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(506) 223-1327       Published Tuesday, June 20, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 121        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photos/Annette Carter
These BriBri women are making chocolate paste for export.   Zeneida Segura Valdéz grinds the cocao beans after Prisca Morales Rodríguez roasts them.
The women are part of a cooperative association deep in the Talamanca that has saved their village of Yorkin. See our story:

Free trade fight moves to a much higher level
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fight over the free trade treaty with the United States has moved to a higher level.

Not the courts, but the Vatican. And one opponent is even invoking the name of Jesus Christ.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez started the latest round last week during a visit to Rome when he asked Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state for the Vatican, to send a letter of support for the treaty to the conference of Costa Rican bishops. The bishops here had been chilly to the treaty. That request made the Spanish press.

Hugo Barrantes. the archbishop of San José, said Monday he had not seen any letter from the Vatican but pointed out free trade is different than the existing free trade treaty. He did not put himself in opposition to the Vatican. However, the bishops seemed to favor other political parties and candidates in the last general election.

Now comes María Elena Fournier Solano, an
outspoken environmental activist, who blasted off an e-mail to Pope Benedict Monday and made copies available for news people.

She pointed out that Lisbeth Quesada, the defensora de los Habitantes, has characterized the trade pact as a treaty without a soul. She asked if the Vatican also was without a soul, adding:

"Jesus Christ ought to be very indignant with you, very mad, very concerned and above all very sad at seeing that the highest authorities of the Catholic Church of the Vatican are so ignorant to the realities of the world of the poor, of the dispossessed of the excluded, of the humble .  . . ."

She called the Vatican position a grave sin against the sons and daughters of God. And she urged the Vatican to be more Christian in its reply to the treaty under which the rich countries exploit the poor ones.

Some opposed to the treaty believe that the promotion of capitalism will reduce the social responsibility of the state and have an adverse impact on the poor.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 121

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Theft from two tourists
leads to haul of loot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A thief took luggage from two German tourists Monday at the Mall Internacional in Alajuela. But police tracked a suspect down and found more than they bargained for.

The two tourists, identified by the last name of Wolpman were about to leave the country after several weeks of vacation. A thief was able to steal two pieces of luggage when they were not looking, said a spokesperson for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Publica.

But the tourists quickly contacted police when they realized they had become victims, and officers found a suspect in a vehicle without plates not far from the crime scene.

Inside the vehicle officers said they found not only the two pieces of luggage lost by the Germans but also a personal computer, packages, passports and license plates that seem to have been taken from rental cars.

The Germans were able to get back their bags and make their flight at Juan Santamaría international airport, police said.

Bicultural musical night Wednesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday is Franco-German night from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday in the Antigua Aduana in San José. The night will be the culminiation of a day of music with both French and German DJs.

The cultural program is a way the countries have of marking the peace treaty that followed three bloody European wars in which they were on different sides.

Cael, a French DJ, and Friction from Germany will particpate in concerts at the Municipalidad de San José and at the Universidad de Costa Rica, which they will join with other musical groups from 1 to 5 p.m. The  Antigua Aduana is the long brick building on Calle 23 just east of the Estación al Atlántico.

Our readers' opinion

He defends Costa Ricans
from fraud allegation

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. (or Ms.) L. Robbins of Atlanta attacked the Ticos in your Monday edition, accusing them of being deceptive. He/she said, “I believe the front of disarming and seemingly genuine friendliness causes foreigners to be more trusting and lower their guards, making them an easier target for the kinds of abuse and fraud we all too often read about.”

Sure, and the same thing happens in New York and Washington, D.C., every day. Happens in a lot of places in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. Costa Rica has not cornered the market on skilled salesmanship, nor have they a monopoly on fraud. I find it a bit naïve to think that the Ticos are somehow psychologically and biologically less inclined to sincerity than anybody else.

As for the notion that the Ticos secretly hate foreigners, after all the stories that go around about the Ugly American abroad, I am hardly surprised. Having said that, I want to point out that in the seven months that I lived in Costa Rica, I never felt like I got shafted, manipulated, bamboozled, or any other such verbs. I was treated with both kindness and fairness during my stay.

What I do remember is a loud-mouthed Gringo tourist on the bus from San José to Alajuela, yelling at a Tico bus driver, “Why don’t you people learn English! If you want to be involved with international business you need to learn English!” The Tico just smiled at him and said nothing.

I am surprised more of them don’t hate us.

Mike Fekula
Washington, D.C.

Puerto Rican situation
clarified with many polls

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article on the Cuban-sponsored U.N. committee resolution to require (yet another) testing of the will of the Puerto Rican people omitted some important history.

In a referendum held in 1967, 60 percent of the people voted to maintain the Commonwealth status established in 1952.  39 percent voted to statehood, and only 1 percent voted for independence. Another referendum held in 1993 resulted in a 49-percent vote in favor of Commonwealth status, 46 percent for statehood, and 4 percent for independence.

