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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 248          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Someone swiped
statue of Jesus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nativity cradle is vacant at the Teatro Nacional because someone walked off with the Baby Jesus statue Tuesday.

Police investigators are handling the case as a theft. The 80-year-old wooden statue has at least historical value.

But the case may be more of a religious squabble. Theater employees say they have received complaints that by tradition the statue of Jesus should not appear in the nativity scene —called a portal here — until Christmas eve.

The theater is in the center and fenced, but gates are open during the day.

New law will help count the 'real' tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new immigration law will give tourism operators here a better look at their industry by improving statistical reporting.

The new law, which goes into effect in August also is expected to have a major impact on those businesses that hire foreigners illegally.

The new law creates a number of new categories for foreigners who come to Costa Rica. Now most persons visiting for a short time come in as tourists. So when the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo issues a report about tourists who visit Costa Rica, the figures also include many persons who come for reasons other than tourism.

The institute estimated in its year-end report Wednesday that nearly 1.7 million tourists would visit the country this year. That's a 15 percent increase over 2004, but down 3 points from the estimate reported here Nov. 7.

The statistics are deceptive in that most visitors to the country are counted as tourists, including 191,398 Nicaraguans in 2004, and those foreign residents here who travel outside the country every 90 days to renew their tourist visas.

By expanding the categories of temporary and permanent visas, officials will be able to
separate real tourists from people who come in for other reasons, including sports participants, artists and cultural figures who have their own category, as well as seasonal workers.

Immigration officials also are expected to crack down on the many so-called perpetual tourists who live in Costa Rica and renew their tourists visas every 90 days. Many are employed illegally in call centers, sportsbooks and real estate agencies, and some are unable to obtain another form of residency because of a less than spotless criminal record.

The new law clearly states that working for pay illegally is a reason for canceling a foreigner's visa, plus the Policía de Migración is being beefed up. The law authorized a registry of foreigners legally in the country and unannounced inspections of workplaces. Employers have the responsibility to determine the legal status of their employees and can be fined heavily for violations. They also are obligated to provide Migración with a list of foreign workers when asked.

As Johnny Marín Artavia, the director of Migración has said, the way the law is enforced depends a lot on regulations that officials still have to write. Marín, a lawyer, is likely to push for strict enforcement.
The law also criminalizes trafficking in persons and giving lodging to illegal immigrants.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 248

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Transport minister plans
Heredia train by May

By Silleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the transportation agency wants to have a commuter train route running between San José and Heredia before he leaves office in early May.

Randall Quiros Bustamante, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said this Wednesday as he reviewed the work his agency has been doing for the year.

The news was mostly depressing, except for the train, which now runs from Pavas to Universidad Latina in San Pedro each day. The Heredia route had been announced but the news now is that it will be opened so soon.

Quiros said that a grant of 640,000 euros from the European Economic community would allow the government to set up a 30-minute commute on existing rails. Some of the money would be spent on preparing a new route from San Pedro to Ochomogo in Cartago.

The success of the commuter train has been overshadowed by the nation's roads, which presidential candidate Ottón Solís calls with some justification the worst in Central America. Others are less diplomatic.

Quiros outlined the problem facing his ministry, which includes the road repair agency. Quiros, said that one big problem was that the company COMESA, hired to repair roads in the south Pacific went bankrupt, and for that reason the work had to stop for three years.

Storms and the landslides they caused along the Pacific are other reasons for the bad roads, he said. Damage is estimated at 28 billion colons or some $56.5 million.

Quiros said that the San José-Caldera highway, which will shorten the trip from the Central Valley to the Pacific, is making progress. The bridges for the route were installed before the Abel Pacheco administration took over in 2002, but little construction work has been done. Quiros said The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones has approved the request of one company to withdraw from the deal. The government continued to acquire right-of-way with a 3.2 billion-colon investment, he said. That's $6.5 million. He said 337 parcels had been purchased.

A.M. Costa Rica/Selleny Sanabria Soto
It's hard not to see potholes these days

Our reader's opinion

What has happened
to the nation's roads?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been coming to Costa Rica for 35 years. I now own a hotel in Paradiso. A couple of months ago I had to drive to Liberia from San José. I stayed the night on
Tamarindo Beach. The next morning I had to fly out of Liberia.

I will never drive there again and will never go to Tamarindo again, unless someone buys me a ticket to fly.

I wish I had a better word to describe how HORRIFYING THE ROADS WERE.

For the first time in 35 years I heard someone say they would not come back.

At the airport in Liberia I saw more than a half dozen people angered and saying they would NEVER COME BACK, WHAT A SHAME THE GOVERNMENT HAS LET THESE  ROAD GET IN THIS CONDITION.

