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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 184       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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President Óscar Arias Sánchez, flanked by Bruno Stagno, foreign minister, and Leonard Garnier, education minister, pauses before placing a wreath at the Monumental Nacional Monday..
Arias and wreath
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray

Arias goes after critics in independence day speech
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In his independence day speech Monday, President Oscar Arias said he is tired of criticism from people who don't have the right to judge him.

Arias started his speech in Parque Nacional by stating that Sept. 15 is a day of mandatory introspection. But rather than examining his own actions, he began to criticize the actions of others. The president justified his decisions by stating that in a democracy one does not come to power to please individual groups but the will of the majority. Arias added that his government did not come to attack or hide agendas but came to cooperate.

The president said there are too many people in Costa Rica who think they are worthy of “throwing the first stone.” And that if the adulterous woman in the Biblical story lived in Costa Rica, citizens would have stoned her to death.

This speech comes after a series of scandals in the government.

“Let me be very sincere with you: I'm tired. I am tired of trying to do things that are urgent and finding obstacles everywhere. I am tired of proposing measures that are simply adversity to come from the Government. I am tired of giving explanations to people when what they want is not an explanation but an act of contrition on my part. I am tired of trying to govern in a country that believes that criticism at all costs makes us more free, when, in fact, makes us more ungovernable.”

Arias said he was not afraid of criticism and that he knows that Costa Ricans believe his work. “I know when the time comes, my government will be judged for its works for what it did or tried by all means do. And above all, I know that when the time comes, my government will not be judged alone, but with all groups that at the same time allowed or impeded the progress of Costa Rica.”

In his closing, Arias asked that voices of pessimism be replaced with optimism and enthusiasm and voices of apathy with commitment. He spoke of future and said in the words of Omar Dengo "we must dream, desire, love, and create it.” Dengo was an outspoken 20th century teacher and writer.
girl at festival
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Yanisel Rodriguez Barrantes, 6, is one of many students who attended independence day activities Monday. She attends the downtown Escuela Buenaventura Corrales, known as the Escuela Metalica because it is built of steel.

Arias has had a bumpy 28 months in office. He pushed hard for the country to adopt the free trade treaty with the United States. He pushed for its approval in a national referendum. But then last week when the trade treaty appeared to be a done deal, the Sala IV constitutional court found a procedural flaw in a piece of implementing legislation.

Arias also has been under fire, principally by La Nación, the Spanish-language daily, for trying to keep secret the details of a $300 million loan deal with the People's Republic of China.

The newspaper finally had to go to the Sala IV to get the details, and even then some aspects only came out informally.

A former housing minister is being investigated for the way he handled a financial donation from the government of Taiwan. He distributed it to so-called advisers instead of using it for the stated purpose of helping flood victims in Pavas.

Arias has been the subject of countless caricatures and graffiti opposing the free trade treaty. In some parades some Arias rubber masks appear. However, he has not complained in public until Monday.

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old growth forest
Carara corridor visitors have access to mature trees

Dutch mayor comes here
to push ecological corridor

By Ernst Roemers

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

What does Costa Rica do so wrong in nature management that a Dutch mayor comes to ask authorities to change their policies?

The mayor is Leen Verbeek of the Dutch city of Purmerend near Amsterdam. He explained: “Costa Rica has good laws and good rules for the protection of nature, but as in many
Leen Verbeek
countries, laws and rules are not maintained and really nobody seems to be concerned. As a result, nature in Costa Rica is endangered."

Verbeek is president of the Dutch foundation International Tree Fund. One of the projects of this foundation is the ecological corridor Carara. That corridor, near the mouth of the Río Tarcoles, is designed to provide a north-south connection for animals in Costa Rica.

“In the traditional conception of
conservation of nature, you must ensure especially that there are nature parks," said Verbeek. "Nowadays we know that for conservation of types animals and plants most important is that animals do not remain isolated in a park but that they can move from one side to the other and that conservation means making connections between part of the country where nature remains."

The connections are vital to maintain a robust gene pool with genetic diversity.

For this reason the Dutch foundation together with the Costa Rican foundation Arbofilia purchase land in the Carara area near the Gulf of Nicoya to make the north-south connection. The organizations have purchased some 340 hectares (840 acres) of land and with an adjacent corridor the effort has almost repaired the connection, said Verbeek.

In the Carara corridor the foundation is reforesting, but the corridor will not be a traditional nature park.

“It must serve the local population for drinking water and for seeds and should be something just for tourist,” said the Dutch mayor.

Land speculation causes difficulties for purchasing the necessary land for the corridor.

“Land speculators sell the land to Americans," Verbeek said. "They want to create a coffee farm or a teak plantation or just only a house with view on sea.'

The much larger problem, he said, is the construction of the Panama–Guatemala electrical power line. In the plans this power line crosses the Carara corridor and cuts the vital north-south connection for the animals.

The mayor said that it seems that other interest in politics and economy are prevailing above nature.

