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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, May 11, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 91         E-mail us
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July 4th picnic this year will be on Sunday, July 4
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 50th annual July 4 picnic will be on July 4 this year, even though the date is a Sunday.

Members of the committee organizing the annual U.S. expat event said that because of the anniversary nature of the event, the owner of the picnic grounds, Cervecería de Costa Rica, is allowing the use of the facility on the weekend. Normally the picnic grounds are reserved for employees on Sunday, and sometimes the July 4 picnic has not been held on the actual date for that reason. Last year, for example, the picnic was July 3, a Friday.

The American Colony Committee puts on the picnic each year. Except for 2007, the event has been continuous, starting with a small gathering at the U.S. ambassador's residence years ago. Now the picnic attracts thousands of U.S. citizens and their families.

Usually the picnic ends at noon, in keeping with the local tradition enforced by the predictable afternoon rains. This year, however, committee members said, the event will run an hour longer.
That's hundreds more hotdogs and cups of beer.

The picnic grounds is just off the General Cañas highway on the route from San José to Juan Santamaría airport.

The event has as a goal the presentation of a typical July 4 celebration in Costa Rica mainly for U.S. youngsters who live here and might not have been exposed to the real thing up north. It has evolved into the largest U.S. expat party of the year. U.S. citizens come from all over the country to attend, although there have been some local July 4th parties held on the Pacific coast in the past few years.

The picnic grounds includes a sprawling field where youngsters participate in games during the picnic.

The picnic used to be free for U.S. citizens, but organizers collected a small fee last year and the year before. The bulk of the costs, however, are covered by donations.

Booths are set up for various organizations, including representatives of U.S. political parties and veteran groups.


Agents say that Nicaraguan woman was held as a domestic slave
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators say that a Nicaraguan woman has been held in conditions amounting to slavery in an Heredia home. The Judicial Investigating Organization raided the home and liberated the woman Friday. The location was in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

Investigators said that the woman came to Costa Rica six years ago when she was 16 and had been kept in the home since for the purpose of working. Jorge Rojas, director of the judicial police, said that the woman never was paid for the services and was not allowed to leave the home.
Friday the woman managed to contact some neighbors who called police.

Three persons were detained in the raid, but one, a woman, subsequently was released without any judicial action.

A man with the last names of Medina Kraudy, and a woman, believed to be his wife with the last names of Portobanco Torres, face further judicial inquiry for suspected trafficking in persons, said the Poder Judicial.

The woman has been placed in the custody of the Instituto Nacional de Mujer.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 91

Costa Rica Expertise
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Real estate agents and services

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New security minister
defends police crowd tactics

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new minister of security, José María Tijerino, showed little sympathy Monday for leftist demonstrators who battled police in la Sabana Saturday.

The minister said that the demonstrators tried to break through a police line that was controlling access at the inauguration ceremony for Laura Chinchilla.

The minister told a reporter from the University of Costa Rica newspaper that even his own family had to submit to the crowd controls that were in effect Saturday.

The reporter for El Seminario had color photos of police tackling and arresting protestors. He tried to engage the minster in an argument but he was cut off at an afternoon press conference.

Tijerino said that there also is a photo of a protestor biting a policeman on the hand.

Although most pressure groups decided not to protest in deference to the new president, a group of mostly university students marched from downtown San José to the Parque la Sabana where the ceremony was held Saturday. They were met by police who erected a line with mounted officers at the foot of Paseo Colón.

Police said some of the protestors hit the horses. Then police ran down students, threw them to the ground and put them in handcuffs. Six persons were detained.

Tijerino defended the police action Monday and said that no one should try to go through a police line.  Technically he was not the security minister when the incident took place, but he had met with Fuerza Pública officers earlier that day and told them that anti-militarism should not be confused with being defenseless.

He also was quizzed about a security ministry rule that requires police to confront protesters unarmed. That happened last week in Limón when protesters burned eight semi-trailers, blocked the major highway and shot two policemen, inflicting superficial wounds.

Tijerino did not say one way or another but gave the impression that this rule would be subject to review.

Tijerino said Monday he was taking steps to put more police officers on the streets starting Wednesday. He also was critical of the police force because of what he said was a lack of discipline. He also said that there needed to be more respect shown to police officers and that police officers have to show more respect to the public.

