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These stories were published Tuesday, July 12, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 136
Jo Stuart
About us

18 die in fire at Hospital Calderón Guardia

Patients hobble or are wheeled away

Hundred of ailing patients
evacuated to street

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 10:30 a.m.)

Fire officials said today that 18 persons died in an early morning blaze at Hospital Caldrón Guardia. The toll includes a nurse, Patricia Fallas, who is being described as a heroine because she died helping patients to safety.

The rest of the dead are patients. Some 16 persons died on the fifth floor neurosurgical ward, and nurse Fallas and an another patient were found one floor below, fire officials said.

Costa Ricans awoke today to learn  the extent of the tragedy. Hospital officials and physicians still were shuffling patients from the hospital to other facilities. Some fire trucks remains on Avenida 9 along  the north side of the hospital complex at 10 a.m..

President Abel Pacheco visited the facility about 7 a.m.

One patient who escaped from a five-bed room on the fifth floor said some others there were not able to walk. He said that no hospital workers came to help. The four other persons are believed to be among the victims.

Earlier story below.

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Fire ripped through the top floor of the northeast corner of Hospital Calderón Guardia early today, and nine persons died from inhaling smoke. Others suffered injuries. Attendants evacuated hundreds of patients to the streets.

Firemen from all over the Central Valley converged on the hospital shortly after 2 a.m., and they were met by a flood of patients and staff. Some patents dangled from the windows and supporting columns of the hospital structure. Several climbed to the street on ladders. One fashioned an escape by knotting together bedsheets and lowering himself from the fourth floor.

A hospital staffer said the blaze was in a

Flames glow from the top hospital floor

section estimated to be about 50 years old. Flames could be seen shooting from the window frames, and firemen used two snorkel trucks to pour water on the burning wood from Avenida 9. The older section is only about 10 percent of the sprawling hospital, but the smoke billowed throughout the building.

There was no immediate indication on how the blaze started. Those who died are believed to have been patients in beds near the origin of the fire. The areas most heavily involved in the fire were reported to be wards filled with beds.
Identifications were not available.

Calderón Guardia is one of San Jose's three biggest and most used public hospitals. It is in   Barrio Aranjuez just north of Parque Nacional.

Injured and critically ill patients were taken to Hospital San Juan de Dios in downtown San José and to the Heredia Hospital.

When patients streamed from the hospital into the chilly early morning air, attendants, nurses and physicians put them at first in a roofed parking structure just west of the hospital. But quickly columns of smoke pouring from the
blaze sent them further north. Some were in wheelchairs, Others were supported by the less infirm or attendants. Many wore surgical masks to counter the acrid smoke.

The evacuation was punctuated by small explosions from the burning floor.

The more critically ill lay in bed clothes on the sidewalk. Fortunately, the weather had cleared earlier in the evening from the driving rain of the afternoon.

Firemen seemed hampered because the blaze was mostly in the fourth floor of the building. There were reports of flames and subsequent damage to the third floor also.

The heavily damaged section is east of the former emergency entrance to the hospital.

The fire finally was extinguished by 4 a.m. and firemen and agents began their investigation.

Critically ill patient begins the trip to another hospital after spending more than a half hour in the chilly early morning air.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jay Brodell

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 136

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An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
It's time to just shelve the free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a country where import taxes on an automobile can run to 85 percent, opposition to the free trade treaty with the United States seems strange.

Opponents of the treaty say they fear loss of sovereignty or the end to small farmers. The sovereignty issue is a false one because Costa Rica already adheres to many international treaties that outrank the national Constitution.  And most of those who idealize smaller farmers probably never lived on a small farm where 14-hour, backbreaking days are the norm.

So it is against this background of myth and misinformation that the battle for the public mind is being fought. Thanks to inaction on the part of President Abel Pacheco, the free trade treaty is shaping up to be a major issue in the upcoming presidential elections. Front runner Óscar Arias Sánchez favors the treaty. Ottón Solís want it renegotiated. Most of the other candidates have not made their position clear.

What has not been clearly defined is the long timetable for the treaty to go into effect. Some aspects would not become active for 20 years.

