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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009,  inVol. 9, No. 242            E-mail us
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Teatroi Nacional portal
A.M. Costa Rixca photo
The portal this year at the Teatro Nacional is a whimsical tent scene. Fortunately the dry season is a bit early this year or the Holy Family would get soaked. The scene has the appearance that the birth of Jesus did not take place in a stable in Bethlehem but in some nomad encampment
in the Arabian desert. Fabric is strung from poles and metal frameworks. The scene is inviting, airy and very photogenic. As part of the festivities downtown Monday night, the portal was inaugurated. It will continue to surprise visitors through early January.


Variations in food prices can keep shoppers on toes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some popular food products vary in price by as much as 289 percent depending on where they are purchased.

That is the main finding of the Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio in another one of its surveys of local stores. Ministry workers checked 18 name-brand retail outlets in mid-October. In all, the researchers focused on 37 products of which 32 were food. Prices on more than 2,200 individual items were checked.

The basic conclusion is that it pays to shop around. The ministry said that a wise shopper can save up to 13 percent based on prices found in its survey.

Not all the produces compared were identical, but all were similar.

In Super Viquez in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, surveyors found 250 grams of packaged meat  going for 390 colons, about 68 cents. But in Jumbo Supermercado in Alajuela a similar product produced by Zar sold for 1,518 colons or $2.66. The ministry computed the difference at 289 percent.

A difference of 203 percent was found in hot dogs where Suli brand at 350 grams sold in Palí in Tres Ríos for 520 colons (91 U.S. cents) but 330 grams of the Viena brand sold for 1,576 colons ($2.77) in Mega Super in Santa María de Dota.

A liter of cooking oil sold for 750 colons ($1.32)
in Más x Menos in the center of San José but for 1,960 colons ($3.44) in Super Saretto in Escazú, according to the study, The computed difference was 161 percent.

Flour also was found to have prices that varied by 150 percent. A kilo was 425 colons (75 cents) in Coronado and 1,103 colons ($1.94) in Desamparados.

Products considered in the basic food basket showed less variations. A two-kilo package of rice varied just 8.82 percent between a store in Heredia and one in Cartago. Black beans in a 900-gram package were 862 colons ($1.51) in Alajuela and 1,066 colons ($1,87) in Santa María de Dota. That's a 24.6 difference, the ministry said. Red beans showed a variation of 18.8 percent.

Basics like sugar showed just an 8.9 percent difference, but 500 grams of 1820 brand coffee were 1,615 colons ($2.83) in Desamparados and 1,901 colons ($3.34) in Cartago, a 17.7 percent difference, said the ministry.

The ministry surveyors also checked non-food items like soap, detergent, toothpaste and toilet paper and found price differences from 55 to 25 percent.

The ministry said that stores can be subject to fines if they are found to be speculating on the price. 

However, store operators would say that many variables go into establishing a retail price, such as transportation costs, rent and hours of operation.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 242

Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Arias to meet with Lobo,
Honduran president-elect


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is scheduled to meet today with the president-elect of Honduras in a session that may contribute to ending the Honduran political crisis.

Arias has said that his government will recognize the election of Porfirio Lobo in part to spare the people of Honduras more political woes. Many governments have blacklisted the country because the elected leader, José Manuel Zelaya, was ousted last June 28.

Arias served a major role in trying to negotiate a settlement to the crisis, but the negotiations were overtaken by the presidential elections, which had been planned for a long time.

Some countries like Brazil and Venezuela say they will not recognize the Lobo regime. The meeting will be at 3 p.m. at the Rohrmoser home of Arias, the same place he held discussions with Zelaya.

Bum check was fraud key
for building materials gang

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trick was pretty simple. The crooks would order construction material and promise to pay for the order at a bank. They used a bum check at the bank but then changed the deposit slip to look like they paid in cash.

When the crooks faxed the doctored deposit slip to the supplier, the delivery was scheduled or they were allowed to pick up the goods.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that a gang of fraudsters stole about 500 million colons in material using this technique. That's about $880,000.

The Judicial Investigating Organization made 12 raids Monday and detained eight men they said were linked to the ring. The agency also said that the gang had been operating in the country for a long time and that some of the members of the band were arrested previously but set free. One man has been referred to prosecutors 58 times and another 78 times, the agency said.

The raids Monday were in San José, Tibás, Heredia, Los Guidos, Los Cuadros and other points in the valley. Agents also located two warehouses, one in Hatillo and the other in Barrio Cuba. They said they found material that may have been the result of recent frauds.

Two die in separate mishaps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men died in separate accidents Monday. A man identified by the last name of Arias tried to pass a truck at the Villa Bonita de Alajuela bridge, but his passenger car was struck in the front by an oncoming semi and crushed in the rear by the cab of the truck he had just passed. His vehicle was mangled beyond recognition.

