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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 16       E-mail us
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Outside forces are bound to shape new president
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Costa Ricans go to the polls in less than two weeks, they face a clear choice, from left to right.

Ottón Solís clearly is the most left of the three major candidates if being to the left means more government control of the economy and renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. However, as a former member of Liberación Nacional, he hardly is a radical.

Laura Chinchilla, the Liberación candidate occupies the center position and probably would oversee a continuation of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. She seems to favor everything that has defined the Arias administration, and that is the principal criticism of her — that she is an Arias stand-in. He cannot run for a consecutive term. Her role as vice president in the Arias administration was social development and economic growth. She also served as minister of Justicia y Gracia and is a former security minister.

An analysis

Otto Guevara, the Movimiento Libertario candidate, has published a 75-page statement of position, which is about as far right anyone can go and still expected to win votes in Costa Rica. He has been accused of wanting to do away with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. His program calls for ending the long lines that typify the government health services. He also seeks to halt the rise in the cost of living, hardly a Libertarian position. For expats, his major positions seem to be the dollarization of the Costa Rican economy, relaxation in the purchase of firearms and the decentralization of some aspects of government to the municipalities.

As with the Arias administration, the plan of government almost always is distorted by political considerations, the world economy and just changing conditions. Arias spent the bulk of his term trying to get approval of the free trade treaty with the United States. Then he was hit with an international economic meltdown.

Although a candidate's plan of government might be worth more than the paper on which it is written, the variables are many. For example, Barack Obama's health proposal is in jeopardy because a single seat changed parties in the U.S. Senate. So, too, in Costa Rica, the key element in a successful government is control of the legislature, too. Arias got the free trade treaty passed because he and his associates were able to create an alliance representing a two-thirds majority in the 57-member Asamblea Legislativa.
teeter todder

Even then actual passage took years. All 57 seats are up Feb. 7, and no legislator may serve a consecutive term.

The various public opinion polls put Ms. Chinchilla around 40 percent. That is the amount she needs to win on the first ballot. Some election observers say they believe that if the voting goes to a runoff, presumably between her and Guevara, she will lose.

That point of view sees the supporters of the other candidates flocking to Guevara. A more likely scenario is that many Solís supporters, despite their dislike of Arias, will choose Ms. Chinchilla instead of the untested candidate of the right.

Meanwhile, Ms. Chinchilla and the Liberación forces are hard at work trying to get that magic 40 percent of the popular vote. Backers of Solís, out of money for television advertising, were out over the weekend 800 strong driving through Central Valley communities with the party flags flying. They also were carrying the flag of Alianza Patriótica, the party that nominated Rolando Araya, who then agreed to back Solís after the ballots were printed.

As with most elections, the campaign has not been fought on ideas. Ms. Chinchilla seeks a criminal defamation charge against Guevara because his campaign wondered how she and her husband got the money to live in swanky Villareal at Santa Ana.

Guevara has been criticized for an unusual influx of money to his campaign. And allegations of lying and of being corrupt seem to be universal.

Guevara even is running ads on the back of buses that say he and his party will get rid of the corrupt Liberación politicians, if elected, even though there has not been a factual base established for corruption.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 16

Costa Rica Expertise
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Rescuers are back from Haiti
after a rough experience

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The grand welcome for Costa Rica's returning rescue workers was more low-keyed than expected early Sunday.

The 55 emergency workers returned nearly 10 hours later than expected. But the security minister, Janina del Vecchio, and Vanessa Rosales, head of the national emergency commission, were there to welcome them.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and other central government dignitaries canceled when news reached them that the arrival would be delayed. Originally it was planned for mid-afternoon Saturday.

The trip was bittersweet for the Costa Ricans. They surveyed about 300 collapsed buildings, but all they found were bodies, they said.

Some cried during the ceremony that was staged for their benefit at a section of Juan Santamaría airport that is used by the security ministry and its airplanes.

The majority of the emergency team are Fuerza Pública officers and firemen. The plane was greeted with a salute of a stream of water provided by firemen who came to meet their comrades. There were official introductions of the team members to the crowd that assembled.

In addition to the 55 emergency workers, a cameraman and a newsman from Repretel Channel 6 returned on the same flight.

All had left Jan. 15 for what proved to be a difficult overland journey through the Dominican Republic and Haitian highways. They returned the same way. The Port-au-Prince airport is backed up with flights trying to land and take off. More than 100 planes a day are being handled, but more than 1,200 flights are planned.

