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(506) 223-1327         Published  Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 237               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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New Canadian ambassador to present credentials
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canada's new ambassador to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras will present his credentials to President Óscar Arias Sánchez today.

The ambassador, Neil Reeder, a father of three who has spent 26 years in Canada's foreign service, was high commissioner to Brunei from 1999 to 2002, and has served abroad in Rabat, Washington, Hong Kong and Mexico City.

He comes to Costa Rica from his post as director
 general of communications with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa.

Reeder succeeds Mario Laguë, who became Canadian ambassador to Costa Rica in 2004.

Laguë had in the past been linked to a scandal of over a $100 million in a Canadian government sponsorship program.

It was said that Laguë was the spin doctor for executives that made fraudulent claims through the program. After arriving in Costa Rica, Laguë kept a low profile, and left the post of ambassador in May earlier this year.

Woman takes on gas station and wins settlement
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A determined expat motorist has fought a local gasoline station and won 36,000 colons, the estimated cost of fixing her vehicle after dirty gasoline clogged the fuel system.

Donna Norton, a sometimes correspondent for A.M. Costa Rica, said she found that she was having problems with her car and took it to a local mechanic. She lives in Santa Clara de San Carlos.

The mechanic said that the fuel system in her 1988 Toyota Corolla had been clogged by dirt and blamed a local gasoline station.

Ms. Norton didn't really know what to do and began patronizing another gasoline station, she said. But then she learned that the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos has rules involving service stations. One rule is that the service station operator arrange to have the gasoline tanks cleaned once a year.  Some stations clean the tanks twice a year to be sure.

"What makes the tank dirty is chemical residues and trash coming from the gasoline itself, and residues that accumulate from moisture, soil and bacteria coming from the tank," said Ms. Norton.

Ms. Norton said that she called the regulating agency in San José and found that there are many complaints against the local gas station. But she nearly gave up when she learned she would have to travel to San José to press her claim. Then the regulating agency said that it would send a representative to her town to address the problem, she said.

Finally there was a hearing, but the service station owner did not show up, said Ms. Norton. That was when the regulating agency awarded her 36,000 colons, about $72. She did not get any
gasoline inspection
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Norton
Alejandro Porras Fonseca from Florencia de San Carlos, Alajuela, was the man who determined that the carburetor on the vehicle was damaged by dirty gasoline.

money for the time she spent over 10 months in pursuing the case.

"Even though it was almost a year to get it done, I must say there is certainly one Costa Rica government office that really does want to make it right," she said.  "That alone is a very good feeling.  Having my money that I should not have had to spend in the first place back in my pocket is almost icing on the cake.  I can make a lot of cakes for $70!"

Ms. Norton said that the service station owner must make a payment next week directly to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, which will then transfer the money to her bank account. If the service station owner does not follow through, he faces a substantial fine, the agency said.

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Our readers' opinions
Learn to be patient
is his rule for expats

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Green makes some points in his letter of Nov. 28 with respect to customer service but, in my opinion, misses the point that this is Costa Rica and the culture is vastly different from the U.S.A.

Yes, I had horror stories about ICE and telephone customer service when I first arrived five years ago but part of the horror was that I originally expected (and maybe demanded) U.S.A. customer service, and it just is not here.

I have recently also had great stories about the people who work for INS, ICE and CNFL. I had a car accident last year with a 6-month-old car. I set an appointment at INS, the car was inspected and I received authorization for the repair in less than an hour (inspection and approval). The car was repaired the next week and INS paid without a problem and I paid the deductible.

I changed to a GMS telephone recently and had a great experience at ICE. The entire time was less than 20 minutes. Recently, I have had the same good experience with banks, both national and private banks.

The difference, in my opinion? I have learned that patience and courtesy get me miles beyond complaining, and I am also always polite. The second feature is that I am learning Spanish — I am not a good speaker but I try and the people understand me. I also think they appreciate that I try and are quick to correct me and help me with their language.

I do not know if this applies to Mr. Green or not but I have seen many expats waiting in lines angry because the service was not faster, etc. My advice is to chill out, enjoy your new country and take this little change from the U.S.A. with grace and be nice. Your customer service will certainly improve as has mine.

