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(506) 223-1327          Published Tuesday, March 20, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 56          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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It's a cousin of the American robin
Drab national bird has reputation as rain forecaster

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

If you believe in the forecasting skills of the yigüirro, the rains may come a bit early this year. A few individuals of the national bird have started singing, and that means the season is about to change, according to local lore.

The clay-colored thrush, Turdus grayi, was named the national bird in a vote of Costa Rican schoolchildren in the 1950s. It is a drab version of the American robin (Turdus migratorius) so well known in North America, and, as such, is often referred to as clay-colored robin. However, the genus Turdus is one of the largest in the world with more than 300 species, precious few of which resemble the European robin for which T. migratorius was named.

The clay-colored thrush is a southern replacement of the American robin, ecologically similar in many ways to the northern bird. It is a generalist feeder, eating many kinds of fruit and insects — and worms of course.

Feeding birds hop around on the ground in search of invertebrates and visit fruit trees for most anything small enough to swallow.

In Costa Rica, the clay-colored thrush is most common in the Central Valley in human-altered areas like gardens and coffee plantations, but occurs countrywide. The bird has increased its range up over 2,000-meters elevation (about 6,500 feet) in areas where forest has been cleared.

The nest is a cup made of strips of vegetation bound with mud. A clutch is two or three eggs, with incubation about 13 days.  Young leave the nest after 13 more days, weighing about 50 grams (less than two ounces), with some spots on the wings and breast but otherwise looking like their parents. Two or three broods are possible over the course of a productive nesting season. Normal adult weights are 65-75 grams (2.3 to 2.6 ounces)

The clay-colored thrush, Turdus grayi
for males and 75-80 grams (2.5 to 2.8 ounces) for females.

It is the arrival of the rain that makes the yigüirro sing and not visa-versa. Most tropical birds in climates featuring a strong dry season time their breeding to have ravenous young waiting the flush of insects and other invertebrates that accompanies the start of the wet season.

The yigüirro is not infallible. Last year they started singing strongly about two weeks before the rains came in earnest. However, during a construction project in San Isidro de Heredia three years ago, the first song was followed by a downpour in about ten hours. Get ready!

If you would like to hear the yigüirro's call, go HERE and scroll down to the section with sonograms. The recording on the upper right has both the song and calls.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 56

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Free trade opponents say
Langdale was offensive

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Free trade opponents have labeled U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale persona non grata and said that he offended the Costa Rican people during his March 14 visit with President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

The opponents said they suffer from profound indignation and anger over the disrespectful declarations of the ambassador.

The comments were posted on the Web site of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados and supported by the Asociación Sindical de Empleados del Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

"We are not a Yankee colony," said the headline.

The opponents are not really clear about why they are angered. Langdale said after the meeting that the bulk of the Costa Rican people support the free trade agreement with the United States and that the turnout in a Feb. 26 anti-treaty march was not impressive.

The visit was sure to anger trade treaty opponents, and the meeting of the two men probably was done to show U.S. support for Arias despite the certainty of negative reactions among those who oppose the agreement.

The visit was well publicized.

In a related action, two treaty opponents have filed a Sala IV constitutional court case against the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación because they think the newspaper underestimated the number of people in the protest.

La Nación, which editorially supports the treaty, used an overhead photograph and density measurements to determine that 23,500 participated in the march. A.M. Costa Rica, on the other hand, estimated the participants at about 80,000 by using square footage measurements.

The treaty opponents claim that the Costa Rican Constitution requires private enterprises to provide sufficient and truthful information to the public and consumers.

If the Sala IV case were to be successful, it will have profound effects on things like political speeches and other information provided by anyone to anybody. The case is not likely to be successful. The litigants cite Article 46 of the Constitution, but that mandate to be truthful is in a section concerning public monopolies and does not seem to relate to private enterprises.

The case is, at best, a publicity stunt because even those involved admit their chances at slim to none of prevailing.

Pork producers planning
to hike their efficiency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pork producers are meeting today and Wednesday in an effort to raise the efficiency of their industry.

If the free trade treaty with the United States passes, pork producers here will be under heavy pressure from the major U.S. packing houses that say they can deliver packaged pork to Costa Rica cheaper than local farmers can produce it.

The sessions are being held in the Ramada Herradura Hotel, and sponsors are the Cámara Costarricense de Porcicultores y la Asociación Costarricense de Técnicos Especialistas en Cerdos. Some 300 pig producers are expected to attend.

