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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 246          E-mail us    
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Walk through the downtown any evening during Christmas season, and youngsters like these are ready to help you celebrate. Getting decorated with confetti is becoming a tradition.

Anderson Diaz Montalegre distributes the confetti while Andres Chilito Alarcón and María Celeste Diaz Montalegre watch.


A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas



Birds faring better, biologist says of Corcovado
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a weekend trip to the Osa Peninsula, the scene of animal deaths over the last two months, Edwardo Carrillo said that although toucans are dying off, they are not perishing at the same high rate as the monkeys. 

Carrillo is a biologist at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia and the lead investigator looking into the circumstances that have killed some 50 percent of the monkeys in Parque Nacional Corcovado.  Toucans, sloths and macaws have also died.

Carrillo said that although he is sure that toucans seem to be fairing better than the monkeys, he couldn't venture a guess as to the number of dead birds nor the percentage that have died.

The team of eight researchers from the Universidad Nacional, the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Ministerio de Salud and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía spent the weekend in trying to estimate the number dead and looking for clues as to the cause.  They were unable to find anything new, Carrillo said shortly after returning Monday.
Investigators have taken blood and specimen samples from the dead and sent them to labs in Texas and elsewhere.  Scientists there should be able to discern the cause by Dec. 20. Officials closed the park Dec. 3.

Several theories have been tossed around by investigators, officials and residents.  One such theory attributes the deaths to the abnormally harsh rainy season.  The torrential downpours during the rainy season here may have ruined the flowering process of the fruit plants that those animals eat.  However, sloths eat leaves.

Yellow fever may also be the culprit.  Carrillo said that the last time the monkeys in the park died on such a massive scale, that virus was the culprit.  However, no cases of yellow fever have been reported in humans according to local health officials, and birds are immune from it.  Carrillo said that another sickness may be responsible for the dying toucans. 

Though the park remains closed, local hotels have said that tourism doesn't seem to be declining.  Owners are hopeful that guests will take advantage of the numerous whale watching tours, horseback tours, canopy tours and many others that exist outside the park.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 246


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Click HERE for great hotel discounts

 
19 lawmakers oppose
trade pact with Web page


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


The 19 legislative deputies who publicly oppose the free trade treaty with the United States have set up a Web page to air their complaints and follow the action.

The treaty is in the early stages of legislative consideration by a committee, the Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales.

They call themselves the Grupo Parlamentario contra el Tratado de Libre Comercio, as the pact is known in Spanish.

The legislative committee meets from 9 a.m. until noon Monday through Thursday, and members of the group say they will be available a few minutes before the session to discuss the issue with citizens.

In a posting Monday, the Web page said that there is no record of how negotiations for the trade pact were made. Doris Osterlof, vice minister of Comercio Exterior, appeared before the group. Miguel Corrales, a deputy, asked the vice minister how the treaty could be interpreted if the notes of the discussion were missing. These documents are sometimes used to clarify disputed points in treaties and laws because they reflect the intent of the makers.

The lack of openness in the treaty negotiations has been a constant criticism of those who oppose the document. The treaty was negotiated in private with little input from the average citizens of each country. Foes of the pact will try to show that the United states forced smaller countries to accept an unfavorable arrangement by making secret deals.

E-mail addresses of the legislators in opposition to the treaty are listed on the Web site.

There are 57 lawmakers in the Asamblea Legislativa. Some 38 votes are needed to pass the free trade treaty because it requires a two-thirds approval under the Costa Rica Constitution. Every deputy who is not a member of the Grupo Parlamentario will have to vote for the pact for it to pass.


Our readers' opinions
Frustrated motorist
wants popular effort

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Besides the few heckling nationals, telling me “if you don’t like our country, go back home!” I still have trouble understanding the apathetic and stubborn mind of many who live in town. All I want to convey is resolution for those who travel, via roads, for business and/or for pleasure in the province of Guanacaste. Specifically, central Guanacaste. If you do not live in, if you do not have family in, if you do not work in or vacation in this province section, don’t come! It’s dangerous!

Regardless if you are a resident or not, when paying your marchamo, gasoline taxes, bus fees, sales taxes and government taxes, you are compounding a payment for road maintenance? What is being done to “repair” and not “band-aid” the main highway from Esparza to Liberia? Why do the police station themselves at short sections of patched road? It’s so they can give you a ticket for speeding, folks! Why not park the blue and yellow on a dangerously potholed section of strip, drop the radar gun and pick up a shovel and sling some ready-mix?

