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(506) 2223-1327           Published Monday, July 25, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 145           Email us
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power line tangle
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad photo
This was the mess workmen faced Friday when a flatbed truck carrying a tall backhoe ripped down electric, Internet and telephone cables in Barrio Tournón in north San José. The 1 a.m. mishap pulled down eight utility poles, said the
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. Power was out most of the day in the area. A similar midday Sunday accident cut voice and data transmission as well as cell telephone service in Turrialba and Cartago for the afternoon.


Guanacaste has its day with legal holiday today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a legal holiday, the 187th celebration of the Anexión del Partido de Nicoya. As is traditional, the president and ministers are giving priority to Guanacaste.

President Laura Chinchilla has been busy over the weekend cutting ribbons. She inaugurated the Las Pailas geothermal power plant and a new promenade at the beach in Playas del Coco. She also announced or confirmed a number of projects.

One was the expansion of the existing Cañas-Liberia highway from two to four lanes. Bids are being accepted until next Monday. She also promised residents that pedestrian walkways would be installed.

Also being rebuilt are eight kilometers of Ruta 911 between Sardinal, Artola and Nueva Colón. The project is designed to have a positive impact on tourism by giving better access to beaches in  Matapalo, Potrero and Flamingo. Asphalt is being put down.

The $564,000 promenade in Plays del Coco is called the  Boulevard Amor de Temporada. It is 400 meters long, more than 1,300 feet. Stalls on the walkway will be filled by  local artists and souvenir sellers, said Casa Presidencial.

During the trip the  Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería announced a 13-million-colon ($26,000) grant to help develop oyster production in the Gulf of Nicoya. And the  Asociación Ganadera de Cañas received symbolic checks representing a 75-million-colón ($150,000) grant to build a biodigester to handle cattle waste. It  will produce gas, fertilizer and electricity, said Casa Presidencial.

Today is the time for the traditional Consejo de  Gobierno, a meeting of the president's cabinet, in
annexaction
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Guillermo Solano
Some 120 students at the Escuela José María Zeledón in Curridabat dressed to celebrate the  Anexión del Partido de Nicoya Friday. They were serenaded by 37 Blue, a musical group made up of  Fuerza Pública officers from Cartago.

Nicoya and a celebration between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the Parque Central de Nicoya. The holiday recognizes the decision taken by political leaders to join their land to Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua.

After the celebration, Ms. Chinchilla is scheduled to check on progress at the new terminal being constructed at the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. That will be at 2 p.m.

Today is one of those obligatory pay holidays. Employees have the right to double pay if they have to work today.

Also today the license plate restrictions on vehicles in the center city is suspended. A.M. Costa Rica publishes, but its office will not be open today.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

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Paul Birdsall despidida
Community Action Alliance photo
 Paul Birdsall is flanked by José A. Zaglul, president of
 EARTH University, and Jorge Araya, president of the
 Cámara de Comercio y Industria de San Ramón.

U.S. consul general given
warm sendoff in San Ramón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Paul Birdsall, who is ending his tour as consul general at the U.S. Embassy, received an appreciative sendoff in San Ramón Friday.

Birdsall has promoted a series of embassy initiatives on citizen security to reach expat and Costa Rican residents of San Ramón and elsewhere. The Cámara de Comercio y Industria de San Ramón presented him with a plaque. A local artist carved the wood on which were mounted symbols of San Ramón: a quetzal and an orchid.

Jorge Araya, chamber president, made the presentation along with local resident José A. Zaglul, who is president of EARTH University. Birdsall has been aggressive in promoting embassy outreach to the community and in visiting community groups, mainly to discuss citizen security, He is being posted to Washington, D.C.

The Community Action Alliance also wrote a letter to express the appreciation of its members:

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am writing on behalf of the Community Action Alliance in San Ramón to express  our sincere appreciation to outgoing U.S. Consul General Paul Birdsall.  We first met Paul in May 2010 and over the past 16 months he has personally been responsible for a series of U.S. Embassy initiatives in the areas of Citizen Security and Economic Development that have benefited all residents of San Ramón. 

In the process his cooperation and support have facilitated the integration of the ex-pat community in San Ramón into the community at large and almost single-handedly helped launch and establish the credibility of the Community Action Alliance.  San Ramón is much better off as a result of the service of U.S. Consul General Paul Birdsall.  

To Paul from the City of Poets and Presidents:

AN ANASAZI WOMAN SPEAKS (Ginny Odenback)

  I ground red hematite
  Between two stones and mixed it
  With my honey-colored urine
  Then slapped my painty palm
  Against the canyon wall, saying

  I was here.  I came this way.

Paul: You’ve left your palm print in San Ramón and it says “I was here; I made a difference.” 

Thank you for your service and friendship; you will be missed!

