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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, April 23, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 79        E-mail us
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Lion Fish
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It's OK to wear gold but not mine it. That was the obvious contradiction Thursday at a big march against a proposed open pit mine in northern Costa Rica       Page 3

On the prowl
Lion fish continue to expand in the Caribbean eating much more than
their share.        Page 4
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Regional airports got facelifts during Arias years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A little known achievement of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration is upgrading some of the country's secondary airports.

Casa Presidencial said Thursday that in the last four years 8.8 billion colons or about $17.5 million have been invested in airports through the Dirección General de Aviación Civil.

Thursday Arias traveled to Nosara where the community's airport had received a 1.4 million colons ($2.7 million) facelift. The runway of the Pacific coast community was widened from 14 to 18 meters or from about 46 to 53 feet.

The airport also got a new fence to keep out activities that are not airport-related, like children riding bicycles. Such informal uses are typical around the country where airplane activity is minimal. Nosara's landing strip also received some additional markings.

Arias also touched down in Nicoya where that landing stripe had been widened from 12 meters to 18 meters, about 40 to 59 feet.

Arias said in Nicoya that the airport investments put the country in a new direction that would help encourage tourism.

Inauguration ceremonies also have been conducted this month at the Tortuguero and Barra del
Colorado airports in northeast Costa Rica. Residents and tourists in those communities rely on the air strip because other methods of transport are limited.

When the Barra del Colorado airport was closed for reconstruction tourists for the famous tarpon fishing camps there had to travel by boat up the Tortuguero Canal.

Casa Presidencial noted that significant work also had been done at air strips in Carate, San Vito, San Isidro de El General and Shiroles. That is in addition to $6 million in work performed at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia, a key tourist entry, and at Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas, which is the Central Valley's alternative to Juan Santamaría in Alajuela.

Officials also noted that better airports are important for handling local emergencies.

There are 25 public airports and about 66 private strips in Costa Rica. The airport at Quepos, La Managua, with 32,609 passengers a year and the airport in Puerto Jiménez in the southern zone with 16,226 passengers are the most used of the smaller airports, transport officials have said.

Despite the efforts of aviation officials in the Arias administration, there still are some smaller airports that are unfenced and have shorter runways and limited taxiways. One example is the airport in Palmar Sur that officials hope to replace with an international airport to bring more tourists to the southern zone.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 79

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Prosecutors unhappy judge
freed woman unconditionally

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors in the Ministerio Público say they will appeal a decision by a criminal court to release an immigration worker without any type of pre-trial constraints. The immigration worker has the last names of Mora Acosta, and she was detained Tuesday in a case in which at least 34 North Americans unknowingly got false work permits.

The prosecutor has asked a judge to forbid the woman from leaving the country and to have her sign in with them once a month. They also wanted her barred from contacting witnesses or victims.
The Unidad Especializada en Fraudes of the Ministerio Público has been investigating the case for nearly two years. The case revolves around a residency office operated by a woman with the last names of González Jinesta. Some of those involved in the case identified the individual as Sandra González Jinesta, operator of International Multiservices, which is in an office not far from the U.S. Embassy in Rohrmoser.

Ms. González also is reported to have been freed after her arrest, but it was not known immediately what type of restrictions, if any, a judge may have levied.

The raids Tuesday took place in three homes in Coronado, Guadeloupe, Curridabat, the office in Rohrmoser and the central offices of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. Ms. Mora, 59, was arrested at work and led away in handcuffs.

Also arrested was a 49-year-old lawyer with the last names of  Arias Venegas, who was accused of notarizing false documents provided by Ms. González.

The Judicial Investigating Organization and the Poder Judicial said that at least 34 Canadians and U.S. citizens paid between $3,000 and $4,000 to get the false documents. Others close to the case said that there may be hundreds of North Americans who did business with the firm.

suspects held
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Three of those detained Thursday await further processing.

Two adults and two juveniles
held as bank patron robbers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers closed streets in the Calle Fallas vicinity of Desamparados Thursday to detain four persons suspected of sticking up bank patrons. Two of those arrested are minors, 14 and 17 years.

There have been two robberies of bank customers in which four men riding double on two motorcycles threatened them with a pistol.

Investigators identified the adults by the last names of Vega Alemán and Fonseca Fallas. The juveniles were identified by the last names of Chávez and Palacios. The younger boy, Palacios, was said to be carrying a .38 pistol that has been reported stolen from a firm in Heredia.

Police said the four also are facing allegations of distribution of drugs in the area.

The motorcycle that was confiscated Thursday was one that had been reported stolen and matched the description of one used in the robberies, said police. The vehicle had no plates and none of the four had a driver's license, said police.

