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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, July 27, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 146       E-mail us
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Health ministry says flu will last 20 more months
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The health ministry estimates that the swine flu epidemic will continue for 20 more months and that the dispersion of the virus is inevitable. That prognosis was in a statement issued by the ministry Friday.

The minister of health has been put on the defensive by churchmen and lawyers who do not want to see the pilgrimage to Cartago canceled.

At least one appeal has been filed with the Sala IV constitutional court seeking to overturn the presidential decree that gives María Luisa Ávila, the minister, the power to suspend the annual event which would have taken place at the end of this week.

In addition to the religious dimensions, the pilgrimage of nearly 2 million persons to the Basilica de Nuestraseñora de los Ángeles each year represents an infusion of money into the city.

It was in response to the criticism that the Ministerio de Salud issued a statement Friday. The statement listed a dozen reasons for the ban on the pilgrimage. Specifically, the ministry tried to address the question why soccer games and other crowd-generating activities, like movies, were not suspended, too.
The ministry said that soccer games and other large events do not have the same characteristics as the pilgrimage because they are more localized. The problem with the pilgrimage is sending individuals infected with the virus back to all the communities of the country, the statement said.

The health minister said she estimated that 1 percent of the estimated 2 million persons on the pilgrimage would contract the virus and that 10 percent of these would require hospitalization.  By contrast, a soccer game that draws 14,000 persons could result in 140 persons becoming infected with just 14 hospitalized, the statement said. The México-Costa Rica Gold Cup semi-final match Thursday in Chicago drew a bit more than 55,000.

With the virus being around for a prolonged period, the ministry said that Costa Ricans must adapt to changes in lifestyle, including giving up tobacco.

The latest figures say that 17 persons who were infected with the virus have died in Costa Rica. Most had debilitating medical conditions before contracting the virus.

Pilgrims who arrived at the Cartago church this weekend found the doors locked. That is what some church officials said they would do when they jointly announced the suspension of the pilgrimage last week.


Family of young tourist killed here starts foundation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The family of a 12-year-old U.S. tourist who died in a quadracycle accident July 13 near Flamingo, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, has established a foundation in 
her honor.

The St. Charles, Missouri, girl, Brooke Lauren Scalise, was driving the all-terrain vehicle when it failed to make a curve and went over a cliff. Also in the motorized group were her mother, sister and brother.

Included on the foundation Web site is a letter from
St. Charles, Missouri, girl
Brooke Scalise
a Guanacaste tourism operator to Karla González, the transport minister.
He said, in part:

“Today the community continues to feel saddened and ask why and how could this happen? Some of us ask how it was that she was even allowed to ride on one in the first place! She came down from the U.S.A. with her friends and family to enjoy a holiday!”
The author of the letter, identified as Ulrik N. Oldenburg of Flamingo Marina Resort, also wonders why traffic police are not cracking down on other youngsters riding such vehicles:

“On my way back from Tamarindo last night I passed two young girls on another quadracycle without helmets, and then I passed another two young girls on a scooter without helmets! I also passed several bicycles without lights or even reflectors.”

Oldenburg calls the new traffic code absurd and told Ms. González:

“I implore you to reconsider your new laws and work on laws that focus on realistic regulations on all vehicles especially after the sad and unnecessary loss of life of an innocent 12 years old tourist.”

The foundation Web site said that funds collected would be used toward college scholarships to students in need, assist in funding youth church programs and provide donations to homeless shelters as well as children's sports activities.

The foundation also plans a benefit each year on Aug. 4, her birthday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 146

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School starting today
after delay due to flu


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Private and public school children are supposed to be back at their desks today after a midyear vacation extended one week by health officials' concerns over the swine flu.

Not everyone is happy.

A lawyer in the name of a student filed an appeal with the Sala IV constitutional court seeking to extend the vacation. The appeal argued that the student was entitled to a secure school. But the Sala IV magistrates rejected the argument.

Traffic police were on duty all weekend as a wave of vacationers returned to the Central Valley. There were few incidents involving vacationers.

Drivers have the benefit of a ban on large trucks that was promulgated for the benefit of returning vacationers.


Arias confronts protesters
during his visit to Nicoya


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Petitioners broke through police lines to delivery their documents to President Óscar Arias Sánchez Saturday when he visited Nicoya on the peninsula of the same name.

The event was the 185th anniversary of the annexation of Guanacaste when local politicians decided they would rather be part of Costa Rica than war-torn Nicaragua.

Arias said later that his administration would continue working for Guanacaste.

A source close to the protesters said that there were diverse groups and each had specific complaints about the government. One group was protesting the maritime law that is causing evictions and demolition of homes and businesses along both coasts.

There also were protesters from Sardinal who are unhappy over a plan to take water from their community for the use of tourism development on the Pacific coast.

