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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 214       Email us
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Virulent bacteria reported moving north in Panamá
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A long-running wave of drug resistant bacterial infections in nearby Panamá may have been detected in Costa Rica. However, health officials here have yet to address the issue in public.

In Panamá, the offical death toll surpassed 80, mainly hospital patients. However, informal sources say that there have been more cases and more deaths.
The bacteria, klepsiella pneumeniae carbapemenase, is known to have a mortality rate of over 50 percent, and even higher in certain instances in which victims have a compromised immune system or other medical complications. The symptoms include hemorrhaging and inflammation of the lungs, which can cause the patient to emit a bloody mucous.

Since the medical crisis in Panamá reached a head in August, the brunt of the criticism in the news media and public forum has been directed toward the Panamanian Caja de Seguro Social, which operates and oversees the large hospital that has been the epicenter of the disease. The controversy is wrapped up in local politics.

“The doctors are on strike now, and the management's slow reaction to the problem and then its attempt to cover it up are one of the underlying causes of the bad blood, even if the scandal doesn't play directly in the strikers' demands,” said Eric Jackson, editor of The Panamá News. His newspaper has been reporting on the situation in depth.

Patients visiting the Arnulfo Arias Madrid in Panama City were becoming infected while being seen by doctors for other illnesses.

The Panamerican Health Organization said in a press release that the bacteria causing the deadly pneumonia can exist in virtually any hospital and that such outbreaks can typically be prevented with universal sanitary controls in place.

The infections also prompted action by sectors of the government, including an investigation by the Ministerio Publico into the hospital’s management and sanitation practices. The national assembly also addressed the issue by providing funds for combating the spread of the bacteria, according to the government’s Web site.

The possibility exists that neighboring Costa Rica will have to confront a similar problem. Prensa Latina reported in mid-October that cases had been reported in the Hospital Rafael Hernandez in Davíd, which is located in the Panamanian 
cleaning hospital
Government photo shows a worker disinfecting parts of a Panamá hospital ventilating system.

province of Chiriqui adjacent to Costa Rica.

The press spokesman for the Costa Rican Ministerio de Salud declined to comment Thursday one way or the other on reports of some persons ill with similar symptoms here. In Panamá, the head of the Caja actually issued a gag order to employees in June, according to The Panamá news.

The real danger is if the highly contagious bacteria enters the general population from the hospitals. That also would have a devastating effect on tourism.

The politics in Panamá clouded the situation. The lack of transparency was the main violation of World Health Organization guidelines that has been clearly shown, said Jackson. “The matters of whether and when and how effective measures were taken are hotly disputed,” he added. “There has been a lot of unhelpful and uninformative sensationalism by media people who don't know better and by some who do and are trying to score political points.”

His newspaper Aug. 2 reported President Ricardo Martinelli of Panamá saying that “Bacteria exist in all hospitals and places. They tell me that everything is under control.”

A representative of the physician's union said that the Martinelli administration has put the health of the Panamanian people in direct danger by not buying the necessary cleaning materials, surgical supplies and other services, the consequence of which is the contamination of the hospital environment with hard-to-control bacteria, according to the news story.

There are at least two strains of drug-resistent Klebsiella pneumoniae going around in the world, the newspaper said. In July 2010 there was an outbreak in Argentina and this year there were outbreaks in several European countries, said the newspaper, adding that the death rate was 40 percent.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 214

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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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Anti-litter campaign plans
to change focus for next year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asociación Terra Nostra and supporters hope to educate Costa Ricans so they will not litter with solid waste. That is the program for next year.

The association announced this as it gave the results of its last beach cleanup of the year that was held last Saturday.

The association has been focusing on Playa Guacalillo in Garabito, Puntarenas, near the mouth of the Río Grande de Tárcoles. The river, which is fed by the Río Virilla, carries much of the solid waste from the Central Valley into the Gulf of Nicoya. And plenty ends up on the beach. The association has repeatedly returned to the beach during the last year. More than 200 volunteers participated last Saturday.

