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These stories were published Wednesday, April 7, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 69
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Costa Rica officially goes dry for two days
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wine may have been served at the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles, but anyone planning a similar meal Thursday and Friday better buy their alcohol today.

As is traditional with Holy Week, the sale of alcohol is prohibited from midnight Wednesday until midnight Saturday. The period is all of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. 

Policía Municipal in San José and Fuerza Pública officers elsewhere will be working tonight to physically cover, usually with black plastic, the beer and liquor sections of

supermarkets. Bars and clubs that serve mainly alcoholic drinks will be closed, and the official seal will be placed on the door.

The law is an inconvenience to tourist locations that are experiencing one of their most lucrative weeks of the year. Some restaurants, mainly in beach towns, have ways of serving alcoholic drinks so they do not appear to be alcoholic. 

Some enterprising Costa Ricans set up bootlegged bars during the period, offering mostly guaro, the sugar cane liquor, from their kitchens or living rooms.

Most just make sure they are stocked up.

It looks like a melon but the instructions call for a hammer to prepare it for the table.

It’s the chiverre, a traditional Semana Santa sweet treat.

In  photo are three different ways to serve it: chiverre with pink sugar, with black sugar cane or con tapa de dulce de caña and finally  by using a trapiche or small mill to create a conserve.
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A  treat that requires a hammer to prepare
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chiverre is squash that looks like a watermelon, but the shell is very hard. Inside, the texture is similar to that of a pumpkin but colored white.

The season for collecting this member of the cucurbit family (Cucurbita ficifolia) coincides with Holy Week and Easter, and hundreds of roadside stands have them available. It is a Semana Santa staple.

Costa Ricans use them in many ways, mostly sweet and based on brown sugar, white sugar, in convervas and the famous miel de chiverre or chiverre honey.

You can mix prepared chiverre with coconut and you can put in tamarindo seeds, but the basic preparation is the same.

Miel de chiverre

Ingredients.

A lot of patience
A big chiverre 
Dulce de caña in (2) tapas or 1 kilo of granular brown sugar
cinnamon 
cloves
250 grams brown tamarindo seeds 
if desired, coconut pieces or flakes

(Tapas of dulce de caña are the little circular blocks of brown sugar available at every market.)

Preparation

Make a fire or use a kitchen burner to char as much as possible of the shell of the chiverre. 

When done, hit the shell with a hammer to expose the contents that looks like Chinese spaghetti or fine hairs. Chiverre, by the way sometimes is called spaghetti squash.

Now the contents must be dried. You can use the clothes drier to reduce the moisture. A clean pillowcase can be used to protect the chiverre. 

When the chiverre contents are drier, cook it in a big pot on low heat. In the pot put your preferred sugar, white or brown. Cover the entire flesh of the chiverre with sugar, tamarindo seeds, cinnamon, cloves (called clavos de olor in Costa Rica) lemon or orange peel and, if desired, coconut. The chiverre will produce enough liquid for this process.

Cover the pot and let it cook slowly and reduce for 90 minutes. Don’t forget to stir often.

This delicacy is available in most of the country’s supermarkets if you are not handy with a hammer. Also available is chiverre en conserva (about 800 colons for a 500 gram bottle). That’s about $1.70 a pound. 

This product is used like jelly in empanadas and other dishes where a touch of sweetness is desired.

—Saray Ramírez Vindas
 
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Reader contemplates
the life of Ed White

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

While on business in Augusta, Georgia, I received a call from my husband, Barry, that there was some bad news back home in Costa Rica today. Our giant of a friend, Ed White had passed away (as posted in A.M. Costa Rica)

I would never have imagined that I and my husband would have become friends with this roguish, most recognizable man in the Gringo community due to our travels in somewhat different social circles. 


