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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, June 17, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 119
Jo Stuart
About us

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
is the new
for expats
and Ticos

The value of sun and the return to Costa Rica
I arrived home early Tuesday morning.  The flight returning was not nearly as pleasant as that going to the States.  First of all, the plane was full.  At least Economy was full; Executive Class had only about three people in it.  Recently I have made this rather Quixotic decision to do a good deed when the opportunity presented itself. 

This time I said I would give up my aisle seat to a young couple who was very upset because they had been assigned separate seats and were complaining to all the flight attendants (and probably the pilot, too, since they were holding up our take-off).  So I got to endure an overnight flight in a middle seat. 

Everyone was sleeping except me and a very large man who spent the night standing in the area by the toilets.  I thought it was because his seat was too small, but maybe he was just airsick.  On one of my excursions down the aisle to get my circulation going,  I was sorely tempted to ask him if I could have his aisle seat because sometime during the wee hours the plastic glass of water on the tray of the woman next to me tipped over and spilled all over her and half over me.  She spent the rest of the night sitting on her Ladies Home Journal and fanning her jeans with the airline’s safety instruction folder.  I thought this was a great opportunity for Lacsa to do some fine public relations by putting someone into the nearly empty Executive Class. Lacsa didn’t see things my way.

Once home in my apartment, I intermittently napped and ate.  I thought again that it would be interesting to research the idea that when one basic need is frustrated, we substitute another.  In this case I couldn’t sleep, so I was eating whatever I could find in my bare refrigerator and cupboard. 

It takes me about three days to unpack and get back into my regular routine.  It was not until I saw three of my little sparrows keeping dry on my balcony while the rain came streaming down that I felt like I was in my apartment.

The next day I had to replenish my cupboards.  I had clipped an interesting column written by Drs. Joe and Teresa Graedon (he, a pharmacologist and she a
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 medical anthropologist) in the Pasadena newspaper.  It was entitled, “Prudent exposure to sunlight may be good.”  We all know what that means – medical science is changing its mind again. 

In this case a Dr. Edward Giovannucci, in his keynote speech to the AMA for Cancer Research, said that exposure to the sun might prevent 30 cancer deaths for every one caused by skin cancer.  It’s the vitamin D, stupid.   Most people don’t get enough of it – and certainly in countries where people stay indoors and in cars most of the time, they don’t.
This new information pleased me because I have long thought that sunscreen does more harm than good, and that exposure to the sun in Costa Rica has probably helped prevent osteoporosis in both men and women. (Vitamin D is also necessary for the absorption of calcium).   It will be interesting to see if the increased use of cars in this country is going to affect the health of the people on yet another front.  Of course, as in most situations, moderation is important.
We actually need more than twice the currently recommended 400 International Units IUs) of vitamin D daily. Sunshine is important because it stimulates the production of Vitamin D in the skin.  High SPF sunscreen reduces the amount of vitamin D the skin can take in. One can overdose on vitamin D taken orally, but the skin only makes as much as the body can use.

Armed with this knowledge I headed for the Auto Mercado without sunscreen -- which is what I normally do, anyway.  On my way home in a taxi with my 18,000 colones worth of groceries (about $37 -- more than I have ever spent at one time), the warm pillowed breeze coming through the open window of the taxi felt like a caress.  That is when I really felt I was back home in Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 17, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 119

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Tourist crime topic
for police seminars

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública is starting a series of seminars for business people to increase security for tourists.

The industry has been stung in the last couple of months by reports of thefts from tourists and police inaction.

The first training session was this week in Vara Blanca de Heredia where some 19 business people, 13 private security guards and eight Fuerza Pública officers spent 30 classroom hours learning from instructors from the Excuela Nacional de Policía. The course was the first of four that will be given in the Heredia area.

The subject matter was reported to be general and covered making general studies of vulnerable areas and keeping track of individuals in the area.

“Considering that Vara Blanca has become in the last few years a high tourist sector, we decided to bring these discussions not only to our officers but to all the business people of the area,” said Comisionado Reinaldo González, regional director of the Fuerza Pública.

The next training session will be in Sarapiquí. Individuals interested in participating can obtain more details at 262-9316 or 260-9850.

The bulk of the crime confronting tourists involves stolen bags and non-confrontational crime. In some cases luggage is spirited out of hotel rooms minutes after the tourists arrive. Other times the thefts happen at bus stations.

Machismo and bullets
lead to tragedies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Something akin to a Greek tragedy played out this week in Aserrí, in the mountains a few miles south of San José.

The case was another chapter in the growing statistics of domestic violence and the macho temperment. A man, Erick Monterrosa, 26, was not going to let his long-time companion leave him and take his 2-year-old son. The woman had taken refuge in the home of a relative.

