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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, March 25, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 59      E-mail us
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Municipality joins with church for Semana Santa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the third year in a row, the Municipalidad de San José is working with the Catholic Church to observe Semana Santa.

Although the week that precedes Easter is steeped in religion, there is theater, too. The municipality said that well-known theater personality Luis Carlos Vázquez will be working with some 50 persons to provide the historic backdrop for the week. The individuals will play Romans, apostles and other biblical personages during the week of processions.

The first such procession is Sunday, April 5. This is Palm Sunday, which commemorates the arrival of Jesus Christ to a hero's welcome in the City of Jerusalem. For the faithful, the day begins with a ceremony at the newly restored Nuestra Señora de la Merced church on Avenida 2.

For tourists, this and other Semana Santa events are highly photogenic.

The Palm Sunday procession features a construction on the route that simulates the gates of the biblical city. Those who attended the blessing of the palms at the La Merced church can walk to the Catedral Metropolitana for a 10:30 Mass. If past years are any clue, the procession will feature a Christ-like person on a donkey surrounded with biblical figures and, of course, palm fronds.

There is one difference this year. Church officials, in league with the municipality, will be taking advantage of the new pedestrian boulevard on Avenida 4. The procession Palm Sunday and others will take place here at times to avoid traffic congestion.

However, Avenida 2 will be in use Monday, April 6, starting at 7 p.m. for the Stations of the Cross, led by the Catholic hierarchy, including Archbishop Hugo Barrantes. The next day, Tuesday, April 7, there is a Semana Santa concert at the cathedral at 6 p.m.

Wednesday another procession, titled "Christ tied to the column," will commemorate the physical punishment the gospels say that Jesus Christ endured at the hands of the Romans the night of his capture and the day before his death. This procession will go west on Avenida 2 to the main offices of Banco de Costa Rica and then south to Avenida 4 where participants will return to the cathedral.

Thursday at 5:30 p.m. the so-called Procession of Silence leaves the cathedral going north to Avenida Central and then west on the pedestrian boulevard to the former Radio Monumental intersection, then south to Avenida 4 and the return to the cathedral. This procession is followed by a Mass commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and the apostles.

Friday is a full day of events. An 8:30 a.m. prayer session in the cathedral is followed by a 9:15 a.m. theatrical event commemorating the appearance of Christ before Pontius Pilot, complete with Romans
Palm Sunday
Archdiocese photo via Municipalidad de San José
Procession with palms starts the week

and citizens of Jerusalem calling for his crucifixion. This is in an adjacent park. At 9:30 a.m. the trial of Jesus moves to the Nuestra Señora del Carmen church for the reading of the death sentence and order of execution.

From that church begins the procession with a figure of Christ carrying the cross to the execution on the hill of Calvary.

The marchers leave the church on Avenida 3 to the west, and the theatrics continue with an encounter with Mary Magdalin, Veronica and her veil and a series of other biblical figures. The procession reaches Parque Central via Avenida 4 for the mock crucifixion.

The processions are not yet over for Friday, which happens to be a legal holiday. A 3 p.m. service in the cathedral is followed by the burial procession of Christ with the assistance of a whole list of characters, including statues joining the march via processions from other churches and the 60 members of the Banda del Cuerpo de Bomberos de San José. The procession goes from the cathedral north to Avenida 1, then west to Calle 4 and then south to the Banco de Costa Rica and east to the cathedral via Avenida 2.

This procession includes a casket with a life-size status of Christ, the Banda Nacional de San José, Romans, biblical characters and delegations from several lay organizations.

Saturday at 4 p.m. a procession begins at the Nuestra Señora de la Soledad church on Calle 9 to Avenida 2 to the cathedral. Participants carry the image of the Virgin.

The final procession, one of joy at the resurrection of Jesus, takes place from the La Dolorosa church on Calle Central to the cathedral at 10 a.m. Easter Sunday. This is followed by a Mass of Resurrection there at 10:30 a.m.

If tourists have not had their fill of processions and religious activity, there are similar events all over the country.

The municipality said that its alliance with the church was a way of reinforcing a new generation with their identity and spirituality. all of the events will be in the presence of dozens of police officers for security, the municipality said.

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Same sex marriage ban
to be studied by Sala IV

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has agreed to study an appeal that would legalize same-sex marriage in Costa Rica.

