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(506) 223-1327      Published Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 242          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Corcovado deaths draw team of experts
Animal epidemic specimens go to Texas labs
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health officials are sending tissue specimens to the United States to determine what is killing animals in and around Parque Nacional Corcovado.

A technician from the health department was due to arrive with more specimens today in San José after spending four days on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica where the park is located.

The minister of Salud agreed Tuesday that

Dr. Sáenz Madrigal
there is a great deal of worry on the Osa Peninsula  about the rapid deaths of so many animals there. Many of the dead animals are monkeys, said the health minister, María del Rocio Sáenz Madrigal.

Saturday three specialists arrived at the park, she said.
They were epidemiologists.

They joined researchers from the University of Costa Rica and the Universidad Nacional and other experts, including veterinarians.

For the moment there is no concrete answer to the cause of the death, but many illnesses can cause such an outbreak, said Dr. Sáenz. Yellow fever is one possibility. Such epidemics have happened previously in wild animals. Another possibility is lack of food from the excessive rains that hit the area at the end of the wet season, she noted.

The minister said that the risk was low for humans and that there was no risk for persons in the area.

Allan Flores, a vice minister of Ambiente y Energía, said that the first effort was to gather samples. He said that some of the samples already were in San José and about to be sent to two private firms in the State of Texas in the United States for further testing today.

Flores characterized the closing of the park as a preventative measure.

Dr. Sáenz dismissed any possibility that the epidemic was caused by bird flu which is prevalent in Asia. She noted that migratory birds come to the area, including some from
Canada where the disease also has been recorded, but she said the characteristics were not consistent with bird flu.  She said there was no increase in illnesses among humans, according to those health workers operating clinics in the area.

The park is on the Pacific side of the Osa Peninsula and contains about 44,000 hectares, a bit more than 110,000 acres. The park is known for its diversity of plants and animals as well as being the biggest tract of lowland rain forest on the Pacific in Costa Rica.

Among those affected by the illness are sloths, toucans and macaws as well as the four varieties of monkeys found there: howler, spider, capuchin and squirrel.

Officials have kept information about the epidemic low-keyed in an effort to avoid public panic. There was no official mention that the park was closed until a park employee faxed the closure order to A.M. Costa Rica Tuesday afternoon. The order, issued by the Dirección de Area de Conservación Osa, was dated Dec. 5, Saturday, and signed by Alvaro Ugalde, director.

Grace Wong of the Universidad Nacional was listed as a lead researcher. She has studied  monkeys extensively and has published books on the topic.  Some researchers have been working on the situation for 10 days, according to some residents. At least one researcher has sent blood samples of dead animals off to other countries for analysis, but the results have not been returned.

The order said that entry to the park was being restricted to employees and researchers. Specifically excluded were tourists until at least Dec. 20. However, Flores of the environmental ministry said that he thought only parts of the park were off-limits to visitors.

According to persons who live in the area, the unexplained deaths of animals is not restricted to the park area. The entire peninsula may be involved. Deaths seem to occur among animals with backbones, such as mammals and birds.

One report from a resident suggests that the deaths have diminished in the last few days. Others speculate that the heavy rains destroyed habitat and fruits normally consumed by the animals. this lowered their resistance to a bacteria, virus or parasite.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 242

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Raids catch six persons
linked to drug case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents with the security ministry arrested five Colombians and their Costa Rican lawyer during various raids Tuesday morning in connection with a powerful international drug trafficking operation, the ministry said.

During the course of the investigations that culminated Tuesday, police said they seized a total of 472 kilos of cocaine from the presumed trafficking organization, they said.  The officers also seized 400,000 colons ($809), $4,000 and five vehicles, they said. 
The arrests took place in San Francisco, Los Ángeles, San Rafael de Heredia and Guadalupe de Goicoechea, said minister Rogelio Ramos Martínez of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.  The gang is accused of ferrying large amounts of cocaine from Panamá to the United States, Martínez said. 

The South Americans were identified as two sisters with the last names Quinceno Arango and a man identified by the last names Isaza Montoya, police said.  The three were detained in Berta Eugenia, a sub-division in San Francisco de Heredia, police said.  

Police also arrested a man and his sister identified by the last names, Castaño Botero, both of Colombia.  They were picked up in a condominium in Los Ángeles de San Rafael de Heredia, police said. 
The last suspect, the lawyer, was a Costa Rican identified by the last names Carvajal Portugués, police said.  He was arrested in Guadalupe. 

According to police, the presumed head of the band was arrested March 14 in Panama City with 145 kilos of cocaine and $40,000, police said.  The Colombian suspect was identified by the last names Quinceno Arango, the brother of two of the women arrested Tuesday in Heredia, police said. 

Other past actions against the band include a Sept. 21 stop of a vehicle in Río Claro de Golfito transporting 167 kilos of cocaine and a Nov. 3 seizure of 160 kilos of cocaine from a car in Cartago, police said. 

