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(506) 2223-1327          Posted Tuesday, April 12, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 72             E-mail us
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President Laura Chinchilla waves to school children during the Juan Santamaría Day festivities in Alajuela Monday. The day also
saw hecklers try to drown out the president's talk.
Our story is HERE!

Group of tourism operators seeks to correct woes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of tourism operators plans to meet at the legislature today to promote changes in the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and encourage a private promotional arm for the industry. The organization calls itself ProTur, and it promises solutions to the problems in the tourism sector.

Among other woes, the group, in an email message, said that the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social is one such problem, as well as high rates from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad for telephone service, income taxes and water rates.

"It's time that we are a voice and demand better conditions," the organization said.

The gathering at the legislature's Salon de Ex-Presidentes is set for 2 p.m. The meeting seems to be the latest action in an effort to reform the tourism institute and move forward with a piece of proposed legislation that would tighten up the rules for tourism service providers.

Such efforts have been going on for years. There are continual complaints about the marketing efforts by the tourism institute. The current downturn in tourism only generates more complaints.

As long ago as 2003 some lawmakers tried to create a private promotional arm for tourism modeled along the lines of the Promotora del Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica or ProComer,
which promotes the country's exports. In fact, ProComer now is promoting medical tourism.

ProTur in its email message warned that those in tourism are subject to the 1996 law that mandates equal access for the disabled. The message said that tourism operators have to have a lifeguard on duty if they have a swimming pool and that they also need to have a sign language interpreter on staff.

The 1996 law seems to require at least the interpreter. Article 50 of the law says that public and private institutions have to guarantee that the information directed to the public is accessible to all persons. However, Article 51 says that television shows, public or private, have to have interpreters, too. This rule seems to be followed only by governmental agencies.

Article 54 in a very general way says that cultural, sports and recreational activities should be accessible to all persons, but it does not address specifically lifeguards.

This law, No. 7600, is the same one that requires disabled access to places of public accommodation and new construction.

The proposal to reform the tourism institute, No.17163, is in a legislative committee.

Among other things, the measure would assess a $15 head tax on all foreign tourists instead of just on those who arrive by air, as is now the case.

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Road work causes jam
on Autopista del Sol

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Autopista del Sol management failed to win many friends Monday. Workmen were putting down asphalt and motorists returning from a a long weekend at the Pacific beaches were tied up in lengthy traffic jams for hours.

The Autopista del Sol said on its Web page that the work was at kilometers 23 and 25 in the lane headed to San José.  Traffic police said the highway was tied up and was slow going at kilometers 53 to 49.

Workmen stopped the job at 1 p.m. after the effects of their labors became apparent.

In other highway news, the Puriscal-Parrita road, Ruta 239, was closed at  Salitrales because of a landslide.

A slide on the Sarchi – Bajos del Toro limited travel to four-wheel vehicles, said the Policía de Tránsito.

Refueling boat beached
after Caribbean chase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug patrols appear to have run ashore a sea-going filling station.

Police discovered the abandoned fastboat near the Río Vizcaya on the southern Caribbean coast. The boat had containers filled with gasoline and other fuel containers on the beach. Officials speculate that the boat was providing fuel for drug runners from the south.

U.N. project provides loans
for sex workers in Ecuador

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A United Nations-supported microcredit project is helping vulnerable refugees in Ecuador, especially women who have turned to sex work to support themselves and their families, break out of poverty.

Ecuador is home to the largest number of refugees in Latin America, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Of the more than 53,000 recognized refugees, 73 per cent are women and children.

Over the past year, the high commissioner's office has been working with partner organizations to set up programs and provide financial services to help needy Colombian refugees and their hosts in Ecuador, including supporting income-generating projects.

Such projects “benefit Colombian and Ecuadorean women, especially those who are often subject to discrimination, in order to give them a different alternative,” said Luis Varese, the refugee office representative in Ecuador.

Among the most vulnerable are refugee women who turn to sex work, either because they have limited job opportunities or need a second income to support their families, said the U.N..

