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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 244
Jo Stuart
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Project is near Río San Juan
Sala IV delivers blow to open pit gold mine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A constitutional court decision made known Wednesday delivered a major setback to the Las Crucitas open pit gold mining project in northern Costa Rica.

"Goodbye to gold mining in San Carlos," crowed a release from an environmental group.

"Inexplicable" was the word used by Industrias Infinito S.A, the company seeking to operate the gold mine. 

Although the original Sala IV constitutional court decision was not available to reporters Wednesday, both environmentalists and Infinito said the magistrates had decided a 2002 recurso de amparo or appeal for help. Both the company and the environmentalist group, Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente, said the court based its decision on Article 50 of the Costa Rican Constitution.

That article says, in part "Every person has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, being therefore entitled to denounce any acts that may infringe said right and claim redress for the damage caused."

The Las Crucitas project has been controversial because Infinito plans to leach gold from the crushed rock with cyanide. Adding to the controversy is the project’s proximity to the Río San Juan River. The river is in Nicaragua, and that country had expressed strong concerns about the mining method.

The project is 95 kms. (59 miles) north of Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos). The project had been billed as a financial boon to the generally depressed area.

The environmental federation said the original legal case was brought by Carlos Murillo and Diana Murillo. The court’s action was to annul a resolution by the environmental ministry, issued Dec. 17, 2001, that awarded a mining concession to Infinito, said the environmental group.

The two individuals were identified as members of the Frente de Oposición a la Minería de la Zona Norte, a group that opposes the project.

The federation said that the appeal was based on international treaties, including one that lays out a biodiversity plan for Central America. 

Graphic by Industrias Infinito S.A.
The treaty forbids commercial or industrial activity in areas protected by the zone.

The company is a subsidiary of Vannessa Ventures Ltd. of Calgary, Canada.

Infinito, in a news release Wednesday, said the decision actually was against the government’s executive branch. Infinito said that it was totally surprised by the Sala IV vote and that the only possible explanation for it was an error or a misinterpretation of the actual state of the concession that was awarded under the laws and regulations in force in 2001.

"The company fulfilled all its responsibilities and legal commitments, for which there is no knowledge of any element that could motivate such a decision," said Erich Rauguth, president of Infinito.

The company said that it hopes that the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía will take prompt and positive action to ask the Sala IV to reverse this decision.

The Las Crucitas project has suffered many reverses. In his first press conference after taking office in 2002 President Abel Pacheco unilaterally declared a moratorium on open pit mining. The company managed to get that decision reversed by the Sala IV, which recognized that its rights predated the Pacheco administration.

There also has been a lot of legal maneuvering with the Secretaría Técnica Ambiental over an environmental impact statement that is required by the concession.

Infinito predicts that it can extract a minimum of a million ounces of gold during the 12-year life of the project. The production cost will be $160 an ounce, considerably lower than the current market price for gold, $439 an ounce.

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Police to be very visible
for Festival de la Luz

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both the Fuerza Pública and the Policía Municipal de San José will be out in force Saturday night for the annual Festival de la Luz, the traditional Christmas parade.

The Fuerza Pública said it will have 900 officers covering the area from La Sabana along Paseo Colón through Avenida 2 to the Plaza de la Democracia, the parade route.

The festival of lights parade is not usually one for serious crime, but many of the spectators will be youngsters, so police usually try to deter lawbreakers beforehand.

This year is no different, said Comisario Wálter Navarro, director general of the police force. "We try to avoid completely any intrusion on the public order and maintain a stable and tranquil environment for the persons who enjoy the festival," he aid.

In addition to the usual foot patrols, police will have the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the tactical squad, and the police K-9 unit. In addition the air units will be flying. Advanced students from the Academia Nacional de Policía also will be working.

The parade kicks off at 7 p.m. But many parents with youngsters find they can see the major floats better Saturday afternoon when they are parked along Parque la Sabana. The parade will move east from there into the downtown.

Campaign stepped up
against hitting children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s ombudsman is stepping up a campaign against corporal punishment of youngsters.

In a press conference Wednesday the ombudsman’s office, properly called the Defensor de los Habitantes, said student-on-student violence took place nearly 84,000 times a year and that aggression between teachers and students takes place about 4,300 times.

