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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, March 31, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 63      E-mail us
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moth with funny head
Photo by Fred Schutter
Costa Rica has more than its share of strange bugs. This one is called a lantern moth, according to Fred Schutter of Esterillos Oeste, who took the photo.
He said he found the moth on his back porch. The insect should be renamed alligator head moth, said Schutter. It is just over four inches in length.

U.S. senators moving today to end Cuban travel ban
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with wire service reports

Democrats and a key Republican in the U.S. Senate plan to unveil a bill today that would end the ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

Senators including Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat;  Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat; and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The United States first began introducing economic sanctions against Cuba in 1960 following that government’s seizure without compensation of U.S. assets on the island, said Freedom House, which supports the new legislation.  Current U.S. sanctions, which strictly limit trade with Cuba to cash-only sales of U.S. farm products and medical supplies, are unique to all other U.S. sanction policies in that they also prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a U.S. government waiver, Freedom House noted. 

The U.S. House routinely votes every year to end the travel ban. U.S. expats in Costa Rica frequently violate the ban by traveling directly to Cuba from Costa Rica. Many Americans do likewise by stopping first in a third country.
Biden's visit to San José

President Barack Obama has said he favors relaxing limits on family travel and on cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba. But he says the U.S. trade embargo should stay in place to press for democratic reforms.

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has criticized U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden for saying the United States has no plans to lift its trade embargo.

In an online column published Sunday, Castro questioned the ethics behind the U.S. policy. The former president said the embargo is a policy of the past, and he believes that Latin American countries want to move forward.

Biden told reporters during a summit in Chile Saturday that he and President Obama think the Cuban people should determine their own fate and that they should be able to live in freedom.

He also said there is a need for a transition in U.S. policy toward Cuba. But the vice president would not elaborate.

Telecom agency punishes unions for violating strict e-mail policy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has stripped two employee unions of the right to use internal e-mail.

The company said that the two unions each violated established e-mail policy by sending what was described as massive quantities of e-mails. The electronic messages went to union members and employees within the company.

The unions are the Asociación Nacional de Técnicos y Trabajadores de la Energía y las Telecomunicaciones and the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Eléctricos y de Telecomunicaciones.
The company said that the unions only were allowed to use e-mails to address organization themes.

The company said the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Eléctricos y de Telecomunicaciones sent out a message to all employees saying that a member would like to run for legislative deputy. The other union sent out a message about a karaoke event.

In addition to not sending offensive, insulting, defamatory or messages hostile to the institutional order, e-mail users are not allowed to send publicity of any type or to promote political or religious causes, said the company,

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Surprise downpour shows
seasons are changing now

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Slowly the season is changing. A surprise downpour in San José Sunday did little more than settle the dust. But it is a taste of the days to come.

Meanwhile in the southern zone there were heavier downpours Sunday. The dry season arrives in the southern zone last and leaves first.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional is predicting downpours in the mountains of the central and south Pacific for this afternoon as well as in the western part of the Central Valley.

Easter is the harbinger of the rainy season, and the faithful have about a 50 percent chance of holding their Good Friday procession under sunny skies. There still are 11 days to go for Good Friday.

Cruz Roja prepares its staff
for work Semana Santa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cruz Roja said it will field 630 workers at 101 locations at beaches, rivers, highways and mountains for the Semana Santa vacation, which begins Friday afternoon. The Cruz Roja will take to the streets and other locations starting Sunday, They will be using eight boats and 120 ambulances.

The organization said it would not neglect those who stay in their neighborhoods instead of traveling to beaches and other vacation locations. Among those who will have Cruz Roja protection are those who participate in the many religious processions during Semana Santa.

In other Semana Santa news, Banco Nacional de Costa Rica said that it would maintain a normal schedule through Wednesday, April 8. The bank will be closed Thursday through Sunday. One exception is the bank office at the  Depósito Libre de Golfito. That office will close at noon Wednesday, April 8, the bank said.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will be announcing its plans for Semana Santa today. That will include a coordinated effort with the Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Tránsito and the bomberos, the firemen.

