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Pubished Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 248
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'Tis the season to enjoy the tradition of Las Posadas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nine days before Christmas is when the faithful take to the streets to imitate the biblical trek by Mary and Joseph for a place to stay in Bethlehem.

This is the time of Las Posadas, sort of a mixture of religious fervor and a fiesta.

Although some Costa Rican traditions are on the wane due to foreign influences, Las Posadas is going strong. Depending on the schedule from the local Catholic church, some parishioners may have started the nightly pilgrimage.

The Costa Rica tradition puts children in the forefront. A young Mary and a young Joseph will lead children and adults in a candle-lighted procession on a search for lodgings or posadas. They are denied entry at eight homes, but at a designated ninth home, all enter for prayer and then singing and traditional snacks. There certainly will be a portal or nativity scene there.

There will be cakes, sweets and perhaps the traditional tamales at the ninth home.

Another tradition is rompope, the Latin American version of eggnog. This is a slightly alcoholic beverage that also can be used as the base for something called ponche or industrial strength rompope.

The Christian biblical tradition says that Mary and Joseph were not lucky enough to find lodging, and that Jesus was born in a stable. In some Las Posadas processions, the holy

Biblioteca Nacional photo 
Las Posadas centers around the nativity.

couple jump the gun and little Mary carries a figure of the Christ child.

The tradition can be documented to be at least 100 years old in Costa Rica.  In México the tradition is 400 years old and may be a merger of Christian and Aztec celebrations. In Europe the tradition dates from the mid-1500s. Elsewhere there may be adults in the lead roles along with a donkey and piñatas for youngsters.

The Biblioteca Nacional is presenting a Las Posadas celebration today at 2 p.m. at the main library just north of Parque Nacional in San José. There will not be an outside procession, but historian Laura Rodríguez said that the event will follow Costa Rican customs. The library has invited three guitarists from Cartago to provide traditional Christmas music, villancicos. And traditional foods are promised for the free event. This is the second year that the library system has done this.

Four held in string of home invasions in Heredia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained four persons Wednesday morning on allegations that they were the home invaders who engineered a series of robberies between April and September in Heredia.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, these suspects, mainly in their 20s and 30s, participated in at least four robberies of houses located in San Isidoro, Mercedes Norte, San Rafael and the San 

Francisco areas of Heredia. Once inside, the robbers threatened the residents with firearms,
gagged their victims and covered them with sheets. Most of the items stolen included electronics like televisions and computers as well as other appliances.

The judicial agents, however, said they believe these men to be involved in a total of six armed robberies that caused losses at around 18 million colons.

Agents detained the defendants following several raids at various locations in Alajuela. Agents said they found evidence such as cell phones, a revolver, and approximately 200,000 colons and $100 in cash.

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Sweepstakes scammer gets 180 months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who ran fake sweepstakes operations in Costa Rica has been sentenced to 180 months in U.S. prison and ordered to pay $9.7 million in restitution to victims.

He is Jeffrey Robert Bonner, 41, of Sacramento, California. He was sentenced this week in North Carolina, which has become the hub for U.S. prosecutions of Costa Rican fraud cases.

Bonner pleaded guilty July 14 along with associates Cody Trevor Burgsteiner, 33, of Houston, Texas, and Darra Lee Shephard, 57, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They admitted various counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and international money laundering, all in connection with a Costa Rican telemarketing fraud scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in North Carolina.

Bonner ran one of the many call centers that preyed on mostly older U.S. citizens by pretending the victims had won a sweepstakes. To collect the money, the victims were told that they would have to wire money to Costa Rica. Contact information usually came from confederates in the United States who offered sweepstake registrations at tables outside supermarkets.

Also sentenced at the same time as Bonner were Frank M. Schiavone, 76, and Lewis E. Ricker, 65, both of Lutz, Florida. Schiavone got 48 months, and Ricker got 42 months from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr.  The U.S. Attorney's Office said that the two men worked at a different call center that operated in the same way as did Bonner's from 2009 to 2015. Each was ordered to pay $399,852.56 in restitution. 

Bonner admitted that to mask the fact he and his co-conspirators were calling from Costa Rica, they utilized voice over internet protocol phones that displayed a 202 area code to give the false impression that they were calling from Washington, D.C., said federal officials.  Bonner and his co-conspirators often falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency to lure victims into a false sense of security, the officials added, noting that the victim loss associated with Bonner’s scheme is nearly $10 million.

