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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 241        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Cable breaks make the Internet run S-L-O-W-L-Y
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Internet users in Costa Rica and other Latin countries have found their connection speeds to foreign locations cut to 10 to 25 percent in the last two days.

In Costa Rica, Internet providers Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad were quick to point out that the problem was not their fault.

The problem is a result of two interruptions in the ARCOS-1 undersea cable. ARCOS stands for the  Americas Region Caribbean Optical-ring System. It is an 8,600-km (5,330-mile) cable that encircles the Caribbean. In addition to Internet, the system carried telephone and cable television signals.

Martha Salas, spokeswoman for the owner of the system, said that there were two cuts in the cable. The first, which happened 10 days ago is between Honduras and Nicaragua.

The second, which happened Sunday is between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rica.

The ARCOS cable is configured as a ring that circles the Caribbean. When there is one cut, the data transfer is shifted automatically in the other direction. But with two cuts, the service is impeded. In the current situation, two breaks in the ring isolate most ARCOS customers in the south from the landing point in Miami, Florida.

Ms. Salas said that steps were taken to fix the first cut and that corporate officials expect the cut between Puerto Rico and Honduras to be repaired by Friday.

She noted that the company has said it will invest $21 million to improve the system.

Her company is New World Network, a wholesale provider, that offers the cable services to telecommunications companies and Internet service providers.

A spokesman for Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., known as RACSA, pointed out that Costa Rica subscribes to the separate Maya cable that runs under the Caribbean to the United States. Consequently some of the transmission workload has been shifted to that cable. Local connections are not affected.

Colombia is not that fortunate. In September, a faulty fiber in the undersea link between Riohacha, Colombia, and Punto Fijo, Venezuela, temporarily disrupted Internet access in the ARCOS network, affecting Colombian businesses and consumers for four hours, the firm said. Service was restored when New World Network's emergency crews isolated the problem and switched traffic to other fiber optic line in the existing network.

After the Colombian outage, New World announced its $21 million upgrade plan. New World Network said it expects to complete it by April. The improvements are intended to prevent outages.

Hang on to your hat!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Button up the overcoats. The winds are tearing through the country driving out the rainy season.

The Instituto Meteorologico Nacional said that winds of up to 70 kph should be expected. That's 43.5 mph.

Already, Daneil Oduber airport in Liberia experienced gusts up to 52.5 kph early today. That's 32.6 mph. San José was a relatively calm 22.6 kpm (14 mph) a few minutes after midnight. In Santa Bárbara de Heredia the winds were 44 kph or 27 mph.

The weather institute issued a wind alert for small planes and small boats. It said the current windy situation would continue through Wednesday. Also in the prediction was isolated showers in the montains with some coming to lower altitudes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 241

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Vaccine for malaria seen
possible by year 2015

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The World Health Organization has developed a global strategy for combating malaria, a disease that affects hundreds each year in Costa Rica.  The organization said it launched the Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap Monday in Bangkok at the Global Vaccine Research Forum, which will continue until Wednesday.

The goal is to create a highly effective malaria vaccine by 2025, with a protective rate of more than 80 percent and protection for longer than four years.

An interim landmark is to develop a first-generation vaccine by 2015 with a 50 percent protection rate against severe disease and death, and that would last longer than one year. 

A malaria vaccine does not yet exist, but scientists have recently confirmed that it is possible to develop one, the organization said.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, said that there is an urgent need for a highly protective malaria vaccine, and that the current initiative marks the first concerted global attempt at making a preventive vaccine a reality.

Every year, there are 300-500 million cases of malaria that kill more than one million people, mainly African children, health officials have stated.  The recent outbreak, mostly in the Matina area of Costa Rica, has grown to more than 2,000 reported cases.

Malaria is caused by the plasmodium protozoa that enters the human body via the bite of a mosquito.
The World Health Organization's plan calls for scientists, funding organizations, policy experts and national and global decision-makers to develop an effective vaccine that prevents severe disease and death, specifically those caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly variety of the malaria parasite. 

Dr. Melinda Moree, of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, said that the initiative could dramatically accelerate the progress towards a malaria vaccine, according to the organization.

Alice Pérez, Guy Lamoureux and José Bonilla, of Universidad de Costa Rica, recently received $125,000 to continue with their efforts in developing new malaria medicines. 

Some of the main sponsors of the World Health Organization initiative include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

Alternative energy topic
of forum talk by Latham

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alternative energy sources continue to be the main topic for discussion at the local Speaker's Forum. 

James Latham, CEO of Radio for Peace International, will be the host of the Dec. 12 meeting.  The presentation will begin with a showing of the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”  This film questions the reasons General Motors gave for taking its electric car out of production.

Following the movie, Latham will address issues such as solar power, mega trends, and the present state of the media.  Latham is a media expert and former resident of Costa Rica.  He was able to go 20 years without having to pay an electric bill by using alternative energy, organizers said. 

