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(506) 2223-1327          Published Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 242       Email us
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70 years ago

The battleship Arizona displays the damage of the sneak Japanese air attack 70 years ago today. The United States came back then, and it will do so again today, our editorial says.

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Official U.S. Navy photo

Tourism chamber negotiates special deal on tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism chamber has negotiated a special deal with the central government to phase in over three years the 14 percent value-added tax that is being considered by the legislature.

The chamber, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, said that certain tourism purchases will be subjected to just a 4 percent tax during the first year that the levy is in force. The rate will be 10 percent during the second year. In the third year, the rate will revert to that which would be charged most other financial transactions, 14 percent.

The chamber is not happy about the compromise deal. Tourism officials wanted to phase in the tax over six years, and they wanted more tourism pursuits covered by the staged tax.

As it stands now, these tourism purchases will be subject to the lower tax in the first and second year: Rental vehicles, tricycles and quadracycles, travel agency sales, sales by tourism wholesalers, tourism guides, tourism transportation and activities like canopy tours, rafting, surfing, kayaking, boat travel, cable car rides and bungee jumping.

The chamber said that the deal would reduce the negative impact on the tourism industry.  Not covered by the deal are admissions to national
parks and private reserves and certain walking activities.

Fernando Herrero, the minister of Hacienda who is Casa Presidencial's point man for the tax plan, promised a break for tourism in a brief comment to a legislative committee last month. But he did not elaborate.

Determining the tourism status of persons who rent vehicles would seem to suggest that all such rentals would enjoy the lower tax.

The chamber said there were five rounds of negotiations with Hacienda staffers.

Other sectors also have cut special deals with Hacienda. However, all of these agreements could face changes during legislative action.

The tourism industry has taken a big hit, in part due to the economic situation in the north and in Europe.

However, the country did add a $15 tourism arrival tax and increased the exit tax by $2 to $28.

The chamber noted that tourism operators have suffered from the estimated 18 percent decrease in the rate of exchange between the colon and the U.S. dollar. Much of the tourism income is in dollars, but expenses are frequently in colons.

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Costa Rica drops slightly
in world corruption index

By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica ranked 50 out of 183 countries, dropping from No. 41 in 2010, in Transparency International's new Annual Corruption Perception Index. Costa Rica tied with Lithuania, Oman and the Seychelles and is just above Hungary.

Costa Rica placed just below Rwanda. In the Americas region, consisting of 32 countries, Costa Rica ranked 11.

The Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 183 countries and territories around the world.

New Zealand, Denmark and Finland top the list, while North Korea and Somalia are at the bottom.

While the Americas in general registered gains, most countries in Central America did score worse than in 2010. Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Bolivia were viewed as being among the most corrupt countries in the region.

More than two-thirds of the countries did not even make it to the middle of the global ranking – indicating that corruption is a serious problem in those countries. However, on the continent, the report ranked Chile as the least corrupt country in Latin America followed by Uruguay.

The Index draws on assessments and opinion surveys carried out by independent institutions.

The surveys include questions relating to the abuse of public power and focus on: bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and on questions that probe the strength and effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts in the public sector.

Transparency International attributed the decrease in ranks of Central American countries to organized crime:

¨Illegal groups represent a very strong force that weakens a state’s institutions. For drugs, arms and human trafficking to take place, criminal groups need the security forces, the judiciary and other state agencies to remain weak. This results, for example, in criminals going unpunished by prosecutors and judges, and customs officials turning a blind eye.¨

Nicaragua ranked 134 out of 183 countries, dropping from 127 in 2010. In the Americas region, consisting of 32 countries, Nicaragua was positioned at 28.

Panamá ranked 86 out of 183 countries, dropping from 73 in 2010. In the Americas region, Panamá was positioned at 17.

Regulator authorizes
new rates for motorcycles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Superintendencia de Seguros said Tuesday that it has authorized new, lower rates for obligatory vehicle insurance for motorcycles and similar vehicles.

Motorcycle drivers staged two days of protest last week and managed to get a promise from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros that rates would be reduced. The new rates are about 15 percent higher than the previous year for basic coverage of 3.5 million colons. That's about $7,000. The cost will be 48,581 colons or about $97.

