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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 243       Email us
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Jo Stuart
American European Realty

safe walk
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Municipal police watch over citizens headed to the children's museum.
Police guard path of visitors to children's museum
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For big events around San José, law enforcement officers are taking the saturation approach to public safety, patrolling the crowded streets equipped with body armor, guns and batons.

At the Museo de los Niños light show in north San José Wednesday night, squadrons of police, including municipal, national and tourist, set up control points and walked through the swarms of people headed north on Calle 4 to the event. The path to the event, geared toward kids and their families, passes through a less-than-secure section of town.

But Wednesday night's display of police prevalence was just one of many to be carried out through the month of December. Operation Aguinaldo, as it was dubbed by the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, redoubled the presence of Fuerza Pública officers in the downtown area for the season, with the mission of protecting the Christmas bonuses of Ticos out shopping.

And for the Festival de la Luz Saturday the strategy will be no different. Freddy Guillén Varela, chief of the planning and operations department for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said the agency plans to field 1,000 officers for the event, which is expected to attract more than one million spectators to San José.

“We're trying to limit crime so the people can enjoy a festival as pretty as this,” he said.
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Pedestrians pass through a police checkpoint

He said in addition to foot patrol, officers will be mounted on horseback and circulating in vehicles in an effort to deter thieves and prevent fights at the festivities, which most often involve alcohol. Nevertheless he recommended people travel in groups, avoid dimly-lit shortcuts, and only take the necessary amount of money for the night, leaving bank cards and valuables at home.

The Cruz Roja announced Wednesday it would employ more than 190 nurses, medics, drivers and doctors with 26 vehicles and 12 different posts. A spokesman for the organization said they attended 70 patients last year and suggested festival-goers bring necessary medications and extra layers including a rain jacket.

Failure to do that were two of the more common causes for medical treatment last year, the Cruz Roja spokesperson said.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela
Some of the protestors seeking change in the water law.

Protest seeks legal change
to make water a human right

By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Water brought together a handful of people to protest in front of Castillo Azul at the legislative center Wednesday.

A group called the Red Centroaméricana de Acción del Agua organized the rally to bring attention to the fact that water in Costa Rica has been privatized to the degree that areas in several cantons do not have daily access to potable water. These same people receive water in a truck every two days, and they can't afford to purchase bottled water, so the majority drink contaminated water, said Andres Mora, spokesperson for the Red Centroamericana de Acción del Agua.

“We have the most contaminated rivers in Central America,” said Mora.

The organization supports these cantons and has pushed for the legislature to approve a constitutional reform to a section from the 1940s that will be more relevant to this time, he said.

“We need to reform the water law because we are living in different conditions. We need a water law, and, lastly, water should be a human right,” said Mora. “Water for human consumption is a top human right. Water should principally be available for human use, and then it can be privatized.”

The organization and community leaders of the cantons were supported by three lawmakers who joined the press conference during a recess from assembly hearings. Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the assembly, Carmen María Granados Fernández from the party Acción Ciudadana, and José María Villalta Florez-Estrada from the party Frente Amplio showed up in the Salón de Beneméritos de la Patria y Ciudadanos de Honor to say a few words about the importance of water to these people and the disgrace of government to allow so much time without voting on the reform.

“What is happening in these communities should not be happening in this country today,” said Mendoza. He added that water is a human element that should not need a law for accessibility.

Eight years ago the same communities went to the Asamblea Legislativa and demanded a reform to make water a human right in Costa Rica, they were told it was in the process. Nothing has changed. Five years ago in Siquirres, Limón their water was tested and found high levels of contamination from the pineapple and banana farms of the region. This has caused an increase in deformed babies and chronic disease among newborns said Haydee Quiroz Nuñez, community leader.

According to Mora, the biggest threats to potable water in Costa Rica are pineapple farms, urban and tourist expansion, Central Valley industry and open air mining. Last week the Sala Primera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia confirmed the annulment of an open air mining concession. Pineapple operators frequently plant too close to waterways, and chemical runoffs get into the water supply.

“This is an issue of health and life,” said Granados.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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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Not a lot of Costa Ricans favor the proposed value-added tax
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed tax plan is more of a mess to the people of Costa Rica than it is to legislators. The 17-point plan has been edited repeatedly within the past year, tossed around for the past few months and finally has gone into the legislative assembly for discussion.

