Ash fall sets back plant export effort

An effort by the country to clear its name with European plant disease specialists suffered a setback this week when a delegation headed to Brussels could not take off Monday due to volcano ash at Juan Santamaría airport.

The Ministerio de Comercio Exterior has been deeply engaged with the Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado with research to show that ornamental plants coming from Costa Rica are not infected with the Xylella fastidiosa which can be highly damaging to plants like grape vines.

The country exports about $7 million in ornamental plants to the European Union each year and the industry employes about 500 persons, said the ministry.

The European Union closed the market to Costa Rica’s phoenix palm more than a year ago, and officials have conducted extensive research into the plant pest problem. The ministry said that the type of bacteria here is different from that in Europe and that there have been extensive efforts to make sure plant production operations are free of the disease.

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Democrats seeking to register voters

Democrats Abroad is having an absentee voting registration and party Saturday at a downtown restaurant.

An announcement said that Social Security, Medicare, disability, veterans benefits and other federal programs are seriously being threatened.  The organization also said that if voters are not happy with their presidential choices and don’t want to vote, they should still register so they can vote for congressional representatives and senators.

“It’s crucial that we get out and vote for Congress as we’ve seen how a heavy one-sided Congress can block a president’s agenda,” the organization said, referring to the Republican-controlled houses of the Congress that have opposed Barack Obama in the last two years of his term.

More information is HERE!

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Zika virus cases show a slow increase

Zika cases continue to increase in Costa Rica but not at a rapid rate. In fact, new cases seem to be declining.

The Ministerio de Salud reported 1,076 cases this week compared to the 1,018 the previous week. That means there were just 58 new cases reported.

Puntarenas Centro with 160 total cases has nearly tied with what has been the leading canton for weeks, Garabito now with 161.

Other cantons with high total totals are Orotina (96), Esparza (92), Santa Cruz (79) and Limón (42). Still the majority of the cantons in the country have no reported cases.

There most certainly are many more persons with zika, but the health ministry totals only include those receiving treatment.

In another development, researchers report they are getting closer to a vaccine against zika.

The experimental zika vaccine being worked on by researchers at the National Institutes of Health is a newer generation of vaccine, which uses DNA technology to trigger the body’s immune response.

That is a different approach than traditional vaccines take. They use weakened or killed viruses to stimulate an immune response against the targeted disease.

DNA vaccines use copies of genetic material from a pathogen’s outer coat. This DNA is introduced into cells in the lab, which then replicate proteins from the virus but don’t cause the disease. Injected into a patient, the synthetic DNA fragments mimic the disease-causing pathogen.

Because of the urgency of the zika epidemic, early clinical trials of DNA vaccines are underway. So far, none have been approved for human use in the United States.

In a study published in the journal Science involving rhesus macaques, investigators report that 17 of the 18 monkeys that got two doses of the vaccine were completely protected. All six monkeys that got a single, weaker dose became infected with zika, but still had less of the virus in their system than the control group of animals that received no treatment.

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Security ministry holding session with guard firms on standards

Security officials have been meeting with operators of guard firms to brief them on new rules, and the government also is seeking the help of international agencies.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública just issued a set of regulations that seem designed to reduce the number of guard firms. The ministry said this was done because too many weapons assigned to the firms have ended up in the hands of crooks.

Guard firms have been a problem for the government. In addition to concerns about guns, some employees have used their weapon to commit crimes, and such firms are among companies that have debts with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social for health and pension payments.

Among the rules adopted by the ministry is that each firm must hire an outside consultant to evaluate each location where armed
guards would be stationed. That seemed rather complex even when the rule was announced.

The meeting with the guard firms suggest that the ministry is backing off its original plan. Officials said they were trying to enforce international standards.

The problem with the weapons developed when firms went out of business and the operators or even the employees sold their firearms privately.

Guard firms are important in Costa Rica because criminality is on the rise, and police efforts are not sufficient to prevent crime.

The ministry said help has been sought from the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean and the The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

Guard firms already are heavily regulated, although some may not follow the rules.

Those who carry firearms must obtain permits from the ministry, and the company has to keep close track of the training and competency of the individual guard employees.

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Uncle Sam turns over $724,000 in tents to emergency officials

The U.S. government Thursday formalized the donation of $724,000 in tents to Costa Rican emergency officials.

The national emergency commission said that the tents would be used in case of any kind of national emergency.

There are just 141 tents included in the donation, so each tent is valued at more than $5,000. They are supposed to be able to house 2,600 persons.

