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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, July 30, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 149        E-mail us
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Experts meet today on possible Guanacaste quake
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican and Japanese scientists will be studying today and Friday the possibility of a major earthquake in Guanacaste and the Nicoya peninsula.

The emphasis is on emergency preparedness, but the academic aspects also are involved.  The national emergency commission said that the two-day meeting will analyze what areas are the most dangerous and what bridges and other structures are most vulnerable.

In addition to emergency officials and workers, the Agency for Cooperation of Japan and the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico of the Universidad Nacional are involved. The session is in Heredia.

The Nicoya Peninsula contains a major earthquake fault, and the area has seen major quakes in the past. The southern part of the peninsula is in the province of Puntarenas. Guanacaste covers the northern part plus an expanse to the Nicaraguan border.

The area is unusual.

Costa Rica is one of the most earthquake-prone and volcanically active countries in the world, according to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which has studied the area extensively. Just off the west coast is the Middle America Trench, where a section of the sea floor called the Cocos Plate dives beneath Central America, generating powerful earthquakes and feeding a string of active volcanoes, said researchers. This type of boundary between two converging plates of the earth's crust is called a subduction zone ― and such zones are notorious for generating the most powerful and destructive earthquakes.

The university and other agencies maintain a host of monitoring stations on the peninsula and on the sea floor.

One discovery is that the peninsula experiences what researchers call silent earthquakes or slow slips. A slow slip event involves the same fault motion as an earthquake, but it happens so slowly that the ground does not shake, according to the university. It can be detected only with networks of modern instruments that use the Global Positioning System to measure precisely the movements of the earth's crust over time. The monitoring showed that in 2007 the peninsula experienced the equivalent of a 6.9 magnitude earthquake over a period of 30 days instead of the usual 10 seconds for a quake.

Susan Schwartz, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, led a team that has installed the permanent network of 13 GPS monitoring stations and 13 seismic stations on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula.

"At least two slow slip events have occurred beneath the Nicoya peninsula since 2003," Professor Schwartz said in a February report. "When we recorded the first one in 2003, we had only three GPS stations. By 2007, we had 12 GPS stations and over 10 seismic stations, so the event that year was very nicely recorded."

The National Science Foundation has funded the work by Professor Schwartz and others to install monitoring equipment in Costa Rica. Professor Schwartz, who directs University's Keck Seismological Laboratory, has been working in the region since 1991.
Quakes from history

Here are some of the large earthquakes and their magnitudes in the Guanacaste-Nicoya region:

April 3, 1827: Nicoya church destroyed.
Aug. 24, 1853: Damage in Cañas.
Sept. 8, 1853: Damage in Santa Cruz and
Aug. 1, 1935: Damage in Bagaces.
Dec. 21, 1939: 7.3 quake in Gulf of Nicoya.
        Two dead.
Dec. 22, 1939: 6.8 aftershock also in gulf
Dec. 6, 1941: 6.0 shock in Bagaces.
Oct. 5, 1950: 7.7 quake in Nicoya with damage
          in Puntareanas and the Central Valley.
Aug. 22, 1978: 7.0 quake in Sámara.
Aug. 23, 1978: 7.0 aftershock in Sámara.
March 25, 1990: 7.0 quake in Gulf of Nicoya.
            One dead.

detector arrays
University of California at Santa Cruz graphic
Map shows location of quake detectors here.

"The newest discovery is the occurrence of these slow slip events. But there has been a decade of focused effort in this area that has significantly advanced our knowledge of the Central America seismogenic system," Professor Schwartz said. "Initially, we focused on areas of the fault that are locked up, which slip in an earthquake. The slow slip is occurring in regions that are not strongly locked, and a big question is whether that is loading the locked area, making it more likely to break, or relieving stress on the fault."

Professor Schwartz said she does not think slow slip events significantly increase the likelihood of a major earthquake on a locked portion of the fault.

