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(506) 2223-1327          Pubished Monday Sept. 6, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 175              E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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September is Patriotic Month in Costa Rica. Sept. 14 and 15 are days when the country marks its 189 years of independence. The
highways, public buildings and many private establishments are decked out in the national colors.  And now A.M. Costa Rica is, too!

Feelings mixed here over fears of Ticos in Arizona
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although the central government wanted to file a brief against Arizona's new immigration law, responses to a Sunday article in La Nación show that opposition to the law is not uniform here.

The article Sunday said that Costa Ricans living in Arizona are afraid to go to the major cities for fear of being snagged in an immigration net. It also said that the Costa Rican consulate there has a traveling unit so that Costa Ricans can receive services in their homes. Reporter Alonzo Mata said he based his article on e-mails from Costa Ricans and postings to a Facebook account.

The Sunday article generated 24 responses to the newspaper's Web page.

The majority of those who responded did not seem sympathetic to the views expressed in the article. Mata wrote of one woman who feared her daughter would be jailed because her green card showing legal residency was under lock and key for safety. Make a copy of the green card and the visa in the passport, one posted wrote.

Friday a judge rejected a request by Costa Rica and one by Chile to file friend-of-the-court briefs. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said the two countries had missed a July deadline, according to media reports in Arizona. The Laura Chinchilla government asked its representatives in Washington to file a brief against the Arizona law. The request drew criticisms from A.M. Costa Rica readers.

One said the government officials were hypocrites

Costa Ricans who responded to the La Nación article did not use that word, but several noted that Costa Ricans have to carry their cédulas every day.

"We don't have to go so far to see how our Nica brothers are treated in Costa Rica," said another.

Coincidentally, Fuerza Pública officers said Sunday that in three days of strong police presence in the low-income La Carpio section 11 persons were cited as not being in the country legally. Two appear to have been held and nine have dates with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería to discuss their situation, said police.

"If they are there legally there is no reason to be afraid. They only have to carry their papers and the problem is over," said another poster to the La Nación site of Costa Ricans in Arizona.

Another went so far as to characterize the news story as incorrect, noting that in Costa Rica persons have to carry identity documents.
Some correctly described the Arizona law that limits identity checks to situations in which a person already is involved in a conversation with police, such as a traffic stop.

"It is not correct that the law authorizes stopping persons indiscriminately only because they have a Latin face," wrote one women. She said that a Fuerza Pública officer in a patrol car once stopped her and a friend and sought to see cédulas. Nothing happened. She showed him it and that was that, she said.

Only one person complained about the price of U.S. visas and U.S. policies.

Those who criticize the Gringos don't live in the United States to assess the problems of illegals, said another woman, adding, "Personally I don't like to see so many foreigners living and benefitting from the beauty of Costa Rica . . . . "

One Arizona college student said he was returning to Costa Rica, in part because he does not buy into the idea of the American dream. Several others wondered why their countrymen and women would consider leaving Costa Rica.

Expats frequently are stopped by police officers, in part because the officers have been known to remove money from the expat's pockets and not return it. These encounters seem to have diminished since a number of downtown police officers were detained on various corruption charges.

Costa Rica has a fairly loose immigration system, and thousands of Nicaraguans and many Colombians are living here illegally. Others have gained residency and even citizenship with faked marriages.

An unknown number of Costa Ricans have been known to head north seeking to enter the United States illegally. Once two groups pretended to be soccer teams and obtained U.S. visas in order to compete in matches there. One team never showed for its first game, and the other suffered a resounding defeat. U.S. Embassy officials treated the scam casually.

"An immensee number of Latins in the U.S.A. are experts in tricking the system to receive free what they do not pay for," one poster wrote.

Some politically connected individuals make a business of loaning money to Costa Ricans in order to finance their illegal journeys. The flow has been reduced as a result of the economic recession in the United States. In fact, some illegal Costa Ricans are returning home.

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Business end of the $2.1 million asphalt generator

Road agency gets plant
to make more asphalt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's highway agency has a new asphalt plant. The machinery arrived in Colima de Tibás Friday. It was imported to Limón by Asphalt Drum Mixers, Inc., of Huntertown, Indiana, a leading manufacturer of such equipment.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the device produces 600 tons of asphalt a day. But the 1.1 billion-colon device will not see service until January because some parts need to be installed. The plant is expected to double the asphalt capacity of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the highway agency. The price in dollars is $2.1 million.

