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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, March 24, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 58         E-mail us
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plenty of birds
Photo by Rick Anderson
These are blue-winged teal who winter in large numbers at the Palo Verde wetlands in Guanacaste. A San José-based foundation is accepting submissions for a May conference on
community-based projects for the conservation of wetlands in Central America. The deadline is today.
See story HERE.


Cold front takes lives, but better weather predicted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is not yet out of danger from a cold front that caused downpours, slides and winds. But the weather appears to be getting better.

Despite an alert issued by the national emergency commission, much less rain was reported in the northern zone and the Caribbean coast Tuesday than Monday when nearly two inches fell in some areas.

The Instituto Meteorological Nacional continued to warn about rising rivers, including the María Aguilar and Sarapiquí. Rain in the mountains is a major contributor to these developments. However, the institute also said that rainfall was expected to decrease even more.

There were passengers killed when a tree fell on a small bus or buseta near the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación Enseñanza in Turrialba.

The vehicle was en route to Limón and the driver chose that road because Ruta 32 to Guápiles was closed Monday night by multiple landslides.

The major highway is believed to be open now if more slides do not take place.
The road being open is good news to tourism operators who are expecting a Carnival line cruise ship to dock in Limón late Tuesday or early today. Passengers usually are transported to the Central Valley for sightseeing.

Several persons were reported to be injured by the falling tree, but their conditions are not known. They were taken to the local hospital. Several persons died and were pinned in the vehicle, according to informal reports from the scene.

The national emergency commission is beginning to catalogue the damage. Hardest hit were Pococí, Sarapiquí, Limón and Limón Centro, Matina, Guácimo, Siquirres and Talamanca, the Turrialba area, Upala, Los Chiles and Guatuso, said the commission. Communities along the Río Sarapiquí, the Río Horquetas and Puerto Viejo suffered flooding, that includes Cuatro Esquinas, El Tigre and Naranales. Some 30 persons in Cuatro Esquinas were being housed in shelters. Some 52 more persons were housed from the other two towns. They were in the schools in Tres Rosales and Naranjales.

A bridge collapsed at San Rafael de Vara Blanca and cut off some communities there.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 58

Costa Rica Expertise
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Arias and his medal
Casa Presidencial photo   
Arias meets the press with his new decoration

A perk for seeking peace:
Decoration from Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are certain perks to being a diplomat or a Latin president. Óscar Arias Sánchez was the beneficiary of one such perk Tuesday when the president of Colombia bestowed the Orden de San Carlos, a decoration honoring his work for peace.

Diplomats frequently exchange decorations. Arias has collected many. Venezuelan diplomat Roy Chaderton Mato has 12 listed on his resume, including one from Bulgaria.

In addition to a palm-size medal, Arias received a gold chain Tuesday. That was more upscale than the cloth strap that Colombian golfer Camilo Villegas got with his medal a year ago for finishing seventh after Tiger Woods in world rankings.

Arias was in Colombia for a state visit but returned Tuesday night.

Costa Rica awards decorations, too. Most foreign ambassadors who are reassigned after spending time here usually get some kind of decoration.


Contract drivers walk out
of negotiations on status


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of porteadores walked out on a Casa Presidencial meeting Tuesday, and it appears another effort to paralyze transportation will take place Thursday.

Government officials were miffed at the actions by the porteadores. The government is trying to resolve the status of the porteadores, persons who perform the function of taxi drivers without the legal permits.

The government wants to phase out porteadores and has promised additional taxi licenses and other changes over 18 months.

There are bills in the legislature that would change the section of the commercial code that porteadores rely on to keep their businesses legal. They say that they are carrying passengers on contract, and many actually have pads of blank contracts that they fill out for each trip.

Taxi drivers say the porteadores are nothing more than pirate drivers. Licensed taxi drivers have staged protests against the porteadores.

This is one of those situations where the government failed to move and head off a developing legal problem until it was too late. Now thousands of families rely on the income from porteadores.

The protests include blocking key intersections, driving vehicles at very slow speeds and otherwise bringing down the country's overloaded transportation networks. For the first time March 10, the central government responded to the continuing protests with force. Police used tear gas to breakup some roadblocks, and five persons were arrested.

The central government is expected to order more force Thursday if the drivers carryout their threats.


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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


For your international reading pleasure:


News of Nicaragua
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News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Honduras
News of the Dominican Republic
News of Panamá

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 58


Calamares sounds a lot better than a plate of squid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fairs seem to be all the rage.  For public agencies there is the chance to display their work to the public.  For farmers, fairs can be points of sale for their products. That is true for producers.

