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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 256       Email us
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'Tis the season to duck the municipal inspector
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Deck the halls with boughs of holly and don't forget the chain saw. For it is the season to do all those construction jobs while municipal inspectors are on vacation.

This is the season to whack down that tree in the wrong place or put a quick addition on the home.

Municipal inspections are spotty at best, but this week in residential areas all over the country, homeowners are doing those jobs without benefit of municipal permits.

According to one set of instructions for what is called minor jobs, municipalities require permits for even painting a home. Also needed are permits for doing sidewalk reconstruction and rebuilding portons or those metal fences that protect most homes.

The permits even are required for construction of private mausoleums in cemeteries.

For even the most minor work some nine documents are required and special insurance is required after the permit is issued. So what is clear is why residents sidestep the law when the inspector is away.

Most municipalities this week are open for payment of bills or other indoor work. Meanwhile, outside, workers are feverishly mixing concrete, digging drain lines and chopping down trees.

Heaven help the homeowner who wants to do
concrete work
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Permit is needed even for sidewalk work

major work legally, such as add a carport. That requires far more additional paperwork, including disclosure of from where the money is coming to do the job.

So in keeping with the Costa Rican tradition that it is better to seek forgiveness than permission, the Christmas holidays and Holy Week are not vacation times for day laborers who mix the concrete, repair the roof or install a new porton.

The only danger is if an unhappy neighbor filed a complaint with the municipality when inspectors are again on the job. Still most understand that there is a big gap between the law and practice. They are likely to overlook the indiscretion if the work is done correctly.

Customs crackdown netted $683,000 more this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican customs officials, operating under their Plan Nicolás, earned 1.2 billion colons ($2,354,000) in import duties from the nation's private mail services from October 24 to Dec. 16.

This was the Dirección General de Aduanas crackdown on Christmas gifts. The effort produced 341,000,000 colons ($683,000) more than last year, the agency said in a report presented by legislators last week during the daily session.

But that does not count the packages building up at various post offices. A reader related the ordeal of trying to get presents that had been sent to his postal box. There appears to have been no system set up so that recipients could pay their import taxes at the Correos de Costa Rica. Instead, the reader said he had to drive  “half way across the country to another post office, spend hours standing in line behind women holding their babies trying to get their Christmas presents — only to be told we had to drive to another city and stand in line at aduana.”
reader photo
Christmas packages at a branch post offce

He said post office employees in his town said they had to send the unclaimed packages back to San José.

“The people in the El Robo post office were as apologetic as could be and felt very guilty making their living stealing Christmas presents from children,” he said. “The building was so filled with stolen presents that they could not walk.”

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Prosecutors want to halt
Rodrigo Arias fraud case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial said Tuesday that prosecutors have decided that there is not enough proof to continue a fraud case against Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, brother of the former president.

The decision will have to be approved by a judge.

Arias served as minister of the Presidencia to his brother, a position similar to chief of staff.

During the campaign to win approval of the free trade treaty with the United States, the administration accepted $2 million off the books from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

They used this money to hire 84 persons who they called consultants. Among these was the leader of a political party that strongly opposed the treaty.

There was no public announcement of the contracts nor were they advertised as most government jobs are. The Spanish-language daily La Nación discovered the secret deals and wrote about them. The bulk of the consultants had to surrender their jobs and much of the money was not paid.

All along the Arias brothers contended that the money from the development bank was not public funds. They considered the bank funds to be a private donation.

The Poder Judicial said that the prosecutors ended the investigation due to lack of proof that supported the original hypothesis. The case and a private action will be heard in a preliminary hearing in the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda del II Circuito Judicial de San José.

Rodrigo Arias, of course, is a candidate for the presidency in 2014.

Our reader's opinion
Second-hand smoke
is not a health risk

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Finally, an honest doctor, Dr. John Dale Dunn, stepped up to debunk the myth created by the paid proponents/coalitions/lobbyists of the second-hand smoke lie in order to justify continuing to justify receiving their exorbitant salaries, expenses, fees, etc. from the huge windfall won from the tobacco companies for first-hand smoker-related diseases.

