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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, May 25, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 103             E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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No need to stock up on beer for referendum Sunday in September
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good news for expats. Costa Rica will not enforce dry laws on the weekend of the free trade treaty vote.

The vote is supported to be Sept. 23, and a report from the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones Thursday said that the current dry laws do not address referendums.

Every four years national elections fall on Superbowl Sunday causing expats and tourists to be creative. Alcohol usually is not sold either in supermarkets or over the bar the day before, the
day of the elections or the day after.

Fuerza Pública officers seal off beer coolers and points of alcohol sale.

Some bars hold private parties in which the cost of drinks is included in an overall fee.

But there will be no need to be creative this September. In fact, the vote may not even be held. Opposition lawmakers and the defensora de los habitantes have asked the Sala IV constitutional court to review the treaty for unconstitutionality. Because the treaty cannot be changed, a single  unconstitutional clause will doom the document.

Nation is getting two new museum facilities
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is getting two new museum facilities, and both are a long time in coming.

Inaugurated Thursday in Pavas was a research center for the Museo Nacional. The new location is in a former bank storage building. Purchased in 1997, the 3,000 square meter structure will house the museum's central archives, temperature controlled storage areas for artifacts and several other departments.

In San Vicente de Nicoya, the Asociación Ecomuseo de la Artesanía Chorotega de San Vicente de Nicoya Saturday will inaugurate its new facility, conceived by two U.S. Peace Corp volunteers and put up with help from the Museo Nacional.

The community is on the old road to Santa Cruz some 19 kms (12 miles) from Nicoya. About half of the 600 to 650 residents make their living with ceramics, said the Ministerio de Cultural, Juventud y Deportes. The ceramics are in the ancient style that existed 3,500 years before the Spanish arrival. Some of the residents are descendants of the early artists.

Officials of the Ecomuseo in San Vicente credit Aaron Hirt, a Peace Corps volunteer, for getting the museum rolling some 15 years ago and Karen Belerowit, another volunteer, for identifying sources of funds to construct the building.

The first exhibit, which runs until November is "Herencia de barro: Artesanos mayores de San Vicente."

Museum officials say they need some 15 million colons more (about $29,000) to air condition the structure and construct more space and workshops.
Chorotega ceramics
Asociación Ecomuseo de la
Artesanía Chorotega photo

Traditional Chorotega ceramics and the oven in which they were finished.

The Museo Nacional will not be moving from its main location in the Bellavista fortress in downtown San José. The new Pavas facility is in addition to the current site, which is long of exhibit space but short on offices and research areas. The new facility also will enable museum workers to develop exhibits for mounting at the Bellavista location, said officials.

Departments moving to the new Pavas location are Protección del Patrimonio, Antropología e Historia and the Programa de Museos Regionales y Comunitarios, museum officials said. The Museo Nacional purchased the structure in 1997 but remodeling was not competed until this year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 103

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Canadian ambassador
Ministerio de Relaciones
Exteriores y Culto photo
Mario Laguë talks about Canadian-Costa Rican relations

Canadian ambassador gets
a diplomatic good-bye party

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mario Laguë, the Canadian ambassador, won praise Wednesday as officials of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto threw him a party.

Laguë has been ambassador since presenting his credentials Oct. 11, 2004, but ministry officials generously rounded off the dates and praised him for his three years service.

Having a going away diplomatic party is traditional when an ambassador leaves town. Sometimes the country bestows a decoration. In the case of Georgina Butler, probably the most high profile and energetic recent public servant here, lawmakers even introduced legislation to immortalize the British diplomat as a friend of Costa Rica.

Laguë came here after he was linked to a scandal that surfaced in 2004 involving a federal government $100 million sponsorship program that critics said was designed to put money into Liberal Party-friendly advertising firms, and involved double-billing, false invoices and payments for fictitious work, according to The Ottawa Citizen at the time.

There was no suggestion that Laguë was involved in illegal activities but rather that he worked in 2002 to sugar-coat the report of an audit that criticized the program. The Canadian press has called him Paul Martin’s spin doctor. Martin no longer is the nation's prime minister.

Shortly after Laguë arrived, the key figure in the Canadian scandal, Jean Lafleur, took up residence in a San Rafael de Escazú condo and quickly earned the image of being a party boy. Lafleur eventually moved to Belize and returned to Canada in April to face dozens of fraud charges stemming from the scandal.

Although the appointment of Laguë was attacked by the Canadian press at the time, he is an experienced diplomat and has served in other Latin countries for Canada. He is a fluent Spanish speaker. During his time here he generally kept a low profile. There was no announcement of his departure from the Canadian Embassy.

In speaking at his party Wednesday, Laguë said that trade between the two countries is flourishing because of a new trade treaty and that more than 80,000 Canadians visit the beaches and national parks of Costa Rica each years.

Weekend might be sunny,
weather forecasters say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather experts are hinting at a sunny weekend.

