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(506) 223-1327                         Published  Friday, May 4, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 88                  E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Blackouts end as two new power plants go online
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(4:30 p.m. Friday)
As expected, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said today, Friday, that rolling blackouts no long would be imposed on the Costa Rican population.

In an afternoon press release, the electrical monopoly said that that the reservoir serving the Cachí hydro power station has risen and that the plant can operate with a margin of security. Theplantis one of 17 in the country.

The instituto also said that the rainy season is arriving and that forecasts are for more rain soon. River levels also have risen, said the institute.

Blackouts for Friday afternoon were canceled. The politically controversial blackouts started with an unplanned nationwide outage April 19. The institute announcement about rainfall does not seem to be consistent with reports from weather monitoring stations.

(Earlier story below)

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The electrical power situation continued to be confusing Thursday.

First Casa Presidencial announced that two new hydro plants would be inaugurated over the weekend. Then the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said it would suspend power outages planned from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Fuerza y Luz said that the blackouts were not needed because the rivers that feed the various hydro power generating plants had recuperated their supply of water.

The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional reported minimal rainfall Wednesday and Thursday. The greatest amount, some 21.2 mms. (.83 inches) fell in Pavas and not in the headwaters or any river with a generating station.  Other weather stations reported little or no rain, except the Barrio Aranjuez station in San José that measured  8.7 mms. (about .34 of an inch) during the early evening of Thursday after the Fuerza y Luz announcement was made.

The Cachí and Arenal reservoir were just at 25 percent, power company employees said. Officials have blamed low water for making power outages a necessity.
Casa Presidencial said that  Pedro Pablo Quirós, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, would have an important announcement about power rationing when he joins President Óscar Arias Sánchez in inaugurating the Planta Hidroeléctrica Cariblanco today.

The $170 million Cariblanco plant, on the Río Sarapiquí  near Cinchona and  Cariblanco, can produce up to 82 megawatts, according to the company. So it is likely that Quirós will announce
the end of rationing for this season. That amount of wattage is about 40 percent of what  the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it lacks at peak usage periods.

Politicians and the utilities companies have been under extreme pressure from the commercial sector which says it is losing millions a day due to the power outages.  Opponents of the administration also are claiming the outages are a conspiracy to get the Costa Rican public to support the free trade treaty with the United States or more private power generating facilities or construction of more megaprojects that have been under environmental attack.

Saturday Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother and minister of the Presidencia, will help inaugurate the Planta Hidroeléctrica Los Negros, which is located near Guayabo de Bagaces, Upala. This is a smaller plant with a 17 megawatt output.

The plant takes advantage of the rivers Negro, Caño Negro, Frijoles and Raudales in the district of Agaus Claras in the Canton of Upala in Alajuela. In February 2003 the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia entered into a cooperative agreement with the investment firm Nerja S.A. for the planning, design, financing and construction of the project. 

It is $22 million job, and the Heredia utility company signed an agreement in 2004 with the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica for credit.

The outages planned for today may or may not take place. Both Fuerza y Luz and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad have been inconsistent in shutting off the power at announced times.

The Arias administration passed a decree to purchase $150 milllion in new off-the-shelf oil fired generating plants with little or no mention of the new hydro planst coming online.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 88

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teacher protest
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Some of the 500 teachers protesting in the downtown Thursday.

Salary, class size and jobs
cause teachers to march

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Secondary school teachers were protesting Thursday for a better system of getting their salary, smaller classes and permanent appointments to classroom posts.

The protest was set up by  Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, but many secondary schools continued operating because not all the teachers participated.

In downtown San José some 500 teachers gathered near a Ministerio de Educación Pública building. Elsewhere in the country there were other protests.

Teachers want permanent appointments and an end to temporary assignments. A chronic problem in Costa Rica is the system that delivers the teachers their salaries. In other years teachers have gone months without getting paid. Now some teachers are complaining about two and three month delays. The problems appear to be technical and linked to inadequate collection of information and computer systems.

