Study in process to halt water losses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto de Fomento y Asesoría Municipal is financing a study needed to implement a loss control program for the municipal water supply of Cartago’s Paraíso community.

Around $175,000 is being put towards the study and the Tecnológico de Costa Rica, which through its water supply program is handling the information gathering. The study will include basic leakage tests and audits of the water supply in order to determine actual supply availability and demand, the institute said.

“Paraíso has for several years problems of shortages in service of drinking water, mainly in dry season, this caused that the municipality look for solutions to the problematic reason why it decided to realize a series of investments that positively affect the operation,” said Edmundo Abellán, the head of the municipal strengthening for the institute.

The financing was approved unanimously by the municipal council, the institute said. Over 12,500 taxpayers receive water from this supply.

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New tech equipment going to public

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government plans to deliver free laptops, computer, tablets and other technological equipment as part of a national strategy to modernize some public centers throughout the country.

According to a statement by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Telecomunicaciones, over $8.4 million in tech equipment is being awarded to schools, Centros Comunitarios Inteligentes, nutrition centers and child daycare facilities will be among the beneficiaries.

Casa Presidencial said that the centers receiving the equipment will be institutions that have already had implemented the first stage of the program called Comunidades Conectados. This is part of the wider strategy to connect all of Costa Rica online known as the Estrategia CR Digital.

We must think of the internet as an allied tool for human development, because it is undoubtedly a right and therefore subject to its effective fulfillment for people,” said Ana Helena Chacón, the second vice president. “We want a Costa Rica connected, supportive and inclusive.”

The goal for the government is to use this strategy to improve the education sector in order to reduce poverty and generate better employment opportunities with access to these technologies. The spoils from the program, however, are expected to be delivered at the end of the administration of President Luis Guillermo Solís, the ministry said.

In total, the entire program expects to donate almost 40,000 devices to the tune of around $20 million.

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Turkish reactions to brawl vary based on affiliation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. officials and lawmakers may have been outraged when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards attacked and beat peaceful protesters in Washington as their leader watched. Back in Turkey, however, that hardline approach is welcomed by many of the president’s nationalist supporters.

The clash Tuesday began when Erdogan’s motorcade pulled up in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence, returning from a visit to the White House and a meeting with President Donald Trump.

Erdogan, emerging from his limousine, stood and watched as his guards and supporters began punching and kicking their way through a group of mostly Kurdish protesters across the street. Eleven people were injured.

Two U.S. senators protested to Erdogan Thursday about his guards’ behavior.

“The violent response of your security detail to peaceful protesters is wholly unacceptable,” Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain said in a letter to Erdogan. They added that the incident was “unfortunately reflective of your government’s treatment of the press, ethnic minority groups and political opponents.”

While some Turks also decried the use of force to quash a peaceful protest, calling it a blemish on the country’s international reputation and a violation of free speech, those who support Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule felt it was justified.

“Those terrorists deserved to be beaten,” Atakan, a taxi driver from the city of Erzurum said. “They should not be protesting our president. They got what they asked for.”

Yusuf Kanli, a newspaper columnist and political analyst, said no matter how bad it may have looked, the scene played right into Erdogan’s image.

“I believe Erdogan makes use of this type of brawl for internal politics, to solidify his electorate and to get more nationalists to move to his party,” Kanli said. “If you are an anti-Erdogan citizen in Turkey, you think like the civilized world and do not approve of beating people who think different from you. But if you are a pro-Erdogan citizen, you applaud when people who don’t think like you do get beaten up.”

Erdogan has bolstered his power base, particularly since a coup attempt last year. He has cracked down hard on dissent, jailing journalists and the leaders and other legislators of the PKK, a Kurdish party that was the second-largest opposition group in Parliament, on allegations of terrorism.

The result has been a growing political divide in the country, as shown by results of a referendum last month in which voters narrowly approved even more sweeping powers for Erdogan.

A similar clash between Erdogan’s men and protesters broke out a year ago when he visited Washington for a nuclear conference.

