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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 2           E-mail us
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Shark finning again comes to center stage here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Conservationists say that the country's fishing institute is allowing foreign ships to bypass required inspections when they come into port.

The situation involves ships that are in the shark-finning trade, a controversial occupation.

At the same time, a popular television chef reported that he was threatened and doused with fuel when he and camera operators visited Costa Rica and tried to learn more about shark finning.  The chef is Gordon Ramsay, the main figure in the show "Hell's Kitchen."

Local environmentalists and conservationists have been following shark finning developments for years. Costa Rican law says that foreign fishing vessels are supposed to offload at a public dock, in part so their cargo and be inspected.

The latest case involves ships from a Taiwanese company based in Puntarenas. Environmentalists, such as Randall Arauz of the Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, are miffed.  They thought the docking problem was solved when the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura and the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería said that by Dec. 1 every commercial fishing boat would have to unload its catch at the public docks in Barrio El Carmen, Puntarenas.

In mid-December the organization reported that two Belize-registered boats, the Yu Long 35 and the Hung Chi Fu 27 were unloading some 55 tons of shark at the private Mariscos Wang facility. They released photos.

After spending a week at the private docks, the boats moved to the public dock for inspection. The situation is as if customs officials at an international airport allowed passengers to take their luggage home and return a week later for inspection, said Arauz.

He was joined by Javier Catón of an organization called Asociación de Pescadores del Pacífico in expressing concern about the lack of immediate inspection.

The fishing ships that arrive should go first to a public dock under public scrutiny to offload their cargo completely and all the parts of the ship should be inspected where shark fins and other contraband could be hidden, said Catón.

In charge of enforcing the regulations are the  Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura as well as the Puntarenas port captain.

Finning is when fishermen catch sharks and just remove the fin for export to Asia. Frequently the disabled shark is dumped back in the water.

A growing Chinese middle class has increased the demand for shark fin soup, which usually is served on festive occasions.

The television chef, Ramsay, gave a highly dramatic interview to The Daily Telegraph in London. He said that the day before he arrived a Taiwanese crew brought in a load of hammerhead
Shark finning
U.S. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration photo
U.S. official inspects dried shark fins in an unrelated case. One source estimates that U.S. commercial fishermen killed 145 million sharks  over two years.

sharks and that police found 'bales of cocaine."

That event seems to have escaped the local news outlets.

Ramsay never really said where he was in Costa Rica when he was threatened, but he spoke of forts, barbed-wire perimeters and gun towers. He also said he managed to shake people who were following him and went up some stairs and saw thousands of shark fins drying on a rooftop as far as the eye could see. When he came down the stairs, someone dumped fuel on him, suggesting that he would be set afire, he said.

Then he reported cars with blacked out windows arrived and tried to block in his vehicle. He did not say how much of the incident is on tape.

Ramsay also said that Costa Rican police were present during some of his filming here and that officers advised him to leave. The incident is likely to provide negative international visibility to Costa Rica.

There is no recent report of cocaine being hidden in sharks, but Mexican police found cocaine in the belly of frozen sharks exported from Costa Rica in 2009.

Local environmentalists like Arauz are encouraged by an expanded U.S. ban on shark finning in U.S. waters that was passed last month. The law requires sharks to be landed with fins attached.

Costa Rica is a major exporter of shark fins to Asia. Thousands of tons of dried fins are exported annually.

Arauz and others have been protesting the lax controls on fishing boats for years, but central government officials basically have ignored their complaints.

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Top story index
Our readers' opinions
Prices are two or three times
that charged Tico neighbors

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read Mr. Tom Colborn's letter to the editor and the numerous responses. I have lived in Costa Rica six years and I am a permanent resident.   Mr. Colborn is absolutely correct in every word he wrote.  

I try to be a good neighbor and citizen.  I have contributed three computers to the local school as they only had one.  I paid for the materials to repair the road to our community after the water department destroyed it placing a new line and the municipality did not have the funds for repair.  Shortly after the road was destroyed, a  Tico neighbor's car slid off the road, and he broke his arm.  The 4 X 4 Cruz Roja ambulance tried for 2.5 hours to make it to the accident scene before giving up.   One of my employees leaves each afternoon at 3  to go to the local school to teach English as they have no English teacher.

