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(506) 2223-1327         Published Tuesday, May 13, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 94         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Volunteers seek to remove net that killed whale
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volunteers launched a mission to remove a deadly gill net from the ocean off Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, after pieces of a dead whale washed up on the beach.

Staff members at Diving Safaris in Playa Hermosa found the remains of the whale entangled in the net near Punta Ballena, north of Playa Hermosa.

They said they contacted Tanya Buxton, a biologist at the Ocotal Beach Resort, who then led an expedition of eight to unwrap the carcass and remove the net which could potentially have damaged other marine life.

The gill net, which was tied tightly around the whale remnants, was also caught in the reef 25 feet below the surface. Ms. Buxton said that it seems the whale died weeks ago after becoming entangled in the net.

“Gillnets cause serious impacts on sea mammals, sea turtles, and other endangered species”, said Randall Arauz, president of the Costa Rican charity Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas.  “The high marine
diver and net
Tanya Buxton photo
Volunteer diver works at net that killed whale

biological diversity of Costa Rica's northwest coast should justify the imposition of strict controls on the use of gill nets, or alternatively their total ban,” he said.

Ms. Buxton's team was made up of diver Julian Rueda and boat captains Alan and Harry Garcia, from the Ocotal Beach Resort, Eddie Mora from Summer Salt Dive Shop in Playas del Coco, Susan Cossi from Proyecto de Luz, Javier Cancianni, from Almaco Dive Charters, and Carlos Hillier.

Tourism marketplace being inaugurated tonight for a two-day run
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tonight marks the official inauguration of Expotur 2008, the tourism marketing convention in San José.

Vice President Laura Chinchilla will do the honors and fill in for President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who is reported to be ailing.

The event is put on every year by the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo, and this is the 24th edition.

Although the two days of displays and negotiations Wednesday and Thursday will be at the Ramada Plaza Herradura Hotel, the opening ceremonies will be at Hotel Crowne Plaza, the former Corobicí, at 7 p.m.

The association said that about 260 tourism vendors will be displaying their wares during the two full days that exhibits are open to visiting tourism wholesales. The event is not open to the public.

For some visitors the event has already begun. There are some tours and informal meetings going
on since Sunday. Today from 9 a.m. until noon a seminar about health tourism and its growing importance will take place at the Ramada.

Booths range from the simple to the elaborate. In the past, some vendors constructed rainforests and other elaborate simulations of the Costa Rican countryside.

Despite the booths and the official program, much of the wheeling and dealing is done informally and at the many parties that take place all over the city in hotels where visitors are staying.

Expotur is an important venue for some Costa Rican businesses who are able to present their businesses to visitors from Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America. Many buyers are repeat visitors, the association said. These  individuals come every May with a shopping list in hand.

The vendors can be hotels, car rental agencies, tour organizers or representatives of special tourism locations, like Guanacaste or Arenal.
More information is available on the association Web site.

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Tamarindo water rate hike
irks about a third of town

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Tamarindo found that every shower they took last month cost them three times more than expected after one of the town's three water suppliers registered a surprise rise in rates.

Set up in the 1990s to supply water to the growing Tamarindo area while the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz could not afford to improve infrastructure, the company Beko S.A. currently supplies about half of the local community with its water.

Customers were outraged when they realized that their water bills had tripled, although the company says that it registered the rise in the official magazine La Gaceta March 5, and sent out notification by e-mail.

“My bill went from 5,000 colons to 15,000 colons ($10 to $30),” said Century 21 sales associate Sky Maricle. “I heard about the rise the week before I got the bill, but only by word of mouth.”

People not supplied by Beko get their water from the national water company Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantrillados, or from the local water board, asada in Spanish. Plumbing means that residents have little or no choice which of the three supplies their water.

A Beko spokesperson said that the tariffs are fixed by the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, and that they had not risen for five years.  “The regulator carries out a complete study of the acueduct, its costs of operation, the clients and the surroundings, from which they determine the new tariffs,” said a spokesperson. “As there had not been a rise in so many years (since 2002), it is now more significant.

“With this increase, the regulator is trying to create conscience so that people use the water resource with more responsibility, without waste, taking into account the scarecity of water in the zone.”