Monterrosa, who had a history of violence with the woman, showed up Monday night and forced the woman to surrender the child. Police got on the case and chased the man in a car. But when it appeared he would be captured, he put a bullet in the child and then into himself.

Both father and child died this week.

Meanwhile in Guanacaste law officers are still seeking a former reserve policeman named Castro in the double murder of his former girl friend and her 15-year-old sister Wednesday afternoon. The shooting happened in Liberia, and Castro fled.

Officers began searching wooded areas Thursday morning but they also have notified officials in Nicaragua to be on the lookout for the man. This shooting, too, was triggered when the woman decided to leave the man. First Castro tried suicide by ingesting agricultural chemicals. But he was unsuccessful.
U.N. tells UK to discuss
Falklands situation

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Seeking to end what it called the "special and particular colonial situation" in the question of the Falkland Islands, the United Nations special panel dealing with decolonization requested the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations to find a peaceful solution to the long-standing sovereignty dispute.

Adopting a consensus resolution without a vote, the U.N. Special Committee on decolonization noted the views expressed last year by Argentina's president in his address to the General Assembly, in which he urged the United Kingdom to resume negotiations.  The committee regretted that, in spite of widespread international support for negotiations, the implementation of relevant assembly resolutions has not yet started. Argentines call the islands the Malvinas.

Falkland Islands Councillors John Birmingham and Stephen Luxton underlined that there was no sovereignty issue to discuss with Argentina — a bullying administration out of touch with the 21st century — and urged the Committee to concentrate in allowing the Islanders to choose their own future and exercise their right to self-determination.

"The Argentine government is confusing territorial integrity with geographical proximity,” added Luxton, "we have nothing in common with Argentina culturally, linguistically, historically or politically".

"The fact that Argentines are taught from a young age that the Falkland Islands have been illegally occupied by British settlers for 170 years does not make it true," said Luxton, stressing that the Islands' people were not maintaining a colonial situation, because their country was not a colony — it was an internally self-governing and largely self-sufficient British overseas territory. 

Rafael Bielsa, minister for foreign affairs said the special nature of the Malvinas Islands question derived from the fact that the United Kingdom had occupied the Islands by force in 1833, ousted the Argentine population and authorities on the Islands and replaced them with settlers of British origin.  Then, as now, Argentina had not consented to the acts of force that gave rise to the Malvinas question, he said.

In perhaps one of the most ill-considered military moves of the 20th century, Argentina invaded the islands in April 1982 thereby provoking a military response from the British government of Margaret Thatcher. Argentina lost 700 soldiers and sailors and had nearly 12,000 servicemen taken prisoner in their confrontation with the Royal Marines and a Royal Navy battle group.

Three groups present
at Teatro Nacional

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is being termed a gran fusion of music takes place Saturday at the Teatro Nacional. A woodwind quintet, the Orquestra Sinfónica Intermedia and the the Carerata Preparatoria chamber group.

The 8 p.m. event had an admission charge of 1,000 colons, slightly more than $2.

The groups are associated with the Instituto Nacional de Música.

The chamber group under the direction of Lorna Castillo begins with Danza Feliz of Leopold Mozart, followed by Tomahawk by R. Matesky and “Variations over a theme” based on French folklore by J. Holesovsky.

The woodwind quintet directed by Carlos Ocampo will present the Pastoral, as interpreted by Gabriel Pierné and “Minuet.”

The symphonic orchestra under Carlos Vives will offer several sections including Aaron Copland's“Fanfare for the Modern Man”  and “The Planets” by Georges Bizet.

Big show starts in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sixth edition of the Festival Nacional de las Artes opens in Heredia Saturday for a nine-day run.

There are 17 locations and more than 3,000 artists of all disciplines involved in the event.

There is theater, movies, music, dance, painting, sculpture, folklore, much of it in the Parque Central de Heredia.

The opening concert is Saturday at 7 p.m. With the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil at the park.
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A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
The second-to-last card goes down in a Thursday night game at a local casino where Texas hold 'em  is the growing sport. The players will bet based on the four exposed cards and the two in their hand. The fifth open card yet to be played will decide the hand.

Poker is the new wave for local gamblers and expats
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The World Series Of Poker is scheduled to start July 7 at the Rio All Suite Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, and several local players are hoping to get a piece of the over $60 million in prize money.  Over 6,000 people from all over the world are expected for the main event. 

Just like in the United States, the popularity of Texas Hold 'em in Costa Rica has skyrocketed faster than the pot size in a no-limit game.

