More Costa Ricans are plugged online

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More Costa Ricans  are connected to the Internet these days but less and less own their own computer, according to the latest data released by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Telecomunicaciones.

According to the institute, last year the number of internet users increased by 10 percent, as a consequence of more households with internet access. This has been a common trend since 2006, when the percentage of internet users was stuck at just 19 percent. In 2016, that figure increased to 62 percent.

In regards to homes with internet access, that criteria expanded from 10 percent in 2006 to 65 percent ten years later. However, the percentage of homes with computers, including both laptops and desktops, showed an increasing trend until 2014. As of 2015 and 2016 that percentage fell by 7 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

This situation means more and more people are accessing the web through tablets and cell phones, according to the investigation.

“These results show the importance the internet has as a way to improve the quality of life,” Edwin Estrada, the vice minister of telecommunications, said in a statement.

Part of the information used in the study comes from the National Survey of Households. This data is also used to feed the Digital Gap Index, which monitors the evolution of the telecommunications infrastructure on a nationwide scale and serves as a framework to develop the required public policies.

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Ombudsman calls for a better Caja

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ombudsman presented its annual labor report for 2017, which analyzes the progress and problems on the state of labor and health care rights in Costa Rica.

Before the report is submitted to authorities in government, the Defensoría de los Habitantes usually repeats the recommendations of the United Nations human rights commission. Part of these recommendations refer to the need to further universalize social security, reduce the waiting lists in health services and ensure adequate equipment as much as personnel are provided for medical services.

The ombudsman is quick to note that these recommendations coincide with the main concern that it receives from the general public: a need to ensure better health care. Around 24 percent of interventions conducted by the ombudsman for 2016 were situations reported against the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social, the report found. Although the Caja has submitted plans to address these problems, the ombudsman believes that its implementation has not yielded satisfactory or convincing results, the watchdog said in a statement.

Total number of intervention requests from the public reached 22,887 in 2016.  The data was used to determine that the Caja was behind a substantial number of reasons for these requests. In second place came the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social at almost 18 percent of complaints followed by the municipality governments grouped together in a single statistic. The Ministerio de Educación Pública has also received complaints.

Defensoría said that, more often than not, it is the rural and urban poor who frequently submit these requests. The ombudsman has also followed up on its prior report on sustainable development objectives and the Agenda 2030, an evaluation on the state of poverty and democracy within Costa Rica.

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Vaccinations against influenza begin

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

1.3 million doses of a vaccine against seasonal influenza will be doled out in the next six weeks to constitute the largest vaccination effort ever undertaken by the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social.

Seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus that can come in mild or a severe form, Caja said. Occasionally, if not properly treated and left to develop, it can also be potentially fatal. Symptoms for influenza include: fever, cough, sore throat, stuffed nose, aches, headaches, fatigue and in some cases vomiting as well as diarrhea.

Data provided by the Caja said that, in 2016, 93 percent of people who died and had influenza were not vaccinated.

The director for the immunization program, Leandra Abarca Gómez, said that the vaccines have already been distributed to all health facilities under control of the Caja. Vaccinations began Monday with the different risk groups determined by the Caja can now request the shots without any mishaps, a statement from the entity said. These include: all pregnant women, all children between six months and five years old and those persons 60 years old and over.

Roberto Arroba Tijerino, the coordinator of immunization with the Ministerio de Salud, urged the population at risk to go to their respective health centers and receive their shots as soon as possible.

This represents an increase in the number of children to be included under the immunization program. Originally, that number only included children under three years old. With this expected increase, Caja has ordered more than 100,000 doses more in comparison to last year. The group invested over $5 million for the purchase of immunization.

Vaccination sessions will be extended until July 14, the Caja said.

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New bill seeks to exploit energy in national parks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Geothermal energy extraction inside national parks. That’s the bill set for discussion in the Legislative Assembly in the following weeks after it received preliminary approval by the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios.

The bill seeks to grant the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad an exclusive permit to exploit the geothermal energy at the three main volcanoes in Costa Rica whose surrounding areas have been declared national parks. Those volcanoes are Rincón de la Vieja, Tenorio and Arenal.

