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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 258
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Scientist finds an elusive toad family quickly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An international expedition had little trouble finding a population of harlequin toads here even though the amphibian was once thought extinct.

Ron Gagliardo, a herpetologist with the Atlanta, Ga., Botanical Garden directed the expedition in a private reserve in the central Pacific area.

The scientist managed to find three toads on the third day of his rain-soaked visit here. As a result, he and Federico Bolaños, a University of Costa Rica professor, and graduate student Robert Puschendoft have decided to form the Harlequin Toad Task Force to keep track of the tiny critters.

Also included are the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, the Costa Rican Amphibian Conservation Center and the botanical garden.

A botanical garden release described Bolaños as the nation’s leading authority on amphibians. The botanical garden quoted him as saying "As a native Costa Rican and amphibian educator, this is one of the most ground-breaking discoveries of my academic career." 

The botanical garden will work with an international team of scientists to assess the feasibility of breeding the toad in captivity there.

"The discovery of the harlequin toad is the symbol of a vast amount of species that are yet to be discovered and rediscovered in Costa Rica," said Ann Gutiérrez, co-owner of the Rainmaker Reserve where the toads were found. "It is a symbol of the need to conserve natural areas."

The yellow and black toad, Atelopus varius, was found in the Rainmaker reserve by a nature guide who brought the discovery to the attention of scientists. The toad had been last 

Atlanta Botanical Garden photo
Smile, please! Ron Gagliardo photographs the tiny amphibian, a harlequin toad.

sighted in the mid-1990s and was presumed to have become extinct. To reach where the toads live, Gagliardo said he had to hike six hours in snake-infested jungle in the pouring rain. The visit was from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.

The status of the toad will provide scientists with information that may relate to the worldwide decline in amphibians and a possible diagnosis, said the botanical garden.

The discovery also opens doors for international collaboration between the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Costa Rican scientists, government agencies and private landowners who have shown a commitment to conservation, the botanical garden said in a release.

New prosecutor might move key cases along
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The decisive and quick action by the new fiscal general in two major cases is a good sign for foreign investors who have been left in limbo, in several cases for more than a year.

The fiscal general or chief prosecutor is Francisco Dall'Annese, who got the job Dec. 1. He has been visible in leading arrest teams unlike his predecessor Carlos Arias.


Analysis on the news


Dall'Annese personally directed the detention of Eugenio Millot Christmas morning at Juan Santamaría Airport. Millot is being held for investigation in the drive-by murder of newswoman Ivannia Mora Rodríguez. That murder happened the evening of Dec. 23.

Dall'Annese also flew to Liberia to take the Rev. Mínor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar into custody at 3:15 a.m. Saturday morning, and he flew back to San José with the priest. Calvo is a suspect in the drive-by murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez. That happened July 7, 2001.

The Medina case is of particular interest to creditors of the Villalobos Brothers investment operation, of Savings Unlimited and also of The Vault.

Like the Parmenio Medina investigation, these investigations are perceived as dragging along without clear direction. In fact, the various prosecutorial offices are overwhelmed by the sizes and complexities of the cases.

For example Walter Espinoza, the prosecutor in the case of the Villalobos Brothers, does not even have a budget for long-distance calling, according to an assistant.

The Villalobos case extends back to July 4, 2002, when investigators raided the high-interest operation in mall San Pedro and a related string of money exchange houses. The two brothers closed down the businesses Oct. 14 and declined to pay back any money.

The presumed operator of Savings Unlimited, Louis Milanes, closed up his office and fled about six weeks later, thereby raising suspicions that the two firms might have been connected.

The Vault collapsed in spectacular fashion June 24 when operator Roy Taylor shot himself while in police custody during a raid of his high-interest operation downtown. The Vault had customer accounts with the Villalobos Brothers, too.

These and a handful of smaller operations paid interest in the 3 percent a month range.

The Villalobos case has developed a cult-like following among some supporters of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, who is now a fugitive. Although none of his former investors knows how he generated the money he paid monthly to creditors, some expect him to return and resume his operation here.

An informal group has even hired a lawyer to hector the official investigation.

Although the supporters of the various investment operations may not like the outcome, Dall'Annese is expected to generate a can-do philosophy in the Ministerio Público, the country’s independent prosecutorial arm. Such an attitude may result in a movement of the various complex cases.

Among other actions, he already named 78 interim prosecutors as permanent.

 
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The little plastic window sticker promotes seatbelt use this year, and the marchamo certificate is printed in blue. Don’t forget the safety inspection certificate.

Two deadlines
approaching 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreign residents here face two deadlines that might cost them money if not met.

The first is the annual marchamo or registration fee for their motor vehicles. As of Jan. 1, those who have not renewed their marchamo will face a 10,000-colon fine. That’s about $24 in addition to the cost of the marchamo, which may be as high as $300 for a luxury vehicle. Typically, older passenger cars pay between 25,000 to 40,000 colons, some $60 to $100.

