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(506) 2223-1327               Published Thursday, March 25, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 59        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Agencies outline plans
to keep holiday safe

By Manuel Avendaño Arce
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security and transport officials are working to prevent deaths over the Semana Santa vacation period which begins Friday.

Last year four persons died, including a 21-year-old Canadian tourist, Kevin Saltdan, who drowned in Jacó, officials said. That toll was the lowest in 10 years, they said.

For 2010 the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo anticipates 10,000 foreign tourists to visit from the United States, Canada and Europe alone. Officials are beefing up some security measures to protect these and the many Costa Ricans who also take vacations at this time.

Security officials, police and traffic officials and firemen met Wednesday to outline their plans.

Germán Marín, director of the Policía de Tránsito, outlined the many checkpoints that his officers will maintain on the principal highways. They include the Braulio Carrillo highway, the route to Limón from San José. Other locations include the new Autopista del Sol from San José to Caldera where there will be five checkpoints and the Costanera along the central Pacific coast where there will be six checkpoints.

As an additional measure, a helicopter fitted to be an air ambulance will be stationed at Orotina to provide rapid service to the new highway and surroundings.

Marín said that motorists should be reminded to carry their security kit mandated by the new traffic law because they may be tempted to leave it home to make more space for luggage. He also said officers will be enforcing the seat belt law and the law that says younger children need special seats.

Some 11,000 officers of all types will be on the job, and the Cruz Roja will have 124 locations where they will provide information including
holiday box

some in English, the rescue agency said. Police will even be using aircraft to keep eyes in the city.

Agencies and units include the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas, the Policía Turística, the Unidad Canina, the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias, the Cuerpo de Bomberos and the Ministerio del Ambiente Energía y Telecomunicaciones. Part of the work at checkpoints to make sure vacationers are not transporting protected plants or animals they may have picked up.

Life guards will be at 46 locations, including Jacó, Flamingo, Hermosa, Herradura, Montezuma and some beaches in Limón.

Officers also will be cracking down on juvenile vandalism associated with the tradition of burning Judas, traditionally identified as the informant that led soldiers to Christ. Usually on the day before Easter, youngsters burn effigies and other items. Police note that the tradition has degenerated into burning vehicles, fighting, and general disruption of the peace.

Dry law still is in effect for two days before Easter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jesus and his disciples may have had a little wine at the last Supper, but that was not in Costa Rica.
Here the dry law still is in effect for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, even though a similar law for election day has been junked.

As is the custom, the Fuerza Pública and local police, if any, will be making the rounds of stores, restaurants and bars the evening of March 31 placing seals on places where alcohol is kept. In the case of bars where the bulk of the trade is in alcoholic products, the entire business will be shut.

Alcohol sales are not permitted until early Saturday. The ban covers all 81 municipalities, although tourist resorts have a way of circumventing the ban.

Some use plastic cups coupled with Easter gifts to
the local constabulary. Police generally look the other way when foreign tourists are involved.
Costa Ricans also have their ways around the law. Unofficial neighborhood bars, sometimes selling bootlegged guaro, spring up all over the country as if to defy the law.

The official statement this year from the ministry of security is that officials want Catholic believers to commemorate Semana Santa in an environment of tranquility and security.

Hotel, restaurant and bar owners have complained for years that the law has cost them thousands of dollars in lost sales.

Breaking the seals that the officers put up during the prohibited two days can lead to jail terms but usually does not. Police will be making routine patrols.

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anit dengue effort
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Some of the trash and tires collected last week in Osa and Corredores

Anti-dengue sweep collects
nearly 11 tons of old tires

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 400 volunteers collected nearly 11 tons of old tires in a sweep last week designed to rob the dengue mosquito of breeding places.

The effort was in the cantons of Osa and Corredores, two areas where dengue is a perpetual problem. The area had 2,145 cases of the mosquito-born disease already this year. The Ministerio de Salud said this is a major increase over 2009.

About 200 of the volunteers visited 1,800 homes in Ciudad Neilly to collect recyclable trash and tires. Cervercería Costa Rica, the beer company, loaned a truck to transport the recyclable wastes, and Grupo Holcim assisted in collecting the tires, the ministry said.

