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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, July 14, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 138        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Taxi drivers replace gasoline with their own muscle power
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers are doing everything they can to save gas, including pushing their vehicles.
Sunday a line of taxi drivers could be seen in front of Parque Central. Vehicles turned off, the taxistas pushed their Hyundais and Toyotas one by one as the line slowly moved forward.

Taxi drivers have always waited in lines to save gas, said Robertino Céspedes Agüero, a taxista of 15 years. But now with high prices, they are doing whatever they can not to waste a drop. 

“I used to drive around more looking for customers, but now it's too expensive,” said Ignacio Roger León Caldo a driver of four years,  “It's better just to stay waiting.”

Gas is now about $4.72 per gallon now  or 644 colons per liter including tax, according to the government refinery Web site update Friday. Diesel is $4.56 a gallon or 622 colons a liter, with tax according to the Web site of Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A.
tasista pushing vehicle
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Taxi driver saves gas by pushing his car

“If prices keep rising we're really going to have to stop and think, ” said Céspedes, although the cabbie said he wasn't planning on changing professions. “If I win the lottery, I'll buy another car,” said Céspedes.

Although tax drivers get periodic raises from the price regulating agency, their rate has been flat for years because the adjustments only cover inflation and the devaluation of the colon.

Climate-change model predicts major impact here
By the University of Massachusetts-Amherst
news service

While melting Arctic sea ice and glaciers have become a symbol of climate change, new research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst indicates that highland forests in Costa Rica could also be seriously affected by changes in climate, reducing the number of species in a region famous for its biodiversity.

“Central America is a major, emerging 'hot spot' in the tropics where climate change impacts on the environment will be pronounced, and the loss of species associated with climate has already been identified,” said Ambarish Karmalkar. He is a doctoral candidate at the university's Climate System Research Center. “We have completed a regional climate model showing that many areas of Costa Rica will become warmer and dryer as climate change accelerates, and these changes will be amplified at higher elevations.”

According to Karmalkar, Costa Rica has a unique geography that supports a stunning array of plants, animals and insects. The land begins at sea level on both the western Pacific coast and the eastern Caribbean coast, rising to over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) above sea level in the central mountain range. As the land rises, differences in temperature and precipitation caused by elevation create an array of distinct ecosystems stacked on top of each other, each one housing a unique biological community.

Above 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), rising air creates a continual cloud layer that constantly bathes the vegetation in horizontal precipitation, allowing plants and animals to survive the dry season from December to April. These cloud forests are essential to maintaining freshwater resources in Costa Rica, and the height at which the clouds develop is a critical factor for these ecosystems. Since they are highly dependant on temperature and precipitation, these ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change, he said.

To predict the effects of climate change, a regional modeling system capable of accommodating the  complex topography of Central America was
chosen. After validating the computer model using rainfall and temperature data collected in Central America between 1961 and 1990, the team looked at what would happen if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled. The results of this medium-to-high scenario, called the A2 scenario in reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were striking.

“If carbon dioxide levels double, this region will not only experience an increase in temperature of more than three Kelvins (about 5.5 degrees F), but all future temperatures will likely be higher than the complete range of present-day temperatures,” said Karmalkar. “In addition, the model simulation indicates that high elevation Pacific slopes and the Caribbean lowlands will receive up to 30 percent less precipitation. Simulations also indicate an overall increase in the height of the cloud base of up to 300 meters” (984 feet).

According to Karmalkar, as temperatures rise, various ecosystems will try to migrate to where they are comfortable, moving in an upslope direction in this case. As they migrate, plants and animals will disturb other species, and eventually run out of space as they reach the top of the mountains. The result may be a loss of many species that can’t survive the new conditions.

“After the extinction of the golden toad sometime between 1987 and 1989, corresponding with a warm event in the Pacific Ocean, scientists began relating climate change to the loss of biodiversity in Costa Rica,” said Karmalkar. “Since then, the Monteverde Institute has been documenting biological changes that could be related to climate change.”

Karmalkar plans to study the entire region of Central America, determining large climate dynamics of the region and how that will change in the future. “Central America has a unique annual cycle of precipitation, with a midsummer drought that occurs during July and August,” said Karmalkar. “Knowing how climate change will affect this cycle will be important for agriculture, which is an integral part of the economy of the region.”

