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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 233           E-mail us
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Oxen parade
this Sunday

One official start to the Christmas season is the Entrada de los Santos to San José. The wooden figurines are mounted on ox carts. The event is Sunday morning starting at Parque La Sabana and passing through Avenida 2. Camera buffs love the event and the gentle, giant beasts.

Nation's forest protection has unintended results
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new study questions the impact of forest protection schemes in Costa Rica and four other  countries. The study says that although these developing nations have protected their own woodlands, they are encouraging deforestation elsewhere by importing wood.

Concern for woodlands even figured in the court decision on the Crucitas open pit mining project Wednesday.

Crucitas decision . . . HERE!

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Costa Rica has protected about 27 percent of its land area with national parks, reserves and refuges. However, according to the study, for every 100 that are protected, about 74 acres are deforested elsewhere to feed the appetite for wood.

The other countries are Vietnam, El Salvador, China and Chile, according to a summary of the study produced by Stanford University.

The study says that the world's forests are vanishing at a rate of more than 32 million acres a year, which the authors say is roughly the size of the U.S. region of New England.

"Reducing deforestation is an international priority, given its impacts on carbon emissions and biodiversity," said study co-author Eric Lambin of Stanford University and the University of Louvain in Belgium. "However, our study found that strengthened forest-conservation policies and economic expansion often increased the demand for imported timber and agricultural products, which contributed to deforestation abroad."

In the study, Lambin and co-authors Patrick Meyfroidt of the University of Louvain and Thomas Rudel of Rutgers University analyzed the relationship between reforestation at the national

scale and the international trade in forest and
agricultural products between 1961 and 2007.  The researchers focused on the five developing countries plus India. All six underwent a shift from net deforestation to net reforestation during that period, they said.

With the exception of India, the return of native forests was accompanied by a reduction in timber harvests and new farmland, thus creating a demand for imported wood and agricultural products.

"For every 100 acres of reforestation in these five countries, they imported the equivalent of 74 acres of forest products," said Meyfroidt. "Taking into account their exports of agricultural products, the net balance amounted to 22 acres of land used in other countries."

During the past five years, the net land-use displacement increased to 52 acres of imported agricultural or forestry products for every 100 acres reforested, he added. That is, for every acre of reforested land, a half-acre was used elsewhere, including countries like Brazil and Indonesia, which together accounted for 61 percent of deforestation in the humid tropics between 2000 and 2005, he said.

"If local forest protection merely shifts forest-conversion pressure to natural forests elsewhere in the world, we will not achieve a net gain for nature at a global scale," Lambin said. "However, this study does not imply that the effort of these countries to protect their forests was useless, but that international trade in wood and agricultural products can decrease the global environmental benefits of national forest-protection policies. The glass is half full, not just half empty."

The authors propose more international cooperation on deforestation and integrating trade date in negotiations on environmental issues.

The authors will present the study at the Dec. 5 meeting of the U.N. Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Cancun, México.

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Castro and citizens
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Minister Castro speaks with concerned citizens

Foreign minister heading
for U.N. meeting Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's foreign minister travels to New York Monday to meet with United Nations officials to discuss the invasion by Nicaraguan troops.

The minister, René Castro, will be seeking yet another international organization as an ally in confronting the expansionist-minded government in Managua. In New York he will meet with members of the U.N. Secretariat the Security Council, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Castro is trying to get Nicaraguan troops withdrawn from the Isla Calero, Costa Rican territory, and halt the construction of a new channel and mouth for the Río San Juan. The bulk of his efforts relate to environmental damage.

Among other things, Castro will have to counter the claims that the situation is one of a boundary dispute that could be settled by negotiations. The situation is an invasion, but Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has muddied the waters to characterize the issue as a boundary claim with legitimate arguments on both sides.

Castro already has received backing from the Organization of American States and has achieved a Jan. 11 hearing before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Initially Castro wants the International Court of Justice to issue a restraining order against further digging on the island.

Ortega rejects both the advice of the Organization of American States and the jurisdiction of the Hague court. The United Nations is the only organization that has access to military forces.

Castro also has appealed the case to the secretariat of the international convention on wetlands because the Island has been specified as a protected area under the treaty.

Wednesday Castro met with citizens who wanted to hear more about the situation. He met with environmentalists Tuesday.

Stadium to see first game
with March inauguration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new stadium being built by the People's Republic of China in exchange for Costa Rica's diplomatic support will be inaugurated in March with a game between the national team and that of Argentina, officials have announced.

