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These stories were published Friday, April 1, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 64
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Bill to regulate casinos to be ready by May 1
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special legislative commission drawing up a new law for casinos wants to get the job done by May 1.

The bill the commission is proposing has been under study in one form or another since 2000.

The commission also took action Thursday to eliminate a section of the proposal that prohibited gaming in which winning or losing depended exclusively on luck and not on the skill of the player. That section would have killed casinos in Costa Rica, if passed, because most casino games depend on pure luck. The commission took a further step and specifically included roulette, dice games and slot machines as acceptable pastimes in casinos. Card games also were included.

The law as it is written does not appear to allow casinos to operate sportsbooks.

However, the authority on the types of permitted activities will be a proposed national gaming commission.

The deputies also approved a system of certification for slot machines in which the manufacturer guarantees that the machine will pay back at least 85 percent of what players put in.

A controversial amendment that was approved Thursday would allow casinos to be open 18 hours a day, from noon until 6 a.m. of the following day. Some casinos now are open 24 hours a day, and Deputy Carlos Herrera, a Libertarian, said he would prefer the longer hours. He eventually voted in favor of the 18-hour limit because the hours in the original bill were even more restrictive.

Deputies also prohibited games that would put the life of participants or third parties into jeopardy or cause bodily harm.

In order to meet the May 1 deadline, some commission members withdrew amendments they had proposed. After May 1, if the commission gives final approval, the bill will go to the full Asamblea Legislativa.

The bill was the topic of a news story March 8.


 
Today is a day for expats to play tricks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is April Fool’s Day, a European and North American day to play jokes.

Here in Costa Rica, the day for practical jokes is Dec. 28, the Día de los Santos Inocentes. The same sort of jokes are played, but instead of shouting "April Fool!" and a joke is played and discovered, Latins generally shout "Inocente! Inocente!"

Today is usually one of media spoofs, although you won’t find such levity here. Costa Rica is so interesting we don’t have to make up that stuff. It just happens all year long.

But watch your back today. The Internet makes trick-playing so much more efficient. 

Today’s joking is supposedly connected to a 16th century change to the modern calendar. Those who stuck with the old calendar and its April 1 new year were considered foolish and merited pranks.


 
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Local officials plead
for Flamingo marina OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz came to San José Thursday to urge approval to reopen the marina in Flamingo.

Dunia Villafuerte, president of the municipality’s Maritime Zone committee, and Pastor Gómez, mayor of Santa Cruz, said the closing of the marina caused a negative socioeconomic impact on the community and also in the tourism sector.

The officials said that efforts to obtain the correct permission to select a concessionaire for the marine have been tied up in red tape.

Environmental officials closed down the marina last June. The Municipality of Santa Cruz had taken over the marina from private operators but fared no better with the environmental agencies. In the works was a plan to issue a new concession for the facility.

The officials appeared before the legislative Comisión Especial de Turismo.

The marina was the only one on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. A new marina is being constructed in Papagayo further north.

Rodrigo Castro, the minister of Turismo said that the municipality’s problem is rooted in the fact that there is no development plan on file for the Maritime Zone in Flamingo and this makes it difficult to get approval from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the appropriate environmental agencies.

With such a plan on file, the marina would be approved in a short time, Castro said.

Agricultural producers
meetings on tariffs, trade

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CARTAGENA, Colombia — The 17-nation coalition that accounts for more than 23 percent of the world's agricultural exports is meeting here. Costa Rica is one of the countries.

The coalition, known as the Cairns Group, is meeting to discuss such major trade issues as the proposed U.S. Free Trade Agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic and the importance of agreeing on methods for liberalizing trade in time for a December 2005 ministerial meeting in Hong Kong of the World Trade Organization. That international body deals with the rules of trade between nations.

The Cairns Group, created in 1986, has launched a global campaign for free trade in agriculture in an effort to ensure that the current round of world trade talks delivers cuts in agricultural subsidies and increases in market access.

The Cairns Group held its previous ministerial meeting in San José, in February 2004. Members of the group say that, by acting collectively, they have had more influence on agriculture negotiations than any individual nation could achieve independently. Cairns Group ministers say global trade liberalization must continue to support the economic needs of nations in the developing world.

