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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Jan. 24, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 16           E-mail us
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Electric assessment proposed to help bomberos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The financial situation affecting the national fire department appears to be much greater than just the absence of stations in key locations in the Pacific.

A legislative proposal filed in October estimated that the Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica would run out of money in three years. The fire agency now is financed by a 4 percent assessment on insurance policies.

That financing is a carryover from the time when the fire agency was closely related to the county's only insurance company, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. That relationship was broken when the insurance market was open to private companies. That means that if the fire department runs short of money, the institute will not make up the difference as it has done in the past.

Now the fire department is looking for more funds. That became known last week when Flamingo residents complained that a fire truck never showed up at a field fire that threatened homes there.  Among other responses, a Cuerpo de Bomberos spokesperson said that there would be no new fire stations unless a proposed law languishing in the legislature were passed. On the Pacific coast there are many expensive developments and expat enclaves that are at least an hour away from a fire station.

Some Pacific coast residents are seeking to petition President Laura Chinchilla to place the measure, No. 17881, on the presidential agenda so that it can be considered before May 1. Until that date lawmakers can only consider proposals backed by the Presidencia.

The law calls for an assessment of 1.75 percent on most electric bills. The measure would exempt those utility users who consume 100 kilowatt hours or less a month. These are presumed to be some 110,500 low-income residents of the country.
fire hydrant
Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica photo
Among other duties, fire officials now have responsibility for keeping hydrants in operation.

Other electric customers would pay the assessment up to 1,750 kilowatt hours per month.

The measure now resides without any action in the legislature's Comisión de Asuntos Económicos. The bill had the backing of 20 of the Asamblea Legislativa's 57 members when it was presented.

There is no estimate of how much money the new electrical tax would bring to the fire department.

A preface to the legislative proposal says specifically that some of the new money would go to placing stations in new areas.

The summary also talks about the poor condition of some operational fire stations and the need for repairs.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 16

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5903-2/17/11
Chief prosecutor to give
explanation to magistrates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another scandal is brewing, and the characters are well-known:

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the brother of the former president who has his own aspirations for the next election,

Jorge Chavarría Guzmán, the new fiscal general and a long-time executive in the Poder Judicial,

José María Tijerino, the security minster.

La Nación, the daily newspaper, revealed Friday that prosecutors canceled an interrogation session to which Rodrigo Arias had been invited. Chavarría, who had been confirmed but had not yet taken office, appears to have been the person who caused the prosecutors to back down. The session, called an indagatoria in Spanish, is a formal aspect of an investigation here. It carries much more weight than a simple questioning.

Tijerino said in a statement that Rodrigo Arias asked him to intercede with Chavarría but that he declined to do so because he respects the division of powers. He did say he made calls to another prosecutor.

Chavarría who was selected by magistrates of the Corte Suprema de Justicia Oct. 4, only took office Oct. 16. The questioning of Rodrigo Arias was supposed to take place Oct. 8. The new fiscal general has been summonsed to give his version to the full court today.

The investigation, which is believed to have been started again, involves the activities of Rodrigo Arias when he was his brother's minster of the Presidencia. Then he and his brother authorized contracting a number of workers with funds from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The contract agreements were outside the budget and the contracts did not have the review that government agreements receive.

Many of the jobs were designed to advance the approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Legislative  opponents of that agreement already are calling for Chavarría to resign.


René Castro carries case
of Río San Juan to Spain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

René Castro, the foreign minister, is in Spain today seeking Spanish support as Costa Rica continues to seek relief from the Nicaraguan invasion at the Isla Calero.

Castro has been to England, Germany and Norway with the same message.

He went to Europe primarily to participate in the case before the International Court of Justice where Costa Rica seeks a restraining order against the Nicaraguan regime and the work on the island and in the Río San Juan, which runs across the country's northern border.

Costa Rica was seeking quick action from the international court, which is an agency of the United Nations. Now some are not sure. Nicaragua appears to have presented a case much stronger than expected.

The latest round came last week when the Nicaraguan judicial delegation was asked to provide written answers to questions from the court magistrates. Then Costa Rica had a chance to comment in writing on the Nicaraguan responses.

Meanwhile, dredging and digging activities continue on the Isla Calero. Nicaragua is seeking to install a direct mouth of the river to the Caribbean to circumvent the existing meandering river course. That will open the river to tourism and for development in the adjacent area.

Those who live in the northern area fear that a mouth of the Río San Juan sufficient to shipping will divert water from the Río Colorado, which is totally in Costa Rican territory. Costa Ricans also complained in the Hague-based court that Nicaragua had done major environmental damage.

