Bus company’s windfall may be thwarted

The operators of the Alajuela-San José bus concession, Transportes Unidos Alajuelenses S. A., must have figured Christmas has come a bit late when the government announced it was restricting travel on the Río Virilla bridge.

The bus company quickly announced that it would rise to the challenge of more passengers except that the fare would be 1,200 colons, a bit more than $2, instead of 520 colons, the normal fare that is just shy of $1.

The company seems to have won support from some government officials for its patriotism during a time of troubles, but the nation’s price setting agency said Thursday that there is no justification to raise the price.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Público, said it has not received a request from the bus company, and even if it had, the rules for the  concession is that holders should accommodate higher demand.

The agency threatened an 8.5 million-colon fine for each violation. That’s about $15,500.

The government is reducing travel on the Interamericana bridge to one lane in each direction for at least six weeks, starting Saturday. Buses and emergency vehicles will receive preference during rush hours.

The bus company is likely to appeal the Autoridad Reguladora’s position today. Already it announced that it would throw in free parking.

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Caja leaders asked to void rate hike

A public employee union that includes health workers has presented a bid for reconsideration of a 1 percent increase in disability insurance.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said this week that the monthly fee charged workers would increase by 1 percent for the disability, old age and death protection. This is part of what employees and employers pay each month.

The Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense said it presented the request for reconsideration to Caja officials and cited what it claimed were lapses in the way the decision was reached.

This has become a hot-button political issue, in part because the old age pension aspects of the program seem to be badly underfunded.

Among other lapses, the union coalition said that there was no public consultation before the rate was raised from 2.9 percent. The increase is supposed to go into effect in June, although the central government has called on the Caja to suspend the hike.

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Survey shows a conservative country

The survey is in and it does not look good for those wanting a more liberal society.

The Centro de Investigación y Estadios Políticos of the Universidad de Costa Rica along with the Seminario Universidad released the results of a November 2016 poll. The poll discussed national policy issues of unemployment, political candidates, marriage rights, and other social issues currently debated within Costa Rica. The results seem to portray a society that remains mostly conservative on issues such as same-sex marriage, marijuana usage, and abortion.

Of the 774 participants aged 18 and above sampled in the survey, 59 percent said they disagreed with legalizing same-sex marriage while 60 percent would not allow abortion even in cases involving rape. The largest number in the study found that 80 percent of all participants were not in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.

The survey change when considering age. About 50.9 percent of participants aged 18 to 24 were in favor of abortion. The results also become less conservative in views on punishments for crimes as 80 percent agreed that, in the case of non-violent crimes, alternative punishments aside from detention should be used.

What is also notable is the decline in party affiliation among Costa Ricans. Despite a favorable view on freedom of expression, around 72 percent of the participants said they did not favor any political party. That number jumps to 82 percent among young people aged 18 to 24.

Of political candidates, the people considered most qualified by participants for the presidency is ex-president Óscar Arias Sánchez, Vice President Ana Helena Chacón, and Monserrat Solano, the defensora de los habitantes. Presidential candidates considered the worst of the bunch were Otto Guevara and ex-president José María Figueres.

Out of the most favored public institutions the university remains the best rated of them all, according to the survey. Unemployment is still considered the largest problem of the country, which has retained its ranking since November 2014.

The surveys for this study were conducted between Oct. 31 and Nov. 23 of last year.

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Western Union agrees to massive fine for laundering, helping fraudsters

The U.S. federal government has taken action against Western Union that has been the source for years of money stolen from U.S. and Canadian citizens by Costa Rican telemarketer scammers.

The Western Union Co. has agreed to forfeit $586 million as it admitted to criminal violations, including willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud.

Western Union has been a principal conduit for the legions of telemarketer scammers who operated and are operating from Costa Rica as well as some sportsbooks and gambling enterprises.

currency transactions so that no single transaction exceeds the $10,000 threshold, it said.

“This action today will ensure that Western Union effectively controls its agents and prevents the use of its money transfer system for illegal purposes,” said Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. attorney in the California Central District.

In a related case, Western Union agreed to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission in a complaint filed in Pennsylvania, alleging that for many years, fraudsters around the world have used Western Union’s money transfer system even though the company has long been aware of the problem, and that some Western Union agents have been complicit in fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission complaint alleges that Western Union declined to put in place effective anti-fraud policies and procedures and has failed to act promptly against problem agents. Western Union has identified many of the problem agents but has profited from their actions by not promptly suspending and terminating them, it said.

