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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 141           Email us
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Gun destruction
Ministerio de Gobernación Policía y Seguridad Pública/Guillermo Solano
Workers at the Arsenal Nacional of the Dirección de Armas y Explosivos chop up some of the 100 weapons they destroyed Monday. That brought to 12,000 the number of weapons destroyed in the last 10 years, said the Ministerio de Gobernación Policía y Seguridad  Pública. Most firearms were used in crimes, although some had been surrendered by citizens. The security ministry's arsenal still is overflowing with weapons that are related to judicial actions in progress or other situations that have not been resolved.

Government, Caja unions playing chicken on strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government and the unions in the national health system are playing a game of chicken.

The unions have announced a work stoppage for today but they have put it off to 8 a.m. instead of the 6 a.m originally planned. The two hours is designed for a last-minute accord.

But it may not work. Unions and government met Monday afternoon in an effort to put off the strike. The talks were moved from one location to another until at 6 p.m. both sides said that no accord was reached.

The  Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y el Seguro Social also announced that it has filed a Sala IV case to force the central government to pay the estimated $2 billion it owes for years of back payments on social security charges from public employee pay checks. The was announced by Luis Chavarría, secretary general of the union.

The Unión Médica Nacional, the organization of physicians and surgeons, said it has approved only a 24-hour strike but that its members would attend to emergencies. Still other unions are talking about a prolonged strike.
The unions are trying to hold the high ground by saying they are gong on strike to defend the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Most recognize that their action is unpopular with the public. Even news commentators Monday pointed out that those being hurt will be those who need the medical services.

The central government and President Laura Chinchilla admit that the Caja is owed large sums, but they differ on the total amount.

Wednesday President Laura Chinchilla went on nationwide television Wednesday night to promise that the central government would expedite its payment to shore up the financially faltering Caja. The president said that the central government agreed Wednesday to transfer 85 billion colons, some $169 million to the Caja this year to offset the greater part of the agency's deficit. But that is not enough to bring the agency to break even.

Added to the mix is a recent internal audit report that disclosed what appeared to be excessive payments for physicians and others.

Estimates say even a one-day strike will delay hundreds of surgeries and thousands of medical appointments and prevent those insured by the Caja from getting prescriptions.

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Nation's weather turns
to normality of season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The low pressure system that drenched the country over the weekend has moved to the north and west, and weather experts say that the country is returning to the rainy season norm of hot mornings and thunderstorms in the afternoon for the Pacific coast and the Central Valley.

Clouds and perhaps light rain are predicted for the Caribbean coast.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional warned of saturated ground and the continued possibility of landslides and flooding due to blocked drainage systems. However, it said that rain this week probably would be less than average.

The national emergency commission has lifted the weather alerts of the weekend and said that only six persons remain in shelters in Heredia and that was because they were awaiting an economic evaluation for government aid.

However, commission experts were studying places where there have been slides and also where there was damaged infrastructure.

Student, 18, gunned down
in shooting at his school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An outsider walked into the Colegio Técnico de Orotina and shot an 18-year-old student there in the head Monday morning.

Then the gunman barricaded himself in the school and held discussions with police officers before shooting himself in the head.

Dead was the student who had the last name of Salazar. The critically wounded gunman was hospitalized but was given a slim chance to survive.

The killing raised questions as to security in all the nation's schools, and the Ministerio de Educación Pública moved to tighten up the access rules at all facilities.

No other student was injured in the Monday shooting, and police said it appeared that the gunman came specifically to kill young Salazar.

U.S. hospital ship to visit
in humanitarian mission

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy said that the hospital ship Comfort would visit Puntarenas from Aug. 1 to Aug. 12.  The ship is involved with Continuing Promise 2011, humanitarian visits to a number of Latin nations. The ship left Guatemala last week.

The visit is being coordinated with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the Cruz Roja and the national emergency commission, the embassy said. The goal of the visit here is to train Costa Ricans in disaster response, to impart techniques for handling medical emergencies and to provide information on sharing information during catastrophes, said the embassy.

The medical staff on board also will be involved in free medical, dental and veterinarian work during the 12 days that the ship is here. The crew also is planning to donate some $200,000 in medical supplies and personal hygiene products.

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 HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 19, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 141

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Deal with Milanes hinges on clear title to properties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The deal struck between former fugitive Luis Milanes and his Savings Unlimited investors is fast approaching a meltdown.

The casino operator and some investors agreed to set up a committee that would receive in trust a number of Milanes properties. This is called a fideicomiso in Spanish. After sale, the proceeds of the properties would be divided among the investors who accepted the deal.