“Turkish people who support Erdogan’s AK Party see this sort of incident as legitimate,” said Ilhan Tanir, a freelance Turkish journalist and analyst. “Pro-government newspapers and columnists are proof of that. They say they had to teach the PKK terrorists a necessary lesson.”

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T-rex had pulverizing teeth, new study now suggests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tyrannosaurus rex had jaws and teeth strong enough to pulverize bones, a new study suggests.

The pressure the huge dinosaur could muster when biting was equal to the weight of three small cars simultaneously generating world record tooth pressures, researchers from Florida State University and Oklahoma State University said.

T. rex’s bone-crushing bite is typically not seen in reptiles, which aren’t able to chew up bones, but in carnivorous mammals like wolves and hyenas.

Researchers say the T. rex could bite with more than 3,600 kilograms of pressure, which is twice the force of the current living crocodile. For bone crushing, however, the dinosaur’s conical teeth generated enough pressure to cause bones to explode.

“It was this bone-crunching acumen that helped T. rex to more fully exploit the carcasses of large horned-dinosaurs and duck-billed hadrosaurids whose bones, rich in mineral salts and marrow, were unavailable to smaller, less equipped carnivorous dinosaurs,” said Paul Gignac, assistant professor of anatomy and vertebrate paleontology at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at the musculature of crocodiles, which are close relatives of dinosaurs. They also looked at birds, which are modern-day dinosaurs.

Crocodiles revealed that bite force did not fully account for the ability to crush bones, so researchers looked at what they call tooth pressure. T. rex’s unique teeth capitalized on the bite power, researchers said. The study was published in the journal “Scientific Reports.”

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Heavy rains shaped Mars billions of years ago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rain shaped the Martian landscape billions of years ago, according to a new study.

According to researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, rain on Mars once carved riverbeds and created valleys much like rain on Earth has, and does. It no longer rains on the Red Planet, and the water that remains is mostly in the form of ice.

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

When Mars formed 4.5 billion years ago, it had a much thicker atmosphere and higher atmospheric pressure. Pressure, researchers say, influences the size of raindrops.

They say that early in the planet’s history, the rain would have actually been more like fog, so it would unlikely have made much of an impact on the terrain. But as the atmosphere thinned over time, larger raindrops could form and were heavy enough to cut into the soil changing the shape of craters and leading to running water that could have carved valleys.

Specifically, researcher say the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet was about four bars, compared to one bar on Earth today. This means the raindrops could not have been bigger than three millimeters across. Over time the pressure dropped to 1.5 bars allowing for larger drops measuring about 7.3 millimeters across.

“By using basic physical principles to understand the relationship between the atmosphere, raindrop size and rainfall intensity, we have shown that Mars would have seen some pretty big raindrops that would have been able to make more drastic changes to the surface than the earlier fog-like droplets,” said Ralph Lorenz of John Hopkins APL.

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Car slams into pedestrians at Times Square, killing one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A car slammed into pedestrians at Times Square, killing an 18-year-old woman Thursday.

Police identified the driver as 26-year-old U.S. citizen Richard Rojas, who had a history of arrests for driving while intoxicated.

22 additional people were injured, according to the New York Fire Department. Four of them were in critical condition, but none is likely to perish, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told a press conference.

The incident does not appear to be linked to terrorism and is being investigated as an accident, according to New York City police, who are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Based on the info we have at this moment, there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a press conference. “That being said, we are reinforcing key locations around the city with our anti-terror units of the NYPD,” he added.

Police said the red Honda sedan mounted the sidewalk and traveled for three blocks at high speeds before crashing into a lamppost on 45th Street and Broadway.

President Donald Trump has been made aware of the situation and will continue to receive updates, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The Department of Homeland Security also stated that it is in close contact with law enforcement officials in New York City about the incident.

Police have closed off the area.

Times Square, full of restaurants, shops and entertainment, is a popular tourist destination in New York City, attracting hundreds of thousands of pedestrians on a daily basis.

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Greek parliament approves another round of austerity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Greek Parliament approved another round of tough economic cuts and austerity measures Thursday to assure itself another installment payment of European bailout funds.

