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(506) 223-1327         Published  Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 6             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Embassy here blames FBI for Tomayko case fumble
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy here is blaming the Federal Bureau of Investigation for fumbling a high-profile child abduction case. An embassy official made that allegation in an e-mail to a U.S. senator.

The case is that of Chere Lyn Tomayko, who faces a federal charge for taking her daughter, Alexandria, out of Texas in May 1997. The woman had joint custody with the father, Roger Cyprian, a one-time boyfriend. The case was under the supervision of the Tarrant County District Court.

The case earned headlines because Ms. Tomayko remained free, living in Heredia, until Sept. 19 when she finally was detained on the child abduction charge. By that time her daughter was legally an adult.

The woman spent five years in Heredia even though embassy officials were told where she was in 2002. A.M. Costa Rica has suggested that someone in the embassy was protecting the woman.

However, the consul general, David Dreher, said in a Nov. 28 e-mail to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that embassy officials sent the tip to the FBI within 24 hours.

"In early 2002, the U.S. Embassy in San José received information regarding the possible whereabouts of Chere Tomayko and Alexandria Cyprian," wrote the diplomat. "That information was transmitted to the FBI within 24 hours, and the FBI acknowledged receipt and authorized an investigation."

Roger Cyprian, who brought the case to the attention of his state's senator, said that his contacts with the FBI say they never received such a tip. Ms. Tomayko was a high profile fugitive and was on the FBI's 10-most-wanted list along with Usama Bin Laden. She was the agency's poster girl for parental child abduction. The wanted poster specifically asked that tipsters overseas contact the local embassy.

In his e-mail Dreher correctly notes that he was not
in Costa Rica in 2002 and said that he was basing his response on a voluminous case file.

One embassy State Department employee who was there at the time also said Tuesday that he thought the information was sent to the FBI.

". . . I have seen nothing in the file to indicate anyone in the employ of the U.S. Embassy in San José acted improperly in this matter, and it is my firm belief, based on 24 years of service as an officer of the U.S. Government, that no U.S. Embassy or consulate would condone the activities alleged by Mr. Cyprian," said Dreher.

In early 2002 it was A.M. Costa Rica readers who responded to a story about the fugitive mother and reported that she was working in the Heredia area. They mentioned the European School there. A.M. Costa Rica, relayed that information to the U.S. Embassy. An embassy official in a later call to the newspaper asked that the information not be published because the case was sensitive. The
newspaper complied so as to not ruin an investigation in progress.

No one else at the embassy ever contacted A.M. Costa Rica about the case, sought more information about the case or sought to contact the readers who knew the woman.

In an earlier message to Roger Cyprian, Dreher defended the embassy's action saying they were prompt and appropriate. He made no mention of a 24-hour notification of the FBI. But at that time he did say that there had been an investigation in 2002:

"Once again, the information was investigated but did not lead to her location.  The case remained dormant, with no new leads until last year."

Ms. Tomayko remains in prison awaiting extradition. She filed a habeas corpus case with the Sala IV constitutional court seeking to block her return to the United States, but the court turned down the claim Dec. 4.

She is believed to have one or perhaps two other children born here while she was a fugitive.

Caldera highway gets construction go ahead at last
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials have given the much-awaited go ahead for the $230 million San José-Caldera highway.

This means that Autopistas del Sol S.A., the concession holder for the project, has 30 months to complete the highway. The 77-km (48-mile) highway will decrease dramatically the travel time from the Central Valley to the Pacific coast.

The first stage of the job is the reconstruction of the existing highway from Parque La Sabana to Ciudad Colón. Much of the highway already is multi-lane.

The big job is a 39-km (24-mile) section from Ciudad Colón to Orotina. That highway is only graded roughly now, although bridges are in place.  The third and final step is improvements of the highway from the Orotina interchange to the Puerto de Caldera at Puntarenas.

Autopistas del Sol will have the right to collect tolls for 25 years to offset the investment.
The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that employees worked during the holidays to make sure all the requirements were in place for the start of construction.

Autopistas finally got all its financial commitments in order four days before Christmas, and a company official asked to be allowed to start work a week ago.

During the holidays transport ministry workers said they got final approvals from the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, reviewed and approved plans and did the paperwork so that the company would not have to pay taxes on imported equipment. Environmental approval was needed because Autopista will take gravel from several deposits along the route.

Ministry workers also had to coordinate with the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad for moving water and sewer lines, electric lines and telephone cables, they said.

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Mark langdale and medal
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Mark Langdale shows off the decoration given him by Fernando Berrocal, the security minister.

