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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, April 27, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 82             E-mail us
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Trial court finds ex-president Rodríguez guilty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 3:$0 p.m.

A trial court Wednesday found former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría guilty of instigating a kickback scheme and sentenced him to five years in prison. The same tribunal also found him innocent of the allegation of illegal enrichment.

A variety of allegations were affirmed against eight other defendants with one getting 15 years on two charges.

The court also said that Rodríguez could not hold a public job for 12 years.

The court also awarded money damages against the
 defendants, mostly in favor of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

This is the case that involved allegations of bribes by the cell telephone firm Alcatel which sought to sell its products to the electrical institute in 2002. The contract was for 400,000 cell lines.

The reading of the abbreviated verdict was delayed by problems with the courtroom's sound equipment for about 15 minutes.

The three-judge panel rejected a number of objections filed by defense lawyers. Appeals are likely.

A full story will be published in the Thursday edition.


UCR team finds secret of bugs' precious metal color
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
from the Optical Society of America.

Costa Rica was once regarded as the poorest of all the colonies of the Spanish Empire, sadly deficient in the silver and gold so coveted by conquistadors. As it turns out, all of the glittering gold and silver those explorers could have ever wanted was there all along, in the country’s tropical rain forests—but in the form of two gloriously lustrous species of beetle.

Today, the brilliant gold- (Chrysina aurigans) and silver-colored (Chrysina limbata) beetles have given optics researchers new insights into the way biology can recreate the appearance of some of nature’s most precious metals, which in turn may allow researchers to produce new materials based on the natural properties found in the beetles’ coloring.

A team of researchers at the University of Costa Rica has found that the beetles’ metallic appearance is created by the unique structural arrangements of many dozens of layers of exo-skeletal chitin in the elytron, a hardened forewing that protects the delicate hindwings that are folded underneath. A paper about the discovery appears in the first issue of the Optical Society’s newest open access journal, Optical Materials Express, which launched this month.

The beetles were captured in the University of Costa Rica’s Alberto Brenes Mesén Biological Reserve, a tropical rain forest environment. “The metallic appearance of these beetles may allow them to be unnoticed, something that helps them against potential predators,” says physicist and study leader William E. Vargas. The surface of their elytra “reflects light in a way that they look as bright spots seen from any direction,” he explained. “In a tropical rain forest, there are many drops of water suspended from the leaves of trees at ground level, along with wet leaves, and these drops and wet leaves redirect light by refraction and reflection respectively, in different directions. Thus, metallic beetles manage to blend with the environment.”

To interpret the cause of this metallic look, Vargas and his team assumed that a sequence of layers of chitin appears through the cuticle, with successive layers having slightly different refractive indices. In these beetles, the cuticle, which is just 10 millionths of a meter deep, has some 70 separate layers of chitin — a nitrogen-containing complex sugar that creates the hard outer skeletons of insects, crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. The chitin layers become progressively thinner with depth, forming a so-called “chirped” structure.

“Because the layers have different refractive indices,” Vargas says, “light propagates through them at different speeds. The light is refracted through — and reflected by — each interface giving, in particular, phase differences in the emerging reflected rays. For several wavelengths in the visible range, there are many reflected rays whose phase differences allow for constructive interference. This leads to the metallic appearance of the beetles.”

This is similar to the way in which a prism breaks white light into the colors of the rainbow by refraction, but in the case of these beetles, different wavelengths, or colors of light are reflected back more strongly by different layers of chitin. This creates the initial palette of colors that enable the beetles to produce their distinctive
both beetles
Eduardo M. Libby photo
The Chrysina aurigans and the Chrysina limbata beetle specimens displaying their brilliant golden and silver appearance.

hues. The mystery the researchers still needed to understand in more detail, however, was how the beetles could so perfectly create the structure causing the brilliant metallic tones of silver and gold.