Tuesday morning, in addition to the arrests, police seized two cars, two bicycles and various documents, they said. 
University sponsoring
Christmas party for kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Universidad Veritas and the Fundación Vida are combining their efforts to bring Christmas to 250 youngsters in Hatillo and Linda Vista de Patarrá who otherwise wouldn't have anything under the tree. And maybe not even a tree.

There will be gifts and food and organizers hope that the attendees will also learn the value of school in overcoming their poverty through workshops that have been prepared for them, organizers said. 

The celebration is scheduled for Friday at the Universidad Veritas in San José from 8 a.m. to noon, organizers said.  The popular Liga Deportiva Alajuelense soccer team's mascot is also scheduled to attend. 

Other surprises include magic masks and a kids' show created by film and television students at the university, organizers said.  The whole activity is the year's final project for some of the university students. 
Museum will open
twin exhibits tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporaneo and the Foundation Cisneros from Colombia will inaugurate tonight a collection of contemporary art called  “Ecos y Contrastes.”

The exposition at the museum will show the drawings, videos, collages, photos and mixed techniques related to contemporary Latin American art of the members of the Cisneros project. Some are being shown to the public for the first time. The show runs through February.

Some 90 minutes later the Teore/éTica Foundation, dedicated to support the Costa Rican art, will inaugurate another important Cisneros collection, “A Contra Corriente,” that, according to Virginia Pérez, the director of foundation, will increase the availability of art to the Costa Rican community.

The activity will be at the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporaneo, located at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura on 3rd Avenue, Calles 15 and 17.  

Cisneros has some 1,500 contemporary works from Latin America, and its mission is to collect, preserve and exhibit such works.
Chicharrones are ready
at big Puriscal event

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the fifth time, residents of Puriscal are holding their annual Feria del Chicharrón Puriscal which will continue through this weekend. 

Everyday chicharrones are prepared in public view.  Organizers hoped that 10,000 kilos of the popular snack would be cooked throughout the festival.  Fairgoers can buy them by the plate or the kilo. 

There will be artisan exhibitions, music, other traditional food, sports and performances.  According to organizers, chicharrones have been a staple in the town for more than 100 years.  
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 242

A.M. Costa Rica/Jose Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Scenes like this were all over the Central Valley Tuesday as potential customers lined up for cell phones.

Hurricane repairs must be built better, U.S. aide says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The unprecedented number of hurricanes and other natural disasters that have struck the Caribbean region in the last several years makes it clear that nations must factor disaster risk-planning into their national budgets, says Karen Turner, mission director for the Jamaica and Caribbean Regional program at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Speaking Tuesday at the 29th Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin, Turner said the region is faced with a competitive disadvantage in the global market if "scarce resources" continue to be used simply to rebuild what already existed in the Caribbean before it was struck by a natural disaster.

Turner said Caribbean countries need to "build back better" when they are struck by hurricanes and other disasters.  This can be accomplished, she said, by Caribbean heads of state agreeing on an "action agenda" to reduce the region's risk profile.

Much of what she said was relevant to Costa Rica which suffered serious loses in infrastructure from the backlash of this year's hurricanes.

Governments, she said, need to integrate risk reduction into their developmental planning, and specific goals should be set with "measurable targets and benchmarks," while resource needs should be included in the countries' budgets.  Turner added that citizens of the region must be engaged in the process of planning for disasters.
Ms. Turner cited better planning against losses from disasters as one of several priorities for Caribbean states, in terms of how they can use the proposed Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy to revive and sustain economic competitiveness in the region.

The market pact seeks to convert the 15 member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) into a single, enlarged economic entity -- or as near to a single market and single economy as possible -- by a target date of the beginning of 2006.

However, CARICOM has announced that only four of its 15 member nations -- Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana -- have agreed to act by the target date to remove all restrictions on the movement of goods and services to create that single enlarged economic entity in the Caribbean.

Another priority, said Ms. Turner, is for the Caribbean's political leaders and governments to use the pact to "proactively engage" civil society, nongovernmental groups, and other interested parties as "necessary partners" in the single-market plan.

Turner warned that the lack of a clear strategic vision, and lack of evidence that the Caribbean region is serious about timely and full implementation of the pact, will discourage vital foreign investment and resources in Caribbean nations.

Costa Rica has just approved a free trade pact with CARICOM countries.

Two robbery suspects tracked down after encounter with messenger
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers arrested two men Tuesday in relation to an attempted robbery of a messenger near the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo in el Alto de Ochomogo in Cartago.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, a supermarket messenger traveling by motorcycle was stopped by two persons in a Toyota Corolla, agents said.  Shots were fired during the robbery and neighbors alerted the police, the officers said. 
The robbers tried to escape.  Agents with the investigating organization as well as Fuerza Pública officers pursued them and stopped the presumed car in the Hatillo sector of San José, they said. 