The rice farmers are against it here as are the sugar farmers in the United States. Both want the consumer to continue to subsidize their activities. Cartago potato farmers managed to get their product exempted from the treaty, thus sparing Costa Ricans the pleasure of giant Idaho spuds.

U.S. union leaders complain about lack of support for organized labor in the free trade treaty. What they really don't like are cheaper workers undercutting their pay scales.

Don't look for a lot of consistency in the treaty. The United States was so anxious to get
an agreement that negotiators said that
Costa Rica could continue to be a center for online gambling and sportsbooks, something federal officials consider to be illegal. U.S. negotiators also ratified a number of Costa Rican laws that discriminate against foreigners.

President Pacheco emerges as an uncertain figure. As a gesture toward pro-treaty forces, he enlisted Franklin Chang Diaz, the Costa Rican-born U.S. astronaut, to head a panel to evaluate the treaty. To say that the agreement is complex is an understatement.

How five laymen with little knowledge of international trade can evaluate the treaty remains a mystery. Even the negotiators don't really know what the long-term effect of the agreement will be. Pacheco's motive, of course, is to find scapegoats and to stall. It is the Asamblea Legislativa that is supposed to evaluate the treaty and its long-term ramifications.

And wasn't Pacheco in charge of the negotiating team from Day One?

The president also fears civil unrest that the local union leaders have promised if the agreement is sent to the legislature for ratification.

Considering the lack of a political will and the uncertainty surrounding the pact, the only reasonable action is simply to shelve the treaty. Pacheco could do this by not sending the document to the assembly. Or he could send it with the understanding that the outgoing deputies would not act.

Costa Rica can afford to wait to see how the free trade treaty pans out for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, plus the Dominican Republic, if that country chooses to ratify the agreement. Five years from now Ottón Solís will either be a hero if the treaty nations fail to prosper or he can make another trip to the United States begging to to join the agreement.

A response to woman
who faked marriage

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I would like to respond to the U.S. citizen who thinks the Costa Rican government might want to consider adding a "new doorway" for those people who wish to immigrate. I am sure she wrote to A.M. Costa Rica with the best of intentions, but her suggestions do require some comments.
There is no "leave-every-three months tourist" status. This is a serious misconception. A tourist is a guest. He or she is invited to visit and stay for a maximum of 90 days. As a guest they can own property but have no legal status. They can be asked to leave the country at any time, or they can be refused re-entry upon leaving and attempting to return. 
Rentista or Pensionado status would not permit this woman, even if she qualified, to engage in the work she states she is involved in.  Those statuses do not allow people to work.
Resident Investor status allows one to legally live and work in Costa Rica.  The writer poses the question in her commentary, "How can it [Costa Rica] expect foreigners to invest in Costa Rica if they have no guarantee that they can always return".  Apparently she is aware of the status but chooses to ignore that the status has requirements just like any other status. 
Fake marriages in order to obtain resident status are illegal here as they are in any country in the world.  Your expected residency "in a so-I've been-told, impossible one months time" is invalid.  Your marriage will not provide you with a legal status. You have voluntarily committed a criminal act. Your marriage is and will be considered a fraud by immigration and the courts. You can be legally prosecuted and deported. Once deported, you will be refused re-entry into Costa Rica for a minimum of 10 years.
The writers reference to having built a house, written travel brochures and developed tourist web sites etc. here all sounds like a definite positive from her perspective.  In reality what she has done is taken that opportunity to make money away from a legal resident. There are Costa Ricans, and foreigners who have obtained the legal right to live and work here in Costa Rica, who have the ability to create those same entities that she refers to. Their product or service is no longer required as the demand has been filled by an illegal foreigner.

Starting a Spanish school and teaching affordable/free English classes is commendable but falls into the same category. There are Costa Ricans who can and do start schools for both Spanish and for English.
Seeking the advice of everyone regarding how to obtain a status is a good start for the process of "getting legal" but unfortunately there are problems listening to such advice. Individuals in the expate community here like in almost every expate community in the world suffer from the seasoned veteran complex. The seasoned veteran upon establishing he/she has been in the country longer than the person asking the questions offers advice which at best can be considered misleading if not self serving. Not a good source of information.

