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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 152           Email us
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flowers from above
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos/Paul Gamboa
Out go the rose petals through the rear door of the aircraft
Pilgrims at Cartago are treated to rain of rose petals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

True to their word, the  Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the security ministry flew over the celebration at the Cartago basilica Tuesday and dumped 2,000 kilos of rose petals on the multitude gathered there for the Día de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles. The aircraft was the fixed-wing Caribou that carries a heavy payload.

The flowers had been donated by residents of the Santos region.

This was a fun project for the aviation crew because
it marked the end of several days of vigilance from the air of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who were walking to the Cartago church. The ministry's air service also used a refurbished helicopter. But both Sunday and Monday the weather in the afternoon was challenging.

Not Tuesday morning as very party cloudy skies allowed the sun to bake those who had assembled for a 9:30 a.m. Mass and speeches that followed by religious figures and President Laura Chinchilla.  Many below used their umbrellas as sun shields and complained of the relentless heat.
See our story HERE!
The plaza of the Cartago basilica and adjacent streets are packed with pilgrims

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 152

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Our reader's opinion
You can't live for less
if you are a foreigner here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Retire for less in Costa Rica, Hum...... That is very interesting!

My wife and I have been here now for seven years. I really do not believe that you can retire for less in Costa Rica. I think people come here, and they discover the climate is very good, and all of a sudden we are living cheaper, total misperception.

You can live cheaper anywhere you go, if you want to cut back on everything you do and eat, and only then do you live cheaper.

I would like to see where a person can save on food or gas, go to the discount ARCO or AM/PM gas station for your 35 cents-off special for the day on regular gas. How about if you clip the coupons from the Sunday paper or the Betty Crocker boxtop for a two-for-one special. I know for a fact if you are a foreigner and you go to buy property/house/vehicle, you are looked at and studied for about two seconds, OK, Foreigner, this means $$$$ tattooed on your forehead by the locals. Remember, we are retired and we are looked at as being rich by every local, child and adult.

I have talked to many North Americans that are packing up and getting the heck out of Costa Rica, and they all say it is totally too expensive living here. Many are heading south to Panama. We sold about everything we own and packing it out of here in less than two weeks. Sure, we are going to miss many friends as we did when we left the States, but again, we have the choice to return for vacation and visit Costa Rica.

Many North Americans move here, and they live in fear, oh,"We must live in a gated community with 24-hour security. Do not go out at night." You should see my metal cage I live in and keep all my treasures locked up, because I am "rich" and I can replace my treasures because someone else wants them more then me.

Remember, when they want your stuff while you are asleep, someone always get hurt. It must be fun to have your 9-year-old daughter tied up while you are getting hit in the head and watch all of this go down.

Wake up, look around, the locals live in metal cages too. They are just smaller cages than what us rich foreigners live in. They see, and they have lived with the petty theft forever, and, that by the way, is turning into more aggressive and violent violations against us, aka foreigners.

Where do these numbers come from, Costa Rica is 97 percent literate? Does anyone read the reports that the embassy puts out or like the CIA reports on Costa Rica?

How about this one, please don't laugh too hard you might cry: When all the new traffic fines took place, who paid your tickets? Come on raise your hands — foreigners. Ticos protested, and the government wrote off something like 23,000 Tico tickets because they can not afford them.

We build a big house because we can retire for less, and then we are zapped with a luxury property tax. How about if the tax man collects the tax that the locals hide from everyday? Oh, do you need a factura? Always say no. If you use your credit or debit card, is it fair to pay another 5 percent?

Now, Big Brother is pushing for consumers to use their cards to get the business to pay their share of tax.
Bill Walkling

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 152

Prisma dental

Photo by Ken Beedle
Some pilgrims stayed at the basilica for a procession and Mass Tuesday night. There are more activities today.
Politics and religiosity mix in the Cartago church plaza
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Religious activities at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles continued into the night with more planned for today.

