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Don't forget the sunblock for this Semana Santa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Semana Santa will remain firmly in the dry season, according to a long-range forecast by the nation's weather experts.

The forecast predicts temperatures in the north Pacific that may reach 36 degrees C. or about 97 degrees F. This will be a boon for vacationers and resort operators who are hoping for a boost in business.

The high predicted for the Central Valley is 32 degrees C or 88 degrees F. That's the same prediction for the Caribbean coast.

The southern and central Pacific coasts are expected to be slightly cooler with highs around 34 degree C. or about 93 degrees F.
More on Semana Santa

In fact, the week is shaping up to be hot with less wind and the possibility of some short afternoon and evening showers on the Pacific coast and in the Central Valley.

The forecast from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said there may be some cloud cover in the mornings for the Caribbean and the northern zone and in the afternoons in the central and south Pacific and Central Valley.

Plenty of Central Valley residents will be heading out to vacation today or tomorrow, and the forecast suggests that they should invest in sunblock before they go.

Five arrests culminate year-long anti-drug probe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police conducted raids early Wednesday to capture five persons in the culmination of a year-long investigation that resulted in 50 arrests and the confiscation of more than 2.6 tons of cocaine.

The raids were in Rincón Verde de San Pablo de Heredia, Limón, Puntarenas and San Antonio de Coronado.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the multinational police effort grew out of a small scale crack cocaine arrest in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. From that arrest, agents began to learn about two drug organizations.

One was involved in moving tons of cocaine from Colombia to Guatemala by sea and land. The other provided local logistical support and received cocaine as payment.

Celso Gamboa, vice minster of Seguridad said that one of those arrested Wednesday was a major Colombian drug trafficker.
Four Colombians detained Wednesday have the last names of Sánchez Ibarguen, Rodríguez Benitez, Quiñones Riascos and Riascos Cortéz. The fifth man, a citizen of Panamá, has the last name of Vallejo Caicedo.

Over the course of a year, agents said that 24 Costa Ricans, 12 persons with Panamå nationality and 14 Colombians were detained in 19 police actions with 13 of the efforts in Costa Rica.

Wednesday agents confiscated three vehicles, four firearms, 664,000 colons and $500, they said.

Over the course of a year, they said they confiscated 2,318 kilos of cocaine.

The operation of the international traffickers was to move cocaine north by hiding the drug in tractor trailers. They also moved drugs by water, said agents. Also involved was smuggling money south to Colombia, they added.

Police agencies in Panamá and Nicaragua were involved in the investigations.

Top cops show that they have not lost their instincts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robbery suspects on a motorcycle had the ill fortune to drive recklessly in front of a car carrying the top brass of the Fuerza Pública Wednesday. Then the pair compounded their errors by offering the policemen a $1,000 bribe, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

After putting the story together, police officials said they suspect that the pair robbed a bank customer on the street in San Pedro and fled.

The motorcycle was on the Circunvalación just before noon immediately ahead of a vehicle containing Juan José Andrade Morales, director general of the Fuerza
 Pública, and the deputy director,  Pablo Bertozzi.

The policemen reported that when the motorcycle driver made a reckless maneuver, their own driver began a pursuit. The motorcycle picked up speed until it collided with a car in the Guacamaya traffic circle. The Policemen were able to apprehend the men before they could right their motorcycle.
When police officers found some $6,000 in a briefcase, one of the men offered $1,000 if the officers would let them go, said the ministry.

One of the men already was under investigation for hijacking a motor vehicle and aggravated robbery, said the ministry. Police also confiscated a firearm that was hidden on the motorcycle, said the ministry.

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Our reader's opinion
What are the benefits
of the proposed streetcars?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I guess I just don't get it . . .

How is it that a streetcar system will meaningfully reduce congestion or otherwise facilitate peoples' movement in and around San Jose? A streetcar with a passenger capacity of (say) 50 cannot be significantly smaller than a bus of the same capacity, can it? If yes, someone needs to explain the secret. How will a streetcar get more people into the same physical space? So the streetcar, of whatever capacity, will necessarily occupy the same space as a bus would, no?

