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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 18, 2003, Vol. 3, No. 141
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Watch out for the big pit
Jocote and nance snack
These fruits are made for munching
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Call them finger fruits. These are the little seasonal presentations that most tourists don’t know how to eat.

On stands everywhere are nance (Byrsonima crassifolia) and jocote (Spondias purpurea). They are sold in little bags suitable for nibbling as you shop or hike across town.

Figure about 300 colons (about 75 cents) for half a kilo for each although prices vary, particularly if you are a tourist.

The fruits are similar in that they each have a seed inside that does not encourage gobbling. The nance is a little, half-inch diameter yellow fruit about the size of a cranberry. Jocote is a green or red plum-size fruit.

Both nance and jocote have unique acquired tastes.

The jocote is an ovoid, about an inch and a half long and perhaps an inch wide. It is eaten green for its sharp, mealy taste, sometimes with salt. As the fruit becomes red, it becomes softer and sweeter. The pit may be 75 percent of the fruit. 

The idea is to scrape and suck the sweet flesh from the pit.

Rural Costa Ricans make a jam, called miel de jocote. Purdue University’s tropical fruit experts say the fruits are stewed with sugar and sometimes used to make wine. 

The fruit can be found from northern Mexico to northern Peru and has a variety of names, including red mombin and Spanish plum, according to Purdue, which is in the U.S. state of Indiana.

The fruit comes from trees. Nance, too, is a mealy fruit with a sweet taste and pit that is about 50 percent of its size. The smell is stronger than the taste. It, too, is the product of trees or shrubs.

The flowers are an important source of nectar for bees in Costa Rica, and a distilled drink, called crema de nance, sometimes is made, according to Purdue.

The fruit also may end up in soup and stuffing. The fruit was well-known in pre-Colombian times. Both fruits are said to have medicinal values.

When in doubt about what to write
It has been a tossup regarding the subject for my column this week. Actually, a juggling act. On the one hand, I could write about the Alice Hoffman interview I went to the other night at the Writers’ Guild Theatre. On the other, I could add my two cents to the brouhaha caused by those 16 little words uttered by President Bush. And up in the air is the thought that maybe I should critique emergency rooms I have visited in the past couple of months. 

Alice Hoffman is a popular writer of more than a dozen books, none of which I have read, practically all of which my daughter has read. Obviously, the audience of about 300 were extreme fans. I love to listen to successful writers talk about their work. Usually they say about the same things — writing is a lonely but exhilarating occupation, good stories depend upon good characters with whom the reader can empathize or at least sympathize. 

Some fiction is autobiographical, other is fantasy. Hoffman, a modest, guileless woman has a fertile imagination and does not draw from her own life for her stories. Her overall theme, she said, is "guilt and redemption, which is what life is about." During the question period a fan asked about the importance of words — that in one book, one word seemed to ripple out and affect many lives. 

Of course, that made me think of what Dr. Condi Rice has called "Just 16  words." In her attempt to dismiss them. As I recall, 11 words nearly caused former President, Bill Clinton to lose his job. They continue to be aired at the slightest pretext and cause him plenty of pain. President George Bush is beginning to feel that pain as the clip of his saying his 16 words get shown over and over on TV.

Speaking of pain, it seems to permeate my current visit to the United States. I have been

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

in and out of emergency hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics. My dread of flying was reinforced by the miserable cold I caught on the plane. My love of trains was shaken by the food poisoning I got from lunch on Amtrak. 

I have had three occasions to be taken to a hospital in San José, Costa Rica via ambulance, and just as many in the United States. In all of them I got some sort of immediate attention. 

The Clinica Catolica in Guadalupe, Costa Rica, is shiny new, squeaky clean and well-lit. The attention I got for an infected hand was downright flattering. (Of course, there was only one other person there at the time.) I have always been reluctant to dial 911 for fear my problem was not life-threatening enough. 

Actually, I still have not dialed 911 — someone else has for me. But don’t be afraid to call. No one is going to take you to task if you are not dying, and you will probably get the kind attention of some of the most handsome, well-muscled men you have ever met. Don’t expect a comfy ride to the hospital though. The ambulance/hospital gurney is probably, next to the tumbrel, the most uncomfortable means of transportation ever invented by man.

The interview with Alice Hoffman was done by Patt Morrison, a very witty, funny woman who is a columnist for the L.A. Times (among other things). Interviews with writers are held in L.A. and are sponsored by an organization called Writers’ Bloc. Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be nice if writer’s block could be treated by calling 911? 

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Public asked to call 911 to report threats to kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government has urged citizens to report people they think might be child molesters to the national 911 emergency service.

Three ministers and other security officials presented a profile Thursday that they said citizens should use to see if someone nearby is likely to be a child molester.

