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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 14           E-mail us
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Ocean dead zones called growing threat to game fish
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new study says that fish vital to the sports fishing industry are becoming more vulnerable because they are being concentrated as large patches of the sea lack sufficient oxygen.

Billfish and other marine species become more susceptible to overfishing because they are compressed into oxygen rich waters at the ocean’s surface where they are easier to catch, while avoiding deeper waters low in oxygen, said The Billfish Foundation, which participated in the study.

The areas of depleted oxygen are called hypoxic zones, but more recreational anglers refer to them as dead zones, the foundation said.

The study involved scientists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and the foundation. The findings were published in the Journal of Fisheries Oceanography, the foundation noted.

Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation, said in a release that scientists outfitted 79 sailfish and blue marlin in two strategic areas of the Atlantic with pop-off archival satellite tags which monitored their horizontal and vertical movement patterns.

“Billfish favor abundant habitats of oxygen rich waters closer to the surface while avoiding waters low in oxygen,” Ms. Peel was quoted as saying.

The foundation said that these hypoxic zones occur naturally in areas of the world’s tropical and equatorial seas because of weather patterns and oceanographic and biological processes. In the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming, hypoxic areas are expanding and may continue to expand as sea temperatures rise, it added.

The research waters included areas off south Florida and the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa, said the foundation.

A companion graphic from the Journal of Fisheries Oceanography used data from the World
ocean dead zones
Journal of Fisheries Oceanography graphic
Colors show dissolved oxygen levels at 100 meters. Red and black show depleted or so-called dead zones. Click HERE for larger version.

Ocean Atlas to show depleted levels of dissolved  oxygen 100 meters deep off Africa and in a  broad swath in the Pacific, said the foundation.

Because the fish congregate nearer the surface, a census of species and their numbers may give a false result and cause gross overestimations, noted the study. The foundation provided these assessments:

“The zone off West Africa encompasses virtually all the equatorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, is roughly the size of the continental United States and is growing," said Eric D. Prince, a fisheries research biologist. "With the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming we expect the size of this zone to increase, further reducing the available habitat for these fishes.”

He is with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“As water temperatures increase, the amount of oxygen dissolved in water decreases, squeezing billfish into less available habitat and exposing them to even higher levels of overfishing,” said the foundation's  Phillip Goodyear.

“While most recreational anglers are practicing catch and release, sailfish and marlin will become more vulnerable to commercial netters, purse seiners, and longliners that fish the oxygen-rich zones," said Ms. Peel. Reduced habitats can lead to higher catch rates of fish not because there are more fish in an area, which is the usual indication, but because the billfish are more densely concentrated near the surface where fishing gear is more likely to catch them, she added.

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Archivo Nacional photo
One of the lottery posters on display

Lottery exhibit is one reason
to visit Archivo Nacional

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Archivo Nacional is reaching out to residents to encourage them to visit the Zapote location.

The current exposition is a history of the lottery in Costa Rica. There also is a reading room where many Costa Ricans go to trace their ancestry or for other personal and business reasons.

The state lottery began in 1885 to finance a hospital for the insane. Later the goal was the hospital system in general, said the Archivo Nacional in a summary.

The lottery is now run by the Junta de Protección Social that donates the profits to a long list of agencies in the country. Among the exhibits are lottery tickets that were altered to appear like they were winners, the Archivo said.

Each lottery ticket is a work of art in itself and an historical document. Many of the personages of the day were pictured there as well as average citizens.

The Archivo Nacional opened Jan. 10 after a Christmas break. It is an agency of the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.

Costa Rican businessman
faces fraud charges in U.S.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The president and the auditor of a Costa Rican company selling reinsurance bonds to life settlement companies were arrested and charged, along with the company itself, in a seven-count indictment unsealed today for their alleged role in a $670 million fraud scheme involving victims throughout the United States and abroad.

The charges were announced Wednesday by Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division. 

The indictment charges Costa Rica-based Provident Capital Indemnity Ltd., Minor Vargas Calvo, 59, and Jorge Castillo, 55, each with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud.   The indictment also seeks forfeiture of more than $40 million from all three defendants.   Vargas was arrested on Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Castillo was arrested earlier Wednesday in New Jersey.

Vargas has been associated with some of the major Costa Rican soccer teams, including Saprissa, Barrio México and Brujas.

“PCI is accused of lying to investors across the globe to sell more than half a billion dollars worth of guaranteed bonds which turned out to be worthless,” said MacBride, referring to Provident Capital Indemnity Ltd.. “This case is another example of how the members of the Virginia Financial and Securities Fraud Task Force are working to detect, deter and punish financial fraudsters who target investors throughout Virginia, the nation and the world.”

“These defendants allegedly sold $670 million in bonds by making numerous false representations, which were disseminated to thousands of investors,” said Breuer.  “They stand accused of defrauding victims at home and abroad.  As these charges show, the Justice Department is committed to rooting out investment fraud wherever we find it.”

According to the indictment, Vargas, a citizen and resident of Costa Rica, is the president and majority owner of PCI, an insurance and reinsurance company registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica and doing business in Costa Rica. Castillo, a resident of New Jersey, is the purported independent auditor for PCI.  If convicted, Vargas and Castillo face up to 20 years in prison on each count.

