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(506) 2223-1327         Posted Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 217            E-mail us
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Country staggers under as much as 15 inches of rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 3 p.m.
Overnight rains brought flooding, slide and other problems to nearly the entire country. Some 468 persons were in shelters and some roads were closed.

Tomas, which has been downgraded to a tropical depression,  moved slightly north and is starting to reorganize, said the U.S. Nacional Hurricane Center, based on a U.S. Air Force flyover at 1 p.m. Maximum sustained winds are 35 mph (55 kph)

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional reported overnight rains in the Central Valley of from between 40 to 75 millimeter (1.6 to 2.75 inches) and from  200 to 390 millimeters (7.9 to 15.3 inches) on the Pacific coast with the highest amount in the central Pacific. On the Caribbean coast and the northern zone accumulated rainfall was reported to be from 30 to 40 millimeters (1.2 to 1.6 inches).

A reader near Dominical confirmed the incredible 15 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 5 a.m. on top of the 3.3 inches in the previous 24 hours.

The weather institute predicted more intermittent rain today and said the following were areas of continued possible flooding:

The Nicoya peninsula, Santa Elena, Esparza, Barranca, Jacó, Herradura, Parrita, Tárcoles, Quepos, Dominical, San Isidro del General, Puerto Cortez, Palmar Norte, Golfito and Puerto Jiménez.

The majority of those forced from their homes were in the Quepos area, said the national emergency commission. That section of the central Pacific coast was the most affected, officials said.
The meteorology institute said the rainy weather would continue through Thursday.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the highway agency, said workers were trying to reopen national roads at Cerro de la Muerte, at Monte de Aguacate, between Quepos and Manuel Antonio, in Parrita, at Jacó and the stretch between Zarcero and San Carlos.

At Cerro de la Muerte in the  Painer sector, the agency said a major slide closed the road. The Interamericana Sur also was closed in several spots south of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.

Vehicles were using an alternate route as a slide blocked passage between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. The agency said several days would be needed to clear this spot.

Between Zarcero and San Carlos the agency already had heavy machinery at work clearing a previous slide, so workers quickly reopened the road partly.

Ruta 32, the San José-Limón highway remained open but the possibility exists that the stretch through the Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo will be closed if the weather worsens, the agency said. The slide potential is high. A road between Puriscal and Parrita also is closed.

A bridge over the  Río La Penca in San Rafael de Guatuso collapsed, but highway authorities are blaming a truck loaded with wood that snagged part of the span instead of the weather.

Both the Interamericana Norte and the Autopista del Sol were reported to be operating normally.

Earllier sotry HERE

Costa Rica prepares to present its case today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica goes to the Organization of American States today seeking hemispheric pressure to reclaim land occupied by Nicaraguan soldiers. But already the president of Nicaragua has discounted the role of the Washington, D.C.-based international organization.

The president, Daniel Ortega, told reporters in Managua Tuesday that the Organization of American States was not competent to decide international boundaries, according to the La Prensa newspaper there. Instead, Ortega suggested that the matter be referred to the World Court in the Hague.

In the meantime, he said, the river dredging operation will continue.

Costa Rica officials are preparing documents and maps to present to the organization's  Permanent Council in the hopes that the council will appoint a commission to study the situation and visit the area. There are representatives of 33 countries on the council, including ambassadors from Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia, nations that are predisposed to favor Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan strategy seems very much like the old Costa Rican adage that "It is better to seek forgiveness afterwards than permission before." By the time any international body takes any action, significant work would have been accomplished on the river.

Nicaragua is trying to put through a new main channel for the Río San Juan to avoid the meandering path of the first 30 kilometers of the river from the Caribbean.  This is designed to improve access, but residents in Costa Rica's Barra del Colorado on the Río Colorado fear the work will greatly reduce the flow in their river.

The Río Colorado really is a second mouth for the Río San Juan but totally in Costa Rica.

The Permanent Council's meeting today will be aired on the organizations Web site. It begins at 10:30 a.m. eastern daylight time.

Meanwhile, reports from Barra del Colorado said that two boatloads of heavily armed Costa Rica policemen left that community Tuesday afternoon. One went upriver and another went into the Caribbean Sea.

Costa Rican television had two cameramen approach the disputed area on the Isla Calero. They photographed Nicaraguan troops standing guard. The security ministry also released air shots of Nicaraguan soldiers and a camp they set up on Isla Calero

José María Tijerino, the security minister, has said that he did not have armed police occupy the disputed area last week because he did not want a confrontation with Nicaraguan soldiers. He said he feared bloodshed.

