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(506) 223-1327      Published May 4, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 88         E-mail us    
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center complex
that everyone

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Cultural flap shapes up to be first Arias crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The battle over the nation's cultural center is shaping up to be the first big challenge of the Arias presidency. And now a long-time foe, the public employees union, has joined the fray.

President-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez wants to swap the current Casa Presidencial in Zapote with the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, which is between avenidas 3 and 7 just east of Parque España.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados issued a statement Wednesday backing employees of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Desportes. The union said the cultural center should stay where it is.

The union has long opposed Arias and went so far to say in the presidential campaign that it would not even recognize him as president if he won.

Those who oppose the plan want to demonstrate Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the adjacent Parque España. They plan to dress in white and bring musical instruments.
In addition, they plan a march to the Estadio
 Nacional in Sabana Oeste Monday at the time of the inauguration of Arias, they said.

Workers at the ministry are members of the employees union. The union has opposed a free trade treaty with the United States because it fears some of its members in other state agencies will lose their jobs. Arias favors the treaty.

The same fear of job loss is within the current cultural protest, although it is not stated explicitly. Employees feel there may be cultural cutbacks associated with the move to new quarters.

Arias has appointed a commission to study the issue. Another possible site for the cultural ministry is the so-called Aduana Central, the long brick building on Calle 23. The cultural ministry has taken over that structure and has begun remodeling it for acting and dance workshops.

The employees union statement said that the aduana building was not suitable as a ministry.

Arias is said to want the cultural complex for presidential offices because it is near other major government buildings in the city.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 4, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 88

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5,000 are being evicted
from land in Alajuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers are evicting some 5,000 persons from 11 hectares (about 27 acres) in the Los Pinos sector of the Provincia de Alajuela.

The land belongs to the Urbanización Santa California, which is owned by a private bank.

The squatters moved onto the land in 2002, and legal action began that year to remove them. A recent Sala IV decision empowered police to remove them physically. About 1,000 families are involved.

The squatter's village or precario is known as La Candela, and it is near Juan Santamaría airport.

Rigoberto Rodríguez, the regional director of the Fuerza Pública in Alajuela, said about 90 percent of the residents are foreigners. These mostly are Nicaraguans. He said the evictions would be made in three steps, the first of which began Wednesday.

Those who are being displaced are eligible for three months of government aid to allow them to rent quarters elsewhere.

The residents of the precario have demonstrated in the past in an effort to keep their land. They found some support among members of the central government, but the Sala IV ruled against them.

Land invasions are frequent in Costa Rica. Land owners have a long legal battle to remove squatters after the first three months. When the land belongs to the government, politics sometimes reqires officials to look the other way and let the squatters keep the land.

Banana experts worry
about narrow gene pool

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

More than 3,300 years after Alexander the Great ate a banana in India, liked it and introduced it to the wider world, the U. N. Food and Agriculture Organization  voiced concern Wednesday at the shrinking number of wild bananas in their original home, with the consequent loss of gene sources needed to combat pests and disease in the fruit.        

The agency called for a systematic exploration of the wild bananas’ remaining forest habitats in India’s remotest regions and the jungles of Southeast Asia to catalogue surviving species. Also urged were conservation efforts to offset loss of the species’ natural habitat and research on expanding the use of wild bananas in breeding programs.       

India is the world’s biggest banana grower, with an annual production of 16.8 million tons, or over 20 percent of total world output of 72.6 million tons in 2005. Bananas are the world’s most exported fruit and fourth most important food commodity after rice, wheat and maize in terms of production value.         

Overexploitation and the loss of forests as a result of encroachment and logging, slash-and-burn cultivation and urbanization are causing a rapid loss of wild banana species that have existed in India for thousands of years. Among them are the ancestors of the Cavendish variety, the large, pulpy dessert banana which currently accounts for virtually all of world trade, amounting to nearly 20 million tons a year.       

