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(506) 223-1327   These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 223    E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Internal combustion called the culprit
Government blames bad air for health woes
By Jesse Froehling
of  the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government spends more than $280 million a year on health care associated with poor air quality, says a report issued by a number of government agencies. 

The study, “Costos en Salud por la Contaminación del Aire,” was released by officials with the ministries of  Salud, Obras Públicas y Transportes and Ambiente y Energía in order to coordinate strategies that would diminish the poor air quality and the resulting health threat of those who live in metropolitan San José. 

The study said that the extremely poor air quality is associated with many illnesses of the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems, said Patricia Allen the representative of the Unidad de Gasto y Financiamiento of the Ministerio de Salud. 

The study concluded that The air kills 475 persons per million, the report said, adding:  31,000 youth under 15-years-of age went to the doctor for bronchitis.  13,000 persons under the age of 25 have chronic bronchitis and 19,000 get asthma.  550 persons have respiratory problems associated with the air and 266 have cardiovascular problems.  Some 71,000 work days were missed by people under 20 years of age during the course of the study.  All this because of poor air quality, the report said. 

“This is having a very important economic effect on the country,” Ms. Allen said. 
The method normally used to measure air quality is the P10, (micrograms of contamination per cubic meter), Allen explained.  The maximum aceptable amount is 50 units.  Costa Rica' metropolitan area has 57.5, Ms. Allen said. 

The primary cause of all this polution is car motors, Ms. Allen said.  Though new rules seek to limit traffic flow throughout the metropolitan area, 75 percent of the contamination can be traced to automobiles, she said.  23 percent is factory emissions and only 2 percent comes from natural sources like volcanos or livestock.

The study – the first of its kind in Central America – looked at 19 cantons throughout the greater metroplitan area, with data from 2001.  In all, data from 1,617,459 persons – 30 percent of the population - was taken from the 19 health centers in the different cantons, the report said.

At the end of a press conference Wednesday, copies of the report were presented to the ambassadors from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvedor and a representative from Mexico.  The hope was that these countries could use it as a sort of guide to shape their environmental policy as well. Mexico City, also a city in a valley in the mountains, has a similar air quality problem.  However, that one is heavily documented.

The Centro de Investigación en Contaminación Ambiental and the Centro en Desarrollo Sostenible as well as a number of  consultants helped with the study.   

Lawmakers want to eliminate water and light bills for schools
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public educational institutions sometimes have trouble when the water or power company cut off their services for failing to pay on time.

But lawmakers have a solution to that now. They simply want to pass a law exempting public educational institutions from paying for drinking water, electricity or local taxes.
The Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales of the Asamblea Legislativa reported out such a bill Wednesday. The bill covered schools and secondary schools. Also exempt from taxes are any donations or money-raising activities by the school when the funds are put into educational materials of the physical plant.

The measure will be debated in the full assembly.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 223

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Road deaths are lower,
government official says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though 238 persons have died in traffic accidents this year, the Consejo de Seguridad Vial is seeking to quell what they claim is disinformation suggesting that yearly death tolls on Costa Rican highways are rising. 

In fact, the opposite is true, the consejo said. 

According to Roy Rojas, executive director of the consejo, in 2002, 326 persons had died by the end of October.  In 2003, that number was 301 and in 2004, 250 persons had died at the same time. 

Rojas claims that this year's death toll is actually the lowest since 1998.  The average deaths per month this year, was 23.8, Rojas said.  By following this logic, Rojas expects some 47 persons will die in traffic accidents by the end of the year for a total of 285 for the year. 

April was the worst month of the year, with 32 deaths, Rojas said.  If one were to expect the same number for November and December, the year's total would still only be 302, the lowest death rate for the nation's highways in eight years, Rojas said. 

Rojas attributes the lowering death toll to stricter police vigilance, he said.   

The Spanish-language daily, La Nación published a story Monday saying only that the death rate on the nation's highways – which had been steadily decreasing throughout the year – rose again in September and October. 

However, the newspaper also cited a report by the Policía de Transito which said that between February of 2002 and January 2003, 414 persons died on the nation's highways.

Woman from Panamá
held as drug courier

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents with the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública arrested a suspected courier Tuesday night at Juan Santamaría international airport with cocaine hidden in her luggage, agents said. 

The Panamanian woman, identified by the last names Valentine Roberts, was trying to board a plane for Madrid, Spain, and Genova, Italy, officers said.  The agents had received notice that a cocaine shipment was to pass through the airport and when the woman began acting nervously, the agents decided to search her, they said. 

The agents found 1,257 grams of cocaine shoved in four shampoo bottles, they said. 

Ms. Valentine was the 18th suspected drug courier to be caught in Juan Santamaría this year, the agents said.   If convicted, she faces up to 15-years in prison. 

One held in piracy
of music CDs and DVDs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers with the Fuerza Pública in Limón detained a Nicaraguan identified by the last names Rayo Preminio and a Costa Rican for conspiring to sell pirated  CDs and DVDs, the officers said.

The two were stopped at a checkpoint near San Rafael de Siquirres. When officers searched the pickup the two were driving, they found 850 illegally burned music CDs as well as 91 pirated DVDs and all the equipment necessary to complete the operations, officers said. 

