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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 38
Jo Stuart
About us
Expats quickly learn to fight boredom
Like elsewhere, Costa Rica is what you make it
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The dream house is all built. From the lounge chair on the veranda, the Pacific sunset is beautiful, and the Chardonnay is not bad.

Now what? How many sunsets can you take without asking "Isn’t there anything more?"

Moving from North America or Europe is so challenging that few new expats have a good plan for what comes next.

You can find a lot of single men sitting over their beer in downtown Gringo bars watching full contact figure skating. They, too, ran the route: drinking, girlfriends and then boredom.

Those who have been here awhile can put forth some general rules for those who would survive happily in a strange land.

1.  Learn Spanish. If you can’t speak the language, you will always be in a social bubble isolated from the real world.

2. Participate: Church, clubs, classes. A good place to start is the Newcomer's Club for English speaking women. Another good choice is the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, which is known for its Friday seminars for would-be expats. However, there are social events, too.

3. Participatory sports: La Sabana is the giant park in the middle of San José. Jogging, flag football, swimming are all available. There also are dozens of sports clubs and fitness centers. All provide some social activities as well as personal fulfillment. Some country clubs require stiff fees, but others are less pricey.

Hash House Harrier members run every Monday evening and then adjourn to a bar. Many are expats, and even more are English speakers.

On both coasts, one can explore sailing, surfing, kayaking and a dozen other maritime avocations. 

4. Spectator sports: Soccer football, guaro and the Virgin de los Angeles are the three pillars of Costa Rican society. If you don’t understand soccer, you will never know why life comes to a halt here at least twice a week as fans gather for yet another crucial match. 

Although Costa Rica has no professional baseball, the La Sabana amateur leagues are worth watching and following. In addition, bike racing is much bigger here than in North America.

5. Hobbies. Being a woodworker here is less rewarding than in North America. The craftsmen in Sarchí can do it better and cheaper. But buying great furniture can be a rewarding pastime.

Other fields are wide open.

Expats are archaeologists, jewelers, 
bird-watchers, musicians, gardeners, rock hounds, kite flyers, actors and actresses and artists.

Amateur radio operators find they are in great demand from their brethren elsewhere who collect contacts. Flying can be a hobby but also a necessity in some remote sections of the country. License requirements vary.

A whole range of fashion design and needlework skills provide challenged.

Several hobby stores in San José and elsewhere provide materials, classes and ideas.

6. Politics: Both the Republicans and the Democrats have formal organizations here. Expats should be cautions about engaging in Costa Rican politics, but some do. And much of Costa Rican politics should be classified as a spectator sport.

7. Donate: News stories have reported on expats providing all sorts of help through foundations or church groups. Giving of oneself is a rewarding experience. On an informal basis, practically every expat here provides help to Tico families one way or another.

And chances are the local school director would welcome some help from a native English speaker.

8. Business: Although some residency visas prohibit working, most expats bring a skill they can exploit via their own company. Sometimes the work provides jobs for Costa Ricans. Few small business owners are bored, although other emotional states are frequent.

9. Stay in touch: The best way to be part of the expat community is to be involved. A.M. Costa Rica provides news and information on events. A handful of Internet discussion groups also help newcomers and those here with knotty questions.

But most of all, successful expats would caution someone thinking of moving here: "If you are bored where you live now, you will be bored here. You bring your life with you."

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Our readers respond
Angels are in Alajuela,
grateful daughter affirms

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

About a year and a half ago, I brought my 86-year-old father to Costa Rica after he suffered a mild stroke which caused some brain damage. As the months passed, his mental and physical condition deteriorated at a steady pace and, ultimately, I was unable to continue the care he needed in my home. 

I had been looking for a care alternative when a friend alerted me to an ad for Villa Alegria, a skilled nursing facility in Alajuela. I visited the home and immediately felt comfortable with the friendly, patient, caring staff (several of whom are English speakers), homey atmosphere, and clean environment.  I moved my father to the facility a few days later.

Visiting often, I observed each patient enjoy delicious, nutritious home-cooked meals, attentive, loving care by trained geriatric specialists, comfort, clean and pressed clothes, hair cuts, shave and make-up, a weekly visit by the doctor, birthday and holiday celebrations for patients and their families and a combined effort by staff and administration to maintain a patient’s dignity and self-respect.

