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These stories were published Friday, March 28, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 62
Jo Stuart
About us
Chayote: The all-purpose MesoAmerican treat
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The chayote looks like a big, wrinkled green or white pear. But it really is a gourd and a type of squash.

You can eat it creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed and pickled, food experts note. And in Costa Rica is it the all-purpose veggie.

The chayote (Sechium edule) has a long history associated with the pre-Columbian peoples of Central America, and you can’t be here for long without finding one on your plate.

The vegetable can weight up to a pound, and there is a big seed inside that is not eaten. Once the skin and see are removed, the white flesh remains and is the part that is eaten. The vegetable is so much a part of Costa Rica that to visit or live here without trying it is like never trying gallo pinto or Cerveza Imperial. 

Perhaps the best way to eat chayote is chopped up in a mixture of other foods, a picadillo with sausage, chicken, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions and other MesoAmerican staples.

The final dish, eaten with small tortillas, not only is tasty but also colorful. Plus the dish always is a success because proportions of various ingredients are highly variable. Use what you have!

Final dish is a colorful one
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
The hardest part is removing the skins

The recipe for picadillos is not exact. Mostly anything goes.

You need:

5-6 chayotes
2-3 carrots
1 full sausage
two ears corn kernels (or small can)
2-3 medium potatoes
2 bulbs of garlic
5-6 sprigs of basil

Chop up in small pieces the chorizo or sausage and brown in a fry pan along with chopped garlic

Peel and cut up chayote, carrots and potatoes into small pieces and boil until tender. Drain and set aside.

Do the same with corn: Boil the kernels gently. 

Chop up basil, too, and add to the nearly browned sausage.

Put all ingredients into one big pot, put on heat and stir.

Arrange attractively with garnishes of carrots or other handy vegetables. Don’t forget the basil.

Serve with warmed small tortillas or rice a su gusto.

Something funny happened on the  way to renew my residency
This month I had to renew my residency. So the other day I gathered all the papers I thought necessary (a year’s report on all the money I had changed into colons, my passport and cedula) and took a bus downtown and then walked to the Alajuela bus stop. 

I asked the driver to please tell me when we arrived at immigration. Then I settled in my seat, pulled out my book and thought how lucky I had been so far — both buses were there when I needed them, no waiting. It was 2 p.m. so I figured I had plenty of time. 

When I looked up from my book and saw a sign that said Airport 9k. I turned to the man next to me and asked if we had passed Immigration.  He said it was way back. Everyone in the bus agreed.  I knew that.  I had been to immigration before. I just wasn’t paying attention, and the bus driver had forgotten me.

Everyone began giving me advice. It was agreed that I should get off at the airport and catch a bus back. I did that, and got off at the stop just past immigration, but on the wrong side of the highway, of course. In order to cross the highway I had to walk two blocks and climb three flights of stairs to the overpass bridge. 

When I got to the bridge I lost heart.  The stairs had no backing, which meant I could see space, and I wasn’t sure my acrophobia could handle going up three flights. My mind flashed back to when I was a kid and had to go down to the cellar.  Those steps had no backing and I was sure that one of the ogres who normally lived under the bridge would grab my leg and pull me through. The fact that I could not fit through that space did not alter my reality. I returned to the bus stop, and then I decided I wasn’t going to let a childhood trauma control me. "Damn it, I can do it," I said.

I almost couldn’t. I knew I shouldn’t look down, but the cement steps were chipped away in places.  I slowly ascended, clinging to the railing, hating the teenagers racing up without a thought.  Grimly I walked — in the very middle — across the bridge to the other side. The chain fence helped. Then followed the trek back to immigration. It was about 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

eight blocks, all of which I trudged doggedly. 

When I saw two men in a little entrance shed, behind a gate, I asked if immigration was near. One of them said it was next door, but to get to it I had to go back a block and go around two more blocks. I was beginning to despair. He looked at his watch.  "But it is closed anyway," he said. 

"Closed?" I asked. "Yes, it closes at 3:30."

I looked at my watch. It was 3:35. "Oh, of course," I said, and started to laugh at the farcical turn of events. But my merriment was short-lived.  The second haha stuck in my throat and came out as a sob. Tears began to flow. Horrified, I knew I was about to embark on a case of hysterics. I haven’t had hysterics since I was given two traffic violation tickets when I first arrived in California, having driven from Florida. One was for speeding and the other for going too slow. That started out hilarious, too.

