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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 174       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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to his cat

The tunnel under Avenida 1 at Parque España is getting a mosaic called 'Billy' in honor of artist  Carlos Tapia's late cat.  Henry Esquivel and an assistant are at work in the photo. Both sides of the tunnel will be tiled as part of a municipal program.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Tinoco bears the weight of a lengthy tradition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pent-up frustrations over sexual harassment are focusing on Federico Tinoco, a national legislator who now faces a formal allegation.

Although a harassment law passed during the presidency of José María Figueres Olsen in 1995, the letter of the law collides daily with the Latin tradition of machismo.

An analysis of the news

Tinoco, a member of the ruling Partido Liberación Nacional, denies wrongdoing but admits he may have been a little free with his adjectives and nouns when addressing a 37-year-old female aide at the Asamblea Legislativa. The unidentified woman accuser claimed in her formal complaint that he had been calling her "office doll" and "my last temptation." A significant act of harassment took place, according to a woman who says she was a witness, while the lawmaker and his married aide were on a study visit to the Caribbean coast. Tinoco is accused of grabbing the woman and forcing a kiss on her mouth.

The woman, who did not cooperate, was fired several days later, although she found another job at the assembly.

Far more serious acts of harassment take place each day in Costa Rica, but because Tinoco is so visible, a close friend of President Óscar Arias Sánchez and a politician, he is the focal point for the anger.

The news media are stoking the fires. Channel 7 Teletica ran a call-in poll Thursday asking viewers if Tinoco should step down while an investigation into the allegations takes place.
Some 85 percent of the self-selected viewers said yes.

The complaint against Tinoco was filed with the legislature by Ana Helena Chacón, a former vice minister of security and a current legislator. She also is president of the Comisión de la Mujer.  Gloria Valerín, another no-nonsense former deputy now working on a staff job at the assembly, helped the woman draw up the document.

Women in Costa Rica face continual harassment. Piropos, or flattering comments, are typical responses by men to a passing beauty. At the workplace, the mood can turn nasty. Some employers are clear to applicants that part of the job is sleeping with the boss.

In other situations the presence of prostitution that is not illegal here clouds the social situation and earns any woman treatment as if she were a working girl.

The machismo or misplaced manliness of Latin men sometimes demands physical action even when it is not welcomed.

That is not to say that some Latin women do not use their allures to enhance tips from patrons or win an advantage. This is the land where the arrival of Hooters restaurant was greeted with a yawn.

Other types of sexual harassment are far too grim to earn a lot of space in the newspaper. Only recently did Costa Ricans come to grips with the fact that many youngsters are being abused by the male family members.

The case of Tinoco is at least a wake-up call to others who may try to use the workplace for personal reasons.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 174

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The gospel music chorus Grace is in top photo while a dance group from the Universidad de Costa Rica is at bottom left.  Annibal Wray and granddaughter Athalee Wray enjoy the show.

Afrocostarricense culture
celebrated with music

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Afro-Costa Rican culture took the stage with a little help from a U.S. gospel chorus Thursday at the Plaza de las Artes.

Thursday was the Dia de la Cultura Afrocostarricense in which the contributions of the Caribbean traditions are recognized.

The event was organized by the Municipalidad de San José and served to kick off activities of the coming days during the Festival of the African Diaspora, which runs until the middle of the month.

Carol Britton, the organizer, said that the objective was to spread the ethnic values and customs, not simply to promote the Carnival de Limón.

The dance group "U" from the Universidad de Costa Rica participated as did a gospel chorus Grace that came from Washington, D.C. Students from the Escuela España also were there.

Gasoline prices to take
another dip at pump

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gasoline is taking another decrease thanks to the declining world price of petroleum.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said that regular was being cut 33 colons a liter and super was going down 32 colons. The new price for regular will be 520 colons (about $1) per liter. Super will be 548 colons (about $1.06)

There are 3.79 liters in a U.S. gallon.