Letter from a reader


However, he first found his way into our restaurant (the man loved breakfast more than anyone I have ever known and frequently ordered three of them.) Then he found his way into our hearts while chatting over "Eggs over Easy" about life, loves and the latest jewelry bargains. We have a collection of Ed’s gems, which he always guaranteed and upon appraisal in New York, assured us, the man knew his stones!

As I walked into the Restaurant, Ed would often meet me there in the morning, struggling with his large frame out of a small Costa Rican taxi.

"Good Morning Princess" were the soft morning words of my most frequent customer, who at one time tortured me by sending his eggs back three times, until our chef "got it right for the "Big Man". 

You may have seen Ed in the movie, "Natural Born Killers" and, yes, my friends, at times in real life he could almost look one. You know, I think Ed would say that too — telling me once, how "it took three men to wrestle him to the ground one night in a casino." 

But Ed White was also a man who played Santa Claus at Christmas to children in the poorest of barrios and who would tearfully share with me the feelings he held so close to his heart for his mother and the one woman he would describe as the "true love of his life" who years later, he would still never forget. I remember being totally caught off guard by that demonstration of emotion — a lesson that sometimes we are more delicate than we appear on our outside wrapping and just possibly, true love never leaves us.

To me, Ed White was a storyteller, a friend and possibly one of the most intriguing people I have ever met. He also loved Costa Rica. There is a quotation, that says we should "live life as an exclamation, not an explanation" No question, fine, sir. Mission accomplished.

So Ed, it is I this time, who sheds the tear, for wonderful stories never told and dreams not realized on this adventure. But hey, Big Fella, I’m sure there’s a breakfast place where we can all meet one day and remember our days in Costa Rica — where Wild West met Camelot, Dreams began and Dreams ended, but there was always a story and you were part of it. 
 

Rosemary Rein
Escazú, Costa Rica
Police goal Saturday
in stopping vandals

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday is the night for burning Judas, but the Fuerza Pública wants to make sure that the burning does not include vehicles and other forms of vandalism as it did last year.

Walter Navarro, head of the Fuerza Pública said that his agency was coordinating with firemen. Navarro said that police are especially concerned about Heredia and the communities of Santa Bárvara, San Joaquín, Barva and San Rafael where there were problems last year from rowdy youngsters and teens.

"We will have a strong hand and not allow vandalism," said Navarro. He said that more than 100 extra patrolmen would be on duty in those areas that night.

The night of Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter, is traditionally a night of bonfires and activities by teens, somewhat similar to Halloween in North America.

In some areas an image of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ, is burned. 

Despite the concentration on Heredia, Navarro said that police would be on guard elsewhere, too.

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Embassy here lacks oversight from press, public
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Embassy in San José is not unlike many other isolated bureaucracies that develop their own traditions and their own cultures.

When A.M. Costa Rica asked U.S. citizens here to comment on the work of the embassy staff, some criticism was expected. Critics are usually quick to write, although some praise came in letters from readers.


A report to our readers


What was not expected were the number of readers, U.S. citizens with full constitutional rights, who feared letting embassy staffers know their names. Normally we do not publish unsigned letters, but in this case we agreed with the writer who said he would come forward if we ever were accused of fabricating letters.

If embassy staffers did not think they at least had a public relations problem, they should reexamine the letters and wonder why they are feared by so many citizens.

Embassies usually are spared the oversight that comes from a free press. Few U.S. embassies are located in countries where there are English-language newspapers operated by Americans.

So there is no natural oversight that even the smallest city council or police department would face in the United States.

And the embassy is a strange place, made up of many groups with different jobs working under the presumed leadership of someone, the ambassador, who is frequently a political appointee.

A.M. Costa Rica turned its attention to the embassy staff late. For three years, there have been indications that the embassy was having problems.  Last month the embassy conducted another garage sale of excess items, and A.M. Costa Rica had been vigorous in requesting advance information about the sale from a public information staffer. The idea was to give readers a chance to see and bid on the excess items.

