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Shark-fining suspects detained by Guardacostas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson directing world attention to Costa Rica, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas has detained three persons who were 10 nautical miles offshore in possession of shark fins.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the coast guard boat “Juan Mora” was on patrol against drug smuggling and illegal fishing when the crew encountered the “Elizabeth X.” Upon inspection, the coast guard crew members found 58 shark fins. According to Costa Rican law, fins should not be separated from the shark carcass. That is a rule to prevent the usual practice of cutting the fins from a shark and putting the helpless creature back in the water to die.

Shark meat has little value but the fins are prized by Chinese.

The location was southeast of Punta Banco in extreme southwest Costa Rica, said the ministry.

The penalty for having shark fins at sea without the accompanying carcass is a fine. Those who bring fins to shore without the carcass face a possible jail term. Puntarenas is a center of shark fin processing.

Watson is a crusader against shark finning as well as hunting whales. He is in legal trouble in Costa Rica because his boat, “Ocean Warrior,” collided with a Costa Rican shark fishing boat in Guatemalan waters in 2002. 

He is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group that makes life difficult for the Japanese whaling fleet.

Watson is held in high regard by many environmentalists, but Costa Rica is seeking his extradition from Germany to face allegations that the encounter damaged the shark fishing boat and injured some of the crew.

In a YouTube video posted last week, Watson insisted that no one was injured and that there was no damage during the high seas confrontation 10 years ago. He also said that he twice presented evidence to judicial officials in Puntarenas and that the case against him is the result of yet another legal proceeding. The encounter with the fishing boat was filmed and became part of the
Shark fin
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photos
One of the confiscated shark fins.

fishing boat
The 'Elizabeth X" in port.

“Sharkwater” award-winning film.

Watson and his supporters are trying to convince German officials not to honor the extradition request. Watson claims his life is in danger if he were to be jailed in Costa Rica. He also has pointed out correctly that he might be in jail for a year or more until the case is resolved. He said he and his legal advisers were confident that they would win a case in Costa Rica.

He dismissed the notion that a shark should be slaughtered so someone in China could have soup.

Costa Rican officials have not been aggressive in trying to prosecute shark finning, and the “Elizabeth X” may be one of a small number of boats that have been involved in coast guard action.

Dock workers stage the long-expected strike in Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The strike that has paralyzed the Limón and Moín docks was threatened for a week by union executives there. And the action by the union was a certainty when the government entered into a contract in March with a Dutch firm to build a $1 billion container port on the Caribbean.

On strike is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de  Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, a public agency. The walkout began Tuesday morning.

The port is the major exit point for Costa Rica's agricultural products. Between 75 and 80 percent of the nation's goods move through the port of Moín, which now is staffed by more than 1,000 government employees.

This is the latest chapter in continuing friction between union members, the government and those who need to ship goods.

There have been frequent strikes at both ports, and sometimes there is violence.

In anticipation of the strike, the central government beefed up the police presence in and around the ports. But without workers on the job, containers will not move. The government is expected to go to court to have the strike declared illegal.

The Caribbean ports are notoriously inefficient. It now ranks 132 out of 142 world ports, officials have admitted.

A private company received a concession to take over much of the port at Caldera on the Pacific. That transition went smoothly because workers there received big payoffs and many were hired by the new concession holder.

The new strike is a direct challenge to the central
government which hopes to turn the port work over to APM  Terminals. That firm will make all the investments to create a system that will reduce loading and unloading time for ships from five to one day.

The new terminal will have six docks, 13 cranes and the capacity to handle boats with up to 12,000 containers.

The dock workers unions have challenged the port concession contract in court without success.

In March the Contraloría General de la República approved the contract and basically said that the contract is legal and the government has followed all the appropriate steps so far.

The Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A. and the China National Petroleum Corp have a joint venture to construct a $96 million facility nearby to handle tankers.

The port concession is a key element in the central government's plan for economic development in the province of Limón.

APM runs terminals all over the world. Still ahead for the new terminal is approval of its design and its environmental viability. The government also has to provide a highway to the site and also dredge the harbor. 

Some banana growers also tried to derail the project because of the anticipated cost to ship their product.

The new terminal will charge about $46 more per container than the current public docks, according to a government estimate.

The current cost per container is $190.96 while the anticipated cost at the new facility would be $237, according to the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

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Sala IV supports student
who wears dreadlocks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The personal hairstyle of a student again was the issue before the Sala IV constitutional court. The magistrates sided with the student.

He is Darnell Campbell Moore, who was barred from attending the Universidad de Ciencias Médicas in Sabana Oeste because he wore dreadlocks. 

The magistrates said that a youngster of university age had the right to his own image and to determine his own personal presentation as long as it did not offend morality or public order.

