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These stories were published Wednesday, March 23, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 58
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Various types of beans, including the white cubaces, may end up in pork stew

Easter is a time of feasting Tico-style


A.M. Costa Rica photos by Saray Ramírez Vindas 
Miel de chiverre is the future for this member of the squash family (cucurbita ficifolia) sold by Walter Céspedes. The sweet jam means Easter more than any other Costa Rican food product. 

At left, Saray Jiménez offers chili peppers for chilero (chopped peppers, onion and other vgetables) or perhaps for spicing up cerviche, a raw fish dish.

See our story BELOW!


Biggest of the pumpkins weighs in at 28 kilos (about 62 pounds)
 . . . Roberto Trejo and Alvaro Rodriguez mind the store
 
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
And for desert, there is watermelon

First-class Easter menu
requires a trip to the feria

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The gastronomy of Semana Santa is pretty much like
Christmas. The holiday meals are full of seafoods and a lot of sweet homemade delicacies, including encurtidos, vegetable conserve in mustard or vinegar, and spicy chileros.

Semana Santa is a time for feasting as people enjoy time off and go to the beach or participate in the Way of the Cross or any number of other religious processions associated with the passion and death of Jesus Christ. 

When the praying is done, it is time to gain weight.

Ticos think automatically of miel de chiverre, coco ayote and arroz con leche. The season also is one of exchanging visits with relatives and friends to taste and compare the different kinds of chiverre dishes, ceviches and prawns with rice.

The basic recipe is about the same everywhere, but every homemaker has a special way to change the dishes slightly and also the taste.

The base of the miel de chiverre is the squash itself, Cucurbita ficifolia, found only in Central and South America, and brown sugar. Chunks of dried squash are cooked with butter and sugar to make a brown, sweet paste. Then that is rolled into empanadas and other delights.

There are coconut variations as well as with tamarindo, cinnamon and aromatic cloves which will determine the taste. Texture means a lot, too. People will recognize the maker according to the texture and the way the main ingredients are cut, chopped or ground.

These family recipes have been transmitted across time. To be faithful to Grandma’s recipe a certain tapa de azucar or a certain bean must be used or the taste will not be the same.

The freshness of the ingredients is really important and this is why a feria del agricultor is the place to find the basics to prepare the Easter feasts. The fairs themselves are full of wonderful colors, beautiful products and low prices.

The history of Costa Rican diet during Semana Santa is related to the Bible and centuries of Catholic rules. Meat has been forbidden, so the diet turned naturally to fish. Sardines still are a Semana Santa staple.

The apostles of Jesus were fishermen and the Middle East is a land of very sweet treats, sometimes using dates.

Today Ticos think little of the history, but simply consider Semana Santa foods as part of the cultural heritage, just like a tamal de cerdo is at Christmas.

After Lent, the 40 days of reflection and self-denial the end of Holy Week is a time to make the stomach full and work on a full stomach, a panza llena.
 
 

Semana Santa Glossary

The chiverre (Cucurbita ficifolia) is a large green and white squash that can grow to 20 kilos (44 pounds).

Cubaces (Phaseolus coccinius) is known in English as the scarlet running bean. Here the beans are big and white and used for stews.

Tapas de dulce are those circular blocks of brown sugar made from cane.

Encurtidos are pickled pieces of vegetable.

Chilero is chopped peppers, onion and other vegetables that can be served alone or used as a garnish on other foods.

Ceviche is chopped, marinated raw fish credited to the ancients Peruvians.

Tamal de cerdo is the traditional Christmas pork tamales


All is not food at the farmer's market. But flowers provide a feast for the eyes and sense of smell.

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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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A.M. Costa Rica
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James J. Brodell........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

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Commentary from the north 
Studies show trade pact does not guarantee investments
By Kevin P. Gallagher*
Written for the Americas Program, International Relations Center 

The U.S. Congress and the Central American nations are currently considering the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Through CAFTA, Central American governments hope to attract new inflows of foreign direct investment. Washington promises that investment will start flowing if Central American governments agree to far-reaching investment rules.

Central American governments want investment, and the U.S. has investors. Ostensibly there exist real grounds for a deal. But CAFTA countries should be fully aware of all the agreement’s details before signing Washington’s investment rules.

CAFTA’s investment chapter restricts the ability of signatory countries to require that foreign firms adhere to performance requirements, such as local content standards and technology transfer requirements. Traditionally, countries institute performance measures to spur broad economic growth by creating links between foreign firms and the domestic economy. But this would be prohibited.

CAFTA also sets broad rules regarding what constitutes an expropriation, as well as the compensation due to investors if expropriation does indeed occur. Certainly, the U.S. does not want foreign countries to nationalize U.S. firms.

CAFTA’s little secret is that it leaves open the possibility that ad hoc investment tribunals will interpret social and environmental regulations as an "indirect expropriation." What’s more, the firms themselves (as opposed to states filing on a firm’s behalf, as in the World Trade Organization) can file suit for massive compensation from foreign governments. For example, the U.S. firm Occidental Petroleum in 2004 took advantage of a U.S.-Ecuador investment agreement to challenge Ecuador’s decision to cancel value-added tax rebates. Occidental was awarded $71 million plus interest.

One could argue that agreeing to such measures is the price Central American governments need to pay for receiving more investment. The problem is that the investment may not come.

Numerous studies looking at the determinants of foreign investment conclude that trade and investment agreements such as CAFTA are not a main factor in attracting foreign investment.

In 1998 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development concluded that the impact of these agreements is small and secondary to the effects of other determinants, especially market size. 

A 2003 World Bank study examined the experience of 20 developing countries between 1980 and 2000 to determine whether agreements that provide assurances to foreign investors did indeed attract foreign investment. The study found that the agreements themselves did not stimulate additional investment. Instead, market size and macroeconomic stability were the key drivers of foreign investment. 

