Microsoft says it will increase job slots here

Microsoft Corp. says it is adding 280 employees here for customer service and inside sales.

The new staffers will handle contacts with Central America, Ecuador, Perú and the Caribbean, the company said. Casa Presidencial welcomed the announcement.

The new jobs add to the estimated 46,000 spots dedicated to customers service, sales and other telecom call center operations now functioning in the country.

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Find those plants to hold the slope

Take a look at that hillside, that slope, that beautiful building lot? Can you say, “Oops”?

“Oops” is what you often get in the rainy season, unless, of course, your land is beautifully flat or only at a 10-degree slope. “Oops” is what you get when you buy a lot to build on.

later and forget that we have a lot of rain. But, with a little foresight, a little preparation, you can buy a hilly lot with a great view and keep it from washing downhill before you are ready to build. All you need is a plan and some plants.

The first thing to plant is vetiver

grass. It’s widely available, it’s easy to plant, and, if you plant at the start of the rainy season, it will put down 2 or 3 meters of roots by the following year. Plant a lot of it in contours about a meter apart. Yes, it’s a lot of planting, but vetiver is not usually expensive (in fact you can dig some of mine up for free if you are in the neighborhood). Vetiver alone will go a long way to easing the problem of slope slump but there are some other things to plant along with it.

I asked my buddy, Brennan, at Cocobolo Tree Farm what he suggests as trees for hillside lots, and he had some great recommendations depending on where you live. All of the following suggestions are deep rooting and moderate to fast growers (moderate = 0.75 to 1.5 meters a year, fast = over 1.5 meters a year and usually over 2 meters a year).

His first suggestion for those at 600 meters and below on the Pacific slope was the Guanacaste tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) a moderately fast growing tree that can reach 35 meters in height – over 110 feet. It makes a huge canopy and is great as a shade tree.

Next comes the raintree or cenízero (Samanea saman) which is also a moderate grower reaching 30 meters. It is also a Pacific slope tree with best growth shown at below 300 meters, but the raintree can be grown at altitudes of 1200 meters. The canopy of the raintree can reach 32 meters, a huge area of shade.

For a fast growing tree, there is nothing like the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which Brennan calls a very fast grower. The young tree needs some wind protection but once it is secure, it is amazing. Neem begin to fruit in 3-5 years and are fully productive in 10 years. Better yet, neem is not bothered by pH or soil type and will grow in clay. The only thing it dislikes is swampy soil. Neem will grow to 30 meters tall and can be grown at altitudes up to 1,000 meters.

The ficus elastic, or rubber tree, is the tallest of the fast growers and can reach 60 meters (although that takes a while). Because of the nature of its leaves, the ficus is less likely to be attacked by leaf cutter ants, which makes it a good addition to the yard.

Really need something shorter? Tecoma stans, or yellow trumpetbush, can be grown as a shrub (just keep cutting it back) or a small tree to 10 meters. This is a great shrub for attracting hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. It self-seeds so it can be invasive, or you can just share the new bushes with friends.

Honorable mention in the deep rooting category goes to madero negro (Gliricidia sepium), a common fence post source, that grows to 10 meters and the fruit tree jocote (Spondias mombin) which grows to 35 meters. Both are easily started from cuttings.

I hope that helps. We are going to plant a lot more vetiver in the next rainy season, and plan on neem, raintree (planted downhill so it won’t block the view), and trumpetbush. That should keep the slumping away.torleyheader020816

 

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Minibus mishap injures 18, three critically, near Manuel Antonio park

A minibus carrying more than 30 people ran off Ruta 618 near Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio Sunday morning.

The accident occurred near the Hotel Costa Verde. Workers at the hotel said that the crash happened around 9:30 a.m. The bus apparently rammed itself into the left side of the road towards dense shrubbery.  Workers from the hotel went to aid the injured and pull people from the wreck, according to hotel employees.

According to the Cruz Roja, more than 30 persons were involved in the accident with three in critical condition and 15 suffering minor injuries. The Cruz Roja said that all the injured persons were taken to the hospital in nearby Quepos. accident022717

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Sanatorio Durán in Cartago stands empty as a remote historic site

By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is the stillness, the quiet and the loneliness that could first strike a visitor to Sanatorio Durán.

Nestled in the highlands overlooking Cartago, the former sanitarium for tuberculosis patients has been quiet for nearly 50 years if one does not choose to believe in ghosts or the supernatural. Durán is called one of the most haunted places in both Costa Rica and Latin America by some. The sanitarium was featured on the U.S.-based paranormal TV series “Ghost Hunters” at one point.

