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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, May 2, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 86         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Papagayo security

Welcome to
the Republic
of Papagayo
Despite laws providing free access to beaches, visitors to the Papagayo peninsula will face at least three checkpoints. This is the initial guardhouse on the route to the fabled Four Seasons Resort where rooms can be $1,000 a night and the customers are mostly North Americans.

See our story

Opposition party quickly jumps on del Vecchio ties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The opposition Partido Acción Ciudadana wants the new security minister, Janine del Vecchio, to explain her relationship with a Swiss-born Costa Rican hotel owner.

Francisco Molina, a legislative leader of the party, said Thursday that Ms. del Vecchio ought to leave her job if she cannot clear up her relationship with the hotel owner, Anna Moscarelli. Molina said that it is not appropriate for a government minister to be linked to questionable persons.

The political party release cited newspaper reports that said Ms. Moscarelli managed funds for Italian businessmen and politicians associated with the Sicilian Mafia.

The politicians were referring to a news story in La Nación Thursday that said Ms. del Vecchio had a long and close relationship with Ms. Moscarelli, sold her a car, invested in her real estate and even worked for her at one point.

Ms. del Vecchio was the Costa Rican ambassador to Switzerland for a time.

Ms. Moscarelli is the president of Grupo Papagayo and has three hotels, Jungle Lodge in Tortuguero and Giardia Papagayo and El Nakuti in Guanacaste.

Ms. del Vecchio took over the security minister's
job last month after President Óscar Arias Sánchez fired Fernando Berrocal Soto because he made comments in March that were interpreted as linking unidentified Costa Rican politicians with Colombian terrorists.

Ms. del Vecchio at that time was criticized for having little background in law enforcement. The ministery she heads, Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, supervises a number of police agencies, including the Fuerza Pública and the Policía de Control de Drogas, as well as the immigration department.

Ms. Moscarelli has been involved in a complex legal battle with the Catholic Church here because money she borrowed passed through the church bank accounts, according to news reports. The church appears to have channeled funds from a Panamá offshore operation.

"Costa Rica suffers from a grave situation of citizen insecurity," said Molina. "At the same time Costa Ricans are tired of so much corruption in public functions. Minister del Vecchio arrives at the job in a moment in which the citizenry need peace and confidence in the security authorities. It is for this that the minister ought to give full explanations."

Ms. del Vecchio seemed unruffled by the controversy when she appeared at the legislative halls Thursday night to hear the annual speech by President Arias.

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Johny Cru Gómez, 7, sister Rachel Gómez Sánchez, 3, and mother Lidieth Sánchez Cortez, all of Barrio Horizonte Pavas, demonstrate for government aid to get a new home Thursday at May Day march.

Arias uses house symbolism
to define administration goals

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez used the symbolism of a house and its four walls Thursday night as he outlined his administration's successes and hopes.

He asked the lawmakers to pass more taxes, including a tax on luxury homes that would be used to construct housing for the poor.  He also said he wanted a constitutional change so that 8 percent of the gross domestic product would go to education instead of the 6 percent that is in the document now.

Arias also told the deputies that new and unspecified taxes needed to be created.

The symbolic house constructed by Arias in his speech consisted of four walls:  Social policy was one. A second was a policy that would increase the productivity and competitiveness of the country. The third symbolic wall was the fight against criminality and drugs.

His fourth wall was the strengthening of the country's external politics by means of international agencies. He noted that Costa Rica is soon to be a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. His three international initiatives are not new. He is promoting the so-called Consensus of Costa Rica in which countries that forsake weapons and concentrate on social investments are rewarded by debt relief from the First World.

He also is promoting an international treaty to keep track of the international sale of weapons. His third initiative is Peace with Natures in which the country seeks to become carbon neutral by 2021.

There was not a lot new in the Arias speech. The achievements of his administration had been well publicized. His programs also had been announced.

But he said that to adequately construct his symbolic house he needed a few bricks from the legislature, actions on bills that all seemed to be in the hopper already.

He also spoke of forthcoming trials that the country must face. He listed high petroleum prices, rising food prices, $3.3 billion in daily world military expenditures, recession in the United States and a reduction in tourists and foreign investment. Then there is global warming.

"To deny the these facts impact Costa Rica is demagoguery and is the worse symptom of political dishonesty," said Arias. "Our country does not live in a bubble, isolated from the trials and glories of humanity. To recognize that this will be a difficult year is not a sign of weakness but of responsibility because only by accepting our challenges can we prepare ourselves for them.