The small, black figure of the Virgin Mary and her child, Jesus, was the centerpiece of a procession as priests removed what is called la Negrita from its place high above the church's altar.

In the morning, the small statue was dressed in golden garments for the day and adorned with a gold rosary that had been sent by Pope Benedicto XVI in the care of Francisco Robles Ortega, a cardinal from México, who participated in the morning Mass.

The Cruz Roja said that its 600 volunteers treated 3,904 pilgrims, mostly for muscle aches since last week. However, the rescue agency also was involved in the two vehicle fatalities that took place, one Sunday and one Monday night.

Among those treated were 237 minors, the agency said. The aid stations were being dismantled late Tuesday, although those at the basilica and at Tres Ríos would be maintained through today.

The Cruz Roja said that it spent about 40 million colons or about $80,000 for its activities over the weekend and into Tuesday. That figure does not count the thousands of hours put in by volunteers, the agency said. Nor does it count the costs of the various police forces.

The Fuerza Pública said it was pleased with the results of the four days of high security. There were but eight arrests. Five persons were the subject of arrests warrants, two were illegal immigrants and one driver was accused of being drunk.

Juan José Andrade, director general of the police agency, said the pilgrimage was one of the most secure and that officers confiscated only small quantities of drugs.

By contrast there were 40 arrests last year, police said.

Police will continue to guard pilgrims through today because of the additional activities at the basilica. Although there are no official figures and many pilgrims jumped the gun and walked to the basilica a week early, some officials estimated that nearly two million persons participated. That would make the pilgrimage the largest in history.

Speaking at the morning ceremony was President Laura Chinchilla. Once again she blamed legislators for not passing her plan for $1 billion in new taxes so that her administration could take unspecified steps to end crime.

She also encouraged parents to raise their children free of aggression and violence and cultivate love and respect so that they would not become criminals. She also called for a national union to combat violence. Only in that way could Costa Ricans manage to construct a country more secure,
PResident Chinchilla
Casa Presidencial photo
Ms. Chinchilla delivers her morning message beneath the crucified Christ.

she said, using one of the slogans from her administration.

The president said the police were facing criminal bands but that they had scarce resources and that the citizens are not going to be able to win the battle.

She also said that her administration was focusing on what she said was the grave problem of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The social services and medical agency is running a big deficit, in part because the central government owes it $2 billion for social security payments for years of employees.

As usual, Ms. Chinchilla spoke in abstract terms and did not specify exactly how any new money would be used to fight crimes or what resources police lack.

Later in a press conference Ms. Chinchilla stood up and threatened to leave when a reporter pressed her on the issue of in vitro fertilization, which has become a major issue. She blamed lawmakers for the situation that has resulted in pressure from the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. Such procedures now are not legal in Costa Rica, and the court has said this is a violation of rights.

She also asked lawmakers to pass the pending $300 annual tax on corporations. The proceeds are supposed to be used for as-yet undefined resources for the police. Opposition parties control the Asamblea Legislativa.

Many political figures were at the morning Mass, which was conducted under unusually hot weather.

Another tropical storm bypassed country and headed north
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The country has dodged another tropical storm that may grow into a hurricane.

Tropical Storm Emily is predicted to reach the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, later today. The storm had been off the coast of Venezuela but is now moving west northwest, according to the U.S. Hurricane Information Center. The speed was estimated at 14 mph. The track was just 15 degrees west of due north.

The news is particularly bad for Haiti, where thousands of people still live in tent camps after a devastating earthquake in January 2010.

At midnight the storm was 130 miles or 210 kilometers south southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico, said the center.

Forecasts for Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and
Haiti predict up to 15 centimeters of rain, perhaps as much as 12 inches.

Meanwhile, in the eastern Pacific, Hurricane Eugene has become a Category Two storm on the one-to-five scale of hurricane intensity.  The storm is predicted to strengthen somewhat in the coming hours, but it is far out at sea and moving northwest, away from the Mexican coast.