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Arias says slush fund
needed to get good help

By the A.M. Costs Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez tried to minimize the importance of his $2 million slush fund Friday when he spoke in the  Cantón de Alvarado which was celebrating its 100th brithday in Pacayas de Cartago.

And he was critical of newspeople who have been attacking him. In reply some 34 of the nation's top newspeople shot off a letter asking him to specify what reporters he thinks are playing politics.

Instead of tring to solve the national petroleum crisis, "we have become absored in a dispute for the payment of some consultancies by the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica," said Arias, adding that the government would not have been able to pay for these experts.

If the government wants the help of capable persons, there is a need for a mechanism like the agreement with the international bank, Arias said.

Then using a Costa Rican expression, he said that those who are indignant over some consultants earning competitive salaries via the international bank are "sawing the flood of persons with recognized honor," meaning him.

And Arias blamed a group of newspeople and politicians for the attacks on his admininstration.

In response the newspeople sent a letter to Arias asking him to be transparent in his dealings, particularly in the case of the $2 million from the international bank and A $1.5 million donation from the government of Taiwan supposedly for poor people that was put to another use. The housing minister already resigned over the misappropriation of the $1.5 million, and the legislature and the Contraloría de la República are investigating.

For two weeks reporters have been trying to get a complete list of the 82 so-called consultants, their payments and the reasons for their employment.
Casa Presidencial reported that more than $300,000 of the $2 million has been spent, and the recipients appear to be political associates of Arias. A major concern of some opposition party lawmakers is that the money never appeared in the national budget. A full list has not been made public, although some recipients have presented a summary of their involvement and pay to the legislature.

Among those getting payments from the fund are Casa Presdiencial workers, members of Arias' Partido Liberación Nacional and other long-time supporters. There also is a public opinion pollster and some lawyers.

Phone company moving
its San Pedro location

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The phone company is moving location in San Pedro, said a spokeswoman Friday.

Employees at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad building, west of the San Pedro traffic circle, are moving to the Outlet Mall in the center of San Pedro. The new location will be open today, said a press release from the company.

The agency will be located on the ground floor of the San Pedro Outlet Mall and will have office hours Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the company.

An institute spokesperson said the Outlet Mall in San Pedro will give the company more space. The new location has 12 service windows and 50 waiting room chairs, said the spokesperson. There is also an indoor parking garage with security and space for 200 cars at the mall.

Customers can go to the new location for cell phone services, to apply for new home or business phone lines, to schedule moving, to seek refunds, to check billing and make payments, among other services, said the spokesperson.

Another cocaine arrest
made at Juan Santamaría

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug control officers of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública arrested  a Costa Rican man Saturday in Juan Santamaría airport.

The suspect, a 39 year-old man identified by the last name Pacheco Ramírez, was carrying six kilos of cocaine when he was detained preparing to board a flight to Madrid, Spain, a ministry release said.

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of lumber

The ceiba tree on the grounds of the foreign ministry yielded tons of lumber after workmen finished cutting it down last week. Nervous neighbors won a court appeal to eliminate the nearly 100-foot tree because it was in danger of falling.

Workmen began at the top and took off branch after branch. and then finally the trunk. The tree is historic, but its roots had been damaged, experts pronounced.

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Police launch a crusade against crack cocaine in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers have embarked on a program against the trafficking of crack cocaine in San José

Fuerza Pública officers captured six men in central San José Friday as a part of  the program, “Operation Crack,” which began last week.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública spokesman Jesús Ureña provided some details about the police force's new anti-drug program.

“It is an operation against crack and other drugs started in San José that will last for an indefinite amount of time,” Ureña said, “Crack is a drug that is a cause of other crimes like robberies and assaults.”
The raid Friday occurred in an area of low-income tenements around Calle 8 at about 5 in the morning, an area Ureña said is popular with addicts and dealers of the pervasive drug.

Two of the suspects detained were wanted to face allegations of aggravated robberies, while another, identified by the last name Calderón Hernández, was arrested with 210 doses of crack cocaine hidden in his clothing, according to a ministry press release.

When asked about the success of “Operation Crack,” Ureña said that the program was too new to say for sure, but already progress has been seen. “It is just starting, so it's hard to say, but there have been some arrests already.” He said. A more detailed evaluation of the operation should be available later this week.