The Haitian government says the confirmed death toll from the massive earthquake that devastated the capital nearly two weeks ago has risen to 150,000.

Officials said Sunday the number does not include outlying areas such as Jacmel, where many other bodies are believed to be buried under rubble. Authorities have estimated that the final toll will reach 200,000.

The government officially called off search and rescue operations Friday, but international rescue teams pulled a man from the rubble of a grocery in Port-au-Prince on Saturday.

Tim Callahan, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development said Sunday search and rescue is winding down even as some teams continue operations.

Officials say there have been no major outbreaks of disease so far, but cases of pink-eye, skin rashes and diarrhea have been noted. Officials say food, water, shelter and health care are the most pressing needs.

Aid agencies said food and water deliveries are reaching more people, but are still short of meeting the needs of the survivors.

Sunday, U.S. and Brazilian soldiers handed out food and water to thousands of residents in the capital's gang ridden slum of Cite Soliel.

Rajiv Shah, the head of the Agency for International Development said the disaster is unparalleled and that his organization is "never going to meet the need as quickly as we'd like."

English teachers to meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Teachers of English will be gathering Wednesday at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in San Pedro for a two-day update on methods and techniques. This is the 26th such meeting sponsored by the U.S., Canadian and British embassies.

More than 350 teachers are expected, said the U.S. Embassy. The majority are second-language speakers of English. Attending on the first day will be Leonardo Garnier, minister of Educación Pública. A number of international experts have been invited.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 16

   
Check out the printed version of the Top Story news feed and see what  you  missed.
Enjoy Incredible Beach Sunsets and  Sunrises. With the Pacific Ocean and the awesome mountain behind.
Elegantly built to your specifications. Delivered and set up at your home in Costa Rica.

Flurry of moderate quakes keeps southern zone rocking
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend was not a calm period of rest for the earth. At least five earthquakes in the 4.7-5.2 magnitude range shook up the southern zone. Then a smaller quake rattled Pacayas and vicinity at 9:24 a.m. Sunday.

Quakes in the southern zone are not unusual. Three tectonic plates come together in that area. There is the Coco, the Caribe and the Panamá Block.

The shaking began about 9:49 a.m. Friday with a quake with an epicenter about 24 kms (15 miles) northeast of Parrita, according to the Obvservatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional. That was listed as a magnitude 5 quake.

Early Saturday at 3:08 a.m. Costa Rican time a quake estimated at 5.2 magnitude by the U.S. Geological Survey took place about 20 kms (12.4 miles) northwest of Punta
Burica in the extreme southwest of Costa Rica. The quake was felt as a gentle rocking in the Central Valley.

The U.S. Geological Survey registered a 4.7 quake in the same area 35 minutes later.

Then at 8:36 and 8:43 a.m. Saturday twin quakes took place. The observatory estimated the magnitude at 4.7 and 5.1. The epicenter was about 32 kms southeast of Laurel de Corredores, the observatory said.

Then about 2:23, also Saturday a quake estimated between 5.0 and 5.2 took place in the same area. The observatory said that the location was about 30 kms (20 miles) southwest of Laurel.

In all cases, the southern zone quakes were attributed to interaction between the tectonic plates.

The Sunday quake, however, was attributed to a local fault.


This birder is at 800 Costa Rican species and still counting
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Cocos Island cuckoo seen in April was Jim Zook’s 800th species recorded in Costa Rica, making him the first active birdwatcher to reach that level. The total number of species ever reliably recorded for the country by anyone is about 890.

The long-awaited trip to Cocos gave Zook a burst of seven new species for his Costa Rica tally. In addition to the cuckoo, the island has two terrestrial species not found anywhere else in the world, and a number of nesting seabirds not found on the mainland. The trip out and back also provides a chance to see birds of the open ocean, such as a Galapagos petrel on this trip.

The Galapagos petrel is critically endangered, due to predation by introduced rats and farming on its nesting areas in the Galapagos islands. Recent estimates of its population are about 5,000 pairs and falling. When not breeding, these birds spread out over a vast area of the eastern Pacific.

Zook in the meantime has already seen several more, including a shiny cowbird. This blackbird is an invasive species abundant in the tropical parts of South America. By birders’ standards, it is not nearly as pleasing as the petrel.

Resident in Costa Rica since 1988, Zook has spent many months in the field while his job as a researcher for others’ academic projects takes him around the country. Several near-shore boat trips added seabirds not much known in Costa Rica, though that reflects lack of observers rather than rarity of the birds.