The roads that the “President of paradise” travels are maintained quite well. What about central Guanacaste, President? Revisión Tecnica will fix your accident problems? Please! That’s working like the weigh/check stations you have failed to install or enforce! Continuous complaints, related deaths (from residents and non-residents) annoyed, injured and killed from potholes all get “mopped up” in this country. I anticipate the day when a bus collides with a car or truck, injuring and even killing a few people. Of course the incident will be reported as “defective steering mechanism” or “faulty tire tube.” Is someone taking a bribe?

For the “one-eye closed” president and others who don’t know, this highway stretch (a major 100 kilometer section of the Pan-American Highway) is not just a major tourist travel. Central Guanacaste has high-tech electronic and medical instrument manufacturing companies. Let's not forget the sophisticated agricultural industries that have put a big dent in the GNP.
This mangled strip of road is the main Costa Rican connection for Nicaraguan industries, Puntarenas shipyards and businesses all along the north central territory and northwestern coast. Not only is driving it stressful for trucks, cars and motos to maneuver around dangerous, deep craters and sections of road missing, it possesses a serious problem to all forms of life. Meaning: people on foot, bicycles riders, animals, vegetation, property owners, children, etc. are at high risk.

Pacheco and staff are dodging this major repair of highway like good ole “ICE” needs their “greedy” financial bail out every two years. Costa Rica has resources to do a complete repair of this section – NOW! Seems that if you wait for mañana, mañana, the sick strategy “paves your way” so to speak.
However, using “fool hearted” countries” resources does not match your false pride. Costa Ricans avoid blaming or shaming the “bottomless pit” crew. Yet one more time, the dirty hands are out while neglecting public safety for too long. Incredible! No nationals raise a fist. Blissfully, they accept broken arms, going to funerals and changing blown tires like eating gallo pinto.

At a very minimum, Nationals should all chant, “Pacheco, Pacheco … PACHECO – YA PUTA!” when they drive over a series of potholes! Why can’t central Guanacaste residents get off their ass! Turn off the TV, put down the guaro and think.

"Highway Safety!” Not mañana, mañana – but today. Take a stand – pick up your cell phone, picket the streets, write your congressmen, pop Pacheco’s tires for a change. DO SOMETHING for Gods sake! Force your president to really, really, really do some repairs that last longer than one month (and use your own money damit!) with this shamefully, neglected and dangerous section of highway!

Jim O'Neill
central Guanacaste
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 246




A reader commentary
L.A. visitor saddened by Nicaraguan discrimination

By Edward Robles*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As I traveled the beautiful country of Costa Rica, as a tourist and an employee of a Costa Rica company, I was fortunate to experience the beauty, not only of the country but of the Costa Rican people and its culture.  As a Mexican-American or as I like to be identified, Chicano, born in East Los Angeles I saw it and felt it from a different prospective.

Seeing the acceptance, integration and assimilation of the Mexican and American cultures was really a gift for me.  Seeing Mariachis play in different parts of the country; from San José to Santa Rosa de Pocosol on to Guápiles and hearing the rancheras of Vicente Fernández while seeing the younger generations enjoying the music of the Black Eyed Peas and more, it made me feel like I was taking a tour of any of the southwestern cities in the United States.

I was most impressed with focus and commitment to education.  While driving from Santa Rosa to Los Chiles it seemed to me that there was a school in every little community, no matter the size.  And the opportunity for learning was everywhere for the Costa Rican children.  This should be the standard for the rest of the Latin America countries.

However, I was saddened by the racism, discrimination, and isolation that exist towards the Nicaraguan communities from the Costa Rican people.  I could not understand how it was so freely demonstrated and accepted.  Is this cultural or nationalism in Costa Rica?

It brought back some real bad memories for me of Los Angeles in the early 1970s when Mexican-Americans were so badly mistreated, and outright abuses were common.  

I, personally, remember seeing a sign at a restaurant that read “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.”  We, the Latino community in the United States, have come a long way in fighting this type of discrimination, and it is our responsibility to call people on it and assist in the overcoming this epidemic.

With expanding globalization, the demands for skilled or unskilled workers, especially in North America and elsewhere will lead to increased efforts to attract foreign workers —  or because poor conditions in some countries will lead to an increase in undocumented immigration, additionally, those trying to escape authoritarian regimes as we have seen in Central America in the early 80s.

