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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 182              E-mail us
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September is Patriotic Month in Costa Rica. Today is the day 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!

San José high school students carry the antorcha, the Torch of Liberty, down Avenida 2 enroute to Cartago Tuesday night.
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President gives chilling independence day speech
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla gave what can only be described as a terrifying speech to mark the country's 189th year of independence, She said that criminal elements were threatening the sovereignty of the nation.

Using the antorcha, the Torch of Liberty, as a focus, the president said the torch on its travels to Cartago passed through Guatemala and saw the terror among the thousands who live in the most violent country in the globe. She also noted the torch passed through El Salvador where workers are threatened by the massacre of 14 bus passengers murdered by gangs and in Honduras where the torch heard the weeping of the families of 17 young men also massacred in a factory there.

"We shouldn't kid ourselves. The same winds of violence that spread themselves with fury in other Central American countries and elsewhere now blow in our soil," the president said.

She mentioned the campaign of 1856 when Costa Rican forces entered Nicaragua to confront armies directed by the U.S. filibusterer William Walker, adding:  "Today it's another threat, but this time the calamity that approaches us is more insidious and its means are practically unlimited. We live in a situation more grave than in 1856 because, as opposed to then, today we don't see the invaders and its powers extend through the whole country penetrating through the consumption of drugs and by the effects of criminality in our own homes and without respect for age or social condition."

"My duty is to talk to Costa Rica with clarity,: she said, adding that the government is at the point of losing measures of control over sovereignty, territorial spaces and the integrity of its institutions. "The country is in grave danger, she said. The country's schools, parks, avenues have been converted into lines of fire among those who battle for the control of drugs, she said.

Nevertheless, Ms. Chinchilla proposed no specific new solutions.

Ms. Chinchilla said that the government cannot continue doing what it has done. She said that resources must be mobilized. She said her government was determined to fight with valor and determination through the design and execution of social programs and opportunities
Ms. chinchilla and torch
Casa Presidencial photo
Nery Brenes holds up the torch in Cartago as he stands alongside the president.

  for the population to neutralize the advances of criminality.

She called on the Asamblea Legislativa and the courts to support her in this fight. She said her government has asked the legislature for resources, a reference to measures that would tax casinos and exact a $300 annual tax on corporations. And she asked the courts for wisdom, which seemed to be a reference to the Sala IV constitutional court decision that just outlawed indiscriminate police searches.

Her government is trying to get the court to reverse itself.

She called on citizens to be responsible because without responsibility democracy drowns, she said. In a paraphrase of John Kennedy, she said every citizen should ask "What am I doing for my community, for my barrio, for my people." She held up the nation's historical heroes as examples, including Juan Santamaría, a hero of the 1856 campaign.

Then Ms. Chinchillaaa cited Nery Brenes, who was with her, as a modern hero. He is a runner who just won international gold medals. She said all of Costa Rica should learn from his example based in perseverance and the ability to succeed against negative predictions.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 182

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  Two children were among many who had their faroles on 
  display at the independence celebration in Cartago
  Tuesday night.

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Storms are lined up across the Atlantic again

Storm-caused flooding
continues all over nation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 18 cantons have suffered from the impact of rains Monday and early Tuesday.

The hardest hit were homes along the Río María Angular south of San José where 25 homes were undermined by the river and two were destroyed. Entire households could be seen floating down the river.

Emergency work was being done in Desamparados, Montes de Oca, Mora, Moravia, Curridabat, San José, La Unión, Cartago,  Alajuela, Bagaces, Nicoya, Abangares, Turrialba, Putarenas, Guatuzo, Alajuela, San Ramón and El Guarco.

Shelters were operating in Zapote and in Bagaces in Guanacaste. Some parts of the Pacific coast got as much as 5 inches of rain overnight.

And the trouble is not over. The national emeregency commission has an alert posted because a low pressure area above the Yucatan peninsula has become a tropical storm.  This is Karl and the effects are being felt here. The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional blamed the heavy rainfall Monday and Tuesday on this weather system.

The Central Valley was hit with electrical storms in the midafternoon. However the storms were not as strong as the ones Monday.

