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(506) 2223-1327      Published Monday, May 25, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 101     E-mail us
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Costa Rica simply is not a foreign worker's paradise
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is labeled a paradise by many sources on the Internet:  By visitors who describe their great trips in online blogs, by travel Web sites trying to entice tourists to visit and Web sites offering general information about Costa Rica's nature, history, culture, and the like.

Too many — especially young people — take the bait and move to Costa Rica thinking they're going to earn big bucks teaching or by working in call centers. Only they get trapped earning very little and what they do receive is easily consumed by living expenses.

Surprisingly — if not suspiciously — bad reviews about this so-called Central American Switzerland are sometimes hard to find, but digging deeper into the Internet pays off to get the true story.  Most sources offering a realistic — and far from paradise — view of Costa Rica are foreigners who felt tricked into believing all the heavenly reports about a country that basically hit them with a harsh reality once they had already moved in.

It turns out that the most wonderful features of Costa Rica can only be enjoyed by tourists. Except for jobs offered in beaches — which all got perfect reviews — foreigners interested in trading their own country for a San José way of living have a much less idyllic view of their surroundings.

Besides tourism, Costa Rica is increasingly becoming an employment attraction, especially for college students who want to spend a couple of months abroad while making some money. The two main industries employing foreigners are English language schools and call centers.

Most people looking for a change of scenery get lured with all they read in the Internet, given that there are virtually no bad testimonies online about living or working in Costa Rica. Most Web sites on those topics say things like, “…there are plenty of jobs in Costa Rica for Westerners . . . ” or “. . . if you are fluent in Spanish and English, then you can obtain many more jobs.”  In reality, while there are some jobs, there are not plenty like the Web claims.

Although language schools are always looking for foreigners, most of them require teachers to have teaching certificates such as TESOL, ESL, TEFL or CELTA, which are an expensive investment, costing $2,000 if obtained in Costa Rica. Moreover, luck plays an important role in finding a school that will pay and treat an employee well. Most schools paint a prettier picture than what they actually offer. Some of their employment ads read “highly competitive hourly wages and full-time salary positions” when they actually pay no more than $8 an hour. They say “free private transportation to out-of-office locations” when it is free only from the teaching location back to the language school, not to the teacher’s residence. Some charge a fee for that extra service after late-night classes.

Some schools also offer “flexible hours up to 40 per week” only for teachers to find out that they only can get up to 20 hours a week. It is common to find schools that hire more teachers than they need in case some decide to leave. So a lot of teachers are left with a fraction of the time they were offered in the interview or training. There is even a school that claims the most hours teachers can aim for is between 8 and 12 hours a week: “Not one English school can give you a guarantee of more than that. If they do, they are lying to you.”

One Web posting says ”if we don’t have your schedule filled to at least 12 hours, then we don’t blame you if you look for a second company/school to help with your income!”

That is an aspect never mentioned in any of the school sites. Working for at least two language schools is a really difficult task. Most schools offer classes at similar hours because students tend to schedule them between 4 and 6 p.m.  Teachers must take into account that language schools are not within walking of each other. Some trips even require taking two buses and spending an hour, depending on traffic jams. Or a teacher can take a taxi with a $5 to $7 cab fare, equaling an hour of payment in most schools.

Foreigners will find it too complicated and sometimes impossible to juggle two schools at a time. Yet due to necessity, some eventually get into crazy schedules such as teaching at 7 a.m. (when they are lucky to find schools offering those schedules) and then teaching again in the evening on weekdays, plus all day Saturdays. This type of daily commitment leaves no time and very little money to explore Costa Rica.

Financially speaking, at least one school Web site was honest about this matter, saying that Costa Rica is “not a great place for a person trying to make a lot of money teaching.” Teachers can expect to earn from $400 to $700 a month, but there some rare exceptions of full-timers who find a good place and can earn up to $1,500.

Since most schools employ teachers under the table, they pay in cash or have an agreement with private banks to open accounts for their employees to deposit their salaries. Some schools have a deal with immigration authorities to let their employees work while providing them with free Spanish lessons. Others promise a temporary work permit that must be renewed every year. That costs $250, which is covered by the schools, but if the teacher quits or gets fired before the contract term ends, they frequently have to reimburse the schools the permit fee.

