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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 240               E-mail us
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On with
the lights!

The big show Monday was at the Museo de los Niños, the former prison in the northern part of the city that is now the Centro Costarricense de Ciencia y Cultura. There were bands, plays, fireworks and the lighting of some 5,000 bulbs to mark the holiday season. The show and lights are a 10-year tradition.
Museo de los ninos lighting
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson

The festivities are not just in the capital of San José
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Towns around the country are gearing up for their annual Christmas celebrations, after the inauguration of the Teatro Nacional's portal officially welcomed Advent Saturday.

Costa Rica will soon be full of lights and parades, with people celebrating the festive season outside in the streets with their neighbors.

San José continues its celebrations with a choral festival, continuing until Sunday, with a different choral group singing in downtown's Parque de las Guarantías Sociales every day at 5 p.m.

Traditional ox carts will parade through Sardinal de Carrillo Thursday and Friday, with onlookers invited to take part in a workshop to make the carts.

Music, poetry, theater and dancing will also be part of the Remembranzas del Boyero y la Carreta Sardinaleña festival.
Abangares will hold it's own light parade in the town's central park at 5 p.m. on Friday, a smaller affair than that of San José, including local bands to provide the music.

A three-day festival will be the center of Hojancha's festivities, with nativity-inspired dance, music and theater filling the town from Friday through Sunday.

“Luces y viento” is the theme in Tilarán Saturday, with a parade through the main streets from 5 p.m. onwards.

Cañas will wait until Dec. 14 at 5 p.m. for its parade with floats, bands and a fireworks display to end the evening.

Rounding off the season Dec. 22, just before everyone repairs to their houses to start cooking the turkey, is Cartagena de Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast, inviting everyone to come and help illuminate the Iglesia de Cartagena. Typical dances, food, a Mass and children's games are planned.

Chief prosecutor says Internet ring got $8 milllion from banks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's chief prosecutor said that one ring of Internet thieves have stripped Costa Rican bank accounts of at least $8 million and sent the money to Romania or Ethiopia.

The statement from Francisco Dall'Anese, whose official title is fiscal general, was in the framework of warning citizens and residents that crooks may be on the prowl. He urged account holders who use the Internet to change their passwords each time they access the account.  He said workers are getting their aguinaldos, the traditional Christmas bonus.

Dall'Anese said officials have captured a gang that 
shipped out $8 million in a few weeks. But then he said that officials do not know if the same ring of Internet thieves or another ring is preparing to strike again. This suggests that law enforcement officials have not captured all those they think have taken $8 million.

Dall'Anese's comments included obvious suggestions such as not using Internet café computers to access bank accounts and to refrain from opening e-mail attachments sent by strangers.

Law enforcement and bank officials are standing by their claim that Internet thefts come from outside the banking system even though some major thefts were made by persons who could evade daily limits and other security measures.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 240

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Traditional Christmas lights illuminate the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the nation's insurance monopoly. It, too, would be subject to competition under the treaty.

Sneaky telephone attack
rejected by government

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They say the devil is in the details. And that was what happened over the weekend with the telecommunications law that is supposed to be among those measures required for the free trade treaty with the United States.

One little detail was wording that would open the entire telephone industry to competition. Under terms of the treaty, only wireless communications would be opened to private competition.

Treaty opponents got wind of the changes in the wording late last week. To win support for the free trade treaty the central government has said it would strengthen and fortify the existing Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly. The proposal to open the telephone lines to competition was a direct contradiction of what the government has been saying for four years.

Although some in the Asamblea Legislativa wanted to force the measure through using the 38-vote, two-thirds majority the government has mustered, cooler heads prevailed.

Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the telecommunications monopoly, showed up at Casa Presidencial Friday night and made a statement saying that it would not be worthwhile for the company to surrender its monopoly on so-called fixed telephone service.

Behind the scenes, aide to President Óscar Arias Sánchez were busy doing public relations to keep the two-thirds coalition together. Not all who would vote for the free trade treaty measures think that letting private companies run fixed line telephone service is a good idea. Plus the Institute is a hotbed of discontent over the free trade treaty anyway. Approval of a complete break in the monopoly would trigger street protests.

The politickings continued through Monday. Legislative deputies of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana met with Quirós. Later the legislative leader, Lorena Vásquez, said that the party's lawmakers would support what Quirós had said.

The free trade treaty requires the country to set up a mechanism for other companies to offer the wireless service. But there is no requirement that the fixed-line monopoly be ruptured.

Teletón charity event
this weekend in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The final acts for this year's Teletón charity event, which raises money for the Hospital Nacional de Niños, have been announced.

