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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 193          Email us
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The news on Pacific turtles is both good and bad
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Conservation International says the leatherback turtles in the east Pacific Ocean that nest on the western beaches of Costa Rica are among the 11 most threatened populations in the world.

Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) also nest in  Mexico and Nicaragua.

Top sea turtle experts from around the globe announced the results of the first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtle populations globally in a paper published this week in the online science journal, PLoS ONE, said Conservation International.  The study, designed to provide a blueprint for conservation and research, evaluated the state of individual populations of sea turtles and determined the 11 most threatened populations, as well as the 12 healthiest populations, it said.

The organization also characterized the olive ridley turtle population in the east Pacific Ocean as one of the healthiest. These turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) have nesting sites in Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Despite decades of conservation efforts, leatherbacks in the East Pacific have declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years due to egg consumption and being caught by fishermen, said Conservation International. Coastal development looms as the next threat to their survival, it added.

On the other hand, the oliver ridley turtles have been harvested for meat, eggs and skin in the past, and resulted in shocking declines in the seemingly endless abundance of these turtles in the east Pacific, said the organization. Although some mass nesting sites have not recovered, others have held strong and remained incredibly abundant; the biggest rookery in the world hosts hundreds of thousands of nesting females each year, it added. Serious threats still exist in this region, especially due to fishing, but this is presently the most abundant sea turtle population on the planet, the organization said.

However, the oliver ridley turtles in the West Indian Ocean that nest in India and Oman and those in the northeast Indian Ocean that nest in India and Sri Lanka are considered among the 11 most threatened populations, according to Conservation International.
leatherback turtle
U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service photo
Female leatherback turtle lays eggs at her nest. The species is the largest of the turtles.

The organization produced maps showing the endangered and successful populations all over the world.

Four of the seven sea turtle species have populations among the world's 11 most threatened. Almost half of these populations are found in the northern Indian Ocean, specifically on nesting beaches and in waters within exclusive economic zones of countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Other areas that proved to be the most dangerous places for sea turtles were the east Pacific Ocean from the United States to South America) and east Atlantic Ocean off the coast of west Africa.

"Before we conducted this study, the best we could say about sea turtles was that six of the seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction globally," said Bryan Wallace, director of science for the Marine Flagship Species Program at Conservation International and lead author for the paper. "But this wasn't very helpful for conservation because it didn't help us set priorities for different populations in different regions. Sea turtles everywhere are conservation-dependent, but this framework will help us effectively target our conservation efforts around the world." He was quoted by the organization in a release.

The accidental catching of turtles in trawler nets can be reduced by using a turtle excluder that works like a trap door that allows the air-breathing turtles to leave before they are drowned. These devices have dramatically reduced turtle deaths from shrimp trawler nets in the United States.

However, Costa Rican shrimp is banned from the United States because of the failure of officials here to enforce the use of excluders.

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Here are the cartons confiscated in Guanacaste.

Truck yielded fireworks
amid a load of fertilizer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police at the country's northern border have intercepted a shipment of fireworks hidden in fertilizer.

They said they detained a Nicaraguan driver at the  Cuajiniquil, La Cruz, Guanacaste, crossing. The man had  62,704 individual fireworks presumably designed to liven up the Costa Rican Christmas and New Year's.

This is the first such case this year, police said. Nicaragua produces all types of fireworks that frequently find their way to sales outlets in Costa Rica. The basic rule here is if it explodes, it is illegal. Still, the holidays sometimes sound like a war zone. There are some commercial operations that put on fireworks shows that are legal.

The man was identified by the last names of González García. He was detained over the weekend.

Mexican jets to be powered
by jatropha biofuel mixture

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Aeromexico, Airports and Auxiliary Services and Boeing are using biofuels to power a passenger jet.

The companies call this an historic achievement in global aviation history. One of the routes is from Mexico City to San José.  The airline said it was using a mixture of jet fuel and liquid from the oilseed plant Jatropha curcas.

The airline said that it is important to point out that despite the fact that this fuel is currently priced at a premium, starting with the first transcontinental flight in August Aeromexico will implement a program over the next year with Boeing 737-700 equipment powered by CFM56-7B22 engines, in coordination with Airports and Auxiliary Services, of commercial flights using biofuel to destinations including San José.

The first flight carried 250 passengers from Mexico City to Madrid.

The Jatropha plant grows in México and also Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes who is providing the biofuel used for this flight, has repeatedly stated that the development of sustainable biofuel a is strategic plan and has long worked closely with other industry players, such as academic institutions, governments and environmental organizations, to accelerate the availability of sustainable fuel sources and low carbon emissions.

