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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 185                          Email us
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Initial clinical trial shows progress against dengue
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
with staff additions

A clinical trial of a new vaccine against dengue fever shows progress toward fighting the most common mosquito-borne disease.  The drug is less successful than hoped, but seems to be effective at preventing three of the four related viruses that cause dengue.

Dengue fever is endemic across the tropics, with more than 2.5 billion people in 128 countries at risk. Symptoms can range from aches and fever to circulatory failure, coma and death.  Some 21,000 people die of dengue each year, and the number of cases is increasing, including outbreaks in the southeastern United States.

The Ministerio de Salud has reported that as of Sept. 1 there were 8,486 cases of dengue reported in the country with the bulk of them on both coasts and in the northern zone. The ministry has a campaign to collect old vehicle tires, which are perfect for the propagation of the aedes aegypti  mosquito. Holcim (Costa Rica) S.A., Bridgestone de Costa Rica, Fundellatas and Riteve SyC are supporting the campaign that has collected nearly 30,000 old tires, said the ministry.

There is no vaccine available to prevent dengue fever.  Part of the difficulty in developing one is that there are four different but related types of the disease.  Those who recover from infection by one type gain lifetime immunity, but only against that type.  Scott Halstead, of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative, explains that they are still at risk of infection with one of the other types.

"Dengue normally produces a short acute febrile disease, sort of a flu-like disease which ends in a rash, and when you're convalescent, you have life-long immunity to the type you've been infected with, say Type 1.  But you are susceptible then to either type 2 or 3 or 4, and what we've learned is that two different infections — with say, Type 1 and Type 2 — can result in a very severe catastrophic disease called dengue hemorrhagic fever, and this occurs all over the tropical world, mostly in Asia and the American tropics," Halstead explained.

That is why researchers are focused on developing
Dengue cases as of Sept. 1
in 2011 and 2012

Central Pacific
Chorotega (Guanacaste)
North central
Atlantic coast
South central
Brunca (South Pacific)
East central
North central (Huertar)
Source: Ministerio de Salud

a so-called tetravalent vaccine, modeled on the successful yellow fever vaccine, combining weakened versions of all four types of dengue virus into a single drug. Halstead, who was not involved in the new clinical trial, says the pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur, took a molecular approach to creating its vaccine.

"They actually spliced the gene for each of the four dengue viruses into a yellow fever backbone.  So this is a combined vaccine called a chimera, combining the yellow fever replicative machinery and the dengue surface proteins," he said. "But it is a vaccine mixture of dengue 1, 2, 3 and 4."

In the first trial to determine whether a vaccine could actually prevent the disease, Sanofi's drug was tested in 4,000 school children in Thailand.  The children got three doses of either the vaccine or a placebo.  Spacing the shots six months apart was meant to mimic the natural immune response people develop over time.  Two years later, the vaccine seemed to have protected the children against three of the four strains, but not the most common type of the virus, which accounts for about 40 percent of severe dengue cases worldwide.

But the results show that the vaccine is safe, and technologically possible.

Guess who else is here working on a tourism visa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not only North American expats are working in Costa Rica illegally on a tourism visa. The daily La Nación revealed Sunday that 20 first division soccer players are members of Costa Rican teams illegally because of faulty paperwork. Most are in Costa Rica on tourist visas.

Although the newspaper noted that the management of the soccer teams face possible legal action and fines, there has been no immediate response from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad or its Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.
The newspaper said that having players in Costa Rica on tourism visas is a long tradition with the various clubs. Although the soccer players are mainly from South America, an unknown number of U.S. citizens also are here working illegally through the abuse of tourism visas. Being present in Costa Rica due to multiple renewals of a tourism visa is a gray area in the law, but those holding such visas are forbidden specifically to work.

Work permits for foreigners require about the same amount of paperwork and original documents as residency, and the employer has to show that a Costa Rican could not do the job.

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International coffee experts
 will meet here in November

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coffee scientists and experts from 30 countries will be in Costa Rica in mid-November for a convention where one of the topics will be the impact of climate change on the plants that produce the brew.

