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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 68             E-mail us
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It's déjà vu all over again for hero Juan Santamaría
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Juan Santamaría is again being declared a national hero. If there was any doubt, the Asamblea Legislativa approved on first reading by unanimous vote Tuesday a declaration to that effect.

Santamaría is the drummer boy who successfully ignited an enemy stronghold to turn the tide of the Battle of Rivas, according to the traditional story.

Consequently the Alajuela international airport bears his name and there are several statues of him in action around the country. And he is on a stamp.

The battle took place in 1856, and it is what Costa Ricans call the national campaign. The foe was U.S. filibuster William Walker, who sought to take over Central America and join it to the existing United States as a slave state.

April 11 is celebrated as Juan Santamaría Day, and there was little doubt he is being commemorated as a hero, although historians disagree on the actual event. The day is a legal holiday, and that means the coming weekend is a three-day one.

The measure most likely will be approved for the second and final time Thursday. The legislative measure orders that an oil painting of Santamaría be done, although what he actually looked like is left to conjecture.

The measure also orders the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud to take responsibility for the statues of
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Juan Snatamaría's statue was featured on several stamps in 1900 and 1901.

 Juan Santamaría and museums dedicated to him, which the ministry already does. The Ministerio de Educación Pública also is ordered to expand on the history of Santamaría as presented to public school students.

Most students are off Monday, but those in Alajuela, the province where Santamaría was born, will participate in a traditional parade.

The Ministerio de Trabajo notes that Monday is a day of obligatory pay. If employees work that day they are entitled to double pay.

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Stop the presses!
More Wikileak scoops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Right after World War I when the Soviet Union was a closed society, reporters in Riga, Latvia, would seek out any bits of information coming from Russia. A modern academic study showed that much of the information reporters were feeding U.S. newspapers actually originated in the United States, such as rumors that the Soviets were going to enforce plural marriages.

A similar circular path is true with the Wikileaks. For years embassy workers have been poring over local newspapers, attending public meetings and picking up some information in private chats. The material was put in diplomatic cables and now is being exposed as big news.

An analysis of the news

A.M. Costa Rica has been writing about the lack of a sewer plant in the Central Valley since the middle of the Abel Pacheco administration when plans for a new system were unveiled. Yet when a diplomatic cable says the same thing, the facts are converted into headlines.

One cable said that Óscar Arias Sánchez was egocentric. Does that statement surprise anyone?

The best that reporters here got out of Wikileaks is that the U.S. Embassy instructs visitors to avoid Costa Rican peanuts because of possible fungal infections. Reporters wondered why that was not made public, and they wrote a small story. The health ministry later issued a denial.

Another cable, this one in 2006, said that crimes against tourists were rising in the country.

More big news was a 2005 cable that said police and international organizations claim that women from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, Romania, the Philippines, China, Ecuador and Guatemala are trafficked for sex in Costa Rica. They must have visited Jacó.

Four arrested in Upala
after home invasion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in Upala, Alajuela, managed to capture four home invasion suspects Tuesday morning after armed robbers forced their way through the front door of a home and made off with 2 millions colons (about $4,000), jewels and lottery tickets. The home invasion took place in Barrio Los Angeles in the northern Costa Rican town.

All of the suspects are from San José. They were stopped in their vehicle in the center of town, said the Fuerza Pública. They identified the men by the last names of Céspedes Forbes, Arguedas Arias, Mejías Sáenz and Rivas Castellón.

Four held in la Fortuna

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Men with a knife threatened and took money and possessions from a U.S. tourist in La Fortuna de San Carlos Tuesday, but Fuerza Pública officers captured four suspects, including a minor, not far from the scene, they said.

The tourist lost an electronic agenda, $500 and about 250,000 colons, said officers. They said they were able to make the arrests because the victim called them immediately.

Our readers' opinions
Puntarenas needs facelift
not a $3 million pool

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Remember the phrase that then U.S. presidential candidate Obama uttered when he was referring to U.S. foreign policy?  He said, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig."   Now Costa Rica wants to spend $3 million dollars to build a new, two-story swimming pool in Puntarenas.   C’mon people… isn’t this the same thing as putting lipstick on a pig?

Puntarenas is in need of a major facelift.  They need to tear down the slums, build better housing, improve the roads and make the streets safer for its citizens before it needs a swimming pool!  Again, this is another example of short-sighted planning or some claws buried in the pockets of local officials.
Andy Browne
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste

It is an embarrassment

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This really has me scratching my head.  How about a fraction of that amount used to CLEAN the place up.  The first impression of cruise ship passengers is an embarrassment.  Oh, wait, maybe the pool will be built by and have the same quality oversight as Pista Del Sol.
Garry Wiersum
Ciudad Colón

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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Sandinistas taunt environmental surveyors at Isla Calero
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists and environmental experts who went to the Isla Calero Tuesday were heckled by about 50 young Sandinistas who arrived in three boats.

