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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 251       Email us
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Jo Stuart
American European Realty

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With the Christmas lottery, the gordo, injecting an estimated $38 million into the hands of the public, crowds were on the streets Monday to claim their prizes. Some big winners showed up at the Junta de Protección Social headquarters, but most visited the local lottery office to exchange their winning tickets for various amounts of cash. One resident said he spent  4,000 colons or about $8 on lottery tickets and won 3,000 when one of the tickets he purchased had the winner number, 25. Some of the really big winners, those who might have a ticket worth $2.4 million, probably are lying low and will try to maintain their privacy for their own protection. The Junta makes bank deposits for large sums.

Six traffic officers detained on suspicion of bribery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization detained traffic policemen Monday morning on the allegation that they were extorting drivers who they pulled over and asked them for bribes in place of facing a hefty fine.

The group of six detainees, five men and one woman, operated primarily along Route 27, the San José-Caldera highway, and were stationed in Orotina in Alajuela.

The accused officers had anywhere between two and 10 years experience working as traffic officials. Included were a pair of brothers.

In an effort to disclose the supposed scam, judicial agents launched an investigation and discovered
that transit officials supposedly stopped drivers and accused them of going at high speeds on the road.

Typically that carries a fine of about $600, but the transit officials are accused of instead offering to settle with a bribe.

The investigation began after one of the victims reported a similar incident to judicial police in September. According to the investigators, the bribes varied by driver, depending on the on-the-spot amount each person could pay. Investigators claim foreigners and locals were targeted equally without discretion.

Monday agents raided the local transit patrol center in question and confiscated radar guns and record logs and made arrests of the officers.

Executive branch pulls measure to tax corporations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just 24 hours after including a proposed tax on corporations in the legislative agenda, Casa Presidencial inexplicably withdrew the measure.

The action means that owners of corporations will not face a $300-plus assessment in the first 15 days of January.
Casa Presidencial withdrew the measure Thursday by means of a decree signed by President Laura Chinchilla Miranda. The day before a similar decree added the proposed tax to the legislative agenda.

During periods when the legislature is not obligated to meet under the Costa Rican Constitution, the executive branch controls the agenda.

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Bean truck driver says
bandits hijacked his load

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trailer-truck driver toting a load of beans was stopped, tied up and relieved of his cargo Sunday night in a coordinated highway robbery, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

According to the judicial police, the driver, identified by the name of Méndez, was passing by a toll station in Atenas heading to Turrúcares when a car and a pick-up truck, with the drivers working together, boxed in his vehicle and forced Méndez to stop.

Then, an armed assailant appeared and he and another accomplice bound Méndez' feet and hands with his own shoe-laces, according to the investigative report. Méndez said in the report he didn't see their faces, but one of the supposed hijackers began to drive the trailer-truck.

Eventually, the hijacker stopped, and, Méndez said in the report, after being stopped for some time he realized the two robbers were no longer in the truck with him. So, he freed himself and walked back to his trailer to find 430 sacks of beans had presumably been stolen, according to the report. Agents report Méndez was left in the sector Alto de Ochomogo.

Taxi driver accused
of running cocaine route

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cab driver in Puntarenas was nabbed last weekend on an allegation of selling cocaine from his taxi as he make rounds of local bars to deliver the goods.

The Judicial Investigating Organization agents stationed in Puntarenas claim to have conducted surveillance and monitoring of the suspect since October. They then apprehended the 35-year-old man outside of a bar over the weekend.

The agency reports they apprehended the subject along with cocaine and other illicit items in his taxi.

Our readers' opinions
Tax collectors should get
commission as incentive

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The excuses are usually three: not enough tax collectors, not enough money to pay them and not enough incentive to pursue the extraordinary percentage of people who don't pay. Single solution: hire tax collectors and pay them a commission, a percentage of the taxes they collect.
Lenny Karpman
La Guacima

Which person is a cop?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding your article "Don't ask the municipal cop to see a badge now, " how is one supposed to know who is a real police and who is an impostor? The real police no longer has a badge while impostors wear police uniforms.
Dennis Jay

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Samantha's girls
Rick's New Year's
A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 251
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Today is a deadline for paying workers Christmas aguinaldo
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the last day for employers to pay their staffs the 2011 aguinaldo. This is the legally mandated 13th month of salary.