That is the legend surrounding the place, but it is facts that bring context to how that legend was established in the mindset of people. It is also the silent eeriness around the site that could render someone mute and lost in thought.

Costa Rican physician and one-time president Carlos Durán Cartín, the namesake for the place, founded the first sanitarium for treating tuberculosis in Central America within sight of the Volcán Irazú. It may have seemed necessary to the doctor considering his daughter suffered from the disease as well. The location seemed to be a sensible choice.

Higher up in the mountains and in the cooler, crisp climate that defines Cartago apart from the rest of the country, the clean air around the area would be a welcome relief to anyone suffering from the scourge of tuberculosis.

The disease, although still potentially fatal in modern times, now faces the arsenal of modern medicine and antibiotic treatment to stop it. However, at the time of the facility’s founding in 1915, prolonged rest in clean air was the cure. Roman Catholic nuns with training in nursing made up the majority of the on-site staff at the facility. Around 300 beds were made ready for patients until the 1970s, when the sanitarium closed for good.

It is after the closing of the ward that local stories start to creep through the open, glassless windows and doors. One tells a story of the spirit of one of the nuns who still patrols the gloomy third floor of the facility. Then there are also the patients who never left the care center alive and are rumored to still dwell in the now-abandoned, slowly dilapidating buildings.

Although these buildings may not be dilapidated for too long.

Restoration is underway. As a whole, the place remains in relatively good shape.

This could bring comfort to any supporter of historical preservation, while also adding to the eeriness of any would-be ghost hunter or thrill-seeker visiting the site. The sanitarium provides for both types. There were even some people picnicking on the grounds Friday to enjoy the farmland in front and the tall mountains that loom above.

Sanatorio Durán is considered a national heritage site. The Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultura of the cultural ministry  maintains responsibility for the property.

To get to the site, one can either drive up through the mountains or take the Tierras Blancas bus route that provides a direct drop-off at the sanitarium and picks back up every hour. The price for the ride is around 545 colons.

The price to enter the facilities is

A tourist walks the solitary corridor marked with graffiti.

A tourist walks the solitary corridor marked with graffiti.

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Drug dealers are expanding their inventory

The security ministry confirmed Friday morning the first case of a proven sale of ketamine in Costa Rica.

Although police have confiscated the drug before at the border and in other operations, this case represents the first instance of an illegal sale of this narcotic within the country. According to a report, the group selling the drug operated near a school in Goicoechea.  The drug operations arm of the police agency raided a household and arrested two men and a woman on suspicions of running the drug trafficking operations.

Aside from the usual confiscated drugs of marijuana and cocaine, there was also found ketamine powder. According to the police, ketamine is a hospital and veterinary anesthetic. The drug is commonly referred to as “ K and could be considered a party drug for the hallucinatory effects it has on the user, according to Maryland University’s Center for Substance Abuse Research. The drug distorts the users perception of sight and sound producing a feeling of detachment from the environment and one’s self, the center said.

Police said that one of the three arrested has a prior criminal record involving aggravated robbery, drug possession and illegal possession of a weapon. The other two have no criminal history, police said.

Anti-narcotics agents seized around 30 doses of powdered ketamine along with three glass vials of its liquid version. Also confiscated were over 300 doses of marijuana and 130 doses of cocaine, two firearms, and around $1,800 dollars in colons, they said.

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Playa Langosta-Tamarindo road job at last

Tamarindo will have a new hard surface road to Playa Langosta. The current single-kilometer stretch is punctuated with many potholes.

The Concejo Municipal de Santa Cruz made the decision and agreed to spend 98 million colons for the job.

The better road will further unite the two Pacific coast communities. The Cámara de Comercio y Turismo de Tamarindo said it estimated that the roadway handles about 1,300 cars on average each day.

The money, about $177,000, for the job will come from the funds collected for concessions in the maritime zone in the canton, according to the decision.

This is a project that the local communities have been waiting for for a long time. Upgrading the road is considered important for tourism and development.

Elsewhere, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo said it has donated 316 million colons, about  $565,000, of asphalt to 13 communities during 2016. The amount is nearly 50 cubic meters.

This is the time of year for asphalt, and every motorist knows that plenty is needed.

This is the time of year for asphalt, and every motorist knows that plenty is needed.

