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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, in Vol. 10, No. 209            E-mail us
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River situation defused as Nicaragua moves pipe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
updated at 2 p.m. Saturday

The situation along the Río San Juan that had the potential for armed conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua appears to have been defused.

Nicaragua has removed the dredge pipe that violated Costa Rican sovereignty. Eden Pastora, the man in charge of the operation, was overheard Friday afternoon on the marine radio band instructing dredge workers to move the pipe. Friday night José María Tijerino confirmed that the 12-inch pipe had been removed.

Pastora, a former guerrilla leader, had contended on Nicaragua television that the disputed land, an island on the south side of the Río San Juan belonged to no one.

Pastora is well-known in northern Costa Rica because his rebel headquarters used to be near Barra del Colorado. A fishing guide with Río Colorado Lodge, based there, reported he heard Pastora Friday afternoon telling workers on the dredge to move the outlet pipe to the Nicaraguan side of the river.  The guide said he knows Pastora personally. Speculation in the area is that Pastora is staying at a hotel or fishing lodge somewhere north of the river.

Shortly after 1 p.m. A.M. Costa Rica learned that Pastora had been ordered back to Managua, the capital, by President Daniel Ortega, who was described as being angry at what happened on the river. The dredging was shut down.

Costa Rica officials surveyed the island and claimed there was environmental damage. A photo released by the security ministry Friday showed where a line of trees had been cut. Tijerino confirmed in the evening press conference that there was environmental damage. He said the river bottom sucked up by the dredging vessel destroyed a mangrove along the river.

The dredge is located in Laguna Los Portillos opposite the mouth of the Caño Sucio, which flows into the San Juan from Nicaragua. The river is Nicaraguan territory. The international border is the south bank.
closeup of dredge
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Paul Gamboa
Dredging barge has armed soldiers aboard

Terjino said that all had returned to normality along the river and that Costa Rican police did not find any Nicaraguans when they visited the area by air and surveyed the damage. The initial report that came Oct. 8 said that Nicaraguan soldiers have threatened a Costa Rican farmer working government land there. The complaint said that the soldiers killed farm animals for food.

Eventually court cases for the intrusion and the environmental damage are certain to follow.

Despite his assurances of normality, Terjino has issued no orders to pull out heavily armed police officers and others who went to the area early Friday. They have taken over the local school as living quarters, and Barra del Colorado school children hope they stay because Monday and Tuesday are days designated for examinations.

The students hope for days off instead. Police are using the school kitchen to produce meals.

Involved in the deployment were the security ministry's Unidad Especial de Intervención, other Fuerza Pública officers, air units, the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and agents from the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad.

There was a report that the Barra del Colorado airport would be reopened for limited civilian aircraft Saturday afternoon. Officials closed and now guard the strip where troops are moved in and out.

Friday story below

The security ministry released this photo Friday of dredging operations on the San Juan
Costa Rica mobilizes troops along Nicaraguan line
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 12:45 p.m.

Costa Rica has begun a military operation along its northern border in response to reports that Nicaraguan soldiers have entered an area along the Río San Juan, ran off farm workers, killed cattle and began dredging.

Barra del Colorado, the small village in northeast Costa Rica, has become an armed camp. The local community center has been taken over as a command center, and security ministry aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, are making numerous flights.

At least 50 security ministry troops are on the ground, and many are in battle dress with heavy weaponry, said reports from the community.

The Barra del Colorado airport was closed to civilian flights earlier today. Planes were diverted to Tortugero.

Costa Rica does not have an army, but Fuerza Pública officers resembled soldiers. They were wearing battle helmets, carrying M-16 rifles and a few weapons described as 50-caliber machine guns. Some are practicing dismounting from a helicopter, the reports said. Many are dressed in camouflage and wearing bullet-proof vests that say "Police."

In  Nicaragua, Eden Pastora, the ex-guerrilla who
is in charge of the dredging operation, claimed
today on television that an island in the San Juan really belongs to his country. Costa Rica says that the island is Tico soil. It is leased by the government to a farmer, whose son reported being threatened by Nicaraguan troops as long ago as Oct. 8.

