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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 161       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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No matter what they say, today is Mother's Day

A.M. Costa Rica photo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite what lawmakers say, today is Mother's Day for most Costa Ricans. Unlike other holidays that the previous legislature moved to the following Monday, this day is linked to the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is a day for Costa Ricans to honor their mother with gifts, flowers and dinners. Monday will be more of a civil holiday as the country takes advantage of yet another day off.

Commission opts for new presidential offices
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of culture announced a plan Monday night to build a new Casa Presidencial just east of Parque Nacional.

The plan came from a commission and will be integrated with an overall plan for the redevelopment of San José.

If adopted, the plan will leave the Centro Nacional de la Cultura as the headquarters of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes and spare its galleries and theaters.  President Óscar Arias Sánchez said he would like to move the seat of the executive branch from the current location in Zapote to the downtown.

The commission asked in its report that the Proyecto de Planificación Regional y Urbana del Gran Área Metropolitana expropriate the city block east of Parque Nacional. There might be some problems.

Christiane Soto Harrison, who operates the Hotel la Casa del Parque in the former Zeledón Mansion on the northwest corner of the block, said the structure has been designated an historic building.  There also is a theater on the southeast corner as well as several commercial buildings and other homes.

The block is between avenidas 1 and 3 and between calles 19 and 21. The section is called El Carmen.

The commission also said that three ministries that have day-to-day contact with the president should be located in new structures north of Parque Nacional on vacant property that is near the Estación al Atlántico rail terminal.

The idea is to construct a Parque de los Cuatro Poderes. The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones already is to the west of Parque Nacional. The culture ministry is to the northwest. The Asamblea Legislativa is south of the park.

There was no discussion of budget in the commission report that was released by  María Elena Carballo, the culture minister, about 6 p.m. The executive branch is seeking

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
X marks the spot designated for a new Casa Presidencial.

new taxes from the legislature and says the country is broke. The previous legislature itself said it needed new quarters because of the disrepair of existing buildings, but the Contraloria General de la República rejected the idea.

The urban development program itself is being supported by a grant of some 11 million euros ($14 million) from the European Union and the equivalent of  7.5 million euros ($9.6 million) from the Costa Rican government.

Eduardo Brenes, who is directing the urban development was credited with creating the concept of the park of the four powers. The ministries that would be located to the north of the park are the Ministerio de la Presidencia, the Ministerio de Planificación, and the Ministerio de Hacienda, the budget and tax-collecting ministry.

The proposal for the president to take over the culture ministry as his offices was controversial and generated protests and demonstrations from those connected with the arts. To solve the controversy, the commission was formed.

The proposal may not be of benefit to Arias. The culture minister said the project might take four years. A contest for design was suggested for architects associated with the Colegio de Arquitectos de Costa Rica.

There has been no comment from Casa Presidencial. Ms. Soto said she had not been contacted about the project, but she said she thought in principle the idea was a good one as long as her family is properly reimbursed for the money they have put into the hotel.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 161

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A.M. Costa Rica turns 5
with thanks to readers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five years ago today the first issue of A.M. Costa Rica appeared to nearly zero readers and with no advertisers.

Now, five years later, the Internet daily is welcomed into thousands of homes each weekday morning, and advertisers have found that the newspaper is a key element in building their businesses.

The daily was initially envisioned as a bulletin board for club meetings and local events. But Costa Rica is so interesting to the outside world and so full of news that the demand for more depth came quickly.

Less that a month after the first edition, terrorists launched their attacks on the United States, and this daily news source was vital to alert readers to local activities and memorial services.

Since then the newspaper has covered two presidential elections and hundreds of stories of good and bad news about expats. The Internet server contains nearly 1,400 pages, including every edition produced. Everything is online and searchable.

The newspaper welcomes only advertisers who seem to promote the best interests of the readers.

The newspaper still does not accept personal ads, advertising for online casinos or what maybe termed adult advertising. The company refuses to be a stimulus for sex tourism.

With age the newspaper grew: from two pages a day to four or five newspages today. There still is a long way to go to meet the individual needs of readers, and there are readers in about 80 countries.