Costa Rica has long been a source of telemarketing scams, in part because there are many residents here who speak fluent English. Costa Ricans cannot be extradited, so they basically are immune to U.S. prosecution.

In the past, call centers sold computers that did not exist at cut prices. There also was a case of business opportunities in which U.S. victims were lured into purchasing vending machines and other devices that did not bring the promised return.

There even was a stock brokerage operation that manipulated prices in ways that are illegal in the United States and also was involved in money laundering.

Most of these operations were shut down when the U.S. Department of Justice launched an aggressive anti-fraud campaign in 2009. Some of the U.S. architects of the frauds remain here because they married Costa Ricans and gained citizenship that prevents their extradition.

However, Costa Rican officials have been known to nullify citizenship in some of these cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice has a long list of cases involving Costa Rican frauds that are in process.

Card racket directed from here, cops say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators in Spain have detained five persons as they cracked down on a stolen credit card operation they said was directed from Costa Rica.

The leader, who was not identified by name, was said to be a Spanish citizen living in Costa Rica.

The Policía Nacional said that the leader in Costa Rica would obtain or buy credit card numbers and other data on victims and then forward this information to Spain. There confederates set up sham corporations and obtained credit card processing devices to charge the accounts of victims, the police said in a statement.

The investigation was said to be difficult because of the number of sham corporations that had been set up and the convoluted way money passed through them.

The loss to victims is estimated at 5.4 million euros, and the victims were mainly from the United States, said the Spanish police. That is about $5.7 million.

Police said at least 20 persons were involved in France, the United States, the Dominican Republic and Panamá, as well as Spain and Costa Rica. Investigators in all those countries were involved along with the International Police Agency.

The status of the ringleader in Costa Rica was not known. The case has been under investigation since the second half of 2014, said the Spanish police.

Park rangers are threatening to strike

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 300 park rangers are preparing to strike if the government refuses to give them raises in their salary.

The Sindicato de Trabajadores del Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía has been involved in a six-year process demanding that the government raise the salaries. The union claims park rangers seek a raise because of their activities against drug trafficking and illegal hunting in protected parks and wildlife areas. They are also on call and the workers are required to be available 24 hours a day if needed, according to union representatives.

The raise is wanted, in part, for their work as a quasi-police force in which duties carry with it a police-level risk and availability, representatives said. A meeting on Tuesday with members of the government left union representatives heavily disappointed, a spokesman said. The reason for this is that they were informed that a February 2014 executive order must be amended. Union representatives saw it as a repetitive issue that has been discussed too much already.

They are threatening to close down the national parks if they do not receive a positive response from the president’s office.

The Frente Amplio, a prominent left-wing political party, has also taken up the cause in solidarity with the park rangers. Frente Amplio representatives warned of the consequences a strike in this sector could have with the oncoming tourist season.

Molesting charge brings 12-year prison term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 24-year old man was sentenced to 12 years in jail for sexually abusing a 10-year old girl multiple times, according to prosecutor in San Carlos.

Marco Cabezas Ávalos, the man in question, was found guilty by the criminal court there this week after the prosecution told the court that between February and November 2014 the accused took advantage of this girl who was his relative.

News from the Spanish-language press
Translated into English

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Constitutional court rejects cut in budget for child welfare agency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected a cut in the budget for next year that lawmakers had made to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

Lawmakers had transferred the bulk of the money to the security ministry and the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The decision was hailed by the members of Frente Amplio, whose members were among the 24 lawmakers who brought the case to the constitutional court.

The decision basically says that cutting the budget is against the constitution and various international treaties.

Lawmakers have made what amounts to tiny cuts to the budget, and now Frente Amplio said it would appeal to the court today to allow the child welfare agency to use all of its budget.

In addition, Frente Amplio lawmaker Edgardo Araya Sibaja
said that the ruling meant that the Asamblea Legislativa would not be able to cut the agency's budget in the future.

The Patronato is a controversial agency that generally works in secret because it keeps confidential the names of the children with which it is involved.

News of the decision came from a brief afternoon announcement from the judiciary. The court told the minister of Hacienda to put the money back in the Patronato budget with an amendment. But there was no detailed explanation released.

