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(506) 2223-1327          Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 117           E-mail us
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Ms. Chinchilla on a stamp
President immortalized on new postal emission
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Correos de Costa Rica has come out with a new stamp commemorating the constitutional change that gave women the vote in 1949, and featured on the stamp is the leading women politician of today, Laura Chinchilla.

Each of the two stamps are valued at 340 colons, about 68 U.S. cents. Ms. Chinchilla is seen waving to the crowd shortly after being sworn in as president May 8, 2010.

The stamps were issued without fanfare May 9.
Women were among the groups that benefited from the revolution of 1948. The stamp features a photo of the first woman voter at the polls in  Tigra de San Carlos that is preserved in the  Biblioteca Nacional de Costa Rica.

That probably was at the local elections in 1950, the first after the legal change.

All of the commemorative stamps issued by the postal service can be purchased at the stamp store in the main post office in downtown San José or online via the Correos Web site. Stamps are available as are first day covers for collectors.

Mrs. Clinton voices concern on China trade policies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was critical of foreign assistance and trade by the People's Republic of China. Mrs. Clinton made the comments in Africa where she was asked about the country that has overtaken the United States as Africa's top trading partner.

Secretary Clinton says the Obama administration hopes that China will be successful in its economic efforts on behalf of the Chinese people and that it will assume a greater, and more responsible role in addressing challenges in Africa.

"We are, however, concerned that China's foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance.  And, that it has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests,” she said.

Large Chinese construction projects in Africa often employ Chinese workers housed at the site. 
African trade unions have complained that those projects do not create jobs or job training for local workers.

"It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave," Mrs. Clinton said.  "And, when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there.  You don't improve the standard of living.  You don't create a ladder of opportunity. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa.”

An editorial in the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper, responding to Mrs. Clinton's comments, says China has never colonized any nation in Africa.  The editorial says, on the contrary, it is well known to African people and the world that China has helped Africa build many schools and hospitals.

The state-run newspaper says the African people are wise enough to be able to identify who are their true friends. 

“They don't need lectures in this regard," it said.

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Dominical lifeguards plan
July 3 benefit and auction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dominical lifeguards plan a community Independence Day party in that central Pacific community July 3.

The party is a benefit with a silent auction designed to raise money to keep the lifeguards in business. This year the auction will be going online to generate bids from those out of town, said an email from the Dominical Lifeguards.

A similar event last year brought in $10,000 and helped the lifeguards pay off two years of debt, said the email.

Dominical is among the few towns that have a professional lifeguard crew. They have saved many lives of bathers caught in rip tides.

The benefit will be at Roca Verde Hotel and Restaurant. More information is HERE!

The benefit is one of several Independence Day events that weekend and the following Monday.

The U.S. Embassy is hosting the annual invitation-only Independence celebration Friday afternoon at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú. Guests are mostly government officials, Costa Rican business leaders and foreign diplomats.

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica is hosting a catered July 4th Picnic July 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Paso Fino in Barrio La Trinidad on the old road between Piedades and Ciudad Colón. Everyone is welcome, the organization said.   Those interested can contact Nelleke at 2279-3553 or email  

Expats in the Grecia area also have a party planned that weekend, but details were unavailable.

Monday, Independence Day, the American Colony Committee is joining with Avenida Escazú for an afternoon event instead of the traditional morning picnic. The event will be from 3 to 8 p.m. All are welcome regardless of nationality, said the committee. Avenida Escazú is an upscale shopping area with office buildings and other attractions south of Hospital CIMA on the Autopista Próspero Fernández.

Minister defends Project
for new docks at Moín

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A key government minister defended the concession plan for the port of Moín Tuesday before some unconvinced lawmakers and said the project would bring 8,500 jobs to the poverty stricken province.

The minister, Francisco Jiménez of Obras Públicas y Transportes, also said that the concession project would generate $982 million for development and also $2.3 billion in taxes.

Some 8,000 of the jobs he mentioned would be indirect, being generated by the 500 workers on the docks, the ministry said.

The Dutch firm APM Terminals has won a concession to invest nearly $1 billion to build a modern port. The project is in jeopardy because of opposition from current dockworkers at the inefficient public docks and from some lawmakers who philosophically oppose concessions.

The government will takeover the new docks at the end of the 30-year concession. APM runs docks all over the world. Jiménez said that the government plans to convert the public docks in Limón to handle just cruise ships and their passengers.

