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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 207       Email us
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It's not Halloween — Here it's the day of the masks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A quick tour of local shopping centers shows that the celebration of Halloween is no longer foreign to Costa Ricans.

There is, however, a similar national tradition that is pure Tico, and that is the Día Nacional de la Mascarada.

The central government issued a decree in 1997 creating this day on Oct. 31 each year. The idea was to support the Costa Rican artists who make masks and to provide a traditional alternative to the U.S. version.

After all, Costa Rica has the Brujas de Escazú, La Segua, el Cadejos and a host of other scary characters. The witches of Escazú, the horse-faced damsel La Segua and the gigantic hound that is El Cadejos can hold their own with Frankenstein, Dracula and other U.S. and European creations.

The masks are something more. They have a wide range of subjects. During the political battle over the free trade treaty with the United States there even was an Óscar Arias Sánchez mask. Some of the masks have given names and have their own legends. Of course, there is the Devil and Death.

Mask making here certainly dates from the time before Europeans appeared. The native communities still have traditional figures, including the Diablitos and bulls of the Boruca peoples, although these last were inspired by the Spanish conquest.

In the colonial days and in previous centuries, the masks were created to honor Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, the Costa Rican version of the Mother of Christ.

Cartago, Aserrí, Escazú and Barva are places
Tico style masks
Asociación Grupo Cultural Aserrí photo
Some typical Costa Rican masks in action.

where the mask tradition is in high gear. The  Asociación Grupo Cultural Aserrí is getting a head start with a workshop on making masks Oct. 29, a Saturday.

That event will be at the Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar in north San José. The workshop is open to persons of any age, although there is an admission. Those interested are asked to register in advance at 2256-0012.

The typical Costa Rican mask is of giant proportions and usually is worn on a frame above the head so that the character is seven to eight feet tall. It is paraded to the tunes from a brassy Tico street band called a cimarrona. There will be a number of such parades Oct. 30 because Oct. 31 is a Monday.

The material of choice is papier-mâché, although wood, clay and even leather is used.

Many of the masks are heirlooms and works of art in themselves. They will be safeguarded in Costa Rican homes when the cheap, Chinese Halloween products are in the trash bin.

Readers can pick finalists for name for sloth mascot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ready to vote for your favorite name that we will award the tourism institute's new mascot?

You can see a list of names HERE!

The mascot is the animated sloth that promotes the trip giveaway raffle being run by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. A.M. Costa Rica has taken it upon itself to find a name for the spokes sloth because neither the institute nor its
advertising agency in Atlanta, Georgia, did.

Readers submitted a long list of creative names, and some also listed their reason. But some also reported that they had problems Tuesday sending in their choices of the top three names because of email problems. That situation has been remedied.

Readers can send their names to 
The top five selections will be presented again for a final vote by readers.

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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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'Miss Jacky' is towed into its home port of Puntarenas

Prosecutors interrogating crew
caught by U.S. Coast Guard

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors Tuesday afternoon were questioning five crewmen of the “Miss Jacky,” who were brought ashore by the U.S. Coast Guard crew of the “Waesche.”

The Poder Judicial upgraded the amount of suspected drugs that had been recovered when the crew of the Costa Rican fishing boat threw bundles into the sea. Now the amount is 500 kilos, the Poder Judicial said in a message Tuesday afternoon.

The boat was intercepted Friday about 251 miles northeast of the Isla del Coco. The Coast Guard vessel carries a helicopter.

The Poder Judicial identified the drug smuggling suspects by the last names of Barrantes Carranza, Sánchez Vásquez, Montero Alcázar, Blanco Villagra and Sánchez Vásquez. The judicial agency said prosecutors would seek preventative detention for the men today in the Juzgado Penal de San José.

Our reader's opinion
Government should enforce
tax laws already in place

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

One of the most common sayings here in Costa Rica is "it is what it is."  In many ways it is commendable that the government is almost in a panic about the country's debt.   After all, look at the "civilized" and "efficient" ways that larger industrial nations are dealing with their problems.  

However, it would be more prudent if the government actually figured out ways to collect the taxes once they are in place.   Does the present administration think that new taxes will  automatically be deposited in the nation's coffers just because they are different?

Everyone knows that one of the popular pastimes in the country is evading sales and real estate taxes. From the higher powered attorneys to the smallest soda, nearly everyone admits that they do not pay all of their taxes.

