Telethon exceeds expectations with 1.2 billion

eletón Costa Rica raised 1.2 billion colons and exceeded its goal this weekend, in part due to a donation of 500 million from Banco Nacional, the organizers said. In dollars, the amount raised is about $2.2 million.

About 50 percent of the money will go to the Nacional de Niños, the Maternidad Carit, both San José, and the Hospital de Quepos. The other 50 percent has been designated for hurricane relief.

The televised event featured participation by a number of entertainers. It was held in Hatillo and organized by the Club Activo 20-30.

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A garden should smell like a garden

Everyone wants a garden that smells good. When you step outside in the morning or open your windows to let in the cool evening breeze, you want that breeze to be scented with flowers. What to plant? The first thing I would like to suggest is butterfly white ginger, Hedychium coronarium.

Now, why is that the first thing that comes to mind? Butterfly white ginger has a lot of things to recommend it. The plant blooms multiple times during the year, and since the flowers unfold a few at a time, the blooming season can last torleyheader020816for weeks, the plant is prolific, so prolific you should take care to contain it as it can become invasive. But my favorite reason, other than scent, is that the leaf cutter ants left it completely alone. For me, that is a real plus factor.

Want something larger? May I suggest the ylang-ylang tree as its blooms are an ingredient in Chanel #5 perfume. The tree can get quite large, so plant where it has plenty of space to grow. After four years, my tree already tops 7 meters. Sadly, the ylang-ylang will be attacked by leaf cutter ants so take precautions.

Roses are always a good bet for fragrance (even though those pesky ants love them), so there is no reason to give up your love of roses simply because you live in the tropics. A trellis of roses near a door may be easier to protect simply because you see it every day and will notice that the ants are attacking. Find the nest and deal with them quickly.

The jasmines and the gardenias make a wonderful addition to any garden and will perfume the air day and night. Grow the jasmines as vines or shrubs, remembering that not everything called a jasmine is a jasmine. Arabian jasmine, for example, is from the family Jasminum, while Confederate jasmine, or star jasmine, is from the family Trachelospermum. Either way, the fragrance is wonderful. Gardenias are all from the family, Gardenia, and all have a wonderful fragrance. The biggest problem with both the gardenia and the jasmine is the leaf cutter ants, so again, plant them near the door so you can inspect them daily.

The last of my suggestions for fragrance would be the angel trumpet from the family Brugmansia. Easy to propagate, this shrub/small tree will reach a height of 6 meters (about 20 feet) but is easily pruned. Sadly it is also a favorite of leaf cutter ants when young although mature shrub tends to collect less damage.  Angel trumpets are most fragrant at night to attract pollinators, so leave the windows open to be engulfed in scent.

There are many more fragrant plants here in the tropics, so, if you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned here, please let me know.

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Contract to be signed this week for Costa Rica-Panamá bridge

A consortium of three firms, two from México and one from Costa Rica, will build the new bridge over the Río Sixaola to Panamá.

The United Nations Office for Project Services is managing the bridge job, and said that the participating companies are  Constructora MECO of Costa Rica and Cal y Mayor y Asociados and MEXPRESA. A contract is expected to be signed this week with the firms doing business as the Consorcio Binacional de Sixaola. The job is worth $17.5 million. Costa Rica will pay just $3.75 million.

The new bridge will replace a temporary bailey bridge that was installed because the old railway bridge that had been used was unsafe for vehicle traffic. That bridge still is used by pedestrians. Officials of both countries said they hope to have the new bridge in service by the end of February 2018.

Work is due to start in the first four months of next year.

This is the current situation with the temporary bridge parallel to the railway span.

This is the current situation with the temporary bridge parallel to the railway span.

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Overseas telecom services may be affected by a problem in México

The internet, international calls and data transfers from Costa Rica to the rest of the world might have been a little shaky overnight.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that the Maya-1 undersea cable might show degraded service after 10 p.m. Sunday because of emergency repair work taking place in Cancún, México. This is the cable that carries a lot of the country’s electronic information. The state telecom company did not say so, but service also would presume to be degraded with the rest of the firms that use the same cable service.

