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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 188             E-mail us
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Street campaign raised $75,000 in just one weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican branch of a housing charity made 43 million colons, some $75,000, by sending volunteers into the streets with collection cans last weekend.

The organization, Un Techo para Mi País, was the group behind all those youngsters soliciting funds at key intersections. The intersection campaign is over, and the charitable organization says it raised more money than it expected from motorists.

The money will go to build 44 emergency homes, said the organization, a local branch of an international charity founded in Chile.

At some intersections motorists found a dozen solicitorsg red T-shirts with the slogan "Un rojo por un techo." The slogan means a 1,000-colon bill for a roof. Rojo is slang for the lowest denomination paper currency that is colored red.

The organization said that the full amount collected will be more because donations made at 50 points outside the metro area and at local restaurants and groceries have not yet been counted. There also are donations being collected from businesses. Those who made donations will be happy to know that the money is being handled by Banco Promerica.

The organization had about 600 solicitors at about 100 locations in the Central Valley. They did not just collect money but also put on performances by dancing, signing, playing musical instruments and juggling. They pretty well ran free-lance
Techo solicitation
Un Techo para Mi País photo
The street campaign involved a number of pretty or handsome young volunteers

 intersection beggar our of business. The campaign goal was $60,000.

The organization came into the public eye when it responded to the housing needs of those who lost dwellings in the Jan. 8 Cinchona earthquake, although it had been working in Costa Rica since 2006. It said it plans to build some 100 homes by the end of the year. It said it has constructed 507 emergency dwelling already in Costa Rica.

The houses are prefabricated of plywood and can be erected in two days by eight to 10 volunteers, the organization said. They are not large. Each is 18 square meters, some 194 square feet. Each is six meters  (nearly 20 feet) wide by three meters (nearly 10 feet) deep. The structures have an anticipated life of five years, the organization said.


Telecom agency wants details on cell phone snafus
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telecom regulating agency is asked the phone company to explain why the changeover to a unified GSM cell system was such a disaster.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones said Tuesday that it had asked the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which runs the phones, to explain why there have been problems, interruption of services, outages and delays with text messages.

Readers have reported that their cell phones went dead. Others have reported that the international roaming service provided by the phone company now does not work, leaving customers in foreign lands without their cell phone.

The company known as ICE promised a seamless
changeover from the Alcatel system to the current Ericsson early Sept. 11. The company ended up with two cell systems because both were awarded through bidding and separate contracts.

Involved were some 400,000 users of the GSM system The older TDMA phones were not involved.

The Superintendencia said it wanted an accounting from ICE about the technical details and the quality of service. A rough estimate is that about 10 percent of the 400,000 users were affected. One of nine cell phones used by A.M. Costa Rica staffers inexplicably went dead. Company technicians eventually changed the internal chip to get the cell phone working again.

The Superintendencia said that those who have had problems can file a complaint with it.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 188

Costa Rica Expertise
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Panamá may take a hit
for its banking practices

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

The G20 countries meeting in Pittsburgh are considering actions against Panamá and  Uruguay for their favorable treatment of tax dodgers, The G20 works in conjunction with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is pushing for an international tax on financial transfers.

Panamá is considered a top tax haven country, and the non-profit Public Citizen said that "Panama serves as the financial nerve center for Colombian narcotraffickers and  paramilitaries, who freely pass the largely unguarded border between the two Latin  American countries. Finally, Panama is one of the easiest countries in which to register a  foreign subsidiary, with lax taxes and regulations. These factors contribute to Panama  having the highest number of subsidiaries of foreign companies (350,000) after Hong Kong."

A number of Costa Rican business people, including some expats, have accounts in Panamá. Among these are corporations controlledd by former president Rafael Ángel Calderón who is a defendant in a bribery trial.

Regulators elsewhere are miffed that Panamá does not provide information on foreign account holders.

The G20 Summit is Thursday and Friday. Member states may seek to apply sanctions to both countries if they continue to shield account holders.

The G20 is also likely to discuss another issue that may affect taxation – the need for all countries to adhere to the same accounting practices.

"There is a patchwork of accounting practices," explains John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group, based at the University of Toronto, Canada, "which makes it difficult for the average investor or citizen to read a company’s balance sheets and compare them across countries -- even if it is the same company doing business in different countries . . . which standards are they following?"

Kirton says it’s not clear that delegates to the meeting will discuss the ultimate way to enhance the budgets of developing countries – additional aid.

So far, the G20 has promised U.S. $50 billion to support social protection measures, boost trade and safeguard development in low income countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates Africa could get between $ 21 - $23 billion.