Western Union promises to implement and maintain a comprehensive anti-fraud program with training for its agents and their front line associates, monitor to detect and prevent fraud-induced money transfers, due diligence on all new and renewing company agents and suspension or termination of noncompliant agents, said the Federal Trade Commission.

The order prohibits Western Union from transmitting a money transfer that it knows or reasonably should know is fraud-induced.

In addition, consistent with the telemarketing sales rule, Western Union must not process a money transfer that it knows or should know is payment for a telemarketing transaction, said the Justice Department. The company’s compliance with the order will be monitored for three years by an independent compliance auditor, it added.

Costa Rica with its many English-speaking citizens has been a hotbed of telemarketing fraud, frequently engineered by expats. Crooks have sold business franchises, non-existent computers and even stocks with prices pumped up to unrealistic levels. They also have operated lottery and sweepstakes scams. Most of the victims have been in the United States and Canada.  Frequently payment has been made by victims via Western Union.westernunion012917

A local gambling operator noted that a U.S. attorney in Florida a year ago issued a subpoena requesting company documents regarding suspected online gambling transactions with Western Union agents in multiple countries, including Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The deferred prosecution agreement by the Englewood, Colorado, company is with the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and several U. S. attorney’s offices.

In one case, a company agent in California sent $310 million to China in what are called structured payments, amounts small enough to avoid official oversight. The agreement says that between 2004 and 2012, Western Union violated the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-fraud statutes by processing hundreds of thousands of transactions for Western Union agents and others involved in an international consumer fraud scheme.

As part of the scheme, fraudsters contacted victims in the United States and falsely posed as family members in need or promised prizes or job opportunities, said the Justice Department. The fraudsters directed the victims to send money through Western Union to help their relative or claim their prize. Various Western Union agents were complicit in these fraud schemes, often processing the fraud payments for the fraudsters in return for a cut of the fraud proceeds, the department added.

The government said that Western Union knew of, but failed to take corrective action against, their own agents involved in or facilitating fraud-related transactions. The company also ignored suggestions by its own security department.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions, including money services businesses such as Western Union, to file currency transaction reports for transactions in currency greater than $10,000 in a single day, the Justice Department noted. To evade the filing of a transaction report and identification requirements, criminals will often structure their

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Finance minister says he warned of possible cut in debt rating

The finance minister is blaming the legislature for not passing more taxes after the Fitch rating firm cut the ranking on the government’s debt from junk bond to even junkier bond.

The rating went from BB+ to BB. The company considers that bonds in both categories are speculative for investors.

Helio Fallas, the minister of Hacienda, was quick to issue a statement in which he said he had reminded government officials of such a development if the various tax bills were not approved.

He also is the first vice president of the country.

Despite some improvement in 2016, Fitch, one of the world’s three top rating agencies, said the fiscal deficit is expected to rise over the next two years as a result of a higher interest burden and spending rigidities. The government’s tax reform proposals to rein in the fiscal deficits have made little progress in the legislature given its fragmented structure and the cumbersome legislative process, it added.

The result of the rating cut is that Costa Rica will have to pay higher interest when it floats more bonds. Nearly half of the national budget is financed with borrowed money.

The government has been seeking a value-added tax and increases in income tax rates, among other revenue proposals. Some lawmakers were unhappy when President Luis Guillermo Solís presented a national budget proposal 12 percent higher than the previous year instead of making steep cuts.

Fitch said that the outlook for passage of a crucial value-added and income tax proposals, estimated to provide close to 2 percent of gross domestic product in additional revenues, has significantly diminished as the February 2018 congressional and presidential elections approach. Fitch’s new baseline scenario does not incorporate passage of any meaningful tax reform measures in the forecast period through 2018, it said, adding that as a result of the large fiscal imbalances, Costa Rica’s debt burden has risen rapidly over the last decade.

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It’s time for exercise when the motor quits in the middle of the Pacific

Tourists on a six-hour Pacific dophin-watching trip got much more than they bargained for when the motor of their boat failed and they overnighted on the ocean.

Sierra Goodman, the well-known dophin and whale expert who lives in Drake’s Bay on the Osa Peninsula, set up the tour. She reported Wednesday night that the problem started Tuesday morning. The boat engine had been tuned up recently, so its failure was a surprise, particularly because the craft was about 30 miles off the Costa Rican coast within an endless pod of bottlenose dolphin.

