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(506) 2223-1327              Published Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 228        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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War talk by Chávez got the attention of hemisphere
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When a government's leadership is in trouble, war is a nice option.

That is an option ably satirized in "Wag the Dog," the 1998 portrayal of Washington insiders creating a fake war to distract the public from a sex scandal involving the president. The war was produced by Dustin Hoffman, who won an Academy Award for his role as a Hollywood expert. Robert DeNiro was the amoral spin doctor who chose little known Albania as the location for the conflict.

The film has been praised for its accidental anticipation of the scandal that engulfed president Bill Clinton.

When the government is authoritarian, the options are greater and can include extensive saber-rattling and even war itself. Some historians believe that Adolph Hitler set out on his reckless course of action mostly for internal political reasons.

Now there are threats of war in Venezuela. Strongman Hugo Chávez called upon his military Nov. 8 to protect the country from the presumed threats of having 800 U.S. soldiers and technicians set up shop at seven Colombian bases.

"Commander of the military garrison, militia battalions, let's form the militia body, let's train ourselves. Revolutionary students, workers, and women: everybody must be ready to defend this sacred homeland called Venezuela," the Venezuelan ruler said, according to a translation by El Universal, the Caracas daily newspaper. "If you want peace, prepare for war."

Colombian officials have complained to the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Chávez is not the most threatening autocrat. He is almost a parody. He likes to give long-winded speeches and wear red berets. But he should not be underestimated, according to the Diario de Las Americas, the Spanish language newspaper in Miami, Florida. It said in an editorial last week:

"So many are the provocations of the Venezuelan ruler, that no matter how incompatible they might seem with reality, they should not go unnoticed and, therefore, should be seriously considered by the nations of the free world, especially by the republics of the inter-American system."

Chávez also has spent billions on weaponry in Russia. This includes helicopters and fighter jets. Venezuelan troops still are not considered a match for Colombian forces, but the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the narcoterrorists, are likely to come down on the side of Chávez in any confrontation. Although Chávez and other Venezuelan officials deny it, there appears to be a close relationship.

The unusual position for Chávez is to be seeking to destroy his top enemy, the United States, which also happens to be its biggest petroleum customer.
Chávez at a Sunday talk
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Hugo Chávez at one of his Sunday talks.

As Chávez has tightened the reins on his economy by nationalization and expropriation, the business sector has weakened.  The international experts have been leaving, and not many companies want to make investments in Venezuela. Crime has soared.

Nevertheless, Chávez has stitched together alliances with Bolivia and its Evo Morales and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The Venezuelan leader threatened Colombia earlier after the March 1, 2008, cross border raid that broke up a narcoterrorist cell.

In addition to being at war with the narcoterrorists, the current Colombian government stands in the way of the Chávez plan for a unified superstate he would head in northern South America.

The technique of uniting the people with the threat of war is an old one. Fidel Castro, the mentor of  Chávez, has had the Cuban people fearing a U.S. invasion for five decades. Authoritarian regimes in the Soviet Union and in China also have used the technique in times of food scarcities, economic downturns and other adverse social conditions.

The big difference between Castro and Chávez is that the latter has oil revenues to press on with his Bolivarian revolution.

Another difference, which has leaders in the hemisphere on the edges of their seats is that Chávez may actually do it. He says he sees Colombia as no more than a U.S. outpost and the troops being sent there as a threat to his national security.

He says the United States wants to control his oil fields. Chávez also is sulking over his political defeat in backing ousted president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales in his efforts to sow socialism in Honduras.

There is little that Costa Rica can do even though it could easily be affected by any hot war. President Óscar Arias Sánchez stopped making comments about Chávez after the leader threatened to cut off aluminum for a Venezuelan-owned fabrication plant in Esparza. That would have put more than 400 persons out of work.

Costa Rica still is represented on the U.N. Security Council where the complaints by Colombia about the threats by Chávez are certain to end up. But not much is expected to happen there.