Health officials worry that the incidents of dengue will increase with the arrival of the rainy season and they called on individual residents to check their homes and eliminate mosquito breeding spots.

Our reader's opinion
Some real-world questions
on crime and criminals

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to get in my two bits worth about the crime situation in Costa Rica in general, and youth crime in particular since that was a subject of a recent article and letter.

First of all I would like to address the crime situation in general. We all know that Costa Rica has attempted and succeeded, I guess, to hire a lot more policeman. I certainly see a lot more of them, and they are definitely riding around in newer cars or trucks. I understand the vehicles are donated by the Chinese who certainly understand the value of having police to keep their citizens in line. I am not sure what this has done with the crime situation, since everyone I know has been robbed at least once, and several have been robbed multiple times.

If it is true, and I think this is somewhat overstated, that the young criminals take over at night in Costa Rica, that this could have a very detrimental effect on the tourist trade. A lot of tourists go out at night. We had better keep that situation quiet.

Now we seem to have the problem that many of the people who are apprehended are almost immediately returned to the street to rob or repeat their criminal act again by the judicial system. I do not understand this. Don't the judges have families and friends who are being robbed? Don't they understand the potential harm they are causing the people of their country? Or do they just associate with people that have more and higher razor wire?

But calling judges spineless does not help a thing or contribute to solving the problem.  Evidently something is going on here that I and many other people do not understand.

Is there a problem with not enough jail space? It costs money to incarcerate people. Does the country not have the money? Are most of the people being robbed Gringos so the judges don't care?  Do the judges think criminals should all get multiple chances to straighten out their lives? Why do ordinary Costa Ricans allow these crimes to occur (and they do) and then let the judges put the criminals back on the street? In my opinion the situation will not change until these and other real
world questions are answered.
Guy C. Moats
Playas del Coco

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 59

Child welfare agency in pursuit of famous twin girls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 4-year-old twins who were separated in a U.S. operation in 2007 are in flight with their parents. The nation's child welfare agency wants to remove the two children from their home because there have been complaints that it is dirty and home to chickens and smokers.

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, said Wednesday that it had received an order from a judge of the Juzgado de Niñez y Adolescencia in San José to remove the children. However, when child protection agents went to the home, the twins were not there. The agency said it had filed a report with the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The original complaint seems to have come from the
Hospital Nacional de Niños. One of the girls was a patient there two months ago. They still have medical problems.
The description of the home is similar to many households in Costa Rica. Officials are unhappy because some of the adults in the home smoke and that chickens enter the home as do dogs.

The Patronato tried to remove the children with the permission of the parents earlier in the week, but the parents would not surrender them.

The twins are Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha Arias of Alajuelita, San José. They were joined at birth at the chest and stomach. They shared a single liver and portions of a dual heart.

The operation was done at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California.

Intellectual property rights still a matter of dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The concept of intellectual property continues to cause disputes among legislators.

The Asamblea Legislativa finally passed on first reading the final measure in the package of bills implementing the free trade treaty with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic. That happened late Tuesday.

But the Partido Acción Ciudadana is threatening to refer the measure to the Sala IV constitutional court for a review that may take some time.  That would prevent a final vote.

Marco Vinicio Ruiz, the minister of Comercio Exterior, said he hoped for a final vote before lawmakers go on the Semana Santa holiday March 31, according to Acción Ciudadana.
Acción Ciudadana correctly noted in a press release that the law would fine and perhaps send to prison those who play music commercially without paying for the right.

The political party also said that the measure would force farmers to use trademarked chemicals.

The measure only benefits big international producers of music and agrochemicals, Acción Ciudadana said. In fact, the law also protects authors and composers who are Costa Rican.

Under Costa Rica's weak rule of law hardly anyone has been paying for musical rights, and radio stations have raised the issue to one of cultural and educational value.

Counterfeiting CDs and musical disks is big business, although police frequently bust up street sales.

