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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 156      E-mail us
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And here comes a candidate for an environmentally sound dinner
Experts urge humans to turn the tables on lionfish
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lionfish are making a nuisance of themselves by eating everything in sight. The Pacific invader is well established along the Caribbean coast. It uses its broad fins to herd smaller fish to where they may be eaten.

But now the species at the top of the food chain might help reverse the lionfish invasion with the help of such weapons as garlic-basil butter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and North Carolina State University have embarked an eat lionfish campaign.

A joint study said that approximately 27 percent of mature lionfish will have to be removed monthly for one year to reduce its population growth rate to zero. The fish has no natural enemies in the Caribbean or Atlantic.

The effort to fish down the species has already begun, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Caribbean nations such as the Turks and Caicos Islands are encouraging widespread fishing for lionfish by instituting year-long tournaments with cash prizes for the most lionfish caught, it said. North Carolina University is involved because the lionfish is damaging coastal fisheries in that U.S. state.

Lionfish are a popular aquarium inhabitant that were likely first released in Florida waters in the mid-1980s, said the administration. Since then, the species has spread rapidly, and scientists and public officials are seriously concerned at the effect lionfish are having on reef ecosystems, since this predator is capable of rapid population growth and outcompeting native fish for food and territory, it added. The lionfish presence in the Caribbean has been reported here for several years.
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Have you had your lionfish today?

Lionfish are not easy to get with a hook and line, but divers find that they can be approached easily and caught with spear or net.

North Carolina State's Seafood Laboratory reports that the fish has a white, somewhat firm flesh and a mild flavor, slightly similar to snapper. Cooks are advised to watch out for the poisonous spines that can still deliver a healthy but non-fatal dose even after the fish is harvested. The spines can be cut off with shears.

The Seafood Lab experimented with broiled lionfish filets: Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Filets should be broiled until the fish flakes, said the lab. The garlic-basil butter is easy to make: A half cup of butter or margarine and teaspoons of pressed garlic, finely chopped fresh basil and fresh lemon juice, according to the lab. Researchers added a dash of salt, too. After combining the ingredients researchers suggest letting it stand for at least an hour for the flavor to develop. They spread it over the warm filets.

A.M. Costa Rica welcomes lionfish recipes from readers.

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Ms. Chinchilla displays a T-shirt bearing the number workers could call to complain about salaries that are less than the minimum.

Government begins campaign
to enforce minimum wages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The labor ministry is beginning a publicity campaign to inform workers that they should be paid the minimum wage. President Laura Chinchilla attended the kickoff Monday.

Sandra Piszk is the minister of Trabajo y Seguridad Social. Her office estimates that some 300,000 workers are not getting the minimum wage here.

Costa Rica has a complex minimum wage structure with each occupational category having its own minimum wage from a couple a hundred dollars a month to a thousand, depending on the job. There also are hourly minimums for individuals who do not work on a monthly contract. And coffee pickers have a minimum salary based on the number of baskets of berries they collect.

Ms. Piszk said that inspectors would make workplace visits. These would be generated by calls to the ministry or to a special number, 800-trabajo, that has been set up for the campaign. There will be publicity to alert workers to the campaign.

The employers face the possibility of penalties if they do not bring their workers up to the minimum.

Ms. Chinchilla said that the campaign was part of her administration's effort to improve conditions for the most vulnerable population. She said that this campaign for minimum wage is the beginning of an integrated campaign to address education, economic and social aspects of what she said was a complex problem.

Many workers do not inform on their employer for fear of losing their job. Labor officials said they were resigned to some job loss as a result of the campaign.

The campaign is being backed by the Fundación para la Paz y la Democracia

U.S. Coast Guard boat
will resupply at Golfito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first U.S. boat permitted under a new agreement has docked at Golfito to resupply and to provide shore leave for its crew.

The boat is the U.S. Coast Guard vessel Hamilton that has been on drug patrol in the Pacific.  The boat has 123 officers and 165 enlisted men aboard.

The U.S. Embassy announced the arrival.

Normally this would be a routine stop, but a measure in the legislature to permit U.S. ships to stop here has become a political football. The routine approval was appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court. Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency, called the approval an invasion and many uncritical Internet writers picked up this theme without checking further.

The embassy was quick to point out that the Hamilton, with a home port in San Diego, California, rescued three persons who became shipwrecked off the Costa Rican coast. The embassy is setting up tours for newspeople to visit the boat.

Newcomers plan September meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Newcomers Club of Costa Rica is kicking off a new season with a meeting Sept. 7 at the Cariari Country Club.

