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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 222            E-mail us
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Guatemalan despidida
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguirdad Pública photo
Fire trucks at Juan Santamaría airport salute a vintage C-47 carrying 25 Guatemalan rescue experts as it departs after the visitors participated in a search for victims at Calle
Lajas in San Antonio de Escazú and formed

part of an air bridge that brought supplies to the southern part of the country that remains cut off to vehicle traffic due to the four days of storms.

Today's report is HERE!

Country scores low in ease-of-doing-business index
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country finished second to last among Central American states in an assessment of the ease of doing business here. The rating was by the World Bank Group - International Finance Corp., which awarded Costa Rica 125th place among nations of the world.

The report, released Tuesday, ranked Costa Rica 116th in the ease of starting a business. It said doing that requires 13 procedures and takes about 60 days.

The report also said that getting a construction permit requires 23 procedures and takes an average of 191 days.  The ranking in this category was 131.

The country fared better in an assessment of how long it takes to register property (21 days and six procedures) and the ease of getting credit (65th place).

Costa Rica got bad marks for protecting investors (167th place), paying taxes (155th place) with an estimated 42 different payments by businesses each year and an average investment of 272 work hours to compute them and in enforcing contracts (130th place).  The report said that legal steps to enforce a contract averaged 852 days.

Even closing a business was difficult, the report said. Costa Rica ranked 114th in this area.

The report also said that Costa Rica had not made any legislative changes that affected the rating in the last year.

Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Canada were ranked from one to seventh in that order.
In all, 181 economies were ranked in the 2011 report, which is the eighth. The report indexed 11 areas of business life as of June 1.

The full report is on a dedicated Web site. The report called on the laws of each country and some 8,200 specialists who made the assessments.

"A fundamental premise of 'Doing Business' is that economic activity requires good rules — rules that establish and clarify property rights and reduce the cost of resolving disputes; rules that increase the predictability of economic interactions and provide contractual partners with certainty and protection against abuse." said the report.  "The objective is regulations designed to be efficient, accessible to all and simple in their implementation. 'Doing Business' gives higher scores in some areas for stronger property rights and investor protections, such as stricter disclosure requirements in related-party transactions."

The authors said the report takes the perspective of smaller companies who must deal with the local laws and regulations. Doing business remains easiest in the high-income economies, it said. Of the top 25 economies, 18 made it easier to do business during the year covered by the report, it said.

Kazakhstan was the economy listed as improving the most, followed by Rwanda and Perú.  The report is full of charts and citations to additional information and makes it clear that the goal is to encourage governments to make business easier.

Panamá, of course, was tops in the isthmus at 72nd place with El Salvador at 86, Guatemala at 101 and Nicaragua at 117.

Honduras trailed Costa Rica at 131.

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Sixaola border crossing
will get two new bridges

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The time might not be totally appropriate to talk about fixing up bridges that were not destroyed or damaged in the recent storm, but the transport ministry said Tuesday that it is ready to put in a new bridge at the Panamá border near Sixaola.

This is the one-lane, rickety bridge that even makes timid the  very brave. The 103-year-old former rail bridge will be replaced with a 120-meter (384-foot) steel bailey bridge. The Government of Panamá is supposed to install a similar one-lane bridge thereby providing two-lane traffic at the border crossing.

The Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes said Costa Rica's investment will be $1.5 million. The bridge is used frequently by tourists and border dwellers.

Eventually both governments will move to construct a permanent 260-meter (850-foot) concrete span up the Río Sixaola from the current location.

The ministry said that the new bailey bridge would be in place in late January. The ministry also said it would construct bridge access ramps and install concrete pillars so that the dual bridges could support vehicles of up to 40 tons.

The bailey bridges have been given the blessing of a decree that they are in the public interest, which helps getting permits to cut trees, extract gravel and do earth moving.

Our reader's opinion
Repressive rules and laws
destroy routes to progress

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Life (and politics) change over time and most expats (and some citizens) tend to respect the laws of the land (and the concept of “grandfathered” promises) rather than take those laws as a suggestion of what to do.  If one government official (even wrongly) gives you a set of guidelines, and you follow exactly, you have rightful expectations.  Only problem is a new regime is likely to be installed before you complete your project and the new “stick” is bigger, stronger and has added a few barbs.  Bureaucracy expanded.  So the “lawful” expat runs around in new circles in the hope of being blessed with a firm decision.  “Espere” has a dual meaning:  Wait and hope.