Motorcycle operators can obtain 6 million colons in coverage (about $12,000) for 62,888 or about $125.

The higher rate that caused the protests came because of the frequency of traffic accidents by motorcycle drivers and the accumulation of speeding tickets. Like other forms of marchamo or road tax fees, the money can be paid without penalty through Dec. 31.

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Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Police prepare for unruly fans for finals of soccer tourney
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the finals of the country's winter soccer tournament approaching this weekend, Costa Rican law enforcement officers have had their hands full trying to keep the nation's favorite pastime from devolving into gang warfare.

It is not uncommon during Costa Rican soccer games that fights break out between supporters of the different teams. Objects are often launched from the bleachers at opposing players on the field or at groups of other fans. When the crowds let out from the stadium nearby residences and businesses brace for the possibility of vandalism or theft.

Sunday at the classic semifinal showdown between Liga Deportiva Alajuelense from Alajuela and Deportivo Saprissa S.A.D. from Tibás, Fuerza Pública agents reported several run-ins with fans. First a Saprissa supporter lit a flare in the crowd. Officers rushed the stands but were unable to apprehend the culprit.

Alajuela Fuerza Pública chief Milton Alvarado said that following the game a rock was thrown by what he assumed to be a La Liga fan at a bus full of Saprissa supporters. And as the city of Alajuela celebrated its victory into the night, the police had several more altercations due to drinking and fights and had to shut down three bars in the area.

But Alvarado said, as his city's team heads into a two-match championship series with the other semi-finalist, Club Sport Herediano, from Heredía, they're not taking any chances when it comes to security. At the game against Saprissa, which has one of the largest and most zealous fan base, he said he dispatched 250 officers, 20 of them mounted on horseback, for crowd control at the stadium. He said there may be even more for the final when it comes to Alajuela in two weeks.

The Heredía Fuerza Pública chief, Daniel Calderón, said Heredía's semifinal win over Cartago was less problematic. But his agency still had 150 officers dispatched. He said there are several special tactics employed by officers during high-profile soccer games, including diligent screening at the entrances for weapons and other possible projectiles and responding quickly to scuffles in the crowd during the game.

Calderón said one of the most effective is to hold the
soccer fans
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
Soccer fans gather before the big weekend game.

home team's barra, the large, youthful chanting section belonging to each team, until the other team's barra has left the stadium and has had ample time to take a bus out of town.

Many problems occur when the two groups clash, and it can resemble gang violence.

In the first tournament game between Saprissa and La Liga, riot police kept enduring a barrage of food items, including soft drinks. They kept Saprissa's barra locked up for over an hour in its section while the other fans filtered out.

Regardless, several scuffles were seen outside of the stadium.

Officials say it used to be a lot worse. Fans would bring knives and bags of urine to throw at bystanders, and pick-pocketing and violence were far more common than now. But one thing is certain, both Calderón and Alvarado are bracing for the finals matches this weekend and the next, hoping fans can enjoy a good soccer match without problems.

Cousteau observatory will study public policy on oceans
By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A central hub geared toward the observation of changes in the Caribbean Sea and along the coasts is opening today in Costa Rica.

The Observatorio Jacques Yves Cousteau is meant to serve as a useful tool for the design and evaluation of public policies that will address the impact on salinity, biodiversity, habitat, endangered and invasive species, development and exploitation of fisheries resources, climate risk assessment and protection and ecosystem restoration, according to the University of Costa Rica.

The observatory plans to contribute to solving current problems affecting the marine and coastal ecosystems through collecting and systematizing scientific, social and economic information, and creating a network of scholars and institutions in the region, the university said.

The studies will be implemented with the support of the Instituto Francés de América Central and the Observatorio Cousteau de México. The entities are promoting the lab in Central America.
Specialists in the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología could not be contacted, but the objectives for the Observatorio Jacques-Yves Cousteau de los mares y las costas de México have been published by the Instítut de Recher pour le Développement México.

