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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, May 1, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 85         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Multiple reasons cited as reasons to march today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is May 1, a legal holiday in Costa Rica. This is the International Day of the Worker.

This is a day when promoters of social agendas take to the streets. For the last four years, the day was dominated by opposition to the free trade treaty with the United States. Now that the treaty is a fact and only a few more pieces of enabling legislation are needed to enact it, other topics are getting more attention.

Albino Vargas Barrantes, head of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, urged his followers into the streets with a column in the Spanish-language Diario Extra Wednesday.

He cited the rising cost of living, worker wages, official corruption, unjust taxes and a manipulated press as reasons for demonstrating. Others will be
protesting climate change and backing a multitude of causes.

Today also is the day that the Asamblea Legislative reorganizes and President Óscar Arias Sánchez delivers his annual message. No shockers are expected. Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández  is scheduled to be reelected assembly president. He has been the man who has guided the free trade legislation, and he will continue to do so as the new legislative year begins.

Arias is expected to ask for more consideration for the poor. The speech will be televised. The speech is scheduled for 3 p.m., but it has been delayed in the past by unexpected hitches in congressional voting.

On the local front, employers who do not give workers the day off today or negotiate an alternate free day must pay their workers double.

Telecom bill gets its first OK for the second time
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To no one's surprise, the Asamblea Legislativa approved on first reading the highly controversial telecommunications bill Wednesday. This is the measure that breaks the monopoly of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad as a provider of wireless service.

This is the second time that lawmakers passed the measure on the initial reading. Earlier some 14 amendments were overlooked accidentally and not considered in legislative debate. The Sala IV constitutional court ordered that the legislative action be repeated.

The measure is linked to the free trade treaty with the United States because the treaty requires Costa Rica to open the wireless market.

Opponents of the measure were quick to be critical. One of the most strident, José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio, called passage a severe blow to the inhabitants of Costa Rica and to the state of social
 rights. He said that including the privatization of the wireless communications in the free trade treaty was really a delivery of the patrimony of the Costa Rican public.

The employee unions of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad have been vigorous in defending the monopoly. They have been mainstays of the frequent demonstrations over the last four years. A companion measure seeks to strengthen the institute so it can compete with private companies.

In the administration of Miguel Ángel Rodríguez protests by telecommunications workers and their allies forced officials to dump a similar measure.

The current measure requires another approval before it will be final.

This is the second major action against state monopolies in less than a week. Lawmakers voted Thursday night to end the state monopoly over the sale of insurance. That legislation also received the first of two required approvals.

Tell us more about hair coats and being free of infection from kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nominee this week for the most inept conman goes to the individual who sent in yet another scam classified ad.

A group of foreign scamsters maintains a cottage industry by pretending to sell dogs via Internet classified ads. Once the victim sends the money, there never is a dog.

A.M. Costa Rica periodically gets cute ads for dogs. The sender typically has a Yahoo e-mail account. The newspaper declines to publish such ads.

But Wednesday, a classic ad came, written by
someone with a passing acquaintance with the English language. We publish in full:

Hey..we are pure breed adorable teacup yorkie puppies, AKC registered, very healthy, lovely, highly socialized and personalized, have spectacular hair coats, with current shedding shots. We have been weaned, dewormed and free from kids and other pets infections. We are groomed, checked by our vet twice a week. Our leave is within 7-8 hours to our chosen family. we love kidding. Get us

Of particularly interest was the hair coats and being free from kids. But the real kicker was that the sender did not include information for potential victims to make contact. 

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Immigration office will use
call center to set visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The immigration department will use a telephone call center to set appointments for foreigners who must renew their residency documents.

In addition, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería also will schedule appointments for foreigners only in the month in which their documents expire.

Foreigners have benefited from two decrees and an immigration regulation. These actions extended the life of their residency document automatically and without official processing. The downside was that some institutions, such as banks and government offices, and some private companies, such as airlines, did not recognize the automatic extensions.

At the same time the immigration department was trying to work itself out of a mess involving devices that issued new plastic identity cards with ink that rubbed off.

The problem with the documents have been remedied, according to immigration officials, and they are issuing the plastic card for all types of residency. The plastic contains a photo, a user's signature and biometric data for positive identification. The card resembles the cédula carried by a Costa Rican.

The cards are produced by machinery and a patented process from Lasercard, a California company that also makes the green cards for the U.S. government.

The immigration department established the telephone number 900-1234567 for foreigners who wish to renew their documents. A press release cautioned that the telephone had to be capable of making 900-line calls.

The telephone system will operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Foreigners also can make appointments in person at the immigration offices in La Uruca from 8 a.m. to noon weekdays.