The defendants allegedly engaged in a scheme to defraud clients and investors by making misrepresentations about PCI’s reinsurers, PCI’s financial statements and PCI’s Dun and Bradstreet rating, in connection with PCI’s marketing and sale of financial guarantee bonds to companies that sold life settlements or securities backed by life settlements to investors, the government said. PCI’s bonds were marketed as a way to eliminate one of the primary risks of investing in life settlements, namely the possibility that the individual insured by the underlying life insurance policy will live beyond his or her life expectancy, it added.

The indictment alleges that from 2004 through 2010, PCI sold approximately $670 million of bonds to life settlement investment companies located in various countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and elsewhere. PCI’s clients, in turn, sold investment offerings backed by PCI’s bonds to thousands of investors around the world.  Purchasers of PCI’s bonds were allegedly required to pay up-front payments of 6 to 11 percent of the underlying settlement as premium payments to PCI before the company would issue the bonds, said the government.

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
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 14
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Turrialba volcano
This was the Turrialba crater at noon Wednesday as seen from a remote camera linked HERE.
Scientists keep watch on Turrialba volcano after ash rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Turrialba volcano continues to perk along and dump acidic gases on the surrounding farmland.

Scientists still are trying to figure out why the restless mountain put forth gas and ash last week. They have been hampered by the weather.

Mid-afternoon Friday residents of the community of La Central near the volcano began to report the fall of ash and a strong sulfur odor. They also reported rumbling between 5 and 6 p.m.

A quick check of instruments at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica failed to show any earthquakes or explosions, the observatory reported.

Saturday scientists from the observatory, which is part of Universidad Nacional in Heredia, traveled to the communities close to the volcano. La Central is just two kilometers, about 1.25 miles, from the volcano peak.

They said they found much less ash than they were expecting, and rains had washed much away.

The volcano has been under intense scrutiny for a year because of eruptions Jan. 4 and 5, 2010, when it opened up a new crater. Scientists have installed a video monitor trained on the peak. Saturday scientists found the expected plume of gases, mostly water, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, among others.

The scientists noted that the gases are toxic and that some, like carbon dioxide, are heavier than air so they accumulate in depressions and other low spots when there is little wind. That is why they recommend that the public avoid the area.

Farming, mostly dairy, still goes on in the shadow of the
volcano seen from city
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico
de Costa Rica/María Martínez Cruz.
The Turrialba volcano as seen from near Parque La Sabana Monday morning. Gases are headed northwest.

volcano even though the gases have turned much of the vegetation yellow.

Scientists speculate in a report released Tuesday that strong winds and heavy rains earlier last week caused small landslides within the new volcano crater and that is why ash was transported out of the volcano into the surrounding area. A lot of the gas and volcanic material drifts north and west of the crater, mostly into Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.

The volcano's twin, Volcán Irazú, also continues to put out acidic gases but to a lesser degree. Scientists plan to visit the Turrialba crater to see if they can detect sidewalls that may have collapsed, causing the emission of ash.

A major eruption and a rain of ash on the metro area would be a major problem. That is what happened in 1963 when Irazú blew its top.

The cleanup continued for two years.

Some on Pacific coast have to be their own fire department
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the end of the rainy season comes the start of the fire season, and some expats are realizing that they are on their own.

Some residents in Flamingo had to fight their own fire Sunday. They were successful in keeping the brush fire from reaching buildings.  This is a frequent occurrence along the Pacific coast where there are only a few fire stations and communication mixups can be often.

Residents of Flamingo's area known as northridge complained this week that 911 calls for help went unanswered.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica has a different story, but all agree that fire stations are few and far between.

Although residents said they made calls to 911, Maricela Salas Delgado, spokesperson for the firemen, said that only two fire calls were received Sunday. One was at 1:34 p.m., and a fire truck was dispatched from the Filadelfia station. At 2:31 p.m. a second call came in but the truck already was en route and reported it had arrived at the Flamingo scene a minute later, she said.

The residents who managed to control the fire with the help of a tourist who was a firemen, said they did not see any truck. The residents said that the fire calls were made around 11 a.m., suggesting that they and the fire department spokesperson may be talking about two different fires.
Ms. Salas said that the station in Filadelfia also responded to a traffic accident and a report of a bee attack Sunday but no second fire.

"We are aware that the response time from the closest stations to Flamingo is long, and for this reason we have put forth a proposed law before the Asamblea Legislativa to obtain more economic income to permit us to open services in distant communities," she said. "For this reason for the moment there are no plans to open a fire station in the zone that we are discussing."

The Cuerpo de Bomberos has been removed from the control of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros with the opening of the insurance market. It is now an independent agency.

The problem faced by residents of Tamarindo is shared by others living along the coast.  The Flamingo residents estimated that a fire truck coming from Filadelfia would take about an hour to arrive. That is sufficient time for a luxury home to be reduced to ashes.

Ms. Salas also noted that Tamarindo does not have a fire station or truck. That community also has extensive residential and commercial investments.

