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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, April 20, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 76     E-mail us
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An analysis of the news
Arias had little chance of living up to his image

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The free trade treaty ratification and the world economic crisis seem to be the defining factors in the presidency of Óscar Arias Sánchez. Both situations have hampered him in completing his agenda.

With the presidential campaign heating up, the time is ripe to consider how the history books will treat Arias. He came to the presidency as a legend who had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was almost certain not to live up to his image.

Presidents in Costa Rica cannot serve two terms in a row. Until Arias, they could serve but one term. Arias was the person who twice appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court to allow him to run again. Detractors saw this as a sellout on the part of the court magistrates, but Arias had solid legal arguments on his side. That still did not stop the rumors especially when his friend Guido Saenz  said in a book that Arias was complaining that some magistrates double crossed him in the first court vote that rejected his appeal to run again. Saenz had to say in public that he made a mistake. Saenz generated a lot of sympathy.

Arias did exactly what he said he would do if elected. His party, Liberación Nacional, and other like-minded treaty supporters captured 38 of 57 seats in the Asamblea Legislativa, a two-thirds majority. Arias predicted that he could get the free trade treaty left by his predecessor, Abel Pacheco, ratified in two months.

The ratification took more than two years and severely divided the country. And it cost him associates. Kevin Casas, one of two vice presidents, had to quit because he coauthored a memo suggesting some Chicago-style political arm-twisting to get the treaty ratified in a national referendum.

Arias and his brother, Rodrigo, minister of the Presidencia, later fired Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, because Berrocal suggested that some politicians were in bed with the drug-smuggling terrorist group, the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. Berrocal probably was correct, but his outspokenness threatened the fragile alliance stitched together to pass the baker's dozen of legislative requirements to bring the free trade treaty into effect.

The treaty went into effect Jan. 1, some 32 months into the four-year term of Arias.

Just when it seemed Arias could turn to other items on his agenda, the world economy began to collapse and he had to come up with a shield plan for Costa Rica.

That meant shelving tax proposals and even ignoring a decree pushed by former vice president Laura Chinchilla to limit casinos to eight hours of daily operation from the current 24.

Faced with the probability that the casino decree would mean major job loss, the administration, without public announcement, just quietly let the decree go unenforced. Ms. Chinchilla, meanwhile, quit the administration to run for president. The Costa Rican Constitution prohibits certain office  holders from seeking election.

Arias got in trouble with some when he appeared to give a backhanded endorsement of Ms. Chinchilla's candidacy. Costa Rica's unusual election code prohibits that, too.

When Berrocal was fired a year ago, Arias installed long-time support Janina del Vecchio, as security minister. She was a math teacher without law enforcement background. The ministry she heads, Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, supervises a number of police agencies, including the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas, as well as the immigration department.

To say she has been unlucky is an understatement. Two months into her job investigators reported that 11 police officers in Heredia were robbing drug dealers, selling the loot to other criminals and even planting the substances on those they arrested.

Ms. Del Vecchio, who served as Costa Rican ambassador to Switzerland, was good at public relations, however. She showed up one evening after a massive police sweep of the notorious Hotel Del Rey in time to make the 7 p.m.
Arias ast summit
Casa Presidencial photo
Oscar Arias addresses the Fifth Summit of the Americas. His international visits prompt some Costa Ricans to suggest he stay home to confront local problems.

television news while standing beneath a Del Rey logo. Despite the promotion, police only detained three young women who may or may not have had the right to be in Costa Rica, certainly not the examples of illegality Ms. del Vecchio expected.

Then more recently there was the 320 kilos of cocaine that vanished while being guarded by two of Ms. del Vecchio's Fuerza Pública officers and the fire that destroyed more than 20 boats at the docks of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in Puntarenas. That is another security ministry dependency.

Although Arias made citizen security a cornerstone of his campaign promises, most of the legal measures proposed by the administration continue to move through a lethargic legislature. The measures, drafted by a group headed by Ms. Chinchilla, seem to stress that society is the root cause of criminality.

