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(506) 2223-1327          Published Tuesday, May 10, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 91             E-mail us
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Cultural tourism becomes the industry emphasis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expotur, the 27th annual tourism marketplace, kicks off Wednesday night, and this year cultural tourism are the watchwords.

That culture is an integral part of tourism may seem obvious, but officials this year are promoting the concept as a valuable resource.

A case in point is the carreta, the brightly colored cart that has been declared an international heritage symbol along with the boyero, the ox cart driver. As well as the cart itself, there are the shops that create the yokes and other implements that are vital to this means of travel and worth visiting.

The Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud is taking an active role in this year's Expotur along with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The ministry said Monday that promoting cultural tourism is a government initiative and a way to strengthen the national identity.

The ministry noted that Perú and México have been in the vanguard of cultural tourism and that some experts have been invited to share their knowledge.

Manuel Obregón, the minister of Cultura y Juventud is giving a seminar of his own today at 2 p.m. on the topic. His title suggests that there is a perfect match between culture and tourism. The session will be at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura in San Antonio de Belén where the bulk of the activities will take place through Sunday.

The inauguration Wednesday, however, is at 6 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional, which is itself a cultural monument. Thursday and Friday the exhibitions by the various tourism vendors are private, but they will be open to the public at the Hotel Herradura Saturday and Sunday. Some are elaborate.

Expotur features some 300 tourism vendors from Costa Rica, Central America, Argentina and Perú this year, according to the organizer, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo. The association also said that at least 200 firms and individuals who purchase tourism services will attend. Most are from North America and about 50 percent are new to Exportur, the association said.
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Vendors and buyers have opportunities to make deals in private meetings all through the week even as they attend numerous parties and receptions put on by various groups.

The association noted that Expotur was born in 1984 during a time of armed conflict elsewhere in Central America.

The culture ministry also singled out the country's stone spheres, native crafts and pottery, music and dance among other aspects of the country's culture that can be included in cultural tourism offerings. There also is the food from various parts of the country. The ministry has spent years documenting the various recipes of all the provinces.

The ministry's heritage center also has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars helping owners of historical structures renovate and restore their holdings.

The ministry is expected to present these ideas with its own displays at Expotur.

In the past, the tourism institute and other government agencies promoted rural tourism. As with cultural tourism, the projects enrich the tourism experience beyond a short stay at a beach and bring tourism dollars to other parts of the country.

The Museo Nacional, an agency of the culture ministry, is developing a museum of the stone spheres in southern Costa Rica, but there are other locations, like the impressive Guayabo complex near Turrialba, that are not visited heavily by foreigners.

Exportur this year is meeting during a time of economic stress for the industry. In addition, the invasions of a small part of Costa Rica by Nicaraguan soldiers has affected tourism and sports fishing at least in that area.

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Heavy rains predicted
on Caribbean and in north

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather institute has issued another warning for the Caribbean and the northern zone. It said at 7 p.m. Monday that heavy rains were expected in those areas through today. More than 5 inches of rain was predicted over 12 hours.

The rain was expected to be less intense in the northern zone with variations between moderate and strong, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The prediction also said that there would be light rain in the north Pacific, heavy clouds and maybe fog in the central and south Pacific with rain of varying intensity and partly cloudy skies with rain ranging from weak to moderate in the Central Valley.

The predictions of rain were not good news for highway officials. Crews still are digging out a stretch north of the Zurquí tunnel on Ruta 32 where a slide closed the roadway Sunday night. This is the San José-Guápiles highway that continues to Limón.

Traffic police were expected to open the highway for several hours this morning to allow tractor trailers that are backed up to continue their journeys. But then they are expected to close the highway for additional cleanup.

Fire that killed child, 4,
blamed on faulty wiring

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A short circuit is being blamed for the deadly fire that swept through seven low-income homes in Barrio Cuba Monday morning.

Dead is 4-year-old Damián Steven Castillo Morales who was alone in the home when the fire broke out just before 7 a.m., said the Cuerpo de Bomberos. Firemen got the call at 6:57 a.m.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the boy was home alone because his father had left briefly to bring a daughter to school nearby.

The blaze was in a section known as Las Gradas at Avenida 32 and Calle 20. It spread rapidly among the closely packed dwellings.

