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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 67          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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roble ornamental
A.M. Costa Rica photo
A tree that knows
seasons of the year

Costa Ricans know Semana Santa is here when the roble de sabana trees burst into pink bloom.

Somehow the ornamental trees know the season and produce their blooms even though the time is the height of the dry season.

The roble de sabana tree (Tabebuia rosea) is native to the pacific coast, but because of its beauty, thousands of the trees have been planted in the Central Valley. The clusters of flowers do not last long and soon create a carpet on the ground under the tree. The pollinated plant produces pods of winged seeds that will germinate as the rainy season begins.

Roble means oak, and like the northern tree of the same name, the roble de sabana is used in furniture.

Early forecast predicts intense hurricane season
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Atlantic basin will likely experience a very active hurricane season, the Colorado State University forecast team announced Tuesday, increasing its earlier prediction for the 2007 hurricane season.

El Niño conditions that led to a quiet hurricane season in 2006 is likely to reverse itself by next summer, leading to above-average hurricane activity for 2007, according to the early season forecast.

Researchers predict 17 tropical storms this year, with at least five of those growing into major hurricanes.

The researchers base their estimates on atmospheric and oceanic conditions, such as sea surface temperatures and sea level pressures. The experts said, however, that 2007 will not repeat the unusually active seasons of 2004 and 2005.

Those two seasons together spawned eight major hurricanes that struck the United States, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans. After an unexpectedly calm 2006, the scientists say 2007 will be a return to the norm.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Although hurricanes do not hit Costa Rica, the backlash can be devastating, resulting into millions in damage to infrastructure, crops and communities.

The most recent El Niño has now ended and a transition to its mirror image, La Niña, is a substantial possibility, according to the latest United Nations forecast.

El Niño is the periodic weather pattern that can have repercussions around the world from torrential rains and floods in the Americas and
Africa to droughts and brush fires in Australia and Asia.

Both phenomena refer to large-scale changes in sea-surface temperature across the central and eastern tropical Pacific, with a warm pool located in the central and western Pacific expanding to cover the tropics during El Niño but shrinking to the west during La Niña. Thus La Niña (or cold episodes) produces the opposite climate variations from El Niño.

“The observed rate of cooling has been more rapid than most models predicted,” the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in its latest update. “Currently, several, but not all, models indicate the likelihood of an emerging La Niña over the next several months.”

The U.N. agency cautioned that forecasts made at this time of year “notoriously lack skill” and the March-May period is often referred to as the “spring barrier” in the predictability of El Niño and La Niña, but there are indications that cooler than normal waters may prevail over the next several weeks in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific such that a La Niña event becomes established. In such an event, given the timing in the year, the phenomenon would likely persist for much of the remainder of the year.

Experts have noted the presence of a substantial pool of cooler than normal water just beneath the surface of the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific and this is expected to reinforce, over the next few weeks, the already cooler than normal waters at the surface.

El Niño conditions, which in December were forecast as likely to persist until at least March, dissipated rapidly during January and February. Prior to that climate patterns over several months displayed many characteristics usually associated with El Niño.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 67

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Family of quints receive
money and lots of help

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José quints generated money and gifts for their family Tuesday even though they still are in the hospital.

The five, products of artificial insemination, were born Thursday to Nancy Gabriela Rodríguez Aguirre, 30, and husband Jenner Guzmán Coto, 38.

The couple hopes to have the babies home in six weeks to two months. The other child in the family is Pablo, 3.

Public officials and representatives of private companies were at the San Sebastian home Tuesday with gifts. President Óscar Arias Sánchez said he would contribute part of his salary, some 1 million colons or about $1,925. The president has said he will apply his public salary to social causes. He is a rich man in private life.

Fernando Zumbado, minister of Vivienda y Pobreza, was there to help with financing a second floor for the family home.

One of the babies, Arianna, suffered an infection but now seems to have recovered. The other babies are brothers Samuel, Isaac and Derek and sister Raquel. They are in Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Fugitive Canadian adman
is probably long gone

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now that Jean Lafleur is a wanted man, Canadian eyes are turning to Costa Rica, but the former adman, known for his wild parties, appears to be long gone.

Lafleur faces at least 35 fraud charges in the $250 million sponsorship scandal that helped bring down the former Liberal government of Paul Martin. Lafleur ran an ad agency that seems to have placed much of the money with selected outlets.

