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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, Feb. 18, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 34            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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dentist at work
Photo by John Jacobs
Unsung heroes

Peter Aborn, a San Pedro dentist, fits Talamanca's first ever set of dentures as part of his personal effort to bring modern dental health to the Bríbri and Cabécar. Lack of accessible dental services has makes it near impossible for teeth to be straightened, filled or replaced. But Aborn, a New York native, and associate Luis Boza Toledo of San Francisco de Dos Ríos share their free time in an effort some consider heroic.

See their story BELOW!

Parrita bridge
Dylan Ferguson, Dylsey News Service
New bridge goes up in sight of the old one-lane affair at the south end of Parrita. This is part of the improvements that follow the October floods there. President Óscar Arias
Sánchez visited over the weekend along with the Chinese ambassador to promise comprehensive construction. See story

Jade museum is in line to get its own quarters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The Museo de Jade may finally get its own home, freeing it from the politics and restrictions of the nation's insurance monopoly.

The Ministerio de Cultura and the Instituto National de Seguros said Friday that the museum would get its own $6 to $7 million structure near the Plaza de la Democracia and the Museo Nacional.

The museum now is in the southwest corner of the insurance building on Avenida 7. Only some 1,355 of the 5,256 pieces held by the museum are on display, said officials. The museum has had this location for less than two years.

The location is better than the 11th floor location that housed the museum earlier. Access for visitors always was a problem, and the museum has only been open during normal business hours. Five years ago a plan was floated to build an external elevator on the face of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building so visitors could get to the museum at times when the entire building was not open. But then-President Abel Pacheco quickly shot down that plan for financial reasons.

The museum is generally consider the second best
in the country. Much of the holdings came from private collectors. It was not until 1977 that the country passed laws bringing many of the pieces into state hands.

The proposal for the new building would create a corridor of museums from the Museos del Banco Central under the Plaza de la Cultura to the Museo Nacional, which is in the old Bella Vista fortress.

The insurance institute will be in charge of obtaining the land for the museum. Officials estimate that they will need 2,500 square meters, nearly 27,000 square feet. The Fundación Arias is near the Plaza de la Democracia as is a series of stalls erected for vendors to sell tourist items. There also is a parking lot on the west side of the plaza.

Officials said Friday that the insurance representatives already are in negotiations with property owners and that the possibility exists of expropriation.  The entire project will take at least two years, officials said.

The museum contains much more than jade, although some of the more spectacular pieces are of that material. The museum presents a detailed look into the lives of Costa Rican inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish.

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Arias and Chinese diplomat
survey ravaged Pacific

By Dylan Ferguson
Dylsey News Service

Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez paid a visit to Parrita Saturday where he promised that his government would swiftly and comprehensively rebuild areas devastated by recent flooding – with a little help from a new political buddy.

In October two consecutive weeks of torrential downpour resulted in widespread flooding in parts of the Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces. 18 people were killed and more than 3,000 were evacuated. In Parrita, the town was flooded after a dike burst.

Arias paid a visit to a local care center for the elderly where he met with Parrita community leaders over breakfast. He then stopped at the site of the damaged dike to observe where a new, more effective dike is currently under construction.

At a meeting attended by the president later that day, at the local Puerta del Cielo church, Daniel Gallardo, president of the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias announced that the government body is investing 1.5 billion colons (about $3 million) into the cantons of Aguirre and Parrita.

Of that sum, 145 million colons ($290,000) will go towards reconstructing damaged infrastructure in Quebrada Santo Domingo, Quepos, and Savegre, as well as Parrita, where the town’s two ravaged bridges are currently being rebuilt. The emergency has promised to restore all 37 bridges the flooding destroyed.

Another 208 million colons ($415,000) is being earmarked for the demolished town of Portalón in Aguirre, while 107 million colons ($215,000) will help build a new clinic in Parrita for those affected by the disaster.

