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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Tico Train
on the move

Operators of weekend passenger service to Orotina and Caldera have some great plans to rescue train travel and restore the thrill for future generations. 

See story

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Long-time sports bar, Tiny's, sold and closed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A long-time downtown fixture, Tiny’s Tropical Sports Bar, has been sold and probably will become a Chinese restaurant, said the former owner, himself a fixture in San José.

The deal was concluded over the last two weeks.  Tiny’s was the original sports bar in San José and opened in 1988, said the owner. He only goes by the name Tiny and said that he is headed for Florida in the next two weeks.

Tiny blamed changes in patterns of tourism for the reduction in business that he said has taken place in the downtown. For a long time his bar had not been the scene of bustling 

activity it once was. Now it is closed and padlocked awaiting the new owner.

"Tourism has changed. . . new people are not drinking, and people coming to town are on a pre-paid deal," said Tiny in a telephone interview. He said he didn’t think that deterioration in the properties nearby had affected his business. 

Fire destroyed the corner building to the east at Avenida 2 and Calle 11 about five years ago, and the burned out walls still stand.

The area is getting an upgrade with some new construction taking place nearby. 

"The era’s done and so am I," said Tiny.

Time for a serious chat about what to do on Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

O.K., guys. You have been warned. Thursday is St. Valentine’s Day, a time that can make or break a relationship.

A little creativity here goes a long way. Remember all those empty beer cans after Sunday football? Remember that pass you made at the cute Tica at the neighbor’s cocktail party. You may not, but SHE does. Women who can’t keep track of a grocery list somehow manage to keep infinitely detailed mental notes of their guy’s stupidities. 

But like the Sacrament of Confession in the Catholic Church, St. Valentine’s day, if handled well, can wash away your sins. Costa Rica is perfect for such sinners. A big bunch of long-stemmed roses can be had for a few thousand colons. Imported and exotic chocolates can be had easily on the sidestreets of the downtown pedestrian mall.

A great gift would be a full-body massage, easily available not just in San José but in the mountains and at the shore. This is a good gift. A membership in a health club is a bad gift on this day for lovers.

Dinner would be great. You have your favorite place. If you are new to town, consider Rancho Guanacaste, on the southside, where strolling mariachis will entertain all night. 

If you were really bad this year, consider taking your lady on a romantic evening cruise under the stars and a casual elegant candle-lit dinner. Calypso Tours has a $100 per person trip scheduled aboard the 70-foot Catamaran Manta Raya. The destination is 
Punta Coral, a private reserve, only accessible by water, in the Gulf of Nicoya.

As an alternative, consider one of the many overlooks or miradors around the Central Valley where you can get dinner and a spectacular view of the city. One suggestion might be Restaurant El Bosque that clings to the side of the main road just north of Naranjo. There’s even a telescope there.

If you have the whole day Feb. 14 and part of Feb. 15, you can run up relationship karma with a quick trip to Los Lagos, Tabacón, Arenal Paraíso or any of the other thermal pool resorts at the base of the volcano west of La Fortuna. If that is too far, nearly everyone in Costa Rica lives within easy driving distance of a major resort. Who says you can’t stay for just one night.

If you have been really bad, it’s time to throw in a massage, the flowers, exotic candy and a romantic serenade along with the hot water. Don’t forget dancing. Woman love guys who at least try.

Have any ideas for a romantic St. Valentine’s Day? Send them in an we’ll publish them for the Thursday newspaper, just in time to help out some poor guy who needs suggestions:


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rail service
as weekend
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Bernald Hernández, an assistant manager, and Juan Paniagua, general manager, discuss the paneling and decor of one of the more luxurious of the 1941 rail cars.

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Passenger trains are rolling down the track to the Pacific again, but only on the weekends in what is developing as a major tourist attraction.

More than 3,000 persons have taken the weekend excursions, and promoters already are thinking about expansion.

The operation is by AmericaTravel which put the first Tico Train on the Pacific line last September and started operations in earnest Dec. 29. The private company now has offices in the cavernous Ferrocarril al Pacifico Terminal in southwest San José on Avenida 18 between Calle 2 and 4

The employees’ avowed purpose, in addition to making money, is to rescue the train. They have plenty to work with. The cars they use are only a small number of the available rolling stock at what amounts to a railroad graveyard nearby.

Freight traffic on the line carries steel and other products from the Caldera docks on the gulf of Nicoya to industries in Pavas and San José at least several times a day. Regular passenger service from San José to Caldera and Puntarenas stopped 12 to 15 years ago. The line was electrified then. Today the work is done by diesel locomotives.

The route is very scenic and contains spectacular bridges and mountain views.

