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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 27                            Email us
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Costa Rica closes border due to protests in Panamá
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The native protests in western Panamå have become guerrilla warfare. Costa Rica has closed the border, and public buses are not running.

The United States has issued a traveler's warning, noting that while the Pan-American Highway is reported to be open, protesters continue in their attempts to block it with rocks, trees, and burning tires at various points between Chiriqui and San Felix, Panama.

Native sources in Costa Rica said the protesters are being pursued by special troops of the Panamá Policía Nacional with helicopters and armored vehicles.

Expats who were in the middle of the protest reported Monday that the national police acted aggressively and brutally against the natives.

Said one expat who asked that his name not be used:

“I was in Ojo de Agua en route to Costa Rica when the police attacked the indigenous demonstrators who were passively standing near a blockade they had set up.  The police used extreme violence, even against women and children.   I saw one pregnant woman thrown violently to the ground. Others stood around laughing as she struggled to get up. One policeman chased down a boy of about 11, threw him down and ground his boot into his head until he was screaming in pain.”

Another expat who lives in David, Panama, close to the Costa Rican border said he had to pay a Costa Rican immigration agent two $100 bribes to be let though Sunday so he could return home.

In addition to the Paso Canoas crossing at the Costa Rican-Panamá border, the border post at Sixaola north of Bocas de Toro also is believed to be closed. There is disruption in that part of Panamá on the Caribbean, too.

Eric Jackson, editor of The Panama News, issued this warning:

"This is not a good time to travel through Panama by car. If you are going to be driving, take extra water, food, wet-wipes and a good book, in case you get stuck in a monumental traffic jam. Do not be so foolish as to try to fight your way through a roadblock. These protests are not aimed at you, even if they affect you. But foolish behavior on your part could easily affect you in unfortunate ways."

The border closure is sure to affect expat perpetual tourists who travel to Panamá every 90 days to renew their visa. There was no indication as to how long the border would be closed. There were reports of food shortages and water shortages in western Panamá

Jackson said that “There are protests by indigenous people who were promised last year by the government that their mineral, water and environmental resources would be protected from exploitation by outsiders, but now see the government reneging on that commitment by promoting a new mining law that would supersede and cancel these commitments.”

The native peoples are the Ngöbe and the Buglé, who live on a sprawling reservation, which is called a comarca here.

Heidy Bonilla, a spokeswoman for the Costa Rican immigration department, confirmed the border closing. She said travel to Panamá by plane still was possible. A manager of Tica Bus in Paso Canoas and a San José agent for Expreso Panama confirmed the buses were not running south.

Costa Rican officials spent the weekend bringing from Panamá Ticos and others who had become trapped in the protest, some for up to five days. Costa Rican officials established what they called an air bridge to bring citizens from Veraguas east of the blockade to David, Panama, which was west of the blockade. From David, Costa Ricans flew to Tobias Bolaños airport in a security ministry craft and also Nature Air planes. Others crossed the border at Paso Canoas by land. They received expedited processing at the border, officials said.

Casa Presidencial said that the last 64 persons who had been trapped entered Costa Rica Monday by bus.

The national emergency commission release a partial list of those who had been helped to leave Panamá. Although many were Costa Rican, there were four U.S. citizens and four Canadians among the 361 names. There also were Hondurans, Panamanians and citizens of other Central American countries. The U.S. citizens were identified as Jerry Ling Parker, Olympia Parker, Joglu P. Church and Rachel Setlambrino.  The Canadians were Jacques Richer and Marie H.C. Richer, Marcel Romero Tardif and Irene Marie Tardif.

Casa Presidencial said that President Laura Chinchilla appreciated the help of the Panamá government. There was no mention of what some native supporters in Costa Rica call a massacre of
Feliciano photo
Feliciano, identified as a leader, addresses a gathering of native peoples.

Film cited rising tensions
of native land struggle

By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trouble between the native peoples of Bocas del Toro and the government in Panamá had been building up for years. In the documentary “Paraiso for Sale” by Anayansi Prado, the rising tension between both sides is depicted as the film documents the fight and struggle of land disputes in the area.

“The film is a foreshadowing of what is happening now,” said Ms. Prado in an interview.

She spent from the end of 2007 until 2009 investigating and documenting the lives of those who have made Bocas del Toro their home. Among the stories there is one of a native leader fighting about the land disputes and inequalities toward the natives of that area. His story includes protests and peaceful confrontations with police. She said at one point during an interview with him in 2009 he foresees the actions taken by the Ngöbe Buglé people. Almost three years later his prediction came true.