The decision would seem to remove much of the budgeting process from lawmakers because any number of agencies could make constitutional arguments.

The Patronato had mounted a strong public relations campaign to protect its budget.

Sixaola bridge project gets go-ahead for start of construction
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The consortium that will build a new bridge over the Río Sixaola got the go-ahead to begin the $17.5 million job Wednesday. Officials from Costa Rica, Panamá and México held a small ceremony at the bridge site.

The bridge is designed to replace the aging rail span that has been used for years to connect the two countries. The temporary

bailey bridge that is in use now for traffic also will be replaced.

The bridge is expected to be an economic stimulus to the southeast part of the country and provide a modern eastern route between Costa Rica and Panamá.

The consortium is made up of Constructora MECO of Costa Rica and Cal y Mayor y Asociados and MEXPRESA, both of México. A United Nations agency is in charge of the project.

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Holiday events are on the agenda for tonight and through the weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The holiday season in Costa Rica is in full swing with many events beginning today and continuing through the weekend. Music, dancing, theater, and other performances and activities are happening all around the country this weekend, but some are starting today.

At 6:30 p.m. at the Catedral Metropolitana, the “Nace Jesús” musical will be presented.  The work is by the Costa Rican composer Carlos Guzmán. There will be a total of 65 singers, actors, along with musicians from the Banda de Conciertos de San José, all combining their talents to create this performance. The event is free.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional together with the Coro Sinfónico Nacional under guest director Alejandro Guitiérrez will be hosting a free concert at the Catedral de Alajuela at 7:30 tonight. This is a part of the wider Christmas concert tour.

For more music, the bands will be holding their own shows at specific locations. In Alajuela, the Banda de Alajuela will be holding its Christmas concert with the Coro de Conservatorio de Alajuela at 7 p.m. at the Lagos del Coyol. The Banda de Cartago is having its show with the Grupo Senderos at the Iglesia de Dulce Nombre in Cartago at 7 p.m. Lastly, the Banda de Heredia is having its concert in the central park of Heredia at 5 p.m. Other shows will be occurring later with the start of the weekend.

In the world of dance, the Teatro Nacional is continuing to host the contemporary rendition of “Alicia en el país de las maravillas,”or “Alice in Wonderland,” at 8 p.m. Tickets range between 8,000 and 30,000 colones, depending on seating, and can be purchased at the theater or reserved online. Meanwhile, the Taller Nacional de Danza is putting on a show with 

Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud photo
The Taller Nacional de Danza will present this tonight and Friday at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar.

youngsters at 4 p.m. and one with adults at 8 p.m. at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar. Tickets will be sold for 5,000 colones for the public. The adult show will be repeated Friday at 8 p.m.

The Museo de Arte de Costarricense will be having the inauguration of the exhibition “Premios Salones Nacionales (1972-1993).” The selection will consist of 50 award-winning works of paintings, sculpture, engraving and photography by various artists.

The opening ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. and is free.

Other museums will also be opening their doors to the public with many exhibitions to be presented and carried on into January. Admission prices range from being free to around 2000 colones. The institutions include: the Archivo Nacional, the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo, the Museo Calderón Guardia, the Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría, and the Museo Nacional. Information on their specific exhibitions, prices, and scheduling can be obtained at their websites.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
Salsa Lizano
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 248
Real Estate
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Axiom new ad

A billion accounts hacked,
Yahoo says of another crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A data breach in August 2013 exposed information held in more than 1 billion Yahoo user accounts, the company said Wednesday.

The hacking incident is separate from an intrusion Yahoo reported in September, when the company disclosed 500 million user accounts were exposed in 2014.

"Yahoo believes an unauthorized third party, in August 2013, stole data associated with more than one billion user accounts," Yahoo said in a statement. "Yahoo believes this incident is likely distinct from the incident the company disclosed on September 22, 2016."

The information stolen may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and security questions and answers. Payment card and bank account data were not believed to have been affected, the company said.

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, is in the process of being acquired by Verizon in a $4.8 billion deal. The company did not identify the unauthorized third party involved in the 2013 hacking.

Infected patient
antibodies could provide a cure for zika

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chinese researchers have identified broadly neutralizing human antibodies from a zika patient that protected mice against infection with the mosquito-borne illness.

The substances are part of a growing arsenal of antibody-related treatments to fight the disease, which causes severe birth defects in babies. The most serious of these defects is microcephaly, in which children are born with a small head and brain that cause severe disabilities.