“The Indian subcontinent has made an enormous contribution to the global genetic base of bananas,” said NeBambi Lutaladio, agricultural officer at the agency. “But due to ecosystem destruction, it is probable that many valuable gene sources have now been lost. That could cause serious problems because bananas, particularly commercial varieties, have a narrow genetic pool and are highly vulnerable to pests and diseases.”       

In the 1950s, the then-dominant commercial banana, Gros Michel, was destroyed by Panama disease. Cavendish, which resisted the disease, was introduced then. But Lutaladio pointed out that small-scale farmers around the world grow a wide range of bananas that are not threatened by diseases currently threatening commercial bananas.        

It was Alexander’s delectable dessert in 327 B.C. during his invasion of India that led to the fruit’s widespread migration. From India it travelled to the Middle East, where it acquired its current name from the Arabic banan, or finger, and from there Arab traders took it to Africa, where the Portuguese transported it to the Caribbean and Latin America.       

India’s lost bananas include a variety which conferred genetic resistance to the dreaded black Sigatoka fungus disease that devastated plantations in the Amazon and elsewhere. Only one clone of the species, whose scientific name is Musa Acuminata spp Burmannicoides, remains at the Indian Botanic Gardens in Calcutta.

U.S. delegation is tiny
by 2002 standards

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. President George Bush has designated his wife, Laura, to lead the U.S. delegation to the Monday presidential inauguration here, the White House said Tuesday. The delegation is a tiny one, consisting only of one other person, Mark Langdale, the U.S. ambassador here.

The U.S. Embassy in San José confirmed Wednesday that only two persons would represent the United States.

In contrast, when Abel Pacheco was inaugurated in 2002, Bush sent a cabinet-level representative, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, and designated then-U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich as a member of the delegation.

Otto Reich, assistant secretary for hemispheric affairs, also attended, as did four other persons, including Langdale, who was a businessman in Texas then.

Despite the small size of the official U.S. delegation, some U.S. congressmen are in town and will be hosted by Arias at a private dinner Friday.       

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 4, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 88

Got a gripe? Take it to the Sala IV constitutional court!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don't tell a Costa Rican to "not make a federal case about it," because that is exactly what they do when there is no other recourse to solve a problem.

Thanks to the creation in 1989 of the Sala IV constitutional court, anyone with a gripe can file a constitutional case.

Don't like the new passenger train service waking you up with its incessant whistle every morning? File what is known as a  recurso de amparo or request for help.

Think that a credit reporting agency has been distributing false information about you? File an action!

Want to spend time at home with your terminally ill child but the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social won't pay for your leave? Ditto!

Unlike the high constitutional courts in other countries, anyone in Costa Rica can appeal directly to the magistrates. The court has received some 13,500 cases each year for the last three years.  In one day the magistrates may get up to 100 new petitions and have nearly 300 votes on various items.

While habeas corpus cases and actions centered on unconstitutionality are few, the recursos de amparo have skyrocketed.

Most of these cases are by citizens against government agencies, although one government agency may seek a decision against another.

For example, the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural del Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes just won a case against the Municipalidad de Cartago. The conservation and heritage commission got upset when the Cartago municipal council authorized the construction of a kiosk in the city's Plaza Mayor. The site was adjacent to the Ruinas de Cartago, a heritage site where the main Cartago church was destroyed in the 1910 earthquake. The ministry is restoring the ruins.
The Sala IV ordered the municipality to halt work on the multi-use structure because it did not have permission of the culture ministry.

In the same session, the magistrates ordered the  Colegio de Farmacéuticos to return confidential e-mails and letters to a discharged employee who had been denied access to a computer where the electronic documents were located.

And it ordered Teletec, S. A. to exclude from its data base certain information a citizen said was untrue.

The court also told officials at the Hospital Escalante Pradilla in San Isidro to schedule a gynecological operation for a patient who has been rescheduled continually since 2003.

The Sala IV gives citizens direct access to the court system. This is where the lawyers for Oswaldo Villalobos went when they thought his fraud and money laundering trial was being put off. He is one of the Villalobos Brothers who ran an investment scheme here until it folded in October 2002. The high court complied and ordered judicial officials to set a trial date.