"This week I will talk with a lot of Costa Rican authorities about this problem,”  Verbeek said. “Costa Ricans must change from their traditional concept of conservation of nature and learn to realize the importance of corridors for nature.” 

carara sign
Sign at corridor access makes clear that one goal is genetic diversity for the animals.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 184

noni caretaker
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray                       
Zenon Reid lives on family land and cares for foreigners' properties
Lure of noni brought some to a new life in Bocas del Toro
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The noni trees on Punta de Pargo are not living up to their promise these days.

The plants that were supposed to yield bumpy white and green fruit to make North American investors rich now look wild and deserted on the rocky shores at Bocas del Toro, Panamá. But there is a silver lining for some who were lured to the area by promises of a lucrative retirement.

Tom McMurrain, the man who sold the land to foreigners, is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for fraud charges in the United States. In Panamá McMurrain ran San Cristobal Land Development Inc., a project that promised foreigners would become well-off, land-holding citizens of Panamá.

Now, four years after McMurrain's arrest, there are only two wooden houses at Punta de Pargo, and neither one belongs to a foreigner. Zenon Reid, one of the men who lives there, said he tends the neighboring property for a woman from the United States.

No foreigners actually live on the land, he said.

San Cristobal Land Development advertised property in Bocas del Toro on Punta de Pargo, about a 30-minute boat ride from the main island. In a series of articles, The Panama News attempted to shed light on McMurrain and his company.

A 2003 article from The Panama News described somewhat tongue in cheek what the company said it offered:

“For prices ranging from $71,000 to $126,000, they sell you beach front land in Bocas del Toro. They plant 50 percent of the land with tropical hardwood trees, mainly teak, and the other 50 percent with noni. The hardwood is cut and sold after 20 to 25 years. In the meantime, the noni generates residual income, tax free, because noni is a hot product that sells for good prices. Being a reforestation investment, investors can get residency in Panamá.”

The article was written by Okke Ornstein, who published several exposes on McMurrain.

Shortly after the articles, San Cristobal Land Development Inc. filed a criminal action against the Panamá News, its editor and reporter Ornstein. But subsequent events, like McMurrain's extradition to the United States, made the cases moot.

Melody Burt, the owner of a real estate company in Bocas del Toro, said she originally came down to Panamá seven years ago because of McMurrain. It looked like a great deal, said Ms. Burt. That was until the news broke that the deal might not be as advertised. “I was the first to demand my deposit back,” said Ms. Burt, who added that she did get back more than $100,000.

Noni, which has a strange taste, can be eaten and also drunk as a juice. It is indigenous to Southeast Asia and also grows in the Pacific Islands and areas of the Caribbean. Noni is said to have various medicinal properties and is used by cultures around the world.

In 2001 the University of Hawaii at Manoa began to study the effect of noni in Cancer patients and principal results seemed to point at some pain reduction.
noni plant
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
This noni fruit was found growing in another section of Bocas del Toro.

McMurrain's company played up the benefits of noni to attract investors, including the fact that the trees are supposed to bear all year round.

Mark Johnson, a real estate agent at Ms. Burt's company, Beyond Bocas Real Estate, said he became interested in Panamá because of McMurrain, too. Johnson's wife came down to check out the great deal, he said. When she got home, she searched McMurrain's name on the Internet and that was the end of their plans to farm noni, said Johnson. But the couple came back, and now Johnson is working and living in Bocas del Toro.

McMurrain was sentenced to seven years, three months in federal prison on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud
related to a loan fraud scheme and was ordered to serve an additional five years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia. McMurrain was ordered to pay restitution of approximately $7.5 million.  But this case did not involve Panamá.

Some people actually did get land, said Ms. Burt. But it took them four years to get the title, she said. Ownership was confusing.

Ms. Burt said McMurrain had sold some pieces of land to more than one client and that he had sold some land that didn't even belong to him.

Reid, the caretaker, who said his piece of land used to belong to his grandfather, wasn't sure if McMurrain had tried to sell his property. No one has ever sold the noni though, he said, and the trees in that area are failing to produce any fruit now, he added, gesturing to a fruitless noni tree. He said he thought they were sick.

Ms. Burt said one good thing came out of the San Cristobal Land Development project: she discovered Panama. “I thought of a way that I could stay here,” she said. Now with her own real estate company Ms. Burt is the one enjoying her piece of paradise.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 184

Scientists say ocean rise from ice cap may be underestimated
By the University of Wisconsin-Madison news service

If the lessons being learned by scientists about the demise of the last great North American ice sheet are correct, estimates of global sea level rise from a melting Greenland ice sheet may be seriously underestimated.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers reports that sea level rise from greenhouse-induced warming of the Greenland ice sheet could be double or triple current estimates over the next century.

"We're not talking about something catastrophic, but we could see a much bigger response in terms of sea level from the Greenland ice sheet over the next 100 years than what is currently predicted," says Anders Carlson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of geology and geophysics. Carlson worked with an international team of researchers.

Scientists have yet to agree on how much melting of the Greenland ice sheet — a terrestrial ice mass encompassing 1.7 million square kilometers — will contribute to changes in sea level. One reason, Carlson explains, is that in recorded history there is no precedent for the influence of climate change on a massive ice sheet.

