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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 228       Email us
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New prediction pushes the dry season even later
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's weather service now says that the increase in the strength of La Niña will prolong the shift from the rainy to dry season two to three weeks. The prediction is a change from the Nov. 1 summary when the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that everywhere but in the south Pacific, the onset of the dry season would be delayed this year from five to seven days at least.

The institute also said that the month of November would be more rainy than normal along the Pacific coast and in the Central Valley.

The effect of La Niña in the central Pacific was seen clearly in October, which was more rainy than normal all over the country, said the weather institute.

The new forecast noted the prolonged and intense wave of storms that hit the country from Oct. 9 to 22. In part, this was caused by Hurricane Rina. The system also was known as Tropical Depression 12-E.

Costa Rica still is recovering from that weather onslaught. In fact, the European Commission said Wednesday that it was allocating 61,733 euros to Costa Rica to help the Cruz Roja aid some 250 families, mainly in the provinces of Puntarenas and Guanacaste. More than 9,000 persons had to be evacuated because of flooding, the commission noted.

Much of the aid will go to providing personal care products, cleaning 500 water wells and providing cooking utensils, it said.

The new weather estimates are not news to Central Valley dwellers who have faced a week of rain alternating with dry periods.

The weather institute said the current phase of La Niña, a cooling in the Pacific, would become the most intense from December to February.  La Niña conditions probably will last until May, it said.

The waters in the Caribbean have been warmer than normal lately, but this is about to change with the waters cooling slightly to levels a bit below normal from December to February, the weather institute said.
Instituto Meteorológico Nacional graphic

With November being more rainy than normal, the weather institute said that the appearance of a new wave of storms from the Pacific could not be discounted for this month.

The end of the transition period from rainy to dry will be delayed from two to three weeks longer than normal in Guanacaste, and the Central Valley.

That is supposed to be in the fourth and final week of this month, it said.

In the Central Pacific the end of the transition period will be pushed forward to about Christmas.

The southern Pacific will see the end of the transition period and the advent of the dry season in time for New Year's, the institute estimated.

Other predictions are:

• more rain is expected along the Caribbean coast in the last half of November:

• Guanacaste and the Central Valley will see normal weather in December and January;

• the central and south Pacific will see more rain than normal during the same period;

• The Caribbean coast and the northern zone will be vulnerable to storms and perhaps flooding in both months;

• and thanks to northern winds and air from the Arctic, the temperature is expected to be colder and more windy than normal;

Because of its location, the southern Pacific always welcomes the dry season the latest and sees it leave the soonest.

This season the southern Pacific, the Caribbean and the northern zone are expected to see more rain for the next three months while conditions in the Central Valley and the northern and central Pacific are expected to be normal.

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Investigators give radio tips
on keeping credit cards safe

By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization's fraud investigation wing went on the radio airwaves Wednesday to educate citizens and tourists about a growing trend in credit card theft. They gave advice about simple preventative measures.

Chief of the bank fraud division, Francisco Velásquez, said one of the best ways customers can protect themselves against credit card theft is to be extra careful with a purse or wallet in public places in Costa Rica such as buses and plazas.

Marco Vargas, a banking fraud investigator with the Judicial Investigating Organization also suggested a debit card holder should never write down his or her personal identification number let alone carry it in a purse or a wallet.

Tourists can be blatant targets for this type of simple theft, and, according to the U.S. Department of State crime and safety report for Costa Rica, the U.S. Embassy in San Jose processes more cases of passport theft than any other U.S. embassy in the world. The most likely scenario is a bag or purse stolen from a bus or tourist van, and oftentimes a credit or debit card is taken with the passport.

But, Vargas, said petty theft may not be a traveler's greatest concern. He said credit card thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Simply feeling safe from credit card theft because the physical card was not stolen could be a false sense of security for potential victims, he said..

Velásquez suggested people check their balances regularly and report any unauthorized charges to their financial institution and investigators.

Con artists have been caught stealing information when patrons present their cards at restaurants or other seemingly safe places to make purchases, he said. The data taken from a card when it is scanned is enough to make a duplicate or purchase goods online.

