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(506) 223-1327           Published Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 13             E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
About us

white elephant
to budget hotel

The Zeledón mansion
east of Parque Nacional
is the latest private home
to be converted
into a business,
in this case a hostel
for eco tourists.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Rains ease off, but new cold front is on way
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although rain in the Central Valley cleared up Tuesday, the emergency commission has not yet dropped the yellow alert it established Monday for areas along flooding rivers on the Caribbean slope and the Northern Zone. 

The weather institute says that another cold front is expected to hit the country sometime tonight and for this reason, the alert remains where it is, even though the 1,145 persons living in 14 shelters throughout the region have returned home for the most part, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. 

Tuesday afternoon only 108 persons still had not returned home, the emergency commission said.  The Gimnasio del Colegio de Bribri held 52 of the victims and 56 were
staying in Goshen de Matina.  Everyone in Sarapiquí and Siquirres has returned home,
the emergency commission said.  These two
towns had the most displaced persons Monday. 

However, the return home may be temporary.  Local emergency committees in the regions are urging citizens to stay alert in case the new cold front forces them to return to the shelters, the emergency commission said. 

Tuesday, the emergency committees were concentrating on bringing potable water to Siquirres and Matina and food and hygienic supplies to the families still in shelters.   

As a preventative measure, workers at the emergency commission ordered two semi trucks with soap, supplies and blankets should the population be forced to return to the shelters, but most of the rivers have returned to their normal levels.  Among them are the Frío, Reventazón, Pacuare, Barbilla and La Estrella.  The Río Sixaola near Margarita also had authorities worried but it has also returned to its normal level, they said. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 13

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Those age-old questions
are topic of forum talk

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

John Hutcherson will be the next lecturer at the monthly speaker's forum in Escazú.  Hutcherson' speech topic is “Cosmology.”

Sponsors said the talk will answer questions such as: What is a cosmology? Do I have one? How did I get it? Should I reexamine it?  Is there a consensus among the major spiritual traditions on the planet as to how the world is structured?  What can modern science tell us that confirms these ancient traditions?  What are the great laws that govern cosmological understanding?  How do I apply this understanding in a practical way to the problems of daily existence?  On a larger scale, what is my life about, and what happens when I die? 

Hutcherson has worked for more than 30 years with many different teachers, traditions and teachings in order to come to a comprehensive understanding of the world, said an announcement.  Included in these traditions are sources from Theravadan, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism, several Sufi orders, and Hinduism in the form of Advaita Vedanta and Samkya.  More contemporary teachers have included Rudolph Steiner, George I. Gurdjieff, John Bennett, Krishnamurti, and Murat Yagan, the announcement said.

These studies have been combined with an interest in science, particularly astrophysics and particle physics. Recent developments in both of these disciplines, and especially the 11-dimensional multi-verse of “string theory,” are revealing that we live in a far more interesting cosmos than was understood even just a few years ago, Hutcherson was quoted as saying.

He will be giving a one-hour talk, followed by time for questions Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Big Mike's Place, in Escazú.  Guests are invited to arrive at 6:30 for the snack bar and refreshments before the speech.  

Truck hijacking loot
found in Cartago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers with the Fuerza Pública in Cartago said they have broken up a gang of robbers who preyed on semi trucks near Puntarenas. 

An anonymous tip sent police to a building in Quircot, Cartago, Monday, they said.  After staking out the building all of Monday night, they finally raided it Tuesday morning, officers said.  Authorities said they found a cache of various articles that had presumably been stolen during the robberies on semi trucks.   

Among other stolen goods, officers said they found 89 refrigerators 9, 10, 12 and 13 feet in length worth some $23,000, officers said.  These were headed towards Honduras.  Officers reported that these were robbed Thursday at 8:30 p.m. when a truck driver was stopped by four men near Esparza, Puntarenas. 
The robbers unloaded the trailer in Hacienda Vieja de Curridabat and abandoned the truck cab.  Meanwhile, the trailer was attached to another truck that carried it to Cartago, police said. 

In the same building, officers said they found 8,000 cans of Petit juice that was going to be exported to El Salvador, but were stolen by armed men Dec. 9 in Cambronero, near Esparza, officers said. 

Government will return
tracts of land to Indians

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government will begin buying back 131,000 hectares of land in Indian reserves that are not held by Indians. The project will take 15 years at the planned rate.

The first land to be purchase is some 1,200 hectares in Terraba. the land will be used to develop production and tourist businesses there. Each hectare is 2.47 acres.

The government plans were outlined Tuesday at the weekly press conference following the consejo de Gobierno. Some 40 percent of land in Indian reserves or reservations is not in the hands of Indians, officials said.
When they land is purchased, it will not go to individual Indians but to development associations in each reserve.

Every mule will have
his special fiesta

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To celebrate the role of the mule in its colonization, the Canton of Parrita is holding a festival in its honor. 

