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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 218            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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kills 20,
crushes homes
in Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted at 1:05 p.m.

In Escazú 20 persons died early today in Calle Lajas, Barrio El Carmen as a result of a landslide provoked by the rainy weather.

The Cruz Roja said that there were 27 homes affected, 12 of them destroyed and that 16 bodies have been recovered. The slide took place at what is know as Cerro Chaparral.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the dead were eight women, six men and six children.

Earlier story HERE!

When the neighboring country acts like a  precarista
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is facing a problem similar to that experienced by many landowners here. Someone has moved onto the property and will not leave.

When that happens to a Costa Rican or expat property owner, one option is always force. A goon squad can beat up land thieves and tear down their temporary structures.

Not having an army required Costa Rica to reject that course of action. Instead, the country has chosen to carry its complaint to the Organization of American States, much like the landowner who files a court case to get rid of the boundary intruder.

Such prolonged legal disputes usually work in favor of the property thief because it is easy to erect seeming legitimate reasons.

In Costa Rica land invaders frequently say the owner was not using the land, so they should be allowed to erect homes. On the Isla Calero, Nicaragua could say the same thing and coat their statements with legal claims.

When a squatter or precarista takes over land in Costa Rica, there usually is an economic motive far greater than a place to live. Seaside properties have skyrocketed in value and prompted waves of invasions.

Some expats have been fighting legally for years against invaders who hope to sell out for big bucks.

The Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, and his dredging master, Eden Pastora, must also have a major economic motive, perhaps for some kind of development near the mouth of the Río San Juan. 

So the Nicaraguans, even with a blatantly false claim, have taken the land by force of arms and plan to prolong and complicate the legal processes.

Costa Rican foreign minster René Castro found out Wednesday that the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States was divided along ideological lines with leftist governments favoring Nicaragua. The Permanent Council might end up doing nothing when it reconvenes today or it might craft a compromise giving part of the land to Nicaragua. Castro asked that all Nicaraguan troops leave Costa Rican soil.

Castro also wants the hemispheric body to impanel
a commission to visit and study the geography and rival land claims.

Meanwhile, President Laura Chinchilla, criticized by some because she kept a low profile, went on television Wednesday night to call the Nicaraguan military intrusion a grave violation of sovereignty and said the claims by the Nicaraguans were only words without foundation. She said maps from both countries prove that the island is Costa Rican.

"We have a grand challenge to act against this aggression with prudence and good sense," said the president. "Our instruments are dialogue and international law with which we are acting."

The president also made reference to the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans who are living legally and illegally in Costa Rica. She said she promised them respect.

Wednesday the Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States, Denis Moncada, rejected that body's power to adjudicate a territorial claim. Ortega said he wanted to take the matter to the World Court in the Hague where other San Juan river disputes have been settled. That is a long process. Meanwhile, he said Tuesday in Managua, the dredging operations on the river would continue.

The dredging is designed to open a new mouth of the river through Costa Rican land to create rapid access to the river, which is on the border between the two countries. The existing final 30 kilometers of the river meanders and doubles back on itself.

Nicaraguan legal experts were quoted in that country's press Wednesday saying that Costa Rica is using the territorial dispute as a way to stop the dredging of the river. Other Nicaraguan officials have claims that Costa Rica is conspiring with Colombia and others to assert invalid claims.

Castro presented his case Wednesday evening on "CNN en Español." The network said it tried to reach Moncada for his side of the story but could not.

Also Wednesday the Nicaraguan legislature called upon Ortega not to stop the dredging or withdraw its troops from the disputed land, according to Nicaraguan press reports. The legislature also voted to hold a future session near the disputed island.

The Organization of American States session is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m.

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Foreign direct investment
recovers for Latin America

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean recovered significantly in 2010 with regard to the drop in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis.

According to new data released by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, direct investment to 11 of the region's economies grew 16.4 percent during the first semester of 2010 in comparison to the same period last year. This increase totaled over $7 billion, rising from $43.2 billion in 2009 to $50.3 billion this year.