No antibody treatments have yet received regulatory approval, say experts.

Unlike other zika-neutralizing antibodies that have been isolated from human patients, the newly-discovered antibodies only target the virus.

Other human antibodies in development reportedly recognize the closely-related zika and dengue viruses, increasing the risk of unwanted side effects.

In particular, experts say other antibody treatments could make a dengue infection worse in regions that are endemic for both diseases, should people become infected with both viruses and are treated for zika.

Researchers say the specificity of the zika antibodies would avoid such cross-reactivity and side effects.

More than 80,000 people became infected with zika in 69 countries and regions worldwide beginning in 2015. Before it was quelled, the World Health Organization declared the zika virus a public health emergency, saying there was an urgent need for the development of treatments and preventative strategies.

Chinese researchers identified a total of 13 monoclonal antibodies in the blood of a patient who had been infected with zika and returned to China from Venezuela.

Two of the antibodies, called Z23 and Z3L1, are thought to thwart infection by targeting sites on the virus' outer envelope protein, hindering the pathogen's ability to enter cells.

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers say more study is needed to understand specifically how Z23 and Z3L1 offer protection against zika.

Climate change battle heats up
between Trump and scientists

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Last week, a memo sent by the Trump transition team to the U.S. Department of Energy made news when it was revealed that it asked for the names of employees who attended any interagency working group on the social cost of carbon meetings.

Further news was made when the department responded by basically denying the request. Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder released a statement saying in part: "We will be forthcoming with all publicly available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team."

The Trump memo raised a few eyebrows among Democrats in Congress. Rep. Elijah Cummings told the Washington Post: “I am sure there are a lot of career scientists and others who see this as a terrible message of fear and intimidation. ‘Either ignore the science or we will come after you.’”

At this point, the Trump administration has not suggested it will come after climate scientists or dismantle Obama administration programs designed to fight climate change. But that hasn't stopped the scientific community from preparing for a new administration that, based on statements from Trump and some of his key cabinet picks, questions the reality of human-impacted climate change.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the United States alone spent over $11 billion on issues related to climate change in 2014. The lion's share of that money went towards developing new technologies to reduce the industrial emissions.

Former CIA director urges
Trump to attend briefings

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden added his voice Wednesday to growing calls for president-elect Donald Trump to be more open to the intelligence community and to embrace findings that may be at odds with his personal beliefs.

"It's not just a question of the Russian hacking and his seeming reluctance to accept what appears to be good evidence that the Russians did this," Hayden said, referring to a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump win.

"It's the broader question I'm concerned about: Will the president elect accept the intelligence guys to come in and give him points of view that are different from his a priori assumptions or beliefs?" he said.

Hayden, a retired Air Force general, headed the U.S. National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005 and later served as CIA director under former President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009.

Leon Panetta, who succeeded Hayden as CIA director and served during President Barack Obama's first term in office, and former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urged Trump Wednesday to accept the daily intelligence briefings offered to incoming presidents despite Trump's reluctance.

"I have never seen a president who has said, 'I don't want that stuff.' Never seen it,'' Panetta said Wednesday at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai.

Trump has dismissed U.S. intelligence findings that Russia sought through hacking to influence the election in his favor and has questioned the utility of the daily intelligence briefings.

He told Fox News on Sunday that he was not interested in receiving the same information every day. In his stead, he said, vice president-elect Mike Pence and the generals should receive the briefings.

Sean Spicer, a spokesman for Trump's transition team, said Wednesday that the president-elect was getting formal intelligence briefings at least three times a week.

The high-level intelligence briefing, known as the President's Daily Brief, has been a fixture for U.S. presidents since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961.

But not every president has taken them. Hayden noted that former president Jimmy Carter had his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, attend and later summarize the daily briefings for him.

In his comments at the conference, Hayden expressed skepticism about Trump's stated desire to join forces with Russian and Syrian governments to battle Islamic State militants.

