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(506) 2223-1327              Published Friday, Sept. 11, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 180              E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Lawmakers vote to delay traffic law's effective date
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature voted Thursday night to delay for six months the effective date of higher fines found in the new traffic law. The vote was the first, and a second and final vote is planned for Monday.

The legislative action also seeks to correct misnumbered sections of the traffic law passed in December. It also seeks to eliminate an increase the cost of obligatory insurance of vehicles.

The vote was 37 to 4.

Certain provisions of the new law already have gone into effect. These include harsher penalties for drunk driving and one against drag racing.   Grettel Ortiz of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said these measures have been effective and have reduced driving violations.

Lawmakers were racing against the calendar because the entire traffic law was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 23. If the bill passes Monday, and President Óscar Arias Sánchez signs it, there is a good chance that the bill will be published and
become law before Sept. 23.

There is a complication. The transport ministry has authored a decree that makes mandatory certain provisions that exist in the traffic law. These require motorists to carry a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and other safety items in the vehicle. The decree also stipulated the use of child car seats.  So far Arias has not signed the decree. Even if he does, motorists will have a month to purchase the appropriate items.

Then there is always the possibility that someone will challenge in court the contradictory aspects of a legislative law and one issued by decree.

One of the lawmakers who voted against the delay was  Mario Quirós of Movimiento Libertario. He said he doubted that his colleagues would really make changes in the traffic law.

Some have said that the lawmakers were only acting out of political self-interest because the new provisions would not go into effect until after the presidential and legislative elections Feb. 7. The current legislature will be out of office by May.

Biden's brother involved in Guanacaste golf project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Developers of the Guanacaste Country Club said that construction would begin in December for a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The announcement came from  Craig Williamson, a principal in ERA Real Estate in Latin America, and Frank Biden, the brother of the current U.S. vice president. They said that the golf course, when it is finished, will host a Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf

Biden is a fund-raiser with a religious group that does social work in Latin America. He also said he is a friend of  Nicklaus' son Steve.

The Guanacaste Country Club is a 2,500-acre development which focuses on sustainable development technology and social responsibility, according to the two developers. Williamson is chairman of the Green Building Council of Costa Rica. He and Biden were last in the news two weeks ago when they said they were seeking to use the Green Building Council chapters to promote sustainable building practices and socially sensitive development in Latin American countries.

The project location is west of Liberia and the international airport there. It is inland from the Gulf of Papagayo. Developers say the trip by vehicle is just 15 minutes.

Said Biden: “Part of my regular work week involves visiting Nicklaus headquarters in Florida. I am a personal friend and business associate of Jack’s son Steve who, along with all his brothers, is a partner in the family business. I know the pride they take in their work and the responsibility they feel toward their dad and the family. I know  

how proud they are of our commitment to the environment and the local community in Costa Rica. Helping us make this project something spectacular is a matter of pride for the whole team. It may sound old-fashioned, but it is the only way I want to do business.”

In a statement, Biden identified himself as president of Cygnus International LLC. He also is a major fundraiser for Hands in Hands Ministry in Louisville Kentucky. In November he was in Belize where Hands in Hands hopes to apply U.S. AIDS funds to the epidemic there. The charity also provides pediatric aids relief, building homes and providing scholarships for the poorest of the poor, Biden said.

"There is also a great and growing demand for sustainable homes as environmental awareness and energy prices rise" Williamson said in the release. "We are filling that demand by using the latest technology and techniques to create an eco-friendly community in this slice of paradise. Sustainability is the natural and only future option in society, and consumers and investors alike are coming to that realization. I've always held that doing well without doing good is an aimless pursuit, so I want to do whatever we can to move society in this direction sooner rather than later."

The project is in the pre-sale stage now, said the release. Also planned are tennis courts, swimming pools, a children's play park, fitness center and a restaurant and lounge with an outdoor patio.

The enviornmental arm of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones approved the project April 20, according to a resolution posted on the project's Web site.

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Torch will pass through city
around 6 p.m. Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The independence day holiday begins Monday when the torch of liberty passes through San José and ends up in Cartago.

