New facilities opened for prisoners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first of the new cells at the Reinaldo Villalobos and Pabru Presberi prisons opened this past Wednesday for over 175 inmates across the country.

Cecilia Sánchez, the head of the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz, toured the facilities at San Rafael de Alajuela, where Reinaldo Villalobos is located and the deputy minister saw the other in Pérez Zeledón.

“We begin a new history of the penitentiary system,” Ms. Sánchez said. “The implementation of a model of care in dignified conditions, close to life in freedom, without overcrowding.”

These units are a different style than the traditional penal facilities, the justice ministry said. The aim is to provide a space that mimics, as closely as possible, life beyond bars and strengthen options to study, train or work and be rehabilitated back into society.

The facilities are not finished, however. The unit in San Rafael is expected to be complete with 704 more cells and the unit in Pérez Zeledón with 256 by November, the ministry said.

Inmates of these facilities were selected by criteria determined by the Instituto Nacional de Criminología. They are required to live at least three years in the unit before completing their sentence and sign a promise to work, study and receive therapy, the justice ministry concluded.

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Macaque study displays general wild monkey behavior traits

By the University of Lincoln press staff

Wildlife tourists frequently fail to identify aggressive and distressed emotional states in wild monkeys, mistaking animals’ warnings of aggression for smiles and kisses.

This can lead to welfare problems for  primates and risk of injury for people, according to new research published Thursday.

A new study by a team of behavioral ecologists and psychologists examined whether educational tools intended to help tourists recognize different facial expressions in monkeys, such as 2D images and information signs like those found in zoos or animal parks, were effective in reducing harm to humans and distress to primates in destinations where wild macaques freely interact with humans.

The researchers found that tourists made significant mistakes in interpreting macaques’ emotions such as believing a monkey was smiling or blowing them kisses when they were in fact displaying aggression, despite exposure to pictures designed to demonstrate what the animals’ facial expressions mean.

This level of misunderstanding could lead to increased risk of injury to humans and have a negative impact on the welfare on the animals, particularly in places where wild macaques interact with people, the study concluded.

The research, led by researchers from the University of Lincoln, U.K., suggests videos or supervised visits led by expert guides would be better placed to educate tourists about how best to read emotions in animals in zoos and wildlife parks, along with advice on maintaining safe distance from the animals.

Laëtitia Maréchal, from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln said:

“There is a growing interest in wildlife tourism, and in particular primate tourism. People travel to encounter wild animals, many of them attempting to closely interact with monkeys, even though this is often prohibited.”

“However, serious concerns have been raised related to the safety of the tourists interacting with wild animals. Indeed, recent reports estimate that monkey bites are the second cause of injury by animals after dogs in Southeast Asia, and bites are one of the main vectors of disease transmission between humans and animals.”

The findings indicate that people who are inexperienced in macaque behavior have difficulties in recognizing monkey’s emotions, which can lead to dangerous situations where they think the monkeys are happy but instead they are threatening them.

“Education, guided visits, and keeping a safe distance with animals could be implemented as measures to reduce such issues, improving both animal welfare and tourist experience,” she said.

“Video might be a particularly effective tool to help people recognize animal emotion based on their facial expressions, behavior or vocalizations, reducing any misunderstanding.”

Researchers quizzed three groups of participants, those with little to no experience of Barbary macaques, those with exposure to 2D images of different monkey faces, and those who had worked with primates for at least two months, on what emotions were being portrayed in a series of images showing aggressive, distressed, friendly and neutral faces.

Macaques present aggressive or threatening stances through raised eyebrows, staring, and opening the mouth to show the teeth, or having the lips protrude to form a round mouth.

When the mouth is widely open and the animal is yawning, or the corners of the lips are fully retracted revealing the upper and lower teeth, it signals that they are distressed or submissive.

Macaques will have their mouths half open and the lips slightly protruding with a chewing movement and clicking or smacking of the tongue and lips to indicate they are friendly; and neutral faces feature a closed mouth and relaxed face.

They found that all participants, regardless of their levels of experience, made some mistakes confusing aggressive faces with non-threatening faces such as neutral or friendly faces.