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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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 15, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 117
Latigo K-9

Environment watchdog files case against Caldera highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As if Autopista del Sol did not have enough problems, the environmental enforcement agency has hauled the firm and its executives into a trial for damage to the landscape.

The agency, the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo, blames the company for at least 22 violations that resulted from building the San José-Caldera highway. The agency, part of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, announced the allegations Tuesday.

The agency has the power to levy fines and said it was looking for 581 million colons or about $1.2 million.

During construction of the roadway, there were complaints from neighbors along the road that the workers were damaging water sources, but no action was taken at that time. Among those being called into court is Rodolfo Hernández Ramírez, who is believed to be an environmental expert who had the job of insuring compliance from the contractors of the road.

Autopista del Sol built the highway under a concession agreement. It is compensated by tolls. But the company has been under fire for leaving slopes that resulted in slides and problems with the roadway.
Company representatives being brought to court are Carlos Jaraquemada, Pedro Pontage, Cristian Sandoval and Sergio Ramírez. All have powers to direct the firm. Only Ramírez is a Costa Rican.

The allegations include jeopardizing a water source, eliminating vegetation, causing landslides, cutting trees and reducing space for wildlife. The tribunal said it began the case in 2009. The tribunal said that the evidence in the case fills 14 books.

Among those pressing the case are José Martín Irías, identified as a neighbor; Mauricio Castro Lizano of the Procuraduría General de la República; and the Área de Conservación Pacífico Central, which is under the ministry.

The  Procuradoría is the government's civil lawyer.

The tribunal released a long list of locations where violations took place. One is in Piedades de Santa Ana where the company is charged with dumping thousands of cubic meters of soil into a ravine. Most of the allegations involve filling in ravines or encroaching on them.  Allegations continue at points all the way to the central Pacific coast.

The initial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23 and 24 with 11 witnesses.

Annual music festival starts today, but big day is Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fiesta de la Música starts today. This is the annual event with roots in France that provides a wide variety of music for persons in 120 countries. In Costa Rica, the events are mainly in the Central Valley from Cartago to Santa Ana.

The kickoff today will be at 10 a.m. at San Miguel church in Escazú. The Municipalidad de Escazú is sponsoring three different marimba offerings.

Saturday will see musical performances in San Jose's Parque Central, at the Museo Nacional, at the new cultural center Casa 927 in Barrio Amón, at the Asociacion Casa Hogar at the Perpetuo Socorro church, at Multiplaza del Este in Curridabat, at Moravia's Parque Central and in the Parque Amadeo Chinchilla in Coronado.

Also Saturday there are performances at the Parque Central Cultural Escazucaño, in the Casa Municipal de la Cultura in Santa Ana, and on the steps of the Centro de la Cultura Cartaginesa in Cartago.

The performances range from what is called electronic tango, hard rock and other modern forms to more conventional guitar and mandolin presentations. Some 208 groups sought to play and 57 were selected, organizers said. A full schedule is HERE.
music festival

June 21, Tuesday, is the traditional day for the Fiesta de la Música, but organizers are taking advantage of the weekend this year. Principal support comes from the Embassy of France and Alliance Française. The main attraction Tuesday is a 7:30 p.m. exposition that describes music by photographs, as explained by Alliance Française in the program. The exposition is at the French cultural organization's main headquarters in Barrio Amón.

The musical event has a large number of local sponsors.

The  Fête de la Musique had its beginnings in France in 1981 and has grown worldwide since. Costa Rica has had a festival since 2000.

Artists volunteer and are unpaid.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 15, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 117

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New version of dengue prompts concern among scientists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists are expressing concern about a dengue virus that continues to flourish in Southeast Asia and West Africa, cycling between non-human primates and the mosquitoes that feed on them, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

This form of dengue has received little attention because it does not attack humans, but more and more humans are entering the areas that had been the reserve of monkeys and other non-human primates, the university said.

Nikos Vasilakis, a professor at the university and the lead author of an academic paper about the danger, said “In the last 10 years we’ve seen a number of outbreaks of disease with real public health impact caused by what we call zoonotic viruses, viruses that start out in wild animals but can also be transmitted to humans. . . ."

Dengue virus may also be capable of movement from the
 widespread urban cycles into primates and forest mosquitoes of Latin America, which would establish a new reservoir for human infections in the New World, the university said in describing the professor's work.