Cray Palmer

Cahuita shooting leads
to a confusing scene

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in the Provincia de Limón captured four men suspected of briefly detaining a man identified by the last names Obando Obando in Cahuita, the officers said.

The incident was reported late Tuesday.  According to officers, there was a shootout and soon after unknown individuals ran off with Obando. 

At approximately midnight, there was a search through the center of Cahuita for Obando.  He was found in a house, officers said.  

When Obando was found, the officers said that he looked as though he had received a number of blows to his body.  Police arrested three persons who were also found at the home, officers said.  They were identified by the last names Dixon Obregón, Brown Valentino and Soto Torres, police said.

Later, officers arrested a fourth subject with a bullet wound to the right leg at the Hone Creek medical clinic in Cahuita.  He was identified by the last names González García, officers said.  Officers said they haven't been able to discern a motive.   
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 248

Tope and Carnival
Starting time Dec. 27 will be late afternoon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The post-Christmas carnival Dec. 27 will kick off at 4 p.m., giving participants a break from the midday heat.

In previous years, the carnival parade started at noon, and although some of the costumes are brief, some band uniforms and disguises bake their wearers.

A possible late start will have the carnival parade stepping off about the time the sun sets.

Monday, Dec. 26, the annual tope or horse parade will begin at noon, several hours later than previous years. Visitors who never have seen the event might be surprised to find Avenida 2 and Paseo Colón packed with horses and riders.

Since this event takes place during a presidential campaign, candidates are more or less obligated to find a mount and join the ride. Their competence or lack thereof is discussed in detail by spectators.

Both events will be televised.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo

Flood of travelers expected by immigration officials
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials are expecting some 70,000 Nicaraguans to leave Costa Rica to spend the holidays with families in their home country.

Of these, perhaps some 38,000 persons will leave via the Peñas Blancas border crossing and some 24,000 will enter the country that way this month, said the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.
For that reason immigration officials said they are adding eight immigration police officers to the Liberia office. Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela will get 13 temporary officers and Daniel Oduber airport near Liberia will get 10.

Immigration officials estimate that there are about 300,000 legal foreign residents in the country, many of whom will be traveling for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. In all officials expect a 15 to 20 percent increase in travel over 2004.

Joint drug operation yields a whopping catch of 2,095 kilos in Pacific
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A drug patrol operation involving the coast guard of both Costa Rica and the United States yielded the arrest of the six crew members of the “Princesa de Drake” in Panamanian waters 27 miles south east of the Costa Rican border. 

The boat, registered in Quepos, was carrying 68 packages of cocaine, each of which weighed between 20 and 35 kilos, said the security ministry.  In all, officers seized 2,095 kilos of cocaine, they said.  That's 4,609 pounds.

Though the boat was stopped by a United States vessel, a treaty between the United States and Costa Rica says that during a joint operation, a boat that is
stopped closer to Costa Rica than the United States falls under Costa Rican jurisdiction. 

The six crew members detained were four Costa Ricans, identified by the last names Rosales Castillo, Centeno Ramírez, Álvarez Castro and Herrera González, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. 

The other two sailors arrested were a Colombian identified by the last names Rodríguez Castro and a Guatemalan identified by the last names Del Cid Arroyo, the security ministry said. 

The Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Control de Drogas and the judicial police have seized a total of 9,812 kilos of cocaine this year, the most ever in a year.

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Evidence links cocaine abuse and Parkinson's disease
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Adults who abuse cocaine might increase their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and pregnant women who abuse cocaine could increase the risk of their children developing the ailment later in life, according to results of laboratory studies performed by investigators at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The study’s findings are important because there are currently more than 2 million cocaine abusers in the United States today, the researchers said. Many individuals who abused the drug during the height of the cocaine abuse epidemic of the 1970s and 1980s are now entering their older years, when symptoms of Parkinson’s are likely to emerge.

A report on this work appears in the online, prepublication edition of Neuroscience.

The St. Jude team showed in laboratory models of both the adult and fetal brains that exposure to cocaine alters the nerve bodies in the region of the brain called the substantia nigra. This damage made the neurons more susceptible to MPTP, a toxin known to cause symptoms of Parkinson’s.

The nigrostriatal system is a pathway of nerves that originates in the area called the substantial nigra pars compacta and spreads out into certain other parts of the brain. The neurons in the substantial nigra pars compacta make the neurotransmitter dopamine, and degeneration of this area and the nigrostriatal system is one of the major hallmarks of Parkinson’s, according to Richard Smeyne, Ph.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology.

