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(506) 2223-1327              Published Friday, Sept. 25, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 190             E-mail us
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Environmental panel freezes Caldera highway work
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's environmental court has frozen construction on much of the new highway from Ciudad Colón to Orotina. This is the much-awaited Autopista del Sol that will dramatically cut travel time from the Central Valley to the central Pacific beaches.

The environmental unit, the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo, said Thursday it was concerned by the effects of construction was having on the Barva acquifer and the direct or indirect effects on about 20 rivers and streams west of Ciudad Colón. The main concern is the flow of sediment into the waterways.

The contractor, Autopista del Sol S.A., immediately replied through its public relations firm. The company said that much of the work being criticized is being done under the supervision of other government agencies and that the tribunal has failed to consider a number of documents the company has presented.

The autopista, a concession highway where users will pay a toll, has been criticized by A.M. Costa Rica readers for being too delicate with the landscape. Readers said that some highway cuts were too steep because the company fears moving too much soil.

There was no indication how long the freeze will last. The Tribunal is seeking extensive studies from other government agencies. By halting construction that may affect directly or indirectly some 20 waterways in the path of the highway, the Tribunal has effectively shut down the whole second stage of the project. The first stage is improvement of an existing route from San José to Ciudad Colón. The third stage is improvement of an existing route from Orotina to Caldera.

The Tribunal said that its experts studied the project and found that there was no work to conserve the soil and that large quantities of earth have been removed to open up the way for the road without good management.

The movement of this material affected the main course of the Río Grande de Tárcoles and presented a risk for the Atenas aquifer, it said.

A company release also Thursday from the public relations firm Edilex Comunicación Internacional said Autopista del Sol respects the environment. It characterized some of the Tribunal comments as incomplete or false and said that the company voluntarily provided information on these topics.

The company release said that the work involving the Barva aquifer has the approval of the Servicio Nacional de Riego y Avenamiento  and the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental.

The company warned that delaying the progress of the work put certain parts of the project at risk, including the Atenas retention dam that is being stabilized. And it said it already had presented a
mitigation plan for environmental damage that was part of the entire project.

The Tribunal said that the work damaged, in addition to the Tárcoles, the  ríos Ciruelas and Caño Grande and the waterways Doña Ana, Salitral, Lapas, Concepción, Nances, San Francisco  and others. The Tribunal said that the company had to come up with a plan to removed the sedimentation that already had flowed into the waterways. The company also must come up with techniques to reduce and slow the flow of water that might carry sediment into these watercourses.

The Tribunal also ordered extensive studies from government agencies:

• from the Departmento de Aguas of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones: A report on all the bodies of water that could be seen to be affected or put in danger by the  highway from Ciudad Colón to Orotina.

• from the Servicio Nacional de Riego y Avenamiento: A report on all the sources of underground waters that exist along the highway route, their fragility, vulnerability, hidden dangers and whatever other information that is important to mention.

• from the  Área de Conservación del Pacífico Central of the environmental ministry:  An inspection of the entire stretch of the highway between Ciudad Colón and Orotina with a report on details of possible environmental damage and a monetary evaluation of the environmental damage produced by the project.

* from the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental: To confirm that there is a file on the project and a report on what kind of environmental permission has been given the company as well as information on the current state of the file.

• From the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad: A report on all the inspections conducted on the project with emphasis on the steps to protect the environment and mitigation of such damages.

• from the  Consejo Nacional de Concesiones: A report on what steps have been taken and what recommendations have been given to Autopista Del Sol to prevent negative environmental impact.

Although the tribunal is within the environmental ministry, it is an independent body with the power of a court. It can issued fines for environmental damage.

When the concession holder began the project in January 2008, it had 30 months to finish the  77-km (48-mile) highway. the section of most concern to the Tribunal is the 39-km (24-mile) section from Ciudad Colón to Orotina. Bridges have been in place for at least 12 years. The price tag is $230 million. Autopista del Sol is putting up the money and will have 25 years of tolls to recover its investment. Completing should be before July 1, 2010.

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Obama presides at U.N.
in session with Arias

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Barack Obama chaired a summit level-session of the U.N. Security Council Thursday that unanimously adopted a resolution committing to work toward a nuclear weapons-free world. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the second day of the U.N. General Assembly where the annual debate continued.

The Security Council session focused on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and the resolution urged action to prevent the spread of atomic weapons.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez also spoke because his country is a non-permanent member of the Security Council. He urged nations to reduce their nuclear arsenal.

President Obama presided over the meeting, the first time a U.S. president has done so. He told the council that the United Nations has a "pivotal role to play" in preventing a nuclear crisis.