A street car will be physically constrained to a set of tracks in its lane. Other vehicular traffic will certainly use that same lane unless a physical barrier is erected. If there is no such barrier then the streetcar cannot hope to move significantly faster than the surrounding traffic, and it will be more susceptible to delays caused by obstacles in its lane which a bus could hope to maneuver around. If there were such a barrier, then congestion will be made worse due to the fact that other traffic will not be able to use that space which had previously been open to all vehicular traffic. A dedicated lane, unused most of the time, would be denied to other traffic. In effect, the street would become narrower by a lane in each direction.

Now it certainly is true that an electric streetcar will not emit the pollution that a diesel bus does, but so far no one is making an environmental argument in favor of this proposal, and given all the other petroleum-burning vehicles on the streets, one wonders just how much bus pollution might be offset. If exhaust pollution is an issue, buses could be upgraded and enforcement of tailpipe emission limits on all vehicles could be made a higher priority.

While the condition of Costa Rica's road system is markedly improved over their condition when we retired here in 2005 (and we congratulate the
government for that), they remain far from perfect, and certainly the money spent on an illogical streetcar system could better go to repairing more roads and bridges. Or the government might consider devoting these resources to the chronically underfunded Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social which many citizens depend upon for their health care. Too, better funding for the Caja would have an impact nationwide whereas the proposed streetcar system will benefit only a small subset of the residents of San Jose.

David C. Murray
Grecia, Alajuela

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Next week contains two major holidays that also are dry
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As a Catholic country, Costa Rica will celebrate a week-long religious period of Semana Santa, or Holy Week next week.

Thousands of San José residents are expected to take vacation time and head to the coasts. And the rest of the city dwellers are expected to fill the churches, watch processions and stay home to mark Holy week with friends and family the good ol' Tico way.

The government has joined the festivities by revoking the downtown vehicle restrictions for the week. All registered cars regardless of the numbers on the license plate will be allowed to come into the city without the threat of a fine. Most public employees and students will be on vacation, so the traffic is supposed to be a lot lighter, said a press release from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

This year the vacation week will begin on Sunday and end on Easter, April 8. The work week is not five days. Instead Holy Thursday and Good Friday are obligatory pay holidays. Employees who work those days are paid double. Some places will close the entire week while others will close just Thursday and Friday.

The U. S. Embassy will stay open normal hours Monday through Wednesday and close Thursday and Friday.  The post office Correos de Costa Rica, will also have normal hours from
Monday until Wednesday and will close Thursday and Friday.

The Museo Filatélico inside the main post office in downtown San José will remain closed all week.

“Costa Rica celebrates this week with a lot of fervor,” said Carlos Arauz, a Costa Rica customs and traditions expert.

Like every holiday, there is a traditional diet. The food consists of fish, ceviche, candy made from squash, candy made from fig, and bread. Arauz said that many traditional families make their own bread so they can eat “pan casero or homemade bread. Traditional Catholics have fasting and abstinence obligations during the 40 days of Lent preceding Easter. That is why fish is favored over meats.

The beverages are all supposed to be natural juices, no sodas. The consumption of alcohol isn't frowned upon. After all Jesus turned water into wine. But Costa Rica has strict rules about the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The country enforces Ley Seca, or dry law. The law will be enforced from the night of Wednesday until the dawn of Saturday, April 7. So drinkers will have to stock up earlier. Some bars, clubs and liquor stores are even sealed by police for those days. Most bars and nightclubs close for those three days, in part because of the public holidays.

Many have complained that the city is boring during this week, so they leave town for a few days. They take off with the family and celebrate or just spend a few days relaxing.

Semana Santa montage
A.M. Costa Rica file photos
Life-size statutes and biblical reenactments are all part of the capital's Semana Santa celebration

Many processions and burning of Judas mark Semana Santa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Escuela Municipal de Música Santo Domingo is presenting its Concierto de Música Sacra in Heredia Tuesday night as part of the city's celebration for Semana Santa. The free concert will be held at the Basilica de Santo Domingo de Guzmán at 7 p.m.