The Parque Central will be the site of a downtown ceremony. The torch of liberty or antorcha is scheduled to arrive in the hands of runners about 6 p.m. That's the time when those gathered will sing the Himno Nacional. As the torch leaves for Cartago carried by youthful runners, the municipality is putting on a musical show at 7 p.m. A major ceremony is planned for Cartago with government officials.

The Municipalidad de San José also plans a 9 a.m. ceremony Tuesday on the south side of Parque Central where central government officials also will meet to extoll liberty. Tuesday is a legal holiday although a lot of individuals and government workers are using vacation time to make the weekend a four-day one.

Friday is Sept. 11, the anniversary of attacks with hijacked planes by mostly Saudi nationals. It is the eighth anniversary.

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observe moment of silence to mark the day at 8:46 a.m. EDT (12:46 GMT). the moment when the first jet hit the first World Trade Tower.

Ceremonies were held in many places, as well as at the sites in New York, Washington and in the eastern state of Pennsylvania where nearly 3,000 perished in the attacks.  There was no official public ceremony in Costa Rica.

In New York City, Americans gathered for a solemn ceremony to remember those killed in the terrorist attacks on the twin towers. Under a steady cold rain, family members read the names of victims at the place known as ground zero, where the two World Trade Center towers once stood.

Holding photos of their loves ones, some cried. Others tossed roses into a pool of water at the site where a permanent memorial will stand. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "While there is pain in remembering the loss, there is sweetness in remembering their lives."

Nearly 3,000 people from more than 90 countries were killed after a group of 19 terrorists hijacked the planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon near Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

In Washington, President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama led the nation in a moment of silence at the White House on the minute (8:46 a.m. EDT/1246 GMT) the first jet struck the World Trade Center eight years before.

Later at the Pentagon, Obama consoled some of the family members of the 184 people killed there.

"Let us renew the true spirit of that day. Not the human capacity for evil but the human capacity for good - not the desire to destroy but the impulse to save and to serve and to build," Obama said.

People gathered in the countryside near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed, killing 40 people aboard. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke of the passengers who fought hijackers, forcing the plane down here, possibly sparing the White House or U.S. Capitol.

Caribbean tourism reported
to be off about 7.3 percent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. tourism to the Caribbean has declined 7.3 percent for the first six months of 2009 when compared to 2008, said Carib World News in its edition today.

The internet newspaper said that it compiled the statistics based on air travelers. There were 2.8 million tourists during the first six months of this year, it said. However, the numbers are showing a rising trend, it added.

Over all U.S. foreign travel dropped about 5 percent, the newspaper said.

Decision on major candidates
riles those in minor parties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones is getting heat from minor political parties because it ruled this week that media outlets do not have to invite every candidate for presidential debates.

Debates usually are put on by the various television stations. The stations wanted the right to invite just the leading candidates.

Some left-wing outlets are calling this an attack on democracy because their candidates probably will not be invited.  They argue that because the airwaves belong to the people, television stations that use the air waves are obligated to host everyone who seeks the position.

Schools should foster
business, speaker says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

School curriculums should include training on how to start a business, said the president of a business development organization.

He is Marcelo Lebndiker Fainspein, president of the  Asociación de Incubadoras Parque TEC, and he was appearing before the Comisión Especial de Ciencia y Tecnología of the legislature Thursday. He was testifying for a bill that would give Parque TEC more official standing.

He noted that it is now a non-governmental organization that has received funding from the central Government.

Parque TEC is in Los Yoses and is involved in the creation of new software and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit. Young companies find a home there and are rewarded with having certain expenses covered, like utilities, and in having access to persons who know about business and marketing.

Defensoría seeks cut
in proposed water increase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Defensoría de los Habitantes has raised a health issue against an increase of some 24 percent in water rates.
The agency appeared before the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos and said that the higher rate would discourage hand-washing to avoid swine flu, particularly among poorer individuals.

The rate hike is due to go into effect in November. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados has proposed the increase. The water company sought to justify the rate hike with data on rising costs, but the Defensoría said the data was not adequate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 180

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Some lawmakers may push for a referendum on word God
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some lawmakers are moving toward a referendum to eliminate references to God and the Roman Catholic Church from the country's Constitution.