¨The objectives of the observatory are to provide valid scientific information about the organization and evolution of marine and coastal systems by way of allowing scientists to make reasoned decisions and assessing the effectiveness of the actions in the field of public policy, environmental management and sustainable development.¨

The Observatory identifies eight priority areas including public policies for sustainable development and economic activity in coastal areas and states that the observatory can ¨intervene in the territorial waters and coastal areas of Mexico (Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Baja California).¨

The ceremony of the creation of the Observatory will take place at 6 p.m. at the residence of the French ambassador in Guayabos de Curridabat, and the Observatory will be located in the university's  Ciudad de la Investigación in San Pedro de Montes de Oca.

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Mexican visitor warns of what could happen in Costa Rica
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the government of Costa Rica doesn't want to see the country become little Mexico, officials better get serious about prosecuting criminals and protecting its citizens. That was the message of a visiting criminal lawyer and author from Mexico. He warned his audience against letting national security measures fall by the wayside.

He is José Antonio Ortega. He told horror stories about his homeland and how he watched it change into a cartel-run bloodbath with a corrupt judicial system and some of the scariest homicide rates in the world.

He recounted some of the gorier incidents: 46 bodies dumped on a busy street in Veracruz; 52 murdered in a casino in Monterrey; 72 immigrants found bound and assassinated; and more than 100  bodies found in mass graves near the U. S. border. And all that in a four-year period beginning in 2007, a time in which more than 40,000 people were killed in Mexico.

In light of Costa Rica's own rising crime and homicide rate, which increased during the period 2007 to 2010 by roughly 50 percent over the three year period preceding that, Ortega shared some words of urgency with the crowd gathered to hear him speak.

“I hope that the next time I return to visit to my Costa Rican brothers, you all have found the correct route to leave from this violence before it begins to drown you,” Ortega said. “Rescue your country, rescue your liberty, your lives, your heritage, your children.”

Costa Rica's homicide rate is less than half of that of Mexico's, which stands at 26 per 100,000 in 2010 according to Ortega. But he said that the early warning signs are apparent on a smaller scale in Costa Rica: a tolerance of violence, unpunished government corruption and high instances of impunity.

Ortega added that it was a fallacy to think that social and economic injustice, one of the main issues discussed by the lawmakers when Ortega appeared before them to speak on a different occasion, was a leading cause of crime.

“It is not certain that violence is synonymous with poverty,” he said.

He said instead it's important to look at prosecution. The
Ortega on crime
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
José Antonio Ortega

percentage of criminals punished for homicides in Mexico was 17 percent in 2010 while many European countries had punishment rates of 85 percent for homicides, he said.

A recent study of homicides in Costa Rica conducted by a legal firm showed of more than 4,200 homicides committed over the last 13 years, 61 percent of them went unpunished.

And more than a third of the homicides in 2010 could be attributed to narcotrafficking, a sharp increase from the 1990s, according to the state of the nation report for 2010.

Ortega is the author of México: ¿Rumbo al Estado Fallido?, which translates to "Mexico: Route to a Failed State."

Merged jet streams blamed in unusual rain and tornadoes
By the University of Wisconsin news staff

Presentations at a scientific conference this week will propose a common root for an enormous deluge in western Tennessee in May 2010 and an historic outbreak of tornadoes centered on Alabama in April 2011.

Both events seem to be linked to a relatively rare coupling between the polar and the subtropical jet streams, says Jonathan Martin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

But the fascinating part is that the change originates in the western Pacific, about 9,000 miles away from the intense storms in the U.S. midsection, Martin said.

The mechanism that causes the storms originates during spring or fall when organized complexes of tropical thunderstorms over Indonesia push the subtropical jet stream north, causing it to merge with the polar jet stream. 

The subtropical jet stream is a high-altitude band of wind that is normally located around 30 degrees north latitude. The polar jet stream is normally hundreds of miles to the north.

Martin calls the resulting band of wind a superjet.

Jet streams in the northern hemisphere blow from the west at roughly 140 miles per hour and are surrounded by a circular whirlwind that looks something like a tornado pushed on its
side. The circulating wind at the bottom of the jet stream blows from the south. On the north side, the circulating winds turn vertical, lifting and cooling the air until the water vapor condenses and feeds precipitation.