Secondary teachers face the additional problem of dropouts, so sometimes more students than the optimum 30 are placed in each class.

Zarcero to have fair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agricultural community of Zarcero is hosting its Exposición Agrícola Turística 2007  Saturday and Sunday. Most of the events will be in the Parque de Zarcero.

The weekend begins with the  entry of the farmers and a parade of ox carts at 11 a.m. Saturday followed by musical groups, a Roman Catholic Mass and a production of “Romeo y Julieta” by the Compañía Nacional de Danza at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday is similar with a full day of musical groups as well as the expositions of the agricultural products, typical food, flowers and tourist information.

Zarcero is in Alajuela province on highway 14 north of Grecia and Sarchí.

Fleeing suspects collared

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men with guns stuck up a supermarket in Fátima de Cartago and fled on a motorcycle, but Fuerza Pública officers chased them to Tres Ríos where one officer was able to get his patrol car in front of the fleeing suspects.

Injured in the ensuing collision were men identified by the last names and ages of  Badilla Morera, 23, and Hernández Chavarría, 21. They were in Hospital Calderón Guardia Thursday night. Police recovered a revolver and a pistol.

Tamarindo association to meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Asociacion pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo meets today at 4 p.m. at Pasatiempo, and the group plants to share the results of a new environmental study and discuss security and the zoning plan for the town.

The association also is concerned by inadequate sewerage in the community. The increase in the number of condos and high rises means an increase in sewage, said the organization. The group hopes to build a treatment plant for the community.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 88

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Election tribunal opts for early date for free trade referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration won big Thursday when the  Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones rejected a mechanism pushed by free trade opponents to collect 130,000 signatures to authorize a referendum.

The tribunal also rejected a number of requests from opponents, including one by the Partido Acción Ciudadana that the Sala IV constitutional court first review the treaty.

The tribunal instead chose to set up the referendum by means of a request  made by the executive branch and approval by the legislature. The idea to take nine months to collect 130,000 signatures was seen as a delaying tactic conceived by free trade treaty opponents. The ballot quesiton is the same.

The situation developed April 12 when the tribunal unexpectedly authorized José Miguel Corrales, an ex-lawmaker and treaty opponent, to collect signatures for a referendum on the controversial treaty. The tribunal also froze legislative approval of the treaty. A day later President Oscar Arias Sánchez, using another section of the referendum law, said he would issue a decree calling for the referendum and ask the Asamblea Legislative to approve it.
The tribunal is now expected to set a firm date for the referendum. It will be on a Sunday in either August or September.

The tribunal also did not order legislators to stop work on the so-called complementary agenda, a set of a dozen laws that brings the country into conformity with the treaty. The Arias administration still has a legislative coalition of 38, enough to approve treaty issues by a two-thirds majority.

Both Arias and his brother, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, greeted the  tribunal decision favorably in prepared statements put out by Casa Presidencial. However Rodrigo Arias said that opponents have launched a movement to discourage citizens from voting on the treaty. Depending on a future tribunal ruling either 30 or 40 percent of the electorate must vote for the referendum to be valid.

Opponents had argued unsuccessfully before the tribunal that a lengthy campaign to gather signatures would general a national dialog on the treaty. Alfredo Volio, the former minister of Producción, has left his post to head a pro-treaty campaign. A story Thursday said that Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and other Latin socialist leaders are giving aid to treaty opponents.

The first three days of the assisted-living experiment
Tuesday was moving day.  With the help of three masochistic friends, two strong movers a small truck and an SUV, we managed to bring most of the things I need to my new digs at the Residencia José Pujo Martí in Ribera de Belén. My disorganized approach to moving (after about 59 moves in my life) can drive my dearest friends to thoughts of murder.

