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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 34                E-mail us
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Some lawmakers are unhappy with the price the government paid to build Nueva Cinchona
Leading the nation must be frustrating at times
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Being president cannot be a great gig.

Laura Chinchilla has a new budget that is deeply in the red. The wish list of taxes she presented to the legislature was dead on arrival.

Meanwhile the legislature is running away with issues. Opposition members have asked former president Óscar Arias Sánchez and his brother,  Rodrigo, to appear to answer questions about a multimillion dollar slush fund that was used to smooth the way for the free trade treaty with the United States.

Another group of lawmakers was at Casa Presidencial Wednesday night asking the president to intervene personally in the Autopista del Sol a/k/a/ la Ruta de la Muerte. The hillsides are falling down and part of the road will be blocked off for repairs, despite the fact that the roadway was 40 years in the making and is now in the hands of a Spanish concession holder.

Lawmakers also are investigating the new town that the government constructed for victims of the Cinchona earthquake more than two years ago

The Nicaraguans have taken over a toehold of land at the northern border, and chances are that the International Court of Justice will not issue a ruling as decisive as Costa Rica would like.

The presidential security plan was a lead balloon with even the Spanish daily La Nación saying it contained nothing new. Crime continues to be a major concern even though the president ran on a platform promising security.

Instead of chasing criminals, three dozen Fuerza Pública officers face claims of sexual harassment of their female counterparts.
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 Ms. Chinchilla and her husband do have a 
 great social life. Here she talks to diplomats.

Ms. Chinchilla seeks to reduce the number of weapons in the country and there are even school programs toward that end. Yet the personal purchase of firearms has jumped dramatically.

The drug trade continues unabated using the country as a superhighway. Police and agents make arrests every day, but downtown visitors can see individuals smoking a crack pipe on the public streets.

A foundation in the United States christened the country as one of the two biggest centers for money laundering, based on figures through 2009.

Each night the local television stations chronicle more news about failed institutions, crime, prostitution and miscarriages of justice. And Ms. Chinchilla lacks the money and the legislative clout to do much about it.

Meanwhile Rodrigo Arias and probably others want to be president in three years!

And there is not even a free house.

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Dock agency seeks hike
of 21 percent in its rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government agency that runs the nation's ports at Moín and Limón want to raise the rates 21 percent.

The executive director of the agency, Allan Hidalgo Campos, said the increase really should be 39 percent but such an increase would further diminish the competitiveness of the docks. The agency is the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica.

Hidalgo was appearing before the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos because even government agencies need approval to change rates.

The regulating authority will study the request and schedule public hearings before making a decision.

The Limón and Moín docks are considered to be highly inefficient, and the government has a plan to put the docks on concession to a private firm that would provide the necessary investments, perhaps $1 billion.

The rates at the docks affect all the nation's exports and imports, including what expats pay to bring household goods and vehicles into the country.

Hidalgo said his agency was hit with adverse decisions by the Sala IV constitutional court and had to hire 200 more employees to keep the docks going 24 hours a day or three shifts. These new employees were not considered when the current rates were set, he said.

The government's plan for a dock concession is opposed vigorously by the dockworkers union although such a system has been put in place at the Caldera docks on the Pacific.

Another U.S. firm opens
outsourcing office here

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Auxis, Inc., a management consulting and outsourcing firm headquartered in South Florida, Wednesday announced the expansion of its service center in San José to support clients in the United States and Latin America.

The expanded Auxis Outsourcing Service Center is located in the Ultrapark Free Trade Zone and Business Center in Lagunilla de Heredia. The firm will provide both information technology and accounting services.

“We selected Costa Rica as the primary hub for our Latin America offshore services center after extensive research and analysis,” said Alvaro Prieto, Auxis senior vice president. “Costa Rica is a leading pioneer of the Latin America offshore market. It enjoys a strong service export environment, highly educated and qualified workforce and strong information technology infrastructure. We have been serving clients from Costa Rica for over 18 months with great success.“

Founded in 1997, Auxis has its headquarters in Miami, Florida, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee, Florida. It now employes 85 persons.

Telephone tip leads
investigators to body

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A telephoned tip led investigators to the body of a young Panamanian man who had been buried in a palm plantation between Quepos and Parrita.

The body was in a grave about 100 meters or about 300 feet off the main road. Dead palm leaves covered the grave. The site is near the La Pirrís bridge, said agents.

