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(506) 2223-1327         Published  Tuesday, April 22, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 79         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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the volcanoes
U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration graphic
The twin volcanoes of Irazu and Turrialba loom over the metro area
NASA study shows proximity of twin volcanoes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A graphic compiled by a handful of agencies shows why volcanic activity at either Irazú or Turrialba to the southeast get the attention of Central Valley residents. Right now, Turrialba is acting up, but scientists do not expect a full-blown eruption.

Irazú has had 23 recorded eruptions, the most recent in 1963 to 1965 when the Central Valley was covered with ash. Some 400 homes were destroyed and 40 persons died.

This image was generated in support of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development through an agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The commission involves eight nations working to
develop the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, an effort to study and preserve some of the most biologically diverse regions of the planet, said NASA.

This three-dimensional perspective view was generated using topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, specifically a 2000 flight by Space Shuttle Endeavour, said NASA.

The colors are supplied by NASA to enhance viewing.  Topography is exaggerated.

The mission was a cooperative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense and the German and Italian space agencies.

Dos Pinos agrees to $150,000 pollution settlement
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the country's best known food producers is being fined $150,000 for damage to the environment, after a settlement at the Tribunal Ambiental Monday.

La Cooperativa de Productores de Leche Dos Pinos, more commonly known only as Dos Pinos, produces a wide variety of dairy products and juices available in supermarkets. It went to court Monday under accusations of contaminating the Rio Siquiares, which runs past its plant in El Coyol de Alajuela.

The plant is visible from the Panamericana highway, and first came under suspicion in March 2007, when dead fish began appearing in the river, along with bad smells.  Sampling of the water in June by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía found that the plant was evacuating its waste waters into the river, including many oily and artificial substances.

The Tribunal Ambiental was then called in to make an assessment of the environmental damage, and came out with a figure of around $447,000, which includes $3,000 for the cost of the assessment.
Local communities in Ciruelas, Siquiares and  Turrúcaras have complained of fetid smells, and inundations of mosquitoes and fly larvae. It was the Asociación Conservista de los Rios y el Ambiente de Ciruelas de Alajuela that sued Dos Pinos, and who will receive the money for investment in environmental works in the community.

The intention is to buy an area of land to locate a rubbish disposal unit along with a work vehicle, trash cans and bags to keep the towns clean.

The money will also pay for a bi-monthly sampling of the river waters carried out by professionals from the Universidad de Costa Rica or Universidad Nacional. Results will be sent to the Tribunal for the next two years.

Jose Lino Chaves, president of the tribunal, said that the settlement was the best way to settle the dispute between the business and community, which has been current for several years.

By settling, Dos Pinos has avoided being permanently marked out as “environmental infractors” by the tribunal, but must take corrective measures to be reviewed by the Ministerio de Salud, to reduce the amount of contaminated water that flows into the river.

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Executive branch moves
to push anti-terrorism bill

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five days after the nation's chief prosecutor warned that Costa Rica could become the world center of terrorism financing and money laundering if lawmakers did not take action, Casa Presidencial said it is scheduling the required legislation for legislative action.

Costa Rica is a member of the Egmont Group, but lawmakers must pass a terrorist financing law by May to remain associated with the 18-year-old international group, an informal organization of countries dedicated to fighting money laundering.

The chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anesse, issued his warning when he appeared before a special security commission at the Asamblea Legislativa Wednesday.

José Torres, vice minister for security concerns in the Presidencia, said Monday that the legislation would be a tool for bank authorities to investigate the source of money. There was no explanation why the government had been sitting on the legislation for so long. Even the United States had warned Costa Rica about its failure to act on money laundering and terrorist financing in its annual report on drugs earlier this year.

The measure had been introduced in the legislature but had been archived in October because no action had been taken. Without the support of the international organization, the Egmont Group, the country could be handling money for Al Qaeda, Colombian drug terrorists and even European terrorist organizations, Dall'Anesse told lawmakers.

During this period of the legislative year, the executive branch controls the agenda. It will continue to do so for two more weeks until the Asamblea Legislativa enters an ordinary session.

Money laundering has received a lot of press since investigators located some $480,000 in U.S. currency presumed owned by leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the drug-smuggling terrorist organization there. The money was in a small safe in a home in Santa Bárbara de Heredia.

