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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 167         E-mail us   
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dengue statistics

New attack planned on growing dengue epidemic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The dengue epidemic continues to grow despite an aggressive government spraying program on the Caribbean coast. So officials said they are studying even more urgent measures to confront the disease.

Through the 29th week of the year, the latest for which data are available, there were 9,741 cases countrywide of dengue. Some 3,514 cases were reported on the Caribbean slope. In the canton of Limón alone, there have been 1,675 cases already this year. That's 19.5 percent of the total.

There have been 101 cases of hemorrhagic dengue with the Caribbean coast contributing 43 cases or 42.6 percent. Some 36 cases were in the canton of Limón alone.

The next hardest-hit area is the Chorotega region, that is basically Guanacaste and the north Pacific.  There were 3,099 reported cases since the first of the year, said the Ministerio de Salud.

Reported cases have show a big increase in the last six weeks. In the last week that was reported, some 368 persons came down with the disease on the Caribbean slope compared to 252 in Chorotega.

Jorge Méndez and Yalile Esna, legislators representing the Provincia de Limón met Wednesday with the health minister, María Luisa Ávila, and the minister of Coordinación Institucional, Marco Vargas, to express their concern. Also at the session was Daniel Gallardo, president of the national emergency commission.

The goal is to obtain emergency money for a renewed and broader spray program. Health workers would fumigate an even wider area, according to the tentative plan.
That may not sit well with residents. In Limón health workers ran into resistance from citizens when they began entering homes to spray the interiors.

The meeting also touched on the need for a new sanitary landfill for the area. The concern is that garbage can harbor sections of moisture that can result in the production of more mosquitoes, the carriers of dengue.

Méndez suggested that an area in Pacuarito de Siquirres be studied as a possible regional landfill site. Right now garbage in Limón is being trucked to Alajuela at great expense.

Meeting participants will be back at Casa Presidencial Monday with various budgets in hand in an effort to free up the funds for the broader anti-dengue program.

Out on the Pacific coast the Asociación Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo has picked up the responsibility for fighting dengue in that community. Each Saturday residents are conducting a cleanup and eliminating standing water from 7 to 11 a.m. They also are spraying.

The central Pacific also is suffering from the disease. The central Pacific has 1,243 of this year's total case, and 39 of these were the dreaded hemorrhagic form.

The news of the increased incidents of dengue has had a negative effect on tourism, although substantial protection against the day-biting mosquitoes can be had simply by applying insect repellent. The government also has to treat the illnesses through the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, and many disease sufferers end up in government hospitals.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 167

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Arias and Chinese vice minister Casa Presidencial photo
He Yafei from the People's Republic exterior ministry and Óscar Arias walk together Wednesday en route to a press conference.
Arias gets an invitation
to visit China in October

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez probably will go to China at the end of October. That was the news from Casa Presidencial Wednesday after Arias concluded a meeting with a delegation from the People's Republic.The visiting diplomats said the invitation came directly from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Arias spent 90 minutes in discussions with the delegation. At a press conference he continued to defend his administration's switch from recognizing Taiwan to recognizing China. The switch took place June 1.

Arias said the decision by his administration was because of world realities. Some 169 countries accept China, and China considers Taiwan as a breakaway province. China refuses to extend recognition to nations that recognize Taiwan. As expected, Arias also said that Costa Rican officials will study the possibility of a free trade agreement with China next year.

Arias and Ortega
Casa Presidencial photo
Daniel Ortega waves. Óscar Arias smiles and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo takes it all in Tuesday in Managua.

Potable water pilot plan
includes Indian communities


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government will be providing drinking water to Indian communities under a plan made public Wednesday.

The Instituto Acueductos y Alcantarillados will spend about $86,000 for a pilot project that will be done by the end of the year. Some 27,000 residents will benefit from the project, said Ricardo Sancho, executive president of the water institute.

The work will begin in Alto de Chirripó de Talamanca and Ujarrás de Buenos Aires de Puntarenas. Later the project will include eight more Indian communities, Bribrís, Borucas, Huetares, Guaymíes, Térrabas or Teríbes, Chorotegas, Guatusos and Cabécares. Some 60 percent of the project will be financed by the United Nations, and the water institute will pay the rest.

