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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 19       E-mail us
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Ministry seeks to beef up assistance for consumers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Costa Ricans go to buy insurance, there is one source and any independent agent can provide basically the same coverage for the same price with the government insurance firm.

When Costa Ricans seek telephone service, the only source is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

When Costa Ricans go to the supermarket, the basic products are price-controlled.

All that is about to change. The insurance market and the telephone markets are opening up to private competition, perhaps as soon as September. But most Costa Ricans are not used to comparison shopping.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio has a program to help consumers and an agency, the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor, to provide information and field consumer complaints. The ministry has announced plans to beef up the service.

The ministry is contracting with an outside call center that will increase the capacity of the consumer service from 80 to 300 contacts per day. The ministry also is installing software to keep better track of the calls.

In 2009 there were nearly 23,000 calls. Cell telephones led the list with 2,615 calls, the ministry said. Household appliances, vehicles and vacation membership clubs followed. The ministry said it has recovered in 2009 some 1.2 billion colons via sanctions or by an alternative resolution process. That's about $2.1 million.

The consumer agency is the same entity that does periodic checks on various aspects of the economy. The most recent study was a survey of back-to-school needs. The agency said that it found differences of as much as 1,173 percent in prices for these articles.

In other cases, the agency files its own complaints, such as when hotels and restaurants do not have the mandated list of prices on display or there is an error in weights and measures of a product.

Tourism generated 416 formal complaints in
Consumer complaints

2009. Advertising resulted in 308 complaints, the ministry said. By comparison, of the 2,615 contacts about cellular telephones there were only 386 complaints.

Consumers have several options in obtaining information or for making a formal complaint. There is a FAX line at 2284-8821 and a voice line at 800-CONSUMO (800-266-7866). There also is e-mail at consumo@consumo.go.cr.

Those who want to be heard in person can visit the consumer office 200 meters north and 100 meters west of Pizza Hut on Paseo Colón.

Private companies entering the cell telephone market are expected to be offering service by September. The process of allocating telecommunication spectrum and a competition to award the rights to the bandwidth is long and technical. However, it appears that local subsidiaries of three major cell telephone companies will be able to offer their services well before next Christmas.

The restrictions on the economy have not been helpful in creating a consumer mindset among Costa Ricans. Many of the questions consumers brought to the economics ministry probably should have been answered by companies involved, either via customer service workers or in advertising. New arrivals in the insurance and cell telephone markets probably will emphasize customer service to a greater degree than is found in the marketplace today.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 19

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Arias vows no more sagas
like the Caldera highway


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez promised Wednesday that a 32-year-long saga like that of the San José-Caldera highway will not happen again in the country. At the same time Arias and other officials pointed out achievements in transportation in other parts of the country.

The event took place in Orotina where a ceremony marked the opening of the highway. The $360 million project cuts about 50 minutes off trips between the Pacific coast town and San José. The most crucial was the 40 kms (25 miles) of new construction between Ciudad Colón and Orotina.

The highway is a case study in stalled public works, which Arias vowed would never happen again. He also said that shortly the Costanera Sur will be inaugurated. This is the Pacific coast road that replaced the gravel section between Dominical and Quepos.

The opening of the new highway Wednesday was not without protest. Santa Ana residents continue to block the highway. They want a pedestrian bridge, sidewalks and a relocation of a bus stop. Arias was one of those delayed by the protest. The bus with the president and some ministers aboard had to make a detour.

The Concorcio Autopista del Sol got a concession to complete the highway. The government put up $36 million, mostly to purchase right-of-way. The consortium put up $82.7 million, and the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica provided a $160 million loan. The rest, $82.5, came from the  Caja de Madrid, the Spanish bank.

Arias said that a similar concession would help finish the  highway from San José to San Ramón and San Carlos. The concession holder makes a profit by tolls.

He also took credit for other transportation advances, like the reinitiation of work at Juan Santamaría airport, a concession at Daniel Oduber airport and the extension of the urban train system to Curridabat that will take place soon, Arias said.

The government uses concessions because it does not have the cash or borrowing capacity to take on large projects. The government also wants to modernize the ports of Limón by turning the operation over to a concession holder. That was done in a prior administration with the port in Caldera on the Pacific.

Young teen faces trial
in robbery-murder case


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 13 year old has been remanded to two months preventative detention as the suspect in the murder of a 24-year-old neighbor Saturday.

The Juzgado Penal Juvenil ordered him held. The victim, Jonathan Barrantes Calderon, died after he was confronted by a pistol wielding assailant as he went to a nearby Internet cafe in Concepción de Alajuelita.

The man was shot once in the knee to incapacitate him and then twice more in the head, said the Poder Judicial. Robbery is the presumed motive.

The jailed youth has been detained at least six times and is known in the neighborhood as a young criminal, investigators said.

Restaurants to be certified
as smoke free locations


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The seven outlets of the Spoon chain and four other restaurants are being certified as smoke free, the Ministerio de Salud said Wednesday.

