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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, March 11, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 50
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Today is a day 
for funerals
The funerals for victims killed in a botched bank robbery are today in Tibás and Santa Elena de Monteverde where the 28-hour hostage standoff took place.

At left members of the security force at Casa Presidencial serve as honor guard to murdered officer Oscar Quesada Fallas at his wake in Tibás 

Our story is BELOW!

The better condition must be being quick
There are some days when I find myself walking a couple of blocks from my apartment or sitting at a bus stop, and sort of "coming to." My body seems to get ahead of my mind, which is still back in my apartment. The same thing happens when I am at home. I will find myself in my bedroom while the thought about why I went there is still in the kitchen. 

Maybe everybody does that, but I attribute my condition to an incident when I was quite young. I asked some grownup what the phrase "the quick and the dead" meant. I had either heard it or read it somewhere. 

The answer I got was "Well, when you are dead, they bury you. But when you are quick, you’re alive, and, er, they don’t bury you." This stuck with me because I was also claustrophobic. The thought of being buried alive was so awful I began to do everything quickly so that I was in no danger of anyone accidentally burying me alive. This led, of course, to more frequent accidents — and my mother saying "Haste makes waste." Yes, I thought, but it doesn’t put you in a hole in the ground.

Although now I know better, I still tend to move quickly — until recently. Walking has become a chore that I perform more and more slowly. Instead of offering interesting thoughts I find myself thinking about my friend Bill. Not the good times or the laughs we shared. I just miss him. I am still trying to get used to the fact that the morning has passed and he hasn’t called just to check that I made it through the night. 

He worried about me because I live alone. And two weeks ago Thursday he didn’t make it through the night. For a week I ate peanut butter and toast every day — not just because it was his favorite food. I crave it. 

Of all the experiences we humans are unprepared for, death is probably at the top. A friend told me that one reason the death of 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

someone close leaves us so sad is because we begin to contemplate our own death.

Normally walking improves my mood, but lately the sadness stays with me and walking has been slow and difficult.

That was until Wednesday when I had an errand at the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro. Although I roamed San Pedro pretty thoroughly when I first arrived in Costa Rica, I have never been on the campus of the university. The taxi dropped me at the Sabanilla entrance and I was looking for the Social Science building. 

It is a very large campus. It was drizzling rain, which had cooled the weather. A college campus, of course, is filled with college students. I walked the entire campus, asking directions as I went. I once again felt a distinct pleasure in experiencing the atmosphere that is part of a university. 

It is true; we tend to reflect our surroundings and the people around us. I began to walk more briskly to keep up with the flow. It didn’t tire me in the least. I enjoyed my short encounters asking directions. Even though they may have been hurrying to a class, everyone was polite and helpful. 

And I enjoyed watching students be students. By the time I emerged onto the noisy main street of San Pedro, I knew I would have to make another visit, if only to walk the interesting pathways of the university and become a member of the quick again. 

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Guatemala approves
U.S. free trade treaty

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The Congress has ratified the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Lawmakers approved the treaty Thursday, 126 to 12. 

Ratification of the accord follows two days of protests by Guatemalans opposed to the pact.

The treaty would lower tariffs on U.S. exports to Central America and Central American farm products sent to the United States.

Critics say the deal will hurt local farmers and workers forced to compete against powerful foreign companies.

The United States signed the agreement last May with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  The Dominican Republic signed later.

El Salvador and Honduras have already ratified the deal. The Costa Rican legislature has not received the treaty from President Abel Pacheco.

Coral reefs face threats
in Caribbean waters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nearly two-thirds of the coral reefs in the Caribbean are threatened by human activities according to a report released by the World Resource Institute.

The report says that direct human pressures such as over-fishing and pollution runoff, as well as the ravages of storms and hurricanes have placed the Caribbean reefs in danger. 

The 80-page report authored by Lauretta Burke and Jon Maidens states that the coral has suffered serious corrosion in the last 60 years. 

The institute used their Reefs at Risk Threat Index to examine the Caribbean area, an estimated area of more then 10,000 square miles.

The index uses four primary sources to gauge the reefs vulnerability and overall importance. These sources include coastal developments such as sewage discharge, water-based sediment and pollution coming from fertilizers from farms, marine-based pollution such as those coming from discharges from cruise ships, and over-fishing. 

The institute also calculated the reefs’ protective value to the nearby island nations and coastlines. When storms move into Caribbean waters, the reefs act as buffers dissipating waves and overall storm energy. The institute calculated that shoreline protection from natural Caribbean reefs saves between$700 million and $2.2 billion per year. 