"This is not a moment for evasion but for work," he said. "This is not a moment to tear our clothes but to roll up our shirt sleeves,"

Arias did ask the lawmakers to reform the Costa Rican Constitution to recognize worker solidarity movements. These are worker benefit organizations most medium and large companies have.

Arias began speaking in the legislative chamber right at 7 p.m. In addition to legislative deputies, his ministers, diplomats and guests were seated in the center of the chamber. Arias wore the sash of office under his suit jacket.

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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Workers wave national and union flags as workers took to the streets of San José Thursday.

Pacheco keeps his job
as assembly reorganizes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected Francisco Antonio Pacheco won a third term as president of the Asamblea legislativa. But the day was not without excitement.

All but one of the leadership positions were filled by members of the Partido Liberación Nacional, which dominated the voting with its 29 member. There are 57 members in the assembly but one seat was not filled Wednesday.

The Partido Unidad Social Cristiana continually cast its five votes in blank. This was confirmed by the party's legislative leader, Jorge Eduardo Sánchez, who said the blank votes were a protest about Pacheco.

Guyón Massey, the only member of Restauración Nacional in the chamber, won the second secretary slot. He is a consistent backer of the ruling party in the assembly and Liberación Nacional backed him again for a leadership role.

Other legislative winners were Maureen Ballestero, vice president; Hilda González first secretary; Sandra Quesada, first prosecretary and Olivier Jiménez, second prosecretary.

Each of the positions was contested. Elizabeth Fonseca of the Partido Acción Ciudadana got 15 votes for president. The Libertarians voted for Luis Barrantes, who got five votes. José Merino del Río, the independently minded single representative of Frente Amplio, got one vote.

Even that was contested.  Movimiento Libertario's Ovidio Agüero said Merino should not have put his name in nomination because he was not a native born Costa Rican.

In order to be president of the country a person has to be native born, and the presidency of the assembly would become the nation's president if something happened to the elected president and the country's vice presidents.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 86

Casa Alfi Hotel

jet boat vendor
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Helen Thompson
Boat operator from Playa Hermosa keeps his business in the water just off the Four Seasons beach.
How the wealthy live at the Four Seasons in Papagayo
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Driving up to the “Republic of Papagayo,” border security is tight. One's right to enter the luxury peninsula is checked three times by guards communicating with reception via radios and earpieces. Anyone not entering in a tourist bus or in a fancy car is viewed with suspicion.

But once past their tests, and admitted to the 7-kilometer entrance road, the priviledge of the area starts to seep in. The road is palm-lined, fountains take the sculpted shapes of kneeling women, golfers swing their clubs gently on a course carpeted with a special kind of grass that can be irrigated with salt water, and the staff is attentive to guests' every need.

The Four Seasons hotel is the anchor to the Papagayo Peninsula, which has been dubbed a republic by some for its isolation, and its condition as the only part of Costa Rica annexed and overseen by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. It even has its own laws, developed especially for the peninsula.

Indeed, it takes quite some effort to finally arrive at the five-star resort, which sits almost at the end of the strip of land that juts into the Pacific Ocean. The roads in Guanacaste are bad, and without the nearby Liberia Airport, any tourist looking for a little rest and relaxation would leave the hotel off their list.

“The airport has been a great help,” said Luis Argote, general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. “Not so long ago, three flights a week would come into that airport. Now it's more like 54. It gives us a lot of opportunities, including opening to the European market with the weekly London direct flight.”

Last year's figures showed that 29 percent of all the people touching down at the airport headed off to the peninsula, making it the most visited destination by air passengers in Guanacaste. But almost 60 percent of the people flying out of Liberia ended their holiday by complaining about the state of the roads.

“I wouldn't say the roads are a hinderance for us. For some people it is part of the experience of visiting an exotic destination.” said Argote, who is Venezuelan but has worked in Four Seasons resorts all over the Americas. He has been working in Costa Rica for five years, one year before the resort's opening in 2004.

The Papagayo hotel has developed a reputation as the playground of the rich, famous, and would-be famous when they holiday in Costa Rica, and Argote is used to dealing with keeping the paparazzi at bay. The latest big intrigue came when Ashlee Simpson — a teen-pop singer, for those at a loss — and her boyfriend Pete Wentz spent a few days in the resort in January. Bill Gates also paid the hotel a visit in April.