Would it really be THAT difficult to enforce the taxes already in place?
Randy Berg
San Mateo

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, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 207

Movie characters
Franklin Chang Dias is bracketed by animated characers from 'Odyssey 2050'
Franklin Chang, British Embassy urge global warming action
By Zachery McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministry of Science and Technology and the British Embassy will be hosting the world premiere presentation of the first module of the film "Odyssey 2050¨ Friday in the auditorium of the Colegio de Periodistas. The event will be held at 2 p.m. and is coordinated by the British Embassy in Costa Rica. The production is a cautionary climate change tale.

The film is being produced in Costa Rica by Daniel and Miguel Bermejo of the Synchro Film company and Bruce Callow of the British Embassy. In June, it was declared to be of public interest by the president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla. ¨The message is that this future does not have to be,¨ Callow said.

The film will be three stand-alone modules, and only the first module will be shown at the premiere. On the Web site, is a trailer for module I presented in English, Spanish and Korean with a brief introduction by former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz. The title of Module I is ¨Warning.¨

Callow said the first module sets the stage for the topic of climate change in the not promising year of 2050. A reconnaissance crew of animated space travelers analyze the Earth and what could have been done to prevent the observed outcome.

A puppy-dog commander explains how his team has been to
¨many worlds... and, in some cases provided assistance... but, in others, there was nothing that could be done.¨  He expresses how he ¨cannot comprehend how the dominant species of this planet could´ve been so unwilling to provide a fighting chance for survival to its descendants.¨ Then, later, a Doctor Doom character says ¨perhaps they deserve extinction. But the price the entire planet is paying because of their inactions is so very high.¨

In the trailer, Earth is ravaged by climate change. The projections are based on data, according to executive producer Bermejo, from Internet researches, statistics and other documentaries on the same subject.

The Odyssey 2050 project is aimed at getting young people involved in taking action before it is too late. On the Earth Charter Initiative Web site, a group collaborating with the Odyssey 2050 project and the British Embassy in Costa Rica are calling for video submissions from students until Nov. 20. The intention of the videos should be to explore the question: ¨How can we build a better future together?¨

All suitable submissions will be included on the Odyssey Web site and prizes will be awarded for the most outstanding submissions.

Bermejo said the film is not a prediction of the end of the world in 2050, but simply that it would be too late to take action at that point. ¨The important thing is that it is not too late, and it is time to act now,¨ Chang said in the introduction.

Contraloría report cites big delays in valley sewer project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The water and sewer company is far behind on its plans to build a treatment plant and extend the lines in the Central Valley.

That is the assessment of the Contraloría General de la República, the budget watchdog. The report on the work being done by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados noted that very little money has been spent even though the Japanese government loaned Costa Rica $130 million for the job.

Part of the problem, according to the Contraloría is that both the Ministerio de Hacienda and Banco Central de Costa Rica have not taken steps to free up matching local money. Costa Rica is supposed to contribute $100 million, but the country does not have the money.

The sewer situation has been dubbed Costa Rica's dirty little secret: that a country so dedicated to environmental protection would allow the untreated sewage from its most densely populated area to flow into the sea. The Central Valley sewage flows untreated into rivers and streams and then into the Río Grande de Tárcoles and then into the Gulf of Nicoya, which also happens to be a source for much of the country's seafood. The mouth of the river is just a few miles north of some prime Costa Rican beaches, including that of Jacó.

The plan to repair and extend the rotting and rusting sewer system dates back to the Abel Pacheco administration. It was Pacheco who joked at a news conference that the Tárcoles crocodiles, which are a tourist attraction at the Costanera bridge near Jacó, were eating mainly Central Valley sewage, although he was not that delicate.

The legislature, after much discussion, finally agreed to accept the loan in 2006 after asking the Japanese to extend the deadline for acceptance several times.
A primary treatment plant for the sewage is part of the first stage of the project. The contract for that part of the project still has not been awarded, and when it is there is another delay while the final contract is evaluated, said the Contraloría.

The water and sewer agency is unlikely to meet the first stage deadline of July 31, 2013, nor the final deadline set by the bank in 2015, the Contraloría said.

As of July 30 Acueductos y Alcantarillados has spent less than 2 percent of the money instead of the 14 percent it had estimated by that date in the initial timetable, said the Contraloría.

