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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 172          Email us
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Country is getting decked out in the patriotic colors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public buildings and some private ones are being decked out in Costa Rican flags and bunting because September is the patriotic month. This is the month that the anniversary of the country's independence is celebrated. This is the 190th.

Some buildings, such as Banco Popular downtown and the building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros on Avenida 7 already are showing their colors. Both have Costa Rican flags.

Officials said Monday that workmen would be installing flags on poles along the General Cañas highway today from the city nearly to Juan Santamaría airport.

This also is the time when students accept the torch of liberty that has been carried by runners from Guatemala and deliver it to Cartago. Costa Rican students carry the torch in relays from Peñas Blanca at the Nicaraguan border to a meeting of central government officials in Cartago. That will be the evening of Sept. 14, a Wednesday.

They stop off in San José for a big ceremony at 6 p.m. where local children will be displaying their faroles, replicas of 19th century lanterns. There is a tradition to sing the national anthem at 6 p.m., too.

Meanwhile there is a proliferation of torches and runners all over the country. Some take the fire from the Cartago-bound flame. Others ignite on their own. No community is so small that a torch will not make an appearance that night.

Thursday, Sept. 15, is a legal holiday, but students have an obligatory day in public school where civic lessons will be given. Many students will fulfill their obligation by participating in parades in their communities.

Students will be well-versed in the country's history in time for independence day. The school week from Monday to Sept. 9 is Semana Civica where each school will commemorate the 190th
Patriotic month
A.M. Costa Rica photo
The Instituto Nacional de Seguros has sprouted national flags for this, the patriotic month.

anniversary of the nation.

In advance of the Día de Independencia there will be workshops to help youngsters create and construct their own farole. Some adults have made elaborate ones, including one that is a model of the Catedral Metropolitana. The lighted faroles are a unique aspect of the independence celebration. They emulate the lanterns that citizens in 1821 used to come into the street to discuss the decree of independence. Actually Costa Ricans on Sept. 15, 1821, were unaware of the events in Guatemala City, the regional capital. The news did not reach isolated Costa Rica until the following Oct. 13. Facsimiles of these documents have been on display in the Archivo Nacional.

An additional historical aspect of the month is that Sept. 30 is the 151st anniversary of the deaths of  Juan Rafael Mora and José María Cañas. The former president and his brother-in-law, the general, were executed after trying to make a political comeback after Mora was ousted in a coup.

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Pot horse
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
 Busted horse appears dejected.

It was a two-horsepower
smuggling operation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía de Fronteras reported two men tried to smuggle 10 kilos of marijuana into Panamá in broad daylight Monday with the help of horses.

Police said that the men leaped from the horses and abandoned them and the sacks of marijuana when they saw police. Officers confiscated the marijuana and the horses.

The men fled the 300 yards into Panamá by swimming across the Río Sixaola, police said.

The marijuana is presumed to have come from the high Talamanca where cultivation of the product is a household industry. The confiscation took place near the mouth of the Río Yorkin on the Río Sixaola, police said.

President signs contract
for Moín container terminal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla and other officials finally signed the concession contract with APM Terminals for a $1 billion container port in Moín. The signing was Tuesday.

The central government sees the project as the cornerstone for a redevelopment of the Municipalidad de Limón and a big push for Costa Rican commerce.

The project is contentious. Banana growers and the dock workers union at the current public facilities are in court seeking to have the concession agreement annulled. Banana growers do not want to pay higher fees to ship their product. Union dock workers fear for their jobs.

The Dutch firm has agreed to build the new port in stages. It will receive a 33-year concession so it can profit from its investment. After that period, the country will run the docks.

The dock workers have been prone to periodic strikes and some violence. They are likely to continue to protest this arrangement.

Transport officials noted that Costa Rica is in 132nd place of the world's 135 major ports for infrastructure. The docks in Moîn and Limón handle 80 percent of the country's commercial shipping.

APM Terminals is an experienced manager with ports all over the world.

The signing was made possible because a court declined to freeze the contract while the banana growers and dock workers litigate their claims that the concession is flawed.

Edwin Rodríguez, technical secretary of the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones, noted Tuesday that the competitive bidding process for the concession took 18 months.

The government expects the docks to be a moneymaker, too, with estimates of $2.2 billion in income tax and $982 million for development in the nearby communities.

