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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, April 1, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 65             E-mail us
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Firemen were limited to what they could carry to fight this blaze in Parque Santa Rosa
Widespread alert declared over possibility of fires
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 1:35 p.m. Friday

The national emergency commission declared a fire alert Friday in three provinces and 20 cantons, many of them in the Central Valley. The commission said that Guanacaste was the region with the highest probability of field and forest fires. It said that low humidity, higher temperatures and strong winds typical of the season encouraged such fires.

The alert covers Paquera, Lepanto and Cóbano, Garabito, Esparza and Montes de Oro in Puntarenas province.

In Alajuela the affected cantons are Upala, Los Chiles, Orotina, San Mateo, Atenas, Naranjo, Palmares and San  Ramón,

In the province of San José the cantons are Escazú, Santa Ana, Mora (Ciudad Colón), Puriscal, Acosta, Aserrí, Alajuelita, Desamparados, Dota, León Cortes and Tarrazú.

Earlier story below.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican firemen have been called eight times to what they believe are set fires on Cerro Espiritu Santo in Naranjo.

That was the report Thursday from the Cuerpo de Bomberos. The fires have attracted attention from expats living miles away and a photo Wednesday showed two blazes raging. There are blazes nearly every night, one expat said.
A fire department spokesman was clear that the blazes were intentional. This was the first report of the incidents from the firemen, and there have been no reports from police.

Another blaze has been controlled in Cerro el Hachal in Parque Santa Rosa, Guanacaste. The fire was in an area where firemen had to enter on foot because there were no trails for trucks. About 51 hectares were consumed, said firemen. That is about 126 acres.

The blaze began Tuesday. Firemen from La Cruz, Nicoya, Liberia, el Roble and Esparza responded to work with fire crews from the Área de Conservación Guanacaste.

The fire was declared controlled Thursday, but firemen still were extinguishing hot spots.

The tropical dry forest had not seen a fire for 25 years, said firemen.

In 2010 there were 386 hectares (954 acres) burned by fires in lands managed by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. Already in 2011 some 95 hectares (235 acres) have been burned, said firemen, and that number does not include the blazes in the Naranjo area.

Although some forest fires come from natural causes like lightning, hikers and poachers start many.

In the case of Naranjo, neighbors consider that there is some overriding strategy to the blazes there.

Hanna Gabriel retains her title with impressive KO
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hanna Gabriel, the Costa Rican women's boxing world champion, disposed of her challenger with a flurry of punches to the head a minute and 18 seconds into round seven Thursday night.

U.S.-Mexican boxer Melisenda Pérez seemed to lead with her face during the entire fight, and Ms. Gabriel landed rights and lefts repeatedly.

Twice President Laura Chinchilla tried to share the spotlight with the 28-year-old fighter. Before the fight the president entered the ring and declared her support for Ms. Gabriel.  She did so a second time after the victory in the new national stadium.

The outcome of the fight never appeared to be in doubt. Ms. Gabriel seemed to be in command most of the time stalking her opponent. Sometimes Ms. Pérez would charge throwing punches wildly.
The 20-year-old challenger did not seem to be affected by the repeated pounding until the seventh round.

Ms. Gabriel maneuvered her into a corner then and landed some 20 unanswered rights and lefts to the women's head.

The referee stepped in to stop the fight, but as he did, Ms. Pérez slumped to the canvas. She remained there for nearly 15 minutes while medical aides and a physician gave her oxygen and checked her for serious injury.

Eventually she improved enough to embrace Ms. Gabriel and share a few words through a translator.

The last time the pair met, Ms. Gabriel won on a technical knockout in the final 10th round. The class is super welterweight at 154 pounds. Ms. Gabriel weighed 153 and her opponent 151.

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President Laura Chinchilla walks with U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew at the site of the new coast guard station in Puntarenas.

Development initiative seeks
to improve Puntarenas area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla announced a new initiative Thursday to boost the economy of Puntarenas. She was on a tour that included the inauguration of the $3 million coast guard station donated by the United States.

The initiative is Puntarenas 2016, and it is designed to attract more investments to the area.

