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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 206            E-mail us
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Costa Ricans begin their countdown to Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the Día de las Culturas in its wake, the country is moving headlong into the Christmas season. Already stores have Yule displays, and many Costa Ricans already are planning their 10-day escape from the Central Valley.

Christmas is on a Saturday this year, which means government offices will begin closing at mid-week and will stay closed through Jan. 3.

The traditional beginning of the Christmas season is Sunday, Nov. 28, this year. The last Sunday in November is the day the oxen parade downtown. Officially the event is called the Entrada de Santos y Boyeros. The Sunday parade is preceded by a festival of boyeros or ox drivers at Parque la Sabana. Then Sunday many of the carretas pulled by the giant beasts carry statues of saints. The route is from La Sabana up Paseo Colón to Avenida 2 where a reviewing stand is set up at Parque Central.

For employers the most painful time of the Christmas season is when they must pay their workers the aguinaldo or Christmas bonus. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social already has announced it will make this payment Dec. 1. Employers have until Dec. 15 to pay. The amount is one-twelfth of what an employee earned during the preceding 12 months.

With the lubrication of the Christmas bonus, retail sales swing into high gear. Prices have been known to climb, too.

Already groups of artists and technicians are at work on the carrozas or floats for the Festival de la Luz, which is Dec. 11 this year. An estimated 1 million spectators will view the elaborate parade. A dozen bands and a dozen companies or public agencies already have enrolled. The event is televised, and foreign networks often air segments.

The growth of the suburbs has taken some of the sparkle off San José Christmas events. Christmas events will take place in towns like San Antonio de Belén and Santa Ana, although on a smaller scale.

Costa Rica is unapologetically Roman Catholic, and the portal or nativity scene is standard at even public agencies. The Teatro Nacional has yet to announce the emphasis in the design of its portal this year. There have been rain forest
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
In 2006 the Teatro Nacional portal featured a nativity scene a la Tico.

nativity scenes, Middle Eastern nativity scenes and a number of other variations on the theme. The economy seems to have affected these displays, too, and the portal last year was not elaborate.

The inauguration of the portal kicks off nightly entertainment downtown.

The Tope Nacional, the big horse parade in San José comes the day after Christmas. That also marks the opening of the Fiestas de Zapote, the carnival that attracts the thousands who did not go to the beach.

This even is not always certain, and typically the Ministerio de Salud drags out to the very last moment the issuance of final permits. One year flu and another year earthquake fears made the event uncertain.

All of the Christmas events are spectacular, but the amateur photographer does not want to miss the Costa Rican bull fights at the Zapote rondel. Here hundreds of would-be bull fighters get into the ring with a fighting bull and taunt the critter. Bulls have very short attention spans and only infrequently zero in on a tormentor. The rondel or bull ring has a built-in hospital.

All of the Christmas events are highly photogenic. Security officials make every effort to keep them safe. And for events such as the parade of lights, there are reserved seats and spots at private locations where tourists can get an unobstructed view of the line of march.

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Hands covered in anticipation of a test to see if they fired a pistol, two men await officers in the Tibás police station.

Pedestrian suffers bullet
in leg in Tibás incident

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man walking in Bajo Los Rodríguez in Llorente de Tibás received a bullet in the left leg Sunday afternoon, and police still do not know why.

They managed to detain two men walking nearby and confiscated a .38 pistol, they said. They identified the men by the last names of Cordero Rivas and Torre Riso.

By the time police arrived at the shooting scene, the victim had gone to the hospital in a private vehicle. The suspects carried no identification, said police.

Robbers sometimes shoot a victim in the leg to disable and give them time to escape.

Look to Asia, U.N. agency
tells Latin Americans

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Latin America's possibilities for growth and competition in the global market should focus on innovation and forging closer ties with Asian Pacific nations, which have become the world's main pole of economic growth, said the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in two reports.

The documents were presented Friday by Alicia Bárcena, the organization's executive secretary, during the Latin American Pacific Basin Forum held in Cuzco, Peru.

In the first report, "Science and Technology in the Latin American Pacific Basin: Opportunity for Innovation and Competition," the Economic Commission suggests that innovation is a central element in development strategies because it gives way to sustainable, long-term economic growth with equality and competitiveness.

The analysis of the performance of countries in the Latin American Pacific Basin (Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru) in terms of research and development shows that the region has not been too active in this field: average investment has been lower than a half percent of gross domestic product in recent years and in many countries it barely reaches a tenth of a percent.

In contrast, some Asian-Pacific nations, such as Hong Kong, China, Singapore or South Korea, have increased investment by over 5 percent in only seven years.

The number of researchers per one thousand members of the economically active population reveals significant differences: Chile has 2.03 researchers per every one thousand, Mexico has 1.08, and Costa Rica and Colombia 0.3, while Japan and South Korea have 10.