There is more good news from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The weather institute said that windy conditions over the country would reduce the rain in the Central Valley and in Guanacaste today. So the morning should be hot and cloudy. Downpours still are expected in the afternoon, mainly in the central and south Pacific coasts. The Central Valley should see more winds and little rain, said the institute.

There was some rain Tuesday, but by evening the skies had cleared. That was a big break for the pilgrims who still are at the basilica in Cartago.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 152

canal work
Panamå Canal Authority photo
This is part of the $5.5 billion investment in a new channel for the Panamá Canal.
Another Panamá Canal channel expected to be ready in 2014
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Since the Panama Canal opened a passageway between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans nearly a century ago, nearly one million ships have sailed through.  Building the channel across the Isthmus of Panama began in 1882, but disease, geography and politics delayed its completion until 1914.  More than 27,000 workers lost their lives during construction.  Now, what's been called "the greatest engineering feat in the world" is being expanded, so today's larger ships can take advantage of this vital link in global maritime trade.

Colossal is the best word to describe the dimension of the expansion works here.  With an investment of $5.5 billion, the Panama Canal will soon have a third channel for the transit of much larger ships.  Jorge Luis Quijano, the canal's executive vice president of engineering, says the canal is operating at full capacity and needs to expand.

"This new canal actually is offering a larger vessel that it can handle with deeper draft with a longer and wider vessel," noted Quijano.

At the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side of the original Panama Canal, ships pass just centimeters away from the concrete walls on both sides. These vessels cannot be more than 32 meters wide (about 105 feet), and ride only 12 meters (about 39 feet) deep in the water.

The new locks — now being built parallel to the old ones — will handle ships up to 49 meters (151 feet)  wide with drafts of more than 15 meters (49 feet).

"This is the existing canal that is composed of two sets of locks and this is the third set of locks, it's a third line for the ships to go by," explained Oscar Soto, the chief engineer for the Atlantic region.

At Lake Gatun, created 100 years ago to supply water for the canal, Capt. Ubaldo Pimentel has been running a passenger boat for decades.  He says engineers are using dredging ships and dynamite to create deeper, wider passageways to the new Gatun locks.

"The mountain used to get all the way to the red buoy," Pimentel noted.  "They took all that material and pushed it back to widen the lake." 

For nearly a century, many cargo ships were designed specifically to fit the Panama locks.  In the last few decades, however, larger vessels, known as post-Panamax ships, have been forced to carry their cargo around South America.  When it's completed, in 2014, the new 80-kilometer-long channel (about 50 miles) will admit some of those larger ships, but as engineering vice president Jorge Luis Quijano explains, not the largest.

"No, not quite. We had to look at the optimal size of vessel that would make the return on the investment, of a high value to us. So we chose what size of vessels that could actually pay for this project," Quijano explained.

Still, the project means officials will be able to double the amount of cargo the canal can handle.

"The present canal has a total capacity of about 340 million tons a year that it can handle, that's the maximum capacity," Quijano noted.  "With the expansion we expect to double that, over 600 million tons that we can handle in a year."

That's important, because ships using the canal pay by weight.  Canal authorities expect more than half of the multi-billion-dollar expansion costs to be paid by today's canal traffic, with the larger ships using the new channel paying for the rest. 

The massive canal expansion is being done by several international contractors, but 90 percent of their work force is Panamanian.

Working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the project is moving ahead on schedule, to open in 2014, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal.  The celebration, they say, will be colossal.
canal map
Wikipedia graphic used with permission
Because of the shape of the isthmus, the Atlantic is in the north and the Pacific is in the south.

