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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 39
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The mamey zapote is distinguished by its salmon pink flesh and shiny black seed. Sometimes there is more than one seed.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Hey, that fruit looks like a sweet potato!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How about a six-pound berry to flambé, make into ice cream or puree for mousse. Such an opportunity awaits at the corner fruit stand, although the object of affection is nondescript and frequently overlooked.

The fruit is the mamey zapote, a brown ovoid that hides a bright salmon interior pulp and a jet black seed sometimes the size of a child’s fist. Technically, it is a berry.

The fruit sells for about 400 colons a kilo on the streets of San José. The price is probably a lot less if you don’t look like a Gringo. Two medium-sized fruit can be a kilo and sell for a bit more than $1.

The fruit was better known when the Aztecs held sway in Mexico and Central America, although the zapote is experiencing a revival of sorts in Florida and other subtropical sections of North America with growers of exotic crops.

The fruit is the product of a 40- to 60-foot tree, and the Latin name is Pouteria sapota. A section of the Central Valley where Casa Presidencial is located bears the same name, presumably due to the presence of the tree since colonial times.

The University of Florida Extension Service has an extensive treatment of the plant on a Web site, including recipes: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG331

In Costa Rica, it is just another of those unusual and readily available fruits that mark the changes in the season. If it is February, it is time for zapotes or sapotes in English.

The name is a bit confusing because there are about 700 different species and a handful of fruits by the same name available at different times of the year. There is the white zapote, the zapote colorado and the black zapote which are not close relatives and have their own distinctive tastes and shapes

The mamey zapote looks a lot like a rounded sweet potato when it is sitting on a vendor’s stand. The ripe fruit gives to the touch and the bright pulp has a slightly grainy texture as well as taste that suggests pumpkin.

The large, black, oily seeds are said by some to be poisonous, but the Aztecs ground them up and used them to heal external ulcers and to straighten hair.

Of course the fruit is great fresh. A number of sources suggest chopping up the pulp and blending it with milk for a shake. Others prefer to make ice cream, which is a West Indian specialty.

An interesting variation is to serve the fruit flambé. This requires an industrial strength brown rum, at least 100 proof.

The A.M. Costa Rica staff prepares their flambé this way:

In a measure, pour a jigger of flavored brown rum. Drink this straight, and then you are ready to start.

Then cut up the pulp of two medium fruit, perhaps a kilo, into strips. Better yet, cut it up BEFORE drinking the rum. In a chaffing dish, simmer butter and sugar until it is slightly caramelized. 

Add the fruit and continue to simmer until the fruit begins to appear to be cooked along the edges.  Dump in about two jiggers of rum and allow flame to reach the interior of the pan. Display the flaming pan to the ooowws and aaaahs of your guests, then smother the display. 

Serve the caramelized fruit over the plain cake or ice cream of your choice.

Don’t bother planting the seed. Like most domestic tree fruit, you are better off buying commercial, proven  stock rather than waiting the seven years to see what kind of fruit you will get.

 
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Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I decided to try something new (nothing else was working this year!) and put a photo in an ad for my rental. 

That was on Monday, by 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday it was rented — not only that, the person rented it long distance.  After 10 years of renting apartments that's the first time that's ever happened.  I will definitely advertise with you and always put in a photo!  Thank you very much and keep up the good work.

Christine Essex
San Antonio de Escazú
Ottón Solís sees more than half his deputies leave
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eight Partido Acción Ciudadana deputies, including the party’s legislative leader, have jumped ship from the political party.

The defectors represent more than half of the party’s 14 representatives in the current session. The defections are a blow to the presidential hopes of party president Ottón Solís on whose shirttails the deputies won last December. The newly formed party attracted 26 percent of the popular vote due to the strong personal pull of Solís.

As the name implies, the party is popularly based and drew many of its candidates from those who had not participated in the political process.

In addition to party legislative leader Humberto Arce, the deputies who renounced party alligiance are Juan José Vargas, Quírico Jiménez, Edwin Patterson, Elvia Navarro, Daysi Quesada, Emilia Rodríguez and Rafael Ángel Varela.

Arce said that the individual deputies may affiliate with the four other political parties represented in the assembly.

Although the rift is being blamed on differences in interpretation of the party’s code of ethics, the strong presence of Solís is a major factor.The party’s general assembly endorsed the code anew over the weekend.

The code was a campaign plank for the fledgling party, and all candidates endorsed the code before the election.

Solís is widely regarded as a strong candidate for president in 2004. However, his party still does not have the depth that the Partido Liberación Nacional or the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana has.

The hopes of Solís are widely believed to hinge on how well he can  control the party up until the time he runs for election. There is little doubt that he will be a candidate although he has declined to say so for sure.