In October 2009, Boeing and Airports and Auxiliary Services signed a memorandum agreeing on a series of studies and formalizing this collaboration by a commitment to work through the roundtable for sustainable biofuels, a global multi-sector initiative.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Department of Civil Aviation Airworthiness and the Spanish Department of Aero Navigation and Civil Aviation, in various occasions, has said that the low carbon fuel complies with all safety and security requirements.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 193

Lawyer takes issue with characterization given by prosecutor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Arcelio Hernández Mussio has taken issue with news stories branding him a fake lawyer and a fraudster.

Hernández, a former A.M. Costa Rica advertiser, was
Arcelio Hernandez Mussio
Arcelio Hernández
identified by Al Día and Channel 7 Teletica as a fraud suspect. Al Día incorrectly headlined its story "Fake lawyer sought in fraud case."

Hernández said in a response to a summary of the Al Día story that “a desperate prosecutor will do anything to carry on a personal vendetta!” He was referring to prosecutors in San Joaquín de Flores, Heredia, who provided the information for the Teletica television story and the one in Al Día. Teletica
identified him by his last names. Al Día identified him just as Hernández. Both news outlets ran his photograph that appears to have been taken by a surveillance camera at a bank or office.

Teletica conducted a brief interview with the lawyer via telephone Tuesday.  Wednesday Hernández posted his comments in Costa Rica Report, an A.M. Costa Rica sister publication that provides brief summaries of selected news stories from the Spanish-language press.

“Now they are telling the population and the world that I am not a licensed attorney,” he said. “Pretty low, below the belt attack, in their persistence of not allowing me to view all evidence in the case file, even after the constitutional court has ordered them to do so. The case is over a year old, and they present it as something new.”

The Al Día story said that the lawyer offered to give advice to foreigners who were purchasing property. The story, citing information from the  Ministerio Público, the nation's agency of prosecutors, said that the fraud involved five victims who came to the country to purchase a hotel.

Hernández specialized in property transfers and works
under the name of Bufete Hernandez Mussio & Asociados, first in San José and later in Jacó. He is a native of Desamparados. Hernández also is a notary, a position a step higher than a graduate lawyer. He also has been a member of the Central Pacific Chamber of Commerce and the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce. At one time he gave seminars for expats in Jacó. He also said on his Web site that he is an official translator listed with the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. He attended junior college in California and is fully fluent in English.

What is unclear is why anyone would not know he is a Costa Rican lawyer. His Web site is active and he has been mentioned in a number of news stories about legal cases, including in A.M. Costa Rica.

“The case is over a year old, and they present it as something new,” said Hernández in his Costa Rica Report posting. “Plus, it is ONE case, ONE dispute by ONE group of foreigners, ONE hotel, ONE deal in which there is a dispute in over 10 years of existence of my company, which over the years has managed tens of millions of dollars in a responsible manner. The people who know me know the kind of person I am . . . . “

The lawyer did not say from where he was writing. He told Teletica that he was not ready to visit with prosecutors.

The television station had characterized him as an individual in flight.

Hernández said that the news stories were a gift from God. He suggested that he would file an action for defamation and get money.  “Not the first time the Public Ministry shows this type of incompetence,” he said. “They should focus their energy on violent crime, and leave this private matter alone.”

He also provided his lawyer license number and a link to the Colegio de Abogados to verify that he really is a lawyer.

That was not necessary because he is known personally to editors at A.M. Costa Rica, and he has provided legal consultation for the parent company of the newspaper as well as opinion articles for publication. He had advertised for five years in the A.M. Costa Rica professional directory.

Effort launched to define a unique Costa Rican cuisine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The French probably have nothing to worry about yet, but Costa Rica is launching its national plan of healthy and sustainable cuisine.

The effort is a joint one among the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and the Club de la Gastronomía Epicúrea.

The organizations announced the plan Wednesday as part of the World Tourism Day celebration.

The idea is to create a unique cuisine to strengthen the national identity and perhaps even create new businesses.

Costa Rica basically is defined by gallo pinto, rice and beans. But the announcement suggested that there were a lot of food products here that could create a unique dish, such as risotto with flor de itabo or malanga chips.

The Costa Rican embassy in France promotes the Costa Rican cuisine as based on corn, beans, pejibaye and palmito. The embassy Web page includes a little poem to guaro, the national alcoholic drink.