Mario Zamora, the immigration director, said that he was counting on the cooperation of foreigners to seek renewal appointments only in the month that their current document expired. The department is now taking appointments for those foreigners whose documents expired in May of any year.

Banco Elca chief convicted
and gets 23 years in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A three-judge judicial panel found the former chief of Banco Elca guilty on four counts and sentenced him to a total of 23 years in prison Wednesday.

The convicted man is Carlos Alvarado Moya. He was convicted of aggravated fraud, fraudulent administration, of use of privileged information and of supplying false information to government regulators, according to a late afternoon bulletin from the Poder Judicial.

Judges sentenced him to eight years on the first two counts and four years and three years on the third and fourth counts.

The fraud charge stems from the way Alvarado handled a deposit of some $3 million made by the company Night Glow S.A. The principals of that firm were identified as  Maynard Garber, who was known here as Robert Fox or Chuck Garber, and José Ricardo Rojas Rodríguez.

The judicial panel awarded Night Glow $3.4 million as damages, interest and fees. The award was against Alvarado and the failed bank. It was unclear if the bank has assets.

Statements before the trial said that Alvarado told Night Glow he deposited the money in an offshore bank in Belize, but that such a bank did not exist. The full decision will be released later.

One man, Eliécer Alvarado Arias, was eliminated from the trial because he is dead, the judges said. A third man, Javier Filloy Esna, was absolved for lack of proof, said the bulletin.

Elca was closed by government regulators June 29, 2004.

The central office is in Sabana Este between Calle 38 and Calle 40 on Avenida 4.

A number of expats who live here under the status of rentista maintained accounts at Banco Elca with the $60,000 deposit stipulated by immigration rules. In addition, several major organizations that cater to expats, including the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, maintained accounts there.

Many of the smaller depositors with accounts of up to $10,000 received all or part of their funds back via liquidation. However, major depositors were left hanging.
Officials said that the bank failed to maintain the required 10 percent reserve, so they closed it. Then they began to investigate.

Judges Wednesday ordered Alvarado to prison for eight months while the sentence is considered in a higher court because they considered him a flight risk.

* Portions of this news story appeared as an updated version of the Tuesday paper.

Próspero Fernández work
designed to continue flow

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The contractor on the Caldera highway, Autopistas del Sol, has reached an agreement with transport officials to keep the Autopista Próspero Fernández open even though work is being done.

The principal job is in widening the highway from four to six lanes between the intersection with the Circunvalación and the Escazú intersection, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

The contractor is now at work at the Guachipelín, and there is no interruption of traffic, said the ministry.
The contractor has agreed to do a lot of the work like installing pavement, at night, said the ministry.

In a few weeks the work will begin in Escazú, and some restrictions on travel will be made under the supervision of the Policía de Tránsito, said the ministry.

Some 80,000 vehicles use the highway each day, the ministry said. At some point officials considered closing the entire highway in stages. That idea has been discarded.

The $230 million job eventually will cover the whole stretch from Parque la Sabana to Caldera on the Pacific. The work on the Próspero Fernández is step one, and this includes reconstruction all the way to Ciudad Colón.

Route 32 still being closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite the holiday, workers will be painting lines on highway 32 today, and the route between Limón and San José will be closed at times between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

Transport officials will continue to close the highway completely during daylight hours on weekends when the weather permits painting, they said.  Workers are redoing center lines and lines at the margins of the pavement.

Another Chinese official to visit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The vice prime minister of the People's Republica of China will be visiting Costa Rica from next Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning, said Casa Presidencial. The official is Hui Liangyu. The delegation will be about 20 persons.

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This ancient fish needs a boost because it's a tasty treat
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fish known as a living fossil because it has hardly evolved for the last 150 million years will be bred in captivity by a Costa Rican biologist in an attempt to supplement its falling population.

Thousands of the fish, known as pez gaspar in Spanish and Atractosteus tropicus scientifically, are fished out of rivers and lakes in northern Costa Rica every year, ending up on Tico dinner plates. In English the fish is known as the tropical gar.

The fall in the fish population in rivers such as the Río Frío and the Sarapiqui has led Maurizio Protti Quesada, a Universidad Nacional biologist, to attempt a new project in which he and a Mexican specialist will start Costa Rica's first captive breeding programs for the fish.

Although Costa Rica puts great emphasis on its nature and many of the animals are avidly studied, the pez gaspar is a poorly understood and understudied species, according to Protti. Indeed, before Protti started an in-depth study of the fish's habits in 2003, very little was known about Costa Rica's gaspar fish.

It does, however, have a fascinating anatomy. Its gaseous bladder doubles functions as a lung, its mouth is extended into a long, pointy snout lined with sharp teeth which it uses to catch smaller fish as prey, and its scales are shiny and rhombous shaped, perfect for use in artesannías.