My father loved the special attention he received from the staff and often referred to them as his Angels.  When he passed away peacefully on Oct. 9, 2004, he had six of his Angels at his bedside.  They wept with me, consoled me and helped me with the many details that followed. 

Are there Angels in Alajuela?  You bet there are!

Lynn Cummings 
A Grateful Daughter
Ciudad Colón
U.S. should look out
for its interests first

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I feel I must write in response to a letter written by Sondra Ogle  entitled "The Sound of Taps." I'm not sure where to begin, but first, I must say to Sondra that I'm sure it must easy for her to wake up each morning and blame everything that is going wrong in beautiful Costa Rica on the U.S. 

I came to Costa Rica on a volunteer work trip, and I believe it to be one of the most beautiful places in the world in which I have ever traveled, and that statement not only includes the landscape, but also the nice friendly people I have encountered while there.  (Apparently I have not run into her yet.) 

But, doesn't the government of Costa Rica make it's own decisions?  Is it not a democracy that is also derived from the votes of the citizens?  Isn't it the primary responsibility of any government to first protect it's own citizens? (Whether it be Costa Rica or the U.S!?) The U.S. is not perfect.  In fact, it is far from perfect, but, as much as I love Costa Rica, I believe that it is not yet perfect, nor are some of its governmental policies. 

The sad part about being a U.S. citizen is when you slowly begin to realize over time that no matter how much you try to be a good person in the world, volunteer your time to help others, love all your global neighbors as yourself, or help out in anyway you can (which is true of most of the Americans that I  know!)  you realize that you are "damned if you do" or "damned if you don't". 

American citizens hear all the time about situations where our government or citizens are asked to step in and help, and we do.  You know what we usually hear in return?  Things like..."They gave too much to that little country just so they could push it around. They are just trying to show off and be bullies! Those Americans are so elitist!"...or..."They didn't give enough...those Americans are so stingy!  They only look out for themselves!" 

I am not a George Bush fan, but I am a fan of the morals, values, and opportunities provided to me by a strong democratic society that works to promote global opportunities for ourselves and others.  Do you think the U.S. expects other countries to negotiate for the best interests of their own people? Of course, that is what creates diplomacy.  Besides, the U.S. has a vested interest in looking out for other countries in the world because almost every country in the world is represented in the U.S., by it's own citizens. 

If we "fall" do you realize how many countries will fall with us?  That is a huge moral and economic burden to carry!) Think about how large the U.S. is.  It would take about 75 Costa Ricas to equal the size of the U.S. We have a huge population to look out for.  We have our own problems.  We have poverty and inequality, too.  We have some really stupid laws and some really strange bureaucratic red tape in some situations, and these things need to continue to be improved...always. 

We also have some really stupid people in our government.  One thing I have learned in my trip to Costa Rica is that many of the problems facing C.R society are the exact same ones we face in the U.S.  Do either of us have all the answers? Of course not. 

Yes, at this particular moment in time, the U.S. is considered, as Sondra points out, the "big brother" by many in the world.  Would you like that to change?  Would you like it to be Saddam Hussein "running the global show" or maybe you would prefer Osama Bin Laden? (If that's the case, then you almost had your wish, and to me, that would have been "The Sound of Taps" for all of us!) or maybe Costa Rica?  My vote would be for Costa Rica, for sure, but would anything necessarily be any better? 

I'm sorry, but as a citizen of the U.S., I hope the U.S. always tries to negotiate with others, but to still look out for the interests of it's own.  Shouldn't it be the same for Costa Rican citizens, that the first expectation of the Costa Rica government protect the best interests of it's people. 

If the Costa Rican government is not doing that, perhaps that may be the first place for you to lay blame.  Must it ALWAYS be the U.S.?

From an American teacher who, unlike Sondra, will never have enough money to be able to "retire" in beautiful Costa Rice.

Julie Walker
Kansas, U.S.A.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The letter was edited slightly due to space considerations.

Shut down San José!

