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(506) 2223-1327         Published Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 203            E-mail us
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Coral bleaching detected in Caribbean at Bocas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A warning message just was issued from Bocas del Toro on coral bleaching and invertebrate mortality. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had issued a warning on above-average sea surface temperatures in the wider Caribbean region in July, there was no indication in Panamá of the rising temperatures until mid-September.

A team of Smithsonian scientists and local dive operators first noticed the bleaching and mortality event in the surrounding waters of Istmito in Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro. The water showed an abnormal warming to an extreme of 32 C (89.6 F).

This area is located in front of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's Bocas del Toro facility. The average during the previous 10 weeks was around 30 C (86 F), with normal temperatures being 28 C (82.4), the researchers said. The warming event is affecting the entire coast of Panamá, from Kuna-Yala, Isla Grande, Portobello and Galeta, to Bocas del Toro, they added.

Presumably it extends into the waters of Costa Rica. Bocas del Toro is just south of the Costa Rican border on the Caribbean.

The institute's coral reef monitoring network, implemented over a decade ago, confirmed that temperatures started to rise in deep waters in mid-September. This network covers 33 sites on the Isthmus, with 11 sites in Bocas del Toro. The specialists confirmed that through Oct. 4  90 percent of the Bocas floor had been checked, and that mortality was limited to the Isla Colon area and further inside Bahia Almirante. This is a very vulnerable area since water circulation is slow and temperatures tend to rise easily, maintaining elevated temperatures for days and weeks, the institute said. Researchers expect to have a complete report of the state of the coral reefs in Bocas del Toro shortly.

Bleaching is the result of stress experienced by reef corals due to factors like increased water temperature, and does not necessarily mean mortality. Generally, it affects and impairs some
bleaching of coral
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute photo
Example of bleaching coral in Bocas del Toro


vital activities of the organisms cycle like reproduction and growth. However, when warming is prolonged, corals start to die.

During this process, coral reefs release great amounts of mucous turning the waters turbid and bacteria and fungus proliferation is expected. Oxygen runs low and anoxic conditions may affect fish.

Panama´s authority for aquatic resources has been monitoring the water at different depths with Smithsonian personnel.

There was a similar event in 2005 in the wider Caribbean, including intense bleaching in Panama.

However, the mortality was less that 12 percent in the zone and reefs have been relatively healthy.

In the opinion of researchers, it is possible that the hurricane season is enhancing the problem and creating low water circulation in the southwestern Caribbean, thus creating a warming pocket in Panama and off Costa Rica in the sea's western corner.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 203

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Sinaloa cartel maintains
its own school for pilots


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sinaloa cartel has its own flight school in Cuernavaca, México, where pilots of drug planes get their training, the U.S. government said Wednesday.

The fact is relevant because a drug-laden small plane crashed in Pavas Sunday, although the cartel directing the flight has yet to be identified. The owners of the company that operated the plane are Mexicans.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control designated the flight school, individuals and other enterprises as drug cartel-related, including Sinaloa Cartel collaborator Alejandro Flores Cacho, 12 of his entities and 16 members of his financial and drug trafficking enterprise located throughout Mexico and Colombia.

Also designated as drug smuggling organizations were Mantenimiento, Aeronautica, Transporte, y Servicios Aereos S.A. de C.V., an aircraft hangar and maintenance business located in Toluca, Mexico; Capicitacion Aeronautica Profesional S.C., the flight school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Aero Express Intercontinental S.A. de C.V., a Mexico City-based air cargo carrier.

Flores is a pilot and a fugitive from U.S. justice. His cadre of pilots and operatives coordinate the delivery and distribution of narcotics by air and sea from South America to Mexico and then on to the United States, the Treasury Department said. Designation under the narcotics kingpin act means that U.S. firms cannot do business with the individuals or commercial entities. It also allows the United States to confiscate assets.

The fact that the Sinaloa Cartel's use of aircraft was well known weighs against the surprise expressed by officials in Costa Rica when drugs were found on the small plane Sunday at the crash scene. The copilot died and the pilot is in Hospital Mexico. Both are middle-aged, so it is unlikely they learned their skills in Cuernavaca.


Our reader's opinion
Letter comes in defense
of Chris Dodd, Barney Frank

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

From the Tuesday edition: "The measure is named after Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, both of whom are not exactly ethhical paragons."
 
