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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 72                            Email us
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Help is on the way
for historic bronze

A committee that will supervise restoration took a first look at the 1976 statue 'Monumento al Agricultor' by sculptor Francisco Zuñiga. The statute has been treated badly by vandals and was moved from a park near Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela to the Museo de Arte Costarricense in Parque la Sabana for protection. The bronze statue is cracked, broken, scored and marked with graffiti. The five-person committee includes sculptors.

Multiple developments took place Tuesday on tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To figure out what is happening with President Laura Chinchilla's proposal for $500 million in new taxes, expats need a scorecard. Here is is:

• The Sala IV constitutional court rejected Tuesday the way lawmakers had passed the measure, which already received an initial affirmative vote. The court said unanimously that the committee studying the measure agreed to lengthen the time to do so without approval from other lawmakers. The summary of the decision said that many of the amendments were not published as required by law. The court did not consider the substance of the tax bill.

The Poder Judicial announced the decision Tuesday evening. The decision means that the Asamblea Legislativa will have to start all over again to consider the measure which seeks to impose a 14 percent value-added tax among other levies.

• Casa Presidencial responded with a message of respect for the court and said that the president and her legal advisers would have to see the full decision, which is not yet available. Then Casa Presidencial will make a decision on how to proceed, it said.

• Juan Carlos Mendoza García, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, agreed that some 53 motions should have been published. He voted against the measure on first reading and said Tuesday night that the process showed lawmakers that there ought to be ways to combat tax evasion and spot persons in the government who are not doing their job. That was a reference to Fernando Herrero Acosta, the former minister of Hacienda and the principal legislative force promoting the new taxes. He resigned last week when La Nación published several stories about his own tax delinquencies. So did Francisco Villalobos Brenes, the top tax collector, for similar reasons.

• Lawmakers of the Alianza por Costa Rica that make up the Comisión de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público said Tuesday they will call to a hearing Herrero, his wife, Florisabel Rodríguez Céspedes, and Villalobos to be questioned about their tax problems.

• The Poder Judicial said Tuesday that the Fiscalía Adjunta de Probidad, Transparencia y Anti corrupción had opened an investigation of Herrero and his wife for alleged illegal enrichment as a public
official. The judicial action followed by hours yet another disclosure by La Nación that said that 
Herrero's wife, until last week an adviser to President Chinchilla, had won a 17-million-colon ($34,000) public relations contract with the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A. The problem was that the contract was a direct one in which there was no bidding, and the refinery, a state agency, asked three other firms to consider participating, but none was involved in the public relations business. They were building supply firms. The refinery attributed this to a computer input error that generated emails to the wrong companies. La Nación said that the education minister and President Chinchilla's brother both endorsed the work of the firm run by Ms. Rodríguez in letters to the refinery.

• At Casa Presidencial President Chinchilla was  reported to have signed a directive to create an elite unit of auditors in the Dirección General de Tributación to take action against tax fraud. The press release about the directive said that of 78 criminal tax fraud cases presented in March only one has gotten to court. The president also asked that conciliation not be allowed in tax fraud cases. With conciliation, suspects can buy their way out of prison. Only 49 of the criminal complaints are still active, said Casa Presidencial.

The tax flap began March 26 when La Nación reported that Herrero and his wife evaded an equivalent of 300,000 colons in property taxes a year for 10 years by failing to update the value of their real estate holdings. That is about $600 a year in taxes. President Chinchilla defended him at the time and called the matter regrettable carelessness. The newspaper also reported that other members of her cabinet had been equally careless in not updating their property tax values, thereby evading municipal taxes.

But then Herrero resigned just as La Nación was publishing an article April 3 that said Herrero and his wife failed to report 50 million colons or about $100,000 in income from a corporation in 2010. Later the same day the newspaper revealed that Villalobos, the chief tax collector, had been remiss on 2008 taxes.

He paid the tax that day but still resigned.

The matter moved into the criminal realm with the report Tuesday about how Herrero's wife won the public relations contract with the state refinery.