Boost in tax-free spending
suggested for Golfito sales

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government plan to bring economic benefits to Golfito is faltering, and two legislators want to take steps to beef up the amount of tax-free items residents can purchase there.

The location is the Depósito Libre Comercial de Golfito where residents can travel and spend up to $800 every six months in purchasing untaxed items. Kitchen appliances, alcohol and vehicle tires are favorite purchases. The two lawmakers, Alberto Salom and Olivier Pérez, want to raise the amount to $1,000 every six months for a total of $2,000 a year.

The Depósito Libre is a popular shopping location, and bus loads of Central Valley residents go there every week. Truckers have a steady business of bringing the goods purchased there to the consumer.

However, the popularity has fallen off, said the lawmakers. In 1997 when the amount of tax-free purchases was last fixed, there were 240,000 visitors who took advantage of the benefit. In 2007 there were 185,000, the lawmakers said.

In order to take advantage of the tax-free purchases, shoppers have to stay overnight in the town. The project was started as a stimulus to offset the economic problems that followed when the banana companies left the area.

The Junta de Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur supports an increase in the tax-free limit. That is the development agency in the area.

Two men held as robbers
in traffic stop smashings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police conducted two raids in Hatillo 6 Monday morning and detained two men they said were responsible for sticking up motorists at stop lights in Hatillo and in Sabana. The men, 20 and 21, are suspects in three cases, but investigators said they expected more victims to come forward.

Typically the robbers would approach a stopped car, break the glass in the side window and produce a firearm. Then they would take whatever possessions were handy. This type of crime has been going on for years on the Circunvalación highway that passes through Hatillo on the south side of San José. But the firearms elevate the crime from a simple smash and grab to armed robbery. Usually victims are women traveling alone.

Investigators said they had been following these two men for two months. They were arrested in their homes where agents said they confiscated cell phones, computer parts and other items that match objects that were stolen.

Similar crimes are taking place in areas where construction has produced slow or stalled traffic, principally in the Autopista Próspero Fernández in Escazú and along the old road to Escazú in Sabana Sur. These crimes frequently happen during rush hour.

Map institute says tourists
can benefit from their work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Transport ministry said that although its Instituto Geográfico Nacional does not make a map especially for tourists, there are many choices that can help out a visitor.

This includes a series of maps, 133 in all, that cover the entire country at 1:50,000 scale. Hardly anyone buys all of them, but they do purchase a set around the area where they have property or where they plan to visit.

The institute is located on the south side of the Liceo de Costa Rica within the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes complex near Plaza Víquez.  It is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The government maps are still useful despite the access to Google maps because they have route numbers and highways clearly defined.

A lot of the customers at the map facility are students. The cheapest map, suitable for school use, is just 35 colons, just six U.S. cents.

For general use, the institute recommends a map at a scale of 1:500,000. Those show most roads, communities, districts, cantons and geographic points.

The institute also has books containing maps of various districts, the institute said. History buffs would like maps that show the routes followed by the Spanish conquistadores when they took control of the national territory.

There even is a map that covers all of the Isla del Coco, although the legendary treasure there is not clearly shown.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 63

Vice President Biden addresses the assembled officials at Casa Presidencial.
Biden talking
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Not much concrete comes from vice presidential visit here
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica and the other nations of Central America had a full agenda of requests for Vice President Joseph Biden when leaders met with him Monday.

But the requests, mostly pleas for money, were not really addressed.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez was upbeat about the meeting.  He said the United States and Central America have established the foundation for a new relation based on mutual respect, cooperation and frankness.

"We are confident that during the administration of Barack Obama a new policy of friendship and respect is going to be constructed, just as he has said, hearing the neighbors south of the Río Grande.

If something were to happen to Obama, Biden, 66, would become president. But short of that event vice presidents have little power and only have the obligation of presiding over the U.S. Senate. So the visit Sunday night to 2 p.m. Monday was mostly public relations with Biden serving as a messenger from Obama.