Latin American and Caribbean investment abroad grew strongly, jumping from $5.5 billion in the first semester of 2009 to $20.8 billion in the same period this year, the commission said.

Based on these results, the commission said it estimates that foreign direct investment will rise moderately in 2010, but will fall short of the record levels seen in 2007 and 2008.

The increase in foreign direct investment is due in the first place to the economic stability and growth in most countries of the region. In South America, the high prices of prime materials have continued to encourage investment flows to mining and hydrocarbons. Added to this are the recovery of world trade and the improved outlook for international financial markets, the commission said.

Foreign direct investment to Mexico in 2010 showed signs of a significant recovery, as in Chile and Peru. In Central America, investments to the two main recipients in the subregion, Costa Rica and Panama, also grew with regard to 2009.

During the first semester of 2010, Brazil continued to be the region's prime foreign direct investment recipient, with flows reaching $17.1 billion. This is largely explained by the strong interest in investing in traditional activities and emerging sectors (oil prospecting and ethanol production), as well as loan payments from Brazilian subsidiaries of multinational corporations to company headquarters.

Our reader's opinion
Viewer says he's unhappy
with service from Amnet

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read the recent article in A.M. Costa Rica about Amnet's new program packages and fees with the usual disdain I reserve for national monopolies that continually and unapologetically provide lousy service to their customers.

What remains the same:

(1) Every month the US networks, CBS, NBC and ABC go off the air. Usually they're blacked out for 2-3 days. As of right now, 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, they've been off the air for 82 hours and counting.

(2) Various non-network channels regularly have sound/picture problems or go off the air for days at a time. In the seven years I've used the cable services, (previously owned by another company) I can't remember a time when all channels were available and unaffected by technical glitches.

(3) Even moderate climatic disruptions interrupt programming.

(4) When the cable goes out it stays out for hours on end because Amnet doesn't keep spare parts or enough personnel on call to get the problems fixed in a timely fashion.

(5)  American movies are consistently censored and overdubbed. (Only in Latin America would the censors find fault with "My Stepmother is An Alien!").

What's new:

(1) Channel 29, "The Movie Channel," used to show English language movies in English during prime time. Now they broadcast exclusively in Spanish.

(2) Channel 36 "CineMax" never used to show overdubbed movies. Now they show them all day. Only in the evening are the movies available in English. The same is true of Channel 38, "CineCanal," more overdubbed movies than ever before.

(3) Turner Classic Movies, CineCanal and Cinemax never used to interrupt programming. Movies were shown straight through with no interruptions. Now all of these movie channels interject commercials for their new program packages into the movies.

So it seems that Amnet wants us to pay more for less than what we've been getting, which was of poor quality to begin with. And that's what you get when the government awards monopolies to companies who don't understand the concept of excellence in business. (And yes, I know, I could get a satellite dish, but I have too many trees around my house and I'm not about to cut down a tree to that end.)
Dean Barbour
Manuel Antonio
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, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 218

Latigo K-9

San José plans a world record swing criollo dance class
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The municipality of San José will try to get in the Guinness World Records with the largest dance class of swing criollo ever.

The event will take up four blocks of Paseo Colón Nov. 21, starting at 10 a.m., and municipal officials expect 3,000 dancers to show up.

Paseo Colón already has been the scene of an attempt to cook the world record order of gallo pinto. Periodically Costa Rican organizations promote world record events, such as the largest cheese.

Recent Guinness listings include the Largest human awareness ribbon and the longest marathon static cycling in other parts of the world.

A summary from the municipality said that swing criollo, a Costa Rican dance, has been listed as an intangible world heritage contribution. Professionals are expected to teach the swing Criollo class for about three hours. Those participating will be expected to sign in so that a list of names can be notarized and sent to Guinness, said the municipality.

A sound system will carry music throughout the four blocks, the municipality said. Participation is free, but a collection will be taken for the Asociación de Lucha Contra el Cáncer Infantil.

