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(506) 223-1327          Published Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 223        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Friend or foe: A chance encounter at school
. . . Elementary school at Santo Domingo
de Heredia
Too doggone many?
Most dogs are not strays here but are loosely attached to one or more families.
Our report is

A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers          
Home or resting?
. . . Santo Tomas de Heredia

Tourism forum will tackle nation's many challenges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Proponents of ecotourism will be meeting this weekend during a crucial period for the tourist business in Costa Rica.

The country is trying to fix up the roads that have deteriorated or were damaged over the last five years. There is a sense that the country will not be showing a big increase in visitors this year. The new reception area at Juan Santamaría is well behind schedule. Tourist security is a major issue.

For all these problems there are promises and deadlines. The airport administration promises to have some new gates working for high tourist season. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte has awarded contracts and will award more to repair the primary and secondary roads in tourist areas and the rest of the country. An announcement will be coming today on fixing up gravel roads.

The Arias administration has promised a tourism police, a corps of multi-lingual officers stationed at key spots frequented by visitors. The Judicial Investigating Organization has opened an office in La Fortuna de San Carlos, the community near Arenal Volcano where tourist thefts skyrocketed.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo blew a $4.5 million budget entertaining sports writers and public officials at the World Cup competition in Germany with uncertain results earlier this year.
And the country is getting a reputation for being expensive. Breakfast for one at the Four Seasons in Papagayo is $38, not bad by world tourist standards but certainly not Tico prices.

The tourism industry complains there are not enough rooms during high season, but there is only modest effort to draw visitors at less than peak times.
There also are challenges that are not obvious. For example, when the ecotourism experts meet this weekend, the talk will turn to new challenges, such as carbon dioxide emissions.

To promote the III Foro Internacional de Ecoturismo, Allan Flores, manager of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, and Federico Gallegos met with reporters Wednesday.  Gallegos is president of the Cámara Nacional de Ecoturismo, which is involved in the conference. The event will be Friday and Saturday at the Centro Agronomo Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Turrialba.

Flores said that the country already has made strides in ecotourism. He cited programs for small hotels and rural communities as well as the  Bandera Azul Ecológica or blue flag program and the Certificados de Sostenibilidad Turística to show that an establishment is eco-friendly.

Flores said that 57 beaches have won the blue flag and that 62 hotels and seven tour operators have the sustainability certificate.

He was quick to respond to the criticism that Costa Rica is an expensive tourist destination. He said the country was a quality destination. He said the forum this weekend would help reinforce the ecotourism vision of the country.

In addition to speeches, the event features a number of roundtables where problems can be discussed. The discussions range from the abstract, such as that over responses to carbon dioxide emissions, to the concrete, a presentation on the plan regulador or the zoning plan each municipality has.

The  Centro Agronomo Tropical, known as CATIE, is an ecotourism destination in itself. And visitors will get a chance to tour the grounds and gardens.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 223

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Veteran observance
to be Sunday in Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

British, Canadian and American representatives will be joining together Sunday to remember fallen servicemen.

Nov. 11 is the day on which the countries commemorate their war veterans, past and present.  The service Sunday will be at the Escazú Christian Fellowship.  Among those attending will be Tom Kennedy, the British ambassador. 

Known as Veteran's Day to Americans and Remembrance Day to both Canadians and the British, it is the specific date of Nov. 11 that binds the three countries to a shared historical moment.  It was at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that the fighting of World War I came to an end.

The religious ceremony will be held in the facilities of the International Baptist Church at 5 p.m., according to an announcement. The church is in Guachipelin, just north of the Autopista Próspero Fernández

One way citizens take part and support the day of remembrance is to purchase artificial poppies. These will be available at the church.  Wearing a poppy on this day has its roots from the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian army physician John McCrae in 1915. The flower flourished on the war-torn soil of the Great War.  The artificial poppies are produced by disabled veterans of the Royal British Legion and will provide financial support for their charity work.

Much like in other countries, Veterans Day in the United States is a national holiday.  While this is not the case in Costa Rica, the religious ceremony will be held on a Sunday which might make it more accessible to those wishing to attend.     

A little known fact about Veterans day is that it has not always been celebrated on Nov. 11.  As noted on the U.S. Veterans' Administration Web site, it was thought that increasing the number three-day holidays would bolster travel, recreation and cultural events.  As a result, between the years of 1971 and 1977 the day always was celebrated in the United States on a Monday.  The change proved to be unpopular and U.S. president Gerald R. Ford restored Veterans Day to Nov. 11, starting in 1978.

