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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 30                            Email us
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fire fighters
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Firemen who will quench blazes and perhaps face Nicaraguan troops along the northern border listen to officials Thursday.


President sends fire fighters to disputed Isla Calero
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government is sending 14 fire fighters to the northern zone to occupy the Isla Calero near the territory that Nicaraguan soldiers have invaded.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda swore the men and women in Thursday and told them the  Nicaraguans were cowards who act brave before the unarmed. She said insults should be considered as flattery. They need not worry, she said, because Costa Rica is above such insults. Some Sandinista loyalists baited Costa Rican officials when they visited the disputed zone a year ago.

The fire fighters are supposed to protect the environment and prevent and extinguish any blazes.  They are part of the central government's plan to turn the northeastern part of the country into a national park. This is another action to thwart the efforts by Nicaragua to take some of the land.

President Chinchilla and René Castro, the environmental minister, presented the men and women with Smokey Bear-type hats to represent their new position. At the end of the ceremony Ms. Chinchilla was presented with her own hat and yellow fire brigade shirt.

Castro is the minister of Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.  He said the reason the ministry uses bright yellow as the fire brigade color is because it is universal and easy to identify.

“As environmentalists we are proud and like to be noticed. There is no need for us to be camouflaged,” said Castro.  He added that only those who do not want others to see them hide in camouflage.

The Nicaraguan soldiers wore camouflage.

“We want our work in the area to be radiant,” said Castro.

Ms. Chinchilla also praised persons who will be volunteering to help the new detachment.

She said that conservation work and the prevention of forest fires is another example to the world that Costa Rica can convert a crisis into opportunity. In the case 
of the Isla Calero conflict, the president said that her administration will continue promoting development along the border as well as seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Costa Rica brought Nicaragua into the International Court of Justice over the invasion in October, 2010. Costa Rica emphasized environmental damage as Nicaraguans tried to create a new mouth of the Río San Juan to assist development in the area.

Then, after Costa Rica began construction of a road parallel to the river on the south bank, Nicaragua filed a court claim alleging environmental damage. International treaties specify that the border between
the two countries is the south bank and not the middle of the river. So Nicaragua sometimes has prevented Costa Ricans and Costa Rican police officers from using water transport. 

Until the 100-kilometer (about 60-mile) road was begun, the river was the only route.

Since the land dispute began, Costa Rica has paid special attention to the development and infrastructure of the area along the Río San Juan. The government has installed electricity, and telecommunications into communities that had been ignored. The country also has beefed up security.

The ministry is currently working on a study to decide about turning Isla Calero into a national park. The island is between the Río San Juan and the Río Colorado. It is the country's largest island.

Castro said officials are looking into what is the economic benefit of creating a national park. Costa Rica already has many. He said the people around the area will benefit from the island becoming a national park because it can generate tourism, money, and better living. The land already is the property of the government. Parks are supervised by his ministry.

According to the minister, there are no inhabitants on Isla Calero, although he said that the country will use maps and satellite photos to validate any claims made by persons who say they are residents.

As is usually the case, Ms. Chinchilla left the ceremony without fielding any questions on the Isla Calero or other aspects of her government.


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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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The weekend prediction is
windy, possible showers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today will be a typical February day, but with a chance of showers in the Central Valley.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the Pacific coast will be clear or partly cloudy with little chance of showers but with a continuation of moderate winds. That condition should continue through the weekend.

The Central Valley will cloud up as evening approaches and there is a chance of isolated showers, said the weather institute.

The northern zone and the Caribbean, as is the case this time of year, may see showers in both the morning and afternoon.

Central Valley residents were surprised Wednesday by a mild afternoon rain, which is unusual at this time of year.


President travels west
to visit three communities


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda is making a series of appearances Friday at several ceremonies and projects in the cities of Puntarenas, Caldera and Orotina.

In Puntarenas the president is scheduled to be at the inauguration of the remodeled 911 monitoring center with new equipment for the Fuerza Pública. The new equipment and center were part of a donation made by Instituto Costarricense de Puertos del Pacífico. The agency donated computer screens and surveillance cameras. The organization is also providing resources to help add 38 new officers and police equipment such as guns, bulletproof vests, radios, helmets and patrol bikes.

In Caldera the event will be the christening of a boat donated by the non-governmental organization MarViva to the Servicio Nacional de Guardacosta. The boat is called “Unidos Pro-Natura” and will be used to patrol Isla del Coco. The organization has also established a fund of $2 million to maintain the boat. MarViva is an environmental group. The Guardacostas patrols against illegal fishing and environmental transgressions in Costa Rican waters as well as illegal shipments..

In Orotina two ribbon cuttings will take place to mark the repair of two road projects in the area. One project repaired about 1.7 kilometers of a road in the region for 64 million colons. The other repaired four kilometers on Ruta 757 which is an alternate to Ruta 27. The cost was 900 million colons.