Some Latin leaders are nervous over revival of Fourth Fleet
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

According to the United States military, the Fourth Fleet is just a name change. But leftist Latin American leaders are seeing the re-establishment of the World War II designation as a threat. They fear an increased U.S. military presence.

The U.S. military revived the naval command for the Latin America and the Caribbean region in late April. The official ceremony took place Saturday at Mahyport, Florida, the fleet's base.

The fleet was created in 1943 to guard against enemy boats, submarines and blockade runners and was retired shortly after the end of World War II. Since then, the Second Fleet, based in Virginia, has handled naval operations throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

But military officials say now it is time to renew the Fourth Fleet command to oversee ongoing operations in the Caribbean and Latin America, such as joint training, counterdrug operations and disaster relief.

Lt. Myers Vazquez, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, says the decision reflects the growth in naval activity in recent years.

"So effectively U.S. naval forces in Southern Command had been operating as a fleet organization command without the name. Basically it is just the name catching up to reality," he said.

Recent Southern Command operations include the visit last year by a navy hospital ship to 12 Latin American and Caribbean nations to provide free medical care. And this year, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington came into the area for an annual exercise aimed at boosting ties with partner naval forces.

Some Latin American leaders, however, see the carrier visit and the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet as a new U.S. military push in the hemisphere.

At a trade summit July 1, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the U.S. naval command could pose a threat to Venezuela's vast oil resources. Chavez said in San Miguel 
de Tucuman, Argentina, that Latin American leaders should ask the United States what the Fourth Fleet plans to do in Latin American waters and said he sees it as a clear threat.

In a Cuban state newspaper, former leader Fidel Castro cited an Argentine newspaper article suggesting the U.S. fleet could be used to seize food and energy resources, as prices for those goods are soaring. Bolivia's President Evo Morales called it the Fourth Fleet of intervention.

Military officials dispute the claims, saying the Fourth Fleet will not have a new mission or bring any new ships to the area. They note the George Washington carrier was only passing through Latin American waters to reach its new homeport in Japan.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who led Southern Command in the late 1990s, says the criticism from leftist leaders is not surprising. He says the comments are unlikely to strain the Navy's ties with partner nations. 

"I would think the professional navies of Latin America will welcome the increase in stature of the cooperative naval presence we will have in the region," he said.

Still, the words of leftist leaders like Chávez and Castro often carry considerable weight across Latin America and elsewhere. Frank Mora, professor at the National War College, says the criticism may create confusion about U.S. military goals.

"I think it is a public diplomacy issue or challenge for the United States not to give over the debate to Chávez, Morales and Fidel Castro, allowing them to shape the reason or motivation why the command was created," he explained. "When obviously it has nothing to do with that."

Mora says the revival of Fourth Fleet was driven mainly by budget and command decisions inside the Pentagon and not by political developments in Latin America. Mora adds the new command helps bring attention to progress that Southern Command has made to engage partner nations and provide military training and technical support. He said the command's leadership also deserves credit for expanding its non-military outreach in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Former Internet gambling worker facing conspiracy charge in identity theft case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The former employee of a Costa Rican Internet gambling operation is accused of using his position to steal persons information on up to 150 customers and turning the data over to an identity theft ring.

The man was identified as Patrick Kalonji, 27. He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after arriving on a flight from Toronto, Canada, where he now lives. A single charge of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud was brought against him in a Manhattan federal court, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.

A summary of the case said that the crimes are alleged to have happened while Kalonji was living and working in Costa Rica. He was arrested June 22.

The native of the Republic of the Congo stands accused of having provided information such as credit card and Social Security numbers, names, addresses, dates of birth,
mothers' maiden names, telephone numbers  and three-digit credit-card security codes.

Co-conspirators then used the stolen credit card numbers and identity information to commit various forms of fraud, including using the credit card numbers to make purchases over the Internet, the U.S. Attorney's Office charges. If convicted, Kalonji could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

The Kalonji case appears to be unrelated to the massive legal troubles that forced BetOnSports out of business here two year ago. A federal judge ordered the company to shut down its Web sites and return any money to U.S. citizens and residents July 19, 2006. The complex 22-count criminal indictment against against 11 individuals and four corporations, including BetOnSports, was unsealed a week earlier.

At one time the company employed up to 2,000 individuals in its operations here.