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Today's holiday marks
the decisive Battle of Rivas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a legal holiday, the 156th anniversary of the Battle of Rivas, Nicaragua, in which the Costa Rican army defeated
Statue of Juan Santmaría in Alajuela.
and routed the contingent of filibusters led by U.S. citizen William Walker.

The day will be marked with a ceremony and a parade beginning at 9 a.m. in Parque Juan Santamaría, Alajuela. Santamaría is the drummer boy who became the hero of the battle by throwing a torch on the thatched roof of a Walker stronghold. He died for his efforts.

An irony in Costa Rica is that the country without an army reserves its highest praise for battles and war heroes. The Battle of Rivas did not even take place inside Costa Rica, although the smaller
and earlier Battle of Santa Rosa did.

Juan Rafael Mora, the president at the time, rallied Costa Ricans and led an army to confront Walker, the U.S. adventurer who had made himself president of Nicaragua. The troops were led by Mora's brother and José María Cañas Escamilla, his brother-in-law.

Although victorious, the battle had an extraordinary cost for Costa Rica. Cholera broke out in Rivas, and the Costa Rican troops brought the disease back with them when they returned home. Estimates say that a tenth of the population died.

Mora received a lot of blame for the resulting economic situation, and he had to flee. In 1860 when he returned to seek power, he and Cañas were captured and shot.

What is not stressed in Costa Rica is that the Nicaraguan war pitted two U.S. industrial giants because Rivas was a key transportation center before the Panamá Canal was constructed. Boats would come from the Caribbean through the Río San Juan to Lake Nicaragua and to Rivas where they would be unloaded and the goods taken a short distance to the Pacific.

Historians say that Cornelius Vanderbilt lost his shipping operation to a rival firm backed by Walker. That was the incentive to finance much of the Costa Rican military expedition.

Walker also had opposition in the United States because he had plans to bring Nicaragua into the Union as a slave state, thereby disrupting the delicate balance that dominated U.S. national politics until the Civil War.

School children, except those in various parades around the country, are off today. The public schools spent time discussing the Battle of Rivas Tuesday during class.

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A.M. Costa Rica offices are closed today due to the holiday. However, the newspaper will publish normally Thursday morning.

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.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 72
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Festival of spheres is the big show starting Friday in Osa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big celebration this weekend is in the Municipalidad de Osa on the Pacific coast. The event is the three-day VII Festival de Esferas, named after those stone spheres that are found in the area.

Sponsors are the Museo Nacional, which maintains a museum for
spheres promotion
the spheres in the area, the  Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Palmar Sur and the municipality.

In addition to archaeology, biodiversity and tradition are being stressed. Those who happen to be there Saturday at 5:30 a.m. can participate in a bird-watching and plant tour.

Later that day, the Boruca of Rey Curré will present a taste of the Juego de los Diablitos, the traditional event held early in the year that pits the Spanish in the guise of a bull against the little
devils, representing the native peoples at the time of the conquistadores. That is at 1 p.m.

Events are being held starting at 9 a.m. Friday in both Palmar Norte and Sur. There also are events planned for Ciudad Cortés, Uvita and Sierpe.  Friday the inauguration will be at 10 a.m. in Palmar Sur. There will be an artists fair and traditional foods all day with fireworks at 7 p.m. All the events are free.

In Palmar Norte Friday at the Universidad Estatal a la Distancia there are lectures on audio-visual production from 9 a.m. to 4
p.m., one on medicinal plants at 10 a.m., cultural heritage at 2 p.m. and local bird life at 3:30 p.m. The last three are being presented by the Museo Nacional.

There are movies at 6 p.m. in Sierpe presented by the Asociación Cultural In Situ and the Centro Costarricense de Producción Cinematográfica.

Saturday, in addition to the 5:30 a.m. bird trek, the museum is presenting a program about the giant stone spheres and their relationship with the sun at Finca 6, the local museum site. There also are various workshops, including one at 10 a.m. for children on protecting the spheres.

A workshop on tree identification is at 2 p.m. in Palmar Sur.