Experts made just under seven per cent of mistakes, participants who were exposed to 2D images of monkey faces made just over 20 per cent of mistakes, and participants who had never or rarely encountered live monkeys made nearly 40 per cent of mistakes.

Ms. Maréchal added: “The tourists often responded by imitating the monkey’s facial expression, which generally ended by either aggression by the monkey towards the tourists or the monkey leaving the interaction.”

“These findings are highly relevant to the general public and any professional in wildlife tourism, where wild animals can interact with the general public,” the study concludes.


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Romantic pieces to ring through Teatro Nacional this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wagner, Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninoff will kick off the fifth concert in the official season for the national symphony orchestra tonight and on Sunday.

Tonight’s show begins at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s at 10:30 a.m., the cultural ministry said.

According to a statement from the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, Brazilian director Fabio Mechetti will lead the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.

He will be joined on stage by German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich, who will be performing a solo on the Concerto for cello by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Mechetti is the head of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic located in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte state but he also is the director for the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in the United States, the cultural ministry said.

“For this program a combination of more romantic music was chosen,” Mechetti said. “In the first part we will interpret the Prelude of the III Act of Lohengrin by Wagner followed by the Concerto for cello by Saint-Saëns while, in the second part, we will play one of the most romantic symphonies of the symphonic repertoire: the second symphony of Rachmaninoff.”

Tickets for the V Concierto, as the event is called, are on sale at the ticket office and website of the Teatro Nacional, the cultural ministry said.

Prices vary between 4,000 and 18,000 colons depending on seating.

Students and seniors may request a 50 percent discount when presenting their ID or card at the booth.

For those who want to better understand the concert’s program, Aurora Saenz of the cultural ministry will also offer a talk on Friday at 7 p.m. in the theater foyer.

Admission is free but limited.

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Tico Protestants plan 500th year anniversary since the Reformation

By Rommel Téllez of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unity despite the differences. That is the goal that Protestant churches aim to reach this year, which marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that set the Christian world apart and gave birth to many other denominations which still exist today.

To celebrate this milestone, the followers of the Costa Rican Lutheran Church have been organizing several activities in the last three years as a way to remind themselves that their existence went through a rough historical process, according to the Geraldina Alvarez, pastor of the church.

“We feel really privileged to be part of this 500th anniversary celebration, because for us the Christian Reformation still goes on, as a never-ending adaptation process in favor of those who need help and know the word of God,” she said.

According to Geraldina, her church will continue focusing on an active social role, pushing equal rights for immigrants, women and sexually diverse people. They will push for the creation, too, of a secular state in Costa Rica.

According to the constitution, the Roman Catholic faith is the country’s official, state-sponsored religion.

“Our social fights will continue and we will stress the importance of continuing the dialogues we’ve been having with the Catholic Church. We wish a closer relationship with other followers of Christ,” she added.

In October, the Lutherans will hold a festivity named the Wittenberg Week, as a way to honor the day Martin Luther released his well known 95 Theses, a revision of the doctrine under the Scriptures, in the town of Wittenberg, which was then a part of the German Kingdom of Saxony.

Luther was famous for mailing this work to the Archbishop of Mainz on Oct. 31, 1517. Historians are still arguing whether or not the rogue Catholic priest actually did nail them to the doors of the church or not.

“We’ll organize entrepreneurial workshops for women, performing arts, a meditative mass and a big meeting with members of the Catholic church,” Pastor Alvarez said.

“We will also finish planting 500 trees as symbolic celebration of the 500 years of the Reformation,” she added.

In the case of the Costa Rican Episcopal Church, they plan to celebrate the anniversary with a simultaneous prayer offered this coming Sunday. They also seek to pay a visit to the Catholic Archbishop at some point during the year as sign of unity.

More activities will be announced soon, according to Hector Monterroso, Bishop of the Church.

“Once a month, two other leaders from two different denominations  and I sit together to have lunch and plan our celebrations,” he said.

“We are very excited about the celebrations. For us the Reformation reminds us not only a doctrinal separation but, most important, the fact we are united on one single mission: to create more disciples for our lord Jesus,” he added.