Electric rates are not going up as much as the utility wanted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Homeowners and commercial users will see an increase in their electric bill the next time one arrives. The good news is that the regulating agency approved an increase that was lower than what the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad sought.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said that increase would be about from 10.2 to 11.4 percent with the higher increase going to those who use more electricity.

A home that today uses 200 kilowatt hours pays 11,800 colons, about $22.25. With the new rates, the cost would go up 1,200 colons to 13,000 colons, about $24.50.

The new residential rates are figured based on the average
price of 83.48 colons per kilowatt hour. Commercial rates  are slightly higher and based on 107.7 colons per kilowatt hour.

The electrical utility had sought increases ranging from 14.87 to 32.30 for generation, transmission, distribution and public lighting. The rate increases that have been approved range from 0 to 17.4 percent.

The Defensoría de los Habitantes issued a press release approving the new rate structure, noted that it had intervened at a rate-setting hearing in February and criticized the way the utility was justifying its proposal.

The rates will go into effect when the resolution announced Wednesday is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper. That may be five days or more.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 25, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 59

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New technique revelars loggerhead turtle secrets

By the University of Florida news staff

With loggerhead sea turtle nests in dramatic decline, researchers would love to know more about where the turtles go, and what they eat, so they can better protect the creatures’ habitat.

Now, a team of University of Florida biologists from the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research is teasing that information from turtle shells and reporting some surprising findings.

Doctoral student Hannah Vander Zanden writes in Tuesday’s online edition of the journal Biology Letters that analyses of the chemical elements in the shells of 15 living female loggerheads suggests the turtles are remarkably individualistic in their range, diet, or both. The findings are unexpected because loggerheads — named for their large heads — are known to swim thousands of miles and eat 80 types of prey, often including crabs, whelks and many other ocean-bottom-dwelling creatures.

”The fact is, you have this big range of potential things they can eat, and potential places they can go, and it seems that individuals are not using that whole range,” Ms. Vander Zanden said.

Although the findings need to be refined, the research could one day help scientists and public policy makers find and protect areas of the open ocean or coastal waters where loggerheads congregate or feed heavily. Such protection may be more and more urgent: March 10 federal agencies proposed upgrading the turtle’s status from “threatened” to “endangered” among seven Atlantic and Pacific populations.

Ms. Vander Zanden’s findings also shed light on the turtles’ habits over a span of 12 years, at least three times as long as the longest study involving satellite-tagged turtles — proving the worth of analyzing shells, or similar tissues in other animals, that contain forms of elements known as stable isotopes.

“It really revolutionizes our way of looking at these animals that have this kind of tissue,” said Karen Bjorndal, professor of biology and director of sea turtle research center. She noted such animals include whales with tooth-like baleen and mammals with tusks or horns. “This loggerhead research offers the longest records that I am aware of obtained from living individuals.”

Ms. Vander Zanden used a small biopsy punch tool to gather pencil-eraser sized shell samples from adult female turtles while they were nesting at Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Florida.

Removing the samples, which cut away only the dead tissue of the shell, is harmless and painless to the turtles. She ground the samples into thin layers and analyzed them using a mass spectrometer, a machine that separates stable isotopes according to charge and mass.

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Univesity of Florida photo
Doctoral student Hannah Vander Zanden displays a shell sample gathered from a loggerhead turtle.

The higher an animal on the food chain, the more heavy stable isotopes it accumulates and the greater the ratio of heavy to light isotopes in its tissue. Different ocean latitudes, meanwhile, have different ratios of light and heavy isotopes, ratios also incorporated into shells or other tissues.

So while the analyses revealed that the turtles were surprisingly different in their individual diet or travels — and that they maintained these differences over the dozen years of growth reflected in the shell samples — it did not specify discrete food items or locations.

“The problem with stable isotopes is that diet and habitat are kind of confounded,” Ms. Vander Zanden said. “So we can’t necessarily parse out what is causing these differences. Whether this turtle is eating just blue crabs or is eating whelks. Whether this turtle is eating in New Jersey or in the Bahamas.”

