can earn considerably more than the minimum wage. The best blocks in Heredia (10-11 spaces) allegedly can produce as much as 20,000 colons in tips per day ($40). These numbers fall off with less space and turnover. In Heredia five spaces on the edge of downtown might be good only for 3,000 to 5,000 colons, a little less than minumum wage. Even a good spot at the Guadalupe farmers’ market is worth 10,000 to 12,000 colons for a Saturday morning.

Elsewhere, the going rate to watch a car on a public street is 100 colons (about 20 U.S. cents) or whatever change the driver has handy It can be a bit more for more than an hour. Remember, it is public property they are marketing, so they have little control over the price. It is a tip that depends on the level of service. Sometimes, especially where they know a driver will be there for a while as at a sporting event, the motorist will be handed a piece of cardboard that says “500 colones” or some such. Usually Costa Ricans just take the note and pay whatever they think is appropriate as they leave. 

The half-hour boletos used on controlled streets in parts of San José and Heredia are the source of considerable confusion. Each separate piece of paper is good for exactly half an hour, which must be marked with the date and start time. Official permits for longer stays are available. High-traffic areas around the courts and hospitals have this kind of parking control.

Heredia’s downtown is quite orderly, with alert attendants, a business selling the permits on almost every block, and regular patrols by the municipal police handing out 3,000-colon fines. The street attendants keep a supply of boletos on hand and mark them up from 150 to 250 colons. They will
keep adding a new one every half hour if so arranged. This forces drivers to give the car watcher 100 per half hour instead of per stay as is the custom on the open street. Monthly permits do cut into profits.

San José isn’t quite so organized. The tickets are hard to find, leaving a motorist somewhat at the mercy of the attendant. A favorite trick around Hospital Calderón Guardia is to re-use the same boleto and then charge 250 for each half-hour, i.e. 750 colons for a ticket costing 150 colons.

Use of private property for informal parking brings its own scams. Here, they have a right to make a driver pay ahead of time. Typically in anticipation of a major event like a festival, nearby vacant lots get the weeds chopped and the usual suspects help with the care of the cars. In one case, a foreigner arrived early for the tope at Palmares, telling the attendant not to block the car as he would be leaving early. A couple thousand horses later, he found the car obstructed.

“Don’t worry, ‘Confite’ has the keys, and he’ll be right back. He just went to the pulpería.

About 20 minutes later, one of the attendants looks to the other and says “Has anybody seen Confite? He has all the money.”

Fortunately the owner of the offending car had left
the window cracked, and the Gringo was able to reach in with an adapted warning triangle and pop the lock, saving a broken window for the poor fellow who’d doubtless just parked where told.

Parting words: “Do you even know Confite’s real name?” “No.”

Sometimes a good territory just makes the upwardly mobile cuidacarros want more. A cook at a well-known restaurant in west San José found he could make more money on the street than working inside.

According to staff he was much trusted by the businessmen and wealthy Ticos who form the lunch clientele. They even gave him the keys to park fancy cars. Then it was women and liquor and harder stuff, and one day when he was a little hard up for cash it occurred to him to rob the local branch of the Banco de Costa Rica with a plastic pistol. The guards shot him a couple of times, but he is back on the street.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 208


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Puntarenas has proposal
for garbage power generator


By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The municipality of Puntarenas has reached an agreement to allow the company Environmental Power Costa Rica to set up a waste-to-energy power plant. The agreement has been approved by the Contraloría de la República after three years of consideration.

According to the agreement, the 150 tons of municipal solid waste produced each working day will be received free at a collection center, where recyclables will be extracted. The remainder will be burned for electricity.

According to Environmental Power, the plant when fully operational will produce about 30 megawatts/hour of electricity to be sold to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and employ about 200 people. Total investment will be about $60 million.

Ken Roblyer, Environmental Power president, didn't eliminate the possibility that other municipalities might be incorporated into the project. Puntarenas itself doesn’t produce the required volume. The general rule of thumb used by planners is one kilogram per person per day of trash. Poorer populations produce less and richer areas more. The municipality had 102,000 persons in the 2000 census. Given the tradition of backyard burning and incomplete coverage of rural areas, the amount delivered to the plant likely would be considerably less than the amount calculated.

The actual site for the power plant has not been determined or approved, though it will be in the Puntarenas municipality. This includes a large area, reaching to Chomes on the Gulf of Nicoya and Monteverde on the continental divide.