Another method of maximizing illegal gains from a stolen credit card is for the thief to purchase as much as he or she can of high-end items such as flat screen televisions or other high-end electronics at a store, maxing out the card, and then exchange those products on the black market for cash or drugs.

It is common for credit cards or credit card information stolen in Costa Rica to end up in the hands of criminal syndicates or drug cartels in Mexico and Columbia, financing gang and drug warfare, the investigators reported.

And the trend of stolen credit or debit information seems to be on the rise. The travel recommendation Web sites for Costa Rica published by the Canadian, Australian and United States government warn against the threat of credit card theft for foreigners and say the rate of reported incidents is increasing.

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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Acción Ciudadana rips presidents on nation's poverty policy
By Shahrazad Encinias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of the Partido Acción Ciudadana called the presidential administration corrupt and inhuman for the country's increase in poverty since the Partido Liberacion Nacional was voted back into power.

What was supposed to be an alliance between the presidential party Liberación Nacional and Acción Ciudadana for budget reform has quickly turned into a nasty fight, where one party has claimed the other party has betrayed citizens and increased poverty in the nation.

“Costa Rica is becoming an unjust country,” said Juan Carlos Mendoza, president of the Asamblea Legislativa and representative for the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

Gustavo Arías, representative from the Acción Ciudadana, added “We are not in alliance with the government when it comes to these things.”

The Acción Ciudadana held a press conference Wednesday where party members who are lawmakers blamed Costa Rica's increase in poverty on the Óscar Arias Sánchez and the Laura Chinchilla Miranda administrations.

Survey results released this week show that poverty was relatively steady at 21.6 percent.

The slight rises reported this year are within the range of the statistical margin of the survey.
“The Arias Sánchez politics have remained in the Chinchilla administration,” said Víctor Hernández, representative for the Acción Ciudadana.

One of the promises made during the last presidential campaign was to fight Costa Rica poverty, but what happened is that both administrations fought against the negative campaign they had received from the media on poverty, in what the Partido Acción Ciudadana referred to as “maquillar cifras.” This is when the government manipulates social programs to alter the poverty numbers.

This strategy helped the party's approval ratings Acción Ciudadana said.

Economic aid was given to those who were just below the poverty line, instead of helping those in extreme poverty, they claimed. Party members said that in February 7,000 families were rejected by authorities when they asked for the supposed government program of scholarships and pensions, and these families fell into a category far below the poverty line.

A video the political party made said that since 1994 the numbers of those impoverished increased from 784,000 to 1,031,000. One out of every five Costa Rican families are below the poverty level, which means a per capital income of  approximately 92,122 colons ($181.16) per month. Approximately 137 people fall into extreme poverty daily, according to a study reported by the Acción Ciudadana.

“It's necessary as a society to demand for radical change to help these people,” said Mendoza.

fireworks montage
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos
Fireworkds found on a San José-bound bus and a load discovered on a truck in Guanacaste.
Police, health officials kick off seasonal fireworks campaign
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many people welcome Christmas time and all that may come with it — food, family, presents and vacations. But staff at the Hospital Nacional del Niños in San José is bracing for a season not only marked by the traditional perks, but also explosives.

The burn ward at the children's hospital reported that since the beginning of 2008 through 2010, 26 children have been treated there for injuries as a result of fireworks and other similar explosives. Fireworks can cause injuries ranging from negligible burns to shredded flesh, lost appendages and even death.

This year to date the hospital's staff has administered care to only three such cases, but the seasonal increase in explosives is still looming.

In an effort to curb the potential danger to children the hospital along with several other government agencies have launched a public awareness campaign. It kicked off Wednesday with a meeting of government officials representing several agencies.

Dr. Daisy María Corrales Díaz, minister of Salud, stressed the role of parents in preventing firework injuries to children.

“The children don't have the capacity to understand that the unsafe use of pyrotechnics or fireworks can cause to their bodies,” she said in a press release.
A spokesperson from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the Fuerza Pública has been working to do its part and had already seized more than 30,000 units of illegal fireworks across the country, including the bomb-type and exploding variety.  The press release notes that the sale of fireworks to minors is illegal and punishable with three to seven years in prison.