Costa Rican troops were being brought to the staging area by the newly remodeled Caribou aircraft. Officials were making overflights of the disputed zone with helicopters.

José María Tijerino, the security minister, said Thursday night that Costa Rica has filed a formal protest with Nicaragua over the dredging operation, which seeks to deepen the mouth of the Río San Juan where it enters the Caribbean. Tijerino said that the material dredged from the river was being depositing via a 12-inch pipe onto Costa Rican soil.

The river is the boundary between the two countries, but the international line is on the south bank.

He made no mention of an impending military action. President Laura Chinchilla told reporters earlier Friday that the troop deployment was preventative.

Barra del Colorado residents have been prohibited from visiting the community center, and red cones have been set out as a line of restriction.

An earlier story is HERE!

Lawmakers hear plea for a tourism debt bailout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican tourism industry is in debt $700 million, and the legislature is being asked to set up a bailout.

The number came from Raúl Blanco of the  Comisión de Turismo Sostenible de Monteverde-Fortuna Thursday as he appeared before a legislative committee.

His solution, presented to the Comisión Permanente Especial de Turismo, was a fidicomiso or trust that would purchase the debt of tourism operators from state and private banks.

He said that he presented this idea to former president Óscar Arias Sánchez when the estimated tourism debt was just $500 million.

"The situation is grave. It is grave because it has not been handled in time, and it is grave because the banks instead of doing things well stick on patches. We are full of patches," he said.
Blanco said the idea would be to create a grace period of from three to five years in which tourism operators would pay no interest or principal. That would allow them to recover to the levels of 2007 and 2008, he said.

He blamed the economic downturn on other countries, including the United States and those in Europe. He told lawmakers that tourism operators need the help of the Asamblea Legislativa, presumably to set up such a mechanism.

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo has a less bleak picture of the industry. At a meeting earlier in the month, Juan Carlos Ramos, chamber president, noted a slow recovery and said that this was a time for the industry to relaunch itself.

The industry has to do more than just be environmentally sustainable, but it also must seek economic sustainability with fundamentals, like being competitive. He said that the economy is predicted to improve about 4 percent per year through 2015.

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Three positive developments
in Pacific coast real estate

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were three positive developments in Pacific coast real estate this week.

Los Sueños Resort and Marina in Herradura announced that it would begin construction on Altavista Los Sueños condominium residences in December. The project consists of three-bedroom condominiums ranging from 1,750 to 2,100 square feet and priced from $589,000 to $749,000,

Hacienda Matapalo on the south Pacific coast said it has awarded the contract to install the infrastructure on the property. The work will begin in November and include a water treatment plant, water lines, electrical systems, 11 kilometers (7 miles) of roads and lakes.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. said it would open The Westin Playa Conchal Resort & Spa in May. Starwood and Desarrollos Hoteleros Guanacaste, a subsidiary of Reserva Conchal, signed a management agreement to rename the Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort in Guanacaste as a Westin. The property in Playa Conchal in Cabo Velas will undergo extensive renovations to its 406 suites and all public areas, Starwood said.

Los Sueños is a long-time player in luxury accommodations on the Central pacific coast. It features a private 600-acre rainforest reserve, the 201-room five-star Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort, a full-service, 200-slip international marina, an exclusive beach club for residents and the 18-hole La Iguana championship golf course. There are 500 luxury single-family homes, lots, condominiums and villas already sold.

“Our goal with Altavista Los Sueños was to create a new collection of high-quality ocean view residences that responded to today’s market demands,” says developer William Royster in a release. “Altavista will complement our existing community and will offer owners the same great access to a world-class, award-winning resort and Costa Rica’s first government-sanctioned, full-service international marina.”

Altavista Los Sueños joins the development’s portfolio of luxury resort residences that range from one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums to single-family homes. Other Los Sueños communities include Riviera and Malibu at Altamira, Marbella Condominiums at Altamira, Montebello Residences at Altamira, Colina Condominiums, Del Mar Condominiums and Bay Residences at Del Mar.

