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(506) 2223-1327                    Pubilshed Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 35                Email us
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Jo Stuart

                Rica real estate

It's "The Return of the King,' Costa Rican style
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Years ago in the faraway Kingdom of Pavones, the people lived in paradise under the benevolent eye of the king, a one-time visitor from the north.

The kingdom was a closed one and favored those knights known as surfers who exercised their art in the presence of a magical wave.

The king, using alien knowledge, created jobs, and infrastructure and even a cantina. And the people were pleased.

But one day dark forces from the north captured the king while he was on a foreign mission and held him for years. The land fell under a dark cloud and those touched with greed tried to take the king's land.

Well, bad news, Those Touched with Greed. There is a report that the king is coming back.

Daniel Fowlie really is called the king of Pavones, and the fairy tale above is not too far off the mark. Fowlie was a benevolent ruler who quickly realized that the Pavones surf was among the best in the world.

Fowlie, then 41, arrived there in 1974 and began purchasing beach concessions until he had accumulated a 15-mile stretch of oceanfront. His kingdom was certainly out of a story book. The locals got jobs, and he helped teach them construction, heavy machinery operation and even gardening.

Fowlie had plenty of money when he arrived with his family. Some was inherited. The rest he made as a real estate speculator and from a leather goods business that supplied high-end department stores. He even had enough money to purchase the San José mansion of U.S. fugitive Robert Vesco of Watergate fame. That may have been why he came to the attention of U.S. anti-drug agents, perhaps with justification.

When he was detained in México in 1985, California investigators found there the evidence, an ounce of marijuana, that eventually resulted in a federal conspiracy trial. Fowlie spent 18 years in federal prison. And his land holdings began to deteriorate under pressure from locals who doubted that he would come back. He calls them sharks.

When he got out of prison, he returned in 2005 to learn the state of his holdings. Fowlie says his trip was peaceful and uneventful. La Nación quoted locals who said they feared him, and the immigration director at the time, Marco Badilla, banned him from the country based on the newspaper article.

The entry prohibition appears to have been overkill because Fowlie notes that he was accompanied by an off-duty Costa Rica police officer, and he was shadowed by two on-duty officers. A Web site constructed by friends said that the encounters where locals claimed they were threatened were taped and refute the claims.
                        Web site
Introduction to Web site devoted to Fowlie.

Of course, the worthless jungle land that only interested a surf-crazy Gringo is now one of the most valuable tracts in Costa Rica.

The land manipulations there have frequently broken into the news with a fatal shooting in 1997 and the 2011 arson fire of the legendary Bar and Restaurant La Esquina del Mar that Fowlie built.

Fowlie appears to have purchased legally all the concessions that he holds and also has been paying the municipal taxes. Still, with the state of the Costa Rican court system, his efforts to reclaim any land he says he holds will be a big payday for scores of lawyers. Hundreds of expats and Costa Ricans face similar ownership threats.

Pavones is in southwestern Costa Rica on the Pacific. And it is true that the wave there, described as being almost mechanical, is one of the best in the world for surfing.

Terry Milliken, who identified himself in an email Monday as Fowlie's godson, said he hopes Fowlie will be allowed to enter the country in a couple of weeks to press his legal claims.

Whether he reclaims his land or not, Fowlie holds a legendary history. His efforts in Pavones brought the 20th century to the area. He built airports, sports fields, medical facilities and all sorts of structures, including homes for many locals.

A friend writing nostalgically on the Internet of those days said of Fowlie:

"Aside from his flotilla of yachts and miscreant-manned fishing boats, his private aircraft, innumerable big boy toys and trinkets, personal extravagances and priceless artifacts from primitive cultures worldwide, he owned, or would soon own, a multimillion dollar farm in Riverside, California, a ranch in Baja, Mexico, plus Robert Vesco's splendiferous, heavily fortified compound in San Jose, Costa Rica; and Danny, toting a suitcaseful of gringo green, was poised to possess the one thing he did not have, but wanted most — his own private piece of paradise, a far-flung Shangri-La which he would benignly rule, and share with his entourage of spooky hipster-savant cronies and hangers-on . . . ."