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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 weekday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 79

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Protesters take their case to the Corte Suprema de Justicia on Earth Day.
marchers at court
A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Avendaño Arce

Open pit mine protesters hope court changes its mind
By Manuel Avendaño Arce
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the open pit gold mine in Cutris de San Carlos say that the last word rests with the people and not the Sala IV constitutional court.  That is why hundreds marched Thursday to protest a constitutional court decision that gave a green light to the controversial project.

The major protest was in San José. But there also was anti-mine activity in Platanar de San Carlos.

The organization Preserve Planet said that demonstrators in Platanar de San Carlos were confronted by Fuerza Pública officers in a violent manner in which officers tried to impede the activities. The report was based on information from Unión Norte por la Vida. the organization said. There were no other details.

In San José marchers congregated in front of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. There were many university students, representatives of non-governmental organizations, union members and even some persons who had come from Cutris de San Carlos.

One man who identified himself as Marvin Salas said he had come from Cutris and brought a bottle of what he said was contaminated water. He said one of the most important rivers in the region is being affected by the cyanide that is being generated by the las Crucitas open pit mine project.

Mine opponents have said in the past that they blame contamination of cyanide and arsenic on secret tests being conducted at the mine site, but they have provided no evidence. There are heavy concentrations of arsenic that occur naturally in the area.

"Here I brought a bottle of water contaminated with cyanide for Doña Ana Virginia Calzada, president of the Corte Suprema, to let her drink it and tell me if she can if this is tasty water," said Salas. If contaminated, the water
probably contained arsenic instead.

Unofficial estimates of the gathered were from 550 to 600 persons. After gathering at the court, the demonstrators marched down Avenida 2 to the Catedral Metropolitana causing disruption of the city traffic for about two hours.

Rebeca Zúñiga, one of the leaders of the demonstration, said that opponents would continue their efforts until the court changes its ruling. The project is being run by Industrias Infinito, S.A., the Costa Rican subsidiary of a Canadian mining firm, Vannessa Ventures Ltd..

There were reports that some opponents were conducting a vigil at the court building.

"In San Carlos the environment is being destroyed, many species are dying due to the contaminated water," Ms. Zúñiga said, saying it is only a matter of time until humans are affected.

Actually  Unión Norte por la Vida has said that a local family has lost cattle and have suffered health problems from the arsenic found in the water.

There have been reports of small-scale mining in the region for years. The cyanide process used to extract gold from rock can free arsenic if it is present naturally.

The marchers also said that there are proposals for mines in the Talamanca, in Tilarán and in the Limón area. They are against these, too. President-elect Laura Chinchilla has said she would see to freezing any future mining projects when she takes office in two weeks. Opponents want her to freeze the Lass Crucitas project, too.

Infinito says it can recover at least 700,000 ounces of gold over the next 10 years and promises to restore the land to a natural state. That is nearly $800 million at the current market price of gold.

In search of a downtown barrio that is all downhill
In my more than 15 years in Costa Rica I have lived in a number of different neighborhoods or barrios in both the city and suburbs.  In the end I prefer the city and have found a variety of advantages and disadvantages among the different barrios.

After a month of classes and my homestay, I moved into a small split-level apartment (a one-room living area downstairs and a bedroom and bath upstairs) in Sabanilla.  The gated apartment complex was halfway up the long hill on the way to San Ramón. I liked my little apartment, and right across the street was a bus stop where I could catch a bus to downtown.  But it was always a bit chilly there.

So I moved into a furnished three-bedroom apartment in Barrio Dent behind the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano and the AutoMercado.  This proximity to groceries, an English library and entertainment was the best part about the apartment. For a short time I had a roommate, which was great.  But after she left, my apartment flooded as the result of a broken pipe caused by an earthquake, and the street alongside became a busy traffic route, so I began looking elsewhere.

Barrio California was not far away and still on the northeast side.  I found an apartment just half a block from the Megaly Theatre that showed the latest movies, and it was within easy walking to downtown (all downhill).  It had two bedrooms unfurnished and no view, but was half the price and on a quiet street, so I moved in and began to buy furnishings. 

That Easter my mother came to visit. One day as we were leaving to go to lunch, I closed the door, which automatically locked — just as I realized my keys were in the apartment.   The keys also locked the portón gate out front.  As usual at Easter, everyone had left the city, including my landlord and my neighbor.  Our prospects were poor.  I told my mother to go downstairs and in TV FBI fashion, I backed against my neighbor’s door, rushed at my own — and went sailing into my living room.  The fact that this was so easy was not a comforting thought. Shortly thereafter, I heard from a friend asking me to tell people about an apartment available in her building.