The conference is the 24th for the Association for Science and Information on Coffee, which said this is the first time the gathering will be held in a Central American country. "The remarkable efforts to preserve in this unique area of production very high standards of quality let anticipate scientific communications of great interest," said Andrea Illy, association president in a letter posted on the organization's Web site.

The association says it encourages and coordinates research to contribute to a better use of coffee and its derivatives and to the improvement of coffee quality in the mutual interest of producers, wholesalers, industrialists and consumers.

The conference is from Nov. 11 to 16 at the Ramada Plaza Herradura west of the downtown. The Instituto del Café de Costa Rica also is a sponsor.

Those who attend also are expected to discuss the relationship between coffee consumption and human health.

Our reader's opinion
Homebuyers urged to check
operation of septic system

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Inadequate residential septic systems continue to contaminate Costa Rica with raw sewage. The Costa Rican government does not have regulations for the design, construction, installation and inspection of residential septic systems. To help reduce this contamination, those building and buying homes must make certain that the septic system for their home is adequate. If those buying a home find one that is provided with an inadequate septic system, the system must be corrected or a new one installed.

Building site size and soil compactness (hard or soft soil) are important when building or buying a home. The Costa Rican government allows building a home and its septic system on a 200 square meter (2,135 sq. ft.) building site with no concern of soil compactness. Building a home on a 200-square meter building site is possible. However, building an adequate sewage septic system for that home on the same 200-square meter building site is not possible. A 200-square meter building site is too small an area to build a home and an adequate sewage septic system for that home, regardless of the compactness of the soil.

Often, those with a 1,000-square meter building site will reconfigure the 1,000 square meters and provide five 200-square meter building sites and get approval. A home and inadequate septic system is often built on each 200-square meter building site. Building a sewage treatment plant for homes built on a 200-square meter building site is a good solution. However, sewage treatment plants constructed in Costa Rica have not been successful.

Unless the Costa Rican government provides regulations that ensure adequate residential septic systems are installed and changes the building site size requirement, inadequate septic systems will be installed, and Costa Rica will continue to be contaminated with raw sewage. Those building and buying homes can help make Costa Rica less contaminated by making certain that the septic system for their homes are adequate.
Al Almeida
Nuevo Arenal

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.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 185
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A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Person              
Students from the Colegio Superior de Señoritas proudly display the Antorcha de la Libertad
during a ceremoney Friday night in Parque Central.
Puerto Viejo marcher
A.M. Costa Rica/Connie Foss 
Independence day marcher in Puerto Viejo de Limón wears a papier-mâché mask illustrating the racial diversity of the province. Red, yellow, black and white represent the native, Latin, African-American and European residents: all of which were spectators at Saturday's parade.
 A wet independence day eve
does not dampen the spirits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain was gentle Friday night for the relay teams that carried the Antorcha de la Libertad.

The weather always seems to be wet the evening before the Día de la Independencia, but the hundreds of runners from schools and institutions always seem to be upbeat.

Participants sung the national anthem at 6 p.m. at San José Parque Central as the torch arrived on its journey from the northern border to Cartago. Even in some private businesses, employees sang at the same time. The staff at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica surprised tourists there with the anthem at exactly 6 p.m.

Saturday was bright and sunny for the parades that featured mostly school children. As a bonus, the youngsters are off today in recognition for their participation. Even some private schools are off.

The torches, the anthem and the parades are a tradition. Another tradition seems to be that whenever a president takes a ride on a new rail link, the wheels derail. That happened to President Laura Chinchilla Friday as she made her way for the big ceremony in Cartago, the former national capital.
The same thing happened to then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez when he sought to travel to Heredia when that line was new.

Still officials say there will be full passenger service from Cartago in December after a few kinks are worked out.

The Fuerza Pública said officers detained 16 persons for fighting in the street, 21 for drinking alcohol in public and several others for robbery and family violence.

There were parades all over the country. In Puerto Viejo de Limón the band played Caribbean-style rhythm on drums and xylophones.  The marchers were more like calypso dancers. There were a few clowns with homemade costumes. The banner read in Spanish: Limón: tourism and education.

