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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 172       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Presidencia acts to speed up building OKs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To start a construction project in Costa Rica, a developer has to spend about a year getting approvals from some 30 separate entities by presenting some 107 documents, according to the minister to the Presidencia.
Rodrigo Arias, the minister and the brother of the president, called this situation a tragedy Tuesday as he issued emergency orders to speed up the process.

"Why are we inviting foreign investments to come to make big projects of tourism and hotels if we take years to process permissions," he asked.

A big problem, he said is the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental, the agency in the environmental ministry that approves impact
statements for projects. The agency has neither sufficient personnel nor the resources, he said.

Minister Arias said an emergency decree has been issued to set up a committee to study the Secretaría Técnica and report within 15 days what can be done.

He said the problem was basically budgetary.

Among the ideas that have been proposed to make the agency more streamlined is to provide an extraordinary budget as well as divert funds from agencies that depend on the Secretaría Técnica and to ask those presenting plans for approval to pay the cost of the study.

Minister Arias made the statements as he met with representatives of the construction industry Tuesday at Casa Presidencial.

Sunscreen chemicals revealed in study as secret danger to skin
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bad news for sunbathers and surfer dudes. The very sunscreens used to protect the skin can actually do as much harm to skin cells as ultraviolet radiation.

That's the report from the University of California — Riverside where researchers report that over time the ultraviolet filters found in sunscreens penetrate into the skin below the outermost layer of skin.

The sunscreen compounds themselves react with ultraviolet light to do the same kind of damage that the compounds were designed to prevent, said the researchers.

To avoid such damage, people in the sun should apply sunscreen frequently and uniformly, they said.

When skin is exposed to sunlight, ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by skin molecules that then can generate harmful compounds, called reactive oxygen species, which can cause oxidative damage. For example, reactive oxygen can react with cellular components like cell walls, lipid membranes, mitochondria and DNA, leading to skin damage and increasing the visible signs of aging, said the researchers.

Kerry M. Hanson, a senior research scientist at UC — Riverside said that three ultraviolet filters (octylmethoxycinnamate, benzophenone-3 and octocrylene), which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and widely used in sunscreens, generate reactive oxygen species in skin themselves when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, thus augmenting the reactive oxygen that is naturally produced.

The researchers note that the additional reactive oxygen are generated only when the ultraviolet filters have penetrated into the skin and, at the same time, sunscreen has not been reapplied to prevent ultraviolet

Second frame shows presence damaging filters

radiation from reaching these filters. Study results will appear in an upcoming issue of Free Radical Biology & Medicine.

About 95 percent of the visible signs of aging are associated with ultraviolet exposure. About 90 percent of an average person’s total life-time exposure is obtained before the person is 18 years of age.

“For now, the best advice is to use sunscreens and re-apply them often — the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends every two hours, and especially after sweating or swimming, which can wash away sunscreen — to reduce the amount of UV radiation from getting through to filters that have penetrated the skin,” said Christopher Bardeen, another of the researchers.

Costa Rican beaches are between 8 degrees, 30 minutes, and 11 degrees north latitude, so the sun is more intense than in more northern areas. And thousands of fair-skinned North Americans and Europeans seek the luxury of a beach vacation here.

In the Central Valley, even though swimming is more infrequent, altitude increases the amount of ultraviolet light, as do tanning parlors, which have recently come under suspicion of causing skin damage.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 172

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Gunmen kill two men
 in Pacific coast bar

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men walked into a bar in Quepos about 1 p.m. Tuesday and murdered two persons there. The case was clearly a planned assassination.

Dead were Lenin Zapata and Geovanny Guzmán. Zapata owns several boats. Guzmán is believed to be a fisherman. The deaths took place in the El  Pescadito bar in the Boca Vieja section of the town.

Fuerza Pública officers set up roadblocks but to no avail. The two gunmen sprayed the bar and inflicted wounds on two customers, then they left. A car was waiting.

