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(506) 2223-1327         Published  Wednesday, June 11, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 115        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Threat of new damaging storms seems to be fading
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anxious emergency commission staffers declared an alert for the entire country Tuesday in anticipation of another series of heavy storms spawned by a tropical wave.

The expected downpours had not materialized by midnight, and the longer range forecast for the country was for a sunny morning and downpours along the Pacific and in the Central Valley in the afternoon.

Humidity still was high, but no sign of a tropical wave could be found. These are low-pressure troughs that are created along the African coast and move west. They frequently cause bad weather.

Another wave is about 400 miles east of the Windward Islands and moving west. However, the  U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said that upper level winds were such that the low pressure area
 probably would not develop into a tropical storm.

The emergency officials here were anxious because they still are digging out from Tropical Storm Alma that affected some 21,000 residents. The commission said that work was going on at 40 points in the country to repair damage and to dredge streams and rivers.

The Interamerican highway in the south still was closed to regular traffic despite official hopes that it would be opened Tuesday. Some seven landslides blocked the highway May 28 and May 29, stranding some 1,000 persons in cars and buses.

Alma so drenched the soil that emergency officials were nervous at the thought of another wave of heavy rains. Even the half inch that fell Tuesday in the metropolitan area caused problems in areas like Desamparados where some homes continued to be undermined by streams and rivers. Emergency officials were trying to move several families there.

Desamparados will host festival of popular culture
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 750 dancers, musicians, artists, performers and exhibitors will be in San Antonio de Desamparados this weekend for a folklore festival that attracts participants from all over the country.

The events is the XVI Festival Siembra de Tradiciones Populares. Also part of the festivities is the II Festival Folclórico el Muñeco. The first seeks to encourage and defend cultural traditions, and the second is a festival of puppets. The festivities start Friday at 6 p.m. and end Sunday at 7 p.m.

desamparados dancers
Municipalidad de Desamparados
Dancers at a previous festival
The big event Saturday is a 10 a.m. grand parade from Urbanización la Constancia to the gymnasium of the Liceo de San Antonio. Organizers, which include the Municipalidad de Desamparados, are promising oxcarts, bands, mascareros (those sporting the giant-headed figures) and a number of folklore groups.

Special guests are the Grupo Estampas Colombianas, visiting from the Colombian Andes, and Ballet Folclórico Xolotlán, which is composed of Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica.

The Colombian group has a 23-year tradition in that country.

In addition to the municipality, sponsors are the Escuela de Educación Física y Deporte of the Universidad de Costa Rica, the liceo and the  Asociación de Grupos e Intérpretes de las Culturas Populares Costarricense.

Costa Rican folklore groups are scheduled to come from all over the country, organizers said. The festival is considered one of the most important events of the year to demonstrate what it means to be Costa Rican, they added..

Folklore groups will give presentations form 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, according to the schedule. In addition, a number of art and artisan exhibitions will be presented all day.

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Money experts to gather
for conference at museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Everyone likes money, but some folks who really love money will be meeting in San José June 21 and 22.

The event is the III Congreso de Numismática. The venue will be the Museos del Banco Central from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

The event is open to anyone with an interest in collecting or studying money. Admission to the conference is 10,000 colons, about $19.

The conference closes with a money exchange in the lobby of the museum where specialists in certain currencies sell or exchange specimens.

The museum is a frequent site for such collectors because one of the museums houses Costa Rican money. That museum just reopened.

As part of the conference researchers will report the results of their investigations into various aspects of currency and coins, said the museum. Among the collectors there also will be those who research coffee tokens or boletos that were used as temporary payment for those harvesting the beans.

Man held as street bandit
involving San Pedro crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents of the Judicial Investigation Organization detained a suspect Tuesday morning who, they said they believe, was  involved in a string of crimes in April, including several assaults and robberies in San Pedro.

Agents of the organization's Sección de Asaltos detained Rudy Gutierrez Delgado, 28, at a house in Purrall de Guadalupe. Delgado is one of two suspects in the robbery of a San Pedro car dealership April 11, according to an organization press release.

