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(506) 223-1327            Published Tuesday, May 29, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 105             E-mail us    
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The situation in Venezuela is HERE!
Your handy guide to would-be and current dictators

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some readers have expressed uncertainty at the condition of liberties in Latin America. Some wonder if there really are authoritarian regimes taking over in a handful of countries.

For this the staff of A.M. Costa Rica has prepared a guide to dictators and authoritarian regimes:

Charlie Chaplin

1. Dictators wear funny little hats. They may be little red berets or any number of different styles no one in their right mind would wear unless they were a dictator with power of life and death or nearly so.
Agusto Pinochet

2. Dictators do not know where the military man ends and the president begins. They frequently mix the two roles and strut around in uniform with the sash of office and perhaps a handful of decorations.

3. Dictators like decorations, and they frequently hand them back and forth to their friends.

Castro and Hugo Chavez

4. Dictators talk and talk, and they expect the masses to listen to them. Usually secret police will attend mass demonstrations to make sure everyone is waving the flag and cheering at the correct moment.  In these modern days, the talk frequently is on the television at the expense of soap operas, soccer matches and other important shows.
5. Dictators are never happy with the independent media and usually take steps to impose their will or squeeze out the owners. The Nazis did this, and Soviet leaders simply did not allow a private press. Cuba follows this tradition. Others would like to. Right-wing dictatorships usually make deals with media barons.

6. Dictators want a new world (with them at the head), as in the Third Reich or, perhaps, a return to Gran Colombia.

7. Dictators are very personable, perhaps even charismatic characters who manage to put forth shaky ideas with elegant phrases.

Chavez and tractor

8. Authoritarians like tractors and television shows about tractors. That's why the printed and electronic press of dictatorships is sooooo boring.

9. Dictators like to rewrite the constitution. Stalin did it. Hitler did it. Mussolini did it. And — surprise — the new constitution keeps them in office a lot longer with more power.

10. Dictators and authoritarian regimes usually have much better stirring music than free societies. Witness the difference between the sweet Himno Nacional of Costa Rica and any number of Nazi or Soviet big band sounds.

Daneil Ortega

11. Authoritarians are always hugging their political buddies, but they can be fickle friends when the going gets tough..

12. And the bad news: Dictators eventually go to war to solidify their sagging popularity. And maybe to massage their own egos.

Photo credits go to the Government of Chile, press kit of "The Great Dictator," and the Government of Venezuela.

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Caracas protests continue
over end of television station

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's replacement of a popular opposition television station with a new state-backed network drew fierce criticism that President Hugo Chavez is curtailing democratic freedoms.

Demonstrators, including university students, gathered at several locations in Caracas Monday after Radio Caracas Television ceased broadcasting and was replaced with a new state-funded channel. Venezuelan security forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Injuries were reported.

The state-backed Venezuelan Social Television began operations shortly after midnight, occupying the same frequency used by Radio Caracas Television. Communications officials had ordered the private station to hand over control for its transmitting equipment, after refusing to renew RCTV's public broadcasting license.

The new station's inaugural broadcast included traditional Venezuelan song and dance and a statement from the station's president, Lil Rodríguez.

Rodríguez says Venezuela has emerged as a self-respecting nation and now it has a new resource to broadcast messages of dignity for the nation and its people.

Promotional material for the new station said programming will include news, sports, soap operas and documentaries aimed at embracing pluralism and cultural diversity in the nation. Some of the programs broadcast Monday included cartoons and documentaries about rural areas and farming projects in the nation.

RCTV executives have condemned the decision to remove the private station from public airwaves and have vowed to challenge the move in the courts. Critics held marches late Sunday outside the National Telecommunications Commission to oppose the government's decision. Police said 11 officers were injured in clashes with protesters.

RCTV employees and university students staged protests Monday in parts of the city to criticize what they say is an attack on free speech. Bank worker Marycel Montiel said she joined one protest to denounce the authoritarian policies of President Chávez.

Montiel says the closing of RCTV is an affront to free speech in Venezuela, and compared it to measures taken in Cuba. She says the Venezuelan people do not want the nation to become another Cuba. They want freedom, she said.