A superjet and its circulating winds carry roughly twice as much energy as a typical jet stream, Martin says. “When these usually separate jet streams sit atop one another, there tends to be a very strong vertical circulation, which produces clouds,  precipitation and tornadoes under the right conditions.”

And because the circulating wind in a superjet moving across the U.S. south picks up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, "the superjet gives a double-whammy – more moisture, and more lifting, producing that intense rain."

That was the case in May 2010, when 10 to 20 inches of rain fell around Nashville.

The research is being presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Studies of the Tennessee floods, the Alabama tornados, and an odd October storm in Wisconsin showed “that when the subtropical jet is pushed poleward under the influence of strong thunderstorms in the western Pacific, it seems to result in these intense storms in the U.S. midsection,” Martin says. “It’s a really fascinating global connection that occurs seven to 10 days later.”

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Two murders in México
spark U.N. concern

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two United Nations agencies have strongly condemned the recent murder of a Mexican peace activist and the attempted killing of the chief of a women’s rights organization in the same country and called on the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

Nepomuceno Moreno Núñez, a member of the Peace with Justice and Dignity Movement, was murdered Nov. 28 in the northern state of Sonora. He joined the movement after the disappearance of his son in July last year, and demanded an investigation and punishment of the perpetrators.

Two months ago, during an encounter of the movement with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, he revealed he was under a lot of pressure and turned in all the documents related to his son’s disappearance.

Norma Andrade, the co-president of the non-governmental organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa “Our Daughters Come Home” in Ciudad Juárez, was severely injured by a gunshot Friday.

Ms. Andrade’s daughter was murdered in 2001. Since then, she has been defending women’s rights and demanding justice for the hundreds of women who have been murdered in the state of Chihuahua over the past decade.

Javier Hernández Valencia, representative for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, called for authorities to implement mechanisms that would protect human rights defenders in the country.

“As time passes the risks that human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations increase drastically,” he said in a statement issued Monday.

A representative for the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Ana Güezmes, stressed the “necessity to strengthen the right to justice, and to guarantee the rectifying the damage suffered by victims and their families, as well as deploying more efficient actions to prevent, sanction and eradicate impunity and violence, in particular violence against women.”

Both officials reiterated the need for the Mexican Government to establish dialogue with non-governmental organizations to create a mechanism that can guarantee the security of those individuals that dedicate their lives to the promotion and defense of human rights.

Press group condemns
Honduran reporter's murder

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association Tuesday roundly condemned the murder of an Honduran journalist and an attack on the Honduras newspaper La Tribuna in which a security guard was injured. It called on the authorities to carry out an exhaustive investigation into the incidents and punish those responsible.

Tuesday morning reporter Luz Marina Paz Villalobos from the television news station Cadena Hondureña de Noticias was riddled with bullets in Tegucigalpa together with another person believed to have been her cameraman. According to initial reports Ms. Paz Villalobos, the owner of a local business, had received death threats from gang members for having refused to pay extortion for her protection. She and the person accompanying her were traveling in a vehicle owned by an officer of the armed forces when they were killed. The motives for the attack were not immediately known.

In another incident, unidentified persons shot at least 10 times at the building of the Tegucigalpa newspaper La Tribuna in the early hours of Monday. Security guard José Manuel Izaguirre was shot three times during the incident. It is believed that the attack, carried out from a moving vehicle, was made in reprisal for publication of reports of investigations into the murder of two university students by members of the police force.

Obama makes gay rights
a U.S. overseas priority

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a directive elevating the rights and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people abroad as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

A memorandum Obama sent to government agencies directs them to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

He said he has been deeply concerned by violence and discrimination targeting such persons.  He cited foreign laws criminalizing gays and lesbians, the beating of citizens for joining peaceful celebrations, and the killing of men, women and children for their perceived sexual orientation.

Obama said America's commitment to advancing human rights for all people is strengthened when it vigorously advances the goal of promoting lesbian and gay rights.  Obama raised the issue at the U. N. General Assembly in September. "No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere," he said.

