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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 227        E-mail us
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A guest editorial from a reader
He's angry with the patronizing criminal system
By John Holtz•
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica has always been a country of “what’s in,” a culture of “trendy” ranging from fashion, discos, cars and even crime.

I am angry with my adopted country, angered by a patronizing criminal system that fosters more and more crime and violence at most every level and I am outraged so little has been and is being done to stop it. No more debates, no more politics, no more half measures and no more looking to the future . . . . Costa Rica must take measures to stop the runaway crime now! It is our cancer.

The newest and boldest “in thing” in crime is to hold up restaurants/bars and their patrons.

We take a risk, a life and death risk just to have dinner out as my friend 75 year old Antonio Lehmann discovered Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m. He was shot in the head and died instantly while dining with a friend. (For those of you who do not recognize the name, he was the owner of the Librerias Lehmann chain, a Costa Rican institution for many years.)

After all, holding up a restaurant is much easier than a home invasion, it is quicker, mostly cash and the biggest threat is not the police but rather the presence of one or more patrons also loaded down with guns. Considering the amount of legal and illegal weapons in the hands of the general public, there will be shootouts, innocent people will be caught in the crossfire, and the gunmen will continue their Bonnie & Clyde imitations all the way to the even easier tourist targets. You can take that to the bank.

And the response so far to Costa Rica’s crime? Not much, not much at all except to make it illegal for a foreigner to buy a gun as if xenophobic Costa Ricans are armed only for self protection.  We keep pointing fingers to other
countries, other nationalities, but we refuse to look into the mirror. Why not another decree that says, nobody may purchase a handgun, automatic nor semi automatic weapon of any kind? (I know the slogan, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” Very nice slogan, but without the gun it becomes far more difficult to do the killing, right?)

As in many big cities in Latin America, it is against the law for two adult males to ride one motorcycle. Why? It is too hard for a single person to drive, to stop, rob, shoot and escape.

The frequent bus holdups? Randomly put undercover police on perhaps 10 percent of the buses and watch that “trend” stop in a hurry.
Realize, that when we put together all of the police agencies in this country, collectively, law enforcement is about as large as any army in Central America.  And, each agency marches to the beat of its own drum, accomplishing only what it wants to accomplish instead of mobilizing towards a common good under the direction of the Ministry of Justice.

We need law enforcement centralized with authority instead of free spirited, ad hoc agencies which so far number more than 20.

We are a country of concessions, so if we do not have the funds, why not build prisons under concessions. After all, these criminals do not number in the thousands and thousands as their crimes would indicate but are repeat offenders set free over and over again while becoming more bold and more violent with each new venture.

My essay is not meant to please anyone, least of all me. I dread promoting these dramatic actions, but I have reached my limit with the excuses and having to look over my shoulder at the bank, at the supermarket, on the street, in the bus, in my home to see where the next assault will come from.

• Mr. Holtz is a long-time Santa Ana resident.



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 227

Costa Rica Expertise
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Our readers' opinions
Problem is the jake brake
that keeps people awake

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

You featured a very interesting article by Dennis Rogers Monday about noise. I’ve lived in the country here for over 12 years and the point that dogs are the greatest threat to neighborhood peace is certainly true for our previous home that was half a mile from the highway.

I have to confess, however, that those dogs were mine. We had no near neighbors, so it was a very local problem but one we readily accepted because they warned us when anyone was near. This was especially welcome at night with no close neighbors. Most, if not all, of the pueblo of Tres Equis also had dogs and were willing to put up with the noise for the same reason. No one would keep a dog that just barked for no reason.

For those people living closer to the highway, I must disagree with Mr. Rogers assessment. The largest threat to neighborhood peace are the trucks that can’t seem to function without continually using their jake brakes. The majority of Costa Rica is mountainous so this isn’t an isolated problem that could have been easily overlooked. At our previous home we often faintly heard this continual racket but from half a mile away it was only a mere annoyance. We are now staying in a friend’s home that is considerably closer to the highway, but still a good 300 meters from it, and it’s often impossible to receive a night’s rest without being disturbed every 15 minutes.

For convenience, the majority of the population in rural areas build their homes as close to the highway as possible and during our entire time living here the noise from trucks has been the most common complaint we’ve heard. Even sitting in a restaurant or bar that is near the highway the noise from these jake brakes often drowns out the obligatory television and radio that always seem to be set at their maximum volume.

I don’t understand how Mr. Rogers could have completed a comprehensive investigation of the noise problem without mentioning this.
Larry Worsham
Chitaria/Chatsworth, California

Violence is from upbringing
and not result of toy guns

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The presumably psuedo-nymic "Olive Branch" argues against her own case against toy weapons when she says, "It's no longer a game of pointing a finger and going 'kapow'."

Children, nasty little savages that they are, have probably pointed fingers, sticks, brooms or anything else available and gone "kapow" since the invention of gunpowder.  Before that, and still today, a stick was a sword, a clod was a projectile, and the first thing one made when it snowed was not a snow "angel" but a snowball.