Passengers actually have two choices, according to Juan Paniagua, general manager:

The Tico Train is designed for tourists and it has a bit more luxury. It leaves Saturday and Sunday from Santa Ana at 7 a.m. for Orotina where tours and trips are available for passengers. Orotina is inland and about 25 kms. south and east of Caldera. The 13-hour tour costs from $59 to $79, depending on the type of destination activities passengers choose.

The "Popular" trip is designed for Costa Ricans, leaves from San José at 6 a.m. and goes all the way to Caldera where some passengers swim. The price is a modest 4,000 colons ($11.60) for citizens and residents. Tourists pay $25. 

The rail cars include some 1941 German wagons that transport the traveler back in time as well as geographically. Each car has been redone, and one flatbed has been redone with a Coca Cola motif as an open observation car for the Tico Train tourists. Sometimes travelers dance during the trip, said Paniagua.

One rule is that no alcohol is available on the trip, said the general manager. Some residents take beer and other alcohol for use on the beach in Caldera, but consumption is prohibited on the train, he said.

"We need people to know that the train is active again," he said. some wondered last weekend when the Instituto Nacional de Ferrocarriles asked Paniagua and his staff not to make passenger runs because of a dispute with the governmental agency that establishes rates for public services. The train is back in business for this weekend, he said.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Mauricio Moreira, a sales manager, helps model the antique ticket window at the rail terminal

Some 10 persons are employed by the company and most have ownership interests, said Paniagua, who speaks good English. 

Plans include trying to open the last 20 kms. from Caldera to Puntarenas, the site of a proposed aquarium and ocean park. The problem is that some parts of the track have been removed, and about 100 million colons (about $290,000) is needed to get the tracks in shape, said the manager. A meeting on this project will be next week. He envisions the train running right into the middle of the proposed park.

A second tourist line is being considered for the Atlantic side. There is no train service from San José through the mountains and the rugged Braulio Carrillo National Park. But Paniagua toured the trackage from south of Limón to Siquirres recently in a motorized handcar and pronounced that route to be in excellent condition. 

He also said the 62 kms. from Limón and the 23 kms, south of the Caribbean port city are spectacular in tourist value. He said he hopes to start some type of tourist trip there in October.

There also is the start of a train museum at the terminal. However, the artifacts are crowded into one room. Paniagua sees it as his mission to do something about creating a museum, he said.

For him, the train is the finalization of a dream and the capstone to his 18 years in tourism. As a young resident of Orotina, he said he often heard his father talk about seeing the passenger trains running again. Finally, a few weeks ago, both his mother and father had a chance to experience the reality of train travel amid tears of joy, he said.

AmericaTravel can be reached at 233-3300 or at americatravel@msn.com The original ticket window in the terminal is used for dispensing tickets, all of which are for reserved seating.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Cars used in the operation await weekend duty outside the Pacific terminal

U.S. trade official pushes privatization and liberalization
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Latin American nations must continue to make economic reforms, privatize their economies, and push for trade liberalization in order to improve the lot of their citizens, because halting, halfway measures are doomed to fail, says U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

In remarks at the Organization of American States in which he gave an overview of economic and trade issues in the region, Zoellick singled out Mexico and Chile as countries that have achieved greater prosperity in the last decade because they "courageously" adopted economic reforms within the "framework of democracy."

Countries "encounter the greatest difficulty if they only proceed halfway" with economic reforms, Zoellick told a packed audience at the OAS art museum. He compared economic success to someone making it across a bridge, saying "the absolute worst thing to do is stop halfway across the bridge ... those who stop on the bridge and look back, or look up or ponder the situation need to know that the only way they're going to ... reach the other end is to maintain the forward momentum."

Zoellick strenuously warned against adopting protectionist trade policies, instead of pursuing free and open markets.

"Retreating inward will not work," Zoellick declared. He said that "protectionism and populism" are losing propositions for the economy, adding that the United States is committed to pursuing the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would establish a free-trade zone throughout the Western Hemisphere. He said the Bush 

Administration is working towards a bilateral free-trade agreement with Chile, "extension and expansion" of the Andean Trade Preference Act, and continuation of global trade talks launched at the November 2001 World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Zoellick cited a number of statistics to show that while Latin America is struggling in the global economic slowdown, the situation is markedly better than in the region's so-called "lost decade" of the 1980s. For instance, he said inflation is down from an average of 500 percent in 1990 to seven percent in 2001. Zoellick called inflation "a sore that eventually undercuts the very fabric of society."

The trade official also argued that the shift toward privatization from state-owned enterprise is producing benefits for the Latin American population. Privatization, especially in utilities, has paid off in terms of better services, increased investment flows, and enhanced efficiency, Zoellick said.