The actions of the lawyers who offered to marry her for a fee to some man she didn't know speaks for themselves. They do a great disservice to their country, their profession and to their client.  A person goes to them in good faith for assistance and they receive in turn advice on how to "beat the system." They advise how to commit an illegal act which subjects the client to either immediate deportation or eventual deportation after a period of detention. Nice work on their part. Those lawyers are not a good source of information.
The average Costa Rican has never had to be concerned with the process of immigration as it pertains to foreigners.  Because of their willingness to assist anyone with any problem at anytime they do tend to give answers that they know the individual wants to hear. Not a good source of information.
The writer does not mention if she sought information from the Immigration Department itself.  This is normally one of the first steps a person takes upon making the decision to move to Costa Rica. Checking does not have to be done in person.  Everything is available on the Web.  The process itself must be started from outside Costa Rica. Thus most people check with the closest Costa Rica consul or embassy to their current home for details. 

An alternative step is to contact groups or corporations who specialize in providing services such as immigration, moving, duties etc.  The Association of Residents of Costa Rica in San José is such group.
There are also approved investment programs which allow a person to obtain "resident investor" status. Costa Rica created the incentives and continues to encourage people to use them so that the investor has the opportunity to live, work and enjoy Costa Rica legally.
Kevin A. McNamee

Whistling poodle has
some mechanical help

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mimi is our 2-year-old toy Tica poodle.

Last night while watching TV, and trying to understand it, I became goaded at how high I had to turn up the volume in order to make any sense out of it. I went upstairs and put my right ear hearing aid in, thinking this is the side that needs the most help.  It amplified the background noise proportionally to what I was listening to, but overall I thought I could understand a little more clearly.

However wouldn't you know it . . . not a few minutes later the hearing aid started to “crackle” because the battery was going dead. In thinking about it, I haven’t even taken them out of the bag in months. Anyway I removed it and set it next to me on the end table, turned up the volume on the television and completely forgot about it.

Later during a commercial, Julie, my wife, asked “what’s that for”?

“What’s 'what' for,” I answered?

“Why are you whistling?”

“I’m not whistling!”

“Then where is that sound coming from? “

“What sound?”

Julie stood up tilting her head side to side as if trying to “tune in” on a radio signal . . .

“Do you have something in the study that whistles?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, maybe you’re loosing it, I don’t hear anything.”

About then Mimi got my attention by scratching on my knee with her front paws, I looked down and she was acting peculiar almost like she wanted to show me something. She raised her head as if to say “look what I caught” and I could see a small pink thingy sticking out between her lips.

At the same instant Julie yelled “it’s Mimi, she’s whistling”! I couldn’t hear anything but instantly realized it was my hearing aid. I put my hand out to take it away from her, bracing myself for a fight; but no, she surrendered it cheerfully almost as if following through on a Lassie episode, i.e., believing the poor animal was in pain from the noise it made, brought it to me for rescue. 

Hearing aids, at least mine, “whistle” when you cover them which serves as a reminder to turn them off when not in use. So another lesson learned the hard way, i.e., doggies’ think of hearing aids as whistling chew toys, and they ain’t cheap. The only deliverance is just that . . . they will want to retrieve and bring them back so they can find it again.   

Jerry Thorman  
Santa Barbara, Heredia
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U.S. Embassy issues an alert on dengue fever here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy is warning citizens that dengue fever is hitting the beach communities hard and that the disease will be spread by school vacations.

The embassy issued what it called an alert Monday. The bulletin said that incidence of dengue fever is up 72 percent over the previous year based on statistics from the Ministerio de Salud.

The formal alert is not likely to have a favorable impact on tourism, and the embassy names a number of popular Pacific beach communities as places where dengue is prevalent.

Mentioned specifically are Jacó, Quepos, Punta Leona, Puntarenas and the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and the settlements of Tambor and Montezuma. The embassy also said that Guápiles, Siquirres, Limón and the Caribbean beaches are places where the disease might be contracted.

Dengue fever, a mosquito-born virus, is more common this year because health officials conducted a massive and successful campaign last year to eliminate breeding places for the mosquitoes.

The embassy alert warned that many Central Valley families will be heading to the beach communities because schools are in recess. This situation will allow vacationers to contract the virus at the beaches and carry it back in their body to the Central Valley, the embassy warned.
The mosquito, the Aedes aegypti, that carries the virus, is common in the Central Valley, so infected individuals will serve as a source for the community, according to the embassy reasoning.