The European Union's German presidency Monday expressed concern about the government's failure to hold an open competition for the TV license and said it expects Chávez to uphold freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Willian Lara warned of possible legal measures against other media outlets for alleged political attacks on the government. In a press conference, Lara accused U.S. broadcaster CNN and Venezuelan cable network Globovision of using video images to create subliminal messages and false information. He says officials may file lawsuits in Venezuelan courts and abroad against the broadcasters.

Globovision chief Alberto Federico Ravell rejected the charges as ridiculous and baseless.

Radio silence in San José
marks station shutdown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some radio stations in the San José area observed a minute of silence Monday for the end of Radio Caracas Television, which went off the air at midnight Sunday.

On the political front Evita Arguedas Maklouf, leader of the Movimiento Libertario in the Asamblea Legislativa, challenged the Arias administration to bring up the matter at a meeting early next month of the Organization of American States. The hemispheric group meets in Panamá June 3, 4 and 5.

The legislative leader said that Venezuela had violated the sacred right of liberty of expression by closing the television station.

She made her comments in a letter to Bruno Stagno, the minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. She called the Chávez regime in Venezuela a dictatorship in fact.

Costa Rican officials have been atypically mum on the situation in Venezuela, in part because the Venezuelan government owns an aluminum fabricating plant in Esparza that employees 200. The Venezuelan government already said it was thinking of moving the plant to Nicaragua.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been dismissive of José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States. Insulza is a former high-level politician in Chile.

In Caracas, the Inter American Press Association called the Venezuelan government undemocratic for having taken Radio Caracas Television off the air. It's delegation made the statement after an early morning meeting with network staff at the TV studios in which the transmission equipment was switched off just seconds after midnight, ending 53 years of uninterrupted broadcasting.

“This is a very easy thing to describe. It is nothing more or less than an act of abuse of power in which logic disappears,” declared Rafael Molina, president of the hemispheric press organization. He spoke at a press conference on the station shutdown.

Editor's Note: The parent corporation of A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the Inter American Press Association.

University band to play

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Universidad de Costa Rica Band will present a free concert tonight at the Auditorio Nacional in the Museo de los Ninos.  Robert M. Gifford, an academic from Missouri, will direct. The concert begins at 7 p.m.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 29, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 105

Cable thieves put some telephones out of service for day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nighttime theft of utilities cable continues in San José despite crackdowns on junk dealers who purchase the stolen material.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad sent crews Monday into Barrio Amón and Barrio Otoya to repair a main telephone line that had cut service in the northeast section of the city. Among those homes and businesses affected was A.M. Costa Rica.

The nighttime theft finally was repaired about 4:30 p.m.

Telephone workers said that thieves had made off with some 150 meters or almost 500 feet of cable. In the same
area about six months ago thieves made off with cable from a dozen street lights.

The thefts usually are blamed on drug users.

Nearly all of the electrical cables in the downtown area are now underground, so thieves cannot reach them without difficulty. So their attention turns to other cables, including telephone and television lines. These lines, too, are supposed to go underground.

In other areas, cable thieves are electrocuted periodically  when they try to steal a hot line.

Much of the stolen cable is shipped out of the country, melted down and turned into new cable for sale here.

Woman's group has a mission to encourage reforestation
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A local women’s ecological club is working with the local branch of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica to help with reforestation.

It was in November 2005 when a group of women formed the Asociación Ecologista de Mujeres de Cuestillas.  The club is committed to the improvement of the quality of life through environmental awareness. 

A couple of months before the club became official, members obtained the assistance of the technology institute branch, which so happens to be located practically in their back yard.  They knew they would need academics to provide solutions to various problems with plants.  The university also supports the club by providing plastic bags for cultivation of plants and opportunities where members can conduct sales of their plants. 

The club contributes to reforestation by planting trees, flowers, ornamental plants, as well as medicinal plants, herbs, and some unusual fruits.  When the plants are big enough to be transplanted into their permanent location, they are taken to schools in the area and then given away to the children, who take them home and plant them. 

The types of reforestation trees they cultivate are: 1.) hojoche, 2.) corteza amarilla (Tabebuia chrysantha),  3.) roble sabana (Tabebuia rosea Bignoniaceae) and 4.) cacao (the chocolate tree or Theobroma cacao). 

