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(506) 2223-1327              Published Friday, Dec. 4, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 240       E-mail us
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Big economic boost for Christmas coming today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day shopkeepers, car salesmen and even bartenders have been waiting for.

It's not Christmas, but it's nearly so. Today is the day that 174,000 workers in the central government get their aguinaldo or Christmas bonus.

The Ministerio de Hacienda was going to make the payment Monday, but officials decided to move up the day to inject more liquidity into the financial sector, said Jenny Phillips Aguilar, the minister. The bulk of the payments are being made electronically.

Expats would be well advised to make any necessary visits to automatic teller machines or the banks early because public employees will be lined up later in the day to withdraw funds.

The ministry said that it will disburse 100 billion colons or about $176 million, which represents the so-called 13th month pay. Getting the money are central government employees, some 58,000 pensioners. Poder Judicial workers, staffers at the Asamblea Legislativa and those who work for the Contraloría de la República and the Defensoría.

Unlike private employers, the government figures the amount of the aguinaldo based on the total salary paid to a worker from Nov. 1, 2008, to last Oct. 31. The period for private employees is from Dec. 1 to Nov. 30.

The minister noted that aguinaldos, either for private workers or public ones, are not subject to withholdings as is a normal salary. So there are
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no deductions for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, pensions and other items that reduce the normal paycheck.  However, any child support payments in arrears is deducted, she said.

The government had to borrow money to pay the aguinaldos this year.

Private employers have until Dec. 15 to pay their workers.

The aguinaldo is one twelfth of what the worker earned during the December-November period.


Only 26 foreigners will lose weapons permits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister has pulled the permits of 26 foreigners so that they no longer are able to carry firearms.

The minister also established additional rules for foreigners who seek these carry permits.

No U.S., Canadian or British citizens were among those foreigners who lost their permits. There were 11 Nicaraguans, eight Colombians, two Cubans and one each from Italy, China, Chile, Switzerland and the Dominican Republic, the minster said.

The minister Janina del Vecchio, said that these individuals were involved in judicial proceedings involving allegations of rape, fraud, robbery, use of fake documents, drug violations, carrying a prohibited weapon and aggravated robbery with intent to kill.

The ministry reviewed the permits of some 2,074 cases over the last two weeks after two shootouts involving Jamaicans.

There was no indication that the ministry was going to review weapons permits held by Costa Ricans. The announcement suggested that there is no procedure in place to suspend weapons permits for persons who are arrested.

The minister also decreed additional rules for those who seek to obtain firearms permits. Applicants will have to provide police reports from countries in which they have lived previously and supply fingerprints for a worldwide check by the International Police Agency.
Since permits to carry weapons are only allowed for foreigners who hold residency here, the procedure would seem to duplicate the police checks and fingerprinting that already are required of all residency applicants by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. 

Applicants also will have to provide a sworn statement listing the countries in which they have lived during the last 10 years.

These rules also would cover foreigners who seek to renew permits to carry weapons as well as new applicants.

Because of the fragmented nature of local government in the United States, some residency applicants who may have a criminal record can provide a clean police report from another jurisdiction. There is no central registry for most crimes. Immigration workers seldom if ever double check the submitted paperwork. Holders of tourism visas cannot obtain weapons permits.

There is a class of individuals who obtain residency here by marriage or by becoming the parent of a Costa Rican. Some of these individuals may not have been subjected to a review of their police history or supplied fingerprints.

Applicants for weapons permits also have to obtain approval from a psychiatrist after a short interview.

The minister's review of weapons permits was unexpected when it was announced because most criminals do not have permits and frequently carry heavy weapons that are not permitted by legal permit holders. Such weapons could be AK-47 rifles and automatic weapons.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 240

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Drugs in marble
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Judicial agent uncovers stash of cocaine hidden in marble

Drugs hidden in marble blocks
attributed to Mexican cartel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents and prosecutors Thursday raided a storage building in Pozos de Santa Ana and a house in Heredia. They confiscated 840 kilos (1,848 pounds) of cocaine that is reported to be linked to the Sinaloa drug cartel.

The Poder Judicial said that the drug was hidden in pieces of marble. Four persons with Mexican nationality were detained. They also detained a Costa Rican and a Colombian who was naturalized as a Costa Rican.

The drugs were to be exported by a company called Grupo Costamex S.A. The marble originally came from Egypt and entered Costa Rica by land. It appears that the cocaine was inserted into cavities bored into the marble here in Costa Rica.

Large drug seizures appear to be a weekly event. The reason partly is the stiff controls at the country's northern border and police checkpoints near the Panamá border. The marble was supposed to travel by sea in a container to avoid these controls.


