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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 181                          Email us
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Ex-president drops by
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Feds built a narco submarine, too
Amazon clouds
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Those pesky land snails are causing export problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's ornamental plant exporters are having a problem because snails and leafhoppers are showing up on their products when they arrive in the United States.

Representative of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service met with producers and Costa Rican officials to discuss the situation. The U.S. Embassy said that since the market was opened to such imports in April, some 25 percent of the Costa Rican plants have been detained for quarantine.

The culprits are the Succinea costaricana, a small land snail that many expats have seen crawling around in the garden.

There also is a problem with leafhoppers, identified as cicadelidos by the embassy in a release.
Both species are considered a danger to U.S. agriculture. Infected plants can be fumigated, which represents an additional expense to exporters here. Or the shipment may be rejected by U.S. agriculture officials. That would be a major loss to producers here. The embassy said that since the end of July some 19 shipments have been detained due to plant pests.

The bulk of the plants involved are dracaena larger than 18 inches.

In Costa Rica, plant health is handled by the  Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado.

Ornamental plants are products considered in the free trade treaty with the United States and Central American nations and the Dominican Republic. There are vast operations cultivating such plants in Costa Rica.

Marine vets will lead observance of 9/11 tragedy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S., citizens and Costa Ricans will gather at a small park in Sabana Norte this morning to mark the tragedy 11 years ago that changed the world.

The Marine Corps League will be conducting the 11 a.m. ceremony, and U.S. Embassy staffers have said that they will attend as will members of other veterans groups.

The park is called 11 de setiembre after the date when Muslim terrorists used four planes to inflict harm on the United States. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Towers in New York City. One plane, perhaps with the White House as a target, crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Another plowed into the Pentagon.

The observance this year has been characterized as low keyed. But in New York there are plans to read the names of all those who died in the twin towers and in a prior terrorist attack.

Monday Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta toured the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville and called the passengers and crew of the ill-fated plane American heroes, said the Department of Defense, adding that he placed a wreath at the memorial on the site.

The attacks triggered the Iraq war in which many U.S. service members, including Costa Rican-Americans, lost their lives.
Defense secretary
Department of Defense photo/U.S. Navy
Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

 Leon E. Panetta points out some of the photos of
 the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 that
 crashed in Pennsylvania.

Panetta said the United States is stronger and safer as a result of the sacrifices in Shanksville, and as a result of the tremendous sacrifice of those who have served this nation over these last 10 years.

The park in Sabana Norte is some 200 meters north of the Subway outlet east of the towering Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad building on the highway that parallels Parque la Sabana. That highway is Avenida de Américas, although it almost never is called that. The park also is just north of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce Building and east of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano.

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Our reader's opinion
Prices are the highest here,
but not just on food items

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Alex Lebrant is fully correct about the prices of Costa Rican-made food products being more expensive, in some cases much more expensive, than the vast majority of imported products.  We noticed this price difference a long time ago not just in the mercados in Quepos, Dominical, Uvita and San Isidro we shop in  but also in the local pulperias.  The local pulperias and the larger family owned mercados here in the central Pacific area where we shop certainly don't have purchasing power, so the reason given by Lebrant for the price difference doesn't ring true.
Now here is another twist on prices.  If you go to Paseo Canoas at the Panamá frontier and check the prices of Costa Rican products (Dos Pinos, Monteverde, chips, coffee, etc., etc.) in a Costa Rican store then walk across the street to a Panamanian store you will find the Costa Rican products are CHEAPER than in the Costa Rican store.  Of course, everything else will be cheaper also regardless of where the product comes from because Costa Rica has the highest food prices in all of Central America and the majority of South American countries.  Unfortunately, these high prices just aren't restricted to food items.
Why in the majority of instances are Costa Rican food products more expensive than imported products?  That can only be answer by the legislature.  Good luck in getting an answer.  In the meantime the price of Pura Vida just keeps going up and up and up, ad infinitum.
Frank and Karen Walker
Matapalo de Aguirre

Ferry service suspended
seven days for dredging

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ferry service to and from Paquera and Playa Naranjo on the Nicoya peninsula will be suspended for seven days starting Wednesday while government officials dredge the areas around the ferry dock in Puntarenas.

The  División Marítimo Portuaria of the transport ministry said that some 15,000 cubic meters of sand have to be removed. That is nearly 20,000 cubic yards.

Those traveling to and from the peninsula can still use the Puente de la Amistad  over the  Río Tempisque, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Foray into business results in creating vital gluten-free products
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twelve years ago Johanna Morris was sitting around her table eating plantain porridge when her father brought up the idea that they should start a business.