With great effort I controlled myself, but the tears wouldn’t stop. 
"Is there a bus stop nearby?" I asked.  They informed me that the bus stop was in front of the entrance to the immigration building.  That meant another six blocks. "Isn’t there another way?" I said. Taking pity on me, one of the men opened the gate and led me through the yard — it was a good two blocks — to the back gate, which opened to within two blocks of the bus stop. 

Closer at hand was a taxi.  I had had enough. I got in and told him to drop me at the Gran Hotel de Costa Rica.  I should have known, I thought, it always takes me three times to accomplish any tramites in Costa Rica.  As I came back from the ladies room in the hotel, I stopped at the roulette wheel. Knowing it was not a good idea, I sat down.  An hour later I had won 5,000 colons and went home, feeling the day had not been a total loss. And I would try again tomorrow.

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Venezuelan granted asylum arrives in Costa Rica
By Garett Sloane 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
with wire reports

A political asylum seeker from Venezuela was welcomed into Costa Rica Thursday where the government is protecting him for humanitarian reasons.

Carlos Ortega, president of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela, left the Costa Rican Embassy in Venezuela under heavy police protection en route to the airport, according to reports. He had been in the embassy since March 13 seeking asylum to leave Venezuela where he said he was not safe from political persecution.

Ortega was one of the leaders responsible for organizing the two-month strike that attempted to dislodge Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, from power. The strikes toward that aim were unsuccessful.

He went into hiding last month after the Venezuelan government sought his arrest on treason and rebellion charges for his role in the strike. Ortega later took refuge at the embassy, saying he feared for his safety.

The Costa Rican government granted the opposition leader asylum because it is convinced of Ortega’s claims that he is not safe in Venezuela where he may be a target of violence, according to the executive order allowing the asylum signed by Abel Pacheco, president of Costa Rica.

The friendship between the governments of Costa Rica and Venezuela will not be affected by this

Garett Sloane/A.M. Costa Rica
Ortega and Tovar meet the press in Casa Amarilla early Thursday evening

incident, said Roberto Tovar, Costa Rica’s foreign minister. The Venezuelan authorities were cooperative in the effort to transfer Ortega from the country, Tovar said.

Tovar and Ortega met here in the Casa Amarilla upon the Venezuelan’s arrival. Tovar welcomed Ortega on behalf of the Costa Rican people and then Ortega thanked them.

The union leader is here to work and not vacation, he said. Ortega said he could make plans to go to the United States or Spain. Other opponents of Chavez have been granted asylum in other nations.

Investor group leader rebuts claims of lawyers
By Bryan Kay 
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jack Caine, who heads Villalobos investor group the Class Action Center, has issued a rebuttal to claims lawyers have made about the group’s chances of success in bringing international arbitration against the Costa Rican government.

Caine’s comments come after an article appeared in A.M. Costa Rica Thursday revealing the group’s contact with the Canadian Foreign Office regarding the arbitration. In the article, lawyers were quoted questioning how the Class Action Center could succeed with its goal. 

Caine, 40, said: "When an attorney criticizes the strategy to go to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes arbitration, you have to ask a couple of things: What is the attorneys motivation for saying this? . . . Has the attorney ever had experience in international arbitration cases? Has the attorney read the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes Convention?"

Arbitration would be before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, an organization operated by the World Bank. Caine's strategy claims the Costa Rican government had an obligation to protect investors but did not do so.

Among the problems lawyers suggested with the group’s case is that investors accepted post-dated checks from the Mall San Pedro operation. The checks were the only evidence of the debt. Lawyers pursuing investor cases in Costa Rican courts say that their first big hurdle will be to get the courts to accept the checks as promissory notes. 

Another was that the Villalobos high-interest operation was not licensed by the government. An adjacent money changing operation, Ofinter S.A., was licensed but the personal deals done by Villalobos were characterized as transactions among friends. Such friendly transactions may not meet the requirements for arbitration under a 1999 agreement between Canada and Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, Caine said he intends to assemble 

investors from ten countries by next month in his case for arbitration. The ten countries have  two-way agreements for international arbitration with Costa Rica, said Caine. At the moment the group has around 25 members, representing 6 countries.

So far the only country the group has approached is Canada. An e-mail was sent to the Canadian Embassy here March 20. Officials at the embassy, though, could not confirm Thursday the e-mail had been received. The e-mail outlined the steps the group is likely to take in arbritration.

The group has hired a law firm in Canada and the lawyers from there have had dialogue with ministers within the Canadian government, said Caine.

Caine said in his e-mail to the embassy that he expected the Canadian government to reject his group’s request for support, but it did not. Instead the government officials sought more information, said Caine. But Caine said Thursday although the Canadian government has not yet indicated whether it will lend its support, he expects they will eventually say no. 

