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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 127                          Email us
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Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
Damage from the rainy season creates challenges for engineers. Ths project is on the Interamericana Sur, Ruta 2, at Casamata, Cartago. The  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad had to invest nearly $920,000 to restore the roadway. Much of it slid downhill last year. This is the key
route from the Central Valley to points south. Workers had to use concrete blocks to bring the outside lane back into service. The job is not done yet, but highway officials are hoping for good weather to finish the job. Still to come is restoring the pavement.

Pig farmers and dock workers have a lot in common
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pork producers and dock workers may be worlds apart in Costa Rica, but their situations are similar.

The pork producers are dwindling because U.S. meat packers can put their product here cheaper than locals can.

The dock workers, who have propelled Costa Rica into the basement of efficiency ratings, continue to oppose a $1 billion container handling facility that is to be constructed by APM Terminals, a Dutch firm.

Both groups brought their complaints to the legislature in different sessions Tuesday.

The pork producers claimed unfair trade practices when their representatives of the Cámara Nacional de Porcicultores appeared before the  Comisión de Asuntos Agropecuarios. The representatives,  Renato Alvarado Rivera, Fausto Gómez Céspedes and Sergio Hidalgo, said that the number of pork producers in Cost Rica has declined to 6,500 from an estimated 12,000 in 1994. They said that there would be 2,000 fewer soon.

The trio claimed that foreign pork packers are filling their meat with water and holding it in a frozen condition for six months.

The real problem is that producers here are in competition with the finest agricultural machine the world has ever seen. Six years ago the current situation was predictable. A trade delegation from the U.S. State of Iowa was in town to drum up business. Among the visitors were  representatives of John Morrel & Co., the big meat packer.

Iowa has five pigs for every resident, and the state butchers 25 million pigs each year, said one employee. That was before the free trade treaty with the United States won approval in a referendum. The employee said then that with the treaty, his firm could put pork in local stores at a price lower than the cost of production here.

And they would not be frozen, he said. The company vacuum packs its products and ships them in containers.

And Iowa is just one of many U.S. agricultural states.
They were not at the legislature Tuesday, but rice farmers are having the same problem. Rice from
foreign sources is cheaper than the locally grown grain that has been subsidized by the government for years.

The dock workers union spokesmen are unhappy about an exclusivity clause in the concession agreement with APM Terminals that gives the firm a monopoly over container shipments at the Limón port. This is identified as Clause 9 in the concession contract.

Union representatives met with executives of the terminal firm and a representative of the  Defensoría de los Habitantes at the Asamblea Legislativa. Lawmakers were there, too.

The union representatives sought a second meeting for the purpose of negotiating over this particular clause. The public docks at which about 1,000 union members work would be out of business without container traffic.

Rogelio Douglas, terminal manager, said he would confer with others in the company, according to a source that attended the session. In exchange, the union appears prepared to drop legal action that it has initiated against the concession contract.

Union workers just went on strike for four days to push their point. In return for the workers going back on the job, the central government promised to invest $70 million in the public docks.  The docks are run by the Junta Administradora de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica, a government agency.

Even with a major government investment, the public docks would continue to be plagued by history of both inefficiency and unreliable workers who have walked out frequently.

And APM Terminals might cancel the firm's $1 billion plan if officials begin to tinker with a contract that already has been approved and signed.

One of the major selling points of the free trade treaty was to subject Costa Rica to all forms of world competition to enhance its operations or to channel efforts to jobs Ticos can do well or to products the country can produce at an advantage.

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polluted beach
Joe Furlong photo
The beach in Honduras

Our reader's opinion
Costa Rica certainly is not
the most polluted country

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding Mr. Lema's letter of 6/26/12 saying that Costa Rica is the most polluted country he has encountered in his many travels. Well, I have traveled the world also, and while Costa Rica is no doubt getting worse with garbage being strewn along its roads, you ain't seen nothing till you've been to Honduras. Enclosed is a photo of a beach I stumbled upon on the east coast of Honduras about five years ago.
I had to get a pic fast as the stench was overpowering.