The presentation was triggered by the death July 4 of 8-year-old Katia Vanesa González Juárez. The principal suspect in the strangulation murder is a neighbor who has a history of murder and rape.

By using the national 911 service citizens will be able to inform — perhaps anonymously — on neighbors. Police will then follow up on the call by contacting the individuals named in person, said Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

He was joined at the press conference announcing the initiative by Rosalia Gil, minister of Niñez and the director of the Patronato National de la Infancia. Also there was Manuel Antonio Bolaños, the new minister of Educación, Wendall Umaña, chief of operations for the 911 service, and Walter Navarro, director of the Fuerza Pública.

Ramos said that children are more likely to be assaulted or killed by someone they know. "The greatest danger is within their own neighborhood," he said, using the Spanish word barrio.

Minister Gil said that the government would seek to pass all of its projects for children through the Asamblea Nacional on the strength of public support engendered by the murder of the girl in Quesada Duran, a neighborhood in Zapote in southeast San José.

A big march is planned for today at 8 a.m. from Parque Central to the Museo de los Niños in northern San José. The government is expected to make its proposals more specific at the end of the march.

Minister Gil said the government would begin a massive publicity campaign this week. The price tag was 70 million colons (some $175,000), she said.

The profile presented by the ministers was developed by the Judicial Investigating Organization and generally described a male, who lived alone with less than stable employment who was excessively fond of children. The profile said that such a person had previous molestation incidents with children but was someone who was a manipulator and who established a friendly relationship with his would-be victims.

The goal is control and domination, said Ramos.

The profile exactly fits Jorge Sánchez Madrigal, 34, the man held in the murder of the girl.

The statements brought a reaction from some skeptical reporters. Officials have been talking about a ring of child stealers, and now the focus is on someone living in the same neighborhood, one pointed out. Ramos said that any organized child stealing ring would have generated more cases of missing children. As it was, he listed seven cases 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Officials announce the neighborhood 911 program. From left, Wendall Umaña of 911 service, Rosalia Gil, minister of Niñez, Manuel Antonio Bolaños of Educación and Rogelio Ramos of Seguridad Pública.

going back to August 1989 of missing children. Five have not been located. Two, the most recent including Katia González, were found dead.

Many aspects of the profile outlined by officials might fit a number of North American retirees living in Costa Rica, particularly the obvious characteristics of being single, living alone and not maintaining friendly relationships with neighbors.

However, one reporter joked that the typical parish priest also fits many characteristics of the profile, at least as far as being single and working with children are concerned.

Bolaños said that education officials would take steps to distribute information about the profile to teachers and others in education on Monday.

Ramos stopped short of endorsing a Casa Alianza proposal for a public national data base of individuals who committed crimes against children. He said such a data base already exists but he said that information about who was in the data base would be released to the public on a case-by-case basis and not in all cases. The child advocacy group is trying to get a million signatures in support of its measure.

Another reporter wanted to know about vendors who set up their pushcarts and stands right outside schools. Who will check those, he asked.

Gil said that the government would seek to pass laws that would punish child offenders once they are in jail by eliminating any privileges typical of prison life.

The government introduced a measure to reform its penal law regarding the abduction and murder of children in April. The reform laws initiated by two members of the Asamblea Nacional would lengthen the maximum jail term imposed on those convicted of kidnapping or murder of a victim up to 25 years. 

Originally, the minimum sentence would be 18 years, according to a press release from the Costa Rican legislature at the time. But now officials are talking about perpetual detention of sex offenders.


 
Vault assets begin
to be identified

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vault associates trying to find assets left by Roy Taylor have located 51 properties and 15 automobiles, Kells Faulkner reported Thursday.

She is one of two persons who filed complaints against Taylor. That led to a police raid June 24 at a number of Vault locations. Taylor took his own life while in custody, police said.

Taylor, who promoted a number of exaggerated schemes, kept much of his business dealings in his head, so the search is on to find assets.

Ms. Faulkner said that she is working with 10 other persons who had money with Taylor. She, herself, operates and is the principal owner of Filthy McNasty’s and Crocodile Rock, both Jacó bars that Taylor frequently claimed were owned by the Vault Holding Co.

She said that she and her associates have set up an e-mail address to try  and make contact with other Vault investors. That address is art10@surfbest.net. The group also has set up a private office in a suite of lawyers near the court buildings in downtown San José, she said.

Ms. Faulkner said that the automobiles the group has identified are worth about $200,000. She also said that she believes Taylor’s self described worth of $100 million was not true. She said she and her associates estimate that his business had about $30 million in investor money on the books. Some 137 or so investors were involved, she said.