Meanwhile the U.S. Nacional Hurricane Center noted that two more systems, both official hurricanes, are lined up across the Atlantic. They are Igor and Julia.  


Whale patrol keeps eye
on mothers and offspring

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in Quepos reports that its patrol personnel are paying particular attention to the maternity ward in the sea where hundreds of humpback whales are giving birth.

The coast guard is joined by Marviva, a private organization, in trying to keep fishing boats away from the young whales. The areas of concern are mainly off the Parque Marino Ballena and the Isla del Caño in the canton of Osa in the southern Pacific coast.

Much of the work is educational in talking to fishermen about the whales, which began arriving in July.  The coast guard officers also contact tourist operators to remind them to stay at least 200 meters (about 650 feet) away from the whales. Some whale mothers do not take kindly to intrusions and presumed danger to their babies, said the coast guard.

Captains of tourist boats also are supposed to cut their engines while they are viewing whales, the coast guard said.


13 year old is murder suspect
in death of 9-year-old boy


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 13 year old has been detained in the killing of Steward Alfaro Barrantes, 9. The crime happened Aug. 31 when the 9 year old was on the way to a local store in the La Carpio district. He was struck down by a stray shot generated by gunplay between rival youth gangs. A woman also was wounded. Two other youths, 16 and 17, also have been detained. One is the brother of the 13 year old.


Missing Osa man located
after Sunday traffic accident


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents confirmed Tuesday that they have found the body of a 19-year-old man swept away by a current after a vehicle was hit by a surge of water. The body was located by a resident.

He was identified by the last name of Viquez. The accident happened Sunday in Tres Rios de Coronado de Osa. Also in the vehicle was a U.S. citizen identified as Gordon Ray Smith, investigators said. His body was found the same day. Investigators said Smith was the stepfather to the younger man. Smith tried to cross a stream in his vehicle when the water surge hit and carried the car downstream, investigators said.

The body found Tuesday was some distance away in Punta Mala de Osa.

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An Heredia-bound passenger train kissed a compact Chevrolet Tuesday afternoon a block west of Hospital Calderón Guardia and flipped the vehicle into nearby trees. The woman driver ended up in the nearby hospital's emergency room. There are no plans for crossing gates, but the train engineers blow their horns at crossings.
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Restoring rail service to Cartago will be in two stages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The extension of rail service to Cartago will be in two steps, the transport ministry has announced.  The first will be to restore the trackage east to Tres Rios. The second stage will refurbish the line all the way to Cartago.

The length is 23.5 kilometers, about 14.5 miles. President Laura Chinchilla and Miguel Carabaguíaz, head of the rail agency, signed a memo at the independence day celebration in Cartago Tuesday night. The memo spells out the responsibilities of the agencies involved.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that it would provide resources to the rail agency, the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, and provide landscaping and drainage along the line.
The rail agency will use much of what already exists to being the lines back into shape, a process that may take several years. Government officials have said they plan to extend the valley train line to San Antonio de Belén first. The line now goes as far east as Curridabat.

Just like when extensive repairs are done to an old house, the rail agency is likely to find hidden problems when it begins the work. The agency at first tried to restore the San José-Heredia line rapidly, but there were derailments, including one involving a ceremonial train carrying then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez. Eventually the institute had to replace many of the cross ties with new concrete ones and totally redo the trackage.

The line now exists to Cartago but it has not been used for years.


Sex offender has been on the loose since 2005 conviction
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A convicted child sex offender has been on the loose since 2005 and now the Judicial Investigating Organization would like the help of the public to find him.

The man is Luis Antonio Carmona Gómez. Judicial agents said that he was sentenced by a trial court in Alajuela May 20, 2005, to four years in prison.

The case involves the molestation of a 3 year old girl. The crime happened in Urbanización Paso Flores in Alajuela when the man took advantage of the girl when they were alone, judicial agents said.
The Ministerio Público and the Sección de Capturas of the judicial police have been trying to find the man but now they are seeking the public help.

Agents did not say how the man managed to evade prison, but typically a trial court sentence is not executed until the case has been reviewed by the Sala II high criminal court. This is one of the reasons former president Rafael Calderón Fournier is not in jail. His appeals of his sentence have not been reviewed by the high court yet.

