A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327       Published Friday, June 30, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 129       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A baker's half dozen of fun weekend ideas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend promises to be one that no one could say is dull. Here are some suggestions from our humor staff:

1. The time is not exact, but a whole law enforcement task force is scheduled to raid the area around the Hotel Del Rey at Avenida 1 and Calle 9. Police seek pimps, drug vendors, prostitutes and illegal aliens. Best watch this event from a distance. Admission is free. Getting out may cost.

Mayor Johnny Araya and police officials have been talking about the raid since Tuesday. Most bad guys and gals probably have gone to Jacó beach for the weekend.

2. Meet the tamal of your choice in Aserrí, the little mountain town that made the banana-wrapped pastie an economic mainstay. Some 50 tamal makers will be showing their wares today, tomorrow and Sunday. Don't forget the Salsa Lizano and an appetite.

There is a tamal-wrapping contest put on by local workers. The idea is to popularize the traditional Christmas treat during the rest of the year. If you eat more than eight tamales, don't drive.

3. The Canadians celebrate Canada Day Saturday with an apple pie baking contest. The event starts at 10 a.m. at the Florida Bebidas/Cerverceria picnic grounds east of Juan Santamaría airport and west of the Cariari Mall starting at 10 a.m. There will be a Mountie there as a special guest, so those Canadians with criminal warrants back home should come late.
Unlike the U.S. July 4th celebration Tuesday, no passports are needed to enter. But non-Canadians should practice their "owuuuts," as in "Let's go owuuuut."

4. Those of a certain political persuasion can enjoy themselves watching George Bush on television all weekend defending the detention of Guantanamo detainees and trials without charges that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday.

Just because you are going to execute someone doesn't mean you have to let him know the charges or see the evidence, right?

5. Over at the Casino Colonial, the new automatic roulette table will be getting a workout from happy bettors. Meanwhile, young Costa Ricans in charge of the traditional roulette tables are under-employed.

Has anyone told Albino Vargas, the labor activist?  The automatic tables are yet another example of globalization forced on Ticos by the empire to the north.

6. At the Venezuelan Embassy they will be spending the weekend listening to selected speeches of President Hugo Chávez. Speech One is Friday and Saturday. Speech Two runs into Tuesday. On second thought, skip this one.

7. Along the Pacific coast, for the 208th weekend straight, residents will be watching the highways break up. BYOB.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 129

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Officials counting number
of Fuerza Pública stations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They are being called fantasmas, the police stations that are not there.

This is the latest scandal to involve public funds. Officials said Wednesday that at least one police delegación in the southern part of the country was paid for but never constructed. And there may be others.

An investigation is under way. Fantasma means ghost in Spanish, and the situation raises the question of how contractors could collect on jobs that never were done.

Fernando Berrocal, the new security minister, said that in some cases photos were used to show the completed station when it did not really exist.

The Fuerza Pública has constructed a number of  police stations during the Abel Pacheco administration. Many were accompanied by grand opening ceremonies. Presumably the ones that didn't exist did not prompt such activities. The several phantom police stations mentioned so far are in isolated, rural areas.

Alert out for heavy rain,
but predictions conflict

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains Thursday morning prompted emergency officials to issue a flood warning, but then the sun came out in the Central Valley and began drying the landscape. But the alert still stands. Today and the weekend have a 50 percent chance of heavy rains.

The alert was issued for the Caribbean, the northern zone and the Central Valley. Some rivers were already out of their banks by midday Thursday on the Caribbean slope.

Local forecasts differ from the A.M. Costa Rica weather service, which predicted an even chance of heavy rains.
The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that winds from the north would create summer-like conditions for a few days. However, storm cells are in the near Pacific and the near Caribbean, according to satellite photos.

Arias makes overture
to nation's bishops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez paid a call on the representative of the Vatican here in San José and also met with local bishops.

The session was seen as a bridge-mending exercise because Arias and the local bishops differ on the topic of the free trade treaty with the United States. The location in Rohrmoser is called the Apostolic Nunciature. Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla represents the Vatican as papal nuncio. Arias lives only a few blocks away.

Arias told the church officials that the only way for Costa Rica to grow and reduce poverty would be to insert its economy into that of the rest of the world, according to a summary by Casa Presidencial. He said that the church was vital to this mission.

Also at the event were Hugo Barrantes, archbishop of San José, and his cabinet, as well as the diplomatic corps. The event was the feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul, which the Roman Catholic Church also celebrates as a day of recognition for the pope. The local bishops have expressed concern about the social cost of the free trade treaty.