Immigrants face numerous criticisms and challenges. It is difficult enough often, to get into another nation. If one succeeds, then additional struggles (some to naturally be expected, of course) are faced:

• Living in a new country can be daunting, especially when the cultural differences are great.

• As a result it can be expected that an immigrant

Banner from Nicaraguan religious holiday La Purísma weighs in against discrimination here.

would try to maintain some semblance of their own culture in their new country of stay.

• Or, due to fears of racism or due to the culture shock it would be expected that immigrant communities would form as a way to deal with this and as a means to help each other through.
 
• By doing this, sometimes they face criticism of not integrating and of “sticking with their own kind.”

• Yet, on the other hand, if they do integrate in some way, they face critique from certain types of environmentalists and others of contributing to environmental degradation by increasing their consumption to the high levels typical of the host nation.

(And if environmental degradation is the concern, then it would make sense that one of the main issues at hand to address would be the consumption itself and its roots, regardless of who is doing it — in this context.

That is, if the host nation had different modes of consumptions, immigrants would likely follow those too.

Hence, singling out immigrants for being a factor in environmental degradation is often unfair, and itself hints of prejudice and of attitudes — intentional or not — almost like “stay out; we want to maintain and not share our lifestyle and standards of living; we recognize it is wasteful but if not too many are doing it, then it is ok” etc.)

Celebrating diversity and differences is what makes a truly melting pot and what gives a country a unique flavor of real humanity.  Differences are scary, but one should challenge them to turn that fear into understanding and acceptance.

Life is really beautiful when acceptance is the rule and not the exception.

* Mr. Robles of Los Angeles, Calif., reports he has had extensive experience with race relations there. He is a businessman with 20 years experience in the financial services industry.


Carribean and northern zone getting another dose of strong rains
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cold front has caused strong rains in the northern zone and Caribbean Coast, according to reports from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

As a result, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias has announced an alert for the province of Limón and the canton of Sarapiquí in the province of Heredia.  This means that citizens should keep an eye out for potential emergencies. 

Commission workers are keeping an eye on the regions' rivers and areas prone to landslides and reviewing the agency's inventory of emergency supplies to allow local emergency committees to be ready in the event of a disaster.  
The weather institute predicted Monday evening that the rain will stick around for the next 36 to 48 hours.  The zones of highest risk are the mountainous area, the extreme north of Guanacaste, Guatusos, San Carlos and Tortuguero in the northern zone, and the central and northern Caribbean Coast towns of Siquirres, Guácimo, Cariari, Puerto Viejo and Sarapiquí. 

In the Central Valley, residents of the towns in the extreme north and east of the region are at the highest risk of an emergency, workers said. 

Local emergency committes were reporting Monday night that some minor incidents already occured, especially in Sarapiquí.  Some families had been moved as a preventitive measure but they have already returned to their homes.


Intruders hit home in Puriscal, but police grab four suspects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man identified by the last name of Alpizar in Santiago de Puriscal was at home Monday afternoon when four men burst into his house with guns, gagged him, raided his home and fled in a Toyota Corolla, he told Fuerza Pública officers.  In all, the bandits made off with some 2 million colons ($4,041), Alpizar said.

Alpizar's neighbor followed the crooks, he said, but the four fought the neighbor off, police said.  Police
believe they have caught three of the bandits.  Two of
 the suspects are Colombians identified by the last names Girando Nieto and Chambo Delgado, police said.  They were arrested on a bus heading towards San José, officers said.  Police said that the two were carrying a briefcase with at least 1.5 million colons, some $3,000. 

The third suspect, a Costa Rican identified by the last names Montero Solís, was captured in Barrio San Bosco in Ciudad Colón driving a Toyota Corolla that matched the description Alpizar had given, police said.  


 
A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 246



Smoke plume from space
marks gigantic fuel blaze


Special to A.M. Costa Rica


London is completely blanketed by the black plume of smoke from Europe's worst peacetime fire in this Envisat image, taken within five hours of the blaze beginning.
 
This image was made Sunday morning by one of 10 instruments aboard Envisat, Europe's largest satellite for environmental monitoring. The cloud stretches from East Anglia to Salisbury Plain.

The pall of smoke comes from a fire at Buncefield oil depot on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. Buncefield is the fifth largest fuel storage depot in the United Kingdom, distributing millions of tons of gasoline and other oil products per year, including aviation fuel to nearby Luton and Heathrow airports.
 

