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(506) 223-1327                  Published Friday, April 20, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 78                E-mail us    
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Electrical woes lead to major national blackout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wave of electrical outages culminated Thursday in a blackout of the whole country. The lights went out at 7:56 p.m. in much of San José. The power was off until at least 10:30, and there was no clear explanation of what happened.

For tourists and expats in the central city the outage results in a series of big parties. At the Sportsman's Lodge in north San José the bar stayed open with candlelight.

Both the Hotel Del Rey and the Casino Colonial have their own generators, and these proved to be gathering places for expats.

"The alternative would be staying in the dark in my room," said one tourist.

Hospital Calderón Guardia and other similar facilities have their own backup generating plants, so there was no crisis. A number of other government buildings had power when private facilities did not.

There was a dearth of information to the public. Local television stations continued their telenovelas. Only Radio Eco and Radio National seemed to take notice of the outage, although both were running on backup power.

Callers to a Radio Nacional talk show suggested that the outage was a protest by Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad workers against the free trade treaty.

The company known as ICE announced earlier in the day that its power plant at Moín had suffered a problem with one turbine. However, sporadic
power outages had been plaguing the country since Wednesday. Homeward bound workers faced malfunctioning traffic lights throughout the late afternoon and evening.

At one point Barrio Los Angeles de Cartago seemed to be the only place in the whole country to have normal power.

The official story from ICE was hard to get. One version is that two more oil-fired plants beside the one at Moín had failed.  Then the company said a power transmission line between Arenal and Cañas had failed.

Whatever happened, the outage caused a major loss in business for supermarkets and commercial outlets that did not have their own means of generation. A quick tour of the city during the peak of the outage showed most businesses closed with steel doors locked.

The overloaded cellular telephone service was not responding shortly after the major outage. Later, calls were being routed. The land-line telephone system functions throughout the outage.

Shortly before the power came back on, ICE officials were speculating that the power would be off for perhaps 12 more hours.

A similar outage hit the country  Aug. 21, 2001. That problem was blamed at first on a tree that fell on a line, again in Guanacaste, and later on a lightning strike.

ICE is the major electrical producer. In the Central Valley the power is distributed mainly by the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz and the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S.A.


Five suspects held in wave of San José bank customers robberies
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A band of robbers preyed on bank customers and may have taken some 100 million colons ($192,000) in 17 separate holdups, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Five persons were detained Thursday in seven raids conducted by investigators in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados, San Juan de Dios de Desamparados, Calla Fallas, San Sebastián and Cristo Rey, according to Francisco Segura, acting director of the agency.   

The robbery gang spotted victims simply by having someone in a bank. Involved were Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, BAC San José and BANEX, said Segura. When someone withdrew a significant amount of money in cash, the person in the bank would alert other members of the gang on a motorcycle who pulled off the robbery by approaching the victim with guns drawn.

Investigators released a number of photos of suspects watching bank customers. The photos came from bank security cameras.

In one such robbery in Río Segundo de Alajuela 
OIJ bank robbery photo
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Woman making a cash withdrawal is spotted by one of the suspects now being held.

Dec. 29, a bank customer, Antonio Alfaro Arce, died at the hands of gunmen. However none of the suspects faces murder charges.

The suspects were identified as Jhonny Garreta Sánchez, arrested in San Juan de Dios de Desamparados; Berny Sandoval Bolaños arrested in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados; Fernando González García arrested in Cristo Rey; Cristian López Rizo arrested in Calle Fallas, and Mauricio Arias Quesada, arrested in San Sebastián.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 78

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Tab to fix  Ruinas de Ujarrás
in neighborhood of $100,000


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ruinas de Ujarrás at the abandoned colonial village by that name are in danger from earthquakes and deterioration, according to cultural officials.

The  Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes reported Thursday on a study done there by a reconstruction expert. The tab to stabilize the ruins, mostly the walls of the colonial church, will be from 50 to 60 million colons or between $96,000 and $115,000.

Although the village, abandoned in 1833 after a flood, is in a park controlled by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the culture ministry has responsibilities to oversee historic structures. The money for preservation would come from the tourism institute.

An attempt last year to stabilize the church walls came under severe criticism when workers employed by the culture ministry sprayed the walls with concrete, obliterated some features and changed the color of some walls.

The Virgen de Ujarrás to whom the church is dedicated was the country's first patroness.

Ministry officials said Thursday that they would like to install some concrete columns and other concrete support fixtures as well as fill cracks that have developed in the 17th century walls.

According to  Miguel Cruz, the engineer in charge of studying the structure, the new concrete would be the same color as the existing walls.

Ujarrás is in the  Orosi Valley. After the flood, residents moved to nearby Paraiso and took their statute of the virgin with them.

Guayabo national monument
getting presidential visit


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is way behind when the topic is archaeology. But President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be raising interest Saturday when he travels to the Monumento Arqueológico Nacional Guayabo near Turrialba.

The local  private Fundación Tayutic is promoting research on and the exploration of the site that is considered one of the richest in America.