Another aspect to consider is that many foreigners end up quitting after a short time of being employed because they want to travel or get discouraged.  For this reason, many schools are now requiring between four and 12 months of commitment, which can be inconvenient for teachers who feel tricked into taking a job at a school that does not honor its promises.
baiting the hook


In sections for frequently-asked questions of some language schools, when asking why they would want to come and get a teaching job, there are responses like “highly motivated students, the fantastic climate, and beautiful places to explore” or “Safety of a foreign government that has no military.” The statements are highly misleading.

First, local students are rarely motivated to work hard at learning a language. Most think that by paying for lessons, their teacher will somehow telepathically transfer them language fluency and vocabulary. Thus, a lot of teachers lose motivation because the lack of effort from students makes class flow virtually impossible, and they end up going over the same mistakes to only be blamed for failing students at the end of the term.

Second, it rains copiously almost every afternoon and evening from May to December, making it very uncomfortable for anybody who is commuting between buses. They get at least their feet soaked and have to teach wet until they get home, making them prone to getting sick.

Third, a country with no military does not equal a safer country but a system with less control or accountability. The crime rate goes higher by the day in Costa Rica, and as an expat expressed it, “You will never see so many security bars around houses and guards outside stores and banks with loaded shotguns in any other country.” Foreigners are walking wallets to local criminals, which makes them a favorite target.

For a good list of language schools, visit the eslbase.com Web site.

International workers have more chances of getting a lousy teaching job than getting one at a call center, unless it is in a sportsbook or casino. There is limited access to the call center industry, especially now that immigration authorities have a more strict surveillance of the operations. Some places are accepting only foreigners with residency, giving more job opportunities to Ticos.

A Web site stated that “. . . the most popular and best paid jobs in Costa Rica for English speakers can be found in call centers.” However, in reality call centers used to pay really high salaries, but due to the increase of English-speaking Ticos, monthly salaries now range between $600 and $1000. Only a few poker places or sportsbooks are still paying over $1,000.  They pay in cash or through opening a bank account through them, but many foreigners complain about payment delays with lame excuses given by managers, and lack of professionalism in the workplace.

Call centers seem to offer more convenient schedules, although many operate on weekends and allow only one day off, making it impossible for foreigners to travel around Costa Rica. Some are flexible for requesting time off, but it depends on the place. Jobs in tourism are not in high demand, and they require foreigners to speak fluent Spanish. Plus, salaries are not great, ranging from $600 to $1,200. The same is true for real estate positions, which mostly work on commission and require employees to own a car.

Expense consideration is crucial when deciding to take a job in Costa Rica. The cost of living can amount up to $1,000 a month for one person. Rent is no less than $300 (unless shared with one or two roommates) for a livable apartment, but it can go up to $600 for a decent place, plus $100 in utilities. Food and groceries are really expensive due to importing taxes, since there are only some locally produced items. The cost of groceries can be as high as $500 a month for 2 people, and restaurant meals are no cheaper than $3. Transportation by bus is approximately $20 a month, and cab fares are no less than $1 a ride. Appliances, clothes and accessories are all taxed, but clothing can be found on sale often.

Culturally speaking, Costa Rica does not offer many options in terms of nightlife or daytime entertainment. Foreigners who like urban excitement will not find it in this country.

Of course there is the occasional dream story of people who came here to visit, found their niche, partnered or built a business and became prosperous, making them permanent and happy residents. But those people usually live by the beach and got really lucky.  These cases are the exception, not the rule. 

The ugly truth is most foreigners moving to Costa Rica to work find it hard to make a living here and wish they would have stayed home.


Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2009, use without permission prohibited.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

Puriscal Properties
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Residency experts

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7Legal services

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Phone/Fax: 2290-8117, 8841-0007
New location on Rohrmoser Blvd.
 Phone: (506) 2232-1014

Canadian's drug sentence
upheld despite appeal


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian caught at sea with a cargo of cocaine has been sentenced again to 12 years in prison.

The man, Wesley Trimble, was arrested May 12, 2003. Police from three countries, including Costa Rica seized Trimble’s boat in Colombian waters in the Pacific. His boat, "Sin Rumbo," contained several thousand kilos of cocaine, and Trimble was found asleep.

Trimble was sentenced to 12 years in prison Aug. 17, 2004.  However, the Sala Tercera, the supreme court for criminal matters, annulled the original decision in March 2005.

