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(506) 2223-1327           Published Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 171          Email us
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New tax for fire stations advances in legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire fighters prevailed at the Asamblea Legislativa Monday when lawmakers passed on first reading a tax that will be used to build 32 more fire stations over the next 10 years. The measure needs one more vote, probably Thursday, before it goes to President Laura Chinchilla.

The measure assesses a 1.75 percent tax on electricity bills, but homes that consume less than 100 kilowatts per month are exempt. The idea is to insulate the poorest citizens from the impact of the tax. A.M. Costa Rica outlined the tax a week ago.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos, the fire fighters, anticipated the vote Monday and said that off-duty members would show up again in front of the legislative chambers. They did with much wailing of sirens through the late afternoon. A similar gathering was held last week to promote the tax. 
The fire fighting agency was quick to point out in an email that those who showed up to promote the law were off-duty and that emergencies would be handled normally.

The measure is important to some expats who live in areas distant from fire stations and complained about the lack of response.

This problem is seen in Guanacaste and the Osa and Nicoya peninsulas. Among the proposed fire stations are ones at Uvita, Cóbano, Puerto Jiménez, Monteverde, Nandayure and Tamarindo.

A statement from fire fighters said that residents in communities like Los Chiles, Puerto Jiménez or Bribrí might have to wait two hours for a response because the nearest fire station is 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos now has 66 stations and officials hope to have 98 by 2020.

Uribe supports Ms. Chinchilla's call for new taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla received key support Monday for her plan for new taxes from Álvaro Uribe, the former president of Colombia.  He was 
ex-president Uribe
Ex-president Uribe
here to participate in a forum run by a private firm and then visited Costa Rica's president. Uribe is credited with greatly weakening the leftist guerrillas in his country and freeing much of the country from their grip.

In a release, Uribe was quoted as saying that his government needed  to give the police forces more resources to wage
an effective fight against narcotrafficking and organized crime. He said his government was obligated to establish a one-time tax on high earners and doubled the size of the police force to 140,000.

There was no mention of the fact that Uribe also had the Colombian army in the field fighting the rebels and billions in financial aid from the United States. He served for two terms from 2002 to 2010. He also has personal experience with rebels. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia killed his father in a failed 1983 kidnapping attempt.

“Narcotrafficking has to be defeated, otherwise it penetrates the whole social fabric, penetrates justice, journalism, politics.” Uribe was quoted as saying. “It is an invasive social phenomenon that damages and causes a metastasis of destruction of family values, democratic values and is immensely dangerous for society and for democratic institutions.

Casa Presidencial said that Uribe shared strategies and plans with Ms. Chinchilla. Uribe was a proponent of strong force against leftist guerrillas and paramilitaries at the expense of social programs. Ms. Chinchilla, on the other hand, seems to favor a more integrated approach and plans to spend significant sums on reintegrating criminals into society.
Most of the drugs that flow through Costa Rica come from Uribe's Colombia and adjacent countries. The bulk is cocaine with some heroin. Law enforcement officials have acknowledged that the Pacific fishing fleet has been infiltrated and that much of the drugs are carried overland hidden in truck bodies and trailers. Some 402 kilos were found in the deck of a flatbed trailer late last week.

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard and to some extent the Costa Rican Guardacostas have tightened their grip on the sea routes. Typically drug boats unload on both coasts of southern Costa Rica, and the drugs move from there to collection points in the Central Valley and then by truck to the north.

The primary crossing point is Peñas Blancas on the Nicaraguan border.

Although Costa Rican anti-drug police have made some major confiscations, there is still no estimate on what percentage of drugs gets through. By the time drugs reach Costa Rica the packages are the property of Mexican cartels who face the job of carrying the drugs across the U.S. border. The amount of drugs headed to Europe has increased dramatically in recent years.

Costa Rica suffers as a byproduct of the drug trade. Smugglers usually pay their bills in cocaine which then enters the national market, frequently as crack cocaine. Much of the street robberies and burglaries are the work of crack addicts, and many of the murders come from battles between drug gangs.

Ms. Chinchilla has proposed a stopgap $316 tax on corporations. But that measure has been sent back to committee in the legislature to await a Sala IV constitutional court opinion. The major proposal is a value-added tax of 14 percent that would raise extra millions for the government. But most observers believe that this would not be enough to eliminate the annual central government budget deficit.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil is in town today and will be the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Ms. Chinchilla after a brief meeting.

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Another roadblock gets
tear gas from police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another group of unhappy residents blocked a roadway Monday, and Fuerza Pública officers ended up firing tear gas shells and making eight arrests.