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Surprise: Motor fuel prices will be going down

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos has approved a decrease in the prices of fuels in response to the excess of petroleum on the international market and a drop in the world price.

The super blend of gasoline will decrease 27 colons to 593 colons for each liter. The plus blend will decline by 24 colons to 567 colons  per  liter. Diesel is only decreasing five colons

per liter to 484 colons. Liquid petroleum gas will increase by 28 colons for every liter to 312 colons.

In terms of dollar prices, super will be around $1.06 a liter and plus around one dollar and a couple cents. Diesel fuel will drop to 484 colons per liter, or around 86 cents.

The lower prices will be applied the day following its publication in the Diario Oficial La Gaceta, which probably will be this week.

 

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Heat and lack of oxygen blamed for dead fish

The government’s animal health service is blaming high water temperatures and a lack of oxygen for the death of millions of sardines. But the report released Friday does not disclose any root cause.

The Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal was reporting on findings by the Centro de Investigación en Estructuras Microscópicas of the Universidad de Costa Rica. Similar studies are by the Universidad Nacional and the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura.

The animal health agency, part of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, seems to be anxious to calm any fears in the public about consumption of fish from the Gulf of Nicoya. Even before the scientific reports came in the agency was on record saying that fish from the gulf could be consumed.

The university report, replayed by the animal health agency, said that temperatures of water in the gulf ranged between 26.5 and 34 C. That is 81.5 to 93.2 F.

The report also said that the oxygen content of the waster was reduced to 0.1 milligrams per liter, insufficient for fish life. Online sources say that fish need an oxygen content of from 4 to 15 milligrams per liter of water.

Ocean water releases oxygen as the temperature increases. In addition, there are reports of anchovy schools so large that the fish themselves deplete the oxygen.

The dead fish appeared at the northeast

A coast guard crew member takes samples from the Gulf of Nicoya.

A coast guard crew member takes samples from the Gulf of Nicoya.

corner of the Gulf of Nicoya, and the concentration of fish must have been enormous.

The report also said that there was a cyanobacteria, Synechocystis, found in the water. This is a bacteria that generates oxygen, so its impact on the fish is uncertain.

The animal health service said that its  Laboratorio de Servicios Veterinarios and scientists at Universidad Nacional could not find any chemical contaminants or biotoxins in the water samples from the gulf.

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Call center growth small in comparison

Costa Rica has shown enormous growth in contact center or call center employment, but the country still is small potatoes in Latin America.

A summary provided by Aspect Software, Inc., said that Costa Rica now has 28 contact centers and 18 firms that are in this type of information processing business. The work generated 1,000 jobs in 2000, and provided 46,465, based on an estimate at the close of 2013.

Still all of Central America only provides just 6 percent of the Latin American call center market. Brazil is the largest with 46 percent.

Aspect said that one statistical report estimates that Central American call centers handled $3 billion in business in 2013 and are expected to handle $5.7 billion in 2020.

Workers here earn from $600 to $900 per month, according to the estimates, which is higher than similar work in other Central American countries.

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Law makes providers responsible for denying inmate cell phone use

Costa Rica prison officials have been spectacularly unsuccessful in preventing inmates from using illegal cell telephones, so now lawmakers are asking the provider companies to figure out a way.

Contact between visitors and inmates is not restricted in most cases in the adult and juvenile prisons, so there is a large quantity of smuggled goods, including drugs. Cell telephones are another big item. Without a personal cell telephone prisoners must use the official service that prefaces each call with a notification that the call is coming from a prison facility.

Inmates, who have plenty of time on their hands, have come up with some very creative scams and criminal activities by using the bootlegged cell telephones. They also easily keep in contact with their criminal colleagues outside.

Criminals have engineered extortions, murders, bank frauds and other assorted scams while incarcerated.

Every time prison guards conduct a sweep, illegal cell phones turn up. Officials have tried blocking the signals without success.

So Thursday the Comisión de Seguridad y Narcotráfico released for floor action by the full legislature bill no.  19.932. The measure came from the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz that runs the prisons and the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Telecomunicaciones.

The bill requires cell phone providers to adopt and apply unspecified procedures and solutions to prevent cell calls from the prisons.

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Costa Rica’s American football league season opener this Saturday

The new Asociación de Equipos de Football Americano will open the 2017 1st Division National Championship calendar this Saturday with two games playing at Estadio Municipal de Flores, San Joaquín, Flores, Heredia.