The completed port is supposed to be one and a half times the size of Parque La Sabana, the former national airport.

The project is supposed to generate construction jobs in the short term and long-term employment on the docks.

What was not mentioned Tuesday was the possibility of a so-called dry canal in which large container ships are unloaded and the containers placed on rail cars for shipment to the Pacific. Costa Rica's railway is not continuous from the Province of Limón to Turrialba, and extensive repairs would need to be made.

The Caldera docks on the Pacific also are under a concession arrangement.

The People's Republic of China is toying with the idea of a dry canal across the northern part of Colombia. The cost to unload one ship and load another is believed to be much less than the fees charged by Panamá to use its canal.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

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, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 172

Prisma dental

The security ministry released this photo of the María Canela Tuesday. The photo is most likely from the file after the boat was stopped by Ecuadorian officials in 2001.

confiscated boat
Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

U.S. Navy boat with prisoners does not have OK to dock
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. Navy guided missile frigate is heading to Puntarenas with five captured Costa Ricans, but the legislature has not acted to give the boat permission to dock.

The vessel, the USS Boone is believed to have in tow a Costa Rican fishing boat that was boarded Sunday and from 1,100 to 1,500 kilos of cocaine were discovered.

Under terms of a patrol agreement with Costa Rica, Ticos seized at sea are turned over to the justice system here along with a sample of the confiscated drug. The boat also carried a Nicaraguan and three Colombians. They are headed to the United States for trial.

The Asamblea Legislativa adjourned Tuesday night without taking any action on the long-standing request by Mario Zamora Cordero to allow U.S. ships on drug patrol to dock at Costa Rican ports for six months. He is the security minster. The issue has been hotly debated in the legislature although approval has been routine for years.

This is the same type of request that caused the Cuban news service, Prensa Latina, to announce a year ago that 46 warships and 7,000 Marines were going to do drug patrols in Costa Rica. The misinformation still can be found on various Web sites.

The Coast Rican boat, the 48-foot María Canela was captured 150 miles south of the border between Costa Rica and Panamá. The U.S. Embassy said this was the first Costa Rican boat detained as a suspected drug vessel since 2009.

The Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública emphasized that the Pacific coast is about to be hit with high seas and that a small boat alert had been issued. The ministry said that this might make docking difficult for the U.S. ship and the fishing boat unless the legislature acts. Minutes of Tuesday's legislative session do not show that the topic ever was mentioned.
USS Boone
U.S. Navy photo
A file photo of the USS Boone

The U.S. Embassy said that the 453-foot Boone was first on the list of U.S. ships seeking permission to land. An earlier permission expired June 30.

The María Canela left Puntarenas ostensibly to fish, and it traveled to the area around the Galapagos Islands.

The ministry identified the Costa Ricans detained by the last names of Núñez Núñez, Moreira González, Rivas Castrillo, Zuñiga Vargas and the captain as Campos Bolandi.

The María Canela has been in trouble before. In 2001 it was detained by Ecuadorian officials for illegal shark fishing. It vanished from Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos the following year just as officials there were going to auction it off, said the ministry. Walter Navarro, a vice minister, estimated the boat was worth about $280,000.

The Boone has been on frequent patrol in the Pacific to haul drug shipments. It has made similar confiscations. The boat carries two helicopters.

The U.S. Southern Command said that the Boone is on a six-month operation called Southern Seas 2011 to assist in training with navies of other countries. It was in Chile in June.

Presumably if the legislature does not act, U.S. sailers will have to transfer the five men and part of the cargo at sea to a Costa Rican boat.

Three workers suffer burns in accident at Limón refinery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three workmen at a Limón refinery were injured early Tuesday when a volatile petroleum product escaped and was ignited.

Two men are hospitalized in serious condition.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos identified them as Fabio Castillo Fernández, 55, with burns over 80 percent of his body, and Álvaro Wheathy Dennis, 31, with burns over 50 percent of his body. A third man, Franklin Diaz Rodríguez, suffered first degree burns of the right arm and 
was treated at the Hospital Tony Facio in Limón. The two men most badly burned were taken to San José to Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The fire fighters said the call came in from the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A. plant at 2:04 a.m.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos reported that it appears that a seal on a valve failed when the men were make a transfer of the volatile liquid.

Some 50 square meters of the workplace was consumed by the subsequent flames, said firemen.

