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(506) 2223-1327               Published Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 258            E-mail us
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Happy New Year

Volcán Poás
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica photo
Poás continued to let off fumes six hours after the Dec. 25 eruption
Poás put on a great show for tourists Christmas Day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volcán Poás is misbehaving to the delight of tourists. The volcano spewed out a column of vapor, water, rocks and sediment about 9:55 a.m. Christmas Day.

The display surprised tourists who were viewing the caldera from the visitor's observation site. One was heard to say loudly "Let's get out of here!"

Volcano experts said they estimated that the column was from 550 to 600 meters high (nearly 2,000 feet). The material ejected from the volcano fell back into the caldera.

Later Christmas Day researchers from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional in Heredia arrived to check out the situation. They said that they observed an increase in the amount of vapor coming from the volcano. The vapor, as expected, smelled of hydrogen sulfide, similar to rotten eggs.

A seismograph at the peak of the volcano registered an eruption of a full two minutes. The most intense period was about 50 seconds, said the volcano observatory.

There have been two similar eruptions this year. One was Jan. 12, just four days after the deadly 6.2 magnitude Cinchona earthquake that destroyed a town not far away. The second eruption was Sept. 18, the volcano experts said.
The current activity in the volcano began in March 2006, said the observatory. The activity is sure to entice tourists to the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. The park had been closed after the Cinchona earthquake, and tourist facilities nearby suffered from the lack of customers. Poás is north of Heredia and Alajuela centro. It has easy vehicle access and is a fixture on many valley day tours.

Meanwhile on the east end of the Central Valley the Volcán Irazú continues to emit acidic vapors that wilt the vegetation. Most farmers have moved their livestock from the vicinity of the volcano. Periodically the park there is closed when the volcano acts up. However, most experts say the activity is normal and dismiss the possibility of a full-scale eruption like the one in 1963.

Recent studies in South America have linked earthquakes with increased volcano activity. An Oxford University study released in January says that very large earthquakes can trigger an increase in activity at nearby volcanoes. It is a statistical study based on geological history in southern Chile that shows up to four times as many volcanic eruptions occur during the year following very large earthquakes than in other years. This volcanic surge can affect volcanoes up to at least 500 kms. (310 miles) away from an earthquake’s epicenter, the study said.

The Poás volcano is just 10 kms. (6 miles) from the Jan. 8 epicenter, which was 35 kms. or 22 miles northwest of San José.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 258

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


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Friday is a holiday
for newspaper and staff

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica will not be published Friday, New Year's Day. This is one of the three scheduled holidays for the newspaper staff. However, local news developments will be monitored.

In 2009 A.M. Costa Rica produced 258 daily editions. Most contained six pages of local and Latin American news. The newspaper also published a food page that concentrates on tropical dishes, a calendar page where local activities are listed, and five classified pages, including special advertising for tourism and real estate.

The full newspaper staff will be back to work Monday, and advertising executives will be available to help expats and Costa Ricans take advantage of the improving economy.




Violent crimes result
in shootings and deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The year is ending in a violent fashion.

In Goicoechea Wednesday afternoon a 12 year old pegged four shots at the driver during a robbery of a public bus.

Near Cariari in the province of Limón gunmen cut down a father and son as they were riding home on a motorcycle.

In Liberia mounted policemen ran down one suspect in the robbery of a store that sells communication devices.

The Goicoechea case involved a bus on the San José-Purral route, said the Fuerza Pública. The 12 year old carried the gun and was accompanied by a 19 year old, said police in describing the suspects. The bus robbers are believed to be members of a band that specialized in this type of crime.

The two suspects were detained by police in Purral. The bus driver suffered bullet wounds to the buttocks and groin. He was not identified, but he was hospitalized.

The men who died in Campo 4 de Cariari were identified by the last name of Mena by the Judicial Investigating Organization. Agents said they were father and son, 50 and 20.

They were returning from an animal auction in Cariari where the father had picked up a check for the sale of cattle. About 12:10 p.m. a witness reported hearing shots on a highway. The witness said that he saw the two on the pavement under the motorcycle they were riding. The pair lived just a short distance from the scene in Cuatro Esquinas de Cariari.

Bystanders said the men were shot without warning by individuals who seemed to want to steal the motorcycle. They did not succeed because a public bus came upon the scene. Agents detained several individuals in the area during the afternoon but let them go after determining that they were not involved in the crime.

