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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 43                            Email us
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Sports fishing boats at Los Sueños face traffic stops
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sports fishermen who sailed from Los Sueños Saturday ran into a seagoing surprise checkpoint.

Agents from the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura and the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas were on duty just off shore checking paperwork.

The fishing institute characterized the effort as a sting operation.  Marina Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast is in an upscale resort and can accommodate hundreds of boats. Many of the captains offer ocean sports fishing to tourists.

Edwin Salazar, director of the Departamento de Proteccion y Registro for the fishing institute, said the sting was successful.

The operation lasted five hours.

He said 29 boats were inspected. All of them had the proper licenses. But 10 were returned to the docks because of irregularities. The irregularities can consist of expired fishing identification cards, incorrect paperwork and other details.

The boats that returned to shore were allowed to go
out into the sea once the documentations were in order, he said.

A large operation isn't common for the government institute, said Salazar. Because the agency has limited resources employees can't fully function the way they would like. Salazar said the ideal would be to have inspectors every 50 meters, approximately 164 feet, along the coast to regulate the waters for proper fishing. Because of lack of funds and manpower the agency can't function that way, he said.

The money made from the sale of the required fishing identification cards goes into the institute operating expenses.

Last year alone the institute raised more than 81.5 million colons, approximately $158,963. That is the combined amount of money from the sale of identification cards from the five main offices in the country.

The Quepos office sold 42 million colons worth, approximately $81,919. Puntarenas sold 22 million colons, approximately $42,910. The Guanacaste office sold 9 million colons, approximately $17,554, and Golfito sold 8 million colons, approximately $15,603. The Limón office sold half a million colons worth of identification cards for fishing. That is approximately $975.

Security ministry says country is safer than a year ago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry insisted Tuesday that the country was safer and cited two recent surveys to support that point of view.

Meanwhile, the president's anti-crime panel urged tighter gun laws and legislation to allow the use of electronic bracelets for criminals and suspects. The panel also said that policies that prevent crime and treatment for drug users should be reinforced.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública issued its statement apparently in response to articles about the crime rate in Spanish-language newspapers.

The ministry said that in January and February there were 186 fewer robberies reported when compared to the same period in 2011. In addition there were 16 less murders, it said. In both cases the ministry did not give the totals.

The ministry also cited a survey taken by the polling firm UNIMER that said the number of Costa Ricans who reported being crime victims had dropped from 17 percent to 11 percent. The survey had been commissioned by La Nación, the daily newspaper, and involved polling done in July.

This is the lowest rate of victimization since 2004, said the ministry.

A survey reported this month by the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos said that 41 percent
of Costa Ricans believe that insecurity is the country's main problem, noted the ministry. That percent is down from 49 percent from a previous survey, it said.

The ministry also emphasized figures from the Poder Judicial that said the robbery rate was 99 for every 10,000 persons in 2009 and that the rate dropped in 2010 to 92.6 persons per 10,000.

The crime rate is a politically sensitive topic because President Laura Chinchilla ran on a platform of standing up to crime. One of her creations was the Comité Consultivo de la Politica Intergral de Seguridad Ciudadana y Paz Social. This was a committee that was set up 18 months ago to develop strategy. The committee issued a report Tuesday in which it basically supported concepts that the president already had put forth.

The committee urged intervention in at-risk communities and coordination in the control of major crimes. The committee noted, too, that crime and victimization indicators had dropped. It's suggestions are for the next two years.

The idea of saving prison space by having suspects and convicted criminals remain at large with an electronic bracelet already has been suggested.

To put this plan into effect requires legislation.

The committee also urged what it called restorative justice as a mechanism for reducing criminality and violence, This goes along with the president's plan to try to reintegrate criminals back into society.

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European visitor stresses
value of European ties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Business development, transparency and education in Costa Rica were the key points discussed at a press conference with a European former diplomat at the Ministerio de Economia, Industria y Comercio Monday.

The visitor, Benita Ferrero, president of the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean Foundation, said the relationship with the European Union is important to Latin America, especially Costa Rica. She said this country exports 70 percent of products from Central America that go to the European Union.

She is the former European commissioner for Trade and European Neighbourhood Policy and a prominent Austrian politician.