The water and sewer agency also is behind by five months on the design of the collector lines that will bring the sewage to the treatment plant and because of this it is impossible to seek out the easements that will be needed to start running lines, said the Contraloría.

The Contraloría said that the delays and the delay in seeking alternative financing for Costa Rica's share compromise the project and cost additional interest on the Japanese loan. It added that the water and sewer agency should develop a strategy to minimize its risks if the project is not concluded by the original deadline of Dec. 7, 2015, and that the Ministerio de Hacienda, the finance ministry, should figure out a way to get the money for Costa Rica's share.

Officials have noted that the problem with sewers has been obvious for decades. In the growing metro area some homes still have septic tanks, frequently installed badly.

Elsewhere collector pipes are rusted out and dump their contents into flowing streams.

The plan is designed to provide municipal sewers to areas that are now out of the reach of the system to eliminate a lot of the ground runoff caused by septic systems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 207

Workmen are trying to get at the reason why the highway began to crack. That is a good indication that a major slide is coming soon.

cracked pavement
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

There is still more rain in the forecast for Pacific and Valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A low pressure system that brought days of rain to Costa Rica has moved further to the north although unstable conditions still exist in the atmosphere.

Disaster officials are making headway in repairing damage and in bringing comfort to those evicted from their homes by flooding or landslides.

The Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social said it has a fund of some $1 million to aid victims of natural disasters and that it already has expended about $150,000 on some 220 families. Some 750 more families are seeking aid, the agency said.

The Autopista del Sol reported Tuesday night that the stretch of the troubled toll highway between Atenas and Orotina had been closed due to a new landslide at Kilometer 38. The concession holder for the highway said that it had work crews on the job.

The Interamericana Norte still is closed at Cambronero and trucks are prohibited from an alternate route at Monte del Aguacate  That means that travel to and from Guanacaste and the Pacific coast and the Central Valley is restricted.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, said that just 12 stretches of national highway still were closed. It said that its crews managed to open 167 stretches where there had been problems, mainly slides. Some 73 sections have some restrictions, such as single lane traffic.

The agency said there were heavy rains in the north and central
Pacific Tuesday. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the Caribbean got heavy rains Tuesday afternoon.

The weather institute said that Santa Rosa got 174 millimeters (about 6.9 inches) of rain and Quepos got 127 millimeters (5 inches) by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

With some slackening of the rain in Guanacaste, the national emergency commission began distributing food and water Tuesday. Residents there said that most small stores had been sold out of necessities. Some walked for miles to get supplies, they said.

The emergency commission was able to put a bridge between Cañas and Liberia back into service so that some supplies could be distributed. Many persons are still in small communities that are cut off by collapsed roads of flooding.

The Cruz Roja and fire fighters joined in the food distribution effort.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said Tuesday afternoon that 940 persons remained in 19 public shelters, mainly in Guanacaste. Carrillo had 426 persons in shelters. Santa Cruz had 112, the commission said. Many more were staying with family or friends.

The weather institute is predicting more rain for today with a chance of heavy downpours in the Pacific and the Central Valley. The institute also warned about the continual threat from rivers swollen by rains in the mountains.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that this was the scene n Ruta 333 in Zapotal. The slide also displaced a water line and took place despite some preventative concrete barriers that had been installed.

collapsed road
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 207

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Obama declares Puerto Rico
to be storm disaster area

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama says Puerto Rico is dealing with a major disaster after Tropical Storm Maria caused floods and landslides last month.

The president Tuesday authorized federal funding to help Puerto Rico recover from damage caused by the storm.

His statement says the money will be used to help individuals and business owners who suffered damages when Maria passed across the island.

It can help pay for temporary housing and home repairs, and also can be offered as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses. The funding also can support other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Students in Chile again
in streets battling cops

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Students in Chile clashed with police on the first day of a two-day nationwide strike calling for education reform.

Masked students disrupted traffic, set up barricades, and hurled Molotov cocktails at police in the capital, Santiago Tuesday. Police responded by firing water cannons and tear gas to disperse the youths.

The students have been protesting for more than five months complaining of what they see as the high cost and low standards of education in Chile. They are demanding free higher education and improvements in the overall quality of education in the country.

Food and energy prices push
U.S. inflation to 6.9 percent

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rising energy and food prices drove up wholesale prices in the United States in September.

Tuesday's report from the Labor Department says prices jumped eight-tenths of a percent for the month, and were up 6.9 percent from the same month a year earlier.