Agents had to search to find the grave. They said the man had been there for some time. He is believed to have been involved in a drug case in Golfito but he vanished several months ago during the judicial process.

U.S. donates anti-crime tools

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has donated equipment worth $134,000 to Costa Rica under the Central American Security Initiative. The equipment will go to the security ministry's communication office and to the Policía de Control de Drogas, the ministry said. The equipment includes computers and printers as well as a container that can be a mobile office, said the ministry.

Presidents Day is Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday, Feb. 21, is Presidents Day in the United States, so the U.S. Embassy here will be closed. The day combines what used to be two holidays, Feb. 12, the birth date of Abraham Lincoln, and Feb. 22, the birth date of George Washington. The day also is designed to provide a three-day holiday.

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, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 34
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Family seeks probe of Santa Ana shootout that killed kin
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A burglary suspect died during an exchange of bullets with police and a civilian and soon may become a test case for weapon use by someone who is not a police officer.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the dead man by the last names of Arias Fallas. He was 19.

The shooting happened in Los Ángeles de Brasil in Santa Ana about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Two persons were looting a house, and a neighbor realized what was happening and called police on the 911 line, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

When Fuerza Pública officers arrived, they were met with gunfire from one of the intruders. They returned fire. But also possible is that the neighbor engaged the man with his own weapon.

Friends of the dead man are calling for a full investigation, and some legal action by his family is likely.

Judicial agents confiscated two weapons, that of the neighbor and that of the dead man. First they want to see which weapon delivered the fatal bullet.

The dead man suffered a wound in the back.
Even though police were there, the second intruder fled, judicial agents said. Both men were described as residents of the area. Consequently the family of the dead man received notification quickly.

The shooting happened in the subdivision known as Vistas del Cañón, said judicial police.

Costa Rica does not have a so-called make-my-day law in which citizens are freed of responsibility if they shoot a crook. Even if such a law existed, this shooting happened outdoors, an area that generally is not covered by the laws that are popular in the United States. Still the neighbor, who was not identified, is expected to claim his life was threatened.

Some items taken from the home were found outside.

In another police case, a man died early Wednesday from bullet wounds received Friday. He was identified by the last names of Cárdenas Castro. He was a suspect in a Jan. 10 shooting of an telecommunicatiosn worker in the general area where he lived.

Police mounted a raid to detain Cárdenas at his home in 25 de Julio, Hatillo. About an hour before the 6 a.m. raid, three men intercepted Cárdenas as he was driving near his home and fired at him repeatedly. He died in Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Legislation sought to help keep eye on public works jobs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government wants more authority for the Universidad de Costa Rica materials lab to keep an eye on public works projects.

At the same time there are investigations under way to determine the fault in problems with the Autopista de Sol from San José to Caldera and another smaller road project in Escazú.

The Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales of the Universidad de Costa Rica will be empowered by a new law, said Casa Presidencial. The lab has been deeply involved in the problems with the Caldera highway but also has been called on in the past to check the quality of concrete and asphalt for other projects.

Lawmakers from the Comisión Legislativa de Concesiones visited Casa Presidencial Wednesday night, and President Laura Chinchilla asked them for support in passing the law. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones do not have the expertise to supervise public works projects, lawmakers were told. The university lab will provide oversight and technical expertise, they were told.

Francisco Jiménez, heads the public works ministry but also
 is president of the national concessions council. He said that corrective measures were under way with the Caldera highway. Still he said that the ministry's limited budget made it hard to find people who would work for the salary offered in the areas of budgeting, auditing and management.

Both Jiménez and President Chinchilla are latecomers to the Caldera highway problems, The highway was opened late in the administration of former president Óscar Arias Sánchez, and the Chinchilla administration inherited the situation.

The project has become a political issue where opposition lawmakers can blame both Arias and Ms. Chinchilla.

The steep cuts through which the Caldera highway runs have been dropping rocks and mud on the highway. One woman motorcyclist died. At other points the ground has slipped and officials had to put in emergency bridges. Workmen have tried to ease the slopes and to install wire mesh to catch rocks and sheets of concrete to keep rocks and dirt from slipping.

Jiménez noted that some 11 kilometers of the highway would be closed. The stretch is between Atenas and Orotina. The management of Autopista del Sol will be doing corrective work and tolls will be suspended.

The company also is subject to fines.

