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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 186       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Global warming cited
Some scientists think hurricanes are getting stronger
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The busy hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean has just peaked, and already the number of major tropical cyclones is above average. The latest strong storm was Hurricane Ike, which left thousands without power and unable to return to the Gulf coast homes in the United States.

The situation is worse in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti, which has been devastated by a series of storms this year. Costa Rica, too, gets the backlash from Atlantic storms. Each year the central Pacific and Guanacaste suffer major flooding and sustain heavy damage from storms generated indirectly from Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes.

The latest in a series of studies finds that hurricanes are growing in intensity and global warming might be to blame.

Hurricane Ike, a storm hurricane experts called a monster, became the third major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean basin this year.

Scientists from Florida State University and the University of Wisconsin report in the journal Nature the most powerful tropical storms are becoming more intense. They analyzed 15 years of satellite and other data from nearly 200 tropical storms.

Three years ago, another study found a near doubling of the number of the strongest hurricanes. Author Judith Curry at the Georgia Institute of Technology, linked the increased intensity of the storms to warmer sea surface temperatures caused, in part, by human-induced global warming. "It's the greater intensity, higher wind speeds, specifically, number category four and five hurricanes," she said.

She sees the trend continuing. "I believe that over the next 25 years we are going to see unprecedented activity over the North Atlantic," Ms. Curry said.

Not everyone agrees, but the findings are fueling the global warming debate.

"There probably is a global warming signature in the storms but it has been very difficult to find so far," says Jeff Halverson, who is a hurricane expert at the University of Maryland. He explains how hurricanes form.
Hurricane Ike
National Aeronautics and Space Administration photo
Hurricane Ike covers more than half of Cuba in this Sept. 9 image, photographed from the International Space Station 220 miles above Earth.

"Very quickly, warm water is the fuel for hurricanes," Halverson said. "The water evaporates. The water vapor condenses . . .  releases heat into the storm that's the flow of energy out of the ocean into the atmosphere. The warmer the water, the more water vapor, the faster the engine runs because water vapor is the fuel. You can think of ocean temp as the octane rating of the fuel."

Chris Landsea is with the U.S. National Hurricane Center. "There's a very very tiny influence of global warming on hurricanes in my opinion," Landsea said.

He argues stronger storms are the result of climatic variability and natural weather cycles.

The underlying causes of the phenomenon are open to debate. However, the data strongly suggests wind speeds will increase in the strongest tropical storms for the next several years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 186

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Protecting witnesses costly,
security minister reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would protect witnesses to crime, and the security minister showed up Wednesday to point out that this is a very expensive undertaking.

The minister, Janina del Vecchio, estimated that a skilled personal security guard could cost up to 800,000 colons a month, nearly $1,500.  And for the average witness, four such persons would be needed to cover three eight-hour shifts and days off during the week.

And, she pointed out, close family of witnesses would have to be protected.

The minister was appearing before the Comisión Especial de Seguridad Ciudadana, which is studying a litany of proposed laws designed to stiffle a crime wave.

The murder or intimidation of witnesses is rampant in Costa Rica. Lately even close family members of witnesses have been murdered. The result is that violent criminals are not punished for their crimes and witnesses to many crimes are hard to find.

Because many Latin criminals are members of extended families, even if the suspect is in jail, family members can approach witnesses.

A proposal by the executive branch would provide protection for certain witnesses, but Ms. Del Vecchio was outlining the need for her ministry to have a lot more money if the job fell to her. She suggested that perhaps another police force not within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública might do the job.

The same day she appeared before the budget committee,  Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios, to explain why the government has proposed a 30.5 percent increase in her ministry's budget for fiscal year 2009. The proposed budget is for 105 billion colones or about $192.8 million. Among other improvements, the budget calls for hiring 1,300 new policemen.

The basic salary for a Fuerza Pública officer is 250,000 colons a month, some $455.

Ms. Del Vecchio pointed out that even if street patrolmen were used to guard witnesses, the cost would rise to at least 1 million colons a month, some $1,825. And she pointed out to the security commission that this would not include moving witnesses from place to place or other costs associated with protecting witnesses.

The  Comisión Especial de Seguridad Ciudadana will have to specify in any approved bill from where the money will come.

junk yard tour
Ministerio Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Guillermo Solano

Fuerza Pública officers inspect metal scrap and other items seeking evidence of crime or places for mosquitoes to breed.

Scrap yards and pawn shops
get once-over by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers made a sweep of Pococí and Guácimo Tuesday, not only seeking illegalities but also places where the dengue mosquito could breed.

They found two illegal workers, closed junk yards where water gathered in pools and closed a number of pawn shops and salvage locations because they were not licensed, they reported. Dozens of these types of businesses were inspected, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Fuerza Pública officers from communities in the Provincia de Limón received support from the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas and the Policía Especial de Migración. Also participating were tax police, health inspectors and inspectors from the local municipalities.

It was in Pococí where two Nicaraguans were found working illegally in a junk yard.  They were processed for deportation, the ministry said.

