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(506) 2223-1327         Published  Monday, April 14, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 73            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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big pan of gallo pinto
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas            
Edgar Álvarez Ramirez shovels gallo pinto into a giant hot pan
Organizers serve up 40,000 plates of gallo pinto
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The biggest project in the life of Edgar Álvarez Ramirez ended in a grand finale that made Costa Rican history Sunday.

Álvarez who has been a chef for 17 years, said he'd heard of cooking for 5,000 people, but never of cooking for 30,000 hungry mouths. That was, until he heard about the first ever national gallo pinto celebration.

With 1,500 kilos (3,307 pounds) of rice, 1,300 kilos (2,866 pounds) of beans, and 80 cooks, Alvarez and his crew began preparing for the Fiesta Nacional de Gallo Pinto, five days before the event.

The festival is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Tio Pelón, the Costa Rican rice company known by the bearded man in the hat. Although gallo pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica, gallo pinto day, is not a real holiday but merely an invention of Torre Fuerte, an investor in the rice company.

Everything went well Sunday morning on Paseo Colon. “It's very well organized and there are more people than we expected,” said Ricardo Castro, an event organizer for Tio Pelón. Thousands lined up to get a free hot plate of gallo pinto, a tortilla and sour cream. The final count came up to 40,000 plates of gallo pinto served, said Karol Alfaro, a spokeswoman for the event.

“I cook gallo pinto at home and at work,” said Álvarez with a laugh. But his wife does most of the cooking at home, he added. The chef usually works 13- to 14-hour shifts heading the cooking at Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura. After all the intensity, Álvarez said he would have to think about directing the gallo pinto project next year. “I made a lot of sacrifices this week, but I am happy to do it for my country,” said Álvarez.

“I think this is a very beautiful way in which we can support the country,” said Karla Rojas Montero, a visitor who sat near her husband and daughter on the sidewalk. “Nowadays we are losing values and identity as Costa Ricans, and this is a good way to celebrate our traditions.”

Ms. Rojas' daughter Piarella Fontana Rojas, 5, said she enjoyed her traditional breakfast. The family said they would definitely come next year.
Little girl and gallo pinto
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Piarella Fontana Rojas, 5, clearly enjoys a meal.

The festival was complete with traditional music, an ox-cart painter, men on stilts, life size puppets or mascaradas, folk dancers, and lots of advertising for well-known Costa Rican brands.

The 10 press people who worked on the project spent around $50,000 in publicity, said William Muñoz, the head producer of the event and representative of Torre Fuerte. The fiesta will help the image of the country and gallo pinto is a symbol of tradition and family, said Muñoz. Festival organizers said the company would like to hold the festival next year and for years to come.

The gallo pinto was made the traditional way, said Esly Azofeifa, another chef at the Ramada, with rice, black beans, cilantro, onion, red pepper, salsa lizano, garlic, and chicken concentrate  “And with much love,” added Álvarez.

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Another security vice minister
decides to leave his position

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Amid resignations, dismissals, or ambiguous combinations of the two, another security vice minister has announced his departure, said a spokesman Saturday.

Rafael Ángel Gutiérrez Gómez, vice minister of Seguridad Pública announced his resignation to Laura Chinchilla, temporary security minister and vice president, Wednesday, said the spokesman.

Gutiérrez will stay until May 1, according to the security ministry spokesman. The vice minister is about to complete 44 years in the police service, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Among other positions Gutiérrez, 66, served as director of the Fuerza Pública and as vice minister of security in the Figueres Olsen administration. He also served as the director of Dirección de Investigaciones Criminales, a unit which no longer exists. 

His resignation is scheduled for the same day as the resignation of Gerardo Láscarez Jiménez, vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Janina del Vecchio, the soon-to-be security minister publicly asked Láscarez to prolong his stay but he has not yet announced whether he will accept the offer, said Jesus Ureña, a spokesman for the ministry.