Mike Styles
Community Action Alliance of Costa Rica

 
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!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary






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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

Prisma dental

bridge reconstruction
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo
The Interamericana Norte bridge over the Río Aranjuez has been reduced to one lane due to repairs being made on the bridge deck. Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes officials expect a flood of vehicles today due
to the three-day weekend. They have ordered police to the location to control traffic but they also urge motorists going to or from Guanacaste to consider using the ferry service in Puntarenas, Paquera or Naranjo.


San José and San Ramón marchers seek freedom from crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens in San José and San Ramón marched against criminality Sunday.

In San José the march was organized by the family and friends of  Alejandro Chacón, the 23-year-old motorist who was gunned down June 24 in San Pedro.

In San Ramón about 100 persons marched to promote a specific anti-crime agenda.

The San José march was from the Parque de La Merced to the Plaza de la Democracia. An estimated 400 persons participated. Among them were family and friends of other persons who have been victims of crimes.

Chacón was the son of  Rubén Chacón Castro, a lawyer who is prominent in defending the rights of native peoples.

An announcement said they march was to show that criminals are fewer in comparison to the number of Costa
Ricans who want a better country.

The San Ramón march included Fuerza Pública officers, boy scouts, representatives of the chamber of commerce  and others, said a resident who was there.

The participants are seeking a flagrancia court in San Ramón to counter what they called the  catch and release of criminals. The flagrancia courts handle cases where the criminal has been caught red handed or nearly so.

San Ramón residents are circulating a petition seeking a flagrancia court addressed to the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

Marchers also hear that a local security commission was being formed to coordinate police, the municipal officials. security personnel and citizens.

There was a wave of murders in San Ramón and some residents believe most of them were related to the drug trade and the expansion of territory by San José-based gangs.


New type of hotel category added to tourism institute's list
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism officials have created a new category called boutique hotels to differentiate this type of lodging from the other seven categories.

According to the new regulation, the boutique hotels or Hoteles Boutique  as it is listed by the Instituto
Costarricense de Turismo is one that offers at least five bedrooms with private bath and is characterized by personal and high quality service.

There are 45 hotels with 1,235 rooms that now meet this qualification, said the institute. Some 82 percent have been classified four- or five-star hotels, the agency said. The new category will be used in marketing luxury lodging.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

Accord ends strike by workers at public clinics and hospitals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The operator of the nation's public hospitals and clinics reached an agreement with its unions Saturday, and the four-day strike has been ended.

The final agreement promised no reprisals against strikers and that the reduction in pay for the four days on strike will be spread out over three pay periods.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social was represented by a team headed by Ileana Balmaceda Arias, the executive president of the institution. Each of the dozen unions had their own representatives.

The accord also said that the unions have the right to continue to make administrative appeals of a recent change in sick pay policy. Caja workers used to get 100 percent of their pay when they called in sick. Now they get 60 percent, which was one of the issues that caused the strike. The Caja officials are relying on rulings by the Procuraduría General de la República and by the Contraloría  General de la Republica,

The agreement also sets up a committee to study the sick pay issue.

The agreement also creates a panel to study the money owed
the Caja by the central government.  The unions claim the amount is $2 billion. The central government has agreed to pay some but not all of the debt this year.

Also part of the agreement is that all the entities that make up the hospital medical system will get their full budget amount this year.

The agreement is not binding on the Caja until it is approved by its board of directors. But that would seem to be highly probably.

Officially the strike ended at 1 p.m. Saturday,

In a related action Friday, the Poder Judicial said that the fiscal general had ordered an investigation of the irregularities in the Caja. The fiscal general,  Jorge Chavarría, was responding to news reports relating to the sick pay issue. La Nación reported that the number of people absent on sick days spiked during the World Cup soccer games.
 
The investigation is in charge of the Fiscalía Adjunta de Fraudes, the Poder Judicial said.

The agency also reported that Chavarría has instructed prosecutors to open cases even when the amount of money involved is small. That is a reversal the existing policy.


Archive collects the many variations in spoken English
By the George Mason University news services

Everyone speaks English a little differently, especially if it is not the first language. It was these unique nuances of non-native English speakers which inspired  linguistics professor Steven Weinberger to create the Speech Accent Archive at George Mason University.

Although it was designed to prepare students for a career teaching English as a second language, the archive gets a million hits a month from an audience with diverse needs.

“We get notices from speech pathologists, from computational engineers who do speech processing," says Weinberger, "from Ph. D. students who want to do research on bias and accent judgments, from actors who need to learn a special part.”

Estimates for the number of native English-speakers worldwide range from about 300 million to over 400 million. Millions more speak English as a second language.  Where each speaker learned the language, and at what age, can make a difference in how it sounds. 

Those differences are what can be heard online at the Speech Accent Archive.

There are 1,500 recordings in the archive. The speakers come from countries across the globe, places like the United States, England and Australia, where English is the primary language.  And places like China, Iraq and Eritrea, where it is not.

