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(506) 223-1327               Published Monday, July 2, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 129               E-mail us   
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Arenal during electric storm
Photo by Phil Slosberg
A lightning bolt lights the sky as Volcán Arenal continues to bubble in mid-June
Arenal will soon celebrate 39 years of constant volcanic activity
Volcán Arenal near La Fortuna is one of the nation's primier tourist attractions. What is not
well known is that the restless mountain also is a mecca for scientists. See story  HERE!



Incidence of dengue is  double last year's toll, health officials say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The incidence of dengue this year has more than doubled from 2006, according to the latest statistics from the Ministerio de Salud.

During the first 25 weeks of 2007, health officials  said Friday that they have logged 6,882 cases and two dengue-attributed deaths. In 2006 during the same period there were 3,435 cases.

The bulk of the cases, some 66 percent, are in what is known as the Chorotega in northwest Costa Rica (34 percent) and along the Caribbean (some 32 percent).

Only about 12 percent of the cases are in the Pacific. The health ministry reports that two of the
known four strains of the dengue virus are found in Costa Rica.

The cases of dengue appear to be on the rise despite a campaign launched by the health ministry.

Among other tactics, the ministry is trying to get rid of old vehicle tires which frequently contain enough standing water to provide places for the dengue-carrying mosquito to lay its eggs.

It is the hemorrhagic form of the disease, which usually develops during the second bout with the virus, that can be fatal. The Aedes aegypti, a  day-biting mosquito, is the most common carrier of the dengue virus. Since there are no cures or vaccine for the disease, control centers on eliminating the mosquito.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 129

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tamale guys
The tamal race is off and running

Fastest tamales in the South

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamales became fast food Friday as local teams in Asserí competed to see who could produce the most of the traditional Costa Rican treats in five minutes.

The winner of the seven competing companies was Tamalera Benito Corrales. But the real winners were the hundreds of visitors to the Feria de Tamal who ended up eating tamales all weekend.

tub of tamales
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Arnoldo Cob Mora
This is what it's all about: steaming tamales


Plot to kill top officials
results in deportations


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials have deported five Colombians they say were planning to kill the minister of the Presidencia and the security minister because of their anti-drug activities.

Five other Colombians and two Costas Ricans remain under investigation.

The Arias administration, through unidentified sources, said that Colombian drug lords sent the men to avenge the confiscation of shipments involving some 400 tons of cocaine since last August. The bulk of these drug shipments were snagged by the U.S. Coast Guard operating with Costa Rican officials.

Fernando Berrocal, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, advocates a hard line against local drug vendors as the foundation of his attack against violent crime.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, has not been particularly vocal about drugs.

The information that came into official hands was from telephone intercepts. The Colombian assassins, if that is what they were, bore little resemblance to the cool, professional killer in the 1971  "The Day of the Jackle." While the fictional Jackle changed identities and killed to cover his trail, the Colombians frequented bars and came into police hands after sweeps for illegal residents.

Five of the group of 12 went back to Colombia under guard Saturday morning. Officials said they had not been involved in crimes in Costa Rica, although plotting to kill a high-level poitician is conspiracy.

Rafael Gutiérrez, a vice mininster of security, has been the major public spokesman on the case. Berrocal has spoken briefly with reporters.

Officials also suggested a link with Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, the Colombian who was caught living in Puntarenas. He was a member of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the dreaded FARC. Martínez was deported back to Colombia in December.

The assassination plot is reported to have emerged from the  Cartel del Norte del Valle. The men were said to have sneaked into Costa Rica by boat.

Peace with nature plan
to be outlined this Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will be declaring itself at peace with nature Friday in a series of events.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez, associations, environmentalist and academics will sign an agreement in support of the environment. There also will be a seminar.

Among those expected is Cristian Samper, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He also is a founder of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which seeks to evaluate the impact of humanity on the environment.

According to Roberto Dobles, minister of Ambiente y Energía, the idea is to promote sustainable development.

The campaign also includes national and international initiatives.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 129

Rock n Roll Pollo
Puerto Limon Agency




lava flow at Arenal
Photographer Phil Slosberg, who is facinated by Volcán Arenal, took this photo of a lava flow


Volcanic activity at Arenal soon celebrates 39th anniversary
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The 29th of this month Volcán Arenal will have achieved 39 straight years of continuous, daily volcanic activity. 

