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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 216                          Email us
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Mar Vista


French Embassy asks for more protection for tourists
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A spokesperson for the French Embassy in San José said Monday that Costa Rica needs to do more to protect  tourists from France and from the rest of the world.

“The embassy is very concerned about this event,” said this spokesperson. “There must be more security for tourists.” The embassy statement referred to a French tourist who nearly had his arm hacked off when he tried to defend himself and his female companion from machete-wielding robbers near Puerto Viejo last week.

The French tourists were the second couple to be robbed in a matter of minutes along Playa Punta Uva Oct 22. The Frenchman received a severe blow from a machete to his arm, and the woman also sustained minor injuries. Both are currently in stable condition.

Police captured two suspects the day of the robbery, José Domingo Cruz, regional director of the Fuerza Publica, confirmed Monday.

The French couple robbed last week are Mathias Cuvex and Marie Combaz, according to police.  This was the second serious crime involving French citizens in the last two years

In March 2011, another French couple, Gerard and Claude Dubois, disappeared while they were on vacation in Quepos. Since then, investigators have still only found the car the couple rented south of Quepos and the couple's passports in a garbage bin in Jacó.

“These are two very serious cases,” said the embassy spokesperson. “We hope that the authorities put more force into guaranteeing security for tourists.”

A.M. Costa Rica reported the initial Puerto Viejo news story Monday.

Cruz would only give the name of one of the two suspects who have been detained. That man is José Luis González. The other suspect was released for
cooperating with police, a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed.

According to police officials, two masked men with machetes first approached an Argentine man and a woman on the beach. Neither the man nor the women tried to fight the robbers, and they relinquished two bikes, a bag of possessions and other unspecified items.

Within minutes, the two men found the French couple nearby. The judicial spokesperson said that Cuvex tried to fight the robbers. One robber responded by slashing at Cuvex's arm, cutting him so deeply that the arm was almost completely severed from the rest of his body, said the policeman.

That man also inflicted minor injuries on Ms. Combaz before fleeing with unspecified items.

Fellow beachgoers responded to the French couple's cries for help. The couple were first taken to a hospital in Limón and later to Clinica Biblica in San José, said police. 

Cruz said that the two suspects were arrested later that day. Investigators raided the home of González and found one of the bikes that had been stolen from the Argentine couple, he said.

The judicial spokesperson said that a judge ordered González held for three months of preventative detention because investigators believe he is the one who inflicted the wounds on Cuvex and Ms. Combaz. He had also just been released from prison Aug. 23 for having a gun without a license, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said that the other unnamed suspect was released because he cooperated with police by helping to find and return the items that were stolen from the two couples. He must report to local police every 15 days to make sure he has not left town, the spokesperson added.

The French Embassy spokesperson said that the couple underwent surgeries, but are now in good health and recuperating.


Sandy's effect on tourism likely to be minimal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although Tropical Cyclone Sandy forced the cancellation of some 12,000 flights in the United States, the impact on Costa Rica tourism appears to be minimal.

Several flights to Juan Santamaría airport from Newark, New Jersey, and New York were canceled Monday as the storm neared the U.S. mainland. A United-Air Canada flight to Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia from Newark was canceled too, as was the return flight.

Airline companies had good reason to keep their aircraft grounded. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that wind gusts of from 79 to 90 mph were reported at New York's JFK International Airport Monday evening. Newark is just across the Hudson River.

The Miami-based hurricane center said that there were storm surges of more than 13 feet in lower Manhattan where some streets were flooded. Atlantic city, New Jersey, near where the storm made landfall suffered the loss of part of its famous boardwalk.

Despite the disruption in air travel to Costa Rica, airlines are offering passengers alternate dates. In addition, the airlines are mobilizing their aircraft fleets to handle the extra load when the storm moves to the north along the Saint Lawrence River. So the net loss of tourists is likely to be negligible.

Flights from eastern Canada will be disrupted later in the week.

Airlines reported disruptions in flights in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Cleveland in Ohio and Buffalo in New York. Boston, Massachusetts appears to be outside the
Sandy
Sandy as seen from a NASA satellite
Click HERE for bigger image

direct path of the storm but likely to be feeling the indirect effects. These airline hubs are feeders for international flights.