U.N. seeks good examples
of forest-management incentive

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An initiative to reverse forest loss in Latin America and the Caribbean has been presented at a United Nations-sponsored meeting this week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said the initiative is needed because Latin America and the Caribbean have registered the world's highest rate of forest loss over the past 15 years.  From 1990-2005, the region's forest area declined from 51 percent to 47 percent of total land area, primarily due to conversion of forest land to agriculture, the organization said.

The initiative calls for collecting case studies of successful forest management in Latin America and the Caribbean region so that such success can be replicated elsewhere.  Government institutions, private sector companies, local communities and individuals are being invited to nominate the examples of successful forestry management programs, said the organization.

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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.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 129

Emily Easton helps a young girl with her board.

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Annette Carter

Puerto Viejo kids benefit from a free surf club
By Annette Carter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Most of them are smaller than their surfboards, but the kids who come to The Kids Club Saturday mornings on Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo to learn to surf don’t seem to mind.

Grab a board, run into the sea as far as you can go without being underwater, wait out a wave and glide, or crash, into shore.  Over and over the process is repeated under the watchful eyes and gentle coaching of Topo Hernández and Emily Easton, owners of Cariblanco Surf School in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

There’s no charge for the somewhat unstructured lessons because the purpose isn’t to make money.    

“I started The Kids Club because lots of kids’ parents here are very young with no time to spend with them, and I see the kids are thirsty for attention,” Hernández said.  “I see kids on the street confused with not a lot to do and no opportunities.”

Hernández, now 33, said he grew up without parents so he understands what the kids are going through. But times were more simple back then.   Living in a village surrounded by the sea it was natural to play in the water.  When he was 12, he fashioned a homemade surf board from balsa wood and found his passion.  “I just surfed because the waves were there and it was my playground,” he said.

Ms. Easton said The Kids Club was a natural extension of their business.  “Lots of kids hang out at our house and want to watch surf videos and talk about surfing,” she said.  “Now, we don’t take (paying) surf lessons on Saturday mornings because that time is for the kids.”

It’s not always easy to manage the 15 to 40 kids who show up on Saturday mornings.  Sometimes a parent of one of the students will help out to make sure no one gets hurt, or surfer friends will assist when they’re in town.

Barrett Cruce, a Christian missionary from Florida, and his family have lived in Puerto Viejo for about a year and a half.  Fearless at 6 years old, his daughter Maili bounds in and out of the waves taking a breath only for an occasional “Watch me Daddy!” 

Makena, 3, practices onshore under the watchful eye of Dad.  Cruce said he helps the surf school operators mainly because he thinks the program is good for kids and good for the community. 

“The most important thing about this is that an adult is paying attention and investing time in these kids’ lives,” he said.  “Topo and Emily really care about the kids.”
A New Jersey man who took a lesson while on vacation has been a big supporter getting surfboards donated and paying to have them shipped to Puerto Viejo, said Ms. Easton.   “Some days we don’t have enough boards for all the kids,” she said. 

Topo Hernández helps another youngster with balancing on the baord.

This is one class that students do not duck.

Dia Williams is a 12-year-old Puerto Viejo surf student with big dreams.  “I come to learn to surf so when I’m big I can go to contest,” she said.  On this day, she was looking mighty good with an enthusiasm to match her talent. 

But Hernández said his goal at this point is not to create world-class surfers.  “I’m not focusing on talent, but on their having fun,” he said. 

“Later, if there’s a kid with a good chance I will push, but now I just concentrate on keeping them off the street.”

The Kids Club is open to any youngster free of charge at 9:30 a.m. every Saturday (unless it’s raining) near the old barge on Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo.  For more information: 889-8809.

How can a hostess go wrong with Belgian beer?
As everyone knows, I am truly a city girl, but I do enjoy getting outside of the city every now and then.  Outside the city for me is anywhere beyond Pavas on the west side or San Pedro on the east.  The thing about Costa Rica is that even going less than 20 kilometers, it is a different world.  Small is not only beautiful — it is full of change.

So I happily accepted an invitation last weekend to help Pat and Willy celebrate three years of living in Costa Rica.  They live in Santa Ana, which is not that far from San José, but very different.  I lived in Santa Ana for a few months some years ago.  I found it too hot and dusty and a bit difficult without a car. 

The last time I was in Santa Ana was to visit a new acquaintance who wanted to show me his house.  While there he told me about the scorpions he had to check his shoes for every morning and some other poisonous creature he called an asp that grew on the tree outside.  (I was sure an asp was what did in Cleopatra, and they may hang from but don’t grow on trees.). 

By the time he finished his eye-opening tales, I was trying to enjoy my coffee and levitate at the same time so I didn’t have to touch or be touched by anything. 