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Caribbean again facing
rising water and flood threat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is another possibility of a flooding problem in southeastern Costa Rica.

A high pressure system in the Gulf of México is pushing more moisture over the Caribbean coast and the northern zone of Costa Rica, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. This means continuing rain over ground that already is soaked.

The rivers in the canton of Talamanca are rising, but there are no reports yet of serious flooding.

The community of Sixaola is vulnerable to rising waters. It sits on the river of the same name. Frequently the community is flooded out and residents have to move to higher ground.

The weather institute said that the chilly temperatures will continue and that rain is likely over the mountains around the Central Valley.

The institute said that the meteorological station at Manzanillo registered 170 mm in the 30 hours ending at late afternoon Tuesday. That's about 6.7 inches.  The national emergency commission declared an alert for Talamanca and put the rest of the Caribbean coast on notice. That included Limón, Matina, Siquirres, Guácimo, Pococí and even Sarapiquí in the province of Heredia.

While northern Guanacaste remains dry, the rest of the Pacific coast will experience afternoon rains, the institute said.

The U.S. Hurricane Center said there was no evidence that a serious low pressure area would develop during the next two days. Both the Atlantic and eastern Pacific were clear.

The weather institute said that the rain spawned by the moisture laden air on the Caribbean might stay around for the rest of the week.

Tico national team plays
as underdog in Uruguay

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican national team needs to win by at least two goals today to earn a spot in the 2010 World Cup. But most fans think that winning is a long shot.

The game is being played in Estadio Centenario in Montevideo where the Uruguay national team has been highly successful.

Even the San José newspapers seem to be making excuses already. La Nación, the major daily, is running a story today about the ages of the major players. Two are 35. And the newspaper mentions that another standout had bad knees for the game. A second news story says that if Ticos win it will be a miracle.

Costa Rica dropped a home game to Uruguay Saturday 1-0. If the teams split the two games, the one with the most goals advances to South Africa and the World Cup.

Cartago medical tower
and San Carlos site advance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers on separate legislative commissions made site selections Tuesday. One specified the land for a new medical tower for Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago. The second designation was for a branch location of the new Universidad Tecnica Nacional in San Carlos.

The Comisión Permanente Especial de Asuntos Municipales y Desarrollo Local Participativo authorized the Municipalidad de Cartago to donate land to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social for the new addition to the hospital. The decision was controversial because some residents of the area did not want the local government to donate land because it is located in Plaza Asís.

The municipality is expected to rebuild another sports center to take the place of the donated plaza.

The Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios approved the San Carlos location for the university branch.

Both measures now go to the full legislature for likely approval.

Collectors' event to help
locate unique holiday gifts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here's an idea for a great holiday gift.

The Museos del Banco Central is sponsoring  a money exchange Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This usually is where collectors meet to exchange specimens of  collectible coins and bills. The event is in the vestibule of the museums under Plaza de la Cultura.

Some collectors have elaborate displays of their interests. Many restrict their efforts to Costa Rican coins and currency. But also available are coffee tokens and other historical artifacts. The tokens were used in the fields to represent baskets of coffee beans that were picked by workers on commission.

Tokens make good Christmas gifts as do some of the more colorful Costa Rican currencies.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 228

Readers comment on noise, luxury tax, crime, visas
Jake brakes and motos
are biggest noise offenders

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading the article on noise which appeared in the Monday edition of A.M. Costa Rica, I would agree with Tuesday’s follow-up letter writer Worsham who was surprised that the all-too-pervasive jake-braking one hears all over Costa Rica was not mentioned in the original letter. I hear a lot of jake-braking near my apartment in Alajuela centro even though where I live in town it is relatively flat.

But there seems to be yet another overlooked aspect to this serenade of sound:  Motorcycles with extra-loud mufflers who make a game out of knowing where the cars with the most sensitive auto-alarms are, then roar past them repeatedly, setting them off.