Industrialized countries have also agreed to provide $300 billion over the next three years to development banks, including the African Development Bank in an effort to increase lending to low income countries. The World Bank and the Asian bank have allocated up to $15 billion to be used in Africa.

Henri-Bernard Solignac-Lecomte, a senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said regulation of both transfer pricing and tax havens is important. He spoke in Washington.

Analysts say some multinational companies avoid paying high taxes by using what financial experts call transfer pricing — improperly declaring high income and expenses in the low-tax countries they operate in, while underdeclaring their levels of income and expenses in high-tax countries. International experts see this as stealing money from developing countries.

Some economists have suggested the group consider a tax on international currency transactions to help developing nations build social safety nets. Solignac-Lecomte said, however, that there’s no consensus on the issue: Europeans often favor international taxes, while the U.S. opposes them.

Limón municipal official
ordered to house arrest


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge in Limón has ordered the woman in charge of business licenses in the municipality to be confined to her home for six months while an investigation takes place over her activities.

The Poder Judicial said that her  Departamento de Patentes approved licenses for 100 slot machines, including 10 at a local hotel.

She faces allegations of falsifying documents and related crimes. The allegations stem from 2008.

Prosecutors conducted two searches in the municipal building to obtain evidence, said the Poder Judicial. They also searched the hotel, the Poder Judicial said.

Five Puntarenas policemen
face allegations of theft


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another scandal has hit the Fuerza Pública. This time it is five officers in Puntarenas who are facing allegations of misconduct.

Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, revealed the case Tuesday without naming the officers involved. They are accused of stealing a computer and other items that was part of the loot  bandits took from a local store.

The police came in possession of the goods after they detained five men who were accused of stealing from a home appliance store in El Roble de Puntarenas.

The store owner complained that when he went to the police station to recover his property, the computer and some other items were not there. The man and witnesses said they had seen the computer in a patrol car.

Ms. del Vecchio bemoaned the fact that policemen who are suspended from their jobs usually stay on the payroll while the case is processed. She said she wanted to fire officers accused of corruption.

Biologial weapons, not nukes
called the greater threat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two U.S. senators are citing a report by a bipartisan panel that warns of the threat of a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins say a biological attack is more likely than a nuclear or chemical attack, and are pushing new legislation to boost the country's readiness for such a strike.

Lieberman is an independent Democrat from Connecticut and is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He commented on the sober conclusions of a congressionally-mandated commission created to study changes to national security policy in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Lieberman and Ms. Collins, a Republican from of Maine, have introduced legislation that would enact the commission's recommendations and establish what he called a "comprehensive framework" to protect the country from attacks using weapons of mass destruction.

Lieberman warned that the United State's margin of safety is shrinking and not growing, and said the bill, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, is the best way to ensure that the lives lost in the 2001 attack were not in vain.

The new legislation would require labs working with deadly pathogens to increase security.  Gregory Kutz of the Government Accountability Office says this is essential because of gaping holes in perimeter security in two of the nation's five labs that work with the most dangerous pathogens.


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Did you try

to call us?

We're not trying to avoid you. We just are victims of another ICE problem.

It is hard to believe that our company telephones have been out of service  for at four weeks.

The workmen came and disconnected the phones in our old office before they found out that they did not have sufficient space to install the lines in the new office.

Calls to ICE are met with yawns.

You can reach us at 8832-5564.

But Internet is best.

-A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 188

Fugitive Czech official
detained in Barrio Amón


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Agents detained a former vice minister of the Czech Republic in Barrio Amón Tuesday and said he had been accused in his home country of a $1.6 million fraud.

The arrest took place at the man's apartment on Calle 3 between avenidas 7 and 11. He was identified as Karel Ponocny, 50. Agents said he has lived in Costa Rica since 2005 and obtained permanent residency through marriage to a Costa Rican woman. At that time, the man swore that he had no criminal record, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Ponocny was returning from a workout at a gym when he was detained about 12:30 p.m. He has been the subject of an international arrest warrant since 2004, said the ministry citing information form the International Police Agency, INTERPOL. He had been a vice minister in the Czech financial ministry in 2001.

Agents said that a court in Prague determined that he and a businessman there, Anton Murarik, created a fraudulent contract in order to convert to their own use a debt owed to the country by the government of Perú. According to INTERPOL, Ponocny entered into an agreement with a Bolivian company headed by Murarik.

The businessman ended up with 95 percent of the money and just 5 percent went to the Czech Republic, they said. Using the documents the individuals were able to transfer more than $1.5 million to a bank in Prague.