The bill will be studied under file number 19.233 and it was filed by Ottón Solís and Javier Cambronero, legislators of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. This is the current party of Costa Rica’s executive branch under the administration of President Luis Guillermo Solís.

During the legislative sessions, the deputy Solís explained the aim of the project is to satisfy future electricity needs under sustainable development criteria.

He has also explained that the institute would have to pay a yearly indemnity to exploit the geothermal sources. That fee would be two percent of the gross income generated by each plant.

According to the bill, the institute would be required to prevent pollution of aquifers, soil, and air. It also states that consultation processes should be carried out with local communities and productive units that could be affected.

As part of the commitments, the text states that ICE must consult local communities and productive sectors, which may be affected by the project.

As of now, 12.7 percent of all electricity generated in the country come from geothermal projects located outside protected areas.

The main source source remains hydropower, according to the Centro Nacional de Control de Energía.

Despite Solís’ optimism, members of academia do not agree with the benefits of the bill. In fact, the university council of Universidad de Costa Rica issued a statement recommending that the bill be killed back in February 2016.

The council considers that all protected areas are meant for preservation rather than commercial purposes. The document also considers the bill would destroy the surrounding flora and fauna.

These same worries are shared by environmental organizations such as Federación Ecologista, which considers the bill to be unconstitutional since it provides an open and generic authorization to ICE similar to an effective blank check on receiving exclusive rights to exploit the area within the national preserves.

Environmentalists also consider that international agreements would not allow the country to make that decision. Similar bills seeking to exploit the geothermal resources had never gone past the committee level in the past.

That’s the case of bill 17.707, which would grant permissions to public and private companies to exploit the geothermal capacities of the Arenal Tempisque Área de Conservación.

Bill 17.680, that sought the same goals in the Área de Conservación in Guanacaste was also dismissed and shot down.

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Five of the largest unions announce general strike

By Rommel Téllez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least five unions are calling for a national strike the last week of June, as a measure to stop the recently approved increase in the contributions workers should pay to the social security system.

On Monday morning, the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza announced it will go on strike on June 27.

This union represents the high school teachers across the country and it is one of the biggest in terms of membership at a national level.

On Monday afternoon, the Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense agreed to go on general strike that same week without setting up a specific date.

The Bloque is a confederacy of unions including that of teachers, doctors and social security workers, among others.

“We will provide a specific date in the following week because we need some time to organize the logistics involved and let our members save the dates to join us,” said Marta Rodríguez, spokesperson for the Bloque.

She is also Secretary-General of the Unión de Trabajadores de la Caja y la Seguridad Social.

According to Ms. Rodríguez, the call for strike will include health workers who will join the movement without completely interrupting emergency services.

“The only way we will call this strike off is when the government decides to stop the increase in the contributions and the executive director is removed from her post,” added Ms. Rodríguez. “Otherwise, we will fight in the streets.”

On Thursday, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados also asked for the resignation of María Saénz, current head of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social.

Union leaders are unhappy with the decision of increasing the monthly workers contribution to the social security in 0.5 percent of the salary beginning this July, and another 0.5 percent in January.

They have requested a halt to that decision, as they consider the measure to punish the working class for the mismanagement of pensions fund of the Caja.

Experts from the Universidad de Costa Rica have warned that the only way to keep the Caja financially sustainable is to increase the worker’s contribution up to 27 percent of their salary.

Otherwise, the pensions fund could go broke as of 2028.

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Some expats show they have the write stuff

Special to Retire NOW in Costa Rica

Retirement in general is good, and retirement to Costa Rica is great. But soon a new arrival begins to wonder what to do with all the free time.

A local businessman who provides international relocation points out that not having a clear retirement focus can be fatal. When a retiree spends his days drinking beer and watching television, health may be threatened, he cautions. He has done a lot of business moving the possessions of widows back to the home country because of that, he said.

Another expat retirement expert has updated her book on retirement here and also warn retirees about too much free time.