Ortega said that the military operation on the  Finca Aragón on the island was to combat the
Rio San Juan
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Map shows how the Río San Juan meanders and why Nicaragua would want to create a more direct route to the sea.

Nicaraguan shack
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública
Nicaragua soldier keeps watch from a rickety tower while other troops are seen in and around the shack on the Isla Calero. This photos ran as a larger size for part of Tuesday's edition.

drug trade, according to La Prensa.

Nicaragua has had more than a week to get its story straight. Last Oct. 22 Eden Pastora, the former guerrilla in charge of the dredging operations, was overheard on the marine radio band identifying the location where river sediment was being expelled by the dredge as Costa Rican land. Now his story is that the land really is Nicaragua, according to his words in a Nicaraguan television appearance.

Ortega is making much of the presence of the heavily armed police who in dress and armament are indistinguishable from soldiers.  Costa Rica prides itself on having abolished the army in 1948, but Ortega has repeatedly called the armed police troops. as has A.M. Costa Rica.

For most of its course the south bank of the river is the international border. But Nicaragua is expected to argue that this rule does not hold true as the river nears the sea. It will be basing its arguments on 19th and early 20th century treaties.

Costa Rica recently received a ruling from the World Court after prolonged litigation over the right of its citizens to use the river for transportation without paying fees to Nicaragua.

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If celebrities won't sell,
industry is in deep trouble

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Everyone knows that The New York Times and other paper-based publications are in trouble, but now comes shocking news.

The parent company of the National Enquirer is planning to seek federal bankruptcy protection.

Printing on paper really is on the way out if a newspaper cannot make a living by pandering to the base tastes of the American public.

The Enquirer (not to be confused with a distinguished paper with the same name in Cincinnati) based its reporting on celebrities and a lot of people who were near celebrities. They were based in Boca Raton, Florida, and paid employees handsomely, particularly if they could come up with the next earthshaking scoop on a pregnant starlet.

The media empire's downhill slide probably started in 2007 when it closed The Weekly World News. That was the publication where the Men in Black got all their information about aliens.

The supermarket tabloids did some serious  reporting, but not The Weekly World News. So it was harder to write for that publication because it was filled with fiction not news. The  New York Daily news announced the bankruptcy filing of the parent company, American Media Inc.  It said the firm also published  Star, Men's Fitness, Shape and Fit Pregnancy.

The bankruptcy petition does not mean the publications will fold. American Media seems to want to take on its creditors as business partners in exchange for eliminating its debt. Considering the current trend among struggling newspapers, it also could emerge as a non-profit corporation. Perhaps then it would bring back The Weekly World News and its Bat Boy, captured aliens and columnist Ed Anger.

The Daily News said that American Media was suffering from Internet competition. In fact, an entrepreneur already purchased the Weekly World News online rights and it publishing on the Internet, Bat Boy and all.

Visiting U.S. director
to lead concert band

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cynthia Johnston Turner, director of Cornell University's Wind Ensemble, will be the guest conductor for two concerts by the  Banda de Conciertos de San José. One is Friday in the Catedral Metropolitana at 6 p.m. and Saturday in the  Iglesia de Barrio México at 7:30 p.m.

Professor  Johnston Turner is a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and often brings the university musicians here.

The weekend events are sponsored by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud and the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical.

Among the works on the program at "The thunderer, the John Philip Sousa march, and "Las Campanas" by Steven Michael Gryc.

Horses will be on parade
in Ciudad Quesada Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Comité Auxiliar de la Cruz Roja in Ciudad Quesada plans a tope or horse parade Sunday in that community. The goal is to raise money for the committee and to honor two long-time members,  Carlos Zamora Acuña, who has served 42 years and Ademar Trejos Pérez for his 33 years.

The event was organized by the Caballistas de San Carlos in honor of Alberto Rodríguez Baldì, owner of the  Hotel Baldi Hot Springs Aguas Termales.

The entry fee is 10,000 colons, about $20, which will go to the volunteer committee.

Riders will start in  Barrio San Roque north of the city and parade through the center passing the municipal building and the Roman Catholic church, said organizers.