U.S.A. companies may arrive here but to produce telephone service, electrical service, etc for a competitive cost will be very difficult for many years to come. Then, your customer service will be manned by Ticos and, most likely, you will obtain about the same customer service.
James Goodman
Sabana Sur
Bronze age mentality
not necessary for kids

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Christy Stregles' letter warning of the dangers of the film "Golden Compass' was quite amusing. I haven't seen the film, but Ms Stregles seems overly concerned that the film has a hidden agenda and is subtly promoting atheism to children. She admonishes readers to "think for yourself, do the research."
First, I would point out that American atheists comprise a mere 8 to 9 percent of the population, and, therefore, are vastly outnumbered by "believers" of all stripes.
Second, the growth of American superstition in all of its diverse manifestations is alive and prospering.  Therefore, her admonition  [sic] 'TO KIDS! Think for yourself, do your research, and save the precious minds of our kids" gave me a chuckle. As if Catholicism or any other ISM didn't have an agenda!?!
I contend, if parents and guardians of children have any capacity at all to think critically, they will indeed, "save the precious minds of our kids." simply by allowing them to "think for themselves."  Indoctrinating them with Bronze Age mythology, is scarcely necessary to cultivate well informed, compassionate, and moral human beings.
H. Franz
Santa Ana/Las Vega, Nevada

Protect kids from math
to shield them from reality

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What unintelligent and fearful people Christians like Christy Stregler seem.  And how typical the response to perceived threat — to censor.  As if shielding people of any age from ideas ever resulted in anything but ignorance.  Ms. Stregler quotes Mr. Pullman without documentation.  During one interview  Mr. Pullman said "I don't know whether there's a god or not.  Nobody does, no matter what they say."

I can understand the fear that belief in a god won't hold up to critical scrutiny and the fear that Mr. Pullman's "not knowing" might seem only reasonable to any thoughtful child (or adult) of normal intelligence.  Pullman went on to say ". . . there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.  Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name."

Silly to present the fears of adults in the guise of protection of children.  The words "undermine the basis of Christian belief" sound like so much blah blah blah.  Tossing around words like "twin goals" (what might THAT mean?) and "Pullman's agenda" sounds like so much dim-witted paranoid random word-generation.  I confess to having reread the letter to the editor, looking for mention of the anti-Christ.
The following appeared in Scientific American, September 1999: (Larson and Witham)

"Scientists and Religion in America"

"Whereas 90 percent of the general population has a distinct belief in a personal god and a life after death, only 40 percent of scientists on the B.S. level favor this belief in religion and merely 10 percent of those who are considered 'eminent' scientists believe in a personal god or in an afterlife."

To keep statistics like this from harming children, I suggest you protect them from learning mathematics.

Sharon Wallace
Ciudad Colón

Security cameras can give
evidence after the fact

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was part owner of a company that developed remote security cameras. The camara's job was not to stop crime,  but to help identify the criminal, after the fact. It is based on the assumption that most crimes are committed by the same individuals over and over again. The camera image is reviewed after the crime is committed.  No extra staff for monitoring is practical or cost effective.  So reducing crime by occasionally catching someone in the act, is a very worthwhile effort.  No mystery.
Dan Reed

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Separated twins from San José ready to be moved out of cardiovascular care unit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Costa Rican siamese twins separated in a dangerous operation are reported breathing on their own at a California Hospital.

The twins are Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha Arias of San José. They were joined at birth at the chest and stomach. They shared a single liver and portions of a dual heart.

A report from Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto said Wednesday that the 2-year-olds soon would be moving from the cardiovascular intensive care unit into a regular room.

Fiorella had a minor surgical procedure a week ago to modify her chest reconstruction and repair her skin closure, said the hospital report. During the one-hour procedure, physicians Gary Hartman and H. Peter Lorenz trimmed and resutured the skin flaps used to cover the area exposed during the separation, the report said.

The surgeons also replaced two bars used to stabilize Fiorella’s chest after the separation with a plate similar to the one used in Yurelia, the report added. The modification was made to make it easier for Fiorella to
twins are separated
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital photo
Maria Elizabeth Arias with her daughters, Fiorella and Yurelia.

breathe on her own, the report said.

The girls have been at the hospital since July while surgeons did preparatory work for their operation earlier this month.
In addition to the separation, surgeons had to repair irregularities in the hearts of both.

Adjustments in schedules of Gulf of Nicoya ferries are causing delays and waits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ferry of the Asociación Desarrollo Integral de Paquera, the so-called Ferry Peninsula, is back in service after reduced hours because of high water.

Meanwhile, the $5.7 million Tambor II, the newest and most modern of the ferries, is reported to be in Panama for maintenance.

Fernando Araya, acting director of the División Marítimo Portuaria of the transport ministry, said that the Ferry
Peninsula had increased its hours of operation.  The ferry now leaves Paquera at 5 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
And it leaves Puntarenas at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

A launch service continues Monday to Saturday from Paquera at 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and from Punatrenas at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., said Araya.

The Tambor I ferry also is in service but the exact departure hours could not be determined Wednesday.

Tourists reported delays and long waits at the Puntarenas dock. The ferries are the quickest way to get to the lower Nicoya Peninsula where the beach towns of Montezuma and Malpais are found.

U.S. wants to scan all 10 fingers of foreigners entering country by end of  year
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. security officials will begin scanning all 10 fingerprints of most non-Americans traveling to the United States.

