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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 4           E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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road work
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo
This is why there is a continual traffic tie up on the Autopista General Cañas. Workmen are rebuilding and resurfacing the bridge over the
Río Virilla. Transport officials suggest alternate routes including the new Autopista del Sol between La Sabana and Belén.

Who said that the Christmas season has ended?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In México and Spain today is a day that rivals Christmas. It is the Día de los Tres Reyes Magos or the day of the three kings. But for religious Costa Ricans, the day heralds another custom, that of communal prayer just before the nativity scene is put away until next year.

The Tres Reyes Magos are the three kings who the Bible said brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Much has been written and researched about this event despite limited biblical information. In Spain and México children receive the bulk of their seasonal gifts on this day. Here in Costa Rica today will be celebrated by expats from those countries.

For Costa Ricans, the day marks the end of the Christmas season and time to take down the home portal or nativity scene. This is much too important just to dump the tiny figures into a box. This is a time to invite neighbors and relatives for another fiesta. And time to put the Christ Child to sleep.

There certainly will be great food and some form of music. Maybe even a small band and perhaps fireworks left over from New Year's.

This is not a country event. Major sports and social clubs and organizations in San José are planning their Rezar al Niño, too. Technically, the event must take place before Palm Sunday, the day before Easter. Hardly anyone wants to keep their nativity scene up that long, so January and early February are the favored times for praying to the Baby Jesus.

The centerpiece of the evening is the recitation of the Catholic Rosary. This is not unusual in religious homes because such gatherings take place weekly. However, Rezar al Niño generally has a master or mistress of ceremonies of sorts who leads the group.

There is some religious discussion on the effectiveness of saying the Rosary. Some prefer spontaneous prayer instead of the standardized prayers of the Rosary. The Catholic Rosary is a string of five sets of 10 beads with a larger one before each set. The idea is that the beads help the faithful keep track of the number of prayers that have been said. Now there are reports that the Rosary has migrated to the iPod. Rosary beads sometimes can be found dangling from the rearview mirror in taxis.

Once around the beads requires the recitation of
Three Wise men
The Three Wise Men visit newborn Jesus from
a painting by Hans Baldung Grien, a German Renaissance artist. Some scholars argue that there may have been as many as 12 wise men.

50 "Hail Marys" and five "Our Fathers." Other religions have similar devices.

At the Rezar al Niño the prayers may alternate with the music. Perhaps a musician with a guitar is accompanied by appropriate hymns.

A wealthy household may have an elaborate musical presentation.

Technically the full recitation of the Rosary requires three trips around the 55 beads and as many prayers. But with the children getting restless, the food getting cold and the faithful getting hungry, one third of that number is the usual standard.

Those who supervise the Rezar al Niño sometimes do this as an occupation, so a small collection is taken.

Despite the religious nature of the event, a little guaro or wine can lubricate the vocal chords of all those guests who have been praying for the last hour. Some Costa Ricans may attend five or six such events as the Christmas season winds down.

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Atlanta university student
missing in surf at Dominical

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A university student from Atlanta, Georgia, is missing and presumed to be the victim of a riptide at a Pacific beach.

He is Erik L. Downes of Cape Coral, Florida, a junior at Oglethorpe University. A university statement said he
disappeared Tuesday evening.

A search is being conducted.

The university said that Oglethorpe students and faculty members are in Costa Rica for a short-term ecological study abroad trip.  Downes and others were swimming in the waters off Playa Dominical on the Pacific Coast when they were caught in the riptide, the university said.

Dominical tides can be treacherous. A man who helped set up a lifeguard unit there said
Studnet Downes
Erik L. Downes
that persons can be caught in thigh-high water and could be swept out to sea. The rip tide develops when surf recedes through a narrow channel and all the force of the water is concentrated in a small area.

