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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 22
Jo Stuart
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Whoops! Another reason to speak Spanish
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I had a really close shave in San Pedro Saturday, literally. My hair had grown out a bit too much, and it was time to head to the barbershop. A miscommunication with the barber, however, has left me substantially lighter on top then I intended to be.

The barbershop is located a few blocks east of Outlet Mall. It’s a simple place with a TV in the corner so you can catch the Saprissa game. I walked in at around 2 p.m. Saturday and took a seat in the first chair.

"Numero dos," I said motioning towards the assorted guards that attach to the electric razor. I had gone through the routine of ordering up a haircut with my limited Spanish before and found that pointing worked the best.

The barber quickly grabbed one of the guards and strapped it onto the razor. The blade guard seemed much smaller then the ones other barbers had used in the past, but before I could voice my concern, I had lost a sideburn. 

The barber had run the narrow blade down the side of my head and down my cheek, slicing through my sideburn and my beard. For the first time in months, I could see the pale skin on the side of my face. Apparently in this barbershop, a number two roughly equals a number 0.5. 

My eyes opened to the size of dinner plates and the barber seemed to notice my discomfort. "Mas Corto," he asked. "No," I countered. Of course I didn’t want it shorter. The barber pulled away as I moved towards the mirror and investigated my options. 

I had worked on my beard for three months, 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Closely shaved reporter writes his tale.
and now half of it was lying on the floor. Trying to layer the rest was out of the question. Half of my head would look normal, while the other half would look like I had an accident with a razor. 

Wait, I did have an accident with a razor.

The barber and I decided that the best course of action was to finish off the rest of my head in the same, short fashion. To his credit, he did a marvelous job with the rest of the hair cut, despite the fact that it wasn’t the cut that I wanted. All in all, I give the shop three stars. My advice, however, is to ask for a clipper guard that is twice the size that you think you will need.

Another hike OK'd in the pump price of gasoline
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s price control agency has approved a 5 percent average increase for gasoline and similar petroleum-based products.

The increase, which is one of a series, is being blamed on the world price of petroleum, the devaluation of the colón in relation to the U.S. dollar and changes in taxes imposed by the government.

The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, said the new prices would go into effect a day after the increase is published 

in La Gazeta, the nation’s official government newspaper.

For gasoline, the price increase will be about 15 colons a liter, from 355 to 370 for super (4.23 percent) and 340 to 353 for regular (3.82 percent).  Diesel will go from 254 to 264 a liter, an increase of 3.94 percent. Jet fuel is increasing 4.18 percent from 239 to 249 a liter. Aviation gasoline and liquid petroleum gas also will increase.

There are 3.8 liters in a U.S. gallon, and a U.S. dollar is worth 462 colons. So a gallon of super gasoline will cost about $3.04

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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Five pupusas on the grill, and each a great treat.

Don’t call ‘em pancakes;
They’re pu-pu-sas

By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Roman Garcia isn’t one for pictures. He turned and smiled for a second to appease a reporter’s request for one, but otherwise his mind was on the pupusas that were frying up in front of him. Roman Garcia seemed nice enough, but he was focused on those pupusas.

Roman Garcia runs a small soda downtown on Avenida 1, between Calles 3 and 5. His shop, "La Reina de las Pupusas" or queen of the pupusas, specializes in the small Salvadoran treats.

Pupusas aren’t much to look at, sort of like thick pancakes that are thrown onto the griddle. The little treats are exactly what you would expect from peasant food, however: surprising taste from an ordinary package.

Roman Garcia barely looked up as the cakes continued to sizzle away on the griddle. He answered every question with a one-word answer and bustled about the small stand fixing up the reporters order. "Where are you from," the reporter asked. "Here," Roman Garcia answered in a business-like matter.

Pupusas are a traditional dish from Salvador. Made from shredded pork, beans and cheese, these simple little treats are simply wonderful. The snacks are made from cornmeal dough that is filled with the pork, beans and cheese, and then flattened out into a disk that is about a half inch thick. They cook just like pancakes on a griddle and only take a few minutes to brown on each side.

Roman Garcia lifted the last pupusa off the grill, wrapped it in foil and tossed it into a bag. "Mucho Gusto," he said as he passed the bag over in exchange for 500 colons, a little more than $1. The pupusas had barely made it across the counter, before Roman Garcia was back to work, rolling out more pupusas, frying empanadas and stocking the shelves. Roman Garcia takes his pupusas seriously, and they are worth every business-like minute. 

Sulfur emissions targeted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sulfur emissions from diesel will be reduced in the next two years. This is according to the Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo. 

The process of reducing sulfur emissions began in 2003 when the amount went from 0.50 percent to 0.45 percent. The refineries aim is to get the level down even further by the end of 2008. 

Robbers kill bus worker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An early morning robbery Monday cost the life of a man who washed buses at a station in Curridabat.

Investigators said the 40-year-old man, identified by the last name of Hernández, died when robbers shot him about 2:30 a.m. A guard at the site, identified by the name of Duarte, suffered a bullet wound to the stomach. He was in Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Elderly man died in fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 80-year-old man died early Monday  when his home caught on fire in Quesada Durán on San José’s southwest side. The man, identified by the last name of Mora, was using candles for illumination, said investigators.

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Sexy Florida tour company is a front for the FBI
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Florida sex tourism company is a Federal Bureau of Investigation operation used to catch pedophiles. The bureau uses the Ft. Lauderdale-based, and Costa Rica is promoted as a lure where travelers can have romantic interludes with children.