When she inquired what kind, he responded “Why not this?” pointing to their meal.  From that moment, she switched her gears to developing a natural product from her childhood to share with all of Costa Rica, she said.

The family business Tropics Nature was born, and Ms. Morris

Ms. Morris
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Johanna Morris displays one of her gluten-free products.
served as the general manager.  They harvested fruits and vegetables native to Costa Rica to make the products.

“We get the bananas and make the flour.  We have industrialized all the processes,” she said.

The first product in the market was green plantain flour.  However, it took one day in the grocery store, for Ms. Morris to realize the value of their work.

“A lady stopped me and said 'You’re the lady that makes this?'  I was shocked and was like 'Yeah.'  Then she said, 'You don’t know how important this is,'” she said.

The lady had celiac disease, a condition where lining of the small intestines is damaged from gluten consumption.  At the time Ms. Morris didn’t know what celiac was.  When she found out, she realized that there were only three companies in the country providing gluten-free products.  She went to work making more options, she said.

“We started to investigate and develop different products,” she said.  “We are like the pioneers of this product right now.”

Now Tropics Nature has a full line that includes pancake mixes, bread, green banana flour, garbanzo bean flour and instant porridges.

Ms. Morris represented one of 10 different women entrepreneurs who came to Banco Nacional Monday to show their ingenuity to former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.  Currently Ms. Bachelet is executive director of a United Nations agency for the equality of women.

“Michelle Bachelet is an important person at defending women’s rights.  The bank chose 10 of us to show our products.  They are looking to support women's businesses,” Ms. Morris said.

Ms. Bachelet commented that her program is very important for the future of Costa Rica.  Women aren’t making equal salaries and don’t have the same opportunities as men.  They climb and climb, work and work, but stay in the same place, she said.

She is working to put laws in place to stop this, but she also said laws aren’t perfect.

The former president also works with themes against women’s violence, prevention and services for victims.

Tamarindo gets a taste of aftershocks as evaluations continue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Earthquake activity continues on the Pacific coast. Tamarindo got a taste of the shaking at 8:14 p.m. Monday.

The Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmica at Universidad de Costa Rica reported a 4.2 tremor just 8.6 miles offshore. That's a bit more than five miles. There were no reports of serious damage.

Tamarindo is further north on the Pacific coast than Sámara where most of the aftershocks have been centered.

Government officials are continuing their evaluation of Wednesday's 7.6 magnitude quake. They said some 494 homes have been located with some type of damage and that 60 of these had severe damage.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the state insurance company, had its mobile van in service and it was based this week in Santa Cruz. The institute also said that its office in Nicoya had received 388 claims for damage and that the Liberia office has received 67.

The national emergency commission said that the Ministerio de Educación Pública has identified 170 schools with some kind of damage. The Liceo Académico de Nicoya and the Técnico Profesional de La Mansión will need major reconstruction, it said.

The commission also said that vehicle traffic has been blocked
on a bridge over the Río Armado at Caimital. The road joins
Sámara and Nicoya. An inspection turned up damage to the bridge. There is an alternate route, the commission said.

The commission, correctly said some families still were in shelters.

Temporary tents have been erected at the Clínica de Nandayure and at Hospital Monseñor Sanabria in Puntarenas. The Puntarenas institution will reopen its outpatient clinic today, said the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

The U.S. Embassy is urging foreigners who want to help to send money and not items. It suggested sending the money to the U.S. Agency for International Development or the International Red Cross.

There also is the possibility of crooks setting up an operation to collect funds in the name of earthquake victims.

One legitimate effort is being run by the real estate firm CR Home. Hanz Lepik, an employee, said that seven families were displaced by the Wednesday earthquake in Peralta de Grecia. He said the real estate firm has set up a Web site to contact for donations. The firm is headquartered in that area although it has projects at the beach, too.

The site maybe accessed HERE!  The site takes a small commission, Lepik said. Cruz Roja in Costa Rica also is soliciting donations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 181
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Those morning jungle mists appear to depend on salts
By the U.S. Department of Energy news staff

It’s morning, deep in the jungle. In the still air innumerable leaves glisten with moisture, and fog drifts through the trees. As the sun rises, clouds appear and float across the forest canopy. But where do they come from? Water vapor needs soluble particles to condense on. Airborne particles are the seeds of liquid droplets in fog, mist, and clouds.

Scientific analysis provided essential clues to the evolution of fine particles around which Amazon jungle clouds and fog condense, beginning with chemicals produced by living organisms. The research team found that among the most important initial triggers of the process are potassium salts.

The researchers for U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other institutions found three different types of organic aerosol particles: oxidation products based on chemicals emitted by trees, including terpenes, the major component of turpentine, from tree resin, and isoprene, another organic compound released through leaves.

