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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 13, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 31
Jo Stuart
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A deep, instructional tale for Friday the 13th
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In honor of Friday the 13th (today), this story concerns holes. Not the kind moths make in your sweater, but the giant, human-eating canyons that can be found all over Costa Rica.

One characteristic of this country that tourists notice quickly are the holes in streets and sidewalks. The problem may be a missing cover on a water meter or simply a missing manhole cover waiting for the tire of an unlucky taxi.

Such bone-breakers are testimony to the lack of a strong personal injury lawsuit tradition in Costa Rica. Courts, when they rule, make no awards for intangibles like pain and suffering.

One such human trap appeared Thursday on the busy pedestrian boulevard between Calles 7 and 9 right in the downtown. A grate and some paving bricks had given way and a rectangular hole some three feet deep opened up.

Some facts about Costa Rican society can be deduced from the hole. First, everyone watches where he or she is going. Costa Ricans know that each step is just another challenge to the will of God.

But this hole was different. Instead of fixing the problem or at least covering it with steel or wood, someone wrote a small sign and stuck it in the hole.

"We pay our taxes and this is what the municipality gives us," said the small now-broken sign in Spanish. Individual responsibility was foisted on the government.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
The first step is a long one for these boulevard pedestrians.

So on a traditional unlucky day, Friday the 13th, beware of black cats, ladders and gaping holes waiting to break every bone in your body.

Ah, shucks, just call me one of the pod people
Rod Stewart, the rock singer, has recorded two albums of songs of the 40’s and 50’s, like "Time After Time" and "I’ll be Seeing You." He said in an interview that these were songs he grew up with. He heard them as a child when his parents had dance parties in their home. Things of our childhood have a special place in our hearts and that is why the word nostalgia was coined. Stewart’s two albums went gold or platinum. Lots of other people, also baby boomers, obviously experienced the same nostalgia. 

Saturday at the feria I saw something I haven’t seen in years: fresh peas in their pods. I asked the seller if I could open a pod and taste a pea just to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Doing that made me nostalgic, as memories of sitting on the side porch with my Aunt Rosie shucking peas fresh from the garden popped into my head. I don’t remember what the cooked peas tasted like, probably because I usually ate a good half of them raw as I shucked them and couldn’t eat any more at dinner time.

The feria peas were only 700 colons a kilo (about $1.66) but still wary, I bought just 300 grams, brought them home, shucked them and then cooked the small amount still left. (I’m still eating half of what I shuck.) I checked good old reliable Julia Child for a recipe and simmered them with some shredded Boston lettuce, butter, salt and sugar and some chopped spring onions. 

They cooked in just a few minutes and turned out tender and mealy. In her recipe for French-style cooked peas, Julia says they are so delicious they are served as a separate course with wine, and eaten with a spoon. I ate mine with a spoon accompanied by a glass of wine, although I hadn’t prepared them in the French style. 

I have been preoccupied with food this past week. Aside from peas, chocolate has occupied my mind and time. Maybe because Valentine’s Day is upon us. Maybe because I am thinking of expanding my chocolate sauce business to include candy. 

Chocolate is a gift to the world from South America where the cocoa tree originally grew. The tree and its product, the cocoa bean, were brought north by the Mayas. The 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

words chocolate and cocoa come from the Aztec word cacao. Once introduced to the substance, the Aztecs considered chocolate ("cocoa water") sacred and an aphrodisiac, and drank prodigious quantities of it. 

The original drink was bitter and had to be stirred vigorously to keep the cocoa butter from congealing. Europe became acquainted with cocoa after Columbus’ fourth trip when his crew took some beans back to Spain, and the rest, as they say, is history. Most of us discover chocolate at an early age. Today we have bitter, dark, milk and even white chocolate, which is actually made from cocoa butter, not from the chocolate part of the bean. 

Costa Rica grows it own cocoa, and I think it is excellent. When I first moved to this apartment which is above the now empty Dos Pinos factory, about once a month they must have been preparing their chocolate ice cream because the night air was filled with the aroma of chocolate. To me it was better than night blooming jasmine. 

Back in the 70’s I wrote a paper for a class and, the subject must have been love or sex or perhaps addiction. Somewhere I had read that chocolate contains phenoethylamine, the natural substance the brain secretes, especially when we fall in love. This substance works like an amphetamine, energizing one, lifting the spirits and giving one a general sense of well being. 

Thus I concluded that chocolate has more addicts than any other substance. And also why we give chocolate on Valentine’s Day. This contention was ridiculed, and still has not been proven. But I stick to my guns. The Ancients knew more than we give them credit for. 

As for the lowly pea, as delightful as a fresh one is, the only connection I can make to Valentine’s Day is that it is part of an endearing nickname lovers use, such as "You’re my sweet pea."