A pre-med major at the prestigious liberal arts school, Downes leads the Student Senate as vice president of the Student Government Association, said the university. He also is a resident assistant and active in the Center for Civic Engagement service projects, a statement said.  He attended Canterbury School in Fort Myers, Florida.

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Oglethorpe community are with Erik and his family and many friends,” said Lawrence M. Schall, Oglethorpe University president. “In a close-knit community of 1,100 students, this is having an impact on everyone.” He was quoted in the university statement.

“We are continuing to reach out and communicate with our students, parents, faculty and broader community,” said Michelle Hall, dean of students. “We are standing by to provide counseling services to students as they come back to campus from winter break on Sunday.”

City talks to judiciary
over construction access

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of the Municipalidad de San José and the executive director of the Poder Judicial have conferred on road work planned to start next Monday on Avenida 8.

The executive Director, Alfredo Jones León, complained earlier in the week that access to the judicial complex would be cut off by the work.

The municipality is improving the entire avenue, and this stage includes the area from Calle 13 to Calle 25.  That section runs along the south side of the buildings housing the Corte Suprema de Justicia, the Judicial Investigating Organization and the courts.

The municipality said Wednesday that municipal engineers and supervisors for the contractor, Cemex de Costa Rica, visited the area and have come to an agreement with the Poder Judicial over access when the work is going on.

$200 million plan starts
in impoverished Haiti

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations this week launched a 20-year, $200-million environmental recovery program in southwest Haiti that aims to benefit more than 200,000 people and show that sustainable rural development, from fisheries to tourism, is indeed practical.

Lessons learned during the execution of the project, covering a land area of 780 square kilometers, about half the size of Greater London, and a marine area of 500 square kilometers, can be extended to the rest of Haiti, the poorest, least stable and most environmentally degraded country in the Western Hemisphere, the U.N. said.

“Restoring the region’s environmental services will be a key step towards restoring a real and long-lasting development path for its people and a stepping stone towards a green economy,” said Achim Steiner, U.N. Environment Programme executive director.

The Côte Sud Initiative, jointly sponsored by the Environment Programme and a consortium including the governments of Haiti and Norway, Catholic Relief Services, the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York and a host of local non-governmental organizations, comes as Haiti marks the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed 200,000 people and displaced some 1.3 million others. But the plan was designed a year before the disaster.

Severe poverty, food insecurity and disaster vulnerability – which are strongly interlinked with environmental issues such as deforestation, soil erosion and land and marine degradation – have profoundly affected local well-being for decades, and the initiative proposes a new approach.

Ten communes, with an estimated population of 205,000 people, will benefit directly from the program, which will include reforestation, erosion control, fisheries management, mangrove rehabilitation and small business and tourism development, as well as improved access to water and sanitation, health and education.

The broad-ranging initiative will involve between 50 and 100 projects over 20 years, at least 10 of them expected to last up to five years or more.

Our reader's opinion
Rx for tranquil living:
Try to assimilate here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There has certainly been a lot of back and forth about living in Costa Rica lately. As a resident for 18 years I can’t resist throwing in my two cents worth.

Is today’s Costa Rica, the gentle, laid back, emerging-from-the-third-world country that I came to? Absolutely not! Petty crime has become violent crime, empty pothole-filled roads have become jammed packed roads, the cost of living has skyrocketed (wages for staff, goods at the supermarket) and the wide open admiration and interest in a foreigner has faded, especially among that group of Costa Rican businessmen and government officials who think they can do things as well as we can and resent what they now see as encroachment.

So how do I cope? First I learned early to speak Spanish. That ability makes dealing with bureaucracy much easier and less frustrating. The people I meet everyday understand that my ability and willingness to speak the language is a show of respect for them and their culture. I moved to a rural community where my neighbors are still interested in meeting the much rarer foreigner in their community, to share experiences, to get to know me and tell me about themselves and their lives. I hire my neighbors to do all my odd jobs, and I don’t yell and scream when they make a mistake. They charge me 10 percent of what the Canadian plumber, electrician, mechanic, gardener, maid would charge me.

