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(506) 2223-1327               Published  Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 238       E-mail us
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Country enjoyed uneventful 2009 hurricane season
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended Monday. The season had the fewest named storms and hurricanes since 1997 thanks, in part, to El Niño, said the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

An unusual feature was a storm that formed just off the Caribbean coast in the first days of November and then brought death and heavy damage to coastal Nicaragua and Honduras.

That storm, Ida, turned into a hurricane and threatened the United States.

For larger map of storm tracks
Click HERE!

Nine named storms formed this year, including three hurricanes, two of which were major hurricanes at Category 3 strength or higher, the center noted. These numbers fall within the ranges predicted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's mid-season outlook issued in August, which called for seven to 11 named storms, three to six hurricanes, and one to two major hurricanes.

An average season has 11 named storms and six hurricanes, including two major hurricanes, the center said.

“The reduced activity was expected and reflects the development of El Niño during the summer,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. “El Niño produced strong wind shear across the Caribbean Sea and western tropical Atlantic, which resulted in fewer and shorter-lived storms compared to some recent very active seasons.”

Hurricanes do not come ashore in Costa Rica, but the country still can be battered badly by the long-range effects.
storm track
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphic
Graphic shows path of ninth storm, Ida, and the third, which formed near Florida in August.

Two systems, Claudette, the third, and Ida, brought tropical storm force winds to the U.S. mainland. For the first time in three years, no hurricanes hit the U.S.

Ida was the ninth storm and degraded to a tropical storm before reaching the United States. It brought heavy rain to much of the Southeast.

“El Niño is expected to reach peak strength this winter, and will likely continue into the spring. It is far too early to say whether El Niño will be present next summer,” added Bell.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue its initial 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in May, prior to the official start of the season June 1.


Undersea cable Maya is being taken out of service for maintenance
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The consortium that operates the underwater Maya data cable plans to take the link out of service from Friday until Dec. 12, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

But the local telecom company known as ICE said that its Internet customers and other users will not see any effects. The company said it will route data traffic to the Arcos and Red Centroamericana cables. Costa Rica subscribes to all three.
The consortium that operates the 4,400-km (2,730-mile) Maya cable said it has noticed some problems with the link and wants to handle them now before they get worse, said ICE.

The cable connects Miami with Cancún, México, Puerto Cortés, Honduras, Limón, María Chiquita, Panamá, Tolú, Colombia and Half Moon Bay, Grand Cayman.

The optical Maya cable went into service in 2000 and carries television, telephone, Internet and many other types of data traffic.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 238

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New Cinchona
Model of proposed new community

Quake victims get first look
at proposed new community

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The community of Nueva Cinchona will contain the population from three towns that were ravaged by the Jan. 8 earthquake.

Residents of Ujarráz and Cariblanco also will move into the town that is being built from scratch by the Ministerio de Vivienda and Asentamientos Humanos. They got their first look at a detailed model of the proposal Tuesday.

The design is by the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos. The proposal calls for an integrated community with housing, commercial space, an agricultural area, a service area, walkways and parks.

The land is 12 hectares (about 30 acres) purchased not far from the old Cinchona. Some three hectares (about 7.5 acres) have been held in reserve. The agricultural area is considered feasible for chickens, among others. The Comisión Nacional de Emergencias purchased the land. Officials envision the town being occupied by 1,230 persons or about 370 families.  all have been displaced by the Jan. 8 quake.

Ex-prisoner wins case
over illegal detention


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One prisoner figured there was no reason for him to hang around his cell for three days after jailers got an order to release him. So he took his case to the Sala IV constitutional court.

The court agreed and ordered the ministry in charge of prisons to come up with a plan within one month so that prisoners are released rapidly when courts say they are free.

The case was of a man identified by the last names of  Godínez Carvajal.  He was a guest at the Dirección del Centro de Atención Institucional de Pérez Zeledón. A Cartago judge ordered his releae Oct. 2, and the person was notified the same day, according to a summary of the case provided by the Poder Judicial.

Despite the notification, it still took prison officials until Oct. 5 to release him. The man said in his suit that he considered himself to have been detained unlawfully for three days. Oct. 2 was a Friday and Oct. 5 was the following Monday. It appears the man was held because of the weekend.

