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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 237       E-mail us
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What would Ebenezer say about aguinaldos?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats can be pardoned for reciting the line made famous by a successful businessman in "A Christmas Carol":

"Christmas? Bah! Humbug! A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December."

Now Ebenezer Scrooge was straightened out by three ghosts and a charming Tiny Tim.

Expats who follow his example might get straightened out by the Ministerio de Trabajo. For 'tis the season for aguinaldos.

Those "HO. HO.HOs" are coming from Costa Rican employees who have spent their famous 13th month pay multiple times in their heads. They know that if the Christmas money is not forthcoming by Dec. 15, they'll be coming to the ministry to report their employer.

Now the aguinaldo is a right just slightly less than that of breathing. There is no fooling around. The expat employer simply adds up everything that an employee got during the year and divides it by 12 or adjust it by the number of months the employee has worked. That's the amount to put on the extra paycheck. They ought not forget food for domestic workers. There's lodging, too. Not to mention bonuses and commissions.

Immigration reports a great flow of persons leaving Costa Rica for Nicaragua every Christmas. These are not all Nicaraguans leaving for the holidays. Frequently they are employers leaving under cover of darkness. Some major businesses, when they fail, just fade away without compensating the employees as required by law. That's not nice. It's naughty.
scrooge

An expat really can open a can of worms by slighting an employee at Christmas time. The ministry has been known to side vigorously with employees even if they deserve coal in their stockings.

And an aguinaldo oversight can lead to a full investigation of the working conditions of an employee.

Now much has been made of the change of heart that took place in Charles Dickens' Scrooge. He was a happy, outgoing businessman after the ghosts taught him to keep Christmas well.

What is less known is that he turned the whole business over to his clerk Bob Cratchit, bought a condo in Jacó and every Christmas was looking forward to the four months of high season on the Pacific. Where he didn't hire anyone.


Power company placed 600,000 bulbs for holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The electric company says it has installed 600,000 Christmas lights in the city and elsewhere, not counting the 31,000 lights that will illuminate the tree on the grounds of the Hospital Nacional del Niños.

Workmen finished up their assignments Sunday in time for a ceremony Monday night. The work began Sept. 29.

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said it will be feeding the seven-watt bulbs at the hospital where the tree keeps growing each year. The total electrical load is 217 kilowatts, it said.

Financial downturns notwithstanding, the display of downtown lights has expanded this year. Avenida 2 has decorations installed from Hospital San Juan de Dios to the Museo Nacional. In all, there are 42 figures and 16 lighted signs.

Paseo Colón has 170 projecting green lights from Parque La Sabana to Hospital San Juan de Dios. There are 52 trees being illuminated with 170 400-watt reflectors. In addition, the pedestrian bridges are decorated.
The electric company also has installed what workers are calling murals at five locations in the city. These are lighted signs with designs. Two are in Parque la Sabana, and one is at the beginning of Avenida 10. One more is at Plaza Víquez, and another is on the Circunvalación at the Garantías Sociales traffic circle in Zapote.

Lights and illuminated panels are on the pedestrian malls at Avenida 4, Avenida Central and the Bulevar de las Américas. Among the signs is the figure of Kolbi, the new trademark for Grupo ICE.

It is a small frog.

The parks of the capital are being illuminated, too, as are the pedestrian bridges at Hospital México over the Autopista General Cañas and one at La Sabana over the Autopista Próspero Fernández. Three churches in the downtown, the Catedral Metropolitana, La Merced and La Soledad, also are illuminated.

The power company said it also is putting in a number of lights in Barva de Heredia, Desamparados, Pavas, Miramar de Montes de Oro, all places where the company has the electrical distribution rights.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 237

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U.S. stops short of approval
of new Honduran president

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department says Sunday's presidential election in Honduras was a significant, but insufficient step, to end the political crisis that began there in June with the ouster of former president José Manuel Zelaya.  U.S. officials are stopping short of recognizing opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo as the country's next president.

The State Department says the Honduran election met international standards for fairness and transparency and it has commended Porfirio Lobo for what it termed an ample victory.