Two men with guns held up a night guard at the dealership and stole several computers and other property, according to the release.

An organization spokesperson said Delgado is also a suspect in an undisclosed number of pedestrian robberies that occurred over the course of two weeks in April. Several persons were robbed of various items, including cell phones and wallets at that time. The robbers used guns to intimidate their victims during the late-night robberies, the press release said.

Joke or obscene 911 callers
would get a stiffer penalty

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 80 percent of the calls received by the 911 service are not emergencies, according to lawmakers who are studying the problem of unnecessary, obscene and joke calls.

The lawmakers, members of the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales, decided Monday to send to the full legislature a measure to beef up the penalties for fake calls. The fine would be 25 percent of the salary for an office worker, which today would be 44,500 or about $86. Fines in Costa Rica frequently are established as the amount or a percentage of a base salary because the colon changes over time.

The 911 system is supported by a telephone surcharge.

The measure passed on favorably Monday also contains a 5 percent increase in the fine for each time there is a violation in the same month from the same phone.

Benefit for victims of Alma
planned for Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Municipal officials will be collecting non-perishable food items and funds Saturday for those victimized by Tropical Storm Alma. The event will be in Parque Central in the downtown.

The Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo is sponsoring the collection along with the municipality.

This is just one of the efforts under way to help those whose homes suffered damage in the flooding or landslides. A number of musical groups performed at the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday to raise funds and hope for those who suffered damage.

The cantons of Pérez Zeledón in southern Costa Rica and Aguirre and Partita on the central Pacific were hit hard.

Orchestra in Guanacaste

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional is on a tour through Guanacaste.

The orchestra will be at Inmaculada Concepción church in Liberia tonight at 7 p.m., at the Escuela Josefina López Bonilla in Santa Cruz Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the San José Patriarca church in Cañas.

The free concerts feature classical and Costa Rican music. Chosei Komatsu, orchestra director, is making his first visit to the province.

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Final free trade measure advances to legislative fast track
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The final measure necessary to bring the free trade treaty with the United States into force advanced Tuesday. The pro-treaty coalition mustered the 38 votes needed to put the measure, which involves changes to the intellectual property laws, on the fast track.

The fast track rules specify limited debate and a specific number of legislative days for debate. The concept is controversial, but it was upheld by the Sala IV constitutional court.

Casa Presidencial expressed its pleasure with the vote.  Roberto Thompson, a vice minister of the Presidencia, said that he expected all the legal changes necessary to bring the treaty into force to be ready by September. The vote hinged on the Movimiento Libertario, which finally pledged its support after lengthy negotiations with the representatives of the Presidencia and the more numerous members of the Partido Liberación Nacional. 
The vote means that the measure will go to the Comisión de Asuntos Jurídicos, which has a month to act. Then the measure will be sent to the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Once the commission reports out the bill, the full legislature has just 21 consecutive sessions to discuss it. Any amendments from the floor will be considered, but lawmakers have just five minutes each to oppose or promote each amendment.

The idea is to prevent a filibuster by minority legislators opposed to the treaty.

The treaty itself won passage in an October referendum. But the measures being considered now change Costa Rican law to conform with the requirements of the treaty.

The intellectual property measure strengthens protection for authors and inventors and brings the country into compliance with certain international treaties. 

Arenal resident lobbies for stronger rules on septic tanks
By Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The popular tourism destination of Lake Arenal is in danger of becoming an inhabitable open-air sewer, according to Albert Almeida, a concerned resident and former section director for a U.S. Navy architectural firm.

Almeida, who has been a resident of the Arenal region for about 12 years, has been contacting various government agencies, including the Ministerio de Salud and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, for more than two years stressing the damaging implications of improper and uninspected septic tanks at local residences and businesses.