The program is called  Costa Rica, te quiro limpia or “Costa Rica, I want you clean.” The association has the support of the  Ministerio de Salud, Channel 7 Teletica, Banco Nacional and a host of corporate sponsors.

The association said that the emphasis next year would be education. Rather than picking up the trash when it ends on the beach, the association said it wants to reach people at the point of origin of the trash. It also said it would focus on two as-yet-unidentified beaches.

The association said that last week the volunteers picked up 4,708 kilos of trash, including 2,000 kilos of vehicle tires.

Our reader's opinion
Deluges are nothing new
in Costa Rica's weather

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This letter is in response to Mr. Bill Pitts' comments about third world countries. It almost sounds like he read my mind, so I won't repeat what he said here. However, I do have a couple of additional points.

First, James Brodell, the editor of A.M. Costa Rica, has expressed concern about sea level rises from global warming. I share his concern. Secondly, A.M. Costa Rica has acknowledged that a growing number of respected scientists are doubting the impact of humans on this process. Again I agree. Finally with respect to deluges we're suffering here and in Cambodia, I remember the TV coverage of the drawn-out Vietnam War showing never ending monsoons and flooding. Here in Costa Rica what they call the "temporal" or non-stop rain for several weeks in October/November was the norm each year when I first arrived in 1988, not the exception.
For Costa Rica to join the chorus of third world beggars, justifying it all with manmade global warming is a disgrace.
Clifford Dukes
La Aurora de Heredia

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!
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 214

Readers pick a name for tourism institute animated sloth
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers have spoken and by a narrow margin the nameless promotional sloth will be called Slo Mo. That name with 21 reader votes edged out Tico Feliz (19)  and Flash (14).

Other possibilities were Pokey (12), Manuel or Manuel Antonio (11) and Syd (7).

Two weeks ago editors launched a series of votes because the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and its Atlanta, Georgia, ad agency failed to specify a name for the sloth in a promotional video that is part of the $2.9 million trip giveaway program. However, other creatures and one human in the video had names.

Even as the votes were being cast for finalists, there were write-ins. Tranquillo and Sam were some of the suggetions.

The voting, of course, is not binding on the tourism institute or its ad agency. But from now on this newspaper will call the animated sloth Slo Mo.

Slo mo

Business chamber suggests a 3.17 percent wage hike Jan. 1
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's business chamber is suggesting a 3.17 percent increase in the minimum wage as of Jan. 1.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado presented that proposal Thursday to the Consejo Nacional de Salarios, which will set the increase. Union representatives are likely to seek a higher increase.

Usually about every job category has its own minimum wage, including categories that simply require a college degree. Many Costa Ricans work at the minimum level because they know they will get a raise every six months and that there are additional advantages to employment here, like
the annual aguinaldo or Christmas bonus.

The business chamber said that the economy is increasing slowly and irregularly in various sectors but that this is not a reason to pass the cost of economic deceleration on to the workers.

The country's Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos said that the accumulated inflation for the first nine months of the year was 3.23 percent and that the inflation from October 2010 to September 2011 was 5.17 percent.

These are figured that the Consejo will study in an effort to set an equitable increase.

The new wages will cover the period from Jan. 1 to June 30.

Growth, change and progress are not alway best
Years ago I wrote a story about a girl named Mary who was told that she should have been named Martha. I wrote it for myself because even as a little girl I knew I was a Martha, practical and mindful, always busy but a loner. I hoped my story, with its lesson, would change me. The story of the originals, I found in Luke, in the New Testament. When Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her serve the guests (unlike that Martha, I never complained), Christ says, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.”

Finally I figured out what that good part was. But I never became a Mary.

