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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, March 11, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 50          E-mail us
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Lucia Fernández of Jardin de Orquídeas in Palmares shows off white and purple guaria morada, the national flower, Thursday while workmen install lights and speakers at nearby Parque Nacional for a concert.
Weekend will be a great one with varied attractions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend will be one of the great ones with a three-day double arts festival in San José, oxcart drivers taking over Escazú for two days and the 40th anniversary of the national orchid society, which started Thursday night.


The Día Nacional del Boyero opens at noon Saturday in San Antonio de Escazú with fireworks followed by the papier-maché mascaradas and brass band cimarronas. There are two Roman Catholic Masses, including one for deceased oxcart drivers. At 8 p.m. there is a folk dance festival followed by more fireworks at 10 p.m.

Escazú residents will be jolted from their beds at 5 a.m. Sunday with reveille followed by music until 10 a.m. when the big parade of oxen, their carts and their handlers begins the ascent from Escazú Centro to San Antonio, the adopted home of the boyeros.

There is food in and around the Catholic church in San Antonio and other items for sale. The oxen will be blessed as they pass in front of the church. There are prizes and a dance after lunch. More fireworks end the event at 7 p.m.

Walking with the oxen to San Antonio is possible, but a wise expat might be able to hitch a ride in one of the brightly painted oxcarts. For residents along the route, its a real party without leaving home. Some set up small stands with food and drink.

Double arts festival

Transitarte, the cultural fiesta in San José begins tonight, and participants were at work setting up their booths Thursday. This is a major event set up by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. This year the Municipalidad de San José has scheduled the second week of its Fiesta de Verano for the weekend.

This is the big weekend for these events. There was some activity in Parque España and Parque Morazán last weekend. But by Thursday long rows of tents were set up in Parque Nacional, and sound and light technicians were installing a stage with towers just north of the Monumento Nacional. 
The booths promise all sorts of cultural avocations from puppets to oil paintings. The event starts today at 3 p.m. with music. The formal inauguration is at 6:30 p.m. with fireworks in Parque Morazán. Saturday morning there will be crowds in the four parks involved as well as the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, the culture ministry in the former national liquor factory east of Parque España.

The days are like a five- or six-ring circus with performances of all types at the same time in different places. A full schedule is HERE!

There are clowns and street performers, all types of music from rock to meringue and salsato flamenco, mascaradas, cimarronas and, of course, food. A big rock concert is planned for Parque Nacional at 6 p.m. Saturday with at least three groups.

In San Ramón

Not all the weekend activity is in San José or Escazú. The Festival Internacional del Folklore IZTKATZU is Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Centro de Cultura Social de San Ramón, Participating will be the Ballet Zacatecas from México, the Grupo de Baile Folclórico Orquídea Blanca and the Grupo de Baile Folclórico Sörbo.

Orchids on display

The 40th Exposición Nacional de Orquídeas opens to the public today at the Antigua Aduana, now called the Centro del Arte y la Cultura. The location is just a short walk from Parque Nacional. The event is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Sunday.

The displays already have been judged. A team from the American Orchid Society came to Costa Rica to view the displays and present prizes.

Costa Rica has 1,200 species of orchids, and Louis Lodygo. a Florida Agricultural Department employee in Miami, said that even he and the other U.S. experts sometimes need help in accurately identifying orchids while judging.

The orchid event has an admission of 2,500 colons (about $5) for adults and 1,000 colons (about $2) for seniors and children. The other events, watching oxen and enjoying the music and performances in the parks are free.

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Tales of two families show
results of using drugs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twin tales of dysfunctional families in tragedies laced with drugs have emerged in the police reports.

In one case, a man faces an allegation that he murdered his brother's wife during an effort to steal items from the home.

In another, a convicted drug dealer is accused of keeping his wife a hostage in their Heredia home for eight to 10 years. He may also have held two 80 year olds, his parents.

The murder was in Barrio Brooklyn in Siquirres. A man returned home from work Wednesday to find his wife dead in their bed. The man immediately suspected who had strangled the woman and told police to find his brother.

According to the Fuerza Pública, the brother, later identified by the last names of Sandí Chinchilla, had been living on property adjacent to the couple. He was suspected of stealing household items and small appliances. They said he had been in trouble before. He is believed to have been a user of crack cocaine.

Sandí fled and avoided a police search Wednesday night. But Thursday morning officers said they found him in a vacant lot in the neighborhood of Siquirrito.

The dead woman, Cristina López, 20, was reported from informal sources to have been pregnant.

The second case was in La Lucía de Guararí. It involved a 43-year-old man with the last names of Badilla Varela. He was the subject of at least 18 complaints by neighbors.