Police and health officials traditionally embark on an anti-fireworks campaign at the start of the Christmas season.
The basic rule in Costa Rica is that if a device explodes, it is illegal. Sparklers and other types of non-exploding devices are permitted.

Costa Rica manufactures fireworks, but many of the confiscated loads are smuggled from Nicaragua. In a curious case Oct. 18, robbers raided a fireworks factory in  Ochomogo de Cartago and made off with goods valued at 100 million colons, perhaps $200,000. Investigators made arrests in that case and recovered much of the fireworks.

Last Sept. 24, the Fuerza Pública intercepted a load of 62,704 explosive devices hidden in fertilizer. The truck came from Nicaragua, and the driver was detained.

Sunday Fuerza Pública officers intercepted another load in Guanacaste. This one contained 570 explosive devices. The fireworks were being transported on a bus on the Upala-San José route. The devices were called double thunder, and police said they were highly explosive. No arrest was made in this case because no one on the bus claimed the suitcase that contained the fireworks, said police at the time.

Marchers campaign for enviornment of social justice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain beat down on the black umbrellas of dozens of families as they trudged down the Boulevard del Museo Nacional Wednesday.

The march was put together by AsoPaz, a nonprofit organization that provides moral support and help for families of crime victims, trying to ease the pain.

The march was to promote an environment of greater social justice, peace, tolerance and social solidarity leading the way with a banner stating the organization´s motto: ¨AsoPaz... and the effect of justice will be peace.¨
The organization also is promoting a benefit it plans Sunday in San José.

One of the victims who was the subject of a banner was  Zacarías Sancho Ugalde who was shot twice a year ago in Palmares. The elderly lottery vendor tried to keep robbers from taking his money and tickets.

AsoPaz receives national recognition and provides international support for families of homicide victims. They have dedicated themselves to promoting change in Costa Rican society from the damage caused by homicide.

peace marchers
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
Marchers brave the rain to bring their message to the center of San José near the legislative complex.

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Surfer volunteers did more than chase waves in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Surfers travel the world chasing the best waves. But what is out of the ordinary is how members of Surf for Life pass the time when they're not out on the water. Instead of kicking back and relaxing, they spend their downtime helping build infrastructure for coastal communities.

California native Lissette Perez runs a hotel for surfers near El Cuco beach in El Salvador. She found out about Surf for Life, a grassroots organization which pairs travelers with vital projects in Central America, when a group of surfers from San Francisco stayed at her hotel. 

Ms. Perez, who also runs a non-profit organization which helps improve educational opportunities in El Salvador, talked with them about her plans to build a high school. They volunteered to help.

“They came down and spent almost two weeks," she says, "About 20 surfers came and worked, hands-on, and helped us finish the foundation and begin the walls on the project.” 

The volunteers were members of Surf for Life, which is based in San Francisco. Financial planner and surfer Alex Fang co-founded it four years ago.

“My friend and I wanted to create an organization that would allow people to travel, but also focus energy towards creating something positive," Fang says.

Surf for Life organizes trips to surfing destinations, where surfers also work on infrastructure projects which promote education in the local communities.

“For us, that includes bridges, things that allow people to access schools, schools themselves, renovating schools so they’re usable or completing unfinished schools.”

Sierra Brasher, 32, joined the group three months ago. “We’re saying, 'Thank you so much for providing us with your waves and your beaches and as a treat for you, we’re going to build a school in your community because your community needs it.'”

Ms. Brasher just returned from the Surf for Life trip to Costa Rica.

“It was the most memorable week of my entire life," she says. "I got to co-lead a trip of 14 volunteers. We went to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It’s in a jungle. It’s on this beautiful beach.”

Ms. Brasher and her group helped build a two-room elementary school.

“We had a total of 40 volunteers that traveled down there and
BriBri bridge
Surf for Life photo
 Surf for Life volunteers rebuilt this hanging bridge in
 southeastern Costa Rica.

the first group was laying the foundation," Ms. Brasher says. "Then the second group laid the tiles down and they finished the dry wall. Then our group grouted the tiles, cleaned up all the grout, and then we painted the entire interior and exterior of the two rooms.”