There are no current emergencies requiring that number of tents, and Costa Rica usually gets by by putting up emergency shelters

at schools and other public buildings in the case of flooding or earthquakes.

However, there are a large number of refugees who are filtering into Costa Rica on the heels of some 8,000 Cubans who already arrived and had to be airlifted out of the country. The Cubans arrived at a time when school was out, so they were housed in public buildings. Now many Haitians and persons from other countries are gathering at the nation’s borders where they are living in unsanitary conditions.

The donation is reported to be part of an estimated $30 million in planes, boats and material that the Obama administration decided to give Costa Rica.

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Sessions seek to eliminate poverty

Officials are meeting for the second day today to develop a national strategy to eliminate poverty.

This is part of a program called “No dejar a nadie atrás,” meaning not leaving anyone behind.

Casa Presidencial said that Ana Helena Chacón, the second vice president, was involved in the discussions. The country is trying to reach the goal of eliminating poverty that the United Nations has set for 2030.

Citing a household survey, the government said that 21.8 percent of the households in the country were in poverty. That means 318,421 homes and 1.26 million persons, it added.

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Man burned in Osa dies in hospital

Investigators say that someone poured a flammable liquid on a 69-year-old intoxicated man and set him on fire. That happened Aug. 26, but the victim, identified by the last name of Peña, just died of complications from burns in Hospital San Juan de Dios.

The crime happened in the public street in Piedras Blancas de Osa, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Agents said that a suspect in the crime was detained Sept. 1.

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More alerts declared due to volcano

The national emergency commission has extended its alerts to the cantons of Vázquez de Coronado and Goicoechea, which have been hit hard by the fall of ash.

The two cantons join Cartago Centro, Jiménez, Turrialba, Oreamuno and Alvarado that already were the subject of emergency alerts.

The winds carrying the volcanic ash usually take it north of the capital and into the nearby cantons as happened Thursday, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias noted that conditions are worse nearer the volcano where two schools have been closed.

However, residents of  Coronado and Goicoechea have complained of excessive ash, and some youngsters are wearing masks at school. The low-level alerts are mostly administrative.

The volcano erupted starting at 3:20 a.m. Thursday, and then continued to emit a series of pulses until about 9:30 a.m., said the Red Sismológica Nacional.

The column of ash reached as high as 2,000 meters above the crater, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica.

The lengthy activity squelched any thoughts that the mountain was settling back to an inactive phase.

Although the Turrialba volcano spewed out ash in four significant eruptions Wednesday, the bigger problem seems to be the gas. Plenty of metro area residents are complaining of headaches and burning eyes, and they attribute this to the volcano.

The volcano erupted Wednesday at  7:36 a.m., 8:14 a.m., 9:48 a.m. and 3:43 p.m., according to the Red Sismológica Nacional.

In the Central Valley Wednesday afternoon rains cleaned up much of the lingering ash from Monday. However there was plenty of sulfur to smell in the Central Valley and perhaps cause the eyes to burn. Heavy rains Thursday had the same cleansing effect.

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Tax officials say they will pore over Bahamas data

A new batch of corporate information has been released by a journalism organization, and officials at the Ministerio de Hacienda are quick to say that the new data reinforces the need to continue ahead with the international fight against tax evasion via exchanges of information among countries.  But the ministry said its Dirección General de Tributación had not yet analyzed the new data.

The release of information about offshore companies in The Bahamas is not as complete as was the information contained in the  Panamá Papers files. The information comes from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and news organizations from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa.

This creates, for the first time, a free, online and publicly-searchable registry of offshore companies set up in the island nation that has sometimes been called The Switzerland of the West, said the consortium.

The data base, which also includes information from earlier releases, is HERE! The material is searchable by name and country.

The cache of documents from the island nation’s corporate registry provides names of directors and some owners of more than 175,000 Bahamian companies, trusts and foundations registered between 1990 and early 2016, said the consortium.

Corporate data is available in The Bahamas but the information must be inspected in person, and there is a fee, said the organization.

Both Costa Rican tax officials and lawmakers have been investigating information from the Panamá Papers and other material released initially by hackers, but there have been no startling revelations.

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The weekend is shaping up to be a musical one

The weekend is definitely a musical one with another performance by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional tonight and even a free band concert Sunday at the Museo Nacional.

The orchestra performance features two works by Ludwig van Beethoven, the “The Creatures of Prometheus,” Opus 47, and “Piano Concerto No. 2.” Opus 37. On the piano will be Alon Goldstein of Israel.