The two suspects, both 20-years-old, were identified by the last names Mora and Rivera, police said. 

The Toyota the two were traveling in had been reported carjacked in Heredia earlier that day, agents said.  There were also two 9 mm pistols in the car, agents said.  

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 242

U.S. planning a more relevant citizenship examination
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush Administration says it plans to revamp the naturalization tests given to prospective new U.S. citizens.  The tests cover basic questions regarding U.S. history, governance and civic responsibility, but have been criticized as arbitrary, arcane and virtually meaningless to those who must take them.

For example, Venezuelan-born Alejandro Escalona became a U.S. citizen last year. He vividly remembers the tests he had to take.

"The questions were very easy. For example: name the original 13 states. Who is the governor of your state? The colors of the flag, you know: red, white and blue," Escalona says.

He also remembers the English-language proficiency test, which consisted of one astoundingly easy task. He was asked to write the following.

"'It is raining now in Baltimore.' So, I wrote it. It was a little silly," he says.

Escalona says the tests were, in his words, "better than nothing." But he says the testing process should be more meaningful to those joining the ranks of American citizens.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service agrees. Alfonso Aguilar, who heads the Office of Citizenship, says the tests will be overhauled over the next year.
"We need to improve content so that it is not based on trivial facts, but actual, substantive civic content that emphasizes basic history, our system of government and citizenship rights and responsibilities," Aguilar says.

As an example, Aguilar notes that the current naturalization test asks who wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He says knowing the answer to that particular question, Thomas Jefferson, is less important than understanding the basic concept of the declaration itself: that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"We are not going to give away citizenship. We are not going to naturalize people just like that. But if a person studies for the exam and shows an attachment to the nation and to our constitutional principles, then they should be able to pass," Aguilar says.

Currently more than 90-percent of test-takers pass the exam, and more than 400,000 people became naturalized U.S. citizens last year. Aguilar says the goal is not to make the tests more difficult or to erect any sort of barrier to citizenship, just to make the tests more relevant to would-be new citizens.

The Citizenship and Immigration Service is conducting a feasibility study of how to proceed in making alterations, and says it will proceed with input from academics, immigrant-serving organizations and test-takers themselves.  

Beethoven was victim of lead poisoning, study says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. scientists say long-term lead poisoning killed German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, in 1827. They came to this conclusion after bombarding fragments of Beethoven's bone and samples of his hair with a powerful X-ray beam.  This testing method has relevance to environmental research.

The musical genius who composed symphonic masterpieces was plagued by chronic abdominal distress from his early 20s until his death at age 56.   He also lost his hearing in his late 20s.

Now an Illinois researcher specializing in chemical imbalances of the body, Bill Walsh, has discovered that Beethoven had toxic amounts of lead in his body, a finding that is consistent with the type of stomach disorder he suffered, although not with his deafness.

"He had extraordinarily high levels of lead, both in his skull and in his hair. Beethoven's levels were probably 100 times more than present in Americans today," said Walsh.

Walsh made the diagnosis with researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. There, they subjected pieces of Beethoven's skull and hair to intense X-ray
bombardment. The technique propelled X-rays around a 400-meter-long circular tunnel at nearly the speed of light. Walsh says the light particles collided with the composer's tissue and displaced atoms that a sensor determined to be lead.

Walsh says the presence of lead in Beethoven's skull suggests long-term ingestion of the metal, not a single large dose. Perhaps the source was the material that leeched from lead wine goblets, possibly intensified by additional lead from the linings of the bottles of the many medical tonics he took for his ills.

Argonne National Laboratory researcher Ken Kemner says the study has helped him develop techniques to determine levels of heavy metal contaminants in the environment. He is also learning how to measure such metals in bacteria, which scientists hope to use someday to consume large amounts of the dangerous elements to remove them from the environment.

The Beethoven study used a fragment of the composer's skull owned by a California businessman who inherited it through family members from a great-great uncle, an Austrian physician.

The hair samples are the property of the American Beethoven Society in San Jose, California, which bought the lock at a London auction in 1994.

Venezuela's oil company makes delivery to poor New York neighborhood
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, New York — Venezuelan-owned oil company CITGO has made its first delivery of discounted heating oil to a low-income housing development in New York City.

Residents in the city's Bronx neighborhood are the first New Yorkers to benefit from the Venezuelan government's offer to provide low-cost heating fuel to poor Americans.

Also today in the Bronx, U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez and CITGO's chief executive officer, Felix Rodríguez,
announced plans for three New York City nonprofit housing corporations to buy discounted heating oil from CITGO.

Venezuela says it is providing fuel to New York because the United States always helps other nations and people during times of disaster.

The Caracas government says Venezuela wants to match America's generosity with a humanitarian gesture of its own. It adds that the offer of discounted heating fuel "is not about politics," despite Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's frequent disagreements with U.S. policies on Cuba, Iraq and regional trade issues.

Jo Stuart
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