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(506) 223-1327           Published Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 176           E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Hurricanes: We're not out of the woods yet!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

A low start to tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic this season might be deceptive, weather experts warn.

U.S. weather officials still are predicting an above-normal Atlantic season but probably not as active as the record 2006 season. The prediction for this season is 12 to 15 named storms, seven to nine hurricanes and three to four major hurricanes.

Already the Atlantic has seen four named tropical storms, Alberto, Beryl, Chris and Debby, as well as Hurricane Ernesto. A sixth tropical depression has formed in the mid-Atlantic and is moving west at about 13 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Monday night.

Although Costa Rica is never hit full force by a hurricane, the extended arms of major storms bring heavy and sometimes torrential rain. Towns along the central Pacific still are making repairs of damage caused in August 2005, and some roads and bridges still show the damage.

The official hurricane season ends Nov. 30. And the weather conditions that led to an above average storm prediction in May continue.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the major

NOAA graphic
climate factors expected to influence this year's activity are wind and atmospheric pressure patterns favorable for hurricane formation, along with ongoing warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures. However, long-range forecasts are tricky, officials admit.

The 2005 season produced 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, seven of them major hurricanes of which six struck the U.S., including Katrina that ravaged the U.S. Gulf coast.

"La Niña-like convection in the central equatorial Pacific during June and July of 2005 contributed to the development of numerous early-season storms," said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said last  month at a press conference. "Conditions this year reflect a more typical active season. . . . "

Family moves from troll-like existence under a highway bridge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A dramatic example of the Arias administration war on poverty took place over the weekend when a family that lived under a bridge for a year got a new home.

It was the Luna Madriz family: Abel Luna, wife Eurania and daughters Nicole, 4, and Doris, 1.

Their home had been beneath the La Angostura de Turrialba bridge, which spans the Río Reventazón.
They were given a new home, thanks to the housing ministry and several programs, in  Proyecto El Verolís, a low income development in Mora de Turrialba that contains 245 new homes. President Oscar Arias Sánchez delivered the house keys to the family.

This is the second family brought from beneath a bridge. Last month a family that had lived for 12 years under a bridge on the Autopista Próspero Fernandez near Santa Ana also got a new home.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 176

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Investigative panel
planned for Tinoco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislative leadership will pick a three-person committee to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Federico Tinoco, a leading deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

Francisco Antonio Pacheco, assembly president was to name the members of this panel today. They will not be current members of the legislature. They will take testimony and prepare a report for the leadership.

Tinoco is accused of verbally harassing and then planting an unwanted kiss on a married mother of four who was working in his office. She was fired after refusing his advances and hired by another lawmaker,she said.

The woman has not been named, but it is known that she is a 37-year-old lawyer who is not a professional politician.

The Tinoco case has been the major news story of the past week. He has taken a short leave of absence from his legislative duties. He does not seem to have been given the benefit of the concept of innocent until proved guilty in the court of public opinion. Some women picketed the assembly Monday supporting the legislative aide.

Because he is a lawmaker, Tinoco has immunity from criminal charges. The allegations so far do not rise to the level of a crime, but he has been urged to surrender his immunity.

Tinoco is a close ally of President Óscar Arias Sánchez and a strong force for the executive branch agenda in the congress.

Contract drivers plan
crawling protest today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is not a good day to go driving downtown.

The porteadores are expected to be out in force defending their right to transport people on contracts.

Last July 20 the licensed taxi drivers protested and drove their vehicles as slow speed through city streets. Today the porteadores are planning to do likewise.

At issue is a section of the commercial code that allows contract drivers to pick up passengers. Licensed taxi drivers say that this amounts to illegal competition. Licensed drivers want the code changed. The  porteadores want the measure to remain in the code.

The slow crawl through the city will end with a demonstration today outside the Asamblea Legislativa.

Medical equipment decree
said to have opposite effect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Excessive paperwork has complicated the importation of biomedical equipment and has raised the cost to the end user, medical patients, according to professional organizations involved in bringing in this type of equipment.

The issue was raised Monday by the Movimiento Libertario, which said that decree designed to safeguard people has had the opposite effect. The political party called on President Óscar Arias Sánchez to simplify the process.

In many cases, the equipment being brought into the country is for the public health systems run by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which has to pay more and wait longer, thanks to the bureaucracy, said the political party.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 176

Academics bring trade treaty concerns to legislature
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The free trade treaty with the United States got the once over Monday as academics from the Universidad Nacional appeared to testify against the pact before a legislative commission.

Universidad Nacional has been a key source of dissent on legislative approval of the treaty. Academics there have studied the document for a year and have a number of reservations, the Comisión Permanente de Relaciones Internacionales y Comercio Exterior was told.

Among other items, Rector Olman Segura told the commission that the treaty will need 38 votes — two thirds — to win approval in the full Asamblea Legislativa. Opponents are counting on the Arias administration not being able to find 38 legislators to vote in favor of the measure.

Segura told the commission that the university is committed to constructing a permanent agenda for the country that guarantees strengthening the social state, the estado de drechos, and the the economic, labor, social, environmental, educational and health guarantees of the population.