“There are only a few slight differences to the fossils found of the fish that are millions of years old," Protti said. “I couldn't say why it didn't evolve, but it would seem that there was just no great impulsing factor, like a change in the environment, that would cause it to evolve.”
In a year-long trial starting this month, Protti will be testing the use of hormones to stimulate ovulation in the females. Once born, the juvenile fish will be re-released into the wild to increase population levels.

“I wouldn't say the gaspar is in threat of extinction,” said Protti. “The population in Caño Negro is acceptably high, it is in other areas, including the rivers Frio, San Juan, Sarapiqui, and the Tortuguero area where it is now becoming very rare to come across a gaspar. The species is on the list of species that has a reduced population, but the situation is salvageable.”

If a success, Protti has a view to setting up sustainable breeding programs within communities in Caño Negro. Around 96 percent of the people living in or near the refuge eat gaspars on a regular basis, each taking around 12 fish out of the water a month.

Between just the 90 people interviewed, this makes around 10,000 fish a year.

Far from trying to stop the consumption of the gaspar, Protti is talking about reintroducing the fish, which has a reputation for its tasty meat, as a dish in other parts of the country, such as the Central Valley. In turn, it is hoped this will stimulate a commercial industry that relies on the sustainable farming of the fish.

“The gaspar is a valuable cultural resource, and we want to help people to guard this resource by having their own breeding programs to make up for the ones that are and have been taken out of the river,” said Protti. “We need to encourage people to make artesannias from the fish, as it
pez gaspar or gar
Photo by Victor Barrantes of Universidad Nacional
Maurizio Protti takes a pez gaspar from the Caño Negro in this file photo taken at the start of the project in 2003. The goal was to tag the fish to learn more about behavior.

will certainly increase the commercial value. An average sized Gaspar would fetch around 1,000 colones ($2) if sold for meat, but if you descale it first, you can use the scales in necklaces, earring, bracelets, which tourists will pay more than 2,500 colons ($5) for. Each object only needs about 10 scales, and the fish has hundreds, so you can make dozens of pieces of jewelery and a lot more money.”

There are certain rules to the fishing of the gaspar, such as that creatures of less than 48 centimeters in length must not be removed from the rivers, as they have not yet reached the size at which they will start breeding. In full maturity, males can reach 93 cm (about 37 inches) and females 131 cm (about 52 inches). Eating them would prevent large amounts of gaspars from completing their reproductive function. But, Protti says, illegal fishing is still very much in existence.

Agriculture and construction that produces a lot of sediment, which is then washed into the rivers, has also contributed to the reduction of the fish in the Río Frio.

Currently, the scientists have 33 fish in the acclimatization process in their tanks at two research stations —  Estación Acuícola Los Diamantes, Guápiles, and the Estación Biológica 28 Millas de la Universidad Nacional, located in Limón province.

Gabriel Márquez Couturier, a biologist from the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco, Mexico, will help start the trials off by giving a week-long course to university students starting May 12 in which he will impart his own specialized knowledge of facilitated reproduction technology, gained over 22 years of experience. The fish's ovulation period stretches from May to October, and during this time the captive fish will have ovulation hormonally induced.

It is hoped that at least 50,000 eggs will be taken through to the incubation process, and it is expected that at least 500 of these will make it through to a juvenile stage with a weight of at least 500 grams.

Government seeks to create an integrated plan to avoid a food crisis here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government wants to increase the amount of food that is raised in Costa Rica. That is the essence of an integrated plan to avoid a food crisis that the government announced Wednesday.

Of the rice consumed in the country, Costa Rica only grows 48 percent, the government said. Of white corn and beans the country only grows about 25 percent of domestic needs.

The government said it would like to see Costa Rican producers provide 80 percent of the rice and 70 percent of white corn and beans to reduce dependence on foreign sources.

The government is expected to make public a detailed proposal today. Included is supposed to be a strategy with short-, medium- and long-term goals.
The world is experiencing a big jump in the price of basic foods because of the increase in the price of petroleum and higher demand by developing countries.

Javier Flores. minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, said that an integrated plan would include a 7 billion colon investment in research in seeds and storage improvements. That's about $14.25 million.

Another part of the plan would be to improve rural gravel roads so farmers could bring their crops to market easier.

Costa Rica has put a significant amount of the country into parks and reserves where food production is prohibited.

Much of the agriculture is mono culture for export. Imports of basic food products have been restricted, and rice farmers have even staged blockades in the past to keep foreign grain from entering the country.

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Foes of marina in Puerto Viejo consider their legal options
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

No decisions were taken at Tuesday's public meeting that gave Puerto Viejo's residents a better idea of their legal position regarding the plans for a luxury marina on their doorstep.

