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(506) 2223-1327              Published Friday, March 26, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 60        E-mail us
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Museums, too, feel the pinch of fewer tourists
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just like other tourist operations, the country's museums are feeling the pinch from fewer visitors.

The Museos del Banco Central, which includes the fabled gold museum, has had a significant decline in the number of tourists and foreigners who visit. From January to March 2009, the museums saw 7,000 visits by foreigners. During the same period this year, the number is 4,732. That's a 32.4 percent decline.

Foreigners pay more for their tickets, and they represent an important income source.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo reports a decline of about 17 percent in the number of tourists who are visiting the country this year compared to last year.

Rosa Mártinez, the subdirector of the Museos del
Banco Central, said that tourists are the major part of the public who visits the museums. The facility is underneath Plaza de Cultura in downtown San José. In addition to the Museo del Oro Precolombino, there is a numismatic museum, and a section with temporary exhibitions. The museum also has a gift shop.

Rubén Prendas, a museum expert at the Universidad de Costa Rica, said the museums run the risk of closing unless the state steps in with more money or some public or private institution offers help.

He suggested that the museums put on expositions that break with the routine and attract visitors or make deals with hotels and tourist agencies to bring in groups.

Although no one official is talking about closing the museums or the Museo de Jade that is across town in the building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the reduction in visitors at least gives a glimpse of the strain the tourism sector is suffering.


Raid nets 16 women at upscale hotel in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents raided a downtown hotel that caters to U.S. men Thursday, but they did not find the underage prostitutes they were seeking.

The location was the Hotel Little Havana Costa Rica, formerly known as Hotel Zona Blue. It is on Avenida 9 in Barrio Amón.

Agents accompanied by police with guns drawn entered the establishment to find some 15 women there. The Judicial Investigating Organization said it was conducting an operation against pimping. They said the women were Costa Rican and foreign, mostly Nicaraguan. Detained was the administrator of the hotel, a 49-year-old woman, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The raid was spearheaded by the Sección de Delitos Sexuales Contra la Vida y la Familia.

Agents said the investigation has been going on for several months.

The hotel on its Web site said that employees were prohibited from meeting guests at locations other than the hotel, suggesting that at least some of the women were employed there.

The hotel was reborn as a place where men could smoke fine cigars. The hotel boasts of a walk-in humidor. It also has a cigar-smoking woman as a logotype and features photos of women with cigars on a portion of the Web site. There is nothing on the Web site to suggest that the hotel is offering prostitution.

Police and investigators periodically raid hotels and massage parlors in the downtown. Few stay closed for long.

In August 2008 the Municipalidad de San José raided and closed down 25 massage parlors not because of suspected prostitution but because the establishments did not have ramps for wheelchair users.

Prostitution is not penalized in Costa Rica, but
cigar lady
Hotel's cigar lady logotype

pimping is supposed to be a crime. There is a fine line between pimping and what many upscale hotels do when they allow guests to take women to their rooms. In most cases, the men meet the women on their own and not because the hotel facilitates the introductions.

Clearly in the pimping business are the many pensions and massage parlors when payment is made to a central cashier. These operations seldom are bothered because they mostly cater to locals.

However, before major religious holidays, police usually raid one or more hotels that cater to foreign tourists.

The judicial agents said that the foreign women would be interviewed and remanded to immigration authorities if they lacked the right to be in and work in Costa Rica. The administrator will be interviewed by prosecutors.

For years investigators have been trying to find hard evidence of prostitution of minors.

Most tourist hotels are very careful in screening the women they admit to the hotel. Nevertheless, the rumor persists of a widespread juvenile prostitution operation. Investigators appear to ignore the teenage girls who work the streets near Parque Morazán or outside tourist bars and restaurants. These women are freelancers, and some have been driven to their street locations by family members, even fathers.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 60

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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Utility chief going to court
over his use of helicopter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the country's telecom agency will be in court Monday to see if allegations against him will lead to a trial.

The preliminary hearing stems from a helicopter flight he and his wife took a year ago. The man is Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Quirós faces allegations of converting public property to his own use. The case presented to the judiciary last September is not clear cut because Quirós had business reasons to use the helicopter March 21. He visited the Cariblanco generating plant that was knocked out by the Jan. 8 Cinchona earthquake. He also visited an electrical coop's annual meeting.

The questionable visits are to the wedding of a legislative deputy's daughter in Zarcero and to the Puriscal home of the agency's general manager for a party.

Another telecom agency employee, identified by the last names of Barboza Zúñiga, also is involved in the case because he set up the flight.

The case has political overtones because opposition political party members brought it to the attention of the press.