But the proposal Wednesday is more complex and more creative. The organizations cited the work of Carlos Castrillo, executive chef of the Hotel Ramada Plaza
Herradura. He put together a full menu based on local products such as the pejibaye palm nut and the níspero or sapodilla fruit.

The proposal is to rescue traditional foods and perhaps protect the flora and fauna of areas in risk of deforestation by suggesting alternate foods.

In fact, the Ministerio de Cultura and Juventud has conducted regional contests seeking the best of the local cuisine. These dishes have been put into booklets. So the research already exists.

The proposal also marks the 30th anniversary of the restaurant chamber. Manuel Burgos, president of the chamber, said that to put such a plan into action would require coordination with educational institutions. He said it was an ambitious, long-term project.

Expats can experiment with products usually found at the local ferias. For example, malanga is a root crop. And flor de itabo is very seasonal. The white flowers of this yucca plant are collected each year, mostly by those in the country, to provide zest for their meals. One use is in scrambled eggs. But it also can be used in a salad.

Although guaro is well known as a local version of sugar cane alcohol, the country also produces several types of coffee liquor as well as rum. So crepes de flor de itabo flambé would not be out of the question.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 193

$340 million loan will finance major wish list for valley roads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's road agency is in the process of getting a $340 million loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica that will finance major steps to improve Central Valley traffic.

The money will go to making a start on the Circunvalación Norte, which has been in the planning stages for years. The money also will pay for bypassing the La Bandera traffic circle on the Circunvalación Sur. That will be a $53 million project that will begin just west of the Universidad de Costa Rica and extend south past Mall San Pedro to the traffic circle. Included will be an overpass or a tunnel to eliminate a grade crossing with the national train service. Other traffic circles also will be bridged. Among them will be the traffic circle under the Juan Pablo II bridge in La Uruca.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad also will allocate design and construction of tunnels and stabilization of sections of Ruta 32 where landslides endanger motorists and frequently close the highway, which is the main route from San José to Limón.
The money also will be used to double the lanes on the Río Virilla bridge near the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa and to build a four-lane bridge parallel to the existing one over the same river on the General Cañas highway. This is the site of the infamous platina bridge that simply cannot be repaired.

The loan will be repaid with road tax over 15 years, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said. The projects and the loan have to be approved by the budget watchdog, the  Contraloría General de la República.

The Circunvalación project will cost $115 million. The stretch to be constructed will be from La Uruca to Tibás. The northern section is part of the plan to create a bypass around the San José downtown.

The money also will go to building a better entrance to the Port of Moín where a $1 billion cargo handling facility is being built and some $30 million will be to rebuilt bridges.

The ministry has the power to put itself in debt, so officials expect the package to be approved in a short time.

New technique seen as aid in trying to control chagas disease
By the University of Pennsylvania news service

Despite what Hollywood would say, not all epidemics involve people suffering from zombie-like symptoms. Some can only be uncovered through door-to-door epidemiology and advanced mathematics.

Researchers are in the trenches combining tried-and-true epidemiological approaches with new statistical methods to learn more about the course of a dangerous, contagious disease epidemic. Their research was published last week in PLoS Computational Biology.

They are Michael Levy, assistant professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, along with other collaborators from Penn, Johns Hopkins University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru.

Chagas disease, primarily seen in South America, Central America, and Mexico, is the most deadly parasitic disease in the Americas. Caused by the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, it is spread chiefly via several species of blood-sucking insects. After an initial acute phase, the disease continues to lurk in the body and can eventually cause a variety of chronic life-threatening problems, particularly in the heart. Although there are some drugs to treat chagas disease, they become less effective the longer a person is infected. The lack of a vaccine also means that the only effective way to control the disease is to control the disease vectors.

Because the chronic effects of chagas disease can take decades to manifest themselves, tracking the development and progression of epidemics has been a challenging problem. In the past, chagas disease was known mostly in rural regions, but has been spreading into more urbanized areas over the last 40 years. Levy’s team has been focusing on one of those areas in the city of Arequipa, Peru.

"There is an assumption that chagas disease is not a problem in Peru because statistics don’t show that more people are dying of cardiac disease in the areas with chagas transmission compared to the rest of the country," Levy said. "What we’ve shown calls into question the assumption that the particular parasite that’s circulating in Arequipa is somehow less virulent. We show that there’s really nothing to back that assumption."

