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(506) 2223-1327           Published Friday, July 29, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 149           Email us
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Protesting parents and kids cause more traffic chaos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the third time this week citizens blocked a main highway to press their complaints

This time it was parents and even their school children who blocked traffic Thursday morning on the Autopista General Cañas. The blockade of the westbound lanes was highly effective and froze traffic for miles around. Tourists heading to Juan Santamaría airport also were caught up in the jam.

The parents were complaining about the condition of their children's school. It is on a hillside along the Río Virilla, and the hillside is giving away.
The blockade took place in La Uruca at a point on the highway known as Rositel Carballo.

Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister, was critical and said that the adults used their children as shields. He noted that the police have the obligation to insure free transit, but officers took no action Thursday morning. Eventually the parents agreed to a  meeting with a representative of the Ministerio de Educación Pública. The blockade ended about 11:30 a.m.

The parents were well behaved, although they did
show signs that said the school was falling down.

The protest was unlike the one Tuesday on the Caribbean coast where protesters fired on police and threw firebombs and rocks. They also burned tires in three places on Ruta 56 in the vicinity of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. They were protesting the demolition of two local hotels that have been confiscated over environmental problems.

Residents of Los Guidos also protested this week because they had been without water for seven days.

Last week striking union workers at hospitals and clinics blocked a number of highways.

Blocking highways became a fine art during the Abel Pacheco administration when those protesting the free trade treaty with the United States and other issues, shut down traffic four time. Licensed taxi drivers and their unlicensed brethren, the portadores, have repeatedly blocked traffic in a long-running dispute over who should have the rights to carry passengers. In some cases the drivers blocked highways with their vehicles.

Such blockades are illegal under Costa Rican law, but police seldom take action.

Suspect named in horrific Herradura arson killings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators say it was an angry ex-boyfriend who put chains around two containers used as living quarters and killed the four persons who were sleeping inside.

Agents also disclosed that one of the victims of the June 10 arson was a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant.

The suspect lives in San Carlos. He was detained June 26 on the allegation that he tried to kill a neighbor with a knife. He was remanded to preventative detention for three months on that charge. So he was jailed when agents caught up with him to discuss the arson in Herradura near Jacó. The suspect was identified by the last name of  Vásquez. He is 26.

A 24-year-old victim,  María Félix Sánchez Mairena, had complained of physical abuse from her companion, said judicial agents. They had lived in San José.  She had filed domestic abuse charges, and the suspect was under judicial orders to stay away from her.

To avoid a confrontation, Ms.  Sánchez left San
José to be with a friend, the 14 year old. But the killer tracked her down. There was a delay in the investigation while Ms. Sánchez was identified via DNA testing.

Two brothers had lived in the containers for years on the property known as Finca Pipasa and had remodeled them as living quarters. They had the last names of  Villalobos Miranda. One was 22 and the other was 24. Their relationship with the 14 year old still is not clear. She had the last name of Delgado.

Firemen got the call about 5:55 a.m. that Friday morning. They called judicial agents as soon as they cut open the containers and found the bodies of the brothers. One held a steel bar with which it is presumed he was trying to use to pry open the door someone had locked from the outside. The woman's body was found a short time later. Then at 11:50 a.m. firemen found a fourth body, which later proved to be that of the 14 year old.

There were two containers side by side, but only one was occupied. The fires were set outside the containers, and firemen suspect that an accelerant was used. Each container was about 20 square meters or about 215 square feet.

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President shuffles ministers
when health chief resigns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial was like a game of musical chairs Thursday. The president accepted the resignation of  María Luisa Ávila as minister of Salud or health. Dr. Ávila also served under President Óscar Arias Sánchez. The reason was described as the woman's disagreement with the way last week's strike of clinic and hospital workers was handled.

But President Laura Chinchilla also moved to fill some vacancies. René Castro, the foreign minister, was named minister of the environment. That did not set well with some environmentalist groups., which immediately took to the Internet to voice their discontent.

Castro was deeply involved in the territorial dispute with Nicaragua and represented the country at the International Court at the Hague. He replaced  Teófilo de la Torre, who was named executive president of the  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad Monday.