Producers will discuss the current market situation and how to reduce costs to raise efficiency. Control of disease and the use of artificial hormones to produce more liters also is on the agenda.

Health agency asked to study
treaty impact on medicine costs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Merino of Frente Amplio initiated a request that the Panamerican Health Organization study the impact on medicines here if the free trade treaty is approved. The request was forwarded by the Defensoría de los Habitantes.

Merino, who opposes the treaty, said that the intellectual property rights provided  in the treaty will cause Costa Rica to spend disastrous amounts for patented medicines.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 56

Police block off access to the San Sebastián penal facility while negotiators talk to prisoners holding a hostage.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Three-hour prison hostage incident ends without any injuries
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia is again facing embarrassment because two convicts grabbed a female lawyer at the Unidad de Admisión San Sebastián Monday.

This is the latest in a series of incidents that included the breakout of eight violent criminals from the La Reforma penitentiary.

San Sebastián is supposed to be a reception center and holding area for those who are awaiting trial.

But one of the men involved in the hostage-taking Monday had been convicted. He is a murderer and armed robber facing a 42-year term.

The pair held the woman, a legal advisor, for about three hours before surrendering. They were armed with homemade knives.

The woman, who was unhurt, is Mariela Romero Villalobos 36. The men who grabbed her and then barricaded themselves in an office are Nelson Ruiz Rosales, 29, and Martín Picado, 18. Ruiz is the murderer. Picado had been transferred from Limón to face trial for robbery.

The demands by the two men are not clear. However, it seemed they were unhappy with the administration of the center.
There are some 700 inmates at the facility in south San José.

Apparently, Ms. Romero was walking inside the prison in an area to which prisoners have access. She was on her way to the administrative offices. She was grabbed about 2:15 p.m.

She is no stranger to the prison system. She works for the ministry and has served inside the maximum security section of La Reforma in Alajuela.

Although the nation's tactical squad came to the scene, the surrender about 5 p.m. was made to center guards. They likely will face additional charges for the incident.

The eight men fled La Reforma Oct. 9. They killed a guard in the process. Eventually they all were caught, and others were arrested for helping them and for planning another crime.

Manuel Tata Rodríguez, a Cuban wanted in the United States, vanished June 5, 2005. He was serving an 11-year sentence for murder at La Reforma.

The Pacheco administration sought to construct a modern maximum security prison in northern Costa Rica, but the proposal failed because a U.S. firm was going to construct and run the facility, something the Sala IV constitutional court said was not legal.

Union wants the Caja board to join case against Calderón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The employees union wants the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to become a complainant against former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier.

The union, the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social, said that the Caja board of directors should do this in defense of the best interests of the institution and its heritage.

The union correctly noted that Calderón is involved in one of the largest corruption cases in the history of the country.

Although there is no official word the Ministerio Público, the nation's prosecutor, is believed to have filed charges against Calderón. The case involves a massive kickback from a Finnish medical supply company represented here by Corporación Fischel.

Calderón and seven others are accused of skimming some $9 million from a $39 million deal involving medical
equipment. Subsequent revelations showed that much of the medical supplies and equipment were not needed.

The deal was backed by a $32 million loan from the government of Finland, and the principal supplier was a firm from that country. Nearly $8 million in public money also was invested in the deal. Some of the money ended up in bank accounts in Panamá and Florida.

Also facing the criminal process are Walter Reiche Fischel, the former head of the company of the same name, and Eliseo Vargas, the national deputy who helped get the loan deal approved in the Asamblea Legislativa in just a few days.

The case is politically sensitive because Calderón has said he will seek the presidency in the next general election. He is a favorite and has a following despite the allegations.
Still, the union said that the Caja board of directors should join the criminal action to recover money presumed to have been lost and to restore the morale and public image of the public institution.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 56

Arias seeks computer help for education from Bill Gates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Like any good salesman, President Óscar Arias Sánchez went for the gold Monday in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. In a meeting with Bill Gates, Arias suggests that the Microsoft guru could help the country provide computers for each school at a cost of $50 million.

And like any good salesman, Arias had a fallback position: computer for each of the nation's 50,000 teachers and help with software licensing.

But the best Arias could get in his 45-minute meeting was a comment from Gates that he ought to visit Costa Rica.

Arias presented him with a letter seeking aid for the Programa Nacional de Informática Educativa. The program was launched during Arias's first presidential term in 1988 and has provided 70 percent of the secondary students and 56 persons of the elementary students access to a computer lab, said Casa Presidencial.

