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(506) 223-1327              Published Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 186           E-mail us   
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U.S. horses being rounded up for $22 million theme park here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A quiet roundup of sorts is taking place in the United States to find top-quality horses for an agricultural theme park in Costa Rica.

Agents for Parque Natural de la Cultura Agropecuaria say they are in search of more than 100 horses. The project is like a Noah's Ark of horses. Jeff Swank, a Louisiana horse expert, said that each breed will have a stallion and mare to produce offspring.

Although Costa Rica is known for its horses, the animals for the theme park appear to be those that are under-represented in Costa Rica:

Friesians, Gypsy, Haflinger, Miniature Horse and Clydesdales, Swank reported.

The Gypsy is the horse that the European Gypsies used to pull their wagons or caravans.

The Clydesdale is well known to U.S. beer drinkers as the type of giant horse that pulls the Budweiser wagon in Anheuser-Busch television commercials.

In addition, some 40 or more draft horses, perhaps Belgians, are being sought to pull wagons that will carry visitors through the park.

This is no small undertaking. Swank estimated that the park, which is near San Mateo in the province of Alajuela, will cost $22 million, not including animals. The park is part of a chain that is rapidly expanding throughout Latin America, and hopefully soon will open in the United States, he said.

"They bring the farm experience to adults and children who, many of whom, have never been able to see a horse, cow, chicken, or pig up close and personal," he added.

Swank talked by telephone Tuesday while at a horse auction in Columbia, in the U.S. State of Missouri. He said some of the animals that he
Clydesdale horses
Don't get in the way of a team of Clydesdales

will buy are pricey. He said a Gypsy foal or young animal can bring $30,000. "Costa Rica will have offspring of some of the best animals that the U.S. has to offer," he said.

Once the animals have been purchased, they will go into quarantine at Swank's High Delta Drive Thru Safari Park in Delhi, Louisiana. He estimates that the testing for various diseases, including the West Nile Virus will take at least 28 days.

Then the animals will be trucked to Florida and loaded on a modern day ark, a Boeing 747, for shipment to Costa Rica. Swank said this is the first time a project of this magnitude has been orchestrated.

A Web site entry said that the first Parque Natural De La Cultura Agropecuaria was created by a group of Colombian businessmen there in Quindío. There are now two other parks under construction besides the San Mateo location: Near Bogotá, Colombia, and near Puebla, México. The Colombian operation has 8,500 animals with 150 different races of dogs represented, according to an article from a newspaper there.

Proposed legal change would bar tourists from getting driver's license
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national legislature has been asked to close a loophole that lets tourists easily obtain a Costa Rican driving license.

A proposal that still is active from the legislature that adjourned in 2006 would link the issuance of a driver's license to the immigration status of the applicant.

Right now anyone with a valid passport and an unexpired license from another country can get a Costa Rican driver's license.

The applicant also has to have the required health statement from a physician.
The proposed legislation, offered by former lawmaker Carlos Avendaño Calvo, would still allow tourists 90 days to drive on the license of the home country. But they could not apply for a Costa Rican license until they had been approved for temporary or permanent residency in one of the several categories.

The legislative Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración has just sent the measure to the full Asamblea Legislativa with a positive recommendation.

The rule for foreigners is much more liberal than rules for first-time Costa Rican drivers who have to take a mandatory academic course in safe driving and then take a test drive with an examiner.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 186

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Congressional fight brewing
over eavesdropping measure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The U.S. law that permits American law enforcement to listen in on telephone calls to Costa Rica and elsewhere in the world may face trouble getting approved permanently.

Mike McConnell, the U.S. director of National Intelligence, has urged lawmakers not to weaken powers Congress approved in August expanding government capabilities to conduct electronic eavesdropping to prevent future terrorist attacks.

Before leaving Washington in August for its summer break, Congress approved what is called the Protect America Act. The vote was essentially bipartisan.

The changes allow monitoring, without a court order, of communications by a person authorities reasonably believe to be outside the United States, even if an American is on one end of the conversation, as long the American is not the target of the surveillance.

However, Congress only approved the revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for six months. Now the Bush administration wants to make the changes permanent.

John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the administration-crafted measure too broad, asserting it gives the government too much power. "It permits the government to intercept any and all electronic communications from U.S. citizens to anyone even thought to be abroad at the time. This would include reporters, elected officials and political enemies of the administration, for example," he said.

Conyers and other Democrats assert that the temporary measure could lead to privacy intrusions, involving business records, library files and personal mail, with the government having only to demonstrate that a suspected terrorist abroad is involved.

McConnell sought to allay such concerns, saying the changes have already helped close what he calls critical foreign intelligence gaps, adding that the threats terrorist groups pose to the United States are very real. "Globalization trends and technology continue to enable even small groups of alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources for attack, all without requiring centralized terrorist organization training or a leader. This is a threat we face today, and one that our intelligence community is challenged to counter," he said.