Judicial agents, the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas smashed into his home Thursday morning to arrest him as a fugitive. They said they found two elderly individuals, presumed to be the man's parents, and the woman who said she had been a captive. There also was a young woman, 17, and a baby.

The property was a shambles, and the Ministerio de Salud ordered its immediate destruction. A backhoe ripped down the building in the afternoon.

Baldilla was detained in 2000 on a drug charge and convicted in 2006, according to the Poder Judicial. So he was taken to prison Thursday to serve his sentence. Prosecutors also opened a case of possible false imprisonment involving the 31-year old woman. Her last names are Herrera Umaña. Police and judicial agents gave different periods, ranging from eight to 10 years, about how long she had been held against her will.

The two elderly parents, a woman 84 and a man 87, were hospitalized, Fuerza Pública officers said. Agents are checking to see if they have pensions and what has been happening to their money because they lacked even the most basic case, agents said.

When police raided the home they found four other men who do not live there using drugs, they said. Officers confiscated marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine.

Edwin Retana, the prosecutor in charge of the case, said that the dwelling was not even fit for animals. The woman is being interviewed to verify her claim of being held hostage. The 17 year old and her baby were entrusted to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

Mystery bridge deck malady
still puzzles road officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Highway officials may be optimistic but they admit they have a serious problem with the newly renovated bridge over the Río Virilla on the Autopista General Cañas.

In just a few weeks the concrete is being reduced to dust and highway officials and contracts say they do not know why.

The concrete went down in and over a metal mesh. The metal is now exposed and the concrete is eroded inside the metal squares.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, will close the bridge and the highway this weekend for repairs. They are expected to authorize another coat of concrete.

The danger exists that the entire bridge deck may contain faulty concrete, and it may continue to turn into pebbles and powder.

This is the infamous platina bridge where a metal covering on an expansion joint broke free nearly two years ago and defeated all efforts to keep it down. The bridge gets that name from the Spanish word for little plate.

A television commentator noted that Chinese contractors built the new national stadium in about the same length of time that the government has been trying to fix the bridge. Eventually the government decided to rip up the entire bridge deck and install the metal mesh and concrete.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 50
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A modest proposal for solving the Isla Calero mess
By the A.M. Costa Rica humor staff

The Isla Calero and the international border dispute will be popping in and out of the news now for years, and each time there will be a healthy fee for lawyers.

Costa Rica needs to come up with a more economical way to handle the situation.

At first glance, the quickest way to solve the problem would be to sell the land to Nicaragua. Now it is possible that courts might determine Costa Rica doesn't really own the land. But that has not stopped sellers in Costa Rica in the past.

Even better, Costa Rica could sell the land to Nicaragua and then use the services of some of the many crooked notaries here and steal the land back with the stroke of a criminal pen.

Even better than that, Costa Rica could sell the land to Israel. There is a people who know how to safeguard their territory, and then some. Tel Aviv would love to have a nice base on the Caribbean, particularly since Iran is sneaking around and setting up shop all over Latin America.

Just about anyone would make more use of the land than Costa Rica has. Someone with a good eye for tourism would recognize that there are world record mosquitoes there, and North American sportsmen pay big bucks to mount a record specimen on the wall. Not to mention the mosquito races and mosquito rodeos.

Everyone thinks that Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega wants to construct a new mouth for the Río San Juan so he sent soldier and workmen with shovels to excavate a trench. The truth is that he was following up on tales of hidden pirate treasure in the soggy wetlands. He was hoping to use the loot to finance his next presidential campaign now that his buddy Hugo Chávez has seen the writing on

the wall in the Mideast and is stashing the bulk of his oil revenues in Switzerland.

With the glacial speed of the International Court of Justice, a final decision on the Isla Calero situation probably is 10 to 15 years in the future. The trouble is that the river has a mind of its own, and by the time the wigged justices in The Hague make a decision, the river could have moved 10 miles in any direction.

Happiness and kindness add up to feeling of gratitude
 It seems to be that time again when the various pollsters and investigators talk about the countries with the happiest people.  Over the years Costa Rica has been in the top 10.  As in other years, it is the Scandinavian countries that top the list.  As for other countries, it depends on which criteria the various pollsters base their hierarchy of happiness.  They range from material prosperity to safety nets to how daily life is perceived

I have heard Costa Rica mentioned on TV more often lately. I am waiting for a very clever PR person with Costa Rican tourism to persuade someone who has just become famous and is asked, “What’s the first thing you are going to do?” to ignore Disneyland and respond with “I’m going to Costa Rica!”