This is one of many events in the Central Valley to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As part of Holy week there is one custom that is common in Costa Rica, once referred to incorrectly by the U. S. State Department as an antisemitic celebration. It is the Quema de Judas, or the “burning of Judas.”

The U.S. mistakenly translated the ceremony into “the burning of the Jew” in a criticism of the practice in Geece.

This tradition is mostly practiced in Alajuela, Heredia, and smaller rural towns around the Central Valley. This year the Fuerza Publica officers have made a public announcement condemning the fiery tradition.

In a press release, the police agency stated the practice isn't safe and causes chaos in towns that participate. It's also considered dangerous.

In the past youths have burned cars, set bonfires, participated in aggressions, blocked off streets or roads, and overall created disturbances in public order, according to the press release.

The Quema de Judas is where an effigy of Judas is made and hung on Good friday. Then on Saturday night the effigy is lit on fire and burned. This is an opportunity to get even with Judas since he was a traitor to the Maestro, said Carlos Arauz, a Costa Rica customs and traditions expert.

According to the Bible, Judas was the apostle who sold out Christ for silver coins. Others have said the burning of Judas is a way for Christians to let all their sins wild and in symbol burn with Judas, and then confess for Easter. This cleanses and allows them to be reborn just like Jesus.

“Almost everybody confesses before Easter,” said Arauz. The Catedral Metropolitana will have 100 priests working toward the end of the week to handle the crowd.

Another less aggressive tradition is the custom of processions. The Catedral Metropolitana will hold many processions from its location at Parque Central beginning Sunday. Similar events are held all over the country.

A booklet with the schedule for Semana Santa en San José is available at the cathedral for free. Inside are the dates and times for each procession along with their proper name and a description of the event.
The first is the Procesión con el Señor del Triunfo at 9:45 a.m. The mayor of San José, Johnny Araya Monge, is scheduled to participate. This is a recreation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. The day is Palm Sunday in the English-speaking world.

Solemne vía Crucis procession at 7 p.m. from the exit of the La Merced church east of Parque La Merced, toward the cathedral along Avenida 4. This is called stations of the cross in English.

There is no procession this day. Instead a concert by the Banda Nacional de San José plays inside the cathedral.

There will be deliveries of food offerings to church officials from the main vegetable markets in San José at 8:30 a.m. Then there is a concert by the Banda Municipal de San José at Parque Central.

There will be three solemn Masses that day for the Solemne Triduo Pascual at 8:15 a.m., 9 a.m. and 6 p.m..
The procession Silencio con Jesús Atado a la Columna is at 7:30 p.m. from the exit of Parque Central to the El Carmen church. The procession contains a representation of Jesus tied to a column for a lashing by his captors.

The Procesión con Jesús Nazareno Cargando la Cruz Camino al Calvario begins at 10 a.m. This procession leaves the El Carmen church and will be joined by the Banda Municipal de San José. This commemorates Christ carrying the cross to Calvary for his execution.

At 10:30 a.m. is the other part of the procession with the Virgin Dolorosa from the La Dolorosa church off of Calle Central, where marchers will meet with the previous procession at the Banco de Costa Rica off of Avenida 2. The Cuerpo de Bomberos will take part.

This is the Procesión de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad that starts at 4 p.m. from the La Soledad church to the Catedral Metropolitana accompanied by the Banda Nacional de San José.

Then at 7 p.m. there is the liturgical act that is considered the most important and most significant in all of Semana Santa inside the Catedral Metropolitana.

Easter Sunday
This is the last procession of the Holy week, with the Alegre Procesión con El Señor Resucitado at 10 a.m. from the gardens of La Merced to the Catedral Metropolitana. Then the Mass begins at 10:30 a.m. commemorating the resurrection of Jesus.

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New research shows that ailing corals are loaded with viruses
By the Oregon State University news staff

As corals continue to decline in abundance around the world, researchers are turning their attention to a possible cause that’s almost totally unexplored – viral disease.