Once I had the misfortune of getting stuck in traffic behind a garbage truck making its rounds in La Ceiba. Wish I'd had a movie camera as it was simply an open stakebed truck, and the garbage was just being thrown in loosely, the plastic bins emptied upside down amid the hordes of flies and thrown back onto the sidewalk — some of it dribbling back out onto the street.
So as bad as Costa Rica is getting, it has a long way to go to emulate that country just to it's northeast. YUCK !
Joe Furlong
Venice, Florida

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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Guardacostas crew locates another fishing boat with shark fins
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican coast guardsmen located another fishing boat that seemed to have been in the shark-finning business. Although the law is murky on that, the boat also did not have a current license, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Costa Rica ha stepped up patrols seeking shark finners after it moved to extradite environmentalist Paul Watson from
Germany. This is the second vessel that has been caught with fins. The director of the  Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas,  Martín Arias, estimated that the crew killed about 30 sharks to get the 120 fins.

The boat, the 12-meter “Yamaulke,” was intercepted off Punta Banco in extreme southern Costa Rica. The boat's home port is Golfito, the coast guard said.

Among the crew, officials found a 16 year old. They also found 1,200 kilos of assorted marine species. The boat engages in long-line fishing with a primary cord from which multiple hooks are attached.

Coast Guard officials said that having fins that have been separated from the carcass of the shark is illegal, but the penalty is a fine. The law only seems to prohibited offloading fins without carcasses.

However, there is a more general law that protects all types of marine and land species.

That, too, carries a fine as a penalty.

Officials also said that the crew members were not those who were listed on the manifest when the bot left Golfito.

The coast guard caught another boat with shark fins last June 12.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Coast guard crewmen catalogue the shark fins

Watson got in trouble because his “Ocean Warrior” bumped a Costa Rican fishing boat in foreign waters in 2002. He is notthe subject of a Costa Rican extradition request. Watson,
founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is on bail in Germany.

The “Yamaulke,” and the “Elizabeth X,” the boat intercepted June 12, are the first to face legal action over shark finning, according to news files. They certainly are the first interceptions that the ministry announced in a press release.

Foreign minister defends Ruta 1856 as vital to country's defense
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The foreign minister defended the Ruta 1856 project before lawmakers Tuesday. This is the route that the Spanish-language press is calling the worst public works project in the history of Costa Rica.

The foreign minster,  Enrique Castillo, did not address the design and construction deficiencies that have launched criminal investigations. Instead, he said that the highway was vital to defend the country against the threats and hostilities of Nicaragua.

The 160-kilometer (99-mile) route parallels the Río San Juan, and Nicaragua has claimed environmental damage due to the work. Castillo said that there was no evidence of this because there was no damage.

In October 2010 Nicaraguan troops took over a part of northern Costa Rica.

“The construction of the frontier road as well as the declaration of national emergency were fully justified in this context,”
 said Castillo. It was the declaration of emergency that caused the highway to be built in a rush without environmental studies.

Castillo said that there have been a total of 5,000 Sandinista youth on the disputed land at various times.

He denounced a conspiracy against Costa Rica directed by
Managua to affect the image of the country and distract from the invasion.

Castillo, who is minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, was speaking to the  Comisión Permanente Especial de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público at the legislature.

The road project has been a disaster for the Laura Chinchilla Miranda administration, and the deficiencies in the highway have been presented to the same legislative body by experts.

In addition, newspaper and television reporters have been covering the story fully.

Castillo did not have anything to do with the early stages of the Nicaragua invasion. He has been on the job less than a year.
The case of the invasion is in the International Court of Justice, and Castillo said Nicaragua is ignoring some of the preliminary orders, such as  to stay off the disputed area.

Castillo also was critical of a Central American Court of Justice effort to involve itself in the dispute. Costa Rica does not subscribe to that court's jurisdiction. The court is based in Managua.

Castillo also said that the Costa Rican Embassy in Managua was the country's first line of defense. Veteran diplomat Javier Sancho Bonilla has been named to head that embassy.  Sancho is the current protocol chief and has served in key overseas positions in the past.

