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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 211            E-mail us
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Ni Una Sola Mina and Frente Norte de Oposición a la Minería photo
Long sign at La Nación calls on the president to rescind the mining decree.
Anti-mine protesters irked at lack of publicity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-mining activists continue to protest seeking an action by President Laura Chinchilla, but they seem to be unaware that every demonstration is not successful.

Seeking more publicity, some of the protesters carried signs and took their message to the doors of the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación Monday.  Meanwhile, three of their number finished up 18 days in front of Casa Presidencial on a hunger strike.

An analysis of the news

These are the same groups that staged a successful publicity stunt by walking from Casa Presidencial in Zapote to the mine site in Cutris de San Carlos. That event got a lot of media coverage.

The recent hunger strike seems to have fallen on some deaf media ears. In fact, the protest at La Nación claimed that the newspaper was indifferent to the hunger strike. The demonstrators are irked because they did not get heavy press coverage.

Two online publications and Semanario Universidad, the Universidad de Costa Rica newspaper, have covered the hunger strike because the publications are generally in favor of the goal. El Diario Extra also has mentioned the event.

The organizations, Ni Una Sola Mina and Frente Norte de Oposición a la Minería, have been unrelenting in their press releases. But not all press releases get printed.
The problem is that the mostly student group seeks the impossible. The case involving the Las Crucitas open pit gold mine is now in court, and President Chinchilla knows that by pulling the plug on the mine would open the door to a multi-million dollar arbitration case that the country probably will lose.

The matters involved do not seem to rise to the level of human rights, an issue that launched Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on a fatal, 83-day hunger strike earlier in the year. Plus the hunger strikers here are taking some food. The event is more of a fast.

The remaining participants in Zapote are Rosibel Porras, Andrés Guillén and David Rojas. Specifically they seek that Ms. Chinchilla overturn the decree issued by Óscar Arias Sánchez that declared the mine to be in the national interest and of national convenience, a technical way to clear various legal hurdles.

The administration sent two brief notes to the demonstrators. But they were not the answers they wanted.

Some news people think that the fast was ill advised while the case is being heard in an administrative court.

Many in government, including Ms. Chinchilla, oppose open pit mining, but the operation already has received approval, unless the court finds a way to void the process.

The Crucitas mine is being operated by the Empresa Industrias Infinito S.A., a subsidiary of Infinito Gold Ltd. in Calgary, Canada.

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Cultural festival includes
archaeological site tour

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mostly native residents of Rey Curré are having a cultural festival Saturday that includes a tour of local pre-Columbian archaeological sites.

Activities begin at 9 a.m. in the community that also is called Yimba Cajc in the Boruca language. The first such festival was held in 1992, and that will be marked this year.

There also is planned a discussion with young people on the value of their native identity, said a release.

After lunch a number of cutural activities and games are planned as well as an exhibition of old photos. There also will be an exhibition of plants used for medicine and a demonstration of local foods that are fading from memory, the release said.

Rye Cur is on the Interamericana Sur at kilometer 228 south of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas. This is the area where Costa Rican officials hope to put in a major hydro project on the Río Térraba. Many residents of the area oppose this plan because of the loss of ancestral lands.

Culture minister in China

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Manuel Obregón, the nation's culture minister, is meeting today with Cai Wu, his Chinese counterpart, in Beijing where they will discuss the cultural convention between the two countries, according to the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.

Obregón will follow the meeting by offering a piano concert in the National Center for the Performing Arts in the Chinese capital. He goes Wednesday to Shanghai where he is part of the official Costa Rican delegation to the Expo Shanghai along with the folk ballet Mi Linda Costa Rica, the ministry said.

Our reader's opinion
ICE solar program pays
initial cost in 9-10 years

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My company Poderco Renewable Energy has designed a photovoltaic system which has both a low cost of entry and will return the investment by the homeowner in 9 to 11 years. Our system is unique in that it will be affordable to most homeowners in Costa Rica and is very easy to install. Our company will do all the paperwork, so that there is no hassle dealing with bureaucracy of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. We have waited 11 years for ICE to join the rest of the world in allowing renewable energy systems to be connected to the grid.

The ICE pilot program will initially allow for 5 megawatts of generation from small renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic, wind, mini-hydro, biomass and bio-digestors. In the case of solar photovoltaic systems, a customer of ICE needs to fill out a form available on the Web site and detail the size of the system they wish to install, including details of the proposed equipment and installation. If the design and equipment are up to code, ICE will approve the installation of the photovoltaic system up to a maximum of 10 kilowatt installed capacity. Once the system is installed, ICE will inspect it and they will remove the existing electrical meter and install a bi-directional meter which is similar to the ones that they currently install in industrial locations. These meters are able to measure the flow of energy both from the grid and to the grid. It is this capability which allows for the energy produced by a home photovoltaic system to be credited to the monthly bill. So the big question is how will this benefit ICE customers?