In LIberia, the Fuerza Pública has been using horses for patrol since Oct. 29, said Rafael Araya, the regional police chief. The two riders heard shots near the Liberia sports stadium about 9 a.m. They determined that a robbery was in progress at a store that sells radios, said Araya, The three robbers fled when they saw horsemen approaching and left part of their booty in the street. Police officers were able to detain one man as a suspect. Araya said the man was carrying three radio devices.


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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us

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

Visiting us

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

For your international reading pleasure:

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 258

Before the year-end celebration, the marchamo must be paid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While New Year's Eve may mean popping corks on bubbly drinks, expats have some deadlines to meet before and after the new year.

The cutoff for paying the marchamo road tax is 4 p.m. today, and a check in downtown San José Wednesday showed that some banks and other convenient places to pay the annual fee are short on stickers.

Some national banks are offering customers online payment options with the need to pick up the physical window sticker and payment documents later at the branch of the motorist's choice.

Jan. 1 also marks the date for an increase in the minimum salaries of employees. The salaries are going up 5 percent, although the first payday for many employers probably will be Jan. 15.

Jan. 15 also is the deadline for reporting and making payment under the new luxury tax law. Those who have homes that qualify for the tax have to pay four months worth of tax for 2009 by that date and also a full year's tax
for 2010. Most Costa Ricans probably will not comply with the rules even though there is a stiff penalty for failing to pay on time. Luxury tax specifics are available HERE.

Those who fail to pay the marchamo by the deadline also are subjected to a stiff surcharge. Some cannot pay because they do not have a current clearance from the mechanical inspection provided by Riteve. That is a requirement for payment.

The new year also marks a change in the reporting practices for income tax deductions. Tributación is tightening up its surveillance of the country's economy so that most significant financial transactions are reported by both sides of the deal. And the reporting has to be done four times a year. The first deadline is April 1.

The reporting is similar to the annual reports that were required previously. Individuals and businesses must report any transaction of 290,000 colons or more. Professionals like lawyers and medical personnel have to report lesser amounts.

Those who make the payments also must file reports if they expect to deduct the amounts from their own income tax.



It's time to look backwards in order to plan ahead
The year 2009 skittered by faster than any year in the past for me.  Much has happened, much has changed, and much has remained the same despite the happenings and the changes.

In Costa Rica, a woman just may become president.  I have predicted (with some exasperation) that the U.S. will elect a woman president right after Kuwait does.

Education has been the concern of both Costa Rica and the U.S.  President Óscar Arias is stressing teaching English to more Costa Rican students.  In the U.S. there is much concern over improving both the quality of teaching and learning and keeping students in school.  I have yet to hear anyone mention including art, music, sports, or theater as part of the school day, which they once were, and are major adjuncts to learning and keeping kids in school.

México is experimenting with a new approach to poverty and keeping children in school.  The government is giving mothers in poor families a food allowance and a stipend with conditions that they keep their children in school, send their kids to clinics for free health care and learn about better nutrition so they can raise healthier families.  The money goes to mothers because they are more apt to spend it on the family. 

The stipends for a girl in school are larger than for a boy – because one day she will be a mother.

Pretty radical, but there are poor, really poor families living in the U.S. and Costa Rica so I hope that both countries will, like other countries have, expand on this idea. Arias introduced his avancemos program that gives scholarships to some school-aged children, but there are lax controls on what the children do with the money.
 
There also has been a lot of concern about saving the planet.  Actually, the planet is going to be here for millennia to come. It is the current life forms (including ourselves) that we should be concerned about saving – and admit it.

People are angry about the financial meltdowns.  They are blaming the greed and corruption of the money movers and of government for not doing something to avoid this.  I have found that often the most angry people are those who don’t want to own up to their own guilt in the situation. There are scoundrels on Wall Street, but it is time to move on.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 

I remember, when there was a Catholic Mass in the cathedral in downtown San Jose in response to the tragedy of 9/11.    I attended it, and afterwards more Costa Ricans than I can count came up to me to sympathize. Some were crying.  It was only when I walked outside to Parque Central and heard the group of musicians, on their traditional instruments, play the Beatles’ song “Yesterday” that I began to cry.

It is even more important today for us to realize that yesterday is gone and we must start thinking about tomorrow – a different tomorrow.  And there are some things we can learn from the Italians (something I just learned from Elizabeth Gilbert quoting the Italians in her book, “Eat, Pray, Love.”)