When the boat did not return Tuesday afternoon, those on land began making emergency preparations, but by then night was falling.

Ms. Goodman said there was an up side in being stranded in the calm ocean at night.

“Also with all that was going on, it was also incredibly beautiful out there. The ocean stayed calm and clear, and once the sun went down, we could see millions of stars, and I even saw several shooting stars. The bio-luminescence in the water was incredible, and with every stroke in the water that we made, glowing, glittering neon blue trails appeared. The whole back of the boat was lit up with sparkling, blue light. The half moon came up over the distant hills, and it was super big and orange even in its half state. Under different circumstances, it would have been divine.”

Early on, Ms. Goodman and her boat captain,  Marcos David

Thirteen passengers set sail that day,  for a three hour tour,  a three hour tour . . . .

Thirteen passengers set sail that day, for a three hour tour, a three hour tour . . . .

Pérez Morales, realized that their biggest danger was in letting
the sea carry them away. They were unable to raise anyone on the boat radio, so they decided to paddle and push the boat toward an island off the Costa Rican coast in the Pacific. The destination was Cano Island.

She and the tourists swam alongside the boat propelling it towards the coast until dark. Then some used plastic tops of lunch boxes as paddles. She coined the term the Tupperware Gang. She had fins, and there was one paddle.

“Once it got dark, we used the compass to stay on track towards the island, and once the moon came out and we got closer to the island and it got bigger, it got easier to navigate towards it without using our compass and cell phones,” she said.

“The guests were wonderful and stayed positive and upbeat for the most part, even laughing and joking around and most of all, they really all pitched in and helped. It was a true team effort,” she added.

By dawn and just two miles for the island, Ms. Goodman said her boat was spotted by a commercial fishing craft that towed it the rest of the way. That was when she found that the antena of the radio base at the island ranger station had been damaged and reception was poor.

From the island, she said she was able to make a cell telephone call and learned that a major rescue effort including aircraft had been mounted. Later she punctuated her email with stanzas from the  “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. That was a 1960s television comedy about castaways who had signed up for a brief boat tour.

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Improper relations ban is now the law

Costa Rican law enforcement now has a lot more work to do. A law regulating sexual relationships between minor teens and those older went into effect Thursday.

Officials said there were 4,700 complaints filed in 2015 alleging improper relations between youngsters and adults.

The law, No.  9406, provides three years in prison for adults who have relations with persons 15 and younger if the difference in age is five years or more. The same penalty applies for persons seven years older who have relations with teens between 15 and 18.

The law mainly applies to young women, although there have been some scandals recently involving older female public school teachers having relations with students.

The law also prohibits the inscription of marriages of minors in the Registro Civil. The law received approval last October.

Although three years in prison might be intimidating, judges almost always give conditional release to those facing a sentence of three years or less if there are no prior convictions.

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U.S. will help keep King Air flying

This Beechcraft King Air is part of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública fleet.

This Beechcraft King Air is part of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública fleet.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública’s anti-drug police confiscated a King Air turboprop in 2013 in Valle de la Estrella on the Caribbean coast, and officials put it into service the next year.  Just like yachts, sports cars and even horses, such devices require constant maintenance. Not doing so is probably more catastrophic with aircraft.

So the U.S. government has dug down and come up with $1 million in special equipment, tools, repair parts and maintenance needs for the aircraft.

The aircraft is probably the most luxurious that the ministry has, and it can reach Island del Coco in 90 minutes, officials said. A boat trip to the distant Costa Rican island is 36 hours.

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Teen is the key to solving five murders

Photo from the Facebook page of Joseph Briones Solís shows him and his girlfriend, Stephanie Hernández. Both were murdered.

Photo from the Facebook page of Joseph Briones Solís shows him and his girlfriend, Stephanie Hernández. Both were murdered.

An injured 14-year-old girl is the key to solving the murder of three women and two men Thursday morning in Liberia. The girl survived, and investigators are seeking at least one person based on what was overheard from her cell telephone.

The girl, visiting her cousin from Upala, mentioned a man. It was this audio message that caused a neighbor to respond to the scene about 6 a.m.

Four of the five dead are students at the Liberia branch of the Universidad de Costa Rica. They are Dayanna Martínez, 24, Joseph Briones Solís, 25, Stephanie Hernández, 23, Ingrid Serrano, 24, all students. Also dead is Ariel Antonio Vargas, 24, who was a salesman for a local firm. He is believed to be the teen’s cousin.