Officers said they found the most irregularities in Guácimo and closed three junk yards which did not have permits to operate. There, too, they found many pieces of metal in the open air where rain could provide breeding places for dengue mosquitoes. Officers also closed a motorcycle shop in that community because it did not have the proper licenses, they said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 186

Bulldozer rips out plants and grass within sight of the surf.
beach work in the osa
Photo by Toby Cleaver

Beach destruction on the Osa clouded by lack of information
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents on the Osa Peninsula said that municipal officials destroyed some of the most beautiful beaches in the area and have failed to say why. At best, the events leading up to the destruction are murky.

Early this month nearly a dozen armed Fuerza Pública officers, construction workers, and municipality officials entered Playa Platanares and began to bulldoze the trees and plants to build a road, said Toby Cleaver, who owns an ecolodge with his wife, Lauren, near the beach.

According to Cleaver, when he asked to see documents showing permissions for the operation, officials said they had orders from the Contraloría General de la República and that they didn't need to show any documents. The bulldozers worked for three days straight, said Cleaver. They pushed over palm and almond trees and tore up beach grass near a turtle nesting area. Cleaver said when some local Costa Ricans saw the beach after the destruction they began to cry.

After those three days, Sept. 4 through Sept. 6, the bulldozing suddenly stopped said Cleaver. What was left was more than 500 meters of damage and few explanations, he said.

Later Jimmy Cubillo, the mayor of Golfito, apologized profusely to Ms. Cleaver saying the whole thing was an embarrassing mistake, according to Cleaver. Cubillo said the municipality had received bad information about the permissions, according to Cleaver. The mayor did not respond to a reporter's message on his cell phone Tuesday and was reported to be out of the office Wednesday.
Elian Arburola, an engineer for the municipality of Golfito, said he was not very familiar with the road project and that Mayor Cubillo had all the details. Arbulo did say however that from what he understood the Sala IV constitutional court and the Contraloría General de la
República had ruled that the old beachfront road be reopened in order to give the public access to the beach.

Arburolo said in his opinion North Americans and other foreigners in the area are mad because they want the beaches all to themselves. “The foreigners don't permit access to the beaches,” said Arburola, “but the beaches are for everyone. The foreign owners of beachfront properties and hotels don't want anyone to enter.”

Cleaver said this was untrue and that there is already a beach access road further away from the shore. He and his wife are in agreement with the reopening of the old road, which has not been in use for 10 years, but do not like the way it was being constructed, he said. “We are all about the public,” said Cleaver, who added that Iguana Lodge has public showers a beach hut and even parking for all public visitors.

Cleaver said he knew about plans for the new beach road since late last year. He and his wife have been in contact with the municipality and believed that they would be properly notified and that the road construction would be ecologically friendly, said the hotel owner. Cleaver said he would prefer the road be used as a bike and walking path. “But if the government says it needs to be a road, it needs to be a road,” he said.

As for the municipal engineer's mention of a Sala Constitucional order to open the beach road, there is none, said a court spokeswoman Wednesday. The only pending order for a public access road is in Guanacaste, said court spokeswoman Andrea Marín Mena after making some calls about the Golfito issue.

In an e-mail to friends and locals, Ms. Cleaver said she contacted Gerardo Marín, a representative from the Contraloría in San José and that the representative told her the institution had no knowledge of the event nor had they authorized it. However two of the men at the beach during the bulldozing said they were representatives of the Contraloría, according to the Cleavers.

U.S. ambassador pays a call on once unhappy Dall'Anese
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was some fence mending at the Ministerio Público Wednesday. The U.S. ambassador called on the fiscal general.

The Poder Judicial confirmed the meeting but did not say in detail what was discussed. However, one of the general topics was extradition.

The fiscal general, Francisco Dall´Anese Ruiz, was the Costa Rican official who became upset last April when he arrived in Miami. He said he received shabby treatment by U.S. officials.

Dall'Anese, who does not speak English, said he was detained for at least an hour and 30 minutes and deprived of his liberty. He sent a scathing letter to the foreign ministry demanding action against the U.S. officials concerned.

A subsequent visit to Miami by a reporter and interviews with employees there suggested that Dall'Anese might have overstated his case. Still, the foreign ministry filed a formal protest with the U.S. Embassy without investigating further.

Dall'Anese was in Miami to talk with Christian Sapsizian, a former Alcatel executive who has admitted a year ago to paying more than $2.5 million to Costa Rican politicians
 on behalf of his former telecommunications company.

Dall'Anese said in a press conference that he suspected U.S. officials were protecting Sapsizian, although he did not use the man's name. The chief prosecutor did say that relations between Costa Rican officials and the U.S. Department of Justice have been deteriorating over the last few months.

Perhaps in retaliation, Costa Rica's security minister, again without investigating further, granted refugee status July 23 to a U.S. fugitive hours before she was supposed to be extradited to the United States. The woman, Chere Lyn Tomayko had been on the run with her daughter for 10 years and had been indicted for parental child abduction.