Also six new houses will be handed over to the Hogar de Ancianos Jesús María Vargas. The Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social made a donation of 70 million colons for the project. The nursing home itself contributed 16 million colons. The project was part of a large national network of elder care. Casa Presidencial reports more than 3,500 people have been added as new beneficiaries through 41 different networks of care.    

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








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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 30
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Alcatel ex-manager testifies in legislature wearing handcuffs
By the  A.M. Costa Rica staff

Edgar Valverde Acosta, the former manager of Alcatel lCyT in Costa Rica appeared before a legislative committee Thursday in handcuffs. He said that he was the scapegoat in the case and that the principal beneficiaries were Alcatel and José Antonio Lobo Solera, who was the state's key witness.

This is the case that earned Valverde 20 years in prison and also resulted in a conviction of former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echevarría. Valverde was under guard by prison police during his testimony.

Valverde would not answer any questions from the members of the Comisión Permanente Especial de Ingreso y Gasto Público because his case still is under appeal. But he said that the prosecutor committed crimes to get evidence to achieve the conviction.

In the United States a former Alcatel CyT executive got 30 months in prison for engaging in the elaborate bribery scheme to obtain the mobile telephone contract. The man admitted making more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is Christian Sapsizian, 62, who has
 cooperated with authorities. Sapsizian admitted that between February 2000 and September 2004, he conspired with Valverde.

Lobo was a member of the board of directors of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which awarded the cell telephone contract. Alcatel was awarded a mobile telephone contract by the state firm known as ICE in August 2001 valued at $149 million.

Valverde said he tried to turn state's evidence the way Lobo did but that prosecutors rejected his efforts because he did not have enough information that they wanted. Valverde said that Lobo managed to get away with a long chain of crimes and received a lot of money.  Lobo never was charged.

The committee hopes to hear from José María Figueres Olsen, the former president, next week, although Figueres has been shy about showing up at legislative hearings. He received about $900,000 from Alcatel as an adviser from 2000 to 2003. Figueres also paid a similar amount to Carmen Valverde Acosta, Valverde's sister, according to reports about the case.

Figueres was not charged in the Alcatel case. He is a possible presidential candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional.


Postal service awarded a rate hike by nation's regulatory agency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Correos de Costa Rica has received an increase in its rates from the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

The increase ranges from 22.2 percent to 11.7 percent depending on the weight of the item. The new rates range from 275 colons (54 U.S. cents) for an envelope of up to 20 grams
(seven-tenths of an ounce). The old rate was 225 colons (44 cents). A package weighing a kilogram (2.2 pounds) will cost 1,580 colons ($3.12), up from 1,415 colons ($2.79).

The old rates have been in effect since 2009.

The new rates will go into effect when they are published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.


Television is a welcomed companion when trapped at home
A California court has decided that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Prop 8 states that marriage must be restricted to the union of one man and one woman, “as God intended.”

The pros or cons of this argument is not the subject of this column, but just for the record, throughout history and cultures the nature of marriage and the makeup of marriage has varied.

Since the majority of marriages seem to end in divorce or separation, I don’t see why the institution is so attractive, except to divorce lawyers, but I support those who wish to marry.

I listened to an exchange between the lawyers representing each side on the News Hour program and found it comical. The lawyer for those opposing Prop. 8 maintained that the proposition is aimed at depriving gays and lesbians of their constitutional rights.  The lawyer supporting the ban against marriage for gays and lesbians argued that they were not being prejudicial against homosexuals because the ban also includes polygamy.  He went on to say that marriage is rooted in the reproductive function, and they wanted to preserve that as the purpose of marriage.  At this point no one was laughing but me. I do hope they use this argument if the case goes to the Supreme Court of the U.S.  Surely one of the justices will notice.

If reproduction is their argument, then they certainly should not ban polygamy because one man with several wives can make a lot more babies over time than one man with only one wife.  Instead, they should ban older couples who have no intention (and possibly no ability) to have children and even young couples who don’t intend to have children.

And now we have the Catholic dignitaries declaring that President Obama has “declared war on the Catholic Church,” for expecting Catholic institutions that employ non-Catholics to have insurance that offers women with contraceptives and even the morning-after pill without a co-pay. They are charging the government with forcing a religion to commit an act against its tenets, a no no according to the Constitution.  A couple dozen states already have that rule but now it is a serious matter. 

Like the supporters of Proposition 8, the Catholic Church is a champion of reproduction in spite of the practice of a majority of its female parishioners. We won’t go into that.  But now is a good time for yet another lawyer to enter the fray.  He would represent the Mormon sects that practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.  If the government cannot make a church go against its beliefs, then it should stop going after polygamous families.  