The appeal by Yashin Castrillo Fernández, a lawyer, seeks to change a section of the Código de Familia which now defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The action seeks a change to a union of two persons.

The action claims that the current text of the law is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of equality, liberty, dignity and free development of personality.

The court, in its acceptance said it would entertain briefs from those of support or oppose the idea.

Water company hands out
406 blue flag awards

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sámara Sur, Hermosa de Jacó, Curú and Quesera were four beaches that were awarded the blue flag Tuesday by the  Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

In all, the institute handed out 406 awards for environmental soundness. The winners included beaches, communities and companies that took steps to confront climate change.

This year the blue flag program made awards to 33 communities, 10 protected areas, 59 beaches and 22 educational centers.

Our readers' opinions
Three-way transport battle
is a hot potato for Arias

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

If you are dumbfounded by the taxis, both the red ones and the multicolored ones blocking traffic in protest, you needn’t be. The explanation is really quite simple: It’s fighting over a piece of the profitable people transporting pie. The legal red taxis, and the porteadores, those operating within the law as “private contract only” carriers, and the “pirate” taxis, those with old, beat up cars, who will take you where you want to go, but cheaper, are going at it.

The right to carry passengers is a political plum of long standing. Long ago, the politicians came up with the idea of passing a law which would require permits to provide the service and limiting the number of permits. That makes sense if regulation is supposed to avoid a free-for-all in the service, but poorly done and you’ve got a mess, like now. What prevailed in the regulation was the interest of the taxi owners, and hardly anyone else, in other words, giving them a monopoly of sorts. Monopolies are not necessarily bad, but when the users’ needs are not fully taken into consideration, they are, and this monopoly is one of them.

First of all, the number of permits was far to low to meet the demand, worse now with population growth. That’s good for the permit holders.  Secondly, one didn’t have to be a driver to get a permit, but have political connections to the transport ministry, MOPT, which determined who got the permits. Thirdly, because the permits were limited, having one meant having something of worth a lot of money. A shortage of anything makes it valuable, and permits are bought and sold on the open market. Getting one free from the government meant a handsome profit come sell time.

What has happened in this administration is that the number of permits has risen slightly, still too low to satisfy demand, some of the political influence has been taken out of the equation by creating a “point system” for new permits, a pledge by the government to clamp down on pirate taxis, and to rescind the law that allows porteadores to operate legally. These last two have not happened, and the “guys in red” are showing their discontent with another traffic blocking move, last Monday’s. Nothing like wanting to hang on to monopolistic privileges.

The porteadores argue that what they are doing legal, which it is, and to deprive them of their rights is sure and simple political favoritism.

The “pirates” argue that they couldn’t be successful in the business of people transport, if there was not a demand for their services, which there is. All they want is to operate legally.

The passengers argue that they don’t care who carries them conveniently from Point A to Point B, as long as the price is low. Sorry, passengers, you have to stay in the back of the benefit line. Other interests come first.

There are other details to this "grab at the pie," but this is essence of it. President Arias has a hot potato in his hands with this one. We’ll see what kind of protective gloves he wears to solve the problem. No other administration before has been able to.
Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon
Why not Costa Rica,
former resident asks

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have wanted to say that I love Costa Rica, BUT they have lost the touch.  We started coming down in 1992!  Purchased a coffee finca in 1993 and moved there in 1997!  Lived there for four years and have to say they were some of the happiest experiences in our lives. 

Moved back to the States because of the government, crime and the drivers.  None of these is a real reason, but the culture finally got to us.  We were very active in the communities and still have friends there.  We wanted to move back last year, but after a couple visits, were totally discouraged.  The crime has gotten out of control, cost of living is outrageous and the lack of incentives to move there are not competitive or even existent.   

Panamá and Nicaragua really want new residents to move there and add to their economy and help them grow.  Costa Rica is still stuck in yesterday while the other countries are growing.  Even Ecuador is very promising, being what Costa Rica and Mexico were 20-30 years ago.  Foreigners  who move to these countries add considerably to the economy without the country requiring a high level of income. 

The import taxes on cars is obscene in CR.   I had to pay more for import taxes than I paid to purchase 10-year-old cars.  It costs as much to eat out in Costa Rica as it does in Florida now.  The taxes and requirements for help are out of this world, and you have priced out the average working person there.  Have a friend who lives there and her husband died and she has to think about moving back.  She will have to pay her houseman thousands of dollars when she leaves because of the Costa Rican laws. 