Says the expert, Helen Dunn Frame, of her book: “The biggest change was to do with Retirement 101, Planning Beyond Financial Security, now Chapter 1 . . . It talks about planning how to fill the wonderful free hours so you don’t get bored and depressed which may lead to death.”

She joins hundreds in the medical field encouraging retirees to stay active or face the consequences.

A number of expats here have heeded this advice and turned to authoring books. Just as modern technology has reduced the costs and efforts of producing a newspaper or magazine, so it has for writing. And there are plenty of places offering help for a price.

A.M. Costa Rica’s files shows it has outlined the works of expat authors, including: historian Alfred Stites, Grecia resident Joseph Riden, Albert A. Correia who completed a fictional trilogy, local pastor Kenneth D. MacHarg, Aaron Aalborg, Michael Crump and K. Francis Ryan, Escazú poet Ficklin Bryant, former Alajuela resident Mary Jay,  Santa Ana resident George Pritchard Harris, heart surgeon-turned-culinary expert Lenny Karpman, land-use expert Armond Joyce, Grecia resident Paul Furlong and even anonymous expats. There are many others too numerous to mention.

The late A.M. Costa Rica columnist Jo Stuart wrote at times about her book club and the successes of its members, Frans Lamers, Greg Bascom, Crump and Carol McCool. Ms. Stuart published her own book based on her newspaper columns here. She said the regular meetings of the club promoted creativity.

The Amazon website lists over 100 pages of books about Costa Rica. Many contain travel information. Many are action fiction. Some, though, are highly technical and the product of a life’s work.

And each day the technical aspects of publishing a book become easier. There are services such as Smashwords that can quickly translate a Microsoft word manuscript into the handful of standard electronic formats and distribute it to retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. Amazon, itself, runs a self-publishing service in which the author can get up to 70 percent on sales.

Createspace also will generate electronic formats for a self-publisher, but it also can produce print versions on demand. Amazon also has its publishing program.

The investment was enormous when books had to be produced on paper in large quantities. So were the prices. Sociologist Mavis Biesanz and associates produced her classic, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” in 1998. The price still is $24.50 on Amazon. But electronic books can be had for free and at prices as low as $1.99. That’s because the author can put up a book for under $100. And now nearly everyone has a hand-held reading device for electronic books.

Another authoring pioneer of sorts is Chris Howard who has produced travel books, language books and real estate, mostly on Costa Rica for years. Another pioneer is rancher-turned-environmentalist Jack Ewing, who came to Costa Rica from Colorado in the 1970s. He turned a cattle operation into Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, and the natural beauty is captured in his books.

Of course, there are many online sites that are ready to help. R. Bowker Co. used to provide international book identification numbers for free. Now the company tries to ratchet authors up to $395 with its self-publishing package. Individual identification numbers are $125 each

The firm that has captured millions from writers over the years by exploiting the dreams of authors is Writer’s Digest, which publishes a magazine and the annual Writer’s Market. The Poynter Institute, the prestigious chronicler of the newspaper industry funded by The Knight Foundation, even has a low-budget online writer’s workshop directed by Coach Roy Peter Clark. Even the spelling and grammar program Grammarly is marketing its product heavily to would-be writers.

In short, a potential author can drop thousands of dollars on products that may or may not be useful.

Unfortunately, writing, however sparkling, is only part of the equation. Nikki Halliwell, an author at Help For Writers, warns on her firm’s website that “self-publishing involves far more than just writing. The process of creating and releasing a book offers the opportunity to indulge in many creative skill sets, such as cover design, marketing, building a fanbase and many more.”

In other works, the new author really is in the marketing business fighting an uphill battle against better-known writers, large publishers and flashy trends. And Mark Coker, Smashwords founder, candidly admits that some authors who publish through his site never sell a single book.

Then there is the way large publishers work. Peter Benchley, who wrote “Jaws” in the early 1970s, was asked to do that in part because of his family name. Reporters at top newspapers and magazines routinely are approached by publishers who already have a story idea in mind. Frequently, the reporter has no special knowledge on the subject.