With the U.S. ambassador, Peter Cianchette, Wednesday was Peter Brennan, now chargé d’affaires at the embassy.

Subsequently, another U.S. runaway mom has sought refugee status to avoid a criminal charge of abducting her child in the United States.

An additional concern is the fact that the Costa Rican Constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens who may have committed serious crimes elsewhere.

The visit to the fiscal general follows the donation of a twin-engine airplane to the security ministry last week.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 186

Blind, subterranean tropical ant represents a new species
By the University of Texas at Austin news service

A new species of blind, subterranean, predatory ant has been discovered in the Amazon rainforest by a University of Texas graduate student.

This new species of blind, subterranean, predatory ant, Martialis heureka, was discovered in the Amazon by Christian Rabeling. It belongs to the first new subfamily of living ants discovered since 1923 and is a descendant of one of the first ant lineages to evolve more than 120 million years ago, researchers said.

The new ant is named Martialis heureka, which translates roughly to "ant from Mars," because the ant has a combination of characteristics never before recorded. It is adapted for dwelling in the soil, is two to three millimeters long, pale, and has no eyes and large mandibles, which Rabeling and colleagues suspect it uses to capture prey.

The ant also belongs to its own new subfamily, one of 21 subfamilies in ants. This is the first time that a new subfamily of ants with living species has been discovered since 1923. Other new subfamilies have been discovered from fossil ants.

Rabeling says his discovery will help biologists better understand the biodiversity and evolution of ants, which are abundant and ecologically important insects.

"This discovery hints at a wealth of species, possibly of great evolutionary importance, still hidden in the soils of the remaining rainforests," writes Rabeling and his co-authors in a paper reporting their discovery this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rabeling collected the only known specimen of the new ant species in 2003 from leaf-litter at the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária in Manaus, Brazil.

He and his colleagues found that the ant was a new species, genus and subfamily after morphological and genetic analysis. Analysis of DNA from the ant's legs confirmed its position at the very base of the ant evolutionary tree.

Ants evolved over 120 million years ago from wasp
new ant species
C. Rabeling and M. Verhaagh photo
This is the blind, subterranean, predatory ant.

ancestors. They probably evolved quickly into many different lineages with ants specializing to live in the soil, leaf-litter or trees, or becoming generalists.

"This discovery lends support to the idea that blind subterranean predator ants arose at the dawn of ant evolution," says Rabeling, a graduate student in the ecology, evolution and behavior program.

Rabeling does not suggest that the ancestor to all ants was blind and subterranean, but that these adaptations arose early and have persisted over the years.

"Based on our data and the fossil record, we assume that the ancestor of this ant was somewhat wasp-like, perhaps similar to the Cretaceous amber fossil Sphecomyrma, which is widely known as the evolutionary missing link between wasps and ants," says Rabeling.

He speculates that the new ant species evolved adaptations over time to its subterranean habitat (for example, loss of eyes and pale body color), while retaining some of its ancestor's physical characteristics.

"The new ant species is hidden in environmentally stable tropical soils with potentially less competition from other ants and in a relatively stable microclimate," he says. "It could represent a relict species that retained some ancestral morphological characteristics."

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 186

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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.

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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.


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Former president of court,
Ulises Odio Santos, dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ulises Odio Santos, 90, former president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia and an employee of the judicial branch
former court president
Ulises Odio Santos
for more than 45 years died Wednesday.

Those who knew Odio described him as a humanist, who fought for a dignified judicial administration of transparency, humanity and democracy, according to Fabián Barrantes, head of the press office for Poder Judicial. Barrantes described Odio as wise, fair and a visionary.

Odio served as a law professor at Universidad de Costa Rica for many
years and was continually concerned with the adequate training of lawyers and judicial officials, said Barrantes. Since 1988 the highest recognition bestowed on a legal researcher is the annual Premio Ulises Odio Santos given by the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

Born in Puntarenas on November 25, 1917, Odio married Norma Orozco Saborío with whom he had two children.
Odio studied law at the Universidad de Costa Rica and began working for Poder Judicial at 21 years of age.

He served as a civil judge from 1952 to 1964. The Asamblea Legislativa later elected Odio as a magistrate in de la Sala Segunda Penal.  He was designated as Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia in 1980.

Last March, Odio was awarded the Mérito Judicial by the Comisión Iberoamericana de Ética Judicial at a ceremony in Brazil.

Services for Odio will be held today at 10 a.m. at the Iglesia Don Bosco.

Cacao farms getting aid

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Humane Society International has received a grant from the U.S. Department of State for $396,000 to continue work on wildlife habitat protection in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

The grant will support the production of sustainable cacao, which is grown on small farms that also provide wildlife habitat for animals such as woodpeckers, sloths, and pumas, said the society. Cacao beans are used to make chocolate.

The work will be with cooperatives whose members will be trained to conduct wildlife inventories. The cooperatives have already cataloged at least 43 mammals, 40 bird and 120 plant species living within and around the cacao farms, the society said. The society has had programs here since 2003.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
About us

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