Costa Rica sends case
to World Court of Justice

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica presented its case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague Tuesday in an effort to assert its navigation rights on the Río San Juan in nearby Nicaragua.

The documents presented by Edgar Ugalde, a vice minister, are included in six volumes, one containing the judicial arguments and five containing evidence and proofs, said the ministry.

The river dispute began in 1998 when then-president Arnoldo Alemán of Nicaragua prohibited the passage of Costa Rican policemen who were carrying weapons. Although the river is in Nicaragua, it is a vital route for those who wish to travel to spots in northern Costa Rica.

Policemen said they needed their arms to complete their jobs and for self-protection in what is generally considered a lawless area.

Nicaragua frequently changes the rules and takes money from tourists who use the river. The river and the navigation rights are the subject of several treaties. The case against Nicaragua began in the administration of Abel Pacheco when officials there clamped down on travel.

Students awarded checks
to keep them in school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials, including President Óscar Arias Sánchez, began handing out checks to students Tuesday as part of a pilot project involving 39 schools to keep youngsters attending and to combat poverty.

The ceremony took place in Liceo José Albertazzi. The school is in Los Guidos de Desamparados. It is one of the country's worse residential areas and contains many poor people who just moved from the country.

Some 20 families with youngsters between 13 and 17 years who are in seventh, eighth and ninth grade  benefited from the first round of checks. The idea is to provide monthly stipends of from 15,000 (a bit less than $30) to 25,000 ($48.50). Students in higher grades get the larger amount.

Parents have to promise to be responsible and use the money for food and the good of the family.

Anti-theft device sought
for cellular telephones

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos is warning the public that only GSM cell phones on the Ericsson system can be blocked in case of theft.

The rate setting authority has told the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad that it must provide a similar security system for the GSM system of Alcatel and the TDMA systems of Ericsson and Lucent. The company says it will do so next year.

The communications monopoly now terminates lines in the event of thefts, but regulators want to make the phones unusable if stolen.

Meanwhile the communications company is trying to save face after it accidentally shut down 25,000  Ericsson GSM cell phones Tuesday. The company was trying to cut off lines to about 100 persons with overdue bills.
Our reader's opinion

Reader fears globalism
and hopes Ticos reject it

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am saying a prayer for your beautiful country that it does not subscribe to the rest of the ill-fated "Free Trade Agreements" which have proved to be
a windfall in the world of "Globalism."

These words were crafted for the benefit of the masses to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. There is no such thing as Free Trade, it is a manufactured term crafted by the back room attorneys of the Washington lobbyists most assuredly from the dens of inequity on "K" Street.  Fritz Hollings a retired North Carolina senator said that most of his colleagues never had the chance to fully read these agreements, that they were "fast tracked" NAFTA, GATT, WTO, MFNT and the many others which followed. It was said of the American public by even some of the administration people that the public knows far more than the Washington politicians locked away in their committee rooms.

If the NAFTA agreement was soooo good for Mexico, (both the people and the government) why then with all of the huge amount of multi-national firms having moved and opened shop to hire Mexican labor have millions of Mexicans defy death and crossed the border into the United States seeking employment for barely living wages.

Even their own government has been supportive of this "Breakout" out of the Machilla  D'oro. Recently  Mexican government guide sheets for entering the U.S. illegally have been found by ICE and the Border Patrol as well as the Citizens group observing the border.

I would also say categorically that any country's executive officer that accepts the statement that the agreement cannot be modified ought to know that this is totally outrageous.

The President and the present administration ought to look carefully before they leap: "caveat emptor." The United States has not managed it's affairs that well to dictate terms on how other heads of state manage their affairs. The Mexican low-priced labor in Mexico is being now undercut by outsourcing from Mexico to China. Thus far wages as measured in national GDP have not really risen (China may be the exception in some areas.)