Tax collectors have another little list of society offenders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección General de Tributación has put out another list of presumed tax deadbeats, but this time the list covers a variety of levies.

Included are sales tax, income tax, the education and cultural tax and fines.

Tributación has been known to lose paperwork, so although some well-known hotels and restaurants appear on the list, there is no guarantee that the tax agency is correct. In addition, many companies have names similar to some famous entities but may not be the same one.

Sales tax is due on the 15th of the month. Income tax is 
due once a year on Dec. 15 if an individual or company is on a traditional tax year.  The small but annoying Timbre de Educación y Cultura is due March 31.

In addition, some firms have the obligation to file quarterly. 

Frequently expats who have closed down a business simply leave the country without informing the tax authorities.

Consequently some of the corporations and individuals listed in the latest may not even be in the country nor have any income to report.

Earlier in the week, the tax agency released a list of 100 entities that had not paid the luxury home tax although they did the previous year.

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Researchers find harpy eagle family in Belize forests

By the University of North Carolina news service

Jamie Rotenberg, an assistant professor of environmental studies, and researchers at the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education, are studying what is thought to be the first active harpy eagle nest ever recorded in Belize, where the predatory birds were previously thought to be extinct.

Two adult harpies and one 5-week old nestling were discovered in November, when Belizean technicians were patrolling the Bladen Nature Reserve in the Mayan mountains of Belize. The area is rugged and remote, but scientists have searched for signs of the bird there since 2005, when an adult was first spotted.

Harpy eagles are known as the most powerful raptor in the Americas, weighing up to 20 pounds and reaching a seven-foot wingspan. They hunt prey as large as monkeys and sloths for food. However, due to deforestation and hunting, harpy eagles are typically missing from most of Central America's rain forests, where they once freely ranged.

It's currently unclear how or why the birds managed to nest in the area. According to Rotenberg, the active nesting site is a sign that the reserve is functioning to keep wildlife safe from dangers associated with human interference. He is on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
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Harpy eagle keeps a lookout near nest

Low levels of drugs in water can hurt frogs, study shows

By the Uppsala University news staff

Frogs appear to be very sensitive to progestogens, a kind of pharmaceutical that is released into the environment. Female tadpoles that swim in water containing a specific progestogen, levonorgestrel, are subject to abnormal ovarian and oviduct development, resulting in adult sterility. This is shown by a new study conducted at Uppsala University and published in the scientific journal Aquatic Toxicology.

The research may have applications in Costa Rica where frog populations have declined precipitously.

Many of the medicines that people consume are released into the environment via sewage systems. Progestogens are hormone preparations used in contraceptives, cancer treatment and hormone replacement therapy for menopausal discomfort. Different kinds of progestogens have been identified in waterways in a number of countries.

Associate professor Cecilia Berg and doctoral student Moa Kvarnryd at the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Uppsala University in Sweden have shown that 
levonorgestrel can cause sterility in female frogs at concentrations not much higher than those measured in the environment. The research group is part of MistraPharma, one of the world's largest research networks focusing on pharmaceuticals and the environment.

“The findings represent important initial evidence that an environmental progestogen can adversely affect frogs,” says Professor Berg.

Female tadpoles that swam in water containing low concentrations of levonorgestrel exhibited a greater proportion of immature ovarian egg cells and lacked oviducts, entailing sterility, the researchers said. The African clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis) served as the model organism. It is during the tadpole stage that development of frog reproductive organs begins. The process is governed by the hormone system. The findings underscore the importance of studying how pharmaceuticals affect animals in the environment, which is one objective of MistraPharma.

“Our findings show that pharmaceuticals other than oestrogen can cause permanent damage to aquatic animals exposed during early life stages,” says Professor Berg.

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U.S. officials say dispute
escalated by Argentineans

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The State Department said Wednesday U.S. officials are surprised and concerned by an incident last week in which a U.S. military aircraft was searched and items aboard seized, in Buenos Aires.  The Air Force plane and crew were to have taken part in a training exercise with Argentine forces.

Officials here say they are puzzled as to why Argentine authorities have chosen to escalate a dispute over the contents of the U.S. Air Force plane that could have easily been resolved at the working level.

The episode began last Thursday when a U.S. C-17 transport aircraft, arriving for a training exercise, was boarded and its cargo seized by Argentine customs agents at the main Buenos Aires airport.