The canal in figures

• The Panama Canal serves more than 80 countries, and is a throughway for 144 international maritime routes.
• The five countries sending the most cargo through the canal: the United States, China, Japan, Chile and South Korea.
• Since its opening in August 1914, nearly one million vessels have transited the waterway.
• The new Panama Canal locks will be 427 meters (1,401 feet) long and 55 meters (180.5) wide, the size of four football fields.
• A ship takes about eight hours to travel the full length of the Panama Canal.
• On Aug. 14, 1928, Richard Halliburton paid a 36-cent toll to swim the Canal. It took him 10 days to complete his journey.

Why does the Panamá Canal use locks?

In order for ships to cross the 80-kilometer-wide Isthmus of Panama, they must pass through the fresh waters of Lake Gatun, which sits at 26 meters (85 feet) above sea level. To get there, ships first progress through a set of steel locks that raise them, in stages, from sea level up to Lake Gatun. On the other side of the lake, they pass through more locks that lower them back to sea level.

About the excavations

According to the Panama Canal Authority, the material excavated during its initial construction would have been enough to build 63 pyramids similar in size to those at Giza, Egypt.

Archaeological findings

The massive excavations for the canal expansion have resulted in a series of paleontological and archaeological finds, which have kept Smithsonian scientists busy. The discoveries, mostly on the Atlantic side, include fossils and pre-Columbian artifacts. Scientists say some of the fossil remains could change prevailing theories about the geologic evolution of the Isthmus of Panamá.


Panama's National Environmental Authority requires that for each hectare of forest affected by the Canal expansion project, two hectares be reforested. Displaced wildlife has been rescued and relocated. And the new lock systems will allow canal operators to recycle 60 percent more of the canal's fresh lake water than is possible with today's locks.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 152

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

leatherback turtle
National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration/Karin A. Forney.
Female leatherback turtle with researcher Scott Benson

Vast range of leatherbacks
documented in new research

By the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

An international team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service and several western Pacific research and conservation organizations have revealed how leatherback turtles use vast areas of the Pacific Ocean and Indo-Pacific seas. The study, based on data from 126 leatherbacks tracked by satellite, is part of continuing research to understand how oceanographic features influence migration and foraging behavior of leatherbacks in order to improve conservation efforts for this endangered species.

The research was published in the journal Ecosphere that
Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are the largest of all marine turtles weighing up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) and almost six feet (2 meters) in length.  Extensive harvesting of eggs and breeding females by populations on the nesting beaches along with accidental capture in fisheries has led to the demise of leatherback populations around the Pacific. Pacific nesting populations are found in the western Pacific in Indonesia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, as well as the coast of Costa Rica.
Female leatherbacks lay their eggs on tropical nesting beaches, but then migrate to foraging areas around the world to feed on jellyfish. Leatherbacks are seasonal visitors to the central California coast, arriving in late summer and fall to forage on large aggregations of brown sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens).

Scott Benson, lead author of the paper, and senior author Peter Dutton began tracking leatherbacks from the California foraging grounds in 2000 and expanded the study to the nesting beaches in the western Pacific after documenting that the California turtles were from there.   

“We discovered a much greater diversity of foraging behavior than previously thought for Pacific leatherbacks,.”  said Benson. The western Pacific nesters foraged not only in distant temperate ecosystems of the North Pacific, but also in temperate and tropical ecosystems of the southern hemisphere and Indo-Pacific seas. Benson said “The foraging areas we identified exhibited a wide range of oceanographic features, including mesoscale eddies, coastal retention areas, current boundaries, or stationary fronts, all of which are known mechanisms for aggregating leatherback prey.

The Fisheries Service has restricted commercial fishing in large areas north of Hawaii and off the United States west coast because of concern over accidental bycatch of leatherbacks, and has proposed designating some areas as critical habitat, said Tomoharu Eguchi, a co-author of the paper.  The paper also identifies foraging areas in the East Australia Current Extension and the Tasman Front drawing attention to the potential threat from the intense fishing by international fleets in these waters.