The Maya-1 is one of two major cables that connects Costa Rica to the rest of the world. It is run by the Consorcio Cable Submarino Maya. The cable runs from Colombia to Florida with intermediate stops, including one in Limón.

The work was supposed to be done by 4 a.m. today. Despite the warning by the state telecom company, internet service did not seem to be affected early today.

The company said it was seeking alternate routes.

The Mexicans were said to have to reconfigure the electrical supply of the cable landing station there.

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Four-legged victims are getting aid, too

Thousands of the hungry hurricane victims have large, floppy ears and big, brown eyes.

So the government has distributed 250,000 kilos of food for animals in the wake of Hurricane Otto. In addition, 254 pets have been treated at temporary clinics, said the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal.

The food can be rice, hay, salt and food concentrates for cows, pigs, chickens and even fish. A lot of the food has been donated, the agency said. 29,000 kilos were for household pets, it added.

Some of the hungry beneficiaries of donated pet food

Some of the hungry beneficiaries of donated pet food

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Electric charging station opens today

The state power company will put into service today its first filling station for electric cars.

The location is the company’s main offices in Sabana Norte. The company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, said that a typical charging would take about 20 minutes.

Of the 1.4 million autos in the country, only 200 are electric, said the state company. But its subsidiary, the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, has 27 vehicles that run on electricity, and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad estimates that it will purchase 100 for its own crews and set up two more charging stations, in Jacó and Alajuela.

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Thousands of migrants face an uncertain future here

Overlooked in most of the press reports of Hurricane Otto problems are the thousands of migrants who already were living in U.S.-supplied tents along the northern border.

These are mostly Haitians who have hopes of reaching the United States as illegal immigrants.

An organization that brings clothes, food and entertainment to the migrant camps estimates that there are now about 3,000 persons there. That means that at least 1,000 have continued on their journey north, perhaps by paying sums to traffickers.

Nicaragua closed its border to migrants more than a year ago, causing the human accumulation on the Costa Rican side of the border.

The hopes the migrants might have had for a resolution to their problem were dashed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States. While President Barack Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have welcoming attitudes towards illegal immigrants, Trump does not.

Consequently there is no way to estimate how long these migrants will be stuck in the tent camps.

An organization mostly of young people, called F Proyecto CR, has been collecting money for the migrants. The group will be making their third visit to the camps Friday and Saturday with donations and entertainment plans.

The tent camps were created by the Comisión

Migrants near the Nicaraguan border have an open food tent and open fires.

Migrants near the Nicaraguan border have an open food tent and open fires.

Nacional de Emergencias and the Dirección Nacional de Migración y Extranjería to replace a squalid settlement that was set up without government controls. The United States government provided the tents, which appear to be war surplus.

The tents seem to have stood up well even as Hurricane Otto ravaged locations nearby Nov. 24.

The F Proyecto CR complained in a press statement that the migrants lacked resources and there was little recreational attention. The group held a sale of donated items Sunday in Curridabat to finance part of the effort.

Government attitudes towards migrants seem to have changed.

The Policía de Fronteras reported Friday that its officers had picked up 13 Cubans and two illegal Nicaraguans in Guaycará de Golfito at a checkpoint on the Interamericana Sur. The Cubans were returned to Panamá, and the Nicaraguans face deportation, said a  Ministerio de Seguridad Pública summary. In the past, the Costa Rican government has helped Cubans on their journey north. Island residents have a legal right to enter the United States.

Meanwhile, Australia has said it is willing to take some of the young people that are being moved to a camp in Costa Rica. The young people come mostly from El Salvador where there is extensive violence. The Luis Guillermo Solís administration agreed to house some 100 young people temporarily in anticipation of their transportation to the United States.

Now that program is in jeopardy due to the U.S. elections.

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Ruta 32 widening job gets environmental OK

The environmental agency has given a go-ahead to the reconstruction of 107 kilometers of Ruta 32 from Matina to Río Frio.