Sunday begins with a parade around the Palmar Sur central park and a festival of bands at 10 a.m. At 2:30 p.m. the Circo Fantazztico from Pérez Zeledón performs.

During the weekend there are guided tours of the Finca 6, Bamtamal and the Río Sierpe mangroves.

The festival began in 2005 to inaugurate the new museum dedicated to the spheres and their possible significance. The event has grown since then and branched out into the environmental and biological as well as basic festival fun.

The stone spheres, of course were created by the pre-Columbian peoples in southwestern Costa Rica. They range in size from that of a baseball to more than six feet in diameter. They are attributed to the Diquis culture, but no one really knows for sure.

Compete schedules are available on the Museo Nacional Web site.

Caribbean coast residents again unite to fight beach demolitions
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nine buildings in the Talamanca canton are to be demolished by the end of November. The targeted constructions are homes and hotels that have been in the area for years.

One of the organizations fighting the demolition has claimed some sort of racism, since the owners being evicted are all Afro-Carib descendants. Only two aren't black, said Pablo Bustamante, president of Asociación de Desarollo Integral de Manzanillo. He said those property owners did purchase their land from locals who were the rightful owners until they sold it.

The landowners are in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The Contraloría General de la República and the Procuraría General de la República are the agencies that are calling for demolishing the buildings because they claim the constructions are within the 50 meters of maritime public zone. According to the maritime zoning law established in 1977 there should be no constructions within the 50 meters from mean high tide because that is considered public.

But there is a problem with the law, said Abner Alfaro, legal adviser for the Talamanca municipality. He said that when the law was being made, there was no consultation of the land and inhabitants of Limón province, let alone the Talamanca canton. The settlers of this land have been in Costa Rica for more than 100 years and built their homes close to the shore because they were fishermen, and that is how this canton was created, said Alfaro.

And now years later the government has decided to implement the law to the poorest canton of the country, said Alfaro. He said this is a form of racism.

“Because this area is filled with natives and blacks they don't want to let them develop,” said Alfaro.

He said there are areas on the Pacific side of Costa Rica where 
there are buildings that don't follow the law and are inside the 50 meters and there are no demolition orders. “This is unjust,” said Alfaro.

Last year two of the bigger hotels had destruction orders issued and eviction of the owners with the promise that the buildings were going to be destroyed. But now what used to bring income to the area has become a disturbance as homeless people and druggies have taken over the abandoned buildings, said Alfaro. The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones didn't follow through, and no one can enjoy that beach area since it is closed off and dangerous, the lawyer said. And now the government once again has said these homes and businesses are endangering land when in reality they maintain the land instead of destroying it, said Alfaro.

The Municipality of Talamanca is against the demolition, Alfaro said. And according to Talamanca resident, Bustamante, the mayor of Talamanca, Melvin Cordero, has said that if the demolition happens then he will turn in his credentials as an act to protest the destruction.

The people of the affected areas have unified to form one front against the demolition. There are more than 3,000 residents in Talamanca. Bustamante said that they will support the action of the mayor because he is on their side.

“The people won't allow for any new people to come into the municipality... He is the rightful mayor chosen by the people... Costa Rica isn't acting its best,” said Bustamante.

He added: “If the government doesn't understand, then it will explode over here. . . . we will take radical measures.”

The situation has existed for years, and six years ago the legislature passed a measure that would have given Cahuita and Puerto Viejo city status and more control over local development. But that law was appealed successfully in the Sala IV constitutional court even while residents were getting the paperwork together to assert their titles.

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Costa Rica is now plugged in to the FBI DNA data base
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to use the Combined DNA Index System. Viewers of late night crime shows know that this is the system that can identify individuals by their DNA.

The Corte Suprema de Justicia last August approved rules for the use of DNA in investigation and in identifying unidentified bodies from disasters or crimes.

The system is supervised by the Poder Judicial's Departamento de Ciencias Forenses.