That being said, there probably will not be a traffic jam to get to the Festival de Calamares in the Parque de la Paz Sunday. Squid are just not a big draw, although Costa Ricans do like free food.

Sardimar has invited chef Óscar Castro to prepare squid with rice. Of course, the company has a motive. Sea food is a tradition during Semana Santa, so the company is promoting its products. The event is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There also will be music, dancing and contests. The company said that its mascot Sardi, also will visit.
Sardi is a human-size yellowfin tuna, sort of like Charlie the Tuna from the United States.

The company said that for every plate of arroz con calamares given away it will donate a can of tuna to the Asociación Camino de Esperanza, which provides free meals to the poor.

The Poder Judicial plans a mini-fair today, starting at 9:30 a.m. in the auditorium of the Judicial Investigating Organization building in the downtown judicial complex. In addition to round tables and other discussions,
food mascots
Sardi and the unnamed palmito guy


representatives from many departments will be on hand. The event is designed for the public.

Then there is the palmito fair in Tucurrique starting Friday and running through Sunday. The producers from  Tucurrique and Pejivalle de Jiménez are trying to generate interest in their product, the relatively tasteless palm shoots. The fair is in the Centro Agrícola Cantonal de Jiménez.

Palmito is great diet food very low in calories. Chopped up the vegetable would add a certain something to a steaming plate of squid and rice.


No links found between two Golfito murders, agents say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are discounting any relationship between the deaths of John Clark McCurley and Kelly Nutting, even though both men died in the Golfito area this month.

Passersby found McCurley's body Saturday. He had been reported missing a week ago. But a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said Tuesday that there was no evidence at all to suggest the two crimes are connected.

Nutting, a long-time resident and hotel operator, was found tied and strangled when officers of the Guardacostas recovered his sheet-draped body from the sea earlier this month.

McCurley died from a knife wound that punctured a lung, investigators said.
At first agents thought they had a break in the McCurley crime. A man was detained in Guapiles driving the car rented by McCurley. However, agents now say the man is just a car thief who took advantage of the opportunity to steal what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle.

The man still is in jail.

Officials are saying little about either crime. Not much was known about McCurley, but he is believed to have family in the area.

Whoever killed Nutting tied his body to concrete in the hopes of sinking him in the sea. Nevertheless, he was found March 6. McCurley was just dumped alongside the road and rolled down an incline into brush.

That may have happened a week before his body was found.


Ideas sought to help protect and manage nation's wetlands
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A San José-based foundation is accepting submissions for a May conference on community-based projects for the conservation of wetlands in Central America.

The Foundation for Participative Environmental Management promotes local involvement in wetland management as part of poverty alleviation.

The example cited from Costa Rica in an earlier publication of the same type is the Ostional wildlife refuge, where the
Olive Ridley turtle comes in large waves, with the later arrivals digging up the eggs laid earlier. A local cooperative harvests those eggs that would be lost anyway, for sale. Commerce in turtle eggs is otherwise prohibited.

Costa Rica has 10 wetland sites declared of global importance under the international Ramsar Convention. The best known are Palo Verde and Caño Negro. Mangrove sites are also included.

The deadline for submissions is today. The foundation's Web site is www.fungap.org/


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 58



U.N. panel back home after evaluating stone spheres

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the University of Kansas News staff

The United Nations panale of experts who came to Costa Rica to evaluate the stone spheres have returned home.  There is no word yet on when their report will be issued.

But the spheres, sometimes referred to as the mysterious spheres, have gotten good media play. A.M. Costa Rica reported in February that the panel would come. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is considering granting the spheres world heritage status.

Among those who visited was John Hoppes of the University of Kansas, one of the few real authorities on the stone spheres. The university featured him in a press release this week and likened him to Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist from Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Jones was chased by a stone sphere in the first "Raiders" movie. But Costa Rica does not have ancient temples of the type portrayed in the film.

Hoopes is an associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program at the University of Kanas.

His report will help determine if sites linked to the massive orbs will be designated for preservation and promotion because of their “outstanding value to humanity.” Hoopes, who researches ancient cultures of Central and South America, explained that although the stone spheres are very old, international interest in them is still growing.