Greece may have again faced bankruptcy in July without the payment.

All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist coalition voted for the cuts; all 128 opposition members voted no.

More than 10,000 Greeks weary of the nation’s economic problems, including elderly pensioners facing more cuts, marched outside parliament against the measures.

Several dozen young marchers wearing masks broke away from the crowd to throw gasoline bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.

Greece desperately needs about $8 billion of bailout money from its Eurozone lenders in order to make a scheduled debt payment.

In exchange, the government agreed to EU demands for more austerity measures, including tax hikes and programs aimed at easing poverty.

With Thursday’s vote, Greek officials hope they can renegotiate payment terms on the nation’s massive debt payment, nearly 180 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product. The International Monetary Fund calls this number unsustainable.

Greece has been relying on international bailouts since 2010, when the outgoing conservative government badly underreported the country’s debt.

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Recent death of rock singer, Chris Cornell, ruled suicide

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The death of rock musician Chris Cornell, whose distinctive voice led the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, has been ruled a suicide.

Medical authorities in Detroit say Cornell, 52, hung himself in his hotel room.

Cornell was found dead in his hotel room, hours after Soundgarden played Detroit’s Fox Theater as part of a North American tour that had been scheduled to continue Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

Cornell’s publicist said “His wife, Vicky, and family were shocked to learn of his sudden and unexpected passing, and they will be working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause.”

Soundgarden was a major force in the 1990s musical movement known as grunge along with groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Its 1991 album “Batmotorfinger” spawned popular singles such as “Outshined,” and “Jesus Christ Pose.” In 1994, the band released its breakthrough Grammy nominated album, “Superunknown,” which debuted at number one in the U.S. It included songs such as “Spoonman,” “Fell on Black Days,” and “Black Hole Sun.”

In 1991, Cornell recorded an album with Temple of the Dog, a supergroup that included members of both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

During a period in which Soundgarden had broken up, Cornell partnered with former members of another band, Rage Against the Machine, to form the successful group Audioslave.

Soundgarden reunited in 2010 and launched its current tour in April. Cornell throughout his career released several solo albums as well.

He and his wife, Vicky, also launched a foundation aimed at helping kids facing homelessness, poverty, abuse and neglect. Cornell’s contemporaries reacted to his death with shock and surprise on Twitter early Thursday.

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Possible cure discovered for Ebola virus, scientists say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scientists have discovered a possible cure for all five known Ebola viruses, one of which ravaged West Africa in recent years.

The so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies were discovered in the blood of a survivor of the West African epidemic, which ran from late 2013 to mid-2016. The deadly virus killed more than 11,000 people of the nearly 29,000 who became infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Ebola got its name from the first documented outbreak, which occurred along the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, in 1976. Since then, there have been two dozen outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, including a current one that has infected nine people in the DRC. Three people have died.

Kartik Chandran, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, helped identify the antibodies, which were described online in the journal “Cell.” He is optimistic that the antibodies can be used as a single therapy to treat all Ebola viruses.

Researchers isolated about 350 antibodies from the human blood sample, two of which showed promise in neutralizing three viruses in tissue culture. The antibodies work by interfering with a process that the pathogen uses to infect and multiply inside cells.

The drug company Mapp Pharmaceutical Inc. is now testing the antibodies in monkeys to make sure they are safe and effective.

A forerunner of the experimental drug, called Zmapp, was in the experimental stages when it was pressed into service during the last epidemic. Zmapp is a combination of cloned antibodies discovered in mice that enlist the body’s natural immune system to fight infection. If given up to five days after symptoms appear, it can cure the disease.

The problem, Chandran said, is Zmapp is not terribly specific and works to neutralize only Ebola Zaire, one of the five known viruses. He said the broadly neutralizing human antibodies attack and destroy all of the viruses.

It took scientists just six months to discover the antibodies, according to Chandran, “so this is really incredibly fast and incredibly gratifying. And we are hoping that things will continue at this pace and that in very short order we will be in a position to be able to test these things in people.”

