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President acts to comply with CAFTA rules
U.S. firm finally prevails in battle to provide Internet

By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After more than three years of struggle, the government has suddenly and mysteriously granted a U.S. Internet service company permission to do business in Costa Rica.

This is the first Internet service provider to open up in Costa Rica independent of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The license was granted by a rare concession permit signed by President Laura Chinchilla with behind-closed-doors persuasion by the office of the U. S. Trade Representative.

Executives of the Ohio-based company VSAT Systems and its local subsidiary DatZap have been trying to sell their Internet services in Costa Rica since the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA, took effect and ended the institute's telecommunications monopoly.

“At the end of the day, the customers are going to have choices,” said Michael Kister, president of VSAT Systems. “That's what free trade is all about.”

The three-year endeavor to sell satellite Internet in Costa Rica began in January 2009, which is when the Central American Free Trade Treaty stipulated that Costa Rica must allow foreign competition in the telecommunications industry.

Prior to that time, the government-owned Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and its subsidiary, Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. had a monopoly. The company known as ICE was engaged in numerous industries including generating and providing electricity, telephone service and Internet service. This monopoly has existed for decades prior to the trade agreement. Radiográfica, known as RACSA, was strictly an Internet provider.

VSAT Systems is an Internet service provider that uses satellites to broadcast and receive signals. DatZap, locally known as TicoSat, is, technically, a reseller of their service. That Web site is HERE!

Most people receive Internet through wires, which in Costa Rica are still owned by the former monopoly.

This new system uses satellites which allow customers to bypass Costa Rica's Internet and connect directly with Internet in the United States. Customers do not have to use local cable providers, local wifi setups or access the undersea cables that carry the net.

“We think this will be a boon for U.S. businesses down there,” said Kister.

Company spokespeople announced that they had obtained the license in a press release Monday. That announcement is on VSAT Systems' Web site HERE!

Kister said that when the firm began the application process to get licensing to operate, employees found numerous confused agencies without laws, processes or knowledge of how to grant licenses to new businesses. A spokesperson wrote a narrative up until March of this year. That is HERE!

“There was no form. There was no process. There was no law defining the form or the process,” said Kister. “They were defining these laws as they went along.”

Kister said that the process was drawn out because they were sent back and forth between the regulatory agency Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones de Costa Rica and the Ministerio de Ambiental, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

Sudden regulatory changes and even an occasional typo in the newly drafted regulations lengthened the process, he said.

During the process, spokespeople for VSAT
Tico Sat

Systems issued a document blatantly accusing Costa Rica of ignoring its obligations under CAFTA. That document is HERE!

The superintendency and the ministry both gave counterproposals to make the process easier. They offered to give DatZap permission to resell the ICE's Internet. Kister said that this is what other Internet service providers in Costa Rica do, since the telecom giant still owns all of the Internet infrastructure.

Officials also offered DatZap and VSAT Systems the use of a different part of the broadcasting frequency to send a signal to and from their satellites.

It'd be like having them say you can have a license for an AM radio station when his firm has an FM radio station, Kister said.

The firm's application eventually was rejected in late February by the ministry, and the company appealed. The firm issued a very candid press release at that time which is HERE!

The press release said that instead of issuing the license, on February 29th, the Ministerio de Ambiental, Energía y Telecomunicaciones requested an additional 14 documents be translated, certified, audited and presented, and the company balked. “Over the past three years and a dozen separate requests for documents, they never asked for any of this before. The current actions of the Ministry are arbitrary and designed only to delay issuance of the license.” stated Kister in the press release. The firm also said that the U.S. Trade Representative was unwilling to engage in any meaningful way to protect U.S. interests and enforce CAFTA.

Kister solicited help from numerous people in the United States government to enforce the terms of CAFTA. He asked U.S. Sen Rob Portman, also of Ohio, who was one of the proponents of CAFTA for help. Portman went to the trade representative, said Kister.