New 911 surcharge set
at 1 percent of phone bill


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Telecom regulator has set a new rate to support the 911 emergency system. Presently the charge is a fixed 79.56 colons per line each month, but will become 1 percent of the total telephone bill.

Presently 79.56 colons is about 4 percent of the fixed-line basic rate of 1,850, and 1.5 percent of the minimum cell phone rate. The rate has been the same since the 911 system became operational in 1996, according to Carolina Mora, communications director for the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

The increase is needed to make the 911 system financially self-sustaining, since its budget for 2010 is 5.75 billion colons. At the current rate, the approximately 2.6 million active phone lines produce 2.5 billion colons per year.
 

Our reader's opinion
It's the law, not judges
that define decisions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Guy C. Moats and others are rightfully frustrated with the apparently lax administration of the criminal code by Costa Rican judges. The practices Mr. Moats reflects upon are indeed different from what Americans would expect of the American legal system. And therein may lie the basis for a better understanding.

The American legal system gives judges great latitude in the administration of the law. Where the law is not specific, the decisions of judges, particularly at the appellate levels, do actually create new legal interpretations and set precedents. That is not the case in Costa Rica.

Whereas the U.S. has a system of "common law" which is heavily dependent upon judicial decisions, the Costa Rica system is one based upon the Napoleonic Code created by the national assembly. Here in Costa Rica, everything is strictly defined by the assembly when it writes or revises a law, and, compared to the U.S. system, judges have very little latitude. What the law says is what they must do.

So the resolution to his frustration lies not in castigating Costa Rican judges but in Mr. Moats' own understanding of the environment in which those judges administer the law. Mr. Moats might reasonably assert that accused criminals should be detained rather than being set free, but if the law says that a person in those circumstances must be freed, then the judge has no choice.

That's the Napoleonic system. It has nothing to do with the stiffness of the judges' spines. It has nothing to do with who the victims of the crime are. And it has nothing to do with how much razor wire the judges live behind. The law is the law, and they are charged to execute it.

The resolution of these problems, if one is truly necessary, lies with the national assembly. They make the laws that the judges administer.
David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela

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A.M. Costa Rica 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.

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

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For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 60

Decent but hot weather predicted for Semana Santa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day many Central Valley residents will be headed to the beaches or mountains. Vacation for many public and private employees starts at the end of their shifts today. They are expected back April 5.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that at least the next few days will be hot. In a special weather report issued Thursday, the institute said that there would be little cloud cover over the entire country during the mornings. The weather officials urged vacationers to stay out of the tropical sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They noted that in March the rays of the sun come from directly over the country.

Weather prediction is an imperfect science, but the weather experts took a crack at predicting the weather all the way to April 4. They said there might be some rain in Limón and the northern zone. That is almost a given this time of year.
They also predicted that the strong winds would continue along the Pacific coast and in the Central Valley.
In Guanacaste and in Puntarenas temperatures in the coming week could be as high as 39 degrees C. That's 102 degrees F, certainly much hotter than residents have experienced so far this year. Temperatures will be lower elsewhere.

For those who stay in their hometowns for religious purposes, the Easter season begins with Palm Sunday this weekend. The week that follows is filled with processions leading up to the burial of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, April 2. There are processions all over the country, and tourists find them to be highly photogenic.

The weather report said that in most cases the processions will not face rainy weather.

For those who suddenly realize their license has expired, the Departmento de Licencias in La Uruca has its final day of late hours today. The facility will be open until 7 p.m.

The offices will be closed until April 5 when the normal closing hour of 4 p.m. will be reinstituted.


Transport ministry official ordered to stand trial in bus route decision case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has ruled that a transport ministry official must go to court to stand trial for failing to disqualify himself in a bus route decision.

The man is the director of the División de Transportes of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. The Poder Judicial identified him with the last names of Chan Jaén.
The case is being handled by prosecutors from Delitos
Económicos, Corrupción y Tributario and the hearing was in the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda in the Segundo Circuito Judicial.

Prosecutors argue that Chan should have disqualified himself for voting Nov. 4, 2008, when a transport committee made a decision on allocating routes to bus companies. According to the Poder Judicial a son of Chan's wife prepared some of the documents on behalf of Transporte Sectorial MPT S.A.. That was enough for Chan  to excuse himself, prosecutors say.


Thoughts on pro-life and the pain of being a politician
I am really happy the first hurdle in the U.S.’s attempt to get health insurance for more of its citizens is over.  I am also happy that anti-abortion Democrats (at least some of them) feel that babies will be protected.  But what makes me smile, not happily, is their naïve comments after making sure that no federal funds will go towards an abortion (except, I believe, in the case of rape or incest). 

To paraphrase them, women can now safely have their babies because insurance will cover the cost of birth and even medical care should their child need it.  (According to Healthwatch on Voice of America, 50 percent of children in the U.S. today have chronic conditions, mainly obesity and asthma, so they probably will need it.)