Costa Ricans know about indirect effects because Atlantic cyclones hundreds of miles to the east frequently bring heavy rain and damage to the country.

The New Jersey coast is no stranger to hurricanes. The area experienced Hazel in 1954 and Donna in 1960. Both storms maintained their strength as they passed over land in much the same way Sandy is expected to do. Hazel caused 81 deaths in Canada's Ontario  Province. Hazel was so devastating that forecasters retired the name.

At 9 p.m. Costa Rica time, the storm center was 15 miles southwest of Philadelphia with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph or 120 kph.  The hurricane force winds ranged from Virginia to Massachusetts, said the Miami center.

Strong winds extend in all directions from the center by as much as 485 miles or 780 kilometers, the center said.

As the effects of the storm met a strong cold front over West Virginia, the rain is turning to snow. From one to two feet are predicted.


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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
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Canada plans to donate
ballistic tracking device


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Canada is giving Costa Rica a computer system that captures digital images of bullets and spent shells and compares the images to those in a data base.

This is the Integrated Ballistics Identification System produced by a Montreal firm that allows cross-border comparison of ballistic information.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said this would be important in organized crime investigations.

The system is in use in the United States, although there is controversy over a requirement in some U.S. states that every weapon sold be test fired and introduced into the system.

Officials will demonstrate the system Wednesday at the judicial forensic facilities in San Joaquín de Flores.


New traffic law produces
early harvest of 454 tickets


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic officials said Monday that already officers have issued 454 tickets for violations under the new traffic law that went into effect Friday. There were 79 cases of motorists who had not had their vehicle inspected for safety, 60 persons who failed to wear a seatbelt and 57 motorcycle drivers or passengers who were not wearing a reflective belt or vest, said officials.

Traffic officers were out in the center of San José Monday in an effort to catch motorists who did not respect the license plate restrictions. Mondays vehicles with plates ending in 1 or 2 are prohibited by the measure designed to reduce downtown congestion. Although lawmakers had two years to write the traffic law, they forgot to include this prohibition. So President Laura Chinchilla had to issue a hurry-up decree Friday.

Traffic police are setting up checkpoints on back streets and in less traveled areas in an effort to catch motorists who would try to sneak by with prohibited plates. Each day two digits are prohibited, ending with 9 and 0 Fridays.


Latin opportunities session
will open here tomorrow


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Ministerio de Comercio Exterior will host a two-day conference this week featuring international business experts and high ranking government officials including President Laura Chinchilla.

The conference is an international event that caters to businesses and governments throughout Central America.

Organizers of the conference plan to discuss what policies Central American and Caribbean governments can initiate in order to attract more private investment to their countries and to the region, according to a ministry press release.

The event is sponsored by the international non-governmental Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This organization was founded in the 1960s in order to encourage economic growth and international trade among strong western nations.

This is the third conference that the organization has held in the region about Central America and the Caribbean, even though there are no members of the organization in these areas. The previous two sessions were in Chile and Colombia.

The theme of the event is "Getting the most out of global value chains: Opportunities and Challenges for Latin America."

Although Costa Rican government officials like President Chinchilla and foreign trade minister Anabel González will speak at the beginning and end of the conference, most of the time will be devoted to panels featuring managers of international companies, private analysts and university researchers.

The conference will commence tomorrow at 8 a.m. with addresses from Minister González, President Chinchilla and other business representatives. The conference will continue with primarily panels until 10:30 p.m.. Thursday the event will only run from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Both days of the conference will take place at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú.

The ministry encourages registration for the event, which can be done online HERE! http://www.comex.go.cr/eventos/Cadenas Globales de Valor.aspx.


 
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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Water from the volcán Poás lagoon ejected this sediment and rocks onto the crater floor over the weekend.

Poas material
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica/Diego Núñez S.

Double eruption this weekend tracked by a sensor at crater
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volcán Poás spit out acid water, sulphur, sediment and rock twice over the weekend.

The first eruption in the crater lake was at 5:57 p.m. Saturday, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. A second and smaller eruption took place at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.

In both cases, the Observatorio can be exact because the eruptions registered on a sensor that is located at the volcano.
The eruption did not send material outside the crater but did decorate the floor outside the lake with material in a distinctive design.