The marchers and band were members of the fairly new Liceo Rural in Puerto Viejo. Since there is only one road through the region, the parade blocked holiday traffic including buses, tourist vans and private vehicles.

President Chinchilla, back in San José for the Saturday morning parade, promised to focus her efforts in the last 19 months of her administration in security, infrastructure and improving the business climate.

Guapiles parade
A.M. Costa Rica/Garland Baker
Dancers take to the streets in Guápiles Saturday.
Peru school
A.M. Costa Rica staff
Escuela de Perú students and parents march in the rain.

Del Rey nightlife

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 185
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Statistics on kidnappings show most related to debts for drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Your best chance of being kidnapped in 2011 was if you were a San José drug dealer who did not pay his bills. That's the summary from the Poder Judicial, which reported that investigators handled nine such cases in the past year.

Kidnapping also is a technique to get other bills paid, but the statistics released Friday did not address other motives. In all, there were 12 kidnappings for ransom, according to a report released Friday.

A Poder Judicial report contained the obvious conclusion that most of the kidnappings took place in urban areas.

There were six in San José, two in Desamparados, three in Limón and one each in Heredia, Alajuela and Puntarenas. Puerto Cortez in the canton of Osa was the site of the only case that investigators considered rural.

Of course, the statistics only relate to kidnappings that were reported to police. Sometimes families pay a ransom and do not report the crime. Of the 12 victims, only one, a Nicaraguan, was not Costa Rican, the agency said.

Perhaps one of the more dramatic crimes happened in last November when, prosecutors allege, two Fuerza Pública officers on motorcycles stopped a woman motorist in San José.

After pretending they were involved in a routine police action, the two policemen turned the woman over to two foreigners believed to be Colombians, according to news files.

Despite this case, 32 of the 37 suspects detained for 2011 crimes were Costa Ricans.
Judicial Investigation Organization photo
This is marked money that led to the arrest of six men over the weekend in the kidnapping of a businessman a week ago. Kidnappers demanded $200,000, and agents negotiated them down to $36,000. The arrests were in Alajuelita after the victim was released.

Another kidnapping case in 2011 resulted in the death of the male victim. News files also show that there were 19 reported kidnappings in 2010.

The department in charge of putting together such statistics is the Sección de Estadística del Poder Judicial. The report said that robbers are turning more to kidnapping when they are not satisfied with the money they get from a victim.

The report said there were two such cases reported in 2012 where victims were held for from two hours to 12 days.

New study says coral reefs are more vulnerable to warming
By the Postsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Coral reefs face severe challenges even if global warming is restricted to the 2 degrees Celsius commonly perceived as safe for many natural and man-made systems. Warmer sea surface temperatures are likely to trigger more frequent and more intense mass coral bleaching events. Only under a scenario with strong action on mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions and the assumption that corals can adapt at extremely rapid rates, could two thirds of them be safe, shows a study now published in Nature Climate Change. Otherwise all coral reefs are expected to be subject to severe degradation.

Coral reefs house almost a quarter of the species in the oceans and provide critical services – including coastal protection, tourism and fishing – to millions of people worldwide. Global warming and ocean acidification, both driven by human-caused CO2 emissions, pose a major threat to these ecosystems.

“Our findings show that under current assumptions regarding thermal sensitivity, coral reefs might no longer be prominent coastal ecosystems if global mean temperatures actually exceed 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level,” says lead author Katja Frieler from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Without a yet uncertain process of adaptation or acclimation, however, already about 70 percent of corals are projected to suffer from long-term degradation by 2030 even under an ambitious mitigation scenario.”

Thus, the threshold to protect at least half of the coral reefs worldwide is estimated to be below 1.5 degrees Celsius mean temperature increase.

This study is the first comprehensive global survey of coral bleaching to express results in terms of global mean temperature change. It has been conducted by scientists from Potsdam, the University of British Columbia in Canada and the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland in Australia. To project the cumulative heat stress at 2,160 reef locations worldwide, researchers used an extensive set of 19 global
climate models. By applying different emission scenarios covering the 21st century and multiple climate model simulations, a total of more than 32,000 simulation years was diagnosed. This allows for a more robust representation of uncertainty than any previous study.