The others are Il Panino, Il Ritorno, Chancay and Tre Scallini. The certification is part of the health ministry's campaign against tobacco in Costa Rica and an initiative of the Pfizer drug company.

The restaurants have prohibited tobacco voluntarily. Pfizer makes a product that helps smokers quit.

Turrúcares gets new road

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The project did not make the headlines like the autopista to Caldera, but residents of Turrúcares de Alajuela now have a new road.

This is the Calle Tamarindo, which is the product of efforts by the Municipalidad de Alajuela and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The finished product is a $1 million job to install the road, underground drainage and a base and topping of asphalt.


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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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 19

   
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Obama backs trade pacts but not U.S. firms going overseas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. President Barack Obama came out strong again Wednesday night for international trade, including giving support to the pending Panamá and Colombian trade agreements.

"We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are," said Obama in his State of the Union address. "If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia."

Both the Panamá and the Colombian trade promotions agreements are hung up in the U.S. Congress, and the Colombian pact has been targeted by those in the United States who think that the country is a human rights offender. Obama was speaking to the joint session of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House for the traditional annual presentation.

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement was signed Nov. 22, 2006. Colombia's Congress approved the agreement and a protocol of amendment in 2007. Colombia's Constitutional Court completed its review in July 2008 and concluded that the agreement conforms to Colombia's Constitution.

The United States and Panama signed a trade promotion agreement June 28, 2007. Panama approved the pact July 11, 2007, the trade representative said.

The president also supported the trade agreement with South Korea, which also has not been approved by Congress.

The mention of foreign trade dovetails with the president's call for more jobs. But it might have implications for Costa Rica where many U.S. firms have set up production facilities and call centers.
Obana in Congress
White House photo
President Barack Obama makes a point and draws applause from Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House.
 
"We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America."

Obama announced the creation of an export initiative: "We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security."

At a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Friday Obama talked about how increasing U.S. exports by just 1 percent would create hundreds and thousands of jobs, according to the trade representative.

The U.S. exported $11.4 billion in goods to Colombia in 2008 and imported goods worth $13.1 billion while U.S. exports to Panamá were  $4.9 billion in 2008 and imports totaled $379 million.


New Apple device might help faltering print newspapers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Apple Inc. came out with its iPad Wednesday in a move that may be helpful to declining print newspapers and magazines.

The device is larger than the iPhone and can display a full Internet page, among other features. The device will compete with Amazon.com's Kindle that is mainly used for electronic books.

Steve Jobs, the Apple CEO, introduced the device in a San Francisco meeting, and part of the presentation included showing a copy of The New York Times on the device.

Print newspapers, including The Times, are facing serious economic problems because of production and distribution costs. Advertisers are balking at spending half of their advertising dollar simply to purchase newsprint while electronic ad and news outlets undercut the older paper-based products significantly.

The iPad will provide a portable computer for reading books, magazines and even watching films. The device connects with a 3G or other wireless networks to download what the user seeks.

The basic device will sell for $499 in the United States when it is released in two months. Models with more flash memory will cost more.

The price and necessary electronic hookups have not been outlined in Costa Rica, although a 3G network is in operation.

The iPad weights just 1.5 pounds (.68 kilos) or a bit more for the 3G model. So users can carry the device around. Portability has been a concern of users of electronic
new Apple device
The iPad
 
media, and the Kindle has not captured a large share of daily newspaper and magazine readers

The device, if it gains acceptance, is sure to take a bite out of advertising agency revenues. Those that work on commission profit when clients spend top dollar for print ad space. In other words, they get a commission for buying newsprint.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 19


Two die as blaze rips through carpentry shop in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons died Wednesday afternoon when fire tore through a carpentry shop in Santa Bárbara de Heredia and the victims inside tried to save themselves in the bathroom, said firemen.

The victims were a 16 year old and a 35 year old, but their names were not disclosed by the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

A report from firemen said that they thought the fire started in a nearby lot and spread to the building. There were containers of flammable materials near the door that
prevented those inside from leaving, they said. Some of the material exploded in the blaze.

A complicating factor is that firemen had to come from Alajuela. The fire was reported at 4:19 p.m., and firemen arrived at 4:35, they said. The blaze was under control a few minutes later.

Firemen said that the tragedy underlined the fact that anyone caught in a blaze should seek any exit instead of hiding somewhere in the structure.

Also destroyed in the blaze was shop machinery.



U.N. labor organization paints grim picture of job market

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The mounting number of jobless people around the world has climbed to an historic high with nearly 212 million unemployed last year — or 6.6 per cent of the global workforce — and the situation in Europe is likely to worsen before it gets better, according to a new United Nations report.

In its annual Global Employment Trends report the International Labour Organization estimated that 34 million more people joined the ranks of the unemployed in 2008 and 2009, pushing the total number of out-of-work adults to a record high.

