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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 22       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Manuel Antonio backers have big expansion plans
By Clair-Maríe Robertson
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Friday is a big day at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the crown jewel of the country's park system.

Not only did officials come to celebrate the park's 37th anniversary, but there was the little matter of the toilets and washrooms. Finally the park has facilities that are not polluting the area.

Attending Friday were Allan Flores, minister of Turismo, Jorge Eduardo Rodríguez Quirós, the minister of Ambiente, and María Luisa Ávila Agüero, the minister of Salud.

Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica's most popular national park and received more than 300,000 visitors in 2009. But its existence has not been without controversy. The health ministry threatened to close the park in January 2009 when high levels of contamination were found on its coastline, this pollution was largely attributed to inadequate facilities for tourists and staff.

A $300,000 donation from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has been invested in the construction of toilets and wash rooms with treatment facilities. These steps have been taken to ensure that visitors cause the minimum amount of environmental impact, officials said. The bathrooms have also been built in line with disability legislation and the environmental minister said that a minibus service would be made available for people with disability.  In addition a $1 million investment was announced. This is for the construction of a staff building as well as the donation of a small speedboat and additional personnel to provide improved working conditions and enhanced marine protection and security.

With tourism figures to Costa Rica taking a dip, members of the community and local businesses have helped to push for improved facilities to prevent its closure.

“It is clear that we are moving in the right direction. The government promotes nature and sustainable tourism and this is why it is so important that MINAET and ICT continue to invest funds into the national park and encourage the controlled development of rural tourism in Manuel Antonio," said the president of the local chamber of commerce, Richard Lemire.

A resident of Costa Rica for 18 years, Lemire was one of the key local figures who organized emergency meetings with representatives from the various ministries to provide possible solutions and prevent the closure of the park.

As president of the local chamber of commerce, he has encouraged local businesses to participate in cleaning up Quepos and Manuel Antonio. This includes the creation of The Malecón Gardens of Quepos, a series of mosaic decorated seats and flower beds that run along its coastline.

In addition Lemire helped raise funds to challenge
A.M.Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
This is the new facility that keeps the area uncontaminated at Manuel Antonio park

the environment ministry in the courts regarding the implementation of Law 8133 which saw the creation of a fidecomiso or trust in 2001. The law was created to ensure that owners of expropriated land would be paid via the funds that were generated from visitors to the park. After 37 years 98 percent of this debt has now been cleared.

Manuel Antonio National Park continues to grow. In 2002 its 537 hectares increased when Playa Rey was added with its 14 kilometers of beach. Today the park has nearly 2,000 acres of land and 55,000 hectares of marine extension. In addition, the park board has identified more than 18,000 hectares to be registered as state property.

Coopealianza has been assigned the task of selling entry tickets to the park. Recognizing the importance of protecting the area as well as the rest of Costa Rica, the trust currently has 2.5 billion colons ready to be used to purchase more land and extend the adjacent biological corridor.   

Receiving over $2 million in revenue annually, a plan for Playa Rey is essential to connect Manuel Antonio Park and Playa Rey to the biological corridors of the areas rivers: Naranjo, Savegre and Portalón and to other protected areas such as the Zona Protectora Cerro Nara, Parque Nacional los Quetzales, the Reserva Forestal Los Santos and the central mountain range of the country. It is possible that this project will see the creation of the first Interoceanico corridor. The chamber of commerce is working on a first draft of the Playa Rey Project  with the hope that the environmental ministry will help give an adequate budget for its implementation in 2011.

The chamber of commerce now forms part of the board of directors of the national park which is integral to ensuring it protection.  For Lemire, the governments continued support is essential for its survival. He explained that although the newly opened facilities are a positive addition to the park, other concerns need to be resolved.

Unlike Parque Nacional Volcán Poás Manuel Antonio does not offer proper parking for its visitors. This has given rise to empty lots being used outside the park where guards are charging from 3,000 to 5,000, no matter the length of stay.

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Thursday is the final day
for political advertising

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 2010 election season is coming to a close. The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has decreed that Thursday will be the last day for political advertisements.

The last day for public assemblies was Sunday, so both Laura Chinchilla of the Partido Liberación Nacional and Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario held rallies. Ms. Chinchilla assembled her supporters in Paseo Colón, and Guevara was in Desamparados.

