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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 25          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Election climax takes the brew out of the bowl
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The most-watched sporting event in the United States will happen Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks battle the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XL in Detroit.  In the United States, rabid fans everywhere will be congregating in bars and at friends' houses to watch the two NFL powerhouses duke it out for the title, starting at 5 p.m. 

In Costa Rica, Superbowl Sunday is better known as election day.  Around the country, 11,000 Fuerza Pública officers will stand guard at 6,163 voting booths as Ticos register their vote for their favorite candidate.  Óscar Arias Sánchez with the Partido Liberación Nacional is favored in the polls.  His closest competitor is Ottón Solís, according to polls. 

The Fuerza Pública officers will also be enforcing the ley seca,  the law that prohibits the sale of alcohol from 12 midnight Friday night until 11:59 p.m. Monday because of the elections.  All bars must be closed for three days.  For many football – not fútbol – fans, the lack of a big screen television and a frosty mug is nothing less than horrible. 

A North American here bemoaned the horrible juncture of the Costa Rican electoral process and election day. His e-mail drew unsympathetic replies such as “Then buy your beer on Friday, moron.”

For those who must watch the game with alcohol in hand, but don't want to stock up and stay at home, a couple of options exist. 

The Sportsman's Lodge in Barrio Amón is having a bring-your-own-booze party, said owner Bill Alexander.  There will be no cover charge. The game will be on in English, and mixers and food will be for sale, Alexander said.  Last year, a similar shindig drew some 170 persons. This year, Alexander is expecting more despite the alcohol ban, he said. 

Workers at many popular Gringo hangouts like The New York Bar, Nashville South, Tica Irlanda, Bar Poas and Mac's American Bar said that their establishments would be closed.

But some bar and restaurant workers said they knew of private parties held in the back rooms of certain bars where a $30 cover charge will buy food, drinks and a place to watch the game. 

Some other North American establishments will be showing the game minus the booze.  William Russi, owner of Rock & Roll Pollo, said that his restaurant will be showing the game and serving food as well as non-alcoholic beverages.  Rock & Roll Pollo in Santa Ana has seven televisions.  Big Mike's Place in Escazú is also showing the game at a private party but reservations are required.  The Casino Colonial is showing the game in its upstairs lounge. And the sportsbook at the Horseshoe Casino has the Seahawks up four points.

To many Costa Ricans, the Superbowl is barely a blip on the social radar, but North American football is slowly gaining popularity here.  English teachers at the Universidad Latina will be squaring off against their students in a game that organizers are characterizing as a clash of cultures. 

For the rest of Costa Rica, the real battle is between the two presidential candidates.  For many voters, the election is a single-issue topic.  Arias supports the Central American Free Trade Agreement while Solís wants to renegotiate with the United States.  Costa Rica is the only country in the agreement that has not ratified it.

Under Costa Rican law, a candidate must win 40 percent of the vote to be declared president.  If this doesn't happen Sunday, the top two candidates – probably Arias and Solís – will face each other in a runoff.  Speculation is that if Arias doesn't win in the first round, Solís will be the lesser of two evils for those who chose neither candidate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 25

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The five-story wing ravaged by fire July 12 at Hospital Calderón Guardia is gone but not forgotten. Work crews have pretty well leveled the structure where 19 died.

Labor ministry receives
$40,000 in technology

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U. S. Department of Labor has donated 32 pieces worth $40,000 of computer equipment to the Ministerio de Trabajo.

The equipment includes  17 computers, five laser printers for the regional offices of the Ministry and 15 more for the central offices, inspection department, information center and other units.

According to the Minister Fernando Trejos, this donation is important to the inspection department because, that will improve the handling of the many complaints received by the Internet.

The information center is where citizens get information about labor rights.

Pineapple crop worth
$300 million in exports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The increasing demand abroad for Costa Rican pineapple didn't lag in 2005, said the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

According to statistics from the Programa Nacional de Píña, more than 850 small and medium sized famers along with 60 large ones grew pineapples on 25,000 hectares throughout the year.  Their crops yielded $300 million in exports, the program said. 

Desamparados attacks
leave two wounded

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men were wounded in separate incidents within a half-hour of each other in San Antonio de Desamparados Wednesday night in rapid assaults that put both victims in the hospital. 

Marcial Villalobos Sánchez entered his house at approximately 9 p.m. that night and was attacked by three bandits, said agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization.  One of the three shot the 60-year-old victim in the left side of the throat leaving him in delicate condition in Hospital San Juan de Díos, agents said.