Using a device they specially designed to measure the reflection of light when it strikes the curved surface of the beetles’ elytra, Vargas and his colleagues found that as light strikes the interface between each successive layer (the first interface being the boundary between the outside air and the top chitin layer), some of its energy is reflected and some is transmitted down to the next interface.

“This happens through the complete sequence of interfaces,” Vargas said.

Because a portion of the light is reflected, it combines with light of the exact same wavelength as it passes back through layer upon layer of chitin, becoming brighter and more intense. Ocean waves can exhibit the same behavior, combining to produce rare but powerful rogue waves. In the case of the beetles, this perfect storm of light amplification produces not only the same colors but also the striking sheen and glimmer that normally is associated with fine jewelry.

In the two beetle species, interference patterns are produced by slightly different wavelengths of light, thus producing either silver or gold colors. “For the golden-like beetle, the constructive interference is found for wavelengths larger than 515 nanometers, the red part of the visible wavelength range,” Vargas said, “while for the silver-like beetle it happens for wavelengths larger than 400 nanometers — that is, for the entire visible wavelength range.”

“The detailed understanding of the mechanism used by the beetles to produce this metallic appearance opens the possibility to replicate the structure used to achieve it,” Vargas said, “and thus produce materials that, for example, might look like gold or silver but are actually synthesized from organic media.”

This potentially could lead to new products or consumer electronics that can perfectly mimic the appearance of precious metals. Other products could be developed for architectural applications that require coatings with a metallic appearance. Vargas notes that in the solar industry, for example, chirped multilayer reflectors could be used as back layers supporting the active or light-absorbing medium, to improve the absorption of the back-reflected light.

The article, “Visible light reflection spectra from cuticle layered materials,” by Cristian Campos-Fernández, Daniel E. Azofeifa, Marcela Hernández-Jiménez, Adams Ruiz-Ruiz and Vargas appears in the journal Optical Materials Express.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crime in the center of San José has declined 50 percent, according to Marco Barrera, head of the Fuerza Pública that covers the area.

Transvestite prostitutes have declined from 142 to 72, he said, as quoted by the Cámera Nacional de Turismo.

The tourism chamber said it is seeking to make the center of San José more attractive for tourists. Many tourists do not want to enter the city now, and even the U.S. Embassy has blacklisted the area for visiting State Department employees and diplomats.

The project is supported by the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn, which is just north of Parque Morazán. This is an area where tourists must be cautious at night.

Barrera said that the police have fixed up some vehicles that were out of service and put 22 more police into the area.


Verdict is this afternoon
in Rodríguez-Alcatel trial


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After more than a year of trial, a tribunal in Goicoechea is expected to render a verdict today in the case known as ICE-Alcatel.

This is the corruption case involving the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and Alcatel in the awarding of a cell telephone contract. The best known defendant is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, the former president who had to quit as secretary general of the Organization of American States when the case became public.

The decision today is expected to be brief followed by a lengthy written document in some weeks. Appeals are expected no matter in what direction the case goes.

An Alcatel representative here already has been adjudicated in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because he admitted negotiating a bridge for the benefit of his company.

The 3 p.m. hearing is expected to be televised.


Taxi fares will go up,
regulating agency rules


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi fares are going up again for both the red local vehicles and the orange airport transports.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said the local increase would be about 3.35 percent and that of the airport fleet 2.85 percent. In terms of money the initial kilometer for the local vehicles goes from 530 colons to 550 colons when the decree is published in the La Gazeta official newspaper. That's from about $1.07 to about $1.11. The same rates and increases apply to additional kilometers.

Taxis in rural areas have the same base but the charge for additional kilometers goes from 690 to 710 colons, from $1.40 to $1.44.

Airport taxis will go from 785 colons for the initial kilometer to 810 or from $1.59 to $1.64.

The regulating authority noted that tolls are the responsibility of the passenger and are added to the cost of the trip.

Taxi drivers still are behind the curve because the new rates reflect costs over the last six months and do not include the expected increases in petroleum.