Il bel far niente.  In Spanish I suppose it would be La belleza de hacer nada. And in English, “The beauty of doing nothing.”  The Italians have learned how to enjoy just hanging out, talking or playing games, and so have the Ticos.  (Although Ticos would probably start telling jokes.)

And another lesson from the Italians:  l’arte d’arrangiarsi. (El arte de hacer algo de nada.) "The art of making something out of nothing."  Like making something edible and nourishing out of what is in the fridge – or the cupboard.  (I usually end up making soup.) These are both good ideas for us to consider in this brave new world that we are entering. 

Now, rather guiltily, after my preaching about frugality, I must admit that what I am looking forward to early in the New Year is a visit from my daughter and the two of us are taking a seven-day cruise on a ship named Windstar.  It will be sailing along the coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  My only defense is that someone recently said that cruise prices have been so slashed it is cheaper to go to sea than to stay at home.

Really Happy New Year, everyone.  Let’s lift a glass to peace.              


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 258

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Airport body scanners become topic of renewed debate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Last week's foiled airline bombing plot by a Nigerian man who hid explosives in his clothing has renewed debate in the United States as to how extensive and invasive passenger screening should be at U.S. airports. A few major airports already possess machines that can take detailed, full-body images, but Congress has not mandated widespread use of the technology.

Air travelers worldwide are accustomed to passing through metal detectors.  But in an era of plastic explosives and advanced chemical compounds, that system has proved lacking.

Costa Rica is involved in the deliberations because it must conform to what U.S. officials want.

Kip Hawley is a former head of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, which is charged with screening airline passengers and luggage.

"The number one area we need to focus on, the biggest potential vulnerability, is a bomb on the body," said Hawley.

Dutch officials have ordered detailed, full body scans of all U.S.-bound air travelers.

Terrorism expert M.J. Gohel of the London-based Asia Pacific Foundation applauds the move.

"These scanners are, in fact, very effective," he said.  "They actually show a person's body, any foreign object attached anywhere in the body, even if it is internally.  That kind of x-ray scanner would have located the package that this individual had on the flight to Detroit.  They are on a trial basis at the moment." The individual who is now being held is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Fewer than two dozen U.S. airports possess full body scanners, which cost about $170,000 each.  Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit widespread implementation of the technology for primary airline passenger screening.

A representative who co-sponsored the measure described body scans as a virtual strip search that the American public should not be subjected to, and suggested using explosives-sniffing dogs as a less-invasive method of detection.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said that full body

scans amount to a humiliating assault on the dignity of
passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate.

But the ACLU's statement, like the congressional vote, occurred before last week's potential catastrophe on a U.S.-bound jet.  President Barack Obama described the incident as a systemic failure of America's security apparatus, and U.S. officials have pledged to do what it takes to prevent a recurrence.

Former TSA administrator Hawley says Americans must weigh privacy concerns against the need for safe travel.

"We need to have a debate about how we feel about whole body imaging and the privacy trade-off, and it is a legitimate issue," said Hawley.  "But it needs to be done in a security context as well."

U.S. air travelers this busy holiday season appear divided over whether they would want to submit to body scanning.

"I wouldn't want just anybody looking at me like that.  It would be embarrassing, I think," said a woman.

"I would be objecting to that because at a certain point security begins to get into your personal life," said another one.

"I do not find it invasive," said the other one.

"Our security is important to me, and the security of the other people that are on the plane," said an air traveller. "So whatever needs to be done, needs to be done."

Experts warn that no matter what steps are taken to ensure safety, terrorists will adapt and craft new ways to defeat the security measures.  But a high level of safety can be attained if the public is willing to endure significant inconveniences, according to former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer.

"You cannot build a foolproof system for air security unless you are willing to slow the whole air system down to a crawl and institute very, very invasive procedures before Americans get on airplanes," he said.

Most of the few U.S. airports that possess body scanning capability are using the technology for secondary screening of passengers who warrant closer examination.  Whether the scanners are adopted more widely and how they are used, will likely be prime topics of discussion at congressional hearings expected early next year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 258

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. weapons tracking aid
comes here in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has revised a firearms tracking program so that it is in Spanish.  The new version is being tested in Costa Rica, Guatemala and México, according to the U.S. Embassy in San José.

