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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, May 31, 2012,  in Vol. 12, No. 108                           Email us
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A.M. Costa Rica/Vance Richardson
The Dominical reptile appears to be on the prowl for lunch
Well, there goes the neighborhood . . . and local pets
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some bizarre events have taken place on the central Pacific at Dominical.

Resident Vance Richardson said via email that an 8-foot caiman is probably the culprit behind the disappearance of some neighborhood dogs. Recently, the animal graduated to larger prey.

Richardson said that the reptile attacked and killed a cow that was walking in ankle-deep water. That was along the banks of the Río Barú. Unfortunately for the caiman, the river current swept away the carcass of the cow before it could become much of a meal.
Nothing goes to waste in nature, however, and, according to Richardson, some surfers spotted the floating carcass, roped it and pulled it to shore to turn it into steaks and chops.

Richardson said they cowboyed the dead critter.

Presumably the caiman still is hungry, which might suggest to locals that perhaps they should not go wading. Frequently locals go into the river with nets for fish.  The caiman does not need a net.

Richardson said he hoped that someone would corral the caiman and relocate it to where it could have some reptilian companionship.

Readers invited to express their political views
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

This is another presidential election year in the United States, and plenty of expats here have opinions on who should win.

The choice is between the incumbent, Barack Obama, and the Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, although a reader wrote Wednesday to say that Ron Paul still has a chance. There also is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

The main force behind the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is political speech. Readers are encouraged to express their views, tightly and clearly. A.M. Costa Rica is not a discussion list, so readers have just one chance to express themselves on this topic.

Discussion is good. Personal attacks are bad. Readers should try to focus on facts to support their argument.

The election is Nov.6, but most expats here will have filed their absentee ballots long before that date. So A.M. Costa Rica will cut off discussion of the candidates and their positions Oct. 15.

Shortly thereafter, this newspaper will publish its opinion and endorsement.

This is the same rule that applied in 2008, but 

some readers, miffed at the newspaper endorsement, became enraged when told their letters would not be published.

So if readers have something to say on the presidential or congressional elections, they should say it before Oct. 15.

Of course if someone wishes to insert political advertising promoting one candidate or another, the newspaper will happily accept money at the printed rates. The ad must contain a line of type saying who paid for the message.

This message will be repeated as the election draws near.

Expats have many options to register to vote Nov. 6
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats have plenty of time to register to vote in the Nov. 6 federal election. They have a right to do so no matter how long they have lived overseas.

Several organizations exist to help expats register and obtain their absentee ballot. Probably the best known is the non-profit Overseas Vote Foundation that also operates Youth Vote Overseas mostly for U.S. students in foreign countries and several other initiatives. The Arlington,Virginia, based organization is non-partisan.

The Democratic National Committee also has a program to help overseas voters, be they expats or military. It is Vote from Abroad.
The U.S. government has the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

All have set ups so that expats and others eligible to vote can register at their designated state and submit requests for ballots. Some states allow online registration and online ballot requests.

In some states, the primary election already has passed. In others, there still is time to vote in the party primaries. Every site appears to have detailed information to answer any questions expats may have.

Local organizations affiliated with the U.S. political parties also have staged voter registrations in the past and will likely do so again this year.

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Consumer confidence from 2002 to present

Consumer confidence takes
a dip, university study says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Consumer confidence has taken a dip, according to a study released Wednesday by the Escuela de Estadística of the Universidad de Costa Rica. On a 100-point scale, confidence dipped 4.5 points when compared to three months earlier, said the report.

The school said that optimistic consumers were just 14 percent of the respondents and that pessimistic persons were more than double, 28.9 percent.

The school has been doing such surveys since September 2002.

In the current study 71 percent of the respondents thought that interest rates would be going up. Only 19.5 percent thought this was a good time to buy a home.

Respondents in the survey were asked five questions about the economy and then their responses were summed to 100 points.

Persons in 707 homes gave responses from May 2 to May 15, said the school.