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Prisoner drafts open letter to deputies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A prisoner from San Rafael’s correctional facility drafted a letter that was sent by the justice ministry to libertarian legislator, Natalia Díaz.

The letter comes in response to her particular outspokenness in opposition to a fair composed of prisoners that was scheduled to be held along the Bulevar near to the chambers of the assembly.

The controversy over allowing prisoners in such close proximity to legislative deputies, staffers and the general public sparked off a controversy that eventually turned into a verbal sparring match between the opposing deputies and the justice minister, Cecilia Sánchez.

“The right of our population to have opportunities of insertion and respect for human dignity is undeniable,” she said. “Faced with all sorts of prejudice and stereotypes, it will be unavoidable. We will have our fair because there will always be good sense in other people and other institutions that do understand this is a human rights issue.”

“Perhaps the challenge is not to open doors, but to open minds, especially with those who should be called and who are called to build a more inclusive society,” she stingingly added.

Eventually, the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz gave in and moved the event towards the closed quarters of the Centro Nacional de Cultural in San José on Wednesday this week.

One jailed man, Juan Carlos Siras, decided to take up the cause of prisoners located at the Vilma Curling, San Rafael, La Reforma facilities and juvenile detention center in Zurquí.

He carried different letters written by prisoners to deliver to the legislative deputies. The prisoner was under guard while delivering the documents to legislator Marco Vinicio Redondo, as representative for the assembly.

“Legislating is synonymous with guiding. Legislating is to educate. Legislating is to point out ways to the Costa Rican people and, for these reasons, nothing created allowing a prisoner the opportunity to enhance their human dignity through participation in a fair of arts and services should cause fear,” the letter to Ms. Díaz said.

“You are right to protect with your position the social rights of Costa Rican citizens, but I urge you vehemently from these humble words not to allow, in your capacity as a deputy, social prejudice win over solidarity or to teach children and young people of our country intolerance or that it is good to alienate their peers who are in unequal conditions and political power take away the hope of re-socialization.”

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Action demanded from labor ministry

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Frente Amplio legislator Patricia Mora sent a protest letter to the labor minister, Alfredo Hasbum, demanding a quick response about alleged human rights abuse in several pineapple and banana plantations.

According to Ms. Mora, pineapple employers are refusing to hire workers who have previously had problems with their health as well as work-related accidents.

Aside from that, these employers have allegedly created blacklists where the names of those workers remain under a “not for hire” status.
Ms. Mora said this was a common complaint she received during a recent trip to the plantations located in  Guácimo, Siquirres, Pococí and Talamanca, all of them cantons in Limón province.

The same situation was apparently relayed back to her in Sarapiquí, Heredia province along with San Carlos and Los Chiles, in Alajuela.

The legislator said these actions violate statutes protecting the privacy of health records and they constitute a blatant discrimination against the most vulnerable workers. It also denies the people’s right to work, which is protected by the constitution, she said.

In the statement, the legislator asks the labor minister to start an investigation as soon as possible.

“These are very serious allegations and they emphasize the need to have a new law reform that strengthens the labor inspections department of the ministry,” she said.

Despite these allegations, the government said it maintains a constant inspection in those same plantations.

According to a release sent out Thursday by Casa Presidencial, from January 2016 to May 2017, the labor ministry conducted more than 173 inspections both in the northern and Caribbean areas of the country.

The inspections included 39 banana plantations and 16 pineapple ones.
During the first 103 visits, authorities found at least 79 companies not fully complying with labor laws. Afterwards, 70 second visits were performed and it showed that 51 of them proved full compliance and 12 did not.

The latter will be reported before the labour courts, according to the document.

“We confirm our commitment to enforce the labor laws and we will take care of any complain as soon as possible,” Nancy Marín, the vice-minister for labor, said.

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Public works begins new bridge project

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public works is moving in to work on the Río Virilla bridge except this one is not the recently-completed Alfredo González Flores bridge for the General Cañas highway. This is a completely new one.