Deputy denies
drink was factor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Federico Vargas Ulloa, a member of the Asemblea Nacional, said Monday that he was not drunk when his vehicle was involved in an accident early Sunday. The mishap took place in Lagunilla in Heredia.

He said Monday that he had taken some drinks but that the alcohol test given him at the accident scene showed he was not drunk. He was not arrested.

The lawmaker is a member of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the same party as President Abel Pacheco.  An 18-year-old and a 17-year-old women also were in the vehicle when the accident happened about 2:45 a.m., and the older woman suffered damage to her jaw. No one was hospitalized. There was no explanation on where Vargas was going when he crashed.


 
 
Botched transplants
end in teenagers death

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — A teenager who survived a botched heart-lung transplant in the United States, and then got a second set of donated organs, has died. 

Jessica Santillan had a heart deformity that kept her lungs from getting enough oxygen. The teenager's family reportedly smuggled her into the United States three years ago in hopes of getting the transplant she needed.

On Feb. 7, surgeons at Duke University Medical Center in the southeastern state of North Carolina performed a heart-lung transplant on Jessica with donated organs. But doctors implanted organs from a donor with a different blood type than Jessica's. Her body rejected them. 

Doctors found a second set of organs within two weeks and performed another transplant, but it was too late. Jessica has been declared brain dead.

Saturday, a decision was made to take Jessica Santillan off life support. Transplant surgeon James Jaggers, who made the error, said everyone at Duke University was saddened. "I know that everybody at Duke mourns the loss of Jessica," he said. 

Santillan family lawyer Kurt Dixon said Jessica's family was not given enough time to get a second medical opinion from an outside doctor about whether the teenager was brain dead. 

"Based on the outcome of these tests, and other examinations, Jessica's doctors have pronounced that Jessica has died," said Dixon.

Violence rises in Rio
before pre-Lent carnival

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Violence has swept parts of the city here effectively closing many shops as it fills with tourists before the pre-Lenten Carnival celebration, which begins Friday. Police said the violence is apparently drug-related.

At least seven buses and several cars were destroyed overnight north side, and a police guard post was raked with gunfire. In the upscale Ipanema beachfront quarter, homemade bombs were detonated, breaking apartment windows but apparently hurting no one.

Shop owners and sales personnel received copies of letters warning them not to open.

Josias Quintal, state security secretary, said six people were arrested handing out such letters and that the intent was to generate instability. He said the violence was ordered by a drug lord who is currently in prison, and he promised an appropriate police response. He said a full report on the violence will be issued later Monday.

Rebels calling captured
Americans ‘POWs’

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The largest leftist rebel group here says three captured U.S. citizens are "prisoners of war," and will only be freed in a prisoner exchange with the government. 

The rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia published the statement Monday on its Internet web site. The terrorist group has said it cannot guarantee the safety of the hostages unless the government halts military operations in the southern Caqueta province, where the Americans were captured. 

The military here has rejected the rebel demand, saying the search and rescue operation to free the captives will continue. The United States has demanded the hostages' immediate release. The terrorist group captured the three Americans after their small U.S. government plane crash-landed on Feb. 13. 

Colombian officials have said the crew was on an intelligence mission. A fourth U.S. citizen on the aircraft and a Colombian soldier were found shot to death at the site. The Bush administration says between 42 and 46 U.S. intelligence officers are en route to the country to help search for the missing Americans. 

U.S. officials refuted news reports the U.S. Defense Department is sending 150 additional troops to the Andean nation. 

The Pentagon did say President George Bush has notified Congress as required by law that the total number of U.S. military personnel in the country has exceeded the congressionally mandated cap of 400 "by a small number."

Peru’s first lady
urges rights pact

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Peru’s First Lady, Eliane Karp de Toledo, called on the international community not to disappoint the hemisphere’s more than 40 million indigenous peoples who are expecting to see a declaration adopted to protect their rights. 

Addressing a special session of a working group Monday, the Peruvian first lady said she was encouraged by discussions between the states and the indigenous peoples, adding that the challenge now before the Organization of American States is to approve the hemispheric Declaration. 

She argued that this endeavor cannot be divorced from the war on poverty, “at this juncture in the history of the Americas when stability, security and consolidation of democracy cannot be achieved without tackling the structural problem of poverty and marginalization of millions of citizens.” 

Describing the draft American Declaration as “a magnificent proposal,” the first lady was optimistic that “important steps will be made to ensure the declaration fully recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to their land, territories and natural resources in keeping with environmental promotion and protection.” 

Tourism minister
plans town meeting

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica's tourism minister, Rubén Pacheco, and several legislators and municipality representatives will hold a town meeting Thursday, at 1 p.m. in the Puerto Jiménez Community Center (Salón Comunal). 

The purpose of the meeting is to provide the current administration with a greater familiarity with additional needs for tourism development, promotion, and infrastructure on the Osa Peninsula. The public is invited. 
 