Ms. del Vecchio herself has been the target of criticism because she has no experience in law enforcement. She is a math teacher who has been of service as a national lawmaker.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez has defended his appointment and said that some may oppose the appointment of Ms. del Vecchio because she is a woman. Arias gave the impression that anyone could serve as minister of security because he said that individuals from many other professions,such as lawyers and diplomats, have held the job.

The nation is weathering a wave of criminality, and Arias and his administration are struggling to exert control over the situation. so far most of the efforts have been public posturing.

Ms. Chinchilla headed a commission that presented what it called an integrated security plan for action by the national legislature but one of the major thrusts would be to limit homeowners to one licensed firearm to confront intruders.

Friday Arias himself and representatives of the legislature and the judiciary signed a document in a public ceremony in which they promised to increase their efforts against crime.

Gutiérrez has been a principal spokesman for the security ministry. It was he who spoke to the press when the administration said that Colombian hit men had come here illegally to kill the then-security minister, Fernando Berrocal Soto, and the minister of the Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, who happens to be the president's brother.

The hit men, according to the account, were sent by drug lords motivated because Costa Rican officials had stopped large quantities of drugs headed north.

Law officers picked up a handful of Colombians and a Costa Rican but no judicial action has followed. The Colombians were deported and some have reentered Costa Rica since.

Pair will not see prison
after torture conviction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you catch a suspected thief, tie him up and torture him, you might have to pay 30,000 colons, some $61.

That is what happened to two men, father and son after their case came up in the Tribunal de Juicio de Liberia. They have the last names of Centeno Chavarría and Centeno Hurtado.

Nov. 3, 2005, the pair brought a man they suspected of being a thief to their home in Barrio Moracia in Liberia. Once the man was inside, they locked the door to keep the man from leaving, then they tied him up, said a summary of the case.

Then they gave him a beating and cut his face with a knife, according to a summary by the Poder Judicial. The victim has the last names of Gutiérrez Leal.

Eventually the two men drove the bound man to another part of town where they eventually let him go after he was held for nearly six hours, said the Poder Judicial.

The trial panel sentenced both men to a year in jail but then gave them the benefit of conditional liberty and gave them a fine of 30,000 colons.

The pair were charged with the crime of depriving someone of their liberty, something less than full-blown kidnapping.

Bodies of pair lost in sea
still have not turned up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was still no sign of the father and his daughter who were swept away by an ocean current in Nandayure, Guanacaste, said a Fuerza Pública officer Sunday.

Police officers did find the body of the second daughter, 13, Saturday around 3 p.m., said Eduardo Duarte of Fuerza Pública in Carmona.

The father and his two daughters were swimming with family enjoying the Corozalito beach, said Duarte, when a strong current swept the three away.

The father had three more children and a wife who is pregnant, said Duarte.

He said he believes police will find the bodies soon. The three lived in the area.

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three dancers on hotel wall
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray          
The trio is engaged in practicing a three-dimensional dance
French dance group takes advantage of vertical spaces
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Spectators stared at three women who swung from the walls of Gran Hotel Costa Rica Sunday morning.

Strange looking people climbing buildings are usually thought to be thieves in Costa Rica. But these women did not seem to be robbing the hotel. In fact they were dancing, leaping and twirling through the air in seemingly effortless movements.

The woman, part of the French group, “Compagnie Retourament” are here for the XI Festival Internacional de las Artes and were simply practicing Sunday, as their choreographer, who stayed on ground level, yelled tips up to the trio.  They did the same to the delight of the crowds Saturday.

The dance company, created in 1995 by choreographers Geneviève Mazin and Fabrice Guillot, is meant to be a reflection on matter, the use of ground and gravity.

"Our dance originates from the inability to fly or submerge oneself into the floor. We try by all means to create such impossible movements,” the choreographers said, according to a festival spokesperson, “When we find these movements, it gives the illusion that the scenario is the site of an alteration of gravity. The body of the dancers is lifted in a spiral of rising energy, where the floor deforms, unable to resist weight.”