Dengue can cause 5 to 7 days of fever, headache, and pain behind the eyes, said the alert, adding that the disease is sometimes called “break bone” fever because of the discomfort in the joints and muscles and that it may be accompanied by a rash on day three or occasionally vomiting and diarrhea.

Those who have had a case of dengue can contract life-threatening hemorrhagic fever from a subsequent mosquito bite. However, only a few such cases have been recorded this year in Costa Rica.

The embassy recommends a 33 percent concentration of DEET repellent to counter the mosquitoes.

The insects are day biters, so repellent should be worn even during daytime.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that dengue can be caused by four related viruses. And that infection by one virus does not provide immunity to the other three.

Costa Rican health officials have expressed concern that residents have not continued to eliminate mosquito breeding places after the 2004 dengue season. Such places are any collection of water, such as old tires or pots where mosquitoes can begin their life cycle.

New Web site will deal in an exchange of ideas on many topics
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Web site started by an Escazú resident invites people to share their ideas.  The site,, is the work of Sam Butler.  Butler says he came up with the idea after talking with friend Robert Muller, former Chancellor  of the U.N. Supported University for Peace in Cuidad Colón.

Butler said that Muller is full of ideas about how to sustain a peaceful society and after talking with him one day, realized that there was a need for a forum for people to share their ideas.

Current categories include solutions for day to day life, like ideas for inventors and ideas for a movie, to the more idealistic, like ideas for peace and ideas for
government efficiency, to the philosophical, like ideas for cosmic unity. 

Butler said that he is open to ideas for new categories and invites people to suggest them.  He added that he is not looking for profit from this site and will not take advertising.  The point is to provide a forum where people can give their ideas to the world.     

“Have you ever thought about giving an idea away free to the world?” he asked on his site.  “Maybe you have an idea that could be useful to others, and you don't have the time and/or resources to develop it or to follow through the many things that would have to be done to bring it before the world." But, he added, "Maybe if you give away an idea free, you will be rewarded in some unforeseen way.”

Saturday is Harry Potter Day at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To celebrate the arrival of the new book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the Harry Potter fan club of Costa Rica and the Clubdelibros is holding a festival.  The festival, “a day of magic in Costa Rica,”  is scheduled from10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura which is in the building
that used to house the old liquor factory.
The festival will have games, magic shows, lectures, debates and many more activities said a press release.  Also, all of the Harry Potter books – including the new one - will be on sale, the release added.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is the sixth book in the wildly popular series by British author J.K. Rowling.   

Prankster's actions cause a guard to call in the police units
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bomb hoax caused police to descend on a San Pedro  restaurant about 7:30 p.m.  Monday.

Adriana Cordova of the Fuerza Pública stationed in Monte de Oca said a car pulled up near the Restaurante Pan y Vino in San Pedro and a man wearing what appeared to be surgical gloves placed a 
shoebox-sized package on the ground.

The request for aid by a guard brought a number of police units to the area about 7:30 p.m. However, the box actually contained a small animal, said the officer.

The police officer emphasized that such jokes are costly to the police and to the nation. She adopted the small animal, she said

Very simply . . .  your choices here in Costa Rica of finding your dream home are limited to:

1. a Tico home:  claustrophobic, cold water, and postage stamp land size.

2.  a rare American-style home . . . normally at a VERY inflated price . . . in Grecia, a town of 50,000 less than an hour from San José  there are MAYBE five existing homes for resale suitable for most "gringos."

3.  a renovation;  problem here is that it typically costs more to remodel than to build from scratch.
And of course, we have all heard the horror stories about building in Costa Rica: the builders that absconded with the money —  the five-year wait until completion — the shoddy workmanship . . . and so on.

BUT... think for a minute:  "what do Ticos do when in the market for a new home?"  ANSWER:  "they BUILD" So...just maybe...the horror stories are an exaggeration... or....

The simple fact is this:    BUILDING IN COSTA RICA IS SAFER AND LESS RISKY THAN BUILDING IN THE UNITED STATES.... and obviously the cost is less.

