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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 10             E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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How a citizen can stop those environmental vandals
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Is the neighbor playing fast and loose with Mother Nature?

Are the trees getting chopped up?

Is trash just getting dumped alongside the river?

Residents don't have to watch the environment get degraded. There is a Costa Rican superagency that can step is and stop the carnage.

It is the Secretaria Tecnica National Ambiental, the environmental watchdog for the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia. Costa Ricans call this agency SETENA for short, and it is the Costa Rican version of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Developers of any industrial project or significant housing development must file an environmental impact statement for approval. This provides a ready point of reference for violations of environmental code, but, of course, only applies to formal operations. Illegal fill and tree cutting seem to be the most common sort of violation for housing developments.

Developers take seriously the implications of a denuncia or complaint. One situation in San Isidro de Heredia had the local municipality on the scene to close a soil dump too near the Rio Tibás, on the developer’s own property within a few hours after a complaint had been filed.

Any fill even of clean soil or rubble requires a municipal permit. Any cutting of natural forest also requires permits. Complaints should first be addressed to the local municipality, but political patronage, corruption, or a simple desire to have a larger tax base means many cases go unanswered. If the situation continues for more than a few days after reporting it to the municipality, then a resident should contact the Secretaria Tecnica

All files (expedientes) at the Secretaria Tecnica are freely available to the public. A visitor needs the file number for the impact statement in question. If this isn’t immediately evident, the staff can help. The files may not be taken out of the building. For copies, a librarian will accompany a visitor to the closest photocopy machine, which is at a pharmacy down the street.

The offices are in the east San José suburb of Sabanilla. See www.minae.go.cr/setena/ for more details. Would-be visitors should check for times, too, because the office is open to the public for limited hours currently Tuesday and Friday.

Evidence for a complaint should be clear and well-documented. First a complainant needs to obtain the business name (ends in S.A.) and number (starts with 3-101-) of the offender. If the property is not owned by a Sociedad Anónima, the owner’s name and cédula number will suffice. As the owners are unlikely to cooperate with the investigation, the information is available at the municipality where the property is located. A great deal of patience is needed for this process.

The cover letter to the Secretaria Tecnica should be a clear description of the situation in Spanish. Then those making the complaint should include the best documentation possible with photographs, if available. Satellite images of Costa Rica on Google Earth are much improved of late, and can be useful in the Central Valley. A copy of the letter is a must. It will be stamped as received on that date and provides proof of submission. The Secretaria Tecnica will (eventually) inspect the site and pass the case to the environmental tribunal, if warranted.

If there is no environmental impact statement, the process is the same except one must submit the complaint directly to the tribunal. Usually a visit to the municipality where the violation is taking place will be a better first step.

The process is open to abuse. As the Guatemalan company that makes Big Cola attempted to break into the Costa Rican market against the global soft-drink giants, it reportedly suffered repeated complaints about its environmental impact even though it is in an industrial district of Cartago.

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Costa Rica
Second newspage

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 10

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Junction box where thieves took wires to light pole

Cable thieves are now preying
on city's pretty streetlights

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San Jose's new, elegant light poles are the target of small-time thieves who steal copper wire to support their drug habits.

Copper thefts are not new. Such pilferage costs the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Sometimes fiber optic cable is purloined, too.

Stealing cable is a high-risk occupation. About every month a thief is badly burned or electrocuted on the job. They do it at night and take the stolen cable to junk yards for sale.

The junk yard operators sell to middlemen who ship the copper out of the county where the material is again melted and formed into new cable.  Then some is sold back to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad to be stolen again.

Thieves learned that if they open a small access port at the base of the new lamp posts they can simply pull out two long strands of copper cable that feed electricity to the lights.  They have done so with dozens of street lights around town, and whole neighborhoods are now darkened.

Some of the less clever also have stolen cable from traffic signals with the expected result.

Local shoppers donated
more than 800 Yule gifts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local charity group reported that 800 Christmas presents were successfully delivered to under-privilged children living in Costa Rica, and the giving is not over yet. 

Phil and Jill Jones of the Christian organization Blood N Fire, here known as Sangre y Fuego, teamed up with Cemaco, a local department store chain, and local shoppers to make sure that children living in Los Triangulos de Solidaridad and La Trinidad de Moravia received a gift during the holiday season.

Jones also reported that around 40 Christmas presents are yet to be delivered to an Indian group in Talamanca.  One of his associates, Pasture Victor Castro of the Dominican Republic, will be part of a group that hikes the 24 or more hours into the High Talamanca to deliver the belated Christmas cheer.