While the broadly neutralizing antibodies are being developed as a treatment, Chandran envisions using them in a vaccine that can be given ahead of an Ebola outbreak to guard against infection.

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White House considering new sanctions on Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Trump administration is set to impose new sanctions on members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court for stripping the opposition-led congress of all power earlier this year.

Among those targeted is Maikel Moreno, the president of the pro-government supreme court, which issued a ruling in late March. The ruling was later partially reversed amid international criticism, but it sparked a protest movement that has continued for nearly two months and left more than 40 people dead.

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump called the situation in Venezuela a disgrace to humanity, and said the deadly political crisis is possibly the worst of its kind in decades.

The threat of new sanctions comes as Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, is facing increasing international pressure to hold elections. On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council discussed the crisis in Venezuela for the first time at the request of the United States. The Washington-based Organization of American States is holding a rare foreign ministers council session on the troubled South American nation later this month.

Maduro’s political foes have taken to the streets to demand that he schedule long-delayed elections, release political prisoners and permit the delivery of humanitarian aid. The demonstrations and counter-demonstrations have escalated since the socialist leader’s call earlier this month for a new constitution.

But Maduro repeatedly has accused the United States of leading an attempt to overthrow his government.

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Predatory behavior in tropics driven by ants and others, study says

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

A new Oxford University collaboration revealing the world’s prime insect predation hotspots, achieved its landmark findings using an unusual aid: plastic dummy caterpillars.

The new study published in “Science” has revealed a global pattern of predation on insect herbivores. The trends observed were surprising, revealing that predatory behavior in the tropics is not driven by birds or mammals but by ants and other small arthropods.

The international team made the discovery by examining a fraction of caterpillars eaten along an 11,635 km gradient from the Arctic Circle to southern Australia. The work revealed that a caterpillar living near the Equator is eight times more likely to be eaten, than a caterpillar at the poles.

The findings were achieved with surprisingly simple materials. To measure local predation rates, researchers glued thousands of artificial caterpillars made from plasticine, to plants across 31 sites around the world.

Predators of caterpillars, such as birds and ants, are then tricked into thinking the decoy insects are the real thing, and only realize that they have been deceived when they have taken a bite. The team then revisited sites several times to check for bite marks, and evidence of any predatory behavior.

Eleanor Slade, one of the study’s lead authors and a researcher in Zoology at the Universities of Oxford and Lancaster, said: “The great thing about this method is that you can track down who the predator was by inspecting the attack marks. The jaws of an insect, like an ant, will leave two small piercings, whereas a bird beak will cause wedge-shaped marks. Mammals will leave teeth marks – well, you get the idea.”

Tomas Roslin, the other lead author and professor of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Helsinki, said:

“The pattern was not only mirrored on both sides of the Equator, but also appeared across elevational gradients. Moving up a mountain slope you find the same decrease in predation risk as when moving towards the poles. This suggests a common driver could be controlling species interactions at a global scale.”

Decoy insects have been used in previous ecology studies, but never before on such a broad scale. It was comparing results from these smaller initiatives that inspired the team to take their research to the next level.

The replica insects were placed at far-flung locations across the globe, which meant that gathering the corresponding data required a lot of team work, with a total of 40 researchers from 21 countries working on the project.

For the insights gained to be comparable, consistency and standardization were key. The dummy caterpillars were designed at and sent to researchers from the projects central hatchery, at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Moulded from green plasticine, the materials were shaped to closely resemble loopers, or inchworms.

Even the glue used to attach them to plants was included in the kit to ensure the same look and smell of caterpillars across all sites.

A total of 2,879 were used in the study and left at the sites over the course of four to 18 days. The caterpillars were then carefully detached from the leaves and returned to Helsinki for analysis. Led by Bess Hardwick, the team inspected the caterpillars for signs of predator-induced damage, such as bite marks.

By attributing each attack mark to a specific predator group, the team was then able to identify a clear culprit behind the latitudinal gradient in attack rates.

Will Petry, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Zurich, who contributed data and supported analysis from California, said: “People often think of vertebrates as the most important predators in the tropics, but birds and mammals weren’t the groups responsible for the increase in predation risk towards the Equator. Instead tiny arthropod predators like ants drove the pattern.”