Expats who have assumed a local practice of “better to ask forgiveness than permission” have praise for the system.  Why wouldn’t they?
On the matter of bureaucracy (with bigger sticks, more regulations/permits, and resultant more negative unintended consequences), the “big stick” is now in the hands of more and more agencies, private companies, and financial institutions.  A friendly handshake, a recognizable face, a broad smile and politeness used to get you through a grocery line, past a bagger to make sure all your purchases were paid for, and out the door. 

Now the stores have installed a “big stick” at the door, making you stand in long lines while the ice cream in your grocery cart liquefies so that by the time you get to the front of the line, x-ray vision allows this person to see into closed bags and check off items on a receipt nearly devoid of ink and illegible.  But, he has the stick. 

And so do a whole lot of others, making life unduly cumbersome. This issue goes far beyond grocery lines and it’s endemic to a society in distress or one approaching it.  I believe in being a good guest in any country I live in, and a country’s representatives should try to be a worthy host.  Please don’t give me: “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”  It’s unproductive.

I’ve lived in oppressive countries before but going back 15 years, Costa Rica wasn’t like it is today or where it may be headed.   When people are repressed to the point they lose their dignity, they either take jobs that give THEM a big stick (and wield it mightily) or become negative (or turn to drugs, alcohol or become violent to re-establish dignity).  Wouldn’t it be a Utopia if a government only passed laws that protected the populace from extrinsic factors, not interfering in a lawful existence by imposing heavy-handed regulations, and which applied a fair tax equally without the necessity of massive redistribution of income in a vision of social justice which primarily allows for expansion of government (more chiefs, less Indians) and new edifices to reflect their self-importance.  Next to zilch for the citizenry at large or for the explicit purpose of the taxation. 

Third World governments like “implicitly”, avoid “explicitly.”   Costa Ricans are, by nature, a generous and kind people.  Expats are usually generous as well.  I would hate for that quality to change.  A too heavy hand in taxation and untoward regulations tend to shift personal generosity to “let the government take care of the poor and unfortunate; I’ve paid heavily for that in my taxes.”  Problem is  governments the world over are generally wasteful voids and lawmakers need to produce or perish.  Maybe every new proposed law should pass a “devil’s advocate” test before implementation.

With fair taxation, equally applied and controls where the taxes are going (not to more bureaucracy), a country will have money to pay for infrastructure and services without graft or shortcuts, and people will have value for their taxation.  People will hold onto their pride without it being “big-sticked” out of them and that country can take another step forward to progress.  Good citizenry deserves nothing less. 

I’m still personally hopeful for a light at the end of the tunnel, and I don’t believe we are preaching to the choir. Fifteen years ago, Ticos were very much into “pura vida.” Now I sense they are thinking of redefining it as they shake their heads in despair.  There are so many thoughtful, loyal, and far-seeing Costa Ricans that positive progress will get back on track.  Sólo puedo esperar.  
Mary Jay

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, Nov. 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 222

Latigo K-9

Cruz Roja workers, many of them volunteers, sort supplies that the public had dropped off at one of the many collection points.
supplies being sorted
Cruz Roja photo

Government census will tell full extent of storm disaster
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As better weather allows emergency officials to view the results of four days of heavy rain, what they see is not encouraging.

Whole communities continue to be cut off. Roads are destroyed, houses are buried in rocks the size of automobiles, and it may take a week to restore running water to some sections of the Central Valley.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda said Tuesday that the central government is preparing a census of damage so officials can be precise in learning the extent of the disaster. She ordered that four more cantons be included in the original list of 34 that suffered heavy damage and are covered by an emergency decree. They are Grecia, Alvarado, Ojancha and Esparza.

The disaster promises to be a budget buster. Officials report that nine bridges are out, but that only counts bridges on national highways. In the mountains and in rural areas, high rivers ripped away many bridges, leaving some towns without access to the rest of the country. Bridges on canton routes were destroyed in Cervantes de Cartago, Aserrí-Salitrillos-Jerecó, Garabito-Quegrada Ganado, El Rodeo-Ciudad Colón and Pérez Zeledón at Calle Alvarado.

At least 18 national highways are still blocked by landslides or other problems, according to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. That includes the Interamerican Sur, which is blocked between Palmar Norte and Paso Real. Tourism operators in Manuel Antonio and
Quepos sent out a special report Tuesday telling potential visitors that the old gravel road between the two communities is operational even though the main highway remains cut.

A list of the state of the roads is at the Policía de Tránsito Web site.

So far, Casa Presidencial said that 500 million colons or nearly $1 million has been spent on reestablishing traffic on roads and bridges so communities can communicate.

The emergency commission has spent 109 million colons, about $212,000, just in getting food, water and basic humanitarian aid to the affected populations. Workers delivered 18,000 liters of water so far. The Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, is running continuous tanker routes to communities affected by the massive outage.

