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(506) 223-1327                            Published  Friday, Aug. 3, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 153                              E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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bridge  collapse
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Part of the concrete bridge structure rests on a vehicle recovery truck
Bridge mishap reveals a major railroad safety flaw
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A truck bumped into a railroad bridge on busy Avenida 7 Thursday, and the concrete structure of the span collapsed on the vehicle.

The mishap may have avoided a much more serious
Enrique Nuez vehicle driver
Enrique Nuez
event because the bridge is part of the Heredia line that the government rail agency is trying to put into service. The span was supposed to have been inspected within the last year.

The vehicle was a flatbed vehicle recovery truck with a small crane or winch behind the driver's
compartment. Driver Enrique Nuez Arias said that
the top of the winch touched the bridge structure and caused part of the bridge to fall on his vehicle.

Thousands of vehicles have passed beneath the span daily. It is less than 300 meters and up a hill east of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building and around the corner from Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Marks on the concrete show that the vehicle driven by Nuez was not the first to bump into the span.

The bridge carries no sign as to the maximum height that can pass beneath it, Nuez pointed out.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles and the parent Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes have been seeking a concessionaire to operate the 
rail line that runs from the former Estación al Atlantico to eastern Heredia. Two years ago rail crews installed a new bridge further north and worked for months to open the right-of-way in anticipation of daily commuter runs.

For a time, a work train made daily runs back and forth across the span. The ministry announced that all the structures on the rail line had been inspected. The idea was to create a branch line for the existing metropolitan train that runs from Pavas to San Pedro and Montes de Oca several times a day.

However, the ministry said recently that the Heredia line was in limbo because a firm that wanted to bid on a concession could not be found.

Rail officials authorized in February a $22,000 study of the trackage all the way from Montes de Oca to Atenas with an eye to expanding passenger service. But the contract does not include the Heredia spur. The rail institute also has been unable to put the Heredia spur into operation because the line remains blocked at Cinco Esquinas in Tibás.

Miguel Carabaguíaz, the president of the rail agency, said in February when he announced the concession proposal that the Heredia line is important for passengers and cargo.

On March 14, 1926, on the very same Heredia line at a bridge over the Río Virilla in Santo Domingo de Heredia, just a few miles from the bridge that collapsed Thursday, the worse rail tragedy in Costa Rican history took place. Some 360 passengers died out of a train load of perhaps 1,000 pilgrims bound for Cartago when three rail cars fell off into the river. A faulty coupling was blamed.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 3, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 153

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Virgen in Panama
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y
Seguridad Pública photo by Guillermo Solano
Some of the  Rondalla de la Fuerza Pública, as the guitar group is called, pose with the replica of the Virgen de los Ángeles.

Even Costa Ricans in Panamá
celebrate the day of the Virgen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While some 2 million Costa Ricans were paying tribute to the Virgen de los Ángeles at the Cartago basilica, about 125 of their countrymen in Panamá had a pilgrimage of their own.

The Panama contingent walked about 10 kilometers (about six miles) to the Iglesia de Los Ángeles in Urbanización Los Ángeles of Panamá City. The church has a replica of the tiny stone statue and golden case of the Virgen de los Ángeles, who is the patroness of Costa Rica. The replica was brought to the country in 1970 by a local Costa Rican family.

The Panamá pilgrims were joined at the church by hundreds of other Costa Ricans for religious services, said a report from Panamá. Also there was the guitar group of the Fuerza Pública which played during the Thursday morning Mass.

Trade treaty is divisive issue
both bishop and Arias agree

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both church and state agreed Thursday that the country should unify after the votes come in from the Oct. 7 referendum on the free trade treaty with the United States.

The principal speaker at the Mass for the Virgen de los Ángeles was Ángel San Casimiro, bishop of San Carlos, who made a plea for unity. He was joined by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who said the treaty issue had divided the country dangerously. The Mass and homily by the bishop was the climax of this year's pilgrimage of devotion to the patroness of Costa Rica, the Virgin Mary in her manifestation as the Virgin of the Angels.

Meanwhile law officers are congratulating themselves on what was a mostly uneventful pigrimage. No one was killed in traffic accidents. No one was seriously injured by robbers. And although there were double the arrests this year over last, the numbers still were small.

Some 21 persons who had been reported missing had been located by the end of the pilgrimage at midday Thursday, said the Fuerza Pública. However, the Cruz Roja reported more than 6,500 persons were treated, a figure more than double of the number given aid in 2006. Some 36 pilgrims had to be hospitalized. The major problems were muscle aches, fatigue, hypertension and respiratory problems, the Cruz Roja said.

