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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 33           E-mail us
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TDMA cell service saved by the bell, it seems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ownership of a TDMA telephone line has been elevated to a human right.

Just as the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad began Tuesday what it called a gradual elimination of the obsolete cell telephone system, the regulators stepped in and said that telephone users cannot be allowed to lose service.

The telephone company has been warning for at least a year that the TDMA service was going to be abandoned. This is the system that was begun in 1994.

Then the company began enticing users with free cell phones for the newer GSM system. Finally it said last week that the TDMA plug would be pulled Tuesday.

At the last minute the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones stepped in, and said that the cell phone users have a right not to be cut off.
And the agency said that TDMA service had deteriorated to the point where it ordered a 67 percent rebate for recent billings.

The agency said that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad was required to inform users about what to do to guarantee the transfer to a new system without damaging their rights.

At last count there were about 8,000 customers still using the service, the company said.  The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it had contacted each customer to tell them the service would be terminated Tuesday.

The Superintendencia ordered the basic monthly charge for TDMA users be cut from 2,900 colons ($5.80) to just 674 colons, about $1.35. Similar reductions were ordered for per minute charges.

In addition to the cost of keeping three separate cell phone systems in operation, the company wanted to dump the TDMA lines to assist in a rearrangement of the cellular spectrum.

Puntarenas fiesta is another source of drunk drivers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who complains about paperwork and seeking permits in Costa Rica probably ought not drive drunk.

Under the new traffic law, being arrested drunk behind the wheel marks the beginning of a complex and expensive process. Having more than .75 grams of alcohol in a liter of blood also means the case becomes criminal and goes before prosecutors. Even with less alcohol, traffic officers impound the vehicle.

Eight motorists entered the twilight zone of drunk driving accusations over the weekend. Six were
en route from the Puntarenas fiesta. Two were caught on the Autopista General Cañas where officers are a little testy after a public works ministry supervisor died and a coworker suffered injuries last Wednesday night due to a reckless driver.

Police enforcement may be working, although there is only one month of data for 2011. One person died so far this year in a traffic accident attributed to drunk driving. Last year 28 person died.

Meanwhile police said that they will have similar controls on the main highways this weekend, which is the second and last for the annual Puntarenas fiesta.

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Our readers' opinions
'MOPT is killing us!'
Escazú reader reports

New pipes to bring water to Escazú are being installed along the old San José to Santa Ana road. This has been in progress for weeks.  I live in San Rafael de Escazú about 800 meters west of PACO.   The pipes are in and the dirt has been filled in, but the road has not been repaved.

Consequently, enormous clouds of gray, gritty cement-like dust are generated every time a bus, truck or car drives by. And when they speed, which is often, it is like the fallout from an atom bomb. My house is filthy daily and I am fearful for my health.

Win Canavan
Escazú and San Jose, California

State should not contradict
the eternal laws of God

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: Duggo Hix's letter of Feb. 15.

The problem is not church and state; the problem is a misapplication of the concept. 

We'll specifically speak about the Catholic Church, since I am quite sure this is what your reference was meant to focus on.  When we, as people or as governments, try to operate lives which separate faith from reason, we get tyranny.  The state is better at handling matters secular, and the Church is better at handling matters spiritual.

"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's: and to God the things that are God's."  But never should church and state work against one another, which is what happens when secular life rejects the unwritten natural laws of God.  The founders of the United States understood this when they spoke of our Creator giving mankind certain unalienable rights.  The state has no right to contradict the eternal laws which God has declared since the beginning.  So, when Christ's Church speaks and the government listens, people demand a "separation of church and state." 

That way, we can enjoy "constitutionally-guaranteed rights" such as contraception, prostitution, in vitro fertilization, homosexual marriage, etc.  It is this making religion a personal matter to be lived at home and never in public that creates such a problem today.  A nation that embraces the will of God would not be engaged in prostitution, the drug trade, addictions, marital infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, crime, murder, rape, etc.  A nation determined to fix these problems would not attempt to keep God out of the solution; logical solutions depend on a people determined to live a better life and to not lower themselves into the desperate world of crime and corruption that so many seem to believe is the solution to their problems. 

Christ allows nations to rise and fall. Christ should never be banned from our solutions.  And a final reminder: Christianity is not a democracy: Christ is a King.  Always has been, always will be.  What we think we deserve as a right, in the end, doesn't matter.  If we were to only treat others as we want to be treated, and loved God with all our heart, strength, and mind, we'd be much better off.

Jason Edwards
Hillsborough, New Jersey

Short circuits are not
the problem in wiring

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article on electrical wiring in Costa Rica was of great interest to me. I am an electrical engineer and am somewhat fascinated by the fact that most Costa Rican's seem to consider themselves experts in electrical wiring. This can be dangerous as you point out. It's good that most of the homes here are made from concrete blocks.

Anyway I wanted to point out a couple of things people should realize when wiring or having their houses wired. First of all AC and DC wiring is totally different. AC has a neutral and a ground, whereas DC has only a ground. Do not wire your house unless you understand the difference.

