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U.S. Coast Guard team captures a cocaine-laden semi-submersible in the eastern Pacific last April 15.
Multi-national force cranks up pressure on smugglers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four U.S. Navy frigates are among those vessels patrolling the Central American coastal waters as part of a stepped-up U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere effort against drug trafficking.

In addition, U.S. patrol planes from Whidbey Island, Washington, have been based in El Salvador to watch the sea lanes. The Royal Netherlands Navy also is patrolling with aircraft.

According to the U.S. southern Command, the U.S. contribution to the multinational detection, monitoring and interdiction operation includes U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, aircraft from U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, and military and law enforcement units from various nations working together. The goal is to deny transnational criminal organizations the ability to exploit these transshipment routes for the movement of narcotics, precursor chemicals, bulk cash, and weapons along Central American shipping routes, the command said.

The effort, called Operation Martillo, began earlier this month. It represents an increase in law enforcement presence in both oceans. Martillo is Spanish for hammer.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, in charge of the Southern Command, said that 80 percent of the cocaine destined for U.S. markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America.

Costa Rica is not participating in the operation. In addition to the United States, 12 countries are participating: Britain, Canada, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panamá, and Spain.

Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of the U.S. Southern Command, was able to stop 119 metric tons of cocaine before it reached the United States last year. Elements of the task force also were able to stop $21 million in cash headed into Central and South America as well as $16 million in black market goods, said the Southern Command.
The U.S. frigates assigned to the operation are the Ingraham, Elrod, McClusky and the Nicholas, said the command and the U.S. 4th Fleet. The ships are patrolling both in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Typically, U.S. military personnel are involved in supporting maritime operations in international waters, where U.S. Navy ships and helicopters patrol and intercept suspected traffickers, the command pointed out. 

The actual boarding, searching, seizures and arrests are conducted by U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachments or law enforcement agencies from other nations.

There have been no encounters reported with drug traffickers yet during the operation.

Costa Rica is in the middle of the drug trafficking routes. Smugglers use several techniques. One involves landing drugs on both Costa Rican coasts and then arranging for this shipment north by truck. That requires getting by the checkpoint at Peñas Blancas and other border crossings further north.

With beefed up security on land, more and more smuggling operations are using semi-submersible craft and true submarines. These are hard to detect. Military units in Colombia sometimes find partly constructed submarines in isolated jungle areas. They cost in excess of $2 million, although some may make more than one trip. Others are abandoned at the end of the voyage or sunk.

Costa Rica's Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas does not really have vessels for prolonged ocean patrols. Recent acquisitions include two fast boats that are supposed to be equal to the surface boats being used by smugglers.

The stepped up effort in both oceans comes at a time when leaders in some Central American countries are debating the decriminalization of drugs, something the United States strongly opposes. Costa Rica's legislature has declined to give routine permission for U.S. Navy vessels to enter the nation's ports for shore leave and resupply.

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As expected, lawmakers
give final OK to tobacco ban

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature approved for the second and final time Monday a law to forbid smoking in most public and private locations. The vote was 45 to 2.

The action was expected because the measure had been approved overwhelmingly in an initial vote, and the country already said it would take this action when it ratified an international treaty against smoking in 2008.

The law, when signed by President Laura Chinchilla, will take about 18 months to go into effect. Then there will be stiff fines for persons who smoke in forbidden places. And these are about anywhere someone may be except the open air and their own home.

Those who dare smoke in a forbidden location face fines. The average citizen or resident who is caught smoking in a prohibited place will face a fine of 15 percent of a base salary, which now is 316,200 colons. So the fine would be a bit more than 47,000 colons or about $94.

The proposed law prohibits advertising related to tobacco products. And cigarette packages have to have 50 percent of the outside space dedicated to health messages.

Also prohibited is the Costa Rican tradition of selling cigarettes one at a time. This is common at vendor stands in urban areas. When the measure goes into effect, the minimum purchase will be 10 cigarettes.

Administrators of businesses where illegal smoking is found are subject to a fine of 50 percent of a base salary. That also goes for those using a method of sale, such as the Internet, where they cannot verify that the purchaser is an adult. The same fine is specified for anyone who sells cigarettes in quantities less than 10 and anyone who does so through a vending machine.

Business operators also have to put up and maintain posters that say smoking is illegal.