Instead, the sale came and went without a word from the public relations staff or others at the embassy. We felt our readers had been short-changed and that the U.S. taxpayers had been short-changed because the embassy staff had missed the opportunity to generate more money at its sale.

This is not a question of advertising dollars because A.M. Costa Rica publishes items-for-sale ads at no cost.

Other problems with the management of the embassy have appeared. For example, the embassy Web page carried a link to the first quarter 2002 Costa Rican economic report well into 2003.  Updating a Web page is a basic task that no one did for awhile.

One problem in reporting on embassy activities is the shroud of silence that surrounds most of its activities. Embassy staffers invoke alleged privacy legislation when asked about nearly every activity. 

If one tried to find out why a Costa Rican was rejected for a U.S. visa, the person making the 

inquiry better show up with signed affidavits from the visa seeker. 

The embassy staff says that 1,500 persons showed up for the garage sale, a number far above other recent sales. Reporters would like to double-check this statement by obtaining copies of the sign-in sheets maintained at the sale. But we are sure that the embassy will invoke a privacy shield again.

Also interesting would be a list of winning and losing bids and the names of the individuals who made them. What are the chances? Nevertheless, we shall ask.

Peter Brennan, the head of the public affairs office who soon will be moving to Nicaragua for a similar post there, correctly says that the job of vice consul at the embassy is not an enviable task.  These are the people who day after day rule on applications for U.S. visas. 

A reporter has watched the visa process from the vice consul side as a fairly recent U.S. university graduate tried to evaluate in a few minutes if someone really is going to the United States for the reasons they say or with the intention of jumping their visa and getting a job.

Some of our readers expressed outrage at their treatment by the vice consuls. They claimed that the decisions were arbitrary.

We have been contacted with case after case, including one U.S.-Costa Rican dual citizen who was having difficulty getting a visa for his Tica mother to attend his wedding in Boston.

We have seen Costa Ricans rejected for visas with the guarded comment that they were not eligible for a visa at this time. We have seen the computer screens inside the windows where the names of some visa applicants are highlighted in red because of information that may be accurate or may not be.

But we have never seen any vice consul give a reasonable explanation nor have we seen anyone tell an applicant that they have recourse to appeal. 

Instead, we have seen Costa Ricans turn from the window with facial expressions as if they were hit by a brick, their plans in disarray.

Now these same applicants must submit to fingerprinting under tighter Homeland Security rules.

This is clearly a repeating condition that the embassy must study and try to eliminate. The arbitrary, seat-of-the-pants decisions made by junior staffers has major impact on individuals.

Even talking to embassy officials is difficult. A reporter is told that all embassy information must come from the public affairs office even though the embassy official is the best source for an answer to an important question. Any responses have to be made in secret without attribution to the official’s name or position.

But that is about par for the U.S. Embassy here. When embassy officials objected to our March 18 editorial, they eventually sent a letter that we published March 31. 033104.htm

The letter from the embassy, too, was unsigned and only listed as sender the public affairs office.

P.S. If any embassy staffers would like to give news tips to A.M. Costa Rica, call 223-1327.


 
Two more letters from readers on U.S. Embassy
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here are two more letters from readers who replied to our request for opinions on the functioning of the U.S. Embassy here.

Social Security form
seems to be missing

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding a bad experience with the U.S. Consul: 

1.When I went to the Social Security at San Antonio, Texas I was told that my little boy Marcos Bryan was elgible for benefits. It was a surprise for me. I went there regarding another matter. 

2. A nice lady there filled out the required paperwork for me on Friday Aug. 11, 2000. 

3. I took the paperwork to the U.S. Consul office (CR) and gave them to a man that handles SS benefits on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2000. The man took the papers from San Antonio and then made out a new application which I signed along with my little boy’s mother. We both signed. 