In 1998 a third referendum produced some strange results because, for the first time, a fourth choice of "none of the above" was added to the ballot and garnered 50 percent.  The vote for independence fell to 2.5 percent, while statehood received 46 percent.  Maintaining Commonwealth status got only 0.5 percent.

In the meantime, there was a referendum on a constitutional amendment in 1991 which would have expressed demands for more autonomy, the right of the people to choose among three alternative status choices, always (of course!) maintaining the Puerto Ricans' right to U.S. citizenship.  This proposal was defeated 53 percent to 45 percent.

Puerto Ricans today enjoy an unique and specially privileged status.  They are U.S. citizens, having therefore the unalienable right to migrate to the United States, but while living in Puerto Rico they are not subject to the U.S. income tax.

In a way, it might not be a bad thing if Castro's resolution were adopted by the full Assembly.  It might actually show that assembly for the motley collection of rag-tag countries it is, and might finally provoke the United States to respond in a meaningfully negative way.

Bryant Smith
Palo Seco de Parrita
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 121

Chocolate paste ready for the Swiss

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Annette Carter
The women of the Asociación de STIBRAWPA, from left:  Bernarda Morales Marín, Prisca Morales Rodríguez, Zeneida Segura Valdéz and Mirian Morales Marín.

Women use chocolate and tourism to save Yorkin
By Annette Carter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Development experts have a lot to learn from a small group of Indian women deep in the jungles of Talamanca near Costa Rica’s border with Panama.  It is a story of an isolated BriBri village struggling against the modern world, unable to preserve its culture, its language, the health of its children, and losing its men and children to the influences of the outside world. 

Just 16 years ago four women realized that they were losing everything they had ever known.  Their village of Yorkin in the Caribbean lowlands of Talamanca was dying. The spot is separated from the rest of the world by the rios Sixaola and Yorkin.

For years the BriBri have led a very self-sufficient although isolated life.  Banana and cacao (the plant used for making chocolate) provided what they needed, but then a virus began to kill much of the cacao. Their banana crops were selling for only 20 colons per kilo. 

Many BriBri men opted to take jobs in the banana fields two or more hours away from their village.  Their exposure to the outside world and its temptations resulted in alcohol and drug problems for some, and others died blaming the pesticides and chemicals used by the banana companies.

“There was no employment,” said Bernarda Morales Marín, the leader of the group, “We were losing our culture, and we were buying food we didn’t grow.” 

In the schools, BriBri children were discouraged from speaking their own language, and their exposure to new foods was eroding their nutrition. 

What is going to happen to these men, and what are we going to do about all this?  Those were the two questions that came up time and again in the minds of the women as the situation only continued to worsen.

The answer was to gather the community together, and from that the Asociación de STIBRAWPA, a BriBri word meaning artisan women, was born.  The initial group consisted of only five or six women, and their goals were to preserve their culture, the biodiversity of their land and their economy.  The men did not want to participate.

Ms. Morales said the early days were not easy because some in the community thought the children could never adapt to eating natural foods again, and the men in the community were not accustomed to women taking matters into their own hands.  The organization was threatening to the men because “they thought women could not have this kind of power.”  There was a lot of opposition, she said. 

Over time as the women forged ahead things began to change.  Today, men and women in Yorkin work together for the betterment of their community.  Thanks to the women’s organization, the community has built a business that welcomes visitors and volunteers from around the world to the village to learn the Yorkin way of life.  The income from these visitors, in turn, supports community projects such as building a new school, purchasing a canoe, repairing a boat motor or helping a needy neighbor. 

Today, the community feeds itself with the bounty of its own harvest —  locally-raised chickens, rabo de mono or "tail of the monkey," a plant found in the local jungle and cooked like a vegetable, palmito or hearts of palm, bread made from locally grown bananas, juice made from oranges, lemons that grow on the land, and much more.  All cooking is done over a wood fire. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Annette Carter
The Yorkin Community Center

Volunteers come for a few days, weeks or months and help by teaching English or assisting with chores. 

Recently three students from Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England visited for a month to teach the children theater as a way of passing on their oral history.  Volunteers pay $8 per day for room and board.

The community now has both an elementary and a high school with one teacher for each.  Solar panels provide energy for lights in the school buildings and one in the communal kitchen.  Other than that, there is no electricity in Yorkin. 

Nonprofit organizations and other interested people have provided assistance over the years.  A group of Cahuita residents is planning a fund raiser to be held this fall to buy a propane-powered generator that would provide more electricity for the community.   

But most dramatic has been the change in gender roles and the community’s lessons in working together for the betterment of all. 

Ms. Morales, who has been outside the community to take training courses in gender equality, said “the men now understand that women have ideas and because of that they can achieve things they haven’t thought of.”  In the past, she said, men understood equality meant force.  They had to learn it is not a competition between sexes.

“There are things as women we can’t do but the men can and the opposite and we can support each other,” said Ms. Morales.  “For example, the men build houses because the wood is very heavy, and they move the tourists in the boats because it is hard to steer the boats on the rivers.”  The women, in turn, work with the tourists, cooking, demonstrating how to make chocolate from cacao seeds, making and selling their crafts, and, of course, telling their story.