 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 82
Latigo K-9

New tourism group seeks declaration of state of emergency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of a new, more aggressive tourism organization are meeting this morning at Gran Hotel Costa Rica in San José to press their smorgasbord of petitions to the government.

The group is pressing for a decree of a state of emergency for the tourism sector by the government.

Among other requests, the organization, ProTur, said in a release that it wants the immediate repeal of a Costa Rican law that assesses a 10 percent charge of restaurant meals as tips for the wait staff. Between the 10 percent mandatory tip and the 13 percent sales tax, diners pay 23 percent more for their food.

The organization also has come up with a number of financial proposals that would give them operating cash and keep banks and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social off their backs. The group also wants a reduction in electrical rates and a system of joint purchasing to obtain benefits of bulk sales.

Boris Marchegiani, a central Pacific hotel operator, is the president of the organization. Members met before Easter with opposition legislators who were generally sympathetic.

Marchegiani noted that the industry faces hard times due to
 the dollar-colon exchange rate,  utility rates and government-imposed credit rules that sometimes keep hotel operators from getting loans. Although the government says tourism is up, the locations where tourists go are very specific, and most operators in this business say tourists are spending much less money.

Marchegiani  also complained about a lack of effective representation of tourism operators in dealings with the government. The Cámera Nacional de Turismo has not responded to the complaints of the new organization. ProTur claims to have members from 500 operations.

Another request is a fund that would make loans to tourism operators with a payback delayed three years.

The group also wants the government to act to force banks to withdraw any judicial collection garnishments placed on tourism structures for payment defaults.

As to the emergency decree, the organization wants a mixed commission empaneled consisting of the president of the Asamblea Legislativa, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and tourism operators to analyze the possibility of doing that.

The firm has hired Kardayac Comunicaciones to promote its aims. The meeting today is at 10 a.m.


Official start of La Sabana reforesting will be Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday is the kickoff for an eight-year project to restore native species of trees to Parque La Sabana.

This is a project promoted by Scotia Bank and supported by a number of environmental organizations, such as Preserve the Planet.

Park officials for years have been talking about the need to remove the existing trees, mostly fast-growing eucalyptus
 and cypress.  The mature trees are now considered a danger because some are diseased and some are dead.

Parque La Sabana used to be the nation's international airport. Now it is referred to as the lungs of the city.

Work already has started to dig holes to plant trees. The 3,000 existing trees eventually will be taken down.

The project has been subjected to extensive study by experts and has been discussed for years.


Privacy groups oppose U.S. passport biographical form
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A host of human rights organizations and privacy activists are asking the U.S. State Department to withdraw a proposal to make some passport applicants fill out a lengthy questionnaire.

The questionnaire seems to be of the type usually reserved for applicants into some of the nation's secret services. One question seeks the address of the applicant's mother in the year before he or she was born. In addition, the questionnaire seeks all prior addresses, a full employment history, names of work supervisors and other details.

The groups which have filed to block this document, DDS-5513, said that an applicant selected to fill out the form would have to know the name of his or her supervisor when the applicant worked at McDonalds as a teen.

The State Department said via email in a response to a comment that the biographical questionnaire is not designed to replace the standard DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport, but rather to supplement it only when the applicant submits citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient to meet his/her burden of proving citizenship or identity.  The Department estimates that such supplemental information will only be requested for a small number of applicants, perhaps less than half a percent of the applications it receives annually, it said. 

In a filing with the Federal Register the department estimated that about 74,000 persons a year would have to fill out the form. The department estimated that this would take about 45 minutes.
The privacy and rights groups say it would take 100 hours and require the hiring of private investigators to answer the form fully.

"The department understands that some of the information requested is quite detailed," the State Department said.  "However, in those instances where an applicant cannot provide sufficient proof of citizenship or identity, it is important for the applicant to provide additional information which will help establish the applicant's United States citizenship or identity."

