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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 161         E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Flower vendor has set up temporary shop near the entrance to the Desamparados cemetery
mother's day flowers
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Today is a holiday of the heart if not of the public calendar
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If today feels like a holiday it is because it is one in the hearts of Costa Ricans: El Día de la Madre.

Politicians may have moved the public observance to Monday to create a three-day weekend, but last year and this year the public shows its rejection of this idea.

Aug. 15 has been, is and forever shall be Mother's Day in Costa Rica, and lawmakers are hurrying to
void the idea of a three-day weekend in time for the 2008 holiday.

Men may run the country and industry, but the Costa Rican family is a matriarchy, and no child would dare overlook this day. Stores have been busy presenting appropriate presents to the public. A night out at a fancy restaurant is traditional.

Those unlucky enough to have a mother to visit in the local cemetery will find flower vendors operating temporary stands there.

Raid targets sidewalk sale of animals around Escazu's Multiplaza
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Animal health workers have raided the sidewalk sale of animals near Multiplaza in Escazú. Seven animals, including a tiny black puppy not more than a month to a month and a half old, were confiscated.

The raid by the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal was conducted in conjunction with the  Municipalidad de Escazú, the Fuerza Pública and Asociación Nacional Protectora de Animales.

The area around the shopping center and at a nearby intersection have been gathering places for persons selling animals. Some are professionals who run what are known as puppy mills.

The animal health service said that the raid was to protect the health of animals as well as humans.
One of the seven animals confiscated was suffering from severe diarrhea, said officials. The other was suffering from an open wound where the tail had been docked, said the service.

Although the other five animals appeared to be in good condition, there always is the danger of the contagious parvo virus which can be passed to healthy animals by contact. It is unlikely that the animals had been vaccinated or freed of parasites, said the service.

The service said that the animal protection association would take care of the animals for 15 days and then place them for adoption with a non-profit institution.

The animal health service conducts periodic raids of such animal sales, particularly when there are complaints.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 161

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Bellavista gold mine faces
indefinite closure, owner says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Glencairn Gold Corp. said Tuesday that its Bellavista Mine near Puntarenas may remain closed indefinitely if company experts cannot find a solution to a ground movement problem.

The Canadian company also raised concern that it might not be able to obtain an appropriate permit to fix the problems.

The information was contained in the quarterly financial report issued by the Toronto-based firm.

The company said July 25 that mining operations had been suspended at Bellavisa because the ground was moving under the leach pad and waste pile. The company runs an open pit operation, and the crushed rock is stacked up and treated with chemicals to leach out the gold. Movement was blamed on water in the soil.

The company said that the ground was moving under the leach pad about a centimeter a day. That's about .4 of an inch. The company said it feared that continued earth movement could damage the sub-liner, liner and drainage system under the leach pad. Because the firm uses cyanide to leach out the gold, rips in the liners could release that deadly chemical into the environment.

The company already is taking hits in news releases sent out by environmental organizations which have opposed the mine from its start.

The problem began as the company was beginning to cash in on its preparation costs. Gold sales in the second quarter increased to 21,490 ounces compared to 20,137 ounces in the corresponding period of 2006, the company said. Its income was helped by an increase in the price of gold.

Net income for all of the company's operations was $3.3 million, or $0.01 per share in the latest period, compared to $2.1 million or $0.01 per share in the corresponding period of 2006, it added.

The Bellavista Mine produced 8,374 ounces of gold in the second quarter compared to 11,178 ounces of gold produced in the second quarter of 2006, said the company. During the most recent quarter, the mine also experienced production disruptions as a result of an obstructed collection tube system under the heap leach pad and heavier than normal rainfalls, it said, adding:

This obstruction was unrelated to the ground movement. As a result, lower tonnage of ore was crushed and stacked during the quarter. These events reduced gold production and increased costs.

The mine is located in Montes de Oro near the town of Miramar east of Puntarenas. Mining operations started in April 2005.