“The earliest reports of the stones come from the late 19th century, but they weren’t really reported scientifically until the 1930s — so they’re a relatively recent discovery,” Hoopes said. “They remained unknown until the United Fruit Company began clearing land for banana plantations in southern Costa Rica.”

According to Hoopes, around 300 balls are known to exist, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Many of these are clustered in Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta region. Some remain pristine in the original places of discovery, but many others have been relocated or damaged due to erosion, fires and vandalism.

The researcher said that scientists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., with most dating to after 1,000 A.D. but before the Spanish conquest.

“We date the spheres by pottery styles and radiocarbon dates associated with archeological deposits found with the stone spheres,” Hoopes said. “One of the problems with this methodology is that it tells you the latest use of the sphere but it doesn’t tell you when it was made.

"These objects can be used for centuries and are still sitting where they are after a thousand years. So it’s very difficult to say exactly when they were made.”
John Hoopes and sphere
University of Kanas photo
John Hoopes and a stone sphere

Speculation and pseudoscience have plagued general understanding of the stone spheres. For instance, publications have claimed that the balls are associated with the mytical continent of Atlantis. Others have asserted that the balls are navigational aids or relics related to Stonehenge or the massive heads on Easter Island.

“Myths are really based on a lot of very rampant speculation about imaginary ancient civilizations or visits from extraterrestrials,” Hoopes said.

In reality, archaeological excavations in the 1940s found the stone balls to be linked with pottery and materials typical of pre-Columbian cultures of southern Costa Rica.

“We really don’t know why they were made,” Hoopes said. “The people who made them didn’t leave any written records. We’re left to archeological data to try to reconstruct the context. The culture of the people who made them became extinct shortly after the Spanish conquest. So, there are no myths or legends or other stories that are told by the indigenous people of Costa Rica about why they made these spheres.”

Hoopes has created a popular Web page to knock down some of the misconceptions about the spheres. He said the stones’ creation, while vague, certainly had nothing to do with lost cities or space ships.

“We think the main technique that was used was pecking and grinding and hammering with stones,” said Hoopes. “There are some spheres that have been found that still have the marks of the blows on them from hammer stones. We think that that’s how they were formed, by hammering on big rocks and sculpting them into a spherical shape.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 58

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Our reader's opinion
Make public repeat offenders
even if they are juveniles


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A.M. Costa Rica reported Tuesday that "Judicial officials have been shocked that so many teens have been involved in gun crimes, robberies and murders."

Oh really? To tell you the truth, I think they're the only ones who are shocked. I think most of the rest of us living out here in the "real world" aren't even surprised.

These kids are only mimicking their older counterparts who often recruit them into the criminal life, and who they see consistently getting slaps on the wrist by the courts for their crimes instead of being sentenced to the hard time they so richly deserve.

Kids see that the older criminals who are often violent, repeat offenders are allowed to walk the streets even after their apprehension(s). Spineless judges seem to lack the ability to comprehend the lunacy and danger in their decisions to release them instead of incarcerating them until their trials which they seldom attend.

Then there's the unwritten law that says the cops won't even get involved if the value of items stolen is less than $500. This can only be described as monumentally stupid! One would hope that the police are a little more willing to do what they're (poorly) paid to do if the less-than-$500 theft is committed at the point of a gun, but perhaps I'm being too optimistic?

There's very little happening in the law enforcement arena or the judicial system that can be construed as viable deterrents to young criminals/would-be criminals. In truth, once the sun goes down in neighborhoods like mine all over the country, the criminals are running the show and they KNOW it! So why shouldn't degenerating youth join in the fun? They feel tough/powerful/sexy. They SWAGGER! Who's going to talk them out of pursuing this rarefied "high" that briefly "medicates" their feelings of desperation and humiliation born of their numbing poverty. The church can't do it and neither can the schools, and it's painfully obvious that their families have given up trying in many cases.

But let's be clear about kids. When the media says "youthful offenders," they're talking two very different groups of kids. There are the very typical, hormonally challenged teenage boys who often make really bad decisions in life. (I know I did.) This certainly isn't unique to Costa Rica. Kids like these who come from impoverished and troubled homes/communities deserve to have their identities protected and their futures advocated.

But there is another group of underage offenders who can only be called SOCIOPATHS and PREDATORS, who have made crime an irrevocable lifestyle choice and who contribute greatly to the crime problems that plague Costa Rica. They force everyone to live behind steel bars and razor wire and turn entire neighborhoods into war zones. I honestly don't believe they deserve the same kind of consideration. Instead, maximum consideration should be given to those who are preyed upon by these dangerous young thugs who have gone so far over the edge into criminality that they are deemed to be no longer recoverable by way of the kind of social programs Costa Rica and other nations so desperately need.