Some 20 adults and nine children lost their homes to the fire. The boy became the third fire fatality of the year.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos noted that home blazes are up 15 percent this year over the same period in 2010. There have been 355 such fires or about 2.5 percent, they said.

Prosecutors lost track
of two convicted men

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors went public Monday to admit that two persons convicted of crimes Oct. 5, 2006, have vanished. One is a former legislative deputy.

The Fiscalía Adjunta de Ejecución de la Pena de San José  identified the two as Carlos Enrique Salas Salazar and Carlos Eduardo Jiménez Solano. The men were in liberty while their case was appealed to the Sala III high criminal court. That court confirmed the conviction and the sentence last June 4, said the prosecutor's office.

Both face six years in prison when captured.

Prosecutors said that Salas negotiated an increase in budget for the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral in San Rafael de San Ramón de Alajuela where Jiménez worked. The money was supposed to be used for scholarships, but it was used to pay debts, said the prosecutor.

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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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 91
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Final verdict expected shortly for ex-president Calderón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the so-called Caja-Fischel case approaches a final decision, the majority of Costa Ricans appear to believe that the Sala III high criminal court will uphold the lower court convictions.

At least that is the result of an informal opinion poll posted on the Web site of La Nación, the Spanish-language daily. The poll is one of those Internet options that have no statistical validity.

The fact that a major newspaper would publish such an item does show the high anticipation that the public here has for the final decision. Typically in Costa Rican criminal cases, a lower court conviction is without effect until it is ratified by a higher court.

In this case, the list of witnesses is led by Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the former president. Five Sala III magistrates Monday were studying the appeals that defense lawyers have lodged, so the court is close to a decision.

The lower court verdict was Oct. 5, 2009. Appeals were rapid, but the court magistrate picked to take an initial look at the case quit halfway through the effort. That put the magistrates back to square one.

The trial court sentenced Calderón to five years in prison and gave the same sentence to Eliseo Vargas Garcia, who had served as executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.
The decision also ordered the confiscation to the state of more than $500,000 that Calderón had in Banco de Costa Rica and the money in another account in the United States. Vargas, too, was ordered to surrender money in his accounts. Calderón said the money came from his legal business.

The three-judge panel rejected appeals from defense lawyers that the information on the bank accounts were obtained incorrectly. That was a key element of the convictions and figured in the appeals.

Most of the allegations against Calderón came from Wálter Reiche Fischel, the former pharmaceutical executive who said he paid Calderón a bribe to advance a $39.5 million contract for equipment being supplied by a firm from Finland.  He, too, was convicted, as were several other persons who got lesser terms.

Observers also expected an appeal from Calderon's legal team against the charge for which he was convicted. The type of bribery allegation appears to be one that can only be committed by a public official.

Calderón, who served from 1990 to 1994, was not a public official in 2002 when the crimes are alleged to have been committed.

Some 54 percent of the La Nación respondents said the sentence would be upheld. Some 29 percent thought the Sala III would reduce the penalties. Just 19 percent thought a new trial would be ordered.

Tax inspectors will be seeking out rental properties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tax collecting agency is stepping up its efforts to find evaders.

The agency, the Dirección General de Tributación, most certainly will be looking at self-employed professionals, such as physicians, dentists, and lawyers.

But inspectors also will be seeking out properties that are rented. Part-time expats may not be aware of the laws, but
anyone renting a property in Costa Rica is supposed to report that income and perhaps pay taxes. Many do not.

Francisco Villalobos is the new director of the tax-collecting agency, and he has promised an aggressive approach, although he has complained that a government-wide hiring freeze cramps his efforts.

In some areas, the tax inspectors will visit offices, businesses and rental structures to determine if there is tax liability.

Earthquake monitoring station goes into service near Jacó
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another earthquake monitoring station has been installed on the central Pacific coast. This one is near Los Sueños south of Jacó, according to the Cruz Roja.

The Cruz Roja is the rescue agency and is a close observer of disasters and disaster planning.

The monitoring station is operated by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica in Heredia. The observatory has 36 stations around the country and provides real time readouts on its Web page.
The observatory also is in the process of modernizing the monitoring stations by replacing analog devices.

There are now 14 digital stations in service.