Article 75 of the Constitution specifies that the Roman Catholic Church is the religion of the state. In fact, the government provides funding for the church each year. Naturally, the church officials want to keep this status.

The word God only shows up three times in the Constitution. It is in the preamble and twice in a section that specified the oath that officer holders must take.

Removing the words is much more significant than just a rewrite. Some lawmakers proposed the idea a week ago and sought to separate the state from religion. Some lawmakers signed a proposal to this effect and said they realized the country was becoming more diverse in religious beliefs.

Thursday a countermovement took place in the legislature. One lawmakers, Jorge Eduardo Sánchez, said that the mere reference to God in the Constitution was broad enough to accommodate most personal beliefs. He warned against going to extremes as other countries have done.

Lawmaker  Oscar Núñez said that eliminating the word God would be contrary to the opinion of most Costa Ricans.

"I believe that today Costa Rica needs God more, today the citizens, the politicians, the workers, all who live in this country each day need God, and it appears to me totally incorrect to eliminate the work," said  Francisco Molina
With enough votes, lawmakers can call a referendum, although most likely the issue will die as elections approach.

Here are the references to God and religion in the Costa Rican Constitution in a translation provided by the U.S. Embassy:

PREAMBLE: We, the Representatives of the people of Costa Rica, freely elected members to the National Constitutional Assembly, invoking the name of God and reaffirming our faith in democracy, decree and enact the following.

ARTICLE 75. The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the State, which contributes to its maintenance, without preventing the free exercise in the Republic of other forms of worship that are not opposed to universal morality or good customs.

ARTICLE 194. The oath that must be taken by public officials as provided in Article 11 of this Constitution is as follows:  Do you swear before God and promise the Country to observe and defend the Constitution and the laws of the Republic and faithfully fulfill the duties of your office?

Yes, I swear.

If you do, may God help you, and if you do not, may He and the Country call you to account."

One crook's junk is a treasure to local public agencies
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The building that houses the judicial police looks a bit like a junk yard because officials are trying to emphasize the damage being done by crooks who steal metal.

The displays range from copper telephone and electrical wire, to water meters to manhole covers. Each is a hot item for metal crooks, frequently drug addicts.

The displays will continue through 4 p.m. today in the Judicial Investigating Organization building in the court complex downtown.

In addition to showing off potential loot, judicial officials
held a meeting with junkyard operators. Without the place to sell the goods. most crooks would find some other target.

 Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, said his company loses 7 billion colons in  materials to organized bands each year. That's about $12 million, and the cost of replacement probably is much higher.

The Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz and the Ministerioo de Obras Públicas y Transportes all had their own stories. The water company frequently loses brass water meters that may fetch up to 2,000 colons at a junk yard. That's just about $3.45 for an item worth new many times that amount.

Fixing something with the hands carries its own reward
When I had been in Costa Rica just a few years, I got a part in a radio novela that intended to teach English to school children in the hinterlands.

One day, German, the director of the series, told me a little about his life.  There were 15 children in his family living in a house with no more than two or three bedrooms.  The family was so poor that he had to wait each day until his brother came home from morning classes at school. Then he would put on the one pair of shoes between them and of he’d go to the afternoon session. Both he and his brother became successful in their fields, he as a director/producer, his brother as a plumber.  They both left Costa Rica for California.

Here, German laughed. “I was trying to make it in Hollywood,” he said.  “And my brother, the plumber, made three times what I was making and met more movie stars and visited their more of their homes than I ever did.”  But you have to do what you love.

My point is not to say that plumbers make more money than people in the arts do. Both professions are rewarding, and I strongly believe you should do what you love.

Over the years that is not where the encouragement has been if a young person happens to love working with his or her hands. Making and fixing things was probably first demeaned, with the assembly line.  Then in the 1990s, with the Internet bubble, more and more schoolrooms where shop classes were held were being dismantled to make room for computers.  (Home economics probably suffered the same demise.) Both taught the practical uses of mathematics.