“The reason they come here is because they know they'll get peace and quiet,” says Agote. “The normal profile of our guests is that they aren't particularly impressed by having celebrities around. And looking at where the hotel is located, it makes the situation much easier to control.”

With each guest paying something between $415 and $1,000 per night, a high-class experience has to be provided.

Three stepped swimming pools lie on a thin strip of land between two curving white-sand beaches that brush the hotel on either side. The beaches are almost deserted, with many more people swimming in the pool than the sea. A few thoughtfully-placed wicker deck chairs lie on the sand alongside a variety of water-sports equipment, but no motor-vehicles are allowed as the beaches are designated quiet areas.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the resort is violating the Costa Rican law that all beaches are public property, but staff are adamant that there are ways to get to the beaches even if you're not a guest. The only man who tries it on a regular basis is a local of Playa Hermosa, which lies just across the bay. He brings a string of glass-bottom, battery-powered boats across to the beach each day, floating just off the coast and waiting for customers.

Meals are taken in one of four restaurants, which serve seafood, steak, Brazilian and typical food, and from each of which diners can hear the waves rolling onto the shore. The catch of the day is displayed on the beach each day so guests can pick out their personal dinner.

Other bonuses include a gym with cardiovascular equipment and weights, a spa with steam room and jacuzzi which claims to use only biodegradable products, and facilities for private events from small dinner parties to full-blown beach weddings. Children can be disposed of in two daytime youth clubs, one for younger kids and one for teenagers, where they can play sports, watch TV, do art, make friends and stay out of the way of their parents.

There are 163 well-appointed rooms with big bathrooms and self-ordered mini bars. Prices rise with the altitude — and thus the view — of the room, all housed in buildings that have curving shell shaped roofs, allegedly designed to blend with the surroundings.

“We created a new niche in the Costa Rican tourism market,” said Argote. “We were the first luxury hotel to set up here, and I believe we remain the only real luxury product. We didn't dilute the national tourist market with this hotel. The hotels we compete with are outside the country, such as the Ritz Carlton Caribbean and the One&Only Palmilla Resort in Mexico.”

Even with the economic situation going downhill in the United States of America, where Four Seasons recruits most of its clients, Argote says that the hotel is doing well.

“Four Seasons is a mystical name in the U.S.A., and our client base is very loyal,” he said. “We still have over 90 percent American clients, mostly between the ages of 35 and 55. They are always surprised by how much closer Costa Rica, as an exotic destination, is to the U.S. – much closer than they envisaged.”

With so many affluent Americans pouring in to the isolated resort, it's difficult for guests to get any taste of the country that lies outside the guarded barriers.

Staff are mainly Costa Ricans who speak fluent English, and some of the food served is in the typical style, but it's hard to imagine the guests being served guaro instead of a fine scotch or eating rice and beans with every meal. As Argote admits, most of the clients live in the resort while they are there, doing all their eating, sleeping and playing on the grounds.

“We are getting more Costa Ricans coming to stay at the hotel,” he said. “I would say they make up about 6 percent of our client base. We have local packages with special rates for Costa Ricans. Quite a number of Josephinos are also buying shares in our time-share program, so they have a place to come away to a private apartment on the hotel grounds.

“I hope that for Costa Ricans it is a source of pride to have a Four Seasons resort in the country. We say there is a
entrance sculpture
Sculpted kneeling woman is part of the ambience.

Four seasons manager
Luis Argote, Four Seasons general manager

Birds eye view of lounge
Bird's eye view of one lounge. As part of the rules of access, a photographer was not allowed to take close up shots of hotel guests.

beach chairs
Lounge chairs await sun-seekers.

pre-Four Seasons and a post-Four Seasons era in every country, and I hope that they are proud that their country is a real luxury destination now.”

All has not always run smoothly for hotels in the Papagayo area, with the Hotel Allegro Papagayo shut down temporarily in February after it was found to be contaminating the ocean. The hotel lies just outside the gates to the Papagayo peninsula, and caused its neighbouring beach, Playa Manzanillo, to lose its blue flag certification.

Four Seasons Costa Rica itself came under scrutiny in the national media not long after, when it was found that a suspicious pipe leading from the hotel to the ocean could have been used to dump overflow from water treatment plants. A sanitary order was issued by the Ministerio de Salud to Ecodesarrollo Papagayo, the company that oversees the peninsula's infrastructure.