Signing the agreement Tuesday in San José was D. Christian Hassell, director of the FBI laboratory, and Jorge Rojas of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

For U.S. expats this means that if they have a serious brush with the law, their past elsewhere might become available based on their DNA
The Costa Rican regulations require a DNA profile from any person convicted of a crime with a penalty of five years or more involving organized crime.

The Poder Judicial said that Costa Rica will be part of more than 70 labs in more than 35 countries that can access DNA information. Any convict who has stolen the identity of another person also can be included in the data base, said the rules.

Investigators are using the DNA system to match biological profiles of criminals who may have been involved in crimes in various parts of the country. These include sex crimes.

Costa Rica also can make an identification of a body by using DNA samples from presumed close relatives.

In the case of missing British journalist Michael Dixon, the Dixon family said that judicial police took samples the last time they were in the country. But his remains have not been located. He vanished in October 2009 in Tamarindo.

No ransom reported paid for liberation of Costa Rican diplomat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican foreign minister said that a diplomat kidnapped in Venezuela was freed without payment of any ransom.

The minister, Enrique Castillo, said that he talked by telephone with the victim, Guillermo Cholele, and reported that the man was in good health.

Cholele was grabbed as he approached his home in Caracas about 10 p.m. Sunday night.

He was liberated on a city street before 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Castillo said that Cholele told him he had been driven to several places and threatened with death after his kidnappers learned that his wife had sought help from the police. Cholele, now reported to be 60, is a commercial attaché in the Costa Rican Embassy in the Venezuelan capital.

Castillo was full of praise for the response from the Venezuelan government. He said that the effort to find Cholele was a priority with officials there. Still he said that Costa Rica is asking for more security for the embassy and the diplomats in Caracas.
Caracas has a soaring crime rate, and might be the most dangerous capital in the world. Abductions for ransom are epidemic, and at least 11 other diplomats have been kidnapped since 2010.

Police in Caracas triangulated a cell telephone call to Cholele's home demanding ransom Monday, and then they invaded two downtown towers that have been taken over by squatters since 2007. More than 100 police officers were in the raid, but they did not appear to find the diplomat.

Shortly after noon Monday Costa Rica's foreign ministry summoned the Venezuelan ambassador here, Aura Mahuampi, to a meeting. Carlos Roverssi, vice minister, and Mauricio Boraschi, the presidential security expert, issued a demand for guarantees of Cholele's safety. The ministry said that officials were worried by the abducted man's health because he suffers from heart problems and hypertension and needs medicine.

Kidnappers grabbed and held Mexico's ambassador to Caracas in January. In November kidnappers held and then released a U.S. Major League Baseball player.

The crime rate may be a factor in the Oct. 7 presidential election. President Hugo Chávez recently set up a new police force to deal with organized crime.

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raised beds
Photo by Stephen Rostain
Before European settlers arrived, farmers on the rainforest savanna grew crops in raised beds, a practice which would be forgotten for 500 years.

Pre-Columbian raised beds
may save vanishing Amazon

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Amazon region of South America, the largest tropical rainforest and river basin on Earth, is disappearing at a rate of around 800,000 hectares a year, but a new study finds one possible strategy for reversing this trend in ancient Amazonian farming methods.

Analysis of a 1,000-year-old ecological record in the Amazon provides a rare glimpse at early farming practices before European explorers began arriving in the Americas more than 500 years ago.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds the ancient farming methods could slow the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

The rapid expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching, road and dam construction, and illegal logging are the biggest drivers of this massive deforestation. 

Lead author Jose Iriarte, a paleoethnobotonist at the University of Exeter in England, focused on a coastal wetland savanna in present-day French Guyana, on South America’s northeastern coast, where ancient farm beds and canals remain, unaltered, on the landscape.  In pre-colonial history, Iriarte says, this was a period when farmers reclaimed these seasonally flooded savannas into raised-field agricultural landscapes.

A sediment core from the site provided the team with an unusually intact archive of how farmers farmed these fields. It shows pollen, plant species and charcoal before and after the European colonization in the late 15th and 16th centuries.