The researchers used a statistical snapshot of disease infection in a particular population to track the history of how an infection takes hold and spreads. The technique, epicenter regression, considers the duration of an individual’s exposure to infection as a function of distance from their home to an  unknown site, or sites, where disease has been introduced, and
combines that measure with other known risks to estimate the probability of infection. From this data, the course of infection can be traced backward to infer where and when a disease first struck a community.

Levy’s team has been collecting data in Peru since 2004. "We do all the fieldwork, we gather all our data, which is very much door-to-door, old-fashioned epidemiology," said Levy. That involves both entering households to search for infected insects and collecting blood samples from residents.

According to their findings, the chagas parasite was introduced into the region about 20 years ago, and most infections occurred over the last 10 years. Spread of the disease is being disrupted in Arequipa through insecticide application, but up to 5 percent of the population was infected before their houses were sprayed with insecticide. Levy and his colleagues conclude that the lack of chronic disease symptoms among these infected individuals could be due to the relatively short time of transmission: Most individuals may have yet to pass from the long asymptomatic period to symptomatic chagas disease.

The finding has crucial implications for the future management of the disease. Because the lack of late-stage chagas disease in Arequipa is not an indication of a weakened parasite, the researchers believe that preparations should be made for a potential increase in chronic chagas cases in coming years. As they have throughout their research, Levy’s team is working in close collaboration with the Peruvian government to ensure that the warning provided by their work does not go unheeded. "Everything we do in Arequipa is with the local ministry of health," Levy said. "We’re very much integrated with the government’s chagas disease control program. We started diagnosing people who are asymptomatic and the ministry of health is treating the individuals who are diagnosed to increase the probability they don’t progress to later-stage disease."

Levy and his collaborators, including Eleazar Cordova- Benzaquen and Cesar Naquira in Peru, plan to expand their epicenter regression modeling techniques to study other infectious diseases, including the West Nile virus in New York City.

The method can even be applied to fighting the spread of pesky insects such as bedbugs. "We’re trying to work in parallel to improve control of chagas vectors and bedbugs," he noted. "The idea is if you find a house with bedbugs, where do you go next? Same thing with the chagas bugs. When they come back after the insecticide campaigns, you get a report and you have to figure out how to react to those reports, which are pretty scattered." Levy and his team have found a way to find patterns, and thus more predictability, in the chaos of infectious disease transmission.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 193

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Obama restates his policy
on Cuba and U.S. embargo

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama says he will always be prepared to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, but has not seen the steps from Havana that would justify lifting the longstanding U.S. embargo.

President Obama made the comment Wednesday during an online roundtable discussion aimed at the Hispanic community. The president said he does not want to be stuck in what he called a “Cold War mentality,” and that the United States has sought to improve ties by changing laws regarding remittances and family travel to the Communist-run island. Obama also said that before he would act, he wants to see action from Cuba on releasing political prisoners and providing people with basic human rights.

Cuba has said it has no political prisoners, only mercenaries, who Havana claims were working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism. The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, only interest sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassy in each other's capitals.

Cuba's foreign minster criticized the U.S. embargo when he spoke earlier this week at the United Nations.

The discussion featured questions posed by readers of several Web sites, including Yahoo Espanol, MSN Latino and AOL Latino and Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Obama has in recent months been trying to maintain or win back support from the nation's 50 million Hispanics, whose votes he will need to win re-election in 2012. Some recent surveys have shown a drop in his approval rating among the group.

The discussion marked the second time this week that Obama has addressed questions from an online audience. On Monday, the president answered questions submitted on the social networking site, LinkedIn, as part of a three-day, five-city campaign tour.

Authorized Cuban visits
expands to new airports

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More U.S. airports are now offering charter flights to Cuba after President Barack Obama relaxed travel restrictions earlier this year.  A long-time U.S. trade embargo still bans tourist travel to the Communist nation, but the move makes it easier for Cuban-Americans and other authorized travelers to visit.  Not everyone approves. 

A cigar store in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana gives Cubans in the U.S. a taste of home. But for many, this Cuba away from Cuba is not enough.

About a 30-minute drive away at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, several generations of Cubans wait eagerly to visit their families.

"This is a very big day because a new location has been opened for all the Cubans who want to travel to the island," said Octavio Giraldo, who is one of more than 100 passengers on a flight that is first from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba in more than two decades. The occasion inspired a fiesta, complete with Cuban food, live music and even dancing.

Irelys Uzcategui-Alvarez, returning to Cuba for the first time in 10 years, says the day is “very exciting, because it's the first flight from here, near my house in Fort Lauderdale, and it seems to me that it's more economical and more convenient."