It already has the record for the longest-running, continuously active volcano in the world.  After 400 to 500 years of dormancy, Volcán Arenal woke up with a deadly eruption of 1,292-degree gas, ash and rocks that poured downhill July 29, 1968.

The 160 mph flow swept away 87 people living and working below and their communities.

Shortly after this eruption, a Smithsonian Institution scientist, William G. Melson, obtained funds to study the history-making volcano.  This was the beginning of a 39-year collaborative research and development effort to find a better volcanic eruption warning system — and not just for Volcán Arenal.

Deposits of charred wood and other evidence provide the only indication of a prior eruption of Volcán Arenal, which appears to have been around the year 1525, said Jorge Barquero.  He is a geologist and the scientist responsible for the Smithsonian’s computerized seismographic equipment and statistics when Melson is not in Costa Rica. 

Barquero has been involved with Melson since shortly after 1968.  His only compensation for his volunteer Arenal work is at the Observatory Lodge where he gets a free room and meals when he comes a few days once a month to collect the data. The reception desk also offers for sale his inexpensive history of the volcano.

The lodge itself, just 1.7 miles northwest of the volcano, was built to accommodate the needs of the scientists. Today it has evolved into a secluded tourist getaway, now part of the Parque Nacional Arenal.  Two years ago, the Costa Rican government increased the park's boundaries to include all 700 acres of the lodge property.  The lodge remains privately owned within the park and is the closest tourist facility to the rumbling mountain.

Melson, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., makes an expedition to the Observatory Lodge once every year or two.

Barquero founded the Observatorio Volcanológico y Seismológico de Costa Rica at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.  This, and other universities send scientists to study any changes in the activity or form of the volcano and effects of acid rain fallout due to the continuous release of sulfuric gases. 

Researchers have found that cattle in the area lose their teeth, have intestinal problems due to the sulfur, can’t eat, and die.  Problems for some people in the area include lung disorders or even psychological problems.

Different types of sophisticated, sensitive equipment have been installed on and around the volcano, requiring professionals of different disciplines, said Barquero. These studies show Volcán Arenal’s activity has slowed down significantly in the past few years, as far as spectacular eruptions.

The daily lava flow has been reduced.  Spectators rarely can see the daily activity of the volcano because the summit usually is obscured by clouds. Some then believe incorrectly that activity has stopped.  Because they have heard that in the last year there is a lot less activity, some perceive this to be a sign of increasing pressure and danger. 

volcano scientist
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Jorge Barquero discusses the monitoring equipment.
pyroclastic flow
Photo by Phil Slosberg
Pyroclastic flow that happened March 25
tourists and mountain
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Tourists at the lodge are in shadow of volcano

Barquero said the warning signs for real danger would be earthquakes and signs of expansion and cracks in the form of the volcano. Now change in size caused by swelling and shrinking is noticeable only by sensitive equipment, he said. 

His opinion is that the safest nearby place to be during a major eruption would be at the Observatory Lodge because there is a river gorge between it and the volcano. Prevailing winds blow southeast toward La Fortuna in the opposite direction, he noted.

Barquero also designed an evacuation plan for the lodge, which also sports a helicopter pad.  There has never been an evacuation at the lodge, but, according to Barquero, travel would be safer away from La Fortuna.  He agreed that there likely would be plenty of warning before a catastrophic eruption, but said that in the unlikely case that there is no warning, that there would not be enough time for anyone to escape. 

Evacuations take minutes and eruptions take seconds.  Bus size rocks of lava instantly crater the ground.  Barquero said that even volcanoes that have been dormant for thousands of years could erupt at any time.

The Observatorio Volcanológico y Seismológico publishes monthly bulletins of the results of constant data collection at the various volcanoes in Costa Rica.  The bulletin, Estado de Volcanes de Costa Rica, is at the Web site.

Barquero said that to increase their occupancy some hotels in the area disburse incomplete information about the visibility of Volcán Arenal, which frequently is obscured by clouds, which also obscures any eruptions or activity. 

These come-ons cause many tourists to return home disappointed. Barquero said that such over-anxious advertising will surely cause a downturn in area hotel occupancy in the long run. 