While the day has had various names and dates of celebration, the central focus has remained to take time to remember and commemorate those who have served their respective countries. 

Members of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars also have been invited to take part in the ceremony.

Embassy protest planned
on whales, plutonium

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local environmental group will be protesting today in front of the Embassy of Japan in La Sabana because the Japanese purchase whale meat from Iceland.

Iceland announced Oct. 17 that it would resume commercial whaling for the first time in 20 years and would issue permits to hunt nine fin whales and 30 minke whales. Since then, Icelandic whalers have killed seven fin whales and one minke whale. The organization, Asociación. Conservacionista YISKI, said it would protest between 10 a.m. and noon today.

A second reason for the protest is because Japan is sending plutonium to France through the Panamá Canal, said an e-mail message. The group said that this was a great threat for the Americas.

The Panama News reported on a shipment of nuclear waste in March:

"According to what the Panamanian Human Rights Committee (CPDH) says, another shipment of highly radioactive wastes has passed through Panama. We're dealing with the Pacific Sandpiper, which left France on February 1, bound for Japan by way of the Panama Canal carrying 164 radioactive material containers storing approximately 9,000 kilograms of waste. It transited Panama between the 17th and 18th of February, having passed the breakwater into Colon's Limon Bay at about 4:26 pm on the former day and headed for the Gatun Locks and then to the Pacific Ocean."

The shipment of radioactive material has been a rallying point for some 10 years.

Transparency International
president visiting here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Peter Eigen, president of the board of directors of Transparency International, is in town until Sunday.

His organization is the one that puts a spotlight on corrruption by publishing surveys and rankings of the perception by citizens of corruption in their own country.

The last ranking released this week Costa Rica was ranked 55 of 163 countries and seventh among the nations of the Americas. Canada was 14th worldwide and the United States was 20th.

Eigen is German, and his organization is basedin Berlin. However, there is a local branch,  Transparencia Internacional-Costa Rica.

Dispute over spot in line
ends in death for shopper

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said that Luis Alberto Girón Víctor, 38, died after he got in a dispute with another shopper at the checkout line of a supermarket in Limón. Although the incident happened Oct. 25, the case was not outlined in detail until two men had been detained.

Girón was waiting in line at his local supermarket when a discussion developed over who should go first, said investigators. The dispute continued in the street when a guard nearby joined in and fired his revolver in the air in an attempt to break up the fight.

When the guard fired, the aggressor stabbed Girón in the stomach with a knife, said agents. The man was arrested but the gravity of the case was not known until Girón died in Hospital Tony Facio Oct. 31.

President to open housing fair

By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be inaugurating a one-day housing fair in the Plaza de la Cultura adjacent to the Teatro Nacional today at 10 a.m. The event will bring out housing and mortgage providers to show their wares.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 223

A scene that might be anywhere. Two dog buddies relax in public. But the distance between cuddly and trouble is not far.

A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Dogs and cats just play a different role in Latin America
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The large number of roaming dogs in Costa Rica is a remarkable sight for visitors, especially the tourist from developed countries. These people do not remember when stray dogs were a fact of life in the United States and elsewhere and may leave Costa Rica with a bad impression from one roadkill. There are strong emotional issues that have played out in the United States over animal control, which should be a lesson for the tourist industry here.

Dogs and cats don’t have the importance as pets in Latin America as they do for Americans. They are watchdogs, the next line of defense after the bars and barbed wire. Cats especially are not often inside homes. Most dogs live on leftovers and garbage. Barking is constant, though Costa Ricans grow up with noise, so the sounds are not so threatening to neighborhood harmony.

Reliable dog population figures are lacking. Authorities in the veterinary community and Ministerio de Salud put the population at 1 to 1.5 million, based on data taken during the last human census and much speculation. The 2000 census found about 933,000 households in the country, so that would be an average of more than one dog per family. Sex ratios are strongly skewed towards males due to a preference for aggressive watchdogs and the strain of repeated pregnancies.

A 2002 study using school children to survey non-metropolitan areas of Sao Paulo state, Brazil, did find a 1:4 dog/person ratio. A total of 21,000 households were visited, roughly equivalent to the Municipalidad de Heredia, of which 53 percent had dogs. These results were much higher than expected. No survey on this scale has been attempted in Costa Rica, although the 2000 census did ask about pets.