Pacheco given party backing
for another assembly term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government Partido Liberación Nacional has given its support to Francisco Antonio Pacheco for another term as president of the Asamblea Legislativa, the party announced Monday afternoon.

Mayi Antillón, the leader of the party in the legislature, said that Pacheco was approved by acclamation. The party has 25 representatives in the 57-member house. Pacheco and Ms. Antillón have been instrumental in knitting together the 38-vote bloc that passed the free trade treaty and much of its enabling legislation.

To maintain their coalition in the legislature, the Liberación lawmakers also elect members of allied parties to the legislative directorate. However, there is no word on who will be on the government party's slate when lawmakers meet to elect new leaders May 1.

Pacheco's reelection is expected because he still is guiding the remaining free trade treaty measures through the assembly. This would be the third term as president of the 68-year-old Pacheco. May 1 also is when President Óscar Arias Sánchez will give his state of the nation speech.

Police presence downtown
is bad news for two suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robbery suspects were the first to fall into the hands of the police riot squad that was ordered to key points in the downtown Monday morning. Two men took money from the driver of a bus that was going to Dos Cercas de Desamparados when it was stopped on Avenida 6 at rush hour Monday. Passengers grabbed one suspect but a second fled, only to be brought down by members of the Unidad de Intervención Policial.

Both the special police unit and the Unidad Especializada Motorizada are patrolling downtown San José, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Among the places to be guarded are bus stops, the ministry said. The Unidad de Intervención Policial is a tactical squad that gets all the heavy police work.

The suspects from the bus robbery include a 15-year-old and a man identified by the last names of Albertazzi Dorado. He is 23 and the man who was captured by police.

Bus stops have emerged as easy targets for criminals, and at least one woman was murdered this year when robbers fired at her while she was at a San Pedro bus stop.

The regular Fuerza Pública officers are much in evidence in the downtown area, too, and have been for the last week.

New book describes
ornamental trees here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Herbario Nacional said Monday that two biologists have written a book that catalogs the ornamental trees of the Central Valley. The book will be presented to the public Wednesday at a 2 p.m. session in the Sala de Conferencias of the Museo Nacional and go on sale at the same time. The book is in Spanish and titled <Árboles ornamentales del Valle Central>. The authors are Joaquín Sánchez and Alfredo Cascante.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 79

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What happened to elderly woman who vanished from home?
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 86-year-old woman who barely had the strength to maneuver her makeshift wooden wheelchair still is missing. The woman disappeared from under the nose of her caretaker and watchful neighbors in the darkness early Thursday morning.

It was between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. when the woman, Luisa Venegas Torres, vanished from her house in Ciudadela Torres Molino near Calle Fallas in Desamparados, said her neighbor Grettel Sánchez Arrieta.

The next morning Ms. Sánchez planned to accompany Ms. Venegas, when they would go to pick up the older woman's new wheelchair.

The daughter of Ms. Sánchez, who also lives in the working-class neighborhood, saw a group leaving the house of Ms. Venegas in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, said Ms. Sánchez.

Ms. Sánchez who took her elderly neighbor on outings and to the clinic, said Ms. Venegas may be in the company of a group of Evangelical Christians. Also missing was a television, a coffee maker, a small electric stove and a radio, the neighbor said.

The religious couple met Ms. Venegas when they were going door-to-door, said Ms. Sánchez. The couple, who had been coming for over a year, frequented the house nearly every week to pray, said a live-in caretaker.
“I'm just worried about her,” said Ms. Sánchez, “She has asthma, and they didn't take her medicine. And you have to know how to apply it.”

The house Ms. Venegas lives in was part of an organization that cared for the elderly.  The group helps out in homes and is called Albergue Manos Amigos, said Luis Gerardo Alfaro Díaz, the driver who was supposed to pick Ms. Venegas up for her wheelchair appointment. The small organization only has about four employees including a cook and a therapist, said Alfaro.

Yanory Fernández Cordero, the live-in caretaker who stayed with her three children in the home, said she suspects Ms. Venegas wanted to go with the visitors. “She liked to pray with them. She told one neighbor she was bored living here and wanted to leave,” said Ms. Fernández.

This is not the first time something like this has happened, said Ms. Sánchez. About a year ago the two visitors took Ms. Venegas from her home and didn't bring her back for two days.