In Tejar de Guarco in Cartago a motorcyclist collided with a utility pole about 3:45 a.m. and died a short time later at Hospitalal Max Peralta in Cartago. He was identified by the last name of Granados by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Boy, 15, detained in murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A case of mistaken identity led to the shooting death of a man Saturday, and a 15 year old is being held as the gunman.

Dead is Roy Quirós Piñar, a 36-year-old agricultural worker. The death happened in El Precario de La Unión. Quirós appears to have lost a bicycle to a thief and incorrectly accused the boy and hit him in the back with a machete.  The youth responded by shooting the man twice in the chest. The Poder Judicial said that the action was self defense, but said that a judge placed the boy in provisional detention for two months.

Koreans lose three weeks work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of Korean photographers spent three weeks in Costa Rica filming the wonders of the country. The work was for a television show.

But thieves got there first. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo reported that someone took 37 rolls of the photographic work while the Koreans' car was parked Saturday in a Rohrmoser restaurant.

Have you seen these stories?

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.

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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.

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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

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Contacting us

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

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

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 242

U.N. report bullish on banana exports to developing nations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Bananas are withstanding the impact of the global economic crisis more than most agricultural commodities, with consumers regarding the fruit as a necessity in their diets, according to a new report issued by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

Banana imports will soften slightly to 13.8 million tons this year, the agency said, just over 3 per cent less than 2007 levels.

While imports have dropped off in developed countries, developing nations are recording an increased demand for the fruit, largely driven by China. The Food and Agricultural Organization predicts that if the recession bottoms out by the end of this year, the demand for bananas will surge by up to almost 8 per cent.
“With steady growth in populations and income, and rising awareness about the positive nutritional value of fruit, global banana and tropical fruit consumption is likely to continue its upward trend in the next few decades,” the new publication, which will be presented to an upcoming meeting of global fruit experts later this week, noted.

Trade in bananas and tropical fruit accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the global fruit market.

Another report to be launched at the December meeting will call for more resources to map banana and plantain diseases, which the agency warns could cause over $4 billion worth of damage by 2010, hurting small producers' incomes the most.

Bananas, coffee and computer chips are the major exports of Costa Rica.


Search on for missing 3 year old who vanished from bed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are trying to find a 3 year old who vanished from her bed about 1 a.m. in La Tabla de Río Cuarto de  Grecia.  She left a small amount of blood on the sheet.

The girl was identified as Ketherine Chavarría Sánchez, and agents quickly put out a bulletin for her unidentified uncle. The case is being handled as a kidnapping.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the child's parents hosted a fiesta in their home Sunday night.

The mother and father left the child unattended briefly when they arranged transportation for a family member. When they returned to the home the child was not there, they told police.

The case is being handled by investigators in San Carlos.
missing girl and uncle
Missing girl and uncle as yet unidentified by police

The home is not far from the Río Toro Amarillo and some searchers were looking there. The father told police that the door to the home was forced.


Many judicial offices will remain open over the holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new flagrancia court will be open every day over the Christmas holidays to handle those crooks caught in the act, said the Poder Judicial.

The judiciary will be going on vacation Dec. 21, but a summary Monday said that necessary services would not be affected.  These include the flagrancia court that issues judgments on those caught red-handed. It will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Poder Judicial said.

Also open will be the Sala IV constitutional court where magistrates will share the duties of awaiting the filing of cases and appeals. The court will be open for the reception
of documents 24 hours a day. The entire court could be called into special session if the case warrants that kind of emergency response, the Poder Judicial said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization, the morgue, the Ministerio Público where prosecutors work and the Defensa Pública also will be open with short staffs.

Those who have to pay child support will see no changes, the judiciary said. Monthly payments will be routed directly through the Banco de Costa Rica.

And the judiciary also will be keeping open the office where reports are given about crimes by victims. The vacation ends Jan. 4.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 242

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limon wells
Cruz Roja Costarricense photo
Before and after photos of repaired water well

Cruz Roja rehabilitates wells in section of Limón province

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 150 families in the Provincia de Limón have been getting their water from wells that sometimes were no more than holes in the ground.

The Cruz Roja financed by its international organization, embarked on a $38,000 project to bring the wells up to sanitary standards.

The communities are Matina and Goshén where there is a high percentage of children.

Typically the Cruz Roja volunteers would build a wall a meter high, about 39 inches. This keeps ground water and
runoff from polluting the well. And the circular wall or casing is given a roof.

After that the well is cleaned and disinfected.

One beneficiary was the Escuela de San Juan de Goshen, the Cruz Roja said.

Tajo Chirripó, the construction supply company, donated material for the work. The International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent financed the project with help from the municipality of Matina.

