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(506) 2223-1327          Published Wednesday, March 30, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 63             E-mail us
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Tours and seminars are spheres festival highlights
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival de las Esferas is shaping up to be much more than the usual local fiesta. The three-day event starts Friday in Palmar Sur in the Municipalidad de Osa in southwestern Costa Rica.

The festival is based on the enigmatic stone spheres that are the country's archeological mystery and with large doses of environmental concern and native culture.

A high point of the festival are guided visits to Finca 6, the property owned by the Museo Nacional where a group of spheres can be found in situ.

The museum is working to obtain designation of the spheres as a world heritage site. The designation is by the U.S. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Experts have visited the area to survey the spheres. The recognition would be a big boost for archaeological prestige in Costa Rica as well as for tourism.

The museum said that it is preparing documents to justify the designation based on the cultures of the Diquís area and a comparative analysis of nearby cultures, ranging from Panamá to the Central Valley to the Caribbean coast. The museum also has to present a management plan and guarantee protection for the zone once it is designated.

Museum officials said that they hope to have the documentation ready by 2014.

Descendants of those who made the spheres will be on hand over the weekend to present their culture. There is a recreation of the Juego de los Diablitos by the Asociación Cultural Indígena de Rey Curré at 1 p.m. in the Palmar Sur park. The diablitos generally battle the toro for days in January, recreating the confrontation of native peoples with the Spanish. The presentation Saturday is just an hour.

An hour earlier the native community of the Ngöbe de Conte Burica will perform the danza de la serpiente, according to a schedule released by the museum,

Friday is a day for archaeologists and members of the public with a deep interest in this subject. At 3 p.m. there are seminars on local archaeology. The seminars will be in the facilities of the Universidad Estatal a la Distancia in Palmar Norte.

The inauguration of the festival is planned for 6 p.m. at the Centro Cultural de Osa in Palmar Sur.

Saturday also will see the typical art fair and presentations of local foods. An event for children starts the day at 9 a.m. in the Centro de Estudios y Capacitación Cooperativa in Palmar Sur where a dance is planned.

The centro also will host a number of seminars on biodiversity in the Valle del Diquis and threats to the area.

The Centro Cultural de Osa, Palmar Sur, the university facilities and the Palmar Sur park will hold most of the activities.

Sunday is a series of similar events as well as musical presentations and a seminar for children on archaeology.

Trips on the Río Terraba and its mangroves are scheduled during the festival with boats boarding at the Restaurante Las Vegas, Sierpe, Osa. There is a fee for this.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
These spheres are on the lawn in the judicial complex.

The tour of Finca 6 can be arranged at the exhibition stand operated by the Museo Nacional in the Palmar Sur park, the museum said.

Finca 6 is just one of the areas where spheres can be found. The 10-hectare (27-acre) site contains 10 spheres recovered from all over the country as well as the ones in situ. This is where the museum plans a museum of the spheres.

There also is a site called Batambal with four spheres owned by the museum and a location called Silencio that holds the largest sphere found to date. That one is 2.5 meters in diameter or about 8.2 feet. Another site called Grijalba contains one sphere.

Francisco Corrales, former museum director and now head of the Palmar Sur project estimates there are about 500 spheres in the country. The museum has registered 300 spheres and has about 110 located with ground positioning devices. They are checked periodically.

Although no one knows exactly who created the spheres, archaeologists attribute the work to the ancestors of the current Borucas and date them from 300 to 1500 A.D.

Corrales has said that he thinks the spheres were used to mark important structures and homes of important people.

The museum has been taking an inventory and also has embarked on a program to recover the spheres.

During 2010 the museum recovered 17 spheres, mostly from private collections. Costa Rican law forbids commerce in or exportation of spheres.

Not everyone agrees with the current archaeological theories on the spheres. They have been attributed to space visitors and craftsmen from the fabled country of Atlantis.  In fact, local author Ivan Zapp and coauthor George Erickson said in a 1998 book that the spheres were used to teach sea routes and constellation paths to navigators of the ancient world.