The agency involved in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "The bilingual edition, commonly called Spanish eTrace, will allow law enforcement agencies in those countries to easily capitalize on the full benefits of eTrace in Spanish or English, and will provide data conventions in accordance with international standards," the agency said in a release.

If the system works out with the test nations, the system, called  eTrace 4.0, will be provided to all other Spanish-speaking countries.

"Spanish eTrace marks the beginning of a new stage of cooperation between ATF and its international partners," said Kenneth E. Melson, agency deputy director. "It will strengthen our efforts as we stand together at the front lines against gun violence and illegal firearms trafficking. We must identify those who put guns in the hands of criminals, and comprehensive tracing of all recovered crime guns is the first step by law enforcement in stopping the violence that plagues many communities inside and outside the United States."

The current version of eTrace only is in English. So until now checking the origin of firearms was what the agency called a painstaking, manual process.

The agency's eTrace is a secure, Internet-based firearms tracing system that is operated by the National Tracing Center, the nation's only crime gun tracing facility. The eTrace system allows law enforcement agencies to submit and monitor electronic firearms trace requests, retrieve completed trace results, utilize crime mapping software and query firearms trace-related data, the agency said. The tracing center provides information that helps federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies solve firearms crimes, detect firearms traffickers, and track the domestic and international trafficking of crime guns, it added.

The computer system is an extension of the agency's  Project Gunrunner that seeks to track and stop firearms trafficking to Mexico by organized criminal groups. Project Gunrunner has resulted in approximately 650 cases in which more than 1,400 defendants were referred for prosecution in federal and state courts and more than 12,000 firearms were involved, the agency said.

As part of the Recovery Act funding, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received $10 million for Project Gunrunner efforts, including hiring 25 new special agents, six industry operations investigators, three intelligence research specialists and three investigative analysts.

The cornerstone of Project Gunrunner is the eTrace system. In 2008, agents deployed eTrace technology to the nine U.S. consulates in Mexico for the paperless exchange of gun crime data in a secure Web-based environment. eTrace allows law enforcement representatives to electronically submit firearms trace requests, to monitor the progress of traces, to retrieve completed trace results and to query firearm trace related data in a real-time environment. In the 2008 fiscal year, Mexico submitted more than 7,500 recovered guns for tracing, most of which were traced to sources in Texas, California and Arizona.

The Spanish version is being distributed to all 31 of México's states. The agency also has a campaign to educate licensed U.S. firearms dealers about the straw purchase of firearms, which is a federal felony offense, and helps them identify potential straw purchase transactions so they can confidently deny the sales.

The U.S. government contends that many weapons are purchased in the United States and illegally shipped to México. Critics say that many of the weapons confiscated in México were purchased by citizens for protection. Critics also say that the agency efforts are part of a larger initiative to further restrict legal gun ownership in the United States. They point out that organized crime in México has access to many weapons that are illegal even in the United States.  These include machine guns, rocket launchers and other heavy weaponry.

The AK-47, which is manufactured in many foreign countries, is a mainstay of organized crime. In addition many such weapons are available in the Americas because of past and current wars
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 258


Latin American news
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Calgary reporter, soldiers
killed by Afghan bomb

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Canadian defense ministry says four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist were killed Wednesday when their convoy hit a roadside bomb while on patrol just outside the southern city of Kandahar.

The journalist was identified as 34-year-old Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang.  A Canadian civilian official was wounded in the blast.

The Canadian newspaper says Ms. Lang is the first Canadian journalist to die in the Afghan war since Canada joined the international mission in 2002.

Ms. Lang, 34, was on patrol with a Canadian convoy of soldiers in the Kandahar area when the military vehicle they were travelling in struck a roadside bomb. She is believed to be the first Herald reporter killed on the job in the paper’s 126-year history.

Just recently engaged to be married, Ms. Lang had been covering the Afghan conflict since mid-December for the Herald and Canwest News Service.

Ms. Lang was the Herald’s full-time health reporter and captured a National Newspaper Award earlier this year for her coverage of the health beat.

Herald columnist Don Martin said that  "There are two ways for media to cover Canada’s seven-year military mission in Afghanistan."

"There’s the safe embedded reporter route, writing soft stories on the Kandahar Air Field while waiting to cover the inevitable ramp ceremonies for fallen soldiers. Or journalists can venture outside the wire-barbed walls of the base on combat patrols and into Kandahar City to discover and write the real stories of troubled life in Afghanistan.

"Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang, 34, embraced the big picture of her assignment."


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