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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 39
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And the ATM didn't even say 'Thank you'
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I am brutally open with readers. They get to hear about my most embarrassing, frightening and stupefying moments as I bumble my way through Costa Rica. This is one of those moments.

After a long weekend at the beach, I needed to fetch some money from the ATM. I tapped in my PIN number, retrieved 5,000 colons and was on my way to the office. My problems became apparent soon after —  when I realized that my card was still in the machine.

I ran back to the machine and arrived just in time to see my card zip back into the steel encased slot. My card was now a prisoner in the ATM because of my stupidity. This must be a security measure to protect stupid people.

I cursed at the machine for several minutes, stammering around it, throwing my hands in the air, and using words my mother wouldn’t approve of. I calmed down after an older woman asked if I was finished with the machine yet.

I trudged my way back to the office, embarrassed and still angry. The image of a shredder permanently dismantling my card ran through my head repetitively. Then I started to think about my options.

My bank back in the states has a nasty habit of mailing replacement cards a few weeks after they are desperately needed, and the thought of living without money for a month was disheartening at best.

By the time I reached the office, I was convinced that I would be rattling a can downtown in order to cover my expenses for the next month. 




I stammered through the front door, dropped my bag on the ground and fell face first into my computer. My coworker noticed a problem and asked if anything was wrong.

"They still have your card," she said gleefully. My neck snapped as I turned towards her. "In the States they tear up the card, but down here you just have to call the bank."

To my astonishment and my surprise, the machine had not shredded my card. In fact a bank worker has assured me that I will be able to pick up the card this week.

Costa Rica is known for it brutal nature towards ignorant tourists. The country has a certain way of punishing those who aren’t paying attention. Therefore I propose this exhibit as perhaps the first instance where a Gringo acted poorly and was not punished severely. Or maybe it’s just a lucky break. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Medici has written about his mugging, how he got all his hair cut off by mistake and sleeping overnight in the Miami airport. 


 
Skutch legacy lives on with coffee label to help nature reserve
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff 

An idea from the American naturalist Dr. Alexander Frank Skutch has become a reality. Taking up Skutch's idea, coffee companies throughout Costa Rica will now contribute money towards a biological reserve in  San Isidro de El General. 

Skutch, one of the world's leading experts on birds, died last May 12, just eight days short of his 100th birthday. Although born in Baltimore, Maryland, his love of nature and his passion for ornithology led him to his place of rest, a secluded farm in southern Costa Rica, Los Cusingos, San Isidro de El General. 

Skutch passed the administration of the farm to the Centro Cientifico Tropical.  "The need of resources for reserves like Los Cusingos and the difficult situation of the coffee companies, 

made  Skutch think of a collaboration between the CCT and us," said Mike Beita from the commercial division of the Cooperativa de Productores of Pérez Zeledón, a coffee cooperative.

The idea has been under development for three years and is called, "Cafe de Valle Gourmet." It will be officially launched Friday. For each packet of coffee sold, 25 cents will be donated to the center for the protection of reserves in Costa Rica. The coffee will be aimed towards the tourist market and will be available for purchase at the national parks, Volcan Poas and Irazú and the Monteverde reserve and also four supermarkets of the Cooperativa de Productores. 

Beita said that they will then export the coffee. He said that distributors in Holland, the United States, Puerto Rico and Spain have already expressed an interest in buying the coffee. 

 
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Earthquake in Turrialba
shakes but doesn’t break

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake jolted the residents of Turrialba Wednesday afternoon. The quake registered at a magnitude of 4 and was felt throughout the immediate area surrounding Turrialba.

According to a release made by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, the quake did not result in any fatalities and did not cause any physical damage. 

The statement said that the quake’s epicenter was 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the southeast of Turrialba. 

Burglars swipe urn
filled with man’s ashes

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

The ashes of a Canadian who died in January were stolen Sunday during a break-in of his home in Puntarenas Sunday. 

The Canadian, Eugene Bernard, 81, died at his home close to the Universidad Hispanoamericana. His body was found Jan. 21. After an autopsy, a medical examiner concluded that he had died from natural causes. The Canadian Embassy carried out the families wishes that Bernard be cremated. 

Erick Bonneau, a friend, said that Bernard’s family arrived on Monday to take his ashes back to Canada and were distraught when they found that they had been stolen.  They were in the house in an urn.

An official from the Fuerza Pública said that this is the first time ashes have been stolen. He said that the thieves would get a surprise when then realized what they had taken. 

