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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Nov. 15, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 225            E-mail us
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River conflict causes some to resort to violence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An expat martial arts instructor has been sucked into the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan conflict and unfairly labeled an undercover agent.

The allegation was published in Costa Rica on a real estate Web site. The individual, James Powell, said that someone threw a rock at his car Saturday night.

"I heard loud thumps and went outside," he said. "My dog was going crazy. It actually sounded like they came up and first kicked my car to set off the alarm. It's very strange because most people here do not bother me, and coming to a krav maga school to pick a fight is not the smartest thing I have ever heard of."

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"The guy basically called me a drug dealer, a Mossad agent, Russian, and CIA, all in one shot," he added. The Mossad is the Israeli secret service.

The allegations come from an anti-Israeli conspiracy Web site published in Washington, D.C., by a man identifed as Wayne Madsen. The article, which has been picked up by a number of Web sites, brands Costa Rica as a drug trafficking nation and pawn of Israel. The article is password protected on the Madsen site. Quotes here are from republished versions.

"Most of the drug smuggling from Costa Rica into Nicaragua and El Salvador is being conducted by Russian-Israeli mafiosi figures operating under diplomatic cover at the Israeli embassy in San José," said the article. "Others officially operate in San Jose as 'Russian Martial Arts' trainers, however, they are actually Israeli Defense Force 'krav maga' trainers."

Powell's krav maga school operates in Sabana Oeste. The real estate Web site cutline under a photo makes much of its location near a synagogue. The place used to be a furniture store.

Krav maga really is a self-defense technique developed by Israelis, but Powell notes that most of his students are professional workers who simply want to defend themselves against criminals. He said he is "an expat here trying to make a living since my ex moved my 6-year-old son back to Costa Rica. Sorry people, no secret government connection."

Powell has been very public about his school and has posted training sessions as Web videos. He also has taken out advertising.

What is not clear is how the photo of Powell's school got on the Web site. A quick reading of the open version of Madsen's Web site by even the most uncritical would show that he uses a mixture of facts, rumor and suppositions to create articles that lack serious verification. The site is heavy in conspiracy theories.
Clown reporter did not explain why it republished the anti-Costa Rican, anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli allegations. It did say it did so with Madsen's permission.

The article that Powell believed prompted the rock thrower is titled "U.S. Ratchets Up Contra War II Against Nicaragua." It says:

"Borrowing its war plan against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua from Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, and Oliver North, the Obama administration has given a green light to two neighbors of Nicaragua — Costa Rica and Honduras — to ratchet up tensions on their borders with Nicaragua."

Powell is not the only person to suffer an impact from the Nicaraguan invasion of Costa Rica. Someone threw a firebomb at the Nicaraguan Embassy Friday shortly after 10 p.m.. The device exploded on the sidewalk. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública reinforced the police protection at the embassy.

Saturday afternoon there were five officers even though the building was locked.

José María Tijerino, the security minister, assumed that a Costa Rican threw the firebomb and issued a statement against xenophobic acts. The ministry also apologized to Harold Rivas, the Nicaraguan ambassador.

The Laura Chinchilla Miranda administration has been sensitive to Nicaraguans, legal and illegal, living here as the conflict over the Río San Juan invasion unfolds. The administration has reached out to Nicaraguans in part because there are vast numbers here.  Tijerino himself has a Nicaraguan father and spent much of his childhood in that country.

The administration has tried to make it clear that the conflict is with the current government in Nicaragua and not Nicaraguans in general.

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Our readers' opinions
Costa Rica needs pr help
in instructing the world

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Instead of Costa Rica taking the "poor me" direction with regard to the Nicaraguan incursion and frankly, not knowing how to respond...I believe that this represents an unprecedented opportunity for Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a leader in tourism, peace, no army, and face it, the development and utilization of "green technology".   Costa Rica has no offshore oil drilling, no more mining projects and has nearly a third of the country set aside for reserve areas. It is the longest running democracy in Latin America and supported by just about everyone except a few leftist leaning countries.