At one point researchers here believed that the Pacific plains and the Isla de Caño were unique. But researcher Alberto Sibaja Alvarez, who wrote the book "Enigma en el Delta del Diquís," makes a powerful case that such spheres also were created in China, Europe and even in Venezuela. He has a comprehensive monograph posted on the Web in Spanish entitled "Esferas de Piedra en Costa Rica."

Tim McGuinness, who has written authoritatively on the spheres, said he created one two feet in diameter using a template and materials that could have been used by the original makers.

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Dockworker unions reps
blame regulator for woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of the Limón-Moín dockworkers union blamed conditions there on the low tariffs set by a government agency for the handling of seagoing freight.

The representatives, Ronaldo Blear and José Luis Castillo, told a legislative commission that the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos has not raised the rates in eight years.

Blear heads the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Junta Administrativa Portuaria de Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica.  The docks are widely known as being highly inefficient.

They also said some shippers owed money to the Junta.

The men also told the Comisión Especial que Analiza las  Concesiones that they strongly opposed the proposal for a new dock run by a Dutch firm through the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones. The new container port, when built is generally seen as putting the government-run docks out of business.

The men denied that the government docks were inefficient and said they rank high in Latin America and in the world.

Cruz Roja says donations
are 52 million colons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cruz Roja said it has collected 52 million colons in its campaign to help Japan.

That is about $106,000.

Miguel Carmona, president of the Cruz Roja said that the campaign would end Sunday.

Some 19 million colons, some $38,500, were collected at a benefit for Japan at the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud March 20.

Cartago man slashes
self fatally with machete

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man cutting vegetation in a vacant lot died Tuesday afternoon when he accidentally cut himself with his machete, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man was identified by the last name of Jiménez. He was 50, agents said.

The mishap took place in Corralillo de Cartago.

In La Cruz, Guanacaste, a 41-year-old man with the last name of Sanarrusia also died in an afternoon accident. Agents said he was killed when a tree he was cutting fell on top of him. That was in Barrio Santa Cecilia

Zoo offers guided tours
of wild birds at facility

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar, is organizing bird watching tours Saturday and Sunday at the park in north San José.

The tours on paths through the park are planned between 6 and 9 a.m. The zoo announcement said that there are many species of birds living free in the park amid its vegetation.

The zoo is charging 2,500 colons per person or about $5, and asks that reservations be made at 2256-0012.

Our reader's opinion
New stadium waste space

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Not to be a wet blanket, but if Ticos wanted a new soccer/futball stadium, why on earth didn´t they build one? This new monster tries to do all things - and  it at least does futball badly. Everyone needs binoculars to see anything, and the track area that wastes so much space is indeed wasted. Who does track and field in Costa Rica, or are we waiting for the Olympics to come to San Jose?  Don´t hold your breath for that, and watch your futball on TV.

R. Martin
Villa Nueva de Quepos

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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In photo are three different ways to serve it: chiverre with pink sugar, with black sugar cane or con tapa de dulce de caña and finally by using a trapiche or small mill to create a conserve.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo

The Semana Santa delight comes from a rugged squash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For Costa Ricans, miel de chiverre has a status only slightly lower than mom's gallo pinto.

Although this food product is available all year, it is traditional for Semana Santa. The squash from which the jelly or miel comes is on sale now as is the jelly itself from those who do not want to wrestle with the preparation.

The chiverre squash looks like a watermelon, but the shell is very hard. Inside, the texture is similar to that of a pumpkin but colored white.

This member of the cucurbit family (Cucurbita ficifolia) can be found at ferias and hundreds of roadside stands.

Costa Ricans use them in many ways, mostly sweet and based on brown sugar, white sugar, in conservas and the famous miel de chiverre or chiverre honey.

Easter this year is Sunday, April 24. But the start of Semana Santa, Holy Week, is a little more than two weeks away. April 15 will be the last day to do official business because many Costa Ricans take off the whole week.

The gastronomy of Semana Santa is pretty much like Christmas. The holiday meals are full of seafoods and a lot of sweet homemade delicacies, including encurtidos, vegetable conserve in mustard or vinegar, and spicy chileros.