The findings may also have implications for herbivore evolution, Petry said: “Our results suggest that tropical caterpillars would do well to target their defenses and camouflage specifically against arthropod predators. Closer to the poles, lower predation may allow caterpillars to let their guard down.”

Roslin said: ‘To understand why the world stays green and is not fully consumed by hordes of caterpillars, we should appreciate the role of arthropod predators. Our findings suggest that their role may be even further accentuated towards the Equator.”

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Verdi classic “La Traviata” includes a diverse international crew

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The six salvos of the famous “La Traviata” opera by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi will be directed by U.S. conductor Arthur Fagen, according to the cultural ministry.

Fagen, is the principal director of the Atlanta Opera in the U.S. state of Georgia, the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud said in a statement. He has presented more than 70 operas in his career that catapulted him to places such as the Metropolitan Opera of New York, Teatro Massimo de Palermo, the Chicago Opera and the French Bordeaux opera.

The cast for the bombastic piece includes a mix of mainly Costa Ricans but also an Italian and Cuban-American, organizers said. The latter is Elizabeth Caballero, a soprano voice, who will play the leading female role of Violetta Valéry.

The opera will be done in three acts beginning July 23 at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar, the cultural ministry said. The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and the Coro Sinfónico Nacional are expected to lend its help to this production whose members, beyond the performers and director, come from a variety of nationalities.

The cast and crew were selected by the Costa Rican Compañía Lírica Nacional.

More details as to ticket prices and the production itself are expected in June, the cultural ministry said.

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Local rancher completes his four day protest march to visit Solís

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For almost four days, Jorge Castro marched all the way from his home up in Pavones de San Carlos, in the far north of Alajuela, to Casa Presidencial just to deliver a message: he is sick and tired of pineapples and he demands further control on its plantations.

Castro started his journey Monday and arrived in San José on Thursday afternoon, where has was welcomed by a heavy downpour of rain on a May afternoon.

Along with his wife Mariana Paniagua, a dog named Muñeca, Cielito the horse and a black cow fittingly called La Negra, he decided that making this march was the best way to let people know that not everybody is happy with the pineapple industry. In his case, it is affecting his cattle and thus, his living.

By the time he had reached the Alfredo Gonzaléz Flores bridge, colloquially called la platina, along the General Cañas highway, he decided not to take any calls. He considered that walking on the highway was dangerous enough and there was no need for extra distractions.

“Unfortunately, we have pineapple plantations very close to our home and that’s the reason our cows have been sick for about a year, even with the help of veterinarians,” said Mariana Paniagua, his wife who also worked as his spokesperson during the trip.

When she says pineapples hurt the cows, she is referring to the Tábano fly phenomenon. This kind of fly population increases due to the pineapple production waste and tends to attack livestock up to 10 kilometers away from a plantation.

The bug bites the cows and bulls and sucks their blood. That leads to infections, fatigues, anemia and other health problems for the animals. Since 2011, farmers associations have been complaining about this and have asked sanitation and animal health service authorities to take the proper measures.

“I also fear about the water because experts keep saying it will be polluted,” she said.

Before this personal mission, the couple packed some food, blankets and sheets in case of an emergency. However, having a place to rest with their animals and food has not been an issue due to peoples generosity, she explained.

“Along the way many people has been supporting us and we are very grateful for that,” Ms. Paniagua said. “We have stayed in hotels or houses and sometimes inside the truck to rest for a while.”

The pineapple industry has been facing increasing opposition from environmentalist groups. Many ecological organizations demand more control on the permits granted as they see its expansion as damaging to the soil, potentially polluting water and hurting workers rights.

From the industry’s perspectives, many of those accusations are untrue and based on fear and biased studies.

Abel Cháves, president of the Cámara Nacional de Productores y Exportadores de Piña, has said many times that pineapples are safe to grow, the industry respects labor laws and that it provides jobs in places where unemployment is rampant.

