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These stories were published Friday, July 15, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 139
Jo Stuart
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Six from U.S. die in Flamingo plane crash
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(updated Saturday at 7:45 p.m.)
Six persons are believed dead after an aircraft crashed into the sea  near Flamingo on the Pacific coast.

The aircraft was believed to have contained three adults and three children, all U.S. citizens.

Jorge Peraza Contreras of the Cruz Roja said that three bodies were found in the water after a call came in to an emergency line about 9:50 a.m. They were two adults and a child, he said. The craft is believed to have traveled from Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas to the Flamingo location.

The pilot was identified as Greg Gund, son of a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio, family. He lived in Playa Negra nearby  His father, Gregory owned the San José Sharks professional hockey team, and his uncle George owns the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team. He is believed to have lived in Playa Negra, south of Flamingo.

Three other persons were identified by a U.S. family member as Cindy Ruetz and her two children, Justin Ruetz and Jack Ruetz, elementary students in Flamingo.  They had
moved from Hawthorne, Calif. The other two passengers were Connor Kell or Kells and his young son Paul, both of Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Don Ruetz, the husband of Cindy, operates the Jungle Jim fitness center in Flamingo. They had been in the area about a year, said a reader from that town.

At least some of the passengers were picked up earlier Saturday at Bolaños airport.  The aircraft was fitted with wheels for land and with floats for water landings, although Gund had said he did not make water landings in Costa Rica, according to an acquaintance.

Residents reported six-foot swells in the sea Saturday, a condition that precluded water landings. The craft was believed headed to the small airport in Tamarindo

The aircraft is believed to be  a single-engine Swiss-made Pilatus PC-6. It carried U.S. identifications with the registration number of N908PL.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said that the aircraft is 11 years old.

The aircraft registration number was visible to rescuers on the plane body some 90 feet below the surface of the sea.

Hospital probe moves toward arson theory
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The investigation into the cause of the killer fire at a major city hospital has become more complex.

Initially firemen and investigators thought that an electrical device on the fifth floor of Hospital Calderón Guardia caused the blaze.

Now that is just one theory as specialists also look into the condition of a fourth-floor storeroom and the activities of unknown persons.

Then there is the problem of the body no one can identify. 

Francisco Segura Montero, acting director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said Thursday that his experts also are looking into other possibilities.

The fire hardly had been quelled Tuesday morning when a ballast in the lighting system of a radiological room was getting the blame. This is a device that helps ignite fluorescent tubes.

Then witnesses came forward with reports of unidentified men seen in the area shortly before the blaze. The fourth-floor storeroom contained diapers, paper products, alcohol and other inflammable items.

Segura said that the still-unidentified body
might belong to a homeless person who wandered into the hospital. Although the hospital has security guards, the main doors have been open all the time. The 18 other bodies found in the ashes have been identified as three nurses and 15 patients.

A local television station, Repretel Channel 6, came forth with a detailed theory of arson Thursday night. The station linked a January fire in a medical library with the blaze early Tuesday. The January blaze did little harm and was in the newer section of the hospital. But the television station showed that the medical library and the fourth-floor storeroom in the structure that burned Tuesday were only seven meters apart.

Fires in both areas had the capacity to block the main exit, as the Tuesday blaze did resulting in the death of 19 persons.

The television report also said that in both cases fire extinguishers inexplicably did not work and that Tuesday someone had drained a 30,000 gallon water tank, reducing the effectiveness of firefighters. A.M. Costa Rica could not confirm these reports.

Segura said that investigators have two investigations. The first seeks to determine what happened. The second, if prosecutors ask the agency to follow through, would seek to determine how the hospital came to be a firetrap without alarms, multiple exits or sprinklers.

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Costa Rica will feel effects of bruiser hurricane in Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is another deadly hurricane stalking the Caribbean. The storm will not come ashore in Costa Rica but the indirect effects may be substantial.

The storm, Emily, is now a Category 4 hurricane, and weather experts for the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., said it could strengthen into a category 5 by late Friday.

At midnight Costa Rican time the storm was about 350 miles (560 kms.) south southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and about 635 miles (1,025 kms) east southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.
 The government of the Cayman Islands issued a hurricane watch as of 9 p.m. Friday. 