“Paraiso for Sale” also brings up the case of retiring Americans buying land and making Bocas del Toro home. Similar to Costa Rica, many Americans purchased property with legitimate documents. Many times the land turns out to be taken illegally from someone else and resold without any consent. It is either stolen land, or forced taken land. The deals gone awry take years to dispute with no guarantee of land ownership or compensation for time and lawyer fees, according to the film.

“It is not clear on who owns the land. You can't really point fingers,” said Ms. Prado.

According to the film's Web site the documentary explores issues of modern day colonialism, residential tourism, global gentrification and reverse migration by revealing that immigration between Latin America and the United States is not just a one-way street.

The 73-minute documentary features music by Ruben Blades, who served as Panama's tourism minister. He is an internationally known Latin jazz and salsa singer.

The film has not yet been released in Costa Rica. Those interested in more information about the film can email

the native people.  Although one person was reported killed and about 20 injured when the national police attacked at 6 a.m. Sunday at the Río Viguí and San Félix, there may have been more casualties. The national government ordered the local telecom company to suspend cell service as a way to reduce communication among the protesters.

The Spanish-language news media in Costa Rica has reported on the transport of Ticos out of the trouble spots, but there has been little reporting about the blockades and confrontations with police.

The U.S. Embassy said that confrontations have resulted in continued disruptions and demonstrations along the Pan-American Highway near the San Felix area in Chiriqui and elsewhere in Panamá.  There are reports of violent confrontations between the Panamanian police and protestors in the San Juan, San Felix, Horconcitos, and Vigui areas, it added.  There were further reports of demonstrations in the areas of David and Changuinola in Panama beginning Monday, it said.

Ricardo Martinelli, Panama's president, said Sunday that the government never promised to stop building hydro projects as protesters claimed. He said to do so would cost the country $200 million a year to generate energy through other means, according to his press office.

Martinelli met with his ministers Sunday.  Juan Manuel Urriola, secretary of Energía, said electric rates would go up 30 percent if the country had to use petroleum-fired generators.

Jackson called Martinelli a liar in a special posting on The Panama News Sunday night.

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Ballroom dancing contest
will start Thursday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ballroom dancing is making a debut at the San José Palacio Friday through Sunday. The event is the Costa Rican Dancesport Competition, which will have international competitors.

Participating will be some of those who participated in “Dancing with the Stars,” the U.S. television show, according to an announcement.

This is the third year for the event. Friday and Saturday will be for semifinals, and the finals are Sunday. Dance couples compete in American smooth, American rhythm, international standard, international Latin, quick step and salsa.

The organizer of the event is David Martínez, a well-known Costa Rica dance school owner. He has danced in theatrical productions and in similar competitions.

Two-day rock festival
planned for this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A two-day rock festival will take over Parque Morazán Saturday and Sunday in the “Vl Festival Rock en el Morazán” from noon until the final performance of the night.

The Centro Cultural de España is hosting the event, which is part of its monthly initiative to bring rock bands to play at the park in “Rock en el Farolito.” Both nights will be free to the public.

Many of the Costa Rican bands performing have previously played at the “Rock en el Farolito.” Bands from Guatemala, Honduras and Panama will join the line-up for the festival.

There won't be one style of rock, but a variety of the genre from indie, punk, funk, electronica to metal, said an announcement.

Parque Morazán is in north San José and south of the Holiday Inn.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
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Tourism chamber says it is satisfied with a 4.6 percent increase
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism chamber is putting on a happy face with the news that non-resident arrivals in 2011 were 4.6 percent higher than in 2010. The chamber, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, was reacting to the release of final 2011 figures by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The tourism institute reported that Costa Rica received  2,195,960 non-resident visitors in 2011 compared to 2,099,829 in 2010. The difference is slightly more than 96,000.

The chamber report also uses the term non-resident tourists to describe the arrivals. The increase of those arriving by air was 3.2 the chamber said.

The tourism institute had hoped for a 5 percent increase in visitors in 2011.
The chamber once again is urging the country to seek tourists in non-traditional countries, such as Russia, Brazil, China and India.  It also urged more investment in infrastructure, such as road repairs.

The chamber noted that improvements at Juan Santamaria airport and a new terminal at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia were advances in tourism. It urged more efforts to get more air flights to the country. It also urged more emphasis on security.

The tourism industry has negotiated a graduated value-added tax as part of the proposal that is being discussed in the legislature. Instead of the full 14 percent tax right away, certain tourism operations will pay just 2 percent the first year, 10 percent the second year and then 14 percent in the third year. There is no guarantee that this proposal will survive legislative debate, although it is backed by the central government.