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

They are wanting to shut down a hotel in Playa Sámara because they are polluting the area with their sewage output.   This is really a government out of control. Why is not the heath department checking out the sewage from San José that goes directly into the river system to Quepos. Well let’s shut down San José. Sala IV should have that one on their desk now! 

Richard Vienneau
Costa Rica
Legislator to be buried
today in Cartago

By the A.M. Costa Rica

Services will be at 3 p.m. today for Nury Garita Sánchez, a national deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

She died Tuesday. The funeral will be at 3 p.m. in the Nuestra Señora del Carmen parish church in her native Cartago. burial will be in the Cementerio General there.

Ms. Garita, a retired teacher, served in many campaigns and occupied a leadership role with her party at the time of her death. She was elected in February 2002.
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Witnesses of Monge customers are threatened, she says
Minister of children blames demand for pimping kids
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of Niñez said Tuesday that the problem of underage prostitution is one of demand. She urged the nation’s chief prosecutor to investigate those people who have been revealed as customers of Sinaí Monge Muñoz.

The minister, Rosalia Gil, also is the director of the 
Rosalia Gil
Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the nation’s principal agency for children.

Minister Gil spoke at the weekly press conference at Casa Presidencial that follows the meeting of President Abel Pacheco’s cabinet, the Consejo de Gobierno.

If people would not ask for the sexual services, pimps would not exist because there would be no market, she said.

Ms. Monge, a well-known pimp who frequently offered minors to her clients, received a sentence of eight years Monday. However, the names of those who used her services have not been revealed. Investigators had her San Sebastian location under surveillance for a year and also tapped the Monge telephone lines.

Tapes of discussions between Ms, Monge and prospective customers were played at her trial.

However, the minister said that to prove participation of important individuals in the transactions for sex would be difficult because witnesses are facing threats of death and are afraid.

The minister also defended what many consider a light 

sentence for the offense. She said that the three-judge panel probably has good reasons for an eight-year sentence. With good behavior and credit for time served before trial, Ms. Monge could be out in two and a half years even if her sentence is not modified.

Ms. Monge claimed for years that she was above the law and protected by shadowy figures in the government. A judge is believed to have been one of the persons on her client list.

Ms. Gil casts underage prostitutes as victims in such situations.

She was asked by a reporter to explain how the Patronato handles situations where youngsters are on the street, perhaps offering themselves as prostitutes. Ms. Gil said that Patronato employees would talk to the youngster and to the child’s parents at least three times before taking unspecified action.

The chief prosecutor, Fiscal General Francisco Dall’Anesse, has not addressed the Monge case. The prosecutors who carried the case to court have not met with the press either.

So there is no indication if the investigation still is active. Tapes of the telephone calls also implicate a soccer player and an official of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A statement released later by Casa Presidencial said that Ms. Gil considered those who engage underage prostitutes to be the true aggressors.

Ms. Gil was shocked a year ago when she paid a visit to Parque Morazán in downtown San José. there she met fathers who were dropping off their underage girls to work as prostitutes. The park is a gathering place for underage prostitutes who cannot enter the nearby bars and dance halls that host adult prostitutes, who are not penalized under the law.

Nation's new fuel pipeline will be put underground 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo will invest $79.5 million in an underground pipeline some 175 kms. (109 miles) long.

By placing the pipe underground, the government-owned company known as RECOPE will reduce the safety and environmental hazards of the present above-ground line.  At some points the pipeline runs alongside the highway some two feet high in the Province of Limón.

Littleton Bolton, executive president of the company said today that the pipeline contract had been awarded. The work should be finished in 2007, he said. At that time, RECOPE will save about $25 million a year in transportation costs. Much of the fuel produced by the 

plant is trucked. Trucking costs about seven times as 
much as moving the fuel via a pipeline, officials said.

The pipeline will run from the Moín docks near Limón to La Garret. the 12-inch line will carry some 11 million liters of fuel a day, more than twice the current capacity, officials said.

The Mexican firm, Grupo Techint, will handle construction. Officials said they expect the number of vehicles in the country to double from the present 900,000 by 2017. And they think the new 

Littleton Bolton
line will insure fuel vailability through 2025.

Gunmen hold off police for hours in Desamparados
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed men opened fire on a house early Tuesday and nearly wounded a 6-year-old sleeping inside. Then they led police into a high-speed chase and a standoff that lasted five hours.