Iran triples its Latin trade
with emphasis on Brazil


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Iran's trade with Latin America tripled last year to $2.9 billion, according to an analysis by Latin Business Chronicle. The online business publication said that last week’s visit to Brazil by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, caused controversy, but made sense for the Iranian leader.

Brazil is Iran’s largest trade partner in Latin America and the top Latin American exporter to Iran, according to the analysis of data from the International Monetary Fund, the publication said.

Total trade between Iran and Venezuela reached $51.8 million last year, a 30.8 percent increase, the publication said. That makes Venezuela Iran’s fifth-largest trade partner in Latin America, behind such countries as Argentina, Ecuador and Peru, it added. Venezuela is considered a political ally of Iran.


Well-known La Fortuna man
again faces burglary count


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In La Fortuna de San Carlos Felix the Cat is not a cartoon character. He is, instead, the resident career criminal.

The man is Félix Araya Arias, known locally at Gato Félix because of his cat burglar style. Araya is in his 60s but has not yet retired.

The manager of a Gallo appliance store spotted him and two younger associates near the store Wednesday night in La Fortuna after the internal alarm system tripped. Someone had cut the locks off the steel curtains that protect the windows and it appeared that someone had forced their way into a store.

Early Thursday a police patrol found Araya and the two other men in a car again near the store. Inside the car was cutting equipment and a torch. They said they found that Araya has an arrest warrant outstanding on another case. So did one of the associates.

Police said that Araya has been detained twice before this year as a suspect in similar crimes.


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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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.

Searching

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.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

For your international reading pleasure:

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 240

Regulator cancels permit of airport service Taxis Unidos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency had pulled the permits of Taxis Unidos. The operator of the orange vehicles that service Juan Santamaría airport.

The cancelation of the permits seems like a final action, but the company has been given three months to terminate its service and turn in the license plates of the 75 vehicles it operates.

The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said it was taking the action because Taxis Unidos does not use meters in its cabs.  Such meters, informally called marias, are required by law.

Taxis Unidos has been considered a top quality transportation firm in the Central Valley. Its drivers are full-time employees and receive the benefits required by law.  The drivers wear uniforms and the vehicles are air conditioned.

The orange taxis only make trips from and to the airport from Central Valley locations. Drivers decline to make
local runs even when they have an empty vehicle.

Other taxi drivers for years have complained that the firm does not comply with the law and questioned the permits to work from the airport. Taxi fares are collected at a booth at the exit to the airport passenger terminal based on the destination the passenger gives.

Passengers picked up in the Central Valley make a payment at a booth located just outside the departure terminal. The payments have been flat fees generally based on the distance. The amount is comparable to what would be charged via a meter.

The regulating authority held a hearing on the complaints against the taxi firm.

The agency said that the three-month delay in revoking the permits was to give the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Consejo de Transporte Público time to take steps to replace Taxis Unidos.

However, it is likely the firm will appeal the decision to the courts.


Historic portal at museum to be inaugurated Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

'Tis the season of portales, and these nativity scenes are going up all over the country. One of the most historic is the portal at the Museo Nacional that will be inaugurated in a free, public ceremony starting Sunday at 11 a.m.

Assisting will be the Banda Nacional de San José and the chorus of the Asamblea Legislativa. There also is planned a  presentation of the dramatic work “Fábrica de muñecos” by the Conservatorio Castella. The blessing of the portal will take place at 1:30 p.m., said the museum. The Rev. Guillermo Guillén will provide the spiritual emphasis.

The figures in the museum display are life-size and have a history. The museum historian María Elena Masís said that the figures were brought to Costa Rica from Paris, France, 100 years ago by the Sisters of Charity when they ran Hospital San Juan de Dios. Later the figures went to a church congregation in Grecia and then ended up at the museum. In all, there are 12 life-size figures ranging from Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, three kings, shepherds and assorted animals.

The scene is a traditional representation of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

Portales are an integral aspect of Costa Rican life. Most public offices have their own nativity display as do most homes and public buildings. The Teatro National has
Museum portal
Museo Nacional photo
This is the historic portal at the Museo Nacional


perhaps the most viewed. Each year technicians there try to do something different. This year the portal looks like a desert tent or a Christo art work with pieces of fabric stretched on metal frames. One year it was a jungle scene.

The museum portal is more conventional. The statues of adults measure on the average 1.6 meters or about 5-foot, 2 inches. The portal will be on display until early January, the museum said.


Of war chiefs and men who come to the door seeking money
So the United States has another war president.  The rhetoric may be a little different (more Hawaiian than Texan), but the conclusion is the same — War is the answer.  If there is a problem, bring on the military.  President Obama is no different. 

