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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, April 8, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 69
Jo Stuart
About us

Red lines show path of totality of the eclipse in this NASA sketch. Times are UTC.

Eclipse today is afternoon show that is best seen in Panamá
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although only the southern tip of Costa Rica will see a total eclipse of the sun today, residents elsewhere should see at least a 90 percent partial eclipse.

The shadow of the moon passing in front of the sun starts over the Pacific Ocean, but by 2:52 p.m. Costa Ricans should begin to experience the start of the eclipse, according to Daniel E. Azofeifa, a University of Costa Rica physicist 

who is an astronomy fan as well.

The time of greatest coverage is about 4:10 p.m., and the eclipse will be gone by 5:19 p.m. The eclipse today is called a hybrid because it changes from an annular where the outer edges of the sun are visible to a total eclipse. But all this takes place far from Costa Rica.

Azofeifa and others have issued warnings about looking directly at the sun, something that can cause instant permanent eye damage.

Joint sex tourism sting captured 11 in Florida
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A long-running F.B.I.-security ministry sting operation netted 11 persons who looked to Costa Rica as a place to have sex with minors.

The 11th individual, a former Hollywood, Fla., police officer got 37 months in jail Monday.

Bits and pieces of the sting have leaked out, including the existence in Florida of an F.B.I.-managed Web page called

However, Thursday Paul Chavez confirmed the sting operation and outlined its successes. He heads the unit that investigates sex crimes against minors for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

He said Costa Rican investigators set up a cybercrimes unit to detect Web pages that are promoting sexual tourism and selling packages that may include sex with children. The operation, dubbed  "Operation Turnaround," went into action Sept. 20, 2003.

Since then, Chavez said, 11 persons have fallen for the scam. Some 10 of these were arrested and taken off Costa Rican-bound flights in Miami, according to information supplies there. The 11th, the former policeman, fell into investigators’ hands when he thought he was going to a hotel near the Miami International Airport to engage in a tryst with two 16-year-old Costa Rican girls.

Another person, George Clarke, a 43-year-old New Jersey school teacher, was convicted in January. But the F.B.I. declined to discuss the nature of the project then, although an A.M. 

Costa Rica story revealed the taboo Web site as a sting operation.

Chavez said the others arrested included a 49-year-old florist, a 56-year-old tree surgeon, a 47-year-old commercial fisherman, a 33-year-old bartender and a 42-year-old mechanic.

Chavez said the purpose of the sting operation is to show the tourists the legal consequence of their actions and to detour anyone who tries to commit a sexual act with a minor here.

The would-be sex tourists are arrested when they complete a material act to come to Costa Rica.

The policeman, Derek Roberts, 30, was an exception. He tried to back out of his trip to Costa Rica but then agreed to a tryst last June with the two fictitious Costa Rican teens in lieu of getting some of his money refunded by the tour company, according to testimony at his trial.

The case was in Federal District Court because of the interstate implications. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. police also were involved in the sting.

Chavez said the last arrest resulting from the phony Web page and sting operation took place in August. The Web page appears to have been eliminated.

A.M. Costa Rica editorialized against the F.B.I. technique Feb. 1 because the newspaper said such a Web site encourages sex tourism here. In addition, the Web site featured the Hotel Amón Plaza as an alleged place where vacationers could cavort with teens. A hotel spokesperson vigorously denied the firm was involved.

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Crowd outside watched Hugo Barrantes, the archbishop, via TV

   Obvious devotion
More than
an overflow
A memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II at the Catedral Metropolitana attracted thousands Thursday, and most could not fit inside. Police maintained tight security and most regular citizens ended up watching on a giant television screen in Parque Central. That didn’t stop the faithful from following the traditions of the Mass by kneeling at the consecration of the Eucharist.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramirez Vindas
Rescue workers and police carry the body of a man from the Río Virilla. The man, believed to be about 65, was found Thursday afernoon under the bridge of the Autopista General Cañas. An identification document said his name was Barrientos, but investigators are not yet certain. He had been dead several days.

Husband kills his wife
after divorce is filed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A boy found the body of his dead mother in Barrio Panamá of the community of Santa Cruz Thursday morning.

She had been shot in the head, investigation later showed. A search uncovered the body of her estranged husband not far away in the patio of his parents home in Barrio Santa Cecilia. Both died from gunshot wounds to the head, and investigators are calling the crime a murder and suicide.

The woman was identified as Ana Lyn Ruiz López. She was 37 and had recently filed for divorce. The man was identified as Francisco Jenquis Chinchilla, 39.

Santa Cruz is a major city on the Nicoya Peninsula.

A  spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said that the woman had lived under physical and emotional mistreatment. She first filed for a protection order in September 2003, and had the order extended six months later.