I hope this beautiful country does not fall prey to egregious opportunism with adversity fomented on the people
Milt Farrow
Titusville, Florida
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 172

Lawmakers clouded by sex harassment scandal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are involved in a sexual harassment scandal, but the leadership seems to have been successful in keeping a lid on the affair.

So far all that has been made public are rumors and a television news interview with a supposed witness who had her face shielded.

Lawmakers broached the subject in the general session of the Asamblea Legislativa Monday, but those who did were criticized for taking time away from national business.

The harassment seems to have taken place when a male lawmaker took a trip to Limón province Aug. 11 with a female staff member. Whatever happened or
 did not happen resulted in the woman leaving her job the following Monday or being fired. She refused to talk to reporters.

The assembly leadership pointed out that there has been no complaint from the woman and that an investigation should not be started. Typically Costa Rican agencies, including the police, do not make independent investigations and usually wait until a formal complaint is filed.

Without a complaint and some formal action, news organizations are reluctant to name the deputy, so a cloud is put over the heads of every serving legislator.

Sexual harassment is a relatively new concept for Costa Rica. A law forbids it, but the legislature appears not to be covered by the general law. 

Day care centers opened to help Colombian refugees
Two day care centers are operating in San José for children of Colombian refugees, thanks to a U.S. grant of $13,000.

The centers were the topic of a story Tuesday released by the  U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The first center opened in May, mostly in the home of a childcare provider.

The day care centers provide an English learning station and computer training for the refugee families, about 90 percent of whom are from Colombia, said Andy Prater, a human rights and labor officer for the U.S. Embassy who was quoted by a reporter for the U.S. State Department. 

But refugee children from other countries also are welcomed at the day care facilities, he said.

Two day-care centers now are operational in the San
José metropolitan area, and the hope is to open a third center in the same region very soon, said Prater in an interview Tuesday.

Prater said administration and day-to-day operation of the centers is run by a San José-based group called the Asociación de Consultores y Asesores Internacionales, which is a partner for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in operating the day care centers.

Prater said that when the U.N. office contacted the U.S. Embassy, "we were happy to help and play a part in making affordable child care become a reality for refugees in Costa Rica."

Some 8 to 10 children are enrolled at each of the day care centers, said Prater.

The United Nations said that officially, more than 13,000 refugees are in Costa Rica, mostly from Colombia.

Horseshoe Casino closed by municipal officials over license flap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dispute over a business license has caused the Municipalidad de San José to close down temporarily the Horseshoe Casino at Avenida 1 and Calle 9.

The casino seems to have been in a long-running battle with the municipality.

Such closures are not unusual in Costa Rica where  rules change rapidly as do interpretations. Obtaining and maintaining a business license can be a chore.
A recent sweep through the same area resulted in the closing of at least nine businesses who had flaws in their paperwork, according to the municipality.

The Horseshoe was remodeled about four years ago from an unsuccessful strip club that also had its problems with local officials. The premises include a bar and a poker room.

The Horseshoe has been successful lately in attracting  out-of-town gaming customers and housing them in nearby hotels.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 172

México's López Obrador suggests shadow presidency
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's top electoral court has thrown out allegations of massive fraud in last month's presidential election, handing almost certain victory to conservative Felipe Calderón.

Leftist challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the judges' unanimous rejection of his complaints is "offensive and unacceptable for millions of Mexicans." He vowed not to recognize a government led by Calderón and the ruling Partido Acción Nacional.

López Obrador is calling for a national assembly Sept. 16 in the the capital's main square, the Plaza de la Constitución, to decide the future of his supporters' civil disobedience campaign. He has suggested the assembly could name him president of an alternative government.

The seven-judge Tribunal de Elecciones Federal reported it examined 375 challenges to the July 2 election, and discarded about one-half of 1 percent of the 41 million ballots, due to irregularities. The court said it found no evidence of massive fraud, or any indication that further recounts would tip the election from Calderón to López Obrador.