Lafleur lived for a time in a San Rafael de Escazú condo until late 2005 when he is believed to have headed to Belize.

Mario Laguë, the current Canadian ambassador here, also was involved in the scandal. The Canadian press has called him Martin’s spin doctor, although there has been no suggestion that he did anything illegal just that he worked to sugarcoat public perception of the scandal.

Lafleur Communication managed more than $30 million in sponsorship contracts in the mid to late 1990s, and Lafleur's son Eric earned more than $1.1 million in salary while his firm acted as his father’s sole supplier of federally branded promotional items, according to Canadian news reports.

Canadian newspapers reported that police went to Lafleur's former apartment in  Montreal this week to arrest him. This suggests that the police have no idea where he is either.

Time off for bug spray
in Casa Presidencial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Semana Santa Holy Week holiday came early for workers in the Casa Presidencial press office.

Workers there said they were leaving at the end of their shift Tuesday because employees of the Ministerio de Salud were coming to fumigate for mosquitoes that carry dengue.  Most government workers are on the job until 3 p.m. today.

The report was unclear if just the press office was considered a source of dengue mosquitoes or if all of Casa Presidencial would be sprayed. Or, for that matter, if there was a high incidence of dengue in the San José suburb of Zapote where Casa Presidencial is located.

Government workers will be back on the job Monday. In the meantime, the dry law kicks in at midnight tonight. That means alcohol will not be served or sold until Saturday morning. Police will be enforcing the ban.

Many stores, spraying for dengue or not, will be closing earlier Thursday, and nearly everything except emergency and essential services will be closed Friday, Good Friday in the Christian calendar.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 67

Current anti-crime proposals don't include revamping courts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National development plans by the Arias administration are in danger of being wrecked by a wave of violence and crime.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is a cheerleader for new industry, and hardly a business opens that the president is not there with a scissors in his hand ready to cut the ceremonial ribbon. He often is elsewhere seeking more industrial investments that will mean jobs for Costa Rica.

An analysis of the news

Arias also has linked the free trade treaty to his plan to turn Costa Rica into a developed nation by 2020. Along with that plan is efforts to boost tourism.

A series of high profile crimes has caused ripples in the foreign boardrooms where decisions are made. Tourism is in danger, and the Arias administration is proposing only legal changes and focus groups to counter the violence.

It is anyone's guess if crime is really on the increase. Most tourists only report unpleasant events if their homeowner's insurance policy covers the loss. Most Ticos never had much confidence in the police. So solid statistics are not available.

There is no doubt that the crimes are more violent and more obvious. Lunchtime strollers are being murdered in downtown San José over a cellular telephone. A former presidential candidate's home was invaded by young toughs who murdered a maid and shot dead a neighbor on his balcony across the street. The politician's wife had her arm broken in three places.

A Jacó woman suffered a battering and sexual assault from robbers who broke into her home under cover of darkness. In upscale Escazú another invasion targeted the home of a U.S. Embassy employee and his wife. Invasions there and in nearby Santa Ana are common.

Anyone who reads a Spanish-language daily like El Diario Extra knows that three or four murder stories a day are not unusual.

The image of Costa Rica as a tranquil, stable democracy is being challenged by the kind of violence that makes much  
of Central American unattractive to investment. Even the far Pacific where billions are being invested in new hotels, condos and other luxury housing is not immune to the lawlessness.

The crime situation still is modest compared to countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. But if they are going to put substantial sums into Costa Rica, investors want to know that the administration is at least addressing the problem.

So far, the actions have been unimpressive. Arias listed citizen security as one of the major planks in his presidential platform. So far most of the effort at the security ministry has been in rooting out internal corruption and trying to obtain resources. Those who took office last May found police stations paid for and not built, fleets of motorcycles and automobiles delivered inoperable, immigration employees altering key computer programs and an ethic of skirting the law.

Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, launched an attack on the drug trade. He has promised 4,000 new police officers within a few years. And he helped create a tourism police.

These efforts seem to fall short because most observers agree that the biggest problem for law enforcement and citizen security is a dysfunctional or non-functional court and investigatory system, which is mostly out of the hands of the Arias administration. Little has been done to revamp the court system to handle a 21st century caseload. Even the case of a former president accused of massive corruption is falling through the cracks.