Four of the bodies were bound hands and feet and gagged. All five had their throats cut. Some may have shown brief signs of life when Cruz Roja rescue workers arrived.  The students did not seem to have been involved in any activities that might bring retribution. Some are from the Upala area.

A report from Hospital Enrique Baltodano in Liberia said that the 14 year old survived her operation.

The absence of a clear motive seems to have hampered the investigation and generated a lot of speculation in the country.

Walter Espinoza, the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said that the work of agents was methodical. He said that once the victims were determined to be dead, the murder scene was cleared and investigation concentrated on the exterior. Only later did forensic investigators enter the scene in search of clues.

He said three of the bodies were on the floor and two were on a bed. All were in the same room of the three-bedroom rented dwelling.

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Arrests made in four cases of property fraud

Judicial agents detained five persons Thursday in an investigation over fake property documents inserted in the Registro Nacional.

Agents said that the individuals were seeking others to pretend to be owners to sell the property to unaware buyers. The men involved are  39, 47, 52 and 54. Also detained was a 31-year-old woman.

Agents said that the case involves four Guanacaste properties that were sold illegally.
Arrests were made at homes in San José and Heredia, as well as on the public street in Santa Ana and San Francisco de Dos Ríos, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

In order to place fake documents in the Registro Nacional the services of a notary is needed. The judicial agency did not say if any of those arrested were notaries, a type of lawyer.

Stealing properties with paperwork is profitable because Costa Rican law protects those who are assumed to be innocent third parties who purchase stolen properties and who may not be so innocent. That leaves the real owner with little recourse.

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A divided U.S. is reflected in expats living here

U.S. expats in Costa Rica are at least as divided and hesitant as those back home. On the day before Donald Trump is inaugurated president, few here wanted to voice an opinion.

Even the United Nation’s University for Peace in Ciudad Colón was reluctant to become involved as an official there rejected a proposal for a woman’s march that was perceived as anti-Trump.

Nearly every expat contacted Thursday for views on their expectations of the Trump administration was hesitant to do so. Kathy Rothschild was one who was not. She is a resident in Heredia and chairwoman for the Costa Rica chapter of Democrats Abroad.

More on inaugural HERE!

Ms. Rothschild is trying to be hopeful, but quickly said that the fear of the unknown and worry in many people from minorities to friends and family has her concerned. She said the rector of the University for Peace, Francisco Rojas Aravena, rejected a request to march on university grounds for what was described as being a non-partisan march for women’s rights.

Democrats Abroad also is a divided group because many members supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

Several watch parties and marches are expected Saturday in places like Playa Guiones, San José, Monteverde, Cahuita, and Grecia. The majority claim to be non-partisan and welcome all to participate. The one in the capital will begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. in front of the main Correos de Costa Rica building. The Amigos de la Paz are participating. Their attendees are being asked to dress in white with the march to the Plaza de la Cultura. Organizers said they will be distributing leaflets and be out in a non-partisan, peaceful manner.

Amigos para la Paz said the march was about world peace, and a statement said the event was not against a misogynist president, meaning one who has contempt for women.

There are many such marches in the United States planned for Saturday, and although announcements are critical of Trump, organizers say the purpose is for something else.

One woman who is helping to organize a march said she had been pounded on social media by Trump supporters.

One reader responded to a Thursday story and asked jokingly where the Costa Rican march for Trump would be held.

Another reader who identified himself as Michael Staryk said by email that on “Nov. 8 the U.S. elected a new president. They voted against socialism, affirmative action racists and shrill feminist screamers.”

Staryk then urged this newspaper to ignore “these extremist losers rather than encouraging their pathetic wailings.”

Ms. Rothschild said that she and others were planning on doing a public activity since November and were gathering permits and support. No one would provide a permit.

“They all thought this was an anti-Trump march despite our insistence that there would be no signs displaying party affiliation or anti-Trump slogans,” she said.

A staffer at the University for Peace would not assist obtaining a comment from the rector.

Some Latin Americans were not shy in expressing their opinions regarding the upcoming Trump years.

“The decision made by voters in the United States to elect their new president has a far-reaching impact for many parts of the planet,” said Shirley Victoria López, a Costa Rican and resident in Coronado.

She is unsure of how or why Trump was elected, but supposes that perhaps it was because of an element of fear among citizens of the United States of losing jobs or a fear of immigrants entering the U.S., the mother of two said while watering her bouquet of flowers to give to her daughter.