Security minister gives
Langdale a farewell medal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Spanish they call it a despidida, a farewell event. That's what the security minister threw for Mark Langdale Tuesday.

Langdale, a Texan, is returning to the United States around Jan. 24 to direct and supervise the construction of the George Bush Presidential Library. He was supposed to leave Jan. 1, but aides at the U.S. Embassy said he had too much work to wrap up.

The security ministry does not normally throw parties or present medals. But Fernando Berrocal, the minister, said that Langdale was a good friend and provided excellent cooperation between the United States and the security ministry. The decoration was the Fuerza Pública's gold medal for exceptional service.

Langdale has been here for two years and has brought Costa Rican law officers and prosecutors to the United States. The war on drugs is a priority for the United States, and Berrocal said that the country could not do the job without the help of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Langdale responded in much better Spanish than when he started.

World Bank OKs loan
for Limón makeover

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The World Bank has approved a $72.5 million loan for Limón Ciudad Puerto, one of the three Arias admininstration iniciatives to improve the Caribbean coast community.

One part of the project is to control the flooding that hits barrios San Luis and Santa Fe periodically from the nearby Río Limoncito. Restoration of principal public and historic buildings also is on the agenda.

The two other parts of the plan include improvements to the Limón ports and a social development component.

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New Canadian ambassador seeks to make ties even stronger
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fresh from a Christmas holiday exploring the “stunning country” that will be his home for the next three years, Neil Reeder is back in his la Sabana office getting to grips with his new role as Canadian ambassador to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Reeder is effusive about the beauty of the landscape around Puerto Viejo and Arenal, where he traveled with family during his Christmas break, and continues to be so as he goes on to talk about the role that he took up only two months ago.

“Canada and Costa Rica already have a solid relationship, but I want to take it to the next level of intensity,” Reeder said, his back to his office's sweeping views of the mountains surrounding San José.

The two countries have been on good diplomatic terms for more than 50 years and celebrated five years of free trade in 2007.

Canada worked closely with President Óscar Arias Sánchez during his first presidential term in the 80s, showing support for his peace plan, and Canada has been the largest direct investor in Costa Rica during the last two years, said Reeder.

Up to 100,000 Canadians come to the country each year for tourism, and a community of 1,000 registered Canadians live here permanently. Estimates of the number who live here unregistered with the embassy have been as high as 10,000. Big Canadian businesses such as Scotiabank and Four Seasons have prominent public presences in Costa Rica.

The job of keeping amiability between two countries who are already on such close terms may seem a cozy position to have, but Reeder said he will be putting as much effort into this job as into posts he has held in places such as Brunei, Hong Kong, Washington and Mexico during his 26 years in the Canadian foreign service.

“I want to encourage more high-profile visits to the country on the level of senior officials, like the recent visit of the Secretary of State Helena Guergis,” the Saskatchewan native said.

Ms. Guergis came to Costa Rica last November to mark the fifth anniversary of the trade treaty. Canadian representatives insist that the treaty has not encountered any great difficulties since its inauguration, but Reeder wants to make it even more extensive, to include services and investments.

On a personal interest level, Reeder said he feels that educational and cultural ties between the countries could be strengthened.

“Mexico and Brazil send thousands of students to Canadian universities every year, but not that many come from Costa Rica. We need to get more Canadian universities down here representing themselves so people think of Canada as a place to study. When they finish they are often a kind of ambassador for both countries.”

Reeder himself studied history and journalism, at first in Ottawa and then at Carleton University, graduating in 1981. He currently has two daughters studying at universities in Canada, and his son, Ryan, who will turn 15 this month, is continuing his schooling at the Country Day School in Escazú.

Canadian culture, including performers and artists, may also be making a more prominent appearance in Costa Rica if Reeder gets his way.
Canadian ambassador Reeder
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder

He said he anticipates finding the introduction of these ideas more difficult due to the government's preoccupation with the free trade agreement with the United States, but he says that it is all about carving out your own niche.

“I don't see any obstacles to these plans – to be successful you need to show the importance of these issues to the host government, and we are good friends with this country.

"Costa Rica is a priority country for us, especially since its acceptance onto the Security Council, and this relationship works both ways.” Costa Rica began a non-permanent stint in the U.N. Security council this month.

The relationship between Costa Rica and Canada is much closer than between Canada and Reeder's other two charges, Honduras and Nicaragua. Although Reeder has been to Nicaragua several times, he will make his first appearance in Honduras next week.