The new 10-finger scanners will replace the current two-finger machines currently in use. The Department of Homeland Security says the program will begin Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport. It plans to have
the new scanners at all U.S. ports of entry by the end of next year. The U.S. State Department currently uses 10-fingerprint scanners when it issues visas for travel to America.

The Homeland Security Department says the new program will help "keep dangerous people out of the United States, while making legitimate travel more efficient." The United States has dramatically increased security at points of entry since the terror attacks of 2001.

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War of words with Colombia could be related to referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and local reports

Weeks after being told to shut up by the King of Spain, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is now engaged in a bitter, highly-personalized war of words with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The dual spats come as Venezuelans prepare to vote on constitutional reforms that, if approved, would allow Chávez to rule indefinitely.

Adherence to protocol and verbal restraint were hard to find at the close of the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile earlier this month. Chávez repeatedly blasted Spain's former prime minister as a fascist. An irate King Juan Carlos responded with words that have become famous the world over.

He said in Spanish, "Why don't you shut up?"

Chávez later demanded an apology, and said relations with Spain would be put on hold.

But just as that controversy was beginning to fade, another erupted late last week when Colombia terminated the role of Chavez as mediator with the country's main leftist rebel group. President Alvaro Uribe accused the Venezuelan leader of interference, saying Chávez spoke with the head of Colombia's armed forces without Uribe's consent.

An angry Chávez was quick to respond. He said he was putting relations with Colombia in the freezer because he had lost confidence in everyone there. He said he did not believe the Colombian government wants peace with the rebels. He said Colombia deserved another president, one with dignity.

Chavez accused his Colombian counterpart of being a pawn of U.S. imperialism.

Uribe had words of his own for Chávez.

"You, with your insults and lack of valid arguments are hurting the dignity of the Venezuelans you represent," he said. He said Colombia needs a mediator with terrorists, "not one who legitimizes terrorism."

Uribe accused Mr. Chávez of manufacturing diplomatic rows for his own purposes, of labeling other leaders as agents of imperialism while pursuing his own expansionist policies through heavy-handed use of oil revenue.

Such highly-personalized attacks between heads of state are rare on the world stage, except where Chávez is concerned. Last year, the Venezuelan leader made headlines at the United Nations by calling President George Bush "the devil".
Analyst Michael Shifter of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue says, with Venezuela's massive oil reserves at his disposal, Chávez sees no need to temper his words.

"He clearly feels on top of the world with oil prices what they are," he said. "But there are some limits on how far he
can go. I think he is encountering some soft spots, both domestically and internationally, because of his tremendous ambition and appetites perhaps going too far. And I think this could begin to plant the seeds of what could be the decay of his rule."

Sunday, Venezuelans will vote on constitutional reforms that would eliminate presidential term limits, redefine private property, and grant the state sweeping emergency powers, among other measures. For months, polls predicted the reforms would be approved, but the most recent survey shows public opinion swinging against the initiative.

The head of Venezuela's opposition Social Christian Party, Luis Ignacio Planas, says it is no coincidence that President Chávez has come to verbal blows with Colombia and other nations in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum.

He says that Chávez is picking fights with Colombia, Spain, Chile, Saudi Arabia, and with the whole world, because his electoral proposals lack popular support, so he is trying to generate imaginary enemies. President Chávez responds that, far from being ashamed of his words, he is proud to stand up and challenge his enemies.

For years, the Venezuelan leader has tried to steer Latin America away from closer ties with the United States, urging the region to form its own trading blocs and cooperative efforts. As an incentive, he has bought portions of some nations' foreign debts, bankrolled transnational development projects, and provided oil to some nations at preferential prices.

Analyst Michael Shifter says there is no doubt that the Venezuelan leader's influence in the region has grown.

"Most other governments in Latin America indulge Chávez because he has resources and he is prepared to spend them," he said. "And he also has some constituencies in some Latin American countries that are critical of the United States. But I do think that these confrontations with Spain and with President Uribe will not be lost on other presidents in Latin America."

A one-time paratrooper and coup plotter, Chávez was first elected in 1998. He has been reelected several times since and survived a recall referendum. His program of "21st century socialism" promises to promote a more egalitarian society within a democratic framework. 

Venezuelan leader claims that CNN television station is out to kill him
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has called for an investigation into U.S.-based CNN, saying the news network was seeking his assassination after its Spanish-language channel ran an image of him next to a caption that read, "Who killed him?"

CNN issued an apology over Tuesday's video mix-up, saying the caption had been meant for a story about
Washington Redskins football star Sean Taylor, who died Tuesday in Florida of a gunshot wound.

But Chávez said he doubted the caption was broadcast next to his image by mistake and called on his attorney general to probe the incident. He accused the network of possibly seeking to "instigate a political assassination."

Chávez, who was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup, has often reported alleged attempts to assassinate him.

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