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(506) 223-1327                Published Monday, May 7, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 89           E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Integrated effort ordered on Río Tárcoles pollution
Sala IV orders politicians to fix the sewer problem

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitution court has ordered 34 municipalities of the Central Valley to stop dumping sewage into the Río Grande de Tárcoles, to restore the watershed to its unpolluted condition and to adopt an integrated solution to the wastewater problem.

The sweeping decision came on a vote April 27 by the constitutional court magistrates, but the decision was not make known until Friday.

The case was brought by Reiner Obando Enriquez, a new regidor or councilman in Garabito. He is associated with the Partido Garabito Ecológico, a local political party.

The decision is directed at these Central Valley and coastal municipalities: Atenas, San Mateo, Orotina, Puriscal, Turrubares, Garabito, San Ramón, Palmares, Naranjo, Valverde Vega, Grecia, Alajuela, Mora, Poás, Barva, Santa Bárbara, Belén, Flores, San Rafael de Heredia, San Pablo de Heredia, Moravia, San Isidro de Heredia. Santo Domingo de Heredia, Vásquez de Coronado, Tibás, Montes de Oca, Curridabat, Alajuelita, Escazú, Santa Ana, Desamparados, La Unión de Tres Ríos, Cartago and San José.

The case has been in the courts since 2004. Obando told the magistrates in is filing that the emission of raw sewage into the river and the streams that feed it is causing a negative impact on the beaches of the Cantón of Garabito and great ecological damage that reduces and inhibits tourism development in the zone.

This deterioration affects the lives of those who live there and shows an attitude of negligence on the part of the institutions involved, he said. Every day hospital waste, industrial waste and raw sewage can be seen and this causes great ecological damage that injures the population and future generations, he added.

The Tárcoles is best known for its crocodiles who sun themselves on mud flats near the mouth of the river where it passes under the coastal highway north of Punta Leona. Tourists view the animals from the highway bridge.

In addition to the municipalities, the decision is directed at the Ministro de Ambiente y Energía, the Ministro de Salud, the Ministro de la Presidencia,
the manager of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados and the executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The decision once again brings to light what has been Costa Rica's dirty little secret. The country prides itself on being on the environmental forefront but most of the nation's sewage is untreated and flows eventually into either the Gulf of Nicoya, the Pacific or the Caribbean.

In addition, many sewer pipes are simply rusted out, and raw sewage flows over urban streets and sidewalks, especially when heavy rains come.

The country has negotiated a $135 million loan from the Japaneses government to refurbish the sewerage system of the greater San José area, but that is only a third of the cost. Officials of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados lobbied heavily for the loan, which had to be approved by the Asamblea Legislativa. There is no deadline yet on starting the job, but it is likely that part of the money from Japan will go to the engineering work.

The Sala IV decision seems to go beyond the work envisions with the project supported by the Japanese loan. Many of the municipalities cited are outside the zone that would see the sewerage work.

There has been no action in the legislature to earmark the remainder of the money that Costa Rica must pay although some could be tucked away within the complex national budget.

In addition to dumping raw sewage into the rivers, Obando's complaint said that 45 percent of the population does not even have sewers or effective treatment methods. This creates unhealthy conditions and contamination of the water sources. He blamed unplanned growth, deforestation, lack of understanding the impact of urban  use and lack of knowledge of the sewerage system. Septic systems are the standard in rural areas, although some property owners just channel their sewage into the nearest stream.

The integrated solution mandated by the Sala IV would require billions of dollars and certainly cost residents money. The decision set no deadlines other than the instruction to the political leadership to take steps immediately. Presumably the court will monitor compliance with the decision.

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New downtown hospital
will treat U.S. veterans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A firm that specializes in providing health care to U.S. military retirees here says it has made an agreement with a medical facility in San José to proving treatments at a discounted price.

The facility is Hospital Clinica Santa María, which has purchased the former Cruz Roja bulding on Avenida 8 and plans to expand it into a full-service, 65-bed hospital, said Jim Young of Veterans Care International S.A., who announced the agreement.

U.S. military retirees and veterans who have military insurance have had problems with other hospitals here due to payment disagreements with the U.S. government over fees. These institutions want veterans to pay for their service in full upfront and await reimbursement.

Young said that the new service will be available for any honorably discharged veteran. Anyone who gets services from the Tricare program and all of the disabled veterans who have service connected disabilities and are receving health care services from the U.S. Foreign Medical Program are welcome to the program, he said.

Insurance programs are different and complex for disabled veterans, military retirees and retirees who happened to serve in the military in their youth. Many veterans have been frustrated when they have been caught in the crossfire between the U.S. government and local hospitals over fees.

Young said that those with military service should tour the hospital and meet with the staff. The hospital maintains a Web page.

U.S. conservation grant
to reduce Costa Rican debt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States and Costa Rica will formalize an agreement today in which this country will get abut $12 million for forest conservation.