Development assistance is still the top priority in Honduras and Nicaragua, whereas Costa Rica is no longer a development assistance country because of its higher national income.

Canada still acknowledges the gap between rich and poor in Costa Rica, supporting small projects on a local community level through the Canada Fund, which aims to improve living conditions among the lowest-income populations.

It may be just the honeymoon period of his new job, but Reeder's enthusiasm over Costa Rica's community of Canadian retirees, small entrepreneurs, business men and occasional visitors as well as the diplomatic relationship between the two countries, has few dents in it.

He said that during their short stay, the family members who accompanied him – his wife, Irene, and son – have already become very happy in Costa Rica.

“Each country that I work in has its own charm,” Reeder added. “And Costa Rica will come to have distinct and fond memories for me. I'm looking forward to taking a good relationship and making it even better.”

Freeze on project prompts developers to run water lines
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Developers in Playa Hermosa are banding together to spend over half a million dollars on new plumbing infrastructure in order to be allowed to continue building against the wishes of the Hermosa Activist Group.

The community group has been fighting to stop further real estate construction in the northwestern Guanacaste region and looked to be gaining ground in November when, it said the Sala IV constitutional court revoked the environmental approval of a major development on Playa Hermosa.

The Canyon Ridge development ran into problems when  Costa Rica's national water provider said that it would not be able to get sufficient water to the site of the project.

The Hermosa Activist Group's January newsletter stated that for this reason, the Sala IV annulled the approval given by the Secretaria Tecnica National Ambiental to Canyon Ridge, which is being built by Remax Los Tres Amigos.

An environmental approval is a legal requirement for all developments, as it shows the project has sustainability and allows the building project to gain other permits.

Developers, however, deny that this will discourage them from going ahead with the 40-unit condominium complex that will be situated just off the main road of Hermosa.

Instead, Los Tres Amigos and other developers are forming a water users' association and spending their own money installing pipelines that will supply their sites with the water
that the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados is unable to provide.
“Canyon Ridge is a viable project,” Raymond Heck, one of the owners of Los Tres Amigos, said. “Running these pipelines is the last step we have to perform before we can continue.”

The Hermosa Activist Group filed a Sala IV case in March which requested the stoppage of all large-scale development in the region of Playa Hermosa until water rights were secured for area residents.

It also asked for a suspension of new permits and the closure of all construction that did not hold a permit  – something that could potentially undermine much of the real estate in Guanacaste, where it has been found that about one in four developments are illegal.

The municipality forced Los Tres Amigos to stop construction in August, allegedly due to lack of the correct permits.

The site will remain devoid of action until the water infrastructure is put in place, which Heck said could take as little as a month.

From that point, construction of the complex, which will include four three-story buildings and three four-story buildings, is expected to be complete within a year and a half, he said.

“Hermosa has problems with water already,” Heck said.

“People are without water every few days. This new infrastructure will provide 5-600 more hookups, and Canyon Ridge will only be using 42 of these. This will benefit all the properties that surround our site.”

Guard struggles with bandit in Escazú and dies from bullet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man attempting to rob a construction store shot and killed a guard in Bello Horizonte, Escazú, Tuesday morning, said police.

At about 11 a.m. three men pulled up to the store in a blue car, said officials at the Judicial Investigating Organization. One of the men, appearing to be a client, entered the store, Distribuidora Santa Bárbara. The other two men waited in the car, said officials.
Once inside, the man attempted to force the guard, Juan Risso, to put down his shotgun. A struggle ensued, and Risso was shot in the back. Risso, 45, was alive when the ambulance arrived, said Mario Abarca, a Fuerza Pública officer in Escazú.

However, the guard died before paramedics could transport him to the hospital said Abarca.

The three men are still at large and did not get away with any money, said officials.

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New study casts doubt on claims of world deforestation
By the University of Leeds Press Office

Claims that tropical forests are declining cannot be backed up by hard evidence, according to new research from the University of Leeds.

This major challenge to conventional thinking is the surprising finding of a study published this week in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences by Alan Grainger, senior lecturer in geography and one of the world's leading experts on tropical deforestation.

"Every few years we get a new estimate of the annual rate of tropical deforestation,” said Grainger. “They always seem to show that these marvellous forests have only a short time left. Unfortunately, everybody assumes that deforestation is happening and fails to look at the bigger picture — what is happening to forest area as a whole.”

In the first attempt for many years to chart the long-term trend in tropical forest area, he spent more than three years going through all available United Nations data — and found some serious problems.