My apartment is small but ample, and right now rather cluttered because I have not found a home for everything. My biggest challenge will be the bathroom, which is very small and where there is practically no storage.  I do not understand how anyone can install a sink without a cabinet.  The shower was a pleasant surprise.  In my apartment the hot water is scalding, and it takes time to adjust properly.  The hot water here is just warm – no danger of anyone scalding herself.  I have been told that warm showers, even cold ones, are healthier.

My first morning, shortly after 7, and after making myself a pot of espresso, I took a walk along the walkways here and then through the grounds of the country club that is attached to the residencia and to which all of the residents have access. The country club, which contains two pools, a sauna, a jacuzzi, tennis and squash courts, ping pong and pool, and a restaurant and bar, to list a few of the amenities, seemed huge to me the first time I visited it.  Now my walk entirely around it took less than 15 minutes.  My walks in the city were where I often composed my column for the week.  As I traveled the peaceful, quiet walkways this morning my mind was quite blank – I like to think I was meditating. 

My first morning was busy.  Dixie, the nurse, came to take my blood pressure and explain the rules and tramites.  Karen stopped by to ask if I wanted breakfast in my apartment or in the dining room and what would I like? (Scrambled eggs, well-done toast, corn flakes and orange juice in my apartment.)  My laundry, I was told, would be picked up in the morning and delivered in the afternoon.  But this morning Dixie took me to the laundry area to meet the laundress and learn that they actually dry clothes on a line in the sunshine, which made me very happy.

 I will have to get used to informing both the nurse and the front office when I leave.  And to inform the kitchen if I will  not be here for meals and whether they should
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

save them for me.  No one should go hungry here since besides the three meals a day, there is a morning snack, an afternoon snack and a snack after dinner.  I seldom eat after my midday meal, but my first night I was brought a tray with fried chicken breast, rice, french fries and black bean soup with a hard-boiled egg and two large chunks of plantain in it.

I made a gallant effort to eat but failed.  I explained that I preferred fruits and vegetables.  I have a feeling I will be buying and preparing my own fruits and vegetables.  Down the hill, less than a half kilometer, is a shopping mall with a supermarket.  However, the president of the organization was visiting and told me that all I had to do was make a list of the foods that I liked and those I didn’t and give it to the cook.

Usually there are trade-offs to the choices one makes in life.  Perhaps life itself is a trade-off.  No more car alarms or the beeping of big trucks backing up, or the sound of construction like cement mixers. Instead there are people talking in the walkway and other people’s TVs and radios (fortunately the one nearby plays jazz), or visiting staff who come to clean, pick up dishes from my last meal, or check my blood pressure.

But I still have not settled in completely.  I have appointments and socials to attend elsewhere that preoccupy me.  I see the other residents in the recreation room playing games or listening to a talk, but I am not yet a part of it.  I have yet to visit the exercise room or the dining room.

But I have, after all, been here less than three days.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 88

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Chávez threatens to oust U.S. oil company that balks at deal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela has threatened to eject U.S.-based oil giant ConocoPhillips from the country if it continues to resist the government's takeover of its multi-billion-dollar operations.

Tuesday Venezuela took control of four oil projects along the Orinoco River from their foreign operators. ConocoPhillips was the only company that refused to sign an accord recognizing the takeover.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez Thursday told state television that any company that does not accept the new terms will have to leave.

The government is taking a 60-percent stake in the Orinoco Belt projects. The companies have been given until June 26 to renegotiate the terms of their involvement in the projects.

In the United States, John Negroponte, U.S. deputy secretary of State, said Wednesday the populist economic

'Night of Iguanas' is next play

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group will include a preview of its upcoming production “The Night of the Iguana” when the organization meets for an open house Monday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the  Blanche Brown Theatre, Bello Horizonte, Escazú. Information is available at  355-1623 or at the group's Web site. The play opens for general audiences May 25 for three weekends.