Studies done by U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Ecuadorean health ministry have found that nearly half of the Colombian refugee women who are sex workers in Ecuador’s northern border area were not in the trade back in their homeland.

Last year 19 women each received an average credit of $300, and so far there has been no delinquency in the loans.

Computers at school
not enough, study reports

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Putting more computers in schools will do little to improve the quality of education in Latin America and the Caribbean unless countries invest in teacher training and educational software, according to a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank.

In spite of a recent flurry of high-quality research on the impact of information and communication technologies on education, significant uncertainty still remains about the effectiveness of these interventions in improving learning, especially in the case of very visible initiatives, such as providing computers for every child, the development bank said.

Using information and communication technologies in education can be very costly and may crowd out important alternative programs with relatively higher returns, said Alberto Chong, who coordinated the study. “It is vital for governments to conduct careful evaluations of these initiatives and, particularly, to budget enough resources to train teachers and develop adequate software for students," he said. "Countries cannot expect that learning will improve with simply greater access to computers. Quality of use is crucial.”

The findings are detailed in the book "Development Connections: Unveiling the Impact of New Information Technologies," which will be launched next month. The book analyzes to what degree information and communication technologies contributed to the success of 46 development projects in Latin America.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 72
Latigo K-9

Even the backyard serves up unexpected bounties of food
By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica editor

It looks like we will be going bananas again. Banana daiquiri, banana splits, baked bananas, banana and Corn Flakes, chocolate covered frozen bananas on a stick.

A couple of banana bushes in the back yard just will not quit. Chop off one load of bananas and cut down the stalk and two more little bushes pop up ready to serve up fruit in about 14 months.

This is the advantage or disadvantage of living in Costa Rica. And its not just bananas. Some folks have cas or mango trees. A couple of nice, ripe mangos are great. It is when you have to force feed several bushels that the treat turns into a chore.

Minor Keith did it correctly when he managed to get a railroad concession as well as agricultural land in the 19th century. The banana plant produces 50 kilos of the fruit, takes a rest and then come back with more shoots and more fruit. All they ask is a little water, and Costa Rica has plenty of that.

The backyard plants ask for little: Some protection from the wind and a little space that can be shared with other banana plant friends. No work at all for 50 kilos of fruit. Well, almost none. Cutting the harvest and hanging it up requires some muscle.

The producers warn that bananas should be harvested a bit green and then hung in the dark so they do not ripen too quickly.  Leave them out in the sun, and the menu is all bananas for two weeks.

Fortunately in the city there are not too many furry creatures to snatch bananas. Birds love them, but a cloth covering can keep the feathery folks away.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
The purple petals peel off to reveal another row of immature bananas about two months this side of a daiquiri.

For someone from the northern climes, the banana is a
strange plant.  The little bananas are all pointed in the wrong direction, and the flower looks like something out of the "Little Shop of Horrors," kind of an alien visitor.

Even a tiny city patch can become a personal banana plantation. Wonder if bananas can be distilled.

Protesters try to disrupt speech by President Chinchilla
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla took a harder line toward Nicaragua in a speech Monday and likened the current administration there to the filibusters of 1856.

The scene was a celebration in Alajuela, the home of Juan Santamaría, the drummer boy who died igniting a filibuster stronghold in the Battle of Rivas.

Ms. Chinchilla was speaking on the eve of a meeting between the two countries to discuss drug trafficking and other topics, but not the border dispute at the Isla Calero. The discussion will be at the Nicaraguan border at the vice minister level.

Ms. Chinchilla was interrupted by protesters who appeared to be affiliated with Alianza Patriótica, the relatively new political party that contains many who opposed the free trade treaty with the United States. One women banged pot lids and another hammered on a frying pan. Men waved signs. A Fuerza Pública officer tackled one man, and police said later four person were detained.

Meanwhile Ms. Chinchilla demanded respect for the occasion. Her comments were met with applause and cheers by the assembled politicians and public.

Juan Santamaría died 155 years ago Monday. The filibusters were led by U.S. citizen William Walker.