A new trial was ordered, and that panel also convicted Trimble and sentenced him again. This time the Sala III rejected an appeal.

Trimble was a one-time resident of Paquera on the east shore of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Trimble was the operator of a sailboat, "Sin Rumbo," when it was boarded April 12, 2003, in Colombian waters in the area of the Galápagos. Investigators found 1,360 kilos of cocaine they said was bound for Canada. That’s nearly 3,000 pounds.

The arrest triggered 14 raids and 17 arrests by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Four arrests were made in Colombia. The investigation involved Costa Rica, Canada, Colombia and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Trimble was brought back to Costa Rica after his boat was confiscated because the boat was registered here.

In addition to his prison term, Trimble lost the boat which will be turned over to the Instituto Costarricense Contra las Drogas.


Environmental panel wants
 to protect workers' jobs


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo is asking the Ministerio de Trabajo to safeguard the salaries and jobs of displaced workers at a Limón pineapple packing plant.

The tribunal closed down the packing plant last week over concerns about environmental violations and infiltration of insecticides and herbicides into the local water supplies.

In a note to the ministry, José Lino Cháves, president of the tribunal, said that pineapple plantation employees who are not directly involved in the packing plant can keep working.  There are some 600 hectares (1,480 acres) planted to the product by Del Monte,

The closing was at the Finca La Babilonia, in El Cairo de Siquirres.

The tribunal has said that laboratory tests confirm a high presence of bromacil and other agrochemicals in waste water that flowed into the Río Destierro and in waters sources in Milano, El Cairo and La Francia. Some 6,000 residents are serviced by these sources, it said. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados has been hauling water to these communities since August 2007.


Seniors are protected class,
high court decision says


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What started as a dispute over subsidized bus fares has resulted in a broad statement from the Sala IV constitutional court saying that the state has a special responsibility to protect senior citizens

Such protection constitutes a fundamental right that can be demanded from all the governmental dependencies and the Tribunales de Justicia, the constitutional court said.

The case developed when the father of Óscar López, the legislator, was denied cut-rate passage on a bus. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social has from time to time has issued vouchers to pay for the bulk of the fare of senior citizens. The elder López simply wanted to show his cédula de identidad.

The Sala IV said that would have been enough. But it went much further. It also combined a case from a senior citizen who wanted a vaccination.

The decision was not directed at a bus company but at the Caja and the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. The Caja, which runs the hospitals and clinics, was told to administer the vaccine.

The court cited a law favoring senior citizens which gives them access to public bus transport using just the cédula.

The state must create a framework adequate to offer special protection to seniors and it must respect their rights, including equality of opportunities and dignity, participation in the creation and application of policies that affect them and the promotion of their role in the nuclear family and the community, said the court decision released Friday.

Driver's license raid
nets two and expediter


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be no shortcuts today for expats who want to get a Costa Rican driver's license.

Judicial police Thursday detained two employees of the transport ministry's Departamento de Licencias, and they also picked up a free-lance expediter.

Investigators said that the expediter would obtain driver's licenses for individuals in an informal fashion, using the contacts with the two employees, one of which held a supervisory role.

Specifically, the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the individuals face allegations of issuing three licenses without the property groundwork.

The expediter is known as a gavilán in Spanish. These are the individuals who hang around government agencies and offer to help for a fee those needing official work. The judicial police said that the money involved in the license deal was 500,000 colons or about $875.

The licenses were for a passenger car, a motorcycle and a truck.

Invetigators said they also confiscated a number of documents, including those for medical examinations, in cars parked nearby.

The license department, which is based in La Uruca now, has long been considered a source of corruption. Traditionally new motorists reward inspectors who give them road tests. And it appears that the corruption extends into the issuing of licenses.

Expats who have a license from their home state, province or country can get a license here without a practical test or a written exam. If they do not have the actual license, they must go through all the steps as would a new Costa Rican motorist.

Stolen boat recovered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican coast guard crewmen found a boat that had been stolen from Herradura hidden in vegetation in the El Congrejo area of Fray Casiano in Puntarenas, they said.

The boat, the "Barrilete," is 30-feet long with two 150-horsepower outboards.

The boat is reported valued at 35 million colons or about $62,000.