"The historic resolution we just adopted enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons," said President Obama. "And it brings Security Council agreement on a broad framework for action to reduce nuclear dangers as we work toward that goal."

Among its goals, the resolution aims to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to keep nuclear materials out the hands of terrorists, and to ensure the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

All of the other council members were represented by their head of state or government, except for non-permanent member Libya, which sent its U.N. ambassador instead of President Moammar Gadhafi.

Uribe insists illegal drugs
should remain that way

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The consumption of drugs should be made illegal to break the increasingly close links with production, trafficking and organized crime, Colombia’s president told the U.N. General Assembly as he warned about the dangers posed by the illicit drug industry.

Álvaro Uribe Vélez told the start of the assembly’s annual General Debate, held at U.N. headquarters in New York, that proposals to legalize drug use did not make sense given the tightening nexus between consumption and production.

“The old division between producer and consumer countries has disappeared,” he said. “Colombia began as a space for trafficking, broke into production and today suffers as a consumer. Those who started as consumers increase production. All peoples are exposed to the risks of production, trafficking and consumption.”

Uribe urged U.N. member states to “reflect on the need to make consumption illegal,” rather than to advocate for the legalization of drugs.

“There is no coherence between the severity facing production and trafficking and the permissiveness of consumption. This has led to murderous micro-trafficking in cities, to encouraging consumption by adolescents and youth and to involving children in the criminal enterprise.

“We are advancing in the constitutional process to make consumption illegal, making sure not to confuse the sick addict with the criminal distributor.”

The Colombian president said the only reason now for terrorism in his country was the illicit drug industry, with criminals more open about their connection to the drug trade and their tactics, such as abductions.

But he said authorities in the South American country, where government forces, rebels, paramilitary groups and criminal gangs have fought over four decades, were having success in combating criminal activity and what he described as “paramilitarism.”

Tucson gets new U.S. center
to issue passports to public

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of State opened its 23rd domestic passport issuance facility in Tucson, Arizona. The Western Passport Center is located in Broadway Northeast at 7373 E. Rosewood St..

The Western Passport Center is a mega-adjudication center with a public counter that is the first domestic passport facility of its kind. It combines the efficiency of a high-volume production environment with personal customer service, the State Department said. The center is one of 19 domestic passport agencies that is open to the public.

The Western Passport Center has the capability to issue passport books and cards on site to qualifying customers who have urgent/emergency travel needs and those who have planned departures within 14 days. Appointments can be scheduled 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, through the department’s automated appointment system. With the land border phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in effect since June, the Center will greatly improve the department’s ability to meet the travel needs of  customers in several states along the U.S.–Mexican border, the department said.

Drug agents knew suspect
from previous encounters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 10th time is a charm, or at least the Policía de Control de Drogas hopes so.

They detained a man for the 10th time Thursday. He was identified by the last names of  Méndez Matamoros. Agents said he was 50 years old. He faces a drug distribution charge, agents said.

The man was detained on Calle 4 between avenidas 7 and 8 near a bar. Agents said they had received telephoned complaints about the man via the 176 anti-drug hotline. They said the man was carrying crack cocaine and a significant amount of money.

There was no explanation about why he was at liberty after having been arrested nine times in the past.

Police sweep the downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers, accompanied by the security minister, conducted a sweep of downtown San José and León XIII Thursday afternoon.

In the downtown between avenidas 3 and 7, police questioned about 100 persons and visited bars and vacant lots in the area. In León XII they made contact with 90 persons, they said. The security minister is Janina del Vecchio, who is pushing to install some 300 surveillance cameras downtown. Officials said she was there to inspect the work of the police.

Science fair in Cartago today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica in Cartago is hosting a regional science fair today in its gymnasium. Some 57 projects produced by 120 students are expected to be displayed. The event lasts through 3 p.m.

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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, Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 190

Artists and their works
Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes photos
        José Miguel Rojas and Castillo de Moro                 Juan Carlos Camacho Hernández  'Aquella tarde de abril'
Historic structures provide great subjects for artists
    By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

No one needs an artist's eye to find and appreciate historical buildings in Costa Rica. The country is full of them, and some even have been designated as historical landmarks.

That is the job of the Centro de Patrimonio of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes. But the heritage center also tries to raise interest in such structures, which is why culture officials conducted an art contest in which the works would feature historic buildings.

The winners were announced Thursday. First place went to José Miguel Rojas, curator of the  Museo de Arte Costarricense. He depicted the Castillo de Moro, a well-known San José building.