Russian and U.S. interests do not converge, he said. While the U.S. aim in Syria and Iraq is to defeat the militant group, the Russian goal is the preservation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"If there are small, specific tactical places where our interests coincide, we should absolutely cooperate. But at the strategic level, I actually think we're heading in different directions," Hayden said.

sea horse
University of Konstanz photo  
The tiger tail seahorse, Hippocampus comes

Fast evolution in seahorses
gives new biological findings

By the University of Konstanz news staff

Without a doubt, the seahorse belongs to what Charles Darwin called endless forms most beautiful. Its body form is one of a kind. It has neither a tail nor pelvic fin, it swims vertically, bony plates reinforce its entire body and it has no teeth, a rare feature in fish.

Another peculiarity is that male seahorses are the ones to become pregnant. The genome project, comprising six evolutionary biologists from Axel Meyer’s research team from the University of Konstanz and researchers from China and Singapore sequenced and analyzed the genome of the tiger tail seahorse.

They obtained new molecular evolutionary results that are relevant for biodiversity research: the loss and duplication of genes as well as the loss of regulative elements in its genome have both contributed to the rapid evolution of the seahorse.

The questions underlying how diversity emerges and what its genetic basis is, can be superbly answered through the example of the seahorse because numerous unique features evolved in the seahorse within a short time, researchers said.

This is how the researchers around Meyer were able to identify the genetic basis for the disappearance of the seahorse’s teeth. Several genes that are present in many fish as well humans and contribute to the development of teeth, were lost in seahorses.

The seahorse no longer needs teeth due to the special way in which it consumes its food. Instead of chewing its prey, it simply sucks it in with the enormous negative pressure that it can generate in its long snout. This same genetic forfeiture applies to genes that contribute to the sense of smell. Seahorses hunt visually and have very good sight, using their eyes that can move independently of each other. Therefore, the olfactory sense seems to only play a minor role.

Particularly noteworthy is the loss of the pelvic fins. In evolutionary terms, they share the same origin as human legs. An important gene, tbx4, that is responsible for this feature, was found in nearly all vertebrates, but is missing from the seahorse's genome.

In addition to gene losses, gene duplications during the evolution of the seahorse were also detected. When a gene is duplicated, the copy can fulfill an entirely new function. In the seahorse, this is probably how a part of the newly created gene makes male pregnancy possible. These genes presumably regulate the pregnancy, for example, by coordinating the embryos' hatching within the brood pouch of the male. Once the embryo is hatched, the additional genes are activated. The authors of the study presume that these genes contribute to the process where the baby fish leave the male’s brood pouch.

According to this study, evolution does not only act through changing major roles of genes, but it also influences regulatory elements, or genetic switches, during evolution. Regulatory elements are DNA segments that control the function of genes. Some of them barely change during the course of evolution since they have important regulatory functions. But several such unchanging and seemingly crucial elements are missing in sea-horses.

This is also and especially the case for elements that are responsible for the typical development of the skeleton in fish, but also in humans. This is probably one of the reasons why the seahorse's skeleton has been so greatly modified.  It lacks ribs, for example. Instead, its body is armored with bony plates that add strength and better protection from predators. Additionally, its tail allows seahorses to be camouflaged and remain motionless by holding on to seaweed or corals. The genome sequences suggest that the loss of the corresponding regulatory sequence led to this ossification.

Due to its special morphology, the seahorse superbly demonstrates how genetic changes can lead to evolutionary changes in distinguishing traits and therefore to a better understanding of the genetic basis for the evolution of bizarre and beautiful organisms such as seahorses.

uUber vehicle
Uber photo   
This Ford is equipped with radar

Uber continues its testing
in driverless car program

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ride-hailing service Uber has rolled out driverless cars in San Francisco, the second American city the company has targeted.

Uber tested autonomous cars earlier this year in Pittsburgh, but on a limited scale. The San Francisco rollout is expected to be larger.

Uber users in San Francisco will be the first to have a chance to ride in the company’s self-driving vehicle, which is a Volvo XC90 SUV equipped with LIDAR, a radar-type system that uses lasers as well as cameras and computers to navigate.

“The promise of self-driving is core to our mission of reliable transportation everywhere for everyone,” Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s vice president of self-driving technology, said.

Earlier this week, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said it was spinning off its effort into a company called Waymo, a possible indication the cars are nearly ready to be tested in the real world. Tesla, Lyft and others are also working on autonomous cars.

While the Pittsburgh launch was limited to a few frequent users within a small area, Uber says in San Francisco any passenger choosing an UberX ride, one of the cheaper options, could be picked up by a driverless car. The customer will have a choice to accept a driverless car or a regular driver.