Despite this and other contamination problems in nearby areas such as Tamarindo, Argote is confident that this will not deter guests from coming to his own resort.

“Security is a bigger issue,” he continues. “With the growth of surrounding towns, such as Tamarindo, we see things happening that would never have happened three years ago. If people hear about crime in the country and the international image of the country goes downhill, everyone suffers.”

No mention is made of the recent report by the Contraloría General, which deplores the fact that Four Seasons' neighbours are mostly vacant lots rather than concessioned land under development.

Of 13 projects that have had concessions to develop in the peninsula for up to 11 years, only 2 have even begun construction.

Four Seasons claims to have set the tone for the development of the peninsula, but it is yet to be seen when the desired projects will finally be developed around it.
beach scene at Four seasons
This is what they came for: A secluded tropical beach.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 87

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The joys of living in the city again assert themselves
Last year I bought season tickets to the Symphony and managed to go just once.  This year I have no season tickets, and so far have already been to two concerts. 

This week the bus managed to show up at my bus stop in a timely fashion, keep going and get me to the theater in plenty of time.  I arrived early because I wanted to pick up a book by Helen Dunn Frame.  We had agreed to exchange books and she already had mine.  I arrived early enough to spend some time in the café off the lobby of the theater.  It was filled with such interesting people, many of whom I had not seen in a long time.  Quite a number of them are the same people I see at Little Theatre productions.  I like city living.  Helen managed to find me and I now have “Greek Ghosts,” a mystery that, as she pointed out, will be a good bus book.

And then the concert.  I was thrilled because I could make out the faces of the musicians.  Before I had my eyes operated on and new lenses, their faces were a blur.  Now I might even recognize them in another situation without their instruments.  But before I got too carried away with my new vision, I realized I usually sit in the gallery, three floors up, and now I was sitting in a seat in the palco on the right side just above the orchestra, probably less than 40 feet from the stage. Still, I didn’t need my glasses to read the program.

Maria Lourdes Lobo was the guest violinist playing a Bruch concierto.  She was stunning.  (Both musically and physically, since I could see her clearly now).  She became part of the music, and she and her violin soared. I was reminded of Irwin Hoffman when he was conductor. How I so often felt that he and the music were one.

This is not to lessen the performance of our present director titular of our symphony orchestra.  Senor Chosei Komatsu was electric conducting a Shostakovich symphony – and five pounds lighter by the end of it, I am sure. 

Back home I began to think about which restaurants nearby are open on Sunday.  I didn’t feel like cooking.  Not too many, but there are some wonderful restaurants
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

within walking distance, or a short bus ride from where I live.  Three happen to be Italian, which suits me just fine.  The fourth one, the Park Café, down the street from Rosti Pollo, is hard to define.  All I can say is that at the Park Café, you will find just about any kind of food that you can think of, prepared in a way you cannot imagine, but nevertheless every mouthful is delicious.  The problem is all conversation, unless it’s on the topic of what you are eating, stops.

L’Olivo is also in Sabana Norte not far from the Park Café.   It has all of the necessary ingredients for a fine restaurant, nice ambience, excellent service and really fine food, which one does not feel is overpriced. 

On the other side of me, to the west, are the other two Italian restaurants that I enjoy very much – Just off Pavas boulevard around the corner from La Fise, is Café Mediterráneo.  The restaurant is now larger and has a lovely roof terrace for dining.  My favorites, their beef carpaccio (especially if you ask for capers), and penne al vodka are hard to beat.  Just down the boulevard, next to Pizza Hut, is Il Padrino, which serves, besides pasta and other dishes, great thin crust pizza.  Il Padrino is the only one open on Sundays, I believe. I had my first limoncello there.  Actually, I had two.  I do not recommend two too close together.

And then, to top things off, being back in my old apartment building (which I love because it looks like it could be on a back street in Paris), I am far more convenient to many of my friends, so I see them more often.

What more can one ask for?  Good music, good food, good friends, all within reach by bus – and a good book to read on the way.   I really do like city living.

Money sent home to Latin America has fallen sharply
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Although economists say the United States is not technically in a recession, the slowdown in economic activity is having a dramatic impact on the amount of money immigrants are able to send back home. The so-called remittances have fallen off sharply, according to officials in several Latin American nations.