Now my friend and neighbor, Doug is in the hospital with a broken femur and has been in intensive care. I willingly bring him the various items he needs, notify his other friends and family how he is doing, and do all the things a good Martha might do. Tea and sympathy and doing that extra little thing that makes a person feel special are not my department.

Doug is in the Clinica Biblica. This is after a seemingly too long a wait in San Juan de Dios. He was lying on a gurney in the hallway in pain, staring at the ceiling with which he was obsessed because he said more than once what a disgrace it was. (It is peeling and pretty disreputable looking.) The hospital had no self-respect, he said.

Finally, with the help of a kind doctor, we called another ambulance and moved Doug to the Clinica Biblica.

Many years ago I was a patient in Clinica Biblica. I stopped going there when they had finished innovating and building an addition and turned the rather homey, comfortable hospital founded by missionaries into a state-of-the-art edifice. In the process of moving, they lost an expensive test they had done and for which I had paid, and about which they seemed unconcerned. They were, after all, in the middle of change. They were growing.

It is now a very much for profit operation, up to the standards of whoever sets those standards for internationally acceptable hospitals. They still have some
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

of the great doctors who were there when I was a patient.

But the emergency waiting room no longer has the best espresso machine in town for the friends of patients waiting to find out how things are going.

When I was in intensive care, it was a rather small department, with the nurse’s station nearby. Now it accommodates many more patients and is downright chilly, if you aren’t in bed and under covers.

After a day in intensive care, and after noting how nice their ceilings were, Doug said he really needed his toothbrush and toothpaste, and even a comb. I was a bit puzzled, but I found all of the items he wanted in his apartment. Then I went into my bathroom and unzipped the blue bag trimmed in white, just the right size for all of the things he wanted, and more. On it, in white were printed the words, “Clinica Biblica. /A servicio de Dios y el pueblo de Costa Rica, 1929.” / (In the Service of God and the people of Costa Rica.) At one time the bag had contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, a small comb, and some other things, I’ve now forgotten. It was given to me when I was in intensive care, and I thought it a lovely gesture that made me feel special. It was obviously also durable.

At the hospital I showed the bag to the nurse in intensive care. “Do you still give these to patients,” I asked. She shook her head.

I grew up and didn’t change. The hospital grew and did change, neither of us necessarily for the better. A dear friend comforted me saying that I am an intellectual nurturer. Still, I feel guilty. Let’s face it, the clientele of Clinica Biblica, are no longer just the people of Costa Rica. I have heard that corporations are people, too. I guess hospitals can be corporations. But they are lucky people. They don’t suffer from that useless feeling, guilt.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 214

So far Costa Rica has avoided tough smoking restrictions
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With overarching taxation and regulation taking firm hold on tobacco sales and usage in the States, many travelers and expats alike find themselves attracted to the smoke signals wafting from the cigarette and cigar friendly establishments of Costa Rica.

For Bruce Levy, relocated from Florida and now owner of The Havana Room, a cigar shop and lounge in the Little Havana Hotel in San Jose, the ability to buy a Cuban cigar and smoke it indoors is not only about collecting tourism dollars but also indicative of free choice.

“There's no freedom in America anymore,” Levy said as he puffed on a cigar in a lounge chair next to his walk-in humidor at his shop. “That's why people are coming here.”

In Costa Rica he can sell his Cuban-made cigars, a commodity entirely illegal in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Web site states that possession or importation of such cigars is punishable by fines of up to $50,000 because of the politically motivated half-century long trade embargo with Cuba.

And a change in that part of Levy's definition of freedom can't be seen anywhere on the near-horizon either.

The U.S. federal government has maintained an embargo on Cuban commercial goods, not just cigars, despite international pressure to reverse it.  The most recent example of the embargo's unpopularity came earlier this week with 187 countries opposing it in a U.N. General Assembly vote. The year marked the 20th consecutive year of such a vote.