As in Pittsburgh, a Uber employee will still be in the car in case of malfunction.

According to The New York Times, it was not clear if Uber legally could test driverless cars in San Francisco as it was not listed as a company holding a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

“We are not planning to operate any differently than in Pittsburgh, where our pilot has been running successfully for several months,” Levandowski said. “Second, the rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them. For us, it’s still early days and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them.”

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Spectacular Horse Ranch and Spiritual/Yoga
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Several profitable businesses, including a regional radio station, are for sale in Costa Rica. Certain purchases can provide the new owner with residency as well as a great lifestyle. So live your dream while making a profit. Contact:

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news page

San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 248
Real Estate
About us

News from the BBC up to the minute

BBC news feeds are disabled on archived pages.

Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
town meeting
Movimiento Ríos Vivos de Costa Rica photo
The meeting on the dam drew this crowd.

Hundreds turn out for hearing on dam

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There continues to be heavy opposition to the proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam at the Río San Rafael.

About 400 persons turned up at the communal hall of San Pedro Tuesday, and the vast majority of the attendees demonstrating against the dam’s construction. H. Solis, the company trying to build the dam, showed a cartoon video talking of the benefits to the project such as employment and a promise to give a percent of all profits back to the community.

During the hearing itself, there were 15 presentations against the hydroelectric dam and only two in favor, according to a summary provided by opponents. The Comisión Defensora del Río San Rafael, one of the groups leading the charge against construction, said it presented around 800 written statements protesting the construction, according to officials. The organization says that the dam would require a concession of  95 percent of the river water.

Some of the arguments against the dam included a concern over the access to freshwater as well that the agricultural uses of the river would be hurt with the dam being built.

Last Saturday saw a protest in the streets. Residents in San Pedro blocked vehicles and traffic along the Interamericana Sur. Thousands of signatures and dozens of letters from organizations and individuals were also put on the municipality's desks, according to protesters.

Design starts on the Ruta 32 widening job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Chinese firm that will widen Ruta 32 from Moín to Río Frio got approval Wednesday to begin design work.

This is an unusual project because most of the money is being loaned to the country by China, and the cost of the job, $465 million, was fixed before any design was made. There was no bidding.

The contractor will be China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd., and design is estimated to take about eight months. The Chinese firm also will designate properties for expropriation said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes here.

Bridge lanes will be closed again at Río Virilla

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bridge workers will close the eastbound lanes of the General Cañas autopista over the Río Virilla tonight at 8 p.m. The lanes will remain closed until 5 a.m. Friday. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said the workers would be unloading bridge girders and other material for widening the structure.

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From Page 7:  

Fed rate hike could hurt U.S. housing market

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. central bank raised its key lending rate Wednesday by a quarter of a percent, only the second time it has done so since the end of the financial crisis. Economists say normalizing or raising the record low interest rates of the past few years is a sign the U.S. economy is on the mend. However, others say higher rates could also hurt the very industry that triggered the financial crisis.

Many homeowners were forced into foreclosure in 2008 as a result of high-risk loans and borrowing practices. Millions found themselves paying higher interest rates on mortgages that were worth more than the value of their homes.

Since then, most home prices have climbed back to pre-recession highs. For the average homeowner, that means their home is now worth about the same as it was in 2006 before the housing market collapsed in 2008. But just barely.

Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, said now is a critical time in the housing sector.

"The housing market is clearly getting healthier, so we need to allow this momentum to continue to build," Yun said.

In the last six years, home prices have risen faster than incomes. Yun says that's an unsustainable trend which could hurt affordability. Adding to buyers’ woes, interest rates on 30-year mortgages have risen sharply since last month.

"Mortgage rates had been at 3.5 percent for most of 2016,” Yun said. “It has already increased above 4 percent, partly in anticipation of the Federal Reserve rate changes."

With economists predicting three more rate hikes next year, experts say mortgage rates are likely to go higher. Just a quarter percent increase could add as much as $50 per month on a $300,000 mortgage, according to personal finance website The website's chief economist, Michelle Hutchison, says a recent survey conducted by shows the prospect of higher rates could turn off a lot of potential homebuyers.

Despite the direct correlation between rising rates and lower demand for housing, Yun says homebuyers need to accept that the era of ultra-low interest rates is over. But, he says higher employment, rising wages and more flexible lending by banks should help balance the equation.