Liceo students on parade
Archivo Nacional photo
Liceo de Costa Rica students parade at graduation in 1931.
Liceo de Costa Rica marks 125 years of Costa Rican education
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As students are poised to return to their public school classes Wednesday the Archivo Nacional noted that a significant institution in Costa Rica is celebrating 125 years.

The institution is the Liceo de Costa Rica, which is located on the aptly named Paseo de los Estudiantes in San José. 

Many of the movers and shapers of the country's history attended this school.
The Liceo was founded as part of the liberal reforms at the end of the 19th century. The president who signed the decree for the Liceo and similar institutions was Bernardo Soto Alfaro.

Until 1902, the school was located on Avenida Segunda, the same spot where the towering headquarters of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social now stands.

For much of its history, the Liceo was males only. The women went to the Colegio Superior de las Señoritas, which still is in operation on Calle 3.

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Golfito depository
Cuerpo de Bomberos photo
Smoke billows from the affected stores at the Depósito Monday afternoon
Fire reduces three stores at the Golfito Depósito Libre to ashes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three stores where Costa Rican residents purchase bargain goods were reduced to ashes Monday.

The blaze was at the Depósito Libre de Golfito, a place that enjoys a special tax status to encourage development in the region in southwest Costa Rica.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos said the alarm came in at 2:47 p.m. The first firemen who arrived at the scene said that three stores were consumed completely by fire. The blaze was brought under control at 4:08, firemen said.

Destroyed were stores 47, 48 and 49. Each is two stories.

Firemen from Golfito and Ciudad Neily participated.

The extent of the destruction is about 1,550 square meters or about 11,300 square feet, said a report from the bomberos.
The Depósito has had blazes in 2001 and 2004.
Cuerpo de Bomberos photo
The structures were fully involved in flames when firemen arrived, they said.

Loggerhead study shows they have favorite feeding places
U.S. Geological Survey Office of Communications
and Publishing

Satellite tracking of threatened loggerhead sea turtles has revealed two previously unknown feeding hotspots in the Gulf of Mexico that are providing important habitat for at least three separate populations of the turtles, according to a study published recently in the journal Biological Conservation.

The two sites, located in the open waters off the coast of Southwest Florida and the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, were found by a team of scientists when they compiled and analyzed loggerhead tracking data.

The researchers' goal was to synthesize tracking data from three genetically distinct loggerhead populations to learn more about how they use the Gulf of Mexico. By identifying the specific location of regularly used habitat, the results provide invaluable information for marine planning and management for this species, whose populations in the Gulf of Mexico are well below historic levels and in recent years have continued to decline drastically in some areas, said researchers.

The maritime feeding grounds also hold the first clues about how loggerhead sea turtles spend time at sea – which is, in essence, most of their lives.

"Up until now, management actions that affect loggerheads have often focused on their limited time at nesting beaches, or on fisheries regulations," said Kristen Hart, the U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist who led the study. "Our findings open up important new options for marine habitat conservation, and provide valuable geographic data that can be used to strategically locate marine reserves based on the best available science, as called for in the new National Ocean Policy."

"The use of satellite tags for tracking marine animals has opened our eyes to the secret lives of some of nature's most 
elusive creatures," said Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, "At first a scientific tool to understand the life cycle of animals, such as white sharks and leatherback turtles, who rarely come into contact with humans, these tags may now be the main hope for understanding what we can do, or what we should stop doing, in order to bring them back from the road to extinction."

Researchers intercepted female loggerheads after their nesting forays to beaches and outfitted them with satellite tags at study sites in the Florida Panhandle, Casey Key in southwest Florida, and Dry Tortugas National Park. They then tracked the females’ migrations and used a new method to determine precisely when they had arrived at hotspot foraging areas, in two geographically different locations.

Seven female turtles migrated to foraging sites off southwest Florida, while the other three took up residence at foraging sites at the Yucatan site. Once the researchers applied the new method for synthesizing their satellite-tracking data, it became clear that these loggerhead turtles from all three populations consistently converged around two common sites. This confirmed a hunch that the researchers had developed after years of tracking turtles.

At both of the feeding hotspots, turtles selected individual sites where they foraged in shallow or nearshore waters less than 50  meters deep. Turtles appeared to prefer their own distinct territories, where they tended to remain resident. This suggests that it may be possible to accurately predict where sea turtles will feed, information that will prove vital for managers looking to focus conservation efforts on prime foraging habitat.

Researchers don't yet know what attracts loggerheads from around the Gulf to these specific feeding areas, although generally, loggerheads forage on the bottom of the sea floor for crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, clams or conchs.