The presidential party, Liberación Nacional, and the opposition political party Acción Ciudadana created a compromise tax plan that causes anger and confusion among the people of the country. An A.M. Costa Rica reporter asked random Costa Ricans their opinion about the plan and the majority were either unaware of what the fiscal plan entailed, or scared to answer. And those who did answer had negative opinions.

Basically the plan would extend the current 13 percent sales tax to many other financial transactions and up the rate to 14 percent. Previously exempt activities like hiring professional services and paying for private education now would be taxed.

Martha Zamora, a former legislator during the Abel Pacheco administration and current government employee, was the only person interviewed who was for the tax plan. She was sought out specifically to provide balance to the  informal survey. Ms. Zamora from Acción Ciudadana said in an interview that the tax plan has three fundamental changes that the country needs, global tax (renta global), world tax (renta mundial), and tax-free zones (zona franca).

The proposal would tax income from sources outside the country and also begin taxing firms that located in the tax-free zones and mainly make items for export.

“I am one of those wage-earners, and I know I will personally be affected,” said Ms. Zamora. “The country can't spend all its time with borrowed money . . .  these are some of the challenges that cannot be put off anymore. The government needs to tighten the belt. The rich are rich for a reason.”

She also said that one of the reasons the people are opposing the tax plan is because of the negative connotation the term 'tax' has. Another is that the people don't trust the government anymore she said.

“The people oppose the tax plan because they don't want to pay any more taxes,” said Ms. Zamora. “There is a great
resistance because in the past the government hasn't showed austerity, so the people distrust.”

There were these few ordinary citizens who wanted to be heard and unafraid to express their discontent. They were interviewed mainly in the vicinity of Hospital Calderón Guardia.

José Santos Méndez Vargas

For me the plan is bad. The proposed plan is mistreating the people. It affects the poor. The rich just hike up the prices, and the poor have to pay. . . .  The president doesn't see what is happening. For her there is no crisis, but for us there is.

Ana Isabel Arias Peña

It makes me feel angry. They say . . . you need to tax more, but all they do is push and push the poor. It really upsets me.

Juan Navarro

Everything that is good for the country is the most important. But those things we know very little about. They don't explain to the people what that is about, and you can't eat that. It is really important for an explanation of the proposed plan... What we need is another Figueres. (José Figueres Ferrer was the three-time president of the country.)

Daniel Grijalba

The plan is lousy. The principal thing that I consider is that it is not about getting more taxes, it's about redistributing the money that is already there. Redistribution is principal. The minister of Hacienda, Fernando Herrero Acosta, is cutting education funds, and that is not necessary.

Benet Miranda

This is not the moment for the plan. It's not going to help. They should better focus on the fines from the companies. It's better that they tax those large companies. But the problem here is that there is no control. . . . It's not about charging more, there just has to be more control of the fines and money. It is not the time to start charging more taxes. A lot of this will affect the people.

80 percent of police efforts attributed to domestic violence
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
Of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Domestic violence disputes are some of the most dangerous calls to which Fuerza Pública officers respond, Such calls also are time consuming.

Some 80 percent of calls made to the Fuerza Pública are domestic-violence related said Mario Zamora Cordero, minister of security. From January 2011 to October 2011 there were 39,561 incidents reported to 911 that involved aggression toward women, according to information from the Sistema de Emergencias 9-1-1 in Costa Rica.

The same data shows that in 2010 alone there were 46,207 calls of aggression toward women. Statistics show that the numbers have increased so far this year. The judicial bulletins report the sentencing of men who have abused their female partners. The Ministerio Público's press office sends out daily releases and there usually is at least one case of domestic violence.

“On many occasions the police show up to the scene of the attack, but there are no papers signed to make the complaint,” said Gerardo García Murillo, spokesperson for Sistema de Emergencias 9-1-1.
Domestic calls are some of the more dangerous because there is so much passion between the man and woman, so these aggressions are mostly emotional, said Ileana Mora Valverde, the only female psychologist for the Judicial Investigation Organization.

She said the blowup can start with something so minor like a glass or plate breaking. The woman begins to yell at the man, and then he can't control his temper, so the situation escalates to violence, she said.

And from there sometimes the person can't control their actions and drags others into the quarrel.

On Dec. 2 a police officer responded to a domestic violence call made to 911 and got his left arm cut off with a machete by the enraged man. This is the most recent case of an officer getting hurt in the line of duty with a domestic violence call.