The president also inaugurated a new tourist dock in Barrio el Carmen. This project is designed to promote tourism in the area. It is a 50 million-colons projects, about $100,000. The president also inaugurated 276 spaces in the El Roble prison. There also are other improvements to the prison to the tune of 966 million colons or nearly $2 million. These include a dental area, a system of pumps for sewage and a kitchen and dining area.

Since October various ministries have been working with local business leaders in the province. The goal was to improve competitivity and make the province attractive for outside investment.

The Sardimar food products firm said it would invest $10 million and generate 250 new jobs and Metalco will invest $8 million and create 50 new jobs, said Casa Presidencial.

The new station for the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas is in Puerto de Caldera. The donation is part of the U.S. effort to reduce drug trafficking. The project includes an administrative building, a floating dock, a repair shop and parking.

Queen's Birthday Party leads
list of weekend activities

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Queen's Birthday Party Saturday leads the list of another full weekend for expats..

The birthday party is really a benefit for disadvantaged schools in Costa Rica sponsored by the British community. Funds last year were used to rebuild the kindergarten in Vara Blance that was destroyed in the Jan 8, 2009, earthquake, organizers said.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the residence of British Ambassador Tom Kennedy. The location is west of San Rafael de Escazú centro in the Los Laureles section.

Adults pay 2,500 colons and those under 12 pay 1,000. Children under 5 are free.

In Palmar Sur and nearby areas, the sixth Festival de las Esferas is taking place through Sunday. There are academic discussions on archaeology as well as tours of the nearby mangroves on the Río Térraba and tours of Finca 6 where there are pre-Columbian stone balls still in situ. This is where a museum is being developed.

In San José, Parque España will again be the scene Saturday of Enamorate de tu ciudad!, an effort to bring visitors back to the city. There will be stands and entertainment.

Tonight sees the first of two performances of the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional at 8 p.m.. The program is repeated at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Both performances are in the Teatro Nacional.

Daniel Nazareth is the invited conductor with German violinist Korbinian Altenberger. On the program is a composition Costa Rican Eddie Mora that is based on the Gabriel García Márquez book "100 years of Solitude."

Seniors will ride for free
on all railroad lines

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Old folks are getting a break on the valley trains.

The price adjusting authority decreed Thursday that seniors ride free.

The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Público also set the fare for the new San Antonio de Belén route at 330 colons, about 67 U.S. cents. The route goes into service next week.

Other routes are going up from 30 to 40 colons.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles said that from December 2009 to November 2010 68,251 passengers used the valley route and 84,884 used the Heredia line.

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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 1, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 65
Latigo K-9

Central America contains most violent spot, general says
By American Forces Press Service

Central America remains a hotspot of instability caused by violent criminal organizations that use drug money to undermine legitimate governments, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said Wednesday.

The commander, Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, said the northern triangle formed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is possibly the most violent place on Earth today. Criminal organizations involved in illegal activities in the area — including drug trafficking — realize a global profit of $300 billion to $400 billion, he said.

Fraser used United Nations figures to back up his point at a Pentagon news conference.

"If we look at Iraq in 2010, the violent deaths per 100,000, according to U.N. numbers, was 14 per 100,000," he said. "In Honduras last year, it was 77 per 100,000. In El Salvador, it was 71 per 100,000."

The region has some very capable militaries, the general said, noting that El Salvador sent troops to Iraq that American partners rated among the best in that battle. But the governments of the region are overmatched, he added.

"If you look at the transnational criminal organizations, it's a well-financed, capable capacity — an enterprise, if you will," he said. "Our estimates are anywhere from, on an annual basis, on a global basis, the transnational criminal organizations bring in $300 billion to $400 billion a year. That's a significant number when you put it against the capacities of the governments that we're talking about."

One example of the technology these criminal organizations use is self-propelled, fully submersible vessels. These subs typically are 100 feet long, manned by a crew of four, and they can carry 10 tons of cocaine, he said. They do not dive far below the surface and can transit between the northern parts of South America to the northern parts of Central America and into Mexico.

Militaries are not built to handle law enforcement activities, but many have been called upon to aid police in the effort, and U.S. Southern Command helps this effort, Fraser said.