Such eruptions have been taking place since 2006 when the volcano re-entered an active phase, said the Observatorio.

The active crater of the volcano contains Laguna Caliente where the water is strongly acidic.

The activity is not considered dangerous and the volcano and its national park still are open to visitors.


Bill prohibiting pregnancy tests could hurt women's job chances
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The battle for women's rights is a worldwide struggle, and Latin American's with their machismo cultures have not been exempt.  Women have been penalized for many things, including their role in the reproductive process.

Women in Honduras sweatshops, for example, were not only working in poor conditions but were given pre-employment pregnancy tests and another two months after employment, according to an article by Jennifer Swedish in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights. A positive test would subject her to an immediate firing.

In previous years women were required to be sterilized and given birth control injections disguised as tetanus shots or oral contraceptive pills disguised as malaria medications,  the article said.  In worst case scenarios, women were given injections that caused abortions.

Although reports in Costa Rica are not this extreme, the country is still in a controversy of allowing pregnancy tests. An employer is not prohibited from requiring an employee or prospective employee to take a pregnancy test. 

The idea was debated in a conference by the International Labor Organization.  Officials maintained that there are two reasons women are subjected to pregnancy tests.  The first is because the job the applicant is seeking is dangerous for the health of a baby, and a pregnant worker would not be able to properly carry out the duties asked of her. 

“Many workplaces require potential employees to have a medical examination prior to being permanently appointed,” said an Australian representative. “That medical examination may include a pregnancy test to enable accurate interpretation of the test results. Where the test is taken with the employee's informed consent and done for bona fide purposes, it would be unnecessary to penalize the employer.”

It is for this same reason the United States federal government permits employers to use pregnancy tests.

The other reason, which is more common and discriminatory, is because the employer does not want to have to pay for time off due to maternity leave, officials said.     

In Costa Rica, maternity leave is one month before the birth and four months after.  Employers must pay 50 percent of the new mother's salary and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro
Social pays the other half, according to the labor law.

Many observers acknowledged that making it illegal to give pregnancy tests would lead to the hiring of men over women.

“Requiring a test may lead to discrimination against women,” said a representative from Finland at the conference.  “It also violates the privacy of women. It is important to ensure that potential mothers are not discriminated against in recruitment situations.

Despite this, the Comisión de la Mujer sent a new bill to the full legislature Oct. 23. The measure would revise the labor law and add a sub-letter J to prohibit pregnancy testing for women to start or keep a job.

The measure, No. 17.872, would also require an employer to continue paying a pregnant woman who was dismissed from her job during an investigation by the Dirección Nacional y la
Inspección General de Trabajo until it was ruled that the firing was lawful under the misconduct clause. 

If the dismissal was unlawful, the woman would be notified and reinstated within 24 hours.  In current law it is illegal to fire a woman because she is pregnant, but the former employee is not paid during the investigation process.

The final amendment would change a women's nursing option from 15 minutes every three hours or 30 minutes twice a day to one hour before a woman starts work, letting her start late, or one hour before the workday ends. 

This deal is good for three months but could be extended for one year with a doctor's note.

"The commission has been working to strengthen the rights of women, in the case of pregnant women," said Pilar Porras, president of the Comisión de la Mujer, in a release.  "All the changes that we made to the labor code were consulted by Ministerio de Trabajo, the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social and the Ministerio de Hacienda, and we expect its prompt approval by congress."

In a Sept. 18 draft, it was proposed by the women's commission an entitlement of 10 paternity leave days for father's who lived in the household and a special doctor's license that gave mother's eight months off for children born with disabilities.

However, the chairperson noted that they would have to conduct a research to see if the additions were cost effective.
These items did not make it into the final bill.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 216
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Finance ministry restates tax rule on purchases by Internet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Hacienda has completed a study of its right to collect sales tax on oversea Internet purchases. Predictably, the ministry and the Dirección General  de Aduanas concluded that Costa Rican law allows the collection of sales tax from recipients of overseas goods.

This issue has been disputed and even went to court. The ministry started the fight last year when in October it began requiring the payment of sales tax on packages sent into the country. The bulk of the packages were Internet purchases by Costa Ricans for Christmas.