And that wasn't their only project. The group also helped build a soup kitchen which serves the BriBri, a local native tribe there.

Computer security expert Ian Sharpe was one of the people on Ms. Brasher's team.

“I don’t think I ever sweat as much as I had when I was down there in Costa Rica," he says. "I think it was a combination of all of the manual work and then also the climate.”

Still, says Sharpe, it was a rewarding experience.

“You see the smile on the kids’ faces and you know you’re making a lasting impact in the community. At the last day the students all created some thank you cards and thanked us for all the hard work, for helping them build up the school.”

So far, Surf for Life has focused on Central American communities, but co-founder Fang plans to expand.

“We’re looking at potential projects and partnerships with a few other organizations in Japan, Africa and in South Asia," Fang says. "We’re looking at Bangladesh and trying to create a women’s center in one of the surfing villages out there.”

While Surf for Life members are building what local communities need, they are also changing perceptions about surfers. They are not interested only in riding the waves and having fun, they also care about the people who live near the beautiful beaches they love.

Prisonsers show their talent
in annual arts and crafts fair

By Zack McDonald

of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Nacional de Cultura was the location for the annual prisoners arts and crafts fair Wednesday where music played and people danced throughout the day.

Works of art made by prisoners and refreshments prepared by the juvenile delinquency center were sold on the outer rim as armed penitentiary guards roamed around the dance floor and craft stands.

These works of art were brought from about 10 institutions all over the country. Some inmates on probation or work release attended the fair as well as some still jailed.

The crafts fair had an assortment of items for purchase: boxes, paintings, bags, dolls, purses, toys and even vegetables, all products of prison labor. They were available and, according to the guards, the proceeds will go to a worthy cause.

Mostly the funds earned from the works are donated to the families of inmates and toward helping reintegrate former prisoners into society.
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
Hand-carved works also were on display and for sale.

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Obama sending Marines
to Australia to tweak China

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President Barack Obama has reaffirmed Washington’s unbreakable alliance with Australia during a speech to parliament in Canberra today.  Obama said the United States diplomatic focus would now shift from the war on terrorism to economic and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.  He is the fourth U.S. president to address lawmakers in the Australian capital. 

Obama was warmly received by Australian lawmakers.  He said the bilateral security alliance was unbreakable and that the bonds between the United States and Australia run deep.

“From the trenches of the First World War to the mountains of Afghanistan, Aussies and Americans have stood together.  We have fought together; we have given lives together in every single major conflict of the past 100 years, every single one.  The solidarity has sustained us through a difficult decade.  We will never forget the attacks of 9/11 that took the lives not only of Americans but people from many nations including Australia,” he said.  

Obama’s address to the Parliament in Canberra came a day after announcing that the U.S. would deploy military aircraft and up to 2,500 marines to northern Australia, a move seen by regional analysts as sending an unmistakable message to China.

Beijing has responded frostily, stressing that the deployment may not be quite appropriate.

President Obama welcomed the rise of China as an economic and military power but said he wanted more engagement between U.S .and Chinese forces to avoid misunderstandings.

He has, though, promised to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region and project power and deter threats to peace in that part of the world.

“As the world’s fastest-growing region - and home to more than half the global economy  - the Asia-Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority and that is creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.  With most of the world’s nuclear powers and some half of humanity Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation,” Mr. Obama said.

President Obama also said human rights violations continue in Burma and called on nations to build support for the fundamental rights of all citizens.

He noted that while Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently free from house arrest and some political prisoners have been released, the United States would continue to speak out against abuses.

Washington is shifting its diplomatic focus from the Middle East and the war on terrorism to the security challenges and economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region.  The president said that as the U.S. ends its military involvement in Iraq and winds down operations in Afghanistan there would be some reductions in defense spending but that he is committed to maintaining America's influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Following his address to the Australian parliament in Canberra, the president flies to the northern city of Darwin before attending the 18-nation East Asia summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Another major drug tunnel
found at Mexican border

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. authorities have uncovered a major drug smuggling tunnel under the border with Mexico and seized 14 tons of marijuana during searches related to an investigation.