Autopista plan being studied

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A definite plan for repair of a landslide on the Autopista del Sol is not expected until next week. The highway now has two bailey bridges in place carrying traffic over the locations of the slide. The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones said it needs the time so its experts can study the proposal put forth by the concession holder. The trouble spot is at Kilometer 47.

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, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 217

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Survey uncovers where to find the lowest food prices
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economics ministry has shown once again that it pays to shop around.

This time the ministry's consumer agency shopped around and found differences in prices of basic products as much as 90.5 percent. For example, the agency's shoppers found that 120 grams of tuna in a metal can under the Splash brand cost 630 colons  in Coopro San Vito in San Vito and 1,200 colons in Super Saint Clare in San Sebastián, according to its summary.

Some 400 grams of Coronado powdered milk cost 1,042 colons in Diboyco in Turrialba but 1,970 in Super Economico in Barranca. That's a difference of 89 percent.

The rate of exchange is about 506 to one U.S. dollar,  so 1,970 colons is about $3.89.

The surveyors also reported that they found cases where the shelf price was not the price that the cashier rang up. The survey was from Sept. 7 to 22 and involved pricing 18 specific articles at 104 stores all over the country.

The Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio does a study once every two or three months. Sometimes they are seasonal. A survey of Christmas toy prices probably will be reported next month.

The products surveyed included rice, beans, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, lard, bread, chicken, steak, detergent and toilet paper, as well as the tuna and other items. The surveyors looked for specific brands and sizes.

The stores included most of the  chains as well as smaller operations. In some cases, the surveyors found that prices differed dramatically on the same item in different stores run by the same chain.

By picking the same products, the surveyors added consistency to the study, but there was one problem. Some stores offer a reduced price for those carrying a frequent buyer card. The surveyors reported the price with and without the card.

The best price for all 18 items was at Super Más in Cartago.

The total was 51,655 colons or about $102.08. The next four lowest stores were Coopro San Vita, Palí in San Vito, Super Kefra in Batán and Super Guacimo. The most expensive was not in Escazú or in Los Yoses, as expats might expect. It was the Jumbo in San Antonio de Desamparados. The total there was 61,469 colons or $121.48.

The next four highest were all Megasupers. The cost without a frequent customer card closely followed Jumbo in Batán, Pérez Zeledón and Limón. Even with the card, the Megasuper in Batán was fifth highest.

Stores that were found selling rice at higher than the government established price were reported to the Comisión Nacional de Consumidor for possible action, the ministry said. That also was done with a number of stores that had one price on the shelf and another at the checkout counter, it added. Both practices are violations of the law.

Supermarket pricing is not always consistent because merchants include their rent, a reserve for shoplifting and other variables in the price.

The full report on the survey is available on the ministry's Web site in Spanish.

Tropical storm and low pressure area expected to interact
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's weather experts say that a low pressure system along the Caribbean coast will interact with Tropical Storm Tomas, which still is headed this way, and that heavy rains will last through Thursday in the provinces of Guanacaste and Puntarenas.

Tomas, described as being just barely a tropical storm, is playing chicken with Costa Rica. It continues on a west to northwest path. Forecasters expect the storm to do a sharp right turn and zero in on Haiti and Jamaica.

As of 1 a.m. today the storm was still just north of Colombia in the Caribbean.

The central Pacific coast already as been hit hard. The national emergency commission reported that 152 persons had been placed in three shelters by mid-afternoon. The rains have continued and seemed to strengthen in the early morning.

The commission issued an alert for the Pacific coast and the Central Valley. The Quepos area got 100 millimeters, nearly four inches by midday Tuesday.

The most affected areas were Quepos, Parrita and Jacó on the Central Pacific coast and Santa Cruz on the north Pacific shore of Guanacaste. Some 80 persons were in a shelter at the Escuela de Río Seco in Santa Cruz. Some 22
were children. Other shelters were in Parrita and in Pueblo Nuevo.

Parrita residents were walking around in knee-deep water and many homes were flooded.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias and its local committees were working through the night.

Tomas was reported with sustained winds of 45 mph or 65 kph, according to the U.S. Nacional Hurricane Center. A U.,S. Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft took measurements late Tuesday. The center said forecasters expect the storm to strengthen. The world's eyes are on struggling Haiti where heavy rains would be a disaster for the many earthquake victims still in tents.

Atlantic storms typically make a turn to the north as they approach Costa Rica, which  usually only suffers indirect effects. The hurricane center said it expected this turn within the next 48 hours.