The Nicaraguan invasion has given Costa Rican officials an incentive to beef up the security of the border. Nicaragua claimed that the island and nearby parts of Costa Rica were being used by international drug smugglers. There is some truth to this claim. The Costa Rican Defensoría de los Habitantes traveled to the area and reported on difficulties that police have in patrolling the zone.

Costa Rican officials have authorized the construction of some roads along the San Juan to help patrol the area. The river is totally Nicaraguan, and armed Costa Rican police are prohibited from traveling by boat, which so far is the preferred method of transport in the area.


Blaze ravages top floor
of Ciudad Quesada hospital

 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire Saturday night destroyed the third floor of the private Hospital Cooperativo San Carlos Borromeo in Ciudad Quesada.

There were no injuries reported, but the blaze gutted administrative offices, an ophthalmology section and other areas with expensive medical equipment.

Firemen got the call about 6:26 p.m. The first truck was at the scene four minutes later, and eventually units came from Pital and Zarcero as well as Ciudad Quesada.

Fire officials said they were successful in keeping the flames from reaching a pharmacy on the second floor. Firemen also had to remove some oxygen tanks from the scene to avoid an explosion.

Fire officials said that on arrival they began a search of the structure to see if there were any individuals still inside. Then they attacked the fire, which had made headway.

The entire third floor was spouting flames at the height of the blaze.

The private hospital is near the public hospital in the community.

 
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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 16
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Agents report slight decline in nation's 2010 murder rate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The number of murders dipped slightly in 2010, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Statistics released Friday showed that there were 486 murders in Costa Rica for a rate of 10.65 killings per 100,000 of population.

That number is eight less than the 494 murders reported in 2009, said the investigative agency.  It is 14 less than the 500 murders reported in 2008. The 2009 rate was 10.95 murders per 100,000 per population. The 2008 rate was 11.23 killings per 100,000 of population.

The U.S. rate for 2009, as reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's statistical unit, was 5.1 per 100,000, but the rate ranged as high as 11.4 killings per 100,000 persons for some large cities. The Costa Rican data and the U.S. data might not be gathered or reported in exactly the same way. In the United States, some 13,636 murders were counted.
The Costa Rican data for murders are considered fairly accurate, although many persons fail to report lesser crimes. Several cases in 2010 involving expats were determined to be suicides.

Family disputes cause many murders in Costa Rica, as do confrontations fueled by alcohol. Then there are the continual conflicts between rival drug gangs and revenge for drug thefts and robberies. Agents seem to believe that some recent murders involved territorial disputes between Jamaican and Mexican drug gangs.

The Judicial Investigating Organization reports some declines in robberies and thefts, but these data are considered less accurate because many victims do not make reports.

By contrast, the Costa Rican murder rates per 100,000 of population were 8.25 in 2007, 7.81 in 2006 and 7.11 in 2005.


San francisco subway
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo photo
An apparent traveler walks past a tourism institute mural in San Francisco.

Tourism institute targets Chicago, New York and Frisco
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rica tourism institute has targeted three cities for a winter campaign.

The first is San Francisco where the institute authorized the posting of a large mural in the Powell street metro station.

The other two cities are New York and Chicago where billboards have been erected with 12 different scenes reflecting tourism in Costa Rica.

Also in New York, the institute said that it contracted with CBS to run a 125-second video on its giant Times Square screen. That ran 1,152 times in the scheduled 32 days, said

the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The institute did not give the costs associated with these projects. In the past, the institute has used advertising on U.S. buses.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the tourism minister, pointed out that the average U.S. tourist takes three months to decide on a vacation and spends two more months getting ready. So this campaign, which began in December and runs through February is aimed to promote tourism in the middle and end of the year.

The ministry said that the Powell Street station sees 300,000 passersby a day.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 16


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Plants seem to ignore an accepted climate-change theory
By the University of California at Davis news service

A University of California, Davis, researcher and his co-authors have challenged a widely held assumption that plants will move uphill in response to warmer temperatures.

Between 1930 and 2000, instead of colonizing higher elevations to maintain a constant temperature, many California plant species instead moved downhill an average of 260 feet, said Jonathan Greenberg, an assistant project scientist at the university's Center for Spatial Technologies and Remote Sensing.

“While the climate warmed significantly in this period, there was also more precipitation. These wetter conditions are allowing plants to exist in warmer locations than they were previously capable of,” Greenberg said.

The paper has been published in the journal Science.

Many forecasts say climate change will cause a number of plants and animals to migrate to new ranges or become extinct. That research has largely been based on the 
assumption that temperature is the dominant driver of species distributions. However, Greenberg said the new study reveals that other factors, such as precipitation, may be more important than temperature in defining the habitable range of these species.