Pat and Willy live in a compound of seven cottages surrounding a large inner lawn with a swimming pool. The party was scheduled for between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. All parties from May until November take into account that it will probably rain in the afternoon. On Saturday morning it was hot, but not dusty, and I never once thought about scorpions or asps.

A white tent had been installed over two long rows of tables set for lunch. Black and yellow balloons made the back yard even more festive, but the center of interest when my friends and I arrived was the beer-tasting table with seven bottles of Belgian beer from which to choose. 

My taste in beer ranges from Imperial to Imperial.  But I decided to expand my repertoire.  Most of the beers, even the dark De Verboden Vrucht, were         
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

delicious. I was assured that they are for sale in Costa Rica. 

It was one of those perfect parties where there were some old friends, some good friends I had not seen in a while, and some new people to meet and enjoy.  And, although I don’t generally enjoy large parties, there was time and space to have real conversations, not just chitchat.

A trio called Chacra played their “calipso caliente” that kept some of the more energetic guests moving to their various versions of calypso.  Peter, a guest, sang a couple of songs, and did so very well.  Then I learned he is a Dutchman, born in Indonesia, with his own country western band.  (Only in Costa Rica!)

And then there was the food! Pat said that putting it all together was a cooperative effort among the people who live in the compound, supervised by her and Willy.  The food, like the beer, was Belgian, which included tongue cooked in madeira, and a beet salad. 

Belgian cookies and Belgian chocolate served with kriek, a sort of beer champagne, was the final course. Everything they served, Pat insisted, is available at the AutoMercado or Saretto’s.  On Tuesday I checked AutoMercardo for the cookies.  She’s right.  Unfortunately, they do have them.

Although Pat and Willy were celebrating their three years in Costa Rica, Willy was also celebrating being Belgian, as you may have noticed.    Pat is not Belgian.  She said she is a “cranky Yankee.” 

Maybe so, but nobody at the party left cranky. We left a bit besotted, and sodden from the rain, perhaps, which came on schedule around 2 p.m. But we were a happy lot that made our various ways home.  Celebrating being here seems a great idea.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 30, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 129

Key U.S. interest rate raised by Federal Reserve
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, Thursday raised short-term interest rates for the 17th consecutive time since 2004. The quarter point increase, to 5.25 percent is intended to slow the economy and combat inflationary pressure.

Following the announcement, financial markets bid stock prices sharply higher, dramatically strengthening a rally that had begun earlier in the day. Market participants said they were relieved that the Federal Reserve statement contains language suggesting that the cycle of interest rate increases is coming to an end. Bob McTeer, who recently retired from heading the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, says since rates have risen by 4 percentage points in two years, the central bank should not raise rates at its next meeting in August.
"We must remember that monetary policy operates with a lag [up to 15 months], so we haven't yet seen the full effects of the interest rate hikes that have taken place already," said McTeer.

"We do have some emerging weakness as well as higher inflation to be concerned about. So I see no reason to keep going on without some pause."

Short-term rates are now at their highest level in four years. Higher interest rates mean higher monthly payments on credit card debt and loans that carry a flexible interest rate.

Worldwide, inflationary pressure has risen because of the doubling of oil prices over the past two years. The principal monetary policy tool for cooling inflation is higher interest rates-which boost the cost of credit and thus depress the economy. 

U.S. confirms officially that $5 bill will be redesigned
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. government announced Friday that it plans to redesign the $5 note as part of ongoing security enhancements to U.S. currency. Officials said redesigning the $5 note will help update and protect U.S. currency.

“The $5 note is widely used in a variety of vending, transit farecard and self-service machines,” said Larry Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “We have already begun working with the manufacturers of those cash-handling machines and their customers, so they have ample time to adjust their equipment to accept the redesigned $5 note. . ."

The latest series of U.S. currency began with the introduction of the $20 note in 2003, and continued with the $50 note in 2004 and the $10 note in 2006. The redesigned $5 note is expected to be issued in early 2008 with the $100 note to follow.
Overall, counterfeiting of U.S. currency remains at low levels — due primarily to a combination of improvements in the notes’ security features, aggressive law enforcement and education efforts to inform the public about how to verify their currency, the U.S. government said. Statistics continue to indicate that the amount of counterfeit U.S. currency worldwide is less than 1 percent of genuine U.S. currency in circulation.

The government’s ongoing scrutiny of counterfeiting techniques has detected a pattern in which counterfeiters bleach the ink off $5 notes, then print counterfeit $100 notes on the paper, deceiving the public because of similarities between the placement of the security features on the $5 and $100 notes.

While these counterfeit attempts pose no significant economic problems today, officials say a redesign of the $5 will help ensure such problems do not develop in the future.

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