She noted, however, that scientists are still at an early stage in terms of understanding the implications of different kinds of fault motion and translating that information into earthquake hazard assessments.

The monitoring stations recorded 8,000 small earthquakes from December 1999 to June 2001 along the Pacific coast, but nearly all are too small to be felt by humans.

The Costa Rican Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias has the job of responding to quakes and attempting to mitigate their effect by prior planning. The most recent event was a killer quake Jan. 8 in Cinchona north of Heredia and Alajuela. That quake did not involve the Nicoya fault.

Some 25 persons died as a result of the quake, mostly due to landslides.

In addition to the Nicoya peninsula, the entire central Pacific coast south to Panamá is an earthquake-prone area.

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Our reader responses and opinions
Lawyer says that he was only
the project escrow agent

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Based on the latest publications in which my name has been implicated, I would like to hereby clarify that:

1. My involvement in connection with the real estate project known as "Costa Real" was as escrow agent, in order to receive and disburse the down payments amounting to ten percent of the total sales price of the homes that forty-nine investors agreed to build with the developer.

2. Such involvement was never in association with the developer of the project; on the contrary, I served as escrow agent, as per the instructions set forth in the sale and purchase agreements signed between the investors and the developer approximately three years ago.

3. Each of the deposits received from the buyers in my condition of escrow agent were duly disbursed in strict observance of the disbursement instructions provided in the contracts signed by the parties.

4. When the first difficulties in connection with said real estate project arose, I kept my willingness to cooperate with the buyers, support that I maintain to this date.

5. As soon as I was notified of the existence of a criminal complaint filed by four of the investors before the Costa Rican judicial entities in connection with this project, I appeared before the Prosecutor that investigates the case, in order to offer my cooperation. I must also clarify that to this day I have not been granted the condition of defendant within such legal proceedings.

Alejandro Pignataro Madrigal
partner, Facio Abogados, Escazú

Project administrator says
lawyer is honorable man

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have worked with Alejandro Pignataro on many legal matters and issues, both personal and for Costa del Sol in general.  He is an honorable man and attorney and is in no way “involved” with Mr. Chaves as has been insinuated by some investors in Costa Real and in the A.M. Costa Rica article.

It is unfortunate that the investors are acting just like many of us in the United States; they want to blame everyone and sue everyone. Alejandro only provided an escrow account service to Mr. Chaves where his firm received the payments from the investors and distributed the funds as directed.  He had no contractual obligation to the investors nor was he a part of Mauricio’s development company.

Alejandro was very instrumental in helping me with getting the electrical contractor to finish the underground electrical infrastructure in Costa del Sol.  He spent many hours in meetings with Corelca (the electrical contractor), Jim Mason (my business partner and owner in Costa del Sol) and I working out an agreement.  He also was instrumental in the meetings with Mr. Chaves, Jim and I as we were putting pressure on Mr. Chaves to allow Jim and I to assist in getting the infrastructure completed.  Alejandro Pignataro has never charged us one penny for his work.  His main concern was and always has been the buyers.

I understand the frustration and anger of the investors as we in Costa del Sol have had to complete the infrastructure ourselves, both financially and acting as the developer.  Many of our owners, including myself, had mortgages placed on our property even after we had paid for them in full.  However, we know who the culprits are and it is not Alejandro Pignataro or the Facio law firm.

I certainly hope this will help clear up the misconceptions presented by the investors and alluded to in your article.  I have not only had the opportunity to utilize his professional services but I also consider him a friend and have full faith in him as an attorney.  I also have no doubts as to his business ethics.

Neal Webster, CPA
president, Cahaba Construction
administrator Costa del Sol

Guides concerned with safety,
but tourists can be at fault

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Well it appears that Mr. Salmond in his well researched defense of the young girl killed in the quadracycle accident has determined all on his own all the details surrounding the fatal accident.

He evidently knows exactly what happened and decided guilty until proven innocent while the rest of us can only draw conclusions (should we want to) as to what happened.