Having been in Costa Rica for several years now on a semi-permanent basis I have gradually become desensitized (mostly, anyway) to the ambient vehicular noise around Alajuela centro and no longer notice it nearly so much as I once did.

Fortunately, after about 9:30 in the evening everything falls mostly silent in town and aside from an infrequent vehicle rumbling past and one group of about three very noisy motorcyclists who, around 11 p.m., roar off from several blocks away apparently heading home for the night, it is quite peaceful in Alajuela.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the officials start trying to enforce the noise laws, if in fact they ever do.  The Costa Rican law currently states that by 8 p.m. loud noises should abate. That is distinct from in Tampa, Florida, where it is not until midnight that noise restrictions begin.

One good thing has perhaps come from being subjected to noisy Costa Rica and it is that by comparison my neighborhood in Tampa which, I used to think was excessively noisy, now seems amazingly quiet by comparison.
Wm. Paul Mitchell
Alajuela centro & Tampa, Florida

Limited election terms
hinder fight against crime

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Holtz is absolutely correct when he writes crime in Costa Rica must be stopped now. Too much damage being done to the innocent victims, to their property and to the country, can’t continue without disastrous consequences. And he is also correct, in part, when he says a patronizing criminal system — the “pobrecito” syndrome, feeling sorry for the “little guy” — is to blame, but there is more to it than that.

The biggest contributor to the surge in crime is the nearly complete absence of long-term planning in the government, and you can’t blame politicians for that. The whole political system is conceived in four-year increments and each increment is all that is important to politicians. You know, of course, that the president, the congressional deputies, mayor and city councilmen cannot succeed themselves in office. Elected officials have to step down and give someone else a turn at bat. Naturally, they say to themselves why plan ahead? Get what you can, do what you can in four years because I’m outta here, leave the mess for someone else to clean up in the next administration with new batters.

The mess that we are living in now with crime was started many years ago, and everyone knew a mess was being made, but only the letter writers to newspaper editors spoke up. The politicians agreed we had a mess and promised to do something about it, knowing full well that they wouldn’t, couldn’t because a mess of this kind and magnitude takes long-term solutions, and that is nearly impossible because those who dominate each four-year increment are different from those who preceded it. Even if a plan is laid out, it is “borrón y cuenta nueva” or erase all and start over again with a new plan for governing.

The only way for this tremendous defect in the political system to be corrected is for “the people” demanding, through their public outcry, to get this #%& problem on the priority list of every single politician and start looking out for the interests of the country, instead of their own and to ignore that four-year time frame by planning ahead. Be patriotic for a change. We live now, but tomorrow is today just around the corner, so get prepared for it because up to now, you haven’t.
Robert Nahrgang S.

Firearm freedom for Ticos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding John Holtz’s article “He’s angry with the Patronizing Criminal System,” the answer is simple: You must legally arm yourself when you go out, then when the criminals realize that most people are armed, they will stop knocking off restaurants.  You never hear about the crimes that are PREVENTED by guns, only when a child or someone gets killed. People die everyday from car accidents, but nobody wants to ban cars, do they?
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was put in place so that the people could defend themselves from tyrannical governments and criminals, etc.  It’s time that Costa Rica did the same. God bless CR!
T. Mark Alsip
Berlin, San Ramón

That was not idea of Holtz

Dear readers:

Several letter writers incorrectly criticized Mr. Holtz for suggesting that foreigners be barred from carrying a firearm. That is not his idea or his opinion. It is the subject of a decree signed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez that either had or soon will be law after it is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper. Under terms of the decree foreigners cannot be given a permit to carry a weapon. We think this might also apply to renewals of such permits. This is another case of the central government trying to fight crime with useless, ideologically based efforts.
The editors

Extending luxury home tax
another slap to retirees

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding the story reported on Tuesday the 17th, I’m dismayed.  To suggest that the tax be extended and increased when it has just been in effect is alarming.  This gives new meaning to the term walking wallet.  Does Don Óscar really think he can eliminate slums?  Where is he going to start, La Carpio?  When word gets back to Nicaragua, he won’t be able to build houses fast enough to accommodate the flood of more illegals looking for their free house.