This first meeting is an opportunity to sign up for the special interests groups that are offered by the club and meet some wonderful women new & not so new to Costa Rica, the club said

The meeting starts at 10 a.m., but refreshments are served a half hour earlier. More information is available at 2293-3211

Our reader's opinion
Nation's policy allowing
environmental abuses

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been dismayed and disgusted over the horrible abuses that the Costa Rican government has allowed while touting eco-friendly tourism in the country.

Why has shark finning not been aggressively pursued?

Does it have anything to do with China throwing money at the country? And, when is the country going to do something about all the raw sewage flowing into the ocean? 

I have been visiting and spending money in the country for years, not to mention supplying water to a poor school in Paraiso, but I will not visit again until some major changes are made to policy. Nor will I encourage anyone to visit the country as I have in the past. Pura Vida is a joke.

Patricia Elliott

Reader considers ads
as unwelcome distractions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It seems to me that the advertisements that now lead-off each morning's A.M. Costa Rica e-mail cross the line of journalistic independence, or at the very least the appearance of same. Is A.M. Costa Rica now selling real estate? Is A.M. Costa Rica endorsing the advertiser?

These ads are also an unwelcome distraction, and suggest that A.M. Costa Rica editors hold advertising as more important than news.

I've never seen an ad above the masthead of The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, and hope I never will.

I am looking forward to better reporting and writing, and journalistic integrity, when I open my A.M. Costa Rica e-mail.
Shawn Glen Pierson
Washington, D.C., and Sarasota, Florida

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 156

Catholic church at Orosi gets a fast, protective makeover
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Catholic church at Orosi which dates from 1743 has been restored with a 40 million-colon contract from a dependency of the culture ministry.

This is the second stage of work at the church site. An adjacent convent, which was built about the same time was restored in 2006.

The work, done by Reyco construction company, involved both exterior and interior work. In addition, the bell tower was reinforced from within, according to the  Centro de Patrimonio del Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. There also was exterior site work to clean and waterproof the fired clay walkways.

The two structures are a national heritage site where Franciscan missionaries lived and preached in colonial times. Much of both the church and the convent is of adobe.

The community is in the province of Cartago.

The investment was about $78,125 U.S. at the current rate of exchange.
Orosi church
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Colonial church still standing in Orosi

The work on the church only took 35 days. The restoration mainly involved controlling water. Cracks in the exterior walls were patched and rain gutters were installed. The last makeover was in 1975.

The church is still in operation for local religious purposes, but officials also consider it a significant tourism site.

Tourism officials all atwitter about social networking sites
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an effort to promote the country and counter some of the negative comments posted by unhappy tourists, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is turning to social media.

The government agency has established a page on Facebook, a Twitter account and a YouTube account. The Facebook page is in English now to target the North American market. The Facebook page contains a link to the tourism institute's flashy, redone Web site.

Tourism officials are impressed that Facebook reaches 500 million users.

"This is the first step of the presence of Costa Rican destinations in the social networks," said Carlos Ricardo Benavides, tourism minister, in a release.  He said that the pages were in English to reach the United States and Canada. A Spanish version will come later, he said. The tourism release said that Internet users spend 23 percent of their time on social networks, according to recent statistics.

The tourism institute did not say how much the social network initiative would cost. Someone has to keep track of the pages. Nor did it say what kind of advertising would be used to draw people to the site.

The Facebook site said that 463 persons already had expressed a favorable opinion. The page seems to have been up since July 22.

The tourism institute and Benavides promoted a new arrival tax on tourists that was supposed to be used to promote the country. The tax was to replace the tourism sales tax that had been levied in the past.

The tourism institute has been challenged by advertising. In a prior administration officials dropped $70,000 for a single one-page Sunday ad in The New York Times. Benavides dropped $4.5 million promoting the country at the 2006 World Cup matches in Germany.
The institute's flashy Web page is ranked 175,167th in the world. The Web site contains a long list of discounts being offered by tourism locations. But the list is only mentioned by a small button on the main page.

Alexa, the Amazon subsidiary that records Internet traffic, said that the institute Web site is visited more frequently by users who are in the age range 55-64, received some college education and browse this site from work.

Average social network profiles are significantly younger, so this is a market Costa Rica can reach.

President Laura Chinchilla also has opted to join the social networks. Casa Presidencial also has Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube accounts.

Costa Rican tourism has been hurt by the easy access individuals now have to Internet commentary. Said A.M. Costa Rica June 7:

"While in the past much of the information has been disseminated by those with a profit motive, the Internet social networks allow individuals to share first-hand information and experiences. A person is now able to consult instantly with dozens of other persons to determine if retirement in Costa Rica would fit their lifestyle or if a particular doctor, dentist or real estate broker has a good reputation."