The court's action cost each of the two main presidential candidates roughly the same amount of votes, and shaved fewer than 5,000 votes from  Calderón's reported victory margin. Earlier tabulations had shown the former energy minister
winning by 244,000 votes — less than six-tenths of 1 percent.

The electoral tribunal's rulings are final and cannot be appealed. The judges still must report whether the entire election was fair and certify the winner, but Monday's rulings suggest those declarations — due by Sept. 6 — are now a formality.

If Calderón is named president-elect, he would replace Mexico's outgoing head of state, Vicente Fox, Dec. 1.

López Obrador had been asking for a full recount of all ballots cast last month, on the grounds that massive vote fraud tipped the election to Calderón.

The president of the electoral tribunal, Leonel Castillo, is quoted as saying those claims are completely unfounded.

Members of López Obrador's Partido de la Revolución Democrática have been protesting the election results for weeks, with rallies and acts of civil disobedience, including a continuing blockade of the main avenue in downtown Mexico City.

Calderón pledged Monday that his administration would work to ease class differences in Mexico by helping low-income groups such as sugar cane workers, peasant farmers, artisans and indigenous people. The 44-year-old candidate of the ruling party says he will strive to create "one single, strongly developed Mexico with solid economic growth.

Off-the-shelf devices modified for stroke therapy
By the Rutgers University News Service

Engineers have modified a popular home video game system to assist stroke patients with hand exercises, producing a technology costing less than $600 that may one day rival systems 10 times as expensive.

The hand rehabilitation system is an example of virtual rehabilitation, which combines virtual reality — computer-generated interactive visual environments in which users control actions in a lifelike way — with traditional therapy techniques. Virtual rehabilitation gives therapists new tools to do their jobs more effectively and engages patients who may otherwise lack interest or motivation to complete normal exercise regimens.

Engineers who built the device at Rutgers University in New Jersey are describing their work at the fifth International Workshop on Virtual Rehabilitation taking place now in New York City.

“Virtual reality is showing significant promise for promoting faster and more complete rehabilitation, but the cost of many systems is still prohibitive for widespread deployment in outpatient clinics or patients’ homes,” said Grigore Burdea, professor of electrical and computer engineering and a noted inventor of virtual rehabilitation technology.

“While it’s essential to keep pursuing breakthrough technologies that will initially be costly, it’s just as important that we find ways to make innovative treatments accessible to the many patients who need them.”

Rutgers’ low-cost hand rehabilitation system is based on the commercially available Microsoft Xbox video game and Essential Reality P5 gaming glove that detects finger and wrist motions to manipulate on-screen images. The engineers made minor

Rutgers University photo
Gaming glove is used to force muscles to flex

modifications to the equipment and created software that delivers two types of finger flexing exercises needed to help recover hand functions in stroke patients.

In one exercise, a patient attempts to wipe clean four vertical bars of “dirty” pixels that obscure a pleasant image on a computer display. The bars are erased in proportion to each finger’s flexing motion, giving the patient immediate feedback on his or her performance. And in an exercise to promote finger flexing speed, a patient tries to make a fist quickly enough to “scare away” a butterfly flitting around on the screen.

The engineers noted that the gaming glove they use doesn’t have the accuracy and resolution of gloves designed specifically for rehabilitation, nor can it measure exact joint movement or provide force feedback. But such systems may be attractive for clinics that can’t afford more expensive equipment and could open the door for supplemental home training with remote monitoring by a clinician via Internet.

Chávez welcomed in Syria at start of three-day visit
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has arrived in Syria for a three-day diplomatic visit.

Syrian state media say President Bashar al-Assad met Chávez Tuesday at the airport in Damascus. The two leaders are expected to hold talks on cooperation.

The Venezuelan president has built close ties with
Syria, Iran and other countries in the Middle East, while relations have grown tense with Israel. Earlier this month, Israel recalled its ambassador to Venezuela after Chávez said that Israeli attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon were genocide.

Previously, President Chávez withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to Israel to show what he called his indignation over the Israeli military offensive in Lebanon.

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