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These stories were published Wednesday, April 2, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 65
Jo Stuart
About us
High winds up to 140 kph batter country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

High winds swept through Costa Rica Monday and Tuesday. Houses lost their roofs in Guanacaste, and winds as high as 100 kph (62 mph) were recorded in the heights around Escazú.

Meanwhile, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional warned that heavy rains were expected in the northern zone and along the Caribbean slope.

The highest winds of the day, 140 kph (87 mph), were recorded at the Tejona wind energy station near Tilirán. That is where the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has giant windmills used to produce power. The location is at the west side of Lake Arenal.

The weather experts said they expected windy conditions to continue until Thursday. They blamed a mass of cold air coming south from the southern United States.

The weather station registered a peak velocity of 52.5 kph (32.5 mph) at the 

location in Barrio Aranjuez in San José during the 24 hours ending at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

In Liberia a bus and other vehicles overturned due to the wind, and an undetermined number of homes lost their roofs there and in Cuajiniquil, said the weather bureau. The highest winds recorded there was about 70 kph or 44 mph, but higher gusts were suspected.

Some sections of the Central Valley had gusts of up to 90 kph (56 mph), according to extraofficial sources, said the weather bureau. Only a few millimeters of rain fell during the last 24 hours in the Central Valley, but rains elsewhere were reported stronger.

The 100 kph gust near Escazú was registered at el Alto de las Palomas between that municipality and Santa Ana, said the weather bureau.

The forecasters said that people in low areas or in areas subject to landslides should keep an eye open during the anticipated heavy rains.

Passover celebrated here with the right stuff
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Passover will be marked in the Costa Rican Jewish community as it will be commemorated by Jews around the world, and here it is not hard to find the customary food and necessities for making a Passover dinner.

The Passover dinner is known as a seder, and the seder is a meal that begins with the re-telling of the story of the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. The story is familiar to most because it is the story of Moses. 

The Bible gives this account:

Moses, once a child in the ruling household, told Pharaoh Ramses II of Egypt, "Let my people Go." God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh and the Egyptian leader refused. Each time the Pharaoh refused to deliver the Jews from bondage a plague was visited upon the Egyptians until the last of 10 plagues was sent by God. An angel took the lives of each firstborn son in Egypt while passing over the homes of the Jews who warded off the plague by painting their doors with lamb’s blood, as instructed by God. 

The story and seder have been performed every year since, sometimes in secret to avoid persecution from whatever authority held power at the time in whatever land Passover was being remembered.

The seder meal is full of symbolism. The seder plate, set in the center of the table, contains five foods with deep meaning for the remembrance. Horseradish is placed on the plate to show the bitterness of slavery. A lamb’s bone is set to remind the Jews of the sacrificial lamb. Parsley and a hard-boiled egg are symbolic of spring and haroseth is a symbol of the mortar Jews worked with to make the bricks for their captors.

Haroseth is a dish made of chopped apples and chopped nuts.

Matzoh is the most important food for Passover. Jews are not supposed to eat leavened bread, so they eat the flat matzo. The reason no yeast is eaten during this time is because the Jews fleeing Egypt only carried dough with them, no yeast, and the bread they baked under the sun came out flat.

Strict observers of Passover will not eat leavened bread for the eight days and only matzoh products will do, which means those who like eating cookies and cakes may be in trouble. But here in Costa Rica there is a store with everything made kosher for Passover.

Pita Rica-Little Israel is a small Israeli family-run grocery across from the Shell station in Pavas. They have already begun selling matzo and other Passover food. There a person could find special pancakes, cookies and cakes made without yeast. Also the store has macaroons which are a favorite unleavened pastry, usually made with coconut. 

Pnina Aharoni, mother and partner at the store

A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Gil Aharoni supervises the matzo

will be making haroseth from a secret recipe. Haroseth is best served with horseradish on matzo, according to Pnina. 

The kosher store will stop serving any leavened bread products April 15 in order to observe strictly the rules of Passover and not introduce them again until April 25, which means the bakery next door, which the Aharoni family owns, will also be closed then.

Pita Rica-Little Israel also caters to non-Jewish observers of Passover. Pnina said customers who are not Jewish come from Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia just to buy matzo. 

Passover will begin at sundown April 16.

Pnina’s instructions for proper 
matzo brie:

Matzo brie is a treat obviously made from matzo. It is something of an unleavened french toast.


5       pieces of matzo
3       eggs
1/2   cup of milk 


Break matzo into small pieces and soak the pieces in water in a mixing bowl for 10 minutes. Drain the water. Scramble the eggs and add milk. Pour the egg mixture over the matzo. Fry the matzoh-egg mixture in a pan greased with vegetable oil until it is browned.

Serve matzoh brie with something sweet or sour like sour cream or syrup. Jelly goes well as does chocolate syrup poured on top.