At the Observatory Lodge sounds of the volcanic activity can always be heard , something like a gurgling, popping, boiling, thundering, mud pot. 

Tourists hiking in the area sometimes ignore the posted limits and venture too close to the sources of hot gases. A guide and two tourists died that way in 2001.


Modern society is creating an international individual
No soy de aca ni soy de alla…!
 
As always I enjoy very much the many e-mail messages that my readers send me. Some are curious, others informative, many have suggestions for future columns, and a few just don’t like the things I write about either of my two countries. No matter the content, such communications are always appreciated.
 
Recent columns have been devoted to addressing various issues and questions that readers have written in about. Your questions have often precipitated considerable research on my part. This has proven fascinating for me because often I’m learning along with you.
 
No soy de aca ni soy de alla . . . , meaning “I’m not from here nor from there . . . ,” are actually part of the words to an old song. I often recall this tune when I’m traveling about from country to country.  Wherever I go I try to seek out the best the place has to offer. I enjoy the people, their customs, food and traditions, and I sometimes feel more like a citizen of the world than one particular place.
 
Someone asked me this past week if I can explain what the difference between being Latino and being Hispanic is. My answer was that if I could settle that very contentious issue I would do so and undoubtedly immediately become the richest man alive.
 
The only answer I can come up with is that it just depends on how one likes to be identified. The word Hispanic denotes a connection with the country of Spain, its history and culture. It is a very place-specific term. While Latino, on the other hand, has a broader connotation in its reference to the Latin language and all the modern Romance languages that it engendered (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian and Albanian) as well as a connection, how ever tenuous, with the ancient Romans.
 
Frankly, I think we in Latin America are all Americanos because we are of the Americas. Though we speak Spanish, we are not cultural products of Spain. The vast majority of our heritage is American and not Spanish.
 
In Spain a number of languages are spoken including Gallego, Catalan, Basque, and Castilian. Are these not “Hispanic” as well? The Spanish we speak in the Americas is Castilian, the dominant tongue of central and southern Spain, yet no one has ever suggested that we should be called Castellanos.
 
In Spain they call us Sudacas, a made-up term that refers to the Spanish word Sudamericanos, meaning South Americans. I, along with about a couple hundred million other people from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, object to this rather obnoxious moniker since we are not from South America. The Spanish have come up with a number of less-than-flattering terms for the people who now populate their former American colonies, among them are palacagüinos, chamaquitos,  and panchitos.

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto



Since the late 1970s Spain has been experiencing negative population growth. In order to fill the need for workers the Spanish government has undertaken a program to encourage many so-called Hispanics from Latin America to return to “the mother country.” This has created some problems for La Madre Patria because many Venezuelans, Chileans, Salvadorans, Colombians or Costa Ricans, though they may indeed trace their lineage back to some very white Spanish conquistador are now — due to generations of intermarriage — themselves quite dark of skin, hair, and eye. They also speak Castellano with distinct Latin American accents and use strange figures of speech. These facts have not always brought out the best in their Spanish hosts, and the specter of racism has reared its vile head.
 
Many years ago, back in the late 60s when I first went to Spain, one didn’t often encounter dark-skinned people like me on the streets of Madrid. I was something of a
novelty and people would approach me curiously on the sidewalk to ask me where I came from. Their questions often revealed how little they knew about the places their ancestors had once pillaged and plundered 300 years earlier. Of course, in the 1960s Franco was still very much in power, and Spain was practically cut off from the rest of the world. But some of the questions and comments I got still amaze me when I think about them even today. Some actually believed that my family must live in some thatched palenque in the midst of the tropical jungle!
 
So, no soy de aca ni soy de alla . . . . to me it says it all. These days we are really from everywhere and from nowhere, and we are free to choose our own identities and reject the labels that societies frequently assign to us.
 
Once in Limón, an elderly African-Caribbean lady asked for my help. “Spanish man,” she said. “Help me please to cross the street.” I gave her my arm and when we reached the opposite corner she thanked me very graciously. I said, “You’re welcome, ma’ma, but you know I am not really a Spaniard.” She regarded me quizzically and said:  “You speak Spanish?”  “Of course,” I replied. “Then you are Spanish man.” End of conversation.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 129


Venezuelan students think their protests was about liberty
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

During the past month, tens of thousands of Venezuelan students have led massive demonstrations protesting the decision by President Hugo Chavez to shut down the country's most popular private television station.  The nation's largest university serves as a bastion of debate and student activism.

