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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Friday, May 25, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 104                           Email us
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montage of weekend doings
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Art museum
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Crocs at the Río Tarcoles near Jacó
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The ubiquitous marimbas
There is no reason to stay home on the weekends here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend is fast approaching, and the question alway is: What to do?

There are a lot of options for tourists and residents that can break the routine that sometimes threatens to overwhelm life here in the rainy season. Here are some suggestions:

Chicharronera Cacique Asseri is the multi-storied, 46-year-old restaurant on the main street in, of
Orosi church
A.M. Costa Rica file photo 
Orosi church
course, Asserí, just south of Desamparados and San José. The staff cooks chicharrones in caldrons. By the hundredweight. Locals parade through the restaurant in traditional masks. There is one or more cimarronas or small
bands. And there is always at least one or more marimba players.

This place is not for the Weight Watchers. No one leaves hungry. This is the spot where top government officials go for bachelor parties, despedidas and guaranteed great times. Bring a note from your cardiologist.

The chicharronía also boasts a terrific view of the Central Valley. That is something that is shared by dozens of so-called miradoras around the rim of the valley. If chicharrones are not on the diet, any number of restaurants will fill the bill, including the Le Monastère Restaurant & Cave in San Rafael de Escazú if money is not the prime concern. The view from the former monastery is worth the drive, not to mention the dark beer.

With the Caldera highway in service, the Pacific beckons for a day or weekend visit. CocoMar Residences & Beach Resort in Isla Palo Seco, Parrita, is offering anyone a free night in the facility. A lot of other hotel and condo facilities are open to the public over the weekends, and Jacó has turned from a sleepy village to a bustling community with all kinds of services for visitors. Walking on the beach is worth the trip. It is the closest beach to the Central Valley.

And anyone going west from the Central Valley who happens to find him or herself in La Garita needs to consider a quick stop at the La Fiesta del Maíz on the main highway for traditional and unique corn-based treats.

Just a few miles to the north of San José is the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, called INBio, in Santo Domingo de Heredia. The private eco-reserve is conducting what is called Bioblitz this weekend, a 24-hour marathon counting of plants and creatures at the 5.5 hectare site. INBio is great not just for the snakes in glass boxes but for a hedge maze and duck pond, adds a reporter.

Those going east can drop in on the Monumento Nacional Guayabo, some 11 miles northeast of Turrialba. This is one of the great Latin American pre-Columbian sites but is not high on the list of the average visitor. The site was occupied for thousands of years, but not much is known about the people. They were experts in constructing draining systems and pools to control the heavy rainfall of the area. Much of the area has not been excavated. It ranks along with the stone spheres in the south Pacific, although that region is a bit far for a weekend jaunt from the Central Valley.

Those who wish to stay overnight could consider the Hacienda Tayutic, which boasts that the Turrialba area with the Tayutic Valley is a great alternative to other tourism locations, like Arenal, being more authentic, with fewer tourists and now with the misbehaving Turrialba volcano.

Nearby is the Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Co. in Tejar de El Guarco, Cartago. The firm offers tours with prior appointments Friday and Saturday afternoons. Dark beer can be found here with the owners who are challenging the Costa Rican beer monopoly.

In Paraíso de Cartago is found the Lankester Gardens, an orchid garden run by the Universidad de Costa Rica. There are more than 800 orchid species on display.
Further southwest is the community of Orosi and then the Parque Nacional Tapanti with plenty of wildlife and easy walking trails. Orosi is known for the 18th century Catholic church that recently underwent a major restoration.

One cannot talk about Cartago and churches without mentioning the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in the center of that city. This manifestation of the Virgin Mary is the patroness of the nation. She is represented by a rough rock statute that is finely dressed at the top of the main altar. The faithful enter the main aisle on their knees. Others have sent elaborate clothing and other items for the statue. These are displayed in an adjacent room. There also is a line of persons seeking to fill containers with water from the spring near which the statue was found in 1635.

To the west is the ruinas de Cartago, the remains of a Catholic church in construction that was wrecked by the 1910 earthquake.

Arenal, of course, is a great place for a weekend visit. The warm water relaxes even though the volcano is not putting on as much of a show these days. The Hotel Arenal Paraíso Resort & Spa
Instituto Costariccense 
de Turismo photo 
Guayabo overview
correctly says it is just two and a half hours from San José, but the drive is sometimes rough when the weather is bad. A good bet is to take a commercial vehicle that many hotels can provide even to residents.