At 2 p.m., the Cartago Leones F.C. meet the San José Bufalos F.A.. The feature game between the Toros F.C. and the Bulldogs F.A. takes place at 6 p.m.

A third game the same day takes place at the Cancha de San Rafael de Oreamuno, San Rafael, Oreamuno, Cartago  at 2 p.m. There the Cartago Dragons F.A. meet the San José Lobos F.A.

Seven teams are competing in the 10-week regular season followed by the playoffs May 13th as a precursor to the Súper Tazón CR IX May 20.

The teams are divided into 3 Conferences: West: Toros F.C. and Bulldogs F.A.; East: Cartago Leones F.C. and the San José Bufalos F.A., and South: Cartago Dragons F.A., San José Lobos F.A., and San José Titans F.A.

The current champion of American football in Costa Rica is the Bulldogs F.A.

Last year, the team defeated the Cartago Leones F.C. in the Súper Tazón CR VIII, 60 – 0 and also holds the West conference championship.  The Leones and Cartago Dragons won their conferences.

Three games will be played each Saturday with the exception of a bye-week during Semana Santa.

A rotating venue schedule consisting of four stadiums will ensure that fans have a variety of options to attend games. Estadio Ernesto Rohrmoser, Pavas, San José will host the playoffs and Súper Tazón CR IX.

Additional teams that are members of the Asociación de Equipos de Football Americano but not competing in the 2017 first division calendar are the Alajuelita CRC Bengals F.A. and the Pérez Zeledón Predators F.A.

More information about the league and to the calendar is HERE in English and HERE in Spanish.

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Expat advocacy group sees opportunity for tax relief with Trump

Expats rank pretty low on the priority list of the Trump administration tax experts, but overseas advocacy groups say the time is perfect for fundamental changes.

The Association of Americans Abroad said that its Washington representatives have been meeting with congressional offices to keep the focus on residency-based taxation and a same-country exemption for reporting under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

The association also said it was pleased that the national taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson, highlighted the tax treatment of overseas Americans in her recent report to Congress.

The report to Congress notes that, “Many U.S. taxpayers, particularly those living abroad, have incurred increased compliance burdens and costs as a result of FATCA’s expanded reporting obligations, most of which repeat existing report of foreign bank and financial accounts filing requirements. These hardships include additional tax preparation fees and the unwillingness of some foreign financial institutions to do business with U.S. expatriates.”

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is called FATCA for short, and the report of foreign bank and financial accounts is called FBAR in government circles.

Expats who earn substantial income or have significant holdings would prefer that the United States adopt residency based taxation. Right now the federal government taxes income earned abroad, but there is a $101,300 exemption for the 2016 tax year.

The government also taxes capital gains on the sale of foreign properties or profits on the sale of foreign goods. The exemption does not apply to these and it does not apply to money coming from the United States, such as a pension.

Tax liabilities also are subject to adjustment based on taxes paid to a foreign government.

The Association of Americans Abroad has been pushing for an exemption for expats from the bank account reporting rule.

The association has urged changes so that expats would not have to report account information held in banks in the same country in which they are living. The association reasons that most expats maintain bank accounts to pay local bills and receive local income.

The bank account reporting measure was passed by the U.S. Congress mainly to catch tax cheats.

There are a number of proposals of changes in the tax law that would affect expats. In one case, an exit tax has been proposed for persons moving overseas to qualify them for residency-based taxation.

Association of Americans Abroad is seeking comments on its website and has urged expats to contact their representatives in Congress.

In Washington, the emphasis is on reducing commercial taxation rates. The Donald Trump administration also is working on a 20 percent import tax on foreign goods. The final tax proposals probably will not become a complete bill until August.

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Transport officials trying to drive commuters to public transportation

Transport officials are unhappy that restrictions on the Río Virilla bridge on the General Cañas autopista have not caused commuters to surrender their vehicles.

But they may act soon to drive more and more persons to public transportation.

Carlos Villalta Villegas, lamented that private vehicle use is almost back to normal. He is minister of  Obras Públicas y Transportes. He reported Thursday that public transportation was under utilized.

When traffic officials restricted passage on the bridge because of construction, there was a 5 percent increase in bus passengers, he said.  But now the number of people who ride on the buses have returned to pre-construction numbers.  About 148,000 persons travel by bus in each direction each weekday, the ministry said.

Villalta also said that the Alajuela-San José train service is under utilized. He said he lamented seeing 10 cars in a row on the bridge being occupied by just one or two persons.

