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(506) 223-1327         Published Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 4             E-mail us
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Broken trees and other remnants of a windy weekend are piled by the curb in Barrio Amón near Parque España.
wind damge
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray

The winds continue, but weather is worse elsewhere
By Elise Sonray,
the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services

High winds diminished somewhat Sunday but not as much as had been predicted.

San José had gusts up to 39.3 kph (24.4 mph) Sunday, and Liberia in Guanacaste faced winds of  54.8 kph (34.1 mph). The strongest gust was recorded by the automatic weather station at Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas at 56.1 kph (34.9 mph).

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional promised a reduction in the winds through the week. Meanwhile, Costa Ricans are wrestling with downed trees, split branches, downed electrical and telephone wires and houses and other structures losing some or all of the roof.

The cold front also brought flooding to the northern zone and parts of the Provincia de Limón.

On the tourist scene, some visitors to the capital are disgruntled. Others say they are enjoying the breeze.

A visitor from Las Vegas, Nevada, said he didn't expect the weather to be this cold. “I don't like it,” said Jon Siemann, “I'd prefer it to be calm and comfortable.” Still his home state was facing a major flood and freeze. Saturday in the town of Fernley, Nevada, about 800 homes were flooded when a canal ruptured following a storm. Officials say more than 3,000 people were affected, with many evacuated to a local school.

San José temperatures hit a low of 14 degrees (57 F) early Sunday. In Cartago, the low was 12.6 C (54.7 F).

Some tourists looked a little chilled downtown Sunday, in sandals and shorts, but other than that things seemed almost normal. Children continued
to eat ice cream as the wind whipped their hair and many sat outside on Plaza Cultural enjoying the breeze.

“It feels good to me,” said Jay Papison, a tourist from Atlanta, Georgia. Papison said compared to his hometown, the weather in Costa Rica was a warm change. His friend, Tony Case from Dallas, Texas, agreed saying it was freezing back home. The men said they are headed to the beach in a day. “This is no big deal” said Papison.

One resident of Coronado said at nights the wind sounds as if it might tear the roof right off of his house. “It's a little uncomfortable,” said Paúl Anthony Yeckly, referring to downtown. “But people complain too much here,” said Yeckly. “The best way to be happy is to be happy with your situation.”

A powerful winter storm in the western United States has been blamed for at least three deaths and has interrupted power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

Officials are searching in the mountains east of Los Angeles, California, for a hiker last seen as the snow began falling Friday. In Colorado's Rocky Mountains, searchers are looking for four snowmobilers also missing since Friday.

Residents in parts of southern California have been advised to leave their homes because of flood risks in areas damaged by wildfires earlier this year. In the Sierra Nevada mountains, blizzard conditions caused officials to shut down Interstate 80, a major highway, for 15 hours.

California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in three counties hard-hit by the storm.

Forecasters say the region was to get anywhere from two to three meters (6.5 to nearly 10 feet) of snow by the end of Sunday.


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Our readers' opinions
U.S. created gang problem
in Central American nations

 
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
A.M. Costa Rica's article titled "Police agencies work to stem flood of illegal entries" mentioned that M-18 and Salvatrucha (MS-13) are Central American gangs.

While it is true these gangs are made up of Central Americans, both gangs actually originated in Los Angeles, California. Many of Central America's gang problems of today can be traced back to U.S. immigration policy changes that occurred in the 1990s. I am embarrassed to admit in those days "send 'em back" sounded like a reasonable answer to me. Like most U.S. citizens, I did not understand the big picture, but knew that I was sick of hearing about "all those crimes being perpetrated by illegal aliens."
 
Deporting immigrants who had committed crimes or had a criminal record in the United States may have temporarily decreased street violence in U.S. cities, but this seemingly cheap fix came at a very heavy price. In the 90s, Central American prisons were not ready to handle these criminals, and they still are not prepared today. To add insult to injury, in many cases immigration rules prevent U.S. officials from disclosing deportees' criminal backgrounds to foreign officials. 
 
After these criminals "graduate" from U.S. prisons, they take their newly acquired "skills" back to Central American countries. Prior to the 90s, Central American law enforcement agencies never dealt with Los Angeles-style gangs before and have yet to rise to the challenge. It certainly can be argued that neither has the police in the United States, so by no means are we in the position to point fingers.  Some "experts" estimate there are now upwards to 100,000 mara members, but of course no one really knows. Regardless of who is at fault, and what their true membership numbers are, these gangs can be found throughout the United States and Latin America, making them truly a global security threat.
 