However, the sites of archaeological interest there are deteriorating. There are mounds and roadways that still are visible. but much of the area has not been excavated. Arias also will participate in the acceptance of a reconstructed road that links the monument with the nearest national road.

The Guayabo area generally is considered to  have benefited from influences from the Valley of México and also from South American cultures.

Our readers' opinions

Overfishing gets the blame
for decline in turtle numbers


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In regards to the article about the lack of turtles due to the issue of construction on the beaches, it is a smoke screen to avoid dealing with the real issue of why the turtle population is declining.

They need to address the raping of the waters offshore by the Asian fishing market with their long lines! This is the true reason that all sea life is declining in Costa Rica. The sportfishing industry and the beach restaurants keep showing the decline in fish and other marine life. Is the decline in fish also caused by construction on the beaches?

How many sharks are being decimated every day due to shark finning.

The destruction of sea life including turtles is due to the legal and illegal commercial fishing industry!!!

Tony Webber
Santa Ana

Armed citizen most likely
to become a dead citizen

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Bucker's advice to get a gun is highly irresponsible and even dangerous..
 
While he might have "quick-draw McGraw" experience as a cop or military man, most people do not, and wielding a gun in a conflict situation can quickly escalate a hold-up or robbery into a homicide (yours).
 
The moment a gun comes into play a simple holdup or robbery can turn into a shootout. Most robbers are not out to kill someone. They're out to take what you own. But if you pull a gun, you've escalated it and the one fastest and most accustomed to gunplay, which is most likely to be the robbers — not you — is going to live, and you're likely to die.
 
I sailed in a crime-ridden area of the Caribbean with a group of American boats.  No one carried a weapon, except one, who happened to be retired military. He was the victim of one of a series of on-board hold-ups  that had been non-violent until then. But no one was going to mess with him!  He didn't live in fear. He wasn't afraid of anyone, dammit. He went for his gun and he, his wife and two guests were gunned down — the first deaths by gunfire in that area in five years.
 
So if you're ready for a shootout at the OK Corral, go ahead and follow Buckner's advice.  But you better practice your quick draw and be faster than the bad guys. (And watch your toes when you practice your fast-draw.)
 
Carl Robbins
Alajuela - Atlanta

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third newspage

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 78


Go play
in the sand

Can you build an elaborate sculpture out of sand? If so, Costa Rica  Sand Fest wants you next weekend in Playas del Coco.

The work here was done by Mexican sculptor  Calixto Molina (inset). And it is based on Mexican mythology.

The fest weekend begins April 27 and runs through Sunday. In addition to sand sculptures there will be concerns and other diversions.
sand fest photo


It's time for an experiment in an assisting-living facility
A reader suggested I look into an assisted living residencia not far from San José.  I think it is one of the few in the country, and I wish the condo crazy builders would consider building something a little older-people friendly.  Anyway, somehow I lost her e-mail — it seems every time I want to save something important it finds its way into a special black hole.  Recently a very important folder in my Outlook Express marked “contacts” disappeared.  One would think I worked at the White House.

Sunday, after a bountiful champagne brunch at the Marriott Hotel four of us made our way to the complex my reader had suggested. The last time the Marriott had the most delicious eggs benedict I had tasted in a long time, even though the ham was not Canadian bacon and they didn’t bother to toast the English muffins. (When you think about it, add the Hollandaise sauce and Eggs Benedict is a very International dish.) 

I had been craving them since my last visit. What a disappointment!  They didn’t have them.  Instead they had something called eggs benedictine, a poached egg with a skimpy tomato sauce.  They were kind enough to make eggs benedict to order when we asked, but they tasted like an afterthought.  I happened to have a leftover egg yolk, so a couple of days later I attempted Hollandaise sauce myself. The recipe required three egg yolks.  It was not very good, and now I have two egg whites to complicate my life.

We were allowed to enter at the residencia even though we had no appointment and no one to visit.  The president of the organization that runs the residencia happened to be there, and she graciously gave us a tour.  

I have some friends who have been talking about building a residence of some sort that would cater to the changing needs of older people.  There are plenty of such places in the U.S.  I visited a very nice one in San Jose, California.  There were apartments with kitchens for those who wished to cook, a communal dining room, and plenty of healthy activities available.  It was located practically next door to a large shopping mall, so those who were so inclined did not have to change their way of life too much.

There are few such places in Costa Rica, perhaps because families takes care of their aging relatives. Except for nursing homes, the market here is small.  With the
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


growing number of foreigners who want to retire here, the market just has to grow. 

Given the caring nature that seems a part of so many Costa Ricans (and often they are the ones who go into the health care professions), this would be an ideal location for such enterprises. 

Partly with that in mind, I have decided to experience living in such an establishment for a month. A large part of my adult life has been spent either living cooperatively with other people or living quite alone.  I will also being going from a spacious, three-bedroom apartment to a Lilliputian two-room apartment with no kitchen!  But I like contrasts.  Years ago when I was on my third time around as a university student, I was so poor I qualified for food stamps.  Every now and then friends in New York gifted me with a trip to New York and I would find myself dining at such places as Lutece.