But clients are not satisfied that their money is being put to good use, and note that they are forced to use less water anyway due to regular scheduled outages.

“They're actually delivering less water now even though the prices are higher,” said Maricle. “The problem is a mismanagement of the aquifer –— no one conserves water when it rains. This is one of the biggest aquifers and there should be plenty of water for everyone.”

About 2,000 people use Beko's services, and not all of them are convinced by Beko's argument that a tripling in price was necessary. The company's concession to supply water will run out in February 2009, and some say that it will not be renewed.

“Beko gave a budget to the regulator, that said about 80 percent of its costs were administration, so it's not really the cost of supplying the water that's pushing the price up,” said Steve Broyles, a member of the board of directors for Asociacion Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo. “It's very unusual to have a concessioned company providing water, and the local asada is trying to take over the water supply in this area. Some people think that Beko is just trying to get as much money out of clients as possible before it loses the concession.”

Beko spokespeople refused to comment on its chances of renewing the concession, as the decision is currently being processed. They did say that Beko has not received complaints other than those they would usually expect for a company administering an acueduct.

Among Beko's users are hotels whose water consumption is considerably greater than the average household user. With tourism in Tamarindo reportedly feeling a slump, the increase in water bills could hit pockets hard.

“This could hurt real estate down here,” said Maricle. “When you buy a house you take into account all the outgoings like electricity and water. In other places these have not been increased. We hope that the concession won't be renewed, but then again, what company is going to be better?”

U.S. Embassy  offers services
in Guanacaste for a day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. consular officers will be in Liberia Thursday to offer services to U.S. citizens in Guanacaste. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson said that the representatives would be available from 8 a.m. to noon at the Best Western El Sitio Hotel & Casino.

The spokesperson said that the consular officers will provide notary services, accept U.S. passport applications, provide forms and information packets for federal benefits and answer questions about immigrant visas and non-immigrant visa. The spokesperson said that all services have to be paid in cash and that no appointment is needed.

U.S. Guanacaste residents usually have to show up at the embassy in Pavas for such services.

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Forget the witches! It's Santa Claus who is living in Escazú
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A little-known Costa Rica fact is that during the off season Santa Claus can be found in San Antonio de Escazú. Or at least one of the official naturally bearded Santas.

How he got there is a long story.

Santa, a/k/a/ Dennis Robillard, remembers the children in his Connecticut orphanage beat him when he was 3 years old. “I had a polio shot in my arm and they liked to hit and and watch it bleed,” said Robillard.

One day the children at the orphanage were loaded onto a bus for a Christmas party. Little Robillard hid in the vehicle when they arrived, fearing another beating. The bus driver found him and brought him to the line to wait for Santa Claus. Robillard was confused when he saw the man in the red suit with the white beard. He had never experienced a Christmas like that, he said.

When the boy sat in the old man's lap, he cried and cried and clung to the jolly Santa. The kind man only held him and comforted him. Afterwards Robillard remembers Santa gave him a blue popcorn ball. “I remember thinking I want to be like him when I grow up,” said Robillard.

Robillard, 63, now works for one of the largest Santa Claus distribution companies in the world. The company, Noerr Programs Corp., serves more than 165 locations in 37 U.S. states, boasts to have “naturally bearded Santas” on 96 percent of their jobs. Noerr pays for Robillard's trip and puts him up in hotels when he's working at malls around the United States. The money he makes plus his pension, gives him enough extra cash to live in Costa Rica, he said.

But the money has nothing to do with it, said Robillard, he loves the children and uses the job to inspire and teach children and to learn from them.

He also is not shy. He showed up Monday at an Escazú restaurant decked out as Santa sans reindeer.

Robillard who previously worked for Dale Carnegie, a company that gives self-improvement seminars to business people, said he went back to school when he was 55, to become a social worker. This sort of work is his purpose and happiness in life, said Robillard, who lists Ghandi, Doctor “Patch” Adams, and “The Peace Pilgrim,” a woman who walked more than 25,000 miles for peace, among his inspirations. 

