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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 8         E-mail us
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Freedom in world takes another beating in 2009
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

For the fourth consecutive year, global declines in freedom outweighed gains in 2009, as measured by Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, "Freedom in the World 2010." This represents the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.
 
In a year marked by intensified repression against human rights defenders and civic activists, declines for freedom were registered in 40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.
Authoritarian states including Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam became more repressive.

Declines in freedom also occurred in countries that had registered positive trends in previous years, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kenya, and Kyrgyzstan.
 
“The news for 2009 is cause for real concern,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House director of research. “The decline is global, affects countries with military and economic power, affects countries that had previously shown signs of reform potential, and is accompanied by enhanced persecution of political dissidents and independent journalists. To make matters worse, the most powerful authoritarian regimes have become more repressive, more influential in the international arena, and more uncompromising.”
 
Published since 1972, Freedom in the World examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world. The survey analyzes developments that occurred in 2009 and assigns each country a freedom status — free, partly free, or not free — based on a scoring of performance on key indicators.

The Western Hemisphere contains just one not free country, Cuba. Costa Rica was evaluated as free with the highest possible ratings. But Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay were listed as partly free, as well as Venezuela.
 
In this year’s findings, five countries moved into not free status, and the number of electoral democracies declined to the lowest level since 1995. Sixteen countries made notable gains, with two countries improving their overall freedom status. The most significant improvements in 2009 occurred in Asia.
 
The Middle East remained the most repressive region in the world, and some countries that had previously moved forward slipped back from partly free into the not free category. Africa suffered the most significant declines, and four countries experienced coups.
 
This year’s findings reflect the growing pressures
on journalists and new media, restrictions on freedom of association, and repression aimed at 
world freedom reprt map
A.M. Costa Rica/Freedom House
Yellow countries are partly free, and Cuba is appropriately labeled in red as not free.

civic activists engaged in promoting political reform and respect for human rights.
 
Key global findings include:
 
Free: The number of countries designated by "Freedom in the World" as free in 2009 stands at 89, representing 46 percent of the world’s 194 countries and 46 percent of the world population.

Partly Free: The number of partly free countries declined to 58, or 30 percent of all countries assessed by the survey, comprising 20 percent of the world’s total population.
 
Not Free: The number of countries deemed to be not free increased to 47, or 24 percent of the total number of countries. Over 2.3 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected. China accounts for half of this number.
 
Electoral Democracies: The number of electoral democracies dropped by three and stands at 116. Developments in four countries—Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Niger — disqualified them from the electoral democracy list, while conditions in the Maldives improved enough for it to be added.
 
Latin America experienced significant setbacks in 2009, particularly in Central America. Honduras lost its status as an electoral democracy due to a June 28 coup, and Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela also registered declines.
 
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.


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SaSan José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 8

Costa Rica Expertise
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4401-6/9/09v
United Nations kicks off
its Year of Biodiversity


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As the United Nations officially launched the International Year of Biodiversity Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the failure to protect the world’s natural resources a wake-up call and urged each country and each person to engage in a global alliance to protect life on Earth.

“We must counter the perception that people are disconnected from our natural environment,” the secretary general said in a message. “Biodiversity is life. Biodiversity is our life.” 

He noted that the General Assembly will hold a special meeting on the subject in September. The event would give the international community an opportunity to demonstrate much needed leadership in advance of the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit, which will adopt a new strategic place for implementing the U. N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

The convention, which entered into force at the end of 1993 and now has 193 parties, is based on the premise that the world's diverse ecosystems purify the air and the water, stabilize and moderate the earth's climate, renew soil fertility, cycle nutrients and pollinate plants.

Meanwhile, at the launch of the International Year in Berlin, Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme said that 2010 will be a litmus test of the international community’s resolve to converse and enhance the planet’s natural assets.

He made a reference to the 2002 sustainable development summit in Johannesburg, where governments agreed to achieve by 2010  “a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional, and national level” – a target that is unlikely to be met. 

“I would urge heads of state here in Berlin and beyond to renew their commitment and set their sights broad and high. The urgency of the situation demands that as a global community we not only reverse the rate of loss, but that we stop the loss altogether and begin restoring the ecological infrastructure that has been damaged and degraded over the previous century or so,” stressed Steiner.

These losses include biodiversity such as animal and plant species and the planet’s ecosystems and their multi-trillion dollar services arising from forests and freshwater to soils and coral reefs.

“The words biodiversity and ecosystems might seem abstract and remote to many people. But there is nothing abstract about their role in economies and in the lives of billions of people,” said Steiner.  

The first major event of the International Year of Biodiversity is scheduled to be a meeting Jan. 21 and 22 at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is expected to bring together heads of state, royalty and their representatives.

Accord reached on payoff
of Caribbean dock workers


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government has accepted a counter proposal by mediators working on behalf of Caribbean dockworkers. The plan enhances and simplifies the way dock workers will be paid off when the government takes over operations.

Those who work on the dock will be about 4 million colons, some $7,100, for each year they have worked up to 20 years.

The government accepted the deal because the amount involved does not exceed the $137 million that officials plan to spend to buy out workers when the docks are offered up in a concession.