The form is before the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

A 22-page objection came from the Consumer Travel Alliance, the Identity Project, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Knowledge Ecology International, the Center for Media and Democracy and Privacy Activism, as well as two individuals.

The organizations say that the State Department does not have the legal authority to impose such a document on passport applicants and that the document could be applied subjectively, perhaps even on those who filed objections during the approval process.

The corporate parent of A.M. Costa Rica also filed an objection via email in which it questioned the failure to let expats overseas know about the proposal.

The company did not take a stand on the document itself due to lack of information.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 82


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Multiple causes seen in decline of amphibian species

By the University of Oregon news services

Amphibian declines around the world have forced many species to the brink of extinction, are much more complex than realized and have multiple causes that are still not fully understood, researchers conclude in a new report.

Amphibians in Costa Rica are among the threatened species

The search for a single causative factor is often missing the larger picture, they said, and approaches to address the crisis may fail if they don’t consider the totality of causes — or could even make things worse.

No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals, the scientists conclude in a study just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change, researchers said.

“An enormous rate of change has occurred in the last 100 years, and amphibians are not evolving fast enough to keep up with it,” said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and an international leader in the study of amphibian declines.

“We’re now realizing that it’s not just one thing, it’s a whole range of things,” Blaustein said.

“With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy,” he said. “Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians – at least, not yet.”

The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that the Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet’s history. And amphibians are leading the field – one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.

Efforts to understand these events, especially in the study of amphibians, have often focused on one cause or another, such as fungal diseases, invasive species, an increase in ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, pollution, global warming, and others. All of these and more play a role in the amphibian declines, but the scope of the crisis can only be understood from the perspective of many causes, often overlapping.

And efforts that address only one cause risk failure or even compounding the problems, the researchers said.
deformed leopard frog
Oregon State University/Pieter Johnson
Infection with trematodes in this leopard frog caused extra legs to grow.

“Given that many stressors are acting simultaneously on amphibians, we suggest that single-factor explanations for amphibian population declines are likely the exception rather than the rule,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Studies focused on single causes may miss complex interrelationships involving multiple factors and indirect effects.”

One example is the fungus B. dendrobatidis, which has been implicated in the collapse of many frog populations around the world. However, in some populations the fungus causes no problems for years until a lethal threshold is reached, studies have shown.

And while this fungus disrupts electrolyte balance, other pathogens can have different effects such as a parasitic trematode that can cause severe limb malformations, and a nematode that can cause kidney damage. The combination and severity of these pathogens together in a single host, rather than any one individually, are all playing a role in dwindling frog populations.

Past studies at Oregon State have found a synergistic impact from ultraviolet radiation, which by itself can harm amphibians, and a pathogenic water mold that infects amphibian embryos. And they linked the whole process to water depths at egg-laying sites, which in turn are affected by winter precipitation in the Oregon Cascade Range that is related to climate change.

The problems facing amphibians are a particular concern, scientists say, because they have been one of Earth’s great survivors – evolving about 400 million years ago before the dinosaurs, persisting through ice ages, asteroid impacts, and myriad other ecological and climatic changes.

Their rapid disappearance now suggests that the variety and rate of change exceeds anything they have faced before, the researchers said.

“Modern selection pressures, especially those associated with human activity, may be too severe and may have arisen too rapidly for amphibians to evolve adaptations to overcome them,” the researchers concluded.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 82

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Leftist Humala is ahead
in Peruvian opinion poll


By the A.M. Costa Ricas wire services

A new opinion poll released in Peru shows that leftist former army officer Ollanta Humala is leading the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori ahead of a run-off election scheduled for June 5.

The survey, published Sunday in El Comercio newspaper, says Humala has 42 percent of voter support, while Fujimori's daughter, Keiko Fujimori, has 36 percent. About 1,800 people were questioned for the poll, which was conducted between April 16 and 21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percent.

The survey results caused Peru's stock market to drop 3.3 percent.  Peru's currency, the sol, also fell on the news.