A more recent study conducted by two researchers at Yale University examined the relationship between investment agreements and investment flows in the world economy. The researchers found that the number of investment agreements signed by a country with foreign nations has no independent impact on investment flows into the country — except when such countries were regarded as politically risky. 

The authors compared investment flows from the United States to countries with which the U.S. has and does not have investment agreements. What they found was a negative relationship. The countries that had signed investment agreements with the U.S. government received less investment.  The authors wrote "Overall, these results indicate that signing an investment treaty with the United States does not correspond to increased foreign direct investment flows." 

In the most recent issue of the Latin American Research Review, two authors found no independent correlation between trade or investment agreements and increases in foreign investment in the region. My own research leads to similar findings — also showing a negative correlation between U.S. agreements and U.S. investment. 

These studies also suggest that the costs of lifting performance requirements and adopting expropriation rules could very well outweigh the benefits of any investment treaty. Central American nations should think twice about agreeing to the investment rules in CAFTA. The U.S. Congress should also think twice before ratifying CAFTA. 

According to the U.S. government, CAFTA will only benefit the U.S. economy by 100th of 1 percent after it is fully implemented. The best way for CAFTA to help the U.S. economy is to ensure that Central American countries develop their economies so they can import more U.S. products in the future. Without the type of investment that boosts the growth of the domestic market, that development won’t occur. 

*Kevin P. Gallagher is research associate at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University. Gallagher is the author of "Free Trade and the Environment: Mexico, NAFTA, and Beyond" (Stanford, 2004) and a regular contributor to the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) of the International Relations Center.


 
It's full speed ahead for the Easter holiday now
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big holiday rush begins today as even more Central Valley residents begin their Semana Santa vacation.

Although public employees have been off since last Friday, most private employees have only Thursday and this Friday as holidays. So any treks to the Pacific beaches will begin today.

A long-time Easter tradition is to camp on the public portion of the nation’s beaches, and stores have been selling camping equipment for weeks.

The holiday toll stands at 10 dead. The latest statistic is a fisherman who died when struck by lightning in Caldera, near Puntarenas. A man died in a rollover accident in Grecia Tuesday afternoon. And an elderly 

pedestrian died in Alajuela Monday night when a vehicle crashed and went out of control.

Thursday and Friday are vacation days, and also days when the sale of alcohol is prohibited. The Fuerza Pública and municipal policeman in areas that have them will be sealing bars tonight.

Businesses that have as their principal business the sale of alcohol must close their doors. Businesses that sell alcohol in addition to other things, such as restaurants, hotels and groceries, must block off or seal liquor or beer display cases.

Most businesses, including supermarkets, will be open short hours Thursday and closed Friday. Nearly all communities will have Good Friday religious processions marking the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. 


 
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U.S. central bank raises key interest rate a quarter point
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. central bank Tuesday continued its pattern of raising short-term interest rates at a measured pace, boosting the overnight fed funds rate — what banks charge each other — by one quarter of 1 percent. 

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates a quarter percentage point Tuesday. This brings the fed funds rate to 2.75 percent. It is the seventh consecutive quarter point rate increase since the Federal Reserve began to boost the cost of credit nine months ago. 

With higher oil prices creating inflationary pressure, analysts were unsure whether the Federal Reserve would hold to its view that interest rates would continue to rise at a measured pace. The Fed did retain that language while making a new reference to mounting inflationary dangers. That subtle change leads former central bank official Alan Blinder to predict that in the future short-term rates might go up not by one-quarter percent but by one-half percent in order to fight inflation pressures.

"I would say that in a mild way Alan Greenspan and 

company are showing their teeth," said Alan Blinder. "They're growling a little bit. The measured pace is still in there." Greenspan is the Federal Reserve board chairman.

About every six weeks the Federal Reserve meets to consider changes in short-term rates. After each meeting, it issues a statement that is studied carefully by Fed watchers like Blinder, an economics professor at Princeton University. 

Higher short-term interest rates translate into higher monthly payments for consumers who make purchases with credit cards. Short-term rates as recently as last year were at their lowest levels in 40 years. In the aftermath of recession and the 2001 terrorists attacks, the Fed aggressively lowered rates in an effort to encourage economic activity. 

Low interest rates have had the intended effect as the economy has been growing at a 4 percent annual rate. 

However, low rates have fueled a boom in the housing market that some analysts say bears disturbing parallels to the bubble in high technology stocks five years ago.


 
Big blackout darkens large area of Chile as central power grid collapses
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — Officials say a massive blackout left a large section of the country in the dark for more than half an hour late Monday.

Energy officials say the blackout covered a 1,000-kilometer area and occurred when power failed in the central grid. They say the affected areas were between the city of Copiapo in the north and Talca in 

the south. The downtown area of the capital, Santiago, was also without power.

Emergency crews say people had to be rescued from elevators and public transportation. Officials say the power cut forced many companies to send employees home early.

Officials say power was restored to most of the affected areas after 40 to 45 minutes.


 
Another mother of soccer pro is victim of Brazilian kidnappers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAO PAULO, Brazil — The mother of soccer star Rogerio has been kidnapped, making the abduction the fourth of its kind in the past several months.

The reports say three gunmen abducted Ines Fidelis Regis late Monday from her home in Campinas, 100 kilometers from here. Her captors reportedly have not 

made contact with the family. 

Rogerio plays for Portugal's Sporting Lisbon.

The kidnapping of mothers of soccer players has become more common. In February, the mother of Sao Paulo striker Grafite was held for one day. She was not harmed during the incident. Two other mothers of soccer players have been kidnapped since December.


 
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