Semana Santa is a time for feasting as people enjoy time off and go to the beach or participate in the Way of the Cross or any number of other religious processions associated with the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

When the praying is done, it is time to gain weight.

Ticos think automatically of miel de chiverre, coco ayote and arroz con leche. The season also is one of exchanging visits with relatives and friends to taste and compare the different kinds of chiverre dishes, ceviches and prawns with rice.
There are three different ways to serve chiverre: with pink sugar, with black sugar cane or con tapa de dulce de caña and finally by using a trapiche or small mill to create a conserve.

Chunks of dried squash are cooked with butter and sugar to make a brown, sweet paste. Then that is rolled into empanadas and other delights.

There are coconut variations as well as with tamarindo, cinnamon and aromatic cloves which will determine the taste. Texture means a lot, too. People will recognize the maker according to the texture and the way the main ingredients are cut, chopped or ground.

Expats are urged to buy the prepared miel or honey at the supermarket because home preparation involves burning the squash shell and using a hammer to break it open.

Semana Santa Glossary

The chiverre (Cucurbita ficifolia) is a large green and white squash that can grow to 20 kilos (44 pounds).

Cubaces (Phaseolus coccinius) is known in English as the scarlet running bean. Here the beans are big and white and used for stews.

Tapas de dulce are those circular blocks of brown sugar made from cane.

Encurtidos are pickled pieces of vegetable.

Chilero is chopped peppers, onion and other vegetables that can be served alone or used as a garnish on other foods.

Ceviche is chopped, marinated raw fish credited to the ancients Peruvians.

Tamal de cerdo is the traditional Christmas pork tamales.

Saray Ramírez Vindas contributed to this article

Tourism representatives oppose tax increase proposals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive director of the tourism chamber told lawmakers Tuesday that a proposed new tax would damage a sector of the economy that was beginning to recuperate from the economic recession.

He is Mauricio Céspedes of the Cámera de Turismo. He spoke to the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios that is considering President Laura Chinchilla's proposals for some $500 million in new taxes.

Céspedes noted that some tourism operations are exempt from sales tax and that the new proposals would end this.  He also noted that the industry was struggling with the lower exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the colon.
He was joined by Gustavo Araya, representing the hotel chamber, who also said the time was not appropriate for new taxes.

A day earlier, the construction chamber made the same statements to the committee. Rodrigo Altman, first vice president of the Cámera de Construcción, said the tax proposals would hurt his industry in two ways. First many builders are not now required to pay sales tax.

But they would have to pay the proposed 14 percent value-added tax, he said.

In addition an increase to 2.5 percent from the current 1.5 percent property transfer tax also would hurt construction, he said.

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World Bank urges action on graying Latin population

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Population aging is a global issue that affects a growing number of countries around the world, especially at a time when family support and other traditional safety nets have become far less certain in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, according to the World Bank.

In Latin America, for example, life expectancy has jumped by 22 years over the last 50 years and its population is now dominated by working-age adults with significantly fewer children. The region faces the prospect of rapid aging, the bank said.

A new report from the World Bank’s Human Development Network warns that governments and communities in the region cannot afford to be complacent about a graying revolution, given that the next 50 years will be very different from its past half century.

According to "Population Aging: Is Latin America Ready?," economic growth in Latin America will be more challenging in countries with large numbers of elderly people and meeting health care, pension, and other needs will be especially difficult for low- and middle-income countries. Establishing appropriate policies and institutions to accommodate the region’s powerful demographic shifts will be vital to safeguard Latin America’s social and economic future, says the report.

First World countries have been getting used to the idea of rapid aging over previous decades as a result of smaller family sizes, better health, more money, and longer lives, all of which has been a huge social plus, said Daniel Cotlear, report co-author and a lead economist in the World Bank’s Human Development Network.

“But we should all be worried that rapid aging is no longer a rich country phenomenon and that many poorer countries are now catching up, but largely without the money and advance planning to cope with the social and economic challenges of this profound social change,” he says.

Cotlear says the demographic makeup of Latin America and the Caribbean has changed dramatically since the 1950s. At that time, the region had a small population of about 160 million people, less than today’s population of Brazil. Two-thirds of Latin Americans lived in the countryside.