Britain seeks to curb an epidemic of knife assaults among the young
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain's top law and order official, Jacqui Smith, has announced a number of new initiatives aimed at combating the country's growing knife crime epidemic.

Long proud of its reputation for low gun deaths, knife attacks on the streets of Britain are a growing problem, raising fears in communities up and down the country.

Four unrelated fatal stabbings one day last week in London brought to 50 the number of people slain by knife this year in the capital, and of those 20 were teenagers.

Home Secretary Smith, speaking on Sky News, acknowledged the threat is real and growing.

"There are younger people who are now carrying and using knives, and therefore there are more young victims and I think that is a cause for concern," she said.  "And I think, you know, all of us understand, whatever top level statistics might say, that this is a serious problem that even if it is not happening down your street, [it] makes you feel nervous and unconfident, and that is what we need to address."

The government says new measures designed to rein in the knife threat on the street will be unveiled Tuesday. One idea is to require problem pubs and nightclubs to screen customers for weapons prior to entry. Another measure SEcretary Smith backs would force young offenders to meet knife-crime victims to see first hand the damage it brings to them and their loved ones.

"I think what would be tougher is actually being made to face up to the sorts of implications of young people carrying knives on our streets," added Smith.  "What it means in terms of gruesome injuries, what it could well
mean to you future if you end up in prison, what it means to the families of those who actually lose people through knife crime. And I am very keen that actually we make people face up to the consequence."

But opposition politicians like Iain Duncan Smith accuse Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government of stringing together a number of proposals that will grab headlines, but will fail to solve the problem. 

"They are are not doing the whole package. The whole package deals with family break-down, drug and alcohol abuse, it deals with debt and really terrible debt and the doorstep lending that goes on these communities, the education system, which is appallingly bad, that give these people absolutely no choice, changing lots of that," said Iain Duncan Smith. "These are the big issues that we talk about. What Gordon Brown is doing at the moment is cherry picking into it, and it will not work. You have to do the whole thing."

At the Royal London hospital, Dr. Mike Walsh sees knife victims all too often. He says no single group is going to solve the problem. Walsh says a coordinated effort is what is required.

"In the long run I think the best approach for this is going to be prevention, which I think, so we do not have to do these operations at all or look after these young men. I suspect this is going to need a really coordinated effort between government, police, probably most importantly community groups and families," said Walsh.

Despite a media campaign warning teenagers that carrying a knife makes them more at risk, not safer, a recent six-week police operation in London involving random searches netted 500 knives. 

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Three Cartago tourism sites
to get $300,000 facelifting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tourism institute will invest 150 million colons, nearly $300,000, in refurbishing three locations in the Cartago area. The sites are the Mirador de Ujarrás, the Mirador de Orosí and the Ruinas de Ujarrás.

The plan was outlined at a consejo de gobierno meeting near Cartago Friday. At all three sites rest areas will be set up and access will be provided for the handicapped. In addition some lighting and restrooms will be installed at Ruinas de Ujarrás  and at the  Mirador de Orosí.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural will be involved.

Raúl Castro says economy
delays in salary hikes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Raúl Castro has warned that global economic problems may slow one of his planned reforms, increasing workers' salaries.

In a speech to parliament Friday, Castro said he would like to move faster to improve workers' pay, but said it is necessary to act realistically. He said it will depend on the economic situation in the country which is linked to the world's slowing economy.

The speech was the first to the National Assembly since he succeeded his older brother Fidel Castro in February. He sat next to an empty chair reserved for his brother, who has not appeared in public since he ceded day-to-day power to Raúl a year ago.

Since officially taking power, Raúl Castro has eased some restrictions on Cubans. They can now stay in hotels, own mobile telephones, and buy appliances such as computers, motorbikes and pressure cookers.

Man, 77, held in rape case
linked to offer of a job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained a 77-year-old man Friday to face an allegation that he lured a woman to his home with the promise of a job and then held her hostage and raped her.

The victim was a 25-year-old woman. She told investigators that she responded for a domestic worker ad in a local newspaper, and the man met her in his car in the center of Coronado.

He took her to his home, locked her in and then threatened her with a machete, she said, according to investigators. She was held overnight but maanged to escape the next day, they said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization detained him while he was waiting for another woman in the same Coronado location, they said.

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