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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 35
Jo Stuart
About us
AMCR/José Pablo Ramírez 
Anti-free trade
Seal defenders

Thursday was a day for protest at both the U.S. and Canadian embassies. Our stories are 

AMCR/José Pablo Ramírez

A new expat has some basic training needs
I have been in Costa Rica now nearly a dozen years. Long enough, I realize, as I move about the city where I have lived since I arrived, to feel very much at home. Which means I take for granted many things that once bemused me or made me smile because they seemed so exotic. 

I still smile but for different reasons, like when I pass a bufete and remember how in the first months I thought there was an all-you-can-eat-style restaurant on every block. Now I know that they are law offices. 

Many of them are in what once were homes in this city. Like the United States, Costa Rica is a country of laws. Most of the lawyers seem to be involved in real estate law since it is very difficult here to sue anyone or any company for the variety of grievances that Americans would sue.

I also thought that Derby was the name of a chain of small stores or pulperias. Derby, as it turned out, is a brand of cigarette. And the firm pays for the signs over so many of these tiny Mom and Pop grocery stores.

These are pretty frivolous aspects of being a new expat. More seriously, a member of my writing group who has been in Costa Rica for a year and a half asked me if living here became less stressful after a few years. Like many of us, Carol came here with her husband to find a simpler life. I tried to reassure her that as she became more proficient in Spanish life would get easier.

However, our situations are very different. I live in the city, and I own nothing. Both electricity and potable water are pretty dependable in the city. I am within a bus ride of most stores that have what I need. 

When I have problems with my apartment, I call my landlord or talk to our building super. I seldom have to deal with the bureaucracy and its red tape except to renew my residency

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

every two years or visit my health clinic.

Carol and her husband have bought a farm an hour-and-a-half drive from the city. Telephone lines have not yet reached their farm. Water is a precarious utility, coming from springs via hoses, and they work mostly with campesinos whose Spanish is sometimes difficult for a foreigner to understand. 

I have overheard conversations between a clerk and another person and asked, "What language was he speaking?" The clerk responded that it was Spanish. Carol also has several employees. I have one who comes in once a week for three hours to clean my apartment. Our conversation now is pretty much limited to pleasantries because she knows what needs to be done. 

Most of the people I know who have bought or built homes here find themselves with all kinds of unexpected challenges which they must deal with, usually for the first time in their lives, and do it in a foreign language.

Carol’s visits to San José or even a nearby town to pick up supplies and run errands can be frustrating excursions. Living in the city, running errands is much easier for me. Just the other day I was downtown and managed to pay two bills at two different places and go to the bank as well. 

I was so pleased that I had accomplished all of this in one morning, I looked around for something to help me celebrate. One must lower expectations when trying to "get things done." But yes, Carol. There may not be a Santa Claus, but life here does get less stressful with time. 

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Continental kiosks
to expedite check-in

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Continental Airlines has completed a kiosk project that will make travel from the United States to Costa Rica and other international destinations easier for the firm’s customers.

The kiosk project was started in 1994. It allows customers to use E-tickets to check themselves in at airports throughout the United States. Until recently, however, these kiosks were only available for domestic flights.

According to a release from Continental, airline personnel finalized the installation of 250 kiosks nationwide that can handle international tickets. The release also said that the airline plans to install an additional 640 kiosks at Continental hubs. 

At the kiosks, Continental customers can check luggage, change seats or flight class, and make general ticket inquiries. The kiosks free up congestion at the airline desks and make it easier for clients to speak with customer representatives or move quickly through the check-in process. 

Larry Kellner, Continental’s administrative president, said the kiosks have shortened lines and made life easier at the airport. "In some place, lines have vanished completely," he said. 

Continental makes 3,000 international flights daily to 119 ports in America, Europe and Asia. Continental’s international schedule includes flights to Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Airport and Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela.

Cell phone message hike
still being studied

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cost to send a text message in Costa Rica may soon be increasing. This is according to Claudio Bermudez, sub-manager of telecommunications at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Bermudez said that studies are being made into the possibility of an increase in the cost of sending a text message which is at present is 1.5 colons. He said he was unaware that a  text message had been circulating among customers informing them that prices would quadruple to 6 colons. A colon is less than a quarter of one U.S. cent.

