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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, July 13, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 137           E-mail us
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Complex web links Chávez, Iran, Hezbollah, drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The international drug trade in which Costa Rica plays a key transit role is part of a complex relationship between hostile nations and Muslim extremists with the goal of destroying the United States.

That is the scenario outlined before a U.S. House subcommittee last week. Witnesses described a lengthy partnership of Venezuela, its Bolivarian supporters, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Colombian drug producers and smugglers, Mexican cartels, the governments of Iran and Syria and the terrorist group Hezbollah.

The facts of these relationships are not new, but the House hearing put the cocaine trade in a different perspective, that of a coordinated terrorist threat to the United States, Mexico and Central America.

Those testifying to this threat were Roger F. Noriega, the former diplomat now with the American Enterprise Institute, and Douglas Farah, an author and journalist now with the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Republican of Pennsylvania, said the testimony was mainly to educate members of Congress.  He chairs the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

The presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela and Latin America is not new. The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control in 2008 designated two Venezuelans, including a diplomat, as facilitators for the Hezbollah terrorist network. Plus the group has been linked to bombings in Argentina in the 1990s.

But last week both Noriega and Farah outlined in detail the connections between Venezuela President Hugo Chávez and Hezbollah and Iranian operatives. Noriega said that Venezuela's Margarita Island "has eclipsed the  infamous Tri-Border Area – the region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay come together in South America – as a principal safe haven and center of Hezbollah operations in the Americas."

He said Hezbollah was proxy for Iran, which has expanded its military links and political relationships.

"As it stands today, I believe the Hezbollah/ Iranian presence in Latin America constitutes a clear threat to the security of the U.S. homeland. They have the motivation, and they have been steadily increasing their capacity to act," he said. "In addition to operational terrorist activity, Hezbollah also is immersed in criminal activity throughout the region – from trafficking in weapons, drugs, and persons — all of which threaten our security."

And he said:

"These determined and deadly enemies of the United States have made substantial progress in the last six years to expand their influence and operations in Latin America. Their expanding activities are the result of a conscious, offensive strategy to carry their fight to our doorstep, which receives indispensable support from the regime of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez."

Noriega is a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Hezbollah flag
Flag of Hezbollah

Farah, in his testimony, added the government of Syria to the mix. That country and Iran have spent more than a decade developing close ties to what he called criminal states in Latin America and also support violent criminal and terrorist groups, he said. Farah added that sophisticated narco tunnels being found along the U.S.-Mexican border strongly resemble those used by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Farah cited Drug Enforcement Administration sources for the claim that radical Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are profiting from the cocaine trade to finance terrorist acts. He urged as a U.S. response integrated analytical, intelligence, diplomatic and security approaches driven by a strategic assessment of the threat.

The radicals also are using their Latin connections to launder money, to obtain weapons for use in the Middle East and to recruit, both men said.

Farah noted that Iranian leader Mahmoud Admadinejad has built close relationships with some Latin American governments, including Venezuela where he has visited multiple times. Admadinejad also has visited President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Farah, who was born in Latin America of missionary parents, said that these authoritarian influences are accelerating the weakening of first generation democracies that the United States seeks to support.

All this comes at the expense of U.S. influence, security and trade, including energy security, he said, noting that Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of U.S. petroleum imports. Despite what appears to be incompatible and irreconcilable world views, the Muslim fundamentalists and Latin socialists are bound by a common aim of the defeat of the United States and a shared view in favor of an authoritarian state that tolerates little dissent and encroaches on all aspects of a citizen's life, he said, adding:

"The nature of the threat to the United States, then, is not merely the drugs in the criminal pipelines and multiple transnational criminal activities that directly affect us every day, It is the establishment of political and financial influence and military presence by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that enjoys the state sponsorship of  Iran and, to a lesser degree, Syria, in concert with states that are hospitable to its movements and that are replicating its model, particularly south of our border."