Last year the Abel Pacheco administration lost a case before the court, and the magistrates told the central government to turn over all the fuel tax money to the public works minister to fix the roads. The law stipulates where the money goes, but the Pacheco administration was diverting the funds to other projects. The central government has yet to comply.

Expats also use the court. One filed a request for help when he was detained by immigration agents who found out his residency documents were fake and threatened to deport him. The expat said he was unaware that his documents were phony and sought time to make his status here legal. The case still is pending.

Expats who read Spanish can get a good look into how institutions work here simply by reading the filings and the decisions of the Sala IV. All is available on line HERE!

Residential power will increase by 15 percent for metro area users
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agency that regulates utilities has approved a 15 percent increase for the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the electrical provider for much of the metropolitan area.

Much of the rate hike is a pass-through because the company buys its electricity from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.
The action was taken by the Authoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, and the increase was published Wednesday in the official newspaper, La Gaceta.

The increase covers residential service, the bulk of the company's 449,634 customers. A homeowner who paid 10,207 colons for 300 kilowatt hours of power will page 11,630 under the new rate, said the agency. That's an increase of about 1,523 colons or about $3.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 4, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 88

Bolivia's impact on oil and gas supplies called modest
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

European and other South American nations have expressed concern over the declaration by Bolivia's President Evo Morales that his government will nationalize the country's energy resources.

Morales made good on an election promise by announcing Monday his government is nationalizing the country's oil and gas reserves.

"The property of this oil and natural gas passes from this moment into the hands of the state of Bolivia under the control of the Bolivian people," said Morales.

Analyst David Wyss of Standard & Poors, a U.S. firm that analyzes market risk, said he believes Bolivia's decision will likely not have a severe impact.

"Well, it will not have any big impact in the short run because Bolivia just does not have that much of an oil and natural gas industry, so this is a relatively minor issue from the international energy market standpoint."

Under the decree, private energy concerns operating in Bolivia have been ordered to sell controlling stakes in their companies to the Bolivian government, and renegotiate existing royalty payments.

In a speech, Morales said, "This is the solution to the social and economic problems of our country. Once we have recovered these natural resources, this will generate work. It is the end of the looting of our natural resources by multi-national oil companies."

Throngs of Bolivians celebrated the announcement in La Paz, the capital, Monday. But private gas
 companies, which have investment interests of about $3.5 billion in the country, have expressed concern about the move. Major international firms, such as British Gas, British Petroleum, and Exxon say they are monitoring the situation.

Guilherme Estrella is director of exploration for Petrobras, the Brazilian national energy company. "There is no panic. We are not afraid to initiate a conversation with the Bolivian Government. There is no problem," he said.

Energy companies have six months to negotiate new contracts with the government. During that time, the Bolivian government says it will conduct audits of each company. Meanwhile, the government announced soldiers and engineers have been sent to strategic energy locations across Bolivia.

"From this moment, they will take control of all the oil fields in the country with engineering battalions that the Ministry of Hydrocarbons has organized with the government," said the Bolivian president.

Bolivia is the latest Latin American country to try to gain more control over its oil and gas industries. Venezuela has increased taxes on foreign energy companies, and made them enter joint ventures with the state.

Ecuador now has a law that allows the government to renegotiate contracts with oil companies.

And in Peru, one of the presidential candidates has promised to nationalize its natural gas industry.

Bolivia is believed to hold the second largest stock of natural gas on the South American continent. It's oil holdings, however, are more modest.

Close to a billion computers are interconnected, Intel's CEO reports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

AUSTIN, Texas — The multiplying effects of computers, the Internet and education can double the reach of technology’s benefits worldwide in the next five years, Paul Otellini, Intel Corp. president and chief executive officer told the World Congress on Information Technology here Wednesday.