According to a statement issued by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, the new bridge will be a part of Ruta 147 between Santa Ana and Belén. Some expats may already know that there is already a bridge located there but a new two-lane structure adjacent to the original is the project in mind.

Carlos Villalta, the public works head, said that this project is expected to cost at least $8.5 million with the money coming from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for Project Services will be administering the work, officials said.

Work is already underway for the opening salvos needed to construct the bridge and the ministry intends to have a structure starting to form in about seven months. The bridge will have two lanes, an internal and external shoulder as well as room for sidewalks. Villalta stressed that this project, unlike the platina bridge, will have little to no effect on regular traffic except in a few instances where machinery needs to be moved or parts placed on the bridge.

This bridge is supposed to yield some relief to the congested traffic experienced in that area during peak hours, the ministry said. In addition to the bridge, the final designs for the expansion of the five-lane Santa Ana radial are being finalized. The expected total investment will be $34 million, the ministry said.

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Union leaders call for general strike against Caja

By Rommel Téllez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

“We have no option left but to take to the streets.”

That’s the position of Albino Vargas, the Secretary General of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, one of the countries biggest unions.

He uttered his words Thursday, a couple of hours after the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social agreed to continue with its plans to increase the contributions all workers should pay to their social security regime.

This issue has been an ongoing one of which A.M. Costa Rica recently reported in relation to doctors temporarily walking out of their hospitals for a few hours.

This was considered a warning on the part of union-members of what may come should the Caja’s Junta decide to raise the fee.

According to the agreement, workers will not escape the hike in the contributions.

Instead, they will have to pay 0.5 percent more money from the salary as of July and then face the other 0.5 percent increase in Jan. 2018.

The original decision by the Junta Directiva, unilaterally in charge of such decision-making without much room for outside consultation, called for the increase in full.

“We want Luis Guillermo Solís to remove the president of the Caja, María Sáenz, for betraying the working class and for betraying prior agreements where she promised to discuss the measure with other members of society,” Vargas said.

“Once again,  it is the working class who is supposed to pay for the Caja mismanagement, hurting the people who make the least money while some others have luxury pensions of up to $30,000 dollars a month,” Vargas added.

A general strike is another likely outcome after the decision from the Caja, according to Martin Chinchilla, Secretary General of the Unión de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social.

Chinchilla is also one of the leaders of the Bloque Unitario Sindical y Social Costarricense, a confederation of several unions, including that of teachers and other prominent entities within the Costa Rican State.

“We are deceived by the board of directors who have made this decision,” he said. “That pushes us toward further measures and to analyze if dialogue is the way to go.”

“We’ll be having a meeting next Monday afternoon to decide what are we going to do, but I can tell you this decision will not be tolerated,” added Chinchilla.

“We are confident all social justice fighters will join us and we are happy to say we are in close relation with the Confederación de Trabajadores Rerum Novarum,” he explained.

The confederation is a local Costa Rican worker’s syndicate with close ties to international and regional unions.

According to the Caja, this decision is essential to provide new funds to the pension regime, which experts from the Universidad de Costa Rica say will go broke by 2028 if no new income is delivered.

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Canadian and Canatur spar over canopy patent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday morning saw some officials and other interested parties sit in a meeting following a recent uproar in the Spanish-language media regarding a Canadian, a zip-line and a patent.

Businessmen, lawyers and other industry representatives with the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, or Canatur, promised a fight against Canadian citizen Darren Hreiniuk and his patent claim over canopy tours. Hreinuk claims on his website and in statements that he was the first one to come up with the canopy tour concept and wants compensation from other companies that allegedly followed in his idea.

A statement by the group recommended that all operators and persons in the tourism industry refrain from contacting Hreiniuk until they acquired criteria and enough claim to block the Canadian’s motion.

For those that do not know, a canopy tour is an established route through a wooded or mountainous landscape using a zip-line or aerial bridges between platforms built in trees. Usually in both instances, tourists are harnessed to a cable without interruption throughout the entirety of the experience.

This comes with recommendation from the group’s assembled team of lawyers and other specialists analyzing the situation.