Most will be surprised to discover dog ownership is regulated in Costa Rica. Law 31626-S Reglamento para la reproducción y tenencia responsable de animales de compañía (2004) reads like a pet-control ordinance from any U.S. city. It states that all dogs must be leashed, cleaned up after, vaccinated, etc. Owners of vicious dogs are criminally liable for attacks. “Highly dangerous” breeds are prohibited, without specifying which ones. Presumably this will be trotted out when enough children are killed by rottweilers, currently one or two a year.

Notwithstanding the regulations, dogs can be seen on the street in almost any part of Costa Rica. Few are actually homeless. Most are loosely attached to a household or more than one. Roaming and stray dogs complicate sanitation with fecal contamination and by scattering garbage.

While one sweet-looking dog begging on the beach might seem cute to a visitor, many will be repulsed by the mangy tick-ridden bag of parasites often seen in rural areas and may question the humanity of a society that permits such things. Those conditions are not particularly contagious, but others are, such as roundworms, tick fever, scabies, ringworm, and toxoplasmosis. By far the most important in terms of potential damage to tourism is rabies. A British tourist to Goa in southwestern India died in 2005 from rabies contracted from a leashed puppy, damaging the industry there.

Worldwide, rabies still kills about 50,000 people per year, mostly in India and Southeast Asia. Mass vaccination in the 1980s was successful in eliminating dog rabies from Costa Rica and Panamá. Under the supervision of the Panamerican Health Organization, about 44 million dogs are still vaccinated across Latin America each year. Costa Rica has been free of dog rabies since 1987 with no human cases linked to a dog since 1970. Dog rabies is present in El Salvador and Guatemala as of 2004, and Nicaragua is still not certified as rabies-free.

Rabies in vampire bats persists. In 2001, two people died near Golfito from rabies, apparently transmitted by a cat that had been in contact with a bat roost. Elsewhere in Latin America, human rabies transmitted by wildlife mostly occurs when vampire bat food sources (cattle) are suddenly removed. Other bats also can carry rabies, so accidental contact is potentially dangerous. Rabies persists in the United States in skunks, raccoons, and coyotes, but these reservoirs are not known in Costa Rica.

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A study from Kenya predicted that the dog density needed to sustain an epidemic is only 4.5 per square kilometer. Less than 70 percent vaccination is considered inadequate to suppress an outbreak. The vaccination rate in Costa Rica is likely under 10 percent, although there are no hard data. The incubation period of rabies in dogs is three to eight weeks, so it is not inconceivable that an infected dog could travel from El Salvador or Honduras with an illegal immigrant avoiding border quarantines to reach Guanacaste, or a bat variant could cross over to dogs. The health ministry is prepared to execute a mass vaccination program if there is an outbreak, and post-exposure treatments are readily available.

Small countries in the Caribbean like Barbados have instituted dog control to find that after an initial reduction, populations of “stray” dogs level off. Speculation is that most of the street dogs are actually owned and allowed to roam as in Costa Rica. When a loose dog is captured and returned/removed, it is just allowed back out again or replaced.

Reduction of free-roaming dogs in the United States has contributed to another problem, an increase in the populations of feral cats, as competition for food sources and predation is reduced. There are relatively few cats in Costa Rica, but cats are breed quickly and rapidly fill any available space.

One of the most emotional debates in animal circles today revolves around how to deal with “colonies” of feral cats. Some advocate elimination, while others say that just encourages reproduction to fill the vacuum, so trap-neuter-release programs can stabilize populations. Either way, wildlife suffers.

Cats are prodigious predators of small animals and continue hunting even when well-fed. This may be useful when pest rodent species are present, but much of the prey will be small native mammals, birds, and reptiles. Cats carry most of the same zoonotic diseases as dogs.

Without cultural changes in attitudes towards dogs and
cats, significant population reduction seems distant. The Animal Protection Society in San Rafael de Heredia sterilizes 40 to 50 animals per day. Low-cost spay-neuter clinics elsewhere treat 50 to 100. Staff there say most are not loose breeding anyway, but that there has been some reduction over the last 10 to 15 years in animals arriving at the shelter. The biggest advantage of neutering is to reduce aggression.