Sunday is the time for religious services. One would not have to be Catholic to appreciate the restoration work at the more than 100-year-old
Iglesia La Merced near the park by the same name in downtown San José. Fabulous is an understatement of the $1 million effort done by church officials, the municipality and Cervercería Costa Rica.

Those seeking a service in English can visit the International Baptist Church in Guachipelín, Escazú,  either at 9 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
A special program this week features  Rick Muchow, former music and worship pastor at Southern California's Saddleback Church for 24 years. He has recorded 24 CDs.

Those attending the 9 a.m. service will have time to drop by Parque la Sabana to watch one or more Sunday baseball games, if the weather cooperates.
A.M. Costa Rica file photo 
Basilica in Cartago
This is real hardball, and some of the players are U.S. Major League quality.  Many are Nicaraguan.

La Sabana is the place many Costa Ricans visit Sundays for picnics and family gatherings. The park is the former airport, and the former terminal and control tower is now the Museo de Arte Costarricense, 
which is  open from 9 to 4 Tuesday through Sundays.

If the hours are too early after the chicharrones or dark beer, the Escazú Christian Fellowship meets in the same place at 5 p.m.. That is at the Ferretería Construplaza turnoff on the Caldera highway.

The bulk of Costa Rica's population is in the Central Valley, but editors would welcome suggestions on weekend trips elsewhere in the country. There is fishing, of course in salt water and in the lakes and streams. A.M. Costa Rica's companion fishing title has reported on some of these. There also is rafting, zip lining, bird watching, whale watching and hundreds of other avocations. There is even a new adventure sports location north of San José on the highway to Limón.

Editors would like to hear about favorite places for readers to compile a similar, future news story. Write the editor. Please include links, although they will not show up in the story. All these locations are easily searchable on the Web.
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July 4 picnic drinkers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Visitors to the July 4 Independence Day event here will be under closer scrutiny this year as far as alcohol consumption is concerned.

The American Colony Committee said that as part of its corporate social responsibility program, Florida Ice & Farm y Subsidiarias S.A. is implementing a new policy to control underage drinking and drunk driving.  The policy applies to all major events where the firm's beer is served. Personnel from the company will be checking IDs near the beer stand. There also is the possibility that visitors will be carded at the entry and given bracelets to wear if they plan to consume beer.

The July 4 event is on the picnic grounds of the Cervercería Costa Rica, one of the subsidiaries of Florida Ice & Farm.

Two years ago was the last time that the event was held at the picnic grounds, and Costa Rican traffic police set up checkpoints to seek those who may have had too much of the free beer.

Drunk driving penalties are steep.

The American Colony Committee also modified one of the statements in an A.M. Costa Rica article Thursday. The article had said that U.S. citizens may bring a non-U.S. friend to the picnic. That is not completely true, said the committee Thursday. The new policy this year limits a U.S. citizen to bringing one Costa Rican friend. The committee did that to honor Costa Rica. Persons from other countries cannot attend as a friend, according to the rule. In the past the event was open only to U.S. citizens and immediate family.

The picnic begins July 4 at 9 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m. Admission is 5,000 colons, about $10 for an adult and 3,000 colons or about $6 for a child 10 years and under. The official program that includes the raising of a U.S. Flag begins at 11 a.m.

The committee said that workers at the gates would be checking for proof of U.S. citizenship and Costa Rican citizenship for any guests.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
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Costa Rica's rice subsidy has strong impact on the rural poor
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s support of domestic rice production has now reached six times the amount accorded by agreements with the World Trade Organization. High production costs make locally produced grain uncompetitive compared to imports, but political considerations and industry pressure make for heavy protection.

Rice is produced in scattered areas around the country, mostly in Guanacaste, San Carlos, and the southeastern border areas. This year production is expected to be 170,000 tons, according to the Rice Market Monitor from the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations. This is down substantially from 2011 but some land was taken out of production in exchange for guaranteed prices. Consumption is about 350,000 tons per year.

According to calculations by the government’s Ministerio de Comercio Exterior, in 2011 the system amounted to a subsidy of $104 million direct from consumers to the domestic growers. The amount involved grew from $27 million in 2007 to $109 million in 2010.

The country is subject to a complaint brought by 60 other rice-growing countries to the World Trade Organization, for exceeding the $16 million subsidy limit established in the original treaty to that effect. Costa Rica could be subject to retaliatory sanctions as a result of this lack of compliance.

Costa Rica maintains a price-fixing mechanism that controls what growers receive from processors. The industry is obliged to purchase the entire harvest before any grain can be imported, at a price of 22,076.40 colons per 73-kilo (160-pound) sack.