Retouramont has performed in various spaces including churches, sides of historic monuments, bridges, highways, lighthouses, and Olympic swimming pools among others. Architecture becomes a support to the movements of Retouramont. The group will perform on cables above Plaza de la Cultura at 6 p.m. Tuesday and
dancers on wall of hotel
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
The practice attracted hundreds of onlookers.
Wednesday. The performances allow the viewer to live their environment in a different way, according to the group, to experience an everyday space as a place to encounter artistic action.

Documentary being aired here questions 9/11 official story
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, continue to generate theories and speculation that U.S. government officials were somehow involved in the attacks.

The theories range from active participation to deliberate neglect of foreign intelligence clues. Some claim the twin towers of the World Trade Center were rigged with explosives before two planes hit the structures. Some say the craft that hit the Pentagon was not a commercial jet. Other say U.S. officials knew about the multiple attacks and let them take place to arouse the American people. The same claim has been made about Pearl Harbor and the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

The Speaker's Forum, which meets Tuesday, is suggesting the active participation scenario with its presentation of "Loose Change Final Cut."

According to a release the film "will prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that what happened on September 11, 2001 was no act carried out by nineteen hijackers affiliated with Al Qaeda, nor a plan implemented by Osama Bin
Laden. Instead, the infamous event was a cold, calculated, and malicious attack on the American people carried out by a group of tyrants ready and willing to do whatever it takes to keep their stranglehold on this country."

The theory is well received in the Muslim world.

The forum starts at 6:45 p.m. and runs for two hours. There will be time for questions, said organizer Sam Butler of Escazú.

The documentary is produced by Dylan Avery and includes more information than was put in two previous films, according to the release, which added:

“'Loose Change Final Cut' is an eye-opener; and even if you have seen a previous 'Loose Change,' the 'Final Cut' is a lot different than the first two documentaries, with new evidence included of the inside-job, presented in a new and better way.'"

There is a 1,000-colon entry fee for the forum. For information and the Escazú location of the event, these numbers may be called: 2289-6333 and 8821-4708.

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Leftist lawmakers take over houses of Mexican congress
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

This has been a turbulent week in Mexico, where leftist militants continue to hold both houses of congress in protest of an energy reform bill sent to the legislative body by President Felipe Calderón.  Both sides in the conflict say they are fighting for the country's energy future.

Thursday militants from the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática, along with representatives of other leftist parties took to the streets outside the Mexican congress building while elected members from those parties went inside and staged a takeover.

The disruption of normal legislative routine was not unprecedented. The same groups had tried to block the inauguration oath of President Felipe Calderón when he took office in December, 2006. Such disruption is beyond the authority of the police and security guards who protect the congress because the action is being carried out by elected members of the legislative body.

Andres Manuel López Obrador, the former Revolución Democrática presidential candidate who is widely seen as the intellectual author of the takeover, spoke to the Mexican people in a radio address to explain his position.

He says it is vital to stop the energy reform bill sent to congress by President Calderón because it is merely a veiled attempt to privatize the state-owned energy sector. He says the future of Mexico depends on keeping the nation's oil and gas reserves out of the hands of private investors, especially foreign investors.

President Calderón, in presenting his reform package Tuesday, argued that the future of Mexico depends on just such an opening to private companies.

He says Mexico's state-owned oil company, PEMEX, does not have the resources or technology to exploit known reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and that production from current wells is declining. Mexico, which is currently ranked as the world's fifth largest oil producer, nationalized its energy industry in 1938.

Experts say in 10 years time Mexico will not be producing
enough oil to meet its own needs, let alone have oil to export, unless new production can be brought online soon. The energy reform bill would allow a limited opening to private companies to share in oil revenues with PEMEX in exchange for developing new fields. The proposal would also allow foreign participation in building refineries. Mexico currently relies on imports of some gasoline from the United States because of its lack of refinery capacity.