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New research pinpoints areas of brain used only for language
By the Massachusetts Institute of Technology news staff

New research suggests that there are parts of the human brain dedicated to language and only language, a finding that marks a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions.

Functional specificity, as it’s known to cognitive scientists, refers to the idea that discrete parts of the brain handle distinct tasks. Scientists have long known that functional specificity exists in certain domains: In the motor system, for example, there is one patch of neurons that controls the fingers of the left hand, and another that controls the tongue. But what about more complex functions such as recognizing faces, using language or doing math? Are there special brain regions for those activities, or do they use general-purpose areas that serve whatever task is at hand?

Language, a cognitive skill that is both unique to humans and universal to all human cultures, “seems like one of the first places one would look” for this kind of specificity, says Evelina Fedorenko, a research scientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and first author of the new study. But data from neuroimaging — especially functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity associated with cognitive tasks — has been frustratingly inconclusive. Though studies have largely converged on several areas important for language, it’s been hard to say whether those areas are exclusive to language. Many experiments have found that non-language tasks seemingly activate the same areas: Arithmetic, working memory and music are some of the most common culprits.

But according to Ms. Fedorenko and her co-authors, fellow professor Nancy Kanwisher and undergraduate student Michael Behr, this apparent overlap may simply be due to flaws in methodology, i.e., how fMRI data is traditionally gathered and analyzed. In their new study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they used an innovative technique they’ve been developing over the past few years; the new method yielded evidence that there are, in fact, bits of the brain that do language and nothing else.

fMRI studies of language are typically done by group analysis, meaning that researchers test 10, 20 or even 50 subjects, then average data together onto a common brain space to search for regions that are active across brains.

But Ms. Fedorenko says this is not an ideal way to do things, mainly because the fine-grained anatomical differences between brains can cause data smearing, making it look as if one region is active in two different tasks when in reality, the tasks activate two neighboring — but not overlapping — regions in each individual subject.

By way of analogy, she says, imagine taking pictures of 10 persons' faces and overlaying them, one on top of another, to achieve some sort of average face. While the resulting image would certainly look like a face, when compared to the original pictures, it would not line up perfectly with any of them. That’s because there is natural variation in features — the size of the foreheads, the width of the noses, the distance between the eyes.

It’s the same way for brains. “Brains are different in their folding patterns, and where exactly the different functional areas fall relative to these patterns,” Ms. Fedorenko says. “The general layout is similar, but there isn’t fine-grained matching.” So, she says, analyzing data by “aligning brains in some common space … is just never going to be quite right.”

Ideally, then, data would be analyzed for each subject individually.

brain areas
Massachusetts Institute of Technology graphic
New study pinpoints areas of the brain used exclusively for language, providing a partial answer to a longstanding debate in cognitive science.

brain devices
Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Patrick Gillooly
The researchers use an innovative method to analyze fMRI data subject by subject, allowing them to discern individual patterns of brain activity.

This methodology is exactly what allows Ms. Fedorenko, Behr and Ms. Kanwisher to see if there are areas truly specific to language. After having their subjects perform the initial language task, which they call a functional localizer, they had each one do a subset of seven other experiments: one on exact arithmetic, two on working memory, three on cognitive control and one on music, since these are the functions “most commonly argued to share neural machinery with language,” Ms. Fedorenko says.

Out of the nine regions they analyzed — four in the left frontal lobe, including the region known as Broca’s area, and five further back in the left hemisphere — eight uniquely supported language, showing no significant activation for any of the seven other tasks.  These findings indicate a striking degree of functional specificity for language, as the researchers report in their paper.

“The paper is a real advance in the neuroscience of language,” says Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of several popular books including The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought. “Searching for language circuitry in the brain has been an exercise in ‘Where’s Waldo?’ — it has to be in there somewhere, but it’s so small, and mixed in with so many superficially similar things, that it’s been impossible to find. [The MIT researchers] have helped to bridge the chasm by combining fMRI with experimental psychology in a new and clever way.”

Bilingual tots more flexible with bigger vocabulary, study says
By the University of Washington's Office
of News & Information

The brains of babies raised in bilingual households show a longer period of being flexible to different languages, especially if they hear a lot of language at home, a new study siuggests. The researchers also show that the relative amount of each language – English and Spanish – babies were exposed to affected their vocabulary as toddlers.