I buy in my community at the hardware store, the co-op and not at the giant American-like superstores. I eat at the Soda with its chipped coffee cups and paper napkins and appreciate the personal attention and the incredibly low prices. And I don’t tell people everyday that it can/should be done differently. I want to and I get frustrated, but I try and go with the flow.

In short I have attempted to assimilate here, not try to make it like the country I left. So I still find peace and tranquility and smiling faces and kisses on the cheek and hearty handshakes.  When it gets to be too much, I check the weather at home to find it is -30 today, and I remember that the beach and a relaxing getaway is only an hour and a half away.

So stop complaining, embrace the differences and enjoy yourself. That’s why you retired here!

Noel Montagano
San Pedro de Poás de Alajuela

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.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 4
Latigo K-9

Second step in cellular competition planned for Friday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telecom agency will open Friday the financial offers of the two firms still interested in providing cell telephone service here. This is the second step of the bidding process.
Last Dec. 14 each firm presented two envelopes. One contained technical information and the second contained financial proposals. The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones expected more suitors for the three sets of cellular bandwidth being offered.

But only the two firms, Claro CR Telecomunicaciones and Azules y Platas, did so. They are the local manifestations of the Mexican firm Claro and the Spanish firm Telefónica.

The technical information appears to have been satisfactory, and the firms passed to the second step.

Friday at 6:30 p.m. telecom officials will open the envelope containing the financial information in a public event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú. Already established is that each firm will have to put up at least $70 million for the radio spectrum.
The Superintendencia considers the money the price of admission to set up a business here. But the money eventually will come from those who subscribe to the services offered by the firms.

If the firms eventually obtain a concession they will compete with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The opening up of the mobil bandwidths to private firms is a product of the Central American Free Trade Treaty.

There is a possibility that both firms are seeking the same set of bandwidths. In that case the company with the proposal considered most profitable will be the winner. 

In the slim chance that both firms will see the same set of bandwidths and submit identical financial proposals, company executives will be at the Friday session to sweeten the offer if they desire, said the Superintendencia.

The Superintendencia does not approve a bandwidth concession. Its recommendations are turned over to the executive branch, which will formalize the 15-year agreements.

dead lizards
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguirdad Públicas photo
These are the lizards and the rifles three men used to shoot them in Abangares
Three hunters are accused of taking lizards in protected area
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hunting iguana is not allowed in a protected zone. That is why Fuerza Pública officers detained three men who fled in their vehicle when police approached. They were in the Abangares protected zone in Guanacaste.

In the vehicle, police found 15 dead reptiles and firearms.

Police called the dead critters garrobos, which is a Costa Rican term for the black iguana (Ctentosaura similis).
The Fuerza Pública said that the animals are abundant in the area and that they are easy prey for hunters. The animals enjoy sunning themselves in trees or on rocks. The dead lizards measured between 30 and 40 centimeters or from 12 to 16 inches.

The three men caught with the creatures probably are not poor farmers trying to supplement the protein intake of their family.

Police also found 4 million colons in cash, some $7,900.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 4

Ocean plastic garbage patch exaggerated, scientist says

By the Oregon State University news service

There is a lot of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, but claims that the “Great Garbage Patch” between California and Japan is twice the size of Texas are grossly exaggerated, according to an analysis by an Oregon State University scientist.

Further claims that the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton, and that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s are equally misleading, pointed out Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State.

“There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” Ms. White said. “We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don’t need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic.”

Ms. White has pored over published literature and participated in one of the few expeditions solely aimed at understanding the abundance of plastic debris and the associated impact of plastic on microbial communities. That expedition was part of research funded by the National Science Foundation through the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education.

The studies have shown that the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas.

“The amount of plastic out there isn’t trivial,” Ms. White said. “But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size.”

Another way to look at it, Ms. White said, is to compare the amount of plastic found to the amount of water in which it was found. “If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration (of plastic) ever recorded,” she said, “the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line.”

