Sunday, December 30, 2007

Strunz & Farah - Capricho Nocturno

I found this video on YouTube and I thought you might like it. It features the guitar duo of Strunz & Farah. Their sound can be described as a cross between world fusion and flamenco.

Jorge Strunz, born in Costa Rica, and Ardeshir Farah, from Iran, met in the United States in 1979. Having both played guitar professionally since their early teens, they soon teamed up and released their self-produced first album "Mosaico" in 1980, which started their own label: "Selva Records".

Since then they have played on numerous recordings together, releasing several albums as a duo and collaborating with the likes of Ruben Blades and L. Subramaniam.

They also worked with Sting in the album The Living Sea: Soundtrack from the IMAX Film as Session Mussicians.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Toros a la Tica

Las corridas de Toros a la Tica (Costa Rican bullfighs) returned this year to the traditional location of Zapote.

There was a lot of excitement as Costa Rican bullfighters (which are nothing but the average Ticos you see on the street) entered the ring to try to touch the bull's horns without getting killed.

The Costa Rican bullfights have the peculiarity that no bulls are injured or killed during the celebration, as opposed to the Mexican and Spanish versions.

Since the middle of the 19th Century, people from all over the country attend this kind of rodeo at the end of the year as a traditional celebration to say farewell to the old year.

The event this year ran from December 25 to January 6. Here are some photos by Juan Carlos Ulate from Reuters News Agency:

Spectators watch as people run around a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007. More than 200 bullfighters participated in the traditional end-of-year impromptu bullfight.

A man gestures to a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A bull tosses a man during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A man runs away from a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A bull chases a man during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A bull attacks a man that lies on the floor during the annual bullfight festival in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A rider tries to catch a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.

A man rides a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose December 29, 2007.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Picture of the day

Spanish bullfighter Oscar Saenz makes a pass to a bull during the annual bullfight festival at the Zapote bullring in San Jose, December 28, 2007. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Note: It is important to point out that this isn't the typical type of bullfights that take place in Costa Rica. We only allow Spanish bullfighters to perform here as long as they agree not to kill the bull during the event.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

$6 million settlement in Big Dig accident

Angel Del Valle, husband of Milena Del Valle, who was killed when concrete ceiling panels in a Big Dig tunnel collapsed onto her car, wipes tears during a news conference in Boston, in this Aug. 30, 2006 file photo. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, File)Family of Costa Rican victim still wants more answers about the cause of the accident.

By Rodrique Ngowi

BOSTON (AP) - A company blamed in the deadly ceiling collapse of a Big Dig tunnel last year has agreed to give the family of the woman killed not only $6 million, but something they really want: answers.

Still, representatives of the widower and children of Costa Rican Milena Del Valle said Tuesday the family needs even more information on the series of events, decisions and failures that ultimately caused 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels to come crashing down on her car.

The 39-year-old mother of three was crushed on July 10, 2006, as she and her husband drove through an Interstate 90 connector tunnel. Her husband, Angel Del Valle, escaped with minor injuries.

"The family's primary goal is to get to the bottom of the cause of Milena's death," attorney Bradley M. Henry, who represents the children, said Tuesday. "The family is willing to sit down with any party that is willing to answer their questions about how this tragedy occurred."

Investigators determined that the ceiling collapsed because workers secured it with a fast-drying epoxy that was not safe to use for overhead loads.

On Monday, a Brewster, N.Y., firm that supplied the epoxy agreed to settle a lawsuit filed last year by Del Valle's family, capping weeks of confidential negotiations.

Powers Fasteners Inc., one of 15 Big Dig contractors and agencies sued by the Del Valle family, did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement.

Still, company representatives answered a string of questions from the family and their lawyers, describing in detail how the correct type of epoxy was ordered and shipped to Massachusetts for use in the installation of the ceiling panels, Henry said.

"No one can replace our mother, no one can replace Angel's wife — but, to have some of our questions answered about how this tragedy could occur, has great meaning and worth to us," the victim's eldest daughter, Raquel Ibarra Mora, said by e-mail from San Jose, Costa Rica.

"More answers are needed to get to the truth, but the Powers family was willing to take a first step. We can only hope that others, too, step forward and show such character," she said.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Powers Fasteners, said the company was unaware until after the accident that fast-set epoxy had been used for the ceiling panels in the I-90 connector, rather than the standard-set epoxy. She said while the fast-set epoxy was for provided for use on the vertical tunnel wall tiles, it was not appropriate for use on overhead sustained loads.

"The irony is that Powers Fasteners did not know that there was a problem with the epoxy because they assumed that what had been used was the product that was ordered," Schwartzman said.

Powers Fasteners is the only entity to be charged criminally in the case. The company was indicted on a manslaughter charge in August. Prosecutors accuse Powers of failing to warn Big Dig contractors that its fast-drying epoxy glue was unsafe to use to suspend heavy ceiling panels, and had a tendency to slowly pull away over time.