Such figures confirm the idea that a lot of violence exists involving children and adolescents, said the office. A release cited 23,000 cases of physical, psychological or sexual abuse, according to figures provided by the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

The office of the Defensor has proposed legislation to outlaw corporal punishment of children, including that by parents.

The office said that aggression against children causes irreversible effects, including loss of self esteem, interference with studies and a breakdown in communication between parents and children. Such effects engender more violence and create feelings of loneliness, sadness and abandonment and can cause additional physical damage, it said.

The office also said that parents suffer, too, from anxiety and guilt and the need to justify this type of punishment.

Costa Rican Christmas
planned by symphonies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The symphony orchestra, the juvenile orchestra and the symphony chorus will get together tonight and Friday for a special Costa Rican Christmas concert in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar opposite Parque Central on Avenida 2.

The music begins at 8 p.m. both nights. Thursday’s performance is a benefit for the Hospicio de Huérfanos de San José. Admission is 2,000 colons ($4.40) but there are discounts for senior citizens and students.

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional is under the baton of Alejandro Gutiérrez.

The program includes Costa Rican Christmas carols by Brunilda de Portilla, a Guanacaste composer. The carols treat coffee production, nature, the Caribbean and children in the country.

Also on the program is "Cantos de Guanacaste"  by Carlos Guzmán and traditional Christmas favorites such as "Silent Night," a Handel composition and "Oh. Come, All Ye Faithful" in Latin.

Cuban travel agency gets
blacklisted by U.S. Treasury

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Treasury Department has identified the travel agency Tour & Marketing International Ltd. as a national of Cuba, thus restricting its business dealings with U.S. citizens.

The Treasury Department issued a press release Wednesday announcing the initiative as "another step against Fidel Castro's repressive regime." 

Juan Carlos Zarate, the Treasury Department's secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, described the Cuban online travel agency as "a generator of resources that the Cuban regime uses to oppress its people." The travel agency also "facilitates the evasion of U.S. sanction policy" by offering its services to U.S. citizens "regardless of whether they have a Treasury-issued license to travel to the sanctioned country," according to the Treasury Department.

Under the terms of the new Treasury Department action, "persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may not engage in any transactions with Tour & Marketing International Ltd. unless authorized by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control," the department said. "In addition, all property of Tour & Marketing International Ltd. that is in the possession of persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked." 

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What the old toys need is a modern press agent
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

During the last century, children’s toys continually made progressive steps. Wooden blocks turned into Lincoln Logs, dolls turned into Barbie dolls, and plastic 
soldiers turned into fully functioning action figures. Today’s toys, however, seem to have taken on a trend of form over function.

A quick walk through a local toy store should sufficiently justify this argument. A streaming array of flashing lights, kicking ninjas, racing cars, and talking dolls line 

every aisle. Children run up to each of the toys and then begin rattling off every single detail about the toy, including its personal biography, inclusion in a new television show and its favorite sayings. 

The complexity of the toys is amazing. In the show window of El Universal in downtown San José is a three-foot U.S. M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank complete with desert camouflage. It is remote controled and accurate to the most tiny detail, including the machinegun mounted atop the turret. The toy is a tenth the size of the real vehicle.

Today’s toys are light years beyond the simple wooden blocks children used to use. They are marketed towards children with specific names, 

colors, and insignias. In stores throughout San José, children instantly recognize the difference between the Green Power Ranger and the Red Ranger and rattle off a million different facts about each. 

On one shelf, you can find the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shoulder to shoulder with the sleek Power Rangers and the brightly colored The Incredible’s action figures. All of these toys derived from movies that were released in the last few years. 

One of the hottest items this Christmas is a fully functional, wall crawling Spider Man action figure. The recent success of the Spider Man theatrical releases has flooded the toy market with new figures and each one has it’s own special features. Some stick to walls, others hang from the ceilings, and still others talk. 

By January a new movie will be released with a new hero that has new abilities. Suddenly children around San José will drop their wall crawlers and head back to the toy stores. 

Today’s toys seem to be media byproducts, the result of boardroom decisions, not child playability. The toys 
are designed to look cool and flashy, to grab a child’s attention. 

Children today look at wooden blocks as a bore, but years ago boys and girls would drag them out of their closets every day. Blocks aren’t fancy 

though, and, worse yet, they don’t have great advertising campaigns. 