The article by Garland Baker also said:

"The country is quickly reaching the point where one well-connected expat with a negative attitude can deter hundreds of people from vacationing in Costa Rica. No amount of expensive promotion on the part of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo can counteract the damage that hundreds of expats talking about things like pollution or crime can do."

The article urged tourism officials to enter social network marketing to counter these negative images.

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Native visitors push for passage of autonomy measure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of what some politicians call original peoples brought their demand for autonomy to the legislature Monday.

The representatives of the native peoples want President Laura Chinchilla to put a 17-year-old bill on the administration priority list for passage.

The bill provides for autonomy for certain native peoples on their reserves.

The bill estimates that there are about 64,000 native people in Costa Rica but 60 percent do not live on reserves.

The measure would guarantee what the bill calls cultural autonomy. It also provides for the creation of assemblies in
the various native communities and supports traditional medicine.

"The state of Costa Rica has an historic debt of recognition of the human rights of our original peoples," said the Partido Acción Ciudadana in a later release.

The release said that Costa Rica continues to disrespect and violate a number of rights contained in laws and international conventions.

The political party called for the swift approval of the bill, # 14.352, and urged students, academics, social groups, labor organizations, religious groups and social groups to join together to push for approval of the bill.

The bill had survived in the legislature during four presidential administrations, said Acción Ciudadana.

U.N. chief urges nations to better native communities

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today urged the world to step up efforts to improve living conditions of the planet’s native communities and to protect them, saying they continued to suffer discrimination and poverty despite a United Nations declaration that aims to promote their rights. 

“Indigenous peoples still experience racism, poor health and disproportionate poverty,” Ban said in a message to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. “In many societies, their languages, religions and cultural traditions are stigmatized and shunned,” the secretary general added. 

He pointed out that the first-ever U.N. report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in January this year came up with alarming statistics. In some countries, native peoples are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than the general population. In others, a native child can expect to die 20 years before his or her non-native compatriots. 

Ban said that the landmark U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, laid out a framework for governments to use in strengthening relationships with native peoples and protecting their human rights. 

“Since then, we have seen more governments working to redress social and economic injustices, through legislation and other means, and indigenous peoples’ issues have become more prominent on the international agenda than ever before,” Ban added. 

In her statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stressed that the gap between the principles of the declaration and the reality remains wide, with native peoples continuing to suffer discrimination, marginalization in health and education, extreme poverty, disregard for their environmental concerns, displacement from their traditional lands and exclusion from participation in decision-making processes. 

“It is particularly disconcerting that those who work to correct these wrongs are, all too often, persecuted for their human rights advocacy,” she said. 

Ms. Pillay, however, pointed out that: “We have cause to celebrate the progress made in turning human rights into a reality for indigenous peoples, but this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is also an occasion to recall that there is no room for complacency.” 
The focus of this year’s International Day is native filmmakers, who have given the world insights into their communities, cultures and history, the U.N. said. The filmmakers have chronicled the belief systems and philosophies of indigenous communities, as well as their daily lives, the U.N. added. 

The UN independent expert on the rights and fundamental freedoms of native peoples, James Anaya, said the communities continued to endure oppression. 

“Indigenous peoples continue to see their traditional lands invaded by powerful actors seeking wealth at their expense, thereby depriving them of life-sustaining resources,” said Anaya, the special rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of native peoples.

He called for the implementation of the declaration by governments, the U.N. system and other concerned authorities. States, he added, should engage in comprehensive reviews of their existing legislation and administrative programs to identify where they may be incompatible with the declaration. 

The secretary general noted that the world’s native peoples were responsible for the preservation of vast amounts of humanity’s cultural history, and spoke a majority of the world’s languages. They had also inherited and passed on a wealth of knowledge, artistic forms and religious and cultural traditions, he said. 

“As we celebrate these contributions, I call on governments and civil society to fulfil their commitment to advancing the status of indigenous peoples everywhere,” the secretary general said. 

Ms. Pillay said she was encouraged by the fact that in a number of countries, new tools have been created to give voice to native peoples in decision-making and to stamp out human rights violations. “We are also encouraged by the fact that support for the declaration keeps expanding, including in the countries that originally voted against this remarkable document,” she added. 

“We need to bring the rights and dignity of those who are suffering most to the centre of our efforts. This requires changes in practices, but we also need improved laws and institutions, without which advances are not sustainable. 

“On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to translate the words of the declaration into effective action. Keeping this promise is our obligation,” Ms. Pillay said.  