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Bamboo pest
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The new bamboo pest from Costa Rica

New species of bamboo pest
discovered in Costa Rica

By the Pensoft Publishers news staff

Several periods of field work during 2008 have led to the discovery of a new species of bamboo-feeding plant lice in Costa Rica’s high-altitude region called Cerro de la Muerte. The discovery was made thanks to molecular data analysis of mitochondrial DNA. The collected records have also increased the overall knowledge of plant lice, one of the most dangerous agricultural pests worldwide. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

It is a well established fact that the arthropod fauna, to which plant lice also belong, is abundantly present in the tropical regions. Not so with plant lice, which prefer the temperate climates further north. This has been a bit of a paradox for scientists although it is also known that plant lice diversity increases in high altitude areas, such as mountains and high plateaus. Such is the sampling area visited in Costa Rica, Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point in the Costa Rican section of the Interamericana highway.

Many plant lice species feed only on one type of plant. The diet of the newly described plant lice species consists solely of a type of bamboo, Chusquea tomentosa. A molecular analysis was used to determine to which taxonomic genus it belongs (Rhopalosiphum). Its description is based also on molecular information of fragments of the mitochondrial DNA and on nuclear gene coding, in addition to external characteristics.

Plant lice are recognized among the biggest insect pests on agriculture and gardening. From a zoological point of view though, they are very successful organisms, which although present mainly in temperate climates, have the potential to threaten even tropical regions, dedicated to plant cultivation.

Ruling Mexican political party
picks woman as candidate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Josefina Vásquez Mota has become the first female presidential candidate from any of Mexico's major political parties.

Ms. Vásquez Mota won the ruling Partido Acción Nacional primary Sunday night. The 59-year-old is hoping to revitalize support for her party in a country weary of corruption and drug violence. That violence is blamed for more than 47,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderón came to office.

Many in México say they are ready for a change after 12 years under the Partido Acción Nacional, and Ms. Vásquez Mota will have to convince voters her presidency would not be a continuation of Calderon's legacy.  In her favor, Calderón and the party establishment had backed another candidate.

Ms. Vásquez Mota, a one-time journalist and economist, has served in the government as a legislator, as education secretary, and as the country's first female social development secretary. She also was Calderon's campaign manager.

She will face opposition candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional.  Despite holding a wide lead in polls, the 45-year-old Nieto has stumbled on the campaign trail, and some in México say they are not ready to hand power back to his party, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years.

Also running is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the Partido de la Revolución Democrática. The 59-year-old former Mexico City mayor finished a close second in the 2006 presidential election, just behind President Calderon.
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Putin representative visits
for joint talks here

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

A vice minister of foreign relations of the Russian Federation is expected to be visiting the country today.

The diplomat, Sergei Ryabkov, was scheduled to arrive Monday night. The announcement by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto was typically vague, but Costa Rican officials are expected to make a pitch for Russian investment in the country.

The visit comes when the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is generating protests. Putin, who is seeking a historic third term as president, has acknowledged that Russians want more say in government and the need to renew the country's political system.

In an article published Monday in the Kommersant daily newspaper, Putin admitted that the government has fallen behind the people's demands for a stronger voice in it.

He said Russia's civil society has become "incomparably more mature, active and responsible" and that the government must catch up to growing public activity. But he cautioned against looking to any external model, and insisted the country needs a strong federal center.

Monday's article follows a mass rally on Saturday where tens of thousands of people took to the streets behind banners reading "Russia Without Putin." Others turned out in support of the government. Polls show that Putin is likely to win the March 4 presidential election.

Russians have staged mass protests since December's parliamentary elections, claiming fraud in favor of Putin's United Russia party. They also accuse President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin of hijacking the March presidential vote after Medvedev agreed not to run and allowed Putin to return to the presidency.

Since then, Putin and President Medvedev have promised to allow more political parties and to reinstate direct elections of regional governors.

Putin served two presidential terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Moscow has since extended the presidential term to six years. If he regains the presidency, the 59-year-old leader could remain in power until 2024.

One invasion suspect held
after robbery in Cóbano

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men invaded a home in Cóbano about 9 a.m. Monday, tied up the couple there, ransacked the place and fled on a stolen motorcycle. Just 10 minutes later the stolen motorcycle suffered mechanical problems, and one of the bandits fled into the mountains. A second man, identified as a 24 year old, was detained.

The home invasion was in Santa Teresa de Cobano. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the bandits took jewelry and cash as well as the defective motorcycle. They threatened the couple after they tied them up then they pistol-whipped them, agents said.

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