Still, plenty of expats are achieving a personal dream by producing a novel or non-fiction epic. Some even use self-publishing to harangue Costa Ricans about their Kafkaesque encounters with officialdom.

And the writer’s payday at the end of the rainbow would be a call or email from a Hollywood producer who wants to put the work on the silver screen. That does not seem to have happened yet.

A.M. Costa Rica originally published much of this article.  Retire Now In Costa Rica

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McKinsey firm expanding Heredia operations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, announced that it would be expanding its operations based in Costa Rica by moving into a new building to support its expanding number of full-time employees.

According to a recent statement by the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior, McKinsey started its Costa Rica operation back in 2010 with a core team that has eventually grown to 700 employees. The plan is to double that number when the company moves into a new building and also expand its local operations beginning in early 2018.

The consulting firm is based in Ultrapark II in Lagunilla, Heredia. The move garnered enough attention that Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís gave his own personal praise for the company’s plans to expand. Solís also made a visit to the company’s facilities to meet with local managers and employees of the company.

“McKinsey is making substantial investments in Costa Rica because of the wealth of the country’s talent market,” a follow-up statement by Casa Presidencial said. “Costa Ricans contribute to the development of these sophisticated and progressive skills and enrich their own careers.”

For his part Andrés Cadena, a senior partner with McKinsey, said that “the dedication and talent of Costa Ricans is what makes our center a success for our clients and we hope to continue recruiting and developing new employees and creating attractive careers for our employees.”

McKinsey has consultancies located in 110 locations and more than 62 countries, the foreign trade ministry said. It spans across all industries and functions and provides strategists, marketing staff and experts to its client customers.

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Eclectic gardening mixes old favorites with a tropical locale

This morning I planted azaleas out in the palm garden. Why? Because I am an eclectic gardener, that’s why. Eclectic is good and we have a great climate for an eclectic gardener.

What is an eclectic gardener? Why, it’s someone who plants azaleas from up north with palm trees from the tropics. It’s someone who puts hydrangeas next to the ornamental ginger and roses next to the hibiscus.

And why not?

We may love our tropical  location but we also love the plants we grew up with. Yes, I still miss violets, daffodils, and lily of the valley even though I love my orchids, spider lilies, and butterfly white ginger, but we grow what will grow and I like to mix it up.

We gardeners mix it up for a lot of reasons.  Color, of course, is the first. Sometimes you can’t find the right combinations for the garden. If you want a rainbow of colors, you have to search long and hard for the right tropical plants so becoming eclectic is a good choice. Scent is another issue.

Most of the highly scented flowers I have been growing come in a short range of colors. I would love to grow more roses in a range of colors, but the leaf cutters have finally defeated me and I am going to pull them out of their bed and just scatter them around to take care of themselves. After all, why should I provide a concentrated buffet for leaf cutters by placing my roses all in one spot? Let them work for the food!

Height is an issue. My favorite edging plant is the dual use Tradescantia pallida, wandering jew, temperate and tropical but some of my tropical edgers have suffered from failure to spread. Sometimes I have been told that a plant will grow only 3 feet tall, then it suddenly takes off and exceeds the space allotted. This happened to me with my Brazilian Plume (Jaccobinia) so if you have a plant name, check the web before putting it in the ground.

My Jacobinia plants are now about 6 feet tall and need to be relocated.
Then there are issues of bugs not limited to leaf cutters and fungi that, if they start in one plant, will continue to a new species. Sometimes you can fool them by putting temperate plants next to tropical.

So go ahead and mix it up. After all, it is your garden!

A word of caution for gardeners

Locally near Nuevo Arenal there has been a case of murine typhus.
This Is NOT Typhoid fever and is NOT CONTAGIOUS!

Murine typhus is due to Rickettsia typhi and is spread by fleas. Early symptoms are flu-like such as muscle aches and pains, fever, chills that are followed by a rash. Please go to the web and review the material from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

This is a VERY RARE DISEASE. Hawaii sees perhaps 5 or 6 cases a year. If you have symptoms, see a doctor as the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Plant for the Week
And now a pretty picture from England with wisteria climbing the walls.