The rallies are big production numbers that include entertainment and a speech by the candidate.

Ms. Chinchilla and Guevara are considered to be in the first and second position in the public mind, but Ottón Solís of Acción Ciudadana has taken again to the television with last-minute ads. His support might be underrated.

Guevara has conducted an aggressive campaign. Ms.Chinchilla, as the administration favorite, has had to be more moderate, defending what has taken place in the last four years while she was associated with the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

The Tribunal enforces some unusual rules at election time. For example, the sitting president is not allowed to make an endorsement, and Arias has been criticized every time he says or does something positive. Among these events are the inauguration of the San José-Caldera highway and a tour he took through the nearly completed new Hospital de Heredia last week.

The irony of the Tribunal restricting free speech and the right to assemble and promote candidates on behalf of democratic elections has never been addressed.

But alcohol became a topic Monday. A Tribunal spokesman said that anyone who shows up at the polls intoxicated will not be allowed to vote. This is the first year that a dry law has not been put into effect during the days around the election. But the legal grounds for preventing someone from voting because election workers think he or she is intoxicated has not been made clear. Nor has the amount of alcohol that would bar someone from exercising their rights been discussed.

Expats are happy because every four years the first round of elections falls on the same day as the U.S. football Superbowl, and bars and restaurants had to scurry to sidestep the dry law.

In the event that a candidate does not obtain 40 percent of the vote, a second round of voting between the top two finishers will be held in April.

No serious problems seen
from high seas on Pacific

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

Officials still are expressing concern about unusually high seas on the Pacific coast, but there have been no reports of serious damage.

Both the Fuerza Pública and the national emergency commission said Monday that they were taking steps to handle any problems.

The highest waves are supposed to come around 5:17 p.m. today. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional estimated the waves at 10.5 feet at that time. The institute also warned of likely flooding in Barrio El Carmen in Puntarenas and at several other locations along the central Pacific.

These are areas that have been flooded before, even though officials are saying that the sea height this week is the highest in five years.  High winds are whipping the waves.

Public defender gets role
in litigating family cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ordered the Defensa Pública to assist individuals who need the help in handling family legal matters.

The court sided with a woman who said she wanted to divorce a man who is not the father of her child and contract marriage with the biological father. The Defensa Pública declined to handle the case.

The court decision opens up a large, new area for the national public defender. The agency usually represents persons accused of a crime. But the court said its lawyers should handle family matters, too, and without charge.

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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.

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.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 22

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Costa Rica native is a lucky sort of medicine chest
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M Costa Rica

The purple flower known as “Santa Lucia” is important in Costa Rican folk culture well beyond its small size and inconspicuous appearance. Known to science as Ageratum conyzoides, the plant was originally native to Central America but has been introduced widely to warmer parts of the world.  It was described by Linnaeus himself as early as 1758.

As a talisman of good luck in the new year, bunches of the flowers should be mutually exchanged in January. Good fortune in financial matters is especially an attribute. One can even carry a small sprig in the wallet to bring fortune.

Renowned as a medicinal plant, Ageratum whole “is given orally for gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, dysentery, stomach ache, flatulence, vomiting) and respiratory ailments (tonsillitis, colds, fever, influenza, measles, cough), rheumatism, cystitis, gonorrhea, urinary retention, hemorrhage, headaches and deafness, among others” says the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) website. The flowers can be used against swelling. The roots boiled down can treat rheumatism, diabetes and diarrhea.

Fresh juice can be applied externally to cuts and scrapes. Boiled with salt, it is employed against other skin conditions like dermatitis. As a plaster it can “mature” abscesses. 

The flowers are considered a good source of pollen and nectar for honeybees, and in Asia leaves are fed to fish.

Medicinal uses are somewhat restricted by the plant’s pyrrolizidine alkaloid content as those substances are toxic to the liver. These and a wide range of other substances in the plant are attributed insecticidal and fungicidal properties as well effectiveness against some common  bacteria, according to the Raintree Nutrition tropical plant database.
lucky flower
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
A sprig is supposed to keep the wallet full of cash

field of flowers
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
This field is a natural medicine chest

When introduced as an exotic as in Asia, Australia, Brazil, and the United States, Ageratum can quickly become a noxious weed.