A watch also is in effect for Jamaica, meaning hurricane conditions are possible, generally in about 36 hours.

The latest measurements by a U.S. Air Force craft said the storm was producing sustained winds of 135 mph (215 kph) with gusts of higher velocity.

Earlier, Emily pounded the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, which is still recovering from the devastation caused last year by Hurricane Ivan.

Last week the storm was Dennis, which eventually spent itself in the Mississippi Valley of the United States. But the rain spawned by  the storm

U.S. Hurricane Information Center graphic
Graphic shows likely track of Emily. The storm appears to be heading for the strait between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula.

 caused landslides that killed two persons near Cartago. The hurricane devastated Haiti and spread wide destruction in Cuba. This new storm is stronger.

The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that rainfall will increase in Costa Rica this afternoon in the central and south Pacific. By nightfall rain will be increasing in the Central Valley and in Guanacaste with the northern zone and the Caribbean slope beginning to feel the effects early Saturday.

The local weather service said that rain of major intensity will develop for Saturday and Sunday. The forecast recommended that residents take preventative measures in anticipation of a big increase in rainfall.

Nine held as part of ring
stealing U.S. passports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A band of criminals have been stealing U.S. passports, altering them and selling them, police said.  Police added that the gang seemed to prefer American passports.   

Thursday afternoon in a dramatic police action, Fuerza Pública officers and agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad stopped three vehicles at the railroad tracks in Sabana near the Gymnasio Nacional.

There they took into custody six Costa Ricans and three presumed Colombians who police believe were involved in the passport ring.

Police handcuffed the nine persons and put them prone on the grass while they conducted searches of the vehicles.

Investigators encountered three U.S. passports that did not seem to belong to any of the nine men. They were turned over to the U.S. Embassy for verification.

U.S. passports are worth from $100 to $300 on the street from brokers who resell them to persons who seek to enter the United States illegally or to enter a third country on the pretense of being a U.S. citizen.

Of the nine persons arrested Thursday, one was a Colombian at the point of being deported. But police said he had recently married a Costa Rican woman and became immune to deportation, thanks to a Sala IV constitutional court decision protecting those who may have contracted fake marriages.

The other Colombians have refugee status, the report said.  Immigration officials say they are reviewing those Colombians' documents to determine their legal status in Costa Rica.
Police seek runaway mom
who left two children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police in Poás de Alajuela are searching for a local woman who they said attacked her 3- and 5-year-old children, locked them in her house and left. 

Police said the children had been left alone for more than 24 hours before a neighbor heard their crying and alerted authorities. 

The children were given medical treatment and psycho-social evaluation, said Rosalia Gil, head of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.  That organization is Costa Rica's child protection agency.   Minister Gil added that her agency has issued the children a protection measure which provides them with food, shelter, medical assistance and physical protection. 

Protection measures issued by the agencies fall under one of two categories.  One is to find a family member who can take care of the children.  If this option doesn't exist, the children will be placed in an orphanage.     

Our readers respond

We should not be
bad examples here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I understand why a lot of people fall in love with Costa Rica, but I do have a problem with Gringos moving here illegally and wanting to stay here illegal.  How can we expect for the United States of America to keep its borders safe when we are showing a bad example? When the United States embassy does a background check for the marriage of a U.S citizen to a Costa Rican, they are making sure that they are not doing it for the sole purpose for one to have a U.S citizenship. Why should Gringos expect to change the rules when they want to live in what they consider a paradise? Maybe U.S citzens need to learn to look but not to touch when it comes to visiting Costa Rica.

Many of my family members and friends in Costa Rica who are Ticos don’t mind the immigration but they do believe that it is unfair when some one comes to their country and raises the land values and consumes their gas and uses their services.  They have enough problems with the border countries and Immigration, why should U.S citizens with rich opportunities in their own homeland take jobs away from them. 

One reader wrote that they were not taking away any jobs from the Costa Ricans. I differ on that because any job in Costa Rica is an opportunity for a Tico. Costa Rica is a very small country, and its people are very friendly, but we can wear out our welcome very fast when we compete for jobs and money.

In regards to my situation I am a U.S. citizen and married to a Tica for the last five years. But I married for the old traditional reason: love.