According to the latest Forbes pollsters, all the countries at the top of the list are social democracies that spend more of their income on the general welfare of their people, than on defense. (The U.S. probably enables the latter.)  The people also have a sense of freedom, and of having enough of what they need. A pollster, interviewed by CNN said, “Can you imagine the tiny country of Costa Rica in the top 10?” then added that a Costa Rican friend explained, “We have a beautiful country and generally we are a laid back people.”  I will certainly vouch for that. 

Recently I made my first visit to a clinic, which is part of the national health insurance coverage.  I’ve had enough of clinics and the waiting and the fact that if I don’t like my doctor, I don’t know how to tactfully change him or her, and if I do, I may not see that doctor again.  Clinics are large and usually have lots of people seeking help.

I was told to arrive 15 minutes early for my 11 a.m. appointment. A nurse took my blood pressure and weighed me, then asked the usual questions about my health history. At about two minutes after 11 a.m., a pretty doctor came out of a nearby door and called my name.

After we sat down in her office, she spent about 20 minutes asking me questions, using her stethoscope and writing prescriptions (doctors really know how to do that!)
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

then told me the various places I should go to make appointments for x-rays, lab tests, an electrocardiogram and to get my prescriptions filled.

It was easy to get lost in the maze of hallways, but everyone I asked, whether a rushing employee or another patient, gave me directions in a polite and unhurried manner.  I also was aware of how peaceful everything seemed.  Patients were quietly chatting with friends (No Tico goes to a clinic without family or friend.)  Lines were short and at the farmacia I was told to come back in an hour to pick up my prescriptions.  I decided to wait outside in the sun where there were some benches.  As I opened my book, I paused to enjoy the view and realized I was smiling.  The past hour had been a pleasant experience and was going to be even more pleasant when I left because I would not have to open my wallet. The trip would not destroy my budget.

And I realized that happiness is more than secure survival. The other part of my experience — the kindness, patience and helpfulness of others — made my day memorable.  It is that feeling I had sitting in the sun – a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the kindness of strangers, as well as a beautiful country and family and friends to tell about it.

It is possible that in the future there will be a change in the ranks of happiness. The subjects in the studies have always been people of different countries.  Lately we are learning more and more about other animals and discovering how much more they feel and can do and how much smarter they are than we thought – even birds.  I would not be surprised if in some future study of happiness it may be the denizens of the Serengeti or the Antarctica who are among the top 10. I don’t doubt they feel gratitude, too.

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Thousands gather
for protest by unions

Thousands of teachers and public employees marched Thursday, as expected, to protest possible tax increases and in search of higher salaries.

The march participants extended for seven blocks as they moved to the Asamblea Legislativa. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados promises another march next month.

President Laura Chinchilla said in a release that the country was in the middle of a financial crisis, but she said central government officials would meet with marchers about salaries March 23. Union members also are worried about job loss and are unhappy with the current hiring freeze.
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Marchers gather in front of Castillo Azul at the legislative complex.

U.S. ships get routine approval to enter Costa Rican waters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa Thursday approved a motion to allow U.S. warships to dock in Costa Rica territory.

The ships, which are on anti-drug patrol, come to Costa Rica for shore leave and to put on supplies. This is a routine measure that is approved every six months. The Costa Rican Constitution forbids the entry of foreign warships without legislative approval.

The routine approval became controversial last year after the Cuban news agency said that U.S. Marines and 44 warships were heading to Costa Rica. The story got heavy play by uncritical news outlets. In fact, the measure simply listed all the ships in the U.S. Fourth Fleet that 
might want to make use of Costa Rica for shore leave.

The story had wide interest. One news outlet said: "Russian foreign military intelligence directorate (GRU) sources are reporting in the Kremlin today that NATO has ordered over 7,000 U.S. Marines to begin deploying in the Central American Nation of Costa Rica over fears the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is about to rupture the fracture zone lying between the North American and Caribbean Plates and potentially unleashing upon the America’s a catastrophic earthquake."

A gambling site said: "The online gambling friendly Central American nation of Costa Rica is about to be invaded by U.S. Marines." An Internet search turns up many similar tales.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 11, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 50

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Lawyers press Eric Holder
for response on syphilis claim

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Attorneys in Washington and Guatemala are seeking legal compensation for victims of experiments by U.S. doctors in Guatemala in the 1940s that involved the deliberate infection of around 700 people with syphilis. U.S. officials have already denounced the experiments and apologized to the victims, but they have not yet established a way to compensate the victims and their families.

A Washington, D.C., law firm sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week asking that some system be established to handle claims for people deliberately infected with syphilis in Guatemala more than half a century ago. One of the attorneys involved in preparing the case, Piper Hendricks, says there is a deadline for Holder to respond.

