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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, Sept. 27, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 190             E-mail us
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Judiciary to begin paperless pilot project for courts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judicial system is kicking off three pilot projects, starting this week that, if adopted, will transform the courts. These include litigation online, oral hearings and judicial offices without paper.

Court officials said that the processes are designed to speed up the handling of cases and provide a system so that the status of each case can be seen online.

The first pilot project will be at the criminal courts of the II Circuito Judicial in Goicoechea. José Manuel Arroyo Gutiérrez, president of the Sala III criminal section, said that the use of oral hearings could reduce bureaucratic procedures Oral hearings will be reduced to digital media for distribution. No paper will be used.

A week from today the labor court in Cartago will adopt the goal of zero paper with documents scanned and digitized. The effort will eliminate unnecessary procedures, said Julia Varela Araya, a magistrate of the Sala II labor section.

At the constitutional court a project will begin two
 weeks from today in which some 30 to 40 percent of the cases presented will be in digital mode.  This will lead to a complete restructuring of the Sala IV court, said Julia Varela Araya, who is managing the project.

The pilot programs are being supported by $540,000 from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.

Just about every court official, including judges, have laptop computers and much of the paperwork already is digitized. Still up until now that paperwork was the documents that counted the most.

Court officials envision a system where litigants will not even have to attend hearings.

They will receive a password to allow them to sign on to the court documents at the judicial servers and see what has been filed and submit additional filings, court officials said.

The country already has a system of digital signatures that has been praised as a way for notaries from around the country to file property records without coming to San José.


No clear motive in deaths of Jacó Cuban-Americans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The double murder of an elderly couple in Jacó probably was not the product of a robbery, although investigators still have not concluded what was the motive for the crime.

The pair, identified as Cuban-Americans Alfredo Espinoza and his wife, Tania, had lived in the secure penthouse apartment of the Acqua condos in Jacó. They were known in the neighborhood, and the residents of the beach community are coming up with a multitude of reasons for the crime.

So are some of the Spanish-language newspapers. One concluded that the murderer must have been a friend or associate because there was no sign of forced entry at the secure complex. An expat who
 has been there said that an electronic key card was necessary to enter the part of the building where the couple lived.

There also are guards on the grounds.

The bodies were discovered before noon Friday, and A.M. Costa Rica published the first report a short time later. Judicial agents sealed the condos except for residents and provided no information.

The nature of the deaths are suggestive of something other than a typical robbery. The victims appear to have been smothered by plastic bags put over their heads. Their feet and hands were tied. Such methods sometimes are seen on gangland television movies, but plastic bags also have been used in suicides.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 190

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Virginia guitar orchestra
The Tidewater group

Virginia guitar orchestra
among those at festival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

From Wednesday through Sunday night guitarists will take over the Teatro Nacional for the 17th Festival Internacional de Guitara.

At least 23 of the performers will be foreigners coming here for the event. Among these are Ricardo Gallén from Spain and the Tidewater Guitar Orchestra of the State of Virginia. That group will perform Sunday starting at 10:30 a.m. along with similar orchestras from the Universidad de Costa Rica and from Turrialba.

The Tidewater group traces its origins to 1995 after a leader of the local Tidewater Classical Guitar Society made a trip to Costa Rica and learned of a guitar orchestra here, according to the organization's Web site. The group has a continuing relationship with Costa Rica and even plays some songs from here.

Gallén starts the event off Wednesday night with classical music on his 1820-era guitar.


Hurricane season continues
for two more nervous months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country still has to wait out two more months before it can say good-bye to the 2010 hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Matthew galvanized the emergency commission of the country because it approached at a time when rivers were high and the grounds were saturated. The storm ended up having little effect.

The national emergency commission had mobilized all of its facilities in anticipation of heavy flooding along the Pacific coast and in Guanacaste.

The storm still is having some influence on Costa Rican weather, but for the most part rain Sunday was the product of the normal seasonal cycle, as were strong winds in some sections of the country Saturday night. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias downgraded its weather alert but also maintains one at the lowest levels because of the constant rain.