Arias underscored that just last week by handing out pardons to 10 drug dealers and traffickers.

The administration has not been without successes. The Costanera Sur is close to completing. This is a project that has been at least 30 years in the talking stages. Also the Autopista del Sol is underway and motorists and developers will benefit with a direct route to the central Pacific.

Arias and the administration favor concessions because the country does not have the money for massive projects. A plan to let out the Caribbean docks to a concession holder is likely to generate unpleasantness among union members there.

Arias has always tried to remain above the fray. His brother does the heavy political lifting.

Still, the president finds himself under criminal investigation for authorizing the cutting of trees at the site of a proposed open pit gold mine.

His housing minister Fernando Zumbado had to quit when the public found out he misused money donated by Taiwan to give the poor housing.

Ennio Rodríguez, head of the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda, quit when the public learned he hosted a $1,000-plus luncheon for other officials at a fancy Escazú restaurant. Clara Zomer Resler, the new housing minister, did not quit although it was she who ordered the expensive champaign, said Rodríguez.

His environmental minister, Roberto Dobles, had to quit when it became known that his ministry had given gravel concessions to blood relatives.

The director of the national emergency commission had to quit because it appeared companies with which he was associated in the past were getting the lion's share of government emergency contracts.

All that aside, Arias, for better or for worse, will be known as the president who severed relations with democratic Taiwan in favor of Communist China. That came early in his term, and the public seems to have accepted the decision, particularly because China has imported some 300 workers to erect a new national stadium.

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Interior view of the Escuela Metalica and the cast iron uprights that are corroding.

Work starting on old school
that is made mostly of metal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday was the International Day of Monuments and Historic Sites, so Costa Rica announced that work soon will begin on restoring the Escuela Metalica, the downtown school that is made mainly of metal.

Faced with a rebellion by parents, the Ministerio de Educación Pública decided to make quick repairs to the school, which has the official title Escuela Buenaventura Corrales, instead of transferring students last July. There was a chance the school would be closed.

A study by the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos determined that a quick fix would be to reinforce some 18 steel columns on both the first and second floor. The bases of these metal columns have been corroded by the weather and allowed to rust due to lack of maintenance.

The metal columns support two stories of the school and the roof around an interior courtyard.

There are other problems with the school, which was put together in the 1880s. The restoration, which will cost more than $1 million, will seek to fix them all.

The job is being supervised by the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural.

At the same time the center announced the opening of this year's contest for owners of historic buildings. The center picks several buildings each year to receive substantial government funding to help with restoration.

The deadline is July 17, and the center can be contacted through the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

Alajuela man convicted
of murder during burglary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of three men who broke into the home of a retired teacher and shot him dead a year ago got a 25-year prison sentence in the Tribunal Penal de Alajuela.

The man, identified by the last names of Guzmán Bolaños, was cnvicted of the murder in  Hacienda Los Reyes, en La Guácima de Alajuela. The victim,  Orlando Álvarez Álvarez, 58, had retired as a teacher and was the owner of a liquor store.

The three men broke into the home at night, threatened the man's daughter and shot him when he came to the door of his bedroom. Guzmán lived in  Guácima de Alajuela.

Our readers' opinions
Sand flies are not found
just on beaches here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I'd like to make a point about sand flies that could be important to your readers. They are NOT confined to beaches, despite what the name implies.

There are many kinds, just as there are many kinds of leishmaniasis, which is a single-celled parasite, distantly related to Chagas' disease and to sleeping sickness.

I learned a great deal about this when my son got it a few years ago. Those most at risk are agricultural workers in recently deforested areas (another reason to leave the forests intact).

My foolhardy son had worn shorts on a night hike and not bothered with insect repellent. It was three months before small sores appeared, and eight months before the diagnosis was confirmed by biopsy sent to the Centers for Disease Control. He has two large scars on his legs he refers to as his bullet wounds.