The women have also set up an export business sending the cacao paste they make to Switzerland for use in chocolate and wine. They have shipped cacao seeds to Italy as well.  In addition, the women handle all the business of the organization itself, including the treasury.

When asked what the community needs the most, Ms. Morales reply: “More friends.” 

“For us, it is important to have friends,” she says.  “Without the help of visitors we wouldn’t be able to support our projects.”

Most of the trip to Yorkin is by river and dugout
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

How to get to Yorkin:

Tours to Yorkin can be booked from most hotels in Cahuita or Puerto Viejo.  Tourists should be sure to specify Yorkin because there are other BriBri villages that host visitors.

Visitors should plan to ride about 45 minutes to one hour by car to a crude landing where they will board a wooden dugout canoe.  Life jackets are provided and the drivers are BriBri men from the village of Yorkin.  The boat trip — sometimes they use the motor and sometimes, if the water is too low they paddle — will take about an hour.  The first leg of the trip is down the Río Sixaola where eventually the route bears to the right and the remainder of the journey will be on the Río Yorkin River.  It is a beautiful and scenic trip.

Once at the shore close to Yorkin visitors still have a 15-  to 20-minute hike into the jungle.  A guide from Yorkin will greet visitors there and escort them in.  It’s a nice hike but could get a little slippery if it’s been raining a lot.  Visitors will see the Yorkin schools, the Catholic church, some other community  buildings and an abundance of beautiful trees and flowers.

The next stop is the Communal Center where visitors will meet the women of the association, eat some tasty snacks, watch the process of taking the cacao plant from the tree to chocolate and hear the story of Yorkin.  It is all very informal.  The ladies will fix a delicious lunch of rice, beans, palmito, rabo de mono, potatoes or yucca or other local vegetables.

Next, visitors can explore the area.  A river for

A.M. Costa Rica/Annette Carter
All aboard for the Yorkin Express

swimming is about a 15-minute walk away, and a beautiful waterfall is about an hour away by foot.

At the end of the day visitors board the canoe for a trip back to civilization — about a 45 minute ride down river. 

Stolen at gunpoint in
Desamparados Saturday afternoon
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Plate No. 571158
Color blue

Last seen traveling Sunday from Guadalupe to Hatillo
If seen, call 911. Do not approach.

¢100,000-colon reward for information
leading to recovery.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 121

Two more arrested in probe of lottery scam here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two more men who face charges of scamming U.S., citizens from a telephone operation in San José have been arrested.

The judicial Investigating Organization said one was a 22-year-old native of Poland who has Canadian citizenship. He was identified as Victor Ronald Custra. He was located by agents Friday morning in Rohrmoser, they said.

A U.S. citizen was detained last week in Panamá. Agents said he fled there when investigators began to make arrests May 16 of those in charge of the telephone boiler rooms. He was identified as Larry Edward Cunningham, 55. He will face action in Panamá on the U.S. request to bring him to the United States to face charges.

Custra will face an extradition hearing in the Tribunal
Penal of the Primer Circuito Judicial in San José, agents said.

Agents arrested three U.S. citizens and two Canadians here May 16. In California, five persons were arrested, officials here reported.

Agents were investigating an operation that used what is known as an advance fee lottery procedure in which persons in the United States were told they had won a lottery. The victim was encouraged to pay 1 percent of their supposed winnings as tax, insurance or for some other reason and remit the money to Costa Rica or to a third country by Western Union or bank transfer. A local bank was used by the operation.

Some 200 bilingual individuals in San José worked the phones calling persons who had given their names and telephone numbers to individuals who solicited them at supermarkets and shopping malls in the United States. Phone callers got a percentage of the take.

Lawmakers irked over Sala IV's decision to break the monopoly on guaro
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some deputies in the Asamblea Legislativa said Monday that the Sala IV constitutional court overstepped its limits when it took action to annul a monopoly on the production of guaro.

That decision was announced Thursday, although the court had taken a vote earlier. The result is that the Fábrica Nacional de Licores has lost its monopoly to produce guaro with 30 percent alcohol.

Guaro is sugar cane liquor that is consumed heavily by Costa Ricans.

Jorge Eduardo Sánchez Sibaja told fellow lawmakers Monday that whether they approve or disagree with the Sala IV decision, they ought to agree that the place
for the decision to be made is the legislative chamber and not the court.

José Merino, another deputy, wanted to know why the court broke the guaro monopoly and not the monopoly that Riteve S y C maintains on car inspections.

Luis Barrantes said the Sala IV is making decisions that the legislature ought to because lawmakers cannot make a decision. Another lawmaker said the legislative flag should be flown at half staff because of the court decision.

A liquor importer took the case to the Sala IV three years ago. the court finally ruled that there was no overriding public purpose to a monopoly on the production of guaro.

Jo Stuart
About us

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