Journalist’s death
generates tribute

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans should reject the impunity that some lawbreakers have and push for legal changes to increase the liberty of expression, according to Raúl Francisco Silesky Jiménez, president of the Colegio de Periodistas.

He said this would be a tribute to Roberto Cruz, a long-time reporter here and a survivor of the 1985 assassination attempt that killed four other newspeople.

Cruz, 67, died Sunday of liver cancer. He was on assignment when he and other newspeople went to the finca of La Penca in southern Nicaragua to attend a press conference given by Edén Pastora, the leader of the southern contras. A bomb smuggled into the conference in a briefcase exploded. Pastora was not killed.

Cruz spent much of the rest of his life fighting to learn the truth about the bombing. “No one has given us an explanation, and this fact continues as a black page in our history covered with the shame of impunity,” said Silesky of the bombing. No one has ever published the facts behind the bombing, although the actual bomber was believed to be a European mercenary who pretended to be a newsman.

The colegio is the professional organization of Spanish-speaking journalists.
 
 
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Free trade debate is something less than heated
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They were supposed to be squaring up, arguing their different points of view on a free trade pact between Central America and the United States. What resulted was, at times, almost the same song, as opposing views blended into one.

Rodrigo Carazo, Costa Rican president between 1978 and 1982, and Roberto Artavia, rector of the Harvard-affiliated Central American Institute for Business Administration, were guest speakers at a  Democrats Abroad meeting Monday. They were there as the figureheads in a debate on free trade, the former supposedly against the free trade agreement in question and the latter for it.

Artavia, who started the debate, seemed as if he would do so without his opponent — who had not yet shown up — having the benefit of hearing it. He joked that this in fact didn’t matter because Carazo already knew his speech anyway, as he did Carazo’s. Then Carazo appeared.

What happened then was not so much a debate as an exchange of ideas. Slowly the pair’s arguments meshed. On one hand, there was the statement that free trade is good for Costa Rica. On the other, the supposed opponent merely asked to know what Costa Rica wants from the proposed agreement in light of the United States’ clear declaration of what it wanted.

"It is now or never," Artavia said. "We cannot become an isolated economy in the world." He said Costa Rica had to take what is being offered now.

Artavia touched on Mexico and its position with the North American Free Trade Agreement eight years after its inception. Although negative views have been reported of Mexico’s agricultural industry, he said, on the whole the country’s economy has drastically improved. "Their economy increased fourfold," said Artavia.

Mexico is currently suffering under the strain of domestic subsidies for agriculture in the United States. Artavia said: "[Mexico] did not distribute the profits from the areas that lost [out]. . . We must learn from that."

Artavia said profits made from the proposed agreement here should be re-directed to areas of the economy that, in the short-term, will lose out. The agricultural sector here has been identified as a potential loser under the free trade pact.

Carazo then took the podium. But he surprised the crowd by refusing to voice his argument in English to the predominately English-speaking crowd. Artavia translated for him. Members of Democrats Abroad looked perplexed.

At one stage Artavia even pointed out a familial 

relationship with Carazo.

Carazo called for transparency. Artavia differed here slightly, saying transparency is a necessity but leaned more towards a relative transparency.

Artavia said: "We have to be transparent. But once you go to the table you have to keep your cards close to your chest to have the best negotiations possible.

"Let’s not send them to the giant without the tools to negotiate." He was referring to Costa Rica’s insistence on the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad staying public, calling it a potential "deal-breaker" with the United States.

Carazo called for his government to make it clear what it expects from the agreement. He said: "The U.S. position talks about accelerated tariff reduction at the same time as they talk about slower ones in their own country. So we are facing uneven discussion.

"At the same time we are not even sure what the government of Costa Rica is looking for."

He referred to Mexican growth in the wake of free trade as being in the hands of the few. He, too, said Costa Rica should learn from the Mexicans’ experience.

Carazo then revealed why he had refused to give his speech in English: "Because that is the language I hope [the Costa Rican negotiators] will use when they are across the table from the U.S. negotiators."

Both men agreed that due time has to be given to the negotiations, that they should not be rushed. Artavia rather resignedly said Costa Rica — and Central America — is not strong in negotiations but has to be there or face being left behind. 

The second round of negotiations between the United States and the five Central American countries began Monday in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ultimately the only difference between the two arguments was not necessarily to do with whether free trade is good or bad, as the Democrats Abroad advertising suggested, but more the legitimacy of how the free trade agreement should come about. 

Carazo ended off, as he headed out of the discussion early — perhaps equalizing his late showing — by saying: "[Free trade] is positive. If the negotiations are okay, then it will be favorable."

Artavia continued to answer questions in Carazo’s absence. Meanwhile, audience mutterings hinted disapproval at Carazo’s early departure, no doubt fueled by his late showing and choice of language.


 
Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.


 
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