The group that came from Barra del Colorado included María Rivera of Colombia, Manuel Antonio Contreras of Chile and Alfonso Rivera from Canada, said the foreign ministry in San José. With them were Carlos Roverssi, a deputy foreign minister, and Lorena Guevara a vice minister in the environmental ministry.

The goal of the trip was to chronicle environmental damage inflicted on the area by the invasion of Nicaraguan troops and their efforts to dig a canal that will become a new mouth for the Río San Juan.

The Nicaraguan government opposed the visit, although the March 8 ruling by the International Court of Justice appears to give Costa Rica the right to make an environmental survey.

The rowdy group of Nicaraguans carried signs, chanted and yelled at the Costa Ricans and the three foreigners who arrived by helicopter. The demonstrators were identified as members of Juventud Sandinista but there also were reporters and camera operators from Managua.

The three foreigners are representing the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as Ramsar for
the Iranian city in which the international treaty was reached.

The trio are expected to return today.

Costa Rica has coupled environmental damage with the breach of sovereignty resulting from the Nicaraguan invasion. Managua, of course, claims the island, and the final determination will come later at the international court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The court told both countries to withdraw any military or police personnel from the disputed area, and Nicaragua did. Costa Rica did not have troops or police there.

Costa Rican officials said they hoped to be able to create a plan to repair some of the environmental damage. Nicaragua dumped silt from a dredging operation on the island and workers felled trees to create a path for the canal. Residents of the area expect a swollen river to greatly enlarge the canal, which now is about six feet deep and about 20 feet wide.

The new mouth to the river will give rapid access to the body of the Río San Juan. Nicaragua said the goal is to promote tourism.

Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega has been accused by some Costa Rican commentators of fabricating the controversy in order to rally nationalistic spirit as he approaches elections.

U.S. plans to revise and integrate its hemispheric drug policy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States is forging a new anti-drug policy that will combine all the existing initiatives in the region.

The plan was outlined last week in a U.S. Senate hearing by Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Kerlikowske outlined a series of policies, including one to prevent the importation of synthetic drugs like ecstasy and high potency marijuana from Canada.

"Today, a comprehensive Western Hemisphere Counterdrug Strategy, composed of numerous integrated programs and multi-national partnerships, is becoming a reality, Kerlikowske told senators. "In developing the strategy we are reaching out to members of Congress, non- governmental organizations, the counter-drug and counter-crime divisions of the OAS, and foreign government partners in the region. We are convinced that their views need to be taken into consideration if we are to design a truly comprehensive, collaborative and viable strategy." The OAS is the Organization of American States.

He noted that the U.S. Congress has appropriated $1.5 billion for Mexico since the inception of the Mérida Initiative in fiscal year 2008, of which over $400 million has been expended to date and over $500 million more is planned for delivery in 2011.

The man, known as President Barack Obama's drug czar, said that the details of the strategy would be worked out by summer. He praised efforts that have cut down the flow of
drugs to the north and noted that a reduction in drug use in the United States is needed. He titled his presentation to the senators a shared responsibility, suggesting that more effort would be made to train local police forces in Central America.

He said that the plan is to expand community- based policing, strengthen juvenile justice systems, and invest in crime and drug prevention programs.

"The global nature of the drug threat requires a strategic response that is also global in scope," he said. "It is not realistic for countries to expect to be effective if they are operating in a vacuum. We no longer live in an either-or world of 'demand reduction' versus 'supply reduction' or 'producer country' versus 'consumer country.' Accordingly, the strategy addresses drug production and consumption throughout the world and explicitly builds on international partnerships to achieve our national drug control goals.

'By the same token, criminal conduct engaged in by transnational criminal organizations is not limited to drug trafficking. Increasingly, international criminal syndicates are involved in kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and a variety of other illegal

Kerlikowske said the United States was placing much of our attention and resources in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean because transnational drug trafficking organizations are most active there.  The Central American Regional Security Initiative is one program designed to reduce the drug flow, and Kerlikowske said the United States was prepared to spend $200 million.

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European School's publishing house has another anthology

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The literary arm of the European School in Heredia launched another book Tuesday night. It is the third of six that are planned.