Noriega, in his conclusion, was more direct:

"If our government and responsible partners in Latin America fail to act, I believe there will be an attack on U.S. personnel, installations or interests in the Americas as soon as Hezbollah operatives believe that they are capable of such an operation without implicating their Iranian sponsors in the crime.

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  Flag pinpoints quake location estimated by the
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Northern zone is shaken
by series of four quakes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three earthquakes that registered better than 5.0 magnitude  rattled the northern zone Tuesday afternoon. All took place within 40 minutes. Then a 4.1 magnitude aftershock hit less than an hour later.

The national emergency commission said that there were no injuries, although some persons were treated for panic attacks.

The first quake, the largest at 5.6 magnitude, took place at 2:11 p.m. The second was at 2:17 p.m., and the third was at 2:51 p.m., said the U.S. Geological Survey. Both were 5.1 magnitude, although the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica here put the magnitude at 4.8. The observatory also said the first quake was just 5.3 magnitude.

All were between 14 and 20 kilometers southwest of Upala. That's about 9 to 12.5 miles.

The observatory attributed the quakes to a local fault. There are several in the area.

The emergency commission said that objects fell in  San Juan de Guatuso, Aguas Claras, Las Armenias, San Isidro and Bijagua de Upala. In  Guacalito de Las Armenias two homes suffered damage, mainly cracks in the wall.

 A bridge over the Río Negro was reported to have been damaged in Aguas Claras.

Experts from the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias  were planning to fly over the area early today. They are seeking evidence of slides or other damage. There was a report of a slide that blocked the upper portion of the Rio Guacalito, and officials want to make sure that a dangerous temporary dam is not in pace.

 If such a dirt dam gives way after significant amounts of water have backed up, there could be flooding below.

The strongest quake was relatively shallow at 10 kilometers or about 6 miles, according to an estimate by the observatory.

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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, July 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 137

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Agents here decline British help in Michael Dixon case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization still has not made a formal request for help of British detectives in the Michael Dixon case.

That was the news that Jeremy Browne gave the Dixon family in a recent letter. Browne is his country's minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The news was disappointing because the BBC had quoted René Castro, Costa Rica's foreign minster, saying that police here would welcome the help.

But Castro is not involved in police activities, and Browne noted that the request for aid must come from the judicial police.

"This case will never be solved unless the Metropolitan police gets involved. Castro himself said the OIJ is not up to the job," said David Dixon, the missing man's brother, using the initials of the judicial police in Spanish.

Michael Dixon vanished Oct. 18, 2009, and his family has been relentless in trying to find out what happened. He was last seen leaving a Tamarindo hotel.

In his letter, Browne ruled out putting diplomatic pressure on Costa Rica in the same way that Prime Minister David Cameron recently urged Portugal in the case of Madeleine McCann, said David Dixon. The McCann girl was just short of her fourth birthday when she vanished from an apartment May 3, 2007, in the Algarve region of Portugal. She has not been found, and the case generated heavy press coverage.

Her British parents were vacationing there.

British police worked with their counterparts in Portugal on the case and used some technology that is not available on the mainland.

"We are being fobbed off with red tape on all sides. Is Michael a second class British citizen compared to the McCanns?" said David Dixon in a release.

Browne noted that judicial police here offered to talk to British detectives by telephone but declined to seek their help.

Michael Dixon
Michael Dixon

Over a dozen EU, Canadian and U.S. nationals have been either murdered or have vanished in Costa Rica in the past two years, David Dixon noted, adding that most of the cases go unsolved.

The Dixon family will mark Michael's 35th birthday July 19, David Dixon said. Michael Dixon is a journalist who was working in Belgium when he decided to vacation here.

Heavy rains generate an alert, and more is on the way
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather situation is for more of the same today. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that partly cloudy skies this morning would be followed by downpours and thundershowers in the Central Valley, the north, central and south Pacific and in some mountains in the northern zone.

These storms accompanied by lightning will continue until the evening, the institute said. There may be morning rain on the Nicoya peninsula and some rain in the higher points on the Caribbean coast in the afternoon.