Thanks to privatization, he said, "we're now in a world in Brazil, for example, where consumers can get a new phone line in a matter of a day or two, where it used to be a year or two."

One problem people are often reluctant to talk about is corruption, Zoellick said. Corruption is more than a tax on the economic health of a nation, he pointed out, because "it erodes public trust, it erodes a sense of public involvement, and that means it erodes a sense of public responsibility." Zoellick called on those in positions of authority to support anti-corruption measures. A failure to wipe out corruption will have negative political, economic and social consequences for a country, he indicated.

Three held in death
of retired policeman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators in Puntarenas have arrested three men in the death of U.S. citizen Brian Carter, 67, who died of stab wounds last Wednesday.

They are Marne Bejarano Godinez, 35, and Jerson Lorenzo Delgado Vargas, 20, who were arrrested Friday, and Mauricio José Chavarría Mora, 32, who was arrested over the weekend, according to the Judical Investigating Organization.

Carter, identified by police as a retired Detroit, Mich., police officer, confronted the three men at his home where he suffered the two stab wounds. The assailants took Carter’s VCR, police said at the time.

FBI says Yemeni
planning terror

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging police and the American public to be on the lookout for a man from Yemen and several associates believed planning to carry out a terrorist attack against the United States as early as today.

The alert released late Monday identifies the Yemeni national as Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, who was born in Saudi Arabia in 1979. The warning says there is no evidence that he has already entered the United States. But the FBI says it will put pictures of Rabeei and his associates on its Internet Web site to help Americans identify them. 

The FBI says the warning is based on credible intelligence, but it did not list a specific possible target, except to say it could be domestic or a U.S. interest in Yemen. 

The FBI says the alert is based on information gathered from interviews of al-Qaida detainees held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

10 soldiers killed
by mortar round

By A.M Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — At least 10 soldiers are dead after leftist rebels fired a dynamite- and shrapnel-filled canister into military barracks in southern Colombia, officials said.

Authorities say at least seven people suffered serious injuries from the attack Monday in Pitalito, about 350 kilometers southwest of here. Thirty others were slightly injured.

Officials say the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched the homemade mortar before dawn from a pickup truck parked about 600 yards from the unit.

Authorities say the device landed in the barracks while the soldiers slept. The explosion set off a fire that caused considerable damage. The attack comes two weeks after 29 soldiers were killed in an explosion while storming a house used by the rebels to store dynamite. It is unclear whether the blast was accidental or intentional.

Colombia is involved in a 38-year-long civil war.

Argentine tourists
totals to decline

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economic woes of Argentina will have some effect here in Costa Rica because more than 16,000 tourists came from that country last year, according to figures maintained by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.

That was about 1.5 percent of the total tourists, and officials were hoping that Latin American, which had shown a 9.3 percent increase in tourism from 2000 to 2001 would be a bright spot this year.

The problem in Argentina is that the country has defaulted on its $141 billion international debt, bank accounts are frozen and citizens are being forced to accept the now free-floating peso in exchange for the U.S. dollars they have deposited in their bank accounts.  The peso loses value each day and has lost about 50 percent of its value in the last few weeks.

Chile sent about 7,000 tourists to Costa Rica last year, according to the toruism institute, and that country is being buffeted by what is going on in Argentina. For one thing, Chile earns lots of tourism income from Argentina, money that is slowing to a trickle. In all, South America contributed about 104,000 tourists to the Costa Rican totals in 2001, about 10 percent of the 1,131,000 persons who entered the country listed as tourists.

There are some problems in interpreting the tourism institute figures, not the least of which are the totals that show 171,000 "tourists" from Nicaragua and lesser numbers for other economically strapped Central American nations. Colombia contributed 47,000 "tourists," according to the figures released last month.

Meanwhile, the peso has closed stronger than expected on the first day in 11 years it freely floated on currency exchange markets, according to A.M. Costa Rica wire services. In early trading Monday, the currency fell to 2.30 to the U.S. dollar, but rebounded to end the day near two pesos. 

Except for Argentina,
Latins lands did ‘well’

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The economies of Latin America, with the notable exception of the Argentine economy, did "quite well" in 2001 in averting domestic crisis despite an adverse international economic environment, says a new report by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Inflation in the region continued to abate, and the increase in the external deficit was fairly small, according to the 111-page report. However, the report said the severe slowdown in the world economy in 2001, made worse by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, "cut short the recovery that had begun in 2000 and dashed hopes" that the region was about to embark upon a new growth cycle.

The report, which offers a breakdown of economic conditions in each country of the region, said growth prospects for 2002 are "not promising" at 1.1 percent, compared to earlier projections of a growth rate of 1.5 to 2 percent.

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