Weinberger says the students in his introductory English phonetics class are mostly interested in teaching English as a second language. They wanted to study how non-native speakers pronounce different sounds. 

“So we sent the students out to record non-native speakers, and we compared those speakers to each other and to native speakers of English.”

To make it easier to compare the different speakers, Weinberger designed a 69-word paragraph for everyone to read:
“Please call Stella.  Ask her to bring these things with her from the store:  Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob.  We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids.  She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.”

“It had practically every English sound," Weinberger says, "but not all of them, and it had some very difficult, for non-native speakers at least, difficult clusters of consonants.”

In 1999, he put both the paragraph and the samples that the students had recorded on the Web.   

Weinberger says some researchers have criticized the absence of naturalistic, spontaneous speech. He acknowledges the point, but says having everyone read the same words, has advantages as well as disadvantages.

“The biggest plus of course is that it is so uniform that you can immediately compare a Kiswahili speaker to a native English speaker."  But he admits that "a less than skilled reader will have difficulties with the paragraph that might not demonstrate their true phonetic abilities.”

Visitors to the site can browse by geographical map or by native language. They can do specific searches based on a number of parameters including gender, place of birth, age English learning began, and general characterizations of speech, such as adding a consonant or vowel.

The site also invites people to send in their own recording of the paragraph. 

“Right now we only have samples from about 350 languages, including English," he says. "There are 6,000 languages in the world today, so we need lots more. That’s why the archive work will never be finished.”

Weinberger says they have just finished beta testing a new tool to help with that work, an app that will allow people to record and submit their sample from their iPhone.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.S. prisoner held in Cuba
carries appeal to high court


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. contractor has appealed his 15-year jail sentence in Cuba.

Friday, Alan Gross told the Communist country's supreme court he meant Cuba no harm while working on telecommunications equipment. He says he was only trying to improve Internet service for a small Jewish community.

He was detained in late 2009 while working on a secret pro-democracy program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at increasing Internet access in Cuba.

Gross was sentenced and sent to prison last March on charges of crimes against Cuba.

The supreme court says a final sentence for Gross will be revealed in a couple of days.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter met with Gross in March and called on authorities there to release him.  Gross's mother and daughter are both suffering from cancer, and there have also been requests to release the contractor on humanitarian grounds.

The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, only interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other's capitals.


Canada extradites suspect
In Chinese smuggling case


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China's most wanted fugitive has arrived in Beijing after being deported from Canada following a 12-year extradition battle.

Lai Changxing arrived in China Saturday.  He is facing charges for allegedly orchestrating a multi-billion-dollar smuggling operation.

A Canadian court cleared the way late Thursday to extradite Lai. China's Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told reporters in China Monday that he discussed Lai's case with Chinese officials. 

Lai fled to Canada in 1999 with his wife and children.  He says the charges against him are politically motivated, and he faces the death penalty in China. 

Baird said Beijing has offered assurances that white-collar crime is no longer punishable by death in China.  Canada does not have a death penalty and will not extradite people who face possible execution.


Chávez returns home
after cancer treatment


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has returned to Caracas following cancer treatment in Cuba. Venezuelan state television says Chávez arrived home Saturday after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

He recently began the cancer treatment after doctors removed a tumor discovered during an earlier treatment for a pelvic abscess. 

Prior to the start of cancer treatment, the Venezuelan president said his health crisis has been one of his greatest challenges.

It is not clear if Chávez will return to Cuba soon for further treatments.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 145

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Latin American news
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offshore quake
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica map.
Flag shows the point where the  Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico estimated the location of the epicenter.

Saturday morning quake
is called a real shaker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guanacaste residents got a rude wakeup call Saturday when a moderate earthquake took place offshore in the Pacific.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica said the quake happened six minutes before 8 a.m. They placed the epicenter 35 kilometers northwest of Matapalo in Santa Cruz. That's about 22 miles.

Residents characterized it as a real shaker, but there were no reports of damage.

The U.S. Earthquake Information Center estimated the magnitude at 4.9, but the local observatory said 5.5. It also said the quake was caused by the subduction of a tectonic plate, as are most of the Pacific quakes.


Drug stash found in house

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police said they found 514 kilos of cocaine and heroin hidden in an upscale home in Pinares de Curridabat. The home was rented by two Guatemalan men who were detained July 11. The drugs were in a compartment in the home hidden inside a closet, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Woman, 67, held as smuggler

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guards at the La Reforma prison in Alajuela said they detained a 67-year-old woman on the grounds that she was trying to smuggle 71.6 grams of marijuana into the facility. The Policía de Control de Drogas also was involved. They said that the woman hid the illegal material in her underwear in an effort to bring it inside the prisons. The women submitted to a search and was detained, police said.




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