Matthew broke up as it reached land about 5 p.m. Friday. That was at the Nicaraguan-Honduras border. Two fishermen lost their lives in the sea near there.


Long-time local newsman
will be buried today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The managing editor of the monthly La Voz de la Pampa newspaper died Saturday, the publisher announced.

He is Rodrigo Solera Solera, who founded the Guanacaste newspaper in 1987. He also founded E Sur Sur for the south Pacific and El Siglo that circulates in the entire country.

The newspaper also has a news Web site covering Guanacaste. Solera wrote the editorials for the newspaper, among other tasks, and he has been praised for uncovering problems and the needs of the people in Guanacaaste province.

He was called a pioneer in alternative publications, meaning a local newspaper that was not connected with the big dailies in San José.

He was a principal in the publishing company, Ediciones y Producciones Solera y Castillo, with offices in La Uruca.

The funeral will be at noon in the Iglesia Don Bosco in Barrio Don Bosco, San José. Burial is in Desamparados.


Three-day weekend coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oct. 12, the Día de las Culturas in Costa Rica, falls on a Tuesday this year, and government agencies are making plans to work that day in favor of a three-day weekend.

The first official action came from the Consejo Superior of Poder Judicial, which declared Monday, Oct. 18, to be a holiday for employees in the judicial branch. There is a section of the law that permits this.


Suspects held in tourist crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers held up tourists as they were leaving a hotel in Pavones, near Turrialba, Friday, but police managed to catch two men and a woman on the highway a short time later.

The Fuerza Pública said that the trio took cameras, passports, money and other goods and fled.  But the tourists managed to contact police, who set up road checkpoints. Police said they recovered the stolen items.

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Old pages
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 weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 190

The politics of beans endangered by shortage of the crops
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Inclement weather and market distortions have the highly integrated Costa Rican and Nicaraguan red bean markets disrupted in recent months, with poor Nicaraguans the most affected.

In recent years Costa Rica has produced as little as 20 percent of domestic bean consumption, with the difference made up by imports from Nicaragua in the case of red beans and China for the black beans that make up the majority of the market. Total consumption for 2010 was estimated at 44,000 tons, according to figures from the Consejo Nacional de Producción.

The Oscar Arias administration’s Plan Nacional de Alimentos attempted to make amends for that shortcoming and promote self-sufficiency in basic grains. This was in response to the general surge of world food prices accompanying petroleum price increases in 2007 and 2008.

Generally, rice and beans imports pay high tariffs until the country is declared “without supply,” i.e. once domestic production is consumed. Then the customs duties are dropped to or near zero.

The plan did succeed in increasing bean production in part by providing free seed to smaller farmers in the southern part of the country and the northern plains area by the Nicaraguan border. However, to make returns adequate by Costa Rican standards requires a further subsidy of some sort, as Nicaraguan and Chinese prices are much lower given the labor-intensive nature of bean harvest.

Costa Rica produces two crops a year while in Nicaragua normally there are three. This year’s rains associated with the La Niña weather phenomenon has made a major dent in the most recent harvest, with local estimates suggesting 40 percent. Accompanying damage to already poor infrastructure in Nicaragua may affect the transport and marketing of the next harvest even if it is good. El Salvador also competes with Costa Rica and the domestic market for Nicaraguan beans. El Salvador and Honduras have seen local production suffer as well.

Oversupply at the higher price in March caused Costa Rican authorities to use sanitary standards to reduce bean imports from Nicaragua which resulted in that country also closing its border. Costa Rica’s free-trade agreement with Nicaragua does not allow for quotas or other import controls, and quality of Nicaraguan beans had never been an issue before. Losses of perishables headed north from Costa Rica to other Central American countries were substantial. Costa Rican onions and potatoes took the biggest hit as they sat in the heat at the Peñas Blancas border post, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería.

By April extra production the result of the Arias plan was languishing in warehouses because the growers demanded the 35,000 colons per quintal (a 46-kilo sack) the Consejo Nacional de Producción had put as a reference price. At that time imports only cost 25,000 even paying a 30 percent duty, according to news reports at the time.

