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(506) 223-1327               Published Monday, July 30, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 149            E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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plaastic wastes
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Many of the well-known liquid food products come in polyethylene containers
There is hope in curbing the flood of plastic bottles
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The plastic pop bottle and the single serving water bottle are a growing menace to Costa Rica’s scenery. They litter roadsides and parks around the country. Most are made of polyethylene terephthalate. There is hope, as this is the plastic most suited to recycling.

Polyethylene terephthalate is indicated by the resin identification code 1 inside the triangular recycling symbol usually on the bottom of the bottle. Sometimes the initials PET or PETE are there, too. It is a plastic of the polyester family. The chemical structure is stable, although it does break down in sunlight. A bottle buried in a landfill will be there unchanged forever.

This plastic is used for drink bottles largely because of its appearance and internal strength, which helps contain the pressure resulting from carbonation of soft drinks.

Consumption of polyethylene terephthalate is about 26,000 tons per year, according to Juan Unfried of the Asociación Costarricense de la Industria del Plástico. He said that amount is entirely for beverage bottles. The industry claims 75 percent recycling rates. Unfried said the majority of that is exported.

However, a new company in Cartago will be processing bottles into a pure grinded polyethylene terephthalate. Gente Reciclando has made a substantial investment aimed at the scrap bottle market. The purified “flake” will still mostly be exported, Unfried said.

Scavengers at dumps and on the street will collect polyethylene terephthalate bottles but seem to consider the plastic containers secondary to aluminum cans which are worth about six times as much by weight. Street prices are generally low due to a large number of middlemen in the trade.

The Cervecería Costa Rica brewery pays 80 to 100 colons, and will pick up quantities in excess of 50 kilos. At the moment they are not receiving bottles due to a backlog of about 500 tons to bale for export. An employee there who didn’t want to give his name said the company had a social obligation to recycle.

Spot prices on global commodities markets are about $330 per ton, which would be about 170 colons per kilo. To receive that price requires a full truckload, at least 40,000 pounds or 18 tons. Prices are up of late reflecting high petroleum prices and demand in China.
plastic collector
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Moises Oviedo sorts plastics and fills giant bags at the Casa Hogar para Ancianos Albernia in San Isidro.

Technically any plastic can be recycled, but this is only economical for polyethylene terephthalate,   high-density polyethylene, also used for bottles, and polyvinyl chloride used in tubing. Other common throw away plastics like polypropylene and polystyrene are of little value. Polyethylene terephthalate has a high energy content, roughly equivalent to coal by weight.

Generally the recycled material is not used to make
food packaging. Instead it is made into fibers for carpets, clothing, or any other item that would use polyester fiber.

Bottle caps are a different high-density plastic which cannot be mixed with the polyethylene terephthalate to recycle. Recyclers can take advantage of the different properties to separate out the cap material after flaking as part of the washing process.

Similarly, the label is usually a low density polyethylene which must be removed.

Most PET bottles are formed by one of several blow molding techniques. Here, a plug of heated plastic with the cap screws already formed is pushed into a mold. A rod is inserted and pumps air until the plastic adheres to the side of the mold, which is quickly cooled to keep the material from forming opaque crystals. Then the mold opens to drop the bottle out. For an animation of the blow molding process see HERE.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 30, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 149

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Arias in helmet
Casa Presidencial photo
President Arias with his fire helmet

Firemen honor President Arias
during anniversary ceremony

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday was the 142nd anniversary of the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the firemen, and the 80th anniversary of the volunteer auxiliary.

As part of the ceremony in the Catedral Metropolitana, fire officials presented President Óscar Arias Sanchez with a helmet and named him honorary commander of the corps.

The ceremony is more than just ritual. The fire units are under the direction of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the national insurance monopoly. But with possible passage of the free trade treaty, the institute will face competition for the first time and the future of the fire units is not yet settled. The firemen corps has been an agency of the institute since 1925.

There is no law passed yet that establishes how the fire units will be financed, and fire officials are anxious to have friends in high places.

For his part, Arias said that there were no plaques or medals or financial rewards that could repay the firemen for what they have done and those they have aided, but he said that God would bless them.

Pro-treaty group is trying
to expel politics from walk

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pilgrimage to Cartago is in its early stages but just as everything else in Costa Rica, this religious event is becoming involved in the campaign for and against the free trade treaty with the United States.

Opponents of the treaty have said they will engage pilgrims and hand out literature along the route.

The Alianza Ciudadana por el Sí, a group supporting the treaty, said Sunday that the pilgrimage is an act of faith and should not be overshadowed by political concerns. The route to the Basilica de Nuestro Señora de los Ángeles should be for prayer and to seek divine grace, said the group.

There were numbers of persons seeking divine grace Sunday, in part because today is a public holiday to recognize the Annexation of the Partido de Nicoya in 1824. The Cruz Roja said that it had treated more than 100 persons who were suffering from too much sun, high blood pressure, cramps or similar ailments brought on by the hike.