Hreiniuk’s legal counsel issued a press release Wednesday saying that they were going to give 15 working days starting on June 1 so that owners and operators of canopies can contact them and reach an agreement to continue operations, the group said.

“We want businessmen to feel safe and supported by the chamber, as this is one of the most important tourist activities for which we are recognized as a destination worldwide,” the president of the Cámara said.

“For many years, we have improved it in aspects of security, quality and differentiation by private initiative. Many small and medium-sized businesses live in this country and we will not allow abuses of any kind.”

The group said its team of lawyers is going to carry an in-depth study of all the elements to develop the best strategy and avoid any involvement on the part of entrepreneurs who carry out the activity.

Next Thursday, a new meeting is set to showcase the results of the analysis and, from there, the chamber will decide what legal actions need to be undertaken.

According to Hreinuk’s website, the Original Canopy Tour and the concept itself began when he moved to Costa Rica back in 1992.

The website stated the purpose of the tour was to provide a unique experience while, at the same time, raising environmental awareness and socio-economic development.

The company claims being featured on National Geographic, MSNBC, USA Today, MTV and the Discovery Channel among others.

A.M. Costa Rica attempted to request comment directly from Hreinuk but received no response in time.

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UPS report shows import trends in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

UPS recently released the company’s latest export index focusing on small and medium-sized importers in Latin America such as those in Costa Rica.

The UPS Business Monitor Export Index Latin America sought to identify importer characteristics and assess purchasing behaviors of certain sectors within the importer economy of the Americas. To simplify the results, UPS chose four industries to focus on: industrial manufacturing, automotive, apparel and high-tech.

The sectors were then identified based on a cross section of four variables: high participation in U.S. trade, high participation in intra-regional Latin American trade, demand or use of express courier service and the estimated density of exporters. After 2,170 interviews, the findings relayed some industry as much as country-specific trends.

According to the report, 80 percent of apparel importers in Brazil and Costa Rica did not purchase their imported products online and that 74 percent of persons involved generally in the automotive sector did not purchase online either.

At the same time, Costa Rica was unique in the study’s findings as being one of a few continuously opting for finding new suppliers in nearly all the sectors sampled.

“In most of the countries surveyed, the responses were almost evenly divided 50:50, leaning slightly higher toward not searching for new suppliers in every case except Costa Rica, which was the only country out of the nine where the tables were turned with 56 percent seeking new suppliers,” the report said.

Moreover, the responses also indicated a wider regional trend that a supplier’s website has an impact on the assessment of a potential vendor with at least 60 percent of those sampled in Costa Rica agreeing with that finding.

E-commerce in apparel is equally on the rise, according to UPS, with smaller markets like Costa Rica leading the growth. When asked about the main operating barriers in importing, Costa Rican companies said overwhelmingly that delivery delays were the main problems with additional import costs and domestic logistics such as when a product clears customs also being tied for second place. The study did not label Aduana restrictions as being among the worst. It was underwhelming and average by comparison.

The study concludes by noting the opportunities available to exporters and suppliers within Costa Rica as it was one of two countries that consistently requested and were actively looking for new suppliers, UPS said.

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Six charged with aggravated robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six suspects arrested on charges of forming a criminal gang that stole vehicles could face pretrial detention while awaiting their day in court.

Prosecutors with the Ministerio Público will request the measures before the criminal court in Pavas, according to an official statement.

The defendants are also under investigation with at least 10 cases of aggravated robbery. The majority of the offenses appear to have occurred in Heredia or the north of San José, however two members of the group are also being investigated in relation to a robbery that occurred at least two weeks ago in Herredura, just north of Jacó.

The majority of the robbery cases appear to have been with the method of bajonazo, which involves threatening a person or persons in a stopped vehicle with a weapon and having them thrown out before stealing the ride.

Officials said that local prosecutors, at the time, requested preventive detention while the case was pending however the criminal court there imposed only precautionary measures such as not being allowed to enter the canton of Garabito as well as sign in with the court every 15 days and a promise to commit no further crimes. If the alleged offenses are true, then obviously the two defendants in question did not keep their promise to not commit any more crimes. At the time, the prosecution was appealing that move by the local court, the ministry said.