Fort Lauderdale is one of several airports that have begun flights to Cuba since the Obama administration loosened restrictions this year.

Before, only airports in Miami, New York and Los Angeles were authorized to run direct flights to the island.

Vivian Mannerud is president of Airline Brokers, the charter company behind this flight and others to Cuba.

"It's a celebration for everybody, because anything that we can get approved that makes it more normal to travel to Cuba, to leave from any airport to visit your family, is a celebration day," Ms. Mannerud said.

But not all Cubans are celebrating.

"This decision to open flights to Cuba is a mistake — more space that we have for a country that is a sponsor of terrorism," said Emilio Izquierdo, coordinator of a citizen movement known as Cuban American Patriots and Friends.  He spent more than two years as a political prisoner in Cuba in the 1960s.  He and others in the exile community often gather at Little Havana's famed Versailles Restaurant — a hub of anti-Castro politics.

Antonio Esquivel, head of the democracy-seeking Cuban Patriotic Council, says U.S.-Cuba flights provide only one-sided benefits.

"It's not helping anybody but the Castro regime.  What they're looking for is their money.  That's all," he said.

But travelers say money is not the motive. "It's not putting money in the hands of the Castros, but happiness in the homes of the families who miss their relatives who have come to this country and are returning and can return every day to see them," said passenger Octavio Giraldo.

As takeoff gets closer, it is clear how much that family time means to Manuel Marquez and many other Cubans.  "There I have my mother, my siblings, my wife, and they are my loved ones. I wish I could have them here," Marquez said.

Marquez wants the flights to continue. And in Little Havana, whether other Cuban-Americans agree or not, they remain connected to their homeland.

Baja California prevails
on right-to-life amendment

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's supreme court has upheld a portion of the Baja California state constitution that says life begins at conception.

Seven justices on the 11-member court Wednesday deemed the measure unconstitutional, but eight votes were needed to overturn the measure, meaning that it stands.

Anti-abortion activists applauded the decision, while abortion rights supporters said they were in favor of laws that allow women to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy.

At least 16 Mexican states have adopted right-to-life amendments, although most continue to allow abortion under certain circumstances, such as rape or danger to a mother's life.

In August 2008, the supreme court upheld Mexico City's law legalizing abortion. The legislation allows abortions on demand during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 193

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Panamá adds cocobolo
to endangered tree list

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The secretariat of the United Nations-backed convention governing trade in endangered species said Wednesday that Madagascar and Panamá have requested that it regulate the import and export of 91 hardwood species in a bid to curb the rising trade in illegally acquired high-quality wood.

The listing of ebony wood and rosewood species in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora will facilitate detection of fraud and make critical trade information available to exporting and importing countries, according to the secretariat.

Appendix III regulations mean that all cross-border shipments now have to be authorized by the issuance of a document certifying the origin of the products covered by the listing.

Panama also requested the help of the other 174 parties to the convention to control trade in Dalbergia darienensis and Dalbergia retusa, known as black rosewood or cocobolo. Dalbergia retusa are found mainly in dry tropical forests from Mexico to Panama.

Cocobolo is exceptionally good for marine use. Because it is hard, beautiful, and very stable, it is also used for gun grips, butts of billiard cues and chess pieces. Cocobolo is resonant when struck, making it a preferred material for marimbas, clarinets and xylophones.

Madagascar requested the inclusion in the convention of five species of rosewood (genus Dalbergia) and 84 species of ebony wood (genus Diospyros) after illegal trade increased by 25 per cent in 2009 and about 25,000 cubic meters of rosewood were exported.

Rosewood is sought after for its rich reddish-brown color and hardwood, extensively used for high-end furniture, housing and musical instruments. In future, all international trade in logs, sawn wood and veneer sheets of the listed species will need to be accompanied by documentation confirming the country of origin.

Welcoming the new listings, which will enter into force Dec. 22, the convention’s secretary general, John Scanlon said: the convention will support Madagascar’s and Panama’s efforts to control their timber trade and ensure that such trade remains legal and traceable.

“Regulating trade in these high-value timber species . . . will help ensure that the benefits of trade flow to local people and it will also serve the global community by helping conserve these species, which will be to the benefit of entire ecosystems.”

Jewish new year begins

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah began at sundown Wednesday.

Jews observe Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the High Holy Days, as a time of reflection and prayer. There are 10 days of repentance leading up to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.

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