4. After waiting months and calling Social Security I was told there was no record of our application. 

5. On Thursday Jan. 11, 2001, I went to the U.S. Consul to see the man in charge of SS benefits. After a cusory check of his computer, he said there was no record of our aplication. He made out a new application which we signed. He did not give me a reciept but I asked for one and he gave it to me. I don't know the man's name. I have asked him but he would not tell me. Marcos Bryan's mother thinks he threw away our first application because she is a Cuban. 

6. I hand-delivered a letter addressed to the U.S. Consul regard this but received no answer. 

7. Benefits of over $2,000 were lost because of the first application was not processed by the man in charge of benefits. The above dates are correct as I put them in my log. 

Edgar Marcus Suggs Jr. 
EDITOR’S NOTE; Mr. Suggs said he would like an appointment with the U.S. Consul to confront the clerk responsible.
A list of incidents
relating to embassy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My first experience with the embassy: 

I arrive on the day that quarterly tax payments are due in the U.S., I need the physical address as the courier services are hesitant to take a parcel that has nothing but "IRS, Philadelphia , Penn". The embassy is closed due to a Costa Rican holiday...But the young woman at the desk assures me that the tax advisor is in. She gives me a direct number. I call all day and he/she is never in. Doesn't EVER return my call. 

Second experience: Having trouble with another American who is threatening me. The person had just been involved in a very violent crime. I call the embassy, not really knowing what else to do. They tell me I should probably just go back to the States. They also tell me that they are aware of his "case" and are on their way to protect HIS rights as a U.S. citizen. Wouldn't want the brutal Tico system of justice to abuse someone that just committed a violent crime, would we? 

Third experience: My foreign husband is turned down for a tourist visa to the U.S. When I send a letter, they tell me that I am more than welcome to pay the fee and try again. 

Fourth experience: The U.S. ambassador to my husband's country of origin takes a walk out to the lobby, looks at him and says, and this is an exact quote: "He isn't the kind of guy we let into the U.S.," knowing nothing about him. 

However, when said ambassador realizes that I am a relatively affluent person, the whole story changes. "Gee, I could have that visa for you in three days". 

Another: When I write a letter asking the embassy how we help the Costa Rican government treat so many Americans free or cheap in the public system, I recieve a letter from the embassy with an article that says that Latin Americans are bankrupting the U.S. health care system and have the blood of innocent American children on their hands! Basically an article that had to be about Mexico, there aren't enough Ticos to even affect the US health care system! 

When challenged, they say it isn't the "official position" of the embassy. The person in charge of public affairs sent the article. 

Another: After holding a party to introduce several embassy employees to the local American population in my area, I mentioned my foundation which helps handicapped kids in the zone. I asked for any help that the embassy might offer. While no help was forthcoming, embassy employees called asking for discounted or free rooms in my hotel for the annual fundraising event for the foundation.

This is only a sampling. Believe me there have been many more similiar experiences. I have always said "If you aren't disgusted with the embassy, you simply haven't had enough experience with them yet". 

Robbie Felix
Manuel Antonio/Quepos

 
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ACLU joins battle over no-fly list of citizens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A leading U.S. civil liberties group has filed a legal challenge to a government program that seeks to bar people with suspected links to terrorists from traveling on commercial airliners.

At issue is what is called the government's "no-fly" list, names compiled by the Transportation Security Administration, the agency responsible for protecting airline travel. The list contains names of people who are barred from flying because they are considered a threat or have links with suspected terrorists.

But now a group of people who say they have been wrongly put on the list are challenging the no-fly list in federal court.

The suit is being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of seven people who say they are innocent of any links to terrorists and pose no risk to fellow travelers. Among those filing suit are a retired minister, a college student, a member of the U.S. military and a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, David Fathi.

Fathi told a Washington news conference that he has been stopped, interrogated and in some cases briefly detained because security officials at airports have told him his name appears on the government's no-fly list.

"I have been led away by armed police. I have been threatened with indefinite detention and I have had one officer tell another to put me in handcuffs and take me away," he said. "Now I have a pretty thick skin. But when these things happen not just once, but over and over again, it is humiliating and it is frightening. I am not a terrorist and the government has no reason to put my name on a list of suspected terrorists."