By comparing the reports from the various stations, scientists can calculate the magnitude, location and depth of a quake.

The central Pacific is very active because the Cocos tectonic plate is being subducted under the lighter Caribbean Plate. There also is the Panamá microplate to the south that is in collision with the Cocos plate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 91

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Utility lines will come down Sunday on Paseo Colón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The electric company will be on the job Sunday taking down the above-ground cables on Paseo Colón.

This is part of the long-running project to put the city's utility cables underground. The electrical service already is underground on Paseo Colón, so the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz can dismember its network.

The company said it would start early so the bulk of the work could be done before vehicle traffic increases. The location for the work is from the Hospital Nacional de Niños west almost to La Sabana.
When the job is done, the poles will remain. Some telephone and television cables still are there.

Contractors have been putting cables underground for more than 10 years. Much of the city has services underground although there has been conflict between the various companies. Amnet, the cable company, at one time abandoned all its downtown customers in a dispute over the use of the poles and the cost of putting the services underground.

The electric company and the city are promoting the project to remove visual pollution and to make the utility lines more secure.

Tree rings in U.S. can track El Niño for 1,100 years

By the University of Hawaiʻ at Mānoa news staff

El Niño and its partner La Niña, the warm and cold phases in the eastern half of the tropical Pacific, play havoc with climate worldwide. Predicting El Niño events more than several months ahead is now routine, but predicting how it will change in a warming world has been hampered by the short instrumental record.
An international team of climate scientists from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa recently found that annually resolved tree-ring records from North America, particularly from the U.S. Southwest, give a continuous representation of the intensity of El Niño events over the past 1,100 years and can be used to improve El Niño predictions. The study, spearheaded by postdoctoral fellow Jinbao Li and co-authored by a meteorology professor, Shang-Ping Xie of the International Pacific Research Center, was published in the May 6 issue of Nature Climate Change.
Tree rings in the U.S. Southwest, the team found, agree well with the 150-year instrumental sea surface temperature records in the tropical Pacific. During El Niño, the unusually warm surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific lead to changes in the atmospheric circulation, causing unusually wetter winters in the U.S. Southwest, and thus wider tree rings. Unusually cold eastern Pacific temperatures during La Niña lead to drought and narrower rings. The tree-ring records, furthermore, match well existing reconstructions of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and correlate highly, for instance, with isotope concentrations of both living corals and corals that lived hundreds of years ago around Palmyra in the central Pacific.
“Our work revealed that the towering trees on the mountain slopes of the U.S. Southwest and the colorful corals in the tropical Pacific both listen to the music of El Niño, which shows its signature in their yearly growth rings,” explained Li. “The coral records, however, are brief, whereas the tree-ring records from North America supply us with a continuous El Niño record reaching back 1,100 years.”
The tree rings reveal that the intensity of El Niño has been highly variable, with decades of strong El Niño events and decades of little activity. The weakest El Niño activity happened during the Medieval Climate Anomaly in the 11th century, whereas the strongest activity has been since the 18th century.
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Bristlecones such as this Great Basin National Park tree contributed to the tree-ring record

These different periods of El Niño activity are related to long-term changes in Pacific climate. Cores taken from lake sediments in the Galapagos, northern Yucatan, and the Pacific Northwest reveal that the eastern–central tropical Pacific climate swings between warm and cool phases, each lasting from 50 to 90 years. During warm phases, El Niño and La Niña events were more intense than usual.

During cool phases, they deviated little from the long-term average as, for instance, during the Medieval Climate Anomaly when the eastern tropical Pacific was cool.
“Since El Niño causes climate extremes around the world, it is important to know how it will change with global warming,” says Xie. “Current models diverge in their projections of its future behavior, with some showing an increase in amplitude, some no change, and some even a decrease. Our tree-ring data offer key observational benchmarks for evaluating and perfecting climate models and their predictions of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation under global warming.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 91

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Mexicans march on capital
for end to bloodletting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of people marched into the Mexican capital, Mexico City, Sunday to demand an end to the bloodshed that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón launched a war against organized crime four years ago.

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, wearing a T-shirt with the photo of his slain son, led the silent trek that began Thursday in the resort city of Cuernavaca in the central state of Morelos. Along the way, hundreds of people of all ages joined the 90-kilometer (56-mile) march chanting slogans to stop the violence between the government and warring drug gangs. 

