A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 181
Jo Stuart
About us


These schoolboy drummers are practicing on a street in Cahuita. But this is a common scene this week all over Costa Rica as school bands prepare for the independence day parade. If you haven't heard the drums, you haven't been here!

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Viindas

The patriotic sentiment is on the upswing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The torch is on the way and the youngsters are preparing their faroles for Wednesday night.

Although Thursday, the Día de Independencia, is a holiday the night before also is a traditional time for speeches, patriotic songs and the lanterns, called faroles here.

Everything seems in readiness. The Atorcha de Independencia has arrived in Costa Rica from Guatemala City, and hundreds of school children are carrying it to Cartago, the colonial capital.

The torch was last reported somewhere south of Liberia on the InterAmerican highway, and transit police are running security for the youthful bearers.

It was the night of Sept. 14, 1821, under the lights of lanterns and torches that the citizens of Guatemala City drafted and approved the act of independence from Spain.  The news reached Costa Rica later — over much the same route being taken by the torch.

Runners with the torch will pass through San José on Avenida 2 Wednesday night en route to Cartago where a larger flame will be ignited.

In Desamparados at 6 p.m. residents and officials will start their own ceremony to mark
the 184th anniversary of the nation's independence. A torch, lighted from the flame from Guatemala City will be received there. A parade of faroles and fireworks follows at 7 p.m.

In the canton's Parque Central Thursday there will be a meeting of the municipal council, more speeches, singing and dances.

The national government will be transported to Cartago Thursday, also for patriotic sentiments. And there will be parades all over the country.

Although it may seem centuries old, the parade of faroles Wednesday night dates only from 1953, according to historical sources. But the idea was taken up quickly by school children who frequently fashion their own lanterns, although others are available at stores.

Thursday is a legal holiday. Employers have to pay workers double time for labor that day. Chances are some workers are looking at Friday as a sick day to firm up a five-day weekend.

Although not exactly in the spirit of independence, the Junta de Protección Social has started selling tickets for a special Independence Day lottery with a drawing set for Sunday. Top prize is 150 million colons, about $310,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 181

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Some dengue cases found
around Central Valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dengue appears to have made its way into the Central Valley. Although the bulk of some 20,000 cases of the mosquito-born disease are on the Pacific coast and along the Caribbean, health officials report at least 18 cases in Desamparados. Other cases are believed to be in other suburbs of San José.

Costa Rica is facing a wave of dengue with cases more than 200 percent higher than in the previous year. About three dozen of the cases throughout the country are the hemorrhagic and possibly lethal kind.

Health workers are going house-to-house in some sections of the Central Valley in an effort to eliminate the breeding places of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the dengue virus.

Many residents have immunity to one or more of the strains of the disease, but children are particularly hard hit. However, the only fatality so far this year was a young man from Puntarenas.

Health officials had warned that the disease would show up in the Central Valley after school vacations ended and residents returned from trips to Dengue-infected areas.

Escazú Christian Fellowship
celebrates 20th anniversary

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s largest English-language churches will celebrate its 20th anniversary this weekend with a special service, a dinner and several additional activities.

The congregation, Escazú Christian Fellowship, began as a small Sunday school class for children on the west side of San José in 1985. Later, the group added an evening service and other activities as the membership grew.

For many years, the church met at the Country Day School in Escazú, but currently holds its services and Sunday school classes at 5 p.m. on Sunday evenings at the International Baptist Church, located just off of the Santa Ana Highway at the Guachípelin exit.

Preaching at this Sunday’s service will be Rev. David Heath, a former pastor of the church. The service will also include a presentation on the history of the church. A covered-dish dinner will follow the service. Saturday, the church is sponsoring a trip to the Ariel Tram near Limón and a Saturday evening fellowship time.

Church leaders have extended an invitation to former members and all friends of the church to participate in the service and other weekend activities. More information may be obtained by calling the church at 395-9653.

Also, Rev. Kenneth D. MacHarg, who has served as the church’s interim pastor since January, has been appointed as the permanent pastor of the church. Rev. MacHarg has also served as the pastor of similar churches in Panamá and Ecuador.

Tax plan stays alive
on a single vote

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed changes in the tax laws escaped being shelved Monday by a single vote in the Asamblea Legislative.

Federico Malavassi, the Libertario lawmaker who opposes the complex plan of new taxes, asked that the 400-plus page proposal be sent back to committee. This would be an elegant burial for a package of taxes that already has an announced death, he said.

But Mario Redondo, another lawmaker, said that to bury the plan would do a great disservice to the country because central bank officials, Ministerio de Hacienda officials and others are meeting with international financial experts in the coming weeks. If the plan is ditched, the impact will cost the country some 30 billion colons in higher interest on external debt, Redondo said. He is of the same political party, Unidad Social Cristiana, as President Abel Pacheco, the tax plans most unrelenting proponent.