The Servicio Nacional de  Guardacostas gives members the same training as police officers.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101

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New arrivals at Juan Santamaría airport seem to face a choke point, perhaps encouraged by the requirement that each visitor fill out a summary for health officials concerned about swine flu. The line snakes out of the immigration reception area and far down an airport
corridor. The length astounded a frequent visitor who took this photo just after noon Friday. The man arrived on Delta Flight 411 and said the line extended to the end of the terminal and then looped back for 100 meters more.


Panama's president-elect suggests a joint tourism effort
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ricardo Martinelli, the president-elect of Panamá, suggested a joint tourism promotion with Costa Rica during a visit Friday.

Martinelli, who takes office July 1, said that both countries have a competitive advantage in working together. Only half of the tourists who go to Bocas del Toro on the Panamá Caribbean coast just south of Sixaola, ever visit Costa Rica, he said.

He said both countries should exchange more information and perhaps promote international tourism with a joint budget.

For a time, Costa Rica was trying to develop joint tourism with Nicaragua, but little has been heard about this lately.

Martinelli is a businessman as well as a politician. He and President Óscar Arias Sánchez agreed to a renegotiation of 
the Panamá-Costa Rica free trade treaty after Martinelli gets into office. Arias just signed the treaty in August 2007. Casa Presidencial said that a renegotiation might allow Costa Rican insurance companies to sell their products in Panamá.

Costa Rica is soon to open its insurance market to private companies.

Marco Vinicio Ruiz, the minister of Comercio Exterior, said that Costa Rica was anxious to include refined olive oil as a product without tariffs in the treaty. Now the product has a small quota and faces a long period of gradual elimination of import duties.

Martinelli also said that Panamá would like to be included in negotiations with the European Union for trade access. Arias noted that the European community includes 500 million persons. Costa Rica and other Central American states are trying to negotiate trade access for some of their products now.


Some coral found to resist bleaching at higher temperatures
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ocean coral may be tougher than scientists thought. Half the world's coral could vanish in the next 50 years due to global warming, according to some predictions.

But Stanford University reports that an experiment there suggests that this may not be the case.

A biology professor set up two tanks in American Samoa and placed coral samples in each, according to the university news service. One tank's temperature was raised
2 degrees Celsius or just over 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The professor, Stephen Palumbi, reported that he found some coral could endure the change.

The key element are the algae hosted by the coral. When the temperature is raised to the point where the algae stop producing food, the coral eliminates them in what is known as coral bleaching.

Palumbi said that there are heat-resistant algae that keep coral from bleachings at higher temperatures, Stanford said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101


Can the U.S. do anything to reform U.N. rights council?
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has just been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. But the big question is can the United Sates help reform the body that frequently appears to be an embarrassment or a silent witness to oppression.

The U.N. Human Rights Council was established three years ago as part of sweeping reforms championed by then secretary general Kofi Annan. The resolution by the General Assembly establishing the council said the new body would be responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. In addition, the 47-member council would address human rights violations around the world.

Anne Bayevsky, a U.N. expert with the Hudson Institute, says the council replaced the 53-member Human Rights Commission.

"The commission was composed of many countries who were major human rights abusers," she said. "At one point in recent history, Libya chaired the Human Rights Commission. And it simply became discredited because of its very poor performance in dealing with major human rights catastrophes."

Many analysts say what began as a genuine effort to create a new council, produced in the end a body very similar to the old commission. Attempts to reform the election process and put strict membership criteria on the countries sitting on the new council were — in the end — watered down by many U.N. members.

John Bolton was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time. "I'll give you an example. One of the last things that the Europeans gave away, was a provision in the very original draft resolution creating the new council, that said no country that is under Security Council sanction for human rights violation or support for terrorism can serve on the new Human Rights Council," he said.

"We thought that was a pretty simple, straightforward provision. But a lot of countries objected to it, and the Europeans finally agreed that they would not insist on it. That to me was the final sign that this new body was going to be, at best, no different from its predecessor," he added.

The United States along with three other countries — Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau — voted against the creation of the council. Washington also decided not to stand for election to the new U.N. body.

Analysts say the majority of the council's members — 25 out of 47 — are rated by the Freedom House human rights organization as countries that are either 'not free' or 'partly free.' Experts say the council also has members that are
cited for human rights abuses such as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Kyrgyzstan.

Nancy Soderberg was former alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations during the Clinton administration (1997 - 2001). She says one positive note is that some of the worst human rights offenders who were on the commission are no longer on the new council.