Robillard founded an extension of a worldwide organization that teaches spiritual and physiological self healing, here in Costa Rica. He said through his program, Centro Costarricense de Actitudes que Sanan, he's been able to met and personally know 1,000 people living in Costa Rica.

Robillard said his biggest secret as Santa Claus is not only to be himself and love the children, “but more to help them understand how wonderful they really are.”
Escazu santa claus
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
It's not too early to say hello to Santa!

The Santa Claus job can be very tiring, he said, seven days a week, averaging 10 hours a day, for nearly two months straight. Long lines and tired parents can really build up.

And there are always those kids who pull his beard or ask him questions like “How can you delivery toys to every boy and girl in the world in just one night?” to which Santa replies “I live beyond space and time.” There is no question to which Robillard does not have an answer, he said.

Many people think of Santa as a symbol of capitalism and greed, said Robillard, but I want to take it back to Saint Nicholas and really inspire people. Everyone has a unique special reason to live, a gift to give to the world, said Robillard. “I ask the kids 'What would you love to do? What job would you do for free?' and that's your gift.” 

Robillard said at times even businessmen sit on his lap and ask him for advice. It's usually a joke, a picture to send to parents, said Robillard, but a few are very depressed and Santa gives them advice, to which the jolly man happily obliges.

Robillard is currently traveling with a theater partner to give performances at high schools around Costa Rica. Robillard is also a professional clown and has theater experience, he said. A play which took Robillard 20 years to write, gives life lessons and inspires students, teachers, and parents alike, he said.  Robillard said because of his Christmas look, he gets a lot of honks on the streets in Costa Rica. People shout, “Papá Noel!” to which his reponse, of course, is “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Heredia author mixes teen romance with leatherback turtles
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15-year-old girl who is infatuated with buff surfers and Gucci shoes is setting out to convince other teenagers her age that caring for leatherback turtles and saving the environment is just as cool as going to the mall.

Penelope, as she is called, is the creation of Heredia resident Marina Kuperman, a New York native who has recently finished the “eco-adventure” novel “Turtle Feet, Surfers Beat.”

Written to target girls aged 9-14, the 86-page novel is printed entirely on eco-friendly paper and follows the story of Penelope and her family as they relocate to Tamarindo for a month.

Forced to work as a volunteer at the Leatherback Biological Centre, Penelope, who has been recently dumped by her quarterback boyfriend, falls in love almost simultaneously with leatherback turtles and a blonde surfer called Kendall Brown.

The story is told from Penelope's point of view and recounts her exploits in teenage language as she saves the nesting turtles and discovers romance with plenty of “like” and “cool” thrown in to engage a younger audience.

“I want to get younger people thinking about environmental issues,” said Mrs. Kuperman, 36, who herself has a 4-year-old son. “The inevitability of our situation now is that if we don't change what we're doing, nature won't be here for our children to enjoy. Children in the United States and other western countries live in such closed suburban worlds and I think it's important to expose them to these issues at a young age.”

Several pages of information about leatherback turtles, the damage that plastics and the traditional printing industry do to the environment and the benefits of eco-publishing are included at the back of the book to
Marina Kuperman
Ms. Kuperman
book cover
Her book

build on the information already presented in the story. The author encourages the use of recycled paper and soy-based ink.

A surf groupie herself, the author was inspired on a trip to Tamarindo to watch a surf-contest. She went to see the leatherbacks herself and her experience there urged her to do something to help.

Mrs. Kuperman is now also setting up a non-profit organization called Mar a Mar which she hopes will hold clean-up efforts all across the country. Proceeds from the book will go to this charity.

The fast-moving and enthusiastically-related story should entertain its target audience, with the occasional spelling and grammar slip making Penelope seem more authentic. Girls are encouraged to have their own adventure with the inclusion of an eco-adventure journal made from natural paper.

The novel is printed entirely on treeless, locally-made paper. It costs $18.99 for the book and free journal, or $7 to download online. Ordering or more information can be found at

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 94

10-month-old online radio station has focus on Tico music
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radio Malpais went on the air 10 months ago with the idea to play Costa Rica's national music 24 hours a day. The online radio station has access to more than 14,000 Costa Rican songs. 