We bought a house in Atenas a few years ago when we had some money, planning for our retirement.  We did this because we thought that we would be able to get by on our Social Security.  When the assessment on the houses goes up every year and, as you report, the rate may increase as well, this amounts to an exponential increase.

Coupled with the raise in the monetary requirement for residency, it will only take a few short years for people like us to be taxed into extinction.  Margaret Thatcher is correct:  “The trouble with socialism is, pretty soon you run out of someone’s else’s money.”  They killed the goose.

Frank Zielinski
Atenas/Middletown, Delaware
Perpetual tourist defends
his lifestyle in Costa Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This letter is in response to the 20 editorial positions advanced by A.M. Costa Rica, specifically number four which relates to the legalities of living in Costa Rica. The statement that “being a perpetual tourist puts the individual at risk for deportation and loss of property” certainly points a disparaging finger at those of us who prefer to live here as “perpetual tourists.”

My wife, Carol, and I moved to Heredia slightly over a year ago, primarily because of the excellent, affordable health care available here. It was never our intention to impose on the Caja system which we believe is a tremendous asset for the Costa Rican people, but not necessarily for us. Instead, our research indicated that the services and medications needed by us could be paid for outright for a fraction of the cost we faced in our native Tennessee. And this has truly been the case.

We have established great relationships with Hospital CIMA, several doctors, one dentist and a local pharmacist. We also have a reasonable amount set aside for any calamity, along with about $30,000 of available credit. All of which is to say that we did not come here to be a burden.

As retirees caught in that peculiar space between Social Security eligibility and Medicare (three years), Costa Rica presented an attractive alternative to retirement in the U.S. for reasons beyond the aforementioned medical care. We have enjoyed exploring this beautiful country, meeting our neighbors and making new friends. And then there’s the incredible climate.

In addition to our savings, we finance ourselves with two S.S. payments and one pension which generates about $32,000 annually. For the past year, almost every nickel of that has been spent in Costa Rica. I say almost because, in order to follow the rules, we have made five sojourns, three to Panama and two to Nicaragua in order to have our tourist visas renewed.

Why this apparently accepted and legal procedure is frowned upon by A.M. Costa Rica is a mystery to us both. We also find this requirement of the Costa Rican government to be rather curious. Belize, for instance, has the stipulation that a tourist visa can be renewed by simply appearing at immigration, presenting your passport and paying a FEE, not a FINE, to remain.

There are certainly many “perpetual tourists” here who would be more than willing to adhere to this procedure, rather than vacating their homes for three days, thus generating additional revenue for the government. For instance, 1,000 couples paying $250 every three months (I use this figure arbitrarily because it is approximately what we have spent on each of our sojourns) would put $1,000,000 annually into the government coffers that isn’t there now.  We believe this should be considered as a viable option/alternative.

We rent our home from a Costa Rican resident and that has also proven to be a fruitful relationship. We have no intention of buying property in Costa Rica for several reasons, first and foremost being that ownership would be limiting to our mobility. Currently, we could be packed and gone to anywhere in the world in a matter of days, an attractive situation for a couple of old folks who worked hard all their lives and are now ready to enjoy the fruits of their labor, wherever it might take us.

From our point of view, we’re trying Costa Rica on for size to see how it fits, how it feels. Carol and I see ourselves as valuable commodities to this, or any other community with which we wish to participate. Our opinion is that Costa Rican political affairs should be left to the Costa Ricans and we, as visitors, can either accept the decisions that are made, or leave. Not wanting to meddle in Costa Rica’s internal affairs, this only seems fair to us.