Ultimately, this system results in retail prices substantially higher than what shoppers in neighboring countries pay. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Costa Rica has some of the highest rice prices in the world, with a retail index of $1.55 for the higher grades. This compares to Panamá with its open economy, but similar population and consumption, at $1.13.
Rice protests
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
 When rice farmers protest, as they did here with teachers,
 they bring in their tractors and other heavy equipment.

Costa Rica’s price is the second-highest in the world essentially tied with the United States index, far behind Japan’s $5.58 per kilo. Figures are from this February.

A lower grade with 80 percent intact grains can be had at Palí for 600 colons per kilo, or $1.20. This compares to Nicaragua where second quality rice is about 90 U.S. cents.

Even at this lower rate the system has significant social implications, as Costa Rica’s poor, especially in rural areas, often subsist on a diet consisting entirely of rice, beans, and vegetable oil for preparation. The Food and Agriculture Organization figures suggest that the elimination of the price support system would reduce the cost of the staple grain by about 25 percent.

Notwithstanding this heavy protection the rice growers maintain the government has not followed through with other promised logistical support from an agreement last year when a bumper harvest led to logistical bottlenecks. At that time the growers drove their tractors to San Jose and blocked streets. This pressure was successful in getting concessions and will likely be repeated.

Enjoying a high standard of living with just a modest income
There are times when the anger and blame-throwing of people in the countries that have been reduced to recession for the past four years makes me think of a teenager who has crashed his car in an accident that was his fault and he keeps plaguing his indulgent father: “Yeah, I know, Dad, but when are you going to fix things so I can buy another car and have a normal life again?” 

Have people forgotten that while their governments were maxing out their credit cards so were they?  And that part of the reason the housing sector crashed was that they were buying homes beyond their needs and budgets? That they bought into the ‘let the free market be free.’ And what goes up never comes down.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

Most people living in Costa Rica know who José “Pepe” Figueres was.  He came into power after a bloody civil war in the 1940’s (as in most wars, more civilians and noncombatants were killed than were the military).  As head of the junta that guided the country for 18 months, Figueres dissolved the army in 1948, and the new constitution in 1949 permanently abolished the military.  At the same time he gave the vote to women.  He also had his say regarding what the people of his country should consider.

Perhaps as we recover from this worldwide recession, we will heed his words, “We propose, American peoples, to attain a high standard of living with modest economic income.  Do not be like apes.  Do not imitate the rich societies of today, who sometimes feel more frustrated the more goods they produce.” (1973). (Remember, Costa Ricans consider themselves Americans, too). 

He also said, “The day that every worker understands that he must work harder for his own good and for that of all others and in so doing, he will understand true happiness and joy, is the day the world will have changed.” 

No, he was not a Communist, he was the founder of the Partido Liberación Nacional, which has pretty much been the dominant party ever since.

And there is one quote of his that I applaud enthusiastically.  “Our interest is to eliminate poverty, but at the same time we can create outstanding cultural development in the country.  We cannot become a society of abundance without the cultivation of the mind . . . We need more painting and sculpture, more philosophy, more poetry, more literature.”

That has been happening over the years in this country.  This past weekend a friend and I went to the Plaza Mayor where the halls were filled with an exhibition of sculpture, in wood, metal, stone, even recycled paper and paintings ranging from landscapes to the kind that challenge the mind and  
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

imagination.  All were works of Tico artists.  Costa Rica has annual music, dance, book and crafts fairs and food festivals.

Many of these festivals have international participation.  And so much of it is free.  I would say that being able to enjoy all of these cultural treats contributes to a high standard of living on a modest income. 

Some years ago I was one of the judges at an annual play (as in theater) competition at a local high school that included high schools both here and in other countries of Central America.  A lot of talent was revealed.  The Little Theatre Group continues to work with students in schools in writing and producing plays.  I am a firm believer that many education problems, like attendance and student interest in classes, even in grades, would be improved if art, music, drama and intramural sports were put back in the curriculum of schools here and in the United States, where they have been the first to be cut in money saving moves. 

And speaking of plays, this weekend you can be one of the first to see the “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the monologue written and performed by Mike Daisey, now staged by the Little Theatre Group.  This presentation will include a number of actors.  From what I have heard, it is witty, irreverent and thought-provoking.  It opens tonight and will run this weekend and next at the Laurence Olivier Theater (next to Sala Garbo). (Call 8858-1446 for reservations).  Maybe I will see you there on Sunday.