The accounting of damage does not yet include the houses that were destroyed, some of them simply swept away by raging water. That happened above Aserrí, in parts of the southern zone, in Alajuelita and Parrita and in the Canton de Osa.

About 4,900 individuals who were sheltered during the storms have returned to their homes, said Casa Presidencial. About 2,900 remain in shelters.

The national emergency commission said that there have been no reports of lawlessness at any of the shelters. Some 30 shelters have been closed and 56 remain open.

Fine arts montage
'The Astronomer' is a painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer done by Gloria E. Masis Araya
'La Grenouillère' by Claude Monet and reproduced by Eric Monge
"Woman Lying on Her Back, Lassitude" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, reproduced by Glenda Cháves

Old Masters live again to help aspiring art students here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even great artists are not too shy about getting pointers from the masters who preceded them. That is why the  Escuela Casa del Artista of the Museo de Arte Costarricense has a show running until Nov. 17 displaying the works of second-year students who copied and learned from the masters.

The school points out that even Michelangelo spent long hours studying the works of Masaccio, one of the first Italian Renaissance painters.

The show contains 12 works with different techniques on display in the school's gallery.

Florencia Urbina, director of the museum, said that the student show can transport visitors to different eras in the history of art. The works are approximately the size of the originals, according to José Edwin Araya Alfaro, school artistic director.

The works are done in the technique of the original. Some are mounted in frames of the era.

The school and its gallery are in Guadalupe north of San José and open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with hours 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Lippi Madona and child
'Virgin and Child,' attributed to Italian artist Filippino
Lippi and reproduced here by Sabrina Vargas

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 222

Jose Miguel Insulza
Organization of American States/Juan Manuel Herrera
José Miguel Insulza gives his report

Remove troops from island,
OAS secretary general says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If Costa Rican officials were expecting a strong stand in support of their territorial integrity, they went to the wrong international organization.

José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, gave his report Tuesday on his visit to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Isla Calero, but the best he could suggest was that both countries adopt "the goal of generating a favorable climate for dialogue between the two nations, to avoid the presence of the armed or security forces in the area where their presence could still be a source of tension."

In other words, he said he hoped that Nicaragua would remove its troops from the island it seized a month ago from Costa Rica.

José Enrique Castillo Barrantes, Costa Rica's ambassador to the hemispheric body, was more direct. He gave Nicaragua 48 hours to remove the troops. He told the meeting of the organization's Permanent Council that the issue was not about a border dispute.

Costa Rica has been seeking some sort of international support since the Nicaraguan troops invaded its territory and ran up their country's flag.

But Insulza said in his report "I wish to recall that the mandate of this secretary extends to initiatives of good will to create an opportunity for negotiation between the parties, and in no case is it to expound, discuss or much less resolve the issue at hand."

The secretary general had three other suggestions in his report beside getting Nicaraguan troops off the island.

He urged both countries:

• To hold the eighth meeting of the binational Río San Juan committee to urgently address aspects of the bilateral agenda as soon as possible, at the latest on the originally agreed upon date, and in the company of the Organization of American States.

• To immediately renew conversations on the aspects related to the demarcation of the border line carried out to date, in accordance with existing treaties and awards.

• To include the pertinent authorities so they may review and reinforce the mechanisms of cooperation between the two nations to prevent, control and face drug trafficking, organized crime and arms trafficking in the border area.

Costa Rican ambassador
Organization of American States/Juan Manuel Herrera
José Enrique Castillo Barrantes addresses the council with Luis Alfonso Hoyos Aristizábal of Colombia to his left. The television shows the Río San Juan.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has presented his
country's invasion of the land as a fight against international narcotics traffickers and confusion and uncertainty over the international border.

Costa Rica has presented overwhelming evidence that the Isla Calero is Costa Rican territory. Nicaragua even described it as such in a 2007 filing with the International Court of Justice in another border dispute.

Insulza flew both with Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans to see the border area along the Río San Juan. He met with presidents and officials of both countries. Still it is unclear if he realized the purpose of the invasion is to seize land so Nicaragua can dredge a new mouth to the river.

At the session Tuesday, Denis Moncada, the Nicaraguan ambassador, said his country “has not violated nor does it intend to violate the sovereignty of the neighboring country of Costa Rica.” He added that “Nicaragua insists and reiterates its disposition towards dialogue, and the peaceful solution of disputes as well as the need for cooperation between countries against drug trafficking and organized crime.” That was according to a summary of the session by the organization's press office.

The session is supposed to resume in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

There may not be Nicaraguan troops on the island now. No one reported seeing soldiers when Insulza took a flight over the territory Monday.