Similar reductions are in store for aviation gasoline.

The cut was sought by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo.  The price-fixing authority said that the stipulation of the reduction was sent Thursday to the La Gaceta official newspaper. The new prices become effective upon publication.

Thieves have new trick
to catch unwary shoppers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 78-year-old reader reports a new twist on an old ploy being used by crooks in downtown San José.

The woman said she was walking past a store when she was splashed with dirty water. A person who appeared to be a store clerk saw her predicament from the doorway of the business and invited her to use the facility's bathroom to clean up.

The woman became suspicious when a second person began pulling on her shopping bag. The woman beat a retreat only to find that the shopping bag had been slashed twice and her purse also had been cut. Thieves slash clothing and bags to get to the contents.

All this time a man, the apparent real store clerk, was present in the building, she said.

"Shades of Ecuador and Hong Kong, I should have remembered this scenario but this was the first time a store employee seemed to be a party in the action," the woman said.  "No one else was in the store but this young man."

Thieves have been known to splash victims with water or sticky substances and then distract them to steal their belongings, but this is the first report that a store clerk was complicit in the robbery.

Some electric rates
are being reduced

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electric rates are going down from 10 to 20 percent for some 624,000 customers of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and Coopeguanacaste.

The cuts, brought about by generating conditions in the low season between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, does not affect customers of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz or the Empresa de Servicios Pública de Heredia.

The Junta Administrativa del Servicio Eléctrico de Cartago already has reduced rate.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos announced the rate cuts.

U.S. Embassy to be closed
for a three-day weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Labor Day in the United States. It is a time for cookouts, quick trips to the lake and a farewell to summer.

To commemorate the working class, the U.S. Embassy and consulate will be closed for one of the 20 or so holidays employees there get every year. The embassy closes for both Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 174

Be prepared with options when taking a trip by bus
When setting off to accomplish something in San Jose, I find it a good idea to have a Plan B at the ready, and when depending upon buses, having a Plan C in the wings is not a bad idea.
This week I had a 7 a.m. appointment with my doctor at Hospital México.  I got there on time, but through a mix-up (probably a breakdown in communication), I didn’t see Dr. Ugalde until nearly 10 a.m. But he is a sweet man, and since he had some student interns in his office, I smiled when I told him I was annoyed.  He apologized for the delay.  I took the opportunity to give him my book “Butterfly in the City,” and he was so pleased, I couldn’t be annoyed anymore.
I had had only a cup of coffee and my hot lemonade for breakfast. So by the time I left, I was really hungry.  I decided I would take a bus to the Mas X Menos on the autopista and kill two birds with one stone, or rather feed this bird twice with one visit.  Cate and Bill had told me that Mas X Menos had really good gallo pinto, and it is a supermarket. So I would have breakfast and then shop.  That was my plan.  Only the BIUSA bus that I took from the hospital didn’t stop across from the Mas X Menos. (They used to.)  So, quickly, I decided I would breakfast at Quiznos on Paseo Colón and shop later.  The bus doesn’t stop there anymore either. 

Shifting to Plan C, I decided if one Mas X Menos has good gallo pinto perhaps the one downtown does, too. Lately I have been inundated with advice about the foods that are good for aging bones and lagging energy.  There must be some reason I see so many older women in San José walking tall and straight, and I have decided it must be the daily intake of rice and beans. 

No other food that I can think of is as universal here, although fruits and vegetables help.  I got on another bus at the Iglesia de la Merced — where the BIUSA bus does stop — and went to the Caja.                  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

During my ride, I took notice of the buildings along the way.  My friend Dos has been commenting to me about the newly painted, brightly colored buildings of late.  She wants me to find out why people are painting them such bright colors.  The only recent paint job I noticed on my route was the Teatro Melico Salazar’s new yellow facade.  It is quite beautiful. I had asked a friendly Tico architect why the new colors, and he said it was “the Mexican influence.” I wasn’t sure if he was kidding.