Workmen have installed these concrete panels on the eastbound bridge lanes.

Workmen have installed these concrete panels on the eastbound bridge lanes.

He said that citizens were not collaborating with the ministry and that there was increased congestion on alternate routes.

Officials closed at first the eastbound lanes of the bridge and turned the westbound section into one lane in either direction.

And they further restricted access to these lanes at rush hour.

The ministry said there was a plan being advanced to further restrict bridge travel by prohibiting access to vehicles based on the last digit of the license plate.

This is the same system restricting travel in the metro area.

Each day about 20 percent of the private vehicles are forbidden between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Officials may try to impose the same rule for the Río Virilla bridge, they said.

Meanwhile, when the previous two-lane eastbound bridge lanes are reopened as three lanes, traffic will be shifted to them so workmen can add a third lane to the westbound section.

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Obamacare benefits employees, too

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to comment on the following statement contained in your news article on Page 5  of Thursday’s edition. “About half of Americans get their health insurance through their employer and often would not be directly impacted by the fate of Obamacare.”

Yes, they would be directly impacted if Obamacare is repealed by the loss of the following requirements:

1.  No more lifetime caps on coverage.
2. Children able to stay on parent’s policy up until age 26.
3.  Individuals cannot be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
This is extremely important in the event of loss of employment.
4. No charge for many preventive services regardless of deductible.
This is a partial list. For a complete list go to www.obamacarefacts.com.

So, you see, employee plan recipients have benefited from Obamacare and do stand to be directly impacted by its fate.  Back to the Dark Ages of health insurance!

Lynn Sheridan 
Cahuita
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Weekend events emphasize being outside

Adan enjoys the trampoline at the Smokeless Sunday event last week.

Adan enjoys the trampoline at the Smokeless Sunday event last week.

Another weekend of music, theater, and dance has a lot of performances that seeks to take the arts to the streets and the public.

As Costa Rica moves into the summer season, a lot of performing arts groups and organizations are taking their performances outside to enjoy the weather. The Chepe Danza street performances continues today at 2 p.m. along San José’s Avenida Central with “Acción Performática.” Organizers said that each performance is created by members of the Compañia Nacional de Danza.

Each show will last around 45 minutes, organizers said. The dance styles will include interpretative dances in which the performers expect their audience to contemplate the story. Some will be more abstract in character, but all will offer the opportunity for spectators to interact with the cast, organizers said.

The next performance will be at the “Domingos familiares sin humo” event this Sunday along Paseo Colón. The municipality of San José is continuing the family-friendly event to encourage participants to live a healthy lifestyle without pollution from exhaust fumes on vehicles as much as tobacco smoke.

The tenth edition of Festival Paula Rock will be going on this Saturday sponsored by Casa de la Ciudad. Six groups will be performing from 5:30 p.m. on with a whirlwind of genres in rock, blues and jazz music.

The festival began back in 2008 following the death of Cartago musician Paula Coto Valerín who died in a car crash, organizers said. She was an organ donor and a group of musicians organized the festival in her honor, organizers said. The entrance fee for the festival is 2,500 colons. Casa de la Ciudad is a program under the Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Cartago.

The festival will be held at the progam’s building, which is in front of Cartago’s cathedral. More information can be gathered on the festival’s fan page.

The Festejos Penínsulares Cóbano on the Nicoya peninsula and an arts and crafts fair starting in Santa Ana continue this weekend. They will run through Monday with bull fights and bull riding.

There are activities for seniors this morning, a cattle auction at 1 p.m. with even more bulls tonight and another dance. There also are dances Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights with a fireworks show Monday at 9 p.m.  There is a tope horse parade Saturday at 2 p.m.

The official inauguration for the 16th annual Festival Internacional de Artesanías in Santa Ana is today at 2 p.m. The event attracts craft workers from all over Latin America. A major sponsor is the Municipalidad de Santa Ana. The location is north of the Catholic church. The festival runs through March 5 with a number of folkloric and cultural presentations.

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Costa Rica wants to join war on plastic waste

Costa Rica intends to take aggressive measures, in congruence with the United Nations Environment Programme, to aid in the global elimination of plastic dumping into the oceans.

Ten countries, including Costa Rica, are joining the “#cleanseas” effort by the Environment Programme. The country has pledged to take steps to drastically reduce single-use plastic items through better waste management and education.

There have been efforts to ban single-use plastics since at least 1999 without legislative results.