Originally my column was a venting of my disappointment and anger at his decision, but others have said it all already.  I have only one question.  Who convinced him that one of the purposes of the troops is to “train the Afghan army”? (Probably the same person who told President Bush to disband the Iraqi army and leave them with their weapons but without jobs).

Whom are we going to train, the small number that are left of the national army or enlist the less than dedicated Taliban?  Are we going to do what we did before — supply them with arms and equipment and then leave, hoping they will defend and be loyal to the ineffective, corrupt central government they have been fighting?

Anyway, these are not decisions that a Costa Rican President will have to make.  I am grateful for that.  The other day, my friend Jorge and I were talking about what is going on in the U.S. and Honduras and he said that he was also thankful to “Pepe” Figueres for making it impossible for a military coup to happen in Costa Rica.  Amen.  End of my rant.

When I first visited Costa Rica in the late 80s, I was surprised to learn that they had already passed a law prohibiting smoking in places like taxicabs.  Pretty quick for a developing country, I thought. 

Now, not long after obesity has become a matter of national concern in the United States, it is being looked at with alarm in this country.  Statistics show that adults on average weigh 12 pounds more than they did 13 years ago. Steps are being taken by the Caja and schools to teach adults and children about the side effects of obesity and the need for nutrition and exercise. 

But everything will be tossed to the wind this month because it is the month of parties, eating, drinking and
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 
generally being merry, For many, it will be at the beach instead of at work because this is the time for a long national holiday.

It is also the season of giving.  If you are an expat with an employee of any kind you will be giving aguinaldos and hoping that you are not giving too much so they will have high expectations for next year, nor too little so you find yourself vulnerable to being sued. 

Then there is the apartment guard or handyman, and the athletic young men on the garbage truck.  Yesterday one of them buzzed my doorbell and rattled off Spanish that totally escaped me.  I said, Lo siento, no entiendo. "I’m sorry I don’t understand."  And in English he responded “Okay, thank you.”  I didn’t make the connection until I heard the garbage truck and ran to my balcony and called them. 

Five pleasant faces under yellow helmets looked up at me and acknowledged that it was one of them at my doorbell. 

“Wait.”  I said, and they waited as I ran downstairs with tips for all. I really appreciate these fellows and enjoy watching them as they jump off the back of the truck, gather up the bags of trash and garbage and toss it in the truck and jump on the back as it continues to move along. 

World-class athletes in their field, they are.

On the way from the bank, a man leading a blind man stopped me with his rattling can asking for a donation for the blind.  How can one refuse?  That is when I realized that I am going to need a lot of small bills and change every time I leave the apartment.  If that is the only thing I have to worry about, I’m in good shape.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 240

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Five held after bus stop robbery of schoolboy in Moravia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car full of bandits stuck up a schoolboy standing at a bus stop in Dulce Nombre de Coronado Thursday and beat up a man who tried to stop the robbery. The crooks did not know that another man had seen what took place and alerted the Fuerza Pública.

A few minutes later police officers pulled over a vehicle matching the description of the one used by the robbers. That was in San Clare de Moravia. Fuerza Pública officers said later they had detained a gang of three men and two women who have been preying on persons in the area.

Confiscated was a homemade shotgun and knives, said officers. They said the bandits threatened the schoolboy with a weapon, too.

Among those detained was a man with the last name of  Martínez. Alexander Meneses, chief of the Moravia police delegación identified him as someone for whom officers had an arrest warrant involving another aggravated robbery.

There has been a growing wave of bus stop robberies. In one case a year ago a woman died when bandits shot her because she would not give up her purse.  That was in San Pedro. In most cases, the bandits do not even leave the vehicle.

Police have linked this to drug use. They said they found evidence of drug use in the car Thursday. The bandits have to commit multiple crimes because the loot from
Moravia arrestees
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y Seguirdad Pública photo
Camera-shy suspects hide their faces in the Moravia police delegación.

sticking up a schoolboy is probably not very much. Most persons do not even report such crimes.



Three firms in Atenas plan street fair this Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three new businesses in Atenas are joining together for a grand opening and street fair Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m.

They include Palmares Pizza, owned by former government employee Christopher Duran Sandoval;  Pure Life Development, a rental and real estate sales and consulting firm operated by Dennis J. Easters and Gerardo González-Porras; and Ives Images Photo-Art, operated by Jerome and Jeanita Ives, who are from Kansas City, Missouri.

Ives said his firm will stress photography relating to real estate, commercial products and flora and fauna. The couple also plan to illustrate travel articles.