"Because of the concern from a law enforcement standpoint — and I'll use El Salvador as an example, the president, to address this issue, has asked and brought the military in to support law enforcement, very much in the same manner that we talk about within the United States," the general said. "Within their authorities, they work with the law enforcement to address the issue. But almost half of the military of El Salvador is working to address the violence. And we're seeing the same things — not to the same level — happen within other parts of the region."

Southern Command is working hand in hand with the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. law enforcement agencies and others to address this issue, Fraser said. Southern Command personnel are part of the solution, but not the entire solution, he added.

"It's much more complex than that," Fraser said. "And we have to address it, in my mind, on a regional basis, and not just on a country-by-country basis." Toward that end, he said, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative are aimed at improving the ways countries work together, helping to empower the law enforcement and judicial systems.

Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser

"It's a multi-pronged effort," Fraser added.

But the foundation for these initiatives is building and sustaining military-to-military relations with partner militaries in the region, the general said.

"We engage with our partners to build that security capacity," Fraser said. "Our efforts include military-to-military engagements, exercises, training, subject-matter expert exchanges wherever we can, to help build capacity within our military partners."

Another important Southern Command mission is to be prepared to respond in the event of natural or man-made catastrophes. The earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 was one example, and a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile last year, Fraser noted. Hurricanes probably are the most predictable natural disaster that can strike the area, he added, but the command has to be ready for everything from volcanoes to forest fires.

Southern Command works with the U.S. Northern Command to combat transnational criminal organizations. Fraser said the smuggling of drugs, guns, people and money is a regional problem, and it must be treated as such.

"Our boundaries from a U.S. forces standpoint is the southern border of Mexico with Guatemala and Belize," he said. "But from our standpoint, that's a very, very fuzzy boundary," because of the close cooperation between the two American combatant commands.

Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates the interagency capacity to detect and monitor traffic in the maritime environment, has boundaries that go beyond those between the Northern Command and Southern Command areas of responsibility, Fraser said, and it reaches into parts of U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command's areas as well.

Being a close neighbor of stadium getting old very quickly
At first I was just annoyed. Last Saturday morning before 10 a.m. we were coming home from the Pavas feria and discovered all of the openings in the Sabana Norte Boulevard were closed.  This meant the taxi had to drive about 10 extra blocks to get us home.  Were we going to become prisoners in our neighborhood every time there was something happening in the new national stadium?

Later, when I saw the interior of the stadium on my TV, I was duly impressed.  It was as bright as daylight inside the arches, but I could see, looking out the window just 300 yards away that it was indeed dark.  Seeing both President Laura Chinchilla and former president Óscar Arias as they made speeches and happily watched the dedication, I figured, the steps taken were not overly precautionary, as a matter of fact, pretty low-key.

It was the Chinese hand dancing that had me stunned.  I watched that on TV.  Over a dozen dancers lined up perfectly behind the front one so synchronized it looked like one dancer with dozens of arms.  It was something of a relief to see such precision and gentle moves, after being accustomed to Western style more acrobatic more frantic dancing.

It was the Chinese fireworks that I could see from my office window that made me gasp.  I don’t bother with fireworks anymore unless they are truly spectacular.  These were truly spectacular.  Indeed the Chinese invented and have perfected this art form.

The stadium was packed, and I was told that tickets were scooped up immediately and were being scalped before the performance.  I didn’t get to see the entire fútbol game. The score was two to two when I lost the station. But from what I did see, I think the Costa Rican team was more gentlemanly than the Chinese team.  I could hear the cheering from my apartment. The game ended in a tie.

More activities continued through the weekend with lesser fireworks — and on Tuesday with the added entertainment of a helicopter making nearly two dozen passes over the park.  My curiosity got old fast.  I can’t imagine living where the sound of helicopters or planes is an everyday occurrence.

Wednesday there was a concert in the Stadium -- in this case the national symphony.  I would have been happy to hear the sound of classical music wafting into my
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

windows.  But no such luck. You had to be there.

Obviously the government is going to arrange as many activities as they can in order to pay for the upkeep of the stadium, the cost of which is mind boggling, according to an earlier article in A.M. Costa Rica. Friends of mine in the neighborhood have already made plans to move, and I am beginning to look with interest at for rent signs closer to downtown.

