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These stories were published Thursday, March 11, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 50
Jo Stuart
About us
For Costa Rica it's almost like the arctic!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canadians and resident of the northern United States will simply react with belly laughs, but the weather has been cold in Costa Rica.

Pacific beach communities still are experiencng daytime temperatures in the 31 degree Celsius range (88  Fahrenheit) but winds of up to 46  kms. an hour (some 27 mph) have been rattling roof panels throughout the Central Valley. Nighttime temperatures have dipped to 16 degrees (60 F.)

That’s chilly for most Costa Ricans, particularly when the wind chill factor is included and the open construction of most homes.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional blames the unusually low temperatures on masses of 

cold air coming from North America. The strong winds are due to atmospheric low pressure systems..

The weather systems have introduced humidity in what is supposed to be the dry season. That was clear over the weekend in the Canton of Guatuso in north central Costa Rica. Rain caused rivers, including the aptly named Río Frio, to flow out of their banks, and 50 families were driven form their homes, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

During Saturday and Sunday, a weather station in Limón on the Caribbean measured 140 mms. of precipitation, more than half an inch. In the Central Valley, the humidity has been mostly low-hanging dark clouds and spectacular sunsets.

Swmming to extinction?

More than 250,000 loggerhead and 60,000 leatherback turtles are estimated to be inadvertently snared each year by commercial longline fishing, with up to tens of thousands dying, according to the first global assessment of the problem. 

See story:


U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service photo
New law requires five years here for residency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

North American and European expats living here are facings changes in the immigration law that are mostly tailored for Nicaraguans and Colombians. 

Instead of being able to obtain pemanent residency after two years as a temporary resident, foreigners will have to spend five years here in a temporary category. That’s according to Carmen Gamboa of the ruling Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

She summarized parts of the proposed law in a statement Wednesday.

Those who marry Costa Ricans also will not immediately get permanent residency, according to the proposed law. Permanent residency is one step closer to obtaining citizenship and having it allows someone to be employed legally.

In addition, the new law comes down hard on anyone who has committed sexual or drug-related offenses here or in their home country, according to Deputy Gamboa. Costa Rica will be off limits to anyone who has been convicted of terrorism, drug trafficking, fraud, illegal gambling, murder, genocide or illicit association, said the statement.

And once in Costa Rica, foreigners have special obligations. Residency can be canceled if a foreign resident fails to pay taxes or faces adminstrative or criminal sanctions, said the statement.

The law is designed to stem the influx of persons from Nicaragua and from other Latin lands. However, North Americans fall under it too.

The proposed law is specifically against anyone who has committed a sexual offense or has exploited minors or has been convicted of a crime involving minors or violence against women or the handicapped, according to the law’s draft. It appears that such offenses would 

actually keep someone from entering Costa Rica.

The immigration status of rentista is believed to have been eliminated in the final draft that has been approved by an Asamblea Nacional committee. The immigration package now goes to the full legislature for at least two votes.

The Dirección de Migración y Extranjería has been anticipating the law, and expats have said that applications for permanent residency have not been accepted for the last year. Typically, someone who was here under the temporary status of rentista or pensionado could apply for permanent residency after two years.

The new law also creates many more categories for special cases, including temporary workers, witnesses or litigants in court cases, students and refugees. Some of these categories have not existed, and many people who were not tourists have entered the country on a tourist visa. There is even a category of non-resident for persons entering the country for special projects, according to the law. That category has yet to be defined fully. However, the law is clear that a person who enters the country in this category cannot change to another category except by marriage or other blood ties.

At least 1,000 foreigners here have been denied renewal of their pensionado and rentista statuses because the immigration officials are not satisfied with the quality and content of their residency package, which had been approved by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. Many of these persons in limbo are those who hired a lawyer at the Association of Residents of Costa Rica.

The association has won at least on Sala IV constitutional court case, but if the new law is passed, immigration officials might void the residency of any number of foreigners. Although Costa Rica prohibits ex post facto application of the law, many of these people are actually making a new application that could be considered subject to the new law, when and if it is passed.