Several weeks ago, an official at the U.S. Trade Representative called Kister and told him that the company would get its license within a week by presidential decree, he reported. Officials in the United States or in Costa Rica would confirm what occurred that would allow DatZap to get a license.

“There was some kind of process through the UCTR, but they're like the Men in Black,” said Kister.

“The details of how it came together involve backrooms, cigars and guys with masks,” Kister speculated in jest.

The sudden announcement that the firm would get the license found both VSAT Systems and Datzap without equipment or staff in Costa Rica, but a press release from the company said that the subsidiary is authorized to begin selling its services immediately.

Kister added that his firm is the first that will be competing with ICE, which will benefit all types of Costa Rican consumers. The government also said that Claro also received some type of license although it is unclear if the existing cell telephone company would be involved in the Internet.

“Competition ultimately lead to a better product for the customer at a cheaper cost,” he said. “This is a very important breakthrough for Costa Rican telecommunications.”

Although many foreign companies have had problems with operating here under provisions of the free trade agreements, Kister and his firm are the most outspoken by means of their chronology and press releases about their troubles with the government.

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Security ministry gets funds
for its own health service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After already receiving around $1.4 million for a Costa Rican Chinatown, the country has been given another million from China.  However, this time it is for medical supplies.

Local representatives of the Chinese defense ministry presented eight million yuan to President Laura Chinchilla Miranda and  Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister, during a ceremony Thursday at the Escuela Nacional de Policía.

This donation amounts to $1.269.840 and will be used to purchase portable medical equipment. They include a doppler ultrasound, cardiac monitors, electrocardiographs, defibrillators, X-ray machines and fluoroscopes.

The tools will benefit both the officials and the families of officials who work in public safety by improving  conditions in order to preserve, maintain and better the overall health of those who offer medical service to the workers of public safety, a release said.

Officials said the intention is to have a medical team that provides public safety officials a wide range of medical services in order to ensure their physical and mental well being. For the time being the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, Escuela Nacional de Policías and various regional directorates of the Fuerza Pública in San José, Limón, Guanacaste, Alajuela, Cartago and Pérez Zeledón already have a medical headquarters.

The country has seen donations far greater than this from their friendship, the largest being the $100 million stadium that was inaugurated last year.  The government also announced earlier this year that they would receive $25 million for a police academy in Limón.

Controversial French author
will be the topic of a debate

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alianza Francesa's October book fair, “Leer es una Fiesta,” will conclude Tuesday with a debate called “Celine and the return of Censorship” at 7 p.m.

Participating will be writers Carlos Cortes and Guillermo Barquero, and philosopher Pablo Hernández.  Also involved will be the Central American regional adviser for cooperation and culture, Daniel Lefort.

Louis Ferdinand Céline died July 1, 1961 and is hailed as one of the best French writers of the 20th century.  The writer is considered controversial in France, and the French minister of culture, Frédéric Miterrand, decided to not pay the official tribute on the 50th anniversary of Céline's death, said the alliance. 

“The writer deserves all the literary celebrations by his indisputable genius, but to put his pen at the service of a repugnant ideology, anti-Semitism, does not fit with the principle of national celebrations," said a statement from the minister.

This decision has created disagreements among the literary community.  For this reason, the cultural alliance is holding a debate on the topic.

Entrance to the debate, which begins at 7 p.m. is free.  It will be held in Alianza Francesa de Barrio Amón Tuesday.

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
From the Costa Rican press
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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 214
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Higher fines for trapping wild birds may not stand up in court
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Changes to the new wildlife law currently under revision in the courts add draconian fines for the keeping of wild animals in captivity, which was already illegal. Older laws prohibited trafficking and possession of native species, but tiny fines and grandfather clauses left the law toothless.