It seems incongruous, if not downright bizarre for me to merrily babble on about champagne brunches and retirement homes with exercise rooms when the lives of people in Iraq and the U.S. are being shattered by suicide bombers and suicide shooters.  But Costa Rica still is, at this moment, for however long, even with the proliferation of guns here, too, an island of peace and tranquility compared to much of the rest of the world.

I have gone on for so long I am running out of space so cannot expand upon our visit.  But since I will be staying there for a while, I will, of course, be writing about it.


Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com.



Pets can travel, too, with the right kind of transport aid
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who seek a special dog or cat — or even a kangaroo — from elsewhere in the world can bring it here as long as they are prepared to pay the price.

A recent classified in A.M. Costa Rica presented an example of what not to do. The classified was a scam by cyberthieves who just want money.

Costa Rica's only member of a pet transportation organization, said that bringing any kind of pet can be much more complicated and far more frustrating than people think.  But by using experienced individuals, the discomfort can be minimized, she said.

The expert is Angela Passman of Escazú, a relocation specialist and operator of Guardian Angels CR. She has been relocating families for three years. But she also is a member of the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

Ms Passman said that any kind of pet, except birds, can be imported into Costa Rica. Her job is to get the pet through customs, frequently within a few hours.

Although she may be the only member of her association in Costa Rica, other members are all over the world ready to help get an animal started on its trip. Ms Passman said that for routine shipments, a Stateside pet owner can save a lot of money doing the preparation work him or herself.
The former Tennessee resident said that air flights have a tendency to calm down pets, and they usually arrive in a tranquil state.

"This month I shipped two dogs to England, two to Singapore, and I am preparing to send one to Germany
next month," said Ms Passman.  "Also we have several dogs coming in from South Africa, Spain, Australia, Venezuela and the U.S."

She also has helped animals in transit, including kangaroos from Spain going to a Guatemala zoo where there was no direct flight.  Ms Passman said she checked on the animals at the airport and verified all documents were in order.

Typically, a dog being imported from the United States needs proof of a rabies shot at least 30 days old. That requirement is for dogs over 4 months of age. But. Ms. Passman notes that dogs should not be removed from their month until they are at least 90 days old.

In addition to proof of a rabies shot, the dog will need a certification by a veterinarian that it is healthy. Then there is a required certificate from the the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the vet usually can arrange.

On the Costa Rican end there is additional paperwork, including a customs charge of 33 percent of the shipping costs. If someone does not speak Spanish, trying to get the animal out of customs can be a nightmare, said Ms. Passman. Some folks talk as long as three days, she said.

But because of the avian flu scare, importing birds is a big no no, and she has customers with parrots in the States awaiting shipment here.

But don't try to ship parrots or any other Costa Rican creature out of the country. That's against the law, she warned.

Her organization also had a Web page with some tips to animals lovers who might be faced with a potential cyberthief.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 78


U.S. senator puts a freeze on $55 million in military aid to Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A leading U.S. lawmaker has frozen $55 million in military aid to Colombia due to concerns about a scandal linking Colombian politicians to paramilitary fighters.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat representing Vermont, placed a temporary hold on the aid. He was acting as the chairman of the Senate's State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Leahy's spokesman said the money is on hold pending a discussion with the U.S. State Department.

Colombia's Supreme Court is investigating political allies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who are suspected of having links to paramilitary squads.

Wednesday, the court expanded the investigation to include three more pro-government lawmakers, including house of
representatives President Alfredo Cuello.

Also Wednesday, President Uribe rejected allegations from an opposition senator that he helped the rise of far-right death squads in the 1990s. In a speech in northern Colombia, Uribe accused the senator, Gustavo Petro, of being a "slanderer."

Petro told a congressional debate Tuesday that Uribe supported anti-crime groups that evolved into death squads. He said this occurred when the president was governor of Antioquia state, from 1995 to 1997.

Uribe has denied having any connection to right-wing paramilitaries, which are blamed for massacres, land grabs and drug trafficking.

A former intelligence chief and eight Uribe allies have been imprisoned for alleged collusion with the paramilitary groups.


Chávez and the president of Chile agree to tone down the mutual criticism
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have agreed to ease political tensions between their countries.

After talks in Caracas Wednesday, Ms. Bachelet said her country wants the best possible relations with Venezuela, while Chávez stressed the need for the two sides to resolve their differences.

Chávez presented his Chilean counterpart with the "Order
of the Liberator" medal, one of Venezuela's highest honors. The sides signed several economic agreements, including a joint venture to help develop Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco River basin.

Prior to her visit, Ms. Bachelet said she would tell Chávez to show respect for Chilean institutions. Last week, Chávez accused Chilean senators of being "fascists" after they criticized his decision to shut down a Venezuelan TV station critical of his government. Ms. Bachelet did not mention the recent diplomatic spat in her comments Wednesday.


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