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(506) 2223-1327              Published Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 252            E-mail us
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About that imminent invasion from Curaçao . . . .
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, said last week that he fears an invasion from the nearby Dutch island of Curaçao. Indeed, he should. If Venezuela were invaded by the Dutch, the country would run the risk of being propelled into First World status.

That also would be kind of bad for the socialist ambitions of Chávez because the Dutch are probably the world's longest practitioners of capitalism. They also have a tendency to make things work.

Curaçao, just 35 miles north of the Venezuelan coast, is everything Chávez should want for his country: Clean, industrious and a mecca for tourists. Tourism has taken a bit of a hit in Venezuela these days if one does not count the Iranians and assorted other Middle Eastern spies.

Chávez is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Fidel Castro, who has managed in more than 50 years to impoverish his people and make his country the last standing example of a failed economic system. Castro rallied the citizenry during hard times with claims of an imminent Yankee invasion.

Now Chávez does the same, but less convincingly than Castro.

Presumably the Venezuelan military is bracing for a barrage of gouda cheese and tulips. And maybe a wooden clog or two. And it is likely that the little island would receive reinforcements and
Dutch children
Curaçao military check Venezuelan defenses

support from those military powerhouses Aruba and Bonaire. Not to mention the St. Martin SCUBA regiment.

Strictly speaking, the island has a strong Dutch tradition but is an independent state within the Kingdom of The Netherlands. It's just 182 square miles with a population of less than 200,000. That's about the right size for Chávez to bully. But he better not push too far. Venezuela produces a lot of petroleum. But Curaçao refines the black gold.

The Venezuelan president-for-life seems to object because the tiny island allows U.S. operations against drug smuggling from its territory. So why is it that Chávez is fighting so hard against anti-drug surveillance?



U.S. Embassy again target of bad press in media
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ticos probably believe that the Grinch is alive and well and working at the U.S. consulate in San José.

Teletica Channel 7 played up a story Monday about a Costa Rica woman who is unable to fly to her injured daughter's bedside in Florida because the consulate will not give her a visa. The nature of the accident suffered by the 11 year old was not reported.

The U.S. generally requires Costa Ricans to have a steady job, own a home and have money in the bank before granting a visa. The consulate has  received bad press in the past. For example, officials initially refused a visa for a Costa Rican
woman to travel to Arlington National Cemetery for the burial of her U.S. Army sergeant son who died in Iraq.

The news follows by a week the media rehashing of the embassy's continual dispute with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social over more than $1 million Costa Rica says the United States owes for social charges on its Costa Rican employees. The U.S. Embassy continually shows up near the top on a list of Caja deadbeats.

Although the embassy ostensibly employs press spokespersons, both Costa Rican and with U.S. nationality, there seldom is any response or explanation to the procession of public relations disasters.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 252

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legs of tourist mule
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Segruidad Pública photo

Tourist had bags stuck to his legs.

Stash taped to the legs
fails to fool airport cops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police found another tourist trying to export suspected cocaine from Juan Santamaría airport. The man, an Israeli, was headed for Madrid and then to Amsterdam, said the Policía de Control de Drogas.

The suspected drug was found taped to the calves of the man.

Agents said they noticed the man because he seemed to be nervous, and they subjected him to a more thorough examination. However, many drug couriers are compromised for various reasons by friends and associates who make anonymous calls to the police.

The man carried about 1.9 kilos, about 4.2 pounds, agents said.

New defensora comes out
in defense of women victims


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new defensora de los habitantes issued her first statement Monday and said there should be better and more effective ways to let women victims receive justice.

The defensora, Ofelia Taitelbaum, was commenting on a decision by a tribunal de casación to annul a trial court 20-year sentence of a man convicted of rape. The tribunal also threw out not guilty verdicts against two companions and ordered all three to be tried again.

This is a well-known case because it involves young men from a high social bracket and a woman who said they took advantage of her when she was drunk.

Ms. Taitelbaum's statement suggests that she will be an advocate for women during her time in the ombudman's office. She said that the justice system was weak in the way it can resolve the needs of women victims of violence. She said the victim had less rights than the suspect.

Ms. Taitelbaum, until Tuesday, was a legislative deputy.

She said that the holidays bring increased in the holiday season and that effective attention by the authorities will permit many women to enjoy the right of dignity and life and not increase the number of the 35 women who have been killed by their partners, which she called the shame of society.

Election workers given
job of counting ballots


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones said Monday that it would accept the vote counts supplied by the various polling places. It said the change is based on the new election code.

That means the Tribunal only will count votes when there is a dispute or other irregularities.

In the past the counting was done at Tribunal headquarters in San José. The votes from the more than 6,000 polling places were brought to the headquarters, and workers spent days counting the votes under the supervision of at least one magistrate.

The Tribunal decision means that final vote totals may be available sooner for the Feb. 7 presidential and legislative elections.