The courts themselves run on written trivia but guard jealously their right to investigate. There is corruption and the belief among some expats that justice can be bought. A current example of delays is the Oswaldo Villalobos case that took more than four years to get to court. And the trial, which is nearing its end, seemed to lack focus and a well-developed prosecution, despite the preparation time.

A so-called high-level panel convened by the Presidencia wants to stiffen some sentences in the hopes of dissuading criminals. But this will only add to the caseload, which the courts can't handle now.

What appears to be needed is a new approach to modernize the overwhelmed court system, which happens to be on a week-long vacation now.

Crack price here is stable and low compared to States
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Crack cocaine prices are very stable in Costa Rica at the moment, says Walter Espinoza, the nation's lead drug trafficking prosecutor.

“We are very close to the source” in Colombia, so quantities are regular and the domestic market is well supplied, he said. International traffic, such as the seizures of cargoes measured in tons off the Pacific coast this year, do not seem to have much relevance to the local market.

Locally, prices are about $1 per dose, Espinoza said. This compares to about $10 for a small “rock” in most U.S. cities. This dose is good for only 5 to 15 minutes of intoxication after which time the user will desire more.

It is well documented, including by experiments with animals, that addicts prefer the drug over food in most circumstances.

The price has been constant at about 500 colons per dose for at least the last four years, although this means the real price has dipped somewhat with the regular devaluation of the colon.

Crack addicts, known locally as piedreros or “rockers” are responsible for much petty crime especially in San José. Crack is readily available in rural areas as well. Anything that can be fenced for more than 500 colons becomes an attractive source of one hit.

In metropolitan areas, stealing manhole covers or small-gauge copper wire to sell to unscrupulous scrap dealers does damage to public and private property disproportionate to the small amount of money produced for the addict, officials note.

Aluminum cans also provide a good source of income. The scavenger can sell cans for 300 colons per kilo, so approximately 50 cans are enough for a hit.
crack cocaine
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration photo
Crack can be produced easily from powdered cocaine

Another source of income for the addict is to care for cars parked on public streets. Some cuidacarros can be quite aggressive, resulting in problems described in an earlier issue.

Crack cocaine is usually smoked in a small glass tube with a filter of fine wire. Blown-glass drug paraphernalia, sometimes including crack pipes, can be obtained at helpful souvenir shops in Moravia and Jacó. An alternative pipe is a soda can with holes punched in the side and the drug placed in the divot with cigarette ash as a filter.

The rock can be smoked directly, or it can be reprocessed by dissolving it in water and boiling off the contaminants, including the baking soda usually used in preparing crack. Typical signs of a place where the drug is used include candle wax, burned aluminum cans used for smoking and cooking, small pieces of aluminum foil from packaging and cigarette packets.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 67

Brazil's president says that stalled global trade talks could be jump-started
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says the dispute between rich and poor nations that has stalled global trade talks could be resolved this month.

Da Silva said that U.S. President George Bush told him Saturday that an agreement should be finalized in the next 30 days. The leaders discussed global trade and energy issues during a visit by da Silva to the U.S. presidential retreat in Maryland.

During da Silva's weekly radio address Monday, he said he 
would contact the leaders of Britain and Germany to try to pull the European Union back to the negotiating table with the U.S. and the Group of 20 developing nations, of which Brazil is a member.

Bush has said he is committed to a fair global trade deal. Washington has not commented on President da Silva's latest comments.

The Doha round of the World Trade Organization talks stalled in July after rich nations refused to cut farm subsidies and poor countries expressed reluctance to open up their manufacturing and service sectors.

Peru's president says he wants to call in air strikes against jungle drug targets
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Peru's president has urged the use of the military to destroy jungle factories that produce cocaine.

The president, Alan Garcia, said Monday in Lima that Peru should use its military attack aircraft to bomb and machinegun coca processing facilities and the airports used to transport drugs.
Garcia announced Sunday that Peru would resume the destruction of coca crops in Peru's Amazon region. Officials had previously agreed to allow farmers to produce coca, a key raw material in the production of cocaine.

A United Nations report released last year said Peru is the world's second largest cocaine producer behind Colombia. According to the report, Peru produces some 30 percent of the world's cocaine.

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