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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, June 12, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 116        E-mail us
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el castillo ruins
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Pirate protection
 
For centuries, pirates roamed the Río San Juan, entering from the Caribbean side and making their audacious way upriver towards the lake and the riches of Granada on the far side.

El Castillo, now in ruins, was strategically built at this point where sailors would have most trouble navigating the river.

 
See our story HERE!



Wednesday was good day for criminals and suspects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday was a good day for criminals and criminal suspects.

Up in San Ramón the Juzgado Penal rejected a prosecutor's plea for six months of preventative detention for three persons suspected of sticking guns in the faces of motorists and then extorting them for the return of their vehicles.

Edwin Retana Carrera, the prosecutor, said that he would appeal the decision. The suspects were set free.

The three persons, from Alajuela, Heredia and  Palmares, were arrested in a series of raids. Two of the suspects were found driving a vehicle near Naranjo. The vehicle was stolen Saturday. They are accused of the vicious robberies of vehicles from motorists and then the effort to extort money from the motorists who would pay in the hopes of getting back their vehicles.

In the Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José the prosecutor sought six months of preventative detention for a man caught the day before for investigation into holdups of pedestrians in Curridabat and San Pedro. A judge would only order three months.

Then there was the 17-year-old accused of killing a 6-year-old with a stray shot during a shootout Feb. 19 in Lomas del Rió Pavas. The suspect, identified by the last names of Morales Monge, was accused of gunning down the child during a confrontation between two gangs. The child suffered a wound to the heart when a bullet entered the house.

The suspect made use of the Costa Rican technique of conciliations. The 17-year-old sought forgiveness from the father and mother of the child, according to the Poder Judicial. He also agreed not to threaten or bother the family in the future.

The case was closed and put in the archive, said the Poder Judicial.

Also Wednesday the judiciary brought in about 100 juvenile defendants to an education class about violence. The title of the program was 
Masculinidad y Violencia Familiar or masculinity and family violence.

The youths were between 12 and 18, and a judge had suspended sentence on the condition that the young criminals attend this session with a psychologist.

Social workers and the psychologist have presented this kind of program to young criminals for seven years, said the Poder Judicial. One of the presenters was Jessica Gamboa, who said that the young criminals have no other way to gain respect except through force, according to the Poder Judicial.

To stop criminal activity, said Ms. Gamboa, it is important for the youths to analyze what kind of man they are and what kind of man they want to be, said the Poder Judicial in a summary.

In Pérez Zeledón two boys said they had been abused by two men, one of whom happens to be a
public defender. The prosecutor sought the minimum restrictions, called  medidas cautelares. The prosecutor sought that a judge order the two men to sign in every 15 days, agree not to approach the complainants and not obstruct the investigation. A judge denied the request.

The rapid way criminal suspects are given freedom has been a controversial topic. A reader reported that two youths, freed by the judicial authorities in  Goicoechea, left the court building this week and then stole the purse of a woman who was nearby on the sidewalk.

The reader said that the court building is a constant source of criminals and robbers because the suspects are not kept in custody and leave after processing, thereby presenting a danger to to the community.

The reader watched the robbery, he said, from a  balcony of the courts building.

The basic philosophy of the Arias administration is that criminals are victims of society. Laura Chinchilla, the vice president, gave a speech several weeks ago in which she said that the administration would crack down hard on criminals but would crack down harder on the roots of criminality, meaning poverty and under employment.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 12, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 116

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Major highway reopened
but restrictions imposed


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamericana Sur reopened with restrictions Wednesday.  Motorists can use the highway only from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the top speed must be 40 kph or less. That's about 25 mph.

A series of landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Alma closed the vital highway May 28. Crews have been digging out since.

Traffic has been rerouted along the Costanera Sun, so there has been access to southern Costa Rican and Panamá.

Transit authorities have put out 200 signs along the damaged stretch. This is the mountainous section around Cerro de la Muerte. Whole sections of road dropped to the valley below, and road crews had to cut new lanes into the mountainside.