Although the school said that the dip was significant, consumer confidence still is at an index point of 39.8, which is higher than during the dark days of 2009 when the level was below 30.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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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News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 31, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 108
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Celebrated northern route quickly becoming a political albatross
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While President Laura Chinchilla visits Europe, the scandal over the new road along the Río San Juan becomes more complex.

The Nicaraguan government has expressed its concern because road construction has caused silting of the river nearby.

The road was started in a rush to counter Nicaraguan incursions into the Isla Calero because there was no land route through the forested area. Most of the travel in the northern area was on the river, but that river belongs to Nicaragua.

The foreign ministry has countered Nicaraguan claims by saying that Costa Rica was defending its national territory in the face of the military invasion by Nicaragua. Without the highway and with uncertainty over river travel, Costa Rica had no access to the land in the extreme northeast that is the core of the border dispute, the ministry said.

And, the ministry said, the country was only carrying out instructions from the International Court of Justice by taking steps to mitigate environmental damage in the area of the invasion.

Costa Rica challenged Nicaragua by calling the new road Ruta 1856, the Juanito Mora Porras highway. Mora was the president who successfully battled U.S. filibusters and their Nicaraguan allies in 1856.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua filed a case of its own at the world court over environmental damage to the river due to road construction. Some of the claims appear valid based on photos from the area of the highway.

The situation continues to deteriorate and is becoming a
domestic political crisis. The left-leaning Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados is calling the highway the biggest scandal of recent governments.

The Spanish-language daily La Nación has taken the lead in exposing problems with the road. The revelations cost the public works minster his job.

The public employees union summarizes the situation this way:

Great quantities of payoffs. No environmental impact study. Phantom construction companies in one case and in others companies behind in payments to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and some failing to be registered with the  Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos. Some of the machinery has not had required safety inspections. Contracts were let by a mysterious high-level commission. And there were unneeded cutting of trees and construction without systems for carrying away water.

The biggest problem that Ms. Chinchilla will face is the allegation that 20 billion colons or about $40 million vanished without a trace in the construction project.

The public employee union claims are based on verified news reports.

The scandal comes at the end of a series of unrelated disclosures involving taxes, missing museum paintings and other woes that has sapped public confidence. In fact, the new finance minister said Tuesday that part of his job was to restore public optimism.

That probably will not happen soon because investigations are underway involving all of the scandals, including that of the new road. So they will be in the news for years. And the case will be in the world court for years, too.

Envirnmental groups hopeful in effort to end shrimp trawling
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A coalition of environmental groups is hopeful that its case against shrimp trawling will advance because the Sala IV constitutional court has taken an interest.

One of the members of the Coalition, the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, said that the constitutional court has given the nation's fisheries institute and the nation's environmental agency three days to respond to allegations.

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura regulates the fishing industry. The other agency, the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental, is part of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The coalition argues that shrimp trawling lacks environmental assessments. The coalition has as its goal to end the practice.

Trawling can damage coral, trap many fish unintentionally and also trap air-breathing turtles. The United States periodically
prohibits the importation of Costa Rican shrimp because of the turtle toll.

The coalition calls itself Our Oceans Front. It is made up of  Fundación Keto, Fundación MarViva, Fundación Promar, International Student Volunteers, Inc., Sea Save Foundation, The Leatherback Trust, the Unidad Especial de Rescate y Protección Animal and the Widecast scientific network, as well as the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas.

The coalition said that although an impact statement is not mandatory for trawling, the destructive results of the practice ought to be studied.

The coalition says it is a group of non-profit organizations active in Costa Rica that work towards the improvement of the administration of marine resources through a series of legal, scientific, political and civil approaches. It promotes the reform of the fishing institute in order for it to appropriately respond to the objectives for which it was created: the public interest and the sustainable use of fishery resources, it added.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 31, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 108
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Drug drama on the high seas
captured on infrared video

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug forces are combing the Caribbean and the Pacific with some success. The most recent was an incident in which a drug-carrying fastboat was frustrated in its passage north in the eastern Pacific.