Ms. Chinchilla characterized the national hero as a reluctant warrior faced with a threat to the country sovereignty. She identified the current threats as poverty, exclusion, violence and corruption.

As is traditional with presidential visits, Ms. Chinchilla inaugurated the first steps in restoring Parque Juan Santamaría and signed a bill declaring him officially a national hero.

She also placed a floral offering at his statute with the help of Alajuela Mayor Roberto Thompson.

She also signed a letter of intent for the restoration of the
Laura Chinchilla and Juan santamária
Casa Presidencial photo
Roberto Thompson and Ms. Chinchilla before the Juan Santamaría statute

Casa de la Cultura in Alajuela and an agreement for sewage and drinking water projects in the area. Another agreement calls for the restoration of train service to Alajuela.

The meeting with Nicaraguan officials will be in Peñas Blanca at the northern border at 10 a.m.. Mexican and Guatemalan diplomats will assist, said the foreign ministry.

Nicaraguan officials said that one reason for the October invasion of the disputed area was to crack down on drug trafficking. The ministry said that this will be a topic of discussion.

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Reefs in danger but some types of coral can survive

By the University of Miami news service

Climate change is already widely recognized to be negatively affecting coral reef ecosystems around the world, yet the long-term effects are difficult to predict. University of Miami scientists are using the geologic record of Caribbean corals to understand how reef ecosystems might respond to climate change expected for this century. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Geology.

The Pliocene epoch — more than 2.5 million years ago — can provide some insight into what coral reefs in the future may look like. Estimates of carbon dioxide and global mean temperatures of the period are similar to environmental conditions expected in the next 100 years, explains James Klaus, assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, at Miami and lead investigator of this project.

“If the coming century truly is a return to the Pliocene conditions, corals will likely survive, while well-developed reefs may not,” says Klaus. “This could be detrimental to the fish and marine species that rely on the reef structure for their habitat.”

The study looks at the fossil records of coral communities from nine countries around the Caribbean region to better understand the nature of these ecosystems during the Pliocene. Today, fossil reefs are often found far from the sea, exposed in road cuts, quarry excavations, or river canyons due to uplift and higher ancient sea levels.

In studying the fossil reefs, the researchers uncovered a striking difference between modern and Pliocene coral communities. The Pliocene epoch was characterized by a great diversity of free-living corals. Unlike most reef corals, these corals lived unattached to the sea floor. Free-living corals were well suited to warm, nutrient-rich seas of the Pliocene.  Between eight and four million years ago the origination of new free-living coral species approximately doubled that of other corals. However, free-living corals experienced abrupt extinction as seawater cooled, nutrient levels decreased, and suitable habitat was eliminated in the Caribbean.

Of the 26 species of free-living corals that existed during the Pliocene, only two remain in the Caribbean today. The modern Caribbean coral fauna is comprised of those coral species that survived this extinction event.
free swimming coral
Neogene Marine Biota of Tropical America photo
The extinct Pliocene free-living coral Trachyphyllia bilobata was collected from the Dominican Republic.

The scientists argue that the effects of ongoing climate  change are reminiscent of conditions present during the Pliocene and opposite to the environmental factors that caused the extinction and gave rise to modern Caribbean corals. So, how might the Caribbean coral fauna respond to a predicted return to Pliocene–like conditions within this century? The free-living corals of the Pliocene would have been well suited to ocean conditions projected for this century. However, the modern reef-building coral fauna may not, explains Donald McNeill, senior scientist in the Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics at Miami and co-author of the study.

“Like the Pliocene, we might expect shallow reefs to be increasingly patchy with lower topographic relief,” says McNeill. “Rising levels of carbon dioxide will lower the pH in the oceans, a process known as ocean acidification, and will make it difficult for corals to build their limestone skeletons.”

Climate change may also increase nutrients in the oceans, boosting populations of marine life that degrade the coral into fine white sand, a process called bioerosion. Reefs built by corals in areas with high bioerosion will be affected the most. Reefs growing in depths between 30 and 150 meters have reduced rates of both calcification and bioerosion and thus may be affected less.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 12, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 72

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Brazil's president visiting
major trading partner China

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff is in China at the start of a six-day visit intended to deepen fast-growing economic ties between the two emerging nations.

