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(506) 223-1327        San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 157       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
It's still
a small town

Barrio México, the northeastern part of the capital, presents itself in this photo taken from one of the top floors of the Banco de Costa Rica downtown. This is working class San José with interesting churches and a great view of the central volcanic range.

Legislators continue to wrestle with sewer loan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a classic case of understatement, the environmental minister told a legislative committee Tuesday that the use of polluted water for agriculture can cause health complications.

The minister, Roberto Dobles Mora of  Ambiente y Energía, appeared before the  Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios, which is trying to decide if the country should accept a $130 million loan from the government of Japan.

Part of the money will go to build a treatment plant for human waste from the Central Valley.  Dobles spoke of the need to stop this environmental problem.

The situation has been dubbed Costa Rica's dirty little secret: that a country so dedicated to environmental protection would allow the untreated sewage from its most densely populated area to flow into the sea. The loan from Japan and $100 million in Costa Rican money will make a start at improving the collapsed sewerage system in the Central Valley  and constructing the treatment plant by 2015, it is estimated.

Now much of the sewage runs over ground or through decayed and rotting pipes and eventually ends up in local streams and then the Río Grande de Tárcoles which flows into the Gulf of Nicoya just north of some prime central Pacific beaches.
"The problem is that owing to the pollution, fishing activity is reduced and the people ought to take up other things. It happens exactly the same in the case of tourism," said Dobles as he addressed the unemployment side of the problem.

Irrigation with polluted water is a way many human diseases and internal parasites are spread.

Mario Quirós, a member of the committee noted that the solution to the problem, the adequate treatment of sewage, has been postponed for decades in the country.

"Here what we have done is pass the sewage from one pipe to another for years," he said. "We have not given a real integrated solution to the problem of sewage and this has complicated the situation a lot."

The lawmakers have been treating the matter of the Japanese loan delicately. Although the Japanese have set up a deadline for acceptance, Costa Rica had to seek a new deadline because of the extensive study the project is getting in the legislative committee.

Approval of the low-interest loan equals approval of the project, lawmakers point out. The new deadline is the end of the month.

Ricardo Sancho, executive president of the sewer and water company, has been invited to appear again before the commission. It is his third official visit.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 157

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2006 hurricane forecast
revised lower slightly

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After a relatively quiet first two months of hurricane season, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have slightly downgraded their predictions for this year's season. But officials say they are still predicting a more active year than normal.

Although Costa Rica is not hit by hurricanes, the weather patterns spawned by such forces can cause heavy rains and wind damage here. The nation still is recovering from damage inflicted upon its highway system last year.

During last year's record-breaking storm season, there had already been nine named storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean by early August. This year, so far there have been only three. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials had originally predicted 13 to 16 named storms with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes and four to six of those becoming major hurricanes this year. They are now predicting seven to nine hurricanes, with three to four of those becoming major storms.

But Conrad Lautenbacher, adminisrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters in Washington Tuesday the peak period for storms is from mid-August to mid-October and the worst is yet to come.

"The patterns that our scientists predicted during the initial outlook are continuing," he said.  "We expect that the likelihood of storm development will be enhanced during this peak period. And so the bottom line is that NOAA still expects the 2006 season to be above normal."

Lautenbacher says warmer sea surface temperatures and favorable wind patterns are the main indicators of a more active than normal season.

The director of the agency's Miami-based Hurricane center, Max Mayfield, told reporters that the results of a recent study have him concerned about the rest of the hurricane season. He says a survey of residents of U.S. coastal areas indicated 56 percent of them do not feel threatened by a hurricane or its effects such as flooding or tornados and more the 60 percent of those surveyed do not have a family disaster plan.

Mayfield says public preparedness helps save lives and property.

"I can assure you that a big part of the battle against a hurricane is won now by individuals taking the personal responsibility to develop their own hurricane plan to protect themselves and their families," he explained.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 157

Minister Arias seeks quick OK on big tax proposal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government wants the legislature to hurry up and pass a tax reform measure.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother and minister of the Presidencia, met with leaders of the Movimiento Libertario Tuesday for two hours to encourage the party to go along with the plan.

The party representatives were Otto Guevara and Evita Arguedas.

Guevara, who is leader of the party but not a legislator, said that when the central government provides a copy of the proposed tax plan his party will compare it to the existing law and make observations on the document.

Arias said the country needs the money.

Arias wants legislative leaders to keep the tax law on a fast track so there will be a quick vote. This is a procedure created by the previous Asamblea Legislativa for the Abel Pacheco administration's version of the tax law. Under the fast-track provision, legislators are limited in making speeches.

Libertarians hung up the Pacheco plan with thousands
of amendments, each of which required discussion and a vote.

The libertarians seem to have raised the issue of unconstitutionality with Arias Tuesday. They oppose putting the legislation on the fast track.

The Arias tax plan has not been fully explained, although it is less encompassing than that proposed by Pacheco's administration.

Certainly there is a value-added tax instead of a sales tax. There has been a proposal to assess a $200 tax on each corporation. There also is a proposal to tax bank transactions and one to tax luxury homes about half of a percent to wipe out slums.

Arias said the country also needs the money to eliminate the huge debt run up by the Banco Central in defending the colon against the dollar.

As far as income tax, Arias said that the plan the government has guarantees that the "most humble" don't pay taxes until their income reaches 500,000 colons (about $970) a year. Between 500,000 colons and 900,000 colons ($1,750) the tax rate in the government proposal  is 8 percent, he said. He said the graduated income tax would be similar for companies.

Tuesday morning was a time for discovering multiple murders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents are investigating three deaths that took place Tuesday morning. At least two of the cases are murders.