Scott Benson
He defends private firms
for utilities in Panamá

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Alan Bollinger in his letter to you said, in part:

“I can see the wisdom of nationalized utility companies, at least in small countries like Costa Rica and Panamá. Panamá now has the highest electricity rates and worst phone service. . . . .”

My actual consumer experience with the two public utility companies to which he refers are -

Cable and Wireless installed new residential phone service for me in Panamá in less than 24 hours of my written request.  They voluntarily installed new digital cable from their utility pole to my house since their work order also called for a dial-up Internet connection. 

Later, when ADSL was available in my rural area, I contracted for 128K service for $35 per month for unlimited usage with no phone metering charges.  My frequent bandwidth speed test results over the last two years have been consistently at or over 200K with their service.  When I changed residences, service was installed at my new residence in less than 24 hours after my request. Again, with voluntary installation of a new digital cable to my house.

I currently pay $6.27 per month for basic phone service, less a 25 percent Turista-Pensionado residential visa discount or $5.03 net.

My last Union Fenosa bill was at the rate of 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour.  After my 25 percent residential visa discount, the rate dropped to 7.2 cents per kwh.  Last year, high winds caused one of their utility pole service cables near my home to connect and disconnect rapidly causing over $600 damage to electronic components in my home.  After inspection of the damaged items, they wrote me a check for over $600.

I thoroughly enjoy the economical service and technical competence of these two companies for the reasons stated above.

Allen McDonald
Boquete, Chiriquí,
República de Panamá
Professional Directory
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Sabana park on a Sunday is great for a picnic
Every time I have gone west from San José to Escazu or Pavas, I pass by the Sabana Park and think that I would like to spend some time there.  Sabana Park is San Jose’s municipal park and similar to New York’s Central Park.  It seems to me to be as large. It contains a lake, soccer fields, pony rides, two stadiums and a museum, not to mention trees, trees and more trees.  From my bus I see hundreds of people enjoying this green space in the city. San José actually has many parks, but most of them are usually just one square block. 

The uniqueness of Sabana Park is that it once was the location of the first International airport of Costa Rica.  By 1955 air travel had increased so much that a larger airport was built near Alajuela (where it is today).  Light air traffic and private aircraft continued to use the Sabana location until the early 70s when even that was moved to Alajuela or Pavas.

The former air terminal in Sabana, designed by architect Jose María Barrantes, was a fusion of a Spanish Colonial and more modern purity of line.  It was remodeled by architects Jorge Bertheau and Edgar Brenes into what is now the very gracious Museo de Arte Costarricense.

Today the park and the museum truly belong to the people.

When two new friends, Alexis and James, invited me to join them in a picnic in the park on Sunday, I happily accepted. James was able to park the car on the road next to the museum, leading into the park and from there we walked looking for an empty table.  Just as we thought there was no such thing, one appeared.  We were suspicious that there must be something wrong with the location.  But although we were surrounded by players and rolling soccer balls, it was a lovely location.  Alexis laid a tablecloth on the round cement table and began to unload salad after salad from their cooler.  All in all there were
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

five salads, each a gastronomical delight from a different country.  All delicious.  There was also bread and wine.

A small wedge of cheese — my contribution from the last of some Stilton I had brought from the States — and we had a very French picnic.  We were, James noted, the only table sporting a bottle of wine.

Children were everywhere, as were the soccer balls.  One tiny toddler, just new to walking was still able to coordinate his little bowed legs to give a solid kick to a moving soccer ball.  I always marvel at how young they start here.  In the States, they learn to wield a bat.

After our lunch we walked over to the museum to enjoy the wide range of art on display.  I would have expected more people — entrance is free on Sundays — but there were very few and we could wander and look without fear of bumping into anyone.

As we drove through the park on our way out, Alexis pointed out all of the new trees that have been recently planted, and the newly installed children’s recreational area.  When the park was first installed, the lake that had been drained was restored.  Hundreds of eucalyptus trees, now grown tall, were planted.  I realized that while we were there, there were lots of people, plenty of food and drink, even animals, but I don’t recall shooing one fly, swatting one mosquito, or seeing one ant (or sand flea) during our lunch.  Could that be possible?  Just to make sure I’ll have to go back for another picnic.