Food for thought is sometimes the most nourishing sustenance available.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 25, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 104
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Nine to 15 storms and four to eight hurricanes predicted
By the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news staff

Conditions in the atmosphere and the ocean favor a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday from Miami at its Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and home to the Hurricane Research Division.

For the entire six-month season, which begins June 1, the agency's Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 74 mph or higher) and of those one to three will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5). Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

“NOAA’s outlook predicts a less active season compared to recent years,” said agency Administrator Jane Lubchenco. “But regardless of the outlook, it’s vital for anyone living or vacationing in hurricane-prone locations to be prepared. We have a stark reminder this year with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.” Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated South Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, was the first storm in a late-starting season that produced only six named storms.

Favoring storm development in 2012: the continuation of the overall conditions associated with the Atlantic high-activity era that began in 1995, in addition to near-average sea surface temperatures across much of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, known as the Main Development Region. Two factors now in place that can limit storm development, if they persist, are: strong wind shear, which is hostile to hurricane formation in the Main Development Region, and cooler sea surface temperatures in the far eastern Atlantic.

“Another potentially competing climate factor would be El Niño if it develops by late summer to early fall. In that case, conditions could be less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months of the season, possibly shifting the activity toward the lower end of the predicted range,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center. The peak months are August to October.

"NOAA's improvement in monitoring and predicting hurricanes has been remarkable over the decades since Andrew, in large part because of our sustained commitment to research and better technology. But more work remains to unlock the secrets of hurricanes, especially in the area of rapid intensification and weakening of storms,” said Lubchenco. “We're stepping up to meet this challenge through our Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project, which has already demonstrated exciting early progress toward improving storm intensity forecasts."

The seasonal outlook does not predict how many storms will hit land. Forecasts for individual storms and their impacts are provided by the National Hurricane Center, which
Hurricane Bud
NASA photo
 This is hurricane Bud off the Mexican coast in the Pacific.
 The center is about 17.4 degrees north.

Pacific sees first hurricane
of the 2012 storm season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Forecasters say the tropical storm known as Bud has evolved into a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean off the southwestern coast of Mexico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says the storm is carrying maximum sustained winds of 115 mph or 185 kph. Forecasters expect the center of Hurricane Bud to reach landfall by late Friday and cause swells that are likely to cause life-threatening conditions along the surf.

Mexico City has issued a tropical storm watch along the Pacific Coast from Punta San Telmo to La Fortuna. 

At midnight the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm eye was at 17.4 degrees north latitude. Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica, on the Nicaragua border, is at 11.2 degrees latitude. There was no indication that much of the hurricane effect was reaching the Pacific coast.

The Pacific saw intense rains Thursday morning that caused rivers and streams to rise, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. That was blamed on a low-pressure system and not the hurricane.

Costa Rican emergency officials are meeting next week to coordinate efforts for the 2012 season. Although hurricanes almost never touch land in Costa Rica, the country suffers from the effects of some tropical storms and hurricanes.

continuously monitors the tropics for storm development and tracking throughout the season using an array of tools including satellites, advance computer modeling, hurricane hunter aircraft, and land- and ocean-based observation sources such as radars and buoys.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Drexel University photo
Baby leatherback faces many challenges

Leatherback study warns
of climate on turtle egg

By the Drexel University news service

When leatherback turtle hatchlings dig out of their nests buried in the sandy Playa Grande beach in northwest Costa Rica, they enter a world filled with dangers. This critically endangered species faces threats that include egg poaching and human fishing practices. Now, Drexel University researchers have found that the climate conditions at the nesting beach affect the early survival of turtle eggs and hatchlings. They predict, based on projections from multiple models, that egg and hatchling survival will drop by half in the next 100 years as a result of global climate change.

“Temperature and humidity inside the nest are significant factors affecting egg and hatchling survival,” said James Spotila, a professor of environmental science and senior author of the study reported today in the journal PLoS ONE. Spotila and colleagues, including lead author Pilar Santidrian Tomillo of Drexel. They examined the relationship between regional climate patterns with leatherback turtles’ nesting success over six consecutive nesting seasons at Playa Grande. This beach is the major nesting site for leatherback turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean, containing more than 40 percent of nests. 

“We have discovered a clear link between climate and survival of this endangered sea turtle population,” said Spotila.

The turtles’ hatching success and success emerging from the nest was significantly correlated with weather patterns associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation,” he said. This is an irregular pattern of periodic climate variation, shifting between “El Niño” periods with warmer sea surface temperature conditions in the eastern tropical Pacific, and “La Niña” conditions with cooler sea surface temperatures. The El Niño cycle is known to influence many ecological processes that vary from location to location.