Mayor Omar Obando said "This money that we save will be used for the benefit of the city of Puntarenas. The municipality will continue pickup of the solid waste from the communities, take it to the processing center and we don't have to pay a dime. The company, in fact, will pay taxes to the local government," he said.

Obando said that with this project the local government will save approximately 200 million colons per year (about $385,000). That's the sum spent on the Zagala dump, for maintenance and machinery. Obando emphasized that when the company starts to receive the solid waste, the municipality will perform a technical closure at Zagala.

Incinerators have a poor record in developing and middle-income countries around the world as the ratio of food waste to paper and plastic is high making for high water content and low calorific values. A generator usually needs a supplemental fuel such as natural gas or bunker oil to maintain combustion, making electrical production uneconomical.

The design for the plant is modeled after one in Spokane, Washington, which produces about 20 megawatts from 765 tons per day of higher-value trash. Another in Peel Region, Ontario, produces 9 megawatts from 480 tons per day, and uses about 25 percent of that internally. These plants also charge high fees to receive the waste, 85 dollars Canadian in the case of the Ontario facility.

Cartago-San José bus line
will lose passenger permit


By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry is pulling the plus on Empresa Lumaca, the company that provides bus service between San José and Cartago.

Viviana Martín, a vice minister, said the company was being sacked because of numerous complaints and because it failed to build terminals with roofs for its customers as it had promised.

The company took over the Route 300 some 20 months ago when the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes canceled the contract of a firm named Sacsa.

The vice minister said that some citizens even complained about conditions on the buses to the Defensoría de los Habitantes,  She added that the company had an obligation to construct terminals to protect passengers within 90 days of getting the contract. There have been several approved delays, she noted.

One terminal was to be constructed in San José and the other in Cartago.

Now passengers wait for the buses on the public streets.

There still will be buses running today. The vice minister said that the process of bidding for a new contractor will take some time as will the process of removing Empresa Lumaca.

Fuerza Pública director
agrees to suspension


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Osvaldo Alpízar, the director general of the Fuerza Pública, has agreed to a suspension without pay while allegations of harassment are studied.

In his place, the security minister, Fernando Berrocal has appointed  Oldemar Madrigal Medal, the head of the  Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea and the airport police.

The minister said that Alpízar sought the suspension without pay and characterized it as a temporary move. There is no time limit on the suspension.

Madrigal Medal entered the Fuerza Pública in 1967 and has extensive experience as a pilot and as an aircraft captain.  He holds the top police rank of comisionado.

A former Fuerza Pública official living in Alajuela reported receiving threatening telephone calls since May. The Judicial Investigating Organization has reported that the calls appear to have come from three telephones, two government-owned phones used by Alpízar and one owned by a member of the Alpízar family.

The Alajuela man taped the calls, although the male voice was disguised by distortion.

Alpízar was at the press conference Wednesday when his suspension was announced. He denies he made the calls.

Credit card-like passport
being considered by U.S.


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. government has proposed a new, high-tech passport card for Americans who travel internationally within the Western Hemisphere.

The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have submitted Tuesday a proposal for public comment.

The plan calls for a card that is small enough to fit into a person's wallet.  It would meet the same standards as a traditional passport book, but would only be used by U.S. citizens traveling from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The proposed card would use radio frequency identification that links the card to a government database that contains biographical information and a photograph.

The State Department says the passport card could make frequent travel easier for people who live in border communities.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 208







Arias administration says general strike is not justified
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is no justification for the general strike that anti-free trade forces have planned for Monday and Tuesday, the Arias government said Wednesday.

In fact, the proposed general strike will cause great damage to the country, said Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia. "It is disloyal to Costa Rica. To interrupt basic services causes great damage to the citizenry," he said.

Officials announced they have taken steps to eliminate the source of one rallying cry by the anti-treaty protesters. The Consejo de Gobierno and President Óscar Arias Sánchez approved three measures Wednesday that would prevent the production of firearms in Costa Rica.

Opponents of the treaty have claimed that if the Asamblea Legislativa ratified the pact, the way would be open for multinationals to set up arms fabricating plants here.

Arias said after the meeting with his consejo or cabinet that it was unlikely that he, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has pushed for years to curtail the international arms trade, would want to bring such plants to Costa Rica.

However, proponents of the general strike said they have received a favorable response from citizens on the issue of arms fabrication here, even though the idea may be a fabrication itself.

One measure approved as a decree Wednesday tells the  Ministerio de Comercio Exterior to prevent arms plants from locating in the various free zones where foreign firms produce goods for export.

