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These stories were published Wednesday, March 2, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 43
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
José Pablo Céspedes Montenegro displays 5 kilo pargo dorado

Nothing fishy about Mercado Central

Where’s the best place to go fishing in San José? Why the Mercado Central, of course. And those goes double for finding herbs, tourist goods, coffee and great eats.

A lot of expats are afraid to go there. The central market does have its share of pickpockets and thieves, but basic security will keep bad guys from ruining a great experience at an extraordinary place.

And security has been bolsters in the last two months as a reconstruction project begins.

See our story and more photos BELOW!


Executive Branch gets off all of Semana Santa
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s official. Executive branch offices will be closed all of Semana Santa except for agencies providing essential services.

That was the word Tuesday from Fernando Trejos, minister of Trabajo.

The idea is to save money on transportation and utilities by giving as many government employees as possible the week off. In addition, he said, the employees need to know ahead of time so they can plan their vacations.

In the past, executive offices were closed officially only the Thursday and Friday of 

Semana Santa, although work did not take place at a high velocity Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Semana Santa or Holy Week runs from Palm Sunday, March 20 to Easter Sunday, March 27. For expats and others with government business the last day executive branch workers technically will be available is Friday, March 18. However, Costa Rican employees have  tendency to get a big jump on holidays, so many will take off March 17 and 18.

Private business will not be as generous with their workers, but many, particularly the smaller ones, will be closed all of Semana Santa, too.

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Letters to the editor
Readers think that U.S.
should evaluate itself

EDITOR’S NOTE: The three letters that follow respond to the U.S. report on human rights published here Tuesday.

Let’s match U.S. with Costa  Rica

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The U.S. incarcerates more people per 100,000 than any other country in the world, including the former USSR. In addition, their prisons are so overcrowded with non-violent drug offenders that building new jails has become a national interest. 

I wonder how the U.S. compares to C.R.? Probably much worse! Of course a comparison wasn't included in the report. It would have been good to see some comparative statistics in your article. It would be good for the morale of Ticos.

Aaron Lagadyn
Nanaimo, B.C., Canada 
Let’s clean up our backyard

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The US government apparently forgot to include one country in its analysis of civil rights infractions in 196 countries — itself!!

The Bible teaches us to cast the mote from our own eye before we point out .the splinter in our neighbors'. The Christian-oriented administration in the U.S. seems to enjoy applying the teachings of Christ only when it serves their own purposes. I do not condemn Christianity, only the hypocrites that .use it, or for that matter, any other religion, to further their own ends.

Compared to some countries, I have no doubt the U.S. would score well, but it would not fare as well as most industrial nations, in main part due to its involvement in the Middle East and its attacks on socialist-leaning .governments. Let's clean up our own backyard before we attack our neighbors in our ever shrinking globe.

John French

Report is just more hypocrisy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your piece this morning on the A.M. Costa Rica Web site regarding that annual hypocrisy known as the U.S. State Department Report On Human .Rights was notable more for what it left out than what it included.  It .never mentioned human rights abuses in the United States — which are .becoming as egregious as anywhere in the hemisphere.  So to correct that omission, here is what that State Department report and your description of it would have included had it been honest:


The human rights situation in the United States continues to deteriorate.  A presidential election in which numerous and serious statistical anomalies, nearly all in favor of the winning candidate, remain unaddressed by official investigatory agencies, is symptomatic of .increasing impunity and a declining respect for the rule of law. 

The public pronouncements about human rights and self determination are .increasingly belied by discussions, within the administration, of such .possible activities as the "Salvador option" as a means of imposing its .will in countries it militarily occupies, through the implementation of death-squad activity and state-sponsored terror as it did in El Salvador two decades ago. With the active encouragement and help of the administration, the press in the United States increasingly engages in self-censorship, and has done little reporting on these and similar domestic human rights issues. 

The administration has recently been accused of stacking the White House press corps with at least one ."journalist"  who was apparently present for the purpose of asking .questions the administration wanted asked.

Subversion of foreign governments, including those with widespread support, continues, while private individuals engaging in foreign subversion supported by the U.S. government remain unpunished.  Many of the dissidents recently arrested and jailed by Cuba were found to have been carrying large amounts of cash in U.S. dollars, traced to the U.S. .Interests Section, but while the United States continues to make angry pronouncements about the fate of those people, the individuals who were .responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines plane in the Bahamas three decades ago, leading to the death of dozens of people, remain at .large and unpursued. 

One of the persons believed to have been part of that plot currently holds a position of considerable responsibility in the government of the State of Florida.  Another person who operated death squads and a subversion campaign in Nicaragua in the 1980s in contravention of U.S. law and defiance of the U.S. Congress, is now the host of a popular national television program.