A half hour later, 20-year-old Carlos Jiménez González was walking through the park in the town talking on his cellular phone when a man attacked him, stabbing him in the right side of the throat before stealing Jíménez's phone, agents said. 

There was no indication that the two crimes were related. 

Our reader's opinion
Funds reserved for airport
being used elsewhere

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The cash cows are alive and well in Costa Rica

A recent report on the revenues of the civil airport system in Costa Rica revealed what we all suspected.
It seems that 54 percent of the money collected in those high fees and taxes which by law (Article 166 of the Civil Aviation Law) is mandated to only be spent on maintaining and building aviation systems seems to disappear into the coffers of the government. 

Sounds just like the money collected on fuel taxes and vehicle inspections that by another ignored law should be spent only on roads. Since the government has no effective tax collection system to go after taxes owed by the public, these cash cows are too tempting to pass up.  So the very people that passed the laws to protect the revenue source are the ones reaching through the fence to steal the milk. 

Bring the issue before the supreme court and force them to obey their own laws?  Nah.  That’s already been tried and the ruling ignored.  I don’t think CAFTA has much of a solution for politicians that ignore their own laws.

CAFTA will definitely dry up the easy milk of the high import taxes collected on cars and other goods.  Who knows?  Since they can’t collect the taxes that are already on the books, maybe they can pass the president's agenda of creating $500 million in new taxes.

Phil Mattingly
Transplant from
La Paz, Mexico

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 25

There really is life outside of the City of San José
Finally, I bit the bullet and agreed to visit my friend Sandy in Tilaran.  Getting there got off to a bumpy start as my original ride lost a muffler in a pothole, then the second driver, from Grecia, spent an hour trying to find my apartment building.  But eventually Alonzo and I set off, only to find ourselves caught in the bottleneck on the highway in front of the airport.  The trip though the mountains is a joy of vistas that change constantly.  Trucks, of all sizes, I found, dominate the two-lane highway over the mountains and dictate the flow of traffic. (Slow.) Reestablishing the train that used to go from San José to Puntarenas, I think, is vital.

Once into the Province of Puntarenas, the scenery changes dramatically. Here there are rolling hills, large pasture lands, and fewer trees. Houses are few and far between. Beginning in the 1960s and encouraged by foreign investment and demand, Costa Rican farmers decided to diversify and raise beef cattle.  Guanacaste was where most of the cattle ranches were located. Forests being turned into pastureland has been blamed for the persistent droughts in the area.  Another unfortunate side effect was the loss of work for many peons since fewer hands are needed to round up cattle than to grow coffee, bananas or rice.

Having heard that the road conditions were terrible, I expected the worst and found the roads quite good — until we got to Tilaran and the road that leads to and from the house where Sandy and Roger live.   I have never seen potholes the likes of those, and so many of them!   Later, when Sandy and I drove to the restaurant “The Black Horse,” I had to close my eyes to keep from having a heart attack as time and again Sandy had to drive off the ridge of the road to avoid potholes. On the right there was nothing to stop us from rolling down the steep hill leading to Lake Arenal.  Sandy has lost two tires to potholes in the past few months.  Intrepid indeed, are the tourists who venture into that territory.

The house that Roger built is a work of art.  The ground floor is taken up with the garage and utility rooms.  The second floor is the living space, all of it open except for the bedrooms and adjacent baths.  A verandah runs around the entire building.  All of the
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

woodwork was done by Roger — well, the entire house was.  And it is warmer and snugger than my breezy apartment.  It has to be, I guess, since Tilaran means ‘place of wind and rain,’ and it usually lives up to its name.

Willy and Monica, along with their triplet daughters, run The Black Horse Restaurant and the adjoining gift shop.  The family (along with Sandy and others) is involved in rescuing stray animals, getting them neutered and finding them homes since, as yet, there is no animal shelter in the area.  Sandy and Roger have three cats and two dogs – so far.

The restaurant was a great place to comfortably bird watch.  While we were eating, we saw a half dozen different birds at the bird feeder, including some magpie jays that truly looked and acted as if their ancestors could have been dinosaurs.

The weather turned beautiful my second day, but I was there to work with Sandy on the final proofing of my book, so we spent the time inside.

Returning to San José was much easier and faster with Sandy doing the driving (going to Tilaran I had a driver who had never been there before himself).  As we approached the city and we saw the first large cluster of homes in the distant valley, I evidently breathed aloud the words, “Ah, civilization.” because Sandy burst out laughing at my incorrigible preference for city life. I did confess to her that the air smelled slightly used compared to the fresh air in the country. 