The government attempted to deal with this situation by forcing major bean importers to buy at the higher rate from local producers and then have the opportunity to participate proportionally in imports once restrictions were relaxed. This proved impossible to regulate as it effectively didn’t apply to concurrent imports of black beans, which simply gained market share if they were cheaper.

Eventually the situation was resolved as red beans got scarcer and more expensive in Nicaragua, until stocks started to fall there as well.

The most recent development over the weekend had shortages of beans in Managua as Nicaragua was officially declared without supplies. As the country is normally an exporter, mechanisms to import replacement goods  are not as efficient as in Costa Rica where sufficient beans would already be in the pipeline from China or South America. Difficulties in supplying government-run
red beans
A.M. Costa Ria file photo
For dinner, they have to be taken from the pod

neighborhood stores were reported immediately in the .
local press. As beans are even more important to the Nicaragua diet than in Costa Rica, this could prove another factor in the already unstable political situation there.

The new administration’s agricultural plan will be revealed at the end of this week.

Rice subsidy attracts
unwanted world attention

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s method of subsidizing local rice growers has attracted the attention of other exporting countries and resulted in a complaint to the World Trade Organization.

Here, growers sell to wholesalers at a price fixed by the Ministerio de Comercio, which is supposedly set by taking the cost of production and adding a reasonable profit margin. The growers, represented by the Corporación Nacional de Arroceros or Conarroz, tend to have more political weight in setting the formula than consumer rights groups.

The retail price is again set by the government with appropriate margins for distributors and retailers.

This sort of subsidy is considered illegal under World Trade Organization rules, though Costa Rica is allowed a certain exemption of about $17 million. Direct government subsidies to growers as practiced on a huge scale by the United States and the European Union are allowed. Costa Rican growers shy away from this approach since it’s likely that money will not appear in future government budgets, and by keeping a minimum price the consumer can pay them directly and cut out the middleman.

The complaint was originally brought by the U.S., Canada, and Australia, after sales to Costa Rica started to fall as other incentives were added as part of the Oscar Arias administration’s plan for self-sufficiency in basic grains that was launched in 2007. The original countries have since been joined by Uruguay, Pakistan, Thailand, and the European Union.

The Ministerio de Comercio Exterior says its functionaries will be joined by counterparts from the agriculture and commerce to seek a solution to this problem, which will presumably be part of the Laura Chinchilla administration’s agricultural policy to be announced this week.



New service brings daily Spanish-language news to readers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper begins a new service today directed to readers who are not fully fluent in Spanish.

A.M. Costa Rica covers news that is important to the expat community and English-speaking foreigners elsewhere. But the Spanish-language daily and weekly newspapers report many more news events.

So today readers have the option of seeing a news summary of the important stories selected from the Spanish press. And then they have the additional option of seeing the entire story in English on the site of the originating newspaper, be it La Nación, El Diario Extra, Al Día, El Financiero or La Prensa Libre.

Unlike other English newspapers, A.M. Costa Rica does not take material from the Spanish papers to use in its own news stories. News stories written here are based on original sources.

There are many news stories, like the trial of former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, that A.M. Costa Rica does not have the resources to cover. Such a news story would require dedicating a reporter to sit in on the trial each day. A.M. Costa Rica did that with the Oswaldo Villalobos trial, but that required a major expenditure for the benefit of the many expats who invested in the failed Villalobos high-interest scheme.

The new immigration law and government policy have as a stated purpose to integrate foreigners better into Costa Rican society. Editors of this newspaper believe strongly that acquiring the Spanish language is necessary to do that. In the meantime, a broad understanding of what is happening in Costa Rican society is vital to daily life even for the linguistically challenged.

For 10 years A.M. Costa Rica editors resisted the temptation to steal news material from the local Spanish newspapers. Technology and international law now provide a legal way to give readers what they may need under the concept of fair use.