An answer to the question: 'Who are the great chefs?'
After reading the column on Bakea that praised the superb abilities of Chef Camille Ratton-Perez, Michael G. sent me an e-mail asking for my opinions about the highest level of chef supremacy in the Americas and in the world. Who are reputedly the best and who are my favorites? Where would I eat across the U.S. and in Europe if I were on a liberal expense account? Well, Michael, the task is very subjective and fertile grounds for many different opinions, which I look forward to receiving. My knowledge is minuscule in the infinite global dining arena, but with sincere humility, I’ll give it a try.
For starters, the most often emulated and praised chef of this decade is probably Ferran Adria whose off-the-beaten-path restaurant, El Bulli, is in the Basque region of Spain, a locale thought to be a hotbed of emerging very talented young chefs. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one of those exciting young Basque chefs is the husband of our Bakea maestro, who admits that his culinary style has had a very positive influence on hers.

Adria serves two or three dozen tiny dishes per meal in El Bulli, all of them innovation and perfection.
They are served in small goblets, in silver spoons, atop ice sculptures, on herb twigs, in shot glasses, etc. His combinations are remarkably successful despite their unconventional marriages of perfect unrelated ingredients. What emerge are refreshing new flavorful works of art with a sense of humor. He has a large surgically aseptic laboratory in Barcelona where a staff of chef-chemists work on perfecting his ideas and combinations.
A list of the most acclaimed American innovators in the past decade or two would surely include Thomas Keller from the Napa Valley (The French Laundry), Charlie Trotter in Chicago (Charlie Trotter’s) and Daniel Boulad, New York City’ s finest (Daniel).
Recently, I had the rare opportunity to taste a number of small jewel dishes in the Ferran Adria style by a gifted young chef who emulates the master in a much more accessible and affordable venue. His name is Rob Evans. His restaurant, Hugo’s, is in Portland, Maine. Coincidence that he worships and studies the wizardry of the Basque Chef de Chefs? Coincidence that he worked for Thomas Keller in the French Laundry, that he visited Charlie Trotter’s on his last vacation or that he was guest chef at Daniel in New York last summer where he and Chef Boulud  prepared alternate courses, six each for the Browne Trading Guest Chef Caviar Dinner? Boulud praised Rob’s work effusively.
Four of us ate the four-course $58 menu at Hugo’s late this May (2005) and sighed ourselves softly with reverence through the meal, except for the actual squeals of delight and giggles as we discovered licorice, peanut butter or chocolate nibs in some of our dishes. Each combination, no matter how bizarre it sounded, worked to perfection. Each item had been worked and reworked endlessly until it emerged as a well orchestrated seamless palate bouquet, often dressed in nostalgia and humor.
For my first course I chose what seemed like the most outlandish combination, least likely to work — white anchovy and veal cheek terrine with fresh mozzarella, oven dried tomato, basil and roasted  
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


garlic ice cream. The artful presentation, gentle Roman aroma, contrasting textures and temperature and sumptuous balanced flavor caused me to laugh at my misguided pre-judgment and to want to applaud the kitchen. The equally amazing starter of rabbit charcuterie with a parfait of mustard, pistachios and poached prunes served with buckwheat crackers drew a similar response from a fellow diner.

Next came an extra course, compliments of the chef, cold smoked lobster sashimi, one of the best mouthfuls of my life. Picture a goblet filled with solid ice except for an egg sized central depression in which sits a perfect slice of uncooked Maine lobster tail meat. The cold well is covered except for a tube through which, applewood smoke is forced in. The cold condenses and concentrates the smoke on the lobster. The dish is uncovered as it is served and needs to be sniffed like a fine brandy before tasting the bite of ambrosia.
With four or five options for each course, I chose the following three: Second course – honey mead glazed pork belly& baby back ribs served with rhubarb relish, chocolate nibs and chipotle emulsion, third course – rare tender duck breast with slow cooked leg, fenugreek bits, spring pea and walnut bread pudding and red pepper and pear relish and fourth course – for dessert chocolate fondant with a licorice root milkshake and chocolate crisps. Of the 18 menu choices and two kitchen comps, we tasted all but four and they all ranged from good to great in the eyes (noses and palates) of our group. Bravo Rob Evans.
The following day I went to see Rob early in the day when he could spare a few minutes from the next evening’s meal preparation. The soft spoken gentle man reminded me a lot of Thomas Keller, one of his mentors and my personal favorite chef in America. Rob loves his work and his play, which are the same. He feels that American fine dining has become too formal, too stodgy, too controlled. He admits that in Hugo’s early days, he was terrified of failing to meet the expectations of his clientele. As he got to know them and the splendor of his local ingredients, he gained confidence and the license to add more innovation and humor to his dishes. He creates, modifies and refines each morsel. Above a smile, he asks me, ”Why write a song when you can create a symphony?”
So Michael G., if I could manage reservations and spend hundreds of dollars, I would eat at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Daniel in New York and I would rent a car in Boston and drive the hundred or so miles to Hugo’s in Portland, Maine.