Ms. Rouseff will also attend a summit Thursday of leaders from the so-called BRICS countries, which also include Russia, India and South Africa.

Trade and economic issues are expected to dominate Ms. Rouseff's meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other top officials.  China has recently supplanted the United States as Brazil's largest trading partner and is now its biggest source of foreign investment.

China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Ms. Rouseff saying in an interview that she wants to expand Brazil's strategic partnership with China.  She told Xinhua the countries are strategic partners in all areas and that the relationship provides benefits to both countries.

Ms. Fujimori hanging on
to second place in Perú

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Election results in Peru indicate leftist, former army officer Ollanta Humala will face the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori in a run-off election in June.

With 75 percent of the vote counted from Sunday's election, Humala led with 29 percent of the vote, and Keiko Fujimori secured close to 23 percent.  Former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski placed third with about 21 percent of the vote.  Former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo was fourth with more than 15 percent support.

A run-off between Humala and Ms. Fujimori will be held June 5.

In 2006, Humala prevailed in the first round of the presidential election, only to lose a run-off to current President Alan Garcia.

Much of the campaign has focused on continuing the rapid economic growth seen in recent years, while ensuring the poor also see some of the increased prosperity.

In 2009, Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in jail for his role in death squad killings in the 1990s.

Two Muslim women held
after wearing illegal veils

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two women protesting France's new ban on Islamic face veils have been arrested after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The law, which was approved by parliament in September, went into effect Monday.  Police say the women were not arrested for wearing the veils, but for taking part in an unauthorized protest.

Under the new law, veiled women can be fined $215 or assigned to take special citizenship classes, but it is not a jailable offense.  However, people who force women to wear a veil are subject to up to a year in prison and a fine of $41,000.  Police have been ordered not to force anyone to take off the veil in public.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the measure is critical to ensure the respect of women's rights and the separation of religion and state.  Advocates argue the legislation is necessary if the country's estimated five million to six million Muslims — many of them immigrants — are to integrate.

Muslim women who object to the new law call the veil a statement of their Islamic faith.  In a media release Monday, the human rights organization Amnesty International condemned the arrests and said that women in France have the right to freedom of religion and expression.

Saturday, police arrested 61 people in Paris for holding an unauthorized protest against the ban.
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U.N. torture expert says
he's denied Manning visit

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An independent United Nations human rights expert Monday voiced his deep disappointment and frustration that the United States has not allowed him unmonitored access to a soldier accused of being the source of large amounts of classified material given to the website Wikileaks.

Juan E. Méndez, the special rapporteur on torture, said in a statement to the press that the U.S. has refused to grant him an official visit to Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, despite repeated requests since last December.

Manning has been in U.S. custody since May last year and is confined to his cell at a Marine Corps brig for 23 hours each day.

Méndez said it was standard practice for the U.N. special rapporteur on torture to have private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees or anyone alleging torture or ill-treatment to ensure the credibility of those interviews.

He noted that such forms of interview had been carried out by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture in at least 18 countries during the past six years.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the U.S. government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning,” he said. “I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me.

“My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention centre visited.”

Méndez said that last Friday he was informed by senior officials in the U.S. departments of Defense and State that the U.S. Government had no objection to a private visit, which would mean it would be monitored by prison officials, as opposed to an official visit, which is unmonitored.

The special rapporteur said he had urged those officials to reconsider their decision.

“The United States of America has a key role in setting examples on issues concerning my mandate as special rapporteur on torture, which makes it a vital partner for engagement.”

Méndez said he would inform Manning through his lawyer of the U.S. government’s actions.

“I am willing to visit him if he wants to talk to me, even under these conditions, albeit in the understanding that I will continue to insist on an interview without witnesses.”

Mr. Méndez, who formerly served as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, has been the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment since last year. He serves in an independent, unpaid capacity and reports to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

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