How am I repaid?  My neighbor had a load of gravel delivered last week.  He paid one half the price for the same load from the same driver from the same gravel source as I paid three weeks ago.  I encounter the "Tico vs. Gringo" price on a daily basis.  You do not have enough space for me to itemize the instances where I have paid two to three times the amount for the exact item from the same store or vendor as my Tico neighbors.

Mr. Colborn did not mention that Costa Rica has some of the highest electric rates in the entire world, and ICE received another increase last October and have filed for yet another rate increase.  Is it necessary for ICE employees to drive Toyota Prados?  One of my elderly Tico neighbors busted out in tears when she received her last ICE bill.  She told me she would have to go without her heart medicine to pay her electric bill. 

I suspect the majority of the writers who are criticizing Mr. Colborn for telling the truth about Costa Rica are involved in either the real estate business or tourist trade.

To all of your readers who are going to write and say "go back where you came from" I say this:  Costa Rica has great potential.  I intend to stay and fight for change. 

To all of your readers who are considering moving to Costa Rica I  say this:  Do not believe the realtors or the tourist promoters.  Come here and live for at least six months before moving.  You will be glad you did.
Ted Douglas

Costa Ricans are way different
than North Americans

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Colborn’s criticism of Costa Rica by not calling it a paradise set off a firestorm of comments, many supporting his position, and many saying his point of view is flat out wrong.

As a foreigner who has lived many years in Costa Rica and amidst Costa Ricans, I have opinions about them as well. The Tico, like all people, can be petty, rude, selfish, thieving, corrupt, vindictive, down right spiteful and mean, envious, jealous, do stupid things, as well as being brilliant, innovative, generous, helpful, kind, caring, courteous, proud, honest, and all the other things that people can be.

But the Tico is indeed different, compared to other Central Americans, and certainly to the North American and Europeans. Of course, whatever I say is generalizing, but certain characteristics do stand out. They are: have an inferior complex when in the company of people from major countries, peaceful people, preferring to settle disputes through dialogue, not like their neighbors to the north where whipping out a knife or pistol is all too common in arguments, wanting to be liked or not disappointing the other party means never saying “no” to a request, knowing full well there is no intention of doing it, not being on time for an appointment, business, social or family or get something done, “more or less” is good enough for quality control, thin skinned, i. e., easily offended, a lack of awareness, not stupid,  meaning they do things as if they were alone on the planet, unmindful of the inconvenience caused to others, adoration to extreme of a fellow countryman or woman who succeeds abroad in anything.  There are other characteristics, of course, but this is enough to give you an idea of a difference.

Is the Costa Rican society and the way they do things defective, and has room for a lot of improvement? You bet it does. Man is not perfect, but then you could say that about every society or group of people. What really matters for us as foreigners is can we adjust to the Tico way, and still be happy, little by little improving that what is around us by example, and not by criticizing too much. It boils down to what you are comfortable with, and the type of challenges you are willing to take on.

If Costa Rica is too much to deal with, too frustrating, too disappointing, then go back to where you came from, and work with those people for local improvement.  Costa Rica is improving thanks to certain foreigners. Isn’t that always the case everywhere?
Robert Nahrgang S.

Writer should have trashed
his very public diatribe

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding Tom Colborn's letter to the editor last Thursday:

It always helps to get things off our chests by writing down what's griping us on a piece of paper, or these days, type them on a Word document on our computer.  However, it's usually unwise to send such a letter or e-mail; better that we throw it away or delete it.  Mr. Colborn's very public diatribe on Costa Rica would have been best kept to himself, or just shared with those close to him.  We have all had our bad and worst days and experiences here and we certainly share them, but not so publicly and viciously.  Bad things happen to people in all countries and we deal with it as best we can.  One could just as easily tear apart life in the U.S.  