“Our findings suggest that cocaine makes the SNpc in adults susceptible to further damage from environmental toxins that can cause Parkinson’s disease,” Smeyne said “The findings also strongly suggest that women who abuse cocaine during pregnancies put their children at an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.”

Cocaine is also known to disrupt the normal function of the dopamine transporter, a protein that sweeps up dopamine from the synapse after it stimulates its target nerve, he added. Disruption of this process causes an abnormal rise in the concentration of dopamine in the synapse. This poses a threat to the brain because dopamine can interact with other chemicals to become a free radical — a highly reactive molecule that can damage tissue. “So the increase in
the amount of dopamine in the synapse can lead to high levels of destructive free radicals that damage this area of the brain,” Smeyne said.

The St. Jude team studied the effect of cocaine in laboratory models that are resistant to the toxin MPTP, which is known to cause Parkinson’s-like damage in the brain. The investigators used this model to determine if cocaine altered the nigrostriatal system so it became sensitive to MPTP.

Exposure to cocaine did not affect the number of cells in the substantial nigra pars compacta of adult and fetal models but did make them more susceptible to damage from MPTP, the researchers reported.

Furthermore, in both the adult and fetal models, cocaine exposure disrupted the balance between the proteins that sweep up dopamine from the synapses and bring them into the pre-synaptic cell and the sacs that package them in those neurons. Specifically, the ratio of transporter proteins to the sacs increased by 27 percent in the fetal models and by 28 percent in adult models, the investigators reported.

“This means that the transporter proteins were pumping more dopamine back into the pre-synaptic nerves than could be repackaged in those sacs,” Smeyne explained. “And that was allowing dopamine to accumulate freely inside the cell, where it can produce free radicals. That kind of stress can make the nerve susceptible to other environmental toxins. Smeyne theorizes that toxins that enter the body could then cause damage in the substantia nigra that leads to Parkinson’s disease.

The study also found that cocaine exposure decreased the number of certain dopamine receptors called D2 autoreceptors. These autoreceptors control the production and/or release of dopamine. When the receptors are in short supply, the level of dopamine in the synapse rises. This in turn leaves the synapse (connection between nerves) vulnerable to free radical damage, according to Smeyne.

“Based on these findings it might not be surprising to see a rise in the number of cases of Parkinson’s disease in the next 10 or 20 years or so,” said Steven A. Lloyd, Ph.D. the first author of the article. Lloyd was a graduate student in Smeyne’s laboratory during this work and is now an assistant professor of psychology at Rhodes College in Memphis.

Smeyne’s team previously published their findings that exercise confers protection on mice that otherwise would have developed Parkinson’s.

U.N. pact against corruption would target stolen assets all over world
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations Convention against Corruption, a major obstacle to development in poor countries, came into force Wednesday, providing the first legally binding global instrument for the return of assets illicitly acquired by dishonest officials, as well as preventive steps to detect plundering of national wealth as it occurs.

“Time and time again, countries’ assets have been looted by corrupt leaders, while in the corporate world, many shareholders have been robbed by corrupt managers,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which is the custodian of the convention.

“This convention demonstrates that governments are no longer prepared to tolerate a destructive practice which is as old as history and as wide as the globe. It gives nations the legal tools they need to transform their economies,” he added.

The convention, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in October 2003, signed by 140 countries and ratified by 38, rests on four pillars: prevention and criminalization of corruption, international cooperation and asset recovery.

Costa Rica signed the document Dec. 10, 2003, but has not ratified it.

"The tough new provisions on asset recovery represent a major breakthrough,” Costa said. “The fact that nowhere in the world will be exempt from
the obligation to return looted assets, and that old excuses such as banking secrecy will no longer be an impediment, will be of major assistance in preventing corruption.”

Under the treaty, states are required to return money and other assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen. “This sends a warning to corrupt officials everywhere that they can no longer expect to enjoy the fruits of their crimes by moving stolen assets abroad. It is also a message of hope to millions of people who have grown angry and frustrated at seeing their country’s wealth plundered by criminals,” he added.

The 90-day countdown for Wednesday’s entry into force was started at the U.N. World Summit Sept. 15 when Ecuador provided the required 30th ratification. Costa appealed to all Member States to ratify the convention.

“This new instrument must be only the beginning of our redoubled efforts to prevent and control corruption.  We must all make sure that the momentum that made its negotiation and entry into force possible is not allowed to dissipate,” he declared.

Implementation, which rests firmly in the hands of governments, would be a word devoid of meaning if the convention did not become the global standard that it was intended to be, he said. His office has been assisting countries in developing anti-corruption strategies, prevention measures and the institutions they need to fight corruption effectively.

Jo Stuart
About us

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