“I want to educate and inform the people that there is a problem here,” Almeida said when reached for comment over the phone. His major concerns have to do with what he calls the uninspected installation of septic tanks that he says are often poorly constructed and not properly inspected. The problem may be compounded by the addition of more than 2,000 residences planned for the Arenal valley.

“One or two may be okay, but what happens when you get two thousand?” Almeida said, “It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.” 
Almeida said that septic tanks, which are usually constructed around a solid concrete frame, need to be specially shaped to ensure that overflows and leaks do not occur. He suspects that builders here and around the country may be using concrete blocks to house plastic tanks that are unsuited to the task of holding the sewage. When earthquakes or volcanic movement occurs in the ground, these blocks develop cracks and spring leaks, unlike more solid types, he said. The nearby Volcán Arenal could be a source of such vibrations.

“What I'm trying to do is keep Lake Arenal from being destroyed,” Almeida said, “It not only applies here. It applies throughout the country.”

Recent news stories have covered sewage problems elsewhere, including the closing of a four-star hotel in the Golfo de Papagayo that health officials said was leaking sewage into a nearby stream and the recent sewage woes of other businesses near Tamarindo, another popular tourist beach destination on the Pacific coast.

Almeida said he hopes to bring his concerns to the attention of various government and health agencies during a meeting in Tilaran Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Representatives from the health department in Liberia, as well as local municipal representatives and engineers will be in attendance, he said.

English course for tourism police will be inaugurated today at Centro Cultural
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 30 tourist police and three Costa Rican British Embassy employees are enrolled in English-language classes, according to British Embassy spokesman Bruce Callow, who helped organize funding for the initiative.

The program, which will be formally inaugurated today in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano, has been under way for the past several weeks. Classes for tourist police are taught by the cultural center, while embassy workers are being instructed by British Institute representatives, according to Callow.

Callow says the embassy has contributed about $20,000 and several computers to pay for the classes. The embassy employees will spend the next eight months learning intermediate English-language proficiency. Callow hopes the officers will spread the knowledge to their work places.

“They can act as teachers to their fellow coworkers so the program will have a multiplying effect,” he said. Callow says this is the first program of its kind among embassies.
 “We hope that other embassies will come along and help this to continue,” he said. American officials were informed of the initiative, but the embassy is not currently involved in the program. Support for the initiative is welcome from any interested party, not just embassies, Callow said.

“If any other organization, be it business or tourist, are interested in supporting classes, we'd be happy to work with partners,” He said. Interested parties can contact Callow or the tourist police directly. “There's no guarantee that we will be able to fund this next year.”

The inauguration will be attended by both British Embassy officials and cultural center representatives, including British Ambassador Tom Kennedy and cultural center Director Karl Schmack, according to a security ministry release.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez created the Policía de Turismo by decree in December 2006. Officers are supposed to be conversant in a foreign language to assist tourists.

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U.S. dollar continues advance against other world currencies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. dollar Tuesday advanced to a three-month high against the yen and to a six-week high against the euro after U.S. officials stepped up their rhetoric in support of a strong currency.

The dollar rose to 107 Japanese yen and $1.54 against the euro. The U.S. currency — declining for over two years — touched a record low of $1.60 April 22. It was about that time that oil prices spiked upwards from already record-high levels and soaring food prices triggered riots in several developing countries.

(In Costa Rica, the selling price of a dollar is 516.43 colons, and the price to purchase a dollar is 522.88 colons, according to the Wednesday reference rate published by the Banco Central. Individual banks and exchange houses might have different rates.)

Last week, in a departure from usual practice, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke out about the dollar, saying the currency's decline had led to an unwelcome rise in inflation. This week Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson declined to rule out intervention in the currency market to boost the value of the dollar. Currency traders interpret the remarks as U.S. officials seeking to dispel a market perception that Washington prefers a weaker dollar to help U.S. exporters.
Commodity trader Justin Fohsz in Englewood, New Jersey, believes there is a direct link between the dollar's weakness and the surging price of oil, which peaked at $139 a barrel on June 6. Fohsz says because oil is sold in dollars, the currency's weakness is the primary reason that crude oil has risen to record levels. Treasury Secretary Paulson, who addressed a Washington forum Tuesday, dismissed any link between the dollar's weakness and surging oil prices.

