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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 121                          Email us
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Goverment, union agree on $70 million dock deal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government has agreed to invest $70 million to modernize the cargo port of Moín in Limón province as a condition of dock workers ending their strike.

That was an agreement that was reached late Monday after a marathon day of negotiations that started at 10 a.m.

The agreement, signed at 11:45 p.m. by both government and union leaders, was released at 2:35 a.m. It said that the government would cause the Ministerio de Hacienda to present a law to the legislature within 30 working days to finance the project. There was no indication where the government's $40 million share would originate.

Some $30 million is supposed  to be provided by the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, the government agency that runs the docks.

The deal appears to be a victory for the  Sindicato de Trabajadores of the Junta. They have been concerned by a new $1 billion concession granted to a Dutch firm. The firm plans to construct a $1 billion container-handling facility.

Still to be heard from is the Dutch firm that now will face significant competition from the government docks. Eventually the docks built by the Dutch firm were supposed to be turned over to the government.

The two-page agreement included one page of just signatures, and some of them were of lawmakers who had urged the government to negotiate. Among them were signatures of  Carmen Granados of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and Walter Céspedes of Movimiento Libertario.
The government also agreed to add more money to the improvement project if that became necessary.

The union also agreed to support the modernization and the restructuring of the institution, presumably the Junta, to make it more efficient.

The modernization plan is supposed to be one already drawn up by the Junta. The government agreed to call a special session of the legislature in order to have the law approved, if necessary and to prevail on its political allies to support the plan.

The agreement also calls for an adjustment of tariffs for handling cargo. But there was no further description of by how much.

The union struck Tuesday morning specifically over the plans for the container port concession. There was no activity on the docks for two days, causing significant losses to exporters of perishable produce. Hundreds of police moved in to secure the docks at midnight Thursday. Then Limón erupted into violence as gangs burned trucks on the way to the docks and did more vandalism.

More police were able to discourage the violence after about three dozen persons were arrested.

The Limón and Moín cargo ports are among the most inefficient in the world. About 80 percent of the country's imports and exports go through the port, including most of the pineapples and bananas.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, led negotiations for the government.

The government had said that private contractors and some workers who did not go out on strike appear to be loading and unloading cargo at the docks in a normal manner. Union leaders disputed this.

No-fly victim at airport here gets international notice
By Aaron Knapp
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen who just graduated from the University for Peace in Ciudad Colón has generated international attention because the federal government prohibited him from flying home to San Diego, California. The man, Kevin Iraniha, found out at Juan Santamaría airport June 5  that he is on the  FBI's no-fly list.

His story has been published prominently on many printed and Internet sources. including the Huffington Post and the British Daily Mail.

There even is a YouTube video of the young man being embraced by friends and family as he crossed the U.S. border on foot from Tijuana, Mexico.

The San Diego native told a television station there, he spent two days in the
 Mr. Iraniha
Kevin Iraniha
same clothes making his way home from Costa Rica.

In an email, the U.S. Embassy here declined to confirm whether or not it had contact with Iraniha. Embassy workers need a Privacy Act waiver to make any comment. But the embassy spokesperson did say that the U.S. facility does not have a copy of the no-fly list.

According to the U.S. Transportation Security Agency's Web site, the only way a person can find out if he or she is on the no-fly list is to check in for a flight. If they are on the list, they are not allowed to board their plane.

The no-fly list is compiled by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center and consists of about 20,000 people, about 500 of whom are U.S. citizens, says the transportation security agency. Other sources say that there may be a million persons on the list.

Iraniha spent the last year at the U.N.-chartered university west of San José. But before that he spent time in Egypt and Iran. Because he is Muslim, his cause was taken up by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to take an American citizen and violate their civil and constitutional rights,” said 
Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the council.

“The list itself has major, major defects, and at some point Nelson Mandela, Ted Kennedy, a 3-month-old baby and a former Marine were all put on that list,” said Mohebi. The Internet is filled with stories that confirm  Mohebi's statement.