She was back before the family court judge in Santa Cruz Sept. 21 with allegations of domestic violence, but officials took no action when the woman failed to show up for an Oct. 6 hearing.

Feb. 18 the woman sought a divorce, according to the judicial spokesperson. She alleged mistreatment and cruelty.

Her husband was served with the divorce complaint April 1 and was ordered to leave the home, as the law dictates, the spokesperson said.

Controversial priest
told to leave country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials have told a U.S. priest that he must leave the country.

The priest is the controversial Alfred Prado, 74, who is associated with the Santuario de la Virgen Reina y Señora de Todo lo Creado in San Isidro de  Grecia.

A release from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said that the priest had violated the terms of his tourist visa by working as a priest. Witnesses include those who work at the sanctuary, officials said.

The priest has never sought a work permit or residency and has not received any migratory status, said Marco Badilla, director of Migración.

The priest has renewed his tourist visa a number of times since coming here from Texas Jan. 20, 2003, immigration officials said. He has left the country and returned 10 times, they added.

The priest, who is blind, has to leave the country within 72 hours or he has five days to appeal the order.

The sanctuary also is controversial. Supporters say that the Virgin Mary has appeared to a man who is a religious visionary there. The Catholic Church does not support these claims.

After Prado came here, reports surfaced that his religious order in San Antonio, Texas, was trying to dismiss him.

Prado said then that he was a victim of revenge in the United States for his complaints about witchcraft and rampant homosexuality in the Seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in San Antonio. 

The sanctuary was recently in the news because a former supporter, a North American woman, came with police and legal papers to reclaim a home she owns within the compound. 

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In search of that elusive dream apartment
Lately I have been thinking about moving. I went through this a couple of years ago when I thought my rent was going to be raised. Now it is simply that I am raised — raised off the ground too much. A third floor walk-up is just getting to be too much of a chore when added to the seven blocks I have to walk to get a bus. How can I continue to take pride in using public transportation when I keep calling for taxis?

Although I love looking at apartments and homes, I don't like going in search of them. Some of the longest house hunting I have done was when I lived in Majorca with my husband and two small children. We were living in a tiny community right by the sea, which was nice, but our house had grown too small for our needs. My husband needed a study where he could write, and the children needed another place to play other than right by the sea. A sandy beach did not introduce the sea — a yacht harbor and low cliffs did.

We would hear or read about places to rent and hop on our bikes and go off to look at what we hoped would be our dream home. Nothing came of our search except stronger legs. Then I recalled something I had read in Robert Graves' autobiography. I think it was "Goodbye to All that." 

I told my husband how Graves and his wife were house hunting for a larger house for them and their four children. Finally, they were about to give up in despair when he came upon an idea. Since every ad they read sent them off to a place that was always missing something, he said why not put our own ad in with exactly everything we want. What have we to lose? And so they did. And lo and behold, within a couple of weeks (as I recall), someone called them and they found the perfect cottage complete with everything they asked for.

"What have we got to lose," said my husband. "Except the muscles in our legs." And so we wrote down everything we wanted, including the most elusive of things — an electric refrigerator. By now iceboxes held no charm for me. Within a few weeks we were moving into our new home. It had an office for my husband, stuffed furniture, a separate dining room, a terrace . . . and a refrigerator. It was about six cubic feet and sat in the hall a half flight down from the kitchen, but it was run by electricity. As I recall, we got it at the rent we specified.

So I am sending out into the ether my idea of a dream apartment. Actually, it would be the apartment I 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

already have moved to about the fifth floor of a building with an elevator and within walking distance of a commercial area. I am looking for an unfurnished two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, with plenty of natural light, a view, preferably of the city, an open plan with living room, dining room and well appointed kitchen part of it. Well appointed kitchen simply means plenty of counter tops and storage space. I would like a cuarto de pila with space to hang clothes. It would be nice to have a balcony. Of course, a telephone and cable connection are necessities. As is hot water.

This dream apartment must be within four level blocks of a bus stop and ideally, within walking distance of a supermarket or handy pulperia. All of this would be for a rent that is under $400.

I am concerned that I have left out something. And that something could be vital. I remember when I had returned to college, after nearly 20 years. I was living on student loans, grants and part-time jobs. I had gone from enjoying a good life in New York and other cities and missed some of the things I could no longer afford. A friend told me about putting on paper what I wanted and putting the paper under my pillow for 21 nights. She had a new Porche to show for her efforts. 

I wrote on the paper that I wanted to meet a man who was interesting, loved good food and could afford good restaurants, dancing, theater and such. Within the 21 days I met just the man. He had become a millionaire at age 35 and was semi-retired. He loved to travel and he loved good food. He enjoyed the gourmet meals we prepared in the cooperative house where I lived, but, unfortunately, I forgot to specify that he should also like to share. He turned out to be a very stingy man. But then, it helps if you are going to be a millionaire at age 35.