Our reader's opinion
Country throwing off remains
of 20th century socialism

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Commenting on Mr. Mark Mobley's comments regarding real estate taxes and insurance, and the seemingly nonsensical approach to these things in Costa Rica, we must not lose sight of what is happening with the country as part of the explanation. 
Costa Rica is finally wiggling its way out of the socialist bonds it wrapped itself in when the 2nd Republic came into being after the '48 revolution. All activities of national importance were nationalized: banks, insurance, telecommunications, electricity generation, fuel imports and distribution, ports, and even guaro production. The coffee, banana and beef businesses were the exceptions, for they were what gave Costa Rica the little wealth it had in those days, and to put those under government (mis)management was not a wise move. Even the mind of the well intentioned socialists was smart enough to recognize that: No wealth, no money to fund socialist programs.

The proposed tax on luxury homes emerges from the social conscious and political astuteness of certain Costa Rican leaders as a morally acceptable solution to provide some of the "less fortunate" Costa Ricans with decent housing. There is just not enough money in the government's kitty to make ends meet now, much less undertake a costly social housing program, so "let's tax the rich."

This is a formula that can work, has worked, but as Mr. Mobley correctly points out, they have to be careful or "squeezing too much" becomes counterproductive. I believe President Arias is wise enough to recognize that, so the tax may not be as onerous feared. Will there be confusion on how to make appraisals, and will the collection process be haphazard?

Of course it will, but that's the way inefficient governments operate. But something will be collected, and some housing will be built, and Costa Rica's social conscious will be eased — for awhile — and those with luxury homes won't really feel a pinch and will be glad they own such a nice home with such little taxes, not like Long Island, New York or London.

The national insurance company, INS, has no social conscious whatsoever, nor common sense from a user's point of view, and that is not surprising. As are all government monopolies, the INS became infected by personal interests.

Using the "cover of darkness" of a monopoly, it became the 'privilege pot' for top management all the way down to the lowest union worker. And to keep INS's pot full requires getting as much money as it can from the only source it has: we, the captive insurance buyers. So don't count on getting a lower rate because you are a safe driver.

Why should INS give you a lower rate? You aren't switching to another insurance company any time soon. Doesn't that make sense?

As I said, Costa Rica is wiggling its way out of the inefficiency of socialist bonds, and with the ratification of the CAFTA agreement — The odds given in Las Vegas says it will — you will have some choices where to get your cell phone, Internet and insurance needs satisfied.

If a Saudi Arabian prince says he is putting more into the country, maybe he sees something in the future we don't. After all he ain't no dummy. Most billionaires aren't. So maybe a little more patience is called for.

Robert Nahrgang S.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 161

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Lies, damn lies and tall tales about the free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If telling fibs makes the nose grow, as it did for Pinocchio, some opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States must be having trouble driving their cars.

Even a disinterested observer would conclude that some tall tales have been advanced as reasons to reject the free trade treaty with the United States. Although the treaty could be flawed and may not even be right for Costa Rica, the campaign is being marred by exaggerations and distortions.

North American companies will take all the water, opponents say repeatedly. Weapons plants will be constructed on the Nicoya Peninsula, says others. And U.S. taxi companies are coming to drive local operators out of business, according to another. Each of these claims is refuted easily with a little research, but the tales repeatedly reappear.

One reason for the fables is that arguing the trade treaty on its merits or lack thereof would be very boring and unlikely to stir passions in Costa Rican voters. They will go to the polls Oct. 7 to decide the fate of the treaty.

The proliferation of flights of fancy and outright falsehoods is why President Óscar Arias Sánchez asked Costa Ricans Tuesday to ignore lies that are being spread about the treaty by opponents.

"I would not tell you that we should approve the TLC in the Oct. 7 referendum if I were not totally convinced that it will favor the people of Costa Rica," said Arias using the initials of the Spanish words for the treaty.