Driver's license bureau off
to new La Uruca location


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central driver's license bureau in downtown San José is no more. The bureau closed up for the last time Wednesday, and it will be closed for two days while services are transferred to a new location and building in La Uruca.

Karla González, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said that drivers have 30 other agencies to do routine transactions involving licenses as well as the new service provided by the Banco de Costa Rica.

The central agency will be back in business Monday at the new location on the land of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial in la Uruca from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., said the minister. The new facility cost about $460,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 167

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Face of voluntary 'bond' shows the amount and identifies the issuer as the Comité Patriotico Heredia Centro.
free trade bond

Any bonds today? Yep, the no crowd has issued some
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Heredia organization against the free trade treaty has come out with an unusual idea to finance the campaign.

The group is issuing bonos or bonds to those who make a voluntary contribution. The bonds were for sale Tuesday during a protest in San José.

The so-called bonds cannot be redeemed, but they do recognize a contribution to the no cause.

On the reverse each bond is numbered and signed with a signature stamp by Rodrigo A. Chavarría Zamora, who
identifies himself as a lawyer and notary. The reverse also bears his original signature and a unique serial number.

Foreigners cannot make donations to either side of the Oct. 7 referendum, although opponents are arguing that Costa Rican corporations with a predominate foreign ownership also should not be able to contribute.

Opponents fear that the campaign for the free trade treaty with the United States will be awash in corporate money.

So they are paying close attention to individual limits which have to be reported to the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.


Nation's most common woodpecker was named after doctor
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Hoffmann’s woodpecker is the most common species of woodpecker in the Central Valley of Costa Rica and is abundant in the dry forests of Guanacaste.

The species ranges from southern Honduras through western Nicaragua to Costa Rica. Its habitat is any sort of deciduous forest, and it is very tolerant of disturbance, using pastures with scattered trees, coffee plantations, and suburban areas. Wet forest is avoided, but it has spread to the northern part of the Caribbean slope as forests have been cut.

Melanerpes hoffmannii was described to science and named by the great German ornithologist Jean Cabanis from specimens collected in Costa Rica by Karl Hoffmann. Hoffmann was a doctor in the army that repelled William Walker in 1856.

It is an undistinguished looking woodpecker, mostly barred black and white on the back and buff on the underparts.

Favorite foods are ants, beetles and larvae dug from rotting wood, fruits of various kinds, and nectar from large flowers.

Cavities excavated in dead wood are used both for nesting and sleeping. Eggs number two to three and are laid during the dry season from February to April. Drumming on dead wood to declare territorial possession is less common than with many woodpeckers.

Pairs remain together throughout the year.

The most common call, regularly heard around any significant trees in the Central Valley, is a wicka-wicka-wicka which could be the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker. It also has a loud churring common to other species of the genus.

M. hoffmannii is considered part of a “superspecies” of closely related woodpeckers including red-bellied woodpecker of the southeastern United States, gila woodpecker of the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, golden-bellied woodpecker of Mexico and Central
woodpecker photo
Photo by Steve Heinl
The undistinguished Hoffmann’s woodpecker

America, and red-crowned woodpecker of Costa Rica and Panama.

These species all interbreed where their ranges meet. In
Costa Rica, Hoffmann’s woodpecker overlaps with red-crowned woodpecker in the coastal area between Tárcoles and Parrita, where birds show intermediate plumage characteristics.

Normally for birds to be considered separate species, there should be clear-cut distinctions between populations which should create some barrier to hybridization. The relevant authorities, in this case the American Ornithologists’ Union, treat the group above as separate species despite that rule.

Given the overlaps and generally similar voices, perhaps all should be “lumped” into one species which could be called variable woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus. That scientific name, currently applied to red-bellied woodpeckers, is the oldest and has priority.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 167


Shoppers favor western toys after recalls of Chinese products
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The American market accounts for nearly a third of the estimated $100 billion a year the world spends on toys and video games. And while most of the world's largest toy companies are American, 80 percent of the toys they sell are manufactured in China.

Consumer confidence in the safety of Chinese-made toys was shaken this summer as lead-based paint and other dangers were discovered in some products. This has meant a surge in business for American toymakers, whose market share had been declining for years. Some tainted toys were found in Costa Rica as were tubes of unhealthy toothpaste from China.