The forecast for more rain Tuesday caused the national emergency commission to issue an alert for those living
 near rivers and below possible slides.

The commission said that a tropical wave Monday brought rain that flooded 45 homes in Bagaces, Tárcoles, Jacó, Dominical, Quepos, Osa and Golfito.

There were slides that blocked roads in San Isidro de Dota and Santa María de Dota as well as two locations in Pérez Zeledón,

There also was a slide that blocked for a time access to the bridge over the Río Tárcoles on the coastal highway leading to Jacó, the commission said. This is the famous crocodile bridge where tourists stop to see the reptiles on the riverbanks below.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 137

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Petition to president seeks to end shark-finning loophole

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A letter signed by 4,039 Costa Rican citizens was delivered Tuesday to President Laura Chinchilla urging her to sign an executive decree banning shark fin imports.  The letter was also signed by 324 citizens of 39 countries, from Taiwan to the United Kingdon who are concerned over shark finning and the new loophole that the foreign fishing fleet now uses to circumvent Costa Rican controls and laws.

As of Dec 1, Costa Rica mandated that foreign fishing vessels must land their products at public docks in accordance with the law.  The recent sentence against Tsa Yu Jen, the Taiwanese captain of the Belize-flagged vessel Hung Chi Fu 12 for landing 2,000 kilos of sharks without fins at the public of Puntarenas exposed the ease with which the foreign fleet has, for years, sidestepped the law and landed shark fins in Puntarenas, said the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, an environmental group.

Regrettably, shark finners have now devised yet another trick to dodge national legislation, one that involves  landing the shark fins in Nicaragua where they are then
 loaded into Costa Rican trucks and imported (via land) intoCosta Rica, said the organization.  The fishing vessel then arrives in Costa Rica several days later for supplies and to land the rest of its fisheries products, it added.

“This is a mockery of Costa Rica’s internationally acclaimed shark finning controls, and which the country so proudly promotes,” said Randall Arauz of the Costa Rican organization which coordinated the letter’s delivery.

 “Furthermore, shark fin imports seriously compromise other marine conservation measures that this government has recently adopted, for example the private dock closure to foreign boats and the creation of the marine managed area around Cocos Island,” added Arauz in a press release.

“Banning shark fin imports will strengthen Costa Ricas’s international image and will not, under any circumstances, affect the domestic fishing industry,” said Miguel Gómez another member of the organization.  “We’re confident that President Laura Chinchilla will hear the cry of the Costa Rican people and the concerned citizens of the world, and immediately ban shark fin imports,” said Gómez.

Central American rocks seem to have migrated to Haiti

By the University of Florida news service

Earthquakes and volcanoes are known for their ability to transform Earth’s surface, but new research in the Caribbean has found they can also move ancient Earth rock foundations more than 1,000 miles.

Two University of Florida geologists are part of a team that found lavas on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola – home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic — that suggest the area is underlain by rocks almost a billion years older than previously believed. Until now geologists thought Hispaniola was relatively young from a geological perspective and rocks there should be no older than the Jurassic period, around 150 million to 160 million years ago.

An article published Sunday on the Nature Geoscience Web site reports the team found that unusual lavas resulting from relatively recent volcanic activity had occurred in the region of the same fault system that caused the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The existence of this volcanic activity, which probably occurred less than 1 million years ago, is unexpected as it postdates the previously known active volcanism in this part of the Caribbean by at least 40 million years, said Michael R. Perfit, a professor and chairman of university's Department of Geological Sciences.

The most surprising discovery came from chemical analyses of the lavas which were found to have compositions similar to lavas found inside stable interior parts of continents. A detailed examination of the chemical data suggests that the source for these lavas is derived from mantle rock that originated at least 1,000 miles away.