What is the purpose of the above slur in the front page story about financial reform?  Do you spell check?  Note the spelling "ethhical."  The sentence should have ended without adding the phrase "both of whom are not exactly ethhical (sic) paragons."
 
Are you owned by FOX News Corporation?

Willis Forrester
Covington, Georgia

EDITOR'S NOTE: We thought that there was great irony in two of the biggest ethical violators in the U.S. Congress having their names attached to an ethics bill.


 
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
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 203

Latigo K-9

Woman with gun kills rapist, but store owner was unarmed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two crimes had dramatically different outcomes Wednesday because one of the victims had a firearm.

Details are still sketchy on the late afternoon shooting in a rural area near Ciudad Colón. Initial reports say that a laborer tried to force himself on the woman who employed him. The report said he forced his way into the home with rape on his mind.

The woman, described as being in her 30s, suffered scratches and bruises but the assailant suffered a bullet wound to the chest. She was being questioned Wednesday
night. Her name and the name of the dead man were not released.

Less lucky was the owner of the Mini Super Lagos in that section of Heredia. Three robbers confronted him in his small store at mid-afternoon and demanded money. They were distracted briefly by the money in the cash drawer, and the proprietor tried to flee to seek help. One of the bandits shot him in the back. He died at the scene.

Witnesses made a full identification of the trio who are known as robbers in the community, police said unofficially. They fled on foot to a low-income area nearby.


Creditors' court filing wants pardon for Enrique Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five supporters of the fugitive financier Luis Enrique Villalobos are blaming the Costa Rican government for the collapse of the high-interest operation and are seeking compensation in the administrative courts and a pardon for the man who ran the scheme.

The individuals are involved with the organization United Concerned Citizens & Residents. The five are John Manners, Frederick R. Pitts, Ronald Tucker, Solveig Marie Hallstrom and Katy France Tenza. The case was filed but has not yet been accepted.

The lawsuit is mainly a retelling of what Vilalobos supporters have been saying since the raid of his business July 4, 2002: That Villalobos was an honest businessman who was damaged by an over-aggressive judiciary and police acting beyond their powers.

The five also said they were treated unfairly because a criminal court has distributed money and goods confiscated from the Villalobos family in the wake of the conviction of his brother, Oswaldo, for aggravated fraud and money laundering. They claim that they should receive some of the money. The five did not join the criminal action that eventually resulted in the money awards. In fact, some of the five worked hard to get other creditors to drop their case.

The court filing also bemoans the fact that one of the creditor lawyers got $2 million for negotiating a settlement with Oswaldo Villalobos. The lawyer was not named in the document, but he is Ewald Acuña.

The news of the court filing had been reported, but the details of the allegations were not given. The filing has been translated into English and is on the organization Web site.

Specifically the case is against the Costa Rican government in general, the Superintendencia General de Valores and the judiciary.
 
The filing does not mention that Villalobos was paying about 3 percent per month in interest, and no one really knows what he was doing to generate that money. The trial court labeled the operation a ponzi scheme.

The filing also is contradictory in that it says Enrique Villalobos has never been notified of charges against him
and also says that the filers have been in contact with him. Villalobos fled in November 2002, and his brother was detained shortly thereafter. If he still is alive, he is believed to be living in southern Nicaragua, although police officials have been unable to locate him. He sent A.M. Costa Rica a fax message when he left and later followed up with an e-mail that was generated at a university in El Salvador.

"At no time whatsoever, did we feel that our investments were at risk, and we always obtained the same yield agreed upon and negotiated," the filing says of the time before the raid.

Canadian investigators came to Costa Rica and sought help from local authorities who had been investigating the Villalobos operation for years.  The filing blames the local police for using the Canadian case as an excuse to make the raid. That probably is a true summary of the events.

Eventually surviving members of the drug ring were convicted or pleaded guilty in Canada. Some had money with the Villalobos operation, although there was no indication that the brothers knew the origin of the money.

The filing gives a good summary of the alternative interpretation of the case by the supporters of Villalobos.

So that Costa Ricans are not burdened by a big money award to the five, the filing also asked that the Costa Rican government pardon Luis Enrique Villalobos and let him return to settle his debts privately with the five. Some of the five have long expressed the wish that Villalobos be allowed to return to pay what he owes them. However, none has specified a clear reason why he could not pay them by wire transfer from where he is now. Villalobos did not even respond when his brother was on trial.