Humala won 32 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting on April 10, short of the 50 percent margin needed to win the election outright.  Ms. Fujimori took 24 percent of the vote.

Analysts say many Peruvians question Humala's and Ms. Fujimori's credentials on human rights and see them as a threat to the democratic system.

Humala, who led an uprising against Ms. Fujimori's father in 2000, lost a run-off election to current President Alan Garcia in 2006.  Humala was outspoken during that campaign about his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, but has since distanced himself from the leftist leader.

Some Peruvians distrust Ms. Fujimori because of her father, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for his role in death squad killings in the 1990s.  Alberto Fujimori also has been convicted of corruption.  There has been concern that his daughter would try to free him if elected.

Keiko Fujimori has apologized for mistakes and crimes committed while her father was in office.  The older Fujimori was Peru's president from 1990 until 2000.

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

Turkey ready to control
Internet for its citizens


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Turkey already bans more Web sites than any other European country. Now the government is set to introduce new controls that officials say are needed to protect children. Critics fear they represent an effort to control the Web.

The Turkish government calls its new Internet controls Safe Use of the Internet. They are scheduled to take effect in August and will require all Internet users to choose from one of four filter profiles operated by their server provider.  Law Professor Yamman Akdeniz at Bilgi University in Istanbul says the measures open the door to government censorship of the Internet.

"We are concerned that the government will enforce and develop a censorship infrastructure," said Akdeniz. "Even the standard profile is a filter system and the problem is government mandated, government controlled and there are no other countries within the EU or Council of Europe that has a similar system. And the decision also states if anyone who tries to circumvent the system, further action may be taken."

Government officials say the new regulations are needed to protect families, particularly children, from pornography.  But critics say it is unclear which Web sites can be banned and for what reasons, and the regulations can also be used to silence political Web sites.  Nadire Mater is the head of the Turkish human-rights Web page Bianet:

"Depending on the government, depending on the ministers, one can be put on the blacklist," said Ms. Mater. "This is not a democracy.  We've experienced this before, because police, from time to time, they distributed these blacklists, and in some Internet cafes or companies we were getting the complaints from the visitors they were saying  that we don't have any access to Bianet."

Bianet criticizes the government for establishing the new measures by decree, rather than by a vote in parliament and is challenging the new controls in court.  Web freedom is a concern within the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join.  EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule stressed those concerns before the EU parliament earlier this year.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 82

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Pavas fire disrupts lives
of 45 persons in Libertad 2


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mid-afternoon blaze in the Libertad 2 section of Pavas destroyed four homes and heavily damaged two more.

Some 42 adults and three minors were left homeless or nearly so by the blaze in the cramped collection of low-income houses.

Some 27 fire fighters responded from San José, Pavas and even Heredia. One fire fighter suffered an electrical shock but was not injured seriously due to his protective gear, said the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

The fire department said that the blaze started in a rooming house that was used to provide living quarters for the homeless. Fire investigators are looking into four possible causes: candles, electrical problems, a wood stove and arson.


Service club collecting
obsolete electronic gear


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cub Rotaract San Pedro, a service club for young adults, is collecting surplus and obsolete electronic equipment this weekend at Office Depot outlets in San Pedro, Escazú, La Uruca and Paseo de las Flores, Heredia.

The club said it will use the money raised from the effort to construct the Escuela Paul Harris in Fraijanes de Alajuela, which was destroyed by the January 2008 earthquake.

Companies that may have a quantity of recyclable computers, printers, hubs or other devices are eligible for pickup, the club said. A representative can contact sanpedrocurridabat@rotaractcr.org.

The club also noted it would accept limited household appliances, including microwaves and DVD players. It asked that the devices be delivered with their electrical cords and that monitors be intact and not with smashed screens.


Tourism institute seeking
New York wedding contacts


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said Tuesday that it will be represented at The Wedding Salon, and international exposition related to marriage and honeymoons. The event is today with the expected participation of 100 exhibitors and coverage by the wedding press, said the institute.




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