If you would like to suggest a topic for this column, simply send a letter to the editor.  And, for more garden tips, visit HERE!

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UCR students hope to create first regional solar weather database

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the hopes of creating the first Central American database of solar weather, a group of young scientists from Universidad de Costa Rica have rolled up their sleeves to actively work in the creation of the first regional radio-telescope.

This project is sponsored by the Vicerrectoría de Investigación at Universidad de Costa Rica and, once completed, it will allow the science community to better understand how the radio-magnetic behavior of the sun effects our livelihood, particularly in the areas of telecommunication services.

To achieve this goal, the group, which includes astrophysicist and electrical and mechanical engineers, will transform an old satellite antenna located in Santa Cruz in the province of Guanacaste, according to Carolina Salas, astrophysicist and head of the project.

“It is an old antenna first used to track an specific satellite,” Ms. Salas said. “It is a fixed one so right now it doesn’t work as a radio telescope so we have started the project by redesigning it in a way that it can move.”

“Once that part is complete, we’ll also work on creating a receptor that fits the antenna and start gathering radio information of the sun weather. This will take no less than six years and we are all very excited about it,” Ms. Salas added.

The scientist explained that a radio-telescope allows to keep better track of the events happening outside the earth, since radio waves are not affected by clouds nor the weather.

She also said that, at certain frequencies, it allows to make general scans of the radioactivity coming from other celestial bodies.

“This was a long time idea that one of our former professor in the School of Physics had,” Ms. Salas said.

“He then retired and I continued with the idea to make it happen. I also love this project because that’s the area I have be specialized in: the study of the sun.”

The antenna was donated by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad a few years ago. The rest of the project get its funding from the Universidad de Costa Rica.

This includes the rights of use once it is finished, according to Manrique Oviedo, spokesperson from the Vicerrectoría de Investigación.

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Costa Rican universities network at international educator fair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives from Costa Rican universities scoured the area and signed agreements at the recent fair for international educators this past week.

The National Association for Foreign Student Advisers, or NAFSA, fair is considered the most important event in the higher education sector for the Americas, according to a statement issued by the Promotora de Comercio Exterior. It attracts over 13,000 professionals from the education sector representing over 400 institutions of higher learning.

During the event, two Costa Rican universities signed agreements with international schools, while another obtained funding to promote international education.

The Universidad Iberoamérica signed an agreement with the University of California-Los Angeles to develop research programs and collaborate on medicine and international post-graduate training to become a doctor, Procomer said.

Additionally, EARTH University signed an agreement with the International Student Exchange Programs, an association composed of at least 300 member organizations. The idea is for the school to host students from upwards of 53 countries, according to Nico Evers, a representative for the university.

Universidad Latina and the U.S. University of Northern Iowa were winners of a $25,000 to increase student exchange across the Americas. This fund is awarded by the U.S. Department of State to promote strategic partnerships between U.S. and Latin American universities.

The other main universities of Costa Rica such as Universidad de Costa Rica, Veritas and Hispanoamericana also attended the fair to network among the participants and present their programs for the summer.

“This is a new opportunity to showcase the quality of the country and boost Costa Rica in international markets,” said Álvaro Piedra, the director of exports at Procomer.

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Henrietta Boggs, former First Lady, receives honorary doctorate

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The so-called First Lady of the Revolution, Henrietta Boggs-MacGuire, received an honorary doctorate from Birmingham-Southern College, a small liberal arts school in the U.S. state of Alabama.

Ms. Boggs-MacGuire received an honorary doctor of humanities to acknowledge her lifelong promotion of social change and equality, according to a statement from the college announcing the honorary degrees.

“When the 22-year-old Boggs-MacGuire–then a junior at Birmingham-Southern–decided to visit her aunt and uncle in Costa Rica, she had no idea she would end up influencing the fate of that nation,” the announcement reads.