These two suspects and a third subject were also caught by police on suspicion of raiding a chicken seller in El Carmen de Guadelupe along with two other persons uninvolved in the aforementioned cases, officials said.

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Rural, sustainable tourism major promoted to high school students

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This past Tuesday students from the Colgeio Universitario de Cartago and the Escuela Técnica Agrícola e Industrial participated in a starters course to learn managing techniques and practices in sustainable, rural tourism done by the local Tecnológico de Costa Rica in San Carlos.

The objective was to create a space for the students to learn more about the institute’s curriculum, facilities, scholarship offers and residences. The goal is to attract more students to enter the program and to gauge their interest as much as increasing the frequency of the activity every two months, organizers said.

Over the course of the day, over 23 students participated in the usual academic tours, talks and workshops that one can expect with a visit to a college. This one, however, brought more alumni engagement with graduates sharing their experiences and current positions in their career, the institute said.

This degree is a more rigorous one based on the requirements. Students entering the program would need to complete an additional two years to their training as well as the traditional four years of study. This allows the students to obtain their bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Tourism Management and acquire better experience to aid in the job search.

Some of those opportunities Tecnológico listed: field consultant, development manager and a professional in the realms of feasibility, evaluation, monitoring and planning of tourist activities but with an extra twist of including consciousness on the environmental and social impact of such activities.

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Bananas highly susceptible to devastating fungi, scientists say

By the Science Daily press staff

Bananas are one of the most important staple crops of the tropics, transported with great care over great distances to satisfy the world’s appetite.

And today, with more than half the world’s bananas coming from a single, Cavendish variety, they may increasingly become susceptible to fungi that threaten its livelihood, such as the devastating Panama disease.

That’s why scientists have been eager to understand the mysteries of its genome. Cavendish fruits have no seeds, do not sexually reproduce and therefore are genetically identical, and are triploid meaning they have three sets of chromosomes, which made its genome very difficult to sequence.

The origins of Cavendish bananas come from several Musa acuminata subspecies that diverged after being geographically isolated in distinct Southeast Asian regions and islands. As with other domesticated crops, it is thought that human migrations helped lead to the emergence of subspecies and hybrids with reduced fertility but prized for their delectable fruits with high flesh and low seed content.

It is widely believed that Portuguese sailors first brought bananas to the Americas back in the 16th century. The crop represents a prominent agricultural export for Central America and Costa Rica. Many of the bananas produced in the region are of this same Cavendish strain.

Angélique D’Hont’s group at the CIRAD French research institute and the French National Sequencing Center completed a reference genome of M. acuminata in 2012.

Now, with next-generation sequencing tools available, they wanted to more finely explore the banana genome with an ultimate goal of helping breeding programs produce hardier, more disease-resistant bananas.

Using a variety of sequencing and bioinformatics tools, chromosomal imaging and PCR technology, for the first time, they have identified a large chromosomal swap involving two regions on chromosomes 1 and 4, and showed that it prevents the proper reshuffling of its DNA in its progeny. When they traced the inheritance of these structures they found that the rearranged chromosome swap was preferentially transmitted to the progeny.

The significance of their findings is important for agriculture.

The structure was found in half of the triploid cultivar sub-groups tested, highlighting a substantial contribution of this new chromosome structure in banana crops.

“It is noteworthy that this structure was found in the Cavendish sub-group of dessert bananas, which represents more than half of global banana production,” said Ms. D’Hont.

“This must have been an important factor in reducing fertility and in the formation of triploid cultivars, and thus, in banana domestication. Indeed, triploidy is the most efficient ploidy level for the agronomic performance in banana.”

“These characteristics have generated more vigorous plants, larger fruits and higher sterility, resulting in a complete absence of seeds in the fruits,” she added.

The new findings could be used in breeding programs for banana crops to fight the dreaded Panama disease.

“This knowledge could be exploited to either foster recombination or fix allele combinations in the rearranged regions by choosing adequate parental combinations,” said Ms. D’Hont.

“We expect to find more of these variations in the future, which will help steer recombination among the genes that control banana traits.”