"It is not true that the farmer is going to be harmed. It is not true that the Isla del Coco is going to be carried away. It is not true that we are going to sell INS, ICE and that we are going to end public education and health and that the CCSS will not be able to buy generic medicines," said Arias using the alphabetic terms for the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the Caja Costarricence de Seguro Social. He was responding to a question from a student at the Escuela Centroamericana de Ganadería near Atenas.

To have a president call political opponents liars is unusual. But it is clear that trade treaty opponents are waging an emotional campaign, sometimes in conjunction with Spanish-language daily newspapers. La Nación has

been criticized for being pro-treaty, but El Diario Extra has published wild claims by treaty opponents without even making the most basic journalistic checks.

Even the prestigious Associated Press was duped by treaty opponents, and a reporter wrote from México City that Costa Rican farmers oppose the treaty. Some farmers, like those who grow rice, do, but other farmers, mostly
those who expect increased exports of their products, strongly back the agreement.

Ricardo Sancho, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, had to go to Diario Extra and answer reporters questions for the Tuesday edition in order to show that water was outside the topics in the treaty and that privatization of water sources was contrary to the Costa Rican Constitution. Opponents had said water was threatened by international interests.

Some opponents like Ottón Solís are very clear in stating why they oppose the treaty. Their arguments are highly technical. It is on the Internet, in uncritical newspaper articles and in union meetings and private discussions that a skewed understanding of the treaty is being promoted to capture the public vote. In addition, the hand of the Cuban government can been seen in distributing false information via its Prensa Latina news service. Defeating the treaty is a priority for Havana.

Chinese delegation will visit Tuesday with goals of diplomacy and commerce
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chinese diplomats and merchants are coming to Costa Rica for a six-day visit beginning Tuesday.  This is the first delegation from the People's Republic and takes place because Costa Rica dropped its recognition of Taiwan in favor of mainland China June 1.

The visit will include forums and seminars on commerce and investments here as well as an exposition of commercial products from China.

With the delegation will be Wang Xiaoyuan, the Chinese ambassador to Costa Rica. The delegation will be headed
by He Yafei, a ranking minister in the nation's foreign ministry.  Aug. 23 the delegation will participate in inaugurating the new embassy of the People's Republic here.

Meanwhile, Costa Rican executive branch officials said that some $50 million will be included for municipalities in the national budget for 2008 with the understanding that the People's Republic will donate that amount.

The country lost donations when it cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and officials expect that mainland china will make up the difference. and then some. Some of that will be agreed to formally when the delegation visits here next week.

Time to put six candles on the A.M. Costa Rica cake
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

It's happy birthday to us again. With this edition, A.M. Costa Rica marks six years of continuous publication.

We are happy to report business is looking up, and there is a very high probability that your free morning news report will continue and even get better. That is our goal.

The newspaper has witnessed many changes. The paper was founded just a few weeks before the horrific terrorist attacks in the United States. That was a body blow to Costa Rica, its tourism and exports. Little more than a year later Luis Enrique Villalobos closed up his  high-interest operation, a business that has been declared a ponzi scheme by judges who recently convicted his brother for fraud.

The collapse of the Villalobos empire changed forever the U.S. citizen economy here. The collapse ruined lives, 
health, marriages and any number of other business and personal relationships. Only later did we learn how deeply the financial tragedy cut.

A.M. Costa Rica was the continual target for our even-handed treatment of Villalobos. But many of those souls have left to be replaced by U.S. citizens who came here for more than to collect a monthly cash envelope.

Now we're are on the verge of a flood of retirees from the United States, Canada and western European countries.

In just six short years, the face of the Central Pacific and Guanacaste changed dramatically and, some say, not for the best. The challenge for the future is quality development.

We hope to continue to bring our readers the daily information that is necessary for making informed decisions, and  hope to continue to be an economic engine for those who recognize the value of advertising with us.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 161

Cuba lumbers on with just promises of change under Raúl
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Acting Cuban President Raúl Castro is promising to introduce changes on the island a year after taking power. Castro's older brother, Fidel, who turned 81 Monday, has not appeared in public since having emergency surgery in 2006.