Swing criollo comes from the swing tradition of the pre-World War II big band performances and jitterbug. In Costa Rica, historians say that swing originally was banned for being too vulgar. However, swing criollo has taken its place with other Latin dances. Examples on Internet videos show techniques far more athletic than salsa and at twice the speed.

There's plenty of rain, flooding, refugees and road damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain just will not quit.

The automatic weather station at Tobias Bolaños airport reported at 2 a.m. that 114.3 millimeters (4.5 inches) of rain had fallen since 7 a.m. Wednesday. That is on top of 52.3 millimeters (2 inches) that fell between 7 a.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday. Of course, compared to rainfalls of more than 15 inches in Quepos, during the same period, the Pavas totals are not a record.

However, there was flooding in lower spots in the Central Valley, including Los Anonos. There were homes flooded and people forced to seek shelter elsewhere.

The metro area had a break during the afternoon, but rains resumed about 7 p.m. and peaked at 11 p.m.

Tomas, which had returned to tropical storm status, continues to move north and west. Weather experts expect it to make a sharp turn and threaten Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba within the next 48 hours.

It was a combination of Tomas and a low pressure area that generated the heavy rains since Wednesday. Conditions are expected to remain unchanged through Friday, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional

The Dirección General de Policia de Tránsito reported a number of road problems. Most are unchanged since an A.M. Costa Rica update at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The agency maintains a Web page that lists road closures.

The Interamericana Norte is open but there are one-lane sections due to road damage and slides. The Interamericana Sur is closed at Kilometer 29 about three kilometers from Pérez Zeledón due to a slide. It also is closed at Térraba at Kilometer 220, at Kilometer 235 between Buenos Aires and Peje and at Kilometer248 at Bergel, all due to slides.

An editor made the trip from La Fortuna to San José at the peak of the storms Wednesday night and arrived about 11:30 p.m. without major incidents.

The Costanera Sur still is closed south of Dominical due to road damage, and there are damaged roads all over the country.

In the canton of Osa, there is a road closure between Puerto Jiménez and Chacarita due to a slide.

The roadway gave way between Quepos and Manuel Antonio earlier Wednesday, and officials said it would take several days to fix it.

Much of the flooding is in places where residents face the problem several times a year. Parrita appears to be the hardest hit with the Río Parrita running out of its banks and around and over dikes designed to control it.

There may be as many as 700 persons in shelters early Thursday due to flooded homes. An exact count was not available.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 218

Another Escazú phone scammer sentenced to U.S. prison

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Miami federal court judge has sentenced Donald Williams in connection with a series of Costa Rica-based business opportunity fraud ventures, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke sentenced Williams to a term of 78 months in prison and a term of five years of supervised release. Williams also was ordered to pay $3.9 million in restitution to victims of the scheme.

Williams pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud June 29. He was arrested in Houston on May 7 following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Miami March 9. The indictment charged that Williams and his co-defendants, Silvio Carrano, Patrick Williams and Gregory Fleming, conspired with others in Costa Rica to fraudulently sell beverage and greeting card business opportunities to U.S. citizens. The business opportunities purportedly included assistance in establishing, maintaining and operating the ventures.

The charges form part of the government’s continued nationwide crackdown on business opportunity fraud. Two co-conspirators who worked with Williams in Costa Rica, Stephen Schultz and Dilraj Mathauda, previously pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami and were sentenced in related cases. Charges against Williams’ codefendants, as well as those against defendants Jeffrey Pearson and Sirtaj Mathauda in the related cases, remain pending.