Which brings me to my next point about tropical diseases in Costa Rica. As a physician, I'm often asked by fellow tourists for help with their medical problems and the commonest one is a sun-induced allergic reaction to malaria pills.

There is little malaria in Costa Rica, and insect repellent is effective against the mosquitoes that carry it. And, the anti-malarial pills are useless against dengue and leishmaniasis.
So, does anyone know of an insect repellent that doesn't stink?

By the way, I am a charter subscriber to and fan of A.M. Costa Rica. It gives me a nice daily tropical fix up here in still-cold Massachusetts.

Connie Lentz, M.D.

Money put in local banks
provides needed capital

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

To quote an old adage:"We are what we do, not what we say."

Sally is certainly correct about the utter greed and stupidity of the U.S. banking people, Wall Street and a Congress that votes to bail them out, along with a totally mismanaged drug war.

But by her actions, she holds Costa Rica under the same unsafe economic light. Instead of her investments being placed in our banks, thus providing loan capital for businesses, home-buying, etc., she chooses to send her money to other countries, purchasing precious metals instead.

Personally, i am quite comfortable having capital in our solid banking system. For one, have you heard of Scotiabank (Bank of Nova Scotia), the second strongest financial institution in Canada, which owns Scotiabank here?

If all the gringos living here did like Sally does, it would certainly cause economic hardship for this fine country. I can't help but wonder that, if someone does not trust the country he/she chooses to live in and contributes, little or nothing to Costa Rica, then why he/she continues to live here?  

Barry Schwartz 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 76

Sardinal report says there is sufficient water for coast  project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The long-awaited report on the Sardinal aquifer says there is a sufficient amount there to divert 70 liters a second to tourist developments in the Playas del Coco area.

But the report does not seem to be soothing the unhappiness of opponents.

The water source is the supply for the $8 million project that was bankrolled by developers and managed by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the national water company.

But it became more than a simple water line in the eyes of protesters who saw it as the theft of Costa Rican water for North Americans. Protesters went so far as to burn some of the plastic pipes, and officials called out the tactical squad a year ago.

At the very least, the protests in Sardinal got the attention of officials at the national level. The executive branch agreed to invest 525 million colons (then $1.013 million) in the local infrastructure. Some 40 families without piped water suddenly were connected.

There also were several public hearings to air local complaints about the plan.

Many of the protesters are the same individuals who opposed approval of the free trade treaty with the United States. For scheduled protests, university students in the Central Valley arranged car pools and buses to attend.
The project has been dormant awaiting the end of a comprehensive study.

Opponents point out that the new report supports the findings of an original report in November 2008 that said the aquifer would produce a sufficient amount of water for the projects.

Down on the coast developers are unhappy that the report did not suggest the use of 200 liters per second, which is what the original project anticipated.

The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones promises to monitor the outflow to see if more water can be allocated.

The money put up by developers is in a trust from which the national water company will pay the contractor. Opponents claim that the entire job started without municipal and engineering approval, but the government of the Cantón de Carrillos supports the plan as a way to increase investment and local jobs on the coast.

The delay in getting water flowing, more than a year, had been a serious blow to coastal developers. Many have condos standing empty awaiting water.

Just because the report backs the original plan is no reason to believe that opponents will not continue their fight.  The Confraternidad Guanacaste, one of the principal opponents, is hinting at legal action. Part of the strategy would be to make the water issue part of the presidential campaign. Elections are less than a year away.

British community has its queen's birthday event Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 1960s is the theme for the Queen's Birthday celebration planned for Saturday at the home of the British ambassador.

The charity event this year will raise funds for schools damaged by the Jan. 8 earthquake near the Poás volcano. Last year the event raised $22,700 for schools generally at risk.

The event is from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., organizers said in an announcement posted on the Web site of the British
Embassy.  The event has had relatively little publicity.

Elizabeth II has been queen since 1952. Although she was born April 21, the date of her birthday party is variable.