He has touched a raw nerve with many of the expats and Ticos who reside here.  In the U. S., citizens get very irritated when foreign residents or guests belittle the United States publicly.  Complaining foreigners do not endear themselves, and often only create backlashes that serve no one and change nothing.  We all know the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  A more apropos saying in this instance might read, "When in Rome, don't offend the Romans." 

After all is said and done, it does not a matter of whether or not your observations are correct or incorrect, what matters is that you have publicly insulted a whole culture.  I sincerely hope that Ticos reading his message will not hold your message against the rest of the expats who have chosen to live here.

Basically, he has two choices, adapt to or leave Costa Rica.  Both are tough choices to make.  Adapting is the more positive choice and may require that he move to a more secure and tranquil area.  The latter choice is the one I hope he chooses.

Gene Warneke
Canaza, Osa Peninsula

Airport pat downs annoy
nearly every traveler

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I enjoyed the article about airport pat downs.
The woman who would like to think she got singled out due to her Middle Eastern dress style should not feel too special.
During my last trip to Costa Rica, I had to go through Atlanta's huge international airport.  I had to go through all the scanners, x-rays, searches, took the shoes, belt, and everything else off even though I had already done it in my hometown when I went through my local airport.  For the life of me I couldn't figure out what was setting the alarms off, so a pretty blonde woman ran her hands inside my pants, etc, etc.  "Hey this isn't bad" I thought.  Offered her 20 bucks to do it again, but she declined.  Anyway, turned out there was a tiny plastic bottle of Germ-X hand sanitizer in one of my pant pockets that I had missed.   Ooooooh, call me the mad bomber!  What a hoot.
Coming back I got another laugh in the San José airport.  The alcohol that I had bought at the duty-free shop had been torn apart by the package searchers and caused the plane to wait for the package to be retaped and sent to the plane.  The duty-free shop where I had bought the package was about 150 feet from the tables where the package searchers did their thing.  If someone thought that I had put something in the duty free box in such a short space of time and distance, they must have forgotten about the checkpoint I had to go through just to get in the airport — shoes and belt off, x-ray, metal detector, and all the rest of it.
No the Middle Eastern woman should not flatter herself in any way, manner, shape or form.  She simply isn't entitled to!  I am a white male, 59, six feet tall, and worked for the defense department 30 years as an intelligence analyst.  Clearances and all the rest of it. 
So if anyone wants to say that their race, religion, sex, clothes or anything else caused them to be searched I would like to talk to them!

But there is a happy note to all this as I hear more people are opting for travel via cruise ship and ground travel.
I am just glad that I don't own stock in an airline.
James Harrison
Charlottesville, Virginia

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 2
Latigo K-9

Fuerza Pública officers mounted this display of the items confiscated at the Fiestas de San José.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Paul Gamboa

Zapote fairground crowd yields a variety of weaponry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers did what amounts to a crowd survey at the Fiestas de San José from Christmas to New Year's.

The found a staggering variety of weapons being carried by those who sought to attend the event at the Zapote fairgrounds.

The haul of weapons represents a sample of what persons are carrying every day as they go about their daily chores.

Box cutters are a big item, perhaps inspired by the terrorists who took over the airplanes in the United States Sept. 11, 2001.

But one person carried a hammer. There also were brass knuckles, which are available for sale in the downtown.

The local hardware store can provide a screwdriver, which can be deadly if used for that purpose.
Police grabbed everything that could be used as a weapon. They managed to snag one fingernail clipper and a corkscrew that really might have been designed for the party afterwards.

In all, police detained 93 persons, some 41 for violation of drug laws.

They confiscated one pistol, nine knives, including one that would be at home in a butcher shop. Some of those carrying the weapons and drugs were minors.

Police officers set up a screening system around the fairgrounds.

They stopped suspicious individuals, but they did not get all the weapons that were introduced to the location.

In many neighborhoods everyone carries some form of weapon for defense. And the screening at the fairgrounds shows that a number of persons arm themselves each day even if they use non-standard weapons.