There even is a documentary, "The King of Pavones," that features Fowlie. The film contains a lot of Fowlie's own footage from the time he lived there. It is by Love Machine Films, and the trailer is HERE!

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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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Mexican president visits
for regional summit session

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heads of state from countries represented in the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana will be in San José for two days, starting this afternoon with Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of México, also visiting.

Expats are likely to notice the event only by the traffic jams caused by motorcades carrying foreign officials.

The event comes at a time when the country is in three days of national mourning over the death of the president of the Corte Supreme de Justicia, Luis Paulino Mora. As a result, a concert planned to take place before a state dinner tonight in the Teatro Nacional has been canceled.

The dinner will be hosted by President Laura Chinchilla, and the Mexican leader will be honored with a decoration by the Costa Rican government. With him is expected to be his wife, Angélica Rivera de la Peña.

The Hotel Real Intercontinental will be the site for the gathering of Central American heads of state. Ms. Chinchilla will open the event with a welcome at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.  Enrique Castillo, the Costa Rica foreign minister, is expected to outline the results of a negotiation with México.

Wednesday afternoon, the Mexican president and his wife go to the Museo Nacional where he will meet with Johnny Araya, the mayor of San José and be given the symbolic keys to the city.

Peñas Nieto and his wife are scheduled to leave Wednesday evening from Juan Santamaría. airport.

Three British firms seek
green buyers in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three British firms are seeking business here with environmentally friendly products.

The visit is sponsored jointly by the British Embassy and the  Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Telecomunicaciones.

Energy SSP offers efficient led lighting products.  Biwater is a firm that specializes in the handling and treatment of waste waters and desalinization equipment.  Practical Energy Solutions produces processors for biodiesel.

Another gas tank victim
dies from Jan. 21 incident

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The owner of a small eating place or soda has died, the victim of an explosion that destroyed her business Jan. 21.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the death took place at Hospital San Juan de Dios where the woman, identified by the last name of Castillo, was being treated. Three other persons have died from the blast, blamed on a leaking liquid petroleum gas tank.

All were at the business in Barrio el Carmen en Alajuela. The explosion has raised public awareness of the hazards of the tanks, particularly when they are rusted or damaged. It also resulted in an investigation of the supplier of the tanks and also of the firms that produce the gas.

Those strong winds likely
to be moderate today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Moderate winds are predicted for the Central Valley and the north Pacific today in contrast with the 100-kph winds that swept the area Monday.

The winds were so strong that the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued a special bulletin at 10 a.m.

The weather today might include rain in the northern zone and the Caribbean, said the weather agency. The same is true for the central and south Pacific with possible evening showers.

In the Central Valley the reduction in wind will mean an increase in the temperature, said the institute.

The weather institute said that the 100-kph (62-mph) winds were clocked in the Guanacaste mountains. Elsewhere 60- to 70-kph winds were the norm. That's 37 to 43 mph. The winds were blamed on a cold front that was passing over Central America and the Caribbean.

The weather agency urged precautions.

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

Costa Rican news summarie are disabled
on archived pages.

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From A.M. Costa Rica

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                Rey Hotel

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 35
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Loud noise is now OK until 10 p.m., government decree says
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Persons plagued by loud sounds from national events near their homes will now have to wait until 10 p.m. to get relief.

The noise control rules have been amended to include a clause that says cultural, musical and sporting events in public places are allowed to happen at the accepted daytime sound level until 10 p.m.  This change was printed in a decree published in La Gaceta a week ago.

Before this, public events by the law had to be finished by 8 p.m. and any loud night concert or activity put on after this time was a violation.

This included the Lady Gaga concert, which occurred last November at the Estado Nacional.  The show was the biggest performance Costa Rica has had to date.  However, it didn't begin until 8 p.m.
Carlos Mendez, who attended the concert, said the noise was so loud he could hear it at his home in the La Sabana area before he left. This is common for events held at the stadium, he said.