“We can use the trace element and isotope information recorded in lavas and other environmental samples as sort of inorganic DNA to trace their origin, migratory pathways
and age,” said George D. Kamenov, an associate in geology. The department’s state-of-the-art plasma mass spectrometer was used to measure precisely the abundances
of lead, strontium and neodymium isotopes in the lavas.

The team of geologists found the ratios of these isotopes did not match any rock substrate found nearby or anywhere else on the Caribbean islands. Instead the isotope ratios matched billion year old rocks like those existing in Central and South America today. These crustal fragments are likely surviving portions of an ancient supercontinent known as Gondwana. By contrast, lavas found in island arcs such as the Greater Antilles are formed by oceanic plates being thrust under other oceanic plates or continents similar to what is currently happening around the so called “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean.

Perfit said the findings suggest that as the Caribbean tectonic plate moved between North and South America it captured a rifted piece of ancient continent that had formed the foundation of Central America. Subsequently this fragment migrated eastward, likely for more than 1,000 miles, to its current position in Hispaniola. This implies that continental material can be transported in the upper mantle for thousands of miles and survive more or less intact for billions of years with such fragments serving as “cores” around which islands and eventually continents can grow.

The research suggests the possibility that the fault system in the region can be leaky and can be a place where volcanic activity occurs. Although it is uncommon, sometimes major faults penetrating tens of miles into the Earth’s crust serve as conduits for magma to reach the surface. One example of this is the southernmost boundary of the San Andreas Fault in Southern California.

“In addition to earthquakes in such fault zones you may get volcanic activity, but we can’t use this to predict earthquakes or say there will be a volcano in Haiti in the near future,” Kamenov said. “Although the volcanism we found occurred only a million years ago, we can’t say if it will happen again or not. In addition, there are known hot springs and travertine deposits east of these volcanoes indicating that the geothermal activity continues today.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 13, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 137

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Two suspects arrested
in folk singer's murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Guatemala has arrested two men in connection with the fatal shooting of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral Saturday in Guatemala City.

News reports Tuesday quote a spokesman for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, Diego Alvarez, as saying one of those arrested had hired gunmen who carried out the killing. 

Alvarez was quoted as saying one arrested suspect was driving one of the cars involved in the shooting.

Officials say the 74-year-old Cabral was headed to the airport when attackers fired on the vehicle he was in, killing him.

The performer was one of Latin America's most famous folk singers. His body was brought home to Argentina Tuesday on a Mexican Air Force jet. He is expected to be cremated today.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has blamed organized criminals for Cabral's death and says there are indications the assailants were targeting Henry Farinas, a Nicaraguan concert promoter who was driving the vehicle carrying Cabral. Farinas was wounded in the shooting.

Cabral became famous in the 1970s as a protest singer. He went into exile in México after Argentina came under military rule in 1976. 

One of his most well-known songs, No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla,  "I'm Not From Here Nor There,"  was covered by many other artists, including Spanish singer Julio Iglesias.

Copper miners in Chile
end their 24-hour strike

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Unionized workers at Chile's Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, have returned to work following a 24-hour strike over the future of the state-owned company.

The more than 40,000 employees returned to their mines across the country Tuesday.  They walked off the job Monday over modernization plans that union officials say will lead to job losses and possible modernization of some of the company's plants.  Codelco officials say the plants will not be privatized.

Union workers have threatened more protests if they are excluded from negotiations over the restructuring of the company. 

The work stoppage was Codelco's first in nearly 20 years. Codelco said it expected to lose $40 million from the lost production of about 4,900 tons of copper.  Codelco produces 9 percent of the world's copper, or about 1.7 million tons per year.

Their strike coincided with the 40th anniversary of Chile's nationalization of the mining industry, a move by then-President Salvador Allende.  The nationalization of the mines led to the creation of Codelco.

Drug firm will accept
cut-rate HIV royalties

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One of the world's biggest producers of AIDS drugs says it will make some of them available for cheaper generic manufacturing, potentially boosting their use in poor countries, particularly in Africa.