What to do?  SCREAM, hire a public relations firm and show the world exactly what is happening. It is obvious that Costa Rica is in the right but it is also obvious that Nicaragua and probably Iran and Venezuela are definitely in the wrong.  

Who would not take the side of Costa Rica?

Public opinion can be easily mustered and the countries responsible for the dredging, and trespass can be given a huge black eye in the area of public opinion.  Come on, Costa Rica. fight back. But fight back smart.
Randy Berg
San Mateo

Ortega should include
Costa Rica in river project

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Now that it's becoming clear that Nicaragua's/the Sandinistas' intention is to snatch a worthless scrap of Costa Rican territory in order to build a new canal with the help of those most bellicose and generally disagreeable folks in Venezuela and Iran, it's also becoming clear that we are blessed to (a) not have an army that would only start trouble where none is necessary and (b) that we have a woman presidenta unencumbered by high levels of testosterone that might make a male president do something monumentally and hormonally stupid in the name of national pride in a situation like this one, which (c) if viewed objectively, may prove to be a unique and substantial opportunity for the economy of Costa Rica.

What Costa Rica needs to be thinking about, and what Nicaragua SHOULD have been thinking about before their really dumb/typically Sandinista incursion into Costa Rican territory, is how to INCLUDE Costa Rica in the project!

Hey Mr. Ortega, you dummy! Instead of causing an entire nation to get up on its hind legs and oppose you, how about INCLUDING Ticos in your grand new plan and creating some JOBS for them for God's sake! They'll love you for it! And when it's done, cut Costa Rica in on a small percentage of the profits from the canal for, say, 50 YEARS!

Problem solved. Crisis over. Send the soldiers home. Call out the lawyers and the engineers. My bill will be in the mail.

Why is it that the more power people have, the less they think? Oh! Wait! We're talking about Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez and Achmed Ahmadinejad, the Three Stooges of international policy making/breaking. If there's a more dangerously buffoonish group of leaders than them, God help us.

(When I spell checked this e-mail, the only alternative suggestion the checker program could come up with in place of "Ortega" was "Outrage." Imagine that! Prescient software!

Dean Barbour 
Manuel Antonio

Time for a joint venture

Dear AM Costa Rica: 

Looking at the land dispute logically, it would appear to be an excellent way for the two countries to become business partners in an alternative to the Panamá Canal for smaller vessels. Setting rates well below those of the Panamá Canal would result in huge revenues for both countries. Several countries (e.g. China) would love to finance the project.

Barry Schwartz 

Ortega used Costa Rica
to aid totalitarian aims

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Obviously, President Ortega of Nicaragua has found a way to unite his country behind him and make the people of his country like him so he can become President for Life. He took advantage of Costa Rica's passive, peaceful nature and used it to fuse his faltering popularity in his own county. This is just what he needed to be able to continue and make his Hugo Chávez-style ambitions a reality.

I even read an editorial from a Gringa woman in Granada stating that "This must be an attempt by the U.S. to start another covert war in Nicaragua by having Costa Rica intimidate the Nicaraguan soldiers (on Costa Rican property) into a shooting war, with peaceful Nicaragua."

She also went on to state that Nicaragua provides chickens, pigs, and free medical to all Nicaraguans, so Costa Rica should back off. This woman is evidently unaware that Costa Rica's health care system is overrun with Nicaraguans needing medical care. Hopefully the world will frown on this incursion and help Costa Rica do what it obviously cannot. That is defend itself against an opportunist dictator, who is using Costa Rica's good nature to further his totalitarian agenda.

Fred Cole
Nuevo Arenal

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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, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 225

Latigo K-9

Costa Rica calls Ortega a liar in diplomatic message
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Confrontational comments Saturday by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega triggered a sharp rebuttal from Costa Rica.

A diplomatic note from René Castro Salazar, the Costa Rican foreign minister, to the Nicaraguan ambassador here expressed indignation over Ortega's comments.

The authoritarian leader of Nicaragua said that he might take the issue of the Río San Juan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and seek passage rights for his countrymen on the Río Colorado, a river totally within Costa Rica. He said his country might withdraw from the Organization of American States.