Raúl Castro is beginning to put his own stamp on Cuba's communist government. But his pledges to implement economic reforms and improve relations with the United States fall short of the dramatic political changes predicted by many Cuban exiles in Florida 12 months ago.

Many Cuban exiles in Miami hoped that when Fidel Castro was hospitalized at the end of July 2006, just before turning 80, he would not live to celebrate his 81st birthday.

"Please don't turn 81. That's what I would wish. Don't turn 81. 80 is the last one, OK?" said a Miami resident.

But pictures showing an improving Castro, and regular essays attributed to the Communist leader continue to appear in Cuba's state newspaper.

Raúl Castro took the ailing leader's place at the most recent national revolution day celebrations — the first time Fidel Castro has missed the event in 48 years.

But Jamie Suchliki from the University of Miami says Raúl Castro's speech indicates the Communist Party maintains a strong grip on power. "People are afraid of him. The military is totally loyal to him. The party apparatus he controls. So he has the levers of power and the ministry of interior and the security. So I think he can keep the pieces together for an indefinite period."

In Cuba, day-to-day life remains unchanged, despite predictions that Fidel Castro's illness would prompt an uprising against Communist rule.

Raúl Castro is even outlining his own long-term agenda,
including Chinese-style economic reforms, particularly in agriculture. He admits that food shortages and low wages mean Cubans often struggle to get by. Cuban government statistics show that approximately 60 percent of farms are state-run, but nearly 80 percent of Cuban-produced food comes from private growers.

Paolo Spadoni from Florida's Rollins College says Raúl Castro has pledged to attract foreign investment and implement "structural and conceptual changes" to fix the problem.

"Raúl Castro will probably introduce some limited and gradual market reforms,” he says. “So I do see some changes, but I don't see a complete and sudden change of the system".

While showing a willingness to consider economic reform, Raúl Castro has a reputation as a political hard-liner.

But Spadoni says he has allowed limited dissent in Cuban politics since taking the helm. "A bit more space for political debate — debating the system, the legalities, the corruption, the shortcomings of the system. There has been a bit more of that and some Cuban academics have been quoted in newspapers providing some sort of criticism of the system. This is something new."

Raúl Castro has also made overtures towards the United States, even calling for talks with the U.S. once President George Bush leaves office.

Fidel and Raul's sister, Juanita Castro, lives in Miami. She believes reforms may happen even without a change in government in Havana. "Right now, Raúl is the only thing that we can have at this moment. Perhaps he can produce the changes that the Cuban people need, that our country needs, in order to live in the future in democracy".

With little sign Raul Castro is willing to hold democratic elections, Cuban exiles seem resigned to the fact that a transition to democracy may be many years away.

U.S. judge delays decision on what will happen to Panama's Manuel Noriega
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. judge has delayed a ruling until later this month on whether former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega should be extradited to France to face trial.

The judge, William Hoeveler, said in court Monday in Miami, Florida that he will announce a decision Aug. 24 on Noriega's bid to be sent to Panamá.  Noriega appeared during the hearing wearing a military uniform.

Noriega's lawyer, Jon May, urged the court not to extradite his client to France.  The lawyer said that under the Geneva Conventions, Noriega's prisoner-of-war status entitles him to be returned to Panamá rather than another country.
U.S. prosecutors are pushing for Noriega's extradition to France, where he was convicted in absentia in 1999 on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  He faces a 10-year sentence and a multi-million-dollar fine.
A separate hearing on France's extradition request is set for Aug. 28.

Noriega, now 72 years old, is due for release from a Florida prison Sept. 9.  He was convicted 15 years ago in the United States on drug trafficking and racketeering charges.

Noriega also faces legal challenges in Panamá, where he was convicted in absentia for the 1985 murder of dissident leader Hugo Spadafora.  Panamanian authorities say the former dictator will be imprisoned if he returns home.

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