On the central Pacific Coast, workers were expected to continue today trying establish a temporary route around Costanera Sur highway damage at Ventanas between Uvita and Palmar Norte. The Consejo de Vialidad, the highway agency, said that the work could be delayed by heavy rains. The storm generated flooding that washed out a section of drainage pipes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 217

State of nation report notes that 2009 was a crisis year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica was able to avoid much of the effects of the world economic crisis in 2009 but the unequal distribution of income showed  the biggest increase in 10 years and the threats to citizens security were more dangerous.

That is part of the summary of the Estado de la Nación, the 16th annual report on national trends. It was released Tuesday.

The report touches on many aspects of life, including health, education and employment.

The report is full of statistics, and the authors said they drew on more than 200 variables.

One major point was that the informal labor market and the less qualified employees were the ones most affected by the economic crisis.
The report also said that Costa Rica has not exercised sufficient controls over the use of  its natural resources, including underground water.

The document also seeks to assess the workings of the legislature.

Just the summary is 22 pages long.

The  Ministerio de Planificación Nacional y Política Económica was quick to respond. In a statement the ministry outlined specific steps the government had taken to face challenges confronting the country.

But both sources seemed to make clear that the country was defined by the economic crisis during 2009.

The ministry also noted that outside forces impose more complex threats to the country. Cited were arms traffic, narcotrafficking and trafficking in persons.

Brazil's boom is creating an expanded middle class

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil is experiencing its most sustained period of growth ever, with an expanding middle class and social and economic benefits for the poor.

Ruth Hins owns a grocery store and bakery in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Cantagalo, where she used to live. She is one of 35.5 million Brazilians who have moved from humble beginnings into the middle class since 2003. Another 20 million have risen above the poverty level. "I never would have thought of this. I never would have dreamed of this happening," she said.

As most of the world struggles to climb out of a recession, Brazil's $1.3-trillion economy is booming, and now surpasses India and Russia. Its per-capita income is twice that of China, and creative entrepreneurs like Ms. Hins are reaping the benefits

Her father moved the family to Cantagalo from a small town in the northern state of Bahia when she was 12. He bought the property that now houses the store.  "When I got the idea to open a shop, the only thing I had in the cabinet was salt.  So, I started to sell salt," she said.

She quickly moved from selling salt by the kilo to baking bread.  Her store grew to the full grocery store it is today.  She has expanded and opened a produce market next door, where she used to sleep. And there is a full bakery upstairs that runs 24 hours a day.

Ms. Hins sells her baked goods to businesses and restaurants in neighboring Copacabana. Small business loans are difficult to come by in Brazil. Ms. Hins has expanded by leveraging her savings and making smart business decisions.

"The machines to make bread are very expensive. So I
 bought old machines and renovated the old machines to bake bread.  And now I am in the process of replacing the old machines with new ones," she said.

Brazilian economists say the country's success is simple to define. Policies put in place in the 90s to tame runaway inflation worked.  A commodities boom has fueled growth and lowered poverty across Latin America. And aggressive social programs have educated more people and raised living standards.

"Brazil is becoming a normal country in the sense that what is normal is to have kids in school, not to have high inflation, and to have an open economy. So, it is not that we are becoming a developed country. We are just filling the gaps. And there is a long way to go still," said Marcelo Neri, the chief economist for the Center for Social Policy in Rio.

Brazil's economy has created 2.2 million formal jobs in the last nine months, a record for the country. More people with money to spend translates into a better quality of life for business owners like Ruth Hins. She now earns 10,000 reis, the equivalent of $5,800 per month.

She is quickly moving out of the middle to the upper class.

She bought a penthouse apartment on a street bordering the favela and can afford luxury goods such as a refrigerator, cable television, and a washing machine. "It is a dream. It is a dream come true for me. Just to have my own house. You know a lot of people who rent houses don't even have an address. They are always moving from place to place. But I have a house here, I have an address, this is my place," she said.

Now she has new dreams. She wants to go back to school, travel outside of Brazil, and one day open a large grocery store in neighboring Copacabana.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 217

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Freedom House deplores
defamation penalty in Perú

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Freedom House, the independent democracy watchdog, has decried the harsh sentence handed down to Peruvian blogger José Alejandro Godoy, whose conviction on defamation charges resulted in a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 days of community service, and a fine of over $100,000.