Los Sueños Resort and Marina is one of the most successful resort development in Central America The next eight years will see the completion of the remaining phases of Los Sueños, including the final phase of Marina Village, several hundred additional luxury residences and the construction of an eco-lodge in the rainforest reserve, the company said.

The announcement by Hacienda Matapalo comes after the company has made more than $60 million in pre-construction sales. The builder will be Jimenez y Chacon Constructores S.A. of Cartago, said a company spokesman. Hacienda Matapalo's strategic partner is Su Casa Desarrollos de Vivienda S.A. of the Tu Hogar S.A. Real Estate Group,
“Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone in our progress and moves us one step closer to fulfilling our vision of creating and delivering the absolute best residential community in Costa Rica,” said David Matluck, Hacienda Matapalo chief executive officer in a release.

The agreement calls for the completion of Hacienda Matapalo’s entrance and the continuation of the infrastructure which connects the forest, streams and mountains which are part of the 655-acre master planned, gated community, the firm said. The company began putting in gravel roads earlier in the year and stopped when the rainy season began.

Once the roads and utilities are in place, owners will be able to take formal ownership of their home sites and begin building, the firm said.

“The pre-construction success we’ve experienced emphasizes people’s desire to live and invest in a place of casual elegance surrounded by picturesque natural beauty,” Matluck said. “Being able to offer ownership at pre-construction pricing has kept the project affordable and along with our location has made Hacienda Matapalo the most desired development in Costa Rica.”

Amenities included a private beach club, equestrian center, community center and clubhouse featuring several winding and flowing infinity edge pools, tennis and basketball courts, multiple picnic and gathering areas and a playground. The site includes waterfalls, streams, forests, mountains, lakes and access to 26 miles of virgin beach that was recently named the second-most eco-friendly beach in the world, said the firm.

Westin said it expects to nearly double its portfolio in Latin America by 2014.

“Starwood is proud to expand the Westin Resorts portfolio with the addition of The Westin Playa Conchal Resort & Spa," said Osvaldo Librizzi, president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Latin America. "Recent growth in the all-inclusive luxury resort market in Mexico and Central America, coupled with increasing demand from our . . . members seeking vacation packages have created fertile conditions for our entry in the all-inclusive market.” 

The Westin Playa Conchal Resort & Spa will be the first Starwood property in Costa Rica in 20 years and the newest member of the Westin brand’s resorts portfolio, which offers 40 resorts. Westin has five hotels in Mexico and one in Guatemala, and will be opening five more in Latin America in the next four years, including The Westin Libertador, Lima, Peru; The Westin Guadalajara, Mexico; and two in Panamá: The Westin Panamá and The Westin Playa Bonita.

The Westin Playa Conchal Resort & Spa will feature 6,500 square feet of meeting and banquet facilities, as well as a  gym.

Starwood Hotels is one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with 1,000 properties in nearly 100 countries and territories with 145,000 employees at its owned and managed properties.

Desarrollos Hoteleros Guanacaste is a subsidiary of Reserva Conchal, which itself is a fully owned subsidiary of Florida Ice & Farm Co., the publicly traded Costa Rican company.

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, Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 209

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Rio San Juan
A.M. Costa Rica-U.S. Central Intelligcence Agency graphic
Arrow points to the mouth of the Río San Juan where the dredging dispute is playing out
River dredging creates unwanted dispute with Nicaragua
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The open secret that a Nicaraguan firm and Nicaraguan soldiers were trespassing in Costa Rica became public Tuesday. Costa Rican officials have known about the incursions since Oct. 8, when the son of a farmer complained to the Fuerza Pública. They have taken little action.

Only Wednesday did security ministry employees fly over the site of the complaint, the extreme northeast corner of the country. The ministry declined to release photos and tapes taken during the trip.

José María Tijerino, the security minister, described the trespassing merely as a 12-inch tube carrying sediment dredged from the river onto Costa Rican soil. The local farmer's complaint said that Nicaraguan soldiers entered his property, took and killed cattle and pigs and blocked further entry. The allegation is that Eden Pastora is supervising the work. He is a former guerrilla leader and is believed to be at the dredging site.

