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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 154        E-mail us
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66 quakes in first half of year
From volcanoes to quakes, country remains active

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While the Cinchona earthquake dominated the records in the first half of the year with its many aftershocks, Costa Rican seismology seems to have returned to normal with five felt Pacific coast quakes in July.

The Pacific is the area where scientists warn that the subduction of the Coco plate under the Caribe can cause a major quake. So news of smaller quakes are welcome with the idea that every little event relieves the stress.

The Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica reported a quake southeast of Cabo Blanco July 2, south of Dominical July 3, southeast of Cóbano July 19, near Concepción de San Isidro de Heredia July 30 and one near Zarcero July 31. All were in the 3.6 to 4.3 magnitude range.

Earthquakes are on the public mind this month because emergency officials held a seminar July 31 to discuss response to what they expect to be a major quake with 100 percent probability in the Nicoya Peninsula.

Thanks to the Cinchona quake and its aftershocks, there were 66 felt quakes in the first half of the year. The bulk were January and February north of  
earthquake map
Red Sismológica Nacional map
Blue dots show earthquake locations in the first half of 2009.
turrialba gases
Red Sismológica Nacional
de Universidad de Costa Rica photo
Turrialba continues to belch acidic gases

Alajuela and Heredia near Cinchona. But there also were quakes in the central Pacific, the southern zone, Guanacaste and southeast of Limón.

The Cinchona quake registered a 6.2 magnitude, and 25 persons died, mostly from sliding hillsides. Entire highways dropped away. Some families still are living in inadequate conditions because of the quake. Said the Red Sismológica in its monthly report:

"This quake reminds us that Costa Ricans ought to be always prepared for this type of disaster which can happen in whatever moment and in whatever place in the country, and above all it is necessary to apply preventative measures particularly in the Central Valley where there is the major concentration of population and infrastructure and where the most important earthquake sources are recorded, for example the fault where the 1910 Cartago earthquake originated that could reactivate again and cause major damage."

Geologists also are keeping an eye on the exhaust activity at the Turrialba volcano near the city of the same name. Acidic gases continue to escape from the flanks of the crater and affect vegetation and living conditions in the area.

Weak seismic activity continued all month such that scientists asked the ministry in charge of parks to close the area around the volcano so an excess of persons would not hamper evacuation if needed.

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Hurricane season is quiet
without any named storms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scientists say this has been one of quietest hurricane seasons on record.

The 2009 hurricane season, which officially began June 1 and lasts until the end of November, has yet to produce a named tropical storm. Normally, nine or ten tropical storms form in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa each year. Five or six of those become hurricanes and threaten landfall in the Caribbean or southeastern United States.

"So far, it has been unusually quiet and it looks like it will stay that way for a while," says Stephen Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University in Miami.

Leatherman said the weather phenomenon known as El Niño may be responsible for disrupting normal weather patterns this year, thwarting the formation of tropical storms.

El Niño is the name given to the appearance, every few years, of large scale climate fluctions that produce unusually warm surface waters in the Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon can cause global climatic anomalies in the equatorial Pacific, Asia, and North America.

The effect produces dry conditions in the western United States that often lead to large brush and forest fires.  In the central and eastern United States, just the opposite occurs and the result is above-average rainfall.

For those who live in hurricane-prone regions, this year's abnormally quiet hurricane season still poses potential danger.

"People tend to be complacent when nothing happens and this is not good," said Leatherman. "My advice is to be prepared and never take anything for granted."

The 1992 hurricane season provides a case in point.  That year also started off quietly, but it also saw one of the most destructive hurricanes in modern history.

Hurricane Andrew was responsible for 65 deaths and $26.5 billion in property damage when it devastated southern Florida.

Known to be among the most accurate at predicting tropical storms, forecasters at Colorado State University Tuesday revised their earlier prediction of five hurricanes this season, to four.

Costa Rica does not see hurricanes, but the long arms of such storms can bring damaging rain and winds.

Low pressure in Pacific
brings dose of heavy rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Caribbean coast got a heavy dose of rain Tuesday and early Wednesday, but the precipitation stopped by mid afternoon in most places.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued a warning and said that a low pressure system dumped 140 mm (about 5.5 inches) of rain in Limón and 75 mm (about 3 inches) in Manzanillo.

The weather institute said that the Pacific low pressure system would bring rain to the northern zone and the Caribbean again today. It also said that cloudiness and more rain is likely in the central and southern Pacific coast. The World Surfing Games in Playa Hermosa faced downpours Wednesday.

The weather institute said that neighbors should keep an eye on rivers and runoff ditches for fear of flooding, particularly in the Caribbean area.