María Laura Ocontrillo, a Costa Rican resident of Moravía in San José, described her disbelief that Trump was elected despite the shortcomings of Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton. She was visiting relatives in Los Angeles, California, around the time of the election and blamed the apathy of voting in the United States.

Klaus Bengochea is a Venezuelan national living in Costa Rica. He compares Trump to Venezuela’s own former strongman Hugo Chávez. “You can take a speech from Chávez back in 1999 and it is the same words that Trump is using now,” he said.

Bengochea noted the effect of the United States’ commercial power in Latin America by listing off various products to pointing at the Holiday Inn building in San José. “They are all American companies,” he said, “He wants to bring businesses back to the United States, but why are they all here? Because it’s cheaper. This doesn’t affect just the people of the United States, but all of Latin America.”

Meanwhile, Casa Presidencial is trying to ignore the inauguration.

Those who do not have cable will be able to watch inauguration activities and Trump’s first speech as president via live streaming at several sites on the internet.

The U.S. Capitol and the Capitol Reflecting  Pool are shown ahead of today's presidential  inauguration.

The U.S. Capitol and the Capitol Reflecting
Pool are shown ahead of today’s presidential
inauguration.

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Five Costa Rican men and women slashed to death

Three women and two young men died at the hands of a killer in Liberia, and another young woman barely survived, judicial agents said today.

The scene was in Barrio La Victoria, and most if not all of the dead were believed to be university students.

The survivor was undergoing an operation at the Liberia hospital. She suffered a slashed throat.

The killer tied up most of the victims, presumably before executing them. Judicial agents said they have no motive yet for the crime, which probably happened this morning before 6:41 a.m. when local police received the alert.

Some were still alive when Cruz Roja aid workers arrived.

The dead had had their throats cut.

All of the dead were believed to be Costa Ricans, and some of them lived in the dwelling where the crime took place.

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Three face sentencing in U.S. FBAR case

The U.S. government likes to publicize criminal actions against taxpayers in advance of the normal U.S. income tax filing deadline of April 15.

Wednesday, three men from Orange County, California, received the honor. The trio pleaded guilty today to willfully failing to report their foreign bank accounts in Switzerland and Israel, the Justice Department announced. The case involves reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, known as FBARs, a document many U.S. expats in Costa Rica should file with their taxes.

The men are Dan Farhad Kalili, 55, of Irvine, California; his brother, David Ramin Kalili, 52, of Newport Coast; and his brother-in-law, David Shahrokh Azarian, 67, also of Newport Coast. They admitted that they willfully failed to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts with the Internal Revenue Service regarding secret bank accounts in Switzerland and in Israel that each maintained and controlled, many for well over a decade. These secret accounts held assets that reached into the millions of dollars.

“The days of being able to safely hide income and assets offshore and evade U.S. tax have come to an end,” said Caroline D. Ciraolo, principal deputy assistant attorney general. “The United States and foreign jurisdictions are sharing information and working together to ensure that citizens around the world are paying their fair share. The guilty pleas entered today are yet another example of what awaits U.S. taxpayers who continue to flout the law.”

U. S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford scheduled sentencing for April 24. The three defendants each face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties, said the Justice Department. In addition, each defendant agreed to pay a civil penalty for willfully failing to file the documents. Dan Kalili agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2,674,329, David Kalili agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1,325,121 and Azarian agreed to pay a civil penalty of $951,607, the Justice Department said.

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Surf tourney to be at Playa Dominical

Surfers hope to catch some waves at Playa Dominical in Puntarenas for the 17th annual opener of the summer surf season in Costa Rica.

The Circuito Nacional Kölbi will begin Saturday at 7 a.m. in front of the Tortilla Flats restaurant with organizers expecting surfers to participate in six rounds of events. The prize for this event is the HOOKD Cup, which organizers say is the most important surfing championship in the country. The event is expected to close around 5 p.m. before picking back up the next day during the same times.

The Federación de Surf is beginning the Olympic cycle in preparation for the Tokyo games in 2020 and also the preliminary qualifying rounds for the World Cup hosted by France. This particular competition in Dominical offers federation members to gather a list of athletes for the preliminary rounds. The last day to enter for the HOOKD Cup will be Friday at Tortilla Flats between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

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Ruiz honored as top male soccer player

Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz and U.S. player Alex Morgan, have been named the male and female players of the year by the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.

In an equally-weighted vote among member association women’s and men’s national team coaches/captains, media and fans, Ms. Morgan captured the award for the second time, while this is the first honor for Ruiz.