The boulevard along the north side of the Sabana is gridlock during the rush hours as it is.  I wonder about the high rises already built and planned for around the park.  If it were just something like “Shakespeare in the Park,” or the fairs and festivals they have, it would be great and easily accessed by most people, and really like Central Park in New York. But the stadium looms over almost one-third of the park and is not easily accessed at all.

Enough nattering.  Today is April Fool’s Day, and all week I have felt like a fool as I have tried to organize the necessary information for my taxes, and failed.  In desperation I called a number and happily discovered tax assistance was within reach in Rohrmoser.  They, of course, were totally booked by more timely applicants. 

But bless Raquel for responding to the desperation in my voice and treating me as an emergency.  I seem to be using emergency services often lately.

Now I will put all of my concerns behind me and with a clear conscience I am going to The Queen’s Birthday Party tomorrow. It is an annual affair I like to attend.  It’s on the grounds of the British ambassador’s residence in Escazú, across from the Plaza Laureles.  Entrance is only 2,500 colons (money going to a worthy Costa Rican cause), and there will be lots to do and to eat from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.  They also sell British goodies like jams and chutney.  I am hoping to find a bottle of Rose’s lime juice so I can pass the new national stadium gimlet-eyed on my way home.

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Here is the mess that awaits volunteers on  Playa de Guacalillo where human and natural trash has been deposited by the tides and the nearby river.

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Major beach cleanup planned Saturday on Gulf of Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday an estimated 300 persons will try to clean Playa de Guacalillo on the central Pacific coast.

This is an event sponsored by Terra Nostra and a number of private firms. The beach is near the mouth of the Río Grande de Tárcoles and is littered with trash from humans but also tree trunks and branches. The organization said it hoped that some artists would be able to make use of some of the wood for creative purposes.
Volunteers also will sweep other areas along the east side of the Gulf of Nicoya. Prominent sponsors are the Ministerio de Salud and Channel 7.

Some volunteers will leave la Sabana at 5:30 a.m. and will be joined by individuals who live on the central Pacific coast at 7 a.m. Terra Nostra said it hopes to clear a kilometer of beach and recycle much of the human trash.

Volunteers are expected to return to la Sabana by 2 p.m. after a lunch at the beach.

Truck and vandal get blame for two telephone outages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In Guanacaste a truck broke a fiber optic line that cut off cell phone and Internet service Thursday. In Los Guidos de Desamparados a vagrant is blamed for a fire that heavily damaged fixed telephone and Internet service to about 300 persons.

The outage in Guanacaste was in Nicoya, Santa Cruz and Carrillo. The disruption was fixed by 3 p.m., according to
the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The outage was for more than three hours.

In Los Guidos, phone company officials said they believe someone set fire to cables Wednesday in order to obtain copper for resale. The fire got out of control and destroyed all of the telephone equipment at the site, the company said.

The loss was put at 68 million colons or about $138,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 1, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 65

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Canadian provincial court
weighs validity of polygamy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A case in the Canadian province of British Columbia has the potential to overturn Canadian laws on marriage, which have banned polygamy since 1892.

British Columbia Chief Justice Robert Bauman will decide whether polygamous marriage, as currently practiced by members of a breakaway Mormon sect, is protected by the Canadian constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

His ruling is likely to set off a long legal battle.

The case is rooted in a 2009 court decision to throw out polygamy charges against two men, James Oler and Winston Blackmore, the leaders of competing offshoots of the Mormon Church in a small settlement named Bountiful. The court dropped the charges based on the constitution's protection of religious freedom.

The British Columbia attorney general’s office then asked the province’s Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the anti-polygamy laws.

“The federal government has always taken the view that that law is constitutional,” says University of Western Ontario constitutional law professor Grant Huscroft. “But the responsibility for enforcing and prosecuting the law lies with the province,” he explained. “What that meant was, in effect, a federal law was not being enforced in one of the provinces,” he said.

