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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 238          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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It's that time

The pre-Christmas season is in full swing, including the sales of live trees, mostly imported by the container load from Canada. At right Edwin Elizondo and a young worker size up a tree near the San Sebastian traffic circle in south San José.

The inaugration of the portal or manger scene at the Teatro Nacional will be tonight at 6 p.m. This is a big event with music, singing and speeches. The theater attempts to vary the scene each year. This time the stable is a tent!

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Visions of lottery loot dancing on their heads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About the only event that keeps Costa Ricans glued to their seat more than a close soccer game with the national team is the drawing for the Christmas lottery, the loteria navideña.

This year the drawing will be televised starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18. There are five top prizes, each worth 350 million colons or slightly more than $700,000.

Some 500 other lesser prizes, some as low as 400,000 colones or $810, also will be awarded.

There are five emissions for the lottery. In other words there are five sets of tickets all numbered the same with the same series numbers. Typically Costa Ricans do not buy a whole ticket or entero. that costs 20,000 or about $40.50 at the current rate.

Instead, they purchase one or more fracciones for 500 colones each, about $1. Each ticket, the size of a page in a printed newspaper, is divided into 40 parts. So a whole neighborhood might have their hopes pinned to two or three lottery tickets.

Tickets are sought so much that this year there are fake tickets in circulation and a black market with higher prices for legitimate tickets.

The drawing is a spectacle with three baskets each containing balls. One basket or canasta contains the numbers of the lottery tickets. A second contains the series number of the ticket. The third basket contains balls specifying the prize. The top prize or gordo is a gold ball.

These baskets are similar to those that are used in casinos for roulette.

The drawing is open to the public and in the auditorium of the Junta de Protección Social de San José, the welfare agency that controls
the legal lotteries. The location is on Calle 20 around the corner from the Hospital Nacional de Niños. There is a drawing every Sunday there but the Christmas lottery is the big show because so much money is involved.

When the gold ball is drawn, breaths are held until the ball specifying the number of the series and the ball showing the number of the ticket drop from their baskets. Television cameras draw close to capture the moment. All over Costa Rica, television viewers are on the edge of their seats or on their knees trying to influence the outcome.

Just like in horseshoes, close also is good in the lottery. The ticket before and after the main prize also are winners. So are tickets from the same series and tickets with the same number but a different series.

Then the action turns to outside the auditorium. Who sold the winning tickets? Who won? Where?

For a week newspapers and television screens are full of faces of happy winners. Sometimes the winners are spread through a whole town with a number of families sharing the prize.

One year a lottery vendor held the winning ticket but quickly pointed out that the ticket owner was a frequent customer who just had not yet picked up his purchase. The customer got the money but the lottery vendor got high marks for honesty. The vendors also get a small commission on big winners they sold.

Lottery proceeds go to medical and social welfare causes. More than 60 percent goes to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

And sometimes stories appear in the newspapers about winners of previous lotteries and how sudden wealth disrupted their life. Perhaps nothing as stark as the Anton Chekov short story "The Lottery Ticket," but riches to rags always makes a good tale.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 238

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This Indonesian import seems to have an extreme case of anorexia. It is one of the exhibits at Plaza Roosevelt in San Pedro de Montes de Oca through Sunday. Some 139 exhibitors have a variety of art objects.

Flat tax proponent
is guest of embassy here

By Silleny Sanabria
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alvin Rabushka is an expert in tax policies in the United States and other countries, especially Russia. He originated and promotes a flat tax plan and wrote a book with that name.

He stresses the idea that every country should have flat

Alvin Rabushka
tax reforms to boost the national and international economy. The flat tax is just that, a percentage tax levied on income without the benefit of many deductions or a progressive rate where those who earn more pay a higher percentage.

Rabushka is affiliated with the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University in the United States.

In the case of Costa Rica, he said that the country needs urgently a flat tax reform because the country depends on the exports and imports to survive.  The flat tax is simple, and all people who should pay the taxes can understand it better, he said. And it will make a better personal economy that at the same time will help the national economy too, he added.

He was here as a guest of the U.S. Embassy.

Costa Rican lawmakers are now considering a complex tax reform package that is anything but a flat tax. However, the chances of passage are not considered certain.

The flat tax proposal designed for the United States taxes all income, once and only once, at a uniform low rate of 19 percent. It permits a tax-free allowance of $25,500 for a family of four, thereby exempting many poor and lower-middle-income households from taxation, according to the Hoover Institution. All wage earners would pay less tax than under the current system. The flat-tax plan tax returns can be filed on a postcard, according to the proposal.

And this e-mail message
came from what planet?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

English may be the universal language of the Internet, but a number of foreign spammers universally butcher its grammar, syntex and vocabulary.

For example, what is this guy trying to say?

"As a worthy purchaser we grant you as occasions offer with information and renews. Our logs indicate that you perhaps have necessity in a supplement."

The message may be from an online pharmacy, but with a fake return address, the Web link provided might simply be a virus source.