There also is a possibility that a top team from China might visit and play a game a short time later.

The $85 million stadium is in Parque la Sabana.

There also are reports that Colombian singer Shakira will give a musical performance sometime in April.

Costa Rica dumped Taiwan in favor of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic in 2007.

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One of the new airport waiting areas.

More space at airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Travelers now have 17,500 more square meters of space at Juan Santamaría airport. Some of the space is in two new waiting areas that can seat 264 persons.

The work was completed by Aeris Holding, a Houston Airport Systems firm, that took over management of the airport in Alajuela 18 months ago. The concession runs until 2026. The company plans to invest about $30 million.

The new areas were inaugurated Wednesday.

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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Court deals a new setback to Crucitas open pit gold project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Crucitas open pit gold mine project hit another barrier Wednesday.  After more than a month of trial, the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo ordered the central government to cancel the mineral concession held by Industrias Infinito S.A.

The lower-level court did not go into detail, but a full, written decision is expected next week. The gist was that there were irregularities in the concession process.

The case most certainly will be appealed, first to the appellate level of the same court. The Sala IV constitutional court already has ruled the opposite of what the lower court said.

The decision electrified environmental activists who cheered and later danced in the streets. Most were university students who have been encouraged to protest the mining plan.

At stake is an estimated 1.2 million ounces of gold. The market price Wednesday was about $1.7 billion. The government was pushing the project as a way to bring economic growth into the area, which is the extreme northern sector of the province of Alajuela.

Casa Presidencial said it respected the judicial decision and was awaiting a copy of the full text. The project has been in the works in one form or another since 1993, and the estimated investment by the company, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, is about $66 million.

Significant work already has been done on the site, which is some three kilometers from the country's northern border. More than 400 persons are employed there, but the project has been frozen for two years due to environmental concerns.

As part of the decision Wednesday, the chief judge,  Eduardo González Segura, encouraged prosecutors to examine the role former president Óscar Arias Sánchez had in the project. Arias issued a decree that said the mining project was in the national interest. This gave the company latitude to, among other things, cut endangered trees. The court also said the role of the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental should be examined, too.

The mine project has been attacked because in order to dig a pit to extract gold, workers have to cut down trees, including the protected mountain almond tree (almendro amarillo in Spanish with the Latin name Dipteryx panamensis). The Arias decree specifically permitted cutting such trees, but prosecutors had opened a criminal case to see if the president himself and other officials violated the law. The court suggested they do so again, saying there was no basis for the action Arias took.

In all, the court decision was exactly what environmental activists have been saying.

Some company representatives were jostled by mine opponents as they left the courtroom in Calle Blancos, They were under police protection.

The project also came under intense criticism because mine operators planned to use cyanide to leach the gold from rock. There is about 1.32 grams of gold per ton of rock, according to the company.

If the government does annul the concession, Infinto Gold Ltd., the parent firm, probably will seek international
Crucita map
Industrias INfinito S.A./A.M. Costa Rica graphic
The mine site is about four hours north of San José

arbitration over the treatment it received. The company already is seeking $1 billion from Venezuela for the takeover of its Las Cristinas project there.

Casa Presidencial has estimated that the country might be on the hook for $700 million.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda has expressed her opposition to open pit mines and promoted a change in the mining code to prevent future projects. But Infinito already had the permits.

During his first press conference in 2004 then-president Abel Pacheco said he was canceling both the Crucitas project and one in Miramar. Later he was advised of the legal implications and backed down. The Miramar project actually went into production but much of the facility slide downhill during a heavy rain and was destroyed.

Not only young activists were happy. Ignacio Santos, a news presenter on Channel 7 Teletica, launched into a laudatory editorial about the court decision. He congratulated the environmentalists on their fight. He also interviewed on the air one of the opponents who staged a hunger strike in front of Casa Presidencial seeking Ms. Chinchilla to retract the Arias decree. Opponents also staged marches and protests.

The fervor of the protests ratcheted up as the price of gold increased over the years.

The court also said it was ordering Infinito to pay damages for environmental damage. The company said later that it had planted 300 trees for each tree it had to cut. The great green macaw nests in the mountain almond trees. The bird is called lapa verde in Spanish, and they are endangered.

When the full text of the decision is made public, some pressing questions probably will be answered. Among these are jurisdictional issues, such as why the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo can rehear a case that already was examined by the Sala IV constitutional court. Also uncertain is why the court can assess environmental damage against the company. That usually is the role of environmental tribunals.