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Protests break out again,
and two are wounded

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least two persons were shot and more were hurt as violence again erupted in the Leon XIII section of Tibás Thursday night. Meanwhile, pirate taxi drivers blocked a street in a section of Pavas.

Gangs of youths in Leon XIII maintained a strained standoff with police most of Thursday, but when night fell rock throwing and worse broke out.

Officials seem mystified at the contempt the mid- to older teens show for the police, but others suggest that many are members of gangs that thrive on drug trafficking and other crimes. Leon XIII, north of San José, is a working-class neighborhood.

Rogelio Ramos, the mininster of security, has vowed to keep streets open for normal travel. The pirate taxi drivers started the protest about midday Wednesday, and then the youths took over when the taxi drivers left.

The pirate or illegal taxi drivers were protesting a government crackdown instigated by complaints and protests from licensed drivers.

The pirate taxi drivers took their protest to the western suburb of Pavas Thursday. They blocked a street with burning tires and debris. They were not unruly, and some said they simply were seeking to negotiate with government officials who have promised to impose stiff fines on illegal drivers.

Violence in Leon XIII picked up as the sun went down. The young people again began throwing rocks at riot-clad policemen. One of those shot was a policeman who took a bullet in the lower leg.

Artist sketch of witness

Investigators seek
truck driver witness

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are seeking a Costa Rican truck driver who may have witnessed a serious crime along Avenida Central in eastern San José  Feb. 2. The man is believed to be a distributor or a route driver.

The man was driving a large truck with some type of canned goods inside, said Judicial Investigating Organization agents. They said those who can help can call 295-3372, 295-3373 or 295-3311.

Spilled fluid makes
employees seek exits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A workman spilled a container of petroleum-based fluid in the basement of the Carrión clothing store in downtown San José around midday Thursday, and firemen had to ventilate the building while emergency workers attended to some 27 employees, mostly women.

The noxious fluid permeated the upper floors of the store, and workers suffered headaches, difficulty breathing and burning eyes. A number were examined at nearby hospitals.

The store was back in business by early afternoon.

President’s brother visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, will be in Costa Rica early next week, and he will place a floral tribute at the Monumental Nacional in Parque Nacional Monday morning and then adjourn to Casa Presidencial for a meeting with President Abel Pacheco. Because Bush is the brother of the U.S. president, security is tight. Much of his visit will be for personal reasons, officials said.

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Tourism officials got 40 free Pavarotti tickets
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those associated with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo got 40 tickets to the Luciano Pavarotti concert Jan. 31, legislators learned Thursday.

The tourism institute spent nearly $70,000 to help sponsor the event, and members of a financial committee of the Asamblea Nacional wanted to know why public money was used on a private event.

The main sponsor of the event, Credomatic, the financial services firm, donated 60 tickets, mostly of the $100 variety, to the institute. But only 40 were used, according to testimony by the minister of tourism and members of the institute’s board of directors Thursday.

In addition to the legislative committee, the Contraloría General, the financial watchdog, is investigating the deal.

Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, the minister, said he justified the investment because the publicity generated for the country was worth $550,000. 

Luis Gerardo Villanueva, a deputy from the opposition Partido Liberación Nacional, said that he could not pass over the fact that Credomatic had given some $150,000 to the Abel Pacheco presidential campaign.

Epsy Campbell of the Partido Acción Ciudadana 

joined the fray after Castro said that he did not think the concert would have taken place without the tourism institute’s investment.  Both she and Villanueva said they doubted that the sum of money that the institute paid influenced the development of events.

Partido Unidad Social Cristiana deputies defended the investment, as did President Pacheco Wednesday. Pacheco said that the publicity purchased by the tourism institute brought 1,000 tourists to the country for the concert and that these tourists spent a lot of money.

However, Diario Extra, the Spanish daily that started the flap last week, reported Thursday that there is no evidence that 1,000 tourists did come or that they would not have had the institute not provided the money for publicity. The newspaper said that TACA Airlines would not provide data on tickets it sold relating to the concert.

Although Credomatic was a sponsor of the concert, the firm has said the concert was put on by a private firm and that it did not profit from the event although it did provide money. Credomatic sponsors a number of artistic and cultural events throughout the year. The firm also donated to the Liberación presidential campaign.

The tourism institute placed a half-page ad Sunday in The New York Times to promote the fact that Pavarotti was here, Pacheco noted at his Tuesday press conference.

United is beginning daily flights to Washington, D.C.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco inaugurated a new United Air Lines Inc. daily route from San José to Washington, D.C., and was happy to note that airline arrivals have increased from 232 per week to 332 during his two years in the nation’s top job.

Since May 2002 when the president took office, seven international airlines began operations in the country, he said. They are Condor, Air Canada, U.S. Airways, American West, West Caribbean Airways and Biwi West Indies, according to the Dirección General de Aviación Civil.