The trickle will become a flood Wednesday as perhaps a million persons will be on the road to Cartago. They will gather for ceremonies Wednesday night and await a Mass of celebration Thursday, which is the feast day of the Virgen de los Ángeles, the local manifestation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In all, somewhere between 1 and 2 million will have made the hike this week,

At Cartago Sunday the groups were typical of those on the Christian day of rest. The central aisle of the basilica had been enlarged to accommodate many more pilgrims than those who arrived Sunday. Traditionally and by church custom displayed on a sign above the central aisle, pilgrims must enter the church on their knees and propel themselves on their knees as close to the altar as they are permitted.

The centerpiece is La Negrita, a black rock that has the shape of the Virgin. This has been venerated for centuries after it was found. The sculpture dates from Aug. 2, 1635, when it was found by a girl. Because the sculpture kept returning miraculously to the spot where it was found, religious leaders took this as a sign to build a church on the site, they said at the time.

Pilgrims also can obtain water from a spring that is associated with the Virgin and is on the grounds of the basilica.

Pilgrims have to worry about more than political handouts. Each year scores of persons are arrested with alcohol or drugs. Others attempt small-scale robberies of pilgrims. The Fuerza Pública already has reported a few arrests. Some walkers have confrontations with vehicles and pilgrims die every year.

Time to break out the skis?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nobody is making a major investment in a ski resort yet, but a snow-like substance fell Friday at Cerro la Muerte along the Interamerican Highway in the Talamanca mountain range.

Such a display is unusual for Costa Rica, and even more so in July. Weather experts said the material was more granular than snow, but some travelers were pictured on local television making snowballs or iceballs. The substance gathered in patches in temperatures that were above freezing at ground level.

Golfer hit by lightning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 27-year-old golfer died Saturday when he was the victim of a lightning strike on the Valle del Sol course west of Santa Ana. He was identified as Antonio López Iglesias of Curridabat. Cruz Roja paramedics worked unsuccessfully more than a half hour to save his life, they said.

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Formal complaint filed in case of Cañas man's strange diet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most controversial news story in Costa Rica is not about the free trade treaty. It's not about narcotraffickers or even about robbers and scamsters. It's about a man who, they claim, eats cats.

Such a wacky story normally would be confined to discussions between the newspaper that published it and readers. But The World Society for the Protection of Animals made the issue a public one Friday when it announced that it had filed a criminal complaint.

The object of the complaint is a man named Douglas Barahona of Cañas. He was depicted July 20 in El Diario Extra eating a small chicken and a cat, both presumably alive when he started.

El Diario Extra is known for putting the dead body of the day on Page One and using other sensational, newspaper-selling techniques. The newspaper also has a reputation of publishing the most sensational available version of the truth.

Whether the story of the animal eater is true or a fabrication is yet to be determined. Newspapers have been known to publish hoaxes. And members of the public have been known to trick newspaper reporters and photographers.
Nevertheless, the story was republished in English elsewhere, and animal lovers have been, well, clawing at El Diaro Extra since.

The newspaper responded by publishing last week an unkind column by Mario Ugalde, a subdirector. He said, in part that "many animals live better than the average Costa Rican and surely many of their defenders have their fathers in an old folks home so as not to inconvenience the dog of the house."  He also noted the obvious, that readers eat cows, pigs and chickens that have to be butchered.

Perhaps what upset animals lovers the most was the newspaper's front page photo of Barahona gnawing on the kitten. Inside was a series of photos also supposedly showing him eating a live chick. Such antics have been popular for centuries in carnivals and sideshows. The word geek used to mean one who bites the heads off animals instead of the current computer nerd reference.

Now the matter is in the hands of the Ministerio Pública, the nation's prosecutor, in Cañas. The animal protection society alleged cruelty to animals and, strangely, bestiality, although there was no indication of the later sex crime in the Diario Extra article. The charges come under Artículo 382 of the penal code for which the punishment is a fine. The cruelty to animals prohibition is in the same league as public drunkenness and using obscene words and gestures.

This is the time when the heavy rains can cause problems
Mañana oscura tarde segura
“Dark morning, safe afternoon.”
These days, during our Costa Rican “winter,” we are experiencing a tremendous amount of rain. Yesterday in Santo Domingo de Heredia, where our home is located, though the morning was bright and sunny in the afternoon it rained cats and dogs, the hardest rain I have seen this season.

It poured down so hard for about an hour that one of our little interior patios flooded and water ran into the dining room. As soon as the rain stopped, however, the water receded, though it will take some days for the dining room carpet to dry out.
The rain is a blessing to agriculture because it makes things grow. It also keeps the countryside and the forests lush and green. But for those living in low-lying areas heavy rain can be a hazard. These are often poor people, and flash flooding can often rob them of all their meager possessions.
Yesterday’s cloudburst brought back some pretty scary memories. Once in Ecuador, in a town called Babahoyo, I was visiting a Costa Rican family who worked there. A lot of rain had been reported high up in the mountains above Babahoyo. We watched anxiously while the river that ran through the town began to rise rapidly as the water that had been deposited at higher elevations made its way down to the valley. Many poor people actually lived in the river, having constructed their houses on stilts since they could not afford to buy land. It was a terrible sight to see these houses being carried away by the rushing water, sometimes with the occupants still inside them.
A few years later, when I came back to Costa Rica, my family bought a small house because our bigger home in downtown San José had been rented. One very rainy afternoon I was studying in the living room when I heard a strange sound coming from the kitchen. When I went to investigate I found that water was actually gurgling up through the drain in the sink. A near-by creek had overflowed its banks and spilled over into the sewer system causing it to back up.
Very soon the water was rising throughout the ground floor of the little house. I woke my sister, who was sleeping after having worked the night shift at the hospital. I also alerted my grandmother, who was upstairs. Now, grandmother was very devoted of our

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Virgen de los Angeles, the patroness of Costa Rica.