According to the decree, the noise is justified.  The government is obligated to promote and maintain conditions that fill the population's vital needs. This includes the fundamental pillar of recreation, described as all activities that are developed for the purpose of relaxation and entertainment.

Recreational activities of cultural, sporting and musical nature are a basic pillar of the mental health, and it is important to promote these activities in sites such as public squares, parks and stadiums, the gazette decree concluded. The original measure, Reglamento para el control de contaminación por ruido, was published in 2000.

The stadium also is the site for professional soccer games, which are more or less sacred in Costa Rica. In addition to noise, residents have complained about massive traffic jams.

High honors
for jurist

Honor guard carries the casket containing Luis Paulino Mora down the Corte Suprema de Justicia steps. The court president died Sunday night, and the funeral Monday was held at the Catedral Metropolitana with almost all the high officials of the country in attendance. Flags will fly at half staff for two more days.  The court president worked his way to the top in the Poder Judicial after starting in 1969 as a trial judge in Limón.
Paulino Mora funeral
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson

Defamation case points out perils in daily journalism here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local lawyer is seeking a $2 million judgment against the newspaper Al Día because a news story headline called him a fake attorney.

The news story by Nicholas Aguilar was in the Spanish-language daily Oct. 16, 2011. In addition, the lawyer,  Arcelio Hernandez Muso, says that La Nación acted in bad faith when it published a story about his preventative detention and noted that he was the holder of 340 corporations. That was Oct. 13, 2011.

Although that was not his plan, Hernández illuminates one of the weaknesses in Costa Rican journalism. Police and prosecutors seldom provide full names for those arrested.

The initial claim against Al Día relates to a Sept. 28, 2011, news story. Reporter Nicholas Aguilar said that a prosecutor in Heredia was seeking a man identified only by the last name of Hernández. "Yesterday however, it was not possible to confirm if Hernández has a professional degree," said the reporter. But the headline writer said a fake lawyer was sought for a multi-million colon fraud.

In his civil legal filing, Hernández said that the reporter should have checked various sources, including the online list of practicing lawyers maintained by the Colegio de Abogados. Of course, with only the last name of Hernández, that would not have been possible. The prosecutor appears to have provided a photo that clearly shows Arcelio Hernández.

Al Día, which has been converted recently into a sports publication, and La Nación are owned by the same firm and shared at the time the work of reporters.

Costa Rica Report, a title owned by the parent corporation of A.M. Costa Rica, also printed a summary of the Al Día article that day. But editors quickly updated the summary with a note saying that Hernández was well known to them and that he was, indeed, a real lawyer.

In his filing, Hernández said that the Al Día management has refused to publish a correction and that the story with the incorrect headline continues to be available on the Internet. In a Oct. 16 news story, the newspaper did identify him as a lawyer as it reported that he was remanded for preventative detention. But no mention was made of the earlier error.

At the time Hernández was being investigated by prosecutors in relation to some $638,000 that had been given him by foreign investors to buy a hotel.

The lawyer's claim against La Nación said that reporter Ronald Moya Chacón wrote that he was the owner of 340 
This is the Al Día article that said Hernández was a false

corporations as if that were some sort of crime. Moya also noted that Hernández had represented a U.S. woman who was
being sought to face tax charges in the United States. Neither of those facts are criminal, and neither was related to the news story, Hernández said.

The thrust of the Oct. 13, 2011, La Nación new story also was that he was being given preventative detention. The lawyer also takes issue with a posted reader comment that labels him a scammer, estafador in Spanish.

The allegation points out the danger to newspapers that accept unedited reader comments. In the past Hernández attributed the news stories to persecution by a prosecutor. He eventually was released from preventative detention on constitutional grounds.

Hernández is seeking $1 million for moral damages and $1 million for actual damages.