Legion will hear engineer discuss extra oxygen for health
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

John Erb has seen eight decades and credits what he says is his superb physical condition to the pressure chambers he has constructed. Erb, a professional engineer, will discuss his hyperbaric oxygen chambers at an American Legion meeting Wednesday at the Club Cubano in Guachipelin.

Erb is a strong proponent of the theory that flooding the cells with extra oxygen will make them stronger and more efficient. He even wrote a book, "Hyper Health" that outlines his theory that does not find universal acceptance in the medical profession.

He was the subject of an A.M. Costa Rica article six years ago.
Said the Legion:

"Originally designed as a device used to treat divers afflicted with the bends, the chambers are now used in a variety of medical protocols. Mr. Erb will explain the various uses including the possible rejuvenation benefit for seniors."

Erb has constructed four chambers, and the latest can accommodate 12 persons.

The Costa Rica Post 10 meeting starts at noon. The Legion said that a no-host lunch is available at the conclusion of the meeting.  All U.S. military veterans are invited to attend post meetings. Directions to Club Cubano are posted on the posts Web site

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 2

Leaf-cutter ants have their own form of Social Security

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ants in the tropical rain forest could inspire high-tech tools of the future that are strong and can withstand fracture. During the course of his work, University of Oregon research scientist Robert Schofield also discovered that when the ants are no longer capable of doing their job, nature takes care of these displaced workers.

He studied the leaf-cutter ant, the insect that is very common in Costa Rica and can be seen carrying a chunk of leaf back to their nest in a long procession with its companions.

Leaf-cutter ants have powerful blades on either side of their head. These mandibles are as sharp as any man-made knife, but wear out over time, according to Schofield.  

"It is stuck with one knife for its whole life," he says. 

Schofield built a tiny machine that could cut using blades removed from the ants and found that the colony spends twice as much energy cutting leaves as it would if all ants had sharp mandibles.  

Schofield said ants with dull blades cut slower and are less efficient on the job, harming the colony's ability to sustain itself.  So they stop cutting leaves. but they don't stop working. A single colony can harbor as many as five million ants, all specialized workers.  Some are soldiers, others nurse the young and grow the food. Still others forage for leaves and carry the leaves to the nest.  Those leaves are chewed up to provide a nutrient bed for growing an edible fungus, which is the main food source for the colony.

When Schofield compared the blades of ant cutters with ant carriers he discovered that once the mandibles wore down, the cutter ants changed jobs. "And, of course, if they were solitary when they could no longer cut, that would be the end of their lives, but since they are social insects, when they no longer cut, they can rely on their sisters and they can do other work that's beneficial to the colony. They can carry the cuttings back to the nest." 

Schofield said analysis of the mandibles could help in development of new high-tech materials and tools.  "For instance, up to 25 percent of the material in their blades is zinc. And we suspect that this bio-material helps
leaf cutter
University of Oregon photo
When these tools get dull, leaf-cutters switch jobs
prevent fracture, that it maintains a sharp blade without the blade fracturing." 

Schofield adds that understanding the insect's weakness could help farmers fight against leaf cutter infestations. "We've shown here in this paper that they are very sensitive to wear and so one might guess that crops that produce more wear because there were more abrasives in them, that there might be more resistance to these cutter ants."

Schofield sums up his findings in the title of his study: "Leaf-cutter ants with worn mandibles cut half as fast, spend twice the energy, and tend to carry instead of cut." It appeared online in advance of its publication in the Journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

A four-member team of researchers conducted the new study. The team studied a colony of the leaf-cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) from the Soberania National Park, near Gamboa, Panama. Leaf-cutter ants range from the southern United States through South America.

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News of Cuba      News of Venezuela
News of Colombia    
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News of Bolivia     News of Ecuador
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 2

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. may give in to demand
from new envoy by Chávez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration says it may nominate a new ambassador to Venezuela after the government in Caracas objected to the previous candidate, Larry Palmer.

State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley told reporters Monday that the United States believes it is important to have an ambassador at the post in the Venezuelan capital.  Crowley also said the administration regrets that the Venezuelan government rejected Palmer for the position.