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Roberto Tovar leads a delegation to place wreath at Eternal Flame at the wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. The flame honors the dead who gave their life in World War II.
Photo courtesy of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto
Russia's Putin gets invitation to visit Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
with wire reports

MOSCOW, Russia — Roberto Tovar, Costa Rican foreign minister, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Costa Rica and Central America Tuesday, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. Tovar is currently in the country’s capital, Moscow, as part of a diplomatic trip.

Tovar along with the foreign ministers of fellow Rio Group members, Brazil and Peru, met with Putin Tuesday. The group discussed economic 
cooperation between Latin America and Russia as well as the current war in Iraq. Tovar also 

discussed the potential for Russian investment in Costa Rica.

Allan Wagner, Peruvian foreign minister, said the Rio Group was keen to develop closer ties with Russia. 

Tovar said that Central America in the last 20 years was a region engulfed by war, but now is a place of peace with democratic governments. He said in the last 20 years the region has elevated its socioeconomic level.

Tovar also met with Carlos Castro, a Costa Rican soccer player currently playing for Russian team Rubin Kazan.

Hijacking widens rift
in U.S.-Cuba relations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KEY WEST, Fla. — The U.S. and Cuban governments are exchanging angry comments after the second hijacking of a Cuban airliner to the United States in the span of two weeks. Cuba said U.S. immigration policy is encouraging the incidents, while the Bush administration said Cuban police should clamp down on airport security rather than political dissidents.

The two hijackings have further complicated a U.S.-Cuban relationship already close to an all-time low because of what officials here say is the most severe crackdown on dissent in Cuba in many years.

In the latest incident, a Cuban man who claimed to have two hand grenades commandeered a domestic airliner Monday night on a flight that originated at Cuba's southern Island of Youth.

The man demanded to be taken to Miami but was told there was insufficient fuel for the trip and the plane a Russian-made AN-24 turboprop with 46 passengers and crew went to its original destination, Havana, for refueling.

A tense 12-hour standoff ensued at the Havana airport. In an unusual move, Cuban authorities asked the chief of the U.S. diplomatic interests section in Havana, James Cason, to come to the airport, where he told the hijacker by radio he would be arrested and face prosecution for air piracy if he took the plane to the United States.

The man released 15 passengers in Havana but despite Cason's warning, he ordered the plane flown on to the United States where it landed here escorted by U.S. fighter planes. The hijacker was arrested by U.S. authorities and the remaining passengers and crewmembers were safely disembarked.

The incident was similar to a March 19 hijacking of an aging DC-Three Cuban plane diverted here. The six hijackers in that case were also arrested and are facing U.S. prosecution, while several passengers opted to remain in the United States under U.S. policy that allows Cubans reaching U.S. soil to stay and seek residency.

Embassy gives links
for kin in military

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy here is informing Costa Ricans with family members serving in the U.S. Armed Forces how to learn of their family-member’s whereabouts.

The embassy sent out a press release Tuesday making the families of soldiers aware that the Army Family Liaison Office is there to help. The office can find information for a family about their relative’s situation in the Armed Forces.

The address of the office is: Army Family Liaison Office, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, 300, Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310-0300.

The office can also be contacted over the Web at: armyfamily.link@hqda.army.mil or  Linda.douglas@us.army.mil.

Popular play gets
second run here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

A popular play  produced here last year has been scheduled for new performances at the Teatro Nacional after being out of theaters for months. One of the nights of the presentation will be for the benefit of an organization which helps fight the disease polio.

The adapted Philippe Minyana play "Inventarios" will begin showing Thursday for only three nights. The play won the Premio Ancora, an award presented by La Nacion, as the best theatrical production here for the years 2001-2002. 

Inventarios has not been seen on stage since December of 2002 and will now only show for three nights because of the high cost of production, according to Eugenia Cheverri, co-director. The production runs high costs because of the media technology used, she said.

Ms. Cheverri called the play a dark-comedy. It follows the stories of three old women who lived through war. The women are exploited emotionally by a television show in which they participate.
The play is a commentary and criticism of life, Ms. Cheverri said.

Ms. Chaverri and Jodi Steiger, co-director, combined their artistic talents and conceived a play that uses robotic lighting, movie projection and still photos. The players on stage interact with the images produced on screen behind them.

The directors had to rewrite the play in order to make it work better with the art that they introduced into the final product. They received permission from the playwright to alter the original story.

Minyana is a contemporary French playwright, and the play was translated into Spanish for this production.

Thursday night’s showing is for the benefit of PolioPlus, an interational charitable organization trying to eliminate Polio from the globe by 2005. The members of the Rotary Club of Rohromoser have sponsored that evening’s perfomance because PolioPlus is a Rotary International campaign. The play begins at 8 p.m. and all tickets are 5,000 colons.

Inventarios will also show on Friday and Saturday but not as a charitable event. The show starts those nights at 8 p.m. and tickets will range from 2,000 to 5,000 colons.