Taking his place is  Enrique Castillo, the current ambassador before the Organization of American States.

Yessenia Calderón Solano was named executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados , the national sewer and water company. She is a civil engineer.

The Spanish-language media made much of the changes in light of the low ratings the public is giving President Chinchilla. Channel 7 Teletica asked viewers to call in an vote if they thought the changes are good for the government. Overwhelmingly they voted no.

Opposition lawmakers also were critical and suggested that the government had lost its direction.
The president announced the changes at a 4 p.m. press conference, although the news of the health minister's resignation had leaked out.

Vehicle restrictions lifted
for legal holiday Tuesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday is a legal holiday, the feast of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, so transport officials have lifted the license plate restrictions in the central city.

Usually private vehicles with the last license plate digit of 3 or 4 are prohibited from entering the area generally bounded by the Circunvalación on the south and east and La Uruca on the west. The fine is about $80.

Bad 2,000-colón bills
are being circulated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It did not take counterfeiters long to start producing copies of the new bills. The Judicial police said that some fake 2,000-colón notes of poor quality are being circulated. It appears that they are photocopied fakes.

The new bills have a host of security features that are not found on the fakes, agents said.

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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 149

Prisma dental

The weekend of pilgrimage looks to be a very wet one
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pilgrims better bring their raincoats. This is the big weekend for the mass movement of the faithful to Cartago from all points in Central America.

The weather continues to be unstable, witnesses by thunderstorms in many parts of Costa Rica Thursday.

The central and southern Pacific coasts appears to have born the brunt of the rainy weather.

The national emergency commission reported Thursday that 20 persons were in public shelters in the Iglesia Católica de San Rafael de Cerritos in Quepos and that three communities are cut off by landslides.

There also are reports of damage in the cantons of Golfito, Aguirre and San Ramón and in Puntarenas Centro

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias repeated the warning from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional that the instability in th
weather favors the development of thunderstorms and lightning.

It that were not enough, there is a gigantic tropical wave in the mid-Atlantic traveling west at 20 mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center expects that it will continue to develop. Such low pressure systems can trigger major storms.

The weather institute issued an emergency bulletin Thursday morning warning that hot temperatures in the 30 C. neighborhood would cause storms to develop. That's in the high 80s F.

The weather institute predicted an increase in instability and storms for today and the weekend.

The climax of the pilgrimage to the basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is Tuesday morning when a Mass will be said. But until then thousands,perhaps hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will be living and sleeping outdoors on in temporary shelters. In all, more than a million will make the pilgrimage.

A tale of two artists leaves some questions about genius
Since the Van Gogh presentation, I have been looking more closely at my print of his “Chair” that has been hanging between the window and the corner of my living room.  It is somewhat obscured by my ficus tree that has been flourishing since I moved it away from the window.

My friend, James, at my request, movedt the "Chair” to my bedroom opposite my bed.  In its frame it is 36 inches by 28.  Not a miniature.

The first night as I gazed at it I wondered what Vincent had in mind (if anything) when he painted it.  It is a simple wooden chair with a woven seat where someone, probably Van Gogh, had left his pipe and packet of tobacco.

Every now and then the lights and shadows in my room made it seem as if there was a ghost in the lower corner trying to sit on the chair. I began to feel uncomfortable and wondered if I could coexist with the chair night after night.  I counted the pieces of wood that had been carpentered together to make it – a surprising 15 separate pieces of wood had been rounded, tapered or squared into parts and put together without nails to make the chair.  Then the seat had been woven and fit into it.  Life, I decided, can be as simple or as complex as Van Gogh’s chair, depending how you see it.

Another artist whose life had to be far more complex than simple and who probably couldn’t be more different from Van Gogh was Leonardo Da Vinci.   Someone described Da Vinci as “the man who wanted to know everything.”  I think he nearly achieved that goal.

Born in 1452 to an unwed peasant and the town clerk, he was raised by his father.  His mother married someone else, as did his father. And between the two of them gave Leonardo 17 half brothers and sisters, none of whom have we ever heard of, as far as I know.