U.S. immigration policies continue to inadvertently destabilize Central America, which is inadvertently making the United States a more dangerous place to live. In today's small world, when it comes to fighting crime, we should all be in this together because we are all in this together. Hopefully the United States, which for me is still the greatest nation on earth, will have the integrity to admit our past mistakes. Most importantly, we must begin to rectify this global criminal justice disaster that we in large part helped to create.
Frank Gayaldo, Jr.
Lodi, California

Cookbook is a vegetarian one

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thank you for posting the press release about my cookbook.  However, the headline is misleading. It is a VEGETARIAN not VEGAN cookbook, and while it does have many vegan recipes, it would not necessarily appeal to those who are strictly vegan.  As a vegetarian cookbook, it has a broader appeal to almost anyone interested in good food.
Tao Watts
Osa Peninsula

Roads were in good shape

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I want to take a moment to congratulate Karla González, ministra MOPT and her personnel for a job well done.  My wife and I traveled from Escazú to Tamarindo using the Bridge of Friendship highway over the holidays.  The roads were in perfect condition in both directions.  There was not even one of the infamous huecos in either direction.  I think this is an outstanding accomplishment considering the terrible weather this rainy season.
Douglas Craig
Escazú

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 4


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Children figure in a string of murders and other tragedies
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans place a high value on youngsters, and news of tragedies involving minors are certain to upset them.

So the weekend has been a hard one. Someone raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl in Moín. A 14-year-old boy is the principal suspect in the shooting death of a 16-year-old in Desamparados. Investigators said they still have no strong leads in the stabbing death of an infant whose body was put out with the trash. The body of a 3-month-old girl from San Ramón will be analyzed to see why she died.

But a 5-year-old girl turned up weary but healthy and alive Sunday after spending two nights alone in a Tarrazú coffee plantation.

The murdered girl in Moín had her throat cut by her attacker. A family member found her body Friday in woods near the train tracks along which she was presumed to have walked heading home from a visit to a local store in the Limón community. She was identified as Julissa Vallejos Jiménez.

The murder of Luis Herrera Sánchez took place in the la Tabla section of San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados. The youngster was on his way to a religious service when someone shot him at close range. Some companions carried his body to his home and dumped it in the yard, said investigators. The companions told horrified family members that he was the victim of a stray bullet.
Investigators detained the 14-year-old after analysis showed the shot came from close range, they said.

A Desamparados municipal worker on a garbage truck found the body of the newborn in Dos Cercas de Desamparados Dec. 27. Friday investigators issued another call for information and established the cell phone number 371-0491 for use to provide information on the case. Someone had stabbed the infant repeatedly, they said.

The story with the happy ending involved Stephanny Alvarado Trejos, 5, of Coto Brus in southern Costa Rica. She accompanied her family as they went to pick coffee in San Marcos de Tarrazú, but she became lost Friday. Searchers found her at midday Sunday about a half mile from where she had been staying.

The girl suffered bruises, including one to the forehead, but she managed to stay alive by drinking water from a nearby stream. She was taken to a clinic for a checkup.

Meanwhile, an investigators has been launched in the death of the 3-month-old Panamanian Indian girl. Fuerza Pública officers got word of the death Sunday evening.

They found the child, perhaps the victim of natural causes, in the camp of Panamanian coffee pickers on a plantation in San Ramón. More than 30 persons were there, officers said. The 14 children present went to a local clinic for checkups, and the dead baby went to the judicial morgue in Heredia for an autopsy.


Palmares organizers are getting ready for Jan. 16 opening
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although the bull fighting and rides officially ended Sunday evening in Zapote, there is more fun just up the road. The Fiestas Cívicas in Palmares officially start Jan. 16, and preparations are heating up, according to the Asociación Cívica Palmareña.

The festival includes the tope or parade of horses, bull fighting, rodeo events, sports competitions, concerts, rides, and a carnival. The festivities will run through Jan 28.

This year's concerts feature reggaeton stars Jowell y Randy, Argentinian rock band Enanitos Verdes, and Mexican rock
group Moderatto. Singer Alicia Villareal of Mexico will be the highlite of the Ranchero Festival which includes 12 ranchero singers in a special indoor stadium.

Sports events will include minor league soccer games, the Clásica Palmarín mountain bike race, and other events. A countdown to the festival, down to the last second, is available on the festival's Web site.

Safety of the visitors is of utmost importance, according to the Asociación Cívica Palmareña. The group will be working with firemen, the Ministerio de Salud, the Cruz Roja, security officials and the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias, the organization said.


Taking bags from tourists backfires with two sets of arrests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police have arrested four persons in two crackdowns on luggage crime. One series of arrests took place at Juan Santamaría airport.

Another arrest followed a pursuit of a vehicle through downtown San José by motorcycle policemen.

This last case involved the robbery of a tourist in front of Iglesia La Dolorosa in Barrio Merced in south San José over the weekend.

Two men in a gray Hyundai Excel relieved the tourist of his bag, which contained $800, a camera and a cell phone, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Police officials from the Unidad Especial Motorizada
pursued the vehicle shortly after the robbery took place, according to the security ministry. While police were searching for the vehicle, one of the robbers escaped from the vehicle and fled on foot.