The rate structures for residential electricity are such that the first 200 kilowatts of energy costs 12.8 cents U.S. per kilowatt (at the 505 colon exchange rate). The next 99 kilowatts of consumption from 201 to 300 costs 23.5 cents and each kilowatt over 301 pays the highest rate of  32.4 cents. In our example of photovoltaic generated electricity, the solar system will produce energy during the day which is either consumed by the home directly, therefore reducing consumption of electricity from ICE, or may produce an excess of energy which is measured by the bi-directional meter.

At the end of the month, ICE will calculate how much electricity was consumed and how much was produced by the homeowner. The net amount of this calculation is what the homeowner pays. So if a home consumes 350 kW per month and the PV system produces 250 kW, then the home owner will only pay for 100 kW. So the credit to the homeowner is the expensive energy first and the less expensive energy second. In the renewable energy industry this system is called net-metering and is the vehicle by which the investment can pay for itself.

The other interesting aspect of the ICE program is that if a homeowner produces more energy than is consumed during months of peak sunshine or wind, ICE will bank that energy and credit the bill later when there is not so much energy available. So it is possible to use all of the energy that has been produced by the system throughout the year. At the end of the year in November, ICE will balance the accounts and start the new year of accounting. In addition to the 10-kilowatt residential  systems ICE will allow larger systems to be connected to the grid for industrial and commercial customers.

Jason Borner
CEO - Poderco S.A.

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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News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 211

Latigo K-9

turtle hoax
These are real photos of a Pacific beach turtle egg harvest that are circulating critical of Costa Rica.
Ostional turtle egg hoax now comes in many languages
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An e-mail condemning a legal turtle egg harvest in Guanacaste is now circulating in at least English, Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese. Tourism agencies and guides report spending considerable time and effort defending Costa Rica’s reputation from what some describe as a malicious assault.

Despite the vigorous defense of what is claimed to be a well-managed and officially-sanctioned harvest by needy local people, independent turtle authorities are not universally in agreement as to the scientific basis for the activity and its impact.

What is often described as an ancient ritual actually dates only to 1959 when the first large-scale arrival of olive ridley turtles occurred at Ostional. Similar phenomena were known in Mexico and elsewhere before that, though the Mexican turtle populations were wiped out in the early 20th century by wholesale exploitation for meat and skins. The Costa Rica events at Ostional and the smaller Nancite beach in Guanacaste did not even come to the attention of the scientific community until 1970. This is very little time to monitor populations of a long-lived species.

The main objection of critics is that the existence of Ostional eggs on the market provides cover for poaching of other species on other beaches around the country. All other sea turtles that nest in Costa Rica are in a far more perilous state than the olive ridley.

Supporters say that the eggs destroyed by late-arriving turtles rot and promote pathogens that will damage the incubating eggs and their contents. These claims are under scientific investigation. Independent biologists have formed the Costa Rican National Sea Turtle Conservation Network to look at this question.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy is partnering with local biologists for this research. This organization, originally founded by Archie Carr as the Caribbean Conservation Corp., has traditionally been the leader of sea turtle research at Tortuguero. The official position of the Conservancy on the Ostional situation is “(w)hile we don’t agree with this egg collection, the project is endorsed by the Costa Rican government for the time being,” according to Rocío Johnson, public relations coordinator.
The Ostional Development Association’s 2008 report gives detailed accounting of the number of eggs harvested and the various uses by the community of the money remaining after the membership’s 70 percent share is doled out.

Conspicuously absent is any discussion of the number of turtles that came that year. Accurate monitoring of the seven kilometers of nesting beach would require carefully designed techniques during a large wave of turtles, many of whom lay at night.

The right to harvest turtle eggs is restricted to the 260 members of the association, registered as a cooperative. Membership is not automatic and different numbers of individuals in the same families are included.  This results in some households getting a larger share than others, and this apparently is a cause of friction.

Another benefit of cooperative membership is the opportunity to be a guide for tourists. The cooperative in its own information sheet mentions prices, while complaining that a small group of guides associated with the environmental ministry office also offer guiding services. This is described as another source of friction with the government, which allegedly takes advantage of the local efforts “without contributing anything to the community.”