The next day it turned cold and rainy in the city – as bad as any weather I had encountered in Tilaran. Sometimes it takes a strong constitution as well as courage to be a city girl 


A selection of Costa Rican bagels goes well with a thick layer of Dos Pinos cream cheese

That Gringo donut continues to be a best seller here
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bagels have made strong inroads into Costa Rica just like they have in other parts of the world.

Here the so-called Gringo donuts are made by two competing companies. Bagelmen's and Boston Bagel, are the principal suppliers.

Just 30 years ago bagels were unknown in most of the United States. It was primarily a New York Jewish food.

Malcolm Matheson, his wife and daughter, opened Bagelmen's at a single Barrio Calfornia location here in 2000. Now his company has five locations, including one in Escazú.

He said Thursday that his firm soon will open locations in Belén and in Jacó.

Boston Bagel is on the Pavas highway. This firm supplies Pricemart. Bagelmen's also has supermarket and hotel customers.

Matheson estimated that his firm produces from 4,000 to 4,500 bagels each day, 362 days of the year. That's from 1.5 to 1.6 million individual bagels a year just from his firm. Published accounts say that Boston Bagel produces about 1,000 a day.

Bagels are a good business. International consultants
estimate that an individual bagel costs just 10 cents to produce. Here in Costa Rica six Bagelman's bagels sell at Hipermas for 989 colons, about $1.97. Boston Bagel sells a baker's dozen of 13 for takeout at its Pavas location for 2,370 colons, an employee said. That's $4.73 at Thursday's exchange rate.

Of course, the retail cost at a restaurant is higher. Bagelman's sells a bagel lathered in cream cheese for 615 colons, some $1.23. Cafe Milagro on Calle 7 downtown sells a similar bagel with a tiny scoop of  cream cheese for 750 colons, $1.50.

Bagel experts as well as Matheson point out that the secret to a good bagel is that the dough is first boiled and then baked, This provides the shiny coating, not to mention the crunchy layer. He first stores his uncooked bagels overnight in refrigeration.

For the calorie conscious, Brueggers, the U.S. chain, reports that the typical bagel is from 320 to 400 calories with 2 grams of fat and 12 grams of protein. Plain cream cheese is about 130 calories for a normal 43-gram serving and contains  11 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein, the chain says on its Web site.

Light cream cheese, made with skimmed milk, is about 100 calories with 6 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein for a similar size serving, it says.

Of course, the plain bagel or the traditional salt or onion bagel have given way to enormous variations. The bagels and lox now can be bagels and anything.

You need to see Costa Rican properties for sale
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A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 25

Federalism, not morality, was the issue
Assisted suicide decision centers on technicality

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a controversial law in the state of Oregon that allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. While the issue involves matters of life and death, the high court did not decide the morality of assisted suicide, but rather a technicality related to the distribution of power in the United States. 

Since the adoption of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act in 1997, about 200 residents of the state have chosen to die from an overdose of drugs legally prescribed by their physicians.

"I don't want to have to die in diapers," says Char Andrews, an elderly woman with breast cancer. She has already lost all of her hair to chemotherapy and faces the likelihood of severe pain and disability. Ms. Andrews is glad that Oregonians voted twice in favor of the assisted suicide law and welcomes the Supreme Court decision in its favor.

Ms. Andrews says, "The U.S. Supreme Court did justice in recognizing the feelings and the needs of the people who have this terminal illness to be able to use that process in a compassionate and dignified manner."

Opposing the Oregon law was U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his predecessor John Ashcroft who asked the Supreme Court to overturn the measure. Both officials said that a federal law, The Controlled Substances Act, prohibits the use of narcotics nationwide for any reason other than legitimate medical purposes. The attorneys general argued that assisted suicide is not a legitimate practice because physicians traditionally help people live, not die.

However, the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the states all powers,
which the document does not specifically delegate to the federal government. Determining medical policy is considered to be one such power.

Mark Moller, a constitutional expert at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, says that the morality of assisted suicide was not an issue in the Oregon case. He says, "What was at issue is whether a federal drug law, the Controlled Substances Act, gives the attorney general the power to second guess states' assisted suicide policies. And the court said that the congressional drug law didn't clearly give the attorney general that authority."

Some legislators in Washington state, Oregon's neighbor to the north, are also considering an assisted suicide law, though voters rejected the practice in a referendum in the early 1990s. It remains a crime in 44 states, and a civil offense in Virginia. Four states have no position.