When Iraniha attempted to board his flight, he had just graduated with a master's degree in international law from the University for Peace.

The university said in an email that it had no previous knowledge that Iraniha had been placed on such a list.

“Kevin has been in contact with us since the very beginning of the incident and has told us the whole and general description about the incident,” said the email. “Fortunately, he is back in his U.S. home.”

Iraniha is the son of Nasser Iraniha, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, and has expressed support for Palestine.

Despite the lack of a comment by the U.S. Embassy official,  Iraniha was grilled there for hours by an FBI agent.  Mohebi confirmed that in a talk with San Diego television's Channel 7.

Iraniha went to the airport here with his brothers and father who had traveled to be at his graduation. They, too, had trouble, His father said he almost was prevented from flying because he had purchased the ticket for his son.

There was no indication that the FBI agent provided or even knew of any reason why Kevin Iraniha was on the no-fly list. Some sources have speculated that he had rebuffed earlier FBI efforts to recruit him as an informant.

San Diego television made much of the fact that Iraniha is a San Diego State University graduate. His Facebook page said he is not a druggie and only an Iranian-American Muslim.

The  Council on American-Islamic Relations became involved when it became obvious that the man wold be stranded in Costa Rica. Mohebi said the goal was to get the 27 year old back to the United States as quickly as possible.

“Citizens have the right to come home,” he said. “Our government should not let U.S. citizens be stranded in other countries.”

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weekend quakes
Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica graphic 
Red dots are the estimated epicenters of the quakes.

There were five 3.0+ quakes
registered over the weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The earthquake monitoring laboratory has counted five quakes of magnitude 3.0 or more from Friday through Sunday.

The first took place a few minutes before 11 p.m. Friday in the active zone near Tobosi. It was felt most intensely in  Frailes de Desamparados, said the 
Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica Instituto de Investigaciones en Ingeniería at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The second and third quakes took place off the coast of Jacó. The first with a magnitude of  3.2 took place at 1:24 a.m Saturday. The second with a magnitude of 3.7 took place at 12:21 p.m. Sunday.

A few minutes later at 12:27 p.m.
Sunday a quake with a magnitude of 3.5 took place about some 5 kilometers northeast of  San Isidro de Coronado in the Central Valley.,

Finally a quake with a magnitude of 3.5 took place Sunday at 8:48 p.m. some 13 kilometers or eight miles east of Sámara on the Nicoya peninsula.

The Laboratorio's estimate a intensity differed slightly form those reported Monday from the  Red  Sismológica Nacional. Also at the university.

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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Leafcutters will be the featured insect on a new Web page
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Everyone has seen these hard-working ants lugging single file pieces of leaves back to the nest to provide fodder for their fungus farm.

Now the little guys will have their own Web page called that will contain information and photos for all levels of studies, according to the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología.

Zompopa is the Spanish name for the leafcutter ant, called scientifically Atta cephalotes. They are universal in Costa Rica, and sometimes too universal because many gardeners are unhappy to see their plants and trees stripped. Each nest may contain 5 million of the critters, so they can do a lot of stripping quickly.

The Web page actually crew out of a project to control the ants at the Monumento Nacional Guayabo near Turriallba, said the ministry which will announce the Web page Thursday in conjunction with the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

Adrián PintoTomás is the researcher who was out to remove the leafcutters from the monument because the insects were doing damage. He created a bioproduct to eliminate the ants but also recognized the tourist value of the ant colonies nearby, said the ministry. His work is presented of the Web site.

Right now the site is password protected because it will not go public until  Thursday. The logo features a leafcutter ant carrying the name of the site as if it were a leaf fragment.

Florida Ice & Farm gave support to the project.

Municipal and other officials get a little testy when they find that someone has disregarded their orders to close, as in this case where the plastic tape has been broken. Beyond are fields of pineapples.

Pineapple field
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo photo

Criminal action sought against firm that grows pineapples
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pineapple-growing operation in  Pococí is facing a criminal action because operators disregarded restrictions put on the plantation by the municipality and the  Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo.