Officers seized a computer with the burning program and a stereo system as evidence against Rayo, they said.  He was detained by order of the Ministerio Público.  The Tico was set free. 

Bootlegging gear found
in woods near Puriscal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers destroyed a shed in the woods of the Río Pelón in Salitrales de Puriscal that was used as a site to make moonshine, officers said. 

In the crude liquor factory, known popularly as “saca,” officers seized a 50-gallon container with fermenting liquor, as wells as other equipment used in the illegal fabrication, they said. 

The shed stood only 10 meters from the river and represented a real risk of contamination, officers said. 

Police believe a local man is responsible, they said. 

Enviornmental mininster wins praise from his peers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Due to his efforts to divert funds to the environment and the inclusion of forests in the development throughout the country, the ministers of environment throughout Latin America and the Caribbean chose Costa Rica's Carlos Manuel Rodríguez as minister of the year. 

Rodríguez was recognized during the 14th forum of the Ministros de Ambiente de América Latina y el Caribe in Venezuela.  The ministers met from Nov. 2 through  Saturday. 

For Rodríguez, receiving this recognition is not only satisfying, it is also important for the country because Costa Rica is now a benchmark in which the other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean can follow to promote the environmental interests of the planet, a statement from the ministry said.

U.S. Embassy closed Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy will be closed Friday, which is Nov. 11, Veterans Day, a legal U.S. holiday
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A.M. Costa Rica

Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 223

Festival will highlight quiet joys of rural tourism
By Silleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The special pleasures of rural tourism will be on display Nov. 18, 19 and 20 when more than 75 companies join for a festival in la Sabana.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is putting on this, the fourth festival of community rural tourism, with the participation of 75 national companies. 

The businesses include women, farmers, fishermen, Indian associations, and other rural residents. 

The festival is at the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and it will contain a lot of cultural activities, like musical presentations, theater, exhibitions of traditional carts, and typical food stands. The museum is the former airport terminal on the east end of Parque La Sabana.

The tourist organization supporting communities that want to share in the tourism income with their special brand of rural living and activities. Some areas also make original products that can be marketing to national and international tourists.

"When tourists come to our places, we teach them how to milk the cows or how to plant some pineapples, and those are things they didn't know,” said Jerry Herrera, vice president of the Asociacion de Regidores de la Zona Norte.
Some of the tourists stay with Tico families in the northern zone, for example. Residents there may create accommodations by building or dedicating rooms inside their homes.

Last year the rural community tourism exposition had 5,000 visitors and, according to Guillermo Alvarado, general manager for the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, this year operators have new activities for an expected increase to 10,000 people.

“Each stand is going to have unique products to call the attention of the visitors. That's why we expect more public than the last year. This is not just a tourism festival, it is more than that,” said Alvarado.

This festival has the cooperation of the government, including the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, the Museo de Arte, the Municipalidad de San Jose, and some other institutions.

Musical groups like “Canto America”and the national group “Malpais,” are going to present their shows the last two days of the festival. Inauguration will be Friday night, Nov. 18.

The entry is free and some activities, like traditional games, acting and concerts are aimed at the younger set.

U.S. judo team is visiting to compete in youth championships here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

USA Judo sent a team to the Junior Pan-American Championships in San José, the organization said.  The competition started Wednesday and will run through Sunday.

The U.S. team consists of 15 athletes competing the 11 to 12-year-old division and 16 in the 13 to 14-year-old division.  

Franchesca Durand of Coral Springs, Fla., and Marina Lambert of Chesapeake, Va., are defending the titles they won last year while Kyle Taketa of Torrance, Calif., and Robby Schultheis of Gurnee, Ill., are hoping to win titles after getting silver medals last year. 

The men's 13 to 14-year-old competitors are: Nathan 
 Silva, Kyle Taketa, Robby Schultheis, Aaron Fukuhara, Sami Syed, Miguel Ballesteros, Antonio Rodriguez and Daniel Palatnik. 

The competitors in the women's division for the same age group are: Ashley Cameron, Mirielle Graves, Risha Mishima, Franchesca Durand, Danielle Greenstein, Kelsi Bostic and Marina Lambert.

The men's 11 to 12-year-old competitors are: Eric Benevides, David Terao, Everet Desilets, Ren Hirokawa, Max Schneider, Ruben Martin, Max Golembo and Christian Gil.

The women's division competitors of the same age group are: Micayla Maes, Katelyn Bouyssou, Darya Cogswell, Kayla Hall, Carina Caminero, Kia Artis, Carly Patton and Persila Bencomo.

Many of the national publications are claiming that real estate in Costa Rica is grossly overpriced and that the time has come and gone for the land of Pura Vida. True or False?

Well, if you read the classified ads in the English-speaking countries it would seem that a small lot on the beach can run easily in excess of $250,000 and a home in the mountains of trendy Escazú can run well over $500,000. And even a basic home in Heredia can quickly top $300,000.