Right now she and her associates have contact with 14 other investors. She said she expects that perhaps 30 or 35 persons will come forward and verify the source of the funds they put with Taylor and make claims.

In addition, she said some of the company’s accounts appear to be used internally by Taylor and do not represent outside investors, thereby reducing still further the number of investors involved.

With a possible net worth of $30 million Taylor’s operation was "small potatoes" compared to some of the other high-interest operations that operated in the city, Ms. Faulkner said. Taylor’s strongpoint was salesmanship, she said.

Of the 51 properties she and her team have identified, only 11 are mortgaged, she said. This suggests that some investors will get money back.

There are now about 11 civil suits pending against the Vault, she said. These suits seek return of the money.

Miami’s Cubans to honor
Salsa legend Celia Cruz

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. - City officials say a day-long memorial service will be held Saturday in honor of salsa legend and Cuban exile Celia Cruz, who died Wednesday in New Jersey of a brain tumor.

Officials said Thursday a public viewing of Cruz's body will be held at Miami's Freedom Tower during the day. Afterwards, mourners will take part in a procession to a Catholic church for a memorial Mass.

Mourners will include Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio, along with Latin music star Carlos Vives. Cruz was extremely popular in Miami, which has a large Cuban exile community. 

From Miami, Cruz's body is to be flown to New York for a memorial Mass and private burial. 

The Cuban government noted Cruz's death in a brief mention in the state-run newspaper, Granma. Granma said Cruz was an important performer who popularized Cuba's music in the United States. 

But, the newspaper said she was "systematically active" in what it called campaigns generated in the United States against the Cuban revolution. Cruz left Cuba in 1960, one year after Fidel Castro seized power. Her music was banned in Cuba after she left the island. 

Peru will demand
Fujimori’s return

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Officials here say that a request for Japan to extradite former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori will be sent to Tokyo "very soon." Translation problems delayed action on the request for Fujimori to be extradited on corruption and murder charges.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Allan Wagner said Wednesday the country's Supreme Court plans to turn over the extradition file to the Justice Ministry, which will then submit it to the Foreign Ministry.

He said officials will then decide on when to present the request to Japan. Fujimori has been living in self-imposed exile there since a corruption scandal brought down his government in late 2000.

The murder charges against Fujimori stem from the 1991 deaths of 15 people in a Lima tenement building, allegedly at the hands of a death squad known as the Colina group. 

The following year, nine students and a professor at Peru's La Cantuta University were killed, allegedly by the same group. The former president denies authorizing the murders. 

Japan refuses to extradite Fujimori because he is a naturalized Japanese citizen. Peru and Japan do not have an extradition treaty. 

Body found in Barrio Dent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police found the body of a well-dressed man about 50 in a field in  Barrio Dent Thursday. The body had been there about five days, they said. It was covered with plastic in the same way that vagrants use the material as a blanket, they said. The location is just east of San José in Montes de Oca.

Canada’s leading author,
Carol Shields, is dead 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One of Canada's most celebrated novelists, Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, has died at her home in British Columbia of cancer. She was 68.

The author of more than 20 books, she is best known for "The Stone Diaries," a fictional biography of a woman who drifts through life, bewildered by her inability to understand her place in it. In addition to the Pulitzer, the book won Canada's Governor General's Literary Award. 

Shields said she began writing in the 1970s, because she could not find the kind of books she wanted to read; books about the lives of ordinary, middle class people, especially women. In her last novel, "Unless," Shields detailed the life of a Canadian writer whose eldest daughter decides to live on the street and beg for money.

Bush to meet Kirchner

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  President George Bush is to meet his Argentine counterpart, Nestor Kirchner, next week for talks on economic matters.

The White House says Bush will also discuss relations between the United States and Argentina during the Wednesday meeting with President Kirchner. The leaders also are expected to explore ways to advance economic growth and prosperity, and how to promote peace, freedom and stability.

The White House says Argentina and the United States have long valued close cooperation on bilateral, hemispheric and global issues.
 
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Habitat's theme park is not exactly Disneyland
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

AMERICUS, Ga. — The first thing you see when you enter Habitat for Humanity's new 2.5 hectare theme park is a slum, just like the ones found in many developing countries. Dick Kuegerman, the park's executive director, says the poor, run-down neighborhood was re-created especially for American eyes. 

"I think we all think that we know about poverty and poverty housing because we see it on TV, we read about it in magazines, but by and large very few of us actually have walked down the street of a poverty settlement or gone in a house where someone living on less than a dollar a day would actually live," he explains.

Although no one actually lives in the poverty village, the 30 or so small huts — cobbled together with tin, scrap lumber and bamboo — give a feel of disorder and despair. Inside the shacks, torn mattresses, broken chairs and other discarded odds and ends are a reminder of the contrast between the first and third worlds. In one structure, an old TV is proudly displayed, even through there is no electricity. There's also a light bulb on a string. These images mirror experiences Habitat for Humanity employees like Randall Day had, as they worked on projects around the world. 