For its part, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says the United States has submitted a comprehensive, balanced and equitable approach for multilateral trade reform. While the U.S. approach differs in some respects from positions the Cairns Group has taken, the trade representative’s office said both approaches call for "substantial liberalization of world agricultural trade, by reducing and eventually eliminating the allowed levels of export subsidies, tariffs, and trade-distorting domestic support."

Beside the United States and Costa Rica, other Latin members of the Cairns Group are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Non-Latin members of the Cairns Group are Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa and Thailand.
 

EU regrets appeal
in banana dispute 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The European Union says it regrets that five Latin American countries have called on the World Trade Organization to arbitrate in an EU banana tariff dispute.

That EU response comes one day after Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama and Guatemala filed their request.

Earlier this year, the European Union announced that it plans to impose a blanket $300 per ton levy on banana imports to replace its import quota system in January 2006. However, Latin American states want the rate to stay at the current $75.

The French news agency quoted the union as saying it will defend its proposal and that it remains open for what it called constructive engagement with World Trade Organization members.

U.S. woman among those
grabbed by immigration 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. woman was one of the illegal aliens nabbed in raids this week in Bagaces, Tamarindo and Liberia.

The women had allowed her tourist visa to expire, said a report from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

Two Guatemalans and a Spanish citizen were found with expired tourist visas, said immigration. Two Argentine citizens here on valid tourism visas were encountered working, a violation of the terms of their stay.

Some 23 Nicaraguans, nine persons from Ecuador and a Peruvian also were detained. All will be deported shortly, the immigration department said. In the first three months of the year, 132 foreigners have been deported. The majority were Nicaraguans.

Immigration agents captured 14 illegal South Americans Wednesday night in an area called Cabalceta between la Cruz and Peñas Blancas on the Nicaraguan border. Agents said the South Americans were in the charge of two coyotes, who were Nicaraguans. Coyotes accept money and favors for bringing people across international borders.

The group sneaked into the country near Sixaola in southeastern Costa Rica at the Panamá border.

Criminal penalties for being a coyote are included in the proposed new immigration bill that is being consider in the Asamblea Legislativa.

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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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One of the world's staples is also one of its treats
If you are among the half of the world who feel that boiling perfectly good rice with milk and sugar is sacrilege, skip the rest of this column and pay another visit to the column of Jo Stuart. She doesn’t like rice pudding either. If, on the other hand, you remember and enjoy the comfort derived from Mom’s rice pudding, the widespread availability of it here in Costa Rica, and the sweet and luxurious custard sensation on your tongue, read on.

Marta asked if rice pudding could be made from leftover cooked rice. Yes. My mother was frugal, at times to a fault. She mixed leftover rice with an equal volume of whole milk, a beaten egg and a teaspoon of sugar per half cup of rice, a handful of raisins plumped in a little hot water, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg to taste. She poured it all into a buttered oven proof dish and baked it in a 300 oven over a pan of water for about two hours. At the end, she sprinkled more sugar to cover the entire top with a very thin coat and caramelized it to look like créme brulee under the broiler.

Mom’s was great, but her sister Rose challenged Mom for the family rice pudding crown. She never used the oven. Rose added a cup of long-grain rice to two cups of boiling water and simmered it until the water was all absorbed into the rice, then added a quart of milk and a cup of cream and simmered it with the same seasoning as my mother used: sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. 

When it reached the desired smooth consistency, she added three beaten eggs by mixing hot pudding into the eggs first, a tablespoon at a time while stirring so the eggs wouldn’t scramble. When she had doubled the volume of the egg mixture, she folded it into the pudding and cooked for another five minutes on very low heat, then into the fridge in a mixing bowl covered with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. At serving time, she spooned the pudding into dessert bowls and covered the tops with half whipped cream and half with blueberries or cut up strawberries. Her’s was a rich smooth custard, much more elegant than Mom’s comfort food.

In our college dorm room we went to the other extreme. We mixed the leftover rice from Chinese take-out food  with a pint of milk from the vending machine in the basement and a few paper packets of sugar, cooked it on an illegal hot plate and ate it in coffee cups while still steaming.

Here in Costa Rica, every family seems to have a different version. The local bakery sells it in tall plastic cups, loaded with cinnamon. A neighbor uses the same three milks that she uses for making her fabulous moist white cake, tres leches. In Limón, the Caribbean and many parts of Southeast Asia, coconut milk supplants cows’ milk. 