The approval came from the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental, according to Casa Presidencial.  The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes delivered the data for the environmental approval last July 20, even though there are no firm plans for construction.

The job is to be done by China Harbour Engineering Co. Group and China Road and Bridge Corp., which is a condition of a massive $465.6 million loan from the Chinese. There will be no competitive bidding.

The job consists of making the two-lane highway four lanes and putting in overpasses.

The Export–Import Bank of China would make two loans, one for $100 million and one for $296 million.

Costa Rica is putting up $90 million, including an extra $20 million for expropriating property and relocating public services.

The project has been controversial, but it has strong support from the Caribbean coast because Ruta 32 is the main road from there to the center of the country.

President Luis Guillermo Solís also supports the project and announced the environmental clearance on his social media account.

The deal originated in the Laura Chinchilla administration, and the Chinese have been pressuring for a final agreement. Construction is due to begin in the second half of  2017.

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Texas man living here named in hospital healthcare fraud indictment

A U.S. citizen living here has been named as a participant in a massive healthcare fraud in Texas.

He is Wilton McPherson Burt, 61, who Department of Justice officials said is living now in Costa Rica. He had been one of two managing partners of the defunct Forest Park Medical Center in Dallas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Texas announced Thursday the indictment of Burt and 20 others on allegations that they paid about $40 million in bribes and kickbacks in order to get patients for the medical center.

A grand jury issued the indictments last month, and they were unsealed today.

As a result of the bribes, kickbacks, and other inducements, from 2009 to 2013, Forest Park billed patients’ insurance plans and programs well over half of a billion dollars and collected

more than $200 million in paid claims, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Burt was listed along with three others as a founder and an investor in the hospital. Two of the founders were medical professionals, an anesthesiologist and a bariatric surgeon, said the Justice Department.

According to the indictment, as part of the conspiracy, certain co-conspirators also paid bribes and kickbacks of $500 per month to approximately 40 primary care physicians and practices to refer patients to the hospital or to surgeons associated with the hospital. The referred patients were primarily ones with high reimbursing private insurance benefits or benefits under certain federally-funded programs, said the Justice Department. Patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid were sent to other hospitals.

Burt is facing at least 11 separate counts, as listed in the indictment, including two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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This year’s Ciudad de Niños postage stamp features a fruit assortment

Electronics most certainly is eating into the money generated by an annual Christmas stamp for the Ciudad de Niños in Agua Caliente, Cartago, but Correos de Costa Rica came up with another one this year.

The four-panel postal stamp, whose distribution started Thursday, features Costa Rica fruit. Each stamp is 65 colons, about 12 U.S. cents. A 1958 law requires each letter mailed during December to bear one of the stamps. The entire amount

This is the fruit salad that makes up this year's issue of the Ciudad de los Niños stamp.

This is the fruit salad that makes up this year’s issue of the Ciudad de los Niños stamp.

collected from the additional stamp will be turned over to the Ciudad de los Niños, a home for boys.

This year’s postal emission is a million stamps in 250,000 four-stamp blocks. Most will be purchased by collectors.  Correos de Costa Rica also puts out first-day covers for collectors and has developed a unique mark to cancel the stamps consistent with the theme, a piece of watermelon.

Designers were identified as Adriana Arias, Juan Carlos Alpízar, Pablo Barrantes.

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Concerts planned for the Municipalidad of Palmares

The Municipalidad of Palmares is hosting a series of free activities for the holiday season. Beginning at 8 p.m. Dec. 10, there will be a concert held in the municipality pavilion by the Escuela Municipal de Música. The next day will hold a Concierto de Villancicos, Christmas songs, in the municipal pavilion at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. The Papel y Lápiz dance group will be performing in the boulevard of the municipality.

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Trust was key to thefts, agents say

The 22-year old male, who has been linked to household thefts that occurred in May or June of this year has been arrested, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

According to the report, the man is accused of contacting his victims over the internet and impersonating a public official or a doctor to gain their trust. From there, he arrived at their houses and, once inside, stole their belongings but mainly electronic devices, agents said. The cost of the stolen items in three cases exceeds well over a million colones, officials said.