"That's one of the first thing I saw going into a poverty home in Malawi, was a light bulb on a string. And I thought, there is no electricity for miles, what's this? Then I realized it was on a string and my friend told me 'I want to have electricity one day, but this is the closest I can get,'" recalls Day. 

Signs throughout the village challenge the visitor. One points out that over a billion people live in houses just like the ones here. Another one reads "Imagine if your family lived here." 

Like its homes throughout the world, Habitat for Humanity's poverty village was built with volunteer labor. Some structures are still going up. A church youth group from South Carolina is busy working on a home that might be found in India. Judith Myers, 13, says this experience has opened her eyes to the dramatic gap between rich and poor. 

"It's amazing how they live, how they survive with
these houses, 'cause you know, at home we have air conditioning, we have beds, we have TV's, we have radios, but here they don't even have sinks, they go into the river and they wash their dishes or they bathe. It's amazing," said Ms. Myers.

The theme park does not re-create the smells, the insects or the mass of people that are part of every real slum. But for tourists like Barbara and Pat Conley from Arizona, the poverty village is vivid enough. 

Barbara Conley: "I don't think we realize how much we really have. Gosh, I don't really know what to say 'cause I kind of feel overwhelmed." 

Pat Conley: "I'm a Vietnam vet and I have seen poverty like this before, but still it's shocking and it makes you very thankful that you live in America and also spur some kind of  . . . . you want to do something to help in some kind of way." 

This is exactly the kind of reaction Habitat for Humanity hopes to get from visitors, because beyond the small poverty village is a display of what can be done to help, examples of the modest homes Habitat has been building all over the world. The organization can take credit for more than 125,000 homes for the poor in 87 countries.

While the organization hopes its new attraction will help raise money to continue building those homes, Habitat's executive director David Williams is hoping it will raise awareness as well. 

"And I would hope that as people go through this, that initially they'll be shocked, maybe they'll even be angered, but that ultimately they'd be inspired, that they would be inspired that there are solutions and that they can be involved in that if they choose to be," he said.

Habitat for Humanity plans to expand its Global Village Theme Park to include more examples of the types of homes it builds for the poor around the world. There will be clay houses from Africa, reinforced concrete homes like those in Central America, and wooden structures from Asia. There are also plans for an international marketplace that will sell products from the 87 countries where Habitat is trying to make a difference. 


 
 
U.S. steps up its efforts against counterfeit drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rice wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched an initiative aimed at protecting U.S. consumers from counterfeit drugs, a menace seen to be bolstered by improving technology and expanding trade flows, sometimes from foreign sources.

Commissioner Mark McClellan said this week that an internal task force would report within about six months recommendations for stronger enforcement against counterfeit drugs.

"It's essential for consumers that the medicines that they buy are the actual drugs that their doctors prescribe," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services which includes the Food and Drug Administration.

Two of the reasons cited by the FDA for the increased incidence of counterfeit drugs in the United States have a foreign link — the availability of prescriptions from foreign Web sites and the opportunity to slip drug counterfeits into the country through large and growing import shipments.

The World Health Organization defines a counterfeit medicine as one that is "deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source." Counterfeit medicines, it says, "may include products with the correct ingredients or with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with incorrect quantities of activities ingredients or with fake packaging."

Counterfeit prescription drugs are not only illegal but are also inherently unsafe, said a release from 

the agency. Many counterfeit drugs are visually indistinguishable from the authentic versions, and thus pose a potentially serious health threat to Americans, it said. 

"The sole purpose of this initiative is to develop new and innovative ways to make sure that Americans can continue to have confidence that the drugs they buy are, in fact, the real deal," said McClellan. "There are new technologies and new opportunities for counterfeit drugs to reach Americans, but there are also new technologies and opportunities for FDA to protect the integrity of our drug supply. . . . "

The agency said that the increase and shift in this illicit activity has occurred for a number of reasons. These include:

-- better counterfeiting technology, including improved technology to make labeling, packaging and products that appear real but are not;

-- better organized, more effective criminal groups attracted by financial opportunities;

-- the online sale of prescription drugs by unlicensed pharmacies and/or foreign websites;

-- opportunities for introducing foreign-made counterfeit and unapproved drugs into large and rapidly growing import flows; and

-- weak spots in the domestic wholesale drug distribution chain, including some wholesalers who acquire most of their inventory from secondary sources, do not maintain effective due diligence efforts on these sources and ignore warning signs indicative of illegal or unethical behavior.


 
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