"So you don't see the Irans on there anymore," said Ms. Soderberg. "You don't see the Zimbabweans and other countries who pro-actively got elected to these bodies with the express purpose of trying to keep them from doing anything. And they did. It's not perfect, it hasn't done as much as human rights activists would like - but it's progress."

But Ms. Bayevsky says the council's record has been dismal. "In the last three years, the Human Rights Council has abolished human rights investigations that even had occurred under the commission on countries like Iran and Belarus and Cuba and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and so on," she said.

"They just eradicated human rights investigations in all these countries because human rights abusers hold the balance of power and that's the way they want it," she continued.

Many experts say after just three years in existence, the U.N. Human Rights Council is already in need of serious reform.

Michael Doyle, former special adviser to Annan, says changes must first happen in the way members are elected to the council.

"I'd like to have a change in the election procedures so that there are more candidates than places for every region," he said. "Number two — I would like to see the countries that are running have as a platform an evaluation of their own human rights practices and a platform statement about what their candidacy will contribute to the furthering of human rights. So in other words I'd like to see a real election and a substantive campaign - those are the two things I think would be very important reforms for the institution."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently said Washington is looking forward to strengthening and reforming the Human Rights Council. She made that statement right after the United States was elected to a three-year term on the council beginning June 19.

But despite those positive words, many experts question whether Washington will be able to push through substantive reforms given the current composition of the council.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101


A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics
A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Chávez enlarges his hold
 on Venezuelan steel firms


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has ordered the government takeover of several iron and steel companies as part of his drive to create a large, industrial complex within a socialist state.

Chávez announced the move during a nationally televised speech Thursday before a group of industrial workers. He told the workers the decision was final and there was "nothing to discuss."

At least one of the companies is partly owned by Japanese-based Kobe Steel. Many of them manufacture and export iron briquettes, which are used in the production of steel.

The Chavez government has moved to take control of several industries in recent years, reasserting national control over sectors such as oil, electricity, cement, steel and telecommunications.


U.S. offers to resume talks
on migration of Cubans


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department says it has offered to resume talks with Cuba on Cuban migration to the United States.

The State Department said Friday it proposed that the discussions be restarted to "reaffirm both sides' commitment to safe, legal and orderly migration." There was no immediate response from Cuban officials to the offer. Talks on the issue were suspended in 2003.

The U.S. employs a wet foot, dry foot policy for illegal Cuban immigrants. Under the policy, Cubans who make it to U.S. soil usually are allowed to stay. Those intercepted at sea are most often returned.

The latest move by the U.S. follows President Barack Obama's decision in April to ease travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island. But Obama left the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba in place. He has said it is up to Cuba to take the next step.

Cuban President Raúl Castro recently repeated an offer to discuss "everything" with the United States to try to improve ties, but said Cuba does not have to make gestures to the U.S.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101


Latin American news digest
U.N. agency reporting
spate of Colombia threats


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees in Colombia has expressed deep concern over a spate of death threats made against human rights workers, including uprooted people defending their communities’ rights.

In the most recent wave of intimidation, one of the South American nation’s new illegal armed groups distributed pamphlets last week, targeting several state bodies and civil and human rights organizations.

The National Ombudsman Office, one of the high commisioner's closest partners in Columbia, was singled out by the group for issuing early warnings to people of critical human rights situations in several areas.

The office is in charge of overseeing the protection of civil and human rights in the country’s legal system and its early warning system is a unique method of preventing rights abuses and forced displacement, the U.N. agency said.

Andrew Purvis , the agency spokesman in Geneva, added that there is a rising climate of intimidation in Colombia in recent months, with native communities, social leaders and representatives of displaced groups having been targeted.

In some cases, those threatened have been forced to leave their communities for their safety, while some have even lost their lives, Purvis said, noting that often, survivors, their families and colleagues refrain from speaking out against the intimidators for fear of reprisal attacks.

His agency strongly condemns these acts and is extremely concerned that new illegal groups that have begun operating in Colombia in the past few years are increasingly turning into another factor behind forced displacement in a country that already counts a very large internally displaced persons population, Purvis said.

In the country, roughly 3 million people are registered as internally displaced, with an average of 300,000 new cases registered annually in the past two years. The U.N. high commisioner has one dozen offices in Colombia and works closely with the uprooted, supporting government efforts to protect and assist them, as well as find long-term solutions.