If you are having problems finding your dream home... talk to us.  We work with a small group of very talented and very honest builders who guarantee their work... honor their contracts... and live in the areas in which they build. 

Call us... and come and visit... and see for yourselves .

Call today or e-mail for an appointment:    011-506-444-1695 or 011-506-841-5782  

Paquera-Puntarenas ferry has troubles in the gulf
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Puntarenas-Paquera ferry ran into mechanical trouble Monday evening when a pipe broke in the engine compartment.

As a result some 150 passengers and vehicles were stuck out in the middle of the Gulf of Nicoya for about 90 extra minutes, said an official. According to Martiniano López of the Fuerza Pública in Paquera,
another boat came to the aid of the popular ferry.

The ferry connects the southern Nicoya Peninsula with Puntarenas and is used daily by residents who must conduct business on both sides of the Gulf of Nicoya. The ferry also is a principal tourist route to Tambor, Montezuma and other locations on the southern part of the Nicoya.

The ferry last had mechanical troubles June 21 when it was out of service for a day.

Politics of Costa Rica is theme of next speaker's forum presentation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robert Nahrgang, a 40-year-businessman in Costa Rica, is the next scheduled speaker at the monthly forum held at Big Mike's Place in Escazú. 

The title of the talk is Understanding Politics in Costa Rica.  It starts at 7 p.m. July 26 and is scheduled to last an hour.  Guests may arrive at 6:30 to sample the snack bar if they wish. 

According to a press release, Nahrgang came to Costa Rica from the gulf coast of Alabama 40 years ago with his father.  He started an architectural and construction company in the 60s with his father and Costa Rican associates.  Then, in the 70s, he became involved in land development and real estate brokerage, the release also said.
In the 80s, he became involved in the exportation of fresh-cut flowers and served on the U.S. ambassador's export board, said the release. 

In 1994, he hosted a television program called "Costa Rica Update" which discussed Costa Rica affairs in English.  That project lasted for a year, the release said. 

In the mid-90's, a New York wireless technology firm hired him as a consultant and he now is president of a consulting company called International Resources Services, the release added.  In 1998-2002, he was a political advisory and project organizer for the political party La Yunta Progresista, said the release. 
Those who are interested can call 289-6333, 821-4708, or Mike at 289-6087 for more information.   

U.S. food police issue warning about unpasteurized orange juice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about unpasteurized orange juice issued by the Orchid Island Juice company of Fort Pierce, Fla. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration Web site, these juices may be contaminated with Salmonella Typhimium, a germ that may cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, frail or elderly people.  Everybody else gets a rather nasty case of food poisoning, the warning said.

The closest place to Costa Rica that Orchid Orange Juice distributes is Puerto Rico.  In that U.S. territory, the company only sells their frozen products, said David Cortez, a company spokesperson.  So there is no danger of contracting that particular strain in Costa Rica.  However, unpasteurized orange juices are
available in small mercados and supermarkets all over the country.

In San José many street vendors push around grocery carts full of oranges and a juicer.  These vendors generally squish the oranges into juice in front of the customer and so it is highly unlikely that Salmonella could be contracted in this manner.   

A press release from Marvin Clark, a law firm that represents victims of food-borne viruses, said that Salmonella poisoning in orange juice is not a new phenomenon.  According to the firm, almost 1,000 cases have been reported from around the world since February 1999.  

The Food and Drug Administration say they have confirmed 15 cases since May in Michigan, Ohio, and Massachusetts that can be traced to Orchid.

Two held as participants in fast-talking theft scheme that got $8,300
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials with the Judicial Investigation Organization said they have arrested a man and a woman who are suspects in a series of thefts.  The suspects are a 35-year-old man identified by the last name Reyes and a 32-year-old woman identified by the last name Rodríguez. 

According to a report, the thieves would show up at construction sites and present themselves as engineers
who had left tools behind.  In schools and offices, they would tell a receptionist that they had been invited to repair something in the building.  Then, they would steal everything, said the report.   

Officials report that the pair has been working since last year and has hit a construction site, two offices and a house.  The report did not say how the robbers managed to talk their way into a private residence.  Officials say the thieves made off with at least $8,300 in goods. 

Jo Stuart
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