Young people in many countries have been encouraged to get college degrees and become “knowledge workers” in the business and computer worlds. Working with your hands — making things and fixing things — is less and less appreciated . . .  until you needed a good plumber or electrician or wanted to find a good restaurant.   But still it’s been assumed that the person who does this sort of work can’t  achieve work requiring their intellect. 

Now there is a book that challenges this thinking.  Matthew Crawford, who has a doctorate in political philosophy and also has a motorcycle repair shop, has the credentials and experience to talk about both worlds.  He does so in his book, "Shop Class as Soulcraft." In his interview on the Newshour he said much of the  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

preceeding and that hands-on work involves both mental and physical challenges. He talked about the psychic rewards that come from creating something that is useful or beautiful or fixing something that is broken (or making a new one).

I believe that high schools should have two tracks for students, one for those who love the material trades and another for those who wish to teach or practice law or medicine, etc. Although I strongly believe in a college education, like my friend Ellen, I also believe that it is its own reward and not just a step towards a white collar job, not if you want to do something else. 

Crawford’s book is timely because of the recession and the fact that material trades like building, making and fixing things, cannot be outsourced.  It seems the perfect time for shop talents to replace shopping. 

I am happy to say that repair shops of all kinds still exist in Costa Rica.  Somewhere there is someone who can make or fix just about anything you have.  Well, almost anything. 

My friend, James, who has fixed so many things for me, and is a persistent searcher of how to make something work, met his Waterloo in a camera he had.  It simply stopped functioning. The light was out and the screen said “error.” After trying for days to fix it, he took the camera to a repair shop, but they couldn’t make it work..  He then took it to Canada with him where the brand was carried. No luck. After buying a new one — and one for his sister — in disgust, he threw the useless camera on the floor. It is the last resort of people who fix things, but in this case, it worked. 

When James picked up the cursed camera, the light was on and all signs were go. Now James can discover all the possibilities of his two brand new digital cameras — his sister preferred the one fixed by the floor.
I am not quite sure what the moral of this column is except that sometimes a little administrative adjustment works.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 180

Two more Fuerza Pública officers held in trafficking probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four more persons came into law enforcement hands Thursday in the widening investigation of police corruption. Two of those arrested were Fuerza Públicas officers, and one of those was the chief in Santa Cecelia de La Cruz near the Nicaraguan border.

Two other person were held as suspects in the movement of massive amounts of cocaine from Panamá to Nicaragua and the transportation of cash from Nicaragua to Panamá.

The police were identified by the last names of  Corea Velásquez  and Barrantes Gómez, the last being the chief, according to the security minister, Janina del Vecchio.

The police were detailed to keep narcotraffickers alerted to other police activity and to make sure the way was clear for moving drugs, according to the Judicial investigating Organization.

Ms. del Vecchio said that police corruption has been going
 on for years and she is the person ready to clean up the mess.

The police in the northwestern part of the country came into the view of investigators when they found a vehicle near Sixaola last June carrying nearly $400,000 in cash. Documents in the vehicle implicated Corea, said investigators.

Corea also like to live well, despite a police salary of less than $1,000 a month. He had purchased new vehicles, bought a ranch in Nicaragua and had a six-figure dollar bank account.

Other policemen have been detained recently, including 10 who work downtown. One was the regional chief. They were accused to taking money from crooks in exchange for allowing them to commit crimes. Some 50 more are being investigated.

Fuerza Pública officers also are suspects in the robbery of 320 kilos of cocaine form the Golfito prosecutor's office.

Tribunal puts insurance refunds on ice for further study

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has stepped in again to freeze a refund from a public agency.

This time the agency is the Instituto Nacional de Seguros which has been ordered to refund money to holders of riesgo de trabajo or workmen's compensation policies.

The Tribunal Procesal Contencioso Administrativo ordered a halt to any refunds while it considers the case.  The
refund order came from the Superintendencia de Pensiones that now has authority over public and any private insurance companies. The Superintendencia said that the Instituto was collecting 4 percent from each customers for
the benefit of firemen. But according to the law, the Superintendencia said, it is the company an not the customer that has to pay the amount.