That organization voted 21 to 2 Friday to demand that Ortega get his troops out of land disputed with Costa Rica. The hemispheric body stopped short of calling the land Costa Rican, which it is. Venezuela voted with Nicaragua.

Ortega said the troops would stay.

Ortega spoke at a Managua press conference flanked by his military officers, religious authorities, and his wife, Rosario Murillo. In television clips some of those present seemed to be trying to hide their surprise at Ortega's words.

In a diplomatic way, Costa Rica called Ortega a liar. Castro said the country roundly and emphatically rejected Ortega's statements because they lacked truth.  Castro said the statements were insulting and unfounded.

Ortega also said that Costa Rica's foreign policy was directed by narcotraffickers and that nations that voted against Nicaragua at the Friday meeting were influenced by the drug trade. He listed México, Colombia, Panamá, Honduras and Guatemala. México also filed a protest.
Ortega, as part of the reasoning created to justify the Costa Rican invasion, said the troops were there to fight drug trafficking. In fact the purpose of the expedition is to dig a new San Juan river mouth directly to the sea to circumvent the meandering 30 kilometers of the river. This would be an economic boon to Nicaragua.

A.M. Costa Rica reported in a Friday update that Nicaraguan workers have dug a small ditch from a bend in the Río San Juan to the Caribbean coast in Costa Rican territory. The ditch is just two or three shovelsful wide, but local observers expect the hydraulic power of the river to blow out a new river mouth during the late November and December rainy season there.

The international border between the two countries is the south bank of the river. A new river mouth would cede to Nicaragua all the Costa Rican land that now lies to the north of the ditch.

Castro called a Sunday night press conference to talk about the message he sent to Harold Rivas, the Nicaraguan ambassador. In the message, he reminded Nicaraguan officials that the Río Colorado is not open to negotiation.  The river has been considered Costa Rican territory for years. It branches from the Río San Juan well upstream from the area of the dispute and has its own mouth to the Caribbean.

He also pointed out that Nicaraguans have decorated Costa Ricans for jointly fighting the drug trade.

Castro said that Costa Rica was prepared to meet Nicaraguan delegates Nov. 27 for discussions on the river if the troops were withdrawn. He also said Costa Rican diplomats would be talking to officials in other countries to try to reach a solution on the invasion. He rejected force of arms and said the country would press its case only with diplomacy.

The foreign minster, René Castro Salazar, addresses reporters at Casa Amarilla, the ornate ministry building, Sunday night.
Castro press coference
A.M. Costa Rica photo

Environmental time bomb is focus of concern along river
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small ditch dug by Nicaragua across Costa Rican territory is an environmental time bomb, according to those who live near the river.

They expect the Río San Juan to blast through the ditch at the next flood and create a new mouth for the river that now meanders to the Caribbean.

The environmental organization Preserve the Planet also has expressed its concern about the Nicaraguan activities in the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Barra del Colorado.

So far, Costa Rican officials seem to be dwelling on the diplomatic and have given scant notice to the looming environmental disaster.

Among the possible consequences is a drastic drop in the water level of the now navigable Río Colorado that flows from the Río San Juan to the Caribbean. There is world-class tarpon fishing there, and the fish appear to use the Río Colorado for mating runs upstream.

Some Barra del Colorado residents are concerned that Nicaraguan activity will disturb or destroy adjacent lagoons which appear to be the locations where tarpon fry grow large enough to challenge the sea.
river situation
This map showing the Río San Juan was part of the video Costa Rica showed at the Organization of American States. Click map for larger version.

Preserve the Planet also noted that the area where Nicaragua has invaded Costa Rica is part of the San Juan La Selva-El Castillo biological corridor, which is itself part of the larger mezoamerican corridor.

The organization noted that it has worked for several years to protect the corridor. It called for the Nicaraguan troops to go home.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 225

World tourism rebounds to surpass 2009 records, U.N. says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Results through August show that international tourism continues to recover from the decline of 4.2 percent suffered last year under the impact of the economic crisis.

