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(506) 2223-1327           Published Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 237       Email us
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Gold mine developers lose their high court appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 1:40 p.m.

The Sala Primera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, acting as an appeals court, has upheld a lower court decision that cancels a concession to construct an open pit gold mine.

The decision in the case became known today via a release from the Poder Judicial.

This is the highly controversial case involving Industrias Infinito S.A, the local subsidiary of Infinito Gold of Calgary, Canada. The company sought to mine up to a million ounces of gold at the site in northern Costa Rica.

The decision likely will be appeals to the Sala IV constitutional court which has upheld the company's concession in a previous case. The company has vowed to carry its case to international arbitration if it cannot mine in Costa Rica.

Specifically, the court overturned three environmental approvals and a decree signed by former president Óscar Arias Sánchez that said the mine was of public interest and for the national
convenience. The decree gave the company special rights to sidestep some environmental rules, such as cutting protected trees on the mine site.

The court decision also ordered the public prosecutor's office to investigate Arias and a host of others involved in the case on behalf of the mining company. It also ordered the Colegio de Abogados to investigate the role of a lawyer in the case.

The decision was basically the same as that emitted by the lower court, the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo.

This is the long-awaited decision that was leaked to mining company officials by a replacement magistrate. When that fact became public, a Sala Primera magistrate resigned and a criminal investigation was launched.

The mine has been continually opposed by environmental activists who want to protect the trees, the scarlet macaws that live in them and the local topography. They also expressed concern about the use of cyanide to leach gold from crushed rock because of the proximity of the Río San Juan just three kilometers to the north.

Christmas is breaking out all over. This steel frame is the bottom half of a gigantic Christmas tree being set up in the Plaza de la Democracia just west of the Museo Nacional. Workmen said they hoped to finish the job today.

Christmaas tree in the making
A.M. Costa Rica/Sharazad Encinias Vela

Major Christmas season events begin this Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A spectacular parade, a magnificently decorated Christmas tree and a two-day inauguration of a nativity scene are separate signature events of the the holiday season in San José. They are right around the corner and approaching faster than Santa's sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer.

Thursday in the Plaza de la Cultura at 6 p.m. the Teatro Nacional will host the first of two days of choral performances. In all, nine choruses are scheduled to perform on a stage set up north of the theater in downtown San José. Thursday five groups will perform. And Friday four more are scheduled.

The inauguration of the portal or nativity scene will be accompanied by a traditional posada or procession.

Also Friday, beginning at 4 p.m. activities begin in advance of the lighting of the large Christmas tree at the Hospital National de Niños. The activities will include clown shows and musical performances.

The tradition of lighting the Christmas tree started in 1964 when the hospital was inaugurated and has been a staple Christmas event since. The tree, which continues to grow each year, will be illuminated with thousands of bulbs at 6 p.m. But only the first 1,000 people can enter the area so it may be a good idea to arrive early. The location is just south of Avenida 2 and west of Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The Festival de la Luz or parade of lights in San José is Dec. 10. That is a Saturday. This is the
event that brings perhaps a million persons to the streets to witness the elaborate floats and many bands. Some two million more are estimated to watch the event on television.

The parade route is the same as other years: north from Parque la Sabana on Paseo Colón and then to Avenida Secunda. Some 14 floats are scheduled to be in the parade, including submissions from two new cell telephone companies. This is the 16th edition of the Christmas parade.

Since 2005, the Municipalidad de San José has presented a pre-parade event, a pasacalle, near the start of the parade route. This year that begins at 4 p.m. And will feature clowns, music and acrobats. The parade begins at 6 p.m.

Being honored this year are seven painters and sculptors, who will be the grand marshals. They are Rafael Fernández, Isidro Con Wong, Lola Fernández, Rafael “Felo” García, all painters, and José Sancho, Crisanto Badilla and Néstor Zeledón, sculptors.

Previous grand marshals have ranged from Franklin Chang Díaz, the U.S.-Costa Rican astronaut to the national soccer team.

