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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 252           E-mail us
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Metro area sewer system gets a $73 million boost
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The plan to put in a sewer system and treatment plant for the metro area has been enriched by some $93 million, even though the project has yet to break ground.

The plan to stop dumping all of the Central Valley's sewage into the rivers and eventually the Pacific Ocean was announced formally during the administration of Abel Pacheco. The Japanese government agreed to put up $150 million.

During the administration of Óscar Arias Sánchez the legislative assembly agreed to accept the Japanese loan.

Now the Inter-American Development Bank reported that it will add a $73 million, 25-year loan to the project and that the Spanish government will donate $20 million.

The plan calls for a sewage treatment plant in Escazú downhill from the central canton as well as improvements and expansion of the existing sewer lines.

Most tourists do not know that all of the Central Valley sewage flows into rivers and streams and
 then into the Río Grande de Tárcoles. From there it flows into the Gulf of Nicoya. Then-president Pacheco once joked that the flow contributes to the well being of the Tárcoles crocodiles.

The project appears stalled because Costa Rica has agreed to put up $77 million for the project. The project also will provide $26 million for the construction and rehabilitation of rural water systems, according to the development bank. The entire project is being supervised by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the national water company.

The development bank said that $274 million will be devoted to improving and extending the sewer network in the metro area, including 160 kms of lines in the rios María Aguilar and Tiribi watersheds. The plan also calls for a tunnel to the Escazú plant.

Some $26 million will provide systems for 112 rural communities and 500 small sewage systems for those who now use pit latrines, said the bank.

Some $14 million will pay for construction and rehabilitation of 73 kms of water lines and 15 kms of sewers at 10 low-income areas around San José, according to the bank.

The only decorations these plants will have is this Fuerza Pública hat placed there for purposes of this photo.
Christmas marijuana bush
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo

He should have found himself an evergreen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is a bittersweet Christmas tale that could have begun this way:

"Once upon a time in the far away land of Parrita two tiny trees wanted nothing more than to grow up and become symbols of Christmas."

Alas, the Grinch in the persona of the Fuerza Pública arrived and squashed that dream, mostly because the little trees were marijuana plants. Even those who know how to keep Christmas are not supposed to have marijuana trees even in Esterillos Este de Parrita.

The Fuerza Pública said that the plants were the
property of a man with the last names of Alvarez Valverde.

He was in charge of watching over property there for an owner who frequently was away, they said.

Officers said that the property owner did not know about the Christmas marijuana trees because whenever he arrived the plants were hidden.

The Fuerza Pública said the property owner gave permission for a search.

Each plant was worth about 80,000 colons, said officers. That is about $160. But they were believed to be for post-Christmas personal use after they were decorated for the holidays.

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Counterfeit alcohol network
leads to judicial agent raids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial police staged raids in Desamparados Tuesday to stop the distribution of adulterated liquors.

Agents said they found liquor with toxic content being stored in a home in San Rafael Abajo, Desamparados. The location also served as a bottling factory for various fake brands of alcohol.

In nearby Calle Fallas, the agents located a home where fake labels were being made. In a third raid at a storage unit in Barrio el Jardín agents found trucks for the distribution of the fake liquors.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said they detained one person and that more arrests are possible.

The adulterated liquors contained 400 percent more methanol than permitted for human consumption and a lower level of ethanol. This made the liquid toxic to humans, they said.

Fake name-brand liquor is a big business, particularly in the holiday seasons. Frequently the bottles enter the retail market through cut-rate sales to business people who probably do not know the full nature of the substance.

Some crooks simply label a cheaper variety of liquor with an expensive brand name. Judicial agents urged purchasers to buy alcohol only from recognized establishments.

Short circuits reported
as biggest cause of fires

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Firemen said that some 219 fires put 679 adult and 342 children on the streets in 2010.

The latest blaze was Tuesday morning in El Alto de Guadalupe where seven homes burned, evicting 42 persons, firemen said. The cause was attributed to a short circuit.

Short circuits are the principal cause of fires in Costa Rica, in part because many low-income homes are badly wired. The wood-frame construction of some of the low-income dwellings leads to roaring blazes when they are ignited. Sheet steel roofing also concentrates the heat.

Firemen reported that 17 persons died in fires in 2010, the highest total in the last four years. In all there were more than 700 fire calls, they added.

Murderer who was fugitive
captured in San Vito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A convicted murderer who walked away from a minimum security lockup in Pérez Zeledón is back in jail after three weeks of freedom.

The man, identified by the last name of Carranza, had done 10 years of his 25-year sentence. He was working at an agricultural operation run by the prison when he left. The perimeter of the minimum security center was marked by a yellow plastic tape of the type placed around crime scenes.

The man was found in Pitier de San Vito hiding on a remote farm, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

He had been convicted of the murder of a taxi driver in Buenos Aires de Puntarenas in 1999.