Families were large and women had one of the highest
fertility rates in the world, low levels of education, and few opportunities for work outside the household. Investments in health and education reached only a small fraction of the children, many of whom died before reaching their fifth birthday.

Today, the region’s population has tripled, and most people live in cities. Far fewer children die from illness thanks to health and education advances; and 50 percent fewer babies are born as a result of women taking advantage of education and significantly more opportunities to work outside the home.

As a result, demographic change in the region during the 21st century will be dominated by rapid population aging, he said. This trend can be seen in countries with high European immigration, which were the first to initiate demographic transition in the early 20th century and which also have some of the most extended social security systems, he added.

The rest of the region will continue to benefit from a falling dependency ratio for a few more years, but will then also face rapid aging, says Cotlear, adding that this process will not take a century as it did in Europe; it will take place over two or three decades. Globally, one-fourth of countries that are aging most rapidly are in the Latin American-Caribbean region.

“This book describes the issues that compel us to craft a new social agenda for Latin America which now needs to incorporate the challenges of the growing aging population,” says Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, in a note written to the authors of the bank report. “Governments and the private sector must learn to balance the demands posed by a rapidly growing population of seniors while continuing to invest in the education of our youth and the needs of the poor.”

The report advises countries and communities to develop a number of policies that support long, productive lives for their workers and keep the elderly healthy and mobile for as long as possible.

Instead of retiring in their early 60s, workers could wait until much later to leave the workforce as they do in Singapore and some European Union countries, advises the report. Governments can provide lifelong learning programs for people in their 50s and 60s and should consider enacting laws against age discrimination.

Cemex will supply 50,000 tons of cement for dam project

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Cemex, S.A.B. de C.V. announced Tuesday that it has been named the primary cement supplier for the first phase of Reventazón hydroelectric plant project in Costa Rica. The $1.2 billion plant will be the largest of its kind in Central America when the 311 megawatt facility reaches completion in 2016. As the primary supplier, Cemex will provide 50,000 tons of cement for the first phase of this project.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which is in charge of the plant’s construction, had several specific requirements for the cement used in the hydroelectric plant. As such, Cemex is providing cement that has a low heat hydration, high workability, and improved durability, in order to meet these requirements.

“We are honored to have been selected as the supplier for this significant renewable energy project, not only because of its scale and importance to the country of Costa Rica,
but also because it represents an important opportunity to
 provide our customers with a unique solution with our special cement products.” says Carlos González, Cemex Costa Rica president.

Cemex is one of the largest building materials companies in Central America with a cement production capacity of 3.3 million metric tons a year in three cement plants and two grinding mills located in Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The company also has 30 ready-mix concrete plants and seven aggregate quarries in the region.

Cemex in Costa Rica has 11 cement and mortar products in its Sanson line. Two of them were introduced earlier this year: Pegacerámica Premium and Repello Proyectable. Pegaceramica Premium is a mix of cement, selected aggregates, and latex-based additives that makes it ideal for adhering flooring with low or no absorption, such as porcelain and marble. Repello Proyectable is ideal for the first layer of spackle on concrete surfaces and is applied with a spackling machine that reduces waste and increases productivity, the company said.

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Carter to meet dissidents
today on his Cuba trip

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is set to meet with Cuba's top dissidents one day after meeting with the government's top officials.

Among other critics, Carter will meet well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez.  Ms. Sanchez announced the meeting on her twitter feed, saying she thanked Carter in advance for the deference and respect.

Carter, who is on a three-day, private visit to Cuba, said Tuesday his goal is to help improve relations between the United States and Cuba.  He told reporters in Havana his visit is not intended to obtain the release of an American contractor jailed recently for crimes against the state, though he said he had spoken with Cuban officials about the case.

Later Tuesday, he also met with President Raúl Castro.  The details of their conversation were not released.

Alan Gross, the contractor, started serving a 15-year sentence earlier this month for bringing communications equipment into the country.  The contractor has said he was just trying to improve Internet access for the island's small Jewish community.  The case has held up progress in relations between the two longtime ideological foes.