The allegations against Arias were considered buried when Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, quit and took a U.N. job in Guatemala. And Arias was not a party to the case the court heard.

Also to be examined are the court's reasons for saying Arias did not have a basis for declaring the mine to be in the public interest. Such decrees by their very nature are subjective.

Traffic to be diverted while workers fix metal bridge strip
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry will outline in detail plans today for repair of the balky expansion joint on the Autopista General Cañas.

The joint is covered by a metal strip that just will not stay in place. Contractors have been working at the site off and on for more than a year trying to fix the problem.

The loose metal causes drivers to slow down, and traffic jams result. There are strips on the three westbound and three eastbound lanes on the bridge over the Río Virilla. The gap covered by the metal is about 25 centimeters or 10 inches.

Although the details are being given today, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes already has said that traffic will be detoured off and on from the key highway. This is the route travelers take from San José to Juan Santamaría airport.
Detours include taking secondary roads through Heredia to the north or traveling via the new Autopista del Sol and then doubling back to the Autopista General Cañas.

The bouncing piece of metal has attained the status of a running joke. It is called la patina in Spanish. One Costa Rican put a dubbed film segment of Adolph Hitler on a social network. The Führer becomes enraged at the status of the metal plate and his generals cower.

Equally creative was the camera work done by El Diario Extra in conjunction with agents for models.

The newspaper photographed and published the scantily clad women pretending to do construction work on the bridge joint. They wore hard hats, work boots, orange vests and tiny shorts. There was a much bigger traffic jam the day of that photo shoot.

The ministry thinks that repairs will take two months. The project is expected to begin after Christmas.

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To confront Nazis in Latin America, U.S. sent cartoonists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In 1941, celebrated animator Walt Disney went on a diplomatic mission to Latin America. The creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck became a good will ambassador. The U.S. had not yet joined its allies in war, but feared growing Nazi and Fascist influence in the Americas.

President Franklin Roosevelt had created a Good Neighbor Policy to improve relations in the hemisphere, and Disney was asked to serve his country. Faced with a troubling animator's strike and the worldwide economic depression, Disney accepted the offer: "We were back to owing the bank $4.5 million. I just closed my feature production. That was all I could do."

In August of that year Disney and his team of artists, writers and composers set out on a 10-week journey to the region. Filmmaker Ted Thomas recreates the trip in the documentary, "Walt and El Grupo."

Thomas says the 39-year old Disney was "energetic and charismatic. He met with artists and heads of state and he was seemingly up for whatever situation he was in. He was on-call from dawn until way past midnight every day."

Disney was already well known in Latin America and was treated as a hero. His team impressed their hosts wherever they went. And the American animators were inspired by new ideas, Latin American tunes and characters like the cigar-smoking Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca, who debuts in the 1942 animated live-action Disney travelogue called "Saludos Amigos," which was nominated for three Academy Awards that year.

The group spent the majority of their time in Arentina, Chile and Brazil, countries that appeared to be most vulnerable to Nazi influence.

According to Thomas, animator and illustrator Mary Blair was charmed by what she saw. "Before she went she was a very fine water colorist. This trip was a catalyst that changed her style completely. She had a
Walt Disney
From an 'El Grupo' photo
Walt Disney appears on a poster for the movie. The shot was taken in Argentina where Disney rode with the gauchos.

different sense of color pallet, design and she became not only one of the top inspirational artists at Disney, but overall in the United States."

"Walt and El Grupo" explores a diplomatic mission of artists with sketchpads. Thomas says Disney and his team set in motion what Washington had hoped for: goodwill toward the United States. "Art has profound power in a beneficial way and can transform how we feel about each other. The most important step in getting to know each other is to start a dialogue and art and music can do that often that words cannot."

Thomas hopes his documentary, which uses archival photos, letters, sketchbooks and home movies, will introduce filmgoers to a unique cultural exchange that helped develop both political goodwill and creative talent.

"Walt and El Grupo" has played in theaters, museums, and film festivals across the United States. Its Nov. 29 commercial release on DVD includes a bonus, the original 1942 animated live-action cartoon "Saludos Amigos."

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U.N. officials seek more
to quell Haiti's epidemic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.N. officials are calling for a much stronger international response to Haiti's cholera outbreak after new estimates show the epidemic could affect as many as 400,000 people.

The U.N.'s humanitarian agency says the new estimate is twice what health officials had earlier projected for how far the outbreak could spread.

Health officials say the estimate is a worst-case scenario and could be avoided if prevention and treatment responses can reach enough people.