Also beginning Thursday at the Teatro Nacional is the first performance of a scheduled 12 of  ”The Nutcracker,” called “ Cascanueces” in Spanish. The ballet has international performers with participation from students at various ballet academies in Costa Rica. Tickets are available via the teacher Web page. The performances run through Dec. 11.

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Human medical technique
can diagnose sick coral

By the ARC Centre of Excellence
for Coral Reef Studies news staff

The elusive culprits that are killing countless coral reefs around the world can now be nabbed with technology normally used to diagnose human diseases, marine researchers in Australia say.

Coral researchers and reef managers will be able to identify coral infections using a new method that allows them to classify specific diseases based on the presence of microbes.

This could lead to more effective action to reduce the impact of disease on the world's imperiled coral reefs.

“Current classification of coral diseases is mostly based on a description of how the coral has deteriorated, such as the pattern of tissue loss and abnormal colors,” says Joseph Pollock, a doctoral student at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. “This is an ineffective way to identify coral diseases because different diseases can often look very similar. For instance, in the Caribbean alone, more than six white diseases show the same characteristics of tissue loss exposing white coral skeletons.”

Coral diseases can be caused by a number of different microbes, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. Knowing exactly which toxic organism leads to a particular disease is therefore important for accurate diagnosis – and for planning how to manage or control its impact.

One of Pollock’s supervisors, David Bourne from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, says that the recent worldwide decline of coral reefs has been accompanied by increased disease, creating an urgent need for a deeper understanding of the various diseases, including what harmful bacteria and viruses contribute to different coral diseases, what triggers them and how they spread.

“Instead of relying on appearances to tell us what disease the corals have, we need to determine what’s happening to them before the symptoms show,” he said. “This will help us to control, or reduce the impacts.”

By applying a diagnostic technology commonly used in human disease identification or in forensics, Pollock has found a diagnostic method that can accurately detect and quantify the coral pathogens in a sample of diseased coral.

The technology is often used in human medical research and creates a genetic fingerprint that both detects and quantifies a specific DNA molecule in a sample. It can detect pathogens at even very low levels, as few as a couple of bacteria in a cup of seawater,” Pollock said.

Apart from testing corals for the presence of pathogens, researchers can also use the technology on water samples to gauge the general health of the wider coral reef environment, Pollock said.

Medical strike negotiations
expected to continue today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Unión Médica Nacional has joined striking anesthesiologists in a strike at public hospitals.

More negotiations are expected today to end the standoff.

The Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social operates the public hospitals, and officials there say that more than 2,000 surgeries have had to be postponed.

Tuesday was the first day that other doctors staged a walkout. The strike was not 100 percent effective, and public opinion is running against the physicians. The medical union joined the strike after two anesthesiologist were fired.

Heredia father faces
molesting allegation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested a man Monday in a park in Heredia because they suspect that he was molesting his 2-year-old daughter.

According to the Heredia police commissioner, Daniel Calderón, the agency received a phone call alleging the crime.

Calderón said agents followed up on the tip and found the man exhibiting inappropriate behavior with the girl in San Jorge park.

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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Peace center will hold its own celebration of army abolition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Quaker Peace Center is miffed that President Laura Chinchilla has invited Panama's president, Ricardo Martinelli, to the 63rd celebration of the abolition of the Costa Rican military.

So the center is holding its own celebration in Parque Central, the group announced Tuesday.

“Something quite startling has happened for the celebration of the army event we have every year at the national museum,” said Ann Marie Saidy, writing for the center.  “Laura Chinchilla has usurped the day to celebrate the graduation of police from the police academy and to invite the visiting President Martinelli from Panama.”

The letter accused Martinelli of having been involved with the murder of 24 Panamanian natives in 2010.

The Dec. 1 celebration is an annual event. The location is the Museo Nacional because that is where José Figueres Ferrer signed the decree abolishing the Costa Rican army. The museum had been the military fort. Figueres was the provisional junta president.