These are the earth shaking problems the U.S. is facing while countries in the European Union are freezing over as they struggle to agree, and people are being killed in the Middle East.

Lately I have been watching more TV than usual and getting
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart

elevator

an idea of what it feels like to be under house arrest.  The elevator in my building is not working, and has not worked for seven days and counting.  I am on the fifth floor and, thanks to a medical exam gone awry, I no longer can climb four flights of stairs without great difficulty.  I don’t think I can climb them even with great difficulty. This has meant that I have missed all of the wonderful – and free – cultural activities going on in San José, including going to the art exhibit at the National Museum of Art with the Newcomers Club.

So I am reduced to giving in to my addiction to politics.  Costa Rican politics don’t interest me as much, partly because my Spanish is not that fluent and partly because I always think of Gilbert and Sullivan when I think of Costa Rican politics.

The fact is, Costa Rica is a small country with far fewer people. Even though there is variety among the people, the different ideologies are not that rigid.  Quedar bien and Pura Vida override.  Everything is more manageable here.  Indeed, small is beautiful, and certainly more agreeable.

However, speaking of lawyers, if this elevator is not fixed soon, I am going to need one.

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Lawmakers want to study the situation with police weapons
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature's security committee has decided to investigate the robbery of some 200 pistols that belong to the Dirección General de Tránsito. The three-person investigative subcommittee also will study other aspects of the use and acquisition of weapons in the country.

The proposal came from lawmakers associated with the  Alianza por Costa Rica coalition. The full committee is called the Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico.

The investigation will be carried out by the committee president, Carlos Góngora Fuentes of Movimiento Libertario, Carmen Muñoz Quesada of Partido Acción Ciudadana and Annie Saborío Mora of Liberación Nacional.

Committee members said they wanted to look into the system
 of acquiring weapons for police forces, plans for the purchase, sale and destruction of weapons and technical aspects of the weapons purchased and sold.  They also said they plan to look into the private security services that are hired by the government to protect its assets including weapons.

A group of bandits robbed more than 200 firearms from a Policia de Transito temporary storage area early Jan. 30 after subduing two private security contractors assigned to cover the building. A week ago agents recovered 56 of the weapons and made one arrest. But Costa Rica Report said this week that the remainder of the weapons, all Glock 19 pistols, are available for purchase on the street.

The robbery came only weeks after the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública vowed to get tough on the circulation of elicit and unregistered guns in Costa Rica.


Rio Largarto bridge
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo


Battered
bridge


Workmen will be repairing this bridge, the Río Lagarto span on the Interamericana Norte highway, today. An articulated truck whacked support girders and two doubled up and two fell off, said the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad. The bridge will be one lane. It is north of Puntarenas.


Central control of traffic lights reestablished in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Highway engineers say that connection has been reestablished between traffic signals at 325 intersections and a central control center. The job cost nearly $1 million.

The center is supposed to keep traffic flowing better but thunderstorms knocked out the system.

In addition to a computer hookup with traffic signals, the center has six cameras positioned near Paseo Colon, Avenida Segunda, San Pedro and the Caribbean bus terminal to keep an eye on traffic.

With the connection reestablished, workers at the central
 control are supposed to know when a traffic light bulb fails so they can dispatch a repair crew.

The crews at the Dirección General de Ingeniería de Tránsito also will know when there is vandalism or someone steals traffic signal parts, as happens frequently.

The agency, which is part of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, will be having electronic signboards replaced. These should be in service next month. The agency said that the signboards suffered failures but that they were under guarantee.

They are located near Parque la Sabana, La Uruca, Guadalupe and Curridabat. They give instructions to motorists or issue general warnings and are controlled centrally.

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U.N. rights expert cites
violence in Latin prisons


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A senior United Nations human rights official has voiced concern over a wave of violence inside prisons in South America, where at least eight inmates have been killed in the past two weeks in four separate countries.

Three prisoners died in Uruguay, two in Argentina, two in Venezuela and one in Chile, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported Wednesday. A video has also emerged showing a handcuffed female prisoner in Brazil who had just given birth.

Amerigo Incalcaterra, the high commission's regional representative for South America, issued a statement expressing concern about the situation in a region where the rate of prison overcrowding ranges from 30 per cent to 70 per cent.

“These events reflect an alarming pattern of prison violence in the region, which is a direct consequence of – or is aggravated by – among others, poor conditions of detention, including chronic prison overcrowding, the lack of access to basic services such as adequate floor space, potable water, food, health care, and lack of basic sanitary and hygienic standards,” he said.


Global food prices post
an increase for January


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Global food prices rose overall last month for the first time in six months, demonstrating the volatility of international food markets, the U. N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported Thursday.

The organization's Food Price Index rose by four points or nearly 2 per cent to a measure of 214 points in January, with the price of oils increasing the most, followed by cereals, sugar, dairy products and meat.