In addition, there was no proof that the hairstyle was against the rules of the institution, said a summary of the decision released Tuesday.

Campbell was represented by Epsy Campbell Barr, a prominent politician and a relative.

This is an issue that comes into court periodically, sometimes with racial overtones. Deadlocks are typical of Jamaican culture, and Campbell is black.

Native Costa Rican students also have had trouble at universities for wearing their hair long. One university student who successfully challenged without court an administrator's ruling on his hair said that he was told that long hair was a sign of being homosexual.

There once was a time when Costa Rican immigration officials would deny entry to young tourists who arrived with long hair.

Two mild earthquakes
ripple through country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country experienced two earthquakes Tuesday.

One early Tuesday happened just 51 minutes after midnight. The epicenter was in northern Costa Rica not far northeast from Lake Arenal. The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica del Instituto de Investigaciones en Ingeniería said that the 3.7 magnitude jot was 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) northeast of Tilarán and 11.9 kilometers (7.4 miles) south southwest of San Rafael de Guatuso, Alajuela.

A quake also took place at 6 p.m. some 41 kilometers (25.4 miles) northwest of Playas del Coco, said the Laboratorio. This epicenter was offshore in the Pacific. The magnitude was estimated at 4.2.

In both cases, the data shows that although the quakes were felt in nearby areas, the sensation was mild.

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
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 13, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 117
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The new bridge is two lanes. The temporary bailey bridge is on the right. The distance is about 410 feet over the Tárcoles, a major river. Engineers say the new span has a 25-year useful life.

Tarcoles bridge
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

Permanent bridge at scene of tragedy due to be ready in August
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A permanent bridge is about 80 percent complete over the Río Grande de Tárcoles between Orotina and Turrubares, according to the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

This is the spot where a hanging bridge gave way and dumped a bus and its passengers into the river Oct. 22, 2009. Five persons died. Officials eventually replaced the span with a steel bailey bridge. The new bridge replaces that temporary measure.

The hanging bridge was not just any bridge. This is a span that starred a year earlier in a Channel 7 "60 Minutes"-like presentation of terrible bridges. Even the bus involved in the crash was the feature of a television news sequence when a tire fell through the aging deck of the bridge and mechanics had to use hydraulic jacks to extricate it.

Those who died ranged from a 75-year-old man on his way to a medical appointment to a 30-year-old wife and mother.

The accident was a national scandal because there had been pleas to fix it from local officials, including one delivered just two weeks before the accident. The bridge basically was an aging wooden deck supported by cables.
The span originally was erected from 1920 to 1924. Engineers said that one of the two main suspension cables parted to cause the accident. There may have been structural damage to one of the anchor points of the cables.

Investigations showed that the bus company did not have permission to use that route. Eventually Karla González, who was public works minister at the time, faced criminal charges that were eventually dismissed. The tragedy highlighted the sorry state of the country's roads and bridges and delivered a black eye to the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

The road agency spent 1.5 billion colons, about $3 million, to erect the new, two-lane bridge.

Officials expect to have the job done in August. Work was delayed when the effects of Hurricane Thomas in November 2010 caused the river to change its course slightly. The bridge underpinnings had to be redesigned, said the Consejo. Designers also raised the level of the bridge deck.

The new bridge is 125 meters or 410 feet long and it complies with all earthquake requirements, said the Consejo. The work that remains involves installing utilities, barriers and grading up to the accesses.

Expert gives lawmakers highly critical report on Ruta 1856
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's newest highway, Ruta 1856 in northern Costa Rica, got a stinging review Tuesday before a legislative commission.

The summary came from Olman Vargas Zeledón, director of the Colegio de Ingenieros y Arquitectos. He said the stretch was badly planned, lacked drainage and was vulnerable to possible landslides.

He was appearing before the Comisión Permanente Especial de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público. A full report on the roadway is due next week.

Vargas said the absence of adequate drainage was a key failing because the road is gravel. Without adequate plans for runoff, flowing water can carry away much of the road material, he said.

This is the stretch that figures in a series of bribery investigations. The road was built with direct contracts instead of competitive bidding because the central government was trying to provide quick access to an area that had been invaded by Nicaraguan soldiers.
Vargas said the road was like an accordion with variable widths ranging from 40 meters (131 feet) to just 10 to 14 (33 to 46 feet).

Vargas also talked about the slopes that he did not think were stabilized adequately and where they would be prone to slides during rainy weather.

The commission decided to meet again Tuesday to hear more about the roadway.