Historians point out that Figueres abolished the military, in part, because he feared a counter revolution. His Caribbean
legion had defeated the regular army in the country's 44-day revolution in 1948.

Ms. Saidy said that the peace center initiated the celebration but that the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud took over the chore after the day was established by law.

The ministry “made it into a big subsidized event with President Arias, deputies, ex-combatants and many school children as well, speeches and music and lavish amounts of food,” she said.

So the peace center, called the Centro Amigos para la Paz in Spanish, obtained permission to held its own event in Parque Nacional at 10 a.m.

Casa Presidencial has not yet announced that Martinelli will be visiting the country. However, the Chinchilla administration has developed close ties with his administration despite allegations of money laundering and what appears to be an authoritarian approach to government.

Ms. Saidy's claim that Martinelli was involved in murder appears to stem from the confrontation between strikers and police in July 2010 in Bocas de Toro.

The banana workers' union called the strike because of a new law restricting unions.

Foundation gets $200,000 to fight human trafficking here
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
Of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States ambassador signed a $200,000 grant to a prostitution rehab center in San José Tuesday.

The approved grant for Fundación Rahab, “Prevención, protección, promoción de procesos penales y atención de mujeres adultas y adolescentes víctimas de trata para explotacion sexual,” has an emphasis to strengthen ports and borders with education on human trafficking and prostitution. The project was signed by Anne S. Andrew, U. S. ambassador, along with Mariliana Morales, director of Fundación Rahab; Marcela Chacon, viceminister of Gobernación, Policia y Seguirdad Pública; and María Otero, U.S. undersecretary of State for citizen security, democracy and global issues.

According to Ms. Morales the areas of the ports and borders are the most vulnerable for human trafficking and prostitution. The money allocated for the Fundación Rahab will allow the organization to establish more teams to teach prevention workshops and to extend a television campaign to fight human trafficking.

“The law will not change if we do not get active and demand change,” said Ms. Morales.

Costa Rica doesn't have a specific law or decree that makes prostitution illegal. It is neither legal or illegal, said the director of Rahab. She referred to the situation as a vacio. 
However, Ambassador Andrew insisted in an interview that prostitution was against the law here.

“Prostitution is practiced and is accepted here, especially since it has become part of ordinary culture in Costa Rica,” said Ms. Morales.

Although sex tourism is not promoted by the Costa Rican tourism institute, the country is well known for this activity via the Web. Tourists come to enjoy inexpensive sex with women and men. Jacó, San Carlos and San José are the bigger problem areas for sex exploitation, according to the Fuerza Pública.

There isn't a law that penalizes prostitution in Costa Rica, but there is Article 172 from the penal code that has a penalty of from six to 10 years of jail time for anyone that promotes, facilitates or enables human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is modern slavery,” said Ambassador Andrew.

Ms. Otero added: “This is an issue that affects the whole world, it's even in the United States.”

Fundación Rahab has received grants from the U.S. government in the past. The foundation tries to train former prostitutes for the conventional labor market.

None of the foundation's clients was at the press conference Tuesday when the grant was announced.

Criminal magistrate will study allegations against lawmaker
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Sala III magistrate will study allegations against a sitting legislative deputy to determine if a criminal case will proceed.

That was the word Tuesday form the Poder Judicial.

Costa Rican law outlines a special process for high-level officials who are accused of criminal activity.

In this case, the accused is Jorge Alberto Angulo Mora, a Partido Liberación Nacional lawmaker from Puntarenas. Jorge Chavarría, the fiscal general, outlined allegations against Angulo Tuesday before the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The president of the court, Luis Paulino Mora,  remanded the case to the Sala Tercera, the high criminal court.
One of the decisions will be if the court will lift the legislative immunity of Angulo. He seems to have made clear that he would surrender his immunity to prosecution if charges were brought.

However, he said he would continue to hold office.

He is accused of influence peddling and using his office to benefit himself. There also is an allegation of extortion among the seven specific charges that Chavarría brought.