Half a century ago, when my Sunday school class learned about David and Goliath, our Sunday afternoon was spent making slings and trying to clobber each other with them. I guarantee that those slung stones hurt worse than any cap-gun "kapow" ever did, though not as much as the licking you got from your folks if you actually managed to hit someone. Maybe Sunday school lessons are too violent as well as are T.V., movies, and video games.  The "Romans" in the Easter play always carried toy swords, and they were seldom left sheathed through an entire backstage day.

It's not the toy that makes a child violent.  It is that a child needs to be taught to control his violent proclivities.  This is not the job of the schools. This is the family's job.  Don't blame T.V. and toys if you won't teach your own child how to behave.

As for the good point that criminals might use these realistic toys to rob and terrify, and in the process be shot by police who are convinced that criminal is armed, well, gee, tough cheese.  Oops, sorry, Sonny, ya had it coming.  We know that if you had had a real gun, you would have robbed, terrified, and possibly murdered with that by preference; unless your innocent victim had also had a real gun with which to protect themselves.

An olive branch can indeed promote peace and love in this world.  Apply it firmly to the seat of your kid's trousers when you catch him screwing up.
Mary Zeman
Nuevo Arenal

U.S. law requires toy guns
to have bright orange tip

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Why do people insist on not giving out all the information when writing salacious opinion pieces?  When was the last time you saw a REAL gun with a BRIGHT ORANGE tip on it?

The U.S. passed a law years ago requiring all toy guns, realistic or not to have a BRIGHT ORANGE tip on the barrel.
I'd be more concerned about the company that is making plastic ORANGE rings for REAL guns to make the police second guess themselves.
Craig Salmond
(no relation to the Campbell, Perkins,
and Jamaican fellows)
San José

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 227


Some lawmakers reported ready to extend luxury home tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ink is hardly dry on the luxury home tax, and lawmakers are proposing to extend the measure past the 10 years that are specified in the text.

A new proposal has gone into the legislative hopper that would do just that. The proposal is being promoted by the Partido Unidad Socialcristiana. The law went into effect Oct. 1. Under the current text, the tax would terminate Sept. 30, 2019.

This is the special tax that is being levied on homes worth more than 100 million colons or about $172,000. The money is supposed to be used to build homes for those living in slums.

Many Costa Ricans do not believe that they will have to pay the tax because the fiscal value of their property on file
with the local municipality is purposely very low. But the value for this tax is established by using a process specified by the law and Tributación, the tax collecting agency. The method is replacement cost new less depreciation plus the estimated value of the land.

Although extending the tax has been advanced by a minority political party, other parties are likely to sign on to the measure sometime in the next 10 years. Governments in general hate to lose tax money, and this one is supposed to bring in about $46 million a year. There also is the likelihood that the rates might be increased by the legislature. The owner of a  property just over 100 million colons would pay a quarter percent of the value or about 250,000 colons, some $440. But the rate increases as the home value increases.

Some lawmakers are specific in saying that the purpose of the tax is redistribution of the wealth.


Voter rolls show an increase of 8.4 percent over 2006 lists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country has 2,822,491 voters who will decide the February elections. That's the final count from the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones. Men total 1,409,411, and women are 1,413,080.

The Tribunal said that there are 218,721 new voters or about 8.4 percent more than in the 2006 general election.

Voting is obligatory, and the election rolls come from the list of citizens who hold identity cédulas. The numbers also can be used to make comparisons of growth between various cantons or provinces.
The Tribunal said that Guanacaste voters increased 11.45 percent over 2006 and that Heredia was up 10.55. That province was followed by Alajuela with  a 9.9 percent growth. San José province showed a 5.85 increase.

The electoral districts with the greatest loss of voters since 2006 was Pavones de Pérez Zeledón with a decrease of 57.7 percent, San José de Río Sarapiquí with 55.9 percent and Moín de Limón with a decrease of 44.45.

Cantons showing the most growth were Garabito where Jacó is located with a 19.35 percent increase, Parrita on the central Pacific with 16.5 percent, La Cruz in northwestern Costa Rica with 15.5 percent and Liberia with 14.4 percent.


Television Internet contract finally gets Contraloría OK
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad got formal approval Monday of a $19.6 million contract to provide television over the Internet.

Approval came from the Contraloría General de la República that has to review every major contract. The telecom company announced in May that it was planning to award the contract to ITS Servicios de Infocomunicación S.A. The company won the job in a 2008 bid process but two other companies that bid filed appeals.
The contract had been held up by other legalisms, including a freeze put on the deal by the Tribunal de Casación de lo Contencioso Administrativo y Civil de Hacienda. The telecom company will pay for the contract with a bond issue, according to a document released Monday by the Contraloría.

Last May the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it was planning to offer the service this year, but the processed dragged on so long that customers probably will not see the Internet television on a regular basis until the middle of 2010.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 227


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Police revisit north San José area housing many immigrants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers and immigration agents made another foray Sunday night into the area called Tierra Dominicana, an area where police only go in force.