“In the beginning we focused on the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen contents of the organic materials,” said German research Christopher Pöhlker. “But then, to our surprise, we found very high potassium levels, up to 20 percent.” The 77 Amazonian aerosol samples were remarkable for the strong signal of potassium, in the form of salts, in all but three of them.

The samples were on the scale of mere millionths or billionths of a meter. The smaller the aerosol, the greater the proportion of potassium, Those collected early in the morning were the smallest and richest in potassium. Larger particles contained more organic material but not more potassium. These facts suggest that potassium salts generated during the night acted as seeds for condensation.

“Biomass burning is also a rich source for potassium-containing aerosols in forested regions, but potassium from forest fires is correlated with the presence of soot, a graphitic form of carbon,” said Mary Gilles of the Department of Energy. “Before and during the collection period there were no documented fires that could have affected the biosphere where the samples were collected, and no evidence of soot was observed in the samples. Hence the source of potassium could only have been natural forest organisms.”

Fungal spores in the larger aerosol samples pointed to the prime suspect. Some fungi launch spores by building up water pressure through osmosis in sacs that contain the spores; when the pressure is great enough, the sacs bursts and squirts the spores
Amazon forest
Fabrice Marr, Creative Commons
 Water droplets in the morning mists of the Amazon jungle
 condense around aerosol particles.

 into the air, along with fluid containing potassium, chloride, and sugar alcohol. Other fungi also ejecting potassium, sodium, phosphates, sugars, and sugar alcohol.

Other biogenic mechanisms also release salts into the early morning mists that cover the forest, including salts dissolved in water by transpiration during the day and, at night, the oozing of sap rich in sugars, minerals, and potassium from the edges of leaves.

Thus invisibly tiny grains of potassium salts, generated by natural plants and other living things at night and early in the morning, play a key role in the formation of aerosols in the rainforest.

Throughout the rainy season the cloud cover, precipitation, water cycle, and finally the climate of the Amazon basin and beyond can be traced back to salts from fungi and plants in the undisturbed jungle, providing the precursors of natural cloud-condensation nuclei and directly influencing how fog and clouds form and evolve in the rainforest.

Ms. Gilles is with the Chemical Sciences Division at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Another researcher is David Kilcoyne of the lab’s Advanced Light Source.

 Pöhlker is with the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

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Food prices are unchanged
and worst may be over

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Global food prices were unchanged in the August U.N. index, following a sharp rise in the previous month.  

A summer of drought in the United States and the Russian Federation has reduced anticipated global corn and wheat supplies. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s index of globally-traded food commodities rose 6 percent in July as a result.

But the worst appears to be over, says economist Concepcion Calpe. “We’re not in a bad situation, or as bad situation as we were last month because the prospects are not worsening further. And that is already good news.” She is with the  Food and Agriculture Organization.

It is also relatively good news that the index remains about 10 percent below its February 2011 peak, Ms. Calpe said, but food prices are still double what they were a decade ago.

“They’re high; they are not low," Ms. Calpe says. "But they are not as high as they were last year.”

Demand remains high for food commodities. The United Nations estimates that more cereal crops will be consumed this year than will be produced, which means markets will dip into reserve supplies.

But Ms. Calpe cautioned that those reserves have been low for several years. “And therefore we are very much susceptible to very quick changes because there is very little buffer on which to rely to protect ourselves should there be other bad news on the production front.”

According to Ms. Calpe, market volatility is likely to be a factor for the foreseeable future, until production catches up with demand.

While prices are high, many experts do not expect a repeat of the crisis of 2007 and 2008, when spikes in food prices contributed to civil unrest in several countries. For one thing, they say, energy prices are lower now, which means producing and delivering food is not as costly.

And this year’s harsh weather has not affected rice, another key commodity, says Gary Eilerts, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning System.

“Rice is very calm, very nice," he says. "The prices are not volatile. There’s a large supply. And so, countries that depend on that, that were hurt a great deal in 2008, are not being touched right now.”

The countries hurt by high rice prices in 2008 might be less vulnerable to high corn prices because they do not buy their corn from the global markets represented in the food price index.