Despite the deployment of thousands of security forces to drug hotspots across the country in 2006, the level of violence has not decreased.

Last week, 11 more bodies were found at a series of mass graves in the town of Durango, bringing the number of bodies to 157. In the state of Tamaulipas, 183 bodies have been pulled from mass graves.  Many of the victims are believed to have been taken from passenger buses.

Human rights leader Edgar Cortes, who participated in the march, called it the broadest to date, having brought together a wide sector of civil society that has been affected by the economic crisis and the increased level of violence.

Student Miriam López said she came to Sunday's demonstration because she was tired of all the killings and wanted a better future for young people, like herself.

She says she felt if she did not act now, others would be killed. She says she wants to help bring about the change her country so desperately needs.

Relatives carried signs with photos of family members — victims of the wave of violence that has swept the country.

Saturday at a rally at the national university, where marchers spent the night, the father of Adriana Morlet spoke about how his daughter, an architecture student at the university, disappeared eight months before. He says his daughter went to the university library to check out a book and never returned. He says her disappearance has "shattered our lives, like a dagger digging into our hearts."

In Sunday's address, Mexican poet Javier Sicilia called for the resignation of the public security secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna, as a response to the popular discontent with the war. He criticized political parties for what he claimed was their collusion with drug traffickers.  He said if the political parties do not reform themselves, Mexican citizens will ultimately be left to choose which drug cartel or political faction to vote for in next year's presidential elections.

Sicilia, whose own son was tortured and murdered along with six others last March in Cuernavaca, called for a national pact for peace, justice and dignity.  He said this pact, among other things, would stop young people from being the victims of war or becoming the reserve army of the cartels.

The pact is expected to be signed in Ciudad Juárez where an estimated 3,000 people were killed by violence last year.

At the end of Sunday's demonstration, Sicilia called for five minutes of silence in memory of the thousands of victims of the drug war that most Mexicans believe the government is losing.

Colombia sends suspect
to Venezuela for his trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia has extradited to Venezuela a man accused of being a top international drug trafficker.

The United States had requested the suspect, Walid Makled, be sent to America to face charges he smuggled tons of cocaine.

However, Bogota opted to extradite Makled to Venezuela, where he is wanted on murder and drug smuggling charges.

Makled has claimed that some of his business associates are close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.  He claims to have paid millions of dollars in bribes to top Venezuelan government officials.

Makled, who is of Syrian descent, left Bogota in handcuffs on Monday aboard a Venezuela-bound jet.
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Costa Rican surrenders
in case over poker money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Olman Rímola, a former mayoral candidate in Escazú and a figure in a growing poker scandal, surrendered himself Monday morning.

The 40-year-old businessman is associated with  Innovative Data Solutions, a Rohrmoser call center that is involved in online poker.

The firms PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker are under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, New York, and Costa Rican officials are probing the flow of money that has come into the country for years as a result of the poker operations.

Some employees of poker companies have been detained in the United States for violating a law that prohibits such online games in that country. Others, including U.S. citizens who were in Costa Rica, are being sought.

The U.S. government alleged money laundering and conspiracy, which is why the Costa Rican investigators are involved.

The poker companies are believed to have brought millions a year into the country and made investments in real estate and other profit-making ventures.

A judge did not put Rimola in jail Monday. Instead he was told he had to sign in with prosecutors every 15 days and that he could not leave the country. Because he is Costa Rican, he cannot be extradited to the United States.

Memphis braces for crest
of flooding Mississippi

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weather forecasters say the Mississippi River, the United States' largest water system, is expected to crest near record levels in the southern state of Tennessee.

Serious flooding already has been reported along the river. The National Weather Service said the Mississippi is expected to crest on Tuesday at about 14.6 meters (about 48 feet) in Tennessee's largest city, Memphis.

Authorities there have ordered residents to leave more than 1,300 homes, and thousands of other homes also may be affected by flooding.

Downstream in the state of Louisiana, authorities are expected to open the Organza spillway in an effort to lower river levels in the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Authorities warn that even if the spillway is opened, water levels could reach between 1.5 to 7.6 meters (5 to 25 feet). If that happens, the floodwaters may inundate farmland and several nearby communities.

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