There still are mountains of packages on which recipients declined to pay sales tax.

The ministry is joining a trend that is even evident in the United States where tax-free Internet shopping is being challenged. The rule there is that if the distributor does not have a physical presence in the particular state, the local government cannot require the firm to collect sales taxes. So when New Balance opens up a distribution center in a state, the firm begins to collect taxes from residents of that state for Internet purchases of athletic shoes.

The issue is also a political question as well as a financial one. The Ministerio de Hacienda defined the issue clearly in its statement that taxes will continue to be collected:

You cannot understand or explain that the same product purchased in a local store pays import tax but when it is acquired on the Internet it does not pay taxes. This created an inequality in the customs tax treatment between a foreign business and a national one that undoubtedly would be affected. Therefore, to exempt Internet purchases would cause irreparable harm to the local business and also fiscal.

The sales tax is in addition to any tariffs that might be levied 
taxes

on the item. The Central American Free Trade Treaty reduced considerably tariffs on many items. For example, wine in bottles is free of duty when it is imported from the United States to Costa Rica under terms of the treaty. But the Dirección General  de Aduanas would apply a sales tax.

Part of the legal consideration hinged on a term that is found in a law that predates the Internet. The law exempted from sales tax small shipments not of a commercial character.  The ministry determined that Internet purchases are of a commercial character and therefor should not be exempt.

At least this Christmas, Internet shoppers who use one of the 90 or so courier companies or even Correos de Costa Rica will not be surprised when sales tax is added.

The ministry explanation did not say what would happen if a purchaser had paid sales tax at a foreign location. That would be the case if a purchase were shipped to Florida where most of the courier companies are located and the seller was required to collect Florida sales tax as part of the purchase price. That amount should be reflected on the invoice.


A.M. Costa Rica announces an adjustment in advertising rates
A.M. Costa Rica announces a small increase in display advertising rates as of Nov. 1.

The increase will be from 6 to 9 percent to compensate for additional expenses in salaries, rents, utilities, government fees and the estimated 6 percent increase in the cost of living. Current advertising contracts will not be affected.

As has always been the case, the newspaper will continue to place advertising at the current rates until Nov. 1, and
advertising executives have been instructed to contact their
clients with this information. Classified rates remain unchanged.

Advertising with A.M. Costa Rica still is a great deal because the company does not have to buy paper and the pages are in at least 90 countries every day. Every weekday the newspaper serves up about 32,000 pages to readers. Independent statistical monitors report that there are about 10,000 to 12,000 unique visitors a day. Advertising executives are authorized to display the latest statistics to customers and potential customers. Most sophisticated business operators want to see those statistics.
– originally published Oct. 16, 2012

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Computer in Tennessee said
to be the fastest in the world


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. state of Tennessee have unveiled what could be the world’s fastest supercomputer.

The new computer, named Titan, is capable of making more than 20,000 trillion calculations each second, according to officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. That is roughly equivalent to each of the world’s seven billion people being able to carry out three million calculations per second, according to the laboratory. Titan also has more than 700 terabytes of memory.

“The numbers just end up so big that I struggle to come up with a way to explain it,” said Buddy Bland, the project director of the laboratory's Leadership Computing Facility.  “It’s unimaginable. Twenty petaflops is 20 followed by 15 zeros.” 

Titan is actually an upgrade to the previous world’s best supercomputer, Jaguar. According to Bland, the new unit is roughly the same size as Jaguar, but is 10 times more powerful. Its components occupy a space about the area of a basketball court and are about two and a half meters high.

Titan, which cost $100 million, according to laboratory officials, is expected to be useful for researchers in numerous fields.

"Titan will allow scientists to simulate physical systems more realistically and in far greater detail," said James Hack, director of the lab's National Center for Computational Sciences. "The improvements in simulation fidelity will accelerate progress in a wide range of research areas such as alternative energy and energy efficiency, the identification and development of novel and useful materials, and the opportunity for more advanced climate projections."

Bland said there have been direct commercial benefits as a result of such supercomputers.

He said one company, BMI Corporation, used Jaguar to design and develop airfoils for large trucks that make them more aerodynamic and fuel efficient.

In basic science, supercomputers have also helped scientists determine why neutron stars spin the way they do, Bland said.