Powers is the first company to settle with the Del Valle family. There are no ongoing negotiations with any other contractor or agency, Henry said.

Associated Press Writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.

Other news: On Dec. 31, It's Official: Boston's Big Dig Will Be Done

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Costa Rica establishes diplomatic ties with Oman

(Xinhua) - Costa Rica has established diplomatic relations with Oman, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The document on the establishment of ties was signed Wednesday, which said both countries wished to "strengthen the friendly and cooperative ties in the political and economic sectors based on mutual respect."

Both countries pledged to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the international law and the United Nations Charter.

"The government of Oman and the government of Costa Rica express their conviction that the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries conforms to both states' national interests and will contribute to the strengthening of peace and international cooperation," said the document.

On Aug. 16, 2006, Costa Rica announced that it decided to move its embassy in Israel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

The Central American country has ever since established or resumed diplomatic ties with several Arab countries, such as Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Costa Rican priest Minor Calvo acquitted in murder trial, but guilty of embezzlement

(Photo by Marvin Caravaca/La Nacion)His business partner was convicted on murder conspiracy charges.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, (Reuters) - A Costa Rican court acquitted a prominent Catholic priest on Wednesday of charges that he had hired a hitman to kill popular radio host Parmenio Medina.

In a trial that has gripped the largely Catholic nation, a three-judge panel ruled there was not enough evidence to convict the priest of conspiring to murder Medina, though judges did find him guilty of embezzling the donations of Radio Maria.

The court sentenced Calvo to 15 years in prison. The priest has steadily maintained his innocence since being arrested in 2003 and his lawyer said he would appeal the fraud conviction.

Omar Chaves, Calvo's business partner at Radio Maria, was convicted to 35 years on murder conspiracy charges, and 12 years on embezzlement charges.

Luis Alberto Aguirre, a.k.a "The Indian," was sentenced to 30 years on murder conspiracy charges after the judges determined he was one of the shooters firing at Medina.

Medina's family said it was disappointed with Calvo's acquittal in the murder case, but that the fraud conviction was some consolation.

"It shows that my father was telling the truth," Medina's son, Rodolfo Medina, told reporters outside the court.

Medina was shot dead outside his home in 2001 after accusing Father Minor Calvo on his program of pocketing donations at the priest's own church-affiliated radio station.

Before his death, Medina had told police he was receiving death threats. The shooting happened just hours after recording an edition of his popular satirical radio show "La Patada" (The Kick).

(Reporting by Brian Harris, editing by Jason Lange and Sandra Maler)

Note: This was the longest trial in the history of Costa Rica. It started on December 6, 2005 and it ended today, December 19, 2007.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Formerly conjoined twins leave California hospital

Outpatient care ongoing; "Twins are doing very well," said lead surgeon

PALO ALTO, Calif - Marking a major step in their ongoing recovery from separation surgery, formerly conjoined Costa Rican twins Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha-Arias were released from inpatient care last week at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

"The twins are doing very well," said Gary Hartman, MD, lead surgeon for last month’s separation surgery. "Yurelia is almost fully recovered. Meanwhile, Fiorella’s blood pressure is returning to normal through medication. All in all, we’re quite pleased."

The two-year-olds are now outpatients, and have daily appointments with occupational and physical therapists to improve their strength and mobility. In addition, the twins have cardiovascular appointments with Gail Wright, MD, every other week.

The twins are recovering not just from the successful separation on November 12, but also from follow-up procedures. Yurelia’s life-threatening congenital anomaly known as double outlet right ventricle (DORV) was corrected by Frank Hanley, MD, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, on November 14. Then, on November 19, Fiorella returned to surgery for a brief modification of her chest reconstruction and repair of her skin closure, a procedure led by Hartman and Peter Lorenz, MD, chief of pediatric plastic surgery.

"Through preparation, surgery and recovery, basically every discipline in the hospital has been involved with the girls and their care," said Hartman.

Now the family can begin planning their return to Costa Rica.

"We expect another 6 to 8 weeks of follow-up prior to going home,” said Hartman. “Mom Maria Elizabeth Arias and dad Jose Luis are thrilled with the girls’ progress, and thankful for everyone’s help."

For more information on the twins click here. To access a photo gallery and watch videos released by the hospital click here.

