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(506) 2223-1327           Posted Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 4     Email us
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More than 400 Ticas have suspect breast implants
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Adolfo Ortiz, vice minister de Salud, estimated Tuesday that more than 400 Costa Rican patients received the foreign Poly Implant Prostheses, more commonly known as PIP. Worldwide hundreds of thousands are believed to have the implants. Ortiz said his calculations were based on figures provided to him by the distributor of the French-made product here in Costa Rican.

This type of breast implant has been at the center of a global controversy after it was discovered to be faulty.

The implants were sold freely in Costa Rica from 2009 until the middle of 2011 when the ministry revoked the product's health approval in the country, he said. The French enterprise was once one of the largest implant manufacturers in the world until it was found that the implants were more likely to rupture and that many of them were made with industrial-grade silicone rather than medical grade.

Ortiz said the biggest threat from the implants is their likelihood of rupturing, which can cause infection and inflammation at the site of the implant. He said as of Tuesday no such cases of rupture had been reported in the country. But there also exists the widespread fear that the implants can slowly leak the industrial silicone and cause the increased possibility of other health risks, such as cancer.

Ortiz said the accusations of an elevated risk of cancer for women with the implants has not yet been validated. The French health ministry reported through its extensive monitoring study that although several French women with the implants were reported to have developed breast as well as other rare types of cancer such as lymphatic or lung, the correlation of cancer and the implants has not been established and that actually the population of women living with the implants demonstrates cancer rates below the national average.

However the French government health officials as well as other countries such as Venezuela have said they would support women seeking preventative removal of implants. Ortiz said that Costa Rica will not initiate any type of recall or removal for the people living with the implants, but rather suggested monitoring of the implants with regular health check-ups. Some 30,000 French women are believed to have the defective implants.
breast implants
U.S. Food and Drug Administration photo
Silicone gel-filled breast implants get special scrutiny in the U.S.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said that the implant's failure rate due to rupture could be as high as 10 percent and removing them may be the appropriate course of action. The president of the association, Fazel Fatah, in a Dec. 23 press release expressed the opinion that the brunt of the responsibility should lie on those who implanted the risky devices in women.

“We believe there is a moral and ethical obligation on the clinics who performed these operations in the first place to facilitate the removal of the faulty implants for free or at the bare minimum cost,” he was quoted saying on the association's Web site.

Most of the patients living with the potentially dangerous artificial breasts in Costa Rica received them in the three major hospitals associated with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social: Hospitals México, Calderón Guardia and San Juan de Dios. Ortiz said this signified that most people probably had them inserted for reconstructive purposes following an operation for breast cancer rather than for cosmetic reasons.

To a lesser degree, he said eight private health care providers in Costa Rica are known to have administered the PIP implants. It remains unclear if other units were sold illegally or went undocumented by the distributor since the questionable implants began in circulation in 2001. But Ortiz, a physician, said he didn't think that was the case.

The Poly Implant Prostheses factory where the silicone products were made in the south of France has since been shut down and the implants banned.

The firm is bankrupt. The founder of the company Jean-Claude Mas, a former butcher, is now being sought internationally to answer a Costa Rican drunk driving allegation.

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High seas warning issued
for the coast of Caribbean

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency commission staffers have issued an alert for high seas on the Caribbean coast.

The condition began Sunday and is expected to last through today.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said the situation is caused by a high pressure area in the north Atlantic. The agency urged operators of small boats and swimmers to take precautions. The seas can produce strong undertows.

Snakes found to be carrying
fungus that kills amphibians

By the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

The blunt-headed tree snake (Imantodes cenchoa) not only eats frogs and their eggs, it also carries the killer fungus that has wiped out more than 100 amphibian species worldwide.

A new study by Vanessa Kilburn and David Green from Canada’s McGill University with Roberto Ibáñez, in-country director of the Panamá Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, confirms for the first time that the fungus causing the lethal disease Chytridiomycosis is present on nonamphibian carriers in natural environments.

The team surveyed 13 species of lizards and eight species of snakes from sites across Panamá using a genetic test to identify fungal DNA in samples taken from the reptiles’ skin with a cotton swab. They found evidence of the disease on up to 32 percent of lizards (Anolis humilis) and on three different species of snakes.

The irony of a frog-eating snake that carries a killer frog disease is that it may eliminate its own food supply, leading to its own demise.

Sardinal blaze threatens
two resorts along coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two vacation hotspots in Guanacaste got a little bit too hot Monday when a brush fire nearby threatened the beachside retreats.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos reports that at approximately 3 p.m. Monday a forest fire ignited and began to spread across undeveloped vegetation. Firefighters were en route to the blaze in Sardinal in Carrillo a half hour after it had begun. According to official reports, the fire, fueled by winds, passed across 20 hectares total, about 49 acres. The blaze came close to the Villa del Sol and Condovac La Costa resorts, said fire fighters.