There are only a few species of cage birds legal as pets. These are the ones on display in respectable pet shops, and for the most part fully domesticated, with different color lines for example. The best known is the common canary. Others are budgerigars in both blue and green phases and cockatiels more or less resembling the original stock. Both of these are small parrots of Australian origin. The others legal species most often seen are zebra finches and the occasional other estrilldid finch. These are originally from Australia and southeast Asia.

Costa Ricans have a long history of keeping birds as pets, and this has had an impact on a number of popular species. The most vulnerable are large parrots, particularly the scarlet macaw and yellow-naped parrot. They nest in tree cavities, which are readily robbed year after year; even worse, sometimes the tree is cut with the loss of the hole, which is a more important resource to the population than are the individuals lost. The arrival of Africanized honey bees over the last 30 years or so also resulted in competition for cavities.

Baby parrots are helpless but can be readily hand-raised, their varied diet relatively easy to reproduce. These individuals can become quite acclimated and even affectionate with particular humans, especially the smaller species like orange-fronted and orange-chinned parakeets. The latter bears a substantial resemblance to green budgies.

The crimson-fronted parakeet so evident around the Central Valley at certain times of the year is essentially never seen in cages.

Several fruit eaters known as singers are kept as pets also. Territorial songbirds are usually captured by putting a singer in a cage with a large number of monofilament nooses on the top which eventually snare the territory owner when he comes to expel the intruder. Extraction from protected areas is a threat especially to the black-faced solitaire or jilguero, a species of thrush that is gray with an orange bill. It has a fluty song described in the original "Birds of Costa Rica" by Stiles and Skutch “exquisitely beautiful in its natural surroundings but often harsh and jarring” when indoors.

Another singer seriously threatened by trafficking is the yellow-tailed oriole, which has a sweet whistled song in addition to pretty black-and-yellow plumage. Orioles are generally called chorcha in this country. It was formerly common throughout the Caribbean lowlands but quite scarce now, even though its habitat of thickets and brush is not as reduced as some original habitats.

Fruit eaters do not adapt as easily to a captive diet as seed eaters in the broad sense, which not coincidentally all the domestic species are. A few tanagers which are also fruit eaters do occasionally show up in cages.

The most persecuted of the numerous emberizid finches in Costa Rica is the white-collared seedeater, traditionally called
Bird photo
 The yellow-tailed oriole is now rare in Costa Rica due to its
 demand as a cage bird.

gallito. This small black-and-white bird with a warbling song has been essentially eliminated from populated areas like the Central Valley where it was once widespread. It is a favorite target of amateur bird catchers. Also at times called gallito is the yellow-faced grassquit, which is olive and sings only a little trill.

Two other species of fringilid finches are also impacted by cage bird trafficking, the lesser goldfinch and the yellow-bellied siskin. These are black and yellow birds with no songs to speak of.

Fines for possession differ according to the status of the species. Those “endangered or with reduced numbers” are subject to a fine of two to four base salaries or $1,400 to $2,800.  “Reduced numbers” isn’t defined in the law, but would presumably be what is usually referred to as declining.

Neither does the status refer specifically to Costa Rica. All these species have solid populations elsewhere with the exception of the yellow-naped parrot. It is under heavy pressure from the pet trade in its restricted Central American range, even more so elsewhere than in Costa Rica, as it is considered a good talker. Even the scarlet macaw has a vast range in Amazonia, and despite being eliminated from most of its old Middle American range, is considered “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Of the species here, all are falling in numbers in Costa Rica except the orange-chinned parakeet and the yellow-faced grassquit, which are thriving in human-altered habitats. The fine for those species is just one-half up to two base salaries, or $350 to $1,400. The law dictates confiscation in any case.

These fines would likely be subject to the same appeals that resulted in similar amounts being declared disproportionate by the Sala IV constitutional court when the new traffic law took effect. Given that some fines for conduct potentially endangering other people were less than those detailed here, this aspect of the new wildlife law is even less likely to stand up to scrutiny.