However, Costa Rica would be wise to recognize that many “baby boomers” like ourselves will also be looking for retirement options. Multiply our $32,000 times about 1,500 other retirement couples, a very modest estimate indeed, and that figure exceeds the estimated amount that the new annual luxury tax on property is expected to generate. And these are dollars being converted into colons, lots of dollars, and deposited with the local economy, not the government.

In fact, Costa Rica should give serious thought to actively recruiting U.S. “baby boomers” — we’re a pretty decent lot overall — simply for the revenue. Make it attractive for us to live here. Pass laws to that effect. Remove the stigma that seems to be attached to “perpetual tourist.” We’re here simply to enjoy our retirement without causing a lot of waves for anyone.

We would like to feel appreciated. If we’re not, well, it’s a big, wonderful world out there and spending our money elsewhere is most assuredly a consideration.

James R. Lynch
La Lillianna, San Francisco de Heredia, Heredia.

Expat feels frustration
getting grandkids a visa

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A copy of a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy:

I am quite sure I am totally wasting my time writing this and it will probably be instantly deleted, but here goes.

I am a U.S. citizen retired to Costa Rica. My adopted son (also a U.S. citizen) married a Costa Rican woman and is adopting here three children, ages 20, 13, and 11. Therefore, I have a new set of grandchildren.

I am going to Orlando in January for one week and planned on taking the three children with me so they could spend the entire time in Disneyworld. They all have passports.

Then the fun part started. We made the telephone appointment and paid the $14 to do (an annoying ripoff). Then we paid the ludicrous $131 (times three) fee for the Visa Applications. After a two-hour wait (this is WITH an appointment!), the “interview” lasted less than five minutes.

We had ALL required paperwork plus copies of their round trip airline tickets and hotel reservation, yet the consulate lady refused the kids a visa.  After all, why should three really great children get to go to DisneyWorld and have a most favorable impression of the United States to bring back to their countrymen???

Just what kind of message are we sending to the world?? Costa Rica to the best of my knowledge, is not a hotbed of terrorism. Three children whose mother and adoptive father live here along with extended uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, etc. are certainly not going to disappear in the States.

I am embarrassed for my country and I had to apologize for the insanity of the U.S. to my grandkids.  Now I am beginning to understand why we are so widely disliked in the rest of the world.

Tony Kasday
Santa Ana

EDITOR'S NOTE: We, too, are embarrassed for the high-handed, arrogant treatment afforded many Costa Ricans when they seek U.S. visas. The decisions seem arbitrary, and there is no appeal. Drug dealers can get visas while honest folks cannot. Local businessmen can erect false companies to get visas for girlfriends, but your grandkids cannot. This is another example of a failure of leadership in the U.S. State Department.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 228

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Murders here are few when compared to Honduras

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Long-time residents are upset by the apparent upswing in violence in the country. But compared to another Central American nation, Costa Rica still is the Switzerland of America.

Honduras registered 498 murders during October, according to Networked Intelligence, a digest published by Southern Pulse Network. That makes the 2009 total 4,214 deaths, an average of 421 victims each month and 14 victims daily, said Networked Intelligence.

Nearly all the deaths are linked to crimes, including kidnapping cases, and not to any political upheaval in the country.

By contrast, the Cruz Roja said that Costa Rica registered 24 presumed murders by gun and knife in October. That was 31 percent of the 78 violent deaths handled by the
rescue agency. Some 30 deaths were linked to automobile accidents. Even counting other types of violent deaths,
including water accidents, only an average of 2.5 persons died each day in October, the Cruz Roja said.

The statistics are not complete because some deaths do not result in notification of the Cruz Roja, but complete statistics have not been compiled yet by police agencies.

They usually do so on an annual basis.

As far as the Cruz Roja data goes, there were only 815 violent deaths registered in the first 10 months of the year that were handled by the agency.

A lot of the deaths in Honduras can be attributed to gang activity. That is why Costa Rican law enforcement and immigration police put such a high priority on keeping Central American criminal gang members out of the county. Life in Honduras is harder with many more persons living below the poverty line.