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Moderate coffee consumption seen as protecting the heart
By the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center news staff

While current American Heart Association heart failure prevention guidelines warn against habitual coffee consumption, some studies propose a protective benefit, and still others find no association at all. Amidst this conflicting information, research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, attempts to shift the conversation from a definitive yes or no, to a question of how much.

“Our results did show a possible benefit, but like with so many other things we consume, it really depends on how much coffee you drink,” says lead author Elizabeth Mostofsk, a post-doctoral fellow in the cardiovascular epidemiological unit at the center. “And compared with no consumption, the strongest protection we observed was at about four European, or two eight-ounce American, servings of coffee per day.”

The study published June 26 online in the Journal Circulation Heart Failure, found that these moderate coffee drinkers were at 11 percent lower risk of heart failure.

Data was analyzed from five previous studies – four conducted in Sweden, one in Finland – that examined the association between coffee consumption and heart failure. The self-reported data came from 140,220 participants and involved 6,522 heart failure events.

In a summary of the published literature, the authors found a statistically significant J-shaped relationship between habitual coffee consumption and heart failure, where protective benefits begin to increase with consumption maxing out at two eight-ounce American servings a day. Protection slowly decreases the more coffee is consumed until at five cups, there 
is no benefit and at more than five cups a day, there may be potential for harm.

It’s unclear why moderate coffee consumption provides protection from heart failure, but the researchers say part of the answer may lie in the intersection between regular coffee drinking and two of the strongest risk factors for heart failure – diabetes and elevated blood pressure.

“There is a good deal of research showing that drinking coffee lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes, says senior author Murray Mittleman, a physician in the Cardiovascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Beth Israel Center's cardiovascular epidemiological research program. “It stands to reason that if you lower the risk of diabetes, you also lower the risk of heart failure.”

There may also be a blood pressure benefit. Studies have consistently shown that light coffee and caffeine consumption are known to raise blood pressure. “But at that moderate range of consumption, people tend to develop a tolerance where drinking coffee does not pose a risk and may even be protective against elevated blood pressure,” says Mittleman.

This study was not able to assess the strength of the coffee, nor did it look at caffeinated versus non-caffeinated coffee.

“There is clearly more research to be done,” says Mostofsky. “But in the short run, this data may warrant a change to the guidelines to reflect that coffee consumption, in moderation, may provide some protection from heart failure.”

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

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Immigration decision puts
issue on the front burner

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Courts striking down most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law virtually ensures that immigration will be a major issue in this year's presidential campaign.

Most of the Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants was struck down, including a provision that allowed police to arrest suspected illegal aliens in the state without warrants.

But the Supreme Court allowed the most controversial aspect of the law to stand.  That provision requires local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other reasons, if they have a reasonable suspicion the person is in the United States illegally.  Critics say this part of the law can lead to racial profiling.

Many immigration activists see the high court’s ruling as a victory with a likely impact on November's presidential election.

“The Supreme Court had their say today.  On November the 6th, Latinos will have the final word," said Eliseo Medina, who is with the Service Employees International Union in Washington D.C.  "We will in fact say this law is wrong.  It will be overturned by the power of our votes.”

Both sides of the debate took something from the high court's ruling, and analysts say that could energize activists across the political spectrum ahead of the election.

Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says the high court's decision will have short- and long-term implications.

“What the Supreme Court ruling on immigration does is keep the issue front and center in the political debate," he said.  "And in the long-term, it means that it is likely that a large number or many state legislatures will take up similar statutes, at least the parts that have been approved by the Supreme Court.”

Five others states have enacted laws similar to the Arizona statute and were awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling.

New president in Paraguay
non grata in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A South American trading bloc has barred Paraguay's new president, Federico Franco, from participating in an upcoming summit, following the ouster of former president Fernando Lugo.

Mercosur says Paraguay will not be allowed to take part in its meeting this week in Argentina.  A Mercosur statement, issued by the Argentine foreign ministry, expressed the group's "most energetic condemnation of the rupture of the democratic order" in Paraguay.

Lugo says he will attend the Mercosur summit.  Meanwhile, Paraguay's newly appointed foreign minster, Jose Fernández, said he will represent Paraguay at the summit.