The seven travelers filing suit are represented by ACLU lawyer Reginald Shuford. He says several were stopped at airports even though they had a letter from the Transportation Security 

Administration acknowledging that they do not pose a security threat.

"They are questioned about everything from who they are, their national backgrounds, where they are going, whether or not they have any affiliation with certain 'terroristic activity.' And the worst part of all, beyond the stigma, is that there is no way at all to clear one's name from the no-fly list once you are placed on it," he said.

There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from the government. But in the past, Transportation Security Administration officials have said the no-fly list is an essential tool in the war on terrorism. Spokesman Mark Hatfield said that the agency is aware that problems exist with the no-fly list, but said government officials have worked with those wrongly placed on the list to clear their names.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Seattle, Wash. The suit calls for the government to maintain the no-fly list in a way that does not stigmatize or inconvenience innocent travelers. 

Suspected terror allies
being ousted by Chile

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

IQUIQUE, Chile — The government has ordered 12 Lebanese clothing importers to leave the country, following an investigation into alleged ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network. 

A lawyer for the Lebanese nationals, Ricardo de la Barra, said he would appeal the decision giving his clients 15 days to leave the country. He said authorities felt the presence of his clients in the northern port of Iquique was, in his words, "not useful or convenient."  The Lebanese workers were part of an investigation last year into suspected money laundering operations linked to al-Qaida. No charges were filed in the case. 


 
Roundup of former top officials begins in Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Police have arrested the former interior minister of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, charging he was behind a massacre of Aristide's opponents during the bloody revolt that led to the president's ouster.

Authorities say Jocelerme Privert was arrested Tuesday at his home in Port-au-Prince. He is one of the highest ranking former government officials to be detained since Mr. Aristide's departure from Haiti on Feb. 29.

Privert is accused of orchestrating a massacre of political opponents in the city of Saint Marc as violence flared in the run up to Aristide's fall from power. Dozens of people are believed to have been killed. 

Haiti's new interim government has arrested dozens of Aristide supporters, and former top officials are wanted on allegations of plundering the nation's finances and other charges. Many former Haitian officials have fled the country. 

Haiti's new justice minister, Bernard Gousse, recently said that 37 members of the former government would be barred from leaving the country to ensure that they would be available.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials revoked Privert's tourist visa because of suspicions of drug trafficking.

Privert's arrest comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a one-day visit to Haiti and said the United States will provide full support for the Caribbean country's interim government.


 
Colombia denies it may be sending troops to Iraq
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bogota, Colombia — Colombia's government has rejected a British newspaper report claiming the Latin American country is planning to send troops to Iraq.

In a written statement Monday, President Alvaro Uribe said the government has "never considered the possibility" of sending troops to assist coalition forces in Iraq.

The president's spokesman, Ricardo Galan, also 

said Uribe did not discuss the matter with President George Bush during a meeting at the White House last week.

The Financial Times newspaper last week had quoted a U.S. State Department official saying Colombia was considering the move to ensure U.S. support in the fight against drug trafficking.

Monday, Galan said President Uribe has expressed concern recently that Colombia does not have enough soldiers to quell violence at home, let alone to send troops.


 
Venezuela's information minister resigns over false fire info
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The information minister has resigned following the death of one soldier burned in a fire, which the government first reported as having caused light injuries. 

The minister, Jesse Chacon, said Monday he took responsibility for what he called an "information failure" in reporting on the fire at a military prison in western Zulia state. 

He said his office gave mistaken information to President Hugo Chavez. In his weekly radio address Sunday, Chavez said some soldiers had suffered "light injuries" in the blaze.  Seven other soldiers were injured, some seriously. 

The president also rejected claims the fire was set intentionally as a way to punish soldiers who oppose him.  Military officials say the fire was caused when a cigarette accidentally ignited a mattress. 


 
 
 
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