But at the same time, it stopped short of formally recognizing Lobo as the country's next president and says Honduras must still take steps toward political reconciliation before it can emerge from the isolation brought by the June 28 ouster of Zelaya.

The U.S. response to the Honduran vote came Monday from Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, after the coup d'etat that drove Zelaya from office.  The Chilean-born U.S. diplomat said the voting was a significant step, yet only a step, in Honduras' return to full democracy. The Honduran interim government denies the ouster was a coup.

Valenzuela said that given the gravity of the June 28th events — the region's first coup since 1991 and the political polarization of the country — more steps are required.

"For the countries of the hemisphere and for the United States, to work towards the restoration of Honduras to the Organization of American States later on, Honduras must do more than just this election," said Valenzuela. "It must follow a process of national reconciliation through a government of national unity, and that's what we're urging the Honduran leadership to engage in.  The people of Honduras want nothing less."

Valenzuela said the Obama administration seeks implementation of an Organization of American States-backed settlement plan, including the creation of a truth commission on the circumstances of the coup and a congressional vote set for Wednesday on whether Zelaya will be returned to office to complete his term, which was to end in late-January.

The senior diplomat said the United States wants to see Zelaya restored to office.  But U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that the Honduran national congress might not support his return.  Zelaya has said he does not want to be voted back into office, arguing that would vindicate a sham election.

Several key Latin American states have said they would not recognize the election, arguing, like Zelaya, that it would legitimize his removal in favor of interim president Roberto Micheletti. But Valenzuela stressed that the election process was well underway before the coup.

Arias explains his stand
on accepting voting results


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez said that not to recognize the new regime in Tegucigalpa would convert Honduras into some kind of Albanian Central America or Myanmar and that only the country's people will suffer the most.

Arias made his statement on the Honduran election through a press release from Casa Presidencial. Arias still is in Europe.

HIs opinion is significant because it was he who drew up the San José accord, which is more or less the agreement finally reached between representatives of José Manuel Zelaya and the interim government.

Arias said that Latin America awakened Monday with a new reality and that the numbers going to the polls in Honduras was contrary to the modern trend of fewer and fewer voters. He said that it shows a public that wants to see the black and sad page of the coup put behind them.

He noted that he has said his government would accept the results of the election if they were held transparently, if there were no claims of fraud and if international observers certify that the results can be accepted.

Arias said his information is that the elections took place normally even though there were a few incidents.

Zelaya asked his backers to stay home and boycott the vote, but it appears that most did not heed his call.

Arias said that in recognizing the new regime in Honduras he was thinking of the Honduran people. They lived through a war in 1969 and then suffered Hurricane Mitch in 1998, he noted. The people do not need a political Hurricane Mitch, which would be the case if the Latin American countries and the international communities do not recognize the new regime, he said.

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Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 237

Agricultural officials try to boost unappreciated papaya
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agricultural officials are trying to give a boost to the unappreciated papaya to increase local consumption and exports.

The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería is promoting the fruit for its health benefits and said that there are about 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) planted of the fruit in the country. Most of the production is in Pococí, Guácimo, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Paquera, Parrita and Orotina, the ministry said.

The fruit has an unusual taste that grows on consumers like a good scotch whiskey. Pineapple and mango seem to be more preferred in a fruit plate, but papaya does not have the sharp taste. Dried papaya can be a sweet treat.

The ministry touts the vitamins C and A that are contained within the fruit. The Universidad de Costa Rica has produced a new variety, payapa perfecta, that does not have a strong odor, and the tall papaya trees usually produce fruit of about the same size, perfect for marketing. The flavor is supposed to be better, too. Most papaya grown here is of this variety.

The tree actually is a big herb. The fruit sells cheaply in the marketplace, and the ministry notes that it has been lauded for its aid to digestion. Papaya also can be used as a meat tenderizer. Some Costa Ricans wrap meat in papaya leaves. Commercially it is a powder sold as a tenderizer. The seeds can be eaten. Some cooks grind them and serve them like pepper for their sharp taste.
papaya
The many seeds can be removed easily


Papaya now is exported to Canada, and the ministry hopes to increase exports to Europe.

Papaya is believed to be native to Central America. Mexican residents were eating the fruit long before the rise of the great civilizations. Now the fruit is produced all over the tropical world.