The report painted a gloomy assessment for the labor market this year, predicting that unemployment figures will remain high through 2010 with an additional 3 million people losing their jobs in the European Union and other developed economies, while unemployment stabilizes or declines only slightly in other regions.

“We need the same policy decisiveness that saved banks now applied to save and create jobs and livelihoods of  people,” said Juan Somavia, director general of the

Labour Organization, ahead of the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland.

“This can be done through strong convergence of public policies and private investment,” said Somavia, stressing that each year “the global labor market has expanded by 45 million people. Therefore recovery measures must target job creation for young men and women entering the labour market for the first time.”

The report said that despite coordinated stimulus measures worldwide that helped avert a far greater social and economic catastrophe, the number of unemployed youth increased by more than 10 million in the last two years, the largest hike since 1991, and millions of women and men are still without a job, unemployment benefits or any viable form of social protection.

The report also stated that some 633 million workers and their families were living on less than $1.25 per day in 2008, with as many as 215 million additional workers at risk of falling into poverty in 2009, underscoring the urgency of establishing wide coverage of basic social protection schemes to cushion the poor against the impact of fluctuations in economic activity.


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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Zelaya leaves Honduras
as Lobo become president


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and staff reports

Porfirio Lobo took over as president of Honduras Wednesday, and one noticeable absentee was Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez. Costa Rica was represented by its foreign minister, Bruno Stagno.

Arias tried to win approval of an accord that would have reinstalled ousted president José Manuel Zelaya. Instead Zelaya spent four months holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The conservative Lobo granted Zelaya a safe conduct because the former president did not want to accept one approved by the national congress the day before.

Zelaya went by motorcade to the country's international airport where he accompanied Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic, home on the presidential jet. Also attending the inauguration ceremony was  Ricardo Martinelli, president of Panamá, and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan.

The Honduran congress had approved amnesty for Zelaya and all those responsible for the coup that removed him from power in June.

The vote passed the legislature late Tuesday, just hours after a Honduran supreme court judge cleared senior military leaders of criminal charges for their roles in the coup that ousted Zelaya.

The former president had faced charges of treason and abuse of power.

Earlier this month, prosecutors with the attorney general's office filed abuse of power charges against the military leaders, including Army Commander Romeo Vasquez Velasquez.

But the court ruled Tuesday the military leaders acted to preserve peace in Honduras.

Both the amnesty and the supreme court ruling were seen as steps toward national reconciliation.

June 28, soldiers arrested Zelaya in his home, put him on a plane and flew him to Costa Rica.  Zelaya returned to Honduras in September and attempted to rally supporters. But he ended up isolated in the Brazilian Embassy.

Zelaya accepted an agreement reached last week between Lobo and the Dominican government for the ousted president to go to the Dominican Republic.

Lobo has said he supports amnesty for those involved in the coup.

Mr. Zelaya's opponents say he was ousted because he was trying to illegally change the constitution to extend his term in office.

Arias drafted the so-called San José Accord that was supposed to create a government of conciliation while Zelaya served out his term.  But  the man who became president, Roberto Micheletti, successfully stalled Arias and international public opinion until the inauguration Wednesday.

Arias got involved because Zelaya ended up in Costa Rica June 28, and he was asked to mediate by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Honduras
News of the Dominican Republic
News of Panamá

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 19


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Venezuela's cable crackdown
deplored by press group


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association says that the closure of six Venezuelan cable television channels is yet another demonstration of how press freedom and free speech continue to deteriorate in the South American country as a direct consequence of the government there.

“We have not the slightest doubt,” said Alejandro Aguirre, “that the shutdown is part of an orchestrated government strategy whose main objective is to wipe out privately-owned and independent media, while generating the existence of an increasingly large chain of state-owned media devoted to disseminating official propaganda.”  He is the president of the organization.

Aguirre, managing editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, recalled the protest that the Inter American Press Association had made in its latest report on Venezuela in which it noted that “the progressive elimination of independent media as an official policy and the ‘communication hegemony’ proclaimed as a goal by President Chávez are among the greatest challenges that freedom of the press is facing in the country.”

At its membership meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November the Inter American Press Association declared that Venezuelan Presdient Hugo Chávez had “at his service the frequent and obligatory national hookups which he uses to take over air space of all broadcast media in order to transmit threats and propagandistic rhetoric; he has available to him, moreover, 238 radio stations, 28 television channels, 340 print media outlets and more than 125 Web sites.

Robert Rivard, declared, “We have before us one more act of censorship. Today six television channels are shut down. Last year 34 radio stations were closed. Before that RCTV on-air broadcasting, and six administrative lawsuits were filed against Globovisión, while its owner and other reporters and editors are being subjected to harsh judicial harassment.”  He is chairman of the press group's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information,

In recent years the press group has been protesting all kinds of government reprisals that Venezuelan journalists are having to face.

The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print and online publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere, including A.M. Costa Rica, and is based in Miami, Florida.




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