Reynaldo García Picado, the injured officer, had been with Fuerza Publica for 24 years.

Every time an officer responds to a domestic violence call they are likely to spend at least five hours on the case, said Zamora. This includes the investigation.

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Holiday toy survey again encounters dramatic price differences
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The annual economics ministry survey of toys found price differences up to 80 percent.

For example, Mattel Hot Wheels at the Heredia Walmart cost 12,490 colons ($24.90). But at Multiplaza in Escazú the same product was offered by Tienda Simán for nearly double at 22,500 colons ($44.87).

Of course, the difference may not be the result of greed. Merchants include their overhead when they set prices, and mall locations are pricey.

The biggest difference in money was for a Fisher Price tricycle that was being sold for 24,780 colons ($49.41) at Universal in Real Cariari. Librería Lehmann in San José offered the same product for 38,125 (76.02), a difference of 13,345 colons ($26.61).

Similar but not identical articles showed dramatic differences in prices. A plastic tricycle sold from 8,500 colons ($16.95) up to 72,990 colons ($145.54), a difference of 759 percent depending on the store, the ministry said.

Even a 500-piece puzzle ranged from 1,359 colons ($3.71) to 7,270 colons ($14.50), a difference of 439 percent.
Surveys also found 50 of 296 items checked that did not comply with the law as far as disclosing legally required data. Such facts included the name and telephone number of the distributor, a label in Spanish, a statement of the country of origin or a recommendation of age for children who use the product.

Still the number of stores that had incorrect labels was lower than in 2010, the ministry found. In that year they found only 15 percent of the toys were labeled correctly.

The survey both years included stores in San José, Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia. But some stores that were new to the survey had more problems with labels.

A store like Lehmann had problems with 91 percent of its labels in 2010, but there were no problems this year, the ministry reported.

One product warned of small parts that might be a choking hazard for children, but the label was not translated into Spanish.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio can issue citations to merchants who fail to follow the law. Based on the most recent survey, the ministry filed complaints against three stores and issued warnings to others.

Graphic shows the incidents of fires over five years. The graphic shows that fires appear to spike in January, February and March. In part, that is because of field fires due to the dry weather. Costa Ricans call the dry season summer.

Fire chart
Cuerpo de Bomberos graphic
Fire-fighting agency warns that risks are higher this time of year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas and local summer are here, and so is fire season.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos, the Costa Rica fire fighters, reported Wednesday that the frequency of fires in the nation increased 16 percent through Dec. 7 this year over the same period last year, bringing total fires to this year to 815 with 13 deaths.

Since 2007, 4,358 fires have taken place in the country and
resulted in 60 deaths. The most active months are December through April, according to statistics.

The fire-fighting agency said that 30 percent of fires are caused by electrical problems and urged people to take care so that Christmas decorations do not become fire hazards. These include apparatus involved in cooking holiday meals, fireworks and lights and candles. Just one spark can turn that seemingly quaint nativity scene or pile of Christmas presents into a fiery blaze, a release from firemen said.

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Canada and U.S. agree
on historic border deal

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States and Canada have announced deals to ease the flow of trade between the two countries and improve security on the common border.  President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Wednesday at the White House.

The United States and Canada have the world’s largest trading relationship, with more than $1.1 trillion in trade and investment crossing the border last year.

The two countries’ leaders have announced two agreements which President Obama said will further streamline cross-border trade and improve the common security.

“Put simply, we are going to make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs, and we are going to make it harder for those who would do us harm and threaten our security," said Obama.

Obama said more than 90 percent of U.S.-Canada trade passes through roads, bridges and ports, many of which he says need updating.

The president said one of the deals will provide those upgrades.

“We are going to improve our infrastructure," said Obama. "We are going to introduce new technologies.  We are going to improve cargo security and screening, all designed to make it easier for our companies to do business and create jobs.”

The agreement would also boost security along the U.S.-Canadian border, through increased coordination and the sharing of intelligence between the two allies.

The other deal would reduce regulations on cross-border trade.

Harper said the agreements are the most important between Canada and the U.S. in almost 20 years.

“These agreements create a new, modern border for a new century," said Harper. "Together they represent the most significant steps forward in Canada-U.S. cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

The two leaders also discussed an issue that has caused some difficulty between them, the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump oil from Canada to the U.S. state of Texas.

Obama delayed a decision on a route for the pipeline until 2013 after environmentalists complained about the possible ecological impact.