The group that accompanied Segura said that they had found reasonable doubts in the treaty text for a number of areas and that each would be a disadvantage for the country.

Universidad Nacional is a state institution, and Segura was concerned that the free trade treaty would result in transforming education into a mere commercial service like finances, transport, insurance and construction.

Those testifying before the committee admitted that the free trade text does not contain a chapter on
social services, but they are mentioned in other areas like in the opening of the monopoly national insurance market to outside competition, the labor market and transborder commerce.

Because Costa Rica has the highest standard of living in Central America, trade treaty opponents fear cuts in social services, salaries and the standard of living when the country is exposed to competition from nations with lesser social standards.

Meanwhile in another trade treaty development, opponents said they would stage an ecological festival Sept. 15, independence day, to oppose the free trade treaty. Opponents, including some on bicycles from the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro plan to go from the university to Parque Central in downtown San José and then rally at the Plaza de la Independencia near the legislative complex.

When the commission finishes hearing testimony on the treaty, members will vote. A favorable vote sends the document to the full legislature where a final vote is expected some time in December.

It is generally assumed that the Arias administration has the votes for approval, even if 38 are needed. Arias says that the agreement is needed to create more jobs in Costa Rica. However, he won the presidency by only a slight margin over a man who opposes the treaty, so the nation is divided.

Support for the treaty depends on how each individual or group expects to benefit or be penalized under the treaty. Rice farmers, for example, oppose the pact because they fear a flood of cheaper U.S. rice. They are living on a government mandated price now and a system that discourages imports. Other types of farmers strongly endorse the document because they feel new markets will open in the United States for their products.

New bridge approved for one damaged by mud flows near Orosi
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency commission officials have authorized spending 200 million colons, some $387,000, to build a new bridge at La Anita de Orosi. The old bridge has been damaged by constant mud flows.

Because the bridge cannot be used, several communities have been isolated. The new bridge will be of concrete and 20 meters (some 65 feet) in length.

The project will benefit the communities of Jucó, La
Anita, Palomo, Río Macho, Cachí, Orosi y Tapantí,
  said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

The new bridge will be higher to permit the passage of mud flows underneath. Such flows are a continual threat in the area during the rainy months.

While the new bridge is being constructed, the old one will be demolished and a temporary bridge installed.

Orosi is south and east of Cartago in mountainous terrain.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 176

The Branson strip resembles that of Las Vegas, but the clean country music emphasis provides the theme, including the hillbilly character Droopy Drawers Jr., interpreted by  Tim Mabe (inset).

Branson Strip photo courtesy of Branson Update, Inc. 
Tim Mabe inset from Baldknobbers

Branson tourist mecca draws 7 million each year
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The small middle-American town of Branson, Missouri, is becoming a popular tourist destination.  It has fewer than 8,000 residents — but attracts seven million visitors each year. Most are Americans, but there are visitors from other countries, too.

Branso is a jewel of fun and scenery in the heart of America.  It is known around the world for its big stars and family-centered shows — 100 a day in 47 theaters. Branson's fare ranges from music and dance to magic and comedy, along with shopping and theme parks.

Branson mayor Lou Schaefer says,  "They get a variety of entertainment here in one area that you can't find anywhere, you can't go to Las Vegas and find the types of shows we have here, and we have some Las Vegas types of shows.  But it's not all Las Vegas. It's not all Orlando. It's not Nashville. It's not all the other entertainment community but is some of all of them."

That includes such veteran entertainers as Andy Williams, Wayne Newton and Dolly Parton — who attract family-oriented visitors.  Most of the action stretches along a busy 8-km.-long street featuring parks, theaters, restaurants and lodging.

A multimillion-dollar commercial development called  Branson Landing has more than 41,000 square meters of retail shops and restaurants with an impressive fountain show.

But the shows are the main draw. Branson's entertainment roots stretch back 47 years. The Mabe .
family used to entertain the locals with music and laughter.  Over the years they became known as the Baldknobbers.  The brothers who created the show are retired now, but their children and grandchildren have continued the family tradition.

Bret Mabe is the bass player and band director. "My dad and uncle started this show in 1959, before I was born.  When I was a baby, they would literally lay me in a guitar case, while my dad was out on the stage doing the show, I would sleep in a guitar case."

Some 12,000 shows later the Mabes have their own theater with a faithful audience.  Tim Mabe, also known as Droopy Drawers Jr., inherited the comic character created by his father decades ago.

"I need some work on the teeth, don't I?  I have people come through all the time to tell me they know a dentist I need to go," he says jokingly. And after some laughing he shows his real smile.

Branson is surrounded by the green and gentle Ozark Mountains. There are three lakes for fly-fishing and water sports — and more development on the way.

Michael Ranking is the city's economic director. "Branson's history has been to spike in development and I think you're going to see more long term growth.  For the next three to five years several residential projects are on the books, a lot more retail, [and] there will be another theater or two."

It all adds up to a tourism industry that pumps one and a half billion dollars into the local economy each year

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