The case was brought by a former minister and congressman, Jorge Mufarech, in response to a blog post that referred to alleged instances of corruption by Mufarech. Godoy claimed that he had merely summarized information already publically available, while providing links to more detailed information.

“This harsh sentence serves as a reminder of the ongoing issue of criminalized libel and defamation in Perú and other Latin American countries and sets a bad precedent that could lead to greater self-censorship,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “Such criminalization is incompatible with the obligations to protect freedom of expression contained within the American Convention on Human Rights.”

The case follows a series of threats to freedom of expression in Peru in recent years. Stigmatization of the press by politicians, attacks and intimidation of journalists at the local level, and the closure of radio station La Voz de Bagua in 2009 are among the constraints on press freedom that have contributed to Peru’s score decline in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press survey over the last several years.

The Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House said it hopes that the sentence will be reexamined on appeal. Freedom House called on Peru to decriminalize libel and defamation and act to protect freedom of expression in all its forms, in keeping with its international obligations.

Peru is ranked free in "Freedom in the World 2010," Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and partly free in "Freedom of the Press 2010."

U.N. members adopt
genetic diversity rules

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Member states of the United Nations have adopted a new 10-year global strategy designed to halt the loss of the world biological diversity, with countries agreeing to draft national implementation plans to safeguard genetic resources within two years, a senior U.N. official said Tuesday

Environment ministers from 193 countries attending the two-week conference of parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which ended in the Japanese city of Nagoya Saturday, also adopted a new protocol on the sharing the benefits of the planet’s genetic resources.  

By signing on to the Nagoya Biodiversity Compact, countries agreed on targets to reduce by half the loss of natural habitats and raise nature reserves to 17 per cent of the world’s land area and 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2020, Ahmed Djoghlaf, the convention executive secretary, told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York.  

The voluntary drawing up of the national biological diversity plans is intended to stop over-fishing, reduce pollution, protect coral reefs and reduce the loss of genetic diversity in agricultural ecosystems.  

The strategy includes a resource mobilisation plan which is aimed at raising current levels of development assistance to support projects aimed at conserving biodiversity.  

The protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization stipulates the basic rules on how nations will cooperate in obtaining genetic resources.  

Mr. Djoghlaf described the protocol as one of the most important legal instruments in the history of the environmental protection, saying it would help achieve sustainable development and facilitate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the eight poverty alleviation and social development targets which nations and their partners have agreed to achieve by 2015.  

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 217

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European countries tighten
airline security measures

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

European countries including Britain and Germany have tightened air security measures amid fears about the safety of cargo. 

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May announced new aviation security measures Monday.

"From midnight tonight we will extend the suspension of unaccompanied air freight to this country, not just from Yemen but also Somalia," May said.

Friday, authorities in Britain and the United Arab Emirates discovered two packages carrying the powerful explosive PETN.  They had been sent from Yemen and were addressed to synagogues in the United States.  The package found in Britain had already passed through Dubai and Germany.

Monday, Qatar Airways said another bomb, which was intercepted in Dubai, had traveled as cargo on two passenger flights before being discovered.

May said the new aviation restrictions will be reviewed in the coming weeks.  

"It is based on possible contact between al-Qaida in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia, as well as concern about airport security in Mogadishu," May said.

Britain is not the only country to introduce new aviation security following the bomb scare.  France and the Netherlands have also banned cargo flights originating from Yemen.  Germany has gone a step further and banned all incoming flights from Yemen.

A Yemen official told the country's state-run news agency that Germany's decision was a "collective punishment" against the people of Yemen.

Britain-based security expert Norman Shanks says air cargo has long been a vulnerable point in aviation security. 

"Those of us in the industry were aware of it and it does not take too long for the terrorists to identify those emissions or those loopholes and that is exactly what they have done," Shanks said.

He says technology exists that would have identified the explosives — the same technology, he says, that is used for checked-baggage screening.  He says cargo should go through the same security.

Banning all cargo that arrives from Yemen or Somalia, he says, is not the answer. 

"The terrorist simply has to take their packages across to another country, they do not need to do that by air," Shanks said. "And then ship them out through what is regarded as a potentially safe country."

Earlier this year, the United States introduced a requirement that all cargo loaded onto passenger planes be screened for explosives.  But rules on cargo screening vary around the world.

Late Tuesday, Greece suspended all overseas shipments of mail and packages following a two-day wave of parcel bombs targeting embassies, European leaders and institutions.

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