In Spanish it is called melón zapote, mamao, naimi, capaídso, fruta bomba, lechosa, mamón, mampucha, pucha and paque. In some countries papaya is not a word for mixed company, so substitutes have been created.


Canadian governor general plans a visit to Costa Rica
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Michaelle Jean, the governor general of Canada, and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, will be in Costa Rica from Dec. 12 to 15, the Canadian government has announced. The visit is part of a series of state visits which will include México and Guatemala.

Peter Kent, the minister of State for foreign affairs in the Americas, will be a member of the official delegation, and there will be a delegation of Canadians working in a variety of fields, including governance, arts and culture, civic engagement and youth.

"We are both friends and continental partners who believe wholeheartedly in the democratic values of justice and fairness, in the rule of law and respect for personal freedoms, working together to preserve the security, prosperity and competitiveness of North America in the current global context," said the governor general. "And it is precisely from a desire to highlight the close ties that bind us that my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, our delegation and I will be going out to meet with the people and organizations that form the backbone of society."

The activities scheduled for Costa Rica will highlight the diverse and solid relationship between the two countries, one that is anchored in the Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement, said the Canadian announcement. The visit will be a continuation of political consultations with Canada that took place in Ottawa in May. During the visit, the governor general will host a youth dialogue as part of her national and international initiative to inspire young people around the world to become catalysts of change and to connect them with decision-makers, the Canadian announcement said.
Casa Presidencial said that the governor general would meet Dec. 14 with President Óscar Arias Sánchez when both will make a trip to Limón. The governor general was born in Haiti and immigrated to Canada in 1968 to escape the
governor general
Michaelle Jean
repressive regime there.

As governor general, Michaelle Jean is the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II in the country. The post now is largely ceremonial. She took over the office Sept. 25, 2005, and governors general usually serve five years, although the post is at the pleasure of the queen.

While in Mexico, the governor general will give a speech before the senate and take part in a seminar on Canada-Mexico
relations that will address joint security in North America, cultural diversity and economic competition. Mexican university students, members of the Mexican congress and Canadian academics will all take part in this event, the Canadian announcement said.

In Guatemala, the governor general will discuss security and impunity with the government, the Canadian announcement said. She will also meet with representatives from non-governmental organizations, most of whom are women, members of civil society and aboriginal leaders.

She also will visit projects led by the Canadian International Development Agency to reduce poverty and increase job creation, it added.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 237


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Domingo and friends, Renato and Miga.
Domingo and friends
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Channel 13 begins a Christmas story series for children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sistema Nacional de Radio y Televisión de Costa Rica is marking the Christmas season with a new show for children. The show in Spanish is "Un Cuento para Navidad.”

Puppeteer Domingo is providing stories with the help of Renato and Miga, his puppets, said the television station. The show uses a technique of asking the viewers questions.
The show also is inviting children to send greetings or wishes via fax, telegram or letter for a Noche de Paz show at the end of the program's run, which will be Dec. 24.

The show started Monday at the Channel 13 6:30 p.m. time slot, Monday through Friday. It is retransmitted the following morning at 9:30 a.m.

Domingo narrates the show in pajamas, and his 18 stories are suitable for bedtime, the station said.



Officials will mark abolishing the army in a ceremony today in Alajuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will mark the 61st anniversary of the abolition of the country's army today at 10 a.m. in the Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría.

José Figueres Ferrer, who then was president of the revolutionary junta, abolished the army in 1948. He had just won a war with the elected government, although there was some doubt that the election was fair.

The museum includes part of the former military headquarters in Alajuela.
Abolishing the army is promoted as a philosophical decision by Figueres, who later was president three times. But the decision had political implications. He eliminated the force with whom his irregular troops had been fighting and he prevented a future barrack coup.

The decision is the one that has made Costa Rica the land that stands for peace. And officials said that this allowed the country to build better roads, provide better schools for children and to provide relatively free medical care.

However, there are about 12,000 armed police in the country.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 237


Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chinese drywall studied
for possible ill effects


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says its scientists have found a strong association between some homes built with Chinese drywall and corrosion of pipes and wires. Homeowners in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have complained about feeling sick as well as damage to the metals in their homes, apparently due to the problematic drywall.