Arias spoke at the meeting, where he, too, promised rapid relief, and delivered a speech concerning Costa Rica’s relationship with other countries. He pointed out that the United States “has much confidence in Costa Rica.”

However, Arias then said that it is likely that, “in a very small amount of time,” China will have “the strongest economy in the world,” surpassing the U.S.

This was coupled with an announcement that China has pledged to make a strong contribution to the relief and reconstruction effort. The Chinese ambassador to Costa Rica, Wang Xiaoyuan, was in attendance, and he, too, took the stage to underline the commitment of the People’s Republic of China.

“China,” he said, “suffers every year from many floods,” particularly in the northern regions. He said his government was very sympathetic to Costa Rica’s plight and stressed that “the spirit of solidarity is very important.”

Costa Rica established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in June when Wang was appointed as the first ever Chinese ambassador. The country simultaneously ended a 63-year relationship with Taiwan. Since then, China has proved very liberal when providing Arias’ government with financial aid.

Within days of Wang’s appointment, on June 19, he announced $30,000 to help repair the damage done by tornados in southern San José. During Arias’ first diplomatic visit to China in October, while the floods were still underway, China pledged around $30 million in aid to the affected regions.

Also, in January ambassador Wang exchanged notes with the Costa Rican foreign ministry about helping to build a new multi-million dollar national stadium, according to the Chinese news service Xinhuanet.

After his speech, Wang said that China is pleased with Costa Rica’s “great cooperation in politics, education, culture, and commerce.” He added that relations between the two countries “are increasing very fast.”

10 held in internet thefts
from bank accounts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Authorities Friday detained 10 people suspected of helping to steal money electronically from bank accounts.

Officials from the fraud section of the Judicial Investigation Organization said that thieves are stealing personal bank information by the help of a computer spy program which copies customers' passwords and user information. 

The people arrested are suspected of being “front persons,” and not the actual initiators in the operation, said officials. People allowed stolen money to be transferred into their bank accounts, according to investigators. Then, these front persons would actually go to the bank and withdraw the money from their own accounts. Officials have not yet said if they know who was in charge of the operation.

Thieves targeted both public and private bank accounts, said officials. Authorities from the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigation Organization arrested the suspects in different areas of the city including Desamparados, Hatillo, Aserrí, Pavas, Alajuela, and San Sebastián. They arrested four women and six men on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Sección de Fraudes said the unit advises citizens not to give banking information to anyone, including family members. They also advised customers who bank online to update all antivirus software and check routinely for computer viruses.

In the last six months the Sección de Fraudes has detained 50 suspects involved in similar crimes, said officials. A total of 390 consumers have filed complaints with the fraud unit, said officials. 

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Makeshift field clinic operating in Shiroles serves as a base for visiting dentists.
dental salon
Photo by John Jacobs

U.S. and Tico dentists bring skills and hope to Talamanca
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An American dentist and his Tico colleague who bring free dental care to some of Costa Rica's most deprived people will be honored by the community of Talamanca at a cultural celebration.

For years, Peter Aborn has been traveling from his practice in San Pedro to Shiroles in the Reserva Indigena de Talamanca as often as his budget will allow, spending several days doing operations and procedures without charge.

His commitment and generosity have already been recognized by CNN, that put him on the top 100 list of 'CNN heroes' — a program that searches out unsung heroes around the world who give an exceptional service to others. Sunday members of the Bríbri and Cabécar tribes of the reserve will show their appreciation for the help he has offered them at the eighth Feria Cultural Indigena in Suretka. Luis Boza Toledo, a dentist who practices in San Francisco de Dos Ríos and Aborn's partner in his charitable endeavors, will be the second guest of honor.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste are unheard of in some of the reserve's communities, meaning that rampant decay and gum disease are common. Lack of accessible dental services makes it near impossible for teeth to be straightened, filled or replaced.

“I have seen periodontal disease (gum disease) in 8-year-olds and malocclusions (crowded teeth) in 12-year-olds,” said Aborn. “I saw a 3-month old child with active leishmania tropica, an insect-born disease that causes scarring sores, on her face.