Latin America is an interesting and growing market she said. She said she wants to support small businesses known as pequeña y mediana empresas in the country, especially those that are dedicated to innovation and new technology, as they can be the key to development. Latin America has 25 percent of the world's fertile land and 35 percent of the worlds potable natural water, Ms. Ferrero said.

She predicted that Latin countries would eventually eclipse the economies of European lands.

Brush blaze at Chirripó
fanned by strong winds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Strong winds have fanned a small blaze in the Parque Nacional Chirripó into a major brushfire that has involved at least 100 hectares, about 250 acres.

There are 60 fire fighters from six units on the scene. The blaze was reported at 5 a.m. Monday.  And fire fighters have been on the scene since then. However, they were reinforced heavily Tuesday.

The area has been raked with winds from 75 to 90 kph, some 47 to 56 mph. Some light rain was predicted for Tuesday evening.

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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News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Costa Rica agrees to advanced notice of air traveler information
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. immigration officials will have advance information on arriving airline passengers from Costa Rica, and officials here will have similar data.

That will take place when both countries firm up the advance passenger information system. Representatives of both countries signed a memo of understanding Tuesday as a step toward a firm accord.

The United States has similar agreements with European and other countries, but Costa Rica has had a notoriously lax border system, particularly on land.

The proposed agreement will cover all direct arrivals to and from Costa Rica whether by boat or aircraft. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that the advance information enhances border security by providing officers with pre-arrival and departure manifest data on all passengers and crew members.

The United States already has similar agreements with a number of countries, including México.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, signed the agreement at Casa Presidencial Tuesday evening. Signing for Costa Rica was Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister.

In responding to a question, Ms. Napolitano said that the agreement would uphold the rights of the passengers involved. Her department includes immigration.

Typically airline passenger information is collected at airport checkin and transmitted to the destination country. The responsibility is on the airline, which could face fines for poor
compliance. Private pilots have to file the same report.

The United States has electronic access to the flight information from some countries, and U.S. immigration agents have more than the basic data on passengers. The purpose is to stop criminals and terrorists.

Costa Rican immigration agents now only can run an arriving air passenger's passport through local data bases. There have been a procession of persons fleeing U.S. justice who have passed easily through immigration and customs on arrival. Presumably with the new system agents here will have more time to run background checks.

To pay for the system, Casa Presidencial said there may be economic support from the United States as well as training for employees of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The land crossings are more difficult unless the regulations extend to bus companies that carry passengers across the borders. There also are truckers and those in private vehicles.
Costa Rica still is seen as a refuge by abducting parents, scammers and even sex criminals. The land crossings are more favorable to these individuals than airports, although persons facing U.S. warrants routinely enter and exit Costa Rica by all means.

In one startling 2008 case, agents for the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) captured a pedophile on the Pacific coast. He was extradited to the United States where a judge ordered him into house arrest. Three days later the man was back on the Pacific coast. Immigration police think he arrived in Nicaragua by bus and then entered across the Costa Rican northern border.

In a more recent case, a British citizen who was the subject of a cautionary INTERPOL notice was allowed to enter from Nicaragua. He is the principal suspect in the murder of a female tourist a day later in Costa Rica.

Homeland Security secretary doesn't budge on U.S. drug policy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

President Laura Chinchilla met for about an hour Tuesday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The U.S. official told reporters later that among other topics, the two discussed the drug situation.

Ms. Napolitano, who is in charge of border security, immigration and the U.S. Coast Guard, restated to reporters the U.S. position on drugs. She said the policy was integrated and included interdiction, treatment and law enforcement.

Ms. Napolitano came to Latin America at a time when some leaders are discussing the decriminalization of drugs as a way to stop the cartels and violence. She came to Costa Rica from El Salvador and was to leave this morning for Panamá.

Ms. Chinchilla did not attend the brief press conference after her meeting with the Homeland Security secretary. And reporters were allowed to ask just three questions. They all involved the drug trade. The first sought her opinion on the consumption of drugs in the United States. She quickly characterized the problem as one of supply and consumption but noted that President Barrack Obama has dramatically increased the funding for drug treatment.