But some local players like Jamie Ligator are crusty veterans.  This year will make 10 in a row he has played at the World Series of Poker.

“It's the hardest tournament in the world just by the sheer number of people,” he said.  “But the winner is considered the champion of the year no matter how well he or she does in other tournaments.”

Other local players scheduled to play in the world series include Humberto Brenes and his brothers Alex and Erik, Jose Rosenkrantz, Arturo Morales, Mario Zeledon, and Dewey Tomko, co-owner of the Horseshoe Casino with Ligator and the only American expat of the bunch.

Only a few years ago, poker here was primarily a Gringo pastime.  Now Ticos are slowly gaining interest as well and many games are in Spanish, said Russ Martins, manager of the poker room at the Horseshoe.

He said that hold 'em had marginal interest a few years ago when Luis Milanes sponsored tournaments in Costa Rica.  The Milanes era ended when the gambler and casino operator folded up his high-interest loan venture, Savings Unlimited, and     
became a fugitive in November 2002.  After that, poker in Costa Rica all but died, although Milanes sometimes can be seen on television during reruns of poker tournaments he sponsored.

The Horseshoe has nightly games in both English and Spanish and the Flamingo Casino in Hotel Europa has tournaments Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.  The Fiesta Casino near Juan Santamaría International in Alajuela and the Jazz Casino in Jacó also have games.  Martins says there are plans to start a game in Tamarindo. 

Martins traces the game's popularity to the success of Chris Moneymaker, the World Series of Poker champion two years ago.  Moneymaker paid $40 to enter an online tournament and won.  That particular tournament happened to be a satellite, meaning that the winner is automatically invited to the World Series of Poker.  The aptly named Moneymaker, who had  been playing for only three years, went and won $2.5 million.

Afterward, says Martins, people started to realize that anyone has a chance to win.  The popularity of poker spread like that of the hula hoop in the 50s.  The proof is in the numbers.  This year, with over 6,000 people scheduled to play in the world series, the field will be the largest ever with the most winnings. 

Players can enter in one of two ways.  They can either earn their way in through a satellite like Moneymaker and also Ligator did in an online tournament, or they can fork over the $10,000 and hope.  Many of the people who pay the whole entry fee, says Martins, are known as “dead-money seats,” meaning they have little to no chance of winning.  These players hope simply to lose to a big name player says Martins.  However, TV commentators labeled Moneymaker a dead-money seat early on, and he went on to win.  

So you want to play poker? Here's how to do it!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

So you want to learn how to play “hold 'em?” Here's how you can lose your life savings faster than your car keys:

First, one player is given a dealer button.  This simply keeps track of who would be the dealer if the casino doesn't provide one.  The button moves left after every hand.  Before the cards are dealt, the player immediately to the dealer's left has to pay a small bet called the “small blind.”

In the nightly games at the Horseshoe, the bet is a dollar.  The player immediately to his or her left pays a bet twice as much as the small blind called the “big blind.” So at the Horseshoe, it's $2. 

Now the dealer gives each player two cards face down.  The “action” continues left from the player who paid the big blind.  All the players have three options.  They can either fold their cards to wait for the next hand, match whatever the largest bet is, or raise by betting more.  To raise, one must bet a multiple of the big blind. 

In some games, the amount one can raise is regulated but in “no limit” games, a player can bet as much as he or she pleases.  If someone bets all their chips they say “I'm all in.”

Now, back to the game at hand.

After every player has decided to match the largest bet or fold, the pot is “even.”  The dealer then lays down three cards face up.  These are called “the flop,” and are community cards, meaning all players may
use them in their hands.  The action starts again. Only the player to the left of the big blind can bet if he or she wants, but it is not mandatory.  If the player
chooses not to bet, they “check.”  The action continues left until the pot is even.  The dealer then lays down another card called “the turn”  face up. This is also a community card. 

The action goes left again starting with the player to the left of the big blind and when the pot is even, the dealer lays down the last card called “the river,”  also face up. Once again, the player to the left of the big blind starts the action and when the pot is even, whoever is left lays down the cards. 

A poker hand is five cards.  Each player has his or her own two cards plus use of three of the five community cards.  Whoever has the best hand wins the pot.

Here's a quick summary of hands:

“High card” is the lowest hand in poker.  Next is a pair.  Two pairs beats that and three of a kind is better than two pair. 

A straight must be five cards in a row, the higher the straight, the better the hand.  So a “king high” straight beats a “ten high” straight.  After a straight is a flush: five cards of the same suit.  It doesn't matter what number they are as long as they're the same suit. 