Sick of U.S. politics? Into the kitchen for a quick antidote
The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper endorsed President Obama for a second term.  When a staffer of the Plain Dealer was asked why the editorial board did not endorse Mitt Romney, he replied, “We didn’t know which Mitt Romney to endorse.” 

That said, I have had more than my fill of politics this time around.  The two candidates have been running for two years, at least, longer than anyone running to lead any other country in the world.  The money spent on this election would have paid a year’s salary for practically every high school teacher in the U.S. or fed the hungry for the same amount of time without having to provide them with food stamps.  It would also save all of the people who have had nervous breakdowns or telephone rage after answering so many robocalls.  

When I have had enough of one thing, I often find myself in the kitchen chopping onions. This week was no exception.  This time I was slicing onions. That was because I was making a recipe for fresh tomato sauce. Tomatoes are coming into their own about now and are plentiful and a bargain at the ferias. 

I have a way to peel tomatoes one at a time.  Take a coffee mug that the tomato will fit into (I like medium size, not large tomatoes) and fill it half with water.  Put the mug in the microwave to boil.  Cut a cross on the bottom of the tomato and drop it in the just boiled water. Leave for 20 seconds.  Fork it out and let it cool.  It is much faster than boiling water on the stove.  I used 5 small tomatoes (you will have to reheat the water in between).  I then put them in a food processor.  If you are really fed up with the news, you can chop the tomatoes with a knife and get it out of your system.

In heavy bottomed pot, put 2 TB olive oil, add the sliced onion and cook at moderate heat while you peel and empty seeds from a red sweet pepper and cut it into inch squares, more or less.  Add two tomatoes with some sprinkles of red pepper flakes and cook until the mixture is reduced by half.  Then add tomato pulp, and a little seasoning plus a bay
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

 leaf.  Cook covered for about half an hour.  This is basic.  You can add garlic, wine or more seasoning.

This fresh tomato sauce is good on pasta, on meat, or with fried eggplant.  Eggplant is also plentiful right now and the “Japanese” eggplant, the long, thin kind, makes great rounds of fried eggplant to add to sauce.

I have Marcella Mazan to thank for the sauce recipe.  Her “The Classic Italian Cookbook” is my favorite cookbook, and it is so spotted it looks like every sauce I’ve ever made splattered it.  My other cooking bibles are “Joy of Cooking," 1973 edition, and Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook.”    My go-to book for finding descriptions of all the food and drinks available in Costa Rica, along with their Spanish names, is “Feasting and Foraging in Costa Rica,” by Lenny Karpman.   This book also has reviews of many restaurants, not just their cuisine, but often their histories.  Lenny, as many will recall, was the food and restaurant reviewer for A.M. Costa Rica a while ago. 

Being also a retired cardiologist, Lenny is my go-to person to find out if whatever the current palpitations I am experiencing are life threatening.  So far so good.

To add to my calm this week, I have ridden the crosstown bus, Semana Cementerio, Ruta 2.  I had the pleasure of riding on the newly cemented Avenida 10.  Very nice, indeed, although I did notice that the stores that once thrived on those blocks seemed deserted.  Ah, small businesses, where have I heard about them before.  No, No, back to chopping onions.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 214
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Tax agents will have local data to catch cheats and evaders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tax agency has entered into an agreement with the country's 84 municipalities to swap information that may help improve tax collection and catch deadbeats.

By having access to the municipal data bases, the Dirección General de Tributación can spot businesses that are not paying sales tax or income tax or who lack certain permits. Municipalities, by accessing the Tributación data bases, can find businesses and individuals who are paying national-level taxes but may not have local business licenses or permits.

That summary comes from a press release provided by Tributación.

Tax experts are in the process of evaluating the data bases of
 the various municipalities so they can be manipulated easily by the central government.

The information exchange project has the support of the Ministerio de Descentralización y Desarrollo Local.

Although the agencies did not mention one aspect in detail, the municipal data will be a fertile hunting ground for those homeowners who are not paying the luxury tax on their upscale dwellings. Municipal governments maintain the local property records and building permits and collect taxes and fees, so they have an updated information of who lives where.