That carried no weight with the constitutional court. Magistrates ordered the Ministro de Justicia, and its officials to come up with an internal plan to handle these situations within one month.

19 Latin nations, others
want Zelaya back in office


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Leaders from 19 Latin America countries, Spain, Portugal and Andorra are calling for the reinstatement of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. The group issued a statement Tuesday after taking part in the Iberoamerican Economic Summit in Portugal.

The statement said returning Zelaya to power would mark a fundamental step toward returning Honduras to democracy.  The statement did not say whether the group recognizes Sunday's election in the Central American country.

Voters elected Porfirio Lobo, a wealthy rancher from the conservative opposition Partido Nacional. Neither Zelaya, nor the man who helped oust him in a June 28 coup, Robert Micheletti, took part in the poll.

Major Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela have refused to recognize the results.

The United States said Monday the election was an important step forward, but was not enough to restore democracy to Honduras. Officials in Honduras say that Zelaya violated the constitution by attempting to hold a public vote on eliminating term limits. The congress there is expected to vote today on a negotiated agreement that would return Zelaya to office as the head of an administration of conciliation. His term ends in January.

The Iberoamerican summit primarily focuses on economic policies and technology, but it also has served as a platform to address other issues.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 238

Country's coffee exports are reported to be off by half
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's coffee producers are taking a major hit on the world market.

Coffee is one of the major pillars of the country's economy.

Dow Jones said Tuesday that November exports of coffee were down 50 percent when compared to the year before. The country exported 32,200 60-kilo bags of coffee in November, according to the financial service.

Total exports from October and November were 55,007 bags, the government Instituto del Café de Costa Rica told Dow Jones. That is a 52 percent decrease from the amount exported in October and November 2008.

The institute, which administers the laws regulating coffee, said that 90 percent of the country's coffee is exported and that this usually represents 15 percent of the nation's total
exports. Some 30 firms do the exporting and are registered with the institute. Many exporters and producers guarantee their prices by selling contracts in the world's commodity futures markets, said the institute.

Starbucks Corp., which is involved heavily in Costa Rican coffee purchases, has reported a decline in net revenue for the third quarter of the year when compared with the third quarter in 2008, according to its financial reports. The company said the decline primarily resulted from a 5 percent decline in store sales. 

The company also has announced that it is closing stores.

The company said in 2008 and early 2009 that it would close 800 company-operated stores in the U.S., restructure the company’s business in Australia, and close approximately 100 additional International company-operated stores, according to its third quarter report. Costa Rica's high quality coffee is sold primarily to top retailers like Starbucks.





A sea of blue is composed of the 709 new Fuerza Pública officers who were graduated from the basic police training course Tuesday.

More policemen and women
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

709 new policemen are ready to hit the streets and trails
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública graduated 709 new officers Tuesday in a ceremony that included the symbolic destruction of firearms.

The event was held in the Parque Nacional. In all 852 officers were honored because 143 completed high-level courses, including 84 for inspector, 12 sergeant and 14 superior officers. Some 33 other officers also graduated. They have been working but never took the basic course, the ministry said.

The training was at the Escuela Nacional de Policía. The Arias administration has graduated 3,695 new police officers since May 2006. Óscar Arias Sánchez promised in his campaign for president to increase the force by 4,000 offices. The ministry noted that 700 more police officers will be entering the school in two waves in January. 

Also honored at the graduation were two officers, José Antonio Román Azofeifa and José Feliciano Malespin Cháves. Both were wounded three times in separate incidents. Both work in the metro area.

Officials, including Janina del Vecchio, the minister, destroyed 30 weapons ranging from a quality Winchester rifle to homemade zip guns. They used an electrical metal
chopping up an AK-47
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Ms. del Vecchio chops up an AK-47 rifle


chop saw. In all, the ministry had destroyed 1,154 weapons that had been confiscated by police for various reasons. Some were involved in crimes and others were being carried illegally by persons without permits to do so, the ministry said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 238


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Officials cite social benefits of not having an army

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country invests 50 percent of its national budget in social programs and has tripled its cultural budget in three years, according to María Elena Carballo, culture minister. 