The tax plan will substitute a value-added tax for the current 13 percent sales tax and also seek to tax income generated outside the country. It also extends the value added tax to services. In all, the plan would raise $500 million in new taxes.

The vote on the motion to bury the tax plan was 22 to 23, so the proposal stays alive on the floor of the legislature.

Mark your calendar for Dec. 11

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It may be the middle of September, but soon Christmas decorations will be going up, and it is not too early to announce that the Festival de la Luz this year will be Saturday, Dec. 11. The parade begins at the Gimnasio Nacional in La Sabana and disbands at the Plaza de la Democracia near the Museo Nacional.

This is the big parade of the Christmas season filled with complex and expensive floats and many bands.  And some jolly guy with a red suit!

The Municipalidad de San José still is accepting registrations for floats and participants.
Our readers' opinions
He says customs here
is corrupt and failing

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am amused at how defensive so many American readers of A.M. Costa Rica have been of Costa Rica customs and duties referred to in the story of Mr. Bandoletti. Having lived in Costa Rica almost four years and doing business here, I have lived Mr. Bandoletti’s story time and time again...between customs in Limón and airport customs here in San Jose.

While I understand the sentiments that Americans should be less “ugly” and learn a second language (which I have), I think that's a high price to pay for an American to bring in 90 $3 baseball caps and be held up one day of a short vacation just for a signature. Just ask your honest Tico friends how THEY view customs and duty taxes here. They will teach you a whole new Spanish vocabulary.

There is no question that the custom and duty systems of Costa Rica and this whole region are corrupt, obnoxious, and truly discourage trade and economic development here. I don't know why anyone would defend a system that is failing miserably. Maybe they COULD use a little more gringo efficiency and systems in this country , , , especially if they want to keep tourism as their No. 1 industry.
Name withheld by request
and for a good reason
San Jose
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Ortega backs down slightly in Nicaraguan crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

The Sandinista leader in Nicaragua seems to have softened his tone and now says his party will not try to oust the sitting president and his ministers.

Meanwhile, the president, Enrique Bolaños, said that the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, is backing away from his pact with Arnoldo Alemán, another presidential foe. These developments took place after the Organization of American States expressed its concern about what it calls an "escalation of the institutional and political crisis" in Nicaragua.

In a statement Friday, the Organization of American States said the crisis threatens "democratic governance" in the Central American nation, along with the "legitimate exercise of power, and the rule of law, with serious social and economic consequences, both now and in the future, for the people of Nicaragua."

Ortega, head of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, met with Bolaños over the weekend. Later Bolaños headed for Costa Rica for a meeting with other Central American presidents.

Ortega and Alemán have been under strong international press to back off from their plan to unseat Bolaños. Ortega's party and the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista of Alemán control the Asamblea Nacional and the Corte Suprema de Justicia.  The assembly has passed constitutional reforms stripping the president of much of his power.

Alemán has a personal reason to oust Bolaños. Alemán is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption. But, thanks to his alliance with Ortega, he has been granted
conditional liberty by the supreme court.

The Corte Centroamericana de Justicia rejected the constitutional reforms put forward by Ortega and Alemán, giving Bolaños ammunition to continue his battle for survival.

The Organization of American States said its Permanent Council approved a resolution Friday urging "in the strongest possible terms" that the parties involved in the Nicaraguan crisis enter into a broad and constructive dialogue, respect the authority of President Bolaños and cease "any action that could aggravate the political crisis in Nicaragua."

The Permanent Council instructed OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to convey its concern about the situation to the parties involved in Nicaragua's crisis.  The resolution stressed "the importance of action" to "maintain the system of democratic institutions and [to] reach agreements" in Nicaragua "that will preserve governance, the rule of law and the country's stability, in keeping with the OAS charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

The Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted in September 2001, is designed to reinforce active defense of representative democracy in the Americas through the OAS. 

In June, Insulza made a four-day visit to Nicaragua with the goal of helping to find a solution to the country's crisis.

The announcement by Ortega that his party would no longer try to unseat Bolaños comes on the first day that lawmakers returned from a mid-term break.
Both Ortega and Alemán are former presidents.

Murdered girl was dumped into river to drown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Whoever killed the 8-year-old schoolgirl last week did so by sticking her in a bag, tying her up and dumping her in a river to drown.

That seems to be the most logical recounting of events after the preliminary findings of an autopsy said that the girl died of drowning.

Investigators are now stuck trying to find a motive and a suspect. The autopsy also showed that the girl was not molested sexually — at least on the day she died, probably Sept. 5 — and that she did not suffer other types of injuries, like bruises.

A funeral service for the girl, Josebeth Adelina Retana Rojas, took place Monday in Ticari de Horquetas de Sarapiquí. It was an emotional farewell captured in detail by the local television stations. She was carried to the cemetery in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in a child-size white coffin.