The Festival Nacional de Las Mulas will run from Thursday through Jan. 29.  Organizers are planning mule and horse races, a tope, a rodeo, exhibition and sales of art, a tractor rally, dances, concerts, food and more. 
Early residents of Parrita on the Pacific Coast used the mule as their primary work animal to plow fields and transport their crops to market, organizers said.  

Desamparados planning
series of Sunday bike hikes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the roads are too much trouble to drive on, why not ride a bike?  The Municipalidad de Desamparados is organizing a series of Sunday bike rides for 2006.  The activity, Ciclismo Recreativo Desamparados Pura Vida, is part of program the municipality has organized to improve the local quality of life.

The rides are scheduled to happen the second and last Sundays of each month through November.  To participate, contact Carlos Rovira at 824-0550. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 13

White elephant finds new life as budget hotel in city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They used to call it a white elephant, the old family home downtown. But now it's yellow and the newest budget hotel in the city.

The business, Hostel La Casa del Parque, is so new that only two guests have registers since Monday. A lot more are expected because of the emphasis on eco-tourism and the $10 a night rate.

The structure is the 1928 art deco home built by coffee producer Roberto Zeledón. Living there now is the family of grandson José Rafael Echeverría Zeledón. He's a lawyer and poet who soon will take his office elsewhere, leaving the business in the hands of his son Federico and daughter Nana.

Echeverría's wife, Christiane Soto Harrison, is a noted Costa Rican artist who is proud that the family can turn the 3,000 square foot residence into a business operation.

"This is for eco people interested in nature, interested in art," she said, noting that a visitor will find good beds, clean bathrooms and plenty of hot water.

Because the family has substantial land holdings in the countryside, visitors can take advantage of trips to places not usually visited by tourists, including Tiquires, the largest private intermountain reserve on the Pacific in the Americas, she noted.

A trip through the house reveals a work in progress, with former family rooms being converted to commercial use. Some rooms contain eight beds in gender specific dormitory style. Planned are family rooms where two three or more persons can sleep. Some 14 beds are in service now with a total of 40 planned.

The setting on Avenida 3 at Calle 19 is east of and across the street from Parque Nacional. The Estación al Atlantico, now a museum, is just up the street. From the rooftop terrace nearly all of San José centro is revealed.

Federico is in charge of the hotel, and Nana will run the crepe restaurant, which also will serve salads,

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Christiane Soto Harrison and son Federico pose on the stone staircase of the home.

soup and Mrs. Soto's German chocolate cake. Nana spent time in Europe, but a chef is also being employed. The restaurant will serve the public when it is opened in May.

The building has had its ups and downs, from a palatial family home to being the terminal for the Limón bus route. It boasts tile and parquet floors with ceilings 10.5 feet feet high (3.2 meters). The art-deco style is softened with some art nouveau details. Roberto Zeledón spent two years in Europe before he built the house picking up the latest styles.

The new Hostel La Casa del Parque joins other sprawling family homes that have been converted into boutique hotels or hostels. It's Web page, too, is a work in progress, but it does contain contact information.

One of the balconies of the new hostel provides a gathering place for Federico Echerverría Soto in red shirt, his sister Nana and two visitors from Belgium, Stephen Askew and Yoost Yanssen. With them is 5-year-old Adrian.

Conditions delay recovery of U.S. citzens in plane
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Searchers had to make an hour-long hike through rugged terrain and thick jungle to reach the crash site where two U.S. citizens died Sunday.  The same rough landscape and the weather is forcing workers to wait until this morning to remove the bodies of Conrad and Nancy Randell of Des Moines, Iowa. 

The plane was discovered about 2:30 p.m. local time by the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea.  Bad weather and heavy cloud cover had forced aerial searches to remain grounded for the first two days of the search. 

The crash scene is about a mile southwest of the Volcan Irazú. That's about 15 miles east and slightly north of San José.

A farmer near the crash site at Finca Irazú in San Juan de Chicúa saw the plane flying low and heard the impact but couldn't spot the crash site.  The plane struck the mountain at approximately a 30 degree angle.  The nose of the plane was destroyed but the distinctive V-tail of the Beechcraft Bonanza the couple was flying was undamaged.
The couple was flying in a two-week excursion with the Baja Bush Pilots through Mexico and Latin America, family members said.  The Baja Bush Pilots are a group of recreational pilots that has sponsored the trip for more than 25 years.  This was the first time the couple had gone, said family members. 

Sunday they were flying towards Nicaragua from Panamá and had planned on spending the night in Costa Rica.  Air traffic control in Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas lost radio contact with the Randells when they were approximately 35 miles from the airport. 

The plane overshot the airport to crash into the towering volcano.

According to Angela Gwinn, one of the couple's three children, Wes, as Randell was known to friends, had been flying since he was 16 years old.   Randell, 69, worked for Wachovia Securities as an investment officer, his daughter said.

Autopsies will try to determine if there was a health factor in the crash.