The health and environmental ministries are trying to win the public as much as legislative cooperation in the endeavor.

Lawmakers saw a bill that addressed the use of plastic in 1999, and a committee rejected the plan back in 2005.

Thursday afternoon, the Costa Rican legislature’s environment committee unanimously rejected over 20 motions urging the continuation of the free delivery of plastic bags to commercial establishments.

Frente Amplio, a prominent left-wing party in the legislature, released a statement that said the move by the committee represents an important signal about the political will of the government in regard to this issue.

Back in 2014, the party sponsored a bill that modified the waste management law.

Included in that proposal was a measure to prohibit the circulation of disposable plastic bags in supermarkets and other commercial establishments.

Proponents of the bill want to eliminate the one-time use of plastics and not just disposable bags.

Other plastic items such as straws, fast-food forks, knives and spoons may be on the way out too.

A typical beach cleanup produces large quantities of discarded bottles and other types of plastics. This is a file photo of a cleanup on a beach at the Río Grande de Tarcoles.

A typical beach cleanup produces large quantities of discarded bottles and other types of plastics. This is a file photo of a cleanup on a beach at the Río Grande de Tarcoles.

The executive director for the U.N. Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, emphasized the necessity in joining his organization’s campaign to clean the seas.

“Contamination by this material already sails on the beaches of Indonesia, settles in the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole and reaches our tables through the food chain,” Solheim said.

According to statistics provided by the U.N., there are more than eight million tons of plastic leaks into the ocean each year. That is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck’s worth of plastic each minute.

It is also important to consider that up to 90 percent of all the waste that goes into the oceans is of plastic material causing severe damage to the marine biosphere, according to the U.N.

According to some estimates, the rate at which plastic items are being dumped into the oceans could accelerate to the point where, by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastics than fish and 99 percent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

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U.S. interest rate hike will impact Costa Rica

U.S. Federal Reserve governors believe that an interest rate hike may come fairly soon, according to notes from the most recent meeting of top officials of the central bank.

A rate increase would have multiple impacts on Costa Rica. The U.S. dollar would become stronger, and local interest rates would follow. In addition, the interest rates paid by the central government to finance its massive deficit would creep higher.

The government already has been hit by two downgrades from credit rating agencies, and these adjustments would be combined with the rate reflecting U.S. interest rates. International borrowing is denominated in U.S. dollars.

Of course, a stronger dollar would be reflected in greater sales and income for exporters, and there would be an advantage for U.S. tourists who visit here.

The assessment by Federal Reserve leaders on interest rates assumes that data on the job market and inflation continues strengthening at its current pace or faster. The Fed information was published Wednesday after the customary delay of several weeks. The next scheduled meeting of the Fed leadership is in mid-March.

Some Fed officials expressed concern that unemployment might fall so low that it would spark inflation as employers are forced to offer higher wages to attract workers in a tight labor market.

Officials raise interest rates to cool the economy to keep prices from soaring. They worry that an inflationary spike could hurt economic growth.

The U.S. dollar already has gained about 1.5 percent against the Costa Rican colon this month. Banco Nacional reported Wednesday that it would sell dollars for 568.50 colons and would exchange dollars for colons at a 556.50 rate. Official rates at the Banco Central were slightly different, and the central bank said that $5.1 million had been exchanged Wednesday at its Mercado de Monedas Extranjeras.

The Central Bank spent nearly 18 percent of its dollar holdings last year in defending the price of the colon. Some observers are predicting that the dollar will soar to 600 colons by the end of the year. A month ago the rate was 560.01 colons to buy dollars and 548.03 to sell one.

Earlier on Wednesday, a separate report said U.S. home resales surged to a nearly 10-year high in January. Home sales are a major economic indicator.

The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales jumped 3.3 percent to an annual rate of 5.69 million homes.

The report says sales are being hampered by the smaller-than-usual number of homes available for sale. The real estate industry group also says sales were up 3.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

Sales growth was stronger than many experts predicted, perhaps because they thought rising prices and interest rates might cool the market a bit.

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Worker dies after utility pole falls down

A 33-year-old Cable Vision worker died Wednesday when the utility pole on which he was working fell. Grupo ICE, which operates the cable sevice, identified the man as Luis Diego Alfaro Morales of Vásquez de Coronado. The accident happened while the man was on the job in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, said the telecom firm.

Attendants pronounced the man dead at Hospital San Juan de Dios about 3 p.m.

The accident affected electricity and telecommunications in the area for a time.

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