The asphalt plant that is now in Tibás will be moved to Siquirres to service the Caribbean coast, the ministry said.

The new plant is able to reuse recycled asphat and runs on less gas than the older device, said the ministry.

Transport officials decline
to give drivers a break

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry weighed in with its version of modifications of the new traffic law. There were few changes proposed, and the ministry warned motorists that point totals and fines would continue if the version is adopted.

Instead of simplifying the law, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes proposes to reduce the validity of a driver's license from six years to from one to three years, depending on the violation points the motorist had accumulated.

At the very least, this would mean spending more time in line seeking renewals.

The ministry handed the measure over to the legislature, which can accept or reject the proposals. The legislature is studying the existing law and a series of changes proposed by the lawmakers who left office May 1.

The ministry's proposal would continue the system of high fines. For example, carrying a child without a special car seat would result in a fine of 381,420 colons plus 50 points. That's about $736, including tax, and enough points to invalidate the driver's license for two years.

The ministry noted that some drivers are failing to pay fines in anticipation of changes in the law. The ministry said the fines are drawing interest of 3 percent a month. The ministry proposal would provide for a 30 percent discount for drivers who pay their fines in the first month.

Despite the new traffic law, enforcement seems to center on police checkpoints. Many drivers are seen speaking on cell phones while the vehicle is in motion and drivers still consider red lights as advisory.

Telecom agency gives
reason for detective work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said Friday that it was acting on an order from the Contraloría General de la República when it set its internal detective force on a union leader.

The issue came up in the legislature last week, and the telecom agency was branded as prosecuting the union official.

The institute, known as ICE, said that the Contraloría ordered it last Oct. 16 to assess a complaint that claimed that the union leader was using more than the permitted work time to conduct union business and that he also was involved in political activity.

The telecom company did not say what it found out. The company's detectives spent 11 days following the man.

Joblessness and growth
prompt calls for action

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Slower-than-expected U.S. economic expansion and stubbornly high unemployment have economists debating what can be done to spark growth and create jobs. Calls for more government action to boost the economy follow last year's stimulus package.

More than a year after the United States emerged from the deepest recession of the post-World War II era, U.S. economic growth is slowing and the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent.

That has some economists worried about the possibility of a so-called double dip recession, where the economy appears to recover, only to return to negative growth.

"One-in-three probability. Less than even, but too high to take a chance," said Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi of the possibility of a double dip.  He spoke on CBS's Face the Nation program. The somber outlook is shared by Laura Tyson, who serves on President Barack Obama's Economic Advisory Board.

"We are in a situation where we are bumping along at a slow rate," Ms. Tyson said. "There is a lot of downside risk. We need targeted policies for jobs."

Among the measures being discussed are tax credits to encourage businesses to hire new workers and spark more research and development. In addition, the Obama administration is considering extending income tax cuts enacted nearly a decade ago for all but the top 2 percent of earners.

"I think that is the right thing to do economically. We have to worry about the spending power of the majority of the population," said Ms. Tyson. "The 98 percent of the population for whom we would extend the tax cuts — that is where you are going to get high levels of consumption. That is where incomes are under high levels of pressure. We need to help people with their incomes."

But economist Zandi has a word of caution. He agrees, as he puts it, that "the recovery needs some more help," but he adds that new stimulus projects come at a cost.

"We have to pay for them. We cannot do this unless we pay for them," said Zandi.

And so the United States faces two seemingly contradictory needs: to stimulate the economy and cut the deficit. The Obama administration seeks short-term stimulus, while promising long-term spending restraint. Just what, if anything, can be accomplished two months before the November congressional elections remains to be seen.

Obama will mark Labor Day
with talk to union members

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama is set to mark the Labor Day holiday Monday by speaking to union workers about the economy.

Obama’s remarks in Wisconsin come days after a new report showed the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent in August.

He said in his weekly address Saturday that the holiday is a chance to reaffirm a commitment to American workers.