“Santa Lucia” by the Spanish singer Miguel Rios does not seem to refer to the flower, instead being a translation of a traditional Neapolitan song.

Massive vehicles fire blocks Interamerican in Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man believed to be a U.S. tourist tried to avoid potholes on the Río Largato bridge Monday afternoon triggering a spectacular fatal fire that may have put the structure of the span in jeopardy.

The vehicle driven by the motorist was struck in the rear by a tractor trailer moving in the same southbound direction. The tractor trailer carrying a container appears to have intruded into the northbound lane and collided with a gasoline tanker.

Firemen said that the blaze raged for hours, and that experts from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes will
be  evaluating the condition of the bridge. The route is the Interamericana Norte, the principal highway from Puntarenas to the Nicaraguan border.

Firemen said that the tanker carried combustibles, but informal sources said much of the load was gasoline. Two persons who were badly burned went to hospitals, and investigators said they thought that one person had been killed. The scene was a confusing one with raging flames and traffic backed up in both directions.

The site is in Abangares. Firemen came from Las Juntas, Cañas y El Roble. And a special unit from Liberia arrived with foam, firemen said. The accident took place about 2:25, they said, and firemen arrived about 18 minutes later.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 22

There is a smuggler's route in the other direction, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a steady trade in drugs moving north, but less known is the extent of the drug money moving south. Financial rules after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States have put a crimp in drug trafficker's bankrolls, and there is as much creativity in hiding illicit funds as there is in hiding cocaine.

The more creative participants probably are seldom caught. But several times a month anti-drug police at Juan Santamaría airport stop travelers with undeclared cash. Rules here and in the United States require that amounts over $10,000 be declared on arrival.

A lot of international travelers are not anxious to let customs officials know they are carrying substantial sums. Several travelers here have been grabbed with money that appeared to be legitimate.

But not Friday at the airport. Police said they found a Mexican visitor who had $259,000 in cash in the false bottom of a suitcase. The money was mostly in low denominations. They detained the man, who has the last names of Ramírez Sánchez, as a suspected drug money courier, but the prosecutors will have to prove that.

He is the second person grabbed this year at the airport with large sums on undeclared cash, said police.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

This stash of cash is mostly in small denominations. Anti-drug police located the money in the false bottom of luggage belonging to a Mexican man.

Fishery regulators are using high tech to catch cheats

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Forensic science, more often associated with solving murders in prime time television crime series, is now helping the United Nations fight illegal fishing, fraudulent product substitution and false documentation that not only cheat consumers but also endanger fish stocks and threaten livelihoods in developing countries.

Experts, inspectors, law enforcement officials, scientists and academics from round the world recently gathered at a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization workshop in Rome to discuss how to enforce best practices in the $86-billion-a-year global fishing industry, using such tools as DNA analysis and chemical testing.

Officials need to push the envelope, because they can be sure that those involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are doing so, said Michele Kuruc of the agency's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. A workshop participant related how a group convicted of illegally trading abalone confessed that they learned techniques for destroying evidence by watching “CSI: Miami,” she said.

“We’re interested in promoting wider use of available forensic techniques, in particular by developing countries,” she added, stressing that the 110-million ton annual seafood industry is a major source of employment and  government revenue for these countries, where many of the fishing grounds that feed the First World are found
DNA analysis can unveil the species of a suspect white fillet, for example, and chemical tests on fish ear bones reveal absorbed nutrients to pinpoint the region where they were caught, workshop participants were told. These are major weapons in combating unscrupulous fishers and traders who game the system to prevent over-fishing and avoid international restrictions aimed at preserving fish stocks, as well as taxes and other limits, they were told.

An unknown percentage of seafood on the shelves simply is not what it is purported to be, and this is a growing problem given that today’s more conscious consumers are aware of the multiple health benefits of eating seafood but are also keen to be sure they are eating fish that has been caught or farmed responsibly and is safe to eat.

The workshop discussed how best to build capacity in developing countries, handle evidence, train inspectors, and identify laboratories capable of handling testing, including upgrading labs in developing countries currently testing for food quality to conduct forensic work. The group also agreed to operate as an ad hoc reference network that can be tapped by authorities around the world for guidance and advice.