Second place winner  Juan Carlos Camacho Hernández went to the city's smallest barrio, Barrio Otoya, where he found
the perfect house for his watercolor  "Aquella tarde de abril,"  translated as That April Afternoon.

In the young artists category,  Eugenia Núñez Barrionuevo took first prize with her work of the  Edificio Metálico in San José, and  Zurych Hernández Solano took second with a painting of the  Capitanía de Puerto in Puntarenas. All 44 works submitted by 35 artists will be on display in the Centro Nacional de Cultura, the old liquor factory east of Parque España.

The awards were money prizes. The Centro de Patrimonio also runs a contest each year that provides substantial sums for the restoration of historical buildings. One structure is the central post office in San José.

Among other improvements, the Correos building is now a light brown instead of the institutional green it wore for years,

You just never know how the journey will turn out
How long has it been since you spent over an hour in a doctor’s office (not the waiting room), and during that whole time he/she never once looked at a computer?  And  you got to see more than just his profile?  This was my experience recently and it was a repeat of the experience I had the first time – nearly17 years ago – when I visited Dr. Davidovich.

I hadn’t consulted him since that first time (the problem I went to him for was gone). But this time he was is just as involved and thorough, with the same gentle and reassuring singsong voice as he was then. He did not dismiss out-of-hand any of my concerns that stemmed from a recent test at the Hospital San Juan de Dios.

But I was already set up for a good day.  I’ve been hanging out in my apartment lately, so this week was the first time I’ve boarded a bus headed for downtown.  I took a new bus book with me and was immediately charmed with the first lines of a poem, "Ithaca" by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, that is a preface to the novel, "Journey to Ithaca," by Anita Desai.

    “Then pray that the journey is long.
    That the summer mornings are many,
     That you will enter ports seen for the first time
    With such pleasure, with such joy!”

Okay, I can do that, I thought, paraphrasing Helen Hunt in “As Good as it Gets.”

Authors often use the descriptive phrase like “Go away, George,” she hissed.  And I, an attentive reader, cannot figure out how anyone can hiss that phrase or others like it.  But Ms  Desai did it perfectly in the sentence, “She saw that his skin was scarred with boils and drew back her lips in a hiss of horror.” I could do that, too.

What I could not do is what the couple in the book and a friend of mine is doing right now: making a pilgrimage through India and staying in ashrams or following yogis.  It simply is not my cup of chai.  I will find enlightenment (if ever I do) in Costa Rica, taking buses and trains wherever they go – once the glitches in the train to Heredia get solved,
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

A discussion I have had with my friends over time has been whether it is the journey or the destination they look forward to when they go on a trip. I am sure plane travel has influenced their thoughts.  There are those who are much more interested in the destination, but there are some of us who look forward to the journey (unless it is a plane trip). 

Of course, there are journeys and there are journeys.  In the journey of life, sometimes you have to get to a destination in order to experience the little trips. Then I got stuck.  I didn’t even know where my column was going, and I was not enjoying the trip, so I called my friend Sandy.  She is always good at helping me clear my thoughts.  We decided to go to lunch at a restaurant we had not tried, on a side street near Plaza Mayor.  On the way we talked about the journey vs. the destination.  She had just pointed out that sometimes the destiny we plan for ourselves doesn’t work out, like going to college to get a teaching degree and then discovering you hate teaching. Destinations change.

Good example, I thought. Just then, as Sandy was signaling to turn left to park, a small red car side swiped us, giving us both a jolt.  We stopped, as you are supposed to in Costa Rica.  The damage was slight, but the young woman wanted to call the police and INS, the insurance company.

Two hours and 40 minutes later, after a representative of INS and a policeman had come to make a report and I had found something to eat while Sandy stood by her car, she drove me home.

 I am going to have to include in my musings something that probably will not surprise anyone. Enjoy the good beginnings; sometimes the journey can really screw up the destination.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 190

The Royal Dutch Navy supply ship Amsterdam departed Limón Thursday after a visit of three days.

Despite the designation, the boat is becoming more and more involved in the fight against drug smuggling. The craft contains launches and hangers for helicopters.

The boat, based in Curaçao, also is used to render aid in emergency situations like hurricanes.

The Dutch ambassador to Costa Rica,  Matthijs van Bonzel, was the host when the ship was in port. He gave a presentation pointing out his country's concern over drug smuggling and the treaty with Costa Rica that was desgined to stem drug traffic in the Caribbean.
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Pacific cruise ship season begins with California liner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Puntarenas tourism industry is happy with the start of the cruise season. The Island Princess docked Wednesday and became the first visitor of the season. The boat has San Francisco, California, as a home port.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo estimates that there will be more cruise ships visiting Costa Rica this season. Some 122 are scheduled for the Pacific, and the total is expected to exceed the 238 that visited at both ports last season.