The legislator has been under investigation for months.

The initial allegations grew out of news articles in La Nación. Among these was one report that the Junta de Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur, an anti-poverty agency that runs the tax-free Deposito in Golfito, paid for his stay at a luxury hotel in the southern zone.

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Motorcyclists get
insurance break

Unhappy motorcycle owners block streets and highways again Tuesday until representatives reached an accord with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Motorcyclists are upset with a steep increase in the annual obligatory insurance. Insurance officials agreed to reduce the increase in insurance. Instead of an across-the-board hike of 49 percent, motorcyclists will pay 15 percent more.

Demonstrators in the photo are in front of the insurance institute offices near Parque España in San José.
Motorcycle gathering
Photo by Ricardo Bacca

Overall Latin region poverty rate reported to be lower
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Between 1990 and 2010 the poverty rate in Latin America dropped by 17 percentage points from 48.4 percent to 31.4 percent, while the indigence rate fell by 10.3 percentage points from 22.6 percent to 12.3 percent, according to a report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Both indicators are at their lowest levels in 20 years, said the commission.

The publication “Social Panorama of Latin America 2011” presented in Santiago, Chile, said that the poverty level will drop to 30.4 percent in 2011, while the indigence rate will increase slightly to 12.8 percent because the rise in food prices would counteract the predicted rise in household incomes.  The indigence rate is what Costa Rican officials call extreme poverty.

The region is expected to close this year with 174 million inhabitants living in poverty, 73 million of which are living in extreme poverty. In 2010, there were 177 million poor, 70
 million of which were living in indigence.

According to the commission, the decrease in poverty is primarily due to an increase in labor income. Public monetary transfers also contributed, but to a lesser extent.

"Poverty and inequality continue to decline in the region, which is good news, particularly in the midst of an international economic crisis. However, this progress is threatened by the yawning gaps in the productive structure in the region and by the labour markets which generate employment in low-productivity sectors, without social protection," warned Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the commission.

Between 2009 and 2010, significant drops in poverty rates were observed in five countries: Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, according to the report.

Honduras and Mexico were the only countries with significant rises in their poverty rates (1.7 percent and 1.5 percent).

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

American Airline's parent
seeks bankruptcy protection

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

American Airlines' parent company, AMR Corp., has filed for bankruptcy after failing to secure a deal with pilots to cut labor costs.

The nation's third largest airline said Tuesday it sought bankruptcy court protection to reduce its costs and debt to competitive levels. The airline said normal flight operations will continue during a reorganization.

American had been the only major U.S. airline that had not filed for bankruptcy protection. Its main competitors, Delta and United, used bankruptcy to scrap costly labor contracts and reduce debts. And both have also merged with other companies.  Delta bought Northwest, and United bought Continental.

In addition to higher labor costs than its rivals, American Airlines has also struggled with soaring jet fuel prices.

In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in a New York court, the company listed $24.7 billion in assets and $29.6 billion in debt.

The Texas-based AMR Corp. also announced the retirement of its chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey and named company president Thomas Horton as his replacement.

Efforts to salvage euro
include central control

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

European finance ministers gathered in Brussels Tuesday in another effort to resolve the continent's debt crisis and save the euro as its common currency.

The ministers appeared set to negotiate terms of proposals that would have until recently been unthinkable. They could force the 17 countries that use the euro to cede control of their sovereign spending to a central authority.

An elite group of financially stable European countries, including Germany and France, could also guarantee each other's debts to cut some of their borrowing costs. But that would further isolate Europe's debt-ridden countries.

Fears for the euro's survival intensified as borrowing costs for debt-plagued Italy, the Eurozone's third largest economy, shot to the highest point since the 1999 advent of the currency.

Italy was forced to pay nearly 8 percent interest on a three-year bond, well above the 7 percent threshold that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to secure international bailouts in the last year and a half.

Meanwhile, Britain, with a large economy and its own currency, cut projections for the growth of its economy this year and next. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the country's budget deficit will be worse than originally predicted, and that more spending cuts will be needed.