It appears the corals that form such important parts of marine ecosystems harbor many different viruses – particularly herpes. And although they don’t get runny noses or stomach upset, corals also are home to the adenoviruses and other viral families that can cause human colds and gastrointestinal disease.

In a research review published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, scientists point out that coral declines are reaching crisis proportions but little has been done so far to explore viral disease as one of the mechanisms for this problem.

“Coral abundance in the Caribbean Sea has gone down about 80 percent in the past 30-40 years, and about one-third of the corals around the world are threatened with extinction,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor of microbiology at Oregon State University.

“We’ve identified 22 kinds of emerging disease that affect corals, but still don’t know the pathogens that cause most of them,” Ms. Vega-Thurber said. “Most researchers have looked only at bacteria. But we suspect viruses may play a role in this as well, and it’s important to learn more about what is causing this problem. Corals are the building blocks of the tropical seas.”

A research program at Oregon State, one of only two of its
type in the world, is studying viral metagenomics in corals,
meaning the analysis of multiple genomes at the same time. It may help explain one of the underlying causes of coral decline, Ms. Vega-Thurber said, and is one of the most comprehensive analyses yet done on the types of viruses in a marine animal. It may also shed light on the broader range of viruses that affect not only corals but many other animals, including humans.

One of the surprises from recent research was the predominance in corals of herpes viruses – similar but not identical to the herpes virus that can infect humans. Herpes viruses appear to constitute a majority of the viruses found in corals, and one experiment showed that herpes-like viral sequences were produced in coral tissues after acute episodes of stress.

“We were shocked to find that so many coral viruses were in the herpes family,” Ms. Vega-Thurber said. “But corals are one of the oldest animal life forms, evolving around 500 million years ago, and herpes is a very old family of viruses that can infect almost every kind of animal. Herpes and corals may have evolved together.”

It’s not yet certain, researchers say, whether the viruses being found on corals are actually causing diseases.

“Just because you harbor a virus doesn’t mean you are getting sick from it,” Ms. Vega-Thurber said. “This is part of what we have to pin down with further research.”

Some of the possible causes of coral decline that have been identified so far include warm spells that cause coral bleaching, loss of symbiotic algae that help nourish corals, pollution such as sewage runoff, and human-coral interactions.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chávez still holding on
despite aggressive cancer

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is battling what is believed to be an aggressive cancer, but he has vowed to continue running for a third term in office.  The election is set for Oct. 7.  Chávez has endured two surgeries since being diagnosed last year and traveled to Cuba again last week for a series of radiation treatments.

As Hugo Chávez arrived in Cuba for a third round of cancer treatment, his health has become the main factor in his re-election effort. 

Michael Shifter is president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

"If we have learned anything from Chávez over 13 years, it is that we shouldn’t rule him out," said Shifter.

Political analysts believe this could be his toughest election.  Chávez is accused of mismanaging Venezuela's oil wealth and devastating the rest of the economy with his firebrand left-wing politics.  Many of the business elite have left the country. 

But Chávez has won strong support among Venezuela's poor by using oil revenue to boost social programs. 

“Chávez, despite the dismal results and terrible governance, still has a powerful and emotional connection with a lot of Venezuelans," Shifter said. "Many Venezuelans, poor Venezuelans especially, think, believe, that he cares about them.  And he is trying to do the best he can.”

Chávez faces his toughest opponent yet in Henrique Capriles, who vows to continue the social programs that  Chávez started while moving the country toward a more market-oriented economy.

But many believe the outcome of the election will hinge on the president's health.  Some question why he has refused to step aside while undergoing cancer treatment.  He has never disclosed the details of his illness.

Political psychologist and psychiatrist Jerrold Post says Chávez is the quintessential narcissist who can’t come to terms with his mortality.

“He has increasingly come to see himself as the very essence of Venezuela," said Post. "Just as Castro is Cuba, Cuba, Castro.  Chávez is Venezuela, Venezuela is Chávez in his mind.  And it is inconceivable to have a Venezuela without him at its head.”

Post says Venezuela is entering a dangerous period.  He believes Chávez has imposed his timetable on the nation and wants to secure his legacy in both Venezuelan and Latin American history.