A.M. Costa Rica first reported about the company Monday, in a story about the conviction of George Clarke, a former New Jersey middle school teacher. Clarke was arrested on a Costa Rican-bound plane in Miami after he made reservations through the bureau-operated Web site. 

Information regarding the bureau’s involvement with the sex tour agency was released during Clarke’s trial. During the course of the trial, the court revealed that the company was an FBI front that was used to gather evidence against Clarke. 

A representative from Taboo Vacations, Richard Baxter, declined Monday to comment on the firm’s involvement with the FBI. The spokeswoman at the bureau’s Miami 

office, Judy Orihuela, also refused to comment, stating, "The bureau can’t comment on an open case."

Clarke’s lawyer, David Markus, said that the bureau’s practice of operating as a false company and offering these tours bordered on illegal entrapment. "The FBI can’t be allowed to fabricate these types of cases," he said during a telephone interview Monday.

The Web site for the company featured a picture of the Amón Plaza Hotel in San José. The assistant of the president at the hotel, Kritle Fallas, was not aware of the bureau’s involvement in the case. "We noticed the picture several months ago and took action to remove ourselves from the Web site," she said Monday at the hotel. "We do not condone those types of activities, and we do not want to be associated with them."

However, the photo is still there giving the impression the Amón Plaza is a place where sexual activity takes place with underaged individuals. The sex tour Web site offers airfare, hotel stay and "taboo companions." The site’s confidential information form asks for personal data as well as tour interests, including the preferred age of a companion. The site lists preferences that include ages 12 and under.

Minister will try to get morals campaign going
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco government will try to jump start its flagging morality campaign this week.

Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, vice minister of Seguridad Pública, said she will send letters to the Ministerio de Salud and the Municipalidad de San José asking them to enforce a presidential decree.

President Abel Pacheco issued a decree last April 26 in which he set strict standards for Internet cafes and set up a certification program for those Internet locations that filter all their computers against pornography.

However, little has been done until now. The program also requires massage parlors to employ persons trained and certified in massage and to use only the 

type of beds typical for massage treatments. Massage parlors frequently are fronts for prostitution.

Minister Chacón said that enforcement of the presidential decree is basically in the hands of the municipality that oversees licensing standards. However, certain  aspects are responsibilities of the Ministerio de Salud.

Another target of the decree are video game parlors that the administration sees as unhealthy hangouts.

Pacheco has been pushing the Internet cleanup since July 2003. However, there was been little action. Some Internet cafe operators are unhappy with the way the decree sets up a specific percentage of computers and a separate location for viewing pornography. The decree also bars youngsters from being in the Internet establishments after certain hours, depending on age.

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Joint border project for Hondurans and Nicaragua
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Honduras and Nicaragua have asked the Organization of American States for technical and financial assistance for a border project that would help promote better relations between the two countries.

In a statement, the organization said the two countries issued a joint request to acting Secretary-General Luigi Einuadi for assistance in resolving problems caused by the diversion of the Rio Negro. The river diversion is a result of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated Central America in October and November 1998.

An organization spokesmen said the Rio Negro makes up a significant area of the international border between Honduras and Nicaragua. The requested assistance would go toward the project to protect and fully develop the river's basin.

Einaudi said "the fact that the two countries jointly made the request assures favorable acceptance" by the organization’s Fund for Peace, which is involved in fostering confidence-building measures that would reduce tensions and maintain peace.

The United States has provided financing for the fund's effort involving Honduras and Nicaragua and also for the fund's work on resolving a border dispute between Belize and Guatemala.  Other contributors to the fund have included Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Mexico and Spain.

The OAS said that in February 2001 tensions surfaced between Honduras and Nicaragua around claims and counterclaims of violations of the confidence-building measures.  The OAS was able to complete a technical verification agreement that more clearly defined existing confidence-building measures and established additional measures to reduce tensions between the two countries.

The border project between Honduras and Nicaragua, called the Binational Border Development Plan, would promote education, social development, environmental conservation and the "economic integration" of the region.

The organization has said that the commitment of both Nicaragua and Honduras to settle past boundary disputes peacefully has, with the support of the international community, helped transform a crisis situation into a climate of "calm, respect, and confidence."

Hurricane Mitch killed more than 9,000 people, and destroyed about 60 percent of the infrastructure in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, demolishing bridges and washing away many roads.  About 2 million people were left homeless by the hurricane.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has been involved in several areas of Hurricane Mitch reconstruction in Nicaragua, including dam-safety training programs, health clinic inspections, riverbed realignment, and small-bridge design.

European Union suspends its sanctions against Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European Union foreign ministers meeting here have suspended diplomatic sanctions against Cuba, following the Communist country's release of several political dissidents. 

The European Union says it is ready to give Cuba a chance to improve its human rights record and move gradually toward a more pluralistic society. 

It has thus lifted measures imposed a year-and-a-half ago that virtually froze normal diplomatic relations between the Communist island and the 25-nation bloc.

Those measures, imposed after Cuba cracked down on opponents of the Fidel Castro regime, included a ban on 


high-level contacts. The Europeans also angered the Cubans by inviting dissidents to functions at their embassies in Havana.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, says the bloc decided to change its policy toward Cuba after the authorities on the island released 14 of 75 dissidents, whose imprisonment sparked the E.U. sanctions.

He says he and his colleagues stress the need to support a process in Cuba that will lead to democratic pluralism and respect for human rights and basic freedoms.

But he also said that the EU will review the suspension of sanctions within the next five months, after closely monitoring the results of its new policy.


Jo Stuart
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