Argentina said items taken included undeclared weapons and drugs including morphine and that it filed a formal protest with Washington over what it said was an attempt to violate Argentine laws by bringing in hidden material in an official shipment.

The State Department reacted with surprise earlier this week, saying that the items were part of gear normally associated with a training exercise.

It said any discrepancies between the items found and those declared for customs purposes by the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires could have been resolved on the scene.

The matter has since been the subject of high-level consultations between the two governments that have not resolved the issue. State Department Spokesman P. J. Crowley said Wednesday U.S. officials are still confused over why Argentina has escalated the dispute.

"It was our view all along that, to the extent there might have been small, technical issues in how certain material was manifested, they could have easily been resolved at a working level. We do not know why Argentina decided to make a federal case out of this, but our interest is in trying to resolve this situation," he said.

The U.S. aircraft left Argentina for home after the search, and the joint hostage-rescue exercise between military personnel of the two countries was cancelled.

Crowley said the United States has nothing to apologize for and that U.S. officials continue to work as best they can to resolve the matter.

The United States and the populist government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have had generally good relations, though they have differed on some issues including a move by Argentina and other South American states late last year to recognize a Palestinian state.

Officials in Buenos Aires reportedly were displeased that Argentina is not on the itinerary for President Barack Obama’s first Latin American trip in March that will take him to Argentina’s neighbors Chile and Brazil, along with El Salvador.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Argentina on a regional trip last year.

Road ambush targets two
U.S. immigration agents

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent has been killed and another shot in the arm and leg during an attack in Mexico.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued statements saying the two were shot in the line of duty Tuesday afternoon while driving between Mexico City and the northern industrial city of Monterrey. 

Mexican officials say they stopped at what seemed to be a military checkpoint, possibly set up by drug traffickers, as the military says it had no checkpoints in that area.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a statement saying she is deeply saddened by the incident and pledging the full support of her department to the Mexican authorities who are investigating. She said the United States remains committed to Mexico's efforts to combat violence within its borders.

Attacks on U.S. law enforcement in Mexico are rare, despite increasing U.S. contributions to Mexico's fight against drug trafficking. The last high-profile attack on a U.S. officer was in 1985, when a Drug Enforcement Administration officer was captured, tortured, and killed while on assignment there.
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Zoellick warns of spike
in world price of foods

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the World Bank says a sharp rise in food prices has pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty. World Bank President Robert Zoellick is calling on the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies to put food first on its agenda.

The World Bank's latest food price index is just 3 percent below its 2008 peak. Wheat and maize prices have gone up about 75 percent since last June. According to report, wheat increased 54 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 45 percent in Bangladesh, 37 percent in Tajikistan, 33 percent in Mongolia, 31 percent in Sri Lanka, 19 percent in Afghanistan and 16 percent in both Sudan and Pakistan.

According to Zoellick, high and volatile food prices are a key challenge in the developing world, where the most vulnerable people spend more than half their income on food.

"Even before these latest price hikes, there were already more than 900 million people going hungry each day," he says. "Now, with an estimated 44 million more people living in extreme poverty, it shows this year is shaping up to be a very tough year for the chronically malnourished."

This year is not as bad as 2008, when prices hit record highs. That's because grain stocks are somewhat larger, maize harvests in Africa were good, and rice prices have not risen as much as other grains. But Zoellick says the upcoming growing season will be especially important.

"We already are in stress points in a number of markets. If this trend continues, if we don't get a relief on the weather side, then I foresee conditions getting worse. And, mistaken policy actions such as export bans and other types of price controls will just exacerbate the problem."

Last summer, Russia banned wheat exports after a major drought. Rice export bans were blamed for worsening price spikes in 2007 and 2008 that led to some food riots.

Speaking ahead of this week's G-20 finance ministers meeting in Paris, Zoellick discourages export bans and called for a global code of conduct that would at least exempt humanitarian shipments from restrictions.

He said he believes high and unstable prices are likely to be a long-term trend, in part because of the rising demand for biofuels and the growing appetite for meat in developing countries.

"What we're now seeing is a trend punctuated by some great volatility," said Zoellick, "and the poor and vulnerable have got no cushion when the prices spike."

To help offset the problem, he's calling for global action to provide better safety nets for pregnant women and young children and to improve developing-world farmers' access to better seeds, fertilizer and markets.

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