Between now and February when the Protect America Act expires, more hard negotiations can be expected on additional provisions sought by the administration.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein urged lawmakers to make changes approved so far permanent, and to enact additional revisions.

He also sought to ease concerns that approvals of surveillance directed at foreign individuals could open Americans to eavesdropping and privacy issues. "We cannot under the statute, that is not allowed. When we direct surveillance at somebody in the United States . . .  we cannot do that without a court order and we will not do it," he said.

Wainstein says the administration is open to suggestions from members of Congress on additional changes before the Protect America Act comes up for re-authorization next February, but suggests that changes should not be what he calls limiting in nature.

Acción Ciudadana presents
criminal allegations on airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana said it has leveled a litany of allegations against the transport ministry for the way negotiations over the management contract for Juan Santamaría airport has been handled.

Deputies of the political party presented their case to the Ministerio Pública, naming the top officials of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte and the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil, a party release said.

The release said a transport vice minister has provided inexact information to a party official and that the consejo continues to negotiate with airport creditors despite the fact that an anticipated termination had been announced.

The airport is being managed by Alterra Partners, and the firm's creditors are trying to change the contract the company has with the government to make the management of the airport more profitable. Acción Ciudadana said that the changes in the original contract would mean a $400 million windfall for Alterra.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana generally opposes deals in which public properties are put out to private concessions.

British delegations seeking
deals that conform to Kyoto

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

British businessmen are visiting Costa Rica Thursday and Friday seeking opportunities to develop environmentally sound projects, according to a release from the British Embassy.

The event will be inaugurated in the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura by Tom Kennedy, the British ambassador, and Roberto Dobles, the minister of Ambiente y Energía.

The representatives of the eight firms are those who form part of a British climate change initiative. They are seeking opportunities to mitigate the effects of climate change, using international tools established by the Kyoto Protocols, said the embassy.

Arenal dumps some ash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arenal volcano shrugged off some ash and rocks about 10 a.m. Tuesday, and the event was viewed by visitors at a lookout point and by persons at a local hot springs resort, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico of the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

Volcano experts from the observatory were expected to visit the volcano near La Fortuna de San Carlos today, but the event is being considered normal.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 186

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We're singing in the rain but just barely, thank you!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Perhaps Gene Kelly said it best:

"We're singing in the rain." We are, but not with much vigor.

This is the time of year when the love of rain is forced and welcoming smiles are replaced by grimaces. And the 1,300-colon umbrella is a best friend.

Yet there still remain at least 12 more weeks until afternoon soakings reduce themselves to pelo de gato, hair of the cat drizzles.

To paraphrase that American patriot Thomas Paine, these are the times that try men's (and women's) laminas, canoas and bajantes, their roof sheathing, gutters and downspouts. Wind and certainly doses of hail can do a job on the plastic roofing materials. And the winds can pry apart the sheets and leave openings for rain.

Elsewhere in the country, Costa Ricans are living with perpetual flooding as garbage-clogged storm drains or blocked rivers back up. Or the earth gives way and the living room goes downhill.

So far Costa Rica has not had to deal with the lash of a monumental rainstorm. Residents of Portalón can report that the experience is not pleasant. The region got up to 20 inches of rain in just two days two years ago.

That community was wiped out by gigantic walls of water that flowed downhill along the bed of the nearby river. Trees three-feet in diameter destroyed homes and bridges.

Nicaraguan neighbors, particularly those in the northern part of the country, are still in emergency status because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Felix. But a look at the Atlantic weather picture late Tuesday shows that the only area of growing instability is between the Bahamas and Florida, far enough away to be inconsequential to Costa Rica. The traditional Atlantic hurricane season still has a bit more than 10 weeks to go.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the fierce afternoon downpours are typical this time of year for the Central Valley and the Pacific coast.  San José got hit with 35.5 mms. of rain (about 1.4 inches) right at 2 p.m. Tuesday. That followed about an inch of rain (26.6 mms.) Monday.

Limón and Liberia did not see measurable rain.
umbrella montage
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Every afternoon is umbrella time!

The curious aspect of Costa Rican living is that when the dry season appears shortly before Christmas, the streets get dirty and the north winds dry out the skin.

Then the song for the fickle expats is: "We're singing FOR rain!"

High-profile murder case drawing to a close in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's most watched murder case is drawing to a close.

This is the crime where a public defender is accused of killing and dumping the body of his young wife. A female prosecutor also is a defendant because investigators claim she helped the man after the murder.

The case has everything: jealousy, passion and, according to prosecutors, premeditation. The victim, Mauren Hidalgo Mora, worked as the assistant to a judge.

The Ministerio Público, in the person of prosecutor Christian Ulate, asked the trial judges Tuesday to give Zulay Rojas Sánchez six years in jail for her role in the crime. She is a blonde who recently has been hospitalized for what has been called suicidal tendencies. Ms. Rojas was a former girlfriend of the principal accused, Luis Fernando Burgos. Prosecutors have asked for the maximum penalty, 35 years, for him.