“The errors and inconsistencies I have discovered in the area data raise too many questions to provide convincing support for the accepted picture of tropical forest decline over the last 40 years,” he said. “Scientists all over the world who have used these data to make predictions of species extinctions and the role of forests in global climate change will find it helpful to revisit their findings in the light of my study.”

Grainger does not claim that tropical deforestation is not occurring, as there is plenty of local evidence for that. But owing to the lack of frequent scientific monitoring, something for which he has campaigned for 25 years,  available data cannot be used to track the long-term global trend in tropical forest area with great accuracy, he reported.

“The picture is far more complicated than previously thought,” he said. “If there is no long-term net decline it suggests that deforestation is being accompanied by a lot of natural reforestation that we have not spotted.”

Grainger first examined data published every 10 years by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization since 1980. These cover all forest in the humid and dry tropics and appear to indicate decline. The organization's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, for example, showed that all tropical forest area fell from 1,926 million hectares to 1,799 million hectares between 1990 and 2000. Ten years earlier, however, the previous report said that tropical forest area fell from 1,910 million hectares to 1,756 million hectares for the same 90 countries between 1980 and 1990.
“Owing to corrections to the earlier study, the 1990s trend was just like a re-run of that in the 1980s,” said Grainger.

“The errors involved in making estimates for forest area could easily be of the same order as the forest area reported cleared in the previous 10 years. Even if you take enormous care, as FAO does, I argue that large errors are inevitable if you produce global estimates by aggregating national statistics from many countries. This has important implications for the many scientists who rely on FAO data.”

Since errors in national statistics are higher for forests in the dry tropics than for forests in the humid tropics, in places near the Equator such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, he repeated the process just for tropical moist forest, with a different set of data, in the hope it would give a clearer picture.

This time he found no evidence for decline since the early 1970s. Indeed, while his own estimate in 1983 of tropical moist forest area in 1980 was 1,081 million hectares, the latest satellite data led to an estimate of 1,181 million hectares for the same 63 countries in 2000.

He is cautious about the apparent slight rise. “We would expect to see some increase in estimates as we use more accurate satellite sensors. This is even apparent in FAO’s data. It is sad that only in the last 10 years have we begun to make full use of the satellite technology at our disposal.”

Despite the large errors attached to present estimates, the lack of apparent decline in tropical moist forest area suggests that deforestation is being offset by natural reforestation at a higher rate than previously thought. Grainger uses data from the Food and Agricultural Organization's latest report, published in 2006, to show that in a few countries, such as Gambia and Vietnam, forest area has actually expanded since 1990, as the reforestation rate has exceeded the deforestation rate.

He said he believes that a rise in natural reforestation is a logical precursor to this switch from net deforestation to net reforestation. It has already been the subject of studies in Brazil, Ecuador and India, but available data are too poor to be sure of its exact scale worldwide.

To give more reliable data Dr Grainger said scientists need a world forest observatory to monitor changes in forests in the tropics and elsewhere. "What is happening to the tropical forests is so important, both to the peoples of tropical countries and to future trends in biodiversity and global climate, that we can no longer put off investing in an independent scientific monitoring program that can combine satellite and ground data to give a reliable picture,” he said.

Intel Corp. will build its own low-cost computer for use in developing countries
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Intel Corp, the world's biggest computer chip manufacturer, has withdrawn from the non-profit program to get low-cost laptop computers into schools in developing countries. 

Nicholas Negroponte, the head of the One Laptop Per Child project, said Intel withdrew because it is developing a competing low-cost computer. Speaking to Fortune Magazine, Negroponte said Intel was always skeptical about this program because it uses a processor from AMD Corp., Intel's chief rival.

Larry Magid, a computer analyst based in California's Silicon Valley outside San Francisco, sees benefits in there being competing entries in the under $400 laptop market.

"I don't see any harm in having more than one standard," he said.  "This isn't like two different DVD standards. As long as they all access the same Internet and as long as there is a suite of software for both, I don't see a big issue."
The first One Laptop Per Child computers, built in Taiwan, are already in production. Even though they cost nearly twice as much as the $100 per unit originally planned, they have been ordered by the governments of Peru and Uruguay.

Negroponte, who heads the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says two to three million units will be shipped in 2008.

Computer analyst Magid has tested the computer.

"I think the Negroponte machine is brilliant," he added.  "It absolutely fits a need. At the same time I don't see why children in the developing world any more than in the rest of the world should be stuck with only one option."

Intel's competing Classmate computer is to cost about $250, about 30 percent more than the green and white XO model from One Laptop Per Child.  Other companies are also working on low-cost laptops.

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