A low pressure system that has been causing heavy rains is moving west, and forecasters at the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional say that the central and south Pacific still will experience afternoon thunderstorms, but the Central Valley and the north Pacific might have just isolated showers for the weekend.

The northern zone will be more stable, as will the Caribbean, the institute said.

Friday probably will be more of the same rain that Costa Ricans have experienced this week. The downpour was so heavy in sections that persons were forced out of their homes. Some 300 were evicted by floods in sections of Desamparados Wednesday.

The rain was highly variable.  Even Thursday Juan Santamaría airport received no rain, but downtown San José got 30.9 mms. or 1.2 inches around 8 p.m. Limón got 42.3 mms. (1.66 inches) and Puntarenas got 37.2 mms. (1.46 inches). That was less that the previous day when 60.9 mms. or 2.4 inches fell.

Golfito in the south Pacific registered 127.3 mms. Wednesday, some 5 inches.

Change in criminal code
urged to help tourists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tourism spokesman says he will be meeting with lawmakers next week to urge them to reduce the threshold for police complaints by visitors who have been victims of crime. The spokesman is Carlos Lizama, president of the Asociaciòn Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo.

Many tourists are victims of thefts, said Lizama, but many are unable to file a police complaint because the value of the missing goods is not high enough. He said that $500 is one threshold. He said he wants to see the threshold lowered so that more criminals face justice. The meeting will be Thursday. He said he also will push for more tourism police.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 103

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Corvina reina at San José Mercado Central: Right off the truck from Puntarenas and ready for the fillet knife . . . and then cerviche!
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Corvina is not a pretty fish, but it makes a good  cerviche
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Ever paused part way through that fillet of corvina reina to wonder what the fish looked like? Not a pretty sight.

The fish refered to as corvina in Costa Rica belong to the species Cynoscion albus or Cynoscion squamipinnis. The family Sciaenidae to which they belong is a pan-tropical group of nearshore predators known as the “croakers,” as they can make a booming sound with the swim bladder.

Corvina are predatory on other fish, squid, and shrimp. They live in shallow bays and estuaries on the Pacific coast of Central America, like the Golfo de Nicoya. A large specimen can be 70 cms. long (27 to 28 inches), and perhaps 7 to 10 years old.

Most corvina are caught in the gulf and marketed through Puntarenas. At the Mercado Central in San Jose on a recent morning, filets were 4,200 colons per kilo.

Corvina is often referred to as seabass on English menus.

This is not to be confused with the Chilean seabass, which is a large, slow-growing fish found in sub-Antarctic

Costa Rican quick cerviche

Here is a Costa Rican traditional ceviche recipe. No cooking is needed because the citrus juices pickle the fish without heat. Some people like to put the dish in the refrigerator for about an hour to chill it.

    Fresh corvina cut in small pieces
    Ample lime juice to cover fish
     Finely chopped:
      Green pepper

This weekend why not eat raw seafood in Costa Rica?

waters. That fishery has been much decried for its impact on other wildlife like albatross and sperm whales. Cynoscion does resemble the smallmouth bass of North America in its appearance and predatory habits.

Getting used to a change in apartments and looking to future
Saturday, the day after my move to a larger, sunnier apartment, did not dawn happily.  Instead of sun to awaken me, it was Victor and his power lawnmower, not 15 feet from my bedroom, who had me leaping out of bed at 6:15 a.m. He was mowing the tiny patch of green in front of my apartment.  It was the first cloudy morning I recall in months. 

The sunless day was no sooner underway when I learned that I had no TV and no hot water.  My Internet wasn’t working either.  I dreaded leaving my digs because people kept asking me if I was happy now that I was in my new apartment.

Change is not easy.  I realize how comfortable I had made myself in my small cozy (although depressingly dark) other apartment.  Now I have to adjust to everything in a different place.  Even my toothpaste takes a moment longer to locate.  (By the end of the week I was used to my new routine.)

I am learning that I am not quite ready for a regimented life, at least for any regimen except my own somewhat erratic one.  Breakfast at 8, a midmorning fruit snack, lunch at noon with coffee mid-afternoon and supper at 5 leaves me never feeling hungry enough to want to eat.  I usually skip the snacks and since my favorite TV drama comes on at noon and 5 p.m. I usually skip one meal a day or ask for it in my apartment (a nice little luxury).  In spite of that I am gaining weight, even with my walking.  One delicious, communal meal a day would suit me fine.

I see some of the other apartments and they all have charming, peaceful living room furniture.   My front room is anything but peaceful looking. It looks like a cross between an office and a kitchen, which, of course, is what it is and which makes me wonder if I am really ready for a room-and-board situation. I hear there is a senior residential community going up in Escazú where one can cook or for a “small fee” eat in the communal restaurant. Obviously there are gradations in assisted-living situations. 

What has surprised me is how little I actually miss cooking.  The few things I do make for myself, like my cappuccino in the morning and perhaps a fruit salad, require cleaning up afterwards and each time I appreciate more not having TO DO DISHES every day.