Although some struggling employers will drag out the payments, employees have the right to complain to the labor ministry, which will open a file and hound the employer. Eventually legal action may be forthcoming.

The amount is one of the easiest sums to figure in Costa Rica. Employers simply add up salaries from December 2010 until the end of November 2011 and divide by 12.  For domestic help who receive payment in kind, the aguinaldo is supposed to reflect the non-cash payments, like food and housing.
The Ministerio de Trabajo is the place for employees to complain, but workers there also are prepared to help employers who have questions.

Workers who left the job earlier in the year were supposed to have been paid their aguinaldo, vacation and other mandated amounts then. Aguinaldos and vacation pay are benefits that even workers who are fired for cause receive.

Costa Ricans live for the aguinaldo. Many work for minimum wage, and the Christmas bonus gives them a little extra to make needed purchases as well as enjoy the holiday.

A reporter asked a handful of Costa Ricans what plans they had for their Christmas windfall.

What follows are the responses:

Mr. Solano

Mr. Morales

Mr. Hernandez

Carlos Luis Solano Villalta, 55,
San José Municipal employee

They already gave me my aguinaldo, and I already spent all of it. They gave me 400,000 colons and I paid to have a new septic tank installed. I spent 200,000 on the manual labor and the rest on materials. It was a necessity and a good investment. It will last me 20 years or more. I've been waiting for my aguinaldo to buy this septic system.

Rafael Morales, 48,
construction supervisor

I'm going to be hung over. I will have a big Christmas party with lots of Imperial beer, pork and tamales, the typical Christmas food in Costa Rica. I'm going to invite all my friends and family to come.
Edwin Hernandez, 51,
van driver for Sportsmen's Lodge

I am going to buy presents for my kids and my family, things such as clothes, shirts, jeans, shoes, all useful stuff. My kids are older so I don't need to buy them toys anymore. I will also buy food for Christmas dinner, although I may have to work on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 because it is a popular time for tourists to travel. But this year tourism is down.
Mr. Bermudez

Ms. Arias

Dr. von Herold

Jairo Bermudez, 24,
Fuerza Pública police officer

I bought clothes for myself and my family. I have to work during Christmas, so I can't spend the whole day with my family but I bought my kids presents, little toy cars to play with. I also bought other presents for my family members.
Carolina Arias Hernandez, 19,
student, bartender and waitress

I didn't save any of it. I bought some toys, a water gun and some clothes. I also helped pay a dentist bill for my dad. My aguinaldo wasn't that big because for waitresses the 10 percent service charge does not count, only the hourly wages. I didn't save any of it.
Edine von Herold Duarte, 57, pediatrician and former legislator

I'm going to change the money into dollars and save it for my son. He's studying medicine right now, and I want him to have an opportunity to study for a practicum rotation at Harvard after he graduates. But it will be expensive. I have to save this one and my next one and spend all my money.

Del Rey green season

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fourth news page
renes law firm
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 251
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Mother whose daughter died here documents events in a book
By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jennifer Scalise, the mother of a young accident victim, will be releasing her book detailing the tragedy that befell her family in, what her Web site describes as, ¨a heartless foreign government.¨ The heartless foreign government in question: Costa Rica.

In her non-fiction work, ¨A Mother´s Journey of Love, Loss & Life Beyond," Ms. Scalise documents her account of the last days of a family vacation in Costa Rica and the events that claimed the life of her 12-year-old daughter, Brooke Scalise.

Ms. Scalise´s daughter died in a quadracycle accident July 13, 2009, near Flamingo, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. She was driving the all-terrain vehicle accompanying friends and family, including her mother, when she failed to make a curve and went over a cliff.