The blaze was eventually suppressed at 11:30 p.m. by 16 firefighters with the support of two extinguishing units, one rescue unit and two support vehicles from Filadelfia, Nicoya and Liberia. A spokesperson for the firefighters said neither of the beach resorts were damaged, but half a dozen responders were affected by the smoke but could be attended to at the scene.

Find out what the papers
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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!
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Immigration officials had warning on British murder suspect
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The brutal murder of a Czech tourist near the Nicaraguan border last week may have exposed key flaws in Costa Rica's international security policies and control of its own borders.

The day before the murder, the principal suspect, English citizen Alfred Saunders, passed freely from Nicaragua to Costa Rica through a checkpoint in Peñas Blancas, despite having been pegged as potentially dangerous by the International Police Agency, known as INTERPOL.

Stabbed to death a day later was the 22-year-old Czechoslovakian woman Alexandra Drbohlavova.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, the INTERPOL report characterized Saunders, the son of English academics, as dangerous with a propensity toward suicide and sexual abuse, especially with minors. The report indicated he was a possible culprit wanted for homicide, sexual crimes and arms and possession of firearms and explosives. He was considered to be mentally unstable as well, possibly due to schizophrenia.

A spokesperson for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranería, Heidy Bonilla, explained that the international alert was added to the country's immigration database after INTERPOL formally solicited that it be added. She said the information regarding Saunders was known to the immigration officials who allowed him to enter the country. But, the classification of the alert as only a “green” one did not exclude Saunders from entering the country Dec. 26, she said. Ms. Bonilla said Saunders met all the requirements for entry.

After crossing the border, Saunders arrived at an organic farm, Finca La Libertad, in Aguas Claras de Upala Dec. 27. The farm owner had reportedly taken pity on Saunders, allowing him to borrow a tent and stay the night. Shortly thereafter Saunders stabbed his victim, who was camped close to him and volunteering on the farm, prosecutors allege. She was stabbed as many as 15 times in the face, neck and chest. Eventually the owner heard screams and came out of his house to find Saunders holding a knife and covered in blood outside of the women's tent, judicial police reported. The owner subdued Saunders and notified local authorities, police said.

INTERPOL has a variety of alert levels ranging up to red, which is an order to apprehend a suspect.  Yellow is a call to help locate missing minors, according to the agency's Web site. The green alert only provides a warning to local law enforcement and calls for monitoring of the individual, even
murder suspect
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
British suspect is led to jail

though, according to INTERPOL's Web site, a green alert is said to be used for individuals who have “committed criminal offenses and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries.”

The INTERPOL alert originally was generated by the agency's office in London Nov. 9, but a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization's press office claimed neither judicial police officials nor agents in the local INTERPOL office located across the hallway from the press office in the judicial police headquarters in San José had anymore details as to why the report was generated.

A reporter was told to call London to figure out why the green alert was actually added into the Costa Rican data base.

The suspect is currently being held by Costa Rican authorities after being given six months of preventative detention while the case is investigated.

Saunders is only the latest of a procession of questionable individuals to enter Costa Rica without trouble. News files show that leading U.S. mob figures, fugitives and others seem to enter the country easily. However, immigration agents have been known to turn back individuals with extensive tattoos and those known to be associated with U.S. outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Comic book fans and characters will convene this month
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Freaks, geeks and comic book fiends of Costa Rica can now enjoy a two-day convention dedicated to those aficionados of  popular culture in the first ever BoomCon, Jan. 21 and 22.

This is the first of its kind in Central America, said U.S. expat Troy Nicholson, founder of BoomCon. The comic book fan is excited to bring a Comic-Conesque convention to San José. Comic-Con is a three-day convention at the end of July in San Diego, California, dedicated to all things comic books and popular arts. It has transformed into a mecca for comic fans. Last year alone there were more than 45,000 visitors. And now, Costa Rica will have its’ own version.

For the popular convention many dress up as their favorite fictional character, a custom Nicholson hopes to be adopted in San José. He said that there is a large following of cosplay in the country. Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a sci-fi character in full costume.

He said he expects about 5,000 visitors to attend the inaugural convention inside the Antigua Aduana on Calle 23 where international and national famous artists will give presentations, pose for photos and sign autographs. Some of the participants are artists Tim Townsend, Phil Noto, Tom Bancroft, Christian Simpson, Dean Mitchell, and cosplay international model Yaya Han. Nicholson said he has confirmed a former musician with Marilyn Manson, Scott
Boom Con

Putesky, better known as Daisy Berkowits, and electro-duo DRTY LVRS for the convention

The popularity of smaller conventions in the country sparked Nicholson’s interest to make BoomCon a reality, he said. The Orlando native wants the event to include Costa Rica as much as possible, by which he invited Tico artists to participate.