The cost is a bit higher this year. Although a vehicle may have depreciated, the rates have been raised, too, so the payment this year is around 3 percent higher on the average. Motor vehicle owners must show proof that their vehicle has passed the revisión técnica safety inspection. Most vehicles that passed will have that fact noted on their computer files, although a wise shopper will bring a copy of the original inspection certificate.

The  other deadline, Jan. 2, is for residents who may own Costa Rican corporations, so called sociedades anónimas. The Dirección General de Tributación has begun a belated advertising campaign to alert owners of such corporations that they must file a new Form 175. The form seeks a small tax based on the worth of the company, but the first 35  million colons are exempt. So if the net worth of the company is less that $83,000, all an owner has to do is file the form.

The requirement extends to limited liability companies and other corporate entities. Forms are at some banks and also on the Ministerio de Hacienda Web page: http://www.hacienda.go.cr/tributacion/eddi.htm

Tributación has made a typographical error in the Web address contained in its newspaper ads. 

The form must be filed in triplicate. Some banks accept them. The new Tributación location is in Edificio Centro Corporativo International Torre B, which is between Avenidas 6 and 8 at Calle 26. That location is south of Paseo Colón and near the Iglesia Don Bosco in Barrio Don Bosco.

Tributación said that the Form 175 must be filed for every corporate entity, including inactive corporations that do not have economic activity. Many expats hold their vehicles or homes in corporations.

Failure to file the Form 175 brings a fine of 76,500 colons or about $185. Even worse, the corporation will be prohibited from making any changes at the Registro Nacional until the form is filed.

An earlier story can be found HERE!
 

Berger seems certain
as next president

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger is poised to be Guatemala’s next president. Preliminary vote counts give him a solid lead in Sundays presidential elections. 

With the majority of the votes counted in Guatemala's provinces and all the votes counted in the capital and surrounding areas, Berger maintained a comfortable lead over rival Alvaro Colom. 

Berger and Colom faced off in a run-off round Sunday, after none of the 11 candidates in the Nov. 9 presidential election won 50 percent of the votes needed to capture the presidency. 

Observers say the trend is irreversible at this point. However, Colom, who had been confident of winning despite poor showing in the opinion polls, refused to concede Sunday night. 

The new president assumes power Jan. 14 and will face a challenging job leading a nation plagued with runaway crime, extreme poverty and high unemployment rates. 
 

Where is Beagle II,
space scientists ask

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The latest effort by scientists to pick up signals from the European Space Agency's Beagle II Mars probe has ended in failure.

The British-built Beagle was supposed to have landed on the Red Planet Thursday, and to have sent a signal back to Earth. Anxious engineers at the European Space Agency have heard nothing so far after the U.S. orbiter, the Mars Odyssey, earlier Monday made its fifth pass over the area where the probe had been due to land. 

Scientists also have aimed huge telescopes in Jodrell Bank in Britain and Stanford University in California at the Red Planet in failed efforts to pick up possible signals.

European Space Agency officials say they have not given up and believe the Beagle is somewhere on the Martian surface. They say the Mars Express orbiter, which is circling the planet, will change its orbit later this week and be in a better position to pick up a signal from the Beagle Jan. 4. The Mars Express released the probe for its descent to the planet's surface a week ago.

The Beagle II is supposed to probe the Martian surface and atmosphere for signs of life. Two U.S.-built probes are scheduled to land on Mars next month.

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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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U.S. officials discount risk from mad cow animals
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. consumers are at "virtually zero risk" from bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease despite the discovery late December of an infected dairy cow in the northwestern state of Washington, say officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

During a news briefing Monday, the department’s chief veterinarian, Ron DeHaven, said that records kept by the farmer who owned the infected cow show the animal was likely born in Canada in April 1997 and imported to the United States in 2001. He said there was no sign to date that the disease had spread or of danger to consumers.

"Even though we are still early in this investigation, there is no indication that we have the magnitude of problem that Europe has experienced in the years past," DeHaven told reporters during the news briefing here.

He stressed that meat sold commercially in the United States remains safe to eat. He cited research showing that prion, the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease is not found in the skeletal muscle tissue used for steaks and other cuts of meat commonly sold in U.S. supermarkets. "The infective agent is largely in the brain and spinal cord and a few other tissues not normally consumed by humans in this country," DeHaven said.

The U.S. government has recalled the meat that was processed along with that of the infected animal out of an "abundance of caution" and in response to consumers' concerns following discovery of the infected cow, the official added.

DeHaven told reporters that the age of the diseased cow is significant because an April 1997 birth date means the animal was born four months

before the United States and Canada banned the use of cattle feed containing brain and spinal cord tissue from other ruminants. Scientists believe that the disease is spread primarily through feed that includes such tissue from infected cows.

With respect to danger to human beings, there is a similar fatal, brain-wasting disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), or vCJD, which is believed to be caused when people eat neural tissue from mad cow-affected cattle.

DeHaven said DNA studies would confirm the origin of the infected cow and that U.S. officials were working closely with their Canadian counterparts to establish with certainty the cow's birthplace. A single case of mad cow disease struck Alberta, Canada, in May 2003, but Canadian officials have warned against linking the two incidents without sufficient evidence.