The first took place around midnight in Pacuare Viejo, Limón, when a 22-year-old man with the last name of Morales left his girl friend's house at that time to purchase food, agents said. Someone atttacked him and inflicted multiple wounds. He died about 12:15 a.m. in Hospital Tony Facio in Limón.

About 6:20 a.m. investigators were notified that the body of a 57-year-old man, identified by the last
name of Mora, turned up in Parque La Sabana in San José. The cause of death has not been determined, but the man suffered blows about the head.

An hour later someone discovered the body of a man along the Autopista Florencio del Castillo in Tres Rios. This man also died of multiple stab wounds.

Monday the body of a 38-year-old man, later identified with the last name of Vallejos, was found in  Villa Nueva de Upala. The man suffered multiple machete wounds and at least 10 stab wounds to the back.  The man was not a robbery victim because no personal items were taken and his motorcycle was nearby, said investigators. 

European legislative leader plans an eight-day visit to Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Josep Borrell Fontelles, president of the European Parliament, will be visiting Costa Rica for eight days, starting Sunday, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

Borrell is a Spanish politician, a Socialist, who has been a leader in structuring the European Parliament.

Among other degrees he holds a master's in applied mathematics from Stanford University in California. He is considered an expert on government financing.
While here he will meet with President Óscar Arias Sánchez, Bruno Stagno, the foreign minister, legislative leaders and others. He also will visit an environmental project that is being financed by the European Parliament, said the ministry.

The visit comes at a time when Costa Rica and other Latin American states are trying to enter into preliminary negotiations for a trade treaty with the 25 countries of the European Union.

Arias and Borrell are acquainted, the ministry said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 157

Mayo researchers link hay fever and Parkinson's
By the Mayo Clinic News Bureau
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Researchers from Mayo Clinic have discovered that allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is associated with the development of Parkinson's disease later in life. These findings are being published this week in the journal Neurology.

"The association with Parkinson's disease is increased to almost three times that of someone who does not have allergic rhinitis," said James Bower, Mayo Clinic neurologist and lead study investigator. "That's actually a pretty high elevation."

Previous studies had shown that people who regularly take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease. These results prompted the Mayo Clinic investigators to look further into the links between diseases characterized by inflammation and Parkinson's. They studied 196 people who developed Parkinson's disease, matched with people of similar age and gender who did not develop Parkinson's.

The study was conducted in Olmsted County, Minn., home of Mayo Clinic, over a 20-year period.

The researchers examined these groups to determine if those who developed Parkinson's disease had more inflammatory diseases. They found that those with allergic rhinitis were 2.9 times more likely to develop Parkinson's. They did not find a similar association between inflammatory diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anemia or vitiligo and Parkinson's disease.

The researchers hypothesize that they may not have found significant links between these diseases and Parkinson's disease due to the relatively small number of those in the population who have these diseases, and thus the small number with these diseases in their population sample study. They also did not find the same association with Parkinson's disease in patients with asthma that they discovered with allergic rhinitis.
Hay fever, an allergic reaction, is when the body's immune system reacts to particles in the air.

The investigators theorize that a tendency toward inflammation is the key link between the diseases.

"People with allergic rhinitis mount an immune response with their allergies, so they may be more likely to mount an immune response in the brain as well, which would produce inflammation," Bower said. "The inflammation produced may release certain chemicals in the brain and inadvertently kill brain cells, as we see in Parkinson's."

Dr. Bower explains that this study does not prove that allergies cause Parkinson's disease. Instead, it points to an association between the two diseases. He advises that allergy patients can do little to reduce the potential risk for Parkinson's.

"I wouldn't worry if you have allergies," he says. "Treat the allergy symptoms you have to alleviate them at the time. At this point, we have no good evidence that this treatment will protect you from possibly developing Parkinson's disease later."

Parkinson's is a complex disease, says Dr. Bower, because many factors can contribute to its development and its causes can differ. The complexity can be compared to heart attacks, which can be caused by hypertension, high cholesterol or smoking, among other factors. Thus, allergic rhinitis would now be considered one among many possible risk factors for development of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease affects nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls muscle movement. People with Parkinson's disease often experience trembling, muscle rigidity, difficulty walking, and problems with balance and coordination. These symptoms generally develop after age 50, although the disease also affects a small percentage of younger people. The normal lifetime risk to develop Parkinson's disease for men and women combined is 1.7 percent.

Supporters of López Obrador take over toll booths in México City area
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Supporters of leftist Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador have taken over toll booths in Mexico City.

Activists opened toll barriers across three highways going in and out of the capital Tuesday, letting drivers go through without paying.

López Obrador's supporters have protested for a recount since the July 2 presidential election, which
they allege was fraudulent. A spokesman for Obrador said Tuesday's action was part of those protests.

It was the first time the protesters have disrupted federal facilities.

López Obrador lost the election by about a half-percentage point to conservative Felipe Calderón. He has demanded a recount of all 41 million ballots cast, but Mexico's electoral commission ruled last week that a recount will only take place in about nine of the country's 130,000 voting stations.

Hotels and other tourist businesses will get a special credit card rate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco de Costa Rica and the country's hotel association entered into an agreement Tuesday, and one of the benefits for the tourism businesses is a special rate for credit card transactions.

Carlos Fernández, general manager of the Banco de Costa Rica, said the rate was 50 percent lower than what now is available elsewhere. The special rate is 2.65 percent of the transaction.

Fernández said he hope the hotels respond by
adopting discounts for those who carry credit cards from his bank.

The association, the Cámera Costarricense de Hoteles, also will get special electronic services from the bank. The electronic services will includes online payment of a multitude of government charges, including worker social security, workers' insurance and payments to suppliers. This is important for hotels far from business centers.

The chamber was represented by Manuel H. Rodríguez. president.

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