Health ministry told
it must review access

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV has ordered the health ministry to check all store permits for handicapped access.  The court threw out a ruling by the Procuraduría General de la República that said the Ministerio de Salud did not have to concern itself with access.

A Costa Rican law said that all public places should have access for disabled individuals. The Municipalidad de San José went so far as to require massage parlors to put in wheelchair ramps a year ago.

The Sala IV constitutional court case was brought by the  Movimiento Nacional de Personas con Discapacidad. The health ministry issues sanitary permits for stores, businesses and offices that usually cover such aspects as ventilation, bathrooms, and other health-related issues.

The health permit is necessary to obtain a business license.

Woman faked accident,
illness, agents claim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents arrested a Cartago woman Wednesday morning at her home and said she was the principal suspect in an insurance fraud scheme.

The woman faces allegations of forgery and using false documents. In one case she presented a letter supposedly signed by the president of Perú in which the president gave her the use of a private hospital plane with a team of doctors and nurses to carry her from Lima to Costa Rica, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The woman sought to collect nearly $37,000 for her medical expenses. Agents said she purchased a traveler's insurance policy Nov. 28, 2007, at Juan Santamaría airport. Later she presented a letter saying she had been hospitalized for an illness in a private clinic in Lima. However, the person who signed the letter was not recognized as a physician in Perú, agents said.

The woman claims in another case that she was struck down by a vehicle on a Lima street and was hospitalized in the same clinic. She sought nearly $100,000 in compensation from the insurance provider.

Agents claim that the letter from the president and other documents are false.

An analysis of the news
Zelaya becoming a caricature
of his failed political goals

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ousted Honduran President José Manuel Zeleya appears to be blaming everyone but himself for losing his job.

Zelaya was in México Wednesday where he called for international laws against the kind of action that put him on a plane to Costa Rica June 28. He also was critical of what he saw as a weakening of the U.S. pressure against the interim government in Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya suggested he wanted an international law that designated a coup as a crime. Left unsaid was who would enforce the law.

The U.S. said that it was not supporting any individual in the Honduran political struggle. It was Philip J. Crowley, an assistant secretary, who told reporters that the United States continues to work every day to encourage the two sides to accept the proposal that has been laid out by President Óscar Arias Sánchez. 

"We believe this mediation process continues. It continues . . . it is the basis upon which we can resolve the situation," said Crowley. "And I think we continue to await the two sides. They’ve made differing statements at times that seemed to be supportive. What they need to do now is come together, reach an agreement, and then begin a process that would lead to its elections this fall and a new government. So as long as the mediation process continues, in our view, we should let it play its course."

Zelaya has not been able to establish that the bulk of his citizens want him back. Large segments of the Honduran population have rallied against him. There have been protests in his favor, but the military seems to be siding totally with the provisional government. Health workers did not flock to a protest march Wednesday in Tegucigalpa as Zelaya supporters expected.

Zelaya has not made a good case why he should be reinstated to power nor has he said what he would do if that happened. Since his ouster he has been seeking some outside force to put him back in office. He visited the United States several times. He appealed to the Organization of American States. He has cast his lot with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, but Ortega is not likely to initiate military action.

So Zelaya is becoming some kind of caricature, a poster boy of failed political goals. He relies on the idealism of Óscar Arias and his San José Accord.  But the U.S. support is tempered by pragmatism and the knowledge that Zelaya is a favorite of Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and of the Cuban regime. That point is being pushed by U.S. Republicans who are just as happy to see Zelaya unemployed.

Roberto Micheletti, the interim president, has created a plausable cover story of why Zelaya was ousted. Now there are arrest warrants against him for various financial crimes. Such allegations, true or not, dilute international support.

Zelaya's actions in pushing for a referendum on an end to term limits is said to be the reason he was ousted by the military. The truth is that he made a radical and unexpected political shift to embrace left-wing socialism. The referendum was an excuse.

So Zelaya has been out-maneuvered politically and in the public relations arena. He was particularly unimpressive when he stepped a few meters into Honduras and then retreated to Nicaragua. A true leader would have won the hearts and minds of the very troops that were assigned to block his entry.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 154

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Your Costa Rica

Constitutional court gives OK to administering quick justice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 9-month-old system of speedy justice set up by the Poder Judicial to quickly resolve street crimes is constitutional, the Sala IV has decided.

The rapid justice method does not violate impartiality, judicial objectivity or due process, according to a summary of the constitutional court ruling released Wednesday.

The Tribunal de Flagrancia del Segundo Circuito Judicial, which handles such cases, referred the concept to the Sala  IV for an informational ruling. Some lawyers, mostly defense lawyers, had questioned the system.

The Poder Judicial put the plan into effect last October, and there are efforts to expand the idea to the entire country. Those criminals caught red-handed or en flagrancia are
brought before the court and quickly judged or penalized. The suspects go before a special court.