The second thing is that fires are not caused by electrical shorts. A short is where the hot wire in the circuit is accidentally connected to ground (short). This situation will either blow the fuse, trip the circuit breaker, or burn up the wire almost immediately if neither is present.

Fires are generally caused where current is flowing in wires where you want the current to flow. But if you have a point of resistance in the circuit, such as a nail used as a splice or a bad connection, this tends to heat up and many times causes a fire before the connection burns in two. The circuit breaker will not trip because current is supposed to be flowing through the connection.
Guy C. Moats
Playas del Coco

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.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 33
Latigo K-9

Jaco condos

Reader Roy Whaley sent this photo of Route 142 between Nuevo Arenal and Tilarán near Lake Arenal. He said the popular tourist route has remained unrepaired for more than four years. 'The yellow ribbon was put in place only this morning after another foot or more of pavement crumbled,' he said Tuesday.
washed out road
Photo by Roy Whaley

Tourism chamber urged more planning for highways
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tourism chamber said that the country needs better planning particularly with road projects.

The comments from the Cámara Nacional de Turismo was directed at a current problem at an access road to the new Caldera highway in Atenas. But the comments by Mauricio Céspedes, the organization's executive director, went further.

Céspedes said that the chamber applaudes the actions of the government to assume the costs of repairing this road link because it is important to tourism. However, he said that the project did not have sufficient planning and that Costa Rica now assumes the financial burden.
Highways are the principal means of transport to tourist areas, he noted, and they play a role in the competitivity of the country for tourists. The government and competent authorities should be more rigorous with companies that do infrastructure projects and demand quality as well as responsibility for any eventualities, he said.

The chamber executive said that the money being spent on the Atenas link could be spent elsewhere.

Tropical Storm Tomas affected some 61 percent of the tourism operators in the country and the road network collapsed in some sections of the country causing substantial losses.

Some damage has not been repaired yet, the chamber said.

Venezuelan students carry protest to door of Tico embassy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A trio of Venezuelan students unhappy with the administration of Hugo Chávez has begun a hunger strike at the door to the Costa Rican embassy in Caracas.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto here reported on the developments and said that the students showed up Monday and said they were members of the Fundación Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida. They are asking Costa Rica to ask the Organization of American States to investigate the human right situation in Venezuela, the ministry said. The students delivered a letter to that effect, it added.

Local television footage showed one of the students reclining under the Venezuelan flag.

Two weeks ago 10 students did the same thing at the offices of the hemispheric organization. They said they were
seeking freedom for individuals jailed by the Chávez regime.

A posting on the foundation's Facebook page said that 26 young persons were involved in hunger strikes at various points in the country. The posting by an individual identified as Olga Rosa Guerra said that they were seeking liberty for politicial prisoners of the Venezuelan Communist regime.

The socialist Chávez government has developed closed ties with Cuba and other countries at odds with the United States. Chávez considered Fidel Castro as his mentor. Costa Rica has muted its criticism of the Venezuela authoritarian regime, in part because of the need for cheap petroleum and because the Venezuelan government is a major employer at an aluminum plant in Esparza. Chávez had threatened to stop supplying raw materials after former president Óscar Arias Sánchez made critical comments.

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Yet another Olmec archaeological enigma described

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral candidate has described an early Mexican carving that came from a site near the Pacific coast of what is now the State of Chiapas.

The location, Ojo de Agua, is not far from the boundary with Guatemala and those who lived there probably had contact with early Costa Ricans living in Guanacaste.

The student, John Hodgson, published his report in the journal Mexicon. Hodgson found the carving in 2005 at the location that is related to the ancient Olmec culture.

The archaeological context and radiocarbon dating of ceramic sherds associated with the stone monument show that it dates to 1100 to 1000 B.C., making it approximately 3,000 years old, the university said.  Its purpose and meaning, however, will be harder to ascertain, it added. Said the university in a release:

The main figure on the tablet is depicted wearing an elaborate headdress, loincloth and ornate accessories, including a pair of large, comb-like ear ornaments, a rope-like necklace and a thick belt with a jaguar-head buckle. A face on the headdress includes features such as sprouting plants that identify it as a corn god. The tablet also includes a smaller secondary figure and a series of asymmetric zigzag designs that the authors suggest could represent lightning, local mountain ranges, or other features of the natural world.

The monument is a carved flat slab of a relatively soft, local volcanic stone that weighs about 130 pounds. It
Photo by John Hodgson and drawing by Kisslan Chan
and John Clark, New World Archaeological Foundation

stands nearly three feet tall, about 14 inches wide, and ranges from four to seven inches thick.

The use of local materials shows it was made in or near Ojo de Agua.

Ojo de Agua lies in the heart of the ancient Aztec province Soconusco, nestled in a bend of the Coatán River. It is the earliest known site in Mesoamerica with formal pyramids built around plazas. The site appears to have been occupied for 150 to 200 years before being abandoned for unknown reasons.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 33

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Argentina says U.S. plane
held drugs, weapons

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A diplomatic dispute has erupted between the United States and Argentina over Argentine allegations that the U.S. military flew undeclared weapons, drugs and other items into the South American country last Thursday.