Text messages are used extensively by cell phone customers in Costa Rica. During Valentines Day an average of 520,000 texts where sent an hour. The institute said that 900,000 cell phones are currently in operation. 

Bermudez said that the price of text messages will stay the same through the first trimesters of 2005. Any adjustment to prices needs to be approved by the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.  Bermudez said that the text message is creating unnecessary  alarm. 

Guayabana project
is praised in Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the help of Taiwanese knowledge, guayabana plantations in the Nicoya Peninsula have fostered growth in areas that were barren just a few years ago. 

Local farmers implemented the tropical fruit plantations seven years ago in the Asentamiento Canjelito de Nandayure region of the peninsula. With help from the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería and Taiwanese agricultural expert Tomas Jiang, farmers have created crops that have rejuvenated the area. 

Produce from the farms is sold in Panamá, Guatemala, and in Europe. According to Jiang, the farmers obtained over 500 million colons in income last year. That number is likely to increase next year as the farms continue to expand. The amount is a little more than $1 million.

According to Belén Castro Picado, one of the local farmers, the project has given hope back to the local people. He said that in the last 11 months he had earned over 3 million colons (about $6,500) from his 300 trees.

According to a release made by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, farmers have planted just under 70 hectares (173 acres) of guayabana over the last seven years. They say that thanks to the knowledge distributed by Jiang, the project is successful.

180th birthday of coinage
being celebrated here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central will celebrated the day of the numismatic Saturday. That’s the formal word for a coin collector.

The Museo de Numismatica is one of the museums located under the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José. Officials are marking the 180th anniversary of the first coin being struck in Costa Rica Feb. 19, 1825 at a provisional factory in Alajuela.

Also under the plaza is the better known Museo de Oro or gold museum.

The coin exhibitions and events will be free Saturday. Activities will start with a exhibitions of different types of collections at 9:30 a.m. Events will run until 4:30 p.m. 

Other activities include conferences, displays or coins, bills, and coffee tokens, the sale of collectibles by citizens and exhibitions of private numismatic collections. The bulk of the presentations will be in Spanish.

Flower fair starts in Cartago

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

A flower fair will be held in Cartago  this weekend. Orchids and other exotic flowers grown in the area will be exhibited and available for purchase. The event has been organized by the Union de Asociaciones de Mujeres Productoras de Orquideas. 

The fair will take place at Rancho Azul in Birricito de Paraiso of Cartago today, Saturday and Sunday. Phalaenopsis, oncidium, dendrobiums and catleyas and other national exotic species will be on sale. The ranch is located 2 kms. into the highway heading towards Turrialba. 

It will be open from midday today until 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday the fair wil be open from 8 a.m until 5 p.m. 

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A delightful sampling of the Middle East on Paso Colón
Fadiya shares my passion for clean flavors and fine ingredients. She lives in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city after Damascus. A few years ago, my wife Joan and I were her guests and the guests of her family in that northern Silk Route city. 

Roman columns from the Second century adorned the markets. Restaurants stayed open until the wee hours of the morning. Spice markets and ubiquitous bakeries scented the air. She was determined to show me every type of food from the region: her own, Mediterranean Syrian from the west, Lebanese from the southwest, Turkish from the northwest, Iraqi from the east and southern Syrian from across the desert in Damascus. 

Homemade meals for extended family began at about 2 p.m. and lasted four or five hours. There were never fewer than 10 people gathered around the massive table, which was covered with more than a dozen different dishes. A light supper ended  the day at about midnight. 

When we care to reminisce at a bountiful table bathed in the same sweet smells with Middle Eastern décor and music, we go down Paseo Colón to Lubnan. Authentic is the word that best describes the tasty food. 

The mezze feast for two people includes 16 dishes that tease the palate and fill the belly with fabulous variety. Meats include juicy chicken kabobs, chicken livers in a luxurious sweet tomato sauce, za’atar (zattar, zachtar) flavored beef kabobs, ground beef flats, meatballs filled with beef and grains and fried croquettes of wheat and beef and lamb schwarma (chawarma) in a yogurt sauce. 