Zook also holds the Costa Rica record for a single year, with 716 species in 2004. He was part of one of only four one-day efforts to ever reach 300 species in the Americas, in 2000.

Favorites along the way included the rosy thrush-tanager, heard on a chance stop near Las Cruces on the Panamá border. This attractive bird had not been recorded in Costa Rica for about 30 years. Another was Costa Rica’s first sighting of the golden-cheeked warbler, a species that nests only in juniper forests in central Texas.

Jim Zook
Photo by Bruce E. Young
Jim Zook on the alert for sea birds
Every birder has a nemesis bird which has escaped them despite repeated attempts to find it or has been seen by others nearby. Zook’s is the lovely cotinga, which has been seen by others in his presence or in places where he had just left on three separate occasions. He is short few other regularly-occurring species, with the Nicaraguan grackle on the border one and the sulfur-rumped tanager on the south Caribbean coast another.

Runner-up in the quest was Kevin Easley, another American expat who owns and operates the tour company Costa Rica Gateway. He has seen 793 species with an additional six heard only, in about 10 years here.

Personal favorites for Easley were the first photographic record of the swallow-tailed gull, an unusual nocturnal-feeding seabird. After much searching rufous-vented ground-cuckoo was recently added to his list. Despite having heard it four times, the elusive slaty-backed forest-falcon has never allowed him even a glimpse.

Two ornithologists with many years’ experience in Costa Rica probably have observed as many species as these birders, but aren’t likely to keep a running tally. Gary Stiles was the author of the original Costa Rica field guide and head of the University of Costa Rica ornithology department. He was more of an old-style scientist who preferred his bird sightings down the barrel of a fowling piece. Julio Sánchez of the National Museum also has accumulated immense field experience.

Richard Garrigues, the author of the recently-published "Birds of Costa Rica," has recorded 789 species in 20 years residence, without the benefit of reaching Cocos Island.

Listing birds can take most any form, seeking a total for one’s all-time “life” list for the world, or any region, country, state, county, local patch, year, or day. Usually big days are done as a small team, but for the other categories it’s up to the lister to identify and record all species on his or her own. That’s not to say they must actually locate the birds. In places with higher densities of birders, a rarity will be discovered and word will go out by phone and Internet. Then others can rush to see it.

In Costa Rica chasing staked out birds is not a developed phenomenon, the way that it is especially in Britain or California. Competition in those places can be quite intense, with allegations of suppressed information and disputes about difficult identifications. Here, sharing is more likely to take the form of information on where to find a rare and local resident species. Elsewhere a rarity might involve a sandpiper that has flown down the wrong side of the Pacific, for example, or a Siberian warbler on a treeless island off England.

Lists don’t always go up. They can even go down. When the South American Checklist Committee determined that the mangrove black-hawk (found on the Pacific side of Costa Rica) is not a separate species from the common black-hawk on the Caribbean side, everyone lost a species.

Determination of what can be counted and what can’t is based on what scientific authorities deem a full species. Traditionally this has taken into consideration range and the study of museum specimens, though advances in field work and recording techniques means voice is taking on more importance in distinguishing species with similar appearance. DNA technology is also making its mark.

To be included in a country’s official list, a bird should be documented in a manner that can be confirmed by others. Usually this means a dead museum specimen, or a photograph. On one occasion, Zook said he was stalking only the second curlew sandpiper (an Asian species) ever seen in Costa Rica to photograph it, when a peregrine falcon flew over and in the ensuing panic the bird disappeared.

The Asociación Ornitólogica de Costa Rica maintains an official list, which stands at about 890 for the country. Uncertainty about documentation and taxonomy makes an exact tally difficult.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 16


Canadian suspect in killing is now listed as a fugitive

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian facing a murder charge has skipped the country, and Costa Rican officials have asked the International Police Agency to put him on a wanted list.

The man, identified as Franco Palermo, 40, was supposed to go on trial today in the murder of a Desamparados man Sept. 7, 2006. Palermo was let out of jail on conditional liberty and bail last year.

Also facing trial today are Alli Mohammed Eltaib, 38, of La Uruca, also a Canadian, and Carlos Flores Altamirano, 27, of Cuarto Reinas de Tibás, identified as the body guard of the two Canadians.

The three are suspects in the shootout that killed the man. The motive for the murder was that the dead man had somehow cheated the suspects out of some $25,000, said investigators.

Agents allege that the two Canadians along with the Costa
Rican bodyguard set up a meeting with the victim on the pretext of purchasing a car. When the victim, identified as 27-year-old Luis Muñoz Vargas, arrived for the meeting in Desamparados centro, he was greeted with bullets.