Biden has been in Chile for another regional meeting.

During their meeting Monday, Arias said the men discussed drug smuggling, immigration, organized crime and capitalization of two development banks, the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo and the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. Costa Rica has been borrowing heavily from both banks.

Most of the money comes from developed countries.

Biden said that both he and Obama see an opportunity after the world economic crisis similar to the opportunity that the world had after World War II to create a new structure with the goal of increasing the prosperity of all countries.

The U.S. Embassy characterized the Biden theme as requesting patience and commitment by the assembled leaders and stressing the need to work together for common progress on economic and other issues.
Biden car
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
There are no rent-a-cars for Joe Biden. This Cadillac was imported from the District of Columbia for the benefit of the vice presidential party.

Also at the meeting was Martín Torrijos, president of Panamá; Álvaro Colom of Guatemala; Elías Antonio Saca of El Salvador; Dean Barrow, prime minister of Belize;  Arístides Mejía, vice president of Honduras and Manuel Corone, vice chancellor of Nicaragua.  Also attending at the invitation of Arias was Mauricio Funes, the left-wing president-elect of El Salvador.

The leaders were hoping for some specific statements on climate change, promotion of renewable energy, and on an Arias favorite, the exchange of outstanding debt for environmental actions.

Costa Rica also said it wanted help in developing its English-language academic program and ways to improve competitiveness of businesses here.

While Biden was meeting with Central American leaders, his wife, Jill, visited Escuela Ciudadela de Pavas and spent time observing teaching methods, talking to teachers and some of the 250 assembly students. She has a doctorate in education and has worked as an English-as-a-second-language teacher.

Now that the free trade treaty has been passed, protests are a bit more sedate. Native Costa Ricans presented their views as the U.S. vice president visited the country. They seek passage of a law that would give tribal groups more autonomy.
protesting native Costa Ricans
A M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírfez Vindas

Vice president's essay promotes a partnership with America
Thursday an opinion piece attributed to Vice Presdient Joseph Biden appeared in 11 Latin American newspapers. This is the article, called "A New Day for Partnership in the Americas."

Next month, President Obama will travel to Trinidad and Tobago to meet his colleagues from across the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. In advance of that historic meeting, I am traveling to Central and South America to consult with Latin American leaders gathered in Chile and Costa Rica about the Summit and the challenges faced by the people of the Americas.

These meetings are an important first step toward a new day in relations and building partnerships with and among the countries and people of the Hemisphere.

The President and I understand that only by working together can our countries overcome the challenges we face. Today, we are more than just independent nations who happen to be on the same side of the globe. In today’s interconnected world, we are all neighbors who face many common concerns.

The current global economic crisis has touched virtually all of us—every country, every community, every family. Citizens everywhere are searching for answers, looking for hope—and turning to their leaders to provide them. It is our duty as global partners to heed their calls, to together forge a shared solution to a common problem.

Our Administration is taking several steps to make this happen. Our Congress has approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is designed to promote job creation and to set a course for growth for the next generation. The President has proposed a budget designed to set a foundation for the economy of the future, with important investments in health care, education, and energy. And we are working with our partners in the G-20, who meet next week in London, on a coordinated plan to ensure recovery and restart growth, and to reform the international regulatory and supervisory system to ensure that no such crisis occurs again.

Rekindling the U.S. economy and ensuring that international financial institutions serve the interests of the people are particularly important for the Americas. Our economic interconnection means that a robust U.S. economy is good for the hemisphere and can become an engine for bottom up economic growth and equality throughout the region.
The economy isn’t the only challenge requiring our cooperation. We also face dual challenges of security – both for our countries and for the individuals who inhabit them. Our countries are plagued by gang violence and the illegal trafficking of weapons and narcotics.

In the United States, we need to do more to reduce demand for illicit drugs and stem the flow of weapons and bulk cash south across our borders. We applaud Mexico’s courageous stand against violent drug cartels, as well as Colombia’s anti-drug efforts, but we know that they will have the side effect of pushing traffickers into Central America. We will build on the Meridá Initiative – started last year under President Bush – to assist Mexico and the Central American nations in a joint effort to confront that threat head-on. The drug trade is a problem we all share and one whose ultimate solution we must devise together.

Consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we must also focus on building and encouraging strong democracies, where basic fairness, social equality, and a deep respect for human rights and the rule of law are the guiding principles of everything we do. Democracy is about more than elections; it’s about strong, transparent governance and a thriving civil society. It is also about addressing as effectively as possible the challenges of poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

We recognize that the United States is still striving to meet its constitutional goal of forming a "more perfect union" and that we have, in the past, fallen short of our own ideals. But we pledge every day to honor the values that animate our democracy, and to lead by example. This is why, on his third day in office, the President ordered the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Finally, we all face the threat to our planet posed by the changing climate, and, so, we share the need to develop clean energy sources to combat—and reverse—this critical threat. The President and I are deeply committed to leading in the development of an urgent and coordinated response to climate change. Working as partners, we must harness the potential of green energy in a way that protects our planet for future generations, while also catalyzing economic growth for the generations of today.

As we face these threats and as we confront the most serious economic crisis in generations, the countries of the Hemisphere must look forward. And we must work together, as partners, to give our citizens hope that brighter days lie ahead.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 63

Domestication of corn pushed by to nearly 9,000 years
By the National Science Foundation

The earliest physical evidence for domesticated maize, what some cultures call corn, dates to at least 8,700 calendar years ago, and it was probably domesticated by peoples in the lowland areas of southwestern Mexico, not the highland areas.

This new evidence comes from an international team of researchers, who report the findings in two companion papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They place maize domestication in Mexico about 1,500 years earlier than previously documented there and 1,200 years earlier than the next earliest dated evidence for maize in Panamá.

"Our primary goal was to document the early history of maize domestication in the homeland of its wild ancestor," said Anthony Ranere of the Department of Anthropology at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He acknowledged the timelines make a good deal of sense because the wild ancestor of maize is native to the regions of southwestern Mexico where the team worked, and these regions had not been previously explored by archaeologists.

Researchers focused on the Xihuatoxtla Shelter in an area of the Balsas Valley that is home to a large, wild grass called Balsas teosinte that molecular biologists recently identified as the ancestor of maize. The shelter contained early maize and squash remains as well as ancient stone tools used to grind and mill the plants.

"We found the remains of maize and squash in many contexts from the earliest occupation levels," said Dolores Piperno. She is senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology for the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. "This indicates these two crops were being routinely consumed nearly 9,000 years ago."

Ranere and Ms. Piperno discuss both the archaeological context and botanical evidence for maize and squash domestication in the papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ranere is the first author of the archaeological paper, while Ms. Piperno is the first author of the botanical paper. Both papers result from work by the same five investigators, including Irene Holst, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panamá; Jose Iriarte, University of Exeter, United Kingdom; and Ruth Dickau, Temple University. The research is partially funded by the National Science Foundation.
corn evolution
Nicolle Rager Fuller/National Science Foundation
Evolution of grain from wild plant to today's corn

"Finding early human settlements in this part of Mexico is also very important, as it shows people were becoming well-adapted to tropical forest settings early on," said Ms. Piperno. The findings suggest domestication of maize in Mexico's lowland areas as opposed to highland areas as has long been thought.

The search for maize origins in the 1950s through the 1970s focused on arid or semi-arid regions in the Mexican highlands where preservation of dried out plant remains was common. Not surprisingly, the earliest maize remains in the form of maize cobs and kernels came from highland caves and rock shelters.

But search locations shifted when molecular biologists began to study where the ancestor of maize, teosinte, grows today and when researchers began using phytoliths and starch grains to identify maize and other plant species, both domesticated and wild, in the 1990s. Starch grains and phytoliths are microscopic particles that occur in leafs, stems and roots of many plants, and unlike whole seeds and roots are well-preserved in tropical forest environments.