The combined results have fundamentally changed the scope of conservation efforts for Pacific leatherbacks. “Tracking the turtles on their extraordinary migrations over the years has allowed us to finally piece together the complex linkages between their breeding areas and feeding areas,” said Dutton. 

Biologists say that turtle numbers in Costa Rica have dropped by around 90 percent in the last two decades. Egg poaching has been identified as part of the problem, but accidental catches by fishermen, climate change and coastal development have also been cited as factors.

21 top Mexican prosecutors
unexpectedly quit their jobs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The top prosecutors in 21 of Mexico's 31 states and the federal district have abruptly quit.

There was no immediate explanation Tuesday whether the federal prosecutors are leaving on their own or were forced out. But their departure comes on top of a widespread purge of Mexican prosecutors instituted by Attorney General Marisela Morales at a time when the country faces rampant violence from drug cartels.

Her office said recently that during her first 100 days in office, 462 prosecutors and other officials had been dismissed and another 111 are facing a variety of criminal charges.

In announcing the latest departures, Morales called the purge fundamental to giving Mexicans the results they legitimately demand. She said public officials must act with total dedication and responsibility of service.

The attorney general's office said, however, that none of the 21 senior prosecutors who quit is under investigation.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 152

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Cartago to get bike lane
as part of larger proposal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public works ministry plans to build 39.6 kilometers (24.6 miles) of bike lanes over the next three years with a $700,000 donation by the International Automobile Federation.

Some 26 kilometers (16 miles) of the bike lanes already have been announced. They will be part of the project to widen the Interamericana Norte between Cañas and Liberia.

Another project calls for 8 kilometers (5 miles) between San Isidro de El General and Palmares de Pérez Zeledón. In this case gutters on both sides of the road will receive tops that will be used as bike lanes, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said.

Some 5.8 kilometers (3.4 miles) will be constructed in Cartago. The federation presented the design to the municipality there Tuesday. The proposal is for a bike lane of two meters (6.5 feet) in width. The lane would begin 700 meters (.43 miles) northeast of the  Polideportivo de Cartago and pass by the  Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles and the Colegio Universitario de Cartago, officials said.

Over the next three years, the ministry said it wants to build bike lanes in 10 areas, including Nicoya, Guanacaste, Pococí, Pérez Zeledón, Osa and San Carlos.

Rural highways in Costa Rica usually lack sidewalks, much less room for bikes. Many rural residents use bikes for transportation because they are much cheaper to use than an automobile. However, the bike users have to ride on the traffic lanes in most areas.

Coopealianza receives loan
to help develop businesses

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Investment Corp. has approved a loan of up to $1 million to Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito y Servicios Múltiples Alianza Pérez Zeledón de R.L. in Costa Rica. The loan will enable the company, popularly known as Coopealianza, to provide business development loans of up to $50,000 each for eligible projects and companies in the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise segment throughout Costa Rica, said the investment corporation.

 “With this operation, the IIC will be supporting and strengthening Costa Rica’s financial sector. Coopealianza will directly use the proceeds to fund the growth of its short- and medium-term business development portfolio in rural areas where private commercial bank penetration is lower than in Costa Rica’s main cities,” said Juan Fonseca, investment officer in charge of the operation.

Coopealianza, established in 1971 in Pérez Zeledón, has become one of Costa Rica’s leading savings and loan cooperatives. Its main lines of business are deposit-taking, personal, housing, and business development loans, and financial services. A substantial portion of its portfolio goes to providing financing to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas of Costa Rica via what it refers to as business development operations, said the investment corporation.

Coopealianza, which has more members than any other cooperative in the country, is supervised by Costa Rica’s financial market regulatory authorities.

 The Inter-American Investment Corp. is a financial institution that is a member of the Inter-American Development Bank Group. The corporation's mission is to promote the economic development of its regional member countries by encouraging the establishment, expansion, and modernization of private enterprises, particularly those that are small and medium in size. It does so by providing financing and advisory services to private enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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