The measure also provides for health services to help those addicted to tobacco.

Also covered are smokeless tobaccos, such as snuff.

The measure also imposes a special tobacco tax, which is 20 colons for each cigarette, cigar or other type of tobacco. Some 60 percent of the tax will go to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to support anti-tobacco programs and cancer treatments. Some 20 percent will go to the Ministerio de Salud to support its obligations under the law. And 15 percent is earmarked for the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia. The Instituto Costarricense del Deportes y la Recreación gets 5 percent.

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!
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Alex Barbosa and Adrian Gómez work on the mural in the shadow of the Iglesia de La Dolorosa.
San José ceramic mural will honor La Virgen de los Ángeles
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Art in San José is a common sight along the streets, on walls, as free-standing sculptures and in parks. The municipality of San José has set up a program for art in public spaces where national artists get a chance to contribute to the Costa Rican capital.

Along Calle Central and Avenida 12 sits the Iglesia de La Dolorosa. Across from the church is a park of the same name where the next big city art project already has started.

It's a black and white 1.90-meter by 6-meter ceramic porcelain mural. It's a two-sided mural but only one side is currently in progress. That's about 6 feet, three inches by 19 feet, eight inches.

The south side of the mural is dedicated to the Costa Rican patroness La Virgen de los Ángeles by artist Juan Manuel Sánchez. He is also known as El Indio Sánchez, said the project director Adrian Gómez. Sánchez is a Tico, well-known for his sculptures and drawings.

Gómez worked on cutting tile into little pieces to be cemented onto the wall. At his feet was a sketch of what is supposed to go on the wall. There were deer, trees, a red sun, and a little girl, the one who found the famous statue of the Virgen at a spring
in what is now Cartago. That was in the 17th century.

Gómez said the project would take about a month and a half to complete. He said his team of three has three weeks of work into it. They built the wall and have started the mural. They are working from the outside in.

The process of the wall is interesting, said Gómez because it curves like a flag waving in the wind. There is supposed to be an idea of movement, said Gómez. And the fact that both sides of the wall will have different designs in black and white will make the passersby look twice, he said.

The north side of the mural is still just a sketch based on a rural scene in the mountains by Costa Rican artist Kike Quiros.

“Many would have drawn out the sketch and began cementing the pieces together, but we have used another method,” said Gómez. He and his crew have divided the space into quadrants. Gómez said this method is supposed to be more precise.

There are three steps to the project, Gómez said. There is the construction of the wall, which is complete. Second, is putting on the porcelain ceramic. That is the job still in progress.

And finally they are grouting where the spaces between the ceramic pieces are filled.

Plans for grain terminal at Puerto de Caldera clears major hurdle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría de la República, the financial watchdog, has given a go ahead to a $30 million grain terminal at the Puerto de Caldera.

This project has been in the planning stages for years. The project is a joint one between the Sociedad Portuaria Granelera de Caldera and the Instituto Costarricense de Puertos del Pacífico.

The Contraloría said that there still are many decisions to be made, such as the exact location, the need for dredging, the design, the percentage of participation and a trust to pay for the work.

Still, the executive branch praised the decision, which came after court appeals and other complexities.

Francisco J. Jiménez, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said that the terminal would increase the competitivity of the port. The government hopes that the terminal will expedite the
 exportation of grains, perhaps to China and other points in Asia.

Work is expected to begin in six months if the details can be resolved, officials said.

Construction will require about 250 workers, giving a boost to the Puntarenas area. Although the terminal is mainly for grain ships, the facility could be used for other types of vessels in an emergency, officials said. The aim of the project is to eliminate the congestion at the Puerto de Caldera where ships sometimes await unloading and loading for days.

The new terminal will be able to handle five ships at once and ships with a capacity of up to 42,000 metric tons, said a summary from the ministry.

All major governmental projects have to be passed upon by the Contraloría.

The terminal does not win praise from everyone. Some rice farmers fear that the facility will be used to import cheaper foreign products that will compete with the local harvests.

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Rising motorcycle death toll causes officials to express concern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons died over the weekend in motorcycle accidents. In one crash two motorcycles collided head on in Pococí de Limón, and both drivers died.

In Coronado, a motorcycle driver was traveling at high speed when his vehicle collided with a passenger car.

Motorcycle drivers protested in front of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros over increases in vehicle insurance last month. Eventually the increase was reduced.