“Right now, what we have done is send a letter to Attorney General Holder asking for a response from the U.S. government," said Ms. Hendricks. "If there is no response by Friday we will be filing the complaint on Monday.”

Last October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a public apology for the syphilis experiments carried out in Guatemala under the U.S. National Institutes of Health from 1946 to 1948, calling the actions by U.S. doctors “reprehensible.”  President Barack Obama also apologized to Guatemala for what had happened and appointed a bioethics panel to investigate international medical studies.

But the United States has not taken steps to compensate the people who were deliberately infected with the debilitating disease. Ms. Hendricks says failure of the Obama administration to act before the deadline Friday will result in a legal battle that could be costly and difficult for both the government and the plaintiffs.

“This is a very easy case," said Ms. Hendricks. "There has already been an acknowledgement of the wrong that took place.  We know that the U.S. government was involved.  We do not know all the parameters, we do not know all of the impacts, but the main wrong has already been acknowledged.”

Hendricks says the experiments in Guatemala were carried out by a medical team that included Dr. John Cutler, who had also been involved in similar tests in Tuskegee, Alabama, where 600 black men who had syphilis were studied without being treated. She says the doctors took the experiment to Guatemala to escape ethical scrutiny in a country where medical oversight was considered lax.

In some cases, they used infected prostitutes to transmit the disease to unsuspecting prisoners. In other cases, they gained cooperation by providing medicine and even household appliances to people who took part. But they never informed the participants that they would be infected with syphilis and never asked their consent. The doctors even infected orphans as young as 6-years old in order to study the progress of the disease over time.

But after all these years it might be difficult to sort out those who have a legitimate claim for compensation from those who might be fraudulently seeking to benefit. Ms. Hendricks says good record keeping from decades ago might help.

“Dr. Cutler's wife kept track of all of the subjects that were involved, so it could potentially be easier to determine who has a valid claim or not," she said. "But, I think, in addition to setting up a system for the claims, I think addressing some of the needs of these communities that have been impacted would also be a very positive step.”

In Guatemala City, attorney Rudy Zuniga represents about 300 people who are part of a lawsuit he will be taking before the courts there next week. In a telephone interview, he spoke of the culpability of the Guatemalan government that was in power at the time.

He says the Guatemalan government is going to be sued for having permitted these things to be done to its own citizens. He says not only were soldiers and prisoners infected, but patients in mental hospitals who had gone there to seek help, only to be infected intentionally with a terrible disease.

Zuniga says his clients include a few men who are now in their 80s who were infected and suffered the results, but he also represents children and grandchildren of victims, some of whom were born blind or suffered other ailments that can be linked directly to the syphilis infections.

He says whole communities of people in the north of Guatemala have suffered the ill effects of a disease that was brought to their families by a sordid experiment conducted long ago by men who had taken an oath to help people and, above all else, to do no harm.

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Two German hikers found
safe near Cerro Chirripó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cruz Roja rescue workers managed to locate two missing German hikers about 10 a.m. Thursday. The two men had been missing since Tuesday when a friend reported the problem.

They were in the Reserva Chuma near Pérez Zeledón near Cerro Chirripó where a Costa Rican university study vanished earlier this year.

The Cruz Roja said that the men were in good shape and did not require treatment. They were escorted from the reserve by searchers.

They were identified as a 20-year-old man with the last name of Muller and a 25-year old with the last name of Claus.

Escazú pastor planning
seminars on family life

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As an extension of Escazú Christian Fellowship's counseling ministry, Pastor Stacey Steck will be leading a two-part seminar on "How Your Family Really Works (And Why It Sometimes Doesn't!)," on Friday evenings, March 18 and April 1, from 7 - 9 p.m. in the cafeteria of Lighthouse International School, one kilometer north of the Guachipelín tunnel.
This seminar will help participants understand more clearly the reasons families behave as they do, and how even a small change in one's own way of relating with others can have a powerful effect on the entire family, he said.
The event is free and open to the public, that is, anyone who has ever been part of a family of any kind, so readers can invite friends and family members, he added. Childcare up to age 5 is provided.

Participation in both seminars is not required but each will be more comprehensible having attended the other as well, he said. For more information or to RSVP, readers may contact Pastor Steck at or at 8395-9653.
Escazú Christian Fellowship is an international, interdenominational church, meeting in Guachipelín.
More information is available here:

Outages planned for today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Compañía de Fuerza y Luz said it would have electricity shut off from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Barrio Betina, San Rafael de Escazú. The company is moving utility poles. That is an area by the Shell service station, but the station is not included in the outage, the company said.

An outage also is planned in Tres Ríos from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the same reason. The locations affected are homes in the vicinity of the Banco Nacional.

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