I had a four block walk to the store. On the way I passed The News Café, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Spoon, a hotel restaurant, four pizza places, several sodas, two panaderias and one paint store.  It crossed my mind that maybe there has been a big sale on blue, orange and lime paints.  I was tempted by the different fare in the various restaurants but rejected going to Plan D, afraid if I did I would forget to shop.  

The Mas X Menos on Avenida Central has a complete cafeteria now.  I stuck to gallo pinto and a couple of fried platanos, which I love but seldom eat.  For a mountain of rice and beans, two pieces of platanos and 12 ounces of cas juice, the cost was 605 colons (under $1.20)

On my way home I realized I should have gone into that paint store and asked them about the new décor of San Jose.  (That is, instead of dropping into that corner shoe store.)  But since I didn’t, I am putting out the call.  If anyone has another answer besides the Mexican influence, please let me know so Dos can go on to some other fascinating cultural question.

Investigators weigh competing theories in Pat Dunn's murder in Manta
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two competing theories are driving the investigation into the murder of Pat Dunn in Manta, Ecuador.

One scenario has a person who had his confidence conspire with others to rob and kill him early May 18. The second theory suggests that someone hid inside his bar until after closing time or when he or she could get access to a key to the main entrance.

The principal element is that the entrance to the bar where Dunn also had his living quarters was locked securely after his early morning murder.

Dunn was a well-known figure on the San José nightclub scene. He opened the Nashville South Manta Bar & Restaurant with other investors in December 2003 after running a string of Gringo-style bars here.

Manta is a seaport town of about 180,000. Nearby is Eloy Alfaro Air Base, since 1999 a key U.S. installation for anti-drug patrols over the ocean and drug interdiction activities in Colombia and other Latin American countries.

A lawyer hired by Dunn's family here, is promoting the theory of the betrayal by a person who had Dunn's confidence. The lawyer, José López, said this week he was trying to get the local prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant for a woman who knew Dunn.

A warrant would not be a conviction but would open up another stage in the investigation that would allow formal questioning. In addition to her contact with
Dunn, the woman was seen in a taxi near the bar about the time Dunn died.

Police at the time suspected men killed Dunn with knives. There also is some question as to whether he was under the weather from drink. Dunn had a habit of sipping alcohol all night long while he played host at his establishments.

His wife in San José, Elvia Jahara Jarquin Tellez, told law officers in Manta that she spoke with her husband by telephone about 1 or 2 a.m. the morning of his death and he sounded as if he was under the influence of alcohol, said an investigator. That means he was probably not fully capable of defending himself against younger men with knives. Dunn was 68.

The second theory opens up the list of suspects to nearly anyone who was in the area around the time Dunn died. A robber could have hidden somewhere in the building and managed to find a key. He or she could have made a copy of the key and returned later to steal from a sleepy Pat Dunn.

Or the person seeking to copy the key might have just had access to it for a few minutes in time to make an impression for later use by a locksmith.

Nearly everyone believes the motive for the murder was robbery. Perhaps as much $1,500 in cash was taken, police reported. No one seems to support the theory that Dunn was killed for other reasons, perhaps jealousy or vengeance.

The last person to see him alive is believed to be  Idalinda Monserrat Mosquera Sedeño, a local woman who frequented the bar.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 174

Green not always good, scientists say of ocean algae
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In the plant kingdom, greener does not always mean healthier. Scientists have found that microscopic ocean algae called phytoplankton actually get greener when they are stressed.  A new study finds this is why the tiny plants in a large region of the Pacific are failing to absorb as much of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they normally do, with implications for global warming.

Plants thrive on carbon dioxide just as animals do on oxygen. This is good for the atmosphere because plants soak up much of the carbon dioxide emitted by cars, industry, and forest burning. This prevents it from becoming a greenhouse gas that traps the sun's heat.