Honduras has a population of about 8 million, slightly less than twice that of Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 228

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Trees in mountains grow
quicker now, study finds

By the National Science Foundation

Anyone who has ever cut down a tree is familiar with the rings radiating out from the center of a tree trunk marking the tree's age. Careful study of tree rings can offer much more: a rich record of history and indications of concerns for the future.

Researchers Matthew Salzer and Malcolm Hughes of the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and their colleagues have analyzed tree-rings from bristlecone pine trees at the highest elevations, looking for the reasons behind an extraordinary surge in growth over the past 50 years. Their findings appear in the Nov. 16 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers studied bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) at three sites in California and Nevada, close to the upper elevation limit of tree growth. The tree-ring record showed wider rings in recent decades, indicating a surge in growth in the second half of the 20th century that was greater than at any time in the last 3,700 years.

"We've got a pretty strong pointer that temperature plays a part in this," said Hughes in describing the work. "So the puzzle is, why does it play a part in it for the trees near the treeline and not for those only 300, 400 feet lower down the mountain than them?"

To solve that puzzle, the research team took core samples, drawing from living and dead trees, which were well preserved in the cold, dry climate existing at the high elevation. They were able to chart ring width going back 4,600 years.

"We're able to overlap the patterns from the dead wood with the inner part of the living trees, and that way move back in time, dating the samples as we go," said Salzer.

They determined that fertilization from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not adequately explain this kind of growth at the upper-forest level. What they found was that the bristlecone pines at treeline grow faster when temperatures are warmer — in contrast to the trees lower down the mountain, which grow faster with higher amounts of precipitation and when temperatures are cooler. In other words, it's the chilly mountaintop climate that has been limiting growth for these particular trees.

So, the researchers say, that strongly points to warmer temperatures as a cause of the recent surge in growth for bristlecone pines. This finding has implications that reach beyond the state of the trees.

"What it means for the mountains, and the mountain environment, is probably treeline will be moving up, and there are some indications of that occurring," said Salzer. "Other animal and plant species will have to shift up to accommodate the changing conditions."

There is the potential for impact on humans as well.

"High mountains are our water towers. That's where we store water as snow through the winter," said Hughes. "And if we reduce the fraction of year for which that water is there as snow rather than running straight down as rain or evaporating, then this has pretty serious consequences for our future water supplies."

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 228

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Many fail to eat enough,
according to new report

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With world leaders meeting in Rome to discuss ways to tackle global hunger, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds more Americans than ever before are experiencing food insecurity.

The report estimates that 49 million Americans had trouble getting enough to eat in 2008. That's the largest figure since the annual survey of food security began in 1995. It represents nearly one in seven U.S. households, and it's a sharp increase from 2007, before the global recession began, when about one in 10 households were food-insecure.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the report as a wake-up call.

"I think this report suggests that it is time for America to get very serious about food security and hunger, about nutrition, and about food safety," said Vilsack.

The figures come from a representative sample of about 44,000 U.S. households. Participants were asked questions about their access to adequate food. Of those who had difficulty affording enough food, one-third of them — or nearly 7 million households — had to cut back on meals because of it. Many of the others turned to federal programs or local food banks to make up the difference.

But the increased demand is putting strain on food banks across the country. For example, Shamia Holloway is a spokeswoman for the Capital Area Food Bank, which serves more than 700 organizations around Washington, DC. Holloway says demand is up by 30 to 100 percent.

"They're seeing longer lines," said  Ms. Holloway. "They're not turning people away, but they are giving away fewer food items to accommodate the increase in requests for food."

The survey found African Americans, Latinos, and single-parent families were most likely to have trouble getting enough food. But Holloway and others say one of the most striking trends is the change in who is seeking help.

"First-time visitors are coming seeking food assistance," she said. "Middle-class individuals who would never think they would have to come the food bank are now coming to us for food. And I've even heard of a case of a former donor who used to support the food bank is now coming to us for food assistance."

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