The action comes at a time when such monoculture operations are coming under increased criticism from environmental groups. For example, the group COECOCeiba Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica came out with a scathing critique of pineapple production also Monday.

The  Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo said that since the first of the year residents of  San Antonio del Humo, Roxana and the Floridas, in Jiménez de Pococí have field complaints about tree cutting, earth movements and planting pineapples without permits or environmental control.

The object of the complaints was the firm  Pequeñas Anonas Rojas PAR S.A.

The legislative lawmaker  José María Villalta filed a complaint with the Tribunal.
In response to the complain the Tribunal issued an order insisting on respect for protected areas and waterways.

The Pococí municipal council went even further and Feb. 29 ordered the pineapple operation to close because it had expanded despite a moratorium in effect for growers.

In a visit April 22, officials found that the municipal seals had been broken, so the municipality reported it had filed a criminal complaint Thursday.

The environmental group COECOCeiba Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica noted in a press release that pineapple growing has increased as much as 300 percent since 2004. It is a $2 billion business, but the group says that transnational companies, principally Dole, get this money but there is no transfer of wealth to the citizens or communities.

The group also complains about the proliferation of flies due to the pineapple wastes and the elimination of traditional agriculture. The group also complain about many of the same environmental problems that the Tribunal has cited in the past: chemicals seeping into the water supply, erosion and even the labor practices.

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Business chamber proposes a 2.47 percent salary increase
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The business sector has proposed minimum wage increase of 2.47 percent for the second half of the year.

That is in contrast to a proposal by labor leaders for an increase of almost 6 percent.

The proposal was by the  Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado to the  Consejo Nacional de Salarios, which will make the final decision.

The business chamber said that the proposal was based on the Central Bank estimate of 5 percent inflation this year and on a formula that was approved by both business and labor in the past.
The chamber noted that the minimum wages were increased at a rate of  3.17 percent for the first half of the year.
There are 1.2 million private sector employees, and many of them will be affected by the increase, the chamber noted.

Many Costa Ricans work for the minimum wage, which is different for each occupational group. The business chamber proposal would mean a series of monthly raises ranging from about 4,500 colons or $9 to 12,000 colons (about $24) for the range of minimum salaries.

Government worker are not covered by the minimum and negotiations for these salaries are not on the table now. Also outside these negotiations are professionals, whose salaries usually are set by their various professional groups.

Lawmakers OK for the second time casino and call center tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature Monday passed for the second and final time a tax on casinos and gambling call centers.

The measure levies a monthly tax on each slot machine, each gambling table and monthly net income. The call centers face a tax based on the number of employees.

Lawmakers pointed out that such a tax was part of the platform on which President Laura Chinchilla ran.

A.M. Costa Rica estimated that some casino owners will have to pay the government up to 8.5 million colons (more than $17,000) a month plus 10 percent of their net income, according to the new tax bill.

Operators of gambling call centers will have to pay up to
$82,000 a year in taxes under the same proposed law.

Although the actual wording of the final bill will not be known until it is published in the La Gaceta government newspaper, preliminary drafts  grandfathered in casinos that were not related to hotels. Any new casinos will have to be associated with a four- or five-star hotel.

Such a measure continues the fiction that the casinos are for tourists, when the bulk of the customers are Costa Rican.

The measure passed with 42 of a possible 57 votes.

A court appeal by casino operators is possible.

The tax is supposed to be used for security purposes, but a last-minute amendment may have allocated all the money for the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz to build jail cells.

Methane discovery advances sea level rise estimates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new disclosure of methane gas released by thawing permafrost represents something more for coastal residents to worry about.

A Florida State University professor says  ancient reserves of methane gas seeping from the melting Arctic ice cap are a powerful greenhouse gas that causes climate warming.

The university reports that until recently, the frozen soil and ice served to plug or block these vents. But thawing conditions have allowed the conduits to open, and deep geologic methane now escapes, the university said.