Corals derive most of their energy, as well as most of their famous color, from a close symbiotic relationship with a special type of microalgae. The vital symbiosis between coral and algae can break down when stressed by warm water temperatures, making the coral “bleach” or turn pale. Though corals can survive this, if the heat stress persists long enough the corals can die in great numbers. “This happened in 1998, when an estimated 16 percnet of corals were lost in a single, prolonged period of warmth worldwide,” says Ms. Frieler.

To account for a possible acclimation or adaptation of corals to thermal stress, like shifts to symbiont algae with a higher thermal tolerance, rather optimistic assumptions have been included in the study. “However, corals themselves have all the wrong characteristics to be able to rapidly evolve new thermal tolerances,” says co-author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “They have long lifecycles of 5-  to 100 years and they show low levels of diversity due to the fact that corals can reproduce by cloning themselves. They are not like fruit flies which can evolve much faster.”

Previous analyses estimated the effect of thermal adaptation on bleaching thresholds, but not the possible opposing effect of ocean acidification. Seawater gets more acidic when taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is likely to act to the detriment of the calcification processes crucial for the corals’ growth and might also reduce their thermal resilience. The new study investigates the potential implications of this ocean acidification effect, finding that, as Hoegh-Guldberg says:

“The current assumptions on thermal sensitivity might underestimate, not overestimate, the future impact of climate change on corals.”

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Chicago teachers' strike
to continue to Wednesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Chicago teachers strike that has shut out 350,000 children from their schools for a week will continue at least two more days, despite a tentative deal to end the strike.

Teachers union president Karen Lewis says members want more time to study the deal. That means students will not return to their classrooms until Wednesday at the earliest. Parents across the city have scrambled to find day care for their children or were forced to stay home from their jobs.

Public school teachers in the nation's third-biggest city walked off the job Sept. 10 in a dispute with the city school board over a number of issues, including plans for a longer school day and how to evaluate job performance.

Many teachers in Chicago and other big American cities oppose tying performance with student standardized test scores. They say many students come from the poor inner cities and that standardized testing may not be fair.

U.S. campaigns too costly,
international panel says

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A commission headed by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan charges that the soaring cost of U.S. elections is a major hindrance to democracy.  The charge appears in a report published Friday by the Global Commission on Elections and Democracy, which says its goal is to promote the integrity of elections.

Annan spoke at the launch of the report in London.

He says each nation must develop an election framework that suits its needs.

"There are certain fundamental issues or fundamental requirements, which each country should try to respect.  Beyond that they know their society better, they know their environment better and they may come up with approaches that work for them.  You cannot expect everyone to solve the same problems the same way," Annan said.

In the report published Friday, the commission laid out what it sees as prerequisites for elections to take place with integrity.

The 12-member commission includes former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and the former secretary general of the Council of the European Union, Javier Solana.

Also on the panel is Vidar Helgesen, head of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

"The world has seen over the last 20 years a considerable rise of democracy and correspondingly a considerable rise in the number of elections.  But we have also seen that while governments and the international community have gotten better at organizing elections, authoritarian leaders have also become better at rigging elections and they do that in more advanced ways," Helgesen said.

The report says there are five major challenges that must be overcome for elections to have integrity.  They include an effective rule of law; strong, impartial electoral management bodies to oversee the vote; and regulated political financing.
Helgesen singles out the United States as a country where, he says, uncontrolled political financing is a problem.  He says soaring costs are undermining citizens' trust in their system.

"The American people through credible opinion polls have indicated that the problem is on the rise.  Two-thirds of the American people say that their trust in the political system has been weakened by the recent developments in political financing - the Super PACS.

"Even more people think that politicians can more easily become corrupted and Congress is to a large extent representing special interests rather than the holistic interests of society," Helgesen said.

Spending in the U.S. has been boosted by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that effectively scrapped limits on corporate and union spending in elections.  Now super PACs, or political action committees, and tax-exempt advocacy groups can support candidates without a cap on spending, as long as they do not coordinate with official campaigns. 