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Lawmakers will require
all to use seatbelts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature will go ahead with a law to require seatbelt use by every vehicle passenger. That decision comes despite a Sala IV constitutional court advisory opinion that lawmakers could only require the driver of a vehicle to buckle up.

The driver has an obligation to insure the security of the passengers and will have the obligation to use a seat belt and to demand that others in the vehicle do likewise, according to Olman Vargas, a deputy who served on a committee that reviewed the Sala IV decision.

The driver would face a fine of 8,000 colons if his passengers were not buckled up, according to the proposed law. That’s about $19.

The legislature pointed out Wednesday that some 700 persons died each year on Costa Rican roads. About 1,500 suffer some permanent injury as a result of transit accidents, and about 10,000 are injured, a release from the legislature said.

Fire in reserve shows
little sign of diminishing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wind-whipped fire continues to burn in the Los Santos reserve near Copey de Dota  More than 75 acres have been consumed, and the blaze shows no sing of diminishing.

The fight is in the hands of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía which does not have resources for such an effort. The ministry already issued a request for volunteers with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The blaze is in mountainous areas covered with trees and shrubs. Although the area is famous for its coffee, the reserve is not a coffee farm.

Police in Brazil want
big increase in pay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Thousands of agents in Brazil's federal police force are on strike to press the government for an 85 percent pay raise. 

Officers began handing in their weapons and handcuffs Tuesday at the start of the work stoppage, which also includes fingerprint technicians and other personnel. 

Union leaders say about 80 percent of the country's 9,000 federal officers are staying away from work.  Government officials have rejected the demands, saying the law bars such a large pay raise. 

The strike has caused massive delays at Brazil's airports where federal police handle immigration checks.

AOL continues blocking

American Online continues to block A.M. Costa Rica news digests because the Internet provider thinks the messages are junk mail. Some 150 were rejected by the AOL server early Wednesday.

Millions of virus and junk messages are circulating on the internet today, and some of these have forged return addresses. This has caused most service providers to tighten their surveillance.

However, requests for explanations sent to American Online result in what appears to be computer-generated responses.

American Online is believed to provide a safe list for its customers. We would ask that those who wish the digest each morning to place the latestnews@amcostarica.com mailing address on their safe list.


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Marines ordered to grab illegal guns in Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior U.S. military commander says the U.S.-led multi-national force in Haiti will attempt to seize illegal weapons from armed groups, in what he calls "a nation of violence," where there are many guns. 

Gen. James Hill, commander of the U.S. military's Southern Command, is appealing to Haitians with illegal firearms to turn them in. "We strongly encourage all civilians to lay down their weapons and disarm to ensure the safety and security of Haiti," he said.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters before returning to his headquarters in Miami, in the southern state of Florida, Hill says the commander of the 1,600 U.S. Marines now in Haiti will seize weapons from any Haitians they meet while on patrol. "As his forces move through Port-au-Prince, and they encounter any armed Haitian, they are to take that weapon from that Haitian," he said.

Hill says exceptions will be made for individuals on legitimate security jobs, who have a valid Haitian weapons permit. He also says the Haitian police will take the lead in the disarmament effort.

But in addition to weapons encountered on patrols, he says U.S. forces will hunt down illegal weapons stockpiles they may learn about. "As we develop intelligence and can find weapons caches, we are going to go after those," he said.

Hill says disarmament represents a new mission for the Marines and other members of the multi-national force. He says it is not an expansion of the force's duties but rather a clarification. He also says the force will intervene to halt any violence between Haitians.

He says there is no evidence of any organized resistance to the presence of multi-national troops,

who moved into Haiti in the wake of political unrest that led the country's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to flee. 

In addition to 1,600 U.S. Marines, the force includes over 500 French soldiers, more than 320 Chileans and over 50 Canadians with an additional 400 Canadians expected to arrive shortly. It will eventually turn over peacekeeping responsibilities to a United Nations force.