Titan is the latest entrant in the race to have the world’s fastest supercomputer. It is expected to vie for the number one spot on the top 500 supercomputer list against Sequoia, which claimed the title last June. China and Japan have both fielded computers in the top five.

“High performance computing is a game of leapfrog,” said Bland. “Every country in the world recognizes this is important. It’s important for our national competitiveness to be on the high end. Having the best tools means you get the best science.”

Bland said supercomputers are butting up against the same technological problems facing home computers.

“We use the same chips to build supercomputers that are in high-end computers at home,” he said. “These are not custom made chips for supercomputers. Processors haven’t gotten faster since 2002 or 2003. There are just more of them.”

Energy consumption is a challenge to powerful supercomputers, but officials at the lab say Titan will only use marginally more electricity than Jaguar.


Environmentalists express
concern over more vehicles


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The production of passenger vehicles around the world reached an all-time high this year: 80 million new cars and light trucks, according to a study by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington.  The new production record is heightening concerns among environmentalists, since petroleum-fueled automobiles are a major source of air pollution and carbon emissions.

With the new cars and light trucks added to the global fleet, the world is nearing a milestone: one billion vehicles on the roads. Most are petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines, whose emissions cause environmental problems.

Michael Renner of the Worldwatch Institute, wrote the analysis of worldwide auto production.

The strongest producer by far right now is China, which had a tremendous period of growth over the last decade and has overtaken Germany, Japan and the U.S., which used to be the three big producers worldwide," Renner said.

Hybrid and electric vehicles represent less than 2 percent of the total output, the study says. 

But representatives of the auto industry say they care about the environment.  Steven Brooks, an analyst at Edmunds.com, which compiles data on the automobile market, says the industry is responding to the desire for greener products.

“There are 43 different vehicles that are going to get introduced into the shopping arena by the end of 2015, like this Honda CR-Z here. This is a hybrid electric vehicle,” Brooks said.

But Renner says unless the world moves to cleaner and more efficient fuels, as well as alternative propulsion systems, electric cars won't solve the environmental problem.

“If we don’t significantly change the bases on which our electricity systems are functioning, in other words if we use large amounts of coal and fossil fuels to produce electricity, then going with the electrical vehicles is not getting us all that far,” Renner said.  

Industry experts say hydrogen fuel cells and experimental new materials, such as strong, lightweight magnesium and carbon composites, could dramatically improve energy efficiency in tomorrow's passenger vehicles.  But such improvements are still years away.  In today's car market, Steven Brooks says, gasoline prices are still driving people’s vehicle choices.

“The mid-size sedans are still the number-one-selling segment in the country, but the adoption of the small and hybrid vehicles is on the rise as the gas prices go up,” Brooks said.

According to the United Nations, emissions from road transport constitute more than 20 percent of greenhouse gases. 

The Worldwatch study notes that even in developing countries, car travel distances have doubled in the past decade. Experts agree that to counter the public health and environmental impact of this trend, governments must develop better systems of public transportation.


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Álvaro Hernández Marchena is greeted at event Sunday.

Injured police officer gets
support so he can walk again

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Florida de Nicoya conducted a fund raiser over the weekend for a Fuerza Pública officer who suffered serious internal injuries and who lost a leg in a motorcycle crash.

He is Álvaro Hernández Marchena, who has been on the force 12 years. Last Aug. 13 he was injured on his way home from work. The collision with a car sent him flying 15 meters and tore his motorcycle in two.

Now although he is on the disabled list, he is hoping for a new leg through a program at Hospital Calderón Guardia. Residents gathered to raise money and encourage him over the weekend.

The 54-year-old officer was in charge of preventative programs in the canton of Carrillo.


Police give wake-up calls
and make four arrests


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of the lower-income rooming houses in downtown San José got wake up calls from the police Monday.

Officers entered and searched 10 such establishments and made four arrests. One arrest was of a man who is the subject of a warrant for robbery. Police said they found him with a firearm in his possession. Another man was held for having a firearm without the proper documentation. There also was one person who may be an illegal immigrant, they said.

Officers also were out on the streets and highways making stops of suspicious vehicles. They reported making 58 arrests after stopping 245 vehicles in the morning hours.











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