More than 200 judicial agents fanned out June 6 to pull off 41 simultaneous searches, the largest such police operation in history as part of the investigation over the road contracts. The 41 locations, mostly construction companies, were in 11 cantons, said the Poder Judicial. Specifically sought were receipts and accounting information relating to payments by the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the nation's road agency.

The construction companies had received payments for 19 billion colons or about $38 million.

At least three public employees are suspected of receiving bribes from construction companies.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 13, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 117
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The roundup goes high tech with DNA taking place of brands
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was a time when the best way to keep track of cows was to rope, throw and brand the little ones. Otherwise, there would be mavericks running around without marks of ownership. High tech is taking that tradition a step further.

The Judicial Investigating Organization and the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología will be announcing today a project to keep track of cattle by using DNA, the genetic markers.

The ministry and the investigative agency said that rustling and illegal butchering of cattle is becoming more frequent in the country. There also is a concern when people are exposed to meat that is inadequately prepared.

DNA evidence also is a powerful proof at trial, said the ministry.

The ministry has received 28 million colons, about $55,000 so that the Secretaría Nacional de Salud Animal can conduct a study of cattle genetics in Costa Rica.
cow and DNA

Study says major eruptions can have negative effect on ozone
By the American Geophysical Union new staff

Giant volcanic eruptions in Nicaragua over the past 70,000 years could have injected enough gases into the atmosphere to temporarily thin the ozone layer, according to new research. And, if it happened today, a similar explosive eruption could do the same, releasing more than twice the amount of ozone-depleting halogen gases currently in the stratosphere due to manmade emissions.

Bromine and chlorine are gases that “love to react — especially with ozone,” said Kirstin Krüger, a meteorologist with GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany. “If they reach the upper levels of the atmosphere, they have a high potential of depleting the ozone layer.”

New research by Ms. Krüger and her colleagues, which she presented Tuesday at a scientific conference in Iceland, combined a mixture of field work, geochemistry and existing atmospheric models to look at the previous Nicaraguan eruptions. And the scientists found that the eruptions were explosive enough to reach the stratosphere, and spewed out enough bromine and chlorine in those eruptions, to have an effect on the protective ozone layer. Ms. Krüger’s talk was at the American Geophysical Union’s Chapman Conference on Volcanism and the Atmosphere.

Steffen Kutterolf, a chemical volcanologist with GEOMAR and one of Ms. Krüger’s colleagues, tackled the question of how much gas was released during the eruptions. He analyzed gases that were trapped by minerals crystallizing in the magma chambers, and applied a novel method that involves using the high-energy radiation from the German Electron Synchrotron in Hamburg to detect trace elements, including bromine. From that, Kutterolf estimated the amount of gas within magma before the eruptions, as well as the gas content in the lava rocks post-eruption. The difference, combined with existing field data about the size of the eruption, allowed the scientists to calculate how much bromine and chlorine are released.

Previous studies have estimated that in large, explosive eruptions — the type that sends mushroom clouds of ash kilometers high — up to 25 percent of the halogens ejected can make it to the stratosphere. For this study, the research team used a more conservative estimate of 10 percent reaching the stratosphere, to calculate the potential ozone layer depletion.

Taking an average from 14 Nicaraguan eruptions, the scientists found bromine and chlorine concentrations in the

Volcano crater
Photo by Steffen Kutterolf
Apoyo Caldera in Nicaragua where a  major volcanic eruption 24,500 years ago could have released gases that temporarily depleted the ozone layer.

stratosphere jumped to levels that are equivalent to 200 percent to 300 percent of the 2011 concentrations of those gases. The Upper Apoyo eruption 24,500 years ago, for example, released 120 megatons of chlorine and 600 kilotons of bromine into the stratosphere.

Volcanic sulfate aerosols alone can lead to an ozone increase — if chlorine levels are at low, pre-industrial levels, Ms. Krüger said. But bromine and chlorine are halogens, gases whose atoms have seven electrons in the outer ring. To reach a stable, eight-electron configuration, these atoms will rip electrons off of passing molecules, like ozone. So when an eruption also pumps bromine and chlorine levels into the stratosphere, the ozone-depleting properties of the gases together with aerosols is expected to thin the protective layer.

“As we have bromine and chlorine together, we believe that this can lead to substantial depletion,” she said. “And this is from one single eruption.”

Because the effects are in the stratosphere, where the volcanic gases can be carried across the globe, eruptions of tropical volcanoes could lead to ozone depletion over a large area, Ms. Krüger said, potentially even impacting the ozone over polar regions. However, that’s a question for future research to address. Some volcanic gases can last in the stratosphere up to six years, she added, although the most significant impacts from eruptions like Mount Pinatubo were within the first two years.

The next step in the research, Ms. Krüger said, is to investigate how much damage to the ozone layer the volcanic gases caused in the past — and what the damage could be from future volcanic eruptions in the active Central American region.

