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(506) 223-1327              Published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 207        E-mail us   
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Ballet scene
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
A graceful foursome of the American Ballet Studio Company practice their moves for an opening tonight at the Teatro Nacional. They are Isadora Loyola of Rio de Janeiro with Brian
Waldrep of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Devon Teuscher of Vermont with José Sebastian of New York City. San José is stop no. 1 on the group's tour. See our story HERE!

Cameras, tourist hotel alliance readied to fight crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration is taking two actions designed to reduce the growing incidents of crime.

A measure signed Wednesday allows the security minister to put in some 300 surveillance cameras at key points around the country by December. Eventually some 3,000 cameras are planned at a cost of $18 million.

Today, too, security directors from at least 70 large hotels are meeting in San José where they will be asked to work jointly with police in reducing crimes against tourists.

The camera initiative parallels what the Municipalidad de San José has done on a limited scale in the city's downtown. The decree signed Wednesday by President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, is designed to protect the rights of those who might end up on the camera, said Casa Presidencial.

Berrocal said that his Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will install some 300 cameras this year and the remainder in 2008. They will be hooked to a central monitoring station in San José by cables of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The money comes from a loan by the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

The cameras are designed to operate 24-hours a day and resist vandalism and weather.
Berrocal said the system would put Costa Rica in the vanguard of Central American countries in terms of citizen security.

Berrocal said that the cameras would watch over international borders, the coasts, tourist attractions, and the principal streets and avenues all over the country. Initially, he said, priority will be given to trouble spots.

The cameras have been well received elsewhere although critics worry about the use of such a powerful network by a central government. Such networks have been helpful in identifying suspects after crimes take place.

The tourism hotel initiative is more like normal police work. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that security chiefs would be trained to function with the police. Earlier Berrocal reached out to the nation's security guards.

The meeting today is in the Hotel Balmoral downtown. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, the tourism chamber, are participating.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the topics to be covered included thefts from tourists, counterfeit money, both dollars and colons, credit card scams and thefts, robberies and frauds. The training would help the hotel staffers handle a crime scene professionally, said a summary.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 207

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Emergency decree no surprise
for hundreds living in shelters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government declared a national emergency Wednesday to repair damage caused by more than a week of heavy rains. The declaration is a technical action that frees up unallocated money in other ministries for the use of the national emergency commission.

The measure also allows for rapid contracts with private companies to make emergency repairs.

Despite the technical nature of the declaration, there is no doubt that the country is in the midsts of an emergency.  Daniel Gallardo Monge, emergency commission president, said that 75 percent of the national territory had felt the effects of the week of storms.

In the meantime, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted some temporary improvement, mainly in the Central Valley, but warned that another low pressure system and a tropical wave were headed in this direction. A low pressure system over the Yucatan and a tropical wave later in the week brought the heavy rains that cause flooding, landslides and death. The toll is now 18, most of the dead having been entombed in a slide in Atenas early Thursday.

The emergency declaration came from the president's consejo de gobierno or cabinet.  Officials said that the damage to the nation was at least 35 billion colons or about $67 million.

Gallardo said that the declaration would allow the emergency commission to restore or rebuild all the infrastructure that had been damaged. This includes more than 54 stretches of road that have been washed away or otherwise damaged. Some 98 communities have suffered flooding, and at least 22 bridges have suffered some form of damage, the commission said.

Rodrigo Arias, the mininster of the Presidencia, said that the emergency declaration also would cover a section of Cartago and Desamparados where flood waters ravaged homes.

The most damage was done in Parrita centro and the small communities along the Río Parrita; Nosara and communities along the Río Nosara on the Peninsula de Nicoya where a new dike was carried away; and communities along the Río Tempísque in Guanacaste.

Much of Parrita centro continues to be hip deep in water. In Guanacaste the rain has not stopped, and more shelters were opened Wednesday. Some  1,144 persons are in 16 shelters there now.

Playa Grande owners say
they face confiscation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Property owners at Playa Grande on the Pacific coast of the Peninsula de Nicoya held a press conference Wednesday to fight what they characterized as the confiscation of their property.

One, Reinhard Unglaube, said he was going to file an arbitration claim against Costa Rica with an agency of the World Bank, according to a later release.

The property owners include those whose lands were put inside the limits of Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, a prime leatherback turtle nesting area. When the government drew the boundaries in the 1990s, much private land was included, and the government never acted to purchase the private property.

The people who met Wednesday claimed that the Costa Rican government was being pressured to take their properties by a foreign organization, presumably an environmental group seeking to help turtles.

The individuals contended that the real threat to the leatherbacks was on the high seas and not on land. They said they have voluntarily complied with certain rules to avoid endangering the turtles in nesting season.

The group said that the cost of expropriating the property at market price would be about $700 million.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez toured the park in May and heard that the area along the coast north of Tamarindo has seen skyrocketing prices, and any expropriation would have to be based on market values.

In addition to the turtle nesting activities, the park, some 445 hectares (about 1,100 acres) also contains extensive mangrove swamps populated by 174 species of birds.

German firm to build plant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A German autmobile components manufacturer will invest around $61 million and initially hire some 350 technical workers at its plant in Coyol, Alajuela, Casa Presidencial said Wednesday.

The company is Continental AG. The firm is highly automated, but it plans to have a workforce of some 550 persons by 2011, said Casa Presidencial.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez visited the company's headquarters in Germany last June. He was quoted Wednesday as attributing the company's decision to locate here to the passage Oct. 7 of the free trade treaty with the United States.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 207

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For two nights in a row it's ballet at Teatro Nacional
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The American Ballet Theatre Studio Company is scheduled to perform tonight and Friday night at Teatro Nacional. The program will feature a medley including dances from "Continuo" and "Don Quijote" plus the world premier of a dance arranged by contemporary choreographer Lauri Stallings.