Typically, British residents, friends and sponsors put on a long-running picnic complete with pony rides for children, musical entertainment, plays and shots of some typical liquors. There are items for sale, too.

The residence of Ambassador Tom Kennedy is in Los Laureles about four kilometers west of the Y in San Rafael de Escazú.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 76

Obama sees progress in breaking with old ideologies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama has hailed a renewed spirit of cooperation in the Americas, one in which the United States is an equal partner that listens to its neighbors. Speaking at the conclusion of the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Obama expressed hope for democratic change in Cuba and said the U.S. economic embargo of the island has not worked.

Obama says the Summit of the Americas yielded broad hemispheric agreement on the need to spur economic growth, confront security challenges like drug trafficking, promote alternative fuels, protect the environment, and ensure human rights. At a news conference, he acknowledged he does not agree with all fellow leaders on all issues.

"But what we showed here is that we can make progress when we are willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long," said Obama.

Obama acknowledged criticism of the United States by several leaders, like Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, but said the entire region is rooting for America's success. "Even the most vociferous critics of the United States also want to make sure that the U.S. economy is working and growing again," he said, "because there is extraordinary dependence on the United States for exports, for remittances."

The lone country in the Americas excluded from the summit, Cuba, and its long-frozen relations with the United States came to overshadow the gathering.

After a week of statements and counter-statements between Washington and Havana on possible talks, President Obama said Cuba must embrace reform. But he added that U.S. policies to force change on the island, including an economic embargo, have failed to bring about democracy.

"The policy we have had in place for 50 years has not worked the way we wanted it to," said President Obama. "The Cuban people are not free."

Numerous other leaders expressed hope for sustained dialogue between the United States and Cuba that will lead to normalized relations, while addressing human rights and political reform on the island.

"The Cuban issue comes up all the time," said Grenada Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, "and we see that President Obama has taken some positive steps. And we in Caricom are willing to facilitate that dialogue. Change will not happen overnight, but there ought to be dialogue. And changes are to be made on both sides." Caricom is the Caribbean community.
Arias and Obama
Casa Presidencial photo
Oscar Arias shakes hands with Barack Obama in the presence of Luiz Inácio da Silva, president of Brazil, who will visit Costa Rica during the first days of June.

Throughout the summit, President Obama was warmly received by fellow leaders, including several fierce critics of the United States.  After several greetings and handshakes, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez described Obama as "an intelligent man" and said he wants to return an ambassador to Washington after a seven-month absence.

Obama spoke of "huge differences" with Chávez. He said there was no harm in dialogue with the Venezuelan leader, but actions are what matter most.

Saturday, Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the United States of involvement in a recent alleged assassination plot against him. Obama denied the charge.

This was the first Summit of the Americas to be held in a Caribbean nation, and was notable for a virtual absence of protesters. The last hemispheric gathering, in Argentina in 2005, was marred by riots and fierce demonstrations against then-U.S. President George W. Bush.

Ahead of the summit's first plenary session, Obama met with heads of the 12-member Union of South American Nations.

Obama made brief comments before the meeting began. "UNASUR is doing some excellent work in integrating efforts in the region around things like energy and security. I have a lot to learn," he said.

A senior U.S. official who attended the meeting said several leaders detailed what they see as a long history of U.S. intervention in their countries. Chavez presented Obama with an academic book on precisely that subject.  The title is "The Open Veins of Latin America."

Obama is said to have stated that, while the past must be understood, he is not there to argue history and that it is time to move on to confront today's challenges.

Arias characterizes Obama presidency as a new dawn for Latin relations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Barack Obama promised dialog and not the imposition of the U.S. point of view, according to Óscar Arias Sánchez, who met with the U.S. leader during the Fifth Summit of the Americas this weekend.

Arias said he joined with other Central American leaders in urging the United States to recapitalize the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica and the World Bank to help the isthmus nations fight the economic downturn. He called the presidency of Obama a new dawn in Latin relations.
Arias met with Obama and the other Central American leaders in the Hotel Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, was the moderator.

