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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 194       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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María José already is an idol here in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were no medals from the 2008 Olympics, the last World Cup soccer effort was a disaster, and the Nobel Prize is a bit dusty.  But that is all forgotten because the hopes of Costa Rica are hanging on the sweet sound of a 17-year-old Heredia girl.

She is a finalist in "Latin American Idol."

The girl, María José Castillo, could have been created in Central Casting on order for a talented, yet humble, family loving Costa Rican woman. She has jet black hair, a winning smile and an intuitive ability to work a crowd.

She has captured her audience here, and her arrival and exit last weekend at Juan Santamaría airport drew out the fans in scenes similar to the arrival of some top rock group. She said farewell with an impromptu song, “Hijo de La Luna."

The show is aired Wednesday and Thursday evenings by Sony Entertainment Television from Argentina. The climax is Oct. 9 when the third annual Latin American idol will be picked, based on calls from the public with input by three entertainment world judges.

The show producers shocked and pleased viewers last week when none of the four finalists was eliminated. Usually someone is cut at every show.

Remaining also are Margarita Henriquez of Panamá, Pako Madrid, a Mexican, and Sandra Muente of Perú. Madrid is 26. The other participants are 17.

Sony is using every tool to generate public participation and the telephone votes which costs Costa Ricans 400 colons plus tax. That's about 73 cents. There also are individual blogs purportedly written by the finalists and a flashy Web page.

María Jose's blog, highly upbeat and full of besos, generates hundreds of responses to each posting. This is where she rallied the faithful for the airport arrival.

The impact of the reality television show transcends mere entertainment and has moved  — at least in Costa Rica — into the realm of a sociological phenomenon. The local channels, not wanting to miss a good thing, are handling the weekly selection of finalists as breaking news and devote chunks of air time to the Sony show's feed.
María José Castillo
'Latin American Idol' photo
María José Castillo

Additional features include interviews with political, religious and sports figures who are then shown on television voting for the Barva de Heredia singer via their cell telephone.

Newspaper readers write tributes that praise her as a paragon of a young woman. But there also is the sense that finally proud Costa Rica is able to demonstrate its achievements on the world stage.

The economy has not been very good. The politicians are same old, same old. And there are the usual social evils. But Costa Ricans with their cell telephone can join with María José.

When there is a heroine, there also has to be at least one villain. In this morality play that role is for Mimi, the Mexican singer and former member of the group Flans. She is one of the three judges, and she is harsh. One evening her sharp criticism brought María José near tears.

But all is forgiven now because last Thursday Mimi (Irma Angélica Hernández Ochoa) obviously was in her corner, and María José tells reporters that Mimi has caused her to grow in her art.

No Costa Rican has participated in "Latin American Idol" until this, the third year. Some Costa Ricans are suspicious that Sony will somehow steer the final honor to the Mexican singer. Some of the conspiracy theories have made it to the Web. But most are content to await the next show and keep their cell telephones at hand for voting.

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Arias continues his praise
of Venezuela and Chávez

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez continued his praise of Venezuela Monday when he told a radio audience in San José that Venezuelan cooperation with Latin America was four or five times higher than that of the United States. Arias appeared on a Radio Monumental show, and his comments were quoted in the Caracas daily El Universal.

Arias and the his government are working to get Costa Rica accepted into the Petrocaribe circle of countries in the region that get cut rates and long-term payment plans on Venezuelan petroleum.

Arias also has been quoted as praising Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a speech and an interview in Spain last week.

Chávez recently announced his country would hold joint naval maneuvers with the Russian Republic's northern fleet and also negotiated a $1 billion loan from Russia to buy military hardware. Russia also is expected to help Venezuela institute a nuclear program.

Airport taxi owner told
to get meters on vehicles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's price regulating agency has put the airport taxi service on notice that meters must be installed. The requirement comes after the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos rejected an appeal from Taxis Unidos Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría that it be spared the obligation.