I decided to look at it first, so Mom and I walked to Barrio Gonzalo Lahmann, about 10 blocks away, on the southeast side of town. (She was 86 and I still marvel at

Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

how easily she walked there and back.)  We climbed three
flights of stairs to the apartment and saw a view of the entire city.  The apartment faced west and promised incredible sunsets.  That was my next apartment.
I didn’t like the stairs but I always enjoyed both my neighbors and the 20-minute walk to downtown (all downhill).  But another earthquake cracked a number of walls and the building needed repair.  When my complaints about the dust and noise reached a whining pitch, my friend Alexis dragged me off apartment hunting. She took me to the as-yet-unexplored west side where I found my present apartment.

I don’t have any more sunsets, but I have great views from all my windows — well almost all.  One is marred by the stadium. And I can’t walk to town, but the bus stop is just three blocks away (all slightly uphill).

Sunday Alexis and I visited Barrio Amón.  It is actually a part of downtown San José, beginning just behind the Aurola Hotel.  It is my favorite barrio. Every time I go there, I think wistfully of living there. One of the charms of Amón is the winding streets and hills that remind me of San Francisco, but, they are also the reason I probably will not live there. 

Like many old and once elegant neighborhoods, Amón was the victim of neglect and desertion of its original inhabitants. and it became an undesirable part of the city.  About 20 years ago that began to change, and “gentrification” resulted in mansions becoming B & B’s or boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants, even some with outdoor dining.  There are art galleries, and most recently the Kalú complex that includes a restaurant with a dining terrace and a boutique selling useful and beautiful items made from recycled materials.

I have seen buildings in Barrio Amón that look like they have apartments, and if one were to find something at the top of a hill, the walk into town would be all downhill!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 79

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Threat from lionfish continues to grow in Caribbean

By Oregon State University
News and Communication

Their numbers continue to expand. They are spreading throughout the Caribbean Sea. Eradication appears almost impossible. Even limited amounts of control will be extremely difficult, and right now the best available plan is to capture and eat them.

Such is the desperate status of the lionfish wars, an invasion of this predatory fish from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean region that threatens everything from coral reef ecosystems to the local economies, which are based on fishing and tourism.

With a new three year, $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation under the American Recovery and Investment Act scientists from Oregon State University are urgently trying to address the looming crisis.

“This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it’s undergoing a population explosion,” said Mark Hixon, a university professor of zoology, expert on coral reef ecology and leader of the research effort. “The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.”

“Native fish literally don’t know what hit them.”

Oregon University research has already determined that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of small reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent. That was reported in 2008.

Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish will also set the stage for seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist, the researchers said.

This newest threat follows on the heels of overfishing, sediment deposition, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions. Lionfish may be the final straw that breaks the back of Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs, they reported.

Contrary to their status in native Pacific Ocean waters, lionfish have virtually no natural enemies in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific – and scientists are trying to find out what that is – is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrain, are largely ignored by local predators and parasites, and are rapidly eating their way through entire ecosystems.

A primary concern, according to local experts, is the degradation of coral reefs and loss of food fish and colorful tropical species. Tourism, fishing and diving will suffer in some economies that are largely based on these fishes. One group has called lionfish a plague of Biblical proportions stalking the Bahamian economy.

“Until we can develop a better understanding of this invasion, one of the few control mechanisms may be to develop a market for them as a food fish,” Hixon said.
Lion fish study
Oregon State University photo
Researcher Mark Albins studying lionfish underwater

“Lionfish are pretty easy to catch, taste good and could be advertised as a conservation dish.”

Efforts by researchers to feed lionfish to large groupers and sharks have so far been unsuccessful. They don’t look like conventional prey, and venomous spines that leave a painful wound are a strong deterrent.

Lionfish, native to the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, have dramatic coloring and large, spiny fins. It’s believed they were first introduced into marine waters off Florida in the early 1990s from local aquariums or fish hobbyists. They have since spread across much of the Caribbean Sea and north along the U.S. coast as far as Rhode Island. They are present off the Costa Rican coast, too.

In studies on small coral reefs in the Bahamas, Hixon and his graduate student Mark Albins determined that a single lionfish per reef reduced young juvenile fish populations by 79 percent in only a five-week period. Many species were affected, including cardinalfish, parrotfish, damselfish and others. One large lionfish was observed consuming 20 small fish in a 30-minute period. Lionfish are carnivores that can eat other fish up to two-thirds their own length.

When attacking another fish, Hixon said, a lionfish uses its large, fan-like fins to herd smaller fish into a corner and then swallow them in a rapid strike. Because of their natural defense mechanisms they are afraid of almost no other marine life. And the venom released by their sharp spines can cause extremely painful stings to humans, or even fatalities for some people with heart problems or allergic reactions.