Costa Rica is at a disadvantage, of course, because it does not have a military force to respond to the Nicaraguan invasion. The country has sent at least 100 heavily armed police to the border, but they do not have the weaponry or tactical support that a formal army would have.

Costa Rica also has declined to meet with Nicaragua until the troops are withdrawn.

The border between the two countries is the Río San Juan for most of its course. Nicaragua owns the river, and the international boundary is the south bank. Isla Calero is Costa Rican because the main channel of the river passes north of it. It is recognized as Costa Rican territory in every serious geographical description of the area. However, Google Maps had to correct an error in its online presentation of the area. It blamed the error on a third-party provider.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 222

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. officials are optimistic
Haiti can contain cholera

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As the number of confirmed cholera cases and deaths in Haiti continue to climb, so do concerns about the spread of the disease in the capital.  U.S. officials say Haiti is well positioned to contain the outbreak.

U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley says the Haitian government has established 16 treatment centers in Port-au-Prince, which he said are effectively helping the government evaluate the ongoing cholera outbreak and the fallout from Hurricane Tomas.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Haiti's health ministry said more than 580 people had died of cholera-related complications and more than 9,000 people have been hospitalized since the outbreak appeared in late October.

Also Tuesday, the first cholera-related fatality in Port-au-Prince was confirmed, weeks after the outbreak first appeared north of the capital.

Crowley told reporters in Washington Tuesday that Haitian officials had prepared for the possibility that the disease might spread in Port-au-Prince.

"Obviously, the Haitian government in establishing these treatment centers fully anticipates, as I think there were some earlier reports of, an increase in cholera cases in and around the capital," said Crowley.

The head of Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population, Gabriel Timothee, said the government considers the cholera outbreak to be a national security issue.

And Crowley said he believes the Haitian government's aggressive response, in cooperation with the help of international partners, should help to contain the disease.

"Tragically, we know that people will die from cholera even though it is a very treatable disease," he said. "But, through a combination of the improved surveillance, the pre-positioned stocks that are on hand in Haiti, that Haiti is well positioned to contain the outbreak."

The U.S Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is among the agencies that pre-positioned supplies such as hygiene kits, water containers and blankets, in advance of Hurricane Tomas, which dumped rain on Haiti last week. 

Health officials fear, though, that the rains and flooding from Tomas will help the disease to spread.  Cholera is caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, and symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.

As in previous outbreaks, Crowley said officials expect to see the mortality rate, relative to the number of cholera cases, decline.

Haitians are still reeling from a January earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and left more than one million people homeless.  Many of them still live in dirty, crowded camps.

Crowley said the U.S. will transfer another $120 million to the World Bank for the Haiti reconstruction fund within the next day.  That money comes from supplemental funding that was approved by the U.S. Congress.

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Sentence confirmed for aide
convicted in hospital fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The man said responsible for killing 19 persons in the Hospital Calderón Gaurdia fire July 12, 2005, will serve just 20 years. That was the decision of the Sala III high criminal court that upheld a new sentence levied on the  man, Juan Carlos Ledezma Sánchez.

Ledezma Sánchez orginally got a sentence of 50 years in the fire that destroyed the surgical recovery wing of the hospital. The Poder Judicial noted that he had been sentenced on a charge of murder. But the Sala III reclassified the crime as arson and ordered a new sentence. The trial court then gave a sentence of 20 years, and it was this sentence that was upheld by the Sala III this week, according to the Poder Judcial.

Witnesses testified that they had seen Ledezma Sánchez, a nurse's aide, near the storage room where the fire is presumed to have originated. The blaze swept through the surgical recovery wing and even killed two nurses as they tried to evacuate patients.

Ledezma Sánchez was convicted even though fire investigators said they could not find a specific cause for the blaze. An alternate theory advanced at the time of the tragedy was that the ballast of a light fixture had ignited combustible material in the storeroom.

Ledezma never testified in his own defense. He also made no statement.  One of the victims of the blaze never has been identified. He is believed to have been a vagrant who sought a place to sleep in the hospital.

Calderón Guardia had been plagued by small fires until the early morning tragedy. The fire showed that the hospital did not have adequate safety measures in place.

Liberia airport police
snag three suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police assigned to security at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia did double duty Tuesday when they nabbed three suspects on Ruta 21 that passed by their workplace.

The Fuerza Pública was in pursuit of a vehicle containing three robbery suspects. Airport police attached to the Dirección del Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea responded and managed to stop the vehicle outside the entrance to the airport, said police.

Officers said they found suspicious items in the vehicle that might be connected to robberies and thefts. Two of the suspects have criminal records, police added.

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