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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 25, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 101



Chemical seen leaching from polycarbonate bottles to humans
By the Harvard School of Public Health news service

Researchers have found that persons who drink from polycarbonate bottles have a higher level of chemical bisphenol A , which is used in producing the containers.

Exposure to bisphenol A, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans.

The researchers were led by Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, and Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology.

Researchers recruited Harvard College students for the study in April 2008. The 77 participants began the study with a seven-day washout phase in which they drank all cold beverages from stainless steel bottles as a control.

Participants provided urine samples during the washout period. They were then given two polycarbonate bottles and asked to drink all cold beverages from the bottles during the next week. Urine samples were also provided during that time.

The results showed that the participants' urinary bisphenol A concentrations increased 69 percent after drinking from the
polycarbonate bottles. The study authors noted that concentrations in the college population were similar to those reported for the U.S. general population.  Previous studies had found that bisphenol A could leach from polycarbonate bottles into their contents. This study is the first to show a corresponding increase in urinary concentrations in humans.

One of the study's strengths, the authors note, is that the students drank from the bottles in a normal setting. Additionally, the students did not wash their bottles in dishwashers nor put hot liquids in them. Heating has been shown to increase the leaching of Bisphenol A from polycarbonate.

Canada banned the use of bisphenol A in polycarbonate baby bottles in 2008 and some polycarbonate bottle manufacturers have voluntarily eliminated the chemical from their products. With increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of Bisphenol A in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of Bisphenol A on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.

In addition to polycarbonate bottles, which are refillable and a popular container among students, campers and others and are also used as baby bottles, bisphenol A is also found in dentistry composites and sealants and in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans. In bottles, polycarbonate can be identified by the recycling number 7.

Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat


By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality," Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”



pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.


green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.


Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir


By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
 
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!


chile relleno
Chile relleno envuelto en huevo: Pepper stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omelette.
scallon omlette
Torta de Huevo con cebollin:
scallion omelette.
canelone
Canelones de carne envueltos en huevo. Cannelloni stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omellete
yucca balls
Enyucada de carne: This is a yucca ball stuffed with meat and then fried until crunchy.
Yes, there is good typical food
on the Costa Rican menu

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When visitors to Costa Rica turn up their nose at the concept of Tico food, its because they have not looked hard enough.

Those who come to San José can find a wide assortment of great typical food at a place like the Central Market or Mercado Central.

At one time this was where most food transactions took place. The building itself is an historic site. The structure is on the Avenida Central pedestrian mall not far west of the Banco de Costa Rica. Tourists and locals alike will find that gallitos, a typical Tico canape or snack, is available here at the several sodas or inside lunch counters.

Around the eating spots, daily commerce takes place. The smell of leather goods, flowers and all kinds of foods and plants fill the air.

Inside, the gallito you can get a chile relleno (a filled pepper), an almuerzito de repollo (cabbage), tortas de huevo con cebollin (a scallion omelette) a barbudos (string bean omelette), a canellone ticos rellenos de carne (pasta stuffed with meat) or an enyucada with beef as well as cheese. The last is meat or cheese wrapped in yucca and deep fried.

There also are empanadas, pastry stuffed with meat, chicken, beans, potatoes with meat and/or cheese, all good food anytime of the day.

The word soda has a unique Costa Rica usage for a luncheon spot or snack bar.  The stands are small with some inside tables surrounded by a counter with stools. As you eat, you can see the food being prepared. The Mercado Central is operated by the municipality, so proper food preparation can be expected.

One well-known place is the Soda San Bosco at the western part of the Mercado Central. It is run by Luis Garcia Campos and his family. They have had the location for at least 30 years. Even though the place is small, it is very popular with locals. Garcia said the reason for the popularity is the freshness of the food, the friendly and quick service and the prices. 

You can drink the juice of different kinds of fruits for 350 colons (62 U.S. cents),  a coffee for 400 colons (71 cents), a gallito of chile relleno, canelloni or barbudos just for 600 colons ($1.06), the gallo de salchichon (sausage) with salad and tortillas for 500 colons (89 cents) as well the similarly priced empanadas, enyucadas and torta de huevo.

Soda San bosco and Luis Garcia Campos
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Luis Garcia Campos at his Soda San Bosco



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