The activities were an open secret because the site is so remote that getting there is difficult. It is near the point where the Río San Juan empties into the Caribbean. Reporters have not been able to reach the area, and some have been warned against doing so.

The Río San Juan is the border between the two countries, but due to treaty agreements, the international line in most places is the south bank of the river. The river itself is Nicaraguan territory. That country prohibits Costa Rican policemen from traveling on the river while armed. That is why police have not been able to reach the site on a boat. The river is guarded by the Nicaraguan army.

Costa Rica has long been involved in international disputes with Nicaragua over the river. A recent World Court case validated the right of free transit for Costa Ricans and tourists who come from Costa Rica.

The unique aspects of the river are feeding fears in northern Costa Rica that what is happening at the river mouth is much more then a dredging operation. Some fear that Nicaragua is trying to change the course of the river to gain more territory, perhaps with a negative impact on the Río Colorado, which really is a southern mouth of the river system totally in Costa Rica. That area and the community of Barra de Colorado is known for its tarpon fishing.

The disputed land is owned by the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. The Reyes family maintains a concession from the government to farm the property,
which is several hundred hectares. The property is adjacent to Parque Nacional Tortugero and the Caribbean coast. The initial complaint came from this family.

Tijerino and acting foreign minster, Martha Núñez, held a press conference Thursday night at the foreign ministry. They said that the country had filed a formal protest with the Nicaraguan ambassador in Costa Rica.

The land where Nicaraguan troops are reported to be is an island on the south side of the river. At that point the river makes a sharp bend to the north. There is concern that the dredging is a cover for punching through the land there for direct access to the Caribbean. That would have a significant impact on the river flow and the flow of the nearby Río Colorado.

Tijerino did not explain why his security ministry helicopter did not land at that point to gain first-hand information on what was talking place. Clearly Costa Rican officials are trying to avoid a confrontation with Nicaraguan troops.

The country has been protesting Nicaragua's plan for more than a year. Officials insist that Nicaragua has the right to make improvements on the river only if they do not affect Costa Rica.

Pastora told a Managua television show in August that the central government wanted to remove barriers to navigation at the mouth of the river. Dredging is planned at other points on the river, too.

He said that the job involved dredging the first 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) from the Caribbean upriver. He told the show that the river channel had vanished and that the river water was being diverted into the Rio Colorado.

The Río San Juan was once considered a competitor of Panamá as a transcontinental canal. The river has been navigable from the Caribbean some 180 kilometers (112 miles) to Lake Nicaragua. A small canal from the northwest side of the lake could easily reach the Pacific. There is a fort on the river at the aptly named El Castillo that was designed to protect the country from invading ships.

Costa Rica has sent several other notes to Managua expressing concern. There was no explanation why officials did not have representatives at the river mouth to keep watch over the dredging operations.

The Costa Rican land along the river has few roads and the main method for travel is on the river. Some have said that the country has not acted strongly so that passage rights of Costa Ricans would not be restricted as revenge.

Lunch endeavours to take you back to the 18th century
First, I want to thank all of you who told me where to find "Northanger Abbey." There are obviously a great many Jane Austen fans in the world.  Some of you were quite surprised that I couldn’t find the book. That is because I forgot to mention that I only tried second-hand book stores.  I like once-read books. Fitz, from Washington, said he has an extra copy, so he is sending me one.  That means it will be second-hand, so I am happy.

I used a version of a three-letter verb in the preceding paragraph.  It is a verb that Jane used in her writing only to describe an attempt that failed or probably would fail.  The verb is try, and it is a verb that is used by reporters and news anchors to describe what President Obama is currently doing.  According to our newspeople, Obama never actually does anything. He tries to do the thing.  At least if Austen were describing his actions she would say, “President Obama endeavoured to…” (fill in the space).  Try implies a possible, even probable failure.  Endeavour suggests a determined effort and a positive outcome. Ah, well, as I have said before, language and the meaning of words have changed.