Treatment of gay and lesbian people in other countries is already mentioned in annual State Department country human rights assessments.  Obama's directive elevates the issue's importance as a foreign policy priority.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council criticized Obama's decision, saying it "throws the full weight and reputation of the U.S. behind the promotion overseas of the radical ideology of the sexual revolution."

The Texas governor and Republican presidential contender, Rick Perry, called the announcement part of the Obama administration's "war on traditional American values," saying that Obama had "mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles."
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Two elderly men murdered
in separate Nicoya crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In separate incidents in Nicoya Tuesday, two men over the age of 70 appear to have been robbed and murdered, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

One of the men, 73, with the last name López, presumably died when he was asphyxiated with a handkerchief in his home in neighborhood Llano. He was last seen Tuesday morning purchasing groceries at a nearby store. His body was discovered that afternoon by his sister. The judicial agency reported that preliminary information suggests the man was the victim of a robbery and most likely received his pension payment recently.

The other man, 74, with the last name Marín was last seen by a witness arguing with two persons at his house. The witness, passing by the house on a bicycle, said the heated argument caught his attention. Then the witness reported he heard a loud hit, which prompted him to leave and notify authorities. Police arrived at the residence and found Marín dead in his house, presumably from a stab wound in the left side of his chest. Judicial agents said the men last seen with him as being suspects.

Two road projects today
may disrupt traffic

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two road projects today might mean delays for drivers.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said workers would be painting lines on Paseo Colón in San José early today. The previous street surface was torn up and new asphalt put down. The work is being done overnight through at least 5 a.m..

At El Coyol on the Bernardo Soto highway west of Juan Santamaría airport, another road resurfacing project will mean a detour for motorists today after 8:30 a.m., said the Consejo. The detour will be in force until further notice, said the Consejo.

Search of truck yields
55 kilos of cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police said they found 55 kilos of cocaine packed into the roof of a truck headed to Nicaragua.

Detained was the driver of the tractor-trailer, a Costa Rican with the last names of Salas Sandoval, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He is 28, agents added. The rig was searched at the Peñas Blancas border crossing.

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
The U.S. always has been able to come back from disaster

By Jay Brodell
editor of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most who heard the startling news in the United States that Sunday afternoon are dead. Some died as a direct result of the sneak attack by the forces of Imperial Japan.

Pearl Harbor is one of those mental milestones by which people reckon their lives. Others include the start of the Korean war, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the killing of his brother, the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft and the more recent terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

History proved Franklin Roosevelt wrong. Dec. 7 did not live in infamy. Today the United States and Japan are close allies. Costa Rica's president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, happens to be in Japan this week on a state visit. And many U.S. school children have no clue about what happened 70 years ago.

What we are not remembering today is the destruction of the world by nuclear weapons. Japan is the only country that suffered nuclear blows delivered in anger. Some say this was overkill. The thousands of U.S. servicemen and women who were poised for the invasion of Japan rejoiced.

The miracle is that through strength the United States avoided mutual nuclear destruction with the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of World War II, the stage seemed to be set for a nuclear war. The United States never wanted this. Fortunately the might of the United States and its European allies dissuaded Soviet leaders from making a big mistake.

The Japanese general staff thought that a strategic blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet would cause the western giant to retreat and lick it wounds. Big mistake.
U.S.S. Arizona
Official U.S. Navy photo
Navy officials survey the wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona.

If there is a lesson here it is that even when it is down, the United States can rally and come back. This is relevant today with the damaged U.S. economy, the soaring federal deficit and policies that ship jobs overseas.

Some world leaders have turned their attention to China, and some even cede the 21st century to China. Big mistake.

Even as we remember the deaths and destruction at Pearl Harbor and the multitude of other bloody disasters, the United States is on the road back to its rightful place in the world. Given a level field, the United States can out produce any country in both food and goods.

Years of faulty leadership have let the borders collapse and have driven successful companies to seek havens in other lands. The time has come to reverse this. This is a change we can believe in.

— Dec. 7, 2011