Recent research by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that the amount of plastic, at least in the Atlantic Ocean, hasn’t increased since the mid-1980s — despite greater production and consumption of materials made from plastic, she pointed out.

“Are we doing a better job of preventing plastics from getting into the ocean?” Ms. White said. “Is more plastic sinking out of the surface waters? Or is it being more efficiently broken down? We just don’t know. But the data on hand simply do not suggest that plastic patches have increased in size. This is certainly an unexpected conclusion, but it may in part reflect the high spatial and temporal variability of plastic concentrations in the ocean and the limited number of samples that have been collected.”

The hyperbole about plastic patches saturating the media rankles Ms. White, who says such exaggeration can drive a wedge between the public and the scientific community. One recent claim that the garbage patch is as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall is completely unfounded, she said.
“Most plastics either sink or float,” Ms. White pointed out.
“Plastic isn’t likely to be evenly distributed through the top 100 feet of the water column.”

Ms. White says there is growing interest in removing plastic from the ocean, but such efforts will be costly, inefficient, and may have unforeseen consequences.

It would be difficult, for example, to “corral” and remove
plastic particles from ocean waters without inadvertently removing phytoplankton, zooplankton, and small surface-dwelling aquatic creatures, she said.

“These small organisms are the heartbeat of the ocean,” she said. “They are the foundation of healthy ocean food chains and immensely more abundant than plastic debris.”

The relationship between microbes and plastic is what drew Ms. White and her colleagues to their analysis in the first place. During a recent expedition, they discovered that photosynthetic microbes were thriving on many plastic particles, in essence confirming that plastic is prime real estate for certain microbes.

Ms. White also noted that while plastic may be beneficial to some organisms, it can also be toxic. Specifically, it is well-known that plastic debris can absorb toxins such as PCB.

“On one hand, these plastics may help remove toxins from the water,” she said. “On the other hand, these same toxin-laden particles may be ingested by fish and seabirds. Plastic clearly does not belong in the ocean.”

Among other findings, which White believes should be part of the public dialogue on ocean trash:

* Calculations show that the amount of energy it would take to remove plastics from the ocean is roughly 250 times the mass of the plastic itself;

* Plastic also covers the ocean floor, particularly offshore of large population centers. A recent survey from the state of California found that 3 percent of the southern California Bight’s ocean floor was covered with plastic – roughly half the amount of ocean floor covered by lost fishing gear in the same location. But little, overall, is known about how much plastic has accumulated at the bottom of the ocean, and how far offshore this debris field extends;

* It is a common misperception that one can see or quantify plastic from space. There are no tropical plastic islands out there and, in fact, most of the plastic isn’t even visible from the deck of a boat;

* There are areas of the ocean largely unpolluted by plastic. A recent trawl Ms. White conducted in a remote section of water between Easter Island and Chile pulled in no plastic at all.

There are other issues with plastic, Ms. White said, including the possibility that floating debris may act as a vector for introducing invasive species into sensitive habitats.

“If there is a takeaway message, it’s that we should consider it good news that the garbage patch doesn’t seem to be as bad as advertised,” Ms. White said, “but since it would be prohibitively costly to remove the plastic, we need to focus our efforts on preventing more trash from fouling our oceans in the first place.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 4

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Obama administration sticks
by its Venezuelan choice

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration says it is not backing away from its choice for U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer, despite his rejection by the Caracas government. The State Department Wednesday brushed aside a list of alternate proposals by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The State Department is bluntly dismissing ambassadorial suggestions by Chávez, and it is making clear it is ready to have the U.S. envoy post vacant for an indefinite period, rather than abandon its initial choice.

The government of Chávez last month formally withdrew its acceptance of veteran diplomat as U.S. ambassador, citing critical comments Palmer made about the Caracas government several months ago at a Senate confirmation hearing.