Grains and starches are bulgar wheat, lentils, garbanzos, flat breads and rice alone or in combinations. Add cabbage and grape leaves stuffed with rice, lemon and beef; gherkin cukes in yogurt; Lebanese yogurt cheese; hummus and tahini topped with olive oil and paprika; perfect crispy falafel; tomato, mint  and parsley  tabouli:  and a basket of fresh pita bread, and there is little room left on the glossy natural wood tables. 

The spices are a balance of dry - cumin, coriander, sumac, za’atar, salt and pepper — and wet - garlic, onion, lemon and parsley. The tally for all of this is ¢8,600 for two which comes to about ¢10,000 with tip and tax, or about $21.50. Two course meals average about ¢4,000.

For lamb lovers, the menu also includes juicy lamb chops done to pink perfection and tender lamb kabobs. My favorite salad is simplicity itself, Middle Eastern bread salad, fattush (fatoush). A standard lettuce, tomato, cucumber salad is dressed with garlic flavored citrus vinaigrette and tossed with crispy browned pieces of pita and sprinkled with sumac. Other choices include vegetarian dishes, raw ground beef mixtures and stuffed okra.

The dessert list is short, two pastries and a warm baked sweet cheese. The baklava and cookies are fine, but the star is the baked cheese dish. They all go well with the authentic coffee, ultra-fine ground dark roast cardamom flavor with an obligatory layer of black residue covering the bottom of the copper pitcher.

Like many restaurants in Lebanon and Syria, the décor suggest the inside of a brick and adobe fort with regional themes reflected in the wall prints. One of the prints is of a belly dancer. To see the real thing, reserve one of the twelve tables for Thursday night at 8 p.m. 

The revolving hemp paneled front entrance adds a nice touch as do the beaded ceiling fixtures. Behind the main dining room are a bar and a room ideal for private 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


parties. The ownership and chef are Lebanese. The waiter is efficient, courteous and helpful. 

If you arrive early, particularly at lunch time, you can usually park in one of the three spaces in front of the front door. You can preview the 34 appetizer and main course offerings on their web site.

Very good food and good value. 
Stars ´´´
Paseo Colón opposite Mercedes Benz 


Word of Mouth from readers (their opinions, not necessarily mine):

A second house guest also raved about the offerings of Jorge Martínez, a native of Guatemala with considerable experience in fancy North American venues, who has been chef at Monte Verde Lodge for more than six months. Yes, we plan a visit or two, soon.

De Marco continues to wow. A former chef from Florida took a large party there and was delighted, as were his guests, with the "great" food and "reasonable" cost. He compared it with a world famous New York Italian restaurant. A San Francisco sophisticate deemed the octopus carpaccio and special goat cheese and eggplant ravioli "the best I have ever eaten, anywhere." Another well traveled gourmand loved the heat of the crab spaghetti, ordered picante and marveled at the generous amount of crab in the dish. 

A local restaurant owner confided that his dinner with a friend at Di Bartolo’s was superb in all aspects. One reader complained that he was disappointed on one occasion when he had lunch after seeing the chef drive away, and he couldn’t get the food he ordered prepared to his specifications.

Opinions on Cerutti ran the gamut from fabulous and romantic to over-rated with complaints about cost padding and haughty staff. 

Yes, at the request of two readers, I did try the desserts at Bacchus and they are as tasty as they are visually splendid. 

"Better carrot cake than my mother’s" was the description of the dessert at Ilean’s in Alajuela. They now open and close a few hours later to accommodate more people.

La Cuchara Criolla closed suddenly to the dismay of Jolin who thought their fajitas were super.

"Even my finicky kids who hate everything, loved the dim sum at Lotus," said Robert. 

Pacheco asked to act against transgenic products
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff

Environmental organizations are concerned about genetically modified crops and transgenic contamination after studies released showed high levels of transgenic contamination in Costa Rica and Central America. 

Maria Elena Fournier, the president of the Asociación Conservacionista YISKY, released a statement Thursday voicing her concerns about transgenic contamination. She asked Abel Pacheco, the president,  to take the necessary measures to stop transgenic contamination of crops which  continues in Costa Rica as well as the rest of the world. 