Tickets are on sale at the box office at the Teatro Nacional.

Autopsy planned
for unnamed victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A decomposed body was found in a garbage can in the vicinity of a farm near the Parque de Diversiones Tuesday afternoon, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Officials said the body had the look of that of a male and that it was in a state of decomposition. The officials added that an autopsy was to be conducted to determine the cause of death and the identity of the body.

Abduction penalty
would go to 25 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Costa Rica is introducing a measure to reform its penal law regarding the abduction and murder of children.

The reform laws initiated by two members of the Asamblea Nacional would lengthen the maximum jail term imposed on those convicted of kidnapping or murder of a victim up to 25 years. The minimum sentence would be 18 years, according to a press release from the Costa Rican legislature.

The increased penalties would apply to any criminal who abducts a minor even if the minor goes willingly, according to the release. 

The reform will be reviewed by the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales, a government committee on social matters, before being made a law, the release said.

The measure is in response to two high profile kidnappings during the last year. In one the young female victim still is missing. A boy, the second victim, died a short time after being abducted.
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Immigration officials predict OK for proposed law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The top immigration official said a proposed rewrite of the law governing foreigners in Costa Rica has strong support in the Asamblea Nacional and is very likely to pass.

Marco Badilla Chavarría, director general of Migración y Extranjeria, said all political parties in the assembly support the measure, which is critical to national security.

He was joined in his assessment by Mario Rodríguez Barrantes, head of the Departamento de Residentes, Pensionados y Rentistas. Both met with reporters Tuesday.

Foreign residents here are interested in the law, in part, because the category of rentista would be eliminated. Many foreigners are here legally as rentistas, which requires the posting of some $60,000 in a bank for five years. The requirements are different than that for pensionado which requires a legitimate pension from an outside source of at least $600 a month.

Badilla said that foreign residents should not be anxious about the changes because those already here will have an opportunity to select other permanent residency categories and be given adequate time to complete the process, assuming that the law passes.

Badilla strongly supports the legal change and called the 32-year-old rentista category obsolete. At the time the category was created, the $1,000 a month that rentistas promised to inject into the Costa Rican economy was a much more substantial amount of money, he noted.

He strongly favors the proposed legislation for other reasons that do not directly affect foreign expat residents here or potential residents. Among other changes, the proposed law makes illegal the practice of helping aliens enter the country illegally. These are the so-called coyotes who are principally involved in the transport of Panamanian and Nicaraguan citizens.

The new law also would extend the period from two years to five years that a new foreign resident would have to wait before being allowed to become a permanent resident.

The proposed legislation also creates many new categories under which persons can enter Costa Rica legally, said Badilla. New categories would cover artistic and creative performers and sports team members, for example. 

The pensionado category is retained, but the proposed legislation also puts the pensionado category firmly under the control of Migración instead of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, where it is now. 

And the new law would clarify the status of the immigration police, which is the topic of a Sala IV constitutional court case. The proposed law clearly specifies that these immigration officers have full police powers.

The legislative proposal went to a committee of the assembly Feb. 19. The committee will study the measure and made suggestions to the full assembly.

Although Badilla did not address the point, Costa Rican officials are concerned by the influx of citizens with low economic status. In addition, officials are concerned by the arrival of unsavory characters who frequently use the minimal requirements of the rentista category to secure a 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Marco Badilla Chavarría discusses a point of the proposed law with Mario Rodríguez Barrantes, head of the residents section of Migración.

legal right to stay here. A deposit of $60,000 is not a barrier to persons involved in illegal activities.

Costa Rican officials want most foreigners who seek to live here to apply for their legal status at Costa Rican consulates in their home countries. Because rentista and pensionado were covered by a tourism law, officials found they could not enforce this requirement for these categories.

How foreigners 
can stay out of jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Marco Badilla Chavarría, the director general of Migración y Extranjeria, has been initiating sweeps by police and immigration officials through San José’s downtown, beach communities and other areas likely to have substantial numbers of foreign residents, some illegal.

More than 500 persons have been detained in such sweeps since Christmas, including some tourists.

Badilla said he encourages foreigners to leave their passports in a secure place but to carry a photocopy of the passport face page and the page showing the arrival stamp placed by Costa Rican officials when the foreigner entered the country.

Tourists have 90 days to enjoy Costa Rica before they have to leave.

Such photocopies will be accepted by immigration agents, Badilla said, but to improve their chances foreigners ought to go one step further. They should have the photocopies certified by a notary, a lawyer, as being a true copy of what the passport contains. The notary also applies stamps. 

Some foreigners who are illegal try to trick immigration officials by using the photocopy of someone else’s arrival stamp. The stamp and the identification information are on separate pages in most passports.

Immigration officials have easy access to computerized records, including those from the International Police Agency (INTERPOL), to double-check the legality of those they stop. But a certified photocopy can speed up the process, Badilla said.

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Our reward offer is still $500

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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