“On that visit, she met and fell in love with Jose Figueres, a coffee farmer who would go on to lead the democratic revolution against the corrupt power structure.”

Ms. Boggs-MacGuire married Figueres, commonly known as Don Pepe in Costa Rica, on Oct. 18, 1941, and spent two years with him in exile in México and El Salvador. Many expats know the story that comes next: how a disputed election in 1948 led to the Costa Rican Civil War, which found Figueres leading the victorious rebel army and establishing a temporary junta.

That, of course, led to the creation of the modern Costa Rican state and the establishing of a new constitution and abolishing of the military that allowed Figueres to become president three times in the country’s history.

“As president, Figueres directed the creation of a new constitution and enacted numerous popular reforms–many of them stemming from the perspective his wife brought with her from the U.S.” the statement continues. “In her 18 months as first lady of Costa Rica, she pushed her husband for important changes, especially giving women the right to vote.”

Ms. Boggs-MacGuire subsequently divorced Figueres in 1952 and returned home to the U.S. The 99-year old currently lives in Montgomery, Alabama.

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Agents bust genteel marijuana lab

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization raided a hydroponic marijuana lab located located very close to the Alajuela courthouse. During the operation, the police arrested a couple aged 30 to 35 years old.

Authorities seized marijuana oil and about $18,000 in cash. Police also seized several tubes of Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive chemical extracted from the plant.

According to Eduardo Fallas, director of the regional judicial enforcement office in Alajuela, the raid began at 6 a.m. Friday at a small apartment in the Montenegro neighborhood.

Apparently, the couple produced high-end marijuana and its extracts and sold their product to wealthy clients. The clients were not many, but each one bought big amounts of the drug. Having few yet powerful customers helped the couple keep a low profile and make important earnings, Fallas said.

In the case of marijuana oil, each dose costs around $50 and are often sold at electronic vape stores and also as an aromatic essence in “well-being” stores.

The oil was made by a chemical process involving boiling the plants and adding aromatic essenses with the help of butane gas. The investigators learned about these activities through confidential sourcing.

After several weeks of monitoring, authorities were able to detect the arrival of luxury cars to the apartment and the departure of another one several times a week.

Investigators believe that one car was used to make deliveries but they are uncertain as if the couple worked with another network or close collaborators.

Today, the Alajuela head prosecutor is expected to request six months preventive custody for the couple, before the criminal court of the province. The Ministerio Público will file the charges of illegal growth, storage, processing and marketing of drugs.
The case is still under investigation.

As of August 2016, 41 hydroponic marijuana labs have been dismantled either by the Policía de Control de Drogas or the Judicial Investigating Organization, according to statistics by Ministerio de Seguridad Pública.

The first time a lab like the one in question was destroyed by police was back in 2003, in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, San José.
At the time, Authorities seized 416 marijuana plants and 12 kilograms of chopped marijuana.

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Lightning activity quadruples in 2017

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sensors for the Costa Rican electricity institute have registered over 1,650 lightning strikes in just the first two days of June alone throughout the country.

According to data provided by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the number of electric shocks quadrupled by comparison to prior data gathered in 2016. That has it reaching a total of over 295,500 based on the results from the seven detectors scattered throughout the country monitoring this.

Most of the reports indicate that the Pacific coast is the area most impacted by these atmospheric discharges due to the type of cloud overcast formed along the coast, officials said.

The detectors consist of a dome with three antennas for: electric field, magnetic field and the GPS system. According to the institute, the selected sites for the detectors are isolated from other wave interference, are flat and are far removed from people to prevent manipulation or damage.

Berny Fallas, the coordinator of atmospheric discharges at the institute, noted that the continuation of the rainy season will likely bring more lightning strikes.

The institute said that each detector covers a radius of at least 370 kilometers and is located in varying locations ranging from people’s farms to the airports in Costa Rica.

“In order to know the patterns of real-time lightning and to protect the electrical and telecommunications infrastructure of ICE, we have installed these instruments since 2002,” Ana María Barrantes, the director in charge of the system, said. “It sends information in real time to the central analyzer located in Sabana Norte.”

