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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 11, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Sofia Jeannete Vargas Hernandez, 6,  enjoys an inflatable funhouse at the Fiesta de Palmares. She was a guest of the Association of Residents when the group paid a visit there Thursday.

Palmares festival
in full swing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s largest horse parade kicked off the Palmares Festival Thursday under warm, mostly blue skies. An estimated 2,500 horsemen and horsewoman were officially registered, and others just tagged along.

The parade attracted more than 10,000 spectators to the small agricultural town about an hour west of San José. And that was about 2 p.m. The festival should be really jumping this weekend.

The Tico-style bullfights are scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m., followed by dancing. However, there is dancing all the time in the number of beer gardens that dominate the festival’s midway. Some of Costa Rica’s top bands will play this weekend.

Saturday will see a mountain bike competition, and Sunday features Spanish-style bullfights at 4 p.m. and performances by Pimienta Negra, Carlos Cruz and the Huracanes and Dominican Eddy Herrera, starting at noon. 

The festival runs until Jan. 20, and features daily carnival rides, food, drink and sales booths for everything from hats to jewelry to Indian figurines. A spot check Thursday showed that traffic control was adequate and tons of parking places are available. Palmares residents each year turn every bit of lawns, fields and pastures into parking for the festival, which is the biggest event there.

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica conducted a trip by 23 members and guests Thursday for the inaugural horse parade.

A member of the parade organizing committee said that riders like the Palmares Festival better than the traditional Dec. 26 event in San José because more facilities and space is available in his community. Among the facilities available at both events are beer vendors, and the riders were taking full advantage of that service under a warm sun Thursday. 

Inside the festival grounds, food tents and booths selling specialty food items were being readied. One vendor features fresh sugar cane juice that he produces with a gasoline-powered mill right on the festival grounds. Another booth sells what amounts to Salvadorian pitas, small tortillas split open and filled with vegetables, meats and sauce.

Another booth contains a vat of boiling vegetable oil for on-site production of churros, both filled and unfilled. These are the fragrant lengths of pastry that taste like donuts and go a long way toward filling the adult calorie requirements. 

The local police have been sent extensive reinforcements to provide coverage of every meter of festival grounds. They also will be on guard for drunk drivers because Palmares has few facilities for overnights. Spot checks and formal document checkpoints will be sprouting up between Palmares major highways. Each year several major accidents are blamed on unstable drivers returning from the festival.

A miniature horse and a not-very-tall handler brave the Palmares assembly area.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Gambling in San Jose

A new casino has opened in downtown San Jose. That makes nine, more or less, by my count, in roughly a 10-block area. This one, the Fiesta, is on Avenida Central, the cobblestone walking mall that goes from Paseo de los Estudiantes to the Central Mercado. I wonder how this new casino will affect this promenade, since prostitutes tend to congregate near the casinos.
In case you didn’t know, both gambling and prostitution are legal in Costa Rica. This fact attracts many tourists in search of easy gaming and pay-as-you-go (so to speak) sex.

I happen to be in favor of the legalization of both.

Anthropologically speaking, both prostitution and gambling would be considered universal traits, that is they exist in just about every society in the world past and present.

Many people (that is, more than one) have asked me what kind of gambling they have here. They feel uncomfortable going into a casino without some knowledge of the games. I can give you a nutshell course. Here, the most common games are "Tute," a form of poker and "Rommy" a form of blackjack. There is also craps, and roulette. And of course, just about every kind of slot machine you could want. Usually you buy special coins to play the slots (ranging from 25 to 100 colones or 7 to 30 cents U.S. in worth), but some machines take bills.

I haven’t played craps much, but it seems to be the same game as in Las Vegas. Rommy is usually played with four decks of cards. You get two cards, just as in blackjack, and then can ask for more. If you go over 21 you "bust." Making 21 with a face card and an ace, gets only even money. The big payoffs are on three of a kind or a straight of three numbers (3 to 1) Three sevens or six, seven and eight (which add up to 21) pay 5 to 1. Although normally you bust if you go over 21, if you have a straight or three of a kind, you still win.

To play Tute, the player puts up an ante. The minimum is usually 500 colones (or $5.00 if you are betting with dollars). You are dealt five cards, which only you see, and if you like your hand you make a bet, which must be twice your ante. The game only proceeds if the dealer holds a king or an Ace. If he/she doesn’t, you keep your ante. Winning pairs pay even money; two pairs 2 to 1, three of a kind, 3 to 1, a straight, 4 to one, flush, 5 to one, Full house, 15 to 1, poker, or four of a kind pays 20 to 1, and a straight flush 50 to 1. If you are feeling lucky, you can participate in the "acumulado" and add an extra bet on the side in 100-colon increments. If you get a straight or better, you win extra. Each casino is different in its pay off.