Only 10 listeners heard the first transmission from the booth in La Uruca, San José. Radio Malpais now counts some 400 listeners each day in 70 countries, mainly in South America and the United States.

The station founder and director, Luis Alvarado, 25, said the idea of the radio started in a Web chat called the Malpais group one year ago. That's how the name was born. The name also is that of a popular musical group and a beach at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Alvarado was chatting with other people about a program that would play music never heard on a traditional radio station. Malpais radio consists of 10 people who support the station in different ways.

A variety of musical groups and singers contribute to the station as well, said Alvarado.

Along with 24-hour programming, Radio Malpais has Costa Rican music almost all in Spanish, but a small percent is in English too. “Some Costa Rican groups play English songs like reggae, Caribbean music, or jazz. Now the radio is doing a trial run of 80s rock in English,” said Alvarado.

The trova, raggae, calypso and instrumental music are 
radio malpais station
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Luis Alvarado in the controls of Radio Malpais

some styles that the online radio station has in its 60 gigs of memory. There are also four radio shows hosted by people who love music like the Costa Rican pianist Manuel Obregon and his program "La Hamaca." The director of Radio Malpais said that the station gets its songs from the Papaya Music label and different musical demos.

In Costa Rica, other online radio stations are Tico Sound and  Tico Radio with the same focus of national music. There are also many broadcast stations that also have an online presence.

Alvarado said that the success of the radio is its national music and close relationship with the listeners.

Mexicans reel and then march after murders of police mount
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of Mexicans dressed in white marched silently Sunday through the streets of Juárez, México, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, to protest drug-related violence that killed more than 100 people, including about 20 police officers, during just the past week.

Ordinary citizens in México are reacting with alarm as the war between rival drug smuggling groups erupts in city centers and residential neighborhoods. Law enforcement experts say drug gangs are reacting violently to efforts by police and the army to break up their operations.

Death threats sent to many police departments have provoked at least some police officials to resign. Those who do not resign often pay a heavy price for their devotion to duty.

Saturday, gunmen killed Municipal Police Chief Juan Antonio Roman in front of his house in Ciudad Juárez. He fired back at his assailants, but was outnumbered and outgunned. Investigators say his assassins fired more than 60 shots. His was the third murder of a senior police official in Juárez last week.

At least nine federal agents have been killed during the past two weeks as well. In Mexico City, Thursday, gunmen killed Edgar Millan, commander of the Federal Preventive Police, one of the key agencies involved in the national offensive against organized crime. President Felipe Calderón started the war on crime shortly after he took office in December 2006.

While some political observers and many citizens worry that the drug cartels may be winning the fight, Calderón is
calling for his countrymen to stand firm against the criminals. He says society must unite with the government to repudiate the violence of criminal gangs, which he says are trying to terrorize the nation. Calderón says Mexico cannot surrender any part of its territory to these violent criminals.

The Mexican leader has put about 30,000 armed troops into the field, mostly in border areas.

There is little indication that this has slowed the flow of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs across the U.S. border, but the capture of some important gang members has left gaps that other criminals have been only too eager to fill. By some counts, the resulting battle over the lucrative trade routes has led to as many as 3,000 deaths.

While U.S. President George Bush has praised Calderon's offensive against the drug-trafficking gangs, some Mexican political analysts and human rights groups question the effectiveness of the strategy. One area of concern is the use of soldiers to carry out police work, which human rights groups say can lead to abuses.

But some crime experts say the military is needed because there is so much corruption within Mexico's law enforcement agencies and local police forces. Investigators suspect the murderers of Edgar Millan, for example, were aided by someone within his own agency. Most rank-and-file police officers in México are underpaid, under-trained and under-supported in equipment and arms.

Bush has asked the U.S. Congress to help Meexico with its fight against the criminal gangs by approving a $500 million aid package that includes helicopters and other equipment.

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The SS United States and its sharp bow

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One of the most impressive ocean liners ever built, the SS United States, had a brief but illustrious career in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the ship lies derelict at a dock in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but the makers of a documentary on the ship hope to see it return to service.

Filmmaker Bob Radler was awestruck as a child when he visited the piers where some of the world's big ocean liners were berthed.