Taxis Unidos runs the 70-vehicle fleet of orange cars and microbuses that service those who have to go to the Alajuela airport. The company sought a rate increase in July. As part of the rate study, the pricing authority said it did field research and found that the airport taxi drivers were not using meters.

The resolution now requires meters to be in use within three months and established a basic rate of 675 colons (about $1.23) per kilometer. The taxi company uses fixed rates now based on the location.

The resolution did not say the taxi company would continue its policy of having a third-party collect the taxi fees. Now travelers who arrive at Juan Santamaría purchase their taxi ride from a clerk in a booth at the airport exit. Those who take the taxi to the airport make payment to a clerk at the company's headquarters on the airport access route.

Our reader's opinion
Three steps that will make
the country better off

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The costs of violence in Costa Rica is reported to be $791 million a year.  This does not consider all intangible health losses for the victims of violence:  pain, suffering and reduction in the quality of life, which are difficult to measure.

The Central America study of violence further reports that by “providing education to a child from the first grade up to high school is five times cheaper than keeping a person in prison” in terms of annual costs:  $1,200/year for prison, $200-$250/year for school. (Even if school costs double, it’s still a bargain.)

Another statistic:  the soaring wave of crime absorbs 3.5 percent of Costa Rica’s gross domestic product.

To me, it is little consolation that the figures in Costa Rica fare better than elsewhere in Latin America, but a government should not be quick to be narrow sighted.  If it wants to rise from a third-world mentally, it must strive to compare itself with better-developed nations — always pursue a higher goal.  Do not fall into the trap of comparing with a worse-off country.

So, there we have it:  statistics.  While always flawed, it is far better than reading that a government minister might say: it is too "expensive" to provide protection for victims of violence/witnesses/families of witnesses.  What is too expensive:  $791 million+ per year; is that the figure?  Has a legitimate study been done here to determine how “expensive” it is to protect the innocent and advance crime prevention?  Or is it an off-the-cuff remark because it is to the advantage of some that an actual figure not be determined — they may have to spend it?  How about a solution of expedited court processes —and not just for those “caught in the act”?  And how about efficiency in the court process? Wouldn’t that reduce costs?

Okay!  Crime is expensive.  Prevention is important but so is proper punishment when a citizen violates the rights of another.  Is crime spending a "perversion of values"?  I hope not.

I bet that if a developing country can manage three things, we would all be better off:  1.  Do whatever it takes to reduce crime and its effects;  2.  Reduce corruption on every single level;  3. Really study and implement ways to increase the gross domestic product by increased productivity and innovation.

With a higher gross domestic product, more money is available to effect 1 and 2 (as well as for other social programs, without having to implement new taxes).  I can recommend reading material on increasing gross domestic product, but it may be too far right for many — too bad that it works.

Who doesn’t agree that 1, 2, and 3 make a well-rounded political platform?
Mary Jay

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 194

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La Selva is a great birding site complete with sidewalk
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Finca La Selva is a world-renowned destination for tropical biologists and a tourist destination as well. Visitors can sample the forest with a guide or stay overnight to be there at dawn when activity is best.

The original biological station was founded in 1954 by pioneering botanist Leslie Holdridge. In 1968 it was purchased by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of universities from around the world based at Duke University in North Carolina.

The original property had been partly deforested and dedicated to cacao plantations and other crops, which was a focus of Holdridge’s research. Gradually, additional purchases have added virgin forest to the mix and connected to the much larger Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. The reserve is about 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres).

Well-equipped laboratories and other infrastructure bring students and researchers from around the world. The Organization for Tropical Studies said that over 240 scientific papers per year are the result of research here.
Wildlife observation is the primary attraction for tourists, with a birdlist for the property in excess of 400 species, one of the largest for any site in Costa Rica. This includes species both in the forest and of more open, deforested areas. In spite of the high diversity inside the rain forest, observation is much easier on the access road and planted areas around the main station.