This friction is similar to a situation at Parque Nacional Carara near Jacó where a cooperative of local guides attempted to monopolize the park and used the park’s own headquarters as their base. They even attempted to illegally enforce rules on visitors. That blatant attempt to usurp public property for private gain was eventually quashed. In this case it was the local cooperative that took over the ministry’s facilities, while in Ostional apparently a group considered to be outsiders has set up camp.

The Ostional cooperative’s guides are also responsible for beach cleanups. The groups do regular cleanups of beach trash and driftwood that might interfere with nesting or the escape of hatchling turtles to the sea. Vegetation encroaching on the beach itself is cut back.

Some sources have suggested the photos in the hoax e-mail originated with a September 2009 article in the newspaper Al Día, which focused entirely on the people involved and not at all on the turtles. None of the photos in the two sets is identical, but several individual men carrying bags of eggs appear to be the same.

Top U.S. Latin diplomat planning to visit here Wednesday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The main U.S. diplomat for Latin America is coming to
Costa Rica Wednesday. He is  Arturo A. Valenzuela, who holds the office of assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

The State Department made the announcement Monday and said that Valenzuela also would visit Managua, Nicaragua, Thursday and Friday. In each country, he will meet with government officials and political, business, and civil society leaders to discuss bilateral and regional issues such as our cooperation to promote democratic governance, citizen safety, inclusive economic opportunity, energy security, and climate change, the
Arturo A. Valenzuela
department said.
There probably is no relation between the visit and the near confrontation this weekend between the Nicaraguan army and heavily armed Costa Rican tactical squad members over the weekend. The dispute involved dredging in the Río San Juan. However, the topic is certain to come up.

Valenzuela held a diplomatic post under former president Bill Clinton and he is known to be a strong proponent of democracy.

He holds the job that Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., held under the George Bush administration. Shannon was a frequent visitor to Costa Rica. He moved on to become the U.S. ambassador in Brazil.

Valenzuela is the son of Methodist missionaries, and he was born in Chile. He is multi-lingual. He was a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, the same school that President Laura Chinchilla attended.

The State Department said that for regular updates on this trip, those interested can follow Valenzuela’s Twitter feed @WHAAsstSecty.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 211

Environmental panel expects record number of complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo expects to get about 600 formal complaints of environmental damage by the end of the year.

The agency is extrapolating from the 421 complaints that have been received by the end of August, it said. The tribunal, which adjudicates cases of environmental damage, said that the provinces of Puntarenas, San José, Limón and Alajuela are the ones with the most cases.

The number of cases received by the end of August are equal to all the cases handled in 2009, the tribunal said.

The province of Puntarenas is in first place with 115 open cases, the agency said. The province runs down the Pacific coast to Panamá. There are 90 open files for San José, 72
for Limón and 63 complaints in Alajuela.

As expected in areas where there is construction, the
cantons of Osa and Golfito in the south of the province of Puntarenas have 115 complaints, more than half of the total.

In Puntarenas province alone there are 18 investigations over the destruction, invasion or damage to mangroves.

The tribunal published a list by province of all the open complaints but unlike previous reports, the summary did not include the names of possible violators.

Some persons named by the tribunal in the past objected because they said that the case was either flimsy, incorrect or already resolved.

Typical complaints involve cutting trees, chemical pollution, invasion of a protected zone around a river, stream or water source, extraction of minerals illegally, poorly functioning treatment plants and moving soil without permission.

The tribunal has the power to assess fines and penalties for environmental damage and does so frequently.

U.N. agency warns of risks associated with biofuels

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Sources of energy derived from biological sources may reduce global dependence on fossil fuels that emit harmful gases, but they entail the use of large volumes of water and pose the risk of introducing undesirable crops into ecosystems, the U. N. Environment Programme warned in a report released Monday. The report, Accessing Biofuels,” recommends new planning and management approaches to balance the beneficial effects of the production of biofuels – which do not produce gases associated with climate change – with their environmental and social consequences.

“There is no doubt that we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly options,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the program. “But we need to make sure we are not creating more problems than we solve.

“Biofuel production has risks and opportunities. We need to examine all the risks, so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities for emissions cuts, for new green jobs, and for raising the standards of living for some of the world’s poorest communities,” Steiner said.

According to the report, bioenergy development can have an impact on biodiversity on a number of levels, including directly through land-use change, the introduction of potentially invasive species for use in biofuel production, the overuse of water, and indirectly by pushing agricultural production into previously high-value conservation areas.
The agency cites research which shows that 2 per cent or 44 cubic kilometers of the global water withdrawals for irrigation are being used for bioenergy production, and notes that if current bioenergy standards and targets are fully implemented, a further 180 cubic kilometers of irrigation water would be needed.