Jones said that much of their attention is now on promoting the scholarships that he and his wife organize.  The scholarship, here known as a beca, provides the uniforms, bus passes, books, food and other material that some youngsters otherwise would not be able to afford.  Depending on the amount of money raised, the Jones' could sponsor up to as many as 15 kids this year.  As part of their education project, the couple is also building a small schoolhouse for local students in San Jeronimo de Moravia.

In what free time he can find, Jones also takes to the musical spotlight and performs under the stage name “Mr. Jones”.  He is set to perform this Friday with local artist Editus in San Pedro. More information about Sangre y Fuego is available on Web sites:  www.philandjilljones.com and  www.bloodnfirecostarica.com

Two held on trafficking
involving Peruvians here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police detained two persons for suspected involvement in a human-trafficking scheme that was attempting to sneak Peruvians into Canada, using Costa Rica as their country of departure.

The Policía Especial de Migración was tipped off that a man with the last names Del Risco Manzanares was in the country and may be involved. The information came from the Inernational Police Agency in Peru.

Agents at the Juan Santamaría airport stopped a Peruvian man carrying a passport indicating that he was from Spain last Wednesday.  The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policìa y Seguridad Pública reported that this man was believed to be involved with the Peruvian organization dedicated to  international human trafficking, and that his detention likely changed Del Risco's plan to leave the country.

The second suspect, who goes by the last name Moreno, was detained at the airport in the company of three Peruvians carrying Guatemalan passports.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 10

Here's a saying that does not hold water in real world
Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
“Blind eyes, blithe heart.” This dicho carries much the same meaning as the English expression: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”  This really doesn’t make a lot of sense because, as anyone who has lived beyond the age of 11 can attest, what you don’t know most certainly can hurt you.

But, nonetheless, we may occasionally try to protect ourselves from pain by turning a blind eye to things unpleasant. And, by the same token, friends and family members may sometimes think they’re shielding us from heartache by concealing some bitter truth.
Additionally, there are those who will use such dichos as a way of letting themselves off the hook for indulging in bad behavior. Take, for example, the guy who cheats on his wife or girlfriend while he’s away on business or down here in Costa Rica on a “fishing trip with the guys.” He thinks that what his girl back home doesn’t find out won’t hurt her. But to a large extent, isn’t this philanderer really trying to protect himself? Often, however, it’s the evil things we’re concealing that actually end up hurting us because such things can become a torment to the conscience. Those who play usually pay by one means or another.
A few days ago I attended a picnic at the lovely home of friends who live in La Guacima de Alajuela. Many people at this gathering, as it turned out, were regular readers of my column. One young woman pointed out to me that she felt she had learned at least as much about my rather whacky family, through reading the column, as she had about the peculiarities of Costa Rican speech.

I laughed and said that I hoped if she should ever meet any members of my family she wouldn’t let on that she knew so much about them.
In any case, it was this conversation that brought today’s dicho to mind, and got me thinking too about the many members of my family who do not read English. They wouldn’t know what I’d written about them unless I told them, which in fact I usually do. I really wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea I was trying to conceal what I have written. For therein resides the source of much of the pain

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

that can result when we conceal something we’ve done from a loved one. They feel as though they’ve been lied to. I do have to admit, however, that in some cases I have changed some names in an effort to protect the guilty.

Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente to me is just a lot of nonsense. It’s a way for some people to delude themselves and an excuse for others not to be honest.

A friend asked my advice on how to tell her sister that she’d lost a valuable ring she had borrowed from her. I said there was only one way and that was to tell the truth. But she said she planned to tell her sister that she had been taking out the garbage and by accident it had fallen into the trash can. By the time she realized what had happened it was too late. To this I replied that it didn’t matter how she lost it. The fact was she lost the ring because she was not careful with a prized object that belonged to someone else.
Of course the sister was very upset when she found out about the loss of her ring. But her distress was only compounded by the fact that my friend had been lying to her for three years as to the ring’s whereabouts.
The heart sometimes has a vision of its own. We may think we’ve successfully hidden our misdeeds, but deep inside our heart sees the truth. Likewise, the hearts of those whom we’ve sought to deceive may nonetheless intuitively perceive with greater veracity than we credit them.

Online statistics confirm erosion of potential tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism officials are talking about a decrease in visitors for 2006, although they do not have hard numbers for the last six months of the year.

Tourists notwithstanding, Internet statistics show a decline in interest in Costa Rica. A study of three online newspapers, including A.M. Costa Rica, shows decreases in readership across the boards. For A.M. Costa Rica, the decrease is about 15 percent.

Those who would visit Costa Rica typically check out the online newspapers. A rise in tourism seems to follow a rise in readership. The all-time high in A.M. Costa Rica readership took place in May  when an independent statistical program counted 121,736 monthly visitors. Nearly that many (119,178) visited the online newspaper in October.