Looking out after the average worker is fine, but CR has priced them out of the market.  Most of us pay our ways, but CR is making it very hard since they seem to demand more than from natives.

The country is beautiful and we will always love it,  but will never live there again because CR will not build an infrastructure, punish criminals and develop in the present world economy.  Surrounding countries do it, why not CR???  
Ralph Simonson 
Leesburg, Florida.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 59

Transport officials continue effort to install electric trains
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Heredia-San José train may not go into service next month, according to transport officials, but they still are making elaborate plans to award a concession for a $344 million electric train project to a private firm.

Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes officials are planning on offering the concession up for bid in August. About $100 million in improvements will be paid by the state, and the concessionaire will have to invest about $245 million, officials said Tuesday.

Part of the job includes making the valley line from la Sabana to San Pedro two-way. It is now a single track.

Even that single track is dangerous as it goes through the center of San José.  A 41-year-old man with the last name of Álvarez died early Tuesday when he was hit by a train car about 5 a.m. in the vicinity of Plaza Víquez in San José. He appears to have been hit by the bed of a passing flat car, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was believed to be a vagrant.

There are no crossing gates on the train line and the rails are at street level.

Nevertheless, transport officials hope to increase dramatically the frequency of the electrified trains. 

A $500,000 feasibility study by the Brazilian firm Engevix Enghenería S.A. suggested a frequency of six minutes during peak hours and a train every 12 minutes during off-peak hours.
Transport officials said they hope to award the 35-year concession sometime in 2010 with the start of electric service in 2013.

The project will be in three parts, starting with the route from the Estación al Atlántico to the Hospital de Heredia as the first step.  The second stage will be from the Estación al Atlántico to San Pedro followed by the route to la Sabana.

The diesel-powered train now goes to Pavas and the Heredia route has been rehabilitated.

Karla Gonzáles, the transport minister, said there are six companies ready to consider participating in the bidding process. They are: CAF of Spain, Alston of France, Inekon Group Corp. of the Czech Republic, Bombardier of Canada, Golden Source International Economic of China and Siemens of Germany. She said officials would be meeting this week with representatives of each company.

The consulting firm thought that the Heredia trip could be made in 22 minutes with eight 30-second stops. The San Pedro route would take seven minutes including three stops and the la Sabana ride would be 16 minutes with seven stops.

A more pressing problem has not been solved. The ministry purchased rail cars from Spain, and they are scheduled to arrive in 10 days. However, Ms. Gonzáles said that there has been no decision made on how to get the rail cars from Limón to the Central Valley.

A rail line runs part of the way, but the line is destroyed where it crosses the mountains into the Central Valley. The rail cars will have to be trucked, it appears.

Lawmakers give final approval to private power generating
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature Tuesday passed for the second and final time a proposed law that would allow the environment ministry to award 25-year concessions to individuals, companies or cooperatives so that they could generate electricity from flowing water.

The concessionaires would then sell their power for national distribution.

The idea has been fought by those who see the legislation as some kind of giveaway or an attack on pristine rivers.

The legislation would empower the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones to award the
concessions administratively. The concession holder would have five years to get the generation plant going.

Costa Rica has suffered a scarcity of electrical power and there even have been blackouts and brownouts. Some 39 lawmakers voted for this plan, which now goes to President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

A business group applauded the action. The Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado said that by approving the proposal the lawmakers helped to cover the demand for electricity.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has several giant power generating projects in various stages of completion, and these would dwarf private generating stations.

Nine would-be telecom providers put on the short list by Superintendencia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Amnet, the cable television provider expats love to hate, is one of nine companies that have survived a review by the new telecommunication agency and have been designated for further study. Some 11 firms still are trying to comply.

Among the so-far successful applicants is an Internet cafe, Cyber Conexión, which seeks to provide voice-over-Internet service in its locations.

Amnet, whose corporate name is Dodona SRL, seeks to provide transmission of data, voice-over-Internet, access to information webs, and value-added services like video conferencing and television by subscription. The firm now offers a cable connection the Radiográfica S.A. servers and cable television. Some expats are unhappy with the high-handed way the firm changes channels, eliminates channels, blacks out channels and declines to explain what it is doing.