The second measure creates a commission to study the Costa Rican weapons laws with an eye towards passing an amendment to prevent arms manufacturer.

The third measure gives control to the Ministerio de Salud, the health authorities, for control of any plant that might manufacture arms. Previously the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública was in charge.

The government also said that anyone who fails to report for a regular work shift on Monday or Tuesday would not be paid. 

Rodrigo Arias said that the strike would cancel 89,000 medical appointments, postpone 1,160 surgeries, delay 279,000 lab exams and prevent the delivery of 307,000 prescriptions.

In addition, he said 900,000 school children would be affected. Teachers are expected to join the protest even though there is nothing in the free trade treaty that affects public education.

Arias noted that the ratification of the treaty is now in the hands of the assembly. Legislative leaders said Wednesday

One of the posters protesters will use Monday
 
that no more testimony would be taken at hearings on the document and that discussion now would be limited to lawmakers.

Opponents of the treaty are working to bring union dock workers from Limón and Moín into the strike. Union workers there want the government to promise that they will not put the docks out to bid for a private concession as happened on the Pacific at the Caldera docks. Workers have been engaged in job actions.

Union leaders, principally from the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, say they want agricultural producers to take a lead role in the general strike to show that the issues are far more than just employees of government monopolies who oppose the treaty.

They are seeking to get farmers to protest in San Carlos, San Isidro de El General, San Ramón and Limón. They also want to paralyze the entire educational system. The protest is being called the Primera Gran Jornada de Lucha contra el TLC, using the Spanish acronym.

Strikers are expected to occupy key highways and block traffic. In the past employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, shut down the Internet. Utility workers could cut power and water supplies.

And those planning the general strike say that the one next Monday and Tuesday is just a start of a continual series of disruptions that will take place until the government rejects the free trade treaty.

One question mark is how many of the estimated 40,000 employees of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the health and welfare agency, will join the protest. Union leaders there have struggled to show how the treaty might affect hospital and health workers with minimal success.



15 held on allegations they gave public land to relatives
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said they arrested 15 persons who used their government positions to award land to themselves, close relatives or accomplices.

The arrests came during dawn raids in Orotina, Paquera, Cóbano and Parrita.

The 14 men and one woman were employees of the  Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario between 1993 and 1999 when the lands were distributed. The properties were supposed to go to the poor or those who would work the land.

Agents said that an inspection showed that a high percentage of the land was not being used. Instead it was being held for resale. The law prohibits transfer of such land for 15 years, but in some cases, fake papers were used to allow sales, agents said.

The law also requires that the appplicants meet certain requirements, and agents said that those who were arrested altered documents to show that those who recieved the land were eligible when they were not.
The investigation was delayed because much of the documentation for the agricultural development agency during that period had been destroyed. Agents say this was done on purpose.

The case is being handled by the Fiscalía Adjunta de Delitos Económicos, Corrupción and Tributarios of the Ministerio Público in addition to the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Oganization.

Investigators said that in-laws, brothers and other relatives of the public employees got the gifts of property. At least 65 separate cases are being investigated.   The land area is some 689,108 square meters, agents said. That's about 170 acres.

The law prohibits public employees from giving land to themselves. In most cases the law is designed to provide a homesite or a small farm to poor persons in rural areas.
The investigation began in 2005 after news stories about the case appeared.

Judges are being asked to order the detained individuals not to leave the country. In some cases, prosecutors are seeking preventative detention.




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Iceland is ready to issue permits to resume hunting whales
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Iceland has announced its decision to resume commercial whale hunting for the first time in nearly two decades — despite an international moratorium on the practice.

Iceland's Fisheries Ministry, in a statement this week, said it will allow whalers to harpoon 30 minke whales and nine fin whales in the year until August of 2007.

The statement said that the Icelandic economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the utilization of marine resources around the island.
A government official said permits could be issued soon. He said the limited commercial whale hunting will be consistent with sustainable development.

Earlier this year, Japan won significant support from members of the International Whaling Commission for a resolution declaring the 20-year moratorium a temporary measure, which is no longer necessary. But a 75 percent vote is needed to overturn it.

Norway already permits commercial hunts of the giant marine mammals. Japan permits whaling for what it calls scientific purposes.


Queen in Riga praises Latvia for its progress since freedom
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain's Queen Elizabeth has hailed the long-standing ties between her country and Latvia during her historic visit to the Baltic country. The monarch praised Latvia's struggle for freedom in a speech at a formal lunch Wednesday in the capital, Riga.