Grandmother, as it turned out, just happened to have a little statuette of the Virgen de los Angeles, and she placed it on one of the lower steps of the stairs to the second floor declaring solemnly that the water would not rise beyond that point. But, of course, the water did rise to that step whereupon granny simply moved the statuette up to the next step with the same somber pronouncement.

When the water on the ground floor got to be waist deep I told my grandmother that Virgin Mary or no Virgin Mary I was leaving and she was going with me whether she liked it or not. I finally ended up carrying her out of the house on my shoulders.
When the rain finally stopped and the water receded we went inside the house to assess the damage. Everything on the first floor was buried under more than a foot of mud. But, we cleaned and salvaged what we could. Interestingly enough, we discovered, when the power was finally restored, that many electrical appliances still worked, such as the refrigerator and the stereo.
While I was cleaning near the stairs I found my grandmother’s Virgen de los Angeles and brought it to her. “Tomorrow I’m taking that Virgen to Father Ernesto,” she huffed. “He was the one who blessed her, and I’m going to let him know in no uncertain terms that his blessings aren’t any good. And I also want my money back!”
If you are taking part in the Romeria de la Virgen de los Angeles in the coming days and are planning on walking to Cartago to visit her shrine at the basilica, do be sure to take an umbrella along just in case.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 30, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 149

Decision in Hinkle abduction trial scheduled for Tuesday in Heredia courtroom
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A court tribunal in Heredia is scheduled to pass judgment on two persons Tuesday who have been accused of the abduction of a U.S. citizen and pastor.

The accused have been identified as a woman with the last names of  Arguedas Arias and a man with the last names of  Fallas Segura. Both are believed to be ex-police officers.

They are accused of the extortive abduction of Richard Hinkle, who also was operator of a clothing store. That happened Oct. 22, 2003, as Hinkle got out of his car to open the porton of his home garage. He had his wife and children with him.
Hinkle himself has admitted defrauding investors. Hinkle operated Cornerstone International Savings and Investment Bank in Grenada. His targets were mostly elderly individuals in northeastern Pennsylvania and in Illinois.

He stopped making interest payments and fled from Grenada to Costa Rica in late 2001, investigators said. He was taken to the United States where he accepted a plea agreement.

Here he served as pastor for a church in San Pedro.

Those who abducted him were believed to be trying to recover money from an investor who has not been brought to trial. Hinkle testified from the United States via closed circuit television.

Limón Cultura Negra festival branching out to Guanacaste, Guápiles this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The climax of the IX Festival de la Cultura Negra will be a parade Aug. 31 in Limón, but this year the organizers are reaching out to Guanacaste and Guápiles as well.

A schedule of events was announced Friday.

The main celebrations still center on Limón where the event is the Festival Afrocultural Limón Roots and in Siquirries by the Grupo Rescate de Valore.

In Limón the election and coronation of Lady Black Beauty, the festival queen, will be at the Black Star Line Aug. 25. A dance will follow.

Through the month of August, there will be seminars and discussion groups and a civic ceremony also at the Black Star Line Aug. 17 at 4 p.m. There also will be an outdoor fiesta from Aug. 27 to 31.

The Limón event is a big tourist attraction.

In San José a dance Aug. 4 in the Hotel Corobicí will kickoff the celebration. Gillo, an international singer from Barbados, will perform.
The Roy Prescod Chorale from the United States will perform Aug. 21 at the auditorium of the Universidad Veritas at 7:30 p.m. The chorus will perform Aug. 24 in Limón.

Aug. 28 the Ballet Nacional Folclórico Garífuna of Honduras will be at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar along with Mighty Sparrow, introduced as the world king of Calypso, and gospel singers from Panamá. The program will be presented again Aug. 31 in Limón.

In Guápiles there will be seminars and an exposition of painters from Limón Aug. 30 and dancing with Los Beachers of Panamá. The Ballet Folclórico Garífunas also will perform here in Expo Pococí.

In Liberia, Guanacaste, there will be a presentation of  Afrocaribeña food Aug. 24 at 4 p.m. in the Parque de Liberia

In Nicoya there will be a presentation of “El Negro colonial en Guanacaste y los cubanos en La Mansión” Aug. 25 at 10 a.m. sponsored by the Comité de Rescate de Valores de Siquirres.

In Siquirries the fiesta is Aug. 25.

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