Our reader's opinion
Pacifism is called harder
that military alternative

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your contrast between “pacifism” and “action” betrays a basic misunderstanding of pacifism.   Serious pacifists from Gandhi through Martin Luther King (and including Oscar Arias) have always emphasized that pacifism is not passive.   Rather, it is active — and in fact typically requires more work than militarism.   In renouncing violence, pacifist relinquish a powerful arrow in the quiver that others use, but there are other arrows, and serious pacifists use them.

In the case of the controversy over the Isla Calero, Costa Rica has been anything but passive.  It immediately deployed a main pacifist weapon, namely appealing for popular sympathy by positioning itself as the victim.   Clearly this strategy has been quite successful, for it has put you, most other North Americans, and much of the global press squarely on Costa Rica’s side.  This siding with Costa Rica has been so pronounced that some in the press have even “reported” factual inaccuracies that favor Costa Rica while words like “bully” and “invasion” are regularly applied to Nicaragua.

And not to leave the public relations gambit to portraying itself as the peace-loving victim, Costa Rica immediately seized upon the strategy of adding the complaint that Nicaragua is causing environmental damage to the contested swampland.   Quite apart from the fact that anything anyone does to a neglected swamp will obviously alter “the delicate wetland ecosystem,” it is not even clear that Nicaragua is guilty of this — or at least any guiltier than Costa Rica.

Some noted environmentalist assert that Costa Rica has done far more environmental damage to the area!   However, by coming out of the gate fast with the cry of environmentalism Costa Rica has seemingly also won the initial sympathy of environmentalists.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica has hardly been passive in other ways.

Chinchilla declared Nicaragua an “enemy” (pretty strong stuff), has more “police” stationed on the border than Nicaragua has soldiers, and has run to both the Organization of American States and the world court asking for support.   This is not a weak response.   In fact, it is likely a stronger response in terms of achieving a long-term victory than pulling the trigger would have been.

It’s just wrongheaded to characterize Costa Rica’s pacifism as inactive.   It is quite the opposite, and frankly more likely to be effective than a military response would be.

Now, your editorial does raise some “what if” scenarios, as in, “What if Nicaragua took Guanacaste by force and turned it into a concentration camp?”  My rejoinder is to say, “Let’s worry about this IF it happens.”  You could theoretically reach a point where a pacifist response appears inadequate to a threat, and, if such a point is reached, it might be fair to criticize Costa Rica’s pacifism.  

Odds are that such a fanciful scenario would result in U.N. troops defending Costa Rica, and if this happened you could fault Costa Rica for not shouldering its fair share of responsibility in contributing troops to U.N. military missions, but again this criticism is grossly premature.

Let’s wait until there is a reason to call Costa Rica’s pacifism irresponsible before we do. So far it has managed quite well without a military and in fact has never needed to call another military to its aid.

Ken Morris
San Pedro

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 252
Latigo K-9

Chamber reports tourism arrivals approach full recovery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national tourism chamber predicts that visitors to Costa Rica this year will be just slightly less than 2008 banner year when more than 2 million were reported.

The chamber, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, predicted that tourist arrivals will be 2,082,153 when the year closes next week. That's just 0.33 percent less than the 2008 totals. The percentage, less than 1 percent, represents just 7,021 tourists, said the chamber.

The chamber also predicts an increase of 5 percent in tourists for 2011.

Chamber figures show that tourism was down nearly 8 percent from 2008 levels in 2009, mostly due to the international financial crisis. The chamber also noted that tourism is affected by the U.S. dollar exchange rate and natural disasters such as tropical storm Tómas.

Juan Carlos Ramos, president of the chamber, said that the crisis has not been surpassed completely. The decline in the value of the dollar compared to the colon has affected at least 60 percent of the tourism operators, he noted.

The report of tourists seems to be at odds with statistics released this month by the chamber which showed
tourist arrivals
 Based on statistics of the Cámera Nacional de Turismo

reservations for the last two weeks in December ranged from below 40 percent in the metro area to 85 percent in some of the beach communities. Tourism operators also agree that the tourists who do arrive are spending less money.

Ramos said that 71 percent of the tourists who do arrive come by air. One of the problems in counting tourists is that there have been no reports by nationality recently. Generally tourism operators figure that about 60 percent of the tourists come from the United States and other First World countries. A new immigration law will provide better breakdowns of arriving visitors.

Cultural clash and language barrier resulted in release
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who got 13 years in the beating murder of a family member suspected of witchcraft has been released from prison by the Consejo de Gobierno.

Also pardoned and released was a woman convicted of bringing drugs into a prison.

They are the only two persons to be freed this Christmas season although 45 cases were put forward for consideration, said the Consejo.