“There are only two dentists for 30,000 people in this area, and some people would have to walk for days to get to their nearest practice. They just want the dentist to pull the tooth out, whether it can be saved or not. Who wants to risk the problem returning, and have to walk another 6 days to see the dentist again?”

Aborn delivered the first dentures and did the first root canal treatments ever to be performed on the reserve. He says that the diet of sticky foods such as rice, beans and plantains, accompanied by sugary drinks and sweets, are to blame for the poor nutrition and dental diseases that abound in the area.

The New York native came to Costa Rica in 1995, and two years later he had an experience that changed the trajectory of his life, he said.

“To qualify as a dentist in Costa Rica I had to do a year of social service,” said Aborn. “There were 35 placements and I chose last, so I got the one no one wanted — Talamanca.”

Although Aborn says that he did not learn a lot about dentistry in Talamanca, he got an education in a completely different way of life.  The canton, the southern part of the Provincia de Limón, includes the thinly settled high mountains.

“I had a dental practice on Fifth Avenue before I came to Costa Rica. Now I was working with people who have almost nothing – they live in wooden huts and eat rice and
beans for every meal. People say they are primitive, but soon I was wondering, just who is primitive? They have a wonderful philosophy of life, and in all these years I have never heard them complain.”

Aborn returned to San José to work, but uses part of his earnings to fund his "campos de trabajo."

He makes the trip, which involves transporting all their equipment to the base camp of Shiroles by kayak, an ancient bus without brakes and on foot, two or three times a year, with a dedicated following of students and specialists who volunteer their time.

Some of the patients have never seen a dentist before, and
their first experience of it is a world away from the dental care available in Costa Rica's cities.

Stools and benches serve as dentists' chairs, overhead lamps have not worked for a decade, and old coke bottles are rigged up as water holders for irrigation tools.

Despite this, Aborn stresses that standards are high, making sure that everything is thoroughly sterilized and that equipment almost reaches the standards that U.S. dentists are expected to achieve.

When the base-camp practice opens in the morning, 30 people are already waiting, and people keep coming throughout the day. Mobile units head off to even more remote destinations to set up field practices for those who find it hard to reach the base camp.

During the latest campo de trabajo in January, more than 1,000 procedures were carried out on 400 patients during four and a half days. Each campo costs the dentists around $4,000, which mainly comes straight from their own pockets.

Devastating floods in 2005 made things for the reserve residents even harder. The water washed away houses, possessions and food.

“They lost what little they had,” said Aborn. “It was desperate. U.N. officials came and assessed the damage, but little was done. People focus on the problems in Afghanistan and Africa, but no one ever hears of the problems in Latin America. I want to wave a flag and say, look, there are problems that need to be dealt with right on your doorstep!”

Since then, Aborn has decided to turn his efforts into an official non-profit organization called Proyecto Talamanca, in the hope that this status will stimulate donations and allow efforts to be reinforced.

Aborn and Boza hope that in the future they will be able to construct a health center that will provide a broader range of services, from physiotherapy to nutrition and medical care.

Recently, the dentists helped a young Bríbri woman get accepted with a scholarship to study dentistry at the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología, and hope to continue helping members of the community gain access to better education.

A Web page for Proyecto Talamanca can be viewed at under the dentistry articles section.

Luis Boza demonstrates techniques adopted for local working conditions.
dental procedures
Photo by John Jacobs

Agricultural fair planned for next weekend in Suretka
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The eighth annual artisan's agricultural fair in Talamanca begins Friday and runs through Sunday.  The feria includes fresh organic products, traditional items and food typical of the region.  During the fair, visitors can enjoy concerts, mariachis, soccer games and popular and cultural dancing.  There will also be a cycling competition with over 100
athletes, said a release. This feria helps the indigenous population increase their income and help with school expenses.  The feria in Suretka benefits more than 120 indigenous families. 