As per usual, there will be time for an open discussion following the speaker.  The forum will be held in Escazú and a 1,000 colons entrance fee will be collected at the door.  The meeting is expected to run from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.  Call 289-6333, 821-4708 or 289-6087 for more information.

Air travelers to be reminded
of terrorists on loose

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The State Department is distributing posters to remind holiday travelers that more than two dozen wanted terrorists are on the loose.

The posters are being shipped to large and small airports in the name of the The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the U.S. Department of State's law enforcement and security arm.

The distribution is part of the Rewards for Justice program. "Thousands of innocent lives have been saved through information received under this program" said the State Department. "RFJ has paid more than $62 million to more than 40 individuals for information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring to justice those involved in prior acts."

The government said it hopes that these posters will increase this awareness for both travelers and airport workers.

Election counting goes on

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The election isn't over yet. The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones said it will start a manual recount of the votes cast in Sunday's election starting today.

Elections in 81 cantons are being checked for correct form, math and other factors, a tribunal announcement said.

In all, there are 4,852 pollings places.

Election workers have fewer votes than they were expecting. Absenteeism was 75.6 percent of the voters.

Our reader's opinion

Embassy move saddens him

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and should be the location of every embassy.  Shame on President Arias for moving the Costa Rican embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, kow-towing to unreasonable and unfair demands from Arab states. Apparently (and unfortunately,) unlike his predecessors, Mr. Arias doesn't have the cajones to stand up to pressure in the name of justice.
I'm saddened, disappointed, and less proud of Costa Rica.
Glen Love
Haverford, Pa.
and Dominical, Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 241  

Executive branch opposes plan to widen vehicle inspections
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch will not put its weight behind a measure to open up vehicle inspections to shops other than the Riteve S y C monopoly.

That was the word Monday from Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, who said that a change in the law to do this would damage the image of Costa Rica in the eyes of foreign investors.

"Costa Rica is a state of laws," Rodrigo Arias said. "At this moment when we are inviting foreign investment to come and put money in concessions and public works, the message that it would give in not respecting a signed contract would be the worst."

Rodrigo Arias said that the executive branch, therefore, would not put the law change on the extraordinary agenda of the Asamblea Legislativa. During times when the
Legislature is not empowered to meet on its own initiative by the Constitution, the executive branch can call it into session and usually does. During these periods only those measures put forward by the executive branch may be considered. Dec. 1 to April 30 is one of those periods.

Riteve has invested heavily in real estate buildings and elaborate equipment to check the condition of vehicles. The firm has been criticised for high prices and excessive attention to detail.

A legislative committee last week voted out a change in the transportation laws that would allow the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes to authorize any mechanical shop with the correct equipment and training to conduct vehicle inspections.

The next regular session of the assembly begins May 1, so the decision expressed by Rodrigo Arias means the Riteve measure will be on the backburner until then.

Drug institute comes out with a booklet to form policy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch went on the offense Monday to show that the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas is effective.

The institute was criticized harshly by the nation's chief prosecutor in a legislative appearance Aug. 17. He said the institute was not doing anything and should be dismantled.

Unlike a lot of free-standing institutes, the drug institute is connected to Casa Presidencial and the Ministerio de la Presidencia. And it has enormous resources because confiscated money and goods become its property.

So executive branch officials were at the swank San José Palacio Monday to present a 90-page, four-color booklet about the state of drug use in the country.

One goal is to design a national plan against drugs and put it into effect by passing legislation. Officials said the plan would include provisions for prevention and treatment, steps against drug trafficking, more laws against newer types of drugs and new legislation on money laundering.

The report on the current state of drugs was nothing that hasn't already been on the headlines. A lot of the booklet drew on academic work in other countries.

However, the final page suggests that steps must be taken against betting operations and free-trade zones to keep closer watch for money laundering. There also has to be legislation to cover valuable commodities like jewels, the report said.
It was Francisco Dall'Anesse, the fiscal general, who was critical of the drug institute. Institute officials quickly responded that they had purchased and were supporting vehicles for a number of executive branch agencies, although many of these had scant connection with fighting drugs.

Also involved in the session Monday was the Instituto sobre Alcoholism y Farmacodependencia. The booklet suggested that alcohol and tobacco were the most abused drugs, although legal.

The Óscar Arias administration has made fighting street drugs a priority. Police have detained scores of low-level drug pushers and merchants who include drug sales as part of their business. In addition, staggering amounts of cocaine have been found being shipped north on the Interamerican highway.

Costa Rica continues to be a major land shipment area of cocaine and heroin due to the strong presence of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels off both coasts.

President Arias was not at the meeting Monday. He is traveling and is in the United States today. Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia was there. So was First Vice President Laura Chinchilla, who also serves as minister of Justicia y Gracia, which includes the prisons under its domain. 