Gates said he was impressed that Costa Rica has promised to increase its investment in education from 6 to 8 percent of the gross national product in education by 2010.

Arias repeated his invitation to Gates to visit Costa Rica at the middle of the year for the launch of the Paz con la Naturaleza program. Arias was in Colombia for Microsoft's Government Leaders Forum.

In his keynote address, Gates highlighted the critical role information and communication technology and public-private partnerships play to boost competitiveness and strengthen economic growth across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Casa Pesidencial photo
Bill Gates and Óscar Arias Sánchez

Gates cited key alliances with the Ricky Martin Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank and Trust for the Americas, in addition to other programs that are expected to deliver the benefits of information and communication training to more than 80 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2010.

“For countries to truly become competitive in the global economy, strategic collaboration between businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations is essential,” Gates said. “Partnerships that provide greater access to technology and skills training can help the nations of Latin America strengthen their knowledge economies and improve their competitiveness, creating new opportunities for growth across the region.”

Our readers express opinions about efficiency and development here
He’s against modernization
in land where he is moving

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I am making preparations now to move to Costa Rica, and the thought of crime or the Latino pace of doing things is no deterrent to me at all! I’m a 59-year-old native of Florida and have witnessed the demise of the quality of life in this state with almost each arrival of a snowbird that just had to change the way we did things here.

Along with the decent people, the criminal element follows. The cost of living has skyrocketed, the way of life they imposed on the natives ruined everything that they originally moved here for, including, can you believe, water shortages. I say to those who would like to alter the way of life in Costa Rica — LEAVE!
Cliff McLeod
Ruskin, Florida
Panamá brags it will beat
Costa Rica at efficiency game

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is interesting to see the reactions to your recent article on Costa Rica’s efficiency. Hence, an article in Monday’s La Nación caught my eye. The headline is Panamá se propone superar competitividad de Costa Rica or “Panamá intends to surpass competitiveness of Costa Rica.”

The article goes on to say for Panamá to be more competitive it is going to put 2,200 transactions by Internet to relieve congestion in public offices and eliminate lines. This includes driver’s license and customs issues. They will also put all the Gaceta information on line without waiting for it to be published.

All government entities purchases, bids and transactions will be on line for all to see. Panamá is streamlining the paperwork for business permits. Therefore, by means of Internet a business can fulfill all the established requirements and notices on opening a project and is establishing a maximum of 5 days to resolve appeals after adjudication.

The article says Panamá initiated 32 tourist projects worth $710 million in 2006 and feels it has an extra advantage with tourist because of its use of dollars and euros.

I don’t like the way many things are done in Costa Rica, but since I don’t work or have a business, I can tolerate many of the inconveniences.
I canceled all the voluntary insurances I had with INS because endless red tape and delays in claims. Unfortunately, my hardworking housekeeper, without minor children, has to take off sometime every week during the day to get in a line for one thing or another. The fact that Registro Nacional information is online helps, but since most all transactions have to be done in person and nothing is done by mail or telephone (bank payments can be made by Internet). I wonder how an ordinary working person finds the time to do them.

Bobby Ruffín

Osa residents joining forces
against big development there

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

We would like to express our strong objection the proposed Osa Pointe development out of Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.
The Osa Peninsula is home to both primary and secondary rainforests and to plant and animal species found no where else on earth.  A mega resort project such as this will damage and destroy delicate eco systems both on land, in the Golfo Dulce and beyond to the Pacific ocean.  It will adversely affect the humpback whales that come to the area from both North and South America to have their babies and breed, as well as many species of dolphins and endangered sea turtles.

While progress in general is eminent, there are some places on this earth that just should not and cannot be subjected to this sort of development, and the Osa Peninsula is one of them. This is an area suited to sustainable eco tourism that allows people to experience nature in its natural and wild state, while causing little or no harm.  It is a very special place that needs to be protected and conserved, not developed and overpopulated with condos, large marinas and planned communities.  Please, let’s not destroy one of the most, if not the most, biologically intense places on earth both on land and at sea!

There is a very strong coalition of environmental and conservation organizations working together to protect the Osa Peninsula, and a project such as this will become priority for us to stop if this development should continue.  We respectfully request that developers reconsider plans to build The Osa Pointe resort on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, which hosts endemic and endangered species and biological importance to the health of the planet.

Sierra Goodman
President, Vida Marina Foundation
Drake Bay, Costa Rica

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