Defamation and slander also are felonies here, and editors and reporters continually face the possibility of such a charge being filed, even as a private action.

Del Rey Hotel

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 35
Real Estate
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Agents probe mystery death
in presence of police officers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a cryptic report Monday, judicial agents said they are investigating the case of a man who suffered four bullet wounds and died at a police checkpoint in Limón.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the dead man by the last name of Taylor and said the death took place about 10:30 a.m. The man was 24.

Agents said that four Fuerza Pública officers were present at the checkpoint. There were three men and a woman. Their firearms were confiscated for lab testing, said agents. However, the possibility exists that the man was shot before he reached the check point.

There was no explanation of what might have happened, and there was no report from the security ministry for which the police officers work.

Special movie effects earn
a separate Oscar ceremony

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Special effects and other cinema technology are becoming more important in helping movie-makers tell their stories.  Hollywood's motion picture academy, which will present the Oscars Sunday has already honored the engineers and scientists behind the industry's changing technology. 

The Oscars are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which emphasizes each year that filmmaking is both an art and a science.

The Academy's Scientific and Technical - or Sci-Tech - awards, are presented a few weeks before the Oscars.  This year, they were given out Feb. 9. The British company Cooke Optics, which has been making cinema lenses since the early days of movies, received the Academy's highest honor, an Oscar.

Longtime special effects creator Bill Taylor received a medal of commendation for his service to the motion picture academy. Taylor has worked on visual effects in films that include Jim Carrey's fantasy "Bruce Almighty" and Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of the psychological thriller "Cape Fear."

"And 'Cape Fear' was full of visual effects. And because Martin Scorsese is a great student, he understood how every visual effects shot on every movie ever made was done, basically, so he really fell into it," said Taylor. "And one of the greatest achievements in the history of visual effects was his 'Hugo,' which was just last year.”

Scorsese's fantasy-adventure "Hugo" won five Oscars, including one for its visual effects team.

Ross Shain of Imagineer Systems was part of a group honored at this year's Sci-Tech awards for software that helps filmmakers create elaborate effects in post-production.  He said the company's system, called Mocha, has been used in many films, including "Black Swan," a thriller about a ballet dancer, played by Natalie Portman.

"Throughout the film she sort of evolves into a climactic scene where she becomes a swan. And feathers and different visual effects are applied to her body," he said. "And the artists basically have to motion-track the movements of the actress to apply effects to it.”

Richard Edlund, who chairs the Academy Sci-Tech Awards committee, has won four Oscars over the years, including for "Star Wars."

He said special effects are an important part of films of all genres, not just science fiction.

"The technologists in my opinion are just as creative as the actors and the directors on the other side of the camera because they’re the ones that produce the technology that enables the artist to create and to transmit artistic ideas to the audience,” said Edlund.

He said there are many challenges in making a great movie, and one of the biggest challenges for the 1977 blockbuster was not technical. It was finding an actor who could deliver lines and make them believable.

He said the casting of Alec Guinness as Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi was one reason the Star Wars series was successful.  John Williams's dramatic music was another. Last but not least, he said creative effects helped director George Lucas create a classic.

Edlund said that collaboration between art and technology remains just as important today.

U.S. firm links Chinese army
to long-running cyber attacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S.-based Internet security group is accusing the Chinese government of direct involvement in a sophisticated campaign of cyber attacks against American businesses, government and critical infrastructure.

A 60-page report released Tuesday by Mandiant details dozens of attacks by a prolific, China-based hacker group it says is using direct government support to wage a long-running and extensive cyber espionage campaign.

Mandiant says the group, referred to as APT1, has stolen massive amounts of data from nearly 150 organizations, mostly located in the U.S., over the past seven years.

It says it has traced the activities of the group to a Shanghai neighborhood surrounding the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army's secretive unit 61398, which Internet security experts previously linked to cyber attacks.