The crowds of immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America seeking jobs has grown a little larger in Houston because of the slowdown in construction and the ripple effect in other areas of the economy. Houston is in relatively good shape compared to some other parts of the nation, having avoided a big downturn in housing because there was never a sharp increase in prices here as there was on the east and west coasts. But some of the same factors driving down the economy elsewhere are also present here.

High fuel prices, in particular, have caused some transport and construction companies to cut back. The pinch on the pocketbooks of average people has translated into less work for gardeners, house cleaners, landscapers and other unskilled or low-skilled laborers.

Oscar Ramiro, an auto mechanic from Vera Cruz, México, says times are hard. He says the work has gone down and at the same time the prices for such things as gasoline, food and rent have gone up. He says he used to send around $100 a week to his family back home, but now he struggles to do it every two weeks.

Juanita, a house cleaner who has lost work, says she used to send up to $150 a week to her mother in Michoacan, in central Mexico, but now she can barely manage to send $50. She says she hears similar stories from other immigrants.
Juanita says she wishes someone would do something to help the undocumented workers who are struggling to survive here. She says returning to Mexico is not an attractive option because, she says, things are even worse there.

According to the Banco de México, remittances to México have dropped by nearly 3 percent this year. Last year, immigrants in the United States sent home a record $23.9 billion, but bank officials say that figure is not likely to be matched this year.  Using data that shows all remittances sent by Mexicans living outside the country, Banco de Mexico reports that immigrants sent $5.3 billion home from January to March of this year. In the same period last year, they sent $5.5 billion.

The reduction is important because remittances are second only to oil as a source of foreign income for Mexico.

Although the price of oil has reached record levels recently, the country has not been able to take full advantage because production at Mexican wells is slowing. President Felipe Calderón has a proposal before the Mexican Congress that would allow limited participation by private companies in exploration and development so that new reserves could be opened.

But leftists in the Congress have blocked discussion of the proposal saying that it is an attempt to privatize the state-owned energy sector.

The situation is similar in many other Latin American nations, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, which released a report Wednesday showing that only half of the nearly 19 million Latin American immigrants in the United States send money home on a regular basis, compared to well over 70 percent two years ago.

Bolivia's Morales says government will take over phone and energy companies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced the state is taking control of the country's main telecommunications company and four foreign-owned energy firms.

Morales made the announcement Thursday, saying his government would take "absolute control from this moment on" of telephone company Entel.

During the May Day speech in La Paz, the Bolivian leader also said he had signed an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the gas production company Andina from Spanish company Repsol.

Morales also said his government is taking control of
 foreign energy companies Chaco controlled by British Petroleum, Transredes belonging to Ashmore Energy, and the German-Peruvian controlled company known as CLHB.

Terms of the nationalizations were not immediately clear.

Two years ago, the Bolivian leader ordered the nationalization of Bolivia's hydrocarbon industry and forced oil and gas companies to negotiate new contracts that gave Bolivia's state-owned YPFB a majority share of the revenues generated. Bolivia is Latin America's poorest country but has the second-highest gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

Morales has wanted to redistribute the nation's oil and gas wealth, which is centered in the country's east.

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Anti-treaty group reports
shot fired into its offices

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The organization said that someone fired a shot into its offices in San Pedro de Montes de Oca early Tuesday.

No one was injured, said the organization which opposes the free trade treaty with the United States, known as TLC for its name in Spanish.

The news of the shooting is being e-mails by similarly minded organization, although there is no evidence that the shooting was the result of poitical differences.

The organization said that the shot came through a window on the main office and is being interpreted as more of an effort to scare workers then than an attempt to hurt someone.

The organization said that the Fuerza Pública was called and officers responded in about 15 minutes.
Our readers' opinions
Food crisis shifts money
from Third to First World

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I noticed both with interest and sadness the juxtaposition of two articles on Page 3 of your Wednesday, April 30, edition. The first was titled "U.N. agency says food cost could become a world crisis" and the second was "Corn futures reach a record price on Chicago Board of Trade."

Doesn't anyone see the link between those vast amounts of money being made on the one hand, and the starving millions on the other? What we are seeing is a vast redistribution of wealth and resources from the Third World to the First so that those who can afford it can consume to their heart's content.

Has anyone considered that Asia is so rich in U.S. treasuries that they don't care how high the prices go because they can afford to buy with cheap U.S. dollars? And the FED just makes it worse as its actions to cut interest rates just feed the rising inflation. And then there are the U.S. trade agreements, like NAFTA and CAFTA, which have allowed heavily subsidized staples to flood Third World markets, putting the small farmers out of business but making a mint for big agra biz.