Artists from Puerto Rico, Chile and Nicaragua will join Costa Rican acts at Heredia's Palacio de los Deportes Friday and Saturday, for a 27-hour medley of pop, rock, salsa dancing and nueva cancion among others.

Teletón intends to raise 400 million colons ($800,000) to buy cardiac equipment for the Hospital de Las Sonrisas, a new building being constructed to improve childcare to the extent that the hospital will be among one of the top in the Americas.

Since 1995, the annual event has been raising money for various projects realised by the hospital, including the construction of Centro de Especialidades Medicas, at a cost of 2.1 billion colons ($42 million). The funds generated since 2002 have all been put towards the construction of the Hospital de Las Sonrisas.

Among the names on the bill are Jerry Rivera, a well-known Puerto Rican salsa singer, and Chilean Myriam Hernández, who is known throughout Latin America for her romantic ballads.  Entertainment will be in blocks of 2 to 4 hours, starting at 9 p.m. Friday and finishing at midnight on Dec. 8.

Those who wish to attend must go to the Banco Nacional in Heredia near the Palacio de los Deportes and make a donation, before lining up to be allowed into the event.
Donations can also be made at

Fundraiser for La Paz school
will be Sunday in Flamingo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

September brought the inauguration of Escuela Comunal La Paz near Flamingo, Guanacaste, and Sunday will bring the school's first attempt at expanding its scholarship program.  The fundraiser is at Flamingo Marina Resort from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. 

Tickets cost $20 (10,000 colons) for adults and include bocas from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m..  There will be live music from Don Carlos and Friends, a silent auction, door prizes and a raffle as well as access to the resort's pool and bar.  It's billed as a family event with a separate pool area for children, who may enter at no cost. 

All proceeds go to the scholarship fund, which helps Costa Ricans attend the private, community-based bilingual school.  There are currently 55 students attending La Paz, 11 of which are on scholarship.  The 55 students come from 10 different countries, including Israel, France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Costa Rica. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 240

More and more moms are turning to drug sales as a business
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the home businesses that won't appear on any chamber of commerce list is the sale of drugs.

The sale and consumption of various drugs is epidemic in Costa Rica, in part because the country is the dumping ground for narcotics that cannot get into the United States.

The Policía de Control de Drogas arrested a mother and daughter last week in Concepción de Alajuelita, a blue collar community south of San José centro.

There was nothing unusual about the arrests. Anti-drug agents got a tip that the women were involved in the home drug business, and they obtained sufficient evidence to stage a raid. 

However, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the pair were the 78th and 79th women arrested this year to face allegations of local drug sales.

The pair were a 41-year-old woman with the last names of Coto Brenes and her daughter, 21, with the last names of Chivy Coto. Like many others, they were sent to prison for three months while their case is investigated.

The raid showed once again that selling crack cocaine to neighbors is far more lucrative than, for example, taking in laundry. Anti-drug agents confiscated 300 doses of crack and 366,000 colons in cash, some $732. The crack represented 150,000 colons more at the street price of 500 colons a rock, about $1.

Some of the more successful home drug business operators maintain routes with couriers. Frequently these operations are busted up but another group quickly fills the vacuum.
In addition, anti-drug agents during November targeted bars and food outlets where drugs represented a substantial percentage of the merchandise. Some 30 such outlets were closed temporarily while the investigation continued.

One suspected drug dealer operated a small stand between Avenidas 6 and 8 at Calle Central. He sold chewing gum, cigarettes and other similar items from the sidewalk near a videogame store that was frequented by many youngsters, said anti-drug agents.

The man, identified by the last names of Castilla Rojas, was relatively small time. Agents confiscated 18,865 in colons, some $38, and just 12 doses of crack Nov. 22, they said.

Not all drug suspects fit the pattern. Also Nov. 22 agents detained a 15-year-old who, they said, was one of the principal distributors in Barrio Manuel de Jesús Jiménez in the city of Cartago. The youth even had an adult working for him, agents said.

At the time they expressed concern with the rapid increase in underage individuals getting involved in the drug trade.

Some of the drugs that are turned into crack enter the local market because traffickers use cocaine and heroin as payment for fuel and other necessities that they purchase offshore from Costa Rican fishermen. Other fishermen simply take a cut of the cargo as they haul drugs from Colombia to distribution to smugglers in México for eventual delivery into the United States.

The U.S. Coast Guard  last week grabbed six Costa Ricans and a Nicaraguan on the high seas as they made a transfer of packages from their boat to a Mexican vessel off the Costa Rican coast. Later officials said they had confiscated four tons of cocaine.

Arias signs decree establishing quotas for hiring disabled public workers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez ordered the executive branch Monday to hire disabled workers for at least 5 percent of the government openings until the total handicapped workforce reaches 2 percent of all employees.

In a second decree Arias urged other branches of government to do likewise.

