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(506) 2223-1327                     Published Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 16                Email us
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books on line
School kids can find their required books free online
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when parents of public school children are struggling to make ends meet for the start of classes Feb. 6, the Imprenta Nacional has come to the rescue.

The national printing operation is better known for the La Gaceta official newspaper and even the election ballots.  But Tuesday the agency announced that it has placed all the required books for the coming school year online in digital format. The books can either be read online or downloaded. And the books are free.

Jorge Vargas, director of the Imprenta Nacional got the credit for putting the books online. And also included are some of the legal books, including the "Ley de Cobros Judicial," the new system for demanding payment, and even the country's constitution.

Of course, all the books are in Spanish, giving expats a chance to improve their language skills and
 cultural knowledge. There is a section on books by Costa Rica writers, including the famous "Los Cuentos de mi Tía Panchita" by Carmen Lyra, the pen name of María Isabel Carvajal Quesada.

The Imprenta, in an announcement, said that all the texts are available legally. They are either government works or long out of copyright. For example, Ms. Carvajal died in 1949, and her book was published in 1920.

Other selections include "City of God," the Fifth century book by St. Augustine of Hippo. It is called "La Ciudad de Dios" in Spanish. Victor Hugo's work, called "Los Miserables" in Spanish is there, too, as well as the picaresque adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes, a must for any student of Spanish literature and perhaps even more so because it was banned by the Inquisition.

Also available are a selection of children's books as well as "Sherlock Holmes" in Spanish. The menu is HERE!

Judiciary seeks to depersonalize records of court cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judicial branch will be removing identifying information from some 40,000 court cases in order to comply with a 2011 law that protects personal data.

That decision came from the Corte Suprema de Justicia, which endorsed a project put forth by the judiciary's Comisión de Protección de Datos Personales.

The goal is to remove any information that may cause a person to be subjected to discrimination or exclusion. That includes personal data like name and cédula number as well as race, health, sexual life, sexual orientation, political opinions, religious, spiritual or philosophical convictions, socioeconomic conditions, biometric or genetic data, home address, financial information, photograph, telephone numbers and similar, said the court, as quoted in a summary by the Poder Judicial.

Court files have long been closed to all except lawyers and those involved in the individual cases. Recently court workers began eliminating names from decisions that were posted on the Poder Judicial Web site. They said they were doing so to comply with the new law. Although the case files were closed, in the past summaries of court decisions were available and used extensively by credit
agencies, employers and private investigators. The court action implies that no longer will the names of persons convicted of crimes and civil lapses be available.

The Poder Judicial said that the first stages of this project would take seven months and cost 18.3 million colons, about $37,000. A company will be hired to do the work.

Left unsaid is how this policy will be put into practice at the time criminal suspects are arrested or placed on trial. Also uncertain is how the courts will treat the records of credit agencies which maintain a lot of the data that is being eliminated in the judicial files. Most of the data comes from public records, such as lists of telephone numbers and filing at the Registro Nacional.

Eventually the Poder Judicial will have to put some 450,000 older court cases on the Internet to see if any of the participants want to have their names removed, the agency said.

Public access to the judicial process is generally considered a major way to avoid corruption. In other countries, the emphasis has been opposite to what is taking place here. For example, convicted sex criminals have to register themselves in some places, and these records are open to the public.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 16
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Bank branch manager
sought over missing funds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents think that the temptation was just too much for the man running the Banco Nacional branch office in Santa Teresa, Cóbano, on the Nicoya peninsula.

The branch manager is the principal suspect in the theft of some 378 million colons from the bank vault. The manager, who has the last name of Quesada, has not been seen since Saturday, judicial investigators reported Tuesday.

The missing money includes 184 million colons or about $368,000, and $361,000 in U.S. currency.

Employees arrived at the bank Monday to find the vault open and the money missing, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Quesada worked Saturday, and agents said they are acting on the theory that if Quesada took the money he did so alone.

As expected, prosecutors
to appeal Bender verdict

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors in Peréz Zeledón said Tuesday that the office would appeal the trial court's decision in the John Bender murder case.