Officials worry about more rain that could cause additional slides on the highway. They said they would close the road when slides threatened. Some 1,000 travelers were caught between slides during Alma.

Monteverde rape case
is suspended by tourist


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Swedish tourist has decided not to press a rape charge against the employee of a Monteverde hotel.

The woman filed a complaint against the man, and the case gained headline coverage in the Spanish-language newspapers. The prosecutor in Puntarenas had interviewed the tourist who then left the country.

However, the Poder Judicial said Wednesday that the woman would not continue with the case. However, the investigation remains open.

The woman had been drinking and the hotel employee involved was believed to be on his own time when the crime was reported to have taken place.

Committee studying rebels
sets new rules for reporters


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The special legislative committee investigating the infiltration of Colombian rebel terrorists in Costa Rica has established rules to keep persons other than members and staff workers out of the meeting room.

The regulations are aimed mainly at reporters and photographers, who usually have free rein during meetings of legislative commissions.  Now reporters and photographers are being asked to remain in the closed section of the room that is reserved for the public. A speaker will carry the voices of the lawmakers, said an announcement from the legislative Dirección de Relaciones Públicas, Prensa y Protocolo.

Reporters and photographers will have to obtain permission if they seek to enter the meeting area, said the announcement. Photographers can only stay in the meeting room for five minutes, it said.

Television stations will be able to erect a fixed camera inside the meeting room.

There have been no reports of threats or other suggestions of insecurity, and the committee has been meeting for several weeks.

The main function of the committee is to hear witnesses address the degree of infiltration by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaries de Colombia. So far most of the testimony has been related to activities of the political wing of the Colombian terrorist group. The group also has an operational wing that is involved in arms and drug smuggling, but its activities have been publicized less.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 12, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 116


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army post
xxxx
Nicaraguan army post
el castillo
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Helen Thompson
El Castillo dominates the river from its hillside perch

Waterworld is just a short river boat ride to the north
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua via the Rio Frío, the first notice of the change in country is the Nicaraguan army post, painted in blue camouflage, controlling river traffic from the bank.

Chugging up the river from Los Chiles, the passenger is surrounded by trees trailing their branches in the water, howler monkeys letting out their hoarse roar from the tree tops and kingfishers darting back and forth to catch their prey.

At the end of the short stretch, the narrow waterway merges into the vast, shimmering Lago Nicaragua, the twin peaks of Isla Ometepe just visible in the distance, and the Rio San Juan drawing a wide ribbon towards the east.

People lounge in hammocks on their wooden balconies in San Carlos, the small village that keeps watch over the Río San Juan's union with the huge lake. The community is surrounded by water and nature, the sense of peace and space exaggerated by the calm surface of the lake.

In fact, the army post is the only reminder that the Río San Juan has been a contested waterway since the invasion of the Spaniards, and that at this moment it is the subject of a dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica that has been taken all the way to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

Nicaragua holds full sovereignty over the muddy river, where dug-out canoes are the main form of transport and most of the villages along the banks have never seen a car.

Costa Rica filed a case to the Hague in 2005, alledging that Nicaragua was denying it agreed rights to navigate the river with commercial products and personnel.

Although various demands were filed, the right to allow boats carrying armed personnel to move between border posts is the most contentious, with Costa Rica citing a treaty dating back to 1858 to back up its claim.

The case is pending at the International Court, waiting for Nicaragua to file its rejoinder to Costa Rica's claims in July, but a trip down the river from San Carlos to El Castillo serves as a picturesque reminder that disputes here were not always settled with lawsuits. 

For centuries, pirates roamed these waters, entering from the Caribbean side and making their audacious way upriver towards the lake and the riches of Granada on the far side.

The Río San Juan is the only point where a sailor could cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast without having to make detours by land, and so the route was coveted for trade.

“The river is the thing in this world that I most desire to conquer,” wrote Hernan Cortes, while he was exploring the region in the 16th century. “He who posseses the passage between the two oceans will be able to call himself owner of the world.”

Gold, tobacco, leather, spices and other exotic goods were piled up in Granada and shipped out towards Spain, the vessels becoming prime targets for the enemy British ships.