The telecom agency, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, studied the finances and technical
capabilities of the firms before approving them for further study.

Also approved were Intertel Worldwide S.A., which seeks to provide prepaid public telephone service using the Internet; R&H International Telecom Services S.A., which seeks to provide voice-over-Internet services for homes and businesses; Worldcom de Costa Rica S.A., which seeks to provide wireless Internet connections and by land line, voice-over-Internet and corporate networks; Callmyway NY S.A., which seeks to provide many types of communication services; Redes Inalámbricas de Costa Rica S.A., which seeks to provide corporate networks with wireless technology; and Junta Admistradora de Servicio Eléctrico Municipal de Cartago, which seeks to provide cable television and Internet. The other companies continue seeking approval.

The companies that moved forward now have to publish a statement in the La Gaceta official newspaper outlining their proposals, and then there is a 10-day wait to see if there are objections. If there are no objections, the Superintendencia has 60 days to resolve the application.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 59

Teeth of Columbus crewmen provide surprising clues
By the University of Wisconsin-Madison news services

Skeletons that may represent the remains of crew members from the second excursion to the New World by Columbus in 1493-94 were exhumed in 1990 by archaeologists from Italy and the Dominican Republic.

The burials were a part of La Isabela on the island of Hispaniola, now a part of the Dominican Republic and that was the first European settlement in the New World.

Now, a chemical analysis of the teeth of these skeletons promises details of the individuals early life history, showing where they were born and what they ate, information that promises to reveal new clues about the first European explorers of the New World.

The work is being done by archaeologist T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues.

"This is telling us about where people came from and what they ate as children," said Price. The analysis is of the tooth enamel of three individuals from a larger group excavated almost 20 years ago from shallow graves at the site of La Isabela, the first European town in America.

Price and colleague James Burton, in collaboration with researchers from the Autonomous University of the Yucatan in Mexico, are attempting to flesh out the details of a colony that lasted less than five years. The human remains used in the study were buried without the formalities of coffins or shrouds and were excavated from what was once the church graveyard of the town Columbus established. Headstones and other identifying markers have long since faded to nothing or have been lost entirely during the 500 years since the bodies were buried.

Despite its brief existence, historians and archaeologists believe La Isabela was a substantial settlement with a church, public buildings such as a customhouse and storehouse, private dwellings and fortifications. It is also the only known settlement in America where Columbus actually lived.

Although the town has been the subject of previous archaeological studies, the work by Price, Burton and their colleague Vera Tiesler and Andrea Cucina of the Autonomous University is revealing new insight into the people who lived and sailed with Columbus, and who died on the shores of a strange and exotic new world.

Histories of La Isabela, named after Spain's queen and Columbus's patron and located in what is today the Dominican Republic, suggest its population was made up only of men from the fleet of 17 vessels that comprised Columbus's second visit to the New World. But the first analysis of the remains of 20 individuals excavated two decades ago by Italian and Dominican archaeologists portray a different picture, suggesting that living among the Spaniards at La Isabela were native women and children, and possibly individuals of African origin.

If confirmed, that would put Africans in the New World as contemporaries of Columbus and decades before they were believed to have first arrived as slaves.

The study conducted by the Wisconsin researchers relied on isotopic analysis of three elements: carbon, oxygen and strontium.

Carbon isotope ratios provide reliable evidence of diet at the time an individual's adult teeth emerge in childhood. For example, people who eat maize, as opposed to those who consume wheat or rice, have different carbon isotope ratio profiles locked in their tooth enamel.

"Heavy carbon means you were eating tropical grasses such as maize, found only in the New World, or millet in Africa, neither of which was consumed in Europe" at the time, said Burton.
Columbus skeleton
Fernando Luna Calderon, provided
courtesy of T. Douglas Price

One of the skeletons unearthed at la Isabela

Oxygen isotopes provide information about water consumption and also can say something about geography as the isotopic composition of water changes in relation to latitude and proximity to the ocean. Strontium is a chemical found in bedrock and that enters the body through the food chain as nutrients pass from bedrock to soil and water and, ultimately, to plants and animals. The strontium isotopes found in tooth enamel, the most stable and durable material in the human body, thus constitute an indelible signature of where someone lived as a child.