The national attitude towards the regulation of tobacco has been pushing more restrictive practices on home soil as well, regarding where people can smoke and the taxation of such products. Taxes levied per pack in the U.S. hover around $1.50 but can be double or nearly triple that in certain states. A pack of 20 Marlboro cigarettes in Costa Rica costs roughly $2.

Also, Costa Rican businesses such as restaurants, casinos and
cigar lighting
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Quality Cubans are good to the last puff, but only a butane light is appropriate.

bars have essentially reserved the right of their patrons to smoke freely indoors, the opposite is true of their U.S. counterparts. As of the beginning of this month, a list compiled by the American Nonsmoker's Rights Foundation demonstrates that roughly two-thirds of U.S. states have enacted law making either bars, restaurants or non-hospitality workplaces, or in most cases all three, smoke free. Many localities have stricter laws.

Costa Rica currently has a law in place prohibiting smoking in many public and work places including buses, schools and other sites, but stricter legislation to implement a tobacco tax and limit its use in hospitality establishments, which have thus far escaped regulation, is in the works. The pending anti-smoking law has the support of anti-smoking activists and many health professionals.

The country also ratified a World Health Association treaty, but so far has not taken action to implement the treaty restrictions here.

Although the tide may be shifting in Costa Rica, Levy argued that Costa Rica's open tobacco laws are a lure for tourists and visitors, in the same vein as other popular Costa Rican attractions. He said he likes the fact his cigars can be smoked in so many places.

“Of course I'm against them changing the laws,” he said.

Having a quality cigar is much more than smoking a cigar
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Does a cigar represent a political statement?

For Bruce Levy, the answer is yes. He sees cigars and smoking them as freedom, an escape from the restrictive atmosphere and attitude of the United States.

Levy runs The Humidor Room, a place where expats and tourists can buy high-quality cigars, including those from Cuba which are forbidden in the United States.

Levy also sees his operation as an extension of the tourism industry. He seems to have a point because a visit to his business in the Hotel Little Havana shows several cigar smokers waxing philosophical about the smoke, their life and world conditions.

Some of the smokers appear to be experts on the subject of cigars. They toss names around the way wine connoisseurs do. And, it turns out, that Costa Rica is not too far behind the world's better cigars. Several firms, like Vegas Santiago S.A., in Puriscal produce top-of-the-line products. Nicaragua produces good tobacco, too, they said.

Levy stocks the Puriscal smokes along with the fabled Padrón, which is made in Florida.

The attraction for most expats, however, are the Cuban cigars, like the Cohíba, perhaps because the U.S. government says they are off-limits.

A single cigar can range as high as $60, although plenty are available for $10 each on up.

Levy is not the only businessman to have a comfortable place where smokers can sit and enjoy. There are several in the valley. And this type of setup would seem to be isolated from the movement to outlaw smoking of any kind in restaurants and bars.
Bruce Levy
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Bruce Levy in front of his walk-in humidor.

One Levy customer has what amounts to a roach clip so that he can smoke his Cuban cigar to the very end. Levy describes the experience as seven or more changes in flavors as the cigar burns down. Like most cigar experts, he uses a butane lighter to relight a half-smoked cigar that goes out because the owner is talking and not smoking.

There is something that appears to be a form of male bonding as men sit around smoking quality cigars.

At one point a customer started to break down as he discussed his role in the Vietnam war, his life afterwards and his current recovery from traumatic stress. A tear appeared in his eye.

Levy has been running the cigar operation for eight months. He said he has smoked every one of the many brands of cigars he carries as a test of quality.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 214

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Castro has to go' remains
U.S. policy with Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States' position on Cuba remains that "Castro needs to go."

Clinton spoke at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee where the major topics were Afghanistan and Pakistan. But when questioned on U.S. policy on Cuba, she said the policy has been the same for more than 50 years — that communist leader Fidel Castro should leave office.

"Unfortunately," she added, "he doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

Clinton said the U.S. wants democracy for Cuba. She also said U.S. officials regularly meet with their Cuban counterparts on areas of mutual concern.