He testified in a Delaware court that second-hand smoke was not hazardous and that the Surgeon General cherry-picked statistics to support a pre-conceived finding. He further went on to testify that "a non-smoker, living with a smoker, inhales about one cigarette a day which is no health risk." Doctors, legislators, and the American Cancer Society were paid for their testimonies, etc.  As has become the norm, the U.S., and other countries, have taken away another freedom.  I smell a money trail.
Barry Schwartz

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
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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 256

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Coto montage
Francisco Coto photos
When the Volcán Irazú became a tourist attraction in 1963, Francisco Coto was there. And he captured this
well-dressed crowd leaving Sunday Mass at the Catedral Metropolitana in 1959.
Museum shows 50 years of life through one photographer's eye
By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"My first click with a camera taught me that with the flick of a finger you can catch a scene that can be remembered many years later," said Francisco Coto. And he did that many times.

Over the course of five decades, Coto documented the urban and rural landscapes, traditions, portraits and architecture of Costa Rica. In the exhibition Cazador de memorias: La obra de Francisco Coto, more than 150 of these images can be seen in the Museo Nacional.

Coto´s artistic journey began in 1942 with Doña Julia Fernandez, wife of former president Leon Cortes, who wanted to give a gift to the president´s young nephew. She could not have imagined the consequences of Coto, at just 18 years old, discovering the German 127mm camera.

It would be the key to define the course of his life and the genesis of his tireless efforts to visually preserve different aspects of his country. Coto´s photos pay homage to an era of rapid change through the second half of the 20th century in Costa Rica.

One of his first models was his uncle, Leon Cortes (who ruled between 1936 and 1940), whom he immortalized in his public moments, but also at his most human. Coto photographed many celebrities, including John F. Kennedy in 1963, but he was later known by generations of Costa Ricans as a portraitist.

The exhibition brings together nearly 100 photographs covering the period between 1940 and 1990, some 50 of which, identify a number of political, social and economic transitions for Costa Rica. The public can also see some of the first photographs by Coto which are of historical value to the Costa Rican cultural heritage.

Also shown in the exhibit are about 50 objects used by the
Kennedy at Teatro Nacional
Francisco Coto photo
John Kennedy at the Teatro Nacional in 1963

artist during his long career, including large format cameras and instruments for developing, printing and retouching. The methods and tools bear witness to many technological advances and massive transformations of photography.

The photos and instruments have been declared of cultural interest by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. The exhibition is part of efforts to preserve the legacy of Coto and disclose it to the public.

The exhibition devotes a section to a number of photographs donated by Costa Ricans that were taken at the photo portrait studio Foto Coto, he founded in 1947. The studio was on Avenida 3 until 1969 when it was moved to Barrio Aranjuez near Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Francisco Coto was born in Alajuela in 1924.

New tax on corporations
will begin in three months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has signed a law to tax corporations and similar entities in the country. At the same time, the measure was published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The final text contains additional information. Among these is tying the annual tax to the country's base salary, the amount a mid-level judicial worker makes. That amount now is about 320,000 colons, so the tax will be half that or about $313.

However, the base salary increases each year along with the minimum wages for other salaries. So the tax is at least linked to inflation. Specifically the law says the tax is 50 percent of a base salary for active corporations and 25 percent for inactive ones.

The text of the law appears to say that it goes into force three calendar months after the first day of the month after publication. That would mean April 1. The tax would be 75 percent of the annual amount in the first year. As expected the law says that businesses cannot list the tax as a deduction when paying income tax.