Labor Day in the United States dates back more than 100 years and is dedicated to the more than 150 million workers in the country. It is a legal holiday and the U.S. Embassy in San José will be closed.

But the holiday likely will not be a day of celebration for the nearly 15 million Americans who remain unemployed.

The labor situation looks much like it did a year ago, with the unemployment rate and number of those without work virtually the same as they were last Labor Day.

A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 6, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 175

Constitutional court orders halt to routine police roadblocks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court told the security ministry that police roadblocks may only be used when there is a suspicion or evidence that a crime has been committed.

Roadblocks are a common police practice here and have led to the confiscation of drugs and all kinds of illegal materials. Police routinely stop cars and trucks near both borders looking for contraband even though there is no evidence that a crime has been committed.

There was no indication in the constitutional court decision how sweeping the prohibition would be.  The court ordered the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública to desist from such practices and to draw up rules for such checkpoints.

A citizen identified by the last names of Rímolo Bolaños filed the case. He said that he had been stopped at a police checkpoint in a section called El Discanso in San Antonio de Escazú. Police had traffic cones in the road. He said that he submitted to a police inspection but that he said the
search violated due process and the dignity of persons. He said the police said they were seeking guns or drugs.

The Poder Judicial reported the court decision Friday, the same day it was made.

Police have been creative in justifying arrests. Frequently they say they found drugs on an individual because he appeared to be nervous. Sometimes that is just an excuse.

Despite the court ruling, immigration, police and customs officers are likely to continue systematic searches of vehicles entering and leaving the country.

The court based its decision on article 37 of the Costa Rican Constitution, which says "No one may be detained without substantiated evidence of having committed an offense or without a written order issued by the judge or the authority in charge of maintaining public order, unless the person concerned is a fugitive from justice or is caught in the act; but in all cases, he shall be placed at the disposition of a competent judge within a peremptory period of twenty-four hours."

Schools are first to benefit from cell telephone auctions
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An agreement between the education ministry and Costa Rica’s telecoms regulator establishes the framework for cooperation in developing Internet access for schools as required by the new regulatory law. This infrastructure will be funded with the receipts from the pending spectrum auctions.

Education minister Leonardo Garnier and George Miley, the head of the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones or SUTEL, signed the agreement. It delimits the educational part of the National Telecoms Fund, which is designed to make sure advances in technology reach the poorest and most rural parts of the country.

Each of three spectrum packages has a minimum bid of $70 million, so overall the government should have well over $200 million to dedicate to development. SUTEL will administer all the money.

Given repeated delays in the auction, it is uncertain when the money will be available, but Miley said there are 15 million colons from the regular SUTEL budget that can be used for planning to reduce delays. The agency has had staffing problems.

Garnier said at present about a quarter of primary and high schools are connected to Internet, most of those now with ADSN broadband. All educational facilities will be connected no matter how remote. “This is a program, not a project or pilot,” he said.

The first priority is the connection of technical high schools
which are mostly rural high schools with curriculums aimed at practical job skills. There are 98 of these. Corresponding computers and other hardware will also be purchased with the telecoms fund money.

Another priority area likely to receive the most benefit, and specifically addressed in the plan, is the one-room schoolhouse where one or two teachers handle a number of children of differing ages. The ministry counts over 19,000 children in these sorts of schools, some in extremely remote rural areas. The “last mile,” as industry jargon calls it, will be exceptional in those cases.

The fund will pay for custom software where that is needed, with software designed to reduce the need for direct supervision of students of differing ages.

Garnier said that is especially a priority where one teacher must mentor students who might range from first to sixth grade all at the same time.

“The final goal is universal coverage, 100 percent,” said Garnier.

Separately, the telecoms law gives new entrants five years to provide blanket cell phone coverage of the country. Based on the experience of other countries like Panamá and El Salvador when those markets opened, the companies rush to cover most of the population even where marginal from an economic standpoint.

As a governmental monopoly, the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad is somewhat more responsive to political pressure and covers the country to the best of its limited technical competence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 6, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 175

Most new cropland came from tropical forest, study says

By the Stanford University news service

A new study led by a Stanford researcher shows that more than 80 percent of the new farmland created in the tropics between 1980 and 2000 came from felling forests. But the research team also noted that big agribusiness has largely replaced small farmers in doing most of the tree cutting in Brazil and Indonesia, which may make it easier to rein in the trend.