"In light of this, reducing the productivity gap is essential for advancing towards structural changes and the diversification of exports, strengthening sectors intensive in technology and knowledge," said Ms. Bárcena.

In the document "The Latin American Pacific Basin: Creating Paths for Complementation and Integration with Asia," the commission asserts that closer ties with the Asia Pacific region may require more institution-building in the Pacific Basin as a way to boost its identity before Asian nations.

The study notes that the participation of the Latin American Pacific Basin in world trade represents slightly more than 3 percent of global exports of goods, less than half of that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations comprised by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Their total is 65 percent.

The report concludes that greater economic ties between the Basin and Asia should consider a two-pronged approach that, on the one hand, seeks a more efficient use of the comparative advantages of natural resources, and on the other, intensifies efforts to foment its international competitiveness in the manufacturing sector by encouraging the insertion of companies in the Pacific Basin in Asian supply and value chains.

"We need to view relations with Asia Pacific not as a menace, but as a great opportunity and advantage," said Ms. Bárcena. "The countries in the basin should agree on a common and coordinated strategy in managing its relations with Asia Pacific, which has become the most dynamic pole of the world economy."

Canadian agro firms seek
business connections here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twelve agricultural exporting companies form Canada will have representatives at the Hotel Crowne Plaza Corobici Thursday and Friday. They will be meeting with business people here to find new outlets for their products.

The products range from meats to fish to grains and even maple syrup. The companies are VLM Trading, North American Grain Corp., Ronald A. Chisholm, Export Packers Co. Ltd., Basset & Walker International Inc., Export Import Trade Centre of Canada & U.S.A. Ltd., Heritage Produce Inc., Expack Seafood Inc., M. Larivée International Inc., Drummond Export and Partly Poultry Inc., said the Canadian embassy.

Canada has a free trade treaty with Costa Rica. Cameron MacKay, the Canadian ambassador here, noted that a recent agreement allows Canadian pork and beef to enter the country when inspected just in Canada.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 206

Latigo K-9

Even in-country tourists will get once-over at airports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists who fly from a regional airport like Tobias Bolaños in Pavas will have to undergo a baggage check and inspection by anti-drug dogs.

That is one of the measures being put into force because a drug-laden small plane crashed Oct. 10 after taking off from Pavas.

A committee of officials set up the rule, and they also cover flights from Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia, the Limón airport and Juan Santamaría in Alajuela. This is the first time that passengers on in-country flights have been checked.

Officials also will prohibit delivery vehicles, messengers and bill collectors from restricted areas of the airport, which includes the hangars.

Security officials also will get names each month of flight and aviation mechanics students who are taking lessons at the airport. The students will have to go by foot from the public areas and carry special identification.

The Pavas airport always has had a system of identification for workers and visitors. The new rules emphasize this security system. Police officers on duty at the airport also will make random visits to hangars and make written reports. The distribution of gasoline also will be monitored.

The announcement of these rules did not include smaller
airports, like the ones in Nosara, Tamarindo and elsewhere along the Pacific coast.

The security minister set up what is being called an interdisciplinary commission to handle security. Directing it is Walter Navarro, now a vice minister.

The commission has members from immigration, drug police, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea and the Fuerza Pública, all agencies in the Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Publica, and representatives from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas Transportes.

The commission will meet next Nov. 1 when members will consider additional security measures, including electronic access and X-ray and metal detection machines, the security ministry said.

The civil aviation authorities also will beef up oversight of individuals and companies who hold hangar concessions at the airports, the officials said.

In the case of the drug flight, the company that owned the aircraft was purchased by individuals from México earlier in the year.

The aircraft was carrying about 200 kilos when it crashed. Police presume that there have been other earlier flights.

Police said that the anti-drug dogs will go over each aircraft before it departs. Several companies, including Nature Air, have the Pavas airport as a base.

Nation faces rights complaint over creating parks, reserves
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Talamancan Costa Ricans are going to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to fight what they consider to be a takeover of their land by the central government. The one-hour session is scheduled for Oct. 28.

The primary litigant is the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Manzanillo, but other similar local groups also are involved.

The dispute revolves around how Costa Rica declared certain areas to be protected zones. The association said it has battled the issue for decades even through the Sala IV constitutional court without satisfaction.

The principal complaint is that Costa Rica took over control of the traditional lands without compensation, although it appears the litigants prefer to retake control rather than get money.

Now 88 percent of the Cantón de Talamanca is in some kind of protected zone. These include The Reserva Indigena Bribri de Talamanca, the Reserva Indigena Cabecar de Talamanca, the Reserva Indigena Telire, the
Reserva Indigena Tayni, the Reserva Indigena Kekoldi, the Parque Binacional la Amistad, the Parque Nacional Cahuita, the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca- Manzanillo and the Reserva Biológica Hitoy-Cerere.