The five-person committee, three lawyers and two investors, has yet to receive the properties, and the main reason appears to be that some of the properties have liens. Some of the liens have been filed by employees Milanes fired at the height of the conciliation negotiations, A.M. Costa Rica has learned. Those actions followed the release of a report by the Judicial Investigating Organization that seemed to rely on statements from Milanes employees.

One of the fired employees says that about 50 former workers filed liens to protect the money they are supposed to get under Costa Rican labor laws. Basically employees who lose their job due to action by their employer are entitled to at least severance pay plus a month's pay for every year they have worked.

Some sources estimate that the liens amount to $400,000. Among those properties that have liens is believed to be the Hotel Europa downtown, the cornerstone of he conciliation deal.

About 450 investors signed on to the conciliation deal because they were promised 20 cents on every dollar they had given the Savings Unlimited high interest operation. Milanes fled and left investors in the lurch in November 2002.

He returned to Costa Rica in June 2009 under a deal brokered by former fiscal general Francisco Dall'Anese and spent just a night in jail.

Investors had about $200 million with Savings Unlimited,
purportedly to finance more casinos for the Milanes operations. However, now the lucrative Milanes casinos are outside the scope of the proposed settlement that was drawn up in May.

At least 100 investors did not take the conciliation deal, and Milanes still is facing a fraud trial. However, the judiciary has not shown a strong desire to engage in such a trial. A source said that of 200 investors represented by the Defensor Pública only 60 took the deal.

Milanes and his lawyers have negotiated the terms of the conciliation agreement aggressively. At one point they promised investors 40 cents on the dollar but quickly changed their minds.

One of the leading lawyers for the fraud victims, Ewald Acuña, is on the committee that is supposed to receive, sell and distribute the estimated $10 million in Milanes properties. He has said he represents about 270 investors.

A lot of the activity in this case takes place among the lawyers and the judge, Mario Piedra, an many of the investors are very much in the dark. However, the judge is believed to have given Milanes and his defense team a deadline to clear the titles on the properties that will be transferred to the investor committee.

There are other complications. Some of the investors are dead, and those representing their estates probably have not been contacted. There also seems to be disagreement over who actually is an investors holdings guarantee checks from Savings Unlimited. Prosecutors probably have very little paperwork because Milanes sanitized his Edificio Colón office when he fled.

Savings Unlimited had offices that looked like a bank, including a teller's window. The business had a professional appearance in contrast to the high-interest operation run by the Villalobos Camacho brothers where investors were paid in cash stuffed in envelopes and presented with Bibles.  Oswald Villalobos is in jail convicted of aggravated fraud, and Luis Enrique still is a fugitive. A trial court determined that the Villalobos operation was a ponzi scheme.

Lottery helps Archivo Nacional
celebrate its 130th birthday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Each week the national lottery comes out with a distinctive ticket. El Día de la Madre doubtlessly will see a graphic extolling motherhood.

But this week the featured institution is the Archivo Nacional, an agency of the culture ministry which is more or less the country's attic. The drawing is Sunday.

The Archivo Nacional, which is located in a modern building in Zapote, is 130 years old this year, and not coincidentally the archive has a continuing exhibition of the national lottery, which was 165 years old last year.

In addition to keeping important national documents, the Archivo also keeps the books that notaries have surrendered or filled up. So it has a continuing records of jurisprudence and land transfers in the country.

The  600-colón lottery tickets picture workers at the Archivo in their daily tasks. The facility will be open Friday for anyone who wants to visit with the Banda National performing at 10:30 a.m. in a program sponsored by the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados
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If sea levels rose to where they were during the Last Interglacial Period, large parts of the Gulf of Mexico region would be under water (red areas), including half of Florida and several Caribbean islands.
rising sea levels
Photo illustration by Jeremy Weiss/University of Arizona

Melting ice sheets reported to be major sea level contributor

By University of Arizona  Communications

Melting ice sheets contributed much more to rising sea levels than thermal expansion of warming ocean waters during the Last Interglacial Period, a University of Arizona-led team of researchers has found. The results further suggest that ocean levels continue to rise long after warming of the atmosphere levels off.

Thermal expansion of seawater contributed only slightly to rising sea levels compared to melting ice sheets during the Last Interglacial Period, researchers said they found.

The study combined paleoclimate records with computer simulations of atmosphere-ocean interactions. The team's paper is accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. 

As the world's climate becomes warmer, sea levels are expected to rise by up to three feet by the end of this century.

But the question remains: How much of that will be due to  ice sheets melting as opposed to the oceans' 332 million cubic miles of water increasing in volume as they warm up?

For the study, team members analyzed paleoceanic records of global distribution of sea surface temperatures of the warmest 5,000-year period during the Last Interglacial, a warm period that lasted from 130,000 to 120,000 years ago.