Roulette is U.S. style with a zero and double zero, which are green. All other numbers, up to 36, are red or black. Some casinos have a roulette wheel (the kind you see in 007 movies). All have the canasta, a round cage in which numbered ping-pong balls are whirled. You can bet the numbers or red or black, odd or even, sections of number, or even rows. You buy colored chips. Usually the buy-in is 5000 colones ($14.60). And unless you specify differently, are worth 100 colones each. Or you can buy dollar chips. The different colored chips are only to differentiate your chips from someone else’s. If you are a heavy bettor, be sure to ask what the maximum is because if you put out more and win, you will be paid only on the maximum bet allowed. 

The pay-off is 35 to 1 if you a bet a number "straight up" The pay-off goes down the more numbers you cover with one chip. To cover groups of numbers (like all odd numbers, or all black numbers) you can play the outside. If you bet the numbers, you’ll have to put at least four chips out there. The minimum on outside bets that pay two to 1 is a stack of five. On bets that pay even money, the minimum is usually 10 chips, whether dollars or colones. 

Most casinos do not pay you your winnings in cash at the tables. They will write a check which you cash in at the caja, or cashier. In some, you change your playing chips for "fichas de valor" and cash them in at the caja. 

Although the casinos in San Jose may not compete with those of Las Vegas or Cannes for size or glamour, they have their own particular offerings. All of them serve free drinks to gamblers, including fruit drinks; many of them serve free food. 

The Colonial regularly serves bocas to the players, and has special dinners; both the Aurola and the Barcelo Amon serve a free buffet (the Aurola on Fridays and Saturdays), and the Gran Hotel and the Del Rey will bring you a plate of food at your table. Some have periodic "rifas" worth thousands of colones, so don’t throw away that little numbered piece of paper they give you. It may be the only thing you win all evening. 

More Jo Stuart columns can be found HERE.

The roller coaster is smaller-scale than elsewhere, but there still are thrills along the Palmares midway.
Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos
Pacific view

Graphic based on temperature measurements from space show the development of much hotter than normal areas in the far western Pacific. Costa Rica is colored in black in the upper left. Temperatures appear above normal off the Pacific coast, too. 

Temperatures range from 14.5 to 29.8 Celsius (53.7 to 76.7 Fahrenheit), according to the scale below.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
graphic based on imagry from space
New 'El Niño' might be now growing in far Pacific
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has observed warming in the Pacific that could lead to the development of an El Niño weather system over the next few months. NOAA announced the findings, cautioning that it is too early to predict how significant the weather pattern may become.

The first signs of a developing El Niño are likely to be spotted in the tropical Pacific, according to NOAA, where Indonesia may experience seasonal rains less severe than normal. NOAA said it will be closely monitoring the changes in the Pacific weather patterns, and updating the public regularly.

The last El Niño took place in 1997-98, causing severe flooding rains and significant damage in the United States. Costa Rica and the United States are not expected to see its potential impacts until late summer, through the fall and into next winter.

"The magnitude of an El Niño determines the severity of its impacts," said Vernon Kousky, a climate specialist. "At this point, it is too early to predict if this El Niño might develop along the same lines as the 1997-98 episode, or be weaker," said Kousky.

The announcement is strongly supported by enhanced cloudiness and precipitation occurring over the equatorial central Pacific for the first time since the 1997-98 El Niño episode, the agency said. Indications for a warm episode, or El Niño, in the tropical Pacific was first noted in August 2001. 

"Considering the observed oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns and their recent evolution, it seems most likely that warm-episode conditions will develop in the tropical Pacific over the next 3-6 months," said Kousky.

"The first region on the globe to experience El Niño's impacts would be in the tropical Pacific," said Kousky. "Indonesia is likely to realize some relief from torrential rains. If El Niño develops as is presently indicated, the Pacific northwest will experience wetter than normal conditions in the fall. In the winter, Louisiana eastward to Florida, and possibly southern California, could also experience wetter than normal conditions, and the northern Great Plains will experience warmer than normal conditions."

The last El Niño took place in 1997-1998 and was extremely severe. NOAA's long range prediction of this El Niño led California to conduct major mitigation efforts leading to the reduction in losses of about $1 billion.

Historically, El Niño episodes have occurred every two to seven years and can last up to 12 months. More information can be found here:

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

NOAA's El Niño Theme Page: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/nino-home.html

NOAA's El Niño Home Page: http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/

Two persons killed
when vehicle flips

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons died Thursday morning near the town of Orotina and five young people suffered injuries when a Land Rover heading to San José from Jacó overturned.