But the December visitors dropped to 99,642 persons. Similar decreases were registered in other statistics.

January statistics suggest a slight increase over December, perhaps 100,000 visitors, but not as many as the 119,746 readers registered in January 2006.

Tourism officials have blamed infrastructure problems like roads and bridges as well as the constricting housing market in the United States for the decline in tourism. Others blame crime, and the central government has created a tourism police in response.
Alexa* ranking of English online newspapers
World rank
A.M. Costa Rica
51,446 -5,478
The Tico Times
131,895 -19,012
Another online site
150,437 -51,535
*Alexa traffic report

Some tourism operators say their business is off 35 percent.

Other online publications have shown dramatic decreases, according to Alexa.com the Amazon affiliate that tracks Web site visits.

Alexa lists A.M. Costa Rica at 51,446 place during the last three months. That means that of all the Web sites that Alexa tracks, A.M. Costa Rica is in 51,446th place. Yahoo continues to be No. 1. A.M. Costa Rica has been as high as 29,000.

The Tico Times online edition was in 131,895th place. Alexa noted a 19,012 drop in position.

Another daily online publication was in 150,437th place with a drop of 51,535 places.

The statistics show that tourism operators and real estate dealers will be seeking business from a smaller pool in the short-term.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica
fourth news page

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 10

Bolivian Alternative begins to show authoritarian signs
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The developing international quadrangle forged by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and other Latin leaders is beginning to reveal authoritarian tendencies of its leaders.

Both Chávez and now Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua are talking about substantial constitutional changes that would let them hold the office of president well beyond the current limited term.

An analysis of the news

Chávez styles himself as a socialist with the grand plan of creating socialism for the 21st century, an echo of Mussolini's Third Way. Like the Italian dictator, Chávez has said he quickly will nationalize key industries beginning with telecommunications and electricity.

Mussolini quickly morphed from a socialist to a dictator, creating a definition of the word fascism.

Cuba, which the U.S. State Department correctly classifies as a police state, represents another corner of the quadrangle. But Fidel Castro and his associates are not rolling in oil wealth as is Chávez. The Venezuelan leader's oil diplomacy was instrumental in supporting Ortega's presidential bid.

At the other corner of the Quadrangle is Bolivia and Coca promoter Evo Morales as president. Both he and Chávez seem to share the dream of a renewed Gran Colombia, first promoted by Simón Bolívar, the 19th century Liberator.

Latin American government officials are a little shy about being critical of Chávez, considering the oil wealth he represents. There have been no strong statements in Costa Rica against his acquisition of modern Russian fighter aircraft and heavy arms. Ortega, who directed the country during the Contra war of the 1980s, inherits a substantial military with heavy weaponry.

Elsewhere, there is concern about Chávez. For example, the African publication Business Day in Johannesburg said: 

"Venezuela President Hugo Chávez began another six-year term this week, revealing a radical political and economic agenda that has its inspiration not in democratic socialism of the 1990s left but in communism of the Soviet era"

The Boliviana Alternativa of Chávez is not fully defined, but Ortega signed on last week, and said during the weekend that the alliance would not affect existing trade treaties, such as the one with the United States.

Chávez is following the path worn by a lot of dictators by cracking down on the press. He is pulling the license of a
leading television station and instituted a burdensome press law in Venezuela. And he is expanding his state-owned press even into Bolivia where the Venezuela government is making purchases of media properties.

Propaganda is the cornerstone of the authoritarian state. And a controlled, monopolistic media quickly becomes propagandistic.

Morales and Chávez were in Zumbahua, Ecuador, Sunday, where Indian leaders conducted a ceremony for Rafael Correa, who will become president today. The leftist Correa had been critical of neoliberalism and is a likely addition to the Chávez fan club. He has preached a democratic constitutional revolution.

The enormous income generated by the cocaine trade rivals that of the oil wealth of Venezuela and is a great temptation. The United States already has criticized Chávez for failing to cooperate with anti-drug efforts. The Venezuelan president also seems to be friendly with the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the rebel group that finances its operations with extensive drug sales.

There have been hostilities between the Venezuelan and Colombia militaries along their common border of the countries.

Correa is likely to ask the U.S. military to leave the air base at Manta where extensive anti-drug operations originate.

Ortega has reason to change the constitution. He won the Nov. 5 Nicaraguan elections only because his centrists opponents were split between two candidates. His Frente Sandinista party was able to change the constitution to permit victory with just 35 percent of the vote.

In Venezuela, Chávez has gained control of the legislature, the courts and the election process. His associates are likely to try to do the same thing, as is the current situation in Cuba. 