The action began in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados where men riddled a house about 3 a.m. because they had a dispute with the occupant.

When the men, who used two vehicles, fled they were surprised by a police cruiser making the rounds nearby. A shootout began, and the police officers in the vehicle chased the gunmen more than half a mile to Las Tablas, a location where officialdom is not welcomed.

The men continued to exchange fire with police, and reinforcements arrived. Principal units involved were the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Fuerza Pública and the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A spokesperson for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that police exercised extreme caution. During the standoff one of the neighbors in the area pegged several shots at a radio reporter. 

Eventually a judge arrived and gave officers permission to enter a house from where the men were believed to be shooting. Two persons were arrested, but one was quickly released. Officers did confiscate the two cars involved in the shootout and chase.

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U.S. delegation wants to talk about Nicaraguan missiles
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua ? The United States has sent a team of senior officials to Nicaragua for talks on that country's efforts to account for and dispose of its Sandinista-era arsenal of hand-held anti-aircraft missiles. The Managua government has promised to destroy its entire stockpile, but at least one such weapon recently was offered for sale on the black market.

The Bush administration has publicly praised Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños for his efforts to deal with the missiles his government inherited from the leftist Sandinista government in the 1980s.

But the administration is signaling that it has some concerns about the process, and has sent the team headed by Rose Likins, acting assistant secretary of State for political and military affairs, to renew contact. 

Bolaños assured Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 that Nicaragua would destroy its entire stockpile of 2,000 of the Soviet-made shoulder-fired missiles, which are capable of downing civilian airliners if they fell into the hands of terrorists.

So far, Nicaragua has destroyed about half the stockpile, but the country's National Assembly, led by Sandinista members, voted recently to require its approval for further destruction.

Questioned at a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher pointedly declined to say that the Bush administration is entirely satisfied with Nicaragua's performance on the issue, and that the assembly vote was among the items of concern for the U.S. team.

"I think we have been satisfied with some of the efforts the Nicaraguan government has made to destroy missiles, to the sting operation that helped identify that 
there might be others out there. But obviously the National Assembly vote creates difficulties. And it is 

one of the reasons why we want to get a team down there to try to work with them, to help make sure that the government can fulfill the pledge that it made at very high levels," he said.

Boucher's reference was to a U.S.-assisted "sting" operation in January by Nicaraguan authorities, who arrested two men who tried to sell a missile to undercover police agents posing as agents for terrorists.

A Nicaraguan judge Tuesday convicted the two men of possessing and seeking to sell the portable missile and sentenced one of the men to 18 months in prison and gave the other a one-year term.

Nicaraguan defense officials said at the time of the arrests last month that the missile seized in the case was old and inoperable, and had not come from the government arsenal.

But the State Department said there were reports that elements in the Nicaraguan military or others might be keeping an unaccounted-for supply of the missiles.

Officials from the department called on the Managua government late last month to investigate and find out if, indeed, some of its missiles may have "gone missing or might be in the wrong hands."

Secretary of State Powell said in a November 2003 visit to Nicaragua that the stockpile did not contribute to Nicaragua's security or to a balance of forces in the region, were a burden to the country's military, and should be entirely destroyed.

U.S. officials believe that two missiles of the same type possessed by Nicaragua were fired at an Israeli airliner leaving the Kenyan port city of Mombasa in November 2002 but missed their target.

That attempt came just minutes before a car bomb attack at an Israeli-owned beach resort nearby, attributed to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, that killed 15 people including three suicide attackers.

Force of rebels attack police patrol in Peru and kill three officers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru ? Peruvian police say Maoist rebels have killed three policemen in a remote jungle ambush.

Police officials said Monday the three were driving on a highway northwest of the capital when at least 20 members of the Shining Path movement hit their truck with a hail of gunfire. The officers were killed as they 

fled the attack on foot. The insurgents later looted and burned the vehicle.

Police say a hammer-and-sickle flag was left at the scene of the shooting, and phrases associated with the Maoist rebels were painted on the roadway. Peruvian officials suspect Artemio, a high-ranking Shining Path official, is behind the attack. They say the rebels are active in the remote jungle area.

Jo Stuart
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