The water demand would create additional pressure on water resources and potentially have an effect on food production and water supplies, especially in areas already experiencing water shortages, the report says..

In an issue paper published in the report, the agency argues that while many of the currently available biofuels are produced from existing food crops, some of the plant species being considered for advanced biofuels are potentially invasive.

The agency notes that the very qualities that make these plants ideal for biofuels – fast growth, ability to outperform local vegetation, abundant seed production, tolerance of and adaptability to a range of soil and climatic conditions, resistance to pests and diseases and lack of predators – mean they could become invasive in a given landscape.

Invasive species can cause serious damage to the environment, local livelihoods and economies, according to the report.  It was released at the 10th conference of parties to U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity that is currently under way in the Japanese city of Nagoya.

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U.S. income gap widens
with middle class erosion

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate an unprecedented income gap between the richest and poorest Americans. Those figures are causing concern among social workers. The disparity could have an impact on the overall well-being of American society.

"How'd you get so Rich" is the name of a cable TV program, starring comedienne Joan Rivers, that shows how some Americans got their wealth and what they have done with it. "Not one person that we interviewed did not have a great work ethic.  These people do not say, 'Boo-hoo, poor me, it is a recession and I cannot do it,'" she said.

There are no programs, however, called, "How'd You Get So Poor?"  Only statistics. 

The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate the number of Americans in poverty is the highest in more than half a century.  At the same time, the Census Bureau says, the income gap between the rich and poor in the United States has been widening in recent years, reaching the greatest disparity ever in 2009. 

Economists say the recession is among the reasons for the growing ranks of the poor.  The director of the non-governmental National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Henry Freedman, says erosion of the middle class is another. "The elimination of most of those jobs that people could get in factories, our factories are not there so much anymore.  Other kinds of clerical work that is either being outsourced or is being replaced by technology that does it efficiently.  Those people are competing with people below them for work," he said.

Robert Hawkins, a New York University professor of social work, says people in impoverished areas lack some of the fundamental opportunities enjoyed by the rich. "What we have there are people who did not and do not have opportunities.  So those folks cannot get an education, and so, what happens?  They cannot get a job," he said.

Hawkins says those caught in poverty cannot count on networking with equally poor friends or neighbors for opportunities, because none of them have any.  This, he adds, creates a vicious cycle of crime, teen pregnancy, chronic illness and early death.

Freedman says America's growing income gap could create a two-tiered society that loses its sense of community. "People struggling to get by, struggling to survive on the one hand, susceptible to demagoguery; and people on the other hand who put their resources to be separate from society, safe from society rather than participating fully in society," he said.

Hawkins says the erosion of the middle class could affect the quality of those people the middle class has traditionally produced to teach, to enforce laws, to take care of the sick, and whose services also benefit the rich. 

The professor says the wealthy have increasing political influence in America, not because they are gaming the system, but because the poor are not using it to full advantage. "If low-income people want more political power, they have got to organize, they have got to vote.  That is the best and probably the only way," he said.

Hawkins says education and health are issues that need to be addressed to help the poor over the long term.  What is needed immediately, he says, is renewed spending by both rich and poor alike, because money in circulation is what helps create jobs. 

The problem, Hawkins notes, is that the poor have nothing to spend, and the rich have yet to overcome fears of economic uncertainty caused by the global economic recession.

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Tourism drivers get a week
to review new regulations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Consejo de Transporte Público will take a week to come up with changes in regulations that cover what are being called special transports or servicio de porteo. Many are drivers who work in tourism.

A decree appeared in the La Gaceta official newspaper Oct. 15 tightening the controls of the central government over such workers. The drivers engaged in slow-moving protests Monday and eventually met with transport ministry officials.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the rule that each driver must have a contract with those who are being carried will not be waived.

In addition the vehicles involved must be approved by the consejo and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The drivers argued that under the rules set down Oct. 15 only big corporations would be able to do the work.

Casa Presidencial and the ministry appear to have failed to obtain input from the drivers before issuing the changes.

Police officer is held
as member of drug ring

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug agents detained a Fuerza Pública officer Monday as they cracked down on a group of suspects in southern Costa Rica. The suspects are accused of being in the business of moving drugs through the country, and the police officer is said to be someone who provided the rest with information like the location of police checkpoints.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the business was moving cocaine from Paso Canoas to San José. They said they detained six women and two men.  Six homes were raided. The case is linked to the discovery Oct. 16 of some 17 kilos of cocaine in the fuel tank of a vehicle that was stopped in Atenas, said agents.

Agents said they think that the organization moved from 20 to 40 kilos of cocaine a week.

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