Calderón also argues that his proposal would create hundreds of new jobs and sources of revenue for the country that would help reduce poverty. With backing from his own Partido Acción Nacional and members of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional that ruled Mexico for seven decades, Calderón saw an opportunity to get the measure passed in the legislature, but the minority leftist parties, led by López Obrador are planning major disruptions all over the country to block any progress on the bill.

A top Mexico expert in the United States, George Grayson of the College of William and Mary, who is also author of a book about López Obrador, says the firebrand leftist leader is unlikely to engage in dialogue to resolve the dispute.

"López Obrador lives in his own world," said Grayson. "He is completely out of touch with the global economy and he claims that, somehow, by taxing the rich, money can be developed so that PEMEX can do the drilling and build the refineries and construct the pipelines that will be necessary to keep Mexico from transforming from an exporter nation to an importer nation."

López Obrador and his defenders argue that no plan involving the nation's oil and gas resources should be considered partly because of the scandalous outcome of privatizations in the early 1990's, which most Mexicans view as having been disadvantageous to the country.

But leading political commentators and intellectuals like historian Enrique Krauze have called on López Obrador and his followers to end their takeover of the congress. They say that is the forum where democratically elected officials should discuss and debate the reform proposal in all its aspects. Ruling party officials say they will not bow to pressure and threats of violence in order to end the standoff.

Monetary Fund predicts slower 2009 Latin American growth
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report from the International Monetary Fund urges officials in Latin America to help the poor cope with rising food prices to help fend off social unrest.

Friday's report also says the region has been helped by a boom in prices for the commodities that it sells, helping these nations weather an economic downturn in the United
States, a key trading partner.

But the report also predicts that commodity prices will decline and that Latin America's economic growth rate will slow by 2 percent, to just 3.6 percent in 2009.

The slowing growth rate may help policy makers in the region continue their relatively successful recent efforts to contain inflation. 

Breakout by lake in Chile is blamed on global warming
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A glacial lake in southern Chile suddenly disappeared this week in a phenomenon that scientists are attributing to global warming.

Scientists say higher than normal temperatures caused the Colonia glacier to melt into nearby Cachet Lake.

The melting ice filled the lake and put tremendous pressure
on it, causing the water to eventually burrow a tunnel through the glacier.

On April 6, the tunnel, which extended at least five kms (about 3 miles), reached nearby Baker River and emptied the lake waters into it.

Glacier scientist Gino Casassa said global warming is responsible for the unusually warm weather that caused the glacial melting.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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String of rate increases
approved by government

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has approved a 4.9 percent increase in many bus fares, a 15-colon increase in the base rate for taxis, an increase of about 8 cents for a liter of gasoline and about a 17 percent increase in rates of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz to compensate for the higher cost of buying electric power.

The bus increases include local services and intra-city routes. For example, the fare for San José to Puntarenas will go from 1,535 to 1,610 or from $3.13 to $3.28.

The popular San José-Tamarindo route goes from 2,915 to 3,055 or from $5.95 to $6.23.

Local bus rates will increase from five to 15 colons or from one U.S. cent to three U.S. cents.

These and other rates become effective when published in the La Gazeta official newspaper. Publication is scheduled for Thursday.

Taxi fares in the city go from 405 to 420 for the first kilometer. That is an increase of from 83 U.S. cents to about 86 cents. The rate for additional kilometers remains the same at 380 despite a request by taxi operators for more money.

That's about 78 cents for each additional kilometer.

Additional kilometers for rural taxis will be slightly higher.

Super gasoline got a 36 colon increase per liter to 601 colons or $1.23. Regular went up 35 colons to 588 or $1.20. Diesel went from 511 to 556, and increase of a bit more than nine U.S. cents.

There are 3.79 liters per U.S. liquid gallon, so the new price is about $4.66 per gallon for super gasoline.

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz rates favor low consumers. The new rate is 43 colons for each kilowatt for the first 200 kilowatts of use. Each of the next 100 kilowatts will be 66 colons. After that the rate is 74 colons per kilowatt. The power supplier, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad got a rate increase last week.

Heredia's power company, the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia, only received permission to raise the rates for street lights.

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