European Space Agency photo




Feds continue their crackdown on black peso rings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

U.S. and foreign lawmen have broken up another large drug and money-laundering ring that operated in Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said Monday.

The case will be prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida.

The drug organization used various methods, such as bulk cash deliveries, wire transfers and use of the Colombian black market peso exchange, to launder drug proceeds in Miami, New York and Chicago and return drug profits to the drug suppliers based in Colombia, the agency said.

The drug enforcement agency said Monday that its "Operation Cali Exchange" resulted in 24 indictments, 18 arrests and the seizure of more than $7 million, 2,107 kilograms of cocaine and 235 kilograms of marijuana. Charges in the indictments include conspiracy to distribute cocaine, importation of a controlled substance and money laundering. Criminal forfeiture is being sought.

Some creditors of the Villalobos Brothers high-interest borrowing operation believe the funds generated there came from exchanging pesos, something that is not illegal in Costa Rica but is a crime in the United States. The continued U.S. effort to roll up such money-laundering rings pretty well dims the hopes of those creditors who expect Luis Enrique Villalobos to return next year to continue his Mall San Pedro business as usual.

The Villalobos operation paid up to 3 percent interest a month and some $1 billion were believed on the company books as loans when the Villalobos Brothers shut it down. Luis Enrique Villalobos had been an international fugitive since Oct. 14, 2002. The operation took in large quantities of clean U.S. dollars from an estimated 6,600 creditors.

On May 4, 2004, the Drug Enforcement administration said some 34 defendants were charged in "Operation White Dollar," an undercover investigation targeting the Colombian black market peso exchange and $20 million in laundered drug funds were to be forfeited to the United States.

The anti-drug agency said last June 16 that it had dismantled a massive Colombian
drug-trafficking and money-laundering ring with the arrest of 80 persons. This ring also used the Colombian black market peso exchange to legitimize its income, the agency said, adding that $50 million in drugs and $7 million in cash were seized.

In its latest effort, the agency said it targeted a drug-distribution and money-laundering organization that ran networks in the United States, Colombia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Panamá and the Bahamas.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said its investigation has revealed that 28 different bank accounts in the United States and abroad were used to launder drug proceeds and that more than $10.2 million was laundered through the U.S. banking system.

During the course of this investigation, agents and overseas law officers discovered that this

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration photo
Part of the money confiscated in the latest effort to constrict funding for drug dealers.

organization coordinated and provided maritime transportation of drugs and money through the Caribbean corridor, the agency said. One defendant, Eric Gardiner, led the Panama-based operation, and was arrested in the Dominican Republic.

According to the charges in the indictment, Gardiner funneled a large quantity of currency through the U.S. banking system into bank accounts in Panamá. Other members of the organization arrested in the Dominican Republic include Rogelio Griffith, a Panamanian national, and Tyrone Russell of the Bahamas. Gardiner is also a Bahamian national. These three defendants are being sent to Miami to face U.S. prosecution.

Other defendants in the investigation included Colombian national José Ignacio López, and Dewey Davis, an American from Miami. Davis is a Gardiner associate who also laundered drug proceeds and trafficked cocaine in Miami for the organization, said the agency. Lopez and Davis were among those arrested in Miami.

None of those arrested were known to have direct or indirect links with the Villalobos operation. However, the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney's Office did investigative work for Costa Rican officials who are bringing Oswaldo Villalobos, the brother of Luis Enrique, to trial on allegations of fraud and money laundering.

The black market peso exchange system involves three steps, the agency has explained. First, narcotics traffickers enter into contracts with peso brokers in which the broker delivers pesos in Colombia in return for cash drug money in the United States and Canada.

Second, the peso broker uses accounts in the United States or other countries outside Colombia to place the narcotics proceeds into the international banking system. Finally, the peso broker enters into contracts with Colombian companies or individuals who deliver pesos to the broker in Colombia in exchange for a wire transfer of dollars.

Both transactions are verbal, without any paper trail, and the disconnection between the peso transactions (which generally all occur in Colombia) and the dollar transactions (which generally all occur outside Colombia), make discovery of the money laundering by international law enforcement extremely difficult. Because of these inherent advantages, this system has become one of the primary methods by which Colombian narcotics traffickers launder their illicit funds.






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