The study, published online in the Journal of Phonetics, is the first to measure brain activity throughout infancy and relate it to language exposure and speaking ability.

“The bilingual brain is fascinating because it reflects humans’ abilities for flexible thinking – bilingual babies learn that objects and events in the world have two names, and flexibly switch between these labels, giving the brain lots of good exercise,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of the Unioversity of Washingtnon’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

Ms. Kuhl’s previous studies show that between 8 and 10 months of age, monolingual babies become increasingly able to distinguish speech sounds of their native language, while at the same time their ability to distinguish sounds from a foreign language declines. For instance, between 8 and 10 months of age babies exposed to English become better at detecting the difference between “r” and “l” sounds, which are prevalent in the English language. This is the same age when Japanese babies, who are not exposed to as many “r” and “l” sounds, decline in their ability to detect them.

“The infant brain tunes itself to the sounds of the language during this sensitive period in development, and we’re trying to figure out exactly how that happens,” said Ms. Kuhl, who’s also a professor of speech and hearing sciences. “But almost nothing is known about how bilingual babies do this for two languages. Knowing how experience sculpts the brain will tell us something that goes way beyond language development.”

In the current study, babies from monolingual (English or Spanish) and bilingual (English and Spanish) households wore caps fitted with electrodes to measure brain activity with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a device that records the flow of energy in the brain. Babies heard background speech sounds in one language, and then a contrasting sound in the other language occurred occasionally.

For example, a sound that is used in both Spanish and English served as the background sound and then a Spanish “da” and an English “ta” each randomly occurred 10 percent of the time as contrasting sounds. If the brain can detect the contrasting sound, there is a signature pattern called the mismatch response that can be detected with the EEG.

Monolingual babies at 6 to 9 months of age showed the mismatch response for both the Spanish and English contrasting sounds, indicating that they noticed the change in both languages. But at 10 to 12 months of age, monolingual babies only responded to the English contrasting sound.

Bilingual babies showed a different pattern. At 6 to 9
baby with cap
University of Texas at San Antonio photo
One of the babies in the study wearing an EEG cap that measures brain activity.

months, bilinguals did not show the mismatch response, but at 10 to 12 months they showed the mismatch for both sounds.

This suggests that the bilingual brain remains flexible to languages for a longer period of time, possibly because bilingual infants are exposed to a greater variety of speech sounds at home.

“When the brain is exposed to two languages rather than only one, the most adaptive response is to stay open longer before showing the perceptual narrowing that monolingual infants typically show at the end of the first year of life,” said Adrian Garcia-Sierra, another researcher.

To see if those brain responses at 10 to 12 months related to later speaking skills, the researchers followed up with the parents when the babies were about 15 months old to see how many Spanish and English words the children knew. They found that early brain responses to language could predict infants’ word learning ability. That is, the size of the bilingual children’s vocabulary was associated with the strength of their brain responses in discriminating languages at 10 to 12 months of age.

Early exposure to language also made a difference: Bilingual babies exposed to more English at home, including from their parents, other relatives and family friends, subsequently produced more words in English. The pattern held true for Spanish.

The researchers say the best way for children to learn a second language is through social interactions and daily exposure to the language.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 172

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Weekly editor surrenders
to face Venezuelan charges

By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

The editor of a Venezuelan weekly newspaper has surrendered himself to authorities in connection with a controversial photomontage that recently led to the temporary shutdown of the paper.

Media reports say Leocenis Garcia, the editor of 6to Poder, surrendered Tuesday at a military post in Venezuela's Zulia state.

The move comes one day after a court lifted an order that had prevented the paper from being published. The lawyer representing the publication said the court forbade the paper from publishing any images insulting women or public officials.

The court's initial decision came after the paper published an article suggesting that some high-ranking women officials were part of a cabaret directed by President Hugo Chávez. A photomontage depicted those women as cabaret dancers.

The paper's top executive, Dinorah Giron, was arrested but subsequently released. Ms. Giron and Garcia are charged with incitement to hatred, insulting a public official, and publicly offending women.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that under Venezuela's criminal code, the charges of incitement to hatred and insulting a public official carry prison sentences and high fines. The committee also says the Chávez administration has used all the tools of power to silence critical news media.