"Failure to accept responsibility," that’s how Mr. Salmond begins.

Well what responsibility did the parents have in this event? I would only assume that they should have been responsible for making the decision to allow their daughter to participate and one would assume were there on the tour as well and they signed a waiver?

I, for one, believe that amongst tour operators in general there is quite a lot of concern about safety. I live in Monteverde and work in tourism.

Our tour operators here are very much concerned about safety. All tours start with safety demonstrations and explanations. Canopy tours here experience minor accidents. However most all of these are because the tourist does not pay attention to what the guides say. When accidents occur, the tour operator pays the cost of the doctor visit when needed and medications. And I do not say this by assuming, but know this from first hand experience.

This is in spite of the fact that the tourist signed a waiver.

Tour operators do in fact understand the repercussions of accidents. Loss of income for one with bad publicity. Ticos here understand that and do what they need to in order to prevent accidents.

I think one thing that sets Costa Rica apart in the world is that the general populace understands that they take personal responsibility for their actions, either because that is the right thing to do or because there are difficulties in blaming others in the courts and winning legal settlements here.

Look, the people signed the waiver. The parents had RESPONSIBILTY to check out this tour and understand the risks. They should have been right there next to their daughter during the tour. There was an accident. It was horrible no doubt. People drown, die in car accidents, lightning strikes etc. Life is a risk.

The last thing we need here in my opinion is to get to the point like in the U.S.A. where everywhere you turn a lawyer is out there looking for a quick buck to sue for whatever reason.

Think about how much more economical medical care is here compared to the U.S.A. Doctors aren’t squeezed here for tons of malpractice insurance.

I know it will be time to leave Costa Rica when the back page of the phone book has the full page ad from the defense lawyer promising free representation for any accident.

The fact that Mr. Salmond has to offer to pay for legal action tells you we have not reached that point yet.

So good luck on the lawsuit, Mr. Salmond. Maybe I will offer to pitch in to the tour operator´s defense fund?

In the meantime just remember: CAVEAT EMPTOR  (and be responsible for your own actions)

Christian  Hanson

Quadacycle is dangerous
for those without training

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As the owner and driver of a 4-wheeler, or quad I would like to make a couple of comments on the recent accidental death of the girl on a tour driving a quad.  Mr. Salmond made the statement that “While 4-wheelers are not inherently dangerous, lack of planning, explanation, and failure to reduce risk on the part of the tour operator is.”

Well, I would agree with this statement in only one case, the quad is not moving. As soon as it starts to move it presents many dangers, and that is why in the U.S. it is not recommended that you drive one unless you are at least 16 years old. Quads are not anywhere near as dangerous as their predecessor the 3-wheeler, but unless you have some experience with a hand throttle and the hand and/or foot operated brakes on a quad you put yourself in danger driving one. There are no seat belts or air bags on a
quad. Some basic training should (must) be given to anyone attempting to drive one with little or no experience.

I would also like to make a comment on the statement that “Failure to accept responsibility is a national pastime in Costa Rica and this case is no exception” Well this is one of the reasons I spend a lot of time in Costa Rica. The trial/liability lawyers have not yet sunk their teeth into the country, and I hope they never do. I am responsible for myself and my children.

Guy C. Moats
Superior, Montana,
and Playas del Coco

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Your Costa Rica

Rolando Araya will seek to run for president again
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rolando Araya Monge, the Partido Liberación Nacional presidential candidate in 2002, will be announcing himself as a candidate for the presidential nomination for another political party today.

Araya, according to a press announcement will seek the nomination from the new Partido Alianza Patriótica. He will make the announcement in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica today at 11:30 a.m.

He is the brother of San José Mayor Johnny Araya, who failed to win the nomination of Liberación.