The case of Olivia Bejarano Bejarano, a member of the Nögbe community in southern Costa Rica, had been taken up by the nation's public defender and the Defensoría de los Habitantes.

Marta Iris Muñoz Cascante, director of the Defensa Pública, published particulars of the case in a Friday opinion piece in La Nación.

Both she and the Defensoría said that the woman was sentenced in an abbreviated session when she did not understand the charges against her and in a language, Spanish, she did not understand. She was jailed in 2008.

In addition, both also claimed that the woman was the victim of discrimination in prison. The Defensoría said she spent two years without speaking the language of her parents, without using the clothes of her people and without preparing traditional foods.  She also was identified as a mother of two.

She suffered from a rapid process of acculturation, said the Defensoría.

She pleaded guilty to the crime that took the life of Joaquín Bejarano Bejarano Jan. 27, 2008, in Copey de Limoncito de Coto Brus in southern Puntarenas province. Three men, including her husband, went to jail for the same crime, but there was no indication Tuesday if they spoke Spanish.

pardoned women
Casa Presidencial photo
The two pardoned women embrace. In the background is Marta Monge, secretary of the Consejo de Gobierno who handled the release paperwork.

The other woman set free was Sally Calderón Oconitrillo. Both women were in the Buen Pastor women's prison in Desamparados. Ms. Calderón had been in jail since March on an eight-year sentence. She was put forward for pardon because officials said she was forced to commit the crime due to fear of her husband.

Releasing convicts is traditional at the holiday seasons.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 252

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Proposed warnings on U.S. cigarette packs are graphic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is getting ready to update its warning labels on cigarette packs for the first time since the 1980s.  

The new labels come with graphic images of the health hazards posed by smoking and, says Danny McGoldrick of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a Washington-based anti-smoking group, are much larger than current labels.
The FDA is now soliciting comments from the public on its Web site for the new labels. But it took 10 years of scientific research and non-stop pressure by groups like McGoldrick's to get the United States to join the 45 other countries that mandate similar warnings.

McGoldrick said that the new labels won't appear on
 cigarette packs until late 2012 and are part of a long battle that ended with the signing of Tobacco Control Act by President Barack Obama in 2009.

There have been warning labels on cigarettes for decades. But they are not as graphic. Said McGoldrick:

"One reason it's so important is not only does it command these new and graphic warning labels, but it gives the Food and Drug Administration the flexible authority to revise those warning labels moving forward. As the science develops in terms of the damage caused by tobacco, if there are new things to educate smokers and potential smokers about, or if we learn how better to communicate with smokers, the FDA can do that through the rule-making process rather than through an act of Congress."

Scientists uncertain of impact when seas become more acidic

By the National Science Foundation

Increasing acidity in the sea's waters may fundamentally change how nitrogen is cycled in them, say marine scientists who published their findings in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the oceans. All organisms, from tiny microbes to blue whales, use nitrogen to make proteins and other important compounds.

Some microbes can also use different chemical forms of nitrogen as a source of energy.

One of these groups, the ammonia oxidizers, plays a pivotal role in determining which forms of nitrogen are present in the ocean. In turn, they affect the lives of many other marine organisms.

"Ocean acidification will have widespread effects on marine ecosystems, but most of those effects are still unknown," says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation's Biological Oceanography Program, which paid for the research along with the foundation's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"This report that ocean acidification decreases nitrification is extremely important," says Garrison, "because of the crucial role of the nitrogen cycle in biogeochemical processes-processes that take place throughout the oceans."

Very little is known about how ocean acidification may affect critical microbial groups like the ammonia oxidizers, "key players in the ocean's nitrogen cycle," says Michael Beman of the University of Hawaii and lead author of the paper.

In six experiments spread across two oceans, Beman and colleagues looked at the response of ammonia oxidation rates to ocean acidification.

In every case where the researchers experimentally increased the amount of acidity in ocean waters, ammonia oxidation rates decreased.

These declines were remarkably similar in different regions of the ocean indicating that nitrification rates may decrease globally as the oceans acidify in coming decades, says David Hutchins of the University of Southern California, a co-author of the paper.
water sampling
National Science Foundation/Cheryl Chow
Water samples in the Sargasso Sea being collected for studies of ocean acidification.

Oceanic nitrification is a major natural component of production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. From the seas, nitrous oxide then enters the atmosphere, says Beman. "All else being equal, decreases in nitrification rates therefore have the potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere."

Oceanic emissions of nitrous oxide are second only to soils as a global source of nitrous oxide.

With a pH decrease of 0.1 in ocean waters (making the waters more acidic), the scientists estimate a decrease in nitrous oxide emissions comparable to all current nitrous oxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial activity.

Another major implication of the findings is equally complex, the researchers say, but just as important.