However, the Dirección General de Tránsito and the Consejo Seguridad Vial pointed out Monday that 25 percent of the
 traffic deaths in 2011 were motorcyclists. In January seven died, 23 percent of the fatalities, the agencies said.

The agencies blamed motorcyclists for not obeying the law. Some do not wear helmets or use reflective vests. Some carry two other persons on the machine. Sometimes the passengers are children on their way to school, officials said.

In the Pococí crash each motorcycle carried a passenger. Although they were thrown from the machine as were the drivers, each survived.

The traffic police agency said that it would be giving more attention to motorcycles in an effort to reduce the accidents.

English-speaking scammer embelishes his fake tale of woe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The scammer who speaks perfect English has put together a better story.

Earlier this month he told those he encountered on the street a tale of woe about how a taxi driver ran off with his luggage.

Lately, according to a reader, he claims he was surrounded by six transvestites who robbed him at knife point of his luggage, wallet, money, credit cards, and passport.

The well-known scammer encountered the reader, a tourist from Long Island, New York, on Rohrmoser Boulevard about 200 meters east of Plaza Mayor Saturday, the reader said.

“Randy claims he’s been to the U.S. Embassy to get a new passport, but due to the Patriot Act, it will take him two business days to get one,” said the reader.  “He just needs some money to stay at a $13/night youth hostel till he can get
everything straightened out and fly home on March 6th.  And he adds, if I can help him with something for food, he’d appreciate it.”

The reader did not make a donation and later conversed with other expats who told him Randy was a small-time scammer. One expat has heard the same story, the reader said.

“He’s about 6-foot tall, maybe 220 pounds, dark curly hair, and tattooed 'Randy' on the upper right arm,” said the reader.  “There was a slight tear in the right sleeve of the shirt he wore.  He claimed that one of the transvestites nicked him with the knife.”

“My sense is that he’s operating in the general Sabana Park area, due to the density of tourists and expats there,” said the reader. However, a reporter encountered the man earlier near Hospital Calderón Guardia in east San José. Although this type of begging is small-time, such encounters sometimes become a major street crime.

More help expected to fight brush fire at Chirripó national park
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A brush fire in the Parque Nacional Chirripó burned at least two to three hectares Monday, some five to 7.5 acres.

Some 20 members of the Brigada de Bomberos Forestal from San Jerónimo responded to the 5 a.m. alarm. Fire fighters
feared that the blaze would take off due to high winds.

The difficult access to the area caused problems for fire fighters, they said

The fire fighters have established a command post at the park and expect more help, including Costa Rican firemen, today.

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Life without numbers can
restrict thought, study says

By the University of Miami news staff

Most people learn to count when they are children. Yet surprisingly, not all languages have words for numbers. A recent study published in the journal of Cognitive Science shows that a few tongues lack number words and as a result, people in these cultures have a difficult time performing common quantitative tasks. The findings add new insight to the way people acquire knowledge, perception and reasoning.

The Piraha people of the Amazon are a group of about 700 semi-nomadic people living in small villages of about 10 to 15 adults, along the Maici River, a tributary of the Amazon. According to University of Miami anthropological linguist Caleb Everett, the Piraha are surprisingly unable to represent exact amounts. Their language contains just three imprecise words for quantities: Hòi means “small size or amount,” hoì, means “somewhat larger amount,” and baàgiso indicates to “cause to come together, or many.” Linguists refer to languages that do not have number specific words as anumeric.

“The Piraha is a really fascinating group because they are really only one of two groups in the world that are totally anumeric,” says Everett, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the university's College of Arts and Sciences. “This is maybe one of the most extreme cases of language actually restricting how people think.”

His study “Quantity Recognition Among Speakers of an Anumeric Language” demonstrates that number words are essential tools of thought required to solve even the simplest quantitative problems, such as one-to-one correspondence.

“I’m interested in how the language you speak affects the way that you think,” says Everett. “The question here is what tools like number words really allows us to do and how they change the way we think about the world.”

The work was motivated by contradictory results on the numerical performance of the Piraha. An earlier article reported the people incapable of performing simple numeric tasks with quantities greater than three, while another showed they were capable of accomplishing such tasks.