But speaking of three-letter words, who else has discovered the three-letter English word that has more definitions in the dictionary than any other word of any length?  I found this very interesting.  A little hint: it serves as a verb, a noun and an adjective.

If some day you would endeavor to enjoy a luxurious lunch at a luxurious price, I suggest Le Chandelier in San Pedro/Los Yoses near the ICE building.  It is an elegant French restaurant, and recently my friend Doug and I had lunch there.  The dining rooms are small, and you might find yourselves the only diners, so you can easily pretend that you are very rich (and living in the 18th century) and that this is your dining room and the beautifully set table with the one red rose in the vase has been prepared just for you. The several other tables in the room also are beautifully set with their own roses, which I must admit later brought to mind a fractured form of Thomas Gray’s “Ellegy in a Graveyard, “. . . many a rose is born to blush unseen in Le Chandelier.”
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

However, that means you have your own staff, a butler and waiter, at your immediate beck and call, even unobtrusively checking at the door anticipating your every need, ready to freshen your drink or bring more bread.  Your main course will have interesting side dishes like a ratatouille stuffed baked tomato and crisp fried strips of beet, as well as the usual vegetables.

And you will enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner without the appearance of the bill to interrupt you until you call for it. (A pleasure enjoyed in most Costa Rican restaurants).  The bill will be high, but the experience worth every colon.

Aside from that pleasure, my world was in a contrarian mood.  On another day I yearned to find a sidewalk café and read or write in the fresh air.  At the bus stop every bus I normally take and have to wait for, came by in pairs, the Pavas bus —  the one I wanted — which always appears, didn’t.  I had decided upon Plaza Rohrmoser because the second floor balcony has many cafes.  Not one was open, even though it was 11 a.m. Painters were everywhere.  I walked around a while and finally took a bus back to where I started. Then I remembered that the Te con Te Café not far from my apartment had some tables outside, complete with umbrellas.

I ordered a cappuccino and cinnamon bun.  Mainly cars, but few pedestrians passed by, but I was at a sidewalk café.  Proportionately, the bill was about the same as Le Chandelier.  There are no free lunches anymore.  But here is another free hint about that three-letter word:  I have used it in this column.

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Tiny explanation advanced to solve chupacabra mystery

By the University of Michigan news service

As Halloween approaches, tales of monsters and creepy crawlies abound. Among the most fearsome is the legendary beast known as the chupacabra.  

But the real fiend is not the hairless, fanged animal purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock. It's a tiny, eight-legged creature that turns a healthy, wild animal into a chupacabra, says University of Michigan biologist Barry OConnor. 

The existence of the chupacabra, also known as the goatsucker, was first surmised from livestock attacks in Puerto Rico, where dead sheep were discovered with puncture wounds, completely drained of blood. Similar reports began accumulating from other locations in Latin America and the U.S. Then came sightings of evil-looking animals, variously described as dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor. Locals put two and two together and assumed the ugly varmints were responsible for the killings. 

Scientists studied some of the chupacabra carcasses and concluded that the dreaded monsters actually were coyotes with extreme cases of mange---a skin condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin. OConnor, who studies the mites that cause mange, concurs and has an idea why the tiny assailants affect wild coyotes so severely, turning them into atrocities.  

In a recent "Monster Talk" podcast posted on Skeptic magazine's Web site, OConnor explained that the mite responsible for the extreme hair loss seen in "chupacabra syndrome" is Sarcoptes scabiei, which also causes the itchy rash known as scabies in people. Human scabies is an annoyance, but not usually a serious health or appearance problem, partly because human bodies are already virtually hairless and partly because the population of mites on a given person usually is relatively small — only 20 or 30 mites. 

Evolutionary studies done by OConnor and his former graduate student Hans Klompen, now an associate professor at Ohio State University, suggest that the scabies mite has been with humans throughout their evolutionary history, giving humans plenty of time to develop defenses. When humans began domesticating animals, Sarcoptes scabiei found a whole new realm of potential victims. Domestic dogs, like humans, have played host to the mites long enough to evolve the ability to fight off mange, but when the condition spreads to wild members of the dog family, foxes, wolves and coyotes, watch out. 