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Colombia's Santos to meet
Hugo Chávez in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela are set to meet today in an effort to repair a diplomatic break due to Venezuela's alleged support of leftist rebels in Colombia. The security and trade partnership between the two countries has suffered during the past two years.

The meeting in Santa Marta, Colombia, comes only three days after Juan Manuel Santos took the oath of office as Colombia's president.

The former defense minister used his inauguration speech on Saturday to try to set a new tone with Venezuela.  He said that as president, he will seek peace with Colombia's neighbors.  He offered a frank and direct dialogue with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as soon as possible.

In Caracas, Chávez welcomed the offer and said he would go to the meeting with an open heart and an extended hand.

Political scientist Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University says the meeting is a small but important measure in repairing ties between the nations. "It will be an interesting meeting.  I'm not going to be too optimistic about the outcome, but it is a good first step," he said.

The meeting marks a shift from the harsh words exchanged between Chávez and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.  The Colombian leader accused Venezuela of supporting rebels from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC.  Chávez criticized Uribe for waging a military campaign on rebels that threatened the entire region.

It is unclear whether Santos and Chávez will address these issues today.

Latin American affairs specialist Bruce Bagley of the University of Miami says the meeting is an important opportunity for the new Colombian president to assess the kind of partnership he can expect with Chávez. "He's going to determine to what extent Chávez is willing to undertake tighter security on the border, better control of the FARC and renewal of bilateral trade, which reached $7 billion in 2008 and is down to $2 billion now," he said.

Trade between the two countries began to fall in 2008, after Chávez cut ties with Colombia following a Colombian military raid inside Ecuador.  Colombia's government later apologized for the attack that killed a FARC leader and 18 others.

The diplomatic rupture has adversely affected Colombian agriculture, which had supplied a large share of Venezuela's food imports.  Florida International University's Gamarra says the disrupted trade has hurt Venezuela as well. "Venezuela is probably experiencing its worst economic moment in a decade, and part of it is the situation with Colombia.  For both, good trade relations are good for both," he said.

Some critics of Chávez say the Venezuelan leader might have the most to lose, if he repairs relations with Colombia.  Venezuelan opposition groups have accused Chávez of using the dispute with Colombia to distract attention from problems at home.

The University of Miami's Bagley says he expects the Venezuelan leader to take the same approach in the run-up to mid-term elections in September. "The elections loom very large in Chavez's mind, so he is not going to do anything to alter the current pattern or lose national sentiment raised against Colombia until after mid-September," he said.

It is unclear whether improved ties with Colombia could affect the vote.  Public opinion polls suggest that candidates from Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela will face a stronger challenge from opposition candidates for the national assembly than in recent elections.
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Widespread use urged
for rotovirus vaccine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

After successful clinical trials, researchers are calling for widespread distribution of a vaccine to prevent rotavirus — a severe gastrointestinal illness that kills more than a half a million children around the world each year. 

Investigators are urging the use of the rotavirus vaccine in poor and developing countries after two clinical trials that showed it is safe and highly effective in protecting newborns against the deadly virus. 

The vaccine, manufactured by Merck, already is approved for use in the United States, but researchers wanted to see how well it works in less developed countries.

Roger Glass is director of the John E. Fogarty International Center for Advanced Study in the Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health near Washington. 

In an interview from Swaziland, Glass said the vaccine has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of rotavirus cases in the United States. 

"The vaccines that we are talking about have been licensed and used in the United States since 2006 and have already made a tremendous impact to reduce hospitalizations and clinic visits for diarrhea in just 3.5 years," said Glass, a physician.

But Glass noted that rotavirus kills 500,000 children a year in the 72 poorest countries.

Two international trials were carried out to test the vaccine's safety and effectiveness — one involving more than 2,000 healthy infants in Bangladesh and Vietnam.  Some of the babies received the oral drug at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age; another group of infants was given a placebo.

Researchers conducting a follow-up study nearly two years later found the rotavirus vaccine had reduced the number of severe gastrointestinal disease cases by nearly 50 percent.

A second study was conducted in Africa, where rotavirus claims almost a quarter of a million lives each year.  Researchers conducting the trial in Ghana, Kenya and Mali, gave three doses of the vaccine to infants without symptoms.  Investigators found there were 39 percent fewer cases of severe rotavirus with the vaccine.

Researchers found the vaccine had little or no side effects, according to Glass, who said widespread use of the rotavirus vaccine would save lives.  

Three years ago, the World Health Organization recommended routine use of the rotavirus vaccine in countries where it has been found to be safe and effective.  Glass says he hopes the results of these two studies lead to the use of the vaccine in other countries where it is needed most. 

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