In addition to criminals caught in the act, the law also covers those caught within a short distance of a crime scene carrying evidence of their guilt. In many cases, the flagrancia court levies penalties on persons who normally would be tied up in the system for five or more years without resolution to the case. Such crimes include robberies of cell phones and theft of handbags.

The court decision hinged on technical requirements in the Costa Rican code of criminal procedure. The tribunal said that among other concerns was the lack of an appeal process to a flagrancia decision.

Legislators now have a bill that would extend the flagrancia provisions to the entire country.

Acción Ciudadana lawmakers propose $5 land exit tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana wants to impose a $5 exit tax on persons leaving Costa Rica by land or sea to support border communities or the communities with ports.

The proposal would have raised $3.1 million in 2009 if it were law, said party lawmakers as they proposed the measure Wednesday.

Costa Rica already has a $26 exit tax on persons flying out of the country. Tourists also pay an arrival tax. The Acción Ciudadana proposal notes that lawmakers once tried to extend that tax to land crossing but the measure was ruled unconstitutional.

Any canton that hosts an immigration station would recieve
a proportional share of the funds, according to the proposal. The central government would get a share, too. The party lawmakers estimated that about 625,000 persons will leave the country by land this year. The funds could be paid in colons at the going rate of exchange.

Big winners would be Puntrenas and Limón where tourist boats dock. Francisco Molina of Acción Ciudadana said that the areas near the border and with ports are those that face more social problems and occupy the lower spots on development indexes.

To some extent this is a tax on Nicaraguans because large numbers of immigrants return to their home country for holidays each year. Most use the Peñas Blancas border crossing.  It is not clear if the tax would apply to truck drivers and others who are involved in commerce.

Taxi passengers will have to pay autopista tolls, price regulating agency orders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers got a break Wednesday when the price regulating agency announced that passengers have to pay tolls.

The issue never really came up when highway tolls were about 100 colons.

Now the concessionaire for the Autopista del Sol, the
former Autopista Próspero Fernández, is collecting 310 colons at two plazas. That is about 52 U.S. cents each.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said that the passenger should pay in addition to the regular fare because it is the passenger who decides which route to take. That payment of the toll is only when the passenger is aboard the taxi, the Authoridad noted. In other words, a taxi driver cannot collect for a return trip when the vehicle is empty.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 154

in the surf
Diego Naranjo
Flores in the surf
International Surfing Association photos
Anthony Flores
Costa Rica narrowly maintains fourth place surf ranking
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica fell to fourth place in the World Surfing Games in team rankings behind the United States and Australia tied for first and Hawaii in third place.

However, the home team still has four surfers in competition. They are Gilbert Brown and Jason Torres, scheduled to compete together in a single heat today; Carlos Muñoz, scheduled for an open repercharge, and Anthony Flores in the longboard repercharge.

Costa Rica lost Diego Naranjo Wednesday when he made an error and was disqualified in one of his heats. He finished in 25th place.

The longboard competition opened Wednesday and under cloudy skies, sometimes pouring rain and choppy, shifting beachbreak, the big favorites along with a few small determined dark horses advanced to the next round in the most difficult conditions yet.

Underdogs like New Zealand and Venezuela who already have surfers qualified through to the next round, kept themselves competitive with advancing longboarders. Venezuela's team gathered as a group every time they had a heat in the water, chanting, cheering and waving their flags.

“The enthusiasm from the Venezuelan team is so motivating,” said Ronald Reyes. “The support from my coach and my country makes a big difference.”

Big surf powerhouses Hawaii, Australia, France and the USA all placed Longboard team members into the next round,
making up for costly losses inflicted Tuesday. Both
Hawaiians Kekoa Uemura and Bonga Perkins advanced to the next round after Hawaii lost two of its stars in Tuesday's final eliminations elevating them into 3rd place with 16,960 points.

The Americans and Australians also advanced both their longboarders, and are in a first place deadlock with 19,080 points each. France was helped hugely by early wins from both their Longboard teammates, but South Africa and Costa Rica were hurt when their men did not make the cut.

Brazil and Costa Rica are neck and neck.

The biggest upset of the day was Dieter Gerards from Cologne, Germany, who made it through round one and two of the main event.

“I'm really amazed that I was able to beat Brazil and Tahiti,” said a still stunned Gerards. “10 minutes went by without a wave late in the heat, but I stayed calm, waiting for the waves and watching the other surfers very carefully. When a good wave finally came my way, I just tried to put it all together,” said Gerards.

Despite the fact that 15 countries are already out of the running and another 10 have very slim chances, enthusiasm is running wild for individuals still advancing in the contest.