On, there is video of Brooke Scalise riding a quadracycle on the day of her death. In the video, a brief flash of the ATV crashed and upturned on the rocks at the bottom of the 260-foot-drop can be seen. Audio then plays of the police officer telling Ms. Scalise her daughter had died more than a half hour ago.

Ms. Scalise has said they were traveling at high speed in order to keep up with the tour guide. The guide took the group along a cliff top path they were never supposed to be on, with no caution signs and without guardrails, according to Ms. Scalise. She has since been vigorous in promoting changes to the law that would have protected youngsters like her daughter.

In an earlier story in A.M. Costa Rica Ms. Scalise said Costa Rica ¨needs change and regulations to prevent future tragic deaths such as this.  The tour company does need to be held accountable for this death.
Mother's Journey cover
Cover of the book by Ms. Scalise

"I am an extremely responsible mother,¨ she added, ¨and had I thought there was serious risk of danger I would have never permitted my family to participate in this tour.  We were never warned of any dangers, never signed a waiver, and the owner of the tour knew we had two 6-year-olds and a 7-year-old with us."

Ms. Scalise had book signings over the weekend in Missouri and expects the book will be available on Amazon and other retail stores early in 2012.

No rowdy visitors
to Casa Presidencial

Perhaps the most sedate and smallest demonstration on record took place outside Casa Presidencial Monday. Widows of taxi drivers came to press their case that they should be able to inherit the license held by their late husbands. That requires a change in the law, which most legislators support, but the executive branch has frozen the measure in favor of the proposed tax plan. Police had even blocked off the street in anticipation of a major turnout of taxi drivers.
Taxi driver widows
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 251
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

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Predicted percentage of ecological landscape being driven toward changes in plant species as a result of projected human-induced climate change by 2100. 

Computer study predicts
vast ecosystem changes

By the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
and Jet Propulsion Laboratory news staff

By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type - such as forest, grassland or tundra - toward another, according to a new National Aeronautics and Space Administration and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, investigated how Earth's plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth's climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases. Study results are published in the journal Climatic Change.

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth's biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth's land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover, changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.

"For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change," said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. "Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it's the ecological consequences that matter most."

When faced with climate change, plant species often must migrate over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth's plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth's natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

To study the sensitivity of Earth's ecological systems to climate change, the scientists used a computer model that predicts the type of plant community that is uniquely adapted to any climate on Earth. This model was used to simulate the future state of Earth's natural vegetation in harmony with climate projections from 10 different global climate simulations. These simulations are based on the intermediate greenhouse gas scenario in the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. That scenario assumes greenhouse gas levels will double by 2100 and then level off. The U.N. report's climate simulations predict a warmer and wetter Earth, with global temperature increases of 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, about the same warming that occurred following the Last Glacial Maximum almost 20,000 years ago, except about 100 times faster. Under the scenario, some regions become wetter because of enhanced evaporation, while others become drier due to changes in atmospheric circulation.

The researchers found a shift of biomes, or major ecological community types, toward Earth's poles - most dramatically in temperate grasslands and boreal forests - and toward higher elevations. Ecologically sensitive hotspots - areas projected to undergo the greatest degree of species turnover - that were identified by the study include regions in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, eastern equatorial Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean region, southern South America, and North America's Great Lakes and Great Plains areas. The largest areas of ecological sensitivity and biome changes predicted for this century are, not surprisingly, found in areas with the most dramatic climate change: in the Northern Hemisphere high latitudes, particularly along the northern and southern boundaries of boreal forests.
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No immediate action
taken on vehicle deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors have decided not to take immediate action against the drivers of two cars that killed two woman early Saturday in San Pablo de Heredia.

The Poder Judicial said that both drivers were questioned as were witnesses, and prosecutors concluded that the men were not engaged in a drag race. Instead, the vehicles were one behind the other, said the Poder Judicial.