Many workers like the plan, which is similar to what dock workers in Puntarenas got when those operations were privatized. The docks are notoriously inefficient, and the government lacks the funds to purchase the equipment necessary to bring it up to modern standards.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 8

   
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Enjoy Incredible Beach Sunsets and  Sunrises. With the Pacific Ocean and the awesome mountain behind.
Elegantly built to your specifications. Delivered and set up at your home in Costa Rica.

Number of those in emergency shelters continues to increase
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rains are predicted to continue on the Caribbean coast and in the northern zone until Thursday along with heavy winds. That is all thanks to the cold front that has brought trouble to many families who live near rivers or on hills.

More than 750 persons spent Tuesday in government shelters as water poured into their communities and into their homes.

The national emergency commission said that 483 persons were in shelters in Matina and Sarapiquí and that 276 persons were being sheltered in Tigre, La Guaria and Caño San José in the province of Heredia. Those in Matina were mostly from Goshen, Santa Marta and Batán where water was waist deep.

If the names sound familiar it is because these are the areas that are flooded every year. Those who do not have their homes on small hills or constructed with stilts are going to be returning in a few days for the semi-annual task of getting rid of the mud.

Former president Abel Pacheco, himself a Limón native, was a proponent of stilt construction in areas prone to flooding. Several schools were built that way during his administration.

In Limón today there are homeowners dry in their homes on stilts waiting for flood water to diminish.

Another problem area is in Talamanca where the Río Sixaola is pushing at its banks. Three small communities have been cut off already and there is flooding in three towns and on major roadways there.

There are 32 persons in shelters in Santa Cruz de Turrialba. These are refugees from the volcano and not from the storm. A report from near Volcán Turrialba said that the mountain still was emitting gas and ash, although low ceilings, rain and bad visibility has kept most geologists from really knowing what is going on at the summit. A
yellow alert still is in force for nearby cantons.

The emergency commission said that 37 homes were affected by the strong winds. Emergency workers listed Alajuela, Esparza and Santa Ana as places where homeowners are getting government assistance with building materials.  Some 26 homeowners in Miramar overlooking Puntarenas are getting supplies from local distributors, the commission said. Most homes lost some but not all of the roof, mostly the metal zinc-coated panels.

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said it handled 123 power outages by midday Tuesday and had at least 125 more in various stages of repair.  These were situations where trees broke lines or utility poles fell. The most affected areas were the north of the metro area and included Barva de Heredia, Sacramento, and Santa Bárbara. There also was a concentration of outages in La Guácima and Ciudad Colón, the company said. Many power company employees worked Monday night through Tuesday afternoon clearing streets and erecting new poles.

There was work going on in San Rafael de Escazú, Guadalupe, Moravia, Coronado, llano Grande de Cartago and Casajal, the company said.

The company maintains a special telephone number, 126, to report service interruptions.

There was no letup in the chill. La Lucha in Desamparados reported a 12.6 C (54.7 F) temperature reading at midnight. The automatic station logged gusts up to 55 kph (34 mph) at the same time.  Liberia saw winds of 56 kph (34.8 mph) during the day, but the high temperature there was an agreeable 31.6 C (88.9 F).

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that gusts of 70 kph (43.5 mph) would be seen in the Central Valley today.
The institute said that seas would be as much as 4 meters (13 feet) higher than normal in the northern Pacific and in  the Caribbean.  The amount of the surge depends on the strength of the prevailing winds, the institute said.


Contemporary arts promoter
honored with Premio Magón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 
Virginia Pérez Johnston, vice president and cofounder of   Papaya Music and a driving force behind the creation of the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo, is being honored with the nation's highest cultural prize.

The woman, who is known professionally as Virginia Pérez Ratton, will receive the award April 19 when other honors are handed out at the Teatro Nacional. Her name was released Tuesday by the five-judge panel that chose her.

The award is the Premio Magón de Cultura.

The panel said that she was being honored for her relevant labor as curator and promoter of contemporary arts in Costa Rica, Central America and the Caribbean which she has studied and documented extensively in books, videos, exhibitions, symposiums and in other ways.

She also is the founder of ARS TEOR/éTica and a graphic artist. Fundación Teorética is a private organization to advance the contemporary arts. It is based in San José. It has been operating as a non-profit since 2009.
Virgiani Perez
Teorètica/Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes photo
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 8

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Free computers, dollarizing, puppets are campaign features

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a new television commercial Otto Guevara, the Movimiento Libertario presidential candidate, said he would give every Costa Rican student a small computer that could be hooked to the Internet.

He also later released a document that says his government would make the U.S. dollar the country's currency. That already has happened in Ecuador and El Salvador. He is likely to be questioned vigorously on both topics.

Guevara appears in the television commercial with a young schoolgirl who is busy working at her small laptop computer. The proposal is seen as an effort for the Guevara campaign to move away from the negative campaigning that has infuriated other candidates and their supporters. But other candidates are responding with pointed television ads.