In addition to the economic crisis, Central American leaders were concerned by drug trafficking, immigration and other aspects of organized crime.

For his part, Obama said in his final press conference that nations should be open to ideas from other nations regardless of size. "If Costa Rica has an idea . . . ," said Obama, suggesting he was willing to listen.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 76

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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Oceanic dead zones
predicted to expand

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

New calculations made by marine chemists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute suggest that low-oxygen dead zones in the ocean could expand significantly over the next century. These predictions are based on the fact that, as more and more carbon dioxide dissolves from the atmosphere into the ocean, marine animals will need more oxygen to survive.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing rapidly in the earth's atmosphere, primarily because of human activities. About one third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the world's oceans, gradually causing seawater to become more acidic, said the institute.

However, such ocean acidification is not the only way that carbon dioxide can harm marine animals. In an article" published in the journal Science, Peter Brewer and Edward Peltzer combine published data on rising levels of carbon dioxide and declining levels of oxygen in the ocean in a set of new calculations. They show that increases in carbon dioxide can make marine animals more susceptible to low concentrations of oxygen, and thus exacerbate the effects of low-oxygendead zones in the ocean.

Brewer and Peltzer's calculations also show that the partial pressure of dissolved carbon dioxide gas in low-oxygen zones will rise much higher than previously thought. This could have significant consequences for marine life in these zones.

For over a decade, Brewer and Peltzer have been working with marine biologists to study the effects of carbon dioxide on marine organisms. High concentrations of carbon dioxide make it harder for marine animals to extract oxygen from seawater. This, in turn, makes it harder for these animals to find food, avoid predators, and reproduce. Low concentrations of oxygen can have similar effects.

Currently, deep-sea life is threatened by a combination of increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen concentrations. The amount of dissolved carbon dioxide is increasing because the oceans are taking up more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At the same time, ocean surface waters are warming and becoming more stable, which allows less oxygen to be carried from the surface down into the depths.

In trying to quantify the impacts of this double whammy on marine organisms, Brewer and Peltzer came up with the concept of a respiration index. This index is based on the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide gas in a given sample of seawater. The lower the respiration index, the harder it is for marine animals to respire.

In the past, marine biologists have defined "dead zones" based solely on low concentrations of dissolved oxygen. Brewer and Peltzer hope that their respiration index will provide a more precise and quantitative way for oceanographers to identify such areas.

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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 76

Latin American news digest
Perú earthquake study
subjected to satellite probe

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A magnitude 8.0 earthquake destroyed 90 percent of the city of Pisco, Perú, Aug. 16, 2007. The event killed 595 people, while another 318 were missing. Tsunami waves were observed locally, off the shore of Chile, and as far away as New Zealand.

In a study published in the March issue of Geophysical Journal International, scientists from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, analyzed data on this earthquake and its impact on regional topography.

The scientists were able to use satellite images to identify details of this major event.

The area is similar to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica where there is a convergence of tectonic plates.

“Unfortunately, historical earthquakes in central Peru show a complex repeat pattern making it difficult to identify which area will be affected in the future,” said researcher Juliet Biggs.

"The convergence of the Nazca and the South American plates is slowly building the Andes, but the relationship between great earthquakes and mountain building processes is still unclear,” she said.

Intriguingly, models developed as a result of this event in 2007 demonstrated no lifting of the region after this major earthquake. Long-term uplift of the upper plate must take place in other ways, researchers concluded.

The earthquake confirmed a common feature for earthquakes in central Peru: Maximum intensity and damage occur tens of kilometers south of the epicenter.

This is a key observation for disaster management and tsunami prediction.

“Visiting Peru immediately after the earthquake together with fellow researcher Kim Outerbridge provided us with a desolating picture of the affected region, but it was critically important for data-gathering,” Ms. Biggs said.

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