She identified the bill as No. 17.881, which is in the  Comisión de Asuntos Económicos. She said the fire department is trying to get President Laura Chinchilla Miranda to put the measure on the special session agenda so it can be considered by lawmakers before May 1 when the regular session convenes.

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Laura Chinchilila gets some hands-on instructions for refining petroleum at the plant of the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. , the nation's fuel monopoly.
Ms. Chinchilla at RECOPE
Casa Presidencial photo

Nation moves to reduce the sulfur content of diesel fuel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has joined many other countries in limiting the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel to 50 parts per million.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda signed a decree to that effect Wednesday. Such a limit has been the standard in the European Union since 2005. This is the standard in some South American countries, too, but Casa Presidencial said that other Central American nations permit sulfur as high as 500 parts per million.

When it is expelled as exhaust, sulfur can cause acid rain and affect human health.

Sulfur is naturally occurring in petroleum, and the refining process can remove or limit the amount. Petroleum from different oil fields have different percentages of sulfur.
Costa Rica has a contract with British Petroleum, and the first boatload of 6.7 million barrels arrived in November, said Casa Presidencial.

Petroleum is a state monopoly through the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. The country imports all of its petroleum.

By reducing the amount of allowable sulfur, the administration expects to reduce the sulfur emissions by 90 percent. From January to September, officials estimate, some 658 tons of sulfur went into the nation's air under the 500-parts-per-million standard. They expect to cut the emissions to 66 tons for an equivalent period.   The new product is called Diesel 50.

Some countries have a standard of ultra low sulfur diesel where only 15 parts per million is permitted.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 14

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Duvalier has political goal,
one of his lawyers reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawyer for Jean-Claude Duvalier says the former exiled leader of Haiti plans to stay in the country and hopes to run for president.

The lawyer, Reynold Georges, told reporters Wednesday that Duvalier has the right to stay in Haiti because it is "his country." Likewise, Georges said Duvalier is a politican at heart and has hopes of getting involved again in the political arena.

The former dictator made an unexpected return to Haiti Sunday after living 25 years in France.

Tuesday, he was charged with corruption, embezzlement and other abuses of power during his brutal 15-year rule. And Wednesday, a former U.N. spokesman and three other prominent Haitians accused Duvalier of crimes against humanity, including torture, in criminal complaints.

Human rights groups have long pressed for Duvalier to face justice for alleged human rights abuses, including the torture and killings of thousands of people.  He also is alleged to have stolen millions of dollars in public funds.

But it is not clear whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Duvalier for atrocities during his rule.

This newest controversy comes at a time of political crisis in Haiti.  A disputed election has triggered protests and allegations of fraud and a runoff election planned for this past Sunday was postponed.

Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc," took power at age 19 after the death in 1971 of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who had ruled Haiti since 1957 and also was accused of brutality.

The Caribbean nation, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is still struggling to recover after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million others homeless.  Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tent cities, and many parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, remain in ruins. The country also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.

World Bank plans relief
for disaster-struck Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Bank says it is preparing to lend Brazil $485 million in emergency relief after flooding and mudslides devastated parts of the country.

The World Bank's Brazil director, Makhtar Diop, said Tuesday the bank hopes to approve the first portion of the loan in the coming weeks. He said the initial piece would be worth $290 million.

The Brazilian government last week allocated $460 million in aid.

Officials said Tuesday the disaster's death toll is now more than 700.

Rescue crews, including military helicopters, continue to try to reach residents after heavy rains sent an avalanche of mud, water and rocks plowing through towns and villages.
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Ex-banker who released data
convicted and given a fine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A former Swiss banker who handed thousands of personal banking files to the Wikileaks Web site has been found guilty of coercion, making a death threat, and breaking Switzerland's bank secrecy laws.

A judge in Zurich Wednesday handed Rudolf Elmer a fine of about $7,500, suspended for two years, for trying to blackmail his former employer, the Julius Baer bank, and its senior executives.  Prosecutors had asked for an eight-month jail sentence.

Elmer was acquitted of a charge of making a bomb threat.

The former banker, who was fired from Julius Baer in 2002, admitted stealing confidential client data and sending anonymous letters to bank officials, threatening to expose the information.  He then released the information to Swiss tax authorities and to Wikileaks.

Elmer said he wanted to expose what he called unethical tax-evading practices by the bank — one of Switzerland's top financial institutions. 

Elmer has said he began gathering information on what he termed widespread tax evasion by wealthy businessmen and politicians, while he worked at the offshore Cayman Island trust subsidiary of Julius Baer.

Monday, Elmer met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and handed over additional disks he said held data from 1990 to 2009 on some 2,000 clients of the bank, stating that Switzerland's banking secrecy laws are damaging society.

Assange said his Web site will publish the data after verifying it.

Ambulance driver, motorist
die in Interamericana crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The driver of a Cruz Roja ambulance died Wednesday morning when the vehicle collided with a car on the Interamericana highway at La Gotera, Cañas, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The ambulance driver was identified by the last name of Arce. Agents said he was 32. The driver of the car was identified by the last name of Mora.

Three persons in the ambulance and a passenger in the car suffered injuries.

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