The police presence was massive. There were more than 1,400 Fuerza Pública officers in the field. This included regular officers, reserve members and even cadets in training. The traffic police also were out in force.

Bishop San Casimiro spoke for about 35 minutes. In addition to the free trade treaty, he deplored the poverty of some citizens and the wealth of others. He also expressed unhappiness at a survey that said some Catholics were members of the church only for cultural, traditional and family reasons. The survey said that active church members had declined.

The bishop stopped short of taking sides on the referendum question. Church leaders are believed to oppose the free trade treaty personally. Each year the senior active prelate delivers the homily.

The nation's president also has time to say a few words. That is how Arias got on the podium Thursday. He asked the faithful for help in strengtening the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. These are two government units that are endangered by the free trade treaty, but the Arias administration is making an effort to pass laws that will make them competitive.

Jazz festival this weekend
as benefit in Tamarindo

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Tamarindo Jazz and Blues Fest is Saturday and Sunday, and organizers hope it can become an annual event. With the backing of several local sponsors, La Laguna del Cocodrilo Restaurant & Lounge is using an estimated budget of $12,000 to both enhance the culture of the Guanacaste beach community and provide a charity event for the local betterment association.

When asked about his motivation for producing the event, Ben Ziegler, one of the owners of the venue, said “I really want to see more culture in Guanacaste, and I thought that by creating an annual event for people to look forward to that it might stimulate people’s interest in jazz all year round.”

Organizers hope the two-day event draws more than 500 people. Some 10 percent of the gate and 10 percent of profits are going to the Asociación Pro Mejoras de Tamarindo, said organizers.

Classic and acoustic jazz artist Bob Drake kicks things off Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by Luis Asconso & the Elcats at 4 p.m. The Fuzzy Rojas Band, featuring Kezirah, will help set the mood for blues at 6 p.m., with The Blues Devils taking the late shift.

Bloody Marys should be in hand by noon on Sunday, when the Aldo Salvent Quintet gets things rolling. Santo Esperanza adds a Latin flair to the festivities at 2 p.m., and things come back home to traditional jazz with Nubiolla and Tupac taking stage at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

With limited seats available, tickets are $40 for one day or $60 for a weekend pass. They can be purchased at the Jaime Peligro Music Shop or the Blue Dolphin Catamarans office, both Tamarindo. There is a San José outlet, too. More information is available at 653-3897.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 3, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 153

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The weekend will be one full of art in city and in Palmares
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats have no excuse not to have fun this weekend.

Palmares is having the third annual Expoferia del Mueble, el Arte y la Cultura and the Museos del Banco Central have a big Spanish fiesta planned for downtown San José Sunday.

The community of Palmares has more than 200 furniture shops, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, which is helping promote the festival.

Promoters also point out that Mother's Day is Aug. 15 with an official celebration the following Monday and suggest that the expoferia would be a good place to find presents.

The official sponsor is the Asociación de Artesanos, Muebleros y Pintores de Palmares.  The event actually started Thursday but the bigger crowds are expected today and over the weekend, The event ends Monday.
Stands have been set up in the Palmares fair grounds. More than 20 musical and dance groups are scheduled to perform Friday through Sunday.

In San José the Spanish emphasis fits well with the current exhibition at the museums, called “Escultura moderna española con dibujo." Featured are the works of Picasso, Dalí and Miró. The exhibition features 31 sculptures and 47 drawings, all by Spanish artists. The Spanish Embassy is one of the sponsors.

The Sunday event begins at 10:45 with  "Soloflamenco" and what a spokesperson for the museums called living sculptures.

The free event also will feature well-known Costa Rican artist José Sancho, who will demonstrate sculpture techniques and invite families to participate.

The museums also are open without charge to Costa Ricans and residents on the first Sunday of the month.

A couple of complaints about the ubiquitous cell telephone
One of the problems with getting older is the tendency to repeat oneself.  We don’t do this because we think that what we said yesterday was important enough to say again. We do it because we can’t remember that we said it yesterday.  This presents a greater problem for a columnist.  I am always asking myself, “Did I write this before?”  My only comfort is that most of my readers are probably in my age range and also getting older.  So they will have forgotten it, too.

This is to preface a couple of complaints that I am not sure I have already made.  I have succumbed to the perceived advantages of having a cell phone.  In doing so I have embarked upon another love/hate relationship with an electronic apparatus.  This rather makes me laugh, because years ago I invested in an electronics mutual fund thinking electronics! (As opposed to thinking plastics!).  I have had a love/hate relationship with that fund, too. 