Even more, phytolith and starch grain evidence allowed researchers to trace the dispersal of maize as a domesticated crop from its origin in or around the Balsas Valley to Panama by 7,600 years ago and shortly thereafter to Colombia and Ecuador, and to Uruguay by 4,600 years ago.

The researchers acknowledge, however, that maize already appears to have been domesticated in the earliest occupation of the Xihuatoxtla Shelter. "We did not find evidence for the earliest stages in the domestication process," said Ranere. "We need to find more ancient deposits in order to document the beginning of the process."

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 63

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users guide

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

Old pages

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

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.

Advertising information

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


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

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

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

Cyber spying ring used
more than 1,000 computers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Canadian researchers say they have uncovered a China-based electronic spying operation that infiltrated computers in 103 countries. While they say they have no conclusive evidence of Chinese government involvement, the targets of the computer espionage were political. The cyber spying operation is one of the biggest and most sophisticated ever discovered.

Researchers at the University of Toronto call it Ghostnet — an electronic spying operation that infiltrated more than 1,000 computers around the world. They say it targeted the North American Treaty Organization, the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels and London. Researchers say that in addition to stealing computer files, the cyber spies could turn on the internal camera on a remote computer to eavesdrop on live conversations.

Nart Villeneuve is with the University of Toronto's Munk Center for International Studies. He says that while the operation was sophisticated in its organization and scope, it used readily available Internet viruses called trojans, attached to e-mail messages to infiltrate computers.

"From a purely technical point of view, no, it was not that sophisticated," said Villeneuve. "The trojan, the attacker favors, the 'ghost rat;' it's open sourced. You can go and download it. It's not like it is some clever special new way of doing it. But the way in which the attacker was able to leverage these tools was sophisticated."

The Toronto researchers uncovered the cyber spying operating when they were asked by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalia Lama, to examine his organization's computers for malware — malicious software that can infiltrate or damage a computer system.

Although the group cannot say whether the Chinese government was involved, they add that Ghostnet's computers were almost exclusively located in China and that the targets were political. They found infected computers in the Dalai Lama's organization and were able to trace stolen correspondence back to the spy network's computer servers in China.

The Chinese government has denied any involvement in the operation.

But James Lewis, a technology expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says cyber spying is nothing new for the Chinese government.

"We know that they are interested as a government," said Lewis. "We know that they've done it in the past as a government. And the things that are being collected are of interest to the Chinese government."

Lewis notes that many countries, including the United States and Russia, use computer technology to gather intelligence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 63

Latin American news digest
Temperatures that hurts bugs
also damage bird chicks

By the Newcastle University news service

Warm summers are dramatically reducing populations of daddy long legs, which in turn is having a severe impact on the bird populations which rely on them for food.

New research by a team of bird experts, including Newcastle University’s Mark Whittingham, spells out for the first time how climate change may affect upland bird species like the golden plover — perhaps pushing it towards local extinction by the end of the century.

It also points a way forward to how environmentalists can attempt to strengthen habitats to help wildlife adapt to changing climate and prevent such consequences.

Previous research has shown how changes in the timing of the golden plover breeding season as a result of increasing spring temperatures might affect their ability to match the spring emergence of their cranefly (daddy long legs) prey.

The new research, published this week in the scientific journal Global Change Biology, shows the true effects are much more severe.

Higher temperatures in late summer are killing the cranefly larvae, resulting in a drop of up to 95 per cent in the number of adult craneflies emerging the following spring.  With these craneflies providing a crucial food source for a wide range of upland birds like the golden plover, this means starvation and death for many chicks.

“The population of Golden Plovers in our study will likely be extinct in around 100 years if temperature predictions are correct and the birds cannot adapt to feed on other prey sources,” explained Whittingham, who worked on the study with scientists from Scotland and Aberystwyth and Manchester universities.

“Our study models the impacts of climate change on the ecology of the animal. In this case we show that higher August temperatures, as predicted from climate change models, are correlated with lower numbers of daddy-long legs.

“Daddy long-leg abundance is key for Golden Plover chicks in terms of growth and survival."

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