While Oregon is out of step with the rest of the nation, Mark Moller says states have always experimented with social policy.

According to Moller, "This is the idea of the Framers i.e., the authors of the Constitution, that we don't
have one government, but we have multiple governments, each that can try different policies, and see if they work. We can learn from that."

This means that the Supreme Court, in its 6 to 3 vote, decided not on morality, but procedure -- whether the attorney general could override a state law.

Catholic University politics professor David Coyne says this is important for the rule of law. He says, "While sticking to a procedure may seem somewhat amoral, like it's skipping the important question, that in itself is somewhat of a moral judgment, to trust in the rule of law as a positive good. Now at some point, the moral question has a very appropriate role.

Professor Coyne says the U.S. Congress could enter the morality debate by amending the Controlled Substances Act with a definition of legitimate medical practice that excludes assisted suicide. However, he notes that the states could argue in court that Congress would be usurping their right to determine medical policy.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, opponents of assisted suicide are expressing disappointment with the Supreme Court decision on the Death With Dignity Act.

William Toffler is a member of Physicians for Compassionate Care, a Portland-based group that opposes assisted suicide. He says, "I think we'll continue to do what we've done for the last decade, which is to try to educate others to provide the best in end of life care, so we live until we die. At the same time, we'll educate other states, so we won't have other states caught off guard as we were here in Oregon with the promoters of assisted suicide."

Toffler says the solution to suffering should not be to end the life of the sufferer. He adds that government approval of assisted suicide sends the wrong message.

According to Dr. Toffler, "It sends an imprimatur, a stamp of approval if you will, on the idea that some people's lives are not valuable, they're not worth giving the investment of time and energy to allow them to really die with true dignity and to get palliative care and appropriate care."

Some critics say assisted suicide could eventually lead to abuses in which patients are killed because they are too expensive to maintain.

In Washington state, however, lawmaker Hans Dunshee rejects that argument as a scare tactic. Dunshee, who is considering sponsorship of a bill to legalize assisted suicide in his state, says government should not decide the fate of the terminally ill. He says, "I think liberty means you get to make your own decisions. It hasn't been abused in Oregon and it's very rare, very rare, very rare. But I think you ought to have that option. You know it's a basic human liberty to be able to control your own destiny."

The principle of federalism often allows contentious issues to be decided by the states, which avoids a centralized solution that could spark resentment in some parts of the country. If assisted suicide reaches the courts again, federalism is likely to figure in the deliberations.

Runsfeld says Hugo Chávez is consolidating power just like Hitler did
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compared Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to the Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, saying both were elected legally and then "consolidated power."  Rumsfeld made the comment as part of an answer to a reporter's question about the election of left-wing leaders in Latin America.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Rumsfeld told the questioner that the rise of corruption in democratic governments in Latin America caused voters to look for what he called more "populist" leaders.

"We've seen some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries and elections, like Evo Morales in Bolivia, take place that clearly are worrisome," said  Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld said he would not characterize the situation as "a new wave of left-wing anti-American regimes," as the questioner did.  But he went on to criticize the
 leftist Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, who has become a sharp critic of the United States and a close friend of Cuba's communist leader, Fidel Castro.

"We've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money," he noted.  "He's a person who was elected legally, just as Adolph Hitler was elected legally, and then consolidated power, and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.  It concerns me."

As Rumsfeld spoke, President Chávez was preparing to travel to Cuba late Wednesday to visit President Castro and accept an award from the United Nations for promoting Latin American culture.

Rumsfeld did not comment on, and at that time may not have known about, Venezuela's expulsion of a U.S. military attaché.  The official, a U.S. Navy captain, was accused of spying.  Several Venezuelan military officers have been accused of passing information to the U.S. military through the embassy in Caracas.  There was no immediate response from the U.S. government.

How low can you go? Drug ring accused of implantings drugs in puppies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. and Colombian officials have arrested 22 Colombians for smuggling heroin into the United States using a wide variety of methods, including having the drug surgically implanted into puppies.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said Wednesday that a two-year investigation led to the arrests in Colombia and the United States.
Officials said that in one instance, three kilograms of liquid heroin packets had been implanted into six puppies. Three of the dogs later died of infection.

DEA officials also say smugglers frequently use human couriers, known as "swallowers," who typically ingest drug-packed packets before boarding flights for the United States. The drugs are also frequently concealed in body creams and aerosol cans, and sewn into purses and luggage.


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