Known for his painting, Da Vinci, also a sculptor, was an architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, cartographer and writer, to name some of his other talents.  He also built models for a bicycle, a car, tanks, and other war toys.  His contribution to the knowledge of the human anatomy was amazing and accomplished by his own work on cadavers.

Examples of all of these inventions are on display in replicas at the huge exhibition in the Antigua Aduana.  As well, of course, reproductions of The Last Supper (and you cannot convince me that the apostle identified as John is not a woman) and the Mona Lisa.  The first time I saw the Mona Lisa was at the Louvre in Paris.  One painting, all by herself that you could gaze at for as long as you liked.  At the exhibition, more than an entire room is devoted to her. I saw enough versions of the Giaconda and her smile to last me a lifetime.

There are young men and women guides who will help disconfuse you as to just what some of the inventions are for.
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

The Chair
The 1888 work is in The National Gallery.

There are also two cafes in the hall just as you think you
 really need some refreshment and a rest.  One is POPS and the other sells coffee and pastries.

And there are wheelchairs for those who are not up to standing and walking for three hours.  I am told that the entrance is $15, with discounts to those holding ciudadanos de oro, school groups and probably others.

Two great painters, one, born on March 30, l853, to a middle class cultured family, who didn’t start painting until he was 28 and worked feverishly to produce a huge body of work in less than 10 years when he died by his own hand at age 37.

The other, born almost exactly four centuries earlier (April 15, 1452), was the illegitimate child of a peasant woman, who was exposed to art and books at an early age.   Da Vinci began as an apprentice to a painter, and spent a life time until his death at 67 exploring and depicting the possible creations of the human mind, and who had many unfinished projects because, we are told, was a great procrastinator.  Just think if he weren’t!

Both were born under the modern Zodiac sign of Aries.  There is also nature, nurture, opportunity, alcohol, a certain time in history.  What is it that makes a tortured artist and/or a creative genius?

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Heat therapy seems to help amphibians survive fungus infection
By the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

Over the past 30 years, around 200 species of amphibians, includng many in Costa Rica, have disappeared due to chytridiomycosis, a fungal infection. The scientific community has attempted to fight the pathogen, without success. Now, an international research group has reviewed every technique in order to prevent the effects of this disease and local extinctions.

"There are several alternatives for mitigating chytridiomycosis that are more effective than trying to prevent the pathogen from arriving or eradicating it from the environment," said Jaime Bosch, a researcher at the National Natural Sciences Museum  in Spain and co-author of the new study on controlling the infection that has attacked 200 species of frogs, toads and other amphibians.

After reviewing all the current mitigation actions – or those that could possibly be developed in the near future – the researchers have concluded that new strategies based on the use of different methods to control infection levels could be enough to prevent outbreaks of the disease and could, therefore, largely prevent local extinctions, said Bosch.

The study, which has been published in Frontiers in Zoology, has shown how the fungal amphibian pathogen (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has been dispersed by human action. "It is a phenomenon that is practically unstoppable in our globalised world," the biologist explains.

The fungus has been implicated in the extinction of amphibian populations and species all over the world for many years. However, until recently the only effective way of tackling this disease seemed to be to prevent it from dispersing and to establish captive colonies of species at the greatest risk of disappearing from their natural habitat.

The research highlights various local experiments that are using new strategies in a bid to mitigate the disease. In the
Phoo by Jaime Bosch
  This is a male common midwife toad. a species that
  approached extinction in Spain.

case of Spain, the Peñalara Natural Park near Madrid is of particular importance since it was the first place in Europe that suffered an outbreak of chytridiomycosis, which brought the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) to the brink of extinction. In one of the few populations that managed to avoid extinction, for example, tadpole numbers fell from 5,000 to 20 individuals.

One of the pilot studies, led by Bosch, involves keeping infected tadpoles in captivity at temperatures of over 21ºC, which is higher than in their normal environment. The tadpoles are kept in this condition until they undergo metamorphosis, when they are released, even though some of them still test positively for the infection. Since 2009, the number of amphibians surviving has increased, thanks to a new heat therapy using baths of the antifungal itraconazole.