Everett repeated all the field experiments of these two previous studies. The results indicated that the Piraha could not consistently perform simple mathematical tasks. For example, one test involved 14 adults in one village that were presented with lines of spools of thread and were asked to create a matching line of empty rubber balloons. The people were not able to do the one-to-one correspondence, when the numbers were greater than two or three.

Correa decides to pardon
newsmen facing prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says he is pardoning three newspaper executives and a former columnist who had been convicted of libeling him, sentenced to jail and fined $40 million.

The sentences against the El Universo officials and former opinion page editor Emilio Palacio had drawn widespread criticism from rights groups as a blow to freedom of speech in Ecuador. The libel case stemmed from a column Palacio wrote last year calling Correa a dictator and alleging that the president had told troops to fire without warning on a hospital during a police uprising against him. 

Earlier this month, the three-year sentences and hefty fine against the newspaper executives and Palacio were upheld by Ecuador's national court of justice, and the four men sought asylum in the United States and Panamá.

Correa told a national TV audience Monday he knows that some of his countrymen "do not want any concessions to those who do not deserve it."  Nonetheless, he said he had decided to use his power to grant pardons to forgive them.  The president said he was eliminating the sentences "that they deservedly received."

The leftist president said the four were correct that there was a dictatorship in Ecuador, but that it was what he described as "the dictatorship of the media."

In a separate case, Correa said he also is pardoning two journalists who had been fined $1 million apiece for libeling him in a book over allegations that he knew his older brother had illegally been awarded public contracts.

Upturn in U.S. jobs, housing
predicted by national study

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The battered U.S. housing and job markets are improving as uncertainty about economic forecasts declines, according to a just-published study by dozens of key economists. Other research shows growing confidence could translate into more business investment and jobs.

Forty-five experts who analyze economic issues for major companies say a flurry of mostly upbeat economic reports means U.S. unemployment and job creation are getting better.

Members of the National Association for Business Economics say they expect the U.S. jobless rate to average 8.3 percent for this year, which is six-tenths of a percentage point better than their prediction just a few months ago.

Shawn DuBravac of the association said companies are encouraged by growing confidence in economic forecasts, and willing to bet on future economic growth.

U.S. companies have hundreds of billions of dollars in reserve that could be used to increase business investment and hiring, according to a recent study by University of Maryland economists including Jeff Werling.

Werling said companies were badly stung by the recession, however, and have been slow to consider new investments.

“From the perspective of the consumer and some corporations, the financial crisis dealt their balance sheets such a blow that they just can not get there yet," he said. Werling’s research was conducted for a U.N. agency.
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Two right turns eliminated
near Parque la Sabana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic engineers have eliminated two right turns that would put motorists on the way to the Autopista General Cañas.

One is at Soda Tapia and the other is at the northwest corner of Parque la Sabana. The change was made Saturday at 5 a.m. but just announced Monday.

The reason for the change is because two pedestrian crossings have been installed and westbound motorists turning right would cross where pedestrians are walking.

The highway that runs along the north side of Parque la Sabana is Calle 42.  Signs are being installed to show motorists the way, and traffic police are assisting.

Soft drink firm reports
income increase over 2010

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Mexican soft drink firm Fomento Economico Mexicano, S.A.B. de C.V., better known as FEMSA, announced Monday that consolidated total revenues grew 24 percent and income from operations grew 24.9 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2010.

Coca-Cola FEMSA income from operations increased 27.9 percent driven by double-digit operating income growth in the South America and Mexico  & Central America divisions, including the integration of Grupo Tampico and CIMSA in Mexico.

Four held after invasion
at home in Atenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers detained four persons after bandits invaded an Atenas home and took valuables.

The invasion took place about 11 p.m. Sunday in the  Desmonte sector, police said. A resident with the last name of Jiménez said that four armed men broke in, threatened him and made off with small appliances, personal items and his vehicle. He was able to get the plate number of the bandit's vehicle, police said

Police officers were able to locate the two vehicles and detain the passengers. They said they confiscated a .38-caliber pistol.

Commercial longlines
banned for fishing event

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials are closing the Pacific off Carrillo to commercial longline operations for this weekend's  Presidential Challenge of Costa Rica tournament.

The action by the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura is being hailed as groundbreaking. The decision creates a temporal exclusive zone for sport fishing only up to 40 miles offshore, said the Billfish Foundation, the tournament sponsor.

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