The Alianza is the evolution of Movimiento Patriótico, the informal group that opposed the free trade treaty with the United States.  Eugenio Trejos Benevides, rector of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica also has said he will seek the nomination. Trejos earned respect by leading a
serious, issue-oriented campaign against the treaty,

Rolando Araya is president of Socialist International for Latin America and many of those who opposed the free trade treaty believe in state ownership of certain industries like telecommunications.

In other political news Wednesday, Laura Chinchilla, the Liberación candidate, unveiled ethical guidelines for her campaign.

In Costa Rica it is not unusual for politicians to change parties or create new ones. Ottón Solís, the presidential candidate of Partido Acción Ciudadana, was a leading member of Liberación until he broke with the party for the 2002 election.

In fact, Otto Guevara, the Movimiento Libertario candidate, is running a media blitz in which he says there is no difference among the other candidates.

Telecom chief criticized for spending by his company
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana said Wednesday that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has spent excessively to promote the image of its executive president, Pedro Pablo Quirós.

The political party said the money was not to promote the services of the electrical and telecom company. The party gave a list of what it said were questionable expenditure,
including a series of CDs and magazines translated into English that Quirós distributed on trips outside the country. That was 39 million colons, the political party said, some $67,000.

A major expenditure of 350 million colons was for  laudatory ads in the publication El Gráfico, said Acción Ciudadana. That's a bit more than $600,000.

The party called on Quirós to explain himself.

Young riot suspects told to stay out of trouble by judge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 20 persons, mostly youngsters, who participated in a riot in Llanos de Santa Lucía in Paraíso de Cartago Monday night will not see the inside of a cell.

A judge has ordered them to not obstructe the public right-of-way and to not disturb the public peace.
The riot developed after families were evicted from the local football field where they tried to set up households.  The rioters threw stones at police, and more than a dozen officers suffered injuries.

The 20 were those who police could capture that night.
The prosecutor declined to seek preventative detention for the suspects.

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Heads of state back Arias in his efforts to reinstate Zelaya
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heads of state meeting in Guanacaste have issued a 73-point final declaration in which they defend democracy and promote the San José Accord drafted by their host Óscar Arias Sánchez to reinstall José Manuel Zelaya as president of Honduras.

The declaration also said the heads of state would fight against illegal immigration and illicit drugs.

However, the bulk of the declaration supported additional regional integration in highway systems and electrical networks.

They also supported the position of Arias and his iniciative before the United Nations to keep track of international arms shipments.

The meeting at the JW Marriott in Hacienda Pinilla involved most Central American heads of state. The so-called Tuxtla session in an annual event that seeks to further the Plan Pueblo Panamá, which is designed to improve Central American infrastructure and promote economic integration. Álvardo Uribe, president of Colombia, also attended.
The declaration touched on nearly every point of interest to governments, from national security to land mines. As with most diplomatic documents, there was a lot of exhorting, praising and recognizing.

The declaration said that the heads of state adopt as a priority the acceleration of the Mesoamerican roadway system coordinated by Costa Rica. The plan envisions a major highway through Central America.

Zelaya did not make the meeting. Instead he was represented by an associate. The interim government in Honduras was not invited. It has rejected any possibility that Zelaya would be welcomed back.

A transport ministry press release said that the travel time now from Puebla, México, to Panamá is eight days or an average of 190 hours. This includes waiting time at border crossings. Karla González, the Costa Rican transport minister, was quoted as saying that she would like to reduce that travel time to 54 hours.

The cost for improving the 3,244 kilometer roadway (about 2,000 miles) is more than $1 billion, according to her estimates.

Lawmakers act to protect children from vice of video games
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers took a final step Wednesday to protect youngsters from what they said was the vice of electronic video games.

The measure, which received final passage reduces the hours of video game businesses and requires them to only be in that line of work. The rules might make it impossible for such businesses to operate.

Such businesses could be open only from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., and those under 18 could only play games there from 4 to 8 p.m.

The law as originally introduced does not explain what are electronic video games. They could be pinball machines or arcade games because the law is very broad.

However, the thrust of the law is to keep kids from gambling.