The refund is estimated to be 1.5 billion colons or about $2.5 million for nearly 59,000 policyholders, said the Superintendencia.

The tribunal got involved with the refund ordered by the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos for electric customers. That refund was frozen for a time, too.

The  Tribunal Procesal Contencioso Administrativo is set up specifically to make sure that government agencies work within the law.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 180

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Guatemala faces food crises
in face of lengthy drought

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Urgent funding is needed to help combat an acute hunger crisis that is ravaging much of Guatemala, the United Nations World Food Programme has warned.

The agency cautioned that money only exists to provide food aid to some tens of thousands of families in Guatemala until the end of September, including the provision of a fortified food to 100,000 children under the age of 3 and 50,000 pregnant-lactating women.

More than 90 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition were admitted to the national hospital of Jalapa in August, a numer three times higher than the same month last year. Out of the 117 children rushed to the hospital between January and July, 17 have died, the Programme noted in a situation report.

In its immediate response to the food crisis in Guatemala’s so-called “dry corridor,” the Programme has committed 20 tons of high energy biscuits and 200 tons of other food supplies, including corn soy blended food, black beans and corn to complement government rations assisting 75,000 families living in the most affected areas.

The Programme will also expand a food-for-work scheme to support another 93,000 families affected by damage to the upcoming harvest and who will need assistance for around six months.

The government has also made $7.5 million available to complete the first phase of its national contingency plan while calling on donors to respond to the crisis, according to the Programme.

However, food shortages are likely to worsen, with a 60 to 80 per cent loss of crops expected in the upcoming harvest in some of Guatemala’s provinces, which would put even more households at very high risk of becoming food insecure. Thie problem is lack of rain.

The Programme noted that the annual food shortages caused by droughts in the six provinces of the “dry corridor” – Jutiapa, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Baja Verapaz – has been intensified by previous crop losses, low food stocks, combined with declining remittances, exports, tourism and foreign investment and rising unemployment due to the global recession.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced Thursday that the country team plans to issue a flash appeal in the coming days to respond to the current humanitarian crisis in the Central American country.

Chávez cultivate Russia
by recognizing Ossetia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries. Venezuela is now the only other country to recognize their independence along with Russia and Nicaragua.

Chavez told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow Thursday that he will soon establish diplomatic relations with the two Georgian regions.

Georgia's foreign ministry condemned Venezuela's move as a highly unfriendly step and a flagrant violation of international law. But it says it believes a new democratically-elected Venezuelan government will overturn the decision.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman called Venezuela's recognition unfortunate. He repeated U.S. support for Georgia's territorial integrity and noted that most other countries hold the same view.

President Medvedev also announced that Russia will sell Venezuela tanks and whatever weapons it asks for.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 180

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When water temperature
rises new algae takes over

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A rare opportunity has allowed a team of scientists to evaluate corals and the essential, photosynthetic algae that live inside their cells before, during, and after a period in 2005 when global warming caused sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean to rise.

The team, led by Penn State biologist Todd LaJeunesse, found that a rare species of algae that's tolerant of stressful environmental conditions proliferated in corals at a time when more sensitive algae that usually dwell within the corals were being expelled.

The results was published in the online version of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Wednesday.

Certain species of algae have evolved over millions of years to live in symbiotic relationships with species of corals. These photosynthetic algae provide the corals with nutrients and energy, while the corals provide the algae with a place to live.

"There is a fine balance between giving and taking in these symbiotic relationships," said LaJeunesse.

Symbiodinium trenchi is normally a rare species of algae in the Caribbean, according to LaJeunesse. "Because the species is apparently tolerant of high or fluctuating temperatures, it was able to take advantage of a 2005 warming event and become more prolific."

Symbiodinium trenchi appears to have saved certain colonies of coral from the damaging effects of unusually warm water.

In 2005, sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean rose by up to two degrees Celsius above normal for a period of three to four months, high enough and long enough to severely stress corals.

The process of damaged or dying algae being expelled from the cells of corals is known as bleaching because it leaves behind bone-white coral skeletons that soon will die without their symbiotic partners.

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