Ms. Fournier said that studies have confirmed a high percentage of transgenic contamination in Central America and the Caribbean.  In Costa Rica 48 percent of samples analyzed were positive. The studies showed that 80 percent of grain samples from corn from five Central American countries were contaminated with modified genes, she said. 

Ms. Fournier said that one of the most alarming discoveries of the study was the identification of elements of Starlink corn, which is not authorized for human consumption. This corn was produced by the biotechnology company Aventis and used for animal consumption until 2000.

Starlink corn had three genes inserted in it by scientists. One is a marker gene that makes it easy to spot the strain. The second is a gene from a bacterium  that provides natural insecticide protection to the plant. The third is a gene that makes the plant resistant to certain herbicides.

A statement from the Alianza Centroamericana de Protección de Biodiversidad  said that transgenic contamination can have several consequences. In humans, chronic allergies can be developed. They can 

also affect the digestive system, create a resistance to antibiotics and reduce metabolism. The statement said that not enough studies have been completed into the effects of consuming genetically modified products. 
The natural insecticide present in the Starlink strain of corn has been known to trigger allergies in humans. 

Economically, the statement said that production of genetically modified seed can create unemployment and pose a threat to the organic farmer.  Environmentally there will be a loss of biodiversity and a displacement of native species who generate their own defenses against diseases.

The modified genes get into the general population through the dispersion of pollen and crossbreeding.

The validity of the studies carried out by the alliance have been confirmed by the U. S. laboratories Genetic ID, Ms. Fournier said. In Costa Rica there is evidence that suggests that contaminated grain is arriving at the port of Caldera and Moín and is being distributed into several industries for both human and animal consumption, she added.

Food discussion Saturday
at Guanacaste open house

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Casa del Sol in Guanacaste will host the 15th annual Fiesta del Sol starting Saturday at 7 a.m.

The party will feature talks about bio-contaminated foods, environmental education and new agricultural innovations. The fair will also feature new research on the use of solar energy.

The Casa del Sol is located in Santa Bárbara de Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. The house is a communal center where locals discuss and research environmental and nutritional goals and advances. 

International Baptish Church will be baptizing Sunday by full immersion
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The International Baptist Church will be celebrating the Ordinance of Baptism Sunday. 

What makes the Baptist Church distinct from many other Christian churches is that individuals who wish to be baptized are expected be old enough to make an informed and personal decision to accept Jesus into their lives and the baptism is performed by means of total immersion as was done in the time of Christ, an announcement from the church said.

The church is inviting anyone who would like to be 

present at this baptism to come to the regular worship service Sunday at 10 a.m.   After the service there will be a time for coffee.  Anyone who wishes may also attend a Bible study class in either English or Spanish at  9 a.m. before the service.  All seats are free and no offering is expected, the church announcement said.

Directions to the church are: take the Próspero Fernández exit to Guachipelin, turning right (north)  at the bottom of the access road.  Then turn immediately to the right (east) and then take the left (north).  The steepled church will be in front to your left.  For more information, call Pastor Paul Dreessen at the church (215-2117) or Ron Tucker (446-3840).

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Trade and seal demonstrators generally well-behaved
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff. 

A demonstration against the Central American Free Trade Agreement remained peaceful Thursday.  Approximately 100 persons gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy, which was guarded heavily by police in riot gear who stood behind steel barricades. 

Officers from the Fuerza Pública visited business's  between  the Teletica Channel 7 studios in Sabana Oeste and the embassy in Rohrmoser Thursday.  Owners were asked to advise employees to look for alternate parking during the demonstration. They were also warned that tear gas might be used to break up the crowd. 

But the expected unpleasantness never developed.

Farmers, taxi and truck drivers peacefully protested. Albino Vargas, the leader of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos handed in a petition for the attention of President George W. Bush. 

The group rejects the proposed free trade treaty with the United States. the treaty is called the "TLC" by Spanish speakers who use the first letters of the name.

"We are handing in this petition to the embassy because the Costa Rican social sector rejects the TLC," said Vargas.  A book titled "101 reasons against the TLC," complied by experts in economy and commerce, was also handed in to an employee from the political section. 

An embassy spokesperson declined to identify the man who was designated by embassy officials to talk to the protestors. but it was not Douglas Barnes, serving as chief of the mission in the absence of an ambassador.