On Wednesday we had a distinguished visitor: Spanish Ambassador Arturo Reig Tapia came for the inauguration 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

of the gymnasium, which evidently is quite new and was funded by the Spanish government.  The ambassador was a man of few words.  Even so, I understood only about half of them. Then one of our more loquacious residents thanked him (and I suppose the Spanish government) on the behalf of all of us.

The rainy season is upon us, and with a vengeance.  The climate in Ribera de Belén is considerably more humid than that of San Jose during the rainy season. Even the bills in my wallet are limp.  Whatever transformers are near us must be very vulnerable because with each aguacero the electricity goes off.  The good news is that even in the rain one can walk because the walkways here and the country club are covered.

There has been a lot of interest in the subject of assisted living and cooperative living among seniors.  A long-time reader, Ron, sent me a Web site address of studies done of older people living in intentional communities.

All of the studies show that community living has a definite positive effect on health and longevity.  Social activities outside the family, friendship networks, and intellectual stimulation, have as much to do with living longer and healthier, both mentally and physically, as exercise.

A study I found interesting in terms of the expat community of Costa Rica was of a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland.  Other factors being comparable, the Swedish group was healthier and lived longer than their Finnish counterparts, due, according to the study to their “social capital.” The community they maintained included friendship networks, involvement in social activities, hobbies, clubs and religious involvement.  Absence (living alone), one study found, actually “makes the heart grow weaker.”

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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 103

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An analysis on the news
Drug flood moving up in priorities of Arias administration
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The infiltration of drugs into Costa Rican society is being blamed for an increase in crime. And although various police departments and judicial agents make frequent arrests, drug deals and drug smugglers seem to reappear as quickly as arrests are made.

Take, for example, reports just from Thursday that came from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública:

• At Juan Santamaría airport, the Policía de Control de Drogas detained a Costa Rican Tuesday and reported Thursday that they found nearly a kilo of cocaine in his stomach. He was headed to Spain via México.

• In Cartago Tuesday the Fuerza Pública arrested two men and accused them of being big drug dealers in the Cantón de La Unión.

 • Thanks to a neighbor's tip, four persons were detained near the municipal market in Esparza.  At a nearby home they found 35 crack rocks, eight hits of cocaine and cash.

• Another tip in Acosta resulted in the arrest Wednesday of a 55-year-old man said to be a major figure in drug dealing in Palmichal de Acosta.

• In San José Barrio Lujan, Policía de Control de Drogas located a 19-year-old man said to be a major supplier of marijuana.  He was operating out of a strategically placed apartment that was near schools, a clinic and a park, police said. Neighbors called in tips because marijuana customers were monopolizing the local park.

Meanwhile in Caldera, police, Costa Rican and U.S. coast guard crewmen were unloading some 140 kilos of cocaine that will be used as evidence in a trial of four Costa Rican fishermen caught at sea with the drugs, according to police. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Zephyr from Coronado, California, collared the men Monday along with 997 kilos of the drug.

These reports follow in the heels of news Wednesday that a major cocaine smuggling ring had been broken up in the Central Valley with the arrest of six Mexicans and a Colombian.

But every week the news is the same. A series of small-time dealers being arrested, punctuated by the occasional major haul. More than 37 tons of cocaine has been confiscated this year and last in Costa Rica and on the high seas nearby.
drug haul
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

Drug packages to be used as evidence are taken off the U.S. cutter Zephyr in Caldera.

The country is being used  not only as a market for drug dealers but as a land route to deliver the substances to the United States.

Laura Chinchilla, first vice president and minister of Justica y Gracia, reported Wednesday on a survey that showed significant drug use by youngsters as young as 10 and their association with youth gangs.

The Arias administration promises some kind of anti-drug plan announcement in the coming weeks.

On the Pacific whole communities are being supported by the drug smuggling of local fishermen. Previous reports showed that Colombian drug shippers had infiltrated the Costa Rican fishing fleet, even to the extent of purchasing fleets of boats.

Now officials are trying to fit each commercial boat with a satellite transponder so they can keep track of their locations.

At the same time the availability of drugs is one of the attractions for certain North American tourists, and drug sales are frequent and obvious near many major hotels.

The drug flood and the continual arrests puts a burden on the judicial system and the prison system, officials have said. So the Arias plan will have to be far-reaching.

Bill to control macho behavior signed into law by Arias
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed into law Thursday a controversial measure that provides stiffer sentences for the murder of women than of men and also makes insulting women a crime.

The measure imposes six months to two years in prison for a man who ridicules or frightens his female companion. The penalty for killing a female companion is 20 to 35 years. The penalty for a typical murder is 12 to 18 years.

The bill was in the legislative hopper eight years, and periodically would be discussed, usually after some high
profile crime in which a man killed his wife or close companion.

Among other things, the law protects women against "psychological aggression."

The law is seen as a reaction to the Latin macho culture, and it had the support of a number of women's organization and individuals.

Despite the constitutional minefields in the bill, few politicians were prepared to point them out. Arias said he was hoping for a change of heart among Costa Ricans and true equality and respect for women.

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