The book is  "La Cueva de los Cuentos," an anthology for the third grade that its author says can be incorporated into any school curriculum or home reading program.  The publisher is La Jirafa y Yo.

School founder and director Anne Señol Aronson said she created La Jirafa y Yo for the purpose of publishing “books for learning,” a collection of literature in Spanish that is both accessible and meaningful to Costa Rican children in the primary and elementary grades. Ms. Señol writes original stories to include with carefully selected classic literature, Costa Rican folklore and other original pieces contributed by a staff of Costa Rican authors. Colorful illustrations by artists Hector Gamboa and Olga Anaskina are integrated into the anthologies.
Ms. Señol founded the European School 21 years ago with the vision to produce students who are “balanced, strong human beings with values.” She said she bases her educational philosophy on the teachings of Krishna Murti and patterns the school curriculum after the Waldorf method. Although the school is well-known for its focus on bilingual education and its success in graduating all students with the international  baccalaureate diploma, Ms. Señol said she believes that English is “just a tool, nothing more.”

“Education is about something different,” which is encompassed in the humanities, she said.  The school curriculum concentrates in the subject areas of history,
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geography and the arts. For example, the sixth grade course of study focuses on the history, geography and art of Africa.

La Jirafa y Yo has a mission to uplift Costa Rican education, which up until now has suffered from a lack of quality literature in Spanish that reflects and supports its own unique culture, according to Ms. Señol. Achieving this mission has been a slow process so far, she said, but she has had meetings with the education ministry to offer the anthologies for use in the public schools. Said Ms. Señol, the publishing branch of the European School is “the social responsibility of the school,” and is not for profit.

Since its beginnings 21 years ago, the European School has grown to around 500 students and has an attractive, expansive campus in San Pablo de Heredia.  Ms. Señol came to Costa Rica more than 25 years ago and has raised five children with husband, Steven Aronson, founder of the Cafe Britt coffee company.

Rainfall appears to be linked to migratory bird patterns

By the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
 news staff

Instinct and the annual increase of daylight hours have long been thought to be the triggers for birds to begin their spring migration. Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, however, have found that that may not be the case. Researchers have focused on how warming trends in temperate breeding areas disrupt the sensitive ecology of migratory birds.

This new research shows that changes in rainfall on the tropical wintering grounds could be equally disruptive. The team’s findings are published in scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Many of the bird species that breed in the temperate forests, marshes and backyards of North America spend the winter months in the tropics of the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Insects are the primary food for many birds during the winter, and rainfall largely determines the amount of insects available.

Climactic warming, however, is causing declining and more variable rainfall cycles in many areas, affecting the availability of insects and delaying when birds leave for their northern breeding grounds. To examine this, the Smithsonian scientists focused on American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla), a member of the warbler family, at a non-breeding site in Jamaica where they conduct long-term studies.

“American redstarts were a perfect species for this study since they defend exclusive territories throughout the non-breeding period until they depart for spring migration and most return back to the same territory the following year,” said Pete Marra, research ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. “These behaviors made it relatively easy to keep track of individual birds over multiple years and document changing spring departures. Each individual was fitted with a unique combination of colored leg bands.”

Precipitation in Jamaica is highly seasonal, with consistent rainfall from September to November and a pronounced dry season from January to March. The scientists observed the redstarts in their non-breeding territories for five years during the dry season. They paid special attention to the annual variation in dry season rainfall. The correlation between the amount of insects in
bird being studied
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute/Dan Pancamo
Male American redstart

a bird’s territory and the timing of its departure suggested to the team that annual variation in food availability was an important determining factor in the timing of spring migration. Had the redstarts relied on internal cues alone to schedule their spring departure, they would have all left their winter territories at the same time each year.

“Our results support the idea that environmental conditions on tropical non-breeding areas can influence the departure time for spring migration,” said Colin Studds, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Migratory Bird Center and lead author of the study. “We found that the same birds changed their spring departure from one year to the next in relation to the amount of rainfall and food in March.”

During the past 16 years, the dry season in Jamaica has become both increasingly severe and unpredictable, leading to an 11 percent drop in total rainfall during the three-month annual drought. Making the future even more dire, climate models predict not only increased warming on temperate breeding areas but also continued drying in the Caribbean.

A critical question for the scientists is whether this variation in the onset of spring migration carries consequences for the birds. Delaying departure could be beneficial if food resources are low and the individual has not yet stored enough energy to migrate. However, delaying departure could affect arrival time to its breeding territory and result in less time to successfully reproduce. “Because American redstarts return to the same site to breed each year, arriving later may make it harder for them to remain in sync with their breeding cycle,” Studds said.