In 2006 Fidel Castro formally handed over power to his younger brother Raúl, but he remains an influential figure in the Communist state.

Since taking office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, and on money sent back to Cuba from family members living in the United States. He has said the U.S. will change its policy further if Cuba is ready to reform.

Uruguay's congress votes
to revoke rights amnesty

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Uruguay's congress passed legislation revoking amnesty for military officials accused of committing human rights abuses during the country's 1973 to 1985 dictatorship.

Lawmakers from the lower house voted Thursday by a margin of 50 to 40 to eliminate the amnesty. It follows a similar vote in the senate on Tuesday.

The new law was approved just days before the statute of limitations was set to expire, eliminating the possibility of new prosecutions.

The amnesty measure was passed in December 1986 to pardon human rights violations during the 12-year dictatorship.  During that time, hundreds of suspected leftists were kidnapped, tortured and killed. 

Uruguayans have voted to uphold the amnesty in two separate referendums held in 1989 and 2009.

Meanwhile, a court in neighboring Argentina has sentenced a former navy lieutenant known as the "Blond Angel of Death" for crimes committed during the country's Dirty War.

Alfredo Astiz was sentenced to life in prison for his role in kidnappings, tortures and murders of political dissidents, among them two French nuns, a journalist and the founders of a human rights group.

Eleven other former police and military officers were also sentenced to life in prison. Four received sentences ranging between 18 and 25 years.

Argentina's military dictatorship lasted from 1976 to 1983. Human rights groups say at least 30,000 political dissidents and leftist guerillas disappeared or were killed during the crackdown.

Rina now tropical storm
as it passed by Cancún

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of tourists have left Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a weakening former Hurricane Rina approached the popular resort destination.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory early today that Rina weakened into a tropical storm and that it was passing just west of Cancún, México.

Rina's center was 15 miles or 25 kilometers west of Cancún early Friday, with sustained winds of 95 kph or 60 mph.

Tourists flocked Wednesday to the international airport near Cancún, trying to head home in advance of the storm.  Some flights were canceled Thursday.

Authorities closed schools in the region and evacuated more than 2,300 people from Holbox, an island off Yucatan's northern coast.

In 2005, the Mexican region was devastated by Hurricane Wilma, which washed away most of Cancun's famous white-sand beaches.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 214

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Latin America news
New Web map shows status
of cell telephone coverage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has published on its Web site a map of the country showing the degree of coverage for its 2G and 3G cell phone networks.

The map only has four categories: excellent, very good, good and regular. Regular areas are covered in red and there is plenty of red areas on the map. That term means that the company does not guarantee coverage. Excellent means that the cell phones will work in buildings. Very good means that the cell phone will work inside a vehicle. Good means the caller has to be outside.

Readers can see the map HERE!

The 3G network appears to cover more of the country than the 2G. There still are areas with no coverage that appear to be in the Talamanca mountains.

The map allows viewers to pick individual provinces and the type of network. A drawbar allows users to zero in on a particular neighborhood. The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones required the company to post the map because it is required by law.

South American ports need
more investment, report says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

South American ports require significant investments to improve their infrastructure, enabling them to receive large vessels which are currently navigating the main shipping routes in the world, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The study containing this concern was presented during the opening session of the Annual Conference of the International Association of Maritime Economists 2011 Latin America, which takes place through today in Santiago, Chile.

The report estimates that between 2016 and 2019 vessels of on average 13,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (a method for measuring containers) will arrive at the east and west coasts of South America. At present, the largest vessels which reach the ports of the region are no bigger than 8,000 equivalent units and substantial investments will be needed to increase the capacity of shipping terminals, particularly their depth. This will in turn affect port competitiveness and logistic networks in the region, the report said.

The increase in the size of vessels is due to the growing external demand and the global trend of international trade in search of economies of scale and economic density.

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