Although Tejerino has been characterized in a weekend article in the Spanish-language press as trying to avoid using a strong hand, he said Monday that he was not someone with a weak hand, a mano floja, either.

Press group criticizes
libel award in Panamá


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A hemispheric press group Monday criticized a highly surprising court decision against Panamanian newspaper La Prensa that ordered payment of $300,000 in damages to a former public prosecutor for libel after it published official reports on her wrongdoing while in office.

The second civil circuit court Judge Miriam Cheng de Aguilar ordered La Prensa’s publishing company to pay the damages to public prosecutor Argentina Barrera for moral damages, arising from the publication Aug. 30, 2005, of two articles titled “Attorney General’s Office Continues on the Trail of Corruption” and “For Lack of Ethics Another Prosecutor is Fired.” The reports referred to the content of official press releases issued by the attorney general’s office.

Alejandro Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, called the court ruling highly surprising because, he said, “the risk here is that a dangerous legal precedent is being set which makes the news media and journalists responsible for official information that originates from government sources.” Aguirre added, “This is a restriction and a message of censorship not only to the press and official sources but to the right that every citizen has to access official information.” He is president of the press organization, the Inter American Press Association.

The attorney general’s press release explained that Barrera was dismissed by the federal agency for “lack of ethics,” together with other legal officers whose names were also mentioned in the report published by the newspaper. In addition to quoting the press release, La Prensa’s articles included statements made by Barrera who was reinstated in 2008 on a ruling by the Supreme Court that also ordered she be paid her suspended salary.

La Prensa’s editor, Fernando Berguido, said he would appeal the court order which also includes payment of costs amounting to $50,000.

tattoo
Morgue Judicial photo         
This is the sole clue investigators have

Recognize this winged tattoo?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tattoo is about all agents have to go on in the death of a man whose shoeless body turned up in a lot Sunday in Barrio México.

An autopsy Monday showed that the man had ingested 30 small packets of heroin. One of them broke, and death was attributed to a massive heroin overdose.

Someone made an effort to remove all identifying information from the body, except for the tatoo.

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 91

Central bankers' money choices overlooked unique residents
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The biodiversity and wildlife themes proposed for Costa Rica’s new paper money ended up taking a back seat to the security interests and tastes of the bankers, according to Jesus Ugalde, scientific director at the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad.

The Banco Central first approached the organizaiton known as INBio with the idea of making Costa Rican biodiversity a central motif for the new money. In all, there would be six new bills, and the biologists rather easily came up with six ecosystems without ignoring any obvious options. These are lowland rain forest, montane “cloud” forest, tropical dry forest, mangroves, highland “páramo,” and coral reefs. Highland oak forest lost out to the páramo, which is a sort of open scrub found at the highest elevations on the Cordillera de Talamanca.

For each ecosystem the INBio workers suggested 20 representative species, said Dr. Ugalde. These were to cover a full range of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Snakes were eliminated early, but a range of lizards, frogs, and bugs were made available. He said there was some debate as to if the species should be “endemic” or restricted to Costa Rica as much as possible.

Many species of plants and birds in both the mountains and Pacific lowlands are found only in Costa Rica and neighboring Panamá.

The Costa Rican artist Fernando Zeledón prepared the background scene, and samples of the plants and animals. He ultimately did the finished painting that took its place within the greater design.

Other details had to be hashed out, such as what sea turtle is on both coasts and likely to be seen in a reef. This was determined to be the hawksbill turtle, and a very nice painting was prepared, ultimately unused.

The 20,000 colon bill (out in August) has the writer Carmen Lyra on it. Animals that figure in her folk tales and occur on the páramo are few, but “Uncle Coyote” and “Uncle Rabbit” do. A coyote didn’t make the cut, while the rabbit is indeed the second animal. Nearly all the birds on the páramo are restricted to Costa Rica and the highest mountains of Chiriquí province in Panamá, and a very nice volcano hummingbird makes an appearance.

The choice of plants and animals had to take into consideration the colors of the different bills. For example, the morpho butterfly which is blue ended up on the 50,000 colon note. Also the bank had to do a search of paper bills around the world to avoid designs too similar to what’s already been used elsewhere.

The list was narrowed some and images of the best suggestions were used by the bank’s graphic designers, further reducing the possibilities. The transparent and ultraviolet safety features came into play, with the
animals
The final selections . . .
banknotes
. . . to go with the new money

historical figures’ portraits in view from both sides.