“We want to give Costa Rica a chance. . . This gives the fans a chance to meet all the icons of pop culture,” Nicholson said.

As part of the VIP package, ticket holders can participate in the “drink and draw,” a night out with the artists at a bar, where they will, of course, drink and draw. Ticket prices range from 11,500 colons for an adult one-day pass and 14,000 colons for a two-day pass. VIP tickets cost 51,500 colons and that includes two-day pass, dinner with the special guests of the convention, a 30-minute entrance into the event prior to the opening, official BoomCon shirt, and admission into the “drink and draw.” Prices differ for children.

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Hopes of importing beer made with hemp go up in smoke
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who wants to drink hemp beer in Costa Rica will have to brew their own. The Sala Primera, a branch of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, has ruled again that such beer cannot be offered for sale in Costa Rica.

Hemp beer is a specialty brew that is said to have a more creamy head than conventional beer. And hemp and hops, the usual beer ingredient, is said to be close relatives.

Nevertheless, the Sala Primera magistrates rejected an appeal from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, which also rejected the importation of the product.

Originally the beer was rejected by the health ministry, the Ministerio de Salud, in 2008. Since then the case was in various courts.

The Sala Primera originally rejected the beer, a Swiss product called Hanfblüte, which was going to be marketed here by a firm named Nikimar S.A.

The Sala Primera originally rejected an appeal in March and then did so again late last year on a rehearing.

The would-be importers argued that the law against drug products was so broad that it covered morphine, which is imported into the country. They also argued that the beer
hemp beer
could not be converted into marijuana. The beer has an alcohol content of 5.2 percent.

Hanfblüte distributers have run into trouble in Europe when they advertised the beer with a marijuana leaf graphic.

Marijuana is readily available in Costa Rica, and the Internet provides recipes for making hemp beer.

Frontier police recover load
of hijacked flat-screen TVs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers of the Policía de Fronteras on the Caribbean coast got a tip that led them to 2,460 flat-screen televisions in San Isidro de La Virgen de Sarapiquí.

Officers secured the area until Judicial police arrived Monday. Police said that officials of the firm Gallo más Gallo de Alajuela S.A  said the electronic merchandise was worth about 181 million colons or about $360,000. Gunmen hijacked the merchandise when the tractor trailer driver stopped briefly on Ruta 32 during the last week of the year.

Police detained the owner of the property, who was identified by the last names of Salas Segura. They were seeking six to 10 other individuals who pulled off the robbery.

In all police encountered two shipping containers and a storage area. The containers were mounted on truck beds.
Police also discovered a 9-mm. pistol in a vehicle on the property, they said.
Flat screens
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Workers unload a trailer full of flat screen televisions.

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New U.N. food chief says
he'll work to end hunger

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Jose Graziano da Silva, the new director-general of the U.N. food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, said Tuesday his top priority is eliminating hunger, undernourishment and increasing food security.

Two days after taking office, Graziano da Silva, a Brazilian, said he personally has no time to lose, as his term in office will be only three-and-one-half years.

"FAO will scale up its support on a number of low-income food deficit countries, especially those facing prolonged crisis," he said.

Nearly one billion people are estimated to suffer from chronic hunger, and many countries are far from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing that number by 50 percent by 2015.

Graziano da Silva is the eighth person to head the organization since its establishment after World War II, succeeding Jacques Diouf of Senegal who held the post from 1994 to 2011. 

"Africa will remain indeed a priority during my mandate, Graziano da Silva said. "I will travel to the continent at the end of January to participate in the African Union summit and visit the Horn of Africa to see the situation and the work being done and firsthand."

The new Food and Agricultural Organization chief warned that difficult economic circumstances may lead to a reduction in funds for development. He said he would prepare for the organization's regional conference that he said would be held early this year.  Graziano da Silva laid out five strategic priorities:

"Eradicate hunger, move toward a more sustainable system of production and consumption, achieve greater fairness in the global management of food, complete FAO’s reform in pushing for decentralization, and expand south-south cooperation."

He added that one of the organization's main challenges is to be more efficient and responsive and promised to look for ways to strengthen the organization’s technical work and reduce administrative costs, while working closer with member countries, U.N. agencies, and the private sector.

Graziano da Silva made it clear that political will  translated into action is needed to end hunger, and this requires the commitment of everyone.   He said neither the organization nor any other agency or government will win this war alone.