In another development, the crisis in Haiti is particularly worrisome for Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic. A leading observer of developments in the two countries says increasing numbers of Haitians hoping to escape the unrest in their own country are making the trip across the border. 

Michele Wucker has written extensively about the often difficult relationship between the two island neighbors. She is the author of "Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle for Hispaniola." She says Dominicans are very worried about the numbers of Haitians now coming into their country.

"The United States has surrounded Haiti with Coast Guard cutters to keep the migrants from going to sea. And those people are going by land through the mountainous border where it's a lot harder to detect them," she said. 

"There have been a number of reports already of hundreds of refugees crossing the border. The Dominican Republic in normal times has repatriated about 100 [or] 150 Haitian migrants every day as sort of the normal course of illegal immigration. They have stopped the repatriation for humanitarian reasons because of the crisis in Haiti. Who knows what's going to happen whether they resume those shortly [or] whether they resume their hands-off attitude." 

Argentina pays — then borrows the same money 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina this week avoided what would have been the biggest default ever to a multilateral lender when it made a $3 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund. 

Argentina has given money to the fund, and the 184-member nation financial cooperative has, in effect, agreed to lend the money back to Argentina. The arrangement keeps Argentina in the fund’s good graces and buys time for the government to begin meaningful negotiations with its private sector creditors. The creditors, mostly big financial institutions in New York and Europe are owed $88 billion by Argentina. Argentina says it can't pay and is offering the creditors 25 cents on the dollar. 

Tom Dawson, the International Monetary Fund spokesman, said Wednesday Argentina has agreed to begin meaningful negotiations with the bondholders but he isn't sure of the outcome. "It is up to the two parties, with the many creditors in this case being one party, to negotiate. And they will determine what is a successful process of negotiations."

Analysts are worried that an Argentine default on its Monetary Fund debt would weaken the Washington-based institution and send the wrong signal to other problem debtors like Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil and Russia. 

For Argentina, a default would have negative 

consequences. Jane Eddy is Latin American specialist at Standard & Poors bond rating agency in London: "Argentina is very dependent on money it receives from other multilateral lenders like the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and so forth. They are contingent on staying within the good graces of the IMF. The money is hugely important to their social programs." 

Argentina in recent months has been working its way out of a three year-long economic downturn. The government's tough stance with creditors is wildly popular at home. Aided by rising commodity export prices, the International Monetary Fund says Argentina is making progress in putting its financial house in order. It is, however, insisting that several conditions be met. 

Spokesman Dawson says the new agreement [a letter of intent] builds on earlier loan conditions. "The idea that something new is added to the program-it's a little hard to define what new is. Because elements of having a fiscal target [limits on the budget defici]), a monetary target, or financial restructuring [of the banks, for example], or of the utilities issue [prices charged for services], or negotiations with creditors, every one of those was in the original letter of intent," he said. 

The fund’s decision to lend to Argentina at a time it was refusing to negotiate with bondholders drew criticism from some European members of the fund. They argue that until Argentina is serious about reaching a deal, the fund should stay out of the picture. 

Ms. Betancourt's husband says he must leave Colombia and hide
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The husband of kidnapped Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt says he is leaving the country after receiving death threats for criticizing the president. 

Juan Carlos Lecompte told reporters he will disappear for a few months until the situation cools down. He said he was receiving anonymous, threatening phone calls. It is not clear where or when he will go. 

Lecompte has criticized President Alvaro Uribe and his government's efforts to free his wife, who has been held by leftist rebels for two years. 

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has said it wants to swap Ms. Betancourt and other hostages for guerrillas being held in government prisons. 

But Uribe has insisted that any guerrillas that are released must leave the country, a condition the FARC rejects. 

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Female leatherback turtle lays eggs at her nest. The species is the largest of the turtles.

U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service photo
Longline fishing is a disaster for turtles, study says
By the Duke University News Service

DURHAM, N.C. — More than 250,000 loggerhead and 60,000 leatherback turtles are estimated to be inadvertently snared each year by commercial longline fishing, with up to tens of thousands dying, according to the first global assessment of the problem. 