In the first eight months of this year, the number of international tourist arrivals exceeded the record achieved during the same period of the pre-crisis year 2008. According to the latest issue of the World Tourism Barometer, worldwide arrivals between January and August totaled 642 million, some 40 million and 7 percent more than during the same months of 2009 and 1 million more than in the same period of the record year 2008. Based on current trends, the number of international tourist arrivals is projected to increase in the range of 5 to 6 percent over the full year. In 2011, growth is expected to continue at a more moderate pace, at around the long-term average of 4, said the World Tourism Organization, a U.N. agency.

Emerging destinations continued to lead growth while Europe recovers at a slower pace Worldwide, international tourist arrivals grew by 7 percent in the first eight months of 2010 compared to the same period of 2009. Results are positive in all world regions. Emerging economies however continue to lead the way, growing through August at a rate of 8 percent compared with 5 percent for advanced economies, the barometer showed.

The traditional high-season months of the Northern Hemisphere clearly set new records, attracting 112 million in July and 108 million international arrivals in August. These 220 million represented an extra 8 million arrivals over arrivals in the peak year 2008, and 12 million more compared with the crisis year 2009. Results were strongest in March (+9 percent), May (+11 percent) and June (+9 percent), in contrast to the seriously negative trends during those same months a year earlier, the agency said. April showed the weakest results (+2 percent) following the closure of European airspace due to the Icelandic volcano's ash cloud.
Although recovery is still lagging in parts of Europe and the Americas, many destinations are already showing real growth and setting new records. Asia and the Pacific has once again shown resilience and a strong capacity for recovery.

Growth was also strong in the Middle East although this was based on a very depressed first eight months in 2009. Africa, the only region to show growth in 2009, maintained the momentum and was up 9 percent, further helped by the worldwide publicity created by the World Football Cup hosted by South Africa.

In the Americas growth has been strong in North and Central America (each up 9 percent). South America is on a par with the worldwide average, while the Caribbean is showing a lower rate of growth with a 3 percent increase, the agency said.

The positive trend during 2010 is reflected in the steady rise of the U.N. Tourism Confidence Index. A clear majority of the members of the tourism organization's panel of experts evaluated the past eight months of 2010 as “better” or “much better.” The rating of prospects for the period September to December has also further improved, and is up for the fifth consecutive period from the deep trough a year ago.

International tourism receipts continue to lag somewhat behind arrivals in many destinations, as is generally the trend in recovery periods. The same trend is observed in tourism expenditure from the major source markets. Among the top ten markets, in terms of expenditure abroad, positive but modest increases came from traditional source markets, particularly from Germany, the United States, France, Italy and Japan.

As in recent years, emerging economies are driving the market's growth and showing strong increases in tourism expenditure abroad, most notably China (up 22 percent), the Russia Federation (up 26 percent) and Brazil (up 4 percent).

More roads cleared and there is some access to the south

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamericana Sur still is reported closed today.

There also are road problems in the Nosara area as well as around Acosta. And in some rural areas there still are landslides that have to be cleaned up.

Then there are a number of routes that are closed because bridges collapsed. But the situation is much better than it was in the middle of last week. Full details are HERE.

Officials said that the southern zone no longer is cut off due to the Interamericana Sur blockages. Access is by alternate routes.

Some areas got rain over the weekend, but for the most part, the weather was clear to cloudy.

In the Caribbean there is a broad low-pressure area not far offshore, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center said its
experts did not think the system would develop into something more serious due to dry air in the mid-levels. But the system is bringing cloudiness and rainfall.
The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the system would bring rain to the central and south Pacific.

As of midday Friday there still were more than 900 persons in shelters as a result of the storms during the first week of the month. Some, such as those in San Antonio de Escazú where a landslide killed 21 persons have nowhere to go. Some are still being housed in the Gimnasio Nacional in La Sabana.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda Saturday toured some of the cantons where damage was high. They are Dota, Tarrazú, León Cortés, Acosta and Aserrí, She urged government officials to keep up the pace in providing aid.

The transport ministry said that some 1,800 kilometers or about 1,100 miles of highway have to be reconstructed after flooding, slides and rain damage. Then there are the bridges.