In the U.S. and Canada, small, isolated communities for decades have quietly practiced multiple-partner marriages. Most, like the groups in Bountiful, are fundamentalist Mormons, who maintain the practice of polygamy based on religious principles derived from the early doctrines of the Mormon (Latter-Day Saints) Church.

Mainstream Mormons ended the practice of polygamy in 1890 and later made it an offense punishable by excommunication.

A key issue for some legal scholars is whether the practice of polygamy itself is inherently harmful.

Testimony from former polygamists interviewed in the British Columbia case has been mixed. Some say they have had positive experiences in plural marriages. Others say they suffered.

Bev Baines, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, suggests that some reported abuses might occur because polygamy has been driven underground and into isolated communities.

Ms. Baines says as long as the practice is illegal, it is hard to observe. “I’m arguing for decriminalization so that we can do the research to find out whether there is a problem that exists peculiarly with respect to polygamous relationships,” she said.

“If we do think that plural marriage abuses women, we are making it worse, because they are then subject to criminal charges and incarceration for up to five years,” Ms. Baines said, adding that there are already provisions in the law that can protect people against abuse.

Huscroft said there is already a list of documented abuses in polygamous communities such as forced marriages, under-age marriages, the treatment of women as property, harm to children and the expulsion of boys.

“Polygamy is an inherently exploitative and harmful practice, whether it is religiously based or not," Huscroft said. “Whether or not people want to participate in it willingly, there are some things we judge to be wrong and harmful,” he said.

Ms. Baines questions whether the government is failing to uphold its own principle of multiculturalism by banning plural marriages.

“I would say that the vast majority of polygamous relationships are practiced in the minds of those practicing them for religious reasons,” Ms. Baines says. “This is not your hippie communes of the 60s,” she added.

Huscroft worries about the effect on society of allowing polygamy.

“It will be an incredible precedent if a Canadian court, under some theory or other of human rights, were to declare a practice that I think is antithetically opposed to human rights values to be constitutionally permissible,” he said.

Huscroft says other groups besides breakaway Mormons are interested in the case. Some Muslims are also watching the outcome, due to the traditional practice of multiple partner marriages in Islam.

Libertarians, who generally oppose government action in private matters, and certain sexual minorities have also expressed interest.

Chief Justice Bauman's ruling is expected this summer.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 1, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 65

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U.N. agency seeks to ease
climate effects on food

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The effects of slow-onset climate change are expected to have potentially catastrophic impact on food production in developing countries in future, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned Thursday as it called for action to mitigate the adverse consequences.

“Currently the world is focused on dealing with shorter-term climate impacts caused mainly by extreme weather events,” said Alexander Müller, the agency's assistant director general for natural resources, in a submission to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“This is absolutely necessary, but slow-onset impacts are expected to bring deeper changes that challenge the ecosystem services needed for agriculture, with potentially disastrous impacts on food security during the period from 2050 to 2100. Coping with long-term changes after the fact doesn’t make much sense. We must already today support agriculture in the developing world to become more resilient,” said Müller.

In its submission, The Food and Agricultural Organization outlines steps that governments could consider in climate change negotiations to ensure that food security is not threatened. The agency recommends that food security be used as an indicator of vulnerability to climate change, saying that agriculture systems and the ecosystems it depends on are highly sensitive to climate variability and climate change.

Changes in temperature, precipitation and related outbreaks of pest and diseases can reduce production, with poor people in countries that depend on food imports particularly vulnerable, according to agency. “If we’re looking to assess vulnerability to climate change, it makes very good sense to look at food security as one important indicator,” said Müller.

The Food and Agricultural Organization suggests that global climate change adaptation mechanisms include greater attention to risks arising from slow-onset impacts of climate change, particularly the effect on food security.

A key measure highlighted in the submission is the need to develop staple food varieties that are better adapted to future climatic conditions. Plant genetic material stored in gene banks should be screened with future requirements in mind, and additional plant genetic resources – including those from wild relatives of food crops – should be collected and studied because of the risk that they may disappear, the agency recommends.

Climate-adapted crops such as varieties of major cereals that are resistant to heat, drought, submergence and salty water, the agency suggests, stressing this should be done in ways that respect breeders’ and farmers’ rights, in accordance with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.

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