“We have to figure out something to do about this invasion before it causes a major crisis,” Hixon said. “We basically had to abandon some studies we had underway in the Atlantic on population dynamics of coral reef fish, because the lionfish had moved in and started to eat everything.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 79

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Duke Ellington legacy
remembered in revival

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

April is designated as Jazz Appreciation Month in the United States. It celebrates this unique American music form and honors the great American jazz musicians who revealed it to the world. One of the most influential figures in jazz is a native Washingtonian, Duke Ellington. He is also considered one of the 20th century's best known African-American personalities, who influenced millions of people at home and around the world. April 29 marks his 111th birthday.

Many agree that Duke Ellington is Washington, D.C.  This is where he was born, as Edward Kennedy Ellington, and where his career began. As a composer and band leader, he brought jazz to the world.  During the Cold War in the 1960's and 70's, he was one of the numerous American jazz artists who traveled to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 1969, President Richard Nixon presented Duke Ellington with the Medal of Freedom. In his 50 year career, Ellington also received the Pulitzer Prize and 13 Grammy awards.

Today, Mercedes Ellington, Duke Ellington's granddaughter, keeps her grandfather's legacy alive as President of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts. "The music of Duke Ellington is of such a structure that it crosses generations and puts everybody on an even scale. Duke Ellington used to be very charming and very gracious, and he appreciated his career to such an extent that, when he was invited to play in different countries, he would compose a suite dedicated to that country. He loved to go to places where he was not supposed to go. He never labeled his music. It was not jazz, he said it was 'American music,'" she said.

Duke Ellington tore down racial barriers, playing to both African-American and white audiences, a rarity during those racially-divided times.

"It is just proving that the commonality between people is one of the things that I think Ellington wanted to accentuate. He was always on the path of acknowledging what was really happening in the world. The ideal of people being drawn together through music was his goal. He was constantly writing, every day, even when he was ill and dying in the hospital, he had a piano at the foot of his bed," she said.

Mercedes Ellington remembers rare moments spent with her grandfather. "We never really saw him, because the orchestra was constantly on tour. The only time when we would see them would be when they came to New York. They would play at the Apollo, the Rainbow Room, and we had those intimate family gatherings backstage in the dressing rooms," she said.

Duke Ellington started playing the piano at the age of 7, and by the time he was 15, he was already composing.

Mercedes Ellington traveled with the band to Russia in the mid 1970s, and got to see her grandfather's popularity first-hand.

The musical revival, "Sophisticated Ladies," based on Duke Ellington's music, has just opened at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington DC, where Ellington used to perform. The original Broadway production from 1981 was nominated for eight Tony awards and won two. "Sophisticated Ladies" stars famous Broadway choreographer and dancer Maurice Hines. Since Mercedes Ellington is herself a professional choreographer, she is the artistic consultant for this performance, which celebrates life and work of her grandfather.

Duke Ellington wrote more than 3,000 compositions during his career.  After his death in 1974, his son Mercer Ellington, Mercedes' father, took over the orchestra. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 23, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 79

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San Carlos expo under way

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 40th annual edition of the Expo San Carlos International has opened and runs through May 2. The event still is mainly a cattle judging expo that attracts stock from all over Central America. However, every year more attractions are added. Among those this year are motocross racing and cheerleading.

The animals on display and for judging are those of the races that do well in the tropics, including Brahman. There also are stock auctions.

Horsemen and women will see demonstrations and will be able to participate in a rodeo. There also are exhibitions of burros and mules, as well as the traditional Costa Rica bull baiting.

Banco Nacional said it will be represented there in case stockmen and farmers want to purchase any of the equipment on display.

Pair given 30 years each

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men identified by the last names of Castillo Rojas and Ramirez Fallas received 30-year prison sentences Thursday in the robbery-murder of Randy Montero Montoya, 22, Dec. 1, 2008, in Llanos de Santa Lucía, Paraíso de Cartago.

The robbers were after Montero's athletic shoes, court testimony showed. They took the shoes and then stabbed him five times.

The decision by the Tribunal de Juicio de Cartago is subject to review, which might reduce the sentences.

Generators inaugurated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The power company plans to inaugurate two generators that will be part of the future Garabito thermal plant. The event is today in Miramar.  The facility is designed to produce 200 megawatts when finished. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that the completed plant will have 11 giant generators.

The two being inaugurated today were traffic stoppers when they were moved from the Caldera docks. Each is 27 meters long (88.5 feet). The plant is scheduled to go into operation in December.

Juvenile orchestra performs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquesta Juvenil Centroamericana, under the direction of Guiseppe Mega, presents a program of the works of Mozart, Sibelius, Mendelsohn and Saint-Saens tonight at 8 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional. Soloist is Andreas Neufeld, formerly with the Philharmonic of Berlin. Admission is 3,000 colons or about $6.

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