Tributación said that this local information would be useful in locating taxpayers who have ducked out on payments.

Th exchange agreement went into effect Thursday.

You really did need that extra blanket, thanks to Sandy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
with wire service reports

There's a chill in the air every place except the Caribbean coast, and the cause is moving north east of Florida. That would be Hurricane Sandy, the storm that caused intense rain in Costa Rica despite being far away.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said Thursday that the storm caused a dip in normal temperatures due to cloud cover and evaporation of rain from the soil. 

The deviation from the average was most apparent on the Pacific coast where the drop in temperature, as computed by the weather institute, was 5.5 C., nearly 10 degrees F.

The temperature dip was less pronounced in the southern part of the country and at the Cerro de la Muerte where the deviation was 4.5 degrees C. (about 8 F.) and in the metro area where the difference from normal was 2.8 degrees C., about 5 F.

Temperatures were higher on the Caribbean by an average of 3.1 C. or about 6 F. The Caribbean usually has weather counter to that in the rest of the country and it was generally spared much of the rain over the last week.

Sandy is the 18th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1 and officially ends Nov. 30, according to wire service calculations.

There were deaths elsewhere. In Jamaica, reports say an elderly man died when a boulder rolled into his house.  And in Haiti, a woman drowned while trying to cross a flooded river as the storm hit.

There were no reported casualties in Cuba although there was storm damage.

Some computer models show Sandy moving up the U.S. east coast into colder waters and turning into a winter-like storm called a nor'easter, bringing high winds and chilly rain to coastal cities early next week.

In the northern zone, the Costa Rican weather institute
Temperature changes due to Sandy
(in degrees centigrade)
Metro area
San José
San Pedro

Pacific coast

Santa Rosa

Southern zone

Cerro de la Muerte
San Vito


Source: Instituto Meteorológico Nacional data

estimated that 100 millimeters of rain fell in 12 hours. That is nearly four inches. A similar amount fell in parts of the Pacific coast. There were lesser amounts on the Caribbean and the northern zone.

The institute said that conditions should return to normal for this season for the weekend. That means sunny mornings with some afternoon rains.

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Fifth news page
Cat trees
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 214
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Olympus unveils new cameras
for this week's Expo Foto

By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employees from the Latin American branch of Olympus unveiled  a new line of cameras Thursday at Expo Foto. 
Olympus camera
Model Estefanía Martino Solono and one of the new cameras.
The three new cameras are OM-D, Stylus XZ-2 iHS and TG-1.

All the cameras use Japanese technology that has been developed over three years.  They are easy to use for all persons whether professional photographers or not, said technical representative Roberto Garcia.

The OM-D is a new take on the digital SLR.  These cameras have in the recent decade
replaced film cameras.  By storing pictures on a memory card, persons are allowed to take more photographs and can later develop these images quickly by downloading them to a computer.

However, what was not changed about the cameras was the bulk of the body.  The OM-D revolutionizes digital SLR cameras by being mirrorless and small, said the company's Web site. 

The 16 megapixel camera still has the interchangeable lens quality.  Other features are the 5-axis image stabilization and auto focus that allows the camera to focus between quick movements and an electronic visor that performs under low light situations, said Garcia.

The other two cameras are both 12 megapixels and compact.  The TG-1 takes pictures at the quality of a digital SLR camera and is made to be durable and waterproof.  Stylus XZ-2 iHS allows a person the option to control the zoom, aperture and focus.

The cameras both take high quality photographs and high definition video.

The price of this new line ranges from $500 to $1,200 and the cameras will be available at Expo Foto, which begins today in the Antigua Aduana in east San José. 

They can also be purchased in the United States.  The prices may vary because of import taxes, said Garcia.