The tax is supposed to increase the security of the country, and police officials gave a presentation Tuesday of what they plan to purchase. The items included nearly 17,000 pairs of boots, 127 pickups, 562 police radios and 140 computers.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 256
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Violent holiday deaths showed an increase, Cruz Roja reports
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While some people are counting their presents the day after Christmas, the medical staff with the Cruz Roja is counting the holiday casualties. According to statistics kept by the medical responder organization, this year marked an increase in violent deaths on Christmas and Christmas Eve, capping off a month highlighted not only by festivities but also by pain and suffering.

Of the 75 violent deaths the Cruz Roja responded to throughout the month of December up until Tuesday, 12 people died between Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. That number signifies the highest amount of violent deaths they have recorded between the two days since 2007 when 15 people died. In 2010 only 5 violent deaths were recorded by the Cruz Roja during the same period.

Deaths not responded to by the organization were not represented in its statistics, making the reported numbers an underestimate of the comprehensive overview.

The Cruz Roja attributed the violent December deaths predominately to stabbings and shootings but also aquatic accidents and automobile collisions. Furthermore, the organization also claims 178 more people involved in
 life-threatening incidents this month were kept from becoming a holiday death statistic because medical technicians were able to bring them to hospitals or administer timely emergency care.

During the more notable holiday events, the Festival de La Luz thus far stands in first place among the others for 186 injuries attended to by medical staff. The Tope registered 82 people requiring medical attention and the festivals in Zapote, which includes the famed event in which regular citizens run around a ring taunting a bull, is at 61 injured people and rising.

Statistics presented by the Fuerza Pública Tuesday demonstrated a slightly more positive picture for deaths in the months leading up to the holidays. The homicide toll for October this year was reported at 31, down 19 from last year.

The statistics were presented at the signing of a new tax law to be used to fund security measures, but numbers for November and December were not included. The statistics also showed household robberies, vehicle thefts and injuries by gun violence were at lowest levels in three years.

But robberies of pedestrians are higher than last year and homicides rates are similar to those of past three years, some of the most violent in Costa Rican history.

New device can track bacteria in water quickly and remotely
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. news service

Researchers in the United States have developed a new, accurate, and economical sensor-based device capable of measuring Escherichia coli levels in water samples in less than 1 to 8 hours could serve as a valuable early warning tool.

The device is described in an article in Environmental Engineering Science, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

The device may be a valuable tool in protecting swimmers and suffers in Costa Rica from sea water laced with sewage. Now measurements are in the hands of the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados. Typically samples are taken and brought back to the San José lab for culturing.

Current methods to detect Escherichia coli, a bacterium highly indicative of the presence of fecal matter in water, typically require 24 to 48 hours to produce a result.
Costa Rican beaches are vulnerable to contamination because Central Valley sewage flows untreated into the Gulf of Nicoya. In addition, communities like Tamarindo have had serious problems with sewage leaking into the sea.

The article provides a detailed description of the battery-powered device, which contains a prototype optical sensor that can measure changes in fluorescence intensity in a water sample. In the presence of E. coli bacteria an enzymatic reaction will cause an increase in fluorescence.

The device can detect high concentrations of bacteria in less than 1 hour and lower concentrations in less than 8 hours.

Jeffrey Talley of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues with Environmental Technology Solutions and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented the results of a seven-day demonstration project using the device. The detection system developed is able to collect and analyze a water sample every six hours and to employ wireless transmission to send the data collected to remote monitoring stations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 256
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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Argentina's president faces
operation for thyroid cancer

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in Argentina say President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and will undergo surgery Jan. 4.

A government spokesman Tuesday said President Fernández has what is known as a papillary thyroid carcinoma, which was discovered Dec. 22.  The spokesman, however, said the cancer has not metastasized. The president will have the operation at Buenos Aires' Hospital Austral and take time off from her duties until late January.

The Argentine president is not the only current or former Latin American leader to undergo cancer treatment.

This past year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic area.  He then went through four rounds of chemotherapy, three of those sessions in Cuba. The type of cancer he was diagnosed with has never been made public.

Separately, Brazil's former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was diagnosed with cancer in his larynx in October and began chemotherapy.  Current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was treated for lymphatic cancer before she took office in January of this year.