The 13 dancers ranging from ages 16 to 20 years, arrived in San José Monday, but have had little time to see the sights. Ballerinas Isadora Loyola and Devon Tescher said that they were simply too tired to join the others for a volcano and rainforest tour Wednesday. The majority of time has been spent practicing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Although the actual dance studio is based in New York City, the company is truly international, with dancers from Seoul, South Korea, to Río de Janeiro, Brazil.     

With a two-year limit to the program, the company is constantly scouting out new members and letting go of old ones. This year, Sae-Eun Park, winner of the renowned Prix de Lausanne, and Isaac Hernández, winner of the U.S.A. International Ballet Competition, joined the group. Artistic director, Wes Chapman said he decided to put the dynamic pair together and see what would happen. The result: absolute fireworks he said. Neither of the two wants the other to be better, and this builds an exciting performance, said Chapman, who was interviewed at a dress rehearsal Wenesday.

Costa Rica is the first stop on a tour which will include
Ballet couple
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Joseph Gorak of Texas and Mara Thompson of Cancún, Mexico, dance to the 'Festival de Flores.'

Spain, Bermuda and Alaska. Although dancers have been busy, they did say they were having a lot of fun and enjoyed walking through the city.  

The dancers who typically begin studying around ages 3 or 4 for ballarinas and age 9 for boys, all share a similar goal: to become members of the American Ballet Theater, one of the world's top companies. Although this does not happen for everyone, many move on to join other professional companies. Three of the principal dancers in the American Ballet Theater trained with the studio company said Chapman, who was a dancer himself there for 13 years.

U.S. donates $12.1 million for groups here to help forests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States freed Costa Rica of $12.1 million in debt Wednesday on the condition that the money be used to pay for projects in favor of forest conservation by non-profit organizations.

The announcement in Costa Rica was vague on what the money would be used for. Mentioned was the Peninsula de Osa and its scarlet macaws and other areas of well-known forests.

However, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a release that the Banco Central de Costa Rica has committed to pay these funds to support grants to non-governmental organizations and other groups to protect and restore the country's important tropical forest resources.

The debt forgiveness from the United States was supplemented by some  $2.5 million from Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.  The federal money was paid under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998.

This is the 12th and largest such debt forgiveness in the Bush administration, officials said. The Treasury Department listed these other regions that would be involved in the grants:
The La Amistad region along the Panamá border in the
Talamanca mountains contains the most extensive tract of untouched forest in the country and is the source of much of Costa Rica's fresh water. 

The Maquenque wildlife refuge between the rios San Carlos and Sarapiquí in the northern zone is home to the great green macaw, while the Tortuguero region in northeastern Costa Rica contains a rich variety of forest ecosystems. 

The area north of Rincon de la Vieja in Upala, Provincia de Alajuela, contains dry forest, cloud forest, and rain forest. 

The Peninsual de Nicoya has dry forests and mangroves that are important to the preservation of water resources.

Counting interest that will not have to be paid over the next 16 years, the donation is worth some $26 million. The Banco Central will be trustee for the money, and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía will have a role in selecting the projects.

The donation is consistent with the Peace with Nature program of the Arias administration and the so-called Consensus of Costa Rica, designed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez as a way developed countries can reward developing nations for not investing in military.

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Democratic version of U.S. surveillance bill runs into trouble
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to revise current law on anti-terrorist electronic surveillance without a court warrant has run into trouble. Consideration of the Democratic-crafted measure to strengthen oversight by a special intelligence court was halted by Democratic leaders amid uncertainty about whether it could pass, and in the face of a veto threat from President Bush.

The House completed just over half of its scheduled 90-minute debate on the measure before recessing for an event honoring Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and later Democratic leaders announced there would be no more consideration this week.

Earlier, Democratic leaders had been somewhat confident the measure would pass, although without many Republican votes or a majority to overcome a threatened presidential veto.

The intention of the measure is to revise a temporary law Congress passed and President Bush signed last August. Civil liberties groups and congressional Democrats say that measure went too far in providing powers to conduct surveillance without a warrant.

Provisions and the debate over surveillance are complex, and the Democratic measure would not reduce the ability of agencies to monitor communications of suspected terrorists overseas.

It would require the government to seek special authorizations in the process, and require special steps if American citizens could be involved in monitored communications.

Democrats assert that by strengthening the court set up under the original 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance 
Act, and reaffirming it as the only basis for conducting domestic surveillance, they adequately protect civil liberties.

Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"It rejects groundless claims of inherent executive authority. Under that we might as well just crown the president king and just say he has access to any information in our country and he may collect that outside the law."

Republicans say Democrats would add burdensome layers of bureaucracy to the intelligence-gathering process.

Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said "We have plenty of lawyers.
We have plenty of legal frameworks that we need to go through. It is time to give our intelligence people the tools and the capabilities they need to keep us safe."

Silvestre Reyes, the current Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the measure strikes the right balance between providing tools intelligence agencies need and protecting the privacy of Americans.

"We have to balance it with protecting the civil rights of our citizens," said Reyes.

The White House says President Bush would veto the legislation as currently written, and the president explained two of his main objections in a Wednesday news conference.

"The problem is that Congress arranged for the measure they passed to expire this coming February," said President Bush. "In addition the House is now considering another FISA bill that would weaken the reforms they approved just two months ago. When it comes to approving FISA Congress needs to move forward not backward so we can ensure intelligence professionals have the tools they need to protect us."

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