Global agricultural expansion cut a wide swath through tropical forests during the 1980s and 1990s.  More than half a million square miles of new farmland – an area roughly the size of Alaska – was created in the developing world between 1980 and 2000, of which over 80 percent was carved out of tropical forests, according to Stanford researcher Holly Gibbs.

"This has huge implications for global warming, if we continue to expand our farmland into tropical forests at that rate," said Ms. Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science, who led the study.

Ms. Gibbs and colleagues at several other universities analyzed Landsat satellite data and images from the United Nations to reach their conclusions. Theirs is the first study to map and quantify what types of land have been replaced by the immense area of new farmland developed across the tropical forest belt during the 1980s and 1990s.

While this huge increase was happening within the tropics, agricultural land in the non-tropical countries actually decreased in area.

The study was published this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that to keep pace with increasing demand, global agricultural production will have to keep increasing, possibly even doubling by 2050. That would likely lead to millions of additional acres of tropical forest being felled over the next 40 years.

"Every million acres of forest that is cut releases the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as 40 million cars do in a year," Ms. Gibbs said.

Most of the carbon released comes from burning the forests, but even if the trees are simply cast aside, the bulk of the carbon from the plants makes its way into the atmosphere during decomposition, she said.

Ms. Gibbs and her colleagues found that about 55 percent of the tropical forests that had been cut between 1980 and 2000 were intact forests and another 28 percent were forests that had experienced some degradation, such as some small-scale farming, logging or gathering of wood and brush for cooking or heating fuel.

"The tropical forests store more than 340 billion tons of carbon, which is 40 times the total current worldwide annual fossil fuel emissions," Ms. Gibbs said. "If we continue cutting down these forests, there is a huge potential to further contribute to climate change."

The increasing demand for agricultural production stems in part from the ever-growing number of people on the planet, who all want to eat.  Additionally, members of the growing middle class in emerging economies such as China and India are showing interest in eating more meat, which further intensifies demand.  And incentives to grow crops for biofuel production have increased.

But Ms. Gibbs and her colleagues also observed some encouraging signs. The patterns of change in the
clearcut fire
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Burning releases carbon sequestered in the wood.

locations they analyzed made it clear that during the 1990s, less of the deforestation was done by small family farms than was the case in the 1980s and more was done by large, corporate-run farms. Big agribusiness tends to be more responsive to global economic signals as well as pressure campaigns from advocacy organizations and consumer groups than individual small farmers.

In Brazil, where a pattern had developed of expanding soy production by direct forest clearing and by pushing cattle ranching off pastureland and into forested areas, a campaign by Greenpeace and others resulted in agreements by key companies to rein in their expansion. Instead, they worked to increase production on land already in agricultural use.

"These farmers effectively increased the yield of soy on existing lands and they have also increased the head of cattle per acre by a factor of five or six," Ms. Gibbs said. "It is exciting that we are starting to see how responsive industry can be to consumer demands.

"We really are seeing positive changes in this area."

Along with wiser use of land already cleared, Ms. Gibbs said, improvements in technology and advances in yield intensification also could slow the expansion of farming into the forests.

Other studies that analyzed land use changes between 2000 and 2007 have shown that the pace of cutting down the tropical forests has begun to slow in some regions.

But as long as the human population on the planet continues to grow, the pressure to put food on the table, feed in the barnyard and fuel in the gas tank will continue to grow, too.

"It is critical that we focus our efforts on reducing rates of deforestation while at the same time restoring degraded lands and improving land management across the tropics," Ms. Gibbs said. "The good news is that pressure from consumer groups and nongovernmental organizations combined with international climate agreements could provide a real opportunity to shift the tide in favor of forest conservation rather than farmland expansion."

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 6, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 175

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New Colombian president
vows to step up civil war

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The new Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, is vowing to step up his predecessor's military crackdown against leftist rebels, following an attack this week that left 14 police officers dead.

Santos met Friday with top generals in the southern state of Caqueta, where the officers were killed in a roadside bomb attack blamed on the rebel Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC.