This time the protest was in Palmar Norte at the point where the Costanera Sur and the Interamericana highway meet. Traffic was blocked for several hours.

The residents said they were protesting the government's failure to deliver on unspecified promises.

Sunday officers used tear gas to break up a four-day-old blockade of the municipal dump in Pérez Zeledón. Residents there wanted the dump to stay closed.

In both cases there were youngsters in the crowd of protesters.

Monday residents used two buses to block the route. Some men struggled with police when they were arrested.

Officers were in riot gear with see-through plastic shields.

The highways are key north-south arteries for the country.

Work continues on bridge
that has been trouble spot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen were still at the bridge over the Río Virilla early today and planned to continue until about 6 a.m.

This is the bridge on the General Cañas highway that the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad does not seem to be able to fix. Workmen were there much of the weekend.

The bridge developed a loose piece of metal over an expansion joint, and many efforts to solve the problem have been in vane. The bridge has become a public joke.

Finally in December, officials closed down the highway and rebuilt it completely. Now they say they did not provide enough reinforcing and the vibration from the traffic is causing the concrete to crumble exposing the rebars within the bridge deck.

The work today was supposed to add more reinforcement with the bridge and seal the surface. The situation is so acute that officials announced this month that they would build a new bridge parallel to the existing one.

Although officials did not say so, the possibility exists that there will be more work Tuesday night into Wednesday.

Tot dies in gun mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 8 year old and a 3 year old got their hands on a .40-caliber pistol Sunday night in Valle Verde de Corralillo in Cartago with tragic results. The 3 year old, who had the last name of Cordero, died en route to Hospital Max Peralta with a bullet wound in the head. The Judicial Investigating Organization said the weapon belonged to a security guard who was visiting the household.

Outages planned for Pozos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you can read this, you probably do not live in Pozos de Santa Ana. The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said it would be cutting power there today at 7:30 a.m. Some power will be cut in Santa Ana too, it said.

Included in the outage will be the Pozos clinic and the Escuela República de Francia but not the Mas x Menos supermarket.

Power will be off until about 3:30 p.m., the company said.

Find out what the papers
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 171

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Workers fill the molds to make tapas de dulce, the traditional way of bringing local sugar to market.

workmen make tapa de dulce
Servicios Periodísticos Globales file photo

Vanishing sugar cane mill sparks historic interest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican historians are mourning the passing of the trapiche, the device used to squeeze the juice from sugar cane.

A recent seminar revealed that at one time in the canton of Alajuela there were 60 trapiches, but now there is none.

The academic Orlando Morales Matamoros directed the discussion at the Universidad Estatal a Distancia with the aim of promoting the rescue of this important piece of the country's history.

One device is on exhibit at the Museo Nacional. The older devices were powered by oxen or other animals. They would crush the cane and capture the juice that would then be boiled and converted into dulce de tapa, a sugar product that still is called for in many Costa Rican recipes.

According to Morales, as reported by the university, there were 1,664 trapiches or cane mills powered by animals in 1914, 107 powered by hydraulics and eight powered by steam.

Although the traditional view is of a mill powered by oxen, producers here quickly learned that other methods were more efficient, sometimes by three times, said Morales.

Many of the mills were family affairs providing the sweet cakes of dulce de tapa for the neighborhood.

Alajuela was a prime location because of the sugar cane fields. The Mercado Central was said to be a hub.

According to Morales several factors combined to reduce the need for these mills. The first was a change in agriculture in the 1950s that favored coffee production. Then there was the advent of granulated white sugar.

In addition, now much of Costa Rica's cane becomes guaro, the clear alcohol made by the Fábrica Nacional de Licores.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Minor Cerdas uses his power trapiche during a 2005 event in Desamparados.

The cane is hauled to the plant by tractor and flatbed wagons with high side stakes.

There are a few trapiches in various parts of the country, mainly for demonstrations in ecotourism facilities. Smaller versions can be seen at fairs and carnivals. A portable device takes in one piece of cane at a time and produces a juice with a unique flavor for sale. That is a step up from just sucking on a piece of sugar cane.

The original device came from the Old World olive press. Such devices for cane were well established in Costa Rica by the middle of the 18th century, according to a summary of Morales' talk. There are plans to immortalize the device with an auidiovisual presentation. An Argentine firm markets wine under the Trapiche label, suggesting that the setup also was used for a grape press.

Dulce de tapa still is available in most Costa Rican supermarkets, but its unlikely that oxen had a role.

More immigration categories will be getting secure cédulas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legal foreign workers, students and volunteers will be getting a cédula instead of just an imprint in their passport.