Nowadays, the river traffic is rather calmer, and a three-hour trip east gives the passenger a glimpse into contemporary river life in the context of the area's history.

Heading downriver, most of the passengers on the boats are locals. Along the way, the boat pulls up to drop people off at makeshift docks that are a must for every wooden house, ranch or village on the river, as water transport is the only connection to the outside world.

Bustling Sábalos is the last stop for many passengers. The village is built around the T-junction of a tributary flowing into the main river, and the water is completely incorporated into the community. People paddle themselves from the pulpería to their homes, men stand in the shallows with fishing rods to catch the day's dinner and many of the houses rise straight out of the water on wooden stilts.

Everyday life is very much focussed around the Río San Juan. Children leap from the banks, bathing and playing in the water that their mothers use to wash the clothes. Fish is a major part of the diet, while fat river shrimp are the local speciality. The river provides a means of transportation amd hydration for livestock, and in recent years it has drawn tourists as well.

Most make the three-hour journey on bottom-numbing wooden benches to visit El Castillo, the ruins of a proud stone fortress sitting on a hill above a colorful village.

This is the sight that marauders and seafarers such as Horatio Nelson would have seen as they travelled the river from its eastern end, having made it past the defences at San Juan del Norte on the Caribbean coast.

From its vantage point atop the hill, the fortress looks down on a long stretch of river, jungle covering its banks, until the water makes a sharp curve to the right. Below the village, perilous rapids run over shallow rocks, making it difficult for boats to pass.

El Castillo was strategically built at the point where sailors would have most trouble navigating the river.

Brutal sackings and burnings of Granada, once capital of Nicaragua, were the impetus for the construction of the fort. Henry Morgan, the notorious Welsh pirate, ran the river in 1665, making it to Granada for a three-day looting session before setting the town on fire.

Francis Drake had already been in the area many years before, stealing shipments of gold, and the intensity of attacks had increased during the 17th century until a band of 179 Jamaicans led by an indigenous Nicaraguan sacked Granada yet again in 1670. The Spaniards finally decided that their fortifications on the coast were not doing the job, and set about building El Castillo de la Immaculada Concepción, which was finished by 1675.

Nowadays, the walk up the short hill to the gates takes you past balcony restaurants, tropical flowers and chickens pecking in front yards, but in its heyday the fortress was much more perilous.

“The climb to El Castillo is so steep and slippery that it maims people who climb it,” wrote Juan Antonio Alonzo Arce when he took charge of it in 1731. What's more, the Spanish commanders who struggled to keep the castle and river out of English hands lived in constant fear of the indigenous slaves that made up a large part of their force.

“The shortage of arms has not changed for the space of three years because of the fear that at any minute there could be an insurrection,” wrote one soldier of the possibility that soldiers would turn their weapons on their commanders.

The Spanish managed to keep their hold on the area despite a brief interlude when Nelson led 2,000 men in 50 ships to victory at El Castillo. He gave the fortress up shortly afterwards, as many of his troops died in battle, and others were injured or dying of tropical diseases in the brutal conditions of the Nicaraguan river. 

Perhaps the most humbling Spanish victory, though, took place in 1762 when a 19-year-old girl called Rafaela Herrera commanded the troops of El Castillo in a blazing victory over the British. She had learnt her military skills from her father, the fortress' commander, who had recently died.

Across the centuries the fortress has fallen into ruin and been restored many times. It was captured by William Walker and the filibusters in 1857, and lost a lot of importance on the inauguration of the Costa Rican railroad in 1869, which provided a new form of transporting goods from the highlands to the ports.

After the end of the last war in Nicaragua, the government set about restoring the castle as a symbol of national pride, its long history making it a perfect target for a heritage project.

Visitors started to arrive in 1993, but it is still not a hive of touristic activity.