She said she will seek to sort out that question in the remainder of her dissertation research — with luck filling in major gaps about a species once celebrated as healthy but today viewed as in jeopardy. While population numbers for adult members of the species are somewhat mysterious, it is known that nests in the U.S. have declined 41 percent in the past 10 years, Bjorndal said.

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U.S. expresses its concern
over arrest in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Wednesday expressed serious concern over the arrest of an opposition political figure in Venezuela who had accused President Hugo Chávez's government of ties to regional subversive groups. The man, former Venezuelan state governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, could face as long as 16 years in prison on conspiracy and other charges.

The State Department has joined human rights groups in criticizing the arrest of Alvarez, a former presidential candidate. He was arrested Monday after a television interview earlier this month in which he accused the Chávez government of, among other things, helping drug cartels.

A long-time member of the opposition COPEI party who sought the presidency in 1993, Alvarez joins a growing list of prominent Chávez critics who are now in jail, exile, or facing prosecution.

Authorities opened an inquiry into Alvarez after he gave an interview to the pro-opposition TV network Globovision March 8 in which he said the Caracas government has cooperating with the leftwing Colombian rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, and facilitated the work of drug traffickers.

President Chávez dismissed the allegation as lies, and a court ordered Alvarez arrested for conspiracy, spreading false information and inciting hate.

A coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups said Alvarez had been arrested for a crime of opinion.

At a news briefing, State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner also said he was being prosecuted for expressing political views.

"We are seriously concerned about the arrest of former governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz for simply expressing his views on a TV talk show," said Toner.  "It is unfortunately the latest example of the government's continuing assault on freedom of expression. We urge the Venezuelan government to honor its commitment under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to uphold the principle that respect for human rights, including freedom of expression, is essential for representative democracies," he added.

Spokesman Toner noted that Human Rights Watch has also called the arrest a major setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela.

The Latin American Affairs Director for Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, accused Chávez of trying to intimidate critics with allegations of conspiracies and coup-mongering, and said jailing someone for criticizing the government is a clear abuse of power.

Alvarez faces between two and 16 years in prison if convicted on one or more of the charges.

Vivanco said Alvarez' plight is all the more difficult given what he said was the Chávez government's takeover of the country's supreme court.

Venezuelan judicial officials deny Alvarez is being prosecuted for political reasons, saying he has committed real crimes for which he should answer in court.

Lawyers for the former governor of oil-rich Zulia state say they are trying the secure his release pending a trial.
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Driver gunned down
in middle of downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 25-year-old Colombian died in the center of San José early Wednesday when a man on a motorcycle emptied his pistol's entire magazine at the victim.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the dead man by the last name of Gallego. A companion, a Costa Rican woman with the last name of Trice, suffered a bullet wound to the neck, the agency said.

The shooting took place near the La Merced church when Gallego stopped his vehicle at a traffic light about 6 a.m.. Two men on a motorcycle arrived and pumped 15 bullets into the car and driver.

Although the killing looks like a hired hit, agents have no motive, the agency said. Investigators have been told that the pair had been in a nearby bar and that Gallego got involved in a fistfight.

Agents said they found 1.6 million colons in cash, a bit more than $3,000, in the vehicle as well as $90 in U.S. currency. However, Gallego was not carrying a gun.

Book fair planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival Internacional de las Artes will hold a book fair Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura downtown. The times are from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and from noon until 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Book publishers and marketers, writers, writer groups and others will have displays. There also will be magic and musical shows as well as face painting.

Writers and poets will present their works at 2 p.m. Saturday, and Club de Libros is organizing a book exchange. The Centro de la Cultura is the culture ministry building just east of Parque España.

Porteadores back off

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Faced with a stiff warning from the central government, the porteadores have called off their traffic blockades for today.

Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia, said Wednesday that Costa Ricans have a right to go to work, school or do other things without interference.

The porteadores threatened to block major intersections. Their representatives walked out of a negotiating session Tuesday at Casa Presidencial. These are the contract drivers who are in competition with licensed taxi operators. They are unhappy with proposed laws they say will eliminate their profession.

A new law has stiff fines for impeding traffic, and the statement from Arias suggested the government would apply those penalties.

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