Three of the individuals whose teeth were subjected to isotopic analysis by the Wisconsin group were males under the age of 40 and who had carbon isotope profiles far different from the rest, suggesting an Old World origin. "I would bet money this person was an African," Price said of one of the three individuals whose teeth were subjected to analysis.

It was known that Columbus had a personal African slave on his voyages of discovery. The new analysis could mean that Africans played a much larger role in the first documented explorations of America.

The strontium isotope analysis, Price notes, is not yet complete, as samples from the teeth of the presumed sailors remain to be matched with strontium profiles of Spanish soils. However, such matches could open an intriguing window to the personal identities of individuals buried in La Isabela.

"All of these sailors — their place of birth, their age — were recorded in Seville before they left on the second voyage," Price explained. "One of the things we're hoping to do with the strontium is identify individuals."

The skeletons also exhibit evidence of scurvy, a common affliction of 15th century sailors who lacked vitamin C on their long voyages, as well as signs of malnutrition and physical stress.

Chronicles of the voyage noted that most of the Europeans, including Columbus himself, fell sick shortly after landfall on Hispaniola, and many subsequently died, perhaps becoming the first to be buried in the graveyard.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 59

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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.


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Mrs. Clinton off to México
today to support Calderón

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flies to México today for a two-day visit aimed at showing support for Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his government's crackdown on drug cartels. On the eve of the trip, the Obama administration announced new steps to curb border traffic in drugs, illicit money and weapons.

Secretary Clinton will be the first in a parade of senior administration officials to visit Mexico to lay groundwork for President Obama's two-day visit in mid-April for talks with President Calderon.

The two neighbors have a heavy load of problem issues including trade disputes and illegal immigration. But the agenda has recently been dominated by drug-related violence mainly in Mexican towns along the border spurred by a crackdown on drug gangs by the Calderon government.

Clashes between traffickers and security forces and internecine fighting among rival gangs has killed an estimated seven thousand people since the beginning of last year and spurred concerns by some analysts about the overall stability of Mexico.

Administration officials say a principal aim of the visits, and the new U.S. efforts along the border, is to underscore support for Calderón and dispel concern about Mexican stability.

At the White House roll-out of the border program Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said the new administration sees relations with México as a critical partnership and one that requires as much high-level attention as any relationship the United States has.

The administration plan announced Tuesday calls for the deployment of more federal agents, experts and equipment to the Mexican border region to curb drug shipment headed into the United States and weapons and drug payments going the other direction.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who will visit Mexico with U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder next week, says the United States will provide $700 million worth of aid this year — including helicopters — to help Mexican forces apprehend and prosecute drug criminals.

Clinton will meet President Calderón and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa in Mexico City Wednesday and visit the industrial city of Monterrey near the U.S. border before returning to Washington late Thursday.

Clinton and other administration officials are aiming to resolve, before President Obama's visit next month, a simmering dispute over access to the United States by Mexican truckers that has prompted a retaliatory set of Mexican tariffs on U.S. goods.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 59

Latin American news digest
World airlines taking hit
as recession slows demand

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Air Transport Association says world airlines are set to lose $4.7 billion in 2009 due to the global recession, almost double the amount of loss it predicted in December. 

The International Air Transport Association says 2009 is shaping up to be one of the toughest years the airline industry has ever faced. It says the global economic downturn has caused passenger demand to fall by 5.6 percent and has made a big dent in cargo traffic.

Giovanni Bisignani, association director general, said air cargo was down by more than 23 percent in January. He says this is a leading indicator not just for airlines, but for the whole economy.

"Air cargo represents 35 percent of the value of goods traded internationally. And, a slowdown in cargo means that the consumers are not buying and manufacturers are not producing. And, we can fully expect that the economic downturn of the following months will get worse before it gets better," he said.

Bisignani says the only bright spot in this otherwise gloomy picture is the lower price of fuel. He says this will help the industry, but not enough.

He says the benefits from lower fuel prices are overshadowed by falling demand and plummeting revenues.

He says airlines will have to make sacrifices to keep from going under, but he says the one area they will not short-change is safety. 

The association said Asia-Pacific carriers are the hardest hit by the economic crisis and can expect losses of $1.7 billion.

By comparison, it says North American airlines are putting in the best performance and will make an estimated $100 million in profit this year.

European, Latin American and African carriers are expected to record large losses, it said. But, it notes the Middle East will be the only region to maintain growth.
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