China has not responded to the report. But in the past, it has denied such activity, saying it is also a victim of cyber attacks.
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Santo Domingo de Heredia, gated community
Fully furnished, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, cable, internet, hot water tank. 300 meters from Mas x Menos supermarket. 700 meters from farmers' market. Bus stop at gate. $600 all utilities paid. Available Jan. 1.

Villas Casa Loma has everything you are looking for.  Best vistas, climate, value.  Four unique homes in a secure private compound on a ridge near Alajuela overlooking the entire Central Valley.  Two are available fully furnished and equipped, each a complete home accommodating 4 persons in two bedrooms with ensuite baths.  Pool, rancho, mirador, other features.  Ask about part-month rates.  Call Gerry at (506) 2441-8796 or e-mail at  See virtual tour of accommodations HERE!
Get to know the real Costa Rica – you may want to live here someday.


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A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 35
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Leaked White house draft
on immigration irks GOP

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Harsh words in Washington are revealing the tough political challenge when it comes to reforming America’s immigration system. A leaked Obama administration draft bill may have disrupted delicate, closed-door negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers attempting to craft comprehensive bipartisan legislation.

What will become of more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States?  An administration proposal leaked to a U.S. newspaper would establish a path to permanent legal residency — a gateway to eventual citizenship.

But Republican lawmakers are angry over the disclosure, accusing President Barack Obama of preempting bipartisan efforts.

“By giving advantage to those who cut in front of the line for immigrants who come here legally, not dealing with border security adequately, that tells me he is looking for partisan advantage,” said Rep. Paul Ryan.

“Does the president want a result?  Or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans?,” said Sen. John McCain.

In fact, Obama had already put Capitol Hill on notice.

“If Congress cannot come up with a plan in a timely fashion, I will send up mine,” Obama said.

As lawmakers’ tempers flared, White House officials scrambled to respond.

“I hope that Republicans and Democrats up there do not get involved in some kind of typical Washington back-and-forth sideshow here and rather just roll up their sleeves and get to work,” said the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

Reform proponents say America has a rare opportunity to act. “For the first time ever, there is more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat.

But opponents fear reform efforts will encourage more illegal immigration.  Jim Gilchrist founded a citizens’ group that patrols America’s border with Mexico.

"If we are going to grant amnesty to 15- to 30-million people who are here illegally now, we are going to be granting amnesty to 300 million who will follow them over the next several decades," he said.

Yet analysts see an emerging consensus in Washington on immigration reform. 

“There is agreement on the need for more border security.  There is agreement on the need for mandatory employment verification.  There is agreement on doing something with unauthorized immigrants and allowing them some level of legal status,” said Michelle Mittelstadt of the Migration Policy Institute.

But friction over the White House draft bill shows that change is far from assured.

Obama has advocated immigration reform since taking office.  Republicans have warmed to the initiative since last year’s presidential contest, which Obama won with strong support from Hispanic and Asian voters.

China joins a crackdown
on international poachers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international crackdown on wildlife crimes involving countries in Asia, Africa and the United States is claiming a significant victory. Chinese authorities say they took the lead in a broad effort to curb wildlife poaching.
A cross border crackdown on wildlife crimes has resulted in hundreds of arrests and seizures of banned wildlife specimens, marking the first international effort led by China to reduce illicit trade in endangered species.
Between Jan. 6 and Feb. 5, the United States and countries in Africa and Asia cooperated in the operation code-named COBRA that specifically tried to dismantle wildlife crime syndicates.
Steven Galster is director of the Bangkok-based Freeland Foundation, an anti-trafficking organization that supported operation Cobra with research and information on wildlife crime it had collected over several years.