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Pharmacy staffer’s act of kindness earns a suspension from the Caja

By Rommel Téllez of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators, leaders of indigenous associations and general public paid a small tribute to Alexander Montenegro Tuesday night at the legislative assembly. It was not a big event and passersby could have asked themselves who that person was and why he was being cheered on like some hero.

The reason why goes back to Jan. 4, 2017, in Alto Quetzal, an indigenous community located in the Turrialba canton, which is part of Cartago province. It also goes back to a day in the life of Claudio Jiménez, an indigenous man who belongs to the Cábecar tribe.

That day, he was returning home after buying a chicken to feed his family. To get to his community he is forced to cross the Chirripó river by pushing himself on a tram attached to a zip line. He did this as usual but this particular instance found his finger snared with the zip line and the grip.

The wound was so bad that he almost had his finger cut clean off at the first phalange. Scared and bleeding he headed to the closest clinic, which if walking takes at least three hours. By the time he arrived to the Alto Quetzal clinic, it was 6:30 p.m and the only doctor available refused to check him out on the grounds that she had finished her shift two hours before.

She told him to return the next day or to call 9-1-1.“She then closed the door and hid,” Jiménez said.

The Alto Quetzal medical staff actually sleeps on-site. They start their shift Mondays at 5:30 a.m and go home Fridays at noon.

He then felt like fainting and sat on a small sidewalk next to the clinic. That’s where Montenegro showed up and helped him out as much as he could. Being a technician in with the attached pharmacy, he provided the wounded man with painkillers and food.

He then walked away to find a better cell phone and call an ambulance, despite the doctor instructing him not to do so.

“It is my personal phone and I call who I want to,” Montenegro fired back at the doctor angrily.

When he returned, he saw Jiménez with a bloody bandage someone had put on him and looking pale.

“This man had been walking for hours while bleeding. It was really urgent to get him an ambulance, which would take several hours to arrive at the place and then some more hours on the way to hospital,” he said.

Finally, Jiménez was taken to Hospital William Allen, where he stayed for four days.

But that’s not the why Montenegro has been praised.

Bothered with the whole situation, Montenegro decided to make the case public and got in touch with Mario Redondo, a legislator for the Alianza Democráta Cristiana party.

“I approached him because he is the legislator representing Cartago and he’s been involved in indigenous issues for some time,” explained Montenegro.

The legislator took the case to session, making the case broadly known in the Spanish language media.

At the same time he talked to the lawmaker, Montenegro filed an official complaint before the authorities of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social and a formal investigation kicked off, probably under the pressure of public opinion and media attention garnered.

Several weeks later, and with the testimonies of Jiménez and another witness, the Caja authorities finished their investigation and found the doctor guilty of not abiding by the institution’s guiding principles.

According to a press release issued by Redondo’s office, the investigation found that “not only formal and technically incomplete attention was provided, but also the behavior of the doctor was contrary to the precepts that guarantee an integral, universal, and egalitarian care.”

Her sentence was a two-day suspension without pay. Unexpectedly, the same authorities applied the same punishment to Montenegro, on the grounds that he should have first taken the case to the Caja authorities and not making it public.

“This is a way to silence the good officials, to tell you to be quiet because we will punish you if you don’t behave in the way we want you to,” Redondo said in a statement.

“At least I believe this resolution also sends the message that, not only the indigenous people, but all the users of the Caja deserve respect and good treatment.”

As of now, the accused doctor has filed an appeal to the sentence, and so did Montenegro, however he plans to let the whole situation go and accept his punishment. That’s why some call him a hero albeit a silent one.

“I’ve had almost zero support from my colleagues but a lot of support from people with whom I never expected would show it,” Montenegro said. “Even public officials have congratulated me and that feels good.”

“However, I’ve been in fear of being fired and I just want to stop all the stress me and my family have gone through.” he explained.

As of today, Montenegro has been transferred to another medical team where he feels his colleagues do not trust him much. “I think they truly believe I’ve been disloyal. They think of me as a snitch,” he said.