Even with a second try the effort falls short:

"We apologize and hope you will take a jaundiced view at medicaments we sell. Again, let us introduce our drugs at attractive prices which may be urgent needed."

And then there is the alleged mortgage offer:

"Your specific position has been judged to the important committees, and upon prudent weighing up, we are able to propose to you the ensuing prospect. Based upon prudent weighing up you qualify to obtain a sizable revenue on your initial property investment."

The best guess is that the spammer ran the original message through an online translation program. The original appears to have been written in an Asian tongue.

Pair arrested in city
after store burglary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Policía Metropolitana officers arrested a pair of Nicaraguans early Wednesday morning who are charged with burglarizing a store in the San José center. 

The two suspects were identified as a 17-year old youth and a 25-year-old man identified by the last names Urrieta Centeno, officers said.  Officers said they arrested the pair some 300 meters from where the break-in took place.   

The two allegedly forced their way into the store and had a large quantity of merchandise shoved in four bags, officers said.  The men only used force to gain entrance into the store and cost some $100 damage, officers said. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 238

Newly hatched turtle is a double-header at Ostional.

© WWF / Carlos Drews

Two-headed turtle might be symptom of pollution
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A two-headed olive ridley sea turtle crawled out of its shell Nov. 20 in Playa Ostional and has caught the attention of conservationists.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, such deformation is generally caused by contamination and the fact that olive ridleys are endangered has the fund worried.  Ostional on the Pacific is one of three places in the world where synchronized emergences of thousands of nesting female turtles, can still be seen, the fund said.   

“The specific cause of this case of bicephalism is
 not known.  But, increased temperatures as an outcome of climate change cause drastic modifications to the incubation environment in sea turtle nests. Similarly, industrial and agricultural contaminants dumped into river channels reach the sea and become incorporated into the food chains, where they can affect sea turtles" said Carlos Drews, the fund's regional coordinator for marine turtles.

The turtle appeared born in good health; both heads were reaching above the water to breath, the fund said.  However, Drews added that it is impossible to know the condition of the internal organs of the hatching.

Tamarindo group fights municipality over land swap
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamarindo has developed quickly from a quiet fishing town to a secret surf destination to a well-known surf destination, to an attractive tourist spot and finally to one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. But now some residents are seeking to curb the rampant development before the town loses its character.

In only the past couple of years, the town has spread far away from the beach, sprouted a plethora of hostels and cabina joints and even allowed fast-food franchises such as Burger King and Subway to set up shop.  Luxury hotels, overpriced eateries and North American-style, North American-priced homes can be seen nearly everywhere.  And in banks, gift shops and grocery stores, the Costa Ricans who work there but lack English are adept at communicating with calculators and hand signals.   

But with the announcement of a seven-story luxury condominium called Naxos that is planned for a piece of property between Tamarindo and Playa Langosta, several residents say the developer, Construcciones Generales de Costa Rica S.A., and the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz have gone too far. 

According to the company's Web site, the Naxos will have one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury condos with such pleasantries as jacuzzis, marble counter tops, high ceilings and exquisite designer tiled floors.  The building should be open sometime in the beginning of 2007, the company said.

Jerry Hirsch is with the Asociacion Pro Mejoras de Tamarindo, a 10-year-old group of residents.  The association is made up of North Americans as well as Ticos, according to Bruce Mckillican, a member.  But the group is also trying to involve the many Argentinians and Italians who call the town home as well, he said.  They are battling the municipality to bar the construction of the building.   

The Naxos legal advisers posted a bulletin in Spanish on Tamarindobeach.net inviting the public to a meeting regarding the construction of the Naxos building.  According to the bulletin, the point was to “clear doubts about the construction of the building as well as explain the point of the development of the project and clear up the worries of the local public.” 

Ramiro Cascante posted a bulletin soon after in both English and Spanish informing the company that while their intent was welcome, it may be beneficial to the public to post another bulletin in English.  This never happened. 

A day before the scheduled meeting, the company canceled it, citing the “belligerence of certain persons and the low level of dialog that would exist.  We have information that there are intentions to create
improper controversy and manipulations that break the good faith and true spirit of the meeting.”

Part of the concern is that the company may be building on an alameda, or green zone.  Hirsch's association has filed a lawsuit against the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz for issuing a permit to Construcciones Generales to allow it to build on the site.

Jennifer Orellana with the company said that Naxos is not being built on an Alameda and the property was bought with all the legal documentation and that the firm has all the necessary permits allowing it to build. 

A letter from Oswaldo Angulo Angulo, head of the census and land registry office of the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz to Pastor Gomez Ruíz, mayor of the municipality, says the same.  Because of an earlier exchange of parcels, the land is no longer designated as a green zone, and the company has the right to build, the municipality says.

The association recognizes that the company might have been caught in the middle of the municipality's dealing of green zones.  However, the association maintains that Naxos is being built on public land and has filed a lawsuit against the municipality to stop construction of the building. 