But now it is my cell phone that has me grinding my teeth.  I don’t have the patience or the proper attitude to read the entire 172-page user’s guide a half dozen times. It is after all, just another phone, and I learned how to use a phone when I was a kid.  This is not that phone. 

I like it when I am away from my “land” phone and able to make or answer a call that needs to be made. I hate it when I don’t have my cell phone, or don’t hear it ringing (and I wonder why it is that I can hear everyone else’s cell phone ring even if it is in a pocket and 20 feet away, or in the next apartment(!) and I can’t hear mine when it is in my purse at my side.)  Then some poor soul makes the mistake of leaving me a message. 

Let me tell everyone now that I have not learned how to listen or respond to voice messages or text messages.  For the longest time I thought people were talking about texmexes, whatever they are. The other day I got a message telling me to erase my messages: I had 16 of them.

Now I understand why people on buses are forever fiddling with their phones — like me, they don’t know how to erase all of those messages in one fell swoop, or maybe they are actually reading them.  Or maybe they are checking the Internet or watching their favorite TV show 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

or checking on their stocks or whatever.  I don’t want to do any of that. 

This is a notice to all and sundry: Please, if I don’t answer my cell phone, DO NOT leave me a message.  It is futile.

Speaking of buses reminds me of my other complaint, well more of an observation. I have come to the conclusion that the main difference between men and women is that men have a tendency to sit with their legs akimbo — you know, spread with their knees pointing out.  And women sit with their knees close together, maybe even crossing their ankles if not their legs. 

This male tendency can make me very uncomfortable in a Costa Rican bus that was purchased from some school bus company in another country with teeny tiny narrow seats and hardly any legroom.  I don’t mind rubbing elbows with strangers, but thighs? 

And speaking of buses, before the advent of cell phones the bus was a pretty quiet place to be, good for thinking or reading,  because people tended to keep their conversations private.  Now if someone’s cell phone rings, that someone seems to have no need for privacy — his or yours.  And that reminds me of my complaint.  It is about cell phones. I have actually succumbed to the perceived advantages of having a cell phone, and have thus begun another love/hate relationship in my life — Excuse me?  Oh, I already told you that?  And you remembered!  Well! Obviously, you’re much younger than I thought.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 3, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 153

Caracas TV station now on cable gets a reprieve from court
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled that an opposition-aligned television station can keep operating through cable systems for now.

The court suspended an order by the telecommunications commission that would have forced RCTV International to stop transmitting its programs if it did not register with the government, and follow regulations that would require it to interrupt regular programming for speeches by President Hugo Chávez.
RCTV began showing its programs via cable and satellite last month. It was forced to stop regular over-the-air broadcasting by President Chávez in May. Chávez refused to renew RCTV's license to broadcast on a public frequency for allegedly backing a failed coup against him in 2002. RCTV denies the accusations.

Other national private networks also opposed Chávez, but their criticism of the government is now softer and they have kept their licenses.  Chavez is known for his long-winded speeches, and RCTV raised an economic argument against airing his talks.

Chavez finds kindred spirit in U.S. actor/activist Sean Penn
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has praised Sean Penn for his opposition to the Iraq war, saying the two chatted by phone and plan to meet in person. Speaking Wednesday in a televised speech, Chávez said Penn made an unannounced visit to Venezuela this week.

Chávez read aloud from a recent open letter the Oscar-winning actor sent to President George Bush, in which he condemned the Iraq war and called for the president's impeachment.
Chávez, who says he shares Penn's views, said the two talked by phone — "with my bad English, but we understood each other more or less."

He called the 46-year-old actor "well informed about what is happening in the United States and the world, in spite of being in Hollywood."

Penn toured Venezuela's new film studios on the outskirts of the capital city of Caracas, along with visiting poorer neighborhoods. He has starred in some 40 movies and won a best actor Oscar for his role in in "Mystic River."

U.N. secretary general praises Guatemala for forming investigative commission
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Guatemala's approval of an international panel to probe and prosecute illegal armed groups.

A spokesman for Ban said he believes the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala shows the nation's commitment to the security of its people.

Guatemalan lawmakers voted Wednesday to create the panel, which will investigate organized crime and alleged links between illegal armed groups and Guatemalan authorities. The team, backed by the Guatemalan
government and the U.N., will do independent and joint investigations, working closely with Guatemalan judicial authorities. The commission will recommend legal action based on its findings.

The U.N. says the panel aims to help Guatemala solidify democracy and the rule of law following the end of its 36-year civil war in 1996.

The U.N. and the Guatemalan government agreed on the commission last December.

Several foreign nations have volunteered to help finance the commission, including the United States.

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