Investigators say they believe that Burgos killed his wife
July 11 in their own San José home and then made a number of telephone calls to acquaintances to seek help hiding the body. Ms. Rojas has been suspended because of contact she had then with Burgos.

Prosecutors say she initially denied being involved even when questioned by the chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall'Anese.

The body was not discovered until July 16 when it was located off a road near Atenas.

Prosecutors say the motive for the crime was jealousy and the fear that his young wife was involved with men in the offices where she worked. Suspicions have been ample as to who those men might be, if any.

Prosecutors claim premeditation because Burgos rented the vehicle in which they say he carried away the body.

The case has been given daily coverage on television and lawyers for the victim's family have been outspoken. Burgos himself testified, denied committing the crime and suggested some kind of conspiracy against him.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 186

U.S. experts surprised by aggressive cut in interest rate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Federal Reserve Tuesday cut key short-term interest rates by a half percentage point in an aggressive move to protect the economy from a housing slump and the related mortgage market turbulence.

The half percentage point cut in the interest rates that banks charge each other for overnight loans was bigger than the quarter-point cut many experts had anticipated, taking the federal funds rate down to 4.75 percent.

Alan Viard, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and is now a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said he was surprised by the half-point reduction. "I think what the Fed has decided to do is just to take very aggressive action. And specifically to respond to what's going on in the financial markets," he said.

The New York stock market responded enthusiastically to the rate cut, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising more than 330 points by the end of the day Tuesday.

This was the first federal funds rate cut in more than four years. It is also the first for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke,
who is facing a major test with financial markets in turmoil. The Federal Reserve has been slowly raising interest rates over the past four years to fight off the threat of inflation.

Robert Scott, Director of the Washington-based International Programs at the Economic Policy Institute, said the Fed's bold rate cut reflects serious concerns. "Well I think the Fed is more worried than some have expected about the mortgage crisis and its likely effect on consumer spending. I think that crisis is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, and I think the Fed is well aware of this," he said.

Scott said he expects there may be more rate cuts to come, and he likened the U.S. economy to an aircraft carrier that is very hard to turn around once it is moving.

The Fed's announcement came just hours after the release of a report from an online real estate company that said an increasing number of Americans are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.

The U.S. housing market has been affected by the rising number of people unable to pay off so-called sub-prime mortgages given to borrowers with weak credit.

Canada's record with exploited immigrants called shocking
By the University of British Columbia news service

A young woman overseas answers a job ad that offers a prepaid air ticket and glamorous work as an international model.

Upon arriving in Canada, she discovers to her horror that she
Professor Perrin
Benjamin Perrin
has been lured into the sex trade and faces “debts” that she must now pay off. Somehow she escapes her captors and looks for help. The authorities detain, interrogate and then deport her.

Until recently, this was how Canada routinely treated human trafficking victims — as illegal migrants, says Benjamin Perrin, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia.

Perrin’s teaching and research interests include domestic and international criminal law, international humanitarian law and comparative constitutional law and human trafficking.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimates that 600 people are trafficked into Canada for sexual exploitation each year.  As a transit country, another 1,500 and 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the United States. These estimates are believed to be very conservative, said Perrin.

In 2006, Perrin completed a research report investigating how victims had been treated in Canada, in conjunction with The Future Group — a non-governmental organization he founded in 2000 to work directly with victims of human trafficking overseas.

“It is quite shocking to see how poor Canada’s record has been,” says Perrin.

He says that Canada deported victims without any kind of emergency support or psychological counseling. “The police were forced to cobble together resources to provide that
care because there was no system in place to protect victims.”

In fact, Perrin’s research gave Canada a failing grade when compared to how countries like Germany, Italy, Australia, the United States, Sweden and Norway handled trafficking cases. While these other countries provide victims with housing, medical care and temporary work visas, Canada had no such measures in place.

Perrin explains that Canada had made commitments that never got translated into specific measures. In 2000, along with 117 countries, Canada signed an international protocol that supplemented a United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to prevent, suppress and punish human trafficking. Other signatory countries put resources and a legal framework in place, and kept close track of how their efforts were working, said Perrin.

“The U.S. has done very well. Their records show they have prosecuted hundreds of traffickers and helped many victims. The reason is that they have engaged civil society organizations to work with them and implement laws to protect victims.”

After publishing his research, Perrin was asked by the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to help improve the situation. As a result, the Canadian government agreed to provide temporary residence permits for victims, who are entitled during that time to receive basic medical care and counseling.

The government has also started to commit resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes, and allows victims to obtain work permits during their temporary residence status.

“We’re seeing signs of hope. Canada is starting to turn the corner now, but much work remains to be done,” said Perrin, noting that Canada has yet to successfully prosecute a single person for human trafficking, despite victims continuing to be discovered.

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