Ruiz enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign with club and country.  The 31-year-old was key in Sporting Lisbon’s run to a runner-up spot in the 2015/16 Portuguese Primeira Liga and a berth in the Champions League.  He also helped Costa Rica to a first-place finish in Group B in the fourth round of  qualifying for the 2018 World  Cup, scoring in a 3-0 win over Jamaica, and played in all three of the Ticos’ games in the Copa America Centenario.

Ms. Morgan, recipient of the inaugural confederation award for the region’s top female player in 2013, finished level with Carli Lloyd as the USA’s joint-top scorer in 2016 on 17 goals, including five in the Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship and two in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.  She also netted four goals in 15 games for the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League.

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Desamparados getting new municipal hall

The Municipalidad de Desamparados is planning a new municipal complex that will include parking, a theater, a bank office, a pharmacy and an artists market.

The municipality signed an agreement Wednesday with the Instituto de Fomento y Asesoría Municipal for design work. The institute promised a design that would consider renewable technologies that are climate friendly.

The site will be where the municipal building is now. The block contains a library, a small parking low, a former lockup, the municipal theater and a former educational building that was the first in the canton. The design is supposed to integrate these historical elements and provide more space for the library and the theater.

The current municipal building is 50 years old and is overcrowded with 200 employees, the announcement of the contract said.

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Hurricane damage to water systems estimated to be about $2.6 million

Work crew tackles a busted water supply line.

Work crew tackles a busted water supply line.

The state water company has estimated damages from Hurricane Otto at $2.6 million. The agency said 23 water lines need to be rebuilt.

The company, Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, said that the damage was to facilities of the local water companies, the acueductos comunales. The state firm said that some 56 water systems were found to be affected by the passage of the hurricane and that 47,8997 customers also were affected.

Immediately after the hurricane passed Nov. 26, the state firm was supplying clean water to residents of the affected areas and its work crews began emergency repairs.

A more detailed accounting two weeks later showed that the real damage was to 134 waters systems and 134,343 customers, the agency said. The canton of Upala had the most damage with 19 major water lines destroyed or damaged.

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Here is something very typical for you to drink. We dare you.

Chan is, at once, one of the easiest and hardest drinks to find in Costa Rica for any brave drink tasters. It also could be among the healthiest, natural drinks too.

The drink is supposed to be found or offered at every hole-in-the-wall soda in Costa Rica. The first investigations for the elusive drink turned up nothing. Several different sodas or other comida típica places did not have it. The only recommendations initially were to go on an adventure into the backcountry or try the Mercado Central in San José.

To save the money for another bus trip, a reporter tried the Mercado Central and sure enough, at the Soda Tapia, the ladies working behind the counter had a batch of chan ready for a wary reporter to drink. It did not look appetizing. In fact, it resembled something that looked like some kid’s science experiment rather than a refresquería at the market.

Chan is the name for the seeds in the drink and the plant of the same name. The plant is part of the Lamiaceae, colloquially called the mint, family. It is native to Central America with a chan drink most prominently found in Costa Rica and El Salvador. The seeds are almost identical to chia seeds in the United States and Mexico.

The process to make chan is easy since it only requires the seeds, some water, and then some patience. The seeds are soaked in water for a time and fermented until they hydrate. When that occurs, a slimy, jello-like coating forms around the seeds and it is ready to drink. Although, it is not necessarily drunk so much as slurped.

The flavor has the fleeting aftertaste of green tea and the whole thing is mixed in with crushed ice. The texture will feel different, a cross between jello and ice. Once the drinker is past that initial reaction, it seems similar to an iced tea shake. Some people may add sugar or lemon.

For 1,000 colons at Soda Tapia, the drink is cheap and can be found in some grocery stores among the herb selection. Chan is an acquired taste and probably not recommended for those with weak stomachs or who have been consuming a lot of

The typical drink is the right kind of seedy.

The typical drink is the right kind of seedy.

alcohol just prior to ordering. Even so, the drink is alleged to have health benefits.

According to information from the National Institutes of Health, the chan plant, or Hyptis suaveolens, is used as a traditional remedy for treating inflammation and infection of the stomach along with preventing stomach ulcers.

In another study released by the health institute, chan also provides a good supply of almost all the essential amino acids for different age groups. It also is a good source of magnesium. The drink may not sit well in some people’s stomachs, but it seems to do the body good to drink now and again.

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