The Coro Sinfónico Nacional will join with the orchestra in a performance of “The Planets” suit by English composer Gustav Holst.

The invited conductor is the Israeli, Yaov Talmi. The 8 p.m. performance this evening will be repeated at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, both in the Teatro Nacional.

The Banda de San José will be featured Sunday at the Música en el Museo program.

The 11 a.m. program is supposed to be 100 percent Costa Rican in honor of  September, which is called the patriotic month because it includes the Día de la Independencia.

The director is Juan Bautista Loaiza.

The selections are diverse, including “Paso doble Costa Rica” by Otto Vargas, “Mambo

de la big band” by Víctor Hugo Berrocal,  boleros and even a foxtrot.

Saturday there is warm up to the Festival Internacional de Poesía with a book sale sponsored by the Municipalidad de San José in Barrio Chino from 11 a.m. The festival, itself, begins in two weeks.

The Museo de Arte Costarricense opened an exhibition called “Paisaje” Thursday night. It will run through Nov. 28. On display are the works of Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez at the museum in Parque La Sabana. Admission is free.

Perhaps one of the best-known of his works is “Hombre crucificado en el basurero,” perhaps best translated as a man crucified in a garbage dump.

'Hombre crucificado en el basurero,' by Tomás Sánchez

‘Hombre crucificado en el basurero,’ by Tomás Sánchez

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Traditional foods sought in San Ramón

The cultural center in San Ramón plans a contest for local traditional foods.

This is the XIII Festival de Comidas Tradicionales that will be held Oct. 8. The Centro Cultural e Histórico José Figueres Ferrer is trying to have the event come as close as possible to the Día del Encuentro de Culturas that has been Oct. 12 and now has been moved for Oct. 17 by presidential edict.

The contest has three categories: drinks, sweet dishes and unsweet. The center also will be presenting “Recetario Popular,” a book that contains the recipes from the last 12 annual events.

The center noted that the drinks category has been reinstituted after several years.

Free registration is open to San Ramón residents who can sign up through Oct. 1 at the center. On Oct. 8 participants are required to show up with their plate or drink and a recipe.

The goal, the center said, is to capture the local culinary traditions.

A drink with a cinnamon kick and fried pastry chasers

A drink with a cinnamon kick and fried pastry chasers

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Animal protection bill suffers a reverse in constitutional court

Lawmakers overwhelmingly sought stiff fines and even jail terms of up to five years for those who mistreat animals, but the Sala IV constitutional court said Wednesday that such penalties were not proportionate.

The court acted on a legislative request after the bill had been passed in late July for the first of two required times.

The Procuraduría General de la República, the government’s legal adviser, and the Defensa Pública already had pointed out what they said were flaws.

The court, however, did say that humans have a moral duty with respect to their relations with nature that surrounds them. 

As such, the court said that mistreatment of animals violates the good customs and the public order and that the state is obligated to regulate these actions.

Lawmakers probably will send the bill back to committee for revision and a change in the penalties. There is strong support for some kind of measure both with the public and among the 57 lawmakers. The bill passed 50 to 4 on first reading.

The same fate might await another bill, No.  19.660,  that advanced Wednesday.

The Permanente Especial de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia established an eight-year jail term for anyone who through neglect or fault permits an animal to kill a human. The committee considered the measure as one to protect children.

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New bottle sticker promises that honey in the marketplace is pure

Beekeepers and honey processors have joined with the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería to create a seal of quality, but they have avoided discussing a sticky problem.

The seal is supposed to guarantee the quality of honey from the hive to the jar in the grocery.  Representatives of the ministry’s Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal met with some of the nearly 900 beekeepers in the country Wednesday to announce the creation of the seal.

The real problem is not sanitation because honey has natural antibacterial properties. But a lot of the honey in the market is adulterated with cheaper corn syrup and other liquids. Most shoppers cannot identify pure honey from the adulterated variety, but the new seal will guarantee the purity.

ars of honey on display feature the new seal.

ars of honey on display feature the new seal.

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Answers to the news quiz are here

Here are the answers to the quiz on Page One.

1. How long is a presidential term?
Four years.

2. The president submitted a budget that was how many percent higher than last years?
About 12 percent

3. Why is there so much construction at the Plaza de la Cultura?
The plaza is the roof of the Museos de Banco Central, and workmen are trying to stop the leaks

4. What is the Caja?
The nation’s public health agency, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

5. How many members are in the Asamblea Legislativa and what are they called in Spanish?
57 and they are called diputados

6. What is K2?
This is synthetic marijuana and very bad because the ingredients could be anything.

7. What is Las Baules?
Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas on the Pacific coast

8. A new law published last month gives police agencies broad powers to do what?
Seize assets, including cash, without notice.