The decrees said that the disabled workers must have passed the appropriate tests for the position and be qualified.

The measures, issued on the International Day of the Disabled, have the force of law. They are the last in a long
line of laws and treaty agreements addressing handicapped workers.
The decrees do not define handicaps and leave it to previous measures to determine who fits that description.

Arias said there were 400,000 disabled persons in the country, which has more than 4 million residents. A 1999 law is one that protects the handicapped.

Arias noted that despite similar measures in the past, only 82 persons considered disabled applied for work in the central administration in 2004, according to civil service figures.

Such workers represent just 15 hundreds of a percent, he said in the decree.

Arias said his government had tripled payments to poor and disabled allowing them to move out of poverty.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 240

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Tamarindo residents are cleaning up the community to improve its image
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The troubled beach town of Tamarindo will need new litter facilities if it is to improve its image and keep itself clean in future, the co-ordinator of a townwide cleanup has discovered.

Residents are spending days removing rubbish from the streets and Pacific beach in an initiative that started last week, and was to continue until Wednesday.

During the initiative coordinator Gabriela Valanzuela assessed that an extra 24 garbage cans would need to be installed around the areas most affected by litter. A quote for these has already been solicited from David Garcia.
who made trash cans for the large resort hotel Tamarindo Diria.

Tamarindo has seen an increasing interest in cleanliness since the town was stripped of its blue flag certification in the middle of November, due to the findings of unacceptable levels of fecal contamination in its ocean waters.

Other projects include re-painting areas of the town and emptying septic tanks efficiently.

People from the Surfrider Foundation and the local municipality, as well as locals, helped out over the weekend.

Defeat for proposals by Chávez is a surprise for many observers but not unique
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many analysts are expressing surprise over the rejection of a referendum on a series of constitutional changes that were designed to increase the authority of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over his country, his first electoral defeat since assuming power in 1998.

The measure, which would have approved a long list of amendments to the 1999 constitution, such as abolishing presidential term limits, reducing the autonomy of Venezuela’s central bank, and allowing media censorship and the suspension of civil liberties in times of emergency, was defeated by voters Sunday.

"It was a close vote, 51 percent, and that's despite the opposition not being able to get out on TV and make its point. So I think that there's some interesting analysis that can be done there by political experts," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday.

The setback to Chavez’s ambitions is not the first time a government has seen its quest for expanded authority defeated via referendum.  While a referendum is a form of direct democracy, governments may be able to manipulate the vote by controlling its timing, as well as the language used to explain the ballot measures.  But voter rejection puts an immediate end to a government’s aspirations, unless it resorts to outright tyranny.
In May and June 2005, the people of France and the Netherlands dealt a blow to efforts to establish a single constitution for members of the European Union, rejecting the European Parliament’s authority to draft the document for reasons ranging from national sovereignty concerns to anti-globalization sentiments.

Following those votes, the governments of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, each of which supported the proposed EU constitution and also had committed to holding referendums, delayed or stopped their preparations for a vote.

In another example, Chile’s former military ruler Augusto Pinochet, after using referendums to replace the country’s constitution and prolong his regime, presented himself as the sole candidate in a 1988 referendum that was called to grant him a second eight-year term. 

Fifty-six percent of Chileans voted “no” to the additional term, sealing the end of Pinochet’s regime and paving the way for a transition from military to democratic rule.

U.S. election ballots often include referendums and initiatives, but only at the state and local levels.

Some, such as constitutional architect James Madison, feared what he called “the tyranny of the majority” that would result from the use of initiatives at the federal level.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 240

La Ruta organizers say they are tinkering with the route for bike race's day two
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

La Ruta de los Conquistadores Champion Federico Ramírez has been crowned for just over two weeks and there is already discussion of next year's contest.  Organizers of the mountain biking race, widely believed to be the toughest bike race in the world, are considering changes to the course for the 16th competition next November. 

Román Urbina, ounder and course director, Luis Víquez, race director, and Luis Rueda, marketing director,  have been primarily looking at changing the start and finish of day two's route.  “We had some little problems while trying to get out of El Rodeo at the start of this year's new stage.  A bunch of vehicles parked outside of the race venue along
the main road which complicated the pass of the cyclists at the very beginning of the stage.  We will see if there's an alternative that allows us to avoid the traffic,” said Viquez. 

For the end of the second day's route, the group is looking at moving from the muddy Camachón cross to a nearby trail through a coffee plantation.

Organizers are trying to reroute the course without sacrificing the natural beauty the cyclists pass through.  They also are trying to maintain same difficulty level.  “We don't want to make this day any harder,” Víquez said.

Registration for the 2008 race is already open.  20 percent of the non-local field has already been filled.

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