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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 9             E-mail us    
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Fabio Araya and son Johnny
. . . San José mayor and dad

Palmarin is festival mascot
. . . apologies to Disney

Francisco  Gonzales
. . .tourism officer


Tope draws
crowds
and traffic
to Palmares

Photos by José Pablo Ramírez Vindas


Pavo and owners José Luis Flores Marín and Ronald Flores Delgado of Escazú.  They dressed the horse up to please the crowds.

Tránsito officers anxious to get every drunk driver
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fiestas de Palmares is off to a good start, but the traffic on the routes to the town are daunting.

Even Thursday, a normal work day, lines at the toll booths on the Autopista General Canãs were two kilometers long, more than a mile.

One problem was that traffic for Palmares mixed with regular traffic headed to the Pacific beaches and other users of the interamerican highway.

Palmares is about 50 kilometers (about 32 miles) west of San José. Tránsito officers have promised
 to stop every vehicle in their efforts to catch every drunk driver. They had roadblocks up Thursday.

Results are not in yet, but they must have had a few customers. Guaro, the Costa Rican sugar cane liquor, and beer flowed freely at the tope horse parade and at stands in the fiesta grounds.

Karla Gonzáles Carvajal, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, was the marshal of the tope. She rode in a carriage with her daughter.

The fiesta runs until Jan. 22, and next Friday at 5:30 p.m. is the time for the fiestas carnival. The biggest attendance is on weekend evenings when rides and beer tents are in full swing.


Tope fans are seven deep
. . . the event comes once a year


Karla Gonzáles Carvajal, transport chief
. . . and daughter Camila


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 9 

Costa Rica Expertise
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Uses of free e-mail service
will be upgraded Monday


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Improvements to one of Costa Rica's major internet and e-mail providers will take effect Monday.

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., known as RACSA, announced that it will be upgrading the accounts of all 350,000 persons who are customers of the free service costarricense.cr. The users will get a larger e-mail capacity, an online personal agenda and the new RACSA instant messaging system.

The upgrade is similar to what RACSA did with its paid service late last year.

Costarricense.cr was set up as a fall back so that every Costa Rican who wanted one could have basic e-mail and Internet service at no cost.

The company's Web site indicates that the changes should not cause any interuption to the current e-mail system, and that the new services will be available from the same site which otherwise will remain generally the same. However, the Web page of costarricense.cr does recommend that users backup their data.

Technicians suggested that mail folders and address books be saved to either external memory or to a hard drive to minimize the possibility of loosing such information. Those who have free Web pages on the system will be getting new Internet addresses, costarricense.cr said.

The RACSA instant messenger system is a latecomer. many Costa Ricans already use the international systems, such as Yahoo and MSN.


Street arts performers
will gather next month


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Presentations of street art forms from around the world will arrive to San José next month in the second annual Arte de la Calle.

Griot Collective, the group responsible for organizing Arte de la Calle 2, said that the festival is meant to showcase educative art work that promotes inclusion and equality and is free from any form of discrimination.  

There will be over 100 acts representing artistic styles such as hip hop, danza, spoken word, graffiti, breakdancing, reggae, rock and others, reported the organization.   

One of the musical groups planning to attend is the U.S. reggae-rock Vegitation  from Ocean Beach, California.  Vegitation has been touring through the U.S., Jamaica, México, and most recently The Netherlands.  Samples of the music are available online.

The festival takes place between Feb. 10 to Feb. 17 in Plaza Roosevelt, located on the south side of the San Pedro Outlet Mall.  More information is available on a Web site at www.griotcollective.org.


Call center in San José
is purchased by Stream


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Stream, a global outsourcing company, has announced the acquisition of a Supra Telecom contact center in San José.

Stream's Costa Rica facility will provide English and Spanish-language support for clients in North America, Latin America, and Spain, the company said.

 "The acquisition of this facility in San Jose is a logical step in Stream's strategic plan for growth," said Toni Portmann, Stream CEO and president. "The location complements our worldwide Smart Shore support strategy and has the unique ability to provide a nearshore solution for clients in both the Americas and Spain," he added.

Stream is a provider of outsourced technical support and customer service for software publishers, computer hardware manufacturers, consumer electronic companies, and Internet service providers.

With the opening of Stream's San Jose facility, the company has now launched three sites in the Caribbean and Latin American region over a period of 18 months. The company's global reach now includes 27 sites in 15 countries, said the firm.


Youngsters can enjoy
hallowed Saprissa turf


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Young, aspiring soccer stars have an opportuntity to fine tune their skills during a weekend celebration in the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.

More than 2,500 younsters belong to the Saprissa soccer academies, and many of them are expected to take advantage of the chance to play against one another, and also practice their technical and tactical skills on the turf of the current national champions.

The weekend is dedicated to a celebration of Saprissa founder Ricardo Saprissa Aymá, who was also the president of the team from 1948 to 1981.  He died in 1990, but not before seeing to it that Saprissa became the first Costa Rican team to have its own stadium. 