The filing cites the recent financial scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church, saying, in part, "the government has forced us to lose our savings, persecuting an innocent Costa Rican businessman, an individual who always honored his commitments to us. He has been persecuted within this country and abroad, but such is not the case with the clergy in this country."

Some of his supporters have said Villalobos will enjoy immunity from prosecution in 2012 when the statute of limitation on the crimes expire. However, that depends on the nature of the crime alleged. The period is related to the possible sentence for the crime. His brother got 18 years.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 203

survivor meets president
Gobierno de Chile/Alex Ibañez
Franklin Lobo is greeted by his daughter Carolina as he becomes the 27th miner to be rescued.  Sebastián Piñera watches and later greeted Lobo, who is a local celebrity. He was a standout soccer player for the local first-division team before getting a truck driver's job in the mine.


Marathon mine rescue moved faster than experts expected

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean rescuers ended a marathon operation Tuesday and freed all 33 miners trapped underground for more than two months.  All of the rescued miners were sent for medical treatment, and several of them are expected to undergo surgery in the coming days.

Chilean officials say the rescue operation at the San Jose mine in northern Chile advanced more quickly than expected. Initially, officials said it might take 48 hours to pull the miners to the surface through a 622-meter (2,040-foot) rescue shaft. Rescue crews honed the process throughout the day, enabling them to pull each miner to the surface in about 15 minutes.

Rescue crews and officials cheer and clap as each miner arrives at the surface, where family members are waiting for him.  Medical teams rush each man to a hospital in nearby Copiapó for a thorough examination.

Chile's President Sebastián Piñera is at the site to greet each rescued miner.

After Victor Zamora surfaced, Piñera told him that he was never alone, saying that the government fulfilled its promise to bring the men back alive.

The rescue ends a two-month-long ordeal for the men, who were trapped by a cave-in at the gold and copper mine Aug. 5.  The men were cut off from the surface for 17 days, until a drilling crew located them.

Chilean mining minister Laurence Golborne offered thanks to scores of experts and others who have helped carry out the rescue operation.  But he cautioned that the job was not over yet.
Golborne said weeks of work are finally paying off, but officials will not be satisfied until the rescue is completed.

Health minister Jaime Mañalich says many of the miners appear to be in better health than expected.  He says each miner will undergo a series of tests, including a lung x-ray and heart monitoring, and that some might receive psychiatric treatment, if needed.

A few miners are expected to receive dental surgery in the coming days to treat abscesses and other conditions.  Mañalich says the most serious case was a miner with pneumonia.

He says the miner will likely remain in intensive care for several days to receive oxygen and other treatments.

More than 1,000 journalists are covering the rescue operation at the remote San Jose mine in the Atacama desert.  During the past two months, relatives of the miners and rescue crews have gathered outside the mine, forming a community they call Camp Hope.

Millions of people around the world watched the rescue operation unfold on television.  The rescue was covered live by Channel 7 Teletica, and the Repretel network used video feeds. Cable viewers had their choice of Spanish or English.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama says he watched the first miner being freed, adding that it was a tribute to the hard work of the rescue workers and the Chilean people. 

He thanked people from around the world who contributed to the operation, including a U.S.-based drilling team and experts from the U.S. space agency, NASA.



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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 203

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Shellfish larva studied
to see effects of acidity


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Baby oysters could be the canaries in the mine shaft for another dimension of global warming.

Pacific Northwest scientists are studying how the oceans suck in excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The process changes seawater chemistry — locally and globally. An experiment is now under way in Seattle, Washington, to find out how sea critters are coping with the changes.

Paul McElhany's lab is like an ocean time machine.

"In one of the tanks we're simulating pre-industrial conditions, before people started burning fossil fuels," says McElhany, a federal biologist working at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

Multicolored tubes and pipes run every which way in the cramped aquatic lab. The researcher controls his time machine by bubbling carbon dioxide into the seawater at different concentrations.

"The next tank over, we're setting conditions of doubling of the current CO2 levels, which the models that have been done project we'll reach by 2100, by the end of the century or before," says McElhany.

There's one additional setup with an even worse scenario. McElhany explains the oceans absorb a big chunk of the CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere. This is the lesser known twin of atmospheric warming. Scientists call it ocean acidification.