Ives said he will be showcasing some of his work at the grand opening.  Ives Images Photo-Art has displayed in Missouri fine art galleries, as well as many corporate offices for the past six years, Ives added. The firm's photos can be found in permanent corporate,  private, and public
collections. Some photos have been featured in online magazines, as well as national magazine photo articles. Jeanita Ives has been a regular monthly columnist for the Kansas City Gardener which has featured her garden journeys and photography for over three years. Ives said he has written many varied articles for the Kansas City based on-line series, Present Magazine.

Duran is promising hand-thrown pizza in the New York tradition.

Easters and González-Porras are former brokers and owners of a real estate firm in Florida, a news release said.
The firm's Web page said that Easters have been involved in real estate investing for more than 12 years and that he specialized in restoration and renovation of historic homes in the Tampa Bay area. Porras, a Costa Rican, spent 12 years in the States and worked with Easters in the Tampa area, according to the Web site.

The location is 125 meters east of Banco National, Atenas.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 240

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Just two amino acids
give humans power to talk


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The ability to communicate using complex spoken language is a uniquely human characteristic, but surprisingly little is known about how individuals developed language when close primate relatives, like chimpanzees, did not. A single gene may hold much of the answer.

Dan Geschwind is a professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at the University of California in Los Angeles. He says we still do not know much about how language evolved in humans. "But it clearly is going to reside in changes in genes: either new genes, or changes in old genes that gives them new functions."

Genes carry hereditary biological information that determines much about who a human is, from height to hair color to which hand is used to write with. Geschwind has been studying the function of one particular gene, called FOXP2. "It's one of the few genes that's been very clearly tied to the capacity for human speech and language," he said.

FOXP2 works in an interesting way, Geschwind said. "It turns other things on and off."  Specifically, it regulates other genes. In a cell, FOXP2 acts like a master switch, producing a protein that binds to other genes and increases or decreases their activity.

In spite of FOXP2's apparent role in human speech, it turns out that human FOXP2 protein is almost identical to the version found in the chimpanzee. "A protein like FOXP2 is made up of hundreds of amino acids," said Geschwind. "And just two of them are different between human and chimpanzee."

Previous work by other researchers had suggested that the amino acid composition of the human FOXP2 protein may have changed at about the same time in evolutionary history that humans started to speak. Could a difference in just two amino acids trigger enough changes in downstream gene function to create the capacity for language?

Genevieve Konopka, a postdoctoral fellow in the Geschwind lab, led a study to look into this question. She said the purpose of the study was to determine whether the difference between the human version of FOXP2 and the chimpanzee version of FOXP2 would have any functional consequence in neurons.

Ms. Konopka looked at the effects of FOXP2 on human neurons, or brain cells, in cell cultures in the lab. She manipulated the cells to express or produce either the human version of the FOXP2 protein, or the chimpanzee version. "And then we used something called a microarray, which allows you to examine the expression of every gene in the genome."

Konopka found that the human and chimpanzee versions of FOXP2 did function differently in human brain cells, targeting different genes and triggering different levels of gene activity.

Dan Geschwind says similar differences in gene expression were observed in brain tissue samples taken from humans and chimps that died of natural causes. The samples were frozen soon after death to retain the characteristics of living tissue.

The researchers saw a very big overlap in what the genes were doing in the cell culture, and in the brains. "And this gave us a lot of confidence that what we were actually seeing was relevant to brain function."

Geschwind says that many of the genes and proteins affected by FOXP2 are known to have functions in the brain, but that others may be involved in the development of the physical apparatus of speech, like the larynx and vocal chords.

Because to have spoken language, two things had to happen, said Geschwind. The first was a change in vocal anatomy. "Our vocal chords, tongue, and all of that changed to allow us to speak. But of course the major thing that happened was the changes in the brain that gave us the capacity for language."

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 240


Latin American news
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Juan Santamaría operator
gets $45 million fixup loan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank approved a $45 million long-term loan to help finance the expansion of the Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela and support its new operator's plans to refinance debt.

The guaranteed loan will be made to Alterra Partners Costa Rica S.A., the airport’s operating company, owned since July by Brazilian, Canadian and U.S. partners.

The partners include Brazil’s Andrade Gutierrez Concessões and ADC & HAS Finance Ltd, a holding company controlled by the Houston Airport System, the Toronto-based Airport Development Corporation, and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.

Alterra Partners will use the development bank loan to refinance pre-existing debt and complete works on a terminal extension to permanently house immigration, customs and security processing, the bank said. Juan Santamaría is Central America's second busiest airport and serves approximately 3.5 million passengers annually.

The lending will also finance additional holding rooms, renovation of existing and new boarding bridges, remote stands for buses and an additional remote parking position, as well as the reconstruction of the apron and one of the taxiways, the bank added.

These investments will improve passenger comfort and boost revenues from commercial services at the San José airport, which has seen the number of travelers grow an average 8 percent a year since 2002, it added.

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