In a televised speech Tuesday, a jocular Chávez said he would accept alternate candidates, listing former president Bill Clinton, film actor Sean Penn, movie director Oliver Stone and leftist philosopher Noam Chomsky.

All but Clinton have been vocal supporters of the populist Venezuelan leader, with director Stone making a flattering documentary film about Chávez and other leftist Latin American leaders last year.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P. J. Crowley said U.S. officials appreciate the Chávez suggestions, but said the fact is the administration is not looking for another candidate.

Crowley said Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, is fully qualified and would have been an effective interlocutor to improve the strained U.S.-Venezuela relationship.

He also said the United States is not prepared to blunt its criticism of what U.S. officials see as an authoritarian bent by the Chávez government.

"We have not shied away from offering our view and our concerns about what is happening in Venezuela," said  Crowley. "We believe that an ambassador on the ground in Caracas would both have the ability to engage the government of Venezuela but also make clear in our interaction with Venezuelan civil society that we support freedom of the press, we support private enterprise. We decry the increasingly autocratic trends in Venezuela."

The nomination of Palmer in the U.S. Senate technically expired with the end of the last Congress in December. But Crowley said the administration has not stepped back from its support of Palmer and is not actively looking for another nominee.

He said the administration is prepared to, in his words, "stay where we are," with no full ambassador in Caracas, for an indefinite period.

The United States and Venezuela have had tense relations since early in the previous Bush administration, and the Obama administration was recently highly critical of a move by Chávez to rule by decree.

Presidential advisers seek
to sidestep Guantanamo ban

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. news outlets say the White House is considering using a special written pronouncement to reject congressional lawmakers' attempts to limit President Barack Obama's authority to transfer inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The restrictions are included in a massive military spending bill approved by Congress late last month.  They ban the president from moving any prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. soil for prosecution in a civilian court, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to foreign countries without the approval of the secretary of defense.

A small group of Obama advisers is debating whether to recommend the president issue what is known as a signing statement when he signs the defense bill into law, asserting he has the constitutional authority to bypass the restrictions.

Such a statement would likely lead to a clash between the Democratic president and congressional Republicans, who are set to take control of the House of Representatives this week.
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Firemen fielded 32,000 calls
last year, statistics show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Firemen answered 32,000 emergency calls in 2010, the agency reported Wednesday.

These not only included fires, but traffic accidents, flooding, killer bees, wind damage, dangerous materials and gas leaks. The exact number of calls was 32, 255, the  Cuerpo de Bomberos said.

There were more than 10,000 reported attacks from killer bees and 8,165 fires. Fire calls were lower than those in 2009, but bee emergencies were up. Some 17 persons died in fires or as a result of fires, according to the statistics.

Firemen said that 42 percent of the fires were related to the electrical systems. Some 17 percent were set.

Cédula demand causes
longer Registro work day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Registro Civil will be working an extra hour each workday during January to accommodate the requests for cédulas by Costa Rican citizens.

The Registro, an agency of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, said in a press release that January is the month with the biggest demand, in part because Costa Ricans lose their cédulas through theft or accidents during the holiday period.

The plastic card contains security devices and is obligatory for many procedures like bank visits.

European poll confirms
tensions involving Muslims

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new poll finds that most French and Germans believe Muslims have not integrated well into their societies. Many feel they present a threat.

The study by the polling agency IFOP and France's Le Monde newspaper confirms rising tensions in traditionally Christian Europe with its new Muslim population. More than two-thirds of the roughly 1,600 people polled in France and Germany believe Muslims are not well integrated in their societies. Perhaps more troubling, roughly four out of 10 French and Germans consider Islam a threat.

The poll follows a hardening of attitudes toward Islam, Europe's second largest religion. France and Belgium have passed laws banning the face-covering veil. Switzerland voted to ban the minarets on mosques. And far-right parties, most of whom have anti-Muslim and immigrant platforms, have made strides in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands.

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