The Cruz Roja also said it delivered 10 workshops on domestic sanitation to residents of the area.



Health ministry warns of fake employees trying to enter homes in Limón area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fake health workers are trying to take advantage of a government campaign against malaria and dengue, mainly in the Provincia de Limón, the Ministerio de Salud said Monday.

The ministry said that health workers are visiting various localities and homes in the Limón area to combat the mosquito-born diseases.

However, it warned that other persons are visiting homes
under the pretext of being from the ministry. The ministry urged residents to not allow such persons to enter their homes to avoid damage or injury.

It said that real health workers are fully identified on an ID card and wear jackets with the ministry logo.

The ministry also said that such trickery may not be confined just to the province of Limón. The province always has a dengue problem and a lesser malaria project, mainly in the vicinity of Matina, and the ministry mounts a house-to-house campaign each year.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 242

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Brain study patients use
thoughts to run computer


By the Mayo Clinic news service

Neuroscientists at the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville, Florida, have demonstrated how brain waves can be used to type alphanumerical characters on a computer screen. By merely focusing on the "q" in a matrix of letters, for example, that "q" appears on the monitor.

Researchers say these findings, presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, represent concrete progress toward a mind-machine interface that may, one day, help people with a variety of disorders control devices, such as prosthetic arms and legs. These disorders include Lou Gehrig's disease and spinal cord injuries, among many others.

"Over 2 million people in the United States may benefit from assistive devices controlled by a brain-computer interface," says the study's lead investigator, neurologist Jerry Shih. "This study constitutes a baby step on the road toward that future, but it represents tangible progress in using brain waves to do certain tasks."

Shih and other Mayo Clinic researchers worked with Dean Krusienski from the University of North Florida on this study, which was conducted in two patients with epilepsy. These patients were already being monitored for seizure activity using electrocorticography in which electrodes are placed directly on the surface of the brain to record electrical activity produced by the firing of nerve cells. This kind of procedure requires a craniotomy, a surgical incision into the skull.

Shih wanted to study a mind-machine interface in these patients because he hypothesized that feedback from electrodes placed directly on the brain would be much more specific than data collected from electroencephalography in which electrodes are placed on the scalp. Most studies of mind-machine interaction have occurred with EEG, Shih says.

"There is a big difference in the quality of information you get from ECoG compared to EEG. The scalp and bony skull diffuses and distorts the signal, rather like how the Earth's atmosphere blurs the light from stars," he says. "That's why progress to date on developing these kind of mind interfaces has been slow."

Because these patients already had electrodes implanted in their brains to find the area where seizures originated, the researchers could test their fledgling brain-computer interface.

In the study, the two patients sat in front of a monitor that was hooked to a computer running the researchers' software, which was designed to interpret electrical signals coming from the electrodes.

The patients were asked to look at the screen, which contained a 6-by-6 matrix with a single alphanumeric character inside each square. Every time the square with a certain letter flashed, and the patient focused on it, the computer recorded the brain's response to the flashing letter. The patients were then asked to focus on specific letters, and the computer software recorded the information. The computer then calibrated the system with the individual patient's specific brain wave, and when the patient then focused on a letter, the letter appeared on the screen.

"We were able to consistently predict the desired letters for our patients at or near 100 percent accuracy," Shih says.

Once the technique is perfected, its use will require patients to have a craniotomy, although it isn't yet known how many electrodes would have to be implanted. And software would have to calibrate each person's brain waves to the action that is desired, such as movement of a prosthetic arm, Shih says. "These patients would have to use a computer to interpret their brain waves, but these devices are getting so small, there is a possibility that they could be implanted at some point," he says.

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bleached soral
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration photo
The white areas on this coral are a result of bleaching. Scientists are reporting progress toward understanding how this harmful process occurs.

Scientists reveal finding
coral bleaching mechanism

By the American Chemical Society news service

Scientists are reporting the first identification of substances involved in the Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation that changes harmless marine bacteria into killers that cause coral bleaching. Their study appears in American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Dan Bearden and colleagues note that bleaching already has destroyed up to 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs, and scientists are searching for ways to slow or stop the damage. One known culprit is an ocean-dwelling bacterium, Vibrio coralliilyticus (V. coralliilyticus) that chokes-off corals’ energy supply and kills these shell-clad marine animals. At lower temperatures, the bacteria are harmless to coral. But at warmer temperatures (above 75 degrees F.) the bacteria become virulent and can kill coral.

The new study reports identification of three chemicals, betaine, glutamate, and succinate, that V. coralliilyticus produces in warmer water and are involved in the transformation. The discovery opens the door to understanding the biology involved in the complex interactions between corals and bacteria and unraveling the mystery of coral bleaching, the scientists said.


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