"The dollar, for instance, over the period from 2002 to the present, has depreciated about 24 percent. And the price of oil has gone up well over 500 percent during that period. And the price of oil has gone up against every currency in the world quite dramatically," he said.

Finance ministers from seven major economies will be discussing the dollar, oil and the world economy at a meeting in Japan Saturday.

There is also an expectation now that the U.S. central bank has become so concerned about inflation that there may not be further interest rate cuts this year.

Federal Reserve Board's Bernanke said Monday that the central bank will strongly resist any surge in inflationary expectations. Futures markets are pricing in an increase in short-term U.S. interest rates by the end of this year and some analysts say the Fed could boost rates as early as its next meeting June 25.

Chávez backs down on law to make every Venezuelan a spy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has annulled a controversial intelligence decree that would have forced Venezuelans to become informants and report on their neighbors or face prison time.

Chávez took the action Tuesday, saying mistakes were made that must now be corrected. The move comes just days after Chávez said the government would amend the law.

The new law, which sparked protests, called for
  Venezuela's two main intelligence services to be replaced with new agencies overseen by Chávez. It also required Venezuelans to act as informants to secret police and community monitoring groups loyal to the president. Anyone refusing to provide information faced two to six years in prison.

Human rights groups criticized the law, saying it could silence the president's critics.

Chávez had said the law was intended to protect national security and combat U.S. interference.

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Big Internet providers agree to block child porn sources
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The New York State attorney general announced Tuesday a landmark agreement with Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint to shut down major sources of online child pornography.  For the first time, three of the world’s largest Internet service providers have agreed to block access to

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 child porn from two significant sources.  The companies will eliminate access to child porn newsgroups, a major supplier of these illegal images, and will also purge their servers of child porn Web sites.  

“The pervasiveness of child pornography on the Internet is horrific and it needs to be stopped,” said the attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo. “We are attacking this problem by working with Internet service providers to ensure they do not play host to this immoral business.  I commend the companies that have stepped up today to embrace a new standard of responsibility, which should serve as a model for the entire industry.”

An undercover investigation by the Attorney General’s Office uncovered a major source of online child pornography known as “newsgroups,” an online service not associated with Web sites.  The newsgroups act as online public bulletin boards where users can upload and download files.  Users access newsgroups through their Internet service providers.  As part of the agreements, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint will for the first time completely block access to all child porn newsgroups.

The Attorney General’s investigation reviewed millions of pictures over several months, uncovering 88 different newsgroups that contained a total of 11,390 sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children, and in some cases photos of children being raped and sexual activity involving animals.  Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint provided their subscribers with access to many of these newsgroups.

As part of the undercover investigation, the Attorney General’s Office developed a new system for identifying online content that contains child pornography.  Every online picture has a unique “hash value” that, once identified and collected, can be used to digitally match the same image anywhere else it is distributed.  By building a library of the hash values for images identified as being child pornography, the attorney general’s investigators said they were able to filter through tens of thousands of online files at a time, speedily identifying which Internet service providers were providing access to child pornography images.

In addition to eliminating the newsgroups, the service providers have also agreed to purge their servers of all child pornography Web sites identified by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The center regularly reviews and updates its registry of these illegal sites to ensure the list reflects the current presence of such Web sites on the Internet, said a release from Cuomo's office.

Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint, as part of the agreements with Cuomo, will implement a new system to rapidly respond to user complaints about child pornography.  The three companies will also collectively pay $1.125 million to pay for additional efforts by the Attorney General’s Office and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to remove child pornography from the Internet. 

Verizon and Time Warner Cable are two of the five largest Internet service providers in the world.  Verizon has 8.2 million subscribers and Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner has 7.9 million.  Sprint is one of the three largest wireless companies in the United States. .

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