The head of the four-member research team is  Jeff Chanton. Because he is located in Florida, the bulk of his concern is directed there. He says the methane will expedite the rise in ocean levels. In their studies of Alaska and Greenland, the team found  77 previously undocumented methane seep sites, comprising 150,000 vents to the atmosphere. They used air photos.

People who live in coastal areas in Florida could be directly affected, said Chanton, who analyzed the methane and dated it to more than 40,000 years old, according to a university release. All this seeping
methane causes more melting ice, Chanton said, which causes sea levels to rise and could affect coastal real estate values — sooner rather than later, possibly over the next 50 to 100 years, Chanton said.

"Along the flat Florida coastline, a 1-foot rise in sea level could cause anywhere from 10 to 100 feet of shoreline retreat — erosion," the university quoted Chanton as saying. "For us here in Florida, this is really important because we can expect the coast to recede."

The study has relevance to coastal Costa Rica where researchers already has estimated the impact of varying amounts of sea level rise.

Until now most of the concern has been directed at the release of carbon dioxide, a component of what is called greenhouse gas. The sea is rising at about 3 millimeters a year now.

Another recent study said that predictions of sea level rise advanced in 2007 by the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not account for some factors. The Intergovernmental panel predicted sea level rise by 2100 to be 20 to 60 centimeters, about 8 to 24 inches. Instead, this current study predicts an increase in sea level of between 60 and 180 centimeters or from two to six feet. And that is without considering methane.

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Google sees censorship
on rise even in democracies

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

If the latest numbers from Google are any measure, 2012 is not shaping up as a good year for free speech on the Internet.

For the last two or so years, following a high-profile dust-up with the government of China regarding content, the search engine giant Google unveiled its “Transparency Report.” The site compiles specific requests  from governments or claimed copyright holders to remove or block content, and charts Google’s responses.

For example, from July to December 2011, the government of Brazil issued 128 court orders to remove content, which Google says it complied with 67 percent of the time. In contrast Australia only had six requests during the same period, with a reported Google compliance rate of only 17 percent.

The report has become a helpful reference for those monitoring the general tolerance of free expression around the globe, and online trends in specific countries.

This week, Google released a new trend report, and, according to Google’s Dorothy Chou, Google senior policy analyst, the news is troubling.

“When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers,” writes Ms. Chou on the company blog. “We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

The latest report goes on to detail a noticeable increase in the number of governments requesting material be taken down or blocked not for legal reasons per se, but more for image purposes. 270 requests came from Spain regarding material that was critical of public officials, including links, blog posts and YouTube videos; a first-ever request came from Poland to remove an item critical of the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development. Google says it did not comply with any of these requests.

However, overall Google reports a 65 percent compliance rate with take-down requests, and as those requests increase — even for nonlegal reasons — so, too, do worries about a growing intolerance of free online expression.

“It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect — Western democracies not typically associated with censorship,” says Ms.  Chou of the data.

Los Cabos hosting summit
of leaders from major nations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The leaders of 19 nations and the European Union, known as the Group of 20, are gathering at the Mexican beach resort Los Cabos for a two-day summit, Monday and today, with worries about economic crises in several European countries overshadowing most other issues.  Officials from G20 working groups say the drive to help needy countries remains a major focus of the summit.

Mariachi musicians greeted delegations from around the world as they arrived at one of Mexico's most luxurious beach resort areas. But, although much of their work takes place in hotels and conference halls within view of the beaches, the leaders attending this summit will be spending much of their time talking about the debt problems facing Greece, Spain and Italy.

The G20 host, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, says participants in the summit should firm up their pledges to the International Monetary Fund of more money to deal with the debt crisis. G20 nations promised to provide more than $400 billion in new loans in April, but several have yet to follow up on that pledge.

Representatives from some non-governmental organizations are worried that the G20 focus on the problems of relatively rich nations in Europe might detract from efforts to help poor, non-industrialized countries where most of the world's neediest people ​reside.
"The last two summits have been dominated by the Eurozone crisis, by Greece, and that means that there is very little agenda time for other issues," said Christina Weller, lead economic analyst for London-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.