"We've never seen an ice sheet disappear before, but here we have a record," says Carlson of the new study that combined a powerful computer model with marine and terrestrial records to provide a snapshot of how fast ice sheets can melt and raise sea level in a warmer world.

Carlson and his group were able to draw on the lessons of the disappearance of the Laurentide ice sheet, the last great
ice mass to cover much of the northern hemisphere. The Laurentide ice sheet, which encompassed large parts of what are now Canada and the United States, began to melt about 10,000 years ago in response to increased solar radiation in the northern hemisphere due to a cyclic change in the orientation of the Earth's axis. It experienced two rapid pulses of melting — one 9,000 years ago and another 7,600 years ago — that caused global sea level to rise by more than half an inch per year.

Those pulses of melting, according to the new study, occurred when summer air temperatures were similar to what are predicted for Greenland by the end of this century, a finding that suggests estimates of global sea level rise due to a warming world climate may be seriously underestimated.

The most recent estimates of sea level rise due to melting of the Greenland ice sheet by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest a maximum sea level rise during the next 100 years of about 1 to 4 inches. That estimate, Carlson and his colleagues note, is based on limited data, mostly from the last decade, and contrasts sharply with results from computer models of future climate, casting doubt on current estimates of change in sea level due to melting ice sheets.

According to the new study, rising sea levels up to a third of an inch per year or one to two feet over the course of a century are possible.

Even slight rises in global sea level are problematic as a significant percentage of the world's human population — hundreds of millions of people — lives in areas that can be affected by rising seas.

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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 week day.

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.

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Morales, other Latin leaders
meet in Chile over unrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales and a group of South American leaders have begun an emergency summit in an effort to resolve a political crisis in his country.

Morales and the other heads of state started their meeting Monday in Santiago, Chile. After arriving in Chile, Morales said he was looking for support from his South American counterparts. He also accused opposition Bolivian governors of mounting a coup against him.

South American leaders scheduled the talks to discuss the conflict that killed at least 28 people last week.

Government and opposition supporters clashed last week over Morales' plans to rewrite the constitution and redistribute land and natural gas revenues to the poor. The conflict pits the rich against the poor, many of whom are native people like the president himself.

The governor of the oil-rich Tarija province, Mario Cossio, told reporters he and Morales will meet when Morales returns from Chile.

The crisis began when supporters of right-wing opposition governors fired shots at pro-government peasant farmers in the province of Pando.

Morales has accused Pando's governor, Leopoldo Fernández, of ordering a massacre. Fernández denies having anything to do with the violence.

The violence prompted Morales to declare martial law in Pando and send troops to take control of the airport in the provincial capital, Cobija.

Oil futures drop again

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Global oil prices fell Monday as investors apparently interpreted the bankruptcy of a major U.S. investment bank as a signal that the global economy could slow down, cutting demand for oil.

Prices were also pushed down by reports that Hurricane Ike did only limited damage to key U.S. oil producing and refining facilities.

In electronic trading in New York, the price of oil for future delivery was down more than $7, putting the price of a barrel of oil at $94.13.

That is the lowest price since February, and a drop of one-third since the record-high recorded in July. Another benchmark oil price, Brent crude, fell even lower.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 183

Study: Sports interest increases brain's capacity to understand
By the University of Chicago news service

Being an athlete or merely a fan improves language skills when it comes to discussing their sport because parts of the brain usually involved in playing sports are instead used to understand sport language, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

The research was conducted on hockey players, fans, and people who'd never seen or played the game. It shows, for the first time, that a region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.

The brain boost helps athletes and fans understanding of information about their sport, even though at the time when people are listening to this sport language they have no intention to act.

The study shows that the brain may be more flexible in adulthood than previously thought. "We show that non-language related activities, such as playing or watching a sport, enhance one's ability to understand language about their sport precisely because brain areas normally used to act become highly involved in language understanding," said Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the university. She is lead author of the paper, "Sports Experience Enhances the Neural Processing of Action Language," published in the on-line issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Experience playing and watching sports has enduring effects on language understanding by changing the neural networks that support comprehension to incorporate areas active in performing sports skills," she said.
The research could have greater implications for learning. It shows that engaging in an activity taps into brain networks not normally associated with language, which improves the understanding of language related to that activity, Ms. Beilock added.

For the study, researchers asked 12 professional and intercollegiate hockey players, eight fans and nine individuals who had never watched a game to listen to sentences about hockey players, such as shooting, making saves and being engaged in the game. They also listened to sentences about everyday activities, such as ringing doorbells and pushing brooms across the floor. While the subjects listened to the sentences, their brains were scanned using functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which allows one to infer the areas of the brain most active during language listening.

After hearing the sentences, subjects performed a battery of tests designed to gauge their comprehension of those sentences.

Although most subjects understood the language about everyday activities, hockey players and fans were substantially better than novices at understanding hockey-related language.

Brain imaging revealed that when hockey players and fans listen to language about hockey, they show activity in the brain regions usually used to plan and select well-learned physical actions. The increased activity in motor areas of the brain helps hockey players and fans to better understanding hockey language. The results show that playing sports, or even just watching, builds a stronger understanding of language, Ms. Beilock said.

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