In the paper, Vasilakis and his collaborators identified two factors that make a dengue re-emergence a “clear and present danger”: rapid human population growth near and in tropical forests, and the fact that little or no genetic change would be needed for forest dengue to adapt to human hosts and urban mosquitoes, said the university.

The paper urges additional study of the forest dengue.

Dengue sickens thousands in Costa Rica each year, mainly on the coasts. The disease can be fatal. Worldwide as many as 100 million people are infected yearly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dengue in humans is caused by any one of four related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, and the forest virus would seem to be a fifth.

Last safe place for amphibians in Darien now infected

By the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Smithsonian scientists have confirmed that chytridiomycosis, a rapidly spreading amphibian disease, has reached a site near Panama’s Darien region. This was the last area in the entire mountainous neotropics to be free of the disease. This is troubling news for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, a consortium of nine U.S. and Panamanian institutions that aims to rescue 20 species of frogs in imminent danger of extinction.

Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population declines or even extinctions of amphibian species worldwide. Within five months of arriving at El Cope in western Panama, chytridiomychosis killed 50 percent of the frog species and 80 percent of individuals.

“We would like to save all of the species in the Darien, but there isn’t time to do that now,” said Brian Gratwicke, biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and international coordinator for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. “Our project is one of a few to take an active stance against the probable extinction of these species. We have already succeeded in breeding three species in captivity. Time may be running out, but we are looking for more resources to take advantage of the time that remains.”

The Darien National Park is a World Heritage site and represents one of Central America’s largest remaining wilderness areas. In 2007, Doug Woodhams, a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, tested 49 frogs at a site bordering the Darien. At that time, none tested positive for the disease. In January 2010, however, Woodhams found that 2 percent of the 93 frogs he tested were infected.

“Finding chytridiomycosis on frogs at a site bordering the Darien happened much sooner than anyone predicted,” Woodhams said. “The unrelenting and extremely fast-paced spread of this fungus is alarming.”

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has already established captive assurance colonies in Panama of two priority species endemic to the Darien—the Pirre harlequin frog (Atelopus glyphus) and the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (A. certus). In addition, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo maintains an active breeding program for the Panamanian golden frog, which is Panama’s national animal. The Panamanian golden frog is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and researchers have not seen them in the wild since 2008.

surviving frog
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute photo
This is the Toad Mountain harlequin frog (A. certus) that is a priority for the Smithsonian breeding program.

“We would like to be moving faster to build capacity,” Gratwicke said. “One of our major hurdles is fundraising to build a facility to house these frogs. Until we jump that
hurdle, we’re limited in our capacity to take in additional species.”

Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are at risk of extinction. While the global amphibian crisis is the result of habitat loss, climate change and pollution, chytridiomycosis is at least partly responsible for the disappearances of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.

“These animals that we are breeding in captivity will buy us some time as we find a way to control this disease in the wild and mitigate the threat directly,” said Woodhams, who was the lead author of a whitepaper "Mitigating Amphibian Disease: strategies to maintain wild populations and control chytridiomycosis." This paper, published in Frontiers in Zoology, systematically reviews disease-control tools from other fields and examines how they might be deployed to fight chytrid in the wild. One lead in the effort to find a cure is that anti-chytrid bacteria living on frog skin may have properties that protect their amphibian host from chytrid by secreting anti-fungal chemicals.

Woodhams recently discovered that some Panamanian species with anti-chytrid skin bacteria transmit beneficial skin chemicals and bacteria to their offspring. The paper, "Social Immunity in Amphibians: Evidence for Vertical Transmission of Innate Defenses," was published in Biotropica in May.

“We are all working around the clock to find a cure,” Gratwicke said. “Woodhams’ discovery that defenses can indeed be transferred from parent to offspring gives us hope that if we are successful at developing a cure in the lab, we may find a way to use it to save wild amphibians.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 15, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 117

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Democratic senators seek
weapon restrictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
with staff reports

Three U.S. lawmakers are calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of their report saying Mexican drug gangs are getting their firepower from the United States.

The report, prepared for the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, says 70 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and traced by authorities came from the U.S.

The chair of the caucus, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, is calling on Congress to act on the findings and stop powerful Mexican drug traffickers from having what she calls unfettered access to military-style weapons from the United States.

Two other senators who helped prepare the report have joined Ms. Feinstein in calling for tougher gun laws. They are Charles Schumer of New York and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. All are Democrats.