Judges have the authority to remand a person who is convicted of a crime, but generally they allow them to live normally if they have roots in the community.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 182


Study says insect species might be grossly undercounted

By the Umeå University news service

How many species of insects exist? Umeå University researcher Genoveva Rodríguez-Castañeda found that in tropical mountains there are six times more insects than shown in global calculations. The insects in these areas are also highly specialized in their choice of food.

The study was based, in part, on the Barva volcano.

“Our results urge ecologists to account for biogeographical variation when extrapolating in order to obtain global estimates,” she said.

Up until now researchers have calculated insect global diversity to be highest at tropical latitudes and the estimates for total number of insect species in the world ranges from five to ten million species. However, these calculations are based from indices derived from plant insect interactions measured in tropical lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Ms. Rodríguez-Castañeda examined if there was geographical variation in the nature of plant-insect interactions across elevation and if these differences were relevant for global estimates of insect diversity.

Her study shows that plant herbivore associations change across elevation. Herbivore insects have a higher specialization on which host plants they use in tropical montane forests than in tropical lowland forests. These  differences occurred not only locally across the
 Ecuadorean Andes but also across the Barva volcano in Costa Rica.

Furthermore, estimates of herbivore diversity increased drastically when geographical variations on herbivore-plant interactions were accounted for the neotropical zone.

“This shows that what we know of insect diversity still lacks knowledge on tropical mountain diversity. I have worked with one type of herbivore insects, moths. Now we need to test if this pattern also occurs in other types of herbivore,” she explains.

The researchers incorporated various ecological factors into a model that would explain tropical herbivore diversity. It showed how food sources are not the only predictor of herbivore diversity. Other factors that increase in tropical montane ecosystems such as stability of climate, protection from predators and evolutionary history may play a more important role.

The study highlights a gap in tropical ecology knowledge since there is very little research done with herbivore plant interactions in montane ecosystems. At the same time it demonstrates how tropical montane systems host high diversity of specialized insects.

The results are published in the journal Ecology Letters with the title “Tropical forests are not flat: how mountains affect herbivore diversity”.



European rights court expands protection of newsrooms

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held Tuesday that media premises are exempt from police searches, marking a major victory for press freedom across the continent.

“This ruling was an acid test for the Court and for media freedom across Europe,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, counsel for a coalition of intervening organizations. “It sets a high benchmark for protection of journalistic materials and will force police and prosecutors across Europe, from Russia to France, to change their practices.”

In its decision in Sanoma v. the Netherlands, the court reversed an earlier ruling and held that police cannot search media premises or seize journalistic materials unless they can show it is absolutely necessary in the investigation of a serious crime and have obtained a judicial warrant. The court is based in Strasbourg, France.

“A number of recent judgments had raised questions about the European Court's commitment to the original principles
of its Article 10 jurisprudence,” said Darian  Pavli,
legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative.

“Today's ruling reaffirms the vital importance of free media as a cornerstone of any democratic society.”

The judgment upholds and builds on earlier rulings such as Goodwin v. UK, which established the right of journalists to protect their sources.

“In this judgment, the European Court lays down a clear marker for the protection of journalistic materials,” said Peter Noorlander, legal director at the Media Legal Defence Initiative. “This will force a change in law and practice across Europe, not only in countries like Russia and Romania but also in France and the Netherlands, where new legislation is now required."

"The court today said in the clearest terms that all European nations must have strong laws that protect the media's fundamental right to confidential sources in order to ensure the public's right to know. Every country must now review their laws and ensure that these rights are fully respected." said David Banisar, senior legal counsel for Article 19.


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Cuba faces big reforms
as it embraces privatization


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba's government plan to lay off half a million state workers and encourage them to move into private sector jobs is part of a sweeping economic reform. Economic experts say Cuba faces several challenges in fostering private businesses.

For months, President Raúl Castro has been warning about inevitable layoffs in the state sector, which represents 95 percent of Cuba's economy.  He says the state is struggling because too many workers are redundant and have low productivity.

Monday, the Cuban Workers Confederation unveiled a plan that includes cutting more than 500,000 state employees by April.  The labor union group says the government cannot continue to support entities with inflated payrolls and losses that drag down the island's economy.