The payment will be in the form of debt relief authorized under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act.

The act, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, was enacted in 1998 to offer eligible developing countries options to relieve certain official debt owed the U.S. government while at the same time generating funds in local currency to support tropical forest conservation activities.

Most of the program grants have had a private dimension, and the one with Costa Rica is no different, Some $2.5 million is coming from private sources, incliuding Conservation International.

Costa Rica has yet to announce how and where it will apply the debt forgiveness.

Shhhhh! U.S. Embassy plans
auction of excess vehicles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don't tell anyone, but the U.S. Embassy is auctioning off motor vehicles and motorcycles.

Typically there has been no announcement, although the auction company Rematico  says it will be participating. However that firm's Web site carries no description of what might be offered.

If the auction firm is correct, the vehicles will be on display from just two hours, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday. The vehicles will be in the fenced parking lot across the Pavas bouevard from the main embassy building.

In the past, embassy workers have said they don't really care how much they get for the good they auction because the money goes into the general fund of the U.S. Treasury and is not earmarked for future use at the embassy.

The embassy has stopped its periodic auctions of furniture and other surplus items and consigned anything it no longer needs to Rematico.

Immigration escapee
begs pardon of police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía de Migración said a tear welled up in the eye of a detention center  escapee when he was tracked down Friday.

The man, identified by the last names of Asprilla Ibarguen, was one of three persons who excaped from the  Centro de Aseguramiento de Extranjeros en Tránsito in Hatillo Centro March 17.

 "I know I have committed an error and I ask your forgiveness, but my only intention was to reach the United States of America to have a better future," police said the man said upon arrest. They said he had  a tear in his eye and his voice cracked. He was caught in  Lourdes de Montes de Oca.

The man was a not considered dangerous, but he will be deported back to Colombia soon, police said.

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 7, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 89

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Arrow points to the overflow level of the Arenal Reservoir. The level Friday was where the boats are below, dozens of meters below the full line. This is an indication of the variation caused by the dry season. Locals have seen it lower.
Arenal overflow
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Power blackouts are gone but conspiracy theories continue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The blackouts may be over but the political fallout is not.

The Arias administration, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and even the unions at the monopoly are getting criticism from the public.

Some believe the administration engineered the blackouts to advance the cause of the free trade treaty with the United States, which would provide competition for the institute but not in power generation.

Some think the plot was by the institute itself because it was turned down for a 23 percent rate hike.

Others see the blackouts as a threat by the institute unions to defeat the free trade treaty.

The inconsistencies of the institute management has contributed to the public perception. First the country suffered an unplanned blackout April 19. That was blamed on a faulty power line in Guanacaste, an exploding transformer in Arenal or on some other technical aspect of power distribution.

Then April 20 the giant utility said that a deficit in power would force it to black out certain areas. In fact, over that weekend a number of communities experienced blackouts.

But Sunday, April 22, the company said that no more blackouts would have to take place.

Then the rate hike was rejected by the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos.

Two days later, the company came out with a list of rolling blackouts that hit every section of the country. This time the institute said that low water at certain dams cut the effectiveness of hydro power stations and blackouts would continue until the rains recharged the various reservoirs.

April 26 The Arias administration declared a state of emergency  so that the electrical monopoly could spend $150 million on new power plants to the ease the rolling blackouts. The plants would produce the 200 megawatts that represent the shortfall of generating capacity now.
Blackouts started the following Monday again but were halted for Tuesday, May 1, a public holiday.

Then Thursday, Casa Presidencial announced that two new hydro power plants would be going on line over the weekend. And presidential aids hinted as a big announcement by the institute's executive president.

Sure enough, Friday Pedro Pablo Quirós, the executive president, said that rain had recharged the waterways and no more blackouts would be needed this year. That was the topic of an A.M. Costa Rica update Friday afternoon. The downpours had escaped the notice of the monitoring stations of the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional.

During the power problems the private companies that produce hydro power and sell it to the institute, said they would like to increase their output from 9 percent of the national supply to 15 percent, a limit imposed by law.

The involvement of the Arias family in private power generation added grist to the conspiracy mill.

As it turned out, both the Los Negros hydro power generating plant and the  Planta Hidroeléctrica Cariblanco were inaugurated over the weekend. These projects were not discussed much when President Óscar Arias Sánchez was issuing the decree to purchase more oil-fired plants.

The Los Negros plant provided power for the  Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia, which also buys power from the institute.

Meanwhile at Arenal, the site of another major hydro power plant, Gabino Hidalgo Solis, a local guide, says the water level is low but not as low as he has seen it in the past. Typically, he said, Lake Arenal is about 60 meters deep, some 195 feet.

