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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 41                            Email us
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This was the scene from San Pedro at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Planets, moon give
interesting sky show

An astronomical education is not needed to find Venus in the night sky. After the moon, the planet is the brightest object, followed closely by Jupiter, the largest planet.

This weekend was an interesting time in the skies. Jupiter has approached Venus at least from an earthly perspective. And then the crescent moon showed up.

The sight was visible all over the world, but clear skies in the Central Valley gave residents there the view.

Venus, of course, can be the evening or morning star, depending on its position in its orbit around the sun. Directly below the planet, Mercury can be seen early in the evening.

The moon will not always be in the picture, but Venus and Jupiter will appear to approach each other over the next few weeks.

Venus was held in high regard by the Mayans and most likely by their country cousins who inhabited Costa Rica before the arrival of the Spanish.

Homeland Security chief visits as drug resolve softens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Obama administration is sending the secretary of Homeland Security to Latin America to confront the diminishing official resolve to continue the war on drugs.

She is Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor, who will visit México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panamá starting today, said a release from the U.S. Embassy here.

The visit comes at a time when presidents of Central American states are discussing the possible impact of decriminalizing drugs. Costa Rica has effectively decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use because the nation's chief prosecutor has said his office will not prosecute these cases.

With Ms. Napolitano will be other security officials.

Among those suggesting an end to the U.S. war on drugs is Vicente Fox, the former Mexican president, who left office in 2006. That was when the bloodshed was beginning in México. His successor, Felipe Calderón ordered the army to crack down, and the result is more than 12,000 deaths.

Some Latin leaders have been characterizing the war on drugs as a failed policy for three or four years.

The embassy release did not mention the changing attitude in Central America. It said that Ms. Napolitano and her associates would discuss increased trade and travel and an exchange of information

Otto Pérez, the new president of Guatemala suggested earlier this month that Central American countries should debate the decriminalization of drugs with the goal of reducing violence and the
income to trafficking cartels. He is a former general and generally regarded as a law-and-order hardliner. His country, too, has been ravaged by drug-related violence. Some sections are outside the control of the central government.

Pérez voiced that idea in a meeting with Mauricio Funes, the president of El Salvador.

President Laura Chinchilla said last week that she would be meeting with Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala's vice president, to discuss decriminalization. The Guatemalan official will be visiting Costa Rica.
Ms. Napolitano will be visiting Ms. Chinchilla Tuesday.

The U.S. government has invested substantial funds in Costa Rica to stem drug trafficking. Among the investments have been facilities at Peñas Blancas to inspect trucks headed north and the construction of a checkpoint facility in southern Costa Rica on the Interamericana highway. There also are the continued presence of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships off both coasts seeking smugglers.

Despite the efforts, some estimates are that 80 percent of the drugs get through Central America and México and enter the United States, one of the principal markets.

Decriminalization does not necessarily mean legalizing drugs. There have been a number of concepts advanced, although some U.S. and Latin leaders believe that legal drugs would represent a big increase in sales tax income.

Ron Paul, a U.S. congressman who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has said the best way to fight violent drug cartels would be to pull the rug out from under their profits by bringing these transactions out into the sunlight.

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Haseltine's title pretty well sums up the video.

Embattled expat landowner
takes to YouTube to air case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expat investor Sheldon Haseltine has taken to YouTube to air in public his 14-year battle to keep his Pacific coast property.

Haseltine and his lawyer Horacio Mejias Portuquez, face another criminal hearing March 27 in Puntarenas on the allegation that they forged documents. A judge threw out the charge in an earlier hearing, and the public prosecutor agreed, But an appeals court annulled that decision and ordered that the case be heard again.

The fraud allegation, which Haseltine says is groundless, is the latest in continual legal battles. The case began when squatters took over property he owns near Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast. These possession rights were sold to well-known Costa Ricans.

“Can you imagine that the law intended to help poor, poor peasants is being used by rich millionaires to rip off landowners.” Haseltine says at the start of his seven-minute, 14-second video. The video has already had 1,830 views, according to YouTube.

Haseltine said that he avoided legal complications in the video by taking much of his information from the Spanish-language newspapers.

His strategy is an unusual one that is likely to anger some judges and certainly the individuals named in the video.

Haseltine already has been convicted of assaulting with a weapon in a case he said where the judge would not allow contradictory testimony by witnesses to be presented.

The video already has been generating comments from expats and some English-speaking Costa Ricans. One suggested that the video be translated into Spanish.