That is the origin of Costa Rica Report, an electronic supplement to A.M. Costa Rica. The Report editor, Daniel Woodall, has an 8 a.m. deadline to provide short summaries in English of selections from the Spanish press. These come as a news feed into the adjacent box.  If a reader clicks on the summary headline, a longer
From the Spanish press
New items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
 



The Spanish news feed is disabled on archived pages.

English summary becomes available with a link to the originating Spanish-language newspaper. By clicking that link, the reader is transported to the Spanish-language newspaper Web site where the entire story is machine translated into English.

Of course sometimes the translation reads like it was written by Yoda of Star Wars fame. But such software is getting better each month. And editors believe that access to a translated version will help expats improve their Spanish skills and perhaps encourage them to subscribe eventually to a Spanish-language newspaper.

As always, this is free service that is being supported by the newspaper's advertisers.

Please tell Mr. Woodall and the rest of the staff what you think of this new service. Write him at editor@CostaRicaReport.com


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 190


Scientists link health of reefs with the noise they give off

By the University of Bristol news service

Healthy reefs with more corals and fish generate predictably greater levels of noise, according to researchers working in Panamá.  This has important implications for understanding the behaviour of young fish and provides a new approach for monitoring environmental health by listening to reefs.

Contrary to Jacques Cousteau’s "Silent World," coral reefs are surprisingly noisy places, with fish and invertebrates producing clicks and grunts which combine to produce cacophonies of noise.  Each reef is subtly different depending on the size and composition of the resident community.

By analysing recordings of coral reefs from the Las Perlas Archipelago in Pacific Panamá, marine biologists have found that some reefs are noisier than others, and these differences in noise provide useful information about the state of the reef.  Exeter University doctoral student Emma Kennedy and her supervisor Steve Simpson, working with an acoustician, Marc Holderied, also from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, found that healthier reefs were louder, with a clear association between overall noise level generated and the amount of living coral.

A more detailed investigation of the sound produced by some of the reefs showed that lower frequency sounds provided more information on the numbers of fish living on the reef, while the intensity of higher frequency reef sounds gave an indication of coral diversity. 

This is the first time that a link has been made between noise generated by individual reefs and the specific habitats and communities making up that reef.

Previous work by Steve Simpson has shown that larval fish and corals returning to reefs after spending their first few weeks out in the plankton, search for habitat by listening out for, and moving towards, reef noise. Sound travels well underwater, meaning that noise produced by a reef can propagate several kilometers out to sea.

Simpson said: “This study provides evidence that reef generated sound contains a real richness of information.  This would provide fish and invertebrates with the cues they need to assess the quality of potential settlement sites before they can see them, a bit like wandering around a music festival eavesdropping on different bands before choosing where to pitch your tent.  It may even provide the information that enables some fish to return
reef underwater
University of Bristol photo
Las Perlas Archipelago coral reef

to the very reef on which they were originally spawned.”

The study also highlights the potential for using audio recordings to monitor the health of reefs.  Usually, scientific assessment of reef health requires teams of scuba divers and huge quantities of equipment and so is costly, time consuming and difficult in remote areas.  In this study, scientists dropped a cable off the side of the boat with an underwater recording device attached.  A two-minute recording contained enough information to distinguish between reefs. This is a very encouraging find for the development of acoustic recordings as ecological survey or monitoring tools, researchers said.

The team is hoping that their findings will prompt other scientists to investigate reef sound further.

“Investigation of the acoustic properties of reefs is a relatively new area of science but already we’re realizing that there’s more to underwater noises than just whale and dolphin communication," said Emma Kennedy.  "Reefs may be broadcasting a lot of information out into the sea that both humans and marine animals could use. We’re hoping that our findings will encourage more research into this area, and are excited this might lead to the development of new tools for assessing reef health.”

The research was a collaborative effort carried out from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 190

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Opposition comeback halts
unhampered rule by Chávez


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

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez suffered a setback Sunday when his socialist party lost its overwhelming majority in the national assembly.

Official figures from Venezuela election officials finally released early today gave opposition candidates 60 seats in the new legislature, enough to derail proposals advanced by Chávez.