The court declined to convict Bender's wife, Ann Maxine Patton,  due to what the three-judge panel said was lack of evidence.

Prosecutor Fernando Oses argued that the death Jan. 8, 2010, was murder and not suicide, as the defense and Mrs. Patten said.
A decision to appeal was expected.

The Poder Judicial said Tuesday that prosecutors still think that there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. In Costa Rica a criminal court decision can be reversed on appeal. The case will be submitted to the Tribunal de Apelación de Cartago as soon as prosecutors have a chance to read the full decision of the trial court, said the Poder Judicial. That decision is expected to be released Friday.

The death took place in the couple's five-story 8,000-square-foot glass-walled showplace home. It is located on the 5,000-acre Refugio de Vida Silvestre Boracayán in La Floridad de Barú de Peréz Zeledón.  Bender earned in excess of $600 million with a mathematical approach to Wall Street investing.

The couple was alone in the section of the house where Bender suffered a bullet wound to the head.

The case was heard in the Tribunal de Juicio del Primer Circuito Judicial de la Zona Sur.

Water service interrupted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Water service stopped abruptly in eastern San José and San Pedro Tuesday afternoon. The flow was not restored until about 10:30 p.m. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados had no explanation for the outage, which was not announced in advance.

Our reader's opinion
More taxes on expats' cash
would force hard decisions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It has become abundantly clear that new and/or increased taxes here in Costa Rica have been brought about by many situations most of which seem to be exacerbated by the government. Given the numbers of people employed by the government and, other state sponsored monopolies one would be led to believe that the country's infrastructure would be world class.

I have been told that many new and /or increased taxes are because Costa Rica is a more desirable place to live than many neighboring countries. The truth is that Costa Rica is now playing on a world stage and can not just vacillate between regional and world issues. Now a very strong possibility of being taxed twice on our income coming into the country is being proposed. The money we  bring in goes directly into the Costa Rican economy in the form of living expenses and yes, to pay impuestos.

Costa Rica is a great and beautiful country. The people of Costa Rica are proud, strong and, patriotic. They have a warmth and spirit that is exceptional. I question if they are getting their money's worth from their government. As much as I would hate to leave my life here in Costa Rica, if my income that I earned in the U.S. is taxed when I bring it here, I and many other expats would be forced to return to their country of origin or other country rather than be double taxed on fixed incomes.

Gordon L Balter

EDITOR'S NOTE: The central government has not yet proposed taxing money coming into the country. The proposal is to do so on funds leaving the country. However, what lawmakers may do is uncertain.

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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Third News Page
It's time
to think about
Semana Santa

San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 16
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Agricultural officials declare emergency over coffee rust
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agricultural ministry has finally declared an emergency to battle a rust that is doing heavy damage to coffee plants in southern Costa Rica.

The decision to earmark some 2 billion colons to fight the disease comes long after the malady reached epidemic proportions.

A.M. Costa Rica reported Dec. 21 that coffee growers expect to have substantial losses.

Lawmakers heard Tuesday that the principal areas affected by the disease are Pérez Zeledón and Coto Brus and that experts expect to lose 50 percent of the crop in the Brunca region. There are an estimated 10,000 small producers in the region, lawmakers were told.

The disease, roya del cafe, translated in English to "coffee rust," is a fungus that forms yellow-orange dusty patches on the underside of the leaves.   This causes the coffee plant to lose its leaves, eventually killing the whole plant, said Ronald Peters, executive director for the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica in December.

The rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, is spread by the wind and rain. The fungus became known in Africa in the 19th century but did not reach the Americas until about 1970.
coffee rust
Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore photo
An example of the rust blotches on a coffee plant leaf.

Xinia Espinoza Espinoza, a lawmaker told her colleagues Tuesday that the producers need an integrated approach that includes credit, maintenance on the coffee plantations and other help for the next three years. The amount allocated for two years of effort is about $4 million. The decree also allows the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería to purchase fungicides and technology to fight the disease.

In addition to the disease, coffee producers are facing declining prices and an unfavorable dry season.

