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(506) 223-1327              Published Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 125               E-mail us   
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Aserrí is getting ready for a weekend of tamales
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This weekend is a time to celebrate that Costa Rican treat closely identified with the Christmas season.

This is the weekend of the tamal, that mixture of meat and masa wrapped in banana leaves. and where else but Aserrí, the community of tamales.

The event is the fourth annual Feria Nacional del Tamal, and it begins Friday.

Making tamales is a major business in this community in the mountains south of San José. And it has been an economic staple for at least 50 years. One of the high points is a tamal-making contest at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Fireworks are 
Saturday night, and the obligatory parade of oxen and the carts is Sunday at 10 a.m.

As with most community festivals, a lot will be going on each day from Friday until Sunday. A list of activities is contained in the fair's Web page HERE!

For Costa Ricans, the tamal is more than just a food. It is is a symbol of family and social unity because "to speak of the tamal is to speak of family, of fiesta, tradition and religiosity," said the Web page. The Web page also includes instructions on how to get to Aserrí.

The event is sponsored by the local development association and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

U.N. report says that world abuse of illegal drugs is leveling off
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations says there is growing evidence that the worldwide epidemic of drug abuse is being brought under control. In this year's World Drug Report, the United Nations notes there have been significant and positive changes in world drug markets and that run-away addiction has slowed.

The U.N. Drug Report shows global markets for illicit drugs largely stabilized in 2005 and 2006. It says the cultivation, production, and consumption of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines seem to have been brought under control.

It says coca cultivation in the Andean countries continues to fall, driven by significant declines in Colombia. It says the global demand for cocaine also has stabilized. But, it notes the decline in the United States is offset by alarming increases in some European countries.

The report says the production and consumption of amphetamines has leveled off and for the first time in years, the global production and consumption of cannabis has not gone up.

While all this is good news, the United Nations is quick to say that huge problems with illicit drug abuse remain. It warns against complacency and says the situation could easily deteriorate again.

The United Nations finds opium cultivation has declined in Myanmar, Laos and the rest of the
world. But, it says it increased dramatically in Afghanistan in 2006. The main author of the report, Thomas Pietschmann, says the southern province of Helmand, which is largely under the control of the Taleban, is on the verge of becoming the world's biggest drug supplier.

The report puts the value of the illicit drugs market at $322 billion a year.

It says Africa is being targeted by traffickers seeking new routes, including cocaine traffickers from Colombia and heroin smugglers from Afghanistan. Pietschmann says there is a spillover effect from the increased trafficking and this is leading to growing drug consumption in Africa.

"People are getting paid in drugs," he said. "In order to make this into money they have to sell it. They do not have other possibilities, so they sell the drugs locally and the market is being created. And, thus we see also in Africa increasingly markets being created for heroin and for cocaine even though the levels if you compare it to America or to Europe are still very small."

Pietschmann calls this situation alarming. He says Africa is a poor continent and cannot deal with a plague of drug abuse and addiction.

The report says drug law enforcement has improved and large seizures of cocaine and heroin have helped contain the drug problem. At the same time, it notes there are 25 million problem drug users in the world. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 125

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Nosara highwaymen back
at work holding up trucks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed bandits again are on the loose in the Playa Garza-Nosara area on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Three times this month the armed and masked robbers launched violent attacks against delivery trucks.

The first was June 11 when a meat delivery truck became the target. Nothing was stolen because the driver did not carry cash, said officials.

The next day robbers presumed to be the same gang, attacked a Coca Cola delivery vehicle and got away with 2 million colons, about $3,850.

The most violent attack was June 18 when three bandits opened fire on a vehicle carrying a collector for the  Cervecería Costa Rica. The vehicle was peppered with bullet holes.

In addition to 3 million colons (some $5,770) the bandits got a shotgun and a 9-mm. pistol from the occupant.

Police officers said the attacks are taking place in an area known as Río Frío de Nosara. The bad condition of the roads cause drivers to slow down, and they become targets for the crooks. The stickups usually take place between 5 and 5:30 p.m.

The robberies are similar to a string of such crimes that began in October 2004. By April 2004 residents were estimating that the holdups numbered at least 20. Then for a time, as investigators made the crimes a priority, the robberies stopped.