Eventually the second animal in each scene was reduced to a small silhouette in the lower right of the bill, filled with tiny print that under a magnifying glass says “PURA VIDA” as yet another anti-counterfeiting feature. Uncle Rabbit survives here, the endemic fiery-billed aracari was reduced to a generic toucan, and the sea turtle is just an outline below a very large shark.

The design for the 1,000 colon bill, with the tropical dry forest theme, evolved differently. A guanacaste tree is the centerpiece of the design, with the unfortunate choice of a buck white-tailed deer as the animal. This is the same species as in most of the North American continent, definitely not restricted to Costa Rica. It is quite scarce outside parks even though it is protected, since it was nearly killed off in the 1940s for hides, and does not do well in cattle pasture.

Also, there was little chance in the composition to place the tree in a natural forest setting, so it ended up with pasture grass underneath “since that’s what Guanacaste looks like,” as Ugalde put it. For precision, a zebu would be more appropriate than the deer. All the other ecosystems are portrayed unaltered.

The mangrove ecotone, a special meeting of sea and forest, ended up with a monkey. It’s a white-faced monkey, present in virtually all low- and middle-elevation forest types in the country, and which C.H. Freese in Costa Rican Natural History describes as occurring “occasionally” in mangroves. The “pura vida” animal is a crab.

According to Marvin Alvarado of the Banco Central, the final design was shared by the bank and Oberthur, the French company that printed the bills. In the end, the INBio staff was resigned that “it’s a banknote, not a scientific publication.”

The final score: three large mammals, one bird, one butterfly, one shark. Not terrifically representative of Costa Rica’s unique wildlife, with only the hummingbird endemic. But with fine visual impact.


Now it is taxes on vehicle fuel that is being increased
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when motorists thought they had received a break in the price of fuel, an inflationary adjustment in the taxes will increase prices near 1 percent.

The regulating authority said that tax on super gasoline is going up .81 percent and the tax on plus gasoline is going up .85 percent. Diesel is going up .58 percent. In local currency that is an increase of from 1 to 5 colons, depending on the type of fuel. Fuel prices just were cut about 10 colons a liter for the May price fixing.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said the adjustment for inflation was 2.57 percent.
The tax on a liter of super gasoline will be 199.75 colons, some 34 U.S. cents. Plus gasoline will have a tax of 191 colons. A liter of diesel will be taxed at 112.75 colons.

At various times during the economic downturn, individual lawmakers suggested reducing the tax to help motorists and those in the transportation industry, but the central government has resisted such a move.

The new tax will go into effect when the decree is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

That may be some time because workers at the Imprenta Nacional, which produces the official newspaper, have been on strike for four days.



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 91

A perpetual trouble spot along the Río Sixaola receives some attention. In just this river some 2 billion colons have been invested. That's about $3.75 million.
Work in sixaola
Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias photo


Emergency officials invest millions anticipating flooding

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Preparation for the rainy season resembles a country going to war. Costa Rican emergency officials know there will be problems. They just do not know where.

Already the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias says it has invested 30 billion colons, some $56 million, in trying to second-guess Mother Nature. In the Provincia de Limón alone, some 8 billion colons have been invested in cleaning the watercourses and fortifying the banks of the most troublesome rivers.

When rains come, the water from the mountains can be a destructive force as it reaches the Caribbean coast. Placid rivers become roaring torrents with the right application of precipitation.

The emergency commission said it has enlisted the help of some 15,000 individuals. Some 4,500 are members of local emergency commissions. Others belong to the responding organizations like the Cruz Roja and the Fuerza Pública.

Storage locations have been stocked to handle the needs of families, communities and even towns displaced by floods. 
Some 355 emergency shelters have been prepared, the commission said.

The commission said it has identified 45 cantons that are considered to be high risk.  These are the usual trouble spots where floods have done major damage in the past. In addition to Sixaola on the Caribbean coast, there is the area around Filadelphia in Guanacaste where the Río Tempisque has been known to flood out whole neighborhoods, as well as the Río las Palmas in Cañas. Then there are the frequently flooded areas around Quepos and Parrita.

In the Central Valley, the banks of the Río Damas in Desamparados have received special attention and an investment of 577 million colons, more than $1 million.

The commission also has reconstructed bridges and reinforced the structures of other bridges.