Elsewhere, successfully eliminating roaming dogs is a factor in the increase of feral cats, compounded by feeding by well-meaning people. Costa Rica might be better off with dogs running around than cats, given that the latter are more damaging to wildlife. A rabies outbreak in a large feral cat population would be vastly harder to control.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the best use of resources might not be to control dog populations but to improve the health of free-roaming dogs already out there. This combined with selective removal of aggressive dogs would be the primary health benefit animal control would bring to the human population, while improving the country’s image as well.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 223

U.N. Assembly again votes against U.S. embargo of Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling on the United States to end its economic embargo of Cuba.

For the 15th consecutive year, the General Assembly approved a non-binding measure criticizing Washington's embargo against Fidel Castro's Cuba. The vote this time was virtually the same as last year: 183-4, with only Israel and two small Pacific island states voting with the United States.

The vote on the resolution has become an annual exercise in the assembly since 1992.  This year's list of speakers condemning the embargo and America's human rights policies included such vocal U.S. critics as Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Burma, Belarus, China, Vietnam and Laos.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque personally represented Havana. He blasted the embargo, calling it tantamount to genocide.

"The economic war waged by the United States against Cuba, which is the most extensive and cruel war that has existed, and which can be qualified as an act of genocide, and is a clear violation of international law and of the United Nations charter, over these 48 years, the United States embargo has caused in Cuba economic damage in excess of $86 billion," he said.

The U.S. representative at the session, Ambassador Ronald Godard, rejected the charges. He called the embargo a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba.
Godard told the Assembly Cuba must accept responsibility for its people's plight, and must change its policies before the embargo is lifted.

"The resolution inaccurately blames the U.S. trade embargo for the hardships of the Cuban people, while exonerating the Cuban government's own policies which deny the right of the Cuban people to a fair wage, to own and operate a business, to buy and sell property, to freely associate, and to freely express their opinions," he said.

At one point during the Assembly session, Australia's U.N. Ambassador Robert Hill proposed an amendment aimed at balancing the resolution. Hill said it is important to note that the embargo was motivated by valid concerns about the lack of freedom in Cuba.

"There is simply no point in repeating the same practice, year after year,” he said.  “So this year we propose a different approach. We propose that the General Assembly pass an amended motion that on the one hand calls for an end to the embargo, but on the other hand calls on Cuba to improve its human rights performance.”

The Australian proposal was defeated, however, by a more than 2-1 margin. The 192-member General Assembly then went on to overwhelmingly adopt the resolution.

General Assembly resolutions have no legal effect, and they have had no effect in the past. But the vote is considered a barometer of international opinion. The United States imposed the trade embargo after Fidel Castro defeated a failed CIA-backed assault on the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

Press groups decry restrictions on free use of Internet by authoritarian regimes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Paris-based global press freedom advocacy group has released a new list of countries that it calls enemies of the Internet for systematically violating online free expression.

China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea are among the 13 countries that have been listed on the press group's 2006 roll of shame.

In detailing its denunciations, the group, Reporters Without Borders, said China made the list for being "unquestionably" the world's "most advanced country in Internet filtering."  Chinese authorities, said the group, "carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up."

After initially targeting Web sites and "chat forums," the Chinese authorities are said to now concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites.  China has nearly 17 million bloggers, "but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticize" Chinese government policy, said Reporters Without Borders.

The group said 52 people in China are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, and "self-censorship is obviously in full force."  Originally, it was thought the Internet would revolutionize Chinese society and politics, but now, with China "enjoying increasing geopolitical influence,” Reporters Without Borders expressed concern that China's Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, "may one day be imposed on the rest of the world."
Another press advocacy group, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, also has condemned China's repressive policy against Internet freedom.  The latest example of this human rights abuse, said the group, is the two-year prison sentence given Oct. 25 to Internet writer Li Jianping of China, more than six months after the Chinese government tried him on charges of "inciting subversion of state authority."

Reporters Without Borders said Cuba made its enemies list because the Cuban government uses several "levers" to ensure that the Internet is not used in a "counter-revolutionary way."  To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and "youth computer clubs" where their activity can be monitored, because private Internet connections in Cuba are "more or less banned."

Reporters Without Borders also said the Cuban regime prevents Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, "for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal."

Regarding Iran, the press group said Internet filtering in that country has stepped up and the Iranian authorities boast of filtering 10 million immoral Web sites.  Reporters Without Borders said the Iranian authorities also decided recently to ban broadband connections.

Meanwhile, North Korea ranks as the world's worst Internet black hole, said Reporters Without Borders, with only a few government officials able to access the Internet, using connections from China.

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