According to Griet de Pypere, the president of Promejores, although the lawsuit is directed at the current administration, those officials are not at fault.  The association's lawsuit stems from the actions of the prior mayor.  It alleges that the land in Langosta where Naxos is being built was once a green zone and was exchanged for another one in the inland section of Tamarindo.  Therefore, the country lost a green zone, the association claims.

The lawsuit alleges further that the municipality illegally exchanged the public land.  According to the association, the owner of the Urbanización Beko in Langosta, Claudio Cerdas, negotiated with the municipality to keep the land he was supposed to donate to the public. The way the law works, if someone owns a certain amount of land and wants to build a subdivision, he must donate 15 percent of the land to the public.  The lawsuit alleges that Cerdas, knowing the value of the land he was giving away, negotiated with the municipality to keep the valuable land in exchange for less valuable land on the inland side of Tamarindo.  The lawsuit said that the municipality accepted the agreement but it was not in their power to do so, Ms. De Pypere said.  

Ms. De Pypere recognizes that the Naxos building may have unwittingly been caught up in all this. 

“We are not suing Naxos.  If they bought the property without knowing, they are a victim as well as we are,” she said. 

A.M. Costa Rica

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Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 238

Two reported killed in sidewalk confrontation in city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A young man with a revolver fired into a group of lottery vendors late Wednesday morning, and the Cruz Roja said that two of the victims died.

The gunman fled on foot, but two officers of the Policia Muncipal captured a suspect about two blocks away. He is a relative of two of those shot,

The shooting took place on Calle 20 across the street from the Junta de Protección Social de San José, the agency that produces and markets weekly lotteries and several other lottery versions.

One of the dead was identified as Juan Pablo Cortés Ureña, 25, when he arrived at Hospital San Juan de Dios.  The identity of the second dead victim could not be determined, but Luis Gilberto Monge Guerrero, 24, had been reported in critical condition in Hospital San Juan de Dios earlier in the day.
One victim, shot in the leg was Gilberto Chacón Agüero, 49, who went to Hospital México, attendants there said Wednesday night. He was reported to have successfully gone through surgery.

Carlos Luis Monge Salas, 61, believed to be the father of the gunman, also was in Hospital San Juan de Dios. However, the Cruz Roja said Wednesday night that two of the victims had been transferred to Alajuela.

The shooting took place on the sidewalk in front of the establishment operated by the elder Monge. The Judicial Investigating Organization had no  information on the case, but policemen said informally that the shooting appears to have stemmed from a dispute over money. The 17-year-old suspect, when captured, carried some 7 million colons in cash, some $14,200.

The 11:30 a.m. incident caused police to block the heavily traveled street.

Conspiracy alleged in bids about airport in Trinidad
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla., — A federal grand jury has indicted eight persons and two companies for allegedly engaging in a wire fraud conspiracy to manipulate the bid process for a construction project at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad.

In a statement, U.S. officials said the indictments allege that the eight defendants conspired to engage in wire fraud, a federal offense under U.S. law, by rigging the bid process to secure construction contracts for the airport.  According to the indictments, on two different occasions, the defendants arranged for a shadow bidder to submit a fraudulent and over-inflated bid for one of the airport's construction projects.

The defendants perpetrated this action, said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, to make their own inflated bid appear reasonable by comparison.  On both occasions, the defendants' inflated bids were accepted, said the agency, which is the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Charged in the wire fraud conspiracy were defendants Raul J Gutierrez, Rene Diaz de Villegas, Eduardo Hillman-Waller, and Armando Paz, all of South Florida, and Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, both of Trinidad and Tobago.  Also charged were Calmaquip Engineering Corp., a Miami-based corporation that supplies specialty equipment needed to operate airports, hospitals and office buildings, and Northern Construction Ltd., a Trinidad and Tobago construction company.

In addition, the indictment charges seven of the defendants with conspiring to launder money received as a result of the fraud.  According to the charges in the indictment, the defendants participated in transferring money paid by the government of Trinidad and Tobago to Calmaquip Engineering Corp. in Miami through a series of complex financial transactions designed to conceal the funds origin.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment on the wire fraud conspiracy charge and a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment on the money laundering conspiracy charge.  

Karen Hughes turns her attention to three Central American nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. undersecretary for public diplomacy will lead a delegation of business executives to three nations in Central America next week.

A statement issued Wednesday by the State Department said the official, Karen Hughes, will be accompanied by chief executives of major U.S companies such as PepsiCo and JPMorgan Private Bank.

The delegation will visit Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where a series of natural disasters damaged economies in the region. The region was hit multiple times by hurricanes.
The trip aims to encourage private sector assistance for reconstruction efforts in the area. The trip will last from Sunday to Tuesday.

President Bush has asked the business leaders to see U.S. assistance efforts already underway.

The delegation includes Steve Reinemund, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, Inc.; Bob Lane, chairman and chief executive officer, Deere & Co.; and Maria Lagomasino, former chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Private Bank.                       
The delegation will receive briefings from representatives of the U.S. embassies, the U.S. Southern Command, and non-governmental organizations.

Jo Stuart
About us

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