The judicial investigators caught the man near the court buildings in San José.

Meanwhile, other judicial agents arrested another 22-year old male in San Pedro who, officials said, is suspected of armed robbery and assault.

This particular crime occurred on Sept. 30 around 8 p.m. when bandits entered a residence in San Pedro de Montes de Oca. They then attacked the residents and robbed the place of its electronics, officials say. One apparently had a firearm also, according to the report.

This suspect was apprehended on a street in San Pedro Wednesday morning.

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Progress made in recovery from hurricane

Government workers report they are making progress in the areas hard hit by Hurricane Otto Nov. 24.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said its crews had reestablished power and telecom services in the last of the remote areas where it had been knocked out.

The Ministerio de Salud and the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias reported a big drop in residents in public shelters. At its high point, more than 5,300 persons were being housed in shelters. As of Thursday, the count was 1,496, including 30 who are in a shelter in Cartago as a result of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake there Wednesday evening.

There still are 25 shelters in operation in the hurricane zones. They were 17 in Upala, three in Bagaces in the northern zone and two in Golfito and three in Corredores in the southern zone.

The emergency commission declared a medium-level alert for the cantons of Turrialba, Alvarado, Jiménez and Oreamuno as a result of the earthquake and multiple strong after shocks that followed.

The quake was within four kilometers of the community of  Capellades de Alvarado.

There were reports of structural damage, falling objects and damage to the electrical and water systems.  There also were slides and cracks in the ground. One home collapsed in Juan Viñas de Jiménez, said the emergency commission. Emergency workers were in the area Thursday assessing the damage.

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Weekend activities increase with a Christmas tempo

There is a craft fair, an orchestra program of Chinese compositions, choirs, a ballet and a special design exposition. There also is the Teatro Nacional nativity scene that attracts locals and tourists alike and the giant,  well-lighted Christmas tree at the Hospital de Niños.

Starting this morning at 10 and lasting through most of the day, the Feria Hecho Aquí will be held at the Antigua Aduana in San José. Organizers say that there will be a wide range of arts and crafts made by over 180 artisans and designers on display.

The fair will be happening all weekend from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. excluding Sunday when doors will close two hours earlier.

Representatives from the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud as well as the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo say the feria includes traditional crafts made from ceramic, wood, leather, and fabric materials. Also on display will be contemporary items like: clothes, accessories, glass, and recyclable materials.

Organizers also say that a parallel fair will be occurring within the larger event sponsored by the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres.

The Feria de Mujeres Empresarias, as it is called, will feature designs from 27 women artisans, they said. It shall be held at the same time as the feria, but in the Casa del Cuño and the esplanade. The location of the Antigua Aduana is on Calle 23 in northeast San José.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica will be performing tonight at 8 in the Teatro Auditorio Nacional del Centro Costarricense de Ciencia y Cultura in San José. The show titled “Historia China” will feature selected works from Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye.

“It’s a very attractive concert because for the first time an Asian composer of such importance comes to Costa Rica . . . ,” said Gabriel Goñi, director of the Centro Nacional de la Música.

The show will include a presentation of the pieces: “Imágenes de Sichuan,” “Noche Estrellada,” “Concierto de la Vida,” and “Polovstian Dances.” All of these works are by the Chinese composer excluding the latter, which is by Aleksandr Borodín.

Tickets for this concert are on sale at the Centro Nacional de la Música at Los Colegios

de Moravia. They can also be purchased the day of performance at 6 p.m. They will be half off for all students and seniors with valid identification during their purchase at the office. The auditorium is in the Museo de los Niños complex at Avenida 9 and Calle 4.

Saturday the Teatro Nacional will play host to various choir groups for a program from 5 to 7 p.m. The choir groups participating include the: Escuela Buenaventura Corrales Choir, the Estudio Coral Armentum, the Rondalla de Veteranos of the Universidad de Costa Rica and the Divertimento Choir.