“China came out and actually was the government that proposed a joint operation,” he noted.
During the operation officials seized some 6,500 kilograms of elephant ivory, 2,600 live snakes, 22 rhino horns, and 1,500 kilograms of shatoosh, made from the down hair of an estimated 10,000 Tibetan antelopes.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei spoke about the success of the operation in a briefing with reporters Monday.
He said the Chinese government is paying great attention to the protection of wildlife, including elephants.  Hong Lei said while some people turn a blind eye to China’s efforts, the operation yielded significant results.  
Demand from China has resulted in a huge increase in illegal wildlife poaching of endangered species in Africa.  In 2011 an estimated 44 tons of illegal ivory was seized world wide, representing the deaths of thousands of elephants.  Earlier this month the country of Gabon announced that poachers had killed 11,000 elephants there since 2004. Similarly, African wild rhinos used to number in the hundreds of thousands; there are less than 30,000 alive today.
Asian and African governments have been making efforts to link police, customs and wildlife officers from around the world to better combat smuggling and poaching networks. The latest operation involved law enforcement personnel from Africa’s Lusaka Agreement Task Force, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and China.
While Operation Cobra targeted poachers, Steven Galster says China’s government is also trying to reduce demand from Chinese buyers.

“They’re targeting folks that are going overseas, naturally those that are going to go work in Africa,” he said.
The illegal wildlife trade totals $8 billion to $10 billion annually, drawing poachers and smugglers to profit from the killing of endangered species.  With Chinese investment and trade with Africa soaring, sustaining the impact of Operation Cobra will be the next challenge for Asian and African nations.

Chávez returns home at last,
but there still are questions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has returned home from Cuba after more than two months of medical treatment for cancer. 

The president's return to Caracas was announced in messages early Monday on Twitter.  The messages thanked God and the nation and said treatment will continue in Venezuela. 

Supporters of the 58-year-old leader celebrated the news.

Chávez underwent a six-hour surgical procedure in December in Havana, his fourth such surgery since he was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011. 

In January, Vice President Nicolas Maduro described the president's condition as delicate.

The latest cancer recurrence was discovered in October, following the socialist leader's overwhelming re-election.  At the time, Chávez named Maduro as his successor if he was unable to resume his duties.

President Chávez was scheduled to be sworn in to a new six-year term Jan. 10, but upon learning he could not leave Cuba for the ceremonies, the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled the president could delay his inauguration indefinitely, a move the opposition strongly criticized.

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This is the stash of cash.

Carrying cash considered
to be suspicious activity

By the A.M. Cost Rica staff

Expats better not carry quantities of cash when they travel.

Officers of the Unidad de Intervención Policial stopped southbound a vehicle Sunday on the coastal highway near Limón and found a man in possession of a bag containing $20,300.  They detained him and two companions, said the security ministry.

Police assume that the cash comes from a tainted source.

Correa gets wide margin
in his re-election effort

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador's leftist president, Rafael Correa, swept to re-election victory Sunday, winning a third term by a wide margin.

Correa won 57 percent of the vote compared with 24 percent for his closest challenger, former banker Guillermo Lasso, with just over one-third of the ballots counted. The electoral authority said it did not expect the results to change significantly.

Lasso conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced. Former president Lucio Gutiérrez won 5.9 percent. The rest of the vote was divided among five other candidates.

The 48-year-old Correa hugged jubilant supporters at the presidential palace less than an hour after polls closed Sunday.

He was first elected in 2006, and has raised living standards for the lower classes and widened their social safety net with region-leading social spending. But the socialist leader has been criticized as a bully who is intolerant of dissent.

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Seventh Newspage

San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 35
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Zoological Society of London /Michele Menegon
A bush viper (Atheris ceratophora) dines on a frog.

Reptiles in danger, massive study says

By the Zoological Society of London news service

Nineteen percent of the world’s reptiles are estimated to be threatened with extinction, said a paper published Friday by the Zoological Society of London in conjunction with experts from the International for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission

The study, printed in the journal of Biological Conservation, is the first of its kind summarizing the global conservation status of reptiles. More than 200 world renowned experts assessed the extinction risk of 1,500 randomly selected reptiles from across the globe.

Out of the estimated 19 percent of reptiles threatened with extinction, 12 percent are classified as critically endangered, 41 percent endangered and 47 percent listed as vulnerable.