“Were his opponent to be moving ahead in the polls, I think it is quite possible he could take violent action against his opponent," he said. "But what I think is most important, and I can’t predict exactly how he will act, is that this is a man under immense stress.”

Chávez' current round of radiation therapy is expected to take four to five weeks.  He has refused to relinquish any authority to his subordinates and will travel back and forth to Cuba for treatment.

Pope leaves Cuba for home
with impact still unknown

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pope Benedict concluded his first official visit to Cuba after meeting with former President Fidel Castro and holding a Mass before a multitude gathered in Havana's Revolution Square. During his trip, which included a stop in Mexico, the pope called on Cuba's government to reconsider Marxism and urged the people to embrace the faith of their elders.

In his homily, the pontiff spoke of his joy at the recent increase in freedom given to the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba. But he also referred to the isolation of a country that has been under a U.S. embargo for the past 50 years.

“Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity,” he said.

Before arriving in Cuba, Benedict called on the government to recognize that Marxism, in his words, “no longer corresponds to reality.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, the official in charge of economic reforms, Vice President Marino Murillo, rejected the pope's critique. "In Cuba there won't be political reform,” he said.

Images of Marxist revolutionary heroes Ernesto “Che” Guevarra and Camilo Cienfuegos were visble in the square as the faithful prayed to God.

It was hot, even for Cubans, and it was hard to see from so far away. But it was still meaningful for Clara Martínez.

“Having the pope in Cuba is very important for religious people. I think it's an unforgettable experience and may be the last time. It's not often that the pope visits," Ms. Martiínez said.

Catholics remember Pope John Paul's visit in 1998. They are a small minority in Cuba, which has a variety of religious groups.

The Vatican is hoping to win over the many Cubans who mix Catholic and African traditions.

Katia Ogania may be prepared to convert.

“I'm an atheist. But I wouldn't mind, because if it's for the good of my people. I'm there,” Ogania said.

Many people came out of faith, many out of curiosity. But few expect that Benedict's visit will lead to any real political change.
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University for Peace opens
new center in Netherlands

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The University for Peace headquartered near Ciudad Colón has started a new center in The Netherlands. The Hague location will help the United Nations agency conduct further outreach to the Netherlands and the European Union.

The Hague center is housed at the Academy Building of the Peace Palace, next to The Hague Academy of International Law. The center will focus on education and research in  peace studies, cooperating with academic and policy-oriented institutions in The Hague region, said the university. The location in The Hague will initially advance three interdisciplinary areas: Peace & conflict studies; water & peace; and urban peace & security.

In addition, the university center in The Hague will substantially strengthen peace education by organizing professional training, lectures, seminars, and workshops, said the university. Educational and research programs will be characterized by the interaction between theory and practice, with particular attention to policy implementation, it explained

The center will be launched officially Sept. 20 during a conference at the Peace Palace, entitled “Peace for Humanity in the 21st Century.”

During its 30 years of existence, this U.N.-mandated university has developed a variety of masters programs and capacity building programs in the fields of peace building and conflict studies, as well as courses and training for students and professionals from all over the world. There are established centers in Addis Ababa, Belgrade, Bogotá, Manila, Montevideo and Seoul, said the university.

Currently the university runs 11 master's programs and has 300 graduate students from 100 countries of which 175 are in Costa Rica and 125 are in the centers, the university reported. About 50 percent of the students come from developing countries.

Recycling program planned
for electronic devices

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Grupo Gollo is launching a program to recycle electronic products including cell phones, televisions, refrigerators and computers. The program is getting the support of the  Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, which is holding a press session today to praise the effort.

Grupo Gollo has retail outlets all over the country and much of the broken or obsolete material it seeks to recycle was sold by its stores in the first place.

Many electronic devices contain previous metals that can support a recycling program. The devices also contain heavy metals and other materials that are toxic and should not be introduced into normal landfills.

Batteries also contain toxic chemicals, and the U.S. Embassy has a program to recycle or safely dispose of these.

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