Valerie Amos , U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Amos called the estimate a wake-up call and said investment is needed in cholera prevention throughout Haiti along with more treatment centers and more health workers.

Earlier, it was announced Ms. Amos would be visiting Haiti this week to review the humanitarian response to the cholera outbreak that has killed about 1,300 people.

Ms. Amos will be in the Caribbean nation for two days, meeting with government and U.N. officials as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations.

The visit comes as Haiti prepares for elections Sunday to elect a new president to replace Rene Preval, who cannot run again.  Voters will also elect a 99-member lower house and 11 members of the 30-seat Senate.

The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, urged Haitians to exercise their right to vote.  Speaking to reporters via video conference from Port-au-Prince, Merten said the U. N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti will help to provide security along with local police.  He said thousands of electoral observers will monitor the polling. 

Besides the cholera epidemic, Haiti is still recovering from a Jan. 12 earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people and left about one million others homeless.  Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Greenhouse gases said
to be at record levels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the main man-made greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, increased to record post-industrial concentrations last year, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization.

The World Meteorological Organization says the atmospheric gases, stemming mainly from burning fossil fuels, changes in land use and deforestation, continued to rise in 2009.

Leonard Barrie, agency codirector, said the economic downturn has had an impact on lowering emissions of greenhouse gases over the past two or three years, but not enough to reduce them to zero.

"So, the accumulation in the atmosphere as long as there is an input continues," Barrie said. "Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is long-lived. That means it would decay away if we stopped emissions now on time scales of 50 years – half lives, 100 years – that sort of thing. Changes that we do on an annual basis or even on a two or three economic crisis time span take awhile to be seen and they are really small changes on top of very large loads in the atmosphere." 

Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the most important long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Since 1750, the World Meteorological Organization said that carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas,  has increased by 38 percent. Methane has also greatly increased since 1750 due mainly to human activities, such as cattle-rearing, rice planting, fossil fuel exploitation and landfills, it said.

The World Meteorological Organization said human activities now account for 60 percent of methane emissions, with the remaining 40 percent being from natural sources such as wetlands.

The report highlights concerns that warming may lead to even greater emissions of methane from Arctic areas. It says northern permafrost contains large reservoirs of organic carbon and methane. It warns that rapid warming and melting of the permafrost have the potential to release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere, which would contribute further to global warming.
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Hollywood homeless
have Thanksgiving early

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving today, when they give thanks for the good things in their lives.  Some also reach out on Thanksgiving to help the less fortunate.  Dozens of Hollywood celebrities have been helping the poor and homeless on this holiday.

It is an annual tradition. The day before Thanksgiving, thousands of homeless men and women, and others from low-income housing near the city center, arrive for a free meal of turkey with the trimmings.

Herb Smith is president of the Los Angeles Mission, a religious charity that helps the poor and homeless.  He says the mission is serving 3,500 meals Wednesday.

"It's a portion of the 600,000 meals we serve every year," said Smith. "And it's really a particularly important year because so many people are coming that are not having food.  They may be able to pay their rent, but they don't have money to buy food and we're able to help them through the meal service and also through the food boxes that we give away."

The street was blocked to traffic, and it was filled with tables and chairs for the Thanksgiving dinner.  Among the two dozen Hollywood stars and others who came to help, the actress Kat Graham of the television series "The Vampire Diaries" was serving food.

"I spent most of my Thanksgivings growing up feeding the homeless and it's just important, no matter where you are in your life, to give back and really appreciate what you have," said Ms. Graham. "And there are so many people here that don't, don't have homes or don't have families and don't have that."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is another who came to help.

"We come every year because it's important to put the giving in Thanksgiving, to acknowledge that there are people who are hurting, and when you have an opportunity to help them in times of need, you ought to take that opportunity every time you can," said Villaraigosa.

The actor Kirk Douglas was dishing up plates of food, as he does here every Thanksgiving.  The Hollywood icon will turn 94 next month, and his speech is partially impaired from a stroke he suffered 14 years ago.  But he is active and stays busy with charity work, and has this suggestion on celebrating Thanksgiving.

"Give more, be aware that there are people that need help," said Douglas.

The actor and his wife, Anne Douglas, have been major supporters of this downtown charity, which has a center for homeless women named in Anne's honor.  She says the mission offers hope for desperate men and women.

"Anywhere between the Los Angeles Mission and the Anne Douglas Center, if they need help, they get it from us any time," said Mrs. Douglas.

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