Yesterday's article mentioned an "archive of youthful offenders" for police. While this is a good idea for the law enforcement community, it does little if anything for the community at large.

In the U. S., sexual predators are identified to the communities where they live to protect the young and vulnerable from assault. If there are underage sexual predators, property predators, (burglars), and drug dealers who are REPEAT OFFENDERS in your neighborhood, don't you have the right to know who they are no matter their age, ESPECIALLY if they've committed a crime with a gun? How else will you be able to make an informed decision about whether or not you want them working for you/hanging out with your kids/dating your daughter?

In fact, this would be the ONLY way to afford some slight protection to a community from underage criminals because (1) many of their crimes aren't reported to the police because victims are afraid of reprisals from the criminals/their friends/their families, (2) many of their crimes aren't reported BY the police TO the communities because cops don't want to look impotent, (3) the juvenile justice system is in even worse shape than its adult counterpart, (4) we must assume that it won't improve anytime soon because the money just isn't there to reform it, and so (5) even if juvenile crimes are reported and criminals apprehended, their punishment will be something in between non existent and laughable.

Making the identities of violent, young repeat offenders public is in the community's best interest. If their futures are damaged in some way by releasing their identities, this is of course unfortunate. But in my opinion it's easily the lesser of the two evils. I think their pictures should be put on milk cartons: "Have you seen this kid? If so, RUN!" Perhaps SHAMING them by OUTING them to their communities is the last, best hope for turning them away from a life of violent, predatory behavior.

Law enforcement officials all over the world know that this global epidemic of underage criminality can't be solved by incarceration alone. Social programs are what's needed but sadly aren't affordable even in more well to do countries than Costa Rica. Unless/until the money and the programs become available, the most problematic young criminals MUST be incarcerated even if the sentences are initially of the short term kind, or the communities they prey upon will continue to deteriorate.

If your house is on fire, the first thing you do is PUT IT OUT. THEN you talk about fire prevention and who's playing with matches.
Dean Barbour
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 58


Latin American news
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U.S., México set new policy
for joint border control


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and Mexican governments have launched a range of initiatives that challenge the traditional view of “hold the line” and are developing a framework for a new vision of 21st century border management, the State Department said Tuesday. The summary was released at the same time that Hillary Clinton, the secretary, was visiting México.

The new framework is based on the principles of joint border management, co-responsibility for cross-border crime, and shared commitment to the efficient flow of legal commerce and travel, the department said. The department gave this summary:

Enhancing public safety – The protection of Mexican and U.S. citizens from the criminal organizations responsible for the traffic in people, drugs, arms, and money across the common land border is a key priority for both countries. In addition to the Merida Initiative programs currently underway, the countries must develop joint strategies for key smuggling and trafficking corridors along with regular sharing of information on investigations, prosecutions, and screening practices.

Securing flows – The central challenge in managing flows of people and goods is to separate high-risk travelers and cargo from low-risk ones. Tools that help prevent illegitimate trade and travel while expediting legitimate trade and travel include implementing complementary risk management strategies in both countries, establishing a bi-national “model port” to share information on goods and people, and improving trusted traveler and shipper programs. The countries must work together with the private sector to ensure that we achieve these goals.

Expediting legitimate commerce and travel – Each day, about a billion dollars of commerce and a million people cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Affirmative steps that accelerate the flow of people and goods through ports of entry enhance both countries’ economic competitiveness. Both countries need work with the private sector to encourage investment in the people, technology, and infrastructure that comprise a 21st century border. Secure transit lanes for pre-cleared rail and truck shipments as well as passenger pre-clearance programs are two tools that could make cross border trade and travel more efficient.

Engaging border communities – Mexico is the number one or number two export destination of 22 U.S. states. Cross-border trade contributes enormously to the economic vitality of both countries, especially in the border region. Continuing to engage border communities, as well as state, local, and tribal governments in bi-national strategy development, law enforcement, and communications, is essential to collaborative border management.

Setting policy – Achieving rapid policy change requires an agile inter-agency process within each country as well as a means by which both governments can easily coordinate at a bi-national level. Both countries need to reinvigorate their policy-setting architecture to address the statutory, regulatory, systems, and infrastructure changes needed to realize the new vision of collaborative border management.




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