So I hope I have not forgotten something very important, like this apartment should be in Costa Rica, preferably within the city limits of San José. 

Fellini has given way to the restaurant Voulez Vous?
Norma is the leader of the monthly out-to-lunch bunch of the Women’s Club of Costa Rica. On occasion, my wife invites me along as the token male to my delight. Norma has a knack for trying interesting restaurants. After 30 years in Costa Rica, she knows the territory. 

Two of her compatriots, Beulah and Irene, add another 60 or so years of Tico experience. The group shares their charm, panache, wit and wisdom with me without reservation. They seem to know the genesis of every building, the skeletons in the closets and the sagas that predated the current status. My wife had a previous engagement, but Norma invited me anyway on April Fool’s Day. "Voulez vous?" she asked.

"Mais oui" I answered. Voulez Vous is the most recent incarnation of an elegant old house on the corner of  Avenida 4 and Calle 36, across from a park in San Jose’s Sabana Este that, according to local belief, was once inhabited by witches. Most people remember the site as Fellini’s, an Italian restaurant with a transparent, life-size, etched glass portrait of  Federico Fellini with signature hat and cigarette in the middle of the dining room. After Fellini, incarnation No. 2 was a Parisienne bistro which was loved by a very loyal but small clientele. I heard raves particularly about its lobster bisque from David and Susan. 

When we went there together, the menu had changed, Christian was the new chef and new owner Patrice had added his own flamboyance and charm to the place. No lobster bisque on the menu that day, but very nice tender blanquette de veau in a savory cream sauce over boiled potato cubes, juicy tenderloin with a rich sauce of reduced red wine and a salmon steak seared to perfection plus nice vegetables, crispy salad and chewy French bread. I made a note to return after Patrice completed his makeover. He had already beautified the garden and installed a cozy lounge area with over stuffed furniture between the red palm and the tasteful wood and stained glass bar. He introduced us to Madam Lafayette, his glorious pet scarlet macaw who came to Costa Rica with him, and to Bruno, a baby schnauzer pup.

Many months later, Voulez Vous? is the new name, Madame Lafayette sits on a perch in the garden and spreads her spectacular wings for Patrice, Bruno is much larger and the new baby is pint sized Fabio, a miniature pincher pup. The dining room remains elegant with red velvet banquettes, nicely set tables, soft cushions on the chairs, oriental rugs, quiet ceiling fans of Casablanca vintage and Federico Fellini in glass in the center. 

The eclectic art work on the walls works nicely for me, but would probably drive a formal decorator to distraction. The totality is very comfortable and reminds me of some posh Victorian houses/restaurants in San Francisco’s Castro District, trimmed in time warped deco and Caribbean. The only structural drawback is the parking. The restaurant has only a few spots in front and I would speculate that, when they are occupied, you might need a guard to watch over your car if you leave it on the street.

Thanks to my Women’s Club friends, I got to sample fare from nine diners this time. Once again the steaks were done exactly as ordered and the reduction of red wine made a lovely sauce (¢4,200). The rabbit Provencal was well prepared (¢3,900). The pepper steak (¢4,200) was not bad, but the sauce was made 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


from coarsely ground black pepper rather than the more traditional green peppercorns. 

The tenderloin Strogonof (¢3,950 or $8.44 at an exchange rate of 468 colon to the dollar) was a conundrum. The beef was tender, cooked perfectly with dark surfaces and pink centers to the cubes and marvelously seasoned with a paprika-rich dark red brown sauce. 

But without sour cream it was not Strogonof, and it was not soupy enough to be goulash. It might be better named beef paprikash or made the addition of sour cream in the future. 

Similarly, the Coquilles St. Jacques (¢4,000) was a plate of superbly cooked scallops, moist and tender inside, roe intact, seasoned with a nice light touch of garlic and butter that did not overwhelm the sweetness of the scallops. A very nice dish served with white rice, but "coquille" means shell, and this dish is typically served in a scallop shell, in a shell of puff pastry, in a ring of piped mashed potatoes or at least in a ramekin. Déja  vu. It too would benefit by a "shell" or name change. 

One diner asked for corvina with a mushroom sauce, not on the menu, and Christian obliged with an excellent dish. When I asked if the lobster bisque was back in the repertoire, the helpful waiter asked the chef who answered in the negative but offered to make me his version of lobster soup (¢5,000). It arrived in an enormous bowl with a lid, contained an entire lobster tail cut into serving pieces, was made with neither flour nor cream, that had a consistency of Chinese bird’s nest or shark fin soup. 