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  

Scammers seek to con foreigners seeking U.S. visas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scammers are using a U.S. State Department diversity program to steal up to $2,000 from green card hopefuls. 

The U.S. diversity lottery issues 50,000 visas to random qualified applicants from around the world.  The program is designed to enrich the cultural diversity of the United States by allowing citizens of countries with low immigration rates to participate in a lottery.  The winners get U.S. immigration visas.

A reporter received an e-mail Thursday notifying him that he was one of the lucky winners.  The scammer's message invited him to send nearly $2,000 to Charlene Sandra Taylor of Elmira, Ore., through Western Union money transfer service.  In addition, he could send his passport photograph to the “U.S. Immigration Services in Washington, WA 19147.”

An Internet search did not yield a Charlene Sandra Taylor of Elmira, Ore., although the town does exist.  The U.S. Postal Service did not have a listing for a Washington in Washington State although the ZIP code 19147 does exist.  It's in Philadelphia.
The e-mail said that he was to send his Western Union transfer information to an e-mail address which happens to have a suffix showing it comes from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan

The real U.S. citizenship and Immigration Services Web site says that applicants are required to be a native of a country that sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the United States last year. 

In addition, the applicant must have completed 12 years of education or have two years of experience — within the last five years — in a job that requires at least two years of training to perform.  Applicants have about a month at the end of every year to send their application to the state department by E-mail. 

The U.S. State Department runs the Visa lottery, which is free to enter. But those who win the right to apply for a visa have to pay standard fees at a U.S. consulate when they apply. The State Department says it only accepts applications by e-mail but winners are notified by postal mail.

So the e-mail Thursday was a transparent effort to piggyback on the U.S. visa program and steal money.

Nicaragua accepts $175 million Millennium grant from United States
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Nicaragua signed a five-year, $175 million Millennium Challenge compact Thursday here.

The compact, or agreement, seeks to reduce poverty and increase investment and economic growth in the Central American nation with the help of funds from the United States’ Millennium Challenge Account.

The account is a U.S. supplementary aid program launched by President George Bush to assist developing nations that invest in their people, promote economic freedom, and demonstrate good governance.  The Millennium Challenge Corp., a U.S. government entity, manages the fund.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her remarks at the signing ceremony, said that MCA funds will improve rural roads in Nicaragua to help give farmers better access to markets.  She added that the U.S.-Nicaragua compact will also help small and medium-sized businesses, thereby strengthening property rights, boosting job creation, and spurring economic growth. Signing for Nicaragua was President Enrique Bolaños.

The Nicaragua compact is the fourth such agreement that the United States has entered.  The Millennium Corp. has previously signed pacts with Madagascar, Honduras, and Cape Verde.  Several other developing countries have submitted funding proposals, and the corporation said it anticipates approving more compacts in the near future.

Young thieves snatch car but run the vehicle into a utility pole
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two children — escapees from a government shelter — stole a car in Moravia Thursday and led police on a chase until they smashed the vehicle into a utility pole.

The children were 10 and 12 years of age. One was in the shelter because his mother is an inmate in Buen
Pastor prison. The other's status was unknown.

Police said the youngsters found the car with keys still in the ignition in a residential area of Moravia. The car owner stepped away from the vehicle for a moment.

The youngest boy was turned over to child welfare officials. The older one will have to face juvenile proceedings. Neither was hurt.

Jo Stuart
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