I chose to not invest in food commodities because I didn't want that much destruction on my hands. I'm sorry to say this, but Costa Rica would do well to invest in its own food survival and postpone further involvement with U.S. run activities.

Just a thought: Costa Rica is well positioned for having an ideal year round growing climate. It could easily provide it's own food needs plus extra. But this needs to be managed in such a way that the people are not being bought out by big business, but helped by their government.

All future development should include plans for waste water treatment, water reclamation, alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power, AND the food needs of its community. Housing should be built with sustainable materials. There should be community gardens. Government should insist that developers pay for their share of the needs of the communities they effect.

Costa Rica could be the organic garden for the world, an example of good land management and healthy, ecological practices. That is, if it's not too late . . . .

Susan Caring
Atenas, Costa Rica

Catholic Church here
has strayed from Christianity

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re the Catholic Chruch in Costa Rica.

While I respect the views of the reader from Texas, he doesn't understand the Catholic Church here in Costa Rica.  Nor do I, but I have Tico friends who attend church and are devout Catholics. The church here teaches that stealing is not wrong if one steals from a person more wealthy than you.

And regarding infidelity of the husband, my friend was told by the priest that her husband's unfaithfulness was not to be regarded as such since he was unfaithful with a "woman of the streets," and it was not relevant to her marriage. Incidently, when she became angry at this, he slapped her face twice and told her she was behaving like a stupid child and needed disciplining.

I am a Christian, I respect all followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ, but I think the Catholic Church in Costa Rica has strayed from "Christianity." This is not a comment on the Catholic Church in general, but an insight into the church teachings in Costa Rica.

Rosalind Freed

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 87

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 87

Art biennial breaks down national stereotypes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A work of art that involves only a metal key is among the most acclaimed piece in the Museo de Arte Costarricense's latest exhibition.

Also on display are old Caterpillar boots, a patchwork quilt and a foosball table, all aimed at breaking down the stereotypes that exist between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans.

As Nicaraguan migration into Costa Rica continues, so do tensions between the two national groups.

The U.S. Department of State's most recent estimate was that up to 15 percent of the population of Costa Rica is made up of Nicaraguans who have migrated here mainly in search of work.

Set up to promote a sense of brotherhood between the two groups who live in daily close contact, but who often hold prejudices against each other, Asociación Ticos y Nicas: Somos Hermanos, has funded the first Conjunciones biennial.

“Artists are the ones that say what we do not want to hear, and propose what no one else would dare,” said Margarita Herdocia, president of the Asociación Ticos y Nicas: Somos Hermanos.

Some of the works focus on shock value, such as the winning piece, by Joaquin Rodriguez del Paso. His video installation shows a hand drawing a police sketch of a crime suspect, as a woman's voice dictates the features of the stranger. After noting his rough demeanor, square jaw, wide nose and dark complection, she says “Yo creo que era Nica” (I believe he was Nicaraguan).

Such inbuilt stereotyping of looks and behaviour is also highlighted by Susan Sánchez Carballo's work “Identifique al Tico, Identifique al Nica,” a series of head shots mounted on the wall.

ticosynicas boots

Alejandro Ramirez's interactive installation "2 Pares de Zapatos"

"Cuenca Compartida" by Ruth Morenco Wasserman, showing the Rio San Juan which divides the countries

The exhibit asks the viewer to stick a dart of a different color into the pictures of Nicas and Ticos. Of course, there is no defining characteristic to any of them, and the darts are dispersed with no pattern or correlation.

Alejandro Ramirez's “2 Pares de Zapatos” is another interactive installation, asking people to sniff two pairs of boots in turn, perceive the aroma, and identify which has been worn by a Tico and which a Nica. A certificate of participation is even offered, mocking those who do not realize that bacteria that causes feet to smell are indiscriminate of nationality.

The smallest work of art – the single key – works through storytelling. Clara Astiasarán, a Cuban artist, was praised for achieving a work of "magical strength" with her small object. By telling the story of a key that will open doors in both Costa Rican and Nicaragua, the judges said she exposed ignored and unnoticed codes that cross the national border.

Many of the works at least cite the Río San Juán, that natural border that separates the two nations and has been a source of tension for years. Others focus on linguistic similarities and differences, and bring up the disturbing fact that Nica is used as a derogatory word by some Costa Ricans.