Two homes hit in Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two armed men forced their way into a home in  Guachipelín de Escazú shortly after noon Thursday, held a gardener, Oscar Camacho, at gunpoint, took his money and stole a vacuum cleaner from the home, owned by a woman identified as Xinia Peralta, said the Fuerza Pública.
Earlier police learned of a burglary at a home in  Trejos Montealegre de Escazú that took place about 7:20. No one was home during that incident but two vehicles, including a Hummer, are missing, as well as a safe, they said.
policies of Chávez are not sustainable and eventually will fail. Negroponte begins a four-nation Latin American trip next week.

Negroponte will visit Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama on a five-day mission likely to be at least partly devoted to seeking a joint approach to the latest moves by the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez in recent days has increased verbal attacks on the Bush administration and its friends in the hemisphere and taken steps to cut ties with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In State Department remarks Wednesday to the Council of
the Americas, a business group aimed at promoting regional trade, Negroponte said the targets of  rhetoric by Chávez should not, as he put it, "rise to the bait" but rather respond in a careful and measured way.

He said the United States should try to develop a common approach with other regional democracies on the situation in Venezuela, which he suggested is heading for serious difficulties because of its policies.

"The government and people of Venezuela are going to find that the policies that Mr. Chavez is expending his monies on are simply not going to be sustainable," he said. "I don't see how you can go on promising literally billions of dollars of aid to other countries while you have blatant poverty in your own country, while at the same time you're running down if you will, degrading, the wealth-producing portions of your economy which I believe he's doing. So sooner or later, these policies will fail."

Negroponte's trip will be his first to Latin America since he assumed the No. 2 State Department job in February after serving in the cabinet-level post of national intelligence director.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make her own trip to the area in the coming weeks, and in June she will host a conference of Caribbean leaders.

Negroponte said a key aim of his trip next week will be to promote proposed free-trade agreements between the United States and Colombia, Panama and Peru.

He said U.S. trade with the three countries has nearly doubled over the last four years to an annual combined volume of nearly $30 billion.

110 million-year-old lobster traveled with continental to Africa, scientists say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mexican scientists say they have determined that a lobster fossil uncovered in southern Mexico is at least 110 million years old.

Geologists from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México said the lobster fossil is the oldest found anywhere in the world. They dug up the fossil in Mexico's Chiapas
state in 1995, and spent a decade establishing its age. The scientists say the lobster found in Chiapas also is the first of its kind to be found in the Americas, and belongs to the same species as lobsters in Africa.

They say it is likely that the species, Palinurus Palaceosi, originated in Latin America when the continent was physically close to Africa. Scientists believe the two continents split apart around 120 million years ago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 4, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 88

Red Bull photo/Alfredo Bocanegra
Driver Adrian Zaugg takes the Formula 1 Red Bull racing car on a showrun in Panama at Panama City's causeway, at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal  earlier this week.

Formula 1 car will be heard Sunday alongside La Sabana
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A formula 1 racing car will show its muscle on the Autopista Próspero Fernández Sunday as a promotion for the nation's seatbelt campaign.

Adrian Zaugg, 19, of South Africa, a member of the Red Bull junior team, met with newspeople Thursday along with Roy Rojas, director of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial.

Even since the mandatory seatbelt law went into effect in 2003, officials have been seeking various promotion methods to raise public awareness.
Zaugg is a driver for Formula Renault in Europe, and he will be at the wheel. In addition, the Red Bull team members will pick Sunday the Costa Rican woman who will join them for at trip to cheer on the team at the the Grand Prix de Monaco, which will be held May 23.

The Formula 1 vehicle will be on the highway for a 10 a.m. run from the Gimnasio Nacional west the length of Parque la Sabana. A second run will take place at 10:40 a.m. The distance is 1.5 km. or a bit less than a mile. Formula 1 vehicles are not quiet nor are the economical. The V-8 engine will burn about a liter of fuel over two kilometers.

Red Bull is the popular non-alcoholic energy drink.

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