U.S. employers seek more
of new college graduates

By the A.M. Costas Rica wire services

U.S. employers are planning to hire more new college graduates, including foreign students, this year than 2006, according to a recent study. But the job search is not getting any easier for recent graduates.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported in its "2007 Job Outlook" survey that employers plan to hire nearly 20 percent more new college graduates than they did last year.

Andrea Koncz of that organization says several factors are contributing to this trend:

"Number one is just the overall economy is better. They have more positions available to new college graduates. Their companies are growing."

And according to the survey, companies are demanding more diversity. Almost a third of responding employers plan to hire international students for full-time permanent positions in 2007. By employment sector, manufacturers are the most interested in hiring these graduates, followed by service employers and government/nonprofit groups.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that nearly 1.5 million college students graduated this year. Not all of them will get their dream jobs.

Employers in the South expect the biggest increase in hiring recent graduates in the United States, according to the report.

Work to widen highway
begins at Zapote

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials initiated Monday the widening of the highway that runs from Zapote to San Francisco de Dos Ríos. The 1.2 kilometer stretch is now two lanes. The work being done by a local contractor will add two more lanes.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes estimated the job at 1.4 billion colons or about $2.69 million.

Internet service returns
after work done on cables

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Internet service outside of Costa Rica appears to be back to normal after several repairs were made in underwater cables. Both the ARCOS and the MAYA cables suffered outages at the end of last week. These are the cables that ring the Caribbean and carry Internet signals, among other things, to  Florida where they connect users here with the worldwide Web.

Columbus Networks reported it had resolved a cable problem where the ARCOS comes ashore at Punto Fijo, Venezuela. The MAYA still is believed to be damaged somewhere east of Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Police teams find, destroy
800,000 marijuana plants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In another excursion into the Talamanca area, law enforcement officers reported they uprooted and destroyed some 800,000 marijuana plants.

Participating were the Policía de Control de Drogas, the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, and the Fuerza Pública from the nearby Valle de la Estrella.

Police periodically visit the area to cut down the marijuana plants. Some of them grow wild. Others are cultivated by locals.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública reported that police have destroyed more than 1.2 million plants so far this year.

Many of those destroyed in this latest operation were up to 3 meters tall and ready for harvest, police said.

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This little bird gets around a lot and has a complex society
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The dainty comemaíz, known in English as the rufous-collared sparrow, is perhaps the most common bird in Costa Rica. They make themselves at home in most any neighborhood in the Central Valley, as long as there are a few gardens.

Costa Rican country people also call the sparrow chingolo. They feed mostly on the ground looking for seeds and insects and come readily to birdseed, especially if it is scattered on the ground. Most any open non-forest habitat will be occupied, with weedy fields, coffee plantations, and low-intensity farmland supporting dense populations.

The comemaíz is strongly territorial, with much singing, especially in the early morning but continuing during the day and even occasionally at night. The male sits on a prominent perch to sing. His song is typically chwee, ti-ti-ti-ti-tit but there is much variation within and between populations.

A sharp chirp is also commonly heard, increasing in intensity if a predator like a cat or pygmy-owl is nearby.

Nesting is year-round with two or three eggs laid in a simple cup nest, usually in a small bush but sometimes higher or on the ground. The eggs are greenish-blue speckled with various shades of brown. One year when the family Christmas tree was in the carport, it was promptly occupied. Only the female incubates, but both male and female attend the young. Time in the nest is short, about 10 days, but the immature birds may be dependent for up to two weeks after fledging and leaving the nest. Immatures are brown and streaky, lacking the rufous collar and black bow tie of the adult.
sparrow photo
Photo by Steve Heinl
rufous-collared sparrow

A study at the Universidad de Costa Rica campus using colored leg bands to mark individuals found that there is a complex social organization within each territory with an “underworld” of subordinate individuals, themselves with a marked hierarchy. When the owner of the territory dies, the ranking individual of that sex immediately takes over.

Zonotrichia capensis is one of the most widespread members of the New World finch family Fringilidae. There are several common Zonotrichia species in North America, but none regularly range south of Mexico. The rufous-collared sparrow is distributed from southernmost Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. In Costa Rica it is found from a few hundred meters elevation in the Caribbean foothills to the highest peaks. There apparently are none at sea level in Central America, while in the coastal deserts of Peru and in temperate South America, they are everywhere.