The types of medicinal plants are:  1.) sávila (Aloe vera used for treating stomach and skin ulcers, 2.) hierba buena (Clinopodium douglasii used for treating stomach ache and inflammation, 3.) ruda (Ruta graveolens used for throat infection) and 4.) rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis and in Spanish romero, used as a disinfectant and for inflammation).  They also plant oregano. 

Many locals say hojoche only grows in the mountains, but the president of the club, Anália Quirós Conejo, has mature hojoche (pronounced ohochi) trees on her own
ecology club
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Anália Quirós Conejo, club President, prepares a condiments package for sale at a recent local expo while Lauren Carvajál Sanchez, another member, and her daughter, Alejandra, watch.

land in Cuestillas and sells the perfectly round seeds, which are also used for making bamboo curtains.

Other groups in other towns of the district have since formed, who want to join and work together as one larger club, which will be called Una Red de Mujeres Organizadas.  The groups are organized in the areas of Santa Clara (with two separate groups), Platanar, Caimitos, and Florencia, all in the district of San Carlos. 

Each club will continue to work independently, but will also function as a united club.  Almost all members are housewives with no outside work.  Each member receives a small income from proceeds of occasional sales of the plants. Other uses are for club materials, transportation  and payment to speakers for educational seminars.

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Tropical birds have a laid-back lifestyle, scientists discover
By the Ohio State University Office
of Research Communications

In the steamy tropics, even the birds find the pace of life a bit more relaxed, research shows.

Tropical birds expend less energy at rest than do birds living in more northern climates, according to a study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that tropical birds have a slow pace of life which is reflected in how much energy they spend to stay alive,” said Joseph Williams, co-author of the study and associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

“This is the first time this has been confirmed in birds.”

The findings of a slower pace of life in tropical birds correspond to other aspects of the lives of tropical birds, such as their longer life and slower growth.

“Lower energy use fits with the life history of these tropical birds, which is different than those living in temperate climates,” said co-author Popko Wiersma, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State. Tropical birds live longer, lay fewer eggs and their chicks grow slower than those of temperate birds, said the study.

The researchers traveled to Panamá where they captured 69 species of tropical birds and measured their basal metabolic rate – the minimum amount of energy they expend at rest, solely to maintain their vital bodily functions. This was the largest data set ever collected of metabolic rates of tropical birds.

They compared these measurements with the metabolic rates of 59 species of temperate birds.

They found that tropical birds used about 18 percent less energy when compared with temperate birds.

To further test this association, the researchers also compared metabolic rates in related species pairs. These were birds from the same genus or family, such as flycatchers or swallows, in which one of the pair lived its life in the tropics and one lived in temperate zones.
Even here, the tropical species had rates about 13 percent lower than their relatives from temperate regions.

The researchers also tested neotropical migrants — those birds that live in the tropics much of the year, but migrate north to temperate climates such as the United States and Canada to breed.

Results showed these birds expended more energy than those species that live year-round in the tropics, but still used less energy than birds that were permanent residents in Ohio.

“These birds have a tropical lifestyle, even though they come up north to breed, and that tropical lifestyle is consistent with a reduced metabolic rate,” Williams said.

In another experiment, the researchers tested peak metabolic rate —  how much energy birds expended to keep warm when exposed to cold temperatures. Results showed tropical birds had a rate that was 34 percent lower than temperate birds. This suggests the physiology of tropical birds is indeed different from that of temperate birds and this affects their metabolism.

“Tropical birds are unable to create as much heat as temperate species through shivering. Their bodies are not built for that,” Wiersma said.

To measure the metabolic rates, the researchers used a standard test in which they placed the birds in airtight steel containers with airflow in and out carefully controlled and monitored. The birds were allowed to get accustomed to the container, and then the researchers measured their oxygen consumption, which leads to the rates.

Scientists have believed that tropical birds may have a slower pace of life because it fits with the rest of their life history, Williams said. Tropical birds, compared to those from temperate regions, tend to live longer, and produce fewer offspring which develop slowly and mature relatively late in life.

Among other species, this slower pace of life is associated with lower energy expenditures, but there has not been conclusive evidence of this in birds. The next step in their research, Williams said, is to learn how and why tropical birds expend less energy.

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