As she spoke, an international task force was on duty in the Caribbean and the Pacific in what is being called Operation Martillo or hammer. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Tuesday that Costa Rica is indeed involved in the operation, although the country was not on a list provided by the U.S. Southern Command.

The ongoing cooperation by the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in anti-smuggling efforts, including its ongoing patrols of Costa Rican littoral waters, are a significant contribution to Operation Martillo, said the spokesman.

The confiscation of 2,000 kilos of cocaine in the Gulfo Dulce near Golfito might well be added to the Operation Martillo list of achievements, said the spokesman. That was Jan 31 when a U.S. Coast Guard plane spotted three fastboats at sea and then Costa Rican patrol boats chased them to land.

The U.S. Embassy never mentioned the operation when it started.

In an earlier visit, Ms. Napolitano said the US was not losing its decades-long war on drugs.

She defended Washington's anti-narcotics efforts Monday in
Casa Presidencial photo
Ms. Napolitano with President Laura Chinchilla

Mexico City after a meeting with Mexican Interior Minister Alejandro Poire.

"With respect to, 'is the drug war a failure and are we going to change our strategy?' I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure. I would say however that it is a continuing effort, to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs," said Ms. Napolitano.

Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón launched a military crackdown against the country's drug cartels.

During her visit to Mexico City, Ms. Napolitano and Poire announced the United States will begin flying undocumented Mexican immigrants directly back to their home states instead of leaving them at the border where they could be targeted by criminal gangs. 

Her visit to Mexico was the first stop on a five-nation tour of Central and Latin America.  She also visited Guatemala, whose president, Otto Pérez, has called for a debate on the legalization of narcotics as an alternative approach.

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Modest reduction in rainfall led to Mayan collapse, study says
By the University of Southamton news service

A new study reports that the disintegration of the Maya civilization may have been related to relatively modest reductions in rainfall.

The study was led by professors Martín Medina-Elizalde of the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research in Mexico and Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Professor Rohling says:

“Our results show rather modest rainfall reductions between times when the Classic Maya civilization flourished and its collapse – between AD 800-950. These reductions amount to only 25 to 40 per cent in annual rainfall. But they were large enough for evaporation to become dominant over rainfall, and open water availability was rapidly reduced. The data suggest that the main cause was a decrease in summer storm activity.”

The study combines records of past climate changes from stalagmites and shallow lakes to model 40 per cent reductions in summer rainfall and reduced tropical storm activity over the region. The work is published in the leading scientific journal Science.

Professor Medina-Elizalde, who led the study while at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton working with Professor Eelco Rohling, says:

“For more than a century, researchers have related the demise of the Classic Maya civilization to climate change, and especially to drought. No sound estimates had been made about the severity of this drought, but some have suggested extreme scenarios. New data made it possible to finally get detailed estimates. To do this, we developed a model that coherently explains changes in critical datasets of change in the region’s balance between evaporation and rainfall.”

Professor Rohling explains why such modest rainfall reductions would cause the disintegration of a well-established civilization:

“Summer was the main season for cultivation and replenishment of Mayan freshwater storage systems and there are no rivers in the Yucatan lowlands. Societal disruptions and abandonment of cities are likely consequences of critical water shortages, especially because there seems to have been a rapid repetition of multi-year droughts.”
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
A temple in the Mayan Kingdom of Tikal

The scientists also note that the reconstructed droughts during the demise of the Classic Maya civilization were of similar severity as those projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the near future in the same region. Professor Medina-Elizalde adds:

“There are differences too, but the warning is clear. What seems like a minor reduction in water availability may lead to important, long-lasting problems. This problem is not unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, but applies to all regions in similar settings where evaporation is high.

"Today, we have the benefit of awareness, and we should act accordingly,” he said

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chávez reported doing well
after cancer surgery in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is reported to be in good condition following surgery to remove a tumor. 

Vice President Elias Jaua made the announcement Tuesday to Venezuelan lawmakers, who responded with applause and chants in support of the 57-year-old president.

Jaua told the national assembly that doctors removed a pelvic lesion and the surrounding tissue from President Chávez.  