Through decrees, resolutions and arbitrary interpretations without consulting or compensating the inhabitants, the state has assumed power over the lands, the association said in its filing with the commission. It said these lands were ancestral and traditional.

The association said that the actions of the central government were affecting their property rights and their rights to use resources. Among other things, logging is not permitted in such zones.

The petition, signed by Dennis Clark Bell, president of the association, asks that the commission intervene and compel the state to rescind the rulings that created the protected zones. The request goes directly to the heart of the country's claim to have protected the biodiversity.

The human rights commission is an agency of the Organization of American States and is based in Washington, D.C.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 206

New ocean garbage patch predicted to be near Costa Rica

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A mathematical model of ocean currents has proven successful in predicting the location of the previously known Great Floating Garbage Patch, an area between Hawaii and California with large amounts of degraded plastic debris. This model also shows a mini-gyre that theoretically would accumulate plastic and nets in the area between Panamá and the Galapagos islands, part of which is in Costa Rican waters.

Another recent at-sea study has shown there is indeed a concentration of floating plastic in the area of the north Atlantic predicted by the models. Plastic degrades in sunlight, so most of the samples are of small particles picked up by fine nets. Theoretically this degradation continues to the molecular level, making more of a poison soup on the surface than accumulated debris, though obviously highly diluted. Also, lost ghost nets that keep fishing would accumulate in these productive areas.

University of Hawaii researcher Nikolai Maximenko first developed models of surface currents using the movements of about 12,000 free floating buoys tracked by satellite as part of larger projects. Despite the uneven distribution of the release points of the research buoys, Maximenko used measurements over fairly short periods of time to provide the overview needed.

Extensive computer modeling then filled in empty areas to simulate an even distribution of release points. Real life data shows most of the drifters stayed at sea, with only 30 percent lost in 10 years by being washed ashore. That suggests most debris stays out also.

What the sea current modeling showed is that five large circular gyres which should accumulate floating debris, the
largest being in the North Pacific. Others are in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, South Pacific, and a smaller one in the southern Indian ocean. The southern Pacific patch would be centered around Easter Island and would be the most concentrated, but has not been documented.

Closer to Costa Rica, the model shows that hypothetical drifters would tend to accumulate near the Pacific coast of Colombia after three years of movement, before dispersing somewhat as do the vast majority of sample points as they move out of the tropics. That means any given item, say a fishing net lost off El Salvador, would travel to that area in about three years and then perhaps move elsewhere.

Most sources would be local, with garbage washed into the ocean by rivers or from coastal settlements. The río Tárcoles, which drains the Central Valley, does have a substantial load of plastic. This in any case is tiny compared to that put out by northern developed countries where at-sea dumping of garbage was commonplace until recently. Also, at the level of development of Costa Rica and other southern hemisphere countries like Chile, local studies have shown how plastic still isn’t a large component of the solid waste stream.

Other sources would have to be nearby also, as in the cities on the Pacific slope of Central America and Colombia. The largest potential source of plastic in the area is Guayaquil, but it is on the edge of the predicted gyre. Maximenko did indicate in an e-mail that his theory suggested that in an extreme El Niño year some circulation to this area could come from California or Mexico.

The impact on fish and wildlife of the larger garbage patches is unknown, and the smaller one here might develop without effect. It is the potential reach of larger sources of plastic and nets that could affect Costa Rica’s turtles and other sea life.

Changing El Niño affects Pacific currents, study says

By the Georgia Institute of Technology news service

While it’s still hotly debated among scientists whether climate change causes a shift from the traditional form of El Niño to one known as El Niño Modoki, scientists now say that El Niño Modoki affects long-term changes in currents in the North Pacific Ocean. The study was published online in the journal Nature Geoscience,

El Niño is a periodic warming in the eastern tropical Pacific that occurs along the coast of South America. Recently, scientists have noticed that El Niño warming is stronger in the Central Pacific rather than the Eastern Pacific, a phenomenon known as El Niño Modoki (Modoki is a Japanese term for "similar, but different").

Last year, the journal Nature published a paper that found climate change is behind this shift from El Niño to El Niño Modoki. While the findings of that paper are still being debated, this latest paper in Nature Geoscience presents evidence that El Niño Modoki drives a climate pattern known as the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation.
His research found that El Niño Modoki is responsible for changes in the oscillation, said Emanuele Di Lorenzo, associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The reason this is important is because the oscillation has significant effects on fish stocks and ocean nutrient distributions in the Pacific, especially along the west coast of the United States, he said.

The North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, named two years ago by Di Lorenzo and colleagues in a paper in Geophysical Research Letters, explained for the first time long-term changes in ocean circulation of the North Pacific, which scientists now link to an increasing number of dramatic transitions in coastal marine ecosystems.