Geographer Mitchell Power, curator of the Natural History Museum at the University of Utah, studied charcoal in the core. He says while evidence shows that naturally-occurring fires began decreasing globally around 1500 — a period of documented climate cooling — that’s not what they saw in the Amazonian record.

“When we went to the French Guyana site to try to understand the record, the most surprising thing to me was that it was the opposite trend.  Fire was very low and then after 1500, fire increased," he said. "That was contrary to what 90 percent of the rest of the records around the world are telling us.”

Iriarte says the native farmers understood how fire could harm the land and agricultural production.

“We know that fire results in the loss of crucial nutrients for crops, fallows without fires are most effective in restoring soil organic matter and preserving soil structure," he said. "So we interpreted that they were limiting fires because it was better to grow crops in these raised field systems.”

Iriarte says use of this fire-free method by the pre-Columbian farmers helped them transform the seasonally-flooded savanna into productive cropland.

“Raised fields provided better drainage, soil aeration, and also moisture retention during the dry season. These raised fields were constructed mainly with the muck from these seasonally flooded savannas," he said. "So they are really fertile and they can be recycled every season.”

Mitchell Power says this labor-intensive approach ended abruptly when as much as 95 percent of the native population died from a variety of Old-World diseases brought by the European settlers.

“Once the Columbian encounter happens, we don’t see that type of agriculture any more," he said. "We start to see increased burning and a shift toward dry land farming. So people were then clearing forests and making their raised beds in the forests. And what we think is happening was a huge demographic collapse in this region.”

Slash-and-burn agriculture — introduced to the Amazon not by the native farmers but by European colonizers — remains today a major threat to the rainforest. Experts say if such practices continue at the current rate, more than half of the Amazon’s tropical rainforest could be gone by 2030.

Iriarte says pre-Columbian farming methods offer a tried-and-true alternative.

“It has the capability to help curb carbon emissions and at the same time provide food security for the more vulnerable and poorest rural populations of rural Amazonia,” he said.

The authors say bringing back these labor-intensive but productive farming systems to serve today’s and tomorrow’s  food needs will require extensive farmer re-training and the political will of the region’s governments. And they believe that if the Amazon’s current stewards can reclaim the wisdom of their ancestors, the damage to the world’s greatest rainforest can be slowed.

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Birds are topic of day
at Simón Bolívar zoo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Parque Zoológico Nacional Simón Bolívar is for the birds Saturday. Starting at 9 a.m. urban birds will be featured as part of the celebration of the International Day of Migratory Birds.

The event is sponsored by the Asociación Ornitológico de Costa Rica, the Fundación Rapaces de Costa Rica and the Fundación Pro Zoológicos with the assistance of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The day will feature a series of seminars on the topic as well as guided tours led by experts. The zoo also will be inaugurating four new aviaries and celebrating the remodeling of 14 existing aviaries.

The zoo is in north San José.

Old tricks work well,
fraud arrest suggests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The old techniques still work well, according to judicial police. They said they detained a 29-year-old woman in Alajuela and attributed to her 10 cases of the dropped money scam.

The crimes took place in Liberia.

Agents said crooks using the scam spot persons leaving a bank with a sum of money and then they follow them to work the scam. Typically the dropped money scam, also called the pigeon drop, involves pretending to find an envelope of money and a promise to share the sum with the victim.

The victim is encouraged to put up the cash they have as security of good faith. Then the package with the found money is cleverly switched for one containing worthless paper.

Stronger growth reported
in developing economies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report says the world's developed economies appear headed for stronger growth in the coming months, with China advancing as well.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday that its gauge of future economic growth in its 34 member nations edged up in February for the fourth straight month.

The organization said the United States, with the world's biggest economy, and Japan, with the third largest, are showing strong signs of advancing. The report said they had regained momentum in the aftermath of the global economic downturn in recent years.

In addition, the organization said that Britain and Germany are experiencing a positive change in momentum, but that economic activity in Italy and France continues to be sluggish.

Among emerging economies, China especially is strengthening, with Brazil, India and Russia also improving, the organization said.

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