The report also warned that continuing degradation of the region's coral reefs could reduce net annual revenues from dive tourism — which provided an estimated $2.1 billion in 2000 — by as much as $300 million per year by 2015. 

The authors estimate that Caribbean coral reefs provide goods and services with an annual net economic value in 2000 between $3.1 billion and $4.6 billion from fisheries, dive tourism, and shoreline-protection services. 

Another feature of the report is its inclusion of the first regionally consistent, detailed mapping of these threats. These will help local, national and international organizations in setting financial and societal priorities for conservation and natural resource management. 

The institute first used the Reefs at Risk Threat Index to determine reef degradation throughout the world in 1998.  Five years later, it was used to measure the threats to the coral reefs of Southeast Asia, the center of global marine diversity. This is the first time it has been applied to the Caribbean or used in a region that is heavily dependent on tourism for its revenue.

Opinion of readers

Deaths in Monteverde
should be wake up call

To the editor: 

The tragedy + the death of innocent civilians in the foiled bank robbery in Costa Rica should be wake up call to all Costa Ricans of the "high" price of success that has to be paid in being a popular destination + the money that is being made in the tourism industry + other sectors. 

The biggest reason for this tragedy could be the criminality of the perpetrators but the motive should be figured out with an analysis in the discrepancy of income + earning potential between the rich + the poor in Costa Rica. The government of Costa Rica + its citizens should try their best to share their wealth + create good jobs, but not just abuse + enslave their workers . 

The signs of the down fall of every empire + the causes can be summarized : 

1- Wealth without Work 

2- Pleasure without Conscience 

3- Knowledge without Character 

4- Commerce without Morality 

5- Science without Humanity 

6- Worship without Sacrifice

7- Politics without Principles 

Do not fall in that trap . 

Joe Nazi 
Hackensack, N.J. 

Farewell to Dan Rather
depends on the drink

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Well, 9 March 2005, Dan Rather retired as the anchor for CBS News. I won’t say I was sad, because I wasn’t. For sure, he was no Walter Cronkite. Best of luck to Dan. Best of luck to CBS News. Best of luck to 60 Minutes when Dan finally leaves. 

However, my opinion of the man rose geometrically, when, at the Dan Rather going-away party, his drink of choice was Wild Turkey sour mash bourbon. 

As they say, your first glass of Wild Turkey, it’s "Gobble, Gobble, Gobble." About the fourth glass, it’s "Put, Put, Put". 

You may get the man out of Texas, but you’ll never get Texas out of the man. 

Jim Edwards 
Alajuela Province 
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A block behind the INS building in Barrio Amón

Funerals begin for victims of botched bank takeover
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Following Costa Rica custom, the bulk of the funerals for those killed Tuesday and Wednesday at a Banco Nacional branch office in Santa Elena de Monteverde are today.

Officials said the final death toll was two bandits, one policeman and six bank employees or customers. 

The Tuesday afternoon robbery involved four bandits, but one has escaped and one suspect, the man who held police at bay for 28 hours, is in custody.

Officials said the man in custody, Erly Hurtado Martínez, 24, fooled them by pretending that another gunman was inside the bank with  him.

Killed by guards in the botched robbery before they entered the building were Santos Hurtado Martínez, a brother to the prisoner, and Santos Maryori Cruz Martínez, a cousin.

Officials said that the bandits and the suspect are Nicaraguans. Agents claim they were member of a gang of robbers involved in others violent events in Turrialba, Cartago and Alajuela. The men were investigated as suspects in two homicides.

The dead men also have criminals records in Nicaragua. Santos Maryori Cruz Martínez has a pending case for attempted murder in Nicaragua, said officials.

When Hurtado surrendered Wednesday night, investigators believed that one of the six bodies inside the one-story bank branch was that of a bandit who had been mortally wounded when part of the gang forced their way into the building about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Instead, agents now way the six bodies are of bank employees and customers.

The six murders are all blamed on Hurtado.

The dead policeman, Oscar Quesada Fallas, 44, was a 24-year veteran of the Fuerza Pública. He was assigned to the Unidad Especial de Intervención, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministerio de la Presidencia. This is the nation’s tactical squad, and Quesada had an exemplary record, said officials. He had participated in 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
María Elena Fallas, mother of the slain policeman, hugs family members at the officer’s wake Thursday night.

saving a number of hostages in similar situations in the past.

Wednesday he was gunned down by an AK-47 military rifle about 1:30 p.m. when he led tactical squad members in trying to force their way into the lobby of the bank building. They managed to free the bulk of the hostage still being held at that time. Some 28 persons were hostages initially. Many escaped early Wednesday. But the remaining hostage, Elizabeth Artavia Solís came out as Hurtado surrendered.