In the case of the presidential vote, the Tribunal said it would do a hand recount if the difference between the leading candidates was 2 percent or less.

Each polling place has three workers who check identifications, issue ballots and, under the new rules, count the ballots.

Boy's battered body found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents are investigating the death of a boy about 13 whose body was found about 11 p.m. Sunday night in Playa Herradura near Jacó. The boy had a broken forearm and an injury to his shoulder that could have been caused by being tossed around by waves. However, the Judicial Investigating Organization said that an autopsy report would be awaited.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 252

Helicopter will keep an eye on metro area for holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry is putting a helicopter in the air to keep watch over the metro areas during the holiday seasons.

The initial flight was Monday with Janina del Vecchio, the minister, as an observer.

The helicopter will be making two flights a day and will be ready to respond to any emergencies, said the ministry.

Ms. del Vecchio said that December is a month with many police problems, and she mentioned domestic violence as being a major component. She said that drugs and alcohol are related to family violence between husband and wife.
She also noted that the police presence in the metro area has increased and extra patrolmen will be on duty through Jan. 4, the end of the holidays.  They also will be keeping the peace at the Fiestas de San José, the traditional Christmas carnival in Zapote, she said.

Officials are hoping to use the helicopter in the northern part of the province of Heredia where the search continues for two missing boys. The pair, Edwin Bonilla López and Denilson Meza Enríquez, were swept away by currents in the Río Sarapiquí Saturday, and intensive river searches have not yet located their bodies.

The area was overcast and subject to moderate rains during Monday.


Magistrates go home without making decision on Crucitas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Infinito Gold Ltd. said Monday that its subsidiary in Costa Rica, Industrias Infinito S.A., has been advised that the Sala IV constitutional court has not come to a decision on the legal challenges which have halted construction on the company's Crucitas gold mining project.

The court is now in recess until after the New Year, so no decision will come before then.

The Sala IV heard three days of oral arguments about the project in mid-November. The Calgary-based parent company maintains that its subsidiary here has obtained all the necessary permits, but opponents have raised environmental issues.

During the protracted approval process, which has lasted more than eight years, the value of the mine has soared  along with the price of gold. Industrias Infinito S.A., estimated that it has some 723,815 ounces of gold near the  
surface of the open-pit operation. The mining project mayhave a total of 1.9 million ounces.

Two Sala IV magistrates visited the site Sept. 11 and got a tour of the proposed mine. Infinito said that the magistrates also witnessed the extensive social and educational programs that had been implemented over the last several years in the small communities surrounding the project area.

A major environmental concern has been the cutting of trees on the site, particularly the almendro or mountain almond (Dipteryx panamensis) that great green macaw inhabit.

The long-term concern of environmentalists is not the trees on the site. They have been saying for years that the company would use harmful chemicals to leach the gold from the rock and that these chemicals might flow into the nearby Río San Juan.

At the time of the oral hearing, Infinito was told that the magistrates would make a decision in 30 days.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 252

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Land bridge appears to be key in bird migration north

By the University of British Columbia news service

Despite their ability to fly, tropical birds waited until the formation of the land bridge between North and South America to move northward, according to a University of British Columbia study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

“While many North American birds simply flew across the marine barriers that once separated the continents, tropical birds, especially those in Amazon forest regions, began colonization of North America almost entirely after the completion of the land bridge,” said lead author Jason Weir, who conducted the study as part of his doctorate at the university.

“This study is the most extensive evidence to date that shows the land bridge playing a key role in the interchange of bird species between North and South America and the abundant biodiversity in the tropical regions,” said Weir, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago.

The Isthmus of Panama land bridge was completed between three and four million years ago, and today consists of the country of Panamá. It is believed to have initiated the Great American Biotic Interchange, bringing mammals that evolved uniquely in South America during its “island isolation,” the armadillo, opossum and porcupine, to North America.

Fossil records have shown that mammalian species also travelled across the land bridge from North to South America, increasing biodiversity in the tropical regions. “But a lack of bird fossils has made it difficult to determine if the land bridge was equally instrumental in the interchange of avian species,” said Weir.

By analyzing the DNA of 457 bird species on either side of the land bridge, Weir and colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá were able to reconstruct a family tree of species closely related to one another and revealed a hidden chapter in the impact of the land bridge to biodiversity. They found a dramatic increase in the rates of interchange after the land bridge completion.

“This is a bit surprising,” says co-author Dolph Schluter,
migratory bird
Photo by Noel Ureña, copyright by Tropical Feathers www.costaricabirdingtours.com. Used with permission
This red-legged honeycreeper dispersed from South America into North America over the completed land bridge, according to the study.


a zoology professor at the university. “Couldn’t the birds have flown across the gap? Some did, but most tropical birds waited for the land crossing.”