Ms. Weller argues that G20 leaders would be helping their own countries by doing more to help the millions of people in developing nations who cannot participate in the global economy. She says poverty is more than a moral blight.

"It is also an economic problem. It lowers demand. That is where the growth should be is in those markets and if you tackle poverty, everybody benefits," said Ms. Weller.

But, although the world leaders who meet here may have little time to discuss much beyond the debt crisis in Europe, officials from those nations continue to advance their work on previously approved agendas such as economic development and poverty reduction.

The director of Mexico's agency for international development, Rogelio Granguillhome, who co-chairs the G20 Development Working Group, told reporters that this effort has advanced steadily, in the past few years.

He says this group, which met here in Los Cabos in May, is presenting leaders with concrete and precise recommendations on such issues as infrastructure development, food security and green growth. This group also worked in concert with representatives of the business sector, who are holding a concurrent meeting, called the B20, at a nearby beach hotel.

The director of policy and business practices for the International Chamber of Commerce, Stefano Bertasi, says corporate leaders from around the world take part in these forums in an effort to be partners with governments in promoting economic development.

"We want this to be an enduring, ongoing process of collaboration and discussion that takes place before summits, during summits and after summits," he said.

Bertasi says that, although there are areas of concern for businesses, like  the rise of protectionism and higher taxes, there are many areas of mutual interest such as the promotion of green energy.  He says the way business leaders often work out differences on various issues can serve as a model for government leaders as they struggle to find agreement.

"If we bring consensus views and ideas, brought by business to government, hopefully, that will help governments themselves come to consensus on some of these issues," said Bertasi.

Groups that might want to express disagreement with any of the actions taken at either the G20 or the B20 meetings are quite restricted in what they can do and where they can stage a protest. The meetings are being held under tight security in an area along the tip of the Baja peninsula where all access roads are patrolled by heavily armed Mexican federal police and soldiers. Helicopters swoop overhead on a regular basis and Mexican coast guard and navy ships are anchored just offshore, in plain sight of the summit participants and the thousands of tourists staying at beachfront hotels.
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Planned power outage today
in center of San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electric company workmen will be cutting off power in the center of San José today from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The areas involved are along avenidas 1 and 3 between calles 4 and 8, Avenida Central between calles 2 and 6 and calles 4 and 6 between avenidas 2 and three, said the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz.

The work is described as preventative maintenances on the underground electrical distribution system.

The area of the outage includes Pizza Hut at Calle 4, part of the Mercado Central, the Royal Dutch Hotel, Panadería Samuelito, the Pascoa store, La Gloria, the McDonald's east of the Banco Central and a host of other establishments.

Not included in the outage are the Banco Central, Banco Nacional, Cafe Volio and Penny Lane, said a company announcement.

Some of the businesses in the outage area have their own emergency power source.

Two held in ATM scam
that stole credit card data

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men have been detained as suspects in a scam that stole credit card information with a device stuck in automatic tellers.

The Poder Judicial identified both men as Bulgarians with the last names of   Chopov and Alexandrov. But the Judicial Investigating Organization said over the weekend that one of the men was a Canadian.

The Poder Judicial said that both men were jailed for preventative detention.

Judicial police said that 12 persons had been defrauded in May in Limón, but that the current investigation involved scams at banks in Tamarindo and Flamingo.

Agents said the men were detained Friday afternoon in Carrillo when they were headed to their lodgings in Liberia. A search of where they were staying turned up portable computers, credit card blanks ready for duplication and other evidence, they said.

One of the fake credit cards cloned in Limón was used in Canada, said agents.

Clown faces abuse charges
involving Puntarenas kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents have detained a 44-year-old man who worked as a clown and accused him of abusing four youngsters.

The man also has a radio show directed at children on a Puntarenas station.

Agents said they have been investigating the cases for a month. They accused the man of using his part-time job as a clown and the radio show to make contact with youngsters.

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