Proposed Panamás treaty would open telecommunications
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican telecommunications monopoly will be able to compete in Panamá, according to a summary of the free trade treaty with that nation released Monday. In addition, firms from Panamá will be able to offer telecommunication services in Costa Rica, according to the summary.

Delegations from both nations reached an accord Friday during the ninth such round of negotiations. Under terms of the agreement, once the treaty enters into force some 93 percent of industrial and agroindustrial products will have free access. Among these products are medicines, paints, fertilizer, pipes, tires, paper, plastic, beauty preparations, refrigerators and stoves, pipes, textiles, shoes, bacon, milk products, plants, flowers, fresh fruits, tea, flour, cereals, fruit juices, food seasonings and sauces, alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, according to the summary.

Other industrial products will have a period of from five to 11 years as the customs duties gradually diminish. Some agricultural products will have schedules for reduction of duties as long as 16 years.

Coffee, rice, sugar, potatoes, onions and chicken thighs are subject to limited exclusions, as are pork, ham and palm oil. These products will have duty-free quotas, according to the summary, which was provided by the  Ministry of Comercio Exterior.

What remains to be done is to develop an outline of investments and financial services, although the general terms of these topics have been approved since 2002, as
provided in the free trade treaty with the United States, said the ministry.

Each of the countries involved in the U.S. free trade treaty agreed to negotiate separately with Panamá to determine which goods and services could be imported or exported there, said the ministry. Costa Rica began the negotiations in April 2006.

In 2006 Costa Rica exported $268 million to Panamá, and Panamá exported some $163 million to Costa Rica. The countries have a customs agreement reached in 1973 that covers about a fourth of possible imports and exports.

Telecommunications, represented in Costa Rica by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, has always been a  hot topic with union members of the firm known as ICE jealously guarding their industry. The free trade treaty with the United States would allow private wireless services.

Like the free trade treaty with the United States, the one with Panamá will need ratification. The Panamá treaty probably will end up in the legislature. Costa Ricans vote on the treaty with the United States Oct. 7.

Insurance, sold in Costa Rica by the monopoly Instituto Nacional de Seguros, was not addressed in the Panamá agreement, in part because Costa Rica is changing the rules here. However, the countries agreed to discuss the issue again a year after the proposed treaty enters into force, according to the ministry.

Marco Vinicio Ruiz, minister of Comercio Exterior, headed the Costa Rica delegation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 125

U.S. oil firm declines to negotiate further with Venezuela on Orinoco takeover
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S.-based oil company is reportedly breaking off talks with Venezuelan officials to determine its involvement in an Orinoco Belt oil project, which was nationalized earlier this year by President Hugo Chavez.

News reports late Monday said ConocoPhillips would likely end the talks with Venezuela over compensation for its investments and seek payment through arbitration or the courts.

President Chavez seized control of the operations of the
 Orinoco projects May 1. They had been developed by ConocoPhillips and five other international oil companies, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Statoil and Total.

At the time of the takeover, the government said it would continue talks with the oil companies to determine their compensation.

Venezuela's state-owned oil company had planned to announce deals on Monday with the international oil companies, but postponed the announcement until Tuesday.
It is not known whether the other companies will follow ConocoPhillips' lead.

Cameron Diaz issues an apology for fashion error when visiting Machu Pichu
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cameron Diaz said she was sorry for carrying a Maoist handbag in Peru.

The actress issued an apology Sunday for visiting the ancient Incan city of Machu Pichu carrying an olive green bag emblazoned with a red star and the slogan "Serve The People" in Chinese. It was perhaps the most famous slogan of Communist leader Mao Zedong. Marketed as fashion accessories elsewhere, the bags evoke painful memories in Peru of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency movement.
The rebels fought a bloody conflict with the government in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving nearly 70,000 people dead. "I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China, and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it," Ms. Diaz said in an e-mailed statement.

"I'm sorry for any people's pain and suffering, and it was certainly never my intention to reopen what I now know is a painful wound in this country's history," she said. Ms. Diaz also praised Peruvians' beauty and warmth.

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