"These are facts, not words," Pacheco said of the statistics, adding that these developments showed the effort that his administration was putting into transportation and in offering Costa Rica as a destination of peace and civility.

The Washington, D.C., route will have 182 seats on each flight, giving a boost to tourism, Pacheco said.

The president will be in Limón today for another airport-related event. He will be inaugurating a new asphalt topping on the Limón airport, which the administration hopes will be used for international flights.

Violence continues in Haiti as pro-Aristide forces take to streets
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Sporadic violence continued here Thursday with reports of deaths in towns in the northwestern part of the country as a result of clashes between anti-government armed gangs and police. Nearly 50 people have died over the past week in the worst violence Haiti has seen in years. Pro-government supporters prevented anti-government demonstrators from marching in the capital on Thursday.

In a show of force that left anti-government activists intimidated and angry, a large mob of pro-government supporters burned vehicles and used burning tires as roadblocks in front of the Canape Vert square, where anti-government demonstrators had planned to begin their demonstration.

Hundreds of mostly young pro-government supporters pelted their opponents with rocks as police looked on and did not interfere. Their tactics worked. Anti-government organizers called off their march but pledged to try again on Sunday.

Pro-government supporters like Willy, who declined to give his last name, say they will stand behind President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and against the opposition as long as he wants to stay in power. 

"They do not have any respect for President Aristide or for the people too, for us. We want to save our power, that is the reason we stand here," he said.

The demonstrators, mostly young and mostly poor, have turned out in large numbers in recent weeks in a show of force and intimidation against President Aristide's opponents, a broad coalition of

business leaders, students, politicians and leaders of civil society groups. The tensions in the capital have been minor when compared with violence in towns like Gonaives, St. Marc and Cap Haitian, where scores have died in clashes between anti-government activists and police and their government supporters.

Gonaives, Haiti's fourth largest town, remains under the control of anti-government armed gangs who seized it last week.

Elsewhere tensions are high but government security forces are said to have the upper hand in nearby St. Marc, and in Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitian, where press reports say violent intimidation has cowed government opponents. 

Aristide says the civil opposition based in Port-au-Prince is behind the violence in Gonaives and elsewhere, but opposition leaders like Andre Apaid, who heads a coalition known as Group 184, says the opposition is seeking a peaceful transfer of power to a post-Aristide Government.

"The truth of it is that we show every day by exposing our lives peacefully in the streets, using our bare hands to show that we are a non-violent group and not behind something like the violence in Gonaives. People who are behind the violence in Gonaives sit in rooms and wait for their option to succeed," he said. "They do not risk their lives in the streets."

Opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince repeated on Thursday that they want to see Aristide step down, saying he is guilty of human rights abuses corruption and mismanagement. Aristide has called the charges ridiculous and says he has no intention of leaving office before his term officially expires in two years. 

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U.S. citizens warned to watch out for violence in Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The United States is warning Americans in Venezuela of possible violent protests as election officials there prepare to decide whether to hold a referendum.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department says the announcement by election officials Friday may lead to political demonstrations during "this period of uncertainty." The statement urged U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and other gatherings.

Venezuela's Electoral Commission is due to rule on the validity of more than three million signatures collected by opposition groups calling for the removal of President Hugo Chavez. The country's constitution requires 2.4 million signatures to force a vote on ousting an elected president.

Opposition groups have blamed Chavez for ruining the economy and seeking to model the oil-rich country after Communist-led Cuba. The president insists he is working to improve the lives of Venezuela's impoverished majority.

Pope says he is praying for peace in war-ravaged Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II has told Colombian President Alvaro Uribe he is praying for social peace and an end to decades of violence in the South American country.

The pope met Uribe at the Vatican Thursday, saying it is time to create the foundations for 
rebuilding the country and fostering a just and 

peaceful society in Colombia. 

Uribe also asked the pontiff to give a special blessing to Colombia's top official negotiating with rebels, Luis Carlos Restrepo, who accompanied Uribe at the Vatican.

Restrepo has been working to end four decades of fighting between Colombian government troops, Marxist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries.

Dominican Republic gets $66 million to ease its financial woes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund says it has approved the disbursement of $66 million for the financially-troubled Dominican Republic. 

The lender said Wednesday that its decision follows a review of the Caribbean country's financial performance. 

The monetary fund also said in a statement that the Dominican Republic is still trying to recover from a banking sector crisis last year, which led to 

a currency devaluation, along with a rapid increase in public debt and inflation. The fund said that while the Dominican government succeeded in stabilizing the banking system, it still has to take steps to implement structural reforms. 

The country's financial troubles have also led to persistent power outages that sometimes last as long as 20 hours. Last month, at least six people died in street violence during a two-day general strike organized to protest the country's worsening economic crisis. Scores of Dominicans have fled the country, and many have tried to reach the United States by boat. 

Jo Stuart
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