Javier Flores Galarza, minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, will be present to place a cornerstone for a new Agencia de Servicios Agropecuarios in the region.

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Venezuela appears to be the key in transportation of cocaine
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian and American officials say nearly half of the cocaine produced in Colombia is shipped through Venezuela and mostly goes to Europe.

Perry Holloway is the director of the Narcotics Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. "We have noticed a trend in recent years of the actual trans-shipment of cocaine — after it is processed — going over Venezuela's air space," he said. "There has been a reduction of about 70 percent in the illegal flights over Colombia in the last four years, and most of that is shifted to Venezuela."

The U.S. and Colombia have worked together for years in the fight against illegal drugs in Colombia, targeting remote airstrips, eradicating isolated coca fields and intercepting clandestine drug shipments.

Eastern Colombia shares a long border with Venezuela. Most of the area is sparsely inhabited where police have uncovered numerous illicit drug labs and elements of the guerrilla group known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

The head of Colombia's anti-narcotics police says 90 percent of rebel financial resources comes from the
production of illicit drugs. Gen. Álvaro Caro Menendes said "It is very easy for the drug dealers to produce the cocaine and move it to Venezuela, so they can send it through Africa in a new market for Europe. At this moment all the drug produced in the east of Colombia goes out through Venezuela. We believe it is nearly 40 percent of all the drug."

The Colombian and U.S. alliance has spent $5 billion in the past five years to combat illegal drugs. Authorities from both governments say they have seen a 30 percent reduction in drug production in the past few years.

Holloway says it is still worth about $50 billion a year. "If you look at how much profit you make at an ounce of this substance, there is probably nothing more profitable in the world."

Holloway says that 90 percent of the cocaine and most of the heroin found in the U.S. comes from Colombia. Caro admits as much, but he says Colombia is not entirely to blame: "We are the drug producers. But it is produced and sold because there is a great population of consumers."

Caro calls Colombia's drug trade his country's worst nightmare. Without it, Colombia would be a nation at peace and enjoy greater prosperity and development, he said.

Frequent visitor seems to like Costa Rica for its lax laws
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just before being deported in 2007, a man from Colombia boasted to officials that he would return to Costa Rica and rob from more tourists, they said.

Last week officials found him in Costa Rica again. The man, who has the last names of Castiblanco Hernández, was detained in February 2007 along with three other men for slashing tourists' car tires and robbing them near volcano Irazú. Officials deported the four men back to Colombia in March.

Police found Castiblanco in downtown San José with a Chinese visa in his passport, they said. Castiblanco boasted
to authorities that he planned to travel to China to rob more
people. He said he had already done so in Indonesia and India, according to officials.

Castiblanco told Francisco Castaing, the chief of the Policía Especial de Migración, in 2007, that in Costa Rica “everything was a joke,” and that he could easily obtain his freedom and return to break the law, according to officials. Last week, he once again told Castaing that he would return to Costa Rica on his way back from China, officials said.

Legally anyone deported from Costa Rica is forbidden to enter the country for five years, said officials.  The International Police Agency described Castiblanco as a person with many criminal problems and associated him with theft and breaking the law, said officials.

Investigators finally nab a suspect in Mall San Pedro killing
By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

Many who enter the Mall San Pedro still whisper about the shooting at Fusión bar last June.

The murder occurred on a normal Friday evening. It was only 5:30 p.m., according to authorities. A 25-year-old man was sitting with a group of friends at the popular sports bar and restaurant when a man at the bar shot him. It was not clear at the time if the two had even met.
Police said later, however, that the two had had an argument. Officials detained a 32-year-old man suspected of the murder Friday. The suspect was arrested near his home in Los Cuadros de Guadalupe as he got out of a car in which three other men were riding. The suspect was carrying a gun at the time of arrest, said officials.

The killer shot the victim, who had the last name Chavés three times, said officials. He died at the restaurant, they said.

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