The growth of authoritarian governments in Latin America would not be a concern if they are not troublesome to their neighbors. But if conditions deteriorate at home, the standard response to engender nationalism is a military expedition.

Venezuela has long sought the land west of the Essequibo River now part of Guayana. A test of the intentions of Chávez will be if he foments confrontation there. For Ortega the logical rallying point would be the San Juan River area, which is the object of an International Court case brought by Costa Rica.

So far the only demonstrations of hard feelings against Costa Rica and President Óscar Arias Sanchez have come from Cuba, whose media seem to be responding to complaints from free trade treaty opponents in San José.

Bird flu continues to spread, but human cases still few, World Bank says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Avian flu may not be front-page news right now, but the disease is spreading and remains a threat to poultry and human health, say World Bank avian flu experts.

The virus has continued to spread since countries pledged some $1.9 billion last January to prevent and combat bird flu. Carried by wild birds and through poultry trade, it now has reached at least 55 nations around the world, reported the World Bank.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 220 million domestic birds, most owned by poor farmers in developing countries, have died or been killed in efforts to contain the virus. Economic losses in the Southeast Asia poultry sector alone are estimated at around $10 billion, and the precautionary slaughtering has cost the African poultry industry another $60 million.

China and Vietnam were the only two countries to report human cases of the virus in 2003, a number that has risen to 10 countries in 2006, according to the World Health Organization. By the end of 2006, the total number of human avian flu cases stood at 261, and the number of deaths at 157.

Indonesia has become the most severely affected country, with 74 cases and 54 deaths. During 2006, human cases appeared in five additional countries: Azerbaijan, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. The vast majority of cases to date were apparently caused by close contact with infected poultry, the report said.

The number of human deaths is still very small compared with the millions who might die in an influenza pandemic, which experts say is long overdue. Medical researchers are closely monitoring human avian flu cases for the first sign that the virus is becoming transmissible from human to human. 

So far there is no evidence that is happening. But the virus’s emergence in Africa worries many.  “We continue to be very concerned about Africa,” says World Bank avian flu advisor John Underwood.  “The disease has become
widespread in Nigeria, and there are several other countries where the threat is pretty big.”  In Egypt, 18 people contracted avian flu and 10 died from the virus in 2006.

According to Francois Le Gall, the World Bank's lead livestock specialist for Africa, socio-economic vulnerability, the impact of already existing diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, and poor capacity of veterinary services combine to make a complex situation in Africa.

Many fear the virus will expand across the continent. Migrating birds help spread the virus, along with trade in products and animals.

Experts see evidence bird flu is slowly becoming endemic in Africa, increasing the risk of the virus mutating into a type that can be transmitted from human to human, reported the World Bank.

Ok Pannenborg, senior health advisor for the bank’s Africa region, said that “Once that happens, you have a completely different situation, and you cannot start preparing then, because that will be way too late.”

Christopher Delgado, World Bank rural strategy advisor, said, “The problem is that in developing countries a lot of livestock and a lot of poultry are kept on very small farms in very remote places. If these producers do not comply with orders to report outbreaks or cooperate in presenting animals for slaughter when requested, [countries] are not going to be successful at disease control. That's the basic issue.” 

Underwood said that “We do strongly suspect there will be another human pandemic at some point. They've occurred periodically throughout history and we need to be prepared for another one. Whether it comes from this particular virus or some other one, there still exists a threat to humans,”

“We have no choice but to be prepared,” said Dr. Bernard Demure, director of the World Bank’s Health Services Department and member of the institution’s flu pandemic task force. “The key issue is changing behavior,” he added, “Beyond that, let us hope that the odds are on our side.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 10

Costa Rican runner repeats his win in grueling Jungleman
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Javier Montero Barrantes of Costa Rica once again set the pace at the off road Jungleman's 2007 marathon and half marathon. He smashed his 2006 winning time by almost 15 minutes. 

The off-road race takes place in Puerto Viejo, Limón, and the 17 miles of sandy beaches that competitors traverse make for a more intense marathon than many runners are used to.  The added difficulty may have been to the advantage of local runners this past weekend, as Costa Ricans captured the top position in all but one category. 

Only Mélida Barbee of the United States was able to fend off the Tico domination, finishing first in the women's half marathon masters group with a time of 1:41:47. 

Barrantes dominated Sunday's race, winning the men's open marathon with a time of 2:49:38 ,which was better than his previous time by 13:23.  He also passed the halfway mark of the marathon at 1:19:33, which was faster than any of the weekend's half marathon times.

The fastest time in any of the women's groups was posted by Mora Garro Lorenne of Costa Rica. She finished first in the women's open marathon group with a time of 3:44:43. A full list of results is available HERE!

Javier Montero Barrantes  in action

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