Chile's top cop gets boot
after shooting of student

By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

Chile has ordered the resignation of a police general following massive protests last week in which a teenager was shot dead.

Officials made the announcement Tuesday in discussing Gen. Sergio Gajardo.  The French news agency cites a government official as saying authorities demanded his resignation for failing to promptly investigate the killing of 16-year-old Manuel Gutierrez.

The teenager was shot amid protests pressing for education reform.  Family members blamed police for firing the shot that killed him, a charge authorities initially denied.

The two-day protests last week were part of a national strike called by Chile's main labor union.  The goal was to support students who for weeks have been protesting for education reform and an overhaul of educational funding.  Strike organizers also called for tax reform and constitutional change.

Nearly 1,400 people were arrested and more than 200 people injured during the two days of at times violent demonstrations in which stores were looted, fires set, rocks thrown and buses damaged.  Police responded to the demonstrations with water cannon and tear gas.

U.S. study says research
in Guatemala was unethical

By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

A U.S. commission says researchers involved with a 1940s U.S.-funded study in Guatemala deliberately exposed vulnerable individuals to sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea without their consent or knowledge.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues issued its assessment Monday as it prepares to send a report on the matter to U.S. President Barack Obama next month.

The commission concluded that the scientists used no informed consent procedures and exposed and infected people who were too vulnerable to object, such as children, mental patients, prisoners and commercial sex workers.  The commission said the researchers failed to act in accordance with minimal respect of human rights and that the work was sloppily done and ethically objectionable.  Additionally, the commission said the investigators deliberately kept their actions secret from people in the trial as well as the U.S. and Guatemalan scientific communities.

The commission found that more than 5,500 Guatemalans were involved in the medical experiments.  The research took place in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948.  The study aimed to test the effectiveness of penicillin, which then was a relatively new treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Last year, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom described the 1940s study as a crime against humanity.  President Obama also offered his apologies for the study.

Results were never published.  The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Details of the study were discovered in the papers of the late John Cutler, a U.S. public health investigator who helped conduct the research.  Cutler also was later involved in similar experiments on African-American men at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  In that study, some of the men were infected with syphilis but were never treated.

Nervous Chinese officials
seek to ban Internet critics

By the A.M. Costa Rica news services

China's state news agency has called for a crackdown on what it calls the spread of toxic rumors over the Internet.

In an article Tuesday, published only in Chinese, Xinhua criticized the increasingly popular social networking sites for spreading rumors like cancer, and urged preventive action.

The Xinhua article comes just days after a senior Communist Party official visited China's top Internet companies and urged them to stop the spread of what he termed harmful information.

China has the world's largest online population with close to 500 million users that increasingly use blogs to spread news, develop public debate and uncover scandals.

Chinese authorities are fighting to exert control over the use of the Internet, and blogs are banned. The government has become increasingly nervous about the Arab uprisings, which have gathered huge support through online networking. Officials fear they may inspire unrest in China.

Most recently, users of China's Weibo service, the country's equivalent to Twitter, sent millions of messages criticizing the official response to the high-speed train disaster in July, which killed 40 people.

The development has exposed the difficulty of controlling the spread of information.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 172

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Latin America news
Brazil's ex president
Casa Presidencial photo
President Laura Chinchilla shares a work with  Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president, who was in town to promote investments in his country. He was honored at a dinner hosted by the president.

Workers continue the job
on the Río Virilla bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To no one's surprise, workmen did not finish the job at the Río Virilla bridge on the General Cañas highway Tuesday morning. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, announced Tuesday afternoon that the workers would be back at it over night. They were supposed to finish at 6 a.m. Before the morning rush hour.

Usually the road agency closes the four-lane highway when work is done on the bridge.

They still are trying to cause the bridge to vibrate less so that the concrete bridge deck will not break into pieces.

Rice producers planning
new system for pricing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rice producers plan a press conference this afternoon to announce a new method for establishing the retail price of their product.

The price of rice is controlled by the government. The rice producers said they were trying to come up with a plan to protect small producers.

Rice production in Costa Rica is considered inefficient, and foreign producers can ship in rice cheaper than the local growers can bring it to market.

The rice producers are expected to suggest a plan that involves quotas. The government usually suspends imports until the local crop has been purchased. However, the World Trade Organization has taken a dim view of the country's subsidies of the rice industry.

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