The ecosystems of the Pacific may very well become more sensitive to the oscillation in the future, said Di Lorenzo. His data show that this oscillation is definitively linked to El Niño Modoki, so as Modoki becomes more frequent in the central tropical Pacific, the oscillation will also intensify, he said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 206

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.N. health agency targets
neglected tropical diseases

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations health agency has unveiled a report detailing ways to combat a group of chronic infectious diseases, found almost exclusively in very poor populations, and which are increasingly being overcome through donations of drugs by the international pharmaceutical industry.

The report, “Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases,” released by the U.N. World Health Organization, covers 17 neglected tropical diseases that thrive in poor environments, where housing is substandard, living surroundings are contaminated with filth, and disease-spreading insects and animals abound.

“These are debilitating, sometimes horrific diseases that are often accepted as part of the misery of being poor,”said Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization.

“The strategies set out in this report are a breakthrough. If implemented widely, they can substantially reduce the disease burden, breaking a cycle of infection, disability and lost opportunities that keep people in poverty,” Ms. Chan said.

At the launch of the report in Geneva, several pharmaceutical firms made additional commitments to continue donating drugs to fight some of the diseases.

Novartis renewed its commitment to donate an unlimited supply of multi-drug therapy and loose clofazimine to treat leprosy and its complications.

Glaxo Smith Kline announced a new five- year commitment to expand its donation of albendazole through the organization to treat school-age children for soil transmitted helminthiases in Africa. The donation is in addition to the company’s current donation for lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) treatments.

Sanofi-Aventis, for its part, agreed to renew its support for the program against sleeping sickness elimination and support for Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) and leishmaniasis for the next five years.

Johnson & Johnson announced last week that it is expanding its donation of mebendazole to supply up to 200 million treatments per year for tackling intestinal worms in children.

The consequences of untreated, long-term infection of some of the tropical diseases vary. They include blindness, disfiguring scars and ulcers, severe pain, limb deformities, impaired mental and physical development, and damage to internal organs.

Worldwide, the diseases are endemic in 149 countries and territories, and impair the lives of at least one billion people.

According to the report, activities undertaken to mitigate the impact of the neglected tropical diseases so far are producing unprecedented results. Treatment with preventive chemotherapy reached 670 million people in 2008 alone. Guinea worm disease will be the first disease eradicated by health education and behavior change.

Reported cases of sleeping sickness have dropped to their lowest level in 50 years, and elephantiasis is targeted for elimination as a public health problem by 2020.

The report also recognizes the challenges that lie ahead and the opportunities to alleviate the suffering of people in disease-endemic countries. Delivery systems, for example, need to be strengthened.

“The use of the primary school platform to treat millions of children for schistosomiasis and helminthiasis in Africa is a perfect example. It provides opportunities to broaden health education, thereby ensuring healthier future generations,” said Lorenzo Savioli, director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at World Health.

The report also notes that better coordination is needed with veterinary public health as an essential element of controlling diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. For example, every year, tens of thousands of human deaths occur from rabies, usually contracted from dogs. An estimated 95 per cent of cases occur in Asia and Africa and up to 60 per cent of cases are in children under the age of 15.

Among the neglected tropical diseases are Buruli ulcer disease (Mycobacterium ulcerans infection), Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), dengue, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, leprosy (Hansen disease), lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness) and rabies.

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Low-pressure system
moving north over sea

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A threatening low-pressure area has moved north without inflicting serious damage on Costa Rica. The low-pressure system has strengthened but it is located offshore above the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

In Costa Rica the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that unstable air would dominate the weather patterns today.  The institute blamed the low-pressure system even though it is moving northward.

The weather institute said that the system was bringing moisture into the country by way of the Pacific. It predicted downpours today in the Central Valley and the Pacific coast. The northern zone and the Caribbean will mostly have rain in the mountains, it said.

Meanwhile, the hurricane center raised its estimate and said the low-pressure system has a 30 percent chance of developing into a cyclone in the next 48 hours.

Prison riot in Haiti leaves
three dead in its wake

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haitian authorities said three inmates were killed Sunday in a prison riot in Haiti's quake-damaged penitentiary.  Officials said the three were trying to escape from the Port-au-Prince prison.  It was not immediately clear if any other inmates did escape.

United Nations troops and Haitian police were in the prison at the time of the uprising.  The U.N. said the inmates briefly held seven people connected with the United Nations hostage.  Some of the hostages suffered minor injuries.

The Miami Herald newspaper reports the prison upheaval was quashed by mid-afternoon when U.N. troops blocked off the streets surrounding the prison.

Sunday's uprising continues a long saga of unrest and dangerous conditions in Haiti's prisons.  In the chaos after Haiti's devastating earthquake in January, thousands of prisoners escaped the massively overcrowded penitentiary, including some well-known, dangerous gang leaders.

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