A hefty size probably means there's a hefty difference in price
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Before you head out toy shopping this Christmas, it might help to conduct a little research. A tour of shops Wednesday showed that several toys available in stores throughout San José are much more expensive here then in the United States or other countries.

Smaller toys, like action figures, dolls and toys that cost less then $20 were competitively priced. Many of the toys were actually the same exact price once you adjust for the 13 percent sales tax in Costa Rica. The  main discrepancies between toy prices here and toy 

prices abroad were in the big-ticket category.

Toys that had price tags of 15,000 colons ($33) or more tended to be dramatically different. The Hot Wheels Cyborg Attack track is sold in the U.S. for $40. The same track is available in San José for the substantially higher price of 32,000 colons, or $70. 

Differences like these were found in most of the toys that had higher prices. Store employees often pointed out that the more expensive toys are often larger and therefore require different and more expensive shipping methods.

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Report says many coral reefs on verge of collapse
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More than two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs are on the verge of collapse or have already been destroyed, but a few countries are working to limit further damage. That is the conclusion of a new report from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network released this week.

"We know what the problems are," says Clive Wilkinson, the lead author of the report. "We know how to fix them. We just have to do it."

Coral reefs are vital to life on earth. Hundreds of millions of people depend on these vast underwater ecosystems for food and jobs.  Reefs protect coastlines from erosion, and are home to one quarter of all known marine species. The new report, compiled by 240 scientists from 96 countries, measures an 11 percent decline in coral reefs since the last survey two years ago.

The problems are said to be everywhere — from the Persian Gulf, where 65 percent of the reefs have been destroyed — to oceans in South and Southeast Asia, which have lost nearly half their reef cover.  Damage in the Caribbean is even worse. "A recent analysis," notes Wilkinson, "said that there has been an 80 percent drop in coral reef cover in many Caribbean reefs from bleaching disease, hurricanes, chronic overfishing, etc."

In 1998, a once-every-1,000-year El Niño-related weather event destroyed 16 percent of all reefs worldwide. The warmer ocean temperatures caused corals to eject vital plant tissues and die, a process called bleaching. The Monitoring Network report says bleaching could occur more frequently in the future, due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases in the atmosphere.

Wilkinson said shorter-term stresses include disease, 

invasive species, poor land use, agricultural and industrial runoff, and coastal development. "People are now wanting to build airports on coral reefs to attract tourists to come and see coral reefs," he says. "I scratch my head and say ‘I really don't understand.’"

The report says governments, international agencies, environmental groups and lending institutions must work together to protect coral reefs.  Already, France and Sweden have made major commitments. 

The United States is also backing protection efforts. "In our coral reef conservation program, we have awarded nearly $10 million in grants to support coral reef science and management in the United States and internationally," said Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We have been working on an accelerated process in the last year or two to create a national marine sanctuary, which encompasses all of the northwest Hawaiian Islands, which would preserve the largest extra-tropical reef system in the world."

Protection is a key to reef survival. Wilkinson says Australia has taken the lead by greatly expanding protected areas around the Great Barrier Reef. "They have upped from 5 percent protection to 33 percent," he says, "and that has set the benchmark for the rest of the world. That was because they saw a series of declines in turtles, fishing was increasing, the sediment runoff was increasing. So they basically drew the line in the sand and said, 'we need more protection.'"

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network supports protected no-take areas, which have been shown to actually increase fishing yields. Other recommendations in the report include reducing pollution and barring dynamite fishing. Wilkinson calls the study a guide for decision makers to help reverse current trends. He says reefs can recover, but only with a greater hands-on commitment by governments worldwide.

World Bank again handing out millions to Argentina
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The World Bank has approved a series of loans aimed at economic development and poverty reduction in Latin American.

In a series of statements issued Tuesday here, the bank announced loan programs to Argentina, Peru and Brazil.

The bank approved a $200 million loan to Argentina designed to improve infrastructure in the Province of 

Buenos Aires. The improvements include road, water, sewerage and drainage construction.

Another $200 million loan was approved for Peru to improve social programs for the poor and enhance the nation's economic competitiveness.

A $4.8 million loan was awarded to Brazil's northern Amapa State. The loan will subsidize a program designed to reduce rural and urban poverty through environmentally sustainable Amazon River projects. 

Jo Stuart
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