The infected Washington State cow produced three calves after entering the United States. One calf died, another remains in a herd in Washington State, and a third is being held in isolation, Agricultural Department officials said. The U.S. farm where the infected cow was kept before slaughter has quarantined its remaining 4,000 head of cattle.

The Agricultural Department also said it was trying to determine the whereabouts of an additional eight cows that were shipped from Canada to the United States along with the infected cow. A total of 81 animals from the infected cow's birth herd are now being traced, DeHaven said.

Meat from the affected Holstein and 19 other slaughtered cows was sold in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Kenneth Petersen of the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service.


 
U.S. beef industry is taking an economic beating 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. beef industry is being hard hit by the discovery of a case of mad cow disease, which has prompted most nations to suspend imports of American beef. Beef prices at the Chicago Board of Trade fell for the third straight session. 

Cattle futures prices fell by 5.8 percent, the maximum allowable daily decline. Prices for producers have fallen by nearly 20 percent since mad cow disease was detected last week in a single animal in the western state of Washington. 

Prior to this selloff, cattle prices had surged during the previous nine months, gaining about 35 percent. Half of those gains have been erased. 

Chuck Levitt, an analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago, said the restrictions on U.S. exports are likely to lead to further price declines. "When you ban those products from going out the door to someplace else, from being exported, that beef will be consumed. And the only place that is going to happen is right here in America," he said. 

Japan, South Korea and Mexico comprise 90 percent of the U.S. export market, and all three countries have suspended imports of American beef. Costa Rica has, too. In normal years, about 10 percent of U.S. beef production is exported. 

Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland, said other beef exporting countries are likely to benefit from the problems in the United States. 

"In the short term, yes, Brazil could gain," he said. "But for the Japanese, the only way they are going to protect themselves from imported beef is not to import any beef." 

Morici said mad cow disease, which devastated the British beef industry in the 1990s, appears to turn up randomly. He is hopeful that the situation in the United States will be contained just as it was in Canada less than a year ago. 

Share prices of beef-purchasing companies, such as McDonald's restaurants, rose after registering significant declines last Friday.


 
U.S. to require sky marshals on international flights
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the United States still under a high terrorist alert status, the U.S. government is notifying other countries their airlines may be ordered to place armed sky marshals aboard flights taking off or landing in the United States. The top U.S. official in charge of protecting the nation against terrorist attacks says the risk of another Sept. 11-type of attack remains high. 

Effective immediately, the U.S. government is reserving the right to deny landing or take off rights to any foreign airline if it refuses a U.S. request to place armed law enforcement officers on board designated flights. 

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said "we have requested that international air carriers where necessary, place trained, armed, government law enforcement officers on designated flights as an added protective measure." 

Exactly which flights and which foreign airlines will be required to fly with armed sky marshals will depend on the type of threat-related intelligence U.S. officials receive. "We will ask whenever we think it is appropriate. Whether the percentage is large or small depends on the information we have about the flights or passengers or anything else related to it," he said. 

Plainclothes sky marshals are already assigned to some domestic flights in the United States. In cases where countries may not have adequately trained law enforcement personnel, the Department of Homeland Security is offering to provide it.

But under these new regulations which take effect immediately, any airline that refuses to comply with such a request can be denied take off or landing in the United States. "Any sovereign government retains the right to revoke the privilege of flying to and from a country or even over their airspace so ultimately a denial of access is the leverage that you have," said Ridge. 

These stepped up measures were announced nearly a week after six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were cancelled when U.S. officials warned the French government they could be targeted by hijackers. 

Some airlines, including Germany's Lufthansa and Israel's El Al already use sky marshals. But in general, Monday's announcement drew mixed reaction from airlines and industry groups, with the International Air Transport Association saying it opposes the decision to place armed law enforcement officers on board flights. 

But as the Sept. 11 hijackers demonstrated, absent law enforcement in the sky, passengers armed with only box cutters can be capable of turning jetliners into weapons. 


 
Negotiators will try to salvage free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican negotiators have confirmed they again will discuss aspects of the Central American Free Trade Treaty with U.S. officials starting Monday.

The sessions are only between the United States and Costa Rica because four other Central American states already have agreed on a draft treaty.

Discussions Monday will center on insurance, telecommunications and textiles, according to Costa Rican negotiators.

The negotiations are hung up on U.S. demands that Costa Rica open up its insurance monopoly and its telecommunication monopoly. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros is the only approved vendor of insurance here.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad operates the telephones and also the Internet hookup by itself and via a subsidiary, Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. 

Both entities have political power through their many employees.

U.S. negotiators have said they want to see some opening in telecommunications, perhaps third-party enhanced services. And negotiators want U.S. insurance companies to have a opening in the Costa Rican market.

The talks seem to have reached an impasse unless the United States agrees to openings five to 10 years in the future because the Costa Rican monopolies probably would have the political power to block any other trade agreement at the legislative level.

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