He traveled to Cuba last week to undergo surgery for what he said was likely a cancerous tumor.  Last year, the president had surgery and chemotherapy in Cuba to remove a cancerous growth from his pelvic region.

The vice president says Chávez is staying in close contact with government officials.  The president has not delegated authority during his absence.

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.

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 39-year-old Henrique Capriles, the winner of the opposition primary earlier this month.

Chávez disclosed his condition last week while visiting the site of a proposed tractor factory. He said he had been examined by doctors in Cuba who found a lesion in his pelvis where a cancerous tumor was removed last year.

"I am in good physical shape to confront this new battle," he said.

But many Venezuelans are doubtful.

"Cancer is something different.  It is not a game.  He is sick," said Caracas resident Augusto López. 

At a discussion of the upcoming election at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, Roberto Briceño-León of the Central University of Venezuela said the illness clearly weakens Mr. Chavez's chances.

"The normal reaction is: 'There should be somebody else,'" he said. 

Briceño-León says the ruling party will now suffer because there is no clear successor.

The professor of sociology says autocratic leaders often seek to project an aura of virtual immortality, but he says it is a double-edged sword.

"A mental representation of the power, that is at the same time very powerful because it really is effective in the control of the population," he said.  "But at the same time, it is very weak, because it could disappear from one year to another, and when that disappears people lose respect of the power." 

Venezuelans are taking it personally that Chávez tried to hide his health condition from them, says Rev. Jose Virtuoso, rector of the Catholic University Andres Bello.

"I think all of us Venezuelans are offended that there has not been more transparency over this, as there has been in other countries," he said. 

Virtuoso gives the examples of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who was recently treated for cancer, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had a non-malignant thyroid removed.

U.S. economy is showing
signs of mixed recovery

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Economic reports published Tuesday show a mixed picture for the U.S. recovery.  Despite steady improvement in the job market, manufacturing orders declined last month and home prices fell.

American consumer confidence is at a 12-month high. Unemployment has fallen to pre-crisis levels and Greek debt is fading into the background — at least for now. But even as rising stock prices fuel confidence in a sustainable recovery, higher gasoline prices threaten to crimp consumer spending.

"I think what's driving this is number one: better than appreciated oil demand growth, that's the scene setter, if you will," said Jan Stuart, head of energy research at Credit Suisse.

Higher prices at the pump mean less disposable income, a setback in an economy driven primarily by consumer spending.

Still, after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, economists say a few bumps are to be expected. 

"The U.S. economy is naturally a very flexible economy, a very innovative and dynamic economy and you're feeling that," said Uri Dadush, who heads the international economics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "But the crisis leaves a heavy legacy.  A lot of problems and that's why for example, in the housing sector, etc., you know you're not seeing the recovery that you would expect."

Despite a decline in foreclosures, home prices fell 4 percent in December.

And a new report suggests more Americans are choosing to rent until home prices stabilize.

But even with some ups and downs for the world's largest economy, Dadush sees reasons for optimism.

"I have seen the ups and the downs, and the catastrophes and the euphoria and sentiment does change very quickly," he said. "I would focus much more attention on the slowly moving variables, the unemployment rate, the indebtedness of households to judge whether we are moving in the right direction."

The National Association for Business Economics believes the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction.  The association's latest survey points to an improving job market and economic growth of about 2.5 percent in 2012.

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Like working outdoors? Not afraid of heights? Well, tower maintenance may be your calling. Two men were making repairs Tuesday and probably glad that the rainy season and its thunderstorms were not here yet.

Long prison terms sought
in death of two children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors in Alajuela are seeking lengthy prison terms for a couple who were involved in the death of their own daughter, 3, and an infant of a relative.

The 3 year old died of drowning, which prosecutors now call a murder. The four-month old infant died of malnutrition. The pair have the last names of Rojas Ugalde and Cisneros Guerrero. The case is in the Tribunal Penal de Alajuela.

The first death happened in 2008 and originally was considered an accident. The pair took on the care of the infant when a relative could not.  The woman also is accused of faking a pregnancy to get money from the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The prosecutors also are seeking a penalty against a social worker at the Patronato Nacional de Infancia who was supposed to keep an eye on the child. The penalty sought is not being able to hold a public job for four years.

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