The panel of three judges specified that works that seemed to accept stereotypical ideas would be immediately rejected, but expressed concern that not many submitted works showed a profound investigation of the topic. The lack of Nicaraguan entrants was also a factor noted and lamented by the judges.

Works have been well chosen for their ability to confront people with their own prejudices, and to demonstrate the inherent similarity of all humans, not only Nicas and Ticos.

The exhibition displays 26 works by 30 artists, and will be showing at the museum, next to Parque la Sabana until June 8  instead of April as originally planned.

The Rules of Eight can keep a player out of trouble
Never underestimate the importance of preparation for any single poker session or tournament.  Similarly, never dismiss certain scientific facts regarding the human brain’s ability to function optimally.  I’ve learned plenty of valuable lessons as a 15-year professional poker veteran, and none is more critical than the importance of preparation.  It’s a lesson I call The Rules of Eight. 

Get eight hours of sleep.  It’s essential.  In the world of poker, it’s not heroic to try to function on a couple hours of sleep.  Scientific studies suggest that the human body, and more important, the human brain, requires a full eight hours of sleep to function at peak performance.  A good night’s sleep improves memory function and physical heath.  Missing even one hour of shuteye will impact your ability to concentrate the next day.  And it only gets worse if you deprive yourself of sleep night after night.

You see, to play your best and make solid decisions at the poker table, you need to focus on everything that is going on around you.  If you didn’t get a good night of uninterrupted sleep, you simply can’t play your best.  Keep this in mind, too:  Fatigue increases a player’s propensity to gamble more recklessly, and that is not a good thing.

Try to limit your time at the tables to no more than eight hours.  In some tournaments, that just won’t be possible.  If that is the case, it’s especially important to stockpile plenty of sleep.  In a cash game, however, make sure you keep your sessions on the shorter side. 

We’ve all heard stories about poker players grinding it out for two days straight.  Believe me; I’ve got stories like that of my own.  But the bottom line is that these stories usually don’t have great endings.  That’s because the mind starts playing tricks after a marathon poker session, especially after a losing session.  The evil voice in your head tells you, “This game is full of suckers.  You’re playing great.  Don’t quit as a loser.  Focus, and you’ll turn it around.”

The fact is after eight hours of play your ability to focus deteriorates.  Unfortunately, too many players are simply

unaware that it’s happening to them.  So decide how long you plan to play before you’re even dealt the very first hand.  Remember, your best decisions are made with a fresh mind.

Eight consecutive losing sessions is rarely the result of bad luck alone.  In fact, the same can be said of even five losers in a row (but I’d have to change the title of this column!)

Some players will blame anything but themselves for their extended losing streaks.  It’s the dealer, or a string of bad beats, or that the cards weren’t properly shuffled — whatever.  The truth is that consecutive losses at the poker table will eat away at your confidence and affect your play for the worse.  If you’ve put together a string of losses, don’t pin it on bad luck.  Instead, take an extended break from the game and examine your play.  When you do return, you’ll feel refreshed and will play with renewed confidence.

Look, I know that poker players aren’t athletes and poker isn’t a sport.  Although you may not have to hit the gym like real athletes, there is one “muscle” that you’ll still need to exercise on a regular basis — your brain.  Make sure you give it ample time to relax and don’t push it past its breaking point.

Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, "Hold’em Wisdom for All Players."
© 2008 Card Shark Media.  All rights reserved.

Dramatic Arts ...
Salsa and big band collide in a night of dinner and dancing

Music students of Pérez Zeledón and salsa-dancing fans of the group Son de Tikizia are preparing for a night of dinner and dancing to be held in the capital of the province.

The big band of the town that calls itself Pérez Zeledón, but whose actual name is San Isidro del General, will join dancers from the Universidad Nacional to present Cena Bailable May 23.

A concert by the 25 members of the big band will start off the evening, which will continue with a buffet-style dinner and end up with dancing.

The big band musicians are all students of the Escuela de Música Sinfónica de Pérez Zeledón, Universidad Nacional, and will be interpreting everything from jazz to 
popular under the  direction of  Leonel Rodríguez Cambronero.

Cambronero is a member of the Cuarteto Trombones de Costa Rica  and the Costa Rican salsa group Son de Tikizia.

The second of these will be playing their highly acclaimed tunes after dinner for everyone to dance to.