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29,000 detained on drug offenses so far

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

We are halfway through the year and, between January and May so far, there have been over 29,000 people already apprehended for drug violations, according to data from the public security ministry.

The Ministerio de Seguridad Pública issued a statement detailing that all these people were surprised by the police and detained on the transfer, sale, possession or trafficking of drugs.

In addition to the persons, more than 10 tons of drugs have been seized during police operations. The majority of the seizures, at 739 kilograms, were cocaine and the other 379 kilograms were marijuana, police said.

Then there are also the cars and firearms as well as money confiscated during these actions. That includes about $3.3 million and around 65 million in colons, police said.

The law being violated is the Ley de Psicotrópicos and it can also include, aside from the drug offenses, the legitimation of capital or financing of terrorism as well, the ministry explained.

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Manuel Antonio gets treatment facility

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio in Quepos has a new sewage treatment system that allows it to continue receiving tourists.

Last February, the Ministerio the Salud issued a sanitary order for the park authorities to better deal with its wastewater in the following three months or else, it would be shut down and closed completely to the public.

However, the construction of a new plant was made possible thanks to a $13,000 investment made in partnership by the environmental ministry and the Asociación Costa Rica Por Siempre, a non-profit organization focused on the preservation of ecosystems.

The installed system features a high performance water purification techniques that do not require expensive filters. It also uses biodegradable materials instead of synthetic ones. This is known as a Bionest.

It allows further expansion in case of greater demand in the future. It was built underground in order to protect the parks scenery and the landscape.

Now, Manuel Antonio needs to make its facilities more friendly for people with reduced mobility and other disabilities, another request made in February by the Ministerio de Salud.

In 2015, the national preserve received 418,041 tourists. That number surpassed the other popular destination of the Volcán Poás, which was visited by 370,176 people, according to data from the National Tourism Board. It was listed among the 12 most beautiful natural parks in the world by Forbes magazine in 2011.

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Don’t believe the hype, officials say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Wednesday morning announcement from the national emergency committee could be boiled down to a few words: don’t believe the hype.

The technical advisory committee of volcanology and seismology and the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias were apparently responding to unnamed reports that the Arenal volcano showed an increase in seismic and volcanic activity.

“[We] make a vehement call to the population and media, so that prior to the disclosure of information on alleged changes or trends regarding the evolution of seismic and volcanic activity in Costa Rica, should be obtained from official sources related to these issues,” the emergency commission said.

Those official sources include: Red Sismológica Nacional and the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The group explained that the instruments being used to measure these activities are highly sensitive pieces of equipment. They not only record tectonic or volcanic earthquakes but also any heavy rain, lightning, mudslides, avalanches or even nearby objects making noise.

The graphs recorded by instruments of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, after the commission consulted their experts and tools, were attributed to the heavy rains the area was experiencing in the past few days.

To further assuage people that the volcano was not experiencing any increase in activity, the government sent special technicians to the volcano and found no extraordinary evidence that there was any unusual activity in the past week to give cause for alarm.

“Therefore, the CAT de Vulcanología y Sismología considers it a right and duty to inform, as long as it is carried out with responsibility and without alarm to the population before any circumstance that could compromise the security of a region in condition of seismic and volcanic threats,” the group concludes in a statement.

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Ruta 32 closed today for marking work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ruta 32 is closing this morning at 8 until 2 p.m. for line painting, according to the public works ministry.

The section of the Braulio Carrillo road cordoned off will be between the Río Frío crossing and San José, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said in a statement. In addition to today, the road will also be closed in that sector completely on Friday during those same hours.

The ministry said that the full closure is necessary due to the hazardous work conditions of the route often characterized by poor visibility due to rain, fog and the topography of the land. The marking work will continue on to other sections of the road next week.

Mauricio Sojo, of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, did mention that the closure and work would only be done if the weather permitted it. If the conditions are poor then the road will remain or would open immediately, the ministry said.

Drivers should consider alternative routes of travel during those hours. Public works suggested common cars and lightweight trucks use Vara Blanca as the alternate route or Ruta Nacional 10 heading towards Turrialba for all other types of vehicles.

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