Pronouncements about the right of other nations to pursue self determination remain unhonored by the current government of the United States.  2004 saw the United States funneling arms to rebels within .Haiti through Grenada and the Dominican Republic for the purpose of overthrowing a freely elected government which enjoyed considerable .popular support, and replacing it with a friendlier government run by persons closely associated with the FRAPH and Tonton Macoute thugs of .the deposed "Papa Doc" Duvalier government. 

Agents sponsored by the .United States engaging in subversion against the government of Venezuela continue to be caught and arrested by that government, in spite of the fact that the current government's support of the people was overwhelmingly reaffirmed in a referendum widely regarded as free and fair.

Domestic repression in the United States continues to increase. Dissidents continue to be harassed and intimidated; those even remotely considered a threat but who are not particularly high-profile, occasionally find themselves jailed on trumped-up "terrorism" charges, detained indefinitely without charge, or find themselves fleeing into .exile. 

Demonstrations are frequently repressed, often violently, and .police abuses of those arrested usually go unpunished.  Officers of charities who look after the rights of those detained for political .reasons are often harassed and intimidated, placed on "watch lists." This year it was revealed that the United States occasionally engages in .a process it calls "extraordinary rendition," by which it occasionally .sends detained persons to other countries known to engage freely in the brutal torture of persons in detention. 

At least two of the victims of .this procedure are known to have been killed, and several more are known to have sustained permanent debilitating injuries.  For these reasons, the numbers of people fleeing from the United States for political reasons has recently increased dramatically over the last year, particularly since the election; an absolute minimum of 200 per .month (possibly has high as several thousand) are known to be settling in Latin America, Canada and Europe.  In response, the United States government is exerting pressure on the recipient nations to tighten their residency requirements.

The United States continues to detain suspects it calls "enemy .combatants," at facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Kabul, Afghanistan, and several locations in Iraq.  Only those at Guantanamo have a legal .right to any kind of trial, where they are offered only "military .tribunals," which are widely regarded as being show trials, conducted only because they were required by court decisions. 

The foreign nationals who have been released from Guantanamo Bay detention have told .stories of torture and abuse that are consistent with those that have .been revealed from Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. administration .continues to refuse to accept the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, to which it is signatory, with regards to the legal status of the detainees.

The United States continues to refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and continues to refuse to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If you publish this, please do not use my name or location.  I am one of those who fled under pressure, and I don't need to add to the pressure I continue to feel.  Thank you.

Name withheld by request
Location withheld by request
Her memorial is a toad
found in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Herpetology student who was killed three and a half years ago will be forever remembered now that her former classmate named a rare Costa Rican toad after her.

The Bufo aucoinae toad, named after Lisa Louise Aucoin, was recently identified in the rainforests near the Pacific coast. Ms. Aucoin’s former classmate Eric O'Neill named the toad after his former study buddy.

According to a story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, O’Neill and Ms. Aucoin were both studying towards their master’s degree in herpetology at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond before Ms. Aucoin’s death in a car crash.

The story said that O’Neill had been in Costa Rica studying the toads before Ms. Aucoin’s death. When he was offered the chance to name them, he immediately chose his old herpetology partner. 

Junior tennis tourney
will begin next Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rica tennis club will host the Costa Rica Bowl, a junior tennis tournament, from Monday to March 12.

The tournament is an official International Tennis Federation event and will draw some of the brightest talent in junior tennis. 

The boys’ singles tourney has 48 participants and the girls’ has 36. The tournament will also feature a large doubles draw for both boys and girls.
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Baskets and cut flowers are in abundance
Ivette Muños Sale sells food products made from corn

Mercado Central is putting on a new, safer face
Story and photos by Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Visiting the Mercado Central is like taking a step back in time perhaps 50 years. That’s not necessarily a nostalgic event. particularly if you are talking about the electrical system.

Fortunately, the Municipalidad de San José is taking steps to spiff up the central market where hundreds of merchants offer products that frequently cannot be found elsewhere.

Already officials have beefed up security. The central market was notorious for its sneak thieves and pickpockets. Any confined place containing many people represents a prime hunting ground for thieves, but merchants there seem to have gotten the idea that thefts are bad for business.

Second to thefts, expats express concern about the prepared food at the central market, but that hesitancy is groundless. In fact, some of the most traditional foods can be found here from olla de carne to tamales to casados. And more than a dozen restaurants vie for business.

The market itself is divided by specialties. Fish vendors can be found along the Avenida 1  north side along with shrimp the size of a man’s forearm. Along the south side, near Calle 6 and Avenida Central, shoppers will find leather products from handbags, sandals, hats, sheaths for machetes and similar leather souvenirs.