Three critically endangered species were also highlighted as possibly extinct. One of these, a jungle runner lizard, Ameiva vittata, has only been recorded in one part of Bolivia. Levels of threat remain particularly high in tropical regions, mainly as a result of habitat conversion for agriculture and logging. With the lizard’s habitat virtually destroyed, two recent searches for the species have been unsuccessful.

Monika Böhm, lead author on the paper, said “Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world.

“However, many species are very highly specialized in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes,” Ms. Böhm added.

Extinction risk is not evenly spread throughout this highly diverse group: Freshwater turtles are at particularly high risk, mirroring greater levels of threat in freshwater biodiversity around the world. Overall, this study estimated 30 percent of freshwater reptiles to be close to extinction, which rises to 50 percent when considering freshwater turtles alone, as they are also affected by national and international trade.

Although threat remains lower in terrestrial reptiles, the often restricted ranges, specific biological and environmental requirements, and low mobility make them particularly susceptible to human pressures, said the paper. In Haiti, six of the nine species of Anolis lizard included in this study have an elevated risk of extinction, due to extensive deforestation affecting the country, it added.

Collectively referred to as reptiles, snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians (also known as worm lizards), crocodiles, and tuataras have had a long and complex evolutionary history, having first appeared on the planet around 300 million years ago. They play a number of vital roles in the proper functioning of the world’s ecosystems, as predator as well as prey, said researchers.

The head of the zoological society's Indicators and Assessment Unit, Ben Collen said: “Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world. These findings provide a shortcut to allow important conservation decisions to be made as soon as possible and firmly place reptiles on the conservation map,”

“This is a very important step towards assessing the conservation status of reptiles globally,” said Philip Bowles, coordinator of the Snake and Lizard Red List Authority of the Species Survival Commission. ”The findings sound alarm bells about the state of these species and the growing threats that they face globally. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles.”

The current study provides an indicator to assess conservation success, tracking trends in extinction risk over time and humanity’s performance with regard to global biodiversity targets.

Rude blog posts can influence beliefs

By the University of Wisconsin-Madison news service

The trolls are winning.

Pick a story about some aspect of science, any story, scroll down to the posted comments and let the bashing begin:

    * "Wonder how much taxpayer cash went into this 'deep' study?"

    * "I think you can take all these studies by pointy headed scientists, 99 percent of whom are socialists and Communists, and stick them where the sun don't shine."

    * "Yawn. Climate change myth wackos at it again."

    * "This article is 100 percent propaganda crapola."

    * "Speaking of dolts, if you were around in the 70s, when they also had scientists, the big talk then was about the coming ice age. And don't give me any of that carbon emission bull@!$%#."

Such nasty back-and-forth, like it or not, is now a staple of our news diet, and in the realm of online science news, the diatribes, screeds and rants are taking a toll on the public perception of science and technology, according to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Addressing scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,  science communication researcher Dominique Brossard reported the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales. She is with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, now in press at the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, was supported by the National Science Foundation. It sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 Americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated. For example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one's predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.

"It seems we don't really have a clear social norm about what is expected online," says Ms. Brossard, a professor of life science communication, contrasting online forums with public meetings where prescribed decorum helps keep discussion civil. "In the case of blog postings, it's the Wild West."

For rapidly developing nanotechnology, a technology already built into more than 1,300 consumer products, exposure to uncivil online comments is one of several variables that can directly influence the perception of risk associated with it.

"When people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment," explains Ashley Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and the lead author of the upcoming study in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.

Highly religious readers, the study revealed, were more likely to see nanotechnology as risky when exposed to rude comments compared to less religious readers, Ms. Brossard notes.

"Blogs have been a part of the new media landscape for quite some time now, but our study is the first to look at the potential effects blog comments have on public perceptions of science," says Brossard.

While the tone of blog comments can have an impact, simple disagreement in posts can also sway perception: "Overt disagreement adds another layer. It influences the conversation," she explains.

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