A special attraction for visitors is the trail system, in all more than 61 kilometers (38 miles) in total. About 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) are paved with cement, in some cases a meter-wide sidewalk through the forest. This makes it much easier to see the snakes and large ants which can be a hazard.

The protection from hunting afforded by the reserve means that larger animals are readily observed. Peccaries and agoutis are mammals easily seen around the laboratories. Large iguanas frequently sun themselves in trees along a river, sometimes close to a suspension bridge.

In recent years the magnificent great curassow has become regular in easily accessible areas, with one male sampling fallen guavas behind the cafeteria almost every morning during early 2008. This prized table bird is one of the first species driven to extinction in almost any populated area.

Other conspicuous birds include three species of toucans, rufous motmot, red-lored parrot, and social flycatcher. Sometimes the great green macaw is present, but it is usually only seen flying overhead calling loudly. Bananaquit and common tody flycatcher are often at arm’s-length in Stachytarpheta shrubs on the terrace in front of the main building.

Visitors have a choice of access: a tour or staying overnight. Day visits include an early bird watching walk while general natural history tours with resident guides are during the day. To have free run of the reserve a visitor must stay overnight.
sidewalks in the jungle
Photos by Rick Anderson
Paved sidewalk is great for bird watchers.

Big black bird = Great Curassow
The great curassow

Most lodging is dormitory-style but those paying the tourist rate stay in nicer cabins. Three cafeteria meals are included. For more information on visits see HERE!

Baby dies in her arms as mother walks into gang crossfire
By the A.M. Costa rica staff

Gang violence is being blamed for the death of a baby who died in his mother's arms when she walked into a crossfire Sunday.

The death happened in the La Carpio section of La Uruca, a settlement widely regarded as a slum.

Police said that the woman was walking on a public
right-of-way when a stray shot hit the child, who was between a year and two years of age, in the back of the head. The child had the last names of Avilés García. The mother, a restaurant worker, was not injured physically.

A teenager also suffered a less serious bullet wound. Investigators are trying to determine if he was a member of one of the gangs that engaged in the shootout.

He was taken to the hospital in a private car.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 194

Scientists marvel at warm water oasis in Costa Rica's ocean
By the University of Illinois at Chicago
Office of Public Affairs

With about 71 percent of the Earth's surface being ocean, much remains unknown about what is under the sea, its geology, and the life it supports. A new finding reported by American, Canadian and German earth scientists suggests a rather unremarkable area off the Costa Rican Pacific coast holds clues to better understand sea floor ecosystems.

Carol Stein, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a member of the research team that has studied the region, located between 50 and 150 miles offshore and covering an area the size of Connecticut.

The sea floor, some two miles below, is marked by a collection of about 10 widely separated outcrops or mounts, rising from sediment covering crust made of extinct volcanic rock some 20-25 million years old.

Ms. Stein and her colleagues found that seawater on this cold ocean floor is flowing through cracks and crevices faster and in greater quantity than what is typically found at mid-ocean ridges formed by rising lava. Water temperatures, while not as hot as by the ridge lava outcrops, are surprisingly warm as well.

Finding so much movement in a bland area of the ocean was surprising.

"It's like finding Old Faithful in Illinois," said Stein. "When we went out to try to get a feel for how much heat was coming from the ocean floor and how much sea water might be moving through it, we found that there was much more heat than we expected at the outcrops."

The water gushing from sea floor protrusions warms as it moves through the insulated volcanic rock and picks up heat.

"It's relatively warm and may have some of the nutrients needed to support some of the life forms we see on the sea
floor," said Ms. Stein. Her best guess as to why the water flows so rapidly is that it accelerates off nearby sea mounts and follows a well-connected network of cracks beneath the sea floor.