In 1991, 1996 and 1998 the levels were so low that a small path was left high and dry between the mainland and a small island there, he said. Friday that path was under about six meters or nearly 20 feet of water and the estimated lake depth was about 50 meters or about 163 feet.

Still, a massive overflow tower that keeps the lake from getting too high was itself far from the water level.

Boasts frequently mask hidden personal weaknesses
Dime de qué presumes y te diré de qué careces.

“Tell me of what you boast, and I'll tell you what you lack.” Some people seem to constantly need to be drawing attention to themselves rather than waiting until others can do it for them, so great is their need for recognition.
A woman that I know seems always to be asking me what this one or that one is saying about her. If I tell her something nice, with a satisfied smile she will invariably say something like, “Oh, they love me in that house.” I find this extremely annoying, and I often respond to her prying questions by saying that I do not know what these people think of her because she never comes up in our conversation, which answer always vexes her to no end.
Many politicians appear particularly afflicted with a perverse need for constant adulation. In their case I feel this often masks a deep-seated and extreme insecurity born of fear of being tossed out of office in the next election.

Of course dictators, who presumably don’t have to worry about winning elections, often surround themselves with legions of sycophants whose job it is to constantly remind the “great one” of how truly wonderful he is.

History has taught, however, that dictators also often
suffer sever mental anguish worrying about who may be plotting the next coup to topple them. In any case, the need for personal glorification just seems to be part of the political landscape no matter the form of government involved.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

It’s hard to say, sometimes, whether such behavior really is an attempt to hide deep insecurities or is nothing more than puffed-up pomposity. There are those, of course, who arrogantly pretend to know everything but in reality turn out to be rather foolish. Take the current water and electrical delima in Costa Rica, for example. A certain Tico politician might do well to stay home and deal with this ballooning crisis rather than flitting about all over the globe promoting himself and hobnobbing with his rich and powerful cronies.
Dime de que presumes y te dire que careces also reminds me of an oft quoted English refrain: “Pride goeth before a fall.” After all, when one keeps one’s nose so conspicuously elevated, it’s easy not to notice the edge of the precipice one is approaching.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 7, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 89

Race car draws a giant crowd on a wet Sunday morning
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Cost Rica staff

Thousands of Costa Ricans who may not have heard of the energy drink Red Bull now can recognize the brand, thanks to one of the better promotional efforts seen in Costa Rica in years.

The drink company put a Formula 1 race car on a stretch of the Autopista Próspero Fernández Sunday and perhaps as many a 9,000 Costa Ricans showed up to watch the vehicle burn some rubber.

Costa Ricans, although notoriously bad drivers, love their cars, so the publicity stunt tapped deep emotions. The spectators braved a light morning rain.

The drink company teamed up with the Consejo de Seguridad Vial and the government promotion of seatbelts. The agency placed advertisements in Spanish-language newspapers and on some radio stations.

Driver Adrian Zaugg, 20, of South Africa was treated as a conquering hero after his two brief sprints. He got on the back of a pickup, wrapped himself in the Costa Rican flag and  rode along the highway shaking hands will hundreds of spectators. He is a part of the Red Bull junior racing team.
red bull
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This is what they came for

The event even was televised live by Channel 7 Teletica.

Zaugg turned the ultimate muscle car on a dime several times and flirted with 200 kph on both his short runs.

Not missing a bet, Red Bull erected a temporary arch bearing the product name over the highway.

Brazil threatens to break drug company patent and make HIV pills itself
By the A.M. Costa Rica wrie services

Brazil has rejected a U.S. drug maker's offer of a 30 percent discount on an anti-AIDS drug, Efavirenz. The dispute has relevance to Costa Rica because tightening intellectual property and tradmark rules isone goal of the fre trade treaty with the United States.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's office is now deciding whether to break the drug's patent by making it or buying generic versions. The Merck brand name is STOCRIN.

A spokesperson from Merck expressed disappointment at Brazil's rejection of the offer and said Merck had repeatedly asked to meet with Brazil's health ministry to reach an agreement.

Under rules of the World Trade Organization, a country can sidestep patents by producing and importing generic drugs for emergencies. Brazil has declared Merck's drug "in the public interest" and too expensive to buy.
The country's anti-AIDS program, which provides free medication to anyone in need, pays more than $1.50 per pill, but has asked for a 60 percent discount.

Research and development-based pharmaceutical companies like Merck simply cannot sustain a situation in which the developed countries alone are expected to bear the cost for essential drugs in both least-developed countries and emerging markets, said Merck, adding: 

As such, we believe it is essential to price our medicines according to a country's level of development and HIV burden, thereby ensuring equitable access as well as our ability to invest in future innovative medicines.  As the world's 12th largest economy, Brazil has a greater capacity to pay for HIV medicines than countries that are poorer or harder hit by the disease.

The New Jersey-bsed Merck sells the drug to some poor African nations for 76 U.S. cents per pill. The medication is taken once a day.

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