“When I came out of the water my teammates said to me that I had won and couldn't believe it,” said a super-stoked Gerards. “I can't believe it! It is really total madness! Now I am going to call my family and friends in Germany, to tell them what happened!”

Another great month

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 154

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Mixed U.S. economic news
sends stock markets lower

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mixed U.S. economic data sent stock markets lower in Europe and the United States Wednesday. Continued improvement in American manufacturing was offset by further signs of weakness in the service sector.

On the positive side, the Commerce Department reported U.S. factory orders rose 0.4 percent in June, beating analysts' expectations. It was the fourth boost in orders in five months.

But a private group says America's service sector continues to languish. The Institute for Supply Management's service index registered 46.4 percent in July, down from 47 percent in June. Any reading below 50 signals contraction of the service sector, and July's reading was the 10th consecutive month of decline. The U.S. service sector is closely-watched, as it accounts for roughly 80 percent of U.S. economic output.

Coming after a week of almost universally upbeat economic data that buoyed U.S. markets, Wednesday's more-somber news is a reality-check, according to Alan Brown of Schroders, an asset management company.

"The U.S. data should remind us that this recovery is not likely to be V-shaped. It seems to me that we are going to see rising unemployment for a long time yet," said Brown. "And although we have green shoots and for the moment the news is good, I think we could have challenges as we get to the end of the year. We are definitely coming out of recession. But we believe the recovery will be pretty muted."

Friday, the U.S. government will provide the latest unemployment data. Joblessness stands at 9.5 percent, and many economists expect it to top 10 percent in coming months. Wednesday provided a private sector hint of what the government report might contain. A survey of American employers showed the private sector shed 371,000 jobs in July.

"The job market is still very difficult. We are seeing layoffs continue, not at the heavy pace we saw at the beginning of the year, but they certainly have not abated," said Chicago-based labor expert John Challenger.

After rising steadily since last week, oil prices dipped for a second consecutive day amid reports of growing U.S. crude inventories.

New trial begins in killing
of famed Russian journalist

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Moscow court opened a new trial Wednesday for three suspects in the murder of journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, but then quickly adjourned proceedings until Friday.

Lawyers for the slain journalist's family called for an entirely new investigation into the murder, and termed the previous probe incomplete. 

In June, Russia's supreme court overturned a February jury verdict acquitting the three, Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov and former security police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, of helping organize the murder. The jury had cited insufficient evidence as grounds for the decision.

Ms. Politkovskaya researched and wrote extensively about rights abuses in Chechnya. She was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.  

Colleagues say Ms. Politkovskaya's reporting on atrocities in Chechnya angered the Kremlin, while earning her international acclaim.
Last month's killing of a colleague, Natalya Estemirova, places the Politkovskaya case under renewed scrutiny.  Authorities found the body of the acclaimed rights campaigner, who worked alongside Ms. Politkovskaya, just hours after she was abducted. She was shot in the head and chest.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 154

Latin American news digest
Judge in Brazil muzzles
press on corruption case

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has condemned a court ruling prohibiting O Estado de S. Paulo from publishing information about investigations into alleged corruption and other news media from reproducing the reports anywhere in the nation. The organization classified the decision as an act of prior censorship.

The surprising ruling July 31 was made by Judge Dácio Vieira of the Federal District Court in Brasília who ordered O Estado de S. Paulo and its Estadão Web site to cease publication of reports on alleged wrongdoing by Fernando Sarney, son of federal senator and former Brazilian president José Sarney. The ban extends to radio and television stations and newspapers throughout Brazil, ordering them not to reproduce, use or quote material from O Estado de S. Paulo. Infringement of the ruling carries with it a fine of 150,000 reales (approximately $80,000) The newspaper said it would appeal the decision.

Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, protested against “this case of prior censorship, not because it affects the news media by restricting them from reporting about public cases of public persons, but because it breaches constitutional principles by denying the public its right to know.” He is president of the Miami-based news organization.

Santos Calderón added, “I regret witnessing Brazil's judiciary over-protecting the rights of people involved in matters of public interest, as in this case, rather than protecting the right to freedom of expression and keeping citizens from exclusion.”

Fernando Sarney is under investigation for alleged wrongdoing involving his family company’s business with state corporations. O Estado de S. Paulo  was the first to denounce the Sarney family, basing its reports on authorized records of telephone conversations recorded in a police operation that are said to disclose links between José Sarney and illegal contracts to relatives and close friends.

The court ruling, requested by Fernando Sarney, prohibits the publication of reports concerning the Federal Police’s Boi Barrica Operation into alleged corruption. The former president of Brazil is under federal investigation for tax evasion, nepotism and other alleged offenses.

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