Students are taking final exams at Venezuela's Universidad Central, after missing several weeks of classes to take to the streets, mobilizing against what they see as a clear threat to freedom of expression in their country.

Political science major Ana Cristina Garanton says she took part in countless marches and protests that caught the attention of the nation and the international community. Ms. Garanton said the battle extends beyond the fate of Radio Caracas Television, whose broadcast license the Chavez government refused to renew in late May, accusing it of inciting rebellion.

"We are fighting for the rights we should have as students so that when I graduate I can pursue any career without being discriminated against for political reasons," she said. "Our parents will one day leave the country to us. And it is up to us, the young people, to take the reins of the county."

Ms. Garanton added that students are well aware that their activism could cause them to be blacklisted by the government, making it harder for them to secure employment after graduation. "We are considered a threat because we criticize the government and make demands when things are unsatisfactory," she said.

But opinions are far from uniform on campus. Pro-Chavez law student Lenin Sosa believes those who protest the closing of RCTV are misguided, defending a station that openly allied itself with the country's political opposition.
"A channel that obeys individual and capitalistic interests
can never represent the will of the majority that desires
humanitarian and social development with solidarity and honesty," he said.

Polls show the closing of RCTV to be vastly unpopular, even among some who share the socialist ideals of Chávez..

Communications major Carlos Julio Rojas is a self-described Marxist who has also taken part in street protests. He says, "At the beginning of the year, the government said that, to impose '21st Century Socialism,' it would be necessary to control communications in the country. That is undemocratic. We believe in debate, freedom of thought. You cannot impose an ideology in a university because it is there that all forms of thought should be allowed."

A political science professor, Fernando Falcon, says students have historically been at the forefront of Venezuela's most important political movements and often serve as an early indicator of future political thought in the country.

Falcon said it is no surprise that students have reacted with great passion to a perceived threat to freedom of expression. "They are not pressing to remove the president from office. They are not asking for any change in the government's domestic or international policies. The only thing they want is respect for civil liberties, and no one is more sensitive to liberty than the young," he said.

That President Chavez has alienated large segments of Venezuela's future professional class would appear to be beyond question. But what impact it will have on the president's stated goal of remaining in power until the year 2030 remains to be seen.

For now, political science major Ginett Luces is focused on her final exams. But she says she has no regrets about missing several weeks of classes. "I think when you forego classes for a good cause, you become more energized to get ahead, to read, to fight for what you believe in," she said.


Cuban lawmakers accuse George Bush of wanting to get rid of Fidel Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba's National Assembly has passed a resolution that accuses the Bush administration of wanting to eliminate Fidel Castro.

The national assembly took action Friday, one day after President Bush made a public comment about the Cuban leader's eventual death.

Bush said at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island Thursday that "one day, the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away."
Audience members laughed, but President Bush said, "no, no, no" to quiet the crowd. The president said the real issue is what Cuba will be like without Castro leading the nation as he has for nearly 50 years.

Castro responded to the comments by writing in a column attributed to him in the ruling Communist Party newspaper, Granma, Friday that "the good Lord" has protected him from attempts on his life.

Castro turns 81 in August. He has not been seen in public since July 2006, when he underwent abdominal surgery. His brother, Raúl, has been serving as acting president.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 129



U.S. national team will meet a strong squad from Paraguay
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. national soccer team has a date tonight in Barinas, Venezuela, where it will meet the national team from Paraguay in Copa América play.

This is an infrequent event. The national team has only met Paraguay once since 1930 when it faced the South Americans in a World Cup match. The last meeting was in 2003 in Colombia. Both times the U.S. team won,
according to statistics provided by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

That may not be the case tonight. The game in Estadio Agustin Tovar is at 6:30 p.m. eastern standard time. That makes it at 4:30 p.m. in Costa Rica. Paraguay, a two-time winner of the Copa América, demolished Colombia, 5-0, in its opening match.  Roque Santa Cruz scored three of the goals.  The U.S. lost its first game to Argentina, 4-1, in a Thursday match in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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