Chicago teachers on strike
in dispute over pay, benefits

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Some 29,000 teachers and support staff in the Midwest U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois are on strike, upset over reforms proposed by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.  The dispute between the city and teachers' union centers on pay and benefits, as Chicago Public Schools, also known as CPS, faces a $3 billion budget deficit over the next three years.
After failing to reach an agreement during weekend meetings described as intense, the Chicago Teachers Union walked off the job Monday, leaving the parents of about 350,000 school children scrambling to find care.
“Our kids, the kids of Chicago, belong in the classroom," said the Chicago mayor, who criticized the strike as unnecessary. “I am disappointed that we have come to this point, given that all the other parties acknowledge how close we are. This is a strike of choice."
One major sticking point between the union and CPS is job security. 
Union negotiators want to have a system in place that calls recently laid off teachers back to work when new jobs become available.  This is important to the union because of rumors CPS plans to close up to 100 schools as it struggles to close a $3 billion budget deficit, something Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis acknowledged.
“Recognizing the board's fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation.  However, we are far apart on benefits," she said.
Lewis says the union wants to keep the health benefits teachers currently receive under the existing contract, another key issue standing in the way of an agreement.

Sex exploitation cited
 in report on Honduras

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A United Nations independent expert called Monday on Honduras to increase its efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation, adding that the country still faces many challenges to ensure they are not victims of prostitution, pornography and abuse. 

“Weaknesses in the education system, poverty, socioeconomic disparities, insecurity and violence all contribute to children’s vulnerability to multiple forms of economic and/or sexual exploitation,” said the special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, in the wake of a 10-day visit to the Central American country. 

In a news release, Ms. Maalla M’jid warned that the rate of girls that are sexually exploited is extremely worrying, as well as the large number of young women who are pregnant due to abuse by relatives. She noted that the lack of sex education does not allow children to be aware of the inherent risks of sexual relations and early pregnancies. 

“The scope of the sale and sexual exploitation continues to be difficult to determine due to the lack of systematic denunciation caused by fear of retaliation and stigmatization, as well as social tolerance for violence and the difficulty in accessing mechanisms to guarantee rapid protection and security of children,” the expert said. 

During her visit, which ended Friday, Ms. Maalla M’jid met various government officials, civil society and private sector representatives. She also visited centers dedicated to the protection of children who have been victims of violence and abuse, where she spoke to children and teenagers about their experiences. 

Ms. Maalla M’jid noted that reforms at a national and local level have not been effective due to a lack of coordination among institutions, limited resources, and slow judicial investigations, which do not ensure protection to victims and witnesses. 

She called on the government to adopt a unified and integrated approach to address the issue, and to reinforce its police and justice mechanisms so they effectively sanction perpetrators as quickly as possible. She also stressed that progress will not be achieved without strong political will and support from U.N. agencies and the international community. 

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.   

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narco sub
Homeland Security's Science
& Technology Directorate photo
This is Pluto on a test run.

U.S. has its own narco sub
to test detection devices

By the Homeland Security's Science
& Technology Directorate

Pluto, now officially an asteroid, was known for decades as a small, dark planet, hidden, difficult to spot, and on a quiet, determined course all its own. And so, when the Department of Homeland Security needed a target semi-submersible to detect the hidden but determined maritime smuggling operations of the South American drug cartels, it created its own vessel and called it "Pluto."  The department's Science & Technology Directorate creation is a small, semi-submersible that is representative of what are popularly called narco subs, and serves as a realistic practice target for the detection systems of the department and its national security community partners.

Such outlaw subs carry cocaine along the Costa Rican coast north to México and beyond.

In the early 1990s, South American drug cartels came up with a new tactic to transport narcotics destined for the United States: small, radar-dodging, self-propelled, semi-submersibles. Although clandestine semi-submersibles were rumored to exist in the mid-1990s, many believed them to be a myth. Then in 2006, an actual Colombian semi-submersible was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Today, drug cartels continue to build their narco subs.

With low profiles and low radar reflectivity, these illegal, stealthy, drug-running semi-submersibles cut through the water at wave height and are nearly impossible to detect.

Homeland Security built Pluto in 2008 with many of the same features as the vessels built by the cartels. It is used as a target to help test the performance of detection systems and give operators of those systems real world experience under controlled conditions. This testing helps develop new concepts of operation for seaborne, airborne, and space-borne technologies to spot illegal vessels.

"Small surface vessels, self-propelled semi-submersibles, and now the most recent innovation of fully submerged vessels, pose significant challenges to maritime security," says Tom Tomaiko of the Borders and Maritime Security Division.

Dozens of these boats have been captured by the U.S. and other law enforcement agencies in the last few years, sometimes with their cargo still on board.

Meanwhile, cramped living conditions within the illegal subs can be horrendous.

If the mission is undetected and the drugs successfully delivered, the vessel is typically scuttled and not reused. "Drug-running is lucrative. It is cheaper to simply build another vessel than to run the risk of trying to get a vessel and its crew home," says Tomaiko.

Pluto is housed at Eglin Air Force Base, near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and is maintained by the Air Force's 46th Test Squadron.

Pluto is just over 45 feet long, can run roughly 10 knots at maximum speed and can hold a crew of three to four, although it usually operates with only one.

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