That is one of the effects of not having an army, she told participants Tuesday at the 61st anniversary of the abolition of the Costa Rican military.

She and other officials gathered at the Museo Historico de Alajuela. Included in the audience were members of the force that José Figueres Ferrer assembled to overthrow the central government and defeat the regular army in 1948. It was Figueres who ordered the army abolished.
By doing so, Figueres turned the country into the first nation in the world to be disarmed, said Francisco Antonio Pacheco, who is acting president while Óscar Arias Sánchez attends an Iberoamerican summit in Portugal. He noted that a lot of the budget also goes to education.

It it had to pay for an army, the country could not have increased pensions and created scholarships for needy school children, said Pacheco. He said that the lack of an army helped during the largest economic crisis in recent history. If the country had an army, it would not be able to defend itself from the great ills that ambush all societies, he added.

Pacheco also thanked the former soldiers who were present for defending democracy.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 238

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

HIV cases are on decline,
but stigma, taboos remain


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Marking World AIDS Day this year, the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS has published new research that shows the number of new HIV cases decreasing worldwide, and it says HIV prevention programs are making the difference. But in many African communities, in Britain and elsewhere, fear of HIV still shrouds the virus in secrecy and bars the path to more comprehensive prevention.

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma has been living with HIV for 21 years.

She was in her 20s when she applied for a job as a health care worker and had a blood test for HIV. When the results came back positive, her life turned upside down.
 
"Shock was the main feeling at that time, and I thought you know what do I do now? Am I going to live for a long time, am I going to die, what is going to happen to me now?" Ms. Sseruma said.

Today, 33 million people are living with either HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or the disease itself.

A new report, just ahead of World AIDS Day Tuesday, says Africa is still the hardest hit. But it also says the number of new HIV infections is decreasing. And that, the UN says, is a sign that prevention is working.

Ms. Sseruma is one of nearly 80,000 people in Britain who are HIV positive.  That's less than 1 percent of the population.  But in the country of her parents, Uganda, 6 percent of the population is still HIV positive.

Ms. Sseruma says HIV in Africa won't be contained until people feel free to talk openly about it.

"For us who are infected, there's still stigma, you know. There's still a lot of people who can't come out and say I'm HIV-positive because they wonder what the reaction will be," Ms. Sseruma said.

In Britain, two-fifths of all new HIV cases are in the African community.

Marc Thompson is from the AIDS campaign group the Terrence Higgins Trust. He helps HIV-positive people in London's African community.

"What we've certainly seen is that if there's stigma and discrimination, and if there is broadly stigma, people are fearful and are less willing to come forward and be tested," Thompson said. He says if HIV-positive people aren't tested, they are more likely to pass on the virus to sexual partners and from mother to child. He says the stigma is especially high in African communities because of taboos surrounding sex.

"So it's about trying to overcome that barrier, it's trying to work with faith leaders so they no longer think that sex is just a taboo and that HIV and AIDS is revenge from God for promiscuity," Thompson said.

For many years Ms. Sseruma kept her HIV status a secret from friends and family.   She says she first had to come to terms with her shame about carrying the virus.
 
Now she raises awareness about HIV and AIDS through her work at Christian Aid, a charity based in Britain. She says now that she's confronted the stigma she can live an open life. And she hopes she can help bring an end to the shame that has surrounded the virus for so many years.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 238


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Tamal festival

Saturday is for tamales
at Parque la Sabana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday would be a good time to get a taste of the traditional Christmas treat, the tamal. The Municipalidad de San José and a private food firm are putting on the Fiesta del Tamal Tico at Parque la Sabana at 10 a.m.

Just like last year, organizers will go through a lot of tamales.

The Costa Rican tamal is milder than the traditional food in some other lands. It is a mass of dough in which meat, vegetables and other goodies like olives are wrapped.  Then the mass is wrapped in banana leaves, tied up and baked. The final product is boiled before serving. The product here is not to be confused with the Mexican pastas of the same name.

Tamales are available daily at major supermarkets. But their consumption increased dramatically at Christmas. Aserrí holds several commercial tamal producers who have been going full blast for weeks.

Diners Saturday will put their favorite sauce on the tamal and then dig in.  They need to watch out for the olive pits.

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