During the performances of the two bands, the Universidad Nacional's dance group “Katuir” will be giving dance demonstrations.

The night takes place on May 23 at 7 p.m., in the Rancho Don Beto, La Ceniza.

Entrance tickets are 8,000 colons ($16), including the dinner, and can be bought in the buildings of the Escuela de Música Sinfónica de Pérez Zeledón.
More information can be found on 2771 6498.

Mini-mall comes to the rescue of the not-rich-but-hungry

food court

For those in the know, there is a clean, affordable, relatively quiet gastronomic surprise off the pedestrian mall in downtown San Jose.  Between Arenas clothing store and the Patio Restaurant, behind a perfume counter and a Pops Ice Cream sits a food court without a McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway or Church's Chicken in sight. 

Tropical Food is a counter selling relatively healthy food.  While their batidos aren't as delicious as the ones found at FrutiLand in Mall San Pedro, the water-or-milk-
blended-with-fruit drink is a refreshing treat to carry during your walk along Avenida Central.  A batido with the fruit of your choice mixed with water costs 650 colons, with milk, 750 colons.  That's from $1.30 to $1.50.

Adding honey or granola takes you up to a still-reasonable 900 colons ($1.80).  The store also peddles fruit salads, ranging from 700 to 1.600 colons ($1.40 to $3.20).

Marisqueria produces delicious looking and smelling seafood dishes.  A customer-friendly hanging chalkboard lists their menu and respective prices.  A small corvina ceviche will set you back 1,950 colons ($3.90).  Get a small rice with shrimp for 2.150 colons ($4.30), 2,800 ($5.60) for a larger serving.  Or try one of the fish filets prepared several different ways, the cheapest being with oil and garlic for 2,600 ($5.20) colons, the priciest fish filet dish is 3,600 colons ($7.20) for relleno with ham and cheese.

Click here to read more

Festive season proves troublesome even for established restaurant

vealBeing a chef in a busy kitchen must be a pretty stressful job, but around Christmas stress is something any successful restaurant should factor in as inevitable.

On a second visit to well-reputed French restaurant Le Chandelier, it soon became obvious that the staff were poorly equipped for the onslaught of Christmas party diners on a Tuesday night, leaving the usually decent food to deteriorate into a procession of almost inedible starters and bland entrees.

Set in an old San Pedro house with brick ceilings and wooden beams that was converted into a restaurant around 15 years ago by Swiss owner Claude Dubuis, Le Chandelier purports to offer French cuisine that has been developed over generations of experience.

Click here to read the full review

A great meal is not all in the presentation

musslesandfondue120407With a vaulted glass ceiling, palm trees lining the pathway and posh lighting, one would not expect Saga restaurant to be settled behind a dull parking lot in Escazú.

Although this restaurant may look out of place, it doesn't deviate much from the norm in Escazú, an area many would classify as suburban sprawl.

The majority of the cuisine at Saga seems to fit with the setting: classy presentation, yet lacking any profound flavors. Although the restaurant boasts itself as an “international food restaurant” on its Web site, much of the inspired cuisine is lacking the depth which would be found in authentic dishes.

Click here to read the full review

Books ...

Land use in Costa Rica documented by Fulbright scholar

Forty years of living in the jungle, moving between secluded forestry stations and research labs, has led Louisiana resident and NASA veteran
Armond Joyce
Armond Joyce
Armond Joyce to write a book about the changing uses of land in Costa Rica.

After winning a presitgious Fulbright scholarship in 1998, he came back to Costa Rica to revisit forest sites that he worked on over three decades earlier as a graduate student. 

Some of the earliest satellite technology available was used in 1966 to take arial photographs of Costa Rica's countryside, and the
book compares these black and white shots with up-to-date images.

Click here to read more

New book dwells on the social aspects of food

Food is not just a selfish pleasure or a way to stifle hunger, but is central to the evolution of art, according to a new book published by Museos del Banco Central.

Artworks by Costa Rican painters are the main content of the hardback book, “Imagenes para Comer,” which follows the representation of food in art since still life painting became popular in the Renaissance.

Full-color pictures of both traditional and modern works are far more common than recipes, as the author Marjorie Ross only provides seven recipes within the book.

All are traditional Costa Rican dishes showing influences from different sections of the community, such as corn fritters, white beans and chorizo and fruit salad.

The book focuses on the meanings that food has within society, and how these are portrayed by art.

Click here to read more

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