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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Peñas Blancas on the Costa Rican side of the border is caught at an unusually quiet time with no lines.

Border crossing
A.M. Costa Rica/Shahrazad Encinias Vela

Peñas Blancas is a relatively easy location to cross the border
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Whatever the reason, a vacation to Granada, a visa renewal or job-related journey, the land border crossing at Peñas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica remains a popular and relatively painless choice for travelers looking to go back and forth between the two neighboring countries.

Although one can use a car and drive the crossing, another choice is to take one of the many bus lines that offer travel from San José to Managua. TicaBus, TransNica, and King Quality are three of the major firms providing bus service from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. Round-trip prices range from around $50 for standard accommodations to $90 or more for a seat on an executive bus that often provides food and can have a slightly faster time

In Costa Rica most of the stations are found in downtown San José. Passengers can get off at almost any point along the route, but the most popular destinations in Nicaragua are just a little after the border where one can catch another bus to San Juan del Sur, in Granada or the end of the line in Managua.

There is usually no price reduction for getting off before the end of the line.

Most of the major lines are very similar to long-distance passenger buses in the United States with comfortable seats, window curtains, foot rests and ample luggage storage. Typically, movies are shown during the bus trip, and air conditioning keeps the cabin cool. The bus amenities are known to malfunction, so travelers must pray that the failure is in the television instead of the air conditioner while traveling through the daytime heat heading toward the border.

Departure times vary for the different buses. The trip to Managua from San José lasts about 8 to 10 hours. The border crossing at Peñas Blancas is the biggest variable when it comes to travel time. But if all goes well, the process is simple. A stop made at a restaurant along the way is typical but delays travel time a bit.

The exact border crossing process may vary for each line but this is how it is done for TransNica passengers:

Upon arrival at the Costa Rican side of the border passengers leave the bus and wait in what can be a long line to receive a passport exit stamp. Then the traveler re-boards the bus, and the bus driver’s assistant collects passports along with a fee (about $13 to enter Nicaragua and $6 to leave). When the bus arrives at the Nicaraguan border, an immigration official reviews them and stamps the passports with entry stamps. Meanwhile, passengers step off the bus, and officials look over and sometimes inspect luggage.

Then passports are returned to the passengers, and the bus continues toward its destination. Travelers who are U.S. citizens as well as Costa Ricans receive 90 days on a tourist visa. There is no charge on the Costa Rican side to enter or leave by land.

The process is done in reverse for re-entering Costa Rica. The passports are collected in bulk on the Nicaraguan side along with the fee while the passengers mingle. While on the Costa Rican side travelers must wait in line and present their passports in person. Also officers at a Fuerza Pública checkpoint a little past the border stop and review all the passports of the passengers who just entered the country.

Also important is to find the proper times and locations to catch the return bus from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. The stations in Granada are not large like those in the capital cities, and the times can vary based on the traffic en route from the main stations. Passengers should arrive early and make sure to know where the bus will pick them up.

Perpetual tourists sometimes make the trip four times a year.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Forbidden fruit at the border

Travelers have to consume
farm products at border

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At the Nicaragua border with Costa Rica, if traveling by bus, the bus driver gives a quick announcement that certain foods aren't allowed across the border. So he recommends to either eat what a passenger may have or just throw it out. The products not allowed across border lines aren't just the basic drugs, but also oranges, tangerines, meat, cheese and any other product that has some sort of organic nature.

That is why a reporter who was about to cross into Costa Rica had to take care of tangerines. Fortunately another traveler was willing to eat half a bag of the fruit.

The reason for tight measures is to avoid disease and to protect Costa Rican agriculture, said Nelson Morera, the chief of the  Departamento de Control de Fitosanitario. He works at the vegetable crops department of the the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia.

The United States has similar rules, as most travelers know.

But this is only the rule for personal non-commercial importation, said Morera. Companies that actually import have to follow a set of guidelines for those types of products to enter Costa Rica. There is a document called Certificado Fitosanitario, which is the approximate equivalent to a passport for the product being shipped, said Morera. There are labs at borders for commercial purposes.

The certificate is available on the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia Web site. An approval process requires testing to show the material is disease-free.

The top problems officials tried to spot in 2012 are locusts, bacteriosis acidovorax avenae (a disease agent that attacks watermelon), white flies, aphids and field rats, according to the ministry Web site. These harm Costa Rican coconuts, pineapple, sugar cane, cantaloupe, watermelon and rice.