Two U.S. cities targeted
by multiple arson attacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Arsonists have struck targets in the two largest U.S. cities, causing damage and raising concerns but resulting in no serious injuries.

In New York, authorities are investigating as possible bias crimes incidents that include a molotov cocktail attack against a mosque in the Borough of Queens.

Authorities say the device struck the door of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building Sunday as about 80 of its members gathered for dinner.  The attack was one of a string of such incidents.  A similar device also hit a convenience store shortly before the mosque was targeted.

Monday, police released a videotape of the attack and a sketch of a suspect, but no arrests have been made in the case.

Both the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, condemned the attacks.  The governor said they "go against everything we stand for as New Yorkers and Americans."

Meanwhile, Los Angeles police on Monday arrested a man in connection with more than 50 arson fires that destroyed cars and buildings, causing at least $2 million in damage.

The suspect, Harry Burkhart, 24, was arrested because he resembled a "person of interest" in the arsons, police said.

Burkhart had been observed on a surveillance videotape near the Hollywood neighborhood where most of the attacks took place. 

Los Angeles authorities point to a recent federal deportation hearing regarding Burkhart's mother as a possible motive in the case.

Despite having a suspect in custody, Los Angeles police officials encourage area residents to remain vigilant because it is an ongoing investigation.

Forest fires still rage
in southern Chile

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in southern Chile are still fighting numerous fires that have raged for several days, destroying more than 23,000 hectares (56,834 acres) of forest as well as dozens of homes.

Reports say the worst of the blazes was concentrated in Chile's southern Bio Bio region, where as many as 162 homes went up in flames, along with a timber mill.  In one area, an elderly man died after refusing warnings to leave his home.

Chilean authorities recently arrested an Israeli tourist, then released him on bond on suspicion of starting a huge forest fire in the Torres del Paine national park.  The 23-year-old suspect, Rotem Singer, has been ordered to remain in Chile pending his trial.  He faces a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $300 fine if found guilty. 

Prosecutors say that during a court hearing Saturday, he admitted to not properly putting out paper he set on fire in the park.

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Santorum, Romney tied
in first U.S. campaign test

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Social conservative Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are tied for first place among Republican candidates in the Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest of the 2012 presidential election.

With nearly all the votes counted, Romney and Santorum are tied at 25 percent and anti-war advocate Ron Paul is slightly behind at 21 percent.

After a poor showing, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a speech late Tuesday that he will head home to reconsider his presidential bid. He trailed former House speaker Newt Gingrich with about 10 percent of the votes.

“I've decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota vowed to stay in the race and compete in upcoming primaries, after claiming only about 5 percent of the votes.

Tuesday's caucus results in Iowa will most likely not reflect the eventual presidential nominees for either the Republicans. But the state's caucuses can push weak contenders out of the race, or propel stronger candidates to success in other states during the next several weeks.

Following the caucus on Tuesday, Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas, recapped some of the campaign themes that have distinguished him from his competitors.

He credited his success in Iowa above all to his strong anti-war stand and his desire for the United States to sharply curtail its international commitments.

”We certainly don't need NATO and the U.N. to tell us when to go to war. We have seen a great difference, the majority of the American people are behind us on this whole war effort. They're tired of the war, costs too much money, too many people get killed, too many people get sick. And, the majority, maybe 70 or 80 percent of the American people now are saying it's time to get out of Afghanistan.”

Paul pledged to press the same issues in the New Hampshire primary election next week, including his call for greater protection of personal privacy, reform of the Federal Reserve system and a return to the gold standard.

Former House speaker Gingrich trailed in fourth place with about 13 percent of the vote. He addressed supporters at his Iowa campaign headquarters, stressing his opposition to Paul's anti-war ideas.

“The fact is, his views on foreign policy I think are stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States. And I think it's a very simple question, which I would be glad, at the next debate, to ask Congressman Paul: If you have a terrorist who is prepared to put on a bomb and wear it as a vest, and walk into a grocery store, or a mall, or a bus, and blow themselves up, as long as they can kill you, why would you think, that if they can get access to a nuclear weapon, they wouldn't use it?”

Former U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman came in last with 1 percent of the vote. Huntsman has not campaigned in Iowa. He is pinning his hopes on a good showing in the New Hampshire state primary Tuesday.

The Democratic Party also held its caucuses. President Barack Obama was unopposed for the party nomination but hosted a live Web chat with supporters in Iowa Tuesday night.

He faces a difficult test to win another term in the November election. The nation's economy has recovered sluggishly from the 2007-2009 recession, leaving many voters questioning his leadership.

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