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México struggles with economic impact of high crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A lot of attention has been focused on the millions of Mexican workers who are crossing the border illegally to find work in the United States. They fill jobs many Americans prefer not to take. They also reduce the unemployment problem in México, and the remittances they send back home benefit Mexico's economy.

But there is another group of émigrés México does not want to see leave: hundreds of middle and upper-class families have been buying properties in cities such as Houston and San Antonio to escape violent crime in their home country.  That has a negative impact on the Mexican economy. But their fears persist despite some significant advances in the fight against crime there.

In many Mexican border towns, the streets resemble shooting galleries, as rival drug gangs fight it out. Innocent civilians are sometimes caught in the crossfire. In México City, the biggest threat comes from kidnapping gangs. México is now second only to Colombia as the worst country for kidnapping.

Special Mexican police units created by President Vicente Fox have taken on organized crime and scored some successes reducing the incidence of certain types of kidnapping, assault and robbery.

But Mexican criminal justice expert Jorge Chabat says it's hardly enough.

"In terms of kidnappings, the problem is a little bit better. The problem has decreased in gravity because the federal agents who do the investigation in that area it is working pretty well, but only in preventing kidnapping,” he says. “When they are dealing with drug trafficking, the results are pretty bad, we do not see any success there."

Chabat says the enormous profits from the illicit drug trade fuel corruption and that taking out one gang leader only opens the way for others to move in.  He
says the climate of violence has a negative impact on the nation's overall economy.

"This is one of the associated costs of the insecurity. It is not only the people in the streets who pay for that, it is also the economy, the Mexican economy, that pays for that."

Part of the problem is the low regard Mexicans have for their police.  From her office at the Colegio de México institute of higher learning, Professor Cecilia Toro blames society at large for police corruption.

"Society is responsible for the kind of police we have,” she said. “You see Mexicans go out in the street and if they commit a minor infraction, the first thing they want is to give some money to the police to get rid of him. We do not really want the police we are asking for."

Ms. Toro says police officers who try to resist corruption and really pursue drug traffickers and other dangerous criminals often find themselves without adequate support.

"To be an honest police, bring this man to the court and know that the next day he will be on the street and probably trying to get you, I would not be a police in that situation," said the professor.

She says judicial reforms must go hand-in-hand with any attempts to modernize and professionalize police forces. Ms. Toro agrees with government officials who cite progress in some areas in the fight against crime. But she says the lucrative drug trade and the battles between rival factions have created a dangerous class of killers, who will continue to be a challenge.

"For very little, for 5,000 pesos, you can find someone who is armed and willing to kill someone." That's about $470.

She says facing the power of the drug trafficking gangs and the criminal community they have fostered is Mexico's biggest challenge.

U.S. not fazed by election of left-leaning Latin officials, White House says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States is willing to work with governments from across the political spectrum throughout the Western Hemisphere to advance a positive democratic agenda, says State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The recent election of left-of-center presidents in Bolivia and Chile has prompted speculation about the ability of the United States to work with these and other leftist governments in the Western Hemisphere.

At a press briefing Tuesday, McCormack told reporters that the United States looks forward to working with Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet, and he said that the U.S. ambassador already has met with President-elect Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The State Department official explained that these and other governments' left-of-center positions on the political spectrum would in no way deter cooperation with the United States.

"We are ready to work with governments throughout the hemisphere on a positive agenda that is based on
 the further spread of democracy, on good governance, and of the spread of free trade," he said.  "We are willing to work with governments across the political spectrum in the hemisphere on that agenda ... what is important, regardless of whether you're left of center [or] right of center in your political orientation, is how you govern."

McCormack said that the United States will have broader and deeper relationships with hemispheric nations that adhere to democratic principles, govern in a democratic manner and work to expand trade and business opportunities, but the United States nevertheless will work with those governments that do not share all these traits.

McCormack said that the United States does not view the recent elections of leftist governments in the Western Hemisphere as an anti-U.S. movement in the region, and he also dismissed concerns about the growing influence of China in Latin America.

He said the United States has encouraged China to become a participant in the international system, and China's expanding ties with Europe and South America reflect this process.

Surprise! Half of survey respondents think politicians are dishonest
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new global survey taken for the World Economic Forum shows at least half those polled believe politicians are dishonest, power-hungry, and easily influenced.

The Gallup organization carried out the poll for the World Economic Forum in November and December. It interviewed people in more than 60 countries to represent the opinions of two billion people.

The survey shows 61 percent believe politicians listen more to the powerful than to regular citizens, and about half said politicians are unethical and incompetent.
The poll shows about 80 percent of Africans distrust politicians while Americans and Western Europeans have a more favorable opinion.

The poll also shows a majority of Afghans and Iraqis believe the next generation will live in a safer world, while most Western European and Americans disagree.

Ironically, the World Economic Forum is where José María Figueres Olsen worked until his name became involved in Costa Rican corruption scandals.

Figueres, a former president, refused to return to Costa Rica to face questioning from a committee of the Asamblea Legislativa.

Jo Stuart
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