What baffles me is that these representatives think that the main reason women have abortions is the high cost of giving birth and medical care for a child. Would that that were so!

Whatever the wording regarding abortions, it was obviously confusing.  Even the functionaries of the Catholic Church disagreed. The bishops of the church, those long-time arbiters of female sexual behavior, did not accept it.  However, some 70,000 nuns did.  One can’t help remembering that convents were once about the only haven for disgraced, pregnant women (maybe that is why Hamlet told Ophelia to get herself to a nunnery).

In Costa Rica abortion is legal only if the life or health of the mother is endangered, but not in the case of incest or rape.

However, the interpretation of the law is so strict that few women have legal abortions in the hospital.  Yet, according to the Costa Rican Demographic Association, there are approximately 27,000 induced abortions performed here every year.

Anti-abortion proponents in the States refer to themselves as “pro life”. I think that is a misnomer since far too many of them are only "for"  those yet to be born, showing much less regard for those who already are.  A few even  threaten to kill people who disagree — and some have done so.   “Anti-choice” seems to be a more fitting sobriquet.

On the broader subject of health care I wonder if this will  reduce the number of people from the U.S. taking advantage of medical tourism around the world.  Both India and Costa Rica are two such destinations.

My friend Darrylle was living in India for five months      
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr


  when he fell and broke his femur, separating the bones and smashing his knee in the process.  The total cost of his medical care, including the ambulance, the meds, a CAT scan and other tests, the surgeon and assisting doctors and seven days in the hospital was $700, plus $1,000 for a metal plate from Switzerland.  This was in a hospital in a rural area of northern India, staffed by people accustomed to treating trauma cases.  As a foreigner, he was given a private room and charged “foreign” prices.  Locals would not have paid that much.  He said the food was pretty bad and boring, but what else is new in hospitals?

A Costa Rican surgeon examined the work, called it excellent and said he would have had to charge $7,000 for the surgery alone.  In the States, the cost would probably be at least $70,000, even with the new health insurance bill.

There has been much talk about the unconstitutionality of the health care bill. I have been pondering the phrase “general welfare.”  History shows that it has been a contentious part of the Constitution where it is mentioned in the Preamble and in Article I, Section 8.  My hero, Ben Franklin, who proposed it, was a great proponent of doing things for the common welfare of his fellow colonists and citizens.  But James Madison, Jr. the signer of the Constitution from Virginia, maintained that it meant only that Congress could designate money towards such things but not make laws. 

In a roundabout way, he was influenced by Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), a physician and a philosopher who wrote that it was “wasteful and counterproductive to try to educate or improve lower classes.”  He also wrote that “selfishness and licentiousness are not evil, but are a social good.”  Maybe he was the “Father of Capitalism?”

But he has actually been called the Father of Liberalism. I guess because he also wrote that the government should legalize prostitution and run the brothels. Thus it could collect the money as well as reduce disease and crime.  I wonder what he would say about legalizing marijuana for medical use.

It’s tough being a politician. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 60

Escazú Christian Fellowship
xx
Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church


El Niño sending warmer water eastward in Pacific

By the Jet Propulsion Laboratory news service

El Niño 2009-2010 just keeps hanging in there. Recent sea-level height data from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite show that a large-scale, sustained weakening of trade winds in the western and central equatorial Pacific during late-January through February has triggered yet another strong, eastward-moving wave of warm water, known as a Kelvin wave.

Now in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, this warm wave appears as the large area of higher- than-normal sea surface heights (warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures) between 150 degrees west and 100 degrees west longitude. A series of similar, weaker events that began in June 2009 initially triggered and has sustained the present El Niño condition.

Bill Patzert, oceanographer for the Jet Propulsion Laboaratory, said it's too soon to know for sure, but he would not be surprised if this latest and largest Kelvin wave is the last hurrah for this long-lasting El Niño.

"Since June 2009, this El Niño has waxed and waned, impacting many global weather events," said Patzert. I, and many other scientists, expect the current El Niño to leave the stage sometime soon. What comes next is not yet clear, but a return to El Niño's dry sibling, La Niña, is certainly a possibility, though by no means a certainty. We'll be monitoring conditions closely over the coming weeks and months."

An El Niño also causes unusual changes in atmospheric circulation and convection around the globe. The laboratory's Microwave Limb Sounder instrument on NASA's Aura spacecraft captured a large eastward shift of deep convection from the current El Niño, indicated by large amounts of cloud ice in the upper troposphere.
El Niño
NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team
Recent sea-level height data from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite shows El Niño 2009-2010 hanging in there.