"Whenever you have a new host-parasite association, it's pretty nasty," said OConnor, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a curator in the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. "It does a lot of damage,

Who are you calling a mangy coyote???

and mortality can be relatively high because that host species has not had any evolutionary history with the parasite, so it has not been able to evolve any defenses like we have." 

In these unfortunate animals, large numbers of mites burrowing under the skin cause inflammation, which results in thickening of the skin. Blood supply to hair follicles is cut off, so the fur falls out. In especially bad cases, the animal's weakened condition opens the door to bacteria that cause secondary skin infections, sometimes producing a foul odor. Put it all together, and it's an ugly, naked, leathery, smelly monstrosity: the chupacabra. 

Do mite infestations also alter the animals' behavior, turning them into bloodthirsty killers? Not exactly, but there is an explanation for why they may be particularly likely to prey on small livestock such as sheep and goats. 

"Because these animals are greatly weakened, they're going to have a hard time hunting," OConnor said. "So they may be forced into attacking livestock because it's easier than running down a rabbit or a deer." 

While the chupacabra has achieved legendary status, other wild animals can suffer just as much from the effects of mange mites, OConnor said. In Australia, the mite is killing off wombats. "They presumably got the mites from dingoes, which got them from domestic dogs, which got them from us," he said. 

And a related mite, just as insidious, can drive squirrels to self-destruct. In his graduate school years at Cornell University, OConnor observed mange-weakened squirrels falling from trees. That observation led him to conduct an informal survey to see if mangy squirrels also were more likely than healthy squirrels to end up as road kill.

They were, suggesting that being tortured by mites somehow made the squirrels less adept at dodging cars.

Municipalities would approve residential access

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new measure makes clear that security guards may not prevent vehicles and individuals from entering residential areas.

The measure got final approval in the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday. The measure now goes to the president for probable approval.

The measure, No. 17116, regulates the construction of guard shacks, called casitas in Spanish, at the entrance to residential communities. It allows the use of chains and gates (agujas in Spanish) only as a way of conducting surveillance of pedestrians and vehicles. The law authorizes guards to take down license plate numbers, but it expressly forbids impeding the right of free transit.

Permission for guard shacks is delegated to the municipality. Violations in which someone is denied access results in fines assessed on the security firm. The measure is not clear, but it would seem to cover the entry to private roads, too.

The concept of free transit is in the Costa Rican Constitution. Guards routinely deny access or condition access on proof of a good reason for the motorist or pedestrian to enter a residential area. A series of Sala IV decisions has defended the right to
 access, but nervous residents continued to seek access restrictions.

The legislature first got the measure in 2008. The measure seems to legitimize gates and chains as methods of surveillance rather than restrictions on access. Some 41 lawmakers voted for the measure on second reading, and a number said that citizens have the right to safeguard their property.

Yolanda Acuña Castro, a lawmaker of Partido Acción Ciudadana, lamented the fact that citizens have to pay twice for security, once to the municipality and then to a private guard firm.

Municipalities can only give permission for a guard shack if asked by a formal organization representing residents or by a petition signed by 70 percent of the residents affected, according to the law. Even though the guard shack can be built on a sidewalk, space must be left for pedestrians, it says.

There is the possibility of a Sala IV challenge to the definition of a gate or chain as a measure of surveillance rather than something designed to impede access.

Jan. 1 salary increases fixed by government at 2.63%

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Minimum wages will be going up 2.63 percent Jan.1. That was the pay raise mandatedd by the Consejo Nacional de Salarios.

The pay hike was exactly what employer groups wanted and far below the 7 per cent some employee groups proposed. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados threatened to take the issue into the streets.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado said it worked with government employees to come up with the figure that was accepted by the Consejo.
The organization said that it supported a raise despite the slowdown of the economy and the increase in joblessness. There is no excuse to transfer the costs of the economic crisis to employees, said Manuel H. Rodríguez, organization president. He noted that in the last five months some 5,500 jobs were lost in the private sector.