They will have a document very similar to those carried by permanent residents, pensionados and rentistas, said the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The agency said it wanted to deliver a secure document and one with a unique number identifying the holder.

The plastic cédulas will be produced by the highly secure Dimex system that is now in use at the immigration offices. The current cédulas carry a photo of the individual and
 personal data encoded into a strip that can be read by computer.

Certain categories of persons can obtain a work permit in Costa Rica. These include domestic employees, construction workers and those with special skills. In addition, students, researchers, volunteers, teachers and even victims of human trafficking have the right to stay in Costa Rica.

The documents will be issued each year, said the agency. There are about 20,000 persons now in the country legally in these so-called special categories.

The estimated annual cost for the cédula will be $98, the agency said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 171

Tiny critters may spell new hope for endangered amphibians
By the Oregon State University news service

Zoologists at Oregon State University have discovered that a freshwater species of zooplankton will eat a fungal pathogen which is devastating amphibian populations around the world, including Costa Rica.

This tiny zooplankton, called Daphnia magna, could provide a desperately needed tool for biological control of this deadly fungus, the scientists said, if field studies confirm its efficacy in a natural setting.

The fungus, B. dendrobatidis, is referred to as a chytrid fungus, and when it reaches high levels can disrupt electrolyte balance and lead to death from cardiac arrest in its amphibian hosts. One researcher has called its impact on amphibians the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history.

The research, reported in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, was supported by the National Science Foundation.

“There was evidence that zooplankton would eat some other types of fungi, so we wanted to find out if Daphnia would consume the chytrid fungus,” said Julia Buck, a doctoral student in zoology and lead author on the study. “Our laboratory experiments and DNA analysis confirmed that it would eat the zoospore, the free-swimming stage of the fungus.”

“We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that,” she said. “Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go.”

The chytrid fungus, which was only identified in 1998, is not always deadly at low levels of infestation, Buck said. It may not be necessary to completely eliminate it, but rather just reduce its density in order to prevent mortality. Biological controls can work well in that type of situation.

Amphibians have been one of the great survival stories in Earth’s history, evolving about 400 million years ago and surviving to the present while many other life forms came and went, including the dinosaurs. But in recent decades the global decline of amphibians has reached crisis proportions, almost certainly from multiple causes that include habitat destruction, pollution, increases in ultraviolet light due to ozone depletion, invasive species and other issues.

High on the list, however, is the chytrid fungus that has been documented to be destroying amphibians around the world, through a disease called chytridiomycosis.
Oregon State University photo
Researchers have confirmed that this zooplankton, Daphni magna, will eat a form of the deadly fungus.

Its impact has been severe and defied various attempts to control it, even including use of fungicides on individual amphibians. Chytridiomycosis has been responsible for unprecedented population declines and extinctions globally, the researchers said in their report.

“About one third of the amphibians in the world are now threatened and many have gone extinct,” said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology, co-author on this study and an international leader in the study of amphibian decline.

“It’s clear there are multiple threats to amphibians, but disease seems to be a dominant cause,” he said.

Although they have survived for hundreds of millions of years, amphibians may be especially vulnerable to rapid environmental changes and new challenges that are both natural and human-caused. They have a permeable skin, and exposure to both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Because of this, OSU researchers said, other animals such as mammals, birds and fish have so far not experienced such dramatic population declines.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 171

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Méxican police detain
five in casino killings

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has arrested five alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel suspected of starting a casino fire that left 52 people dead in the northern state of Nuevo León.

The state governor, Rodrigo Medina, said Monday the suspects have confessed to involvement in the killings and that authorities are looking for others involved in the attack on the Casino Royale in the capital, Monterrey.  Officials are investigating whether the attack was in retaliation for the casino not paying extortion money.

Thursday armed men carrying a flammable liquid burst into the casino and set the place on fire.  Many of the victims were found inside the casino's bathrooms, where they fled to escape the gunmen, but were instead trapped by smoke and fire.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared three days of mourning after the attack.  He condemned the violence as barbaric and said it was the worst attack on innocent civilians in Mexico in a long time.

Mexico also offered a reward of $2.4 million for information leading to the arrest of the suspects.   

Irene leaves floods in wake
as it moves into Canada

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. authorities say massive flooding has affected parts of the country's northeast, one day after a weakening Hurricane Irene swept through the region.

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate said Monday that flooding has reached record levels in the states of Vermont and New York. Rivers and creeks in both states burst their banks, producing torrents of water that swept away trees, cars and parts of historic bridges. Hundreds of residents fled to shelters.

Irene first hit the United States Friday, making landfall in the state of North Carolina, before moving along the mid-Atlantic coast on Saturday and weakening into a tropical storm over New England on Sunday.