The adjacent image was created with data collected by the U.S./European satellite during a 10-day period centered on March 1. It shows a red and white area in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific that is about 10 to 18 centimeters (4 to 7 inches) above normal.

These regions contrast with the western equatorial Pacific, where lower-than-normal sea levels (blue and purple areas) are between 8 to 15 centimeters (3 and 6 inches) below normal. Along the equator, the red and white colors depict areas where sea surface temperatures are more than one to two degrees Celsius above normal (two to four degrees Fahrenheit).



Saturday night designated for turning out lights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans are being asked to turn off their lights Saturday night between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. in a public display organized by the World Wildlife Federation.

Organizers predict that hundreds of millions of persons around the world will turn off their lights for an hour Saturday to demand action on climate change. In English the project is known as Earth Hour.
In Costa Rica the event is being supported by Paz con la Naturaleza, the British Embassy. The event last year cut electrical demand the equivalent of normal usage for 400,000 homes, Paz con la Naturaleza said citing statistics from the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad.

This will be the second year for lights out. Last year there was a party at the Plaza de la Democracia, but one is not planned for this year. Most of Costa Rica's power is generated by water and not petroleum.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 60

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Arias and kids
Casa Presidencial photo
This is how President Óscar Arias probably will want to be remembered: surrounded by happy school children.

Barva de Heredia gets
new school building


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new Escuela de Punte Salas in Barva de Heredia will house 450 youngsters and cost 185 million colons, some $350,000.

The school was inaugurated Thursday by officials including President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

There are seven classrooms and three preschool rooms and a dining hall. A second stage will nearly double the size of the facility.

Arias, in a short speech, praised his administration's efforts to channel money to education, which has been a priority.


Mom surrenders twins
sought by children's agency


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mother of the two twins sought by the child welfare agency has surrendered them, and they were placed in a shelter.

The 4-year-old twins who were separated in a U.S. operation in 2007 were in flight with their parents. The nation's child welfare agency wanted to remove the two children from their home because there have been complaints that it is dirty and home to chickens and smokers.

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, said it had received an order from a judge of the  Juzgado de Niñez y Adolescencia in San José to remove the children. However, when child protection agents went to the home, the twins were not there.

The mother showed up with the twins Wednesday night. The family is expected to fight the judicial order.

The twins are Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha Arias of Alajuelita, San José. They were joined at birth at the chest and stomach. They shared a single liver and portions of a dual heart.


Schoolgirl becomes victim
for youthful robbery trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In another case of juvenile violence, Fuerza Pública officers detained three high school youngsters Thursday and said they had robbed a female student on the street.

The crime happened in Hatillo 4 near the high school of the three youths. The girl involved, who was said to have been set upon violently, attends another school in San Sebastián. The robbers took a cell phone, said police.

The three young suspects were caught as they tried to flee from police. Police said they managed to get back the cell phone.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 60


Latin American news
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Two anti-drug operations
net 16 trafficking suspects


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are going to need programs to keep track of the drug gangs in the country.

Agents detained eight persons Wednesday and said they made up a group for warehousing and selling drugs.

Then Thursday more than 60 anti-drug agents with the help of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas surrounded and captured eight persons they said were unloading cocaine at Playa Linda in Matapalo on the Central Pacific.

The eight persons detained Wednesday are accused of being involved with crack cocaine for local consumption. That investigation has been going on since last June, said the Poder Judicial.

The Poder Judicial identified by individuals by their last names of Coto Brenes, Mirales Rodríguez, Mena López, Soto Orellana, Soto Varela, Carvajal Perlaza, Valerio Chavez and Keiths Díaz.

The arrests stem from nine raids conducted by the Policía Control de Drogas of the security ministry. Raids were in Concepción Abajo de Alajuelita, Alajuelita, San Josecito de Heredia, Río Claro de Golfito, Calle Blancos and San Sebastián.

In the Playa Linda action the Poder Judicial said that 1,723 packages of drugs were confiscated amounting to nearly two tons. The anti-drug agents said the men were unloading boats. The raid took place just after 4 a.m.

Detained were Costa Ricans with the last names and ages of Lara Castillo, 35, Sequeira Agüero, 33, and Castillo Carrillo, 40. A Nicaraguan man with residency here also was detained. He was identified by the last names of Granados Narváez. He is 32.

Four Colombians were detained nearby. This operation, too, was conducted by the Policía Control de Drogas. Police confiscated two boats and two rented vehicles.

The last set of arrests stemmed from a confidential informant, said police. Other sources said that rival drug gangs are informing on each other as part of their efforts to win a monopoly in the transport and storage of drugs in Costa Rica.

Police said the drugs in the boat likely would have been stored in Costa Rica for eventual shipment north.




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