Some economists say the factors pushing up prices are probably temporary. 

Outside the volatile area of energy and food, prices in the overall economy rose a more modest two-tenths of a percent for the month.  Economists call this the core rate of inflation.

The modest rate of core inflation means the U.S. central bank will probably not raise interest rates in an effort to cool price increases.

The Federal Reserve pushed interest rates to ultra-low levels in 2008 and has kept them there in an effort to bolster economic growth.

Foreign students face hurdles
to remain in United States

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Congress is debating how to overhaul the nation’s immigration system in an effort to get foreign nationals who earn advanced degrees at American universities to stay and work in the country to help the U.S. stay globally competitive.

Some are calling it a “reverse brain drain.” Foreign students flock to American universities to earn master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math.

In 2009, foreign students earned up to two-thirds of the doctorates in physics and engineering awarded by U.S. schools of higher education.

But many, like 25-year-old Yifang Wei from Xian in central China, may not be able to get a visa to work in the United States after graduation.

“Yes, I am very worried, very worried,” said Wei.

Xiao Qin is from Beijing and is working toward his Ph.D. in computer science at Georgetown University in Washington. He would like to work for Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.

“Obviously, we prefer to stay here for several years, but if we cannot get any valid visa we have to leave,” he said.

The United States limits the number of foreigners who can seek careers in the United States, and critics say restrictive immigration policies hurt America’s ability to retain top students.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said, “While we once asked the brightest minds in the world to come and make their homes here, we now turn them away. Having educated and trained the world’s best students in our universities, we no longer welcome them to enrich this nation.”

High-tech companies recruit workers at the nation’s top universities. But some, like Texas Instruments, say it can take 10 years for their foreign workers to become permanent U.S. residents.

Darla Whitaker, senior vice president at Texas Instruments, said, “This is not sustainable. It hurts our company and our industry, and it places burdens and stresses on our employees.”

The United States now limits the number of immigrants from other countries on a country-by-country basis, meaning students from large nations generally have the longest wait.

A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy says a highly skilled Indian national could wait 70 years for permanent status.

Vivek Wadhwa conducts research about immigrant entrepreneurs, and is on the faculty of Harvard and Duke Universities.

“We are out of touch. We are in a knowledge economy. It is all about competition. If we don’t keep these people, if we don’t compete, we are going to lose. We are going to become a third world country and they are going to become like us,” said Wadhwa.

Congress is studying ways to change America’s immigration policies.

So far there has not been a consensus, however, on how to reverse the brain drain and keep scholars like Yifang Wei and Xiao Qin in the United States once they graduate from one of America’s top universities.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 207

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Lone bandit sticks up
Lindora jewelry store

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lone gunman on a motorcycle stuck up employees at a jewelry store in a Lindora de Santa Ana commercial center around lunchtime Tuesday and made off with an estimated $200,000 in loot, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The man wore a motorcycle helmet with the visor down and gloves, said agents.

In a similar incident two men were held up by a pair of bandits who traveled on a motorcycle about 9 p.m. Monday.  One victim suffered a gunshot wound in the knee and his companion was hit on the head with a gun, agents said. The robbery was in Concepción de Arriba de Alajuelita when the two men were walking along a public road, agents said.

Another man suffered a bullet wound in Patarrá in the southeast metro area when three bandits stuck up the store where he was working. That was at 7 p.m. Monday. The victim was shot in the leg.

Young pianist captures
a win in Rome competition

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Canadian-Costa Rican pianist, Jonathan Duarte, 18, has been named a winner of the 21st International Piano Competition “Rome 2011” category A, which started Friday. The competition is organized by the Fryderyk Chopin Association and sponsored by the Italian government and the city of Rome.

Duarte competed in this European challenge representing the Central Music School of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Russia, where he presently studies. His winning repertoire included Sonata K106 by Scarlatti, Scherzo N3 Op.39 by Chopin and Etude-Tableau Op.33 N5 and Op.39 N9 by Rachmaninov.

This accomplishment for this young pianist marks his seventh straight triumph in all seven international competitions in which he has participated. Duarte started playing piano at age 9 with the Suzuki method, then began serious piano studies at the age of 14 with the Instituto Superior de Artes in Costa Rica, including shortly after, the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

Duarte has performed in New York, Paris, Moscow and now Rome. This year, he was awarded a full scholarship sponsored by the Russian Federation and endorsed by the president of Costa Rica.

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