Authorities reported 33 storm-related deaths in 10 eastern states, mostly from falling trees, road accidents and raging floodwaters. Experts say the damage is likely to total billions of dollars. Fugate said it is too early to give an official estimate because federal, state and local authorities still are assessing the destruction.

Fugate said about 5 million homes and businesses on the East Coast remained without power Monday, down from 6 million the day before. Utilities say it will take days to restore electricity to many of those customers.

Forecasters downgraded Irene to a post-tropical storm early Monday as it moved over eastern Canada. Authorities said strong winds and heavy rain from the storm knocked out power to about 250,000 homes and businesses in Quebec and Canada's Atlantic provinces. One man was missing after floodwaters swept away a car northeast of Montreal.

Irene's center passed over New York, but spared the city major damage. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday the city's airports have re-opened and a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks will open on schedule next month. But he also said about 1,000 people were in shelters and 38,000 people were without power.

More telenovelas made
in U.S. for Latin viewers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hispanic television networks in the United States are ramping up domestic production of Spanish-language programming. Traditionally, most Spanish-language programs were brought-in from Central and South America.  But now, talk shows and telenovelas are increasingly being made in the US.

“Mi Corazón Insiste” is a telenovela currently being filmed in Miami. The soapy love-story airs on the U.S. network Telemundo.

Cynthia Olavarria has starred in four telenovelas and is playing in this one.  She says, for viewers, the shows are a form of escapism.

"I think that's part of the magic of the novellas," said Ms. Olavarria.  "We have many problems in our personal lives or your job or anything else, and then you go to see something different."

“Mi Corazón” is one of a growing number of dramas being produced in the United States in Spanish. Some have even become among the top ten most watched shows.  

Media analyst Adam Jacobson says census figures show that Hispanics account for 16 percent of the U.S. population and their numbers account for the growth in Spanish-language TV. Plus the telenovelas are shown in Latin America.

Telemundo used to import most of its telenovelas.  Now it is making many of its own.  Two are currently in production at its Miami studios.

Each televovela has about 120 episodes and takes six months to complete.  “Mi Corazón Insiste's” director is Leonardo Galavis. He says even though subtitles are sometimes offered, people who speak only English have not for the most part embraced telenovelas.

"Americans, they have a different culture, they have a different approach to television," said Galavis.  "Their prime time shows are like series. For us we don't have series, we have soap-operas."

Nevertheless, telenovelas are often the most popular shows in America with young adults, a coveted demographic.

Kantar Media, a research company, says Hispanic TV advertising totaled $5.3 billion in 2010, up almost 11 percent from 2009 and outpacing growth in other types of commercials. 

With the ability to produce programming in a hurry, Spanish-language networks appear happy to follow a formula that continues to pull in big audiences.

Spanish-language soap operas are different from U.S. version in that they have a finish where the story line is resolved, the good people flourish and the bad are punished. U.S. shows go on for years.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 171

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Costa Rican workers in U.S.
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Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis has signed joint declarations and letters of arrangement with Ambassador Aníbal de Castro of the Dominican Republic, Ambassador Muni Figueres Boggs of Costa Rica and Ambassador Francisco Altschul of El Salvador to protect the labor rights of migrant workers from those countries who are employed in the United States. The ambassadors of México, Nicaragua and Guatemala, who previously signed agreements with the Labor Department, also participated in the ceremony.

The event was held on the first day of Labor Rights Week, during which the Labor Department and a network of 50 Mexican consulates across the country work together to educate migrant workers and their employers.

"Our goal is to help workers and employers understand that labor laws are enforced and enforceable, giving everyone the opportunity to comply with the U.S. laws that cover all workers," said Secretary Solis. "Most employers take seriously their obligation to abide by the basic labor laws of this country. Today's signing ceremony will ensure that important information on wages, health and safety rights are available to more workers, enabling them to be more knowledgeable and ultimately more productive, with a vested interest in the success of their employers."

Under the declarations, the embassies and consulates of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and El Salvador will cooperate with the regional enforcement offices of the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Wage and Hour Division to distribute information about U.S. health, safety and wage laws.

In conjunction with the declarations, letters of agreement were signed stating that the Wage and Hour Division will protect the rights of migrant workers in low-wage industries such as hospitality and agriculture, while the Occupational Safety and Health Adminsitration will continue efforts to improve workplace safety and health conditions as well as provide outreach and assistance to Spanish-speaking workers and employers.

A weeklong series of training events, workshops and information-sharing on the rights and responsibilities of workers will be held across the country.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, U.S. employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.

The Wage and Hour Division enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and other federal labor laws.

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