These are foreigners who live here but who have declined to seek residency. A big danger for them is to receive something less than a 90-day Costa Rican visa upon reentering the country. They also are supposed to show an air or bus ticket proving that they will be leaving the country at the expiration of their visa.

Immigration officials have been tightening up access to the country, and one U.S. visitor received just a 13-day visa on a recent trip.

Those who are making the border crossing for the first time frequently can get advice and help from expats who have made the crossing frequently. Each bus usually has a large number of perpetual tourists.

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Precautions urged for those visiting Volcán Rincón de la Vieja
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When volcano experts checked the data from sensing equipment at Volcán Ricón de la Vieja they found two unreported small eruptions. One took place Feb. 19, and one took place Feb. 20.

That is in addition to the presumed eruption early Thursday that residents reported.

The volcano is in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja about 25 kilometers or about 15.5 miles northeast of Liberia in Guanacaste. The area is sparely populated.

As a result of an inspection Thursday the national emergency commission is urging park officials to restrict tourist access to the upper part of the mountain and adopt more security measures.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias noted that Rincón de la Vieja is one of five active volcanoes in the country. Last October, after a larger eruption that dumped ash into a local river, the commission
seismic readout
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico graphic
This is the seismic record readout of the eruption at the volcano Feb. 19 at 16 minutes after midnight.

increased surveillance of the mountain and urged park rangers to get better radios. The volcano has been producing small eruptions for 40 years.

Scientists from the Red Sismológica Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica conducted the survey of the volcano Thursday.

The commission also suggested that those persons living near the volcano should take precautionary measures.

Country will face a couple of windy days due to high pressure
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Strong winds of up to 80 kph (about 50 mph) will continue to sweep the country through the middle of the week, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The weather institute said that an increase in pressure in the Gulf of Mexico was the reason. The country was entering into a new windy period, it said. The strongest winds will be in the
northern part of the country and in mountain passes, the institute said. The strong winds began Saturday, and the institute issued a bulletin to urge residents to take steps to avoid wind damage.

The influx of dry air also is expected to reduce the chances of showers on the Caribbean coast.

Guanacaste also is subject to strong winds, and some residents there have lot roofs during similar episodes in past years. 

Nighttime traffic sweeps uncover 96 separate violations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic police were out in force Friday and Saturday between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. They found 96 violations, including five motorists suspected of being under the influence of alcohol.

Four bandits stab tourist

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men forced their way into a home in Playa Grande de Santa Cruz and stabbed a U.S. tourist they found there. The four men were trying to rob the 35-year-old visitor, said the  Policía Turística.

The owner of the home gave the alarm, and tourist police were able to locate two suspects walking on the beach and two more about a kilometer away on a motorcycle, they said.

The tourist was hospitalized in Nicoya.

Police said that one of the suspects had just been released from prison.
Checkpoints were set up in Pavas, Desamparados, Escazú and Hatillo in the metro area and in Naranjo, Esparza, Liberia, Pérez Zeledón and Guápiles.

One of the goals was to prevent drag races in the Pavas area.

Officers of the Policía de Tránsito said they found 20 drivers who did not have licenses, 10 who had expired licenses and four who were not carrying a license.

Luis Diego Herrera, the director general of Tránsito, said the checkpoints would continue,mainly on weekends after paydays and where drag races are reported.

Traffic officers are awaiting approval of a revised traffic law by the legislature. A vote may come this week.

The Policía de Tránsito also participated with other law enforcement agencies Friday night and Saturday in Upala Centro. The sweep was directed at problem areas. Also involved were the Policía de Fronteras, the immigration police, the Judicial Investigating Organization, agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad as well as environmental agents. They arrested 15 persons for various crimes and warrants.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chávez arrives in Cuba
for new cancer operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, 57, has arrived in Cuba where he will undergo surgery for removal of what he says is likely a cancerous tumor.

Chávez had surgery and chemotherapy last year in Cuba to remove a cancerous growth from his pelvic region.  Chávez later said he was cancer-free.

Cuba and Venezuela are staunch allies, and President Chávez enjoys a warm relationship with the former and current Cuban leaders, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl.

Chávez will be governing Venezuela from Cuba.  He did not delegate authority to Vice President Elias Jaua, although he said he was going to do so.

President Chávez has ruled Venezuela for 13 years and is hoping to be re-elected for another six-year term in October.  His opponent will be Henrique Capriles, 39, who was chosen as the sole opposition candidate in a primary earlier this month.