The U.S. southern Command reported that the boat crew faced two helicopters, infrared video cameras, a U.S. guided missile frigate, a  U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 Orion aircraft, another U.S. ship and eventually a Colombian navy boat that captured the crew.

This was an event in what is being called Operation Martillo or “hammer” where U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere nations are trying to block drug smugglers' water routes.

The incident that was described this week happened May 6 at night.

The Southern Command said that the Orion aircraft spotted the fastboat that carried an estimated 2,200 kilos of cocaine

A helicopter from the Guided missile frigate “USS Nicholas” picked up the tracking and caused the crew to dump about half their load. Then the “USS McClusky” launched another helicopter that drove the fastboat to the waiting Colombian navy's  “20 de Julio.”

Much of the action was taped with the infrared cameras and later released by the military.

drug boat one
U.S. Aouthern Command photos
Smugglers appear to be dumping some of the cargo

Crew of a Colombian naval vessel makes the arrests

World shattering super eruptions might develop more quickly
By the Vanderbilt University news service

Enormous volcanic eruptions with potential to end civilizations may have surprisingly short fuses, researchers have discovered.

These eruptions are known as super eruptions because they are more than 100 times the size of ordinary volcanic eruptions like Mount St. Helens. They spew out tremendous flows of super-heated gas, ash and rock capable of blanketing entire continents and inject enough particulate into the stratosphere to throw the global climate into decade-long volcanic winters. In fact, there is evidence that one super-eruption, which took place in Indonesia 74,000 years ago, may have come remarkably close to wiping out the entire human species.

Geologists generally believe that a super eruption is produced by a giant pool of magma that forms a couple of miles below the surface and then simmers for 100,000 to 200,000 years before erupting. But a new study suggests that once they form, these giant magma bodies may only exist for a few thousand years, perhaps only a few hundred years, before erupting.

The study suggests that when these exceptionally large magma pools form they are ephemeral and cannot exist very long without erupting, said Guilherme Gualda, the assistant professor at Vanderbilt University.  He directed the study, which appears in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The study was performed on the remnants of the Bishop Tuff, the Long Valley super-eruption that occurred in east-central California 760,000 years ago. Using the latest methods for dating the process of magma formation, Gualda and his colleagues found several independent lines of evidence that indicate the magma pool formed within a few thousand years, perhaps within a few hundred years, before it erupted, covering half of the North American continent with smoldering ash. 
Long Valley basin
NASA/JPL photo
 View of Long Valley, California, created by imaging radar
 on the space shuttle Endeavor

These giant magma pools tend to be shaped like pancakes and are 10 to 25 miles in diameter and one half to three miles deep. In the beginning, the molten rock in these pools is largely free from crystals and bubbles. As far as geologists can tell, no such giant magma body currently exists that is capable of producing a super-eruption. The research team believes this may be because these magma bodies exist for a relatively short time rather than persisting for hundreds of thousands of years as previously thought.

The fact that the process of magma body formation occurs in historical time, instead of geological time, completely changes the nature of the problem, said Gualda. Instead of concluding that there is virtually no risk of another super eruption for the foreseeable future because there are no suitable magma bodies, geologists need to regularly monitor areas where super eruptions are likely, such as Yellowstone, to provide advanced warning if such a magma body begins to form, he said.

Even science fiction cannot produce a credible mechanism for averting a super eruption even if one is found.

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Gang treaty in El Salvador
appears to reduce murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A gang truce mediated by the Catholic Church in El Salvador has dramatically reduced gang-related killings in the Central American country since it was implemented in March.  Those who work with gang members in the United States support the fragile agreement and hope to reduce the lure of gangs in both countries.

El Salvador and neighboring Honduras, which are plagued with gangs, have homicide rates 10 times the global average.

The gang truce in El Salvador has reduced the murder rate, and brought concessions from authorities for better treatment of gang leaders in prison.   Police suppression and deportations in the 1990s also brought down the murder rate as many immigrant gang members were returned to their home countries. 

Executive director of the group Homies Unidos, Alex Sanchez, works to get young people out of gangs.  The one-time gang member was deported in 1994 and saw the gangs take hold in his native El Salvador.