A full house is a pair and a three of a kind.  It beats a flush.  Four of a kind, all the cards in the deck of a given number, beats a full house.  A straight flush, consecutive cards of the same suit, beats four of a kind and happens very rarely.  A royal straight flush is an ace, king, queen, jack, ten of the same suit.  These happen about as often as lottery wins, so don't count on one. 

Start practicing and save your colons.  The buy in at the World Series of Poker is $10,000.

Dr. Lenny's
gets toasted

That heavy thunderstorm that swept through San José about 2:30 p.m. zapped the computer containing Dr. Lenny Karpman's food column for this week. Both the computer and the  food column can be resurrected, but some time will be needed. Look for the doctor's latest work next Friday.

Another test sought to confirm Tamarindo remains
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Human remains found the last week at Tamarindo Beach correspond to the young Australian who vanished March 4 at the same beach, said Francisco Segura of the Judicial Investigating Organization.
According to Segura two days after the remains were found, the Australian government sent via E-mail the  dental records to be compared by pathologists in the forensic medicine laboratory in Heredia.
The discovery of the remains was reported by A.M. Costa Rica a week ago, and speculation was high at that time that the body parts were those of Brian Dobbins, an Australian student who has been the object of an intense search.  The body was found in a mangrove. There was only one person reported missing in the area when the remains were found. The size of the bones and other characteristics were consistent with a man of an adult male.

Australian authorities are seeking more proof. They seek a second evidence of identity, said Segura, adding that due to certain unique characteristics in the teeth of the Australian, there is little doubt that his body has been found.

This dental characteristic became the most important key, similar to a fingerprint, said Segura. Pathologists
have been very careful because the case is a high-profile important one.  The identification experts are awaiting samples of the blood of the man's parents in order to run some DNA tests as a second proof. Still up in the air is where such tests will be conducted, said Segura.

Pathologists from the Australian government will meet with their Costa Rican counterparts to discuss, analyze and compare results of the investigation. If all are satisfied that the remains are those of Dobbins, left open is the manner of death.

He was last seen walking down a beach, but it is unlikely that wave action brought his body to the place where it was found.

Segura said that the bones and the remains that investigators have show no sign of violence, although the process of decomposition and the actions of scavenger animals has destroyed many clues.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has opened a case on the death.

Dobbins was an exchange student at a Florida university and came to Costa Rica during spring break. Both his parents have been here since he was reported missing. Investigators noted early on that the man was not carrying a passport or much money when he vanished.

Regional strategy session being held today on gangs
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank  is holding a regional seminar today in Panama on strategies to prevent youth violence and crime.

The development bank said that participants at the event will include regional justice and security officials, human-rights commissioners and police chiefs from Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, as well as international experts on gang violence.

The seminar, called "Alternatives to the Path of Gangs," will provide an overview of the violence-reduction and citizen-security programs financed by the bank in various Latin American and Caribbean countries.  Other participants in the event, to be held in Panama's capital of Panama City, will discuss their countries' situations and successful experiences of rehabilitation of former gang members.

Two studies will be presented at the seminar: “Gangs in the Mesoamerican Region and the Caribbean -- A Comparative View” by Colombian researcher Mauricio Rubio and “Police and Security -- A New Paradigm” by Chilean academic Hugo Fruhling.

The development bank said it supports efforts by national and local authorities, civil-society groups, and the private sector to reduce youth violence and crime in Latin America.  The programs include assistance for designing security and youth policies, strengthening security and human-development agencies, modernizing police forces, and carrying out communications and awareness campaigns.

U.S. official Adolfo Franco said in April that Latin America's rising crime rate and gang violence are taking a tremendous toll on democratic consolidation
and development in the region, and efforts to deal with these threats must address both the enforcement and prevention components of crime mitigation.

Franco, assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in U.S. congressional testimony that Latin America's crime rate is double the world average, and he indicated that this high incidence of crime is taking a toll on the region's economic development and public faith in democracy.

The official quoted development bank estimates that Latin America's per capita gross domestic product would be 25 percent higher if the region's crime rates were equal to the world average.  He added that business associations in the region have identified crime as the No. 1 issue negatively affecting trade and investment.

"Latin America is caught in a vicious circle, where economic growth is thwarted by high crime rates, and insufficient economic opportunity contributes to high crime," Franco told the House International Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.  While acknowledging that the problem of gangs and crime cannot realistically be solved in the short term, Franco said the Agency for International Development is working with regional governments in Latin America on effective measures that strengthen institutions and build local capacity to deal with the problem.

Officials have reported that youth gangs are spreading their influence throughout Central America. Some gangs have connections with similar criminal organizations in California and other U.S. States. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are plagued by gangs, and Costa Rican officials have reported the arrival of some gang members.

Jo Stuart
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