Queen Elizabeth also commended the country's progress since it regained independence from Soviet rule. She said, "who could have imagined 15 years ago that Latvia would by now be a member of the European Union and hosting a NATO summit in a few weeks?"

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga welcomed the royal couple upon their arrival Wednesday. Prime Minister
Aigars Kalvitis and other top politicians and diplomats greeted them at Riga castle. The queen's schedule included the unveiling of a monument to British-born former Riga mayor George Armisted. The British monarch, who began her Baltic tour Monday in Lithuania, winds it up Thursday in Estonia.

Prince Philip has a separate program in Riga. He was to meet with Latvian soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to unveil a commemorative plaque at Riga's Anglican church honoring British soldiers who died in the 1919 battles for Latvian independence.

Latvia will be the first formerly Soviet-ruled country to host a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit when alliance leaders gather in Riga at the end of November.


U.S. missionary gains his freedom in Haiti after being kidnapped Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Parents of a U.S. missionary kidnapped in Haiti say he has been released after two days in captivity.

The missionary, Pritchard Adams, had been kidnapped by four men as he left his Cap-Haitien church Sunday night.

His parents confirmed he was freed late Tuesday. In a
telephone interview, they said the kidnappers had originally demanded at least $80,000 for his release, and then lowered the ransom to $5,000. They did not know whether the ransom was paid.

Adams went to Haiti some 24 years ago, where he became the principal of a Christian school. He later moved to Cap-Haitien, where he opened a church, at first holding services in a World War II-era tent.



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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 208


Luis Vindas stays alive by winning World Surf Games heat
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Luis Vindas of Playa Jacó won his heat in the second round of the repercharge at the World Games of Surf in Huntington Beach, California Wednesday, He will move into the quarter finals is he continues to be successful today.

Three other Costa Rican surfers, Gilberth Brown, Germaine Myrie and Diego Naranjo already have won berths in the quarter finals.

Vindas had a score of 8.94 Wednesday, besting Gary Saavedra of Panamá, who had 8.44. Also in the heat were Fergal Smith of Ireland, who earned a 7.00, and Wouter Muijers of Aruba, who got 3.67.

Some 300 surfers are participating in the games, which have been called the olympics of surf. They represent 33 countries.

Day four of the Surfing Games was greeted with conditions that waveriders dream about with warm water, sunny skies and head-high to overhead waves for the Open Repercharge Rounds 2 and 3, Bodyboard Men Repercharge 2 and Bodyboard Women divisions. Consistent barrels fired throughout the competition day resulting in a battle between all contenders to paddle for position, pull in deeper and execute combinations to win over their opponents.

Heat 6 of the Repercharge Round 2 in the Men’s division saw Manuel Selman, 2005 Latin Pro Tour junior champion leader of Chile, and Angelo Losano of Mexico taking consecutive barrels until the last moments of the heat when Selman defeated his opponent with a combined score of 13.84 over a Losano’s second place 13.77.
 
Following this charged heat, Maximiliano Siri of Argentina capitalized on one of the best sets of the day, taking first with a 12.17, knocking out Sebastian Alarcón of Perú.

After catching only three waves, Jordy Smith of South Africa took first over Sebastian Santos from Ecuador, the 2002 junior world champ with a combined score of 14.17. Smith posted an 8.17 on his third wave when he disappeared into a left-handed barrel and broke through the whitewash to cheers from the beach.

“I misjudged time and lucky enough the waves are

Shifi Surf Shots photo
Luis Vindas during his winning heat

consistent today,” said Smith of his delay. “It was nothing serious. I just needed 2 good waves and I got a 6.6 on one and then a big barrel to earn that last 8.17,” said Smith.

In Heat 4, Round 3 of the Open Repercharge, Great Britain surfer Mark Harris led the pack with his first wave. Harris was then charged with an interference call when he dropped in on New Zealand competitor A. J. Matthews, knocking him to fourth position with a 5.83 and leaving Mathews with a 13.40.

Huntington Beach’s pipeline-like conditions greatly benefited the bodyboard competitors as the barrels became more and more hollow throughout the morning. The last few moments of Heat 4 of the Men’s Qualifying Round 2 showcased a near collision with Tahiti and Australia both speeding down the line narrowly missing each other. Australia and Mexico moved through to the next round.

Conditions are expected to continue strong with Men’s Open Qualifying Round 4 and Women’s Qualifying Round 3, Repercharge 1 and 2 on the north podium starting at 8 a.m. today.


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