“The common people were really afraid of us.  But then you had kids that were troubled attracted to us.  So all these kids that were troubled in El Salvador were attracted by this gang thing,” Sanchez said.

In El Salvador, the Los Angeles-based gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and the 18th Street gang provided refuge for rootless and homeless youngsters, and as their numbers grew, they became more violent.

Gang ties are hard to break, says a 46-year-old father of two, Freddie Taren, who is removing his gang tattoos and coping with drug addiction from his days with the Mexican-American Lomas gang of San Gabriel, California. 

“I have been shot when I was 14 years old in the chest.  I have been shot, stabbed, I have been through it all.  And I am very fortunate to still be alive, to still be here today,” Taren said.

Los Angeles, California, still has tens of thousands of gang members and hundreds of gang killings each year.  El Salvador had up to 14 killings a day until a recent 60 percent reduction.  An activist and former California legislator, Tom Hayden, has studied the problem and says now is the time to take action.

“It is an opportunity for the authorities to come up with solutions to the problem, instead of thinking they can suppress it, crush it, imprison it, kill it.  All of those things have cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives,” Hayden said.

One solution is providing jobs and training in the inner city.  At Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles charity founded by Catholic priest Greg Boyle, former gang members produce T-shirts and others serve food in the Homegirl Cafe. 

University of California, Los Angeles Social Welfare Professor Jorja Leap says the program addresses a key problem.

“A lack of hope, a lack of a sense of possibilities, the idea that there is no alternative to gang life.  And that is very potent, along with all these other forces that are at play,” Leap said.

Authorities in both countries remain suspicious of current and former gang members who say they can be part of the solution.  Gang intervention worker Sanchez faces charges of racketeering and conspiracy stemming from a 2006 gang killing.  He says he is innocent and that his work with gang members brought him under suspicion.

Those who work with gangs point to the treaty that brought peace to El Salvador in 1992 after years of civil war, and say that gang members who are tired of the violence have a role to play in bringing peace to El Salvador and Los Angeles.

Rebels in Colombia release
captured French journalist

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A humanitarian delegation has secured the release of a kidnapped French journalist in Colombia.

The French journalist, Romeo Langlois, was captured by Colombian rebels on April 28 during an attack on troops.  He was accompanying them to film a drug eradication operation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that a convoy made up of Red Cross staff, a member of the French government and three representatives of a local human rights group, left the Caqueta state capital of Florencia Wednesday morning.

Monday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia rebels released a video showing Langlois in a jungle setting in good health.

The Colombian army agreed to suspend all military operations in the area for at least 36 hours while the handover was carried out.

Langlois, 35, appeared surrounded by armed guerrillas in camouflage. He said he was treated well. The release was brokered in part by the Latin American television chain TeleSur.

The former hostage said he never had been tied up and was treated as a guest. He was reported missing while doing a documentary for French channel 24.

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Legion Memorial Day
American Legion Post 10 photo
Service was conducted adjacent to tombs

Memorial Day services
draws 50 to San Antonio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About 50 former members of the U.S. military, relatives and friends showed up for Memorial Day services at Cementerio Campo de Esperanza, San Antonio de Escazú.

They included members of American Legion Post 10, the Marine Corps League and members of the VFW Post 11207. Also there were representatives of the U.S. Embassy.

The 11 a.m. service is an annual affair. The Legion owns plots in the cemetery for its members. The purpose of the service was to honor all veterans who lived in Costa Rica and members of Costa Rica American Legion posts who passed away since Memorial Day 2011, the Legion said.

Newspaper attacks decried

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamerican Press Association has expressed concern at attacks against news outlets in Brazil and Venezuela. The Miami-based press advocacy organization urged officials in both countries to investigate.

In Venezuela, someone threw explosives against the daily ¿Que Pasa? in Maracaibo Monday. The newspaper is critical of the government.

In Brazil, striking construction workers threw stones and threatened to invade the offices of the daily Diário do Nordeste in Fortaleza, said the press organization. Vandals destroyed the principal entrance to the offices Tuesday.

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