The events took place on the same day that La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper, published a lead article about unemployment and economic problems in Guanacaste as a result of lower numbers of tourists and the world economic crisis.

Arias addressed the topic in a prepared speech and said that the area is expected to enjoy better luck in 2010.

Some of the topics being protested will emerge as campaign issues later this year as the nation moves toward the Feb. 6 presidential elections.


Global group to monetize
degradation of environment


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A group of international legislators has met in Nairobi to press world leaders on taking urgent action to stem the widespread destruction of natural resources. The legislators say the resulting loss of ecosystems worldwide is costing the globe trillions of dollars each year.

The legislators representing 18 different countries are part of a group called the Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment.

The group is establishing a commission to develop specific policy suggestions for world leaders to help them better understand the true long-term costs associated with the destruction of natural resources.

According to Ian Johnson, chairman of the international commission, new scientific and economic tools are enabling researchers to calculate more accurately the actual monetary costs associated with ecosystem destruction.

The results are staggering. According to a recent study, an estimated $2 to $5 trillion of natural resources are lost each year just due to deforestation, and overfishing costs the world $50 billion annually.

"One of the things that we do now understand is that there is tremendous value — economic, financial value — in managing our natural capital, our natural resources, worldwide in a much better way than we have done," Johnson said.

He noted that each year in which serious action is not taken is a year lost but expressed confidence that when leaders worldwide see the stark economic statistics combined with specific policy proposals, the issue will receive the attention it deserves.

"Time isn't on our side. Time is running out. But if we take action, we can correct what we are doing to our earth. But it will require legislation. It will require regulation. It will require financing. And I think our politicians and our parliamentarians from around the world can be great advocates for pushing the kind of legislation that will enable that," said Johnson.

Among the policy steps discussed by the commission is the creation of an international payment scheme designed to protect tropical forests. Under the proposal, the price of timber from these areas will include the product's overall value to the ecosystem, such as the resource's carbon-storing capabilities.

The commission will also prioritize proposing policy solutions to salvage diminishing fish stocks worldwide.

The legislators suggested that although the issue of climate change receives more headlines, the crisis of eroding ecosystems is just as serious an emergency.

Bob Mills, an advisor to the commission, says that in fact the destruction of wooded ecosystems is strongly impairing the planet's abilities to slow a changing climate. He says that African leaders should be among the most concerned with the commission's findings since the continent will receive the brunt of the impact from the ecosystems and climate shifts.


High schoolers are successful
installing roof solar panels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Global warming has been in the news for years. It remains a concern for those who believe our planet is growing warmer at an alarming rate. In a Virginia high school that focuses its curriculum on science and technology, there is a group of high school students that is working in the neighborhood to help reduce global warming.

Thomas Jefferson High School student Seth Kolker and some schoolmates have been on a mission to realize a graduating student's vision, which is to get solar panels installed on their school's roof.

"When you have a dedicated group of 30, 40 students working together, dedicated and smart students, you can really do anything," said high school teacher and environmentalist Amanda Hurowitz.

Thomas Jefferson High School gets its power from a coal-fired plant. That's cause for concern for environmentally-minded students and teachers.

"And coal is basically pure carbon," noted Kolker. "So when you burn that coal, you're releasing it into the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming."

Most scientists and advocates, like former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, say burning carbon-based fuels, such as coal or gas, contributes to an increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere, also known as global warming.

In response, some school campuses throughout the United States have added solar panels. Until recently, Washington area schools have been reluctant to join the trend because of the considerable initial investment.

But Thomas Jefferson's students were not so easily discouraged.  Sophomore Lisa Junta found a way to fund the project.

"…And earlier on, I sent letters to corporations, asking them for money, trying to fundraise for the solar panels," she noted.

"We ended up getting $15,000, and then $20,000, $40,000 and eventually $56,000," added Kolker.

The 22 solar panels on Thomas Jefferson's roof offset approximately 3 percent of the school's total power needs. It may not sound like much, but with time, the savings can be considerable.

"In about a year, these solar panels can save about five tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere," he explained.

A solar panel consists of an array of solar cells, which gather energy from the sun and converts it into electricity. Each solar cell sits on a motorized device called a solar tracker.

Though the solar panels are in place and working, the students' quest to help the environment isn't over. In the school parking lot, construction has already started on a house with a "green roof." There are plans to add more solar panels, while students also look into building wind turbines.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 146

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Playa Hermosa residents worry about surf games and crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not everyone in Playa Hermosa is excited by the World Surfing Games that begin Friday.

Some are concerned that the influx of visitors will add to what they say is a growing crime problem. Some anonymous residents have started a Yahoo group that seeks to report local crime.