As Europe's debt crisis has worsened, some analysts and European officials have acknowledged that the monetary union could collapse, or that weaker governments could leave the bloc.

That also could trigger a worldwide recession, leading to new economic difficulties for the United States, the world's largest economy.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said a Eurozone collapse would be apocalyptic.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Monday that the European Central Bank needs to sharply increase its purchase of bonds from European governments to cut their borrowing costs and ease their funding problems.

But Germany has adamantly opposed an increased role for the continent's central bank, saying that some countries, like Germany, would then lose their top credit ratings.

Colombian rebels blame
army for hostage deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's main rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, known as the FARC, is blaming the government for the deaths of four security force members held captive by the rebel group for more than a decade.

A rebel statement Tuesday claims the four men were among a group of hostages the guerrillas had planned to release soon as a goodwill gesture.  The rebels said the captives were instead killed during a military mission aimed at preventing the group from carrying out the release.

Colombia's government said Saturday that the rebels executed the three policemen and one soldier when the military arrived to try to free them.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said three hostages were shot in the head and one in the back.  Among them was the longest-held captive, Sgt. Maj. José Libio Martínez, who was seized by the rebels almost 14 years ago.

A fifth hostage ran into the woods and was rescued by soldiers.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Monday the killings constitute a war crime, and show the guerrilla group's "blatant disregard for human life."

A funeral for the four men was held Tuesday at the national cathedral in the capital, Bogotá.

The deaths took place less than two weeks after rebels named Timoleon Jiménez, better known as Timochenko, as their new leader.

Timochenko replaced Alfonso Cano, who was killed Nov. 4 in a battle with government troops.  Cano had led the group since 2008.

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Latin America news
Costa Rica seeks data
on environmental claim

By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a letter to Nicaraguan officials Tuesday, Enrique Castillo, Costa Rica's foreign minster, said a road along the northern border has no effect on Nicaraguan territory. The alleged environmental damages were done because Costa Rica has been forced to build there as a result of the actions of the Nicaraguans, he said. However, he expressed Costa Rica´s willingness to hear what Nicaraguan officials has to say about it.

¨The government of Costa Rica, in order to maintain a policy of good neighborliness and to ensure the protection of the environment, and in compliance with agreements on this matter, is willing to listen to the concerns of Nicaragua on the construction,¨ Castillo said.

He then invited the Nicaraguan government to formally explain why the construction might be considered environmental damage or affect the interests of Nicaragua. Nicaraguan officials made the allegation of environmental damage last week.

¨Costa Rica asks for objective, scientific information and will check the claims by Nicaragua,¨ Castillo said. ¨In the same spirit that my country expects the same attitude of the Nicaraguan government in the execution of works that may affect the territory of Costa Rica.¨

Costa Rica is in the best position to accept facilitation provided by the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico in the discussion and analysis of common environmental issues, Castillo said. He also said that the Nicaraguan government should be responsible for its actions in relation to current projects and future projects in the border area.

Costa Rica is building the road to provide faster transportation along the northern border, which is the south bank of the Río San Juan. Nicaragua owns the river under various treaties, and restricts the use Costa Rica can make of it.

The area is the site of an International Court of Justice case where Costa Rica claims Nicaragua invaded the country's soil. That case will be heard next month.

Another arson blaze
quelled at city hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone tried to set fire to Hospital San Juan de Dios again Tuesday.

This is the latest in a series of small set fires that have taken place over the last year. Hospital workers controlled the small blaze on the third floor of the San José facility. Fire officials said that clothing was used to start the fire.

Usually the arson attempts are in the evening. They have involved set blazes in private offices fueled with paper on several occasions.

Hospital officials are concerned because 19 persons died in a set fire at Hospital Calderón Guardia July 12, 2005, that had similar characteristics to the blazes at San Juan de Dios. Although there was a conviction in that case, the San Juan de Dios fires almost certainly are inside jobs.

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