The overriding concern has been to protect expats and tourists. Many stories have alerted tourists to the scams and tricks criminals play to steal and rob. Many stories have described flaws in the nation's property registry system and how an owner can protect holdings.

Each day the e-mails bring questions and concerns from all over the world. Outside the newspages, editors try to answer these questions and provide references for professional services.

Writers are not shy about taking a humorous and irreverent look at Costa Rican society, particularly politics. And if Costa Rica has anything, it has great material for humorists.

Costa Rica will continue to evolve, and editors hope that A.M. Costa Rica will keep pace. They also know that the success, both professional and financial, has been because of the readers.

Electronic passports
being produced in U.S.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of State has begun issuing electronic passports.

Production has started at the Colorado Passport Agency and will be expanded to other production facilities over the next few months, the agency said.  

The new U.S. passport includes biometric technology.  A contactless chip in the rear cover of the passport will contain the same data as that found on the biographic data page of the passport (name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, dates of passport issuance and expiration, passport number), and will also include a digital image of the bearer's photograph.     

The Department of State has taken steps to lessen the chances of the electronic data being skimmed (unauthorized reading) or eavesdropped (intercepting
communication of the transmission of data between the chip and the reader by unintended recipients). 

Metallic anti-skimming material incorporated into the front cover and spine of the e-passport book prevents the chip from being skimmed, or read, when the book is fully closed, said the department. Technology is used that requires that the data page be read electronically to generate a key that unlocks the chip. And a randomized unique identification feature will lessen the risk that an e-passport holder could be tracked, the department said. 

To prevent alteration or modification of the data on the chip, and to allow authorities to validate and authenticate the data, the information on the chip will
include an electronic signature, said the State Department.

Women's volleyball team
seeking another sweep

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's world class women's volleyball team will be seeking the Copa Centroamericana in a tournament here that starts today.

The matches are being played in the Gimnasio Nacional in La Sabana. Costa Rica meets Honduras at 7:30 p.m. Other matches are between Panamá and El  Salvador at 3 p.m. and Guatemala and Nicaragua at 5 p.m. The matches go through Saturday.

Costa Rica is preparing for the world volleyball championship in Japan in October. The Tica squad has won the last 10 Central American cup championships. The team qualified for the world championship last August.

Costa Rica is aided by sisters Verania and Angela Willis, who played university-level volleyball in the United States for California Baptist.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 161

Legislators urging the Caribbean docks to compete
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five legislators paid a call on the administrator of the Caribbean docks Monday with the avowed goal of increasing competitivity.

The man in the middle is Walter Robinson, executive president of the Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica.

The port administration dodged a possible strike last week when union leaders agreed to end a slowdown. One of the union concerns is that the docks at Limón and Moín might be awarded in a concession to a private contractor.

Key to increasing the competitiveness is modernization, the lawmakers said.

So far, according to Robinson, a concession for the Caribbean port has only been discussed as an option. The government just awarded a 20-year concession for the Pacific docks at Caldera to two firms, and the workers there were not unhappy. They collected a
total of $30 million in severance from the government and many were rehired by the new concessionaires.

The Caldera concessionaires, Sociedad Portuaria Buenaventura and Brisas del Pacífico of Colombia and Logística de Granos y Comercializadora RyS of Costa Rica, have agreed to invest $35 million in new infrastructure during the first three years. In addition, the port will be working 24 hours a day.

Libertario lawmaker Ovidio Agüero Acuña was not troubled by the idea of a concession on the Caribbean. He coordinated the visit of the lawmakers to the docks. He said many of the workers would be contracted by a company that won a concession.

However, he added that lawmakers would support any plan that resulted in a speedy flow of cargo and efficient management.

The docks provide significant income to families in Limón and the vicinity, and lawmakers said that was a major concern. They promised to stay in contact with the port administrator.

Minister lobbies for loans with a testy legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The budget minister was on the spot in the Asamblea Legislative Monday as he tried to show lawmakers that the country could withstand more debt.

The minister, Guillermo Zúñiga, was promoting approval of three loans, one for education, one for developing competitiveness and the third to modernize his own ministry, Hacienda.