Washington-based economist George Montalvan says the plan is in response to an economic crisis.  He says Havana made a similar move when the Soviet Union and its financial support of Cuba collapsed in the early 1990s.

"They are doing something that is similar, but definitely of greater magnitude because 500,000 individuals is 10 percent of the Cuban labor force," he said. "So it is a lot of people."

Cuban officials say most of those people can be absorbed into private sector jobs as the government prepares to relax rules on non-state industries.  The workers confederation says new reforms will allow Cubans to lease land, form cooperatives and become self-employed.

Cuba made a similar move in the 1990s when it allowed people to open small restaurants and hostels, and allowed businesses to accept U.S. dollars.  Analysts say the current plan might go even further, by allowing businesses to hire employees and lease property.

John Kavulich, U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council senior advisor, says many questions remain about how these changes will be implemented.  He says current laws make it nearly impossible for Cubans to form a small business.

"They have to make available the means of production," he said. "If someone needs a machine for example, does the person own the machine?  Does the government own the machine and lease the machine?"

Another question is where Cubans will find the money to finance their own businesses.  George Montalvan says many foreign investors are wary of Cuba because of its history of failing to pay back loans and not respecting foreign ownership rights.

He says some Cubans might receive remittances from relatives abroad, but that it is unclear how the government will allow people to use that money.

"The Cuban government does not have the wherewithal to finance, in any important way, small businesses," he said. "So the question is:  where is that financing going to come from?"

The proposed reforms also might have a strong social impact for a Communist state that for decades has sought to eliminate class divisions.

Analyst Kavulich says that opening the door to private enterprise might enable some business owners to prosper, especially in the eyes of other Cubans.  He says it is unclear whether Cuban officials are ready to allow that to happen.

"The Cuban government does not do well with success; it tends to penalize it," he said.

Earlier this month, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was quoted by a U.S. journalist as saying that the Cuban model no longer works, even for Cuba.  He later said he was misquoted and that he believes capitalism does not work.

The latest reforms, analysts say, suggest that the Cuban government led by Raúl Castro is ready for a change to overcome the country's economic crisis and build Cuba's future.




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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 182


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Ms.  Bachelet  will head
new U.N. women's agency


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has named former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to head a new U.N. agency dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of women. In announcing her appointment Tuesday, Ban praised former President Bachelet's leadership qualities.

"Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills, and uncommon ability to create consensus and focus among U.N. agencies and many partners in both the public and private sector," he said. "I am confident that under her strong leadership we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world."

The 59-year-old Ms. Bachelet is a trained physician and was the first female president of Chile, an office she held from 2006 until earlier this year.

During the 1973 military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power she was arrested, imprisoned and beaten. She then spent five years in exile before returning to Chile and rising through the ranks of the socialist party.

The agency she will head is known as U.N. Women. The U.N. General Assembly approved its creation last year.  It merges the U.N. Development Fund for Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women into a single entity. It will have a start-up budget of $500 million.

Ban said the creation of U.N. Women has been one of his top priorities since taking the helm of the United Nations.

"Nearly four years ago I took office determined to see the merging of the four separate gender entities into one powerful, dynamic and effective entity. U.N. Women will promote the interest of women and girls across the globe," he said.

Ban pointed out that Ms. Bachelet was selected from a field of 26 distinguished candidates.  The agency has a target date of January next year to become fully operational.

Abbott will build factory
for export of catheters

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Abbott Vascular will construct a factory to make cardiovascular catheters as part of its expansion in production of medical equipment in Costa Rica. The project is at the Coyol free zone near Juan Santamaría airport. Abbott already makes medical equipment here.

The plant is expected to be ready at the end of 2012 and employ 500 people, according to the Coalición Costarricense de Iniciativas de Desarrollo (CINDE), the government export promotion agency. Initial investment will be about $50 million.

Another U.S. medical supplies company, St. Jude Medical, inaugurated a plant last week with the participation of President Laura Chinchilla. It is also at Coyol and makes artificial heart valves. St. Jude expects to invest large amounts in Costa Rica over the next few years, according to press reports.

The medical equipment industry exported more than a billion dollars of products made in Costa Rica in 2009.






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