The 20 attendees who are concerned about the effects the Marina Ecológica New World would have on the surrounding environment, listened to the ideas of Ruth Solano, a specialist in environmental law from Justicia para la Naturaleza.

They have taken the information away to discuss with other members of the Caribbean town community before letting Ms. Solano know their next step.
“I also need to become more familiar with the documents on the marina, which I have now been given, and analyze the position the community is in,” said Ms. Solano. “So far, I cannot give a proper criticism on the project.”

Ms. Solano said that she was invited to the town with a view to her becoming the legal representative in the fight against the marina. She has been involved in the community's politics before, as represented the resistance to oil exploration in the area.

Although no firm steps forward were achieved, Ms. Solano said she is expecting a phone call from the meeting's attendees within the next two weeks. “The position of the community is still certainly one of fight against the marina,” she added.

U.S. sees Colombia and radical leftists as terror sources
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States says regionally based terrorist organizations in Colombia and remnants of radical leftist Andean groups are the primary perpetrators of terrorist acts in the Western Hemisphere.

The State Department report on terrorism said pockets of ideological sympathizers in South America and the Caribbean lent financial and moral support to terrorist groups in the Middle East last year.

The report said Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia exemplified a trend of growing links involving terrorist activities and drug trafficking.

It also noted that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias  raises about $60 million annually from drug trafficking and that there is growing evidence of a human trafficking network being employed to facilitate terrorist movement, particularly into Iraq. But the report said Colombia's government continued to expand its role as the regional leader in counterterrorism.
Costa Rica has become aware in the last two months of significant contact by persons here with the Colombian terrorists. In addition, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela have welcomed Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chávez has visited Iran.

Iranian efforts to solidify ties with Venezuela, Bolivia and other leftist governments in Latin America have sparked increasing concern in the United States.  The growing Iranian ties reflect shared political and economic goals and anti-American sentiment, according to observers.

The report noted that last year, Venezuela was re-certified as "not cooperating" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez persisted in criticizing those efforts. It said Chávez deepened Venezuelan relationships with Iran and Cuba, which are listed as state sponsors of terrorism.

The State Department said Cuba remains opposed to U.S. counterterrorism policy and allows 70 American fugitives to live on the island legally, refusing most requests for their return. 

Most wanted drug lord killed in raid in northern Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Colombian government says police killed one of the country's most wanted drug lords in a shootout Tuesday.
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday that Victor Manuel Mejia was killed at a farmhouse in the northern state of Antioquia, along with two of his men.

Victor Manuel Meija ran one of Colombia's biggest drug trafficking rings along with his brother, Miguel Angel Meija. "The Twins," as they were dubbed, ran illegal drugs  to the United States via Mexico. The United States
had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of each man.

Authorities initially believed Miguel Angel Meija was killed in Tuesday's raid. Colombia's Carocoal Radio says Victor Manuel Meija was carrying identity documents belonging to his brother. Three of Mejia's men were arrested in the raid.

The brothers were members of right-wing paramilitary groups which demobilized several years ago as part of a peace deal with the government. But the men went on the run instead of turning themselves in.

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Big drop reported in recalls
of Chinese painted toys

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says the number of recalls of Chinese-made toys containing dangerous lead paint is on the decline as a result of an agreement with China last year. But the acting chairman of the agency is asking Congress to boost efforts to certify the safety of products made overseas before they are shipped to the United States.

The acting chairman of the commission, Nancy Nord, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday that an agreement reached with China last September to eliminate the use of lead paint on Chinese-made toys exported to the United States has been effective.

Ms. Nord says there has been a number of recalls of Chinese made toys this year, but they were for items manufactured before the agreement.

The use of lead paint on toys sold in the United States has been banned since 1978. Lead can be fatal if ingested.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, remains skeptical about Chinese compliance with the agreement. He says 70 percent of all defective imports come from China.

Ms. Nord is asking Congress to establish certification authority to approve the safety of products made overseas before they are shipped to the United States.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is asking Congress for $80 million — the same amount it received last year — to hire more inspectors and purchase new screening technology.

13 countries lead the list
of unsolved media murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Committee to Protect Journalists says governments in South Asia are among the worst in the world at prosecuting the killers of journalists.

In a new Impunity Index that covers unsolved murders over the past nine years, six of the 13 countries that have consistently failed to solve these cases are in South Asia.
Six South Asian countries made the list, accounting for 41 of the 199 unsolved murders. They are Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Predictably, the three countries with the worst record for pursuing reporters' killers are Iraq, Somalia and Sierra Leone — all countries that have suffered from serious conflict. But what is shocking, the committee said, is that nine of the countries listed are democracies — including Russia, Mexico and India.

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