Ms. Chinchilla said that she would seek legal changes so the central government could access about 4 billion colons that is now in the budget for other purposes.

That is about $8 million.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 225

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Haitian death toll increased
as cases in capital climb

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haiti has increased the official death toll from the cholera outbreak that has afflicted the country for more than three weeks.

Sunday the government said 917 people have died from the disease, and 14,642 cases were admitted to hospitals.

At least 13 cholera deaths have been confirmed in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Health workers fear an explosion of the disease in the crowded city, where hundreds of thousands of people have been living in tent cities since January's devastating earthquake.

The United Nations released information Friday about a new strategy to help Haitian authorities fight the further spread of the disease.

The strategy includes public outreach, rapid response, access to health services, and ensuring clean water, sanitation and waste management. To fund the effort, the U.N. is appealing for about $164 million in aid.

The U.N. says the response strategy includes projects from 42 non-governmental agencies, five U.N. agencies and the International Organization for Migration. Haiti's ministry of public health and population would continue to lead the effort.

The United Nations anticipates as many as 200,000 people will show symptoms of cholera in Haiti, ranging from mild cases of diarrhea to the most severe dehydration.

The World Health Organization says the bacteria that causes cholera will be in the country for a number of years, and the goal is to reduce the public health impact of the outbreak. Spokesman Gregory Hartl says the current fatality rate of 6.5 percent is far higher than it should be.

Haiti's health ministry has said the vast majority of the deaths and hospitalizations have come in the more rural north and central provinces. The outbreak was first reported in the Artibonite region north of the capital.

Cholera is spread through contaminated food and water. It causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death.

Five Canadian tourists
died in Mexican explosion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mexican authorities say an apparent gas explosion at a hotel on the country's Caribbean coast has killed seven people, including five Canadian tourists.

Francisco Alor, state attorney general, said two of the dead were employees of the hotel.

Sunday's explosion occurred at the Grand Riviera Princess hotel in the beach resort of Playa del Carmen, which is located in Quintana Roo state.

Officials say about 20 people were injured, including several Canadians, two U.S. citizens and eight Mexicans who worked at the hotel.

Officials say the explosion was caused by natural gas which had accumulated beneath the building. The blast caused a large crater and blew out windows.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 225

Latin American news
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StarTek inaugurates center
that can employ 500 persons

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

StarTek inaugurated its new contact center operation in Costa Rica. The services industry company began operations during the first quarter of 2010 in a 440-seat facility which when fully occupied could employ 500 people. The new facility in Costa Rica is the eighteenth StarTek location worldwide and is located in the Free Zone America and occupies 37,000 square feet.

“In Costa Rica there is a large, well-educated, bilingual talent pool and a favorable business climate," the company said. "This is why we included Costa Rica in our global expansion plans.”

StarTek, Inc. is in the business process outsourcing industry. StarTek’s solutions includes sales, order management and provisioning, customer care, technical support, receivables management, and retention programs, it said. The company also offers clients voice, chat, e-mail and back-office support. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, StarTek also has delivery centers in North America, in the Philippines and virtually through its StarTek@Home workforce.

Some 27 contact centers are established in Costa Rica and  generate more than 15,000 job, government officials said.

Transport office damaged
by early morning blaze

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Fire damaged the transport ministry office that handles taxi licensing and bus concessions, but ministry officials said that no important papers wre destroyed.

Firemen said the alarm came in at 4:58 a.m. They blamed an electrical problem in a computer.

The office is located near the Y Griega traffic circle in south San José.

The ministry identified the office as that of the Consejo de Transporte Público. The major damage was in the administrative office of the Consejo, it added. Although the damage to the building was significant, the Consejo is maintaining normal hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, officials said.

They preyed while others
prayed in church nearby

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nothing is sacred when it comes to car thieves.

The Fuerza Pública said officers captured two men Sunday who had rifled vehicles of persons attending church in San Francisco de Dos Rios.

A citizen called police when the caller saw men breaking into cars. One vehicle had its driver's side window smashed. Crooks entered the other car by forcing the door.  In both cases radios were taken as well as other items. Police said they caught two suspects in the act and recovered the stolen items.

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