The findings could have global relevance, because many locations north of 45 degrees latitude (which includes the northernmost United States, virtually all of Canada and Russia, and most of Europe) have had increased precipitation in the past century, and global climate models generally predict that trend will continue, the authors said.

“As we continue to improve our understanding of climate-change impacts on species, we will help land managers and policymakers to make more informed decisions on, for instance, conservation efforts for threatened and endangered species,” Greenberg said.

He added that the study underlines the importance of an investment in basic science, as the results are based on historical data collected by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930s, a program that was supported by New Deal spending during the Great Depression.


Police shut down Interamericana to solve hostage crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police and investigators blocked the Interamericana Sur with a tractor trailer Sunday to capture a fleeing kidnap suspect.

The capture was the culmination of a major police effort  that included air support.

José Andrade Morales, director general of the Fuerza Pública said that the police effort began Sunday morning when officers received word from Heredia that a man had entered a home and taken away an apparent hostage.
Officers located the car with the hostage in Barva and followed it through San José and Cartago.

The roadblock was at a point on the Interamericana Sur called Macho Gaff. The security ministry's Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea carried judicial authorities to the zone to negotiate with the man.

Judicial agents were able to confiscate a .22-caliber handgun, the Fuerza Pública chief said. The kidnapping lasted from about 8:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. The suspect later was identified as the 27-year-old former boyfriend of the daughter of the man held hostage.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 16

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Death toll in Brazil tops
800 with some still missing


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The death toll from Brazil's devastating flooding has topped 800, with hundreds more missing, in the country's deadliest natural disaster on record.

Authorities said Sunday the number of bodies counted has reached 803 in the mountainous Serrana region north of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Days of heavy rains in that area last week unleashed rivers of mud that leveled houses, threw cars on top of buildings, and left thousands of people homeless.

President Dilma Rousseff's government has allocated about $460 million in emergency aid for the affected areas, but survivors have criticized authorities for not providing enough help.

Landslides and floods are common in Brazil, often affecting poor communities where shacks are built on steep, unstable hillsides.


Duvalier expresses sadness
for his victims and followers


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier says he feels profound sadness for Haitians who say they were victims of his 15-year regime.

Duvalier said Friday that he has returned to Haiti to show his solidarity at a difficult period for the country, which is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake one year ago.

Duvalier also voiced sympathy for many of his supporters, who he said were assassinated, suffocated, interrogated and subjected to tire necklace burnings after he fled the country in 1986 during a popular revolt.

The former dictator spoke in Port-au-Prince, five days after making an unexpected return to his homeland following 25 years in exile in France.

Haitian authorities are investigating crimes committed during Duvalier's rule.  Officials in Haiti had charged him with corruption and embezzlement of public funds, and several Haitians have filed lawsuits accusing him of human rights violations.

Former U.S. congressman and presidential candidate Bob Barr was one of the attorneys accompanying Duvalier as he made his statement Friday.

Barr's Web site says he is in Haiti to assist Duvalier in bringing his message of hope to the world. Barr was the 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. He is a registered, arbitrator and mediator, according to his Web site.

Amnesty International said Friday it has handed over 100 documents to Haitian officials detailing dozens of cases of detention without trial, systematic torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions under Duvalier's leadership.

The motives behind Duvalier's return have been a source of debate and confusion in Haiti.  Some believe he has returned with hopes of unlocking his frozen Swiss bank accounts.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 16

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Child welfare agency held
14 youngsters at Palmares


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's child protection agency said that it took into protective custody 14 youngsters during patrols of the Palmares fiesta.

Two youngsters were begging, and six persons younger than 18 were in the bars at the fiesta. Two were drinking, the agency said. Three youngsters were working illegally, the agency said.

The agency, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia has as many as 10 persons on duty at the Fiestas Civicas de Palamares specifically to provide protection to youngsters, it said.


Power company will begin
to fill Pirrís project reservoir


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that it will be beginning to fill the water supply for the Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Pirrís Tuesday.

The dam that has been constructed will hold 30 million cubic meters of water or about 39,238,519 cubic yards. The project includes a tunnel that takes water from the  Río Pirrís. The company estimated that it will take weeks for the water behind the dam to reach its expected depth of 110 meters, more than 300 feet.

The project is in León Cortés. It is expected to provide power for 160,000 homes.


Fuerza Pública seeks 800
to accept recruit positions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Chinchilla administration may have frozen public employee hiring, but that does not include the security agencies.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said over the weekend that it has 800 jobs to fill. The ministry was holding a police job fair at Parque de la Paz in south San José.

The fair included a demonstration of Motorcycle police skills and also had clowns and other activities typical of the Costa Rican fairs. The 800 new positions are part of the security proposals advanced by President Laura Chinchilla.  They are to be supported by new taxes that she has advanced.



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