“We’re close to achieving Andy Grove’s vision of a billion connected PCs — and the economic, social and personal gains that come with them,” said Otellini, referring to the Intel co-founder and former CEO. “Our job now is to harness the combined potential of full-featured technology, high-speed connectivity and effective education to speed the gains for the next billion people — and the next billion after that.”

At the event in Austin, Otellini also gave the first public demonstration of a low-cost notebook PC for students in developing nations and announced a plan with the Mexican government to provide PCs to 300,000 teachers.

In his speech, Otellini said that the predictions by Grove and of another co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, form a backdrop for the new World Ahead Program from Intel. The program’s five-year goals are to extend wireless broadband PC access to the world’s next billion users while training 10 million more teachers on the effective use of technology in education, with the possibility of reaching 1 billion more students.

“Moore’s Law and volume economics made PC technology broadly accessible, and Andy understood the tremendous additive force of the Internet,” said Otellini.

“But this power is still out of reach for most of the world’s people. The World Ahead Program, which integrates Intel’s efforts in accessibility, connectivity and education, seeks a multiplier effect to accelerate the next wave of gains.”
Moore predicted in 1965 that the complexity of a basic electronic circuit would double every 24 months, providing more computer power.

Otellini demonstrated one of the PCs developed from Intel’s extensive ethnographic research in developing countries, a small notebook PC for students codenamed “Eduwise.”  Eduwise is specifically designed to provide affordable, collaborative learning environments for teachers and young students.

With students using the Eduwise notebook in class, a teacher can make presentations, control what a student has access to, and interact individually with each student in giving tests or providing feedback. The Intel-developed education application integrates with other non-computing learning tasks such as note taking and handwriting with wireless pen attachments. Because it is a fully featured PC, the Eduwise design can accommodate other standard software and tools for additional needs and uses.

Otellini also announced that Intel and the Mexican government have reached an agreement to make Intel’s new low-cost, fully featured PC available to 300,000 teachers by year’s end.  The systems, unveiled last month in Mexico by Otellini as part of Intel’s Discover the PC initiative, provide an easy-to-use, fully functional PC for first-time users. Intel also plans to extend teacher training to 400,000 teachers in Mexico through the Intel Teach to the Future program by 2010.

“The federal government of Mexico has made great progress in bringing computing into the primary and secondary school classrooms of our country,” said Mexican President Vicente Fox. “Now we can take a big step to effectively bring computing into the classroom by allowing teachers to immerse themselves in computing in their everyday lives. By collaborating with Intel we can provide low-cost, full-featured PCs and Internet access to 300,000 teachers who could not otherwise afford it.”

Costas Rica sends diplomatic note to Canada in immigration case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The foreign ministry has asked the government of Canada to explain why it held four Costa Rican school children as bait in two separate cases in order to capture their parents, who are illegal immigrants there.

The note from Marco Vinicio Vargas, acting foreign minister, went to Mario Laguë, the Canadian ambassador here.

Canadian immigration officials held two primary school children and two secondary school children at their educational institutions in anticipation that their parents would come to pick them up. This took place Friday in Toronto.

In the first case, immigration officials went to St. Jude School and detained Lisbeth Cerdas Araya, 7, and Hazel Cerdas Araya, 14, the foreign ministry said. The immigration officials wanted to detain their mother,
Denia Araya, who is an illegal immigrant. The three then went to a detention center to be set free later.

In the second case, Gerald Lizano Sossa, 14, and Kimberley Lizano Sossa, 15, were arrested as were their mother and grandparents Francisco Sossa and Doña Carmen Brenes at a school where the children were studying. The children and the grandparents were released the next day after a bond was posted.

The letter from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said that although Costa Rica respects Canada's stand on human rights, it is surprised by what happened Friday and hopes that the techniques used then are not typical because they have generated ill feelings in the government of Costa Rica, in the public opinion here and among Costa Ricans in Canada.

Canada has cracked down and requires visas for Costa Ricans to go to Canada because of a number of asylum requests and immigration violations.

Jo Stuart
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