Guevara's campaign was the author of a commercial that showed a nearly naked man walking the streets, in part, because his dog was stolen. The pitch was that he did not  want to lose anything else. Hence he wore few clothes. Security still is a major component of his campaign.

The Libertarios also came out with a commercial after the
Christmas break that showed a Laura Chinchilla puppet
being guided by a group of men above, some with large ears. The ears were to suggest that Óscar Aria Sánchez was pulling the strings on his former vice president, who is leading in the polls.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana came out with a new campaign that shows both Mrs. Chinchilla and Guevara as puppets. The party's candidate is Ottón Solís.

In an interview released Tuesday by a Universidad de Costa Rica student, Guevara repeats his belief that the central government should not tax money from citizens to pay for the arts, sports or culture. Those who use the services should pay for them, he is quoted as saying. Costa Rica has a ministry of culture and sports, and there is extensive investment in these areas.

At the same time Luis Fishman, the candidate of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, came out with a series of television commercials saying he should be elected because he is the lesser of evils. He is running far behind Mrs. Chinchilla and Guevara, according to the polls.

Mrs. Chinchilla seems to be maintaining a strong lead, but the Guevara strategy is to deny her 40 percent of the popular vote on the first ballot and force the election into a two-candidate runoff where he will attract support from those whose candidates did not make it.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 8

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Quake in Haiti appears
to becoming a megatragedy


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A massive earthquake struck Haiti not far from the capital Port-au-Prince at 5 p.m. local time Tuesday, and many are feared dead in the rubble.

Experts with the U.S. Geological Survey said the initial quake registered at magnitude 7. It was followed by at least 26 other shocks, including one that measured 5.9, through the evening and early morning. The epicenter was about 10 miles from the capital.

Witnesses say a hospital in the capital collapsed and that many buildings were damaged, according to local news reports.  Additional information from the island has been slow in coming, as telephone service from abroad has been disrupted.

However, the reports that are available say that there is little organized rescue work and that the residents are mostly on their own trying to dig family members and others from rubble. There were reports of bodies on the  ground and thousands of people gathering in the streets and public places because their homes were destroyed.

Geophysicist Julie Dutton says she expects the damage to be severe, partly because the region is not accustomed to major quakes.

"This is actually the largest earthquake we have seen in the last 200 years in this region," she said. "There has not been an earthquake of Magnitude 6 range since the 1970s."

The quake was also felt in Dominican Republic which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.  Residents there say some people ran out of their homes as the quake rattled walls and windows.

In Washington, the White House announced that President Barack Obama is closely monitoring the situation and that the United States stands ready to assist the people of Haiti.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined U.S. help to Haiti from Hawaii where she is attending an Asia-Pacific conference.

"The United States is offering our full assistance to Haiti and to others in the region," said Mrs. Clinton. "We will be providing both civilian and military disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. Our prayers are with the people who have suffered, their families and their loved ones."

The U. N. special envoy to Haiti is her husband, former U.S. president Bill Clinton. His office released a statement saying they are committed to do whatever they can to assist in relief, recovery and rebuilding.

A member of the U.S. group Partners for Haiti, which does religious aid work, Kyn Tolson, says she has been scrambling to get in contact with people inside Haiti.

"Our organization is trying to reach our mission house which is in Port-au-Prince," said Tolson. "It appears that cell contact and landline contact is either down or so busy that we definitely cannot get through. We are emailing all sorts of people too.  We want to see if there are any problems first of all with our people in our mission house."

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been devastated in recent years by destructive and deadly hurricanes.  Scientists say an earthquake of this magnitude has not hit the Caribbean region in more than 200 years. 

The quake also was felt in Cuba. A report said that the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force that has been stationed in Haiti has been damaged heavily.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 8


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New telephone books
available as CD, too

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad will give telephone customers a choice this year between the standard two-volume telephone book or a compact disk with the same information.

The telecom company said Tuesday that it has produced 100,000 compact disks. It did not specify the format. The information is identical, it said.

The Guía Telefónica of the Grupo ICE will be in the hands of 5,000 Cruz Roja volunteers who expect that most recipients will make a donation to the organization. About a million sets of books will be distributed, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said.

As usual, the telephone guide is in two parts: white pages and yellow pages. The telecom company said that its use of the disk was to reduce costs. Printed products are being squeezed by rising prices and competition from the Internet. For example, as much as 50 percent of every advertising dollar spent with a print outlet like the phone company goes just to buy the paper and ink. The telecom company said that using the electronic format was environmentally sound as it reduces the waste of paper.

Distribution will start with the metro area

Ecuador's foreign minister
gets the heave-ho over park


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorean officials say Fander Falconi, the foreign minister, is resigning. The foreign ministry said Tuesday that Falconi was stepping down, but gave no reason for his decision.

News reports, however, point to President Rafael Correa's criticism of the way Falconi was handling an Amazon rain forest protection project involving the Yasuní national park in eastern Ecuador.

Under the government's Yasuní initiative, Ecuador would leave untapped about 850 million barrels of oil in the region. In return for not exploiting the oil, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries member nation would look to other nations for compensation.

President Correa had said the negotiations between Ecuador and potential donor nations were being handled shamefully.






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