Also known as the Cueva del Monstruo (“monsters cave,”) the Saprissa stadium will be available to youngsters today from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., reported a team spokesman. The team is playing an away game in México.


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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 9 






$5,000 for 500 visas = $2.5 million
Asian passport ring tried to bribe immigration chief, cops say

By Arnoldo Cob Mora
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The offer was a bold one. The woman who contacted the immigration director wanted two illegal residents set free and later the delivery of 500 visas. The woman was ready to pay $20,000 on account and follow up with $5,000 for each visa.

The offer alerted Mario Zamora, the director general of Migración y Extranjería exactly how deep corruption runs in his domain.

Zamora decided to play along and also contacted his boss, Fernando Berrocal, minister de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The attempted bribes and the blatant nature of the offer became public Thursday as investigators started to roll up a ring that was bringing Chinese nationals into Costa Rica. Caught in the crackdown was an assistant in the budget office of the Asamblea legislativa, a Chinese woman who held 30 passports and six illegal Chinese residents. More arrests are expected, said Francisco Segura, acting director of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Segura, Zamora, Berrocal and Francisco Dall'Anesse, the nation's chief prosecutor, appeared at a press conference Thursday afternoon to describe the scheme.

Immigration has long been known as a place where strange things happen, and an investigation of fraudulent visas dates back to the Abel Pacheco regime. At one point more than 1,000 visas were being issued to Chinese citizens each year.
It was in November when Zamora said he had been approached. The $20,000 he accepted went into a Poder Judicial bank account set up for the sting. Berrocal said that the criminals first contacted the director of the immigration police, Francisco Castaing, to try to get to Zamora.

Zamora said he played along by ordering the release of the two men who had been held in the immigration lockup. An undercover judicial agent later played the part of an intermediary.

Officials said that the Chinese men were being brought to the country to work as low-paid help in various restaurants and businesses. They said that the passport and visa ring was a very well organized criminal operation.

The assembly worker, identified by the last name of Garita, was detained near the assembly building. The 38-year-old Chinese woman, identified by the name of Tan was reported carrying 30 passports that were in the process of being stamped for visas to Costa Rica.

In a Chinese restaurant agents detained six Chinese men. Police chased down a minibus containing Chinese citizens in Barrio los Ángeles in San José after following it through east San José. The woman was reported to be among those who had direct contact with the director of immigration.

In all, Zamora turned down $2.5 million in bribes.

Raids also were made on locations in San José and Cartago, Segura said. Later raids took place in the La Cosecha supermarket in Sabanilla, in a business at San Diego de La Unión and at the Fu Hang restaurant in San Carlos.


From one great meal to another and conversations, too!
This is another one of those weeks when food has been in the forefront.

The week began with a potluck lunch (read banquet) at Joan and Lenny’s home in La Guacima.  From roast turkey to chocolate cheesecake, there was more than I could sample before running out of appetite.  Guacima, just a half-hour or so from San Jose (and a number of meters closer to sea level), was bathed in lovely warm sunshiny weather — something we haven’t had in San José for a few days.  Well, it has been sunny, but that refreshing breeze sometimes more closely resembles a cold wind.

Then, because this has been a birthday week for me, there were the pleasant lunches out.  I enjoyed another mojito at the Grano de Oro where soon they will be opening their new patio restaurant.  I am still trying to make a mojito at home, but just as I thought, I will need a pestle and mortar. 

My second lunch was at El Mediterraneo in Pavas, which has become my favorite Italian restaurant on this side of town.  Like my favorite Italian restaurant on the east side, Il Ritorno, El Mediterraneo has as many tables as possible crowded into the small space, and it can get pretty noisy with the animated diners doing what dining out encourages — having good conversations. 

The food almost invariably is delicious, well prepared and quite reasonable. The waiters are some of the nicest and most attentive one could hope for.   They are gracious and helpful when my friend Sandy and I say we want to ‘compartir’  (share) our orders.  There are even a few tables out in front.  The only problem is that the parking is too.  My plan is to test at least three times the salmon in both restaurants to decide which is better.

Perhaps I have been so conscious and appreciative of food and restaurants lately because I have been reading Mimi Sheraton’s book, “Eating my words.”  She also talks about the cost, location and design of restaurants and the space allotted each diner, which, she says explains why some restaurants will rush you out (by giving you your bill) as soon as you are finished with your meal.  This has never happened to me in a restaurant of any kind in Costa Rica — so far.  You must ask for your check before the waiter will bring it.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 
Ms. Sheraton is a retired food and restaurant critic who has reviewed every type of food establishment from the Four Seasons and La Grenouille in New York City to institutional food in prisons to airline fare to the meals catered to the stars when they are on location. 

She found that Clint Eastwood was happiest when he could make his own breakfast, which I will share with you since we can get all of the ingredients in Costa Rica, and probably everywhere, and it sounds pretty healthy to me. 