No investigators have talked with the women since they filed a complaint with the Judicial Investigation Organization Friday. “They wouldn't let me file the complaint, because they said it had to be done by family,” said Ms. Sánchez, “But she has no family, and we are her closest neighbors.” Eventually the complaint was filed.

“I feel in my heart she will return” said Ms. Sánchez. “Or maybe she will get bored and want to come back . . . . "

Multi-nation stock exchange merger includes Costa Rica
By Eric Jackson,
editor of The Panama News
who also credits other media

Panama's Bolsa de Valores stock and bond exchange has adopted a set of uniform exchange rules with its counterparts in Costa Rica and El Salvador and will create a new corporation in which the three exchanges will become equal partners. The move, promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank, is seen as an intermediate step for a working merger between all of the securities exchanges in Panamá and the Central American countries.

The announcement was made in a joint March 24 communique issued by Panama's Bolsa de Valores, El Salvador's Bolsa de Valores and Costa Rica's Mercado Nacional de Valores.

The details had been hashed out in a series of development bank-sponsored workshops that last December and continued until the agreement was announced. In a technical sense, the model for the merger came largely from a company called OMX, which provided the regulations, software and equipment standards that allowed the merger of nine stock markets in the Scandinavian and Baltic countries into NOREX. The European Union's moves toward a unified securities trading industry also served as one of the examples on which this region's exchanges drew.

There is and has been for about two decades a move to merge the economies of Panamá and the Central American countries. The process has been slow but in recent years has been expressed in a series of free trade deals between Panamá and several of the Central American countries, the Central American Free Trade Treaty that not only provides for free trade between individual Central American countries and the Dominican Republic but among those Latin nations as well, and progress on the interconnection of the various countries' electrical grids.
In Panamá there is a long-standing economic and political orientation toward northern South America rather than Central America that has sometimes worked against integration with neighbors to the northwest, but the shambles of the Andean Bloc that's largely a function of Colombian warfare and instability in most of the other countries in northern South America has tended to make Central America a more tempting set of trade partners.

However, except for a bit of a maquiladora industry in Honduras and some high tech businesses in Costa Rica, the Central American countries have agricultural economies much like Panama's interior without the advanced
commercial and service sectors in the metro area in Panama and Colón provinces, and this has been an impediment toward integration. More recently, uncertainties about the intentions of Nicaragua's Sandinista government have also slowed economic integration.

Panama's Bolsa de Valores in practice lacks many of the attributes of a modern stock exchange, most notably the transparent disclosure of relevant information about companies whose shares are traded on it, and thus fluctuations on the Bolsa often have little to do with the market value of shares on these companies.

The institution might not exist at all in an economy dominated by family-owned or family-controlled businesses, except for the tax breaks available for companies that arrange their financing through it. Costa Rica may have a somewhat more open corporate sector and El Salvador an even more family-dominated one than Panama's, but all three countries' exchanges tend to have similar problems.

If the three-country agreement works well, then it will likely become a template for an arrangement that brings in institutions from the Central American countries that are not now participating.

This story is used with permission.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 79

This is a week for cultural events at San Pedro campus
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The campus of the Universidad de Costa Rica is buzzing more than usual this week, as students fill their time with cultural events instead of exams.

Although classes continue, students often choose not to attend, as the attraction of concerts, sports, theater and art overpowers their studious side.

La Semana U is a tradition that has been going on for much longer than most of the current students can remember. Individual faculties work with the Federacion de Estudiantes to organize the participation of a wide variety of acts and to secure enough money from the university to hold the week of fun and games.

“A few years ago, the faculties would sell beer to the students in order to earn some money,” said Mauricio Arayas Santana, an ex-student. “They would spend it on useful things like more computers. Now they've banned beer because too many students were getting drunk and falling asleep on the lawn.”

Instead, the week focuses around more wholesome activities, but as the events do not charge an entrance fee, the faculties do not earn any money.  The week lasts until Friday.
“We want the week to be a way for students to express themselves,” said Veronica Garcia, 20, a member of the federacion who is studying to be an English teacher. “Many students usually come to classes and then go home straight afterwards. This is a great way to get more people involved in the life of the campus.”

Bands include popular ska group Garabanzos on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Jazz Café regular Mal Pais on Friday at 6 p.m.