Rains have been known to hit without mercy as early as May 1. A major series of floods hit the Caribbean coast in early May 2002.  A lot of the seasonal flooding relates to the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons, which is expected to be moderate this year. Storms can affect Costa Rica even though they seldom make landfall here.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 91

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

New research suggests
why dengue gets worse


By the Imperial College London News service

Some of the human immune system's defenses against the virus that causes dengue fever actually help the virus to infect more cells, according to new research published in the journal Science.

The researchers behind the work from Imperial College London hope their new findings could help with the design of a vaccine against the dengue virus. The study also brings scientists closer to understanding why people who contract dengue fever more than once usually experience more severe and dangerous symptoms the second time around.

Dengue fever is transmitted by a mosquito bite and is prevalent in sub-tropical and tropical regions including Costa Rica, Southeast Asia and South America. Symptoms include high fever, severe aching in the joints and vomiting. The dengue virus can also cause hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.

Incidence of dengue fever has increased dramatically in the last century and two fifths of the world's population are now at risk from it, according to the World Health Organization. There are four distinct strains of the virus, and no licensed vaccines or drugs have yet been developed to combat any of them.

The researchers behind the most recent study have identified a set of antibodies, produced by the human immune system to fight off the dengue virus, that they believe scientists should avoid including in any new vaccine to prevent dengue fever.

The new research shows that these precursor membrane protein antibodies do not do a very effective job of neutralizing the virus. Moreover, these antibodies actually help the virus to infect more cells.

The study suggests that when a person who has already been infected with one strain of dengue virus encounters a different strain of dengue virus, the antibodies awakened during the first infection spring into action again. However, rather than protecting the body from the second infection, these antibodies help the virus to establish itself.

This activity of the antibodies could explain why a second infection with a different strain of the virus can cause more harm than the first infection. The researchers believe that if a dengue virus vaccine contained these antibodies, this could cause similar problems.

Professor Gavin Screaton, the lead author of the study, is the head of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London. "A huge proportion of the world's population is at risk from dengue fever and although treatments have improved, it can be a very unpleasant, painful disease and people are still dying from it," he said. "When there is an epidemic of dengue fever, it can put a huge strain on health systems and local economies as well as on individuals and their families.

"Our new research gives us some key information about what is and what is not likely to work when trying to combat the dengue virus. We hope that our findings will bring scientists one step closer to creating an effective vaccine," he added.

This study was a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London and Mahidol University, Khon Kaen Hospital and Songkhla Hospital in Thailand.

Actions against dengue now include cleaning up places where mosquitoes may breed and spraying for the adult insects. Individuals also are encouraged to use repellant in areas where the dengue mosquito, a day biter, lives. In Costa Rica this includes both coasts with outbreaks in the Central Valley caused by travelers.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 91


Latin American news
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Talks continue to form
a government in Britain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five days have passed since Britons went to the polls, but the shape of the country's future government is unclear. Last week's general election resulted in a hung parliament and now the Conservatives, who won the most votes, are in talks with the third place Liberal Democrats to form a possible coalition.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said Friday his party and the Conservatives are working "flat out" in order to come to a deal.

Clegg held talks with Conservative leader David Cameron Sunday, and they spoke again Monday. They are trying to strike a deal that would see a Conservative-led government take power in Britain.

The Conservatives won the most votes in last week's election and won the most seats in Parliament, but they did not win an overall majority.

London School of Economics political analyst Tony Travers says the Liberal Democrats are likely to give the Conservatives the support they need in order to form a government.

"As of now all the mood music suggests that they will manage to create an agreement," said Travers.

But he says Clegg may choose to provide parliamentary support for the Conservatives without forming a coalition. The Liberal Democrats, in this scenario, would agree not to vote down key government policies such as the budget.

Clegg opened talks first with the Conservatives because they won the most votes. But if the two parties fail to make an agreement, Clegg could side with Labor, giving the party that has led Britain for more than a decade a chance to hold on to power. Clegg and Labor leader Gordon Brown met for talks Sunday.

Brown is still officially prime minister of Britain, but Travers says he is not in a strong position.

"Gordon Brown is like a man sitting, waiting in an execution room in many ways," said Travers. "I mean at any moment he could get the phone call saying it is all over the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have made an agreement, there will be a Conservative prime minister. And Gordon Brown would then have to set off to the palace to resign."

Politicians on all sides say the stability of Britain's economy is central to talks.






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