Death of olive ridley sea turtles is a mystery in the Pacific
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican environmental officials are faced with a mystery over why sea turtles are dying.

A crew of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas found and recovered 15 dead olive ridley turtles Tuesday, and Pablo Fernández Castro, head of operations at the Golfito coast guard base, said the creatures showed no signs of injury. Initially the coast guard crew suspected a bacterial infection. The dead turtles are being taken to the Refugio de Tortugas Marinas de Osa for what amounts to autopsies.

Although the coast guard found only 15 turtles, there are reports of many more dead olive ridleys in the Pacific. The sea turtle is called a lora in Spanish and its Latin name is  Lepidochelys olivacea.

The coast guard crew reported it surveyed the area from Punta Banco to Punta Burica in extreme southwestern Costa Rica. Crew members also went ashore to inspect the many beaches where the turtles nest. They said they did not find any more dead turtles.

Because of the danger of some type of disease, the coast guard urged residents not to touch any dead turtles or move them.

The coast guard also said that the dead turtles did not show any sign of being hooked. Longline fishing operations frequently hook turtles that then drown when they cannot surface for air.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Coast guard crewman displays a dead turtle.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 16
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Development bank plans twin sessions on costs of violence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is the financial cost of violence in Latin America? That is a question that the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo seeks to answer Thursday and Friday.

The development bank has planned a gathering of experts and academics to discuss what it says is the dramatic impact of the cost of crime and violence in Latin American and the Caribbean.

The 20 most violent cities in the planet are located in Latin America, said the development bank.

The sessions are being held in Washington, D.C.

The development bank cited the impact of violence on the real estate market in México and Brazil as well as the consequences of domestic violence in seven Latin countries. These topics are being addressed with academic studies.

The development bank sponsored a contest for research that showed new aspects of the cost of violence in economies. The bank said it received 117 proposals and that eight were selected for presentation this week.

Although some distance away, the event will be streamed live HERE!

Although Costa Rica does not host violence on the scale of other Latin countries, the country certainly has lost some tourism dollars as a result of criminal activity at beach resorts.
A.M. Costa Rica also has reported on the cost of crimes to small merchants who faced robberies sometimes to the extent that they closed up shops.

The development bank study is not the first. The World Bank, in a report published in April 2011 said that growing crime and violence in Central America pose a tremendous threat to development potential in the region and may decrease regional gross domestic product by 8 percent, once health, institutional, private security, and material expenses are accounted for.

According to the World Bank report, these threats weaken key institutions. Existing evidence indicates that drug trafficking increases corruption levels in the criminal justice systems and tarnishes the legitimacy of state institutions in the public mind, it said. Victims of crime, on average, tend to distrust criminal justice systems more, and they also approve of taking the law into their own hands and believe less strongly that the rule of law should always be respected, the report said.

The U.N. Development Programme said last February that an increasing crime rate is threatening economies and livelihoods in Caribbean countries and that the right mix of policies and programs to tackle the problem are needed. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 8.5 per cent of the world population, yet the region accounts for some 27 per cent of the world’s homicides, according to the U.N. report.

According to the U.N. report, crime costs Jamaica alone over $529 million a year in lost income. In Trinidad and Tobago, a 1 per cent reduction in youth crime would boost tourism revenue by $35 million per year, it said.

Residents feel quakes in Orosi and along the Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mid-afternoon quake that was about eight kilometers southeast of Orosi de Paraiso got the attention of the downtown office workers Tuesday.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica said that the cause was a local fault and that moderate events sometimes cause more damage than big ones. The magnitude was estimated at 4.0 by the Laboratorio and 4.4 by the Red Sismológica Nacional. There were no reports of serious damage.

The 3:29 p.m. quake was just the beginning. There was a second quake in about the same area at 9:40 p.m. and the Red
Sismológica Nacional said the magnitude was 3.0. The Laboratorio said 2.8.

At 9:21 p.m. a 4.7 quake took place just inland from the Pacific on the Nicoya peninsula. The epicenter was estimated to be between Sámara on the south and Nosara on the north, said the Laboratorio.