Many Costa Ricans work at the minimum wage and others who do not will receive optional raises based on the government figures.

Since each job title has a different salary, there is no overall minimum wage. The Ministerio de Trabajo will post a long list of obligatory amounts by job title in a few weeks. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 209

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Cuban dissident honored
with human rights prize

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A dissident has become the third Cuban in less than a decade to win a prestigious human rights prize awarded by the European Parliament. Ethiopian and Israeli human rights activists were also front runners for the award.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek announced Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has won the Sakharov Prize.

"He was ready to sacrifice and risk his own health and life as a means of pressure to achieve change in Cuba," Buzek said. "He used hunger strikes to protest and to challenge the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba, carrying the hopes for all those who care for freedom, human rights, and democracy."

Farinas is a psychologist and journalist who has taken part in more than 20 hunger strikes in defiance of the Cuban government. He ended a 135-day hunger strike earlier this year after the Cuban government agreed to free more than 50 political prisoners.

Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa was also considered for the prize, as was Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group of former soldiers who campaign against abuses committed by the military in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The $70,000 Sakharov Prize was named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and was first awarded in 1988. Farinas is the third Cuban to win the award in the past decade.

Struggling Haiti faces
outbreak of cholera

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The chief of Haiti's medical association says an outbreak of cholera in the north of the country has killed 135 people and sickened 1,500 others. Claude Surena tells the French news agency that laboratory tests confirm cholera and that the government plans to make a statement soon.

Most of the sickened people have been taken to hospitals in the coastal town of St. Marc.  The numbers have overwhelmed medical centers, and some patients have been placed on blankets out in parking lots.

Cholera is a bacterial infection that is typically spread by ingesting water or food contaminated by human feces. Symptoms include fever, severe diarrhea, and vomiting.

The disease is easily treatable. But without treatment, it can kill within hours.  Aid workers report unsanitary conditions in camps where thousands of Haitians are still living after the January earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

Art show opens Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican artist Ana Isabel Navarro opens her show west of  Liberia Saturday. It is "Entre Verdes y Silencios," and it is at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery 5 kilometers west of Daniel Oduber airport.

The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Ms. Navarro works with oil and acrylics on canvas.

The gallery also reports that it is expanding by opening its 12th room. The event Saturday will be accompanied by a vendors' fair with goat cheese, local peanut butter, honey and natural beauty products, the gallery said in a release.

Abuse suspect found on bus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers detained a 20-year-old man Thursday afternoon while he was riding on a bus with his pregnant 12-year-old girlfriend. Police became aware of the case Wednesday when the man brought the girl to Hospital William Allen because she was having problems attributed to her pregnancy. But he fled the hospital when he realized police were coming, they said. They said he faces other charges of sexual abuse. The arrest took place in La Swisa de Turrialba.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 209

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Pig in car
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Rustled pig was not hard to find once officers opened the trunk

Crime is called pig rustling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police said a crook threatened a taxi driver and made him put a dead prized pig in the trunk of his vehicle.

The plan was busted up by police who became suspicious and stopped the vehicle. The arrest happened in Zarcero Thursday.

The officers also found knives and a machete that could be used in butchering. The adult pig was a top specimen, police said the owner told them when they located him.

Suspected bandit caught

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men tried to stick up a meat delivery truck in Escazú Thursday, but Fuerza Pública officers captured a suspect on a motorcycle in San Antonio de Escazú not long after.

Police said they confiscated a 9-mm. pistol from the suspect, who has the last names of Céspedes Vega. He is 33, they said. In the robbery attempt, both criminals rode motorcycles, police said.

Melon jobs retained

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A brief report from the Cantón de Carrillo said that Del Monte, a major employer there, has decided to keep its melon operations going. This means between 300 and 400 direct employees, said Carlos Alberto Chanto, president of the  Consejo Civil de Carrillo. He had complained last week of deteriorating economic conditions when the produce firm said it would close down operations. The company faced declining prices worldwide.

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