The preface to the law says that priests have reported that
in Confession children talk about stealing money from their parents to play these games and that teachers say children are absent from school and their lessons for the same reason. The preface also talks about affecting the nuclear family.

"With much sadness and concern we see as boys, girls, adolescents and even adults meet near the electronic game machines where they lose not only their time but their money. There are many complaints from heads of families and teachers expressing their discomfort at not being able to control this population that makes itself victim of gambling addiction," said the preface.

The principal proponent of the bill is Xinia Jiménez of the legislative staff. The bill was introduced in the last session by Rodrigo Alberto Carazo Zeledón, a lawmaker with the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

The bill as passed puts the municipalities in charge of issuing licenses for games stores and enforcing the rules.

The original preface said that the municipalities lack the resources to do that.

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Chávez recalls ambassador
is case of captured rockets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has recalled his ambassador to Colombia and frozen bilateral relations in a dispute concerning weapons that ended up in the hands of Colombian leftist rebels. There was no immediate response from Colombia.

Chávez made the announcement Tuesday during a televised meeting with his aides. The dispute with Colombia stems from Bogota's claim that anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Caracas were obtained by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, which is the main rebel group.

The weapons were made in Sweden, which has asked Venezuela to explain how they made their way to the rebel group.

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos has said the launchers were found in a captured arms cache belonging to the rebels. Venezuela rejected the report as untrue.

Colombia's government has been at war with the rebels since the 1960s. Colombia, the European Union and the United States have designated the group as a terrorist organization.

Separately, the Fuerzas Armadas is denying accusations that it gave $100,000 to the 2006 political campaign of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

The rebel group also alleges that Colombia and the United States manipulated a video, released earlier this month, in which a top rebel commander said the guerrillas helped fund the Correa campaign.

Correa has previously dismissed the video as a fake and denied accepting money from the rebels. He has said, however, that the rebels may have been deceived by someone who falsely told them the funds would go to the presidential campaign.

U.S. calls off sea search
for 70 missing Haitians

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Coast Guard has called off its search for some 70 Haitian migrants who were on board an overcrowded boat that capsized earlier this week off the Turks and Caicos islands.

The Coast Guard made the announcement in a statement issued Wednesday.  Coast Guard vessels and aircraft had assisted in the 52-hour search.

As many as 200 people were believed to be on board the wooden vessel when it struck a reef, shattered and sank in the Atlantic north of Haiti. Nearly 120 people were rescued, while at least 15 others were killed.

Many of the survivors were reported to be suffering from dehydration.

Haitian migrants often take to the seas in overcrowded boats for the perilous journey from their country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, to seek a better life on nearby islands or in the United States.

The Turks and Caicos islands are north of Hispaniola, the island comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 149

Latin American news digest
Price regulating agency
opens up a gripe line

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Got a complaint about a utility provider, a taxi driver or maybe the telephone company?

The government agency that regulates these industries has just begun a new telephone system for complaints.

The number is 8000-273737, said the agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos. The service also can be used once private Internet and telephone service goes into operation later this year.

The authority regulates gas, water, buses, taxis, airport transport, ports, electricity and gasoline. The agency said that during 2008 it received 1,447 complaints of which 42 percent were about buses. In addition, the agency gets about 20,000 calls a year asking about the prices of utilities, it said.

The phone system will be in operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day including weekends, the agency said. Provisions are being made for conversations in English, it added.

Lightning hits small boat,
but two men are rescued

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men were on a boat at the mouth of the Río Sierpe Tuesday night when a lightning strike hit their vessel and set it afire. That location is near the Osa peninsula.

One man was injured, but the pair managed to stay at sea all night until the morning when a launch from the Servicio Nacional de Guardacosta rescued them, the agency said. The men managed to keep the boat afloat.

Someone appears to have witnessed the mishap and called in the report. The coast guard crewmen had to fight choppy seas to make the rescue.  One man went to the local hospital.

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