U.S. drug makerr Gilead Sciences said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with the United Nations' Medicines Patent Pool to allow other manufacturers to copy four of its drugs in exchange for a small proportion of royalties on their sales. It is the first time the U.N. group has negotiated a deal for generic manufacturing of drugs whose patents are owned by a private pharmaceutical company.

Major drug makers usually hold on to the patented sales rights for their drugs for 10 years or longer, which often means that people in poor countries have to wait until the patents expire before the drugs are made more cheaply by generic manufacturers. In this case, the U.N. agency said Gilead's disclosure of the compounds for the drugs will make them available much sooner.

There are 33 million people worldwide who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and most of them live in Africa. Many poor countries now only have access to older drugs to treat the disease, some of which have harsh side effects.

Two of the Gilead drugs, Tenofovir and Emtricitabine, are important components of current AIDS therapy. The other two drugs are still in clinical development.

Under terms of the agreement, Gilead will receive 3 to 5 percent royalties on the generic drugs, which will be made available in about 100 countries. The company is waiving any royalty payments on formulations that are made for children.

The royalties the company receives are expected to be a tiny fraction of the amount Gilead normally receives from sales to patients in Western countries.
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Gallery marks this month
with collection of artists

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Hidden Garden Art Gallery features a collective exhibit celebrating the annexation of Guanacaste this month. The Anexión del Partido de Nicoya is legal holiday celebrated July 25, so this is what is called the patriotic month.

The holiday commemorates the 1823 decision by Guanacaste leaders to join Costa Rica and not Nicaragua.

Local and international artists are demonstrating their homage to the province through their artistic talent and creativeness, the gallery said. On exhibit are pieces on various media such as sculpture, oils on canvas, acrylics on canvas and photography. Amongst the paintings are a variety of surreal, abstract, contemporary and traditional, said the gallery.

Among participating artists are:
Oscar Lios, born in Costa Rica, a self-taught artist with instincts inherited from a family with a passion for the arts;

Christian Porras, called "the minstrel Guanacasteco," because he writes music and plays the guitar, in addition to his paintings, a Costa Rica native;

Juan Carlos Ruiz Soto, born in Costa Rica, and has studied under painting master Juan Carlos Meana in Spain, and has a fine arts degree from the University of Costa Rica;

Marco Tulio Brenes, also born in Costa Rica, has spent most of his artistic creation working in sculptures, of various materials such as ceramic, stone and wood among others; paintings with oil and acrylics, drawing and poetry, among other expressions;

Hernán Pérez-Pérez, born in Puntarenas, who probes a variety of techniques and concepts, a well-established artist throughout Costa Rica, having attended many international symposiums;

Rebeca Alvarado Soto, a Costa Rican artist well known for her large surreal paintings;

Sara Larkin, international artist commissioned by NASA to artistically document space programs, such as her "Spacescapes." Series;

Baraba Odio Yglesias, Ron Brocco and Doug Schutza.

The exhibit opens Saturday at from 10 a.m. The gallery promises to have live music performed by Lios and Porras, plus typical cuisine. The gallery is located 5 kilometers west of Liberia International Airport.
Gaming business reported
to be softer in June

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here's an economic indicator of a different kind.

Thunderbird Resorts Inc., operator of the Fiesta Casino here, said that its June income dropped 16 percent in Costa Rica when compared to 2010. Still the company took in $1.5 million during the month, it said.

The company stock is traded so such income reports are routine.

"Revenue growth in the Group's Costa Rica operations is continuing to be  impacted by the recession, higher unemployment and a soft gaming market," the company said.

At its casino in Perú, income was impacted by a smoking ban that went into effect March 29 in Lima, the company said.

The company showed declines in gaming revenue in Nicaragua (8.8 percent), the Philippines (less than 1 percent) and in Perú (7.4 percent), it said. However, revenue on its hotel operation in Perú was up 54.5 percent, it said because of additional properties being included.

For the month, the company reported $9.5 million income, down slightly from the 2010 figure of $9.7 million.

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