The group has only a few postings, but two from Saturday report the theft of a camera from tourists who were spending the last day of their vacation in the Las Olas area and the armed robbery of a woman on the beach by two 
individuals assisted by a third person in a nearby car.

“With Billabong competition approaching, crime is on the uprise in Hermosa,” said a message to A.M. Costa Rica.

One operator of the Yahoo group also expressed concern that Playa Hermosa, which is about 5 kilometers south of Jacó or about 3 miles, is changing from the laid-back beach area it once was.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has said it is making improvements to Internet service and outdoor lighting that will remain after the week-long international surf event is over.


Government training institute involved in bribery probe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Elements of the judicial police and prosecutors staged raids Friday on facilities of the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje in La Uruca and Heredia. The raids were by the prosecutors for Delitos Económicos, Corrupción y Tributarios and the  Unidad de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The Poder Judicial said that the raids were in relation to a contract for services of a private company and the management of 6.5 billion colons, some $11.2 million.
Some 30 companies may be involved in the investigation, said the Poder Judicial.

The specific allegation appears to be bribery.

Raided were the offices of the executive president, the manager, the assistant manager, the legal department, and the department of contracts,

The institute contracts for training in a number of areas. Some courses are given by private contractors. There are many facilities, but La Uruca is the headquarters.


One window-breaking robber turns out to be a 15 year old
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Window-breaking robberies continue on the Circunvalación in south San José in the Hatillo sector. The crimes are being committed by persons as young as 15, police confirmed Friday.

The crime is so rampant in the area that police had staked out the sector. The crooks wait near stop lights and then
prey usually on women traveling alone. They break the car
window and try to steal a purse or whatever may be on the empty passenger's seat.

That happened to a woman motorist in Hatillo 6, but two officers were watching the area and managed to collar two suspects. One turned out to be a 15 year old, they said. The other, identified by the last names of Castillo Garcia, is 21.

Police said that there already was a warrant out for the arrest of the 15 year old.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 146


Zelaya maintains his vigil at Honduran-Nicaraguan border
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The ousted Honduran president traveled to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras Friday in an effort to press the de facto government to allow him to return home. Honduran security forces lined up to block his entry.

The ousted president, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, rode by jeep across northern Nicaragua to a small border town in an effort to return home, nearly a month after being removed from power. Zelaya lifted up a chain marking the border and briefly stepped into his home country before returning to Nicaraguan soil. News reporters said he entered two meters or a bit more than six feet. He stayed inside the country for about 20 minutes. Soldiers nearby did not take any action against him nor did the officer in command contact the chief of the country's military as Zelaya asked him to do.

Zelaya said he was going in peace, as the democratically elected president of the country. He added the Honduran people will never accept a dictatorship that uses the military against its own people.

Honduran police and troops massed at the Las Mano border crossing, where they used trucks to block the road connecting the two countries. Officials also declared a curfew at noon along the border, and set up checkpoints on Honduran roads to stop Zelaya's supporters from traveling to the border to meet him. Troops fired tear gas during a brief clash with supporters of Mr. Zelaya.

The ousted president made the trip after expressing frustration at mediation efforts led by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who has been seeking a compromise. Zelaya has said he will only accept a deal that allows him to return to the presidency, but the de facto government has rejected that possibility.

Zelaya remained in the vicinity of the border and made trips to the international line Saturday and again Sunday, He said he was expecting his wife and family who remain in Honduras. He also accused the interim government of holding them.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley expressed concern that Zelaya's return could lead to violence. "We have said to President Zelaya on a number of occasions that right now we think the focus should remain on the current negotiating and mediation effort of President Arias, and that any return to Honduras would be premature," he said.

Crowley said Zelaya was expected in Washington Tuesday for talks with U.S. officials. He is expected in Guanacaste at a meeting of Central American heads of state. Zelaya was quoted by the international press Sunday urging the United States to use force to reinstate him.

The United States and other countries have refused to recognize the de facto government in Tegucigalpa. Recently, U.S. and European Union officials decided to suspend crucial aid money to the Central American nation because of the crisis.

The de facto Honduran government has said, if Zelaya returns, he will be arrested to face charges, including abuse of power. The Supreme Court ordered his removal from office last month because of his plans to hold a referendum that the court had declared illegal. Hours before the controversial vote was to begin, military forces arrested him at his home and flew him out of the country. That was June 28.

Critics say Zelaya was seeking to remain in office by changing the constitution to lift a ban on re-election. The ousted leader says any possible change would have taken effect after he left office this year.

In Costa Rica Arias said that Zelaya's excursion to the border was not helping advance the San José accords peace plan that Arias constructed.