However, the reinfection of treated animals is possible with both treatments, explained the researcher  He added that "it is still too soon to recommend using them, because of the risk of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis becoming resistant to the itraconazole.

Florida scientist uses GIS to map ailing Caribbean coral
By the  University of Florida news service

In the last 30 years, more than 90 percent of the reef-building coral responsible for maintaining major marine habitats and providing a natural barrier against hurricanes in the Caribbean has disappeared because of a disease of unknown origin.

Now a University of Florida geographer and his colleagues applied geographic information systems, known as GIS,  as well as software previously used to examine human illness to show where clusters of diseased coral exist.

Their findings, published this month in the journal PLoS One, may help scientists derive better hypotheses to determine what contributes to coral disintegration.

“What you’ll find is that spatial techniques have been used relatively little in the coral research community,” said paper co-author Jason Blackburn, a University of Florida professor of geography. “With these methods, we gain a better understanding of the disease’s distribution across the reef.”

Microbiologists and toxicologists often run laboratory tests on small samples of Acropora species of coral to determine the factors that contribute to white-band disease, known as WBD. It’s visually identified as a white band moving from the base of the coral up, killing the coral tissue as it goes, leaving only the exposed coral skeleton behind.

Laboratory results spur a range of theories of causation: Anything from opportunistic pathogens to specific bacterial infections. Other scientists suggest that white-band disease is not the result of an outside agent, such as bacteria, but rather a stress response from the coral in reaction to changes in the marine environment, such as ocean pollution and rising ocean temperatures due to climate change.

Yet the cause remains unclear. The goal of this current study was to use GIS and spatial analysis to search for patterns in a disease outbreak that might point to a mode of transmission or cause, Blackburn said.

“What we wanted to test is how much data scientists should gather to get the full picture of disease,” he said. “What we found was that colony-level sampling, where individual
Acropora colonies are counted and checked for disease, can show a far different picture of white-band disease than where only presence/absence of coral and disease are mapped.”

The researchers used data gathered in 2004 from scientists stationed at Buck Island National Monument in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rather than determining only whether coral was affected by the disease, samplers at the station counted the individual number of healthy and non-healthy coral colonies. University researchers were then able to use this information in the Disease Mapping and Analysis Program. The free software, designed by the University of Iowa initially to study sudden-infant death syndrome, was used to create maps of white-band disease prevalence and to locate areas with significant disease clustering.

“While the focus of our study was on a specific white-band disease outbreak, our methods could be used to determine if there’s a spatial component to just about any type of situation that might be present in an underlying population,” said Jennifer Lentz, a Louisiana State University graduate student who is lead author on the paper. “For example, you could use these same techniques to determine whether people with cancer are clustered in a given geographical area, and if so is there something about those locations that might be contributing to the increased prevalence of cancer.”

The researchers determined that 3 percent of the Acropora coral around Buck Island had the disease. They also found the locations of significant disease clusters, information scientists can then use to narrow where they should take samples for further laboratory tests. This is the first of several studies established by the researchers exploring which types of spatial analysis are the most appropriate for various types of coral data from the Caribbean.

For thousands of years, Acropora was the predominant coral in the Caribbean, but more than three decades of disease have destroyed the species ability to survive, forcing marine life out of their coral habitats, which exposes them to attack by predators.

“When these structures are gone, certain fish species have nowhere to go,” said Ms. Lentz. “Whole marine communities start to collapse.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 149

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

peru's president
Presidencia de Perú photo

Humala. wearing the presidential sash,
 takes the oat
of office

Humala takes oath in Perú
and promises progress

By the A.M. Costa rica wire services

Ollanta Humala has taken office as Peru's president, pledging in his inaugural address to ensure that all Peruvians will benefit from the country's economic growth.

Addressing congress after being sworn in Thursday in Lima, President Humala said economic progress and social inclusion must work together.

Humala was elected on promises he would more evenly distribute the country's mining wealth and the profits of the country's recent economic growth.  Thirty percent of Peruvians currently live below the poverty line.

In the campaign, however, Humala downplayed his former leftist economic stance.  He has sought to reassure foreign investors he will govern as a moderate, retaining two members from the administration of his predecessor, Alan Garcia.  Julio Velarde stays on as central bank chief.  A deputy finance minister, Luis Miguel Castilla, has been named finance minister.  Both men are seen as closely tied to Peru's recent economic growth.