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A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 223


Region is natural conduit for drugs, DEA chief says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Mexico and the countries in Central America provide a natural conduit for illicit drug trafficking organizations, which threaten U.S. national security and influence governments throughout the region, says Michael Braun, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In testimony prepared for an appearance Wednesday before the U.S. House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Braun said the Central American region will remain for the foreseeable future the primary transit zone for U.S.-bound drugs produced in Central and South America.

Braun said all seven Central American countries actively are used by major trafficking organizations to smuggle drugs and money between South America and Mexico.  To counter these activities, Braun said his organization, known as the DEA, focuses on improving the region's anti-drug capabilities via liaison, institutional mentoring with host nation governments, bilateral investigations and by attacking the command-and-control structures of these drug-trafficking organizations.

With few exceptions (notably Costa Rica and Panama), Braun said the Central American nations are ill-equipped to handle the threat of drug trafficking.  Many Central American countries are experiencing weak economies, and scarce resources are often allocated for other pressing problems.  Police and other agencies often are underfunded and receive inadequate training. Consequently, said Braun, some officials are susceptible to the enormous bribes that drug traffickers can offer.

"The corrupting power of illicit drug trafficking organizations on the governmental institutions of Central America significantly increases the difficulties of mounting successful drug interdiction efforts," Braun said.

Complicating this situation, he added, is the increased involvement by major Mexican and Colombian drug-trafficking organizations in Central America.

Braun said these "powerful organizations rely on the hallmarks of organized crime to carry out their operations -- namely, corruption, intimidation, and violence, thus creating a destabilizing effect on the region."

The DEA official said that both South American and Mexican drug trafficking organizations are "linking up with host-country transportation organizations and are highly compartmentalized, so that if one member or one cell is arrested, the entire operation is not compromised.”  Braun said drug traffickers also use the latest technology such as cell phones, satellite phones, text messaging, global positioning systems and voice-over-Internet protocol.

Another problem, Braun said, is that Central America serves as both a transit zone and placement stage for drug cash profits.  Braun cited an incident that occurred in October when Panamanian authorities seized $5.7 million in U.S. currency from a warehouse in the Colon Free Trade Zone in Panama.  Initial inquiries, he said, have indicated that this cash was shipped overland from Mexico to Panama, thereby traveling through several Central American countries.
Costa Rica is refueling hub
for maritime smugglers

This is  Michael Braun's assessment of the drug situation in Costa Rica:

Drug traffickers use Costa Rica as a storage and consolidation location for up to multi-ton quantities of cocaine en route north.  Smaller kilogram quantities of heroin are also consolidated in Costa Rica prior to being sent via air couriers to the United States. 

In 1998, the Colombian government instituted regulations and enforcement operations to halt the use of excess fuel on Colombian and foreign flagged vessels for refueling operations. Following reaffirmation of those regulations in 2001 and with the consent of the Colombian government, U.S. assets began assisting in the enforcement of those regulations by returning vessels to Colombia found to be in violation of these regulations. This contributed to drug traffickers increased use of Costa Rica as a logistical hub for maritime operations.  With this change in drug trafficking patterns, there has been a sharp increase in Costa Rica's use as a staging point for refueling vessels.

Costa Rica does not produce controlled chemicals. The Ministry of Health is responsible for chemical control in Costa Rica and legislative statutes controlling the importation, exportation, and internal usage of 46 controlled precursor chemicals have been in effect since 1989.  Further amendments in May 1998 strengthened controls and incorporated provisions of the Organization of American States model regulation.  All imports of precursor and essential chemicals must be approved by the Drug Department of the Public Health Ministry, and all manufacturers of such substances must register with this ministry and submit samples.

Braun said Panama's government and the DEA are "aggressively investigating these trends at an unprecedented level of cooperation to identify the organizations and money laundering systems that operate behind this movement of drug cash."

The other Central American countries geographically positioned between Mexico and Panama, said Braun, exhibit "varying degrees of vulnerabilities to storage and transportation of bulk drug cash, as well as more sophisticated methods of money laundering."

Similar to cocaine, South American-produced heroin also is transported into and through Central America via land and air, Braun said.  Unlike cocaine, heroin often is smuggled by people who swallow large numbers of small capsules, allowing them to transport up to 1.5 kilograms of heroin per courier.  This heroin is destined primarily for the United States, but "we have also seen incidences of commercial air transportation smuggling continuing on to European countries," Braun said.

Braun said in response to the "significant" challenges presented by the drug trafficking organizations in Central America, the DEA strongly believes it must take an active approach to stop illegal drugs from coming into the United States from Central America and Mexico.

Right-wing militia in Colombia worried about extradition on drug charges
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A spokesman for Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries says they may turn against the government if they are not protected from extradition as they disarm.

In an interview broadcast Tuesday, Ivan Roberto Duque (who also goes by the name Ernesto Baez) said if the government insists on extraditing militia leaders to the United States on drug charges, the right-wing fighters may begin to have more in common with
their leftist rebel opponents than with the government they traditionally defend.

Duque also said the planned disarmament of the militias by Dec. 31 is impossible to accomplish. His group suspended disarmament measures last week, calling for a guarantee its members will not be extradited.

The Colombian government has warned the paramilitaries they could face military confrontation if they fail to meet the deadline.

Jo Stuart
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