"My father took me to ocean liner row in New York when I was about 6 years old. This was in the 1950s. I saw the Queen Mary, the Isle de France, and the SS United States," said Radler. "And the razor-sharp bow of the SS United States and the fact that it looked like it was going 60 miles an hour just sitting there really appealed to me. And it looked like the future."

He says the ship was five city blocks long and 12 stories high, and with the name United States emblazoned on its bow, it was impressive.

The SS United States has been largely forgotten, but many who remember her appear in the documentary "SS United States: Lady in Waiting." Radler directed the film and produced it with colleagues Mark Perry and Dea Shandera.

Radler says the story begins with the ship's designer, William Francis Gibbs, a man who had no formal training in ship-building. Gibbs was a lawyer who hated his job and taught himself nautical engineering. He went on to design many U.S. cargo ships during World War II, and realized the ocean liners that took troops across the Atlantic were slow and vulnerable.

Gibbs designed the SS United States as a ship that would excel in both wartime and peacetime. It was built with help from the U.S. Navy, has an extra-thick hull, and was able to withstand an iceberg or torpedo. With almost no wood on board, it was virtually fireproof. The ship's lightweight superstructure was the largest aluminum edifice in the world.

"It was a dual-purpose ship," Radler said. "It was designed to be the most modern, safe luxury liner in the world, but at the same time, within 24 hours could be converted to a troop ship and could carry 14,000 or 15,000 troops across the Pacific at top speed and back without refueling or re-provisioning. No other ship in history could do this."

The SS United States went into service in 1952. With its narrow hull and powerful engines, it reached speeds of at least 43 knots - nearly 80 kph (50 mph) while running at less than full power. Its top speed was a military secret, but the ship earned the trans-Atlantic speed award known as the "Blue Riband," previously held by the Queen Mary.

A 1952 newsreel captured the excitement as the SS United States returned to port.

"On her return to New York City, nearly everyone seemed to turn out to see the sleek new ship glide into the harbor, with a fire boat and huge harbor craft escort. Her owners were awarded the Hales Trophy, symbolic of the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, and her crew paraded up Broadway for the traditional heroes' homecoming."

The ship's heyday was short. It was retired in 1969, as more and more people were traveling by aircraft.

Radler started work on the documentary while he was in film school in the 1970s, when he did preliminary photography on board the ship. More recently, he secured archive footage from the SS United States Conservancy, a non-profit organization, conducted interviews with former crew and passengers and shot more video. His one-hour documentary will appear on many U.S. public television stations this month.

Since 1996, the SS United States has been docked in Philadelphia. Norwegian Cruise Lines bought it in 2003, offering hope for its supporters that the massive liner could some day return to service.

"When Norwegian Cruise Lines came in and said that they would refit the ship and reinvent the ship, we were all amazed, frankly," Radler said. "All we had wanted was for the ship not to be broken up and for it to be placed somewhere, perhaps as a hotel or some other attraction to save a great American icon."

Refurbishing the ship for any use would be a massive undertaking, and right now its future is uncertain.

But its story is moving people. Radler says a West Coast screening of the film aboard another ocean liner, the now-retired Queen Mary, evoked an emotional response.

"And the most telling comment: the assistant projectionist walked up to me wiping tears away," he said. "This is a big guy. And he said, that is not a film about a ship, it's a film about a country. And it's a film about what America is capable of, when it exerts itself, that nobody can touch us. And it's also a film about what has been lost over the years, and a film about attempting to recapture that."

Radler says the SS United States, a nearly forgotten relic, is a national treasure that should not be lost.

English teachers to hear expert

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special program for teachers of English will take place Monday at 2 p.m. at the  Centro de Transferencia Tecnológica of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, next to the Garantías Sociales traffic circle in Zapote, San José. 

Andy Curtis of the University of Hong Kong will talk about The Teaching Genome" and "The  Professional Development for Fitness and Evolution."  The free program is a warmup for the  II Congreso Costarricense de Profesores de Inglés Dec. 3 to 5.

Those interested in attending can contact Edwin Marín at or call 2550-9103.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 13, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 94

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