“Let me ask you something: if you have a child, would you give him milk from a pineapple? If, instead of eating rice and beans, you ate pineapple everyday, wouldn’t you get sick?” asked Ms. Paniagua.

“We are not against the jobs or the industry as a whole, we just want more control. We want the expansion to stop and the government to regulate,” she added.

About 4 p.m. he arrived to Casa Presidencial and was able to pick up the phone. He confirmed he got wet and at some point he was just missing some soap.

“I’m here because the president invited me,” he said. “Yes, he invited me the day of his inauguration when he said, ‘If I am ever mistaken, correct me.’ Well, here to tell him that he might be wrong with the pineapple industry,” he said.

Castro said he just expected to meet some friends who work at Casa Presidencial. “The house of all of us,” he said.

For a second, he had to stop the conversation as a background voice announced the president wanted to talk to him.

Another voice asked him to wait for a quick medical check up before the unscheduled meeting.

“I have to go and thank you,” he said.

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Security ministry declares crackdown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Following the shootout near a school in Escazú that left two men dead, the killers still at large and the deceased’s brother arrested while attempting to leave the country, the public security ministry felt compelled to make a statement.

Within the confines of this statement, there are many different interpretations to be made but the facts are relatively clear. In 2016, the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública said, police forces seized over 44 percent more cocaine than in the previous year.

It also praised itself for making Costa Rica a leader in marijuana eradication as it slashed and burned over 1.5 million hectares more than in 2015. Some may believe that to represent a triumph in the war on drugs.

It could also point toward an increase in marijuana growing as well. This could suggest a transition of Costa Rica becoming a country where drugs are produced rather than funneled through to the north.

To that end, the public security ministry conceded that the stakes in the international takedown of criminal organizations are higher. The police forces have seized more drugs and weapons than in previous years. With all that in mind, officials gloomily railed that they had “lost two years insistently requesting resources.”

The recent shooting has inspired a complete nationwide crackdown at the behest of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís and under the orders of Gustavo Mata, the security minister. Solís requested that the security ministry create a full report of actions taken by the Fuerza Pública nationwide. This report is required to be submitted in a month.

It is uncertain if the contents of the report are to be released from the public. The recommendations are expected to remain the same: more men and more money are needed to the ministry.

Expats should recall however that this ministry does not budget nor is in charge of the Judicial Investigating Organization, whose agents actually arrest and formally charge persons usually.

This ministry does not control the prison system and its guards, which equally need money and manpower. The report may suggest an expedition in judicial cases and a promotion in coordination between different law enforcement entities.

Security officials and government legislators have warned time and again that, unless there are changes made to improve the situation as much as the system, it is unlikely crime and violence will decrease.

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Police in Herradura stop two crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Spanish tourists were robbed Thursday morning in Herradura, a town located in the Garabito canton close to Jacó.

According to the police report, a young man apparently attacked two women and ran off with one of their suitcases.

The women screamed for help and, upon the arrival of police officers, a search operation was deployed and the robber was caught still having the suitcase, the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública said.

The man was taken into custody and sent to the local prosecutor’s office. The two women recovered their documents, two cameras and a cell phone.

Also in Herradura, three men in possession of crack cocaine paste tried to run from the police, who eventually caught them in Turrúcares de Alajuela Wednesday night.

The men were inside a black Toyota Yaris. Inside, police also found a bulletproof vest and a shirt with the logo of the Judicial Investigation Organization, police said.

Some individual crack doses were also found. The men were taken into custody and a prosecutor assigned.

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Costa Rican woman raped while abroad

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Local news reports on the rape of a Costa Rican woman in Guatemala this past Monday was confirmed Thursday in a statement by the foreign relations ministry.

The reports said that the woman was apparently a women’s rights activists and member of the Costa Rican feminist organization, Centro Feminista de Información Acción. The group, also called Cefemina, has roots all the way back to 1975, according to the website, and is dedicated towards the defense and promotion of women’s rights in Costa Rica but also in supporting the global movement.