A British investor who is in the process of joining the group recently approached the British Embassy for help, said Caine. He said Britain is one of the countries with a two-way investment protection agreement with Costa Rica.

Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, however said the agreement between Britain and Costa Rica is not in force.

"There is a basic disagreement between Britain and Costa Rica," said Ms. Butler in reference to the agreement between the two countries. When asked if Britain would support its subjects, she said she was not prepared to say. She said only that lawyers are dealing with the two countries’ disagreement. 

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the man who operated the investment firm in question, defaulted on loans he has accepted from about 6,500 persons last October. He has been a fugitive since and faces allegations of money laundering and fraud.

Free trade talks set
to continue in El Salvador

By Bryan Kay 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The third round of free trade negotiations between the United States and Central America starts Monday in San Salvador.

Representatives from the five Central American countries involved — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — will take part in negotiations with trade representatives of the U.S. government toward making a free trade agreement between the two parties a reality.

The last round of talks took place in Cincinnati in the United States at the end of February.

The parties involved have made it their goal to complete negotiations by the end of the year.

Analysts say the Bush administration is using the proposed free trade agreement with Central America to show to the Americas as a whole the benefits of free trade. The U.S. government hopes to have a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in place by 2005.

Critics of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in Costa Rica say it could have detrimental affects on agriculture here. They cite the example of Mexico, which experienced problems agriculturally after it signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada.

Others say Costa Rica has not made it clear what it is it wants from the agreement. Rodrigo Carazo, a former Costa Rican president, said in a recent debate that while the United States has said what it wants from the agreement, Costa Rica has not. 

Linda Solar, a spokeswoman for the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce, said recently the reason Costa Rica has not said much about what it wants is because of its differing position from the United States.

"They don’t want to show their hand," said Ms. Solar. "They have to consolidate their position with four other countries.

"I would say there are a lot of people who have interests in manipulating public opinion in the negative," she added, referring to union leaders and Carazo as examples.

On Mexico’s problems, she said: "Certainly, there have been problems in Mexico. But they had 10 years. They did nothing."

She said a lot of Costa Rica’s problems are due to a lack of competitiveness. But, she said, Costa Rica is in the best position of all Central American countries to exploit the proposed agreement. 

The free trade negotiations in San Salvador will take place from Monday through next Friday.

Anti-war protesters
hit American targets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Police here have fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of university students who tried to march on the U.S. Embassy here to protest the war on Iraq. 

The clashes happened Thursday as the demonstrators shouted anti-American slogans, burned a U.S. flag and waved banners near the diplomatic mission. 

Several people were injured, including a photographer for a French news agency, who was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet. 

News reports say the demonstrators were challenging Colombia's diplomatic alliance with the United States over the war in Iraq. 

Meanwhile, in Chile, no one has claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded late Wednesday outside a Santiago branch of the U.S-based Bank Boston. 

The explosion blew out windows and destroyed a cash machine. No injuries were reported. Police at the scene found fliers denouncing the U.S.-led assault on Iraq. 

Thursday, an explosion in Quito, Ecuador, caused property damage at a U.S. based business in that country. The attack at the McDonald's fast food restaurant came amid anti-war protests there. 

Elsewhere, Mexican President Vicente Fox said Thursday that Mexico's economy will feel the effects of the war but does not think any downturn in the economy will be serious. 

He said that depending on the war's duration, the global economy will slow down to one extent or another.

Haiti takes steps
toward security

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A longtime supporter of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been named the country's new national police chief. 

Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste took office Wednesday here, but his appointment must still be confirmed by the senate. 

Jean-Baptiste replaces Jean-Nesny Lucien, who resigned one year before his three-year term expired. 

Jean-Baptiste's appointment comes ahead of a March 30 deadline set by the Organization of American States for the government here to take concrete steps to improve public security. 

The organization said in a statement Wednesday that the Aristide government is responsible for establishing a climate of security that is conducive to holding free and fair elections this year. 

Security has been a condition set by the opposition and other groups to ensure their participation in the electoral process. 

Aristide is mired in a long-running dispute over legislative elections held in 2000, and has lost foreign aid as a result. 

U.S. Embassy closed Friday as protest looms

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy here will be closed today because of planned protests against the war in Iraq.

The embassy will suspend its duties and services it provides for the citizens of the United States including visa services, according to a press release issued by the embassy Thursday.

The protest is set to take place in front of the embassy. If the protest does not occur or ends before 4:30 p.m. then the embassy will resume its normal services, according to the press release.

The embassy said citizens looking for assistance today can call 220-3939.

More protests are planned for Saturday.
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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.

An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 

Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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