This is the event before the opening night of a contemporary ballet of “Alicía en el país de las maravillas” or “Alice in Wonderland” at 8 p.m.

This ballet is the brainchild and under the direction of María Amalia Pendones. According to the Teatro Nacional’s information on its Web site, the work is a two-act ballet which expresses the story in multiple forms of dance from classical ballet to contemporary dance and hip hop as well as through video animation.

The calendar and specified show times are on the Teatro Nacional’s Web site.

Those interested in seeing the glow of a Christmas tree while on their evening stroll can visit the enormous one in the vicinity of the Hospital de Niños. The picturesque and giant tree is a Christmas fixture with thousands of lights. The lights went on for the season Thursday night.

A donkey in town for the Teatro Nacional nativity scene receives attention from children.

A donkey in town for the Teatro Nacional nativity scene receives attention from children.

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Police on duty to prevent aguinaldo thefts

Fuerza Pública officers are paying special attention to financial institutions, automatic tellers and shopping centers now that aguinaldos are being paid to workers.

The aguinaldo usually represents a twelfth of what an employee earned during the year. Most consider it a Christmas bonus. The aguinaldo is paid regardless of employee performance because it is mandated by law.

Although electronic deposits and credit card payments are popular, there still is enough money in the streets to tempt thieves, hence the police. So the security ministry has assigned many more police in the capital and major cities.

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Former president’s funeral is today

Former president Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez will have a state funeral at 2 p.m. today in the Catedral Metropolitana. The 90-year-old politician died late Tuesday night.

President Lius Gullermo Solís and most living former presidents will be there. Solís is expected to sign a decree providing three days of national mourning.

Monge served as president from 1982 to 1986. He had been elected a member of the Asamblea Nacional at age 24 and later served as a minister and as ambassador to Israel.

Monge took office in the wake of the troubled presidency of Rodrigo Carazo Odio. The Nicaraguan Contra war was waging in the north, and the economy had crashed under Carazo.

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Río Virilla bridge lanes are being closed again

Highway officials are closing the eastbound lanes of the Autopista  General Cañas today from 10 a.m. to noon while workmen move pieces of steel for the Río Virilla bridge renovation.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad maintains that the westbound lanes will be normal.

This is the bridge that has experienced nearly a decade of trouble.

Officials are advising those who need to travel east on the highway at that time to use a train or some other alternate route. Train service has been increased for this reason.

Every time the bridge lanes are closed for this reason, massive jams develop.

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A little Colombian pastry treat can become a bit addictive

The right combination of sweet and a tinge of salty makes for a perfect balance in a popular delicacy. The treat could be good with that cup of coffee or tea throughout the day and evening.

The almojábana, a common pastry treat found in Costa Rica, is actually a traditional Colombian cheese bread baked to a soft, pillow-like texture. The flavor can often flirt between sweet and a tiny hint of salty in the aftertaste. The delicacy is available throughout any number of bakeries with Colombian origins here in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has a high number of Colombian immigrants according to their country’s census. They represent the second highest group of foreigners living in the country behind neighbor Nicaragua. This particular delicacy is not a common one to be found baking in Costa Rican ovens. The almojábana is mainly obtained from local Colombian bakeries of which there are many to choose from in San José alone.

To make the almojábana, you will need: A cheese called queso fresco, butter, precooked white corn flour, eggs, baking powder, corn starch, and milk, according to

Almojábanas: Bet you can't eat just one!

Almojábanas: Bet you can’t eat just one!

helatinkitchen.com Web site. Due to the ingredients’ reliance on white corn flour, the almojábana is also gluten-free, according to the site’s recipe writer.

Some recipes also call for an addition of sugar as well as salt, with the latter ingredient depending on how salty the cheese is. According to information from the myfitnesspal.com Web site, one almojabana has around 164 calories in it with a high concentration of saturated fat. This nutritional content represents roughly 62.5 percent of the total fat content within a single piece.

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