Venezuela had complained about Palmer's comments that morale is low in the Venezuelan military and that Caracas has ties with Colombian leftist rebels. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said an ambassador heading to Caracas must respect Venezuela.

Late last year, Washington revoked the entry visa of the Venezuelan ambassador in response to Caracas' rejection of Palmer, whose nomination would have required Senate confirmation. The State Department said after revoking the visa that the U.S. had taken "appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action."

Crowley's remarks Monday came two days after Venezuela's president and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met briefly amid the dispute that has left their countries without ambassadors in either Caracas or Washington.

President Chávez and Secretary Clinton crossed paths Saturday in Brazil, where they were both attending the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as that country's first woman president.

Crowley said Chavez greeted Secretary Clinton, who returned the greeting. Crowley also said Mrs. Clinton was with other leaders who joined in the conversation, and that it went quickly from being a brief greeting to a broader but still informal and brief conversation. Crowley said he does not know what the two discussed.

European leaders vow
to defend weakened euro

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The leaders of Germany and France say they must strengthen the euro in 2011 to ensure the unity of Europe. The currency suffered in 2010, as some European economies faltered.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind the euro in her New Year's message. "The united Europe is the guarantor for peace and freedom," she said. "The euro is the basis of prosperity, and Germany needs Europe and the common currency."

The French president echoed her remarks in his message, saying the euro is here to stay. But the currency had a rocky time last year.

Both Greece and Ireland needed financial bailouts and there may be more on the horizon, says Hamish McRae, a commentator for the London newspaper The Independent. "There is an immediate problem, which is what do you do about the sovereign debts of the weaker Euro-Zone countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, conceivably Belgium," McRae said.

To reduce debt, many European nations instituted austerity measures, cutting back on government services and spending.  That sparked demonstrations and strikes throughout Europe with more promised this year. 

Weak European economies were the focus of an EU summit in December.  Leaders agreed to change the treaty that governs the bloc to set up a permanent mechanism for addressing sovereign debt problems, but the change will not take effect for three years. 

Traders are watching closely to see what economic decisions European leaders make to stabilize the euro.  McRae says the currency is not in immediate danger. "I am confident that the euro will survive for now.  I think that the balance of probability is overwhelmingly is it will not survive in the long term unless, unless there is total political union within the Euro Zone," McRae said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 2

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Seven sent on vacation
after televised scuffle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven police officers who struggled with television reporters and camera operators are on leave while the legal department of the security ministry studies their case, the ministry said Monday.

The seven are members of the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional, which is similar to a tactical squad.

The confrontation happened Thursday when police sought to enter a dwelling and make an arrest. Crews from Channel 7 Teletica and Repretel were present, as is usually the case on police raids. Sometimes the camera crews are invited and other times they learn of the event by monitoring the police frequencies.

The policemen face various allegations, including using excessive force. One newsman suffered a bloody nose. One police officer carried a non-regulation collapsible baton that he used as a blackjack.

Cameramen captured much of the confrontation on tape. The stations aired the event as a news story.

The confrontation happened in La Table de San Juan de Desamparados.

The seven officers were placed on vacation for periods up to 15 days, the ministry said.

Downtown vehicle ban
lifted for this week only

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Downtown San José vehicle restrictions are suspended this week while the transport ministry publishes a new edict in the La Gaceta official newspaper. No law or decree can go into effect without publication.

These are the restrictions that prohibit certain vehicles based on the last digit of the license plate.

Starting Monday the period of the restriction will be reduced to just 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The restriction that expired was for the entire work day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Traffic officials said they would try these new, limited hours for three months to see the effect and evaluate the results in April.

Traffic officials have come under mounting pressure because 20 percent of the private vehicles were prevented from traveling into most of the metro area. The restrictions included those who lived in the area.

There were a number of ways motorists tried to circumvent the restrictions, and police began setting up checkpoints on back roads. One lawmaker was caught with multiple license plates in his vehicle.

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