Investigators took in one man, a neighbor, for questioning and to provide blood and hair samples.
Agents are trying to match hair found on the bag used to hold fertilizer and on the girl's body that did not appear to come from her. The neighbor lives not more than 150 feet from the girl's home, and witnesses put him in the same general area as the girl that afternoon of Sept. 5 when she was walking home from school.

However, no allegations have been put forth and there is no indication that the questioning is anything more than a routine process. Such DNA tests are not completed overnight.

Local television also was quick to recount the deaths of other children over the last five years. But no other case appears related to the death of Josebeth Retana. and in some cases there have been arrests and convictions of the murderers.

Costa Ricans have a special love for children, and the intensive search for the girl continued Friday, which was the national Día del Niño. So the case has a high profile in the minds of the average citizen even though the murder took place outside the heavily populated Central Valley.

California researchers say distractions are the key
Memory problems in elderly may be filtering errors
By the University of California at Berkeley
News Service

The short-term memory problems that accompany normal aging are associated with an inability to filter out surrounding distractions, not problems with focusing attention, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although older patients often report difficulty tuning out distractions, this is the first hard evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of the brain that memory failure owes more to interference from irrelevant information than to an inability to focus on relevant information.

Brain scan photos show activity in the scene-selective visual area of the brain when a young adult is asked to remember a scene (enhanced activity) versus ignore a scene (lessened activity).

"Difficulty filtering out distractions impacts a wide range of daily life activities, such as driving, social interactions and reading, and can greatly affect quality of life," said study leader Dr. Adam Gazzaley, adjunct assistant professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley and a newly appointed assistant professor of neurology and physiology at UC San Francisco.

"These results reveal that efficiently focusing on relevant information is not enough to ensure successful memory," he said. "It is also necessary to filter distractions. Otherwise, our capacity-limited short-term memory system will be overloaded."

The finding could mean that an inability to ignore distracting information is at the heart of many cognitive problems accompanying aging, Gazzaley said, and suggests that drugs targeting that problem may be more effective at improving memory than drugs that improve focusing ability. He now is
exploring the therapeutic role of different medications — including one of the main drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease — in older individuals with suppression deficits.

Because Gazzaley and his colleagues have identified areas of the brain that are markers for focusing and ignoring visual information, functional magnetic resonance imaging may be a good tool for assessing the value of therapies designed to improve memory and for diagnosing attention and memory problems in young and old, ranging from attention deficit disorder to dementia.

Gazzaley, coauthor Mark D'Esposito, research assistant Jeffrey W. Cooney and graduate student Jesse Rissman reported their findings in the online journal Nature Neuroscience.

Gazzaley and his colleagues compared young adults aged 19 to 30 with older adults aged 60 to 77 using a simple memory test that introduced irrelevant information. The tests were conducted while subjects' heads were inside an imaging scanner so that activity in the brain could be pinpointed.

While young subjects were easily able to suppress brain activity in areas that process information irrelevant to the memory task, older adults on average were unable to suppress such distracting information. Both groups were equally able to enhance brain activity in the areas dealing with information relevant to the task.

Interestingly, six of the 16 older adults had well-preserved short-term memory and no problems ignoring irrelevant information, suggesting that some people are able to avoid memory loss as they age.

Gazzaley hopes to find out what makes these people different from the average aging adult.

Chinese president after investments in Canada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The President of the People's Republic of China, Hu Jintao, has begun an official visit to Canada. Trade, investment and human rights are among the issues being addressed during the trip.

On his first full day in Canada, the Chinese president held a private meeting with top Canadian government officials. After meeting in Ottawa, the country's capital, Hu and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin watched officials sign several bilateral agreements and talked with media.

During the multi-city tour across Canada the Chinese official will also visit Toronto, picturesque Niagara Falls and the west coast city of Vancouver. During this time he will also take side trips to México City and the United Nations in New York.

Many human rights organizations are promising to hold protests in those Canadian cities during Hu's visit. Prime Minister Martin said he had a thorough
discussion with Hu about his concerns regarding human rights in China and his desire for improvement.

Martin said he voiced particular concern about Tibet and the Falun Gong spiritual sect. He said he called for "greater freedom of expression, association, religion and faith" in China.

The Canadian prime minister also reiterated support for a one-China policy, but repeated his opposition to the use of force against Taiwan. In response, Hu again rejected Taiwanese independence. He said China is improving its record on human rights, but the two countries may view the issue differently.

China and Canada also signed agreements that will see increased collaboration on nuclear energy, more direct flights between the two countries, purchase of Canadian train parts, and sharing of research.

For the rest of his Canadian trip, Hu will meet with local political and business leaders during each stop. The tour wraps up in Vancouver  Saturday.

Jo Stuart
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