At the Honduran-Nicaragua border, police and soldiers are keeping supporters of Zelaya away.  One person has been reported killed not far from where Zelaya gave a brief talk Friday. The circumstances are unclear. The Nicaraguan government closed the border in support of Zelaya, and lines of cargo trucks have been waiting there for as long as five days.


Lawmakers move to crack down on kids' video games
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A measure approved in the legislature on first reading last week would prohibit electronic video games in any establishment that sells other things and would limit the business hours to nine, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The measure was presented by Andrea Marcela Morales Díaz, who is now an independent. The municipalities would be in charge of issuing licenses and inspecting the establishments. The municipalities also would be in charge of specifying the type of game.

The goal of the legislation is to keep children from getting the vice of gambling, said the lawmaker.

Under the proposal, the electronic video games could not be in supermarkets and other food stores, ice cream shops,
cafes or other places frequented by children.

The video game parlors would be set up specifically for this purpose, and they could not have provocative posters not suitable for children, according to the legislation.

The approval came in what is known as a comisión plena, a subsection of the full legislature that still has the power to approve laws.

The measure that still is a proposal would prohibit children younger than 12 in such establishments. Persons older than 12 and younger than 18 could only play video games between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The businesses themselves could be open only form 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to the proposal.

Violations would result in fines.




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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 146

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U.N. debates its world role
and when it should intervene


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations General Assembly in meetings Thursday debated the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect or "R-to-P resolution." In concept, it is a strategy based on state responsibility, international assistance and timely and decisive responses to countries in trouble around the world. But there is less than unanimous agreement that it will ever work. 

The stage for Thursday's debate was set early when Edward Luck, special advisor to the secretary general, told the U.N. General Assembly what not to do.

"What we do not need at this point, however, are efforts to turn back the clock to divide the membership, or to divert attention from our central task. The world is changing. Our thinking needs to evolve with it," he said.

After an informal morning session, there was further discussion of the issue by a panel of scholars and political activists. Noam Chomsky, U.S. professor of linguistics and a political author, said he did not believe the big or rich will rescue the poor and little.

"Take the case that I mentioned about the World Food Program cutting back its funding. It wasn't even reported in the mainstream in the United States. Who cares? It is a criticism of the Western countries," he noted. "They're the ones cutting down their funding because it's more important by their priorities to bail-out banks than to feed people," he said.

Garth Evans, co-chairman of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, stated he is not in favor of an all-encompassing rescue plan for the ills of the world.

"It's very important that we must refine and define and narrow the scope of this enterprise so that it doesn't become an all-purpose excuse for dealing with human rights generally and comfort generally," he said.


Colombian rebels reported
killed in bombing attack


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Colombia's military says at least 16 rebel guerillas were killed by a government attack in the central part of the country.

A military spokesman said Saturday the Colombian air force bombed a jungle camp in Meta department that had been used by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

The military said rebels in the camp were believed to be under the command of Jorge Briceño, also known as "Mono Jojoy."

Colombia's rebels, who are listed as terrorists by Colombia, the United States and the European Union, have been under pressure due to a military campaign launched by President Arlvaro Uribe. The rebels have been fighting the Colombian government since the 1960s.

New tourism office in Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has opened a fifth regional office, and this one is in Quepos. The office is located in the Edificio COPAZA on the road to the Quepos docks, said an announcement. The phone numbers are  2777-4221 or 2777-4217. The new office is part of the decentralization plan of the agency.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 146

Latin American news digest
Jazz festival starts today
with dates all over country


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rica International Jazz Festival 2009 organized by the Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano starts today. The event will run until Aug. 9.

Jazz groups include visitors from the United States, Germany, Japan, France and locally from Costa Rica, said the centro.

Concerts offered in San Ramón, Santa Cruz, Puntarenas, Guápiles, Pócora, Playa Hermosa, Universidad Earth-La Flor, Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna, Palmares, Quepos and Pérez Zeledón.

At the same time, the Galería Sophia Wanamaker at the San Pedro center will be presenting “Expo Jazz 2009,” which are works of art related to the jazz theme.

The Alex Terrier Trio from France and the Amarillo Cian y Magenta group from Costa Rica will perform Tuesday at 8 p.m. In the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar. A group from the Julliard School in New York will perform Thursday at 11 a.m. in Parque Morazán. Other presentations are listed HERE.

This is the second festival of this type that the centro has organized.

White Sox pitcher throws
perfect baseball game


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chicago White Sox Pitcher Mark Buehrle became only the 18th Major League Baseball player to pitch a perfect game. It is the first such game pitched in the Major Leagues in five years.

At the Chicago White Sox U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago's South Side Thursday, the 30-year-old pitcher retired all 27 batters from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays without allowing anyone to reach first base, pitching a perfect game and putting his name in a record book occupied by only 17 others in Major League history.



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