Those in the U.S. who advocate increased spending on elections say it helps promote democracy.

Paul Sherman is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm based in the United States.  He says high campaign spending means a more informed electorate.

"By having reduced regulations on campaign finance it makes it easier for more different types of voices to get in so we don't have a political debate that is dominated entirely by the central parties themselves," Sherman said.

The Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security is an international initiative aimed at promoting the integrity of elections.  It was launched in South Africa last year.

Funding for the report came from the Kofi Annan Foundation, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, along with the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Some optimistic news
comes on Europe economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Eurozone finance ministers had a spring in their step Friday as they gathered in Cyprus for talks on the debt crisis as market pressure eases on the single currency.

Spain — whose debt threatens the whole currency union — saw its 10-year borrowing costs drop from a dangerously high 7.64 percent in July to around 5.5 percent following the European Central Bank’s announcement that it could buy unlimited Spanish bonds, should it apply for a bailout.

Spain’s finance minister, Luis De Guindos, gave little away when asked if he would ask for a bailout.

He said that in the next couple of days Spain will make important announcements. What Spain needs, he said, is to adjust its public deficit to the level they are committed to.

But there are plenty of pitfalls still ahead, said Simon Tilford, chief economist at the analyst group the Centre for European Reform.

The central bank is certainly doing all it can given the political constraints, he said. But it needs to be remembered that the bond purchases will be conditional on countries signing up to bailout programs, programs of structural adjustment, he added.

Another obstacle was overcome this week with the German constitutional court’s approval of the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund worth nearly $650 billion — the European Stability Mechanism.

The building blocks are starting to fall into place, Tilford said.
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loot recovered
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
In addition to money, agents found two weapons.

Raid recovers part of cash
taken in home invasion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents raided a home in León XIII and recovered 43 million colons of some 200 million stolen earlier in the week at a home in San Miguel de Desamparados. In addition to a robbery suspect detained, agent also detained his mother on the allegation that she tried to hide evidence.

Four armed men broke into the Desamparados man's home Tuesday and held persons there at gunpoint until they could get the money. The man is in the automobile business, agents said. Three suspects fled the home that agents raided over the weekend.

Telecom conference begins
Tuesday with expos, forums

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government and corporate players in Costa Rica’s telecommunications will kick off the fourth annual Expo-Telecom 2012, an annual exposition of communication technology geared towards helping industry members interact.

The three-day event, which begins Tuesday, will feature lectures, roundtable discussions, forums and meetings for those who either work or have business interests in the telecommunications industry. These discussions will focus the current and future business conditions in the industry.

For casual customers looking to purchase devices or communication services, 60 businesses will have stands where people can purchase and learn more about smart phones, televisions, apps, Internet services, as well as other products and services.

“Each year we strive to bring together the majority of industry players, to bring top international experts, to convene a public really interested in new technologies and to create the conditions that enable new business deals to our participants,” organizers said on the event’s Facebook page.

The expo will feature 20 speakers from the government as well as local and international businesses in telecommunications, who lead forums, discussions and roundtables. President Laura Chinchilla will give an address at the opening ceremony Tuesday.

The expo’s keynote speaker will be Gern Leonhard, a German entrepreneur in the music and digital communication industries and who has written five books on the future of these sectors.  He will lead a conference called “The Future of Technology, Means of Communications for Businesses in a Digital Society-Opportunities in the next 3 to 5 years” at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“We will be analyzing the global telecommunications situation, tendencies and practical examples with the best national and international lecturers,” said the Web site for the event.

Other speakers and discussion leaders will include international professors, managers from companies like Microsoft, Ericsson and Cisco as well as Costa Rican government officials including the minister of science and technology, Alejandro Cruz, vice-minister of telecommunications, Rowland Espinosa, and two members of the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones council, the three-person board that regulates the telecommunications industry.

The expo will officially begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday, but the opening address by President Chinchilla will take place at 6:30. The expo will be open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. the following two days with a closing ceremony on Thursday at 6. It is being held at the Centro de Eventos Pedregal in Belén.

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