The dead were identified as the driver, Andrés Orlich Madrigal, 18, and Andrea Córdoba Sanabría, also 18, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Motocyclist evades ambush
on road in Bello Horizonte

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men tried to ambush a motorcyclist about 8 a.m. Thursday in Bello Horizonte about 150 meters (about 490 feet) south of the principal entrance from the highway to Escazú.

The driver of the motorcycle managed to avoid the ambush but suffered a bullet wound to his stomach. He was identified as Hugo Murillo Rodríguez, 30, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

He went to San Juan de Dios Hospital where he was reported in stable condition after surgery.

Big new AIDS study
announced in U.S.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases has launched a long-term study on the management of anti-retroviral therapies in HIV/AIDS patients. About 6,000 people will be monitored for as long as nine years in the study, according to the institute.

The study will evaluate the two current alternate treatment courses followed by doctors and HIV/AIDS patients. One strategy is to begin highly active antiretroviral therapy early in the course of the disease. The other is to delay treatment until the body's immune system cell level falls to a critical level.

"There is no doubt that people living with HIV/AIDS have benefited greatly from the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy and other advances during the mid-1990s," notes Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the institute. "However, it is also undeniable that these powerful drugs cause serious side effects," he added. "To strike a balance between adequately aggressive treatment and minimal adverse side effects, we need hard data. SMART [the study] promises to provide just that kind of information to physicians and their patients."

Treatment and research centers in 21 U.S. locations will participate in the study, along with several other centers in Australia. More information is available at www.clinicaltrials.gov. Information about how to enroll in the clinical trials is available at www.actis.org.

Colombian troops circle
enclave held by rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Troops are closing in on a rebel-held enclave in the south of the country as they await orders from President Andres Pastrana on retaking the area.

The military movements Thursday come one day after President Pastrana said peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had collapsed. On Wednesday, Pastrana ordered the armed force known as FARC to abandon the Switzerland-sized enclave within 48 hours. He did, however, say the door to negotiations remains open.

The area was ceded to the rebels in 1998 in an effort to further peace talks, which have produced little results after more than three years. Critics say the FARC uses the enclave to hold kidnapped victims for ransom, traffic in narcotics and recruit members for its 17,000 member group. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the FARC's failure to seriously negotiate led to the talks' collapse.

The talks have stalled over rebel objections to military patrols around the zone. The government says the security measures are not negotiable. 

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the sides to continue negotiations, saying the conflict can only be resolved through a negotiated settlement.

For nearly 38 years, Colombia has been involved in a civil war involving the government, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade.

Bush joins chorus
for probe of Enron

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush has ordered a full investigation into the sudden collapse and bankruptcy of energy-trading giant Enron.

The Justice Department will conduct a criminal investigation, but Attorney General John Ashcroft has removed himself from that probe. Enron contributed to his unsuccesful bid in 2000 to win a U.S. Senate seat.

President Bush said his treasury, labor, and commerce secretaries will investigate why Enron workers were barred from selling company stock as its value plummeted and they lost their retirement savings. Bush said he wants the entire U.S. pension system examined to protect workers.

While Enron employees were barred from selling the stock out of their retirement pension plans, reports say Enron executives sold more than $1 billion worth of stock while it was at its peak. The White House said President Bush did not know that Enron chairman Kenneth Lay telephoned the treasury and commerce department secretaries just weeks before the company declared bankruptcy in early December.

President Bush has said he never discussed Enron's financial situation with Lay. He says the last time he saw Lay was at a political fundraiser early last year. The White House earlier acknowledged that Vice President Dick Cheney or his aides met six times with Enron executives last year, but said the company's financial position was not discussed.

Meanwhile, Enron's independent auditor, Arthur Andersen, has admitted some documents were destroyed or discarded during the last Enron audit. Officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission call that a very serious matter. Enron was the nation's largest buyer and seller of natural gas. It declared bankruptcy in early December. Enron stock, worth about $90 a share one year ago, is now valued at about 60 cents.

Fujimori calls himself
leader against terrorism

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

TOKOYO, Japan — Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori has broken months of seclusion with a passionate defense of his rule. In a lecture at Takushoku University, Fujimori portrayed himself as a leader who destroyed terrorism in his country. He illustrated his talk with a grisly video of alleged atrocities committed by the Maoist Shining Path rebel movement.

Hundreds of students showed up to see Fujimori speak, while dozens of Peruvian and Japanese demonstrators gathered outside the campus to protest his presence.

At a news conference following the speech, the university, which has a long-standing interest in South America, defended the decision to allow the former leader to speak. Professor Kazuo Ijiri, director of the school's Japan Cultural Research Department told reporters that they are not in a position to judge Fujimori. The former Peruvian president fled to Japan, the country of his parents, 14 months ago, following a corruption scandal involving his former right-hand man and intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos. 