Officials say the cross-border tunnel was about 400 meters long and connected warehouses in Tijuana, Mexico, and in an industrial park in the San Diego, California, area.  The investigators also say the tunnel, which was discovered Tuesday, was equipped with structural supports, electricity and a ventilation system.  The multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force is conducting the investigation.

In November of last year, raids on two tunnels linking California and Mexico netted a combined 50 tons of marijuana on both sides of the border.  They were equipped with rail systems, lighting and ventilation.  The tunnels are among dozens that have been discovered in recent years.

Colombian rebels receive
new leader to replace Cano

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's leftist rebels announced Tuesday that Timoleon Jiménez, better known as Timochenko, was named their new leader earlier this month.

Timochenko replaces former leader Alfonso Cano, who was killed November 4 in a battle with government troops.  Cano had led the group since 2008.

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia rebels have been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s.  Their numbers have dwindled over the years, but some analysts estimate the group has as many as 9,000 fighters.

Most of the rebel funding comes from cocaine trafficking and extortion, but the leftist rebels are believed to be holding an unknown number of people for ransom or political leverage.

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia has been designated as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.

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Former magistrate cited
to appear in Crucitas case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial said Wednesday that the nation's chief prosecutor had summoned a former Sala Primera magistrate to appear to give a statement. The case is the one of the Las Crucitas gold mine when someone leaked the draft of an anticipated high court decision.

The former magistrate is Moisés Fachler, a politically connected lawyer. He denies that he is the person who leaked the document. A former employee of Industrias Infinito S.A. was the whistle blower in the case but he did not name the magistrate. The former employee said he was at a meeting when a magistrate turned over copies of the decision to representatives of Infinito and its Canadian parent company.

The Poder Judicial characterized Fachler as a suspect in an investigation of divulging secrets and of failing to do his duties. Both are criminal allegations.

The Sala Primera is the appeals court for a lower court ruling that annulled the Infinito concession for an open pit gold mine in Cutris de San Carlos near the Nicaraguan border.

Our reader's opinion
U.S. expat gives his homage
to Gamboa and Malpais

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been coming to Costa Rica since 1982. I am married to a Tica, and we live in Florida now with our 6-year-old son. Costa Rica is near and dear to my heart, and everyday I am away I think about what I want to do as soon as I get home. It used to include looking to see if Malpais was going to be playing at the Jazz Cafe!
In August, Costa Rica lost a National treasure with the death of Fidel Gamboa, the singer, song writer and driving force behind the musical group Malpais. I first heard their music about 2000 when as I was leaving the airport. I heard Malpais Uno and bought the CD. I was hooked. I wanted to understand what they were singing about so I studied and improved my Spanish. I moved to live in San José in May of 2005 and, in time, met both Fidel Gamboa and Manual Obregon. I have had the pleasure to share a drink and stories with them on several occasions.

I brought many students from the language school I studied at to hear them play at the Jazz Cafe, and all of the members would come and sit, talk and sign the CDs the kids bought. They were truly ambassadors for the country and the culture.

Now Malpais is going to perform its final concert this Friday at the National Stadium. I wish I could be there with my son Jarrell sitting with me and Dina singing their songs out loud. When Jarrell could first start to sing we would do a duet together to "Una Gota de Agua."   We still sing it together. I haven't told him Fidel died and that Malpais will disband after this concert. He doesn't comprehend death yet.
I hope the band finds a way to continue to play on with another name, much like the Grateful Dead did when Gerry Garcia died. The music will never die.
If you are an American reading this, and are in San José and if you have never seen Malpais, buy a ticket no matter what the price and go. This is treasure not unlike the Gold Museum or the Teatro Nacional, and it's going to end. Don't miss it. You'll understand when all of the people there sing every song. It will be AWESOME!
Patrick Mach
St Augustine, Florida
 La Uruca

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