The researchers found that warmer, dryer El Niño conditions were associated with significantly higher mortality for eggs and hatchlings. Using projections of global climate change due to global warming over the next 100 years, they predicted that El Niño conditions will become more frequent and hatchling success will decline throughout the 21st century at Playa Grande and other nesting beaches that experience similar effects.

As climate conditions change, leatherbacks nesting at Playa Grande cannot move to other beaches. Spotila noted that the beach characteristics and off-shore ocean currents move hatchlings to feeding grounds on a kind of hatchling highway that makes Playa Grande an optimal nesting location for leatherbacks that other beaches cannot replace.

Spotila has conducted research with nesting leatherback turtles at Las Baulas Park in Costa Rica, where Playa Grande is located, for 22 years. The university is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Leatherback turtles, Spotila says, are in critical need of human help to survive. “Warming climate is killing eggs and hatchlings,” Spotila said. “Action is needed, both to mitigate this effect and, ultimately, to reverse it to avoid extinction. We need to change fishing practices that kill turtles at sea, intervene to cool the beach to save the developing eggs and find a way to stop global warming. Otherwise, the leatherback and many other species will be lost.”

Three finalists cities remain
as hosts for 2020 Olympics

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Olympic Committee has chosen three cities as finalists to bid for the chance to host the 2020 Summer Games.

"In the order of drawing lots: Istanbul, Tokyo, and Madrid," said Mark Adams the committee's communication director.

The announcement marks the beginning of a 16-month campaign among finalists to win over the Olympic committee before it makes its final selection in September 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Two other candidate cities: Doha, Qatar, and Baku, Azerbaijan, were eliminated from consideration. The capital city of oil rich Qatar wanted to move the event to October in order to avoid the hot temperatures of July and August, which the the committee said could conflict with other sporting events and result in a lower television viewing audience.

Baku was eliminated because it had no experience in hosting a major international sporting event.

Of the three finalists, Tokyo is the only one to have previously hosted the Olympics, having done so in 1964. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said hosting the 2020 Games would serve as a symbol of his country's recovery from last year's deadly earthquake and tsunami.

But with PyeongChang, South Korea, hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, the committee may be unwilling to hold back-to-back Olympics in Asia.

Madrid is making its third consecutive bid to host the Summer Games, including a loss to Rio de Janeiro for the chance to host the 2016 event, but the committee has raised questions about Spain's troubled economy.

This is Istanbul's fifth attempt to host the Olympics, but its chances may be harmed by its bid to host the 2020 European soccer championship. The committee does not want a host city staging two major international sporting events in the same year.

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Passion for Apple products
is theme of new production

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group presents starting tonight “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” The group described the play as a witty and controversial staged reading with five actors.

“In this irreverent and humorous piece, with a generous portion of spicy language, author Mike Daisey spells out some of the consequences of our manic lust for Apple products,” said a release.

The staged reading was adapted by Ann Antkiw and Pilar Saavedra-Vela from Daisey's monologue, the group said.  Cast members include Barbara Adams, Ron Boston, Lisa DeFuso, Tom Humes, Caroline Kennedy, Susan Liang, and Vicky Longland. Four of the actors will share roles for several of the performances at the Teatro Laurence Olivier, the release added..

In the monologue which he has been performing since 2010, Daisey weaves the tapestry of his passion for Apple products  with stories about Steve Jobs, consumer lust for electronics and the inhumane conditions under which those devices are made in China, said the release.  His monologue became even more popular after the death of icon Steve Jobs in October, 2011, the release noted.

At the Teatro Laurence Olivier, Avenida 2 at Calle 28, next to the Sala Garbo, the play opens tonight at 7:30 and will run through June 3. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7.30 p.m, while Sunday curtain time is 2.30 p.m.

Tip leads police to pickup
carrying 554 kilos of cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police from several agencies stopped at pickup Thursday and uncovered 554 kilos of cocaine hidden under branches, they said.

The 27-year-old driver was detained. Involved in the arrest were the  Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Control de Drogas and the Departamento de Inteligencia Policial. Police said they acted on a confidential tip.

Minors with gun and knife
stick up Guápiles students

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two minors, one of them with a firearm and the other with a knife, threatened and then robbed three students from the  Colegio Experimental Bilingüe de Guápiles, according to the Poder Judicial. One of the victims suffered a beating, said the Poder Judicial.

One of the suspects has been given provisional detention for three months, and the other is free under restrictions, said the Poder Judicial.

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