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Ecuador expels U.S. envoy
over Wikileaks criticism

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador is expelling the U.S. ambassador over a 2009 diplomatic cable divulged by Wikileaks in which the diplomat accused the Andean nation's former police chief of corruption.

Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, Tuesday declared Ambassador Heather Hodges persona non grata and asked her to leave the country in the shortest time possible.

The U.S. State Department said the expulsion was unjustified and that Washington will examine its options.  Spokesman Mark Toner said Ecuador did not specify why she was deemed persona non grata. 

Patino said he met with Ms. Hodges Monday but had not received a satisfactory explanation about the cable.  He said it did not mean that Ecuador was breaking relations with the U.S.

The cable, published in a Madrid newspaper Monday, centers on Jaime Hurtado Vaca, who was Ecuador's national police commander from April 2008 until June 2009.  According to the paper, Hodges says the commander should be stripped of his U.S. visa, alleging he used his position to commit financial crimes, facilitate human trafficking and obstruct investigations of corrupt colleagues.  She said corruption in Ecuador's national police force was widespread and well-known.

Ms. Hodges is the second U.S. envoy in Latin America to run into difficulty in a host country based on leaked diplomatic cables.  Wikileaks has divulged thousands of cables from U.S. embassies around the globe and documents related to U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, resigned after a leaked cable showed that the diplomat doubted the Mexican government's ability to combat that nation's drug war.

Rights agency asks Brazil
to halt hydro project work

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The human rights arm of the Organization of American States is urging Brazil to halt work on a massive hydroelectric dam in the Amazon until the government deals with concerns of the region's residents.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made the request in a letter dated April 1.  The commission calls on Brazil to immediately stop the licensing process for the Belo Monte dam project and take protective measures for the native peoples who live in the area.  The commission also calls on the government to give the groups access to environmental impact reports.

In Brasilia, the Foreign Ministry described the request as unjustified.

The $11 billion Belo Monte dam would require submerging at least 400 square kilometers of land. Builders would have to excavate land comparable to the work needed to build the Panama Canal.

Belo Monte would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric energy producer, behind China's Three Gorges Dam and the Itaipu Dam that straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay.

Calm in Haiti gets praise
from U.N. and Insulza

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations peacekeeping operation in Haiti has welcomed the release of the country's preliminary results from Haiti's recent presidential and legislative elections, while urging calm as citizens await final results.

The U.N. mission made the comment Tuesday, one day after the early results from the runoff vote showed that singer Michel Martelly defeated former first lady Mirlande Manigat for the presidency.  The vote took place March 20.

The mission said it salutes the fact that Haitian political actors welcomed the announcement with maturity, demonstrating their wish to respect the voice of the people and the democratic process.

Earlier Tuesday, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, congratulated the people of Haiti for exercising their civic responsibility in a calm atmosphere, and he saluted their patience as the results were tabulated.

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Traffic signal system
will receive maintenance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry had been authorized to spend 500 million colons (a bit more than $1 million) to maintain the 3-year-old, $3 million automatic traffic control system in the Central Valley.

The ministry plans to spend about 300 million colons or about $600,000 this year. The contract is with Consorcio Titán-Semex S.A. In addition to traffic lights, the contract covers monitoring systems, fiber optic cables, traffic displays and cameras.

The agreement can be extended for three years, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. The ministry also said it is working to interconnect systems in Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela with the San José setup, which is controlled from a center in Plaza Víquez. That project awaits budgetary approval and will cost 470 million colons more, the ministry said.

There are 325 intersections in San José covered by the contract.  Some 64 controlled intersections exist in the other provinces, said the ministry.

Import duty decreased
on construction steel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government cut import duties from 14 to 5 percent Tuesday on rebar used in construction.

Casa Presidencial said that the reduction was an effort to help the construction sector and to generate more employment.

Various ministries supported the plan. The descriptions of the products involved are technical, and not all the metal used in construction benefits from the reduction.

China is a major exporter of construction steel.

Tourism police report
they logged 80 arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía Turistica said Tuesday that its officers had made 80 arrests in three months. Not all were suspects in crimes against tourists, but many were.

In San José alone officers detained 30 suspects of which four were reported in the process of committing a crime, said officers. Among these was a pirate taxi driver who took luggage from Swiss tourists. In another case, a Colombian with a gun tried to take photo equipment from an Asian man, said officers.

In Dominical officers detained a man suspected in the sexual abuse against a minor, they said.

Tourism police are patrolling the bus stations in San José with emphasis on routes that lead to tourism destinations, officers said.

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