The president said Wednesday he told Harper it is important to ensure that all questions about the project are answered before the pipeline goes ahead.

Opposition Republicans in Congress say the $7 billion project would create thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  Republican leaders have threatened to approve Obama’s proposal to extend payroll tax cuts only if he approves the Keystone pipeline too.

The president warned Republican lawmakers not to hold hostage the payroll tax cut or any other legislation.

“Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject," he said.

Obama also said he is pleased that Canada has expressed an interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a nine-country trade group. Japan and Mexico have also shown interest in joining the group.

U.N. officials ask more
from First World nations

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two United Nations officials called Wednesday for developed countries to fulfill their aid pledges for developing countries, stressing that without aid, they run the risk of falling behind as the global economic crisis spreads to their nations.

“Fragilities in the global economy, including the risk of spillovers from developed countries, reversals in private capital inflows, exchange rate misalignments and commodity price volatility, continue to hamper [developing countries’] growth prospects,” said Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser in his remarks to a meeting on financing for development in New York. He is president of the General Assembly.

His message was delivered on his behalf by Gary Quinlan  of Australia, assembly vice president. Al-Nasser said that given the current economic environment, it is critical that developing countries undertake measures to address poverty and expand productive employment opportunities, but that to do this they will require considerable levels of external assistance.

Al-Nasser stressed that the current economic downturn will adversely affect foreign direct investment flows to developing countries as well as private capital investment, having a potentially destabilizing effect in their economies.

He also asked countries to address the imbalances on the trade system, as the development potential of international trade continues to be limited by a wide range of tariff and non-tariff restrictions as well as agricultural subsidies in developed countries.

Asha-Rose Migiro, deputy secretary general, echoed Al-Nasser’s remarks, adding that developing countries face a vicious cycle of slow growth, low revenue and high debt. Ms. Migiro said developing countries are in need of additional assistance to be able to cope with the impact of the crisis, yet most donor countries are tightening their budgets.

“Fresh efforts are needed to extend debt relief to the poorest and most vulnerable countries – and, more broadly, to explore how to deal with debt distress more effectively and fairly,” she said.

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Latin America news
New type of crab off coast
farms at methane seeps

By the Oregon State University news staff

A species of crab found a thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Costa Rica lives off the bacteria on its claws – bacteria that it fertilizes by waving them in methane and sulfide released from the sea floor.

This farming behavior was described for the first time in detail by the scientists this week in the journal PLoS One.

This new species of the yeti crab, called Kiwa puravida, was first discovered in 2006, according to Andrew Thurber, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author of the study. It is only the second member of the Yeti family of crabs – first discovered in 2005 – and illustrates how little scientists know about the deep ocean environment, the researchers say.

“We watched the crabs wave their claws back and forth in fluid from a methane seep, and rather than trying to capture bacteria, it appeared that they were providing food to the bacteria already growing on their claws,” Thurber said. “There isn’t sufficient food that deep that is derived from the sun’s energy, so vent and seep animals harness chemical energy released from the sea floor.

“These bacteria are specialists and can be found on a variety of crustaceans – crabs, shrimp and barnacles – near seeps and vents," added Thurber, who is in university's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. “But we hadn’t before seen that kind of farming behavior in which the host waves its symbionts in seep fluid.”

Thurber, who did much of the research as a doctoral student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wasn’t part of the 2005 expedtion that found the first yeti crab, but participated in the 2006 expedition that discovered Kiwa puravida, and follow-up cruises in 2009 and 2010 that collected the crabs using the submersible Alvin.

Having the specimens allowed the scientists to more closely examine the bacteria on their claws and run their genetic code through GenBank – an international database that includes thousands of species of bacteria. They discovered that it is most similar to bacteria found on crabs and shrimp living near hydrothermal vents.

Thurber said symbiotic behavior in nature is common, but few animals are known to behave in quite the same way as Kiwa puravida.

Brief hospital strike
delays surgeries there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Surgeries resumed Wendesday afternoon at Hospital México after a brief strike delayed 40 operations, said the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the agency that runs the national medical system.

Workers called the strike because the hospital was in arrears with their salaries.

Dónald Fernández, the deputy director of the hospital, said that those involved in the strike promised to speed up their work and that any surgeries that were suspended will be done as soon as possible.

The workers went back to work after they were told that their salaries were on the way.

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