As human-derived carbon dioxide permeates the sea, ammonia-oxidizing organisms will be at a significant disadvantage in competing for ammonia. Over time, that would shift the available form of dissolved nitrogen in the surface oceans away from forms like nitrate that are produced by nitrification, and toward regenerated ammonium.

With a decrease in average ocean pH from 8.1 to 8.0 (greater acidity), the scientists estimate that up to 25 percent of the ocean's primary production could shift from nitrate- to ammonium-supported.

The consequences of such a shift are not easily predicted, says Hutchins, but would likely favor certain drifting, microscopic plant species over others, with cascading effects throughout marine food webs.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 252

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Press advocacy group says
Chávez worsens censorship

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has condemned the “worsening of censorship of the free flow of information on the Internet” and what it called “the marked setback to freedom of the press and of expression in general” in Venezuela with the legislature passing reforms to the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media and the Telecommunications Organic Law.

The two amendments were adopted in an extraordinary session of the national assembly and are expected to enter into force shortly with their being signed into law by President Hugo Chávez and their publication in the official gazette.

“There cannot remain any doubt,” declared the organization's president, Gonzalo Marroquín, “that we are seeing a serious act of connivance of the branches of government to deny Venezuelan citizens two fundamental guarantees that democracy demand — the right to freedom of expression and due respect for the free flow of information.”

Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, said that since the Law on Social Responsibility was enacted in 2004, on the excuse of protecting children’s rights, it has been used to go after journalists and shut down news media.

He added, “Now, once again, with the new rules for the Internet, among fines for service providers and the requirement that users not write anonymously or touch on issues that the government might not like, we are witnessing a deep and generalized censorship of news content and personal communications which goes against journalists’ and media’s right to publish and amounts to contempt of the public’s right to communicate freely.”

The amendment to the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media will require media and Internet service providers to censor, block or at least filter information that contravenes some of its rules. Among these are those in Article 27 stipulating that “online media service providers shall set up mechanisms that enable restriction, without delay, of dissemination of messages” which, for example, “encourage anxiety among the citizenry,” “upset public order,” “ignore the authorities,” or “incite homicide.”

Similarly, the law makes news media, among others, responsible for any messages that incite to hatred, justify crime, bring about political or religious intolerance or fail to recognize the authorities. Offenders will be fined between 50 and 200 tax units and those in charge of online media that break the law will be fined up to 4 percent of the gross revenue prior to the violation.

The new legislation makes a criminal offense any information or criticism that the authorities regard as contempt or offensive or that incites to infringe official rulings. Among other ambiguities is the prohibition to remain anonymous on the Internet, a violation of users’ right to privacy.

The chairman of the organization's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that in addition to being detrimental to the public through this “stiffening of censorship of the free flow of information on the Internet” the amendment of the Telecommunications Organic Law shows how President Chávez “is insisting on his ultimate aim of obtaining his sought-after communications hegemony, a country where he arrogates to himself the monopoly of truth and criticism.”

“Chávez," Rivard added, “will be responsible before history for his advocacy of censorship and silence, which will result in a marked setback for freedom of the press and of expression year after year in the country.”

The amendment declares telecommunications activities to be of “public service or interest,” which will enable the government to have greater regulatory authority over the electronic media that the government often declares especially at times of crisis or emergencies.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 252

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New rules cover packages
destined for United States

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican postal service, Correos de Costa Rica, said that new rules have been imposed on packages being shipped to the United States to conform with security rules there.

Packages being sent to Stateside addresses must be taken to the post office opened for inspection if they weigh more than a pound.

This includes standard mail and also package deliveries.

In addition those mailing the packages must provide adequate identification.

The postal services said that it would not ship substances prohibited by U.S. officials. That includes various sauces that are typical of Costa Rica.

In addition, those mailing such packages must provide detailed listings of the contents. Correos de Costa Rica said a description such as clothing was not adequate.

Also prohibited are ink cartridges and other liquids as well as flammable substances.

Quepos lawyer detained
in money laundering probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained A 49-year old lawyer in Quepos Tuesday and said he was linked to a group arrested in April at which time some $600,000 was confiscated.

Agents said the man, who was not named, had been detained at his home on the Inmaculada road and that his office in the center of Quepos also was searched.

Agents alleged that the lawyer provided logistical support and advice for the money laundering ring. They said others might also be detained.

Convicted man on loose
for five years is detained

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who has been on the loose since 2004 came into investigators' hands Tuesday. The arrests took place in Cariari de Pococí without incident.

The fugitive was identified as  Orlando Reyes González, who was found guilty in 2004 of distributing pornography and corruption. Sept. 12, 2005, the Sala III of the Corte Suprema de Justicia confirmed the sentence but Reyes was not around to begin serving a four-year term, said agents.

The arrest came just one month before the sentence would have been voided by the lapse of time, said agents. They credited close work with prosecutors for leading to the arrest.

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