A number of South American leaders attended Thursday's inauguration ceremony, including the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.  The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, and the U.S. ambassador to Peru were also expected to attend.

Humala's former mentor, Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez, currently undergoing treatment for cancer, did not attend the ceremony.

Humala was elected this past June in a runoff, defeating Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

Humala made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2006.  At the time, he 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 pledged to follow Brazil's market-friendly model.

President Humala is a leftist former army officer who launched a failed military coup in 2000 against then-president Fujimori. Humala's inauguration coincided with Peru's Independence Day.

Chávez sings and dances
to celebrate his birthday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chåavez sang and danced on the balcony of the presidential palace, celebrating his 57th birthday amid a struggle against cancer.

Crowds of supporters cheered the Venezuelan leader Thursday as he vowed to live a long life despite the illness.
Earlier in the day, Chávez compared himself to a phoenix risen from the ashes.

Speaking by telephone on state television, the president said he felt reborn even though he soon faces a second round of chemotherapy.  President Chávez said he will still host a summit of Latin American and Caribbean presidents in December, as originally planned.

Chávez also invited Venezuelans to celebrate his 67th birthday with him in 10 years. This is the second day in a row that the Venezuelan president spoke on television.

Chávez also beat his chest and stomach to demonstrate his health during the televised interviews.  However, he said his second round of chemotherapy will likely leave him bald.

The Venezuelan president returned home Saturday after a week of chemotherapy in Cuba, where he was operated on last month to remove a malignant tumor.  The president has not said what kind of cancer was being treated. 

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GOP leadership in House
delays vote on budget bill

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. House of Representatives has delayed a vote on a Republican plan to cut government spending and raise the federal borrowing limit in two stages.  With only five days until a potential default on the national debt, drama reached a peak in the House late Thursday, as the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, postponed the vote amid reports he did not have enough support among his own Republican caucus to pass it.

The vote on the bill proposed by Boehner was scheduled for early evening, Washington, D.C. time. But after two hours of debate on the bill, instead of voting on it, the Republican-controlled House suddenly turned its attention to bills on re-naming post offices.  The House then recessed for several hours, amid reports that Boehner did not have the 217 votes he needed to pass the measure among his 240 Republican caucus members.

Individual Republican lawmakers were seen entering and leaving the speaker's office, amid speculation Boehner was holding one-on-one-consultations with anti-government Tea Party supporters, who have opposed the bill because they feel it does not cut spending enough.

Emerging from the speaker's office, Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas told reporters he was still a “bloodied, but beaten NO” vote.

Earlier Thursday, Boehner appeared confident at a news conference.

“Today the House will take action, again, on a solution to end the debt limit crisis.  We will take action again, just like we did on our budget, on solutions to the problems that are facing our nation,” he said.

A number of Republican lawmakers took the floor to call for passage of the Boehner "Budget Control" bill,  which would cut government spending by a larger amount than it would increase the debt limit.  Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt is not only endangering the future for America's children, but that all of that borrowed money and the interest paid on it are hurting the U.S. economy right now.

"Half of that money is coming from other other countries like China.  Why on earth do we want to give the president a blank check, to keep doing that, giving our sovereignty and our self-determination to other countries to loan us money to fund our government.  Those days have got to end," Ryan said.

Several Republican lawmakers said the bill was not perfect, but that it was a compromise and the best chance to avoid default.  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and other Democrats strongly disagreed, saying  the bill was not bipartisan and not a compromise.

"There is no common ground here, nor was it sought.  We find ourselves at an unprecedented place today.  Americans stand on the brink of default.  It stands there my friends,  because the leadership of the House has failed to act in a timely and responsible way," he said.

Without a deal on some kind of plan to raise the $14.3 trillion legal limit on borrowing by the deadline, the Treasury Department says it will not have enough money to pay all of its bills starting Aug. 2. That could bring a default that would likely prompt rating agencies to cut the U.S. credit rating, bringing higher interest rates and hurting economic growth.

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