Services for Quesada will be at 10 a.m. in the Iglesia de Tibás with burial in the local cemetery.

Both Quesada and Ms. Artavia are being praised as heroes. Ms. Artavia helped keep Hurtado from firing on hostages and from committing suicide. She also helped him communicate with negotiators, agents said.

In Santa Elena de Monteverde residents are hanging black fabric on buildings to show their sorrow. Many residents say they believe the bank building should be demolished and replaced by a memorial park for those bank employees and customers killed there.

A really long drive to sample authentic German food
Full many a gem of purest ray serene 
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
From Thomas Gray’s 
"Elegy Written in  a 
Country Churchyard," 
published in 1751.

I’m sure my house guests thought I was crazy when I proposed a seven-hour round trip in the car to try a new place for lunch. Guilty as charged. But, like nearly all ventures out on the roads into our verdant countryside, we stumbled on "many a flower" that might have otherwise blushed unseen. On the way to Nuevo Arenal, we saw bromeliads and orchids in bloom, a pair of grand mealy parrots, a large pack of coatimundis, circumnavigation of Arenal Volcano silhouetted against a cloudless sky, crested caracaras, waterfalls and a gem of a restaurant.

Three different A.M. Costa Rica readers have asked about German restaurants in the past six months, and I was at a loss to make recommendations, although their queries did prompt the column about sausage. In the area around Monte Verde, St. Elena, La Fortuna and Arenal there are German hotels, bakeries, cheese makers and communities of Mennonites dressed in traditional garb. But none of the restaurants had drawn positive reviews except for an inn near Arenal that had a new German chef but didn’t serve German food. 

The patriarch of the Krauskopf family answered the phone with a reassuring German accent when I called Caballo Negro to inquire about the cuisine."Ya, ya, we have German food."

On the north side of the road a few kilometers west of Nuevo Arenal in the direction of Tilaran, sits the restaurant and the attached Lucky Bug Gallery. The restaurant is a circular decagon with a vaulted ceiling supported by a tall wooden pole. The five tables around the periphery of the small room face either tasteful art or the vista down a valley of pond, gardens, a grazing chestnut mare and the family dwellings. There is also limited seating in front of the front door or on the back terrace overlooking the valley. The music doesn’t intrude. 

The gallery is a six-room string of well chosen ceramics , paintings, wood carvings, fabrics, tile, lamps, pottery and a standard assortment of souvenirs. Bella, a sweet corpulent rescued dog sleeps on the cool tile. Her story is on the back of the menu amid lovely graphics. 

The menu items are diverse reflecting organic ingredients in everything and a trilogy of food types: 
1.) vegetarian masterpieces, 2.) standard well executed German specialties and 3.) sandwiches, salads, more common dishes and desserts to appeal to all comers. 

The seasonings in the salad dressings and sauces are crisp and clean. Notable are the flavors of fresh organic turmeric and ginger from nearby gardens owned by Dr. Andrew Weil, the ethno-botanist, popular author and lecturer, Harvard-trained physician and director in Arizona of America’s most prestigious center for teaching a compendium of complementary medical practices — homeopathy, osteopathy, naturopathy, etc. I had the good fortune of dining with him once in San Francisco at Millennium, a bastion of great vegetarian food.

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


From the vegetarian entrée page, I spied on the adjacent table and watched a family devour macadamia nut pesto and pasta, lasagna, an overstuffed with veggies baked potato and eggplant parmesan. As they were leaving, I wandered to the restroom and the mom volunteered that their food was fabulous. One of my guests ordered brown rice with sautéed paty squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and sweet peppers in a turmeric sauce that I sampled and loved. The portions were large enough for all to sample multiple bites. 

The German plates were just five, pork or chicken schnitzels in either a rich brown sauce of grilled onion and sweet red peppers or a dark burgundy wine and mushroom sauce and a bratwurst plate. I had a pork schnitzel, Gypsy style, with perfect cooked red cabbage and spatzle that had been nicely browned on the bottom after it was boiled. Another guest tried the bratwurst with a mountain of mashed potatoes and home made sauerkraut tossed in a skillet with pork bits. The sauerkraut harkened back memories from childhood of barrels of  the delicious stuff made fresh and sold in German or Jewish delis.