Information and photo provided by the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pre-Columbian stone sphere found in Costa Rica

(La Nacion) - In the final stage of excavation of the remains of an Indian pre-Columbian village in Palmar Sur, in the Costa Rican South Pacific, a National Museum team of archaeologists, led by Costa Rican Adrian Bonilla, found a 1.1 meter stone sphere, in exactly the same place where it was set some 1,000 years ago. He finding was exciting, particularly because the last of such spheres –world renowned because they are found only in the area– had been found in 1994. According to Bonilla, the sphere was a symbol of power.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Picture of the day

Abigail Araya, 9, picks ripe red coffee beans at a plantation in San Miguel de Naranjo, 37 miles (60km) from San Jose December 11, 2007. Araya accompanies her mother to pick coffee every year, but children are increasingly leaving the trade, a trend producers fear could lead to a labour shortage. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nasa and Ad Astra sign cooperation agreement

(La Nacion) - In an act that shows the interest of the U.S. space agency in the plasma engine developed by Costa Rican physicist and former astronaut Franklin Chang, NASA and Ad Astra Rocket signed a cooperation agreement. It is an umbrella agreement, that sets the legal guidelines for the joint work to be developed by the agency and the company from now on, Dr. Chang explained. According to him, this agreement paves the way that his company must follow from now through the year 2010, when it plans to test its plasma engine in space.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Costa Rica and China to explore for oil

(Inside Costa Rica) - Costa Rica and China announced Friday they have agreed to jointly explore for oil and natural gas in the Costa Rica. It wasn't clear if the proposed exploration would be on land or offshore.

Roberto Dobles, environment and energy minister, told a news conference with representatives of China National Petroleum Corp., China's biggest oil and gas producer, that Costa Rica hopes to guarantee its access to energy, considering soaring crude prices.

"We have the responsibility to ensure the development of the country, always meeting strict environmental standards," he said.

The announcement was immediately criticized by environmentalists, who argued the exploration would pollute the environment, though Dobles said the agreement stipulated that any exploration be done in a way that protects the environment.

He added that it may be four to six years before the project gets started and that the exploration process in general is not as environmentally risky as other aspects of the petroleum industry.

Arias signed the exploration agreement during a visit to China last October.

Representatives from the two countries are expected to meet again in February in China to discuss the agreement further. It includes plans to modernize Costa Rica's oil refinery so it can become a regional hub.

Environmentalists successfully pressured former Costa Rican president Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), to cancel a 1998 concession for oil exploration Costa Rica had granted Houston-based Harken Energy Corporation. A lawsuit is before the courts.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Costa Rica plants 5 million trees

A cyclist rides front Tapamti National Park in Orosi, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007. Costa Rica, a leader in eco-tourism and home to some of the world's rarest species, planted its 5 millionth tree of 2007 on Wednesday as it tries to put a brake on global warming. (Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica, a leader in eco-tourism and home to some of the world's rarest species, planted its 5 millionth tree of 2007 on Wednesday as it tries to put a brake on global warming.

President Oscar Arias shoveled dirt onto the roots of an oak tree planted in the grounds of his offices, reaching the milestone in the Central American nation's efforts to ward off what some experts say are the first signs of climate change.

By the end of the year, Costa Rica will have planted nearly 6.5 million trees, which should absorb 111,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said.

The country aims to plant 7 million trees in 2008 as part of the newly launched program.

Along with other green-minded nations like Norway and New Zealand, Costa Rica is aiming to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero, and has set a target date of 2021.

"I don't know if we will end up being carbon neutral in 2021 as we have proposed, but the important thing is the audacity of the goal and the work we have to do," Arias said.

Costa Rica is a magnet for ecology-minded tourists who come to visit the lush national parks and reserves that cover more than a quarter of the country and are home to almost 5 percent of the world's plant and animal species including exotic birds and frogs.

Over the last 20 years forest cover in Costa Rica has grown from 26 percent of the national territory to 51 percent, though environmentalists complain that loggers continue to cut down old trees and that the national park system is under funded.

Costa Rican authorities have blamed the loss of more than a dozen amphibian species, including the shiny yellow "golden toad," on higher temperatures caused by global warming.

Experts also say climate change is behind a spike in mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever at high elevations where they were once rare.

The number of dengue fever cases so far this year in Costa Rica's high-altitude central valley stands at 3,487 -- 86 percent higher than in the whole of 2006.

(Reporting by John McPhaul, editing by Eric Walsh)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Costa Rica celebrates 59 years without an army

In 1948, Jose Figueres abolished the army of Costa Rica. This picture depicts Figueres in the symbolic action of destroying a portion of the military barracks. (Photo courtesy of the Arias Foundation)(Inside Costa Rica) - Costa Rica yesterday celebrated its 59th year without an army. The celebration was full of cultural events, tributes and a message from Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Prize winner and president of Costa Rica.

"Today we come to celebrate the abolition of the army in Costa Rica, and though it is motive to be happy, it is not motive to be satisfied", said president Arias in a speech given at the Museo Nacional (national museum), former barracks of the national army.

"How can we be satisfied, while our children walk to school, others children in the Sudan flee their villages where their parents have been killed? How can we be satisfied, while our young find work, while the job of other young is to go fight in Iraq?", Arias expressed in his speech.

Costa Rica was the first country in the world to eliminate its army, investing rather in social programs, health and education.

Jose Figueres Ferrer or “Don Pepe” as he known affectionately is responsible for the abolition of the military on December 1, 1948, weeks following the conflict of civil war that had gripped the country.

"War is the worst form of violence", said Arias.

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