Opposition candidates ran on the Unidad banner, a group of several parties. They picked up 60 seats. Backers of Chávez got 94, returns said. Two deputies affiliated with native groups also won. The results reported are mostly in the 97 percent range of votes counted. The commission said that the results would not change.

The full Consejo Nacional Electoral meet at 2 a.m. Caracas time to give the report by state.

The election commission delayed longer than expected the release of results.

In effect, the Consejo Nacional Electoral held the results hostage because a Venezuela law prohibits anyone from releasing the results of any election until the Consejo issues its first report. Opposition party members hinted at the results that were favorable to them.

Unidad, a group of political parties organized to oppose Chávez called on the election council after midnight Caracas time to release the vote totals. The commission responded that some of the races were tight.

The election was orderly, and the security ministry said there were no arrests involving polling places. There were more than 900 complaints, according to the commission.

Earlier in the evening the election commission said that the electronic voting procedures were working perfectly. Some polling places were late to close. One lost electrical power earlier in the day.

After the polls closed Chávez said via his Twitter account that his followers should be prepared to accept the results.

The parliamentary elections are seen as a referendum on Chávez, who has been in power since 1998. After casting his vote, Chávez said turnout could be as high as 70 percent.   In fact, final results show the turnout was 66.45 percent.

Opposition groups boycotted the last general elections five years ago, and they hold only a handful of seats in the  national assembly.  This time the opposition campaigned actively in the hope of capturing at least one-third of the seats, enough to block major legislation advancing Chavez's socialist program.

The next presidential election is in 2012.

First results were expected several hours after the last polling stations closed late Sunday. The official closing is at 6 p.m., but voting places stayed open as long as there were people in line.

Chávez had campaigned heavily for his socialist party candidates throughout Venezuela in an effort to gain the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to pass major legislation.  In the coming months, he is expected to introduce measures enabling his government to nationalize small- and medium-sized businesses.

Recent polls show the socialists just slightly ahead of the opposition umbrella group.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 190


Latin American news
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Man died trying to help
at tanker truck wreck


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tanker loaded with 7,000 gallons of palm oil overturned and leaked Friday, and a good samaritan died by electrocution when he tried to help.

Dead was a man firemen identified as Víctor Hemdessy, an Iranian who ran a business nearby.

A report from the Cuerpo de Bomberos said the tanker got loose and hit a tree when the truck went around a curve. Some 3,000 gallons of the palm oil leaked, but firemen did not consider that to be an environmental tragedy because the oil is degradable. Much of it ran into the nearby sea, they said.

The businessman approached the wreck and touched cable that the tanker had knocked down from the public lighting system.

Firemen said a greater tragedy was avoided because the tree kept the tanker from rolling into nearby homes.

The vehicle was carrying oil from Palma Tica. The crash happened near Palmar Norte.

Thai Web site editor held
for insulting royal family

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of the popular Thailand news Web site Prachatai, has been arrested on charges of insulting the royal family. The organization condemned the action.

Prachatai said police at Suvarnabhumi Airport detained Ms. Chiranuch at 2:30 p.m. as she arrived from Hungary, where she had attended an Internet freedom conference. Police confirmed the arrest in comments to Matichon, a Thai-language daily newspaper.

Her arrest stems from comments posted to Prachatai in 2008 that were allegedly in violation of the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste laws, according to Prachatai. Lese majeste laws, which shield Thailand's royal family from criticism, can bring prison penalties of up to 15 years.

This is the second time Chiranuch has been arrested on anti-crown charges. March 6, 2009, police officials detained her during a raid on Prachatai's Bangkok news office, during which they took copies of computer hard drives. Chiranuch was later released on bail, but remains involved in court proceedings over comments allegedly critical of Queen Sirikit that were posted to one of Prachatai's Web boards.

Chiranuch's new arrest comes amid an intensifying crackdown on Thai media, according to committee research. Since imposing a state of emergency on April 7, the government has shuttered a satellite television news station, community radio stations, print publications and Web sites aligned with the anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protest movement.

Two journalists, Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto and freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, were killed and several other journalists were injured during armed exchanges between protestors and troops in April and May. 




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