The researchers who conducted the assessment said that, although their numbers are estimates, they are firm enough to warrant the development of rules for fishing equipment and practices to reduce or avoid such losses.

The study, by researchers from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, was published in the March 2004 online and print editions of the research journal Ecology Letters. 

The author was Rebecca Lewison, a research associate at the Duke University Marine Laboratory. Co-authors were Sloan Freeman, another Duke research associate, and Larry Crowder, a  professor of marine biology. 

Longlines are lengths of monofilament fishing lines that can stretch for 40 miles and dangle thousands of individually baited hooks. They are set at optimal depths and times to catch tuna and swordfish.

Because the environmentally protected loggerheads and leatherbacks frequent the same zones where these longlines are strung, many sea turtles are either hooked attempting to swallow the bait or are entangled in the fishing gear, the study noted. Such unintentional captures are classified as "bycatch."

"There have been few attempts to quantify the magnitude and extent of protected species bycatch even for fisheries in which bycatch is perceived as a pressing concern," Crowder and his colleagues wrote in their Ecology Letters research paper. "This is, in part, a consequence of limited data."

In the face of those shortcomings, the Duke team mined available turtle bycatch data from the 13 nations that collect such information. And they extrapolated estimates for areas like the Indian Ocean where bycatch data was unavailable.

They also collected the most current fishing information from three primary sources: The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the Secretariat for the Pacific Community Oceanic Fisheries Programme.

To obtain a global picture of where and how frequently turtles were being caught, the researchers then superimposed fishing and bycatch data on a grid map of all Earth's oceans. They also added available demographic data for loggerheads and leatherbacks.

In an interview, Crowder said "the Ecology Letters paper is the first to do a global assessment of sea turtle bycatch in longline fisheries. That's what sets it apart. There had been some earlier regional 

analyses of sea turtle bycatch, but nothing global prior to this."

The problem was particularly acute in the Pacific Ocean, found the researchers. In fact, more turtles "are killed than nest in the Pacific," Crowder told a February symposium on marine animal conservation in Seattle.

The published study located four "primary hotspots" for longline fishing: in the central and southern Pacific Ocean, the southern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Crowder said those longlining hot spots mark sectors where currents converge in a way that boosts the productivity of marine life, which in turn attracts both hungry turtles and commercial fish.

The authors estimated that longline fleets from 40 different countries set about 1.4 billion hooks in the studied year of 2000 — the equivalent of about 3.8 million hooks each day. And their results suggest that longline fishing worldwide was "likely to have caught at least 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherback turtles in 2000," they wrote.

In his interview, Crowder added that loggerheads tend to become bycatch much more frequently than leatherbacks because loggerheads are much more interested in nibbling longline bait. "Leatherbacks very often are not caught by being hooked in the mouth but they're sometimes hooked in a flipper or have a line wrapped around their flippers," he said.

Using National Marine Fisheries Service bycatch mortality figures, the study estimated that "tens of thousands" of the total hooked or entangled turtles ultimately died from those encounters.

The authors especially warned of "serious consequences" for the future of loggerhead and leatherback in the Pacific, where they wrote that "precipitous declines" in the numbers of nesting females are already being recorded. 

Previous research, the study also noted, revealed that longlines set to catch swordfish snare turtles at a 10 times greater rate than tuna longlines. Crowder said such a difference arises because tuna longlines tend to be set deeper in the water than the depths where turtles tend to frequent, and during daylight hours.

"Swordfish gear tends to be fished at night, and in shallow water," he said. "So if you just look at where the gear is relative to where the turtles are, it's more likely that they're going to bump into gear set for swordfish," he said.

"The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing that circle hooks and changes in bait will largely solve the problem," Crowder said. "I tend to think it's a recommendation that is very promising, but not yet ready to implement in the fishery."

Other suggestions include altering fishing practices, like changing the depths at which the hooks are set. "Perhaps places could be located in the ocean where there are still swordfish to catch but fewer turtles, redirecting the fishery to where the bycatch rate might not be as high," Crowder said.

Jo Stuart
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