He died later in a hospital.

The three were detained Aug. 23, 2007. The two Canadians are believed to have been operators of a sports betting book, Platinum, in Plaza Heredia in that community. They also are believed to have an interest in a nightclub in Jacó.

Eltaib is believed to be an Iranian naturalized as a Canadian. Interpol said that Palermo was born in Toronto. But no photo was available.

The victim, Muñoz, was an employee at the sportsbooks, according to investigators.  There is no evidence given by investigators that Muñoz actually did participate in a scam that defrauded his employers, but agents said that the sportsbooks owners believed that he was guilty of doing so.



Shots for swine flu will be administered starting today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The health ministry will kick off immunization against the swine flu with a gathering today at the Clinica de Coronado where the first shots will be administered.

The country just received about 200,000 doses of the vaccine, and the Ministerio de Salud is planning to administer the injections with a priority going to those who are in the high-risk groups, such as children, the elderly
and those with respiratory problems.  Workers at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social will be trying to make contact with persons who already have been identified as being a priority for inoculations.

As more doses arrive, the health ministry is expected to move its inoculation program to areas outside the Central Valley. Also a priority are those persons who live in the more heavily populated sections of the country, such as the Central Valley cities.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 16

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. and Europe to work
more closely on security

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. and European officials have agreed to work more closely to prevent terrorist attempts on international airlines, like the foiled attack last month on a U.S.-bound flight.

Janet Napolitano, U.S. Homeland Security secretary, says Europe and the United States need to tighten collaboration on four critical areas when it comes to airport and airline security.  "One is the collection of information and the analysis of information.  The second is the sharing of information.  The collaboration on things such as passenger vetting.  The third is raising collectively international aviation standards.  And the fourth is the development and deployment of information screening and technology and the commitment to put our best minds toward the future iterations of screening and information technology," she said.

Ms. Napolitano spoke to reporters during a meeting with European interior ministers in Toledo, Spain.  The talks come a month after a Nigerian man tried to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner that took off from the Netherlands.  Al-Qaida terrorists also used airlines in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Security concerns were raised Wednesday, when Munich's airport temporarily closed after a man's laptop computer set off alarms that indicated explosives might be present.  The incident caused a cascade of flight cancellations and delays.

Washington has been pushing for body scanners to be installed in all airports.  Napolitano said 450 would be in place at U.S. airports by the year's end, compared to 40 today.  But EU nations are divided over the use of such scanners, with some critics calling them too intrusive.

Napolitano said body scanners were only one option in a host of security instruments.  What was important, she said, was to prevent al-Qaida from carrying out a terrorist attack.  "They want to.  We want to deprive them of that opportunity.  Now what do we need to do together and how do we do it together to minimize any risk at all to the citizenry of all of our countries that they will be able to successfully carry out such an attack?  They clearly intend to do so," she said.

The interior minister of Spain, who currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, said the EU needs to strike a common position on body scanners and to speed up establishing a common security system for Europe.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 16


Latin American news
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Claim on Himalayan glaciers
unscientific, panel chief says


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A forecast by the United Nations climate science panel that Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 has become mired in controversy following revelations that it was not based on scientific studies. The chairman of the panel says the error arose because procedures were not followed properly.

The alarming prediction that the Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than those in any part of the world was made in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report said that the probability of the mass of ice disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high.

The panel retracted that forecast in a statement earlier this week after British media reports revealed that the data was not gleaned from scientific evidence. 

The chairman of the panel, Rajendra Pachauri, Saturday called the forecast a regrettable error, and says it arose because established procedures were not diligently followed. "The whole paragraph, I mean that entire section is wrong. That was a mistake," said Pachauri.

The doomsday prediction on the Himalayan glaciers was part of a larger report which has been instrumental in shaping the global debate on climate change.  

The panel apparently sourced its forecast on a 2005 publication by the World Wildlife Fund. The fund itself had picked it up from a 1999 magazine article based on a phone interview with an Indian scientist.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, earlier this week said that Himalayan glaciers are receding but he said the report they will vanish by 2035 is not based on scientific evidence.

Last year, several scientists had expressed doubt about the possibility of the large Himalayan glaciers melting in a few decades. These glaciers are the largest body of ice outside the polar caps.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for bringing climate change to the world's attention. But climate change skeptics say the credibility of the U.N. body has been damaged by the blunder, which media reports have termed "Climategate."




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