"As the CO2 that's put out by burning fossil fuels goes into the ocean, it changes the chemistry of the ocean itself and makes it more acidic," he says. "It's sort of the same way as when you have carbon dioxide in a soda pop, that makes the soda pop more acidic."

Ocean acidification is not going to affect all species equally. McElhany's team is trying to determine just who wins and who loses. On the one hand, algae and seaweed could prosper under elevated carbon dioxide levels. On the other, shellfish in the larval stage seem quite vulnerable.

"If the acidity gets low enough," says McElhany, "they can actually start to dissolve."

First into the bath, baby oysters. The little creatures are taking an extended dip now with the ghosts of oceans past, present and future. Next up, abalone, geoducks, clams, mussels and krill. Grad students check the tanks and jars every day to monitor how many larvae survive and in what condition.

At Oregon State University, researchers are waiting to hear if the National Science Foundation will provide money for a similar experiment. Fisheries professor Chris Langdon says oysters are likely to show the effects of a more acidic ocean first.

"From what we can tell, the larvae of the Pacific oyster seem to be much more sensitive to what's going on than larvae of mussels or clams. So they are kind of the canary in the mine shaft."

Pacific Northwest oyster growers already report having serious problems with oyster seed survival. They blame it on acidified water. Langdon says a frustrating discovery is that it's hard to get high levels of dissolved carbon dioxide out of seawater once it's in there.

So where does that leave people like western Washington oysterman and clam grower Bill Dewey?

"The likelihood of turning it around anytime soon is not good," says Dewey. "So we're definitely, in our industry, we're in the adaption mode, trying to find things we can do to the seawater chemistry in our hatcheries to allow us to produce the seed."

Researchers hope to explore possible water treatments for aquaculture farms, and Dewey says he's heartened by the scientific attention directed at his industry's problem.

Separately, Norwegian, German and British scientists are looking at how marine species from their waters respond to rising acidity.
 
American researchers met recently with counterparts from the United Kingdom to coordinate experiments and discuss how best to model the future of the world's oceans.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 203


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More highway woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were more landslides on the Autopista del Sol early Wednesday after more rains. The location is near Orotina at about Kilometer 49, officials said. Heavy machinery was clearing the blocked lanes Wednesday.

This is the highway that has been closed between Atenas and Orotina for weeks because of shifting soil and landslides. There also is a washed out section where the holder of the highway concession is installing two parallel bailey bridges to handle east and west traffic.

Famous physician dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who may well be the most important medical worker of the century died Wednesday.

He was Longino Soto Pacheco, a surgeon who was born in 1923. He died in Hospital Clinica Católica.  He was a pioneer in various forms of surgery, mostly relating to the heart and also was known as someone who would teach the skills to younger physicians. He worked his entire career at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

His death was mourned in a statement from Casa Presidencial Wednesday night. The statement also pointed out the multifaceted life of the man, who also happened to be president of a first-division soccer football team. Soto also served as a legislative deputy.

New area now for passports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The immigration service has put into use a new hall for persons seeking passports. The structure cost $110,000 and was paid for with help from the International Organization for Immigration.

The immigration director, Kathya Rodríguez Araica, said that the structure also would be used for gatherings of foreigners to further the agency's mandate to integrate foreigners into the Costa Rican culture.

Party time involves guns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Youngsters designated early Wednesday as party time in Heredia. Some 11 young persons were stopped near the Universidad Nacional after citizens complained of persons firing a weapon into the air and threatening them.

When police stopped the Ford Explorer pickup they found 11 persons aboard. They also found .44-caliber and .39-caliber handguns and ammunition.

The driver, identified by the last names of Morales Rusell, registered 1.63 on an alcohol test, officers said. Just .75 is drunk. All involved were detained.

Atenas online with hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents in the Atenas area can now make appointments for visits to the Hospital San Rafael de Alajuela by Internet. The area is the third to be connected that way. The others are Alajuela west and Poás.

The Atenas area contains some 26,721 clients of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Expats recently have been required to affiliate with the Caja. In the past, these residents would have to travel the 26 kilometers to the hospital to make an appointment in person. Now they can get an e-mail address for the various departments by calling the hospital.

The Atenas part of the system went into operation Wednesday. Appointments can be for all the medical specialties and surgeries except x-ray and laboratory, said the Caja.





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