Perhaps he used arrowroot or corn starch. Tiny lobster shreds, minced herbs and an unadultered lobster flavor made it a choice to be reordered in the future, but perhaps to be shared by two people.

The rest of the menu offered three salads, three soups, nearly a dozen appetizers, a dozen main course and a cornucopia of desserts, drinks and coffees. Beers are ¢800, aperitivos, digestivos and wine by the glass are ¢1500.

Despite my picky critiques, I plan to return for Christian’s food, the ambiance, the menagerie and the charming waitstaff. I hope this incarnation survives. We were the only lunchtime diners on both occasions. Patrice may attract enough of an evening bar and lounge crowd to bolster revenues.

 ´´´, $$$-$$$$

In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!

WTO appeals panel backs online gambling in U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization has upheld a lower panel finding that support’s efforts by Antigua and Barbuda to provide online betting in the United States.

The issue is a complex one, and the decision is based on obligations of the United States under international treaties. The decision is being received favorably by online betting operators, including those in Costa Rica.

According to Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the World Trade Organization, the United States indirectly agreed to permit online gambling when it joined the world trade group in 1995. The United States presented a list of services upon which it would submit to mutual trade commitments. This list included a category entitled "other recreational services," which Antigua and Barbuda and the trade organization took to include internet gambling.

The initial decision favoring the small Caribbean nations came a year ago. The decision was ratified last Nov. 10, but the United States appealed.

The Appellate Body upheld the original panel’s findings that a U.S. prohibition on the remote supply of  gambling and betting services is a "limitation on the number of service suppliers"  within the meaning of the trade agreements, and that such a prohibition is also a "limitation on the total number of service operations or on the total quantity of service output." 

In short, this means that the United States cannot prohibit gambling that originates overseas if it allows such activities within its borders.

The United States tried to show that its 50-year-old wire act prohibited online gambling.

The Appellate Body also endorsed the findings by the original panel that, by maintaining three pieces of federal legislation, the Wire Act, the Travel Act, and the Illegal Gambling Business Act, the United States acts inconsistently  with its obligations under international trade treaties

Curiously, the United States called the decision a victory. It claimed the appeals decision was based on a tiny point of law.

The United States, in a press release, said the World Trade Organization Appellate Body sided with its government position on key issues in a challenge to U.S. laws on internet gambling. 

"This win confirms what we knew from the start. WTO members are entitled to maintain restrictions on internet gambling," said Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter F. Allgeier. 

"We are pleased that the Appellate Body has agreed with our position that the U.S. gambling laws at issue here protect public order and public morals. 

"By reversing key aspects of a deeply flawed panel report, the Appellate Body has affirmed that WTO members can protect the public from organized crime and other dangers associated with Internet gambling. This is also a victory for the federal and state law enforcement officers and regulators who protect the public from illegal gambling and its associated risks of money laundering and organized crime."

"U.S. restrictions on internet gambling can be maintained," Allgeier said. "This report essentially says that if we clarify U.S. internet gambling restrictions in certain ways, we’ll be fine."

The Appellate Body found that the concerns addressed by the three U.S. federal gambling laws at issue in this dispute "fall within the scope of ‘public morals’ and/or ‘public order’" under an exception to World Trade Organization rules for trade in services, said the U.S. release.

"It merely found that, for this exception to apply, the United States needs to clarify one narrow issue concerning Internet gambling on horse racing," said the release. The U.S. Trade Representative will be exploring possible avenues for addressing this finding. The U.S. Trade Representative will not ask Congress to weaken U.S. restrictions on internet gambling."

The next step in the process is for the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body to formally adopt the panel and Appellate Body reports.

The trade representative said last November that the issue at hand is not one of discrimination. The U.S. prohibition against gambling applies to all gambling services, and not specifically toward online casinos managed by companies in Antigua and Barbuda, the trade representative claimed. 

The U.S. prohibition against internet gambling stems from the Wire Act of 1961, which disallowed the use of phone lines for the objective of offering a sporting bet. 

In light of the advent of the Internet, courts have ruled that the prohibition could be carried over to betting on the Web. 

Recently, however, there have been judicial efforts to alter this approach, with a recent decision by a federal appeals court and an impending appeal by the Department of Justice leading the way. The Department of Justice also suggested that even if forthcoming court verdicts determine that the law does apply to Internet gambling, it can only apply to online casinos in the U.S., as casinos abroad are outside of the jurisdiction of the United States.

In spite of its legal status, approximately 60 percent of all offshore gambling revenue comes out of the U.S.

Accordingly, it was estimated that Americans gambled more than $2 billion online in 2003. The U.S. government has moved vigorously to cut off the transfer of funds to overseas gambling operations.

Jo Stuart
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