9. Who was Alexander Skutch?
He is the late famed naturalist mostly know for decades of study of Costa Rican birds.

10. How did a bot fly (Dermatobia hominis) give the country unwanted publicity?
The larva of a fly showed up as a bump in the scalp of a California boy who had visited here, resulting in a newspaper story there.

11. For what kind of anti-harassment campaign is the government spending $35,000
To raise awareness of women to street harassment and to warn off aggressive men.

12. What danger does the country face from a project known as Las Crucitas?
International arbitrators might award those who tried to operate the open pit gold mine a boatload of the country’s money.

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Gas now irritates more than ash

Although the Turrialba volcano spewed out ash in four significant eruptions Wednesday, the bigger problem seems to be the gas. Plenty of metro area residents are complaining of headaches and burning eyes, and they attribute this to the volcano. The volcano erupted at 7:36 a.m., 8:14 a.m., 9:48 a.m. and 3:43 p.m., according to the Red Sismológica Nacional.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica reported that the one shortly after 8 a.m. sent ash 700 meters high. That is nowhere near the high altitude columns that the mountain produced Monday.

The ash and vapor went north and northwest instead of southwest, but the ash fall was minimal. And in the Central Valley afternoon rains cleaned up much of the lingering ash from Monday. However there was plenty of sulfur to smell in the Central Valley and perhaps cause the eyes to burn.

This Turrialba volcano activity was at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday.

This Turrialba volcano activity was at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday.

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Here’s a quick quiz to see if you remember the news

A reader complained about news stories he did not see this week. It turned out that he was unaware that there is not just one but seven pages of news every day.

We figure most readers are paying better attention than that.

So we created a baker’s dozen of quick questions based on recent news articles.

How well can you do?

1. How long is a presidential term?

2. The president submitted a budget that was how many percent higher than last years?

3. Why is there so much construction at the Plaza de la Cultura?

4. What is the Caja?

5. How many members are in the Asamblea Legislativa and what are they called in Spanish?

6. What is K2?

7. What is Las Baules?

8. A new law published last month gives police agencies broad powers to do what?

11. For what kind of anti-harassment campaign is the government spending $35,000?

12. What danger does the country face from a project known as Las Crucitas?

13. How long must a foreigner remain out of the country to renew a tourism visa?

Answers are HERE!whitle081216

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Today is the World Day of Really Sore Muscles

Expats who drive into the capital today should have lighter traffic because today is the World Car-Free Day. That means plenty of individuals will be demonstrating their environmental awareness by hiking, busing or biking to work.

That includes ministers and even some legislators who use their government supplied vehicles extensively every other day of the year.

Carlos Villalta, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, reported that he will be using public transportation.  Liza Castillo, vice minister of Transportes y Seguridad Vial, will be using her bike, the ministry reported.

The vice minister is leading a contingent of others on bicycles to tour 20 locations in the metro area where the ministry is planning to put in bike parking areas. One of them may be at the Instituto National de Seguros building on Avenida 7. The ministry plans to build 40 parking areas in total.

Car free days originated in the 1973 petroleum crisis and now has been adopted by a number of environmental organizations. The day dovetails well with Costa Rica’s stated goal of becoming carbon free.

Those participating today will see the

This is a design for a bike parking area at the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building on Avenida 7.

This is a design for a bike parking area at the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building on Avenida 7.

problems that commuters experience every today. Train service is spotty and the cars are crowded.

There are bike paths in the capital, but many pedestrians do not respect them, and those on bikes have to run an obstacle course.

A number of private firms as well as government are encouraging employees to seek alternative transportation. Of course, the government has programs for employees to work at home, making every day a car-free day for them.

The car-free campaign has a lot of support in Europe, but in many countries, such as Denmark, motor fuel is so expensive that bikes are the standard means of transportation.

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New apps to help coffee and fish producers

USAID has created a series of tools that help coffee and fish producers keep track of climate conditions that may affect their business.

They are Coffee Cloud and Clima Pesca. The development was done with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza. They both are apps for smart phones that give immediate information on climate, including satellite data.

An announcement said that the apps were the result of three years of work.

The apps also allow the user to connect to their national organizations for additional information.

Although the program talks about climate change, the apps address the little picture and not the big picture. Agricultural producers and those in fishing are interested in minute-to-minute and day-to-day changes, such as the weather, that affect their businesses.

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