Haitian police accused
of using excessive force

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A United Nations report accuses Haiti's police officers of using excessive force, and says some may have been involved in the deaths of nine people.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with the U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince, released the report Tuesday. It deals with six incidents between October 2010 and June 2011 and implicate about 20 officers.

The U.N. says human rights officials with its Haiti mission regularly receive and investigate allegations of illegal killings involving the police.

The report says there is reason to suspect the deaths of nine people may have been the result of illegal use of force by police. It says it is urgent that the Haitian government take action to prevent extrajudicial or summary and arbitrary killings.

It also calls for rapid and effective investigations when those kinds of deaths occur.

The report says while Haiti generally does investigate such occurrences, no investigation has led to a criminal conviction. It says witnesses are often afraid of testifying at trials, and in some cases police officers were back on the job before the investigation had even concluded.

U.S. economic indicators
show a mixed picture

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A series of reports paint a mixed picture of the U.S. economy Tuesday, as consumer confidence rises, home prices fall, and an iconic retailer shuts a number of stores.

U.S. consumer confidence hit its highest level in eight months in December as the job market improved. Tuesday's data comes from the Conference Board, a private research group in New York. Experts watch consumer confidence for clues about the consumer spending that drives most U.S. economic activity.

A separate report shows the U.S. home prices fell in most major cities for the second straight month. Weak job growth, tighter lending standards, and worries that home prices may fall further are deterring some prospective home buyers. The U.S. central bank has had only limited success in boosting home sales with record low interest rates.

The company that owns the Sears and Kmart stores says it will close more than 100 of its 4,000 locations. Sears was once a top U.S. retailer, but saw sales fall more than 5 percent this year, which is just the latest of several disappointing years. The parent company did not say how many jobs will be lost, but the value of the company's stock plunged in Tuesday's trading.

The U.S. government will come within $100 billion of its legal limit on borrowing later this week, and the president is expected to seek a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt limit.

That would raise the debt limit from just under $15.2 trillion, to a bit less than $16.4 trillion.

As part of the agreement that ended a huge political wrangle over the debt limit earlier this year, the limit will be increased unless both houses of Congress pass a bill blocking the action.
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Gas explosion levels
Paraíso eating place

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Liquid petroleum gas escaped from a tank Tuesday morning and ignited. One man was killed and a second was injured.

The explosion took place in a small eating place, called a soda, alongside the Mercado Municipal in Paraíso, Cartago. The dead man was identified by fire fighters as Adolfo Quirós González, 37, who suffered burns over 95 percent of his body.  Quirós operated the business.

Injured was another local businessman, identified as  Cristóbal Martínez Prestes, 47.

The 25-pound gas cylinder was within the business, which was destroyed.

Cop who killed attacker
may end up in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A prosecutor in Siquirres is seeing preventative detention against a Fuerza Pública officer who killed an assailant Sunday in Barra de Parismina.

The Poder Judicial said that a woman came to the police station seeking help because of domestic violence. Then a man approached with a knife in his hands. The policeman fired into the ground, but the man continued to approach in a threatening manner, said the Poder Judicial.

The police officer then fired and hit the man in the stomach. Then he fired and shot the man in the head, said the Poder Judicial. Prosecutors consider this last shot to be excessive force.

Nicaraguan murder suspect
may have a trial there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Because Nicaragua will not extradite its citizens, Costa Rica may seek a trial there against a man suspected of killing his female companion.

The suspect is Léster Vásquez, who fled with his two children to his home country early Christmas Day.

Dead is Aura María González Díaz. She died from a knife wound in the throat.

The Poder Judicial said that Vásquez has the option of surrendering himself to Costa Rican officials or Costa Rica may present the evidence to Nicaraguan prosecutors and a trial may be held there. This is possible under international law, the Poder Judicial said.

Costa Rica also does not allow its citizens to be extradited regardless of the crime alleged.

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