The Department of Justice gave this explanation:

In pleading guilty, Williams admitted that he worked for fraudulent companies known as USA Beverages Inc., Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee Inc. and Cards-R-Us Inc. Beginning in 2005, USA Beverages sold business opportunities to own and operate coffee beverage display racks. USA Beverages rented office space in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and otherwise made it appear to potential purchasers that USA Beverages’ operations were fully within the United States. However, USA Beverages actually operated from Costa Rica, either Escazú or Sabana Sur.
After USA Beverages, Williams worked for Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee Inc., which was a Florida and Colorado corporation. Twin Peaks also sold business opportunities to own and operate coffee beverage sale display racks. Twin Peaks rented office space in Fort Collins, Colorado, to make it appear to potential purchasers that Twin Peaks’ operations were fully within the United States. However, Twin Peaks was actually operated from the same Costa Rican locations.

Williams later worked for Cards-R-Us Inc., which was a Nevada corporation that sold business opportunities to own and operate greeting card sale display racks. Cards-R-Us rented office space in Reno, Nevada, to make it appear to potential purchasers that Cards-R-Us’ operations were fully within the United States. However, like USA Beverages and Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee, Cards-R-Us was actually operated from Costa Rica.

Williams admitted that he and his co-conspirators made numerous false statements to potential purchasers of the business opportunities. Williams and other salesmen falsely told potential purchasers that the companies were established years earlier, had a significant number of distributors across the country, and had a record of success.

Posing as references purportedly living in various cities in the United States, Williams and other conspirators told false tales of their success as business opportunity owners. Through these and other misrepresentations, the conspirators led purchasers to believe that they likely would earn substantial profits.

"Scam artists who engage in schemes like this one cause major financial hardship for consumers who are trying to start a business and earn an honest living," said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "Business opportunity fraud is a serious crime that we will pursue aggressively, as this prison sentence demonstrates."

West also commended the Federal Trade Commission, which previously brought a related civil suit and made a criminal referral.

Conference on innovation begins today in San José

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Organization of American States will hold today and Friday in San José a dialogue titled, "Intellectual Property Rights to Foster Innovation and Competitiveness," in which 200 people are expected to participate, including researchers, scholars, businessmen, artisans and government officials from 15 countries of the Americas. The event is organized within the framework of the First National Conference on Innovation 2010, or "CR Innova.”

The event was co-organized by the hemispheric organization, the Centre for the Management of Intellectual Property in Agriculture at the University of California-Davis, and the University-Business NEXO Commission of Costa Rica’s Consejo nacional de Rectores. The objective is to promote intellectual property as a tool to boost innovation, productivity, and competitiveness in Latin America and the Caribbean, said a news release. It also
seeks to foster more favorable public policies and encourage the compilation and exchange of experiences about the effective use of intellectual property, the organization said. Experts and entrepreneurs who have employed intellectual property strategies and tools in their business models will join the panels.

The organization said that according to the Global Competitiveness Report, countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are at the bottom of the global competitiveness ranking, in large part due to low levels of innovation. Countries in the region are on average at position 91 of 133 nations with respect to rates of innovation. Low levels of innovation, productivity and competitiveness affect economic growth, job creation, and consequently people’s incomes and quality of life.

The event is at the Consejo Nacional de Rectores, the Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz Building, in Pavas.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 218

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Perennial grasses eyed
to trap carbon from air

By the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
news service

A blade of grass destined to be converted into biofuel may join energy efficiency and other big-ticket strategies in the effort to reduce atmospheric carbon.

In addition to offsetting fossil-fuel emissions, a potential bioenergy plant such as the grass Miscanthus could also snare carbon from the atmosphere and trap it in the soil for millennia.

Miscanthus, a potential feedstock for biofuel, could pull double duty in the fight against climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil for thousands of years.

Sounds promising. But should scientists genetically engineer bioenergy crops to be better at ridding the atmosphere of the greenhouse gas? And can this strategy take place on the scale needed to mitigate climate change?

These questions are framed in a new analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Christer Jansson and researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their research, published in the October issue of Bioscience, explores ways in which bioenergy crops can become a big player in the drive to rein in rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The authors hope to get others thinking about engineering plants to not only produce biofuel, but to also sequester carbon.

“We want to encourage discussion and research on this topic,” says Jansson, a senior staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and lead author of the analysis. “We need to explore the extent to which plants, and specifically genetically engineered plants, can reduce levels of atmospheric carbon.”