There were 1,947 passengers on the island Princess.
They were greeted with a ceremony put on by the Municipalidad de Puntarenas with the mayor, Agnes Gómez.

Last year nearly 320,000 cruise passengers visited Costa Rica counting both the Pacific and Limón. The high season for cruise ships runs through April on the Caribbean and through May 15 on the Pacific.

The tourism institute said it welcomed the creation of the  Asociación Costarricense de la Industria de Cruceros, formed in August, to develop better services for the visitors. Members are many of the tourism operators in the area.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 190

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Bilingual youngsters lower
in recall, high in creativity

By the University of Alberta news services

If your language Immersion student is not able to think of a certain English word or the correct foreign word, a University of Alberta researcher has a sage piece of advice.

Relax, it's completely normal.

Elena Nicoladis, an experimental psychologist, recently published a study of unilingual and bilingual children's ability to recall words in "Bilingualism: Language and Cognition." Nicoladis' research with students between the ages of 7 and 10 showed that bilingual children's lexical recall was slightly lower than their unilingual counterparts.

However, Nicoladis notes that this is not an alarm bell to pull children from immersion programs. She said that the results of the study show only a small part of the children's overall language skills.

"The results are not a deficit of bilingualism," said Ms. Nicoladis. "We know from other studies that the same challenges can be found in bilingual adults. But you don't see bilinguals stuttering more or having a difficult time expressing themselves."

In the study, a group of unilingual and bilingual students were initially asked to name a series of objects that, while familiar to them, were not everyday words, such as a weather vane. The bilingual students scored slightly below their English-language peers.

However, the bilingual students were equally able to recognize an object's name in both languages at a later period during the testing. The bilinguals also showed a stronger capacity to describe the object or even literally translate the name of the object. The Canadian students wre bilingual in French and English.

"The bilingual children displayed what were clearly some influences from a literal translation or some other translation," said Ms.  Nicoladis. "For example, a couple of students called a pine cone a pineapple, which, in French is pomme de pin, so, literally, pine apple in English."

The children also demonstrated some distinct behaviours during the study. Some students would occasionally answer in French during the English interview portion or in English during the French interview. Ms. Nicoladis notes that these types of responses did not occur with researchers working with adults. Ms. Nicoladis believes that it is likely a developmental issue related to filtering language context and accessing two separate lexical files, akin to picking up the wrong dictionary.

Ms. Nicoladis notes that there are some positives to the study. If the adult research is any indication, the bilingual children will improve their recall ability as they grow older. She also sees the thinking process that the bilinguals displayed in responding to the questions as a benefit to the students' linguistic duality.

"The kids are already showing incredibly clever ways at coming up with words or expressions that convey what they're trying to say," she said. "One argument about an advantage of bilingualism is that it could lead to creativity, and we're already seeing the signs of that now in that age range here in the study."

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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 190

Latin American news
U.S. financial indicators
continue to be a mixed bag

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. economy continues to generate mixed data that analysts say point to a slow recovery from a deep and prolonged recession.

U.S. job losses continue, but at a slower pace. The Labor Department reports the number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell for the third consecutive week. Last week's total of 530,000 claimants was down 21,000 from the previous week.

"The labor market is improving. These numbers are still high," said Global Insight Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh, "The jobs market always lags the recovery by at least six months, and there is a very simple reason for that. Businesses are reluctant to rehire until they are sure that the recovery is sustainable."

America's unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent and is widely expected to top 10 percent by the end of the year, even if economic contraction ends before then.

Meanwhile, existing home sales in the United States dipped unexpectedly in August, reversing several months of gains in one of the country's most beleaguered sectors. The National Association of Realtors says home sales fell 2.7 percent to an annual rate of 5.1 million units, down from a 5.24 million unit pace in July.

The group's spokesman, Walter Maloney, says plenty of would-be home buyers exist, but that finalizing sales is proving difficult.

"We know there has been a lot of contract activity, very strong increases in contracts. But what is happening is that not all of them are closing," Maloney said.

Despite an easing of last year's severe credit crunch, some home buyers continue to report difficulty securing financing. It was the mass issuance of home mortgages to individuals of dubious creditworthiness that led to a rash of defaults and foreclosures beginning in late 2007 and set the stage for last year's financial meltdown. Since then, many banks have tightened lending standards.

The median sales price of an American home stands at $177,000, down from $203,000 a year ago.

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