In Thailand and Vietnam, black rice alone or mixed with white rice yields a delicious sticky variation. Kheer, the national dessert of India, is rice pudding made extra rich by a long reduction of boiled milk and the additions of any combination of orange or rose flower water, cardamom, pistachios, almonds or raisins. It varies by region. In Southern India, rice is often mixed with small noodles.

In a French restaurant where I worked during a vacation month, the sous chef mixed cold creme 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

On 
the 
food
we eat

 

anglaise with cooked rice and raisins poached in a bit of armagnac for dessert for our staff meal.

If you adore good rice pudding, there is a restaurant in New York you might want to visit. On Spring Street between Mott and Mulberry streets. in lower Manhattan, just north of Chinatown, Rice to Riches serves only rice pudding, 24 varieties at last count. Large potions cost about $5. Among the flavors are Bottomless Pear, Chocolate Cherry Crime Scene, Coconut Coma, Coffee Collapse, Pineapple Basil, Pistachio Sage, Sesame Survivor and Understanding Vanilla. The chef uses parboiled sushi rice which he simmers in sweetened and lightly salted milk for 38 minutes. Cream and eggs get folded in, flavors added and the pudding gets cooled. Whipped cream is the last addition.

Shola-e-zard is Persian rice pudding made golden with saffron threads and served on special occasions. As you may remember from my paella column, the Moors brought rice to Spain, and the upper classes glorified it with saffron, honey and almond milk to make the progenitor of our arroz con leche.

For the health conscious, may I suggest the following recipe:

A cup of long-grain rice

Liter of 2% milk (the regular Dos Pinos kind)

Four packets of Splenda

1/3 cup of raisins plumped in a little hot water

1/3 tsp. vanilla extract

2/3 tsp. powdered cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Heat the milk to a boil and add rice. Turn down to a simmer. Add Splenda, raisins, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Test frequently for texture after about 20 minutes. May take up to 35, but overcooking will turn it into glop. Chill with Saran on the surface. Spoon into cups or wine glasses. Optional garnishes might include a mango slice, mint sprig, toasted almond slivers, chopped pistachios or browned pine nuts.

With no added butter, eggs, cream or sugar I would guess that a four ounce serving would have less than 100 calories, fewer than 5 grams of fat and only about a dozen grams of carbohydrate. 


 
Doing one thing at a time is not the multi tasker's way
I am willing to wager that I am —  excuse me, I have to turn off the water in my washing machine — the champion living woman — my, there goes the timer, my cookies are done — at least in Costa Rica — sorry, just had to feed my birds — multi tasker.

It  has become the bane of my existence.  I burn toast, forget the water running in my kitchen sink, lose my train of thought.  Multi tasking (the way I practice it) means a lot of unfinished projects, and that leads to more multitasking. There are those who can do only one thing at a time (I cannot imagine that), and writer Michael Creighton, says he is one of them.  I envy him.  He writes a lot of books, which means he finishes something he starts.  Have you ever noticed how people are divided into two kinds?  There are morning people or night people, but you never hear of noon people.  There are introverts or extraverts.  No Mr. In Between. 

My multi tasking, I think, is a combination of two conditions: attention deficit syndrome and destinesia (a new aliment I just learned about).  I am easily distracted and restless with a chore and on my way to doing something else, I forget what it was and end up doing something else again. There is now a pill for attention deficit syndrome.  I heard about it on television.  I won’t take any of the pills advertised, although they are tempting.  I used to be taken in by the advertising, even found myself wishing I had the ailment because I would feel so much better after treatment . . . all those smiling people in the ads!  But eventually the side effects sounded worse than the original complaint. 

While I write this I am also making a shopping list, and I just wrote on it something I never thought I would — iceberg lettuce.  Two weeks ago I discovered iceberg lettuce at the feria.  They have plenty of Boston lettuce and even now, romaine (sometimes the leaves are pretty tough), but I have never seen iceberg.  In the States, since the 60’s, I shunned it.  It was one of those greens that wasn’t green enough and, therefore, not healthy. It was something we ate in the 50’s — a great wedge of it with thousand island dressing, for heaven sakes.  But it was new and exotic at the feria, so I bought one. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

The farmer kidded that it looked like a cabbage. When I got it home and cut it apart, the familiar aroma of iceberg lettuce assailed me. I had forgotten the smell of iceberg lettuce. It has a lovely, fresh aroma. I enjoyed every bite. I refuse to say what dressing I put on it. 