Latin immigrants in Spain
struggle with economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Spain’s economic crisis, including 25 percent unemployment, has hit members of its Latin American immigrant community particularly hard.  During the boom years in the 1990s, Spain absorbed more than seven million Latin American immigrants, increasing its population by nearly 20 percent.  And when the economic crisis hit in 2008, most of the jobs they came to do in construction and household work disappeared, leaving few with money to send home or even enough cash to make a call.
As a result, it is a slow morning at this cafe in Madrid’s largely Latin American Tetuan neighborhood.  Ecuadorian waitress Rosario León has been in Spain for 16 years.  She still has a job, but she is concerned about the future for herself and her two teenaged daughters.
“It worries me a lot, and it hurts me a little, having to contemplate going back to my country," said Ms. León. "We came here in search of a better future for our children, and we managed to more or less succeed.”
But the past four years have shown just how fragile that success was.  Unemployed mechanic Miguel Poeda, 64, came from Ecuador 14 years ago and worked mostly at construction sites.
“I am taking the voluntary return’ program," Poeda said. "I will get all my unemployment benefits. We are given this opportunity to be able to return home because the situation here is going from bad to worse.”
Millions of other unemployed Latin American workers in Spain are facing the same difficult decision, as they seek help at shelters and soup kitchens, and desperately look for work.
Unemployed Colombian domestic worker Blanca Africano hopes holding up a sign will help her find a job.
“Because of the crisis you can not find work. I have been in this crisis for four years already. I take care of seniors, I can take care of a baby, or I clean, I cook, I can do all the domestic chores of Spain," she said.
But her chances of finding work in Spain’s depressed economy are slim.
Forty kilometers and a world away at Madrid’s Autonomous University, the fate of Latin American workers is on the mind of economics Professor Federico Steinberg, who came to Spain as a child from Argentina.

“It is expected that an important number, I cannot give you a figure, would leave," Steinberg said. "They would either go to their home countries in Latin America or to other developed countries.  That is going to be the only way to solve that situation because it is unlikely that we are going to see another real estate bubble in Spain for the next 30 years.”
Experts say it will not take that long to turn the country’s economy around, but after four years of recession even a few more years would be too long for many of Spain’s immigrants.
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Traffic police are ready
to grab drunk drivers' cars

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorists might be interested to know that the traffic police and road safety officials have staked out plots of land where they can store cars that are confiscated under the traffic law.

Tracts have been designated in Pavas, Zapote, Alajuela, and Calle Blancos, officials said Thursday.

Today some 800 handheld alcohol sensors are being returned to traffic officers. They have been adjusted to the requirements of the new traffic law that has now gone into force with stricter limits.

For one thing, the new law sets a limit of 0.50 grams of alcohol per liter of blood for professional drivers and new drivers. For others, the limit is 0.75 grams. Motorists in excess of these limits will have their vehicle impounded, said the Consejo de Seguridad Vial. They also will face a criminal charge. There also are penalties for those professional drivers and new drivers who show 0.20 per liter of blood on the hand held devices. Other drivers face a stiff fine for alcohol content of from 0.50 to 0.75.

New drivers are defined as those with three years or less of experience behind the wheel.

Officials said they expect to do a big business in impounded vehicles.

The traffic law, which has gone into force, has been the subject of discussion in the legislature for two years as lawmakers tried to make adjustments on what some considered excessive fines. Fines now for five major categories range from 280,000 to 20,000 colons, or from about $570 to $41.

A previous news story listed the new penalties HERE!

San Ramón hospital tour set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members and guests of San Ramon's Community Action Alliance will tour the local hospital today in a monthly meeting that starts at the hospital at 10 a.m. The meeting will also include a presentation about the hospital's history as well as a tour, said the alliance. More information and directions can be found on the organization's Web site.

German music at museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banda de Conciertos de San José will play the music of the German masters Sunday in a free performance at the Museo Nacional.  The 11 a.m. performance is under the direction of Juan Bautista Loaiza, The concert is a celebration of German unity.

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