Orchestra from U.S. plans
series of concerts here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Symphonic Orchestra from the University of Northern Iowa will be visiting Costa Rica next month. Several free concerts are planned during the orchestra’s stay. 

The orchestra is made up of 60 musicians, students and professors from the university which is located in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The orchestra will be directed by Rebecca Burkhardt. The concerts will also include national musicians from the Escuela de Artes Musicales from the University of Costa Rica. 

The visit has been organized by the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano as part of the project, "Promising artists of the 21st Century," which aims to bring talented youngters to Costa Rica from the prestigious universities of the United States. The concerts will take place on the following dates. 

• Sunday, March 13, 6 p.m - Templo Parroquial La Inmaculada. Heredia

• Monday, March 14, 6 p.m. - San Ramon, Templo Parroquial

•Tuesday, March 15, 7 p.m. - Viola & Piano, Escuela de Artes Musicales Costa Rica.

• Tuesday, March 15, 3.30 p.m. - Jazz Concert, Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica. 

• Wednesday, March 16, 8 p.m. - Gala Concert, Teatro Eugene O'Neill, Centro Cultural Costarricense- Norteamericano, Barrio Dent.

• Friday, March 18,  7 p.m.- Puntarenas, Casa de la Cultura

• Saturday, March 19, 7 p.m. - Puntarenas, Casa de la Cultura. 

Two artists featured
at cultural center

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An art exhibition featuring two American artists is being held next month. It will run from next Tuesday to March 16 and has been organized by the Centro Cultural Costarricense. It will be at the Galeria Sophia Wanamaker in San Pedro. 

The artist David Chiarappa is a resident of Guanacaste and will be exhibiting his work at the gallery. He creates furniture pieces out of driftwood that he collects from the sea and rivers of Costa Rica.  He will be exhibiting12 pieces that include sculptures from bronze and glass. 

Hilda Green from New York will be exhibiting her compositions of waterfalls. She closely studies the movement of water in her pieces, Green has a masters degree in education in arts from Hunter College, New York City. She has received several prizes including a Fullbright fellowship award, 
 . 
The Galeria Sophia Wanamaker of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano is located 150 meters north of the gas station Los Yoses in Barrio Dent.

Bogus bills in vehicle
led to two arrests

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

Two men were arrested Tuesday after police said they were found to be carrying 19 false $100 bills. The men with the last names of Lopez Cascante and Alvarado Salazar were arrested at a Fuerza Pública checkpoint on the Interamerican highway some 55 kms. north of the country’s southern border. 

According to officials, the suspects were traveling in an Isuzu Trooper which was inspected at the checkpoint which has been put in place to check vehicles traveling from the south of the country. 

Telephone question hours

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's national telephone company, the Insitituto Costarricense de Electricidad, has announced new customer service hours for public telephone users. Beginning Tuesday, customers will be able to call between 7.30 a.m to 5 p.m.   Operators will be able to answer problems related to international calls and where  customers can purchase phone cards.  The free telephone number is 800-220-9-220.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Moms and kids sleep on the sidewalk seeking housing
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 50 person — nearly all mothers and their children — staged a sit-down Wednesday in front of the Ministerio de Vivienda. They are demanding that they get a better place to live.

The group represented 85 families who are neighbors in
Ramiro Fonseca
Barrio Casa Cuba in Los Guidos de San Miguel de Desamparados. These were the families that were kicked off of land they did not own in Finca Arrayanes in Los Guidos by a September decision from the Sala IV constitutional court.

Living on the sidewalk on Avenida 7 in North San José is not new for the group. That is where they live in Los Guidos since they were evicted. José Arias Badilla, president of the group’s organization, the Asociación Pro Vivienda Mirador de los Guidos., 

said the group was prepared to spend the night in front of the housing ministry.

Ramiro Fonseca, vice minister of housing, said he does not understand why the people are striking outside the building because the group and the ministry have signed an agreement as a step for a new place to live.

One problem, the vice minister said, is that the association wants to construct a subdivision of homes in an area that is subject to slides and is not fit for development for envirnomentl reasons.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Babies and youngsters sprawl in the mid-
afternoon sun as their parents wait for a better deal from the ministery of housing.

However, the ministry found another plot of land that might be suitable for home, but the area is under study. In addition, the ministry does not have this new project in its budget, said Fonseca.