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Don’t eat the horse meat, officials say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization made a grisly announcement to citizens Saturday.

Three mares that were originally owned by a university located in Atenas were missing from the school’s facilities. A preliminary report from investigators hints that these animals may have been stolen or possibly slaughtered for the meat.

The problem, however, is that these animals are used by the university in relation to its producing of antidotes used to treat snakebites in Africa, officials said.

To that end, agents warned people to not buy meat from, what they called, strange people or those who were transporting it in an adequate way.

The mares were injected with snake venom samples as a means of determining the strength or viability of the antidotes. A person who consumes the meat could experience kidney problems or even problems with one’s nervous system, a statement from the organization said.

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Security forces issue crackdown on foreigners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public security ministry announced the capture of six foreign nationals in its bid to get tougher on enforcing the immigration laws of Costa Rica.

According to the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, the work stems from a May 15 directive by Gustavo Mata, the head of the ministry, to detain and deport foreigners with a criminal record in the country. In total, only 17 foreigners of varying nationalities have been detained for various crimes so far.

These include: four Colombians, four Nicaraguans and three Mexicans but also one U.S. citizen, a Canadian and a Swede, according to data released by the ministry.

Last Wednesday, the Fuerza Pública captured the U.S. man and the Canadian in Santa Ana during two separate incidents. Both will be deported by order of the immigration judge who oversaw their cases.

According to a police report, the American was in the country illegally but did not specify how. There was also no mention of prior crimes aside from being of an irregular immigration status.

The Canadian, who was apparently born in Iraq, was detained for a firearm inside his vehicle and also for managing for bring in almost $20,000 without it being declared. The Canadian was apparently on a tourist permit, which has since been canceled. Both will be deported pending any special circumstances, officials said.

In an operation done the same day in Puntarenas, police located a Swedish national who was detained for his own irregular immigration status.

Immigration authorities searched Costa Rican databases and found several prior incidents of robbery and domestic violence. He is also in process of being deported, police said.

A.M. Costa Rica reported on this phenomenon prior to Mata’s May 15 directive regarding citizenship potentially being granted to foreigners even though these subjects had prior, potentially extensive criminal records.

Until the first half of 2012, the Tribunal Supremo del Elecciones, which is the agency in charge of the Registro Civil, had been using INTERPOL alerts as a way to assess the criminal records of foreigners, according to Luis Guillermo Chinchilla, the head of the civil registry.

The Tribunal used to request a criminal lookup from the applicant’s own country for the same purpose, Chinchilla explained.

However, the Interpol alerts are not the best way to establish the past activities of any foreigner, since its main purpose is just to show if there is an outstanding arrest warrant for an individual, according to local officials attached to the INTERPOL branch in Costa Rica.

Individuals given a red notification on the INTERPOL website simply means that the person has an outstanding international warrant for their arrest.

These notifications are only kept in the system for five years or more depending on a government’s request.

They also go once the person has been apprehended or the charges are dropped. This does not necessarily mean the person was released or acquitted for alleged crimes.

As an example, persons applying for residency are supposed to provide a letter from police officials showing that they are law abiding.

However, under the current requirements, a U.S. citizen applying could obtain a clean record letter from one police agency in the United States while having been convicted multiple times in other jurisdictions. The United States does not maintain a central registry of criminal records.

Costa Rica officials have been known to bar entry even to tourists who are known gang members or who have well-publicized felony convictions.

As of last Friday, immigration authorities have detained at least 50 people for varying reasons. Some are currently detained at Centro de Aprehensión Región Central de Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

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New traffic reforms intend for harsher penalties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drivers must now abide by different regulations after the approval, in first vote, of a legislative reform that updates the current Ley de Tránsito.

The changes seek to make the law more efficient in regards to modern needs and behaviors on the road, according to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

Some of the most important changes have to do with driving under the influence of alcohol. As of now, whoever outright refuses to take a breathalyzer test when stopped by a transit police officer will be charged $600 automatically.