The researchers then compared the data to results of computer-based climate models simulating ocean temperatures during a 200-year snapshot as if taken 125,000 years ago and calculating the contributions from thermal expansion of sea water.

The team found that thermal expansion could have contributed no more than 40 centimeters – less than 1.5 feet – to the rising sea levels during that time, which exceeded today's level up to eight meters or 26 feet.

At the same time, the paleoclimate data revealed average ocean temperatures that were only about 0.7 degrees Celsius, or 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, above those of today.

"This means that even small amounts of warming may have committed us to more ice sheet melting than we previously thought. The temperature during that time of high sea levels wasn't that much warmer than it is today," said Nicholas McKay, a doctoral student at the department of geosciences and the paper's lead author. 
McKay pointed out that even if ocean levels rose to similar heights as during the Last Interglacial, they would do so at a rate of up to three feet per century.

"Even though the oceans are absorbing a good deal of the total global warming, the atmosphere is warming faster than the oceans," McKay added. "Moreover, ocean warming is lagging behind the warming of the atmosphere. The melting of large polar ice sheets lags even farther behind."

According to the authors, the new results imply that 4.1 to 5.8 meters, or 13.5 to 19 feet, of sea level rise during the Last Interglacial period was derived from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, "reemphasizing the concern that both the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets may be more sensitive to warming temperatures than widely thought."

"The central question we asked was, ‘What are the warmest 5,000 years we can find for all these records, and what was the corresponding sea level rise during that time?'" McKay said.

Evidence for elevated sea levels is scattered all around the globe, he added. On Barbados and the Bahamas, for example, notches cut by waves into the rock six or more meters above the present shoreline have been dated to being 125,000 years old.

"Based on previous studies, we know that the sea level during the Last Interglacial was up to 8.5 meters higher than today," McKay explained.

"We already knew that the vast majority came from the melting of the large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, but how much could the expansion of seawater have added to that?"

Given that sea surface temperatures were about 0.7 degrees warmer than today, the team calculated that even if the warmer temperatures reached all the way down to 2,000 meters depth – more than 6,500 feet, which is highly unlikely – expansion would have accounted for no more than 40 centimeters, less than a foot and a half.

"That means almost all of the substantial sea level rise in the Last Interglacial must have come from the large ice sheets, with only a small contribution from melted mountain glaciers and small ice caps," McKay said.

The authors cautioned that past evidence is not a prediction of the future, mostly because global temperatures during the Last Interglacial were driven by changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun.

El Niño appears to have impact on U.S. East Coast beaches

By the U.S. National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration

Coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Niño years, according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The study was prompted by an unusual number of destructive storm surges along the East Coast during the 2009-2010 El Niño winter.

The study, led by Bill Sweet, Ph.D. from the agency's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, examined water levels and storm surge events during the cool season of October to April for the past five decades at four sites representative of much of the East Coast: Boston, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Norfolk, Virgina, and Charleston, South Carolina.

From 1961 to 2010, it was found that in strong El Niño years, these coastal areas experienced nearly three times the average number of storm surge events (defined as those of
 one foot or greater). The research also found that waters in those areas saw a third-of-a-foot elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions.

“High-water events are already a concern for coastal communities. Studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for or respond to conditions that may impact their communities,” said Sweet. “For instance, city planners may consider reinforcing the primary dunes to mitigate for erosion at their beaches and protecting vulnerable structures like city docks by October during a strong El Niño year.”

El Niño conditions are characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that normally peak during the Northern Hemisphere cool season. They occur every three to five years with stronger events generally occurring every 10 to 15 years. El Niño conditions have important consequences for global weather patterns, and within the U.S., often cause wetter-than-average conditions and cooler-than-normal temperatures across much of the South.

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Zoellick pushes free trade
as the global economic fix

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

World Bank President Robert Zoellick is urging the United States to take the lead in pushing the moribund Doha-round free-trade talks forward. He said open trade is the best way to help the struggling global economy. Zoellick delivered his blunt assessment at a World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva Monday. 

Zoellick said practically everybody in the world is in dire economic straits. He noted Europe is struggling with the eurozone. The United States is bogged down with debt and deficits and is in desperate need of a growth strategy. He said Japan is coming out of a nuclear disaster and is struggling with low growth.

“So, it seems to me that in addition to the work on sovereign debt and deficits, the world needs a global growth strategy," said Zoellick.  "And, opening trade drives growth. It is the best driver of structural forms that the world has seen. We have seen it with proven effectiveness all throughout the past 60 or 70 years. So, why not revive Doha?” 

That is a question more easily asked than answered. Zoellick has invested a lot of his time and his capital as a trade negotiator in Doha. He helped launch the Doha Round of free-trade talks in 2001, and remains deeply disappointed that 10 years later an agreement remains elusive. 