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U.N. agency now calls
diesel exhaust carcinogenic

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

More than a decade after it was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, the U.N. health agency Tuesday classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, announced the re-classification Tuesday, after a week-long meeting of international experts, and based its decision on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.

“The scientific evidence was compelling and the working group’s conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans,” said the chairperson of the agency's working group which reviewed the scientific evidence. He is Christopher Portier.

“Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide,” he added.

According to the agency, large populations are exposed to diesel exhaust in everyday life, whether through their occupation or through the ambient air. People are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to exhausts from other diesel engines, including from other modes of transport, such as diesel trains and ships, and from power generators.

There had been mounting concern about the cancer-causing potential of diesel exhaust, particularly based on findings in epidemiological studies of workers exposed in various settings, the research agency noted.

The working group reviewed the evidence and, overall, it concluded that there was sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust. In particular, it found that there was sufficient evidence to determine that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer, and noted that there is a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

The working group also concluded that gasoline exhaust was possibly carcinogenic to humans, a finding unchanged from a previous evaluation in 1989.

The agency said that governments and other decision-makers now have a valuable evidence-base on which to consider environmental standards for diesel exhaust emissions and to continue to work with the engine and fuel manufacturers towards those goals.

In 1988, the agency had classified diesel exhaust as probably carcinogenic to humans. An advisory group, which reviews and recommends future priorities for the agency, had recommended diesel exhaust as a high priority for re-evaluation since 1998.

Aide to wounded lawmaker
wins her congressional seat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Democrat Ron Barber has won a special election in Arizona to finish the term of a congresswoman who was wounded in a mass shooting last year.

Barber, who was an aide to former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, defeated Republican Jesse Kelly in Tuesday's election.

Ms. Giffords resigned her seat in the House of Representatives this past January to focus on her recovery from the near-fatal shooting, which occurred during a public appearance in Tucson in January 2011. Six people were killed and 13 others injured, including Barber. He will have to run for re-election in November for a full two-year term.

The special election to fill Ms. Giffords's seat was one of many elections being held across the country Tuesday, many of them congressional primaries to pick the Democratic and Republican candidates to run in November. One of the biggest races took place in Virginia, where former U.S. Sen. George Allen defeated little-known opponents in the Republican primary in the race for his old Senate seat.

Allen, a former governor of Virginia, lost his 2006 re-election bid to Democratic challenger James Webb after he was caught on camera using a racial slur to describe a Webb campaign volunteer. He will face Democrat Tim Kaine, another former Virginia governor, in the November election to replace the retiring Webb.

Primary elections were also being held in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Carolina.

In another election-year issue, officials in Washington state say a referendum on same-sex marriage will be placed on the November ballot.

Earlier this year, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation that legalized same-sex marriage, but it was put on hold while opponents gathered enough signatures to place it on the ballot. State election officials say opponents turned in nearly 250,000 signatures, well over the legal minimum of 120,577.

A recent poll shows more than 50 percent of Washington state voters approve of legalizing same-sex marriage.

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Cocaine transfer
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Navy and Coast Guard crew members alongside the 'USS Nicholas' prepare to transfer the captured cocaine bales.

U.S. forces at sea stop
another cocaine shipment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another U.S. naval vessel has recovered cocaine in an incident that led to the capture of a drug-smuggling gofast boat.

The boat is the guided-missile frigate “USS Nicholas,” which was in the Pacific Ocean as part of Operation Martillo, the multinational effort against drug smuggling.

The U.S. Southern Command said that crew members of the “Nicholas” pulled bales of cocaine totaling 4,910 pound from the sea during the incident June 4. The action also involved the  “U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman” and a Colombian naval vessel.

U.S. Navy and Coast Guard crew members appear to have chased the gofast boat back into Colombian waters where a Colombian patrol boat captured it and its crew.

New Parque la Libertad
hosts 88 bird species

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new book describes 88 bird species that can be found at the new Parque la Libertad in eastern Desamparados and La Unión.

The book “Avifauna” was created by Guiselle Alvarado and Silvia Bolaños, ornithologists with the natural history department of the Museo Nacional. Banco Nacional supported the work.

The park has 34 hectares, some 84 acres.

The land was donated by Holcim (Costa Rica) S.A., the concrete firm, and the government has been working to create a biological garden and a reforestation project as well as a number of other park attractions.

The bird project required a year, said the authors. They said they encountered bird species that are not usually found in an urban setting. About 40 per cent are migratory.

One goal of planners is to make the park part of a biological corridor between Loma Salitral, the Escazú mountains and  La Carpintera.

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Jo Stuart
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