Phytoplankton have a particularly big role to play in absorbing carbon dioxide, acting as the lungs of the planet. This is especially true in the tropical Pacific, the largest natural source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Yet these single-celled plants may not be as effective in the region as once thought. Oregon State University botanist Michael Behrenfeld says 12 years worth of data gathered from research ships in the region show less than expected phytoplankton abundance because of a nutritional deficiency.

"There are actually lots of nutrients up at the surface, nitrogen and phosphorus, and they don't seem to be taking it up," he noted.  "Why is that? What we found is that these tiny little plants are starved for iron."
The iron for sea plants generally comes down from the dust blown away from arid areas like deserts.

Behrenfeld and colleagues assessed phytoplankton iron levels with a technique that measures their glow. The glow is an emission of some of the solar energy they take in. The more phytoplankton glow, the less iron they have.

Lacking enough iron, phytoplankton do not take in as much carbon dioxide as healthier plants. Behrenfeld's team estimates that up to 2.5 billion more tons of carbon may escape into the atmosphere each year than once believed.

You would not know this by looking at color satellite pictures of the tropical Pacific.  They show very green algae, a condition considered until now a sign of its robustness, but Behrenfeld says his findings show the opposite.

"When phytoplankton are stressed by iron, they actually appear greener," he explained.  "Normally what we think of is that when plants are really green, that means they are really healthy, they are growing really fast, but in the tropical Pacific, that is often not the case."

Behrenfeld says the green stress response occurs when the algae, rather than wither, add more plant cells filled with green chlorophyl.  It apparently is an emergency effort to collect more iron.

The phytoplankton study appears in the journal Nature.

U.S. agriculture chief says farm subsidies must be cut
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told a Washington forum Thursday that the generous subsidy programs that boost the incomes of American farmers must be cut.  Johanns said he believes the subsidies will face increasing legal challenges from other members of the World Trade Organization.

U.S. subsidies are a topic of dispute in Costa Rica's proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

Johanns said he is worried that some of the American subsidy programs could be in violation of World Trade Organization free trade rules. He mentioned specifically Brazil's successful challenge to U.S. cotton subsidies two years ago, a decision that is forcing a change in the way Washington pays U.S. cotton growers.
"I really believe we have a couple of options," he said.  "The first would be let the future be driven by WTO litigation, that dismantles programs piece by piece. The second would be to craft farm programs in such a way that it leads us to the future with vision and foresight."

Subsidies paid to US farmers totaled $25 billion last year. Johanns wants to cut the subsidies, something that is very difficult to achieve, particularly in an election year. Subsidies are popular with farmers, a majority of whom support President George Bush's Republican Party.  Johanns says the subsidy to sugar growers will have to change by 2008 when under the North American Free Trade Agreement Mexican sugar can enter the United States duty free.

"We have a 100 percent tariff on sugar. It is very, very much a protected industry," he noted.

Global press groups deplore murder of columnist in Venezuela
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Several global press advocacy groups have deplored the Aug. 23 murder of a veteran journalist in Venezuela, the third killing of a journalist in that nation in 2006.

In a statement, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that an unidentified assailant shot and killed Venezuelan columnist Jesús Rafael Flores Rojas in front of his home in the city of El Tigre in the Venezuelan state of Anzoátegui.

The press group said Flores had talked of receiving several death threats, the most recent coming in July when an unidentified caller told Flores to stop criticizing the municipal government in that state.  Flores' work included writing a weekly column in
which he often criticized local government officials.

Another press advocacy group, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said it was shocked by Flores' murder and urged Venezuelan authorities "not to let a climate of lawlessness develop towards the media."  The Paris-based group said Flores had made enemies because of the editorials he wrote.

Prior to Flores' murder, Joaquín Tovar, the editor of the weekly Venezuelan paper Ahora, was shot and killed June 17. Jorge Aguirre, a photographer with El Mundo newspaper in Caracas, was killed April 5. 

The Miami-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) has expressed concern that press freedom in Venezuela may become more restricted in the run-up to presidential elections in that country Dec. 3. 

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