And then at 10:42 p.m. another 4.7 magnitude quake took place, but this one was well out in the Pacific off the coast of the peninsula. The Red Sismológica Nacional said the epicenter was 230 kilometers southwest of Sámara. This last Pacific coast quake was attributed to movement within the Coco tectonic plate, said the Red.

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Thousands march against
Roe v. Wade and abortion

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are heading to Washington this week to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Abortion opponents hold what they call the March for Life every year. This year's march, set for Friday, includes a rally near the U.S. Capitol and a protest outside the Supreme Court building.

Dozens came out in sub-freezing temperatures for the actual anniversary Tuesday to spread 3,300 flowers outside the court. Organizers say the number represents the number of abortions in the United States every day.

The anti-abortion activists have been trying for 40 years to get Roe v. Wade overturned. Federal and state lawmakers have also fought for restrictions on abortions. They say life begins at the moment of conception and that science backs them up. They also say some women use abortion as a form of contraception.

The abortion rights group, National Organization for Women, held a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening in front of the Supreme Court to mark the 1973 decision.

Abortion rights activists along with many doctors say legalized abortion is a basic right. They say the court decision has saved thousands of lives of women whose health would have been in danger if they had been compelled to have a child. They also argue that women are no longer forced to seek unsafe abortions or even try the procedure on themselves with deadly results.

A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that 54 percent of Americans believe abortion should remain legal in almost all circumstances. The same survey also shows 70 percent oppose overturning Roe v Wade.

President Barack Obama has also come out in favor of abortion rights.

Pentagon probe clears
Allen of wrongdoing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pentagon investigators have cleared the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, of any possible wrongdoing in connection to the David Petraeus sex scandal.

Allen had exchanged e-mails with Jill Kelley, one of two women at the center of the scandal that forced Petraeus to resign last year as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Allen's name turned up during the investigation. The Pentagon ordered a separate probe, saying the e-mails hinted at a possible violation of the rules of behavior for top military officers. The general denied any wrongdoing.

President Barack Obama has nominated Allen to take command of all NATO forces in Europe. Senate hearings into the nomination were put on hold because of the investigation, but the president continued to back Allen.

Allen took over command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from Petraeus in 2011 when Petraeus became head of the CIA.

Petraeus resigned when he admitted he had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Republicans agree to raise
debt ceiling until May 18

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Obama administration is welcoming Republican lawmakers’ decision not to withhold an extension of the nation’s borrowing limit.  Republicans had threatened to allow the United States to default on its obligations if government spending were not sharply cut.

White House officials say the decision by Republicans in the House of Representatives to defuse the situation was significant.  Press secretary Jay Carney Tuesday praised the move.

“The House Republicans made a decision to back away from the kind of brinksmanship that was very concerning to the markets, very concerning to business, very concerning to the American people," said Carney.

Instead of tying the debt ceiling to spending cuts, House leaders plan a vote Wednesday to raise the government’s spending limit through May 18.

While the bill’s passage is not assured, Carney said that if it reaches President Barack Obama’s desk, he “would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement Tuesday, saying the bill “introduces unnecessary complications, needlessly perpetuating uncertainty in the nation’s fiscal system.”

But it said the administration is encouraged that the proposal lifts the immediate threat of default.

The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said Republicans will remain focused on reducing the nation’s debt.

“The biggest issue is the debt that is crushing the future for our kids and our grandkids, " said Boehner. "Listen, hard-working taxpayers understand that you cannot keep spending money that you do not have.  So we are going to continue to focus, especially here over this next 90, 120-day period, on bringing some fiscal responsibility to Washington.”

The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Tuesday the Senate should pass the legislation and quickly resolve any differences with the House.

“Later this week the House plans to send the Senate a bill to address the debt limit in a timely manner," said McConnell. "Once we get it, the Senate should quickly respond.  If the Senate version is different than the one the House sends over, send it to conference.  That is how things are supposed to work around here.  We used to call it legislating.”