The researchers believe the inability of many tropical birds to fly long distances across open water – some are reluctant even to cross rivers as narrow as 200 metres – may have contributed to the few northbound movements prior to the land bridge completion.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 252

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Digs in Guatemala helping
to bring families closure


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
 
As the political climate in Guatemala slowly swings towards acceptance of the legacy of a long and violent civil war, exhumations have provided some closure to families of thousands of disappeared persons.

On a hillside along a busy road just south of Guatemala's capital, Aura Elena stands in the fading sunlight after another day peaking over the shoulders of a team of forensic anthropologists and workmen.  This urban setting has been pointed out by anonymous tipsters, who have come forward after 25 years, as the suspected final resting place of at least four people who disappeared during the civil war that raged in Guatemala during the 1980s.

As the chairperson of the victims' rights association Families of the Disappeared of Guatemala, Elena has presided over a number of such investigations.  But this one is special to her.  Among the bodies the team expects to find here is that of Elena's brother, who disappeared on his way to a university in 1984 and was never heard from again.

Elena says exhumations like this one play a crucial role in bringing closure to the families of the disappeared.  Though the dig, along a paved highway that was constructed in recent years had yet to yield any results after four days, Elena and the dozen or so family members of presumed victims thought to be buried here have refused to give up hope.

Families of those suspected to have been killed in the mid 1980s by agents of the right-wing military regime of Oscar Mejia Victores, say just being able to search for their loved ones is a signal of progress in this country.  Mario Polanco heads the victims' rights organization Mutual Support Group.

Polanco says he is amazed at the change in political climate that has allowed exhumations to go forward at an increasingly rapid speed in recent years.  He qualifies exhumations as a humanitarian act that allows families to close what he calls the circle of pain and mourning in which they have been caught for a quarter of a century, and says it was unthinkable as recently as a few years ago that investigations into war crimes would have been allowed in this country.

Polanco and other civil rights advocates say that for years the judicial and political systems in Guatemala blocked attempts to reconstruct the country's troubled past.  But recent legal documents have uncovered a slew of new evidence incriminating military officials and politicians, and helping to clarify the fates of many of the country's thousands of missing persons.

A pair of recent court decisions went so far as to convict military collaborators for their role in disappearances.  Dozens of other cases are pending around the country.  The sea change in the approach towards dealing with the past has also opened the door for the exhumations, said Jose Suasnavar of the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology of Guatemala.

Suasnavar says more than 1,000 exhumations have taken place in the past years, and the remains of more than 5,000 victims have been located.  Though a large percentage of those victims are yet to be identified, DNA testing is making it increasingly possible to determine the identity of remains found in unmarked graves.

Using the new technology, victims' rights organizations in Guatemala hope to now examine entire cemeteries in areas where massacres were concentrated, Suasnavar says.

Suasnavar says countless anonymous victims were buried in mass graves nationwide.  He says the process of sorting through those areas, which include sites around the country, but concentrated in the mountainous northern areas, will be a long and difficult one, though it is work that needs to be done in the name of the victims' families.

The Guatemalan Civil War lasted almost four decades.  A peace treaty between the government and the final groups of rebels was signed in December 1996.  During the course of the conflict, more than 200,000 people were killed.  About one quarter of the presumed dead are still considered missing persons, never to be heard from again. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 252


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Ban seeks binding pact
on climate for next year

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Acknowledging that the climate change deal reached over the weekend in Copenhagen was not ideal for all nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Monday exhorted world leaders to act in concert to ensure that a legally binding treaty is reached next year.

The political agreement was struck in the Danish capital Saturday morning after negotiations had come to a standstill, with Ban intervening at the last minute to assuage nations which felt they had been excluded from parts of the negotiations.

The accord includes an agreement to working towards curbing global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, efforts to reduce or limit emissions, and pledges to mobilize $100 billion a year for developing countries to combat climate change.

“While I am satisfied that we sealed a deal, I am aware that the outcome of the Copenhagen conference, including the Copenhagen Accord, did not go as far as many have hoped,” Ban told reporters in New York.

The two-week-long United Nations conference in Copenhagen, attended by 128 heads of state and government, was marked by interruptions in negotiations due to divisions between states over transparency and other issues.

“The leaders were united in purpose, but they were not united in action,” Ban pointed out.

Nonetheless, he said that the talks “represent a beginning – an essential beginning,” because without nations hammering out a deal in Copenhagen, the financial and technical support for poorer nations agreed upon would not take immediate effect.

The coming challenge for the U.N. will be to harness political will and translate it into action, said the secretary general, who will set up a high-level panel on development and climate change.
   
Due to the complexity of the negotiations and the entrenched positions held by many countries, “everybody knew that it would not be an easy task,” he told reporters, emphasizing the importance of taking action to clinch a legally binding pact next year instead of dwelling on the Copenhagen talks.




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