The result of the sweep was the arrest of one man, a Colombian who was the subject of an arrest warrant alleging attempted murder.

San José municipal officials also closed a bar called Bachata, which did not have a permit and was operating as a hotel and a dance spot, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
Police also went through the Aloha club and checked documents of the mostly Colombian patrons.

Despite the large police presence and the assistance of the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional, a tactical squad, only three persons were found to lack appropriate immigration permits. More than 100 foreigners were checked, officials said.

This was the third return to the area in two months. Police conducted the first sweep after an elderly resident died in  a crossfire. The area is along Avenida 7 in north San José. It is called Tierra Dominicana because of the large number of Dominicans who have settled there.



Christmas police reinforcements will take to the nation's streets next Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública will be putting 80 more officers into the central San José area starting Monday in anticipation of the Christmas season. On Dec. 1, some 200 more officers will be assigned there.

Officials say that the payment by employers of the annual aguinaldo or mandatory Christmas bonus creates an attraction for criminals.
Similar efforts will take place in Alajuela, Cartago, Liberia and San Carlos, said Eric Lacayo, director general of the Fuerza Pública.

The force has about 12,000 officers to protect the country. Some also will be riding public buses, which are a frequent target of bandits. And more police checkpoints will be going up on major highways, said the Fuerza Pública.
The extra police presence will continue until Jan. 10, officials said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 227



Medical vacations in Costa Rica

1950s hula hoop is back
as latest exercise tool


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

It might have ended up as just another passing fitness fad from the 1950s, but hula-hooping appears to have caught on and stuck. The initial appeal is that it's fun, but the hula hoop's lasting value is that it is good for you. 

Fitness experts say an hour of intense hooping can burn as many calories as an hour-long run on a treadmill. The activity has gained thousands of followers worldwide. Classes in the U.S. are typically offered in gyms and private
hula hoop
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
400 calories an hour
studios, though enthusiasts often meet in public parks and recreation centers.

It's fun, it's healthy, it's cheap, and it's sweeping America as the latest fitness craze.

Although the exact origins of hula hoops are unknown, children and adults around the world have played with hoops — twirling, rolling and throwing them — throughout history. But here in New York City, adults are realizing the exercise
benefits of hooping, which fitness experts say can burn up to 400 calories an hour.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently championed hula hooping as a form of exercise for kids, but hula hoop instructor KaytiBunny Roberts says its great for adults too. "It's cardio, but it's much less impact on your knees," she says, "and it's a full body workout, whereas running is like pound pound pound, so it's a lot less damage on your body."

Roberts says she started hooping about a year and a half ago. She says she used it as a kind of therapy after her house burned down and she lost all her possessions. Now, she says she'll never stop.

Ted Brancu is a fitness instructor who also teaches hula hoop classes. "I don't enjoy most sports, honestly, and hula hoop honestly feels more like dancing to me," Brancu said.

Classes like this one at a New York City fitness and recreation center teach students how to twirl the hoop, providing both upper and lower body exercise. Roberts even leaves time for a little improvisation.

Executive assistant Tiffany Lewis started hooping about a month ago, after a heel injury left her unable to do her normal biking and kickboxing routines.

"The more you get the moves down, the more sexy you can feel about it.  It's really a good conversation starter too, like people just see it and smile," Lewis said.

Graphite hoops sell for $30 - $40 each. But those interested don't necessarily need a class to learn, Roberts says there are tutorials on the Internet, or they can just get a hoop and teach yourself.

For your international reading pleasure:

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most since 1980-81


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 8 percent to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008-2009 academic year while the number of international students enrolled for the first time at a U.S. college or university in fall 2008 increased by 16 percent.

This represents the largest percentage increase in international student enrollments since 1980-1981. Those findings and more were released Monday in Open Doors 2009, the annual survey report published by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State.

To better promote the benefits of an American education, a new EducationUSA Web site also debuted Monday at www.educationusa.state.gov. The site features a one-stop shop new media-based student page plus a page dedicated to the U.S. higher education community complete with a searchable database of EducationUSA advising centers and other handy reference tools.

Encouraging academic and intellectual exchange between nations is vital to building increased mutual understanding and promoting U.S. security and economic well being, according to the State Department. International students contribute $17.8 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Open Doors 2009 data and analysis are available at http://opendoors.iienetwork.org.

Arias off to Middle East,
Spain, Portugal and summit


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is going out of the country again Sunday with a return scheduled for Dec. 3.

Arias will be visiting Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Portugal and Spain, where he will receive an honorary doctoral degree at the university in Salamanca. In Portugal the president will participate in the 19th summit of the chiefs of state of IberoAmerican countries.

Arias and his government considers both Israel and Palestine to be independent national states. After meeting with Israeli officials Nov. 26 and 27, Arias will travel to Ramallah, Palestine, to meet with officials there.


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