At the southwest corner near Avenue 8 small groceries, coffee roasters and jewelry galleries can be found.

Most shops at the central market have a family history and in some cases grandparents were minding the store years ago. Some shops face outward from the market toward the streets, but the most interesting shops are inside lining the narrow corridors.

Ivette Muños Sale, who sells food products made from corn, works where her mother started a small sales stall 60 years ago. She sells pork tamales, a sweet cake made of coconut and corn and biscochos, toasted loops of cheese and corn.

Many Costa Ricans use the central market as their drugstore. Herbs are available for any ailment and natural treatments are popular here. José Roberto Rojas Rojas has run his herb business for 25 years on the northwest inside corner near the flower markets. His stall is interesting even for those simply studying the plants of Costa Rica.

Coffee is the golden grain. Although Volio across Avenida 1 from the central market might be more 

José Roberto Rojas Rojas has run his herb business for 25 years.

famous, Luis Diego Bogan roasts the beans inside the stall El Tostador that he manages. He says sales have increased since new security measures were put in place in January, including a private guard force. and more supervision by local police.

The market is so interesting that tourist companies have it on their list of sights to see in the city. But no tour can do justice to what is inside the central market. Need nutmeg? A cast iron orange squeezer? Noni fruit? Cheese? A  traditional Costa Rican dress? A machete? Horse bridles? A Stetson?

The best way to learn the market is to take multiple trips, speak at length with the store operators and buy those items at a price much less than similar goods available in more conventional surroundings.

Then take home  a five-kilo pargo to bake with lemons and onions. 

Hours have been shortened because workmen are upgrading the electricity and plumbing during the night. The market used to open at 6 a.m., but until further notice, the opening time is 8 a.m.

Dozens of spices, including nuez moscada, nutmeg, are available

The hands of employee Johan Días Ugalde release hot coffee beans from the roaster at El Tostador.

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Municipality cracks down on licenses for slot machines
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Municipal inspectors had two casino operators turn off slot machines over the weekend because of tax and paperwork irregularities.

At the Horseshoe Casino some 24, about half the mechanical slot machines, were darkened, and the second floor bar was closed down.

At the Hotel Del Rey across Avenida 1 and Calle 9 some 24 more mechanical machines were shut down. The Del Rey recently remodeled and created space for many more slot machines.

Natalia Gamboa, head of the licensing department of the Municipalidad de San José, confirmed the shutdowns of machines at the two casinos.

She said Tuesday that officials checked out a number of businesses Friday to verify their licenses. Involved were restaurants and other types of businesses as well as the two casinos.

In the inspection were representatives of the Ministerio de Salud, the Fuerza Pública and others from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Ms. Gamboa said at the Horseshoe inspectors found slot machines that were not authorized or licensed by the municipality. She said that the casino has approval for 49 machines but more were found.

The situation is more complex than casino operators simply putting in extra machines. Ms. Gamboa noted that a one-year law passed in December  2002 taxed slot machines in 2003. That law expired Jan. 1, 2004. A new law to replace it still is in the committees of the Asamblea Legislativa.

However, Ms. Gamboa said that casinos still were supposed to license and pay tax on their machines. Additional machines added recently have not been approved, she said.

The casino operators have 10 working days to bring their establishments into conformity with the rules stated by the municipal officials, and some will have to eliminate some slot machines, she said.

The 48 machines still were turned off Tuesday night. However, beer was being served at the Horseshoe second-floor bar despite the municipal cloture order and a large municipal sticker on the normal beer storage case.

Carlos Ortega caught in Caracas and will face charge of treason
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela ? Venezuelan police have arrested labor leader Carlos Ortega who was invited to leave Costa Rica last March.

Ortega, a fierce critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was wanted for leading a crippling two-month strike two years ago. The strike disrupted oil output, 

but failed to topple the Chavez government.

The labor leader fled Venezuela in 2003, receiving asylum in Costa Rica. But Costa Rica asked him to leave last year, and he has been in hiding.

Venezuelan authorities say Ortega was caught in western Caracas late Monday. He faces charges of rebellion and treason.

Vázquez takes over as first socialist president in history of Uruguay
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay ? Tabaré Vázquez has taken office as Uruguay's first leftist president.

Thousands of flag-waving supporters crowded outside the Congress building, where Vázquez was sworn in Tuesday for a five-year term. He won office by assembly a coalition of leftists, socialists and Communists, including some of the former Tupamaro guerrillas.

The 65-year-old president is a cancer specialist and former mayor of Montevideo. He came to power on pledges to help the country's poor, and is also expected to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro canceled his plans to attend the inauguration for health reasons.

Among those attending the inauguration were the presidents of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru as well as Spain's Crown Prince Felipe. 

Jo Stuart
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