This is the first such increase since July last year, and the index still stands 7 per cent below its position of January 2011.

Abdolreza Abbasian, a senior grains economist with the Food and Agriculture Organization, said there was no single or clear explanation behind the rebound in food prices, with different reasons applying to different commodities.

“But the increase, despite an expected record harvest and an improved stocks situation, and after six months of falling or stable prices, highlights the unpredictability prevailing in global food markets,” he said.

“I can’t see that the usual suspects – the value of the dollar and oil prices – were much involved in January. But one reason is poor weather currently affecting key growing regions like South America and Europe. It has played a role and remains a cause for concern,” he added.

The oils and fats price index rose by 3 per cent, due mainly to stronger import demand for palm and soy oils, along with a seasonal decline in palm oil production.

The price of all major cereals, with the exception of rice, rose last month, with maize prices jumping by 6 per cent. The cereal price rise was driven mostly by market concerns about weather conditions affecting crop production this year in several major producing regions.


Congressional report says
freed detainees may fight


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new U.S. congressional report says the United States cannot ensure that former detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison will not become involved in insurgent activities.

The report by the oversight panel of the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee says 27 percent of the 600 detainees transferred out of Guantanamo were confirmed or suspected to be presently or previously engaged in terrorist activities.

The report comes as the Obama administration is considering transferring some Taliban inmates from the prison to Qatar, in an effort to engage the Taliban in peace talks.

Democrats on the subcommittee called the report incomplete and issued a dissent.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, said the report seems to be politically motivated and aimed at scaring Americans during an election year, instead of being a comprehensive, bipartisan look at former detainees.

Then-president George W. Bush set up the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, after U.S.-led forces went to war in Afghanistan against terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil.

Last month, on the 10th anniversary of the prison's opening, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay voiced deep disappointment that the U.S. government has failed to close the facility, as President Barack Obama pledged to do when he took office three years ago. Ms. Pillay said that prisoners remain arbitrarily detained indefinitely, in what she called a clear breach of international law.

In 2009, in one of his first acts as president, Obama promised to close the prison, but his efforts have been met with broad opposition from Congress.


Migrant boat to Puerto Rico
overturns and kills 40

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

At least 40 people are dead after a boat crowded with migrants sank in the waters off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, last week.

According to authorities, search crews recovered at least 20 more bodies Wednesday near the coast of Sabana de la Mar.  The overloaded vessel sank last Saturday during a voyage to Puerto Rico.

At least a dozen passengers were rescued from the disaster, which officials say is the Caribbean nation's worst maritime accident in memory. Dominican migrants routinely crowd rickety boats and illegally sail to Puerto Rico to escape economic hardship.


Mount Etna erupts in Sicily

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Italy's Mount Etna put on a spectacular show Thursday, shooting lava and molten rock into the night sky.

Authorities on the island of Sicily closed nearby airports as smoke and steam floated across the sky and boiling hot lava flowed down the side of the volcano. No injuries have been reported.

Mount Etna is more than 3,000 meters high (about 9,840 feet) and is Europe's largest active volcano.
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Ocean survey mission
has traveled for three years


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A United Nations-backed scientific expedition which has been traveling the world’s oceans for almost three years is in New York seeking to raise public awareness of the impact of climate change in oceans.

The mission, known as Tara Oceans, has travelled 70,000 miles across the Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian oceans investigating the effects of global warming on biodiversity and marine life, particularly focusing on marine plankton. The mission aims to bridge the knowledge gap between the scientific community and the public by regularly sharing its findings and data and allowing visitors into the Tara vessel wherever it docks.

“The Tara expedition represents an extraordinary human endeavor by focusing on the key major gaps in our knowledge on plankton,” said Andrew Hudson, the coordinator of U.N. Oceans, adding that it is facilitating communication not only between scientists and the public but also with policy-makers so they know how the ocean works and how human activity impacts this vital ecosystem.

Hudson also spotlighted the importance of this initiative in raising awareness before the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference in June, where Tara researchers will be sharing their message as they try to rally support for new initiatives, reforms and financing needed for ocean sustainability.

Philippe Kridelka, director of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization office in New York, emphasized the importance of the mission in bringing the topic of oceans into the development agenda.

The vessel has also had artists and journalists on board to help promote the mission, including French fashion designer agnès b., who is also one of the main sponsors of Tara.


Quake was east of Golfito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck just east of Golfito at 8:07 p.m. Thursday, according to the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The epicenter was fixed at 3.8 kilometers (about 2.3 miles) south of Río Claro and 11.3 kilometers (about 7 miles) east of Golfito. The location is just south of the Interamericana highway. Only an automatic sensing station at Golfito registered the quake, said the laboratory.

The location is near the estimated epicenters of two other recent quakes.











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