The Colombian leader offered his condolences to the families of the officers killed, and offered a $275,000 reward for information leading to the capture of a FARC rebel commander known as Wilmer, who is suspected of masterminding the attack. The FARC is Colombia's largest rebel group.

Also Friday, authorities say a bombing raid involving the Colombian Air Force killed 15 members of the leftist Ejercito de Liberación Nacional or ELN in eastern Arauca state, near Venezuela. The ELN is Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group.

The United States has designated both the FARC and the ELN as terrorist organizations.

Mountain survivors visit
site of trapped miners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 33 miners who have been trapped underground in Chile for a month received some support Saturday from the survivors of another South American accident.

In 1972, a plane carrying members of an Uruguayan rugby team to Santiago, Chile's capital, crashed in the Andes Mountains. Most of those on board died but 16 stayed alive for 72 days in extreme conditions in the snow-covered mountains.

Four of the survivors visited the Chilean mine to bring what they said was a message of hope. One of the men, Jose Inciarte, acknowledged that there is little similarity between what they experienced and what the miners are enduring. But he pointed out that all of the the miners are alive. And he said they, like his teammates, are showing the will to survive.

Rescue workers are continuing their efforts to dig a tunnel big enough to extract the miners, who are 700 meters (nearly 2,300 feet) underground. The workers are planning to use three separate drilling machines in an operation that could take months.

The improbable story of how the 16 Uruguayan athletes were eventually rescued was told in a best-selling book entitled "Alive," which was later made into a movie. The survivors stayed alive by eating the flesh of those who died in the crash.

Five illegal guns found
in searches in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers confiscated five weapons in Limón Centro last week, the agency reported Friday.

Those found carrying weapons without permission were turned over to the local prosecutor, said police. Although the search for weapons was limited to the city, the agency said that the efforts would soon be expanded to the rest of the province.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 6, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 175

Latin American news
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Clear skies did not last
as unstable air takes over

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents awoke to clear skies in most of Costa Rica, but that condition did not endure for long. The usual storms swept in quickly and made the day a rainy one.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that would be the general trend through Thursday: Hot morning with clouds building until the heat is broken by thunderstorms and downpours in the Central Valley and the Pacific coast. In the northern zone and on the Caribbean coast, the weather institute predicts the bulk of the rain will be in the mountains.

The rain continues to kill. A mother and two children died when a slide destroyed their home in Montano de Bagaces. Other family members were injured in the Friday incident.

The national emergency commission reported that there still were refugees from the storm in shelters.

Seven families amounting to 35 persons were in a shelter in Barra Honda de Nicoya because their homes are in a dangerous area, the commission said. Government officials are seeking to relocate them.

The storms were the product of instability that is typical for this time of year. Another low pressure area, the remains of Tropical Storm Gaston, appears to be headed this way. The storm has been downgraded. It still is in the open Atlantic well east of the Leeward islands. But the U.S. Hurricane Information Center said the unstable area has about a 70 percent chance to grow in strength to at least a tropical storm again.

Slides entomb dozens
during rains in Guatemala

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Torrential rains in Guatemala triggered landslides across the country that have killed dozens, most in separate disasters along the same highway.

Authorities say one mudslide engulfed a bus on the Interamerican Highway Saturday, killing at least 12 passengers and injuring 20 others. Officials say the bus was about 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) outside the capital, Guatemala City.

Civil Defense Director Sergio Cabanas said shortly after the first incident, vehicles were trapped by another landslide on the same road. He said at least 10 people died in the second slide.

An official with the regional fire department, Major Otto Mazariegos, said some of the victims from the second slide were rescuers and as many as 150 people are missing.

A mudslide also buried a house in Guatemala's western Quetzaltenango province, killing four people. Officials say at least four others have died in separate mudslide incidents across the country.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has declared a national emergency in the wake of the flooding and landslides. He said weeks of heavy rains have caused as much as $500 million in damage.

Tropical weather systems in both the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico have left hillsides throughout Guatemala and southern Mexico saturated with water. Meteorologists had forecast more rain throughout the region Sunday.

Heavy flooding in the Mexican Gulf state of Tabasco has forced thousands of people from their homes. Authorities in neighboring Chiapas and Oaxaca states, which border Guatemala, and the state of Veracruz have also reported serious flooding.

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