So, start your day (note: I did not say ‘make’) with “a toasted flour tortilla filled with albacore tuna, celery, parsley, tomato, lettuce, sprouts, lemon juice, pepper, mayonnaise and a slathering of hot salsa.”  You can’t get much healthier than that, and it is suitable for any time of the day.

Saturday is going to be another day of eating.  Sandy, who hosts the Perros Calientes group (and by the way, Mimi Sheraton loves hot dogs, too), has decided a January thanksgiving turkey dinner is appropriate for the members and guests.

The rest of my month is going to involve more dining out.  Friends are visiting from California and Norway beginning the 14th.  Since we will be traveling, we will be dining out, and I may be incommunicado. 

Have you ever noted that if you take the “e” (for eating) out of feast you get fast?  I now have just two days to fast before I continue this marathon of feasting.



Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A good Life in Costa Rica,” is available through 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional. Or contact Ms. Stuart at jostuart@amcostarica.com.





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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 9 




Ortega commits Nicaragua to Chavez' Bolivarian alternative
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nicaragua's new president, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, enlisted his nation into the Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina Thursday.

This is a Hugo Chávez-inspired alternative to capitalism, the United States and free trade. Other members are Bolivia, Cuba, as well as Venezuela.

Chávez, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Ramón Machado, vice president of Cuba were present at an afternoon ceremony when Ortega signed the agreement. Chávez then announced that Venezuela will build a petroleum refinery in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua will own the refinery and Venezuela will be a minority partner, Chávez said. Capacity is 150,000 barrels a day, said Chávez, adding that Nicaragua could sell the excess refined products on the world market.

Chávez sells petroleum below the world market price to gain political influence in Latin America. He bankrolled some of Ortega's successful presidential campaign.
However, sources in Nicaragua said that Ortega has no plans to ditch the country's free trade treaty with the United States, which is a primary market.

Chávez, who was sworn into office again this week has announced plans in Venezuela to change the constitution to eliminate term limits and to rule by decree. He also said he would nationalize telecommunications and electrical firms.

Chávez has declared himself as wanting to build a socialism for the 21st century. He also is building up his military at home, suggesting that he has plans in that area.

Chávez has been unclear on exactly what his Bolivarian revolution and move to socialism means. He also has not said if he plans to compensate the owners of companies he takes over.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, and Ortega seems to be developing a strategy of taking aid from all comers. He had a cordial session with Taiwanese leaders this week even though the People's Republic considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province.


Press group asks world to keep an eye on Chávez and decline of democracy
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The InterAmerican Press Association has expressed deep concern and alarm at what it called an ongoing decline in  civil liberties and press freedom in Venezuela following President Hugo Chávez’ speech during the inauguration of his second presidential term.

The organization called on the international community to keep a close watch on developments in the South American country and to be worried of any deterioration of democracy there.

Rafael Molina, president of the hemispheric press group declared, “We have for several years now been denouncing the government of Venezuela for its constant violations of press freedom. What may now come as a surprise to many, to us is nothing but ongoing  government action to curtail democracy in order to govern at will, without a free press.”

Molina, editor of the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, newspaper El Día, recalled that the InterAmerican Press
Association has conducted eight missions and emergency forums on press freedom in Venezuela since Chávez took office, more than in any other country.

“It very clear that the deterioration of press freedom in Venezuela is no mere coincidence, but part of a deliberate strategy aided by the lack of independence of the branches of government and with a clear ideological objective,” he said.

In its strongest censure of the government stranglehold on the news media and individual journalists, the organization cited the inclusion in Venezuela’s Constitution of a clause requiring “truthful information,” the passage of a gag law (Law on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television), reform of the Penal Code making contempt of public officials a criminal offense, and raising penalties for libel — all measures that are steadily being eliminated in other Latin American countries.

Editor's Note: A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the InterAmerican Press Association.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 9


Marathon winners here will get entry to big Miami race
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Approximately 200 runners are expected to participate in Saturday's off-road Jungleman Marathon and Half Marathon in Puerto Viejo, Limón, and the winners will gain prize money and entrance to the Miami marathon at the end of the month.

Participants are expected to run nine miles of the course through the shaded jungle-trails in the Parque Nacional Cahuita and the remaining 17 miles on the sandy beaches of the Carribean coast.  While the off-road course should pose a challenge to even the most experienced marathon runners, organizers said that there are only a few areas of elevation with most of the trails just above sea level.

Racers not only have to run a substantial distance over sand,
but they are expected to carry their own water between the six filling stations.  This is because organizers of the race want to protect the beaches and parkland from litter. 

Prize money amounting to approximately $3,000 will be split equally among the first-place finishers.  Categories include a women's, men's and masters division at both lengths.  Races begin Saturday at 7 a.m. and basic entrance is $20, with more expensive packages available.

The initial race report said that with the assistance of the Fuerza Pública, the Cruz Roja and volunteers from Exploradores Outdoors, the proper security and emergency bodies are ready for the fourth annual Jungleman Marathon.  Organizers said that they are now hoping that there is good weather this weekend, and that tides are low to provide the runners with a wider raceway.


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