Agents were able to know about Ponocny because he was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a taxi in 2006, they said. They confirmed his location that July 20. The man had a Sabanilla address on his license. To actually get the paperwork here and processed by a judge took more than a year and a half, they said.

The man is an officer in several corporations here, agents said.
cedule de identidad
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photos
The fugitive obtained this cédula via marriage.

Foreign official arrested
Detained official is handcuffed


Arias says that planet is approaching point of annihilation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

President Óscar Arias Sánchez told the United Nations Tuesday that the planet is approaching the point of annihilation and that countries have just eight years to do something about it.

He urged the creation of a system so that wealthy countries subsidize what he called middle-income countries with cheap renewable energy.

"With a small fraction of the 13 trillion dollars that we will assign, as a minimum, to military spending in the next ten years, we could cover the entire cost of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions in the world," said Arias.

"We must rethink the way we live and the way we develop our countries, and, like the conquistador Hernán Cortés, rid ourselves of the ships that brought us to this point.," he added

Nearly 100 heads of state and government are at the United Nations headquarters for a climate change summit convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the largest gathering ever on the issue.
   
The aim of the gathering is "for leaders to mobilize the political momentum that can accelerate the pace of
negotiations and help strengthen the ambition of what is on offer," Ban said.

The summit comes less than 80 days before the start of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where nations are set to wrap up negotiations on an ambitious new agreement on curbing the emission of  greenhouse gases.

That agreement is set to go into effect in 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

U.S, President Barack Obama told the special U.N. summit that the United States understands the gravity of the problem and is determined to act.

The summit speech was the U.S. president's first address to the world body and he used the message to reassure delegates that the United States, which shunned the 1997 Kyoto climate pact, is determined to make the successor Copenhagen process a success.

Obama provided no new proposals. But he said the United States and other developed economies, which caused much of the damage to the world climate over the last century, have a responsibility to lead.

He said the fast-growing developing nations, which will produce almost all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead, must do their part as well.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 188


Honduran police break up pro-Zelaya demonstrations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Riot police in Honduras on Tuesday broke up marches by supporters of ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who has sought refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya announced his return to Tegucigalpa on Monday, three months after he was seized by security forces and taken out of the country by airplane. Speaking from inside the Brazilian Embassy, Zelaya said he remains the elected president of the country and called on his followers to show their support.

Thousands of people gathered outside the embassy early Tuesday, even after the interim government imposed a ban on public gatherings and a curfew.

Security forces fired tear gas to break up the pro-Zelaya marchers, who are also accused of vandalizing buildings in the country's capital overnight.

Zelaya told reporters he feared the interim government would provoke violence and might even invade the Brazilian Embassy compound to seize him.

In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio da Silva said he spoke by
 telephone with the ousted leader, who, he said, urged his supporters pursue peaceful demonstrations. The Brazilian leader said he told Zelaya not to give the interim government a pretext to resort to violence in the standoff.

Da Silva said he hoped that Honduran security forces would not enter the Brazilian Embassy and asked the nation's interim government to negotiate a resolution to the crisis.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti called on Brazil to hand over Zelaya to face trial on 18 charges, including treason. He also questioned why Zelaya chose to return now — two months ahead of new presidential elections.

Micheletti said the ousted leader and his supporters have been trying to block the November elections for several weeks.

The United States and other Western Hemisphere countries have refused to recognize the Honduran interim government. Costa Rica's president, Óscar Arias Sánchez, had led talks between Zelaya and the interim government aimed at brokering a compromise. The Washington-backed talks broke down in July, after interim leaders refused to allow Zelaya to return to office.



Micheletti says Brazil should take Zelaya to asylum there

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The acting president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, says his government will not confront Brazil over its sheltering of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in its embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Micheletti said Tuesday that Brazil should either grant Zelaya asylum within Brazil's borders or turn him over to the Micheletti government.  But he said his government has no intention of forcing the issue.

Both Brazil and the United States have called for calm, urging all sides to avoid actions that would lead to further unrest.  A State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, urged both sides to sign an agreement mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

The de facto Honduran government has promised to respect international rules protecting diplomatic premises, but the embassy has been surrounded by police and
soldiers.  Water and power supplies were turned off at one point, although the reason is not clear.

Zelaya surprised the caretaker government by sneaking into the country Monday.  He said his return is a new opportunity for dialogue, although he has been urging supporters to stage peaceful protests.

Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, spoke by telephone to Zelaya Tuesday.  He said he told the ousted leader not to give the interim government a reason to resort to violence.