The Republican bill would postpone the first of three potential fiscal crises facing the U.S.  On March 1, deep automatic spending cuts in defense and domestic spending are set to take effect.  And on March 27, the authority to keep the government operating expires.

Jay Carney said that while Obama welcomes the Republican legislation to push back the debt ceiling deadline, he wants the issue resolved and not revisited every few months.

“The president has always been clear that it is not good for the economy to raise the debt ceiling in increments or short-term periods, that what we support is a long-term raising of the debt ceiling, so that we do not have any doubt or uncertainty for businesses or the global economy about the simple proposition that the United States always pays its bills," he said.

Obama has refused to negotiate with Congress over the debt ceiling, saying lawmakers have an obligation to pay for the spending they have approved.

The previous standoff over the debt ceiling, in 2011, led several credit rating agencies to downgrade the status of U.S. debt for the first time.

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New Parrita health center
to be started in April

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parrita is getting a new health center that will be about five kilometers north of the center of town on the Interamericana highway, said the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The facility is expected to be started in April. It will hold a clinic, a pharmacy, a laboratory and administrative offices, said the Caja.

The property is some 10,000 square meters, about 2.5 acres. The cost was put at 6.8 billion colons or about $13 million. Construction is supposed to take about 60 weeks, said the Caja.

Expert in teaching English
to open conference today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Joan Kang Shin of the University of Maryland will be a featured speaker today for the inauguration of the national conference of teachers of English.

The event will be in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses and starts at 8 a.m.

Ms. Shin, an assistant professor, has extensive experience in helping others teach English. She has lectured in Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Russia and Peru, according to an online biography.

While in Costa Rica, she also will share her experiences and techniques with public and private Costa Rican teachers of English in San Ramón, Pérez Zeledón, Alajuela and San Pedro, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Three ships is the score
for U.S. patrol craft 'Gary'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The "USS Gary" on patrol in the eastern Pacific confiscated more than 600 pounds of cocaine after the crew intercepted a small drug boat.

The U.S. Southern Command reports that the boat was deemed to be a hazard to navigation and sunk. That was the third drug boat that the "Gary" intercepted that week which ended Jan. 4, said the Southern Command.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 16
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Foreign students are immigration issue

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Why does the United States demand that some students who come to the United States to be trained in technical fields go back to their native countries? That was one of the issues explored by President Barack Obama in his inaugural address Monday.
"Our journey is not complete until we find a way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are listed in our workforce instead of being expelled from our country," the president said.
He was referring to the issuance of visas to students who come into the United States to be trained as STEM students, those studying science, technology, engineering and math. At issue are stipulations in immigration law that force many of these students to leave the United States and return to their native countries, particularly those returning to their homes in Asia.
"The president is alluding to a principle that pervades policy in immigration law for generations," said Michael Wildes, a former U.S. federal prosecutor in New York and now one of the top immigration attorneys in the United States. "That is, we want to keep families united together and second of all, we want to make sure that we don't train the world's experts all over only to see them leave our shores."
Wildes said the U.S. has a political immigration law that hasn't been revamped in a generation, and as a result, is facing other economies along with wars and politics of yesterday, rather than today's challenges.
"The politics of the day remain on Capitol Hill," said Wildes, "where the silence is deafening on immigration reform." He claimed members of Congress are fearful they will not be reelected if they look like they're liberal on immigration, and therefore weak on the war on terrorism.
"It takes leadership to remind ourselves about the special DNA of our nation. That is its immigrant backbone and base," said Wildes.  Turning our back on these people is tantamount to 'shooting ourselves in the foot,' he added.
But Wildes said this time may be different as far as Congressional passage of new immigration legislation is concerned. His reason is that the immigrant vote in the last election, had what most experts concluded was a decisive effect on the results. "I think both Democrats and Republicans would be shortsighted not to understand the immigrant community worldwide is watching." If immigration reform isn't done, said Wildes, that community may not be forgiving in the next election.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment, at least to a certain extent.
"When we admit people on student visas, the terms of the visa is that you come to the United States, you get your education and you go back," said Ira Mehlman, media director for FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"What we are doing by letting them remain in the United States is simply creating more competition for a lot of American STEM workers who are struggling right now," Mehlman said. He contended there is no evidence that there is any shortage of STEM workers in the United States.