Agriculture continues to be the main stumbling block to a deal. The developing countries are demanding the United States and European Union cut their farm subsidies. But the United States and European Union are calling on developing countries and emerging economies, such as India and Brazil, to open their markets to industrial goods and to grant greater access to services.

Since these conflicting demands appear unsolvable, Doha negotiators are discussing a potential smaller package of trade concessions, but no consensus has been reached on what is to be included in that package.

Zoellick is no fan of this mini-deal, which he said will be as hard to achieve as the big deal. He called it the dumbing down of the Doha round.

"So, I urge a turnaround. Now, I certainly understand that this requires leadership and it has to come from the major developed countries, as well as the emerging market countries," he said. "That is a different world than it was 15 or 20 years ago. And, obviously, the U.S., as the world’s largest economy, is a good candidate. Why not? The U.S. is going to be cutting agricultural subsidies as part of its budget deal.  There was just an agreement in the U.S. Congress to cut not only the ethanol tariff, but the ethanol subsidy.” 

Zoellick called this a serious moment. He warned that the failure of the major trading nations to talk about lowering global trade barriers is putting economic growth at risk, particularly for the poorest countries. 

He said it would be a huge mistake for countries to allow the Doha round to die. He also said that at a time when the world desperately needs a pro-growth strategy - closing down, rather than opening up markets - would be the worst possible thing to do.

Humala to name again
market friendly top banker

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala says he will reappoint Julio Velarde as central bank chief, in an apparent signal to investors that the country's current economic policies will continue.

President-elect Humala made the comment in an interview Sunday on local television.  He is expected to name his cabinet on Wednesday and takes office July 28.

Humala was elected this past June in a runoff, defeating Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.  Much of the campaign focused on continuing Peru's rapid economic growth of recent years, while ensuring that the poor also see some of that increased prosperity.

Humala first ran for president five years ago but was defeated by current President Alan Garcia.  Back in 2006,  Humala opposed a free trade agreement with the United States and pledged to limit foreign investment in Peru.   Humala has since moderated his political discourse, and reports say he has pledged to follow Brazil's market-friendly model.
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Chávez political rival
convicted of being critical

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Caracas criminal court has convicted the former governor of Zulia state for criticizing President Hugo Chávez.

The convicted man is long-time politician and likely presidential candidate Oswaldo Álvarez Paz. The conviction followed a 16-month trial. The judge will determine whether Álvarez Paz must serve his two-year sentence in prison or on parole.

Prosecutors charged  Álvarez Paz with conspiracy and spreading false information. More than a year ago Álvarez Paz was a guest on a Globovision television talk show.

The Human Right Foundation described the alleged crime this way:

"On March 8, 2010, Álvarez Paz, the former governor of Zulia, participated in a televised interview where he criticized the human rights situation in Venezuela and discussed alleged ties between the Venezuelan government, drug-trafficking cartels, the Spanish terrorist organization ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The next day, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly filed a criminal complaint against his statements with the attorney general’s office. A public prosecutor then formally pressed charges for the crimes of conspiracy, public instigation to commit crimes, and dissemination of false information. After 51 days under preventive imprisonment, Álvarez Paz was released conditionally, pending the final resolution of his trial."

“The message is clear: criticize President Chávez on television, and you may become a convicted criminal,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the foundation. “Of all the cases of political persecution in Venezuela, the case of Oswaldo Álvarez Paz is most representative of the deterioration of Venezuelan democracy. A member of congress accused him, a public prosecutor indicted him, the political police arrested him, and a judge convicted him for criticizing the president. Chávez did not need to move a muscle. Venezuela now has a well-oiled repressive machinery,” said Halvorssen.

On April 5, the Human Rights Foundation published a legal report on the case of Álvarez Paz and declared him a prisoner of conscience of the Venezuelan government. The report determined that the actions carried out by the Venezuelan authorities in charge of his case violated the international legal standard on freedom of expression.

“International law prohibits the criminalization of expressions or opinions, especially when they are directed at public servants,” stated Javier El-Hage, general counsel of the foundation. “Oswaldo Álvarez Paz’s conviction for expressing opinions critical of President Chávez and his government is a violation of international law and makes the Venezuelan State internationally responsible,” added El-Hage.

Since 2000, the Venezuelan government has systematically restricted freedom of expression within the country. Since 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have repeatedly found the Venezuelan government responsible for violating freedom of expression. Venezuela is the only state in the Americas to deny the Inter-American Commission access to its territory.

Since 2009, the Freedom of the Press Index has ranked Venezuela as “not free.” Other countries in this category include Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan.

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