The spokesperson said that a meeting had been arranged with Vargas but U.s. officials canceled the session after learning he had applied for a demonstration permit. 

Vargas said that the agreement should never have been negotiated as Central America as Costa Rica is socially and economically different to its neighbors. Vargas said, "This activity did not amount to a protest, it was a diplomatic visit to hand in this document to an employee of the embassy." 

Our Page One photos depict:

Francisco Rodríguez Espinosa, a protestor,at the U.S. Embassy dresses as death and identifying himself as the proposed free trade treaty. "I am coming for your country. I am coming for your sons and daughters. I am coming for you," says his sign.

The second photo shows Gino Biamonte holding a drawing of a harm seal in the smaller protest at the Canadian Embassy.

Estimates of the crowd varied from 200 to 70, and there were about 30 Fuerza Pública officers present. The number of protestors was much fewer than had been expected.

The embassy itself is protected with concrete walls and high fences. But officials expressed concern Wednesday when they learned about the demonstration. They issued a warning to U.S. citizens to steer clear of the area.

Canadian protest remains
a peaceful one, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Protestors at the Canadian Embassy in Sabana Sur Thursday did exactly what they said they were going to do. Several dozen conducted a peaceful protest and then delivered a note to Ambassador Mario Lagüe.

The protestors oppose the hunt for hundreds of thousands of barely mobile harp seals that are slaughtered each year in Canada for their fur.

Luis Diego Marín Schumacher, president of the Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna Silvestre, said that thousands of people have signed a note his organization posted some months ago on its Web site. 

He provides a disk containing the names.

The letter that is supposed to be transmitted to the Canadian government demands a halt to the hunt.

Chief prosecutor tells legislators to cool it for awhile
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s chief prosecutor paid a call on a legislative committee Thursday and nicely told members to buzz off.

Members of the Comisión Permanente Especial de Control
del Ingreso y del Gasto Público want to issue an international capture order to bring former President José María Figueres Olsen back from Switzerland. They want him to testify before the committee, something the former president has declined to do.

But the prosecutor, Francisco Dall´Anesse, had a number of reasons why issuing an international warrant at this time would not be a good idea.

He explained to the committee that in an extradition process the individual sought may only be tried for the offenses alleged in the diplomatic request to the other country. In the case of Figueres, the worst that could happen is to be convicted of disobeying a legislative committee. This carries a penalty of from 15 days to one year in prison, just barely enough to meet international standards for extradition.

But the other charge, the prosecutor said, is failing to appear as a witness, which only rates a fine in Costa Rica.

Dall’Anesse, whose title is fiscal general, is investigating Figueres for a $900,000 series of payments the former president received from the French communications firm Acatel. The firm won a contract to install modern cell telephone service in the country. Figueres say he earned the money as a consultant.

Dall’Anesse also told the legislative committee members that they do not qualify as complainants under the civil code.

Dall’Anesse said that at the moment he did not have any proofs or evidence to level another, more serious charge against Figueres. "Sometimes the science of investigation is the science of patience," he told the committee.

Figueres has corresponded with the committee but has declined to return. If he did, he probably would join two other ex-presidents in preventative detention while the corruption investigations continue.

Figueres is a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional. The other two ex-presidents being held, Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, are members of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

All face allegations that they accepted money from firms doing business with the nation.

More money given to fight terrorism threat in Western Hemisphere
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The United States has pledged an additional $1.6 million to strengthen and expand counterterrorism coordination in the Western Hemisphere, bringing the total U.S. contribution to that effort in the Americas to $5 million since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

The money is being contributed to an anti-terrorism committee of the Organization of American States, which is holding a conference in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Asa Hutchinson, under secretary for border and transportation security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who announced the pledge at the 

conference, said the money represents about 80 percent of Western Hemisphere investments in the organization’s group, known as the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism.

The committee session brought together delegations from all 34 member states to evaluate existing anti-terrorism policies and to develop new strategies for hemispheric communication, cooperation, and training in combating the threat of terrorism.

Hutchinson cited several issues addressed at the 2005 conference, such as improving border controls, document security, aviation security (including potential threats to civilian aircraft posed by missiles) biometrics sharing, and links between arms/narcotics trafficking and terrorism.

Jo Stuart
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