One homeowner, Mary Flannigan, when contacted, complained of various ailments due to the faulty drywall.

"Headaches, allergies, asthma. I've had pneumonia several times since we moved into the house," Ms. Flannigan said.

She says parts of her house are also turning black with soot.

"It's jewelry, it's the doorstops in the house, it's the pipes underneath our sinks, guitar strings, it's anything that's metal," Ms. Flannigan explained.

Homeowners across the United States have filed more than 2,000 reports with similar complaints.   Home builders began importing more drywall from China due to U.S. shortages

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tested 41 problematic homes and compared them to 10 healthy ones built around the same time and in the same neighborhoods.

The consumer agency's Alex Filip says problem homes are mainly built within the last four years in parts of the country that are humid.

"We have found a strong association between problematic drywall which contains high degrees of sulfur, and the corrosion and health symptoms that people are reporting," Filip said.

He says the problem homes are mainly built within the last four years in parts of the country that are humid.  These homes tend to be more air tight than older homes.

"The combination of a buildup of hydrogen sulfide gas in those homes and the fact that the air exchange rate," Filip said,  "the amount of air coming in from the outside was so limited that it was having a corrosive effect on metal items within the home."

This is causing damage to electrical wiring, plumbing components and anything else that is metal.

Most of the complaints are from homeowners in coastal states like Florida and Louisiana.  After hurricanes in 2005 and 2006 destroyed many homes in those areas, a boom in home construction caused a shortage in U.S.-made drywall.

Home builders began importing more drywall of gypsum wallboard from China.  The U.S. is no longer importing Chinese drywall.  American scientists have been traveling to China to investigate.

"They gave us access to both the mines where the drywall materials come from and the manufacturing facilities.So we were to go in and take samples and talk to them about this," Filip said. His agency is continuing to study the long term health affects of breathing fumes with high levels of sulfur. The agency is also looking into safety hazards in damaged electrical components.

"Are the smoke alarms being deteriorated, are the gas pipes, copper pipes coming into the homes are they deteriorating," Filip wondered. The commission expects to answer these questions by mid-2010.
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 237


Latin American news
Home invaders get 5+ years
and six months for firearm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The penalty for using firearms in a home invasion is just six months.  That was the sentence handed out by the Tribunal de Flagrancia Monday against two men who were caught in the act of tying up residents in a house in El Bosque de San Francisco de Dos Ríos Sunday.

The two men were surprised by Fuerza Pública officers as they tried to rob the home. The tribunal gave each man five years and four months in prison for the robbery in addition to the gun penalty. Typically prisoners serve about half their sentence.

The men were identified as Luis Suárez Castro and Jorge Jiménez Rodríguez. They were sentenced quickly because they were caught in the act.

A neighbor of the victimized family saw the men enter the home and called police. The Poder Judicial said that the men simply knocked at the door of the home and burst in when someone answered.  They were wearing ski masks. Police said Sunday that they had a .45 pistol and a .38 revolver.

One of the three victims who were tied up is an older woman, police said.

Cell phone frequency set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new third generation cell telephones will be operating in the 850 megahertz range, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad Monday. The company said that this information is important to persons who seek to purchase telephones. Some operate on different frequencies than the one allocated for cell service here, the company said.

The company also said that cameras within the cell phone for videoconferencing and some musical systems might not be of the type the phone company is using.  The company suggested that purchasers restrict their search to phones approved by the company. However the company does not seem to have a list of approved devices on its Web page yet.

Two drug loads confiscated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers confiscated about 17 kilos of cocaine at a checkpoint on the Interamericana Sur at Ciudad Neily Monday but the two men in the vehicle fled as police arrived. They appeared to be heading into the Central Valley from Panamá, officers said. The drugs were found in a hidden compartment.

Anti-drug police had better luck at Juan Santamaría airport where they detained a Romanian tourist who was reported to have more than 12 kilos of cocaine impregnated into his packed clothing. The man was identified by the last name of Amarioarei. Police said he was 24. The man was headed to Madrid, Spain, and then to England, police said.





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