“Fish can be properly identified if samples are handled properly, get to the right labs, and checked using forensic techniques,” Ms. Kuruc said. “So the idea is to help countries that don’t have such facilities and know how can access them so they can identify and prosecute cases of malfeasance.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 22

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

State Department issues
annual warning for students

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The time of year is here when college and university students begin to plan their spring break.

The U.S. Department of State has issued its annual cautionary reminder that drugs and alcohol might make the vacation a bad trip. Said the department in a press release:

As spring and summer breaks approach, many students are getting ready for a trip abroad. The majority of students traveling abroad will have safe and enjoyable adventures. However, even with the best-planned trips, things can go wrong.

Each year, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad— about half on narcotics charges, including possession of very small amounts of illegal substances.

Being arrested is not the only thing that can go wrong on a foreign vacation. U.S. citizens have been badly injured or have been killed in automobile accidents, falls, and other mishaps. Many of these incidents are related to alcohol and/or drug use. Others have been sexually assaulted or robbed because they found themselves in unfamiliar locales, were incapable of protecting themselves because of drug or alcohol use, or were the victims of a “date rape” drug.

The most common cause of death of U.S. citizens overseas, other than natural causes, is by motor vehicle accidents. Students traveling abroad should be aware that standards of safety overseas might be different from those in the United States, or non-existent.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs website for American students traveling overseas,, provides useful safety and travel information for students prior to their travel. Students are strongly urged to review the information on the site and sign up online at to receive the latest travel information from the Department of State. Signing up makes it possible for the State Department to contact the student traveler, if necessary, in case of a family emergency in the United States or because of a crisis in the foreign country.

Please see the Department of Homeland Security’s web site for more information on the requirements for a passport, passport card, or other approved document to reenter the United States after travel abroad.

Colombia makes an effort
to attract tourist dollars

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation of Colombia has embarked on a major campaign to attract tourists.

The country has a grim reputation due to more than three decades of civil war, but it also is getting good notices in the international media, such as The New York Times, The Guardian and others, according to a local public relations firm that is distributing information about the schedule of holidays in Colombia.

The country has created a slogan that plays on the fears of tourists: “Colombia, el riesgo es que te quieras quedar.” The English translation is “Colombia, the risk is that you will want to stay.” In fact, the Álvaro Uribe administration has made inroads into the narcoterrorist, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, and some expats see Colombia, particularly Cali, as a retirement or warm weather location.

The current campaign will focus on 15 countries, including the United States.
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For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 22

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New Ringo album brings
former Beatle to the mike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney have reunited.  Well, at least for a couple of songs on Ringo's latest album, "Y Not."

It seems like old times when you hear Ringo Starr playing drums and Paul McCartney on the bass for Ringo's "Peace Dream."  The tune has another Beatles connection: It was inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 "bed-in" for peace during their honeymoon at a hotel in Amsterdam.  McCartney also sings harmony on the Ringo Starr original, "Walk With You."

Like Ringo's previous star-studded solo albums, his 10-song collection "Y Not" unites an impressive list of musical collaborators.  In addition to McCartney, the album features vocalists Ben Harper, Richard Marx and Joss Stone, blues-rock veteran Edgar Winter on saxophones and vocals, and guitarists Joe Walsh, Dave Stewart and Billy Squier.

Born and raised Richard Starkey in an inner-city section of Liverpool, England, known as "The Dingle," Ringo sings about his working-class upbringing on the track "The Other Side of Liverpool."  In it, he describes the city, which was also home to his three Beatles bandmates, as "cold and damp … only way out of there, drums, guitar and amp."

In support of "Y Not," Ringo and the current edition of his All-Starr Band launch their 2010 tour in Niagara Falls, Canada, June 24.  Ringo will celebrate his 70th birthday with a concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City  July 7.
Empty drug-type launch
found near beach at Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another drug shipment is likely headed up the routes to the north. The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas found an empty drug boat Monday at Playa Portalón south of Quepos.

The boat, of course, was empty. The open boat was spotted first from the air.Those who used it tried to sink it, but only succeeded part way, said police.

The boat is 30 feet long and was found without motors. Typically such boats sport three outboards.

The water route for drugs has become more hazardous for smugglers because the U.S. Navy with elements of the U.S. Coast Guard are on patrol. There also are electronic monitoring stations.

So smugglers frequently beach their boats in southern Costa Rica and put the drugs in a vehicle for the trip north.

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