This week I went to the Clinica Duran for the first time in a long time.  I finally went in to leave some blood for testing, which my doctor ordered months ago.

You are supposed to be there at 6:30 a.m., having not eaten anything for 14 hours.  I kept forgetting.  I must say, the technicians there who take blood are the best I have ever experienced.  As I left the clinic, I looked across the street from the bus stop and saw again the Soda Miriam. That reminded me of the great gallo pinto I had there and decided it was time to test another place. 

I had seen a pasteleria that served gallo pinto.  Their pastries are good so I took the bus downtown.  The Panaderia y Reposteria Trigo Miel is on Calle 3 just off Avenida Central.  Their breakfast menu included gallo pinto with an egg and sour cream, two pieces of toast, and coffee, all for 800 colons. 

The egg this time was scrambled.  Everything but the coffee was lukewarm, including the flavors.  It did not pass the Soda Miriam test, and I left most of it. 

The Auto Mercado did not have iceberg lettuce.  All was not lost, however.  I managed to finish the book I have been carrying around because, of course, I always read on the bus, in a waiting room and while I eat.  That hardly qualifies as multi tasking.  I think I’ve discovered Mr. In Between.


 
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Clubbing of baby seals begins in northern Canada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of hunters armed with clubs, rifles and spears are taking part in the worlds largest seal hunt. The eastern Canada seal cull is expected to bring millions of dollars to poor coastal communities, but has been condemned by animal rights activists as barbaric.

Demonstrations extended even as far south as Costa Rica. One group picketed the Canadian Embassy last month.

For about six weeks, hunters will scour the ice floes near Newfoundland, killing an estimated 320,000 seal pups for their pelts.

The hunt usually begins in late March, about two-weeks after the seal pups are born and their fur turns from white to grey.

Activists, like A.J. Cady of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, say the animals are clubbed to death and often skinned alive. 

"Just today, we found a seal pup that was struck and lost. It was clubbed and escaped and died under the ice," says A.J. Cady.

But sealers and government officials say the hunt brings badly needed income to coastal communities. They say the culling is performed under strict 

guidelines ensuring the seal pups die instantly.

One of the Canadian sealers says the seal hunt is like any other commercial fishing operation.

"We are just fishing, hunting. That's what we do all our lives and that's what we're going to do anyway," says a hunter.

The Canadian government says the hunt earned about  $17 million last year, mainly from pelt sales to Norway, Denmark and China.

But many countries, including the United States, have banned the import of seal products.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans say the seal population has thrived in recent years and is at one of its highest levels on record.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare says the seal harvest damages the marine mammal population. The group's A.J. Cady says the point is not the size of the seal population, or how much money the hunt brings in.

"It's not about the price. What's a seal pup worth? It's worth more than a few dollars for a pelt. And the price for the level of suffering is just not acceptable," said Cady.


 
U.S. identifies what it calls unfair telecom trade barriers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China, Japan, Peru and India have been identified by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as countries requiring particular attention this year for their unfair trade barriers to telecommunications imports.

In a press release Thursday the Office of the Trade Representative said China imposes "severe regulatory requirements" related to capitalization and joint ventures in telecommunications services. Also listed among countries having excessive regulation are India and Colombia. Costa Rica was not mentioned in the report.

The trade representative makes the identifications each year as mandated by a 1988 law. That provision requires the administration to identify foreign trade barriers to U.S. telecommunications companies and outline a strategy for eliminating those barriers using a number of approaches including, ultimately, retaliatory trade sanctions.

"We are deeply concerned by the tepid commitment some of our trade partners have shown to competition in the telecommunications sector," said Peter Allgeier, acting U.S. trade representative. "This is especially true 

in countries such as China, India and Japan where national operators are already competing on a global level, but remain protected at home by relatively closed markets. It is very hard to see a legitimate reason why these markets should not be open to full and effective competition."

Japan was cited for allegedly limiting foreign participation to its wireless market by not making new spectrum (an expanded range for wireless broadband transmissions) available. Japan, Germany, Mexico, Peru and Switzerland charged excessive interconnection rates for mobile networks, the report said.

India has unfair restrictions on access to submarine cables and imposes excessive licensing requirements on new entrants, the report said.

The report cited these other unfair trade barriers:

-- restrictions on access to land-leased lines in Germany;

-- excessive testing and certification in Mexico and Korea; and

-- limits on choice of technology in China and Korea.


 
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