 
Alterra faces a Monday deadline for new financial plan
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff

A new financial plan must be submitted by the current airport operators, Alterra Partners Ltd., by Monday, if the firm is to continue the administration of Juan Santamaría International Airport, said  Randall Quiros, minister of Obras Publicas y Transportes. 

Alterra took control of the airport in 2001 with a concession contract that was expected to last 20 years. The deal is a public-private one with the government receiving 50 percent of the income. Alterra Partners was to invest $240 million during the 20 years. About $160 million of this was to be invested during the first three years of the agreement. 

The government and Alterra Partners are involved in a long-running dispute over who should pay what. The government stopped renovations and modernization at the airport when officials realized that the project costs were much higher than expected. There also were technical problems with some questions raised whether the original agreement provided for spending the amount of money Alterra had planned. In March 2003 foreign creditors decided that there was not enough guarantees that Alterra would pay back money loaned and froze their lines of credit.

Some officials say that the government no longer has tonegotiate with Alterra Partners because of the firm’s failure to comply with the terms of the contract.  Officials said that if a balanced financial plan has not been submitted by the end of this week then the government will take control of the airport within six months. 

The financial plan, if submitted, will then be reviewed by the Consejo Tecnico de Aviacion Civil, said Quiros. 

Alterra partners are also being sued by Bechtel-Edica, a member of the Alterra Partners consortium. The firm is suing Alterra for $38 million. This is because of losses that were incurred when work was stopped by creditors who froze $30 million that was to be allocated to the airport modernization project. 

In a statement Tuesday Bechtel-Edica said that the firm was forced to fire 140 employees and return heavy machinery which was imported from the United States.  Quiros confirmed this during his appearance before the a legislative commission that is investigsting public works and administrative contracts authorized by the government. 

"The cases that are being filed by the construction firms are not the fault of the state," Quiros said.


 
Glencairn Gold has a rough first day on the American Stock Exchange
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Glencairn Gold Corp. which is about to begin production at a Costa Rican project, has been approved for listing on the American Stock Exchange, and began trading there Wednesday.

The approval gives the gold company access to a much broader investment market. The company continues to be traded under the symbol GGG on the Toronto Exchange. The company symbol on the American exchange will be GLE. 

The stock opened on the AMEX at 10 a.m. New York 

time at 53 U.S. cents a share and then fell sharply to 45 cents by 11 a.m. The stock closed at 47 cents. 67,600 shares changed hands during the day.

There was no comment from the company on the sharp drop. The stock had been trading in Toronto at 53 to 56 cents. 

Glencairn owns the Bellevista mine at Monte de Oro on the Pacific coast. It has said it is ready to start production in a few months. The project, an open pit mine, is designed to produce 60,000 ounces of gold a year and employ nearly 300 persons. Canada-based Glencairn also operates a gold mine in Nicaragua.


 
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U.S. goods for Cuba must be paid in cash in advance, U.S. agency rules
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control ruled Tuesday that U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba must be paid for in cash before the goods leave U.S. ports.

Some U.S. financial institutions had requested that the office clarify whether payments of cash in advance permit the shipments of goods to Cuba prior to receipt of the payment by U.S. exporters.  The clarification of payment rules was issued following discussions within the Bush administration and with the input of Congress and industry officials, the statement said. The payment policy conforms to the common understanding of the term "payment in cash in advance." 

The statement said that the ruling balanced its responsibility to administer effective sanctions against Cuba with the need to ensure that the island nation can continue to receive food shipments, medicine and medical supplies from U.S. exporters.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern over how the clarification will affect the competitiveness of U.S. exports to Cuba.

In the Tuesday statement, Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat of Montana, said that the clarification could jeopardize recent agricultural accords between his state and Cuba. 

As a result of the ruling, Baucus said, he plans to block the Bush administration's nominees for positions in the Treasury Department.


 
President in Paraguay replaces  minister in fallout over murder
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCÍON, Paraguay ? Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte has replaced his interior minister and fired 31 police officers, one week after the kidnapped daughter of a former president was found dead.

Duarte Wednesday named Rogelio Benitez as the country's fourth interior minister in a year. Benitez replaces Nelson Mora, who resigned Tuesday in the political uproar surrounding Cecilia Cubas' death. 

The 32-year-old woman was the daughter of former President Raul Cubas. Her body was discovered buried under a house outside Asuncion, five months after she was kidnapped.

Police have detained several suspects and are looking into allegations that rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were involved in Ms. Cubas' disappearance. 

Raul Cubas served from August 1998 to March 1999.


 
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