That is supported by a study done by his own organization, but is not supported by a report released by Georgetown University in October 2011 that said there really is a shortage of STEM workers in the United States. "What we are seeing with the influx of foreign workers through H-1-B programs and other programs that bring in large numbers of similar workers to the United States, we are undermining job prospects and wages for our own STEM workers and actually discouraging more of our own students from going into those fields," said Mehlman.
The two sides of the issue seemingly move a bit closer to one another when it comes to reform of immigration issues.
"If we decide that the admission of people with high tech skills really is important," said Mehlman, "we need to look at our immigration policy generally." He said if the decision is made that we need certain people with certain skills from abroad, then the United States needs to adopt policies based on merit and not on family connections, as is now the case.
Mehlman took issue with President Obama's call when he said "the president tends to look at immigration from the perspective of immigrants themselves."
Mehlman said the answer, according to FAIR, is considering what the long term impact would be of foreign students staying in the United States in contrast to what happens when these people return to their countries of origin and become competitors. An alternative, he said, is to invest "in our own people so that they can produce the kind of products that are going to make the United States economically successful in the 21st century."
Both sides agree "the current immigration policy was established in 1965 and is one that everyone agrees makes absolutely no sense," according to Mehlman.

Treaty approved to control mercury

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After a week of intense negotiations, more than 140 countries have adopted the first global, legally binding treaty to prevent the release of mercury. Negotiators believe the new treaty will succeed in lessening the threat to human and environmental health. 

After all-night talks, negotiators toasted each other with champagne early Saturday to celebrate their achievement. The treaty, which has been under negotiation for four years, provides controls and reductions across a range of products and processes where mercury is used, released and emitted.

The treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, is named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th century. 

Mercury is a toxic element that occurs in nature. Slightly more than 2,000 tons of mercury are emitted into the air annually as a result of human activity, increasing the threat to human health and the environment.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said that mercury is used widely in many sectors. It is found in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, in batteries and lighting, and in everyday products, such as skin creams and soap.

"It took us a long time to both establish and understand that in expanding this use by human beings, we were creating a terrible legacy because mercury accumulates," said Steiner. "It accumulates in the food chain through fish, for instance. It accumulates in our bodies. It is released through . . . the burning of coal-power stations and travels sometimes thousands of kilometers. It affects the Inuit in Canada just as it affects the small-scale artisanal gold miner somewhere in southern Africa.”

The treaty includes measures for controlling and phasing out the use of mercury. Under the treaty, governments agree to ban the production, export and import of a range of products containing mercury by 2020

Mercury is harmful to health. It can cause brain and neurological damage, especially among children. Other effects include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment.

The U.N. Environment Program says coal burning and small-scale gold mining are the major sources of mercury emissions into the air. The booming price of gold is triggering a significant growth in small-scale mining, especially in impoverished communities in Africa and Asia. 

Up to 15 million people work in this industry, including 3 million women and children. The head of  the U.N. program's Chemical Branch, Tim Kasten, said  mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. Unfortunately, he said, this process is extremely harmful to health.

“So, what we would like to do is to help them understand the hazards of mercury. Get them to reduce the amount of mercury they are using, either through very low technology devices that are called retorts, which is actually a way of recycling or distilling the mercury that they are using, such that they can recover between 80% and 90% of the mercury that they are using," said Kasten. "So they can use that mercury again. So they do not have to pay for the mercury. At the same time, it is not being emitted into the air.”  

The treaty calls upon nations that have artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations to draw up national plans within three years of the treaty going into force. The aim is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of mercury in such operations.

The treaty will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October. It will take effect after 50 countries have ratified it.
Useful links
Foreign Embassies
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Ave Central at Calle 120
Pavas, San José. 920-1200
San José, Costa Rica
Call 506 2519-2000
after hours call
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506 2242-4400
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