Lawmakers in Paraguay voted last week to impeach Lugo, after a botched eviction earlier this month of peasant squatters that left several dead.  In line with Paraguay's constitution, Lugo was replaced by Vice President Franco, who had been a strong opponent of the president.

Lugo has denounced his ouster as a parliamentary coup.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says his government will halt fuel sales to Paraguay.

Brazil and Argentina have withdrawn their top diplomats from Paraguay, while Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba have said they would not recognize the new administration.  Critics of the impeachment complained that Lugo’s lawyers had only a few hours to defend him in the Senate, which voted 39 to 4 in favor of his removal.

The impeached president is a former Roman Catholic bishop who was elected in 2008 on promises to help the poor and distribute land fairly.

Three Mexican officers die
in food court shootout

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Three Mexican federal police officers were killed in a shootout with two other officers suspected of drug trafficking Monday at Mexico City's international airport.

Authorities say the slain officers were attempting to arrest the suspects when the shooting broke out in a busy food court, sending panicked travelers diving for cover.  Two of the officers died at the scene, while the third died at a local hospital. 

The suspects fled the scene and remain at large.  Mexico's public security ministry says the two are believed to part of a large group of corrupt officials involved in cocaine trafficking. 

FBI takes down suspects
in global card fraud ring

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has smashed a global Internet credit card fraud ring.

The FBI's New York office calls it the biggest such operation in history, lasting more than two years and involving undercover law enforcement agents in 13 countries.

Officials said Tuesday the operation protected 400,000 people from falling victim to credit card fraud, saving them more than $205 million in purchases using stolen information.

Twenty-four suspects were arrested, 11 in the United States while police arrested 13 others in Britain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Norway.

The FBI says the suspects ran a global criminal organization involved in carding, in which thousands of credit card and bank account numbers are stolen and exchanged to buy goods and services.

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for Manhattan, in New York City, says the arrests show that clever computer criminals working behind the the supposed anonymity of the Internet are still subject to the long arm of the law.

Debbie weakens over Florida

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tropical Storm Debby has been downgraded to a tropical depression after making landfall Tuesday on the Florida Gulf Coast.

The National Hurricane Center has cancelled its tropical storm warnings. But forecasters say heavy rain, coastal flooding, and possible tornadoes can still be expected as Debby crosses central Florida to the Atlantic Ocean.

The storm already has dumped some 25 centimeters (10 inches) of rain along the Florida-Georgia border, with some towns receiving more than 66 centimeters (26 inches) of rain in three days.

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Thunderstorm slashes way
through Central Valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unusual early evening thunderstorm slashed through the Central Valley Tuesday between 7 and 9 p.m. and peppered the area with lightning strikes.

The automatic station maintained by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional at its Barrio Aranjuez headquarters in north San José registered 22.4 millimeters of rain, about .88 of an inch, between 7 and 9 p.m.

There were no reports of serious damage, but there was local flooding. There was some damage to local roads.

The weather institute is predicting about the same for today with afternoon storms on the Pacific coast, the Central Valley and the northern zone.

Number of credit cards
show an 11.9 percent rise

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were 11.9 percent more credit cards in use as of April than in the same month in the previous year. That is the result of a study by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio. There were 4,619,586 cards in use this April, the ministry said

The ministry pointed out as it has done in similar studies in the past that interest rates vary widely. In this study the difference was from 11.5 percent to 42 percent annually in credit cards denominated in dollars. Some cards denominated in colons had rates as high as 66 percent.

In all, the ministry found 390 different types of credit cards issued by 29 entities, the same number as a year ago. Nearly 82 percent of the cards is use have been issued by banks, said the report of the study.

Highway restrictions set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that there will be workmen on overpasses at the Circunvalación at San Pedro, San Sebastiån and Alajuelita through Friday, and some lanes may be restricted. The work will be from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the agency said.

Bill would tap sale tax income

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 25 lawmakers, nearly half the total, have signed on to a proposed law that would tap the nation's 13 percent sales tax to pay for pensions. The bill seeks to earmark 3 percent of the total tax for sales taxes.

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