Police officers apprehended a suspect and minutes later found the Hyundai abandoned in a parking lot in Barrio Cristo Rey, according to officials.

The detained suspect has the last names of Vásquez Toruño, the ministry report said.

At the airport three men fell into police hands after a U.S. tourist had a bag taken. This was a case of thieves trying to capitalize on the inattention of a tourist. Their goal is to swipe one or more bags, put them in a waiting vehicle and escape before the crime is noticed. The three suspects were detained because the tourist was more alert than had been expected.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 4

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La Amistad park yields three new species of salamander
By the British Natural History Museum press office

Three new species of salamander have been discovered in a largely unexplored forest in Costa Rica, according to a report from the British Natural History Museum.
.
This increases the number of salamander species in Costa Rica from 40 to 43, making the country a center of diversity for these amphibians, the report said.

The Natural History Museum said it led three expeditions to Parque Nacional La Amistad on the Costa Rica-Panamá border. It is the biggest forest reserve in Central America and yet remains one of the least explored places in the region. The scientists recorded 5,300 plants, insects and amphibians from their trips, said a release from the museum.

"Finding so many new species in one area is exciting," said Alex Monro, biodiversity expert at the Natural History Museum and leader of the exploration project. "Particularly as this is probably the only place in the world you can find these animals."

"It shows we still have a lot to learn about the variety of wildlife in this region. We have four more expeditions planned this year. Who knows what we could find when we go back?"

Two of the new salamanders are from the Bolitoglossa genus and are nocturnal, coming out at night to feed. The first Bolitoglossa species is 8 cms. long (a bit more than 3 inches) and black, with a bold red stripe down its back and small yellow markings on its sides.

The second Bolitoglossa species is 6 cms. long (about 2.5 inches) and deep brown in color with a pale cream underside.

The third salamander is from the Nototriton (dwarf salamander) genus and is a mere 3 cms in length (a bit more than an inch), with red-brown colouring and black markings on its sides.

The specimens are not named yet. They will be described and named by scientists at the University of Costa Rica, where they will form part of the national collections.

La Amistad is a United Nations world heritage site, and it represents the most remote part of the Talamanca Mountains, mainly due to its treacherous terrain and lack of roads.

It has been estimated that two thirds of all Costa Rica's
salamander one
British Natural History Museum/A Monro
This new species of salamander has a bold red stripe down its back.

second salamander image
British Natural History Museum/A Monro
New species of dwarf salamander fits easily on a human fingernail.

native species live there, including more than 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, 600 species of birds, 215 species of mammals and 14,000 species of plant, said the museum.

The expeditions are part of a project funded by the British government's Darwin Initiative to provide baseline information to underpin the conservation of La Amistad.

The Natural History Museum is working in partnership with Costa Rica's national biodiversity institute, INBio, the University of Costa Rica, the University of Panamá and Panama's national parks' authority.


Colombian rebels say Emmanuel went to Bogota for safekeeping before release
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian rebels have admitted they did not have a boy they promised to release last week with two other hostages.

The Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia released a statement late Friday saying young Emmanuel had been turned over to a family in Bogota to keep him safe until his official release.

Earlier Friday, Colombian officials said DNA test results indicate the 3-year-old boy is the son of one of the hostages — former Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped by rebels in 2002.  Emmanuel was fathered by one of the guerrilla captors.

A man named José Gómez is working with authorities, saying he received the boy from rebels in 2005 before turning him over to child welfare agents.  Gomez said the rebels threatened to kill him if he did not return the boy by Dec. 30.
The rebel statement says it still plans to release the two hostages.

Authorities say the developments show that rebels misled international officials when they promised two weeks ago to release three hostages, including Rojas and her son.

A team of international observers and Red Cross representatives was supposed to oversee the release of Rojas, Emmanuel and former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez in the jungles of Colombia.

The deal fell apart Monday after rebel leaders claimed that bad weather and Colombian military teams in the area were interfering with plans for the hostage handover.  Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused rebel leaders of lying.

The rebels have demanded the release of hundreds of colleagues held in Colombian prisons in return for freeing several high-profile hostages.


Chávez says he will slow down the pace of his socialist revolution in Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says he is putting on the brakes on his socialist revolution after voters rejected his plans to reform the constitution.

Chávez said on his weekly broadcast Sunday it would be a mistake at this time to try to quicken the pace of his plans to turn Venezuela into a socialist haven.
He said he will evaluate the results of the referendum before deciding how to proceed with his pro-socialist plans.

He also said he will focus on regional elections later this year as one way to consolidate socialist party power.

Venezuelan voters last month turned down the constitutional reform package which included making Chávez president for life.


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