Costa Rican news reports said that woman is 23-years old and was apparently kidnapped and raped by a group of men. The consulate for Costa Rica in Guatemala said that it is providing personal assistance to her and her family. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto also emphasized it is cooperating with Guatemalan authorities to guarantee her access to medical care and justice.

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Government halts project’s permits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmental authorities halted the permits to develop a controversial new pineapple plantation in the Osa canton in the southeast part of the country..

The local branch of Fresh del Monte international fruit company had been granted the permit in December 2016, just 27 days after the request was filed. The plantation field would have been located very close to an archaeological heritage monument under the protection of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Inside the project area, there are also wetlands that are protected under the Ramsar international agreements.

According to the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia, all members of the environmental secretary’s council voted to stop any further action in the place until new studies are carried out.

In their agreement, the council asked the secretary to partner with the required authorities to fully protect the wetlands. It also establishes that Museo Nacional authorities should carry a full archaeological onsite inspection and determine if the plantation is viable from a heritage perspective.

The above are usual requirements to any company who develops agricultural projects in the country. But in the case of this particular one, no field inspections took place neither for archaeological nor environmental purposes.

In fact, the permit skipped the inspections based on photographs provided by the company representatives, as A.M. Costa Rica reported last week.

The measure seems to arrive after much pressure from several organizations. On Monday, Bloque Verde, one of the countries biggest environmental organizations held a massive rally in San José to protest against this same project.

That same day the Ambiente y Energía Ministry ordered a detailed review of the case, which began right way. Three days later the project has been halted.

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Costa Rica totes diplomatic balance in Middle East

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A delegation of the Costa Rican foreign ministry is continuing its tour of the Middle East with the most recent visit to the state of Israel.

Manuel González, the Costa Rican foreign minister, made the official visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday.

This comes after the delegation finished up another visit to the nation of Qatar. In both instances, the message is one of promoting cooperation and potential facilitation of investment between the private sectors of the two countries.

It is interesting to note the diplomatic balancing that the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto attempts to make when visiting nations in the Arab world, who are vehemently opposed to what they see as an Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and Israel, often described by political scientists in the past as being completely surrounded by hostile countries in the Middle East.

During the meeting, Netanyahu spoke of the contributions that the local Jewish community has made in Costa Rica and touted his own country’s progress in technological innovation as a model the visiting country should follow, according to a release by the ministry.

Big on the list of priorities for the Costa Ricans were the promotion of trade flows between the two countries particularly the problem of pineapple exports entering Israel. Gonzaléz himself gave a lecture in Tel Aviv, where the Costa Rican embassy has been located since 2006, to over 300 investors as to the benefits of investing in the country, officials said.

This larger meeting preordained a much smaller one where the foreign minister went into greater detail as to investing, according to the ministry.

This is not the first pitch to this part of the world about Costa Rica. The foreign relations ministry has sent its head and other representatives to places such as Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates among others.

These three nations are not known, as of late, for stellar reputations in the areas of human rights as well as promotion of free and democratic principles.

Even Israel has come under fire by groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations for its conduct in relation to the Palestinian situation.

With the case of Turkey, it has been said by prominent international groups that it is one of the most repressive countries when it comes to limitations of the free press as well as expressions and assembly particularly following an attempted military coup last July.

Since that time, observers have noted that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has potentially used that as an excuse to install himself as more of a strongman and less of a democratic leader within the Muslim-majority country.

The country has recently made headlines around the world following a referendum vote on the constitution that yielded enormous transfers of power to the president.

Some reports believed that such actions have caused an increase in authoritarian rule in the traditionally-secular, democratic nation of Turkey.

Meanwhile, the other two countries do not even pretend at being democracies and are monarchies.

The United Arab Emirates is a federal absolute monarchy and is frequently criticized for its human rights record as well as heavy-handed suppression of protests that came forth beginning in 2011 with the Arab Spring.

Qatar hosts a very powerful and influential royal family and has also come up in critiques as to its state of freedom by organizations.

What these two countries do share however are wealthy economies with some financial muscle as much as pull in global trade. Israel and Turkey too are no lightweights on the global stage of foreign policy and are important U.S. allies for the region.

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