He spoke to the full assembly and explained that a committee of ministers sets a priority for each debt.
Zúñiga's ministry handled the money, and the questions were swift in coming.  Luis Barrantes of Movimiento Libertario wanted to know how the
minister justified new debt when the nation's annual budget year after year earmarks more than 50 percent just for debt service.

José Merino of Frente Amplio wanted to know why the country borrowed $170 million to fix highways in Guanacaste when the budget ministry had not yet turned over the money it owes the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad for gasoline tax. A certain percentage of tax is supposed to go to the road authority but the Pacheco administration found other uses for the cash and the Sala IV constitutional court ordered officials to follow the law.

The questions Monday were just Round One.  Zúñiga is back before the legislature today.

Lawmakers want to know about a new, developing agricuture scandal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new scandal caused a flurry at the Asamblea Legislativa Monday when lawmakers asked for an explanation of strange payments to the former Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

The payments were by the Organismo Internacional Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaria, and the group's representative was before the Comisión de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público. But the man, Jimmy Ruiz, responded that he only got the job in February and he knew little of what transpired before then.
The Contraloria General de la República has questioned a number of payments made to and by the former agriculture minister, and it appears that some $295,000 was spent as staff bonuses and expenses.

The health organization is in charge of fumigating vehicles as they cross the border into Costa Rica, and it charges for this service.

La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper, said Monday that one of those getting money was a brother of then-President Abel Pacheco. The brother got $30,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 161

Doing multiple chores can cause problems, study says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

It's a busy, fast moving world many of us live in, one that frequently requires us to "multi-task" -- perform several tasks simultaneously.  Some scientists say multi-tasking may not be good for our long-term memories.

A recent study reveals multi-tasking may hurt a person's memory.  Subjects in the study were required to predict the weather by following a set of simple clues, while also performing a second task involving listening to musical tones.

Test results showed that while the subjects' memories were fine during the multi-tasking, it appeared to be more difficult for them to retrieve the memories later on..

Researchers say distractions that occur during the learning process become entangled with what was learned, so that one might actually need the distraction in order to remember.  It's a form of learning called "habit learning."
Gerard Gioia, a researcher at Children's National Medical Center in Maryland says, "Habit learning is a more automatic kind of learning.  It's learning a routine, and some very specific aspects of information. It's something that happens, oftentimes, without our overall awareness."

Gioia says another common way people learn is through "declarative learning" - learning facts so that they may be easily recalled later on, such as during a test.  It's a different process from habit learning, which occurs in another part of the brain.

A separate study found that when people are distracted while they learn, for example, by the television, they were using the part of the brain associated with habit, rather than declarative learning. 

"Distraction is not a friend to retrieving multiple sets of information," he said.

Which could mean, if you really need to remember something important, turn off that TV.

Protests heating up in México as López Obrador followers confront police
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican riot police have fired tear gas to disperse protesters who massed outside Congress to demand a full recount in last month's disputed presidential election.

Officials say the tear gas was fired to end a brief clash Monday between police and supporters of leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The former México City mayor has alleged fraud in the election that he narrowly lost to his rival, conservative Felipe Calderón, and has called for all
the votes to be recounted.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal ordered a recount in 9 percent of the country's 130,000 polling places. The recount has been completed but the results have not been made public.

Sunday, López Obrador threatened more protests if electoral officials declare Calderón the winner. The court has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect.

The person named president will succeed Vicente Fox, who steps down in December after six years in office. By law, President Fox cannot seek a second term.

Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro are on video in hospital encounter
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban state television has aired the first video of President Fidel Castro since he temporarily handed power to his brother, Raúl, to recover from intestinal surgery.

Broadcast Monday, the video showed a bed-ridden Fidel Castro, dressed in red, celebrating his 80th birthday Sunday with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Hours earlier, Cuba's state-run newspaper, Granma, published photographs of the visit. One of the images
showed Chavez and Raúl Castro standing at the Cuban leader's bedside, next to a large portrait of him on an easel.

Sunday, the Communist Youth newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, printed the first images of the Cuban leader since he announced his surgery. Meanwhile, Iran's state news agency says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke by telephone with Raúl Castro to discuss a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana next month.

It also said the Iranian leader wished Fidel Castro a speedy recovery.

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