Brazil's foreign minister says his country played no part in Mr. Zelaya's return, but simply accepted his bid for asylum at the embassy. 

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, warned the interim Honduran government that it is responsible for Zelaya's safety as well as the security of the Brazilian Embassy.

   
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 188

Casa Alfi Hotel

Moon walker Aldrin found
hardest time was after return


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon 40 years ago. Aldrin says the hardest part for him was returning to earth. He has written a book called "Magnificent Desolation" with co-author Ken Abraham that chronicles his struggles.

It was a dramatic moment, as Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon at the successful climax of the Apollo 11 mission.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.

Aldrin followed his colleague onto the lunar surface, catapulting both men into history. Aldrin describes the magnificent, desolate landscape of the moon, and how that image paralleled his life.

"Because the challenge to me was returning back to earth as a person that now is going to go around to different places as sort of a hero, historical person on a pedestal and give a lot of speeches and lots of interviews, and that's not what I looked forward to," he explained.

The moon landing made Aldrin a hero, but it sidetracked his career as an Air Force officer. He says the military never knew quite what to do with returning astronauts.

He was put in charge of a test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, near Los Angeles. But Aldrin was a fighter pilot, not a test pilot. He had flown combat missions in the Korean War and he was never at home in the new position. He retired from the Air Force the following year.

He was academically gifted. He had completed a doctorate in astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped develop some of the technology for the lunar mission. He was driven and calls himself something of a perfectionist.

"So now I'm off on my own and I'm beginning to be a little dissatisfied with how things are going ," Aldrin said. "And I inherited a degree of perfection but also a degree of disappointment, disillusionment, depression, when things didn't quite go my way."

Aldrin had a family history of depression. His mother committed suicide the year before he landed on the moon.

Aldrin says he also inherited a tendency to escape through alcohol and struggled with addiction. After two divorces, he got help through psychiatric counseling. He says his current wife, Lois, was also critical in helping him through the struggles. The two married in 1988.

The former astronaut now spends his time inspiring others with his vision of space, and promoting the space program.

 "What I've been trying to do in an increasing way is to reach different segments of society — children's books — I've written two of them now," he noted. "I've written a science fiction story.  I've shared activities with the Star Trek people, and I expect to do more of that in the future. I've gone completely out of my realm of activities by doing a rap music with some rappers, Snoop Dogg and Kweli."

"I tell a story about my time on the moon, now, the sky was black even though the sun shined down, moon rocket such a trip. It's so fine, when you're walking in the lunar dust....."

He wishes the United States would make better use of former astronauts, especially those from lunar missions. 

After a triumphant trip to the moon and a difficult return, Aldrin, now 79, maintains an active schedule as he continues pursuing his passion, the exploration of space. He has founded a rocket design firm and a foundation that promotes future tourism in space.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 188

Latin American news
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Ozone reported increasing
in the upper atmosphere


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

By merging more than a decade of atmospheric data from European satellites, scientists have compiled a long-term ozone record that allows them to monitor total ozone trends on a global scale, and the findings look promising.
 
Scientists merged monthly total ozone data derived from the vertically downward-looking measurements of various satellites.

"We found a global slightly positive trend of ozone increase of almost 1 percent per decade in the total ozone from the last 14 years: a result that was confirmed by comparisons with ground-based measurements," said Diego G. Loyola R. who worked on the project with colleagues from the German Aerospace Center.

Ozone is a protective layer found about 25 km above us mostly in the stratospheric layer of the atmosphere that acts as a sunlight filter shielding life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. The thinning of this layer increases the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and harm to marine life. 
   
The ozone layer is not distributed evenly, with more changes occurring in the upper stratosphere. By collecting data while looking sideways (limb viewing) rather than vertically downwards, instruments are able to provide highly accurate measurements of the stratosphere.

A team of scientists with Ashley Jones and Jo Urban from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology combined   measurements of U.S. European satellites to analyze the long-term evolution of stratospheric ozone from 1979 to the present. These data show a decrease in ozone from 1979 until 1997, and a small increase since then.

"Our analysis shows that upper stratospheric ozone declines at northern and southern mid-latitudes at roughly 7 percent per decade during 1979–97, consistent with earlier studies based on data from satellites and ground networks. A clear statistically significant change of trend can be seen around 1997. . . . We hope to see a significant recovery of ozone in the next years using longer, extended satellite time-series," Urban said.
   
The thinning of the ozone layer is caused by chemicals such as human-produced bromine and chlorine gases that have long lifetimes in the atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was introduced to regulate and phase out the production of these substances. Its effect can clearly be seen in the satellite observations of ozone and these chemicals.




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