A similar fine will be imposed on drivers who produce excessive noise, pollution or fumes. The same goes for those who drive with tinted windows that do not allow a 100 percent transparency.

In the case of consenting to the test, the driver may appeal the first result and request a second test. However, if the second test also comes up with the same result, an additional fine will be charged.

According to the law, the second test can be administered via a blood sample. In that case, the driver has the right to request it and be taken by police officers to the nearest hospital or clinic that’s available.

For those who drive without a license, or drive with a license that do not match the type of vehicle it was issued for, the fine has been updated to be at least $200.

That same amount applies to drivers who travel with an excess of passengers and those who allow passengers to sit outside the cabin or in the trunk.

The exception to this rule are properly-equipped trucks used in agricultural activities, maintenance of public services and emergencies.

A $100 fine will be charged to anyone who disrespects fixed vertical or horizontal traffic signs, as well as those not complying with a direct order from the transit authority.

The same amount should be paid by taxi drivers who pick up passengers in unauthorized areas or drop them off in dangerous areas, even if it is at the request of the passenger.

In the case of freights and cargo services transporting trees, wood, stone, sand or general debris, they should now have the items fully covered to avoid small particles hitting other cars or passersby.

The new reforms do not include yet any reference for shared transportations services such as Uber, but it does continue to punish illegal taxi services, locally known as Piratas.

These reforms also do not seemingly attack the root of the problem, which is not necessarily the traffic laws themselves, but the ways in which they are administered and enforced.

Laws are only as strong as the ability of the authority and enforcer to properly penalize those committing crimes.

Frequently, in the areas of traffic violations, expats can see that time and time again there is no enforcement of proper traffic laws.

Many have told staff members of A.M. Costa Rica just the wildness and danger of driving within the capital whether by car and especially by motorcycle.

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Aduana makes $174,421 from public auctions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government’s coffers were filled a little more for the first quarter of 2017 after the finance ministry conducted public auctions carried out by customs officials.

According to a report from the Ministerio de Hacienda, the highest amount of goods obtained was from the customs house in Limón at a total of 88.3 million colons, or around $155,752. This was followed by the Aduana Central, the Aduana in Caldera on the Pacific coast and the customs-house at Paso Canoas in the southern border. The total yield from all these places was 98,548,023 colons, or around $174,421.

By comparison, the first part of 2016 yielded a total of 82,559,718 colons alone, according to data provided by the finance ministry. These public auctions are selling goods considered abandoned by Aduana, according to Hacienda officials. This means that they were not addressed to a definitive business registered with Aduana.

The goods vary between liquor to even vehicles, the ministry said. They can also be wrecked, have no known owner or are confiscated on a judicial order. Registrations are required to be a participant in the bidding and no general member of the public can randomly join it.

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Cops arrested for helping in sicario hit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For $2,000, two cops detained a paroled prisoner and delivered him to two sicarios, the Spanish name for hitmen, who beat and killed him with a knife in an apparently planned assassination, according to the Judicial Investigation Organization.

The homicide took place back in August 2016 in Heredia province, according to a report from the Ministerio Público. Investigators said the victim is Colombian and was serving  a sentence in Costa Rica for drug dealing. By the time he was ambushed by these police officers, he was exiting his Centro de Atención Semi-Institucional, a place where paroled inmates are supposed to go to sleep daily to keep their benefit of being out of prison.

The day of the case, the two Fuerza Pública officers shook down the man, handcuffed him and put  him inside their patrol car. This was captured on a surveillance camera close to 3 a.m. He was then taken to San Joaquín where he was delivered to his murderers, while the cops apparently watched the situation, according to the investigators.

The recorded video caught by a security camera clearly showed the man did not have any interaction except by those officers before he was assassinated, prosecutors said. The crime is being treated as a vendetta between rival drug trafficking organizations, according to Pablo Calvo, the Judicial Investigating Organization chief in Heredia. He also said one of the cops is under custody while the other is on the run.

The killers have apparently fled the country, so an international warrant was requested from the International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL. As part of the ongoing investigation, three properties were raided by judicial authorities.

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