Each day faculties have their own individual activities, such as football tournaments, food stalls, film showings, ballet, theater, poker and more, and everyone is welcome to attend.

Ciencias Economicas, for example, will be holding a cinema session at 9 a.m. each morning, including films such as Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Stalls selling clothing and braiding hair are permanent installations for the week, as are two large trampolines, art exhibitions and a sandpit.

The gran finale will take place on Friday with a carnival and mascaradas, and a gastronomic festival at noon, while music and theater goes on throughout the evening until around 10 p.m. A full program of events can be found on the Universidad's Web site

Big orchid show planned this weekend in Cartago university
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bunch of orchid enthusiasts will be brightening up the town of Cartago this weekend with an exhibition of the symbolic bloom.

Not to be confused with the national orchid exhibition that happens each March in San José, this Exposicion Nacional de Orquideas is organized by the Associación Cartaginesa de Orquideologica, which puts on the exhibition annually to mark the association's foundation. This year it will be turning 32.

Between 10 and 12 of the country's 12 orchid associations are expected to set up stalls in the gymnasium of the Instituto de Tecnológico de Costa Rica, Cartago, including for the first time ever, orchid sellers from Pérez Zeledón.

The 1,600 plants that will be on show will all compete for
prizes distributed by Costa Rican and American judges, from the American Orchid Society.

Plants are judged on their size, color, amount and distribution of flowers. Judging will take place on Thursday, before the public opening of the show, and the winners will appear in the American Orchid Society's quarterly magazine.  

Organizer Carlos Granados Barquero said that the organization expects up to 4,000 people to view or buy orchids at the show, which lasts from Friday to Sunday, opening from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Six talks on how to get rid of parasites on orchids and other orchid-care themes will be held during the weekend, and books on similar subjects will be on sale.  Food stalls will also be set up in the gymnasium, and the entrance fee for the show is 1,000 colons ($2) per person.

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Bush, Calderón open new Mexican consulate in New Orleans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush is in New Orleans, playing host to his North American counterparts, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Immigration was a top issue with Calderón.

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Bush accompanied Calderón to the opening of Mexico's newest consulate here in New Orleans. The previous consulate located here had been Mexico's oldest one, opened in 1822, shortly after the country gained independence from Spain.

It was closed in 2002, but thousands of Mexican laborers have come to New Orleans since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 to work on reconstruction projects.

At the opening of the consulate, Calderón, said Mexico wants to assist and protect its citizens in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi that the consulate will serve.

"With the reopening of this consulate, we will be able to guarantee those Mexicans who live and work in Louisiana and Mississippi that they will have the support of the Mexican government," said Calderón. "It is my commitment that no matter where there is a Mexican citizen, he or she will also have the support of our government."

Around 30,000 Mexicans are in the New Orleans area now, part of an influx of workers from various parts of Latin America drawn here by jobs in clean up and construction. Calderón called this flow of labor a natural consequence of the United States having an advantage in capital and Mexico having an advantage in labor.

"For that reason, I know that we must have a comprehensive vision in this area, in the area of migration, which will allow us to work together in order to build a more prosperous and safer North American continent," he said.

While Bush favors a guest worker program that would allow Mexicans to enter the United States on temporary work visas, Congress set aside the issue after opponents attacked it as an amnesty. Immigration has ceased being a major issue in the U.S. presidential campaign since all three remaining candidates favor some sort of comprehensive reform, but also support stricter enforcement at the border.

After meeting for a private conversation with Calderón, Bush praised bilateral efforts to fight drug traffickers.

"We got to work hard on our side to make sure we reduce drug use and, at the same time, work with you in close coordination to defeat these drug traffickers," said Bush. "We need to continue our initiative that we started during your administration, Mr. President, to deal with arms trafficking, arms coming from the United States into Mexico."

Canada's Prime Minister is focusing mostly on trade issues at this tri-lateral meeting, but he is also expected to discuss a particular border issue with Bush, that being the need to expand the bridge that joins the U.S. city of Detroit and the Canadian city of Windsor. The bridge was opened in 1929, when there was much less traffic between the two countries. Now, partly as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, traffic has grown dramatically.

The three North American leaders were to attend a dinner Monday evening and then hold formal talks this morning.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 79

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