The report recommends lawmakers close a loophole that allows private gun dealers to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting a background check on buyers. It also calls for lawmakers to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and says the U.S. must do a better job of enforcing an existing ban on imports of military-style weapons.

The report based its findings on information from the U.S. agency in charge of monitoring and tracking the use of firearms. Mexico has been increasingly critical of U.S. efforts to stop guns from crossing the border.

Still there are contradictions in the report. One section said that according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2010, 5,329 weapons seized in Mexico were traced using computerized eTrace System. During the same period, the Mexican defense ministry reported approximately 16,000
weapons recovered throughout Mexico, it said, adding that currently, only the Mexican attorney general’s office has access to eTrace. Expanded eTrace access is needed for the Mexican Federal Police, the report said.

The report also gave as an example of the type of arsenal being stockpiled by Mexican criminal groups, an April 30, report by Mexican federal police that they found numerous weapons behind the mirrors of a home gym in Ciudad Juárez including three anti-aircraft guns, dozens of grenades, a grenade launcher, AK-47s, several makes of machine guns and more than 26,000 ammunition cartridges. The bulk of these weapons are not easily available in the United States.

Last month Salvadorian military officers were detained on the allegation that they were about to ship hand grenades to México drug gangs.

The United States also has had trouble with Chinese manufacturers. In one undercover operation, representatives of Chinese firms offered to sell U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives agents hand-held rocket launchers and other anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. the salesmen thought the purchasers were Californian street gangs, said the bureau at the time.

Ms. Feinstein's staff also reported that they were offered a .50-caliber Browning machine gun at a local gun show. They did not report how they reacted to that offer or if they reported it to authorities. U.S. sales of machine guns are heavily restricted unless they are disabled war souvenirs.

Volcano ash continuing
to disrupt airline travel

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A cloud of ash from an erupting volcano in southern Chile has — for a third day, Tuesday — disrupted air travel in South America, Australia and New Zealand, causing widespread delays.  More than 60,000 passengers have been stranded.

While flights in some areas have resumed, including Melbourne, planes to and from New Zealand and Adelaide, Australia remain grounded Tuesday.

The volcano in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain in Chile has been erupting for several days, putting South American air travel into chaos as it spews ash high into the atmosphere, spreading eastward around the globe until reaching Australia, New Zealand and beyond in the Pacific. 

In addition to Argentina and Chile, flights have been disrupted in the South American countries of Brazil and Uruguay.
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Freedom of association
approved for hemisphere

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Organization of American States has adopted a resolution on freedom of association that recognizes the importance of respecting this fundamental right for democracy. The resolution was passed on June 8 by all 34 states of the Organization of American States, in its 41st general assembly in El Salvador. This is the first time that Latin American states have formally addressed the issue of freedom of association in the region, said Freedom House, which said it welcomed the decision.

In the resolution, member states commit to promote and encourage various forms of citizen participation in decision-making processes and to protect and respect the rights of peaceful assembly and free association in accordance with international human rights law.

“The adoption of this resolution on freedom of association is a significant step amid mounting legal and administrative restrictions for civil society organizations in several countries in the region,” said Viviana Giacaman, senior program manager for Latin America at Freedom House. “From now on, civil society organizations will have a tool to monitor government action and demand compliance with freedom of association standards.”

In the past few years, at least eight Latin American governments have considered or enacted legal or administrative measures to restrict the activities of civil society organizations. In most cases, these measures allowed governments to use discretion in approving registration of non-government organizations, grant public officials overreaching oversight powers over organizational activities and limit international funding. In addition, many governments tolerate and incite a public opinion climate that is hostile to non-government organizations by issuing public statements that denigrate, insult and question the work of civil society organizations and their leaders, said Freedom House. As a result, direct attacks and intimidation to civil society organizations have become increasingly common in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, it added..

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Identity of fire victim
is still being sought

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are still trying to identify the fourth person who died when an arsonist sealed two containers used as living quarters in Herradura and torched them early Friday.

Three persons, two brothers in their 20s and a 14-year-old girl, have been identified. The fourth person is now believed to be a companion of the girl, who also may be in her teens. All the bodies were badly burned.

Agents reported that a woman or girl was seen in the company of the dead 14 year old, identified by the last name of Delgado. The fourth body because of its size was first thought to be that of a child. But firemen later concluded that the stature was reduced by the fire.

The case is being handled as a multiple murder.

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