Fujimori is on an international wanted list and is charged with corruption and sponsoring death squads, But he made no reference to his problems in his speech. The Peruvian government wants to extradite him, but he has secured Japanese citizenship and Tokyo says it cannot extradite a Japanese national.

Argentina puts peso
to the test today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Central Bank says official foreign exchange trading will resume today, following a three-week suspension. 

When the markets open, the newly devalued peso is being allowed to float in value against the dollar. For exports and some other international transactions, the peso will be fixed at 1.4 to the dollar. 

Last Sunday, President Eduardo Duhalde devalued the peso in a bid to bring Argentina back from the brink of financial ruin. The devaluation is the centerpiece of his plan to help Argentina, which is in default on its $141-billion debt and has been in recession nearly four years. 

Trading on the international currency markets was suspended last month, after President Fernando de la Rua resigned amid deadly protests over unpopular austerity measures. 

U.S. agency claims poverty has been reduced in Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Efforts to reduce the number of people living in poverty have proven successful in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a new report by a United Nations economic agency.

The report by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said that efforts to promote economic recovery during the 1990s were successful in most countries, at least as far as reversing the setbacks experienced during the 1980s.

About 211 million poor people live in Latin America, the commission said in the report, and of that number 89 million were classified as indigent, meaning they did not earn enough income to afford even the most basic food necessities. But during the 1990s, the number of indigents dropped by almost four million people, said the report, entitled "Social Panorama of Latin America 2000-2001."

The report said that during the second half of the 1990s, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and most Central American countries achieved significant progress in the fight against poverty. In South America, meanwhile, the "main tendency started with a slowdown, followed by stagnation and later some recovery, which in some cases translated into maintaining or worsening living conditions."

Among the countries where poverty fell, the report said it was "worth mentioning the important achievements of Brazil, Chile, and Panama, all of which successfully reduced its poverty rate by 10 percentage points." The report also said that in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Uruguay, the fight against poverty achieved some significant reductions, with the percentage of poor households falling from five to 10 percentage points.

But the report cautioned that the situation of those countries where poverty rates stagnated or even worsened during the 1990s "is worrying, because this suggests we're now dealing with two 'lost decades' in terms of advancing toward greater social equity." For example, in Venezuela, the percentage of poor households rose from 22 percent in 1981 to 34 percent in 1990, and now stands at 44 percent. Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay also failed to make significant progress, the report said.

Meanwhile, the number of unemployed people in 

the region rose from 7.6 million in 1990 to 18.1 million in 1999, and this unfavorable trend is likely to continue through 2001, said the report.

The increase in unemployment throughout the last decade affected primarily the countries of South America, especially Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, while the trend was less severe in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. In Mexico, and in most Central American and Caribbean countries, the prevailing trend was a drop in unemployment.

Job quality also declined in the region, the report said. Seven of every 10 new jobs in cities were generated in the informal sector. The commission  said in its report that unemployment has a "powerful impact on poverty and unequal income distribution" in the region.

A range of factors contributed to ongoing unemployment. The report said the labor market's weakness was compounded in many countries by governments' reduced role in generating jobs and restructuring of the productive system. Primary and secondary sectors "now account for a small share of employment, at the same time as new jobs have been generated primarily in tertiary areas," the report said.

Moreover, the report said the "intensive use of new technologies suggests that the formal or structured sector of the economy will become steadily less able to add to job supply."

Unemployment, the report said, affects low-income and young people disproportionately. But toward the end of the 1990s, unemployment began to have more of an effect on middle-income sectors. Similarly, the average time spent unemployed rose from 4.4 months to 5.3 months. 

The report said there was also evidence that those who managed to find employment after a lengthy period of joblessness did so at wages that were 23 percent to 34 percent less than in their previous jobs.

According to the report, the region's current high unemployment will probably tend to last, because economic growth for 2001 is forecast to reach less than two percent, a substantial drop from four percent in 2000.

The report is available, in Spanish only, on the commission web site at: www.eclac.cl

put at
about 460
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are about 460 complaints of sexual exploitation of children in the Costa Rican courts, according to a report Thursday by Casa Alianza, a non-profit organization that has been urging a crackdown on such crimes.

The organization should know because it said it has filed 300, or 65 percent of the complaints.

Casa  Alianza made the report as it announced that five men facing a multitude of charges involving making pornographic materials involving local minors have been bound over for another three months of judicial detention.

The men, who include a lawyer and an maintenance man at the University of Costa Rica, have been in jail since July 7 when they were arrested. They were given six months preventative detention then.

Preventative detention is used to hold persons believed to be dangerous or a flight risk while the case is coming to court.

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