The earth scientists dropped probes from ships down to the pitch-dark ocean floor to collect temperature and heat-flow data to form images of what is happening in this area of the ocean, with water flowing down into rock, heating up and remixing below the floor sediment, and then escaping above the sea floor.

Only in recent decades have earth scientists discovered such life forms as bacteria, clams and tubeworm species living near the hot water discharges along the mid-ocean volcanic ridges. The rather flat undersea areas which Ms. Stein and her colleagues studied were thought to be lifeless, but the nutrient-enhanced warm water flows they discovered suggests this area too may be capable of supporting life.

"The sea floor may not be quite as much of a desert even as we thought maybe 20 or 10 years ago, but rather there may be a lot of locations similar to this well-studied area in terms of the water flow where there's a lot more biological activity," she said.

The earth scientists hope to do follow-up studies to add details to their findings, and see if they can find other regions comparable to the one off Costa Rica.

"We're only beginning to really understand the interplay of the water flow and the nature of the ecosystem on the sea floor," said Stein. "I think as we move away from the ridge crests, understand what's going in the overall ocean, we'll have a better understanding of how life is distributed and affects the oceans and our planet."

The findings were reported in a letter printed in Nature Geoscience's September 2008 issue. Other key authors of the letter include Andrew Fisher of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Robert Harris of Oregon State University. The lead author is Michael Hutnak, now with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Carlos Slim and Muhammad Yunas setting up loan service for Mexico's poor
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One of the world's wealthiest men is teaming up with a Nobel Peace Prize winner to help impoverished people in Mexico.

Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim and microfinance expert Muhammad Yunus said Monday that they will open a bank in Mexico to grant small loans to people who are too poor to qualify for traditional loans.

The funds, known as micro-credit loans, come with low
interest rates and are intended to help poor families start income-generating projects.

Slim says the project has $45 million in initial funding, and the men plan to give out 80,000 loans in the first phase.
Yunus, an economist, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.  He founded Grameen Bank in Bangladesh more than 30 years ago.

The Grameen Bank has helped reduce poverty in Bangladesh.  Nearly all the recipients of its money are women.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 194

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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 week day.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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Correa says new constitution
is beginning of new country

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador's new constitution, passed Sunday, gives new powers to the presidency to manage the economy and bolster social welfare programs.

President Rafael Correa celebrated the victory as a crushing blow to a system that he say is to blame for decades of social inequality and political instability in the Andean nation.

The president traveled to the opposition stronghold of Guayaquil to deliver a victory speech to supporters late Sunday.  He said the referendum vote was a historic victory that confirmed the revolution of the Ecuadorian people.

The president said it is impossible to deny that Ecuadorian voters have rejected the old system in Guayaquil and every other corner of the nation. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral said that with 96.26 percent of the vote counted, the yes category had 64.04 percent.  The no vote was just 28.01 percent, it said. Some 7.1 million voters went to the polls. About 8 percent cast blank or void ballots.

Despite sharp divisions with some opposition leaders, Correa said he is open to working with anyone to begin implementing the 444 articles of the new constitution.
He said the new constitution is not the end but the beginning, and that now the government has a foundation to build what will become a new nation.

Correa said that during the next week, lawmakers must select a transition council to organize new elections for a remodeled national assembly as well as for president early next year. Under the new constitution, the president will assume new powers over the legislature, as well as the army and the central bank to manage the economy and other government activities.

Computer technician Heriberto Soto said he voted against the constitution because it gives too much power to the president.

Soto added that too much power concentrated in the president's hands would create even more political instability in Ecuador.

Orthodontist Silvia Torres said she welcomed the changes because they would combat rampant corruption of previous administrations. Ms. Torres said she backed the constitution to move the country forward and prevent a repeat of a 1999 crisis when government officials stole millions of dollars in public money.

The new constitution allows Correa to seek re-election twice, enabling him to remain in office until 2017.  The constitution also guarantees citizens access to public health and social security benefits, as well as free education from primary school through the university level.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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