Prime minister in Haiti
decides to leave office

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Haitian government official says Prime Minister Garry Conille has resigned, just months after taking office.

A spokesman for President Michel Martelly, Lucien Jurat, said Friday that the presidency has received the resignation letter. No successor has been announced.

Conille was President Martelly's third nominee for the position. The president's two previous picks for the post failed to win support from lawmakers.

Conille is a physician by trade and previously served as an aide to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in his role as U.N. envoy to Haiti.

The former prime minister was in Washington earlier this month to discuss the massive task of reconstruction in Haiti, following the deadly January 2010 earthquake that left parts of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins.

He was sworn into office in October.

Universe may be populated
by free-roaming planets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Astronomers say the Milky Way may be swarming with nomad planets wandering through space instead of orbiting a host star, and that the galaxy may have a greater number of unmoored planets than stars.

Last year, astronomers detected about a dozen nomad planets wandering about the galaxy, using a technique called gravitational microlensing in which the light of stars is momentarily refocused, and brightened by the gravity of passing planets.

At that time, scientists estimated there could be two Jupiter-sized nomad planets for every typical star with orbiting planets in the Milky Way.  Jupiter, a gas giant, is the largest planet in the solar system.

A new analysis by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University in California now estimates there could be 100,000 times more homeless planets than stars.

Louis Strigari, a research scientist at Kavli, led the study that calculated the gravitational pull of the Milky Way galaxy and the amount of cosmic matter, or material, available to form nomad planets.

"We imagined that the population of a dozen or so Jupiter-mass wandering or nomadic objects is just the tip of the iceberg relative to what’s really out there in terms of our galaxy," said Strigari.  "So, if one makes assumptions about how many there are below the mass below Jupiter, then one can obtain a bound on how many of these actually exist.

While they might seem to be unlikely candidates for life, Strigari says it is possible some of these wandering planets could harbor forms of bacterial life, even if they do not enjoy the heat of a sun.

“If the object has a thick enough atmosphere and say there’s tectonic activity or radioactivity going on, on the surface of the planet, the heat could get trapped by the thick atmosphere and could potentially be hospitable to microbial life,” said the research scientist.

Strigari also says there is a slight chance that two nomad planets could collide, flinging bacterial debris into other solar systems.

Astronomers hope to confirm the number of wandering planets in the next decade, when a newer generation of larger, more powerful telescopes - including the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope and the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope proposed by the U.S. space agency (NASA) - begins operating.

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Latin America news
Black-and-white film wins
top award as best picture

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The black-and-white film “The Artist” was the big winner at Sunday's 84th Annual Academy Awards -- the Oscars -- capturing best picture and major awards for its director and lead actor.

Frenchman Jean Dujardin won the Oscar for best actor for his role in the film about a struggling silent-era movie star, while Michel Hazanavicius was honored as best director.

Meryl Streep won her third Oscar, taking the award for best actress for her portrayal of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

Christopher Plummer made history by becoming the oldest actor to win an Oscar.  The 82-year-old won the best supporting actor award for his role in “Beginners” as an elderly widower who embraces his homosexuality.

Octavia Spencer received a standing ovation when she won the award for best supporting actress for her role in “The Help.” She was one of two actresses nominated in the category from the film, which tells the story of African American maids in the racially segregated southern United States of the 1960s.

Another big winner was “Hugo,” a visually rich 3D tribute to a French film pioneer.  It won five awards, including cinematography, art direction and sound editing. “Hugo,” which features British actor Sacha Baron Cohen, was one of nine movies nominated for best picture.  Baron Cohen showed up at the Oscar ceremony dressed as his character Admiral General Aladeen, a Middle Eastern dictator. The politically incorrect satirist was promoting his his new movie “The Dictator.” He was denied entry. The new movie is described as “the heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”

In the best foreign language film category, the prize went as expected to Iran's “A Separation.” Directed by Asghar Farhadi, it tells the story of the difficult lives of a couple seeking a divorce. It already has won numerous awards this year.

The award ceremony by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood honors last year's best films, actors, directors and producers, and is viewed by hundreds of millions around the world.

Liberman promoting country in a visit to Canada

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vice President Luis Liberman was in Toronto, Canada, promoting Costa Rica Friday. He spoke at a forum set up by the Canadian Council for the Americas. The theme was to urge investments here. He also spoke to a banking group, according to Casa Presidential.

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