Monday, Carter met with members of Cuba's Jewish community, as well as with Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who has helped secure the release of some of the country's political prisoners.

This is Carter's second trip to Cuba.  He first visited in 2002, the year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and met with then-President Fidel Castro.  Castro's younger brother formally became president in 2008.

Carter is the most senior political figure to visit the Communist-led island since the elder Castro took power in 1959. 

His foundation, the Carter Center, says the invitation to visit came from the government in Havana.

Election results in Haiti
delayed for a few days

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Electoral officials in Haiti have delayed announcing the preliminary results of the March 20 presidential runoff election.

Authorities say the results will be made public next Monday, instead of this Thursday as originally planned. Analysts say a credible, functioning government is crucial to the country's efforts to rebuild after last year's devastating earthquake.

Many Haitians simply wonder which direction their country will take more than a year after a devastating earthquake changed their lives forever, and whether Michel Martelly or Mirlande Managat will lead Haiti. 

Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti Project at Trinity University in Washington, says the election was not about ideology. It was about getting things done. "I think it is a very pragmatic election where people are looking to say: 'Who is the person that can somehow improve the situation for my life?'"

High on the list of needs is permanent housing for more than half-a-million people still living in camps.  George Sassine, Haitian chamber of commerce president, said the private sector is ready to build new housing, once the country's political situation is stabilized.

"I don’t see it going further than six more months, because a lot of people have already moved out, and what we are seeing is new people are moving in because they know that, in those camps, there is healthcare being given, water, free water and all kinds of things.  So you have people moving into those camps.  So, it is all about a political decision," he said.

Joe Leitman, program manager for the World Bank’s Haiti Reconstruction Fund, says 16 international donors have honored an initial $5.6 billion pledge through 2011.  Some of that money has gone toward closing the government’s budget gap for 2010.  The rest is allocated for more than 20 projects, including rubble removal and what will be the largest housing project in Haiti.  He expects the public perception of little progress over the last year will soon fade.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 30, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 63

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U.S. high court hears
Walmart class action plea

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a massive gender discrimination case, involving retail giant Walmart, that could have a major impact on businesses and rights of employees across the United States. 

The Supreme Court appeared skeptical as justices heard oral arguments on a case determining whether female employees of Walmart can together pursue allegations that managers discriminated against them on pay and promotions. 

The highest U.S. court will decide whether 1.5 million women can contest their case in a class action lawsuit, a suit filed on behalf of a large, collective group, against the world's largest retailer.  The ruling could set a new precedent for labor discrimination cases in the United States.  And if the court allows the case to go forward, billions of dollars in damages are at stake.

The Supreme Court indicated they had problems with a lower court's ruling against the company.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key vote on the nation's highest court, questioned what the unlawful policy was. Other justices expressed concern about whether a case of this size would be fair to Walmart.

The company's attorney, Theodore Boutrous, argued the female employees do not have enough in common to bring a single case. Outside the Supreme Court, he told reporters he was pleased with the issues the court focused on.

"The other thing you saw today, the justices were focused on: the terrible due process problems with the theory that the plaintiffs have used here. Individual women would not get to tell their stories. Walmart would not be able to put on its defenses," he said.

Joseph Sellers, the lawyer representing the women, said his clients were exposed to company-wide discrimination around the country and do not make enough to individually bring this case to court. "This case offers Walmart as well as our clients an economical, efficient way to challenge a common practice across the stores, rather than litigating all these cases across the country," he said.

Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff on the case, filed the suit with five others after she said she saw patterns of discrimination as a female employee. "Since we have filed our lawsuits in 2001, I have heard from numerous  women with basically the same story as mine of disparity in treatment and lack of promotion and in lack of pay," she said.

But Walmart's executive vice president of human resources, Gisel Ruiz, said she is proof the company has a long history of promoting and advancing women. "I joined the company in 1992  as a management trainee, in Madera, California, and in less than four years I was promoted to store manager. I have had a very positive experience at Walmart like thousands of other women and not being able to opt out of the case is wrong," she said.

The Supreme Court could decide the case by the end of June.

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