Officials in Buenos Aires say a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane was searched and its cargo seized at Ezeiza International Airport after arriving with material for a police training exercise. They are quoted as saying authorities seized sensitive material that had not been declared in a manifest provided by the U.S. Embassy.

Buenos Aires has said it will file an official protest in Washington, while an Argentine judge has demanded a full accounting of what was in the plane.

State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley says the United States is puzzled and disturbed by the actions of the Argentine officials. Crowley described the search of the plane as unusual and unannounced. He said the matter could have been resolved on the ground by customs officials. The spokesman called on the Argentine government to return the U.S. equipment.

The incident comes as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to travel next month to Latin America. Argentina is not on the list of countries he will visit. Obama is scheduled to travel to El Salvador, Brazil and Chile.

Plastic trash in oceans
becomes research topic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

During the past half-century, a growing portion of what humans eat, drink or use has come in plastic packaging - petroleum-based containers that are sturdy and long-lasting, yet are used only briefly and then thrown away.  Daily, billions of plastic bags and bottles are disacrded, and much of this trash ends up littering the environment or, increasingly, being washed out to sea. Many scientists have documented the growing volume of plastic garbage floating in the oceans.  Now a young couple is taking a fresh look at the problem to see if something can be done to solve it.

Marcus Eriksen is on a global expedition to document and publicize the growing accumulation of plastic trash in the oceans, and to study its effects on marine and human life.

“These are the five sub-tropical gyres in the world where the majority of the plastic in the world accumulates,” he said.

“The gyre is formed by ocean currents that couple with the spinning of the earth's rotation.  And what happens is that you have, effectively, a massive whirlpool, a large spinning system, where debris can accumulate,” said Anna Cummins, who along with her husband, Eriksen, is a co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a California-based non-profit organization that promotes research into plastic pollution in the oceans. 

Ms. Cummins says that in less than 100 years, humans have replaced most of the re-usable products and natural materials with plastics that are used just briefly.  At the end of their short use cycle, plastic bags or bottles have little value. The majority end up in solid-waste landfills or as litter in creeks and rivers.  A lot of this waste also washes out to sea, where it enters swirling ocean currents and over time, travels thousands of kilometers. 

“This becomes a problem in the marine environment because plastics are designed to last forever," Ms. Cummins said.  "They don’t break down, they can’t be digested by marine organisms and they persist in the ocean for thousands of years.”

In their journeys across the world’s oceans, Eriksen and Ms. Cummins have been trawling the top 20 centimeters of the water's surface with a fine mesh net.  Hundreds of samples of the debris they've collected are now being analyzed in a California lab.

“What shocked me the most on all these trips is to cross an ocean for thousands and thousands of miles and find that every single sample we pull up has plastics,” Ms. Cummins said.

Some plastics in the ocean stay in large pieces for a long time.  But many break into smaller particles. 

“Roughly 43 percent of all marine mammals, 86 percent of all sea turtle and 44 percent of sea bird species are found with plastics in or around their bodies,” Cummins said  “35 percent of the samples of fish that we collected in the north Pacific had plastic in their stomachs.”

5-Gyres Institute and its research partners are now documenting the way plastics are entering the ocean food chain and studying their possible impact on human health.
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Transnational crime cited
as $650 billion market

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Illicit trade in goods, guns, people, and natural resources is a $650 billion enterprise, which most negatively impacts the developing world, finds a new report released by Global Financial Integrity. “Transnational Crime in the Developing World” evaluates the overall size of criminal markets in 12 categories: drugs, humans, wildlife, counterfeit goods and currencies, human organs, small arms, diamonds and other gems, oil, timber, fish, art and cultural property, and gold.

“While this report includes a monetary measure of the cost of these illicit activities, it also stresses that the activities associated with these illicit markets — human rights abuses, corruption, murder — extract a significant toll on the lives of people in these developing countries and undermines economic growth and good governance efforts,” said report author Jeremy Haken.

Of the 12 illicit activities studied, trade in drugs ($320 billion per year) and counterfeiting ($250 billion per year) were ranked first and second in terms of illicit funds generated. Another key finding of the report was that profits from illicit markets are making their way to transnational crime syndicates through vast international trade networks. The report also emphasizes a link between transnational crime and economic “underdevelopment.”

Both Costa Rica and Panamá were cited as having a relatively high percentage of illegal money flow compared to the overall gross domestic product.

Panamá extradition treaty
approved by lawmakers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers have approved for the second and final time an extradition treaty with Panamá. One of the aspects is that Costa Ricans or Panamanians serving time in the other country can finish their sentence in their homeland.

Lawmakers spoke of organized crime and other problems in the border region that crossed national borders.

None of the 45 lawmakers present voted against the measure.

Postal service providing
texts for school kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Correos de Costa Rica is selling books that children must have for the 2011 school year. The sales are an agreement with Editorial Costa Rica. In addition, the postal service will deliver the books where needed, it said.

The books are available at five offices, the center headquarters, Zapote, Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia. This is the first of a five-year agreement.

In addition to school books, the postal service is prepared to deliver books that customers purchase from the publisher via the Internet, it said.

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