The conversation has already started. Scientific American and other news outlets and blogs have published articles on the team’s analysis since it was published a few weeks ago.

At the heart of the scientists’ analysis is the idea that bioenergy crops can fight climate change in two ways. There’s the obvious way, in which a plant’s cellulosic biomass is converted into a carbon-neutral transportation fuel that displaces fossil fuels. And the not-so obvious way: bioenergy crops also take in atmospheric carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and send a significant amount of the carbon to the soil via roots. Carbon from plant biomass can also be incorporated into soil as a type of charcoal called biochar. Either way, the captured carbon could be out of circulation for millennia.

At stake is the urgent need to make a dent in the nine billion tons of carbon that human activities emit into the atmosphere each year. Natural processes such as plant photosynthesis annually capture about three billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

“We could double that in the next several decades,” says Jansson. “By 2050, we could get to five or six gigatons of carbon removed from the atmosphere by plants, and I think a major part of that could come from bioenergy crops like grasses and trees. They could make a big contribution in sequestering carbon, but other strategies will have to be used.” (one gigaton is one billion tons)

Berkeley Lab's Jansson hopes to get scientists thinking about new ways to use bioenergy crops to fight climate change.

As Jansson explains, to increase the capacity for plants to act as carbon sinks, scientists need to continue to develop bioenergy crops that are efficient in harvesting light energy and using the energy to convert carbon dioxide to biomass. Bioenergy crops should also have a high capacity to send the carbon it captures to its roots, where it has the best chance to be stored in soil for thousands of years.

Fortunately, top bionergy crop candidates, such as Miscanthus, are already better-than-average carbon sinks. The large root systems in perennials such as grasses make them better at sequestering carbon in biomass and soil than annual plants.

But can bioenergy crops become even better? Jansson and colleagues outline several possibilities in their analysis. A plant’s canopy can be altered to enhance its efficiency at intercepting sunlight. Another approach accelerates a plant’s photoprotection mechanisms, which would improve its ability to use light. And a plant’s tolerances to various stresses could be improved without compromising yield.

A game-changing success, Jansson explains, could be the design of a bioenergy crop that can withstand drought and which utilizes brine, saline wastewater, or seawater for irrigation to avoid having to tap into freshwater supplies. Jansson suggests that genetic engineering can play a key role in introducing these traits into a plant.

“Bionergy crops are likely to be engineered anyway,” he says. “It makes sense to also consider enhancing their ability to withstand stress and sequester carbon. This analysis will hopefully guide research and prompt people to think in new ways about bioenergy crops.”

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California.  It conducts unclassified scientific research.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 218

Latin American news
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Cartago university starts
nanotechnology program

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica announced a new academic option Wednesday. Students now can choose nanotechnology.

The Cartago-based public university becomes the first in Central America to offer this program. The training is based on engineering with heavy mathematics. There also is a segment on intellectual property so that nano discoveries and creations can be patented.

The university has invested $1 million in equipment and infrastructure for the program, it said. The program is being supported by a number of well-known industrial firms, mostly international.

Tilarán artist presents
his works Saturday

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The exposition "Begin Anew," by Kéyer Segura. opens Saturday at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery  just west of the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia.

The gallery said that Segura lives in Tilarán and is an architect and graduate of the Universidad de Costa Rica. He participated in classes by the late Chilean artist Juan Bernal Ponce and Spanish architect Nicolás Belcic, said the gallery, adding: "His work transports us to a magic world of abstracts and design." This is the first time in more than 10 years of artistic work that Kéyner presents a collection of over 20 paintings, the gallery said..

López campaign to caravan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters of Óscar López for mayor of San José plan a campaign caravan Saturday from San Francisco de Dos Rios through the entire central canton of San José, they said. The campaign invited supporters to join in.

López of the Partido de Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión is a former legislative deputy. His opponent is longtime mayor Johnny Araya.

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