When the "RC2" company's Chinese-made trains were pulled from American store shelves and millions of popular Mattel toys were recalled, small American toy manufacturers saw demand for their products soar. "We've been doing well," says Mike Whitworth, owner of the Whittle Shortline Railroad toy company, which makes handcrafted wooden trains in Missouri. In June, when the first RC2 recalls started, his company saw a small jump in sales. "But then when the Mattel recalls started out we saw a 40 percent jump."

Whittle Shortline Railroad is a small firm. Before the recall, they employed 36 people. But Whitworth says, "We are adding people like crazy now because we do want to meet as much demand as we can while we are still on the national stage."

Toys imported to the United States are subject to the same regulations as toys made here, but the sheer volume of Chinese imports makes comprehensive inspection of the imports and enforcement of the rules impossible.

"The number of inspectors is so few and you'd have to inspect every single container and you can't physically do it," says Whitworth. "I think it's the importing company that needs to go to China and make sure that what is leaving their territory is indeed safe."

He acknowledges that RC2 and Mattel never wanted the tainted toys to enter America, much less be associated with
their company. "But, at the same, they had it in their
means to prevent it, and they just didn't do it. And I think the American consumer, at least right now, is very much aware of that."

That has convinced some of Mike Rainville's customers to "buy American" from now on. And it's helped boost sales of Maple Landmark Toys, his company in Middlebury, Vermont.

"We've had a number of people telling us they are literally throwing away all their toys and starting over. People are very, very concerned. When you start endangering their kids, you're talking about some serious issues that don't go away very easily."

Chinese imports aren't going away very easily either, and probably not at all. But toy industry analyst Sean McGowan of Wedbush Morgan Securities notes that the lead-tainted toys of this summer represent only a tiny fraction of imported Chinese goods. He says he is confident that China's overall safety standards remain high.
"I'm not trying to minimize the dangers of poisonous materials or lead or what could happen," McGowan says, "but it's not as if the entire toy industry has found that all Chinese goods are unsafe."

McGowan asserts that the tainted toys represent a case of some people being paid to look the other way while substitutions were made for the purpose of generating profit. "That can happen anywhere in the world, including the United States and the Western countries," he points out.

The answer, according to McGowan, is not to boycott Chinese goods, which he believes are generally sound. "It is to address the holes in the system which could exist anywhere, and patch those holes." He suggests regular testing to make sure that "breaches in the safety net can be detected."

The Mattel and RC2 corporations are moving swiftly to get the tainted products off store shelves. They also want to reassure consumers that future toys will be safe. They plan to increase both the number and the rigor of toy factory inspections in China. If their efforts are successful, and Chinese-made toys remain cheap, a rebound seems certain, because, as one American toymaker put it, "memories are short, and price is king."


Hurricane Dean whacks coastal México for the second time
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Dean made landfall in Mexico again, battering the nation's central coast with winds of 160 kph. (99 mph). Forecasters are warning of possible flooding and mudslides.

Hurricane Dean came ashore near the Mexican city of Veracruz and quickly began weakening as it moved west over the central part of the country.

Mexican officials said they had evacuated thousands of residents from coastal areas to schools, churches and other buildings that would offer protection against strong winds and possible flooding.

Dennis Feltgen, forecaster for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said residents across the area should watch for rainfall of 12 to 25 cms (4.7 to 9.8 inches)  in the next day or so.

"With maximum amounts of up to 20 inches [51 cms]," he said. "Those kinds of rain can cause life-threatening flashfloods and debris slides.
The hurricane, moving west, first hit the Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday, before moving out over the Bay of Campeche.

Early Wednesday, Dean moved through a key oil field in the southern Gulf of Mexico, where Mexican oil companies were forced to evacuate crews and shut down at least 100 oil rigs. The shutdown meant a loss of 2.7 million barrels of oil in daily production for Mexican companies, which are a key supplier to the United States.

After crossing the bay, the hurricane then made landfall over central Mexico. Mexican officials have reported no casualties so far from Hurricane Dean, after the eye of the storm crossed the Yucatan peninsula. At least 12 people were killed earlier by the storm when it hit Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti and the island of Dominica.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said it has officials in Jamaica, Mexico and Belize to help coordinate emergency operations with local governments. A top USAID official said Tuesday that $125,000 was provided to Jamaica for emergency needs, and the Pan-American Health Organization is to receive $150,000 for aid efforts.


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