The rest of the menu advertised  cordon bleu, seared chicken breast, three sandwich choices, three salads, beer, wine  and the usual beverages and desserts. To appreciate the desserts you must first meet the family: mother and father Krauskopf, cousin Danny, the chef who emigrated from Germany as a child and lived with the family first in California then here, and the enchanting and pretty 16-year-old triplets, Alexandra, Kathryn and Sabrina, who are the servers and more. Alexandra bakes a great German chocolate cake, apple strudel served with a warm vanilla cream sauce, an Irish cream torte and brownies.

Proceeds from the gift shop/gallery help support the efforts of the triplets to rescue animals (including the horse in the valley), nurture them and find them new homes. The food and drink prices are commensurate with Arenal’s touristy rates: salads from $2.95 to $7.95 (with curried chicken breast), main coursed from $4.95 to $10.95 and desserts for $2.95

In summary, a lovely setting, nice people, a few tasty German dishes, excellent organic vegetarian dishes and large portions for prices that are in keeping with the area: 

Two and a half to ´´´


 Problems with high-speed Internet blamed on virus
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A top technician for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad attributes failures for two weeks in high-speed Internet lines to a virus.

The technician, Henry Rodríguez, is head of the support department for the institute, known as ICE. He was commenting on the company’s ADSL system that is supposed to bring high-speed Internet service to much of the country.

However, a broad swath of users, from downtown San José to Escazú, have been without service or full service for two weeks. 

Rodriguez told an associate of A.M. Costa Rica that the virus arrived in the system from Hotmail, although the full nature of the virus was not explained.

Users are sidestepping the problems slowly by making changes to their Internet configurations. Some have been unable to use e-mail or to view Internet pages.

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Noriega pushes consensus and dialogue in hemisphere
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The most successful democratic leaders in the Americas are those who reach out to the political opposition, civil society and minority groups, says U.S. State Department official Roger Noriega.

In U.S. congressional testimony Wednesday, Noriega said dialogue builds trust, and "trust is the key element in encouraging real political participation and keeping the political pot from boiling over."

The challenges to democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean are daunting, but a reform agenda that extends political power to everyone can do much to build confidence in government, said Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Noriga told the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere that strong leadership, a willingness to make tough decisions, the forging of a national consensus and carrying out a reform agenda are all important to building democracy.

U.S. assistance to the region is helping build support for democracy through programs that range from legal-code reform and judicial training to anti-corruption projects and conflict resolution, said Noriega.

But U.S. aid, in and of itself, cannot guarantee the deepening of the Western Hemisphere's "democratic roots," he warned.

The official argued, "there is simply no substitute for strong local leadership willing to make tough decisions and embrace civil society as a key contributor to policy debates."

In that regard, Noriega said that even though the United States supports the administration of President Carlos Mesa in Bolivia, it is the Bolivian people and Bolivian democratic institutions themselves that "must reach a consensus on how to exploit the country's vast natural gas resources in a way that best supports the common good."  He added that Bolivians must work to include 

the aspirations of indigenous people within the country's democracy, and decide on how to address regional calls within Bolivia for autonomy.

Noriega offered an analysis of the political situation in other countries of the region, as well, such as Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador, Peru and especially Venezuela.  That latter country, said Noriega, "does not present a promising picture."

The United States has no quarrel with the Venezuelan people, said Noriega. But, he added, despite U.S. efforts to establish a normal working relationship with the government of President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader "continues to define himself in opposition" to the United States.

As to why Chavez thinks he needs an adversarial relationship with the United States, "we can only speculate," said Noriega, a controversial appointee.

The efforts of Chavez to concentrate power at home, his "suspect" relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are "causes of major concern," Noriega said.

U.S. policy toward Venezuela is very clear, said Noriega.  "We want to strengthen our ties to the Venezuelan people" and support democratic elements in that country so that they can occupy the "political space to which they are entitled." 

In addition, Noriega said the United States wants to maintain positive economic relations with Venezuela, and it urges Venezuela to "pull its weight to protect regional security against drug and terrorist groups."

Noriega said the "good news" for the Western Hemisphere is that it has many leaders with ambitious social agendas who are adopting sound economic policies and seeking mutually beneficial relations with their neighbors, including the United States.

"There is a solid consensus" in the hemisphere "in favor of representative democracy and respect for human rights," concluded Noriega.

Commuter train crash in Argentina injures at least 129 persons
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ? A commuter train has collided with another train in the capital, injuring at least 129 people.  An estimated 65 passengers were hospitalized, mostly for cuts and bruises.

Officials say the accident took place on a bridge Thursday when one train was stopped at a railway signal and was rear-ended by the second train.

But, they say the second train was traveling slowly due to repairs on the track, minimizing the injuries.

Jo Stuart
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