In addition, the women were crossing the highway wearing dark clothing in a place where there was no pedestrian crossing, the Poder Judicial added.

Because the two drivers are Costa Rican, prosecutors did not seek any court restrictions on their movements at this time, said the Poder Judicial. Meanwhile their vehicles are being examined as prosecutors await the results of autopsies.

The motorists were not drunk nor do they have any prior convictions, said the Poder Judicial. Still, the way in which the women crossed the road will not have an effect on any future criminal proceeding, said the Poder Judicial.

Soccer federation worried
about Brazil's capability

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The president of soccer’s world governing body says it is "concerned" about Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Sepp Blatter, president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, said Saturday after an association executive meeting in Tokyo that he will meet with the Brazilian government in the coming year to discuss its readiness for the tournament.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association said it has not received the necessary government guarantees about the organization of the event.

The French news agency reports Brazil needs more than $11 billion in investment to fix roads, boost hotel capacity, reinforce security and develop its telecommunications network ahead of the World Cup.

Pope warns of shadow
of youthful frustrations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The pope has an urgent warning as much of the world prepares to mark the New Year 2012.

In a message released for the Catholic Church's World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, Pope Benedict XVI warns, "It seems as if a shadow has fallen over our time." He cites a rising sense of frustration, especially among young people, as economic problems and unemployment continue to plague parts of the world.

The pontiff urges world leaders to stop focusing too much on profit and material possessions, calling the intense focus a threat to human dignity.

Pope Benedict's message comes after a year when protesters took to the streets — from Tunisia and Egypt to New York and London — to demand political and economic changes.

The German-born pope says young people need hope and guidance. He urged world leaders to make sure young people and young families have access to adequate education and support programs.

Pope Benedict also urges young people not to give into discouragement, saying they can offer new hope to the world.

Costa Rican News
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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial (sort of)
Embassy's electric car is culmination of long U.S. project

By the A.M. Costa Rica humor staff

The search for the perfect embassy vehicle began decades 
Wilie coyote
Early testing
ago with a secret State Department project in the desert of Arizona. This is the effort that culminated in the U.S Embassy's recent purchase here of a Japanese electric car.

Alas, the Arizona project failed because most diplomats weigh more than 24 pounds and are
not furry. They also have an aversion to running into canyon walls or Mack trucks.

Benjamin Franklin's misadventure with a sedan chair while
A horse is a horse
Too much CO2
on a diplomatic mission to France also short circuited that method.

The plan was to develop a means of transportation that was secure, reliable and economical. Hence the tuk tuks that were a mainstay of the diplomate fleet for years in Asia.
Unfortunately the State Department's rush to oneness with nature suffered several setbacks with the arrival of a procession of cowboy mentalities in Washington, D.C. A white Lincoln convertible is not exactly considered ecofriendly these days.

tuk tuk
A vintage tuk tuk
Still being considered

roller skating is out
Roller skating is out
Recent philosophical changes in the State Department caused the rejection of some possible alternatives. Roller skates, while generating exercise also generate the dreaded carbon dioxide from the lungs of the users. For the same reason horses were again rejected, even when used with carriages.

The search for green vehicular transportation became more
intense with the arrival of a similarly minded administration on the Potomac. There was a presumed heavy reliance on Al Gore's slide show that denigrated breathing. 
Communist taxis
Communist taxis

The reliable and diminutive Coco taxis in Havana, Cuba, were rejected outright because they are, well, Communist.

So the U.S. Embassy turned to electric vehicles, presumably to 
be accompanied by an escort of black Chevrolet Suburbans. The current one is a $43,000 fully electric Mitsubishi MIEV. Still, some budget conscious types at Foggy Bottom Centro are still evaluating the U.S. road-approved electric tuk tuk.

And the real tight-fisted ones have not given up on their push for a pedicab. Yet these still produce that dreaded carbon dioxide.

Still in the works is a secret U.S. Navy project to teleport diplomats to their various cocktail parties and receptions so there will be no need for heavily armored tuk tuks.