“Some days we have plenty of tourists, nationals or   groups from Spain or Germany,” said Olga, who works at the fortress which is now an excellent museum. “Some 
from the boat
Tourist boat provides this view

rubbish truck
The local garbage truck

sunset from balcony
The view at sunset

san carlos docks
The dock at San Carlos

women washing clothes
Women wash clothes in the river

kids rowing boat
Boat is the main transportation

pretty house along the river
Quaint homes can be pretty

are terrible, though, with only a few people trickling through.”

The small town remains almost undiscovered, its inhabitants dozing the sweltering afternoons away. Owners of small cafés, picturesque sodas and independent tour agencies work together to keep business going, sending visitors down the street to a friend's place if they can't provide what someone is looking for.

The main road is no more than a foot path, which gets inundated by floods once a year, but it is maintained spotlessly clean by the village's equine rubbish truck — a cart pulled by a donkey. Nights are dark, and during the frequent blackouts they are only lit by candles and the silent, dry tropical lightning that flashes in the sky every few seconds.

Kayak tours of nearby creeks, horseback riding and fishing are offered by local guides, and people who take to the river life can carry on by boat after the rapids, motoring all the way down to San Juan del Norte in about eight hours and exiting the river where the pirates once came in.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 12, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 116


U.S. tells visitors to stay away from San Jose's city center
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Don't go into the downtown, watch out for riptides and also be on the alert for Costa Rica drivers, the U.S. State Department is telling potential tourists. The department just issued an updated country report on Costa Rica. Most of the warnings have been voiced before.

On traffic, the State Department says:

"Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world.  The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high.  Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. 

"Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common.  Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads.  Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined.  Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches." 
None of this is news to residents here because they confront such problems every day.

The State Department also warned tourists against visiting "areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night . . . ."

The report said that for safety reasons, the U.S. Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.

Although the report does not say so, embassy visitors frequently end up in the swanky Costa Rica Marriott Hotel in San Antonio de Belén.

The report also warns tourists against various forms of criminal activity and diplomatically points out that "Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards."

The report also adds that rip tides along the Costa Rican coasts can be dangerous. The report urged extreme caution. The text may be found HERE!


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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 week day.

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.


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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.

Freed frozen methane
abruptly changed climate


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An abrupt release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from ice sheets that extended to Earth's low latitudes some 635 million years ago caused a dramatic shift in climate, scientists funded by the National Science Foundation report in the journal Nature.

The shift triggered events that resulted in global warming and an ending of the last snowball ice age.

The researchers believe that the methane was released gradually at first and then very quickly from methane ice that forms and stabilizes beneath ice sheets.

When the ice sheets became unstable, they collapsed, releasing pressure on the frozen methane, which then becomes gas.

"Our findings document an abrupt and catastrophic global warming that led from a very cold, seemingly stable climate state to a very warm, also stable, climate state — with no pause in between," said geologist Martin Kennedy of the University of California at Riverside, who led the research team.

"What we now need to know is the sensitivity of the trigger," he said. "How much forcing does it take to move from one stable state to the other — and are we approaching something like that today with current carbon dioxide warming?"

This transition "from snowball Earth into a warmer period shows the compelling need for research on abrupt climate change in Earth's history," said H. Richard Lane, program director in National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences. "These changes have much to tell us about the modern human-induced threat of rapid climate change."

According to Kennedy and colleagues, methane destabilization acted as a runaway feedback to increased global warming and was the tipping point that ended the last snowball Earth. The snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth was covered from pole to pole in a thick sheet of ice for millions of years at a time.

Not all of Earth's methane was released millions of years ago. Frozen methane is present today in Arctic permafrost and beneath the oceans at continental margins. They will remain dormant, it's thought, unless triggered by warming.

This trigger is a major concern, Kennedy said, because it's possible that very little warming could unleash this trapped methane.

Uncovering the methane reservoir could potentially warm the Earth tens of degrees, he said, and the mechanism could be very rapid.

Such a fast uncovering of methane could have triggered a catastrophic climate and biogeochemical reorganization of the ocean and atmosphere around 635 million years ago, Kennedy believes.

The abruptness of the glacial termination, along with changes in ancient ocean chemistry and chemical deposits in the oceans, have been a challenge to climate scientists.


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