Maricio Boraschi, director general of the drug institute was there, as was Fernando Berrocal, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 241

In Caracas, they are just waiting for the other shoe to drop
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela remains abuzz after Sunday's re-election victory by socialist President Hugo Chávez over an opposition candidate who was barely known in the country just a few months ago. Reaction is decidedly mixed.

Sitting on the well-manicured grounds of Caracas' Plaza Altamira, Mauro Vicente Leon savors the day's headlines proclaiming the Chávez victory. A retired mechanic, Leon says there is no mystery as to why the president won.

He says, "Chávez is someone who does what he says. Whatever he promises, he follows through on. He has done so, and he will do so. It is that simple."

Sitting next to Leon is his friend, Jose Navarrete, who says many Venezuelans associate the opposition with previous governments that never followed through on promises made to the poor.

"The opposition, in the years when it was in power, never cared about the poor people," he said. "And since Chávez has created so many programs, the people adore him, especially those who are dispossessed, who are the most numerous here in Venezuela."

It is difficult to find anything on which pro and anti-Chávez voters agree. But, on the other side of Plaza Altamira, a somber Francisco Minuta, who voted for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, agrees that many who most-bitterly complain about the current government once had an attitude of benign neglect towards the less fortunate in society.

"The districts that are loyal to the opposition have to do more for the lower classes," he said. "We have always had rich governments for rich people. Chávez changed all of that."

Already, opposition voters like Minuta, an administrator for a private telecommunications firm, are thinking about what they can do to mount a more effective campaign in the next election.

Political analyst Manuel Malavar says the opposition
should not be disheartened by Sunday's stinging defeat. He argues that, in uniting the once-fractured opposition, Rosales, a state governor, has laid a foundation for future success.

"From now on, Chavez will be confronting a more organic, better-structured political operation with a leader who can rally the middle class, who has experience in government, and who is willing to join the battle," he said.

Over the next six years, the president has promised to launch a new phase of his so-called "Bolivarian Revolution" that has seen billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil wealth devoted to social programs. Just what that new phase will entail is a matter of debate among Venezuelans.

Salesman and Chávez-supporter Freddy Medina made this prediction:

"We are going to have a participatory government. We are going to provide opportunities for those who want to learn. The person who never had opportunity will earn a just wage, will have a place to live, and will have basic health care."

Francisco Minuta is decidedly less optimistic.

"We are heading towards a situation like Kosovo. If you read the history, it is very similar. I fear we are heading towards laws in which our children and our property will be taken by the state. It will be ugly. We are living with terrible uncertainty."

Political analyst Malaver says there is much confusion about the intentions of Chávez:

"What exactly is the Bolivarian Revolution? No one knows. What is the president's socialism of the 21st Century? No one knows. This is a leader who uses radical rhetoric but who uses it to consolidate the power he has exercised over the last eight years."

In his victory speech late Sunday, President Chávez promised to reach out to the opposition in the years ahead. Manuel Rosales acknowledged defeat, but pledged he would not disappear from the political stage.

El Salvador gets $461 million from U.S. for poverty fight
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The government of El Salvador and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. have agreed to a $461 million anti-poverty program intended to stimulate economic growth in one of the poorest areas of the country and complement its participation in the Central America-Dominican Republic-United States Free Trade Agreement.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. is a U.S. supplementary aid program launched by President George Bush to assist developing nations that invest in their people, promote economic freedom and demonstrate good governance.  To help these countries break through barriers to poverty reduction and economic growth, the corporation provides sizable grants aimed at making a sustainable difference in the lives of the poor, according to John Danilovich, the corporation's chief executive officer. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica.

At a ceremony last week, Danilovich joined Eduardo Zablah, technical secretary to the presidency of El Salvador, to sign the compact.  El Salvadoran President  Elias Antonio Saca witnessed the signing.

“This agreement is a testament to El Salvador’s strong commitment to good governance and to building the necessary institutional framework for aid to be used effectively.” Danilovich said.

According to the Millennium Challenge Corp., the five-year compact seeks to promote economic growth and reduce
poverty in the northern zone of El Salvador where more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Work under the compact will be aimed at improving the lives of approximately 850,000 Salvadorans through investments in education, public services, agricultural production and rural business development, and transportation infrastructure. 

The compact comprises three components.

One component is a $95 million human development project designed to support formal and non-formal education as well as expand access to water, sanitation and electricity for poor communities.

A second component is an $88 million productive development project that will provide technical assistance, training and financial services to help poor farmers change to higher-value crops and assist small and medium-sized rural businesses change to greater profits activities, expand markets and increased incomes.

The third component of El Salvador’s MCC compact is a $234 million transportation project that includes the design, construction and rehabilitation of 300 kilometers of the long-sought Northern Transnational Highway, and paving and improving a 240-kilometer network of roads that will connect rural households to national and regional markets and decrease shipping costs and travel times.

El Salvador is a strong supporter of Washington and even has troops in Iraq.

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